Category  |  Christian Living

River Tree

This was a tree to be envied. Growing on riverfront property, it didn’t have to worry about weather reports, withering temperatures, or an uncertain future. Nourished and cooled by the river, it spent its days lifting its branches to the sun, holding the earth with its roots, cleaning the air with its leaves, and offering shade to all who needed refuge from the sun. 

By contrast, the prophet Jeremiah pointed to a shrub (Jer. 17:6). When the rains stopped and the summer sun turned the ground to dust, the bush shriveled into itself, offering no shade or fruit to anyone.

Why would the prophet compare a flourishing tree to a withering bush? He wanted his people to recall what had happened since their miraculous rescue from the slave yards of Egypt. For forty years in a wilderness, they lived like a tree planted by a river (Jer. 2:4–6). Yet in the prosperity of their promised land they had forgotten their own story; they were relying on themselves and on gods of their own making (vv. 7–8), even to the point of going back to Egypt looking for help (42:14).

So God, through Jeremiah, lovingly urged the forgetful children of Israel, and us, to be like the tree—not the bush.

The Lighthouse

By its very existence, a ministry center in Rwanda called the “Lighthouse” symbolizes redemption. It sits on land where during the genocide in 1994 the country’s president owned a grand home. This new structure, however, has been erected by Christians as a beacon of light and hope. Housed there is a Bible institute to raise up a new generation of Christian leaders, along with a hotel, restaurant, and other services for the community. Out of the ashes has come new life.

Those who built the Lighthouse look to Jesus as their source of hope and redemption. When Jesus went to the synagogue in Nazareth on the Sabbath, He read from the book of Isaiah and announced that He was the Anointed One to proclaim the Lord’s favor (see Luke 4:14–21). He was the One who came to bind up the brokenhearted and offer redemption and forgiveness. In Jesus we see beauty coming from the ashes (Isa. 61:3).

We find the atrocities of the Rwandan genocide, when inter-tribal fighting cost more than a half-million lives, mind-boggling and harrowing, and we hardly know what to say about them. And yet we know that the Lord can redeem the atrocities—either here on earth or in heaven. He who bestows the oil of joy instead of mourning gives us hope even in the midst of the darkest of situations.

Seeing to Tomorrow

I enjoy gazing up at a cloudless blue sky. The sky is a beautiful part of our great Creator’s masterpiece, given for us to enjoy. Imagine how much pilots must love the view. They use several aeronautical terms to describe a perfect sky for flying, but my favorite is, “You can see to tomorrow.”

Actually, “seeing to tomorrow” is something even pilots cannot do. Sometimes we even struggle to see or understand what life is throwing at us today. The Bible tells us, “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4:14).

But our limited visibility is not cause for despair. Just the opposite. We trust in the God who sees all of our tomorrows perfectly—and who knows what we need as we face the challenges ahead. The apostle Paul knew this. That’s why Paul encourages us with hopeful words, “We live by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:1-9).

When we trust God with our day as well as our unseen tomorrows, we don’t need to worry about anything life throws at us. We walk with Him and He knows what is ahead; He is strong enough and wise enough to handle it. 

Look What Jesus Has Done

The little boy was only eight when he announced to his parents’ friend Wally, “I love Jesus and want to serve God overseas someday.” During the next ten years or so, Wally prayed for him as he watched him grow up. When this young man later applied with a mission agency to go to Mali, Wally told him, “It’s about time! When…

I Know Everything

Our son and daughter-in-law had an emergency. Our grandson Cameron was suffering from pneumonia and bronchitis and needed to go to the hospital. They asked if we could pick up their five-year-old son, Nathan, from school and take him home. Marlene and I were glad to do so.

When Nathan got in the car, Marlene asked, “Are you surprised that we came to get you today?” He responded, “No!” When we asked why not, he replied, “Because I know everything!”

A five-year-old can claim to know everything, but those of us who are a bit older know better. We often have more questions than answers. We wonder about the whys, whens, and hows of life—often forgetting that though we do not know everything, we know the God who does.

Psalm 139:1 and 3 speak of our all-knowing God’s all-encompassing, intimate understanding of us. David says, “You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. . . . You discern my going out and my lying down; and you are familiar with all my ways.” How comforting to know God loves us perfectly, is fully aware of what we will face today, and He knows how best to help us in every circumstance of life.

Our knowledge will always be limited, but knowing God is what matters most. We can trust Him.

Leaning on Jesus

Sometimes when I put my head on my pillow at night and pray, I imagine I’m leaning on Jesus. Whenever I do this, I remember something God’s Word tells us about the apostle John. John himself writes about how he was sitting beside Jesus at the Last Supper: “One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him” (John 13:23).

