Testimony time was the segment in our church service when people shared how God had been at work in their lives. Auntie—or Sister Langford as she was known by others in our church family—was known for packing lots of praise into her testimonies. On the occasions when she shared her personal conversion story, one could expect her to take up a good bit of the service. Her heart gushed with praise to God who had graciously changed her life!
Similarly, the testimony of the writer of Psalm 66 is packed with praise as he testifies about what God had done for His people. “Come and see what God has done, his awesome deeds for mankind!” (v. 5). His deeds included miraculous rescue (v. 6), preservation (v. 9), and testing and discipline that resulted in His people being brought to a better place (vv. 10–12). While there are God-experiences that we have in common with other believers in Jesus, there are also things unique to our individual journeys. Have there been times in your life when God has particularly made Himself known to you? Those are worth sharing with others who need to hear how He's worked in your life. “Come and hear, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me” (v. 16).
The protocols at the restaurant in my childhood neighborhood were consistent with social and racial dynamics in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The kitchen helpers—Mary, the cook; and dishwashers like me—were Black; however, the in-restaurant patrons were White. Black customers could order food, but they had to pick it up at the back door. Such policies reinforced the unequal treatment of Blacks in that era. Though we’ve come a long way since then, we still have room for growth in how we relate to each other as people made in the image of God.
Passages of Scripture like Romans 10:8–13 help us to see that all are welcome in the family of God; there’s no back door. All enter the same way—through belief in Jesus’ death for cleansing and forgiveness. The Bible word for this transformative experience is saved (vv. 9, 13). Your social situation or racial status or that of others doesn’t factor into the equation. “As Scripture says, ‘Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.’ For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him” (vv. 11–12). Do you believe in your heart the Bible’s message about Jesus? Welcome to the family!
Fast-food restaurant worker Kevin Ford hadn’t missed a shift in twenty-seven years. After a video surfaced showing his humble gratitude for a modest gift he received to commemorate his decades of service, thousands of people rallied together to show kindness to him. “It’s like a dream, a dream come true, that nobody can even think of
this,” he said when a fundraising effort brought in $250,000 in just over a week.
Jehoiachin, the exiled king of Judah, was also the recipient of extreme kindness. He’d been incarcerated for thirty-seven years before the benevolence of the Babylonian king resulted in his release. “[The king] freed him from prison. He spoke kindly to him and gave him a seat of honor higher than those of the other kings who were with him in Babylon” (Jeremiah 52:31–32). Jehoiachin was given a new position, new clothes, and a new residence. His new life was fully funded by the king.
This story pictures what happens spiritually when, out of no contributions from themselves or others, believers in Jesus’ death and resurrection are rescued from their estrangement from God. They’re brought from darkness and death into light and life; they’re brought into the family of God because of the extreme kindness of God.
At the pastor’s invitation at the end of the church service, Latriece made her way to the front. When she was invited to greet the congregation, no one was prepared for the weighty and wonderful words she spoke. She had relocated from Kentucky where in December 2021 devastating tornadoes had taken the lives of seven of her family members. “I can still smile because God’s with me,” she said. Though bruised by trial, her testimony was a powerful encouragement for those facing challenges of their own.
David’s words in Psalm 22 (which point to the sufferings of Jesus) are those of a battered man who felt forsaken by God (v. 1), despised and mocked by others (vv. 6–8), and surrounded by predators (vv. 12–13). He felt weak and drained (vv. 14–18)—but he wasn’t hopeless. “But you,
“Wash me!” Though those words weren’t written on my vehicle, they could have been. So, off to the car wash I went, and so did other drivers who wanted relief from the grimy leftovers from salted roads following a recent snowfall. The lines were long, and the service was slow. But it was worth the wait. I left with a clean vehicle and, for compensation for service delay, the car wash was free of charge!
Getting cleaned at someone else’s expense—that’s the gospel of Jesus Christ. God, through the death and resurrection of Jesus, has provided forgiveness for our sins. Who among us hasn’t felt the need “to bathe” when the “dirt and grime” of life have clung to us? When we’re stained by selfish thoughts or actions that harm ourselves or others and rob us of peace with God? Psalm 51 is the cry of David when temptation had triumphed in his life. When confronted by a spiritual mentor about his sin (see 2 Samuel 12), he prayed a “Wash me!” prayer: “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow” (v. 7). Feeling dirty and guilty? Make your way to Jesus and remember these words: ”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).
