Tag  |  love-for-others

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).

She Did What She Could

When her friends say thoughtless or outrageous things on social media, Charlotte chimes in with gentle but firm dissent. She respects the dignity of everyone, and her words are unfailingly positive.

A few years ago she became Facebook friends with a man who harbored anger toward Christians. He appreciated Charlotte’s rare honesty and grace. Over time his hostility melted. Then Charlotte suffered a bad fall. Now housebound, she fretted over what she could do. About that time her Facebook friend died and then this message arrived from his sister: “[Because of your witness] I know he’s now experiencing God’s complete and abiding love for him.” 

During the week in which Christ would be killed, Mary of Bethany anointed Him with expensive perfume (John 12:3; Mark 14:3). Some of those present were appalled, but Jesus applauded her. “She has done a beautiful thing to me,” He said. “She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial” (Mark 14:6-8).

“She did what she could.” Christ’s words take the pressure off. Our world is full of broken, hurting people. But we don’t have to worry about what we can’t do. Charlotte did what she could. So can we. The rest is in His capable hands.

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.

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. 

Love Your Neighbor

An anthropologist was winding up several months of research in an African village, the story is told. While waiting for a ride to the airport for his return flight home, he decided to pass the time by making up a game for some village children.  His idea was to create a race for a basket of fruit and candy that he placed near a tree. But when he gave the signal to run, no one made a dash for the finish line. Instead the children joined hands and ran together to the tree.

            When asked why they chose to run as a group rather than each racing for the prize, a little girl spoke up and said: “How could one of us be happy when all of the others are sad?” Because these children cared about each other, they wanted all to share the basket of fruit and candy.

After years of studying the law of Moses, the apostle Paul found that all of God’s laws could be summed up in one: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Gal. 5:14; see also Rom. 13:9). In Christ, Paul saw not only the reason to encourage, comfort, and care for one another but also the spiritual enablement to do it.

Because He cares for us, we care for each other.

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.

Come Sit a Spell

When I was a kid, our family made a monthly excursion from Ohio to West Virginia to visit my maternal grandparents. Every time we arrived at the door of their farmhouse, Grandma Lester would greet us with the words, “Come on in and sit a spell.” It was her way of telling us to make ourselves comfortable, stay a while, and share in some “catching up” conversation.

Life can get pretty busy. In our action-oriented world, it’s hard to get to know people. It’s tough to find time to ask someone to “sit a spell” with us. We can get more done if we text each other and get right to the point. 

            But look at what Jesus did when He wanted to make a difference in the life of a tax collector. He went to Zacchaeus’s house to “sit a spell.” His words, “I must stay at your house” indicate that this was no quick stopover (Luke 19:5). Jesus spent time with him, and Zacchaeus’s life was turned around because of this time with Jesus.

On the front porch of my grandmother’s house were several chairs—a warm invitation to all visitors to relax and talk. If we’re going to get to know someone and to make a difference in their life—as Jesus did for Zacchaeus—we need to invite them to “Come sit a spell.”

Out in the Cold

In desperation, a woman called the housing assistance center where I worked. A heating problem had turned her rental home into a freezer with furniture. Panicked, she asked me how she would care for her children. I hurriedly replied with the scripted official response: “Just move into a hotel and send the landlord the bill.” She angrily hung up on me. 

            I knew the textbook answer to her question, but I had completely missed her heart. She wanted someone to understand her fear and desperation. She needed to know she wasn’t alone. In essence, I had left her out in the cold.

            After Job had lost everything, he had friends with answers but little understanding. Zophar told him all he needed to do was live wholeheartedly for God. Then “life will be brighter than noonday,” he said (11:17). That counsel wasn’t well received, and Job responded with scathing sarcasm: “Wisdom will die with you!” (12:2). He knew the dissatisfying taste of textbook answers to real-world problems.

It’s easy to be critical of Job’s friends for their failure to see the big picture. But how often are we too quick with answers to questions we don’t truly understand? People do want answers. But more than that, they want to know we hear and understand. They want to know we care.

