Category  |  Basics Of Faith

Raise Your Hand

The St. Olaf Choir from Northfield, Minnesota, is renowned for making beautiful music. One reason for its excellence is the selection process. Applicants are chosen based not only on how well they sing but also on how they sound as part of the whole. Another reason is that all members agree to make the choir their first priority and commit to a rigorous rehearsal and performance schedule.

One of the things that intrigues me the most about this choir is what happens during rehearsals. Whenever members make a mistake, they raise their hand. Instead of trying to hide the blunder, they call attention to it! This allows the conductor to help each singer learn the difficult part, and it increases the likelihood of a flawless performance.

I think this is the kind of community Jesus was establishing when He told Nicodemus that God sent His Son into the world to save it, not condemn it (John 3:17). Shortly after this conversation, Jesus encountered a Samaritan woman at the public well. He made it easy for her to admit failure by promising her a better way of life where she could enjoy His forgiveness (John 4).

As members of Christ’s body on Earth, we should not fear admitting our wrongs but welcome it as an opportunity to together experience and rejoice in the forgiveness of God.

Christ the Redeemer

The famous statue Christ the Redeemer overlooks the city of Rio de Janeiro. The statue is a model of Christ with His arms extended so that His body forms the shape of a cross. Brazilian architect Heitor da Silva Costa designed the figure. He imagined that the city’s residents would see it as the first image to emerge from the darkness at dawn. At dusk, he hoped the city dwellers would view the setting sun as a halo behind the statue’s head.

            There is value in keeping our eyes on our Redeemer each day, during the good times and the difficult times. As he suffered, Job said, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth” (Job 19:25).

            The cry of Job’s heart points us to Jesus—our living Savior who will visit the earth again one day (1 Thess. 4:16-18). Keeping our eyes on Jesus means remembering that we have been rescued from our sin. Jesus “gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people” (Titus 2:14).

            Anyone who has accepted Jesus as Savior has a reason to be glad today. No matter what we endure on earth, we can have hope today and look forward to enjoying eternity with Him.

Rescuing the Reluctant

Many years ago during a water safety class, we were taught how to save a drowning person who is resisting rescue. “Approach the person from behind,” the instructor told us. “Place one arm across the person’s chest and flailing arms, and swim toward safety. If you approach from the front, the person may grab you and pull both of you down.” Panic and fear can paralyze the ability to think and act wisely.

            When two angels sent by God came to rescue Lot and his family from the impending destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19:12-13), they encountered resistance. Lot’s sons-in-law thought the warning was a joke (v. 14). When the angels told Lot to hurry and leave, he hesitated (v. 15). At that point, the two angels “took hold of his hand, his wife’s hand, and the hands of his two daughters,” and led them safely out of the city because God was merciful toward them (v. 16).

            When we reflect on our journey of faith in Christ, we can see God’s faithfulness in overcoming our reluctance and resistance. When we encounter people lashing out in spiritual desperation and fear, may we have God’s wisdom to show His love to them—and to every person who is reluctant to be rescued by Him.

Hidden Mysteries

Most of what goes on in the universe we never see. Many things are too small or move too fast or even too slow for us to see. Using modern technology, however, filmmaker Louis Schwartzberg is able to show stunning video images of some of those things—a caterpillar’s mouth, the eye of a fruit fly, the growth of a mushroom.

            Our limited ability to see the awesome and intricate detail of things in the physical world reminds us that our ability to see and understand what’s happening in the spiritual realm is equally limited. God is at work all around us doing things more wonderful than we can imagine. But our spiritual vision is limited and we cannot see them. The prophet Elisha, however, actually got to see the supernatural work that God was doing. God also opened the eyes of his fearful colleague so he too could see the heavenly army sent to fight on their behalf (2 Kings 6:17).

            Fear makes us feel weak and helpless and causes us to think we are alone in the world. But God has assured us that His Spirit in us is greater than any worldly power (1 John 4:4).

            Whenever we become discouraged by the evil we can see, we need to think instead about the good work God is doing that we cannot see.

Walking on Water

When I learned to sail, I had to walk along a very unsteady floating platform to reach the little boats in which we had our lessons. I hated it. I don’t have a good sense of balance and was terrified of falling between the platform and the boat as I attempted to get in. I nearly gave up. “Fix your eyes on me,” said the instructor. “I’m here, and I’ll catch you if you slip.” I did what he said, and I am now the proud possessor of a basic sailing proficiency certificate!

            Do you avoid taking risks at all costs? Many of us are reluctant to step out of our comfort zones in case we fail, get hurt, or look stupid. But if we allow that fear to bind us, we’ll end up afraid to do anything.

