We called ourselves “sisters in Christ.” But my white friend and I had begun to act like enemies. Over a café breakfast one morning, we argued unkindly over our differing racial views. Then we parted, with me vowing not to see her again. One year later, however, we were hired by the same ministry—working in the same department, unable not to reconnect. Awkwardly at first, we talked over conflicts. Then, over time, God helped us to apologize to each other and to heal, but also give the ministry our best.
God also healed the bitter division between Esau and his twin brother Jacob, also blessing both their lives. A onetime schemer, Jacob had robbed Esau of their father’s blessing. But twenty years later, God called Jacob to return to their homeland. So, Jacob sent ahead bountiful gifts to appease Esau. “But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept” (Genesis 33:4).
Their reunion stands as a classic example of God’s urging to settle anger with a brother or sister before offering our gifts—talents or treasuries—to Him (Matthew 5:22). Instead, “first go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift” (v. 24). Jacob obeyed God, by reconciling with Esau, and later setting up an altar to the Lord (Genesis 33:20). What a beautiful order—first strive for forgiveness and reconciliation. Then at His altar, He receives us.
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