Shocking Honesty

When the minister asked one of his elders to lead the congregation in prayer, the man shocked everyone. “I’m sorry, Pastor,” he said, “but I’ve been arguing with my wife all the way to church, and I’m in no condition to pray.” The next moment was awkward. The minister prayed. The service moved on. Later, the pastor vowed never to ask anyone to pray publicly without first asking privately.

That man demonstrated astonishing honesty in a place where hypocrisy would have been easier. But there is a larger lesson about prayer here. God is a loving Father. If I as a husband do not respect and honor my wife—a cherished daughter of God—why would her heavenly Father hear my prayers?

The apostle Peter made an interesting observation about this. He instructed husbands to treat their wives with respect and as equal heirs in Christ “so that nothing will hinder your prayers” (1 Peter 3:7). The underlying principle is that our relationships affect our prayer life.

What would happen if we exchanged the Sunday smiles and the façade of religiosity for refreshing honesty with our brothers and sisters? What might God do through us when we pray and learn to love each other as we love ourselves? 

Learning to Love

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. 

What Really Matters

Two men sat down to review their business trip and its results. One said he thought the trip had been worthwhile because some meaningful new relationships had begun through their business contacts. The other said, “Relationships are fine, but selling is what matters most.” Obviously they had very different agendas.

It is all too easy—whether in business, family, or church—to view others from the perspective of how they can benefit us. We value them for what we can get from them, rather than focusing on how we can serve them in Jesus’ name. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul wrote, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (Phil. 2:3-4).

People are not to be used for our own benefit. Because they are loved by God and we are loved by Him, we love one another. His love is the greatest love of all. 

He Walked in Our Shoes

To help his staff of young architects understand the needs of those for whom they design housing, David Dillard sends them on “sleepovers.” They put on pajamas and spend 24 hours in a senior living center in the same conditions as people in their 80s and 90s. They wear earplugs to simulate hearing loss, tape their fingers together to limit manual dexterity, and exchange eyeglasses to replicate vision problems. Dillard says, “The biggest benefit is [that] when I send 27-year-olds out, they come back with a heart 10 times as big. They meet people and understand their plights” (Rodney Brooks, USA Today).

            Jesus lived on this earth for 33 years and shared in our humanity. He was made like us, “fully human in every way” (Heb. 2:17), so He knows what it’s like to live in a human body on this earth. He understands the struggles we face and comes alongside with understanding and encouragement.

             “Because [Jesus] himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (v. 18). The Lord could have avoided the cross. Instead, He obeyed His Father. Through His death, He broke the power of Satan and freed us from our fear of death (vv. 14-15).

             In every temptation, Jesus walks beside us to give us courage, strength, and hope along the way.

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. 

Keep Climbing!

Richard needed a push, and he got one. He was rock climbing with his friend Kevin who was the belayer (the one who secures the rope). Exhausted and ready to quit, Richard asked Kevin to lower him to the ground. But Kevin urged him on, saying he had come too far to quit now. Dangling in midair, Richard decided to keep trying. Amazingly, he was able to reconnect with the rock and complete the climb because of his friend’s encouragement.

            In the early church, followers of Jesus encouraged one another to continue to follow their Lord and to show compassion. In a culture riddled with immorality, they passionately appealed to one another to live pure lives (Rom. 12:1; 1 Thess. 4:1). Believers encouraged one another daily, as God prompted them to do so (Acts 13:15). They urged each other to intercede for the body (Rom. 15:30), to help people stay connected to the church (Heb. 10:25), and to love more and more (1 Thess. 4:10).

            Through His death and resurrection, Jesus has connected us to one another. Therefore, we have the responsibility and privilege with God’s enablement to encourage fellow believers to finish the climb of trusting and obeying Him. 

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”?

Chameleon Crawl

When we think of the chameleon, we probably think of its ability to change color according to its surroundings. But this lizard has another interesting characteristic. On several occasions I've watched a chameleon walk along a pathway and wondered how it ever reached its destination. Reluctantly, the chameleon stretches out one leg, seems to change its mind, attempts again, and then carefully plants a hesitant foot, as if afraid the ground will collapse under it. That was why I couldn't help laughing when I heard someone say, “Do not be a chameleon church member who says, ‘Let me go to church today; no, let me go next week; no, let me wait for a while!’”

