It was 1854, and something was killing thousands of people in London. It must be the bad air, people thought. And indeed, as unseasonable heat baked the sewage-fouled River Thames, the smell grew so bad it became known as “The Great Stink.”
But the worst problem wasn’t the air. Research by Dr. John Snow would show that contaminated water was the cause of the cholera epidemic.
We humans have long been aware of another crisis—one that stinks to high heaven. We live in a broken world—and we’re prone to misidentify the source of this problem, treating symptoms instead. Wise social programs and policies do some good, but they’re powerless to stop the root cause of society’s ills—our sinful hearts!
When Jesus said, “Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them,” He wasn’t referring to physical diseases (Mark 7:15). Rather, He was diagnosing the spiritual condition of every one of us. “It is what comes out of a person that defiles them,” He said (v. 15), listing a litany of evils lurking inside us (vv. 21–22).
“Surely I was sinful at birth,” David wrote (Psalm 51:5). His lament is one we can all voice. We’re broken from the beginning. That’s why David prayed, “Create in me a pure heart, O God” (v. 10). Every day, we need that new heart, created by Jesus through His Spirit.
Instead of treating the symptoms, we must let Jesus purify the source.
It had been an awful week for Kevin and Kimberley. Kevin’s seizures had suddenly worsened and he’d been hospitalized. Amid the pandemic their four young children—siblings adopted from foster care—were taking cabin fever to a new extreme. On top of that, Kimberley couldn’t scrounge up a decent meal from the fridge. Oddly, at that moment, she craved carrots.
An hour later there was a knock at the door. There stood their friends Amanda and Andy, with an entire meal she’d prepared for the family. Including carrots.
They say the devil is in the details? No. An amazing story in the history of the Jewish people shows God in the details. Pharaoh had commanded, “Every Hebrew boy that is born you must throw into the Nile” (Exodus 1:22). That genocidal development turned on a remarkable detail. Moses’ mother did indeed “throw” her baby into the Nile, albeit with a strategy. And from the Nile, Pharaoh’s own daughter would rescue the baby whom God used to rescue His people. She would even pay Moses’ mother to nurse him (2:9).
One day from this fledgling Jewish nation would come a promised baby boy. His story would abound with amazing details and divine ironies. Most importantly, Jesus would provide an exodus out of our slavery to sin.
Even—especially—in the dark times, God is in the details. As Kimberley will tell you, “God brought me carrots!”
For more than a year, his legal name was “Baby Boy.” Discovered by a security guard who heard his cries, Baby Boy had been abandoned—hours old and wrapped only in a bag—in a hospital parking lot.
Soon after his discovery, Social Services called the people who would one day become his forever family. The couple took him in and called him Grayson (not his real name). Finally, the adoption was complete, and Grayson’s name became official. Today you can meet a delightful child who mispronounces his r’s as he earnestly engages you in conversation. You’d never guess he’d once been found abandoned in a bag.
Late in his life, Moses reviewed God’s character and what He had done for the people of Israel. “The
Whether it’s through adoption, or simply through love and service, we’re all called to reflect God’s love. That loving couple became the hands and feet God used to extend His love to someone who might have gone unnoticed and unclaimed. We can serve as His hands and feet too
Despite living much of his life as a pagan, the Roman emperor Constantine (272–337 ad) implemented reforms that stopped the systematic persecution of Christians. He also instituted the calendar we use, dividing all of history into bc (Before Christ) and ad (Anno Domini, or Year of our Lord).
A move to secularize this system has changed the labels to ce (Common Era) and bce (Before the Common Era). Some people point to this as yet one more example of how the world keeps God out.
But God hasn’t gone anywhere. Regardless of the name, our calendar still centers itself around the reality of Jesus’ life on earth.
In the Bible, the book of Esther is unusual in that it contains no specific mention of God. Yet the story it tells is one of God’s deliverance. Banished from their homeland, the Jewish people lived in a country indifferent to Him. A powerful government official wanted to kill them all (Esther 8:8–9, 13). Yet through Queen Esther and her cousin Mordecai, God delivered His people, a story still celebrated to this day in the Jewish holiday of Purim (9:20–32).
Regardless of how the world chooses to respond to Him now, Jesus changed everything. He introduced us to an uncommon era—one full of genuine hope and promise. All we need to do is look around us. We’ll see Him.
“There are different questions a young artist can ask,” says singer/songwriter Linford Detweiler of Over the Rhine. “One is, ‘What must I do to be famous?’” Detweiler warns that such a goal “swings the door open to all manner of destructive forces from both within and without.” He and his wife have instead chosen a less flashy musical road in which they “continue to grow over the course of an entire lifetime.”
The name of Jehoiada isn’t readily recognized, yet it’s synonymous with a lifetime of dedication to God. He served as priest during the reign of King Joash, who for the most part ruled well—thanks to Jehoiada.
