Desert Solitaire is Edward Abbey’s personal history of his summers as a park ranger in what is now called Arches National Park in Utah. The book is worth reading if only for Abbey’s bright language and vivid descriptions of the US Southwest.
But Abbey, for all his artistry, was an atheist who could see nothing beyond the surface of the beauty he enjoyed. How sad! He lived his entire life in praise of beauty and missed the point of it all.
Most ancient peoples had theories of origins enshrouded in legend, myth, and song. But Israel’s story of creation was unique: It told of a God who created beauty for our enjoyment and childlike delight. God thought up the cosmos, spoke it into being and pronounced it “beautiful.” (The Hebrew word for good also signifies beauty.) Then, having created a paradise, God in love spoke us into being, placed us in Eden, and told us, “Enjoy!”
Some see and enjoy the beauty of the Creator’s good gifts all around them, but don’t “worship him as God or even give him thanks.” They “think up foolish ideas of what God [is] like. As a result, their minds become dark and confused” (Rom. 1:21
Others see beauty, say “Thank You, God,” and step into His light.
As a group of religious leaders herded an adulterous woman toward Jesus, they couldn’t know they were carrying her within a stone’s throw of grace. Their hope was to discredit Him. If He told them to let the woman go, they could claim He was breaking Mosaic law. But if He condemned her to death, the crowds following Him would have dismissed His words of mercy and grace.
But Jesus turned the tables on the accusers. Scripture says that rather than answering them directly, He started writing on the ground. When the leaders continued to question Him, He invited any of them who had never sinned to throw the first stone, and then He started writing on the ground again. The next time He looked up, all the accusers were gone.
Now the only person who could have thrown a stone—the only sinless one—looked at the woman and gave her mercy. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin” (John 8:11).
Whether today finds you needing forgiveness for judging others or desiring assurance that no sin is beyond His grace, be encouraged by this: No one is throwing stones today; go and be changed by God’s mercy.
When you enter some of the greatest cities in the world, you can encounter famous gates such as the Brandenburg Gate (Berlin), the Jaffa Gate (Jerusalem), and the gates at Downing Street (London). Whether the gates were built for defensive or ceremonial purposes, they all represent the difference between being outside or inside certain areas of the city. Some are open; some are closed to all but a few.
The gates into the presence of God are always open. The familiar song of Psalm 100 is an invitation for the Israelites to enter into the presence of God through the temple gates. They were told to “shout for joy” and “come before him with joyful songs” (v. 1). Shouting for joy was an appropriate expression when greeting a monarch in the ancient world. All the earth was to sing joyfully about God! The reason for this joyful noise was that God had given them their identity (v. 3). They entered the gates with praise and thanksgiving because of God’s goodness and His steadfast and enduring love which continues through all generations (vv. 4-5). Even when they forgot their identity and wandered away from Him, God remained faithful and still invited them to enter His presence. The gates into God’s presence are still open, inviting us to come and worship.
My son’s blue eyes sparkled with excitement as he showed me a paper he had brought home from school. It was a math test, marked with a red star and a grade of 100 percent. As we looked at the exam, he said he had three questions left to answer when the teacher said time was up. Puzzled, I asked how he could have received a perfect score. He replied, “My teacher gave me grace. She let me finish the test although I had run out of time.”
As my son and I discussed the meaning of grace, I pointed out that God has given us more than we deserve through Christ. We deserve death because of our sin (Rom. 3:23). Yet, “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (5:8). We were unworthy, yet Jesus—sinless and holy—gave up His life so we could escape the penalty for our sin and one day live forever in heaven.
Eternal life is a gift from God. It’s not something we earn by working for it. We are saved by God’s grace, through faith in Christ (Eph. 2:8-9).
