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Date Show Title
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.
Oct
17
2022
Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) is one of the church’s most celebrated defenders of the faith. Yet just three months before his death something caused him to leave unfinished his Summa Theologica, the massive legacy of his life’s work. While reflecting on the broken body and shed blood of his Savior, Aquinas claimed to see a vision that left him without words. He said, “I can write no more. I have seen things that make my writings seem like straw.” Before Aquinas, Paul too had a vision. In 2 Corinthians, he describes the experience: “This man [Paul himself]—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows—was caught up to paradise and hear inexpressible things” (12:3–4).   Paul and Aquinas left us to reflect on an ocean of goodness that neither words nor reason can express. The implications of what Aquinas saw left him without hope of finishing his work in a way that would do justice to a God crucified for us. By contrast, Paul continued to write. But he did so in the awareness of what he couldn’t express or finish in his own strength. In all of the troubles Paul encountered in service to Christ (2 Corinthians 11:16–33; 12:8–9), he could look back and see, in his weakness, a grace and goodness beyond words and wonder. 
Oct
16
2022
In 1876, inventor Alexander Graham Bell spoke the very first words on a telephone. He called his assistant, Thomas Watson, saying, “Watson, come here. I want to see you.” Cackly and indistinct, but intelligible, Watson heard what Bell had said. The first words spoken by Bell over a phone line proved that a new day for human communication had dawned. Establishing the dawn of the first day, Into the “formless and empty” earth (Genesis 1:2), God spoke His first words recorded in Scripture: “Let there be light” (v. 3). These words were filled with creative power. He spoke and what He declared came into existence (Psalm 33:6, 9). God said, “let there be light” and so it was. His words produced immediate victory as darkness and chaos gave way to the brilliance of light and order. Light was God’s answer to the dominance of darkness. And when He had created the light, He said it “was good” (Genesis 1:3).   God’s first words continue to be powerful in the lives of believers in Jesus. With the dawning of each new day, it’s as if God is restating His spoken words in our lives. When darkness—literally and metaphorically—gives way to the brilliance of His light, may we praise Him and acknowledge that He’s called out to us and truly sees us.
Oct
15
2022
English preacher F. B. Meyer (1847–1929) used the example of an egg to illustrate what he called “the deep philosophy of the indwelling Christ.” He noted how the fertilized yolk is a little “life germ” that grows more and more each day until the chick is formed in the shell. So too will Jesus come to live with us through His Holy Spirit, changing us: “from now on Christ is going to grow and increase and absorb into Himself everything else, and be formed in you.” Meyer apologized for stating the truths of Jesus imperfectly, knowing that his words couldn’t fully convey the wonderful reality of Christ dwelling in believers through the Holy Spirit. But he urged his listeners to share with others, however imperfectly, what Jesus meant when He said, “On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you” (John 14:20). Jesus said these words on the night of His last supper with His friends. He wanted them to know that He and His Father would come and make their home with those who obey Him (v. 23). This is possible because through the Spirit, Jesus dwells in His believers, changing them from the inside out. No matter how you picture it, we have Christ living inside us, guiding us and helping us to grow more like Him.
Oct
14
2022
When my daughter received a pair of pet crabs as a gift, she filled a glass tank with sand so the creatures could climb and dig. She supplied water, protein, and vegetable scraps for their dining pleasure. They seemed happy, so it was shocking when they disappeared one day. We searched everywhere. Finally, we learned they were likely under the sand, and would be there for about two months as they shed their exoskeletons. Two months passed, and then another month elapsed, and I had begun to worry that they’d died. The longer we waited, the more impatient I became. Then finally, we saw signs of life, and the crabs emerged from the sand. I wonder if Israel doubted that God’s prophecy for them would be fulfilled when they lived as exiles in Babylon. Did they feel despair? Did they worry they would be there forever? Through Jeremiah, God had said, “I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to [Jerusalem]” (v. 11). Sure enough, seventy years later, God caused the Persian king Cyrus to allow the Jews to return and rebuild their temple in Jerusalem (Ezra 1:1–4). In seasons of waiting when it seems like nothing is happening, God hasn’t forgotten us. As the Holy Spirit helps us to develop patience, we can know that He’s the Hope-giver, the Promise Keeper, and the One who controls the future.
Oct
13
2022
For more than a year, his legal name was “Baby Boy.” Discovered by a security guard who heard his cries, Baby Boy had been abandoned—hours old and wrapped only in a bag—in a hospital parking lot. Soon after his discovery, Social Services called the people who would one day become his forever family. The couple took him in and called him Grayson (not his real name). Finally, the adoption was complete, and Grayson’s name became official. Today you can meet a delightful child who mispronounces his r’s as he earnestly engages you in conversation. You’d never guess he’d once been found abandoned in a bag. Late in his life, Moses reviewed God’s character and what He had done for the people of Israel. “The Lord set his affection on your ancestors and loved them,” Moses told them (Deuteronomy 18:15). This love had a broad scope. “He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing,” Moses said (v. 18). “He is the one you praise; he is your God” (v. 21). Whether it’s through adoption, or simply through love and service, we’re all called to reflect God’s love. That loving couple became the hands and feet God used to extend His love to someone who might have gone unnoticed and unclaimed. We can serve as His hands and feet too
Oct
12
2022
Ten-year-old Lyn-Lyn had finally been adopted, but she was afraid. In the orphanage where she’d grown up, she was punished over the slightest mistake. Lyn-Lyn asked her adoptive mom, a friend of mine: “Mommy, do you love me?” When my friend replied, “Yes”, Lyn-Lyn asked: “If I make a mistake, will you still love me?” Some of us might ask that unspoken question when we feel we’ve disappointed God: Will You still love me? We know that as long as we live in this world, we’ll fail and sin at times. And we wonder: Do my mistakes affect God’s love for me? John 3:16 assures us of God’s love. He gave His Son, Jesus, to die on our behalf so that if we believe in Him, we’ll receive eternal life. But what if we fail Him even after we place our trust in Him? Here’s when we need to remember “Christ died for us” when we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). If He could love us at our worst, how can we doubt His love today when we’re His children? When we sin, our Father lovingly corrects and disciplines us. That’s not rejection (Romans 8:1); that’s love (Hebrews 12:6). Let’s live as God’s beloved children, resting in the blessed assurance that His love for us is steadfast and everlasting.
Oct
11
2022
In 1990, French researchers had a computer problem: a data error when processing the age of Jeanne Calment. She was 115 years old, an age outside the parameters of the software program. The programmers had assumed no one could possibly live that long! In fact, Jeanne lived until the age of 122. The psalmist writes “our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures” (Psalm 90:10), a figurative way of saying whatever age we live to, even to the age of Jeanne Calment, our lives on earth are indeed limited. Our lifetimes are in the sovereign hands of a loving God (v. 5). In the spiritual realm, however, we’re reminded of what “God time” really is: “A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by” (v. 4). And in the person of Jesus Christ “life expectancy” has been given a whole new meaning: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life” (John 3:36). “Has” is in the present tense: right now, in our current physical moment of trouble and tears, our future is blessed, and our lifespan is limitless. In this we rejoice and with the psalmist pray, “Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days” (Psalm 90:14).
Oct
10
2022
When my friend Janice was asked to manage her department at work after just a few years, she felt overwhelmed. Praying over it, she felt God was prompting her to accept the appointment—but still, she feared she couldn’t cope with the responsibility. “How could I lead with so little experience?” she asked God. “Why put me here if I’m going to be a failure?” Later, Janice was reading God’s call of Abraham in Genesis 12 and noted Abraham’s part: “Go . . . to the land I will show you. . . . So Abram went” (vv. 1, 4). This was a radical move, because nobody uprooted like this in the ancient world. But God was saying trust me by leaving everything you know, and I’ll do the rest. Identity? You’ll be a great nation. Provision? I’ll bless you. Reputation? A great name. Purpose? You’ll be a blessing to all peoples on earth. He made some big mistakes along the way, but “by faith Abraham . . . obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going” (Hebrews 11:8). This realization took a big burden off Janice’s heart. “I don’t have to worry about ‘succeeding’ at my job,” she told me later. “I just have to focus on trusting God to enable me to do the work.” As God provides the faith we need, may we trust Him with all our lives.
Oct
9
2022
A study by Robert Emmons divided volunteers into three groups that each made weekly entries in journals. One group wrote five things they were grateful for. One described five daily hassles. And a control group listed five events that had impacted them in a small way. The results of the study reveal that those in the gratitude group felt better about their lives overall, were more optimistic about the future, and reported fewer health problems. Giving thanks has a way of changing the way we look at life. Thanks-giving can even make us happier. The Bible has long extolled the benefits of giving thanks to God as doing so reminds us of God’s character. The Psalms repeatedly call God’s people to give God thanks because “the Lord is good and his love endures forever” (Psalm 100:5) and for His unfailing love and wonderful deeds (Psalm 107:8, 15, 21, 31). As he closes his letter to the Philippians—the letter itself a kind of thank-you note to a church that had supported him—Paul links thankful prayers with the peace of God “which transcends all understanding” (4:7). When we focus on God and His goodness, we find that we can pray without anxiety, in every situation, with thanksgiving. Giving thanks brings us a peace that uniquely guards our hearts and minds and changes the way we look at life. A heart full of gratitude nurtures a spirit of joy.
Oct
8
2022
Stephen was an up-and-coming comedian, and a prodigal. Raised in a Christian family, he struggled with doubt after his dad and two brothers died in a plane crash. By his early twenties, he’d lost his faith. He found it one night on the frigid streets of Chicago. A stranger gave him a pocket New Testament, and Stephen cracked open the pages. An index said those struggling with anxiety should read Matthew 6:27–34, from Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount. Stephen turned there, and the words kindled a fire in his heart. He recalls, “I was absolutely, immediately lightened. I stood on the street corner in the cold and read the sermon, and my life has never been the same.” Such is the power of Scripture. The Bible is unlike any other book, for it’s alive. We don’t read the Bible. The Bible reads us. “Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit . . . it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). Scripture presents the most powerful force on the planet, a force that transforms and leads you toward spiritual maturity. Open it and read it out loud, asking God to ignite your heart. He promises that the words He has spoken “will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11). Your life will never be the same.
Oct
7
2022
A 1972 study known as the “marshmallow test” was developed to gauge children’s ability to delay gratification of their desires. The kids were offered a single marshmallow to enjoy but were told if they could refrain from eating it for ten minutes, they’d be given a second one. About a third of the children were able to hold out for the larger reward (another third gobbled it up within thirty seconds!). We might struggle to show self-control when offered something we desire, even if we know it would benefit us more in the future to wait. Yet Peter urges us to “add to [our] faith” many important virtues, including self-control (2 Peter 1:5–6). Having laid hold of faith in Jesus, Peter encourages his readers—and us—to continue to grow in goodness, knowledge, perseverance, godliness, affection, and love “in increasing measure” as evidence of that faith (v. 8). While these virtues don’t earn us God’s favor nor secure our place in heaven, they demonstrate—to ourselves as well as to all those with whom we interact—our need to exercise self-control as God provides the wisdom and strength to do so. And, best of all, He’s “given us everything we need [to live] a godly life,” one that pleases Him, through the power of the Holy Spirit (v. 3).
Oct
6
2022
The summer sun was rising and my smiling neighbor, seeing me in my front yard, whispered for me to come look. “What?” I whispered back, intrigued. She pointed to a wind chime on her front porch, where a tiny teacup of straw rested atop a metal rung. “A hummingbird’s nest,” she whispered. “See the babies?” The two beaks, tiny as pinpricks, were barely visible as they pointed upwards. “They’re waiting for the mother.” We stood there, marveling. I raised my cell phone to snap a picture. “Not too close,” my neighbor said. “Don’t want to scare away the mother.” And with that, we adopted—from afar—a family of hummingbirds. But not for long. In another week, mother bird and babies were gone—as quietly as they had arrived. But who would care for them? The Bible gives a glorious but familiar answer. It’s so familiar that we may forget all that it promises. “Do not worry about your life,” says Jesus (Matthew 6:25). A simple but beautiful instruction. “Look at the birds of the air,” He adds. “They do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them” (v. 26). Just as He cares for tiny birds, He cares for us—nurturing us mind, body, spirit, and soul. It’s a magnificent promise. May we look to Him daily—without worry—and soar.
Oct
5
2022
The three hundred middle and high school students of the small town of Neodesha, Kansas filed into a surprise school assembly. They then sat in disbelief upon hearing that a married couple with ties to their town committed to pay college tuition for every Neodesha student for the next twenty-five years. The students were stunned, overjoyed, and tearful. Neodesha had been hard hit economically, which meant many families worried about how to cover college expenses. The gift was a generational game-changer, and the donors hope it will immediately impact current families but also incentivize other families to move to Neodesha. They envision their generosity igniting new jobs, new vitality—an entirely different future for the town and its neighbors. God desired His people to be generous by not only tending to their own acute needs but also by envisioning a new future for their overwhelmed, struggling neighbors. God’s directions were clear: “If any of your fellow Israelites become poor and are unable to support themselves among you, help them” (Leviticus 25:35). The generosity wasn’t only about meeting basic physical needs of food and shelter but also about considering what their future life together as a community would require. “Help them,” God said, “so they can continue to live among you” (v. 35). The deepest forms of giving reimagine a different future. God’s immense, creative generosity encourages us toward that day when we all live together in wholeness and plenty.
Oct
4
2022
After my mom died, one of her fellow cancer patients approached me. “Your mom was so kind to me,” she said, sobbing. “I’m sorry she died  . . . instead of me.” “My mom loved you,” I said. “We prayed God would let you see your boys grow up.” Holding her hands, I wept with her and asked God to help her grieve peacefully. I also thanked Him for her remission that allowed her to continue loving her husband and two growing children. The Bible reveals the complexity of grief when Job lost almost everything, including all his children. Job grieved and “fell to the ground in worship” (Job 1:20). With a heartbreaking and hopeful act of surrender and expression of gratitude, he declared, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (v. 21). While Job would struggle mightily later through his grieving and God’s rebuilding of his life, in this moment he accepted and even rejoiced in His authority over the good and bad situations. God understands the many ways we process and struggle with emotions. He invites us to grieve with honesty and vulnerability. Even when sorrow seems endless and unbearable, God affirms that He hasn’t and won’t change. With this promise, He comforts us and empowers us to be grateful for His presence.
Oct
3
2022
“Bobbie the Wonder Dog” was a collie mix separated from his family while they were on a summer vacation together over 2,200 miles from home. The family searched everywhere for their beloved pet but returned heartbroken without him. Six months later, toward the end of winter, a scraggly but determined Bobbie showed up at their door in Silverton, Oregon. Bobbie somehow made the long and dangerous trek, crossing rivers, desert, and snow-covered mountains to find his way home to those he loved. Bobbie’s quest inspired books, movies, and a mural in his hometown. His devotion strikes a chord within, perhaps because God has placed an even deeper longing in our hearts. Ancient theologian Augustine described it this way: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” This same longing was desperately yet eloquently expressed by David in a prayer as he hid from his pursuers in Judah’s wilderness: “You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water” (Psalm 63:1). David praises God because His “love is better than life” (v. 3). Nothing compares with knowing Him! Through Jesus, God has sought us out and made the way for us to come home to His perfect love—regardless of how distant we once were. As we turn to Him, we find our hearts’ true home.
Oct
2
2022
“Who’s in the mirror?” the psychologists conducting the self-recognition test asked children. At eighteen months or younger, a child usually doesn’t associate herself with the image in the mirror. But as kids grow, they can understand they’re looking at themselves. Self-recognition is an important mark of healthy growth and maturation. It’s also important to the growth of believers in Jesus. James outlines a mirror recognition test. The mirror is “the word of truth” from God (James 1:18). When we read the Scriptures, what do we see? Do we recognize ourselves when they describe love and humility? Do we see our own actions when we read what God commands us to do? When we look into our hearts and test our actions, Scripture can help us recognize if our actions are in line with what God desires for us or if we need to seek repentance and make a change. James cautions us not to just read Scripture and turn away “and so deceive [ourselves]” (v. 22), forgetting what we’re taken in. The Bible provides us with the map to live wisely according to God’s plans. As we read them, meditate on them, and digest them, we can ask Him to give us the eyes to see into our heart and the strength and to make necessary changes.
Oct
1
2022
“Tell all the truth but tell it slant,” the poet Emily Dickinson wrote, suggesting that, because God’s truth and glory is far “too bright” for vulnerable human beings to understand or receive all at once, it’s best for us to receive and share God’s grace and truth in “slant”—gentle, indirect—ways. For “the Truth must dazzle gradually / Or every man be blind.” The apostle Paul made a similar argument in Ephesians 4 when he urged believers to be “completely humble and gentle” and to “be patient, bearing with one another in love” (v. 2). The foundation for believers’ gentleness and grace with each other, Paul explained, is Christ’s gracious ways with us. Clothing His glory to descend to be with us (vv. 9–10), Jesus revealed Himself in the quiet, gentle ways people needed in order to trust and receive Him. And He continues to reveal Himself in such gentle, loving ways—gifting and empowering His people in just the ways they need to continue to grow and mature—“so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature” (vv. 12–13). As we grow, we become less vulnerable to looking elsewhere for hope (v. 14) and more confident in following Jesus’ example of gentle love (vv. 15–16).
Sep
30
2022
“Will the real [person’s name] please stand up?” That’s the familiar line at the end of the game show To Tell the Truth. A panel of four celebrities ask questions of three individuals claiming to be the same person. Of course, two are impostors, but it’s up to the panel to discern the actual person. In one challenging episode, the celebrities tried to guess “the real Johnny Marks,” who wrote the lyrics to “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” The celebrities found out just how difficult it is, even with asking good questions, to figure out just who’s who. Impostors lie and finagle the truth, which makes for entertaining television. Discerning who’s who when it comes to “false teachers” is a far cry from television game show antics, but it frequently proves to be equally as challenging and infinitely more important. The “ferocious wolves” often come to us in “sheep’s clothing,” and Jesus warns even the wise among us to “watch out” (Matthew 7:15). The best test in such cases is not so much good questions, but good eyes. Look at their fruit, for that’s how you’ll recognize them (vv. 16–20). Scripture gives us some assistance in seeing good and bad fruit. The good looks like “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22). We’ve got to pay close attention, for wolves play by deception. But as believers, who are filled with the Spirit, we serve “the real Good Shepherd,” full of grace and truth (John 1:14).
Sep
29
2022
Everyone in high school admired Jack’s easygoing attitude and athletic skill. He was happiest in midair above a half-pipe ramp—one hand holding his skateboard, the other stretched out for balance. Jack decided to follow Jesus when he started attending a local church. Up to that point, he’d endured significant family struggles and had used drugs to medicate his pain. For a while after his conversion, things seemed to be going well for him. But years later he started using drugs again. Without the proper intervention and ongoing treatment, he eventually died of an overdose. It’s easy to turn back to what is familiar when we face difficulty in life. When the Israelites felt the distress of an upcoming Assyrian attack, they crawled back to the Egyptians—their former slave masters—for help (Isaiah 30:1–5). God predicted this would be disastrous, but He continued to care for them although they made the wrong choice. Isaiah voiced God’s heart: “The Lord longs to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show you compassion” (v. 18). This is God’s attitude toward us, even when we choose to look elsewhere to numb our pain. He wants to help us. He doesn’t want us to hurt ourselves with habits that create bondage. Certain substances and actions tempt us with a quick sense of relief, but God wants to provide authentic healing as we walk closely with Him throughout the course of our lives.
Sep
28
2022
I’m not a coffee drinker, but one sniff of coffee beans brings me a moment of both solace and wistfulness. When our teenage daughter Melissa was making her bedroom uniquely hers, she filled a bowl with coffee beans to permeate her room with a warm, pleasant scent. It’s been nearly two decades since Melissa’s earthly life ended in a car accident at age seventeen, but we still have that coffee-bean bowl. It gives us a continual, aromatic remembrance of Mell’s life with us. Scripture also uses fragrances as a reminder. Song of Songs refers to fragrances as a symbol of love between a man and a woman (see 1:3; 4:11, 16). In Hosea, God’s forgiveness of Israel is said to be “fragrance like a cedar of Lebanon” (Hosea 14:6). And Mary’s anointing of Jesus’ feet (John 12:3), which caused the house of Mary and her siblings to be “filled with the fragrance of the perfume” (John 12:3), pointed ahead to Jesus’ death (see v. 7). The idea of fragrance can also help us be mindful of our testimony of faith to those around us. Paul explained it this way: “We are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing” (2 Corinthians 2:15). Just as the scent of coffee beans reminds me of Melissa, may our lives produce a scent of Jesus and His love that reminds others of their need of Him.
Sep
27
2022
A rescue mission nicknamed “Operation Noah’s Ark” might sound fun for animal lovers, but it was a nightmare for the Nassau Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. After receiving complaints about the noise and the horrid stench coming from a certain house, workers entered the Long Island home and found and removed more than four hundred animals from the neglected conditions. We may not be holding hundreds of animals in filthy conditions, but Jesus said we might be harboring evil and sinful thoughts and actions in our hearts that need to be exposed and removed.  In teaching His disciples about what makes a person clean and unclean, Jesus said it isn’t dirty hands or “whatever enters the mouth” that defiles a person, but an evil heart (Matthew 15:17–19). The stench from our hearts would eventually leak out from their lives. Then Jesus gave examples of evil thoughts and actions that come “out of the heart” (v. 19). No amount of external religious activities and rituals can make them clean. We need God to transform our hearts. We can practice Jesus’ inside-out ethic by giving Him access to the squalor of our hearts and letting Him remove what’s causing the stench. As Christ uncovers what’s coming from our hearts, He’ll help our words and actions be aligned with His desires, and the aroma from our lives will please Him.
Sep
26
2022
According to psychologist Meg Jay, our minds tend to think about our future selves similarly to how we think about complete strangers. Why? It’s probably due to what’s sometimes called the “empathy gap.” It can be hard to empathize and care for people we don’t know personally—even future versions of ourselves. So in her work, Jay tries to help young people imagine their future selves and take steps to care for them. This includes working out actionable plans for who they will one day be—paving the way for them to pursue their dreams and to continue to thrive. In Psalm 90, we’re invited to see our lives, not just in the present, but as a whole—to ask God to help us “number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (v. 12). Remembering that our time on earth is limited can remind us of our desperate need to rely on God. We need His help to learn how to find satisfaction and joy—not just now, but “all our days” (v. 14). We need His help to learn to think not just of ourselves, but of future generations (v. 16). And we need His help to serve Him with the time we’ve been given—as He establishes the work of our hands and hearts (v. 17).
Sep
25
2022
Blogger Kevin Lynn’s life seemed to be falling apart. In a recent article he recounted, “I actually put a gun to my head . . . . It took for God to supernaturally step into my room and my life. And at that moment, I really found what I know is God now.” God intervened in Lynn’s life, preventing him from taking his life. He filled him with conviction and gave him an overwhelming reminder of His loving presence. Instead of hiding this powerful encounter, Lynn shared his experience with the world, creating a YouTube ministry where he shares his own transformation story as well as the stories of others. When Jesus’ follower and friend Lazarus died, many assumed that all was lost and that Jesus was too late (John 11:32). Lazarus had been in his tomb for four days before Jesus arrived, but He turned this moment of anguish into a miracle when He raised him from the dead (v. 38). “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you’ll see the glory of God?” He declared (v. 40). Just as Jesus raised Lazarus from death to life, He offers us new life through Him. By sacrificing His life on the cross, Christ paid the penalty for our sins and offers us forgiveness when we accept His gift of grace. We’re freed from the bondage of our sins, renewed by His everlasting love, and given the opportunity to change the course of our lives.
Sep
24
2022
Astronaut Chris Ferguson made a difficult decision as the commander of the flight crew scheduled for a journey to the International Space Station. But that decision didn’t have anything to do with the mechanics of flight or the safety of his fellow astronauts. Instead, it pertained to what he considers his most important work: his family. Ferguson opted to keep his feet planted firmly on Earth in order to be present for his daughter’s wedding. We all face difficult decisions at times—decisions that cause us to evaluate what matters most to us in life, because one option comes at the expense of the other. Jesus aimed to communicate this truth to His disciples and a crowd of onlookers regarding life’s most important decision—to follow Him. To be a disciple, He said, would require them to “deny themselves” in order to walk with Him (Mark 8:34). They might have been tempted to spare themselves the sacrifices required of following Christ and instead seek their own desires, but He reminded them it would come at the price of that which matters much more.  We’re often tempted to pursue things that seem of great value, yet they distract us from following Jesus. Let’s ask God to guide us in the choices we face each day so we’ll choose wisely and honor Him.
Sep
23
2022
Seeking to affirm some children who live on the streets in Mumbai, India, Ranjit created a song of their names. Coming up with a unique melody for each name, he taught them the tune, hoping to give them a positive memory related to what they’re called. For children who don’t regularly hear their name spoken in love, he bestowed on them a gift of respect. Names are important in the Bible, often reflecting a person’s character traits or new role. For instance, God changed the names of Abram and Sarai when He made a covenant of love with them, promising that He would be their God and they would be His people. Abram, which means exalted father, became Abraham, which means father of many. And Sarai, which means princess, became Sarah, which means princess of many (see Genesis 17:5, 15). God’s new names included the gracious promise that they would no longer be childless. When Sarah gave birth to their son, overjoyed, they named him Isaac, which means “he laughs”: “Sarah said, ‘God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me’” (Genesis 21:6). We show honor and respect to people when we call them by name and affirm who God has created them to be. A loving nickname that affirms someone’s unique qualities as one created in the image of God can do the same.
Sep
22
2022
When British drama Line of Duty concluded, record numbers watched to see how its fight against organized crime would end. But many viewers were left disappointed when the finale implied that evil would ultimately win. “I wanted the bad guys brought to justice,” one fan said. “We needed that moral ending.” Sociologist Peter Berger once noted that we hunger for hope and justice—hope that evil will one day be overcome and that those who caused it will be made to face their crimes. A world where the bad guys win goes against how we know the world should work. Without probably realizing it, those disappointed fans were expressing humanity’s deep longing for the world to be made right again. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus is realistic about evil. It exists not only between us, requiring forgiveness (Matthew 6:12–13), but on a grand scale, requiring deliverance (v. 13). This realism, however, is matched with hope. There’s a place where evil doesn’t exist—heaven—and that heavenly kingdom is coming to earth (v. 10). One day God’s justice will be complete, His “moral ending” will come, and evil will be banished for good (Revelation 21:4). So when the real-life bad guys win and disappointment sets in, let’s remember this: until God’s will is done “on earth as it is in heaven,” there is always hope—because the story isn’t over.
Sep
21
2022
In his hall-of-fame career as a sportswriter Dave Kindred covered hundreds of major sporting events and championships and wrote a biography of Muhammad Ali. Growing bored in retirement, he started attending girls’ basketball games at a local school. Soon he began writing stories about each game and posting them online. And when Dave’s mother and grandson died and his wife suffered a debilitating stroke, he realized the team he’d been covering provided him with a sense of community and purpose. He needed them as much as they needed him. Kindred said, “This team saved me. My life had turned dark . . . [and] they were light.” How does a legendary journalist come to depend on a community of teenagers? The same way a legendary apostle leaned on the fellowship of those he met on his missionary journeys. Did you notice all the people Paul greeted as he closed his letter? (Romans 16:7–11). “Greet Andronicus and Junia,” he wrote, “my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me” (v. 7). “Greet Ampliatus, my dear friend in the Lord” (v. 8). More than twenty-five people in all, most of whom are not mentioned in Scripture again. But Paul needed them. Who’s in your community? The best place to begin is with your local church. Anyone there whose life has turned dark? As God leads, you can be a light that points them to Jesus. Someday they may return the favor.
Sep
20
2022
The cut flowers came from Ecuador. By the time they arrived at my house, they were droopy and road weary. Instructions said revive them with a cool drink of refreshing water. Before that, however, the flower stems had to be trimmed one-half inch so they could drink the water more easily. But would they survive? The next morning, I discovered my answer. The Ecuadorian bouquet was a glorious sight. Featuring flowers I’d never seen before, the floral display was stunning. Fresh water made all the difference—a reminder of what Jesus said about water and what it means to believers. When Jesus asked a Samaritan woman for a drink of water—implying He’d drink from what she fetched from the well—He changed her life. She was surprised by His request. Jews looked down on Samaritans. But Jesus said, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water” (John 4:10). Later, in the temple, He cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink” (7:37). Among those who believed in Him, “rivers of living water will flow from within them. By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive” (vv. 38–39). God’s refreshing Spirit revives us today when we’re life weary. He’s the Living Water, dwelling in our souls with holy refreshment. May we drink deep today.
Sep
19
2022
As a teen, I was driving way too fast trying to follow my friend to his home after a high school basketball practice. It was raining hard, and I was having a hard time keeping up with his car. Suddenly, my wipers cleared the watery windshield only to reveal my friend’s sedan stopped in front of me! I slammed on the brakes, slid off the street, and struck a large tree. My car was destroyed. Later I awoke in the comatose ward of a local hospital. While by God’s grace I survived, my reckless ways had proved to be very costly. Moses made a reckless decision that cost him greatly. His poor choice, however, involved a lack of water—not too much of it (as in my case). The Israelites were without water in the Desert of Zin, and “the people gathered in opposition to Moses” (Numbers 20:2). God told the frazzled leader to speak to a rock and it would “pour out its water” (v. 8). Instead, he “struck the rock twice” (v. 11). God said, “Because you did not trust in me . . . , you will not [enter the promised land]” (v. 12). When we make reckless decisions, we pay the consequences. “Desire without knowledge is not good—how much more will hasty feet miss the way!” (Proverbs 19:2). May we prayerfully, carefully seek God’s wisdom and guidance in the choices and decisions we make today.
Sep
18
2022
“Look, Papa! Those trees are waving at God!” As we watched young birches bending in the wind before an oncoming storm, my grandson’s excited observation made me smile. It also made me ask myself, Do I have that kind of imaginative faith? Reflecting on the story of Moses and the burning bush, the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote that “Earth’s crammed with heaven, / And every common bush afire with God; / But only he who sees, takes off his shoes.” God’s handiwork is evident all around us in the wonders of what He has made, and one day, when the earth is made new, we’ll see it unlike ever before. God tells us about this day when He proclaims through the prophet Isaiah, “You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands” (Isaiah 55:12). Singing mountains? Clapping trees? Why not? Paul noted that “the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:21). Jesus once spoke of stones crying out (Luke 19:40), and His words echo Isaiah’s prophecy about what lies ahead for those who come to Him for salvation. When we look to Him with faith that imagines what only God can do, we will see His wonders continue forever!
Sep
17
2022
At a primary school in Greenock, Scotland, three teachers on maternity leave brought their babies to school every two weeks to interact with schoolchildren. Playtime with babies teaches children empathy, or care and feeling for others. Most receptive often are the children who are “a little challenging,” as one teacher put it. “It’s often [they] who interact more on a one-to-one level.” They learn “how much hard work it is to take care of a child,” and “more about each other’s feelings as well.” Learning from an infant to care about others isn’t a new idea to believers in Jesus. We know the One who came as the baby Jesus. His birth changed everything we understand about caring relationships. The first to learn of Christ’s birth were shepherds, a humble profession involving care of weak and vulnerable sheep. Later, when children were brought to Jesus, He corrected disciples who thought children unworthy. “Let the little children come to me,” he said, “and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Mark 10:14). Showing the essence of empathy, Jesus “took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them” (v. 16). In our own lives, as His sometimes “challenging” children, we could be considered unworthy, too. Instead, as the One Who came as a child, the Lord accepts us with His love—thereby teaching us the caring power of loving babies and all people.
Sep
16
2022
A record rainfall more than tripled what was forecasted in Waverly, Tennessee, in August 2021. In the wake of the powerful storm, twenty people lost their lives and hundreds of homes were destroyed. Had it not been for the compassion and skill of helicopter pilot Joel Boyers, the loss of human life would’ve been even greater. The pilot took flight in response to a phone call from a woman who was concerned about her loved ones. In addition to seeing houses on fire and cars in trees, Boyers noted, “It was nothing but [muddy], raging water below me.” The pilot, however, bravely proceeded to rescue twelve people from the roofs of their homes. As harrowing as the raging waters can be in life, more often than not the swirling floods we face aren’t literal—but oh, how real! In days of uncertainty and instability, we can feel overwhelmed, unsafe—“in over our heads” mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. But we don’t need to despair. In Psalm 18, we read how David’s enemies were many and mighty, but his God was greater. How great? So great and powerful (v. 1) that he used multiple metaphors (v. 2) to describe Him. God was mighty enough to rescue from deep waters and strong enemies (vv. 16–17). How great? Great enough for us to call upon Him in the name of Jesus, regardless of the volume and depth of the waters surrounding us in life (v. 3).  
Sep
15
2022
Astonishingly, it took Handel only twenty-four days to write the orchestral music for the Messiah oratorio—today perhaps the world’s most famous musical composition, one performed thousands of times every year around the world. The magnificent work reaches its climax nearly two hours after it begins with the most famous part of the oratorio, the “Hallelujah Chorus.” As the trumpets and timpani announce the beginning of the chorus, voices layer on top of each other as the choir sings the words of Revelation 11:15: “And he shall reign for ever and ever.” It is a triumphant declaration of the hope of eternity in heaven with Jesus. Many of the words in Messiah come from the book of Revelation, the apostle John’s account of a vision he had near the end of his life describing events culminating with the return of Christ. In Revelation, John returns again and again to the theme of the return of the resurrected Jesus to earth—when there will be great rejoicing with the sound of choirs (Revelation 19:1–8). The world will rejoice because Jesus will have defeated the powers of darkness and death and established a kingdom of peace. One day, all the people of heaven will sing together in a magnificent choir proclaiming the majesty of Jesus and the blessing of His forever reign (Revelation 7:9). Until then, we live, work, pray, and wait in hope.
Sep
14
2022
At the end of a meal to mark Passover, a traditional Jewish holiday that celebrates and remembers the greatness of God’s saving work, church members expressed their joy by dancing together in a circle. Barry stood back, watching with a huge smile. He remarked how much he loved these occasions, saying, “This is my family now. This is my community. I’ve found somewhere where I know I can love and be loved . . . where I belong.” In his childhood, Barry suffered cruel emotional and physical abuse, robbing him of his joy. But his local church welcomed him and introduced him to Jesus. Finding their unity and joy infectious, he began following Christ and felt loved and accepted. In Psalm 133, King David used powerful images to illustrate the far-reaching effects of the “good and pleasant” unity of God’s people. He said it’s like someone who’s anointed with precious oil, the liquid running down over their collar (v. 2). This anointing was common in the ancient world, sometimes as a greeting when one entered a home. David also compared this unity to the dew that falls on the mountain bringing life and blessing (v. 3). Oil releases a fragrance that fills a room and dew brings moisture to dry places. Unity too has good and pleasant effects such as welcoming those who were alone. Let’s seek to be united in Christ so that God can bring about good through us.
Sep
13
2022
On June 16, 1858, as the newly nominated Republican candidate for the US Senate from Illinois, Abraham Lincoln delivered his famous “House Divided” speech, which highlighted the tensions between various factions in America regarding slavery. It caused a stir among Lincoln’s friends and foes. Lincoln felt it was important to use the “house divided” figure of speech which Jesus used in Matthew 12:25 because it was widely known and simply expressed. He used this metaphor “so it would strike home to the minds of men in order to rouse them to the peril of the times.” If a divided house can’t stand, the opposite is true—an undivided house stands unified. In principle, that’s what the household of God is designed to be (Ephesians 2:19). Though made up of people from various backgrounds, together we’ve been reconciled to God (and each other) through Jesus’ death on the cross (vv. 14–16). In view of this truth (see Ephesians 3), Paul offers this instruction to believers in Jesus: “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (4:3). Today, when heightened tensions threaten to divide people who are otherwise united, such as our families and fellow believers, God can give the wisdom and strength needed to keep unity with one another through the help of the Spirit. This will cause us to be light in a dark, divided world.
Sep
12
2022
Michael was diving for lobster when a humpback whale caught him in its mouth. He pushed back in the darkness as the whale’s muscles squeezed against him. He thought he was done. But whales don’t prefer lobstermen, and thirty seconds later the whale spit Michael into the air. Amazingly, Michael had no broken bones—only extensive bruises and one whale of a story. He wasn’t the first. Jonah was swallowed by “a huge fish” (Jonah 1:17), and he stayed in its belly three days before being vomited onto land (2:1, 10). Unlike Michael, who was caught by accident, Jonah was swallowed because he hated Israel’s enemies and didn’t want them to repent. When God told Jonah to preach in Nineveh, he caught a boat going the other way. So God sent a whale-sized fish to get his attention. I appreciate why Jonah hated the Assyrians. They’d harassed Israel in the past, and within fifty years they would carry the northern tribes into captivity where they would vanish forever. Jonah was understandably offended that Assyria might be forgiven. But Jonah was more loyal to the people of God than to the God of all people. God loved Israel’s enemies and wanted to save them. He loves our enemies and wants to save them. With the wind of the Spirit at our backs, let’s sail toward them with the good news of Jesus.
Sep
11
2022
As a child, there was a time I dreaded going to school. Some girls were bullying me by subjecting me to cruel pranks. So during recess, I’d take refuge in the library, where I’d read a series of Christian storybooks. I remember the first time I read the name “Jesus.” Somehow, I knew that this was the name of Someone who loved me. In the months that followed, whenever I’d enter school fearful of the torment that lay ahead, I’d pray, “Jesus, protect me.” I’d feel stronger and calmer, knowing He was watching over me. In time, the girls simply grew tired of bullying me and stopped. Many years have passed, and trusting His name continues to sustain me through difficult times. Trusting His name is believing that what He says about His character is true, allowing me to rest in Him. David, too, knew the security of trusting in God’s name. When he wrote Psalm 9, he had already experienced God as the all–powerful ruler who’s just and faithful (Psalm 9:7–8, 10, 16). David thus showed his trust in God’s name by going into battle against his enemies, trusting not his weapons or military skill, but in God ultimately coming through for him as “a refuge for the oppressed” (v. 9). As a little girl, I called on His name and experienced how He lived up to it. May we always trust His name─Jesus—the name of the One that loves us.  
Sep
10
2022
When the World Trade Center towers fell on September 11, 2001, Greg Rodriguez was one of the victims who died in the wreckage. As his mother Phyllis and his father grieved, they also carefully considered their response to such a horrific attack. In 2002, Phyllis met Aicha el-Wafe, the mother of one of the men accused of helping the terrorists. Phyllis said she “approached her and opened my arms. We embraced and cried. . . . For Aicha and me, there was an immediate bonding. . . . We both suffered on account of our sons.”  Phyllis met Aicha amid shared pain and sorrow. Phyllis believed that fury over her son’s death, appropriate as it was, could not heal her anguish. Listening to Aicha’s family story, Phyllis felt compassion, resisting the temptation to view them merely as enemies. She desired justice, but believed we must release the temptation to seek revenge that often grips us when we’ve been wronged. The apostle Paul shared this conviction, admonishing us to “get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger . . . along with every form of malice” (Ephesians 4:31). As we relinquish these destructive powers, God’s Spirit fills us with new perspective. “Be kind and compassionate to one another,” Paul says (v. 32). It’s possible to work for wrongs to be made right while also refusing rageful vengeance. May the Spirit help us show compassion that overcomes bitterness.
Sep
9
2022
Despite living much of his life as a pagan, the Roman emperor Constantine (272–337 ad) implemented reforms that stopped the systematic persecution of Christians. He also instituted the calendar we use, dividing all of history into bc (Before Christ) and ad (Anno Domini, or Year of our Lord). A move to secularize this system has changed the labels to ce (Common Era) and bce (Before the Common Era). Some people point to this as yet one more example of how the world keeps God out. But God hasn’t gone anywhere. Regardless of the name, our calendar still centers itself around the reality of Jesus’ life on earth. In the Bible, the book of Esther is unusual in that it contains no specific mention of God. Yet the story it tells is one of God’s deliverance. Banished from their homeland, the Jewish people lived in a country indifferent to Him. A powerful government official wanted to kill them all (Esther 8:8–9, 13). Yet through Queen Esther and her cousin Mordecai, God delivered His people, a story still celebrated to this day in the Jewish holiday of Purim (9:20–32). Regardless of how the world chooses to respond to Him now, Jesus changed everything. He introduced us to an uncommon era—one full of genuine hope and promise. All we need to do is look around us. We’ll see Him.  
Sep
8
2022
When writing my mom’s obituary, I felt that the word died seemed too final for the hope I had in our promised reunion in heaven as fellow believers in Jesus. So, I wrote: “She was welcomed into the arms of Jesus.” Still, some days I grieve when looking at the more current family photos that don’t include my mom. Recently, though, I discovered a painter who creates family portraits with those we’ve lost. The artist uses the photos of loved ones who have gone before us to paint them into the picture of the family. With strokes of a paintbrush, this artist represents God’s promise of a heavenly reunion. I shed grateful tears at the thought of seeing my mom smiling by my side again. The apostle Paul affirms that believers in Jesus don’t have to grieve “like the rest of mankind” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). “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” (v. 14). Paul acknowledges Jesus’ second coming and proclaims that all believers will be reunited with Jesus. “And so we will be with the Lord forever” (v. 17). God’s promise of a heavenly reunion can comfort us when we’re grieving the loss of a loved one who has trusted Jesus. Our promised future with our Risen King also provides enduring hope when we face our own immortality, until the day Jesus comes or calls us home.
Sep
7
2022
In 1889, the most ambitious private home construction project in the United States began. On-site manufacturing produced some 32,000 bricks a day. The work continued until the completion of George Vanderbilt II’s “summer house”—six years later. The result was the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. To this day, it remains the largest private residence in America, with 250 rooms (including 35 bedrooms and 43 bathrooms) consuming a staggering 178,926 square feet (16,226 sq. meters) of floor space. This project, ambitious as it was, was nothing compared to the “building” intentions Jesus proclaimed to His disciples in Matthew 16. After Peter had confirmed that Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (v. 16), Jesus declared, “I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (v. 18). While theologians debate the identity of the “rock,” there’s no debate about Jesus’ intentions. He would build His church to stretch to the ends of the earth (Matthew 28:19–20), including people from every nation and ethnic group from around the globe (Revelation 5:9). The cost of this building project? The sacrifice of Jesus’ own blood on the cross (Acts 20:28). As members of His “building” (Ephesians 2:21), purchased at so great a price, may we celebrate His loving sacrifice and join Him in this great mission.
Sep
6
2022
My wife and I once stayed in a lovely old seaside hotel with large sash windows and thick stone walls. One afternoon, a storm ripped through the region, churning up the sea and pounding our windows like angry fists on a door. Yet we were at peace. Those walls were so strong, and the hotel’s foundations so solid! While storms raged outside, our room was a refuge. Refuge is an important theme in Scripture, starting with God Himself. “You have been a refuge for the poor,” Isaiah says of God, “a refuge for the needy in their distress, a shelter from the storm” (Isaiah 25:4). In addition, refuge is something God’s people were and are to provide, whether through Israel’s ancient cities of refuge (Numbers 35:6) or by offering hospitality to “foreigners” in need (Deuteronomy 10:19). These same principles can guide us today when humanitarian crises hit our world. In such times, we pray that the God of refuge would use us, His people, to help the vulnerable find safety. The storm that hit our hotel was gone the following morning, leaving us with a calm sea and a warm sun that made the seagulls glow. It’s an image I hold on to as I think of those facing natural disasters or fleeing “ruthless” regimes (Isaiah 25:4): that the God of refuge would empower us to help them find safety now and a brighter tomorrow.
Sep
5
2022
Something was eating my flowers. The day before, blooms proudly lifted their heads. Now they were headless stems. I prowled the perimeter of my yard and discovered a rabbit-sized hole in my wooden fence. Bunnies are cute, but the pesky animals can mow down a garden of flowers in minutes. I wonder, might there be “intruders” shearing off the blooms of God’s character in my life? Proverbs 25:28 says, “Like a city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self-control.” In ancient days, the wall of the city protected it against invasion from enemies. Even a small opening in a wall meant that the entire city lay open to attack. So many of the proverbs are about self-control. “If you find honey, eat just enough,” wrote the wise man (25:16). Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit that guards us, protecting us from losing ground to impatience, bitterness, greed, and other pests that can intrude and destroy God’s harvest in our lives (see Galatians 5:22–23). Self-control is a healthy-mindedness that watches for the holes in the walls of our lives and keeps them patched. When I inspect the perimeter of my life, I can at times see vulnerable holes. A spot where I give in to temptation over and over. An area of impatience. Oh, how I need the healthy-minded self-control of God in my life to guard me from such intruders!
Sep
4
2022
Approximately ten Lego pieces are sold for every person on earth each year—more than seventy-five billion of the little plastic bricks. But if it wasn’t for the perseverance of Danish toymaker Ole Kirk Christiansen, there wouldn't be any Legos to snap together. Christiansen toiled away in Billund, Denmark, for decades before creating leg godt, which means “play well.” His workshop was destroyed by fire twice. He endured bankruptcy and a world war that caused a shortage of materials. Finally, in the late 1940s, he landed on the idea for self-locking plastic bricks. By the time Ole Kirk died in 1955, Legos was on the verge of becoming a household word. Persevering in the challenges of work and life can be difficult. That’s also true in our spiritual life as we strive to grow to be more like Jesus. Trouble hits us, and we need God’s strength to persevere. The apostle James wrote: “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial” (1:12). Sometimes the trials we face are setbacks in relationships or finances or health. Sometimes they’re temptations that slow us down in our goal of honoring God with our lives. But God promises wisdom for such times (v. 5), and He asks us to trust Him as He provides what we need (v. 6). Through it all, when we allow Him to help us persevere in honoring Him with our lives, we find true blessing (v. 12).
Sep
3
2022
In 1970, a car executive visiting Denmark learned that a 1939 Buick Dual Cowl Phaeton was owned by a local resident. Since the car never actually went into production, it was a rare find—a one-of-kind vehicle. Delighted with the discovery, the executive bought the car and spent his time and money to have it restored. Currently, this unique car is featured in a world-renowned collection of classic vehicles. Hidden treasures can take many forms, and in the book of 2 Chronicles we read about another discovery of a lost treasure. Eighteen years into his reign as king of Israel, Josiah began to repair the temple in Jerusalem. During the process, the priest Hilkiah found the “Book of the Law in the temple” (2 Chronicles 34:15). The Book of the Law, the first five books of the Old Testament, had likely been hidden away decades earlier to keep it safe from invading armies. Over time it had been simply forgotten. When King Josiah was told about this discovery, he realized the importance of the find. Josiah called all the people of Israel together and read the entire Book of the Law so they could commit themselves to keep all that was written in it (vv. 30–31). Still important for our lives today, we have the amazing blessing of access to all sixty-six books of the Bible, a treasure of infinite worth.  
Sep
2
2022
I arrived at the cancer care center, where I’d be serving as my mom’s live-in caregiver, feeling alone and afraid. I’d left my family and support system more than 750 miles behind me. But before I could even touch my luggage, a man with a huge grin offered to help. By the time we reached the sixth floor, I’d made plans to meet Frank’s wife, Lori, who cared for him during his treatments. The couple soon became like family as we leaned on God and each other. We laughed, vented, cried, and prayed together. Though we all felt displaced, our connection to God and each other kept us rooted in love as we supported one another. When Ruth committed to caring for her mother-in-law, Naomi, she left the security of familiarity behind. Ruth “entered a field and began to glean behind the harvesters” (Ruth 2:3). The overseer told the landowner, Boaz, that Ruth “came to the field” and “remained” working “except for a short rest in the shelter” (v. 7). Ruth found a safe place with people willing to care for her as she cared for Naomi (vv. 8–9). And God provided for Ruth and Naomi though Boaz’s generosity (vv. 14–16). Life’s circumstances can provide roads to unexpected places far beyond our comfort zones. As we remain connected to God and each other, He’ll keep us rooted in love as we support one another.
Sep
1
2022
It was noon, but the sun wasn’t visible. New England’s Dark Day began the morning of May 19, 1780 and lasted for hours. The cause of the surreal darkness was likely heavy clouds of smoke from massive wildfires in Canada, but many wondered if it might be Judgment Day. The Connecticut Governor’s Council (senate) was in session, and when some considered adjourning because of the darkness, Abraham Davenport responded, “I am against adjournment. The day of judgment is either approaching, or it is not. If it is not, there is no cause for an adjournment; if it is, I choose to be found doing my duty. I wish therefore that candles may be brought.” Davenport’s desire to be found faithfully performing the work God had given him to do on the day He returns is illustrative of Jesus’ words: “Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes” (Luke 12:35–37). Day or night, it’s always good to serve our Savior. Even when darkness encroaches, His promises for all who look forward to Him will stand. Like candles in the darkness, may our “light shine before others, that they may see” (Matthew 5:16) and love and serve Him too.
Aug
31
2022
Denmark is among the happiest countries in the world, according to the World Happiness Report. The Danes weather their lengthy, dark winters by gathering with friends to share a warm drink or a gracious meal. The word they use for the feelings associated with those moments is hygge (hoo-gah). Hygge helps them offset the impact of enjoying less sunlight than their counterparts at lower latitudes. By circling around a simple table with loved ones, their hearts are nourished and rejuvenated. The writer of Hebrews encourages this idea of gathering together as a community. He acknowledges that there will be difficult days—with challenges far more significant than the weather—requiring those who follow Christ to persevere in faith. Though Jesus has made certain our acceptance by God, through our faith in the Savior, we may struggle against shame or doubt or real opposition. By gathering together, we have the opportunity—the privilege—of encouraging one another through those moments in our faith. When we’re sharing company, we’re able to “spur one another on toward love and good deeds,” which bolsters our faith (Hebrews 10:24). Gathering with friends doesn’t assure us of a ranking on a “happiness report.” It is, however, something the Bible offers as a means to bear up in faith under the common frustrations of life. What a wonderful reason to seek out the community of a church! Or to open our homes—with an attitude of Danish simplicity—to nourish one another’s hearts.
Aug
30
2022
Zach Elder and his friends pulled up to shore after a twenty-five-day rafting trip through the Grand Canyon. The man who came to retrieve their rafts told them about the COVID-19 virus. They thought he was joking. But as they left the canyon their phones pinged with their parents’ urgent messages. Zach and his friends were stunned. They wished they could return to the river and escape what they now knew. In a fallen world, knowledge often brings pain. The wise Teacher of Ecclesiastes observed, “With much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief” (v. 18). Who hasn’t envied a child’s blissful ignorance? She doesn’t yet know about racism, violence, and cancer. Weren’t we happier before we grew up and discerned our own weaknesses and vices? Before we learned our family’s secrets—why our uncle drinks heavily or what caused our parents’ divorce? The pain from knowledge can’t be wished away. Once we know, it’s no use pretending we don’t. But there’s a higher knowledge that empowers us to endure, even thrive. Jesus is the Word of God, the light that shines in our darkness (John 1:1–5). He “has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30). Your pain is your reason to run to Jesus. He knows you and cares for you.
