Category  |  Christian Beliefs

Your Safe Place

 

My daughter and I were arranging to attend an extended family gathering. Because she was nervous about the trip, I offered to drive. “Okay. But I feel safer in my car. Can you drive it?” she asked. I assumed she preferred her more spacious vehicle to my compact one so I responded, “Is my car too cramped?” “No, it’s just that my car is my safe place. Somehow I feel protected there.”

Her comment challenged me to consider my own personal “safe place.” Immediately I thought of Proverbs 18:10, “The name of the Lord is a fortified tower, the righteous run to it and are safe.” In Old Testament times, the walls and watchtower of a city provided warning of danger from without and shielding for its citizens within. The writer’s point is that God’s name, which stands for His character, person, and everything that He is, provides true protection for His people.

Certain physical places promise longed-for safety in moments that seem dangerous. A sturdy roof overhead in the midst of a storm.  A hospital offering medical care. The embrace of a loved one.

What is your “safe place?” Wherever we seek safety, it is God’s presence with us in that place, which provides the strength and protection that we really need.

When Beauty Never Ends

1 The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?

2 When the wicked advance against me to devour me, it is my enemies and my foes who will stumble and fall. 3 Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear;
though war break out against me, even then I will be confident.

4 One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.

We’ve Got the Power!

The loud crackling noise startled me. Recognizing the sound, I raced to the kitchen. I’d accidently tapped the start button on the empty coffee maker. Unplugging the appliance, I grabbed the handle of the carafe. I touched the bottom of the container to ensure it wasn’t too hot to place on the tile counter. The smooth surface burned my fingertips, blistering my tender skin.

As my husband nursed my wound, I shook my head. I knew the glass would be hot. “I honestly do not know why I touched it,” I said.

My response after making such a mistake reminded me of Paul’s reaction to a more serious issue in Scripture−the nature of sin.

The apostle admits to not knowing why he does things he knows he shouldn’t do and doesn’t want to do (Rom. 7:15). Affirming Scripture determines right and wrong (v. 7), he acknowledges the real, complex war constantly waging between the flesh and the spirit in the struggle against sin (vv. 15–23). Confessing his own weaknesses, he offers hope for victory now and forever (7:24–25).

When we surrender our lives to Christ, His gives us His Holy Spirit who empowers us to choose to do right (8:8–10). As He enables us to obey God’s Word, we can avoid the searing sin that separates us from the abundant life God promises those who love Him.

An Encounter with Stones

After centuries of war and destruction, the modern city of Jerusalem is literally built on its own rubble. During a family visit, we walked the Via Dolorosa (The Way of Sorrow), the route tradition says Jesus followed on His way to the cross. The day was hot, so we paused for a rest and descended to the cool basement of the Convent of the Sisters of Zion. There I was intrigued by the sight of ancient pavement stones unearthed during recent construction—stones etched with games played by Roman soldiers during their idle moments.

Those particular stones, even though likely from a period later than Jesus, caused me to ponder my spiritual life at the time. Like a bored soldier passing time in idle moments, I had become complacent and uncaring toward God and others. I was deeply moved by remembering that near the place I was standing, the Lord was beaten, mocked, insulted, and abused as He took all of my failure and rebellion on Himself. 

“He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isa. 53:5).

My encounter with the stones still speaks to me of Jesus’s loving grace that is greater than all my sin.

Invisible Influence

On a visit to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, I saw a masterpiece called “The Wind.” The painting showed a storm moving through a wooded area. Tall, thin trees leaned to the left. Bushes thrashed in the same direction

In an even more powerful sense, the Holy Spirit is able to sway believers in the direction of God’s goodness and truth. If we go along with the Spirit, we can expect to become more courageous and more loving. We will also become more discerning about how to handle our desires (2 Tim. 1:7).

In some situations, however, the Spirit nudges us toward spiritual growth and change, but we respond with a “no.” Continually stonewalling this conviction is what Scripture calls “quench[ing] the spirit” (1 Thess. 5:19). Over time, things we once considered wrong appear not to be quite as bad.

When our relationship with God seems distant and disconnected, this may be because the Spirit’s conviction has been repeatedly brushed aside. The longer this goes on, the harder it is to see the root of the problem. Thankfully, we can pray and ask God to show us our sin. If we turn away from sin and recommit ourselves to Him, God will forgive us and revive the power and influence of His Spirit within us.

Held by God

 As I was nearing the end of lunch with my sister and her children one afternoon, my sister told my three-year-old niece Annica it was time get ready for her nap. Her face filled with alarm. “But Aunt Monica did not hold me yet today!” she objected, tears filling her eyes. My sister smiled. “Okay, she may hold you first—how long do you need?” “Five minutes,” she replied.

As I held my niece, I was grateful for how, without even trying, she constantly reminds me what it looks like to love and be loved. I think sometimes we forget that our faith journey is one of learning to experience love—God’s love—more fully than we can imagine (Eph. 3:18). When we lose that focus, we can find ourselves, like the older brother in Jesus’s parable of the prodigal son, trying desperately to win God’s approval while missing out on all He has already given us (Luke 15:3

Psalm 131 is one prayer in Scripture that can help us to “become like little children” (Matt. 18:3), letting go of the battle in our mind agonizing over what we don’t understand (Ps. 131:1). Instead, through time with Him we can return to a place of peace (v. 2), finding the hope we need (v. 3) in His love—as calm and quiet as if we were children again in our mothers’ arms (v. 2).

