Tag  |  christlikeness

Here to Serve

It was time for our church to commission a new group of leaders. To symbolize their roles as servant-leaders, the church elders participated in a memorable foot-washing ceremony. Each of the leaders—including the pastor—washed each other’s feet as the congregation observed them.

What they did that day was modeled for us by Jesus Christ, as recorded in John 13. In that incident, which happened at what is called the Last Supper, Jesus “got up from the meal, . . . poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet” (John 13:4–5). Later, as Jesus was explaining to His disciples why he had done this, He said, “No servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him” (v. 16). He also said, “I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22:27).

If it is not below Jesus’s dignity to do such a lowly task, it is not below any of us to serve others. What an amazing example He set for all of us. Indeed, He “did not come to be served, but to serve” (Mark 10:45). He showed us what it means to be a leader and a servant. That’s Jesus, the One who serves.

Reason to Smile

In the workplace, words of encouragement matter. How employees talk to one another has a bearing on customer satisfaction, company profits, and co-worker appreciation. Studies show that members of the most effective work groups give one another six times more affirmation than disapproval, disagreement, or sarcasm. Least productive teams tend to use almost three negative comments for every helpful word.

Paul learned by experience about the value of words in shaping relationships and outcomes. Before meeting Christ on the road to Damascus, his words and actions terrorized followers of Jesus. But by the time he wrote his letter to the Thessalonians, he had become a great encourager because of God’s work in his heart. Now by his own example he urged his readers to cheer one another on. While being careful to avoid flattery, he showed how to affirm others and reflect the Spirit of Christ.

In the process, Paul reminded his readers where encouragement comes from. He saw that entrusting ourselves to God, who loved us enough to die for us, gives us reason to comfort, forgive, inspire, and lovingly challenge one another (1 Thess. 5:10–11). 

Paul shows us that encouraging one another is a way of helping one another get a taste of the patience and goodness of God.

Driven by God

A few months ago I received an email inviting me to join a community of “driven people.’ I decided to look up the word driven, and I learned that a driven person is someone highly motivated to succeed and who will work hard to achieve his goals.

Is it good to be a driven person? There is a test that never fails: “Do it all for the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). Many times we do things for self-glory. After the flood in Noah’s day, a group of people decided to build a tower in order to “make a name” for themselves (Gen. 11:4). They wanted to be famous and avoid being scattered all over the world. Because they were not doing it for God's glory, though, they were erroneously driven.

In contrast, when King Solomon dedicated the ark of the covenant and the newly constructed temple, he said, “I have built the temple for the Name of the Lord” (1 Kings 8:20). Then he prayed, “May he turn our hearts to him, to walk in obedience to him and keep the commands” (v. 58).

When our greatest desire is to bring glory to God and walk in obedience, we become driven people who seek to love and serve Jesus in the power of the Spirit. Let our prayer echo Solomon’s. May our “hearts be fully committed to the Lord our God, to live by his decrees and obey his commands” (v. 61).

The Bond of Peace

After I confronted my friend by email over a matter on which we had differed, she didn’t respond. Had I overstepped? I didn’t want to worsen the situation by pestering her, but neither did I want to leave things unresolved before she went on a trip overseas. As she popped into my mind throughout the following days, I prayed for her, unsure of the way forward. Then one morning I went for a walk in our local park and saw her, pain etched on her face as she glimpsed me. “Thank you, Lord, that I can talk to her,” I breathed as I approached her with a welcoming smile. We talked openly and were able to resolve matters.

Sometimes when hurt or silence intrudes on our relationships, mending them seems out of our control. But as the apostle Paul says in his letter to the church at Ephesus, we are called to work for peace and unity through God’s Spirit, donning the garments of gentleness, humility, and patience as we seek God’s healing in our relationships. The Lord yearns for us to be united, and through His Spirit He can bring His people together—even unexpectedly when we go walking in the park.

Have you experienced an unexpected encounter that revealed God working in a situation? How might you work toward peace and unity today?

Image Management

To celebrate Winston Churchill’s eightieth birthday, the British parliament commissioned artist Graham Sutherland to paint a portrait of the celebrated statesman. “How are you going to paint me?” Churchill reportedly asked the artist: “As a cherub, or the Bulldog?” Churchill liked these two popular perceptions of him. Sutherland, however, said he would paint what he saw.

Churchill was not happy with the results. Sutherland’s portrait had Churchill slumped in a chair wearing his trademark scowl—true to reality, but hardly flattering. After its official unveiling, Churchill hid the painting in his cellar. It was later secretly destroyed.

Like Churchill, most of us have an image of ourselves we want others to have of us also—whether of success, godliness, beauty, or strength. We can go to great lengths to conceal our “ugly” sides. Perhaps deep down we fear we won’t be loved if the real us is known.

When the Israelites were taken captive by Babylon, they were seen at their worst. Because of their sins, God allowed their enemies to conquer them. But He told them not to fear. He knew them by name, and He was with them in every humiliating trial (Isa. 43:1–2). They were secure in His hands (v. 13) and “precious” to Him (v. 4). Despite their ugliness, God loved them.

We will find ourselves less motivated to seek the approval of others when such a truth truly sinks in. God knows the real us and still loves us immeasurably (Eph. 3:18).

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.

Long Shadows

Several years ago, my wife and I stayed in a rustic bed-and-breakfast in the remote Yorkshire Dales of England. We were there with four other couples, all British, whom we had never met before. Sitting in the living room with our after-dinner coffees, the conversation turned to occupations with the question “What do you do?” At the time I was serving as the president of Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, I assumed that no one there knew of MBI or its founder, D. L. Moody. When I mentioned the name of the school, their response was immediate and surprising. “Of Moody and Sankey . . . that Moody?” Another guest added, “We have a Sankey hymnal and our family often gathers around the piano to sing from it.” I was amazed! The evangelist Dwight Moody and his musician Ira Sankey had held meetings in the British Isles more than 120 years ago, and their influence was still being felt.

I left the room that night thinking of the ways our lives can cast long shadows of influence for God—a praying mother’s influence on her children, an encouraging coworker’s words, the support and challenge of a teacher or a mentor, the loving but corrective words of a friend. It’s a high privilege to play a role in the wonderful promise that “His love continues through all generations” (Ps. 100:5).

Work Together

My wife makes an amazing pot roast dinner. She takes raw meat, along with raw sliced white and sweet potatoes, celery, mushrooms, carrots, and onions and throws them into the slow cooker. Six or seven hours later the aroma fills the house, and the first taste is a delight. It is always to my advantage to wait until the ingredients in the slow cooker work together to achieve something they could not achieve individually.

When Paul used the phrase work together in the context of suffering, he used the word from which we get our word synergy. He wrote, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). He wanted the Romans to know that God, who didn’t cause their suffering, would cause all their circumstances to cooperate with His divine plan—for their ultimate good. The good to which Paul referred was not the temporal blessings of health, wealth, admiration, or success, but being “conformed to the image of [God’s] Son” (v. 29).

May we wait patiently and confidently because our heavenly Father is taking all the suffering, all the distress, all the evil, and causing them to work together for His glory and our spiritual good. He wants to make us like Jesus. 

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.

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.

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).

