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Tom Felten

Tom Felten

Tom and his wife Lynn and have three sons, two daughters-in-law, and two Chinese “sons” who have been part of his family for many years. When not serving at Our Daily Bread Ministries as the executive editor of Our Daily Bread, you might find Tom spending time with his family, serving with people and music at his church, serving at Upper Peninsula Bible Camp in Michigan’s beautiful north, or enjoying the great outdoors.

Articles by Tom Felten

Strange Places

God, why is this happening? Is this really your plan for us?

As a husband and a dad of young children, those questions and more swirled in my mind as I wrestled with a serious cancer diagnosis. What’s more, our family had just served with a missions team that had seen many children receive Jesus as their Savior. God had been bringing forth evident fruit. There was so much joy. And now this?

Esther likely poured out questions and prayers to God after she was plucked from a loving home and thrust into a strange new world (Esther 2:8). Her cousin Mordecai had raised her as his own daughter after she’d been orphaned (v. 7). But then she was placed in a king’s harem and eventually elevated to serve as his queen (v. 17). Mordecai was understandably concerned about what “was happening to” Esther (v. 11). But in time, the two realized that God had called her to be in a place of great power “for such a time as this” (4:14)—a place that allowed for her people to be saved from destruction (chs. 7–8).

It’s evident that God providentially placed Esther in a strange place as part of His perfect plan. He did the same with me. As I endured a lengthy battle with cancer, I was privileged to share my faith with many, many patients and caregivers. What strange place has He led you to? Trust Him. He’s good, and so are His plans (Romans 11:33–36).

Walls Torn Down, Unity Found

Since 1961, families and friends had been separated by the Berlin Wall. Erected that year by the East German government, the barrier kept its citizens from fleeing to West Germany. In fact, from 1949 to the day the structure was built, it’s estimated that more than 2.5 million East Germans had bolted to the West. US President Ronald Reagan stood at the wall in 1987 and famously said, “Tear down this wall.” His words reflected a groundswell of change in the region that culminated with the wall being torn down in 1989—leading to Germany’s joyous reunification.

Paul wrote of a “wall of hostility” torn down by Jesus (Ephesians 2:14). The wall had existed between Jews (God’s chosen people) and gentiles (all other people). And it was symbolized by the dividing wall (the soreg) in the ancient temple erected by Herod the Great in Jerusalem. It kept gentiles from entering beyond the outer courts of the temple, though they could see the inner courts. But Jesus brought “peace” and reconciliation between the Jews and gentiles and between God and all people. He did so by “[breaking] down the wall . . . that separated us” by “his death on the cross” (vv. 14, 16 nlt). The “Good News of peace” made it possible for all to be united by faith in Christ (vv. 17–18 nlt).

Today, there are many things that can divide us. As God provides what we need, let’s strive to live out and declare the peace and unity found in Jesus (vv. 19–22).

Confronting in Love

He did many things well, but there was a problem. Everyone saw it. But because he was so effective in accomplishing most of his role, his anger issue wasn’t adequately addressed. He was never truly confronted. Sadly, this resulted in many people being hurt over the years. And, in the end, it led to the premature close of a career that could have been something so much more for this brother in Christ. If only I’d chosen to confront him in love long ago.

In Genesis 4, God provides the perfect picture of what it means to confront someone’s sin in love. Cain was infuriated. A farmer, he’d presented “some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord” (v. 3). But God made it clear that what he brought Him wasn’t acceptable. Cain’s offering was rejected, and he was “very angry, and his face was downcast” (v. 5). So, God confronted him and said, “Why are you angry?” (v. 6). He then told Cain to turn from his sin and pursue what was good and right. Sadly, Cain ignored God’s words and committed a horrific act (v. 8).

While we can’t force others to turn from sinful behaviors, we can compassionately confront them. We can “speak the truth in love” so that we both become “more and more like Christ” (Ephesians 4:15 nlt). And, as God gives us ears to listen, we can also receive hard words of truth from others.

Knowing and Loving

In the powerful article “Does My Son Know You?” sportswriter Jonathan Tjarks wrote of his battle with terminal cancer and his desire for others to care well for his wife and young son. The thirty-four-year-old wrote the piece just six months prior to his death. Tjarks, a believer in Jesus whose father had died when he was a young adult, shared Scriptures that speak of care for widows and orphans (Exodus 22:22; Isaiah 1:17; James 1:27). And in words directed to his friends, he wrote, “When I see you in heaven, there’s only one thing I’m going to ask—Were you good to my son and my wife? . . . Does my son know you?”

King David wondered if there was “anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom [he could] show kindness for [his dear friend] Jonathan’s sake” (2 Samuel 9:1). A son of Jonathan, Mephibosheth, who was “lame in both feet” (v. 3) due to an accident (see 4:4), was brought to the king. David said to him, “I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table” (9:7). David showed loving care for Mephibosheth, and it’s likely that in time he truly got to know him (see 19:24–30).

Jesus has called us to love others just as He loves us (John 13:34). As He works in and though us, let’s truly get to know and love them well.

Shooting Ourselves in the Foot

In 2021, an engineer with the ambition to shoot an arrow farther than anyone in history took aim at the record of 2,028 feet. While lying on his back on a salt flat, he drew back the bowstring of his personally designed foot bow and prepared to launch the projectile to what he hoped would be a new record distance of more than a mile (5,280 feet). Taking a deep breath, he let the arrow fly. It didn’t travel a mile. In fact, it traveled less than a foot—launching into his foot and causing considerable damage. Ouch!  

