“Where are you from?” We often use that question to get to know someone better. But for many of us, the answer is complicated. Sometimes we don’t want to share all the details.
In the book of Judges, Jephthah might not have wanted to answer that question at all. His half-brothers had chased him out of his hometown of Gilead for his “questionable” origins. “You are the son of another woman,” they declared (Judges 11:2). The text says starkly, “His mother was a prostitute” (v. 1).
But Jephthah was a natural leader, and when a hostile tribe picked a fight with Gilead, the people who had sent him packing suddenly wanted him back. “Be our commander,” they said (v. 6). Jephthah asked, “Didn’t you hate me and drive me from my father’s house?” (v. 7). After getting assurances that things would be different, he agreed to lead them. The Scripture tells us, “Then the Spirit of the Lord came on Jephthah” (v. 29). Through faith, he led them to a great victory. The New Testament mentions him in its list of heroes of the faith (Hebrews 11:32).
He so often seems to choose the unlikeliest people to do His work, doesn’t He? It doesn’t matter where we’re from, how we got here, or what we’ve done. What matters is that we respond in faith to God’s love.
Susannah Cibber gained fame in the eighteenth-century for her talent as a singer. However, she was equally well known for her scandalous marital problems. That’s why when Handel’s Messiah was first performed in Dublin in April 1742, many in the audience did not approve of her role as a featured soloist.
During that inaugural performance, Cibber sang of the Messiah: “He was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). Those words so moved Rev. Patrick Delany that he jumped to his feet and said, “Woman, for this be all thy sins forgiven thee!”
The connection between Susannah Cibber and the theme of Handel’s Messiah is evident. The “man of sorrows”—Jesus the Messiah—was “despised and rejected” because of sin. The prophet Isaiah said, “My righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities” (v. 11).
The connection between Messiah and us is no less apparent. Whether we stand with the judgmental audience members, with Susannah Cibber, or somewhere in between, we all need to repent and receive God’s forgiveness. Jesus, by His life, death, and resurrection, restored our relationship with God our Father.
For this—for all Jesus did—be all our sins forgiven.
Far from home and training for World War II, American recruits in basic training turned to humor and correspondence to cope with the challenges they faced. In one letter home a young man described the vaccination process with wonderful exaggeration: “Two medical officers chased us with harpoons. They grabbed us and pinned us to the floor and stuck one in each arm.”
Yet one soldier began to realize that humor could only take him so far. Then he received a Bible. “I enjoy it very much and I read it every night,” he wrote. “I never realized you could learn so much from a Bible.”
Long ago, the Jewish exiles returned home after years of slavery in Babylon to find their problems came with them. As they struggled to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls, they faced opposition from enemies, famine, and their own sin. Amid their trouble, they turned to God’s Word. They were surprised at what they learned. When the priests read from the Book of the Law of God, the people were moved to tears (Nehemiah 8:9). But they also found comfort. Nehemiah the governor told them, “Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (v. 10).
We don’t need to wait for trouble to hear from God. The Bible is where we learn about His character, His forgiveness, and His comfort. As we read it, we’ll be surprised at what God’s Spirit will show us in its pages.
“A weed is any plant that grows where you don’t want it,” my father said, handing me the hoe. I wanted to leave the corn plant that had “volunteered” among the peas. But Dad, who had grown up on a farm, instructed me to pull it out. That lone cornstalk would do nothing but choke the peas and rob them of nutrients.
Human beings aren’t plants—we have minds of our own and God-given free will. But sometimes we try to bloom where God doesn’t intend us to be.
King Saul’s son, the warrior-prince Jonathan, could have done that. He had every reason to expect to be king. But he saw God’s blessing on David, and he recognized the envy and pride of his own father (1 Samuel 18:12–15). So rather than grasping for a throne that would never be his, Jonathan became David’s closest friend, even saving his life (19:1–6; 20:1–4).
Some would say that Jonathan gave up too much. But how would we prefer to be remembered? Like the ambitious Saul, who clung to his kingdom and lost it? Or like Jonathan, who protected the life of a man who would become an honored ancestor of Jesus?
God’s plan is always better than our own. We can fight against it and resemble a misplaced weed. Or we can accept His direction and become flourishing, fruitful plants in His garden. He leaves the choice with us.
An influx of refugees to our community has led to new growth in area churches. That growth brings challenges. Church members must learn how to welcome these newcomers as they adjust to a strange culture, new language, and different worship styles. All this change can create some awkward situations.
Misunderstandings and disagreements occur everywhere we find people. Church is no exception. If we don’t handle our differences in a healthy way, they can harden into divisions.
