“You gotta have faith,” people say. But what does that mean? Is any faith good faith?
“Believe in yourself and all that you are,” wrote one positive thinker a century ago. “Know that there is something inside you that is greater than any obstacle.” As nice as that platitude may sound, it falls to pieces when it crashes into reality. We need a faith in something bigger than ourselves.
God promised Abram he would have a multitude of descendants (Gen. 15:4–5), so he faced a huge obstacle—he was old and childless. When he and Sarah got tired of waiting for God to make good on His promise, they tried to overcome that obstacle on their own. As a result, they fractured their family and created a lot of unnecessary dissension (see Gen. 16 and 21:8–21).
Nothing Abraham did in his own strength worked. But ultimately he became known as a man of tremendous faith. Paul wrote of him, “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be’” (Rom. 4:18). This faith, said Paul, “was credited to him as righteousness” (v. 22).
Abraham’s faith was in something far bigger than himself—the one and only God. It’s the object of our faith that makes all the difference.
In the 1880s French artist Georges Seurat introduced an art form known as pointillism. As the name suggests, Seurat used small dots of color, rather than brush strokes of blended pigments, to create an artistic image. Up close, his work looks like groupings of individual dots. Yet as the observer steps back, the human eye blends the dots into brightly colored portraits or landscapes.
The big picture of the Bible is similar. Up close, its complexity can leave us with the impression of dots on a canvas. As we read it, we might feel like Cleopas and his friend on the road to Emmaus. They couldn’t understand the tragic “dotlike” events of the Passover weekend. They had hoped that Jesus “was the one who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21), but they had just witnessed His death.
Suddenly a man they did not recognize was walking alongside them. After showing an interest in their conversation, He helped them connect the dots of the suffering and death of their long-awaited Messiah. Later, while eating a meal with them, Jesus let them recognize Him—and then He left as mysteriously as He came.
Was it the scarred dots of the nail wounds in His hands that caught their attention? We don’t know. What we do know is that when we connect the dots of Scripture and Jesus’s suffering (vv. 27, 44), we see a God who loves us more than we can imagine.
As we viewed my father-in-law’s body in his casket at the funeral home, one of his sons took his dad’s hammer and tucked it alongside his folded hands. Years later, when my mother-in-law died, one of the children slipped a set of knitting needles under her fingers. Those sweet gestures brought comfort to us as we remembered how often they had used those tools during their lives.
Of course, we knew that they wouldn’t actually need those items in eternity. We had no illusions, as the ancient Egyptians did, that tools or money or weapons buried with someone would better prepare them for the next life. You can’t take it with you! (Ps. 49:16-17; 1 Tim. 6:7).
But some preparation for eternity had been necessary for my in-laws. That preparation had come years before when they trusted Jesus as their Savior.
Planning for the life to come can’t begin at the time of our death. Each of us must prepare our heart by accepting the gift of salvation made possible by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.
At the same time, God has made preparations as well: “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:3). He has promised to prepare a place for us to spend eternity with Him.
During 2016, theater companies in Britain and around the world have staged special productions to mark the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare. Concerts, lectures, and festivals have drawn crowds who celebrate the enduring work of the man widely considered to be the greatest playwright in the English language. Ben Jonson, one of Shakespeare’s contemporaries, wrote of him, “He was not of an age, but for all time.”
While the influence of some artists, writers, and thinkers may last for centuries, Jesus Christ is the only person whose life and work will endure beyond time. He claimed to be “the bread that came down from heaven … whoever feeds on this bread will live forever” (v. 58).
When many people who heard Jesus’s teaching were offended by His words and stopped following Him (John 6:61–66), the Lord asked His disciples if they also wanted to leave (v. 67). Peter replied, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God” (vv. 68–69).
When we invite Jesus to come into our lives as our Lord and Savior, we join His first disciples and all those who have followed Him in a new life that will last forever—beyond time.
Evie was one of 25 American teenagers in a high school choir who traveled to Jamaica to sing, witness, and show God’s love to people of a different culture and generation. And for Evie, one day of that trip was particularly memorable and joy-filled.