 

A New Name

In the article “Leading by Naming,” Mark Labberton wrote about the power of a name. He said: “I can still feel the impact of a musical friend who one day called me ‘musical.’ No one had ever called me that. I didn’t really play an instrument. I was no soloist. Yet . . . I instantly felt known and loved. . . . [He] noticed, validated, and appreciated something deeply true about me.”

Perhaps this is what Simon felt when Jesus renamed him. After Andrew was convinced that Jesus was the Messiah, he immediately found his brother Simon and brought him to Jesus (John 1:41-42). Jesus peered into his soul and validated and appreciated something deeply true about Simon. Yes, Jesus saw the failure and impetuous nature that would get him into trouble. But more than that He saw the potential of Simon to become a leader in the church. Jesus named him Cephas—Aramaic for Peter—a rock (John 1:42; see Matt. 16:18).

And so it is with us. God sees our pride, anger, and lack of love for others, but He also knows who we are in Christ. He calls us justified and reconciled (Rom. 5:9-10); forgiven, holy, and beloved (Col. 2:13; 3:12); chosen and faithful (Rev. 17:14). Remember how God sees you and seek to let that define who you are. 

The Good Shepherd

I sat in the hospital room with my husband, waiting anxiously. Our young son was having corrective eye surgery and I felt the butterflies jostle in my stomach as I fretted and worried. I tried to pray, asking God to give me His peace. As I leafed through my Bible, I thought about Isaiah 40, so I turned to the familiar passage, wondering if anything fresh would strike me.

As I read, I caught my breath, for the words from so many years ago reminded me that the Lord “tends his flock like a shepherd” as He “gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart” (v. 11). In that moment my anxiety left me as I realized the Lord was holding us, leading us, and caring for us. “That was just what I needed, Lord,” I breathed silently. I felt enveloped in God’s peace during and after the surgery (which thankfully went well).

The Lord promised His people through the prophet Isaiah that He would be their shepherd, guiding them in their daily lives and giving them comfort. We too can know His gentle tending as we tell Him our anxious thoughts and seek His love and peace. We know that He is our Good Shepherd, holding us close to His heart and carrying us in His everlasting arms.

Two-Winged Sun

For five years, an ancient clay seal remained in a closet in Jerusalem’s Institute of Archaeology. After the seal was dug up at the foot of the southern part of Jerusalem’s old city wall, initial examination failed to establish the significance of the nearly 3,000-year-old object. But then a researcher carefully scrutinized the letters on the seal, resulting in a major discovery. The inscription, written in ancient Hebrew, reads: “Belonging to Hezekiah [son of] Ahaz king of Judah.”

 At the center of the seal is a two-winged sun surrounded by two icons symbolizing life. The archaeologists who discovered the seal believe that King Hezekiah began using this seal as a symbol of God’s protection after the Lord healed him from a life-threatening illness (Isaiah 38:1-8). Hezekiah had been pleading with the Lord to heal him. And God heard his prayer. He also gave Hezekiah a sign that He would indeed do what He had promised, saying, “I will cause the sun’s shadow to move ten steps backward” (v.8 nlt).

The facts related to this archeological artifact give us an encouraging reminder that the people in the Bible were learning, as we are, to call on the Lord who hears us when we cry out to Him for help. And even when His answers are not what we want or expect, we can rest assured that He is compassionate, and He is powerful. The One who orders the movement of the sun can certainly move in our hearts.

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Christian Beliefs > Angels & Satan

Giving in to Jesus

They call it “The Devil’s Footprint.” It’s a foot-shaped impression in the granite on a hill beside a church in Ipswich, Massachusetts. According to local legend the “footprint” happened one fall day in 1740, when the evangelist George Whitefield preached so powerfully that the devil leaped from the church steeple, landing on the rock on his way out of town.

Though it’s only a legend, the story calls to mind an encouraging truth from God’s Word. James 4:7 reminds us, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”  

God has given us the strength we need to stand against our adversary and the temptations in our lives. The Bible tells us that “sin shall no longer be your master” (Rom. 6:14) because of God’s loving grace to us through Jesus Christ. As we run to Jesus when temptation comes, He enables us to stand in His strength. Nothing we face in this life can overcome Him, because he has “overcome the world” (John 16:33).

As we submit ourselves to our Savior, yielding our wills to Him in the moment and walking in obedience to God’s Word, He is helping us. When we give in to Him instead of giving in to temptation, He is able to fight our battles. In Him we can overcome.

Watchful and Alert

My desk sits close to a window that opens into our neighborhood. From that vantage point I’m privileged to watch birds perch on the trees nearby. Some come to the windows to eat insects trapped in the screen. 

The birds check their immediate surroundings for any danger, listening attentively as they look about them. Only when they are satisfied that there is no danger do they settle down to feed. Even then, they pause every few seconds to scan the area.

The vigilance these birds demonstrate reminds me that the Bible teaches us to practice vigilance as Christians. Our world is full of temptations, and we need to remain constantly alert and not forget about the dangers. Like Adam and Eve, we easily get entangled in attractions that make the things of this world seem “good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom” (Gen. 3:6).

