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Our Daily Bread Podcast | Our Daily Bread Cover
Our Daily Bread Podcast | Our Daily Bread Profile

Our Daily Bread Podcast | Our Daily Bread

English, Religion, 1 season, 409 episodes
About
The audio version of Our Daily Bread is an effective resource for those who desire constant awareness of God's Word and its significance in the life of the believer.
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Jesus—The True Peacemaker

On December 30, 1862, the US Civil War raged. Union and Confederate troops camped seven hundred yards apart on opposing sides of Tennessee’s Stones River. As they warmed themselves around campfires, Union soldiers picked up their fiddles and harmonicas and began playing “Yankee Doodle.” In reply, the Confederate soldiers offered “Dixie.” Remarkably, both sides joined for a finale, playing “Home, Sweet Home” in unison. Sworn enemies shared music in the dark night, glimmers of an unimagined peace. The melodic truce was short-lived. The next morning, they put down their fiddles and picked up their rifles, and 24,645 soldiers died. Our human efforts to create peace inevitably wear thin. Hostilities cease in one place, only to ignite somewhere else. One relational dispute finds harmony, only to be embroiled in distress again months later. The Scriptures tell us that God is our only trustworthy peacemaker. Jesus said it plainly, “In me you . . . have peace” (16:33). We have peace in Jesus. While we participate in His peacemaking mission, it’s God’s reconciliation and renewal that make real peace possible. Christ tells us we can’t escape conflict. “In this world [we] will have trouble,” Jesus says. Strife abounds. “But take heart!” He adds, “I have overcome the world” (v. 33). While our efforts often prove futile, our loving God (v. 27) makes peace in this fractious world.
4/23/20240
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Community in Christ

“I knew that the only way to succeed was to forget about home and my wife, son, and daughter,” said Jordon. “I’ve found I can’t do that. They’re woven into the fabric of my heart and soul.” Alone in a remote area, Jordon was participating in a reality show where contestants are asked to survive outdoors with minimal supplies for as long as possible. What forced him to forfeit was not the grizzly bears, freezing temperatures, injury, or hunger, but an overwhelming loneliness and desire to be with his family. We might have all the survival skills necessary for the wilderness, but separating ourselves from community is a sure way to fail. The wise author of Ecclesiastes said, “Two are better than one, because… one can help the other up” (4:9-10). Christ-honoring community, even with all of its messiness, is essential to our thriving. We don’t stand a chance against the trials of this world if we try to tackle them on our own. Someone who toils alone, toils in vain (v. 8). Without community, we’re more susceptible to danger (vv. 11-12). Unlike a single thread, “a cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (v. 12). The gift of a loving, Christ-focused community is one that not only provides encouragement but also gives us strength to thrive despite challenging situations. We need each other.
4/22/20240
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Bitterness of Stolen Sweets

Thieves in Germany stole a truck’s refrigerated trailer filled with more than twenty tons of chocolate. The estimated worth of the stolen sweetness was eighty thousand dollars. Local police asked anyone who was offered large quantities of chocolate via unconventional channels to report it immediately. Surely those who stole the massive amount of sweets will be facing bitter and unsatisfying consequences if they’re caught and prosecuted! Proverbs confirms this principle: “Food gained by fraud tastes sweet, but one ends up with a mouth full of gravel” (20:17). Things we acquire deceptively or wrongfully may seem to be sweet at first—seasoned with excitement and temporary enjoyment. But the flavor will eventually wear off and our deception will lead to our being left wanting and in trouble. The bitter consequences of guilt, fear, and sin can end up ruining our lives and reputations. “Even small children are known by their actions, [if] their conduct [is]really pure and upright” (v. 11). May our words and actions reveal a pure heart for God—not the bitterness of selfish desires. When we’re tempted, let’s ask God to strengthen us and help us remain faithful to Him. He can help us look behind the short-term “sweetness” of giving in to temptation and guide us to carefully consider the long-term consequences of our choices.
4/21/20240
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Family Matters

My sister, brother, and I flew from our separate states to our uncle’s funeral and stopped to see our ninety-year-old grandmother. She’d been paralyzed by a stroke, had lost the ability to speak, and had only the use of her right hand. As we stood around her bed, she reached out that hand and took each of our hands, placing one atop another over her heart and patted them in place. With this wordless gesture, my grandmother spoke into what had been our somewhat broken and distant sibling relationship. “Family matters.” In God’s family, the church, we can grow apart as well. We might allow bitterness to separate us from each other. The writer of Hebrews references the bitterness that separated Esau from his brother (Hebrews 12:16) and challenges us as brothers and sisters to hold on to each other in God’s family. “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone” (v. 14). Here the words “every effort” convey a deliberate and decisive investment in peacemaking with our brothers and sisters in God’s family. Every such effort is then applied to everyone. Every. One. Family matters. Both our earthly families and God’s family of believers. Might we all invest the efforts needed to hold on to each other?
4/20/20240
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The Valley of Praise

Poet William Cowper struggled with depression much of his life. After a suicide attempt, he was committed to an asylum. But it was there through the care of a Christian physician that Cowper came to a warm, vital faith in Jesus. Soon afterwards Cowper became acquainted with pastor and hymnwriter John Newton, who encouraged him to collaborate on a hymnal for their church. Among the hymns Cowper wrote was “God Moves in a Mysterious Way,” which contains these words pressed from the crucible of experience: “You fearful saints, fresh courage take; the clouds you so much dread, are big with mercy and shall break in blessings on your head.” Like Cowper, the people of Judah also met God’s kindness unexpectedly. As an alliance of armies invaded their nation, King Jehoshaphat gathered the people for prayer. As Judah’s army marched out, men in the front ranks praised God (2 Chronicles 20:21). The invading armies turned on themselves, and “no one . . . escaped. . . . There was so much plunder that it took three days to collect it” (vv. 24-25). On the fourth day, the very place where a hostile invading force gathered against God’s people was dubbed the Valley of Berakah—literally, “the valley of praise or blessing.” (v. 26). What a change! God’s mercy can turn even our most difficult valleys into places of praise as we give them to Him.
4/19/20240
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God’s Tender Love

A 2017 video of a dad comforting his two-month-old son while the baby received his routine vaccinations garnered international attention for the way it captured a dad’s love for his child. After the nurse finished administering the vaccinations, the dad tenderly held his son close to his cheek, and the boy stopped sobbing within seconds. There is almost nothing more reassuring than the tender care of a loving parent. In Scripture, there are many beautiful descriptions of God as a loving parent, images that invoke God’s deep love for His children. Old Testament prophet Hosea was given a message to deliver to the Israelites living in the Northern Kingdom during the time of the divided kingdom. He called them to return to a relationship with God. Hosea reminded the Israelites of God’s love for them as he pictured God as a gentle Father: “when Israel was a child, I loved him” (Hosea 11:1) and “to them I was like the one who lifts a little child to the cheek” (v. 4). This same reassuring promise of God’s loving care is true for us. Whether we seek His tender care after a season where we have rejected His love or because of pain and suffering in our lives, He calls us His children (I John 3:1) and His comforting arms are open to receive us (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
4/18/20240
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Choices Matter

Pastor Damian’s schedule included hospital visits to two people nearing death who’d chosen two different life paths. In one hospital was a woman beloved by her family. Her selfless public service had endeared her to many. Other believers in Jesus had gathered around her, and worship, prayer, and hope filled the room. In another hospital the relative of a member of Pastor Damian’s church was also dying. His hardened heart had led to a hard life, and his disheveled family lived in the wake of his poor decisions and misdeeds. The differences in the two atmospheres reflected the contrasts in how each had lived. Those who fail to consider where they’re headed in life often find themselves stuck in uncomfortable, undesirable, lonely places. Proverbs 14:12 notes that “there is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.” Young or old, sick or well, wealthy or impoverished—it’s not too late to reexamine our path. Where will it lead? Does it honor God? Does it help or disrupt others? Is it the best path for a believer in Jesus? Choices do matter. And the God of heaven will help us make the best choices as we turn to Him through His Son, Jesus, who said, “Come to me, . . . and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
4/17/20240
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Ready to Go for God

The book Hidden Figures recounts preparations for John Glenn’s flight into space. Computers were new-fangled inventions in 1962, subject to glitches. Glenn didn’t trust them and worried about calculations for the launch. He knew one brainy woman in the back room could run the numbers. He trusted her. “If she says the numbers are good,” Glenn said, “I’m ready to go.” Katherine Johnson was a teacher and mother of three. She loved Jesus and served in her church. God had blessed Katherine with a remarkable mind. NASA tapped her in the late 1950s to help with the space program. She was Glenn’s “brainy woman,” one of the “human computers” they hired at the time. We may not be called to be brilliant mathematicians, but God calls us to other things: “To each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it” (Ephesians 4:7).  We’re to ”live a life worthy of the calling” we’ve received (v. 1). We’re part of one body, in which “each part does its work” (v. 16). Katherine Johnson’s calculations confirmed the course trajectory. Glenn's launch into orbit was like “hitting a bull’s-eye.” But this was just one of Katherine’s callings. Remember, she was called also to be a mother, teacher, and church worker. We might ask ourselves what God has called us to, whether big or small. Are we “ready to go,” exercising the grace-gifts He’s bestowed, “living a life worthy of [our] calling” (v. 1)?
4/16/20240
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At Home in Jesus

“There’s no place like home,” says Dorothy, clicking the heels of her ruby slippers. In The Wizard of Oz, that was all it took to magically transport Dorothy and Toto from Oz back to their home in Kansas. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough ruby slippers for everyone. Although many share Dorothy’s longing for home, finding that home—a place to belong—is sometimes easier said than done. One of the consequences of living in a highly mobile, transient world is a sense of detachment—wondering if we’ll ever find a place where we truly belong. This feeling may also reflect a deeper reality, expressed by C. S. Lewis: “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” The night before the cross, Jesus assured His friends of that home, saying, “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?” (John 14:2). A home where we are welcomed and loved. Yet we can be at home now too. We’re part of a family—God’s church, and we live in community with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Until the day Jesus takes us to the home our hearts long for, we can live in His peace and joy. We’re always home with Him.  
4/15/20240
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God Knows Our Needs

Lando, a jeepney (a form of public transport in the Philippines) driver in Manila, gulped down coffee at a roadside stall. Daily commuters were back again after the Covid-19 lockdowns. And the sports event today means more passengers, Lando thought. I’ll get back lost income. Finally, I can stop worrying. He was about to start driving when he spotted Ronnie on a bench nearby. The street sweeper looked troubled, like he needed to talk. But every minute counts, Lando thought. The more passengers, the more income. I can’t linger. But he sensed that God wanted him to approach Ronnie, so he did. Jesus understood how difficult it is to not worry when we’re unsure of how our needs will be met (Matthew 6:25-27). So He assures us that our heavenly Father knows exactly what we need (v. 32). We’re reminded not to be anxious, but to trust Him and devote ourselves to doing what He wants us to do (vv. 31-33). As we embrace and obey His purposes, we can have confidence that our Father “who clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire” will provide for us according to His will—just as He provides for all creation (v. 30). Because of Lando’s conversation with Ronnie, the street sweeper eventually prayed to become a believer in Christ. “And God still provided enough passengers that day,” Lando shared. “He reminded me my needs were His concern; mine was simply to follow Him.”
4/14/20240
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The God of Order

Seth took all the medications he could find in the medicine cabinet. Raised in a family filled with brokenness and disorder, his life was a mess. His mom was regularly abused by his father until his dad took his own life. Now Seth wanted to “just end” his own. But then a thought came to mind, Where do I go when I die? By God’s grace, Seth didn’t die that day. And in time, after studying the Bible with a friend, he received Jesus as his Savior. Part of what drew Seth to God was seeing the beauty and order in creation. He said, “I . . . see things that are just beautiful. Someone made all this.” In Genesis 1, we read of the God who indeed created all things. And although “the earth was complete chaos” (v. 2 nrsv), He brought order out of disorder. He “separated the light from darkness” (v. 4), placed land amid the seas (v. 10), and made plants and creatures “according to their kinds” (vv. 11, 21). The One who “created the heavens and earth and put everything in place” (Isaiah 45:18) continues to, as Seth discovered, bring peace and order to lives surrendered to Christ. Life can be chaotic and challenging. Praise God that He’s not “a God of disorder but of peace” (1 Corinthians 14:33). Let’s call out to Him today and ask Him to help us find the beauty and order He alone provides.
4/13/20240
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God’s Agents of Peace

Nora went to the peaceful protest because she felt strongly about the issue of justice. As planned, the demonstration was silent. The protestors walked in powerful quietness through the downtown area. Then two buses pulled up. Agitators had arrived from out of town. A riot soon broke out. Heartbroken, Nora left. It seemed their good intentions were fruitless. When the apostle Paul visited the temple at Jerusalem, people who opposed Paul saw him there. They were “from the province of Asia” (Acts 21:27) and viewed Jesus as a threat to their way of life. Shouting lies and rumors about Paul, they quickly stirred up trouble (vv. 28-29). A mob dragged Paul from the temple and beat him. Soldiers came running. As he was being arrested, Paul asked the Roman commander if he could address the crowd (vv. 37-38). When permission was granted, he spoke to the crowd in their own language, surprising them and seizing their attention (v. 40). And just like that, Paul had turned a riot into an opportunity to share his story of rescue from dead religion (Acts 22:2-21). Some people love violence and division. Don’t lose heart. They will not win. God is looking for courageous believers to share His light and peace with our desperate world. What seems like a crisis might be your opportunity to show someone God’s love.
4/12/20240
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Singing Meadows

I’ve often affectionately joked with my mother-in-law about her ability to talk to her dogs. She responds to their barks with loving understanding. Perhaps now she and dog owners everywhere will also listen for their canine pals to laugh. Scientists have discovered that many animals, including dogs, cows, foxes, seals, and parakeets all have “vocal play signals”—otherwise known as laughter. Identifying these accompanying sounds helps distinguish an animal’s play behaviors from what might otherwise look like fighting to a human observer. That animals express laughter and joy gives us a delightful glimmer of what it might look like for other parts of creation to praise God in their own way. As King David looked over his surroundings, it seemed to him “the hills [were] clothed with gladness” and the meadows and valleys were “[shouting] for joy” (Psalm 65:12-13). David recognized that God had cared for and enriched the land, providing both beauty and sustenance. Even though our physical surroundings don’t “sing” in a literal way, they bear witness to God’s active work in His creation and, in turn, invite us to give praise to Him with our voices. May we—as part of the “whole earth”—be “filled with awe at [His] wonders” and respond to Him with “songs of joy” (v. 8). We can trust that He’ll hear and understand them.
4/11/20240
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Eyes to See

Genevieve had to be the “eyes” for her three children, each born with congenital cataracts. Whenever she took them into their village in the Republic of Benin, she strapped the baby onto her back and held onto the arm and hand of her older two, always looking for danger. In a culture where blindness was thought to be caused by witchcraft, Genevieve despaired and cried out to God for help. Then a man from her village told her about Mercy Ships, a ministry that provides vital surgeries to honor Jesus’s model of bringing hope and healing to the poor. Although Genevieve was uncertain if they could help, she approached them. When the children woke up after their surgeries, she waited with bated breath. They could see! God’s story has always been about coming alongside those shrouded in darkness and bringing His light. The prophet Isaiah declared that God would be “a light for the Gentiles” (Isaiah 42:6). He would “open eyes that are blind” (v. 7), restoring not only physical sight but spiritual vision as well. And He promised to “take hold” of His people’s hand (v. 6), which is just what Jesus did. He restored sight to the blind and, more importantly, brought light to those living in the darkness. If you feel overcome by darkness, cling to hope as you embrace the promises of our loving Father while asking for His light to bring illumination.
4/10/20240
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Clothed in Christ

I was so excited to put on my new glasses for the first time, but after just a few hours I wanted to throw them away. My eyes ached and head throbbed from adjusting to the new prescription. My ears were sore from the unfamiliar frames. The next day I groaned when I remembered I had to wear them. I had to repeatedly choose to use my glasses each day in order for my body to adjust. It took several weeks, but after that, I hardly noticed I was wearing them. Putting on something new requires an adjustment, but over time we grow into it, and it suits us better. We may even see things we didn’t see before. In Romans 13, the apostle Paul instructed Christ followers to “put on the armor of light” (v. 12) and practice right living. They had already believed in Jesus, but it seems they had fallen into “slumber” and become more complacent (v. 11). They needed to “wake up” and take action, behave decently and let go of all sin. Paul encouraged them to be clothed with Jesus and become more like Him in their thoughts and deeds (v. 14). We don’t begin to reflect the loving, gentle, kind, grace-filled, and faithful ways of Jesus overnight. It’s a long process of choosing to “put on the armor of light” every day, even when we don’t want to because it’s uncomfortable. Over time, He changes us for the better.
4/9/20240
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Joy in the City

When France and Argentina met in the 2022 World Cup final, it was an incredible contest that many dubbed the “greatest World Cup match in history.” As the final seconds ticked off in extra time, the score was tied 3-3, sending the soccer teams to penalty kicks. After Argentina made the winning goal, the nation erupted in celebration. More than a million Argentineans overwhelmed downtown Buenos Aires. Drone footage spread across social media showing this raucous, happy scene. One BBC report described how the city quaked with “an explosion of joy.” Joy is always a wonderful gift. Proverbs, though, describes how a city, a people, can experience joy that goes even deeper and lasts far longer. “When the righteous prosper,” Proverbs says, “the city rejoices” (11:10). When those who truly live by God’s designs for humanity begin to influence a community, then this signals good news because it means God’s justice is taking hold. Greed diminishes. The poor find support. The oppressed are protected. Whenever God’s right way of living flourishes, then there’s joy and “blessing” in the city (v. 11). If we’re genuinely living out God’s ways, then the result will be good news for everyone. The way we live will make the community around us better and more whole. God invites us to be part of His work to heal the world. He invites us to bring joy to the city.
4/8/20240
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Five Good Things

According to research, people who are intentionally grateful for what they have report better sleep, fewer symptoms of illness, and more happiness. Those are impressive benefits. Psychologists even suggest keeping a “gratitude journal” to improve our well-being, writing down five things we’re grateful for each week. Scripture has long promoted the practice of gratitude. From meals and marriage (1 Timothy 4:3-5), to the beauties of creation (Psalm 104), the Bible has called us to see such things as gifts and to thank the Giver for them. Psalm 107 lists five things Israel could be especially grateful for: their rescue from the desert (vv. 4-9), their release from captivity (vv. 10-16), healing from disease (vv. 18-22), safety at sea (vv. 23-32), and their flourishing in a barren land (vv. 33-42). “Give thanks to the LORD,” the psalm repeats, for these are all signs of God’s “unfailing love” (vv. 8, 15, 21, 31). Do you have a notepad handy? Why not write down five good things you’re grateful for now? It might be the meal you just enjoyed, your marriage, or like Israel, God’s rescue points in your life to date. Give thanks for the bird’s singing outside, the smells from your kitchen, the comfort of your chair, the murmurs of loved ones. Each is a gift and a sign of God’s unfailing love.
4/7/20240
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Our New Nature in Christ

Our blue spruce was dropping pinecones and needles. The tree doctor took one look at it and explained the problem. “It’s just being a spruce,” he said. I’d hoped for a better explanation. Or a remedy. But the tree man shrugged, saying again, “It’s just being a spruce.” By nature, the tree sheds needles. It can’t change. Thankfully, our spiritual lives aren’t limited by unchangeable actions or attitudes. Paul stressed this liberating truth to the new believers at Ephesus. The gentiles were “darkened in their understanding,” he said, their minds closed to God. They possessed hardened hearts containing “every kind of impurity,” and sought only after pleasures and greed (Ephesians 4:18-19). But “since you have heard about Jesus” and His truth, Paul wrote, “throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life” (vv. 21-22 nlt). Paul noted how our old nature “is corrupted by lust and deception.” He said, “Let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy” (vv. 22-24 nlt). Paul then listed new ways to live. Stop lying. Resist anger. Stop cursing. Quit stealing. “Instead, use your hands for good hard work, and then give generously to others in need” (v. 28 nlt). Our new self in Christ allows us to live a life worthy of our calling, yielded to our Savior’s way.
4/6/20240
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God’s Presence

Monique was struggling. She had friends who were believers in Jesus, and she respected how they handled life’s struggles. She was even a bit jealous of them. But Monique didn’t think she could live the way they did; she thought having faith in Christ was about following rules. Finally, a fellow college student helped her see that God wasn’t out to spoil her life; instead, He wanted the best for her amidst her ups and downs. Once she understood this, Monique was ready to trust Jesus as her Savior and embraced the magnificent truth about God’s love for her. Solomon could have given Monique similar advice. He acknowledged that this world does have its sorrows. Indeed, there’s a “time for everything” (Ecclesiastes 3:1)—“a time to mourn and a time to dance” (v. 4). But there’s more. God “has also set eternity in the human heart” (v. 11). An eternity meant to be lived in His presence. Monique gained life “to the full,” as Jesus said (John 10:10), when she trusted Him. But she gained so much more! Through faith, the “eternity in [her] heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11) became the promise of a future when life’s struggles will be forgotten (Isaiah 65:17) and God’s glorious presence will be an eternal reality.
4/5/20240
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In God’s Arms

The sound of the drill terrified five-year-old Sarah. She leaped out of the dentist’s chair and refused to get back in. Nodding understandingly, the dentist told her father, “Daddy, get into the chair.” Jason thought he was meant to show his daughter how easy it was. But then the dentist turned to the little girl and said, “Now, climb up and sit in Daddy’s lap.” With her father now cradling her in his reassuring arms, Sarah relaxed completely, and the dentist was able to continue. That day, Jason learned a great lesson about the comfort of the presence of his heavenly Father. “Sometimes, God [chooses not to] take over what we have to go through,” he said. “But God was showing me, ‘I will be there with you.’ ” Psalm 91 speaks of the comforting presence and power of God that gives us the strength to face our trials. Knowing that we can rest in His powerful arms gives us great assurance, as does His promise to those who love Him: “He will call on me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble” (v. 15). There are many unavoidable challenges and trials in life, and we will inevitably have to go through pain and suffering. But with God’s reassuring arms wrapped around us, we’ll be able to bear our crises and circumstances, and let Him strengthen our faith as we grow through them.
4/4/20240
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I Hear You, God!

Baby Graham fussed and wiggled as his mother held him in her lap while the doctors inserted his first hearing aid. Moments after the doctor turned on the device, Graham stopped crying. His eyes widened. He grinned. He could hear his mother’s voice comforting him, encouraging him, and calling his name. Baby Graham heard his mother speaking, but he needed help learning how to recognize her voice and understand the meaning of her words. Jesus invites people into a similar learning process. Once we accept Christ as our Savior, we become the sheep He knows intimately and guides personally (John 10:3). We can grow to trust and obey Him as we practice hearing and heeding His voice (v. 4). In the Old Testament, God spoke through the prophets. In the New Testament, Jesus—God in the flesh—spoke directly to people. Today, believers in Jesus have access to the power of the Holy Spirit, who helps us understand and obey God’s words which He inspired and preserved in the Bible. We can communicate directly with Jesus through our prayers as He speaks to us through Scripture and through His people. As we come to recognize God’s voice, which is always in alignment with His words in the Bible, we can cry out with grateful praise, “I hear You, God!”
4/3/20240
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Psalm 72 Leaders

In July 2022, Britain’s prime minister was forced to step down after what many felt were lapses in integrity (the newly appointed prime minister stepped down just months later!). The event was triggered when the country’s health minister attended an annual parliamentary prayer breakfast, felt convicted about the need for integrity in public life, and resigned. When other ministers resigned too, the prime minister realized he had to leave. It was a remarkable moment, originating from a peaceful prayer meeting. Believers in Jesus are called to pray for their political leaders (1 Timothy 2:1-2), and Psalm 72 is a good guide for doing so, being both a ruler’s job description and a prayer to help them achieve it. It describes the ideal leader as a person of justice and integrity (vv. 1-2), who defends the vulnerable (v. 4), serves the “needy” (vv. 12-13), and stands against oppression (v. 14). Their time in office is so refreshing, it’s like “showers watering the earth” (v. 6), bringing prosperity to the land (vv. 3, 7, 16). While only the Messiah can perfectly fulfill such a role (v. 11), what better standard of leadership could be aimed for? The health of a country is governed by the integrity of its office bearers. Let’s seek “Psalm 72 leaders” for our nations and help them to embody its qualities by praying it for them.
4/2/20240
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Meeting Together in Jesus

When I went through an extended period of emotional and spiritual pain and struggle due to difficult circumstances in my life, it would have been easy for me to withdraw from church. (And sometimes I did wonder, Why bother?). But I felt compelled to keep attending each Sunday. Although my situation remained the same for many long years, worshiping and gathering with other believers in services, prayer meetings, and Bible study supplied the encouragement I needed to persevere and remain hopeful. And often I’d not only hear an uplifting message or teaching, but I’d receive just the word of encouragement, listening ear, or hug I needed from others. The author of Hebrews wrote, “[Don’t give] up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another” (Hebrews 10:25). This author knew that when we faced hardships and difficulties, we’d need the encouragement of others—and that others would need ours. So this Scripture writer reminded readers to “hold unswervingly to the hope we profess” and to consider how to “spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (vv. 23-24). That’s a big part of what encouragement is. That’s why God leads us to keep meeting together. Someone may need your loving encouragement; and you may be surprised by the encouragement you receive in return.
4/1/20240
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Jesus Christ Is Risen Today!

Before Charles Simeon attended university in Cambridge, England, he loved horses and clothes, spending a huge sum on his attire yearly. But because his college required him to attend regular communion services, he started to explore what he believed. After reading books written by believers in Jesus, he experienced a dramatic conversion on Easter day. Awaking early on April 4, 1779, he cried out, “Jesus Christ is risen today! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!” As he grew in his faith in God, he devoted himself to Bible study, prayer, and attending chapel services. On the first Easter day, life changed for the two women who arrived at Jesus’ tomb. There they witnessed a violent earthquake as an angel rolled back the stone. He said to them, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said” (Matthew 28:5–6). Overjoyed, the women worshiped Jesus and ran back to tell their friends the good news. Encountering the risen Jesus isn’t something reserved for ancient times—He promises to meet us here and now. We might experience a dramatic encounter, such as the women at the tomb or as Charles Simeon did, but we might not. However Jesus reveals Himself to us, we can trust that He loves us.
3/31/20240
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The Passion of Christ

Before Jim Caviezel played Jesus in the film The Passion of the Christ, director Mel Gibson warned that the role would be extremely difficult and could negatively impact his career in Hollywood. Caviezel took on the role anyway, saying, “I think we have to make it, even if it is difficult.” During the filming, Caviezel was struck by lightning, lost forty-five pounds, and was accidentally whipped during the flogging scene. Afterwards, he stated, “I didn’t want people to see me. I just wanted them to see Jesus. Conversions will happen through that.” The film deeply affected Caviezel and others on the set; and only God knows how many of the millions who watched it experienced changed lives. The passion of Christ refers to the time of Jesus’ greatest suffering, from his triumphal entry on Palm Sunday and including His betrayal, mocking, flogging, and crucifixion. Accounts are found in all four gospels. In Isaiah 53, His suffering and its outcome are foretold: “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed” (v. 5). All of us, “like sheep, have gone astray” (v. 6). But because of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, we can have peace with God. His suffering opened the way for us to be with Him.
3/30/20240
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Jesus, Our Substitute

A wealthy twenty-year-old was drag-racing with his friends when he struck and killed a pedestrian. Although the young man received a three-year prison sentence, some believe that the man who appeared in court (and who subsequently served a prison sentence) was a hired surrogate for the driver who committed the crime. This type of thing has been known to occur in some countries where people hire body doubles to avoid paying for their crimes. This may sound scandalous and outrageous, but more than two thousand years ago, Jesus became our substitute and “suffered for [our] sins, the righteous for the unrighteous” (1 Peter 3:18). As God’s sinless sacrifice, Christ suffered and died once and for all (Hebrews 10:10), for all who believe in Him. He took the penalty for all our sins in His own body on the cross. Unlike a person today who chooses to wrongly be a substitute for a criminal to get some cash, Christ’s substitutionary death on the cross provided “hope” for us as He freely, willingly gave His life for us (1 Peter 3:18; John 10:15). He did so to bridge the chasm between us and God. May we rejoice and find comfort and confidence in this profound truth: Only by the substitutionary death of Jesus can we—sinners in need—have a relationship with and complete spiritual access to our loving God.
3/29/20240
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A New Command to Love

In a tradition starting as early as the thirteenth century, members of the royal family in the United Kingdom give gifts to people in need on Maundy Thursday, the day before Good Friday. The practice is rooted in the meaning of the word maundy, which comes from the Latin mandatum, “command.” The command being commemorated is the new one that Jesus gave to His friends on the night before He died: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34). Jesus was a leader who took on the role of a servant as He washed His friends’ feet (v. 5). He then called them to do the same: “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (v. 15). And in an even greater act of sacrifice, He lay down His life, dying on the cross (19:30). Out of mercy and love He gave Himself that we might enjoy the fullness of life. The tradition of the British royal family serving people in need continues as a symbol of following Jesus’ great example. We may not have been born into a place of privilege, but when we place our faith in Jesus, we become members of His family. And we too can show our love by living out His new command. As we depend on God’s Spirit to change us from within, we can reach out to others with care, affirmation, and grace.
3/28/20240
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Fruitful Believers in Christ

Cindy was excited for her new job in a nonprofit company. What an opportunity to make a difference! She soon discovered her coworkers didn’t share her enthusiasm. They mocked the company’s mission and made excuses for their poor performance as they looked elsewhere for more lucrative positions. Cindy wished she’d never applied for this job. What looked great from afar was disappointing up close. This was Jesus’ problem with the fig tree mentioned in today’s story (Mark 11:13). It was early in the season, yet the tree’s leaves signaled it might have early figs. Nope. The tree had sprouted leaves, but it hadn’t yet produced fruit. Disappointed, Jesus cursed the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again” (v. 14). By next morning the tree had entirely withered (v. 20). Jesus once fasted forty days, so He knew how to go without food. Cursing the fig tree was not about His appetite. It was an object lesson. The tree represented Israel, which had the trappings of true religion but had lost the point. They were about to kill their Messiah, the Son of God. How more barren could they be? We may look good from afar, but Jesus comes near, looking for fruit that only His Spirit can produce. Our fruit need not be spectacular. But it must be supernatural, such as love, joy, and peace in hard times (Galatians 5:22). Relying on the Spirit, we can bear fruit even then for Jesus.
3/27/20240
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Missing the Basics

For decades, McDonald’s ruled fast food with their Quarter Pounder burger. In the 1980s, a rival chain cooked up an idea to dethrone the company with the golden arches. A&W offered the Third Pound Burger—larger than McDonald’s—and sold it for the same price. Even more, A&W’s burger won numerous blind taste tastes. But the burger bombed. Nobody bought it. Eventually, they dropped it from the menu. Research revealed that consumers misunderstood the math and thought the Third Pound Burger was smaller than the Quarter Pounder. A grand idea failed because people missed the basics. Jesus warned of how easy it is to miss the basics. Religious leaders, scheming to trap and discredit Him during the week He was crucified, posed a strange, hypothetical scenario about a woman who was widowed seven times (Matthew 22:23–26). Jesus responded, insisting that this knotty dilemma wasn’t a problem at all. Rather, their problem was how they didn’t “know the Scriptures or the power of God” (v. 29). The Scriptures, Jesus insisted, aren’t first intended to answer logical or philosophical puzzles. Rather, their primary aim is to lead us to know and love Jesus and to “have eternal life” in Him (John 5:39). These are the basics the leaders missed. We often miss the basics too. The Bible’s main aim is an encounter with the living Jesus. It would be heartbreaking to miss it.
3/26/20240
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Love God by Loving Others

The Alba family experienced the rare occurrence of birthing two sets of identical twins just thirteen months apart. How did they juggle their parental responsibilities as well as their jobs? Their community of friends and family stepped in. Grandparents on both sides took a set of twins during the day so the parents could work and pay for health insurance. One company gave a year’s supply of diapers. The couple’s coworkers donated their personal sick days. “We couldn’t have done it without our community,” they agreed. In fact, during a live interview, the cohost removed her mic and ran after one renegade toddler, continuing the communal investment! In Matthew 25:31–46, Jesus tells a parable to make the point that when we serve others, we serve God. After listing acts of service, including providing food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, lodging for the homeless, clothes for the naked and healing for the sick (vv. 35–36), Jesus concludes, “Truly, I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (v. 40). Imagining Jesus as the ultimate recipient of our kindness is true motivation to serve in our neighborhoods, families, churches, and world. When He prompts us to sacrificially invest in the needs of others, we serve Him. When we love others, we love God.
3/25/20240
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Renaissance in Jesus

