When I married my English fiancé and moved to the United Kingdom, I thought it would be a five-year adventure in a foreign land. I never dreamed I’d still be living here nearly twenty years later, or that at times I’d feel like I was losing my life as I said goodbye to family and friends, work, and all that was familiar. But in losing my old way of life, I’ve found a better one.
The upside-down gift of finding life when we lose it is what Jesus promised to His apostles. When He sent out the twelve disciples to share His good news, He asked them to love Him more than their mothers or fathers, sons or daughters (Matt. 10:37). His words came in a culture where families were the cornerstone of the society and highly valued. But He promised that if they would lose their life for His sake, they would find it (v. 39).
We don’t have to move abroad to find ourselves in Christ. Through service and commitment—such as the disciples going out to share the good news of the kingdom of God—we find ourselves receiving more than we give through the lavish love the Lord showers on us. Of course He loves us no matter how much we serve, but we find contentment, meaning, and fulfillment when we pour ourselves out for the well-being of others.
When I first made the acquaintance of a new friend from abroad, I noticed his posh English accent and that he wore a ring on his little finger. Later I learned that this wasn’t just jewelry; it revealed his family’s history through the family crest engraved on it.
It was a bit like a signet ring—perhaps like the one in Haggai. In this short Old Testament book, the prophet Haggai calls for the people of God to restart the rebuilding of the temple. They had been exiled and had now returned to their homeland and begun rebuilding, but enemy opposition to their project had stalled them. Haggai’s message includes God’s promise to Zerubbabel, Judah’s leader, that he had been chosen and set apart as their leader, like a signet ring.
In ancient times, a signet ring was used as a means of identification. Instead of signing their name, people would press their ring into hot wax or soft clay to make their mark. As God’s children, we too make a mark on the world as we spread the gospel, share His grace through loving our neighbors, and work to end oppression.
Each of us has our own unique stamp that reveals how we’re created in God’s image and expresses our particular mix of gifts, passions, and wisdom. It’s our call and privilege to act as this signet ring in God’s world.
The phone rang in the night for my husband, a minister. One of the prayer stalwarts in our church, a woman in her seventies who lived alone, was being taken to the hospital. She was so ill that she was no longer eating or drinking, nor could she see or walk. Not knowing if she would live or die, we asked God for His help and mercy, feeling particularly concerned for her welfare. The church sprang into action with a round-the-clock schedule of visitors who not only ministered to her but showed Christian love to the other patients, visitors, and staff on her ward.
An exhortation in James’ letter to the early Jewish Christians calls the church to care for the needy. James wanted the believers to go beyond just listening to the Word of God and to put their beliefs into action (1:22-25). By citing the need to care for orphans and widows (v.27), he named a vulnerable group, for in the ancient world the family would have been responsible for their care.
How do we respond to those who are at risk in our church and community? Do we see caring for the widows and orphans as a vital part of the exercise of our faith? May God open our eyes to the opportunities to serve people in need everywhere.
How much is enough? We might ask this simple question on a day that many developed countries increasingly devote to shopping. I speak of Black Friday, the day after the US Thanksgiving holiday, in which many stores open early and offer cut-price deals; a day that has spread from the States to other nations. Some shoppers have limited resources and are trying to purchase something at a price they can afford. But sadly for others greed is the motivation, and violence erupts as they fight for bargains.
The wisdom of the Old Testament writer known as “the Teacher” (Eccl. 1:1) provides an antidote to the frenzy of consumerism we may face in the shops—and in our hearts. He points out that those who love money never will have enough and will be ruled by their possessions. And yet, they will die with nothing: “As everyone comes, so they depart” (5:15). The apostle Paul echoes the Teacher in his letter to Timothy, when he says that the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and that we should strive for “godliness with contentment” (1 Tim. 6:6–10).
Whether we live in a place of plenty or not, we all can seek unhealthy ways of filling the God-shaped hole in our hearts. But when we look to the Lord for our sense of peace and well-being, He will fill us with His goodness and love.
“Do you have a few items you’d like me to wash?” I asked a visitor to our home in London. His face lit up, and as his daughter walked by, he said, “Get your dirty clothes—Amy’s doing our laundry!” I smiled, realizing that my offer had been extended from a few items to a few loads.
Later as I hung clothes outside on the line, a phrase from my morning’s Bible reading floated through my mind: “In humility value others above yourselves” (Phil. 2:3). I had been reading Paul’s letter to the people of Philippi, in which he exhorts them to live worthy of Christ’s calling through serving and being united with others. They were facing persecution, but Paul wanted them to be of one mind. He knew that their unity, birthed through their union with Christ and expressed through serving each other, would enable them to keep strong in their faith.