Sometimes we can figuratively shoot ourselves in the foot with misguided ambition. James and John knew what it meant to ambitiously seek something good, but for the wrong reasons. They asked Jesus to let “one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory” (Mark 10:37). Jesus had told the disciples they would “sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelves tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28), so it’s easy to see why they made this request. The problem? They were selfishly seeking their own lofty position and power in Christ’s glory. Jesus told them that their ambition was misplaced (Mark 10:38) and that “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant” (v. 43).

As we aim to do good and great things for Christ, may we seek His wisdom and direction—humbly serving others as He did so well (v. 45).

Finding Open Spaces

In his book Margin, Dr. Richard Swenson writes, “We must have some room to breathe. We need freedom to think and permission to heal. Our relationships are being starved to death by velocity. . . . Our children lay wounded on the ground, run over by our high-speed good intentions. Is God now pro-exhaustion? Doesn’t He lead people beside the still waters anymore? Who plundered those wide-open spaces of the past, and how can we get them back?” Swenson says we need some quiet, fertile “land” in life where we can rest in God and meet with Him.

Does that resonate? Seeking open spaces is something Moses lived out well. Leading a nation of “stubborn and rebellious” people (Exodus 33:5 nlt), he often withdrew to find rest and guidance in God’s presence. And in his “tent of meeting” (v. 7), “The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend” (v. 11). Jesus also “often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:16). Both He and Moses realized the importance of spending time alone with the Father.  

We too need to build margin into our lives, some wide and open spaces spent in rest and in God’s presence. Spending time with Him will help us make better decisions—creating healthier margins and boundaries in our life so we have the bandwidth available to love Him and others well.

Let’s seek God in open spaces today.

Personal Responsibility

My friend’s eyes revealed what I was feeling—fear! We two teens had behaved poorly and were now cowering before the camp director. The man, who knew our dads well, shared lovingly but pointedly that our fathers would be greatly disappointed. We wanted to crawl under the table—feeling the weight of personal responsibility for our offense.

God gave Zephaniah a message for the people of Judah that contained potent words about personal responsibility for sin (Zephaniah 1:1, 6–7). After describing the judgments He would bring against Judah’s foes (ch. 2), He turned His eyes on His guilty, squirming people (ch. 3). “What sorrow awaits rebellious, polluted Jerusalem” God proclaimed (3:1 nlt). “They [are] still eager to act corruptly” (v. 7).

He'd seen the cold hearts of His people—their spiritual apathy, social injustice, and ugly greed—and He was bringing loving discipline. And it didn’t matter if the individuals were “leaders,” “judges,” “prophets”—everyone was guilty before Him (vv. 3–4).

The apostle Paul wrote the following to believers in Jesus who persisted in sin, “You are storing up terrible punishment for yourself. . . . [God] will judge everyone according to what they have done” (Romans 2:5–6 NLT). So, in Jesus’ power, let’s live in a way that honors our holy, loving Father and leads to no remorse.

 

Freeing Obedience

The look on the young teen’s face reflected angst and shame. Heading into the 2022 Winter Olympics her success as a figure skater was unparalleled—a string of championships had made her a lock to win a gold medal. But then a test result revealed a banned substance in her system. With the immense weight of expectations and condemnation pressing down on her, she fell multiple times during her free-skate program and didn’t stand on the victors’ platform—no medal. She’d displayed artistic freedom and creativity on the ice prior to the scandal, but now an accusation of a broken rule bound her to crushed dreams.

From the early days of humanity, God has revealed the importance of obedience as we exercise our free will. Disobedience led to devasting effects for Adam, Eve, and all of us as sin brought brokenness and death to our world (Genesis 3:6–19). It didn’t have to be that way. God had told the two, “You are free to eat from any tree” but one (2:16–17). Thinking their “eyes [would] be opened, and [they would] be like God,” they ate of the banned “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (3:5–7). Sin, shame, and death followed.

God graciously provides freedom and so many good things for us to enjoy (John 10:10). In love, He also calls us to obey Him for our good. May He help us choose obedience and find life full of joy and free of shame.

Grace and Change

The crime was shocking, and the man who committed it was sentenced to life in prison. In the years that followed, the man—in solitary confinement—began a process of mental and spiritual healing. It led to repentance and a restored relationship with Jesus. These days he’s been allowed limited interactions with other inmates. And, by God’s grace, through his witness some fellow-prisoners have received Christ as Savior—finding forgiveness in Him.

Moses, though now recognized as a great man of faith, also committed a shocking crime. After he witnessed “an Egyptian beating a Hebrew,” he looked “this way and that” and “killed the Egyptian” (Exodus 2:11–12). Despite this sin, God in His grace wasn’t done with His imperfect servant. Later, He chose Moses to free His people from their oppression (3:10). In Romans 5:14, we read, “Death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command.” But in the following verses Paul states that “God’s grace” makes it possible for us, regardless of our past sins, to be changed and made right with Him (vv. 15–16).

We might think that what we’ve done disqualifies us from knowing God’s forgiveness and being used for His honor. But because of His grace, in Jesus we can be changed and set free to help others be changed for eternity.