John used the term “the disciple whom Jesus loved” as a way of referring to himself without mentioning his own name. He is also depicting a typical banquet setting in first-century Israel, where the table was much lower than those we use today, about knee height. Reclining without chairs on a mat or cushions was the natural position for those around the table. John was sitting so close to the Lord that when he turned to ask him a question, he was “leaning back against Jesus” (John 13:25), with his head on his chest.

John’s closeness to Jesus in that moment provides a helpful illustration for our lives with Him today. We may not be able to touch Jesus physically, but we can entrust the weightiest circumstances of our lives to Him. He said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). How blessed we are to have a Savior whom we can trust to be faithful through every circumstance of our lives!  Are you “leaning” on Him today?

Does It Spark Joy?

A young Japanese woman’s book on decluttering and organizing has sold two million copies worldwide. The heart of Marie Kondo’s message is helping people get rid of unneeded things in their homes and closets—things that weigh them down. “Hold up each item,” she says, and ask, ‘Does it spark joy?’” If the answer is yes, keep it. If the answer is no, then give it away.

The apostle Paul urged the Christians in Philippi to pursue joy in their relationship with Christ. “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Phil. 4:4). Instead of a life cluttered with anxiety, he urged them to pray about everything and let God’s peace guard their hearts and minds in Christ (vv. 6–7).

Looking at our everyday tasks and responsibilities, we see that not all of them are enjoyable. But we can ask, “How can this spark joy in God’s heart and in my own?” A change in why we do things can bring a transformation in how we feel about them.

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true . . . noble . . . right . . . pure . . . lovely . . . admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (v. 8).

Paul’s parting words are food for thought and a recipe for joy.

Tried and Purified

During an interview, singer and songwriter Meredith Andrews spoke about being overwhelmed as she tried to balance outreach, creative work, marital issues, and motherhood. Reflecting on her distress, she said, "I felt like God was taking me through a refining season, almost through a crushing process.”

Job was overwhelmed after losing his livelihood, his health, and his family. Worse still, although Job had been a daily worshiper of God, he felt that the Lord was ignoring his pleas for help. God seemed absent from the landscape of his life. Job claimed he could not see God whether he looked to the north, south, east, or west (Job 23:2–9).

In the middle of his despair, Job had a moment of clarity. His faith flickered to life like a candle in a dark room. He said, “[God] knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold” (v. 10). Christians are tried and purified when God uses difficulty to burn away our self-reliance, pride, and earthly wisdom. If it seems as if God is silent during this process and He is not answering our cries for help, He may be giving us an opportunity to grow stronger in our faith.

Pain and problems can produce the shining, rock-solid character that comes from trusting God when life is hard.

In All Circumstances

In our suburb we complain about the constant power outages. They can hit three times in a week and last up to twenty-four hours, plunging the neighborhood into darkness. The inconvenience is hard to bear when we cannot use basic household appliances.

Our Christian neighbor often asks, “Is this also something to thank God for?” She is referring to 1 Thessalonians 5:18:  “Give thanks in all circumstances, for that is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” We always say, “Yes, of course, we thank God in all things.” But the half-hearted manner in which we say it is contradicted by our grumbling every time the power goes off.

One day, however, our belief in thanking God in all circumstances took on new meaning. I returned from work to find our neighbor visibly shaken as she cried, “Thank Jesus the power was off. My house would have burned down, and my family and I would have perished!”

A refuse-collection truck had hit the electricity pole in front of her house and brought down the high-tension cables right over several houses. Had there been power in the cables, fatalities would have been likely.

The difficult circumstances we face can make it hard to say, “Thanks, Lord.” We can be thankful to our God who sees in every situation an opportunity for us to trust Him—whether or not we see His purpose. 

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Christian Living > Compassion

Out in the Cold

In desperation, a woman called the housing assistance center where I worked. A heating problem had turned her rental home into a freezer with furniture. Panicked, she asked me how she would care for her children. I hurriedly replied with the scripted official response: “Just move into a hotel and send the landlord the bill.” She angrily hung up on me. 

            I knew the textbook answer to her question, but I had completely missed her heart. She wanted someone to understand her fear and desperation. She needed to know she wasn’t alone. In essence, I had left her out in the cold.

            After Job had lost everything, he had friends with answers but little understanding. Zophar told him all he needed to do was live wholeheartedly for God. Then “life will be brighter than noonday,” he said (11:17). That counsel wasn’t well received, and Job responded with scathing sarcasm: “Wisdom will die with you!” (12:2). He knew the dissatisfying taste of textbook answers to real-world problems.