“Be on your guard,” Paul admonished, “stand firm in the faith” (1 Cor. 16:13). And Peter cautioned, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). 

As we work for our own daily bread, are we alert to what could start consuming us? Are we watching for any hint of self-confidence or willfulness that could leave us wishing we had trusted our God?

Watch and Pray

From my window I can see a 1,700-meter hill called the Cerro del Borrego or “Hill of the Sheep.” In 1862, the French army invaded Mexico. While the enemy camped in the central park of Orizaba, the Mexican army established its position at the top of the hill. However, the Mexican general neglected to guard access to the top. While the Mexican troops were sleeping, the French attacked and killed 2,000 of them.

This reminds me of another hill, the Mount of Olives, and the garden at its foot where a group of disciples fell asleep. Jesus rebuked them, saying, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mark 14:38).

How easy it is to sleep or become careless in our Christian walk. Temptation strikes when we are most vulnerable. When we neglect certain areas of our spiritual lives—such as prayer and Bible study—we become drowsy and let our guard down, making us easy targets for our enemy, Satan, to strike (1 Peter 5:8).

We need to be alert to the possibilities of an attack and pray to maintain vigilance. If we remain watchful and pray—for ourselves and for others—the Spirit will enable us to resist temptation.

Christian Beliefs > Bible

Soaking Up God's Word

When our son Xavier was a toddler, we took a family trip to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. As we entered the building, I pointed to a large sculpture suspended from the ceiling. “Look. A humpback whale.”

Xavier’s eyes widened. “Enormous,” he said.

My husband turned to me. “How does he know that word?”

“He must have heard us say it.” I shrugged, amazed that our toddler had soaked up vocabulary we’d never intentionally taught him.

In Deuteronomy 6, God encouraged His people to be intentional about teaching younger generations to know and obey the Scriptures. As the Israelites increased their knowledge of God, they and their children would be more likely to grow in reverence of Him and to enjoy the rewards that come through knowing Him intimately, loving Him completely, and following Him obediently (vv. 2–5).

By intentionally saturating our hearts and our minds with Scripture (v. 6), we will be better prepared to share God’s love and truth with children during our everyday activities (v. 7). Leading by example, we can equip and encourage young people to recognize and respect the authority and relevance of God’s unchanging truth (vv. 8–9).

As God’s words flow naturally from our hearts and out of our mouths, we can leave a strong legacy of faith to be passed down from generation to generation (4:9).

Fifteen-Minute Challenge

Dr. Charles W. Eliot, longtime president of Harvard University, believed that ordinary people who read consistently from the world’s great literature for even a few minutes a day could gain a valuable education. In 1910, he compiled selections from books of history, science, philosophy, and fine art into fifty volumes called The Harvard Classics. Each set of books included Dr. Eliot’s Reading Guide titled “Fifteen Minutes A Day” containing recommended selections of eight to ten pages for each day of the year.

What if we spent fifteen minutes a day reading God’s Word? We could say with the psalmist, “Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain. Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word” (Ps. 119:36–37).

Fifteen minutes a day adds up to ninety-one hours a year. But for whatever amount of time we decide to read the Bible each day, consistency is the secret and the key ingredient is not perfection but persistence. If we miss a day or a week, we can start reading again. As the Holy Spirit teaches us, God’s Word moves from our minds to our hearts, then to our hands and feet—taking us beyond education to transformation.

“Teach me, Lord, the way of your decrees, that I may follow it to the end” (v. 33).

The Treasure in Tomb 7

In 1932, Mexican archaeologist Antonio Caso discovered Tomb 7 at Monte Alban, Oaxaca. He found more than four hundred artifacts, including hundreds of pieces of Pre-Hispanic jewelry he called “The Treasure of Monte Alban.” It is one of the major finds of Mexican archaeology. One can only imagine Caso’s excitement as he held a jade cup in its purest form.

Centuries earlier, the psalmist wrote of a treasure more valuable than gold or rock crystal. He said, “I rejoice in your word like one who discovers a great spoil” (Ps. 19:162). In Psalm 119, the writer knew how valuable God’s instructions and promises are to our lives, so he compared them to the great spoil that comes in hand with the victory of a conqueror.

Caso’s name is remembered today because of his discovery in Tomb 7. We can enjoy it if we visit a museum in Oaxaca. However, the psalmist’s treasure is at our fingertips. Day by day we can dig into the Scriptures and find diamonds of promises, rubies of hope, and emeralds of wisdom. But by far the greatest thing we find is the person whom the book points to: Jesus Himself. After all, He is the Author of the book.

Let us seek diligently with the confidence that this is the treasure that will enrich us. As the psalmist said, “Your laws are my treasure; they are my heart’s delight” (v. 111 nlt).

Christian Beliefs > Christ

An Encounter with Stones

After centuries of war and destruction, the modern city of Jerusalem is literally built on its own rubble. During a family visit, we walked the Via Dolorosa (The Way of Sorrow), the route tradition says Jesus followed on His way to the cross. The day was hot, so we paused for a rest and descended to the cool basement of the Convent of the Sisters of Zion. There I was intrigued by the sight of ancient pavement stones unearthed during recent construction—stones etched with games played by Roman soldiers during their idle moments.

