When I went to buy a cellphone in the Middle East, I was asked the typical questions: name, nationality, address. But then as the clerk was filling out the form, he asked, “What’s your father’s name?” That question surprised me, and I wondered why it was important. Knowing my father’s name would not be important in my culture, but here it was necessary in order to establish my identity. In some cultures, ancestry is important.
The Israelites believed in the importance of ancestry too. They were proud of their patriarch Abraham, and they thought being part of Abraham's clan made them God's children. Their human ancestry was connected, in their opinion, to their spiritual family.
Hundreds of years later when Jesus was talking with the Jews, He pointed out that this was not so. They could say Abraham was their earthly ancestor, but if they didn’t love Him—the One sent by the Father—they were not part of God’s family.
The same applies today. We don't choose our human family, but we can decide the spiritual family we belong to. If we believe in Jesus’s name, God gives us the right to become His children (John 1:12).
Who is your spiritual Father? Have you decided to follow Jesus? May this be the day you trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins and become part of God’s family.
When I opened our dishwasher, I wondered what went wrong. Instead of seeing sparkling clean dishes, I removed plates and glasses that were covered in a chalky dust. I wondered if the hard water in our area was wreaking havoc, or if the machine was kaput.
God’s cleansing, unlike that faulty dishwasher, washes away all of our impurities. We see in the book of Ezekiel that God is calling His people back to Himself as Ezekiel shared God’s message of love and forgiveness. The Israelites had sinned as they proclaimed their allegiance to other gods and other nations. The Lord, however, was merciful in welcoming them back to Himself. He promised to cleanse them “from all [their] impurities and all [their] idols” (v. 25). As He put His Spirit in them (v. 27), He would bring them to a place of fruitfulness, not famine (v. 30).
As in the days of the prophet Ezekiel, today the Lord welcomes us back to Him if we go astray. When we submit ourselves to His will and His ways, He transforms us as He washes us clean from our sins. With His Holy Spirit dwelling within us, He helps us to follow Him day by day.
Every Saturday our family lines the edges of the racecourse to cheer on my daughter as she runs with her high school cross-country team. After crossing the finish line, the athletes stream out to rejoin their teammates, coaches, and parents. Crowds engulf the finishers—often more than 300 of them—making it difficult to find one person among so many. We scan the crowd excitedly until we find her, eager to put our arms around the one athlete we came to watch: our much-loved daughter.
After 70 years of captivity in Babylon, God returned the Jews to Jerusalem and Judah. Isaiah describes the delight God has in them, and the work of preparing the highways for their pilgrimage home and the gates to receive them back. God reaffirms His calling of them as His holy people and restores their honor with a new name, “Sought After, the City No Longer Deserted” (Isa. 62:12). He sought them all from the scattered reaches of Babylon to bring them back to Himself.
Like the children of Israel, we too are God’s beloved children, earnestly sought after by Him. Though our sin once caused us isolation from Him, Jesus’ sacrifice paves our way back to Him. He searches for each of us intently among all the others, waiting expectantly to fold us into a heartfelt embrace.
As a group of teenagers visited a home for the elderly in Montego Bay, Jamaica, one young woman noticed a lonely looking man at the end of the room. He appeared to have little left in this world but a bed to sleep on—a bed from which he could not move because of his disability.
The teen began right away to share the story of God’s love for us and read some Bible passages to him. “As I shared with him,” she would say later, “I started to feel his eagerness to hear more.” Responding to his interest, she explained the wonder of Jesus’s sacrificial death for us. “It was hard for this man, who had no hope and no family,” she recalled, “to understand that Someone he’s never met would love him enough to die on the cross for his sins.”
She told him more about Jesus—and then about the promise of heaven (including a new body) for all who believe. He asked her, “Will you dance with me up there?” She saw him begin to imagine himself free of his worn-out body and crippling limitations.
When he said he wanted to trust Jesus as his Savior, she helped him pray a prayer of forgiveness and faith. When she asked him if she could get a picture with him, he replied, “If you help me sit up. I’m a new man.”
Praise God for the life-changing, hope-giving, available-to-all gospel of Jesus Christ! It offers new life for all who trust Him (Col. 1:5, 23).
After being kidnapped, held hostage for 13 days, and released, New Zealand news cameraman Olaf Wiig, with a broad smile on his face, announced, “I feel more alive now than I have in my entire life.”
For reasons difficult to understand, being freed is more exhilarating than being free.
