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Joe Stowell

Joe Stowell

You may know Joe Stowell as the former president of Moody Bible Institute. Currently, he serves as president of Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, Michigan. An internationally recognized speaker, Joe's first love is Jesus Christ and preaching His Word. He has also written numerous books, including Strength for the Journey, The Upside of Down, and Jesus Nation. He and his wife, Martie, have 3 children and 10 grandchildren. Find books by Joe Stowell

Articles by Joe Stowell

Best Friend—Forever

One of the pieces of wisdom I have come to appreciate is my dad’s often-repeated statement, “Joe, good friends are one of life’s greatest treasures.” How true! With good friends, you are never alone. They’re attentive to your needs and gladly share life’s joys and burdens.

Before Jesus came to earth, only two individuals were called friends of God. The Lord spoke to Moses “as one speaks to a friend” (Ex. 33:11), and Abraham “was called God’s friend” (James 2:23; see 2 Chron. 20:7; Isa. 41:8).

I am amazed that Jesus calls those of us who belong to Him friends: “I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15). And His friendship is so deep that He laid down His life for us. John says, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (v. 13).

Rejoice in the privilege and blessing of having Jesus as your friend. He is a friend who will never leave us or forsake us. He makes intercession for us before the Father and supplies all our needs. He forgives all our sins, understands all our sorrows, and gives us sufficient grace in times of trouble. He is indeed our best friend!

His Loving Presence

Our hearts sank when we learned that our good friend Cindy had been diagnosed with cancer. Cindy was a vibrant person whose life blessed all who crossed her path. My wife and I rejoiced when she went into remission, but a few months later her cancer returned with a vengeance. In our minds she was too young to die. Her husband told me about her last hours. When she was weak and hardly able to talk, Cindy whispered to him, “Just be with me.” What she wanted more than anything in those dark moments was his loving presence.

The writer to the Hebrews comforted his readers by quoting Deuteronomy 31:6, where God told His people: “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Heb. 13:5). In the darkest moments of life, the assurance of His loving presence gives us confidence that we are not alone. He gives us the grace to endure, the wisdom to know He is working, and the assurance that Christ can “empathize with our weaknesses” (4:15).

Together let’s embrace the blessing of His loving presence so we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid” (13:6).

God of the Ordinary

Hearing testimonies about how God did something spectacular in someone else’s life can challenge us. While we may rejoice to hear about answers to prayer, we may also wonder why God hasn’t done anything amazing for us lately.

It’s easy to think that if God showed up in astonishing ways for us like He did for Abraham, then we would be more inspired to be faithful servants of God. But then we remember that God showed up for Abraham every 12 to 14 years, and most of Abraham’s journey was rather ordinary (see Gen. 12:1-4; 15:1-6; 16:16–17:12).

God’s work is usually done behind the scenes in the ordinary things of life. As our text says, “He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out” (1 Cor. 10:13). Every day God is busy shielding us from devastating onslaughts of Satan that would otherwise leave us helplessly defeated. And when temptation hits, He is making exit ramps for us so we can escape.

When we put our head on the pillow at night, we should pause to thank God for the amazing things He has done for us that day in the midst of our ordinary lives. So, instead of longing for Him to do something spectacular for you, rejoice! He already has. 

Great Literature

Recently I came across an article describing what constitutes great literature. The author suggested that great literature “changes you. When you are done reading, you’re a different person.”

In that light, the Word of God will always be classified as great literature. Reading the Bible challenges us to be better. Stories of biblical heroes inspire us to be courageous and persevering. The wisdom and prophetic books warn of the danger of living by our fallen instincts. God spoke through various writers to pen life-changing psalms for our benefit. The teachings of Jesus shape our character to become more like Him. The writings of Paul orient our minds and lives to holy living. As the Holy Spirit brings these Scriptures to our minds, they become powerful agents for change in our lives.

The writer of Psalm 119 loved God’s Word for its transforming influence in his life. He recognized that the ancient Scriptures handed down from Moses made him wise and more understanding than his teachers (v. 99). It kept him from evil (v. 101). No wonder he exclaimed, “Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long,” and “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (vv. 97, 103).

Welcome to the joy of loving great literature, especially the life-changing power of God’s Word! 

Heart Check

When commuting into Chicago on the train, I always followed the “unwritten codes of conduct”—such as, no conversations with people sitting next to you if you don’t know them. That was tough on a guy like me who has never met a stranger. I love talking to new people! Although I kept the code of silence, I realized that you can still learn something about people based on the section of the newspaper they read. So I’d watch to see what they turned to first: The business section? Sports? Politics? Current events? Their choices revealed their interests.