Those particular stones, even though likely from a period later than Jesus, caused me to ponder my spiritual life at the time. Like a bored soldier passing time in idle moments, I had become complacent and uncaring toward God and others. I was deeply moved by remembering that near the place I was standing, the Lord was beaten, mocked, insulted, and abused as He took all of my failure and rebellion on Himself. 

“He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isa. 53:5).

My encounter with the stones still speaks to me of Jesus’s loving grace that is greater than all my sin.

From Empty to Full

A popular children’s book tells the story of a poor, country boy who took off his cap to honor the king. An identical hat appeared instantly in its place on his head, inciting the king’s anger for what appeared to be disrespect. Bartholomew removed hat after hat while being escorted to the palace for punishment. Each time, a new one appeared in its place. The hats grew increasingly fancy, bearing precious jewels and feather plumes. The 500th hat was the envy of King Derwin, who pardoned Bartholomew and purchased the hat for 500 pieces of gold. At last, Bartholomew’s head was bare; he walked home with freedom and money to support his family.

A widow came to Elisha in financial distress, fearing her children would be sold into slavery to pay her debts (2 Kings 4). She had no assets other than a jar of oil. God multiplied that oil to fill enough borrowed jars to settle the debts plus care for their daily needs (v. 7). God provided financially for the widow in much the same way He provides salvation for me. I am bankrupted by sin, but Jesus paid my debt—and offers me eternal life as well!

Without Jesus, we are each like the poor, country boy with no means to pay our King for our offenses against Him. God miraculously supplies the extravagant ransom on our behalves, and ensures those who trust in Him will have life abundant forever. 

Seeing God

Author and pastor Erwin Lutzer recounts a story about television show host Art Linkletter and a little boy who was drawing a picture of God. Amused, Linkletter said, “You can’t do that because nobody knows what God looks like.”

“They will when I get through!” the boy declared.

We may wonder, “What is God like?” “Is He good?” “Is He kind?” “Does He care?” The simple answer to those questions is Jesus’ response to Philip’s request: “Lord, show us the Father.” Jesus replied, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:8-9).

If you ever get hungry to see God look at Jesus. “The Son is the image of the invisible God,” said Paul (Col. 1:15). Read through the four Gospels in the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Think deeply about what Jesus did and said. “Draw” your own mental picture of God as you read. You’ll know much more of what He’s like when you’re through.

A friend of mine once told me that the only God he could believe in is the one he saw in Jesus. If you look closely, I think you’ll agree. As you read about Him your heart will leap, for though you may not know it, Jesus is the God you’ve been looking for all your life.

 

 

 

Christian Beliefs > Future

Timeless Savior

Jeralean Talley died in June 2015 as the world’s oldest living person—116 years of age. In 1995, the city of Jerusalem celebrated its 3,000th birthday. One hundred sixteen is old for a person, and 3,000 is old for a city, but there are trees that grow even older. A bristlecone pine in California’s White Mountains has been determined to be older than 4,800 years. That precedes the patriarch Abraham by 800 years!

Jesus, when challenged by the Jewish religious leaders about His identity, also claimed to pre-date Abraham. “Very truly I tell you,” He said, “before Abraham was born, I am” (John 8:58). His bold assertion shocked those who were confronting Him, and they sought to stone Him. They knew He wasn’t referring to a chronological age but was actually claiming to be eternal by taking the ancient name of God, “I am” (see Ex. 3:14). But as a member of the triune Godhead, He could make that claim legitimately.

In John 17:3, Jesus prayed, “This is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” The timeless One entered into time so we could live forever. He accomplished that mission by dying in our place and rising again. Because of His sacrifice, we anticipate a future not bound by time, where we will spend eternity with Him. He is the timeless one.

Making Preparations

As we viewed my father-in-law’s body in his casket at the funeral home, one of his sons took his dad’s hammer and tucked it alongside his folded hands. Years later, when my mother-in-law died, one of the children slipped a set of knitting needles under her fingers. Those sweet gestures brought comfort to us as we remembered how often they had used those tools during their lives.

Of course, we knew that they wouldn’t actually need those items in eternity. We had no illusions, as the ancient Egyptians did, that tools or money or weapons buried with someone would better prepare them for the next life. You can’t take it with you! (Ps. 49:16-17; 1 Tim. 6:7).

But some preparation for eternity had been necessary for my in-laws. That preparation had come years before when they trusted Jesus as their Savior.

Planning for the life to come can’t begin at the time of our death. Each of us must prepare our heart by accepting the gift of salvation made possible by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.

At the same time, God has made preparations as well: “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:3). He has promised to prepare a place for us to spend eternity with Him.

Beyond Time

During 2016, theater companies in Britain and around the world have staged special productions to mark the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare. Concerts, lectures, and festivals have drawn crowds who celebrate the enduring work of the man widely considered to be the greatest playwright in the English language. Ben Jonson, one of Shakespeare’s contemporaries, wrote of him, “He was not of an age, but for all time.”

While the influence of some artists, writers, and thinkers may last for centuries, Jesus Christ is the only person whose life and work will endure beyond time. He claimed to be “the bread that came down from heaven … whoever feeds on this bread will live forever” (v. 58). 

            When many people who heard Jesus’s teaching were offended by His words and stopped following Him (John 6:61–66), the Lord asked His disciples if they also wanted to leave (v. 67). Peter replied, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God” (vv. 68–69).           