 

Constant Kindness

When I was a child I was an ardent reader of L. Frank Baum's Land of Oz books. I recently came across Rinkitink in Oz with all the original artwork. I laughed again at the antics of Baum's portly, irrepressible, good-hearted King Rinkitink with his down-to-earth goodness. Young Prince Inga described him best: “His heart is kind and gentle and that is far better than being wise."

How simple and how sensible! Yet who has not jarred the heart of someone dear to us by a harsh word? In so doing we disturb the peace and quiet of the hour and we undo much of the good we have done that day. "A small unkindness is a great offense,” said Hannah More, an 18th-century English writer.

And here’s the good news: Anyone can become kind. We may be incapable of preaching an inspiring sermon, fielding hard questions, or evangelizing vast numbers, but we can, in time, become kind.

How? Through prayer. It is the only way to soften our hearts. “Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips. Do not let my heart be drawn to what is evil [or harsh]” (Ps. 141:3-4).

In a world in which love has grown cold, a kindness that comes from the heart of God is one of the most helpful and healing things we can offer to others.

Unsend

Have you ever sent an email and suddenly realized it went to the wrong person or it contained harmful, harsh words? If only you could press a key and stop it. Well, now you can. Several companies offer a feature that gives you a brief time after sending an email to stop it from leaving your computer. After that, the email is like a spoken word that cannot be unsaid. Rather than being seen as a cure-all, an “unsend” feature should remind us that it’s extremely important to guard what we say.

            In the apostle Peter’s first letter, he told the followers of Jesus, “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing. For, ‘whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech. They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it’ ” (1 Peter 3:9-11).

            The psalmist David wrote, “Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips” (Ps. 141:3). That’s a great prayer for the beginning of each day and in every situation when we want to strike back with words.

Lord, guard our words today so we may not harm others by what we say.

Mending Hearts

Not long ago I went to a seamstress to have some clothing altered. As I entered her shop I was encouraged by what I saw on the walls. One sign read, “We can mend your clothes but only God can mend your heart.” Near it was a painting of Mary Magdalene weeping in anguish as the risen Christ was about to reveal Himself to her. Another sign asked, “Need prayer? Let us pray with you.”

The owner told me that she had run this small business for 15 years. “We’ve been surprised how the Lord has worked here through the statements of faith we have posted in different places. A while back someone trusted Christ as their Savior right here. It is amazing to watch God work.” I told her I too was a Christian and commended her for telling others about Christ in her workplace.

Not all of us are able to be so bold in our workplace, but we can find many creative and practical ways of showing others unexpected love, patience, and kindness wherever we are. Since leaving that shop, I’ve been thinking about how many ways there are to live out our Lord’s statement: “You are the light of the world” (Matt. 5:14).

Keep Up the Good Work

My son loves to read. If he reads more books than what is required at school, he receives an award certificate. That bit of encouragement motivates him to keep up the good work.

When Paul wrote to the Thessalonians he motivated them not with an award but with words of encouragement. He said, "Brothers and sisters, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more" (1 Thess. 4:1). These Christians were pleasing God through their lives, and Paul encouraged them to continue to live more and more for Him.

Maybe today you and I are giving our best to know and love and please our Father. Let's take Paul's words as an incentive to continue on in our faith.

But let's go one step further. Who might we encourage today with Paul’s words? Does someone come to mind who is diligent in following the Lord and seeking to please Him? Write a note or make a phone call and urge this person to keep on in their faith journey with Him. What you say may be just what they need to continue following and serving Jesus. 

Doing the Opposite

A wilderness excursion can seem daunting, but for outdoor enthusiasts this only adds to the appeal. Because hikers need more water than they can carry, they purchase bottles with built-in filters so they can use water sources along the way. But the process of drinking from such a container is counterintuitive. Tipping the bottle does nothing. A thirsty hiker has to blow into it to force the water through the filter. Reality is contrary to what seems natural.

As we follow Jesus, we find much that is counterintuitive. Paul pointed out one example: Keeping rules won’t draw us closer to God. He asked, “Why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: ‘Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!’? These rules . . . are based on merely human commands and teachings” (Col. 2:20-22). 

So what are we to do? Paul gave the answer. “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above” (3:1). “You died,” he told people who were still very much alive, “and your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (v. 3).

We are to consider ourselves “dead” to the values of this world and alive to Christ. We now aspire to a way of life demonstrated by the One who said, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant” (Matt. 20:26). 

No Outsiders

In the remote region of Ghana where I lived as a boy, “Chop time, no friend” was a common proverb. Locals considered it impolite to visit at “chop time” (mealtime) because food was often scarce. The maxim applied to neighbors and outsiders alike.

            But in the Philippines, where I also lived for a time, even if you visit unannounced at mealtime, your hosts will insist on sharing with you regardless of whether they have enough for themselves. Cultures differ for their own good reasons.

            As the Israelites left Egypt, God provided specific instructions to govern their culture. But rules—even God’s rules—can never change hearts. So Moses said, “Change your hearts and stop being stubborn” (Deut. 10:16 nlt). Interestingly, right after issuing that challenge Moses took up the topic of Israel’s treatment of outsiders. God “loves the foreigner residing among you,” he said, “giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt” (vv. 18–19).

Israel served the “God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome” (v. 17). One powerful way they were to show their identification with God was by loving foreigners—those from outside their culture.

What might this small picture of God’s character mean for us today? How can we show His love to the marginalized and the needy in our world?

Hold On

Tianmen Mountain in Zhangjiajie, China, is considered one of the most beautiful mountains in the world. To view its towering cliffs in all their glorious splendor, you must take the Tianmen Shan cable car, which covers a distance of 7,455 meters (4.5 miles). It’s amazing how this cable car can travel such long distances and scale such steep mountains without any motor on the car itself. Yet it moves safely up these spectacular heights by keeping a strong grip on a cable that is moved by a powerful motor.

         In our journey of faith, how can we finish the race well and “press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called [us] heavenward in Christ Jesus”? (Phil. 3:14). Like the cable car, we keep a strong grip on Christ, which is what Paul meant when he said “stand firm in the Lord” (4:1). We have no resources of our own. We depend fully on Christ to keep us moving forward. He will take us through the greatest challenges and lead us safely home.

         Toward the end of his earthly life, the apostle Paul declared, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7). You can too. Simply keep a strong grip on Christ.

True Riches

At the memorial service for my friend’s dad, someone said to her, “Until I met your father, I didn’t know a person could have fun while helping others.” Her dad contributed his part in helping to build the kingdom of God through serving people, laughing and loving, and meeting strangers who became friends. When he died, he left a legacy of love. In contrast, my friend’s aunt—her father’s older sister—viewed her possessions as her legacy, spending her latter years fretting about who would protect her heirlooms and rare books.

In His teaching and by His example, Jesus warned His followers to avoid hoarding possessions, to give to the poor, and to value what will not rust or decay. “For where your treasure is,” Jesus said, “there your heart will be also” (Luke 12:34).

We might think our things give meaning to our life. But when the latest gadget breaks or we misplace or lose something valuable, we begin to realize that it is our relationship with the Lord that satisfies and endures. It is our love and care for others that does not wither and fade away.

Let’s ask the Lord to help us see clearly what we value, to show us where our heart is, and to help us seek His kingdom above all (12:31).