Aug
29
2022
A hotel chain’s commercial featured one little building standing amidst a dark night. Nothing else was around. The only light in the scene came from a small lamp near the door on the porch of the building. The bulb cast enough illumination for a visitor to walk up the steps and enter the building. The commercial ended with the phrase, “We’ll leave the light on for you.”  A porch light is akin to a welcome sign, reminding weary travelers that there’s a comfortable place still open where they can stop and rest. The light invites those passing by to come on in and escape from the dark, weary journey. Jesus says the life of believers in Him should resemble that of a welcoming light. He told His followers, “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden” (Matthew 5:14). As believers, we’re to illuminate a dark world. As He directs and empowers us, “they may see [our] good deeds and glorify [our] Father in heaven” (v. 16). And as we leave our lights on, others will feel welcomed to come to us to learn more about the one true Light of the world—Jesus (John 8:12).  In a weary and dark world, His light always remains on. Have you left your light on? As Jesus shines through you today, others may see and begin radiating His light too.
Aug
28
2022
In 1879, people watching William Beal would likely think he was loony. They’d see him filling bottles with seeds, then burying them in deep soil. What they didn’t know was that Beal was conducting an experiment that would span centuries. Every twenty years a bottle would be dug up, its seeds would be planted, and researchers could see which seeds would germinate. Jesus talked a lot about seed-planting, often likening the sowing of seed to the spreading of “the word” (Mark 4:15). He taught that some seeds are snatched by Satan, others have no foundation and don’t take root, and yet others are hampered by the life around them and are choked out (vv. 15–18). As we spread the Good News, it’s not up to us which seeds will survive. Our job is simply to sow the gospel—that is, tell others about Jesus: “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation (16:15 esv). In the year 2021, another of Beal’s bottles was dug up by researchers. Beal’s seeds from 1879 were planted—and some sprouted, having survived more than 140 years. As God works through to share our faith with others, we never know if our testimony will take root, or when. But we’re to be encouraged that our sowing of the Good News might, even after many years, be engaged by someone who will “accept it, and produce a crop” (4:20).
Aug
27
2022
Zach was funny, smart, and well-liked. But he secretly struggled with depression. After he committed suicide at age fifteen, his mom, Lori, said of him, “It’s just hard to comprehend how someone that had so much going for him would come to that point. Someone like Zach . . . was not exempt from suicide.” There are moments in the quiet when Lori pours out her sorrow to God. She says that the deep sadness after suicide is “a whole different level of grief.” Yet she and her family have learned to lean on God and others for strength, and now they’re using their time to love others who are grappling with depression. Lori’s motto has become “Love and lean.” This idea is also seen in the Old Testament story of Ruth. Naomi lost her husband and two sons—one who was married to Ruth (Ruth 1:3–5). Naomi grew bitter and depressed and urged Ruth to return to her mother’s family where she could be cared for. Ruth, though also grieving, “clung” to her mother-in-law and committed to staying with her and caring for her (vv. 14–17). They returned to Bethlehem, Naomi’s homeland, where Ruth would be a foreigner. But they had each other to love and lean on; and God provided for them (2:11–12). During our times of grief, God’s love remains steady. We always have Him to lean on as we also lean on and love others in His strength.
Aug
26
2022
In 2000, an upstart company operating on a movie-rental-by-mail system offered to sell their company for $50 million to Blockbuster—the home movies and video game rentals king at that time. Netflix had roughly 300,000 subscribers, while Blockbuster had millions and millions of them. Blockbuster passed on the opportunity to purchase their little competitor. The result? Today Netflix has more than 180 million subscribers and is worth nearly $200 billion. As for Blockbuster, well . . . it went bust. None of us can predict the future.  We’re tempted to believe that we’re in control of our lives and that our plans for the future will succeed. But James says, “You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (4:14). Life is brief, quick, and more fragile than we often realize. Planning is necessary, but the sin of presumption is in the assumption that we’re in control. That’s why James warns us not to “boast in [our] arrogant schemes,” for “all such boasting is evil” (v. 16). The way to avoid this sinful practice is through grateful participation with God. Gratitude reminds us that He’s the source of every “good and perfect gift” (1:17). Then when we come to God, we ask Him not to simply bless our present and future plans but to help us join Him in what He’s doing. This is what it means to pray, “If it is the Lord’s will” (4:15).
Aug
25
2022
The gleeful shouts arising from our basement came from my wife, Shirley. For hours she’d wrestled with a newsletter project, and she was ready to be done with it. In her anxiety and uncertainty about how to move forward, she prayed for God’s help. She also reached out to Facebook friends and soon the project was completed—a team effort. While a newsletter project is a little thing in life, small (and not so small) things can bring about worry or anxiousness. Perhaps you’re a parent walking through the stages of childrearing for the first time; a student facing newfound academic challenges; a person grieving the loss of a loved one; or someone experiencing a home, work, or ministry challenge. Sometimes we’re needlessly on edge because we don’t ask God for help (James 4:2). Paul pointed the followers of Jesus in Philippi—and us—to our first line of defense in times of need: “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 life gets complicated, we need reminders like the one from the hymn “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”: Oh what peace we often forfeit, oh what needless pain we bear, all because we do not carry, everything to God in prayer. And perhaps in our asking God for help, He’ll lead us to ask people who can assist us.
Aug
24
2022
It was a Monday morning, but my friend Chia-ming wasn’t in the office. He was at home, cleaning the bathroom. A month unemployed, he thought, and no job leads. His firm had shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and worries about the future filled Chia-ming with fear. I need to support my family, he thought. Where can I go for help? In Psalm 121:1, the pilgrims to Jerusalem asked a similar question about where to find help. The journey to the Holy City on Mount Zion was long and potentially dangerous, with travelers enduring an arduous climb. The challenges they faced may seem like the difficult journeys we face in life today—trudging the path of illness, relationship problems, bereavement, stress at work, or as, in the case of Chia-ming, financial difficulty and unemployment. But we can take heart in the truth that the Maker of heaven and earth Himself helps us (v. 2). He watches over our lives (vv. 3, 5, 7–8) and He knows what we need. Shamar, the Hebrew word for “watches over,” means “to guard.” The Creator of the universe is our guardian. We’re in His safekeeping. “God took care of me and my family,” Chia-ming shared recently. “And at the right time, He provided a teaching job.” As we trust and obey God at every step of our journey, we can look ahead with hope, knowing we’re within the protective boundaries of His wisdom and love.
Aug
23
2022
The impala, a member of the antelope family, is able to jump up to ten feet high and thirty feet in length. It’s an incredible feat, and no doubt essential to its survival in the African wild. Yet, at many impala enclosures found in zoos, you’ll find that the animals are kept in place by a wall that’s merely three feet tall. How can such a low wall contain these athletic animals? It works because impalas will never jump unless they can see where they’ll land. The wall keeps the impalas inside the enclosure because they can’t see what is on the other side. As humans, we’re not all that different. We want to know the outcome of a situation before we move forward. The life of faith, however, rarely works that way. Writing to the church at Corinth, Paul reminds them, “We live by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). Jesus taught us to pray, “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). But that doesn’t mean we’ll know His outcomes beforehand. Living by faith means trusting His good purposes even when those purposes are shrouded in mystery. In the midst of life’s uncertainties, we can trust His unfailing love. No matter what life throws at us, “we make it our goal to please him” (2 Corinthians 5:9). 
Aug
22
2022
“There are different questions a young artist can ask,” says singer/songwriter Linford Detweiler of Over the Rhine. “One is, ‘What must I do to be famous?’” Detweiler warns that such a goal “swings the door open to all manner of destructive forces from both within and without.” He and his wife have instead chosen a less flashy musical road in which they “continue to grow over the course of an entire lifetime.” The name of Jehoiada isn’t readily recognized, yet it’s synonymous with a lifetime of dedication to God. He served as priest during the reign of King Joash, who for the most part ruled well—thanks to Jehoiada. When Joash was just seven years old, Jehoiada had been the catalyst in installing him as rightful king (2 Kings 11:1–16). But this was no power grab. At Joash’s coronation, Jehoiada “made a covenant between the Lord and the king and people that they would be the Lord’s people” (v. 17). He kept his word, implementing badly needed reforms. “As long as Jehoiada lived, burnt offerings were presented continually in the temple of the Lord” (2 Chronicles 24:14). For his dedication, Jehoiada “was buried with the kings in the City of David” (v. 16). Eugene Peterson calls such a God-focused life “a long obedience in the same direction.” Ironically, it’s such obedience that stands out in a world bent on fame, power, and self-fulfillment.
Aug
21
2022
Without the ability to see their grandchildren in person due to risk of infection, many grandparents sought new ways of connecting during the COVID-19 pandemic. A recent survey showed that many grandparents adopted texting and social media as a means to maintain their precious bond with their grandchildren. Some even worshiped with their extended families by video call. One of the most wonderful ways parents and grandparents can influence their children is by passing down the truths of Scripture. In Deuteronomy 4, Moses charged God’s people to “not forget the things” they’d seen about God “or let them fade from [their] heart[s]” (v. 9). He went on to say that sharing these things with their children and their children’s children would enable them to learn to “revere [Him]” (v. 10) and to live according to His truth in the land He was giving them. The relationships God gives us with our families and friends are certainly meant to be enjoyed. By God’s design, they’re also intended to be a conduit to convey His wisdom from one generation to another, “training [them] in righteousness” and “equipping them for “every good work” (1 Timothy 3:16–17). When we share God’s truth and work in our lives with the next generation—whether by text, call, video, or in-person conversation—we equip them to see and enjoy His work in their own lives.
Aug
20
2022
To test the stability of two houses, engineers simulated a category three hurricane by using powerful fans that produced winds gusts of 100 mph for ten minutes. The first house was built according to a non-hurricane building code and the other was put together with a reinforced roof and floors. The first house shook and eventually collapsed, but the second house survived with only a few cosmetic damages. One of the engineers summarized the study by asking, "Which house would you rather be living in?" Concluding His teaching on values of kingdom living, Jesus said, “Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matthew 7:24). The fierce winds blew, but the house survived. In contrast, the person who hears, and doesn’t obey, “is like a foolish man who built his house on sand” (v. 26). The fierce winds blew, and the house collapsed under the intensity of the storm. Jesus presented his audience with two options: build your lives on the solid foundation of obedience to Him or on the unstable sand of your own ways. We too have to make a choice. Will we build our lives on Jesus and obedience to His words or disobedience to His instruction? By the Holy Spirit’s help, we can choose to build our lives on Christ.
Aug
19
2022
Under the night sky in the spring of 2020, surfers rode bioluminescent waves along the coast of San Diego. These lightshows were caused by microscopic organisms called phytoplankton, a name derived from a Greek word meaning “wanderer” or “drifter.” During the day, the living organisms create red tides and capture sunlight that converts into chemical energy. When disturbed in the darkness, they produce an electric blue light. Believers in Jesus are citizens of heaven who, much like the red-tide algae, live like wanderers or drifters on earth. When difficult circumstances disturb our well-laid plans, the Holy Spirit empowers us to respond like Jesus—the Light of the world—so we can reflect His radiant character in the darkness. According to Paul, nothing is more valuable than our intimacy with Christ and the righteousness that comes through our faith in Him (Philippians 3:8–9). His life proved that knowing Jesus and the power of His resurrection changes us, impacting the way we live and the way we respond when trials disrupt our lives (vv. 10–16). When we spend time with God’s Son daily, the Holy Spirit equips us with the truth we need—enabling us to face every challenge on this earth in ways that reflect Christ’s character (vv. 17–21). We can be beacons of God’s love and hope, cutting through the darkness until the day He calls us home or comes again.
Aug
18
2022
Ironclad beetles are known for their tough exterior which protects them from predators. One special variety, however, has extraordinary strength under pressure. The insect’s hard, outer shell stretches, rather than cracks, where it joins together. Its flat back and low profile also help it to resist fractures. Scientific tests show that it can survive a compression force of nearly 40,000 times its body weight. God made this bug extra tough, and He gave resilience to Jeremiah as well. The prophet would face intense pressure when he delivered unwelcome messages to Israel, so God promised to make him “an iron pillar and a bronze wall” (Jeremiah 1:18). The prophet wouldn’t be flattened, dismantled, or overwhelmed. His words would stand strong because of God’s presence and rescuing power. Throughout his life, Jeremiah was falsely accused, arrested, tried, beaten, imprisoned, and chucked into a well—yet he survived. Jeremiah also persisted despite the weight of inner struggles. Doubt and grief plagued him. Constant rejection and the dread of a Babylonian invasion added to his mental stress. God continually helped Jeremiah so that his spirit and testimony weren’t shattered. When we feel like giving up on the mission He’s given us, or backing away from living faith-filled lives, we can remember that Jeremiah’s God is our God. He can make us as strong as iron because His power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Aug
17
2022
After eight-year-old Gabriel underwent surgery to remove a tumor from his brain, it left a noticeable scar on the side of his head. When the boy said he felt like a monster, his dad, Josh, had an idea: demonstrate how much he loved his son by getting a tattoo on the side of his head with the same shape as Gabriel’s scar. According to the psalmist, this is the kind of empathic and compassionate love God has for “his children” (Psalms 103:13). Using a metaphor drawn from human life, David illustrated God’s love. He said it’s as tender as a good father’s care for his children (v. 17). Just as a human father shows compassion to his children, so God, our heavenly Father, shows love and care toward those who fear Him. He’s a compassionate father, who empathizes with His people.   When we’re weak and feel like we’re unlovable because of the scars of life, may we receive, by faith, our heavenly Father’s love toward us. He demonstrated His compassion by sending his Son to lay “down his life for us” (1 John 3:16)—for our salvation. With this one act, not only can we experience God’s love for us, but we can look to the cross and see it. Aren’t you glad that we have a High Priest who can “empathize with our weaknesses” (Hebrews 4:15)? He has the scars to prove it.
Aug
16
2022
Seven-year-old Thomas Edison didn’t like or do well in school. One day, he was even called “addled” (mentally confused) by a teacher. He stormed home. After speaking with the teacher the next day, his mom, a teacher by training, decided to teach him at home. Helped along by her love and encouragement (and his God-given genius), Thomas went on to become a great inventor. He later wrote, “My mother was the making of me. She was so true, so sure of me, and I felt I had someone to live for, someone I must not disappoint.” In Acts 15, we read that Barnabas and the apostle Paul served together as missionaries until they had a major disagreement about whether or not to bring along John Mark. Paul was opposed because Mark had earlier “deserted them in Pamphylia” (vv. 36–38). As a result, Paul and Barnabas split; Paul taking Silas and Barnabas taking Mark. Barnabas was willing to give Mark a second chance, and his encouragement contributed to Mark’s ability to serve and succeed as a missionary. He went on to write the gospel of Mark and was even a comfort to Paul while he was in prison (2 Timothy 4:11). Many of us can look back and point to someone in our life who encouraged and helped us along our way. God may be calling you to do the same for someone in your life. Who might you encourage?
Aug
15
2022
At first glance I dismissed the painting Consider the Lilies by Makoto Fujimura as a simple, monochromatic painting featuring a lily seemingly hiding in the background. However, the painting came alive when I learned it was actually painted with more than eighty layers of finely crushed minerals in a style of Japanese art known as Nihonga, a style Fujimura calls “slow art.” Looking closely reveals layers of complexity and beauty. Fujimura explains that he sees the gospel echoed in the technique of making “beauty through brokenness,” just as Jesus’ suffering brought the world wholeness and hope. God loves to take aspects of our lives where we’ve been crushed and broken and to create something new and beautiful. King David needed God’s help to repair the brokenness in his life caused by his own devastating actions. In Psalm 51, written after admitting to abusing his kingly power to take another man’s wife and arrange the murder of her husband, David offered God his “broken and contrite heart” (v. 17) and pleaded for mercy. The Hebrew word translated “contrite” is nidkeh, meaning “crushed.” For God to refashion his heart (v. 10), David had to first offer Him the broken pieces. It was both an admission of sorrow and trust. David entrusted his heart to a faithful and forgiving God, who lovingly takes what’s been crushed and transforms it into something beautiful.
Aug
14
2022
After twenty-two years together, I sometimes wonder how my marriage to Merryn works. I’m a writer, Merryn is a statistician; I work with words, she works with numbers. I want beauty, she wants function. We come from different worlds. Merryn arrives to appointments early, I’m occasionally late. I try new things on the menu, she orders the same. After twenty minutes at an art gallery I’m just getting started, while Merryn is already in the cafe downstairs wondering how much longer I’ll be. We give each other many opportunities to learn patience! We do have things in common—a shared sense of humor, a love of travel, and a common faith that helps us pray through options and compromise. With this shared base, our differences even work to our advantage. Merryn has helped me learn to relax, while I’ve helped her grow in discipline. Working with our differences has made us better people. Paul uses marriage as a metaphor for the church (Ephesians 5:21–33), and with good reason. Like marriage, church brings very different people together, requiring them to develop humility and patience and to “[bear] with one another in love” (4:2). And, as in marriage, a shared base of faith and mutual service helps a church become unified and mature (vv. 11–13). Differences in relationships can cause great frustration—in the church and in marriage. But managed well, they can work to our advantage, helping us become Christlike.
Aug
13
2022
Annie Johnson Flint was crippled by severe arthritis just a few years after high school. She never walked again and relied on others to help care for her needs. Because of her poetry and hymns, she received many visitors, including a deaconess who felt discouraged about her own ministry. When the visitor returned home, she wrote to Annie, wondering why God allowed such hard things in her life.   In response, Annie sent a poem: “God hath not promised skies always blue, flower-strewn pathways all our lives through. . . .” She knew from experience that suffering often occurred, but that God would never abandon those He loves. Instead He promised to give “grace for the trials, help from above, unfailing sympathy, undying love.” You may recognize that poem as the hymn “What God Hath Promised.” Moses also suffered and faced strife, but He knew God’s presence was with him. When he passed his leadership of the Israelites to Joshua, he told the younger man to be strong and courageous, because “the Lord your God goes with you” (Deuteronomy 31:6). Moses, knowing that the people of Israel would face formidable enemies as they entered and took the Promised Land, said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged” (v. 8). Disciples of Christ will face hardship and strife in this fallen world, but we have God’s Spirit to comfort and encourage us. He will never leave us.
Aug
12
2022
Lacey Scott was at her local pet store when a sad fish at the bottom of the tank caught her eye. His scales had turned black and lesions had formed on his body. Lacey rescued the ten-year-old fish, named him “Monstro” after the whale in the fairytale Pinocchio, and placed him in a “hospital” tank, changing his water daily. Slowly, Monstro improved, began to swim, and grew in size. His black scales transformed to gold. Through Lacey’s committed care, Monstro was made new! In Luke 10, Jesus tells the story of a traveler who was beaten, robbed, and left for dead. Both a priest and a Levite passed by, ignoring the man’s suffering. But a Samaritan—a member of a despised people group—took care of him, even paying for his needs (Luke 10:33–35). Pronouncing the Samaritan as the true “neighbor” in the story, Jesus encouraged His listeners to do the same. What Lacey did for a dying goldfish, we can do for people in need around us. Homeless, unemployed, disabled, and lonely “neighbors” lie in our path. Let us allow their sadness to catch our eyes and draw us to respond with neighborly care. A kind greeting. A shared meal. A few dollars slipped from palm to palm. How might God use us to offer His love to others, a love which can make all things new?
Aug
11
2022
In 1717, a devastating storm raged for days, leading to widespread flooding in northern Europe. Thousands of people lost their lives in the Netherlands, Germany, and Denmark. History reveals an interesting and customary—for that time—response by at least one local government. The provincial authorities of the Dutch city of Groningen called for a “prayer day” in response to the disaster. A historian reports that the citizens gathered in churches and “listened to sermons, sang psalms, and prayed for hours.” The prophet Joel describes an overwhelming disaster faced by the people of Judah that also led to prayer. A massive swarm of locusts had covered the land and “laid waste [its] vines and ruined [its] fig trees” (Joel 1:7). As he and his people reeled from the devastation, Joel prayed, “Lord, help us!” (1:19 nlt). Directly and indirectly, both the people of northern Europe and Judah experienced disasters due to the effects of sin and this fallen world (Genesis 3:17–19; Romans 8:20–22). But they also found that these times led them to call out to God and seek Him in prayer (Joel 1:19). And God said, “Even now . . . return to me with all your heart” (2:12). When we face difficulties and disaster, may we turn to God—perhaps in anguish, perhaps in repentance. “Compassionate” and “abounding in love” (v. 13), He draws us to Himself—providing the comfort and help we need.
Aug
10
2022
In an orbit between Mars and Jupiter zooms an asteroid worth trillions and trillions of dollars. Scientists say 16 Psyche consists of metals such as gold, iron, nickel, and platinum worth unfathomable amounts of money. For now, earthlings are not attempting to mine this rich resource, but the United States is planning to send a probe in 2022 to study the valuable rock. The promise of untold riches just out of reach can be both tantalizing and frustrating. Surely in time there will be people who will champion the cause of reaching 16 Psyche for its treasure. But what about the prospect of riches that are within our reach? Wouldn’t everyone go for that? Writing to the first-century church at Rome, Paul spoke of attainable riches—those we find in our relationship with God. He wrote, “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!” (Romans 11:33). Bible scholar James Denney described these riches as “the unsearchable wealth of love that enables God to . . . far more than meet the [great needs] of the world.” Isn’t that what we need—even more than gold nuggets from some far-off asteroid? We can mine the riches of God’s wisdom and knowledge found in the Scriptures as the Holy Spirit helps us. May God lead us to dig into those riches and to know and treasure Him more.
Aug
9
2022
What do we do when we are required to stand boldly for what we believe in amid life’s challenges? In a small Illinois town, domestic violence comprises forty percent of all crimes in the community. According to a local pastor, this issue is often hidden in our faith communities because it’s uncomfortable to talk about. So instead of shying away from the problem, local ministers chose to exercise faith and courageously address the issue by taking classes to recognize the signs of violence and supporting non-profit organizations working on the issue. Acknowledging the power of faith and action, a local minister said, “Our prayers and compassion, coupled with some tangible support, can make an important difference.”  When Esther, Queen of Persia, was scared to speak out against a law that would lead to the genocide of her people, her uncle reminded her of the importance of taking a stand (Esther 4:13). “Who knows that you have come into a royal position for such a time as this?” he asserted, affirming that there will be moments where we must be bold and act (v. 14). Whether we are called to speak out against injustice or to forgive someone who’s caused us distress, the Bible assures us that in challenging circumstances, God will never leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5–6). When we look to God for help in moments where we feel intimidated, he will give us “power, love, and self-discipline” to see our assignment through to the end (2 Timothy 1:7-8).
Aug
8
2022
Reflecting one day on why God values humility so highly, sixteenth-century believer Teresa of Avila suddenly realized the answer: “It is because God is the supreme Truth, and humility is the truth . . . nothing good in us springs from ourselves. Rather, it comes from the waters of grace, near which the soul remains, like a tree planted by a river, and from that Sun which gives life to our works.” Teresa concluded that it’s by prayer that we anchor ourselves in that reality, for “the whole foundation of prayer is humility. The more we humble ourselves in prayer, the more will God lift us up.” Teresa’s words echo the language of Scripture in James 4, where James warned of the self-destructive nature of pride and selfish ambition, the opposite of a life lived in dependence on God’s grace (vv. 1–6). The only solution to a life of greed, despair, and constant conflict, he emphasized, is to repent of our pride in exchange for God’s grace. Or, in other words, to “humble yourselves before the Lord,” with the assurance that “he will lift you up” (v. 10). Only when we’re rooted in the waters of grace can we find ourselves nourished by the “wisdom that comes from heaven” (3:17). Only in Him can we find ourselves lifted up by the truth.
Aug
7
2022
One writer referred to Brazilian skateboarder Felipe Gustavo as “one of the most legendary skateboarders on the planet.” No one would have believed this would be Gustavo’s future when he was sixteen. Gustavo’s dad believed his son needed to pursue his dream of skating professionally, but they didn’t have the money. So his dad sold their car, and took his son to the renowned Tampa Am skating competition in Florida. No one had heard of Gustavo . . . until he won. And the victory catapulted him into an amazing career. Gustavo’s dad had the capacity to see his son’s heart and passion. “When I become a father,” Gustavo said, “I just want to be like five percent of what my dad was for me.” Proverbs describes the opportunity parents have to help their children discern the unique way God has crafted their heart, energy, and personality—and then to direct and encourage them toward the path that reflects who God made them to be. “Start children off on the way they should go,” the writer says, “and even when they are old they will not turn from it” (22:6). We may not possess vast resources or profound knowledge. With God’s wisdom (vv. 17–21) and our attentive love, however, we can offer our kids and other children within our sphere of influence an immense gift. We can help them trust in God and discern the paths they can follow for a lifetime (3:5–6).
Aug
6
2022
Once known as the World’s Strongest Man, American weightlifter Paul Anderson set a world record in the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, Australia, despite a severe inner-ear infection and a 103-degree fever. Falling behind frontrunners, his only chance for a gold medal was to set a new Olympic record in his last event. His first two attempts failed badly. So the burly athlete did what even the weakest among us can do. He called on God for extra strength, letting go of his own. As he later said, “It wasn’t making a bargain. I needed help.” With his final lift, he hoisted 413.5 pounds (187.5 kg) over his head. Another Paul, the apostle of Christ, wrote, “When I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). Paul was speaking of spiritual strength, but he knew that God’s power was “made perfect in weakness” (v. 9). As the prophet Isaiah declared, “[The Lord] gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak” (Isaiah 40:29). The path to such strength? Abiding in Jesus. “Apart from me you can do nothing,” He said (John 15:5). As weightlifter Anderson often said, “If the strongest man in the world can’t get through one day without the power of Jesus Christ—where does that leave you?” To find out, we can release our dependence on our own illusive strength, asking God for His strong and prevailing help.
Aug
5
2022
Picture a mighty oak tree that’s small enough to fit on a kitchen table. That’s what a bonsai looks like—a beautiful ornamental tree that’s a miniature version of what you find wild in nature. There’s no genetic difference between a bonsai and its full-size counterpart. It’s simply that a shallow pot, pruning, and root trimming restrict growth, so the plant remains small. While bonsai trees make for wonderful decorative plants, they also illustrate the power of control. It’s true that we can manipulate their growth as the tree responds to its environment. But God is ultimately the One who makes things grow. God spoke to the prophet Ezekiel this way: “I the Lord bring down the tall tree and make the low tree grow tall” (Ezekiel 17:19). God was foreshadowing future events when he would “uproot” the nation of Israel by allowing the Babylonians to invade. In the future, however, God would plant a new tree in Israel that would bear fruit, with “birds of every kind” finding shelter in the shade of its branches (v. 23). God said that no matter how much upcoming events seemed out of control, He was still in charge. The world tells us to try to control our circumstances by manipulation and through our own hard work. But true peace and thriving are found by relinquishing control to the only One who can make the trees grow.
Aug
4
2022
The day finally came—the day I realized my father wasn’t indestructible. As a boy, I knew his strength and determination. But in my early adult years, he injured his back, and I realized that my father was mortal after all. I stayed with my parents to help my dad to the bathroom, assisting him in dressing, even guiding a glass of water to his mouth—it was humbling to him. He made some initial attempts to accomplish small tasks, but admitted, “I can’t do anything without your help.” He eventually recovered to his strong self, but that experience taught both of us an important lesson. We need each other. And while we need each other, we need Jesus even more. In John 15, the imagery of the vine and the branches continues to be one we cling to. Yet one of the other phrases, while comforting, can also strike at our self-reliance, the thought that easily creeps into our minds: I don’t need help. Jesus is clear—“apart from me you can do nothing” (v. 5). Jesus is talking about bearing fruit, like “love, joy, peace” (Galatians 5), those core features of a disciple. To bear fruit is the life Christ calls us to, and our total reliance on Him yields a fruitful life, a life lived to the Father’s glory (v. 8).
Aug
3
2022
While on vacation, my husband and I walked along the beach. We noticed a large square patch of sand blocked off by a makeshift fence. A young man explained that he worked around the clock with a team of volunteers committed to guarding the eggs in each sea turtle’s nest. Once the hatchlings emerged from their nest, the presence of both animals and humans threaten and decrease their chance of survival. “Even with all our efforts,” he said, “scientists estimate that only one out of every five thousand hatchlings reach adulthood.” These bleak numbers didn’t discourage this young man, however. His passion for selflessly serving the hatchlings deepened my desire for respecting and protecting sea turtles. Now I wear a sea turtle pendant that reminds me of my God-given responsibility to care for the creatures He’s made.  When God created the world, He provided a habitat for each creature to thrive and live in interdependently (Genesis 1:20–25). When He created His image-bearers, God intended for us to “rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground” (v. 26). He helps us serve Him as responsible stewards who use our God-given authority to care for His vast creation.
Aug
2
2022
Dr. Gary Greenberg has magnified and photographed sand from beaches around the world, often revealing surprising, vibrant splashes of color from the minerals, shell, and coral fragments contained within.  He’s discovered there’s more to sand than meets the eye. In arenology (the study of sand), the microscopic analysis of sand’s mineral content can reveal much about erosion, shore currents, and their potential effects on coastlines. Even a little sand can yield information of great worth!  A single prayer, like a grain of sand, can be a weighty thing. Scripture indicates prayer’s powerful role in the coming of God’s kingdom. In Revelation 8, John sees an angel standing at the altar before His throne holding a golden censer containing “the prayers of all God’s people.” “Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth; and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake” (vv. 3, 5).  Immediately after the angel hurled the censer filled with fire and prayer, seven angels with seven trumpets “prepared to sound them” (v. 6), heralding the old earth’s last days and Christ’s return.  Sometimes we may not feel like our prayers add up to much, but God doesn’t miss one. He so values them that they somehow even play a role in the consummation of His kingdom. What may seem like the smallest prayer to us can have earth-shaking weight with Him!
Aug
1
2022
A treat we grew to love when we lived in England was Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate bars. When we returned to the States, I was dismayed to discover the U.S. distributor of Cadbury chocolate uses a different recipe and does not allow for any importer to supply the original UK version. You can buy Cadbury chocolate in the US, but it’s not the authentic version.  Authenticity. It’s something I can taste in my chocolate but earnestly long to be true of me as well as a believer in Jesus.  Authentic faith is a quality Paul commends his disciple Timothy for in the opening of his second letter to Timothy. Paul writes of his deep love and appreciation for Timothy, specifically, “his sincere faith” (2 Timothy 1:5). Sincere, or authentic faith, is beautiful because it is real. We embrace genuine faith in part because we are turned off by its opposite: hypocrisy.  Paul’s words still speak into our lives today, when we find ourselves tempted to present a slightly different version of ourselves, whether to cover fears or anxieties or to gloss over hurts and frustrations. Timothy’s example reminds me that authentic faith acknowledges those realities but continues to hold fast to God and to celebrate the faith God is developing in me.
Jul
31
2022
Kelly was battling brain cancer when the COVID-19 crisis hit. Then fluid developed around her heart and lungs and she had to be hospitalized again. Her family couldn’t visit because of the pandemic. Her husband, Dave, vowed to do something. Gathering loved ones together, Dave asked them to make large signs with messages. They did. Wearing masks, twenty people stood on the street outside the hospital holding signs: “BEST MOM!” “LOVE YOU.” “WE ARE WITH U.” With the help of a nurse, Kelly made her way to a fourth-floor window. “All we could see was a facemask and a waving hand,” her husband posted on social media, “but it was a beautiful facemask and waving hand.” Late in his life, the apostle Paul felt alone as he languished in a Roman prison. He wrote to Timothy, “Do your best to get here before winter” (2 Timothy 4:21). Yet Paul wasn’t totally alone. “The Lord stood at my side and gave me strength,” he said (v. 17). And it’s also apparent that he had some encouraging contact with other believers. “Eubulus greets you,” he said to Timothy, “and so do Pudens, Linus, Claudia and all the brothers and sisters” (v. 21). We’re created for community, and we feel that most keenly when we’re in crisis. What might you do for someone who may feel entirely alone today?  
Jul
30
2022
On June 11, 2002, the singing competition American Idol debuted. Each week, hopefuls performed their own versions of popular songs, and the viewing audience voted on who advanced to the next round of the competition. As one of the panel judges on the show, Randy Jackson’s signature feedback was this zinger: “You made that song your own, dawg!” He lavished that praise when a singer took a familiar tune, learned it inside out, and then performed it in a new way that gave it unique, personal spin. To “make it their own” was to own it completely and creatively, and then offer it to the world onstage. Paul invites us to do something similar, to own our faith and our expression of it, too. In Philippians 3:7–14, he rejects attempts to earn right standing before God (vv. 6–8). Instead, he teaches us to embrace “the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith” (v. 9). That gift of forgiveness and redemption transforms our motivation and goals: “I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me” (v. 12). Jesus has secured our victory. Our job? To take hold of that truth, internalizing God’s gospel gift and living it out amid our broken world. In other words, we’re to make our faith our own and in so doing “live up to what we have already attained” (v. 16).
Jul
29
2022
It was a warm summer day and my four-year-old granddaughter Mollie and I were taking a break from playing ball. As we sat on the porch with our glasses of water, Mollie looked out at the yard and said, “Look at the puddles of sunshine.” The sunlight was filtering through the thick foliage to create a pattern of light amid the dark shadows. Puddle of sunshine. Isn’t this a beautiful image for finding hope in dark days? In the midst of what can often be challenging times—when good news seems in short supply—instead of concentrating on the shadows, we can focus on the light. The Light has a name—Jesus. Matthew quoted Isaiah to describe the brightness that came into the world when Jesus arrived: “The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned” (Matthew 4:16; see also Isaiah 9:2). The effects of sin are all around us as we live in the “land of the shadow of death.” But shining through that shadow is Jesus, the grand and glorious light of the world (John 1:4–5). The sunshine of Jesus’ love and compassion breaks through the shade—giving us “puddles of sunshine” to illuminate our day and brighten our hearts with hope.
Jul
28
2022
At my first job during my high school years, I worked at a women’s clothing store where a female security guard dressed as a shopper followed women she thought might steal the merchandise. Certain people fit profiles of those the store owners’ thought were suspicious. Others not considered a threat were left alone. I’ve been profiled in stores myself and followed, an interesting experience since I still recognize the tactic. In sharp contrast, David declared he was followed by a divine blessing—God’s goodness and mercy. These two gifts always stay close, following him not with suspicion but real love. The “twin guardian angels,” as evangelist Charles Spurgeon described the pair, follow believers closely during both bleak days and bright. “The dreary days of winter as well as the bright days of summer. Goodness supplies our needs, and mercy blots out our sins.” As a onetime shepherd, David understood this intentional pairing as it’s provided by God. Other followers could pursue believers—fear, worry, temptation, doubts. But “surely,” David declares with undoubting certainty, God’s kind goodness and loving mercy follow us always. As David rejoiced, “Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23:6). What an amazing gift to follow us home!
Jul
27
2022
A commercial jingle of the 1970s inspired a generation. Created as part of Coca Cola’s “The Real Thing” ad campaign, a British group called The New Seekers eventually sang it as a full-length song that climbed to the top of music charts around the world. But many will never forget the original television version sung by young people on a hilltop outside of Rome. Whimsical as it was, with visions of honeybees and fruit trees, we resonated with a songwriter’s desire to teach the world to sing with the heart and harmony of love. The apostle John describes something like that idealized dream, only vastly greater. He envisioned a song sung by “every creature in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and on the sea, and all that is in them” (Revelation 5:13). There’s nothing whimsical about this anthem. Nothing could be more realistic than the price paid by the One to whom this song is sung. Neither could there be anything more foreboding than the visions of war, death, and consequence that His sacrifice of love would have to overcome.   Yet this is what it took for the Lamb of God to bear our sin and defeat death. Yet this is what it took for the Lamb of God to bear our sin, overcome our fear of death, and teach all heaven and earth to sing—in perfect harmony.
Jul
26
2022
In his classic book The Human Condition, Thomas Keating shares this memorable tale. A teacher, having lost the key to his home, is on his hands and knees searching through the grass. When his disciples see him searching, they join the hunt, but with no success. Finally, “one of the more intelligent disciples” asks, “Master, have you any idea where you might have lost the key?” Their teacher replies, “Of course. I lost it in the house.” When they exclaim, “Then why are we looking for it out here?” he answers, “Isn’t it obvious? There is more light here.” We have lost the key to “intimacy with God, the experience of God’s loving presence,” Keating concludes. “Without that experience, nothing else quite works; with it, almost anything works.”   How easy it is to forget that even in life’s ups and downs, God remains the key to our deepest longings. But when we’re ready to stop looking in all the wrong places, God is there, ready to show us true rest. In Matthew 11, Jesus praises the Father for revealing His ways, not to the “wise and learned,” but “to little children” (v. 25). Then He invites “all you who are weary and burdened” (v. 28) to come to Him for rest. Like little children, we can find true rest as we learn the ways of our Teacher, who’s “gentle and humble in heart” (v. 29). God is there, eager to welcome us home.
Jul
25
2022
Many years ago, Joni Mitchell wrote a song called “Woodstock” in which she saw the human race trapped in a “bargain” with the devil. Urging her listeners to seek a simpler, more peaceful existence, she sang of a return to “the garden.” Mitchell spoke for a generation longing for purpose and meaning. Mitchell’s poetical “garden” is Eden, of course. Eden was the paradise God created for us back in the beginning. In this garden, Adam and Eve met with God on a regular basis—until the day they made their bargain with the devil (see Genesis 3:6–7). That day was different. “Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden” (v. 8). When God asked what they’d done, Adam and Eve engaged in a lot of blame-shifting. Despite their denial, God didn’t leave them there. He “made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them” (v. 21), a sacrifice that hinted at the death Jesus would endure to cover our sins. God didn’t give us a way back to Eden. He gave us a way forward into restored relationship with Him. We can’t return to the garden. But we can return to the God of the garden.
Jul
24
2022
A man named James took an adventurous, 1,250-mile journey down the West Coast of the US—biking from Seattle, Washington, to San Diego, California. A friend of mine met the ambitious biker near the cliffs of Big Sur, 930 miles from his starting point. After learning that someone had recently stolen James’ camping gear, my friend offered his blanket and sweater, but James refused. He said that as he traveled south into the warmer climate, he needed to begin shedding items. And the closer he got to his destination, the more tired he became so he needed to reduce the weight he was carrying. James’ realization was smart. It’s a reflection of what the writer of Hebrews is saying too. As we continue our journey in life, we need to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles” (12:1). We need to travel light to press on. As believers in Jesus, running this race requires “perseverance” (v. 1). And one of the ways to ensure we can keep going is to be free of the weight of unforgiveness, pettiness, and other sins that will hinder us. Without Jesus’ help, we can’t travel light and run this race well. May we look to the “pioneer and perfecter of faith” so that we won’t “grow weary and lose heart” (vv. 2–3).
Jul
23
2022
A couple who stopped to admire a large abstract painting noticed open paint cans and brushes underneath it. Assuming it was a “work in progress” that anyone could help create, they stroked in some color and left. The artist, though, had purposefully left the supplies there as part of the finished work’s display. After reviewing video footage of the incident, the gallery acknowledged the misunderstanding and didn’t press charges. The Israelites who lived east of the Jordan created a misunderstanding when they built a massive altar next to the river. The western tribes viewed this as rebellion against God—everyone knew the tabernacle was the only God-approved place for worship (Joshua 22:16). Tensions mounted until the eastern tribes explained that they only meant to make a replica of God’s altar. They wanted their descendants to see it and recognize their spiritual and ancestral connection with the rest of Israel (vv. 28–29). They exclaimed: “The Mighty One, God, the Lord! He knows!” (v. 22). Thankfully, the others listened. They saw what was going on, praised God, and returned home. Because God “searches every heart and understands every desire and every thought” (1 Chronicles 28:9) everyone’s motives are clear to Him. If we ask Him to help us sort out confusing situations, He may give us the chance to explain ourselves or the grace we need to forgive offenses. We can turn to Him when we’re striving for unity with others.
Jul
22
2022
The sea squirt is a strange creature. Found attached to rocks and shells, it looks like a soft plastic tube waving with the current. Drawing its nutrients from the passing water, it lives a passive life far removed from its once active youth. The sea squirt starts life as a tadpole with a primitive spinal cord and brain that helps it find food and avoid harm. As a juvenile it spends its days exploring the ocean, but something happens when it reaches adulthood. Settling on its rock, it stops exploring and growing. In a macabre twist, it digests its own brain. Spineless, thoughtless, flowing passively with the current. The apostle Peter encourages us not to follow the sea squirt’s fate. Since maturity for us means taking on God’s nature (2 Peter 1:4), you and I are called to grow—grow mentally in our knowledge of Christ (3:18); spiritually in traits like goodness, perseverance, and self-control (1:5–7); and practically by exploring new ways to love, offer hospitality, and serve others through our gifts (1 Peter 4:7–11). Such growth, Peter says, will stop us living “ineffective and unproductive” lives (2 Peter 1:8). This calling to grow is as vital for the 70-year-old as it is for the teenager. God’s nature is as vast as the ocean. We’ve barely swum a few feet. Explore His unending character, take new spiritual adventures. Study, serve, take risks. Grow.
Jul
21
2022
Two sisters from India were born blind. Their father was a hard-working provider, but he could never afford the surgery that would give them sight. Then a team of doctors came to their region on a short-term medical mission. The morning after their surgery, the girls smiled wide as the nurse unwrapped their bandages. One exclaimed, “Mother, I can see! I can see!” A man who had been lame since birth sat in his usual spot at a temple gate, begging for money. Peter told the man he didn’t have coins, but he had something better. “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk” (Acts 3:6). The man “jumped to his feet and began to walk.” And then he ran. And jumped, and praised God (vv. 8–9). The sisters and the man appreciated their eyes and legs more than those who were never blind or lame. The girls couldn’t stop blinking in amazement and celebration, and the man “jumped to his feet.” Consider your own natural abilities. How might you enjoy these abilities more, and how might you use them differently, if you had been miraculously healed? Now consider this. If you believe in Jesus, He has healed you spiritually. He’s rescued you from your sins. Let’s thank the One who made and saved us, and dedicate all that He gave us to Him.
Jul
20
2022
Early mornings can be painful for my friend Alma, a single mom of two. She says, “When everything is quiet, worries surface. As I do household chores, I think about our financial concerns and the kids’ health and studies.” When her husband abandoned her, Alma bore the responsibility of raising her children on her own. “It’s difficult,” she says, “but I know God sees me and my family. He gives me the strength to work two jobs, provides for our needs, and lets my kids experience His guidance each day.” Hagar, an Egyptian maidservant, understood what it meant to be seen by the Lord. After she got pregnant by Abram, she began to despise Sarah (Genesis 16:4), who in turn mistreated her, causing Hagar to flee to the desert. Hagar found herself alone, facing a future that seemed bleak and hopeless for her and her unborn child. But it was in the desert that “the angel of the Lord” met her and said, “The Lord has heard of your misery” (v. 11). The angel of God gave Hagar guidance on what to do, and He assured her of what the future would hold. From her we learn one of the names of God—El Roi, “the God who sees me” (v. 13).  Like Hagar, you may be on a difficult journey—feeling lost and alone. But remember that even in the wasteland, God sees you. Reach out to Him and trust Him to guide you through. 
Jul
19
2022
While scuba diving in 2021, Jennifer’s eyes fixed on a small, green bottle at the bottom of a river. She scooped up what she describes as “a once-in-a-lifetime find.” The bottle contained a message written by a young man on his eighteenth birthday in 1926! The words requested that whoever discovered the message return it to him. Jennifer used Facebook to locate a delighted family member of the man. Although he’d died in 1995, his once-hidden note brought joy to Jennifer and his family. In 2 Kings 22:8, we read that Hilkiah made an extraordinary find when he “found the Book of the Law in the temple of the Lord.” Instructed by King Josiah to “repair the temple” (v. 5), the king’s secretary found what was likely the book of Deuteronomy. “When the king heard the words of the Law,” he was both deeply moved and greatly distressed (v. 11). Like the temple in Judah itself, God and the reading of and obedience to the Scriptures He’d inspired had been neglected by the people. In repentance, the king had the temple swept clean of idols and anything that would displease God as he instituted reforms for his nation (23:1–24). Today, our Bibles contain sixty-six books that reveal God’s wisdom and instruction—including Deuteronomy. As we read and listen to them, may the Holy Spirit transform our minds and reform our ways. Dive into the life-changing story of Scripture today and find wisdom to explore for a lifetime!
Jul
18
2022
The bag of snack chips was small, but it taught an American missionary a big lesson. Working one evening  in the Dominican Republic, she arrived  at a church meeting and opened her chips when a woman she hardly knew reached and grabbed a few from the bag. Others helped themselves, too. How rude, the missionary thought. Then she realized a humbling lesson. She didn’t yet understand the culture where she’d agreed to serve. Rather than emphasizing individualism, as in the United States, she learned that life in the Dominican Republic is lived in community. Sharing one’s food and goods is how people relate to each other. Her way wasn’t better, just different. She confessed, “It was very humbling to discover these things about me.” As she began to recognize her own biases, she also learned that humbly sharing with others helped her serve them better. Peter taught this lesson to church leaders: treat others with humility. He counseled the elders to resist “lording it over those entrusted to you” (1 Peter 5:3). And those younger? “Submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility” (v. 5). As he declared:  “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” Therefore, “humble yourselves under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time” (v. 6). May He help us humbly live before Him and others today.
Jul
17
2022
Kyle and Allison had a wonderful honeymoon in an exotic location. When they returned home, however, they discovered that Kyle’s feet had developed a strange, itchy rash. The couple was referred to an infectious disease specialist. He informed them that small parasites had burrowed their way into Kyle’s feet through blisters caused by his new flip flops. What started out as a dream vacation ended in a challenging battle with unwanted “guests.” David knew that if he didn’t ask God for help to fight sin, his dream of living a pleasing life before Him would turn into a battle with the unwanted guests of sin and rebellion. After declaring how God is revealed in the natural world (Psalm 19:1–6) and His wisdom found in His instruction (vv. 7–10), David asked God to protect him from inadvertent, arrogant, and deliberate disobedience. “Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from willful sins,” he wrote (vv. 12–13). He recognized that he didn’t have the human resources to keep the infectious disease of sin from affecting him. So, he wisely asked God for help. How can we make sure our dream of a living in a way that honors God doesn’t become hijacked by sin? Let’s keep our eyes on Him, confess and repent of our sin, and seek divine help in keeping unwanted spiritual parasites from burrowing into our lives.
Jul
16
2022
You might start your journey in the southwest United States in a dusty town called Why, Arizona. Heading cross-country would take you through Uncertain, Texas. Bearing northeast, you’d make a rest stop in Dismal, Tennessee. Ultimately, you’d reach your destination—Panic, Pennsylvania. These are real places across the landscape of America, though not likely a trip you’d ever choose to take. Sometimes this is exactly what the journey of life feels like. We easily identify with the Israelites’ tough life in the wilderness (Deuteronomy 2:7)—life can be hard. But do we see the other parallels? We create our own itinerary, turning from God’s way (1:42). Like the Israelites, we often grumble about getting our needs met (Numbers 14:2). In our daily fretting, we likewise doubt God’s purposes (v. 11). The story of the Israelites is repeated over and over in our own. God assures us that if we follow His path, He’ll deliver us into a far better place than Dismal. He’ll provide and we’ll lack nothing we really need (2:7; Philippians 4:19). Yet much as we already know this, we often fail to do it. We need to follow God’s roadmap. It’s a bit more of a drive, but another six hours by car would take you from the town of Panic to the place known as Assurance, West Virginia. If we let God direct our paths (Psalm 119:35), we’ll journey in joy with Him at the wheel—blessed assurance indeed!
Jul
15
2022
After taking the pieces for my special-order table from the box and laying them out before me, I noticed something wasn’t quite right. The beautiful top for the table and other parts were accounted for, but I was lacking one of the legs. Without all of the legs, I couldn’t assemble the table, rendering it useless. It’s not just tables that are useless when missing one vital piece. In the book of 1 Corinthians, Paul reminded his readers that they were missing one essential component. The believers possessed many spiritual gifts but lacked love.   Using exaggerated language to emphasize his point, Paul wrote that even if his readers had all knowledge, if they gave away every single thing they owned, and even if they willingly suffered hardship, without the essential foundation of love, their actions would all amount to nothing (1 Corinthians 13:1–3). Paul encouraged them to always infuse their actions with love, movingly describing the beauty of a love that always protects, trusts, hopes, and perseveres (vv. 4–7). As we use our spiritual gifts, perhaps to teach, encourage, or serve in our faith communities, remember that God’s design always calls for love. Otherwise, it’s like a table missing a leg. It can’t achieve the true purpose for which it was designed.
Jul
14
2022
Wearing his striped jumpsuit, James walked across the steamy jail gym and climbed into the portable pool where he was baptized by the prison chaplain. James’ joy multiplied, however, when he heard that his daughter Brittany—also an inmate—had been baptized that same day . . . in the same water. When they realized what had happened, even the staff got emotional. “There wasn’t a dry eye,” the chaplain said. In and out of jail for years, Brittany and her dad both wanted God’s forgiveness. And together, God gave them new life.  Scripture describes another prison encounter—this time with a jailer—where Jesus’ love transformed an entire family. After a “violent earthquake” shook the prison and “the prion doors flew open,” Paul and Silas didn’t run but remained in their cell (Acts 16:26). The jailer, overcome with gratitude that they didn’t flee, took them to his house and eventually asked that life-changing question: “What must I do to be saved?” (v. 30) “Believe,” they answered, “you and your household” (v. 31). The response reveals God desire to pour out mercy on not only individuals but also entire families. Encountering God’s love, they all came “to believe in God—[the jailer] and his whole household” (v.34). Though we’re often anxious for the salvation of those we love, we can trust that God loves them even more than we do. He desires to renew all of us, our whole house.
Jul
13
2022
During a trip to the zoo, I stopped to rest near the sloth exhibit. The creature hung upside down. He seemed content being completely still. I sighed. Because of my health issues, I struggled with stillness and desperately wanted to move forward, to do something—anything. Resenting my limitations, I longed to stop feeling so weak. But while staring at the sloth, I observed how he stretched one arm, gripped a nearby branch, and stopped again. Being still required strength. If I wanted to be content with moving slow or being as still as the sloth, I needed more than incredible muscle power. To trust God with every dragging moment of my life, I needed supernatural power. In Psalm 46, the writer proclaims that God doesn’t just give us strength, He is our strength (v. 1). No matter what’s going on around us, the “Lord Almighty is with us” (v. 7). The psalmist repeats this truth with conviction (v. 11). Like the sloth, our day-to-day adventures often require slow steps and extended periods of seemingly impossible stillness. When we rely on God’s unchanging character, we can depend on His strength no matter what plan and pace He determines is right for us. Though we may continue to battle afflictions or struggle with waiting, God remains faithfully present. Even when we don’t feel strong, He’ll help us flex our faith muscles.
Jul
12
2022
Who do people believe Jesus is? Some say He was a good teacher, but just a man. Author C.S. Lewis wrote, “Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher.” These now-famous words from Mere Christianity propound that Jesus would not have been a great prophet if He falsely claimed to be God. That would be the ultimate heresy. While talking with His disciples as they walked between villages, Jesus asked them, “Who do people say I am?” (Mark 8:27). Their answers included John the Baptist, Elijah, and one of the prophets (v. 28). But Jesus wanted to know what they believed: “Who do you say I am?” Peter got it right. “You are the Messiah” (v. 29), the Savior. But who do we say Jesus is? Jesus could not have been a good teacher or prophet if what He said about Himself—that He and the Father (God) are “one” (John 10:30)— wasn’t true. His followers and even the demons declared His divinity as the Son of God (Matthew 8:39; 16:16; 1 John 5:20). Today, may we spread the word about who Christ is as He provides what we need.