            When we invite Jesus to come into our lives as our Lord and Savior, we join His first disciples and all those who have followed Him in a new life that will last forever—beyond time.

Christian Beliefs > God

Your Safe Place

 

My daughter and I were arranging to attend an extended family gathering. Because she was nervous about the trip, I offered to drive. “Okay. But I feel safer in my car. Can you drive it?” she asked. I assumed she preferred her more spacious vehicle to my compact one so I responded, “Is my car too cramped?” “No, it’s just that my car is my safe place. Somehow I feel protected there.”

Her comment challenged me to consider my own personal “safe place.” Immediately I thought of Proverbs 18:10, “The name of the Lord is a fortified tower, the righteous run to it and are safe.” In Old Testament times, the walls and watchtower of a city provided warning of danger from without and shielding for its citizens within. The writer’s point is that God’s name, which stands for His character, person, and everything that He is, provides true protection for His people.

Certain physical places promise longed-for safety in moments that seem dangerous. A sturdy roof overhead in the midst of a storm.  A hospital offering medical care. The embrace of a loved one.

What is your “safe place?” Wherever we seek safety, it is God’s presence with us in that place, which provides the strength and protection that we really need.

The Good Shepherd

I sat in the hospital room with my husband, waiting anxiously. Our young son was having corrective eye surgery and I felt the butterflies jostle in my stomach as I fretted and worried. I tried to pray, asking God to give me His peace. As I leafed through my Bible, I thought about Isaiah 40, so I turned to the familiar passage, wondering if anything fresh would strike me.

As I read, I caught my breath, for the words from so many years ago reminded me that the Lord “tends his flock like a shepherd” as He “gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart” (v. 11). In that moment my anxiety left me as I realized the Lord was holding us, leading us, and caring for us. “That was just what I needed, Lord,” I breathed silently. I felt enveloped in God’s peace during and after the surgery (which thankfully went well).

The Lord promised His people through the prophet Isaiah that He would be their shepherd, guiding them in their daily lives and giving them comfort. We too can know His gentle tending as we tell Him our anxious thoughts and seek His love and peace. We know that He is our Good Shepherd, holding us close to His heart and carrying us in His everlasting arms.

Two-Winged Sun

For five years, an ancient clay seal remained in a closet in Jerusalem’s Institute of Archaeology. After the seal was dug up at the foot of the southern part of Jerusalem’s old city wall, initial examination failed to establish the significance of the nearly 3,000-year-old object. But then a researcher carefully scrutinized the letters on the seal, resulting in a major discovery. The inscription, written in ancient Hebrew, reads: “Belonging to Hezekiah [son of] Ahaz king of Judah.”

 At the center of the seal is a two-winged sun surrounded by two icons symbolizing life. The archaeologists who discovered the seal believe that King Hezekiah began using this seal as a symbol of God’s protection after the Lord healed him from a life-threatening illness (Isaiah 38:1-8). Hezekiah had been pleading with the Lord to heal him. And God heard his prayer. He also gave Hezekiah a sign that He would indeed do what He had promised, saying, “I will cause the sun’s shadow to move ten steps backward” (v.8 nlt).

The facts related to this archeological artifact give us an encouraging reminder that the people in the Bible were learning, as we are, to call on the Lord who hears us when we cry out to Him for help. And even when His answers are not what we want or expect, we can rest assured that He is compassionate, and He is powerful. The One who orders the movement of the sun can certainly move in our hearts.

Christian Beliefs > Holy Spirit

We’ve Got the Power!

The loud crackling noise startled me. Recognizing the sound, I raced to the kitchen. I’d accidently tapped the start button on the empty coffee maker. Unplugging the appliance, I grabbed the handle of the carafe. I touched the bottom of the container to ensure it wasn’t too hot to place on the tile counter. The smooth surface burned my fingertips, blistering my tender skin.

As my husband nursed my wound, I shook my head. I knew the glass would be hot. “I honestly do not know why I touched it,” I said.

My response after making such a mistake reminded me of Paul’s reaction to a more serious issue in Scripture−the nature of sin.

The apostle admits to not knowing why he does things he knows he shouldn’t do and doesn’t want to do (Rom. 7:15). Affirming Scripture determines right and wrong (v. 7), he acknowledges the real, complex war constantly waging between the flesh and the spirit in the struggle against sin (vv. 15–23). Confessing his own weaknesses, he offers hope for victory now and forever (7:24–25).

When we surrender our lives to Christ, His gives us His Holy Spirit who empowers us to choose to do right (8:8–10). As He enables us to obey God’s Word, we can avoid the searing sin that separates us from the abundant life God promises those who love Him.

Invisible Influence

On a visit to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, I saw a masterpiece called “The Wind.” The painting showed a storm moving through a wooded area. Tall, thin trees leaned to the left. Bushes thrashed in the same direction

In an even more powerful sense, the Holy Spirit is able to sway believers in the direction of God’s goodness and truth. If we go along with the Spirit, we can expect to become more courageous and more loving. We will also become more discerning about how to handle our desires (2 Tim. 1:7).

In some situations, however, the Spirit nudges us toward spiritual growth and change, but we respond with a “no.” Continually stonewalling this conviction is what Scripture calls “quench[ing] the spirit” (1 Thess. 5:19). Over time, things we once considered wrong appear not to be quite as bad.

