Category  |  Christian Living

Love of Another Kind

One of my favorite churches started several years ago as a ministry to ex-prisoners who were transitioning back into society. Now the church flourishes with people from all walks of life. I love that church because it reminds me of what I picture heaven will be like—filled with different kinds of people, all redeemed sinners, all bound together by the love of Jesus.

Sometimes, though, I wonder if church seems more like an exclusive club than a safe-haven for forgiven sinners. As people naturally gravitate into groups of “a certain kind” and cluster around those they feel comfortable with, it leaves others feeling marginalized. But that’s not what Jesus had in mind when He told His disciples to “love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:12). His church was to be an extension of His love mutually shared with all.

If hurting, rejected people can find loving refuge, comfort, and forgiveness in Jesus, they should expect no less from the church. So let’s exhibit the love of Jesus to everyone we encounter—especially those who are not like us. All around us are people Jesus wants to love through us. What a joy it is when people unite to worship together in love—a slice of heaven we can enjoy here on earth!

Room 5020

Jay Bufton turned his hospital room into a lighthouse.

The 52-year-old husband, father, high school teacher, and coach was dying of cancer, but his room—Room 5020—became a beacon of hope for friends, family, and hospital workers. Because of his joyful attitude and strong faith, nurses wanted to be assigned to Jay. Some even came to see him during off hour

Even as his once-athletic body was wasting away, he greeted anyone and everyone with a smile and encouragement. One friend said, “Every time I visited Jay he was upbeat, positive, and filled with hope. He was, even while looking cancer and death in the face, living out his faith.”

At Jay’s funeral, one speaker noted that Room 5020 had a special meaning. He pointed to Genesis 50:20, in which Joseph says that although his brothers sold him into slavery, God turned the tables and accomplished something good: “the saving of many lives.” Cancer invaded Jay’s life, but by recognizing God’s hand at work Jay could say that “God meant it for good.” That’s why Jay could use even the ravages of cancer as an open door to tell others about Jesus.

What a legacy of unwavering trust in our Savior even as death was knocking at the door! What a testimony of confidence in our good and trustworthy God!

 

Enough

When my husband and I were first asked to host a small group in our home, my immediate reaction was to decline. I felt inadequate. We didn’t have seats for everyone; our home was small and couldn’t hold many people. I didn’t know whether we had the skills to facilitate the discussion. I worried that I’d be asked to prepare food, something for which I lacked both passion and funds. I didn’t feel like we had “enough” to do it. I didn’t feel I was “enough” to do it. But we wanted to give to God and our community, so despite our fears, we agreed. Over the next five years found great joy in welcoming the group into our living room.

I observe similar reluctance and doubt in the man who brought bread to God’s servant, Elisha. Elisha had instructed him to give it to the people, but the man questioned whether twenty loaves could feed so many—one hundred men. He seems to have been tempted to withhold the food because—in his human understanding—it wouldn’t be sufficient. Yet it was more than enough (2 Kings 4:44), because God took his gift, given in obedience, and made it enough.

When we feel inadequate, or think that what we have to offer isn’t sufficient, let’s remember that God asks us to give what we have in faithful obedience. He is the one who makes it “enough.”

How Long?

When I married, I thought I would have children immediately. That did not happen, and the pain of infertility brought me to my knees. I often cried out to God, “How long?” I knew God could change my circumstance. Why wasn’t He?

Are you waiting on God? Are you asking, “How long … ?” Before justice prevails in our world? Before there is a cure for cancer? Before I am no longer in debt?  

The prophet Habakkuk was well acquainted with that feeling. In the seventh century bc, he cried out to the Lord: “How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?” (Hab. 1:2–3) He prayed for a long time, struggling to reconcile how a just and powerful God could allow wickedness, injustice, and corruption to continue in Judah. As far as Habakkuk was concerned, God should have already intervened. Why was God doing nothing?

There are days when we, too, feel as if God is doing nothing. Like Habakkuk, we have continuously asked God, “How long?”

Yet, we are not alone. As with Habakkuk, God hears our burdens. We must continue to cast them on the Lord because He cares for us. God hears us and, in His time, will give an answer.

 

 

Fresh Faith

When our son was struggling with heroin addiction, if you had told me God would one day use our experience to encourage other families who face these kinds of battles, I would have had trouble believing it. God has a way of bringing good out of difficult circumstances that isn’t always easy to see when you are going through them. 

The apostle Thomas also didn’t expect God to bring good out of the greatest challenge of his faith—Jesus’s crucifixion. Thomas wasn’t with the other disciples when Jesus came to them after the resurrection, and in his deep grief he insisted, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were… I will not believe” (John 20:24). But later, when Jesus appeared to all the disciples together, out of the dust of Thomas’ doubts God’s Spirit would inspire a striking statement of faith. When Thomas exclaimed, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28), he was grasping the truth that Jesus was actually God in the flesh, standing right in front of him. It was a bold confession of faith that would encourage and inspire believers in every century that followed.

Our God is able to inspire fresh faith in our hearts, even in moments when we least expect it.  We can always look forward to His faithfulness. Nothing is too hard for Him!

