My young grandsons enjoy dressing themselves. Sometimes they pull their shirts on backwards and often the younger one puts his shoes on the wrong feet. I usually don’t have the heart to tell them; besides, I find their innocence endearing.
I love seeing the world through their eyes. To them, everything is an adventure, whether walking the length of a fallen tree, spying a turtle sunning itself on a log, or excitedly watching a fire truck roar by. But I know that even my little grandsons are not truly innocent. They can make up a dozen excuses about why they can’t stay in their beds at night and are quick to yank a wanted toy from the other. Yet I love them dearly.
I picture Adam and Eve, God’s first people, as being in some ways like my grandchildren. Everything they saw in the garden must have been a marvel as they walked with God. But one day they willfully disobeyed. They ate of the one tree they were forbidden to eat (Genesis 2:15–17; 3:6). And that disobedience immediately led to lies and blame shifting (3:8–13).
Yet still, God loved and cared for them. He sacrificed animals in order to clothe them (v. 21)—and later He provided a way of salvation for all sinners through the sacrifice of His Son (John 3:16). He loves us that much!
When I lived in Oklahoma I had a friend who “chased” tornados. John tracked the storms carefully through radio contact with other chasers and local radar, trying to keep a safe distance while observing their destructive paths so he could report sudden changes to people in harm’s way.
One day a funnel cloud changed course so abruptly John found himself in grave danger. Fortunately, he found shelter and was spared.
John’s experience that afternoon makes me think of another destructive path: sin in our lives. The Bible tells us, “Each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (James 1:14-15).
There’s a progression here. What may at first seem harmless can soon spin out of control and wreak havoc. But when temptation threatens, God offers us shelter from the gathering storm.
God’s Word tells us He would never tempt us, and we can blame our choices only on ourselves. But when we “are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that [we] can endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). As we turn to Him and call on Him for help in the moment of temptation, Jesus gives us the strength we need to overcome.
Jesus is our shelter forever.
A boy born with cerebral palsy was unable to speak or communicate. But his mother, Chantal Bryan, never gave up, and when he was ten years old she figured out how to communicate with him through his eyes and a letter board. After this breakthrough, she said, “He was unlocked and we could ask him anything.” Now Jonathan reads and writes, including poetry, by communicating through his eyes. When asked what it’s like to “talk” with his family and friends, he said, “It is wonderful to tell them I love them.”
Jonathan’s story is profoundly moving and leads me to consider how God unlocks us from the prison of sin. As the apostle Paul wrote to the Christians at Colossae, once we were “alienated from God” (Col. 1:21), our evil behavior making us His enemy, but through Christ’s death on the cross we are now presented to God as “holy in his sight” (v. 22). We may now “live a life worthy of the Lord” as we bear fruit, grow in the knowledge of God, and are strengthened in His power (vv. 10–11).
We can use our unlocked voices to praise God and share His good news that we are no longer bound to a life of sin. As we continue in our faith, we can hold firm to our hope in Christ.
We found our visit to Christ Church Cathedral in Stone Town, Zanzibar, deeply moving, for it sits on the site of what was formerly the largest slave market in East Africa. The designers of this cathedral wanted to show through a physical symbol how the gospel breaks the chains of slavery. No longer would the location be a place of evil deeds and horrible atrocities, but of God’s embodied grace.
Those who built the cathedral wanted to express how Jesus’s death on the cross provides freedom from sin—that which the apostle Paul speaks of in his letter to the church at Ephesus: “In him we have redemption through his blood” (Ephesians 1:7). Here the word redemption points to the Old Testament’s notion of the marketplace, with someone buying back a person or item. Jesus buys back a person from a life of slavery to sin and wrongdoing.
In Paul’s opening words in this letter (vv. 3–14), he bubbles over with joy at the thought of his freedom in Christ. He points, in layer after layer of praise, to God’s work of grace for us through Jesus’s death, which sets us free from the cords of sin. No longer do we need to be slaves to sin, for we are set free to live for God and His glory.