            The story of Peter’s water-walking adventure and why it supposedly failed is a popular choice for preachers (Matt. 14:22-33). But I don’t think I’ve ever heard any of them discuss the behavior of the rest of the disciples. In my opinion, Peter was a success. He felt the fear but responded to the call of Jesus anyway. Maybe it was those who never tried at all who failed.

            Jesus risked everything for us. What are we prepared to risk for Him?

Shopping with Liam

My son Liam loves to pick dandelions for his mother. To date, she hasn’t wearied of receiving them. One man’s weed is a little boy’s flower.

One day I took Liam shopping with me. As we hurried past the floral section, he pointed excitedly to an arrangement of yellow tulips. “Daddy,” he exclaimed, “you should get those dandelions for Mommy!” His advice made me laugh. It made a pretty good Facebook post on his mother’s page too. (By the way, I bought the tulips.)

Some see in weeds a reminder of Adam’s sin. By eating the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve brought on themselves the curse of a fallen world—relentless work, agonizing birth, and eventual death (Gen. 3:16-19).

But Liam’s youthful eyes remind me of something else. There is beauty even in weeds. The anguish of childbirth holds hope for us all. Death is ultimately defeated. The “Seed” God spoke of in Genesis 3:15 would wage war with the serpent’s offspring. That Seed is Jesus Himself, who rescued us from the curse of death (Gal. 3:16).

The world may be broken, but wonder awaits us at every turn. Even weeds remind us of the promise of redemption and a Creator who loves us.

The Challenge of Transition

After former professional athlete Chris Sanders suffered a career-ending injury, he told a group of military veterans that although he had never experienced combat, “I understand the pressures of transitions.”

            Whether it’s the loss of a job, the loss of a marriage, a serious illness, or a financial setback, every major change brings challenges. The former athlete told the soldiers that the key to success when you are transitioning into a new way of living is to reach out and get help.

            The book of Joshua is recommended reading whenever we find ourselves in transition. After 40 years of wandering and setbacks, God’s people were poised to enter the Promised Land. Moses, their great leader, had died, and Joshua, his assistant, was in charge.

            God told Joshua to “be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go” (Josh. 1:7). God’s words of direction were to be the bedrock of Joshua’s leadership in every situation.

             The Lord’s charge and promise to Joshua apply to us as well: “Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (v. 9).

            He is with us in every transition.

A Loving Father

The parents were obviously weary from dragging their two energetic preschoolers through airports and airplanes, and now their final flight was delayed. As I watched the two boys running around the crowded gate area, I wondered how Mom and Dad were going to keep the little guys settled down for our half-hour flight into Grand Rapids. When we finally boarded, I noticed that the father and one of the sons were in the seats behind me. Then I heard the weary father say to his son, “Why don’t you let me read one of your storybooks to you.” And during the entire flight, this loving father softly and patiently read to his son, keeping him calm and focused. 

            In one of his psalms David declares, “As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him” (Ps. 103:13). The word pities refers to showing love and compassion. This tender word gives us a picture of how deeply our heavenly Father loves His children, and it reminds us what a great gift it is to be able to look to God and cry, “Abba, Father” (Rom. 8:15).

            God longs for you to listen again to the story of His love for you when you are restless on your own journey through life. Your heavenly Father is always near, ready to encourage you with His Word.

A Missing Sheep

Laura loaded a borrowed goat and sheep into a trailer to transport them to church for a rehearsal of a live nativity. The animals head-butted and chased each other for a bit and then settled down. Laura started for the church but first had to stop for gas.

            While pumping the gas, she noticed the goat standing in the parking lot! And the sheep was gone! In the commotion of getting them settled she had forgotten to lock one of the latches. Laura called the sheriff and some friends who searched frantically along a stretch of businesses, cornfields, and woods during the last daylight hours. Many were praying that she would find the borrowed animal.

            The next morning Laura and a friend went out to post “Lost Sheep” flyers at local businesses. Their first stop was the gas station. A customer overheard them asking the cashier about posting a flyer and said, “I think I know where your sheep is!” The sheep had wandered to his neighbor’s farm, where he had put it in the barn for the night.

            The Lord cares about lost sheep—including you and me. Jesus came from heaven to earth to show us His love and provide salvation (John 3:16). He goes to great lengths to seek and find us (Luke 19:10).

            When the sheep was found, Laura nicknamed her Miracle. And God’s salvation of us is a miracle of His grace.