“The house of the Lord” at Jerusalem was King David’s place of worship, and he was far from being a “chameleon” worshiper. Rather, he rejoiced with those who said, “Let us go to the house of the Lord” (Ps. 122:1). The same was true for believers in the early church. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. . . . Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts” (Acts 2:42, 46).

What a joy it is to join with others in worship and fellowship! Praying and worshiping together, studying the Scriptures together, and caring for one another are essential for our spiritual growth and unity as believers.

My Personal Space

An industrial design graduate from a Singapore university was challenged in a workshop to come up with a novel solution to a common problem using only ordinary objects. She created a vest to protect one’s personal space from being invaded while traveling in the crush of crowded public trains and buses. The vest was covered with long, flexible plastic spikes normally used to keep birds and cats away from plants.

Jesus knew what it was like to lose His personal space in the commotion of crowds desperate to see and touch Him. A woman who had suffered from constant bleeding for 12 years and could find no cure touched the fringe of His robe. Immediately, her bleeding stopped (Luke 8:43-44).

Jesus’ question, “Who touched me?” (v. 45) isn’t as strange as it sounds. He felt power come out of Him (v. 46). That touch was different from those who merely happened to accidentally touch Him.

While we must admit that we do sometimes wish to keep our personal space and privacy, the only way we help a world of hurting people is to let them get close enough to be touched by the encouragement, comfort, and grace of Christ in us.

Self-Care

After my husband underwent heart surgery, I spent an anxious night by his hospital bed. Mid-morning, I remembered a scheduled haircut. “I’ll have to cancel,” I said, raking my fingers distractedly through my straggly hair.

“Mom, just wash your face and go to your appointment,” my daughter said.

“No, no,” I insisted. “It doesn’t matter. I need to be here.”

“I’ll stay,” Rosie said. “Self-care, Mom. . . . Self-care. You’re of more use to Dad if you take care of yourself.”

Moses was wearing himself out serving alone as judge over the Israelites. Jethro cautioned his son-in-law Moses: “You will only wear [yourself] out. The work is too heavy . . . you cannot handle it alone” (Ex. 18:18). He then explained ways that Moses could delegate his work and share his heavy load with others.

Though it may seem paradoxical for the Christian, self-care is essential for a healthy life (Matt. 22:37-39; Eph. 5:29-30). Yes, we must love God first and love others as well, but we also need to get adequate rest to renew our body and spirit. Sometimes self-care means stepping away and graciously allowing others to help us with our burdens.

Jesus often slipped away to rest and pray (Mark 6:30-32). When we follow His example, we will be more effective in our relationships and better able to give care to others.

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!

When Not to Rejoice

The Akan people of Ghana have a proverb: “The lizard is not as mad with the boys who threw stones at it as with the boys who stood by and rejoiced over its fate!” Rejoicing at someone’s downfall is like participating in the cause of that downfall or even wishing more evil on the person.

That was the attitude of the Ammonites who maliciously rejoiced when the temple in Jerusalem “was desecrated and over the land of Israel when it was laid waste and over the people of Judah when they went into exile” (Ezek. 25:3). For spitefully celebrating Israel’s misfortunes, the Ammonites experienced God’s displeasure, which resulted in grim consequences (vv. 4-7).

How do we react when disaster befalls our neighbor or when our neighbor gets into trouble? If she is a nice and friendly neighbor, then, of course, we will sympathize with her and go to her aid. But what if he is an unfriendly, trouble-making neighbor? Our natural tendency may be to ignore him or even secretly rejoice at his downfall.

Proverbs warns us: “Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice” (24:17). Instead, Jesus tells us that we show His love in action when we “love [our] enemies and pray for those who persecute [us]” (Matt. 5:44). By so doing, we imitate the perfect love of our Lord (5:48).

