During the pandemic lockdown, Jerry was forced to close his fitness center and had no income for months. One day he received a text from a friend asking to meet him at his facility at 6:00 p.m. Jerry wasn’t sure why but made his way there. Soon cars started streaming into the parking lot. The driver in the first car placed a basket on the sidewalk near the building. Then car after car (maybe fifty of them) came by. Those inside waved at Jerry or hollered out a hello, stopped at the basket, and dropped in a card or cash. Some sacrificed their money; all gave their time to encourage him.
The true nature of love is sacrificial, according to the apostle Paul. He explained to the Corinthians that the Macedonians gave “even beyond their ability” so they could meet the needs of the apostle and others (2 Corinthians 8:3). They even “pleaded” with Paul for the opportunity to give to him and God’s people. The basis for their giving was the sacrificial heart of Jesus Himself. He left the riches of heaven to come to earth to be a servant and to give His very life. “Though he was rich, yet for [our] sake he became poor” (v. 9).
May we too plead with God so that we might “excel in this grace of giving” (v. 7) in order to lovingly meet the needs of others.
On one side of the street a homeowner displays in his yard a giant blow-up bald eagle draped in a US flag. A big truck sits in the driveway, and its side window has a painted flag and the back bumper is covered with patriotic stickers. Directly across the street in a neighbor’s yard are signs that highlight the slogans for current social justice issues in the news.
Are the people in these homes feuding or friends? we might wonder. Is it possible that both families are believers in Jesus? God calls us to live out the words of James 1:19: “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” Too often we stubbornly hold on to our opinions and aren’t willing to consider what others are thinking. The Matthew Henry Commentary says about this verse: “We should be swift to hear reason and truth on all sides, and be slow to speak . . . and, when we do speak, there should be nothing of wrath.”
Someone has said, “Learning requires listening.” The practical words from God in the book of James can only be accomplished if we’re filled with God’s loving Spirit and choose to respect others. He’s willing to help us make changes in our hearts and attitudes. Are we open to listen and learn?
Rebecca and Russell’s doctors had told them they couldn’t have children. But God had other ideas, and ten years later Rebecca conceived. The pregnancy was a healthy one; and when the contractions started they excitedly rushed to the hospital. The hours of labor grew long and more intense, and Rebecca’s body still wasn’t progressing enough for delivery. Finally, the doctor decided she needed to perform an emergency C-section. Fearful, Rebecca sobbed for her baby and herself. The doctor calmly said, “I will do my best, but we’re going to pray to God because He can do more.” She prayed with Rebecca, and Bruce, a healthy baby boy, was born fifteen minutes later.
That doctor knew her dependence on God and His power. She recognized that although she had the training and skill to do the surgery, she still looked to God for His help and to guide her hands (Psalm 121:1–2). It’s encouraging to hear about highly skilled people, or anyone, who recognizes they need Him—because, honestly, we all do. He is God; we are not.
God alone “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20–21). Let’s have a humble heart to learn from Him and to trust Him in prayer “because He can do more” than we ever could.
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, “