It’s not unusual for utility bills to be surprisingly high. But Kieran Healy of North Carolina received a water bill that would make your heart stop. The notification said that he owed 100 million dollars for his water bill. A 100-million-dollar water bill! Confident that he hadn't used that much water the previous month, Healy jokingly asked if he could pay the bill in installments.
Owing a 100-million-dollar debt would be an overwhelming burden, but that pales in comparison to the real—and immeasurable—burden sin causes us to carry. Attempting to carry the burden and consequences of our own sins ultimately leaves us feeling tired and riddled with guilt and shame. The truth is, we are incapable of carrying this load.
And we were never meant to. As Peter reminded believers, only Jesus, the sinless Son of God, could carry the heavy burden of our sin and its weighty consequences (1 Peter 2:24). In His death on the cross, Jesus took all our wrongdoing on Himself and offered us His forgiveness. Because He carried our burden, we do not have to suffer the punishment we deserve.
Instead of living in fear or guilt, the “empty way of life handed down to” us (1:18), we can enjoy a new life of love and freedom (vv. 22–23).
After five deaths and 51 injuries in elevator accidents in 2016, New York City launched an ad campaign to educate people on how to stay calm and be safe. The worst cases were people who tried to save themselves when something went wrong. The best plan of action, authorities say, is simply, “Ring, relax, and wait.” New York building authorities made a commitment to respond promptly to protect people from injury and extract them from their predicament.
In the book of Acts, Peter preached a sermon that addressed the error of trying to save ourselves. Luke, who wrote the book, records some remarkable events in which believers in Christ were speaking in languages they did not know (Acts 2:1–12). Peter got up to explain to his Jewish brothers and sisters that what they were witnessing was the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy (Joel 2:28–32)—the outpouring of the Spirit and a day of salvation. The blessing of the Holy Spirit was now visibly seen in those who called on Jesus for rescue from sin and its effects. Then Peter told them how this salvation is available for anyone (v. 21). Our access to God comes not through keeping the Law but through trusting Jesus as Lord and Messiah.
If we are trapped in sin, we cannot save ourselves. Our only hope for being rescued is acknowledging and trusting Jesus as Lord and Messiah.
On a particularly hot day, eight-year-old Carmine McDaniel wanted to make sure his neighborhood mail carrier stayed cool and hydrated. So he left a cooler filled with a sports drink and water bottles on their front step. The family security camera recorded the mail carrier’s reaction: “Oh man, water and Gatorade. Thank God; thank you!”
Carmine’s mom says, “Carmine feels that it’s his ‘duty’ to supply the mailman with a cool beverage even if they’re not home.”
This story warms our hearts, but it also reminds us that there is One who will “meet all of your needs,” as the apostle Paul phrased it. Though Paul was languishing in jail and uncertain about his future, he expressed joy for the Christians in Philippi because God had met his needs through their financial gift to him. The Philippian church was not wealthy, but they were generous, giving to Paul and others out of their poverty (see 2 Corinthians 8:1–4). As the Philippians had met Paul’s needs, so God would meet theirs, “according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).
God often sends vertical help through horizontal means. Put another way, He sends us what we need through the help of others. When we trust Him for what we need, we learn, as Paul did, the secret of true contentment (v. 12).
What do you do when there is a mountain in your way? The story of Dashrath Manjhi can inspire us. When his wife died because he was unable to get her to the hospital to receive urgent medical care, Manjhi did what seemed impossible. He spent twenty-two years chiseling a massive gap in a mountain so other villagers could get to the local hospital to receive the medical care they needed. Before he died, the government of India celebrated him for his achievement.
Rebuilding the temple must have looked impossible to Zerubbabel, one of the leaders of Israel who returned from exile. The people were discouraged, faced opposition from their enemies, and lacked resources or a big army. But God sent Zechariah to remind Zerubbabel that the task would take something more powerful than military strength, individual power, or man-made resources. It would take the Spirit’s power (Zechariah 4:6). With the assurance of divine aid, Zerubbabel trusted that God would level any mountain of difficulty that stood in the way of rebuilding the temple and restoring the community (v. 7).
What do we do when there is a “mountain” before us? We have two options: Rely on our own strength or trust the Spirit’s power. When we trust His power, He will either level the mountain or give us the strength and endurance to climb over it.
In the article “Leading by Naming,” Mark Labberton wrote about the power of a name. He said: “I can still feel the impact of a musical friend who one day called me ‘musical.’ No one had ever called me that. I didn’t really play an instrument. I was no soloist. Yet . . . I instantly felt known and loved. . . . [He] noticed, validated, and appreciated something deeply true about me.”