If there ever was a faithful person, it was Brother Justice. He was committed to his marriage, dedicated to his job as a postal worker, and stationed each Sunday at his post as a leader in our local church. I visited my childhood church recently, and perched on the upright piano was the same bell that Brother Justice rang to notify us that the time for Bible study was about to end. The bell has endured the test of time. And although Brother Justice has been with the Lord for years, his legacy of faithfulness also endures.
Hebrews 3 brings a faithful servant and a faithful Son to the readers’ attention. Though the faithfulness of Moses as God’s “servant” is undeniable, Jesus is the one believers are taught to focus on. “Therefore, holy brothers and sisters . . . fix your thoughts on Jesus” (v. 1). Such was the encouragement to all who face temptation (2:18). Their legacy could come only from following Jesus, the faithful One.
What do you do when the winds of temptation are swirling all around you? When you are weary and worn and want to quit? The text invites us to, as The Message renders it, “Take a good hard look at Jesus” (3:1). Look at Him again—and again and again. As we re-examine Jesus, we find the trustworthy Son of God who gives us courage to live in His family.
One afternoon I spent two hours at an art exhibit—The Father & His Two Sons: The Art of Forgiveness—in which all of the pieces were focused on Jesus’s parable of the prodigal son (see Luke 15:10–31). I found Edward Rojas’s painting The Prodigal Son especially powerful. The painting portrays the once wayward son returning home, wearing rags and walking with his head down. With a land of death behind him, he steps onto a pathway where his father is already running toward him. At the bottom of the painting are Jesus’s words, “But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion” (v. 20
I was deeply moved by realizing once more how God’s unchanging love has altered my life. When I walked away from Him, He didn’t turn His back, but kept looking, watching, and waiting. His love is undeserved yet unchanging; often ignored yet never withdrawn.
We all are guilty, yet our heavenly Father reaches out to welcome us, just as the father in this story embraced his wayward son. “Let’s have a feast and celebrate,” the father told the servants. “For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found” (vv. 23–24).
The Lord still rejoices over those who return to Him today—and that is worth celebrating!
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.
As a boy, I watched my father plow fields that had never been cultivated. On the first pass the plowshare would turn up large rocks that he hauled away. Then, he would plow the field again, and then again, to further break up the soil. With each pass the plow turned up other, smaller rocks that he cast aside. The process continued, requiring many passes through the field.
Growth in grace can look like a similar process. When we first become believers, some “big” sins may be exposed. We confess them to God and accept His forgiveness. But as the years pass by, and as God’s Word passes through us and sinks into our innermost being, the Holy Spirit brings other sins to the surface. Sins of the spirit once thought to be mere peccadilloes—small, seemingly unimportant offenses—are revealed as ugly, ruinous attitudes and actions. Sins like pride, self-pity, complaining, pettiness, prejudice, spite, self-serving indulgence.
God reveals each sin so He can cast it aside. He reveals to heal. When harmful hidden attitudes come to the surface, we can pray as the psalmist David did, “For the sake of your name,
Humbling exposure, though painful, is good for the soul. It’s one of the ways in which He “instructs sinners in his ways. He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way” (vv. 8–9).
When I began fencing in high school, my coach would shout the correct defensive position (“parry”) against the move he was making. When he extended his weapon and lunged, to repel the attack I had to listen and respond immediately.
That active listening brings to mind the prompt obedience Scripture calls for in the area of sexual temptation. In 1 Corinthians 6:18 Paul writes to believers tempted to solicit pagan temple prostitutes, telling them to “flee from sexual immorality.” Sometimes we are to “stand firm” in challenging circumstances (Ephesians 6:11; Galatians 5:1), but here the Bible practically shouts our best defense: “Run away!”
Immediate action guards against compromise. Small compromises can lead to devastating defeats. An unrestrained thought, a glance in the wrong place on the Internet, a flirting friendship when you’re already married—each are steps that take us where we shouldn’t go and put distance between us and God.
When we flee temptation, God also provides a place to run. Through Jesus’s death on the cross for our sins, He offers us hope, forgiveness, and a new beginning—no matter where we’ve been or what we’ve done. When we run to Jesus in our weakness, He sets us free to live in His strength.