When we purchased our home, we also inherited an established grapevine. As gardening novices, my family invested considerable time learning how to prune, water, and care for it. When our first harvest came, I popped a grape from the vine into my mouth—only to be disappointed with an unpleasant, sour taste.
The frustration I felt about painstakingly tending a grapevine, only to have a bitter harvest, echoes the tone of Isaiah 5. There we read an allegory of God’s relationship to the nation of Israel. God, pictured as a farmer, had cleared the hillside of debris, planted good vines, built a watchtower for protection, and crafted a press to enjoy the results of his expected harvest (Isaiah 5:1–2). To the farmer’s dismay, the vineyard, representing Israel, produced sour-tasting grapes of selfishness, injustice, and oppression (v. 7). Eventually, God reluctantly destroyed the vineyard while saving a remnant of vines that someday would produce a good harvest.
In the gospel of John, Jesus revisits the vineyard illustration, saying, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit” (John 15:5). In this parallel imagery Jesus pictures us, His followers, as grapevine branches connected to Him, the main vine. Now, as we remain connected to Jesus through prayerful reliance on His Spirit, we have direct access to the spiritual nourishment that will produce the sweetest fruit of all, love.
I am one of millions of people worldwide who suffer from SAD (seasonal affective disorder), a type of depression common in places with limited sunlight due to short winter days. When I begin to fear winter’s frozen curse will never end, I’m eager for any evidence that longer days and warmer temperatures are coming.
The first signs of spring—flowers successfully braving their way through the lingering snow—also powerfully remind me of the way God’s hope can break through even our darkest seasons. The prophet Micah confessed this even while enduring a heart-rending “winter” as the Israelites turned away from God. As Micah assessed the bleak situation, he lamented that “not one upright person” seemed to remain (Micah 7:2).
Yet, even though the situation appeared dire, the prophet refused to give up hope. He trusted that God was at work (v. 7)—even if, amid the devastation, he couldn’t yet see the evidence.
In our dark and sometimes seemingly endless “winters,” when spring doesn’t appear to be breaking through, we face the same struggle as Micah. Will we give into despair? Or will we “watch in hope for the L
Our hope in God is never wasted (Romans 5:5). He is bringing a time with no more “winter”: a time with no more mourning or pain (Revelation 21:4). Until then, may we rest in Him, confessing, “My hope is in you” (Psalm 39:7).
I stood amazed at the hundreds of thousands of padlocks, many engraved with the initials of sweethearts, attached to every imaginable part of the Pont des Arts bridge in Paris. The pedestrian bridge across the Seine River was inundated with these symbols of love, a couple’s declaration of “forever” commitment. In 2014, the love locks were estimated to weigh a staggering fifty tons and even caused a portion of the bridge to collapse, necessitating the locks’ removal.
The presence of so many love locks points to the deep longing we have as human beings for assurance that love is secure. In Song of Songs, an Old Testament book that depicts a dialogue between two lovers, the woman expresses her desire for secure love by asking her beloved to “place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm” (Song of Songs 8:6). Her longing was to be as safe and secure in his love as a seal impressed on his heart or a ring on his finger.
The longing for enduring romantic love expressed in Song of Songs points us to the New Testament truth in Ephesians that we are marked with the “seal” of God’s Spirit (Ephesians 1:13). While human love can be fickle, and locks can be removed from a bridge, Christ’s Spirit, living in us, is a permanent seal demonstrating God’s never-ending, committed love for each of His children.
Riptide. Batgirl. Jumpstart. These are a few names given to counselors at Gull Lake Ministries, the summer camp our family attends every year. Created by their peers, the camp nicknames usually derive from an embarrassing incident, a funny habit, or a favorite hobby.
Nicknames are not limited to camp—we even find them used in the Bible. For example, Jesus dubs the apostles James and John the “sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17). It is rare in Scripture for someone to give themselves a nickname, yet it happens when a woman named Naomi asks people to call her “Mara,” which means bitterness (Ruth 1:20), because both her husband and two sons had died. She felt that God had made her life bitter (v. 21).
The new name Naomi gave herself didn’t stick, however, because her devastating losses were not the end of her story. In the midst of her sorrow, God had blessed her with a loving daughter-in-law, Ruth, who eventually remarried and had a son, creating a family for Naomi again.
Although we might sometimes be tempted to give ourselves bitter nicknames, like “failure” or “unloved,” based on difficulties we’ve experienced or mistakes we’ve made, those names are not the end of our stories, either. We can replace those labels with the name God has given each of us, “beloved child” (Romans 9:25–26), and look for the ways He is providing for us in even the most challenging of times.
In 2019, art exhibitions worldwide commemorated the five hundredth anniversary of the death of Leonardo da Vinci. While many of his drawings and scientific discoveries were showcased, there are only five finished paintings universally credited to da Vinci, including The Last Supper.
This intricate mural depicts the final meal Jesus ate with his disciples, as described in the gospel of John. The painting captures the disciples’ confusion at Jesus’s statement, “One of you is going to betray me” (John 13:21). Perplexed, the disciples discussed who the betrayer might be—while Judas quietly slipped out into the night to alert the authorities of the whereabouts of his teacher and friend.
