Category  |  God

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.

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.

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!”

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.

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.

Feeling Insignificant?

We are among seven billion people who coexist on a tiny planet that resides in a small section of a rather insignificant solar system. Our earth, in reality, is just one miniscule blue dot among millions of celestial bodies that God created. On the gigantic canvas that is our universe, our beautiful, majestic Earth appears as a tiny speck of dust.

            That could make us feel extremely unimportant and inconsequential. However, God’s Word suggests that just the opposite is true. Our great God, who “measured the waters in the hollow of His hand” (Isa. 40:12), has singled out each person on this planet as supremely important, for we are made in His image.

            For instance, He has created everything for us to enjoy (1 Tim. 6:17). Also, for all who have trusted Jesus as Savior, God has given purpose (Eph. 2:10). And then there’s this: Despite the vastness of this world, God cares specifically about each of us. Psalm 139 says He knows what we are going to say and what we are thinking. We can’t escape His presence, and He planned our earthly existence before we were born.

            We don’t need to feel unimportant when the God of the universe is that interested in us!

Foley Artists

Crunch. Crunch. Whoosh! In the early days of film, Foley artists created sounds to support the story’s action. Squeezing a leather pouch filled with cornstarch made the sound of snow crunching, shaking a pair of gloves sounded like bird wings flapping, and waving a thin stick made a whoosh sound. To make movies as realistic as possible, these artists used creative techniques to replicate sounds.

Justice And Mercy Combined

When a defendant stands before a judge, he or she is at the mercy of the court. If the defendant is innocent, the court should be a refuge. But if the defendant is guilty, we expect the court to exact punishment.

The Go-Between

Imagine standing at the bottom of a mountain, elbow-to-elbow with everyone in your community. Thunder and lightning flash; you hear an earsplitting trumpet blast. Amid flames, God descends on the mountaintop. The summit is enveloped in smoke; the entire mountain begins to shake, and so do you (Ex. 19:16-20).

Shocking Accessibility

When John F. Kennedy was president of the US, photographers sometimes captured a winsome scene. Seated around the president’s desk in the Oval Office, cabinet members are debating matters of world consequence. Meanwhile, a toddler, the 2-year-old John-John, crawls around and inside the huge presidential desk, oblivious to White House protocol and the weighty matters of state. He is simply visiting his daddy.

The Power To Survive

When I was growing up, I had an inflatable plastic punching dummy. It was about as tall as I was and had a smiling face painted on it. My challenge was to hit it hard enough to make it stay down. But no matter how hard I tried, it always bounced right back up again. The secret? There was a lead weight in the bottom that always kept it upright. Sailboats operate by the same principle. The lead weights in their keels provide the ballast to keep them balanced and upright in strong winds.

Solving The Mystery

One of the most popular tourist attractions in England is the giant stone pillars of Stonehenge. These massive pieces of granite are also a great source of mystery. Every year, people travel to Stonehenge with questions such as: Why were they erected? Who accomplished this extraordinary engineering marvel? And perhaps we wonder most of all how they did it. But visitors leave having received no answers from the silent stones. The mystery remains.

The Unseen World

Did you know that the microbes on just one of your hands outnumber all of the people on the earth? Or that millions of microbes could fit into the eye of a needle? These one-celled, living organisms are too small for us to see without a microscope, yet they live in the air, soil, water, and even in our bodies. We constantly interact with them, even though their world is completely beyond our senses.

Whose Will?

May all things happen according to your will,” is a greeting frequently exchanged during Chinese New Year. As wonderful as that may sound, events turn out best when God’s will plays out and not mine.

Mirror, Mirror

How often do you see your reflection in a mirror? Some studies say that the average person looks in a mirror 8 to 10 times a day. Other surveys say it could be as many as 60 to 70 times a day, if glancing at our reflection in store windows and smart phone screens is included.

The Word Among Us

The Word of God comes to us in many forms. Bible-centered preaching, Scripture reading, songs, study groups, and devotional articles bring to us the truths of God from Scripture. But we can’t overlook personal reading and studying either.

What Money Can’t Buy

There are some things money can’t buy—but these days, not many” according to Michael Sandel, author of What Money Can’t Buy. A person can buy a prison-cell upgrade for $90 a night, the right to shoot an endangered black rhino for $250,000, and your doctor’s cell phone number for $1,500. It seems that “almost everything is up for sale.”

Quiet Rest

Some years ago my son Brian and I agreed to haul some equipment into an isolated Idaho backcountry ranch for a friend. There are no roads into the area, at least none that my truck could negotiate. So Ralph, the young ranch manager, arranged to meet us at road’s end with a small wagon hitched to a pair of mules.