Jul
11
2022
It has become sadly “normal” to attack not only the opinions of others but also the person holding the opinion. This can be true in academic circles as well. For this reason, I was stunned when scholar and theologian Richard B. Hays wrote a paper that forcefully took to task a work that he himself had written years earlier! In Reading With the Grain of Scripture, Hays demonstrated great humility of heart as he corrected his own past thinking, now fine-tuned by his lifelong commitment to learning.    As the book of Proverbs was being introduced, King Solomon listed the various intents of this collection of wise sayings. But in the midst of those purposes, he inserted this challenge, “Let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance” (Proverbs 1:5). Like the apostle Paul, who claimed that, even after following Christ for decades, he continued to pursue knowing Jesus (Philippians 3:10), Solomon urged the wise to listen, to learn, and to continue to grow. No one is ever hurt by maintaining a teachable spirit. As we seek to continue to grow and learn about the things of faith (and the things of life), may we allow the Holy Spirit to guide us into truth (John 16:13), that we might better comprehend the wonders of our good and great God.
Jul
10
2022
While reading on the train, Meiling was busy highlighting sentences and jotting down notes in the margins of her book. But a conversation between a mother and child seated nearby stopped her. The mom was correcting her child for doodling in her library book. Meiling quickly put her pen away, not wanting the toddler to ignore her mother’s words by following Meiling’s example. She knew that the child wouldn’t understand the difference between damaging a loaned book and making notes in one you owned. Meiling’s actions reminded me of the apostle Paul’s inspired words in 1 Corinthians 10:23–24: “ ‘I have the right to do anything,’ you say—but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’—but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.” The believers in Jesus in the young church in Corinth saw their freedom in Christ as an opportunity to pursue personal interests. But Paul wrote that they should view it as an opportunity to benefit and build up others. He taught them that true freedom isn’t the right to do as a one pleases, but the liberty to do as they should for God. We follow in Jesus’ footsteps when we use our freedom to choose building others up instead of serving ourselves.
Jul
9
2022
Jose, a seventy-seven-year-old substitute teacher, had been living out of his car for eight years. Every night, the elderly man bunked down in his 1997 Ford Thunderbird LX, carefully monitoring the car battery as it powered his computer for his evening’s work. Jose used the money earmarked for rent and instead sent it to numerous family members in Mexico who needed it more. Early every morning, one of the teacher’s former students saw Jose rummaging through his trunk. “I just felt I needed to do something about it,” the man said. So, he launched a fundraiser and weeks later handed Jose a check to help him fund a place to live. Though Scripture repeatedly instructs us to watch out for one another, it’s sometimes difficult to see past our own concerns. The prophet Zechariah rebuked Israel who, rather than worshiping God or serving others, were “feasting for [them]selves” (Zechariah 7:6). Ignoring their shared communal life, they disregarded their neighbors’ need. Zechariah made God’s instructions clear: the people were to “administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another . . . [and] not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor” (vv. 9–10). While it’s easy to be consumed with our own needs, faithfulness calls us to tend to the needs of others. In the divine economy, there’s plenty for all. And God, in His mercy, chooses to use us to give some of that plenty to others.
Jul
8
2022
Together, friends Melanie and Trevor have hiked miles of mountain trails. Yet neither would be able to do so without the other. Melanie, born with spina bifida, uses a wheelchair. Trevor lost his sight to glaucoma. The duo realized they were one another’s perfect complement for enjoying the Colorado wilderness: As he walks the trails, Trevor carries Melanie on his back; meanwhile, she gives him verbal directions. They describe themselves as a “dream team.” Paul describes believers in Jesus—the body of Christ—as a similar kind of “dream team.” He urged the Romans to recognize how their individual giftings benefitted the larger group. Just as our physical bodies are made up of many parts, each with different functions, together we “form one [spiritual] body” and our gifts are meant to be given in service for the collective benefit of the church (Romans 12:5). Whether in the form of giving, encouraging, or teaching, or any of the other spiritual gifts, Paul instructs us to view ourselves and our gifts as belonging to all the others (v. 5). Melanie and Trevor aren’t focused on what they lack, nor are they prideful of what they do have in comparison to the other. Rather they cheerfully give of their “gifts” in service to the other, recognizing how much they’re both bettered by their collaboration. May we too freely combine the gifts God has given us with those of our fellow members—for the sake of Christ. 
Jul
7
2022
I attended a family birthday gathering where the hostess wove the theme of “favorite things” into the decor, the gifts, and best of all, the food. Because the birthday girl loved steak and salad—and white chocolate raspberry Bundt cake—the hostess grilled steak, spun spinach, and ordered that favorite cake. Favorite foods say, “I love you.” The Bible contains many references to banquets, feasts, and festivals, pairing the physical act of eating with celebrations of God’s faithfulness. Feasting was a part of the sacrificial system of worship practiced by the Israelites (see Numbers 28:11–31), with Passover, the festival of weeks, and new moon feasts held every month. And in Psalm 23, God prepares a table with an abundant meal and cups overflow with mercy and love. Perhaps the most lavish pairing of food and wine ever expressed was when Jesus broke a piece of bread and took a cup of wine, illustrating the gift of His death on a cross for our salvation. He then challenged us to “do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). As you partake of food today, take a moment to consider the God who made both mouth and stomach and offers food to you as a language of His love in celebration of His faithfulness. Ours is a God who feasts with the faithful, pairing His perfect provision with our great need, saying, “I love you.”   
Jul
6
2022
“What will we do with all our spare time?” That thought was at the heart of an essay published in 1930 by the economist John Maynard Keynes. In it, Keynes proposed that within a hundred years, technological and economic advances would bring humans to a point where we work only three hours a day and fifteen hours a week. It’s been more than ninety years since Keynes published his famous essay. But technology, instead of creating more leisure, has made us busier than ever. Our days are full, and while everyday tasks like travel and meal preparation take less time, we’re still in a hurry. One striking incident from David’s life shows us how to stay steady in life’s rush. When David was fleeing King Saul (who was trying to kill him), he asked the king of Moab, “Would you let my father and mother come and stay with you until I learn what God will do for me?” (1 Samuel 22:3, italics added). David had his hands full. He was trying to escape Saul’s murderous pursuits and also provide for his family. But even in his hurry, he took the time to wait on God.   When life’s frenetic pace sweeps us along, we can trust the One who can keep us in His peace (Isaiah 26:3). David’s words sum up the matter well: “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord” (Psalm 27:14).
Jul
5
2022
Encouragement is like oxygen—we can’t live without it. This was true for nine-year-old James Savage. The boy swam more than two miles from the San Francisco shoreline to Alcatraz Island and back, breaking the record for the youngest person to accomplish the feat. But thirty minutes into the swim, the choppy, frigid waters made James want to quit. However, a fleet of paddlers called out, “You can do it!” The words gave him the boost he needed to finish his goal. When the choppy, frigid waters of tribulation made believers in Jesus want to give up, Paul and Barnabas encouraged them to continue their journey. After the apostles preached the gospel in the city of Derbe, they “returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith” (Acts 14:21–22). They helped the believers to remain firm in their faith in Jesus. Troubles had weakened them, but words of encouragement strengthened their resolve to live for Christ. In God’s strength, they realized they could keep pressing on. Finally, Paul and Barnabas helped them understand that they would “go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (v. 22). Living for Jesus can be a challenging, difficult “swim.” We’re sometimes tempted to give up. Fortunately, Jesus and fellow believers in Him can provide the encouragement we need to press on. With Him, we can do it!
Jul
4
2022
In 1373, when Julian of Norwich was thirty years old, she became ill and nearly died. When her minister prayed with her, she experienced a number of visions in which she considered Jesus’ crucifixion. After miraculously recovering her health, she spent the next twenty years living in solitude in a side room of the church, praying over and thinking through the experience. She concluded that “love was his meaning”; that is, that Christ’s sacrifice is the supreme manifestation of God’s love. Julian’s revelations are famous, but what people often overlook is the time and effort she spent prayerfully working out what God revealed to her. In those two decades she sought to discern what this experience of God’s presence meant as she asked Him for His wisdom and help. As He did with Julian, God graciously reveals Himself to His people, such as through the words of the Bible; through His still, small voice; through a refrain of a hymn; or even just an awareness of His presence. When this happens, we can seek His wisdom and help. This wisdom is what King Solomon instructed his son to pursue, saying he should turn his ear to wisdom and apply his heart to understanding (Proverbs 2:2). Then he would “gain knowledge of God” (v. 5). God promises to give us discernment and understanding. As we grow in a deeper knowledge of His character and ways, we can honor and understand Him more.
Jul
3
2022
Commemorations of the seventy-fifth anniversary of D-Day in 2019 honored the more than 156,000 troops who took part in the largest seaborne invasion in history to liberate Western Europe. In his prayer broadcast over the radio that day, President Roosevelt asked for God’s protection, praying, “They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate.”A willingness to put one’s self in harm’s way to restrain evil and liberate the oppressed brings to mind Jesus’s words: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). These words come in the midst of Jesus teaching His followers to love each other. But He wanted them to understand the cost and depth of this type of love: a love exemplified when one willingly sacrifices his or her life for another person. Jesus’s call to sacrificially love others is the basis of His command to “love each other” (v. 17). Perhaps we could show sacrificial love by giving time to care for the needs of an aging family member. We could put the needs of a sibling first by doing their chores during a stressful week at school. We might even take extra shifts with a sick child to allow our spouse to sleep. As we sacrificially love others, we demonstrate the greatest expression of love.
Jul
2
2022
After a customer at a grocery store self-checkout station had completed her transaction, I made my way to the station and proceeded to scan my goods. Unexpectedly, a visibly angry person confronted me. I’d failed to notice that she was actually next in line for checkout. Recognizing my mistake, I sincerely said, “I’m sorry.” She replied (though not limited to these words), “No, you’re not!” Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you were wrong, acknowledged it, and tried to make things right—only to be rebuffed? It doesn’t feel good to be misunderstood or misjudged, and the closer we are to those we offend or those who offend us, the more painful it is. How we wish they could see our hearts! The prophet Isaiah’s snapshot in Isaiah 11:1–5 is that of a God-appointed ruler with wisdom for perfect judgment. “He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth” (vv. 3–4). This was fulfilled in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. Though in our sinfulness and weakness we don’t always get it right, we can take heart that the all-seeing, all-knowing God of heaven knows us fully and judges us rightly.
Jul
1
2022
The Croods, an animated caveman family, believe that “the only way to survive is if the pack [their small family] stays together.” They are afraid of the world and others, so when looking for a safe place to live they’re filled with fear after discovering a strange family already in the area they’ve chosen. But they soon learn to embrace the differences of their new neighbors, draw strength from them, and survive together. They find that they actually enjoy them and that they do need others to live life fully. It can be risky to be in relationship—people can and do hurt us. Yet it’s for good reason God put His people together in a body, the church. In fellowship with others we grow to maturity (Ephesians 4:13). We learn to depend on Him to help us be “humble and gentle” and “patient” (v. 2). We help each other by building each other up “in love” (v. 16). When we gather together, we use our gifts and learn from others who use theirs, which in turn equips us in our walk with God and service for Him. Look for your place among God’s people if you haven’t found it yet as He leads you. You’ll do more than survive; in shared love you’ll bring honor to God and grow to be more like Jesus. And may we all depend on Him as we walk through a growing relationship with Jesus and others.
Jun
30
2022
When Apollo 11’s Eagle lunar module landed on the moon’s Sea of Tranquility on July 20, 1969, the space travelers took time to recover from their flight before stepping onto the moon’s surface. Astronaut Buzz Aldrin had received permission to bring bread and wine so he could take communion. After reading Scripture, he tasted the first foods ever consumed on the moon. Later, he wrote: “I poured the wine into the chalice our church had given me. In the one-sixth gravity of the moon the wine curled slowly and gracefully up the side of the cup.” As Aldrin enjoyed this celestial communion, his actions proclaimed his belief in Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and the guarantee of His second coming. The apostle Paul encourages us to remember how Jesus sat with His disciples “on the night he was betrayed” (1 Corinthians 11:23). The Lord compared His soon-to-be sacrificed body to the bread (v. 24). He declared the wine as a symbol of “the new covenant” that secured our forgiveness and salvation through His blood shed on the cross (v. 25). Whenever and wherever we take communion, we’re proclaiming our trust in the reality of Jesus’ sacrifice and our hope in His promised second coming (v. 26). No matter where we are, we can celebrate our faith in the one and only risen and returning Savior‒our Lord Jesus Christ‒with confidence.    
Jun
29
2022
The magazine I was writing for felt “important,” so I struggled to present the best possible article I could for the high-ranking editor. Feeling pressure to meet her standards, I kept rewriting my thoughts and ideas. But what was my problem? Was it my controversial topic? Or was my real worry personal: Would the editor approve of me and not just my words? For answers to our job worries, Paul gives trustworthy instruction. In a letter to the Colossian church, Paul urged believers to work not for approval of people, but for God. As the apostle said, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Colossians 3:23–24). Reflecting on Paul’s wisdom, we can stop struggling to look good in the eyes of our earthly bosses. For certain, we honor them as people and seek to give them our best. But if we work “as for the Lord”—asking Him to lead and anoint our work for Him—He’ll shine a light on our efforts. Our reward? Our job pressures ease and our assignments are completed. Even more, we’ll one day hear Him say, “Well done!”
Jun
28
2022
Twice this summer I suffered the scourge of poison ivy. Both times it happened, I was working on clearing away unwanted plant growth from our yard. And both times, I saw the nasty, three-leafed enemy lurking nearby. I figured I could get close to it without it affecting me. Soon enough, I realized I’d been wrong. Instead of getting nearer to my little green nemesis, I should have run the other way! In the Old Testament story of Joseph, we see modeled the principle of running from something worse than poison ivy: sin. When he was living in the home of Egyptian official Potiphar, whose wife tried to seduce him, Joseph didn’t try to get close—he ran. Although she falsely accused him and had him thrown in prison, Joseph remained pure throughout the episode. And as we see in Genesis 39:21, “The Lord was with him.” God can help us flee activities and situations that could lead us away from Him—guiding us to run the other way when sin is nearby. In 2 Timothy 2:22, Paul writes, “Flee the evil desires.” And in 1 Corinthians 6:18, he says to “flee from sexual immorality.” In God’s strength, may we choose to run from those things that could harm us.
Jun
27
2022
Something so cordial can happen in first introductions when two persons discover that they have a friend in common. In what may be its most memorable form, a big-hearted host welcomes a guest with something like, “So nice to meet you. Any friend of Sam’s, or Samantha’s, is a friend of mine.”    Jesus said something similar. He’d been attracting crowds by healing many. But He’d also been making enemies of local religious leaders by disagreeing with the way they were commercializing the temple and misusing their influence. In the middle of a growing conflict, He made a move to multiply the joy, cost, and wonder of His presence. He gave His disciples the ability to heal others and sent them out to announce that the Kingdom of God was at hand. He assured the disciples, “who welcomes you welcomes me” and in turn His Father who sent Him as well (10:40). It’s hard to imagine a more life-changing offer of friendship. For anyone who would open their house, or even give a cup of cold water to one of His disciples, Jesus assured a place in the heart of God. While that moment happened a long time ago, His words remind us that in big and little acts of kindness and hospitality there are still ways of welcoming, and being welcomed, as a friend of the friends of God.
Jun
26
2022
Three-year-old Buddy and his mom went to church each week to help unload groceries from the food ministry truck. When Buddy overheard his mom telling his grandmother that the delivery truck broke down, he said, “Oh, no. How will they do food ministry?” His mom explained that the church would have to raise money to buy a new truck. Buddy smiled. “I have money,” he said, leaving the room. He returned with a plastic jar decorated with colorful stickers and filled with coins, which amounted to a little over $38. Though Buddy didn’t have much, God combined his sacrificial offering with gifts from others to provide a new refrigerated truck so the church could continue serving their community. A small amount offered generously is always more than enough when placed in God’s hands. In 2 Kings 4, a poor widow asked the prophet Elisha for financial assistance. He told her to take inventory of her own resources, reach out to her neighbors for help, then follow his instructions (vv. 1–4). In a miraculous display of provision, God used the widow’s small amount of oil to fill all the jars she collected from her neighbors (vv. 5–6). Elisha told her, “Sell the oil and pay your debts. You and your sons can live on what is left” (v. 7). When we focus on what we don’t have, we risk missing out on watching God do great things with what He’s given us.
Jun
25
2022
Billy, a loving and loyal dog, became an internet star in 2020. His owner, Russell, had broken his ankle and was using crutches to walk. Soon the dog also began to hobble when walking with his owner. Concerned, Russell took Billy to the vet, who said there was nothing wrong with him! He ran freely when he was by himself. It turned out that the dog faked a limp when he walked with his owner. That’s what you call trying to truly identify with someone’s pain! Coming alongside others is forefront in the apostle Paul’s instructions to the church in Rome. He summed up the last five of the Ten Commandments in this way: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Romans 13:9). We can see the importance of walking with others in verse 8 as well: “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another.” Author Jenny Albers advises: “When someone is broken, don’t try to fix them. (You can’t.) When someone is hurting, don’t attempt to take away their pain. (You can’t.) Instead, love them by walking beside them in the hurt. (You can.) Because sometimes what people need is simply to know they aren’t alone.” Because Jesus, our Savior, walks alongside us through all our hurt and pain, we know what it means to walk with others.
Jun
24
2022
“I had a dark moment.” Those five words capture the internal agony of a popular female celebrity during the COVID-19 pandemic. Adjusting to a new normal was part of her challenge, and in her turmoil, she acknowledged that she wrestled with thoughts of suicide. Pulling out of the downward spiral included sharing her struggle with a friend who cared. We’re all susceptible to tumultuous hours, days, and seasons. Valleys and hard places aren’t foreign but getting out of such places can be challenging. And seeking the assistance of mental health professionals is sometimes needed. In Psalm 143, we hear and are instructed by David’s prayer during one of the dark times of his life. The exact situation is unknown, but his prayers to God are honest and hope-filled. “The enemy pursues me, he crushes me to the ground; he makes me dwell in the darkness like those long dead. So my spirit grows faint within me; my heart within me is dismayed” (vv. 3–4). For believers in Jesus, it’s not enough to acknowledge what’s going on within us to ourselves, to our friends, or to medical specialists. We must earnestly come to God (thoughts and all) with prayers that include the earnest petitions found in Psalm 143:7–10. Our dark moments can also be times for deep prayers—seeking the light and life only God can bring.
Jun
23
2022
Zhang was raised with, in his words, “no God, no religion, nothing.” In 1989, seeking democracy and freedom for his people, he helped lead students in peaceful protests. But the protests tragically led to the government’s intervention and hundreds of lives lost. For his part in the event, Zhang was placed on his country’s most-wanted list. After a short imprisonment, he fled to an outlying village where he met an elderly farmer who introduced him to Christianity. She had only a handwritten copy of the gospel of John but couldn’t read, so she asked Zhang to read it to her. As he did, she explained it to him—and a year later he became a believer in Jesus. Through all he endured, Zhang sees that God was powerfully leading him to the cross, where he experienced firsthand what the apostle Paul states in 1 Corinthians, “The message of the cross is . . . the power of God” (1:18). What many considered foolishness, a weakness, became Zhang’s strength. For some of us, this too was our thinking before we came to Christ. But through the Spirit, we felt the power and wisdom of God breaking into our lives and leading us to Christ. Today Zhang serves as a pastor spreading the truth of the cross to all who will hear. Jesus has the power to change even the hardest of hearts. Who needs His powerful touch today?
Jun
22
2022
The ornate ceremonial bow and quiver had hung on the wall of our home in Michigan for years. I’d inherited them from my father, who acquired the souvenirs while we were serving as missionaries in Ghana. Then one day a Ghanaian friend visited us. When he saw the bow, he got a strange look on his face. Pointing to a small object tied to it he said, “That is a fetish—a magic charm. I know it has no power, but I would not keep it in my house.” Quickly we cut the charm from the bow and discarded it. We didn’t want anything in our home intended for the worship of something other than God. Josiah, king in Jerusalem, grew up with little knowledge of God’s expectations for His people. When the high priest rediscovered the Book of the Law in the long-neglected temple (2 Kings 22:8), Josiah wanted to hear it. As soon as he learned what God had said about idolatry, he ordered sweeping changes to bring Judah into compliance with God’s law—changes far more drastic than merely cutting a charm from a bow (see 2 Kings 23:3–7). Believers today have more than King Josiah did—much, much more. We have the entire Bible to instruct us. We have each other. And we have the vital filling of the Holy Spirit, who brings things to light, large and small, that we might otherwise overlook.
Jun
21
2022
School cafeterias, like large catering businesses, often prepare more food than is consumed simply because they can’t perfectly predict the need, and leftover food goes to waste. Yet there are many students who don’t have enough food to eat at home and who go hungry on weekends. One US school district partnered with a local non-profit to find a solution. They packaged leftovers to send home with students, and simultaneously addressed the problems of both food waste and hunger. While most people wouldn’t look at an abundance of money as a problem the way we do with wasted food, the principle behind the school project is the same as what Paul suggests in his letter to the Corinthians. He knew the churches in Macedonia were experiencing hardship so he asked the church in Corinth to use their “plenty” to “supply what they need[ed]” (2 Corinthians 8:14). His objective was to bring equality among the churches so none had too much while others were suffering. Paul didn’t want the Corinthian believers to be impoverished by their giving, but to empathize with and be generous to the Macedonians, recognizing that at some point in the future they too were likely to need similar help. When we see others in need, let’s evaluate whether we might have something to share. Our giving—however large or small—will never be a waste!
Jun
20
2022
A Colorado mother proved she would stop at nothing to protect her child. Her five-year-old son was playing outside when she heard him screaming. She rushed outside and, to her horror, saw that her son had an unexpected “playmate”—a mountain lion. The large cat was on top of her son, with his head in its mouth. The mother summoned her inner mamma grizzly to fight off the lion and pry open its jaws to rescue her son. This mother’s heroic actions remind us of how motherhood is used in Scripture to illustrate God’s tenacious love and protection for His children.    God tenderly cared for and comforted His people as a mother eagle cares for her young (Deuteronomy 32:10–11; Isaiah 66:13). Also, like a mother who could never forget a nursing child with whom she had built an inseparable bond, God would never forget His people nor forever withhold compassion from them (Isaiah 54:7–8). Finally, like a mother bird offering protective cover under her wings for baby birds, God would “cover [His people] with his feathers” and “his faithfulness [would] be [their] shield and rampart” (Psalm 91:4). Sometimes we feel alone, forgotten, and trapped in the grip of all kinds of spiritual predators. May God help us remember that He compassionately cares, comforts, remembers, and will fight for us.
Jun
19
2022
Why can’t I stop thinking about it? My emotions were a tangled mess of sadness, guilt, anger, and confusion. Years ago, I’d made the painful decision to cut ties with someone close to me, after attempts to address deeply hurtful behavior were merely met with dismissal and denial. Today, after hearing she was in town visiting, my thoughts had spiraled into hashing and rehashing the past. As I struggled to calm my thoughts, I heard a song playing on the radio. The song expressed not just the anguish of betrayal, but also a profound longing for change and healing in the person who’d caused harm. Tears filled my eyes as I soaked in the haunting ballad giving voice to my own deepest longings. “Love must be sincere,” the apostle Paul wrote in Romans 12:9, a reminder that not all that passes for love is genuine. Yet our heart’s deepest longing is to know real love—love that isn’t self-serving or manipulative, but compassionate and self-giving (vv. 11–13). Love that’s not a fear-driven need for control but a joyful commitment to each other’s well-being (vv. 11–13). And that’s the good news, the gospel. Because of Jesus, we can finally know and share a love we can trust—a love that will never cause us harm (13:10). To live in His love is to be free.
Jun
18
2022
Guy Bryant, single and with no children of his own, worked in New York City’s child welfare department. Daily, he encountered the intense need for foster parents and decided to do something about it. For more than a decade, Bryant fostered more than fifty children, once caring for nine at the same time. "Every time I turned around there was a kid who needed a place to stay," Bryant explained. “If you have the space in your home and heart, you just do it. You don't really think about it." The foster children who have grown and established their own lives still have keys to Bryant’s apartment and often return on Sundays for lunch with “Pops.” Bryant has shown the love of a father to many. The Scriptures tell us that God pursues all who are forgotten or cast aside. Although some believers will find themselves destitute and vulnerable in this life, He promises to be with them. God is “a father to the fatherless” (Psalm 68:5). If, through neglect or tragedy, we’re alone, God is still there—reaching out to us, drawing us near, and giving us hope. Indeed, “God sets the lonely in families” (he provides family for the lonely, v 6). In Jesus, other believers comprise our spiritual family. Whatever our challenging family stories, our isolation, our abandonment or our relational dysfunction, we are loved. With God, we’re fatherless no more.
Jun
17
2022
Charla was dying, and she knew it. While she was lying on her hospital room bed, her surgeon and a group of young interns poured into the room. For the next several minutes, the doctor ignored Charla as he described her terminal condition to the interns. Finally, he turned to her and asked, “And how are you?” Charla weakly smiled and warmly told the group about her hope and peace in Jesus. Some two thousand years ago, Jesus’ battered, naked body hung in humiliation on a cross before a crowd of onlookers. Would He lash out at His tormentors? No. “Jesus said, ‘Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing’ ” (Luke 23:34). Though falsely convicted and crucified, He prayed for His enemies. Later, He told another humiliated man, a criminal, that—because of the man’s faith—he would soon be with Him “in paradise” (v. 43). In His pain and shame, Jesus chose to share words of hope and life out of love for others. As Charla concluded sharing Christ to her listeners, she posed the question back to the doctor. She tenderly looked into the tear-filed eyes of the surgeon and asked, “And how are you?” By Christ’s grace and power, she’d shared words of life—showing love and concern for him and others in the room. In whatever trying situation we face today or in the days ahead, let’s trust God to provide courage to lovingly speak words of life.
Jun
16
2022
“The wind is tossing the lilacs.” With that opening line of her springtime poem “May,” poet Sara Teasdale captured a vision of lilac bushes waving in gusty breezes. But Teasdale was lamenting a lost love, and her poem soon turned sorrowful. Our backyard lilacs also encountered a challenge. After having their most lush and beautiful season, they faced the axe of a hard-working lawn man who “trimmed” every bush, chopping them to stubs. I cried. Then, three years later—after barren branches, a bout of powdery mildew, and my faithless plan to dig them up—our long-suffering lilacs rebounded. They just needed time, and I simply needed to wait for what I couldn’t see. The Bible tells of us many people who waited by faith despite adversity. Noah waited for delayed rain. Caleb waited forty years to live in the Promised Land. Rebekah waited twenty years to conceive a child. Jacob waited seven years to marry Rachel. Simeon waited and waited to see the baby Jesus. Their patience was rewarded. In contrast, those who look to humans “will be like a bush in the wastelands” (Jeremiah 17:6). Poet Teasdale ended her verse in such gloom. “I go a wintry way,” she concluded. But for believers, “blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,” rejoiced Jeremiah.  “They will be like a tree planted by the water” (vv. 7–8). The trusting stay planted in God—the One who will walk with us through the joys and adversities of life.
Jun
15
2022
Chris had his blood retested four years after his lifesaving bone marrow transplant. The donor’s marrow had provided what was needed to cure him but had left a surprise: the DNA in Chris’ blood was that of his donor, not his own. It makes sense, really: the goal of the procedure was to replace the weakened blood with a donor’s healthy blood. Yet even swabs of Chris’ cheeks, lips, and tongue showed the donor’s DNA. In some ways, he’d become someone else—though he retained his own memories, outward appearance, and some of his original DNA. Chris’ experience bears a striking resemblance to what happens in the life of a person who receives salvation in Jesus. At the point of our spiritual transformation—when we trust in Jesus—we become a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus encouraged them to reveal that inward transformation, to “put off [their] old self” with its way of living and to “put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22, 24). To be set apart for Christ. We don’t need DNA swabs or blood tests to show that the transforming power of Jesus is alive within us. Rather that inward reality should be evident in the way we engage with the world around us, revealing how we’re “kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave [us]” (v. 32).
Jun
14
2022
When a corporation offered one thousand frequent flier miles for every ten purchases of one of their foods, one man realized their cheapest product was individual cups of chocolate pudding. He bought more than twelve thousand. For $3,000 (US), he received gold status and a lifetime supply of air miles for himself and his family. He also donated the pudding to charity, which netted him an $800 tax write-off. Genius! Jesus told a controversial parable about a cunning manager who, as he was being fired, reduced what debtors owed his master. The man knew he could rely on their help later for the favor he was doing them now. Jesus wasn’t praising the manager’s unethical business practice, but He knew we could learn from his ingenuity. Jesus said we should shrewdly “use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings” (Luke 16:9). As “the pudding guy” turned twenty-five cent desserts into flights, so we may use our “worldly wealth” to gain “true riches” (v. 11). What are these riches? Jesus said, “give to the poor” and you will “provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.” Our investment doesn’t earn, but it does affirm our salvation, “for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (12:32–34).
Jun
13
2022
Loving God, thank You for Your gentle, nudging correction. With my shoulders slumped over my desk, I murmured those difficult words. I’ve been so arrogant, thinking I could do it all on my own. For months, I’d been enjoying successful work projects, and the accolades lulled me into trusting my capabilities and rejecting God’s leading. It took a challenging project for me to realize I wasn’t as smart as I thought. My proud heart had deceived me into believing that I didn’t need God’s help. The powerful kingdom of Edom received discipline from God for its pride. Edom was located amid mountainous terrain, making her seemingly invulnerable to enemies (Obadiah 1:3). Edom was also a wealthy nation, situated at the center of strategic trade routes, and rich in copper, a highly valued commodity in the ancient world. Edom was full of good things yet also full of pride. Its citizens believed that the kingdom was invincible, even as they oppressed God’s people (vv. 10–14). But God used the prophet Obadiah to tell them of His judgment. Nations would rise up against Edom, and the once-powerful kingdom would be defenseless and humiliated (vv. 1–2). Pride deceives us into thinking, I can live life on my terms. I don’t need God. It makes us feel invulnerable to authority, correction, and weakness. But God calls us to humble ourselves before Him (1 Peter 5:6). As we turn from our pride and choose repentance, God will guide us toward total trust in Him.
Jun
12
2022
I once heard a businessman describe his years in college as a time when he often felt “helpless and hopeless” from bouts of depression. Sadly, he never talked to a doctor about these feelings, but instead started making more drastic plans—ordering a book on suicide from his local library, and setting a date to take his life. God cares for the helpless and hopeless. We see this in His treatment of biblical characters during their own dark times. When Jonah wanted to die, God engaged him in tender conversation (Jonah 4:3–10). When Elijah asked God to take his life (1 Kings 19:4), God provided bread and water to refresh him (vv. 5–9), spoke gently to him (vv. 11–13), and helped him see he wasn’t as alone as he thought (v. 18). God approaches the downhearted with tender, practical help. The library notified the student when his book on suicide was ready to collect. But in a mix up, the note went to his parents’ address instead. When his mother called him, distraught, he realized the devastation his suicide would bring. Without that address mix up, he says, he wouldn’t be here today. I don’t believe that student was saved by luck or chance. Whether it’s bread and water when we need it, or a timely wrong address, when mysterious intervention saves our lives, it’s divine tenderness we’ve encountered.
Jun
11
2022
I love a good game of Scrabble. After one particular game, my friends named a move after me—calling it a “Katara.” I’d been trailing the entire game, but at the end of it—with no tiles left in the bag—I made a seven-letter word. This meant the game was over, and I received fifty bonus points as well as all the points from all of my opponents’ leftover tiles, moving me from last place to first. Now whenever we play and someone is trailing, they remember what happened and hold out hope for a “Katara.” Remembering what has happened in the past has the power to lift our spirits and give us hope. And that’s exactly what the Israelites did when they celebrated Passover. The Passover commemorates what God did for the Israelites when they were in Egypt, oppressed by Pharaoh and his crew (Exodus 1:6–14). After they cried out to God, He delivered the people in a mighty way. He told them to put blood on their doorposts so the death angel would “pass over” their firstborn people and animals (12:12–13). Then they would be kept safe from death.  Centuries later, believers in Jesus regularly take communion as we remember His sacrifice on the cross—providing what we needed to be delivered from sin and death (1 Corinthians 11:23–26). Remembering God’s loving acts in the past gives us hope for today.
Jun
10
2022
“There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.” Those unforgettable lines spoken by Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz reveal a story-telling device found in an overwhelming number of our most enduring stories from the likes of Star Wars to The Lion King. It’s known as “the hero’s journey.” In brief: an ordinary person is living an ordinary life when an extraordinary adventure is presented. The character leaves home and travels to a different world where tests and trails await, as well as mentors and villains. If she or he passes the tests and proves heroic, then the final stage is returning home with stories-to-tell and wisdom-gained. The last piece is crucial. The story of the demon-possessed man closely parallels the hero’s journey. It is interesting in that last scene, if you will, the man begged Jesus “to go with him” (Mark 5:18). Yet Jesus told him: “Go home to your own people” (v. 19). It was important in this man’s journey to return home, to the people who knew him best and to tell them his amazing story. God calls each of us in different ways and to different scenarios. But for some of us, it can be crucial for our faith journey to go home and tell our story to those who know us best. For some of us, the call is “there’s no place like home.”     
Jun
9
2022
When I saw the massive volume of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace on my friend’s bookshelf, I confessed, “I’ve never actually made it all the way through that.” “Well,” Marty chuckled, “When I retired from teaching, I got it as a gift from a friend who told me, ‘Now you’ll finally have time to read it.’ ” The first eight verses of Ecclesiastes 3 state a familiar, natural rhythm of the activities of life with some arbitrary choices. No matter what stage of life we find ourselves in, it’s often difficult to find time to do everything we want to do. And to make wise decisions about managing our time, it’s helpful to have a plan (Psalm 90:12). Time spent with God each day is a priority for our spiritual health. Doing productive work is satisfying to our spirit (Ecclesiastes 3:13). Serving God and helping other people is essential to fulfilling God’s purpose for us (Ephesians 2:10). And times of rest or leisure are not wasted, but refreshing for body and spirit. Of course, it’s easy to become too focused on the here and now—finding time for the things that matter most to us. But Ecclesiastes 3:11 says that God has “set eternity” in our hearts—reminding us to make a priority of things that are eternal. That can bring us face to face with something of the greatest importance—God’s eternal perspective “from beginning to end.”
Jun
8
2022
An Atlanta police officer asked a driver if she knew why he had stopped her. “No idea!” she said in bewilderment. “Ma’am, you were texting while driving,” the officer gently told her. “No, no!” she protested, holding up her cell phone as evidence. “It’s an email.” Using a cell phone to send an email doesn’t grant us a loophole from a law that prohibits texting while driving! The point of the law isn’t to prevent texting; it’s to prevent distracted driving. Jesus accused the religious leaders of His day of creating far worse loopholes. “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God,” He said, quoting the command to “Honor your father and mother” as evidence (Mark 7:9–10). Under the hypocritical cloak of religious devotion, these wealthy leaders were neglecting their families. They simply declared their money as “devoted to God,” and voila, no need to help Mom and Dad in their old age. Jesus quickly got to the heart of the problem. “You nullify the word of God by your tradition,” He said (v. 13). They weren’t honoring God; they were dishonoring their parents. Rationalization can be so subtle. With it we avoid responsibilities, explain away selfish behavior, and reject God’s direct commands. If that describes our behavior, we’re merely deceiving ourselves. Jesus offers us the opportunity to exchange our selfish tendencies for the guidance of the Spirit behind His Father’s good instructions.
Jun
7
2022
Researchers tell us there’s a link between generosity and joy: those who give their money and time to others are happier than those who don’t. This has led one psychologist to conclude, “Let’s stop thinking about giving as a moral obligation, and start thinking of it as a source of pleasure.” While giving can make us happy, I question whether happiness should be the goal of our giving. If we’re only generous to people or causes that make us feel good, what about the more difficult or mundane needs requiring our support? Scripture links generosity with joy too, but on a different basis. After giving his own wealth toward building the temple, King David invited the Israelites to also donate (1 Chronicles 29:1–5). The people responded generously, giving gold, silver and precious stones joyously (vv. 6–8). But notice what their joy was over: “The people rejoiced at the willing response of their leaders, for they had given freely and wholeheartedly to the Lord” (v. 9, italics added). Scripture never tells us to give because it will make us happy, but to give willingly and wholeheartedly to meet a need. Joy often follows. As missionaries know, it can be easier to raise funds for evangelism than for administration because Christians like the feeling of funding frontline work. Let’s be generous toward other needs as well. After all, Jesus freely gave Himself to meet our needs (2 Corinthians 8:9).
Jun
6
2022
My elderly great aunt lay on her sickbed with a smile on her face. Her gray hair was pushed back from her face and wrinkles covered her cheeks. She didn’t speak much but I still recall the few words she said when my father, mother, and I visited her. She whispered, “I don’t get lonely. Jesus is here with me.” As a single woman at the time, I marveled at my aunt’s proclamation. Her husband had died several years earlier and her children lived far away. Nearing her ninetieth year of life, she was alone, in her bed, barely able to move. Yet she was able to say she wasn’t lonely. My aunt took Jesus’ words to the disciples literally, as we all should: “Surely I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20). She knew that Jesus’ Spirit was with her, as He promised when He instructed the disciples to go out into the world and share His message with others (v. 19). Jesus said the Holy Spirit would “be with” the disciples and us (John 14:16–17). I’m certain my aunt experienced the reality of that promise. Jesus’ spirit was within her as she lay on her bed. And the Spirit used her to share His truth with me—a young niece who needed to hear those words and take them to heart too.
Jun
5
2022
“My dear friend, sometimes you sound holier than you really are.” Those words were leveled with a direct gaze and gentle smile. Had they come from someone other than a close friend and mentor whose discernment I highly valued, my feelings might have been hurt. Instead, I winced and laughed at the same time, knowing that while his words “hit a nerve,” he was also right. Sometimes when I talked about my faith, I used jargon that didn’t sound natural, which gave the impression that I wasn’t being sincere. My friend loved me and was trying to help me be more effective in sharing with others what I genuinely believed. Looking back, I see it as some of the best advice I ever received. “Wounds from a friend can be trusted,” Solomon wisely wrote, “but an enemy multiplies kisses” (Proverbs 27:6). My friend’s insights demonstrated the truth of that counsel. I was grateful he cared enough to tell me something I needed to hear, even though he knew it might not be easy to accept. Sometimes when someone tells you only what they think you want to hear, it isn’t helpful, because it can keep you from growing and developing in vital ways.    Candor can be kindness, when measured out with genuine, humble love. May God give us the wisdom to receive it and impart it well, and so reflect His caring heart.
Jun
4
2022
A 2018 study of adults in the United Kingdom found that, on average, “they checked their smartphones every twelve minutes of the waking day.” But let’s be honest, this statistic seems extremely generous when I consider how frequently I search Google to find the answer to a question or respond to endless alerts from the texts, calls, and emails that come to my phone throughout the day. We consistently look to our devices, confident they’ll provide what we need to keep us organized, informed, and connected. As believers in Christ, we have a resource infinitely better than a smartphone. God loves and cares for us intimately and desires for us to come to Him with our needs. The Bible says that when we pray, we can be confident “that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us” (1 John 5:14). By reading the Bible and storing God’s words in our hearts, we can pray assuredly for things that we know He already desires for us, including peace, wisdom, and faith that He’ll provide what we need (v. 15). Sometimes it may seem like He doesn’t hear us when our situation doesn’t change. But we build our confidence in Him by consistently turning to Him for help in every circumstance (Psalms 116:2). This allows us to grow in faith, trusting that although we may not get everything we desire, He’s promised to provide what we need in His perfect timing.
Jun
3
2022
When I was shopping for engagement rings I spent many hours looking for exactly the right diamond. I was plagued by the question, What if I miss the best one? According to economic psychologist Barry Schwartz, my chronic indecision indicates that I am what Schwartz calls a "maximizer," in contrast to a "satisficer." A satisficer makes choices based on whether something is adequate for their needs. Maximizers? We (guilty!) have a need to always make the best choice. The potential outcome of our indecision in the face of many choices? Anxiety, depression, and discontent. In fact, sociologists have coined another phrase for this phenomenon: fear of missing out. We won’t find the words maximizer or satisficer in Scripture, of course. But we do find a similar idea. In 1 Timothy, Paul challenged Timothy to find value in God rather than the things of this world. The world’s promises of fulfillment can never fully deliver. Paul wanted Timothy to instead root his identity in God: “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6), Paul writes. He sounds like a satisficer when he adds, “But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that” (v. 8). When I fixate on the myriad ways the world promises fulfillment, I usually end up restless and unsatisfied. But when I focus on God and relinquish my compulsive urge to maximize, my soul moves toward genuine contentment and rest.     
Jun
2
2022
During an October vacation, another battle with chronic pain forced me to spend the first few days recovering in our room. My mood became as overcast as the sky. When I finally ventured out to enjoy sightseeing at a nearby lighthouse with my husband, gray clouds blocked much of our view. Still, I snapped a few photos of the shadowy mountains and dull horizon. Later, disappointed because a downpour tucked us in for the night, I skimmed through our digital pictures. Gasping, I handed my husband the camera. “A rainbow!” Focused on the gloominess earlier, I’d missed out on God refreshing my weary spirit with the unexpected glimpse of hope (Genesis 9:13–15). Physical or emotional suffering can often drag us down into the depths of despair. Desperate for refreshment, we thirst for reminders of God’s constant presence and infinite power (Psalm 42:1–3). As we recall the countless times our Lord has come through for us and for others in the past, we can trust our hope is secured in Him no matter how downcast we feel in the moment (vv. 4–5). When bad attitudes or difficult circumstances dim our vision, God invites us to call on Him, read His Word, and trust His faithfulness (vv. 7–11). As we seek the Lord, we can rely on Him to help us spot rainbows of hope arched over the darkest days. Hallelujah!
Jun
1
2022
In November 1742, a riot broke out in Staffordshire, England, to protest against the gospel message Charles Wesley was preaching. It seems Charles and his brother John were changing some longstanding church traditions, and that was too much for many of the townsfolk. When John Wesley heard about the riot, he hurried to Staffordshire to help his brother. Soon an unruly crowd surrounded the place where John was staying. Courageously, he met face to face with their leaders, speaking with them so serenely that one by one their anger was assuaged. John Wesley’s gentle and quiet spirit calmed a potentially savage mob. But it was not a gentleness that occurred naturally in his own heart. Rather, it was the heart of the Savior whom Wesley followed so closely. Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29). This yoke of gentleness becomes the true power behind the apostle Paul’s challenge to us, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2). In our humanness, such patience is impossible for us. But by the fruit of the Spirit in us, the gentleness of the heart of Christ can set us apart and equip us to face a hostile world. When we do, we fulfill Paul’s words, “Let your gentleness be evident to all” (Philippians 4:5).
May
31
2022
Every day, Glen purchases his morning coffee at a nearby drive-through. And every day he also pays for the order of the person in the car behind him, asking the cashier to wish that person a good day. Glen has no connection to them. He’s not privy to their reaction, nor, it seems, is this his motivation: he simply believes this small gesture is “the least he can do.” On one occasion, however, he learned of the impact of his actions when he read an anonymous letter to the editor of his local newspaper. He discovered that the kindness of his gift on July 18, 2017, caused the person in the car behind him to reconsider their plans to take their own life later that day. Glen gives daily to the people in the car behind him without receiving credit for it. Only on this single occasion did he get a glimpse of the impact of his small gift. When Jesus says we should “not let [our] left hand know what [our] right hand is doing” (Matthew 6:3), He’s urging us to give—as Glen does—without need for recognition. When we give out of our love for God, without concern for receiving the praise of others, we can trust that our gifts—large or small—will be used by Him to help meet the needs of those receiving them.
May
30
2022
In the spring of 2021, several storm-chasers recorded videos and took photos of a rainbow next to a tornado in Texas. In one video, long stalks of wheat in a field bent under the power of the whirling winds. A brilliant rainbow cut across the gray skyline and arched toward the twister. Bystanders in another video stood on the side of the road and watched the symbol of hope standing firm beside the twisting funnel-shaped cloud. In Psalm 107, the psalmist offers hope and encourages us to turn to God during difficult times. He describes some who were in the middle of a storm, “at their wits’ end” (v. 27). “Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress” (v. 28). God understands His children will sometimes struggle to feel hopeful when life feels like a storm. We need reminders of His faithfulness, especially when the horizon looks dark and tumultuous. Whether our storms come as substantial obstacles in our lives, as emotional turmoil, or as mental stress, God can still our storms “to a whisper” and guide us to a place of refuge (vv. 29–30). Though we may not experience relief in our preferred way or time, we can trust God to keep the promises He’s given in Scripture. His enduring hope will cut through any storm.
May
29
2022
Tucked into a remote gorge in western Slovenia, a secret medical facility (Franja Partisan Hospital) housed an extensive staff that tended to thousands of wounded soldiers during World War II—all the while staying hidden from the Nazis. Though avoiding detection from numerous Nazi attempts to locate the facility is in itself a remarkable feat, even more remarkable is that the hospital (founded and run by the Slovenia resistance movement) cared for soldiers from both the Allied and Axis armies. The hospital welcomed everyone. Scripture calls us to help the whole world to be spiritually healed. This means we need to have compassion for all—regardless of their views. Everyone, no matter their ideology, deserves Christ’s love and kindness. Paul insists that Jesus’ all-embracing love “compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all” (2 Corinthians 5:14). All of us suffer the sickness of sin. All of us are in desperate need of the healing of Jesus’ forgiveness. And He’s moved toward all of us in order to heal us. Then, in a surprising move, God entrusted us with “the message of reconciliation” (v. 19). God invites us to tend to wounded and broken people (like us). We participate in healing work where the sick are made healthy through union with Him. And this reconciliation, this healing, is for all who will receive it.
May
28
2022
The fire hydrant gushed into the street, and I saw my opportunity. Several cars had splashed through before me, and I thought, What a great way to get a free wash! My car hadn’t been cleaned for a month and the dust was thick. So I fired it up and headed into the deluge. Crack! It happened so fast. The sun had already beaten down on my black car that morning, heating its glass and interior. But the water from the hydrant was frigid. As soon as the cold gush hit the hot windshield, a crack struck like lightning from top to bottom. My “free” car wash ended up costing me plenty. If only I had “pressed pause” beforehand to think or even to pray. Ever have a moment like that? The people of Israel did, under far weightier circumstances. God had promised to help them drive out other nations as they entered the land He’d given them (Joshua 3:10) so they wouldn’t be tempted by false gods (Deuteronomy 20:16–18). But one of the nations saw Israel’s victories and used stale bread to trick them into believing they lived far away. “The Israelites sampled their provisions but did not inquire of the Lord. Then Joshua made a treaty of peace” (Joshua 9:14–15, italics added), unknowingly circumventing God’s instructions. When we make prayer a “first resort” instead of a “last,” we invite God’s direction, wisdom, and blessing. May He help us remember to “press pause” today.
May
27
2022
Croissants, dumplings, pork curry, and all sorts of scrumptious food await those who find and enter the Narrow Door Cafe. Located in the Taiwanese city of Tainan, this cafe is literally a hole in the wall. Its entrance is barely 40 centimeters wide (less than16 inches)—just enough for the average person to squeeze his way through! Yet, despite the challenge, this unique cafe has attracted large crowds. Will this be true of the narrow door described in Luke 13:22–30? Someone asked Jesus, “Are only a few people going to be saved?” (v. 23). In reply, Jesus challenged the person to “make every effort to enter through the narrow door” to God’s kingdom (v. 24). He was essentially asking, “Will the saved include you?” Jesus used this analogy to urge the Jews not to be presumptuous. Many of them believed they would be included in God’s kingdom because they were Abraham’s descendants or because they kept the law. But Jesus challenged them to respond to Him before “the owner of the house . . . closes the door” (v. 25).  Neither our family background nor our deeds can make us right with God. Only faith in Jesus can save us from sin and death (Ephesians 2:8–9; Titus 3:5–7). The door is narrow, but it’ wide open to all who will put their faith in Jesus. He’s inviting us today to seize the opportunity to enter through the narrow door to His kingdom.
May
26
2022
In 1854, a young Russian artillery officer viewed the battlefield carnage occurring far below his cannon’s hilltop placement. “It’s a funny sort of pleasure,” Leo Tolstoy wrote, “to see people killing each other. And yet, every morning and every evening, I would . . . spend hours at a time watching.” Tolstoy’s outlook soon changed. After seeing firsthand the devastation and suffering in the city of Sevastopol, he wrote, “You understand all at once, and quite differently from what you have before, the significance of those sounds of shots which you heard in the city.” The prophet Jonah once climbed a hill to view the devastation of Nineveh (Jonah 4:5). He’d just warned that brutal city of God’s looming judgment. But Nineveh repented, and Jonah was disappointed. The city, however, relapsed into evil, and a century later the prophet Nahum described its destruction. “Shields flash red in the sunlight!” he wrote. “Watch as their glittering chariots move into position, with a forest of spears waving above them” (Nahum 2:3 nlt). Because of Nineveh’s persistent sin, God sent punishment. But He’d told Jonah, “Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness. . . . Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?” (Jonah 4:11 nlt). God justice and love go together. Nahum shows the consequences of evil. Jonah reveals God’s keen compassion for even the worst of us. His heart’s desire is that we repent and extend that compassion to others.
May
25
2022
Temperatures where we live in Colorado can change quickly—sometimes within a few minutes. So my husband, Dan, was curious about the temperature differences in and around our home. As a fan of gadgets, he was excited to unpack his latest “toy”—a thermometer showing temperature readings from four “zones” around our house. Joking that it was a “silly” gadget, I was surprised to find myself frequently checking the temperatures, too. The differences inside and out fascinated me. Jesus used temperature to describe the “lukewarm” church in Laodicea, one of the richest of the seven cities cited in the book of Revelation. A bustling banking, clothing, and medical hub, the city was hampered by a poor water supply, so it needed an aqueduct to carry water from a hot springs. By the time the water arrived in Laodicea, however, it was neither hot nor cold. The church was tepid too. Jesus said, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:15–16). As Christ explained, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent” (v. 19). Our Savior’s plea remains urgent for us too. Are you spiritually neither hot nor cold? Accept His correction and ask Him to help you live an earnest, fired-up faith.
May
24
2022
The introductory lesson on aikido, a traditional Japanese form of martial arts, was an eye-opener. The sensei, or teacher, told us that when faced with an attacker, our first response should be to “run away.” “Only if you can’t run away, then you fight,” he said seriously. Run away? I was taken aback. Why was this highly-skilled self-defense instructor telling us to run away from a fight? It seemed counterintuitive—until he explained that the best form of self-defense is to avoid fighting in the first place. Of course! When several men came to arrest Jesus, Peter responded as some of us might have by drawing his sword to attack one of them (John 18:10). But Jesus told him to put it away, saying, “How then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” (Matthew 26:54). While a sense of justice is important, so is understanding God’s purpose and kingdom—an “upside-down” kingdom that calls us to love our enemies and return evil with kindness (Matthew 5:44). It’s a stark contrast to how the world might react, yet it’s a response that God seeks to nurture in us. Luke 22:51 even describes Jesus healing the ear of the man Peter had struck. May we learn to respond to difficult situations as He did, always seeking peace and restoration as God provides what we need.
