“Do you have a few items you’d like me to wash?” I asked a visitor to our home in London. His face lit up, and as his daughter walked by, he said, “Get your dirty clothes—Amy’s doing our laundry!” I smiled, realizing that my offer had been extended from a few items to a few loads.
Later as I hung clothes outside on the line, a phrase from my morning’s Bible reading floated through my mind: “In humility value others above yourselves” (Phil. 2:3). I had been reading Paul’s letter to the people of Philippi, in which he exhorts them to live worthy of Christ’s calling through serving and being united with others. They were facing persecution, but Paul wanted them to be of one mind. He knew that their unity, birthed through their union with Christ and expressed through serving each other, would enable them to keep strong in their faith.
We might claim to love others without selfish ambition or vain conceit, but the true state of our hearts isn’t revealed until we put our love into action. Though I felt tempted to grumble, I knew that as a follower of Christ, my call was to put my love for my friends into practice—with a clean heart.
May we find ways to serve our family, friends, and neighbors for God’s glory.
Recently, my son-in-law was explaining to my granddaughter Maggie that we can talk with God and that He communicates with us. When Ewing told Maggie that God sometimes speaks to us through the Bible, she responded without hesitation: “Well, He’s never said anything to me. I’ve never heard God talk to me.”
Most of us would probably agree with Maggie, if hearing an audible voice telling us, “Sell your house, and go take care of orphans in a faraway land,” is what we mean by God communicating with us. But when we talk about hearing God “speak,” we usually mean something quite different.
We “hear” God through reading Scripture. The Bible tells us about Jesus and says that God “has spoken to us by his Son” who is “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being” (Heb. 1:2-3). Scripture tells us how to find salvation in Jesus and how to live in ways that please Him (2 Tim. 3:14-17). In addition to Scripture itself, we have the Holy Spirit. First Corinthians 2:12 says that we are given the Spirit “so that we may understand what God has freely given us.”
Has it been a while since you’ve heard from God? Talk to Him and listen to the Spirit, who reveals Jesus to us through His Word. Tune in to the wonderful things God has to say to you.
My friend’s words stung. Trying to sleep, I battled to stop mulling over her pointed comments about my strong opinions. As I lay there, I asked for God’s wisdom and peace. Several weeks later, still concerned about the matter, I prayed, “I hurt, Lord, but show me where I need to change. Show me where she’s right.”
My friend had acted as God’s sandpaper in my life. My feelings felt rubbed raw, but I sensed that how I responded would lead to the building of my character—or not. My choice was to submit to the smoothing process, confessing my pride and stubborn stance. I sensed that my bumps and imperfections didn’t glorify the Lord.
King Solomon knew that life in community could be difficult, a theme he addressed in the book of Proverbs. In chapter 27, we see his wisdom applied to relationships. He likens the sharp words between friends as iron sharpening iron: “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (v. 17), shaving off the rough edges in each other’s behavior. The process may bring about wounds, such as the hurt I felt from my friend’s words (see v. 6), but ultimately the Lord can use these words to help and encourage us to make needed changes in our attitude and behavior.
How might the Lord be smoothing out your rough edges for His glory?
Tristan da Cunha Island is famous for its isolation. It is the most remote inhabited island in the world, thanks to the 288 people who call it home. The island is located in the South Atlantic Ocean, 1,750 miles from South Africa—the nearest mainland. Anyone who might want to drop by for a visit has to travel by boat for 7 days because the island has no airstrip.
Jesus and His followers were in a somewhat remote area when He produced a miraculous meal for thousands of hungry people. Before His miracle, Jesus said to His disciples, “[These people] have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them home hungry, they will collapse on the way” (Mark 8:2-3). Because they were in the countryside, where food was not readily available, they had to depend fully on Jesus. They had nowhere else to turn.
Sometimes God allows us to end up in desolate places where He is our only source of help. His ability to provide for us is not necessarily linked with our circumstances. If He created the entire world out of nothing, God can certainly meet our needs—whatever our circumstances—out of the riches of His glory, in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:19).