Jimmy hadn’t allowed the reality of social unrest, danger, and discomfort to keep him from traveling to one of the poorest countries in the world to encourage ministry couples. The steady stream of text messages to our team back home revealed the challenges he encountered. “Okay, boys, activate the prayer line. We’ve gone ten miles in the last two hours. . . . Car has overheated a dozen times.” Transportation setbacks meant that he arrived just before midnight to preach to those who’d waited for five hours. Later we received a text with a different tone. “Amazing, sweet time of fellowship. . . . About a dozen people came forward for prayer. It was a powerful night!”
Faithfully serving God can be challenging. The exemplars of faith listed in Hebrews 11 would agree. Compelled by their faith in God, ordinary men and women faced uncomfortable and unfathomable circumstances. ”Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment” (v. 36). Their faith compelled them to take risks and rely on God for the outcome. The same is true for us. Living out our faith may not take us to risky places far away, but it may well take us across the street or across the campus or to an empty seat in a lunchroom or boardroom. Risky? Perhaps. But the rewards, now or later, will be well worth the risks as God helps us.
In ad 155, the early church father Polycarp was threatened with death by fire for his faith in Christ. He replied, “For eighty and six years I have been his servant, and he has done me no wrong. And how can I now blaspheme my king who saved me?” Polycarp’s response can be an inspiration for us when we face extreme trial because of our faith in Jesus, our King.
Just hours before Jesus’ death, Peter boldly pledged His allegiance to Christ: “I will lay down my life for you” (John 13:37). Jesus, who knew Peter better than Peter knew himself, replied, “Very truly I tell you, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!” (v. 38). However, after Jesus’ resurrection, the same one who’d denied Him began to serve Him courageously and would eventually glorify Him through his own death (see 21:16–19).
Are you a Polycarp or a Peter? Most of us, if we’re honest, are more of a Peter with a “courage outage”—a failure to speak or act honorably as a believer in Jesus. Such occasions—whether in a classroom, boardroom, or breakroom—needn’t indelibly define us. When those failures occur, we must prayerfully dust ourselves off and turn to Jesus, the One who died for us and lives for us. He’ll help us to be faithful to Him and courageously live for Him daily in difficult places.
“The tent is tired!” Those were the words of my friend Paul, who pastors a church in Nairobi, Kenya. Since 2015, the congregation has worshiped in a tent-like structure. Now, Paul writes, “Our tent is worn out and it is leaking when it rains.”
My friend’s words about their tent’s structural weaknesses remind us of the apostle Paul’s words regarding the frailty of our human existence. “Outwardly we are wasting away . . . . While we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened” (2 Corinthians 4:16; 5:4).
Though the awareness of our fragile human existence happens relatively early in life, we become more conscious of it as we age. Indeed, time picks our pockets. The vitality of youth surrenders reluctantly to the reality of aging (see Ecclesiastes 12:1–7). Our bodies—our tents—get tired.
But tired tents need not equate to tired trust. Hope and heart needn’t fade as we age. “Therefore we do not lose heart,” the apostle says (2 Corinthians 4:16). The One who has made our bodies has made Himself at home there through His Spirit. And when this body can no longer serve us, we’ll have a dwelling not subject to breaks and aches—we’ll “have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven” (5:1).
How does it make you feel that in the midst of declining health, Christ still resides in you by His Spirit (5:5)? When you find yourself “groaning,” how often do you turn to God in prayer?
Father, thank You for Your continual presence. When I’m physically uncomfortable, help me to trust You even as I anticipate an eternal dwelling that will last forever.
On a trip to Paris, Ben and his friends found themselves at the one of the renowned museums in the city. Though Ben wasn’t a student of art, he was in awe as he looked upon the painting titled The Disciples Peter and John Running to the Sepulchre on the Morning of the Resurrection. Without words, the looks on the faces of Peter and John and the position of their hands speak volumes, inviting onlookers to step into their shoes and share their adrenaline-charged emotions.
Based on John 20:1–10, the painting portrays the two running in the direction of the empty tomb of Jesus (v. 4). The masterpiece captures the intensity of the two emotionally conflicted disciples. Though at that juncture theirs wasn’t a fully formed faith, they were running in the right direction, and eventually the resurrected Jesus revealed Himself to them (vv. 19–29). Their search was not unlike that of Jesus-seekers through the centuries. Although we may be removed from the experiences of an empty tomb or a brilliant piece of art, we can clearly see the good news. Scripture compels us to hope and seek and run in the direction of Jesus and His love—even with doubts, questions, and uncertainties. Tomorrow, as we celebrate Easter, may we remember Jesus’ words: “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).