Poet Carl Sandburg wrote of former US president Abraham Lincoln, “Not often in the story of mankind does a man arrive on earth who is both steel and velvet, . . . who holds in his heart and mind the paradox of terrible storm and peace unspeakable and perfect.” “Steel and velvet” described how Lincoln balanced the power of his office with concern for individuals longing for freedom.
Only one person in all history perfectly balanced strength and softness, power and compassion. That man is Jesus Christ. In John 8, when confronted by the religious leaders to condemn a guilty woman, Jesus displayed both steel and velvet. He showed steel by withstanding the demands of a bloodthirsty mob, instead turning their critical eyes upon themselves. He said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (v. 7). Then Jesus modeled the velvet of compassion by telling the woman, “Neither do I condemn you . . . . Go now and leave your life of sin” (v. 11).
Reflecting His “steel and velvet” in our own responses to others can reveal the Father’s work of conforming us to be like Jesus. We can show His heart to a world hungry for both the velvet of mercy and the steel of justice.
Many movie critics consider David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia one of the greatest films of all time. With its seemingly endless vistas of the Arabian deserts, it has influenced a generation of filmmakers—including Academy Award-winning director Steven Spielberg. “I was inspired the first time I saw Lawrence,” said Spielberg. “It made me feel puny. It still makes me feel puny. And that’s one measure of its greatness.”
What makes me feel small is creation’s vastness—when I gaze at an ocean, fly over the polar ice cap, or survey a night sky sparkling with a billion stars. If the created universe is so expansive, how much greater must be the Creator who spoke it into being!
God’s greatness and our feelings of insignificance are echoed by David when he declared, “What are mere mortals that you should think about them, human beings that you should care for them?” (Psalm 8:4
I may feel small and insignificant, but through my Father’s eyes, I have great worth—a worth that is proven every time I look at the cross. The price He was willing to pay to restore me to fellowship with Him is evidence of how He values me.
Irish poet Oscar Wilde said, “When I was young I thought that money was the most important thing in life; now that I am old, I know that it is.” His comment was made tongue-in-cheek; he lived only to age 46, so he never truly was “old.” Wilde fully understood that life is not about money.
Money is temporary; it comes and it goes. So life must be about more than money and what it can buy. Jesus challenged the people of His generation—rich and poor alike—to a recalibrated value system. In Luke 12:15, Jesus said, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” In our culture, where there is an abiding focus on more and newer and better, there is something to be said both for contentment and for perspective about how we view money and possessions.
Upon meeting Jesus, a rich young ruler went away sad because he had many possessions that he didn’t want to give up (see Luke 18:18–25), but Zacchaeus the tax collector gave away much of what he had spent his life acquiring (Luke 19:8). The difference is embracing the heart of Christ. In His grace, we can find a healthy perspective on the things we possess—so they don’t become the things that have us.
An intriguing element of English football is the team anthem sung by the fans at the start of each match. These songs range from the fun (“Glad All Over”), to the whimsical (“I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles”), to the surprising. “Psalm 23,” for instance, is the anthem of the club from West Bromwich Albion. The words of that psalm appear on the façade inside the team’s stadium, declaring to everyone who comes to watch the “West Brom Baggies” the care of the good, great, and chief Shepherd.
In Psalm 23 David made his timeless statement, “The
“The Lord is my shepherd” is far more than an ancient lyric or a clever slogan. It is the confident statement of what it means to be known and loved by our great God—and what it means to be rescued by His Son.
While traveling in Asia, my iPad (containing my reading material and many work documents) suddenly died, a condition described as “the black screen of death.” Seeking help, I found a computer shop and encountered another problem—I don’t speak Chinese and the shop’s technician didn’t speak English. The solution? He pulled up a software program in which he typed in Chinese, but I could read it in English. The process reversed as I responded in English and he read in Chinese. The software allowed us to communicate clearly, even in different languages.
Sometimes, I feel like I’m unable to communicate and express my heart when I pray to my heavenly Father—and I’m not alone. Many of us struggle sometimes with prayer. But the apostle Paul wrote, “The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God” (Romans 8:26–27).
