I wasn’t truthful about the tulips. A gift from my younger daughter, the packaged bulbs traveled home with her to the US from Amsterdam after she visited there. So I made a show of accepting the bulbs with great excitement, as excited as I was to reunite with her. But tulips are my least favorite flower. Many bloom early and fade fast. The July weather, meantime, made it too hot to plant them.
Finally, however, in late September, I planted “my daughter’s” bulbs—thinking of her and thus planting them with love. With each turn of the rocky soil, my concern for the bulbs grew. Giving their plant bed a final pat, I offered the bulbs a blessing, “sleep well,” hoping to see blooming tulips in the spring.
My little project became a humble reminder of God’s call for us to love one another, even if we’re not each other’s “favorites.” Looking past each other’s faulty “weeds,” we’re enabled by God to extend love to others, even in temperamental seasons. Then, over time, mutual love blooms in spite of ourselves. “By this,” Jesus said, “everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (v. 34). Pruned by Him, we’re blessed then to bloom, as my tulips did the next spring—on the same weekend my daughter arrived for a short visit. “Look what’s blooming!” I said. Finally, me.
At the sink, two little children happily sing the “Happy Birthday” song—two times each—while washing their hands. “It takes that long to wash away the germs,” their mother tells them. So even before the COVID-19 pandemic, they’d learned to take time to clean dirt from their hands.
Getting clean can be a tedious process, as we learned in the pandemic. Scrubbing away sin, however, means following focused steps back to God.
James urged believers in Jesus scattered throughout the Roman Empire to turn their focus back to God. Beset by quarrels and fights, their battles for one-upmanship, possessions, worldly pleasures, money, and recognition made them an enemy of God, James told them. Instead, he warned, “Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (James 4:8). As he said, “submit yourselves, then to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (v. 7)). But how?
“Come near to God and he will come near to you” (v. 8). These are sanitizing words, describing the necessity of turning to God to scour away the soil of sin from our lives. James then further explained the cleaning method: “Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up” (vv. 9–10).
Dealing with our sin is humbling. But, hallelujah, God is faithful to turn our “washing” into worship.
The wounded horse was named Drummer Boy. One of 112 mounts carrying British soldiers into battle during the famed Charge of the Light Brigade, the animal showed such bravery and stamina that his assigned commander, Lieutenant Colonel de Salis, decided his horse deserved a medal as much as his valiant men. This was done even though their military action against enemy forces failed. Yet the cavalry’s valor, matched by the courage of their horses, established the clash as one of Britain’s greatest military moments, still celebrated today.
The confrontation, however, shows the wisdom of an ancient Bible proverb: “The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but victory rests with the
Knowing this, our task still is to be prepared for life’s tough tests. To build a ministry, we study, work, and pray. To create beautiful art, we master a skill. To conquer a mountain, we secure our tools and build our strength. Then prepared, we’re more than conquerors through Christ’s strong love.
After breaking with our longtime church, my husband and I reunited with the fellowship after three long years. But how would people treat us? Would they welcome us back? Love us? Forgive us for leaving? We got our answer on a sunny Sunday morning. As we walked through the big church doors, we kept hearing our names. “Pat! Dan! It’s so great to see you!” As children’s author Kate DiCamillo wrote in one of her popular books, “Reader, nothing is sweeter in this sad world than the sound of someone you love calling your name.”
The same assurance was true for the people of Israel. Where we had chosen a different church for a time, they had turned their backs on God. Yet He welcomed them back. He sent the prophet Isaiah to assure them, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1).
In this world, where we can feel unseen, unappreciated, and even unknown, be assured that God knows each of us by name. “You are precious and honored in my sight,” He promises (v. 4). “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you” (v. 3). This promise isn’t just for Israel. Jesus ransomed His life for us. He knows our names. Why? In love, we are His.
The four chaplains weren’t known as “heroes.” But on a frigid February night in 1943, when their transport ship, the SS Dorchester, was torpedoed off the coast of Greenland during World War II, the four gave their all to calm hundreds of panicked soldiers. With the ship sinking and injured men jumping for overcrowded lifeboats, the four chaplains calmed pandemonium by “preaching courage,” a survivor said.
When life jackets ran out, each took his off, giving it to a frightened young man. They had determined to go down with the ship so that others might live. Said one survivor: "It was the finest thing I have seen or hope to see this side of heaven."