Pointing To God

God bless our homeland, Ghana” is the first line of Ghana’s national anthem. Other African anthems include: “O Uganda, may God uphold thee,” “Lord, bless our nation” (South Africa), and “O God of creation, direct our noble cause” (Nigeria). Using the anthems as prayers, founding fathers called on God to bless their land and its people. Many national anthems in Africa and others from around the world point to God as Creator and Provider. Other lines of anthems call for reconciliation, transformation, and hope for a people often divided along ethnic, political, and social lines.

When God Is Quiet

I love to take pictures of sunsets at Lake Michigan. Some are subtle shades of pastel. Others are bold strokes of bright color. Sometimes the sun sinks quietly behind the lake. Other times it goes down in what looks like a fiery explosion.

It’s Worth It

I can’t do it,” Robert said, throwing his pencil down in despair. “It’s just too hard!” Reading, writing, and spelling seemed impossible to our dyslexic 9-year-old. At last, a solution was offered. But it was tough. We had to do reading and spelling practice with him for 20 minutes every evening—without exception. Sometimes we just didn’t feel like doing it, and at times we despaired of seeing progress. But we were committed to getting Robert’s reading age and his chronological age to match, so we battled on.

Too Late To Change?

There are sayings in many languages about the difficulty of changing long-established habits. In English, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” In French, “Ce n’est pas à un vieux singe qu’on apprend à faire la grimace” (You can’t teach an old monkey how to pull a funny face). In Spanish, “El loro viejo no aprende a hablar” (An old parrot can’t learn to speak).

Just The Right Time

The conductor stood on the podium, his eyes scanning the choir and orchestra. The singers arranged the music in their folders, found a comfortable position for standing, and held the folder where they could see the conductor just over the top. Orchestra members positioned their music on the stand, found a comfortable position in their seats, and then sat still. The conductor waited and watched until everyone was ready. Then, with a downbeat of his baton, the sounds of Handel’s “Overture to Messiah” filled the cathedral.

In Jesus’ Name

One of my favorite collections of photos is of a family dinner. Preserved in an album are images of Dad, his sons and their wives, and his grandchildren in a time of thanks-giving and intercession.

A Ukrainian Christmas

The people of Ukraine include many wonderful elements in their observance of Christmas. Sometimes wisps of hay are placed on the dinner table as a reminder of the Bethlehem manger. Another portion of their celebration echoes the events of the night when the Savior entered the world. A Christmas prayer is offered and then the father in the household offers the greeting, “Christ is born!” The family then responds, “Let us glorify Him!”

Whose Side Are You On?

In the heat of the American Civil War, one of President Lincoln’s advisors said he was grateful that God was on the side of the Union. Lincoln replied, “Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.”

Losing Our Way

An online survey conducted by a New York law firm reveals that 52 percent of Wall Street traders, brokers, investment bankers, and other financial service professionals have either engaged in illegal activity or believe they may need to do so in order to be successful. The survey concludes that these financial leaders “have lost their moral compass” and “accept corporate wrongdoing as a necessary evil.”

Gentle Jesus

Charles Wesley (1707–1788) was a Methodist evangelist who wrote more than 9,000 hymns and sacred poems. Some, like “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing,” are great, soaring hymns of praise. But his poem “Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild,” first published in 1742, is a child’s quiet prayer that captures the essence of how all of us should seek the Lord in sincere, simple faith.

The Small Giant

The towering enemy strides into the Valley of Elah. He stands 9 feet tall, and his coat of armor, made of many small bronze plates, glimmers in the sunlight. The shaft of his spear is wrapped with cords so it can spin through the air and be thrown with greater distance and accuracy. Goliath looks invincible.

The Barking Lion

Visitors to a zoo were outraged when the “African lion” started barking instead of roaring. Zoo staff said they had disguised a Tibetan mastiff—a very large dog—as a lion because they could not afford the real thing. Needless to say, the zoo’s reputation was sullied and people will think twice before visiting it.

Our Foundation

The Bavarian city of Nördlingen is unique. It sits in the middle of the Ries Crater, a large circular depression caused by the impact of a huge meteorite a long time ago. The immense pressure of the impact resulted in unusual crystallized rock and millions of microscopic diamonds. In the 13th century, these speckled stones were used to build St. George’s Church. Visitors can see the beautiful crystal deposits in its foundation and walls. Some might say it has a heavenly foundation.

Following The Master

At a dog show near my home, I watched a Cardigan Welsh corgi named Trevor perform. At his master’s command, he ran several yards away and immediately returned, he jumped fences, and he identified objects using his sense of smell. After finishing each exercise, he sat down at his master’s feet and waited for more instructions.

