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.
In his book Breaking Down Walls, Glen Kehrein writes about climbing to the roof of his college dorm in Chicago after the assassination of civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968. “The sound of gunfire bounced eerily back and forth off the large buildings, and soon my rooftop perch provided a near panoramic, yet horrific, view. . . . How in the world did I get from a Wisconsin cornfield to a war zone in the inner city of Chicago in less than two years?” Compelled by his love for Jesus and people whose backgrounds were different from his, Glen lived on Chicago’s West Side and led a ministry there that provided food, clothing, shelter, and other services until his death in 2011.
Glen’s life mirrors the efforts of followers of Christ who’ve come to grips with the need to embrace those who are different from themselves. Paul’s teaching and example helped Roman believers see that God’s plan to rescue wayward humanity included Jews and gentiles (Romans 15:8–12). Believers in Jesus are called to follow His example of acceptance of others (v. 7); prejudice and discord have no place among those called to glorify God with “one mind and one voice” (v. 6). Ask God to help you cross barriers and break down walls and to warmly embrace everyone, regardless of their differences. Let’s strive to leave behind a legacy of acceptance.
Dennis’ life was transformed after someone gave him a New Testament. Reading it captivated him, and it became his constant companion. Within six months, two life-changing events occurred in his life. He placed his faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of his sins, and he was diagnosed with a brain tumor after experiencing severe headaches. Because of the unbearable physical pain, he became bedridden and unable to work. One painful, sleepless night he found himself crying out to God. Sleep finally came at 4:30 a.m.
Bodily pain and affliction can cause us to cry out to God, but other excruciating life circumstances also compel us to run to Him. Centuries before Dennis’ night of wrestling, an anxious, desperate Jacob faced off with God (Genesis 32:24–32). For Jacob, it was unfinished family business. Jacob had wronged his brother Esau (ch. 27), and he feared that payback was imminent. In seeking God’s help in this difficult situation, Jacob encountered God face to face (32:30) and emerged from it a changed man.
And so did Dennis. After pleading with God in prayer, Dennis was able to stand up after being bedridden, and the doctor’s examination showed no signs of the tumor. Although God doesn’t always choose to miraculously heal us as he did Dennis, we’re confident that He always hears our prayers and will give us what we need for our situation. In our desperation we offer sincere prayers to God and leave the results to Him!
Mack, having struggled with drug abuse and sexual sin, was desperate. Relationships that he valued were in disarray and his conscience was beating him up. In his misery, he found himself unannounced at a church asking to speak with a pastor. There he found relief in sharing his complicated story and in hearing about God’s mercy and forgiveness.
Psalm 32 is believed to have been composed by David after his sexual sin. He compounded his wrongdoing by devising a sinister strategy that resulted in the death of the woman’s husband (see 2 Samuel 11–12). While these ugly incidents were behind him, the effects of his actions remained. Psalm 32:3–4 describes the deep struggles he experienced before he acknowledged the ugliness of his deeds; the gnawing effects of unconfessed sin were undeniable. What brought relief? Relief began with confession to God and accepting the forgiveness He offers (v. 5).
What a great place for us to start—at the place of God’s mercy—when we say or do things that cause hurt and harm to ourselves and others. The guilt of our sin need not be permanent. There’s One whose arms are open wide to receive us when we acknowledge our wrongs and seek His forgiveness. We can join the chorus of those who sing, “Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered” (v. 1).
After praying about what God was calling them to do in the next phase of their lives, Mark and Nina determined that moving to the urban core of the city was what they needed to do. They purchased a vacant house and renovation was well underway—then came the storm. Mark wrote in a text message to me: “We had a surprise this morning. The tornado that came through Jeff[erson] City, took out our renovation—down to sticks and bricks. God is up to something.”
Uncontrollable storms are not the only things that surprise us and create confusion in our lives. Not losing sight of God in the midst of misfortune, however, is one of the keys of survival.
The weather catastrophe in Job’s life that resulted in his loss of property and the death of his children (Job 1:19) was but one of the surprises he faced. Prior to that, three messengers had come bearing bad news (vv. 13–17).