Linking arms as the ship began to sink, the chaplains prayed aloud together, offering encouragement to those perishing with them.
Bravery marks their saga. Love, however, defines the gift the four offered. Paul urged such love of all believers, including those in the storm-tossed church at Corinth. Roiled by conflict, corruption, and sin, Paul urged them to “be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong” (1 Corinthians 16:13). Then he added, “Do everything in love” (v. 14).
It’s a sterling command for every believer in Jesus, especially during a crisis. In life, when upheaval threatens, our bravest response reflects Christ—giving to others His love.
In Papua New Guinea, the Kandas tribe awaited with excitement the arrival of New Testament Bibles printed in their language. To get there, however, both the books and their visitors had to travel on the ocean in small boats to reach the village.
What gave them courage to travel across great waters? Their seafaring skills, yes. But they also know who created the seas. He is the One who guides each of us across our life’s churning waves and deepest waters.
As David wrote, “Where can I go from your Spirit?” (Psalm 139:7). “If I go up to the heavens, you are there . . . if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast” (vv. 8–10).
These words would resonate deeply with the Kandas, who live on an island nation whose tropical coasts, dense rainforests, and rugged mountains have been called “The Last Unknown.” Yet as believers there and everywhere know, no place or problem is too remote for God. “Even the darkness will not be dark to you,” says Psalm 139:12, and “the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.”
On stormy waters, therefore, our Lord speaks, “Peace, be still!” and the waves and wind obey (Mark 4:39
On her college volleyball team, my granddaughter learned a winning principle. When the ball came her way, no matter what, she could “better the ball.” She could make a play that left her teammates in a better situation—without throwing tantrums, blaming, or making excuses. Always make the situation better.
That was Daniel’s response when he and three Hebrew friends were taken into captivity by Babylon’s king Nebuchadnezzar. Although they were given pagan names and ordered to three years of “training” in the enemy’s palace, Daniel didn’t rage. Instead, he asked permission not to defile himself in God’s sight by eating the king’s rich food and wine. As this intriguing Bible story shows, after consuming nothing but vegetables and water for ten days (Daniel 1:12), Daniel and his friends “looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food” (v. 15).
Another time, Nebuchadnezzar threatened to kill Daniel and all palace wise men if they couldn’t repeat the king’s disturbing dream and interpret it. Again, Daniel didn’t panic, but sought mercy “from the God of heaven,” and the mystery was revealed to him in a vision (2:18–19). As Daniel declared of God, “wisdom and power are his” (v. 20). Throughout his captivity, Daniel sought God’s best despite the conflicts he faced. In our own troubles, may we follow that example, making the situation better by taking it to God.
The prophet Habakkuk arrived at this conclusion centuries earlier. After complaining to God about evils aimed at the people of Judah, Habakkuk came to see that praising God leads to joy—not in what God does, but in who He is. Thus, even in a national or world crisis, God is still great. As the prophet declared:
“Though the fig tree does not bud, and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the
“I will be joyful in God my Savior,” he added. As C. S. Lewis also realized, “The whole world rings with praise.” Habakkuk, likewise, surrendered to praising God always, finding rich joy in the One who “marches on forever” (v. 6).
My grandchildren are running around my backyard. Playing games? No, pulling weeds. “Pulling them up by the roots!” the youngest says, showing me a hefty prize. Her delight as we tackled weeds that day was how much we enjoyed plucking the weedy roots—clearing away each pesky menace. Before the joy, however, came the choice to go after them.
Intentional weeding is also the first step in removing personal sin. Thus, David asked the Lord: “Search me, God, and know my heart . . . . See if there is any offensive way in me (Psalm 139:23–24).
What a wise approach, to go after our sin by asking God to show it to us. He above all knows everything about us. “You have searched me, Lord, and you know me,” wrote the psalmist. “You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar” (vv. 1–2).
Such knowledge, David added, “is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain” (v. 6). Even before a sin takes root, therefore, the Lord can alert us to the danger. He knows our “landscape.” So, when a sneaky sinful attitude tries to take root, He is first to know and point it out.
“You hem me in behind and before,” wrote David. “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,” (vv. 5–6). May we closely follow our Savior to higher ground!