We know Leonardo da Vinci as the renaissance man. His intellectual prowess led to tremendous advances across multiple fields of study and the arts. Yet Leonardo journaled of “these miserable days of ours” and lamented that we die “without leaving behind any memory of ourselves in the mind of men.” “While I thought I was learning how to live,” said Leonardo, “I was learning how to die.” In this, he was closer to the truth than he may have realized. Learning how to die is the way to life. After Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem (what we now celebrate as Palm Sunday, see John 12:12–19), He said, “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds” (John 12:24). He spoke this about His own death but expanded it to include us all: “Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (v. 25). The apostle Paul wrote of being “buried” with Christ “through baptism into death.” In this, Paul anticipated our resurrected life. “Just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life,” he said (Romans 6:4). “If we have been united with him in a death like his, we will also certainly be united with him in a resurrection like this” (v. 5). Through His death, Jesus offers us rebirth—the very meaning of renaissance. He has forged the way to eternal life with His Father.
3/24/20240
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Extravagant Love

My seatmate on the flight told me she was non-religious and had immigrated to a town that was home to numerous Christians. When she mentioned that most of her neighbors went to church, I asked about her experience. She said she could never repay their generosity. When she brought her disabled father to her new country, her neighbors built a ramp to her house and donated a hospital bed and medical supplies. She said, “If being a Christian makes one so kind, everyone should be a Christian.” Exactly what Jesus hoped she’d say! He told His disciples, “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Peter heard Christ’s command and passed it on, “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God” (1 Peter 2:12). Our neighbors who don’t have faith in Jesus may not understand what we believe and why we believe it. Don’t sweat it, as long as there’s one more thing they can’t understand: the extravagance of our love. My seatmate marveled that her Christian neighbors continue to care for her even though she isn’t, in her words, “one of them.” She knows she’s loved, for Jesus’s sake, and she gives thanks to God. She may not yet believe in Him, but she’s grateful that others do.
3/23/20240
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Next Step of Love

What would cause someone to help a competitor? For a restaurant owner named Adolfo in Wisconsin, it was the opportunity to encourage other struggling local restaurant owners adapting to COVID regulations. Adolfo knew firsthand the challenges of operating a business during a pandemic. Encouraged by another local business’ generosity, Adolfo spent his own money to purchase more than $2,000 in gift cards to give away to his customers to use at other restaurants in his community. That’s an expression of love that’s not just words but action.   Building on the ultimate expression of love expressed by Jesus’ willingness to lay down his life for humanity (1 John 3:16), John encouraged his readers to also take the next step and put love into action. For John, to “lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters” (v. 16) meant demonstrating the same type of love exemplified by Jesus—and that would most often take the form of everyday, practical actions, such as sharing material possessions. It wasn’t enough to love with words; love required sincere, meaningful actions (v. 18). Putting love into action can be hard because it often requires personal sacrifice or disadvantaging ourselves for another person. Enabled by God’s Spirit and remembering His lavish love for us, we can take the next step of love.
3/22/20240
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Helping as God Helps Us

Ole Kassow of Copenhagen loved bicycling. One morning, when he saw an elderly man sitting alone with his walker in a park, Ole felt inspired by a simple idea: why not offer elderly people the joy and freedom of a bike ride. So, one sunny day he stopped at a nursing home with a rented trishaw (a three-wheeled bike) and offered a ride to anyone there. He was delighted when a staff member and an elderly resident became the first riders of Cycling Without Age. Now, more than twenty years later, Ole’s dream to help those who missed cycling has blessed some 575,000 elderly people with 2.5 million rides. Where? To see a friend, enjoy an ice cream cone, and “feel the wind in their hair.” Participants say they sleep better, eat better, and feel less lonely. Such a gift brings to life God’s beautiful words to His people in Isaiah 58:10–11. “Help those in trouble,” He told them. “Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon” (nlt). God promised, “The Lord will guide you continually, giving you water when you are dry and restoring your strength. You will be like a well-watered garden, like an ever-flowing spring.” God told His people, “Some of you will rebuild the deserted ruins of your cities” (v. 12). What might He do through us? As He helps us, may we always be ready to help others.
3/21/20240
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Happy Trust

A woman rescued Rudy from the animal shelter days before he was to be euthanized, and the dog became her companion. For ten years, Rudy slept calmly beside Linda’s bed, but then he abruptly began to jump next to her and lick her face. Linda scolded him, but every night, Rudy repeated the behavior. “Soon he was jumping on my lap to lick my face every time I sat down,” Linda said. As she was planning to take Rudy to obedience school, she began to consider how insistent Rudy was and how he always licked her in the same spot on her jaw. Sheepishly, Linda went to a doctor who found a microscopic tumor (bone cancer). The doctor told Linda that if she’d waited longer, it probably would’ve killed her. Linda had trusted Rudy’s instincts, and she was happy she did. The Scriptures tell us repeatedly that trusting God leads to life and joy. “Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,” the psalmist says (40:4). Some translations make the point even starker: “Happy are those who make the Lord their trust” (v. 4 nrsv). Happy in the psalms communicates abundance—an erupting, effervescent joy. When we trust God, the ultimate result is deep, genuine happiness. This trust may not come easily and the results may not be everything we envision. But if we trust God, we’ll be so happy we did.
3/20/20240
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Master in Heaven

Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower announced in 2022 that all migrant domestic workers must be given at least one rest day a month that employers couldn’t compensate them for instead of giving them the day off. Employers, however, were concerned they wouldn’t have someone to care for their loved ones on those days. While the logistics of caregiving could be solved by making alternative arrangements, their attitude in not seeing the need for rest wasn’t as easy to solve. Treating others considerately isn’t a new issue. The apostle Paul lived in a time where servants were seen as the property of their masters. Yet, in the last line of his instructions to the church on how Christlike households should operate, he says that masters are to treat their servants “justly” (Colossians 4:1 esv). Another translation says, “Be fair with them” (the message). Just as Paul tells the servants to work “for the Lord, not for human masters” (3:23), he reminds the masters also of Jesus’ authority over them: “you also have a Master in heaven” (4:1). His purpose was to encourage the Colossian believers to live as those whose ultimate authority is Christ. In our interaction with others—whether as an employer, employee, in our homes or communities—we can ask God to help us do what’s “right and fair” (v. 1).
3/19/20240
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“I AM”

Jack, a professor of philosophy and literature, had a brilliant mind. He’d declared himself an atheist at the age of fifteen and in adulthood adamantly defended his “atheistic faith.” Christian friends tried to persuade him. As Jack put it, “Everyone and everything had joined the other side.” But the Bible, he had to admit, was different from other literature and myths. About the Gospels he wrote: “If ever a myth had become fact, had been incarnated, it would be just like this.” One Bible passage became most influential to Jack—Exodus 3. God was calling Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. Moses asked God who he was (v. 11). God responded, “I am who I am” (v. 14). This passage is a complex play on words and names but reflects God’s eternal presence from the beginning. Interestingly, later Jesus echoed the same when he said, “before Abraham was born, I am!” (John 8:58). Jack, better known as C. S. Lewis, was deeply persuaded by this passage. This was all that the one true God should need to say—simply that He is the “I am.” In a life-changing moment, Lewis “gave in, and admitted God was God.” This was the beginning of a journey for Lewis toward accepting Jesus. Perhaps we struggle with belief, as Lewis did, or maybe with a lukewarm faith. We might ask ourselves if God is truly the “I am” in our lives.
3/18/20240
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Kingdom-Minded Leadership

When I joined a group of Christian children’s book authors who prayed for one another and helped spread the word about each other’s books, some people said we were “foolish for working with competitors.” But our group was committed to kingdom-minded leadership and promoting community, not competition. We shared the same goal—spreading the gospel. We served the same King—Jesus. Together, we’re reaching more people with our witness for Christ. When God asked Moses to choose seventy elders with leadership experience, He said, “I will take some of the power of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them. They will share the burden of the people with you so that you will not have to carry it alone” (Numbers 11:16–17). Later, Joshua saw two of the elders prophesying and told Moses to stop them. Moses said, “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them” (v. 29). Any time we focus on competition or comparisons that hinder us from working with others, the Holy Spirit can empower us to shrug off that temptation. When we ask God to nurture kingdom-minded leadership in us, He spreads the gospel around the world and can even lighten our loads as we serve Him together.
3/17/20240
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Share Your Faith

In 1701, the Church of England founded the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in order to send missionaries around the globe. The motto they chose was transiens adiuva nos—Latin for “Come over and help us!” This has been the call on gospel ambassadors since the first century, as followers of Jesus take the message of His love and forgiveness to a world in desperate need of it.   The phrase “come over and help us” comes from the “Macedonian call” described in Acts 16. Paul and his team had arrived at Troas on the west coast of Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey, v. 8). There, “Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us’” (v. 9). Having received the vision, Paul and his companions “got ready at once to leave for Macedonia” (v. 10). They understood the vital importance of the call. Not everyone is called to cross the seas, but we can support those who do with our prayers and finances. And all of us can tell someone, whether across the room, the street, or the community, about the good news of Jesus. Let’s pray that our good God will enable us to cross over and give people the greatest help of all—the opportunity for forgiveness in Jesus’ name.
3/16/20240
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Eternal Legacy

As Dust Bowl sandstorms ravaged the USA during the Great Depression, John Millburn Davis, a resident of Hiawatha, Kansas, decided to make a name for himself. A self-made millionaire with no children, Davis might have invested in charity or economic development. Instead, at great expense, he commissioned eleven life-size statues of himself and his deceased wife to stand in the local cemetery. “They hate me in Kansas,” Davis told journalist Ernie Pyle. Local residents wanted him to fund the construction of public facilities like a hospital, swimming pool, or park. Yet all he said was, “It’s my money and I spend it the way I please.” King Solomon, the wealthiest man of his day, wrote, “Whoever loves money never has enough,” and “as goods increase, so do those who consume them” (Ecclesiastes 5:10–11). Solomon had grown keenly aware of the corrupting tendencies of wealth. The apostle Paul also understood the temptation of wealth and chose to invest his life in obedience to Jesus. Awaiting execution in a Roman prison, he wrote triumphantly, “I am being poured out like a drink offering. I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:6–7). What lasts isn’t what we chisel in stone or horde for ourselves. It’s what we give out of love for each other and for Him—the One who shows us how to love.  
3/15/20240
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God Alone Can Satisfy

A thousand dollars of food—jumbo shrimp, shawarma, salads, and more—was delivered to a homeowner. But the man wasn’t having a party. In fact, he didn’t order the smorgasbord; his six-year son did. How did this happen? The father let his son play with his phone before bedtime and the boy used it to purchase the expensive bounty from a restaurant. “Why did you do this?” the father asked his son, who was hiding under his comforter. The six-year-old replied, “I was hungry.” The boy’s appetite and immaturity led to a costly outcome.  Esau’s appetite cost him a lot more than a thousand dollars. The story in Genesis 25 finds him exhausted and desperate for food. He said to his brother, “Let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!” (v. 29). Jacob responded by asking for Esau’s birthright (v. 31). The birthright included Esau’s special place as the firstborn son, the blessing of God’s promises, a double portion of the inheritance, and the privilege of being the spiritual leader of the family. Giving in to his appetite, Esau “ate and drank” and “despised his birthright” (v. 34). When we’re tempted and desiring something, instead of letting our appetites lead us to costly mistakes and sin, let’s reach out to our heavenly Father—the One who alone satisfies the hungry soul “with good things” (Psalm 107:9).
3/14/20240
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Cries of Distress

Trapped under two floors of collapsed rubble caused by an earthquake, 5-year-old Jinan, a Syrian girl, called out to rescuers as she shielded her little brother from the debris surrounding them. “Get me out of here; I’ll do anything for you,” she called heartbreakingly. “I’ll be your servant.”   Cries of distress are found throughout the Psalms: “When hard pressed, I cried to the Lord” (118:5). While we may never experience the crushing weight of earthquake-collapsed buildings, we all recognize the suffocating fears from a challenging medical diagnosis, economic hardship, uncertainty about the future, or relational loss. In those moments we may offer bargains to God for deliverance. But God doesn’t need to be persuaded to help. He promises to answer, and while it may not be relief from our situation, He’ll be with us and on our side. Nor do we need to fear any other peril—including death. We can say with the psalmist, “The Lord is with me; he is my helper. I look in triumph on my enemies” (v. 7). We’re not promised as dramatic a rescue as Jinan and her brother experienced, but we can trust our faithful God, who brought the psalmist “into a spacious place” (v. 5). He knows our situation and He’ll never abandon us, even in death.
3/13/20240
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Courage in Christ

Near the dawn of the nineteenth century, Mary McDowell lived worlds apart from the brutal stockyards of Chicago. Although her home was just twenty miles away, she knew little about the horrific labor conditions that prompted workers in the stockyards to strike. Once she learned of the difficulties faced by them and their families, McDowell moved in and lived amid them—advocating for better conditions. She ministered to their needs, including teaching children at a school in the back of a small shop. Standing up for better conditions for others—even when not directly impacted—is something Esther did as well. She was the queen of Persia (Esther 2:17) and had a different set of privileges than her Israelite people who’d been dispersed throughout Persia as exiles. Yet Esther took up the cause of the Israelites in Persia and risked her life for them, saying, “I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish” (4:16). She could have remained silent, for her husband, the king, didn’t know she was Jewish (2:10).  But, choosing not to ignore her relatives’ pleas for help, she worked wisely and courageously to reveal an evil plot to destroy the Jews. We may not be able to take on massive causes like Mary McDowell and Queen Esther, but may we choose to see the needs of others around us and use what God has provided to help them.
3/12/20240
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Remember the Creator

I recently read a novel about a woman who refuses to acknowledge she has terminal cancer. When Nicola’s exasperated friends force her to face the truth, the reason for her avoidance emerges. “I’ve wasted my life,” she tells them. Though born with talents and wealth, “I made nothing of my life. I was sloppy. I never stuck at anything.” The prospect of leaving the world now, feeling she'd achieved little, was too painful for Nicola to contemplate. I was reading Ecclesiastes around the same time and found the contrast stark. Its Teacher won’t let us avoid the reality of the grave, “the realm of the dead, where you are going” (9:10). And while this is hard to face (v. 2), it can lead us to value every moment we have now (v. 4), intentionally enjoying our food and families (vv. 7–9), working purposefully (v. 10), taking adventures and risks (11:1, 6), and doing it all before the God we’ll one day answer to (v. 9; 12:13–14). Nicola’s friends point out that her faithfulness and generosity to them proves her life hasn’t been a waste. But maybe the Teacher’s advice can save us all from such a crisis at the end of our lives: Remember our Creator (12:1), follow His ways, and embrace every opportunity to live and love that today He provides.
3/11/20240
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God Made Them All

My three-year old son, Xavier, squeezed my hand as we entered the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California. Pointing to a life-size sculpture of a humpback whale suspended from the ceiling, he said, “Enormous.” His wide-eyed joy continued as we explored each exhibit. We laughed as the otters splish-splashed during feeding time. We stood in silence in front of a large glass aquarium window, mesmerized by the golden-brown jellyfish dancing in the electric blue water. “God made every creature in the ocean,” I said, “just like He made you and me.” Xavier whispered, “Wow.” In Psalm 104, the psalmist acknowledged God’s abounding creation and sang, “In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures” (v. 24). He declared, “There is the sea, vast and spacious, teeming with creatures beyond number—living things both large and small” (v. 25). He proclaimed God’s generous and satisfying provision for all He created (vv. 27–28). He also affirmed that God determined the days of each one’s existence (vv. 29–30). We can join the psalmist in singing this declaration of devotion: “I will sing to the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live” (v. 33). Every creature that exists, from the big to the small, can lead us to praise because God made them all.
3/10/20240
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Sharing Excitement for Christ

The first time we met our neighbor Henry, he pulled a well-worn Bible out of a bag he’d been carrying. Eyes sparkling, he asked if we’d like to discuss Scripture. We nodded and he flipped to some highlighted passages that he excitedly explained. He showed us a notebook full of his observations. With a humble grin, he announced he’d also created a computer presentation full of other related information. Henry went on to tell us how he’d come from a difficult family situation and then, alone and at his worst, he accepted Jesus’ death and resurrection as the foundation of his faith (Acts 4:12). His life had changed as the Spirit helped him follow the Bible’s principles. Although Henry had committed his life to God years ago, his enthusiasm was fresh and powerful. Henry’s zeal inspired me, someone who had walked with Jesus many years, to consider my spiritual passion. The apostle Paul wrote: “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord” (Romans 12:11). That seems like a tall order, unless I’m allowing Scripture to nurture the kind of attitudes that reflect an ongoing thankfulness fo all that God has done for me. Unlike the emotional highs and lows we experience in life, zeal for God comes from an ever-expanding relationship with Him. The more we learn about Him, the more precious He becomes and the more His goodness floods our souls and spills out into the world.
3/9/20240
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Using What God Provides

The Brisbane City Hall in Australia was a dazzling 1920s project. White stairs boasted marble from the same quarry Michelangelo used for his David sculpture. The tower reflected Venice’s St. Mark’s Basilica, and the copper dome was the largest in the Southern Hemisphere. The builders intended for a massive Angel of Peace to adorn the pinnacle, but there was a problem: no money left. Plumber Fred Johnson came to the rescue. He used a toilet cistern, an old lamp post, and bits of scrap metal to craft the iconic orb that’s crowned the tower for nearly one hundred years. Much like Fred Johnson and his use of what he had, we can join God’s work with whatever we have—large or small. When He asked Moses to lead Israel out of Egypt, Moses balked: “What if they don’t . . . listen to me?” (4:1) God answered with a simple question: “What is that in your hand?” (v. 2). Moses held a staff, a simple stick. God told him to throw the staff on the ground, “and it became a snake” (v. 3). Then He instructed Moses to pick up the snake; and it turned back into a staff. All Moses needed to do, God explained, was carry the staff and trust Him to do the rest. Remarkably, He would use that stick in Moses’ hand to rescue Israel from the Egyptians (7:10–12, 17:5–7). What we have might not seem like much to us, but with God, whatever we have will be enough. He takes our ordinary resources and uses them for His work.
3/8/20240
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God Our Refuge

The remarkable 2019 movie Little Women sent me back to my worn copy of the novel, especially the comforting words of Marmee, the wise and gentle mother. I’m drawn to the novel’s depiction of her steadfast faith, which underlies many of her words of encouragement to her daughters. One encouragement that stood out to me was this: “Troubles and temptations . . . may be many, but you can overcome and outlive them all if you learn to feel the strength and tenderness of your heavenly Father.”  Marmee’s words echo the truth found in Proverbs that “the name of the Lord is a fortified tower; the righteous run to it and are safe” (18:10). Towers were built in ancient cities to be places of safety during danger, perhaps because of an enemy attack. In the same way, it is through running to God that believers can experience peace in the care of the One who is “our refuge and strength” (Psalm 46:1). Proverbs 18:10 tells us protection comes from God’s “name”—which refers to all of who God is. Scripture describes God as “the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6). God’s protection comes from His mighty strength, as well as His tenderness and love, which causes Him to long to provide refuge to the hurting. For all who are struggling, our heavenly Father offers a place of refuge in His strength and tenderness.
3/7/20240
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Doing Good for God

Though he didn’t normally carry money with him, Patrick sensed God was leading him to tuck a five-dollar bill in his pocket before leaving home. During the lunch hour at the school where he worked, he understood how God may have prepared him to meet an urgent need. In the midst of the lunchroom buzz, he heard these words: “Scotty (a child in need) needs $5 to put on his account so he can eat lunch for the rest of the week.” Imagine the emotions Patrick experienced as he gave his money to help Scotty! In Titus, Paul reminded believers in Jesus that they weren’t saved “because of righteous things [they] had done” (Titus 3:5), but they should “be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good” (v. 8; see v. 14). Life can be full, extremely busy, and hectic. Attending to our own well-being can be overwhelming. Yet, as believers in Jesus, we’re to be “good-works ready.” Rather than being overwhelmed by what we don’t have and can’t do, let’s think about what we do have and can do as God helps us. In doing so, we get to help others at the point of their needs, and God is honored. “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
3/6/20240
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God’s Greater Power

In March 1945, the “Ghost Army” helped US forces achieve the Rhine River crossing—giving the allies a vital base to operate from on World War II’s Western Front. The soldiers were most definitely human, not apparitions, all part of the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops. On this occasion, the 1,100-man team imitated 30,000 men by using inflatable decoy tanks, blasting troop and vehicle sound effects over speakers, and more. The relatively small number of Ghost Army members led the enemy to fear what appeared to be a far greater force. The Midianites and their allies also trembled before a tiny army that loomed large in the night (Judges 7:8-22). Gideon, a judge, prophet, and military leader of Israel, was used by God to make his puny army a source of terror for the enemy. They also used sound effects (blown trumpets, smashed clay jars, human voices) and visible objects (blazing torches) to make the vast enemy—“thick as locusts” (v. 12)—believe they were facing a colossal foe. Israel defeated their enemy that night with an army whittled down from 32,000 men to just 300 by God’s command (vv. 2–8). Why? Because that made it clear who truly won the battle. As God told Gideon, “I have given you victory over them” (v. 9 nlt). When we feel weak and inferior, let’s seek God and rest in His strength alone. For His “power is made perfect in [our] weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
3/5/20240
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Jesus Dwells Within

As a blizzard bore down on my state in the western USA, my widowed mother agreed to stay with my family to “ride out” the storm. After the blizzard, however, she never returned to her house. She moved in, dwelling with us for the rest of her life. Her presence changed our household in many positive ways. She was available daily to provide wisdom, advice to family members, and share ancestral stories. She and my husband became the best of friends, sharing a similar sense of humor and love of sports. No longer a visitor, she was a permanent and vital resident—forever changing our hearts even after God called her home. The experience recalls John’s description of Jesus—that He “dwelt among us” (John 1:14 kjv). It’s a compelling description because in the original Greek the word dwelt means “to pitch a tent.” Another translation says, He “made His home among us” (nlt). By faith, we also receive Jesus as the one who dwells in our hearts. As Paul wrote, “I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in Him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong” (Ephesians 3:16–17 nlt). Not a casual visitor, Jesus is an empowering permanent resident of all who follow Him. May we open wide the doors of our hearts and welcome Him.
3/4/20240
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A Heart for Christ

As long as you keep your mouth closed, I told myself, you won’t be doing anything wrong. I’d been outwardly holding back my anger toward a colleague after misinterpreting things she’d said. Since we had to see each other every day, I decided to limit communication to only what was necessary (and retaliate with my silent treatment). How could a quiet demeanor be wrong? Jesus, however, said that sin begins in the heart (Matthew 15:18−20). My silence may have fooled people into thinking all was well, but it wasn’t fooling God. He knew I was hiding a heart filled with anger. I was like the Pharisees─“who gave honor with their lips, but their hearts [were] far from [God]” (v. 8). Even though my outward appearance didn’t show my true feelings, the bitterness was festering inside me. The joy and closeness I’d always felt with my heavenly Father were gone. Nurturing and hiding sin does that. By God’s grace, I told my colleague how I was feeling and apologized. She graciously forgave me and, eventually, we became good friends. “Out of the heart come evil thoughts” (v. 19). Jesus says that the state of our heart matters because evil residing there can overflow into our lives. Both our exterior and interior matter.
3/3/20240
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Speaking as God Helps Us

One wouldn’t normally think of butterflies as being loud creatures: after all, the flapping of a single Monarch butterfly’s wings is practically inaudible. But in the Mexican rainforest, where many of them begin their short lives, their collective flapping is surprisingly loud. When millions of Monarchs flap their wings at the same time, it sounds like a rushing waterfall. The same description is made when four very different winged creatures appear in Ezekiel’s vision. Though fewer than the number of butterflies, he likens the sound of their flapping wings to “the roar of rushing waters” (Ezekiel 1:24). When the creatures stood still and lowered their wings, Ezekiel heard the voice of God calling him to “speak [God’s] words to [the Israelites]” (2:7). Ezekiel, like the other Old Testament prophets, was charged with the task of speaking truth to God’s people. Today, God asks us all to share the truth of His good work in our lives with those He puts around us (1 Peter 3:15). Sometimes we’ll be asked a direct question—an invitation to share that is as “loud” as a waterfall. Other times, the invitation might be more of a whisper, such as seeing an unspoken need. Whether the invitation to share God’s love is as loud as a million butterflies or as quiet as just one, we must listen, as Ezekiel did, with ears tuned to hear what God wants us to say.
3/2/20240
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Owner or Steward?

“Am I an owner or a steward?” The CEO of a multibillion-dollar company asked himself that question as he weighed what was best for his family. Concerned about the temptations that can come with vast wealth, he didn’t want to burden his heirs with that challenge. So he gave up his personal stake in the company. Recognizing that everything he owns belongs to God helped him make his decision to allow his family to earn a living in exchange for work while also using future profits to fund Christian ministry. In Psalm 50:10, God tells His people, “Every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills.” As the Creator of all things, God owes us nothing and needs nothing from us. “I have no need of a bull from your stall or of goats from your pens,” He says (v. 9). He generously provides everything that we have and use as well as the strength and the ability to earn a living. Because He does, as the psalm shows us, He is worthy of our heartfelt worship. God owns everything. But because of His goodness, He even chose to give Himself, entering into a relationship with any who turn to Him. Jesus “did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). When we value the Giver over the gifts and serve Him with them, we are blessed to delight in Him forever.
3/1/20240
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Even Leviticus

The topic was Leviticus, and I had a confession to make. “I skipped a lot of the reading,” I told my Bible study group. “I’m not reading about skin diseases again.” That’s when my friend Dave spoke up. “I know a guy who believed in Jesus because of that passage,” he said. Dave explained that his friend—a doctor—had been an atheist. He decided that before he completely rejected the Bible, he’d better read it for himself. The section on skin diseases in Leviticus fascinated him. It contained surprising details about contagious and noncontagious sores (13:3–44) and how to treat them (14:8–9). He knew this far surpassed the medical knowledge of that day—yet there it was in Leviticus. There’s no way Moses could have known all this, he thought. The doctor began to consider that Moses really did receive his information from God. Eventually he put his faith in Jesus.   If parts of the Bible bore you, well, I’m with you. But everything it says is there for a reason. Leviticus was written so the Israelites would know how to live for Him. As we learn more about this relationship between God and His people, we learn about God Himself. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, wrote the apostle Paul (2 Timothy 3:16). Let’s read on. Even Leviticus.
2/29/20240
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“Help My Unbelief!”

“Where is my faith?—even deep down, right in, there is nothing but emptiness & darkness. . . . If there be God, please forgive me.” The author of those words might surprise you: Mother Teresa. Beloved and renowned as a tireless servant of the poor in Calcutta, India, Mother Teresa quietly waged a desperate war for her faith over five decades. After her 1997 death, that struggle came to light when portions of her journal were published in the book Come Be My Light. What do we do with our doubts or feelings of God’s absence? Those moments may plague some believers more than others. But many faithful believers in Jesus may, at some point in their lives, experience moments or seasons of such doubts. I’m thankful that Scripture has given us a beautiful, paradoxical prayer that expresses both faith and the lack thereof. In Mark 9, Jesus encounters a father whose son has been demonically tormented since childhood (v. 21). When Jesus says that the man must have faith (“Everything is possible for one who believes” v. 23), the man responds, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (v. 24). This honest, heartfelt plea invites those of us who struggle with doubt to give it to God, trusting that He can fortify our faith and hold on to us firmly amid the deepest, darkest valleys we will ever traverse.  
2/28/20240
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When Jesus Stops

For days, the sickly cat cried, huddled in a box near my workplace. Abandoned on the street, the feline went unnoticed by many who passed it by—until Jun came along. The street sweeper carried the animal home, where he lived with two dogs, which were former strays. “I care for them because they’re the creatures no one notices,” Jun said. “I see myself in them. No one notices a street sweeper, after all.” As Jesus walked toward Jericho on His way to Jerusalem, a blind man sat begging by the roadside. He felt unnoticed too. And on this day especially, when a crowd was passing through and all eyes were focused on Jesus—no one stopped to help the beggar. No one except Jesus. In the midst of the clamoring crowd, He heard the forgotten man’s cry. “What do you want me to do for you?” Christ asked, and He received the heartfelt reply, “Lord, I want to see.” Then Jesus said, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you” (Luke 18:41–42). Do we feel unnoticed at times? Are our cries drowned out by people who seem to matter more than us? Our Savior notices those the world doesn’t care to notice. Call to Him for help! While others may pass us by, He’ll stop for us.  
2/27/20240
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Sweet Sleep

Bad memories and accusing messages flooded Sal’s mind. Sleep eluded him as fear filled his heart and sweat covered his skin. It was the night before his baptism, and he couldn’t stop the onslaught of dark thoughts. Sal had received salvation in Jesus and knew that his sins had been forgiven, but the spiritual battle continued. It’s then that his wife took his hand and prayed for him. Moments later, peace replaced the fear in Sal’s heart. He got up and wrote the words he would share prior to being baptized—something he hadn’t been able to do. After that, he experienced sweet sleep. King David also knew what a restless night felt like. Fleeing from his son Absalom who wanted to steal his throne (2 Samuel 15:1–17:29), he knew that “tens of thousands [assailed him] on every side” (Psalm 3:6). David moaned, “How many are my foes!” (v. 1). Though fear and doubt could have won out, he called out to God, his “shield” (v. 3). Later, he found that he could “lie down and sleep . . . because the Lord sustains [him]” (v. 5). When fears and struggles grip our mind and rest is replaced by restlessness, hope is found as we pray to God. While we might not experience immediate sweet sleep as Sal and David did, in “peace [we can] lie down and . . . dwell in safety” (4:8). For God is with us and He’ll be our rest.
2/26/20240
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Not Luck, but Christ

Discover magazine suggests that there are around 700 quintillion (7 followed by 20 zeros) planets in the universe, but only one like Earth. Astrophysicist Erik Zackrisson said that one of the requirements for a planet to sustain life is to orbit in the “Goldilocks” zone, where the temperature is just right and water can exist. Out of 700 quintillion planets, Earth seems to be one planet where conditions are just right. Zackrisson concluded that Earth somehow had been dealt a “fairly lucky hand.” Paul assured the Colossian believers that the universe existed, not because of Lady Luck, but because of the work of Jesus. The apostle presents Christ as the Creator of the world (Colossians 1:16). “For in him all things were created.” Not only was Jesus the powerful creator of the world, but Paul says that “in him all things hold together” (v. 17)—a world that’s not too hot and not too cold, but one that’s just right for human existence. What Jesus created, He’s sustaining with His perfect wisdom and unceasing power. As we participate and enjoy the beauty of creation, let’s choose not to point to the random activity of Lady Luck, but to the purposeful, sovereign, powerful and loving One who possesses “all [God’s] fullness” (v. 19).
2/25/20240
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Better Together

After another health setback, I feared the unknown and uncontrollable. One day, while reading a Forbes magazine article, I learned that scientists studied the rising of the “Earth’s rotation velocity” and declared that the Earth “wobbled” and is “spinning faster.” They said we “could require the first-ever ‘drop second’—the official removal of a second from global time.” Though a second doesn’t seem like much of a loss, knowing that the earth’s rotation could change seemed like a big deal to me. Even slight instability can make my faith feel wobbly. However, knowing God helps me trust that He’s in control no matter how scary our unknowns or how shaky our circumstances may seem. In Psalm 90, Moses said, “Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God” (vv. 1–2). Acknowledging God’s unlimited power, control, and authority over all creation, Moses declared that time cannot constrain God (vv. 3–6). As we seek to know more about God and the wonderful world He made, we’ll discover how He continues perfectly managing time and all He created. God can be trusted with every unknown and newly discovered thing in our lives too. All creation remains secure in God’s loving hands. How does knowing God is in control of time and all creation help you trust Him when facing the unknown? How can you honor God with the time He’s entrusted to you today?
2/24/20240
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Welcome the Stranger

In Everything Sad Is Untrue, Daniel Nayeri describes his harrowing flight with his mother and sister from persecution through a refugee camp to safety in the United States. An elderly couple agreed to sponsor them, though they didn’t know them. Years later, Daniel still can’t get over it. He writes, “Can you believe that? Totally blind, they did that. They’d never even met us. And if we turned out to be villains, they’d have to pay for it. That’s almost as brave, kind, and reckless as I can think of anybody being.” Yet God desires us to have that level of concern for others. He told Israel to be kind to foreigners. “Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt” (Leviticus 19:34). He reminds gentile believers in Jesus—that’s many of us—that once we “were separate from Christ . . . and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12). So He commands all of us former foreigners, both Jew and gentile, “to show hospitality to strangers” (Hebrews 13:2). Now grown-up with a family of his own, Daniel praises Jim and Jean Dawson, “who were so Christian that they let a family of refugees come live with them until they could find a home.” God welcomes the stranger and urges us to welcome them too.
2/23/20240
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Walking in Jesus’ Shoes

