For fifteen years, Mike Burden held hate-filled meetings in the memorabilia shop he ran in his small town. But in 2012 when his wife began to question his involvement, his heart softened. He realized how wrong his racist views were and didn’t want to be that person any longer. The militant group retaliated by kicking his family out of the apartment they’d been renting from a member.
Where did he turn for help? Surprisingly, he went to a local black pastor, with whom he’d clashed. The pastor and his church provided housing and groceries for Mike’s family for some time. When asked why he agreed to help, Pastor Kennedy explained, “Jesus Christ did some very unpopular things. When it’s time to help, you do what God wants you to do.” Later Mike spoke at Kennedy’s church and apologized to the black community for his part in spreading hatred.
Jesus taught some unpopular ideas in the Sermon on the Mount: “Give to the one who asks you . . . . Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:42, 44). That’s the upside-down way of thinking God calls us to follow. Though it looks like weakness, it’s actually acting out of God’s strength.
The One who teaches us is the One who gives the power to live out this upside-down life in whatever way He asks of us.
Jason wailed as his parents handed him over to Amy. It was the two-year-old’s first time in the nursery while Mom and Dad attended the service—and he was not happy. Amy assured them he’d be fine. She tried to soothe him with toys and books, by rocking in a chair, walking around, standing still, and talking about what fun he could have. But everything was met with bigger tears and louder cries. Then she whispered five simple words in his ear: “I will stay with you.” Peace and comfort quickly came.
Jesus offered His friends similar words of comfort during the week of His crucifixion: “The Father . . . will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth” (John 14:16–17). After His resurrection He gave them this promise: “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Jesus was soon to ascend to heaven, but He would send the Spirit to “stay” and live within His people.
We experience the Spirit’s comfort and peace when our tears flow. We receive His guidance when we’re wondering what to do (John 14:26). He opens our eyes to understand more of God (Ephesians 1:17–20), and He helps us in our weakness and prays for us (Romans 8:26–27).
He stays with us forever.
Wanting to enjoy the beautiful day, I headed out for a walk and soon met a new neighbor. He stopped me and introduced himself: “My name is Genesis, and I’m six and a half years old.”
“Genesis is a great name! It’s a book in the Bible,” I replied.
“What’s the Bible?” he asked.
“It’s God’s storybook about how He made the world and people and how He loves us.”
His inquisitive response made me smile: “Why did He make the world and people and cars and houses? And is my picture in His book?”
While there isn’t a literal picture of my new friend Genesis or the rest of us in the Scriptures, we are a big part of God’s storybook. We see in Genesis 1 that “God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God He created them” (v. 27). God walked with them in the garden, and then warned about giving in to the temptation to be their own god (ch. 3). Later in His book, God told about how, in love, His Son, Jesus, came to walk with us again and brought about a plan for our forgiveness and the restoration of His creation.
As we look at the Bible, we learn that our Creator wants us to know Him, talk with Him, and even ask Him our questions. He cares for us more than we can imagine.
My friend Sharon passed away one year prior to the death of my friend Dave’s teenage daughter Melissa. They both had been tragically killed in car accidents. One night both Sharon and Melissa were in my dream. They giggled and talked as they hung streamers in a large banquet hall and ignored me when I stepped into the room. A long table with white tablecloths had been set with golden plates and goblets. I asked if I could help decorate, but they didn’t seem to hear me and kept working.
But then Sharon said, “This party is Melissa’s wedding reception.”
“Who’s the groom?” I asked.
Neither responded but smiled and looked at each other knowingly. Finally, it dawned on me—it’s Jesus!
“Jesus is the groom,” I whispered as I woke up.
My dream brings to mind the joyful celebration believers in Jesus will share together when Christ returns. It’s portrayed in Revelation as a lavish feast and is called “the wedding supper of the Lamb” (19:9). John the Baptist, who prepared people for the first coming of Jesus, had called Him “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). He also referred to Jesus as “the bridegroom” and himself as the “friend” (like the best man) who waited for Him (3:29).
On that banquet day and for all eternity we will enjoy unbroken fellowship with Jesus, our groom, and with Sharon and Melissa and all of God’s people.
When Rebecca’s brother and sister-in-law started having marriage problems, Rebecca prayed earnestly for their reconciliation. But they divorced. Then her sister-in-law took the children out of state and their dad didn’t protest. Rebecca never again saw the nieces she dearly loved. Years later she said, “Because of trying to handle this sadness on my own, I let a root of bitterness start in my heart, and it began to spread to my family and friends.”
