Tag  |  cross

Connecting the Dots

In the 1880s French artist Georges Seurat introduced an art form known as pointillism. As the name suggests, Seurat used small dots of color, rather than brush strokes of blended pigments, to create an artistic image. Up close, his work looks like groupings of individual dots. Yet as the observer steps back, the human eye blends the dots into brightly colored portraits or landscapes.

The big picture of the Bible is similar. Up close, its complexity can leave us with the impression of dots on a canvas. As we read it, we might feel like Cleopas and his friend on the road to Emmaus. They couldn’t understand the tragic “dotlike” events of the Passover weekend. They had hoped that Jesus “was the one who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21), but they had just witnessed His death.

Suddenly a man they did not recognize was walking alongside them. After showing an interest in their conversation, He helped them connect the dots of the suffering and death of their long-awaited Messiah. Later, while eating a meal with them, Jesus let them recognize Him—and then He left as mysteriously as He came.

Was it the scarred dots of the nail wounds in His hands that caught their attention? We don’t know. What we do know is that when we connect the dots of Scripture and Jesus’s suffering (vv. 27, 44), we see a God who loves us more than we can imagine.

What Matters Most

As Jesus’s beloved disciple John grew older, his teaching became increasingly narrowed, focusing entirely on the love of God in his three letters. In the book Knowing the Truth of God’s Love, Peter Kreeft cites an old legend which says that one of John’s young disciples once came to him complaining, “Why don’t you talk about anything else?” John replied, “Because there isn’t anything else.”

God’s love is certainly at the heart of the mission and message of Jesus. In his earlier gospel account, John recorded the words, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

The apostle Paul tells us that God’s love is at the core of how we live, and he reminds us that “neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38–39).

God’s love is so strong, available, and stabilizing that we can confidently step into each day knowing that the good things are gifts from His hand and the challenges can be faced in His strength. For all of life, His love is what matters most.

When We Don’t Understand

Although I depend on technology every day to get my job done, I don’t understand much about how it works. I turn my computer on, bring up a Word document, and get to work on my writing. Yet my inability to comprehend how microchips, hard drives, Wi-Fi connections, and full-color displays actually function doesn’t get in the way of my benefiting from technology.

In a sense, this mirrors our relationship with God. Isaiah 55:8–9 reminds us that God is far beyond us: “’My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’ ”

Even though we don’t understand everything about God that doesn’t prevent us from trusting Him. He has proven His love for us. The apostle Paul wrote, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). Trusting that love, we can walk with Him even when life doesn’t make sense.

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. 

The Gift and the Giver

It's only a keychain. Five little blocks held together by a shoelace. My daughter gave it to me years ago when she was 7. Today the lace is frayed and the blocks are chipped, but they spell a message that never grows old: “I ♥ DAD.”

         The most precious gifts are determined not by what went into them, but by who they are from. Ask any parent who ever received a bouquet of dandelions from a chubby hand. The best gifts are valued not in money but in love.

         Zechariah understood that. We hear it in his prophetic song as he praised God for giving him and his wife Elizabeth their son John when they were well past their childbearing years (Luke 1:67-79). Zechariah rejoiced because John was to be a prophet who would proclaim God’s greatest gift to all people—the coming Messiah: “Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us” (Luke 1:78 nlt). Those words point to a gift given with so much love that it will even “shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death” (1:79).

         The sweetest gift we can receive is God's tender mercy—the forgiveness of our sins through Jesus. That gift cost Him dearly at the cross, but He offers it freely out of His deep love for us.


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).  

Great Sacrifice

W. T. Stead, an innovative English journalist at the turn of the 20th century, was known for writing about controversial social issues. Two of the articles he published addressed the danger of ships operating with an insufficient ratio of lifeboats to passengers. Ironically, Stead was aboard the Titanic when it struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic on April 15, 1912. According to one report, after helping women and children into lifeboats, Stead sacrificed his own life by giving up his life vest and a place in the lifeboats so others could be rescued.

There is something very stirring about self-sacrifice. No greater example of that can be found than in Christ Himself. The writer of Hebrews says, “This Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God . . . . For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified” (Heb. 10:12,14 nkjv). In his letter to the Galatians, Paul opened with words describing this great sacrifice: “The Lord Jesus Christ . . . gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age” (Gal. 1:3-4).