What would it be like to walk in the shoes of royalty? Angela Kelly, the daughter of a dockworker and nurse, knows. She was also the official dresser for the late Queen Elizabeth for the last two decades of the monarch’s life. One of her responsibilities was to break in the aging queen’s new shoes by walking in them around the palace grounds. There was a reason for it: compassion for an elderly woman who sometimes was required to stand for extended periods at ceremonies. Because they wore the same shoe size, Kelly was able to save her some discomfort. Kelly’s personal touch in her care for Queen Elizabeth makes me think of Paul’s warm encouragement to the church in Colossae (an area in modern Turkey): “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Colossians 3:12). When our lives are “built on” Jesus (2:7 nlt), we become “God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved” (3:12). He helps us take off our “old self” and “put on the new self”—living out the identity of those who love and forgive others because God has loved and forgiven us (vv. 9–10). All around us are those who need us to “walk in their shoes” and have compassion for them in the day-to-day challenges of life. When we do, we walk in the shoes (or the sandals) of a king—Jesus—who always has compassion for us.
2/22/20240
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God’s Open Doors

At my new school near a large city, the guidance counselor took one look at me and placed me in the lowest performing English composition class. I’d arrived from my inner-city school with outstanding test scores, excellent grades, and even a principal’s award for my writing. The door to the “best” writing class in my new school was closed to me, however, when the counselor decided I wasn’t right or ready. The church in ancient Philadelphia would’ve understood such arbitrary setbacks. A small and humble church, its city had suffered earthquakes in recent years that left lasting damage. Additionally, they faced satanic opposition (Revelation 3:9). Such a disregarded church had “little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name” (v. 8). Therefore, God placed before them “an open door that no one can shut” (v. 8). Indeed, “what He opens no one can shut, and what He shuts no one can open” (v. 7). That’s true for our ministry efforts. Some doors don’t open. With my writing for God, however, He has indeed opened doors, allowing it to reach a global audience, regardless of one counselor’s closed attitudes. Closed doors won’t hinder you either. “I am the Door,” Jesus said (John 10:9 kjv). Let’s enter the doors He opens and follow Him.
2/21/20240
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God’s Wise Purposes

The United Kingdom brims with history. Everywhere you go, you see plaques honoring historic figures or commemorating sites where important events occurred. But one such sign exemplifies the droll British sense of humor. On a weathered plaque outside a bed and breakfast in Sandwich, England, a message reads, “On this site, Sept. 5, 1782 nothing happened.”   Sometimes it seems to us that nothing is happening regarding our prayers. We pray and pray, bringing our petitions to our Father with expectation that He will respond—right now. The psalmist David expressed such frustration when he prayed, “How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (Psalm 13:1). We can easily echo those same thoughts: How long, Lord, before you respond?   However, our God is not only perfect in His wisdom but also in His timing. David was able to say, “I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation” (v. 5). Ecclesiastes 3:11 reminds us, “[God] has made everything beautiful in its time.” The word beautiful means “appropriate” or “a source of delight.” God may not always respond to our prayers when we’d like Him to, but He is always working out His wise purposes. We can take heart that when He does answer, it will be right and good and beautiful.
2/20/20240
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Prompted to Pray

A co-worker once told me that her prayer life had improved because of our manager. I was impressed, thinking that our difficult leader had shared some spiritual nuggets with her and influenced her prayer life. I was wrong—sort of. My co-worker and friend went on to explain: “Every time I see him coming, I start praying.” Her prayer life had improved because she prayed more before each conversation with him. She knew she needed God’s help in her challenging work relationship with her manager and she called out to Him more because of it. My co-worker’s practice of praying during tough times and interactions is something I’ve adopted. It’s also a biblical practice found in 1 Thessalonians when Paul reminds the believers in Jesus to “pray continually . . . give thanks in all circumstances” (5:17–18). No matter what we face, prayer is always the best practice. It keeps us connected with God and invites His Spirit to direct us (Galatians 5:16) rather than having us rely on our human inclinations. This helps us “live in peace with each other” (1 Thessalonians 5:13) even when we face conflicts. As God helps us, we can rejoice in Him, pray about everything, and give thanks often. And those things will help us live in even greater harmony with our brothers and sisters in Jesus.
2/19/20240
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In God’s Loving Hands

Soren Solkaer spent years photographing starlings and their breathtaking spectacle: murmurations, where hundreds of thousands of starlings move in fluid motion across the sky. Watching this marvel is like sitting underneath an orchestrated, swirling wave or a massive, dark brushstroke flowing into a kaleidoscope of patterns. In Denmark, they call this starling experience Black Sun (also the title of Solkaer’s stunning book of photographs). Most remarkable is how starlings instinctively follow their nearest companion, flying so close that if one were to miss a beat, they’d suffer mass calamity. However, starlings use murmurations to protect one another. When a hawk descends, these tiny creatures enter tight formation and move collectively, beating back a predator who’d easily pick them off if they were alone. We’re better together than we are alone. “Two are better than one,” Ecclesiastes says. “If either . . . falls down, one can help the other up. [And] if two lie down together, they will keep warm” (4:9–11). Alone, we’re isolated and easy prey. We’re exposed without others’ comfort or protection. But with companions, we give and receive help. “Though one may be overpowered,” Ecclesiastes says, “two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” (v.12). We’re better together as God leads us.
2/18/20240
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Growing Up in Jesus

As a child, I viewed grown-ups as wise and incapable of failure. “They always know what to do,” I’d think. “One day, when I’m grown-up, I’ll always know what to do too.” Well, “one day” came many years ago, and all it has taught me is that, many times, I still don’t know what to do. Whether it’s illness in the family, problems at work, or conflict in a relationship, such times have wrested all delusions of personal control and strength, simply leaving me one option─to close my eyes and whisper, “Lord, help. I don’t know what to do.” The apostle Paul understood this feeling of helplessness. The “thorn” in his life, which may have been a physical ailment, caused him much frustration and pain. It was through this thorn, however, that Paul experienced God’s love, promises and blessings as sufficient for him to endure and overcome his difficulties (2 Corinthians 12:9). He learned that personal weakness and helplessness don’t mean defeat. When surrendered to God in trust, they become tools for Him to work in and through these circumstances. (vv. 9−10). Our being grown-up doesn’t mean we’re all-knowing. Surely, we grow wiser with age, but ultimately our weaknesses often reveal how truly powerless we are. Our true power is in Christ. “For when I am weak, then I am strong” (v. 10). Truly “growing up” means knowing, trusting and obeying the power that comes when we realize we need God’s help.
2/17/20240
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Loving Like Jesus

He was loved by all—those were the words used to describe Don Guiseppe of Casnigo, Italy. Don was a beloved man who rode around town on an old motorbike and always led with the greeting: “peace and good.” He worked tirelessly on behalf of the good of others. But in the last years of his life, he had health problems, and in response his community purchased a respirator for him. But when his condition grew grave, he refused the breathing apparatus, choosing instead to make it available for younger patients who needed it. Hearing of his refusal surprised no one, for it was simply in his character for a man who was loved and admired for loving others. Loved for loving, this is the message the apostle John keeps sounding throughout his gospel. They’re like a chapel bell that tolls night and day, regardless of weather. And in John 15, they reach somewhat of a zenith, for John lays bare that it’s not being loved by all, but loving all that’s the greatest love: “to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (v. 13). Human examples of sacrificial love always inspire us. Yet they pale in comparison to God’s great love. But don’t miss the challenge that brings, for Jesus commands: “Love each other as I have loved you.” (v. 12). Yes, love all.
2/16/20240
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Humility’s Perk

Like many teachers, Carrie devotes countless hours to her career, often grading papers and communicating with students and parents late into the evening. To sustain the effort, she relies on her community of colleagues for camaraderie and practical help; her challenging job is made easier through collaboration. A recent study of educators found that the benefit of collaboration is magnified when those we work with demonstrate humility. When colleagues are willing to admit their weaknesses, others feel safe to share their knowledge with one another, effectively helping everyone in the group. The Bible teaches the importance of humility—for much more than enhanced collaboration. “Fear[ing] the Lord”—having a right understanding of who we are in comparison to the beauty, power, and majesty of God—results in “riches and honor and life” (Proverbs 22:4). Humility leads us to living in community in a way that’s fruitful in God’s economy not just the world’s because we seek to benefit our fellow image-bearers. We don’t fear God as a way to gain “riches and honor and life” for ourselves—that wouldn’t be true humility at all. Instead, we imitate Jesus, who “made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant” (Philippians 2:7) so we can become part of a body that humbly cooperates together to do His work, give Him honor, and take a message of life to the world around us.
2/15/20240
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Motivated by Love

Jim and Laneeda were college sweethearts. They got married and life was happy for many years. Then Laneeda began to act strangely, getting lost and forgetting appointments. She was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s at forty-seven. After a decade of serving as her primary caregiver, Jim was able to say, “Alzheimer’s has given me the opportunity to love and serve my wife in ways that were unimaginable when she said, ‘I do.’ ” While explaining the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the apostle Paul wrote extensively on the virtue of love (1 Corinthians 13). He contrasted rote acts of service with those overflowing from a loving heart. Powerful speaking is good, Paul wrote, but without love it is like a meaningless noise (v. 1). “If I . . . give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing” (v. 3). Paul ultimately said, “the greatest [gift] is love” (v. 13). Jim’s understanding of love and service deepened as he cared for his wife. Only a deep and abiding love could give him the strength to support her every day. Ultimately, the only place we see this sacrificial love modeled perfectly is in God’s love for us, which caused Him to send Jesus to die for our sins (John 3:16). That act of sacrifice, motivated by love, has changed our world forever.
2/14/20240
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Jesus’ Blood

The color red doesn’t always naturally occur in the things we make. How do you put the vibrant color of an apple into a T-shirt or lipstick? In early times, the red pigment was made from clay or red rocks. In the 1400s, the Aztecs invented a way of using cochineal insects to make red dye. Today, those same tiny insects supply the world with red. In the Bible, red denotes royalty, and it also signifies sin and shame. Further, it’s the color of blood. When soldiers “stripped [Jesus] and put a scarlet robe on him” (Matthew 27:28), these three symbolisms merged into one heart-breaking image of red: Jesus was ridiculed as would-be royalty, He was cloaked in shame, and He was robed in the color of the blood He would soon shed. But Isaiah’s words foretell the promise of this crimsoned Jesus to deliver us from the red that stains us: “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” (1:18). One other thing about those cochineal insects used for red dye—they are actually milky white on the outside. Only when they are crushed do they release their red blood. That little fact echoes for us other words from Isaiah: “[Jesus] was crushed for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5). Perhaps this is a good time to ponder the place of Jesus in your life. He who knew no sin is here to save us who are red with sin. You see, in His crushing death, Jesus endured a whole lot of red so you could be white as snow.
2/13/20240
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Loving Our Enemies

With the American Civil War spawning many bitter feelings, Abraham Lincoln saw fit to speak a kind word about the South. A shocked bystander asked how he could do so. He replied, “Madam, do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?” Reflecting on those words a century later, Martin Luther King, Jr., commented, “This is the power of redemptive love.” In calling disciples of Christ to love their enemies, King looked to the teachings of Jesus. He noted that although believers might struggle to love those who persecute them, this love grows out of “a consistent and total surrender to God.” When we love in this way, King continued, we’ll know God and experience the beauty of His holiness. King referenced Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in which He said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:44–45). Jesus counseled against the conventional wisdom of the day of loving only one’s neighbors and hating one’s enemies. Instead, God the Father gives His children the strength to love those who oppose them. It might feel impossible to love our enemies, but as we look to God for help, He’ll answer our prayers. He provides the courage to embrace this radical practice of His kingdom, for as Jesus said, “with God all things are possible” (19:26).
2/12/20240
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I’ve Seen God’s Faithfulness

Although she finished first in her qualifying race, US speedskater Brittany Bowe gave up her chance to compete in the 500-meter event at the 2022 Winter Olympics to teammate Erin Jackson. Jackson had an unfortunate slip in the race that left her just one place away from making the team. What motivated Bowe to relinquish the spot she’d earned? Friendship. Having trained together for years, Bowe believed Jackson deserved a spot on the team. Bowe was right. Jackson become the first US Black woman to win a Winter Olympic gold medal in an individual event. In the deep friendship between Jonathan and David in the Old Testament, there was also sacrifice. Jonathan was King Saul’s oldest son and heir to Israel’s throne. When God rejected Saul and choose David to be king (1 Samuel 16:1–12), Jonathan could have continued to claim a right for the throne. Instead, he sacrificed his own personal interests for David. Jonathan even devised a plan to protect David by sending him away when David’s life was threatened (20:18–23). As they parted, Jonathan encouraged David saying, “Go in peace, for we have sworn friendship with each other in the name of the Lord” (20:42). Jonathan and David’s friendship was characterized by love even at great personal cost. It’s a beautiful reminder that God is powerfully at work when we love our friends more than ourselves (John 16:12–13).
2/11/20240
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God’s Transforming Word

When Kristin wanted to buy a special book for Xio-Hu, her Chinese husband, the only one she could find in Chinese was a Bible. Although neither of them were believers in Christ, she hoped he would appreciate the gift anyway. At first sight of the Bible, he was angry, but eventually he picked it up. As he read, he became persuaded by the truth in its pages. Upset at this unforeseen development, Kristin started to read the Scriptures in order to refute Xio-Hu. To her surprise, she also came to faith in Jesus through being convinced by what she read. The apostle Paul knew the transforming nature of Scripture. Writing from prison in Rome, he urged Timothy, whom he mentored, to “continue in what you have learned . . . and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures” (2 Timothy 3:14–15). In the original language, the Greek for “continuing” has the sense of “abiding” in what the Bible reveals. Knowing that Timothy would face opposition and persecution, Paul wanted him to be equipped for the challenges; he believed his protégé would find strength and wisdom in the Bible as he spent time pondering its truth. God through His Spirit brings Scripture alive. As we dwell in it, He changes us to be more like Him. Even as He did with Xio-Hu and Kristin.
2/10/20240
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God’s Great Love Cycle

As a new believer in Jesus at the age of thirty, I had lots of questions after committing my life to Him. When I started reading the Scriptures, I had even more questions. I reached out to a friend. “How can I possibly obey all God’s commands? I just snapped at my husband this morning!” “Just keep reading your Bible,” she said, “and ask the Holy Spirit to help you love like Jesus loves you.” After more than twenty years of living as a child of God, that simple but profound truth still helps me embrace the three steps in His great love cycle: First, the apostle Paul affirmed that love is central in the life of a believer in Jesus. Second, by continuing to pay the “debt to love one another,” followers of Christ will walk in obedience, “for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law” (Romans 13:8). Finally, we fulfill the law because “Love does no harm to a neighbor” (v. 10). When we experience the depth of God’s love for us, demonstrated best through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, we can respond with gratitude. Our grateful devotion to Jesus leads to loving others with our words, actions, and attitudes. Genuine love flows from the one true God who is love (1 John 4:19). Loving God, help us get caught up in Your great love cycle!
2/9/20240
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Brought Low

Pride precedes and often leads to humiliation—something a man in Norway found out. Not even dressed in running clothes, the individual arrogantly challenged Karsten Warholm—the world record holder in the 400-meter hurdles—to a race. Warholm, training in an indoor public facility, obliged the challenger and left him in his dust. At the finish line, the two-time world champion smiled when the man insisted that he’d had a bad start and wanted to race again! In Proverbs 29:23 we read, “Pride brings a person low, but the lowly in spirit gain honor.” God’s dealings with the proud is one of Solomon’s favorite themes in the book (11:2; 16:18; 18:12). The word pride in these verses means “swelling” or “puffed up”—taking credit for what rightfully belongs to God. When we’re filled with pride, we think more highly of ourselves than we should. Jesus once said, “Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12). Both He and Solomon point us to pursue humility and lowliness. This isn’t false modesty, but right-sizing oneself and acknowledging that all that we have comes from God. It’s being wise and not saying things arrogantly “in haste” (Proverbs 29:18, 20).    Let’s ask God to give us the heart and wisdom to humble ourselves to honor Him and avoid humiliation.
2/8/20240
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Angels on the Walls

When Wallace and Mary Brown moved to an impoverished part of Birmingham, England, to pastor a dying church, they didn’t know that a gang had made the grounds of their church and home its headquarters. The Browns had bricks thrown through their windows, their fences set on fire, and their children threatened. The abuse continued for months; the police were unable to stop it. The book of Nehemiah recounts how the Israelites rebuilt Jerusalem’s broken walls. When locals set out to “stir up trouble,” threatening them with violence (Nehemiah 4:2–8), the Israelites “prayed to . . . God and posted a guard” (v. 9). Feeling God used this passage to direct them, the Browns, their children, and a few others walked round their church’s walls, praying that He would install angels as guards to protect them. The gang jeered, but the next day, only half of them showed up. The day after that, only five were there, and the day after, no one came. The Browns later heard the gang had given up terrorizing people. This miraculous answer to prayer isn’t a formula for our own protection, but it’s a reminder that opposition to God’s work will come and must be fought with the weapon of prayer. “Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome,” Nehemiah told the Israelites (v. 14). He can even set violent hearts free.
2/7/20240
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Surrendering to God

Born on a farm, Judson Van DeVenter learned to paint, studied art, and became an art teacher. God, however, had a different plan for him. Friends valued his work in church and urged him to go into evangelism. Judson felt God calling him too, but it was hard for him to give up his love for teaching art. He wrestled with God, but “at last,” he wrote, “the pivotal hour of my life came, and I surrendered all.” We can’t imagine Abraham’s heartbreak when God called him to surrender his son Isaac. In the wake of God’s command to “sacrifice him there as a burnt offering” (Genesis 22:2) we ask ourselves what precious thing God is calling us to sacrifice. We know that God ultimately spared Isaac (v. 12), and yet the point is made: Abraham was willing to surrender what was most precious to him. He trusted God to provide in the midst of a most difficult calling. We say we love God, but are we willing to sacrifice what’s dearest to us? Judson Van DeVenter followed God’s call into evangelism and later penned the beloved hymn “I Surrender All.” In time, God called Judson back into teaching. One of his students was a young man named Billy Graham. God’s plan for our lives has purposes we can’t imagine. He longs for us to be willing to surrender what is dearest. Seems that’s the least we can do. After all, He sacrificed for us His only begotten Son.
2/6/20240
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Extending Dignity

Maggie’s guest showed up in church shockingly dressed. No one should have been surprised though; her young friend was a prostitute. Maggie’s visitor shifted uneasily in her seat, alternately tugging at her much-too-short skirt and folding her arms self-consciously around herself. “Oh, are you cold?” Maggie asked, deftly diverting attention away from how she was dressed. “Here! Take my shawl.” Maggie never evangelized in the traditional sense. Yet she introduced dozens of people to Jesus simply by inviting them to come to church and helping them feel comfortable. The gospel had a way of shining through her winsome methods. She treated everyone with dignity. When religious leaders dragged a woman before Jesus with the harsh (and accurate) charge of adultery, Christ kept the attention off her until He sent her accusers away. Once they were gone, He could have scolded her. Instead, He asked two simple questions: “Where are they?” and “Has no one condemned you?” (John 8:10). The answer to the latter question, of course, was no. So Jesus gave her the gospel in one brief statement: “Then neither do I condemn you.” And then the invitation: “Go now and leave your life of sin” (v. 11). Never underestimate the power of genuine love for people—the kind of love that refuses to condemn, even as it extends dignity and forgiveness to everyone.  
2/5/20240
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Rewired by Gratitude

After being diagnosed with a brain tumor, Christina Costa noticed how much of the talk around facing cancer is dominated by the language of fighting. She found that this metaphor quickly started to feel exhausting. She “didn’t want to spend over a year at war with [her] own body.” Instead, what she found most helpful were daily practices of gratitude—for the team of professionals caring for her and for the ways her brain and body were showing healing. She experienced firsthand that no matter how difficult the struggle, practices of gratitude can help resist depression and “wire our brains to help us build resilience.” Costa’s powerful story reminded me that practicing gratitude isn’t just something believers do out of duty. Although it’s true that God deserves our gratitude, it’s also profoundly good for us. When we lift up our hearts to say, “Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits” (Psalm 103:2), we’re reminded of the countless ways God’s at work—assuring us of forgiveness, working healing in our bodies and hearts, letting us experience “love and compassion” and countless “good things” in His creation (vv. 3–5). While not all suffering will find complete healing in this lifetime, our hearts can always be renewed by gratitude, for God’s love is with us “from everlasting to everlasting” (v. 17). 
2/4/20240
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Gifted with Love

On her wedding day, Gwendolyn Stulgis wore the wedding dress of her dreams. Then she gave it away—to a stranger. Stulgis believed a dress deserved more than sitting in a closet collecting dust. Other brides agreed. Now scores of women have bonded on her social media site to donate and receive wedding dresses. As one giver said, “I hope this dress gets passed from bride to bride to bride, and it just gets worn out and is in tatters at the end of its life because of all the celebrating that’s done in it.” The spirit of giving can feel like a celebration, indeed. As it is written, “One person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed” (Proverbs 11:24–25). The apostle Paul taught this principle in the New Testament. As he said his goodbyes to the believers in Ephesus, he gave them a blessing (Acts 20:32) and reminded them of the importance of generosity. Paul pointed to his own work ethic as an example for them to follow. “In everything I did,” he said, “I showed you that by . . . hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus Himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (v. 35). Being generous reflects God. “For God so loved the world that He gave” (John 3:16). Let’s follow His glorious example as He guides us.
2/3/20240
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Deep Friendship in Christ

There’s a monument in the chapel of Christ’s College, Cambridge, dedicated to two seventeenth-century physicians, John Finch and Thomas Baines. Known as the “inseparable friends,” Finch and Baines collaborated on medical research and traveled together on diplomatic trips. When Baines died in 1680, Finch lamented their “unbroken marriage of souls” that had lasted thirty-six years. Theirs had been a friendship of affection, loyalty, and commitment. King David and Jonathan had a friendship equally as close. They shared deep mutual affection (1 Samuel 20:41), and even made vows of commitment to each other (vv. 8–17, 42). Their friendship was marked by radical loyalty (1 Samuel 19:1; 20:13), Jonathan even sacrificing his right to the throne so David could become king (20:30–31). When Jonathan died, David lamented that Jonathan’s love to him had been “more wonderful than that of women” (2 Samuel 1:26). We may feel uncomfortable today likening friendship to marriage, but maybe friendships like Finch and Baines’ and David and Jonathan’s can help our own reach greater depth. Jesus welcomed His friends to lean against Him (John 13:23–25), and the affection, loyalty, and commitment He shows us can be the basis of the deep friendships we build together.
2/2/20240
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All-Star Humility

After a game, a college basketball star stayed behind to help workers throw out empty cups and food wrappers. When a fan posted a video of him in action, more than eighty thousand people viewed it. One person commented, “[The young man] is one of the most humble guys you will ever meet in your life.” It would’ve been easier for the basketball player to leave with his teammates and celebrate his role in the team’s victory. Instead, he volunteered for a selfless job. The ultimate spirit of humility is seen in Jesus, who left His high position in heaven to take the role of a servant on earth (Philippians 2:7). Jesus didn’t have to do it, but He willingly humbled himself. His ministry on earth included teaching, healing, and loving all people—and dying and rising to save them. Although Christ’s example can inspire us to sweep a floor, pick up a hammer, or dish up food, it may be most powerful when it finds its way into our attitude toward others. True humility is an inner quality that not only changes our actions but also changes what’s important to us. It motivates us to “value others above [ourselves]” (v. 3). Author and preacher Andrew Murray said, “Humility is the bloom and the beauty of holiness.” May our lives reflect this beauty as, through the power of His Spirit, we reflect the heart of Christ (vv. 2–5).
2/1/20240
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Fully Surrendered to Christ

In 1920, John Sung, the sixth child of a Chinese pastor, received a scholarship to study at a university in the United States. He graduated with the highest honors, completed a master’s program, and earned a PhD. But while pursuing his studies, he had walked away from God. Then, one night in 1927, he surrendered his life to Him and felt called to be a preacher. Many high-paying opportunities awaited him back in China, but on the ship home, he was convicted by the Holy Spirit to lay aside his ambitions. As a symbol of his commitment, he threw all his awards into the sea, keeping only his PhD certificate to give to his parents out of respect for them. John Sung understood what Jesus said about becoming His disciples: “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” (Mark 8:36). As we deny ourselves (v. 34) and leave our old life behind (v. 35) to follow Christ and His leading, it may mean sacrificing personal desires and material gain that distract us from following Him. For the next twelve years, John carried out his God-given mission wholeheartedly, preaching the gospel to thousands throughout China and Southeast Asia. How about us? We may not be called to be preachers or missionaries, but wherever God calls us to serve, by His Spirit working in us, may we fully surrender to Him.
1/31/20240
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Jesus Our King

While drilling for oil in one of the sunniest and driest countries in the world, teams were shocked to uncover a huge underground system of water. So, in 1983 the “great man-made river” project was begun, placing a system of pipes to carry the high-quality fresh water to cities where it was sorely needed. A plaque near the project’s inception states, “From here flows the artery of life.” The prophet Isaiah used the image of water in a desert to describe a future righteous king (Isaiah 32). As kings and rulers reigned with justice and righteousness, they would be like “streams of water in the desert, and the shadow of a great rock in a thirsty land” (v. 2). Some rulers choose to take, instead of give. The mark of a God-honoring leader, however, is someone who brings shelter, refuge, refreshment, and protection. Isaiah said the fruit of God’s righteousness is peace for His people, “its effect will be quietness and confidence forever” (v. 17). Isaiah’s words of hope would later find fullness of meaning in Jesus, who “himself will come down from heaven . . . and we will be with the Lord forever” (1 Thessalonians 4:16–17). “The great man-made river” is just that—made by human hands. Someday that water reservoir will be depleted. But our righteous King brings refreshment and water of life that will never run dry.
1/30/20240
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Sharing by Caring

The young pastor prayed every morning, asking God to use him that day to bless someone. Often, to his delight, such a situation arose. One day during a break at his second job, he sat in the sunshine with a coworker who asked him about Jesus. The pastor simply answered the other man’s questions. No rant. No arguing. The pastor commented that being guided by the Holy Spirit led him to have a casual talk that felt effective but loving. He made a new friend as well—someone hungry to learn more about God. Letting the Holy Spirit lead us is the best way to tell others about Jesus. He told His disciples, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8). The fruit of the Spirit “is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22–23). Living under the Spirit’s control, that young pastor put into practice what Peter instructed: “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15.) Even if we suffer for following Christ, our words show the world that His Spirit leads us. Then our walk will draw others to Him.
1/29/20240
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God’s Gift of Grace

As I was grading another stack of papers for a college writing class I teach, I was impressed with one particular paper. It was so well-written! Soon, though, I realized it was too well-written. Sure enough, a little research revealed that the paper had been plagiarized from an online source. I sent the student an email to let her know that her ruse had been discovered. She was getting a zero on this paper, but she could write a new paper for partial credit. Her response: “I am humiliated and very sorry. I appreciate the grace you are showing me. I don’t deserve it.” I responded by telling her that we all receive Jesus’ grace every day, so how could I deny showing her grace?  There are many ways God’s grace enhances our lives and redeems us from our errors. Peter says it gives salvation. “We believe it is through the grace of the Lord that we are saved” (Acts 15:11); Paul says it helps us not to be overtaken by sin. “For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14); Peter says grace allows us to serve. “Use whatever gift you have received . . . as faithful stewards of God’s grace” (1 Peter 4:10). Grace. So freely given by God (Ephesians 4:7). May we use this gift to love and encourage others.
1/28/20240
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Refreshing Words

Standing in the kitchen, my daughter exclaimed, “Mom, there’s a fly in the honey!” I quipped back with the familiar adage, “You will always catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” While this was the first time I’d (accidentally) caught a fly with honey, I found myself quoting this modern proverb because of its wisdom: kind requests are more likely to persuade others than a bitter attitude. The book of Proverbs gives us a collection of wise proverbs and sayings inspired by God’s Spirit. These inspired sayings help to guide us and teach us important truths about how to live in ways that honor God. Many of the proverbs focus on interpersonal relationships, including the profound effect our words can have on others. In a section of proverbs attributed to King Solomon, he warned against the harm caused by speaking falsely against a neighbor (v. 18). He counseled that a “sly tongue” results in dreary relationships (Proverbs 25:23). Solomon warned against the chilling effect of constantly using complaining words (v. 24). And the king encouraged readers that blessing comes when our words bring good news (v. 25). As we seek to apply these truths, we have God’s Spirit who helps us give a “proper answer” (16:1). Empowered by Him, our words can be sweet and refreshing
1/27/20240
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No More Prejudice

Many years ago, Julie Landsman auditioned for principal French hornist for New York’s Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. The MET held their auditions behind a screen to avoid prejudice by the judges. Landsman did well in her audition and ended up winning the competition. But when she stepped out from behind the screen, some of the all-male judges walked to the rear of the room and turned their backs on her. Apparently, they were looking for someone else. When the Israelites asked for a king, God accommodated the people and gave them a man who was physically imposing like the other nations had (1 Samuel 8:5; 9:2). But because Saul’s first years as king were marked by faithlessness and disobedience, God sent Samuel to Bethlehem to anoint a new king (16:1–13). When Samuel saw Eliab, the oldest son, he assumed that God had chosen him to be king because he was physically impressive. But God challenged Samuel’s thinking: “People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (v. 7). God had chosen David to lead His people (v. 12).  When evaluating people’s ability and suitability for His purposes, God looks at character, will, and motives. He invites us to be attuned to see the world and people as He does—focusing on peoples’ hearts and not their outward appearance or credentials.
1/26/20240
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Strange Places

God, why is this happening? Is this really your plan for us? As a husband and a dad of young children, those questions and more swirled in my mind as I wrestled with a serious cancer diagnosis. What’s more, our family had just served with a missions team that had seen many children receive Jesus as their Savior. God had been bringing forth evident fruit. There was so much joy. And now this? Esther likely poured out questions and prayers to God after she was plucked from a loving home and thrust into a strange new world (Esther 2:8). Her cousin Mordecai had raised her as his own daughter after she’d been orphaned (v. 7). But then she was placed in a king’s harem and eventually elevated to serve as his queen (v. 17). Mordecai was understandably concerned about what “was happening to” Esther (v. 11). But in time, the two realized that God had called her to be in a place of great power “for such a time as this” (4:14)—a place that allowed for her people to be saved from destruction (chs. 7–8). It’s evident that God providentially placed Esther in a strange place as part of His perfect plan. He did the same with me. As I endured a lengthy battle with cancer, I was privileged to share my faith with many, many patients and caregivers. What strange place has He led you to? Trust Him. He’s good, and so are His plans (Romans 11:33–36).
1/25/20240
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Quick to Listen

I felt my heartrate increase as I opened my mouth to refute the charges a dear friend was leveling against me. What I had posted online had nothing to do with her as she implied. But before I replied, I whispered a prayer. I then calmed down and heard what she was saying and the hurt behind her words. It was clear that this went further than the surface. My friend was hurting and my need to defend myself dissolved as I chose to help her address her pain. During this conversation, I learned what James meant in today’s Scripture when he urged us to “be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (1:19). Listening can help us hear what may be behind the words and to avoid anger that “does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (v. 20). It allows us to hear the heart of the speaker. I think stopping and praying helped me greatly with my friend. I became much more sensitive to her words versus my own offense. Perhaps if I hadn’t stopped to pray, I would have fired back my thoughts and shared how offended I was. And while I haven’t always gotten the instruction James outlines right, that day, I think I did. Stopping to whisper a prayer before allowing anger and offense to take a hold of me was the key to listening quickly and speaking slowly (Proverbs 19:11). I pray that God will give me the wisdom to do this more often.
1/24/20240
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Scraps to Beauty

My wife, Miska, has a necklace and hoop earrings from Ethiopia. Their elegant simplicity reveals genuine artistry. What’s most astounding about these pieces, however, is their story. Due to decades of fierce conflict and a civil war that rages on, Ethiopia’s geography is littered with spent artillery shells and cartridges. As an act of hope, Ethiopians scour the torched earth cleaning up the scraps. And artisans craft jewelry out of what remains of the shells and cartridges. When I heard this story, I heard echoes of Micah boldly declaring God’s promise. One day, the prophet announced, the people would “beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks” (4:3). Tools meant to kill and maim would, because of God’s powerful action, be transformed into tools meant to nurture life. In God’s coming day, the prophet insisted, “nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore” (v. 4). Micah’s pronouncement was no harder to imagine in his day than ours. Like Israel of old, we face violence and war, and it seems impossible that the world could ever change. But God promises us that by His mercy and healing, this astounding day is coming. The thing for us, then, is to begin to live this truth now. God helps us to take on His work even now, turning scraps into beautiful things.
1/23/20240
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The Right Focus

