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!
Last year at a retreat I reconnected with some friends I hadn’t seen in a long time. I laughed with them as we enjoyed the reunion, but I also cried because I knew how much I had missed them.
On the last day of our time together we celebrated the Lord’s Supper. More smiles and tears! I rejoiced over the grace of God, who had given me eternal life and these beautiful days with my friends. But again I cried as I was sobered by what it had cost Jesus to deliver me from my sin.
I thought about Ezra and that wonderful day in Jerusalem. The exiles had returned from captivity and had just completed rebuilding the foundation of the Lord’s temple. The people sang for joy, but some of the older priests cried (Ezra 3:10-12). They were likely remembering Solomon’s temple and its former glory. Or were they grieving over their sins that had led to the captivity in the first place?
Sometimes when we see God at work we experience a wide range of emotions, including joy when we see God’s wonders and sorrow as we remember our sins and the need for His sacrifice.
The Israelites were singing and weeping, the noise was heard far away (v. 13). May our emotions be expressions of our love and worship to our Lord, and may they touch those around us.
During my friend Myrna’s travels to another country, she visited a church for worship. She noticed that as people entered the sanctuary they immediately knelt and prayed, facing away from the front of the church. My friend learned that people in that church confessed their sin to God before they began the worship service.
This act of humility is a picture to me of what David said in Psalm 51: “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise” (v. 17). David was describing his own remorse and repentance for his sin of adultery with Bathsheba. Real sorrow for sin involves adopting God’s view of what we’ve done—seeing it as clearly wrong, disliking it, and not wanting it to continue.
When we are truly broken over our sin, God lovingly puts us back together. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). This forgiveness produces a fresh sense of openness with Him and is the ideal starting point for praise. After David repented, confessed, and was forgiven by God, he responded by saying, “Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise” (Ps. 51:15).
Humility is the right response to God’s holiness. And praise is our heart’s response to His forgiveness.
Born into slavery and badly treated as a young girl, Harriet Tubman (c. 1822–1913) found a shining ray of hope in the Bible stories her mother told. The account of Israel’s escape from slavery under Pharaoh showed her a God who desired freedom for His people.
Eventually Harriet slipped over the Maryland state line and out of slavery. She couldn’t remain content, however, knowing so many were still trapped in captivity. So she led more than a dozen rescue missions back into slave states, dismissing the personal danger. “I can’t die but once,” she said.
Harriet knew the truth of the statement: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul” (Matt. 10:28). Jesus spoke those words as He sent His disciples on their first mission. He knew they would face danger, and not everyone would receive them warmly. So why expose the disciples to the risk? The answer is found in the previous chapter. “When he saw the crowds, [Jesus] had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt. 9:36).
When Harriet Tubman couldn’t forget those still trapped in slavery, she showed us a picture of Christ, who did not forget us when we were trapped in our sins. Her courageous example inspires us to remember those who remain without hope in the world.
A Venus flytrap can digest an insect in about 10 days. The process begins when an unsuspecting bug smells nectar on the leaves that form the trap. When the insect investigates, it crawls into the jaws of the plant. The leaves clamp shut within half a second and digestive juices dissolve the bug.
This meat-eating plant reminds me of the way sin can devour us if we are lured into it. Sin is hungry for us. Genesis 4:7 says, “If you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you.” God spoke these words to Cain just before he killed his brother Abel.
Sin may try to entice us by tempting us with a new experience, convincing us that living right doesn’t matter, or appealing to our physical senses. However, there is a way for us to rule over sin instead of letting it consume our lives. The Bible says, “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16). When we face temptation, we don’t face it alone. We have supernatural assistance. Relying on God’s Spirit supplies the power to live for Him and others.
When the tomb of Egyptian King Tutankhamen was discovered in 1922, it was filled with things ancient Egyptians thought were needed in the afterlife. Among items such as golden shrines, jewelry, clothing, furniture, and weapons was a pot filled with honey—still edible after 3,200 years!
