When my brother David suddenly died of cardiac failure, my perspectives on life changed dramatically. Dave was the fourth of seven children, but he was the first of us to pass—and the unexpected nature of that passing gave me much to ponder. It became apparent that as age began to catch up with us our family’s future was going to be marked more by loss than by gain. It was going to be characterized as much by goodbyes as hellos.
None of this was a surprise intellectually—that is just how life works. But this realization was an emotional lightning bolt to the brain. It gave a fresh, new significance to every moment life gives us and every opportunity time allows. And it placed a huge new value on the reality of a future reunion, where no goodbyes will ever be needed.
This ultimate reality is at the heart of what we find in Revelation 21:3–4: “God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
Though today we may find ourselves experiencing seasons of long goodbyes, our trust in Christ’s death and resurrection promises an eternity of hellos.
During her ministry to men incarcerated in South Africa’s most violent prison, Joanna Flanders-Thomas witnessed the power of Christ to transform hearts. In Vanishing Grace, Philip Yancey describes her experience: “Joanna started visiting prisoners daily, bringing them a simple gospel message of forgiveness and reconciliation. She earned their trust, got them to talk about their abusive childhoods, and showed them a better way of resolving conflicts. The year before her visits began, the prison recorded 279 acts of violence against inmates and guards; the next year there were two.”
The apostle Paul wrote, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Corinthians 5:17 nasb). While we may not always see that newness expressed as dramatically as Flanders-Thomas did, the gospel’s power to transform is the greatest hope-providing force in the universe. New creations. What an amazing thought! The death of Jesus launches us on a journey of becoming like Him—a journey that will culminate when we see Him face to face (see 1 John 3:1–3).
As believers in Jesus we celebrate our life as new creations. Yet we must never lose sight of what that cost Christ. His death brings us life. “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (v. 21 nasb).
For decades, London has been one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world. In 1933, journalist Glyn Roberts wrote of England’s great capital, “I still think the parade of peoples and colours and tongues just about the best thing in London.” That “parade” is still in evidence today with the blended smells, sounds, and sights of a global community. The beauty of diversity is part of the breathtaking appeal of one of the world’s greatest cities.
As with any city inhabited by human beings, however, London is not without its problems. Change brings challenges. Cultures sometimes clash. And that is one of the reasons no city built by human hands can compare to the wonder of our eternal home.
When the apostle John was transported into the presence of God, diversity was one of the elements of heavenly worship, as the redeemed sing, “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God and they will reign on the earth” (Revelation 5:9–10).
Imagine heaven—a parade of every people group in the world celebrating the wonder of being children of the living God—together! As believers in Jesus, may we celebrate that diversity today.
Uncle Zaki was more than a friend to scholar Kenneth Bailey; he was his trusted guide on challenging excursions into the vast Sahara. By following Uncle Zaki, Bailey says that he and his team were demonstrating their complete trust in him. In essence, they were affirming, “We don't know the way to where we are going, and if you get us lost we will all die. We have placed our total trust in your leadership.”
In a time of great weariness and heartache, David looked beyond any human guide, seeking direction from the God he served. In Psalm 61:2 we read, “From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” He longed for the safety and relief of being ushered afresh into God’s presence (vv. 3–4).
God’s guidance in life is desperately needed for people the Scriptures describe as sheep that have “gone astray” (Isaiah 53:6). Left to ourselves, we would be hopelessly lost in the desert of a broken world.
But we are not left to ourselves! We have a Shepherd who leads us “beside quiet waters,” refreshes our souls, and guides us (Psalm 23:2–3).
Where do you need His leading today? Call on Him. He will never leave you.
In his book Restless Faith, theologian Richard Mouw talks about the importance of remembering the lessons of the past. He quotes sociologist Robert Bellah, who said that “healthy nations must be ‘communities of memory. ’” Bellah extended that principle to other societal bonds, such as families. Remembering is an important part of living in community.
The Scriptures teach the value of community memory as well. The Israelites were given the Passover feast to remind them of what God had done to rescue them from slavery in Egypt (see Exodus 12:1–30). Still today, Jewish people around the world revisit that rich community memory every spring.