May
23
2022
General Charles Gordon (1833–85) served Queen Victoria in China and elsewhere, but when living in England he’d give away 90 percent of his income. When he heard about a famine in Lancashire, he scratched off the inscription from a pure gold medal he’d received from a world leader and sent it up north, saying they should melt it down and use the money to buy bread for the poor. That day he wrote in his diary: “The last earthly thing I had in this world that I valued I have given to the Lord Jesus.” General Gordon’s level of generosity might seem above and beyond what we’re able to extend, but God has always called His people to look out for those in need. In some of the laws He delivered through Moses, God instructed the people not to reap to the edges of their field nor to gather all of the crop. Instead, when harvesting a vineyard, He said to leave the grapes that had fallen “for the poor and the foreigner” (Leviticus 19:10). God wanted His people to be aware of and provide for the vulnerable in their midst. However generous we may feel, we can ask God to increase our desire to give to others and to seek His wisdom for creative ways to do so. He loves to help us show His love to others.
May
22
2022
I’m often given the privilege of leading spiritual retreats. Getting away for a few days to pray and reflect can be deeply enriching, and during the program I sometimes ask participants to do an exercise: “Imagine your life is over and your obituary is published in the paper. What would you like it to say?” Some attendees change their life’s priorities as a result, aiming to finish their lives well. Second Timothy 4 contains the last known written words of the apostle Paul. Though probably only in his sixties, and though having faced death before, he senses his life is nearly over (2 Timothy 4:6). There will be no more mission trips now or writing letters to his churches. He looks back over his life and says, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (v. 7). While he hasn’t been perfect (1 Timothy 1:15–16), Paul assesses his life on how true he’s stayed to God and the gospel. Tradition suggests he was martyred soon after. Contemplating our final days has a way of clarifying what matters now. So what would you like your obituary to say? Paul’s words can be a good model to follow. Fight the good fight. Finish the race. Keep the faith. Because, in the end, what will matter is that we’ve stayed true to God and His ways as He provides what we need to live, fight life’s spiritual battles, and finish well.
May
21
2022
Amina, an Iraqi immigrant, and Joseph, an American from birth, attended a political protest on opposite sides. We’ve been taught to believe that those who are separated by ethnicity and politics carry unbridled animosity toward each other. However, when a small mob accosted Joseph, trying to set his shirt on fire, Amina rushed to his defense. “I don’t think we could be any further apart as people,” Joseph told a reporter, “and yet, it was just kinda like this common ‘that’s not OK’ moment.” Something deeper than politics knit Amina and Joseph together. Though we often have genuine disagreements with one another—substantial differences we often can’t ignore—there are far deeper realities that bind us together. We’re all created by God and bound together in one beloved human family. God has created each of us—regardless of gender, social class, ethnic identity or political persuasion—“in his own image” (Genesis 1:26). Whatever else might be true, God is reflected in both you and me. Further, He’s given us a shared purpose to “fill” and “rule” God’s world with wisdom and care (v. 28). Whenever we forget how we’re bound together in God, we do damage to ourselves and others. But whenever we come together in His grace and truth, we participate in His desire to make a good and flourishing world.
May
20
2022
A nursery owner set out to sell peach trees. She considered various approaches. Should she line up leafy saplings in burlap sacks in a beautiful display? Should she create a colorful catalog picturing peach trees in various seasons of growth? At last she realized what really sells a peach tree. It’s the peach it produces: sweet-smelling, deep orange, and fuzzy-skinned. The best way to sell a peach tree is to pluck a ripe peach, cut it open until the juice dribbles down your arm, and hand a slice to a customer. When they taste the fruit, they want the tree. God reveals Himself in a wrapper of spiritual fruit in His followers: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22). When we believers in Jesus exhibit such fruit, others around us want that fruit as well, and therefore the Source of the fruit that is so attractive. Fruit is the external result of an internal relationship, the influence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Fruit is the dressing that beckons others to know the God we represent. Like the bright peaches standing out against the green leaves of a tree, the fruit of the Spirit announces to a starving world, “Here is food! Here is life! Come and find a way out of exhaustion and discouragement. Come and meet God!”
May
19
2022
My trip to Simon’s house was unforgettable. Under the cover of a star-lit sky in Nyahururu, Kenya, we made our way to his modest home for dinner. The dirt floor and the lantern light reflected Simon’s limited means. What was on the menu, I don’t recall. What I can’t forget was Simon’s joy that we were his guests. His gracious hospitality was Jesus-like—selfless, life-touching, and refreshing. In 1 Corinthians 16:15–18, Paul mentioned a family—the household of Stephanas (v. 15)—that had a reputation for their caregiving. They’d “devoted themselves to the service of the Lord’s people” (v. 15). While their service likely included tangible things (v. 17), the impact was such that Paul wrote that “they refreshed my spirit and yours also” (v. 18). When we have opportunities to share with others, we rightly give attention to matters of food, setting, and other things that are fitting for such occasions. But we sometimes forget that although “the what” and “the where” matter, they’re not the most important things. Memorable meals are great and pleasant settings have their place, but food is limited in its capacity to fully nourish and encourage. True refreshment flows from God and is a matter of the heart; it reaches the hearts of others, and it continues to nourish long after the meal is over.
May
18
2022
In August 2020, residents of Olten, Switzerland, were startled to find that it was snowing chocolate! A malfunction in the ventilation system of the local chocolate factory had caused chocolate particles to be diffused into the air. As a result, a dusting of edible chocolate flakes covered cars and streets and made the whole town smell like a candy store. When I think of delicious food “magically” falling from the heavens, I can’t help but think of God’s provision for the people of Israel in Exodus. Following their dramatic escape from Egypt, the people faced significant challenges in the desert, especially a scarcity of food and water. And God, moved by the plight of the people, promised to “rain down bread from heaven” (Exodus 16:4). The next morning, a layer of thin flakes appeared on the desert ground. This daily provision, known as manna, continued for the next forty years. When Jesus came to earth, people began to believe He was sent from God when He miraculously provided bread for a large crowd (John 6:5–14). But Jesus taught that He himself was the “bread of life” (John 6:35), sent to bring not just temporary nourishment but eternal life (v. 51). For those of us hungry for spiritual nourishment, Jesus extends the offer of unending life with God. May we believe and trust that He came to satisfy those deepest longings.
May
17
2022
Why is it that when we say: “This is the last potato chip I’m going to eat,” five minutes later we we’re looking for more? Michael Moss answers that question in his book, “Salt Sugar Fat.” He describes how America’s largest snack producers knows how to “help” people crave junk food. In fact, one popular company spent $30 million a year and hired “crave consultants” to determine the bliss point for consumers so it could exploit our food cravings. Unlike that company, Jesus helps us to long for real food—spiritual food—that brings satisfaction to our souls. He said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35). By making this claim, He communicated two important things: First, the bread of which He spoke is a Person, not a commodity (v. 32). Second, when people put their trust in Jesus for forgiveness of sin, they enter into a right relationship with Him and find fulfillment for every craving of their soul. This Bread is everlasting, spiritual food that leads to satisfaction and life. When we place our trust in Jesus, the true bread from heaven, we’ll crave Him, and He will strengthen and transform our lives.
May
16
2022
In 1478, Lorenzo de Medici, the ruler of Florence, Italy, escaped an attack on his life. His countrymen sparked a war when they tried to retaliate for the attack on their leader. As the situation worsened, the cruel King Ferrante I of Naples became Lorenzo’s enemy, but a courageous act by Lorenzo changed everything. He visited the king unarmed and alone. This bravery, paired with his charm and brilliance, won Ferrante’s admiration and ended the war.  Daniel also helped a king experience a change of heart. No one in Babylon could describe or interpret a troubling dream King Nebuchadnezzar had. This made him so angry that he decided to execute all his advisors—including Daniel and his friends. But Daniel asked to visit the king who wanted him dead (Daniel 2:24). Standing before Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel gave God all the credit for revealing the mystery of the dream (v. 28). When the prophet described and deciphered it, Nebuchadnezzar honored the “God of gods and the Lord of kings” (v. 47). Daniel’s uncommon courage, which was born of his faith in God, helped him, his friends, and the other advisors avoid death that day. In our lives, there are times when bravery and boldness are needed to communicate important messages. May God guide our words and give us the wisdom to know what to say and the ability to say it well.
May
15
2022
In 1896, an explorer named Carl Akely found himself in a remote section of Ethiopia, chased by an eighty-pound leopard. He remembered the leopard pouncing, trying “to sink her teeth into my throat.” She missed, snagging his right arm with her vicious jaws. The two rolled in the sand—a long, fierce struggle. Akely weakened, and “it became a question of who would give up first.” Summoning his last bit of strength, Akely was able to suffocate the big cat with his bare hands. The apostle Paul explained how each of us who believe in Jesus will inevitably encounter our own fierce struggles, those places where we feel overwhelmed and are tempted to surrender. Instead, we must “stand firm” and take our “stand against the devil’s schemes” (Ephesians 6:11, 14). Rather than cower in fear or crumble as we recognize our weakness and vulnerability, Paul challenged us to step forward in faith, remembering that we don’t rely on our own courage and strength but on God. “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power,” he wrote (v. 10). In the challenges we face, He’s only a prayer away (v. 18). Yes, we have many struggles, and we will never escape them by our own power or ingenuity. God is more powerful than any enemy or evil we will ever face.
May
14
2022
In the early 1980s, a prominent astronomer who didn’t believe in God wrote, “A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super-intellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology.” To this scientist’s eye, the evidence showed that something had designed everything we observe in the cosmos. He added, “There are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature.” In other words, everything we see looks as if it was planned by Someone. And yet, the astronomer remained an atheist. Three thousand years ago, another intelligent man looked at the skies and drew a different conclusion. “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?” wondered David (Psalm 8:3–4). Yet God cares for us deeply. The universe tells the story of its Intelligent Designer, the “Super Intellect” who made our minds and put us here to ponder His work. Through Jesus and His creation, God can be known. Paul wrote, “[Christ] existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, for through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth” (Colossians 1:15–16, nlt). The cosmos has indeed been “monkeyed with.” The identity of the Intelligent Designer is there to be discovered by anyone willing to seek.
May
13
2022
“No! I didn’t do it!” Jane heard her teenage son’s denial with a sinking heart, for she knew he wasn’t telling the truth. She breathed a prayer asking God for help before asking Simon again what happened. He continued to deny he was lying, until finally she threw her hands up in exasperation. Saying she needed a time out, she began to walk away when she felt a hand on her shoulder and heard his apology. He responded to the convicting of the Holy Spirit, and repented. In the Old Testament book of Joel, God called His people to true repentance for their sins as He welcomed them to return to Him wholeheartedly (2:12). God didn’t seek outward acts of remorse, but rather that they would soften their hard attitudes: “Rend your heart and not your garments.” Joel reminded the Israelites that God is “gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love” (v. 13). We might find confessing our wrongdoing difficult, for in our pride we don’t want to admit to our sins. Perhaps we’ve fudged the truth, and we justify our actions by saying it was only “a little white lie.” But when we heed God’s gentle but firm prompting to repent, He will forgive us and cleanse us from all of our sins (1 John 1:9). We can be free of guilt and shame, knowing we are forgiven.
May
12
2022
As I enter the final few minutes of my forty-minute workout, I can almost guarantee that my instructor will yell out, “Finish strong!” Every personal trainer or group fitness leader I’ve known uses the phrase a few minutes before cool down. They know that the end of the workout is just as important as showing up for it. And they know that the human body has a tendency to want to slow down or slack off when it’s been in motion for a while. The same is true in our journey with Jesus. Paul told the elders of the church at Ephesus that he needed to finish strong as he headed to Jerusalem where he was certain to face more persecution as an apostle of Christ (Acts 20:17–24). Paul, however, was undeterred. He had a mission and that was to finish the journey he’d begun and to do what God called him to do (v. 19). He had one job—to tell “the good news of God’s grace” (v. 24). And he wanted to finish strong. Even if hardship awaited him (v. 23), he continued to run toward his finish line—focused and determined to remain steadfast in his journey. Whether we’re exercising our physical muscles or working out our God-given abilities through actions, words, and deeds, we too can be encouraged by the reminder to finish strong. Don’t “become weary” (Galatians 6:9). Don’t give up. God will provide what you need to finish strong.
May
11
2022
In 1799 twelve-year-old Conrad Reed found a large, glittering rock in the stream that ran through his family’s small farm in North Carolina. He carried it home to show his father, a poor immigrant farmer. His father didn’t understand the rock’s potential value and used it as a doorstop. The family walked by it for years. Eventually Conrad’s rock—actually a seventeen-pound gold nugget—caught the eye of a local jeweler. Soon the Reed family became wealthy, and their property became the site of the first major gold strike in the United States. Sometimes we walk past a blessing, intent on our own plans and ways. After Israel was exiled to Babylon for disobeying God, He proclaimed freedom for them once again. But He also reminded them of what they’d missed. “I am the Lord your God,” He told them, “who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go. If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your well-being like the waves of the sea” (italics added). God then encouraged them to follow Him away from old ways into a new life: “Leave Babylon . . . . Announce this with shouts of joy”! (Isaiah 48:17–18, 20). Leaving Babylon, perhaps now as much as then, means leaving sinful ways and “coming home” to a God who longs to do us good—if only we’ll obey and follow Him!
May
10
2022
After I became a believer in Jesus, I shared the gospel with my mother. Instead of making a decision to trust Jesus, as I expected, she stopped speaking to me for a year. Her bad experiences with people who claimed to follow Jesus made her distrust believers in Christ. I prayed for her and reached out to her weekly. The Holy Spirit comforted me and continued working on my heart as my mom gave me the silent treatment. When she finally answered my phone call, I committed to loving her and sharing God’s truth with her whenever I had the opportunity. Months after our reconciliation, she said I’d changed. Almost a year later, she received Jesus as her Savior. Our relationship deepened. Believers in Jesus have access to the greatest gift given to humanity—Christ. The apostle Paul says we’re to “spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere” (2 Corinthians 2:14). He refers to those who share the gospel as “the pleasing aroma of Christ” to those who believe, but acknowledges we reek of death to those who reject Jesus (vv. 15–16). After we receive Christ as our Savior, we have the privilege of using our limited time on earth to spread His life-changing truth while loving others. Even during our hardest and loneliest moments, we can trust He’ll provide what we need. No matter what the personal cost, God’s good news is always worth sharing.
May
9
2022
After receiving the devastating diagnosis of a rare and incurable brain cancer, Caroline found renewed hope and purpose through providing a unique service: volunteering photography services for critically ill children and their families. Through this service, families could capture the precious moments shared with their children, both in grief and “the moments of grace and beauty we assume don’t exist in those desperate places. In the hardest moments imaginable, those families . . . choose to love, despite and because of it all.” There’s something unspeakably powerful about capturing the truth of grief—both the devastating reality of it and the ways in which we experience beauty and hope in the midst of it. Much of the book of Job is like a photograph of grief—capturing honestly Job’s journey through devastating loss (1:18–19). After sitting with Job several days, his friends wearied of his grief, resorting to minimizing it or explaining it away as God’s judgment. But Job would have none of it, insisting that what he was going through mattered, and wishing that the testimony of his experience would be “engraved in rock forever!” (19:24). Through the book of Job, it was “engraved”—in a way that points us in our grief to the living God (vv. 26–27), who meets us in our pain, carrying us through death into resurrection life.
May
8
2022
The deer in our neighborhood and I have two different opinions about sunflowers. When I plant sunflowers each spring, I’m looking forward to the beauty of their blooms. My deer friends, however, don’t care about the finished product. They simply want to chew the stems and leaves until there’s nothing left. It’s an annual summertime battle as I try to see the sunflowers to maturity before my four-hoofed neighbors devour them. Sometimes I win; sometimes they win. When we think about our lives as believers in Jesus, it’s easy to see a similar battle being waged between us and our enemy—Satan. Our goal is continual growth leading to spiritual maturity that helps our lives stand out for God’s honor. The devil wants to devour our faith and keep us from growing. But Jesus has dominion over “every power.” He can bring us “to fullness” (Colossians 2:10), which means He makes us “complete.” Christ’s victory on the cross allows us to stand out in the world like those beautiful sunflowers. When Jesus nailed the “record of the charges against us” (the penalty for our sins) to the cross (v. 14 nlt), he destroyed “the powers” that controlled us. We became “rooted and built up” (v. 7) and made “alive with Christ” (v. 13). In Him we have the power (v. 10) to resist the enemy’s spiritual attacks and to flourish in Jesus—displaying a life of true beauty.
May
7
2022
Fingerprints have long been used to identify people, but they can be faked by creating copies. Similarly, the pattern of the iris in the human eye is a reliable source for ID—until someone alters the pattern with a contact lens to skew the results. The use of biometrics to identify individuals can be defeated. So, what qualifies as a unique identifying characteristic? It turns out that everyone’s blood-vessel patterns are unique and virtually impossible to counterfeit. Your own personal “vein map” is a one-of-a-kind identifier, setting you apart from everyone else on the planet.   Pondering such complexities of human beings should prompt a sense of worship and wonder for the Creator who made us. David reminded us that we are, “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14), and that is certainly worth celebrating. In fact, Psalm 111:2 reminds us, “Great are the works of the Lord; they are pondered by all who delight in them.” Even more worthy of our attention is the divine Maker Himself. While celebrating God’s great deeds, we also must celebrate Him! His deeds are great, but He’s even greater, prompting the psalmist to pray, “For you are great and do marvelous deeds; you alone are God” (Psalm 86:10). Today, as we consider the greatness of what God does, may we also marvel at the greatness of who He is.
May
6
2022
Juanita told her nephew about growing up during the Great Depression. Her poor family only had apples to eat, plus whatever wild game her dad might provide. Whenever he bagged a squirrel for dinner, her mom would say, “Give me that squirrel head. That’s all I want to eat. It’s the best piece of meat.” Years later Juanita realized there wasn’t any meat on a squirrel’s head. Her mom didn’t eat it. She only pretended it was a delicacy “so us kids could get more to eat and we wouldn’t worry about her.” As we celebrate Mother’s Day tomorrow, may we also recount stories of our mothers’ devotion. We thank God for them, and strive to love more like them. Paul served the Thessalonian church “as a nursing mother cares for her children” (1 Thessalonians 2:7). He loved fiercely, fighting through “strong opposition” to tell them about Jesus and to share his own life with them (vv. 2, 8). He “worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while [he] preached the gospel of God to [them]” (v. 9). Just like Mom. Few can resist a mother’s love, and Paul modestly said his efforts were “not without results” (v. 1). We can’t control how others respond, but we can choose to show up, day after day, to serve them in a sacrificial way. Mom would be proud, and so will our heavenly Father.
May
5
2022
Lea was about to start a job as a nurse in Taiwan. She’d be able to provide better for her family, more than she could in Manila, where job opportunities were limited. On the night before her departure, she gave instructions to her sister, who’d be taking care of her five-year-old daughter. “She’ll take her vitamins if you also give her a spoonful of peanut butter,” Lea explained “And remember, she’s shy. She’ll play with her cousins eventually. And she’s afraid of the dark, . . .” While looking out the plane window the next day, Lea prayed: Lord, no one knows my daughter like I do. I can’t be with her, but You can. We know the people we love, and we notice all the details about them because they’re precious to us. When we can’t be with them due to various circumstances, we’re often anxious that, since no one knows them as well as we do, they’ll be more vulnerable to harm. In Psalm 139, David reminds us that God knows us more than anyone does. In the same way, He knows our loved ones intimately (vv. 1–4). He’s their Creator (vv. 13–15), so He understands their needs. He knows what will happen each day of their lives (v. 16), and He’s with them and will never leave them (vv. 5, 7–10). When you’re anxious for others, entrust them to God for He knows them best and loves them the most.
May
4
2022
Most mornings I recite the Lord’s Prayer. I’m not worth much for the new day until I’ve grounded myself in those words. Recently I’d said only the first two words—“Our Father”—when my phone rang. It startled me as it was 5:43 a.m. Guess who? The phone display read—“Dad.” Before I had a chance to answer, the call quickly ended. I guessed my dad had called by mistake. Sure enough, he had. Random coincidence? Maybe, but I believe we live in a world awash in the mercy of God. That particular day I needed that reassurance of our Father’s presence. Think about that for a minute. Of all the ways Jesus could have taught His disciples to begin their prayers, He chose those two words—“Our Father” (Matthew 6:9) as the starting point. Random? No, Jesus was never less than intentional with His words. We all have different relationships with our earthly fathers—some good, some far less than that. However, praying in the way we should is not addressing “my” father or “your” father, but “our” Father, the One who sees us and hears us, and who knows what we need before we even ask Him (v. 8). What an amazing reassurance, especially on those days when we might feel forgotten, alone, abandoned, or simply just not worth much. Remember, regardless of where we are and what time of day or night it might be, our Father in heaven is always near.
May
3
2022
A ministry in Carlsbad, New Mexico, supports their community by offering more than 24,000 pounds of free food each month to local residents. The leader of the ministry shared, “People can come here, and we will accept them and meet them right where they are. Our goal is . . . to meet their practical needs to get to their spiritual needs.” As believers in Christ, God desires for us to use what we’ve been given to bless others, drawing our communities closer to Him. How can we develop a heart for service that brings glory to God? We develop a heart for service by asking God to show us how to use the gifts He’s given us to benefit others (1 Peter 4:10). In this way, we offer “many expressions of thanks to God” for the abundance He’s blessed us with (2 Corinthians 9:12). Serving others was an important part of Jesus’ ministry. When He healed the sick and fed the hungry, many were introduced to God’s goodness and love. By caring for our communities, we’re following His model of discipleship. God’s wisdom reminds us that when we demonstrate God’s love through our actions “others will praise God” (v. 13). Service isn’t about self-gratification but about showing others the extent of God’s love and the miraculous that ways He works through those who are called by His name.  
May
2
2022
Anne, the lead character in the Anne of Green Gables stories, longed for a family. Orphaned, she had lost hope of ever finding a place to call home. But then she learned that an older man named Matthew and his sister Marilla would take her in. On the buggy ride to their home, Anne apologized for chattering on and on, but Matthew, a quiet man, said, “You can talk as much as you like. I don’t mind.” This was music to Anne’s ears. She felt no one had ever wanted her around, much less wanted to hear her chatter. After arriving, her hopes were dashed when she learned the siblings had thought they were getting a boy to help as a farmhand. She feared being returned, but Anne’s longing for a loving home was met when they made her a part of their family. We’ve all had times when we felt unwanted or alone. But when we become a part of God’s family through salvation in Jesus, He becomes for us a secure home (Psalm 62:2). He delights in us and invites us to talk with Him about everything: our worries, temptations, sorrows, and hopes. The psalmist tells us we can “find rest in God” and “pour out [our] hearts to him” (vv. 5, 8). Don’t hesitate. Talk to God as much as you like. He won’t mind. He delights in our hearts. In Him you’ll find a home.  
May
1
2022
Victor slowly became addicted to pornography. Many of his friends looked at porn, and he fell into it because he was bored. But now he understands how it crushed his wife, and he’s vowed to put safeguards in his life so he will never look at it again. Yet he fears it’s too late. Can his marriage be saved? Will he ever be free and fully forgiven? Our enemy the devil presents temptation as if it’s no big deal. Everyone’s doing it. What’s the harm? But the moment we catch on to his scheme, he switches gears. It’s too late! You’ve gone too far! You’re hopeless now! The enemy will say whatever it takes to destroy us as we engage in spiritual warfare. Jesus said, “He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). If the devil is a liar, then we should never listen to him. Not when he says our sin is no big deal, and not when he says we’re beyond hope. May Jesus help us dismiss the evil one’s words and listen to Him instead. We rest our hearts on His promise: “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (vv. 31–32).
Apr
30
2022
In my daughter’s earliest days, I often named for her the things she encountered. I’d identify objects or allow her to touch something unfamiliar and say the word for her, bringing understanding—and vocabulary—to the vast world she was exploring. Though my husband and I might naturally have expected (or hoped) her first word would be Mama or Daddy, she surprised us with an entirely different first word: her small mouth murmured dight one day—a sweet, mispronounced echo of the word light I’d just shared with her. Light is one of God’s first words recorded for us in the Bible. As the Spirit of God hovered over a dark, formless, and empty Earth, God introduced light into His creation, saying “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3). He said the light was good, which the rest of Scripture bears out: the psalmist explains that God’s words illuminate our understanding (Psalm 119:130), and Jesus refers to Himself as the light of the world, the giver of the light of life (John 8:12). God’s first utterance in the work of creation was to give light. That wasn’t because He needed light to do His work; no, the light was for us. Light enables us to see Him and to identify His fingerprints on the creation around us, to discern what is good from what is not, and to follow Jesus one step at a time in this vast world.
Apr
29
2022
It’s 3 a.m. at an acute-care hospital. A worried patient presses the call button for the fourth time in an hour. The night-shift nurse answers without complaint. Soon another patient is screaming, crying for attention. The nurse isn’t surprised. She requested the night shift five years ago to avoid her hospital’s daytime frenzy. Then the reality hit. Night work often means taking on extra tasks, such as lifting and turning patients by herself. It also means closely monitoring patients’ conditions so physicians can be notified in emergencies. Buoyed by close friendships with her nighttime co-workers, this nurse still struggles to get adequate sleep. Often, she asks her church for prayer, seeing her work as vital. “Praise God, their prayers make a difference.” Her praise is good and right for a night worker—as well as for all of us. The psalmists wrote, “Praise the Lord, all you servants of the Lord, who minister by night in the house of the Lord. Lift up your hands in the sanctuary and praise the Lord” (Psalm 134:1–2). This psalm, written for the Levites who served as temple watchmen, acknowledged their vital work—protecting the temple by day and night. In our nonstop world, it feels proper to share this psalm especially for nighttime workers, yet every one of us can praise God in the night. As the psalm adds, “May the Lord bless you from Zion, he who is the Maker of heaven and earth” (v. 3).
Apr
28
2022
Chemotherapy reduced the tumor in my father-in-law’s pancreas, until it didn’t. As the tumor began to grow again, he was left with a life-and-death decision. He asked his doctor, “Should I take more of this chemo or try something else, perhaps a different drug or radiation?”  The people of Judah had a similar life-and-death question. Weary from war and famine, God’s people wondered whether their problem was too much idolatry or not enough. They concluded they should offer more sacrifices to a false god and see if she would protect and prosper them (Jeremiah 44:17). Jeremiah said they had wildly misdiagnosed their situation. Their problem wasn’t a lack of commitment to idols; their problem was that they had them. They told the prophet, “We will not listen to the message you have spoken to us in the name of the Lord!” (v. 16). Jeremiah replied, “Because you have burned incense and have sinned against the Lord and have not obeyed him or followed his law or his decrees or his stipulations, this disaster has come upon you” (v. 23). Like Judah, we may be tempted to double down on sinful choices that have landed us in trouble. Relationship problems? We can be more aloof. Financial issues? We’ll spend our way to happiness. Pushed aside? We’ll be equally ruthless. But the idols that contributed to our problems can’t save us. Only Jesus can carry us through our troubles as we turn to Him.
Apr
27
2022
At the beginning of my gardening journey, I’d wake up early and run to my vegetable garden to see if anything had sprouted. Nothing. After an internet search for “fast garden growth,” I learned that the seedling stage is the most important phase of a plant’s lifespan. Knowing now that this process couldn’t be rushed, I came to appreciate the strength of small sprouts fighting their way through the soil toward the sun and their resilience to temperamental weather. After waiting patiently for a few weeks, I was finally greeted by bursts of green sprouts creeping through the soil. Sometimes it’s easy to praise the victories and triumphs in our lives without similarly acknowledging that growth in our character often comes through time and struggle. James instructs us to “consider it pure joy” when we “face trials of many kinds” (James 1:2). But what could possibly be delightful about trials? God will sometimes allow us to go through challenges and hardships so that we can be molded into who He’s called us to be. He waits in anticipation for us to come out of the trials of life “mature and complete, not lacking anything” (v. 4). By staying grounded in Jesus, we can persevere through any challenge, growing stronger and ultimately allowing the fruit of the Spirit to blossom in our lives (Galatians 5:22–23). His wisdom gives us the nourishment we need to truly flourish each and every day (John 15:5).
Apr
26
2022
Australia’s regent honeyeater bird is in trouble—it’s losing its song. Though once an abundant species, just three hundred birds now remain; and with so few others to learn from, the males are forgetting their unique song and failing to attract mates. Thankfully, conservationists have a plan to rescue the honeyeaters—sing to them. Or more precisely, play them recordings of other honeyeaters singing so they can relearn their heart song. As the males pick up the tune and attract females again, it’s hoped the species will flourish once more. The prophet Zephaniah addressed a people in trouble. With so much corruption among them, he announced that God’s judgment was coming (Zephaniah 3:1–8). When this later came to pass through capture and exile, the people too lost their song (Psalm 137:4). But Zephaniah foresaw a time beyond judgment when God would come to this decimated people, forgive their sins, and sing to them: “He will take great delight in you, in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing” (Zephaniah 3:17). As a result, the heart song of the people would be restored (v. 14). Whether through our own disobedience or the trials of life, we too can lose our heart song of joy. But a Voice is singing over us songs of forgiveness and love. Let’s listen to His melody and sing along.
Apr
25
2022
Youthfulness shouldn’t stop anyone from achievement. It certainly didn’t stop eleven-year-old Mikaila. Instead of putting up a lemonade stand, Mikaila opened a lemonade business. Me & the Bees Lemonade started with her grandmother’s recipe and eventually earned a $60,000 investment from investors on the television show Shark Tank. She also signed a contract with a major grocer to sell her lemonade at fifty-five of the chain’s stores. Mikaila’s drive and dreams point us back to Paul’s words to Timothy: “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young” (1 Timothy 4:12). Timothy, though not a child like Mikaila, was likely considerably younger than most in his congregation. And he had concerns about people treating him with contempt. Also, even after interning with the apostle Paul, some thought that Timothy wasn’t mature enough to lead them. Instead of proving himself by showing his credentials, Paul encouraged Timothy to demonstrate his spiritual maturity by the way he used his words, lived his life, loved his parishioners, exercised his faith, and remained sexually pure (v. 12). No one could discredit him as a teacher and pastor if he backed it up with a godly example. Regardless of our age, we can impact the world. We do it by setting a godly example for others as God provides what we need. May He shape our lives with the gospel, so whether we’re seventeen or seventy, we’ll be worthy to teach and share it with others.
Apr
24
2022
A little girl waded in a shallow creek while her father watched. Her rubber boots reached her knees. As she sloshed downstream, the water deepened until it flowed over the top of her waders. When she couldn’t take another step, she yelled, “Daddy, I’m stuck!” In three strides, her father was at her side, pulling her to the grassy bank. She yanked her boots off and laughed as water poured onto the ground. After God rescued the psalmist David from his enemies, he took a moment to sit down, “pull off his boots,” and allow the relief to flood his soul. He wrote a song to express his feelings. “I called to the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and have been saved from my enemies,” he said (2 Samuel 22:4). He praised God as his rock and fortress, shield, and stronghold, and then went on to narrate a poetic response of God’s response: The earth trembled. God came down from heaven. Lightning bolts flew from His presence. His voice thundered, and He drew him out of deep water (vv. 8, 10, 13–15, 17). Maybe today you feel opposition around you. Maybe you’re stuck in sin that makes it hard to advance spiritually. Reflect on how God has helped you in the past—praise Him and ask Him to do it again! And thank Him especially for rescuing you by bringing you into His kingdom (Colossians 1:13).
Apr
23
2022
When Warren mentioned during our weekly ministry team call that he was “feeling dusty,” I sensed that this was his way of referencing the physical challenges associated with aging and ill-health. For Warren and his wife, both in their late sixties, 2020 included doctors’ visits, surgical procedures, and the rearranging of their home to accommodate in-home care. They were on the other side of the prime of life and they were feeling it. One doesn’t have to live long before sensing our inadequacies, imperfections, and weaknesses—physically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. God, in the person of His Son Jesus, stepped into our fallen world and cares for those who experience the liabilities of human existence (Psalm 103:13). Furthermore, David wrote, “He knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust” (v. 14). The term dust takes us back to Genesis: “Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being” (2:7). Are you feeling dusty these days? Welcome to the realities of earthly living. Remember, however, that when we feel most vulnerable, we’re not left alone. Our compassionate God “knows” and “remembers.” He demonstrated His love to us by sending His Son to provide forgiveness for earthly people like you and me. Whatever life may bring, may we trust in Him.
Apr
22
2022
My friend recounted how she’d pointedly been asked by a fellow believer and colleague which political party she belonged to. His aim in asking the question seemed to be to predict whether he agreed with her on any number of issues currently dividing their community. In an effort to find common ground between them, she simply replied, “Since we’re both believers, I’d rather focus on our unity in Christ.” People were also divided in Paul’s day, though over different issues. Topics such as what foods were permissible to eat and which days were holy brought disagreement among the Christians in Rome. Despite being “fully convinced in their own mind” on whichever position they held, Paul reminds them of their common ground: living for the Lord (Romans 14:5–9). Instead of passing judgment on one another, he encouraged them to “do what leads to peace and to mutual edification” (v. 19). In an era when many countries, churches, and communities are divided over issues large and small, we can point one another to the unifying truth of Christ’s work on the cross to secure our life with Him eternally. Paul’s reminder that we ought not “destroy the work of God” (v. 20) with our individual positions is as timely today as it was 2,000 years ago. Instead of passing judgment on one another, we can act in love and live in a way that honors our brothers and sisters.
Apr
21
2022
Earth Day is an annual event observed on April 22. In recent years, more than one billion people in about two hundred countries have taken part in educational and service activities. Each year, Earth Day is a reminder of the importance of caring for our amazing planet. But the mandate to care for the environment […]
Apr
20
2022
Since it was the week after Easter, our five-year-old son, Wyatt, had heard plenty of resurrection talk. He always had questions—usually real stumpers. I was driving, and he was buckled into his seat behind me. Wyatt peered out the window, deep in thought. “Daddy,” he said, pausing and preparing to ask me a tough one. […]
Apr
19
2022
Today's Our Daily Bread Devotional
Apr
18
2022
Today's Our Daily Bread Devotional
Apr
17
2022
“Are you still upset that I want to reduce the size of your favorite department?” Evelyn’s manager asked. “No.” She tightened her jaw. She was more frustrated that he seemed to be teasing her about it. She’d been trying to help the company by finding ways to draw in different interest groups, but limited space […]
Apr
16
2022
Today's Our Daily Bread Devotional
Apr
15
2022
Today's Our Daily Bread Devotional
Apr
14
2022
Somber eyes peer out from the painting Simon of Cyrene, by contemporary Dutch artist Egbert Modderman (Mark 15:21). Simon was pulled from the watching crowd and forced to help Jesus carry His cross. In the painting, Simon’s eyes reveal the immense physical and emotional burden of this responsibility. Mark tells us that Simon was from Cyrene, a big city in North Africa that had a large population of Jews during Jesus’ time. Most likely Simon had journeyed to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. Then he found himself in the middle of this unjust execution, but was able to perform a small but meaningful act of assistance to Jesus (Mark 15:21). Earlier in the gospel of Mark, Jesus tells His followers, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (8:34). On the road to Golgotha, Simon literally did what Jesus figuratively asks His disciples to do: he took up the cross given to him and carried it for Jesus’s sake. We too have “crosses” to bear—perhaps an illness, a challenging ministry assignment, the loss of a loved one, or persecution for our faith. As we carry these sufferings by faith, we point people to the sufferings of Jesus and His sacrifice on the cross. It was His cross that gave us peace with God and strength for our own journey.
Apr
13
2022
Eli Wiesel’s novel Night starkly confronts us with the horrors of the Holocaust. Based on his own experiences in Nazi death camps, Wiesel’s account flips the biblical story of the Exodus. While Moses and the Israelites escaped slavery at the first Passover (Exodus 12), Wiesel tells of the SS arresting Jewish leaders following Passover. Lest we criticize Wiesel and his dark irony, consider that the Bible contains a similar plot twist. On the night of Passover, Jesus, expected to free God’s people from suffering, instead permits Himself to be arrested by those who would kill Him. John ushers us into the holy scene before Jesus’s arrest. “Troubled in spirit” over what awaited Him, at the Last Supper Jesus predicted His betrayal (John 13:21). Then, in an act we can scarcely comprehend, Christ served His betrayer bread. The account reads: “As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night” (v. 30). History’s greatest injustice was underway, yet Jesus declared, “Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him” (v. 31). In a few hours, the disciples would experience panic, defeat, and dejection. But Jesus saw God’s plan unfolding as it should. When it seems as though the darkness is winning, recall that our Lord faced His dark night and defeated it. He walks with us. It will not always be night.
Apr
12
2022
My four-year-old grandson sat on my lap and patted my bald head, studying it intently. “Papa,” he asked, “What happened to your hair?” “Oh,” I laughed, “I lost it over the years.” His face turned thoughtful: “That’s too bad” he responded. “I’ll have to give you some of mine.” I smiled at his compassion and pulled him close for a hug. Reflecting later on his love for me in that cherished moment also caused me to ponder God’s selfless, generous love. G. K. Chesterton wrote: “We have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.” By this he meant that the “Ancient of Days” (Daniel 7:9) is untainted by sin’s decay—God is ageless and loves us exuberantly with a love that never falters or fades. He is fully willing and able to fulfill the promise He made to His people in Isaiah 46: “Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you” (v. 4). Five verses later He explains, “I am God, and there is none like me.” (v. 9). The great “I AM” (Exodus 3:14) loves us so deeply that He went to the extreme of dying on the cross to bear the full weight of our sin, so that we might turn to Him and be free of our burden and gratefully worship Him forever!
Apr
11
2022
Derek noticed his son didn’t want to take off his shirt to swim and realized it was because he was self-conscious about a birthmark that covers parts of his chest, belly, and left arm. Determined to help his son, Derek underwent a lengthy and painful tattooing process to create an identical mark on his own body. Derek’s love for his son reflects God’s love for His sons and daughters. Because we, His children, “have flesh and blood” (Hebrews 2:14), Jesus became like us and took on a human form and “shared in [our] humanity” to free us from the power of death (v. 14). “He had to be made like [us], fully human in every way” (v. 17) to make things right with God for us. Derek wanted to help his son overcome his self-consciousness and so made himself “like” him. Jesus helped us overcome our far greater problem—slavery to death. He overcame it for us by making Himself like us, bearing the consequence of our sin by dying in our place. Jesus’ willingness to share in our humanity not only secured our right relationship with God but enables us to trust Him in our moments of struggle. When we face temptation and hardship, we can lean on Him for strength and support because “He is able to help” (v. 18). Like a loving father, He understands and cares.
Apr
10
2022
The halted hands of a pocket watch in a library’s archives at the University of North Carolina tell a harrowing tale. They mark the exact moment (8:19 and 56 seconds) the watch’s owner Elisha Mitchell slipped and fell to his death at a waterfall in the Appalachian Mountains on the morning of June 27, 1857. Mitchell, a professor at the university, was gathering data to defend his (correct) claim that the peak he was on—which now bears his name, Mount Mitchell—was the highest one east of the Mississippi. His grave is located at the mountain’s summit, not far from where he fell. As I ascended that mountain peak recently, I reflected on Mitchell’s story and my own mortality and how each of us has only so much time. And I pondered Jesus’ words about His return as He spoke to His disciples on the Mount of Olives: “So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him” (Matthew 24:44). Jesus clearly indicates that none of us knows either the moment He will return and establish His kingdom forever or when He may summon us to leave this world and come to Him. But He tells us to be prepared and “keep watch” (v. 42). Tick . . . tick . . . The “clockwork” of each of our lives is still in motion—but for how long? May we live our moments in love with our merciful Savior, waiting and working for Him.
Apr
9
2022
It was Sunday—the day we now call Palm Sunday. Without a doubt, this wasn’t Jesus’ first visit to Jerusalem. As a devout Jew, He would’ve gone to the city every year for the three great feasts (Luke 2:41–42; John 2:13; 5:1). In the past three years, Christ had also ministered and taught in Jerusalem. But this Sunday His coming into the city was radically different. By riding a young donkey into Jerusalem at a time when thousands of worshipers were coming into the city, Jesus was the center of attention (Matthew 21:9–11). Why would He take the place of prominence before thousands of people when for the past three years He’d deliberately kept a low profile? Why would He accept the people’s proclamation that He was King just five days before His death?  Matthew says that this took place to fulfill a five-hundred-year-old prophecy (Matthew 21:4–5) that God’s chosen king would come into Jerusalem “righteous and victorious, [yet] lowly and riding on a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9; see also Genesis 49:10–11). This was a truly unusual way for a triumphant king to enter a city. Conquering kings normally rode on mighty stallions. But Jesus wasn’t riding a warhorse. This reveals what kind of King Jesus is. He came in meekness and lowliness. Jesus came not for war, but for peace, establishing peace between God and us (Acts 10:36; Colossians 1:20–21). 
Apr
8
2022
In 2019, the Oxford Bus Company launched the instantly popular “Chatty Bus,” a bus with designated people on board willing to talk with interested passengers. The route was initiated in response to government research which found that thirty percent of Britons go at least one day each week without a meaningful conversation. Many of us have likely experienced the loneliness that comes from not having someone to talk to in a time of need. As I reflect on the value of important conversations in my life, I’m especially reminded of discussions that were full of grace. Those times brought me joy and encouragement, and they helped to cultivate deeper relationships. At the end of his letter to the Colossian church, Paul encouraged his readers with principles of authentic living for believers in Jesus, including ways our conversations can exhibit love to everyone we encounter. The apostle wrote, “Let your conversation be always full of grace” (4:6), reminding his readers that it is not simply the presence of words but the quality of those words—“full of grace”—that would allow them to be a true encouragement to others. The next time you have the opportunity to connect deeply in conversation—with a friend, co-worker, or even a stranger seated next to you on a bus or in a waiting room—look for ways your time together might bring blessing into both of your lives.
Apr
7
2022
Not long ago we moved to a new home just a short distance from our old one. Despite the close proximity, we still needed to load all of our belongings onto a moving truck because of the timing of the financial transactions. Between the sale and purchase, our furnishings stayed on the truck and our family found temporary lodging. During that time, I was surprised to discover how “at home” I felt despite the displacement from our physical home—simply because I was with those I love most: my family. For part of his life, David lacked a physical home. He lived life on the run from King Saul. As God’s appointed successor to the throne, Saul perceived David as a threat and sought to kill him. David fled his home and slept wherever he found shelter. Though he had companions with him, David’s most earnest desire was to “dwell in the house of the Lord”—to enjoy permanent fellowship with Him (Psalm 27:4). Jesus is our constant companion, our sense of “home” no matter where we are. He’s with us in our present troubles and even prepares a place for us to live with Him forever (John 14:3). Despite the uncertainty and change we might experience as citizens of this earth, we can dwell permanently in our fellowship with Him every day and everywhere.
Apr
6
2022
“Kumain ka na ba?” (Have you eaten?) This is what you’ll always hear as a visitor in many homes in the Philippines, where I’m from. It’s the Filipino way of expressing care and kindness for our guests. And regardless of your reply, your host will always prepare something for you to eat. Filipinos believe that true kindness isn’t just saying the standard greeting, but also going beyond words to show real hospitality. Rebekah, too, knew all about being kind. Her daily chores included drawing water from the well outside town and carrying the heavy jar of water home. When Abraham’s servant, who was very thirsty from his journey, asked for a little water from her jar, she didn’t hesitate to give him a drink (Genesis 24:17–18). But then Rebekah did even more. When she saw that the visitor’s camels were thirsty, she quickly offered to go back to draw more water for them (vv. 19–20).  She didn’t hesitate to help, even if it meant making an extra trip (or more) to the well and back with a heavy jar. Life is tough for many people, and often, a small gesture of practical kindness can encourage them and lift their spirits. Being a channel of God’s love doesn’t always mean delivering a powerful sermon or planting a church. Sometimes, it can simply be giving someone a drink of water.  
Apr
5
2022
The scene in the parking lot might have been funny if it wasn’t so tragic. Two drivers were arguing loudly over one of their cars that was blocking the passage of the other, and harsh words were being exchanged. What made it especially painful to watch was that this quarrel was taking place in the parking lot of a church. The two men had possibly just heard a sermon about love, patience, or forgiveness, but it was all forgotten in the heat of the moment. Passing by, I shook my head—then quickly realized I was no better. How many times had I read the Bible, only to fall into sin moments later with an uncharitable thought? How many times had I behaved like the person who “looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like”? (James 1:23–24). James was calling on his readers not only to read and reflect on God’s Word, but also to do what it says (v. 22). A complete faith, he noted, means both knowing Scripture and putting it into action. Life’s circumstances can make it hard to apply what Scripture reveals. But if we ask the Father, He will surely help us obey His words and please Him with our actions.  
Apr
4
2022
As a teenager, Charles Spurgeon wrestled with God. He'd grown up going to church, but what was preached seemed bland and meaningless. God was a struggle for him, and Charles, in his own words “rebelled and revolted.” One night a fierce snowstorm forced the sixteen-year-old Spurgeon to seek shelter in a tiny Methodist church. The pastor's sermon seemed directed at him personally. In that moment, God won the wrestling match, and Charles gave his heart to Jesus. Spurgeon later wrote, “long before I began with Christ, He began with me.” In fact, our life with God doesn’t begin with the moment of salvation. The Psalmist notes that God “created our inmost being, having been knit together in our mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13). The apostle Paul writes, “Even before I was born, God chose me and called me by his marvelous grace” (Galatians 1:15, NLT). And God doesn’t stop working with us when we’re saved: “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion” (Philippians 1:6).  We’re all works-in-progress in the hands of a loving God. He leads us through our rebellious wrestling and into His warm embrace. But His purpose with us then is only beginning. “For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases Him” (Philippians 2:13, NLT). Rest assured, we are His good work regardless of how old we are or what stage of life we’re in.
Apr
3
2022
While attending seminary, I was working full-time. Add to that a chaplaincy rotation and an internship at a church. I was busy. When my father visited me, he said, “You’re going to have a breakdown.” I shrugged off his warning thinking he was of another generation, and he didn’t understand goal-setting. I didn’t have a breakdown. But I did experience a very rough, dry season in which I fell into depression. Since then, I’ve learned to listen to warnings—especially from loved ones—more carefully. That’s what Moses did. He was diligently working, serving as Israel’s judge (Exodus 18:13). Yet, he chose to listen to his father-in-law’s warning (vv. 17–18). Jethro had a different perspective than Moses. He wasn’t in the thick of things, but he loved Moses and his family. Perhaps that’s why Moses was able to listen to Jethro and heed his advice. Moses set up a system for “capable men from all the people” to take on the smaller disputes and he took the more difficult cases (vv. 21–22). Because he rearranged his work, listened to Jethro, and entrusted others to shoulder the load, he was able to avoid burnout during that season of life. Many of us take our work for God, our families, and others seriously—passionately even. But we still need to heed the advice of trusted loved ones and to rely on the wisdom and power of God in all we do.
Apr
2
2022
When a friend asked me to speak with teen girls at a workshop promoting purity, I declined. As a teenage runaway, I struggled and had decades of scars caused by my immorality. After getting married and losing our first child to a miscarriage, I thought God was punishing me for my past sins. When I finally surrendered my life to Christ at the age of thirty, I confessed my sins and repented . . . repeatedly. Still, guilt and shame consumed me. How could I share about God’s grace when I couldn’t even bring myself to fully receive the gift of His great love for me? Thankfully, over time, God has abolished the lies that chained me to who I was before I confessed my sins. By His grace, I’ve finally received the forgiveness God had been offering me all along. God understands our laments over our afflictions and the consequences of our past sins. However, He empowers His people to overcome despair, turn from our sins, and arise with hope in His great “love,” “compassion,” and “faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:19–23). Scripture says that God Himself is our portion—our hope and salvation—and we can learn to trust His goodness (vv. 24–26). Our compassionate Father helps us believe His promises. When we receive the fullness of His great love for us, we can spread the good news about His grace.
Apr
1
2022
In rural Amish culture, the building of a barn is a social event. It would take months for a single farmer and his family to construct a barn, but the Amish, doing it together, make quick work of it. Lumber is stocked ahead of time; tools are prepped. On the designated day, the entire Amish community gathers early morning, divvies up tasks, and together pitches in to raise a barn. In some cases, a barn is built in a single day. This is a good picture of God’s vision for the church and our role in it. The Bible says, “All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27 NLT). God has equipped each of us differently and divvied up tasks in which we each do our “own special work” as part of a body “fit together perfectly” (Ephesians 4:16 NLT).  In community, we’re encouraged to “share one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2 NLT). Yet too often we go it alone. We keep our needs to ourselves, wanting control of our circumstance. Or we fail to reach out and help shoulder the weight of someone else’s need. But God longs for us to connect with others. He knows beautiful things happen when we ask for others’ help and pray for other’s needs. Only by depending on one another can we experience what God has for us and accomplish His amazing plan for our lives—like building a barn in a day.
Mar
31
2022
“See that?” The clock repairman pointed his flashlight beam on a small, fine mark roughly engraved inside the old grandfather clock he was working on in our home. “Another repairman could have put that there almost a century ago,” he said. “It’s called a ‘witness mark,’ and it helps me know how to set the mechanism.” Before the age of technical bulletins and repair manuals, “witness marks” were used to help the person making a future repair to align moving parts with precision. They were more than just time-saving reminders; they were often left as a simple kindness to the next person doing the work. The Bible encourages us to leave our own “witness marks” as we work for Him by serving others in our broken world. The apostle Paul wrote to the church in Rome: “Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up” (Romans 15:2). This is the example of our God, “who gives endurance and encouragement” (v. 5). It’s about being a good citizen of both earth and heaven. Our “witness marks” may seem like small things, but they can make a vital difference in someone’s life. An uplifting word, a financial gift to someone in need, and a listening ear—all are kindnesses that can have a lasting impact. May God help you to make a mark for Him in someone’s life today!
Mar
30
2022
Ludmilla, a widow aged eighty-two, has declared her home in the Czech Republic: “Embassy of the Kingdom of Heaven,” saying, “My home is an extension of Christ’s kingdom.” She welcomes strangers and friends who are hurting and in need with loving hospitality, sometimes providing food and a place to sleep—always with a compassionate and prayerful spirit. Relying on the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to help her care for her visitors, she delights in the ways God answers their prayers. Ludmilla serves Jesus through opening her home and heart, in contrast to the prominent religious leader at whose home Jesus ate one Sabbath. Jesus told this teacher of the law that he should welcome “the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind” to his home—and not those who could repay him (Luke 14:13). While Jesus’s remarks imply that the Pharisee hosted Jesus out of pride (v. 12), Ludmilla, so many years later, invites people to her home so she can be “an instrument of God’s love and His wisdom.” Serving others with humility is one way we can be “representatives of the kingdom of heaven,” as Ludmilla says. Whether or not we can provide a bed for strangers, we can put the needs of others before our own in different and creative ways. How will we extend God’s kingdom in our part of the world today?