When our relationship with God seems distant and disconnected, this may be because the Spirit’s conviction has been repeatedly brushed aside. The longer this goes on, the harder it is to see the root of the problem. Thankfully, we can pray and ask God to show us our sin. If we turn away from sin and recommit ourselves to Him, God will forgive us and revive the power and influence of His Spirit within us.

The Day I Couldn’t Pray

In November 2015, I learned I needed open-heart surgery. Surprised and a little shaken, I was naturally drawn to think about the possibility of death. Were there relationships I needed to mend? Were there financial matters I needed to attend to for my family? Even if the surgery was successful, it would be months before I could work. Was there work that could be done ahead of time? And what about work that couldn’t wait; who should I hand that off to? It was a time to both act and pray.

Except I couldn’t do either

My body was so weary and my mind so fatigued that even the simplest of tasks seemed beyond my strength. Perhaps most surprising, when I tried to pray, my thoughts would drift to the discomfort, or the shallow breathing caused by the damaged heart made me fall asleep. It was frustrating. I couldn’t work and I couldn’t even ask God to let me live so I could spend more time with my family!

The inability to pray troubled me most. But as with all other human needs, the Creator knew this was happening to me. I would eventually recall He made two preparations for such occurrences in our lives: the prayer of the Holy Spirit for us when we can’t pray (Rom. 8:26); and the prayer of others on our behalf (James 5:16; Gal 6:2).

What a comfort it was to know that the Holy Spirit was even then raising my concerns before the Father.  What a gift also to hear from friends and family as they prayed for me. Then came another surprise: As my friends and family asked me what to pray for, it became clear that my answers to them were also being heard by God as prayers. 

What a gift it is in a time of uncertainty to be reminded God hears our heart even when we think we can’t call out to Him. 

Christian Beliefs > Humanity

Dressed To Deceive

Hiking in the mountains of Utah, Coty Creighton spotted a goat that didn’t look like the rest of the herd. A closer look revealed that the unusual animal was actually a man dressed as a goat. When authorities contacted the man, he described his costume as a painter’s suit covered in fleece, and he said he was testing his disguise for a hunting trip.

Stray Hearts

Last fall, an expressway in my city was shut down for several hours because a cattle truck had overturned. The cattle had escaped and were roaming across the highway. Seeing this news story about stray cattle made me think of something I had recently studied in Exodus 32 about the people of God who strayed from Him.

Facing Our Past

Chuck Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship, spent 40 years helping people hear and understand the gospel of Jesus Christ. When he died in April 2012, one newspaper article carried the headline, “Charles Colson, Nixon’s ‘dirty tricks’ man, dies at 80.” It seemed surprising that a man so transformed by faith should be identified with things he did as a politically ruthless presidential aide decades earlier before he knew the Savior.

Christian Beliefs > Lord’s Supper

God's Reminders

My friend Bob Horner refers to Jesus as “the Master Reminder.” And that is good, because we are so doubting and forgetful. No matter how often Jesus met the needs of the people who came to Him when He was here on earth, His first disciples feared they would somehow be left in need. After witnessing miracles, they failed to understand the greater meaning the Lord wanted them to remember.

            On a journey across the Sea of Galilee, the disciples realized they had forgotten to bring bread and were talking about it. Jesus asked them, “Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember?” (Mark 8:17–18). Then He reminded them that when He fed five thousand people with five loaves, the disciples had collected twelve basketfuls of leftover pieces. And when He fed four thousand with seven loaves, they filled seven baskets with leftovers. Then “He said to them, ‘Do you still not understand?’” (v. 21)

            The Lord’s miraculous provision for people’s physical needs pointed to the greater truth—that He was the Bread of Life and that His body would be “broken” for them and for us.

            Every time during the Lord’s Supper we eat the bread and drink the cup we are reminded of our Lord’s great love and provision for us.

Seeing Ourselves

Long ago, before the invention of mirrors or polished surfaces, people rarely saw themselves. Puddles of water, streams, and rivers were one of the few ways they could see their own reflection. But mirrors changed that. And the invention of cameras took fascination with our looks to a whole new level. We now have lasting images of ourselves from any given time throughout our entire life. This is good for making scrapbooks and keeping family histories, but it can be detrimental to our spiritual well-being. The fun of seeing ourselves on camera can keep us focused on outward appearance and leave us with little interest in examining our inner selves.

Self-examination is crucial for a healthy spiritual life. God wants us to see ourselves so that we can be spared the consequences of sinful choices. This is so important that Scripture says we are not to participate in the Lord’s Supper without first examining ourselves (1 Cor. 11:28). The point of this self-examination is not only to make things right with God but also to make sure we are right with one another. The Lord’s Supper is a remembrance of Christ’s body, and we can’t celebrate it properly if we’re not living in harmony with other believers.

Seeing and confessing our sin promotes unity with others and a healthy relationship with God. 

Enjoying His Meal

It’s not about the table, whether it’s square or round. It’s not about the chairs—plastic or wooden. It’s not about the food, although it helps if it has been cooked with love. A good meal is enjoyed when we turn off the TV and our cell phones and concentrate on those we’re with.

