In August 2020, residents of Olten, Switzerland, were startled to find that it was snowing chocolate! A malfunction in the ventilation system of the local chocolate factory had caused chocolate particles to be diffused into the air. As a result, a dusting of edible chocolate flakes covered cars and streets and made the whole town smell like a candy store.
When I think of delicious food “magically” falling from the heavens, I can’t help but think of God’s provision for the people of Israel in Exodus. Following their dramatic escape from Egypt, the people faced significant challenges in the desert, especially a scarcity of food and water. And God, moved by the plight of the people, promised to “rain down bread from heaven” (Exodus 16:4). The next morning, a layer of thin flakes appeared on the desert ground. This daily provision, known as manna, continued for the next forty years.
When Jesus came to earth, people began to believe He was sent from God when He miraculously provided bread for a large crowd (John 6:5–14). But Jesus taught that He himself was the “bread of life” (John 6:35), sent to bring not just temporary nourishment but eternal life (v. 51).
For those of us hungry for spiritual nourishment, Jesus extends the offer of unending life with God. May we believe and trust that He came to satisfy those deepest longings.
Earth Day is an annual event observed on April 22. In recent years, more than one billion people in about two hundred countries have taken part in educational and service activities. Each year, Earth Day is a reminder of the importance of caring for our amazing planet. But the mandate to care for the environment is far older than this…
Somber eyes peer out from the painting Simon of Cyrene, by contemporary Dutch artist Egbert Modderman (Mark 15:21). Simon was pulled from the watching crowd and forced to help Jesus carry His cross. In the painting, Simon’s eyes reveal the immense physical and emotional burden of this responsibility.
Mark tells us that Simon was from Cyrene, a big city in North Africa that had a large population of Jews during Jesus’ time. Most likely Simon had journeyed to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. Then he found himself in the middle of this unjust execution, but was able to perform a small but meaningful act of assistance to Jesus (Mark 15:21).
Earlier in the gospel of Mark, Jesus tells His followers, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (8:34). On the road to Golgotha, Simon literally did what Jesus figuratively asks His disciples to do: he took up the cross given to him and carried it for Jesus’s sake.
We too have “crosses” to bear—perhaps an illness, a challenging ministry assignment, the loss of a loved one, or persecution for our faith. As we carry these sufferings by faith, we point people to the sufferings of Jesus and His sacrifice on the cross. It was His cross that gave us peace with God and strength for our own journey.
In 2019, the Oxford Bus Company launched the instantly popular “Chatty Bus,” a bus with designated people on board willing to talk with interested passengers. The route was initiated in response to government research which found that thirty percent of Britons go at least one day each week without a meaningful conversation.
Many of us have likely experienced the loneliness that comes from not having someone to talk to in a time of need. As I reflect on the value of important conversations in my life, I'm especially reminded of discussions that were full of grace. Those times brought me joy and encouragement, and they helped to cultivate deeper relationships.
At the end of his letter to the Colossian church, Paul encouraged his readers with principles of authentic living for believers in Jesus, including ways our conversations can exhibit love to everyone we encounter. The apostle wrote, “Let your conversation be always full of grace” (4:6), reminding his readers that it is not simply the presence of words but the quality of those words—“full of grace”—that would allow them to be a true encouragement to others.
The next time you have the opportunity to connect deeply in conversation—with a friend, co-worker, or even a stranger seated next to you on a bus or in a waiting room—look for ways your time together might bring blessing into both of your lives.
Downton Abbey was a popular British television drama that followed the fictional Crawley family as they navigated a changing social structure in early 1900s England. One of the key characters, Tom Branson, initially worked as the family’s chauffeur before shocking everyone by marrying the youngest Crawley daughter. Following a period of exile, the young couple returned to Downton Abbey and Tom became part of the family, gaining access to rights and privileges he had been denied as an employee.
We were once considered “foreigners and strangers” (Ephesians 2:19) and excluded from the rights given to those who are part of God’s family. But, because of Jesus, all believers, regardless of their background, are reconciled to God and called “members of his household” (v. 19).
Being a member of God’s family brings incredible rights and privileges. We can “approach God with freedom and confidence” (3:12), enjoying unlimited, unhindered access to God. We become part of a larger family, a community of faith to support and encourage us (2:19–22). Members of God’s family have the privilege of helping each other grasp the enormity of God’s lavish love (3:18).
Fear or doubt could easily make us feel like an outsider, keeping us from accessing fully the benefits of being part of God’s family. But hear and embrace once more the reality of God’s free and generous gifts of love (2:8–10), and bask in the wonder of being His.
