Two octogenarians, one from Germany and the other Denmark, were an unlikely couple. They each enjoyed sixty years of marriage before being widowed. Though living only fifteen minutes apart, their homes were in separate countries. Still, they fell in love, regularly cooking meals and spending time together. Sadly, in 2020, due to the coronavirus, the Danish government closed the border crossing. Undeterred, every day at 3:00 p.m., the two met at the border on a quiet country lane, and seated on their respective sides, shared a picnic. “We’re here because of love,” the man explained. Their love was stronger than borders, more powerful than a pandemic.
The Song of Songs effuses in rapturous language about love’s indomitable power. “Love is as strong as death,” Solomon insists (8:6). None of us escapes death; it arrives with a steely finality we can’t break. And yet love, the writer says, is every bit as strong. What’s more, love “burns like a blazing fire, like a mighty flame” (v. 6). Have you ever watched a fire exploding in feverish rage? Fire—like love—is impossible to contain. “Many waters cannot quench love.” Not even a raging river can sweep love away (v. 7).
Human love, whenever it’s selfless and true, offers reflections of these characteristics. However, only God’s love offers such potency, such limitless depths, such tenacious power. And here’s the stunner: God loves each of us with this unquenchable love.
Ancient scholars Jerome and Tertullian referenced stories of how in ancient Rome, after a general triumphed in an epic victory, he would be paraded atop a gleaming chariot down the capital’s central thoroughfares from dawn to sunset. The crowd would roar. The general would bask in the adoration, reveling in the greatest honor of his life. However, legend has it that a servant stood behind the general the entire day, whispering into his ear: Memento Mori (“Remember you will die”). Amid all the adulation, the general desperately needed the humility that came with remembering that he was mortal.
James wrote to a community infected with prideful desires and an inflated sense of self-sufficiency. Confronting their arrogance, he spoke a piercing word: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble” (James 4:6). What they needed was to “humble [themselves] before the Lord” (v. 10). And how would they embrace this humility? Like Roman generals, they needed to remember that they would die. “You do not even know what will happen tomorrow,” James insisted. “You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (v. 14). And owning their frailty freed them to live under the solidity of the “Lord’s will” rather than their own fading efforts (v. 15).
When we forget that our days are numbered, it can lead to pride. But when we’re humbled by our mortality, we see every breath and every moment as grace. Memento Mori.
In 1929, as the US economy crashed, millions of people lost everything. But not Floyd Odlum. As everyone else panicked and sold their stocks at cut-rate prices, Odlum appeared to foolishly jump in and purchase stocks just as the nation’s future disintegrated. But Odlum’s “foolish” perspective paid off, yielding robust investments that endured for decades.
God told Jeremiah to make what seemed like an absolutely ludicrous investment: “buy [the] field at Anathoth in the territory of Benjamin” (Jeremiah 32:8). This was no time to be buying fields, however. The entire country was on the verge of being ransacked. “The army of the king of Babylon was . . . besieging Jerusalem” (v. 2) Whatever field Jeremiah purchased would soon be Babylon’s. What fool makes an investment when everything would soon be lost?
Well, the person who’s listening to God—the One who intended a future no one else could envision. “This is what the
In 2010, at the age of ninety-four, George Vujnovich was awarded the bronze star for organizing what the New York Times called “one of the greatest rescue efforts of World War II.” Vujnovich, son of Serbian immigrants, had joined the US army, and when word arrived that downed American airmen were being protected by rebels in Yugoslavia, Vujnovich returned to his family’s homeland, parachuting into the forest to locate the pilots. Dividing the soldiers into small groups, he taught them how to blend in with the Serbs (wearing Serbian clothes and eating Serbian food). Then, over months, he walked each small group out one at a time to C-47 transport planes waiting at a landing strip they’d cut out of the woods. Vujnovich rescued 512 elated, joyful men.
David described the elation of being rescued by God from enemies who’d hemmed him in with no escape. God “reached down from on high and took hold of me,” David said, “he drew me out of deep waters” (2 Samuel 22:17). King Saul, enraged with jealousy, hounded David, ruthlessly seeking blood. But God had other plans. “He rescued me from my powerful enemy,” David recounted, “from my foes, who were too strong for me” (v. 18).
God rescued David from Saul. He rescued Israel from Egypt. And in Jesus, God came to rescue all of us. Jesus rescues us from sin, evil, and death. He’s greater than every powerful enemy.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many Singaporeans stayed home to avoid being infected. But I blissfully continued swimming, believing it was safe.
My wife, however, feared that I might pick up an infection at the public pool and pass it on to her aged mother—who, like other seniors, were more vulnerable to the virus. “Can you just avoid swimming for some time, for my sake?” she asked.
At first, I wanted to argue that there was little risk. Then I realized that this mattered less than her feelings. Why would I insist on swimming—hardly an essential thing—when it made her worry unnecessarily?