Today we think of honey primarily as a sweetener, but in the ancient world it had many other uses. Honey is one of the only foods known to have all the nutrients needed to sustain life, so it was eaten for nutrition. In addition, honey has medicinal value. It is one of the oldest known wound dressings because it has properties that prevent infection.
When God rescued the children of Israel from Egyptian captivity, He promised to lead them to a “land flowing with milk and honey” (Ex. 3:8, 17), a metaphor for abundance. When their journey was prolonged due to sin, God fed them bread (manna) that tasted like honey (16:31). The Israelites grumbled about having to eat the same food for so long, but it’s likely that God was kindly reminding them of what they would enjoy in the Promised Land.
God still uses honey to remind us that His ways and words are sweeter than the honeycomb (Ps. 19:10). So then the words we speak should also be like the honey we eat—both sweet and healing.
I grew up in Oklahoma where severe weather is common from early spring through the end of summer. I recall one evening when the sky boiled with dark clouds, the TV weather forecaster warned of an approaching tornado, and the electricity went out. Very quickly, my parents, my sister, and I climbed down the wooden ladder into the storm cellar behind our house where we stayed until the storm passed by.
Today “storm chasing” has become a hobby for many people and a profitable business for others. The goal is to get as close as possible to a tornado without being harmed. Many storm chasers are skilled forecasters with accurate information, but I won’t sign up for a tornado tour anytime soon.
In moral and spiritual areas of my life, however, I can foolishly pursue dangerous things God tells me to avoid because of His love for me, all the time believing I won’t be harmed. A wiser approach is to read the book of Proverbs, which contains many positive ways to elude these snares of life.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding,” Solomon wrote. “In all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight” (Prov. 3:5-6).
Our Lord is the master of the adventure of living, and following His wisdom leads us to fullness of life.
The vintage cabin, expertly constructed from hand-hewn logs, was worthy of a magazine cover. But the structure itself was only half the treasure. Inside, family heirlooms clung to the walls, infusing the home with memories. On the table sat a hand-woven egg basket, an ancient biscuit board, and an oil lamp. A weathered pork pie hat perched over the front door. “There’s a story behind everything,” the proud owner said.
When God gave Moses instructions for constructing the tabernacle, there was a “story” behind everything (Ex. 25–27). The tabernacle had only one entrance, just as we have only one way to God (see Acts 4:12). The thick inner curtain separated the people from the Most Holy Place where God’s presence dwelt: Our sin separates us from God. Inside the Most Holy Place was the ark of the covenant, which symbolized God’s presence. The high priest was a forerunner of the greater Priest to come—Jesus Himself. The blood of the sacrifices foreshadowed Christ’s perfect sacrifice: “He entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption” (Heb. 9:12).
All these things told the story of Christ and the work He would accomplish on our behalf. He did it so that “those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance” (v. 15). Jesus invites us to be a part of His story.
When my father became a Christian in his old age, he fascinated me with his plan for overcoming temptation. Sometimes he just walked away! For example, whenever a disagreement between him and a neighbor began to degenerate into a quarrel, my father just walked away for a time rather than be tempted to advance the quarrel.
One day he met with some friends who ordered pito (a locally brewed alcoholic beer). My father had formerly struggled with alcohol and had decided he was better off without it. So he simply stood up, said his goodbyes, and left the gathering of old friends for another day.
In Genesis, we read how Potiphar’s wife tempted Joseph. He immediately recognized that giving in would cause him to “sin against God,” so he fled (Gen. 39:9-12).
Temptation knocks often at our door. Sometimes it comes from our own desires, other times through the situations and people we encounter. As Paul told the Corinthians, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind.” But he also wrote, “God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it” (1 Cor. 10:13).
The “way out” may include removing the objects of temptation or fleeing from them. Our best course of action may be to simply walk away.