Living in Tents

Growing up in Minnesota, a place known for its many beautiful lakes, I loved to go camping to enjoy the wonders of God’s creation. But sleeping in a flimsy tent wasn’t my favorite part of the experience—especially when a rainy night and a leaky tent resulted in a soggy sleeping bag.

I marvel to think that one of the heroes of our faith spent a hundred years in tents. When he was 75 years old, Abraham heard God’s call to leave his country so the Lord could make him into a new nation (Gen. 12:1–2). Abraham obeyed, trusting that God would follow through on His promise. And for the rest of his life, until he died at 175 (25:7), he lived away from his home country in tents.

We may not have the same call as Abraham did to live nomadically, but even as we love and serve this world and the people in it, we may long for a deeper experience of home, of being rooted here on earth. Like Abraham, when the wind whips our flimsy covering or the rain soaks through, we can look with faith for the city to come, whose “architect and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10). And like Abraham, we can find hope that God is working to renew His creation, preparing a “better country—a heavenly one” to come (v. 16).

Sweet and Sour

When our toddler first bit into a lemon wedge, he wrinkled his nose, stuck out his tongue, and squeezed his eyes shut. “Sow-wah,” he said (sour).

I chuckled as I reached for the piece of fruit, intending to toss it into the trash.

“No!” Xavier scampered across the kitchen to get away from ne. “Moe-wah!” (more). His lips puckered with every juice-squirting bite. I winced when he finally handed me the rind and walked away.

My taste buds accurately reflect my partiality to the sweet moments in life. My preference for avoiding all things bitter reminds me of Job’s wife, who seems to have shared my aversion to the sourness of suffering.

Job surely didn’t delight in hardship or trouble, yet he honored God through heart-wrenching circumstances (Job 1:1–22). When painful sores afflicted Job’s body, he endured the agony (Job 2:7–8). His wife told him to give up on God (v. 9), but Job responded by trusting the Lord through suffering and afflictions (v. 10).

It’s natural to prefer avoiding the bitter bites in life. We can even be tempted to lash out at God when we’re hurting. But the Lord uses trials, teaching us how to trust Him, depend on Him, and surrender to Him as He enables us to persevere through difficult times. And like Job, we don’t have to enjoy suffering to learn to savor the unexpected sweetness of sour moments−the divine strengthening of our faith.

Let’s Finish the Race

In the 2016 Rio Olympics, two athletes in the 5,000 meters race caught the world’s attention. About 3,200 meters into the race, New Zealander Nikki Hamblin and American Abbey D’Agostino collided and fell. Abbey was quickly up on her feet, but stopped to help Nikki. Moments after the two athletes had started running again, Abbey began faltering, her right leg injured as a result of the fall. It was now Nikki’s turn to stop and encourage her fellow athlete to finish the race. When Abbey eventually stumbled across the finish line, Nikki was waiting to embrace her. What a beautiful picture of mutual encouragement!

It reminds me of a passage in the Bible: “Two are better than one . . . If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up” (Eccl. 4:9–10). As runners in a spiritual race, we need one another—perhaps even more so, for we are not racing in competition with each other but as members of the same team. There’ll be moments where we falter and need someone to pick us up; at other times, someone may need our encouragement through our prayers or presence.

The spiritual race is not to be run alone. Is God leading you to be a Nikki or Abby in someone’s life? Respond to His prompting today, and let’s finish the race!

The Best Portion of All

“His piece is bigger than mine!”

When I was a boy my brothers and I would sometimes bicker about the size of the piece of homemade pie mom served us. One day Dad observed our antics with a lifted eyebrow, and smiled at Mom as he lifted his plate: “Please just give me a piece as big as your heart.” My brothers and I watched in stunned silence as Mom laughed and offered him the largest portion of all.

If we focus on others’ possessions, jealousy too often results. Yet God’s Word lifts our eyes to something of far greater worth than earthly possessions. The psalmist writes, “You are my portion, Lord; I have promised to obey your words. I have sought your face with all my heart” (Ps. 119:57-58). Inspired by the Holy Spirit, the writer conveyed the truth that nothing matters more than closeness to God.

What better portion could we have than our loving and limitless Creator? Nothing on earth can compare with Him, and nothing can take Him away from us. Human longing is an expansive void; one may have “everything” in the world and still be miserable. But when God is our source of happiness, we are truly content. There’s a space within us only God can fill. He alone can give us the peace that matches our hearts.

Related Topics

Christian Living > Compassion

The Ministry of Mourning

In 2002, a few months after my sister Martha and her husband, Jim, died in an accident, a friend invited me to a “Growing Through Grief” workshop at our church. I reluctantly agreed to attend the first session but had no intention of going back. To my surprise, I discovered a caring community of people trying to come to grips with a significant loss in their lives by seeking the help of God and others. It drew me back week after week as I worked toward acceptance and peace through the process of sharing our grief together.

Like the sudden loss of a loved one or friend, the death of Stephen, a dynamic witness for Jesus, brought shock and sorrow to those in the early church (Acts 7:57–60). In the face of persecution, “Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him” (8:2). These men of faith did two things together: They buried Stephen, an act of finality and loss. And they mourned deeply for him, a shared expression of their sorrow.

