Wearing my new eyeglasses as I stepped into the sanctuary, I sat down and spotted a friend sitting directly across the aisle on the other side of the church. As I waved at her, she looked so near and clear. It felt like I could reach out and touch her even though she was several yards away. Later, as we talked following the service, I realized she was in the same seat she always sat in. I simply could see her better because of an upgraded prescription in my new spectacles.
God, speaking through the prophet Isaiah, knew that the Israelites stuck in Babylonian captivity would need a new prescription—a new view. He told them. “I am doing a new thing! . . . I am making a way in the wilderness” (Isaiah 43:19). And His message of hope included the reminders that He had “created” them, “redeemed” them, and that He would be with them. “You are mine,” He encouraged (v. 1).
In whatever you’re facing today, the Holy Spirit can provide better vision for you to put the old behind you and look for the new. By God’s love (v. 4), it’s popping up all around you. Can you see what He’s doing in the midst of your pain and bondage? Let’s put on our new spiritual glasses to see the new God is doing even in our wilderness moments.
When we park our car near an open field and walk across it to get to our house, we almost always get some sticky cockleburs on our clothes—especially in the fall. These tiny “hitchhikers” attach to clothing, shoes, or whatever is passing by and ride to their next destination. It’s nature’s way of spreading cocklebur seeds in my local field and around the world.
As I try to carefully remove clinging cockleburs, I’ve often thought about the message that admonishes believers in Jesus to “cling to what is good” (Roman 12:9). When we’re trying to love others, it can be challenging. However, as the Holy Spirit helps us hold on to what’s good with all we have, we can repel evil and be “sincere” in our love as He guides us (v. 9).
Cocklebur seeds don’t fall off with a mere brush of the hand, they hang on to you. And when we focus on what’s good, keeping our mind on God’s mercy, compassion, and commands, we too—in His strength—can hang on tightly to those we love. He helps us stay “devoted to one another in love,” remembering to place other’s needs before our own (v. 10).
Yes, those cockleburs can be challenging, but they also remind me to cling to others in love and by God’s power to grip tightly “what is good” (v. 9; see also Philippians 4:8–9).
Barbecue chicken, green beans, spaghetti, rolls. On a cool day in October, at least fifty-four homeless people received this hot meal from a woman celebrating fifty-four years of life. The woman and her friends decided to forgo her usual birthday dinner in a restaurant, choosing instead to cook and serve meals to people on the streets of Chicago. On social media, she encouraged others to also perform a random act of kindness as a birthday gift.
This story reminds me of Jesus’ words in Matthew 25: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (v. 40). He said these words after declaring that His sheep will be invited into His eternal kingdom to receive their inheritance (v. 33). At that time, Jesus will acknowledge that they’re the people who fed and clothed Him because of their genuine faith in Him (unlike the proud religious people who did not believe in Him; see 26:3–5). Although the “righteous” will question when they fed and clothed Jesus (v. 37), He will assure them that what they did for others was also done for Him (v. 40).
Feeding the hungry is just one way God helps us care for His people—showing our love for Him and relationship with Him. May He help us meet others’ needs today.
“Who’s in the mirror?” the psychologists conducting the self-recognition test asked children. At eighteen months or younger, a child usually doesn’t associate herself with the image in the mirror. But as kids grow, they can understand they’re looking at themselves. Self-recognition is an important mark of healthy growth and maturation.
It’s also important to the growth of believers in Jesus. James outlines a mirror recognition test. The mirror is “the word of truth” from God (James 1:18). When we read the Scriptures, what do we see? Do we recognize ourselves when they describe love and humility? Do we see our own actions when we read what God commands us to do? When we look into our hearts and test our actions, Scripture can help us recognize if our actions are in line with what God desires for us or if we need to seek repentance and make a change.
James cautions us not to just read Scripture and turn away “and so deceive [ourselves]” (v. 22), forgetting what we’re taken in. The Bible provides us with the map to live wisely according to God’s plans. As we read them, meditate on them, and digest them, we can ask Him to give us the eyes to see into our heart and the strength and to make necessary changes.
A hotel chain’s commercial featured one little building standing amidst a dark night. Nothing else was around. The only light in the scene came from a small lamp near the door on the porch of the building. The bulb cast enough illumination for a visitor to walk up the steps and enter the building. The commercial ended with the phrase, “We’ll leave the light on for you.”
A porch light is akin to a welcome sign, reminding weary travelers that there’s a comfortable place still open where they can stop and rest. The light invites those passing by to come on in and escape from the dark, weary journey.
