During a church service I attended with my parents, according to the usual practice we held hands while saying the Lord’s Prayer together. As I stood with one hand clasped to my mother’s and the other to my father’s, I was struck by the thought that I will always be their daughter. Although I’m firmly in my middle age, I can still be called “the child of Leo and Phyllis.” I reflected that not only am I their daughter but I will also always be a child of God.
The apostle Paul wanted the people in the church at Rome to understand that their identity was based on being adopted members of God’s family (Romans 8:15). Because they had been born of the Spirit (v. 14), no longer did they need to be enslaved to things that didn’t really matter. Rather, through the gift of the Spirit, they were “heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ” (v. 17).
To those who follow Christ, what difference does this make? Quite simply, everything! Our identity as children of God provides our foundation and shapes how we see ourselves and the world. For instance, knowing that we are part of God’s family helps us to step out of our comfort zone as we follow Him. We can also be free from seeking the approval of others.
Today, why not ponder what it means to be God’s child?
Darkness descended on our forest village when the moon disappeared. Lightning slashed the skies, followed by a rainstorm and crackling thunder. Awake and afraid, as a child I imagined all kinds of grisly monsters about to pounce on me! By daybreak, however, the sounds vanished, the sun rose, and calm returned as birds jubilated in the sunshine. The contrast between the frightening darkness of the night and the joy of the daylight was remarkably sharp.
The author of Hebrews recalls the time when the Israelites had an experience at Mount Sinai so dark and stormy they hid in fear (Exodus 20:18–19). For them, God’s glory, even in His loving gift of the law, felt dark and terrifying. This was because, as sinful people, the Israelites couldn’t live up to God’s standards. Their sin caused them to walk in darkness and fear (Hebrews 12:18–21).
But God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5). In Hebrews 12, Mount Sinai represents God’s holiness and our old life of disobedience, while the beauty of Mount Zion represents God’s grace and believers’ new life in Jesus, “the mediator of a new covenant” (vv. 22–24).
Whoever follows Jesus will “never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). Through Him, we can let go of the darkness of our old life and celebrate the joy of walking in the light and the beauty of His kingdom.
When I emerged from my hotel in Kampala, Uganda, my hostess, who had come to pick me up for our seminar, looked at me with an amused grin. “What’s so funny?” I inquired. She laughed and asked, “Did you comb your hair?” It was my turn to laugh, for I had indeed forgotten to comb my hair. I had looked at my reflection in the hotel mirror. How come I took no notice of what I saw?
In a practical analogy, James gives us a useful dimension to make our study of God’s Word more beneficial. We look in the mirror to examine ourselves to see if anything needs correction—hair combed, face washed, shirt properly buttoned. Like a mirror, God’s Word helps us to examine our character, attitude, thoughts, and behavior (James 1:23–24). This enables us to align our lives according to the principles of God’s Word. We will “keep a tight rein” on our tongues (v. 26) and “look after orphans and widows” (v. 27). We will pay heed to God’s Holy Spirit within us and keep ourselves “from being polluted by the world” (v. 27).
When we look attentively into “the perfect law that gives freedom” and apply it to our lives, we will be blessed in what we do (v. 25). As we look into the mirror of God’s Word, we can “humbly accept the word planted in you” (v. 21).
“Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” is an English lullaby. Its lyrics, originally a poem by Jane Taylor, capture the wonder of God’s universe where stars hang “up above the world so high.” In the rarely published later stanzas, the star acts as a guide: “As your bright and tiny spark lights the traveler in the dark.”
In Philippians, Paul challenges believers in Philippi to be blameless and pure as they “shine . . . like stars in the sky” while offering the good news of the gospel to all around them (2:15–16). We wonder how we can shine like stars. We often feel inadequate and struggle to think our “light” is bright enough to make a difference. But stars don’t try to be stars. They just are. Light changes our world. And it changes us. God brought physical light into our world (Genesis 1:3); and through Jesus, God brings spiritual light into our lives (John 1:1–4).
We who have God’s light in us are to shine in such a way that those around us see light and are drawn to its source. As effortlessly as a star hanging in the night sky, our light makes a difference because of what it is: Light! When we simply shine, we follow Paul’s directive to “hold firmly to the word of life” in a world in deep darkness, and we draw others to the source of our hope: Jesus.
As I was preparing to go on a mission trip with some young people, the most frequently asked question was, “Is there Wi-Fi?” And I assured them there would be! So just imagine the wails and groans one night when the Wi-Fi was down!
Many of us become anxious when we’re separated from our smartphones. And when we do have our iPhones or Androids in our hands, we can be fixated on our screens.
