Fire can be one of the worst enemies of trees. But it can also be helpful. Experts say that small, frequent fires called “cool” fires clean the forest floor of dead leaves and branches but don’t destroy the trees. They leave behind ashes, which are perfect for seeds to grow in. Surprisingly, low-intensity fires are necessary for healthy growth of trees.
Similarly, trials—pictured as fire in the Bible—are necessary for our spiritual health and growth (1 Peter 1:7; 4:12). James wrote, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4).
It is in the season of trial that God’s purposes are often realized, for there the conditions are right for us to grow into spiritual maturity. This growth not only equips us for living, but it also enables us to more accurately reflect Jesus to a world that desperately needs Him.
In the hands of our Father, our trials can achieve His purposes for our good and for His honor. They can shape us into the likeness of His Son.
I love egg roti prata, a popular pancake in my country of Singapore. So I was intrigued to read that a 125-pound (57 kg) person must run 5 miles (8 km) per hour for 30 minutes to burn 240 calories. That’s equivalent to only one egg roti prata.
Ever since I started working out in the gym, those numbers have taken on a new significance for me. I find myself asking: Is this food worth the calories?
While it is wise to watch our food consumption, it is even more important to watch our media consumption. Research shows that what we see can stay in our minds for a long time and influence our behavior. It has a “clingy effect,” sticking to us like that stubborn fat we find so hard to lose.
With the wide variety of media content surrounding us today, we need to be discerning consumers. That doesn’t mean we read only Christian literature or watch only faith-related movies, but we are careful about what we allow our eyes to see. We might ask ourselves: Is this worth my time?
In Philippians 4:8, the apostle Paul tells us in essence, “Feed your eyes and minds on things that are true, noble, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous and praiseworthy.” This is a “diet” worthy of what Christ has done and is doing in us.
“Today we’re going to play a game called Imitation,” our children’s minister told the kids gathered around him for the children’s sermon. “I’ll name something and you act out what it does. Ready? Chicken!” The kids flapped their arms, cackled, and crowed. Next it was elephant, then football player, and then ballerina. The last one was Jesus. While many of the children hesitated, one 6-year-old with a big smile on his face immediately threw his arms wide open in welcome. The congregation applauded.
How easily we forget that our calling is to be like Jesus in the everyday situations of life. “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph. 5:1-2).
The apostle Paul commended the followers of Jesus in Thessalonica for the outward demonstration of their faith in difficult circumstances. “You became imitators of us and of the Lord,” Paul wrote. “And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia” (1 Thess. 1:6-7).
It is the life of Jesus in us that encourages and enables us to walk through this world as He did—with the good news of God’s love and with arms open wide in welcome to all.
Carolyn and I met Phipps Festus Bourne in 1995 in his shop in Mabry Hill, Virginia. Bourne, who died in 2002, was a master wood carver whose carvings are almost exact replicas of real objects. “Carving a duck is simple,” he said. “You just look at a piece of wood, get in your head what a duck looks like, and then cut off everything that doesn’t look like it.”
So it is with God. He looks at you and me—blocks of rough wood—envisions the Christlike woman or man hidden beneath the bark, knots, and twigs and then begins to carve away everything that does not fit that image. We would be amazed if we could see how beautiful we are as finished “ducks.”
But first we must accept that we are a block of wood and allow the Artist to cut, shape, and sand us where He will. This means viewing our circumstances—pleasant or unpleasant—as God’s tools that shape us. He forms us, one part at a time, into the beautiful creature He envisioned in our ungainly lump of wood.
Sometimes the process is wonderful; sometimes it is painful. But in the end, all of God’s tools conform us “to the image of his Son” (Rom. 8:29).
Do you long for that likeness? Put yourself in the Master Carver’s hands.
A few years before he became the 26th U.S. president (1901–1909), Theodore Roosevelt got word that his oldest son, Theodore Jr., was ill. While his son would recover, the cause of Ted’s illness hit Roosevelt hard. Doctors told him that he was the cause of his son’s illness. Ted was suffering from “nervous exhaustion,” having been pressed unmercifully by Theodore to become the “fighter” hero-type he himself had not been during his own frail childhood. Upon hearing this, the elder Roosevelt made a promise to relent: “Hereafter I shall never press Ted either in body or mind.”
The father was true to his word. From then on he paid close attention to how he treated his son—the very same son who would one day bravely lead the landing of Allied soldiers on Utah Beach in World War II.