For those who enjoy freedom every day, Olaf’s joy was a good reminder of how easily we forget how blessed we are. This is also true spiritually. Those of us who have been Christians for a long time often forget what it’s like to be held hostage by sin. We can become complacent and even ungrateful. But then God sends a reminder in the form of a new believer who gives an exuberant testimony of what God has done in his or her life, and once again we see the joy that is ours when we are “free from the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:2).
If freedom has become boring to you, or if you tend to focus on what you can’t do, consider this: Not only are you no longer a slave to sin, but you are freed to be holy and to enjoy eternal life with Christ Jesus! (6:22).
Celebrate your freedom in Christ by taking the time to thank God for the things you are able and free to do as His servant.
Last spring I decided to cut down the rose bush by our back door. In the three years we’d lived in our home, it hadn’t produced many flowers, and its ugly, fruitless branches were now creeping in all directions.
But life got busy, and my gardening plan got delayed. It was just as well—only a few weeks later that rose bush burst into bloom like I’d never seen before. Hundreds of big white flowers, rich in perfume, hung over the back door, flowed into our yard, and showered the ground with beautiful petals.
My rose bush’s revival reminded me of Jesus’s parable of the fig tree in Luke 13:6–9. In Israel, it was customary to give fig trees three years to produce fruit. If they didn’t, they were cut down so the soil could be better used. In Jesus’s story, a gardener asks his boss to give one particular tree a fourth year to produce. In context (vv. 1–5), the parable implies this: the Israelites hadn’t lived as they should, and God could justly judge them. But God is patient and had given extra time for them to turn to Him, be forgiven, and bloom.
God wants all people to flourish and has given extra time so that they can. Whether we are still journeying toward faith or are praying for unbelieving family and friends, His patience is good news for all of us.
One morning my daughter gave her eleven-month-old son her cell phone for a moment to entertain him. Less than a minute later my phone rang, and as I picked it up I heard his little voice. He had somehow hit the “speed dial” to my number, and what followed was a “conversation” I will long remember. My grandson can only say a few words, but he knows my voice and responds to it. So I talked to him and told him how much I love him.
The joy I felt at the sound of my grandson’s voice was a reminder to me of God’s deep desire for a relationship with us. From the very beginning, the Bible shows God actively pursuing us. After Adam and Eve sinned by disobeying God and then hid from Him in the garden, “the
God continued to pursue humanity through Jesus. Because God desires a relationship with us, He sent Jesus to earth to pay the penalty for our sin by His death on the cross. “This is how God showed his love . . . . He sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God” (1 John 4:9–10
How good it is to know that God loves us and wants us to respond to His love through Jesus. Even when we don't quite know what to say, our Father longs to hear from us!
“I went from the horse-and-buggy to a man walking on the moon,” said the old man to his granddaughter, who shared this story with me recently. But then he mused, “I never thought it would be so short.”
Life is short, and many of us turn to Jesus because we want to live forever. That’s not bad, but we don’t comprehend what eternal life really is. We tend to crave the wrong things. We long for something better, and we think it’s just ahead. If only I were out of school. If only I had that job. If only I were married. If only I could retire. If only . . . And then one day we catch an echo of our grandfather’s voice as we wonder where the time has flown.
The truth is, we possess eternal life now. The apostle Paul wrote, “The law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2). Then he said, “Those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires” (v. 5). In other words, our desires change when we come to Christ. This naturally gives us what we most desire. “The mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace” (v. 6).
It’s one of life’s great lies that we need to be somewhere else, doing something else, with someone else before we start truly living. When we find our life in Jesus, we exchange regret over life’s brevity for the full enjoyment of life with Him, both now and forever.
The word dysfunctional is often used to describe individuals, families, relationships, organizations, and even governments. While functional means it’s in proper working order, dysfunctional is the opposite—it’s broken, not working properly, unable to do what it was designed to do.
In his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul begins by describing a spiritually dysfunctional humanity (1:18–32). We are all part of that rebellious company: “All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:12, 23).
The good news is that “all are justified freely by [God’s] grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus . . . to be received by faith” (vv. 24–25). When we invite Christ into our lives and accept God’s offer of forgiveness and new life, we are on the path to becoming the person He created us to be. We don’t immediately become perfect, but we no longer have to remain broken and dysfunctional.
Through the Holy Spirit we receive daily strength to honor God in what we say and do and to “put off [our] old self . . . to be made new in the attitude of [our]minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:22–24).