Jesus says the life of believers in Him should resemble that of a welcoming light. He told His followers, “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden” (Matthew 5:14). As believers, we’re to illuminate a dark world.
As He directs and empowers us, “they may see [our] good deeds and glorify [our] Father in heaven” (v. 16). And as we leave our lights on, others will feel welcomed to come to us to learn more about the one true Light of the world—Jesus (John 8:12). In a weary and dark world, His light always remains on.
Have you left your light on? As Jesus shines through you today, others may see and begin radiating His light too.
A man named James took an adventurous, 1,250-mile journey down the West Coast of the US—biking from Seattle, Washington, to San Diego, California. A friend of mine met the ambitious biker near the cliffs of Big Sur, 930 miles from his starting point. After learning that someone had recently stolen James’ camping gear, my friend offered his blanket and sweater, but James refused. He said that as he traveled south into the warmer climate, he needed to begin shedding items. And the closer he got to his destination, the more tired he became so he needed to reduce the weight he was carrying.
James’ realization was smart. It’s a reflection of what the writer of Hebrews is saying too. As we continue our journey in life, we need to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles” (12:1). We need to travel light to press on.
As believers in Jesus, running this race requires “perseverance” (v. 1). And one of the ways to ensure we can keep going is to be free of the weight of unforgiveness, pettiness, and other sins that will hinder us.
Without Jesus’ help, we can’t travel light and run this race well. May we look to the “pioneer and perfecter of faith” so that we won’t “grow weary and lose heart” (vv. 2–3).
I love a good game of Scrabble. After one particular game, my friends named a move after me—calling it a “Katara.” I’d been trailing the entire game, but at the end of it—with no tiles left in the bag—I made a seven-letter word. This meant the game was over, and I received fifty bonus points as well as all the points from all of my opponents’ leftover tiles, moving me from last place to first. Now whenever we play and someone is trailing, they remember what happened and hold out hope for a “Katara.”
Remembering what has happened in the past has the power to lift our spirits and give us hope. And that’s exactly what the Israelites did when they celebrated Passover. The Passover commemorates what God did for the Israelites when they were in Egypt, oppressed by Pharaoh and his crew (Exodus 1:6–14). After they cried out to God, He delivered the people in a mighty way. He told them to put blood on their doorposts so the death angel would “pass over” their firstborn people and animals (12:12–13). Then they would be kept safe from death.
Centuries later, believers in Jesus regularly take communion as we remember His sacrifice on the cross—providing what we needed to be delivered from sin and death (1 Corinthians 11:23–26). Remembering God’s loving acts in the past gives us hope for today.
My elderly great aunt lay on her sickbed with a smile on her face. Her gray hair was pushed back from her face and wrinkles covered her cheeks. She didn’t speak much but I still recall the few words she said when my father, mother, and I visited her. She whispered, “I don’t get lonely. Jesus is here with me.”
As a single woman at the time, I marveled at my aunt’s proclamation. Her husband had died several years earlier and her children lived far away. Nearing her ninetieth year of life, she was alone, in her bed, barely able to move. Yet she was able to say she wasn’t lonely.
My aunt took Jesus’ words to the disciples literally, as we all should: “Surely I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20). She knew that Jesus’ Spirit was with her, as He promised when He instructed the disciples to go out into the world and share His message with others (v. 19). Jesus said the Holy Spirit would “be with” the disciples and us (John 14:16–17).
I’m certain my aunt experienced the reality of that promise. Jesus’ spirit was within her as she lay on her bed. And the Spirit used her to share His truth with me—a young niece who needed to hear those words and take them to heart too.
As I enter the final few minutes of my forty-minute workout, I can almost guarantee that my instructor will yell out, “Finish strong!” Every personal trainer or group fitness leader I’ve known uses the phrase a few minutes before cool down. They know that the end of the workout is just as important as showing up for it. And they know that the human body has a tendency to want to slow down or slack off when it’s been in motion for a while.
The same is true in our journey with Jesus. Paul told the elders of the church at Ephesus that he needed to finish strong as he headed to Jerusalem where he was certain to face more persecution as an apostle of Christ (Acts 20:17–24). Paul, however, was undeterred. He had a mission and that was to finish the journey he’d begun and to do what God called him to do (v. 19). He had one job—to tell “the good news of God’s grace” (v. 24). And he wanted to finish strong. Even if hardship awaited him (v. 23), he continued to run toward his finish line—focused and determined to remain steadfast in his journey.
Whether we’re exercising our physical muscles or working out our God-given abilities through actions, words, and deeds, we too can be encouraged by the reminder to finish strong. Don’t “become weary” (Galatians 6:9). Don’t give up. God will provide what you need to finish strong.