As artillery rounds fell around him with an earth-shaking whoomp, the young soldier prayed fervently, “Lord, if you get me through this, I’ll go to that Bible school Mom wanted me to.” God honored his focused prayer. My dad survived World War II, went to Moody Bible Institute, and invested his life in ministry.
Another warrior endured a different kind of crisis that drove him to God, but his problems arose when he avoided combat. As King David’s troops fought the Ammonites, David was back at his palace casting more than just a glance at another man’s wife (see 2 Samuel 11). In Psalm 39, David chronicles the painful process of restoration from the terrible sin that resulted. “The turmoil within me grew worse,” he wrote. “The more I thought about it, the hotter I got” (vv. 2–3
David’s broken spirit caused him to reflect: “Show me,
What motivates our prayer life doesn’t matter as much as the focus of our prayer. God is our source of hope. He wants us to share our heart with Him.
“Hey, can you teach me how to do that?”
“How to do what?” the chaplain asked.
“Can you teach me to pray like that?”
The chaplain shared that prayer is simply an honest conversation with God. “Just figure out what’s going on in your heart,” he said. “Then you talk to God about it.”
Jesus’s disciples had a similar request:…
When a college class went on a cultural field trip, the instructor almost didn’t recognize one of his star pupils. In the classroom she had concealed six-inch heels beneath her pant legs. But in her walking boots she was less than five feet tall. “My heels are how I want to be,” she laughed. “But my boots are how I really am.”
Thankfully, our physical appearance doesn’t define who we are. It’s our heart that matters. Jesus had strong words for those masters of appearances—the super-religious “Pharisees and teachers of the law.” They asked Jesus why His disciples didn’t wash their hands before eating, as their religious traditions dictated (Matthew 15:1–2). Jesus asked, “Why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?” (v. 3). Then He pointed out how they had invented a legal loophole to keep their wealth instead of caring for their parents (vv. 4–6), thus dishonoring them and violating the fifth commandment (Exodus 20:12).
If we obsess over appearances while looking for loopholes in God’s clear commands, we’re violating the spirit of His law. Jesus said that “out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality,” and the like (Matthew 15:19). Only God, through the righteousness of His Son Jesus, can give us a clean heart.
In “Christmas Every Day,” William Dean Howells tells of a little girl who gets her wish. For one long, horrible year it is indeed Christmas every day. By day three, the yuletide joy has already begun to wear thin. Before long everyone hates candy. Turkeys become scarce and sell for outrageous prices. Presents are no longer received with gratitude as they pile up everywhere. People angrily snap at each other.
Thankfully, Howell’s story is just a satirical tale. But what an incredible blessing that the subject of the Christmas celebration never wearies us despite the fact that we see Him throughout the Bible.
After Jesus had ascended to His Father, the apostle Peter proclaimed to a crowd at the temple in Jerusalem that Jesus was the one Moses foretold when he said, “God will raise up for you a prophet like me” (Acts 3:22; Deuteronomy 18:18). God’s promise to Abraham, “Through your offspring all peoples on earth will be blessed,” was really a reference to Jesus (Acts 3:25; Genesis 12:3). Peter noted, “All the prophets who have spoken have foretold these days”—the arrival of the Messiah (Acts 3:24).
We can keep the spirit of Christmas alive long after the celebrations have ended. By seeing Christ in the whole story of the Bible we can appreciate how Christmas is so much more than just another day.
Well before the calendar flips to December, Christmas cheer begins to bubble up in our northern town. A medical office drapes its trees and shrubs in close-fitting strings of lights, each a different color, illuminating a breathtaking nighttime landscape. Another business decorates its building to look like an enormous, extravagantly wrapped Christmas present. It’s difficult to turn anywhere without seeing evidence of Christmas spirit—or at least seasonal marketing.
Some people love these lavish displays. Others take a more cynical view. But the crucial question isn’t how others observe Christmas. Rather, we each need to consider what the celebration means to us.
A little more than thirty years after His birth, Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” (Matthew 16:13). They gave responses others had given: John the Baptist, Elijah, maybe another prophet. Then Jesus made it personal: “Who do you say that I am?” (v. 15). Peter replied, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (v. 16).
This year, many will celebrate Christmas without a thought about who the Baby really is. As we interact with them, we can help them consider these crucial questions: Is Christmas just a heartwarming story about a baby born in a stable? Or did our Creator truly visit His creation and become one of us?