Jesus’ offering of Himself on our behalf is the measure of His love for us. That willing sacrifice continues to rescue men and women and offer assurance of eternity with Him.

Our Best Friend

When I was twelve years old our family moved to a town in the desert. After gym classes in the hot air at my new school, we rushed for the drinking fountain. Being skinny and young for my grade, I sometimes got pushed out of the way while waiting in line. One day my friend Jose, who was big and strong for his age, saw this happening. He stepped in and stuck out a strong arm to clear my way. “Hey!” he exclaimed, “You let Banks get a drink first!” I never had trouble at the drinking fountain again.

Jesus understood what it was like to face the ultimate unkindness of others. The Bible tells us, “He was despised and rejected by mankind” (Isa. 53:3). But Jesus was not just a victim, He also became our advocate. By giving His life, Jesus opened a “new and living way” for us to enter into a relationship with God (Heb. 10:20). He did for us what we could never do for ourselves, offering us the free gift of salvation when we repent of our sins and trust in Him.

Jesus is the best friend we could ever have. He said, “Whoever comes to me I will never drive away” (John 6:37). Others may hold us at arm’s length or even push us away, but God has opened His arms to us through the cross. How strong is our Savior!

The Hollywood Hills Cross

One of the most recognizable images in the US is the “HOLLYWOOD” sign in Southern California. People from all over the globe come to “Tinseltown” to gaze at cement footprints of stars and perhaps catch a glimpse of celebrities who might pass by. It’s hard for these visitors to miss the sign anchored in the foothills nearby.

Less well known in the Hollywood hills is another easily recognized symbol—one with eternal significance. Known as the Hollywood Pilgrimage Memorial Monument, this 32-foot cross looks out over the city. The cross was placed there in memory of Christine Wetherill Stevenson, a wealthy heiress who in the 1920s established the Pilgrimage Theatre (now the John Anson Ford Theatre). The site served as the venue for The Pilgrimage Play, a drama about Christ. 

The two icons showcase an interesting contrast. Movies good and bad will come and go. Their entertainment value, artistic contributions, and relevance are temporary at best.

The cross, however, reminds us of a drama eternal in scope. The work of Christ is a story of the loving God who pursues us and invites us to accept His offer of complete forgiveness. The high drama of Jesus’ death is rooted in history. His resurrection conquered death and has an eternal impact for all of us. The cross will never lose its meaning and power.

Related Topics

> Biblical Studies


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

Dying for Others

I love birds, which is why I bought six caged birds and carried them home to our daughter Alice, who began to care for them daily. Then one of the birds fell ill and died. We wondered if the birds would be more likely to thrive if they were not caged. So we freed the surviving five and observed them fly away in jubilation.

Alice then pointed out, “Do you realize, Daddy, that it was the death of one bird that caused us to free the rest?”

Isn’t that what the Lord Jesus did for us? Just as one man’s sin (Adam’s) brought condemnation to the world, so one Man’s righteousness (Jesus’s) brought salvation to those who believe (Rom. 5:12–19). Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11).

John makes it more practical when he says, “Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters” (1 John 3:16). This won’t likely mean literal death, but as we align our lives with Jesus’s example of sacrificial love, we find that we are “laying down our lives.” For instance, we might choose to deprive ourselves of material goods in order to share them with others (v. 17) or make time to be with someone who needs comfort and companionship.

Who do you need to sacrifice for today? 

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?

> 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

I Am With You

When I served as an intern for a Christian magazine, I wrote a story about a person who had become a Christian. In a dramatic change, he said goodbye to his former life and embraced his new Master: Jesus. A few days after the magazine hit the street, an anonymous caller threatened, "Be careful, Darmani. We are watching you! Your life is in danger in this country if you write such stories."

That was not the only time I have been threatened for pointing people to Christ. On one occasion a man told me to vanish with the tract I was giving him or else! In both cases, I cowered. But these were only verbal threats. Many Christians have had threats carried out against them. In some cases simply living a godly lifestyle attracts mistreatment from people.

The Lord told Jeremiah, "You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you" (Jer. 1:7), and Jesus told His disciples, "I am sending you out like sheep among wolves" (Matt. 10:16). Yes, we may encounter threats, hardships, and even pain. But God assures us of His presence. "I am with you," He told Jeremiah (Jer. 1:8), and Jesus assured His followers, "I am with you always" (Matt. 28:20).

Whatever struggles we face in our attempt to live for the Lord, we can trust in the Lord's presence.