When Joash was just seven years old, Jehoiada had been the catalyst in installing him as rightful king (2 Kings 11:1–16). But this was no power grab. At Joash’s coronation, Jehoiada “made a covenant between the Lord and the king and people that they would be the Lord’s people” (v. 17). He kept his word, implementing badly needed reforms. “As long as Jehoiada lived, burnt offerings were presented continually in the temple of the Lord” (2 Chronicles 24:14). For his dedication, Jehoiada “was buried with the kings in the City of David” (v. 16).
Eugene Peterson calls such a God-focused life “a long obedience in the same direction.” Ironically, it’s such obedience that stands out in a world bent on fame, power, and self-fulfillment.
Kelly was battling brain cancer when the COVID-19 crisis hit. Then fluid developed around her heart and lungs and she had to be hospitalized again. Her family couldn’t visit because of the pandemic. Her husband, Dave, vowed to do something.
Gathering loved ones together, Dave asked them to make large signs with messages. They did. Wearing masks, twenty people stood on the street outside the hospital holding signs: “BEST MOM!” “LOVE YOU.” “WE ARE WITH U.” With the help of a nurse, Kelly made her way to a fourth-floor window. “All we could see was a facemask and a waving hand,” her husband posted on social media, “but it was a beautiful facemask and waving hand.”
Late in his life, the apostle Paul felt alone as he languished in a Roman prison. He wrote to Timothy, “Do your best to get here before winter” (2 Timothy 4:21). Yet Paul wasn’t totally alone. “The Lord stood at my side and gave me strength,” he said (v. 17). And it’s also apparent that he had some encouraging contact with other believers. “Eubulus greets you,” he said to Timothy, “and so do Pudens, Linus, Claudia and all the brothers and sisters” (v. 21).
We’re created for community, and we feel that most keenly when we’re in crisis. What might you do for someone who may feel entirely alone today?
Many years ago, Joni Mitchell wrote a song called “Woodstock” in which she saw the human race trapped in a “bargain” with the devil. Urging her listeners to seek a simpler, more peaceful existence, she sang of a return to “the garden.” Mitchell spoke for a generation longing for purpose and meaning.
Mitchell’s poetical “garden” is Eden, of course. Eden was the paradise God created for us back in the beginning. In this garden, Adam and Eve met with God on a regular basis—until the day they made their bargain with the devil (see Genesis 3:6–7). That day was different. “Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the
When God asked what they’d done, Adam and Eve engaged in a lot of blame-shifting. Despite their denial, God didn’t leave them there. He “made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them” (v. 21), a sacrifice that hinted at the death Jesus would endure to cover our sins.
God didn’t give us a way back to Eden. He gave us a way forward into restored relationship with Him. We can’t return to the garden. But we can return to the God of the garden.
The ornate ceremonial bow and quiver had hung on the wall of our home in Michigan for years. I’d inherited them from my father, who acquired the souvenirs while we were serving as missionaries in Ghana.
Then one day a Ghanaian friend visited us. When he saw the bow, he got a strange look on his face. Pointing to a small object tied to it he said, “That is a fetish—a magic charm. I know it has no power, but I would not keep it in my house.” Quickly we cut the charm from the bow and discarded it. We didn’t want anything in our home intended for the worship of something other than God.
Josiah, king in Jerusalem, grew up with little knowledge of God’s expectations for His people. When the high priest rediscovered the Book of the Law in the long-neglected temple (2 Kings 22:8), Josiah wanted to hear it. As soon as he learned what God had said about idolatry, he ordered sweeping changes to bring Judah into compliance with God’s law—changes far more drastic than merely cutting a charm from a bow (see 2 Kings 23:3–7).
Believers today have more than King Josiah did—much, much more. We have the entire Bible to instruct us. We have each other. And we have the vital filling of the Holy Spirit, who brings things to light, large and small, that we might otherwise overlook.
An Atlanta police officer asked a driver if she knew why he had stopped her. “No idea!” she said in bewilderment. “Ma’am, you were texting while driving,” the officer gently told her. “No, no!” she protested, holding up her cell phone as evidence. “It’s an email.”
Using a cell phone to send an email doesn’t grant us a loophole from a law that prohibits texting while driving! The point of the law isn’t to prevent texting; it’s to prevent distracted driving.
Jesus accused the religious leaders of His day of creating far worse loopholes. “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God,” He said, quoting the command to “Honor your father and mother” as evidence (Mark 7:9–10). Under the hypocritical cloak of religious devotion, these wealthy leaders were neglecting their families. They simply declared their money as “devoted to God,” and voila, no need to help Mom and Dad in their old age. Jesus quickly got to the heart of the problem. “You nullify the word of God by your tradition,” He said (v. 13). They weren’t honoring God; they were dishonoring their parents.
Rationalization can be so subtle. With it we avoid responsibilities, explain away selfish behavior, and reject God’s direct commands. If that describes our behavior, we’re merely deceiving ourselves. Jesus offers us the opportunity to exchange our selfish tendencies for the guidance of the Spirit behind His Father’s good instructions.