Fiery Trials

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.

Worth the Calories?

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. 

Good Imitation

“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.

How to Carve a Duck

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.

Gentle Influence

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? 

Honorable Living

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. 

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.

The Swagger

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.

A Legacy Life

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.

The Wrong Horseshoe

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 Lord. . . . Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies” (Ps. 34:11, 13). He resolved, “I will watch my ways and keep my tongue from sin; I will put a muzzle on my mouth” (Ps. 39:1). Lord, help us to do the same. 

Unexpected

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).  

Language of Love

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!

Coming Alongside

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.

Serving Christ

“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.

Chili Peppers

“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. 

Resting and Waiting

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? 

No Greater Joy

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.  

Shine Through

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. 

The Restoration Business

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.  

Doing Right in God’s Sight

“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

The Fragrance of Christ

Which of the five senses brings back your memories most sharply? For me it is definitely the sense of smell. A certain kind of sun oil takes me instantly to a French beach. The smell of chicken mash brings back childhood visits to my grandmother. A hint of pine says “Christmas,” and a certain kind of aftershave reminds me of my son’s teenage years.

Paul reminded the Corinthians that they were the aroma of Christ: “For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ” (2 Cor. 2:15). He may have been referring to Roman victory parades. The Romans made sure everyone knew they had been victorious by burning incense on altars throughout the city. For the victors, the aroma was pleasing; for the prisoners it meant certain slavery or death. So as believers, we are victorious soldiers. And when the gospel of Christ is preached, it is a pleasing fragrance to God.

As the aroma of Christ, what perfumes do Christians bring with them as they walk into a room? It’s not something that can be bought in a bottle or a jar. When we spend a lot of time with someone, we begin to think and act like that person. Spending time with Jesus will help us spread a pleasing fragrance to those around us.

God's Way

We really needed to hear from God. Having been asked to foster two young children as an emergency measure just for 3 months, a decision had to be made about their future. With three older children of our own, becoming foster parents to preschoolers didn’t seem to fit with our life plan and having our family almost double in size had been hard work. Our book of daily readings by the veteran missionary Amy Carmichael directed us to some unfamiliar verses in Numbers 7.

“I wonder how the Kohathites felt?” Amy wrote. “All the other priests had ox-carts to carry their parts of the tabernacle through the desert. But the sons of Kohath had to trudge along the rocky tracks and through the burning sand, with the ‘holy things for which they were responsible’ on their shoulders. Did they ever grumble inwardly, feeling that the other priests had an easier task? Perhaps! But God knows that some things are too precious to be carried on ox-carts and then He asks us to carry them on our shoulders.”

My husband and I knew this was our answer. We had often thought of sponsoring a child from an undeveloped country, but we hadn’t done so. That would have been easier, much like the ox-cart. Now we had two needy children in our own home to carry “on our shoulders” because they were so precious to Him.

God has different plans for each of us. We might feel that others have an easier assignment, or a more glamorous role to play. But if our loving Father has handpicked us for our task, who are we to whisper, “I can’t do this”?

This Is the Day

In 1940, Dr. Virginia Connally, age 27, braved opposition and criticism to become the first female physician in Abilene, Texas. A few months before her 100th birthday in 2012, the Texas Medical Association presented her with its Distinguished Service Award, Texas’ highest physician honor. Between those two landmark events, Dr. Connally has enthusiastically embraced a passion for spreading the gospel around the world through her many medical mission trips while living a life of service to God and to others—one day at a time.

Dr. Connally’s pastor, Phil Christopher, said, “Every day for her is a gift.” He recalled a letter in which she wrote, “Every tour, trip, effort, I wonder if this will be my last and ultimate? Only God knows. And this is enough.”

The psalmist wrote, “This is the day the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it” (Ps. 118:24 nkjv). So often we focus on the disappointments of yesterday or the uncertainties of tomorrow and miss God’s matchless gift to us: Today!

Dr. Connally said of her journey with Christ, “As you live a life of faith, you’re not looking for the results. I was just doing the things that God planted in my life and heart.”

God made today. Let’s celebrate it and make the most of every opportunity to serve others in His name.

Full Sun

I know better, but I still keep trying. The instructions on the label are clear: “Needs full sun.” Our yard has mostly shade. It is not suitable for plants that need full sun. But I like the plant. I like its color, the shape of the leaves, the size, the scent. So I buy it, bring it home, plant it, and take really good care of it. But the plant is not happy at my house. My care and attention are not enough. It needs sunlight, which I cannot provide. I thought I could make up for lack of light by giving the plant some other kind of attention. But it doesn’t work that way. Plants need what they need.

And so do people. Although we can survive for a while in less-than-ideal conditions, we can’t thrive. In addition to our basic physical needs, we also have spiritual needs that can’t be met by any substitute.

Scripture says that believers are children of light. This means that we need to live in the full light of God’s presence to thrive (Ps. 89:15). If we try to live in darkness, we will produce nothing but “fruitless deeds” (see Eph. 5:3-4, 11). But if we are living in the light of Jesus, the Light of the world, we will produce the fruit of His light, which is good, faithful, and true.

Ignore No More

I don’t know how these people find me, but I keep getting more and more flyers in the mail from folks asking me to show up at their events so they can teach me about retirement benefits. It started several years ago when I began getting invitations to join an organization that works on behalf of retirees. These reminders all serve to say: “You’re getting older. Get ready!” 

I have ignored them all along, but soon enough I’m going to have to break down and go to one of their meetings. I really should be taking action on their suggestions.

Sometimes I hear a similar reminder in the wisdom of Scripture. We know that what the passage says is true about us, but we are just not ready to respond. Maybe it’s a passage like Romans 14:13 that says, “Let us stop passing judgment on one another.” Or the reminder in 2 Corinthians 9:6, which tells us, “Whoever sows generously will also reap generously.” Or this reminder in Philippians 1: “Stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened” (vv. 27-28).

As we read God’s Word, we get vital reminders. Let’s take these seriously as from the heart of the Father who knows what honors Him and is best for us.

Abigail’s Reminder

David and 400 of his warriors thundered through the countryside in search of Nabal, a prosperous brute who had harshly refused to lend them help. David would have murdered him if he hadn’t first encountered Abigail, Nabal’s wife. She had packed up enough food to feed an army and traveled out to meet the troops, hoping to head off disaster. She respectfully reminded David that guilt would haunt him if he followed through with his vengeful plan (1 Sam. 25:31). David realized she was right and blessed her for her good judgment.

David’s anger was legitimate—he had protected Nabal’s shepherds in the wilderness (vv.14-17) and had been repaid evil for good. However, his anger was leading him into sin. David’s first instinct was to sink his sword into Nabal, even though he knew God did not approve of murder and revenge (Ex. 20:13; Lev. 19:18).

When we’ve been offended, it’s good to compare our instincts with God’s intent for human behavior. We may be inclined to strike at people verbally, isolate ourselves, or escape through any number of ways. However, choosing a gracious response will help us avoid regret, and most important it will please God. When our desire is to honor God in our relationships, He is able to make even our enemies to be at peace with us (see Prov. 16:7). 

