In the aftermath of the Marshall Fire, the most destructive fire in Colorado history, one ministry offered to help families search through the ashes for valuable items. Family members mentioned precious objects they hoped were still preserved. Very little was. One man spoke tenderly of his wedding ring. He’d placed it on his dresser in the upstairs bedroom. The house now gone, its contents had charred or melted into a single layer of debris at the basement level. Searchers looked for the ring in that same corner where the bedroom had been—without success.
The prophet Isaiah wrote mournfully of the impending destruction of Jerusalem, which would be leveled. Likewise, there are times we feel the life we’ve built has been reduced to ashes. We feel we have nothing left, emotionally and spiritually. But Isaiah offers hope: “He [God] has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted . . . to comfort all who mourn” (Isaiah 61:1–2). God converts our tragedy into glory: “[He will] bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes” (v. 3). He promises to “rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated” (v. 4).
At that Marshall Fire site, one woman searched the ashes on the opposite side. There, still in its case, she unearthed the husband’s wedding ring. Coincidence? Think again. In your despair, God reaches into your ashes and pulls out the one truly precious thing. You.
Writing in The Atlantic, author Arthur C. Brooks tells of his visit to the National Palace Museum in Taiwan, which contains one of the largest collections of Chinese art in the world. The museum guide asked, “What do you think of when I ask you to imagine a work of art yet to be started?” Brooks said, “An empty canvas, I guess.” The guide replied, “There’s another way to view it: The art already exists, and the job of artists is simply to reveal it.”
In Ephesians 2:10, the word “handiwork,” sometimes translated as “workmanship” or “masterpiece” is from the Greek word poiēma, from which we derive our word “poetry.” God has created us as works of art, living poems. However, our art has become obscured: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins” (v. 1). To paraphrase the words of the museum guide, “The art [of us] is already there, and it’s the job of the Divine Artist to reveal it.” Indeed God is restoring us, His masterpieces: “God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive” (vv. 4-5).
As we go through challenges and difficulties, we might take comfort in knowing that the Divine Artist is at work: “It is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Philippians 2:13). Know that God is working in you to reveal His masterpiece.
Hollywood gives us larger than life spies who are dashing drivers of flashy Aston-Martins and other luxury sports cars. But Jonna Mendez, a former CIA chief, paints an opposite picture of the real thing. An agent must be “the little gray man,” she says, someone nondescript, not flashy. “You want them to be forgettable.” The best agents are those least likely to appear like agents.
When two of Israel’s spies slipped into Jericho, it was Rahab who hid them from the king’s soldiers (Joshua 2:4). She was seemingly the least likely person for God to employ as an espionage agent, for she had three strikes against her: she was a Canaanite, a woman, and a prostitute. Yet Rahab had started to believe in the God of the Israelites: “Your God is God in heaven” (v. 11). She hid God’s spies under flax on the roof, assisting in their daring escape. God rewarded her faith: “Joshua spared Rahab the prostitute, with her family” (6:25).
Sometimes we might feel we are the least likely to be used by God. Perhaps we have physical limitations, don’t feel “flashy” enough to lead, or have a tarnished past. But history is filled with “nondescript” believers redeemed by God, people like Rahab who were given a special mission for His kingdom. Be assured: He has divine purposes for even the least likely of us.
You wouldn’t think anyone would be excited about going to a place called Dismals Canyon to watch gnats. Yet this forest in northwestern Alabama attracts a number of tourists each year, many in May and June when the gnat larvae hatch and become glowworms. At night, these glowworms cast a brilliant blue luminescence, and thousands of them together create a breathtaking light.
In a way, the apostle Paul writes about believers in Christ as glowworms. He explains that “you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord” (Ephesians 5:8). But sometimes we wonder how “this little light of mine” can make a difference. Paul suggests it isn’t just a solo act. He calls us “children of light” (v. 8) and explains that we “share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light (Colossians 1:12). Being light in the world is a collective effort, the work of the body of Christ, the work of the church. Paul reinforces this with the picture of us “glowworms” worshiping together, “speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:19).
When we get discouraged, thinking our life testimony is just one little dot in a midnight culture of pitch black, we might take assurance from the Bible. We’re not alone. Together, as God guides us, we make a difference and glow a brilliant light. It seems that a whole congregation of glowworms might attract a whole lot of interest.
An iconic photo shows the tread of a boot against a gray background. It’s astronaut Buzz Aldrin’s footprint, which he left on the moon in 1969. Scientists say that footprint is likely still there, unchanged after all these years. In fact, it may be there as long as the moon itself lasts. On the moon there is no wind or water to change the landscape. Nothing gets eroded. What happens on the lunar landscape stays on the lunar landscape.