One difficult part of growing older is the fear of dementia and the loss of short-term memory. But Dr. Benjamin Mast, an expert on the topic of Alzheimer’s disease, offers some encouragement. He says that patients’ brains are often so “well worn” and “habitual” that they can hear an old hymn and sing along to every word. He suggests that spiritual disciplines such as reading Scripture, praying, and singing hymns cause truth to become “embedded” in our brains, ready to be accessed when prompted. In Psalm 119:11, we read how the power of hiding God’s words in our heart can keep us from sinning. It can strengthen us, teach us obedience, and direct our footsteps (vv. 28, 67, 133). This in turn gives us hope and understanding (vv. 49, 130). Even when we begin to notice memory slips in ourselves or in the life of a loved one, God’s Word, memorized years earlier, is still there, “stored up” or “treasured” in the heart (v. 11
What are the five best toys of all time? Jonathan H. Liu suggested the following: A stick, a box, string, a cardboard tube, and dirt (GeekDad column at wired.com). All are readily available, versatile, appropriate for all ages, fit every budget, and are powered by imagination. No batteries required.
Imagination plays a powerful role in our lives, so it’s not unusual that the apostle Paul mentioned it in his prayer for the followers of Jesus in Ephesus (Eph. 3:14–21). After asking God to strengthen them with His power through His Spirit (v. 16), Paul prayed that they would be able to grasp and experience the full dimension of the love of Christ (vv. 17–19). In closing, Paul gave glory to “him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (v. 20).
Often our experience limits our prayers—a situation we can’t picture being different; destructive habits that remain unbroken; long-held attitudes that seen to defy change. As time passes, we may begin to feel that some things cannot be changed. But Paul says that is not true.
By God’s mighty power working in us, He is able to do far more than we may dare to ask or even dream of.
Are the best days of your life behind or in front of you? Our outlook on life—and our answer to that question—can change with time. When we're younger, we look ahead, wanting to grow up. And once we've grown older, we yearn for the past, wanting to be young again. But when we walk with God, whatever our age, the best is yet to come!
Over the course of his long life, Moses witnessed the amazing things God did, and many of those amazing things happened when he was no longer a young man. Moses was 80 years old when he confronted Pharaoh and saw God miraculously set His people free from slavery (Exod. 3–13). Moses saw the Red Sea part, saw manna fall from heaven, and even spoke with God "face to face" (14:21, 16:4, 33:11).
Throughout his life, Moses lived expectantly, looking ahead to what God would do (Heb. 11:24-27). He was 120 years old in his final year of life on this earth, and even then he understood that his life with God was just getting started and that he would never see an end to God’s greatness and love. Regardless of our age, “The eternal God is [our] refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deut. 33:27) that faithfully carry us into His joy.
Fear sneaks into my heart without permission. It paints a picture of helplessness and hopelessness. It steals my peace and my concentration. What am I fearful about? I’m concerned about the safety of my family or the health of loved ones. I panic at the loss of a job or a broken relationship. Fear turns my focus inward and reveals a heart that sometimes finds it hard to trust.
When these fears and worries strike, how good it is to read David’s prayer in Psalm 34: “I sought the
This awe of His goodness helps put our fears into perspective. When we remember who God is and how much He loves us, we can relax into His peace. “Those who fear him lack nothing” (v. 9), concludes David. How wonderful to discover that in the fear of the Lord we can be delivered from our fears.
Life’s path is often difficult. So if we expect that God will always give us an easy road, we may be tempted to turn our back on Him when the terrain gets tough.
If you’ve ever considered doing that, think about the people of Israel. When they were given freedom from the Egyptians after hundreds of years of bondage, they took off for the Promised Land. But God didn’t send them straight home. He “did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter” (Ex. 13:17). Instead He sent them on the hard road through the desert. In the short run, this helped them avoid wars (v. 17), but in the long run, there was something bigger at work.
God used that time in the desert to instruct and mature the people He had called to follow Him. The easy road would have led them to disaster. The long road prepared the nation of Israel for their successful entry into the Promised Land.
Our God is faithful, and we can trust Him to lead us and care for us no matter what we face. We may not understand the reason for the path we are on, but we can trust Him to help us grow in faith and maturity along the way.