As followers of Jesus, we need not mourn our losses alone. In sincerity and love we can reach out to others who are hurting, and in humility we can accept the concern of those who stand beside us.

As we grieve together, we can grow in understanding and in the peace that is ours through Jesus Christ, who knows our deepest sorrow.  

 

Paying Attention

John Newton wrote, “If, as I go home, a child has dropped a halfpenny, and if, by giving it another, I can wipe away its tears, I feel I have done something. I should be glad to do greater things; but I will not neglect this.”

These days, it’s not hard to find someone in need of comfort: A care-worn cashier in a grocery store working a second job to make ends meet; a refugee longing for home; a single mother whose flood of worries has washed away her hope; a lonely old man who fears he has outlived his usefulness.

But what are we to do? “Blessed is he who considers the poor,” wrote David (Ps. 41:1 nkjv). Even if we can’t alleviate the poverty of those we meet along the way we can consider them—a verb that means “to pay attention.”

We can let people know we care. We can treat them with courtesy and respect, though they may be testy or tiresome. We can listen with interest to their stories. And we can pray for them or with them—the most helpful and healing act of all.

Remember the old paradox Jesus gave us when He said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). Paying attention pays off, for we're happiest when we give ourselves away. Consider the poor.

Love for Children

Thomas Barnado entered the London Hospital medical school in 1865, dreaming of life as a medical missionary in China. Barnado soon discovered a desperate need in his own front yard—the many homeless children living and dying on the streets of London. Barnado determined to do something about this horrendous situation. Developing homes in for destitute children in London’s east end, Barnado rescued some 60,000 boys and girls from poverty and possible early death. Theologian and pastor John Stott said, “Today we might call him the patron saint of street kids.”

Jesus said, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these” (Matt. 19:14 nlt). Imagine the surprise the crowds—and Jesus’ own disciples—must have felt at this declaration. In the ancient world, children had little value and were largely relegated to the margins of life. Yet, Jesus welcomed, blessed, and valued children.

James, a New Testament writer, challenged Christ-followers saying, “Pure and lasting religion in the sight of God our Father means that we must care for orphans… in their troubles,” (James 1:27 nlt). Today, like those first-century orphans, children of every social strata, ethnicity, and family environment are at risk due to neglect, human trafficking, abuse, drugs, and more. How could we honor the Father who loves us by showing His care for these little ones Jesus welcomes?

Christian Living > Contentment

The Best Portion of All

“His piece is bigger than mine!”

When I was a boy my brothers and I would sometimes bicker about the size of the piece of homemade pie mom served us. One day Dad observed our antics with a lifted eyebrow, and smiled at Mom as he lifted his plate: “Please just give me a piece as big as your heart.” My brothers and I watched in stunned silence as Mom laughed and offered him the largest portion of all.

If we focus on others’ possessions, jealousy too often results. Yet God’s Word lifts our eyes to something of far greater worth than earthly possessions. The psalmist writes, “You are my portion, Lord; I have promised to obey your words. I have sought your face with all my heart” (Ps. 119:57-58). Inspired by the Holy Spirit, the writer conveyed the truth that nothing matters more than closeness to God.

What better portion could we have than our loving and limitless Creator? Nothing on earth can compare with Him, and nothing can take Him away from us. Human longing is an expansive void; one may have “everything” in the world and still be miserable. But when God is our source of happiness, we are truly content. There’s a space within us only God can fill. He alone can give us the peace that matches our hearts.

Perfect Peace

A friend shared with me that for years she searched for peace and contentment. She and her husband built up a successful business, so she was able to buy a big house, fancy clothes, and expensive jewelry. But these possessions didn’t satisfy her inner longings for peace, nor did her friendships with influential people. Then one day, when she was feeling low and desperate, a friend told her about the good news of Jesus. There she found the Prince of peace, and her understanding of true peace and contentment was forever changed.

Jesus spoke words of such peace to His friends after their last supper together (John 14), when He prepared them for the events that would soon follow: His death, resurrection, and the coming of the Holy Spirit. Describing a peace—unlike anything the world can give—He wanted them to learn how to find a sense of well-being even in the midst of hardship.

Later, when the resurrected Jesus appeared to the frightened disciples after His death, He greeted them, saying, “Peace be with you!” (John 20:19). Now He could give them, and us, a new understanding of resting in what He has done for us. As we do, we can find the awareness of a confidence far deeper than our ever-changing feelings. May we know this peace as we mark the events of the Passion of our Lord.

Best Deal Ever!

How much is enough? We might ask this simple question on a day that many developed countries increasingly devote to shopping. I speak of Black Friday, the day after the US Thanksgiving holiday, in which many stores open early and offer cut-price deals; a day that has spread from the States to other nations. Some shoppers have limited resources and are trying to purchase something at a price they can afford. But sadly for others greed is the motivation, and violence erupts as they fight for bargains.

The wisdom of the Old Testament writer known as “the Teacher” (Eccl. 1:1) provides an antidote to the frenzy of consumerism we may face in the shops—and in our hearts. He points out that those who love money never will have enough and will be ruled by their possessions. And yet, they will die with nothing: “As everyone comes, so they depart” (5:15). The apostle Paul echoes the Teacher in his letter to Timothy, when he says that the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and that we should strive for “godliness with contentment” (1 Tim. 6:6–10).