It’s easy to be critical of Job’s friends for their failure to see the big picture. But how often are we too quick with answers to questions we don’t truly understand? People do want answers. But more than that, they want to know we hear and understand. They want to know we care.

My Personal Space

An industrial design graduate from a Singapore university was challenged in a workshop to come up with a novel solution to a common problem using only ordinary objects. She created a vest to protect one’s personal space from being invaded while traveling in the crush of crowded public trains and buses. The vest was covered with long, flexible plastic spikes normally used to keep birds and cats away from plants.

Jesus knew what it was like to lose His personal space in the commotion of crowds desperate to see and touch Him. A woman who had suffered from constant bleeding for 12 years and could find no cure touched the fringe of His robe. Immediately, her bleeding stopped (Luke 8:43-44).

Jesus’ question, “Who touched me?” (v. 45) isn’t as strange as it sounds. He felt power come out of Him (v. 46). That touch was different from those who merely happened to accidentally touch Him.

While we must admit that we do sometimes wish to keep our personal space and privacy, the only way we help a world of hurting people is to let them get close enough to be touched by the encouragement, comfort, and grace of Christ in us.

Her Father’s Zoo

June Williams was only 4 when her father bought 7 acres of land to build a zoo without bars or cages. Growing up she remembers how creative her father was in trying to help wild animals feel free in confinement. Today Chester Zoo is one of England’s most popular wildlife attractions. Home to 11,000 animals on 110 acres of land, the zoo reflects her father’s concern for animal welfare, education, and conservation.

Solomon had a similar interest in all creatures great and small. In addition to studying the wildlife of the Middle East, he imported exotic animals like apes and monkeys from far-off lands (1 Kings 10:22). But one of his proverbs shows us that Solomon’s knowledge of nature went beyond intellectual curiosity. When he expressed the spiritual implications of how we treat our animals, he mirrored something of the heart of our Creator: “The righteous care for the needs of their animals, but the kindest acts of the wicked are cruel” (Prov. 12:10).

With God-given wisdom, Solomon saw that our relationship to our Creator affects not only how we treat people but also how much thoughtful consideration we give to the creatures in our care.

Christian Living > Contentment

Best Deal Ever!

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.

This Gift

A number of years ago I wrote an essay about my collection of canes, staffs, and walking sticks and mused that I might someday graduate to a walker. Well, the day has come. A combination of back issues and peripheral neuropathy has left me pushing a three-wheel walker. I can't hike; I can't fish; I can't do many of the things that used to bring me great joy.

I'm trying to learn, however, that my limitation, whatever it may be, is a gift from God, and it is with this gift that I am to serve Him. This gift and not another. This is true of all of us, whether our limits are emotional, physical, or intellectual. Paul was so bold as to say that he boasted in his weakness for it was in weakness that God's power was revealed in him (2 Cor. 12:9).

Seeing our so-called liabilities this way enables us to go about our business with confidence and courage. Rather than complain, feel sorry for ourselves, or opt out, we make ourselves available to God for His intended purposes.

I have no idea what He has in mind for you and me, but we shouldn't worry about that. Our task today is just to accept things as they are and to be content, knowing that in the love, wisdom, and providence of God this moment is as good as it can possibly be.

Comparison Obsession

Thomas J. DeLong, a professor at Harvard Business School, has noted a disturbing trend among his students and colleagues—a  “comparison obsession." He writes:  “More so than ever before, . . . business executives, Wall Street analysts, lawyers, doctors, and other professionals are obsessed with comparing their own achievements against those of others. . . . This is bad for individuals and bad for companies—when you define success based on external rather than internal criteria, you diminish your satisfaction and commitment.”

Comparison obsession isn’t new. The Scriptures warn us of the dangers of comparing ourselves to others. When we do so, we become proud and look down on them (Luke 18:9–14). Or we become jealous and want to be like them or have what they have (James 4:1). We fail to focus on what God has given us to do. Jesus intimated that comparison obsession comes from believing that God is unfair and that He doesn’t have a right to be more generous to others than He is to us (Matt. 20:1–16). 

 

By God’s grace we can learn to overcome comparison obsession by focusing on the life God has given to us. As we take moments to thank God for everyday blessings, we change our thinking and begin to believe deep down that God is good.

Christian Living > Gratefulness & Thankfulness

In All Circumstances

In our suburb we complain about the constant power outages. They can hit three times in a week and last up to twenty-four hours, plunging the neighborhood into darkness. The inconvenience is hard to bear when we cannot use basic household appliances.

Our Christian neighbor often asks, “Is this also something to thank God for?” She is referring to 1 Thessalonians 5:18:  “Give thanks in all circumstances, for that is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” We always say, “Yes, of course, we thank God in all things.” But the half-hearted manner in which we say it is contradicted by our grumbling every time the power goes off.