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.

Of Geese and Difficult People

When we first moved into our present home, I enjoyed the beauty of the geese that nest nearby. I admired the way they cared for each other and the way they moved in straight lines in the water and in majestic V-formations in the air. It was also a joy to watch them raise their young.

Then summer came, and I discovered some less beautiful truths about my feathered friends. You see, geese love to eat grass, and they don’t really care if it ruins the look of the lawn. Worse, what they leave behind makes a stroll across the yard a messy adventure.

I think of these geese when I’m dealing with difficult people. Sometimes I wish I could simply shoo them out of my life. It’s then that God usually reminds me that there is beauty in even the most difficult person if we can get close enough to discover it, and the pain they’re giving out may be reflective of the pain they are feeling. The apostle Paul says in Romans, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (12:18). So I ask God to help me be patient with the “hard side” of others. This doesn’t always produce a happy outcome, but it is remarkable how often God redeems these relationships.

As we encounter difficult people, by God’s grace we can see and love them through His eyes.

Our Jealous God

In 2014 a University of California researcher used a stuffed dog to show that animals are capable of jealousy. Professor Christine Harris asked dog owners to show affection for a stuffed animal in the presence of their pet. She found that three-fourths of the dogs responded with apparent envy. Some tried to get attention with touch or a gentle nudge. Others tried to push between their owner and the toy. A few went so far as to snap at their stuffed rival.

In a dog, jealousy seems heartwarming. In people, it can lead to less admirable results. Yet, as Moses and Paul remind us, there is also another jealousy—one that beautifully reflects the heart of God.

When Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, he said he was “jealous for you with a godly jealousy” (2 Cor. 11:2). He didn’t want them to be “led astray from [their] sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (v. 3). Such jealousy reflects the heart of God, who told Moses in the Ten Commandments, “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God” (Ex. 20:5).

God’s jealousy is not like our self-centered love. His heart expresses His protective zeal for those who are His by creation and salvation. He made us and rescued us to know and enjoy Him forever. How could we ask for anything more than a God who is so zealous—and jealous—for our happiness?

You Missed the Chance

I heard the saddest words today. Two believers in Christ were discussing an issue about which they had differing opinions. The older of the two seemed smug as he wielded Scripture like a weapon, chopping away at the things he saw as wrong in the other’s life. The younger man just seemed weary of the lecture, weary of the other person, and discouraged.

As the exchange drew to a close, the older man commented on the other’s apparent disinterest. “You used to be eager,” he started, and then abruptly quit. “I don’t know what it is you want.”

“You missed the chance to love me,” the young man said. “In all the time you’ve known me, what has seemed to matter most to you is pointing out what you think is wrong about me. What do I want? I want to see Jesus—in you and through you.”

Had this been said to me, I thought, I would have been devastated. In that moment I knew the Holy Spirit was telling me there had been people I had missed the chance to love. And I knew there were people who couldn’t see Jesus in me either.

The apostle Paul tells us that love must be the underlying motive in anything we do; in everything we do (1 Cor. 13:1-4). Let’s not miss the next chance to show love.

An Inside View

Retired physicist Arie van’t Riet creates works of art in an unusual way. He arranges plants and deceased animals in various compositions and then x-rays them. He scans the developed x-rays into a computer and then adds color to certain parts of his pictures. His artwork reveals the inner complexity of flowers, fish, birds, reptiles, and monkeys.

An inside view of something is often more fascinating and more significant than an exterior view. At first glance, Samuel thought Eliab looked like he could be Israel’s next king (1 Sam. 16:6). But God warned Samuel not to look at Eliab’s physical traits. He told Samuel, “People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (v. 7). God chose David, instead of Eliab, to be Israel’s next king.

When God looks at us, He is more interested in our hearts than our height, the state of our soul than the structure of our face. He doesn’t see us as too old, too young, too small, or too big. He zeroes in on the things that matter—our response to His love for us and our concern for other people (Matt. 22:37-39). Second Chronicles 6:30 says that God alone knows the human heart. When the God who has done so much for us looks at our heart, what does He see?

