Long ago, before the invention of mirrors or polished surfaces, people rarely saw themselves. Puddles of water, streams, and rivers were one of the few ways they could see their own reflection. But mirrors changed that. And the invention of cameras took fascination with our looks to a whole new level. We now have lasting images of ourselves from any given time throughout our entire life. This is good for making scrapbooks and keeping family histories, but it can be detrimental to our spiritual well-being. The fun of seeing ourselves on camera can keep us focused on outward appearance and leave us with little interest in examining our inner selves.
Self-examination is crucial for a healthy spiritual life. God wants us to see ourselves so that we can be spared the consequences of sinful choices. This is so important that Scripture says we are not to participate in the Lord’s Supper without first examining ourselves (1 Cor. 11:28). The point of this self-examination is not only to make things right with God but also to make sure we are right with one another. The Lord’s Supper is a remembrance of Christ’s body, and we can’t celebrate it properly if we’re not living in harmony with other believers.
Seeing and confessing our sin promotes unity with others and a healthy relationship with God.
Where I live, this is the time of year when plants defy death by remaining underground until it is safe to come out again. Before the snow comes and the ground freezes, they let go of their beautiful blooms and retreat to a place where they can rest and save energy for the next growing season. Contrary to the way it looks, they are not dead; they are dormant. When the snow melts and the ground thaws, they will again lift their heads toward heaven, greeting their Creator with brilliant colors and sweet fragrances.
The seasons of life require that we sometimes enter a period of dormancy. We are not dead, but we may feel we’ve become invisible. During such times we may feel useless, and we may wonder whether God will ever use us again. But periods like this are for our protection and preparation. When the time is right and the conditions are safe, God will call us once again to service and worship.
Moses experienced a period of time like this. After killing an Egyptian who harmed a fellow Hebrew, Moses had to flee for his life to the distant land of the Midianites (Ex. 2:11-22). There, God protected him and prepared him for the biggest assignment of his life (3:10).
So be encouraged. We are never invisible to God.
To detect health problems before they become serious, doctors recommend a routine physical exam. We can do the same for our spiritual health by asking a few questions rooted in the great commandment (Mark 12:30) Jesus referred to.
Do I love God with all my heart because He first loved me? Which is stronger, my desire for earthly gain or the treasures that are mine in Christ? (Col. 3:1). He desires that His peace rule our hearts.
Do I love God with all my soul? Do I listen to God telling me who I am? Am I moving away from self-centered desires? (v. 5). Am I becoming more compassionate, kind, humble, gentle, and patient? (v. 12).
Do I love God with all my mind? Do I focus on my relationship with His Son or do I let my mind wander wherever it wants to go? (v. 2). Do my thoughts lead to problems or solutions? To unity or division? Forgiveness or revenge? (v. 13).
Do I love God with all my strength? Am I willing to be seen as weak so that God can show His strength on my behalf? (v. 17). Am I relying on His grace to be strong in His Spirit?
As we let “the message of Christ dwell among [us] richly . . . with all wisdom” (v. 16), He will equip us to build each other up as we become spiritually fit and useful to Him.
I caught my first glimpse of them as a college student. On a frosty, fall night, far from the lights of the city, I was riding on a hay wagon loaded with noisy friends when the sky lit up and colors flashed across the horizon. I was mesmerized. Ever since that night I have been fascinated with the phenomenon called aurora borealis, also known as northern lights. Mostly they are seen far north of where I live, but occasionally they appear in lower latitudes. Having seen them once, I long to see more. Whenever the conditions are favorable, I say to my equally fascinated friends, “Maybe tonight . . .”
Throughout Scripture, light and glory are used to describe the coming of the Lord. A time is coming when the sun and moon will be unnecessary (Isa. 60:19). And in describing God on His throne, the apostle John wrote, “The one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and ruby. A rainbow that shone like an emerald encircled the throne” (Rev. 4:3).
An emerald circle is an apt description of the northern lights. So whenever I see glorious light displays in the skies above—whether in person or via picture or video—I think of it as a foretaste of what is to come, and I praise God that even now His glory pierces the darkness.
After owning and working at his dental lab for 50 years, Dave Bowman planned to retire and take it easy. Diabetes and heart surgery confirmed his decision. But when he heard about a group of young refugees from Sudan who needed help, he made a life-changing decision. He agreed to sponsor five of them.