We’d known Kha for more than a year. He was part of our small group from church who met weekly to discuss what we’d been learning about God. One evening during our regular meeting, he made a reference to having competed at the Olympics. The mention was so casual that it almost escaped my notice. Almost. Lo and behold, I learned I knew an Olympian who had competed in the bronze medal match! I couldn’t fathom that he’d not mentioned it before, but, for Kha, while his athletic achievement was a special part of his story, more important things were central to his identity: his family, his community, and his faith. wThe story in Luke 10:1–23 describes what should be central to our identity. When the seventy-two people Jesus sent out to tell others about the kingdom of God returned from their journeys, they reported to Him that “even the demons submit to us in your name” (v. 17). While Jesus acknowledged that He’d equipped them with tremendous power and protection, He said they were focused on the wrong thing. He insisted that their cause for rejoicing should be because their “names are written in heaven” (v. 20). Whatever achievements or abilities God has granted us, our greatest cause for rejoicing is that if we’ve entrusted ourselves to Jesus our names are written in heaven and we enjoy His daily presence in our lives.
1/22/20240
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Drop by Drop

“In everything / we look for pleasant ways of serving God,” writes sixteenth-century believer Teresa of Avila. She poignantly reflects on the many ways we seek to stay in control through easier, more “pleasant” methods than total surrender to God. We tend to slowly, tentatively, and even reluctantly grow to trust Him with all of ourselves. And so, Teresa confesses, “even as we measure out our lives to you / a bit at a time, / we must be content / to receive your gifts drop by drop, / until we have surrendered our lives wholly to you.” As human beings, trust doesn’t come naturally to many of us. So if experiencing God’s grace and love were dependent on our ability to trust and receive it, we’d be in trouble! But, as we read in 1 John 4, God’s love for us comes first (v. 19). He loved us long before we could love Him, so much that He was willing to sacrifice His Son for us (v. 10). “This is love,” John writes in wonder and gratitude. Gradually, gently, little by little, God heals our hearts to receive His love—drop by drop, His grace helps us surrender our fears (v. 18). Drop by drop, His grace reaches our hearts until we find ourselves experiencing showers of His abundant beauty and love.
1/21/20240
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Calling Out to God

In his book Adopted for Life, Dr. Russell Moore describes his family’s trip to an orphanage to adopt a child. As they entered the nursery, the silence was startling. The babies in the cribs never cried, and it wasn’t because they never needed anything but because they had learned that no one cared enough to answer. My heart ached as I read those words. I remember countless nights when our children were small. My wife and I would be sound asleep only to be startled awake by their cries: Daddy, I’m sick! or Mommy, I’m scared! One of us would spring into action and make our way to their bedroom to do our best to comfort and care for them. Our love for our children gave them reason to call for our help. An overwhelming number of the psalms are cries, or laments to God. Israel brought their laments to Him on the basis of His personal relationship with them. These were a people God had called His “firstborn,” and they were asking their Father to act accordingly. Such honest trust is seen in Psalm 25: “Turn to me and be gracious . . . free me from my anguish” (vv. 16–17). Children who are confident of the love of a caregiver do cry. As believers in Jesus—children of God—He has given us reason to call on Him. He hears and cares because of His great love.
1/20/20240
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God’s Protective Love

One summer night, the birds near our home suddenly erupted into chaotic cawing. The squawking intensified as the songbirds sent piercing calls from the trees. We finally realized why. As the sun set, a large hawk swooped from a treetop, sending the birds scattering in a screeching frenzy, sounding the alarm as they flew from danger. In our lives, spiritual warnings can be heard throughout Scripture—cautions against false teachings, for example. We may doubt that’s what we’re hearing. Because of His love for us, however, our heavenly Father provides the clarity of Scripture to make such spiritual dangers plain to us. Jesus taught, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves” (Matthew 7:15). He continued, “By their fruit you will recognize them. . . . Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.” Then He warned us, “By their fruit you will recognize them” (vv. 16–17; 20). “The prudent see danger and take refuge,” Proverbs 22:3 reminds us, “but the simple keep going and pay the penalty.” Embedded in such warnings is God’s protective love, revealed in His words to us. As the birds warned each other of physical danger, may we heed the Bible’s warnings to fly from spiritual danger and into His arms of refuge.
1/19/20240
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Washing Feet . . . and Dishes

On Charley and Jan’s fiftieth wedding anniversary, they shared breakfast at a café with their son Jon. That day, the restaurant was understaffed with just a manager, cook, and one teenage girl who was working as hostess, waitress, and busser. As they finished their breakfast, Charley turned to his wife and son and said, “Do you have anything important going on in the next few hours?” They didn’t. So, with permission from the manager, Charley and Jan began washing dishes in the back of the restaurant while Jon started clearing the cluttered tables. According to Jon, what happened that day wasn’t really that unusual. His parents had always set an example of Jesus who “did not come to be served, but to serve” (Mark 10:45). In John 13 we read about the last meal Christ shared with His disciples. That night, the Teacher taught them the principle of humble service by washing their dirty feet (vv. 14–15). If He was willing to do the lowly job of washing a dozen men’s feet, they too should joyfully serve others. Every avenue of service we encounter may look different, but one thing’s the same: there’s great joy in serving. The purpose behind acts of service isn’t to bring praise to the ones performing them, but to lovingly serve others while directing all praise to our humble, self-sacrificing God.
1/18/20240
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Choosing to Follow God

“The average person will make 773,618 decisions over a lifetime,” claims the Daily Mirror. The British newspaper goes on to assert that we “will come to regret 143,262 of them.” I have no idea how the paper arrived at these numbers, but it’s clear that we face countless decisions throughout our lifetime. The sheer quantity of them might become paralyzing, especially when we consider that all our choices have consequences, some far more momentous than others. After forty years wandering in the wilderness, the children of Israel stood at the threshold of their new homeland. Later, after entering the land, Joshua, their leader, issued to them a challenging choice. “Fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness,” he said. “Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped” (Joshua 24:14). Joshua told them, “If serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve . . . . But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (v. 15). As we begin each new day, possibilities stretch before us, leading to scores of decisions. Taking the time to ask God to guide us each day will influence the choices we make. By the power of the Spirit, we can choose to follow Him each and every day.
1/17/20240
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Learning from Mistakes

To help avoid future financial mistakes, such as those in 1929 and 2008 that brought down the world’s economy, The Library of Mistakes was founded in Edinburgh, Scotland. It features a collection of more than two thousand books that can help educate the next generation of economists. And it serves as a perfect example of how, according to the library’s curators, “smart people keep doing stupid things.” The curators believe that the only way to build a strong economy is to learn from prior mistakes. Paul reminded the Corinthians that one way to avoid yielding to temptation and to have a strong spiritual life is to learn from the mistakes of God’s people in the past. So to make sure they wouldn’t become overconfident with their spiritual privilege, the apostle used ancient Israel’s failures as an example from which to gain wisdom. The Israelites chose to “commit sexual immorality,” engaged in “idolatry,” grumbled about the plans and purposes of God, and rebelled against His leaders (1 Corinthians 10:7–10). Due to their sin, they experienced His discipline (vv. 8–10). Paul presented these historical “examples” from Scripture to help believers in Jesus avoid repeating Israel’s mistakes (v. 11). As God helps us, let’s learn from our mistakes and those made by others so that we might gain a heart of obedience for Him.
1/16/20240
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Serving Others for Jesus

Actress Nichelle Nichols is best remembered for playing Lieutenant Uhura in the original Star Trek series. Landing the role was a personal win for Nichols, making her one of the first African American women on a major TV show. But a greater win was to come of it. Nichols had actually resigned from Star Trek after its first season, to return to her theater work. But then she met Martin Luther King Jr., who urged her not to leave. For the first time, he said, African Americans were being seen on TV as intelligent people who could do anything, even go to space. By playing Lieutenant Uhura, Nichols was achieving a greater win—showing Black women and children what they could become. It reminds me of the time James and John asked Jesus for the two best positions in His kingdom (Mark 10:37). What personal wins such positions would be! Jesus not only explained the painful realities of their request (vv. 38–40) but called them to higher goals, saying, “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant” (v. 43). His followers weren’t to seek personal wins alone but, like Him, use their positions to serve others (v. 45). Nichelle Nichols stayed with Star Trek for the greater win it provided for African Americans. May we too never be content with a personal win alone but use whatever position we gain to serve others in His name.
1/15/20240
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A Gaze Fixed on God

Nineteenth-century Scottish pastor, Thomas Chalmers, once told the story of riding in a horse-drawn carriage in the Highlands region as it hugged a narrow mountain ledge, along a harrowing precipice. One of the horses startled, and the driver, fearing they would plummet to their death, repeatedly flicked his whip. After they made it past the danger, Chalmers asked the driver why he used the whip with such force. “I needed to give the horses something else to think about,” he said. “I needed to get their attention.” In a world overflowing with threats and dangers all around us, we all need something else to arrest our attention. However, we need more than merely mental distraction—a kind of psychological trick. What we most need is to fasten our minds upon a reality more powerful than all our fears. As Isaiah told God’s people in Judah, what we truly need is to fix our minds on God. “You will keep in perfect peace,” Isaiah promises, “all who trust in you” (Isaiah 26:3). And we can “trust in the Lord always, for the Lord God is the eternal Rock” (v. 4). Peace—this is the gift for all who fix their gaze on God. And His peace provides far more than only a technique for holding our worst thoughts at bay. For those who will surrender their future, their hopes, and their worries, the Spirit makes an entirely new way of life possible.
1/14/20240
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Persevering in Jesus

When I was studying in seminary years ago, we had a weekly chapel service. At one service, while we students were singing “Great is the Lord,” I spotted three of our well-loved professors singing with fervor. Their faces radiated joy, made possible only by their faith in God. Years later, as each went through terminal illness, it was this faith that enabled them to endure and encourage others. Today, the memory of my teachers singing continues to encourage me to keep going in my trials. To me, they’re a few of the many inspiring stories of people who lived by faith. They’re a reminder of how we can follow the author’s call in Hebrews 12:2−3 to fix our eyes on Jesus who “For the joy set before him . . . endured the cross” (v. 2).   When trials—from persecution or life’s challenges—make it hard to keep going, we have the example of those who took God at His word and trusted in His promises. We can “run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (v. 1), remembering that Jesus—and those who have gone before us—was able to endure. The writer urges us to “Consider him . . . so that [we] will not grow weary and lose heart” (v. 3). My teachers, now happy in heaven, would likely say: “The life of faith is worth it. Keep going.”
1/13/20240
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God’s Worker

In a refugee camp in the Middle East, when Reza received a Bible, he came to know and believe in Jesus. His first prayer in Christ’s name was, “Use me as your worker.” Later, after he left the camp, God answered that prayer when he unexpectedly secured a job with a relief agency, returning to the camp to serve the people he knew and loved. He set up sports clubs, language classes, and legal advice—“anything that can give people hope.” He sees these programs as a way to serve others and to share God’s wisdom and love. When reading his Bible, Reza felt an instant connection with the story of Joseph from Genesis. He noticed how God used Joseph to further His work while he was in prison. Because God was with Joseph, He showed him kindness and granted him favor. The prison warden put Joseph in charge and didn’t have to pay attention to matters there because God gave Joseph “success in whatever he did” (Genesis 39:23). God promises to be with us too. Whether we’re facing imprisonment—literal or figurative—hardship, displacement, heartache, or sorrow, we can trust that God will never leave us. Just as He enabled Reza to serve those in the camp and Joseph to run the prison, He will stay close to us always.
1/12/20240
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A Simple Request

“Please clean the front room before you go to bed,” I said to one of my daughters. Instantly came the reply, “Why doesn’t she have to do it?”  Such mild resistance was frequent in our home when our girls were young. My response was always the same: “Don’t worry about your sisters; I asked you.” In John 21, we see this human tendency illustrated among the disciples. Jesus had just restored Peter after he had denied Him three times (see John 18:15–18, 25–27). Now Jesus said to Peter, “Follow me!” (21:19)—a simple but painful command. Jesus explained that Peter would follow him to the death (vv. 18–19). Peter barely had time to comprehend Jesus’ words before he asked about the disciple behind them: “What about him?” (v. 21). Jesus replied, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?” Then He said, “You must follow me” (v. 22). How often we’re like Peter! We wonder about the faith journeys of others and not what God is doing with us. Late in his life, when the death Jesus foretold in John 21 was much closer, Peter elaborated on Jesus’ simple command: “As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do” (1 Peter 1:14–15). That’s enough to keep each of us focused on Jesus and not on those around us.
1/11/20240
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A Call to Prayer

Abraham Lincoln confided to a friend, “I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go.” In the horrific years of the American Civil War, President Lincoln not only spent time in fervent prayer but also called the country to join him. In 1861, he proclaimed a “day of humiliation, prayer and fasting.” And he did so again in 1863, stating, “It is the duty of nations as well as of men to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God: to confess their sins and transgressions in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon.” After the Israelites had been captives in Babylon for seventy years, King Cyrus permitted the Israelites to return to Jerusalem, and a remnant did. When Nehemiah, an Israelite and cupbearer to the king of Babylon (Nehemiah 1:11), learned that those who had returned were “in great trouble and disgrace” (v. 3), he “sat down and wept” and spent days fasting and praying (v. 4). He wrestled in prayer for his nation (vv. 5–11). And later, he too called his people to fast and pray (9:4–37). Centuries later, in the days of the Roman Empire, the apostle Paul gave his readers reason to also pray for those in authority (1 Timothy 2:1–2). Our God still hears our prayers about matters that affect the lives of others.
1/10/20240
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Love Beyond Counting

“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” Those words from Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnets from the Portuguese are among the best-known poetry in the English language. She wrote them to Robert Browning before they were married, and he was so moved he encouraged her to publish her entire collection of poems. But because the language of the sonnets was very tender, out of a desire for personal privacy Barrett published them as if they were translations from a Portuguese writer. Sometimes we can feel awkward when we openly express affection for others. But the Bible, by contrast, doesn’t hold back on its presentation of God’s love. Jeremiah recounted God’s affection for His people with these tender words: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness” (Jeremiah 31:3). Even though His people had turned from Him, God promised to restore them and personally draw them near. “I will come to give rest to Israel,” He told them (v. 2). Jesus is the ultimate expression of God’s restorative love, giving peace and rest to any who turn to Him.  From the manger to the cross to the empty tomb, He’s the personification of God’s desire to call a wayward world to Himself. Read the Bible cover to cover and you’ll “count the ways” of God’s love over and over; but eternal as they are, you’ll never come to their end.
1/9/20240
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Willing Savior

While driving late at night, Nicholas saw a house on fire. He parked in the driveway, rushed into the burning home, and led four children to safety. When the teenage babysitter realized one of the siblings was still inside, she told Nicholas. Without hesitation, he reentered the inferno. Trapped on the second floor with the six-year-old girl, Nicholas broke a window. He jumped to safety with the child in his arms, just as emergency teams arrived at the scene. Choosing concern for others over himself, he rescued all the children. Nicholas demonstrated heroism by his willingness to sacrifice his safety for the sake of others. This powerful act of love reflects the kind of sacrificial love shown by another willing rescuer who gave His life to deliver us from sin and death—Jesus. “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6). The apostle Paul emphasized that Jesus—fully God in the flesh and fully man—chose to lay His life down and pay the price for our sins, a price we could never pay on our own. “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (v. 8). As we thank and trust Jesus—our willing Savior—He can empower us to love others sacrificially, with our words and our actions.
1/8/20240
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Ripe for God’s Restoration

The pictures coming from a friend’s text stream were stunning! Photos of a surprise gift for his wife revealed a restored 1965 Ford Mustang: brilliant, dark blue exterior; sparkling chrome rims; reupholstered black interior; and a motor to match the other upgrades. There were also “before” pictures of the same vehicle—a dull, worn, unimpressive yellow version. While it may be difficult to envision, it’s likely that when the vehicle rolled off the assembly line in 1964, it was also an eye-catcher. But time, wear and tear, and other factors had made it ripe for restoration. Ripe for restoration! Such was the condition of God’s people in Psalm 80 and thus the repeated prayer: “Restore us, O God; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved” (vv. 3, 7, 19). Though their history had included rescue from Egypt and being planted in a land of plenty (vv. 8–11), the good times had come and gone. Because of rebellion, they were experiencing the hand of God’s judgment (vv. 12–13). Thus, their plea: “Return to us, God Almighty! Look down from heaven and see!” (v. 14). Do you ever feel dull, distant, disconnected from God? Is joyful soul-satisfaction missing? Is it because alignment with Jesus and His purposes is missing? God hears our prayers for restoration (v. 1). What’s keeping you from asking?
1/7/20240
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The Meaning of Myrrh

Today is Epiphany—the event described by the carol “We Three Kings of Orient Are.” It’s the time when Gentile wisemen visited the child Jesus. Yet they weren’t kings, they weren’t from the Far East (as Orient formerly meant), and it’s unlikely there were three of them. There were, however, three gifts, and the carol considers each. When the magi arrived in Bethlehem, “They opened their treasures and presented [Jesus] with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh” (Matthew 2:11). The gifts symbolize Jesus’ mission. Gold represents His role as King. Frankincense, mixed with the incense burned in the sanctuary, speaks of His deity. Myrrh, used to embalm dead bodies, gives us pause. The fourth verse of the carol says, “Myrrh is mine; its bitter perfume / breathes a life of gathering gloom; / sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying, / sealed in the stone-cold tomb.” We wouldn’t write such a scene into the story, but God did. Jesus’ death is central to our salvation. Herod even attempted to kill Jesus while He was yet a child (v. 13). The carol’s last verse weaves the three themes together: “Glorious now behold him arise; / King and God and sacrifice.” This completes the story of Christmas, inspiring our response: “Alleluia, Alleluia, / sounds through the earth and skies.”
1/6/20240
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God at the Crossroads

After days of illness and then spiking a high temperature, it was clear my husband needed emergency care. The hospital admitted him immediately. One day folded into the next. He improved, but not enough to be released. I faced the difficult choice to stay with my husband or fulfill an important work trip where many people and projects were involved. My husband assured me he’d be fine. But my heart was torn between him and my work. God’s people needed His help at the crossroads of life’s decisions. Far too often, they hadn’t adhered to His revealed instructions. So Moses implored the people to “choose life” by following His commands (Deuteronomy 30:19). Later, the prophet Jeremiah offered words of direction to God’s wayward people, wooing them to follow His ways. “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it” (Jeremiah 6:16). The ancient paths of Scripture and God’s past provision can direct us.  I imagined myself at a physical crossroads and applied Jeremiah’s template of wisdom. My husband needed me. So did my work. Just then, my supervisor called and encouraged me to remain home. I drew a breath and thanked God for His provision at the crossroads. God’s direction doesn’t always come so clearly, but it does come. When we stand at the crossroads, let’s make sure to look for Him.
1/5/20240
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Quiet Faithfulness in Christ

I didn’t notice him at first. I’d come down for breakfast at my hotel. Everything in the dining room was clean. The buffet table was filled. The refrigerator was stocked, the utensil container packed tight. Everything was perfect. Then I saw him. An unassuming man refilled this, wiped that. He didn’t draw attention to himself. But the longer I sat, the more I was amazed. The man was working very fast, noticing everything, and refilling everything before anyone might need something. As a food service veteran, I noticed his constant attention to detail. Everything was perfect because this man was working faithfully—even if few noticed. Watching this man work so meticulously, I recalled Paul’s words to the Thessalonians: “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands . . . so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders” (1 Thessalonians 4:11–12).  Paul understood how a faithful worker might win others’ respect—offering a quiet testimony to how the gospel can infuse even seemingly small acts of service for others with dignity and purpose. I don’t know if the man I saw that day was a believer in Jesus. But I’m grateful his quiet diligence reminded me to rely on God to live out a quiet faithfulness that reflects His faithful ways.
1/4/20240
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Spotting Hope

Oceanographer Sylvia Earle has seen the deterioration of coral reefs firsthand. She founded Mission Blue, an organization devoted to the development of global Hope Spots. These special places around the world are “critical to the health of the ocean,” which impacts our lives on earth. Through the intentional care for these areas, scientists have seen the relationships of underwater communities restored and lives of endangered species saved.  In Psalm 33, the psalmist acknowledges that God spoke everything into existence and ensured that all He made would stand firm (vv. 6–9). As God reigns over generations and nations (vv. 11–19), He alone restores relationships, saves lives, and revitalizes hope. However, God invites us to join Him in caring for the world and the people He created.  Each time we praise God for the whisper of a rainbow splashed across a clouded, gray sky or the glistening waves of the ocean crashing against a rocky shore, we can proclaim His “unfailing love” and presence as we “put our hope” in Him (v. 22).  When we’re tempted toward discouragement or fear as we consider the current state of the world, we may begin to believe we can’t make a difference. When we do our part as members of God’s care team, however, we can honor Him as the Creator and help others spot hope as they place their trust in Jesus.
1/3/20240
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The Son Also Rises

Ernest Hemingway’s first full-length novel features hard-drinking friends who have recently endured World War I. They bear the scars, literal and figurative, of the war’s devastation and try to cope with it via parties, grand adventures, and sleeping around. Always, there is alcohol to numb the pain. No one is happy. Hemingway’s title for his book, The Sun Also Rises, comes straight from the pages of Ecclesiastes (1:5 nkjv). In Ecclesiastes, King Solomon refers to himself as “the Teacher.” He observes, “Everything is meaningless” (v. 1) and asks, “What do people gain from all their labors?” (v. 3). Solomon saw how the sun rises and sets, the wind blows to and fro, the rivers flow endlessly into a never satisfied sea (vv. 5–7). Ultimately, all is forgotten (v. 11). Both Hemingway and Ecclesiastes confront us with the stark futility of living for this life only. Solomon, however, weaves bright hints of the divine into his book. There is permanence—and real hope. Ecclesiastes shows us as we truly are, but it also shows God as He is. “Everything God does will endure forever,” said Solomon (3:14), and therein lies our great hope. For God has given us the gift of us His Son Jesus. Apart from God, we’re adrift in an endless, never satisfied sea. Through His risen Son Jesus, we’re reconciled to Him. We discover our meaning, value, and purpose.
1/2/20240
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New Identity in Jesus

“I’m not who I once was. I’m a new person.” Those simple words from my son, spoken to students at a school assembly, describe the change God made in his life. Once addicted to heroin, Geoffrey previously saw himself through his sins and mistakes. But now he sees himself as a child of God. The Bible encourages us with this promise: “If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). No matter who we’ve been or what we’ve done in our past, when we trust Jesus for our salvation and receive the forgiveness offered through His cross, we become someone new. Since the Garden of Eden, the guilt of our sins separated us from God, but He has now “reconciled us to Himself through Christ,” “not counting” our sins against us (vv. 18–19). We are His dearly loved children (1 John 3:1–2), washed clean and made new in the likeness of His Son. Jesus is innocence found. He liberates us from sin and its dominating power and restores us to a new relationship with God—where we’re free to no longer live for ourselves but “for him who died for [us] and was raised again” (2 Corinthians 5:15). On this New Year’s Day, let’s remember that His transforming love compels us to live with new identity and purpose. It helps us point others to our Savior, the One who can make them new people too!
1/1/20240
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The Righteous City

On New Year’s Eve 2000, officials in Detroit carefully opened a hundred-year-old time capsule. Nestled inside the copper box were hopeful predictions from some city leaders who expressed visions of prosperity and technology. The mayor’s message, however, offered a different approach. He wrote, “May we be permitted to express one hope superior to all others . . . [that] you may realize as a nation, people, and city, you have grown in righteousness, for it is this that exalts a nation.” More than success, happiness, or peace, the mayor wished that future citizens would grow in what it means to be truly just and upright. Perhaps he took his cue from Jesus, who blessed those who long for God’s righteousness (Matthew 5:6). But it’s easy to get discouraged when we consider God’s perfect standard. Even with a century of striving, we would still fall short. Praise God that we don’t have to rely solely on our own effort to grow. The author of Hebrews said it this way: “May the God of peace . . . equip you with everything good for doing His will, and may He work in us what is pleasing to Him, through Jesus Christ” (Hebrews 13:20–21). We who are in Christ are made holy by his blood the moment we believe in Him (v. 12), but He actively grows the fruit of righteousness in our hearts throughout a lifetime. We will often stumble on the journey, yet still we look forward to “the city that is to come” where God’s righteousness will reign (v. 14).
12/31/20230
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Troubled Souls, Honest Prayers

Three days before a bomb blast rocked his home in January 1957, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had an encounter that marked him for the rest of his life. After receiving a threatening phone call, King found himself pondering an exit strategy from the civil rights movement. Then prayers emerged from his soul. “I am here taking a stand for what I believe is right. But now I am afraid. I have nothing left. I’ve come to the point where I can't face it alone.” After his prayer, there came quiet assurance. King noted, “Almost at once my fears began to go. My uncertainty disappeared. I was ready to face anything.” In John 12, Jesus acknowledged, “My soul is troubled” (v. 27). He was transparently honest about His internal disposition; still He was God-centered in His prayer. “Father, glorify your name!” (v. 28). Jesus’ prayer was one of surrender to God’s will. How human it is for us to feel the pangs of fear and discomfort when we find ourselves with the option of honoring God or not; when wisdom requires making hard decisions about relationships, habits, or other patterns (good or bad). No matter what we’re faced with, as we pray boldly to God, He’ll give us the strength to overcome our fear and discomfort and do what brings glory to Him—for our good and the good of others.
12/30/20230
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The Crown of Life

A twelve-year-old named LeeAdianez Rodriguez-Espada was worried that she’d be late for a 5K run (just over 3 miles). Her anxiousness led her to take off with a group of runners fifteen minutes earlier than her start time with participants of the half marathon (more than 13 miles!). LeeAdianez fell in pace with other runners and put one foot in front of the other. At mile four, with the finish line nowhere in sight, she realized that she was in a longer and more difficult race. Instead of dropping out, she simply kept running. The accidental half-marathoner completed her 13.1-mile race and placed 1,885th out of 2,111 finishers. Now that’s perseverance! While undergoing persecution, many first-century believers in Jesus wanted to drop out of the race for Christ, but James encouraged them to keep running. If they patiently endured testing, God promised a double reward (James 1:1, 12). First, “perseverance [would] finish its work” so they could be “mature and complete, not lacking anything” (v. 4). Second, God would give them the “crown of life”—life in Jesus on earth and the promise of being in His presence in the life to come (v. 12).  Some days the Christian race feels like it’s not the one we signed up for—it’s something longer and more difficult than we expected. But as God provides what we need, we can persevere and keep on running.
12/29/20230
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Meeting the Needs of Others

Phillip’s father suffered from severe mental illness and had left home to live on the streets. After Cyndi and her young son Phillip spent a day searching for him, Phillip was rightly concerned for his well-being. He asked his mother whether his father and other people without homes were warm. In response, they launched an effort to collect and distribute blankets and cold-weather gear to homeless people in the area. For more than a decade, Cyndi has considered it her life’s work, crediting her son and her deep faith in God for awakening her to the hardship of being without a warm place to sleep. The Bible has long taught us to respond to the needs of others. In the book of Exodus, Moses records a set of principles to guide our interaction with those who lack plentiful resources. When we’re moved to supply the needs of another, we’re to “not treat it like a business deal” and should make no gain or profit from it (Exodus 22:25). If a person’s cloak was taken as collateral, it was to be returned by sunset “because that cloak is the only covering your neighbor has. What else can they sleep in?” (v. 27). Let’s ask God to open our eyes and hearts to see how we can ease the pain of those who are suffering. Whether we seek to meet the needs of many—as Cyndi and Phillip have—or those of a single person, we honor Him by treating them with dignity and care.  
12/28/20230
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God’s Wisdom Saves Lives

A mail carrier became concerned after seeing one of her customers’ mail pile up. The postal worker knew the elderly woman lived alone and usually picked up her mail every day. Making a wise choice, the worker mentioned her concern to one of the woman’s neighbors. This neighbor alerted yet another neighbor, who had a spare key to the woman’s home. Together they entered their friend’s home and found her lying on the floor. She had fallen four days earlier and couldn’t get up or call for help. The postal worker’s wisdom, concern, and decision to act likely saved this woman’s life. Proverbs says “the one who is wise saves lives” (11:30). The discernment that comes from doing right and living according to God’s wisdom can bless not only ourselves but those we encounter too. The fruit of living out what honors Him and His ways can produce a good and refreshing life. And our fruit also prompts us to care about others and to look out for their well-being. As the writer of Proverbs asserts throughout the book, wisdom is found in reliance on God. Wisdom is considered “more precious than rubies and nothing else you desire can compare with her” (8:11.) The wisdom God provides is there to guide us throughout our lives. It just might save a life for eternity.
12/27/20230
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The Day after Christmas

After all the joy of Christmas Day, the following day felt like a letdown. We’d stayed overnight with friends but hadn’t slept well. Then our car broke down as we were driving home. Then it started to snow. We had abandoned the car and taxied home in the snow and sleet feeling blah. We’re not the only ones who’ve felt low after Christmas Day. Whether it’s from excessive eating, the way carols suddenly disappear from the radio, or the fact that the gifts we bought last week are now on sale half price, the magic of Christmas Day can quickly dissipate! The Bible never tells us about the day after Jesus’ birth. But we can imagine that after walking to Bethlehem, scrambling for accommodation, enduring the pain of giving birth, and having shepherds drop by unannounced (Luke 2:4–18), Mary and Joseph were exhausted. Yet as Mary cradled her newborn, I can imagine her reflecting on her angelic visitation (1:30–33), Elizabeth’s blessing (vv. 42–45), and her own realization of her baby’s destiny (vv. 46–55). Mary “pondered” such things in her heart (2:19), which must’ve lightened the tiredness and physical pain of that day. We’ll all have “blah” days, perhaps even the day after Christmas. Like Mary, let’s face them by pondering the One who came into our world, forever brightening it with His presence.
12/26/20230
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The Promise of Christ’s Birth

In November 1962, physicist John W. Mauchly said, “There is no reason to suppose the average boy or girl cannot be master of a personal computer.” Mauchly’s prediction seemed remarkable at the time, but it proved astonishingly accurate. Today, using a computer or handheld device is one of the earliest skills a child learns. While Mauchly’s prediction has come true, so have much more important predictions—those made in Scripture about the coming of Christ. For example, Micah 5:2 declared, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” God sent Jesus, who arrived in tiny Bethlehem—marking him as from the royal line of David (see Luke 2:4–7). The same Bible that accurately predicted the first coming of Jesus also promises His return (Acts 1:11). Jesus promised His first followers that He would come back for them (John 14:1–4). This Christmas, as we ponder the accurately predicted facts surrounding the birth of Jesus, may we also consider His promised return, and allow Him to prepare us for that majestic moment when we see Jesus face to face!
12/25/20230
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The Christmas Star

“If you find that star, you can always find your way home.” Those were my father’s words when he taught me how to locate the North Star as a child. Dad had served in the armed forces during wartime, and there were moments when his life depended on being able to navigate by the night sky. So he made sure I knew the names and locations of several constellations, but it was being able to find Polaris that mattered most of all. Knowing that star’s location meant I could gain a sense of direction wherever I was and find where I was supposed to be. Scripture tells of another star of vital importance. “Magi from the east,” learned men (from an area encompassed by Iran and Iraq today) had been watching for signs in the sky of the birth of the One who was to be God’s king for His people. They came to Jerusalem asking “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and came to worship him” (Matthew 2:1–2). Astronomers don’t know what caused the star of Bethlehem to appear, but the Bible reveals that God created it to point the world to Jesus—“the bright Morning Star” (Revelation 22:16). Christ came to save us from our sins and guide us back to God. Follow Him, and you’ll find your way home.
12/24/20230
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Fellowship in Jesus

I’m not sure who’s responsible for turning out the lights and locking up the church after our Sunday morning service, but I know one thing about that person: Sunday dinner is going to be delayed. That’s because so many people love to hang around after church and talk about life decisions, heart issues and struggles, and more. It’s a joy to look around twenty minutes after the service and see so many people still enjoying each other’s company. Fellowship is a key component of the Christlike life. Without the connectivity that comes from spending time with fellow believers, we’d miss out on many benefits of being a believer. For instance, Paul says we can “encourage one another and build each other up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). The author of Hebrews agrees, telling us not to neglect getting together, because we need to be “encouraging one another” (10:25). And the writer also says that when we’re together, we “spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (v. 24). As people dedicated to living for Jesus, we prepare ourselves for faithfulness and service as we “encourage the disheartened” and are “patient with everyone” (1 Thessalonians 5:14). Living that way, as He helps us, allows us to enjoy true fellowship and “to do what is good for each other and for everyone else” (v. 15).
12/23/20230
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Walls Torn Down, Unity Found

Since 1961, families and friends had been separated by the Berlin Wall. Erected that year by the East German government, the barrier kept its citizens from fleeing to West Germany. In fact, from 1949 to the day the structure was built, it’s estimated that more than 2.5 million East Germans had bolted to the West. US President Ronald Reagan stood at the wall in 1987 and famously said, “Tear down this wall.” His words reflected a groundswell of change in the region that culminated with the wall being torn down in 1989—leading to Germany’s joyous reunification. Paul wrote of a “wall of hostility” torn down by Jesus (Ephesians 2:14). The wall had existed between Jews (God’s chosen people) and gentiles (all other people). And it was symbolized by the dividing wall (the soreg) in the ancient temple erected by Herod the Great in Jerusalem. It kept gentiles from entering beyond the outer courts of the temple, though they could see the inner courts. But Jesus brought “peace” and reconciliation between the Jews and gentiles and between God and all people. He did so by “[breaking] down the wall . . . that separated us” by “his death on the cross” (vv. 14, 16 nlt). The “Good News of peace” made it possible for all to be united by faith in Christ (vv. 17–18 nlt). Today, there are many things that can divide us. As God provides what we need, let’s strive to live out and declare the peace and unity found in Jesus (vv. 19–22).
12/22/20230
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The Light of Hope

