When Edward Klee returned to Berlin after being away for many years, the city he remembered and loved was no longer there. It had changed dramatically, and so had he. Writing in Hemispheres magazine, Klee said, “Returning to a city you once loved tends to be a hit-or-miss proposition . . . . It can be a letdown.” Going back to the places of our past may produce a feeling of sorrow and loss. We are not the same person we were then, nor is the place that was so significant in our lives exactly as it was.
Nehemiah had been in exile from the land of Israel for many years when he learned of the desperate plight of his people and the devastation in the city of Jerusalem. He received permission from Artaxerxes, the Persian king, to return and rebuild the walls. After a night reconnaissance to examine the situation (Neh. 2:13–15), Nehemiah told the inhabitants of the city, “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace” (v. 17).
Nehemiah did not return to reminisce but to rebuild. It’s a powerful lesson for us as we consider the damaged parts of our past that need repair. It is our faith in Christ and His power that enables us to look ahead, move forward, and rebuild.
Imagine a world without wind. Lakes would be calm. Falling leaves wouldn’t blow in the streets. But in still air, who would expect trees to suddenly fall over? That’s what happened in a three-acre glass dome built in the Arizona desert. Trees growing inside a huge windless bubble called Biosphere 2 grew faster than normal until suddenly collapsing under their own weight. Project researchers eventually came up with an explanation. These trees needed wind stress to grow strong.
Jesus let His disciples experience gale-force winds to strengthen their faith (Mark 4:36–41). During a night crossing of familiar waters, a sudden storm proved too much even for these seasoned fishermen. Wind and waves were swamping their boat while an exhausted Jesus slept in the stern. In a panic they woke Him. Didn’t it bother their Teacher that they were about to die? What was He thinking? Then they began to find out. Jesus told the wind and waves to be quiet—and asked His friends why they still had no faith in Him.
If the wind had not blown, these disciples would never have asked, “Who is this? Even the winds and waves obey him” (Mark 4:41).
Today, life in a protective bubble might sound good. But how strong would our faith be if we couldn’t discover for ourselves His reassuring “be still” when the winds of circumstance howl?
A large sign at the Texas A&M University football stadium says “HOME OF THE 12TH MAN.” While each team is allowed eleven players on the field, the 12th Man is the presence of thousands of A&M students who remain standing during the entire game to cheer their team on. The tradition traces its roots to 1922 when the coach called a student from the stands to suit up and be ready to replace an injured player. Although he never entered the game, his willing presence on the sideline greatly encouraged the team.
Hebrews 11 describes heroes of the faith who faced great trials and remained loyal to God. Chapter 12 begins, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (v. 1)
We are not alone on our journey of faith. The great saints and ordinary people who have been faithful to the Lord encourage us by their example and also by their presence in heaven. They are a spiritual 12th Man standing with us while we are still on the field.
As we fix our eyes on Jesus, “the pioneer and perfecter of faith” (12:2), we are spurred on by all those who followed Him.
“Do you have a few items you’d like me to wash?” I asked a visitor to our home in London. His face lit up, and as his daughter walked by, he said, “Get your dirty clothes—Amy’s doing our laundry!” I smiled, realizing that my offer had been extended from a few items to a few loads.
Later as I hung clothes outside on the line, a phrase from my morning’s Bible reading floated through my mind: “In humility value others above yourselves” (Phil. 2:3). I had been reading Paul’s letter to the people of Philippi, in which he exhorts them to live worthy of Christ’s calling through serving and being united with others. They were facing persecution, but Paul wanted them to be of one mind. He knew that their unity, birthed through their union with Christ and expressed through serving each other, would enable them to keep strong in their faith.
We might claim to love others without selfish ambition or vain conceit, but the true state of our hearts isn’t revealed until we put our love into action. Though I felt tempted to grumble, I knew that as a follower of Christ, my call was to put my love for my friends into practice—with a clean heart.
May we find ways to serve our family, friends, and neighbors for God’s glory.
“You gotta have faith,” people say. But what does that mean? Is any faith good faith?
“Believe in yourself and all that you are,” wrote one positive thinker a century ago. “Know that there is something inside you that is greater than any obstacle.” As nice as that platitude may sound, it falls to pieces when it crashes into reality. We need a faith in something bigger than ourselves.
God promised Abram he would have a multitude of descendants (Gen. 15:4–5), so he faced a huge obstacle—he was old and childless. When he and Sarah got tired of waiting for God to make good on His promise, they tried to overcome that obstacle on their own. As a result, they fractured their family and created a lot of unnecessary dissension (see Gen. 16 and 21:8–21).
Nothing Abraham did in his own strength worked. But ultimately he became known as a man of tremendous faith. Paul wrote of him, “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be’” (Rom. 4:18). This faith, said Paul, “was credited to him as righteousness” (v. 22).
Abraham’s faith was in something far bigger than himself—the one and only God. It’s the object of our faith that makes all the difference.
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.
My son’s blue eyes sparkled with excitement as he showed me a paper he had brought home from school. It was a math test, marked with a red star and a grade of 100 percent. As we looked at the exam, he said he had three questions left to answer when the teacher said time was up. Puzzled, I asked how he could have received a perfect score. He replied, “My teacher gave me grace. She let me finish the test although I had run out of time.”
As my son and I discussed the meaning of grace, I pointed out that God has given us more than we deserve through Christ. We deserve death because of our sin (Rom. 3:23). Yet, “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (5:8). We were unworthy, yet Jesus—sinless and holy—gave up His life so we could escape the penalty for our sin and one day live forever in heaven.
Eternal life is a gift from God. It’s not something we earn by working for it. We are saved by God’s grace, through faith in Christ (Eph. 2:8-9).
Love does more than make “the world go round,” as an old song says. It also makes us immensely vulnerable. From time to time, we may say to ourselves: “Why love when others do not show appreciation?” or “Why love and open myself up to hurt?” But the apostle Paul gives a clear and simple reason to pursue love: “These three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. Follow the way of love” (1 Cor. 13:13–14:1).
“Love is an activity, the essential activity of God himself,” writes Bible commentator C. K. Barrett, “and when men love either Him or their fellow-men, they are doing (however imperfectly) what God does.” And God is pleased when we act like Him.
To begin following the way of love, think about how you might live out the characteristics listed in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. For example, how can I show my child the same patience God shows me? How can I show kindness and respect for my parents? What does it mean to look out for the interests of others when I am at work? When something good happens to my friend, do I rejoice with her or am I envious?
As we “follow the way of love,” we’ll find ourselves often turning to God, the source of love, and to Jesus, the greatest example of love. Only then will we gain a deeper knowledge of what true love is and find the strength to love others like God loves us.
During World War II my dad served with the US Army in the South Pacific. During that time Dad rejected any idea of religion, saying, “I don’t need a crutch.” Yet the day came when his attitude toward spiritual things would change forever. Mom had gone into labor with their third child, and my brother and I went to bed with the excitement of soon seeing our new brother or sister. When I got out of bed the next morning, I excitedly asked Dad, “Is it a boy or a girl?” He replied, “It was a little girl but she was born dead.” We began to weep together at our loss.
For the first time, Dad took his broken heart to Jesus in prayer. At that moment he felt an overwhelming sense of peace and comfort from God, though his daughter would always be irreplaceable. Soon he began to take an interest in the Bible and continued to pray to the One who was healing his broken heart. His faith grew through the years. He became a strong follower of Jesus—serving Him as a Bible-study teacher and a leader in his church.
Jesus is not a crutch for the weak. He is the source of new spiritual life! When we’re broken, He can make us new and whole (Ps. 119:75).