One day, however, our belief in thanking God in all circumstances took on new meaning. I returned from work to find our neighbor visibly shaken as she cried, “Thank Jesus the power was off. My house would have burned down, and my family and I would have perished!”

A refuse-collection truck had hit the electricity pole in front of her house and brought down the high-tension cables right over several houses. Had there been power in the cables, fatalities would have been likely.

The difficult circumstances we face can make it hard to say, “Thanks, Lord.” We can be thankful to our God who sees in every situation an opportunity for us to trust Him—whether or not we see His purpose. 

Thanks-Living

Wanting to mature in her spiritual life and become more thankful, Sue started what she called a Thanks-Living jar. Each evening she wrote on a small piece of paper one thing she thanked God for and dropped it in the jar. Some days she had many praises; other difficult days she struggled to find one. At the end of the year she emptied her jar and read through all of the notes. She found herself thanking God again for everything He had done. He had given simple things like a beautiful sunset or a cool evening for a walk in the park, and other times He had provided grace to handle a difficult situation or had answered a prayer.

Sue’s discovery reminded me of what the psalmist David says he experienced (Ps. 23). God refreshed him with “green pastures” and “quiet waters” (vv. 2–3). He gave him guidance, protection, and comfort (vv. 3–4). He concluded: “Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life” (v. 6).

I’m going to make a Thanks-Living jar this year. Maybe you’d like to as well. I think we’ll see we have many reasons to thank God—including His gifts of friends and family and His provisions for our physical, spiritual, and emotional needs. We’ll see that the goodness and love of God follows us all the days of our lives.

I’m Rich!

Perhaps you’ve seen the TV ad in which a person answers the door and finds someone who hands over a check for an enormous amount of money. Then the amazed recipient begins shouting, dancing, jumping, and hugging everyone in sight. “I won! I’m rich! I can’t believe it! My problems are solved!” Striking it rich evokes a great emotional response.

In Psalm 119, the longest chapter in the Bible, we find this remarkable statement: “I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches” (v. 14). What a comparison! Obeying God’s instructions for living can be just as exhilarating as receiving a fortune! Verse 16 repeats this refrain as the psalmist expresses grateful gladness for the Lord’s commands. “I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word.”

But what if we don’t feel that way? How can delighting in God’s instructions for living be just as exhilarating as receiving a fortune? It all begins with gratitude, which is both an attitude and a choice. We pay attention to what we value, so we begin by expressing our gratitude for those gifts of God that nourish our souls. We ask Him to open our eyes to see the storehouse of wisdom, knowledge, and peace He has given us in His Word.

As our love for Jesus grows each day, we indeed strike it rich!

Christian Living > Happiness

Heart Of Joy

While waiting in the gate area of Singapore’s Changi Airport to board my flight, I noticed a young family—mom, dad, and son. The area was crowded, and they were looking for a place to sit. Suddenly, the little boy began loudly singing “Joy to the World.” He was about 6 years old, so I was pretty impressed that he knew all the words.

And Then You Laugh

Noise. Vibration. Pressure. Fireball. Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield used these words to describe being launched into space. As the rocket raced toward the International Space Station, the weight of gravity increased and breathing became difficult. Just when he thought he would pass out, the rocket made a fiery breakthrough into weightlessness. Instead of lapsing into unconsciousness, he broke into laughter.

Giving Up Our Mirrors

When Moses gathered the children of Israel together to begin work on the tabernacle (Ex. 35–39), he called on Bezalel, a gifted artisan, to help make the furnishings. We’re told that certain women were asked to give their precious bronze mirrors to make the bronze basin he was constructing (38:8). They gave them up to help prepare a place where God’s presence would reside.

Christian Living > Hope & Joy

River Tree

This was a tree to be envied. Growing on riverfront property, it didn’t have to worry about weather reports, withering temperatures, or an uncertain future. Nourished and cooled by the river, it spent its days lifting its branches to the sun, holding the earth with its roots, cleaning the air with its leaves, and offering shade to all who needed refuge from the sun. 

By contrast, the prophet Jeremiah pointed to a shrub (Jer. 17:6). When the rains stopped and the summer sun turned the ground to dust, the bush shriveled into itself, offering no shade or fruit to anyone.

Why would the prophet compare a flourishing tree to a withering bush? He wanted his people to recall what had happened since their miraculous rescue from the slave yards of Egypt. For forty years in a wilderness, they lived like a tree planted by a river (Jer. 2:4–6). Yet in the prosperity of their promised land they had forgotten their own story; they were relying on themselves and on gods of their own making (vv. 7–8), even to the point of going back to Egypt looking for help (42:14).

