Category  |  God

Unexpected Ways

In 1986, five-year-old Levan Merritt fell twenty feet into the gorilla enclosure of England’s Jersey zoo. As parents and onlookers cried out for help, a full-grown male silverback, named Jambo, placed himself between the motionless boy and several other gorillas. Then he began to gently stroke the child’s back. When Levan began to cry, Jambo led the other gorillas into their own enclosure as zoo-keepers and an ambulance driver came to the rescue. Thirty years later Levan still talks about Jambo the gentle giant—his guardian angel who had acted in a shockingly unexpected way, changing his perception of gorillas forever.

Elijah may have expected God to act in certain ways, but the God of gods used a rock-shattering wind, a powerful earthquake, and raging fire to show His prophet Elijah how not to think of Him. Then He used a gentle whisper to show His heart and to express His presence (1Kings 19:11-12).

Elijah had seen God’s power before 18:38-39). But he didn’t fully understand the One who wants to be known as more than the greatest and most fearsome of gods (19:10, 14).

Eventually, that quiet whisper found fullness of meaning in the powerful gentleness of Jesus, who said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” Then he quietly allowed Himself to be nailed to a tree— to deepen our understanding of the Great God who loves us.

A Fitting Time

Yesterday I purchased a plane ticket to send my firstborn child to college. I’m surprised the keyboard on my computer still functions, given the waterworks my eyes unleashed on it during the flight selection process. I have so enjoyed my eighteen years of daily life with her that I am saddened by the prospect of her departure. Yet I wouldn’t rob her of the opportunity that lies ahead simply because I will miss her. At this juncture in her life, it is fitting for her to embark on a new journey to discover adulthood and explore another part of the country.

As this season of my parenting draws to a close, another one begins. It will undoubtedly bring both new challenges and new delights. Solomon, Israel’s third king, wrote that God appoints “a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). We humans have little control over the events of our lives—whether we view those events as favorable or not. But God, in His mighty power, makes “everything beautiful in its time” (v. 11).

In seasons of heartache, we can trust God to bring something good from them in time. Our comforts and joys may come and go, but God’s works “will endure forever” (v. 14). We may not relish every season—some are quite painful—yet He can bring beauty to them all. 

Engraved on His Hands

In Charles Spurgeon’s many years at his London church during the 1800s, he loved to preach on the riches of Isaiah 49:16, which says that God engraves us on the palms of His hands. He said, “Such a text as this is to be preached hundreds of times!” For, he continued, this thought is so precious that we can run over it in our minds again and again.

Spurgeon makes the wonderful connection between this promise of the Lord to His people, the Israelites, and God’s Son, Jesus, on the cross as He died for us. Spurgeon asked, “What are these wounds in Your hands? . . . The engraver’s tool was the nail, backed by the hammer. He must be fastened to the Cross, that His people might be truly engraved on the palms of His hands.” As the Lord promised to engrave His people on His palms, so Jesus stretched out His arms on the cross, receiving the nails in His wrists so we could be free of our sins.

If and when we are tempted to think that God has forgotten us, we only need to look at our palms and remember God’s promise. He has put indelible marks on His hands for us; He loves us that much.

Good for You?

Because I like dark chocolate, I sometimes Google “Is dark chocolate good for you?” I get a variety of results—some good, some bad. You can do the same for almost any food product. Is milk good for you? Is coffee good for you? Is rice good for you? There is a dizzying array of answers to these questions, so you have to be aware that the search itself may not be good for you. It may give you a headache.

But if you are looking for something that is one-hundred-percent good for you all the time, can I recommend the Word of God? Listen to what it can do for the follower of Jesus who is seeking to build His relationship with God.

         It can keep you pure (Psalm 119:9, 11).

         It blesses you (Luke 11:28).

         It makes you wise (Matthew 7:24).

         It gives light and understanding (Psalm 119:130).

         It helps you grow up spiritually (1 Peter 2:2).

Our Lord God is good: “The Lord is good to all,” says Psalm 145:9. And in His goodness, He has provided those who love Him with a guide that helps us see how to enhance our relationship with Him. As we try to decide how to live in a world full of choices, praise God that He has told us in Scripture what is good for us. Let’s say with the psalm-writer: “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth” (Psalm 119:103).