The God Who Paints

Nezahualcoyotl (1402–1472) may have had a difficult name to pronounce, but his name is full of significance. It means “Hungry Coyote,” and this man’s writings show a spiritual hunger. As a poet and ruler in Mexico before the arrival of the Europeans, he wrote, “Truly the gods, which I worship, are idols of stone that do not speak nor feel. . . . Some very powerful, hidden and unknown god is the creator of the entire universe. He is the only one that can console me in my affliction and help me in such anguish as my heart feels; I want him to be my helper and protection.”

We cannot know if Nezahualcoyotl found the Giver of life. But during his reign he built a pyramid to the “God who paints things with beauty,” and he banned human sacrifices in his city.

The writers of Psalm 42 cried out, “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (v. 2). Every human being desires the true God, just as “the deer pants for streams of water” (v. 1).

Today there are many Hungry Coyotes who know that the idols of fame, money, and relationships can’t fill the void in their souls. The Living God has revealed Himself through Jesus, the only One who gives us meaning and fulfillment. This is good news for those who are hungry for the God who paints things with beauty.

Opening Doors

Charlie Sifford is an important name in American sports. He became the first African-American playing member of the Professional Golfers Association (PGA) Tour, joining a sport that, until 1961, had a “whites only” clause in its by-laws. Enduring racial injustice and harassment, Sifford earned his place at the game’s highest level, won two tournaments, and in 2004 was the first African-American inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame. Charlie Sifford opened the doors of professional golf for players of all ethnicities.

Opening doors is also a theme at the heart of the gospel mission. Jesus said, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:19-20).

The word nations (v. 19) is from the Greek word ethnos, which is also the source of the word ethnic. In other words, “Go and make disciples of all ethnicities.” Jesus’ work on the cross opened the way to the Father for everyone.

Now we have the privilege of caring for others as God has cared for us. We can open the door for someone who never dreamed they’d be welcomed personally into the house and family of God.

> Life Struggles

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.

No Fear

Nearly every time an angel appears in the Bible, the first words he says are “Do not be afraid!” (Dan. 10:12, 19; Matt. 28:5; Rev. 1:17). Little wonder. When the supernatural makes contact with planet Earth, it usually leaves the human observers flat on their faces in catatonic fear. But Luke tells of God making an appearance on earth in a form that does not frighten. In Jesus, born in a barn and laid in a feeding trough, God finds at last a mode of approach that we need not fear. What could be less scary than a newborn baby?

                  Puzzled skeptics stalked Jesus throughout His ministry. How could a baby in Bethlehem, a carpenter’s son, be the Messiah from God? But a group of shepherds in a field had no doubt about who He was, for they heard the message of good news straight from a choir of angels (2:8-14).

                  Why did God take on human form? The Bible gives many reasons, some densely theological and some quite practical; but the scene of Jesus as an adolescent lecturing rabbis in the temple gives one clue (v. 46). For the first time, ordinary people could hold a conversation, a debate, with God in visible form. Jesus could talk to anyone—His parents, a rabbi, a poor widow—without first having to announce, “Don’t be afraid!”

                  In Jesus, God comes close to us.

Never Give Up!

Joop Zoetemelk is known as the Netherlands’ most successful cyclist. But that’s because he never gave up. He started and finished the Tour de France 16 times—placing second five times before winning in 1980. That’s perseverance!

Many winners have reached success by climbing a special ladder called “never give up.” However, there are also many who have lost the opportunity to achieve success because they gave up too soon. This can happen in every area of life: family, education, friends, work, service. Perseverance is a key to victory.

The apostle Paul persevered despite persecution and affliction (2 Tim. 3:10-11). He viewed life with realism, recognizing that as followers of Christ we will suffer persecution (vv. 12–13), but he instructed Timothy to place his faith in God and the encouragement of the Scriptures (vv. 14-15). Doing so would help him face discouragement and endure with hope. At the end of his life, Paul said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (4:7).

We too can allow the Scriptures to strengthen us to press on in the race marked out for us. For our God is both a promise-making and promise-keeping God and will reward those who faithfully finish the race (v. 8). 

> Marriage & Family

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.

The Girl In The Yellow Coat

It was her yellow raincoat that caught my attention, and quickly I became increasingly interested in this cute freshman with long, brown hair. Soon I worked up my courage, interrupted Sue as she walked along reading a letter from a guy back home, and awkwardly asked her for a date. To my surprise, she said yes.