Christian Beliefs > Miracles

A Remote Location

Tristan da Cunha Island is famous for its isolation. It is the most remote inhabited island in the world, thanks to the 288 people who call it home. The island is located in the South Atlantic Ocean, 1,750 miles from South Africa—the nearest mainland. Anyone who might want to drop by for a visit has to travel by boat for 7 days because the island has no airstrip.

            Jesus and His followers were in a somewhat remote area when He produced a miraculous meal for thousands of hungry people. Before His miracle, Jesus said to His disciples, “[These people] have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them home hungry, they will collapse on the way” (Mark 8:2-3). Because they were in the countryside, where food was not readily available, they had to depend fully on Jesus. They had nowhere else to turn.

            Sometimes God allows us to end up in desolate places where He is our only source of help. His ability to provide for us is not necessarily linked with our circumstances. If He created the entire world out of nothing, God can certainly meet our needs—whatever our circumstances—out of the riches of His glory, in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:19).

Overwhelming Concern

A while ago, I wrote an article about my wife, Marlene, and her struggles with vertigo. When the article appeared, I was unprepared for the tidal wave of response from readers offering encouragement, help, suggestions and, mostly, concern for her well-being. These messages came from all over the world, from people in all walks of life. Expressions of loving concern for my wife poured in to the point where we could not even begin to answer them all. It was overwhelming in the best kind of way to see the body of Christ respond to Marlene’s struggle. We were, and remain, deeply grateful.

A Flying Miracle

Among God’s creatures, the butterfly is one of the most stunningly beautiful! Its gentle flight, colorful wings, and amazing migratory patterns are traits that make the butterfly a masterpiece of the natural world.

Christian Beliefs > Salvation

New: Inside and Out

A few years ago a publisher made a big mistake. A book had been on the market for several years, so it was time for a makeover. The author rewrote the book to bring it up to date. But when the revision was published, there was a problem. The publisher gave the book a nice new cover but printed the old book inside.

The exterior was fresh and new, but the interior was old and out of date. This “reprint” was not really new at all.

Sometimes that kind of thing happens with people. They realize a change needs to be made in life. Things are heading in the wrong direction. So they may put on a new exterior without making a vital change in their heart. They may change a behavior on the outside but may not realize that it is only God who can change us on the inside.

In John 3, Nicodemus sensed that because Jesus came “from God” (v. 2). He offered something very different. What Jesus told Nicodemus made him realize that He offered nothing short of a rebirth (v. 4): He needed to be “born again,” to be made totally new (v. 7).

That change comes only through faith in Jesus Christ. That’s when “the old has gone, the new is here” (2 Cor. 5:17). Do you need a change? Put your faith in Jesus. He’s the one who changes your heart and makes all things new.

What’s Your Father’s Name?

When I went to buy a cellphone in the Middle East, I was asked the typical questions: name, nationality, address. But then as the clerk was filling out the form, he asked, “What’s your father’s name?” That question surprised me, and I wondered why it was important. Knowing my father’s name would not be important in my culture, but here it was necessary in order to establish my identity. In some cultures, ancestry is important.

The Israelites believed in the importance of ancestry too. They were proud of their patriarch Abraham, and they thought being part of Abraham's clan made them God's children. Their human ancestry was connected, in their opinion, to their spiritual family.

Hundreds of years later when Jesus was talking with the Jews, He pointed out that this was not so. They could say Abraham was their earthly ancestor, but if they didn’t love Him—the One sent by the Father—they were not part of God’s family.

The same applies today. We don't choose our human family, but we can decide the spiritual family we belong to. If we believe in Jesus’s name, God gives us the right to become His children (John 1:12).

Who is your spiritual Father? Have you decided to follow Jesus? May this be the day you trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins and become part of God’s family.

Made Clean

When I opened our dishwasher, I wondered what went wrong. Instead of seeing sparkling clean dishes, I removed plates and glasses that were covered in a chalky dust. I wondered if the hard water in our area was wreaking havoc, or if the machine was kaput.

God’s cleansing, unlike that faulty dishwasher, washes away all of our impurities. We see in the book of Ezekiel that God is calling His people back to Himself as Ezekiel shared God’s message of love and forgiveness. The Israelites had sinned as they proclaimed their allegiance to other gods and other nations. The Lord, however, was merciful in welcoming them back to Himself. He promised to cleanse them “from all [their] impurities and all [their] idols” (v. 25). As He put His Spirit in them (v. 27), He would bring them to a place of fruitfulness, not famine (v. 30).

As in the days of the prophet Ezekiel, today the Lord welcomes us back to Him if we go astray. When we submit ourselves to His will and His ways, He transforms us as He washes us clean from our sins. With His Holy Spirit dwelling within us, He helps us to follow Him day by day.

Christian Beliefs > Sin

An Encounter with Stones

After centuries of war and destruction, the modern city of Jerusalem is literally built on its own rubble. During a family visit, we walked the Via Dolorosa (The Way of Sorrow), the route tradition says Jesus followed on His way to the cross. The day was hot, so we paused for a rest and descended to the cool basement of the Convent of the Sisters of Zion. There I was intrigued by the sight of ancient pavement stones unearthed during recent construction—stones etched with games played by Roman soldiers during their idle moments.

Those particular stones, even though likely from a period later than Jesus, caused me to ponder my spiritual life at the time. Like a bored soldier passing time in idle moments, I had become complacent and uncaring toward God and others. I was deeply moved by remembering that near the place I was standing, the Lord was beaten, mocked, insulted, and abused as He took all of my failure and rebellion on Himself. 