My mother’s shiny red cross should have been hanging next to her bed at the cancer care center. And I should have been preparing for holiday visits between her scheduled treatments. All I wanted for Christmas was another day with my mom. Instead, I was home . . . hanging her cross on a fake tree. When my son Xavier plugged in the lights, I whispered, “Thank You.” He said, “You’re welcome.” My son didn’t know I was thanking God for using the flickering bulbs to turn my eyes toward the ever-enduring Light of Hope—Jesus. The writer of Psalm 42 expressed his raw emotions to God (vv. 1–4). He acknowledged his “downcast” and “disturbed” soul before encouraging readers: “Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God” (v. 5). Though he was overcome with waves of sorrow and suffering, the psalmist’s hope shone through the remembrance of God’s past faithfulness (vv. 6–10). He ended by questioning his doubts and affirming the resilience of his refined faith: “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God” (v. 11). For many of us, the Christmas season stirs up both joy and sorrow. Thankfully, even these mixed emotions can be reconciled and redeemed through the promises of the true Light of Hope—Jesus.
12/21/20230
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Forgiveness and Forgetting

Jill Price was born with the condition of hyperthymesia: the ability to remember in extraordinary detail everything that ever happened to her. She can replay in her mind the exact occurrence of any event she’s experienced in her lifetime. A TV show, Unforgettable, was premised on a female police officer with hyperthymesia—to her a great advantage in trivia games and in solving crimes. For Jill Price however, the condition isn’t so much fun. She can’t forget the moments of life when she was criticized, experienced loss, or did something she deeply regretted. She replays those scenes in her head over and over again. Our God is omniscient (perhaps a kind of divine hyperthymesia): the Bible tells us that His understanding has no limit. And yet we discover in Isaiah a most reassuring thing: “I am he who blots out your transgressions . . . and remembers your sins no more” (Isaiah 43:25). The book of Hebrews reinforces this: “We have been made holy through . . . Jesus Christ [and our] sins and lawless acts [God] will remember no more” (Hebrews 10:10, 17). As we confess our sins to God, we can stop playing them over and over in our minds. We need to let them go, just as God does: “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past” (Isaiah 43:18). In His great love, God chooses to not remember our sins against us. Let’s remember that.
12/20/20230
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Learning from Scars

Faye touched the scars on her abdomen. She had endured another surgery to remove esophageal-stomach cancer. This time doctors had taken part of her stomach and left a jagged scar that revealed the extent of their work. She told her husband, “Scars represent either the pain of cancer or the start of healing. I choose my scars to be symbols of healing.” Jacob faced a similar choice after his all-night wrestling match with God. The divine assailant wrenched Jacob’s hip out of socket, so that he left their tussle exhausted and with a noticeable limp. Months later, when Jacob massaged his tender hip, I wonder what he reflected on? Was he filled with regret for his years of deceit that forced this fateful match? The divine messenger had wrestled the truth out of him, refusing to bless him until Jacob owned up to who he was. He confessed he was Jacob, the “heel grabber” (see Genesis 25:26). He’d played tricks on his brother Esau and father-in-law Laban, tripping them to gain advantage. The divine wrestler said Jacob’s new name would be “Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome” (v. 28). Jacob’s limp represented the death of his old life of deceit and the beginning of his new life with God. The end of Jacob and the start of Israel. His limp led him to lean on God, who now moved powerfully in and through him.
12/19/20230
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My God Is Near

For over thirty years, Lourdes, a voice teacher in Manila, had taught students face to face. When she was asked to conduct classes online, she was anxious. “I’m not good with computers,” she recounted. “My laptop is old, and I’m not familiar with video conferencing platforms.” While it may seem a small thing to some, it was a real stressor for her. “I live alone, so there is no one to help,” she said. “I’m concerned that my students will quit, and I need the income.” Before each class, Lourdes would pray for her laptop to work properly. “Philippians 4:5–6 was the wallpaper on my screen,” she said. “How I clung to those words.” Paul exhorts us to not be anxious about anything, because “the Lord is near” (Philippians 4:5). God’s promise of His presence is ours to hold on to. As we rest in His nearness and commit everything to Him in prayer—both big and small—His peace “guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (v. 7). “God led me to websites about fixing computer glitches,” Lourdes said. “He also gave me patient students who understood my technological limitations.” God’s presence, help, and peace are ours to enjoy as we follow Him all the days of our life. We can say with confidence: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (v. 4). 
12/18/20230
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Christmas Dilemma

David and Angie had felt called to move overseas, and the fruitful ministry that followed seemed to confirm it. But there was one downside to their move. David’s elderly parents would now spend Christmases alone. David and Angie tried to mitigate his parents’ Christmas Day loneliness by posting gifts early and calling on Christmas morning. But what his parents really wanted was them. With David’s income only permitting an occasional trip home, what else could they do? David needed wisdom. Proverbs 3 is a crash course in wisdom-seeking, showing us how to receive it by taking our situations to God (vv. 5–6), describing its qualities as love and faithfulness (vv. 3–4, 7–12), and its benefits as peace and longevity (vv. 13–18). In a touching note, it adds that God gives such wisdom by taking us “into His confidence” (v. 32). God whispers His solutions to those who are close to Him. Praying about his problem one night, David had an idea. Next Christmas Day, he and Angie put on their best clothes, decorated the table with tinsel, and brought in the roast dinner. David’s parents did the same. Then, placing a laptop on each table, they ate together via video link. It almost felt like they were in the same room. It’s become a family tradition ever since. God took David into His confidence and gave him wisdom. He loves to whisper creative solutions to our problems.
12/17/20230
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Community in Christ

In the southern Bahamas lies a small piece of land called Ragged Island. In the nineteenth century it had an active salt industry, but because of a decline in that industry, many people emigrated to nearby islands. As of 2016, fewer than eighty people lived there. The island featured three denominations, yet the people all gathered together in one place for worship and fellowship each week. With so few residents, a sense of community was especially vital for them. The people of the early church, written about in Acts, felt a crucial need and desire for community as well. They were excited about their newfound faith that was made possible by His death and resurrection. But they also knew He was no longer physically with them, so they knew they needed each other. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teachings, to fellowship, and to sharing communion together (Acts 2:42). They gathered in homes for worship and meals and cared for the needs among them. The apostle Paul described the church in this way: “All the believers were one in heart and mind” (4:32). Filled with the Holy Spirit, they praised God continually and brought the church’s needs to Him in prayer. Have you made fellowship with God and His people a priority? Community is essential for our growth and support. Don’t try to go it alone. God will develop that sense of community as you share your struggles and joys with others and draw near to Him together.
12/16/20230
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Equal before God

While on vacation, my wife and I enjoyed some early morning bike rides. One route took us through a neighborhood of multi-million-dollar homes. We saw a variety of people—residents walking their dogs, fellow bike riders, and numerous workers building new homes or tending well-kept landscapes. It was a mixture of people from all walks of life, and I was reminded of a valuable reality. There was no true distinction among us. Rich or poor. Wealthy or working-class. Known or unknown. All of us on that street that morning were the same. “Rich and poor have this in common: The Lord is Maker of them all” (Proverbs 22:2). Regardless of differences, we were all made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27). But there’s more. Being equal before God also means that no matter our economic, societal, or ethnic situation, we’re all born with a sin condition: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). We’re all disobedient and equally guilty before Him, and we need Jesus. We often divide people into groups for a variety of reasons. But in reality, we’re all part of the human race. And though we’re all in the same situation—sinners in need of a Savior— we can be “justified freely” (made right with God) by His grace (Romans 3:24).
12/15/20230
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Appetite for Distraction

I set my phone down, weary of the constant bombardment of images, ideas, and notifications that the little screen broadcasted. Then, I picked it up and turned it on again. Why? In his 2013 book The Shallows, Nicholas Carr describes how the internet has shaped our relationship with stillness: “What the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. Whether I’m online or not, my mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.” Living life on a mental jet ski doesn’t sound healthy. But how do we begin to slow down, to dive deeply into still spiritual waters?   In Psalm 131, David writes, “I have calmed and quieted myself” (v. 2). David’s words remind me that I have responsibility. Changing habits starts with my choice to be still—even if I must make that choice over and over again. Slowly, though, we experience God’s satisfying goodness. Like a little child, we rest in contentment, remembering that He alone offers hope (v. 3), soul-satisfaction that no smartphone app can touch and no social media site can deliver.    
12/14/20230
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Overcoming Trials

Anne grew up in poverty and pain. Two of her siblings died in infancy. At five, an eye disease left her partially blind and unable to read or write. When Anne was eight, her mother died from tuberculosis. Shortly after, her abusive father abandoned his three surviving children. The youngest was sent to live with relatives, but Anne and her brother, Jimmie, went to Tewksbury Almshouse, a dilapidated, overcrowded poorhouse. A few months later, Jimmie died. At age fourteen, Anne’s circumstances brightened. She was sent to a school for the blind, where she underwent surgery to improve her vision and learned to read and write. Though she struggled to fit in, she excelled academically and graduated valedictorian. Today we know her best as Anne Sullivan, Helen Keller’s teacher and companion. Through effort, patience, and love, Anne taught blind and deaf Helen to speak, to read Braille, and to graduate from college. Joseph too had to overcome extreme trials: at seventeen, he was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers and was later wrongly imprisoned (Genesis 37; 39–41). Yet God used him to save Egypt and his family from famine (50:20). We all face trials and troubles. But just as God helped Joseph and Anne to overcome and to deeply impact the lives of others, He can help and use us. Seek Him for help and guidance. He sees and hears.
12/13/20230
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Lean on God

While at a water park with some friends, we attempted to navigate a floating obstacle course made of inflatable platforms. The bouncy, slippery platforms made walking straight almost impossible. As we wobbled our way across ramps, cliffs, and bridges, we found ourselves yelping as we fell unceremoniously into the water. After completing one course, my friend, completely exhausted, leaned on one of the “towers” to catch her breath. Almost immediately, it buckled under her weight, sending her hurtling into the water. Unlike the flimsy towers at the water park, in Bible times, a tower was a stronghold for defense and protection. Judges 9:51 describes how the people of Thebez fled to “a strong tower” to hide from Abimelek’s attack on their city. In Proverbs 18:10 (nkjv), the writer used the image of a strong tower to describe who God is—the One who saves those who trust Him. Sometimes, however, rather than lean on the strong tower of God when we're tired or beaten down, we seek other things for safety and support—a career, relationships, or physical comforts. We’re no different from the rich man who looked for strength in his wealth (v. 11). But just as the inflatable tower couldn't support my friend, these things can't give us what we really need. God—who's all-powerful and in control of all situations—provides true comfort and security.
12/12/20230
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God Is More than Enough

Ellen was on a tight budget, so she was glad to receive a Christmas bonus. That would have been enough. When she deposited the money, however, she received another surprise. The teller said that as a Christmas present the bank had deposited her January mortgage payment into her checking account. Now she and Trey could pay other bills and bless someone else with a Christmas surprise! God has a way of blessing us beyond what we expect. Naomi was bitter and broken by the death of her husband and sons (Ruth 1:20). Her desperate situation was rescued by Boaz, a relative who married her daughter-in-law and provided a home for her and Naomi (4:10). That might have been all Naomi could hope for. But then God blessed Ruth and Boaz with a son. Now Naomi had a grandson to “renew your life and sustain you in your old age” (v. 15). That would have been enough. As the women of Bethlehem put it, “Naomi has a son!” (v. 17). Then little Obed grew—and became the father of Jesse, the father of David (v. 17). Naomi’s family belonged to Israel’s royal line, the most important dynasty in history! That would have been enough. David, however, became the ancestor of . . . Jesus. If we believe in Christ, we’re in a similar position to Naomi. We had nothing until He redeemed us. Now we’re fully accepted by our Father, who blesses us to bless others. That is so much more than enough.
12/11/20230
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God Won’t Forget You

As a child, I collected postage stamps. When my angkong (Fukienese for “grandfather”) heard of my hobby, he started saving stamps from his office mail every day. Whenever I visited my grandparents, Angkong would give me an envelope filled with a variety of beautiful stamps. “Even though I’m always busy,” he told me once, “I won’t forget you.” Angkong wasn’t given to overt displays of affection, but I felt his love deeply. In an infinitely deeper way, God demonstrated His love toward Israel when He declared, “I will not forget you” (Isaiah 49:15). Suffering in Babylon for idolatry and disobedience in days past, His people lamented, “The Lord has forgotten me” (v. 14). But God’s love for His people hadn’t changed. He promised them forgiveness and restoration (vv. 8–13). “I have engraved you on the palms of my hands,” God told Israel, as He says to us today in Scripture (v. 16). As I ponder His words of reassurance, it reminds me so deeply of Jesus’ nail-scarred hands—stretched out in love for us and for our salvation (John 20:24–27). Like my grandfather’s stamps and his tender words, God holds out His forgiving hand as an eternal token of His love. Let’s thank Him for His love—an unchanging love. He will never forget us.
12/10/20230
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Be the Church

During the days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dave and Carla spent months looking for a church home. Following health guidelines, which limited various in-person experiences, made it even more difficult. They longed for connection to a body of believers. “It’s a hard time to find a church,” Carla emailed me. Within me rose a realization from my own longing to be reunited with my church family, “It’s a hard time to be the church,” I responded. In that season, our church had “pivoted,” offering food in surrounding neighborhoods, creating online services, and phoning every member with support and prayer. My husband and I participated and yet wondered what else we could do to “be the church” in our changed world. In Hebrews 10:25, the writer exhorts readers not to neglect “meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but [encourage] one another.” Perhaps due to persecution (vv. 32–34) or maybe as a result of simply growing weary (12:3), the struggling early believers needed a nudge to keep being the church. And today, I need a nudge too. Do you? When circumstances change how we experience church, will we continue to be the church? Let’s creatively encourage one another and build each other up as God guides us. Share our resources. Send a text of support. Gather as we’re able. Pray for one another. Let’s be the church.
12/9/20230
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Prejudice and God’s Love

“You’re not what I expected. I thought I’d hate you, but I don’t.” The young man’s words seemed harsh, but they were actually an effort to be kind. I was studying abroad in his country, a land that decades earlier had been at war with my own. We were participating in a group discussion in class together, and I noticed he seemed distant. When I asked if I had offended him somehow, he responded “Not at all . . . . And that’s the thing. My grandfather was killed in that war, and I hated your people and your country for it. But now I see how much we have in common, and that surprises me. I don’t see why we can’t be friends.” Prejudice is as old as the human race. Two millennia ago, when Nathaniel first heard about Jesus living in Nazareth, his bias was evident: “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” he asked (John 1:46). Nathaniel lived in the region of Galilee, like Jesus. He probably thought God’s Messiah would come from another place; even other Galileans looked down on Nazareth because it seemed to be an unremarkable little village. This much is clear. Nathaniel’s response didn’t stop Jesus from loving him, and he was transformed as he became His disciple. “You are the Son of God!” Nathaniel later declared (John 1:49). There is no bias that can stand against God’s transforming love.
12/8/20230
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Giving like Christ

When American author O. Henry wrote his beloved 1905 Christmas story “The Gift of the Magi,” he was struggling to rebound from personal troubles. Still, he penned an inspiring story that highlights a beautiful, Christ-like character trait—sacrifice. In the story, an impoverished wife sells her beautiful long hair on Christmas Eve to buy a gold pocket watch chain for her husband. As she learns later, however, her husband had sold his pocket watch to buy a set of combs for her beautiful hair. Their greatest gift to each other? Sacrifice. From each, the gesture showed great love. In that way, the story represents the loving gifts the magi (wise men) gave to the Christ child after His holy birth (see Matthew 2:1,11). More than those gifts, however, the Holy Child would one day give His life for the whole world. In our daily lives, believers in Jesus can highlight His great gift by offering to others the sacrifice of our time, treasures, and a temperament that all speak of love. As the apostle Paul wrote, “I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God” (Romans 12:1). There’s no better gift than sacrificing for others through Christ’s love.
12/7/20230
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Saint Nick

The person we know as St. Nicholas (St. Nick) was born around ad 270 to a wealthy Grecian family. Tragically, his parents died when he was a boy, and he lived with his uncle who loved him and taught him to follow God. When Nicholas was a young man, legend says that he heard of three sisters who didn’t have a dowry for marriage and would soon be destitute. Wanting to follow Jesus’ teaching about giving to those in need, he took his inheritance and gave each sister a bag of gold coins. Over the years, Nicholas gave the rest of his money away feeding the poor and caring for others. In the following centuries, Nicholas was honored for his lavish generosity, and he inspired the character we know as Santa Claus—a person who generously gives gifts every Christmas.  While the glitz and advertising of the season may threaten our celebrations, the gift-giving tradition connects to Nicholas. And his generosity was based on his devotion to Jesus. Nicholas knew that Christ enacted unimagined generosity, bringing the most profound gift: God. Jesus is “God with us” (Matthew 1:23). And He brought us the gift of life. In a world of death, He “save[s] his people from their sins” (v. 21) When we believe in Jesus, sacrificial generosity unfolds. We tend to others’ needs, and we joyfully provide for them as God provides for us. This is St. Nick’s story; but far more, this is God’s story.
12/6/20230
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God’s Comforting Commitment

Years ago, our family visited Four Corners, the only place in the United States where four states meet at one location. My husband stood in the section marked Arizona. Our oldest son, A.J., hopped into Utah. Our youngest son, Xavier, held my hand as we stepped into Colorado. When I scooted into New Mexico, Xavier said, “Mom, I can’t believe you left me in Colorado!” We were together and apart as our laughter was heard in four different states. Now that our grown sons have left home, I have a deeper appreciation of God’s promise to be near all His people wherever they go. After Moses died, God called Joshua into leadership and guaranteed His presence as He expanded the Israelite’s territory (Joshua 1:1–4). God said, “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you” (v. 5). Knowing His people would struggle with doubt and fear, God built a foundation of hope on these words: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (v. 9). No matter where God leads us or our loved ones, even through difficult times, His most comforting commitment assures us that He’s always present.
12/5/20230
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Shadow and God’s Light

When Elaine was diagnosed with advanced cancer, she and her husband, Chuck, knew it wouldn’t be long until she’d be with Jesus. Both of them treasured the promise of Psalm 23 that God would be with them as they journeyed through the deepest and most difficult valley of their fifty-four years together. They took hope in the fact that Elaine was ready to meet Jesus, having placed her faith in Him decades before. At his wife’s memorial service, Chuck shared that he was still traveling “through the valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23:4 nkjv). His wife’s life in heaven had already begun. But the “shadow of death” was still with him and with others who had greatly loved Elaine. As we travel through the valley of shadows, where can we find our source of light? The apostle John declares that “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). And in John 8:12, Jesus proclaimed: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” As believers in Jesus, we “walk in the light of [His] presence” (Psalm 89:15). Our God has promised to be with us and to be our source of light even when we travel through the darkest of shadows.
12/4/20230
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Surrendering to Jesus

In 1951, Joseph Stalin’s doctor advised him to reduce his workload in order to preserve his health. The ruler of the Soviet Union accused the physician of spying and had him arrested. The tyrant who had oppressed so many with lies could not abide the truth, and—as he had done so many times—Stalin removed the one who told him the facts. Truth won anyway. Stalin died in 1953. The prophet Jeremiah, arrested for his dire prophecies (Jeremiah 38:1–6), told the king of Judah exactly what would happen to Jerusalem. “Obey the Lord by doing what I tell you,” he said to King Zedekiah (v. 20). Failure to surrender to the army surrounding the city would only make matters worse. “All your wives and children will be brought out to the Babylonians,” Jeremiah warned. “You yourself will not escape from their hands” (v. 23). Zedekiah failed to act on that truth, and he left God’s prophet in chains (see 40:1). Eventually the Babylonians caught the king, killed all his sons, and burned the city (ch. 39). In a sense, every human being faces Zedekiah’s dilemma. We’re trapped inside the walls of our own life of sin and poor choices. Often, we make things worse by avoiding those who tell us the truth about ourselves. All we need to do is surrender to the will of the One who said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to [God] the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
12/3/20230
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Building Up Goodwill

When we think of best business practices, what first comes to mind probably aren’t qualities like kindness and generosity. But according to entrepreneur James Rhee, they should. In Rhee’s experience as CEO at a company on the brink of financial ruin, prioritizing what he calls “goodwill”—a “culture of kindness” and a spirit of giving—saved the company and led to its flourishing. Putting these qualities central gave people the hope and motivation they needed to unify, innovate, and problem-solve. Rhee explains that “goodwill . . . is a real asset that can compound and be amplified.” In daily life too, it’s easy to think of qualities like kindness as vague and intangible, afterthoughts to our other priorities. But, as the apostle Paul taught, such qualities matter most of all. Writing to new believers, Paul emphasized that the purpose of believers’ lives is transformation through the Spirit into mature members of the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:15). To that end, every word and every action has value only if it builds up and benefits others (v. 29). Transformation in Jesus can only happen through daily prioritizing kindness, compassion, and forgiveness (v. 32). As we grow closer together through Christ’s Spirit, we daily learn anew the true, priceless value of God’s goodwill living in us.
12/2/20230
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God’s Heart for All

Nine-year-old Dan Gill arrived with his best friend Archie at their classmate’s birthday party. When the mother of the birthday boy saw Archie, however, she refused him entry. “There aren’t enough chairs,” she insisted. Dan offered to sit on the floor to make room for his friend, who was Black, but the mother said no. Dejected, Dan left their presents with her and returned home with Archie, the sting of his friend’s rejection searing his heart. Now, decades later, Dan is a schoolteacher who keeps one empty chair in his classroom. When students ask why, he explains it’s his reminder to “always have room in the classroom for anyone.” A heart for all people can be seen in Jesus’ welcoming life: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). This invitation may seem to contradict the “first to the Jew” scope of Jesus’ ministry (Romans 1:16). But the gift of salvation is for all people who place their faith in Jesus. “This is true for everyone who believes,” Paul wrote, “no matter who we are” (Romans 3:22 nlt). We rejoice then at Jesus’ invitation to all: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29). For all seeking His rest, His open heart awaits.
12/1/20230
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Trusting God

I needed two medications urgently. One was for my mom’s allergies and the other for my niece’s eczema. Their discomfort was worsening, but the medicines were no longer available in pharmacies. Desperate and helpless, I prayed repeatedly, Lord, please help them. Weeks later, their conditions became manageable. God seemed to be saying: “There are times when I use medicines to heal. But medicines don’t have the final say; I do. Don’t place your trust in them, but in Me.”    In Psalm 20, King David took comfort in God’s trustworthiness. The Israelites had a powerful army, but they knew that their biggest strength came from “the name of the Lord” (v. 7). They placed their trust in God’s name—in who He is, His unchanging character, and unfailing promises. They held on to the truth that He who is sovereign and powerful over all situations would hear their prayers and deliver them from their enemies (v. 6).   While God may use the resources of this world to help us, ultimately, victory over our problems comes from Him. Whether He gives us a resolution or the grace to endure, we can trust that He’ll be to us all that He says He is. We don’t have to be overwhelmed by our troubles, but we can face them with His hope and peace.     
11/30/20230
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Just a Whisper

The whispering wall in New York City’s Grand Central Station is an acoustic oasis from the clamor of the area. This unique spot allows people to communicate quiet messages from a distance of thirty feet apart. When one person stands at the base of a granite archway and speaks softly into the wall, soundwaves travel up and over the curved stone to the listener on the other side. Job heard the whisper of a message when his life was filled with noise and the tragedy of losing nearly everything (see Job 1:13–19; 2:7). His friends blabbered their opinions, his own thoughts tumbled endlessly, and trouble had invaded every aspect of his existence. Still, the majesty of nature spoke softly to him about God’s divine power. The splendor of the skies, the mystery of the earth suspended in space, and the stability of the horizon reminded Job that the world was in the palm of God’s hand (26:7–11). Even a churning sea and a rumbling atmosphere led him to say, “these are but the outer fringe of [God’s] works; how faint the whisper we hear of him” (v. 14). If the world’s wonders represent just a tiny fragment of God’s capabilities, it’s clear that His power exceeds our ability to understand it. In times of brokenness and disappointment, this gives us hope. God can do anything, including what He did for Job as He sustained him during suffering.
11/29/20230
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The Skill of Compassion

“A thorn has entered your foot—that is why you weep at times at night,” wrote Catherine of Sienna in the fourteenth century. She continued, “There are some in this world who can pull it out. The skill that takes they have learned from [God].” Catherine devoted her life to cultivating that “skill,” and is still remembered today for her remarkable capacity for empathy and compassion for others in their pain.  That image of pain as a deeply embedded thorn that requires tenderness and skill to remove lingers with me. It’s a vivid reminder of how complex and wounded we are, and of our need to dig deeper to develop true compassion for ourselves and others. Or, as the apostle Paul describes it, it’s an image that reminds me that loving others like Jesus does requires more than good intentions and well-wishes—it requires being “devoted to one another” (Romans 12:10), “joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer” (v. 12). It requires being willing to not only “rejoice with those who rejoice” but to “mourn with those who mourn” (v. 15). It requires all of us. In a broken world, none of us escape unwounded—hurt and scars are deeply embedded in each of us. But deeper still is the love we find in Christ; love tender enough to draw out those thorns with the balm of compassion, willing to embrace both friend and enemy (v. 14) to find healing together.
11/28/20230
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Serving for God’s Sake

When England’s Queen Elizabeth passed away in September 2022, thousands of soldiers were deployed to march in the funeral procession. Their individual roles must have been almost unnoticeable in the large crowd, but many saw it as the greatest honor. One soldier said it was “an opportunity to do our last duty for Her Majesty.” For him, it was not what he did, but whom he was doing it for that made it an important job. The Levites assigned to take care of the tabernacle furnishings had a similar aim. Unlike the priests, the Gershonites, Kohathites, and Merarites were assigned seemingly mundane tasks: cleaning the furniture, lampstands, curtains, posts, tent pegs, and ropes (Numbers 3:25–26, 31, 36–37). Yet their jobs were specifically assigned by God, constituted “doing the work of the tabernacle” (v. 8), and are recorded in the Bible for posterity. What an encouraging thought! Today, what many of us do at work, at home, or in church may seem insignificant to a world that values titles and salaries. But God sees it differently. If we work and serve for His sake—seeking excellence and for His honor, even in the smallest task—then our work is important because we’re serving our great God.
11/27/20230
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Who Am I?

As a member of the leadership team for a local ministry, part of my job was to invite others to join us as group discussion leaders. My invitations described the time commitment required and outlined the ways leaders would need to engage with their small group participants, both in meetings and during regular phone calls. I was often reluctant to impose on other people, being aware of the sacrifice they’d be making to become a leader. And yet sometimes their reply would completely overwhelm me: “I’d be honored.” Instead of citing legitimate reasons to decline, they described their gratitude to God for all He’d done in their lives as their reason for being eager to give back. When the time came to give resources toward building a temple for the Lord, David had a similar response: “Who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this?” (1 Chronicles 29:14) David’s generosity was driven by gratitude for God’s involvement in his life and that of the people of Israel. His response speaks of his humility and his acknowledgment of God’s goodness toward “foreigners and strangers” (v. 15). Our giving to God’s work—whether in time, talent, or treasure—reflects our gratitude to the One who gave to us to begin with. All that we have comes from His hand (v. 14); in response we can give gratefully to Him.
11/26/20230
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Seeing by Faith

During my morning walk, the sun hit the waters of Lake Michigan at a perfect angle to produce a stunning view. I asked my friend to stop and wait for me as I positioned my camera to take a pic. Because of the position of the sun, I couldn’t see the image on my phone’s screen before I snapped the shot. But having done this before, I sensed it would be a great picture. I told me friend, “We can’t see it now, but pictures like this always come out good.” Walking by faith through this life is often like taking that picture. You can’t always see the details on the screen, but that doesn’t mean the stunning picture isn’t there. You don’t always see God working, but you can trust that He’s there. As the writer of Hebrews penned, “Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance in what we do not see” (11:1). By faith we place our confidence and assurance in God—especially when we can’t see or understand what He’s doing. With faith, not seeing doesn’t prevent us from “taking the shot.” It just might make us pray more and seek God’s direction. We can also rely on knowing what has happened in the past as others have walked by faith (vv. 4–12) as well as through our own stories. What God has done before, He can do again.
11/25/20230
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Worthy of All Praise

Many consider Ferrante and Teicher to be the greatest piano duet team of all time. Their collaborative presentations were so precise that their style was described as four hands but only one mind. Hearing their music, one can begin to grasp the amount of effort required to perfect their craft. But there’s more. They loved what they did. In fact, even after they had retired in 1989, Ferrante and Teicher would occasionally show up at a local piano store just to play an impromptu concert. They simply loved making music. David also loved making music—but he teamed up with God to give his song a higher purpose. His psalms affirm his struggle-filled life and his desire to live in deep dependence upon his God. Yet, in the midst of his personal failures and imperfections, his praise expressed a kind of spiritual “perfect pitch,” acknowledging the greatness and goodness of God even in the darkest of times. The heart behind David’s praise is simply stated in Psalm 18:1, which reads, “I love you, Lord, my strength.” David continued, “I called to the Lord, who is worthy of praise” (v. 3) and noted that he could turn to Him “in my distress” (v. 6). Regardless of our situation, may we likewise lift our hearts to praise and worship our God. He is worthy of all praise!
11/24/20230
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A Thanksgiving Blessing

In 2016, Wanda Dench sent a text inviting her grandson to Thanksgiving dinner, not knowing he’d recently changed his phone number. The text instead went to a stranger, Jamal. Jamal didn’t have plans, and so, after clarifying who he was, asked if he could still come to dinner. Wanda said, “Of course you can.” Jamal joined the family dinner in what has become a yearly tradition. A mistaken invitation became an annual blessing. Wanda’s kindness in inviting a stranger to dinner reminds me of Jesus’ encouragement in Luke’s gospel. During a dinner party at a “prominent” Pharisee’s house (Luke 14:1), Jesus noticed who was invited and how the guests jostled for the best seats (v. 7). Jesus told his host that inviting people based on what they could do for him in return (v. 12) meant the blessing would be limited. Instead, Jesus told the host that extending hospitality to people without the resources to repay him would bring even greater blessing (v. 14). For Wanda, inviting Jamal to join her family for Thanksgiving dinner resulted in the unexpected blessing of a lasting friendship that was a great encouragement to her after her husband’s death. When we reach out to others, not because of what we might receive, but because of God’s love flowing through us, we receive far greater blessing and encouragement.
11/23/20230
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Shining Stars

The first thing I noticed about the city was its gambling outlets. Next, its cannabis shops, “adult” stores, and giant billboards for opportunistic lawyers making money out of others’ mishaps. While I had visited many shady cities before, this one seemed to reach a new low. My mood brightened, however, when I spoke to a taxi driver the next morning. “I ask God every day to send me the people He wants me to help,” he said. “Gambling addicts, prostitutes, people from broken homes tell me their problems in tears. I stop the car, I listen, I pray for them. This is my ministry.” After describing Jesus’ descent into our fallen world (Philippians 2:5–8), the apostle Paul gives believers in Jesus a calling. As we pursue God’s will (v. 13) and hold to the “word of life”—the gospel (v. 16)—we’ll be “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation” who “shine . . . like stars in the sky” (v. 15). Like that taxi driver, we’re to bring Jesus’ light into the darkness. A Christian has only to live faithfully in order to change the world, historian Christopher Dawson said, because in that very act of living “there is contained all the mystery of divine life.” Let’s ask God’s Spirit to empower us to live faithfully as Christ’s people, shining His light in the world’s darkest places.
11/22/20230
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Precious to God

As a boy, Ming found his father harsh and distant. Even when Ming was ill and had to see the pediatrician, his father grumbled that it was troublesome. Once, he overheard a quarrel and learned his father had wanted him aborted. The feeling of being an unwanted child followed him into his adult years. When Ming became a believer in Jesus, he found it difficult to relate to God as Father, even though he knew Him as Lord of his life. If, like Ming, we haven’t felt loved by our earthly fathers, we may face similar doubts in our relationship with God. We may wonder, Am I a burden to Him? Does He care about me? But while our earthly fathers may have been silent and distant, God our heavenly Father comes close and says, “I love you” (Isaiah 43:4). In Isaiah 43, God speaks as our Creator and as a Father. If you wonder whether He wants you to live under His care as part of His family, hear what He said to His people: “Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth” (v. 6). If you wonder what you’re worth to Him, hear His affirmation, “You are precious and honored in my sight” (v. 4). God loves us so much that He sent Jesus to pay the penalty of sin so that we who believe in Him can be with Him forever (John 3:16). Because of what He says and what He’s done for us, we can have full confidence that He wants us and loves us.
11/21/20230
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Priceless Results