Whether we live in a place of plenty or not, we all can seek unhealthy ways of filling the God-shaped hole in our hearts. But when we look to the Lord for our sense of peace and well-being, He will fill us with His goodness and love.

Christian Living > Gratefulness & Thankfulness

Grateful for Everything

In Australia, it can take hours to drive between towns and fatigue can lead to accidents. So at busy holiday times rest stops are set up on major highways with volunteers offering free coffee. My wife, Merryn, and I grew to enjoy these stops during our long drives there.

On one trip, we pulled in and walked over to order our coffee. An attendant handed the two cups over, and then asked me for two dollars. I asked why. She pointed to the small print on the sign—at this stop, only the driver got free coffee; you had to pay for passengers. Annoyed, I told her this was false advertising, paid the two dollars, and walked off. Back at the car, Merryn pointed out my error: I had turned a gift into an entitlement and become ungrateful for what I received. She was right.

When Moses led the Israelites into the Promised Land, he urged them to be a grateful people (Deut. 8:10). Thanks to the blessings of God, the land was abundant; but they could easily treat this prosperity as something they deserved (vv. 17–18). From this, the Jews developed a practice of giving thanks for every meal, no matter how small. For them, it was all a gift.

I went back to the woman and apologized. A free cup of coffee was a gift I didn’t deserve—and something for which to be thankful.

The Remedy for Jealousy

I gladly agreed to babysit my grandkids while their parents went out for the evening. After hugs, I asked the boys what they did over the weekend. (Both had separate adventures.) Bridger, age three, recounted breathlessly how he got to stay overnight with his aunt and uncle—and he had ice cream and rode a carousel and watched a movie! Next it was five-year-old Samuel’s turn. When asked what he did, he said, “Camping.” “Did you have fun?” I asked. “Not so much,” he answered forlornly.

The prophet Samuel experienced the age-old feeling of jealousy. He forgot how much fun he had camping with his dad when he heard his brother excitedly tell about his weekend.

All of us can fall prey to jealousy. King Saul gave in to the green-eyed monster of jealousy when the praise David received exceeded his: “Saul has killed his thousands, and David his ten thousands!” (1 Sam. 18:7). Saul was outraged and “from that time . . . kept a jealous eye on David” (v. 9 NLT). He was so incensed he tried to kill David!

The comparison game is foolish and self-destructive. Someone will always have something we don’t or enjoy experiences different from ours. But God has already given us many blessings, including both life on this earth for all and the promise of eternal life to all who believe. Depending on His help and focusing on Him in thankfulness can help us to overcome jealousy.

Praise in the Dark

Even though my friend Mickey was losing his eyesight, he told me, “I’m going to keep praising God every day, because He’s done so much for me.”

Jesus gave Mickey, and us, the ultimate reason for such never-ending praise. The twenty-sixth chapter of Matthew tells us about how Jesus shared the Passover meal with His disciples the night before He went to the cross. Verse 30 shows us how they concluded the meal: “When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.”

It wasn’t just any hymn they sang that night—it was a hymn of praise. For millennia, Jews have sung a group of Psalms called “The Hallel” at Passover (“hallel” is the Hebrew word for “praise”). The last of these prayers and songs of praise, found in Psalms 113–118, honors the God who has become our salvation (118:21). It refers to a rejected stone that became a cornerstone (v. 22) and one who comes in the name of the Lord (v. 26). With mystery, we can now understand, they sang, “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (v. 24).

As Jesus sang with His disciples on this Passover night, He was giving us the ultimate reason to lift our eyes above our immediate circumstances. He was leading us in praise of the never-ending love and faithfulness of our God.

 

Christian Living > Happiness

Heart Of Joy

While waiting in the gate area of Singapore’s Changi Airport to board my flight, I noticed a young family—mom, dad, and son. The area was crowded, and they were looking for a place to sit. Suddenly, the little boy began loudly singing “Joy to the World.” He was about 6 years old, so I was pretty impressed that he knew all the words.

And Then You Laugh

Noise. Vibration. Pressure. Fireball. Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield used these words to describe being launched into space. As the rocket raced toward the International Space Station, the weight of gravity increased and breathing became difficult. Just when he thought he would pass out, the rocket made a fiery breakthrough into weightlessness. Instead of lapsing into unconsciousness, he broke into laughter.

Giving Up Our Mirrors

When Moses gathered the children of Israel together to begin work on the tabernacle (Ex. 35–39), he called on Bezalel, a gifted artisan, to help make the furnishings. We’re told that certain women were asked to give their precious bronze mirrors to make the bronze basin he was constructing (38:8). They gave them up to help prepare a place where God’s presence would reside.

Christian Living > Hope & Joy

The Turn

As the minister spoke at a funeral for an old military veteran, he mused about where the deceased might be. But then, instead of telling the people how they could know God, he speculated about things not found anywhere in Scripture. Where is the hope? I thought.

At last he asked us to turn to a closing hymn. And as we rose to sing “How Great Thou Art,” people began to praise God from the depths of their souls. Within moments, the spirit of the entire room had changed. Suddenly, surprisingly, in the middle of the third verse my emotions overwhelmed my voice.

