His name is Spencer. But everybody calls him “Spence.” He was a state track champion in high school; then he went on to attend a prestigious university on a full academic scholarship. He lives now in one of America’s largest cities and is highly respected in the field of chemical engineering. But if you were to ask Spence his greatest achievements to date, he wouldn’t mention any of those things. He would excitedly tell you about the trips he makes to Nicaragua every few months to check in on the kids and teachers in the tutoring program he helped establish in one of the poorest areas of the country. And he’d tell you how enriched his life has been by serving them.
“The least of these.” It is a phrase people use in a variety of ways, yet Jesus used it to describe those who, according to the world’s standards, have little or nothing to offer you in return for our service. They are the men and women and children the world often overlooks—if not forgets completely. Yet it is exactly those people Jesus elevates to such a beautiful status by saying “whatever you did” for them, “you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40) You don’t have to have a degree from a prestigious university to understand Jesus’s meaning: Serving “the least” is the same as serving Him. All it really takes is a willing heart.
“The Lord is my high tower . . . . We left the camp singing.” On September 7, 1943, Etty Hillesum wrote those words on a postcard, then threw it from a train. Those were the final recorded words we would hear from her. On November 30, 1943, she was murdered at Auschwitz. Later, Hillesum’s diaries of her experiences in concentration camps were translated and published. They chronicled her perspectives on the horrors of Nazi occupation side by side with the beauty of God’s world. Her diaries have been translated into sixty-seven languages—a gift to future generations who would read and believe the good as well as the bad.
The apostle John did not sidestep the harsh realities of Jesus’ life on earth; he wrote of both the good Jesus did and the challenges He faced. The final words from his gospel give insight into the purpose behind the book that bears his name. Jesus performed “many other signs . . . which are not recorded” (20:30) by John. But these, he says, were “written that you may believe” (v. 31). John’s “diary” ends on the note of triumph: “Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God.” The gift of those gospel words allows us the opportunity to believe, and “have life in his name.”
The gospels are diary accounts of God’s love for us. They’re words to read and believe and share, for they lead us to life. They lead us to Christ.
The weather forecast said bomb cyclone. That’s what happens when a winter storm rapidly intensifies as the atmospheric pressure drops. By the time night fell the blizzard conditions made the highway to the Denver airport almost impossible to see. Almost. But when it’s your daughter who’s flying home to visit, you do what you have to do. You pack extra clothes and water (just in case you get stranded on the highway), drive very slowly, pray without ceasing, and last but not least trust your headlights. And sometimes you can achieve the almost impossible.
Jesus foretold of a storm on the horizon, one that would involve His death (John 12:32–33), and one that would challenge His followers to stay faithful and serve (v. 26). It was going to get dark and be almost impossible to see. Almost. So what did Jesus tell them to do? Believe, or trust, the light (v. 36). That was the only way they could keep going forward and stay faithful.
Jesus would only be with them a little while longer. But believers have His Spirit as our constant guide to light the way. We too will face dark times when it’s almost impossible to see the way ahead. Almost. But by believing, or trusting in the Light, we can press on.
I live in Colorado, a state in the western US known for the Rocky Mountains and our annual snowfall. But the worst natural disaster in my state had nothing to do with snow, but rain. The Big Thompson flood occurred on July 31, 1976, around the resort town of Estes Park. When the water finally receded, the death toll was 144 lives, not including livestock. In the wake of that disaster significant studies were done in the area, especially in regard to the foundation of roads and highways. The walls of the roads that withstood the storm were those filled with concrete. In other words, they had a sure and strong foundation.
In our lives the question is not if the floods will come, but when. Sometimes we have advance notice, but usually not. Jesus stresses a strong foundation for such times—one built by not just hearing His words but also by living out the gospel (Luke 6:47). That practice is almost like pouring concrete into your life. When the floods come, and they will, we can withstand them because we’ve been “well built” (v. 48). The absence of practice leaves our lives vulnerable to collapse and destruction (v. 49). It’s the difference between being wise and foolish.
It’s good to pause occasionally and do a little foundation assessment. The Lord will help us to fortify the weak places that we might stand strong in His power when the floods come.
Pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters, and occasionally a half-dollar. That’s what you’d find on the nightstand beside his bed. He’d empty his pockets each evening and leave the contents there for he knew eventually they’d come to visit—they being his grandchildren. Over the years they learned to visit his nightstand as soon as they arrived. He could have put all that spare change in a coin bank or even stored it away in a savings account. But he didn’t. He delighted in leaving it there for the little ones, the precious guests in his home.
