Fifteen-year-old Wilson Bentley was captivated by the intricate beauty of snowflakes. He looked with fascination through an old microscope his mother had given him and made hundreds of sketches of their remarkable designs, but they melted too quickly to adequately capture their detail. Several years later, in 1885, he had an idea. He attached a bellows camera to the microscope and, after much trial and error, took his first picture of a snowflake. During his lifetime Bentley would capture 5,000 snowflake images and each one was a unique design. He described them as “tiny miracles of beauty” and “ice flowers.”
No two snowflakes are alike, yet all come from the same source. So it is with followers of Christ. We all come from the same Creator and Redeemer, yet we are all different. In God’s glorious plan He has chosen to bring a variety of people together into a unified whole, and He has gifted us in various ways. In describing the diversity of gifts to believers, Paul writes: “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work” (1 Cor. 12:4-6).
Thank God for the unique contribution you can offer as you help and serve others.
Italian artist Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378–1455) spent years skillfully crafting images of Jesus’ life into the bronze doors of Italy’s Florence Baptistery. These bronze reliefs were so moving that Michelangelo called them the Gates of Paradise.
As an artistic treasure, the doors greet visitors with echoes of the gospel story. It was Jesus who said, “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved” (John 10:9). On the night before His crucifixion, He told His disciples, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (14:6). Within a few hours Jesus would say to one of the criminals being crucified at His side, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).
The apostle Peter a few weeks later boldly proclaimed to those who had called for Jesus’ death that “there is no other name under heaven . . . by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Years later, the apostle Paul wrote that there is only one mediator between God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus (1 Tim. 2:5).
The gates of paradise are found in the Savior who offers everlasting life to all who believe and come to Him. Enter into the joy of His salvation.
In his book On the Wing, Alan Tennant chronicles his efforts to track the migration of the peregrine falcon. Valued for their beauty, swiftness, and power, these amazing birds of prey were favorite hunting companions of emperors and nobility. Sadly, the wide use of the pesticide DDT in the 1950s interfered with their reproductive cycle and placed them on the endangered species list.
Interested in the recovery of this species, Tennant attached transmitters to a select number of falcons to track their migration patterns. But when he and his pilot flew their Cessna behind the birds, they repeatedly lost signal from the transmitters. Despite their advanced technology, they were not always able to track the birds they wanted to help.
It’s good to know that the God who cares for us never loses track of us. In fact, Jesus said that not even one sparrow “will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. . . . So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Matt. 10:29-31).
When we face difficult circumstances, fear may cause us to wonder if God is aware of our situation. Jesus’ teaching assures us that God cares deeply and is in control. His tracking of our lives will never fail.
Charity Island is the largest island in Saginaw Bay in the Michigan waters of Lake Huron. For many years the island has provided a lighthouse for navigational aid and a safe harbor for those sailing these waters. The island received its name because sailors believed it was there “through the charity of God.”
Sometimes in life we have to navigate through seas of troubling circumstances. Like those sailors we need guidance and a place of safety; we might wish for our own Charity Island. The psalmist understood that God is the one who can bring tranquility to troubled waters and guide us to safe harbors. He wrote, “He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. They were glad when it grew calm, and he guided them to their desired haven” (Ps. 107:29-30).
While no one asks for the storms of life, they can multiply our appreciation for the guidance and refuge God provides. He offers the light of His Spirit and His Word to guide us. It is the safe harbor of His love that we long for. He alone can be our ultimate “Charity Island.”
“Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever,” says the Westminster Catechism. Much of Scripture calls for joyful gratitude and adoration of the living God. When we honor God, we celebrate Him as the Source from which all goodness flows.
When we praise God from our heart we find ourselves in that joyful state for which we were created. Just as a beautiful sunset or a peaceful pastoral scene points to the majesty of the Creator, so worship draws us into a close spiritual union with Him. The psalmist says, “Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise . . . . The Lord is near to all who call on him” (Ps. 145:3,18).