And when I think, that God, His Son not sparing,

Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in;

That on the Cross, my burden gladly bearing,

He bled and died to take away my sin.

Until we sang that great hymn, I had wondered if God was going to show up at that funeral. In reality, He never leaves. A look at the book of Esther reveals this truth. The Jews were in exile, and powerful people wanted to kill them. Yet at the darkest moment, a godless king granted the right to the enslaved Israelites to defend themselves against those who sought their demise (Est. 8:11–13). A successful defense and a celebration ensued (9:17–19).

It should be no surprise when God shows up in the words of a hymn at a funeral. After all, He turned an attempted genocide into a celebration and a crucifixion into resurrection and salvation!

From Grief to Joy

Kelly’s pregnancy brought complications, and doctors were concerned. During her long labor, they decided to whisk her away for a cesarean section. But despite the ordeal, Kelly quickly forgot her pain when she held her newborn son. Joy had replaced anguish.

Scripture affirms this truth: “A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world” (John 16:21). Jesus used this illustration with His disciples to emphasize that though they would grieve because He would be leaving soon, that grief would turn to joy when they saw Him again (vv. 20–22).

Jesus was referring to His death and resurrection—and what followed. After His resurrection, to the disciples’ joy, Jesus spent another 40 days walking with and teaching them before ascending and leaving them once again (Acts 1:3). Yet Jesus did not leave them grief-stricken. The Holy Spirit would fill them with joy (John 16:7–15; Acts 13:52).

Though we have never seen Jesus face-to-face, as believers we have the assurance that one day we will. In that day, the anguish we face in this earth will be forgotten. But until then, the Lord has not left us without joy—He has given us His Spirit (Rom. 15:13; 1 Peter 1:8–9).

Nozomi Hope

In 2011, a magnitude 9 earthquake and a resulting tsunami took nearly 19,000 lives and destroyed 230,000 homes in the region northeast of Tokyo. In its aftermath, The Nozomi Project, named for the Japanese word for “hope,” was born to provide sustainable income, community, dignity, and hope in a God who provides.

Nozomi women sift through the rubble of homes and furnishings to discover broken china shards that they sand and insert in fittings to form jewelry. The jewelry is sold around the world, providing a livelihood for the women while sharing symbols of their faith in Christ.

In New Testament times, it was customary to hide valuables in the unlikely vessels of simple clay pots. Paul describes how the treasure of the gospel is contained in the human frailty of followers of Christ: jars of clay in 2 Corinthians 4:7. He suggests that the meager—and even at times broken—vessels of our lives actually can reveal God’s power in contrast to our imperfections.

When God inhabits the imperfect and broken pieces in our lives, the healing hope of His power is often more visible to others. Yes, His repair work in our hearts often leaves the cracks of scars. But perhaps those lines from our learning are the etchings in our beings that make His character more visible to others.

Christian Living > Living for Christ

Taking Shortcuts

Sipping her tea, Nancy gazed out her friend’s window and sighed. Spring rains and sunshine had coaxed a riotous expanse of color from a well-groomed flowerbed of lilies, phlox, irises, and evening primrose.   

            “I want that look,” she said wistfully, “without all the work.”

            Some shortcuts are fine—even practical. Others short-circuit our spirit and deaden our lives. We want romance without the difficulties and messiness of committing to someone so different from ourselves. We want “greatness” without the risks and failures necessary in the adventure of real life. We desire to please God, but not when it inconveniences us.

            Jesus made clear to His followers that there is no short-cut that avoids the hard choice of surrendering our lives to Him. He warned a prospective disciple, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62). To follow Christ requires a radical altering of our loyalties.

            When we turn in faith to Jesus, the work just begins. But it is oh-so-worth it, for He also told us that no one who sacrifices “for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age . . . and in the age to come eternal life” (Mark 10:30). The work of following Christ is difficult, but He’s given us His Spirit and the reward is a full, joyful life now and forever.

Cleaning House

Recently, I switched rooms in the home I rent. This took longer than expected, because I didn’t want to simply transfer my (extensive) mess to a new room; I wanted a completely fresh and uncluttered start. After hours and hours of cleaning and sorting, bags of stuff sat by the front door to be thrown away, donated, or recycled. But at the end of this exhausting process was a beautiful room I was excited to spend time in.

My housecleaning project gave me a fresh perspective when reading 1 Peter 2:1, as paraphrased in The Message: “So, clean house! Make a clean sweep of malice and pretense, envy, and hurtful talk.” Interestingly, it’s after a joyful confession of their new life in Christ (1:1–12) that Peter urges them to throw away destructive habits (1:13–2:3). When our walk with the Lord feels cluttered and our love for others feels strained, this shouldn’t cause to question our salvation. We don’t change our lives to be saved, but because we are (1:23).

As real as our new life in Christ is, habits learned do not disappear overnight. So, on a daily basis, we need to “clean house,” throwing away all that prevents us from fully loving others (1:22) and growing (2:2).  Then, in that new, clean space, we can experience the wonder of being freshly built (v. 4) by Christ’s power and life.