A similar mindset is what is expressed in Leviticus 23 when it comes to bringing in “the harvest of your land” (v. 22). God, via Moses, told the people something quite counterintuitive: not to “reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest” (v. 22). Essentially, He said, “Leave a little behind.” Such instruction held the value of reminding the people who was behind the harvest in the first place (God), as well as a means of His provision, via His people, for those of little account who were strangers in the land.
Such thinking is definitely not the norm in our world. But it’s exactly the kind of mindset to characterize the grateful sons and daughters of God. He delights in a generous heart. And that often comes through you and me.
“Dear Father in heaven, I’m not a praying man, but if you’re up there, and you can hear me, show me the way. I’m at the end of my rope.” That prayer is whispered by a broken-down George Bailey, the character played by Jimmy Stewart in the classic film It’s a Wonderful Life. In the now iconic scene, Bailey’s eyes fill with tears. They weren’t part of the script, but as he spoke that prayer Stewart said he “felt the loneliness, the hopelessness of people who had nowhere to turn.” It broke him.
Bailey’s prayer, boiled down, is simply “Help me.” And this is exactly what’s voiced in Psalm 109. David was at the end of his rope: “poor and needy,” his “heart . . . wounded” (v. 22), and his body “thin and gaunt” (v. 24). He was fading “like an evening shadow” (v. 23), and sensed himself to be an “object of scorn” in the eyes of his accusers (v. 25). In his extreme brokenness, he had nowhere else to turn. He cried out for the Sovereign Lord to show him the way: “Help me,
There are seasons in our lives when “broken down” says it all. In such times it can be hard to know what to pray. Our loving God will respond to our simple prayer for help.
Ashton and Austin Samuelson graduated from a Christian college with a strong desire to serve Jesus. However, neither felt called to a traditional ministry in the church. But what about ministry in the world? Absolutely. They blended their burden to end childhood hunger with their God-given entrepreneurial skills, and in 2014 launched a restaurant that serves tacos. But this is not just any restaurant. The Samuelsons operate from a buy-one-give-one philosophy. For every meal bought, they donate money to provide a meal specifically designed to meet the nutritional needs of malnourished children. So far, they have made contributions in over sixty countries. Their goal is to be a part of ending childhood hunger—one taco at a time.
Christ’s words in Matthew 10 are not cryptic. They are astoundingly clear: devotion is evidenced by actions, not words (vv. 37–42). One of those actions is giving to the “little ones.” Now, for the Samuelsons, that focus is giving to children. But take note, the “little ones” is not a phrase limited to chronological age. Christ is calling us to give to any who are of “little account” in the eyes of this world: the poor, the sick, the prisoner, the refugee, those disadvantaged in any way. And give what? Well, Jesus says “even a cup of cold water” (v. 42). If something as small and simple as a cup of cold water classifies, then a taco surely fits right in line too.
There is an oft-heard story that The London Times posed a question to readers at the turn of the twentieth century.
What’s wrong with the world?
That’s quite the question, isn’t it? Someone might quickly respond, “Well, how much time do you have for me to tell you?” And that would be fair, as there seems to be so much that’s wrong with our world. As the story goes, The Times received a number of responses, but one in particular has endured in its brief brilliance. The English writer, poet, and philosopher G.K. Chesterton penned this four-word response, a refreshing surprise to the usual passing-of-the-buck:
“Dear Sirs, I am.”
Whether the story is factual or not is up for debate. But that response? It’s nothing but true. Long before Chesterton came along, there was an apostle named Paul. Far from a life-long model citizen, Paul confessed his past shortcomings: “I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man” (v.13). After naming who Christ came to save (“sinners”), he goes on to make a very Chesterton-like qualification: “of whom I am the worst.” (v.15). Paul knew exactly what was and is wrong with the world. And he further knew the only hope of making things right – “the grace of our Lord” (v.14). What an amazing reality! This enduring truth lifts our eyes to the light of Christ’s saving love.
Scaling. It’s a term used in the world of fitness that allows room for anyone to participate. If the specific exercise is a push-up, for example, then maybe you can do ten in a row but I can only do four. The instructor’s encouragement to me would be to scale back the push-up according to my fitness level at the time. We’re not all at the same level but we can all move in the same direction. In other words, she would say, “Do your four push-ups with all the strength you have. Don’t compare yourself with anyone else. Scale the movement for now, keep doing what you can do, and you may be amazed in time you’re doing seven, and even one day, ten.”
When it comes to giving, the apostle Paul was clear: “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). But his encouragement to the believers in Corinth, and to us, is a variation of scaling. “Each of you should give what you decide in your heart” (v.7). We each find ourselves at differing giving levels, and sometimes those levels change over time. Comparison is not beneficial, but attitude is. Based on where you are, give “generously” (v. 6). Our God has promised that the disciplined practice of such cheerful giving brings enrichment in every way with a blessed life that results in “thanksgiving to God” (v. 11).