Health clubs offer many different programs for those who want to lose weight and stay healthy. One fitness center caters only to those who want to lose at least 50 pounds and develop a healthy lifestyle. One member says that she quit her previous fitness club because she felt the slim and fit people were staring at her and judging her out-of-shape body. She now works out 5 days a week and is achieving healthy weight loss in a positive and welcoming environment.
Two thousand years ago, Jesus came to call the spiritually unfit to follow Him. Levi was one such person. Jesus saw him sitting in his tax collector’s booth and said, “Follow me” (Mark 2:14). His words captured Levi’s heart, and he followed Jesus. Tax collectors were often greedy and dishonest in their dealings and were considered religiously unclean. When the religious leaders saw Jesus having dinner at Levi’s house with other tax collectors, they asked, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (2:16). Jesus replied, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (2:17).
Jesus came to save sinners, which includes all of us. He loves us, welcomes us into His presence, and calls us to follow Him. As we walk with Him, we grow more and more spiritually fit.
When people drill holes deep into the earth, it is normally for pulling up core samples of rock, accessing oil, or finding water.
In Isaiah 12, we learn that God wanted His people, who were living in a spiritual desert as well as a geographical desert, to discover His “wells of salvation.” The prophet Isaiah compared God’s salvation to a well from which the most refreshing of all waters can be drawn. After many years of turning their back on God, the nation of Judah was destined for exile as God allowed foreign invaders to conquer the nation, scattering the people. Yet, said the prophet Isaiah, a remnant would eventually return to their homeland as a sign that God was with them (Isa. 11:11-12).
Isaiah 12 is a hymn, praising God for His faithfulness in keeping His promises, especially the promise of salvation. Isaiah encouraged the people that deep in God’s “wells of salvation” they would experience the cool water of God’s grace, strength, and joy (vv. 1-3). This would refresh and strengthen their hearts and cause praise and gratitude to God (vv. 4-6).
God wants each of us to discover through confession and repentance the deep, cool waters of joy found in the everlasting well of His salvation.
After Ghana’s Asamoah Gyan scored a goal against Germany in the 2014 World Cup, he and his teammates did a coordinated dance step. When Germany’s Miroslav Klose scored a few minutes later, he did a running front flip. “Soccer celebrations are so appealing because they reveal players’ personalities, values, and passions,” says Clint Mathis, who scored for the US at the 2002 World Cup.
In Psalm 150, the psalmist invites “everything that has breath” to celebrate and praise the Lord in many different ways. He suggests that we use trumpets and harps, stringed instruments and pipes, cymbals and dancing. He encourages us to creatively and passionately celebrate, honor, and adore the Lord. Because the Lord is great and has performed mighty acts on behalf of His people, He is worthy of all praise. These outward expressions of praise will come from an inner wellspring overflowing with gratitude to God. “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord,” the psalmist declares (150:6).
Though we may celebrate the Lord in different ways (I’m not encouraging back flips in our worship services), our praise to God always needs to be expressive and meaningful. When we think about the Lord’s character and His mighty acts toward us, we cannot help but celebrate Him through our praise and worship.
In August 2013, large crowds gathered at the Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to witness the blooming of the tropical plant known as the corpse flower. Since the flower is native to Indonesia, and may flower only once every several years, its blooming is a spectacle. Once open, the huge spiky, beautiful, red bloom smells like rotten meat. Because of its putrid fragrance, the flower attracts flies and beetles that are looking for rotting meat. But there is no nectar.
Like the corpse flower, sin holds out promises but in the end offers no rewards. Adam and Eve found this out the hard way. Eden was beautiful until they ruined it by doing the one thing God urged them not to do. Tempted to doubt God’s goodness, they ignored their Creator’s loving warning and soon lost their innocence. The God-given beauty of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil became like a corpse flower to them. The reward for their disobedience was alienation, pain, emptiness, toil, and death.
Sin looks inviting and may feel good, but it doesn’t compare with the wonder, beauty, and fragrance of trusting and obeying God, who has made us to share His life and joy.
Nelson Mandela, who opposed the South African apartheid regime and was imprisoned for almost 3 decades, knew the power of words. He is often quoted today, but while in prison his words could not be quoted for fear of repercussion. A decade after his release he said: “It is never my custom to use words lightly. If 27 years in prison have done anything to us, it was to use the silence of solitude to make us understand how precious words are, and how real speech is in its impact on the way people live and die.”
King Solomon, author of most of the Old Testament book of Proverbs, wrote often about the power of words. He said, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Prov. 18:21). Words have the potential to produce positive or negative consequences (v. 20). They have the power to give life through encouragement and honesty or to crush and kill through lies and gossip. How can we be assured of producing good words that have a positive outcome? The only way is by diligently guarding our hearts: “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (4:23 niv).
Jesus can transform our hearts so that our words can truly be their best—honest, calm, appropriate, and suitable for the situation.
In 2005, when American civil rights hero Rosa Parks died, Oprah Winfrey counted it a privilege to eulogize her. Oprah said of the woman who refused to give up her bus seat to a white man in 1955, “I often thought about what that took—knowing the climate of the times and what could have happened to you—what it took to stay seated. You acted without concern for yourself and made life better for us all.”
We often use the word eulogy to refer to the words spoken at a funeral. But it can also refer to other situations where we give high praise to someone. In the opening lines of Ephesians, the apostle Paul eulogized the living God. When he said, “Blessed be the God and Father,” he used a word for “blessed” that means “eulogy.” Paul invited the Ephesians to join him in praising God for all kinds of spiritual blessings: God had chosen and adopted them; Jesus had redeemed, forgiven, and made known to them the mystery of the gospel; and the Spirit had guaranteed and sealed them. This great salvation was purely an act of God and His grace.
Let us continue to center our thoughts on God’s blessings in Christ. When we do, like Paul, we will find our hearts overflowing with a eulogy that declares: “To the praise of His glory.”
After Estella Pyfrom retired from teaching, she bought a bus, decked it out with computers and desks, and now drives the “Brilliant Bus” through Palm Beach County, Florida, providing a place for at-risk children to do their homework and learn technology. Estella is providing stability and hope to children who might be tempted to throw away their dream for a better tomorrow.
In the first century, an avalanche of suffering and discouragement threatened the Christian community. The author of Hebrews wrote to convince these followers of Christ not to throw away their confidence in their future hope (2:1). Their hope—a faith in God for salvation and entrance into heaven—was found in the person and sacrifice of Christ. When Jesus entered heaven after His resurrection, He secured their hope for the future (6:19-20). Like an anchor dropped at sea, preventing a ship from drifting away, Jesus’ death, resurrection, and return to heaven brought assurance and stability to the believers’ lives. This hope for the future cannot and will not be shaken loose.
Jesus anchors our souls, so that we will not drift away from our hope in God.
While Hurricane Katrina headed toward the coast of Mississippi, a retired pastor and his wife left their home and went to a shelter. Their daughter pleaded with them to go to Atlanta where she could take care of them, but the couple couldn’t get any money to make the trip because the banks were closed. After the storm had passed, they returned to their home to get a few belongings, and were able to salvage only a few family photos floating in the water. Then, when the man was taking his father’s photo out of its frame so it could dry, $366 fell out—precisely the amount needed for two plane tickets to Atlanta. They learned they could trust Jesus for what they needed.