How amazing is the gift of the Holy Spirit! Better than any computer program, He clearly communicates my thoughts and desires in harmony with the Father’s purposes. The work of the Spirit makes prayer work!
In Boston, Massachusetts, a plaque titled “Crossing the Bowl of Tears” remembers those who braved the Atlantic to escape death during the catastrophic Irish potato famine of the late 1840s. More than a million people died in that disaster, while another million or more abandoned home to cross the ocean, which John Boyle O’Reilly poetically called “the bowl of tears.” Driven by hunger and heartache, these travelers sought some measure of hope during desperate times.
In Psalm 55, David shares how he pursued hope. While we are uncertain about the specifics of the threat he faced, the weight of his experience was enough to break him emotionally (vv. 4–5). His instinctive reaction was to pray, “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest” (v. 6).
Like David, we may want to flee to safety in the midst of painful circumstances. After considering his plight, however, David chose to run to his God instead of running from his heartache, singing, “As for me, I call to God, and the
When trouble comes, remember that the God of all comfort is able to carry you through your darkest moments and deepest fears. He promises that one day He Himself will wipe away every tear from our eyes (Revelation 21:4). Strengthened by this assurance, we can confidently trust Him with our tears now.
In his book The Call, Os Guinness describes a moment when Winston Churchill, on holiday with friends in the south of France, sat by the fireplace to warm himself on a cold night. Gazing at the fire, the former prime minister saw pine logs “crackling, hissing, and spitting as they burned. Suddenly, his familiar voice growled, ‘I know why logs spit. I know what it is to be consumed.’”
Difficulties, despair, dangers, distress, and the results of our own wrongdoings can all feel consuming. Circumstances slowly drain our hearts of joy and peace. When David experienced the consuming consequences of his own sinful choices, he wrote, “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. . . . My strength was sapped as in the heat of summer” (Psalm 32:3–4).
In such difficult times, where do we turn for help? For hope? Paul, whose experiences were filled with ministry burdens and brokenness, wrote, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8–9).
How does that work? As we rest in Jesus, the Good Shepherd restores our souls (Psalm 23:3) and strengthens us for the next step of our journey. He promises to walk that journey with us every step of the way (Hebrews 13:5).
On February 18, 1952, a massive storm split the SS Pendleton, a tanker ship, into two pieces about ten miles off the Massachusetts coast. More than forty sailors were trapped inside the ship's sinking stern in the midst of fierce winds and violent waves.
When word of the disaster reached the Coast Guard station in Chatham, Massachusetts, Boatswain’s Mate First Class Bernie Webber took three men on a lifeboat to try to save the stranded crew against nearly impossible odds-and brought thirty-two of the seemingly doomed sailors to safety. Their courageous feat was deemed one of the greatest rescues in United States Coast Guard history and was the subject of the 2016 film The Finest Hours.
In Luke 19:10, Jesus declared His own rescue mission saying, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” The cross and the resurrection became the ultimate expression of that recue, as Jesus took upon Himself our sins and restored to the Father all who trust Him. For 2,000 years, people have embraced His offer of abundant life now and eternal life with Him. Rescued!
As followers of Jesus we have the privilege, with the Holy Spirit's help, to join our Savior in the greatest rescue mission in all of human history. Do you know someone who needs His rescuing love?
My brothers and I grew up on a wooded hillside in West Virginia that provided a fertile landscape for our imaginations. Whether swinging from grapevines like Tarzan or building tree houses like the Swiss Family Robinson, we played out the scenarios we found in the stories we read and movies we watched. One of our favorites was building forts and then pretending we were safe from attack. Years later, my kids built forts out of blankets, sheets, and pillows—constructing their own “safe place” against imaginary enemies. It seems almost instinctive to want a hiding place where you can feel safe and secure.
When David, the singer-poet of Israel, sought a safe place, he looked no further than God. Psalm 46:1–2 asserts, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear.” When you consider the Old Testament record of David’s life and the almost constant threats he faced, these words reveal an amazing level of confidence in the Lord. In spite of those threats, he was convinced his true safety was found in God.
We can know that same confidence. The God who promises to never leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5) is the One we trust with our lives every day. Although we live in a dangerous world, our God gives us peace and assurance—both now and forever. He is our safe place.