I was only four years old as I lay by my father on a floor mat on a hot summer night. (My mother, with a baby, had her own room at the time.) This was in northern Ghana where the climate is mostly dry. Sweat covered my body and the heat parched my throat. I felt so thirsty I shook my father awake. In the middle of that dry night, he rose up and poured water from a jar for me to quench my thirst. Throughout my life, as he did that night, he exemplified the image of a caring father. He provided what I needed.
Some people may not have a good father figure in their lives. But we all have a Father who is strong and ever-present and who does not disappoint us. Jesus taught us to pray to “Our Father in heaven” (Matt. 6:9). He told us that when our daily needs confront us—food, clothing, shelter, protection (v. 31)—“your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (v. 8).
We have a Father who is always there. Night or day, whenever the going gets tough, we can trust that He will never abandon us. He has promised to care for us, and He knows better than we do what we need.
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.
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.
No matter where the athletes of the 2016 Olympics go in the city of Rio de Janeiro, they can see Jesus. Standing high above this Brazilian city and anchored to a 2,310-foot-high mountain called Corcovado is a 100-foot-tall sculpture called Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer). With arms spread wide, this massive figure is visible day and night from almost anywhere in the sprawling city.
As comforting as this iconic concrete and soapstone sculpture may be to all who can look up and see it, there is much greater comfort from this reality: The real Jesus sees us. In Psalm 34, David explained it like this: “The eyes of the
Just who are the righteous? Those of us who place our trust in Jesus Christ, who Himself is our righteousness (1 Cor. 1:30). Our God oversees our lives, and He hears the cries of those who trust Him. He is near to help in our greatest times of need.
Jesus has His eyes on you.
Every year some two million people from all over the world visit St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. It is well worth the admission fee to experience the magnificent structure designed and built by Sir Christopher Wren during the late 17th century. But tourism is secondary at this place of Christian worship. A primary mission of the cathedral is “to enable people in all their diversity to encounter the transforming presence of God in Jesus Christ.” If you want to tour the building and admire the architecture, you must pay an admission fee. But there is no charge to enter and attend any of the daily worship services at St. Paul’s.
How much does it cost to enter the kingdom of God? Entry is free because Jesus Christ paid the price for us by His death. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:23-24). When we acknowledge our spiritual need and accept by faith God’s forgiveness for our sins, we have a new and everlasting life in Him.
You can enter a new life today because, by His death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead, Jesus has paid the price of admission!
The alarm clock goes off. Too early, it seems. But you have a long day ahead. You have work to do, appointments to keep, people to care for, or all this and more. Well, you are not alone. Each day, many of us rush from one matter to another. As someone has wittily suggested, “That’s why we are called the human race.”
When the apostles returned from their first mission trip, they had a lot to report. But Mark did not record Jesus’ evaluation of the disciples’ work; rather, he focused on His concern that they rest awhile. Jesus said, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest” (6:31).
Ultimately, we find true rest through recognizing the presence of God and trusting Him. While we take our responsibilities seriously, we also recognize that we can relax our grip on our work and careers, our families and ministry, and give them over to God in faith. We can take time each day to tune out the distractions, put away the tense restlessness, and reflect in gratitude on the wonder of God’s love and faithfulness.
So stop and take a breath. Get some real rest.
Our hearts sank when we learned that our good friend Cindy had been diagnosed with cancer. Cindy was a vibrant person whose life blessed all who crossed her path. My wife and I rejoiced when she went into remission, but a few months later her cancer returned with a vengeance. In our minds she was too young to die. Her husband told me about her last hours. When she was weak and hardly able to talk, Cindy whispered to him, “Just be with me.” What she wanted more than anything in those dark moments was his loving presence.
The writer to the Hebrews comforted his readers by quoting Deuteronomy 31:6, where God told His people: “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Heb. 13:5). In the darkest moments of life, the assurance of His loving presence gives us confidence that we are not alone. He gives us the grace to endure, the wisdom to know He is working, and the assurance that Christ can “empathize with our weaknesses” (4:15).
Together let’s embrace the blessing of His loving presence so we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid” (13:6).
Around our home, the words “some assembly required” have been the cause of great frustration (mine) and great humor (my family). When my wife and I first married, I attempted to make simple home repairs—with disastrous results. A repaired shower handle worked perfectly—if the plan was for the water to run between the walls. My fiascoes continued after we had children, when I assured my wife, Cheryl, I “don’t need instructions” to put these “simple” toys together. Wrong!
Gradually, I learned my lesson and began to pay strict attention to the instructions and things went together as they should. Unfortunately, the longer things went well, the more confident I became, and soon I was again ignoring instructions with predictably disastrous results.
The ancient Israelites struggled with a similar tendency: they would forget God, ignoring His instructions to avoid following after Baal and the other gods of the region (Judg. 2:12). This produced disastrous results, until God, in His mercy, raised up judges to rescue them and bring them back to Himself (2:18).
God has reasons for all of the instructions He’s given us to keep our affections on Him. Only by a daily awareness of His loving presence can we resist the temptation to “construct” our lives our own way. What great gifts He has given us in His Word and His presence!
On a beautiful, sunny day, I was walking in a park and feeling very weary in spirit. It wasn’t just one thing weighing me down—it seemed to be everything. When I stopped to sit on a bench, I noticed a small plaque placed there in loving memory of a “devoted husband, father, brother, and friend.” Also on the plaque were these words, “But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint” (Isa. 40:31 esv).
Those familiar words came to me as a personal touch from the Lord. Weariness—whether physical, emotional, or spiritual—comes to us all. Isaiah reminds us that although we become tired, the Lord, the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth “will not grow tired or weary” (v. 28). How easily I had forgotten that in every situation “[the Lord] gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak” (v. 29).
What’s it like on your journey today? If fatigue has caused you to forget God’s presence and power, why not pause and recall His promise. “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength” (v. 31). Here. Now. Right where we are.