Just the Ticket

When a police officer stopped a woman because her young daughter was riding in a car without the required booster seat, he could have written her a ticket for a traffic violation. Instead, he asked the mother and daughter to meet him at a nearby store where he personally paid for the needed car seat. The mother was going through a difficult time and could not afford to buy a seat.

Although the woman should have received a fine for her misdemeanor, she walked away with a gift instead. Anyone who knows Christ has experienced something similar. All of us deserve a penalty for breaking God’s laws (Eccl. 7:20). Yet, because of Jesus, we experience undeserved favor from God. This favor excuses us from the ultimate consequence for our sin, which is death and eternal separation from God (Rom. 6:23). “In [Jesus] we have . . . the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace” (Eph. 1:7).

Some refer to grace as “love in action.” When the young mother experienced this, she later remarked, “I will be forever grateful! . . . And as soon as I can afford it I will be paying it forward.” This grateful and big-hearted response to the officer’s gift is an inspiring example for those of us who have received the gift of God’s grace!

Help from the Outside

On a business trip, my husband had just settled into his hotel room when he heard an unusual noise. He stepped into the hall to investigate and heard someone yelling from a nearby room. With the help of a hotel worker, he discovered that a man had become trapped in the bathroom. The lock on the bathroom door had malfunctioned and the man trapped inside started to panic. He felt like he couldn’t breathe and began yelling for help.

Sometimes in life we feel trapped. We are banging on the door, pulling on the handle, but we can’t get free. We need help from the outside, just like the man in the hotel.

To get that outside assistance, we have to admit that we are helpless on our own. Sometimes we look inward for the answers to our problems, yet the Bible says “the heart is deceitful” (Jer. 17:9). In truth, we are often the source of our problems in life.

Thankfully, “God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything” (1 John 3:20). Because of this, He knows exactly how to help us. Lasting heart-level change and real progress with our problems originate with God. Trusting Him and living to please Him means we can flourish and be truly free.

The Sounds of Silence

A fishing buddy of mine observed, “Shallow streams make the most noise,” a delightful turn on the old adage, “Still waters run deep.” He meant, of course, that people who make the most noise tend to have little of substance to say.

The flip side of that problem is that we don’t listen well either. I’m reminded of the line in the old Simon and Garfunkel song Sounds of Silence about folks hearing without listening. Oh, they hear the words, but they fail to silence their own thoughts and truly listen. It would be good if we all learned to be silent and still.

There is “a time to be silent and a time to speak” (Eccl. 3:7). Good silence is a listening silence, a humble silence. It leads to right hearing, right understanding, and right speaking. “The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters,” the proverb says, “but one who has insight draws them out” (Prov. 20:5). It takes a lot of hard listening to get all the way to the bottom.

And while we listen to others, we should also be listening to God and hearing what He has to say. I think of Jesus, scribbling with His finger in the dust while the Pharisees railed on the woman caught in adultery (see John 8:1-11). What was He doing? May I suggest that He could have been simply listening for His Father’s voice and asking, “What shall we say to this crowd and this dear woman?” His response is still being heard around the world.

Reflecting the Son

Due to its location among sheer mountains and its northern latitude, Rjukan, Norway, does not see natural sunlight from October to March. To lighten up the town, the citizens installed large mirrors on the mountainside to reflect the sunrays and beam sunlight into the town square. The continuous glow is made possible because the giant mirrors rotate with the rising and setting sun.

I like to think of the Christian life as a similar scenario. Jesus said His followers are “the light of the world” (Matt. 5:14). John the disciple wrote that Christ the true light “shines in the darkness” (John 1:5). So too, Jesus invites us to reflect our light into the darkness around us: “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). That is a call for us to show love in the face of hatred, patience in response to trouble, and peace in moments of conflict. As the apostle Paul reminds us, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light” (Eph. 5:8).

Jesus also said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). Our light is a reflection of Jesus the Son. Just as without the sun the large mirrors of Rjukan would have no light to reflect, so too we can do nothing without Jesus. 

Shared Struggles

April 25, 2015, marked the 100th commemoration of Anzac Day. It is celebrated each year by both Australia and New Zealand to honor the members of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) who fought together during World War I. It marks a time when neither country had to face the dangers of war alone; soldiers from both countries engaged in the struggle together.

Sharing life’s struggles is fundamental to the way followers of Christ are called to live. As Paul challenged us, “Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2 nlt). By working together through life’s challenges we can help to strengthen and support one another when times are hard. By expressing toward one another the care and affections of Christ, the difficulties of life should draw us to Christ and to each other—not isolate us in our suffering.

By sharing in the struggles of another, we are modeling the love of Christ. We read in Isaiah, “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Isa. 53:4 nkjv). No matter how great the struggle we face, we never face it alone.

Related Topics

> Biblical Studies

Lifeblood

Mary Ann believed in God and His Son Jesus, but she struggled with why Jesus had to shed His blood to bring salvation. Who would think of cleansing something with blood? Yet the Bible says, “The law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood” (Heb. 9:22). That, in Mary Ann’s opinion, was disgusting!

Then one day she had to go to a hospital. A genetic condition had altered her immune system, and doctors became alarmed when the illness started attacking her blood. As she was in the emergency room she thought, If I lose my blood, I will die. But Jesus shed His blood so I can live!

Suddenly everything made sense. In the midst of her pain, Mary Ann felt joy and peace. She understood that blood is life, and a holy life was needed to make peace with God for us. Today she is alive and well, thanking God for her health and for Jesus’ sacrifice on her behalf.

Hebrews 9 explains the meaning of the Old Testament blood ritual (vv. 16-22) and the once and for all offering of Jesus that brought animal sacrifice to an end (vv. 23-26). Bearing our sin, He willingly died and shed His blood to become our sacrifice. We now have confidence to enter God’s presence. How could we ever thank Jesus enough for making His sacrifice our sacrifice, His life our life, and His Father our Father?

What Christmas Is All About

Fifty years ago A Charlie Brown Christmas was first broadcast on American television. Some network executives thought it would be ignored, while others worried that quoting the Bible would offend viewers. Some wanted its creator, Charles Schulz, to omit the Christmas story, but Schulz insisted it stay in. The program was an immediate success and has been rebroadcast every year since 1965.

When Charlie Brown, the frustrated director of the children’s Christmas play, is discouraged by the commercial spirit of the holiday season, he asks if anyone can tell him the real meaning of Christmas. Linus recites Luke 2:8-14 including the words, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (vv. 11-14 kjv). Then Linus says, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

During this season filled with our own doubts and dreams, it’s good to ponder afresh God’s great love expressed in the familiar story of Joseph, Mary, the baby Jesus, and the angels who announced the Savior’s birth.

That’s what Christmas is all about.

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.

> Christian Beliefs

A Place of Shelter

Homeless people in Vancouver, British Columbia, have a new way to find nighttime accommodations. A local charity, RainCity Housing, has created specialized benches that convert into temporary shelters. The back of the bench pulls up to create a roof that can shield a person from wind and rain. At night, these sleeping spaces are easy to find because they feature a glow-in-the-dark message that reads: THIS IS A BEDROOM.

The need for shelter can be physical, and it can be spiritual as well. God is a refuge for our souls when we are troubled. King David wrote, “I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (Ps. 61:2). When we’re emotionally overloaded, we are more vulnerable to the Enemy’s tactics—fear, guilt, and lust are a few of his favorites. We need a source of stability and safety.