Driven by God

A few months ago I received an email inviting me to join a community of “driven people.’ I decided to look up the word driven, and I learned that a driven person is someone highly motivated to succeed and who will work hard to achieve his goals.

Is it good to be a driven person? There is a test that never fails: “Do it all for the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). Many times we do things for self-glory. After the flood in Noah’s day, a group of people decided to build a tower in order to “make a name” for themselves (Gen. 11:4). They wanted to be famous and avoid being scattered all over the world. Because they were not doing it for God's glory, though, they were erroneously driven.

In contrast, when King Solomon dedicated the ark of the covenant and the newly constructed temple, he said, “I have built the temple for the Name of the Lord” (1 Kings 8:20). Then he prayed, “May he turn our hearts to him, to walk in obedience to him and keep the commands” (v. 58).

When our greatest desire is to bring glory to God and walk in obedience, we become driven people who seek to love and serve Jesus in the power of the Spirit. Let our prayer echo Solomon’s. May our “hearts be fully committed to the Lord our God, to live by his decrees and obey his commands” (v. 61).

Christian Living > Living Like Christ

Writing Letters

My mother and her sisters engage in what is increasingly becoming a lost art form—writing letters. Each week they pen personal words to each other with such consistency that one of their mail-carriers worries when he doesn’t have something to deliver! Their letters brim with the stuff of life, the joys and heartaches along with the daily happenings of friends and family.

I love to reflect on this weekly exercise of the women in my family. It helps me appreciate even more the apostle Paul’s words that those who follow Jesus are “a letter from Christ,” who were “written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God” (2 Cor. 3:3). In response to false teachers who wanted to discredit his message (see 2 Cor. 11), Paul encouraged the church in Corinth to keep on following the true and living God as he had previously taught. In doing so, he memorably described the believers as Christ’s letter, with their transformed lives a more powerful witness to the Spirit working through Paul’s ministry than any written letter could be.

How wonderful that God’s Spirit in us writes a story of grace and redemption! For as meaningful as written words can be, it is our lives that are the best witness to the truth of the gospel, for they speak volumes through our compassion, service, gratitude, and joy. Through our words and actions, the Lord spreads His life-giving love. What message might you send today?

 

Available to All

In today’s celebrity-obsessed culture, it isn’t surprising that entrepreneurs are marketing “celebrities as products … allowing them to sell their personal time and attention.” Vauhini Vara’s article in The New Yorker noted that for $15,000, you can have a personal meeting with singer Shakira, while $12,000 will give you and eleven guests lunch with celebrity chef Michael Chiarello at his estate. 

Many people treated Jesus like a celebrity as they followed Him from place to place, listened to His teaching, observed His miracles, and sought healing from His touch. Yet Jesus was never self-important or aloof, but available to all. When His followers, James and John, were privately jockeying for position in His coming kingdom, Jesus reminded all His disciples, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all” (Mark 10:43-44).

Soon after Jesus said this, He stopped a procession of people following Him to ask a blind beggar, “What do you want me to do for you?” (v. 51) “Rabbi, I want to see,” the man replied.” He received his sight immediately and followed Jesus (v. 52).

Our Lord “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (v. 45). May we, like Him, be compassionate and available to others today

Showing Grace

The US Masters Golf Tournament began in 1934, and since then only three players have won it two years in a row. On April 10, 2016, it appeared that 22-year-old Jordan Spieth would become the fourth. But he faltered, on the last nine holes and finished in a tie for second. Despite his disappointing loss, Spieth was gracious toward tournament champion Danny Willett, congratulating him on his victory and on the birth of his first child, something “more important than golf.”

Writing in the New York Times, Karen Krouse said, “It takes grace to see the big picture so soon after having to sit through a trophy ceremony and watch someone else have his photograph taken.” Krouse continued, “Spieth’s ball-striking was off all week, but his character emerged unscathed.”

Paul urged the followers of Jesus in Colossae to “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Col. 4:5–6).

 

As those who have freely received God’s grace, it is our privilege and calling to demonstrate it in every situation of life—win or lose.

Christian Living > Living with Other Believers

Let’s Finish the Race

In the 2016 Rio Olympics, two athletes in the 5,000 meters race caught the world’s attention. About 3,200 meters into the race, New Zealander Nikki Hamblin and American Abbey D’Agostino collided and fell. Abbey was quickly up on her feet, but stopped to help Nikki. Moments after the two athletes had started running again, Abbey began faltering, her right leg injured as a result of the fall. It was now Nikki’s turn to stop and encourage her fellow athlete to finish the race. When Abbey eventually stumbled across the finish line, Nikki was waiting to embrace her. What a beautiful picture of mutual encouragement!

It reminds me of a passage in the Bible: “Two are better than one . . . If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up” (Eccl. 4:9–10). As runners in a spiritual race, we need one another—perhaps even more so, for we are not racing in competition with each other but as members of the same team. There’ll be moments where we falter and need someone to pick us up; at other times, someone may need our encouragement through our prayers or presence.

The spiritual race is not to be run alone. Is God leading you to be a Nikki or Abby in someone’s life? Respond to His prompting today, and let’s finish the race!

