Over several years, a British couple living in West Africa developed a strong friendship with a man in their town and many times shared the love of Jesus and the story of salvation with him. Their friend, however, was reluctant to relinquish the lifetime of allegiance he had to another religion, even though he came to recognize that faith in Christ was “the greater truth.” His concern was partly financial, since he was a leader in his faith and depended on the compensation he received. He also feared losing his reputation among the people in his community.
With sadness, he explained, “I’m like a man fishing with my hands in a stream. I have caught a small fish in one, but a bigger fish is swimming by. To catch the bigger fish, I have to let go of the smaller one!”
The rich young ruler Matthew wrote about in Matthew 19 had a similar problem. When he approached Jesus, he asked, “What good thing must I do to get eternal life?” (v. 16). He seemed sincere, but he didn’t want to fully surrender his life to Christ. He was rich, not only in money, but also in his pride of being a rule-follower. Although he desired eternal life, he loved something else more and rejected Jesus’ words.
When we humbly surrender our life to Jesus and accept His free gift of salvation, He invites us, “Come, follow me” (v. 21).
Heidi and Jeff came home from an overseas work assignment and settled for several months near family in the state of Michigan—just in time for winter. They were coming from a hot climate and this would be the first time many of their ten children had seen the natural beauty of snow.
But winter weather requires a lot of warm outerwear, including coats, mittens, and boots. For a large family, it was quite an undertaking just to outfit them for the bitterly cold months ahead. But God provided. First, a neighbor brought over footwear, then snow pants, then hats and gloves. Then, a friend urged others at her church to collect a variety of warm clothes in all twelve sizes for each member of the family. By the time the snow arrived, the family had exactly what they needed.
One of the ways we serve God is by serving those in need. First John 3:16–18 encourages us to help others from the abundance of our own possessions (v. 17). Serving helps us to be more like Jesus as we begin to love and see people as He does.
God often uses His children to fulfill needs and to answer prayers. And serving others will encourage our own hearts as we encourage those we serve. As a result, as we move into action, our own faith will grow as God equips us in new ways (v. 18).
A woman complained to her pastor that she’d noticed a lot of repetition in his sermons. “Why do you do that?” she queried. The preacher replied, “People forget.”
There are lots of reasons we forget—the passage of time, growing older, or just being too busy. We forget passwords, names of people we’ve known for years, or even where we parked our car. My husband says, “There’s only so much I can fit in my brain. I have to delete something before I can remember something new.”
The preacher was right. People forget. So we often need reminders to help us remember what God has done for us. The Israelites had a similar tendency. Even with the many miracles they’d seen, they still needed to be reminded of His care for them. In Deuteronomy 8, God reminded the Israelites that He’d allowed them to experience hunger in the wilderness, but then provided an amazing superfood for them every day—manna. He supplied clothing that never wore out. He led them through a wilderness of snakes and scorpions and provided water from a rock. They’d learned humility, as they realized how totally dependent they were on God’s care and provision (vv. 2–4, 15–18).
God’s faithfulness “continues through all generations” (Psalm 100:5). Whenever we find ourselves forgetting, we can think about the ways He’s answered our prayers, and that reminds us of His goodness and faithful promises.
Each night, as young Caleb closed his eyes, he felt the darkness envelop him. The silence of his room was regularly suspended by the creaking of the wooden house in Costa Rica. Then the bats in the attic became more active. His mother had put a nightlight in his room, but the young boy still feared the dark. One night Caleb’s dad posted a Bible verse on the footboard of his bed. It read: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; . . . for the Lord your God will be with you” (Joshua 1:9). Caleb began to read those words each night—and he left that promise from God on his footboard until he went away to college.
In Joshua 1, we read of the transition of leadership to Joshua after Moses died. The command to “be strong and courageous” was repeated several times to Joshua and the Israelites to emphasize its importance (vv. 6–7, 9). Surely, they felt trepidation as they faced an uncertain future, but the Lord reassuringly said, “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you” (v. 5).
It’s natural to have fears, but it’s detrimental to our physical and spiritual health to live in a state of constant fear. Just as God encouraged His servants of old, we too can be strong and courageous because of the One who promises to always be with us.
Living near cattle ranches as he did, humorist Michael Yaconelli noticed how cows were prone to wander while grazing. A cow would keep moving, always looking for the fabled “greener pastures.” Near the edge of the property, the cow might discover some cool fresh grass under a shade tree. Just beyond a broken-down part of the fence was a tasty clump of foliage. Then the cow might push far beyond the fence and out to the road. It had slowly “nibbled” its way into being lost.
Cows aren’t alone in their roaming problem. It’s likely that people have the biggest tendency of all to stray.
Perhaps that’s one of the reasons God compares us to sheep in the Bible. It can be easy to meander and “nibble our way” through reckless compromises and foolish decisions, never noticing how far away from the truth we’ve strayed.
