I met him in the 1970s when I was a high school English teacher and basketball coach, and he was a tall, gangly freshman. Soon he was on my basketball team and in my classes—and a friendship was formed. This same friend, who had served with me as a fellow editor for many years, stood before me at my retirement party and shared about the legacy of our longstanding friendship.
What is it about friends connected by the love of God that encourages us and brings us closer to Jesus? The writer of Proverbs understood that friendship has two encouraging components: First, true friends give valuable advice, even if it’s not easy to give or take (27:6): “Wounds from a friend can be trusted,” he explains. Second, a friend who is nearby and accessible is important in times of crisis (v. 10): “Better a neighbor nearby than a relative far away.”
It’s not good for us to fly solo in life. As Solomon noted: “Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed” (Ecclesiastes 4:9 NLT). In life, we need to have friends and we need to be friends. May God help us “love one another with brotherly affection” (Romans 12:10 ESV) and “carry each other’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2)—becoming the kind of friend that can encourage others and draw them closer to the love of Jesus.
I’m not a coffee drinker, but one sniff of coffee beans brings me a moment of both solace and wistfulness. When our teenage daughter Melissa was making her bedroom uniquely hers, she filled a bowl with coffee beans to permeate her room with a warm, pleasant scent.
It’s been nearly two decades since Melissa’s earthly life ended in a car accident at age seventeen, but we still have that coffee-bean bowl. It gives us a continual, aromatic remembrance of Mell’s life with us.
Scripture also uses fragrances as a reminder. Song of Songs refers to fragrances as a symbol of love between a man and a woman (see 1:3; 4:11, 16). In Hosea, God’s forgiveness of Israel is said to be “fragrance like a cedar of Lebanon” (Hosea 14:6). And Mary’s anointing of Jesus’ feet (John 12:3), which caused the house of Mary and her siblings to be “filled with the fragrance of the perfume” (John 12:3), pointed ahead to Jesus’ death (see v. 7).
The idea of fragrance can also help us be mindful of our testimony of faith to those around us. Paul explained it this way: “We are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing” (2 Corinthians 2:15).
Just as the scent of coffee beans reminds me of Melissa, may our lives produce a scent of Jesus and His love that reminds others of their need of Him.
Approximately ten Lego pieces are sold for every person on earth each year—more than seventy-five billion of the little plastic bricks. But if it wasn’t for the perseverance of Danish toymaker Ole Kirk Christiansen, there wouldn't be any Legos to snap together.
Christiansen toiled away in Billund, Denmark, for decades before creating leg godt, which means “play well.” His workshop was destroyed by fire twice. He endured bankruptcy and a world war that caused a shortage of materials. Finally, in the late 1940s, he landed on the idea for self-locking plastic bricks. By the time Ole Kirk died in 1955, Legos was on the verge of becoming a household word.
Persevering in the challenges of work and life can be difficult. That’s also true in our spiritual life as we strive to grow to be more like Jesus. Trouble hits us, and we need God’s strength to persevere. The apostle James wrote: “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial” (1:12). Sometimes the trials we face are setbacks in relationships or finances or health. Sometimes they’re temptations that slow us down in our goal of honoring God with our lives.
But God promises wisdom for such times (v. 5), and He asks us to trust Him as He provides what we need (v. 6). Through it all, when we allow Him to help us persevere in honoring Him with our lives, we find true blessing (v. 12).
In an orbit between Mars and Jupiter zooms an asteroid worth trillions and trillions of dollars. Scientists say 16 Psyche consists of metals such as gold, iron, nickel, and platinum worth unfathomable amounts of money. For now, earthlings are not attempting to mine this rich resource, but the United States is planning to send a probe in 2022 to study the valuable rock.
The promise of untold riches just out of reach can be both tantalizing and frustrating. Surely in time there will be people who will champion the cause of reaching 16 Psyche for its treasure.
But what about the prospect of riches that are within our reach? Wouldn’t everyone go for that? Writing to the first-century church at Rome, Paul spoke of attainable riches—those we find in our relationship with God. He wrote, “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!” (Romans 11:33). Bible scholar James Denney described these riches as “the unsearchable wealth of love that enables God to . . . far more than meet the [great needs] of the world.”
Isn’t that what we need—even more than gold nuggets from some far-off asteroid? We can mine the riches of God’s wisdom and knowledge found in the Scriptures as the Holy Spirit helps us. May God lead us to dig into those riches and to know and treasure Him more.
It was a warm summer day and my four-year-old granddaughter Mollie and I were taking a break from playing ball. As we sat on the porch with our glasses of water, Mollie looked out at the yard and said, “Look at the puddles of sunshine.” The sunlight was filtering through the thick foliage to create a pattern of light amid the dark shadows.
Puddle of sunshine. Isn’t this a beautiful image for finding hope in dark days? In the midst of what can often be challenging times—when good news seems in short supply—instead of concentrating on the shadows, we can focus on the light.
The Light has a name—Jesus. Matthew quoted Isaiah to describe the brightness that came into the world when Jesus arrived: “The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned” (Matthew 4:16; see also Isaiah 9:2). The effects of sin are all around us as we live in the “land of the shadow of death.” But shining through that shadow is Jesus, the grand and glorious light of the world (John 1:4–5).
The sunshine of Jesus’ love and compassion breaks through the shade—giving us “puddles of sunshine” to illuminate our day and brighten our hearts with hope.
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.