That day, the choir went to a nursing home to sing and visit with the residents. After they sang, Evie sat down with a young woman who lived at the home, a woman in her early 30s. As they began to chat, Evie felt that she should talk about Jesus—who He was and what He did for us. She showed her verses in the Bible that explained salvation. Soon the woman said she wanted to trust Jesus as her Savior. And that’s just what she did.
Because of Evie’s decision to start a conversation about Jesus, our group celebrated a new birth into God’s family that day.
Mark 16:15 tells us that what Evie did is what is expected of all believers. Here’s how The Message paraphrases that verse: “Go everywhere and announce the Message of God’s good news to one and all.”
May we never underestimate the wonder of what it means for anyone, anywhere to hear the good news and to say yes to our Savior.
My son’s blue eyes sparkled with excitement as he showed me a paper he had brought home from school. It was a math test, marked with a red star and a grade of 100 percent. As we looked at the exam, he said he had three questions left to answer when the teacher said time was up. Puzzled, I asked how he could have received a perfect score. He replied, “My teacher gave me grace. She let me finish the test although I had run out of time.”
As my son and I discussed the meaning of grace, I pointed out that God has given us more than we deserve through Christ. We deserve death because of our sin (Rom. 3:23). Yet, “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (5:8). We were unworthy, yet Jesus—sinless and holy—gave up His life so we could escape the penalty for our sin and one day live forever in heaven.
Eternal life is a gift from God. It’s not something we earn by working for it. We are saved by God’s grace, through faith in Christ (Eph. 2:8-9).
Olaudah Equiano (c. 1745–1796) was only 11 years old when he was kidnapped and sold into slavery. He made the harrowing journey from West Africa to the West Indies, then to the colony of Virgina, and then to England. By the age of 20 he purchased his own freedom, still bearing the emotional and physical scars of the inhumane treatment he had experienced.
Unable to enjoy his own freedom while others were still enslaved, Equiano became active in the movement to abolish slavery in England. He wrote his autobiography (an unheard of achievement for a former slave in that era) in which he described the horrific treatment of the enslaved.
When Jesus came, He fought a battle for all of us who are enslaved and unable to fight for ourselves. Our slavery is not one of outward chains. We are held by our own brokenness and sin. Jesus said, “Everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:34–36).
Wherever such a freedom seems unheard of, His words need to be declared. We can be liberated from our guilt, shame, and hopelessness. By trusting Jesus, we can be free indeed!
The military command, “Mark Time, March” means to march in place without moving forward. It is an active pause in forward motion while remaining mentally prepared and expectantly waiting the next command
In everyday language, the term marking time has come to mean “motion without progress, not getting anywhere, not doing anything important while you wait.” It conveys a feeling of idle, meaningless waiting.
In contrast, the word wait in the Bible often means “to look eagerly for, to hope, and to expect.” The psalmist, when facing great difficulties, wrote: “O my God, I trust in You; let me not be ashamed; let not my enemies triumph over me. Indeed, let no one who waits on You be ashamed” (Ps. 25:2-3
We often have no choice about the things we must wait for—a medical diagnosis, a job interview result, the return of a loved one—but we can decide how we wait. Rather than giving in to fear or apathy, we can continue to “march in place,” actively seeking God’s strength and direction each day.
“Show me Your ways, O
When I first meet a new group of students in the college composition class I teach, I already know their names. I take the time to familiarize myself with their names and photos on my student roster, so when they walk into my classroom I can say, “Hello, Jessica,” or “Welcome, Trevor.” I do this because I know how meaningful it is when someone knows and calls us by name.
Yet to truly know someone, we need to know more than that person’s name. In John 10, we can sense the warmth and care Jesus, the Good Shepherd, has for us when we read that He “calls his own sheep by name” (v. 3). He knows even more than our name. He knows our thoughts, longings, fears, wrongs, and deepest needs. Because He knows our deepest needs, He has given us our very life—our eternal life—at the cost of His own. As He says in verse 11, He “lays down his life for the sheep.”
You see, our sin separated us from God. So Jesus, the Good Shepherd, became the Lamb and sacrificed Himself, taking our sin on Himself. When He gave His life for us and then was resurrected, He redeemed us. As a result, when we accept His gift of salvation through faith, we are no longer separated from God.
Rejoice in Jesus! He knows your name and your needs!