On every school day for three years, Colleen has been dressing up in a different costume or mask to greet her children as they exit the school bus each afternoon. It brightens the day of everyone on the bus—including the bus driver: “[She] bring[s] so much joy to the kids on my bus, it’s amazing. I love that.” Colleen’s children agree. It all started when Colleen began fostering children. Knowing how difficult it was to be separated from parents and to attend a new school, she began greeting the kids in a costume. After three days of doing so, the kids didn’t want her to stop. So Colleen continued. It was an investment of time and money at thrift shops, but, as reporter Meredith TerHaar describes, it brought a “priceless result: happiness.” One little verse amid a book of wise and witty advice, largely by King Solomon to his son, sums up the results of this mom’s antics: “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones” (Proverbs 17:22). By bringing cheer to all her kids (biological, adopted, and foster), she hoped to prevent crushed spirits. The source of true and lasting joy is God through the Holy Spirit (Luke 10:21; Galatians 5:22). The Spirit enables us to shine God’s light as we strive to bring joy to others, a joy that offers hope and strength to face trials.
11/20/20230
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Gathering Strength in God

Grainger McKoy is an artist who studies and sculpts birds, capturing their grace, vulnerability, and power. One of the pieces is titled Recovery. It shows the single right wing of a pintail duck, stretched high in a vertical position. Below, a plaque describes the bird’s recovery stroke as “the moment of the bird’s greatest weakness in flight, yet also the moment when it gathers strength for the journey ahead.” Grainger includes this verse: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). The apostle Paul wrote these words to the church at Corinth. Enduring a season when he was overwhelmed with personal struggle, Paul begged God to remove what he described as a “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7). His affliction might have been a physical ailment or spiritual opposition. Like Jesus in the Garden the night before His crucifixion (Luke 22:39–44), Paul repeatedly asked God to remove his suffering. The Holy Spirit responded by assuring Paul that He would provide the strength needed. Paul learned, “When I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). Oh, the thorns we experience in this life! Like a bird gathering its strength for the journey ahead, we can gather up God’s strength for what we are facing. In His strength, we find our own.
11/19/20230
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Confronting in Love

He did many things well, but there was a problem. Everyone saw it. But because he was so effective in accomplishing most of his role, his anger issue wasn’t adequately addressed. He was never truly confronted. Sadly, this resulted in many people being hurt over the years. And, in the end, it led to the premature close of a career that could have been something so much more for this brother in Christ. If only I’d chosen to confront him in love long ago. In Genesis 4, God provides the perfect picture of what it means to confront someone’s sin in love. Cain was infuriated. A farmer, he’d presented “some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord” (v. 3). But God made it clear that what he brought Him wasn’t acceptable. Cain’s offering was rejected, and he was “very angry, and his face was downcast” (v. 5). So, God confronted him and said, “Why are you angry?” (v. 6). He then told Cain to turn from his sin and pursue what was good and right. Sadly, Cain ignored God’s words and committed a horrific act (v. 8). While we can’t force others to turn from sinful behaviors, we can compassionately confront them. We can “speak the truth in love” so that we both become “more and more like Christ” (Ephesians 4:15 nlt). And, as God gives us ears to listen, we can also receive hard words of truth from others.
11/18/20230
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The Adventure

“Christianity is not for me. It’s boring. One of my values I hold on to is adventure. That’s life to me,” a young woman told me. It saddened me that she hadn’t yet learned the incredible joy and excitement that comes with following Jesus—an adventure like no other. I excitedly shared with her about Jesus and how real life is found in Him. Mere words are inadequate to describe the adventure of knowing and walking with Jesus, God’s Son. But the apostle Paul in Ephesians 1 gives us a small but powerful glimpse of life with Him. God gives us spiritual blessings directly from heaven (v. 3), holiness and blamelessness in God’s eyes (v. 4), and adoption as His own into the King’s royal family (v. 5). He blesses us with the lavish gift of His forgiveness and grace (vv. 7–8), understanding of the mystery of His will (v. 9), and a new purpose of living “for the praise of His glory” (v. 12). The Holy Spirit comes to live in us to empower and lead us (v. 13), and He guarantees eternity in God’s presence forever (v. 14). When Jesus Christ enters our life, we discover that getting to know Him more and following Him closely is the greatest of adventures. Seek Him now and every day for real life.
11/17/20230
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Tell of God’s Goodness

Testimony time was the segment in our church service when people shared how God had been at work in their lives. Auntie—or Sister Langford as she was known by others in our church family—was known for packing lots of praise into her testimonies. On the occasions when she shared her personal conversion story, one could expect her to take up a good bit of the service. Her heart gushed with praise to God who had graciously changed her life! Similarly, the testimony of the writer of Psalm 66 is packed with praise as he testifies about what God had done for His people. “Come and see what God has done, his awesome deeds for mankind!” (v. 5). His deeds included miraculous rescue (v. 6), preservation (v. 9), and testing and discipline that resulted in His people being brought to a better place (vv. 10–12). While there are God-experiences that we have in common with other believers in Jesus, there are also things unique to our individual journeys. Have there been times in your life when God has particularly made Himself known to you? Those are worth sharing with others who need to hear how He's worked in your life. “Come and hear, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me” (v. 16).
11/16/20230
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One Thing Needed

One weekend in March, I led a retreat on the theme of Mary and Martha, the sisters in Bethany whom Jesus loved. We were in a remote spot along the English coastline. When we were snowed in unexpectedly, many of the participants remarked how the extra day together meant they could practice sitting at Jesus’s feet as Mary did. They wanted to pursue the “one thing . . . needed” (Luke 10:42 NKJV) that Jesus lovingly told Martha she should embrace, which was choosing to draw close and learn from Him. When Jesus visited the home of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, Martha wouldn’t have known He was coming in advance, so I can understand how she could have been upset with Mary for not helping with the preparations to feed Jesus and His friends. But she lost sight of what really mattered—receiving from Jesus as she learned from Him. Jesus wasn’t scolding her for wanting to serve Him but rather reminding her that she was missing the most important thing. When interruptions make us irritable or we feel overwhelmed about the many things we want to accomplish, we can stop and remind ourselves about what really matters in life. As we slow ourselves down, picturing ourselves sitting at the feet of Jesus, we can ask Him to fill us with His love and life. We can revel in being His beloved disciple.
11/15/20230
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Sins Remembered No More

I never saw the ice. But I felt it. The back end of the pickup I was driving—my grandfather’s—fishtailed. One swerve, two, three—and I was airborne, flying off a fifteen-foot embankment. I remember thinking, This would be awesome if I wasn’t going to die. A moment later, the truck crunched into the steep slope and rolled to the bottom. I crawled out of the crushed cab, unscathed. The truck was utterly totaled that December morning in 1992. God had spared me. But what about my grandfather? What would he say? In fact, he never said a single word about the truck. Not one. There was no scolding, no repayment plan, nothing. Just forgiveness. And a grandfather’s smile that I was okay. My grandfather’s grace reminds me of God’s grace in Jeremiah 31. There, despite their tremendous failings, God promises a restored relationship with His people, saying, “I will forgive their wickedness, and I will remember their sins no more” (v. 34). I’m sure my grandfather never forgot that I’d wrecked his truck. But he acted just like God does here, not remembering it, not shaming me, not making me work to repay the debt I rightfully owed. Just as God says He’ll do, my grandfather chose to remember it no more, as if the destructive thing I’d done had never happened.
11/14/20230
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A Card and Prayer

The recently widowed woman was growing concerned. To collect some vital funds from an insurance policy, she needed key information about the accident that had taken her husband’s life. She had talked to a police officer who said he’d help her, but then she lost his business card. So she prayed, pleading with God for help. A short time later, she was at her church when she walked by a window and saw a card—the policeman’s card—on a windowsill. She had no idea how it got there, but she knew why. She took prayer seriously. And why not? Scripture says that God is listening for our requests. “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,” Peter wrote, “and his ears are attentive to their prayer” (1 Peter 3:12). The Bible gives us examples of how God responded to prayer. One is Hezekiah, the king of Judah, who became ill. He’d even received word from Isaiah, a prophet, saying he was going to die. The king knew what to do: he “prayed to the Lord” (2 Kings 20:2). Immediately, God told Isaiah to give the king this message from Him: “I have heard your prayer” (v. 5). Hezekiah was granted fifteen more years of life. God doesn’t always answer prayers with things like a card on a windowsill, but He assures us that when difficult situations arise, we don’t face them alone. God sees us, and He’s with us—attentive to our prayers.
11/13/20230
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Cling to Jesus

Dizziness struck me in the stairwell of the office building. Overwhelmed, I gripped the banister because the stairs seemed to spin. As my heart pounded and my legs buckled, I clung onto the banister, thankful for its strength. Medical tests showed I had anemia. Although its cause wasn’t serious and my condition was resolved, I’ll never forget how weak I felt that day. That’s why I admire the woman who touched Jesus. She not only moved through the crowd in her weakened state, but she also showed faith in venturing out to approach Him. She had good reason to be afraid: Jewish law defined her as unclean and by exposing others to her uncleanness, she could be punished (Leviticus 15:25−27). But the thought, If I only touch His cloak kept her going. The Greek word that is translated as “touch” in Matthew 9:21 is not mere touching but has the stronger meaning of “to hold onto” or “to attach oneself.” The woman tightly held onto Jesus. She believed He could heal her. Jesus saw, in the midst of a crowd, the desperate faith of one woman. When we too venture out in faith and cling to Christ in our need, He welcomes us and comes to our aid. We can tell Him our story without fear of rejection or punishment. Jesus tells us today, “Cling to me.”
11/12/20230
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Lucky Boots

Too late, Tom felt the chilling “click” beneath his combat boots. Instinctively he bounded away in an adrenaline-fueled leap. The deadly device hidden underground didn’t detonate. Later, the explosive ordnance disposal team unearthed eighty pounds of high explosives from the spot. Tom wore those boots until they fell apart. “My lucky boots,” he calls them. Tom may have clung to those boots simply to commemorate his close call. But people are often tempted to consider objects “lucky” or to even give them the more spiritual label “blessed.” Danger arrives when we credit an object—even a symbol—as a source of God’s blessing. The Israelites learned this the hard way. The Philistine army had just routed them in battle. As Israel reviewed the debacle, someone thought of taking the “ark of the LORD’s covenant” into a rematch (1 Samuel 4:3). That seemed like a good idea (vv. 6–9). After all, the ark of the covenant was a holy object. But the Israelites had the wrong perspective. By itself, the ark couldn’t bring them anything. Putting their faith in an object instead of in the presence of the one true God, the Israelites suffered an even worse defeat, and the enemy captured the ark (v. 10). Mementos that remind us to pray or to thank God for His goodness are fine. But they’re never the source of blessing. That is God—and God alone.
11/11/20230
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Love through Prayer

For years, John had been somewhat of an irritant at church. He was bad-tempered, demanding, and often rude. He complained constantly about not being “served” well, and about volunteers and staff not doing their job. He was, honestly, hard to love. So when I heard that he’d been diagnosed with cancer, I found it difficult to pray for him. Memories of his harsh words and unpleasant character filled my mind. But remembering Jesus’ call to love, I was drawn to say a simple prayer for John each day. A few days later, I found myself beginning to think a bit less often about his unlikeable qualities. He must be really hurting, I thought. Perhaps he’s feeling really lost now. Prayer, I realize, opens ourselves, our feelings, and our relationships with others to God, allowing Him to enter and bring His perspective into it all. The act of submitting our will and feelings to Him in prayer allows the Holy Spirit to change our hearts, slowly but surely. No wonder Jesus’ call to love our enemies is bound up tightly with a call to prayer: “Pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:28). I have to admit, I still struggle to think well of John. But with the Spirit’s help, I’m learning to see him through God’s eyes and heart—as a person to be forgiven and loved.  
11/10/20230
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Jesus’ Ultimate Victory

In the midst of some military camps across Europe during World War II, an unusual type of supply was air-dropped for homesick soldiers—upright pianos. These instruments were specially manufactured to contain only ten percent of the normal amount of metal, and they received special water-resistant glue and anti-insect treatments. The pianos were rugged and simple, without frills, but provided hours of spirit-lifting entertainment for soldiers who gathered around to sing familiar songs of home. Singing—especially songs of praise—is one way that believers in Jesus can find peace in the battle too. King Jehoshaphat found this to be true when he faced vast invading armies (2 Chronicles 20). Terrified, the king called all the people together for prayer and fasting (vv. 3–4). In response, God told him to lead out soldiers to meet the enemy, promising that they would “not have to fight this battle” (v. 17). Jehoshaphat believed God and acted in faith. He appointed singers to go ahead of the soldiers and sing praise to God for the victory they believed they would see (v. 21). And as their music began, He miraculously defeated their enemies and saved His people (v. 22). Victory doesn’t always come when and how we want it to. But we can always proclaim Jesus’ ultimate victory over sin and death that has already been won for us. We can choose to rest in a spirit of worship even in the middle of a war zone.
11/9/20230
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Knowing the Shepherd’s Voice

When I was a boy living on a ranch in Tennessee, I spent glorious afternoons roaming with my best friend. We’d hike into the woods, ride ponies, visit the rodeo arena, and venture into the barn to watch the cowboys work the horses. But whenever I heard my dad’s whistle—that clear sound slicing through the wind and all the other clatter—I’d immediately drop whatever I was doing and head home. The signal was unmistakable, and I knew I was being called by my father. Decades later, I’d still recognize that whistle. Jesus told His disciples that He was the shepherd, and His followers were the sheep. “The sheep listen to [the shepherd’s] voice,” He said. “He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (John 10:3). In a time when numerous leaders and teachers sought to confuse Christ’s disciples by asserting their authority, He declared that His loving voice could still be heard clearly, more distinct than all the others. “His sheep follow [the shepherd], because they know his voice” (v. 4). May we be careful as we listen for Jesus’ voice and avoid foolishly dismissing it, for the fundamental truth remains: The Shepherd speaks clearly, and His sheep hear His voice. Perhaps through a verse of Scripture, the words of a believing friend, or the nudge of the Spirit—Jesus speaks, and we do hear.
11/8/20230
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Destruction Destroyed

“The baby birds will fly tomorrow!” My wife, Cari, was elated about the progress a family of wrens was making in a hanging basket on our front porch. She’d watched them daily, taking pictures as the mother brought food to the nest. Cari got up early the next morning to look in on them. She moved some of the greenery aside covering the nest but instead of seeing baby birds, the narrow eyes of a serpent met hers. The snake had scaled a vertical wall, slithered into the nest, and devoured them all. Cari was heartbroken and angry. I was out of town, so she called a friend to remove the snake. But the damage was done. Scripture tells of another serpent who left destruction in his path. The serpent in the garden of Eden deceived Eve about the tree God had warned her against eating from: “You will not certainly die,” he lied, “for God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:4–5). Sin and death entered the world as a result of Eve and Adam’s disobedience to God, and the deception wrought by “that ancient serpent, who is the devil” continues (Revelation 20:2). But Jesus came “to destroy the devil’s work” (1 John 3:8), and through Him we’re restored to relationship with God. One day, He’ll make “everything new” (Revelation 21:5).
11/7/20230
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Persistent Pizza

At age twelve, Ibrahim arrived in Italy from West Africa, not knowing a word of Italian, struggling with a stutter, and forced to face anti-immigrant putdowns. None of that stopped the hard-working young man who, in his twenties, opened a pizza shop in Trento, Italy. His little business won over doubters to be listed as one of the top fifty pizzerias in the world. His hope was then to help feed hungry children on Italian streets. So he launched a “pizza charity” by expanding a Neapolitan tradition—where customers buy an extra coffee (caffè sospeso) for those in need—to pizza (pizza sospesa). He also urges immigrant children to look past prejudice and not give up.Such persistence recalls Paul’s lessons to the Galatians on continually doing good to all. “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9). Paul continued, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (v. 10). Ibrahim, an immigrant who faced prejudice and language barriers, created an opportunity to do good. Food became “a bridge” leading to tolerance and understanding. Inspired by such persistence, we too can look for opportunities to do good. God, then, gets the glory as He works through our steady trying.
11/6/20230
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Welcomed Home by God

When Sherman Smith recruited Deland McCullough to play American football for Miami University, he loved Deland and became the father Deland never had. Deland had great admiration for Sherman and aimed to become the man he was. Decades later, when Deland tracked down his birth mom, she shocked him with the news, “Your father’s name is Sherman Smith.” Yes, that Sherman Smith. Coach Smith was stunned to learn he had a son, and Deland was stunned that his father figure was literally his father! The next time they met, Sherman hugged Deland and said, “My son.” Deland had never heard that from a father. He knew Sherman “was saying it from a place of ‘I’m proud. This is my son,’ ” and he was overwhelmed. We too should be overwhelmed by the perfect love of our heavenly Father. John writes, “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” We are as dumbfounded as Deland, who didn’t dare think someone like Sherman could be his dad. Is it really true? John insists, Yes, “And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1). If you believe in Jesus, His Father is also your Dad. You may feel orphaned, alone in the world. But the truth is you have a Father—the only perfect One—and He’s proud to call you His child.
11/5/20230
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God’s Rescue

A compassionate volunteer was called a “guardian angel” for his heroic efforts. Jake Manna was installing solar panels at a job site when he joined an urgent search to find a missing five-year-old girl. While neighbors searched their garages and yards, Manna took a path that led him into a nearby wooded area where he spotted the girl waist-deep in a marsh. He waded into the sticky mud to pull her out of her predicament and return her, damp but unharmed, to her grateful mother. Like that little girl, David also experienced deliverance. The singer “waited patiently” for God to respond to his heartfelt cries for mercy (Psalm 40:1). And He did. God leaned in, paid close attention to his cry for help, and responded by rescuing him from the “mud and mire” of his circumstances (v. 2)—providing sure footing for David’s life. The past rescues from the muddy marsh of life reinforced his desire to sing songs of praise, to make God his trust in future circumstances, and to share his story with others (vv. 3–4). When we find ourselves in life challenges such as financial difficulties, marital turmoil, and feelings of inadequacy, let’s cry out to God and patiently wait for Him to respond (v. 1). He’s there, ready to help us in our time of need and give us a firm place to stand.
11/4/20230
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Reflecting the Light of the Son

After I had a conflict with my mother, she finally agreed to meet with me more than an hour away from my home. But upon arriving, I discovered she had left before I got there. In my anger, I wrote her a note. But I revised it after I felt God nudging me to respond in love. After my mother read my revised message, she called me. “You’ve changed,” she said. God used my note to lead my mom to ask about Jesus and, eventually, receive Him as her personal Savior. In Matthew 5, Jesus affirms that His disciples are the light of the world (v. 14). He said, “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (v. 16). As soon as we receive Christ as our Savior, we receive the power of the Holy Spirit. He transforms us so we can be radiant testimonies of God’s truth and love wherever we go. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can be joyful lights of hope and peace who look more and more like Jesus every day. Every good thing we do then becomes an act of grateful worship, which looks attractive to others and can be perceived as vibrant faith. Surrendered to the Holy Spirit, we can give honor to the Father by reflecting the Light of the Son—Jesus.
11/3/20230
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Everybody Worships

I recently visited Athens, Greece. Walking round its Ancient Agora—the marketplace where philosophers taught and Athenians worshiped—I found altars to Apollo and Zeus, all in the shadow of the Acropolis, where a statue of the goddess Athena once stood. We may not bow to Apollo or Zeus today, but society is no less religious. “Everybody worships,” novelist David Foster Wallace said, adding this warning: “If you worship money and things . . . then you will never have enough. . . . Worship your body and beauty. . . and you will always feel ugly. . . . Worship your intellect . . . [and] you will end up feeling stupid.” Our secular age has its own gods and they’re not benign. “People of Athens!” Paul said while visiting the Agora, “I see that in every way you are very religious” (Acts 17:22). The apostle then described the one true God as the Creator of all (vv. 24–26) who wants to be known (v. 27) and who has revealed Himself through the resurrection of Jesus (v. 31). Unlike Apollo and Zeus, this God isn’t made by human hands. Unlike money, looks, or intelligence, worshiping Him won’t ruin us. Our “god” is whatever we rely on to give us purpose and security. Thankfully, when every earthly god fails us, the one true God is ready to be found (v. 27).
11/2/20230
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Worth It to Follow Jesus

Ronit came from a religious but non-Christian family. Their discussions about spiritual matters were dry and academic. “I kept praying all the prayers,” she said, “but I wasn’t hearing [from God].” She began to study the Bible. Slowly, steadily, she inched toward faith in Jesus as the Messiah. Ronit describes the defining moment: “I heard a clear voice in my heart saying, ‘You’ve heard enough. You’ve seen enough. It’s time to just believe.’ ” But Ronit faced a problem: her father. “My dad was like Mount Vesuvius erupted,” she recalls. When Jesus walked this earth, crowds followed Him (Luke 14:25). We don’t’ know exactly what they were looking for, but He was looking for disciples. And that comes with a cost. “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple,” He said (v. 26). He told a story about building a tower. “Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost?” He asked (v. 28). Jesus’ point wasn’t that we’re to literally hate family; rather, it’s that we must choose Him over everything else. He said, “You who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples” (v. 33). Ronit loves her family deeply, yet she concluded, “Whatever the cost, I figured it’s worth it.” What might you need to give up to follow Jesus as He guides You?
11/1/20230
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Under God’s Wings

There are several Canada goose families with baby geese at the pond near our apartment complex. The little goslings are so fluffy and cute, it’s hard not to watch them when I go for a walk or run around the pond. But I’ve learned to avoid eye contact and give the geese a wide berth—otherwise, I risk a protective goose parent suspecting a threat and hissing and chasing me! The image of a bird protecting her young is one that Scripture uses to describe God’s tender, protective love for His children (Psalm 91:4). In Psalm 61, David seems to be struggling to experience God’s care in this way once more. He’d experienced God as his “refuge, a strong tower” (v. 3), but now he called desperately “from the ends of the earth,” pleading, “Lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (v. 2). He longed to once more “take refuge in the shelter of [God’s] wings” (v. 4). And in bringing his pain and longing for healing to God, David took comfort in knowing that He had heard him (v. 5). Because of God’s faithfulness, he knew he would “ever sing in praise of [His] name” (v. 8). Like the psalmist, when we feel distant from God’s love, we can run back to His arms to be assured that even in our pain, He’s with us, protecting and caring for us as fiercely as a mother bird guards her young.
10/31/20230
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Smartphone Compassion

Was the driver late with your food? You can use your phone to give him a one-star rating. Did the shopkeeper treat you curtly? You can write her a critical review. While smartphones enable us to shop, keep up with friends, and more, they have also given us the power to publicly rate each other. And this can be a problem. Rating each other this way is problematic because judgments can be made without context. The driver gets rated poorly for a late delivery due to circumstances out of his control. The shopkeeper gets a negative review when she’d been up all night with a sick child. How can we avoid  rating others unfairly like this? By imitating God’s character. In Exodus 34:5–7, God describes Himself as “compassionate and gracious”—meaning He wouldn’t judge our failures without context; “slow to anger”—meaning He wouldn’t post a negative review after one bad experience; “abounding in love”—meaning His correctives are for our good, not to get revenge; and “forgiving [of] sin”—meaning our lives don’t have to be defined by our one-star days. Since God’s character is to be the basis of ours (Ephesians 5:1), we can avoid the harshness smartphones enable by using ours as He would. In the online age, we can all rate others harshly. May the Holy Spirit empower us to bring a little compassion today.
10/30/20230
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You Can Trust God

When my cat Mickey had an eye infection, I put eye drops in his eyes daily. As soon as I placed him on the bathroom counter, he’d sit, look at me with frightened eyes, and brace himself for the spurt of liquid. “Good boy,” I’d murmur. Even though he didn’t understand what I was doing, he never jumped off, hissed, or scratched me. Instead, he would press himself closer against me—the person putting him through the ordeal. He knew he could trust me. When David wrote Psalm 9, he had probably already experienced much of God’s love and faithfulness. He’d turned to Him for protection from his enemies, and God had acted on his behalf (vv. 3−6). During David’s times of need, God hadn’t failed him. As a result, David came to know what God was like—He was powerful and righteous, loving and faithful. And so, David trusted Him. He knew God was trustworthy. I’ve cared for Mickey through several illnesses since the night I found him as a tiny, starving kitten on the street. He knows he can trust me—even when I do things to him that he doesn’t understand. In a similar way, remembering God’s faithfulness to us and His character helps us trust Him when we can’t understand what He’s doing. May we continue to trust God through the difficult times in life.
10/29/20230
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More Precious than Gold

Have you ever looked through low-priced items at a yard sale and dreamed that you might find something of incredible value? It happened in Connecticut when a floral Chinese antique bowl purchased for just $35 at a yard sale was sold at a 2021 auction for more than $700,000. The piece turned out to be a rare, historically significant artifact from the fifteenth century. It’s a stunning reminder that what some people consider of little worth can actually have great value. Writing to believers scattered throughout the known world, Peter explained that their faith in Jesus was belief in the One who’d been rejected by the wider culture. Despised by most of the religious Jewish leaders and crucified by the Roman government, Jesus was deemed worthless by many because He did not fulfill their expectations and desires. But though others had dismissed Jesus’ worth, He was “chosen by God and precious to Him” (1 Peter 2:4). His value for us is infinitely more precious than silver or gold (1:18–19). And we have the assurance that whoever chooses to trust Jesus will never be ashamed of their choice (2:4). When others reject Jesus as worthless, let’s take another look. God’s Spirit can help us see the priceless gift of Jesus, who offers to all people the invaluable invitation to become part of the family of God (2:10).
10/28/20230
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Three Kings

In the hit musical Hamilton, England’s King George III is humorously portrayed as a cartoonish, deranged villain. However, a new biography on King George said he was not the tyrant described in Hamilton or America’s Declaration of Independence. If George had been the brutal despot that Americans said he was, he would have stopped their drive for independence with extreme, scorched-earth measures. But he was restrained by his “civilized, good-natured” temperament. Who knows if King George died with regret? Would his reign have been more successful if he’d been harsher with his subjects? Not necessarily. In the Bible we read of King Jehoram, who solidified his throne by putting “all his brothers to the sword along with some of the officials of Israel” (2 Chronicles 21:4). Jehoram “did evil in the eyes of the Lord” (v. 6). His ruthless reign alienated his people, who neither wept for his gruesome death nor made a “funeral fire in his honor” (v. 19). Historians may debate whether George was too soft; Jehoram was surely too harsh. A better way is that of King Jesus, who is “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Jesus’ expectations are firm (He demands truth), yet He embraces those who fail (He extends grace). Jesus calls us who believe in Him to follow His lead. Then, through the leading of His Holy Spirit, He empowers us to do so.
10/27/20230
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Beauty for Ashes

In the aftermath of the Marshall Fire, the most destructive fire in Colorado history, one ministry offered to help families search through the ashes for valuable items. Family members mentioned precious objects they hoped were still preserved. Very little was. One man spoke tenderly of his wedding ring. He’d placed it on his dresser in the upstairs bedroom. The house now gone, its contents had charred or melted into a single layer of debris at the basement level. Searchers looked for the ring in that same corner where the bedroom had been—without success. The prophet Isaiah wrote mournfully of the impending destruction of Jerusalem, which would be leveled. Likewise, there are times we feel the life we’ve built has been reduced to ashes. We feel we have nothing left, emotionally and spiritually. But Isaiah offers hope: “He [God] has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted . . . to comfort all who mourn” (Isaiah 61:1–2). God converts our tragedy into glory: “[He will] bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes” (v. 3). He promises to “rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated” (v. 4). At that Marshall Fire site, one woman searched the ashes on the opposite side. There, still in its case, she unearthed the husband’s wedding ring. Coincidence? Think again. In your despair, God reaches into your ashes and pulls out the one truly precious thing. You.
10/26/20230
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One Door for All

The protocols at the restaurant in my childhood neighborhood were consistent with social and racial dynamics in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The kitchen helpers—Mary, the cook; and dishwashers like me—were Black; however, the in-restaurant patrons were White. Black customers could order food, but they had to pick it up at the back door. Such policies reinforced the unequal treatment of Blacks in that era. Though we’ve come a long way since then, we still have room for growth in how we relate to each other as people made in the image of God. Passages of Scripture like Romans 10:8–13 help us to see that all are welcome in the family of God; there’s no back door. All enter the same way—through belief in Jesus’ death for cleansing and forgiveness. The Bible word for this transformative experience is saved (vv. 9, 13). Your social situation or racial status or that of others doesn’t factor into the equation. “As Scripture says, ‘Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.’ For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him” (vv. 11–12). Do you believe in your heart the Bible’s message about Jesus? Welcome to the family!
10/25/20230
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Don’t Lose Heart

I don’t remember a time when my mom Dorothy was in good health. For many years as a brittle diabetic, her blood sugar was wildly erratic. Complications developed and her damaged kidneys necessitated permanent dialysis. Neuropathy and broken bones resulted in the use of a wheelchair. Her eyesight began to regress toward blindness. But as her body failed her, Mom’s prayer life grew more vigorous. She spent hours praying for others to know and experience the love of God. Precious words of Scripture grew sweeter to her. Before her eyesight faded, she wrote a letter to her sister Marjorie including words from 2 Corinthians 4: “We do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, . . . inwardly we are being renewed day by day” (v. 16). The apostle Paul knew how easy it is to “lose heart.” In 2 Corinthians 11, he describes his life—one of danger, pain, and deprivation (vv. 23–29). Yet he viewed those “troubles” as “temporary.” And he encouraged us to think not only about what we see but also about what we can’t see—that which is eternal (4:17–18) Despite what’s happening to us, our loving Father is continuing our inner renewal every day. His presence with us is sure. Through the gift of prayer, He’s only a breath away. And His promises to strengthen us and give us hope and joy remain true.
10/24/20230
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Surrendering to God

God doesn’t help those who help themselves; He helps those who trust in and rely on Him. Jonathan Roumie—the actor who plays Jesus in the successful TV series The Chosen, which is based on the four Gospels—realized this in May of 2018. Roumie had been living in Los Angeles for eight years, was nearly broke, had enough food just for the day, and had no work in sight. Not knowing how he would make it, the actor poured out his heart and surrendered his career to God. “I literally [prayed] the words, ‘I surrender. I surrender.’ ” Later that day, he found four checks in the mail and three months later, he was cast for the role of Jesus in The Chosen. Roumie found that God will help those who trust in Him. Rather than being envious of and fretting over of those “who are evil” (Psalm 37:1–2), the psalmist invites us to surrender everything to God. When we center our lives on Him, “trust in [Him] and do good,” “take delight in [Him],” and surrender to Him all our desires, problems, anxieties, and the daily events of our lives, God will direct our lives and give us peace. As believers in Jesus, it’s vital for us to let Him determine what our lives should be. Let’s surrender and trust God. As we do, He will take action and do what’s necessary and best.
10/23/20230
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Headlong into Danger

In 1892, a resident with cholera accidentally transmitted the disease via the Elbe River to Hamburg, Germany’s entire water supply. Within weeks, ten thousand citizens died. Eight years earlier, German microbiologist Robert Koch had made a discovery: cholera was waterborne. Koch’s revelation prodded officials in large European cities to invest in filtration systems to protect their water. Hamburg authorities, however, had done nothing. Citing costs and alleging dubious science, they’d ignored clear warnings while their city careened toward catastrophe. The book of Proverbs has a lot to say about those of us who see trouble yet refuse to act. “A prudent person foresees danger and takes precaution” (27:12 NLT). When God helps us see danger ahead, it’s common sense to take action to address the danger. We wisely change course (v. 11). Or we ready ourselves with appropriate precautions that He provides. But we do something. To do nothing is sheer lunacy. We can all fail to miss the warning signs, however, and careen toward disaster. “The simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences” (v. 12 nlt). In Scripture and in the life of Jesus, God shows us the path to follow and warns us of trouble we’ll surely face. If we’re foolish, we’ll barrel ahead, headlong into danger. Instead, as He leads us by His grace, may we heed His wisdom and change course. Winn Collier
10/22/20230
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Christ, Our True Light

“Go to the light!” That’s what my husband advised as we struggled to find our way out of a big city hospital on a recent Sunday afternoon. We’d visited a friend, and when we exited an elevator, we couldn’t find anyone during weekend hours to point us to the front doors—and the brilliant Colorado sunlight. Roaming around half-lit hallways, we finally encountered a man who saw our confusion. “These hallways all look the same,” he said. “But the exit’s this way.” With his directions, we found the exit doors—leading, indeed, to the bright sunlight. Jesus invited confused, lost unbelievers to follow Him out of their spiritual darkness. “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). In His light, we can see stumbling blocks, sin, and blind spots, allowing Him to remove such darkness from our lives as He shines His light into our hearts and on our path. Like the pillar of fire that led the Israelites through the wilderness, Jesus’ light brings us God’s presence, protection, and guidance. As John explained, Jesus is “the true light” (John 1:9) and “the darkness has not overcome it” (v. 5). Instead of wandering through life, we can seek Him for direction as He lights the way.
10/21/20230
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In the Garden

My dad loved being outdoors in God’s creation camping, fishing, and rock-hunting. He also enjoyed working in his yard and garden. But it took lots of work! He spent hours pruning, hoeing, planting seeds or flowers, pulling weeds, mowing the lawn, and watering the yard and garden. The results were worth it—a landscaped lawn, tasty tomatoes, and beautiful peace roses. Every year he pruned the roses close to the ground, and every year they grew back—filling the senses with their fragrance and beauty. In Genesis we read of the garden of Eden where Adam and Eve lived, thrived, and walked with God. There, God “made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food” (Genesis 2:9). I imagine that perfect garden also included beautiful, sweet-smelling flowers—perhaps even roses minus the thorns! After Adam and Eve’s rebellion against God, they were expelled from the garden and needed to plant and care for their own gardens, which meant breaking up hard ground, battling with thorns, and other challenges (3:16–19, 23–24). Yet God continued to provide for them (v. 21). And He didn’t leave humanity without the beauty of creation to draw us to Him (Romans 1:20). The flowers in the garden remind us of God’s continued love and promise of a renewed creation—symbols of hope and comfort!
10/20/20230
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First on the List

The morning commenced like a track meet. I practically jumped out of bed, launching into the teeth of the day’s deadlines. Get the kids to school. Check. Get to work. Check. I blasted full throttle into writing my “To Do” list, in which personal and professional tasks tumbled together in an avalanche-like litany: “ . . . 13. Edit article. 14. Clean office. 15. Strategic team planning. 16. Write tech blog. 17. Clean basement. 18. Pray.” By the time I got to number eighteen, I’d remembered that I needed God’s help. But I’d gotten that far before it even occurred to me that I was going at it alone, trying to manufacture my own momentum. Jesus knew. He knew our days would crash one into another, a sea of ceaseless urgency. So He instructs, “Seek first [God’s] kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33). It’s natural to hear Jesus’ words as a command. And they are. But there’s more here—an invitation. In Matthew 6, Jesus invites us to exchange the world’s frantic anxiety (vv. 25–32) for a life of trust, day by day. God, by His grace, helps us all of our days—even when we get to number eighteen on our list before we remember to see life from His perspective. How can we turn to God first each day? On stressful days, what helps you trust Jesus with things demanding your immediate attention?
10/19/20230
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Use What You Have for Christ

Ever heard of The Sewing Hall of Fame? Established in 2001, it recognizes people that have made “a lasting impact on the home sewing industry with unique and innovative contributions through sewing education and product development.” It includes individuals like Martha Pullen, inducted into the hall in 2005, who is described as “a Proverbs 31 woman who . . . never failed to publicly acknowledge the source of her strength, inspiration, and blessings.” The Sewing Hall of Fame is a twenty-first-century invention, but had it been around during the first century in Israel, a woman named Tabitha might have been a lock for induction. Tabitha was a believer in Jesus and a seamstress who spent time sewing for poor widows in her community (Acts 9:36, 39). After she became ill and died, disciples sent for Peter to see if God would work a miracle through him. When he arrived, weeping widows showed him robes and other clothing that Tabitha had made for them (v. 39). These clothes were evidence of her “always doing good” in her city. She used her skills to help “the poor” and others (v. 36). By God’s power, Tabitha was restored to life. God calls and equips us to use our skills to meet needs that are present in our community and world. Let’s release our skills into the service of Jesus and see how He will use our acts of love to stitch hearts and lives together (Ephesians 4:16).
10/18/20230
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Our Anchor of Hope

I held up a picture of people sleeping under pieces of cardboard in a dim alley. “What do they need?” I asked my sixth grade Sunday school class. “Food,” someone said. “Money,” said another. “A safe place,” a boy said thoughtfully. Then one girl spoke up: “Hope.” “Hope is expecting good things to happen,” she explained. I found it interesting that she talked about “expecting” good things when, due to challenges, it can be easy not to expect good things in life. The Bible nevertheless speaks of hope in a way that agrees with my student. If “faith is confidence in what we hope for” (Hebrews 11:1), we who have faith in Jesus can expect good things to happen. What is this ultimate good that believers in Christ can hope for with confidence?—“the promise of entering his rest” (4:1).For believers, God’s rest includes His peace, confidence of salvation, reliance on His strength and assurance of a future heavenly home. The guarantee of God and the salvation Jesus offers is why hope can be our anchor, holding us fast in times of need (6:18–20). The world needs hope, indeed: God’s true and certain assurance that throughout good and bad times, He will have the final say and won’t fail us. When we trust in Him, we know that He will make all things right for us in His time.
10/17/20230
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Who Am I?