Our choices are always revealing. Of course, God doesn’t need to wait to see our choices in order for Him to know what’s in our hearts. But the things that occupy our time and attention are telling. As Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Luke 12:34). Regardless of what we want Him to think of us, the true condition of our heart becomes clear based on how we use our time, our money, and our talents. When we invest these resources in the things He cares about, then it reveals that our hearts are in tune with His.

God’s heart is with the needs of people and the advancement of His kingdom. What do your choices tell him and others about where your heart is?

The Best Is Yet to Come

In our family, March means more than the end of winter. It means that the college basketball extravaganza called “March Madness” has arrived. As avid fans, we watch the tournament and enthusiastically root for our favorite teams. If we tune in early we get a chance to listen to the broadcasters talk about the upcoming game and to enjoy some of the pre-game drills where players shoot practice shots and warm up with teammates.

Our life on earth is like the pre-game in basketball. Life is interesting and full of promise, but it doesn’t compare to what lies ahead. Just think of the pleasure of knowing that even when life is good, the best is yet to come! Or that when we give cheerfully to those in need, it’s an investment in heavenly treasure. In times of suffering and sorrow, we can find hope as we reflect on the truth that a pain-free, tearless eternity awaits us. It’s no wonder that Paul exhorts: “Set your minds on things above” (Col. 3:2).

The future God has promised us enables us to see all of life in new dimensions. While this may be a great life, the best life is still to come. It is a wonderful privilege to live here in the light of there.

Turn Off the Scoreboard

At his son’s wedding reception, my friend Bob offered advice and encouragement to the newlyweds. In his speech he told of a football coach in a nearby town who, when his team lost a game, kept the losing score on the scoreboard all week to remind the team of their failure. While that may be a good football strategy, Bob wisely advised, it’s a terrible strategy in marriage. When your spouse upsets you or fails you in some way, don’t keep drawing attention to the failure. Turn off the scoreboard.

What great advice! Scripture is full of commands for us to love each other and overlook faults. We are reminded that love “keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Cor. 13:5) and that we should be ready to forgive one another “just as in Christ God forgave you” (Eph. 4:32).

I am deeply grateful that God turns off the scoreboard when I fail. He doesn’t simply forgive when we repent; He removes our sin as far as the east is from the west (Ps. 103:12). With God, forgiveness means that our sin is out of sight and out of mind. May He give us grace to extend forgiveness to those around us.

This Could Be the Year

My dad was a pastor, and on the first Sunday of each new year he preached about the return of Christ, often quoting from 1 Thessalonians 4. His point was always the same: “This could be the year that Jesus will return. Are you ready to meet Him?” I’ll never forget hearing that sermon at age 6, thinking, If that’s true, I’m not sure I will be among those He’s coming for. I felt certain that my parents would be going to heaven, and I wanted to go too. So, when my dad came home after church, I asked how I could be sure. He opened the Bible, read some verses to me, and talked to me about my need for a Savior. It didn’t take much to convince me of my sins. That day, my dad led me to Christ. I will be forever grateful to him for planting these truths in my heart.

In an increasingly chaotic world, what a hopeful thought that this could be the year Jesus returns. More comforting still is the anticipation that all who trust Him for salvation will be gathered together, relieved from this world’s suffering, sorrow, and fear. Best of all, we’ll be with the Lord forever!

One Size Fits All

Like most children, I thoroughly enjoyed Christmas. With great anticipation, I would snoop under the tree to see what toys and games awaited my eager grasp. So I felt deflated when I started getting things like shirts and pants. Grownup gifts were no fun! Then last Christmas, my kids gave me some cool socks with bright colors and designs. I almost felt young again! Even grownups could wear these socks, as the label reassured me: “One size fits all.”

That welcome phrase “one size fits all” reminds me of the best gift of Christmas—the good news that Jesus is for everyone. The point was proven when the first invitation sent by angel choirs was to shepherds on the bottom rung of the social ladder. The news was underscored further when the VIPs—the wealthy and powerful Magi—followed the star to come and worship the Christ-child.

After Jesus began His ministry, an influential member of the Jewish ruling council came to Him at night. In the course of their conversation, Jesus invited “whoever believes” to come to Him. The simple act of faith in Christ grants eternal life to those who trust in Him (John 3:16).

If Jesus were just for the poor and marginalized, or only for the famous and fortunate, many of us would not qualify. But Christ is for everyone, regardless of status, financial situation, or social standing. He is the only gift truly fit for all.

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