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.
“Stone Soup,” an old tale with many versions, tells of a starving man who comes to a village, but no one there can spare a crumb of food for him. He puts a stone and water in a pot over a fire. Intrigued, the villagers watch him as he begins to stir his “soup.” Eventually, one brings a couple of potatoes to add to the mix; another has a few carrots. One person adds an onion, another a handful of barley. A farmer donates some milk. Eventually, the “stone soup” becomes a tasty chowder.
That tale illustrates the value of sharing, but it also reminds us to bring what we have, even when it seems to be insignificant. In John 6:1–14 we read of a boy who appears to be the only person in a huge crowd that thought about bringing some food. Jesus’s disciples had little use for the boy’s sparse lunch of five loaves and two fishes. But when it was surrendered, Jesus increased it and fed thousands of hungry people!
I once heard someone say, “You don’t have to feed the five thousand. You just have to bring your loaves and fishes.” Just as Jesus took one person’s meal (John 6:11) and multiplied it far beyond anyone’s expectations or imagination, He’ll accept our meager efforts, talents, and service. He just wants us to be willing to bring what we have to Him.
Boarding a plane alone with her children, a young mom tried desperately to calm her three-year-old daughter who began crying and kicking. Then her hungry four-month-old son also began to wail.
Observing the situation, the traveler seated next to her quickly offered to hold the baby while Jessica got her daughter buckled in. Then the traveler—recalling his own days as a young dad—began coloring with the toddler while Jessica fed her infant. And on the next connecting flight, the same man offered to assist again if needed.
Jessica recalled, “I [was] blown away by God’s hand in this. [We] could have been placed next to anyone, but we were seated next to one of the nicest men I have ever met.”
In 2 Samuel 9, we read of another example of what I call intentional kindness. After King Saul and his son Jonathan had been killed, some expected David to kill off any competition to his claim for the throne. Instead, he asked, “Is there no one still alive from the house of Saul to whom I can show God’s kindness?” (v. 3). Mephibosheth, Jonathan’s son, was then brought to David who restored his inheritance and warmly invited him to share his table from then on—just as if he were his own son (v. 11).
As beneficiaries of the immense kindness of God, may we look for opportunities to show intentional kindness toward others (Galatians 6:10).
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