As I queued up to board my flight, someone tapped my shoulder. I turned and received a warm greeting. “Elisa! Do you remember me? It’s Joan!” My mind flipped through various “Joans” I’d known, but I couldn’t place her. Was she a previous neighbor? A past coworker? Oh dear . . . I didn’t know.
Sensing my struggle, Joan responded, “Elisa, we knew each other in high school.” A memory rose: Friday night football games, cheering from the stands. Once the context was clarified, I recognized Joan.
After Jesus’s death, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early in the morning and found the stone rolled away and His body gone (John 20:1–2). She ran to get Peter and John, who returned with her to find the tomb, indeed, empty (vv. 3–10). But Mary lingered outside in her grief (v. 11). When Jesus appeared there, “she did not realize it was Jesus” (v. 14), thinking He was the gardener (v. 15).
How could she have not recognized Jesus? Was His resurrected body so changed that it was difficult to recognize Him? Did her grief blind her to His identity? Or, perhaps, like me, was it because Jesus was “out of context,” alive in the garden instead of dead in the tomb, that she didn’t recognize Him?
How might we too miss Jesus when He comes into our days—during prayer or Bible reading, or by simply whispering in our hearts?
I lay still on the vinyl-covered mat and held my breath on command as the machine whirred and clicked. I knew lots of folks had endured MRI’s, but for claustrophobic me, the experience required focused concentration on something—Someone—much bigger than myself.
In my mind, a phrase from Scripture (“how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,” Ephesians 3:18) moved in rhythm with the machine’s hum. In Paul’s prayer for the Ephesian church, he described four dimensions to God’s love in order to stress the unending parameters of God’s love and presence.
My position while lying down for the MRI provided a new image for my understanding. Wide: the six inches on either side of where my arms were tightly pinned to my body within the tube. Long: the distance between the cylinder’s two openings, extending out from my head and feet. High: the six inches from my nose up to the “ceiling” of the tube. Deep: the support of the tube anchored to the floor beneath me, holding me up. Four dimensions illustrating God’s presence surrounding and holding me in the MRI tube—and in every circumstance of life.
God’s love is ALL around us. Wide: He extends His arms to reach all people everywhere. Long: His love never ends. High: He lifts us up. Deep: He dips down, holding us in all situations. Nothing can separate us from Him! (Romans 8:38–39).
After wrapping the tree with clear twinkle lights, I tied pink and blue bows on its branches and christened it our “Hope for a Baby” Christmas tree. My husband and I had been waiting for a baby through adoption for over four years. Surely by Christmas!
Every morning I stopped at the tree and prayed, reminding myself of God’s faithfulness. On December 21 we received the news: no baby by Christmas. Devastated, I paused by the tree that had become a symbol of God’s provision. Was God still faithful? Was I doing something wrong?
At times, God’s apparent withholding results from His loving discipline. And other times God lovingly delays to renew our trust. In Lamentations, the prophet Jeremiah describes God’s correction of Israel. The pain is palpable: “He pierced my heart with arrows from his quiver” (3:13). Through it all, Jeremiah also expresses ultimate trust in God’s faithfulness: “his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (vv. 22–23).
I left the tree standing well beyond Christmas and continued my morning prayer. At last, on Easter weekend, we received our baby girl. God is always faithful, though not necessarily on our timeline nor always according to our desires.
My children are now in their thirties, but each year I set up a miniature version of the tree, reminding myself and others to hope in God’s faithfulness.
I once drove fifty miles to have a hard conversation with a remote staff person. I had received a report from another employee that suggested he was misrepresenting our company, and I was concerned for our reputation. I felt nudged to offer an opinion that might change his choices.
In 1 Samuel 25, an unlikely person took great personal risk to confront a future king of Israel who was about to make a disastrous choice. Abigail was married to Nabal, whose character matched the meaning of his name (“fool”) (vv. 3, 25). Nabal had refused to pay David and his troops the customary wage for protecting his livestock (vv.10–11). Hearing that David planned a murderous revenge on her household, and knowing her foolish husband wouldn’t listen to reason, Abigail prepared a peace offering, rode to meet David, and persuaded him to reconsider (vv. 18–31).
How did Abigail accomplish this? After sending ahead donkeys loaded with food to satisfy David and his men and settle the debt, she spoke truth to David. She wisely reminded David of God’s call on his life. If he resisted his desire for revenge, when God made him king, he wouldn’t “have on his conscience the staggering burden of needless bloodshed” (vv. 30–31).
You might also know someone dangerously close to a mistake that could harm others and compromise their own future effectiveness for God. Like Abigail, might God be calling you to a hard conversation?
“Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” is an English lullaby. Its lyrics, originally a poem by Jane Taylor, capture the wonder of God’s universe where stars hang “up above the world so high.” In the rarely published later stanzas, the star acts as a guide: “As your bright and tiny spark lights the traveler in the dark.”
In Philippians, Paul challenges believers in Philippi to be blameless and pure as they “shine . . . like stars in the sky” while offering the good news of the gospel to all around them (2:15–16). We wonder how we can shine like stars. We often feel inadequate and struggle to think our “light” is bright enough to make a difference. But stars don’t try to be stars. They just are. Light changes our world. And it changes us. God brought physical light into our world (Genesis 1:3); and through Jesus, God brings spiritual light into our lives (John 1:1–4).
We who have God’s light in us are to shine in such a way that those around us see light and are drawn to its source. As effortlessly as a star hanging in the night sky, our light makes a difference because of what it is: Light! When we simply shine, we follow Paul’s directive to “hold firmly to the word of life” in a world in deep darkness, and we draw others to the source of our hope: Jesus.
Riding along with my husband on some errands, I scrolled through emails on my phone and was surprised at an incoming advertisement for a local donut shop, a shop we had just passed on the right side of the street. Suddenly my stomach growled with hunger. I marveled at how technology allows vendors to woo us into their establishments.
As I clicked off my email, I mused over God’s constant yearning to draw me closer. He always knows where I am and longs to influence my choices. I wondered, Does my heart growl in desire for Him the way my stomach did over the idea of a donut?
In John 6, following the miraculous feeding of the five thousand, the disciples eagerly ask Jesus to always give them “the bread . . . that gives life to the world” (vv. 33–34). Jesus responds in verse 35, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” How amazing that a relationship with Jesus can provide constant nourishment in our everyday lives!
The donut shop’s advertisement targeted my body’s craving, but God’s continuous knowledge of my heart’s condition invites me to recognize my ongoing need for Him and to receive the sustenance only He can provide.
I was guest-speaking in a local church and my topic was an honest story about presenting our brokenness before God and receiving the healing He wants to give. Before closing in prayer, the pastor stood in the center aisle, looked deeply into the eyes of his gathered congregants, and said, “As your pastor I have the privilege of seeing you midweek and hearing your heart-breaking stories of brokenness. Then in our weekend worship services, I have the pain of watching you hide your hurt away.”
My heart ached at the hidden hurts that God came to heal. The writer of Hebrews describes the word of God as alive and active. Many have understood this “word” to be the Bible, but it’s even more than that. Jesus is the living Word of God. He evaluates our thoughts and attitudes—and loves us still.
Jesus died to give us access to God’s presence, all the time. And while we all know that it’s not wise to share everything with everyone, we also know that God intends His church be a place where we can live unapologetically as broken and forgiven followers of Christ. It’s to be a place where we “carry each other’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2).
What are you hiding from others today? And how are you trying to hide from God as well? God sees us through Jesus. And He still loves us. Will we let Him?
My friend and I sat in the sand, near the ever-rhythmic ocean. As the sun sank in the distance, wave after wave curled, paused and then ripped toward our extended toes, stopping just short each time. “I love the ocean,” she smiled. “It moves so I don’t have to.”
What a thought! So many of us struggle to stop. We do, do, do and go, go, go, somehow afraid that if we cease our efforts we will cease to be. Or that by stopping we will expose ourselves to the ever-present realities we work to keep at bay.
In Psalm 46:8–9, God flexes His omnipotent muscles, putting His power on display. “Come and see what the Lord has done . . . . He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth. He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire.” God is a busy God, who works to create calm within the chaos of our days.
And then in verse 10 we read, “Be still, and know that I am God.”
Of course it’s possible to know God while running here and there. But the psalmist’s invitation to cease striving beckons us into a different kind of knowing. A knowing that we can stop—and still be—because God never stops. A knowing that it is God’s power that gives us ultimate value, protection, and peace.
My mother discovered my kitten, Velvet, atop the kitchen counter, devouring homemade bread. With a huff of frustration, she scooted her out the door. Hours later, we searched our yard for the missing cat without success. A faint meow whistled on the wind, and I looked up to the peak of a poplar tree where a black smudge tilted a branch.
In her haste to flee my mother’s frustration over her behavior, Velvet chose a more precarious predicament. Is it possible that we sometimes do something similar—running from our errors and putting ourselves in danger? And even then God comes to our rescue?
The prophet Jonah fled in disobedience from God’s call to preach to Nineveh, and was swallowed up by a great fish. “From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the
After exhausting our efforts to woo Velvet down, we summoned the local fire department. With the longest ladder fully extended, a kind man climbed high, plucked my kitten from her perch, and returned to place her safely in my arms.
Oh the heights—and the depths—God goes to in rescuing us from our disobedience with His redeeming love!