Perhaps this is what Simon felt when Jesus renamed him. After Andrew was convinced that Jesus was the Messiah, he immediately found his brother Simon and brought him to Jesus (John 1:41-42). Jesus peered into his soul and validated and appreciated something deeply true about Simon. Yes, Jesus saw the failure and impetuous nature that would get him into trouble. But more than that He saw the potential of Simon to become a leader in the church. Jesus named him Cephas—Aramaic for Peter—a rock (John 1:42; see Matt. 16:18).
And so it is with us. God sees our pride, anger, and lack of love for others, but He also knows who we are in Christ. He calls us justified and reconciled (Rom. 5:9-10); forgiven, holy, and beloved (Col. 2:13; 3:12); chosen and faithful (Rev. 17:14). Remember how God sees you and seek to let that define who you are.
One of my favorite television programs is The Amazing Race. In this reality show, 10 couples are sent to a foreign country where they must race, via trains, buses, cabs, bikes, and feet, from one point to another to get their instructions for the next challenge. The goal is for one couple to get to a designated finishing point before everyone else, and the prize is a million dollars.
The apostle Paul compared the Christian life to a race and admitted that he had not yet arrived at the finish line. “Brothers and sisters,” he said, “I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead. I press on toward the goal to win the prize” (Phil. 3:13-14). Paul did not look back and allow his past failures to weigh him down with guilt, nor did he let his present successes make him complacent. He pressed on toward the goal of becoming more and more like Jesus.
We are running this race too. Despite our past failures or successes, let us keep pressing on toward the ultimate goal of becoming more like Jesus. We are not racing for an earthly prize, but for the ultimate reward of enjoying Him forever.
My wife makes an amazing pot roast dinner. She takes raw meat, along with raw sliced white and sweet potatoes, celery, mushrooms, carrots, and onions and throws them into the slow cooker. Six or seven hours later the aroma fills the house, and the first taste is a delight. It is always to my advantage to wait until the ingredients in the slow cooker work together to achieve something they could not achieve individually.
When Paul used the phrase work together in the context of suffering, he used the word from which we get our word synergy. He wrote, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). He wanted the Romans to know that God, who didn’t cause their suffering, would cause all their circumstances to cooperate with His divine plan—for their ultimate good. The good to which Paul referred was not the temporal blessings of health, wealth, admiration, or success, but being “conformed to the image of [God’s] Son” (v. 29).
May we wait patiently and confidently because our heavenly Father is taking all the suffering, all the distress, all the evil, and causing them to work together for His glory and our spiritual good. He wants to make us like Jesus.
Seeing three large predatory animals cuddle and play together is extremely unusual. Yet this is precisely what happens daily in an animal sanctuary in Georgia. In 2001, after months of neglect and abuse, a lion, a Bengal tiger, and a black bear were rescued by Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary. “We could have separated them,” said the assistant director. “But since they came as a kind of family, we decided to keep them together.” The trio had found comfort in each other during their time of mistreatment, and, despite their differences, they live peacefully together.
Unity is a beautiful thing. But the unity Paul wrote about in his letter to the believers in Ephesus is unique. Paul encouraged the Ephesians to live up to their calling as members of one body in Christ (Ephesians 4:4-5). By the power of the Holy Spirit they would be able to live in unity as they developed humility, gentleness, and patience. These attitudes also allow us to lovingly bear “with one another in love” through the common ground we have in Christ Jesus (4:2).
Despite our differences, as members of the family of God we have been reconciled to Him through the death of our Savior and reconciled to each other through the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
The following warnings have been found on consumer products:
"Remove child before folding." (baby stroller)
"Does not supply oxygen." (dust mask)
"Never operate your speakerphone while driving." (hands-free cell phone product called the "Drive 'n' Talk")
"This product moves when used.” (scooter)
An appropriate warning label that Nabal could have worn would have been: “Expect folly from a fool” (see 1 Sam. 25). He certainly displayed foolishness as he addressed David. On the run from Saul, David had provided security detail for the sheep of a wealthy man named Nabal. When David learned that Nabal was shearing those sheep, he politely asked for food as remuneration for these duties (vv. 4–8).
Nabal’s response to David’s request was beyond rude. He said, “Who is this David? . . . Why should I take my bread and water, and the meat . . . , and give it to men coming from who knows where?” (vv. 10–11). He broke the hospitality code of the day by not inviting David to the feast, disrespected him by calling him names, and stole from him by not paying him for his work.
The truth is, we all have a little bit of Nabal in us. We act foolishly at times. The only cure for this is to acknowledge our sin to God. He will step in to forgive us, instruct us, and give us His wisdom.