All Generations

My parents married in 1933 during the Great Depression. My wife and I are Baby Boomers, part of the dramatic increase in births following World War II. Our four daughters, born in the seventies and eighties, belong to Generations X and Y. Growing up in such different times, it’s not surprising that we have different opinions about many things!

Generations…

The Bond of Peace

After I confronted my friend by email over a matter on which we had differed, she didn’t respond. Had I overstepped? I didn’t want to worsen the situation by pestering her, but neither did I want to leave things unresolved before she went on a trip overseas. As she popped into my mind throughout the following days, I prayed for her, unsure of the way forward. Then one morning I went for a walk in our local park and saw her, pain etched on her face as she glimpsed me. “Thank you, Lord, that I can talk to her,” I breathed as I approached her with a welcoming smile. We talked openly and were able to resolve matters.

Sometimes when hurt or silence intrudes on our relationships, mending them seems out of our control. But as the apostle Paul says in his letter to the church at Ephesus, we are called to work for peace and unity through God’s Spirit, donning the garments of gentleness, humility, and patience as we seek God’s healing in our relationships. The Lord yearns for us to be united, and through His Spirit He can bring His people together—even unexpectedly when we go walking in the park.

Have you experienced an unexpected encounter that revealed God working in a situation? How might you work toward peace and unity today?

Christian Living > Love

Love of Another Kind

One of my favorite churches started several years ago as a ministry to ex-prisoners who were transitioning back into society. Now the church flourishes with people from all walks of life. I love that church because it reminds me of what I picture heaven will be like—filled with different kinds of people, all redeemed sinners, all bound together by the love of Jesus.

Sometimes, though, I wonder if church seems more like an exclusive club than a safe-haven for forgiven sinners. As people naturally gravitate into groups of “a certain kind” and cluster around those they feel comfortable with, it leaves others feeling marginalized. But that’s not what Jesus had in mind when He told His disciples to “love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:12). His church was to be an extension of His love mutually shared with all.

If hurting, rejected people can find loving refuge, comfort, and forgiveness in Jesus, they should expect no less from the church. So let’s exhibit the love of Jesus to everyone we encounter—especially those who are not like us. All around us are people Jesus wants to love through us. What a joy it is when people unite to worship together in love—a slice of heaven we can enjoy here on earth!

Priceless Worship

I use writing to worship and serve God, even more so now that health issues often limit my mobility. So, when an acquaintance said he found no value in what I wrote, I became discouraged. I doubted the significance of my small offerings to God.

Through prayer, study of Scripture, and encouragement from my husband, family, and friends, the Lord affirmed that only He−not the opinions of other people−could determine our motives as a worshiper and the worth of our offerings to Him. I asked the Giver of all gifts to continue helping me develop skills and provide opportunities to share the resources He gave me.

Jesus contradicted our standards of merit regarding our giving (Mark 12:41-44). While the rich tossed large amounts of money into the temple treasury, a poor widow put in coins “worth only a few cents” (v. 42). The Lord declared her gift greater than the rest (v. 43), though her contribution seemed insignificant to those around her (v. 44).

Although the widow’s story focuses on financial offerings, every act of giving can be an expression of worship and loving obedience. Like the widow, we honor God with intentional, generous, and sacrificial gifts given from whatever He’s already given us. When we present God the best of our time, talents, or treasure with hearts motivated by love, we are lavishing Him with offerings of priceless worship.

God’s Doing Something New

“Is God doing something new in your life?” was the question the leader asked in a group I was in recently. My friend Mindy, who is dealing with some difficult situations, responded. She told of needing patience with aging parents, stamina for her husband’s health issues, and understanding of her children and grandchildren who have not yet chosen to follow Jesus. Then she made an insightful comment that runs contrary to what we might normally think: “I believe the new thing God is doing is He’s expanding my capacity and opportunities to love.”

That fits nicely with the apostle Paul’s prayer for new believers in Thessalonica: “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else” (1 Thess. 3:12). He had taught them about Jesus but had to leave abruptly because of rioting (Acts 17:1–9). Now in his letter he encouraged them to continue to stand firm in their faith (1 Thess. 3:7–8). And he prayed that the Lord would increase their love for all.

During difficulties we often choose to complain and ask, Why? Or wonder, Why me? Another way to handle those times could be to ask the Lord to expand His love in our hearts and to help us take the new opportunities that come to love others.

Christian Living > Rest

A Day to Rest

One Sunday, I stood by the gurgling stream that wends its way through our North London community, delighting in the beauty it brings to our otherwise built-up area. I felt myself relax as I watched the cascading water and listened to the birds chirping. I paused to give the Lord thanks for how He helps us to find rest for our souls.

The Lord instituted a time of Sabbath—a time for rest and renewal—for His people in the ancient Near East because He wanted them to thrive. As we see in the book of Exodus, He tells them to sow their fields for six years and rest on the seventh. So too with working six days and resting on the seventh. His way of life set apart the Israelites from other nations, for not only they but also the foreigners and slaves in their households were allowed to follow this pattern.

We can approach our day of rest with expectancy and creativity, welcoming the chance to worship and do something that feeds our souls, which will vary according to our preferences. Some will like to play games; some to garden; some to share a meal with friends and family; some to take an afternoon nap.

How can we rediscover the beauty and richness of setting apart a day to rest, if that’s missing from our lives?

