Soldiers fighting in a sweltering jungle many years ago encountered a frustrating problem. Without warning and mimicking the strength of a thick rope, a pervasive prickly vine would attach itself to the soldiers’ bodies and gear, causing them to be trapped. As they struggled to get free, even more of the plant’s tentacles seemed to entangle them. The soldiers dubbed the weed the “wait-a-minute” vine because, once entwined and unable to move forward, they were forced to shout out to other members of their team, “Hey, wait a minute, I’m stuck!”
In a similar way, it’s hard for followers of Jesus to move forward when our hearts and minds are ensnared by sin. Hebrews 12:1 tells us to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles” and “run with perseverance.” But how do we run with the heaviness of sin weighing us down and keeping us from moving ahead?
Jesus is the only one who can free us from pervasive sin in our lives. We must learn to fix our eyes on Him, our Savior (12:2). Because the Son of God became “fully human in every way,” He knows what it is like to be tempted—yet not sin (2:17–18; 4:15). Alone, we may be desperately entwined by our own sin, but God wants us to overcome temptation. It’s not through our own strength, but His, that we can “throw off” entangling sin and pursue His righteousness (1 Corinthians 10:13).
When Kerry and Paul got married, neither one knew how to cook. But one night Kerry decided to try her hand at spaghetti. She ended up making lots of sauce and too many noodles, so the couple had it for dinner again the next day. On the third day, Paul volunteered to cook, doubling the amount of pasta and sauce, hoping the huge pot would last through the weekend. As the couple sat down for dinner that night, however, it was Kerry who confessed, “I’m sick of spaghetti.”
Just imagine eating the same meal as the Israelites did—for forty years. Each morning they gathered the sweet “super food” God supplied and cooked it (no leftovers unless the next day was the Sabbath, Exodus 16:23–26). Oh, sure, they got creative—baking it, boiling it (vv. 23, 31). But, oh, how they missed the good food they had enjoyed in Egypt (v. 3; Numbers 11:1–9), even though that nourishment had come at the high cost of cruelty and enslavement!
We too may sometimes resent our life that isn’t what it once was. Or perhaps the “sameness” of life has caused us to be discontent. But Exodus 16 tells of God’s faithful provision to the Israelites, causing them to trust and depend on His care each day.
God promises to give us everything we need. He satisfies our longings and fills up our soul with “good things” (Psalm 107:9
In the summer of 2017, Hurricane Harvey brought devastating losses of life and property to the Gulf Coast of the US. Many people provided food, water, clothing, and shelter for those in immediate need.
A few months later, the owner of a piano store in Maryland felt prompted to do something more. He considered how music could bring a special kind of healing and sense of normalcy to people who had lost everything. So he and his staff began to refurbish pre-owned pianos and to make inquiries to see where the need was the greatest. That spring, Dean Kramer and his wife Lois began the long trek to Houston, Texas, driving a truck filled with free pianos to give to grateful families, churches, and schools in the ravaged area.
We sometimes assume the word neighbor means someone who lives nearby or at least is someone we know. But in Luke 10, Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan to teach that our love for our neighbors shouldn’t have barriers. The man from Samaria freely gave to a wounded stranger, even though the man was a Jew, part of a people group at odds with the Samaritans (vv. 25–37).
When Dean Kramer was asked why he gave away all those pianos, he explained simply: “We’re told to love our neighbors.” And it was Jesus who said, “There is no commandment greater” (Mark 12:31) than to love God and our neighbor.
Several years ago, the president of a college suggested that students join her in "powering down" for an evening. Although the students agreed, it was with great reluctance that they laid aside their cell phones and entered the chapel. For the next hour, they sat quietly in a service of music and prayer. Afterward, one participant described the experience as "a wonderful opportunity to calm down . . . a place to just tune out all of the extra noise."