The glory of the Roman Empire offered an expansive backdrop for the birth of Jesus. In 27 bc Rome’s first emperor, Caesar Augustus, ended 200 years of civil war and began to replace rundown neighborhoods with monuments, temples, arenas, and government complexes. According to Roman historian Pliny the Elder, they were “the most beautiful buildings the world has ever seen.”…
Why did Jesus come to Earth before the invention of photography and video? Couldn’t He have reached more people if everyone could see Him? After all, a picture is worth a thousand words.
“No,” says Ravi Zacharias, who asserts that a word can be worth “a thousand pictures.” As evidence, he quotes poet Richard Crashaw’s magnificent line, “The conscious water saw its Master and blushed.” In one simple line, Crashaw captures the essence of Jesus’ first miracle (John 2:1-11). Creation itself recognizes Jesus as the Creator. No mere carpenter could turn water to wine.
Another time, when Christ calmed a storm with the words, “Quiet! Be still,” His stunned disciples asked, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (Mark 4:39,41). Later, Jesus told the Pharisees that if the crowd did not praise Him, “the stones will cry out” (Luke 19:40). Even the rocks know who He is.
John tells us, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen His glory” (John 1:14). Out of that eyewitness experience John also wrote, “We proclaim to you the one who existed from the beginning, whom we have heard and seen. . . . He is the Word of life” (1 John 1:1 nlt). Like John, we can use our words to introduce others to Jesus whom wind and water obey.
The church service was still in progress, and we had some visitors there that morning. The speaker was only halfway through his sermon when I noticed one of our visitors walking out. I was curious and concerned, so I walked out to talk with her.
“You’re leaving so soon,” I said, approaching her. “Is there a problem I can help with?” She was frank and forthright. “Yes,” she said, “my problem is that sermon! I don’t accept what the preacher is saying.” He had said that no matter what we accomplish in life, the credit and praise belong to God. “At least,” the woman moaned, “I deserve some credit for my achievements!”
I explained to her what the pastor meant. People do deserve recognition and appreciation for what they do. Yet even our gifts and talents are from God, so He gets the glory. Even Jesus, the Son of God, said, “The Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing” (John 5:19). He told His followers, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (15:5).
We acknowledge the Lord as the one who helps us to accomplish everything.
The world-class botanical garden across the street from our church was the setting for an all-church community gathering. As I walked around the gardens greeting people I have known for years, catching up with those I hadn’t seen recently, and enjoying the beautiful surroundings cared for by people who know and love plants, I realized that the evening was rich with symbols of how the church is supposed to function—a little hint of heaven on earth.
A garden is a place where each plant is placed in an environment in which it will thrive. Gardeners prepare the soil, protect the plants from pests, and make sure each one receives the food, water, and sunlight it needs. The result is a beautiful, colorful, and fragrant place for people to enjoy.
Like a garden, church is meant to be a place where everyone works together for the glory of God and the good of all; a place where everyone flourishes because we are living in a safe environment; a place where people are cared for according to their needs; where each of us does work we love—work that benefits others (1 Cor. 14:26).
Like well-cared-for plants, people growing in a healthy environment have a sweet fragrance that draws people to God by displaying the beauty of His love. The church is not perfect, but it really is a hint of heaven.
One afternoon I was having a discussion with a friend I considered my spiritual mentor about misusing God’s name. “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God,” says the third commandment (Ex. 20:7). We may think this only refers to attaching God’s name to a swear word or using His name flippantly or irreverently. But my mentor rarely missed an opportunity to teach me about real faith. He challenged me to think about other ways we profane God’s name.
When I reject the advice of others and say, “God told me to go this way,” I misuse His name if all I am doing is seeking approval for my own desires.
When I use Scripture out of context to try to support an idea I want to be true, I am using God’s name in vain.
When I teach, write, or speak from Scripture carelessly, I misuse His name.
Author John Piper offers this reflection on what it means to take God’s name in vain: “The idea is . . . ‘don’t empty the name.’ . . . Don’t empty God of His weight and glory.” We misuse His name, Piper says, when we “speak of God in a way that empties Him of His significance.”
My friend challenged me to honor God’s name and to pay closer attention to using His Word carefully and accurately. Anything less dishonors Him.