God has entrusted each of us with influence in the lives of others. We have a deep responsibility in those relationships, not only to spouses and children, but to friends, employees, and customers. The temptation to press too hard, to demand too much, to force progress, or to orchestrate success can lead us to harm others even when we don’t realize it. For this very reason, followers of Christ are urged to be patient and gentle with one another (Col. 3:12). Since Jesus, the Son of God, came in humility, how can we withhold such kindness from one another?
While delivering a well-publicized speech, a respected leader and statesman got the attention of his nation by declaring that most of his country’s honorable Members of Parliament (MPs) were quite dishonorable. Citing lifestyles of corruption, pompous attitudes, unsavory language, and other vices, he rebuked the MPs and urged them to reform. As expected, his comments didn’t go well with them and they dispatched counter-criticisms his way.
We may not be public officials in positions of leadership, but we who follow Christ are a “chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession” (1 Peter 2:9). As such, our Lord calls us to lifestyles that honor Him.
The disciple Peter had some practical advice on how to do this. He urged us to “abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul” (v.11). Although he didn’t use the word honorable, he was calling us to behavior worthy of Christ.
As the apostle Paul phrased it in his letter to the Philippians, “Whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Phil. 4:8). Indeed, these are the characteristics of behavior that honor our Lord.
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.
In the summer of 2015, Hunter (aged 15) carried his brother Braden (8) for a fifty-seven-mile walk to raise awareness of the needs of people with cerebral palsy. Braden weighs sixty pounds, so Hunter needed frequent rest stops where others helped him stretch his muscles, and he wore special harnesses to disperse Braden’s weight. Hunter says that while the harnesses helped with the physical discomfort, what helped him most were the people along the way. “If it weren’t for everyone cheering and walking with us, I wouldn’t have been able to do it. . . . My legs were sore but my friends picked me up and I made it through . . . .” His mom named the arduous trek “The Cerebral Palsy Swagger.”
The apostle Paul, who we think of as strong and courageous, also needed to be “picked up.” In Romans 16 he lists a number of people who did just that for him. They served alongside him, encouraged him, met his needs, and prayed for him. He mentions Phoebe; Priscilla and Aquila who were co-workers; Rufus’s mother who had been like a mother to him as well; Gaius who showed him hospitality; and many more.
We all need friends who pick us up, and we all know of others who need our encouragement. As Jesus helps and carries us, let us help one another.
While staying in a hotel in a small town I noticed that the church across the street was having a service. People were jammed into the church with a standing-room-only crowd of both young and old flowing out onto the sidewalk. When I noticed a hearse by the curb, I realized it was a funeral. And given the crowd, I assumed that it was the celebration of the life of some local hero—perhaps a wealthy businessperson or a famous personality. Curious, I said to the desk clerk, “That’s an amazing turnout for a funeral; it must be for a famous person in town.”
“No,” he replied. “He wasn’t rich or famous but he was a good man.”
This reminded me of the wisdom of the proverb that says, “A good name is more desirable than great riches” (Prov. 22:1). It’s a good idea to think about what kind of legacy we are leaving for our family, friends, and neighbors. From God’s perspective it’s not our resume or the amount of money we’ve accumulated that matters but rather the kind of life we have lived.
When a friend of mine passed away, his daughter wrote, “This world has lost a righteous man and in this world that is no small thing!” It’s that kind of legacy that we should be seeking for the glory of God.
Napoleon's defeat in Russia 200 years ago was attributed to the harsh Russian winter. One specific problem was that his horses were wearing summer horseshoes. When winter came, these horses died because they slipped on icy roads as they pulled the supply wagons. The failure of Napoleon’s supply chain reduced his 400,000-strong army to just 10,000. A small slip; a disastrous result!
James described how a slip of the tongue can do great damage. One wrong word can change the careers or destinies of people. So toxic is the tongue that James wrote, “No human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:8). The problem has increased in our modern world as a careless email or a posting on a social media site can cause great harm. It quickly goes viral and can’t be retracted.
King David tied respect for the Lord with the way we use our words. He wrote, “I will teach you the fear of the
In the midday heat of summer, while traveling in the American South, my wife and I stopped for ice cream. On the wall behind the counter we saw a sign reading, “Absolutely No Snowmobiling.” The humor worked because it was so unexpected.