Failure Is Not Fatal

Prime Minister Winston Churchill knew how to bolster the spirits of the British people during World War II. On June 18, 1940, he told a frightened populace, “Hitler knows that he will have to break us . . . or lose the war. . . . Let us therefore brace . . . and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire [lasts] for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour!’ ”

            We would all like to be remembered for our “finest hour.” Perhaps the apostle Peter’s finest hour was when he proclaimed, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (John 6:69). Sometimes, however, we let our failures define us. After Peter repeatedly denied that he knew Jesus, he went out and wept bitterly (Matt. 26:75; John 18).

            Like Peter, we all fall short—in our relationships, in our struggle with sin, in our faithfulness to God. But “failure is not fatal,” as Churchill also said. Thankfully, this is true in our spiritual life. Jesus forgave the repentant Peter for his failure (John 21) and used him to preach and lead many to the Savior.

            Failure is not fatal. God lovingly restores those who turn back to Him.

Our Anchor

After Estella Pyfrom retired from teaching, she bought a bus, decked it out with computers and desks, and now drives the “Brilliant Bus” through Palm Beach County, Florida, providing a place for at-risk children to do their homework and learn technology. Estella is providing stability and hope to children who might be tempted to throw away their dream for a better tomorrow.

            In the first century, an avalanche of suffering and discouragement threatened the Christian community. The author of Hebrews wrote to convince these followers of Christ not to throw away their confidence in their future hope (2:1). Their hope—a faith in God for salvation and entrance into heaven—was found in the person and sacrifice of Christ. When Jesus entered heaven after His resurrection, He secured their hope for the future (6:19-20). Like an anchor dropped at sea, preventing a ship from drifting away, Jesus’ death, resurrection, and return to heaven brought assurance and stability to the believers’ lives. This hope for the future cannot and will not be shaken loose.

            Jesus anchors our souls, so that we will not drift away from our hope in God.

Look Up!

In a park near our home there’s a trail I enjoy walking on. Along one section there’s a panoramic view of red sandstone rocks in the Garden of the Gods with the majestic 14,115-foot Pikes Peak behind them. From time to time, though, I find myself walking that section occupied with some problem and looking down at the wide, smooth trail. If no one is around, I may stop and say aloud, “David, look up!”

            The psalms known as “Songs of Ascents” (Ps. 120–134) were sung by the people of Israel as they walked the road up to Jerusalem to attend the three annual pilgrim festivals. Psalm 121 begins, “I will lift up my eyes to the hills. From whence comes my help?” (v. 1). The answer follows, “My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (v. 2). The Creator is not an aloof being, but a companion who is always with us, always awake to our circumstances (vv. 3-7), guiding and guarding our journey through life “from this time forth, and even forevermore” (v. 8).

            Along life’s path, how we need to keep our eyes fixed on God, our source of help. When we’re feeling overwhelmed and discouraged, it’s all right to say aloud, “Look up!”

Don’t Lose Heart

Cooking can become tedious work when I do it three times a day, week after week. I get tired of peeling, cutting, slicing, mixing, and then waiting for food to bake, grill, or boil. But eating is never tedious! It’s actually something we truly enjoy even though we do it day after day.

            Paul used the illustration of sowing and reaping because he knew that doing good can be tiring (Gal. 6:7-10). He wrote, “Let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart” (v.9). It’s difficult to love our enemies, discipline our children, or pray without ceasing. However, reaping the good we have sown isn’t tedious! What a joy when we do get to see love conquering strife, or children following God’s ways, or answers to prayer.

            While the cooking process can take hours, my family usually finishes a meal in 20 minutes or less. But the reaping that Paul talks about will be eternal. As we have the opportunity, let’s do what is good and wait for the blessings in God’s timing. Don’t lose heart today as you go about following God’s ways. Remember that joy is guaranteed for more than a lifetime.

Strength in Stillness

Early in my Christian life the demands of commitment made me wonder if I could make it past a year without returning to my old sinful ways. But this Scripture verse helped me: “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still” (Exod. 14:14 niv). These are the words Moses spoke to the Israelites when they had just escaped from slavery in Egypt and were being pursued by Pharaoh. They were discouraged and afraid.

            As a young believer, with temptations engulfing my world, this call “to be still” encouraged me. Now, some 37 years later, remaining still and calm while trusting Him in the midst of stress-laden situations has been a constant desire for my Christian living.

            “Be still, and know that I am God,” the psalmist says (Ps. 46:10). When we remain still, we get to know God, “our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (v. 1). We see our weakness apart from God and recognize our need to surrender to Him. “When I am weak, then I am strong,” says the apostle Paul (2 Cor. 12:10).

            Daily we grind through stress and other frustrating situations. But we can trust that He will be faithful to His promise to care for us. May we learn to be still.