Finding God’s Pathway

The Channel Tunnel opened on May 6, 1994, nearly two centuries after it was first proposed in 1802 by Napoleon’s engineer, Albert Mathieu. Today the 31-mile passage beneath the English Channel allows thousands of people, cars, and trucks to travel by train each day between England and France. For centuries, people had sailed across the Channel until this surprising new way to go under it was completed.

Graceland

The Graceland Mansion in Memphis, Tennessee, is one of the most visited homes in the US. It was built in the 1930s and named after the original owner’s great aunt, Grace. It later became famous as the home of Elvis Presley.

Family Trademarks

The Aran Islands, off the west coast of Ireland, are known for their beautiful sweaters. Patterns are woven into the fabric using sheep’s wool to craft the garments. Many of them relate to the culture and folklore of these small islands, but some are more personal. Each family on the islands has its own trademark pattern, which is so distinctive that if a fisherman were to drown it is said that he could be identified simply by examining his sweater for the family trademark.

Confident Access

Mont Saint-Michel is a tidal island located about a half-mile off the coast of Normandy, France. For centuries it has been the site of an abbey and monastery that has attracted religious pilgrims. Until the construction of a causeway, it was notorious for its dangerous access that resulted in the death of some pilgrims. At low tide it is encompassed by sand banks, and at high tide it is surrounded by water. Accessing the island was a cause for fear.

Divine Perspective

Jason took a trip to New York during spring break. One afternoon he and some friends piled into a cab and headed for the Empire State Building. To Jason, the ride on the ground seemed chaotic and dangerous. But when he got to the observation deck of the skyscraper and looked down on the city streets, to his amazement he saw order and design. What a difference a change in perspective made!

“No Grace”

I have nicknamed our car “No Grace.” Sunday mornings are the worst. I load the car with all the stuff I need for church, get myself in my seat, close the door, and Jay starts backing out of the garage. While I am still getting settled, the seat belt warning starts buzzing. “Please,” I say to it, “all I need is another minute.” The answer, apparently, is no, because it continues buzzing until I am buckled in.

The Power Of A Name

Nicknames are often descriptive of some noticeable aspect of a person’s character or physical attributes. Growing up, my elementary school friends brutally called me “liver lips” since at that stage of development my lips seemed disproportionately large. Needless to say, I have always been glad that the name didn’t stick.

Look To The Hills

Atop Corcovado Mountain overlooking the city of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, stands Christ the Redeemer, one of the tallest statues of Christ in the world. Standing 30 meters tall, with arms spreading 28 meters, this sculpture weighs 635 metric tons. It can be seen day or night from almost anywhere in the city. One look to the hills brings this figure of Christ the Redeemer into view.

Asking Different Questions

When tragedy strikes, questions follow. Our loss of a loved one may lead us to ask God any number of pointed questions: “Why did You let this happen?” “Whose fault was this?” “Don’t You care about my pain?” Believe me, as the grieving father of a teenager who died tragically I have asked these very questions.

Who Is This Man?

When Kelly Steinhaus visited Harvard Square to ask college students what they thought of Jesus, the answers were respectful of Him. One said He was “a person who took care of people.” Another said, “He sounds like a cool guy.” Others rejected Him outright: “He was just a guy. I don’t think He was the Savior.” And “I do not accept any faith system that says, ‘I am the only way to God.’” Some people thoughtfully question who Jesus is and some reject Him.

Focus On The Process

In William Zinsser’s book On Writing Well, he says that many writers suffer from “the tyranny of the final product.” They are so concerned with selling their article or book, they neglect learning the process of how to think, plan, and organize. A jumbled manuscript, Zinsser believes, is produced when “the writer, his eye on the finish line, never gave enough thought to how to run the race.”

The Light Of The Lamb

For countless generations people have looked to the sun and moon to light the day and the night. Whether illuminating our path or providing the life-giving radiance for fruitful crops and the nutrients our bodies need, the sun and moon are part of God’s marvelous provision of light. The book of Genesis tells us that God gave “the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night” (Gen. 1:16).

Crowns Of Honor

The Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom are stored securely and protected within the Tower of London under 24-hour guard. Each year, millions visit the display area to “ooh and aah” over these ornate treasures. The Crown Jewels symbolize the power of the kingdom, as well as the prestige and position of those who use them.

Generous God

When our family lived in Chicago several years ago, we enjoyed many benefits. Near the top of my list were the amazing restaurants that seemed to try to outdo each other, not only in great cuisine but also in portion sizes. At one Italian eatery, my wife and I would order a half portion of our favorite pasta dish and still have enough to bring home for dinner the next night! The generous portions made us feel like we were at Grandma’s house when she poured on the love through her cooking.