Like many things, the internet and all that it allows us to access can become either a distraction or a blessing. It depends on what we do with it. In Proverbs we read, “A wise person is hungry for knowledge, while the fool feeds on trash” (Proverbs 15:14
Applying the wisdom of God’s Word to life, we can ask ourselves: Do we check our social networks compulsively throughout the day? What does that say about the things we hunger for? And do the things we read or view online encourage sensible living (vv. 16–21) or are we feeding on trash—gossip, slander, materialism, or sexual impurity?
As we yield to the work of the Holy Spirit, we can fill our minds with things that are “true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable” (Philippians 4:8
Hot and dusty, Bob dismounted from the bus he had ridden to Pasadena, California. He was tired from a long day of travel and grateful that he would be able to have dinner with friends of friends who lived in the area. They welcomed him in, and he immediately felt a sense of peace. He felt at home, comfortable, safe, and valued.
Later, wondering why he had felt such peace in an unfamiliar place, Bob found an answer in 2 Corinthians. The apostle Paul describes people who follow God as having the “pleasing aroma of Christ.” “That’s exactly it!” Bob said to himself. His hosts had “smelled like” Christ.
When Paul says that God leads His people in Christ’s “triumphal procession” spreading the fragrance of His truth, he’s referring to a practice in the ancient world. Victorious armies would burn incense as they processed through the streets. For their supporters, the smell brought joy. In the same way, Paul says the people of God carry a pleasing fragrance to those who believe. It isn’t something we create on our own but something God gives as He leads us in spreading the knowledge of Him.
Bob is my dad, and that trip to Pasadena took place more than forty years ago, but he’s never forgotten it. He’s still telling the story of the people who smelled like Christ.
As I looked down at the pulpit where I was sharing prayers at a funeral, I glimpsed a brass plaque bearing words from John 12:21: “Sir, we would see Jesus” (
John’s gospel recounts how after Jesus rode into Jerusalem (see John 12:12–16), some Greeks approached Philip, one of the disciples, asking, “Sir, . . . we would like to see Jesus” (v. 21). They were probably curious about Jesus’s healings and miracles, but as they weren’t Jewish, they weren’t allowed into the inner courts of the temple. When their request was passed along to Jesus, He announced that His hour had come to be glorified (v. 23). And by that, He meant that He would die for the sins of many. He would fulfill His mission to reach not only the Jews but the Gentiles (the “Greeks” in verse 20), and now they would see Jesus.
After Jesus died, He sent the Holy Spirit to dwell in His followers (John 14:16–17). Thus as we love and serve Jesus, we see Him active in our lives. And, amazingly, those around us too can see Jesus!
Going to the grocery store isn’t something I particularly enjoy. It’s just a mundane part of life—something that has to be done.
But there is one part of this task I’ve unexpectedly come to look forward to: checking out in Fred’s lane. Fred, you see, turns checkout into show time. He’s amazingly fast, always has a big smile, and even dances (and sometimes sings!) as he acrobatically flips (unbreakable) purchases into a plastic bag. Fred clearly enjoys a job that could be seen as one of the most tedious around. And for just a moment, his cheerful spirit brightens the lives of people in his checkout lane.
The way Fred does his job has won my respect and admiration. His cheerful attitude, desire to serve, and attention to detail all line up well with the apostle Paul’s description of how we are to work in Colossians 3:23: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord.”
When we’re in relationship with Jesus, any job we have to do gives us an opportunity to reflect His presence in our lives. No task is too small . . . or too big! Tackling our responsibilities—whatever they may be—with joy, creativity, and excellence gives us an opportunity to influence those around us, no matter our job.
My children and I have started a new daily practice. Every night at bedtime, we gather colored pencils and light a candle. Asking God to light our way, we get out our journals and draw or write answers to two questions: When did I show love today? and When did I withhold love today?
Loving our neighbors has been an important part of the Christian life “from the beginning” (2 John 1:5). That’s what John writes in his second letter to his congregation, asking them to love one another in obedience to God (2 John 1:5–6). Love is one of John’s favorite topics throughout his letters. He says that practicing real love is one way to know that we “belong to the truth,” that we’re living in God’s presence (1 John 3:18–19). When my kids and I reflect, we find that in our lives love takes shape in simple actions: sharing an umbrella, encouraging someone who is sad, or cooking a favorite meal. The moments when we’re withholding love are equally practical: we gossip, refuse to share, or satisfy our own desires without thinking of others’ needs.
Paying attention each night helps us be more aware each day, more tuned in to what the Spirit might be showing us as we walk through our lives. With the Spirit’s help, we’re learning to walk in love (2 John 1:6).