So God, through Jeremiah, lovingly urged the forgetful children of Israel, and us, to be like the tree—not the bush.

The Lighthouse

By its very existence, a ministry center in Rwanda called the “Lighthouse” symbolizes redemption. It sits on land where during the genocide in 1994 the country’s president owned a grand home. This new structure, however, has been erected by Christians as a beacon of light and hope. Housed there is a Bible institute to raise up a new generation of Christian leaders, along with a hotel, restaurant, and other services for the community. Out of the ashes has come new life.

Those who built the Lighthouse look to Jesus as their source of hope and redemption. When Jesus went to the synagogue in Nazareth on the Sabbath, He read from the book of Isaiah and announced that He was the Anointed One to proclaim the Lord’s favor (see Luke 4:14–21). He was the One who came to bind up the brokenhearted and offer redemption and forgiveness. In Jesus we see beauty coming from the ashes (Isa. 61:3).

We find the atrocities of the Rwandan genocide, when inter-tribal fighting cost more than a half-million lives, mind-boggling and harrowing, and we hardly know what to say about them. And yet we know that the Lord can redeem the atrocities—either here on earth or in heaven. He who bestows the oil of joy instead of mourning gives us hope even in the midst of the darkest of situations.

Does It Spark Joy?

A young Japanese woman’s book on decluttering and organizing has sold two million copies worldwide. The heart of Marie Kondo’s message is helping people get rid of unneeded things in their homes and closets—things that weigh them down. “Hold up each item,” she says, and ask, ‘Does it spark joy?’” If the answer is yes, keep it. If the answer is no, then give it away.

The apostle Paul urged the Christians in Philippi to pursue joy in their relationship with Christ. “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Phil. 4:4). Instead of a life cluttered with anxiety, he urged them to pray about everything and let God’s peace guard their hearts and minds in Christ (vv. 6–7).

Looking at our everyday tasks and responsibilities, we see that not all of them are enjoyable. But we can ask, “How can this spark joy in God’s heart and in my own?” A change in why we do things can bring a transformation in how we feel about them.

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true . . . noble . . . right . . . pure . . . lovely . . . admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (v. 8).

Paul’s parting words are food for thought and a recipe for joy.

Christian Living > Living for Christ

What’s the Occasion?

Four-year-old Asher’s gleeful face peeked out from beneath his favorite hooded sweatshirt. His alligator-head hooded sweatshirt, complete with plush jaws that seemed to swallow his head! His mom’s heart sank. She wanted the family to make a good impression as they visited a family they hadn’t seen in a long time.

“Oh, hon,” she said, “that may not be appropriate for the occasion.”

“Of course it is!” Asher protested brightly.

“Hmm, and what occasion might that be?” she asked. Asher replied, “You know. Life!” He got to wear the shirt.

That joyful boy already grasps the truth of Ecclesiastes 3:12—“There is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live.” Ecclesiastes can seem depressing and is often misunderstood because it’s written from a human perspective, not God’s. The writer, King Solomon, asked, “What do workers gain from their toil?” (v. 9). Yet throughout the book we catch glimpses of hope. Solomon also wrote: “That each of [us] may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all [our] toil—this is the gift of God” (v. 13).

We serve a God who gives us good things to enjoy. Everything He does “will endure forever” (v. 14). As we acknowledge Him and follow His loving commands, He infuses our lives with purpose, meaning, and joy.  

Not In Vain

A financial advisor I know describes the reality of investing money by saying, “Hope for the best and be prepared for the worst.” With almost every decision we make in life there is uncertainty about the outcome. Yet there is one course we can follow where no matter what happens, we know that in the end it will not be a wasted effort.

The apostle Paul spent a year with the followers of Jesus in Corinth, a city known for its moral corruption. After he left, he urged them in a follow-up letter not to be discouraged or feel that their witness for Christ was of no value. He assured them that a day is coming when the Lord will return and even death will be swallowed up in victory (1 Cor. 15:52–55).

Remaining true to Jesus may be difficult, discouraging, and even dangerous, but it is never pointless or wasted. As we walk with the Lord and witness to His presence and power, our lives are not in vain! We can be sure of that.

The Perfect Gift

Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Romans 12:1

The weeks after Christmas are the busiest time of year in the US for merchandise returns as people trade unwanted gifts for what they really want. Yet you probably know a few people who always seem to give the perfect gift. How do they know just what another person values and what is right for the occasion? The key to successful gift-giving is not money; it’s listening to others and taking a personal interest in what they enjoy and appreciate.

This is true for family and friends. But what about God? Is there anything meaningful or valuable that we can give to God? Is there anything He doesn’t already have?