Sometimes saying the unexpected has the most effect. Think of this in regard to a statement by Jesus: “Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 10:39). In a kingdom where the King is a servant (Mark 10:45), losing your life becomes the only way to find it. This is a startling message to a world focused on self-promotion and self-protection.
In practical terms, how can we “lose our life”? The answer is summed up in the word sacrifice. When we sacrifice, we put into practice Jesus’ way of living. Instead of grasping for our own wants and needs, we esteem the needs and well-being of others.
Jesus not only taught about sacrifice but He also lived it by giving Himself for us. His death on the cross became the ultimate expression of the heart of the King who lived up to His own words: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).
When my grandmother came to Mexico as a missionary, she had a hard time learning Spanish. One day she went to the market. She showed her shopping list to the girl helping her and said, “It’s in two tongues (lenguas).” But she meant to say that she had written it in two languages (idiomas). The butcher overheard them and assumed she wanted to purchase two cow tongues. My grandmother didn’t realize it until she got home. She had never cooked beef tongue before!
Mistakes are inevitable when we are learning a second language, including learning the new language of God’s love. At times our speech is contradictory because we praise the Lord but then speak badly of others. Our old sinful nature opposes our new life in Christ. What comes out of our mouths shows us how much we need God’s help.
Our old “tongue” must go away. The only way to learn the new language of love is by making Jesus the Lord of our speech. When the Holy Spirit works in us, He gives us self-control to speak words that please the Father. May we surrender every word to Him! “Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips” (Ps. 141:3).
May the words we speak point others to Jesus!
Her thirty classmates and their parents watched as Mi’Asya nervously walked to the podium to speak at her fifth grade graduation ceremony. When the principal adjusted the microphone to Mi’Asya’s height, she turned her back to the microphone and the audience. The crowd whispered words of encouragement: “Come on, honey, you can do it.” But she didn’t budge. Then a classmate walked to the front and stood by her side. With the principal on one side of Mi’Asya and her friend on the other, the three read her speech together. What a beautiful example of support!
Moses needed help and support in the middle of a battle with the Amalekites (Ex. 17:10–16). “As long as Moses held up his hands [with the staff of God in his hands], the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning” (v. 11). When Aaron and Hur saw what was happening, they stood beside Moses, “one on one side, one on the other,” and supported his arms when he grew tired. With their support, victory came by sunset.
We all need the support of one another. As brothers and sisters in the family of God, we have so many opportunities to encourage one another on our shared journey of faith. And God is right here in our midst giving us His grace to do that.
“I’m a secretary,” a friend told me. “When I tell people this, they sometimes look at me with a certain pity. But when they find out who I am secretary for, they open their eyes with admiration!” In other words, society often defines some jobs as less important than others, unless those jobs happen to relate in some way to rich or famous people.
For the child of God, however, any occupation, regardless of the earthly boss, can be held proudly because we serve the Lord Jesus.
In Ephesians 6, Paul talks to servants and masters. He reminds both groups that we serve one Master who is in heaven. So we need to do everything with sincerity of heart, integrity, and respect because we are serving and working for Christ Himself. As the apostle Paul reminds us, “Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people” (Eph. 6:7).
What a privilege to serve God in everything we do, whether answering a phone or driving a car or doing housework or running a business. Let us work with a smile today, remembering that no matter what we are doing, we are serving God.
“My mother gave us chili peppers before we went to bed,” said Samuel, recalling his difficult childhood in sub-Saharan Africa. “We drank water to cool our mouths, and then we would feel full.” He added, “It did not work well.”
Government upheaval had forced Samuel’s father to flee for his life, leaving their mother as the family’s sole provider. Then his brother contracted sickle cell anemia, and they couldn’t afford medical care. Their mother took them to church, but it didn’t mean much to Sam. How could God allow our family to suffer like this? he wondered.
Then one day a man learned about their plight. He got the essential medicine and brought it to them. “On Sunday we will go to this man’s church,” his mother announced. Right away Sam sensed something different about this church. They celebrated their relationship with Jesus by living His love.
That was three decades ago. Today in this part of the world, Sam has started more than 20 churches, a large school, and a home for orphans. He’s continuing the legacy of true religion taught by James, the brother of Jesus, who urged us not to “merely listen to the word” but to “do what it says” (James 1:22). “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress” (v. 27).
There’s no telling what a simple act of kindness done in Jesus’ name can do.
It was high noon. Jesus, foot-weary from His long journey, was resting beside Jacob’s well. His disciples had gone into the city of Sychar to buy bread. A woman came out of the city to draw water . . . and found her Messiah. The account tells us that she quickly went into the city and invited others to come hear “a man who told me everything I ever did” (John 4:29).