Mar
29
2022
What if our clothes were more functional, having the ability to clean themselves after we dropped ketchup or mustard or spilled a drink on them? Well, according to the BBC, engineers in China have developed a special “coating which causes cotton to clean itself of stains and odors when exposed to ultraviolet lights.” Can you imagine the implications of having self-cleaning clothes? A self-cleaning coating might work for stained clothing, but only God can clean a stained soul. In ancient Judah, God was angry with His people because they had “turned their backs on” Him, given themselves to corruption and evil, and were worshiping false gods (Isaiah 1:2–4). But to make matters worse, they tried to clean themselves by offering sacrifices, burning incense, saying many prayers, and gathering together in solemn assemblies. Yet their hypocritical and sinful hearts remained (vv. 12–13). The remedy was for them to come to their senses and with a repentant heart to bring the stains on their souls to a holy and loving God. His grace would cleanse them and make them spiritually “white as snow” (v. 18). When we sin, there’s no self-cleaning solution. With a humble and repentant heart, we must acknowledge our sins and place them under the cleansing light of God’s holiness. We must turn from them and return to Him. And He, the only One who cleans the stains of the soul, will offer us complete forgiveness and renewed fellowship.
Mar
28
2022
It was a hard day when my husband found out that, like so many others, he too would soon be furloughed from employment as a result of the COVID pandemic. We knew that we likely had no reason to fear that our basic needs would not be met, but the uncertainty was still terrifying. As I processed my jumbled emotions, I found myself revisiting a favorite poem by sixteenth-century reformer John of the Cross. Entitled “I Went In, I Knew Not Where,” the poem depicts the wonder to be found in a journey of surrender, when, going “past the boundaries of knowing,” we learn to “discern the Divine in all its guises.” And so that’s what my husband and I are trying to do during this season, to turn our focus from what we can control and understand to the unexpected, mysterious, and beautiful ways God can be found all around us. The apostle Paul invited believers to a journey from the seen to the unseen, from outward to inward realities, and from temporary struggles to the “eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:17). Paul urged this, not because he lacked compassion for their struggles. He knew it would be through letting go of what they could understand that they could experience the comfort, joy, and hope they so desperately needed (vv. 10, 15–16). They could know the wonder of Christ’s life making all things new.
Mar
27
2022
For several months, I coped with intense workplace politics and intrigues. Worrying is second nature to me, so I was surprised to find myself at peace. Instead of feeling anxious, I was able to respond with a calm mind and heart. I knew that this peace could come only from God. In contrast, there was another period in my life when everything was going well—and yet, I felt a deep unrest in my heart. I knew it was because I was trusting in my own abilities instead of trusting God and His leading. Looking back, I’ve realized that true peace—God’s peace—isn’t defined by our circumstances, but by our trust in Him. God’s peace comes to us when our minds are steadfast (Isaiah 26:3). In Hebrew, steadfast means “to lean upon.” As we lean on Him, we’ll experience His calming presence.  We can trust in God, remembering that He’ll humble the proud and wicked and smooth the path of those who love Him (vv. 5–7). When I experienced peace in a season of difficulty rather than ease, I discovered that God’s peace isn’t an absence of conflict, but a profound sense of security even in distress. It’s a peace that surpasses human understanding and guards our hearts and minds in the midst of the most difficult of circumstances (Philippians 4:6−7).
Mar
26
2022
When Abraham Lincoln became president of the United States, he was tasked with leading a fractured nation. Lincoln is viewed as a wise leader and a man of high moral character, but another element to his makeup, perhaps, was the foundation for everything else. He understood that he was inadequate for the task at hand. His response to that inadequacy? Lincoln said, “I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day.” When we come to grips with the massive nature of life’s challenges and the severe limitations of our own wisdom, knowledge, or strength, we find, like Lincoln, that we are utterly dependent on Jesus—the One who has no limitations. Peter reminded us of this dependency when he wrote, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). God’s love for His child, paired with His absolute power, make Him the perfect Person to approach with our frailties, and that’s the essence of prayer. We go to Him acknowledging to Him (and ourselves) that we’re inadequate and He’s eternally sufficient. Lincoln said he felt he “had nowhere else to go”—but when we begin to comprehend God’s great care for us, that’s wonderfully good news. We can go to Him!
Mar
25
2022
Abel Mutai, a Kenyan runner competing in a grueling international cross-country race, was mere yards from victory—his lead secure. Confused by the course’s signage and thinking he’d already crossed the finish line, however, Mutai stopped short. The Spanish runner in second place, Ivan Fernandez Anaya, saw Mutai’s mistake. Rather than take advantage and bolt past for the win, however, he caught up to Mutai, put out his arm and guided Mutai forward to a gold-medal win. When reporters asked Anaya why he purposefully lost the race, he insisted that Mutai deserved the win, not him. “What would be the merit of my victory? What would be the honor of that medal? What would my mom think of that?” As one report put it: “Anaya chose honesty over victory.” Proverbs says that those who desire to live honestly, who want their lives to display faithfulness and authenticity, make choices based on what’s true rather than what’s expedient. “The integrity of the upright guides them” (11:3). This commitment to integrity isn’t only the right way to live, but it also offers a better life. The proverb continues: “But the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity” (v. 3). In the long run, dishonesty never pays. If we abandon our integrity, short term “wins” actually yield defeat. But when fidelity and truthfulness shape us in God’s power, we slowly become people of deep character who lead genuinely good lives.
Mar
24
2022
In Martin Handford’s book Where’s Waldo? a series of children’s puzzle books first created in 1987, the elusive character wears a red and white striped shirt and socks with a matching hat, blue jeans, brown boots, and glasses. Handford has cleverly hidden Waldo in plain sight within the busy illustrations filled with crowds of characters at various locations around the world. Waldo isn’t always easy to see, but the creator promises readers will always be able to find him. Though looking for God isn’t really like looking for Waldo in a puzzle book, our Creator promises we can find Him, too. Through the prophet Jeremiah, God instructs His people on how to live as foreigners in exile (Jeremiah 29:4–9). He promises to protect them until He restores them according to His perfect plan (vv. 10–11). God assures the Israelites that the fulfillment of His promise will deepen their commitment to call on Him in prayer (v. 12). Today, even though God has revealed Himself in the story and Spirit of Jesus, it can be easy to get distracted by the busyness in this world. We may even be tempted to ask, “Where’s God?” However, the Creator and Sustainer of all things declares that those who belong to Him will always find Him if they seek Him with all their hearts (vv. 13–14).
Mar
23
2022
Tragedy struck near Los Angeles in January 2020 when nine people died in a helicopter crash. Most news stories began something like this, “NBA superstar Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna (“Gigi”), and seven others lost their lives in the accident.” It’s natural and understandable to focus on the well-known people involved in a horrible situation like this—and the deaths of Kobe and his precious teenager Gigi are heartbreaking beyond description. But we must keep in mind that in life’s big picture there’s no dividing line that makes the “seven others” (Payton, Sarah, Christina, Alyssa, John, Keri, and Ara) any less significant. Sometimes we need to be reminded that each human is important in God’s eyes. Society shines bright lights on the rich and famous. Yet fame doesn’t make a person any more important than your next-door neighbor, the noisy kids who play in your street, the down-on-his-luck guy at the city mission, or you. Every person on earth is created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27), whether rich or poor (Proverbs 22:2). No one is favored more than another in His eyes (Romans 2:11), and each is in need of a Savior (3:23). We glorify our great God when we refuse to show favoritism—whether in the church (James 2:1–4) or in society at large.
Mar
22
2022
Scientists from Penn State University recently engineered a new kind of glue that’s both extremely strong and also removable. Their design is inspired by a snail whose slime hardens in dry conditions and loosens again when wet. The reversible nature of the snail’s slime allows it to move freely in more humid conditions—safer for the snail—while keeping it securely planted in its environment when movement would be hazardous. The researchers’ approach of mimicking an adhesive found in nature calls to mind scientist Johannes Kepler’s description of his discoveries. He said he was “merely thinking God’s thoughts after him.” The Bible tells us that God created the earth and all that’s in it: the vegetation on the land (Genesis 1:12); the “creatures of the sea” and “every winged bird” (v. 21); “the creatures that move along the ground” (v. 25); and “mankind in his own image” (v. 27). When humankind discovers or identifies a special attribute of a plant or animal, we’re simply following in God’s creative footsteps, having our eyes opened to the way He designed them. At the end of each day in the creation account, God surveyed the fruit of His work and described it as “good.” As we learn and discover more about God’s creation, may we too recognize His magnificent work, care for it well, and proclaim how very good it is!
Mar
21
2022
The email was short but urgent. “Request salvation. I would like to know Jesus.” What an astonishing request. Unlike reluctant friends and family who hadn’t yet received Christ, this person didn’t need convincing. My task was to quiet my self-doubt about evangelizing and simply share key concepts, Scriptures, and trusted resources that addressed this man’s plea. From there, by faith, God would lead his journey. Philip demonstrated such simple evangelism when on a desert road he met the treasurer of Ethiopia who was reading aloud from the book of Isaiah. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked (Acts 8:30). “How can I,” the man answered, “unless someone explains it to me” (v. 31). Invited to clarify, “Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus” (v. 35).   Starting where people are and keeping evangelism simple, as Philip showed, can be an effective way to share Christ. In fact, as the two traveled along, the man said, “Look here is water” and asked to be baptized (v. 37). Philip complied, and the man “went on his way rejoicing” (v. 39). I rejoiced when the email writer replied that he had repented of sin, confessed Christ, found a church, and believed he was born again. What a beautiful start! Now, may God take him higher!
Mar
20
2022
Upset with the corruption and extravagance plaguing his kingdom, Korea’s King Yeongjo (1694–1776) decided to change things. In a classic case of throwing out the baby with the bathwater, he banned the traditional art of gold-thread embroidery as excessively opulent. Soon, knowledge of that intricate process vanished into the past. In 2011, Professor Sim Yeon-ok wanted to reclaim that long-lost tradition. Surmising that gold leaf had been glued onto mulberry paper and then hand-cut into slender strands, she was able to recreate the process, reviving an ancient art form. In the book of Exodus, we learn of the extravagant measures employed to construct the tabernacle—including gold thread to make Aaron’s priestly garments. Skilled craftsmen “hammered out thin sheets of gold and cut strands to be worked into the blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen” (Exodus 39:3). What happened to all that exquisite craftsmanship? Did the garments simply wear out? Were they eventually carried off as plunder? Was it all in vain? Not at all! Every aspect of the effort was done because God had given specific instructions to do it.   God has given each of us something to do as well. It may be a simple act of kindness—something to give back to Him as we serve each other. We need not concern ourselves with what will happen to our efforts in the end (1 Corinthians 15:58). Any task done for our Father becomes a thread extending into eternity.
Mar
19
2022
In a widely shared video, an elegant elderly woman sits in a wheelchair. Once a famed ballet dancer, Marta González Saldaña now suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. But something magical happens when Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake is played to her. As the music builds, her frail hands slowly rise, and as the first trumpets blast she starts performing from her chair. Though her mind and body are perishing, her talent is still there. Reflecting on that video, my thoughts went to Paul’s teaching on resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15. Likening our bodies to a seed that is buried before it sprouts into a plant, he says that though our bodies may perish through age or illness, may be a source of dishonor, and may be wracked with weakness, the bodies of believers will be raised imperishable, full of glory and power (vv. 42–44). Just as there is an organic link between the seed and the plant, we will be “us” after our resurrection, our personalities and talents intact, but we will flourish like never before. When the haunting melody of Swan Lake began to play, Marta at first looked downcast, perhaps mindful of what she once was and could no longer do. But then a man reached over and held her hand. And so it will be for us. Trumpets will blast (v. 52), a hand will reach out to us, and we will rise to dance like never before.
Mar
18
2022
My mother shared with me how she chose not to attend college so she could marry my father in the 1960s, but she always held on to her dream of becoming a home economics teacher. Three children later, though she never received a college degree, she did become a nutritionist aide for the state of Louisiana’s health system. She cooked meals to demonstrate healthier meal choices—much like a home economics teacher. As she shared her dream with me after recounting the events of her life, she proclaimed that God had indeed heard her prayers and given her the desires of her heart. Life can be like that for us. Our plans point one way but reality goes another way. But with God, our time and lives can be turned into beautiful displays of His compassion, love, and restoration. God told the people of Judah (Joel 2:21) that He would “repay” them for their lost or destroyed years—brought about by a “locust swarm” (V. 25). He also works to help us in the challenges and unfulfilled dreams we face. For we serve a Redeemer God who honors and rewards our sacrifices for Him (Matthew 19:29). Whether we’re facing a devastating challenge or a time of unrealized dreams, may we call out to the God who restores and give Him praise.
Mar
17
2022
A pilot couldn’t fit his tea into the cupholder so he set it on the center console. When the plane hit turbulence the drink spilled onto the control panel, shutting off an engine. The flight was diverted and landed safely, but when it happened again to a crew from a different airline two months later, the manufacturer realized there was a problem. The plane cost US$300 million, but its cupholders were too small. This seemingly small oversight led to some harrowing moments. Small details can wreck the grandest plans, so the man in the Song of Songs urges his lover to catch “the little foxes that ruin the vineyards” of their love (2:15). He’d seen foxes climb over walls and dig out vines in search of grapes. They were hard to catch as they darted into the vineyard then melted back into the night. But they must not be ignored. What threatens your closest relationships? It may not be large offenses. It might be the little foxes, a small comment here or a slight there that digs at the root of your love. Minor offenses add up, and what once was a blossoming friendship or passionate marriage might be in danger of dying. May God help us catch the little foxes! Let’s ask for and grant forgiveness as needed and nourish our vineyards in the soil of ordinary acts of thoughtfulness as God provides what we need.
Mar
16
2022
Our family was planning to get a puppy, so my eleven-year-old daughter researched for months. She knew what the dog should eat and how to introduce it to our new home—among myriad other details.     Turns out puppies do best, she told me, if they’re introduced to one room at a time. So we carefully prepared a spare bedroom. I’m sure there will still be surprises as we raise our new puppy, but my daughter’s delight-infused preparation couldn’t have been more thorough. The way my daughter channeled her eager anticipation for a puppy into loving preparation reminded me of Christ’s longing to share life with His people, and His promise to prepare a home for them. Nearing the end of His earthly ministry, Jesus urged His disciples to trust Him, saying, “You believe in God; believe also in me” (John 14:1). Then He promised to “prepare a place for [them] . . . that you also may be where I am” (v. 3). Trouble was coming. But Jesus wanted His disciples to know that He was at work to bring them home to Him. I can’t help but delight in the careful, deliberate intent with which my daughter has prepared for our new puppy. But I can only imagine how much more our Savior is delighting in His own detailed preparation for each of His people to share eternal life with Him (John 14:2).
Mar
15
2022
A Christian school for autistic children in India received a big donation from a corporation. After checking that there were no strings attached, they accepted the money. But later, the corporation requested to be represented on the school board. The school director returned the money. She refused to allow the values of the school to be compromised. She said, “It’s more important to do God’s work in God’s way.” There are many reasons to decline help, and this is one of them. In the Bible we see another. When the exiled Jews returned to Jerusalem, King Cyrus commissioned them to rebuild the temple (Ezra 4). When their neighbors said, “Let us help you build because, like you, we seek your God” (v. 2), the leaders of Israel declined. They concluded that by accepting the offer of help, the integrity of the temple rebuilding project might have been compromised and idolatry might have crept into their community since their neighbors also worshiped idols. With the help of the Holy Spirit and the counsel of wise believers in Jesus, we can develop discernment. We can also be confident to say no to friendly offers that may hide subtle spiritual dangers because God’s work done in His way will never lack His provision.
Mar
14
2022
When Jen was young, her well-intentioned Sunday school teacher instructed the class in evangelism training, which included memorizing a series of verses and a formula for sharing the gospel. She and a friend nervously tried this out on another friend, fearful they’d forget an important verse or step. Jen doesn’t “remember if the evening ended in conversion [but guesses] it did not.” The approach seemed to be more about the formula than the person. Now, years later, Jen and her husband are modeling for their own children a love for God and sharing their faith in a more inviting way. They understand the importance of teaching their children about God, the Bible, and a personal relationship with Jesus, but they’re doing so through a living, daily example of a love for God and the Scriptures. They’re demonstrating what it means to be the “light of the world” (Matthew 5:14) and to reach out to others through kindness and hospitable words. Jen says, “We cannot impart words of life to others if we don’t possess them ourselves.” As she and her husband show kindness in their own lifestyle, they’re preparing their children “to invite others into their faith.” We don’t need a formula to lead others to Jesus—what matters most is that a love for God compels and shines through us. As we live in and share His love, God draws others to know Him too.
Mar
13
2022
Caesar Augustus (63 BC–AD 14), the first emperor of Rome, wanted to be known as a law-and-order ruler. Even though he built his empire on the back of slave labor, military conquest, and financial bribery, he restored a measure of legal due process and gave his citizens Iustitia, a goddess our justice system today refers to as Lady Justice. He also called for a census that brought Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem for the birth of a long-awaited ruler whose greatness would reach to the ends of the earth (Micah 5:2–4).    What neither Augustus nor the rest of the world could have anticipated is how a far greater King would live and die to show what real justice looks like. Centuries earlier, in the prophet Micah’s day, the people of God had once again lapsed into a culture of lies, violence, and “ill-gotten treasures” (6:10–12). God’s dearly loved nation had lost sight of Him. He longed for them to show their world what it meant to do right by each other and walk humbly with Him (v. 8).  It took a Servant King to personify the kind of justice that hurting, forgotten, and helpless people long for. It took the fulfillment of Micah’s prophecy in Jesus to see right relationships established between God and people, and person-to-person. This would come not in the outward enforcement of Caesar-like law-and-order, but in the freedom of the mercy, goodness, and spirit of our servant King Jesus.
Mar
12
2022
Oliver Cromwell, known as the “Protector of England,” was a military commander in the seventeenth century. It was common practice during those days for people of importance to have their portraits painted. And it wasn’t unusual for an artist to avoid depicting the less attractive aspects of a person’s face. Cromwell, however, wanted nothing to do with a likeness that would flatter him. He cautioned the artist, “You must paint me just as I am—warts and all—or I won’t pay you.”  Apparently, the artist complied. The finished portrait of Cromwell displays a couple of prominent facial warts that in the present day would surely be filtered or airbrushed before being posted on social media.  The expression “warts and all” has come to mean that people should be accepted just as they are—with all their annoying faults, attitudes, and issues. In some cases, we feel that’s too difficult a task. Yet, when we take a hard inward look, we might find some pretty unattractive aspects of our own character.  We’re grateful that God forgives our “warts.” And in Colossians 3, we’re taught to extend grace to others. The apostle Paul encourages us to be more patient, kind, and compassionate—even to those who aren’t easy to love. He urges us to have a forgiving spirit because of the way God forgives us (vv. 12–13). By His example, we’re taught to love others the way God loves us—warts and all. 
Mar
11
2022
It’s a quiet riverside park on a Saturday afternoon. Joggers pass by, fishing rods whirl, seagulls fight over fish and chip wrappers, and my wife and I sit watching the couple. They are dark-skinned, maybe in their late 40s. She sits gazing into his eyes while he, without a hint of self-consciousness, sings to her a love song in his own tongue, carried on the breeze for us all to hear. This delightful act got me thinking about the book of Zephaniah. At first you might wonder why. In Zephaniah’s day God’s people had become corrupt by bowing to false gods (1:4–5), and Israel’s prophets and priests were now arrogant and profane (3:4). For much of the book, Zephaniah declares God’s coming judgment on not just Israel, but all the nations of the earth (3:8). Yet Zephaniah foresees something else. Out of that dark day will emerge a people who wholeheartedly love God (vv. 9–13). To these people God will be like a bridegroom who delights in His beloved: “In his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing” (v. 17) Creator, Father, Warrior, Judge. Scripture uses many titles for God. But how many of us see God as a Singer with a love song for us on His lips?
Mar
10
2022
We live in a world that offers a wide range of choices—from paper towels to life insurance. In 2004, Psychologist Barry Schwartz wrote a book titled The Paradox of Choice in which he argued that while freedom of choice is important to our well-being, too many choices can lead to overload and indecision. While the stakes are certainly lower when deciding on which paper towel to buy, indecision can become debilitating when making major decisions that impact the course of our lives. So how can we overcome indecision and move forward confidently in living for Jesus? As believers in Christ, seeking God’s wisdom helps us as we face difficult decisions. When we’re deciding on anything in life, large or small, the Scriptures instruct us to “trust in the Lord with all [our] heart and lean not on [our] own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5). When we rely on our own judgment, we can become confused and worry about missing an important detail or making the wrong choice. When we look to God for the answers, however, He’ll “make our path straight” (v. 6). He’ll give us clarity and peace as we make decisions in our day-to-day lives. God doesn’t want us to be paralyzed or overwhelmed by the weight of our decisions. We can find peace in the wisdom and direction He provides when we bring our concerns to Him in prayer.
Mar
9
2022
Baby gender reveals in 2019 were dramatic. A look back reveals that in July, a video showed a car emitting blue smoke to indicate “It’s a Boy!” In September, a crop-duster plane in Texas dumped hundreds of gallons of pink water to announce “It’s a Girl!” There was another “reveal” though that uncovered significant things about the world these children will grow up in. At the conclusion of 2019, YouVersion revealed that the most shared, highlighted, and bookmarked verse of the year on its online and mobile Bible app was Philippians 4:6, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” That’s quite the revelation. People are anxious about many things these days—from the needs of our sons and daughters, to the myriad ways family and friends are divided, to natural catastrophes and wars. But in the middle of all those worries, the good news is that a huge number of people clung to a verse that says, “Do not be anxious about anything.” Furthermore, those same people encouraged others as well as themselves to present every request to God “in every situation.” The mindset that doesn’t ignore but faces life’s anxieties is one of “thanksgiving.” The verse that didn’t make “verse of the year” but follows it is—“And the peace of God . . . will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (v. 7, nkjv). That’s quite the reassurance!
Mar
8
2022
Michelle Grant trained a baby beaver named Timber to return to the wild. When she took him for swims in a pond, he’d come back to her kayak to snuggle and rub noses. One morning Timber didn’t return. Michelle scoured the pond for six hours before giving up. Weeks later she found a beaver skull. Assuming it was Timber, she began to cry. My soul ached for Michelle and Timber. I told myself, “Snap out of it. He’s just a large, aquatic rodent.” But the truth is I cared—and so does God. His love reaches high to the heavens and down to the smallest creature, part of the creation He calls us to steward well (Genesis 1:28). He preserves “both people and animals” (Psalm 36:5–6), providing “food for the cattle and for the young ravens” (Psalm 147:9). One day Michelle was kayaking in a neighbor’s pond and surprise, there was Timber! He’d found a beaver family and was helping them raise two kits. He surfaced beside Michelle’s kayak. She smiled, “You look well. You have a beautiful family.” He cooed, splashed his tail, and swam to his new mom. I love happy endings, especially my own! Jesus promised that as His Father feeds the birds, so He will supply whatever we need (Matthew 6:25–26). Not one sparrow falls “to the ground outside your Father’s care. . . . So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:29–31).
Mar
7
2022
John Nash was awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1994, recognizing his pioneering work in mathematics. His equations have since been used by businesses around the world in understanding the dynamics of competition and rivalry. A book and a full-length movie have documented his life and refer to him as having “a beautiful mind”—not because his brain had any particular aesthetic appeal, but because of what it did.  The Old Testament prophet Isaiah uses the word beautiful to describe feet—not because of any visible physical attribute but because he saw beauty in what they did. “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news” (Isaiah 52:7). After seventy years in captivity in Babylon resulting from their unfaithfulness to God, messengers arrived with encouraging words that God’s people would soon be returning home because “the Lord has . . . redeemed Jerusalem” (v. 9).  The good news wasn’t attributed to the military might of the Israelites or any other human effort. Rather it was the work of God’s “holy arm” on their behalf (v. 10). The same is true today, as we have victory over our spiritual enemy through Christ’s sacrifice for us. In response, we become the messengers of good news, proclaiming peace, good tidings, and salvation to those around us. And we do so with beautiful feet.  
Mar
6
2022
Waiting can be a culprit in stealing our peace. According to computer scientist Ramesh Sitaraman, few things “inspire universal frustration and ire” in internet users as waiting for a sluggish web browser to load. His research says that we’re willing to wait an average of two seconds for an online video to load. After five seconds, the abandonment rate is about twenty-five percent, and after ten seconds, half of the users desert their efforts. We’re certainly an impatient bunch!  James encouraged believers in Jesus to not abandon Jesus while they were waiting for “the video” of his second coming to load. Christ’s return would motivate them to stand firm in the face of suffering and to love and honor one another (James 5:7–10). James used the example of the farmer to make his point. Like the farmer, who waited patiently for “autumn and spring rains” (v. 7) and for the land to yield its valuable crop, James encouraged believers to be patient under oppression until Jesus returned. And when He returned, He would right every wrong and bring shalom.  Sometimes, we are tempted to forsake Jesus while we wait for Him. But as we wait, let’s “keep watch” (Matthew 24:41–42), remain faithful (Matthew 25:14–30), and live out His character and ways (Colossians 3:12). Though we don’t know when the full video of Jesus’ return will load, let’s be willing to wait for Him as long as it takes.
Mar
5
2022
When my baby brother underwent surgery, I was concerned. My mother explained that “tongue-tie” (ankyloglossia) was a condition he was born with and that without help, his ability to eat and eventually to speak would be hindered. Today we often apply the term to describe being at a loss for words or being too shy to speak. Sometimes we can be tongue-tied in prayer, not knowing what to say. Our tongues tie up in spiritual clichés and repetitive phrases. We arrow our emotions heavenward, wondering if they will reach God’s ears. Our thoughts zigzag along an unfocused path. Writing to first-century Roman Christians, the apostle Paul addresses what to do when we struggle to know how to pray, inviting us to find help from the Holy Spirit. “The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans” (Romans 8:26). The concept of “help” here is to carry a heavy load. And “wordless groans” indicates an interceding presence as the Spirit carries our needs to God. When we’re tongue-tied in prayer, God’s Spirit helps shape our confusion, pain, and distraction into the perfect prayer that moves from our hearts to our good God’s ears. He listens and answers, bringing the exact kind of comfort we may not have known we needed until we asked Him to pray for us.
Mar
4
2022
Like the unraveling of a rope, the threads in Doug’s life were breaking one by one. “My mother had lost her prolonged battle with cancer; a long-term romantic relationship was failing; my finances were depleted; my vocation was foggy. . . . The emotional and spiritual darkness around me and within me was deep and debilitating and seemingly impenetrable,” writes pastor and sculptor Doug Merkey. These collective events, combined with living in a cramped attic, became the setting from which his sculpture The Hiding Place emerged. It depicts Christ’s strong, nailed-scarred hands openly cupped together as a place of safety. Doug explained the design of his artwork this way: The “sculpture is Christ’s invitation to hide in Him.” In Psalm 32, David wrote as one who had found the ultimate safe place—God Himself. He offers us forgiveness from our sin (vv. 1–5) and encourages us to offer prayer in the midst of tumult (v. 6). In verse 7, the psalmist declares his trust in God: “You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.” When trouble shows up, where do you turn? How good it is to know that when the fragile cords of our earthly existence begin to unravel, we can run to the God who has provided eternal safety through the forgiving work of Jesus.
Mar
3
2022
Kevin walked into the nursing facility after his dad passed away to pick up his belongings. The staff handed him two small boxes. He said he realized that day that it really didn’t take an abundance of possessions to be happy.  His dad, Larry, had been carefree and always ready with a smile and an encouraging word for others. The reason for his happiness was another “possession” that didn’t fit into a box: an unshakable faith in his Redeemer, Jesus.  Jesus urges us to “store up . . . treasures in heaven” (Matthew 6:20). He didn’t say we couldn’t own a home or buy a car or save for the future or have numerous possessions. But He urged us to examine the focus of our hearts. What was Larry’s heart set on? On loving God by loving others. He would wander up and down the halls where he lived, greeting and encouraging those he met. If someone was in tears, he was there with a comforting word or listening ear or heartfelt prayer. His mind was focused on living for God’s honor and the good of others.  We might want to ask ourselves if we could be happy with far fewer things that clutter and distract us from the more important matters of loving God and others. “Where [our] treasure is, there [our] heart will be also” (v. 21). What we value is reflected in how we live.
Mar
2
2022
In 1925 Langston Hughes, an aspiring writer working as a busboy at a hotel in Washington D.C., discovered that a poet he admired (Vachel Lindsey) was staying as a guest at the hotel. Hughes shyly slipped Lindsey some of his own poetry, which Lindsey later praised enthusiastically at a public reading. Lindsey’s encouragement resulted in Hughes receiving a university scholarship, furthering him on his way to his own successful writing career.   A little encouragement can go a long way, especially when God is in it. Scripture tells of an incident when David was on the run from King Saul, who was trying “to take his life.” Saul’s son Jonathan sought David out “and helped him find strength in God. ‘Don’t be afraid,’ he said. ‘My father Saul will not lay a hand on you. You will be king over Israel’ ” (1 Samuel 23:15–17). Jonathan was right. David would be king. The key to the effective encouragement Jonathan offered is found in the simple phrase, “in God.” God, through Jesus, gives us “eternal encouragement and good hope” (2 Thessalonians 2:16). As we humble ourselves before Him, He lifts us as no other can. All around us are people who need the encouragement God gives. If we seek them out as Jonathan did David and gently point them to God through a kind word or action, He will do the rest. Regardless of what this life may hold, a bright future in eternity awaits those who trust in Him.
Mar
1
2022
In 2013, British actor David Suchet was filming the final TV episodes as Agatha Christie’s beloved Belgium detective Hercule Poirot—and also starring in a stage play—when he took on “the biggest role in my life.” Between those projects he recorded an audio version of the entire Bible, from Genesis to Revelation—752,702 words over two hundred hours. Suchet, who converted to Christianity after reading the book of Romans in a hotel Bible, called the project the fulfillment of “a 27-year-long ambition. I felt totally driven. I did so much research on every part of it that I couldn’t wait to get going.” Then he donated his wages. His recording remains an inspiring example of how to glorify God by stewarding well a gift, then sharing it. Peter urged such stewardship in his letter to first-century Christians. Persecuted for worshiping Christ not Caesar, they were challenged to focus instead on living for God by nurturing their spiritual gifts. “If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God” (1 Peter 4:11). The gift of helping? Likewise develop it “so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.” Suchet’s talents as a dramatist are something he could offer to the Lord. We can do the same. Whatever God has given to you, manage it well for His glory.   
Feb
28
2022
Catherine and I were good friends in high school. When we weren’t talking on the phone, we were passing notes in class to plan our next sleepover. Sometimes we rode horses together and partnered on school projects. One Sunday afternoon, I started to think about Catherine. My pastor had spoken that morning about how to have eternal life, and I knew my friend didn’t believe the Bible’s teachings the way I did. I felt pressed to call her and explain how she could have a relationship with Jesus. I hesitated, though, because I was afraid she would reject what I said and distance herself from me. I think this fear keeps a lot of us quiet. Even the apostle Paul had to ask people to pray that he would “fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel” (Ephesians 6:19). There’s no getting around the risk involved with sharing the good news, yet Paul said he was an ambassador—someone speaking on behalf of God (v.20). We are too. If people reject our message, they’re also rejecting the One who sent the message. God feels the sting along with us. So what compels us to speak up? We care about people, like God does (2 Peter 3:9). That’s what led me to dial my friend’s number. Amazingly, Catherine didn’t shut me down. She listened. She asked questions. She asked Jesus to forgive her sin and decided to live for Him. The risk was worth the reward.
Feb
27
2022
Writer Marilyn McEntyre shares the story of learning from a friend that “the opposite of envy is celebration.” Despite this friend’s physical disability and chronic pain, which limited her ability to develop her talents in the ways she’d hoped, she was somehow able to uniquely embody joy and to celebrate with others, bringing “appreciation into every encounter” before she passed away. That insight—“the opposite of envy is celebration”—lingers with me, reminding me of friends in my own life who seem to live out this kind of comparison-free, deep, and genuine joy for others. Envy is an easy trap to fall into. It feeds on our deepest vulnerabilities, wounds, and fears, whispering that if we were only more like so-and-so, we wouldn’t be struggling, and we wouldn’t be feeling bad. As Peter reminded new believers in 1 Peter 2, the only way to “rid [ourselves]” of the lies that envy tells us is to be deeply rooted in the truth, to “have tasted”—deeply experienced—”that the Lord is good” (vv. 1–3). We can freely “love one another deeply, from the heart” (1:22) when we know the true source of our joy—“the living and enduring word of God” (v. 23). And we can surrender comparison when we remember who we really are—beloved members of “a chosen people, . . . God’s special possession,” “called . . .  out of darkness into his wonderful light” (2:9).
Feb
26
2022
One evening in 1964, the Great Alaska earthquake shocked and writhed for more than four minutes, registering a 9.2 magnitude. In Anchorage, whole city blocks disappeared, leaving only massive craters and rubble. Through the dark, terrifying night, news reporter Genie Chance stood at her microphone, passing along messages to desperate people sitting by their radios: a husband working in the bush heard that his wife was alive, distraught families heard that their sons on a Boy Scout camping trip were okay, a couple heard that their children had been found. The radio crackled with line after line of good news—pure joy amid the ruin. This must have been something like what Israel felt when they heard these words from the prophet Isaiah: “The Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor” (61:1).  As they looked over the wasteland of their wrecked lives and grim future, Isaiah’s clear voice brought good news at the very moment when all seemed lost. God intended to “bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives. . . . [To] rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated” (vv. 1, 4). In the midst of their terror, the people heard God’s assuring promise, His good news. For us today, it’s in Jesus that we hear God’s good news—this is what the word gospel means. Into our fears, pains and failures, He delivers good news. And our distress gives way to joy.
Feb
25
2022
Downton Abbey was a popular British television drama that followed the fictional Crawley family as they navigated a changing social structure in early 1900s England. One of the key characters, Tom Branson, initially worked as the family’s chauffeur before shocking everyone by marrying the youngest Crawley daughter. Following a period of exile, the young couple returned to Downton Abbey and Tom became part of the family, gaining access to rights and privileges he had been denied as an employee. We were once considered “foreigners and strangers” (Ephesians 2:19) and excluded from the rights given to those who are part of God’s family. But, because of Jesus, all believers, regardless of their background, are reconciled to God and called “members of his household” (v. 19). Being a member of God’s family brings incredible rights and privileges. We can “approach God with freedom and confidence” (3:12), enjoying unlimited, unhindered access to God. We become part of a larger family, a community of faith to support and encourage us (2:19–22). Members of God’s family have the privilege of helping each other grasp the enormity of God’s lavish love (3:18). Fear or doubt could easily make us feel like an outsider, keeping us from accessing fully the benefits of being part of God’s family. But hear and embrace once more the reality of God’s free and generous gifts of love (2:8–10), and bask in the wonder of being His.
Feb
24
2022
The dormouse’s nose twitched. Something tasty was nearby. Sure enough, the scent led to a birdfeeder full of delicious seed. The dormouse climbed down the chain to the feeder, slipped through the door, and ate and ate all night. Only in the morning did he realize the trouble he was in. Birds now pecked at him through the feeder’s door, but having gorged on the seed, he was now twice his size and unable to escape. Doors can lead us to wonderful places—or dangerous ones. A door features prominently in Solomon’s advice on avoiding sexual temptation in Proverbs 5. While sexual sin may be enticing, he says, trouble awaits if it’s pursued (5:3–6). Best to stay far from it, for if you walk through that door you’ll be trapped, your honor lost, your wealth pecked away by strangers (vv. 7–11). Solomon counsels us to enjoy the intimacy of our own spouse instead (vv. 15–20). His advice can apply to sin more broadly too (vv. 21–23). Whether it’s the temptation to overeat, overspend, or something else, God can help us to avoid the door that leads to entrapment. The dormouse must’ve been happy when the homeowner found him in her garden birdfeeder and freed him. Thankfully, God’s hand is ready to free us when we’re trapped too. But let’s call on His strength to avoid the door of entrapment in the first place.
Feb
23
2022
No words. Just music and moving. During a 24-hour Zumba marathon amid the COVID-19 pandemic, thousands of people from around the globe worked out together and virtually followed instructors from India, China, Mexico, America, South Africa, parts of Europe, and several other places. These diverse individuals were able to move together without any language barriers. Why? Because instructors of the exercise craze Zumba, created in the mid-1990s by a Colombian aerobics instructor, utilize non-verbal cues. Class instructors move and students follow their lead. They follow with no words uttered or shouted. Words can sometimes get in the way and create barriers. They may cause confusion such as the Corinthians experienced, as noted in Paul’s first letter to them. It was confusion brought about by differing views of disputable matters pertaining to the eating of particular foods (1 Corinthians 10:27–30). But our actions can transcend barriers and even confusion. As Paul says in today’s passage, we should show people how to follow Jesus through our actions—seeking “the good of many” (10:32–33). We invite the world to believe in Him as we “follow the example of Christ” (11:1).   As someone once said, “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words when necessary.” As we follow Jesus’ lead, may He guide our actions so as to cue others to the reality of our faith. And may our words and actions be done “all for the glory of God” (10:31).
Feb
22
2022
In the early twentieth century, Italian poet F. T. Marinetti launched Futurism, an artistic movement rejecting the past, scoffing at traditional ideas of beauty, and glorifying instead machinery. In 1909 Marinetti wrote his Manifesto of Futurism, in which he declared “contempt for women,” praised “the blow with the fist,” and asserted, “We want to glorify war.” The manifesto concludes: “Standing on the world’s summit we launch once again our insolent challenge to the stars!” Five years after Marinetti’s manifesto, modern warfare began in earnest. World War I did not bring glory. Marinetti himself died in 1944. The stars, still in place, took no notice. King David sang poetically of the stars but with a dramatically different outlook. He wrote, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?” (Psalm 8:3–4). David’s question isn’t one of disbelief but of amazed humility. He knew that the God who made this vast cosmos is indeed mindful of us. He notices every detail about us—the good, the bad, the humble, the insolent—even the absurd. It’s pointless to challenge the stars. Rather, they challenge us to praise our Creator. 
Feb
21
2022
Amos was an overbearing extrovert and Danny was a loner wracked with self-doubt. Somehow these eccentric geniuses became best friends. They spent a decade laughing and learning together. One day their work would receive a Nobel Prize. But Danny tired of Amos’s self-centered ways and told him they were no longer friends. Three days later, Amos called with terrible news. Doctors had found cancer and given him six months to live. Danny’s heart broke. “We’re friends,” he said, “whatever you think we are.” Paul was a hard-nosed visionary and Barnabas a soft-hearted encourager. The Spirit put them together and sent them on a missionary journey (Acts 13:2–3). They preached and started churches, until their disagreement over Mark’s desertion. Barnabas wanted to give Mark a second chance. Paul said he could no longer be trusted. So they split up (15:36–41). Paul eventually forgave Mark. He closed three letters with greetings from or commendations for him (Colossians 4:10; 2 Timothy 4:11; Philemon 1:24). We don’t know what happened with Barnabas. Did he live long enough to be reconciled with Paul in this life? I hope so. Whatever your situation today, try to reach out to those with whom you may have had a falling out. Now is the time to show and tell them how much you love them.
Feb
20
2022
An accomplished acrobat and aerialist, Jen was born without legs and abandoned at the hospital. Yet she says being put up for adoption was a blessing. “I am here because of the people who poured into me.” Her adoptive family helped her to see she was “born like this for a reason.” They raised her to “never say ‘can’t’ ” and encouraged her in all her pursuits. She meets challenges with an attitude of “How can I tackle this?” and motivates others to do the same. The Bible tells the stories of many people God used who seemed incapable or unsuited for their calling—but God used them anyway. Moses is a classic example. When God called him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, he balked (Exodus 3:11; 4:1) and protested, “I am slow of speech and tongue.” God replied, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? . . . Is it not I, the Lord?  Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say” (4:10–12). When Moses still protested, God provided Aaron to speak for him and assured him He would help them (vv. 13–15). Like Jen and like Moses, all of us are here for a reason—and God graciously helps us along the way. He supplies people to help us and provides what we need to live for Him.
Feb
19
2022
Harriet Tubman couldn’t read or write. As an adolescent, she suffered a head injury at the hands of a cruel slave master. That injury caused her to have seizures and lapses of consciousness for the rest of her life. But once she escaped slavery, God used her to rescue as many as three hundred others. Nicknamed “Moses” by those she freed, Harriet bravely made nineteen trips back to the pre-Civil War south to rescue others. She continued even when there was a price on her head and her life was in constant danger. A devoted believer in Jesus, she carried a hymnal and a Bible on every trip and had others read her verses, which she committed to memory and quoted often. “I prayed all the time,” she said, “about my work, everywhere; I was always talking to the Lord.” She also gave God credit for the smallest successes. Her life was a powerful expression of the apostle Paul’s instruction to the earliest Christians: “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18). When we lean into God in the moment and live dependently in prayer, praising Him despite our difficulties, He gives us the strength to accomplish even the most challenging tasks. Our Savior is greater than anything we face, and He will lead us as we look to Him.
Feb
18
2022
A pirouette is a graceful spin that’s executed by ballerinas and contemporary dancers alike. As a child, I loved to do pirouettes in my modern dance class, whirling round and round until I was dizzy in the head and fell to the ground. As I got older, a trick I learned to help me maintain my balance and control was “spotting”—identifying a single point for my eyes to return to each time I made a full circle spin. Having a single focal point was all I needed to master my pirouette with a graceful finish. We all face many twists and turns in life. When we focus on our problems, however, the things we encounter seem unmanageable, leaving us dizzy and heading toward a disastrous fall. The Bible reminds us that if we keep our minds steadfast, or focused, on God, He’ll keep us in “perfect peace” (Isaiah 26:3). Perfect peace means that no matter how many turns life takes, we can remain calm, assured that God will be with us through our problems and trials. He’s the “Rock eternal” (v. 4)—the ultimate “spot” to fix our eyes on—because His promises never change. May we keep our eyes on Him as we go through each day, going to Him in prayer and studying His promises in the Scriptures. May we rely on God, our eternal Rock, to help us move gracefully through all of life.
Feb
17
2022
During our tour of an aircraft carrier, a jet fighter pilot explained that planes need a 56-kilometer per hour wind to take off on such a short runway. To reach this steady breeze, the captain turns his ship into the wind. “Shouldn’t the wind come from the planes’ back?” I asked. The pilot answered, “No. The jets must fly into the wind. That’s the only way to achieve lift.” God called Joshua to lead His people into the “winds” that awaited them in the Promised Land. Joshua required two things. Internally, he needed to “be strong and very courageous” (Joshua 1:7); and externally, he needed challenges. This included the daily task of leading thousands of Israelites, facing walled cities (6:1–5), Achan’s theft (7:16–26), demoralizing defeats (7:3–5), and continual battles (ch. 10–11). The wind that blew in Joshua’s face would lift his life as long as his thrust came from God’s instructions. God said he must “be careful to obey all the law . . . do not turn from it to the right or to the left . . . meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful” (1:7–8). Are you resolved to follow God’s ways, no matter what? Then look for challenges. Fly boldly into the wind, and see your spirit soar.
Feb
16
2022
In an article on mentoring, Hannah Schell explains that mentors need to support, challenge, and inspire, but “first, and perhaps foremost, a good mentor sees you. . . . Recognition, not in terms of awards or publicity but in the sense of simply ‘being seen,’ is a basic human need.” People need to be recognized, known, and believed in. In the New Testament, Barnabas, whose name means “Son of Encouragement,” had a knack for “seeing” people around him. In Acts 9, he was willing to give Saul a chance when the other disciples “were all afraid of him” (v. 26). Saul (also called Paul; 13:9) had a history of persecuting believers in Jesus (8:3), so they didn’t think “he really was a disciple” (9:26). Later, Paul and Barnabas had a disagreement over whether to take Mark with them to “visit the believers in all the towns where [they’d] preached” (15:36). Paul didn’t think it was wise to bring Mark along because he’d deserted them earlier. Interestingly, Paul later asked for Mark’s assistance: “Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11). Barnabas took time to “see” both Paul and Mark. Perhaps we’re in Barnabas’ position to recognize potential in another person or we’re that individual in need of a spiritual mentor. May we ask God to lead us to those who we can encourage and those who will encourage us.
Feb
15
2022
When the roof of Paris’ Notre-Dame Cathedral caught fire in April 2019, its ancient wood beams and lead sheeting created a furnace so hot it couldn’t be contained. After the cathedral’s spire dramatically fell, attention turned to its bell towers. If the giant steel bells’ wooden frames also burned, their collapse would bring both towers down, leaving the cathedral in ruins. Pulling his firefighters back for safety, General Gallet, commander of Paris’ Fire Department, pondered what to do next. A firefighter named Remi nervously approached. “Respectfully, General,” he said, “I propose that we run hoses up the exterior of the towers.” Given the building’s fragility the commander dismissed the idea, but Remi spoke on. Soon General Gallet faced a decision: follow the junior firefighter’s advice, or leave the cathedral to fall. Scripture has much to say about taking advice. While this is sometimes in the context of youth respecting elders (Proverbs 6:20–23), most is not. Proverbs says “the wise listen to advice” (15:22), wars are won with it (24:6), and only a fool fails to heed it (12:15). Wise people listen to good advice, whatever the age or rank of those giving it. General Gallet listened to Remi. The burning bell frames were hosed just in time, and the cathedral was saved. What problem do you need godly advice on today? Sometimes God guides the humble through a junior’s lips.
Feb
14
2022
In a small farming community, news travels fast. Several years after the bank sold the farm David’s family had owned for decades, he learned the property would be available for sale. After much sacrifice and saving, David arrived at the auction and joined a crowd of nearly two hundred local farmers. Would David’s meager bid be enough? He placed the first bid, taking deep breaths as the auctioneer called for higher bids. The crowd remained silent until they heard the slam of the gavel. The fellow farmers placed the needs of David and his family above their own financial advancement. This story about the farmers’ sacrificial act of kindness demonstrates the way the apostle Paul urges followers of Christ to live. Paul warns us not to conform to the “pattern of this world” (Romans 12:2), by placing our selfish desires before the needs of others and scrambling for self-preservation. Instead, we can trust God to meet our needs as we serve others. As the Holy Spirit “renews” our minds, we can respond to situations with God-honoring love and motives. Placing others first can help us avoid thinking too highly of ourselves as God reminds us that we’re a part of something bigger—the church (vv. 3-4). The Holy Spirit helps believers understand and obey God’s Word. He empowers us to give selflessly and love generously, so we can thrive together as one.
Feb
13
2022
Two octogenarians, one from Germany and the other Denmark, were an unlikely couple. They each enjoyed sixty years of marriage before being widowed. Though living only fifteen minutes apart, their homes were in separate countries. Still, they fell in love, regularly cooking meals and spending time together. Sadly, in 2020, due to the coronavirus, the Danish government closed the border crossing. Undeterred, every day at 3:00 p.m., the two met at the border on a quiet country lane, and seated on their respective sides, shared a picnic. “We’re here because of love,” the man explained. Their love was stronger than borders, more powerful than a pandemic. The Song of Songs effuses in rapturous language about love’s indomitable power. “Love is as strong as death,” Solomon insists (8:6). None of us escapes death; it arrives with a steely finality we can’t break. And yet love, the writer says, is every bit as strong. What’s more, love “burns like a blazing fire, like a mighty flame” (v. 6). Have you ever watched a fire exploding in feverish rage? Fire—like love—is impossible to contain. “Many waters cannot quench love.” Not even a raging river can sweep love away (v. 7). Human love, whenever it’s selfless and true, offers reflections of these characteristics. However, only God’s love offers such potency, such limitless depths, such tenacious power. And here’s the stunner: God loves each of us with this unquenchable love.
Feb
12
2022
When we think of historic, trailblazing missionaries, the name of George Liele (1750–1820) doesn’t leap to mind. Perhaps it should. Born into slavery, Liele came to Christ in Georgia and gained his freedom prior to the American Revolutionary War. He took the message of Jesus to Jamaica, ministering to the slaves in the plantations there, and served as the founding pastor of two African churches in Savannah, Georgia—one of which is considered the “mother church of black Baptists.” Liele’s remarkable life of kingdom service may have been forgotten by some, but his spiritual service will never be forgotten by God. Neither will the work you do for God. The letter to the Hebrews encourages us with these words, “God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them” (Hebrews 6:10). God’s faithfulness can never be underestimated, for He truly knows and remembers everything done in His name. And so Hebrews encourages us, “Imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised” (v. 12). For many who serve behind the scenes in their church or community, it’s easy for them to feel their labor is unappreciated. Take heart. Whether or not your work is recognized or rewarded by the people around you, God is faithful. He will never forget you.
Feb
11
2022
Gary was experiencing some balance issues while walking. His doctor ordered physical therapy to improve his balance. During one session his therapist told him, “You’re trusting too much in what you can see, even when it’s wrong! You’re not depending enough on your other systems—what you feel under your feet and your inner-ear signals—which are also meant to help keep you balanced.” “You’re trusting too much in what you can see” brings to mind the story of David, a young shepherd, and his encounter with Goliath. For forty days, Goliath, a Philistine champion, “strutted in front of the Israelite army,” taunting them to send someone out to fight him (1 Samuel 17:16 NLT). But what the people focused on naturally caused them fear. Then young David showed up because his father asked him to take supplies to his older brothers (v. 18). How did David look at the situation? By faith in God, not by sight. He saw the giant but trusted that God would rescue his people. Even though he was just a boy, he told King Saul, “Don’t worry about this Philistine . . . . I’ll go fight him!” (v. 32 NLT). Then he told Goliath, “The battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands” (v. 47). And that’s just what God did. Trusting in God’s character and power can help us to more closely live by faith rather than by sight.
Feb
10
2022
My friend’s father died recently. He got sick, his condition deteriorated quickly, and in a matter of days he was gone. My friend and his dad always had a strong relationship, but there were still so many questions to be asked, answers to be sought, and conversations to be had. So many unsaid things, and now his father is gone. My friend is a trained counselor: he knows the ups and downs of grief and how to help others navigate those troubled waters. Still, he told me, “Some days I just need to hear Dad’s voice, that reassurance of his love. It always meant the world to me.” A pivotal event at the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry was His baptism at the hands of John. Although John tried to resist, Jesus insisted that moment was necessary so He might identify with humankind: “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” (Matthew 3:15). John then did as Jesus asked. And then something happened that proclaimed Jesus’ identity to John the Baptist and the crowd, and it must have also deeply touched Jesus’ heart. The Father’s voice reassured His Son: “This is my Son whom I love” (v. 17). That same voice reassures believers in our hearts of His great love for us (1 John 3:1).
