“Taps” is a trumpet call played by the US military at the end of the day as well as at funerals. I was amazed when I read the unofficial lyrics and discovered that many of the verses end with the phrase “God is nigh” (God is near). Both before the dark of each night settles in or while mourning the loss of a loved one, the lyrics offer soldiers the beautiful assurance that God is near.
In the Old Testament, sounding trumpets was also a reminder, to the Israelites, that God was near. In the middle of celebrating the feasts and festivals that were part of the covenant agreement between God and the nation of Israel, the Jews were to “sound the trumpets” (Numbers 10:10). And blowing a trumpet was a reminder, not only that God was near but that He was also available when they needed Him most and longed to help them.
Today, we still need reminders that God is near. And in our own style of worship, we too can call out to God in prayer and song. Perhaps our prayers can be thought of as trumpets asking God to help us. And the beautiful encouragement is that God always hears those calls (1 Peter 3:12). To each of our pleas, He responds with the assurance of His presence that strengthens and comforts us in the difficulties and sorrows of life.
Every Christmas we decorate our home with nativity scenes from around the world. We have a German nativity pyramid, a manager scene fashioned out of olive wood from Bethlehem, and a brightly colored Mexican folk version. Our family favorite is a whimsical entry from Africa. Instead of the more traditional sheep and camels, a hippopotamus gazes contently at the baby Jesus.
The unique cultural perspective brought to life in these nativity scenes warms my heart as I ponder each beautiful reminder that Jesus’s birth was not just for one nation or culture. It is good news for the whole earth, a reason for people from every country and ethnicity to rejoice.
The little baby depicted in each of our nativity scenes revealed this truth of God’s heart for the entire world. As John wrote in relation to Christ’s conversation with an inquisitive Pharisee named Nicodemus, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
The gift of Jesus is good news for everyone. No matter where on earth you call home, Jesus’s birth is God’s offer of love and peace to you. And all who find new life in Christ, “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9) will one day celebrate God’s glory forever and ever.
Country artist Chris Stapleton’s deeply personal song, “Daddy Doesn’t Pray Anymore,” was inspired by his own father’s prayers for him. The poignant lyrics reveal the reason his father’s prayers ended: not disillusionment or weariness, but his own death. Stapleton imagines that now, instead of speaking with Jesus in prayer, his dad is walking and talking face-to-face with Jesus.
Stapleton’s recollection of his father’s prayers for him brings to mind a biblical father’s prayer for his son. As King David’s life ebbed away, David was making preparations for his son Solomon to take over as the next king of Israel.
After assembling the nation together to anoint Solomon, David led the people in prayer, as he’d done many times before. As David recounted God’s faithfulness to Israel, he prayed for the people to remain loyal to God. Then he included a personal prayer specifically for his son, asking God to “give my son Solomon the wholehearted devotion to keep your commands, statutes and decrees” (1 Chronicles 29:19).W
We too have the remarkable privilege to faithfully pray for the people God has placed in our life. Our example of faithfulness can make an indelible impact that will remain even after we’re gone. Just as God continued to work out the answers to David’s prayers for Solomon and Israel after he was gone, so too the impact of our prayers outlive us.
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.