Treasures in Heaven

Poorly installed electric wiring caused a fire that burned down our newly built home. The flames leveled our house within an hour, leaving nothing but rubble. Another time, we returned home from church one Sunday to find our house had been broken into and some of our possessions stolen.

In our imperfect world, loss of material wealth is all too common—vehicles are stolen or crashed, ships sink, buildings crumble, homes are flooded, and personal belongings are stolen. This makes Jesus’ admonition not to put our trust in earthly wealth very meaningful (Matt. 6:19).

Jesus told a story of a man who accumulated abundant treasures and decided to store up everything for himself (Luke 12:16-21). “Take life easy,” the man told himself; “eat, drink and be merry” (v. 19). But that night he lost everything, including his life. In conclusion, Jesus said, “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God” (v. 21).

Material wealth is temporary. Nothing lasts forever—except what our God enables us to do for others. Giving of our time and resources to spread the good news, visiting those who are lonely, and helping those in need are just some of the many ways to store up treasure in heaven (Matt. 6:20).

Love And Light

Friends are starting to plan their summer vegetable gardens. Some get an early start by planting seeds indoors where they can control the conditions and provide the best environment for sprouting. After the danger of frost has passed, they will transplant the seedlings outdoors. Once the garden is planted, the work of weeding, feeding, watering, and guarding against rodents and insects begins. Producing food is a lot of work.

It’s Beautiful!

After being away on business, Terry wanted to pick up some small gifts for his children. The clerk at the airport gift shop recommended a number of costly items. “I don’t have that much money with me,” he said. “I need something less expensive.” The clerk tried to make him feel that he was being cheap. But Terry knew his children would be happy with whatever he gave them, because it came from a heart of love. And he was right—they loved the gifts he brought them.

The Family Of Faith

During the 1980s, a singles’ class at our church became a close-knit family for many people who had lost a spouse through divorce or death. When someone needed to move, class members packed boxes, carried furniture, and provided food. Birthdays and holidays were no longer solitary events as faith and friendship merged into an ongoing relationship of encouragement. Many of those bonds forged during adversity three decades ago continue to flourish and sustain individuals and families today.

A Place To Be

Athousand strands of time, events, and people weave into a tapestry we call place. More than just a house, place is where meaning, belonging, and safety come together under the covering of our best efforts at unconditional love. Place beckons us with memories buried deep in our souls. Even when our place isn’t perfect, its hold on us is dramatic, magnetic.

Giving Up Our Mirrors

When Moses gathered the children of Israel together to begin work on the tabernacle (Ex. 35–39), he called on Bezalel, a gifted artisan, to help make the furnishings. We’re told that certain women were asked to give their precious bronze mirrors to make the bronze basin he was constructing (38:8). They gave them up to help prepare a place where God’s presence would reside.

Unexpected Encounter

Drew, young and enthusiastic, was leading the singing for the first time in a large church. Lois, a long-time attender, wanted to encourage him, but she thought it would be too difficult to get to the front of the church before he left. But then she saw a way to snake through the crowd. Lois told Drew, “I appreciate your enthusiasm in worship. Keep serving Him!”

Start With Me

Icall them Mell Notes—little comments my daughter Melissa made in her Bible to help her apply a passage to her life.

A Wonderful Explosion

In the book Kisses from Katie, Katie Davis recounts the joy of moving to Uganda and adopting several Ugandan girls. One day, one of her daughters asked, “Mommy, if I let Jesus come into my heart, will I explode?” At first, Katie said no. When Jesus enters our heart, it is a spiritual event.

Kindness Gone Viral

News of a simple act of kindness on a New York subway has gone around the world. A young man, head covered by a hooded sweatshirt, fell asleep on the shoulder of an older passenger. When someone else offered to wake the young rider, the older man quietly said, “He must have had a long day. Let him sleep. We’ve all been there.” Then he let the tired fellow rider sleep on his shoulder for the better part of the next hour, until the older man gently eased away to get up for his stop. In the meantime, another passenger snapped a photograph and posted it on social media, and it went viral.