Jesus told the Pharisees the story of a lost sheep. The sheep was of such value to the shepherd that he left his other sheep behind, while he searched for the wandering one. And when he found the one that had strayed, He celebrated! (Luke 15:1–7).
Such is the happiness of God over those who turn back to Him. Jesus said, “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep” (v. 6). God has sent us a Savior to rescue us and bring us home.
“Your father is actively dying,” said the hospice nurse. “Actively dying” refers to the final phase of the dying process and was a new term to me, one that felt strangely like traveling down a lonely one-way street. On my dad’s last day, not knowing if he could still hear us, my sister and I sat by his bed. We kissed the top of his beautiful bald head. We whispered God’s promises to him. We sang “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” and quoted the 23rd Psalm. We told him we loved him and thanked him for being our dad. We knew his heart longed to be with Jesus and we told him he could go. Speaking those words was the first painful step in letting go. A few minutes later, our dad was joyously welcomed into his eternal home.
The final release of a loved one is painful. Even Jesus’ tears flowed when His good friend Lazarus died (John 11:35). But because of God’s promises, we have hope beyond physical death. Psalm 116:15 says that God’s “faithful servants”—those who belong to Him—are “precious” to Him. Though they die, they’ll be alive again.
Jesus promises, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die” (John 11:25–26). What comfort it brings to know we’ll be in God’s presence forever.
My husband’s brother lives about 1,200 miles away in the mountains of Colorado. Despite the distance, Gerrits has always been a beloved family member because of his great sense of humor and kind heart. However, as long as I can remember, his siblings have good-naturedly joked about his favored status in their mother’s eyes. Several years ago, they even presented him with a T-shirt sporting the words “I’m Mom’s Favorite.”
While we all enjoyed the silliness of our siblings, true favoritism is no joking matter. In Genesis 37, we read about Jacob who gave his son Joseph an ornate coat—an indication to his other children that Joseph was special (v. 3). Without a hint of subtlety, the coat’s message shouted: “Joseph is my favorite son.”
Displaying favoritism can be crippling in a family. Jacob’s mother, Rebekah, had favored him over her son Esau, leading to a schism between the two brothers (25:28). The dysfunction was perpetuated when Jacob favored his wife Rachel (Joseph’s mother) over his wife Leah, creating discord and heartache (29:30–31). No doubt this pattern was the unhealthy basis for Joseph’s brothers to despise their younger brother, even considering his murder (37:17–20).
When it comes to our relationships, we may sometimes find it tricky to be objective. But our goal must be to treat everyone without favoritism and to love every person in our life as our Father loves us (John 13:34).
As I listened to the piano tuner work on the elegant grand piano, I thought about the times when I’d heard that very same piano pour out the incredible sound of the “Warsaw Concerto” and the rich melody of “How Great Thou Art.” But now the instrument desperately needed to be tuned. While some notes were right on pitch, others were sharp or flat, creating an unpleasant sound. The piano tuner’s responsibility wasn’t to make each of the keys play the same sound but to assure that each note’s unique sound combined with others to create a pleasing harmonious whole.
Even within the church, we can observe notes of discord. People with unique ambitions or talents can create a jarring dissonance when they’re joined together. In Galatians 5, Paul pleaded with believers to do away with “discord, jealousy, fits of rage, [and] selfish ambition,” which would destroy fellowship with God or relationships with others. Paul went on to encourage us to embrace the fruit of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (vv. 19, 22–23).
When we live by the Spirit, we’ll find it easier to avoid unnecessary conflict on non-essential matters. Our shared sense of purpose can be greater than our differences. And with God’s help, each of us can grow in grace and unity as we keep our hearts in tune with Him.
In What We Keep, a collection of interviews by Bill Shapiro, each person tells of a single item that holds such importance and joy that he or she would never part with it.
This caused me to reflect on the possessions that mean the most to me and bring me joy. One is a simple forty-year-old recipe card in my mom’s handwriting. Another is one of my grandma’s pink teacups. Other people may value treasured memories—a compliment that encouraged them, a grandchild’s giggle, or a special insight they gleaned from Scripture.
What we often keep stashed away in our hearts, though, are things that have brought us great unhappiness. Anxiety—hidden, but easily retrieved. Anger—below the surface, but ready to strike. Resentment—silently corroding the core of our thoughts.
The apostle Paul addressed a more positive way to “think” in a letter to the church at Philippi. He encouraged the people of the church to always rejoice, to be gentle, and to bring everything to God in prayer (Philippians 4:4–9).
Paul’s uplifting words on what to think about helps us see that it’s possible to push out dark thoughts and allow the peace of God to guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (v. 7). It’s when the thoughts that fill up our minds are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, and praiseworthy (v. 8), that we keep His peace in our hearts.