God does not need our praise, but we need to praise God. By basking in His presence we drink in the joy of His infinite love and rejoice in the One who came to redeem and restore us. “In your presence there is fullness of joy,” the psalmist says. “At your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Ps. 16:11 esv).
When I was a young boy, my mom warned me that I should never play with fire. Yet one day I decided to see what would happen if I did. Taking a book of matches and some paper, I went out into the backyard to experiment. With heart beating fast, I knelt on the ground, struck the match, and set the paper aflame.
Suddenly I saw my mother approaching. Not wanting to get caught, I put my legs over the flames to hide what I was doing. But Mom shouted, “Denny, move your legs! There’s a fire underneath them!” Fortunately, I moved my legs quickly enough and was not burned. I realized then that my mother’s rule about not playing with fire was not to spoil my fun but because of her concern to keep me safe.
Sometimes we don’t understand the reasons behind God’s commands. We may even think He is a cosmic killjoy, setting up rules and regulations to keep us from enjoying ourselves. But God asks us to obey Him because He has our best interests at heart. As we obey, we “remain in his love” and are filled with joy (John 15:10-11).
So when God warns us not to sin, He does it for our own good. He really wants to protect us from “playing with fire” and getting burned.
In his book The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis records an imaginary conversation between a senior devil and a junior devil as they discuss how to properly tempt a Christian. The two devils desired to destroy the believer’s faith in God. “Be not deceived,” the senior devil says to the junior. “Our cause is never more in jeopardy than when a human . . . looks round upon a universe in which every trace of [God] seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”
The Bible gives us many examples of people who acted with faith despite their feelings of abandonment. Abram felt that God’s promise of an heir had gone unheeded (Gen. 15:2-3). The psalmist felt ignored in his trouble (Ps. 10:1). Job’s troubles were so great that he thought God might even kill him (Job 13:15). And Jesus from the cross cried out: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46). Yet in each instance God was shown to be faithful (Gen. 21:1-7; Ps. 10:16-18; Job 38:1–42:17; Matt. 28:9-20).
Although Satan may try to tempt you to think you are forsaken, God is always near. He never forsakes His own. “God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you’ ” (Heb. 13:5). We may boldly say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid” (v. 6).
The 12th-century Chinese artist Li Tang painted landscapes animated with people, birds, and water buffalo. Because of his genius with fine line sketches on silk, Li Tang is considered a master of Chinese landscape art. For centuries, artists from around the world have depicted what they see in God’s art gallery of creation: “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork” (Ps. 19:1). The Bible tells us that our creativity as human beings comes from being made in the image of the Master Creator (Gen. 1:27).
God chose artists who worked with wood, gold, silver, bronze, and gems to create the furnishings, utensils, altars, and garments that were to be used when the ancient Israelites worshiped Him in the tabernacle (Ex. 31:1-11). These artistic renderings of spiritual realities prompted and guided the priests and the people in their worship of the Lord who had called them to be His people.
Through many types of artistic expression, we reflect the beauty of creation and honor the Creator and Redeemer of this marvelous world.
Having served in World War I, C. S. Lewis was no stranger to the stresses of military service. In a public address during the Second World War, he eloquently described the hardships a soldier has to face: “All that we fear from all the kinds of adversity . . . is collected together in the life of the soldier on active service. Like sickness, it threatens pain and death. Like poverty, it threatens ill lodging, cold, heat, thirst, and hunger. Like slavery, it threatens toil, humiliation, injustice, and arbitrary rule. Like exile, it separates you from all you love.”
The apostle Paul used the analogy of a soldier suffering hardship to describe the trials a believer may experience in service to Christ. Paul—now at the end of his life—had faithfully endured suffering for the sake of the gospel. He encourages Timothy to do the same: “You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (2 Tim. 2:3).
Serving Christ requires perseverance. We may encounter obstacles of poor health, troubled relationships, or difficult circumstances. But as a good soldier we press on—with God’s strength—because we serve the King of Kings and Lord of Lords who sacrificed Himself for us!