Kizombo sat watching the campfire, pondering the great questions of his life. What have I accomplished? he thought. Too quickly the answer came back: not much, really. He was back in the land of his birth, serving at the school his father had started deep in the rainforest. He was also trying to write his father’s powerful story of surviving two civil wars. Who am I to try to do all this? Kizombo’s misgivings sound like those of Moses. God had just given Moses a mission: “I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt” (Exodus 3:10). Moses replied, “Who am I?” (v. 11). After some weak excuses from Moses, God asked him, “What is that in your hand?” It was a staff (4:2). At God’s direction, Moses threw it on the ground. The staff turned into a snake. Against his instincts, Moses picked it up. Again, it became a staff (v. 4). In God’s power, Moses could face Pharaoh. He literally had one of the “gods” of Egypt—a snake—in his hand. Egypt’s gods were no threat to the one true God. Kizombo thought of Moses, and he sensed God’s answer: You have Me and My Word. He thought too of friends who encouraged him to write his father’s story so others would learn of God’s power in his life. He wasn’t alone.   On our own, our best efforts are inadequate. But we serve the God who says, “I will be with you” (3:12).
10/16/20230
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God’s Unexpected Ways

The pastor squinted over his sermon, holding the pages close to his face in order to make the words out. He was extremely near-sighted, and read each carefully chosen phrase with an unimposing monotone voice. But God’s Spirit moved through Jonathan Edwards’s preaching to fan the revival fires of the First Great Awakening and bring thousands to faith in Christ. God often uses unexpected things to accomplish His perfect purposes. Writing about God’s plan to draw wayward humanity near through Jesus’ loving death for us on a cross, Paul concludes, “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong” (1 Corinthians 1:27). The world expected divine wisdom to look like our own and to come with irresistible force. Instead, Jesus came humbly and gently to save us from our sins and so became for us “wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30). The eternal and all-wise God became a human baby who would grow to adulthood and suffer and die and be raised to life in order to lovingly show us the way home to Him. He loves to use humble means and people to accomplish great things we could never achieve in our own strength. If we are willing, He may even use us.
10/15/20230
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An Impossible Gift

I was elated to find the “perfect” gift for my mother-in-law’s birthday: the bracelet even contained her birthstone! Finding that perfect gift for someone is always an utter delight. But what if the gift the individual needs is beyond our power to give. Many of us wish we could give someone peace of mind, rest, or even patience. If only those could be purchased and wrapped with a bow! These types of gifts are impossible for one person to give to another. Yet Jesus—God in human flesh—does give those who believe in Him one such “impossible” gift: the gift of peace. Before ascending to heaven and leaving the disciples, Jesus comforted them with the promise of the Holy Spirit who would “remind [them] of everything [He had] said to them” (John 14:26). He offered them peace—His peace—as an enduring, unfailing gift for when their hearts were troubled or when they were experiencing fear. He, Himself, is our peace with God, with others, and within. We may not have the ability to give our loved ones the extra measure of patience or improved health they desire. Nor is it within our power to give them the peace we all desperately need to bear up under the struggles of life. But we can be led by the Spirit to speak to them about Jesus, the giver and embodiment of true and lasting peace.
10/14/20230
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Yielding to Trust

Opening the blinds one winter morning, I faced a shocking sight. A wall of fog. “Freezing fog,” the weather forecaster called it. Rare for our location, this fog came with an even bigger surprise: a later forecast for blue skies and sunshine—“in one hour.” “Impossible,” I told my husband. “We can barely see one foot ahead.” But sure enough, in less than an hour, the fog had faded, the sky yielding to a sunny, clear blue. Standing at a window, I pondered my level of trust when I can only see fog in life. I asked my husband, “Do I only trust God for what I can already see?” When King Uzziah died and some corrupt rulers came to power in Judah, Isaiah asked a similar question. Who can we trust? God responded by giving Isaiah a vision so remarkable that it convinced the prophet that He can be trusted in the present for better days ahead. As Isaiah praised, “You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you” (Isaiah 26:3). The prophet added, “Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal” (v. 4). When our minds are fixed on God, we can trust Him even during foggy and confusing times. We might not see it clearly now, but if we trust God, we can be assured His sparkling help is on the way.
10/13/20230
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Knowing and Loving

In the powerful article “Does My Son Know You?” sportswriter Jonathan Tjarks wrote of his battle with terminal cancer and his desire for others to care well for his wife and young son. The thirty-four-year-old wrote the piece just six months prior to his death. Tjarks, a believer in Jesus whose father had died when he was a young adult, shared Scriptures that speak of care for widows and orphans (Exodus 22:22; Isaiah 1:17; James 1:27). And in words directed to his friends, he wrote, “When I see you in heaven, there’s only one thing I’m going to ask—Were you good to my son and my wife? . . . Does my son know you?” King David wondered if there was “anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom [he could] show kindness for [his dear friend] Jonathan’s sake” (2 Samuel 9:1). A son of Jonathan, Mephibosheth, who was “lame in both feet” (v. 3) due to an accident (see 4:4), was brought to the king. David said to him, “I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table” (9:7). David showed loving care for Mephibosheth, and it’s likely that in time he truly got to know him (see 19:24–30). Jesus has called us to love others just as He loves us (John 13:34). As He works in and though us, let’s truly get to know and love them well.
10/12/20230
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Open the Eyes of My Heart

In 2001, a premature baby named Christopher Duffley surprised doctors by surviving. At five months old, he entered the foster care system until his aunt’s family adopted him. A teacher realized four-year-old Christopher, though blind and diagnosed with autism, had perfect pitch. Six years later at church, Christopher stood onstage and sang, “Open the Eyes of My Heart.” The video reached millions online. In 2020, Christopher shared his goals of serving as a disability advocate. He continues to prove that possibilities are limitless with the eyes of his heart open to God’s plan. The apostle Paul commended the church in Ephesus for their bold faith (1:15–16). He asked God to give them “the Spirit of wisdom and revelation” so they would “know him better” (v. 17). He prayed that their eyes would be “enlightened,” or opened, so they would understand the hope and inheritance God promised His people (v. 18). As we ask God to reveal Himself to us, we can know Him more and can declare His name, power, and authority with confidence (vv. 19–23). With faith in Jesus and love for all God’s people, we can live in ways that prove His limitless possibilities while asking Him to keep opening the eyes of our hearts.
10/11/20230
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Hope for the Hurting

“Most people carry scars that others can’t see or understand.” Those deeply honest words came from Major League Baseball player Andrelton Simmons, who opted out of the end of the 2020 regular season due to mental health struggles. Reflecting on his decision, Simmons felt he needed to share his story to encourage others facing similar challenges and to remind others to show compassion. Invisible scars are those deep hurts and wounds that can’t be seen but still cause very real pain and suffering. In Psalm 6, David wrote of his own deep struggle—penning painfully raw and honest words. He was “in agony” (v. 2) and “deep anguish” (v. 3). He was “worn out” from groaning, and his bed was drenched with tears (v. 6). While David doesn’t share the cause of his suffering, many of us can relate to his pain. We can also be encouraged by the way David responded to his pain. In the midst of his overwhelming suffering, David cried out to God. Honestly pouring out his heart, David prayed for healing (v. 2), rescue (v. 4), and mercy (v. 9). Even with the question “How long?” (v. 3) lingering over his situation, David remained confident that God “heard [his] cry for mercy” (v. 9) and would act in His time (v. 10). Because of who our God is, there is always hope.
10/10/20230
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Slow-Fashioned Grace

Have you heard of #slowfashion? The hashtag captures a movement focused on resisting “fast fashion”—an industry dominated by cheaply made and quickly disposed of clothes. In fast fashion, clothes are out of style nearly as quickly as they’re in the stores—with some brands disposing of large quantities of their products every year. The slow fashion movement encourages people to slow down and take a different approach. Instead of being driven by the need to always have the latest look, slow fashion encourages us to select fewer well-made and ethically sourced items that will last.   As I reflected on #slowfashion’s invitation, I found myself wondering about other ways I fall into a “fast fashion” way of thinking—always looking for fulfillment in the latest trend. In Colossians 3, however, Paul says finding true transformation in Jesus isn’t a quick fix or a fad. It’s a lifetime of quiet, gradual transformation in Christ.   Instead of needing to clothe ourselves with the world’s latest status symbols, we can exchange our striving for the Spirit’s clothing of “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (v.12). We can learn patience with each other on the slow journey of Christ transforming our hearts—a journey that leads to lasting peace (v. 15).
10/9/20230
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Wisdom We Need

In his monumental book The Great Influenza, John M. Barry recounts the story of the 1918 flu epidemic. Barry reveals how health officials, rather than being caught off guard, anticipated a massive outbreak. They feared that World War I, with hundreds of thousands of troops crammed into trenches and moving across borders, would unleash new viruses. But this knowledge was useless to stop the devastation. Powerful leaders, beating the drums of war, rushed toward violence. And epidemiologists estimate that 50 million people died in the epidemic, adding to the roughly 20 million killed in the war’s carnage. We’ve proven over and again that our human knowledge will never be enough to rescue us from evil (Proverbs 4:14–16). Though we’ve amassed immense knowledge and present remarkable insights, we still can’t stop the pain we inflict on one another. We can’t halt “the way of the wicked,” this foolish, repetitive path that leads to “deep darkness.” Despite our best knowledge, we really have no idea “what makes [us] stumble” (v. 19). That’s why we must “get wisdom, get understanding” (v. 5). Wisdom teaches us what to do with knowledge. And true wisdom, this wisdom we desperately require, comes from God. Our knowledge always falls short, but His wisdom provides what we need.
10/8/20230
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A Choice

A few weeks after the death of a dear friend, I spoke with her mom. I was hesitant to ask how she was doing because I thought it was an inappropriate question; she was grieving. But I pushed aside my reluctance and simply asked how she was holding up. Her reply: “Listen, I choose joy.” Her words ministered to me that day as I struggled to push beyond some unpleasant circumstances in my own life. And her words also reminded me of Moses’ edict to the Israelites at the end of Deuteronomy. Just before Moses’ death and the Israelites’ entrance into the promised land, God wanted them to know that they had a choice. Moses said, “I have set before you life and death. . . . Now choose life” (Deuteronomy 30:19). They could follow God’s laws and live well, or they could turn away from Him and live with the consequences of “death and destruction” (v. 15). We must choose how to live too. We can choose joy by believing and trusting in God’s promises for our lives. Or we can choose to focus on the negative and difficult parts of our journeys, allowing them to rob us of joy. It will take practice and relying on the Holy Spirit for help, but we can choose joy too—knowing that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28).
10/7/20230
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What Could Be Better?

Eric heard about Jesus’ love for him while in his early twenties. He started attending church where he met someone who helped him grow to know Jesus better. It wasn’t long before Eric’s mentor assigned him to teach a small group of boys at church. Through the years, God drew Eric’s heart to help at-risk youth in his city, to visit the elderly, and to show hospitality to his neighbors—all for God’s honor. Now in his late fifties, Eric explains how grateful he is that he was taught early to serve: “My heart overflows to share the hope I’ve found in Jesus. What could be better than to serve Him?” Timothy was a child when his mother and grandmother influenced him in his faith (2 Timothy 1:5). And he was likely a young adult when he met the apostle Paul, who saw potential in Timothy’s service for God and invited him on a ministry journey (Acts 16:3). Paul became his mentor in ministry and life. He encouraged him to study, to be courageous as he faced false teaching, and to use his talents in service to God (1 Timothy 4:6–16). Why did Paul want Timothy to be faithful in serving God? He wrote, “Because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people” (v. 10). Jesus is our hope and the Savior of the world. What could be better than to serve Him?
10/6/20230
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Ready to Go

During the coronavirus pandemic, many suffered the loss of loved ones. On November 27, 2020, our family joined their ranks when Bee Crowder, my ninety-five-year-old mom, died—though not from COVID-19. Like so many other families, we weren’t able to gather to grieve Mom, honor her life, or encourage one another. Instead, we used other means to celebrate her loving influence—and we found great comfort from her insistence that, if God called her home, she was ready and even eager to go. That confident hope, evidenced in so much of Mom’s living, was also how she faced death. Facing possible death, Paul wrote, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. . . . I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body” (Philippians 1:21, 23–24). Even with his legitimate desire to stay and help others, Paul was drawn to his heavenly home with Christ. Such confidence changes how we view the moment when we step from this life to the next. And our hope can give great comfort to others in their own season of loss. Although we grieve the loss of those we love, believers in Jesus don’t grieve like those “who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). True hope is the possession of those who know Him.
10/5/20230
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Finding Life

It was a natural step for Brett to attend a Christian college and study the Bible. After all, he’d been around people who knew Jesus his whole life—at home, at school, at church. He was even gearing his college studies toward a career in “Christian work.” But at age twenty-one, as he sat with the small congregation in an old country church and listened to a pastor preach from 1 John, he made a startling discovery. He realized that he was depending on knowledge and the trappings of religion and that he had never truly received salvation in Jesus. He felt that Christ was tugging at his heart that day with a sobering message: “You don’t know me!” The apostle John’s message is clear: “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God” (1 John 5:1). We can “overcome the world,” as John puts it (v. 4) only by belief in Jesus. Not knowledge about Him, but deep, sincere faith—demonstrated by our belief in what He did for us on the cross. That day, Brett placed his faith in Christ alone. Today, Brett’s deep passion for Jesus and His salvation are no secret. It comes through loud and clear every time he steps behind the pulpit and preaches as a pastor—my pastor. “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life” (1 John 5:11–12). For all who have found life in Jesus, what a comforting reminder this is!
10/4/20230
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I Can See You!

The optometrist helped three-year-old Andreas adjust his first pair of glasses. “Look in the mirror,” she said. Andreas glanced at his reflection, then turned to his father with a joyful and loving smile. Andreas’ father gently wiped the tears that slipped down his son’s cheeks. “What’s wrong?” Andreas wrapped his arms around his father’s neck. “I can see you.” He pulled back, tilted his head, and gazed into his father’s eyes. “I can see you!” As we prayerfully study the Bible, the Holy Spirit gives us eyes to see Jesus, the “image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). However, even with our vision cleared by the Holy Spirit as we grow in knowledge through Scripture, we can still only see a glimpse of God’s infinite immensity on this side of eternity. When our time on earth is done or when Jesus fulfills His promise to return—we’ll see Him clearly (1 Corinthians 13:12). We won’t need special glasses in that joy-filled moment when we see Jesus face-to-face and know Him as He knows each of us, the beloved members of the body of Christ—the church. The Holy Spirit will infuse us with the faith, hope, and love we need to stand firm, until we gaze at our loving and living Savior and say, “I can see You, Jesus. I can see You!”
10/3/20230
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The Masterpiece Within

Writing in The Atlantic, author Arthur C. Brooks tells of his visit to the National Palace Museum in Taiwan, which contains one of the largest collections of Chinese art in the world. The museum guide asked, “What do you think of when I ask you to imagine a work of art yet to be started?” Brooks said, “An empty canvas, I guess.” The guide replied, “There’s another way to view it: The art already exists, and the job of artists is simply to reveal it.” In Ephesians 2:10, the word “handiwork,” sometimes translated as “workmanship” or “masterpiece” is from the Greek word poiēma, from which we derive our word “poetry.” God has created us as works of art, living poems. However, our art has become obscured: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins” (v. 1). To paraphrase the words of the museum guide, “The art [of us] is already there, and it’s the job of the Divine Artist to reveal it.” Indeed God is restoring us, His masterpieces: “God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive” (vv. 4-5). As we go through challenges and difficulties, we might take comfort in knowing that the Divine Artist is at work: “It is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Philippians 2:13). Know that God is working in you to reveal His masterpiece.
10/2/20230
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Elegant Design

An international research team has created a flapping-wing drone that mimics the movements of a particular bird—the swift. Swifts can fly up to 90 miles per hour and are able to hover, plunge, turn quickly, and stop suddenly. The ornithopter drone, however, is still inferior to the bird. One researcher said birds “have multiple sets of muscles which enable them to fly incredibly fast, fold their wings, twist, open feather slots and save energy.” He admitted that his team’s efforts were still only able to replicate about “10 percent of biological flight.” God has given the creatures in our world all kinds of amazing abilities. Observing them and reflecting on their know-how can be a source of wisdom for us. The ants teach us about gathering resources, rock badgers show us the value of dependable shelter, and locusts teach us there’s strength in numbers (Proverbs 30:25–27). The Bible tells us that “[God] founded the world by his wisdom” (Jeremiah 10:12), and at the end of each step in the creation process, He confirmed that what He had done was “good” (Genesis 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 25, 31). The same God who created birds to “fly above the earth across the vault of the sky” (v. 20), has given us the ability to combine His wisdom with our own reasoning. Today, consider how you might learn from His elegant designs in the natural world.
10/1/20230
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Least Likely

Hollywood gives us larger than life spies who are dashing drivers of flashy Aston-Martins and other luxury sports cars. But Jonna Mendez, a former CIA chief, paints an opposite picture of the real thing. An agent must be “the little gray man,” she says, someone nondescript, not flashy. “You want them to be forgettable.” The best agents are those least likely to appear like agents. When two of Israel’s spies slipped into Jericho, it was Rahab who hid them from the king’s soldiers (Joshua 2:4). She was seemingly the least likely person for God to employ as an espionage agent, for she had three strikes against her: she was a Canaanite, a woman, and a prostitute. Yet Rahab had started to believe in the God of the Israelites: “Your God is God in heaven” (v. 11). She hid God’s spies under flax on the roof, assisting in their daring escape. God rewarded her faith: “Joshua spared Rahab the prostitute, with her family” (6:25). Sometimes we might feel we are the least likely to be used by God. Perhaps we have physical limitations, don’t feel “flashy” enough to lead, or have a tarnished past. But history is filled with “nondescript” believers redeemed by God, people like Rahab who were given a special mission for His kingdom. Be assured: He has divine purposes for even the least likely of us.
9/30/20230
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A Giver’s Heart

On our last day in Wisconsin, my friend brought her four-year-old daughter Kinslee to say goodbye. “I don’t want you to move,” said Kinslee. I hugged her and gave her a canvas, hand-painted fan from my collection. “When you miss me, use this fan and remember that I love you.” Kinslee asked if she could have a different fan—a paper one from my bag. “That one’s broken,” I said. “I want you to have my best fan.” I didn’t regret giving Kinslee my favorite fan. Seeing her happy made me happier. Later, Kinslee told her mother she was sad because I kept the broken fan. They sent me a brand-new, fancy purple fan. After giving generously to me, Kinslee felt happy again. So did I.  In a world that promotes self-gratification and self-preservation, we can be tempted to hoard instead of living with giving hearts. However, the Bible says that a person who “gives freely” “gains even more” (Proverbs 11:24). Our culture defines prosperity as having more and more and more, but the Bible says that “a generous person will prosper” and “whoever refreshes others will be refreshed” (v. 25). God’s unlimited and unconditional love and generosity continually recharge us. We can each have a giver’s heart and create unending giving cycles because we know God—the Giver of all good things—never gets tired of providing abundantly.
9/29/20230
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Tend Your Garden

I was so excited to plant our backyard fruit and veggie garden. Then I started to notice small holes in the dirt. Before it had time to ripen, our first fruit mysteriously disappeared. One day I was dismayed to find our largest strawberry plant had been completely uprooted by a nesting rabbit and scorched to a crisp by the sun. I wished I’d paid closer attention to the warning signs! The beautiful love poem in Song of Songs records a conversation between a young man and woman. While calling to his darling, the man sternly warned against animals who would tear apart the lovers’ garden, a metaphor for their relationship. “Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards,” he said (Song of Songs 2:15). Perhaps he saw hints of “foxes” that could ruin their romance, like jealousy, anger, deceit, or apathy. Because he delighted in the beauty of his bride (v. 14), he wouldn’t tolerate the presence of anything unwholesome. She was as precious as “a lily among thorns” to him (v. 2). He was willing to put in the work to guard their relationship. Some of God’s most precious gifts to us are family and friends, although those relationships aren’t always easy to maintain. With patience, care, and protection from “the little foxes,” we trust that God will grow beautiful fruit.
9/28/20230
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God Calls Your Name

Natalia went to a different nation with the promise of receiving an education. But soon the father in her new home began physically and sexually abusing her. He forced her to care for his home and children without pay. He refused to let her go outside or use the phone. She had become his slave.  Hagar was Abram and Sarai’s Egyptian slave. Neither one used her name. They called her “my slave” or “your slave” (Genesis 16:2, 5–6). They merely wanted to use her so they could have an heir. How different is God! The angel of the Lord makes His first appearance in Scripture when He speaks to a pregnant Hagar in the desert. The angel is either God’s messenger or God Himself. Hagar believes He is God, for she says, “I have now seen the One who sees me” (v. 13). If the angel is God, He could possibly be the Son—the One who reveals God to us—making an early, preincarnate appearance. He says her name, “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?” (v. 8).  God saw Natalia and brought caring people into her life who rescued her. She’s now studying to become a nurse. God saw Hagar and called her by name. And God sees you. You may be overlooked or worse, abused. Jesus calls you by name. Run to Him.
9/27/20230
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A Distinct Cry

When a baby cries, it’s a signal that she’s tired and hungry, right? Well, according to doctors at Brown University, subtle differences in a newborn’s cries can also provide important clues for other problems. Doctors have devised a computer program that measures cry factors like pitch, volume, and how clear the cry sound is to determine if something’s wrong with the baby’s central nervous system. Isaiah prophesied that God would hear the distinct cries of His people, determine their hearts’ condition, and respond with grace. Judah, rather than consulting God, had ignored His prophet and sought help in an alliance with Egypt (30:1–7). God told them that if they chose to continue in their rebellion, He would bring about their defeat and humiliation. However, He also longed “to be gracious to [them]; . . . to show [them] compassion” (v. 18). Rescue would come, but only through their cries of repentance and faith. If God’s people did cry out to Him, He would forgive their sins and renew their spiritual strength and vitality (vv. 8–26).   The same holds true for believers in Jesus today. When our distinct cries of repentance and trust reach the ears of our heavenly Father, He hears them, forgives us, and renews our joy and hope in Him.
9/26/20230
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Reason for Fear

When I was a boy, the schoolyard was where bullies threw their weight around and kids like me received that bullying with minimal protest. As we cowered in fear before our tormenters, there was something even worse: their taunts of “Are you scared? You’re afraid of me, aren’t you? There’s no one here to protect you.” In fact, most of those times I really was frightened—and with good cause. Having been punched in the past, I knew I didn’t want to experience that again. So, what could I do and who could I trust when I was stricken with fear? When you’re eight years old and being bullied by a kid who is older, bigger, and stronger, the fear is legitimate.  When David faced attack, he responded with confidence rather than fear—because he knew he didn’t face those threats alone. He wrote, “The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” (Psalm 118:6). As a boy, I’m not sure I would have been able to understand David’s level of confidence. As an adult, however, I’ve learned from years of walking with Christ that He’s greater than any fear-inducing threat. The threats we face in life are real. Yet we need not fear. The Creator of the universe is with us, and He’s more than enough.
9/25/20230
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Compassion in Action

Building benches isn’t James Warren’s job. He started building them, however, when he noticed a woman in Denver sitting in the dirt while waiting for a bus. That’s “undignified,” Warren worried. So, the twenty-eight-year-old workforce consultant found some scrap wood, built a bench, and placed it at the bus stop. It quickly got used. Realizing many of the nine thousand bus stops in his city lacked seating, he made another bench, then several more, inscribing “Be Kind” on each one. His goal? “To make people’s lives just a little bit better, in any way I can,” Warren said. Compassion is another way of describing such action. As practiced by Jesus, compassion is a feeling so strong that it leads us to take action to meet another’s need. When crowds of desperate people pursued Jesus, “he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6:34). He turned that compassion into action by healing their sick (Matthew 14:14). We, too, should “clothe [ourselves] with compassion,” Paul urged (Colossians 3:12). The benefits? As Warren says, “It fills me up. It’s air in my tires.” All around us are needs, and God will bring them to our attention. Those needs can motivate us to put our compassion into action, and those actions will encourage others as we show them the love of Christ.
9/24/20230
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All the Answers

Dale Earnhardt Jr. describes the awful moment he understood his father was gone. Motor racing legend Dale Earnhardt Sr. had just been killed in a horrific crash at the end of the Daytona 500—a race in which Dale Jr. had also participated. “There’s this noise coming outta me that I can’t re-create,” said the younger Earnhardt. “[It’s] this bellow of shock and sorrow—and fear.” And then the lonely truth: “I’m gonna have to do this by myself.” “Having Dad was like having a cheat sheet,” Earnhardt Jr. explained. “Having Dad was like knowing all the answers.” Jesus’ disciples had learned to look to Him for all the answers. Now, on the eve of His crucifixion, He assured them He wouldn’t leave them alone. “I will ask the Father,” Jesus said, “and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth” (John 14:16–17). Jesus extended that comfort to all who would believe in Him. “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching,” He said. “My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them” (v. 23). Those who choose to follow Christ have within them the Spirit who teaches them “all things” and reminds them of everything Jesus taught (v. 26). We don’t have all the answers, but we have the Spirit of the One who does.
9/23/20230
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Beautiful Restoration

In his wonderful book Art + Faith: A Theology of Making, renowned artist Makoto Fujimura describes the ancient Japanese art form of Kintsugi. In it, the artist takes broken pottery (originally tea ware) and pieces the shards back together with lacquer, threading gold into the cracks. “Kintsugi,” Fujimura explains, “does not just ‘fix’ or repair a broken vessel; rather, the technique makes the broken pottery even more beautiful than the original.” Kintsugi, first implemented centuries ago when a warlord’s favorite cup was destroyed and then beautifully restored, became art that’s highly prized and desired. Isaiah describes God artfully enacting this kind of restoration with the world. Though we’re broken by our rebellion and shattered by our selfishness, God promises to “create new heavens and a new earth” (65:17). He plans not merely to repair the old world but to make it entirely new, to take our ruin and fashion a world shimmering with fresh beauty. This new creation will be so stunning that “past troubles will be forgotten” and “former things will not be remembered” (vv .16–17). With this new creation, God will not scramble to cover our mistakes but rather will unleash His creative energy—energy where ugly things become beautiful and dead things breathe anew. As we survey our shattered lives, there’s no need for despair. God is working His beautiful restoration.
9/22/20230
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God Covers Our Sin

When a single mother had to find work to take care of her family in the 1950s, she took on typing jobs. The only issue was that she wasn’t a very good typist and kept making mistakes. She looked for ways to cover up her errors and eventually created what’s known as Liquid Paper, a white correction fluid used to cover-up typing errors. Once it dries, you can type over the cover-up as if there were no errors. Jesus offers us an infinitely more powerful and important way to deal with our sin—no cover-up but complete forgiveness. A good example of this shows up in the beginning of John 8 in the story of a woman who was caught in adultery (vv. 3–4). The teachers of the law wanted Jesus to do something about the woman and her sins. The law said she should be stoned, but Christ didn’t bother to entertain what the law did or didn’t say. He simply offered a reminder that all have sinned (see Romans 3:23) and told anyone who hadn’t sinned to “throw a stone at” the woman (John 8:7). Not one rock was tossed. Jesus offered this woman a fresh start. He said he didn’t condemn her and instructed that she “leave [her] life of sin” (v. 11). Christ gave her the solution to forgive her sin and “type” a new way of living over her past. That same offer is available to us by His grace.
9/21/20230
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Shooting Ourselves in the Foot

In 2021, an engineer with the ambition to shoot an arrow farther than anyone in history took aim at the record of 2,028 feet. While lying on his back on a salt flat, he drew back the bowstring of his personally designed foot bow and prepared to launch the projectile to what he hoped would be a new record distance of more than a mile (5,280 feet). Taking a deep breath, he let the arrow fly. It didn’t travel a mile. In fact, it traveled less than a foot—launching into his foot and causing considerable damage. Ouch!   Sometimes we can figuratively shoot ourselves in the foot with misguided ambition. James and John knew what it meant to ambitiously seek something good, but for the wrong reasons. They asked Jesus to let “one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory” (Mark 10:37). Jesus had told the disciples they would “sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelves tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28), so it’s easy to see why they made this request. The problem? They were selfishly seeking their own lofty position and power in Christ’s glory. Jesus told them that their ambition was misplaced (Mark 10:38) and that “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant” (v. 43). As we aim to do good and great things for Christ, may we seek His wisdom and direction—humbly serving others as He did so well (v. 45).
9/20/20230
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Faithful but Not Forgotten

Growing up, Sean knew little about what it meant to have a family. His mother had died and his father was hardly home. He often felt lonely and abandoned. A couple who lived nearby, however, reached out to him. They took him into their home and got their children to be “big brother” and “big sister” to him, which gave him assurance that he was loved. They also took him to church, where Sean, now a confident young man, is a youth leader today. Although this couple played such a key role in turning a young life around, what they did for Sean isn’t widely known to most people in their church family. But God knows, and I believe their faithfulness will be rewarded someday, as will those listed in the Bible’s “Hall of Faith.” Hebrews 11 starts with the big names of Scripture, but it goes on to speak of countless others we may never know, yet who “were all commended for their faith” (v. 39). And “the world,” adds the writer, “was not worthy of them” (v. 38). Even when our deeds of kindness go unnoticed by others, God sees and knows. What we do might seem like a small thing—a kind deed or an encouraging word—but God can use it to bring glory to His name, in His time and in His way. He knows, even if others don’t.
9/19/20230
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The Red Dress Project

The Red Dress project was conceived by British artist Kirstie Macleod and has become an exhibit in museums and galleries around the world. For thirteen years, eighty-four pieces of burgundy silk traveled across the globe to be embroidered upon by more than three hundred women (and a handful of men). The pieces were then constructed into a gown, telling the stories of each contributing artist—many of whom are marginalized and impoverished. Like the Red Dress, the garments worn by Aaron and his descendants were made by many “skilled workers” (Exodus 28:3). God’s instructions for the priestly attire included details that told the collective story of Israel, including engraving the names of the tribes on onyx stones that would sit on the priests’ shoulders “as a memorial before the Lord” (v. 12). The tunics, embroidered sashes, and caps gave the priests “dignity and honor” as they served God and led the people in worship (v. 40). As New Covenant believers in Jesus, we—together—are a priesthood of believers, serving God and leading one another in worship (1 Peter 2:4–5, 9); Jesus is our high priest (Hebrews 4:14). Though we don’t wear any particular clothing to identify ourselves as priests, with His help, we “clothe [ourselves] with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Colossians 3:12).
9/18/20230
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Any Questions?