Feb
9
2022
The sheriff marveled at the prayers, estimating “hundreds of thousands or maybe millions of prayers” were lifted to God for help as the East Troublesome Fire raged through the mountains of Colorado in the fall of 2020. Living up to its name, the blaze consumed 100,000 acres in twelve hours, roaring through tinder-dry forests, burning three hundred homes to the ground, and threatening entire towns in its path. Then came “the Godsend,” as one meteorologist called it. No, not rain. A timely snowfall. It fell across the fire zone, arriving early for that time of year—dropping up to a foot or more of wet snow—slowing the fire and, in some places, stopping it. Such merciful help seemed too amazing to explain. Does God hear our prayers for snow? And rain, too?  The Bible records His many answers, including after Elijah’s hope for rain (1 Kings 18:41–46.) A servant of great faith, Elijah understood God’s sovereignty, including over the weather. As Psalm 147 says of God, “He supplies the earth with rain” (v. 8). “He spreads the snow like wool . . . Who can withstand his icy blast?” (vv. 16–17.) Elijah could hear “the sound of a heavy rain” before clouds even formed (1 Kings 18:41). Is our faith in His power that strong? God invites our trust, no matter His answer. Thus, look to Him for His amazing help.
Feb
8
2022
Ancient scholars Jerome and Tertullian referenced stories of how in ancient Rome, after a general triumphed in an epic victory, he would be paraded atop a gleaming chariot down the capital’s central thoroughfares from dawn to sunset. The crowd would roar. The general would bask in the adoration, reveling in the greatest honor of his life. However, legend has it that a servant stood behind the general the entire day, whispering into his ear: Memento Mori (“Remember you will die”). Amid all the adulation, the general desperately needed the humility that came with remembering that he was mortal. James wrote to a community infected with prideful desires and an inflated sense of self-sufficiency. Confronting their arrogance, he spoke a piercing word: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble” (James 4:6). What they needed was to “humble [themselves] before the Lord” (v. 10). And how would they embrace this humility? Like Roman generals, they needed to remember that they would die. “You do not even know what will happen tomorrow,” James insisted. “You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (v. 14). And owning their frailty freed them to live under the solidity of the “Lord’s will” rather than their own fading efforts (v. 15). When we forget that our days are numbered, it can lead to pride. But when we’re humbled by our mortality, we see every breath and every moment as grace. Memento Mori.
Feb
7
2022
During a summer study program, my son read a book about a boy who wanted to climb an Alpine mountain in Switzerland. Practicing for this goal occupied most of his time. When he finally set off for the summit, things didn’t go as planned. Partway up the slope, a teammate became sick and the boy decided to stay behind to help instead of achieving his goal. In the classroom, my son’s teacher asked, “Was the main character a failure because he didn’t climb the mountain?” One student said, “Yes, because it was in his DNA to fail.” But another child disagreed. He reasoned that the boy was not a failure, because he gave up something important to help someone else. When we set aside our plans and care for others instead, we’re acting like Jesus. Jesus sacrificed having a home, reliable income, and social acceptance to travel and share God’s truth. Ultimately, He gave up His life to free us from sin and show us God’s love (1 John 3:16). Earthly success is much different from success in God’s eyes. He values the compassion that moves us to rescue disadvantaged and hurting people (v.17). He approves of decisions that protect people. With God’s help, we can align our values with His and devote ourselves to loving Him and others, which is the most significant achievement there is.
Feb
6
2022
Aaron Burr anxiously awaited the result of the tie-breaking vote from the US House of Representatives. Deadlocked with Thomas Jefferson in the 1800 race for the presidency, Burr had reason to believe that the House would declare him the winner. However, he lost, and bitterness gnawed at his soul. Nurturing grievances against Alexander Hamilton for not supporting his candidacy, Burr killed Hamilton in a gun duel less than four years later. Outraged by the killing, his country turned its back on him, and Burr died a dour old man. Political power plays are a tragic part of history. When King David was nearing death, his son Adonijah recruited David’s commander and a leading priest to make him king (1 Kings 1:5–8). But David had chosen Solomon as king (v. 25). With the help of the prophet Nathan, the rebellion was put down (vv. 11–52). Despite his reprieve, Adonijah plotted a second time to steal the throne, and Solomon had him executed (2:13–25). How human of us to want what’s not rightfully ours! No matter how hard we pursue power, prestige or possessions, it’s never quite enough. We always want something more. How unlike Jesus, who “humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross”! (Philippians 2:8). Ironically, selfishly pursuing our own ambitions never brings us our truest, deepest longings. Leaving the outcome to God is the only path to peace and joy.
Feb
5
2022
When my friend Floss lies awake at night, she thinks about the lyrics of the hymn “My Jesus I Love Thee.” She calls it her “middle-of-the-night” song because it helps her to remember God’s promises and the many reasons that she loves Him. Sleep is a necessary—but sometimes elusive—part of life. At times we may sense the voice of the Holy Spirit bringing unconfessed sin to our mind. Or we begin worrying about our job, our relationships, our finances, our health, or our children. Soon a full-scale dystopian future starts running on a loop in our brain. We assume we nodded off for a bit, but when we look at the clock, we realize it’s been only moments since we last checked. In Proverbs 3:19–24, King Solomon suggested that we can receive sleep benefits when we embrace God’s wisdom, understanding, and knowledge. In fact, he claimed, “They will be life for you . . . . When you lie down, you will not be afraid [and] your sleep will be sweet” (vv. 22, 24). Maybe we all need a “middle-of-the-night” song, a prayer, or Bible verse to softly whisper to help us shift our jumbled-up thoughts to a mind fully focused on God and His character. A clear conscience and a heart full of gratitude for God’s faithfulness and love can bring us sleep that’s sweet. 
Feb
4
2022
Dan was riding his motorcycle when a car swerved into his lane and pushed him into oncoming traffic. When he woke up two weeks later in the trauma center, he was “a mess.” Worst of all, he suffered a spinal cord injury that left him a paraplegic. Dan prayed for healing, but it never came. Instead, he believes God has compassionately taught him that “the purpose of this life is that we become conformed to the image of Christ. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen when everything is unicorns and rainbows. It . . . happens when life is tough. When we’re forced to rely upon God through prayer just to make it through the day.” The apostle Paul explained two benefits of right standing with God: persevering and rejoicing in suffering (Romans 5:3–4). These two benefits weren’t a call to endure sufferings with stoic fortitude or to find pleasure in pain. It was an invitation to unshakeable confidence in God. Suffering plus Christ cultivates “perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (vv. 3–4). This all flows from a faith that the Father wouldn’t abandon them but walk with them through the fire and into the future. God meets us in our suffering and helps us grow in Him. Rather than viewing afflictions as His disfavor, may we look for ways that He’s using them to sharpen and build our character and to experience His love “poured out into our hearts” (v. 5).
Feb
1
2022
“Keep your hands behind your back. You’ll be fine.” That’s the loving admonition Jan’s husband always gave before she ventured off to speak to a group. When she found herself trying to impress people or seeking to control a situation, she’d adopt this posture because it put her in a teachable, listening frame of mind. She used it to remind herself to love those before her and to be humble and available to the Holy Spirit. Jan’s understanding of humility is rooted in King David’s observation that everything comes from God. As David said to God, “You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing” (Psalm 16:2). David learned to trust God and seek His counsel: “Even at night my heart instructs me” (v. 7). He knew that with God next to him, he’d not be shaken (v. 8). He didn’t need to puff himself up because he trusted in the mighty God who loved him. As we look to God each day, asking Him to help us when we feel frustrated or to give us words to speak when we feel tongue-tied, we’ll see Him at work in our lives. We’ll “partner with God,” as Jan says; and we’ll realize that if we’ve done well, it’s because God has helped us flourish. We can look at others with love, our hands clasped behind our backs in a posture of humility to remind us that everything we have comes from God.
Jan
31
2022
I sat on the pier during a vacation, reading my Bible and watching my husband fish. A young man approached us, suggesting we use different bait. He glanced at me as he fidgeted from one foot to another and said, “I’ve been in jail,” He pointed to my Bible and sighed. “Do you think God really cares about people like me?” Opening to Matthew 25, I read aloud that Jesus talked about His followers visiting those in prison. “It says that? About being in prison?” Tears brimmed his eyes when I shared how God considers kindness toward His children a personal act of love toward Himself (vv. 31–45). “I wish my parents would forgive me too.” He lowered his head. “I’ll be right back.” He returned and handed me his tattered Bible. “Would you show me where to find those words?” I nodded. My husband and I hugged him as we prayed for him and his parents. We exchanged contact information and have continued praying for him. At one point or another, we’ll all feel unloved, unwelcomed, in need, and even physically or emotionally imprisoned (vv. 35–37). We’ll all need reminders of God’s loving compassion and forgiveness. We’ll also have opportunities to support others who struggle with these feelings. We can be a part of God’s redeeming plan as we spread His truth and love wherever we go.
Jan
30
2022
“I’m sorry,” Karen said, apologizing for her flowing tears. After the death of her husband, she stretched herself to care for her teenage kids. When men from church provided a weekend camping excursion to entertain them and give her a break, Karen wept with gratitude, apologizing over and over for her tears. Why do so many of us apologize for our tears? Simon, a Pharisee, invited Jesus to dinner. In the middle of the meal, as Jesus reclined at the table, a woman who had lived a sinful life brought an alabaster jar of perfume. “As she stood behind [Jesus] at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them” (Luke 7:37–38). Unapologetically, this woman freely emoted and then unwound her hair to dry Jesus’ feet. Overflowing with gratitude and love for Jesus, she topped off her tears with perfumed kisses—actions that contrasted with those of her proper but cold-hearted host. Jesus’ response? He praised her exuberant expression of love and proclaimed her “forgiven” (vv. 44–48). We may be tempted to squelch tears of gratitude when they threaten to overflow. But God made us emotional beings and we can use our feelings to honor Him. Like the woman in Luke’s gospel, let’s unapologetically express our love for our good God who provides for our needs and freely receives our thankful response.
Jan
29
2022
Are we there yet? / Not yet. / Are we there yet? / Not yet. That was the back-and-forth game we played on the first (and definitely not the last) sixteen-hour trip back home to Arkansas from Colorado when our children were young. Our oldest two kept the game alive and well, and if I had a dollar for every time they asked, well, I’d have a stack of dollars. It was a question my children were obsessed with, but I (the driver) was equally obsessed wondering, “Are we there yet?” And the answer was “Not yet, but soon.” Truth be told, most adults are asking a variation on that question although we may not voice it out loud. But we’re asking it for that same reason—we’re tired, and our eyes have grown “weak with sorrow” (Psalm 6:7). We’re “worn out from [our] groaning” (v. 6) about everything from the nightly news to daily frustrations at work to never-ending health problems to relational strains, and the list goes on. We cry out: “Are we there yet? How long, Lord, how long?” The psalmist knew well that kind of weariness, and honestly brought that key question to God. Like a caring parent, He heard David’s cries and in His great mercy accepted them (v. 9). There was no shame for asking. Likewise, you and I can boldly approach our Father in heaven with our honest cries of “How long?” and His answer might be “Not yet. But soon. I’m good. Trust Me.”   
Jan
28
2022
“Perfectionism is one of the scariest words I know,” Kathleen Norris writes, thoughtfully contrasting modern-day perfectionism with the “perfection” described in Matthew. Modern-day perfectionism she describes as a “a serious psychological affliction that makes people too timid to take necessary risks.” But the word translated “perfect” in Matthew actually means mature, complete, or whole. Norris concludes, “To be perfect . . . is to make room for growth [and become] mature enough to give ourselves to others.” Understanding perfection this way helps makes sense of the profound story told in Matthew 19, where a man asks Jesus what good he can do that will be rewarded in the life to come (v. 16). Jesus responds, “Keep the commandments” (v. 17). The man thought he’d obeyed all of them, yet he still knew something was  missing. “What do I still lack?” (v. 20) he asks. That’s when Jesus identifies the man’s wealth as the vise-grip stifling his heart. “If you want to be perfect” (v. 21), He responds—whole, open to giving to and receiving from others in God’s kingdom—then he must be willing to let go of what’s been closing off his heart from others. Each of us has our own version of this—possessions or habits we cling to as a futile attempt to control. Today, hear Jesus’ gentle invitation to surrender—and find freedom in the wholeness that’s only possible in Him (v. 26).
Jan
27
2022
The baby wasn’t due for another six weeks, but the doctor had just diagnosed Whitney with cholestasis, a liver condition common in pregnancy. In a whirlwind of emotions, Whitney was taken to the hospital where she received treatment and was told her baby would be induced in twenty-four hours! In another part of the hospital, ventilators and other equipment needed for the onslaught of COVID-19 cases were being put into place. As a result, Whitney was sent home. She made the decision to trust God and His plans, and delivered a healthy baby a few days later. When Scripture takes root in us, it transforms the way we react in trying situations. Jeremiah lived in a time when most of society trusted in human alliances, and the worship of idols was prevalent. The prophet contrasts the person who “draws strength from mere flesh and whose heart turns away from the Lord” (Jeremiah 17:5) with the one who trusts in God. “Blessed is the one . . . whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water . . . [that] does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green” (vv. 7–8). As believers in Christ, we’re called to live by faith as we look to Him for solutions. As He provides the strength, we can choose to fear or to trust Him. God says we’re blessed—fully satisfied—when we choose to trust Him.
Jan
26
2022
During a promotional event in 2011, two seventy-three-year-old former Canadian Football League players got into a fistfight on stage. They had a “beef” (grudges and feuds between friends, family members or enemies) dating back to a controversial championship football game in 1963. After one man knocked the other off the stage, the crowd called out to him to “let it go!” They were telling him to “squash the beef.” The Bible contains many examples of people “beefing.” Cain held a grudge against his brother Abel because God accepted Abel’s offering over his (Genesis 4:5). This grudge was so severe that it eventually led to murder as “Cain attacked his brother . . . and killed him” (v. 8). “Esau held a grudge against Jacob” because Jacob stole the birthright that was rightfully his (27:41). This grudge was so intense that it caused Jacob to run for his life in fear. Not only does the Bible give us several examples of people who held grudges, but it also instructs us on how to “squash the beef”—how to seek forgiveness and reconciliation. God calls us to love others (Leviticus 19:18), pray for and forgive those who insult and injure us (Matthew 5:43–47), live peaceably with all people, leave revenge to God, and overcome evil with good (Romans 12:18–21). By His power, may we “squash the beef” today.
Jan
25
2022
In the tenth century, Abd al-Rahman was the ruler of Cordoba, in Spain. After fifty years of successful reign (“beloved by my subjects, dreaded by my enemies, and respected by my allies”), al-Rahman took a deeper look at his life. “Riches and honors, power and pleasure, have waited on my call,” he said of his privileges. But when he counted how many days of genuine happiness he’d had during that time, they amounted to just fourteen. How sobering. The writer of Ecclesiastes was also a man of riches and honor (Ecclesiastes 2:7–9), power and pleasure (1:12; 2:1–3). And his own life evaluation was equally sobering. Riches, he realized, just led to a desire for more (5:10–11), while pleasures accomplished little (2:1–2), and success could be due to chance as much as ability (9:11). But his assessment didn’t end as bleakly as al-Rahman’s. Believing God was his ultimate source of happiness, he saw that eating, working, and doing good could all be enjoyed when done with Him (2:25; 3:12–13). “O man!” al-Rahman concluded his reflections, “place not thy confidence in this present world!” The writer of Ecclesiastes would agree. Since we have been made for eternity (3:11), earthly pleasures and achievements won’t satisfy by themselves. But with Him in our lives, genuine happiness is possible in our eating, working, and living.
Jan
24
2022
The professor ended his online class in one of two ways each time. He’d say, “See you next time” or “Have a good weekend.” Some students would respond with “Thank you. You too!” But one day a student responded, “I love you.” Surprised, he replied, “I love you too!” That evening the classmates agreed to create an “I love you chain” for the next class time in appreciation for their professor who had to teach to a blank screen on his computer. A few days later when he finished teaching, the professor said, “See you next time,” and one by one the students replied, “I love you.” They continued this practice for months. The teacher said this created a strong bond with his students, and he now feels they’re “family.” In 1 John 4:13–21, we, as part of God’s family, find several reasons to say “I love you” to Him. He sent His Son as a sacrifice for our sin (v. 10). He gave us His Spirit to live in us (vv. 13, 15). His love is always reliable (v. 16), and we never need to fear judgment (v. 17). He enables us to love Him and others “because he first loved us” (v. 19). The next time you gather with God’s people, take time to share your reasons for loving Him. Making an I love you chain for God will bring Him praise and bring you closer together.
Jan
23
2022
In 1952, in an effort to prevent clumsy or careless people from breaking items in a shop, a Miami Beach storeowner posted a sign that read: “You break it, you buy it.” The catchy phrase served as a warning to shoppers. This type of sign can now be seen in many boutiques. Ironically, a different sign might be placed in a real potter’s shop. It would say: “If you break it, we’ll make it into something better.” And that’s exactly what’s revealed in Jeremiah 18. The prophet reminds us that God is indeed a skillful potter and we are the clay. Jeremiah visits a potter’s and sees the potter shaping the “marred” clay with his hands, carefully handling the material and forming “it into another pot” (v. 4). He is sovereign and can use what He creates to both destroy evil and create beauty in us. God can shape us even when we’re marred or broken. He, the masterful potter, can and is willing to create new and precious pottery from our shattered pieces. God doesn’t look at our broken lives, mistakes, and past sins as unusable material. Instead, He picks up our pieces and reshapes them as He sees best. Even in our brokenness, we have immense value to our Master Potter. In His hands, the broken pieces of our lives can be reshaped into beautiful vessels that can be used “best by him” (v. 4).
Jan
22
2022
Les Miserablés begins with paroled convict Jean Valjean stealing a priest’s silver. He’s caught, and he expects to be returned to the mines. But the priest shocks everyone when he claims he’d given the silver to Valjean. After the police leave, he turns to the thief, “You belong no longer to evil, but to good.” Such extravagant love points to the love that flowed from the fountain from which all grace comes. On the Day of Pentecost, Peter told his audience that less than two months before, in that very city, they had crucified Jesus. The crowd was crushed and asked what they must do. Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38). Jesus had endured the punishment they deserved. Now their penalty would be forgiven if they put their faith in Him. Oh, the irony of grace! The people could only be forgiven because of Christ’s death—a death they were responsible for. How gracious and powerful is God! He has used humanity’s greatest sin to accomplish our salvation! If God has already done this with the sin of crucifying Jesus, we may assume there’s nothing He can’t turn into something good. Trust the One who “in all things . . . works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28).
Jan
21
2022
I squeezed my eyes shut and started counting aloud. My fellow third-grade classmates tore out of the room to find a place to hide. After scouring every cabinet, trunk, and closet for what felt like hours, I still couldn’t find one of my friends. I felt ridiculous when she finally jumped out from behind a lacey, potted fern hanging from the ceiling. Only her head had been eclipsed by the plant—the rest of her body had been in plain sight the entire time! Since God is all-knowing, when Adam and Eve “hid from [Him]” in the garden of Eden, they were always in “plain sight” (Genesis 3:8). But they weren’t playing any childhood game; they were experiencing the sudden awareness—and shame—of their wrongdoing, having eaten from the tree God told them not to. Adam and Eve turned from God and His loving provision when they disobeyed His instructions. Instead of withdrawing from them in anger, however, He sought them out, asking “Where are you?” It’s not that He didn’t know where they were, but He wanted them to know His compassionate concern for them (v. 9). I couldn’t see my friend hiding, but God always sees us and knows us—to Him we’re always in plain sight. Just as He pursued Adam and Eve, Jesus sought us out while we were “yet sinners”—dying on the cross to demonstrate His love for us (Romans 5:8). We no longer need to hide.
Jan
20
2022
A successful businessman spent the last few decades of his life doing all he could to give away his fortune. A multi-billionaire, he donated cash to a variety of causes such as bringing peace to Northern Ireland, modernizing Vietnam’s health care system, and not long before he died he spent $350 million to turn New York City’s Roosevelt Island into a technology hub. The man said, “I believe strongly in giving while living. I see little reason to delay giving. . . . Besides, it’s a lot more fun to give while you live than to give while you’re dead.” Give while you live—what an amazing attitude to have. In John’s account of the man born blind, while Jesus’ disciples were trying to determine “who sinned” (9:2), Jesus briefly addressed their question, then kept moving: “Neither . . . this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me” (vv. 3–4). Jesus’ miracles are very different from what we can give (even as we give ourselves through our work), but the ready and loving spirit behind them are the same. Let’s give, whether it is resources or our work, in a way that the works of God might be displayed. For God so loved the world that He gave. In turn, we’re to give while we live.
Jan
19
2022
When asked how he became a journalist, a man shared the story of his mother’s dedication to his pursuit of education. While traveling on the subway each day, she collected newspapers left behind on seats and gave them to him. While he especially enjoyed reading about sports, the papers also introduced him to knowledge about the world, which ultimately opened his mind to a vast range of interests.  Children are wired with natural curiosity and a love for learning, so introducing them to the Scriptures at an early age is of great value. They become intrigued by God’s extraordinary promises and exciting stories of biblical heroes. As their knowledge deepens, they can begin to comprehend the consequences of sin, their need of repentance, and the joy found in trusting God. The first chapter of Proverbs, for instance, is a great introduction to the benefits of wisdom (Proverbs 1:1–7). Nuggets of wisdom found here shine a light of understanding on real-life situations. Developing a love of learning—especially about spiritual truths—helps us to grow stronger in our faith. And those who have walked in faith for decades can continue to pursue knowledge of God throughout their life. Proverbs 1:5 advises, “Let the wise listen and add to their learning.” God will never stop teaching us if we’re willing to open our heart and mind to His guidance and instruction.
Jan
18
2022
A German bank employee was in the middle of transferring 62.40 euros from a customer’s bank account when he accidentally took a power nap at his desk. He dozed off while his finger was on the “2” key, resulting in a 222 million euro (300 million dollars) transfer into the customer’s account. The fallout from the mistake included the firing of the employee’s colleague who verified the transfer. Although the mistake was caught and corrected, because he wasn’t watchful, the sleepy employee’s lapse almost became a nightmare for the bank. Jesus warned His disciples that if they didn’t remain alert, they, too, would make a costly mistake. He took them to a place called Gethsemane to spend some time in prayer. As He prayed, Jesus experienced a grief and sadness such as He’d never known in His earthly life. He asked Peter, James and John to stay awake to pray and “keep watch” with Him (Matthew 26:38), but they fell asleep (vv. 40–41). Their failure to watch and pray would leave them defenseless when the real temptation of denying Him came calling. In the hour of Jesus’ greatest need, the disciples lacked spiritual vigilance. May we heed Jesus’ words to remain spiritually awake by being more devoted to spending time with Him in prayer. As we do, He’ll strengthen us to resist all kinds of temptations and avoid the costly mistake of denying Jesus.
Jan
17
2022
My son Geoff was leaving a store when he saw an abandoned walking frame (a mobility aid) on the ground. I hope there isn’t a person back there who needs help, he thought. He glanced behind the building and found a homeless man unconscious on the pavement. Geoff roused him and asked if he was okay. “I’m trying to drink myself to death,” he responded. “My tent broke in a storm and I lost everything. I don’t want to live.” Geoff called a Christian rehabilitation ministry, and while they waited for help, he ran home briefly and brought the man his own camping tent. “What’s your name?” Geoff asked. “Geoffrey,” the homeless man answered, “with a G.” Geoff hadn’t mentioned his own name or its uncommon spelling. “Dad,” he told me later, “that could have been me.”  Geoff once struggled with substance abuse himself, and he helped the man because of the kindness he’d received from God. Isaiah the prophet used these words to anticipate God’s mercy to us in Jesus: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). Christ, our Savior, didn’t leave us lost, alone, and hopeless in despair. He chose to identify with us and lift us in love, so that we may be set free to live anew in Him. There is no greater gift.
Jan
16
2022
A fierce thunderstorm lashed Memphis, Tennessee, on the evening of April 3, 1968. Weary and feeling ill, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. decided not to give his planned speech for striking sanitation workers at a church hall. He was surprised by an urgent phone call saying a large crowd had braved the weather to hear him. So he went to the hall and spoke for forty minutes, delivering what some say was his greatest speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.” The next day, King was killed by an assassin’s bullet, but his speech still inspires oppressed people that they’ll “get to the Promised Land.” Likewise, early followers of Jesus were uplifted by a stirring message. The book of Hebrews, written to encourage Jewish believers facing threats for their faith in Christ, offers firm spiritual encouragement to not lose hope. As it urged, “strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees” (v. 12). As Jews, they would recognize that appeal as originally coming from the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 35:3). But now, as Christ’s disciples, they were called to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith” (vv. 1–2). The writer encouraged them: “You will not grow weary and lose heart” (v. 3). Certainly squalls and storms await us in this life. But in Jesus, we outlast life’s tempests by standing in Him.
Jan
15
2022
As I sat in the courtroom, I witnessed several examples of the brokenness of our world: a daughter estranged from her mother; a husband and wife who’d lost the love they once had and now shared only bitterness; a husband yearning for reconciliation with his wife and to be reunited with his children. They were in desperate need of changed hearts, healing of wounds, and for God’s love to prevail. Sometimes when the world around us seems to hold only darkness and despair, it’s easy to give in to despair. But then the Spirit, who lives inside believers in Christ (John 14:26), reminded me that Jesus died for that brokenness and pain. When Jesus came into the world as a human, He brought light into the darkness (John 1:4; 8:12). We see this in His conversation with Nicodemus, who furtively came to Jesus in the cover of darkness, but left impacted by the Light (3:1–2; 19:38–40). Jesus taught Nicodemus that “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (3:16). Yet even though Jesus brought light and love into the world, many remain lost in the darkness of their sin (vv. 19–20). If we’re His followers, we have the light that dispels darkness. In gratitude, let’s pray that God make us beacons of His love (Matthew 5:14–16).
Jan
14
2022
Carl had contracted cancer and needed a double lung transplant. He asked God for new lungs, but felt odd doing so. He confessed it’s a strange thing to pray, because “someone has to die so I might live.”   Carl’s dilemma highlights a basic truth of Scripture: God uses death to bring life. We see this in the story of the Exodus. Born into slavery, the Israelites languished under the oppressive hands of the Egyptians. Pharaoh wouldn’t release his grip until God made it personal. Every eldest son would die, unless the family killed a spotless lamb and slathered its blood across their doorposts (Exodus 12:6–7). Today, you and I have been born into the bondage of sin. Satan would not release his grip on us until God made it personal, sacrificing His perfect Son on the blood-spattered arms of the cross. Jesus calls us to join Him there. Paul explains, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). When we put our faith in God’s spotless Lamb, we commit to daily dying with Him—dying to our sin so we might rise with Him to new life (Romans 6:4–5). We express this faith in baptism and every time we say no to the shackles of sin and yes to the freedom of Christ. We’re never more alive than when we die with Jesus.
Jan
13
2022
I started reading the Bible to my sons when my youngest, Xavier, entered kindergarten. I would look for teachable moments and share verses that would apply to our circumstances and encourage them to pray with me. Xavier memorized Scripture without even trying. If we were in a predicament in which we needed wisdom, he’d blurt out verses that shone a light on God’s truth. One day, I got angry and spoke harshly within his earshot. My son hugged me and said, “Practice what you preach, Mama.” Xavier’s gentle reminder echoes the wise counsel of the apostle James as he addresses Jewish believers in Jesus scattered in various countries (James 1:1). Highlighting the various ways sin can interfere with our witness for Christ, James encourages God’s people to “humbly accept the word planted in” us (v. 21). By hearing but not obeying Scripture, we’re like people who look in the mirror and forget what we look like (vv. 23–24). We can lose sight of the privilege we’ve been given as image-bearers—made right with God through the blood of Christ. Believers in Jesus are commanded to share the gospel. The Holy Spirit changes us while empowering us to become better representatives and therefore messengers of the good news. As our loving obedience helps us reflect the light of God’s truth and love wherever He sends us, we can point others to Jesus by practicing what we preach.
Jan
12
2022
In 1929, as the US economy crashed, millions of people lost everything. But not Floyd Odlum. As everyone else panicked and sold their stocks at cut-rate prices, Odlum appeared to foolishly jump in and purchase stocks just as the nation’s future disintegrated. But Odlum’s “foolish” perspective paid off, yielding robust investments that endured for decades. God told Jeremiah to make what seemed like an absolutely ludicrous investment: “buy [the] field at Anathoth in the territory of Benjamin” (Jeremiah 32:8). This was no time to be buying fields, however. The entire country was on the verge of being ransacked. “The army of the king of Babylon was . . . besieging Jerusalem” (v. 2) Whatever field Jeremiah purchased would soon be Babylon’s. What fool makes an investment when everything would soon be lost? Well, the person who’s listening to God—the One who intended a future no one else could envision. “This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Houses, fields and vineyards will again be bought in this land” (v. 15). God saw more than the ruin. God promised to bring redemption, healing, and restoration. A ludicrous investment in a relationship or service for God isn’t foolish—it’s is the wisest possible move when God leads us to make it (and it's essential that we prayerfully seek to know He’s behind the instruction). A “foolish” investment in others as God leads makes all the sense in the world.
Jan
11
2022
At eighteen months old, little Maison had never heard his mother’s voice. Then doctors fitted him with his first hearing aids and his mom Lauryn asked Maison, “Can you hear me?” The child’s eyes lit up. “Hi Baby!” his mom added. A smiling Maison softly replied, “Hi!” In tears, the mother knew she’d witnessed a miracle. She’d given birth to Maison prematurely after gunmen shot her three times during a random home invasion. Weighing just one pound, Maison spent 158 days in intensive care and wasn’t expected to survive, let alone be able to hear. That heart-warming story reminds me of the God who hears us. King Solomon prayed fervently for God’s attuned ear, especially during troubling times. When “there is no rain ” (1 Kings 8:35), during “famine or plague,” disaster or disease (v. 37), war (v. 44), and even sin, “hear from heaven their prayer and their plea,” Solomon prayed, “and uphold their cause” (v. 45). In His goodness, God responded with a promise that still stirs our hearts. “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14). Heaven may seem a long way off. Yet Christ is with those who believe in Him. God hears our prayers, and He answers them.
Jan
10
2022
“ESCAPE” the hot-tub store billboard blared. It got my attention—and got me thinking. My wife and I talk about getting a hot tub . . .  someday. It'd be like a vacation in our back yard! Except for the cleaning. And the electric bill. And . . . suddenly, the hoped-for escape starts to sound like something I might need escape from. Still, that word entices so effectively because it promises something we want: relief. Comfort. Security. Escape. It’s something our culture tempts and teases us with in myriad ways. Now, there's nothing wrong with resting, or a getaway to someplace beautiful. That said, there’s a difference between escaping life’s hardships and trusting God with them.   In John 16, Jesus tells his disciples the next chapter of their lives will test their faith. “In this world you will have trouble,” He summarizes at the end. But then He adds this promise, “But take heart! I have overcome the world” (v. 33). Jesus didn’t want His disciples to cave in to despair. Instead, He invited them to trust Him, to know the rest that He provides: “I have told you these things,” he said, “so that in me you may have peace.” Jesus doesn’t promise us a pain-free life. But He does promise that as we trust and rest in Him, we can experience a peace that’s deeper and more satisfying than any escape the world tries to sell us.
Jan
9
2022
The little red rectangular box was magical. As a kid, I could play with it for hours. When I turned one knob on the box, I could create a horizontal line on its screen. Turn the other knob and voila—a vertical line. When I turned the knobs together, I could make diagonal lines, circles, and creative designs. But the real magic came when I turned my Etch A Sketch toy upside down, shook it a little and turned it right side up. A blank screen appeared, offering me the opportunity to create a new design. God’s forgiveness works much like that Etch A Sketch game. He wipes away our sins, creating a clean canvas for us. Even if we remember wrongs we committed, God chooses to forgive and forget. He’s wiped them out and doesn’t hold our sins against us. He doesn’t treat us according to our sinful actions (Psalm 103:10), but extends grace through forgiveness. We have a clean slate—a new life awaiting us when we seek God’s forgiveness. We can be rid of guilt and shame because of His amazing gift to us. The psalmist reminds us that our sins have been separated from us as the east is separated from the west (v. 12). That’s as far away as you can get! In God’s eyes, our sins no longer cling to us like a scarlet letter or a bad drawing. That’s reason to rejoice and to thank God for His amazing grace and mercy.
Jan
8
2022
My friend Bill described Gerard, an acquaintance of his, as being “very far from God for a very long time.” But one day, after Bill met with Gerard and explained to him how God’s love has provided the way for us to be saved, Gerard became a believer. Through tears, he repented of his sin, and gave his life to Jesus. Afterward, Bill asked Gerard how he felt. Wiping away tears, he answered simply, “Washed.” What an amazing response! That’s precisely the essence of salvation made possible through faith in Jesus’ sacrifice for us on the cross. In 1 Corinthians 6, after Paul gives examples of how disobedience against God leads to separation from Him, he says, “That is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 11). “Washed,” “sanctified, “justified”—words that point to believers being forgiven and made right with Him. Titus 3:4–5 tells us more about this miraculous thing called salvation. “God our Savior . . . saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth.” Our sin keeps us from God, but through faith in Jesus, the penalty of it is washed away. We become new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17), gain access to our heavenly Father (Ephesians 2:18), and we’re made clean (1 John 1:7). He alone provides what we need to be washed.
Jan
7
2022
In the wake of the coronavirus, retrieving something from my safety deposit box required even more layers of protocol than before. Now I had to make an appointment, call when I arrived to be granted entrance to the bank, show my identification and signature, and then wait to be escorted into the vault by a designated banker. Once inside, the heavy doors locked again until I’d found what I needed inside the metal box. Unless I followed the instructions, I wasn’t able to enter. In the Old Testament, God had specific protocols for entering part of the tabernacle called the Most Holy Place. Behind a special curtain, one that “separate[d] the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place,” only the high priest could enter once a year (Exodus 26:33; Hebrews 9:7). Aaron, and the high priests who would come after him, were to bring offerings, bathe, and wear sacred garments before entering (Leviticus 16:3–4). God’s instructions weren’t for health or security reasons; they were meant to teach the Israelites about the holiness of God and our need for forgiveness. At the moment of Jesus’ death, that special curtain was torn, symbolically showing that all people who believe in His sacrifice for their forgiveness of sin can enter God’s presence (Matthew 27:51). The tear in the tabernacle curtain is reason for our unending joy—Jesus has enabled us to draw near to God always!
Jan
6
2022
In the early 1960s, the US was filled with anticipation of a bright future. Youthful President John F. Kennedy had introduced the New Frontier, the Peace Corps, and the task of reaching the moon. A thriving economy caused many people to expect the future to simply “let the good times roll.” Then the war in Vietnam escalated, unrest on a national level unfolded, Kennedy’s assassination took place, and a dismantling of the accepted norms of that previously optimistic society ensued. Optimism simply wasn’t enough, and in its wake, disillusionment prevailed.   Then, in 1967, theologian Jürgen Moltmann’s A Theology of Hope pointed to a clearer vision. This path was not the way of optimism but the way of hope. The two are not the same thing. Moltmann affirmed that optimism is based on the circumstances of the moment, but hope is rooted in God’s faithfulness—regardless of our situation. What is the source of this hope? Peter wrote, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). Our faithful God has conquered death through His Son Jesus! The reality of this greatest of all victories lifts us beyond mere optimism to a strong, robust hope—every day and in every circumstance.
Jan
5
2022
The social media powerhouse Twitter created a platform where people all over the world express opinions in short sound bites. In recent years, however, this formula has become more complex as individuals have begun to leverage Twitter as a tool to reprimand others for attitudes and lifestyles they disagree with. Log on to the platform on any given day, and you’ll find the name of at least one person “trending.” Click on that name, and you’ll find millions of people expressing opinions about whatever controversy has emerged. We’ve learned to publicly criticize everything from the beliefs people hold to the clothes they wear. The reality, however, is that a critical and unloving attitude doesn’t align with who God has called us to be as believers in Jesus. After all, his death on the cross is the ultimate forgiveness. While there will be times when we disagree and hold opposing opinions, the Bible reminds us that as believers we’re to always carry ourselves with “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Colossians 3:12). Instead of being harshly critical, even of our enemies, God urges us to “bear with each other and forgive one another” (v. 13). This treatment isn’t limited to the people whose lifestyles and beliefs we agree with. Even when it’s difficult, may we extend grace and love to everyone we encounter as Christ guides us, recognizing that we’ve been redeemed by His love.
Jan
4
2022
Resolutions, it seems, are made to be broken. Some folks poke fun at this reality by proposing New Year’s vows that are—shall we say—attainable. Here are a few from social media: Wave to fellow motorists at stoplights. Sign up for a marathon. Don’t run it. Stop procrastinating—tomorrow. Get lost without any help from Siri. Unfriend everyone who posts their workout regimen. The concept of a fresh start can be serious business, however. The exiled people of Judah desperately needed one. Just over two decades into their seventy-year captivity, God brought encouragement to them through the prophet Ezekiel, promising, “I will now restore the fortunes of Jacob” (39:25). But the nation first needed to return to the basics—the instructions God had given to Moses eight hundred years earlier. This included observing a feast at the new year. For the ancient Jewish people, that began in early spring (45:18). A major purpose of their festivals was to remind them of God’s character and His expectations. God told their leaders, “Give up your violence and oppression and do what is just and right” (v. 9) and insisted on honesty (v. 10). The lesson applies to us too. Our faith must be put into practice or it’s worthless (James 2:17). In this new year, as God provides what we need, may we live out our faith by returning to the basics: “Love the Lord your God,” and “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37–39).
Jan
3
2022
Towering dunes along the north shore of Silver Lake put nearby homes at risk of sinking into shifting sands. Though residents have tried moving mounds of sand in efforts to protect their homes, they have watched helplessly as well-built houses were buried right before their eyes. As a local sheriff oversaw the cleanup of a recently destroyed cottage, he affirmed the process couldn’t be opposed or prevented. No matter how hard homeowners try to avoid the dangers of these unsteady embankments, the dunes simply cannot provide a strong foundational support. Jesus knew the futility of building a house on sand. After warning the disciples to be wary of false prophets, the Lord assured them that loving obedience demonstrates wisdom (Matthew 7:15-23). He said that everyone who hears His words and “puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matthew 7:24). The one who hears God’s words and chooses not to put them into practice, however, is “like a foolish man who built his house on sand” (v. 26). When circumstances feel like shifting sands burying us under the weight of affliction or worries, we can place our hope in Christ‒our Rock. He will help us develop resilient faith built on the unshakeable foundation of His unchanging character.
Jan
2
2022
“Whenever my grandfather took me to the beach,” Sandra reminisced, “he always took off his watch and put it away. One day I asked him why.” “He smiled and replied, ‘Because I want you to know how important my moments with you are to me. I just want to be with you, and let time go by.’” I heard Sandra share that recollection at her grandfather’s funeral. It was one of her favorite memories of their life together. As I reflected on how valued it makes us feel when others take time for us, it brought to mind Scripture’s words on God’s loving care. God always makes time for us. David prays in Psalm 145, “You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing. The Lord is righteous in all his ways and faithful in all he does. The Lord is near” (vv. 16–18). God’s goodness and thoughtful attention sustain our lives each moment, providing us with air to breath and food to eat. Because He is rich in love, the Creator of all things mercifully crafts even the most intricate details of our existence. God’s love is so deep and unending that in His kindness and mercy He has even opened the way to eternal life and joy in His presence. As if to say, “I love you so much, I just want to be with you forever, and let time go by.”  
Jan
1
2022
When Bryony turned thirty, she was sad to still be in a sales job she’d never liked. She decided it was time to stop procrastinating and find a new career. For David, New Year’s Eve had him looking in the mirror vowing this would be the year he lost weight. And for James, it was watching another month pass without his angry outbursts decreasing. Next month, he promised himself, he would try harder. If you’ve ever vowed to change at the start of a new month, new year, or a major birthday, you’re not alone. Researchers even have a name for it: the fresh start effect. They suggest that at calendar points like these we are more prone to assess our lives and try putting our failures behind us to start over. Wanting to be better people, we long for a fresh start. Faith in Jesus speaks powerfully to this longing, offering a vision of what our best selves can be (Colossians 3:12–14), and calling us to leave our past selves behind (vv. 5–8). It offers this change not by decisions and vows alone, but by divine power. When we choose to follow Jesus, we become new people; and God’s Spirit works in us to make us whole (vv. 9–10; Titus 3:5). Receiving salvation in Jesus is the ultimate fresh start. And it doesn’t need to wait for a special calendar date. Your new life can start right now.
Dec
31
2021
Michellan faced challenges while growing up in the Philippines, but she always loved words and found comfort in them. Then one day while attending university, she read the first chapter in the gospel of John. She said that her “stone heart stirred,” and she felt like someone was saying, “Yes, you love words, and guess what? There is an Eternal Word, One who . . . can cut through the darkness, now and always. A Word who took on flesh. A Word who can love you back.” She was reading the gospel that begins with words that would have reminded John’s readers of the opening of Genesis: “In the beginning . . .” (Genesis 1:1). He sought to show that Jesus was not only with God at the beginning of time but was God (John 1:1). And that this living Word became a man “and made his dwelling among us” (v. 14). Further, those who receive Him, believing in His name, become His children (v. 12). Michellan embraced God’s love that day and was “born of God” (v. 13). She credits God for saving her from her family’s pattern of addiction and now writes about the good news of Jesus, delighting in sharing her words about the living Word. If we are believers in Christ, we too can share God’s message and His love. As we begin 2022, what grace-filled words can we speak today?
Dec
30
2021
“I can’t believe Christmas is over,” my dejected daughter said. I know how she feels: The aftermath of Christmas can feel dreary. Presents have been opened. The tree and lights must come down. Listless January—and, for many, the need to shed holiday pounds—awaits. Christmas—and the breathless anticipation that comes with it—suddenly feels eons away. A few years ago, as we were putting Christmas stuff away, I realized, No matter what the calendar says, we’re always one day closer to the next Christmas. It’s become something I say frequently. But far more important than our temporal celebration of Christmas is the spiritual reality behind it: the salvation Jesus brought into our world and our hope for His return. Scripture talks repeatedly about watching, waiting, and longing for Christ’s second coming. I love what Paul says in Philippians 3:15–21. He contrasts the world’s way of living—with “minds set on earthly things” (v. 19)—with a lifestyle shaped by hope in Jesus’ return: “Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 20). The reality that our “citizenship is in heaven” changes everything, including what we hope for and how we live. That hope is fortified by the knowledge that with every passing day, we are indeed one day closer to Jesus’ return.
Dec
29
2021
When gold seeker Edward Jackson set out for California during the Great Gold Rush in the US, his diary entry on May 20, 1849, lamented his grueling wagon journey, marked by disease and death. “O do not leave my bones here,” he wrote. “If possible let them lay at home.” Another gold-seeker named John Walker penned, “It is the most complete lottery that you can imagine . . . I cannot advise any person to come.” Walker, in fact, returned home and succeeded at farming, ranching, and state politics. When a family member took Walker’s yellowing letters to the American TV program Antiques Roadshow, they were valued at several thousand dollars. Said the TV host, “So he did get something valuable out of the Gold Rush. The letters.” Even more, both Walker and Jackson returned home after gaining wisdom that caused them to take hold of a more practical life. Consider these words about wisdom from King Solomon, “Blessed are those who find wisdom . . . she is a tree of life to those who take hold of her” (Proverbs 3:13, 18). A wise choice is  “more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold” (v. 14)—making wisdom more precious than any earthly desire (v. 15.) “Long life is in her right hand . . . and all her paths are peace” (vv. 16–17). Our challenge, therefore, is to hold tight to wisdom not shiny wishes. It’s a path God will bless.
Dec
28
2021
Two stately stone lions watch over the entrance to the New York Public Library. Hewn from marble, they’ve stood there proudly since the library’s dedication in 1911. They were first nicknamed Leo Lenox and Leo Astor to honor the library’s founders. But during the Great Depression, New York’s Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia renamed them Fortitude and Patience, virtues he thought New Yorkers should demonstrate in those challenging years. The lions are still called Fortitude and Patience today. The Bible describes a living, powerful Lion who also gives encouragement in trouble and is known by other names. In his vision of heaven, the apostle John wept when he saw that no one was able to open the sealed scroll containing God’s plan of judgment and redemption. Then John was told, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah . . . has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals” (Revelation 5:5). Yet in the very next verse, John describes something else entirely: “Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne” (v. 6). The Lion and the Lamb are the same person: Jesus. He is the conquering King and “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). Through His strength and His cross, we may receive mercy and forgiveness so that we may live in joy and wonder at all He is forever!
Dec
27
2021
“The shepherd needs great wisdom and a thousand eyes,” wrote the beloved church father John Chrysostom, “to examine the soul’s condition from every angle.” Chrysostom wrote these words as part of a discussion on the complexity of caring well for others spiritually. Since it’s impossible to force anyone to heal, he emphasized, reaching others’ hearts requires great empathy and compassion. But that doesn’t mean never causing pain, Chrysostom cautioned, because “if you behave too leniently to one who needs deep surgery, and do not make a deep incision in one who requires it, you mutilate yet miss the cancer. But if you make the needed incision without mercy, often the patient, in despair at his sufferings, throws all aside . . . and promptly throws himself over a cliff.” There’s a similar complexity in how Jude describes responding to those led astray by false teachers, whose behavior he describes starkly (1:12–13, 18–19). Yet when Jude turns to how to respond to such grave threats, he doesn’t suggest reacting with harsh anger. Instead, he taught that believers should respond to threats by rooting themselves even more deeply in God’s love (vv. 20–21). For it’s only when we’re deeply anchored in God’s unchanging love that we can find the wisdom to help others with appropriate urgency, humility, and compassion (vv. 22–23)—the way most likely to help them find healing and rest in God’s boundless love.
Dec
26
2021
I helped my elderly dog, Wilson, out to the grass and in the process, released the leash of our younger dog, Coach, for just a minute. As I bent to pick up Coach’s lead, he spied a bunny. Off he went, ripping the leash from my right hand and corkscrewing my ring finger in the process. I fell to the grass and cried out in pain. After returning from urgent care and learning I’d need surgery, I begged God for help. “I’m a writer! How will I type? What about my daily duties?” As God sometimes does, He spoke to me from my daily Bible reading. “For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you” (Isaiah 41:13). I scanned the context, which indicated that God’s people in Judah, to whom Isaiah was communicating His message, enjoyed a special relationship with Him. He promised His presence, strength, and help through His own righteous standing, symbolized by His right hand (v. 10). Elsewhere in Scripture God’s right hand is used to secure victories for His people (Psalm 17:7; 98:1). During my weeks of recovery, I experienced encouragement from God as I learned to dictate on my computer and trained my left hand in household and grooming functions. From God’s righteous right hand to our broken and needy right hands, God promises to be with us and to help us.
Dec
25
2021
The unresolved hurt between Simon and Geoffrey had persisted for years, and Simon’s attempts to reenter the relationship had been resisted. Upon hearing the news of the death of Geoffrey’s mother, Simon traveled “up country” in Kenya to attend her funeral service. Simon reflected on their encounter: “I had no expectations at all in terms of how the whole thing would turn out, [but] after the service, we opened up and had a fruitful talk. We hugged, shared the moment, prayed together, and planned to meet again.” If only Simon and Geoffrey had been able to reconcile earlier, so much ongoing pain could have been avoided. The words of Jesus in Matthew 5:21–26 help to put unresolved relational tensions in perspective. The anger that can lead to such rifts is a serious matter (v. 22). Furthermore, getting things in order relationally is a fitting prelude to worshiping God (vv. 23–24). The wise words of Jesus to “settle matters quickly with your adversary” (v. 25) remind us that the sooner we do what we can to work toward reconciliation the better for all. Relationships are risky; they demand work—in our families, in the workplace, in educational settings, and among people who share our faith in Christ. But as those who represent Him, the “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6), may we find ourselves going out of our way to extend our hearts and hands to those with whom we have unresolved conflict.
Dec
24
2021
Imagine the One who made cedars spring from seeds starting life over as an embryo, the One who made the stars submitting Himself to a womb, the One who fills the heavens becoming what would be in our day a mere dot on an ultrasound. Jesus, in very nature God, making Himself nothing (Philippians 2:6–7). What an astonishing thought! Imagine the scene as He is born in a plain peasant village, among farmers and angels and bright lights in the sky, with the bleating of animals His first lullabies. Watch as He grows in favor and stature: as a youngster astounding teachers with answers to grand questions; as a young man at the Jordan getting His Father’s approval from heaven; and in the wilderness as He wrestles in hunger and prayer. Watch next as He launches His world-changing mission—healing the sick, touching lepers, forgiving the impure. Watch as He kneels in a garden in anguish, and as they arrest Him while His closest friends flee. Watch as He is spat on and nailed to two wooden posts, the world’s sins on His shoulders. But watch, yes watch, as the stone rolls away, an empty tomb ringing hollow, because He is alive! Watch as He is lifted to the highest place (v. 9). Watch as His name fills heaven and earth (vv. 10–11). This Maker of the stars who became a dot on an ultrasound. This, our Christmas child.
Dec
23
2021
When John’s cold turned into pneumonia, he ended up in the hospital. At the same time, his mother was being treated for cancer a few floors above him, and he felt overwhelmed with worries about her and about his own health. Then on Christmas Eve, when the radio played the carol “O Holy Night,” John was flooded with a deep sense of God’s peace. He listened to the words about it being the night of the dear Savior’s birth: “A thrill of hope the weary soul rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!” In that moment, his worries about himself and his mother vanished. This “dear Savior” born to us, Jesus, is the “Prince of Peace,” as Isaiah prophesied (Isaiah 9:6). Jesus fulfilled this prophecy when He came to earth as a baby, bringing light and salvation to “those living in the land of the shadow of death” (Matthew 4:16, quoting Isaiah 9:2). He embodies and gives peace to those He loves, even when they face hardship and death. There in the hospital, John experienced this peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7) as he pondered the birth of Jesus. This encounter with God strengthened his faith and sense of gratitude as he lay in that sterile room away from his family at Christmas. May we too receive God’s gift of peace and hope.
Dec
22
2021
“The Gathering” in northern Thailand is an interdenominational, international church. On a recent Sunday, Christians from Korea, Ghana, Pakistan, China, Bangladesh, America, the Philippines, and other countries came together in a humble, thread-worn hotel conference room. They sang “In Christ Alone” and “I Am a Child of God,” lyrics that were especially poignant in this setting. No one brings people together like Jesus does. He’s been doing it from the start. In the first century, Antioch contained eighteen different ethnic groups, each living in its own part of the city. When believers first came to Antioch, they spread the word about Jesus “only among Jews” (Acts 11:19). That wasn’t God’s plan for the church, however. Others soon came who “began to speak to Greeks [Gentiles] also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus,” and “a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord” (vv. 20–21). People in the city noticed that Jesus was healing centuries of animosity between Jews and Greeks, and they declared this multi-ethnic church should be called “Christians,” or “little Christs” (v. 26). It can be challenging for us to reach across ethnic, social, and economic boundaries to embrace those different from us. But this difficulty is our opportunity. If it wasn’t hard, we wouldn’t need Jesus to do it. And few would notice we’re following Him.
