Robert was embarrassed when he showed up for a breakfast meeting and realized he’d forgotten his wallet. It bothered him to the point that he pondered whether he should eat at all or simply get something to drink. After some convincing from his friend, he relaxed his resistance. He and his friend enjoyed their entrees, and his friend gladly paid the bill.
Perhaps you can identify with this dilemma or some other situation that puts you on the receiving end. Wanting to pay our own way is normal, but there are occasions when we must humbly receive what’s graciously being given.
Some kind of payback may have been what the younger son had in mind in Luke 15:17-24 as he contemplated what he would say to his father. “I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants” (v. 19). Hired servant? His father would have no such thing! In his father’s eyes, he was a much-loved son who’d come home. As such he was met with a father’s embrace and an affectionate kiss (v. 20). What a grand gospel picture! It reminds us that by Jesus’ death He revealed a loving Father who welcomes empty-handed children with open arms. One hymnwriter expressed it like this: “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling.”
“I don’t understand His plan. I turned my whole life over to Him. And this happens!” Such was the message of a son to his mother when his dream to succeed as a professional athlete was temporarily derailed. Who among us hasn’t had some kind of unexpected, disappointing experience that sends our minds into overdrive with exclamations and questions? A family member cuts off communication without explanation; health gains are reversed; a company relocates unexpectedly; a life-altering accident happens.
Job 1–2 records a series of tragedies and setbacks in Job’s life. Humanly speaking, if there was anyone who qualified for a life free from trouble, it was Job. “This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil” (Job 1:1). But life doesn’t always work out the way we’d like it to—it didn’t for Job and it doesn’t for us. When his wife counseled him to “curse God and die!” (2:9), Job’s words to her were wise, instructive, and fitting for us as well when things happen—big or small—that we’d rather not face. “ ‘Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?’ In all this, Job did not sin in what he said” (v. 10). By God’s strength, may our trust in and reverence for Him remain even when we can’t understand how He’s at work during life’s difficult days.
“Uncle Arthur, do you remember the day you took me to the barbershop and the supermarket? I was wearing tan khakis, a blue-plaid oxford shirt, a navy-blue cardigan, brown socks, and brown Rockport shoes. The date was Thursday, October 20, 2016.” My nephew Jared’s autism-related challenges are offset by his phenomenal memory that can recall details like days and dates and the clothes he was wearing years after an event took place.
Because of the way he’s wired, Jared possesses the kind of memory that reminds me of the all-knowing, loving God—the Keeper of time and eternity. He knows the facts and won’t forget His promises or His people. Have you had moments when you’ve questioned whether or not you’ve been forgotten by God? When others appear to be healthier or happier or more successful or otherwise better off?
Ancient Israel’s less-than-ideal situation caused her to say, “The
After hearing a message about correcting injustice, a church member approached the pastor weeping, asking for forgiveness and confessing that he hadn’t voted in favor of calling the black minister to be pastor of their church because of his own prejudice. “I really need you to forgive me. I don’t want the junk of prejudice and racism spilling over into my kids’ lives. I didn’t vote for you, and I was wrong.” His tears and confession were met with the tears and forgiveness of the minister. A week later, the entire church rejoiced upon hearing the man’s testimony of how God had worked in his heart.
Even Peter, a disciple of Jesus and a chief leader in the early church, had to be corrected because of his ill-conceived notions about non-Jewish people. Eating and drinking with gentiles (who were considered unclean), was a violation of social and religious protocol. Peter said, “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile” (Acts 10:28). It took nothing less than the supernatural activity of God (vv. 9–23) to convince him that he “should not call anyone impure or unclean” (v. 28).
Through the preaching of Scripture, the conviction of the Spirit, and life experiences God continues to work in human hearts to correct our misguided perspectives about others. He helps us to see that “God does not show favoritism” (v. 34).
During the course of a popular home renovation television program, viewers often hear the host say, “Imagine this!” Then she unveils what could be when old things are restored and drab walls and floors are painted or stained. In one episode, after the renovation the homeowner was so overjoyed that, along with other expressions of elation, the words “That's beautiful!” gushed from her lips three times.
One of the stunning “Imagine this!” passages in the Bible is Isaiah 65:17–25. What a dazzling re-creation scene! The future renovation of heaven and earth is in view (v. 17), and it’s not merely cosmetic. It’s deep and real, life-altering and life-preserving. “They will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit” (v. 21). Violence will be a thing of the past, “They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain” (v. 25).