Romans 11:33–36, a song of praise to God for His great wisdom, knowledge, and glory, is followed by a call to give ourselves to Him. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship” (12:1). Instead of being shaped by the world around us, we are to be “transformed by the renewing of [our] mind” (v. 2).

What’s the best gift we can give to God today? In gratitude, humility, and love we can give ourselves completely to Him—heart, mind, and will. It’s just what the Lord is longing to receive from each of us.

Christian Living > Living Like Christ

Random Acts of Kindness

Some say that the American writer Anne Herbert scribbled the phrase "Practice random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty" on a placemat at a restaurant in 1982. The sentiment has since been popularized through film and literature and has become a part of our vocabulary.

The missing note is “Why?” Why should we show kindness to others? For those who follow Jesus, the answer is clear: To show the tender mercy and kindness of God.

There’s an Old Testament example of that principle in the story of Ruth, the emigrant from Moab. She was a foreigner, living in a strange land whose language and culture she did not understand. Furthermore, she was desperately poor, utterly dependent on the charity of a people who took little notice of her.

There was one Israelite, however, who showed Ruth grace and spoke to her heart (Ruth 2:13). He allowed her to glean in his fields, but more than that simple charity, he showed her by his compassion the tender mercy and loving kindness of God, the One under whose wings she could take refuge. She became Boaz’s bride, part of the family of God, and one in a line of ancestors that led to Jesus, who brought salvation to the world (see Matt. 1:1-16).

We never know what one act of kindness, done in Jesus’ name, will do.

The Power of Simple Words

Raucous laughter marked the guests in my father's hospital room: Two old truck drivers, one former country/western singer, one craftsman, two women from neighboring farms, and me. 

                "...and then he got up and busted the bottle over my head," the craftsman said, finishing his story about a bar fight.

                The room bursts into laughter at this now-humorous memory. Dad, struggling for breath as his laughing fought with his cancer for the air in his lungs, puffs out a reminder to everybody that “Randy is a preacher" so they need to watch what they say. Everything got quiet for about two seconds; then the whole room exploded as this news makes them laugh harder and louder. 

                Suddenly, about forty minutes into this visit, the craftsman clears his throat, turns to my dad, and gets serious. "No more drinking and bar fights for me, Howard. Those days are behind me. Now I have a different reason to live. I want to tell you about my Savior."

                  He then proceeded to do just that, over my father's surprisingly mild protests.  If there's a sweeter, gentler way to present the gospel message, I've never heard it. 

                My dad listened and watched, and some years later believed in Jesus too.

                It was a simple testimony from an old friend living a simple life, reminding me again that simple isn't naïve or stupid; it's direct and unpretentious.

                Just like Jesus. And salvation. 

Living in the Light

It was a dark morning. Low, steel-colored clouds filled the sky, and the atmosphere was so dim that I needed to turn on the lights in order to read a book. I had just settled in when the room suddenly filled with light. I looked up and saw that the wind was pushing the clouds to the east, clearing the sky and revealing the sun.

As I went to the window to get a better look at the drama, a thought came to mind: “The darkness is passing and the true light is already shining” (1 John 2:8). The apostle John wrote these words to believers as a message of encouragement. He went on to say, “Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing to make them stumble” (v. 10). By contrast, he equated hating people with roaming around in darkness. Hatred is disorienting; it takes away our sense of moral direction.

Loving people is not always easy. Yet as I was reminded at the window, frustration, forgiveness, and faithfulness are all part of maintaining a deep connection with the love and light of God. When we choose love instead of hate, we are showing our relationship with Him and reflecting His radiance to the world around us. “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5).

 

Christian Living > Living with Other Believers

We Had No Idea

Volunteers from a local church spent a frigid evening distributing food to people in a low-income apartment complex. One woman who received the food was overjoyed. She showed them her bare cupboard and told them they were an answer to her prayers.

         As the volunteers returned to the church, one woman began to cry. “When I was a little girl,” she said, “that lady was my Sunday school teacher. She’s in church every Sunday. We had no idea she was almost starving!”

         Clearly, these were caring people who were seeking ways to carry the burdens of others, as Paul suggests in Galatians 6:2. Yet somehow they hadn’t noticed the needs of this woman—someone they saw every Sunday—and she hadn’t shared her needs. This can be a gentle reminder for all of us to be more aware of those around us and, as Paul said, to “do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (6:10).

         People who worship together have the privilege of assisting one another so no one in the body of Christ goes without help. As we get to know each other and care for each other, perhaps we won’t ever have to say, “We had no idea.”