We might claim to love others without selfish ambition or vain conceit, but the true state of our hearts isn’t revealed until we put our love into action. Though I felt tempted to grumble, I knew that as a follower of Christ, my call was to put my love for my friends into practice—with a clean heart.
May we find ways to serve our family, friends, and neighbors for God’s glory.
I felt like I was underwater, sounds muffled and muted by a cold and allergies. For weeks I struggled to hear clearly. My condition made me realize how much I take my hearing for granted.
Young Samuel in the temple must have wondered what he was hearing as he struggled out of sleep at the summons of his name (1 Sam. 3:4). Three times he presented himself before Eli, the High Priest. Only the third time did Eli realize it was the Lord speaking to Samuel. The word of the Lord had been rare at that time (v. 1), and the people were not in tune with His voice. But Eli instructed Samuel how to respond (v. 9).
The Lord speaks much more now than in the days of Samuel. The letter to the Hebrews tells us, “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets … but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (1:1-2). And in Acts 2 we read of the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (vv. 1-4), who guides us in the things Christ taught us (John 16:13). But we need to learn to hear His voice and respond in obedience. Like me with my cold, we may hear as if underwater. We need to test what we think is the Lord’s guidance with the Bible and with other mature Christians. As God’s beloved children, we do hear His voice. He loves to speak life into us.
When we come across a list of names in the Bible, we might be tempted to skip over it. But we can find treasures there, such as in the list of the twelve apostles whom Jesus called to serve in His name. Many are familiar—Simon whom Jesus called Peter, the rock. Brothers James and John, fishermen. Judas Iscariot, the betrayer. But we could easily overlook that Matthew the tax collector and Simon the Zealot must once have been archrivals.
Matthew collected taxes for Rome, and therefore, in the eyes of his fellow Jews, collaborated with the enemy. Tax collectors were despised for their corrupt practices and for requiring the Jewish people to give money to an authority other than God. On the other hand, before Jesus’s call, Simon the Zealot was devoted to a group of Jewish nationalists who hated Rome and sought to overturn it, often through aggressive and violent means.
Although Matthew and Simon held opposing political beliefs, the gospels don’t document them bickering or fighting about them. They must have had at least some success in leaving their previous allegiances behind as they followed Christ.
When we too fix our eyes on Jesus, the God who became Man, we can find increasing unity with our fellow believers through the bond of the Holy Spirit.
At the memorial service for my friend’s dad, someone said to her, “Until I met your father, I didn’t know a person could have fun while helping others.” Her dad contributed his part in helping to build the kingdom of God through serving people, laughing and loving, and meeting strangers who became friends. When he died, he left a legacy of love. In contrast, my friend’s aunt—her father’s older sister—viewed her possessions as her legacy, spending her latter years fretting about who would protect her heirlooms and rare books.
In His teaching and by His example, Jesus warned His followers to avoid hoarding possessions, to give to the poor, and to value what will not rust or decay. “For where your treasure is,” Jesus said, “there your heart will be also” (Luke 12:34).
We might think our things give meaning to our life. But when the latest gadget breaks or we misplace or lose something valuable, we begin to realize that it is our relationship with the Lord that satisfies and endures. It is our love and care for others that does not wither and fade away.
Let’s ask the Lord to help us see clearly what we value, to show us where our heart is, and to help us seek His kingdom above all (12:31).
“I’m hungry,” said my eight-year-old daughter. “I’m sorry,” I said, “I don’t have anything for you. Let’s play tic-tac-toe.” We had been waiting over an hour for the bride to arrive at the church for what was supposed to be a noon wedding. As I wondered how much longer it would be, I hoped I could occupy my daughter until the wedding started.
As we waited, I felt like we were enacting a parable. Although the vicarage where we live is a stone’s throw from the church, I knew if I went to fetch some crackers, the bride could come at any moment and I would miss her entrance. As I employed many distraction techniques with my hungry daughter, I also thought about Jesus’s parable about the ten virgins (Matt. 25:1–13). Five came prepared with enough oil for their lamps to stay lit as they waited for the bridegroom, but five did not. Just as it was too late for me to dash back to the vicarage, so it was too late for the young women to go and buy more oil for their lamps.
Jesus told this parable to emphasize that we need to be prepared, for when He comes again we will give an account over the state of our hearts. Are we waiting and ready?