Love Letter

Each morning when I reach my office, I have one simple habit—check all my emails. Most of the time, I’ll work through them in a perfunctory fashion. There are some emails, however, that I’m eager to open. You guessed it—those from loved ones.

Where Can I Help?

Last winter our city was hit by an ice storm. Hundreds of ice-heavy tree limbs cut into power lines, leaving thousands of homes and businesses without electrical power for days. Our family kept basic energy coming into the house through a generator, but we were still unable to cook meals. As we set out to find a place to eat, we drove for miles past closed businesses. We finally found a breakfast restaurant that had not lost power, but it was packed with hungry customers who were in the same fix as we were.

I Am Redeemed!

One day when Ann was visiting her husband in the hospital, she began talking with a caregiver who was assisting him. Ann enjoys engaging people in conversation wherever she is, and she also looks for ways to talk to people about Jesus. Ann asked the caregiver if he knew what he wanted to do in the future. When he said he wasn’t sure, she suggested that it’s important to know God first so He can help with such decisions. He then pulled up the sleeve of his shirt to reveal “I am redeemed!” tattooed across his arm.

Lasting Peace

On Christmas Eve 1914, during the First World War, the guns fell silent along a 30-mile stretch of the Western Front. Soldiers peered cautiously over the tops of trenches while a few emerged to repair their positions and bury the dead. As darkness fell, some German troops set out lanterns and sang Christmas carols. Men on the British side applauded and shouted greetings.

What Really Matters

When our children were living at home, one of our most meaningful Christmas morning traditions was very simple. We would gather our family around the Christmas tree where, in sight of the gifts we were receiving from one another, we would read the Christmas story together. It was a gentle reminder that the reason we give gifts is not because the Magi brought gifts to the Christ-child. Rather, our gifts of love for one another were a reflection of God’s infinitely greater Gift of love to us.

My Friends And I

John Chrysostom (347–407), archbishop of Constantinople, said this about friendship: “Such is friendship, that through it we love places and seasons; for as . . . flowers drop their sweet leaves on the ground around them, so friends impart favor even to the places where they dwell.”

Human Chess

Chess is an ancient game of strategy. Each player begins with 16 pieces on the chessboard with the goal of cornering his opponent’s king. It has taken different forms over the years. One form is human chess, which was introduced around ad 735 by Charles Martel, duke of Austrasia. Martel would play the game on giant boards with real people as the pieces. The human pieces were costumed to reflect their status on the board and moved at the whim of the players—manipulating them to their own ends.

Pink Sheep

While traveling on a road from Glasgow to Edinburgh, Scotland, I was enjoying the beautiful, pastoral countryside when a rather humorous sight captured my attention. There, on a small hilltop, was a rather large flock of pink sheep.

The Power Of Ritual

When I was growing up, one of the rules in our house was that we weren’t allowed to go to bed angry (Eph. 4:26). All our fights and disagreements had to be resolved. The companion to that rule was this bedtime ritual: Mom and Dad would say to my brother and me, “Good night. I love you.” And we would respond, “Good night. I love you too.”

The Blame Game

When Jenny’s husband left her for another woman, she vowed that she would never meet his new wife. But when she realized that her bitterness was damaging her children’s relationship with their father, she asked for God’s help to take the first steps toward overcoming bitterness in a situation she couldn’t change.

The Ultimate Sacrifice

When Deng Jinjie saw people struggling in the water of the Sunshui River in the Hunan province of China, he didn’t just walk by. In an act of heroism, he jumped into the water and helped save four members of a family. Unfortunately, the family left the area while he was still in the water. Sadly, Jinjie, exhausted from his rescue efforts, was overwhelmed and swept away by the river current and drowned.

Terms Of Service

If you’re like me, you seldom read the full text of contracts for online services before you agree to them. They go on for pages, and most of the legal jargon makes no sense to ordinary people like me.