If we take refuge in God, we can have victory over the Enemy as he tries to influence our hearts and minds. “You have been my refuge, a strong tower against the foe,” David said to the Lord. “I long to . . . take refuge in the shelter of your wings” (vv. 3-4).

When we are overwhelmed, peace and protection are ours through God’s Son, Jesus Christ. “In me you may have peace,” Jesus said. “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

It’s What We Do

My father was critically injured when he took a bullet in the leg as a second lieutenant leading his men on Hill 609 in North Africa during World War II. Dad was never again 100 percent physically. I was born several years after this, and when I was young I didn’t even know he had been wounded. I found out later when someone told me. Although he felt constant pain in his leg, my dad never complained about it, and he never used it as an excuse for not providing for our family.

My parents loved the Savior and raised us to love, trust, and serve Him. Through good times and bad, they simply trusted God, worked hard, and loved us unconditionally. Proverbs 14:26 says that “Whoever fears the Lord has a secure fortress, and for their children it will be a refuge” (niv). My dad did that for our family. No matter what difficulties he faced, he provided a safe place for us spiritually, emotionally, and physically.

We parents can provide a safe haven for our families with the help of our perfect heavenly Father, whose love for His children is deep and eternal.

Reflecting God’s Glory

The 12th-century Chinese artist Li Tang painted landscapes animated with people, birds, and water buffalo. Because of his genius with fine line sketches on silk, Li Tang is considered a master of Chinese landscape art. For centuries, artists from around the world have depicted what they see in God’s art gallery of creation: “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork” (Ps. 19:1). The Bible tells us that our creativity as human beings comes from being made in the image of the Master Creator (Gen. 1:27).

God chose artists who worked with wood, gold, silver, bronze, and gems to create the furnishings, utensils, altars, and garments that were to be used when the ancient Israelites worshiped Him in the tabernacle  (Ex. 31:1-11). These artistic renderings of spiritual realities prompted and guided the priests and the people in their worship of the Lord who had called them to be His people.

Through many types of artistic expression, we reflect the beauty of creation and honor the Creator and Redeemer of this marvelous world.

> Christian Living

The Bond of Peace

After I confronted my friend by email over a matter on which we had differed, she didn’t respond. Had I overstepped? I didn’t want to worsen the situation by pestering her, but neither did I want to leave things unresolved before she went on a trip overseas. As she popped into my mind throughout the following days, I prayed for her, unsure of the way forward. Then one morning I went for a walk in our local park and saw her, pain etched on her face as she glimpsed me. “Thank you, Lord, that I can talk to her,” I breathed as I approached her with a welcoming smile. We talked openly and were able to resolve matters.

Sometimes when hurt or silence intrudes on our relationships, mending them seems out of our control. But as the apostle Paul says in his letter to the church at Ephesus, we are called to work for peace and unity through God’s Spirit, donning the garments of gentleness, humility, and patience as we seek God’s healing in our relationships. The Lord yearns for us to be united, and through His Spirit He can bring His people together—even unexpectedly when we go walking in the park.

Have you experienced an unexpected encounter that revealed God working in a situation? How might you work toward peace and unity today?

Being a True Friend

Poet Samuel Foss wrote, “Let me live by the side of the road and be a friend to man” (“The House by the Side of the Road”). That’s what I want to be—a friend of people. I want to stand by the way, waiting for weary travelers. To look for those who have been battered and wronged by others, who carry the burden of a wounded and disillusioned heart. To nourish and refresh them with an encouraging word and send them on their way. I may not be able to “fix” them or their problems, but I can leave them with a blessing.

Melchizedek, both the king of Salem and a priest, blessed Abraham when he was returning weary from battle (Gen. 14). A “blessing” is more than a polite response to a sneeze. We bless others when we bring them to the One who is the source of blessing. Melchizedek blessed Abram, saying, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth” (v. 19).

We can bless others by praying with them; we can take them with us to the throne of grace to find help in time of need. We may not be able change their circumstances, but we can show them God. That’s what a true friend does. David Roper

Wholehearted!

Caleb was a “wholehearted” person. He and Joshua were part of a twelve-man reconnaissance team that explored the Promised Land and gave a report to Moses and the people. Caleb said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it” (Num. 13:30). But ten members of the team said they couldn’t possibly succeed. In spite of God’s promises, they saw only obstacles (Num. 13:31–33).

Ten men caused the people to lose heart and grumble against God, which led to forty years of wandering in the desert. But Caleb never quit. The Lord said, “Because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it” (14:24). Forty-five years later God honored His promise when Caleb, at the age of 85, received the city of Hebron “because he followed the Lord, the God of Israel, wholeheartedly” (Josh. 14:14).

Centuries later an expert in the law asked Jesus, “Which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied, “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment” (Matt. 22:35–38).

Today Caleb is still inspiring us with his confidence in a God who deserves our wholehearted love, reliance, and commitment.

> Christian Ministry & the Church

Helping Each Other

“The body of Christ” is a mysterious phrase used more than 30 times in the New Testament. The apostle Paul especially settled on that phrase as an image of the church. After Jesus ascended to heaven, He turned over His mission to flawed and bumbling men and women. He assumed the role of head of the church, leaving the tasks of arms, legs, ears, eyes, and voice to the erratic disciples—and to you and me.

Jesus’ decision to operate as the invisible head of a large body with many parts means that He often relies on us to help one another cope during times of suffering. The apostle Paul must have had something like that in mind when he wrote these words: “[God] comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ” (2 Cor. 1:4-5). And all through his ministry Paul put that principle into practice, taking up collections for famine victims, dispatching assistants to go to troubled areas, acknowledging believers’ gifts as gifts from God Himself.

The phrase “the body of Christ” expresses well what we are called to do: to represent in flesh what Christ is like, especially to those in need.

A Hint of Heaven

The world-class botanical garden across the street from our church was the setting for an all-church community gathering. As I walked around the gardens greeting people I have known for years, catching up with those I hadn’t seen recently, and enjoying the beautiful surroundings cared for by people who know and love plants, I realized that the evening was rich with symbols of how the church is supposed to function—a little hint of heaven on earth.

A garden is a place where each plant is placed in an environment in which it will thrive. Gardeners prepare the soil, protect the plants from pests, and make sure each one receives the food, water, and sunlight it needs. The result is a beautiful, colorful, and fragrant place for people to enjoy.

Like a garden, church is meant to be a place where everyone works together for the glory of God and the good of all; a place where everyone flourishes because we are living in a safe environment; a place where people are cared for according to their needs; where each of us does work we love—work that benefits others (1 Cor. 14:26).

Like well-cared-for plants, people growing in a healthy environment have a sweet fragrance that draws people to God by displaying the beauty of His love. The church is not perfect, but it really is a hint of heaven. 

Power In Praise

Willie Myrick was kidnapped from his driveway when he was 9 years old. For hours, he traveled in a car with his kidnapper, not knowing what would happen to him. During that time, Willie decided to sing a song called Every Praise. As he repeatedly sang the words, his abductor spewed profanity and told him to shut up. Finally, the man stopped the car and let Willie out—unharmed.