He Knows Our Names

During a visit to the National September 11 Memorial in New York City, I quickly photographed one of the twin reflecting pools. Around these two pools, the names of the nearly 3,000 people who died in the World Trade Center attacks are etched into bronze panels. Later, while looking more closely at the photo, my eyes were drawn to the hand of a woman resting on a name. Many people come to this place to touch a name and remember someone they loved.

The prophet Isaiah reminded God’s people of His unfailing love and concern for them, even though they had often turned away from Him. The Lord said, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1).

In the familiar 23rd Psalm, David wrote, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley [the valley of the shadow of death], I will fear no evil, for you are with me . . . . Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (vv. 4, 6).

God never forgets us. No matter where we are or whatever our situation, the Lord knows our names and holds us fast in His unfailing love.

How to Stand Firm

It was a cold, icy winter’s day in Chicago, and my mind was on getting from my warm vehicle to a warm building. The next thing I knew I was on the ground, my knees turned inward and my lower legs turned outward. Nothing was broken, but I was in pain. The pain would get worse as time went by and it would be weeks before I was whole again.

Who among us hasn’t taken a spill of some sort? Wouldn’t it be nice to have something or someone to keep us on our feet all the time? While there are no guarantees of surefootedness in the physical sense, there is One who stands ready to assist us in our quest to honor Christ in this life and prepare us to stand joyfully before Him in the next.

Every day we face temptations (and even false teachings) that seek to divert us, confuse us, and entangle us. Yet, it’s not ultimately through our own efforts that we remain on our feet as we walk in this world. How assuring to know that when we hold our peace when tempted to speak angrily, to opt for honesty over deceit, to choose love over hate, or to select truth over error—we experience God’s power to keep us standing (Jude 24). And when we appear approved before God when Christ returns, the praise that we offer now for His sustaining grace will echo throughout eternity (v. 25).

Unchanging Love

When I was in high school I played on the varsity tennis team. I spent many hours of my teenage years trying to improve my skills on four concrete courts located two blocks from the home where I grew up.

The last time I visited that city one of the first things I did was drive to that location, hoping to watch others play and reminisce for a moment. But the old courts, so familiar to my memory, were nowhere to be seen. In their place was a vacant field, inhabited only by an occasional weed waving silently in the breeze.

That afternoon remains in my mind as a stark reminder of the brevity of life. One of the places where I expended some of my best youthful strength no longer existed! Reflecting on that experience later brought me to this truth, expressed by an aging King David: “The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him” (Psalm 103:15–17).

We grow older and the world around us may change, but God’s love doesn’t. He can always be trusted to take care of those who turn to Him.

Finding the Way Home

Sometimes this journey through life can be so difficult that we’re simply overwhelmed, and it seems there is no end to the darkness. During such a time in our own family’s life, my wife emerged one morning from her quiet time with a new lesson learned. “I think God wants us not to forget in the light what we’re learning in this darkness.

Paul writes this same thought to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 1), after describing the terrible difficulties he and his team endured in Asia. Paul wants the Corinthians to understand how God can redeem even our darkest moments. We are comforted, he says, so we may learn how to comfort others (v. 4). Paul and his team were learning things from God during their trials that they could use to comfort and advise the Corinthians when they faced similar difficulties. And God does that for us as well, if we’re willing to listen. He will redeem our trials by teaching us how to use what we’ve learned in them to minister to others.

Are you in the darkness now? Be encouraged by Paul’s words and experience. Trust that God is right now directing your steps and that He’s also stamping His truths on your heart so you can share them with others who are in similar circumstances. You’ve been there before, and you know the way home.

You Love Me?

As a teenager, I went through the typical season of rebellion against my mother’s authority. My father died before I entered adolescence, so she had to navigate these turbulent parenting waters without his help.

I recall thinking that Mom didn’t want me to ever have any fun—and maybe didn’t even love me—because she frequently said “no.” I see now that she said “no” to activities that weren’t good for me precisely because she loves me.

The Israelites questioned how much God loved them because of their time in captivity in Babylon. But that captivity was God’s correction for their continued rebellion against Him. So now, God sent the prophet Malachi to them. His opening words from the Lord were, “I have loved you” (Malachi 1:2). Israel replied skeptically, inquiring as to how God has loved them, as if to say, “Really?” But God, through Malachi, reminded them of the way He had demonstrated that love: He had chosen them over the Edomites.

We all go through difficult seasons in life. We may be tempted to question God’s love for us during those times. Let’s recall the many ways He’s shown us His unfailing love. When we stop to consider His goodness, we find that He is indeed a loving Father.

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