The disciples came back bringing bread. When they urged Jesus to eat, He said to them, “My food . . . is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work” (v. 34).
Now I ask you: What work had Jesus been doing? He’d been resting and waiting by the well.
I find great encouragement in this story for I am living with physical limitations. This passage tells me that I do not have to scurry about—worrying myself about doing the will of my Father and getting His work done. In this season of life, I can rest and wait for Him to bring His work to me.
Similarly, your tiny apartment, your work cubicle, your prison cell, or your hospital bed can become a “Jacob’s well,” a place to rest and to wait for your Father to bring His work to you. I wonder who He’ll bring to you today?
Bob and Evon Potter were a fun-loving couple with three young sons when their life took a wonderful new direction. In 1956 they attended a Billy Graham Crusade in Oklahoma City and gave their lives to Christ. Before long, they wanted to reach out to others to share their faith and the truth about Christ, so they opened their home every Saturday night to high school and college students who had a desire to study the Bible. A friend invited me and I became a regular at the Potters’ house.
This was a serious Bible study that included lesson preparation and memorizing Scripture. Surrounded by an atmosphere of friendship, joy, and laughter, we challenged each other and the Lord changed our lives during those days.
I stayed in touch with the Potters over the years and received many cards and letters from Bob who always signed them with these words: “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 1:4). Like John writing to his “dear friend Gaius” (v. 1), Bob encouraged everyone who crossed his path to keep walking with the Lord.
A few years ago I attended Bob’s memorial service. It was a joyful occasion filled with people still walking the road of faith—all because of a young couple who opened their home and their hearts to help others find the Lord.
A little girl wondered what a saint might be. One day her mother took her to a great cathedral to see the gorgeous stained-glass windows with scenes from the Bible. When she saw the beauty of it all she cried out loud, “Now I know what saints are. They are people who let the light shine through!”
Some of us might think that saints are people of the past who lived perfect lives and did Jesus-like miracles. But when a translation of Scripture uses the word saint, it is actually referring to anyone who belongs to God through faith in Christ. In other words, saints are people like us who have the high calling of serving God while reflecting our relationship with Him wherever we are and in whatever we do. That is why the apostle Paul prayed that the eyes and understanding of his readers would be opened to think of themselves as the treasured inheritance of Christ and saints of God (Eph. 1:18).
So what then do we see in the mirror? No halos or stained glass. But if we are fulfilling our calling, we will look like people who, maybe even without realizing it, are letting the rich colors of the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control of God shine through.
Adam Minter is in the junk business. The son of a junkyard owner, he circles the globe researching junk. In his book Junkyard Planet, he chronicles the multibillion-dollar industry of waste recycling. He notes that entrepreneurs around the world devote themselves to locating discarded materials such as copper wire, dirty rags, and plastics and repurposing them to make something new and useful.
After the apostle Paul turned his life over to the Savior, he realized his own achievements and abilities amounted to little more than trash. But Jesus transformed it all into something new and useful. Paul said, “Whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ” (Phil. 3:7-8). As a student of religious law, he had been an angry and violent man (Acts 9:1-2). After being transformed by Christ, the tangled wreckage of his angry past was transformed into the love of Christ for others (2 Cor. 5:14-17).
If you feel that your life is just an accumulation of junk, remember that God has always been in the restoration business. When we turn our lives over to Him, He makes us into something new and useful for Him and others.
“Cowboy builders” is a term many British homeowners use for tradespeople who do shoddy construction work. The term is bandied about with fear or regret, often because of bad experiences.
No doubt there were rogue carpenters, masons, and stonecutters in biblical times, but tucked away in the story of King Joash repairing the temple is a line about the complete honesty of those who oversaw and did the work (2 Kings 12:15).
However, King Joash “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord” (v. 2) only when Jehoiada the priest instructed him. As we see in 2 Chronicles 24:17-27, after Jehoiada died Joash turned from the Lord and was persuaded to worship other gods.
The mixed legacy of a king who enjoyed a season of fruitfulness only while under the spiritual counsel of a godly priest makes me stop and think. What will our legacies be? Will we continue to grow and develop in our faith throughout our lives, producing good fruit? Or will we become distracted by the things of this world and turn to modern-day idols—such as comfort, materialism, and self-promotion? Amy Boucher Pye