Twice this summer I suffered the scourge of poison ivy. Both times it happened, I was working on clearing away unwanted plant growth from our yard. And both times, I saw the nasty, three-leafed enemy lurking nearby. I figured I could get close to it without it affecting me. Soon enough, I realized I’d been wrong. Instead of getting nearer to my little green nemesis, I should have run the other way!
In the Old Testament story of Joseph, we see modeled the principle of running from something worse than poison ivy: sin. When he was living in the home of Egyptian official Potiphar, whose wife tried to seduce him, Joseph didn’t try to get close—he ran.
Although she falsely accused him and had him thrown in prison, Joseph remained pure throughout the episode. And as we see in Genesis 39:21, “The
God can help us flee activities and situations that could lead us away from Him—guiding us to run the other way when sin is nearby. In 2 Timothy 2:22, Paul writes, “Flee the evil desires.” And in 1 Corinthians 6:18, he says to “flee from sexual immorality.”
In God’s strength, may we choose to run from those things that could harm us.
The deer in our neighborhood and I have two different opinions about sunflowers. When I plant sunflowers each spring, I’m looking forward to the beauty of their blooms. My deer friends, however, don’t care about the finished product. They simply want to chew the stems and leaves until there’s nothing left. It’s an annual summertime battle as I try to see the sunflowers to maturity before my four-hoofed neighbors devour them. Sometimes I win; sometimes they win.
When we think about our lives as believers in Jesus, it’s easy to see a similar battle being waged between us and our enemy—Satan. Our goal is continual growth leading to spiritual maturity that helps our lives stand out for God’s honor. The devil wants to devour our faith and keep us from growing. But Jesus has dominion over “every power.” He can bring us “to fullness” (Colossians 2:10), which means He makes us “complete.” Christ’s victory on the cross allows us to stand out in the world like those beautiful sunflowers.
When Jesus nailed the “record of the charges against us” (the penalty for our sins) to the cross (v. 14 nlt), he destroyed “the powers” that controlled us. We became “rooted and built up” (v. 7) and made “alive with Christ” (v. 13). In Him we have the power (v. 10) to resist the enemy’s spiritual attacks and to flourish in Jesus—displaying a life of true beauty.
Tragedy struck near Los Angeles in January 2020 when nine people died in a helicopter crash. Most news stories began something like this, “NBA superstar Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna (“Gigi”), and seven others lost their lives in the accident.”
It’s natural and understandable to focus on the well-known people involved in a horrible situation like this—and the deaths of Kobe and his precious teenager Gigi are heartbreaking beyond description. But we must keep in mind that in life’s big picture there’s no dividing line that makes the “seven others” (Payton, Sarah, Christina, Alyssa, John, Keri, and Ara) any less significant.
Sometimes we need to be reminded that each human is important in God’s eyes. Society shines bright lights on the rich and famous. Yet fame doesn’t make a person any more important than your next-door neighbor, the noisy kids who play in your street, the down-on-his-luck guy at the city mission, or you.
Every person on earth is created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27), whether rich or poor (Proverbs 22:2). No one is favored more than another in His eyes (Romans 2:11), and each is in need of a Savior (3:23).
We glorify our great God when we refuse to show favoritism—whether in the church (James 2:1–4) or in society at large.
My friend Bill described Gerard, an acquaintance of his, as being “very far from God for a very long time.” But one day, after Bill met with Gerard and explained to him how God’s love has provided the way for us to be saved, Gerard became a believer. Through tears, he repented of his sin, and gave his life to Jesus. Afterward, Bill asked Gerard how he felt. Wiping away tears, he answered simply, “Washed.”
What an amazing response! That’s precisely the essence of salvation made possible through faith in Jesus’ sacrifice for us on the cross. In 1 Corinthians 6, after Paul gives examples of how disobedience against God leads to separation from Him, he says, “That is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 11). “Washed,” “sanctified, “justified”—words that point to believers being forgiven and made right with Him.
Titus 3:4–5 tells us more about this miraculous thing called salvation. “God our Savior . . . saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth.” Our sin keeps us from God, but through faith in Jesus, the penalty of it is washed away. We become new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17), gain access to our heavenly Father (Ephesians 2:18), and we’re made clean (1 John 1:7). He alone provides what we need to be washed.
What began as a simple spring nature walk turned into something special as my wife and I trekked along our hometown’s Grand River. We noticed some familiar “friends” on a log in the rippling water—five or six large turtles basking in the sun. Sue and I smiled at the amazing sight of these reptiles, which we hadn’t seen for many months. We were delighted that they were back, and we celebrated a moment of joy in God’s magnificent creation.
God took Job on quite a nature walk (see Job 38). The troubled man needed an answer from his Creator about his situation (v. 1). And what he saw on his journey with God through His creation provided the encouragement he needed.