> Relationships

Changing Hearts

On the last day of the US Civil War, officer Joshua Chamberlain was in command of the Union army. His soldiers lined up on both sides of the road that the Confederate army had to march down in surrender. One wrong word or one belligerent act and the longed-for peace could be turned to slaughter. In an act as brilliant as it was moving, Chamberlain ordered his troops to salute their foe! No taunting here, no vicious words—only guns in salute and swords raised to honor.

When Jesus offered His words about forgiveness in Luke 6, He was helping us understand the difference between people of grace and people without grace. Those who know His forgiveness are to be strikingly unlike everyone else. We must do what others think impossible: Forgive and love our enemies. Jesus said, “Be merciful, just as your Father in heaven is merciful” (v. 36).

 Imagine the impact in our workplaces and on our families if we embrace this principle. If a salute can make armies whole again, what power there must be in Christ's grace reflected through us! Scripture gives evidence of this: in Esau's embrace of his deceitful brother (Gen. 33:4), in Zacchaeus's joyful penance (Luke 19:1-10), and in the picture of a father racing to greet his prodigal son (Luke 15).

With the grace of Christ, may we let this be the final day of bitterness and dispute between our enemies and us.

Visible Vulnerability

As I ventured out several weeks after shoulder surgery, I was fearful. I had become comfortable using my arm sling, but both my surgeon and physical therapist now told me to stop wearing it. That’s when I saw this statement: “At this stage, sling wear is discouraged except as a visible sign of vulnerability in an uncontrolled environment.”

Ah, that was it! I feared the enthusiastic friend who might give me a bear hug or the unaware friend who might bump me accidentally. I was hiding behind my flimsy baby-blue sling because I feared being hurt.

Allowing ourselves to be vulnerable can be scary. We want to be loved and accepted for who we are, but we fear that if people truly knew us, they would reject us and we could get hurt. What if they found out we are not smart enough . . . kind enough . . . good enough?

But as members of God’s family, we have a responsibility to help each other grow in faith. We’re told to “encourage one another,” to “build each other up” (1 Thess. 5:11), and to “be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Eph. 4:2).

When we are honest and vulnerable with other believers, we may discover we have mutual struggles battling temptation or learning how to live obediently. But most of all, we will share the wonder of God’s gift of grace in our lives.

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.

> 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

Strengthening the Heart

The neighborhood fitness center where I have worked out for years closed down last month, and I had to join a new gym. The former place was a warm, friendly facility, patronized by older folks who liked to socialize while they worked out. We hardly ever broke a sweat. The new gym is a hard-core facility filled with serious men and women, earnestly invested in building better bodies. I watch these people strain and toil. Their bodies look strong, but I wonder if their hearts are being strengthened with grace.

Physiologically, the heart is a muscle—the muscle that keeps the other muscles going. It’s good to build and tone our other muscles, but the essential thing is doing whatever keeps the heart strong.

So it is with our spiritual heart. We must strengthen and tone the heart through the Word of truth, receiving its message of God’s goodness and grace. Keeping our spiritual heart strong and fit must be our first priority, the one thing we do above all others.

Paul would agree: "Train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come" (1 Tim. 4:7-8 esv).

Time to Grow

In Debbie’s new home, she discovered an abandoned plant in a dark corner of the kitchen. The dusty and ragged leaves looked like those of a moth orchid, and she imagined how pretty the plant would look once it had sent up new bloom-bearing stems. She moved the pot into a spot by the window, cut off the dead leaves, and watered it thoroughly. She bought plant food and applied it to the roots. Week after week she inspected the plant, but no new shoots appeared. “I’ll give it another month,” she told her husband, “and if nothing has happened by then, out it goes.”

         When decision day came, she could hardly believe her eyes. Two small stems were poking out from among the leaves! The plant she’d almost given up on was still alive.

         Do you ever get discouraged by your apparent lack of spiritual growth? Perhaps a frequently lost temper or that spicy piece of gossip you just can’t resist passing on. Or perhaps you get up too late to pray and read your Bible, in spite of resolving to set the alarm earlier.

         Why not tell a trusted friend about the areas of your life in which you want to grow spiritually and ask that person to pray for and encourage you to be accountable? Be patient. You will grow as you allow the Holy Spirit to work in you.

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.  

> 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.