> Christianity & Culture

Shaping Your Thoughts

When Marshall McLuhan coined the phrase “the medium is the message” in 1964, personal computers were unknown, mobile phones were science fiction, and the Internet didn’t exist. Today we understand what great foresight he had in predicting how our thinking is influenced in this digital age. In Nicholas Carr’s book The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, he writes, “[The media] supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought. And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. Whether I’m online or not, my mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles.”

            I like J. B. Phillips’s paraphrase of Paul’s message to the Christians in Rome: “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold, but let God re-mold your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity” (Rom. 12:2). How relevant this is today as we find our thoughts and the way our minds process material affected by the world around us.

            We cannot stem the tide of information that bombards us, but we can ask God each day to help us focus on Him and to shape our thinking through His presence in our lives.

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.”

The Power To Change

Educator and best-selling author Tony Wagner is a firm believer in “disruptive innovation” that changes the way the world thinks and works. In his book Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World, he says, “Innovation occurs in every aspect of human endeavor,” and “most people can become more creative and innovative—given the right environment and opportunities.”

> Ethical Issues

Who Are You Defending?

When Kathleen’s teacher called her to the front of the grammar class to analyze a sentence, she panicked. As a recent transfer student, she hadn’t learned that aspect of grammar. The class laughed derisively.

Instantly the teacher sprang to her defense. “She can out-write any of you any day of the week!” he explained. Many years later, Kathleen gratefully recalled the moment: “I started that day to try to write as well as he said I could.” Eventually, Kathleen Parker would win a Pulitzer Prize for her writing.

As did Kathleen’s teacher, Jesus identified with the defenseless and vulnerable. When His disciples kept children away from Him, He grew angry. “Let the little children come to me,” He said, “and do not hinder them” (Mark 10:14). He reached out to a despised ethnic group, making the Good Samaritan the hero of His parable (Luke 10:25-37) and offering genuine hope to a searching Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well (John 4:1-26). He protected and forgave a woman trapped in adultery (John 8:1-11). And though we were utterly helpless, Christ gave His life for all of us (Rom. 5:6).

When we defend the vulnerable and the marginalized, we give them a chance to realize their potential. We show them real love, and in a small but significant way we reflect the very heart of Jesus. 

I’ve Come to Help

Reporter Jacob Riis’s vivid descriptions of poverty in 19th-century New York City horrified a generally complacent public. His book How the Other Half Lives combined his writing with his own photographs to paint a picture so vivid that the public could not escape the certainty of poverty’s desperate existence. The third of fifteen children himself, Riis wrote so effectively because he had lived in that world of terrible despair.

                 Shortly after the release of his book, he received a card from a young man just beginning his political career. The note read simply, “I have read your book, and I have come to help. Theodore Roosevelt.” (This politician later became a US President.)

            True faith responds to the needs of others, according to James (1:19-27). May our hearts be moved from inaction to action, from words alone to deeds that back them up. Compassionate action not only aids those mired in life’s difficulties, but it may also make them open to the greater message from our Savior who sees their need and can do so much more for them.

Speak Up

When I hear stories about young people who have been bullied, I notice there are always at least two levels of hurt. The first and most obvious comes from the mean-spirited nature of those actually doing the bullying. That’s terrible on its own. But there’s another, deeper hurt that may end up being even more damaging than the first: The silence of everyone else.

It hurts the one being bullied because they’re stunned that no one will help. That often makes bullies more brazen, leading them to intensify their meanness. Worse, it heightens the embarrassment, false shame, and loneliness of the victim. So it is imperative to speak up for others and speak out against the behavior (see Prov. 31:8a).

Jesus knows precisely what it feels like to be bullied and to be left to suffer completely alone. Without cause, He was arrested, beaten, and mocked (Luke 22:63-65). Matthew 26:56 says that “all the disciples forsook Him and fled.” Peter, one of His closest friends, even denied three times that he knew Him (Luke 22:61). While others may not understand fully, Jesus does.

When we see others being hurt, we can ask Him for the courage to speak up.

> Evangelism & Missions

Finding Waldo

Waldo is the cartoonish star of “Where’s Waldo,” a now-classic best-selling children’s book series. Waldo hides himself in the crowded painted scenes on each page, inviting children to find where he’s hiding. Parents around the world love the moments of sweet discovery when their children’s faces signal they’ve found Waldo. They also enjoy the occasions when they’re invited to help find Waldo.

Shortly after Stephen, a deacon in the early church, was stoned to death for proclaiming Christ (see Acts 7), a widespread persecution broke out against Christians, causing many to flee Jerusalem. Another deacon, Philip, followed these fleeing Christians into Samaria, where he proclaimed Christ and it was well received (8:6) While there, the Holy Spirit sent Philip on a special mission to “the desert road.” It must have seemed a strange request given the fruit his preaching was producing in Samaria itself. Imagine Philip’s joy, then, when he met and helped the Ethiopian court official find Jesus in the pages of Isaiah (vv. 26–40).

We, too, are often given the chance to help others “find Jesus” throughout the Scriptures so they may know Him more fully. Like a parent witnessing the joy of discovery in their child’s eyes and like Philip helping the Ethiopian find Jesus, it can be exhilarating for us to witness the moment of discovery in those around us. As we go through our days, may we prepared to share Christ as the Spirit leads us, whether they be people we know well or those we meet even just once.

A Treasure to be Shared

In March 1974, Chinese farmers were digging a well when they made a surprising discovery: Buried under the dry ground of central China was the Terracotta Army—life-size terracotta sculptures that dated back to the third century bc. In this extraordinary find were some 8,000 soldiers, 150 cavalry horses, and 130 chariots drawn by 520 horses. The Terracotta Army has become one of the most popular tourist sites in China, attracting over a million visitors annually. This amazing treasure lay hidden for centuries but is now being shared with the world.

The apostle Paul wrote that followers of Christ have a treasure inside them that is to be shared with the world: “We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure (2 Cor. 4:7 nlt). The treasure inside us is the message of Christ and His love.

This treasure is not to be hidden but is to be shared so that by God’s love and grace people of every nation can be welcomed into His family. May we, through His Spirit’s working, share that treasure with someone today. 

A New Purpose

Jacob Davis was a tailor with a problem. It was the height of the Gold Rush in the 1800s American West and the gold miners’ work pants kept wearing out. His solution? Davis went to a local dry goods company owned by Levi Strauss, purchased tent cloth, and made work pants from that heavy, sturdy material—and blue jeans were born. Today, denim jeans in a variety of forms (including Levi’s) are among the most popular clothing items in the world, and all because tent material was given a new purpose.

            Simon and his friends were fishermen on the Sea of Galilee. Then Jesus arrived and called them to follow Him. He gave them a new purpose. No longer would they fish for fish. As Jesus told them, “Come, follow me, . . . and I will send you out to fish for people” (Mark 1:17).

With this new purpose set for their lives, these men were taught and trained by Jesus so that, after His ascension, they could be used by God to capture the hearts of people with the message of the cross and resurrection of Christ. Today, we follow in their steps as we share the good news of Christ’s love and salvation.

May our lives both declare and exhibit this love that can change the lives, purposes, and eternal destinies of others.

> Life Struggles

Are You Being Prepared?

