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.
Tsundoku. It’s the word I’ve always needed! A Japanese term, it refers to the stack of books on a bedside table waiting to be read. Books offer the potential for learning or a delightful escape to a different time or place, and I long for the delights and insights found within their pages. So, the stack remains.
The idea that we can find enjoyment and help in a book is even more true for the book of books—the Bible. I see the encouragement to immerse oneself in Scripture in God’s instructions to Joshua, the newly appointed leader of Israel, commissioned to lead them into the land promised to the Israelites (Joshua 1:8).
Knowing the difficulty ahead, God assured Joshua, “I will be with you” (v. 5). His help would come, in part, through Joshua's obedience to God’s commands. So God instructed him to “Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it” (v. 8). Although Joshua had the Book of the Law, he needed to regularly search it to gain insight and understanding into who God is and His will for His people.
Do you need instruction, truth or encouragement for your day? As we take time to read, obey, and find nourishment through Scripture, we can savor all that is contained in its pages (2 Timothy 3:16).
During the 2018 World Cup, Colombian forward Radamel Falcao scored in the seventieth minute against Poland, securing a victory. The dramatic goal was Falcao’s thirtieth in international play, earning him the distinction of scoring the most goals by a Columbian player in international competition.
Falcao has often used his success on the soccer pitch to share his Christian faith, frequently lifting his jersey after a score to reveal a shirt with the words, “Con Jesus nunca estara solo”: “With Jesus you'll never be alone.”
Falcao’s statement points us to the reassuring promise from Jesus, “I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Knowing He was about to return to heaven, Jesus comforted His disciples by assuring them He’d always be with them, through the presence of His Spirit (v. 19; John 14:16–18). Christ’s Spirit would comfort, guide, protect, and empower them as they took the message of Jesus to cities both near and far. And when they experienced periods of intense loneliness in unfamiliar places, Jesus’s words would likely echo in their ears, a gentle reminder of His presence with them.
No matter where we go, whether close to home or a faraway place, as we follow Christ into the unknown, we too can cling to this same promise. Even when we experience feelings of loneliness, as we reach out in prayer to Jesus, we can receive comfort knowing He is with us.
Egged on by my children to prove I’d endured years mastering the basics of piano, I sat down and started playing the C Major scale. Having played very little piano in nearly two decades, I was surprised I remembered! Feeling brave, I proceeded to play seven different scales by heart one right after the other. I was shocked! Years of practicing had imprinted the notes and technique so deeply in my fingers’ “memory” that they instantly knew what to do.
There are some things that can never be forgotten. But God’s love for His children is far more deeply imprinted than any of our fading memories—in fact, God cannot forget them. This is what the Israelites needed to hear when the exile left them feeling abandoned by the Lord (Isaiah 49:14). The Lord’s response through Isaiah was unequivocal: “I will not forget you!” (v. 15). His promise to care for His people was more certain than a mother’s love for her child (v. 15).
To assure them of His unchanging love, the Lord gave them a picture of His commitment: “See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands” (v. 16). It’s a beautiful image of God’s constant awareness of His children; their names and faces always before Him.
Still today, we can easily feel overlooked and forgotten. How comforting to remember that we are “etched” on God’s hands—always remembered, cared for, and loved by our Father.