Imagine Job’s amazement as God reminded him of His grand design of the world. Job got a firsthand explanation of the natural world: “Who laid its cornerstone while morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?” (vv. 6–7). He got a geography lesson regarding God’s imposed limitations of the seas (v. 11).
The Creator continued to inform Job about the light He created, snow He produces, and rain He provides to make things grow (vv. 22–28). Job even heard about the constellations from the one who flung them into space (vv. 31–32).
Finally, Job responds: “I know that you can do all things” (42:2). As we experience the natural world, may we stand in awe of our wise and wonderful Creator.
When you plug in your toaster, you benefit from the results of a bitter feud from the late nineteenth century. Back then, inventors Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla battled over which was the best kind of electricity for development: direct current (DC), like the current that goes from a battery to a flashlight; or alternating current (AC), which we get from an electrical outlet.
Eventually, Tesla’s AC ideas powered through and have been used to provide electricity for homes, businesses, and communities around the world. AC is much more efficient at sending electricity across great distances and proved to be the wiser choice.
Sometimes we need wisdom as we face issues of concern between believers in Jesus (see Romans 14:1–12). The apostle Paul called for us to seek God’s help for clarity in such matters. He said, “If on some point you think differently, that too will God make clear to you” (Philippians 3:15). A few verses later, we see the results of two people who let a difference divide them—a conflict that grieved Paul: “I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord” (4:2).
Whenever a disagreement starts to tear us apart, may we seek God’s grace and wisdom in the Scriptures, the counsel of mature believers, and prayer. Let’s strive to “be of the same mind” in Him (v. 2).
It was time to give the inside of our home a fresh, new look. But just as I’d begun prepping a room for painting, our state government announced it would be halting the sale of many home improvement items due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As soon as I heard the announcement, I rushed to the store and nabbed the essential materials. You simply can’t remodel without the proper supplies.
Paul had a bit of a remodeling project in mind when he wrote Ephesians 4. But the changes he was talking about went far beyond superficial alterations. Of course, trusting Jesus as Savior makes us a new creation, for the Holy Spirit lives within us. But there’s still some ongoing work the Spirit needs to do. And it takes some time and work for Him to accomplish “true righteousness and holiness” (v. 24).
The presence of the Spirit makes needed changes on the inside that can help us reflect Jesus in our words and actions. He helps us replace lying with speaking “truthfully” (v. 25). He can guide us to avoid sin in regard to anger (v. 26). And He can direct us to speak words that are “helpful for building others up” (v. 29). These Spirit-controlled actions are part of the internal change that is manifested in things like kindness, compassion, and forgiveness (v. 32). The Spirit works in us to enable us to imitate Jesus Himself and reflect the hear of our heavenly Father (4:24; 5:1).
When a pickpocketer tried to pilfer my property while I was on vacation in another country, it wasn’t a surprise. I’d read warnings about the danger of subway thieves, so I knew what to do to protect my wallet. But I never expected it to happen.
Fortunately, the young man who grabbed my wallet had slippery fingers, so it fell to the floor where I could retrieve it. But the incident reminded me that I should have heeded the warnings.
We don’t like to dwell on warnings, because we think they’ll get in the way of enjoying life, but it’s imperative to pay attention to them. For instance, Jesus gave us a clear warning while sending out His disciples to proclaim God’s coming kingdom (Matthew 10:7). He said, “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven” (vv. 32–33).
Jesus is stating that we have a choice, and if we choose to reject His message of salvation, we turn away from God. Salvation and the real life He offers for both now and forever will be refused. In love, God provided a Savior and a plan for us to be in His presence for eternity.
May we trust in Jesus, the One who chose to save us from being eternally separated from the One loves and made us.
For fourteen years, the Mars rover Opportunity faithfully communicated with the people at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. After it landed in 2004, it traversed twenty-eight miles of the Martian surface, took thousands of images, and analyzed many materials. But in 2018 communication between Opportunity and scientists ended when a major dust storm coated its solar panels, causing the rover to lose power.
Is it possible that we can allow “dust” to block our communication with Someone outside of our world? When it comes to prayer—communicating with God—there are certain things that can get in the way.
Scripture says that sin can block our relationship with God. “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened” (Psalm 66:18). Jesus instructs, “When you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins” (Mark 11:25). Our communication with God can also be hindered by doubt and relationship problems (James 1:5–7; 1 Peter 3:7).
Opportunity’s blockage of communication seems to be permanent. But our prayers don’t have to be blocked. By the work of the Holy Spirit, God lovingly draws us to restored communication with Him. As we confess our sins and turn to Him, by God’s grace we experience the greatest communication the universe has ever known: one-to-one prayer between us and our holy God.