When the bridge to Techiman, Ghana, washed out, residents of New Krobo on the other side of the Tano River were stranded. Attendance at Pastor Samuel Appiah’s church in Techiman suffered too because many of the members lived in New Krobo—on the “wrong” side of the river.
Amid the crisis, Pastor Sam was trying to expand the church’s children’s home to care for more orphans. So he prayed. Then, his church sponsored outdoor meetings across the river in New Krobo. Soon they were baptizing new believers in Jesus. A new church took root. Not only that, New Krobo had space to care for the orphans awaiting housing. God was weaving His redemptive work into the crisis.
When the apostle Paul found himself on the “wrong” side of freedom, he didn’t lament his situation. In a powerful letter to the church in Philippi, he wrote, “I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel” (Philippians 1:12). Paul noted how his chains had led to “the whole palace guard” learning about Christ (v. 13). And others had gained confidence to share the good news of Jesus (v. 14).
Despite obstacles, Pastor Sam and the apostle Paul found God showing them new ways to work in their crises. What might God be doing in our challenging circumstances today?
One news report called it “the single deadliest day for Christians in decades.” The pair of attacks on Sunday worshipers in April 2017 defies our understanding. We simply don’t have a category to describe bloodshed in a house of worship. But we can find some help from others who know this kind of pain well.
Most of the people of Jerusalem were in exile or had been slain when Asaph wrote Psalm 74. Pouring out his heart’s anguish, he described the destruction of the temple at the hands of ruthless invaders. “Your foes roared in the place where you met with us,” Asaph said (v. 4). “They burned your sanctuary to the ground; they defiled the dwelling place of your Name” (v. 7).
Yet the psalmist found a place to stand despite the awful reality—encouragement that we can do so too. “But God is my King from long ago,” Asaph resolved. “He brings salvation on the earth” (v. 12). This truth enabled Asaph to praise God’s mighty power even though His salvation seemed absent in the moment. “Have regard for your covenant,” Asaph prayed. “Do not let the oppressed retreat in disgrace; may the poor and needy praise your name” (vv. 20–21).
When justice and mercy seem absent, God’s love and power are in no way diminished. With Asaph, we can confidently say, “But God is my King.”
“Do you still hope for peace?” a journalist asked Bob Dylan in 1984.
“There is not going to be any peace,” Dylan replied. His response drew criticism, yet there’s no denying that peace remains ever elusive.
About 600 years before Christ, most prophets were predicting peace. God’s prophet wasn’t one of them. Jeremiah reminded the people that God had said, “Obey me, and I will be your God, and you will be my people” (Jeremiah 7:23). Yet they repeatedly ignored the Lord and His commands. Their false prophets said, “Peace, peace” (8:11), but Jeremiah predicted disaster. Jerusalem fell in 586
Peace is rare. But amid Jeremiah’s book of dire prophecies we discover a God who loves relentlessly. “I have loved you with an everlasting love,” the Lord told His rebellious people. “I will build you up again” (31:3–4).
God is a God of love and peace. Conflict comes because of our rebellion against Him. Sin destroys the world’s peace and robs each of us of inner peace. Jesus came to this planet to reconcile us to God and give us that inner peace. “Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” wrote the apostle Paul (Romans 5:1). His words are among the most hope-filled ever written.
Whether we live in a combat zone or dwell in a serene neighborhood with nary a whisper of war, Christ invites us into His peace.
Scooping up the smallest children, a frantic maid raced out of the flaming house. As she ran, she called loudly to five-year-old Jacky.
But Jacky didn’t follow. Outside, a bystander reacted quickly, standing on the shoulders of a friend. Reaching into the upstairs window, he pulled Jacky to safety—just before the roof caved in. Little Jacky, said his mother Susanna, was “a brand plucked from the burning.” You might know that “brand” as the great traveling minister John Wesley (1703–1791).
Susanna Wesley was quoting Zechariah, a prophet who provides valuable insight into God’s character. Relating a vision he had, the prophet takes us into a courtroom scene where Satan is standing next to Joshua the high priest (3:1). Satan accuses Joshua, but the Lord rebukes the devil and says, “Is this not a brand [burning stick] plucked from the fire?” (v. 2
Then the Lord gave Joshua this challenge—and an opportunity: “If you walk in obedience to me and keep my requirements, then you will govern my house” (v. 7
What a picture of the gift we receive from God through our faith in Jesus! He snatches us from the fire, cleans us up, and works in us as we follow His Spirit’s leading. You might call us God’s brands plucked from the fire.