At the 2019 graduation ceremony at a local high school, 608 students prepared to receive their diplomas. The principal began by asking students to stand when he read the name of the country where they were born: Afghanistan, Bolivia, Bosnia. . . . The principal kept going until he’d named sixty countries and every student was standing and cheering together. Sixty countries, one high school.
The beauty of unity amid diversity was a powerful image that celebrated something near to God’s heart, people living together in unity.
We read an encouragement for unity among God’s people in Psalm 133, a psalm of ascent—a song sung as people entered Jerusalem for annual celebrations. The psalm reminded the people of the benefits of living harmoniously (v. 1) despite differences that could cause division. In vivid imagery, unity is described as refreshing dew (v. 3) and oil—used to anoint priests (Exodus 29:7)—“running down” the head, beard and clothing of a priest (v. 2). Together, these images point to the reality that in unity God’s blessings flow so lavishly they can’t be contained.
For believers in Jesus, despite differences such as ethnicity, nationality or age, there is a deeper unity in the Spirit (Ephesians 4:3). When we stand together and celebrate that common bond as Christ leads us, we can embrace our God-given differences and celebrate the source of true unity.
Raised in a tribe in the Philippines opposed to belief in Christ, Esther received salvation through Jesus after an aunt prayed for her during Esther’s battle with a life-threatening illness. Today, Esther leads Bible studies in her local community in spite of threats of violence and even death. She serves joyfully, saying “I can’t stop telling people about Jesus because I ‘ve experienced the power, love, goodness, and faithfulness of God in my life.”
Serving God in the face of opposition is a reality for many today just as it was for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, three young Israelites living in captivity in Babylon. In the book of Daniel, we learn that they refused to pray to a large golden image of King Nebuchadnezzar even when threatened with death. The men testified that God was capable of protecting them but they chose to serve Him “even if” He didn’t rescue them (Daniel 3:18). When they were thrown into the fire, God actually joined them in their suffering (v. 25). To everyone’s amazement, they survived without even “a hair of their heads singed” (v. 27).
If we face suffering or persecution for an act of faith, ancient and modern examples remind us that God’s Spirit is present with us to strengthen and sustain us when we choose to obey Him, “even if” things turn out differently than we hope.
Growing up without a dad, Rob felt he missed out on a lot of practical wisdom that fathers often pass on to their children. Not wanting anyone to lack important life skills, Rob made a series of practical “Dad, How Do I?” videos demonstrating everything from how to put up a shelf to how to change a tire. With his kind compassion and warm style, Rob has become a YouTube sensation, amassing millions of subscribers.
Many of us long for the expertise of a parental figure to teach us valuable skills, as well as help us navigate difficult situations. Moses needed some wisdom after he and the Israelites fled captivity in Egypt and were establishing themselves as a nation. Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, saw the strain that settling disputes among the people was having on Moses. So, Jethro gave Moses thoughtful advice on how to delegate responsibility in leadership (Exodus 18:17-23). Moses “listened to his father-in-law and did everything he said” (v. 24).
God knows we all need wisdom. Some may be blessed with godly parents but all of us can ask God, who gives wisdom to all who ask Him (James 1:5). He’s also provided wisdom throughout the pages of Scripture. In the book of Proverbs, for example, we’re reminded that when we humbly and sincerely listen to the wise, we “will be counted among the wise” (Proverbs 19:20) and have wisdom to share with others.
A third-generation farmer, Jim was so moved when he read “You who revere my name. . . . will go and frolic like well-fed calves” (Malachi 4:2) that he prayed to receive Jesus’ offer of eternal life. Vividly recalling his own calves’ leaps of excitement after exiting their confined stalls at high speed, Jim finally understood God’s promise of true freedom.
Jim’s daughter told me this story because we‘d been discussing the imagery in Malachi 4, where the prophet made a distinction between those who revered God’s name, or remained faithful to Him, and those who only trusted in themselves (4:1–2). The prophet was encouraging the Israelites to follow God at a time when so many, including the religious leaders, disregarded God and His standards for faithful living (1:12–14; 3:5–9). Malachi called the people to live faithfully because of a coming time when God would make the final distinction between these two groups. In this context, Malachi used the unexpected imagery of a frolicking calf to describe the unspeakable joy that the faithful group will experience when “the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays” (4:2).
Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of this promise, bringing the good news that true freedom is available to all people (Luke 4:16–21). And one day, in God’s renewed and restored creation, we’ll experience this freedom fully. What indescribable joy it will be to frolic there!