Dec
21
2021
As the novel coronavirus marched across the globe, health experts advised increased physical distance between people as a means to slow the spread. Many countries asked their citizens to self-quarantine or shelter in place. Organizations sent employees home to work remotely if they could, while others suffered a financially debilitating loss of employment. Like others, I participated in church and small group meetings through digital platforms. As a world, we practiced new forms of togetherness despite being physically disconnected. It isn’t just the internet that lets us maintain a sense of connection. We connect to one another as members of the body of Christ through the Spirit. Paul expressed this notion centuries ago in his letter to the Colossians. Though he hadn’t personally founded their church, he cared deeply for them and their faith. And even though Paul couldn’t be with them in person, he reminded them that he was “present with [them] in spirit” (Colossians 2:5).   We can’t always be with those we love for financial, health, or other practical reasons, and technology can help fill that gap. Yet any form of virtual connection pales in comparison to the “togetherness” we can experience as fellow members of the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27). In such moments, we can, like Paul, rejoice in one another’s firmness of faith and, through prayer, encourage each other to fully “know the mystery of God, namely Christ” (Colossians 2:2).
Dec
20
2021
During World War II, Waldemer Semenov was serving as a junior engineer aboard the SS Alcoa Guide when—nearly three hundred miles off the coast of North Carolina—a German submarine surfaced and opened fire on the ship. The ship was hit, caught fire, and began to sink. Semenov and his crew lowered a lifeboat into the water and used the vessel’s compass to sail toward the shipping lanes. After three days, a patrol plane spotted their lifeboat and the USS Broome rescued the men the next day. Thanks to that compass, Semenov and twenty-six other crewmembers were saved.          The psalmist reminded God’s people that they were equipped with a compass for life—the Bible. He compared Scripture to “a lamp” (Psalm 119:105) that provides light to illuminate the path of life for those pursuing God. When the psalmist was adrift in the chaotic waters of life, he knew God could use Scripture to provide spiritual longitude and latitude and help him survive. Thus, he prayed that God would send out His light to direct him in life and bring him safely to the port of His holy presence (Psalm 43:3).          As believers in Jesus, when we lose our way, God can guide us by the Holy Spirit and by the direction found in the Scriptures. May God transform our hearts and minds as we read the Bible, study it, and follow its wisdom. 
Dec
19
2021
Linus, in the Peanuts comic strip, is best known for his blue security blanket. He carries it everywhere and isn’t embarrassed at needing it for comfort. His sister Lucy especially dislikes the blanket and often tries to get rid of it. She buries it, makes it into a kite, and uses it for a science fair project. Linus too knows he should be less dependent on his blanket and lets it go from time to time, always to take it back. In the movie A Charlie Brown Christmas, when a frustrated Charlie Brown asks, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” Linus, with his security blanket in hand, steps center stage and quotes Luke 2:8–14. In the middle of his recitation as he says, “Fear not,” he drops his blanket—the thing he clung to when afraid. What is it about Christmas that reminds us we don’t need to fear? The angels that appeared to the shepherds said, “Do not be afraid  . . . a Savior has been born to you” (Luke 2:10–11). Jesus is “God with us” (Matthew 1:23). We have His very presence through His Holy Spirit, the true Comforter (John 14:16), so we don’t need to fear. We can let go of our “security blankets” and trust in Him.
Dec
18
2021
In the large African church, the pastor fell to his knees, praying to God. “Remember us!” As the pastor pleaded, the crowd responded, crying, “Remember us, Lord!” Watching this moment on YouTube, I was surprised that I shed tears, too. The prayer was recorded months earlier. Yet it recalled childhood times when I heard our family’s pastor make the same plea to God. “Remember us, Lord!” Hearing that prayer as a child, I’d wrongly assumed that God sometimes forgets about us. But God is all-knowing (Psalm 147:5; 1 John 3:20), He always see us (Psalm 33:13–15), and He loves us beyond measure (Ephesians 3:17–19). Even more, as we see in the Hebrew word zakar, meaning “remember,” when God “remembers” us, He acts for us. Zakar also means to act on a person’s behalf. Thus, when God “remembered” Noah and “all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark,” He then “sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded” (Genesis 8:1). When God “remembered” barren Rachel, He “listened to her and enabled her to conceive. She became pregnant and gave birth to a son” (Genesis 30:22–23). What a great plea of trust to ask God in prayer to remember us! He will decide how He answers. We can pray knowing, however, that our humble request asks God to move.
Dec
17
2021
The school where my son Brian coaches lost the state football title game in a hard-fought battle. Their opponent was undefeated over the past two years. I sent Brian a text to commiserate with him and received a terse reply: “Kids battled!” No coach shamed the players after the game. No one shouted at them for their mishaps or bad decisions along the way. No, the coaches showered the young players with praise for what could be praised. Along the same vein, it’s good to know that believers in Jesus will not hear harsh words of condemnation from our Lord. When Jesus comes and we stand before Him He’ll not shame us. He’ll see what we’ve done as we’ve followed Him (2 Corinthians 5:10; Ephesians 6:8). I think He’ll say something like, “You battled! Well done!” The apostle Paul testified that he had “fought the good fight” and looked forward to being welcomed by God (2 Timothy 4:7–8). Life is a relentless struggle with a fierce, unyielding foe devoted to our destruction. He will resist every effort we make to be like Jesus and to love others. There’ll be a few good wins, and some heart-breaking losses—God knows—but there will no eternal condemnation for those in Jesus (Romans 8:1). If we stand before Him in the merits of God’s Son, each one will “receive his praise" from God (1 Corinthians 4:5).
Dec
16
2021
Our bus finally arrived at our much-anticipated destination—an archaeological dig in Israel where we would actually do some excavation work of our own. The site’s director explained that anything we might unearth had been untouched for thousands of years. Digging up broken shards of pottery, we felt as though we were touching history. After an extended time, we were led to a workstation where those broken pieces—from huge vases shattered long, long ago—were being put back together.     The picture was crystal clear. Those artisans reconstructing centuries-old broken pottery were a beautiful representation of the God who loves to fix broken things. In Psalm 31:12, David wrote, “I am forgotten as though I were dead; I have become like broken pottery.” Though no occasion is given for the writing of this psalm, David’s life difficulties often found voice in his laments—just like this one. The song describes him as being broken down by danger, enemies, and despair. So, where did he turn for help? In verse 16, David declares, “Let your face shine on your servant; save me in your unfailing love.” The God who was the object of David’s trust is the same God who still fixes broken things today. All He asks is that we call out to Him and trust in His unfailing love.
Dec
15
2021
When I walked into the ice cream shop with my five-year-old biracial son, the man behind the counter glanced at me and stared at my child. “What are you?” His question and harsh tone triggered the all-too-familiar anger and heartache I’d experienced, growing up as a Mexican-American who didn’t fit stereotypes. Pulling Xavier closer, I turned toward my black husband as he entered the store. With eyes narrowed, the store clerk completed our order in silence. I prayed silently for the man as my son listed the flavors of ice cream he wanted to try. Repenting of my bitterness, I asked God to give me a spirit of forgiveness. With my light-but-not-white complexion, I’d been the target of similar glares accompanying that same question over the years. I’d struggled with insecurities and feelings of worthlessness until I began learning how to embrace my identity as God’s beloved daughter. The apostle Paul declares believers in Jesus are “all children of God through faith,” equally valued and beautifully diverse. We’re intimately connected and intentionally designed to work together (Galatians 3:26–29). When God sent His Son to redeem us, we became family through His blood shed on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins (4:4–7). As God’s image-bearers, our worth cannot be determined by the opinions, expectations, or biases of others. What are we? We are children of God.
Dec
14
2021
Jia Haixia lost his sight in the year 2000. His friend Jia Wenqi lost his arms as a child. But they’ve found a way around their disabilities. “I am his hands and he is my eyes,” Jia Haixia says. Together, they’re transforming their village in China. Since 2002 the friends have been on a mission to regenerate a wasteland near their home. Each day Jia Haixia climbs on Jia Wenqi’s back to cross a river to the site. Jia Wenqi then “hands” Jia Haixia a shovel with his foot, before Jia Haixia places a pail on a pole between Jia Wenqi’s cheek and shoulder. And as one digs and the other waters, the two plant trees—over 10,000 so far. “Working together, we don’t feel disabled at all,” Jia Haixia says. “We’re a team.” The apostle Paul likens the church to a body, each part needing the other to function. If the church was all eyes, there’d be no hearing; if all ears, there’d be no sense of smell (1 Corinthians 12:14–17). “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’” Paul says (v. 21). Each of us plays a role in the church based on our spiritual gifts (vv. 7–11, 18). Like Jia Haixia and Jia Wenqi, when we combine our strengths, we can bring change to the world. Two men combining their abilities to regenerate a wasteland. What a picture of the church in action!
Dec
13
2021
When I stopped to browse through a box of books marked “C.S. Lewis” at a used bookshop, the store owner appeared. As we chatted about the available titles, I wondered if he might be interested in the faith that inspired much of Lewis’s writing. I prayed silently for guidance. Information from a biography came to mind, and we began to discuss how C. S. Lewis’s character pointed to God. In the end, I was thankful that a quick prayer had reoriented our conversation to spiritual matters.    Nehemiah paused to pray before a pivotal moment in a conversation with King Artaxerxes in Persia. The king had asked how he could help Nehemiah who was distraught over Jerusalem’s destruction. Nehemiah was the king’s servant and therefore in no position to ask for favors, but he needed one—a big one. He wanted to restore Jerusalem. So, he “prayed to the God of heaven” before asking to leave his job so he could reestablish the city (Nehemiah 2:4–5). The king consented and even agreed to help Nehemiah make travel arrangements and procure timber for the project. The Bible encourages us to pray “on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests” (Ephesians 6:18). This includes moments when we need courage, self-control, or sensitivity. Praying before we speak helps us give God control of our attitude and our words. How might He want to direct your words today? Ask Him and find out!
Dec
12
2021
Stuck in a stressful job with long hours and an unreasonable boss, James wished he could quit. But he had a mortgage, a wife, and a young child to take care of. He was tempted to resign anyway, but his wife reminded him: “Let’s hang on and see what God will give us.” Many months later, their prayers were answered. James found a new job that he enjoyed and gave him more time with the family. “Those months were long,” he told me, “but I’m glad I waited for God’s plan to unfold in His time.” Waiting for God’s help in the midst of trouble is hard; it can be tempting to try to find our own solution first. The Israelites did just that: under threat from their enemies, they sought help from Egypt instead of turning to God (Isaiah 30:2). But God told them: if only they would repent and put their trust in Him, they would find strength and salvation (v. 15). In fact, He added, He “longs” to be gracious to them (v. 18). Waiting for God takes faith and patience. But when we see His answer at the end of it all, we’ll realize that it was worth it: “Blessed are all who wait for him!” (v. 18). And what’s even more amazing, God is waiting for us to come to Him!
Dec
11
2021
Beethoven was angry. He’d intended to name his Third Symphony “The Bonaparte.” In an age of religious and political tyranny, he saw Napoleon as a hero of the people and champion of freedom. But when the French general declared himself emperor, the celebrated composer changed his mind. Denouncing his former hero as a rascal and tyrant, he rubbed so hard to erase Bonaparte’s name that he left a hole in the original score. Early believers in Jesus must have been disappointed when their hopes of political reform were dashed. He had stirred such hopes of life without the tyranny of Caesar’s heavy-handed taxes and military presence. Yet, decades later, Rome still ruled the world. Jesus’ messengers were left with fears and weakness. His disciples were marked by immaturity and infighting (1:11–12; 3:1–3.) But there was a difference. Paul saw beyond what remained unchanged. His letters began, ended, and overflowed with the name of Christ. Christ resurrected. Christ with a promise to return in power. Christ in judgment of everything and everyone. First and foremost, however, Paul wanted believers in Jesus to be grounded in the meaning and implications of Him crucified (2:2; 13:1–13). The love expressed in Jesus’ sacrifice made Him a different kind of leader. As Lord and Savior of the world, His cross changes everything. The Name of Jesus will forever be known and praised above every name.
Dec
10
2021
Elvis Summers answered the door to find Smokey, a frail woman who stopped by regularly to ask for empty cans to return for cash. This money was her primary source of income. Elvis got an idea. “Could you show me where you sleep?” he asked. Smokey led him to a narrow patch of dirt about two feet wide next to a house. Moved, Summers built her a “tiny house”—a simple shelter that provided space for her to sleep safely. Summers ran with the idea. He started a GoFundme page and teamed with local churches to provide land to build more shelters for other homeless people. Throughout the Bible, God’s people are reminded to care for those in need. When God spoke through Moses to prepare the Israelites to enter the promised land, He encouraged them to “be openhearted and freely lend [to the poor] whatever they need” (Deuteronomy 15:8). The passage also noted that “there will always be poor people in the land” (v. 11). We don’t have to go far to see this is true. As God compassionately called the Israelites “to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites” (v. 11), we too can find ways to help those in need. Everyone needs food, shelter, and water. Even if we don’t have much, may God guide use to use what we do have to help others. Whether it’s sharing a sandwich or a warm winter coat, small things can make a big difference!
Dec
9
2021
In 2010, at the age of ninety-four, George Vujnovich was awarded the bronze star for organizing what the New York Times called “one of the greatest rescue efforts of World War II.” Vujnovich, son of Serbian immigrants, had joined the US army, and when word arrived that downed American airmen were being protected by rebels in Yugoslavia, Vujnovich returned to his family’s homeland, parachuting into the forest to locate the pilots. Dividing the soldiers into small groups, he taught them how to blend in with the Serbs (wearing Serbian clothes and eating Serbian food). Then, over months, he walked each small group out one at a time to C-47 transport planes waiting at a landing strip they’d cut out of the woods. Vujnovich rescued 512 elated, joyful men. David described the elation of being rescued by God from enemies who’d hemmed him in with no escape. God “reached down from on high and took hold of me,” David said, “he drew me out of deep waters” (2 Samuel 22:17). King Saul, enraged with jealousy, hounded David, ruthlessly seeking blood. But God had other plans. “He rescued me from my powerful enemy,” David recounted, “from my foes, who were too strong for me” (v. 18). God rescued David from Saul. He rescued Israel from Egypt. And in Jesus, God came to rescue all of us. Jesus rescues us from sin, evil, and death. He’s greater than every powerful enemy.
Dec
8
2021
We came together for our Sunday morning church service with joy and anticipation. Although we were spatially distanced because of the coronavirus pandemic, we welcomed the opportunity to celebrate Gavin and Tijana’s wedding. Our technologically gifted Iranian friends broadcast the service to friends and family spread out geographically—including in Spain, Poland, and Serbia. This creative approach helped us overcome the constraints as we rejoiced in the covenant of marriage. God’s Spirit united us and gave us joy. That Sunday morning with our wonderfully multinational congregation was a small taste of the glory to come when people from “every nation, tribe, people and language” will stand before God in heaven (Revelation 7:9). The beloved disciple John glimpsed this “great multitude” in a vision he recounts in the book of Revelation. There those gathered will worship God together along with the angels and elders, all giving praise: “Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever” (v. 12). The union and marriage of Jesus and His international bride in the “wedding supper of the Lamb” (19:9) will be an amazing time of worship and celebration. Our experience on that Sunday with people from many nations points to this event that one day we’ll enjoy. While we wait in hope for that joyful event, we can embrace the practice of feasting and rejoicing among God’s people.
Dec
7
2021
Dewberry Baptist Church split in the 1800s over a chicken leg. Various versions of the story exist, but the account told by a current member was that two men fought over the last drumstick at a church potluck. One man said God wanted him to have it. The other replied God didn’t care, and he really wanted it. The men became so furious that one moved a couple kilometers down the road and started Dewberry Baptist Church #2. Thankfully the churches have settled their differences, and everyone concedes the reason for their split was ridiculous. Jesus agrees. The night before His death Jesus prayed that His followers would “be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.” May they “be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me” (John 17:21–23). Paul agrees. He urges us to “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit” (Ephesians 4:3–4), and these cannot be divided. We who weep for Christ’s body broken for our sin must not tear apart His body with our anger, gossip, and cliques. Better to let ourselves be wronged than be guilty of the scandal of church division. Give the other guy the chicken leg—and some pie too!
Dec
6
2021
On a hot and humid day one August, my wife gave birth to our second son. But he remained nameless as we struggled to settle on a given name. After spending many hours in ice cream shops and taking long car rides, we still couldn’t decide. He was simply “Baby Williams” for three days before finally being named Micah. Choosing the right name can be a little frustrating. Well, unless you’re God, who came up with the perfect name for the One who would change things forever. Through the prophet Isaiah, God directed King Ahaz to ask Him “for a sign” to strengthen his faith (Isaiah 7:10–11). Though the king refused to ask for a sign, God gave him one anyway: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (v. 14). God named the child, and he would be a sign of hope to people going through despair. The name stuck and Matthew breathed new meaning into it when he wrote the narrative of Jesus’ birth (1:23). Jesus, too, would be “Immanuel.” He wouldn’t just be a representative of God, but He would be God in the flesh, coming to rescue His people from the despair of sin. God gave us a sign. The sign is a Son. The Son’s name is Immanuel—God with us. It’s a name that reflects His presence and love. Today, He invites us to embrace Immanuel and know that He’s with us.
Dec
5
2021
Nicholas, who was born in the third century, had no idea that centuries after his death he would be known as Santa Claus. He was just a man who loved God and genuinely cared for people. One time he learned of a family who was in great financial distress. Nicholas decided to help. He came to their home at night and threw a bag of gold through an open window, which landed in a sock or shoe. Nicholas gave cheerfully of his own possessions and did many kind deeds. The apostle Paul urged the believers in Corinth to be cheerful givers. He wrote to them about the great financial needs of their brothers and sisters in Jerusalem and encouraged them to give generously. Paul explained to them the benefits and blessings that come to those who give of their possessions. He reminded them that “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously” (2 Corinthians 9:6).  As a result of their cheerful generosity, they would be “enriched in every way” (v. 11), and God would be glorified. Father, would you help us to be cheerful givers not only in this Christmas season but all year long? Thank You for Your incredible generosity in giving us Your “indescribable gift,” Your Son Jesus (v. 15).
Dec
4
2021
Decorative blue and white ceramic tiles commonly found in Dutch households were originally made in the city of Delft. They often depict familiar scenes of the Netherlands: beautiful landscapes, ubiquitous windmills, and people working and playing. In the nineteenth century, Charles Dickens wrote in his book A Christmas Carol how these tiles were used to illustrate the Scriptures. He described an old fireplace built by a Dutchman paved with these quaint Delft tiles: “There were Cains and Abels, Pharaohs’ daughters; Queens of Sheba, . . . [and] Apostles putting off to sea.” Many households used these tiles as a teaching tool as the family gathered around the warmth of a fire and shared the stories of Bible. They learned about God’s character—His justice, compassion, and mercy. The truths of the Bible continue to be relevant today. Psalm 78 encourages us to teach the “hidden lessons from our past—stories we have heard and known, stories our ancestors handed down to us” (vv. 2–3 nlt). It goes on to instruct us to “tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done” and “they in turn [can] tell their children” (vv. 4, 6). With God’s help, we can find creative and effective ways to illustrate the truths of Scripture to each generation as we strive to give God the full honor and praise He deserves.
Dec
3
2021
“Never trust anyone over thirty,” said young environmentalist Jack Weinberg in 1964. His comment stereotyped an entire generation—something Weinberg later regretted. Looking back he said, “Something I said off the top of my head . . . became completely distorted and misunderstood.” Have you heard disparaging comments aimed at millennials? Or vice versa? Ill thoughts directed from one generation toward another can cut both ways. Surely there’s a better way. Although he was an excellent king, Hezekiah showed a lack of concern for another generation. When as a young man Hezekiah was struck with a terminal illness (2 Kings 20:1), he cried out to God for his life (vv. 2–3). God gave him fifteen more years (v. 6). But when Hezekiah received the terrible news that his children would one day be taken captive, the royal tears were conspicuously absent (vv. 16–18). He thought, “Will there not be peace and security in my lifetime?” (v. 19). It may have been that Hezekiah didn’t apply the passion he had for his own wellbeing to the next generation. God calls us to a love that dares to cross the lines dividing us. The older generation needs the fresh idealism and creativity of the younger, who in turn can benefit from the wisdom and experience of their predecessors. This is no time for snarky memes and slogans but for thoughtful exchange of ideas. We’re in this together.
Dec
2
2021
As my friend reviewed the pictures I took of her, she pointed out the physical characteristics she saw as imperfections. I asked her to look closer. “I see a beautiful and beloved daughter of the Almighty King of Kings,” I said. “I see a compassionate lover of God and others, whose genuine kindness, generosity, and faithfulness have made a difference in so many lives.” When I noticed the tears brimming her eyes, I said, “I think you need a tiara!” Later that afternoon, we picked out the perfect crown for my friend so she would never forget her true identity. When we come to know the Lord personally, He crowns us with love and calls us His children (1 John 2:29-3:1). He gives us the power to persevere in faith so that “we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming” (1 John 2:28). Though He accepts us as we are, His love purifies us and transforms us into His likeness (vv. 2-3). He helps us recognize our need for Him and repent as we rejoice in the power to turn away from sin (vv. 4-9). We can live in faithful obedience and love (v. 10), with His truth hidden in our hearts and His Spirit present in our lives. My friend didn’t really need a tiara or any other trinket that day. But we both needed the reminder of our worth as God’s beloved children.
Dec
1
2021
At the 2019 graduation ceremony at a local high school, 608 students prepared to receive their diplomas. The principal began by asking students to stand when he read the name of the country where they were born: Afghanistan, Bolivia, Bosnia. . . . The principal kept going until he’d named sixty countries and every student was standing and cheering together. Sixty countries, one high school. The beauty of unity amid diversity was a powerful image that celebrated something near to God’s heart, people living together in unity. We read an encouragement for unity among God’s people in Psalm 133, a psalm of ascent—a song sung as people entered Jerusalem for annual celebrations. The psalm reminded the people of the benefits of living harmoniously (v. 1) despite differences that could cause division. In vivid imagery, unity is described as refreshing dew (v. 3) and oil—used to anoint priests (Exodus 29:7)—“running down” the head, beard and clothing of a priest (v. 2). Together, these images point to the reality that in unity God’s blessings flow so lavishly they can’t be contained. For believers in Jesus, despite differences such as ethnicity, nationality or age, there is a deeper unity in the Spirit (Ephesians 4:3). When we stand together and celebrate that common bond as Christ leads us, we can embrace our God-given differences and celebrate the source of true unity.
Nov
30
2021
I grew up the firstborn son of a Southern Baptist preacher. Every Sunday the expectation was clear: I was to be in church. Possible exceptions? Maybe if I had a significant fever. But the truth is, I absolutely loved going, and even went a few times feverish. But the world has changed, and the numbers for regular church attendance are not what they used to be. Of course, the quick question is why? The answers are many and varied. Author Kathleen Norris counters those answers with a response she received from a pastor to the question “Why do we go to church?” He said, “We go to church for other people. Because someone may need you there.” Now by no means is that the only we reason we go to church, but his response does resonate with the heartbeat of the writer to the Hebrews. He urged the believers to persevere in the faith, and to achieve that goal he stressed “not giving up meeting together.” Why? Because something vital would be missed in our absence – “encouraging one another” (v. 25). We need that mutual encouragement to “spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (v. 24). Brothers and sisters, keep meeting together, because someone may need you there. And the corresponding truth is that you may need them as well.
Nov
29
2021
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many Singaporeans stayed home to avoid being infected. But I blissfully continued swimming, believing it was safe. My wife, however, feared that I might pick up an infection at the public pool and pass it on to her aged mother—who, like other seniors, were more vulnerable to the virus. “Can you just avoid swimming for some time, for my sake?” she asked. At first, I wanted to argue that there was little risk. Then I realized that this mattered less than her feelings. Why would I insist on swimming—hardly an essential thing—when it made her worry unnecessarily? In Romans 14, Paul addressed issues like whether believers in Christ should eat certain foods or celebrate certain festivals. He was concerned that some people were imposing their views on others. Paul reminded the church in Rome, and us, that believers in Jesus may view situations differently. We also have diverse backgrounds that color our attitudes and practices. He wrote, “Let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister” (v. 13). God’s grace gives us great freedom even as it helps us express His love to fellow believers. We can use that freedom to put the spiritual needs of others above our own convictions about rules and practices that don’t contradict the essential truths found in the gospel (v. 20).
Nov
28
2021
Raised in a tribe in the Philippines opposed to belief in Christ, Esther received salvation through Jesus after an aunt prayed for her during Esther’s battle with a life-threatening illness. Today, Esther leads Bible studies in her local community in spite of threats of violence and even death. She serves joyfully, saying “I can’t stop telling people about Jesus because I ‘ve experienced the power, love, goodness, and faithfulness of God in my life.” Serving God in the face of opposition is a reality for many today just as it was for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, three young Israelites living in captivity in Babylon. In the book of Daniel, we learn that they refused to pray to a large golden image of King Nebuchadnezzar even when threatened with death. The men testified that God was capable of protecting them but they chose to serve Him “even if” He didn’t rescue them (Daniel 3:18). When they were thrown into the fire, God actually joined them in their suffering (v. 25). To everyone’s amazement, they survived without even “a hair of their heads singed” (v. 27). If we face suffering or persecution for an act of faith, ancient and modern examples remind us that God’s Spirit is present with us to strengthen and sustain us when we choose to obey Him, “even if” things turn out differently than we hope.
Nov
27
2021
During the Golden Age of radio, Fred Allen (1894–1956) used comedic pessimism to bring smiles to a generation living in the shadows of economic depression and a world at war. His sense of humor was born out of personal pain. Having lost his mother before he was three, he was later estranged from his father who struggled with addictions. He once rescued a young boy from the traffic of a busy New York City street with a memorable, “What’s the matter with you, kid? Don’t you want to grow up and have troubles?” The life of Job unfolds in such troubled realism. When his early expressions of faith eventually gave way to despair, his friends multiplied his pain by adding insult to injury. With good sounding arguments they insisted that if he could admit his wrongs (4:7–8) and learn from the God’s correction, he would find strength to laugh in the face of his problems (5:22). Job’s “comforters” meant well while being so wrong (1:6–12). Never could they have imagined that they would one day be invoked as examples of “With friends like that, who needs enemies?” Never could they have imagined the relief of Job praying for them, or why they would need prayer at all (42:10–11). Never could they have imagined how they foreshadowed the accusers of the One who suffered so much misunderstanding to become the source of our greatest joys.                                     
Nov
26
2021
After Prem Pradham’s (1924–1998) plane was shot down during World War II, he was wounded in the leg by ground fire while parachuting to safety. As a result, he walked with a limp for the rest of his life. He once noted, “I have a lame leg. Isn’t it strange of God that He called [me] to preach the gospel in the Himalaya Mountains?” And preach in Nepal he did—but not without opposition that included imprisonment in “dungeons of death” where prisoners faced extreme conditions. In a span of fifteen years, Prem spent ten years in fourteen different prisons. His bold witness, however, bore the fruit of changed lives for Christ that included guards and prisoners who took the message of Jesus to their own people. Peter faced opposition due to his faith in Jesus and for being used by God to heal a “man who was lame” (Acts 4:9). But he used the opportunity to boldly speak for Christ (vv. 8–13). Though some today will also face the ire of hardhearted religious leaders (vv. 10–11), we also encounter individuals and groups who are spiritually destitute. Family members, co-workers, fellow students, and others we share life and space with need to hear about the One in whom “salvation is found” (v. 12), who died as payment for our sins and was raised from the dead as proof of His power to forgive (v. 10). May they hear as we prayerfully and boldly proclaim this good news of salvation found in Jesus (v. 12).
Nov
25
2021
Diet Eman was an ordinary, shy young woman in the Netherlands—in love, working, and enjoying time with family and friends—when the Germans invaded in 1940. As Diet (pronounced Deet) later wrote, “When there is danger on your doorstep, you want to act almost like an ostrich burying its head in the sand.” Yet Diet felt God calling her to resist the German oppressors, which included risking her life to find hiding places for Jews and other pursued people. This unassuming young woman became a warrior for God.   We find many stories in the Bible similar to Diet’s, stories of God using seemingly unlikely characters to serve Him. For instance, when the angel of the Lord approached Gideon, he proclaimed, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior” (Judges 6:12). Yet Gideon seemed anything but mighty. He’d been secretly threshing wheat away from the prying eyes of the Midianites, who oppressively controlled Israel at the time (vv. 1–6). He was from the weakest clan of Israel (Manasseh) and the “least” in his family (v. 15). He didn’t feel up to God’s calling and even requested several signs. Yet God used him to defeat the cruel Midianites (see ch. 7). God saw Gideon as “mighty.” And just as God was with and equipping Gideon, so God is with us, His “dearly loved children” (Ephesians 5:1)—supplying all we need to live for and serve Him in little and big ways.
Nov
24
2021
Seneca, the great philosopher of ancient Rome (4 bc–ad 65), was once accused by the empress Messalina of adultery. After the Senate sentenced Seneca to death, the emperor Claudius instead exiled him to Corsica, perhaps because he suspected the charge was false. This reprieve may have shaped Seneca’s view of thankfulness when he wrote: “. . . homicides, tyrants, thieves, adulterers, robbers, sacrilegious men, and traitors there always will be, but worse than all these is the crime of ingratitude.”
Nov
23
2021
God's will is sometimes hard. He asks us to do the right things. He calls us to endure hardship without complaining; to love awkward people; to heed the voice inside us that says, You mustn't; to take steps we'd rather not take. So we must tell our souls all day long: "Hey soul, listen up. Be silent: Do what Jesus is asking you to do."  "My soul waits in silence for God only” (Psalm 62:1 nasb). "My soul, wait in silence for God only" (62:5 nasb). The verses are similar, but different. David says something about his soul; then says something to his soul. “Waits in silence” addresses a decision, a settled state of mind. "Wait in silence” is David stirring his soul to remember that decision. David determines to live in silence—quiet submission to God's will. This is our calling as well, the thing for which we were created. We will be at peace when we've agreed: "Not my will, but yours be done" (Luke 22:42). This is our first and highest calling when we make Him Lord and the source of our deepest pleasure. “I desire to do your will,” the psalmist said (Psalm 40:8). We must always ask for God's help, of course, for our “hope comes from Him" (62:5). When we ask for His help He delivers it. God never asks us to do anything He will not or cannot do.
Nov
22
2021
As Emma shared how God helped her embrace her identity as His beloved child, she weaved Scripture into our conversation. I could barely figure out where the high school student stopped speaking her words and began quoting the words of God. When I commended her for being like a walking Bible, her brow furrowed. She hadn’t been intentionally reciting Scripture verses. Through daily reading of the Bible, the wisdom found in it had become a part of Emma’s everyday vocabulary. She rejoiced in God’s constant presence and enjoyed every opportunity He provided to share His truth with others. But Emma isn’t the first young person God has used to inspire others to prayerfully read, memorize, and apply Scripture. When the apostle Paul encouraged Timothy to step into leadership, he demonstrated confidence in this young man (1 Timothy 4:11–16). Paul acknowledged that Timothy was rooted in Scripture from infancy (2 Timothy 3:15). Like Paul, Timothy faced doubters. Still, both men lived as if they believed all Scripture was “God-breathed.” They recognized Scripture was “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16). When we hide God’s wisdom in our hearts, His truth and love can pour into our conversations naturally. We can be like walking Bibles sharing God’s eternal hope wherever we go.
Nov
21
2021
She finally had the chance to visit the church. Inside, in the deepest part of the basement, she reached the small cave or grotto. Candles filled the narrow space and hanging lamps illuminated a corner of the floor. There it was—a fourteen-pointed silver, covering a raised bit of the marble floor. Bethlehem’s Grotto of the Nativity—the place marking the spot where, according to tradition, Christ was born. Yet the writer Annie Dillard found herself less than impressed, realizing God was much bigger than that spot.    Still, such places have always held great significance in our faith stories. Another such place is mentioned in the conversation between Jesus and the woman at the well—Mount Gerizim. It was sacred to the Samaritans, who contrasted it to the Jewish insistence that Jerusalem was where true worship occurred (John 4:20). However, Jesus declared the time had arrived when worship was no longer specific to a place, but a Person: “the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth” (v. 23). The woman declared her faith in the Messiah, but she didn’t realize she was talking to Him, “Then Jesus declared, ‘I, the one speaking to you—I am he’ ” (v. 26). God isn’t limited to any mountain or physical space. He’s present with us everywhere. The true pilgrimage we make each day is to approach His throne as we boldly say, “Our Father,” and He is there.
Nov
20
2021
In 2019, Cap Dashwood and his sweet black lab companion, Chaela (“la” Dashwood’s abbreviation for “Labrador angel”), accomplished something remarkable: reaching a mountain summit each day for 365 consecutive days. Dashwood has a moving story to tell. He left home at sixteen, explaining simply, “Bad family life.” But these past wounds led him to find healing elsewhere. He explains, “Sometimes when you’re disappointed by people, you turn to something else. You know?” For Dashwood, mountain climbing and the unconditional love of his black lab companion has been a big part of that “something else.” For those of us, like myself, who deeply love our animal companions, a big piece of why we do is the sweet, utterly unconditional love they pour out—a kind of love that’s rare. But I like to think the love they effortlessly give points to a much greater and deeper reality than the failures of others—God’s unshakeable, boundless love upholding the universe. In Psalm 143, as in many of his prayers, it is only David’s faith in that unshakable, “unfailing love” (v. 12) that tethers him to hope in a time when he feels utterly alone. But a lifetime of walking with God gives him just enough strength to trust that the morning will “bring me word of your unfailing love” (v. 8). Just enough hope to trust again and to let God lead the way to paths unknown (v. 8).
Nov
19
2021
Psychologist Madeline Levine noticed the fifteen-year-old girl’s “cutter disguise”—a long sleeve T-shirt pulled halfway over her hand commonly used by people who engage in self-harm. When the young girl pulled back her sleeve, Levine was startled to find that the girl had used a razor to carve “empty” on her forearm. She was saddened, but also grateful the teen was open to receiving the serious help she desperately needed. The teen in some way represents many people who have carved “empty”—perhaps not on their forearms, but on their hearts. John wrote that Jesus came to fill the empty and to offer life “to the full” (John 10:10). God placed the desire for a full life in every human being, and He longs for people to experience a loving relationship with Him. But He also warned them that the “thief” would use people, things, and circumstances to attempt to ravage their lives (vv. 1, 10). The claims each made to give life would be counterfeit and an imitation. In contrast, Jesus offers what’s true—“eternal life” and the promise that “no one will snatch [us] out of [His} hand” (v. 28). Only Jesus can fill the empty spaces in our hearts with life. If you’re feeling empty, call out to Him today. And if you’re experiencing serious struggles, seek out godly counsel. Christ alone provides life that’s abundant and full—life full of meaning found in Him.
Nov
18
2021
In 2006, my dad was diagnosed with a neurological disease that robbed him of his memory, speech, and control over body movements. He became bedridden in 2011 and continues to be cared for by my mom at home. The beginning of his illness was a dark time. I was fearful: I knew nothing about caring for a sick person, and I was anxious about finances and my mom’s health.  The words of Lamentations 3:22 helped me get up many mornings when the light was as gray as the state of my heart: “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed.” The Hebrew word for “consumed” means “to be used up completely” or “to come to an end.” God’s great love enables us to go on, to get up to face the day. Our trials may feel overwhelming, but we won’t be destroyed by them because God’s love is far greater! There are many times I can recount when God has shown His faithful, loving ways to my family. I saw His provision in the kindness of relatives and friends, the wise counsel of doctors, financial provision, and the reminder in our hearts that—one day—my dad will be whole again in heaven. If you’re going through a dark time, don’t lose hope. You will not be consumed by what you face. Keep trusting in God’s faithful love and provision for you.
Nov
17
2021
Collin and his wife, Jordan, wandered through the craft store, looking for a picture to hang in their home. Collin thought he’d found just the right piece and called Jordan over to see it. On the right side of the ceramic artwork was the word grace. But the left side held two long cracks. “Well, it’s broken!” Jordan said as she started looking for an unbroken one on the shelf. But then Collin said, “No. That’s the point. We’re broken and then grace comes in—period.” They decided to purchase the one with the cracks. When they got to the checkout, the clerk exclaimed, “Oh, no, it’s broken!” “Yes, so are we,” Jordan whispered. What does it mean to be a “broken” person? Someone defined it this way: A growing awareness that no matter how hard we try, our ability to make life work gets worse instead of better. It’s a recognition of our need for God and His intervention in our lives. The apostle Paul talked about our brokenness in terms of being “dead in [our] transgressions and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). The answer to our need to be forgiven and changed comes in verses 4 and 5: “Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, makes us alive . . . it is by grace [we] have been saved.” God is willing to heal our brokenness with His grace when we admit, “I’m broken.”
Nov
16
2021
As a child, Tenny felt insecure. He sought approval from his father, but he never received it. It seemed that whatever he did, whether in school or at home, it was never good enough. Even when he entered adulthood, the insecurity remained. He continually wondered, Am I good enough? Only when Tenny received Jesus as his Savior did he find the security and approval he’d long yearned for. He learned that God—having created him—loved and cherished him as His son. Tenny finally could live with the confidence that he was truly valued and appreciated. In Isaiah 43:1–4, God told His chosen people that, having formed them, He would use His power and love to redeem them. “You are precious and honored in my sight,” He proclaimed. He would act on their behalf because He loved them (v. 4). The value God places on those He loves doesn’t come from anything we do, but from the simple and powerful truth that He has chosen us to be His own. These words in Isaiah 43 not only gave Tenny great security, but also empowered him with the confidence to do his best for God in whatever task he was called to do. Today he is a pastor who does all he can to encourage others with this life-giving truth: we are accepted and approved in Jesus. May we confidently live out this truth today.
Nov
15
2021
First, the man selected a tackle box. Standing in his town’s small bait shop, he then filled a shopping cart with hooks, lures, bobbers, line, and weights. Finally, he added live bait and selected a new rod and reel. “Ever fished before?” the shop owner asked. The man said no. “Better add this,” said the owner. It was a first-aid kit. The man agreed and paid, then headed off to a day of not catching a thing—except snags on his fingers from his hooks and gear. That wasn’t Simon Peter’s problem. An experienced fisherman, he was surprised one dawn when Jesus told him to push his boat into deep water and “let down the nets for a catch” (Luke 5:4). Despite a long night of catching nothing, Simon and his crew let down their nets and “caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break.” In fact, his two boats started to sink from the haul (v. 6). Seeing this, Simon Peter “fell at Jesus’ knees,” urging Him to “go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (v. 8). Jesus, however, knew Simon’s true identity. He told His disciple, “From now on you will fish for people.” Hearing that, Simon “left everything and followed” Christ (vv. 10–11). When we follow Him, He helps us learn who we are and what we’re called to do as His own.
Nov
14
2021
As they made their way toward their car, Zander escaped his mother’s arms and made a mad dash back toward the church doors. He didn’t want to leave! His mom ran after him and tried to lovingly wrangle her son so they could depart. When his mother finally scooped four-year-old Zander back into her embrace, he sobbed and reached longingly over her shoulder and toward the church as they walked away. Zander may merely have enjoyed playing with friends at church, but his enthusiasm is a picture of David’s desire to worship God. Though he might have asked God to thwart his enemies for his own comfort and security, David wanted peace to prevail so that he could instead “gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple” (Psalm 27:4). His heart’s desire was to be with God—wherever He was—and to enjoy His presence. Israel’s greatest king and military hero intended to use peacetime to “sing and make music to the Lord” (v. 6). We can freely worship God anywhere, for He now dwells within us through faith in the person of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 3:17; 1 Corinthians 3:16). May we yearn to spend our days in His presence and to gather corporately to worship Him with other believers. In God—not the walls of a building—we find our safety and our greatest joy.
Nov
13
2021
In 2020, the Ecuadorian volcano Sangay erupted. The BBC described the “dark ash plume which reached a height of more than 12,000m.” The discharge covered four provinces (about 198,000 acres) in gray ash and grimy soot. The sky turned dingy and grim, and the air was thick—making it difficult to breathe. Farmer Feliciano Inga described the unnerving scene to El Comercio newspaper: “We didn’t know where all this dust was coming from. . . . We saw the sky go dark and grew afraid.” The Israelites experienced a similar fear at the base of Mount Sinai, as they “stood at the foot of the mountain while it blazed with fire . . . with black clouds and deep darkness” (Deuteronomy 4:11). God’s voice thundered, and the people trembled. It was terrifying. It’s an awesome, knee-buckling experience to encounter the living God. ”Then the Lord spoke,” and they “heard the sound of words but saw no form” (v. 12). The voice that rattled their bones provided life and hope. God gave Israel the Ten Commandments and renewed His covenant with them. The voice from the dark cloud caused them to quake, but also wooed and loved them with tenacity (Exodus 34:6–7). God is powerful, beyond our reach, even startling. And yet He’s also full of love, always reaching out to us. A God both powerful and loving—this is who we desperately need.
Nov
12
2021
When Pris’ father, a pastor, answered God’s call to pioneer a mission on a small island in Indonesia, her family found themselves living in a rundown shack once used to house animals. Pris remembers the family celebrating Christmas sitting on the floor and singing praises while rainwater dripped through the thatched roof. But her father reminded her: “Pris, just because we are poor doesn’t mean God doesn’t love us.” Some may see a life blessed by God as one that’s filled with riches, health, and longevity. So in times of hardship, some may wonder if they’re still loved by Him. But in Romans 8:31–39, Paul reminds us that nothing can separate us from Jesus’ love—including trouble, hardship, persecution, and famine (v. 35). This is the foundation for a truly blessed life: God showed His love for us by sending His Son Jesus to die for our sins (v. 32). Christ rose from death and is now sitting “at the right hand” of the Father, interceding for us (v. 34). In times of suffering, we can hold fast to the comforting truth that our life is rooted in what Christ has done for us. Nothing, “neither death nor life . . . nor anything else in all creation” (vv. 38–39), can separate us from His love. Whatever our circumstance, whatever our hardship, may we be reminded that God is with us and that nothing can separate us from Him.”
Nov
11
2021
What began as a simple spring nature walk turned into something special as my wife and I trekked along our hometown’s Grand River. We noticed some familiar “friends” on a log in the rippling water—five or six large turtles basking in the sun. Sue and I smiled at the amazing sight of these reptiles, which we hadn’t seen for many months. We were delighted that they were back, and we celebrated a moment of joy in God’s magnificent creation. God took Job on quite a nature walk (see Job 38). The troubled man needed an answer from his Creator about his situation (v. 1). And what he saw on his journey with God through His creation provided the encouragement he needed. Imagine Job’s amazement as God reminded him of His grand design of the world. Job got a firsthand explanation of the natural world: “Who laid its cornerstone while morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?” (vv. 6–7). He got a geography lesson regarding God’s imposed limitations of the seas (v. 11). The Creator continued to inform Job about the light He created, snow He produces, and rain He provides to make things grow (vv. 22–28). Job even heard about the constellations from the one who flung them into space (vv. 31–32). Finally, Job responds: “I know that you can do all things” (42:2). As we experience the natural world, may we stand in awe of our wise and wonderful Creator.
Nov
10
2021
In 1941, as Hitler’s reign was expanding across Europe, novelist John Steinbeck was asked to help with the war effort. He wasn’t asked to fight or visit troops on the frontline, but to instead write a story. The result was The Moon Is Down, a novel about a peaceful land that gets invaded by an evil regime. Printed on underground presses and secretly distributed throughout occupied countries, the novel sent a message: the Allies were coming, and by imitating the novel’s characters readers could help secure their freedom. Through The Moon Is Down, Steinbeck brought good news to people under Nazi rule—their liberation was near. Like the characters in Steinbeck’s story, Jews in the first century were an occupied people under brutal Roman rule. But centuries before, God had promised to send an Ally to liberate them and bring peace to the world (Isaiah 11). Joy erupted when that Ally arrived! “We tell you the good news,” Paul said, “What God promised our ancestors he has fulfilled for us . . . by raising up Jesus” (Acts 13:32–33). Through Jesus’s resurrection and offer of forgiveness, the world’s restoration had begun (vv. 38–39; Romans 8:21). Since then, this story has spread throughout the globe, bringing peace and freedom wherever it’s embraced. Jesus has been raised from dead. Our liberation from sin and evil has begun. In Him we’re free!
Nov
9
2021
“So great to see you!” “You, too!” “So glad you’re here!” The greetings were warm and welcoming. Members of a ministry in Southern California gathered online before their evening program. As their speaker, calling in from Colorado, I watched silently as the others gathered on the video call—not knowing anyone and, as an introvert, feeling like a social outsider. Then suddenly, a screen opened and there was my pastor. Then another screen opened. A longtime church friend was joining the call, too. Seeing them, I no longer felt alone. God, it seemed, had sent support. Elijah wasn’t alone either, despite feeling like “the only [prophet] left” after fleeing the wrath of Jezebel and Ahab (1 Kings 19:10). Journeying through desert wilderness for forty days and forty nights, Elijah hid in a cave on Mount Horeb. But God called him back into service, telling him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet” (vv. 15–16). God then assured him, “Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him” (v. 18). As Elijah learned, while serving God we don’t serve alone. As God brings help, we’ll serve together.
Nov
8
2021
When Christian Mustad showed his Van Gogh landscape to art collector Auguste Pellerin, Pellerin took one look and said it wasn’t authentic. Mustad hid the painting in his attic, where it remained for fifty years. Mustad died, and the painting was evaluated off and on over the next four decades. Each time it was determined to be a fake. Until 2012, when an expert used a computer to count the thread separations in the painting’s canvas. He discovered it had been cut from the same canvas as another work of Van Gogh. Mustad had owned a real Van Gogh all along. Do you feel like a fake? Do you fear that if people examined you they’d see how little you pray, give, and serve? Are you tempted to hide in the attic, away from prying eyes? Look deeper, beneath the colors and contours of your life. If you have turned from your own ways and put your faith in Jesus, then you and He belong to the same canvas. To use Jesus’ picture, “I am the vine; you are the branches” (v. 5). Jesus and you form a seamless whole. Resting in Jesus makes you a true disciple of Him. It’s also the only way to improve your picture. He said, “If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (v. 5).  
Nov
7
2021
The heat and humidity of the Midwestern summer closed in on us all week at the discipleship conference, but on the last day we welcomed a front of cooler air. Giving thanks for the break in weather and the amazing work God had done, hundreds joined voices to worship God. Many felt liberated to sing wholeheartedly before God, offering our hearts, souls, bodies, and minds to Him. As I think back to that day decades later, I’m reminded of the pure wonder and joy of praising God. King David knew how to wholeheartedly worship God. He rejoiced when the ark of the covenant, which signified God’s presence, was placed in Jerusalem—by dancing, leaping, and celebrating (1 Chronicles 15:29). Even though his wife Michal observed his abandon and “despised him in her heart” (v. 29), David didn’t let her criticism stop him from worshiping the one true God. Even if he appeared undignified, he wanted to give thanks to the Lord for choosing him to lead the nation (see 2 Samuel 6:21–22). David  “appointed Asaph and his associates to give praise to the Lord in this manner: Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name; make known among the nations what he has done. Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts” (1 Chronicles 16:7–9). May we too give ourselves fully to worshiping God by pouring out our praise and adoration.
Nov
6
2021
“Son, I don’t have much to give you. But I do have a good name, so don’t mess it up.” Those wise, weighty words were uttered by Johnnie Bettis as his son Jerome left home for college. Jerome quoted his father in his Professional American Football Hall of Fame acceptance speech. These sage words that Jerome has carried with him throughout his life have been so influential that he closed his riveting speech with similar words to his own son. “Son, there’s not much that I can give you that’s more important than our good name.” A good name is vital for believers in Jesus. Paul’s words in Colossians 3:12–17 remind us about who it is that we represent (v. 17). Character is like clothing that we wear, and this passage puts the “Jesus label” of clothing on display: “As God’s chosen people . . . clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another. . . . And over all these virtues put on love” (vv. 12–14). These are not just our “Sunday clothes”—we’re to wear them everywhere, all the time as God works in us to reflect Him. When our lives are characterized by these qualities, we demonstrate that we “have His name.” May we prayerfully and carefully represent Him as He provides what we need.
Nov
5
2021
When Hugh and DeeDee released their only child to heaven, they struggled with what to call themselves in the aftermath. There is no specific word in the English language to describe a parent who has lost a child. A wife without her husband is a widow. A husband without his wife is a widower. A child bereft of parents is an orphan. A parent whose child has died before they have is an undefined hollow of hurt. Miscarriage. Sudden infant death. Suicide. Illness. Accident. Death steals a child from this world and then robs the surviving parents of an expressed identity. Yet God Himself knows such devastating grief as His only Son, Jesus, called to Him while dying on the cross, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46). God was Father before Jesus’ earthly birth and remained Father when Jesus released His final breath. God continued as Father when the still body of His Son was laid in a tomb. God lives on today as Father of a risen Son who brings every parent the hope that a child can live again. What do you call a heavenly Father who sacrifices His Son for the universe? For you and for me? Father. Still, Father. When there are no words in the glossary of grief to describe the pain of loss, God is our Father and calls us His children (1 John 3:1).
Nov
4
2021
In 2010, James Ward, the creator of the blog “I like Boring Things,” launched a conference called the “Boring Conference.” It’s a one-day celebration of the mundane, the ordinary, and the overlooked. In the past, speakers have addressed seemingly meaningless topics like sneezing, sounds that vending machines make, and inkjet printers of 1999. Ward knows the topics may be boring, but the speakers can take a mundane subject and make it interesting, meaningful, and even joyful. Several millennia ago, Solomon, the wisest of kings, launched his own search for joy in the meaningless and mundane. He pursued work, bought flocks, built wealth, acquired singers, and constructed buildings (Ecclesiastes 2:4–9). Some of these pursuits were honorable and some were not. Ultimately, in his pursuit of meaning, the king found nothing but boredom (v. 11). Solomon maintained a worldview that didn’t press beyond the limits of human experience to include God. Ultimately, however, he realized that he would find joy in the mundane, only when he remembered and worshiped God (12:1–7). When we find ourselves in the whirlwind of tedium, let’s launch our own daily, mini-conference, as we “remember [our] Creator” (v. 1)—the God who fills the mundane with meaning. As we remember and worship Him, we’ll find wonder in the ordinary, gratitude in the mundane, and joy in the seemingly meaningless things of life.
Nov
3
2021
When small businesses in Tennessee were abruptly shuttered by government officials, shop owners worried about how to care for their employees, how to pay their rent, and how to simply survive the crisis. In response to their concerns, the pastor of a church near Nashville started an initiative to supply cash to struggling business owners. “We don’t feel like we can sit on a rainy-day fund when somebody else is going through a rainy day,” the pastor explained, as he encouraged other churches in the area to join the effort. A rainy-day fund is money that’s put aside in case normal income is decreased for a time while regular operations need to continue. While it’s natural for us to look out for ourselves first, Scripture encourages us to always look beyond our own needs, to find ways to serve others, and to practice generosity. Proverbs 11 reminds us, “One person gives freely, yet gains even more,” “a generous person will prosper,” and “whoever refreshes others will be refreshed” (vv. 24–25). Is the sun shining extra bright in your life today? Look around to see if there’s torrential rain in someone else’s world. The blessings God has graciously given you are multiplied when you freely share them with others. Being generous and open-handed is a wonderful way to give hope to others and to remind hurting people that God loves them.