The book of Ruth tells about a woman named Naomi who struggled with a heart of grief that grew into bitterness. Her husband died in a foreign land, and ten years later both her sons died. She was left destitute with her daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah (1:3–5). When Naomi and Ruth returned to Naomi’s home country, the whole town was excited to see them. But Naomi told her friends: “The Almighty has made my life very bitter. . . . The Lord has afflicted me” (vv. 20–21). She even asked them to call her “Mara,” meaning bitter.
Who hasn’t faced disappointment and been tempted toward bitterness? Maybe even on a daily basis! Someone says something hurtful, an expectation isn’t met, or demands from others make us resentful. When we acknowledge to ourselves and God what’s happening deep in our hearts, our tender Gardener can help us dig up any roots of bitterness—whether they’re still small or have been growing for years—and can replace them with a sweet, joyful spirit.
His name is Dnyan, and he considers himself a student of the world. And “this is a very big school,” he says of all the cities and towns he’s passed through. He began a four-year journey on his bicycle in 2016 to meet and learn from people. When there’s a language barrier, he finds that sometimes people can understand just by looking at each other. He also depends on a translation app on his phone to communicate. He doesn’t measure his journey in the miles he’s traveled or the sights he’s seen. Instead, he measures it in the people who’ve left an imprint on his heart: “Maybe I do not know your language, but I would like to find out who you are.”
It’s a very big world, yet God knows everything about it and the people in it—fully and completely. The psalmist David was in awe of God when he considered all the works of His hands: the making of the heavens, the moon, and the stars (Psalm 8:3). He wondered, “What is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?” (v. 4).
God knows you more thoroughly than anyone else possibly can and He cares for you. We can only respond, “
A mom felt she’d been overspending on family Christmas gifts so one year she decided to try something different. For a couple months before the holiday, she scrounged through yard sales for inexpensive, used items. She bought more than usual but for far less money. Christmas Eve, her children excitedly opened gift after gift after gift. The next day there were more! Mom had felt guilty about not getting new gifts so she had bought even more for Christmas morning. The kids began opening them but quickly complained, “We’re too tired to open anymore! You’ve given us so much!” That’s not a typical response from children on a Christmas morning!
God has blessed us with so much, but it seems we’re always looking for more: a bigger house, a better car, a larger bank account, or [fill in the blank]. Paul encouraged Timothy to remind people in his congregation that “we brought nothing into this world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that” (1 Timothy 6:7–8).
God has given us our very breath and life—besides providing for our needs. How refreshing it might be to enjoy and be content with God’s gifts and to say, You’ve given us so much! We don’t need more. “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (v. 6).
The Weeping Alaskan Cedar tree whipped from side to side in the storm’s strong winds. Regie loved the tree that had not only provided shelter from the summer sun but also protected her family from the neighbors’ gaze. Now the fierce storm was tearing the roots from the ground. Quickly, Regie, with her 15-year-old son in tow, ran to try to rescue the tree. With her hands and 90-pound frame firmly planted against it, she hoped with her son’s help to keep it from falling over. But they weren’t strong enough.
God was King David’s strength when he called out to Him in another kind of storm (Psalm 28:8). Some commentators say he wrote this during a time when his world was falling apart. His own son rose in rebellion against him and tried to take the throne (2 Samuel 15). He felt so vulnerable and weak that he feared God might remain silent, and he would die (Psalm 28:1). “Hear my cry for mercy as I call to you for help,” he said to God (v. 2). God gave David strength to go on, even though his relationship with his son never mended.
How we long to prevent bad things from happening! If only we could. But in our weakness, God promises we can always call to Him to be our Rock (vv. 1–2). When we don’t have the strength, He is our shepherd and will carry us forever (vv. 8–9).
Two-year-old Kenneth went missing. Yet within three minutes of his mom’s 9-1-1 call, an emergency worker found him just two blocks from home at the county fair. His mom had promised he could go later that day with his grandpa. But he’d driven his toy tractor there, and parked it at his favorite ride. When the boy was safely home, his dad wisely removed the toy’s battery.
Kenneth was actually rather smart to get where he wanted to go, but two-year-olds are missing another key quality: wisdom. And as adults we sometimes lack it too. Solomon, who’d been appointed king by his father David (1 Kings 2), admitted he felt like a child. God appeared to him in a dream and said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you” (3:5). He replied, “I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. . . . So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong” (vv. 7–9). God gave Solomon “a breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore” (4:29).
Where can we get the wisdom we need? Solomon said the beginning of wisdom is a “fear” or awe of God (Proverbs 9:10). So we can start by asking Him to teach us about Himself and to give us wisdom beyond our own.