As Dave learned more about these young Sudanese men, he discovered that they had never been to a doctor or a dentist. Then one day in church someone mentioned the verse, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it” (1 Cor. 12:26). He couldn’t get the verse out of his mind. Sudanese Christians were suffering because they needed medical care, and Dave sensed that God was telling him to do something about it. But what?
Despite his age and bad health, Dave began exploring the possibility of building a medical center in Sudan. Little by little, God brought together the people and the resources, and in 2008 Memorial Christian Hospital opened its doors to patients. Since then, hundreds of sick and injured people have been treated there.
Memorial Christian Hospital stands as a reminder that God cares when people suffer. And often He works through people like us to share His care—even when we think our work is done.
The discovery of penicillin revolutionized health care. Prior to the 1940s, bacterial infections were often fatal. Since then, penicillin has saved countless lives by killing harmful bacteria. The men who recognized its potential and developed it for widespread use won a Nobel Prize in 1945.
Long before the discovery of penicillin, other silent killers were at work saving lives by destroying bacteria. These silent killers are white blood cells. These hard workers are God’s way of protecting us from disease. No one knows how many invasions they have stopped or how many lives they have saved. They receive little recognition for all the good they do.
The Lord gets similar treatment. He often gets blamed when something goes wrong, but He seldom gets credit for all the things that go right. Every day people get up, get dressed, drive to work or school or the grocery store, and return safely to their families. No one knows how many times God has protected us from harm. But when there is a tragedy, we ask, “Where was God?”
When I consider all the wonderful things that God does silently on my behalf each day (Isa. 25:1), I see that my list of praises is much longer than my list of petitions.
When my husband was teaching an accounting class at a local college, I took one of the tests just for fun to see how well I could do. The results were not good. I answered every question wrong. The reason for my failure was that I started with a faulty understanding of a basic banking concept. I reversed debits and credits.
We sometimes get our debits and credits confused in the spiritual realm as well. When we blame Satan for everything that goes wrong—whether it’s bad weather, a jammed printer, or financial trouble—we’re actually giving him credit that he doesn’t deserve. We are ascribing to him the power to determine the quality of our lives, which he does not have. Satan is limited in time and space. He has to ask God’s permission before he can touch us (Job 1:12; Luke 22:31).
However, as the father of lies and prince of this world (John 8:44; 16:11), Satan can cause confusion. Jesus warned of a time when people would be so confused that they wouldn't know right from wrong (16:2). But He added this assurance: “The prince of this world now stands condemned” (v. 11 niv).
Problems will disrupt our lives, but they cannot defeat us. Jesus has already overcome the world. To Him goes all the credit.
“Could they not carry their own garbage this far?” I grumbled to Jay as I picked up empty bottles from the beach and tossed them into the trash bin less than 20 feet away. “Did leaving the beach a mess for others make them feel better about themselves? I sure hope these people are tourists. I don’t want to think that any locals would treat our beach with such disrespect.”
The very next day I came across a prayer I had written years earlier about judging others. My own words reminded me of how wrong I was to take pride in cleaning up other people’s messes. The truth is, I have plenty of my own that I simply ignore—especially in the spiritual sense.
I am quick to claim that the reason I can’t get my life in order is because others keep messing it up. And I am quick to conclude that the “garbage” stinking up my surroundings belongs to someone other than me. But neither is true. Nothing outside of me can condemn or contaminate me—only what’s inside (Matt. 15:19-20). The real garbage is the attitude that causes me to turn up my nose at a tiny whiff of someone else’s sin while ignoring the stench of my own.
Dry. Dusty. Dangerous. A desert. A place where there is little water, a place hostile to life. It’s not surprising, then, that the word deserted describes a place that is uninhabited. Life there is hard. Few people choose it. But sometimes we can’t avoid it.
In Scripture, God’s people were familiar with desert life. Much of the Middle East, including Israel, is desert. But there are lush exceptions, like the Jordan Valley and areas surrounding the Sea of Galilee. God chose to “raise His family” in a place surrounded by wilderness, a place where He could make His goodness known to His children as they trusted Him for protection and daily provision (Isa. 48:17-19).
Today, most of us don’t live in literal deserts, but we often go through desert-like places. Sometimes we go as an act of obedience. Other times we find ourselves there through no conscious choice or action. When someone abandons us, or disease invades our bodies, we end up in desert-like circumstances where resources are scarce and life is hard to sustain.
But the point of going through a desert, whether literally or figuratively, is to remind us that we are dependent on God to sustain us—a lesson we need to remember even when we’re living in a place of plenty.