The early church in Jerusalem was growing when a dispute arose that broke along a cultural fault line. The Greek-speaking Jews (the Hellenists) had a complaint against those Jews who spoke Aramaic. The Hellenist widows “were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food” (Acts 6:1). So the apostles said, “Choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom” (v. 3). The seven chosen all had Greek names (v. 5). In other words, they were Hellenists, members of the group being neglected. They best understood the problem. The apostles prayed over them and the church thrived (vv. 6–7).
Growth brings challenges, in part because it increases interactions across traditional barriers. But as we seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance, we’ll find creative solutions as potential problems turn into opportunities for more growth.
Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby writes of the “uncanny ability of experts to get things hopelessly, cataclysmically wrong.” A quick glance at recent history shows he's right. The great inventor Thomas Edison, for instance, once declared that talking movies would never replace silent films. And in 1928, Henry Ford declared, “People are becoming too intelligent ever to have another war.” Countless other predictions by “experts” have missed the mark badly. Genius obviously has its limits.
Only one Person is completely reliable, and He had strong words for some so-called experts. The religious leaders of Jesus’s day claimed to have the Truth. These scholars and theologians thought they knew what the promised Messiah would be like when He arrived.
Jesus cautioned them, “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life.” Then He pointed out how they were missing the heart of the matter. “These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5:39–40).
As another new year gets underway, we’ll hear predictions ranging from the terrifying to the wildly optimistic. Many of them will be stated with a great deal of confidence and authority. Don’t be alarmed. Our confidence remains in the One at the very heart of the Scriptures. He has a firm grip on us and on our future.
When Andrew Cheatle lost his cellphone at the beach, he thought it was gone forever. About a week later, however, fisherman Glen Kerley called him. He had pulled Cheatle’s phone, still functional after it dried, out of a 25-pound cod.
Life is full of odd stories, and we find more than a few of them in the Bible. One day tax collectors came to Peter demanding to know, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?” (Matt. 17:24). Jesus turned the situation into a teaching moment. He wanted Peter to understand His role as king. Taxes weren’t collected from the children of the king, and the Lord made it clear that neither He nor His children owed any temple tax (vv. 25–26).
Yet Jesus wanted to be careful not to “cause offense” (v. 27), so He told Peter to go fishing. (This is the odd part of the story.) Peter found a coin in the mouth of the first fish he caught.
What on earth is Jesus doing here? A better question is, “What in God’s kingdom is Jesus doing?” He is the rightful King—even when many do not recognize Him as such. When we accept His role as Lord in our lives, we become His children.
Life will still throw its various demands at us, but Jesus will provide for us. As former pastor David Pompo put it, “When we’re fishing for our Father, we can depend on Him for all we need.”
Christmas 1982 found me on assignment in a place many of my friends couldn’t locate on a map. Trudging from my worksite back to my room, I braced against the chill wind blowing off the bleak Black Sea. I missed home.
When I arrived at my room, I opened the door to a magical moment. My artistic roommate had completed his latest project—a nineteen-inch ceramic Christmas tree that now illuminated our darkened room with sparkling dots of color. If only for a moment, I was home again!
As Jacob fled from his brother Esau, he found himself in a strange and lonely place too. Asleep on the hard ground, he met God in a dream. And God promised Jacob a home. “I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying,” He told him. “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring” (Gen. 28:13–14).
From Jacob, of course, would come the promised Messiah, the One who left His home to draw us to Himself. “I will come back and take you to be with me so that you also may be where I am,” Jesus told His disciples (John 14:3).
That December night in 1982 I sat in the darkness of my room and gazed at that Christmas tree. Perhaps inevitably I thought of the Light that entered the world to show us the way home.
The first time I saw him, I cried. He looked like a perfect newborn asleep in his crib. But we knew he would never wake up. Not until he was in the arms of Jesus.
He clung to life for several months. Then his mother told us of his death in a heart-wrenching email. She wrote of “that deep, deep pain that groans inside you.” Then she said, “How deeply God carved His work of love into our hearts through that little life! What a powerful life it was!”
Powerful? How could she say that?
This family’s precious little boy showed them—and us—that we must depend on God for everything. Especially when things go horribly wrong! The hard yet comforting truth is that God meets us in our pain. He knows the grief of losing a Son.
In our deepest pain, we turn to the songs of David because he writes out of his own grief. “How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?” he asked (Ps. 13:2). “Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death” (v. 3). Yet David could give his biggest questions to God. “But I trust your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation” (v. 5).
Only God can bring ultimate significance to our most tragic events.