Betrayed. The pain of His friend’s treachery is evident in Jesus’s words, “He who shared my bread has turned against me (v. 18). A friend close enough to share a meal used that connection to harm Jesus.
Each of us has likely experienced a friend’s betrayal. How can we respond to such pain? Psalm 41:9, which Jesus quoted to indicate His betrayer was present during the shared meal (John 13:18), offers hope. After David had poured out his anguish at a close friend’s duplicity, he took solace in God’s love and presence that would “uphold me and set me in your presence forever” (Psalm 41:11–12).
When friends disappoint, we can find comfort knowing God’s sustaining love and His empowering presence will be with us to help us endure even the most devastating pain.
In the middle of the crowd at a motorcycle demonstration where riders performed breathtaking motorbike tricks, I found myself needing to stand on my tiptoes to see. Glancing around, I noticed three children perched in a nearby tree, apparently because they also couldn’t get to the front of the crowd to see the action.
Watching the kids peer out from their lofty location, I couldn’t help but think of Zacchaeus, who Luke identifies as a wealthy tax collector (Luke 19:1). Jews often viewed tax collectors as traitors for working for the Roman government collecting taxes from fellow Israelites, as well as frequently demanding additional money to pad their personal bank accounts. So Zacchaeus was likely shunned from his community.
As Jesus passed through Jericho, Zacchaeus longed to see Him but was unable to see over the crowd. So, perhaps feeling both desperate and lonely, he climbed into a sycamore tree to catch a glimpse (v. 3). And it was there, on the outskirts of the crowd, that Jesus searched him out and announced his intention to be a guest at his home (v. 5).
Zacchaeus’s story reminds us that Jesus came to “seek and to save the lost,” offering His friendship and the gift of salvation (vv. 9–10). Even if we feel on the edges of our communities, pushed to the “back of the crowd,” we can be assured that, even there, Jesus finds us.
I will restore David’s fallen shelter—I will repair its broken walls and restore its ruins—and will rebuild it as it used to be. Amos 9:11
I was prepared with eye protection, an ideal viewing location, and homemade moon pie desserts. Along with millions of people in the U.S., my family watched the rare occurrence of a total solar eclipse—the moon covering the entire disk of the sun.
The eclipse caused an unusual darkness to come over the typically bright summer afternoon. Although for us this eclipse was a fun celebration and a reminder of God’s incredible power over creation (Psalm 135:6–7), throughout history darkness during the day has been seen as abnormal and foreboding (Exodus 10:21; Matthew 27:45), a sign that everything is not as it should be.
This is what darkness signified for the prophet Amos, a prophet during the time of the divided monarchy in ancient Israel. Amos warned the Northern Kingdom that destruction would come if they continued to turn away from God. As a sign, God would “make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight” (Amos 8:9).
But God’s ultimate desire and purpose was—and is—to make all things right. Even when the people were taken into exile, God promised to one day bring a remnant back to Jerusalem and “repair its broken walls and restore its ruins” (9:11).
Even when life is at its darkest, like Israel, we can find comfort in knowing God is at work to bring light and hope back—to all people (Acts 15:14–18).
As my flight reached cruising speed, the flight attendant pulled back the curtain that cordoned off business class, and I was given a startling reminder of the stark differences between areas on airplanes. Some travelers get to board first, enjoying premium seating with extra legroom and personalized service. The curtain was a humbling reminder of my separation from those perks.
Exclusionary distinctions between groups of people can be found throughout history, including, in a way, even God’s temple in Jerusalem, though not due to one's ability to pay more. Non-Jewish people were only allowed to worship in the outer court. Next came the women’s court, and even further in an area designated for men. Finally, the Holy of Holies, seen as the place where God uniquely revealed Himself, was concealed behind a curtain and only accessible to one consecrated priest each year (Hebrews 9:1–10).
But, wonderfully, this separation no longer exists. Jesus has completely eliminated any barriers that might hinder anyone seeking access to God—even our sin (10:17). Just as the temple curtain was torn in two at the moment of Jesus’s death (Matthew 27:52), Christ's crucified body has torn away all obstructions to God's presence. There is no barrier that need separate any believer from experiencing the glory and love of the living God.
Moviegoers heard the beautiful voice of Emily Blunt as the starring role in Mary Poppins Returns. Amazingly, it was four years into their marriage that her husband discovered her vocal talent. In an interview he revealed his surprise the first time he heard her sing, thinking, “When were you going to tell me this?”
In relationships we often learn new, sometimes unexpected, details that surprise us. In Mark’s gospel, Christ’s disciples initially started with an incomplete picture of Jesus and struggled to grasp all of who He is. However, in an encounter on the Sea of Galilee, Jesus revealed more of Himself, this time the extent of His power over the forces of nature.
After feeding a crowd numbering more than 5,000 people, Jesus had sent His disciples out on the Sea of Galilee, where they were caught in a fierce storm. Just before dawn, the disciples were terrified to see someone walking on the water. However, Christ’s’ familiar voice spoke words of comfort, saying, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid” (Mark 6:50). Then He calmed the raging sea. Upon seeing such great power, the disciples were “completely amazed” (6:51) even as they struggled to fully comprehend this experience of Jesus’s power.
As we experience Jesus and His power over the storms of our lives, we gain a more complete picture of who He is. And we are amazed.