The Unlikely

Fanny Kemble was a British actress who moved to America in the early 1800s and married a southern plantation owner named Pierce Butler. Fanny enjoyed the life afforded by the wealth of the plantation, until she saw the cost of that luxury—a cost paid by the slaves who worked her husband’s plantations.

            Having written a memoir of the cruel treatment slaves often suffered, Kemble was eventually divorced from her husband. Her writings were widely circulated among abolitionists and published in 1863 as Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation in 1838–1839. Because of her opposition to slavery, the former wife of a slave owner became known as “The Unlikely Abolitionist.” 

           In the body of Christ, God often wonderfully surprises us. He regularly uses the unlikely—people and circumstances—to accomplish His purposes. Paul wrote, “But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen” (1 Cor. 1:27-28).

            This reminds us that God, in His grace, can use anyone. If we will allow His work to be done in us, we might be surprised at what He can do through us!

On a Hill Far Away

I often find myself thinking back to the years when my children were young. One particular fond memory is our morning wake-up routine. Every morning I’d go into their bedrooms, tenderly call them by name, and tell them that it was time to get up and get ready for the day.

When I read that Abraham got up early in the morning to obey God’s command, I think of those times when I woke up my children and wonder if part of Abraham’s daily routine was going to Isaac’s bed to waken him—and how different it would have been on that particular morning. How heart-rending for Abraham to waken his son that morning!

Abraham bound his son and laid him on an altar, but then God provided an alternate sacrifice. Hundreds of years later, God would supply another sacrifice—the final sacrifice—His own Son. Think of how agonizing it must have been for God to sacrifice His Son, His only Son whom He loved! And He went through all of that because He loves you.

If you wonder whether you are loved by God, wonder no more.

Start from Here!

On June 6, 1944, three American officers huddled in a bombshell crater on Utah Beach in Normandy, France. Realizing the tide had carried them to the wrong place on the beach, the trio made an impromptu decision: “We’ll start the battle from right here.” They needed to move forward from a difficult starting point.

            Saul found himself in a difficult place, needing to make a decision after meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-20). Suddenly, the location and direction of his life was revealed to him as a mistake, his prior life perhaps even feeling like a waste. Moving forward would be difficult and would require hard and uncomfortable work, perhaps even facing the Christian families whose lives he had torn apart. But he responded, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” (v. 6).

            We often find ourselves in unexpected places, places we never planned nor wanted to be. We may be drowning in debt, inhibited by physical barriers, or suffering under the weight of sin’s consequences. Whether Christ finds us this day in a prison cell or a palace, whether He finds us broken and broke or absorbed by our own selfish desires, Scripture tells us to heed Paul’s advice to forget what lies behind and to press forward toward Christ (Phil. 3:13-14). The past is no barrier to moving forward with Him.

What We Do

When Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic Roger Ebert died, a fellow journalist wrote of him: “With all his notoriety, honors, and celebrity, all his exclusive interviews and star-dusted encounters with movie greats, Ebert never forgot the essence of what we do—review movies. And he reviewed them with an infectious zeal and probing intellect” (Dennis King, The Oklahoman).

            The apostle Paul never forgot the essence of what God wanted him to be and do. Focus and enthusiasm were at the heart of his relationship with Christ. Whether he was reasoning with philosophers in Athens, experiencing shipwreck in the Mediterranean, or being chained to a Roman soldier in prison, he focused on his calling to know “Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings” and to teach about Him (Phil. 3:10).

            While he was in prison, Paul wrote, “I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (3:13-14). Whatever his circumstances, Paul continually pressed forward in his calling as a disciple of Christ.

            May we always remember the essence, the heart, of who we are called to be and what we are called to do as followers of Jesus.

My Father Is with Me

A friend struggling with loneliness posted these words on her Facebook page: “It’s not that I feel alone because I have no friends. I have lots of friends. I know that I have people who can hold me and reassure me and talk to me and care for me and think of me. But they can’t be with me all the time—for all time.”

            Jesus understands that kind of loneliness. I imagine that during His earthly ministry He saw loneliness in the eyes of lepers and heard it in the voices of the blind. But above all, He must have experienced it when His close friends deserted Him (Mark 14:50).

            However, as He foretold the disciples’ desertion, He also confessed His unshaken confidence in His Father’s presence. He said to His disciples: “[You] will leave Me alone. And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me” (John 16:32). Shortly after Jesus said these words, He took up the cross for us. He made it possible for you and me to have a restored relationship with God and to be a member of His family.

            Being humans, we will all experience times of loneliness. But Jesus helps us understand that we always have the presence of the Father with us. God is omnipresent and eternal. Only He can be with us all the time, for all time.