Sometimes, it's difficult to escape "extra noise." The clamor of both our external and internal worlds can be deafening. But when we are willing to "power down," we begin to understand the psalmist's reminder of the necessity to be still so we can know God (Psalm 46:10). In 1 Kings 19, we discover as well that when the prophet Elijah looked for the Lord, he did not find Him in the pandemonium of the wind or the earthquake or the fire (vv. 9-13). Instead, Elijah heard God's gentle whisper (v. 12).
Extra noise is practically guaranteed through holiday celebrations. When families and friends come together, it's likely a time of animated conversations, excess food, boisterous laughter, and sweet expressions of love. But when we quietly open our hearts, we find that time with God is even sweeter. Like Elijah, we are more likely to encounter God in the stillness. And sometimes, if we listen, we too will hear that gentle whisper.
In the early 1960s, some unusual paintings featuring a person or animal with huge, sad eyes became popular. Some considered the work “kitschy”—or tacky—but others delighted in it. As the artist’s husband began to promote his wife’s creations, the couple grew quite prosperous. But the artist’s signature—Margaret Keane—didn’t appear on her work. Instead, Margaret’s husband presented his wife’s work as his own. Margaret fearfully remained silent about the fraud for twenty years until the couple’s marriage ended. It took a courtroom “paint-off” between them to prove the true artist’s identity.
The man’s deception was clearly wrong, but even as followers of Jesus, we may find it easy to take credit for talents we possess, leadership skills we display, or even for our kind deeds to others. But those qualities are possible only because of God’s grace. In Jeremiah 9, we find the prophet lamenting the lack of humility and the unrepentant hearts of the people. He wrote that the Lord says we shouldn’t boast of our wisdom, our strength, or our riches, but only that we might understand and know that He is the Lord “who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth” (v. 24).
Our hearts fill with gratitude as we realize the identity of the true Artist. “Every good and perfect gift is . . . from the Father” (James 1:17). All of the credit, all of the praise belongs to the Giver of good gifts.
My very first job was at a fast-food restaurant. One Saturday evening, a guy kept hanging around, asking when I got out of work. It made me feel uneasy. As the hour grew later, he ordered fries, then a drink, so the manager wouldn’t kick him out. Though I didn’t live far, I was scared to walk home alone through a couple of dark parking lots and a stretch through a sandy field. Finally, at midnight, I went in the office to make a phone call.
And the person who answered—my dad—without a second thought got out of a warm bed and five minutes later was there to take me home.
The kind of certainty I had that my dad would come to help me that night reminds me of the assurance we read about in Psalm 91. Our Father in heaven is always with us, protecting and caring for us when we are confused or afraid or in need. He declares: “When they call on me, I will answer” (Psalm 91:15 nlt). He is not just a place we can run to for safety. He is our shelter (v. 1). He is the Rock we can cling to for refuge (v. 2).
In times of fear, danger, or uncertainty, we can trust God’s promise that when we call on Him, He will hear and be with us in our trouble (vv. 14–15). God is our safe place.
When I was growing up, my two sisters and I liked to sit side-by-side on top of my mother’s large cedar-lined chest. My mom kept our wool sweaters in it and handiwork that was embroidered or crocheted by my grandmother. She valued the contents of the chest and relied on the pungent odor of the cedar wood to discourage moths from destroying what was inside.
Most earthly possessions can easily be destroyed by insects, rust, or can even be stolen. Matthew 6 encourages us to place a special focus—not on things that have a limited lifespan—but those that have eternal value. When my mom died at fifty-seven, she had not accumulated a lot of earthly possessions, but I like to think about the treasure she stored up in heaven (vv. 19–20).
I recall how much she loved God and served Him in quiet ways: caring faithfully for her family, teaching children in Sunday school, befriending a woman abandoned by her husband, comforting a young mother who had lost her baby. And she prayed . . . . Even after she lost her sight and became confined to a wheelchair, she continued to love and pray for others.
Our real treasure isn’t measured in what we accumulate—but in what or whom we invest our time and our passions. What “treasures” are we storing up in heaven by serving and following Jesus?