“He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isa. 53:5).

My encounter with the stones still speaks to me of Jesus’s loving grace that is greater than all my sin.

If I Knew Then . . .

On the way to work, I listened to the song “Dear Younger Me,” which beautifully asks: If you could go back, knowing what you know now, what would you tell your younger self? As I listened, I thought about the bits of wisdom and warning I might give my younger, less-wise self. At some point in our lives, most of us have thought about how we might do things differently—if only we could do it all over again.

But the song illustrates that even though our past may fill us with regrets, all our experiences have shaped who we are. We can’t go back or change the consequences of our sin. But praise God we don’t have to carry the heavy burdens and mistakes of the past around with us.

Why? Because of what Jesus has done. “In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead”! (1 Peter 1:3).

If we turn to Him in faith and sorrow for our sins, He will forgive us. On that day we’re made brand new and begin the process of being spiritually transformed (1 Cor. 5:17) (is 2Cor). It doesn’t matter what we’ve done (or haven’t done), we are forgiven because of what He’s done. We can move forward, making the most of today and anticipating a future with Him. In Christ, we’re free! 

A Little Bit of Paradise

Gazing out my open study window, I hear birds chirping and see and hear the wind gently blowing in the trees. Bales of hay dot my neighbor’s newly tilled field, and large, white cumulus clouds stand out in contrast to the brilliant blue sky.

I’m enjoying a little bit of paradise—except for the almost incessant noise of the traffic that runs past our property and the slight ache in my back. I use the word paradise lightly because though our world was once completely good, it no longer is. When humanity sinned, we were expelled from the garden of Eden and the ground was “cursed” (see Gen. 3). Since then the Earth and everything in it has been in “bondage to decay.” Suffering, disease, and our deaths are all a result of humankind’s fall into sin (Rom. 8:18-23).

Yet God is making everything new. One day His dwelling place will be among His people in a renewed and restored creation—“a new heaven and a new earth”—where “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev. 21:1–4). Until that day we can enjoy the bright splashes and sometimes wide expanses of breathtaking beauty we see around us in this world, which is just a small foretaste of the “paradise” that will be.

Christian Beliefs > Spiritual Gifts

Playing in Concert

During our granddaughter’s school band concert, I was impressed by how well this group of 11- and 12-year-olds played together. If each of them had wanted to be a solo performer, they could not have achieved individually what the band did collectively. The woodwinds, brass, and percussion sections all played their parts and the result was beautiful music!

To the followers of Jesus in Rome, Paul wrote, “In Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us” (Rom. 12:5–6). Among the gifts Paul mentioned are prophecy, service, teaching, encouragement, giving, leadership, and mercy (vv. 7–8). Each gift is to be exercised freely for the good of all (1 Cor. 12:7).

One definition of in concert is “agreement in design or plan; combined action; harmony or accord.” That’s the Lord’s plan for us as His children though faith in Jesus Christ. “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves” (v. 10). The goal is cooperation, not competition.

In a sense, we are “on stage” before a watching and listening world every day. There are no soloists in God’s concert band, but every instrument is essential. The music is best when we each play our part in unity with others.

It's Not Me

While on vacation recently, I gave my razor a rest and grew a beard. Various responses came from friends and co-workers—and most were complimentary. One day, however, I looked at the beard and decided, “It’s not me.” So out came the razor.

I’ve been thinking about the idea of who we are and why one thing or another does not fit our personality. Primarily, it’s because God has bestowed us with individual differences and preferences. It’s okay that we don’t all like the same hobbies, eat the same foods, or worship in the same church. We are each uniquely and “wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:14). Peter noted that we are uniquely gifted in order to serve each other (1 Peter 4:10–11).

Jesus’s disciples didn’t check their characteristics at the door before entering His world. Peter was so impulsive that he cut off a servant’s ear the night Jesus was arrested. Thomas insisted on evidence before believing Christ had risen. The Lord didn’t reject them simply because they had some growing to do. He molded and shaped them for His service.

When discerning how we might best serve the Lord, it’s wise to consider our talents and characteristics and to sometimes say, “It’s not me.” God may call us out of our comfort zone, but He does so to develop our unique gifts and personalities to serve His good purposes. We honor His creative nature when we permit Him to use us as we are. 

Abandon It All

When I played college basketball, I made a conscious decision at the beginning of each season to walk into that gym and dedicate myself totally to my coach—doing whatever he might ask me to do.

It would not have benefited my team for me to announce, “Hey, Coach! Here I am. I want to shoot baskets and dribble the ball, but don’t ask me to run laps, play defense, and get all sweaty!”

Every successful athlete has to trust the coach enough to do whatever the coach asks them to do for the good of the team.

In Christ, we are to become God’s “living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1). We say to our Savior and Lord: “I trust You. Whatever You want me to do, I am willing.” Then He “transforms” us by renewing our minds to focus on the things that please Him. 

It’s helpful to know that God will never call on us to do something for which He has not already equipped us. As Paul reminds us, “We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us” (v. 6).

Knowing that we can trust God with our lives, we can abandon ourselves to Him, strengthened by the knowledge that He created us and is helping us to make this effort in Him.