God's Reminders

My friend Bob Horner refers to Jesus as “the Master Reminder.” And that is good, because we are so doubting and forgetful. No matter how often Jesus met the needs of the people who came to Him when He was here on earth, His first disciples feared they would somehow be left in need. After witnessing miracles, they failed to understand the greater meaning the Lord wanted them to remember.

            On a journey across the Sea of Galilee, the disciples realized they had forgotten to bring bread and were talking about it. Jesus asked them, “Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember?” (Mark 8:17–18). Then He reminded them that when He fed five thousand people with five loaves, the disciples had collected twelve basketfuls of leftover pieces. And when He fed four thousand with seven loaves, they filled seven baskets with leftovers. Then “He said to them, ‘Do you still not understand?’” (v. 21)

            The Lord’s miraculous provision for people’s physical needs pointed to the greater truth—that He was the Bread of Life and that His body would be “broken” for them and for us.

            Every time during the Lord’s Supper we eat the bread and drink the cup we are reminded of our Lord’s great love and provision for us.

Let Us

While standing in line for a popular attraction at Disneyland, I noticed that most people were talking and smiling instead of complaining about the long wait. It made me ponder what made waiting in that line an enjoyable experience. The key seemed to be that very few people were there by themselves. Instead, friends, families, groups, and couples were sharing the experience, which was far different than standing in line alone.

            The Christian life is meant to be lived in company with others, not alone. Hebrews 10:19–25 urges us to live in community with other followers of Jesus. “Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings . . . . Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together” (vv. 22–25). In community we reassure and reinforce each other, “encouraging one another” (v. 25).

            Even our most difficult days can become a meaningful part of our journey of faith when others share them with us. Don’t face life alone. Let us travel together.

Christian Living > Love

Look What Jesus Has Done

The little boy was only eight when he announced to his parents’ friend Wally, “I love Jesus and want to serve God overseas someday.” During the next ten years or so, Wally prayed for him as he watched him grow up. When this young man later applied with a mission agency to go to Mali, Wally told him, “It’s about time! When…

A Multiplied Love

When a woman in Karen’s church was diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease), things looked bad. This cruel disease affects nerves and muscles, eventually leading to paralysis. The family’s insurance wouldn’t cover home care, and the stricken woman’s husband couldn’t bear the thought of putting her in a nursing home.

As a nurse, Karen had the expertise to help and began going to the woman’s home to care for her. But she soon realized she couldn’t take care of her own family while meeting the needs of her friend, so she started teaching others in the church to help. As the disease ran its course over the next seven years, Karen trained thirty-one additional volunteers who surrounded that family with love, prayer, and practical assistance.  

“Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister,” said John the disciple (1 John 4:21). Karen gives us a shining example of that kind of love. She had the skills, compassion, and vision to rally a church family around a hurting friend. Her love for one person in need became a multiplied love lived out by many. 

The Perfect Gift

Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Romans 12:1

The weeks after Christmas are the busiest time of year in the US for merchandise returns as people trade unwanted gifts for what they really want. Yet you probably know a few people who always seem to give the perfect gift. How do they know just what another person values and what is right for the occasion? The key to successful gift-giving is not money; it’s listening to others and taking a personal interest in what they enjoy and appreciate.

This is true for family and friends. But what about God? Is there anything meaningful or valuable that we can give to God? Is there anything He doesn’t already have?

Romans 11:33–36, a song of praise to God for His great wisdom, knowledge, and glory, is followed by a call to give ourselves to Him. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship” (12:1). Instead of being shaped by the world around us, we are to be “transformed by the renewing of [our] mind” (v. 2).

What’s the best gift we can give to God today? In gratitude, humility, and love we can give ourselves completely to Him—heart, mind, and will. It’s just what the Lord is longing to receive from each of us.

Christian Living > Rest

Put Down Your Burdens

A man driving his pickup truck on a country track saw a woman carrying a heavy load, so he stopped and offered her a lift. The woman expressed her gratitude and climbed into the back of the truck.

A moment later, the man noticed a strange thing: the woman was still holding onto her heavy load despite sitting in the vehicle! Astonished, he pleaded, "Please, Madam, put down your load and take your rest. My truck can carry you and your stuff. Just relax."

What do we do with the load of fear, worry, and anxiety we often carry as we go through life's many challenges? Instead of relaxing in the Lord, I sometimes behave like that woman. Jesus said, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest" (Matt. 11:28), yet I've caught myself carrying burdens I should offload onto Jesus.

We put down our burdens when we bring them to the Lord in prayer. The apostle Peter says, "Cast all your anxiety on [Jesus] because he cares for you" (1 Peter 5:7). Because He cares for us, we can rest and relax as we learn to trust Him. Instead of carrying the burdens that weigh us down and weary us, we can give them to the Lord and let Him carry them.