Passover holds great meaning for followers of Christ too, for Passover has always pointed to the work of the Messiah on the cross. It was at Passover, the night before the cross, that Jesus established His own memorial table. Luke 22:19 records, “He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’”
Every time we gather at the Lord’s Table to celebrate communion, we remember that Christ rescued us from slavery to sin and provided us with eternal life. May the rescuing love of Jesus remind us that His Cross is worth remembering—together.
Why is it valuable to partake of the communion table with other followers of Jesus? How did the shared event remind you of the love Jesus exhibited for you on the cross?
What does it take to ignite a revolution? Guns? Bombs? Guerilla warfare? In late-1980s Estonia, it took songs. After the people had lived under the burden of Soviet occupation for decades, a movement began with the singing of a series of patriotic songs. These songs birthed the “Singing Revolution,” which played a key role in restoring Estonian independence in 1991.
As one writer put it, “This was a non-violent revolution that overthrew a very violent occupation,” says a website describing the movement. “But singing had always been a major unifying force for Estonians while they endured fifty years of Soviet rule.”
Music can also play a significant part in helping us through our own hard times. I wonder if that’s why we so readily identify with the psalms. It was in a dark night of the soul that David sang, “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God” (Psalm 42:5). It was in a season of deep disillusionment that Asaph, the worship leader, reminded himself, “Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart” (Psalm 73:1).
In our own challenging times, may we join the psalmists with a singing revolution for our hearts. Such a revolution overwhelms the personal tyranny of despair and confusion with faith-fueled confidence in God’s great love and faithfulness.
The leader of our college singing group directed the group and accompanied us on the piano at the same time, skillfully balancing those responsibilities. At the close of one concert, he looked particularly weary, so I asked him if he was okay. He responded, “I’ve never had to do that before. Then he explained. “The piano was so out of tune I had to play the whole concert in two different keys—my left hand playing in one key and my right hand in another!” I was blown away by the startling skill he displayed, and I was amazed at the One who creates humans to be capable of such things.
King David expressed an even greater sense of wonder when he wrote, “Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—and how well I know it” (Psalm 139:14
One day, when we are in God’s presence, people from every generation will worship Him with the words, “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being” (Revelation 4:11). The amazing skills God gives us and the great beauty God has created are ample reason to worship Him.
In January 1943, warm Chinook winds hit Spearfish, South Dakota, raising the temperatures from –4° to 45°F (–20° to 7° C) over a two-minute span. That drastic weather change—a swing of 49 degrees—took place in just two minutes. The widest temperature change recorded in the USA over a 24-hour period is an incredible 103°F (57°C). On January 15, 1972, Loma, Montana, saw the temperature jump from −54° to 49°F (–48° to 9°C).
Sudden change, however, is not simply a weather phenomenon. It is sometimes the very nature of life. James reminds us, “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow” (4:13–14). An unexpected loss. A surprise diagnosis. A financial reversal. Sudden changes.
Life is a journey with many unpredictable elements. This is precisely why James warns us away from “arrogant schemes” (v. 16) that do not take the Almighty into account. As he advised us, “You ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that’” (v. 15). The events of our lives may be uncertain, but one thing is sure: through all of life’s unexpected moments, our God will never leave us. He is our one constant throughout life.
“Chasing tornadoes,” says Warren Faidley, “is often like a giant game of 3D-chess played out over thousands of square miles.” The photojournalist and storm chaser adds: “Being in the right place at the right time is a symphony of forecasting and navigation while dodging everything from softball-sized hailstones to dust storms and slow-moving farm equipment.”
Faidley’s words make my palms sweat. While admiring the raw courage and scientific hunger storm chasers display, I balk at throwing myself into the middle of potentially fatal weather events.
In my experience, however, I don’t have to chase storms in life—they seem to be chasing me. That experience is mirrored by Psalm 107 as it describes sailors trapped in a storm. They were being chased by the consequences of their wrong choices but the psalmist says, “They cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed” (Psalm 107:28–29).
Whether the storms of life are of our own making or the result of living in a broken world, our Father is greater than the storm. When we are being chased by storms, He alone is able to calm them—or to calm the storm within us.