In Romans 14, Paul addressed issues like whether believers in Christ should eat certain foods or celebrate certain festivals. He was concerned that some people were imposing their views on others.
Paul reminded the church in Rome, and us, that believers in Jesus may view situations differently. We also have diverse backgrounds that color our attitudes and practices. He wrote, “Let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister” (v. 13).
God’s grace gives us great freedom even as it helps us express His love to fellow believers. We can use that freedom to put the spiritual needs of others above our own convictions about rules and practices that don’t contradict the essential truths found in the gospel (v. 20).
In 2020, the Ecuadorian volcano Sangay erupted. The BBC described the “dark ash plume which reached a height of more than 12,000m.” The discharge covered four provinces (about 198,000 acres) in gray ash and grimy soot. The sky turned dingy and grim, and the air was thick—making it difficult to breathe. Farmer Feliciano Inga described the unnerving scene to El Comercio newspaper: “We didn’t know where all this dust was coming from. . . . We saw the sky go dark and grew afraid.”
The Israelites experienced a similar fear at the base of Mount Sinai, as they “stood at the foot of the mountain while it blazed with fire . . . with black clouds and deep darkness” (Deuteronomy 4:11). God’s voice thundered, and the people trembled. It was terrifying. It’s an awesome, knee-buckling experience to encounter the living God.
God is powerful, beyond our reach, even startling. And yet He’s also full of love, always reaching out to us. A God both powerful and loving—this is who we desperately need.
The first time I took my sons to hike a Colorado Fourteener—a mountain with an elevation of a least 14,000 feet—they were nervous. Could they make it? Were they up to the challenge? My youngest stopped on the trail for extended breaks. “Dad, I can’t go any more,” he said repeatedly. But I believed this test would be good for them, and I wanted them to trust me. A mile from the peak, my son who’d insisted he could go no further caught his second wind and beat us to the summit. He was so glad he trusted me, even amid his fears.
I marvel at the trust Isaac had in his father as they climbed their mountain. Far more, I’m undone by the trust Abraham had in God, raising his knife over his son (Genesis 22:10). Even with his confused and wrenching heart, Abraham obeyed. Mercifully, an angel stopped him. “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” God’s messenger declared (22:12). God never intended for Isaac to die.
As we draw parallels from this unique story to our own with caution, it’s crucial to note the opening line: “God tested Abraham” (v. 1). Through his test, Abraham learned how much he trusted God. He discovered His loving heart and profound provision.
In our confusion, darkness, and testing, we learn truths about ourselves and about God. And we may even find that our testing leads to a deeper trust in Him.
During the 2018 baseball season, a Chicago Cubs coach wanted to give a baseball to a young boy sitting by the dugout. But when the coach tossed the ball toward him, a man scooped it up instead. Video of the event went viral. News outlets and social media skewered this “brute” of a man. Except, viewers didn’t know the whole story. Earlier, the man had helped the young boy snag a foul ball; and they agreed to share any additional balls that came their way. Unfortunately, it took 24 hours before the true story emerged. The mob had already done its damage, demonizing an innocent man.
Too often, we think we have all the facts when we only have fragments. In our modern gotcha culture, with snippets of dramatic video and inflamed tweets, it’s easy to condemn people without hearing the full story. However, Scripture warns us not to “spread false reports” (Exodus 23:1). We must do everything possible to confirm the truth before leveling accusations, making sure not to participate in lies. We should be cautious whenever a vigilante spirit takes hold, whenever passions ignite and waves of judgment swell. We want to safeguard ourselves from “follow[ing] the crowd in doing wrong” (v. 2).
As believers in Jesus, may God help us not to spread falsehoods. May He provide what we need to exhibit wisdom, making certain our words are actually true.
When John Lewis, an American congressman and civil rights leader, died in 2020, people from many political persuasions mourned. In 1965, Lewis marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. to secure voting rights for black citizens. During the march, Lewis suffered a cracked skull, causing scars he carried the rest of his life. “When you see something that is not right, not just, not fair,” Lewis said, “you have a moral obligation to say something. To do something.” He also said: “Never, ever, be afraid to make some noise and get in good, necessary trouble.”
Lewis learned early that doing what was right, to be faithful to the truth, required making “good” trouble. He would need to speak things that were unpopular. The prophet Amos knew this too. Seeing Israel’s sin and injustice, he couldn’t keep quiet. Amos denounced how the powerful were oppressing “the innocent and tak[ing] bribes and depriv[ing] the poor of justice in the courts,” while building “stone mansions” with “lush vineyards.” (Amos 5:11–12). Rather than maintaining his own safety and comfort by staying out of the fray, Amos named the evil. The prophet made good, necessary trouble.
But this trouble aimed at something good—justice for all. “Let justice roll on like a river!” Amos exclaimed (v. 24). When we get into good trouble (the kind of righteous, nonviolent trouble justice requires), the goal is always goodness and healing.