Rhythms of Grace

A friend and his wife, now in their early nineties and married for sixty-six years, wrote their family history for their children, grandchildren, and generations to come. The final chapter, “A Letter from Mom and Dad,” contains important life-lessons they’ve learned. One caused me to pause and take inventory of my own life: “If you find that Christianity exhausts you, draining you of your energy, then you are practicing religion rather than enjoying a relationship with Jesus Christ. Your walk with the Lord will not make you weary; it will invigorate you, restore your strength, and energize your life” (Matt. 11:28–29).

Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of Jesus’s invitation in this passage begins, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? . . . Walk with me and work with me. . . . . Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.”

When I think that serving God is all up to me, I’ve begun working for Him instead of walking with Him. There is a vital difference. If I’m not walking with Christ, my spirit becomes dry and brittle. People are annoyances, not fellow humans created in God’s image. Nothing seems right.

When I sense that I’m practicing religion instead of enjoying a relationship with Jesus, it’s time to lay the burden down and walk with Him in His “unforced rhythms of grace.”

Running and Rest

The headline caught my eye: “Rest Days Important for Runners.” In Tommy Manning’s article, the former member of the U.S. Mountain Running Team emphasized a principle that dedicated athletes sometimes ignore—the body needs time to rest and rebuild after exercise. “Physiologically, the adaptations that occur as a result of training only happen during rest,” Manning wrote. “This means rest is as important as workouts.”

The same is true in our walk of faith and service. Regular times of rest are essential to avoid burnout and discouragement. Jesus sought spiritual balance during His life on Earth, even in the face of great demands. When His disciples returned from a strenuous time of teaching and healing others, “He said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest’” (Mark 6:31). But a large crowd followed them, so Jesus taught them and fed them with only five loaves and two fish (vv. 32–44). When everyone was gone, Jesus “went up on a mountainside to pray” (v. 46). 

If our lives are defined by work, then what we do becomes less and less effective. Jesus invites us to regularly join Him in a quiet place to pray and get some rest.

Christian Living > Trust in God

Room 5020

Jay Bufton turned his hospital room into a lighthouse.

The 52-year-old husband, father, high school teacher, and coach was dying of cancer, but his room—Room 5020—became a beacon of hope for friends, family, and hospital workers. Because of his joyful attitude and strong faith, nurses wanted to be assigned to Jay. Some even came to see him during off hour

Even as his once-athletic body was wasting away, he greeted anyone and everyone with a smile and encouragement. One friend said, “Every time I visited Jay he was upbeat, positive, and filled with hope. He was, even while looking cancer and death in the face, living out his faith.”

At Jay’s funeral, one speaker noted that Room 5020 had a special meaning. He pointed to Genesis 50:20, in which Joseph says that although his brothers sold him into slavery, God turned the tables and accomplished something good: “the saving of many lives.” Cancer invaded Jay’s life, but by recognizing God’s hand at work Jay could say that “God meant it for good.” That’s why Jay could use even the ravages of cancer as an open door to tell others about Jesus.

What a legacy of unwavering trust in our Savior even as death was knocking at the door! What a testimony of confidence in our good and trustworthy God!

 

Enough

When my husband and I were first asked to host a small group in our home, my immediate reaction was to decline. I felt inadequate. We didn’t have seats for everyone; our home was small and couldn’t hold many people. I didn’t know whether we had the skills to facilitate the discussion. I worried that I’d be asked to prepare food, something for which I lacked both passion and funds. I didn’t feel like we had “enough” to do it. I didn’t feel I was “enough” to do it. But we wanted to give to God and our community, so despite our fears, we agreed. Over the next five years found great joy in welcoming the group into our living room.

I observe similar reluctance and doubt in the man who brought bread to God’s servant, Elisha. Elisha had instructed him to give it to the people, but the man questioned whether twenty loaves could feed so many—one hundred men. He seems to have been tempted to withhold the food because—in his human understanding—it wouldn’t be sufficient. Yet it was more than enough (2 Kings 4:44), because God took his gift, given in obedience, and made it enough.

When we feel inadequate, or think that what we have to offer isn’t sufficient, let’s remember that God asks us to give what we have in faithful obedience. He is the one who makes it “enough.”

How Long?

When I married, I thought I would have children immediately. That did not happen, and the pain of infertility brought me to my knees. I often cried out to God, “How long?” I knew God could change my circumstance. Why wasn’t He?

Are you waiting on God? Are you asking, “How long … ?” Before justice prevails in our world? Before there is a cure for cancer? Before I am no longer in debt?  

The prophet Habakkuk was well acquainted with that feeling. In the seventh century bc, he cried out to the Lord: “How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?” (Hab. 1:2–3) He prayed for a long time, struggling to reconcile how a just and powerful God could allow wickedness, injustice, and corruption to continue in Judah. As far as Habakkuk was concerned, God should have already intervened. Why was God doing nothing?

There are days when we, too, feel as if God is doing nothing. Like Habakkuk, we have continuously asked God, “How long?”

Yet, we are not alone. As with Habakkuk, God hears our burdens. We must continue to cast them on the Lord because He cares for us. God hears us and, in His time, will give an answer.