Nov
2
2021
When my daughter Hayley came to visit me, I saw her three-year-old son, Callum, wearing a strange piece of clothing. Called a ScratchMeNot, it’s a long-sleeved top with mittens attached to the sleeves. My grandson Callum suffers from chronic eczema, a skin disease that makes his skin itch, making it rough and sore. “The ScratchMeNot prevents Callum from scratching and injuring his skin,” Hayley explained. Seven months later, Hayley’s skin flared up, and she couldn’t stop scratching. “I now understand what Callum endures,” Hayley confessed to me. “Maybe I should wear a ScratchMeNot!” Hayley’s situation reminded me of 2 Corinthians 1:3–5, in which Paul says that our God is “the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.” Sometimes God allows us to go through trying times such as an illness, loss, or crisis. He teaches us through our suffering to appreciate the greatest suffering that Christ went through on our behalf on the cross. In turn, when we rely on Him for comfort and strength, we’re able to comfort and encourage others in their suffering. Let’s reflect on whom we can extend comfort because of what God has brought us through.
Nov
1
2021
A decade ago they didn’t know the name of Jesus. Hidden in the mountains of Mindanao in the Philippines, the Banwaon people had little contact with the outside world. A trip for supplies could take two days, requiring an arduous hike over rugged terrain. The world took no notice of them. Then a mission group reached out, shuttling people in and out of the region via helicopter. This gained the Banwaon access to needed supplies, crucial medical help, and an awareness of the larger world. It also introduced them to Jesus. Now, instead of singing to the spirits, they chant their traditional tribal songs with new words that praise the one true God. Mission aviation established the critical link. When Jesus returned to His heavenly Father, He gave His disciples these instructions: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). That command still stands. Unreached people groups aren’t limited to exotic locales we haven’t heard of. Often they live right with us. Reaching the Banwaon people took creativity and resourcefulness, and it inspires us to find creative ways to overcome the barriers in our communities. That might include an “inaccessible” group you haven’t even considered—someone right in your neighborhood. How might God use you as a critical link?
Oct
31
2021
After an astounding thirty rounds of radiation treatments, Darla was finally pronounced cancer-free. As part of hospital tradition, she was eager to ring the “cancer-free bell” that marked the end of her treatment and celebrated her clean bill of health. Darla was so enthusiastic and vigorous in her celebratory ringing that the rope actually detached from the bell! Peals of joyous laughter ensued! Darla’s story brings a smile to my face and gives me a sense of what the psalmist might have envisioned when he invited the Israelites to celebrate God’s work in their lives. The writer encouraged them to “clap their hands,” “shout to God,” and “sing praises” because God had routed their enemies and chosen them as His beloved people (Psalm 47:1, 6).   God doesn’t always grant us victory over our struggles in this life, whether health-related or financial or relational. He’s worthy of our worship and praise in even those circumstances because we can trust that He’s still “seated on his holy throne” (v. 8). When He does bring us to a place of healing—at least in a way we recognize in this earthly life—it’s cause for great celebration. We may not have a physical bell to ring, but we can joyfully celebrate His goodness to us with the same kind of exuberance Darla showed.
Oct
30
2021
Leisa wanted a way to redeem the season. So many of the autumn decorations she saw seemed to celebrate death, sometimes in gruesome and macabre ways.   Determined to counter the darkness in some small way, Leisa began to write things she was grateful for with a permanent marker on a large pumpkin. “Sunshine” was the first item. Soon visitors were adding to her list. Some entries were whimsical: “doodling,” for instance. Others were practical: “a warm house”; “a working car.” Still others were poignant, like the name of a departed loved one. A chain of gratitude began to wind its way around the pumpkin. Psalm 104 offers a litany of praise to God for things we easily overlook. “[God] makes springs pour water into the ravines,” sang the poet (v. 10). “He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for people to cultivate” (v. 14). Even the night is seen as good and fitting. “You bring darkness, it becomes night, and all the beasts of the forest prowl” (v. 20). But then, “The sun rises. . . . People go out to their work, to their labor until evening” (vv. 22–23). For all these things, the psalmist concluded, “I will sing praise to my God as long as I live” (v. 33). In a world that doesn’t know how to deal with death, even the smallest offering of praise to our Creator can become a shining contrast of hope.
Oct
29
2021
Teenage gang leader Casey and his followers broke into homes and cars, robbed convenience stores, and fought other gangs. Eventually, Casey was arrested and sentenced. In prison, he became a “shot caller,” someone who handed out homemade knives during riots. Sometime later, he was placed in solitary confinement. While daydreaming in his cell, Casey experienced a “movie” of sorts replaying key events of his life—and of Jesus, being led to and nailed to the cross and telling him, “I’m doing this for you.” Casey fell to the floor weeping and confessed his sins. Later, he shared his experience with a chaplain, who explained more about Jesus and gave him a Bible. “That was the start of my journey of faith,” Casey said. Eventually, he was released into the mainline prison population, where he was mistreated for his faith. But he felt at peace, because “[he] had found a new calling: telling other inmates about Jesus.” In his letter to Timothy, the apostle Paul talks about the power of Christ to change lives: God calls us from lives of wrongdoing to follow and serve Jesus (2 Timothy 1:9). When we receive Him by faith, we desire to be a living witness of Christ’s love. The Holy Spirit enables us to do so, even when suffering, in our quest to share the good news (v. 8). Like Casey, let’s live out our new calling. 
Oct
28
2021
Seventeen months after our first child—a boy—was born, along came a little girl. I was overjoyed at the thought of having a daughter, but I was also a bit uneasy because while I knew a few things about little boys, this was uncharted territory. We named her Sarah, and one of my privileges was rocking her to sleep so my wife could rest. I’m not sure why, but I started trying to sing her to sleep, and the song of choice was “You Are My Sunshine.” Whether holding her in my arms or standing above her in her crib, I quite literally sang over her, and loved every minute of it. She’s in her 20s now, and I still call her Sunshine.      We usually think about angels singing. But when was the last time you thought about God singing? That’s right—God singing. And furthermore, when was the last time you thought about Him singing over you? Zephaniah is clear in his message to Jerusalem, “The Lord your God” takes great delight in you, so much so that He “rejoice[s] over [you] with singing” (3:17). Although this message speaks directly to Jerusalem, it’s likely God sings over us—those who have received Jesus as Savior—too! What song does He sing? Well, Scripture’s not clear on that. But the song is born out of His love, so we can trust it’s true and noble and right and pure and lovely and admirable (Philippians 4:8).  
Oct
27
2021
When I served on my church’s congregational care team, one of my duties was to pray over the requests penciled on pew cards during the services. For an aunt’s health. For a couple’s finances. For a grandson’s discovery of God. Rarely did I hear the results of these prayers. Most were anonymous and I had no way of knowing how God had responded. I confess that at times I wondered, was He really listening? Was anything happening as a result of my prayers? Over our lifetimes, most of us question, “Does God hear me?” I remember my own Hannah-like pleas for a child that went unanswered for years. And there were my pleas that my father find faith, yet he died without any apparent confession. Etched across the millennia are myriad instances of God’s ear bending to listen: to Israel’s groans under slavery (Exodus 2:24); to Moses on Mount Sinai (Deuteronomy 9:19); to Joshua at Gilgal (Joshua 10:14); to Hannah’s prayers for a child (1 Samuel 1:10–17;) to David crying out for deliverance from Saul (2 Samuel 22:7). First John 5:14 crescendos, “If we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” The word for “hears” means to pay attention and to respond on the basis of having heard. As we go to God today, may we have the confidence of His listening ear spanning the history of His people. He hears our pleas.
Oct
26
2021
“So what you’re saying is, it may not be my fault.” The woman’s words took me by surprise. Having been a guest speaker at her church, we were now discussing what I’d shared that morning. “I have a chronic illness,” she explained, “and I have prayed, fasted, confessed my sins, and done everything else I was told to do to be healed. But I’m still sick, so I thought I was to blame.” I felt sad at the woman’s confession. Having been given a spiritual “formula” to fix her problem, she had blamed herself when the formula hadn’t worked. Even worse, this formulaic approach to suffering was disproved generations ago. Simply put, this old formula says that if you’re suffering, you must have sinned. When Job tragically lost his livestock, children, and health, his friends used the formula on him. “Who, being innocent, has ever perished?” Eliphaz said, suspecting Job’s guilt (Job 4:7). Bildad even told Job that his children only died because they had sinned (8:4). Ignorant of the real cause of Job’s calamities (1:6–2:10), they tormented him with simplistic reasons for his pain, later receiving God’s rebuke (42:7). Suffering is a part of living in a fallen world. Like Job, it can happen for reasons we may never know. But God has a purpose for you that goes beyond the pain you endure. Don’t get discouraged by falling for simplistic formulas.
Oct
25
2021
The three-wheeled taxis of Sri Lanka, known as “tuk tuks,” are a convenient and delightful mode of transport for many. Lorraine, a resident of the capital of Colombo, also realized that they’re a mission field: hopping onto a tuk tuk one day, she found the friendly driver more than happy to engage in conversation about religion. The next time, she told herself, she would talk to the driver about the good news. The book of Romans starts with Paul declaring himself as “set apart for the gospel of God” (Romans 1:1). The Greek word for “gospel” is evangelion, which means “good news.” Paul was essentially saying that his main purpose was to tell God’s good news. What is this good news? Romans 1:3 says that the gospel of God is “regarding his Son.” The good news is Jesus! It’s God who wants to tell the world that Jesus came to save us from sin and death, and He’s chosen us to be His mode of communication. What a humbling fact! Sharing the good news is a privilege all believers in Jesus have been given. We’ve “received grace” to call others to this faith (vv. 5–6). God has set us apart to carry the exciting news of the gospel to those around us, whether on tuk tuks or wherever we are. May we, like Lorraine, look for opportunities in our daily life to tell others the good news that is Jesus. Asiri Fernando
Oct
24
2021
The first time I took my sons to hike a Colorado Fourteener—a mountain with an elevation of a least 14,000 feet—they were nervous. Could they make it? Were they up to the challenge? My youngest stopped on the trail for extended breaks. “Dad, I can’t go any more,” he said repeatedly. But I believed this test would be good for them, and I wanted them to trust me. A mile from the peak, my son who’d insisted he could go no further caught his second wind and beat us to the summit. He was so glad he trusted me, even amid his fears. I marvel at the trust Isaac had in his father as they climbed their mountain. Far more, I’m undone by the trust Abraham had in God, raising his knife over his son (Genesis 22:10). Even with his confused and wrenching heart, Abraham obeyed. Mercifully, an angel stopped him. “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” God’s messenger declared (22:12). God never intended for Isaac to die. As we draw parallels from this unique story to our own with caution, it’s crucial to note the opening line: “God tested Abraham” (v. 1). Through his test, Abraham learned how much he trusted God. He discovered His loving heart and profound provision. In our confusion, darkness, and testing, we learn truths about ourselves and about God. And we may even find that our testing leads to a deeper trust in Him.
Oct
23
2021
“Don’t talk, don’t trust, don’t feel was the law we lived by,” says Frederick Buechner in his powerful memoir Telling Secrets, “and woe to the one who broke it.” Buechner is describing his experience of what he calls the “unwritten law of families who for one reason or another have gone out of whack.” In his own family, that “law” meant Buechner was not allowed to talk about or grieve his father’s suicide, leaving him with no one he could trust with his pain. Can you relate? Many of us in one way or another have learned to live with a warped version of love, one that demands dishonesty or silence about what’s harmed us. That kind of “love” relies on fear for control—and is a kind of slavery. We can’t afford to forget just how different Jesus’ invitation to love is from the kind of conditional love we often experience—a kind of love we’re always afraid we could lose. As Paul explains, through Christ’s love, we can finally understand what it means to not live in fear (Romans 8:5) and start to understand the kind of glorious freedom (v. 21) that’s possible when we know we’re deeply, truly, and unconditionally loved. We’re free to talk, to trust, and to feel once more—to learn what it means to live unafraid.
Oct
22
2021
The coronavirus pandemic canceled schools around the world. In China, teachers responded with DingTalk, a digital app that enabled class to be held online. Then their students figured out that if DingTalk’s rating fell too low, it might be removed from the App Store. Overnight thousands of one-star reviews dropped DingTalk’s score. Jesus wouldn’t be impressed with the students shirking their responsibilities, but He might admire their ingenuity. He told an unusual story about a fired manager who on his final day slashed the bills of his master’s debtors. Jesus didn’t praise the manager’s dishonesty. Rather He commended his cleverness and wished His followers would be equally shrewd. “I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings” (Luke 16:9). When it comes to money, most people look at how much they might lose. Wise people look for what they can use. Jesus said giving to others “gain(s) friends,” which provides safety and influence. Who is the leader in any group? The one who pays. Giving also gains “eternal dwellings,” for our willingness to part with our cash shows our trust is in Jesus. Maybe we don’t have money. We do have time, skills, or a listening ear. Let’s cleverly plot ways to serve others for Jesus. What we lose is less than what we’ll win.
Oct
21
2021
After ten-year-old Chelsea received an elaborate art set, she discovered that God used art to help her feel better when she was sad. When she found out that some kids didn’t have art supplies readily available, she wanted to help them. So when it was time for her birthday party, she asked her friends not to bring her gifts. Instead, she invited them to donate art supplies and help fill boxes for children in need. Later, with her family’s help, she started Chelsea’s Charity. She began asking more people to help her fill boxes so she could help more kids. She has even taught art tips to groups who have received her boxes. After a local newscaster interviewed Chelsea, people started donating supplies from all over the country. As Chelsea’s Charity continues sending art supplies internationally, this young girl is demonstrating how God can use us when we’re willing to live to serve others. Chelsea’s compassion and willingness to share reflects the heart of a faithful steward. The apostle Peter encourages all believers in Jesus to be faithful stewards as they “love each other deeply” by sharing the resources and talents God has given them (1 Peter 4:8–11). Our small acts of love can inspire others to join us in giving. God can even rally supporters to serve alongside us. As we rely on God, we can live to serve and give Him the glory He deserves.
Oct
20
2021
J. I. Packer (1926–2020), in his classic work Knowing God, spoke of four well-known believers in Christ whom he called “beavers for the Bible.” Not all were trained scholars, but each one exercised great care to know God by gnawing into the Scripture, like a beaver digs in and gnaws away at a tree. Packer further noted that knowing God through Bible study is not just for scholars. “A simple Bible reader and sermon hearer who is full of the Holy Spirit will develop a far deeper acquaintance with his God and Savior than a more learned scholar who is content with being theologically correct.” Unfortunately, not all who study the Bible do so with humble hearts with the goal of getting to know the Savior better and becoming more like Him. In Jesus’ day there were those who read the Old Testament Scriptures, yet they missed the very One they spoke of. “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5:39–40). Do you sometimes find yourself stumped as you read the Bible? Or have you given up studying the Scriptures altogether? Bible “beavers” are more than Bible readers. They prayerfully and carefully gnaw away at Scripture in ways that open their eyes and hearts to see and love Jesus—the One revealed in it. 
Oct
19
2021
When I was a teenager, my mom painted a mural on our living room wall, which stayed there for several years. It showed an ancient Greek scene of a ruined temple with white columns lying on their sides, a crumbling fountain, and a broken statue. As I looked at the Hellenistic architecture that had once held great beauty, I tried to imagine what had destroyed it. I was curious, especially when I began studying about the tragedy of once great and thriving civilizations that had decayed and crumbled from within. The sinful depravity and wanton destruction we see around us today can be troubling. It’s natural for us to try to explain it by pointing to people and nations that have rejected God. But shouldn’t we be casting our gaze inwardly as well? Scripture warns us about being hypocrites when we call out others to turn from their sinful ways without also taking a deeper look inside our own hearts (Matthew 7:1–5). Psalm 32 challenges us to see and confess our own sin. It’s only when we recognize and confess our personal sin that we can experience freedom from guilt and the joy of true repentance (vv. 1–5). And as we rejoice in knowing that God offers us complete forgiveness, we can share that hope with others who are also struggling with sin.
Oct
18
2021
In February 2020, as the COVID-19 crisis was just beginning, a newspaper columnist’s concerns struck me. Would we willingly self-isolate, she wondered, changing our work, travel, and shopping habits so others wouldn’t get sick? “This isn’t just a test of clinical resources,” she wrote, “but of our willingness to put ourselves out for others.” Suddenly, the need for virtue was frontpage news. It can be hard to consider others’ needs while we’re anxious about our own. Thankfully, we’re not left with willpower alone to meet the need. We can ask the Holy Spirit to give us love to replace our indifference, joy to counter sadness, peace to replace our anxiety, forbearance (patience) to push out our impulsiveness, kindness to care about others, goodness to see to their needs, faithfulness to keep our promises, gentleness instead of harshness, and self-control to lift us beyond self-centeredness (Galatians 5:22–23). While we won’t be perfect at all this, we’re called to seek the Spirit’s gifts of virtue regularly (Ephesians 5:18). Author Richard Foster once described holiness as the ability to do what needs to be done when it needs to be done. And such holiness is needed every day, not just in a pandemic. Do we have the capacity to make sacrifices for the sake of others? Holy Spirit, fill us with the power to do what needs to be done.
Oct
17
2021
For thirty long years, the African American woman worked faithfully for a large global ministry. Yet when she sought to talk with co-workers about racial injustice, she was met with silence. Finally, however, in the spring of 2020—as open discussions about racism expanded around the world—her ministry friends “started having some open dialogue.” With mixed feelings and pain, she was grateful discussions began, but wondered why it took her colleagues so long to speak up. Silence can be a virtue in some situations. As King Solomon wrote in the book of Ecclesiastes, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens . . . a time to be silent and a time to speak” (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 7). Silence in the face of bigotry and injustice, however, only enables harm and hurt. Lutheran pastor Martin Niemoeller, jailed in Nazi Germany, confessed that in a poem he penned after the war. “First they came for the Communists,” he wrote, “but I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.” He added, “then they came for” the Jews, the Catholics, and others, “but I didn’t speak up.” Then finally “they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak up.” It takes courage—and love—to speak up against racism and injustice. Seeking God’s help, however, we recognize the time to speak is now.
Oct
16
2021
As the French soldier dug in the desert sand, reinforcing the defenses of his army’s encampment, he had no idea he would make a momentous discovery. Moving another shovel-full of sand he saw a stone. Not just any stone. The Rosetta Stone, containing laws and governance from King Ptolemy V written in three languages. That stone (now housed in the British Museum) would be one of the most important archaeological finds of the nineteenth century, helping to unlock the mysteries of the ancient Egyptian writing known as hieroglyphics. For many of us, much of Scripture is also wrapped in deep mystery. Still, the night before the cross, Jesus promised His followers that He would send the Holy Spirit. He told them, “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come” (John 16:13). The Holy Spirit is, in a sense, our divine Rosetta Stone, shedding light on the truth—including truths behind the mysteries of the Bible.  While we are not promised absolute understanding of everything given to us in the Scriptures, we can have confidence that, by the Spirit, we can comprehend everything necessary for us to follow Jesus. He will guide us into those vital truths.
Oct
15
2021
Free funerals for the living. That’s the service offered by an establishment in South Korea. Since it opened in 2012, more than 25,000 people—from teenagers to retirees—have participated in mass “living funeral” services, hoping to improve their lives by considering their deaths. Officials say “the simulated death ceremonies are meant to give the participant a truthful sense of their lives, inspire gratitude, and aid in forgiveness and reconnection among family and friends.” These words echo the wisdom given by the teacher who wrote Ecclesiastes. “Death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart” (Ecclesiastes 7:2). Death reminds us of the brevity of life and that we only have a certain amount of time to live and love well. It loosens our grip on some of God’s good gifts—such as money, relationships, and pleasure—and frees us to enjoy them in the here and now as we store up “treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:20). As we remember that death may come knocking anytime, perhaps it’ll compel us to not postpone that visit with our parents, delay our decision to serve God in a particular way, or compromise our time with our children for our work. With God’s help, we can learn to live wisely.
Oct
14
2021
For six years, a woman tried to make herself the “perfect minister’s wife,” modeling herself after her adored mother-in-law (also a pastor’s wife). She thought that in this role she couldn’t also be a writer and painter, but in burying her creativity she became depressed and contemplated suicide. Only the help of a neighboring pastor moved her out of the darkness as he prayed with her and assigned her two hours of writing each morning. This awakened her to what she called her “sealed orders”—the calling God had given her. She wrote, “For me to be really myself—my complete self—every . . . flow of creativity that God had given me had to find its channel.” Later, she pointed to one of David’s songs that expressed how she found her calling: “Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). As she committed her way to God, trusting Him to lead and guide her (v. 5), He made a way for her not only to write and paint but to help others to better communicate with Him. God has a set of “sealed orders” for each of us, not only that we’ll know we’re His beloved children but understand the unique ways we can serve Him through our gifts and passions. He’ll lead us as we trust and delight in Him.
Oct
13
2021
After my mother’s sudden death, I was motivated to start blogging. I wanted to write posts that would inspire people to use their minutes on earth to create significant life moments. So I turned to a beginner’s guide to blogging. I learned what platform to use, how to choose titles, and how to craft compelling posts. And, in 2016 my first blog post was born. Paul wrote a “beginner’s guide” that explains how to obtain eternal life. In Romans 6:16–17, he contrasts the fact that we’re all born in rebellion to God (sinners) with the truth that Jesus can help us be “set free from [our] sin” (v. 18). Paul then describes the difference between being a slave to sin and a slave to God and His life-giving ways (vv. 19–20). He continues by stating that “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life” (v. 23). Death means being separated from God forever. This is the devastating outcome we face when we reject Christ. But God has offered us a gift in Jesus—new life. It’s the kind of life that begins on earth and continues forever in heaven with Him. Paul’s beginner’s guide to eternal life leaves us with two choices—choosing sin which leads to death or choosing Jesus’ gift which leads to eternal life. May you receive His gift of life, and if you already have, may you share it with others today!
Oct
12
2021
In the early nineteenth century, Thomas Carlyle gave a manuscript to philosopher John Stuart Mill to review. Whether accidentally or intentionally, the manuscript got tossed into a fire. It was Carlyle’s only copy. Undaunted, he set to work rewriting the lost chapters. Mere flames couldn’t stop the story, which remained intact in his mind. Out of great loss, Carlyle produced his monumental work The French Revolution. In the waning days of ancient Judah’s decadent kingdom, God told the prophet Jeremiah, “Take a scroll and write on it all the words I have spoken to you” (Jeremiah 36:2). The message revealed God’s tender heart, calling on His people to repent in order to avoid imminent invasion (v. 3). Jeremiah did as he was told. The scroll soon found its way to Judah’s king Jehoiakim, who methodically shredded it and threw it into the fire (vv. 23–25). The king’s act of arson only made matters worse. God told Jeremiah to write another scroll with the same message. He said, “[Jehoiakim] will have no one to sit on the throne of David; his body will be thrown out and exposed to the heat by day and the frost by night” (v. 30). It’s possible to burn the words of God by tossing a book into a fire. Possible, but utterly futile. The Word behind the words endures forever.
Oct
11
2021
“I don’t get it!” My daughter slapped her pencil down on the desk. She was working on a math assignment, and I’d just begun my “job” as a homeschooling mom/teacher. We were in trouble. I couldn’t recall what I’d learned thirty-five years ago about changing decimals into fractions. I couldn’t teach her something I didn’t already know, so we watched an online teacher explain the skill. As human beings, we’ll struggle at times with things we don’t know or understand. But not God; He’s the all-knowing One—the omniscient One. Isaiah wrote, “Who can . . . instruct the Lord as his counselor? Whom did the Lord consult to enlighten him, and who taught him the right way? Who was it that taught him knowledge, or showed him the path of understanding?” (Isaiah 40:13–14). The answer? No one!         Humans have intelligence because God created us in His own image. Still, our intelligence is just an inkling of His. Our knowledge relies on what others have learned before us, but God knows everything from eternity past to eternity future (Psalm 147:5). Our knowledge is increasing today with the aid of technology, but we still get things wrong. Jesus, however, knows all things “immediately, simultaneously, exhaustively and truly,” as one theologian put it. No matter how much humans advance in knowledge, we’ll never surpass Christ’s all-knowing status. We’ll always need Him to bless our understanding and to teach us what’s good and true.
Oct
10
2021
“He’ll live,” the vet announced, “but his leg will have to be amputated.” The stray mongrel my friend had brought in had been run over by a car. “Are you the owner?” There would be a hefty surgery bill, and the puppy would need care as it recovered. “I am, now,” my friend replied. Her kindness has given that dog a future in a loving home. Mephibosheth saw himself as a “dead dog,” unworthy of favor (2 Samuel 9:8). Being crippled in both feet due to an accident, he was dependent on others to protect and provide for him (see 2 Samuel 4:4). Furthermore, after the death of his grandfather, King Saul, he probably feared that David, the new king, would order all enemies and rivals to the throne killed, as was the common practice of the time. Yet, out of love for his friend Jonathan, David ensured that Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth would always be safe and cared for as his own son (v. 7). In the same way, we who were once God’s enemies, marked for death, have been saved by Jesus and given a place with Him in heaven forever. That’s what it means to eat at the banquet in the kingdom of God that Luke describes in his gospel (Luke 14:15). Here we are—the sons and daughters of a King! What extravagant, undeserved kindness we’ve received! Let’s therefore draw near to God in gratitude and joy. Karen Kwek
Oct
9
2021
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many Singaporeans stayed home to avoid being infected. But I blissfully continued swimming, believing it was safe. My wife, however, feared that I might pick up an infection at the public pool and pass it on to her aged mother—who, like other seniors, were more vulnerable to the virus. “Can you just avoid swimming for some time, for my sake?” she asked. At first, I wanted to argue that there was little risk. Then I realized that this mattered less than her feelings. Why would I insist on swimming—hardly an essential thing—when it made her worry unnecessarily? In Romans 14, Paul addressed issues like whether believers in Christ should eat certain foods or celebrate certain festivals. He was concerned that some people were imposing their views on others. Paul reminded the church in Rome, and us, that believers in Jesus may view situations differently. We also have diverse backgrounds that color our attitudes and practices. He wrote, “Let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister” (v. 13). God’s grace gives us great freedom even as it helps us express His love to fellow believers. We can use that freedom to put the spiritual needs of others above our own convictions about rules and practices that don’t contradict the essential truths found in the gospel (v. 20).
Oct
8
2021
Growing up without a dad, Rob felt he missed out on a lot of practical wisdom that fathers often pass on to their children. Not wanting anyone to lack important life skills, Rob made a series of practical “Dad, How Do I?” videos demonstrating everything from how to put up a shelf to how to change a tire. With his kind compassion and warm style, Rob has become a YouTube sensation, amassing millions of subscribers. Many of us long for the expertise of a parental figure to teach us valuable skills, as well as help us navigate difficult situations. Moses needed some wisdom after he and the Israelites fled captivity in Egypt and were establishing themselves as a nation. Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, saw the strain that settling disputes among the people was having on Moses. So, Jethro gave Moses thoughtful advice on how to delegate responsibility in leadership (Exodus 18:17-23). Moses “listened to his father-in-law and did everything he said” (v. 24). God knows we all need wisdom. Some may be blessed with godly parents but all of us can ask God, who gives wisdom to all who ask Him (James 1:5). He’s also provided wisdom throughout the pages of Scripture. In the book of Proverbs, for example, we’re reminded that when we humbly and sincerely listen to the wise, we “will be counted among the wise” (Proverbs 19:20) and have wisdom to share with others.
Oct
7
2021
When Anita passed away in her sleep on her ninetieth birthday, the quietness of her departure reflected the quietness of her life. A widow, she had been devoted to her children and grandchildren, and to being a friend to younger women in church. Anita wasn’t particularly remarkable in talent or achievement. But her deep faith in God inspired those who knew her. “When I don’t know what to do about a problem,” a friend of mine said, “I don’t think about the words of a famous preacher or author. I think about what Anita would say.” Many of us are like Anita—ordinary people living ordinary lives. Our names will never be in the news, and we won’t have monuments built in our honor. But a life lived with faith in Jesus is never ordinary. Some of the people listed in Hebrews 11 were not named (vv. 35–38); they walked the path of obscurity and did not receive the reward promised to them in this life (v. 39). Yet, because they obeyed God, their faith wasn’t in vain. God used their lives in ways that went beyond their lack of notoriety (v. 40). If you feel discouraged about the seeming ordinary state of your life, remember that a life lived by faith in God has an impact throughout eternity. Even if we’re ordinary, we can have an extraordinary faith.
Oct
6
2021
When you plug in your toaster, you benefit from the results of a bitter feud from the late nineteenth century. Back then, inventors Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla battled over which was the best kind of electricity for development: direct current (DC), like the current that goes from a battery to a flashlight; or alternating current (AC), which we get from an electrical outlet. Eventually, Tesla’s AC ideas powered through and have been used to provide electricity for homes, businesses, and communities around the world. AC is much more efficient at sending electricity across great distances and proved to be the wiser choice. Sometimes we need wisdom as we face issues of concern between believers in Jesus (see Romans 14:1–12). The apostle Paul called for us to seek God’s help for clarity in such matters. He said, “If on some point you think differently, that too will God make clear to you” (Philippians 3:15). A few verses later, we see the results of two people who let a difference divide them—a conflict that grieved Paul: “I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord” (4:2). Whenever a disagreement starts to tear us apart, may we seek God’s grace and wisdom in the Scriptures, the counsel of mature believers, and prayer. Let’s strive to “be of the same mind” in Him (v. 2).
Oct
5
2021
When playing basketball with her girlfriends, Amber realized her community could benefit from an all-women’s league. So she started a nonprofit organization to foster teamwork and impact the next generation. The leaders of Ladies Who Hoop strive to build confidence and character in the girls and encourage them to become meaningful contributors to their local communities. One of the original players who now mentors other girls, said, “There is so much camaraderie amongst us. This is something I’d been missing. We support each other in so many different ways. I love seeing the girls succeed and grow.” God intends His people to team up to help each other as well.  The apostle Paul urged the Thessalonians to “encourage one another and build each other up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). God has put us into the family of His people for support in our lives. We need each other to keep walking the path of life in Christ. Sometimes we might just listen to someone who is struggling, provide for a practical need, or speak a few words of encouragement. We can celebrate successes, offer a prayer for strength in a difficulty, or challenge each other to grow in faith. And in everything, we can “always strive to do what is good for each other” (v. 15). What camaraderie we can enjoy as we team up with other believers in Jesus to keep trusting God together!
Oct
4
2021
As Hannah Wilberforce (aunt of British abolitionist William Wilberforce) lay dying, she wrote a letter in which she mentioned hearing about the death of a fellow believer in Jesus: “Happy is the dear man who is gone to glory, now in the presence of Jesus, whom unseen he loved. My heart seemed to jump for joy.” Then she described her own situation: “Myself, better and worse; Jesus, as good as ever.” Her words make me think of Psalm 23, where David writes, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley [the valley of the shadow of death], I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (v. 4). Those words leap from the page because it is there, in the middle of the valley of the shadow of death, where David’s description of God turns deeply personal. He moves from talking about God in the beginning of the psalm—“the Lord is my shepherd” (v. 1)—to talking to Him: “for you are with me” (v. 4, italics added). How reassuring it is to know that Almighty God who “brought forth the whole world” (90:2) is so compassionate that He walks with us through even the most difficult places. Whether our situation turns better or worse, we can turn to our Shepherd, Savior, and Friend and find Him “as good as ever.” So good that death itself is vanquished, and we will “dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (23:6).
Oct
3
2021
Intense pain and a debilitating headache prevented me from attending services with my local church family . . . again. Grieving the loss of community worship, I watched an online sermon. At first, complaints soured my experience. The poor sound and video quality distracted me. As I wrestled with my frustrations, a voice on the video warbled a familiar hymn. Tears flowed as I sang: “Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart. Naught be all else to me save that Thou art. Thou my best thought, by day or by night. Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.” Focusing on the gift of God’s constant presence, I worshiped Him while sitting in my living room. While Scripture affirms the vital, essential nature of corporate worship (Hebrews 10:25), God’s not bound within the walls of a church building. During Jesus’ chat with the Samaritan woman at the well, He defied all expectations of the Messiah (John 4:9). Instead of condemnation, Jesus spoke truth and loved her as she stood next to that well (v. 10). He revealed His intimate and sovereign knowledge of His children (vv. 17­–18). Proclaiming His deity, Jesus declared that the Holy Spirit evoked true worship from the hearts of God’s people, not from a specific physical location (v. 23). When we focus on who God is, what He’s done, and all He’s promised, we can rejoice in His constant presence as we worship Him with other believers, in our living rooms . . . everywhere!
Oct
2
2021
It started with a tickle in my throat. Uh oh, I thought. That tickle turned out to be influenza. And that was just the beginning of bronchial affliction. Influenza morphed into whooping cough—yes, that whooping cough—and that turned into pneumonia. Eight weeks of torso-wracking coughing—it’s not called whooping cough for nothing—has left me humbled. I don’t think of myself as old. But I’m old enough to start thinking about heading that direction. A member of my church’s small group has a funny name for the health issues that assail us as we age: “the dwindles.” But there’s nothing funny about dwindling’s work “in action.”    In 2 Corinthians 4, Paul, too, wrote—in his own way—about “the dwindles.” That chapter chronicles the persecution he and his team endured. Fulfilling his mission had taken a heavy toll: “Outwardly, we are wasting away,” he admitted. But even as his body failed—from age, persecution and harsh conditions—Paul held tightly to his sustaining hope: “Inwardly we are being renewed day by day” (v. 16). These “light and momentary troubles,” he insisted, can’t compare to what awaits: “an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (v. 17).    Even as I write tonight, the dwindles claw insistently at my chest. But I know that in my life and that of anyone who clings to Christ, they will not have the last word.
Oct
1
2021
The teenage years are sometimes among the most agonizing seasons in life—for both parent and child. In my adolescent quest to “individuate” from my mother, I openly rejected her values and rebelled against her rules, suspicious their purposes were merely to make me miserable. Though we’ve since come to agree on those matters, that time in our relationship was riddled with tension. Mom undoubtedly lamented my refusal to heed the wisdom of her instructions, knowing they would spare me unnecessary emotional and physical pain. God had the same heart for His children, Israel. God imparted His wisdom for living in what we know as the Ten Commandments (Deuteronomy 5:7–21). Though they could be viewed as a list of rules, God’s intention is evident in His words to Moses: “so that it might go well with them and their children forever!” (v. 29). Moses recognized God’s desire, saying that obedience to the decrees would result in their enjoyment of His ongoing presence with them in the Promised Land (v. 33). We all go through a season of “adolescence” with God, not trusting that His guidelines for living are truly meant for our good. May we grow into the realization that He wants what’s best for us and learn to heed the wisdom He offers. His guidance is meant to lead us into spiritual maturity as we become more like Christ (Psalm 119:97–104; Ephesians 4:15; 2 Peter 3:18).
Sep
30
2021
Someone said we go through life with three names: the name our parents gave us, the name others give us (reputation), and the name we give ourselves (character). The name others give us matters, as “a good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold” (Proverbs 22:1). But reputation can be wrong. Character matters more. There’s yet another name that matters most. Jesus told the Christians in Pergamum that though their reputation had suffered some well-deserved hits, He had a new name reserved in heaven for those who fight back and conquer temptation. “To the one who is victorious, I will give . . . a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it” (v. 17). We aren’t sure why Jesus promised a white stone. Is it an award for winning? A token for admission to the Messianic banquet? Perhaps it’s similar to what jurors once used to vote for acquittal. We simply don’t know. Whatever it is, God promises our new name will wipe away our shame (see Isaiah 62:1–5). Our reputation may be tattered and our character may be seemingly beyond repair. But neither name ultimately defines us. It’s not what others call you, nor even what you call yourself that matters. You are who Jesus says you are. Live into your new name.
Sep
29
2021
Seated at the dining room table, I gazed at the happy chaos around me. Aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, and nephews were enjoying the food and being together at our family reunion. I was enjoying it all, too. But one thought pierced my heart: You’re the only woman here with no children. With no family you can call her own. Many single women like myself have similar experiences. In my culture, an Asian culture where marriage and children are highly valued, not having a family of one’s own can bring a sense of incompleteness. It can feel like you’re lacking something that defines who you are and makes you whole. That’s why the truth of God being my “portion” is so comforting to me (Psalm 73:26). When the tribes of Israel were given their allotments of land, the priestly tribe of Levi was assigned none. Instead, God promised that He Himself would be their portion and inheritance (Deuteronomy 10:9). They could find complete satisfaction in Him and trust Him to supply their every need. For some of us, the sense of lack may have nothing to do with family. Perhaps, we may be yearning for a better job or higher academic achievement. Regardless of our circumstances, we can embrace God as our portion. He makes us whole. In Him, we have no lack.
Sep
28
2021
In the city of Mysore, India, there’s a school made of two refurbished train cars connected end-to-end. Local educators teamed up with the South Western Railways Company to buy and remodel the discarded coaches. The units were essentially large metal boxes, unusable until workers installed stairways, fans, lights, and desks. Workers also painted the walls and added colorful murals inside and out. Now, sixty students attend classes there because of the amazing transformation that took place. Something even more amazing takes place when we follow the apostle Paul’s command to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). As we allow the Holy Spirit to uncouple us from the world and its ways, our thoughts and attitudes begin to change. We become more loving, more hopeful, and filled with inner peace (8:6). Something else happens too. Although this transformation process is ongoing, and often has more stops and starts than a train ride, the process helps us understand what God wants for our lives. It takes us to a place where we “will learn to know God’s will” (12:2 nlt). Learning His will may or may not involve specifics, but it always involves aligning ourselves with His character and His work in the world. Nali Kali, the name of the transformed school in India, means “joyful learning” in English. How is God’s transforming power leading you to the joyful learning of His will?
Sep
27
2021
In The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Washington Irving tells of Ichabod Crane, a schoolteacher who seeks to marry a beautiful young woman named Katrina. Key to the story is a headless horseman who haunts the colonial countryside. One night Ichabod encounters a ghostly apparition on horseback and flees the region in terror. It’s clear to the reader that this “horseman” is actually a rival suitor for Katrina, who then marries her. Ichabod is a name first seen in the Bible, and it too has a gloomy backstory. While at war with the Philistines, Israel carried the sacred ark of the covenant into battle. Bad move. Israel’s army was routed and the ark captured. Hophni and Phinehas, the sons of the high priest Eli, were killed (1 Samuel 4:17). Eli too would die (v. 18). When the pregnant wife of Phinehas heard the news, “she went into labor and gave birth, but was overcome by her labor pains” (v. 19). With her last words she named her son Ichabod (literally, “no glory”). “The glory has departed from Israel,” she gasped (v. 22).   Thankfully, God was unfolding a much larger story. His glory would ultimately be revealed in Jesus, who said of His followers, “I have given them the glory that you [the Father] gave me” (John 17:22). No one knows where the ark is today, but no matter. Ichabod has fled. Through Jesus, God has given us His very glory!
Sep
26
2021
There I am, sitting in the shopping mall food court, my body tense and my stomach knotted over looming work deadlines. As I unwrap my burger and take a bite, people rush around me, fretting over their own tasks. How limited we all are, I think to myself—limited in time, energy, and capacity. I consider writing a new to-do list and prioritize the urgent tasks, but as I pull out a pen another thought enters my mind: a thought of One who is infinite and unlimited, who effortlessly accomplishes all that He desires. This God, Isaiah says, can measure the oceans in the hollow of His hand and collect the dust of the earth in a basket (Isaiah 40:12). He names the stars of the heavens and directs their path (v. 26), knows the rulers of the world and oversees their careers (v. 23), considers islands mere specks of dust and the nations like drops in the sea (v. 15). “To whom will you compare me?” He asks (v. 25). “The Lord is the everlasting God,” Isaiah replies. “He will not grow tired or weary” (v. 28). Stress and strain are never good for us, but on this day they deliver a powerful lesson. The unlimited God is not like me. He accomplishes everything He wishes. I finish my burger, and then pause once more. And silently worship.
Sep
25
2021
The clock blinked 1:55 a.m. Burdened by a late-night text conversation, sleep wasn’t coming. I unwound the mummy-like clutch of my tangled sheets and padded quietly to the couch. I googled what to do to fall asleep but instead found what not to do: Don’t take a nap or drink caffeine or work out late in the day. Check. Reading further on my tablet, I was advised not to use “screen time” late either. Oops. Texting hadn’t been a good idea. When it comes to resting well, there are lists of what not to do. In the Old Testament, God handed down rules regarding what not to do on the Sabbath in order to embrace rest. In the New Testament, Jesus offered a new way. Rather than stressing regulations, Jesus called the disciples into relationship. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). In the preceding verse, Jesus pointed to His own ongoing relationship of oneness with His Father—the Father He’s revealed to us. The provision of ongoing help Jesus enjoyed from the Father is one we can experience as well. While we’re wise to avoid certain pastimes that can interrupt our sleep, resting well in Christ has more to do with relationship than regulation. I clicked my reader off and laid my burdened heart down on the pillow of Jesus’ invitation: “Come . . .”  
Sep
24
2021
Feeling overwhelmed, Sierra grieved her son’s fight with addiction. “I feel bad,” she said. “Does God think I have no faith because I can’t stop crying when I’m praying?” “I don’t know what God thinks,” I said. “But I know He can handle real emotions. It’s not like He doesn’t know we feel.” I prayed and shed tears with Sierra as we pleaded for her son’s deliverance. Scripture contains many examples of people wrestling with God while struggling. The writer of Psalm 42 expresses a deep longing to experience the peace of God’s constant and powerful presence. He acknowledges his tears and his depression over the grief he’s endured. His inner turmoil ebbs and flows with confident praises, as he reminds himself of God’s faithfulness. Encouraging his “soul,” the psalmist writes, “Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God” (v. 11). He’s tugged back and forth between what he knows to be true about God and the undeniable reality of his overwhelming emotions. God designed us in His image and with emotions. Our tears for others reveal deep love and compassion, not necessarily a lack of faith. We can approach God with raw wounds or old scars, because He knows we feel. Each prayer, whether silent, sobbed, or shouted with confidence, demonstrates our trust in His promise to hear and care for us.
Sep
23
2021
Every Friday evening, the national news my family views concludes the broadcast by highlighting an uplifting story. In contrast to the rest of the news, it’s always a breath of fresh air. A recent “good” Friday story focused on a reporter who had suffered from COVID-19, fully recovered, and then decided to donate plasma to possibly help others in their fight against the virus. At the time the jury was still out on how effective antibodies would be. But when many of us felt helpless and even in light of the discomfort of donating plasma (via needle), she felt it “was a small price to pay for the potential payoff.” After that Friday broadcast, my family and I always feel encouraged—dare I say hope-filled. That’s the power of the “whatevers” Paul described in Philippians 4: “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable” (v. 8). Did Paul have in mind plasma donation? Of course not. But did he have in mind sacrificial actions on behalf of someone in need—in other words, Christlike behavior? I’ve no doubt the answer is yes. But that hopeful news wouldn’t have had its full effect if it hadn’t been broadcast. It’s our privilege as witnesses to God’s goodness to look and listen for the “whatevers” all around us and then share that good news with others that they may be encouraged.  
Sep
22
2021
A third-generation farmer, Jim was so moved when he read “You who revere my name. . . . will go and frolic like well-fed calves” (Malachi 4:2) that he prayed to receive Jesus’ offer of eternal life. Vividly recalling his own calves’ leaps of excitement after exiting their confined stalls at high speed, Jim finally understood God’s promise of true freedom. Jim’s daughter told me this story because we‘d been discussing the imagery in Malachi 4, where the prophet made a distinction between those who revered God’s name, or remained faithful to Him, and those who only trusted in themselves (4:1–2). The prophet was encouraging the Israelites to follow God at a time when so many, including the religious leaders, disregarded God and His standards for faithful living (1:12–14; 3:5–9). Malachi called the people to live faithfully because of a coming time when God would make the final distinction between these two groups. In this context, Malachi used the unexpected imagery of a frolicking calf to describe the unspeakable joy that the faithful group will experience when “the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays” (4:2). Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of this promise, bringing the good news that true freedom is available to all people (Luke 4:16–21). And one day, in God’s renewed and restored creation, we’ll experience this freedom fully. What indescribable joy it will be to frolic there!
Sep
21
2021
Alexa, Siri, and other voice assistants embedded in smart devices in our homes occasionally misunderstand what we’re saying. A six-year-old talked to her family’s new device about cookies and a dollhouse. Later her mom received an email saying that an order of seven pounds of cookies and a $170 dollhouse were on their way to her home. Even a talking parrot in London, whose owner had never bought anything online, somehow ordered a package of golden gift boxes without her knowledge. One person asked their device to “turn on the living room lights,” and it replied, “There is no pudding room.” There’s no such misunderstanding on God’s part when we talk with Him. He’s never confused, because He knows our hearts better than we do. The Spirit both searches our hearts and understands God’s will. The apostle Paul told the churches in Rome that God promises He will accomplish His good purpose of maturing us and making us more like His Son (Romans 8:28). Even when because of “our weakness” we don’t know what we need in order to grow, the Spirit prays according to God’s will for us (vv. 26–27). Troubled about how to express yourself to God? Not understanding what or how to pray? Say what you can from the heart. The Spirit will understand and accomplish God’s purpose.
Sep
20
2021
During the 2018 baseball season, a Chicago Cubs coach wanted to give a baseball to a young boy sitting by the dugout. But when the coach tossed the ball toward him, a man scooped it up instead. Video of the event went viral. News outlets and social media skewered this “brute” of a man. Except, viewers didn’t know the whole story. Earlier, the man had helped the young boy snag a foul ball; and they agreed to share any additional balls that came their way. Unfortunately, it took 24 hours before the true story emerged. The mob had already done its damage, demonizing an innocent man. Too often, we think we have all the facts when we only have fragments. In our modern gotcha culture, with snippets of dramatic video and inflamed tweets, it’s easy to condemn people without hearing the full story. However, Scripture warns us not to “spread false reports” (Exodus 23:1). We must do everything possible to confirm the truth before leveling accusations, making sure not to participate in lies. We should be cautious whenever a vigilante spirit takes hold, whenever passions ignite and waves of judgment swell. We want to safeguard ourselves from “follow[ing] the crowd in doing wrong” (v. 2).  As believers in Jesus, may God help us not to spread falsehoods. May He provide what we need to exhibit wisdom, making certain our words are actually true.
Sep
19
2021
Zach was a lonely guy. When he walked down the city streets, he could feel the hostile glares. But then his life took a turn. Clement of Alexandria, one of the church fathers, says that Zach became a very prominent Christian leader and a pastor of the church in Caesarea. Yes, we’re talking about Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector who climbed a sycamore tree to see Jesus (Luke 19:1–10). What prompted him to climb the tree? Tax collectors were perceived as traitors because they heavily taxed their own people to serve the Roman Empire. Yet Jesus had a reputation for accepting them. Zacchaeus might have wondered if Jesus would accept him too. Being short in stature, however, he couldn't see over the crowd (v. 3). Perhaps he climbed a tree to seek Him out. And Jesus was seeking Zacchaeus too. When Christ reached the tree where he was perched, He looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today” (v. 5). Jesus considered it absolutely necessary that He be a guest in this outcast’s home. Imagine that! The Savior of the world wanting to spend time with a social reject. Whether it’s our hearts, relationships, or lives that need mending, like Zacchaeus we can have hope. Jesus will never reject us when we turn to Him. He can restore what’s been lost and broken and give our lives new meaning and purpose.
Sep
18
2021
Louis Zamperini survived, somehow. His military plane crashed at sea during the war, killing eight of eleven men onboard. “Louie” and two others clambered into life rafts. They drifted for two months, fending off sharks, riding out storms, ducking bullets from an enemy plane, and catching and eating raw fish and birds. They finally drifted onto an island and were immediately captured. For two years Louie was beaten, tortured, and worked mercilessly as a prisoner of war. His remarkable story is told in the book, Unbroken. Jeremiah is one of the Bible’s unbreakable characters. He endured enemy plots (11:18), was whipped and put in stocks (20:2), flogged and bound in a dungeon (37:15–16), and lowered by ropes into the deep mire of a cistern (38:6). He survived because God had promised to stay with him and rescue him (1:8). God makes a similar promise to us. “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). God didn’t promise to save Jeremiah or us from trouble, but He has promised to carry us through trouble.  Louie recognized God’s protection, and after the war he gave his life to Christ. He forgave his captors, and led some to Jesus. Louie realized that while we can’t avoid all problems, we need not suffer them alone. When we face them with Jesus, we become unbreakable.
Sep
17
2021
I knew a rancher who lived near Lometa, Texas. His two grandsons were my best friends. We would go into town with him and follow him around while he shopped and chatted with the folks he knew. He knew them all by name and he knew their stories. He’d stop here and there and ask about a sick child or a difficult marriage, and he’d offer a word of encouragement or two. He would share Scripture and pray if it seemed the right thing to do. I’ll never forget the man. He was something special. He didn’t force his faith on anyone, but he always seemed to leave it behind. The elderly rancher had about him what Paul would call the sweet “aroma of Christ” (2 Corinthians 2:15). God used him to “spread the aroma of the knowledge of [Christ]” (v. 14). He’s gone to be with God now, but his fragrance lingers on in Lometa. C. S. Lewis wrote, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked with a mere mortal.” Put another way, every human contact has eternal consequences. Every day we have opportunities to make a difference in the lives of people around us through the quiet witness of a faithful and gentle life or through encouraging words to a weary soul. Never underestimate the effect of a Christ-life on others.
Sep
16
2021
The village vicar couldn’t sleep. As World War II raged, he’d told a small group of American soldiers they couldn’t bury their fallen comrade inside the fenced cemetery next to his church. Only burials for church members were allowed. So the men buried their beloved friend just outside the fence. The next morning, however, the soldiers couldn’t find the grave. “What happened? The grave is gone,” one soldier told the reverend. “Oh, it’s still there,” he told him. The soldier was confused, but the churchman explained. “I regretted telling you no. So, last night, I got up—and I moved the fence.” God may give fresh perspective for our life challenges too—if we look for it. That was the prophet Isaiah’s message to the downtrodden people of Israel. Instead of looking back with longing at their Red Sea rescue, they needed to shift their sight, seeing God doing new miracles, blazing new paths. “Do not dwell on the past,” He urged them. “See, I am doing a new thing!” (Isaiah 43:18–19). He is our source of hope during doubts and battles. “I provide water in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland”—providing “drink to my people, my chosen . . . people” (vv. 20–21).  Refreshed with new vision, we too can see God’s fresh direction in our lives. May we look with new ways to see His new paths. Then, with courage, may we step onto new ground, bravely following Him.
Sep
15
2021
Darryl was a baseball legend who nearly destroyed his life with drugs. But Jesus set him free, and he’s been clean for years. Today he helps others struggling with addiction and points them to faith. Looking back, he affirms that God turned his mess into a message. Nothing is too hard for God. When Jesus came ashore near a cemetery after a stormy night on the Sea of Galilee with His disciples, a man possessed by darkness immediately approached Him. Jesus spoke to the demons inside him, drove them away, and set him free. When Jesus left, the man begged to go along. But Jesus didn’t allow it, because He had work for him to do: “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you” (Mark 5:19). We never see the man again, but Scripture shows us something intriguing. The people of that region had fearfully pleaded with Jesus “to leave” (v. 17), but the next time He returned there, a large crowd gathered (8:1). Could the crowd have resulted from Jesus sending the man? Could it be that he, once dominated by darkness, became one of the first missionaries, effectively communicating Jesus’s power to save? We’ll never know this side of heaven, but this much is clear. When God sets us free to serve Him, He can turn even a messy past into a message of hope and love.
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