While the reversals envisioned in Isaiah 65 will be realized in the future, the God who will orchestrate universal restoration is in the business of life-change now. The apostle Paul assures us, “If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). In need of restoration? Has your life been broken by doubt, disobedience, and pain? Life-change through Jesus is real and beautiful and available to those who ask and believe.
In a Peanuts comic strip, the very enterprising character Lucy advertised “psychiatric help” for five cents. Linus found his way to her office and acknowledged his “deep feelings of depression.” When he asked her what he could do about his condition, Lucy’s quick reply was, “Snap out of it! Five cents, please.”
While such light-hearted entertainment brings a momentary smile, the sadness and gloom that can grip us when real life happens is not that easily dismissed. Feelings of hopelessness and despair are real, and sometimes professional attention is needed.
Lucy’s advice wasn’t helpful in addressing real anguish. However, the writer of Psalm 88 does offer something instructive and hopeful. A truckload of trouble had arrived at his doorstep. And so with raw honesty he poured out his heart to God. “I am overwhelmed with troubles and my life draws near to death” (v. 3). “You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths” (v. 6). “Darkness is my closest friend” (v. 18). We hear, feel and perhaps identify with the psalmist’s pain. Yet, that’s not all. His lament is laced with hope. “
The heroic deeds of US Army soldier Desmond Doss are featured in the 2016 movie Hacksaw Ridge. While Doss’ convictions wouldn’t allow him to take human life, as an army medic he committed himself to preserving life even at the risk of his own. The citation read at Doss’ Medal of Honor ceremony on October 12, 1945, included these words: “Private First Class Doss refused to seek cover and remained in the fire-swept area with the many stricken, carrying them one by one to the edge of the escarpment. . . . He unhesitatingly braved enemy shelling and small arms fire to assist an artillery officer.”
In Psalm 11, David’s conviction that his refuge was in God compelled him to resist suggestions to flee rather than face his foes (vv. 2–3). Six simple words comprised his statement of faith: “In the
David’s words in verses 4–7 amplified God’s greatness. Yes, life can sometimes be like a battlefield, and hostile fire can send us scattering for cover when we’re bombarded with health challenges or financial, relational, and spiritual stresses. So, what should we do? Acknowledge that God is the king of the universe (v. 4); take delight in His amazing capacity to judge with precision (vv. 5–6); and rest in His delight in what’s right, fair, and equitable (v. 7). We can run swiftly to God for shelter!
“God is crying.” Those were the words whispered by Bill Haley’s ten-year-old daughter as she stood in the rain with a group of multiethnic believers in Jesus. They had come to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley to seek God and make sense of the legacy of racial discord in America. As they stood on the grounds where former slaves were buried, they joined hands in prayer. Then suddenly the wind began to blow, and it started to rain. As the leader called out for racial healing, the rain began to fall even harder. Those gathered believed that God was at work to bring reconciliation and forgiveness.
And so was it at Calvary—God was at work. After the crucified Jesus breathed His last, “The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open” (Matthew 27:51–52). Though some had denied who Jesus was, a centurion assigned to guard Him had come to a different conclusion: “When the centurion and those with him . . . saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, ‘Surely he was the Son of God!’ ” (v. 54).
In the death of Jesus, God was at work providing forgiveness of sin for all who believe in Him. “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19). And what better way to demonstrate that we’ve been forgiven by God than to extend forgiveness to each other.
At local high school sporting events, Ted was the largest and loudest cheerleader in the stands. Before a degenerative condition took its toll on him, he stood six feet six inches tall and weighed 290 pounds. Ted’s crowd-stirring chants of “Blue!” (blue was the school color) and candy-tossing at school events were legendary, earning him the name “Big Blue.”
But Ted’s reputation in his community wasn’t just for cheerleading. Neither was it for the alcohol addiction he experienced as a younger man. No, he will be remembered for his love for God and family, for his generosity and kindness. At a four-hour “home-going service” that celebrated his life, person after person came forward to testify about the vibrant Christ-like ways of a man who’d been rescued from darkness by the power of Jesus through the gospel.
In Ephesians 5:8, Paul reminded believers that they “were once darkness” but quickly noted, “but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light.” Such is the call for every believer in Jesus. Children of light, like Ted, have much to offer those engulfed in this world’s darkness. Fruitless deeds of darkness (see vv. 3–4) are to be avoided (v. 11). Those in our communities and other places need the brilliant, distinctive witness of those upon whom Jesus has shined (v. 14). How distinctive? As different as light is from darkness.