It’s Sunday afternoon, and I’m sitting in the garden of our home, which is near the church where my husband is the minister. I hear wafts of praise and worship music floating through the air in the Farsi language. Our church in London hosts a vibrant Iranian congregation, and we feel humbled by their passion for Christ as they share some of their stories of persecution and tell of those, such as the senior pastor’s brother, who have been martyred for their faith. These faithful believers are following in the footsteps of the first Christian martyr, Stephen.
Stephen, one of the first appointed leaders in the early church, garnered attention in Jerusalem when he performed “great wonders and signs” (v. 8) and was brought before the Jewish authorities to defend his actions. He gave an impassioned defense of the faith before describing the hard-heartedness of his accusers. But instead of repenting, they were “furious and gnashed their teeth at him” (v. 54). They dragged him from the city and stoned him to death—even as he prayed for their forgiveness.
The stories of Stephen and modern martyrs remind us that the message of Christ can be met with brutality. If we have never faced persecution for our faith, let’s pray for the persecuted church around the world. And may we, if and when tested, find grace to be found faithful to the One who suffered so much more for us.
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 her friends say thoughtless or outrageous things on social media, Charlotte chimes in with gentle but firm dissent. She respects the dignity of everyone, and her words are unfailingly positive.
A few years ago she became Facebook friends with a man who harbored anger toward Christians. He appreciated Charlotte’s rare honesty and grace. Over time his hostility melted. Then Charlotte suffered a bad fall. Now housebound, she fretted over what she could do. About that time her Facebook friend died and then this message arrived from his sister: “[Because of your witness] I know he’s now experiencing God’s complete and abiding love for him.”
During the week in which Christ would be killed, Mary of Bethany anointed Him with expensive perfume (John 12:3; Mark 14:3). Some of those present were appalled, but Jesus applauded her. “She has done a beautiful thing to me,” He said. “She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial” (Mark 14:6-8).
“She did what she could.” Christ’s words take the pressure off. Our world is full of broken, hurting people. But we don’t have to worry about what we can’t do. Charlotte did what she could. So can we. The rest is in His capable hands.
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).
In his book Jumping Through Fires, David Nasser tells the story of his spiritual journey. Before he began a relationship with Jesus, he was befriended by a group of Christian teens. Although most of the time his buddies were generous, winsome, and nonjudgmental, David witnessed one of them lie to his girlfriend. Feeling convicted, the young man later confessed and asked for her forgiveness. Reflecting on this, David said that the incident drew him closer to his Christian friends. He realized that they needed grace, just as he did.
We don’t have to act like we’re perfect with the people we know. It’s okay to be honest about our mistakes and struggles. The apostle Paul openly referred to himself as the worst of all sinners (1 Tim. 1:15). He also described his wrestling match with sin in Romans 7, where he said, “I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out” (v. 18). Unfortunately, the opposite was also true: “The evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing” (v. 19).
Being open about our struggles puts us on the same level with every other human alive—which is right where we belong! However, because of Jesus Christ, our sin will not follow us into eternity. It’s like the old saying goes, “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.”
Every year some two million people from all over the world visit St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. It is well worth the admission fee to experience the magnificent structure designed and built by Sir Christopher Wren during the late 17th century. But tourism is secondary at this place of Christian worship. A primary mission of the cathedral is “to enable people in all their diversity to encounter the transforming presence of God in Jesus Christ.” If you want to tour the building and admire the architecture, you must pay an admission fee. But there is no charge to enter and attend any of the daily worship services at St. Paul’s.
How much does it cost to enter the kingdom of God? Entry is free because Jesus Christ paid the price for us by His death. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:23-24). When we acknowledge our spiritual need and accept by faith God’s forgiveness for our sins, we have a new and everlasting life in Him.
You can enter a new life today because, by His death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead, Jesus has paid the price of admission!
In a field on the English countryside, G. K. Chesterton stood up from where he had been sitting and exploded with laughter. His outburst was so sudden and so loud that the cows could not take their eyes off him.
Just minutes before, the Christian writer and apologist had been miserable. That afternoon he had been wandering the hills, sketching pictures on brown paper using colored chalks. But he was dismayed to discover he had no white chalk, which he considered to be essential to his artwork. Soon, though, he began to laugh when he realized that the ground beneath him was porous limestone—the earth’s equivalent of white chalk. He broke off a piece and resumed drawing.
Like Chesterton, who realized he “was sitting on an immense warehouse of white chalk,” believers have God’s unlimited spiritual resources within reach at all times. “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him” (v. 3).
Maybe you feel you are lacking some important element necessary for godliness such as faith, grace, or wisdom. If you know Christ, you have everything you need and more. Through Jesus, you have access to the Father—the one who graciously provides believers with all things.
The neighborhood fitness center where I have worked out for years closed down last month, and I had to join a new gym. The former place was a warm, friendly facility, patronized by older folks who liked to socialize while they worked out. We hardly ever broke a sweat. The new gym is a hard-core facility filled with serious men and women, earnestly invested in building better bodies. I watch these people strain and toil. Their bodies look strong, but I wonder if their hearts are being strengthened with grace.
Physiologically, the heart is a muscle—the muscle that keeps the other muscles going. It’s good to build and tone our other muscles, but the essential thing is doing whatever keeps the heart strong.
So it is with our spiritual heart. We must strengthen and tone the heart through the Word of truth, receiving its message of God’s goodness and grace. Keeping our spiritual heart strong and fit must be our first priority, the one thing we do above all others.
Paul would agree: "Train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come" (1 Tim. 4:7-8
Her thirty classmates and their parents watched as Mi’Asya nervously walked to the podium to speak at her fifth grade graduation ceremony. When the principal adjusted the microphone to Mi’Asya’s height, she turned her back to the microphone and the audience. The crowd whispered words of encouragement: “Come on, honey, you can do it.” But she didn’t budge. Then a classmate walked to the front and stood by her side. With the principal on one side of Mi’Asya and her friend on the other, the three read her speech together. What a beautiful example of support!
Moses needed help and support in the middle of a battle with the Amalekites (Ex. 17:10–16). “As long as Moses held up his hands [with the staff of God in his hands], the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning” (v. 11). When Aaron and Hur saw what was happening, they stood beside Moses, “one on one side, one on the other,” and supported his arms when he grew tired. With their support, victory came by sunset.
We all need the support of one another. As brothers and sisters in the family of God, we have so many opportunities to encourage one another on our shared journey of faith. And God is right here in our midst giving us His grace to do that.