It’s even more awesome to reflect on the constant presence of God Himself. James writes, “[God] does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17). The apostle puts this in the context of our own struggles: “When troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy” (v. 2
In times of trouble, we need to remember God’s constant provision. Perhaps we might recall the words of the great hymn “Great is Thy Faithfulness”: “There is no shadow of turning with thee; thou changest not, thy compassions, they fail not; as thou hast been thou forever wilt be.” Yes, our God has left his permanent footprint on our world. He will always be there for us. Great is His faithfulness.
Here are some vacation tips: The next time you’re traveling through Middleton, Wisconsin, you might want to visit the National Mustard Museum. For those of us who feel that one mustard is plenty, this place amazes, featuring 6,090 different mustards from around the world. In Mclean, Texas, you might be surprised to run across the Barbed Wire Museum—or more surprised there is such a passion for, well . . . fencing.
It’s telling what kinds of things we choose to make important. One writer says you could do worse than spend an afternoon at the Banana Museum (though we beg to differ).
We laugh in fun, yet it’s sobering to admit we maintain our own museums—places of the heart where we celebrate certain idols of our own making. God instructs us, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3) and “you shall not bow down to them or worship them” (v. 5). But we do anyway, creating our own graven gods, perhaps of wealth or lust or success—or of some other fill-in-the-blank “treasure” we worship in secret.
It’s easy to read this passage and miss the point. Yes, God holds us accountable for the museums of sin we create. But he also speaks of “showing love to a thousand generations of those who love [Him]” (v. 6). He knows how trivial our “museums” really are. He knows our true satisfaction lies only in our love for Him.
Researchers at Emory University used MRI scans to study the brains of grandmothers. They measured empathetic responses to images that included their own grandchild, their own adult child, and one anonymous child. The study showed that grandmothers have a higher empathy toward their own grandchild than even their adult child. This is attributed to what they call the “cute factor”—their own grandchild being more “adorable” than the adult.
Before we say “Well, duh!” we might consider the words of James Rilling, who conducted the study: “If their grandchild is smiling, [the grandmother is] feeling the child’s joy. And if their grandchild is crying, they’re feeling the child’s pain and distress.”
One prophet paints an “MRI image” of God’s feelings as he looks upon his people: “He will take great delight in you; in his love he will . . . rejoice over you with singing” (Zephaniah 3:17). Some translate this to say, “You will make His heart full of joy, and He will sing loudly.” Like an empathetic grandmother, God feels our pain: “In all their distress he too was distressed” (Isaiah 63:9), and He feels our joy, “The
When we feel discouraged, it’s good to remember that God has real feelings for us. He’s not a cold, far away God, but One who loves and delights in us. It’s time to draw close to Him, feel His smile—and listen to His singing.
I received a phone call from an unknown number. Often, I let those calls go to voicemail, but this time I picked up. The random caller asked politely if I had just a minute for him to share a short Bible passage. He quoted Revelation 21:3–5 about how God “will wipe every tear from their eyes.” He talked about Jesus, how he was our assurance and hope. I told him I already know Jesus as my personal Savior. But the caller wasn’t aiming to “witness” to me. Instead, he simply asked if he could pray with me. And he did, asking God to give me encouragement and strength.
That call reverberated in my heart. I was reminded of another “call” in Scripture—God called out to the young boy Samuel in the middle of the night (1 Samuel 3:4–5). Three times Samuel heard the voice, thinking it was the elderly priest, Eli. The final time, following Eli’s instruction, Samuel realized that God was calling him: “Speak, for your servant is listening” (v. 10). Likewise, through our days and nights, God may be speaking to us. We need to “pick up,” which might mean spending more time in his presence and listening for his voice.
I then thought of “the call” in another way. What if we sometimes are the caller, the messenger of God’s words to someone else? We might sometimes feel, because of our circumstances, we have no way of helping others. But as God guides us, how hard is it for us to phone a friend and ask, “Would it be okay if I just prayed with you today?”
In the late 1800s, people in different places developed the same vision at the same time. The first was in Montreal, Canada, in 1877. In 1898, a similar concept was launched in New York City. By 1922 some 5,000 of these programs were active in North America each summer.
This is the early history of Vacation Bible School, which still continues today. The passion that fueled those Christian VBS pioneers was a desire for young people to know the Bible.
Paul had a similar passion for his young protégé, Timothy, writing that “Scripture is God-breathed” and equips us “for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16–17). But this wasn’t just the benign suggestion that “it’s good to read your Bible.” Paul’s admonition follows the dire warning that “there will be terrible times in the last days” (v. 1), with false teachers “never able to come to a knowledge of the truth” (v. 7). It’s essential we protect ourselves with Scripture, for it immerses us in the ways and knowledge of our Savior, making us “wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (v. 15).
Studying the Bible isn’t just for kids; it’s for adults too. And it isn’t just for summer; it’s for every day. Paul wrote to Timothy, “from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures (v.15), but it’s never too late to begin. Whatever stage of life we’re in, the wisdom of the Bible connects us to Jesus. This is God’s VBS lesson to us all.