Calming Your Soul

While attending a concert, my mind detoured to a troublesome issue that insisted on my attention. Thankfully, the distraction was short-lived as the words of a beautiful hymn began to reach deep into my being. A men’s a capella group was singing “Be Still, My Soul.” Tears welled up as I listened to the words and contemplated the restful peace that only God can give:

Be still, my soul: the Lord is on thy side! Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain; Leave to thy God to order and provide; In every change He faithful will remain.

When Jesus was denouncing the unrepentant towns where He had done most of His miracles (Matt. 11:20-24), He still had words of comfort for those who would come to Him. He said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened . . . . learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (vv. 28-29).

This statement is striking! Immediately following His strong words for those who were rejecting Him, Jesus extended an invitation to all to draw near to Him to find the peace we all yearn for. Jesus is the only one who can calm our restless, weary souls.

Human Race

The alarm clock goes off. Too early, it seems. But you have a long day ahead. You have work to do, appointments to keep, people to care for, or all this and more. Well, you are not alone. Each day, many of us rush from one matter to another. As someone has wittily suggested, “That’s why we are called the human race.”

            When the apostles returned from their first mission trip, they had a lot to report. But Mark did not record Jesus’ evaluation of the disciples’ work; rather, he focused on His concern that they rest awhile. Jesus said, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest” (6:31).  

            Ultimately, we find true rest through recognizing the presence of God and trusting Him. While we take our responsibilities seriously, we also recognize that we can relax our grip on our work and careers, our families and ministry, and give them over to God in faith. We can take time each day to tune out the distractions, put away the tense restlessness, and reflect in gratitude on the wonder of God’s love and faithfulness.

            So stop and take a breath. Get some real rest.

Christian Living > Trust in God

River Tree

This was a tree to be envied. Growing on riverfront property, it didn’t have to worry about weather reports, withering temperatures, or an uncertain future. Nourished and cooled by the river, it spent its days lifting its branches to the sun, holding the earth with its roots, cleaning the air with its leaves, and offering shade to all who needed refuge from the sun. 

By contrast, the prophet Jeremiah pointed to a shrub (Jer. 17:6). When the rains stopped and the summer sun turned the ground to dust, the bush shriveled into itself, offering no shade or fruit to anyone.

Why would the prophet compare a flourishing tree to a withering bush? He wanted his people to recall what had happened since their miraculous rescue from the slave yards of Egypt. For forty years in a wilderness, they lived like a tree planted by a river (Jer. 2:4–6). Yet in the prosperity of their promised land they had forgotten their own story; they were relying on themselves and on gods of their own making (vv. 7–8), even to the point of going back to Egypt looking for help (42:14).

So God, through Jeremiah, lovingly urged the forgetful children of Israel, and us, to be like the tree—not the bush.

Seeing to Tomorrow

I enjoy gazing up at a cloudless blue sky. The sky is a beautiful part of our great Creator’s masterpiece, given for us to enjoy. Imagine how much pilots must love the view. They use several aeronautical terms to describe a perfect sky for flying, but my favorite is, “You can see to tomorrow.”

Actually, “seeing to tomorrow” is something even pilots cannot do. Sometimes we even struggle to see or understand what life is throwing at us today. The Bible tells us, “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4:14).

But our limited visibility is not cause for despair. Just the opposite. We trust in the God who sees all of our tomorrows perfectly—and who knows what we need as we face the challenges ahead. The apostle Paul knew this. That’s why Paul encourages us with hopeful words, “We live by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:1-9).

When we trust God with our day as well as our unseen tomorrows, we don’t need to worry about anything life throws at us. We walk with Him and He knows what is ahead; He is strong enough and wise enough to handle it. 

I Know Everything

Our son and daughter-in-law had an emergency. Our grandson Cameron was suffering from pneumonia and bronchitis and needed to go to the hospital. They asked if we could pick up their five-year-old son, Nathan, from school and take him home. Marlene and I were glad to do so.

When Nathan got in the car, Marlene asked, “Are you surprised that we came to get you today?” He responded, “No!” When we asked why not, he replied, “Because I know everything!”

A five-year-old can claim to know everything, but those of us who are a bit older know better. We often have more questions than answers. We wonder about the whys, whens, and hows of life—often forgetting that though we do not know everything, we know the God who does.

Psalm 139:1 and 3 speak of our all-knowing God’s all-encompassing, intimate understanding of us. David says, “You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. . . . You discern my going out and my lying down; and you are familiar with all my ways.” How comforting to know God loves us perfectly, is fully aware of what we will face today, and He knows how best to help us in every circumstance of life.

Our knowledge will always be limited, but knowing God is what matters most. We can trust Him.