On any given day, we can go from feasting to mourning, from celebrating life to processing death, or some other life challenge. Our lives can swiftly be reduced to “sticks and bricks”—financially, relationally, physically, emotionally, spiritually. But God is mightier than any storm. Surviving life’s trials requires faith that’s focused on Him—faith that enables us to say with Job and others, “May the name of the
Within twenty-four hours of his mother Sharonda’s tragic death, Chris found himself uttering these powerful, grace-filled words: “Love is stronger than hate.” His mother, along with eight others, had been killed at a Wednesday night Bible study in Charleston, South Carolina. What was it that had so shaped this teenager’s life that these words could flow from his lips and his heart? Chris is a believer in Jesus whose mother had “loved everybody with all her heart.”
In Luke 23:26–49 we get a front row seat to an execution scene that included two criminals and the innocent Jesus (v. 32). All three were crucified (v. 33). Amid the hushes and sighs and the likely groans from those hanging on the crosses, the following words of Jesus could be heard: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (v. 34). The hate-filled initiative of the religious leaders had resulted in the crucifixion of the very One who championed love. Though in agony, Jesus’ love continued to triumph.
How have you or someone you love been the target of hate, ill-will, bitterness, or ugliness? May your pain prompt your prayers, and may the example of Jesus and people like Chris encourage you by the power of the Spirit to choose love over hate.
Gripped by the gravity of the promises he was making to LaShonne, Jonathan found himself stumbling as he repeated his wedding vows. He thought, How can I make these promises and not believe they’re possible to keep? He made it through the ceremony, but the weight of his commitments remained. After the reception, Jonathan led his wife to the chapel where he prayed—for more than two hours—that God would help him keep his promise to love and care for LaShonne.
Jonathan’s wedding-day fears were based on the recognition of his human frailties. But God, who promised to bless the nations through Abraham’s offspring (Galatians 3:16), has no such limitations.
To challenge his Jewish Christian audience to perseverance and patience to continue in the Christian faith, the writer of Hebrews recalled God’s promises to Abraham, Abraham’s patient waiting, and the fulfillment of the what had been promised (Hebrews 6:13–15). Abraham and Sarah’s status as senior citizens was no barrier to the fulfillment of God’s promise to give Abraham “many descendants” (v. 14).
Are you challenged to trust God despite being weak, frail, and human? Are you struggling to keep your commitments; to fulfill your pledges and vows? In 2 Corinthians 12:9, God promises to help us: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” For over thirty-six years God has helped Jonathan and LaShonne. Why not trust Him to help you?
Brittany exclaimed to her coworker at the restaurant, “There’s that man! There’s that man!” She was referring to Melvin, who first encountered her under different circumstances. While he was tending to the lawn of his church, the Spirit prompted him to start a conversation with the woman who appeared to be a prostitute. Her reply when he invited her to church was: “Do you know what I do? They wouldn’t want me in there.” As Melvin told her about the love of Jesus and assured her of His power to change her life, tears streamed down her face. Now, some weeks later, Brittany was working in a new environment, living proof of the power of Jesus to change lives.
In the context of encouraging believers to be devoted to prayer, the apostle Paul made a twofold request: “Pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should” (Colossians 4:3–4). Have you prayed for opportunities to speak boldly and clearly for Jesus? What a fitting prayer! Such prayers can lead followers of Jesus, like Melvin, to speak about Him in unexpected places and to unexpected people. Speaking up for Jesus can seem uncomfortable, but the rewards—changed lives—have a way of compensating for our discomforts.
Three hundred children were dressed and seated for breakfast, and a prayer of thanks was offered for the food. But there was no food! Situations like this were not unusual for orphanage director and missionary George Mueller (1805–1898). Here was yet another opportunity to see how the Lord would provide. Within minutes of Mueller’s prayer, a baker who couldn’t sleep the night before showed up at the door. Sensing that the orphanage could use the bread, he had made three batches. Not long afterward, the town milkman appeared. His cart had broken down in front of the orphanage. Not wanting the milk to spoil, he offered it to Mueller.
It’s normal to experience bouts of worry, anxiety, and self-pity when we lack resources essential to our well-being—food, shelter, health, finances, friendships. First Kings 17:8–16 reminds us that the Lord’s help can come through unexpected sources like a needy widow. “I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little olive oil in a jug” (v. 12). Earlier it was a raven that provided for Elijah (vv. 4–6). Concerns for our needs to be met can send us searching in many directions. A clear vision of God as the Provider who has promised to supply our needs can be liberating. Before we seek solutions, may we be careful to seek Him first. Doing so can save us time, energy, and frustration.