I worked at a fast-food restaurant for over two years in high school. Some aspects of the job were difficult. Customers verbalized their anger while I apologized for the unwanted slice of cheese on the sandwich I didn’t make. Soon after I left, I applied for an IT job at my university. The employers were more interested in my fast-food experience than my computer skills. They wanted to know that I knew how to deal with people. My experience in unpleasant circumstances prepared me for a better job!

                Young David persevered through an experience we might well call unpleasant. When Israel was challenged to send someone to fight Goliath, no one was brave enough to step up to the task. No one but David. King Saul was reluctant to send him to fight, but David explained that as a shepherd he had fought and killed a lion and a bear for the sake of the sheep (1 Samuel 17:34–36). Confidently he stated, “The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and . . . bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine” (v. 37).

                Being a shepherd didn’t earn David much respect, but it prepared him to fight Goliath and eventually become Israel’s greatest king. We may be in difficult circumstances, but through them God might be preparing us for something greater!

Skywatcher

Unsettled by issues at work and at home, Matt decided to take a walk. The evening spring air beckoned. As the infinite sky deepened from blue to black, a thickening fog spilled slowly over the marsh. Stars began to glimmer, heralding the full moon rising in the east. The moment, for Matt, was deeply spiritual. He’s there, he thought. God is there, and He’s got this.

Some people look at the night sky and see nothing but nature. Others see a god as distant and cold as Jupiter. But the same God who “sits enthroned above the circle of the earth” also “brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name” (Isa. 40:22,26). He knows His creation intimately.

It is this personal God who asked His people, “Why do you say, Israel, ‘My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God’?” Aching for them, God reminded them of the wisdom in seeking Him. “Do you not know? Have you not heard? . . . He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak” (vv. 27-29).

We are easily tempted to forget God. Our problems won’t disappear with an evening stroll, but we can find rest and certainty that God is always working toward His good purposes. “I’m here,” He says. “I’ve got you.” 

Good Medicine

Careless driving, rising tempers, and use of foul language among some taxi and minibus drivers are a constant source of traffic fights in our city of Accra, Ghana. But one traffic incident I witnessed took a different turn. A bus was almost hit by a careless taxi driver. I expected the bus driver to get angry and yell at the taxi driver, but he didn't. Instead, the bus driver relaxed his stern face and smiled broadly at the guilty-looking taxi driver. And the smile worked wonders. With a raised hand, the taxi driver apologized, smiled back, and moved away, the tension diffused.

A smile has a fascinating effect on our brain chemistry. Researchers have found that "when we smile it releases brain chemicals called endorphins which have an actual physiological relaxing effect.” Not only can a smile diffuse a tense situation, but it can also diffuse tension within us. Our emotions affect us as well as others. The Bible teaches us to “get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another” (Eph. 4:31-32).

When anger or tension or bitterness threatens our relationship with the Lord and with others, it helps to remember that "a cheerful heart is good medicine" for our own joy and well-being.

> Marriage & Family

Destroying the Divides

A writing deadline loomed over me, while the argument I had with my husband earlier that morning swirled through my mind. I stared at the blinking cursor, fingertips resting on the keyboard. He was wrong too, Lord.

When the computer screen went black, my reflection scowled. My unacknowledged wrongs were doing more than hindering the work before me. They were straining my relationship with my husband and my God.

I grabbed my cell phone, swallowed my pride, and asked for forgiveness. Savoring the peace of reconciliation when my spouse apologized as well, I thanked God and finished my article on time.

The Israelites experienced the pain of personal sin and joy of restoration. Joshua warned God’s people not to enrich themselves in the battle for Jericho (Josh. 6:18), but Achan stole captured items and hid them in his tent (7:1). Only after his sin was exposed and dealt with (7:4–12) did the nation enjoy reconciliation with their God.

Like Achan, we don’t always consider how “tucking sin into our tents” turns our hearts us from God and impacts those around us. Acknowledging Jesus as Lord, admitting our sin, and seeking forgiveness provides the foundation for healthy and faithful relationships with God and others. By submitting to our loving Creator and Sustainer daily, we can serve Him and enjoy His presence—together.

His Choice

When our children were small, I often prayed with them after we tucked them into bed. But before I prayed, I sometimes would sit on the edge of the bed and talk with them. I remember telling our daughter Libby, “If I could line up all the 4-year-old girls in the world, I would walk down the line looking for you. After going through the entire line, I would choose you to be my daughter.” That always put a big smile on Libby’s face because she knew she was special.

Bring The Boy To Me

I don’t believe in God and I won’t go,” Mark said.

> Relationships

A Perfect Father

My father once admitted to me, “When you were growing up, I was gone a lot.”

I don’t remember that. Besides working his full-time job, he was gone some evenings to direct choir practice at church, and he occasionally traveled for a week or two with a men’s quartet. But for all the significant (and many small) moments of my life—he was there.

For instance, when I was 8, I had a tiny part in an afternoon play at school. All the mothers came, but only one dad—mine. In many little ways, he has always let my sisters and me know that we are important to him and that he loves us. And seeing him tenderly caring for my mom in the last few years of her life taught me exactly what unselfish love looks like. Dad isn’t perfect, but he’s always been a dad who gives me a good glimpse of my heavenly Father. And ideally, that’s what a Christian dad should do.

At times earthly fathers disappoint or hurt their children. But our Father in heaven is “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love” (Ps. 103:8). When a dad who loves the Lord corrects, comforts, instructs, and provides for the needs of his children, he models for them our perfect Father in heaven. 

Someone to Trust

“I just can’t trust anyone,” my friend said through tears. “Every time I do, they hurt me.”  Her story angered me—an ex-boyfriend, whom she really thought she could trust, had started spreading rumors about her as soon as they broke up.  Struggling to trust again after a pain-filled childhood, this betrayal seemed just one more confirmation that people could not be trusted.

I struggled to find words that would comfort. One thing I could not say was that she was wrong about how hard it is to find someone to fully trust, that most people are completely kind and trustworthy. Her story was painfully familiar, reminding me of moments of unexpected betrayal in my own life. In fact, Scripture is very candid about human nature. In Proverbs 20:6, the author voices the same lament as my friend, forever memorializing the pain of betrayal.

What I could say is that the cruelty of others is only part of the story. Although wounds from others are real and painful, Jesus has made genuine love possible. In John 13:35, Jesus told His disciples that the world would know they were His followers because of their love. Although some people may still hurt us, because of Jesus, there will always be true followers of Him to unconditionally support and love us. Resting in His unfailing love, may we find healing, community, and the courage to love others as He did.

Surprise Interview

Early in the day, a London commuter shoved and insulted a business manager who got in his way. That afternoon, the business manager sent a quick Twitter message to his friends: “Guess who just showed up for a job interview?” When his explanation appeared on the Internet, people all over the world winced and smiled. Imagine walking into a job interview only to discover that the person who greets you is the one you had shoved and sworn at earlier that day.

Saul also ran into someone he never expected to see. While raging against a group called The Way (Acts 9:1-2), he was stopped in his tracks by a blinding light. Then a voice, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (v. 4). Saul asked, “Who are you, Lord?” the One speaking to him said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (26:15).