Keeping Darkness At Bay

In J. R. R. Tolkien’s book The Hobbit, the wizard Gandalf explains why he has selected a small hobbit like Bilbo to accompany the dwarves to fight the enemy. He says, “Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.”

Live In Love

In the African country where my friend Roxanne lives, water is a precious commodity. People often have to travel long distances to collect water from small, contaminated creeks—leading to sickness and death. It’s difficult for organizations like orphanages and churches to serve the people because of a lack of water. But that’s beginning to change.

Walking Billboards

Pete Peterson’s first contact with Vietnam was in the Vietnam War. During a bombing raid in 1966, his plane was shot down and he was taken prisoner. Over 30 years later he returned as US Ambassador to Vietnam. One press article called him “a walking billboard for reconciliation.” He realized years ago that God had not saved his life for him to live in anger. Because he believed this, he used the rest of his life and his position to make a difference by pushing for better safety standards for children in Vietnam.

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

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.

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? 

> 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

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.

Who Is My Neighbor?

Mary enjoyed her midweek church group meeting when she and several friends gathered to pray, worship, and discuss questions from the previous week’s sermon. This week they were going to talk about the difference between “going” to church and “being” the church in a hurting world. She was looking forward to seeing her friends and having a lively discussion.

As she picked up her car keys, the doorbell rang. “I’m so sorry to bother you,” said her neighbor Sue, “but are you free this morning?” Mary was about to say that she was going out when Sue continued, “I have to take my car to the repair shop. Normally I would walk or cycle home, but I’ve hurt my back and can’t do either at the moment.” Mary hesitated for a heartbeat and then smiled. “Of course,” she said.

Mary knew her neighbor only by sight. But as she drove her home, she learned about Sue’s husband’s battle with dementia and the utter exhaustion that being a caregiver can bring with it. She listened, sympathized, and promised to pray. She offered to help in any way she could.

Mary didn’t get to church that morning to talk about sharing her faith. Instead she took a little bit of Jesus’ love to her neighbor who was in a difficult situation.

> Life Struggles

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). 

Free from Fear

Fear sneaks into my heart without permission. It paints a picture of helplessness and hopelessness. It steals my peace and my concentration. What am I fearful about? I’m concerned about the safety of my family or the health of loved ones. I panic at the loss of a job or a broken relationship. Fear turns my focus inward and reveals a heart that sometimes finds it hard to trust.

When these fears and worries strike, how good it is to read David’s prayer in Psalm 34: “I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears” (v. 4). And how does God deliver us from our fears? When we “look to him” (v. 5), when we focus on Him, our fears fade; we trust Him to be in control. Then David mentions a different type of fear—not a fear that paralyzes, but a reverential awe of the One who surrounds us and delivers us (v. 7). We can take refuge in Him because He is good (v. 8).

This awe of His goodness helps put our fears into perspective. When we remember who God is and how much He loves us, we can relax into His peace. “Those who fear him lack nothing” (v. 9), concludes David. How wonderful to discover that in the fear of the Lord we can be delivered from our fears.

> 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

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.

Come Sit a Spell

When I was a kid, our family made a monthly excursion from Ohio to West Virginia to visit my maternal grandparents. Every time we arrived at the door of their farmhouse, Grandma Lester would greet us with the words, “Come on in and sit a spell.” It was her way of telling us to make ourselves comfortable, stay a while, and share in some “catching up” conversation.

Life can get pretty busy. In our action-oriented world, it’s hard to get to know people. It’s tough to find time to ask someone to “sit a spell” with us. We can get more done if we text each other and get right to the point. 

            But look at what Jesus did when He wanted to make a difference in the life of a tax collector. He went to Zacchaeus’s house to “sit a spell.” His words, “I must stay at your house” indicate that this was no quick stopover (Luke 19:5). Jesus spent time with him, and Zacchaeus’s life was turned around because of this time with Jesus.

On the front porch of my grandmother’s house were several chairs—a warm invitation to all visitors to relax and talk. If we’re going to get to know someone and to make a difference in their life—as Jesus did for Zacchaeus—we need to invite them to “Come sit a spell.”

> 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.