Years earlier Jesus had said that how we treat the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, and the prisoner reflects our relationship to Him (Matt 25:35-36). Who would have dreamed that when someone insults us, or when we help or hurt another, the One who loves us takes it personally?

> Retirement

Age Is Not a Factor

After owning and working at his dental lab for 50 years, Dave Bowman planned to retire and take it easy. Diabetes and heart surgery confirmed his decision. But when he heard about a group of young refugees from Sudan who needed help, he made a life-changing decision. He agreed to sponsor five of them.

As Dave learned more about these young Sudanese men, he discovered that they had never been to a doctor or a dentist. Then one day in church someone mentioned the verse, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it” (1 Cor. 12:26). He couldn’t get the verse out of his mind. Sudanese Christians were suffering because they needed medical care, and Dave sensed that God was telling him to do something about it. But what?

Despite his age and bad health, Dave began exploring the possibility of building a medical center in Sudan. Little by little, God brought together the people and the resources, and in 2008 Memorial Christian Hospital opened its doors to patients. Since then, hundreds of sick and injured people have been treated there.

Memorial Christian Hospital stands as a reminder that God cares when people suffer. And often He works through people like us to share His care—even when we think our work is done.

> Spiritual Growth

Dressed Up

In her book Wearing God, author Lauren Winner says our clothes can silently communicate to others who we are. What we wear may indicate career, community or identity, moods, or social status. Think of a T-shirt with a slogan, a business suit, a uniform, or greasy jeans and what they might reveal. She writes, “. . . The idea that, as with a garment, Christians might wordlessly speak something of Jesus—is appealing.”

According to Paul, we can similarly wordlessly represent Christ. Romans 13:14 tells us to “clothe [ourselves] with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.” What does this mean? When we become Christians, we take on Christ’s identity. We’re “children of God through faith” (Gal. 3:26–27). That’s our status. Yet each day we need to clothe ourselves in His character. We do this by striving to live for and to be more like Jesus, growing in godliness, love, and obedience and turning our back on the sins that once enslaved us

This growth in Christ is a result of the Holy Spirit working in us and our desire to be closer to Him through study of the Word, prayer, and time spent in fellowship with other Christians (John 14:26). When others look at our words and attitudes, what statement are we making about Christ?

Cleaning House

Recently, I switched rooms in the home I rent. This took longer than expected, because I didn’t want to simply transfer my (extensive) mess to a new room; I wanted a completely fresh and uncluttered start. After hours and hours of cleaning and sorting, bags of stuff sat by the front door to be thrown away, donated, or recycled. But at the end of this exhausting process was a beautiful room I was excited to spend time in.

My housecleaning project gave me a fresh perspective when reading 1 Peter 2:1, as paraphrased in The Message: “So, clean house! Make a clean sweep of malice and pretense, envy, and hurtful talk.” Interestingly, it’s after a joyful confession of their new life in Christ (1:1–12) that Peter urges them to throw away destructive habits (1:13–2:3). When our walk with the Lord feels cluttered and our love for others feels strained, this shouldn’t cause to question our salvation. We don’t change our lives to be saved, but because we are (1:23).

As real as our new life in Christ is, habits learned do not disappear overnight. So, on a daily basis, we need to “clean house,” throwing away all that prevents us from fully loving others (1:22) and growing (2:2).  Then, in that new, clean space, we can experience the wonder of being freshly built (v. 4) by Christ’s power and life.

The Shrinking Piano

For three consecutive years, my son participated in a piano recital. The last year he played, I watched him mount the steps and set up his music. He played two songs and then sat down next to me and whispered, “Mom, this year the piano was smaller.” I said, “No, it’s the same piano you played last year. You’re bigger! You’ve grown.”

Spiritual growth, like physical growth, often happens slowly over time. It is an ongoing process that involves becoming more like Jesus, and it happens as we are transformed through the renewing of our minds (Rom. 12:2).

When the Holy Spirit is at work in us, we may become aware of sin in our lives. Wanting to honor God, we make an effort to change. Sometimes we experience success, but at other times, we try and fail. If it seems like nothing changes, we get discouraged. We may equate failure with a lack of progress, when it’s often proof that we are in the middle of the process.

Spiritual growth involves the Holy Spirit, our willingness to change, and time. At certain points in our lives, we may look back and see that we have grown spiritually. May God give us the faith to continue to believe that “He who began a good work in [us] will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6).

> When Life Hurts

An Invitation to Rest

At a friend’s bedside in a hospital emergency ward, I was moved by the sounds of suffering I heard from other patients in pain. As I prayed for my friend and for the ailing patients, I realized anew how fleeting our life on earth is. Then I recalled an old country song by Jim Reeves that talks about how the world is not home for us—we’re “just a-passin’ through.”

  Our world is full of weariness, pain, hunger, debt, poverty, disease, and death. Because we must pass through such a world, Jesus’ invitation is welcome and timely: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). We need this rest.

There is hardly a funeral ceremony I’ve attended where John’s vision of “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev. 21:1-5) is not quoted, and it certainly holds relevance for funerals.

But I believe the passage is more for the living than the dead. The time to heed Jesus’ invitation to come rest in Him is while we are still living. Only then can we be entitled to the promises in Revelation. God will dwell among us (v. 3). He will wipe away our tears (v. 4). There will be “no more death or mourning or crying or pain” (v. 4).

Accept Jesus’ invitation and enter His rest!

When Things Don’t Go Well

The first words that many people like to quote when misfortune hits are: “We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). But that’s hard to believe in hard times. I once sat with a man who had lost his third son in a row, and I listened as he lamented, “How can this tragedy work for my good?” I had no answer but to sit silently and mourn with him. Several months later, he was thankful as he said, “My sorrow is drawing me closer to God.”

Tough as Romans 8:28 may be to understand, countless testimonies give credence to the truth of it. The story of hymn writer Fanny Crosby is a classic example. The world is the beneficiary of her memorable hymns, yet what worked together for good was born out of her personal tragedy, for she became blind at the age of 5. At only age 8, she began to write poetry and hymns. Writing over 8,000 sacred songs and hymns, she blessed the world with such popular songs as “Blessed Assurance,” “Safe in the Arms of Jesus,” and “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior.” God used her difficulty to bring good for her and us and glory for Him.

When tragedy befalls us, it’s hard to understand how anything good can come from it, and we won’t always see it in this life. But God has good purposes and always remains with us.

God’s Good Heart

Roger had been through a lot. He had open-heart surgery to repair a leaky valve. Then, within just a couple of weeks, doctors had to perform the surgery again because of complications. He had just begun to heal with physical therapy when he had a biking accident and broke his collarbone. Added to this, Roger also experienced the heartbreak of losing his mother during this time. He became very discouraged. When a friend asked him if he had seen God at work in any small ways, he confessed that he really didn’t feel he had.

            I appreciate Roger’s honesty. Feelings of discouragement or doubt are part of my life too. In Romans, the apostle Paul says, “We can rejoice . . . when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation” (5:3-4 nlt). But that doesn’t mean we always feel the joy. We may just need someone to sit down and listen to us pour out our hearts to them, and to talk with God. Sometimes it takes looking back on the situation before we see how our faith has grown during trials and doubts.

            Knowing that God wants to use our difficulties to strengthen our faith can help us to trust His good heart for us.