Ann was meeting with her oral surgeon for a preliminary exam—a physician she’d known for many years. He asked her, “Do you have any questions?” She said, “Yes. Did you go to church last Sunday?” Her question wasn’t intended to be judgmental, but simply to initiate a conversation about faith. The surgeon had a less-than-positive church experience growing up, and he hadn’t gone back. Because of Ann’s question and their conversation, he reconsidered the role of Jesus and church in his life. When Ann later gave him a Bible with his name imprinted on it, he received it with tears. Sometimes we fear confrontation or don’t want to seem too aggressive in sharing our faith. But there can be a winsome way to witness about Jesus—ask questions. For a man who was God and knew everything, Jesus sure asked a lot of questions. While we don’t know His purposes in asking, it’s clear His questions were inviting, prompting others to respond. His first response to Andrew was, “What do you want?” (John 1:38). He asked blind Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10:51; Luke 18:41). He asked the paralyzed man by the Bethesda pool, “Do you want to get well?” (John 5:6). Transformation happened for each of these individuals after Jesus’ initial question. Is there someone you want to approach about matters of faith? (Luke 18:42). Ask God to give you the right questions to ask.
9/17/20230
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Just Like Jesus

In 2014, biologists captured a pair of orange pygmy seahorses in the Philippines. They took the marine creatures, along with a section of the orange coral sea fan they called home, to the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. Scientists wanted to know if the pygmy seahorses were born to match the color of their parents or their environment. When the pygmy seahorses gave birth to dull brown babies, scientists placed a purple coral sea fan into the tank. The babies, whose parents were orange, changed their color to match the purple sea fan. Due to their fragility by nature, their survival depends on their God-given ability to blend into their environment. Blending in is a useful defense mechanism in nature. However, God invites all people to receive salvation and stand out in the world by how we live. The apostle Paul urges believers in Jesus to honor God in every aspect of our lives, to worship Him by offering our bodies as “living sacrifices” (v. 1). Due to our fragility as human beings affected by sin, our spiritual health as believers depends on the Holy Spirit “renewing” our minds and empowering us to avoid conforming to “the pattern of this world” that rejects God and glorifies sin (v. 2). Blending into this world means living in opposition to God’s Word. However, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can look and love just like Jesus!
9/16/20230
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The Message of the Prophets

Before baseball’s 1906 World Series, sportswriter Hugh Fullerton made an astute prediction. He said the Chicago Cubs, who were expected to win, would lose the first and third games and win the second. Oh, and it would rain on the fourth. He was right on each point. Then, in 1919, his analytical skills told him certain players were losing World Series games intentionally. Fullerton suspected they’d been bribed by gamblers. Popular opinion ridiculed him. Again, he was right. Fullerton was no prophet—just a wise man who studied the evidence. Jeremiah was a real prophet whose prophecies always came true. Wearing an ox yoke, Jeremiah told Judah to surrender to the Babylonians and live (Jeremiah 27:2, 12). The false prophet Hananiah contradicted him and broke the yoke (28:2–4, 10). Jeremiah told him, “Listen, Hananiah! The LORD has not sent you,” and added, “This very year you are going to die” (vv. 15–16). Two months later, Hananiah was dead (v. 17). The New Testament tells us, “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets . . . , but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Hebrews 1:1–2). Through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, and through the Scriptures and guidance of the Holy Spirit, God’s truth still instructs us today.
9/15/20230
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Let Go

The owner of the bookstore where Keith worked had been away on vacation for only two days, but Keith, his assistant, was already panicking. Operations were smooth, but Keith was anxious that he wouldn’t do a good job overseeing the store. Frenetically, he micromanaged all he could. “Stop it,” his boss finally told him over a video call. “All you have to do is follow the instructions I email you daily. Don’t worry, Keith. The burden isn’t on you; it’s on me.” In a time of conflict with other nations, Israel received a similar word from God: “Be still” (Psalm 46:10). “Stop striving,” He said in essence, “just follow what I say. I will fight for you.” Israel was not being told to be passive or complacent, but to be actively still—to obey God faithfully while yielding control of the situation and leaving the results of their efforts to Him. We’re called to do the same. And we can do it because the God we trust is sovereign over the world. If “he lifts his voice” and “the earth melts”, and if He can “make wars cease to the ends of the earth” (vv. 6,9), then surely, we can trust in the security of His refuge and strength (v. 1). The burden of control over our life isn’t on us—it’s on God.
9/14/20230
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Welcoming the Foreigner

As thousands of Ukrainian women and children arrived at Berlin’s railway station fleeing war, they were met with a surprise—German families holding handmade signs offering refuge in their homes. “Can host two people!” one sign read. “Big room [available],” read another. Asked why she offered such hospitality to strangers, one woman said her mother had needed refuge while fleeing the Nazis, and she wanted to help others in such need. In Deuteronomy, God calls the Israelites to care for those far from their homelands. Why? Because He’s the defender of the fatherless, the widow, and the foreigner (10:18), and because the Israelites knew what such vulnerability felt like: “for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt” (v. 19). Empathy was to motivate their care. But there’s a flip side to this too. When the widow at Zarephath welcomed the foreigner Elijah into her home, she was the one blessed (1 Kings 17:9–24), just as Abraham was blessed by his three foreign visitors (Genesis 18:1–15). God often uses hospitality to bless the host, not just the guest. Welcoming strangers into your home is hard, but those German families may be the real beneficiaries. As we too respond to the vulnerable with God’s empathy, we may be surprised at the gifts He gives us through them.
9/13/20230
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Be Still

After I’d gotten settled into the chamber, my body floating comfortably above the water, the room went dark and the gentle music that had been playing in the background went silent. I’d read that isolation tanks were therapeutic, offering relief for stress and anxiety. But this was like nothing I’d ever encountered. It felt like the chaos of the world had stopped, and I could clearly hear my innermost thoughts. I left the experience balanced and rejuvenated, reminded that there is power in stillness. We can rest most comfortably in the stillness of the presence of God, who renews our strength and grants us the wisdom we need to tackle the challenges we face each day. When we’re still, silencing the noise and removing distractions in our lives, God strengthens us so we can hear His gentle voice more clearly (Psalms 37:7). While sensory deprivation chambers are certainly one form of stillness, God offers us a simpler way to spend uninterrupted time with Him. He says, “When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father” (Matthew 6:6). God will guide our steps and allow His righteousness to shine brightly through us when we seek the answers to life’s challenges in the stillness of His magnificent presence (Psalm 37:5–6).
9/12/20230
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Which Wisdom?

Just before Easter 2018, a terrorist entered a supermarket in Trèbes, France, killing two people and taking a third woman hostage. When efforts to free the woman failed, policeman Arnaud Beltrame made the terrorist an offer: release the woman and take him instead. Arnaud’s offer was shocking because it went against the popular wisdom of our day. You can always tell a culture’s “wisdom” by the sayings it celebrates, like the celebrity quotes that get posted on social media. “The biggest adventure you can take is to live the life of your dreams,” one popular quote reads. “Love yourself first and everything else falls into line,” says another. “Do what you have to do, for you,” states a third. Had Arnaud followed such advice, he’d have put himself first and run. The apostle James says there are two kinds of wisdom in the world: one “earthly,” another “heavenly.” The first is marked by selfish ambition and disorder (James 3:14–16); the second, by humility, submission, and peacemaking (vv. 13, 17–18). Earthly wisdom puts self first. Heavenly wisdom favors others, leading to a life of humble deeds (v. 13). The terrorist accepted Arnaud’s offer. The hostage was released, Arnaud was shot, and that Easter the world witnessed an innocent man dying for someone else. Heavenly wisdom leads to humble deeds because it places God above self (Proverbs 9:10). Which wisdom are you following today?
9/11/20230
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Promise Fulfilled

Each summer when I was a child, I would travel two hundred miles to enjoy a week with my grandparents. I wasn’t aware until later how much wisdom I soaked up from those two people I loved. Their life experiences and walk with God had given them perspectives that my young mind couldn’t yet imagine. Conversations with them about the faithfulness of God assured me that God is trustworthy and fulfills every promise He makes. Mary, the mother of Jesus, was a teenager when an angel visited her. The incredible news brought by Gabriel must have been overwhelming, yet she willingly accepted the task with grace (Luke 1:38). But perhaps her visit with her elderly relative Elizabeth—who was also in the midst of a miraculous pregnancy (some scholars believe she may have been sixty years old)—brought her comfort as Elizabeth enthusiastically confirmed Gabriel’s words that she was the mother of the promised Messiah (vv. 39–45). As we grow and mature in Christ, as my grandparents did, we learn that He keeps his promises. He kept His promise of a child for Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah (vv. 57–58). And that son, John the Baptist, became the harbinger of a promise made hundreds of years before—one that would change the course of humanity’s future. The promised Messiah—the Savior of the world—was coming! (Matthew 1:21–23).
9/10/20230
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Accepting Guidance

The air smelled of leather and oats as we stood in the barn where my friend Michelle was teaching my daughter to ride a horse. Michelle’s white pony opened its mouth as she demonstrated how to place the metal bit behind its teeth. As she pulled the bridle over its ears, Michelle explained that the bit was important because it allowed the rider to slow the horse and steer it to the left or right. A horse’s bit, like the human tongue, is small but important. Both have great influence over something big and powerful—for the bit, it’s the horse. For the tongue, it’s our words (James 3:3, 5). Our words can run in different directions. “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings” (v. 9). Unfortunately, the Bible warns that it’s very hard to control our speech because words spring from our hearts (Luke 6:45). Thankfully, God’s Spirit, Who indwells every believer, constantly helps us grow in patience, goodness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22–23). As we cooperate with the Spirit, our hearts change and so do our words. Profanity turns to praise. Lying gives way to the power of truth. Criticism transforms into encouragement. Taming the tongue isn’t just about training ourselves to say the right things at the right time. It’s about accepting the Holy Spirit’s guidance, as a horse responds to a bit, so that our words generate the kindness and encouragement our world needs.
9/9/20230
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The God of Surprises

The convention center darkened, and thousands of us university students bowed our heads as the speaker led us in a prayer of commitment. As he welcomed those to stand who felt called to serve in overseas missions, I could feel my friend Lynette leave her seat and knew she was promising to live and serve in the Philippines. Yet I felt no urge to stand. Seeing the needs in the United States, I wanted to share God’s love in my native land. But a decade later I would make my home in Britain, seeking to serve God among the people He gave me as my neighbors. My ideas about how I would live my life changed when I realized that God invited me on an adventure different from what I had anticipated. Jesus often surprised those He met, including the fishermen He called to follow Him. When Christ gave them a new mission to fish for people, Peter and Andrew left their nets “at once” and followed Him (Matthew 4:20), and James and John “immediately” left their boat (v. 22). They set off on this new adventure with Jesus, trusting Him yet not knowing where they were going. God, of course, calls many people to serve Him right where they are! Whether staying or going, we can all look to Him expectantly to surprise us with wonderful experiences and opportunities to live for Him in ways we might never have dreamed possible.
9/8/20230
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Acts of Kindness

Months after suffering a miscarriage, Valerie decided to have a garage sale. Gerald, a neighbor craftsman a few miles away, eagerly bought the baby crib she was selling. While there, his wife talked with Valerie and learned about her loss. After hearing of her situation on the way home, Gerald decided to use the crib to craft a keepsake for Valerie. A week later he tearfully presented her with a beautiful bench. “There’s good people out there, and here’s proof,” Valerie said. Like Valerie, Ruth and Naomi suffered great loss. Naomi’s husband and two sons had died. And now she and her bereft daughter-in-law Ruth had no heirs and no one to provide for them (Ruth 1:1–5). That’s where Boaz stepped in. When Ruth went to a field to pick up leftover grain, Boaz—the owner—asked about her. When he learned who she was, he was kind to her (2:5–9). Amazed, Ruth asked, “Why have I found such favor in your eyes?” (v. 10). He replied, “I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband” (v. 11). Boaz later married Ruth and provided for Naomi (chap. 4). Through their marriage, a forefather of David—and of Jesus—was born. As God used Gerald and Boaz to help transform another’s grief, He can work through us to show kindness and empathy to others in pain.
9/7/20230
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I’m Nobody! Who Are You?

In a poem that begins, “I’m nobody! Who are you?” Emily Dickinson playfully challenges all the effort people tend to put into being “somebody,” advocating instead for the joyful freedom of blissful anonymity. For “How dreary – to be – Somebody! How public – like a Frog – / To tell one’s name – the livelong June / To an admiring Bog!” Finding freedom in letting go of the need to be “somebody” in some ways echoes the testimony of the apostle Paul. Before he met Christ, Paul had a long list of seemingly impressive religious credentials and achievements, apparent “reasons to put confidence in the flesh” (Philippians 3:4). But encountering Jesus changed everything. When Paul saw how hollow his religious fervor and achievements were in light of Christ’s sacrificial love, he confessed, “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. . . I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him” (vv. 8–9). His only remaining ambition was “to know Christ . . . the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (v. 10). It’s dreary, indeed, to attempt on our own to become “somebody.” But as Paul discovered, to know Jesus, to lose ourselves in His self-giving love and life, is to find ourselves again (v. 9), finally free and whole.
9/6/20230
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“Everything Is against Me”

“This morning I thought I was worth a great deal of money, now I don’t know that I have a dollar.” Former US president Ulysses S. Grant said those words the day he was swindled out of his life’s savings by a business partner. Months later Grant was diagnosed with incurable cancer. Concerned about providing for his family, he accepted an offer from author Mark Twain to publish his memoirs, which he completed a week before he died. The Bible tells us of another person who faced grave hardships. Jacob believed his son Joseph had been “torn to pieces” by a “ferocious animal” (Genesis 37:33). Then his son Simeon was held captive in a foreign country, and Jacob feared his son Benjamin would be taken from him as well. Overcome, he cried out, “Everything is against me!” (42:36). But it wasn’t. Little did Jacob know that his son Joseph was very much alive, and that God was at work “behind the scenes” to restore his family. Their story illustrates how God can be trusted even when we can’t see His hand in our circumstances. Grant’s memoirs proved to be a great success and his family was well cared for. Though he didn’t live to see it, his believing wife did. Our vision is limited, but God’s isn’t. And with Jesus as our hope, “if God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). May we place our trust in Him today.
9/5/20230
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Extreme Kindness

Fast-food restaurant worker Kevin Ford hadn’t missed a shift in twenty-seven years. After a video surfaced showing his humble gratitude for a modest gift he received to commemorate his decades of service, thousands of people rallied together to show kindness to him. “It’s like a dream, a dream come true, that nobody can even think of this,” he said when a fundraising effort brought in $250,000 in just over a week. Jehoiachin, the exiled king of Judah, was also the recipient of extreme kindness. He’d been incarcerated for thirty-seven years before the benevolence of the Babylonian king resulted in his release. “[The king] freed him from prison. He spoke kindly to him and gave him a seat of honor higher than those of the other kings who were with him in Babylon” (Jeremiah 52:31–32). Jehoiachin was given a new position, new clothes, and a new residence. His new life was fully funded by the king. This story pictures what happens spiritually when, out of no contributions from themselves or others, believers in Jesus’ death and resurrection are rescued from their estrangement from God. They’re brought from darkness and death into light and life; they’re brought into the family of God because of the extreme kindness of God.
9/4/20230
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The BLESSED Mask

As the mask mandate requirements during the pandemic loosened, I struggled to remember to keep a mask handy for where they were still required—like my daughter’s school. One day when I needed a mask, I found just one in my car: the one I avoided wearing because it had “BLESSED” written across the front. I prefer to wear masks without messages, and I believe that the word on the mask I found is overused. But I had no choice, so I reluctantly put the mask on. And when I nearly showed my annoyance with a new receptionist at the school, I caught myself partly because of the word on my mask. I didn’t want to look like a hypocrite, walking around with “BLESSED” scrawled across my mouth while showing impatience to a person trying to figure out a complicated system. Though the letters on my mask reminded me of my witness for Christ, the words of Scripture in my heart should be a true reminder to be patient with others. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “You are a letter from Christ, . . . written not with ink but with the spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” (2 Corinthians 3:3). The Holy Spirit who “gives life” (v. 6), can help us live out “love, joy, peace” and, yes, “patience” (Galatians 5:22). We are truly blessed by His presence within us!
9/3/20230
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To Know God

On a visit to Ireland, I was overwhelmed by the abundance of decorative shamrocks. The little green, three-leafed plant could be found in every store on seemingly everything—clothing, hats, jewelry, and more! More than just a prolific plant across Ireland, the shamrock was embraced for generations as a simple way to explain the Trinity, the historic Christian belief that God is One essence who eternally exists in three distinct persons: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. While all human explanations of the Trinity are inadequate, the shamrock is a helpful symbol because it is one plant made of the same substance with three distinct leaves. The word “Trinity” isn’t found in Scripture, but it summarizes the theological truth we see explicit in passages where all three persons of the Trinity are present at the same time. When Jesus, God the Son, is baptized, God the Spirit is seen coming down from heaven “like a dove,” and God the Father’s voice is heard saying, “You are my Son” (Mark 1:11). The Irish used the shamrock because they wanted to help people know God. As we more fully understand the beauty of the Trinity, it helps us know God and deepens our ability to worship Him “in spirit and truth” (John 4:24).
9/2/20230
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God’s Epic Story

Life magazine’s July 12, 1968 cover displayed a horrifying photograph of starving children from Biafra (in Nigeria during a civil war). A young boy, distressed, took a copy of the magazine to a pastor and asked, “Does God know about this?” The pastor replied: “I know you don’t understand, but yes, God knows about that.” The boy walked out, declaring he was uninterested in such a God. These questions disturb not only children but all of us. Alongside an affirmation of God’s mysterious knowledge, I wish that boy had heard about the epic story God is continuing to write, even in places like the former nation of Biafra. Jesus unfolded this story for His followers, those who assumed He would shield them from hardship. Instead, Christ told them that they’d surely face difficulties. “In this world you will have trouble,” He said. What Jesus did offer, however, was His promise that these evils weren’t the end. In fact, He’d already “overcome the world” (John 16:33). And in God’s final chapter, every injustice will be undone, every suffering healed. Genesis to Revelation recounts the story of God destroying every unthinkable evil, making every wrong right. The story presents the loving One whose interest in us is unquestioned. Jesus said to His disciples, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace” (v. 33). May we rest in His peace and presence today. 
9/1/20230
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Unknown Route

Perhaps I shouldn’t have agreed to join Brian on a run. I was in a foreign country, and I had no idea where or how far we would go or what the terrain would be like. Plus, he was a fast runner. Would I twist an ankle trying to keep up with him? What could I do but trust Brian because he knew the way. As we started, I got even more worried. The trail was rough, winding through a thick forest on uneven ground. Thankfully, Brian kept turning around to check on me and warn me of rough patches ahead. Perhaps this was how some of the people in Bible times felt while entering unfamiliar territory—Abraham in Canaan, the Israelites in the wilderness, and Jesus’ disciples on their mission to share the good news. They had no clue what the journey would be like, except that it would surely be tough. But they had Someone leading them who knew the way ahead. They had to trust that God would give them strength to cope and that He would take care of them. They could follow Him, because He knew exactly what lay ahead. This assurance comforted David when he was on the run. Despite great uncertainty, he said to God: “when my spirit grows faint within me, it is you who watch over my way” (Psalm 142:3). There will be times in life when we fear what lies ahead. But we know this: our God, who walks with us, knows the way.
8/31/20230
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Freedom on the Path

In Beep Baseball, the players who are blind listen for a beeping ball or buzzing base to know what to do and where to go. The blindfolded batter (to account for various degrees of blindness) and sighted pitcher are on the same team. When a batter swings the bat and hits the beeping ball, he or she runs toward the buzzing base. The batter is out if a fielder “smothers” the ball before the batter makes it to the base; otherwise, the batter scores a run. One player remarked that the best part is that he feels “great freedom in running” because he knows there’s a clear path and direction. The book of Isaiah tells us that God, “the Upright One, [makes] the way of the righteous smooth” (26:7). When this was written, the path for the Israelites looked anything but smooth; they were experiencing divine judgment for their disobedience. Isaiah exhorted them to walk in faith and obedience—the often difficult but smooth path. Being concerned for God’s “name and renown” (v. 8) was to be their hearts’ focus. As believers in Jesus, we come to know more about God and build our trust in His faithful character as we follow His ways in obedience. Our path in life may not always look or feel smooth, but we can be assured as we trust in Him that God is alongside us and making a way. We too can feel freedom as we run in obedience on God’s best path for us.
8/30/20230
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When You’re Weary

I sat in the stillness of a workday’s end, my laptop in front of me. I should’ve been exhilarated about the work I’d finished that day, but I wasn’t. I was tired. My shoulders ached with the load of anxiety over a problem at work, and my mind was spent from thinking about a troubled relationship. I wanted to escape from it all—my thoughts wandered to watching TV that night. But I closed my eyes. “Lord,” I whispered. I was too tired to say more. All my weariness went into that one word. And somehow, I immediately knew that was where it should go. “Come to me,” Jesus tells us who are weary and burdened, “and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Not the rest from a good night’s sleep. Not the break from reality that television offers. Not even the relief when a problem has been solved. Although these may be good sources of rest, the respite they offer is short-lived and dependent on our circumstances. In contrast, the rest Jesus gives is lasting and guaranteed by His unchanging character. He’s always good. He gives us true rest for our souls even in the midst of trouble, because we know that everything is in His control. We can trust and submit to Him, endure and even thrive in difficult situations because of the strength and restoration only He can give.   “Come to me,” Jesus tells you. “Come to me.” 
8/29/20230
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Losing Everything

The timing couldn’t have been worse. After making a small fortune engineering bridges, monuments, and large buildings, Cesar had aspirations of starting a new endeavor. So he sold his first business and banked the money, planning to reinvest it soon. During that brief window, his government seized all assets held in private bank accounts. In an instant, Cesar’s lifesavings evaporated. Choosing not to view the injustice as a cause to complain, Cesar asked God to show him the way forward. And then—he simply started over. In one awful moment, Job lost far more than merely his possessions. He lost most of his servants and all his children (Job 1:13–22). Then he lost his health (2:7–8). Job’s response remains a timeless example for us. He prayed, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (1:21). The chapter concludes, “In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing” (v. 22). Like Job, Cesar chose to trust God. In just a few years he had built a new business more successful than the first. His story resembles the conclusion of Job’s (see Job 42). But even if Cesar had never recovered economically, he knew his real treasure wasn’t on this earth anyway (Matthew 6:19–20). He would still be trusting God.
8/28/20230
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Dealing with Disappointment

After raising money all year for a “trip of a lifetime,” seniors from an Oklahoma high school arrived at the airport to learn that many of them had purchased tickets from a bogus company posing as an airline. “It’s heartbreaking,” one school administrator said. Yet, even though they had to change their plans, the students decided to “make the most of it.” They enjoyed two days at nearby attractions, which donated the tickets. Dealing with failed or changed plans can be disappointing or even heartbreaking. Especially when we’ve invested time, money, or emotion into the planning. King David “had it in [his] heart to build” a temple for God (1 Chronicles 28:2), but God told him: “You are not to build a house for my Name . . . . Solomon your son is the one who will build my house” (vv. 3, 6). David didn’t despair. He praised God for choosing him to be king over Israel, and he gave the plans for the temple to Solomon to complete (vv. 11–13). As he did, he encouraged him: “Be strong and courageous, and do the work . . . for the Lord God . . . is with you” (v. 20). When our plans fall through, no matter the reason, we can bring our disappointment to God who “cares for [us]” (1 Peter 5:7). He will help us handle our disappointment with grace.
8/27/20230
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Humbled but Hopeful

At the pastor’s invitation at the end of the church service, Latriece made her way to the front. When she was invited to greet the congregation, no one was prepared for the weighty and wonderful words she spoke. She had relocated from Kentucky where in December 2021 devastating tornadoes had taken the lives of seven of her family members. “I can still smile because God’s with me,” she said. Though bruised by trial, her testimony was a powerful encouragement for those facing challenges of their own. David’s words in Psalm 22 (which point to the sufferings of Jesus) are those of a battered man who felt forsaken by God (v. 1), despised and mocked by others (vv. 6–8), and surrounded by predators (vv. 12–13). He felt weak and drained (vv. 14–18)—but he wasn’t hopeless. “But you, Lord, do not be far from me. You are my strength; come quickly to help me” (v. 19). Your present challenge—though likely not of the same variety as David’s or Latriece’s—is just as real. And the words of verse 24 are just as meaningful: “He has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; . . . but has listened to his cry for help.” And when we experience God’s help, let’s declare His goodness so others can hear of it (v. 22).
8/26/20230
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What a Friend

It had been a few years since my long-time friend and I had seen one another. During that time, he’d received a cancer diagnosis and started treatments. An unexpected trip to his state afforded me the chance to see him again. I walked into the restaurant, and tears filled both of our eyes. It’d been too long since we’d been in the same room, and now death crouched in the corner reminding us of the brevity of life. The tears in our eyes sprang from a long friendship filled with adventures and antics and laughter and loss—and love. So much love that it spilled out from the corners of our eyes at the sight of one another.    Jesus wept too. John’s gospel records that moment, after the Jews said, “Come and see, Lord” (John 11:34) and Jesus stood before the tomb of His good friend Lazarus. Then we read those two words that reveal to us the depths to which Christ shares our humanity: “Jesus wept” (v. 35). Was there much going on in that moment, things that John did and didn’t record? Yes. Yet I also believe the reaction of the Jews to Jesus is telling: “See how he loved him!” (v. 36). That line is more than sufficient grounds for us to stop and worship the Friend who knows our every weakness. Jesus was flesh and blood and tears. Jesus is the Savior who loves and understands.
8/25/20230
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Openhearted Generosity

No one ever died saying, ‘I’m so glad for the self-centered, self-serving, and self-protective life I lived,’ ” author Parker Palmer said in a commencement address, urging graduates to “offer [themselves] to the world . . . with openhearted generosity.” But, Parker continued, living this way would also meaning learning “how little you know and how easy it is to fail.” Offering themselves in service to the world would require cultivating a “beginner’s mind” to “walk straight into your not-knowing, and take the risk of failing and failing, again and again—then getting up to learn again and again.” It’s only when our lives are built on a foundation of grace that we can find the courage to choose such a life of fearless “openhearted generosity.” As Paul explained to his protégé Timothy, we can confidently “fan into flame” (v. 6) and live out of God’s gifting when we remember that it’s God’s grace that saves and calls us to a life of purpose (v. 9). It’s His power that gives us the courage to resist the temptation to live timidly in exchange for the Spirit’s “power, love, and self-discipline” (v. 7).  And it’s His grace that picks us up when we fall, so that we can continue a life-long journey of grounding our lives in His love (vv. 13–14).
8/24/20230
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Witnesses

In his poem “The Witnesses,” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882) described a sunken slave ship. As he wrote of “skeletons in chains,” Longfellow mourned slavery’s countless nameless victims. The concluding stanza reads, “These are the woes of Slaves,/ They glare from the abyss;/ They cry from unknown graves,/ We are the Witnesses!” But who do these witnesses speak to? Isn’t such silent testimony futile? There is a Witness who sees it all. When Cain murdered Abel, he pretended nothing had happened. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” he said dismissively to God. But God said, “Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand” (Genesis 4:10–11). Cain’s name lives on as a warning. “Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother,” John the disciple cautioned (1 John 3:12). Abel’s name lives on too, but in a dramatically different way. “By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did,” said the writer of Hebrews. “By faith Abel still speaks” (11:4). Abel still speaks! So do the bones of those long-forgotten slaves. We do well to remember all such victims, and to oppose oppression wherever we see it. God sees it all. His justice will triumph.
8/23/20230
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God’s Eternal Church

“Is church over?” asked a young mother arriving at our church with two children in tow just as the Sunday service was ending. But a greeter told her that a church nearby offered two Sunday services and the second would start soon. Would she like a ride there? The young mother said yes and seemed grateful to travel the few blocks to the other church. Reflecting later, the greeter came to this conclusion: “Is church over? Never. God’s church goes on forever.” The church isn’t a fragile “building.” It’s the faithful family of God who are “members of his household,” wrote Paul, “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit” (Ephesians 2:19–22). Jesus Himself established His church for eternity. He declared that despite challenges or troubles facing His church, “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18 kjv). Through this empowering lens, we can see our local churches—all of us—as a part of God’s eternal and universal church, being built “in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!” (Ephesians 3:21).
8/22/20230
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The Gift of Encouragement

Your bees are swarming!” My wife stuck her head inside the door and gave me news no beekeeper wants to hear. I ran outside to see thousands of bees flying up from the hive to the top of a tall pine, never to return. I was a little behind in reading the clues that the hive was about to swarm; more than a week of storms had hampered my inspections. The morning the storms ended, the bees left. The colony was new and healthy, and the bees were actually dividing the colony to start a new one. “Don’t be hard on yourself,” an experienced beekeeper told me cheerfully after seeing my disappointment. “This can happen to anyone!” Encouragement is a winsome gift. When David was disheartened because Saul was pursuing him to take his life, Saul’s son Jonathan encouraged David. “Don’t be afraid,” Jonathan said. “My father Saul will not lay a hand on you. You will be king over Israel, and I will be second to you. Even my father Saul knows this” (1 Samuel 23:17). Those are surprisingly selfless words from someone next in line to the throne. It’s likely Jonathan recognized that God was with David, so he spoke out of a humble heart of faith. All around us are people who need encouragement. God will help us help them as we humble ourselves before Him and ask Him to love them through us.
8/21/20230
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Finding Open Spaces

In his book Margin, Dr. Richard Swenson writes, “We must have some room to breathe. We need freedom to think and permission to heal. Our relationships are being starved to death by velocity. . . . Our children lay wounded on the ground, run over by our high-speed good intentions. Is God now pro-exhaustion? Doesn’t He lead people beside the still waters anymore? Who plundered those wide-open spaces of the past, and how can we get them back?” Swenson says we need some quiet, fertile “land” in life where we can rest in God and meet with Him. Does that resonate? Seeking open spaces is something Moses lived out well. Leading a nation of “stubborn and rebellious” people (Exodus 33:5 nlt), he often withdrew to find rest and guidance in God’s presence. And in his “tent of meeting” (v. 7), “The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend” (v. 11). Jesus also “often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:16). Both He and Moses realized the importance of spending time alone with the Father.   We too need to build margin into our lives, some wide and open spaces spent in rest and in God’s presence. Spending time with Him will help us make better decisions—creating healthier margins and boundaries in our life so we have the bandwidth available to love Him and others well. Let’s seek God in open spaces today.
8/20/20230
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The Power of Christ

In 2013, about 600 on-site spectators watched aerialist Nik Wallenda walk on a tightrope across a 1500-foot-wide gorge near the Grand Canyon. Wallenda stepped onto the 2-inch-thick steel cable and thanked Jesus for the view as his head camera pointed toward the valley below. He prayed and praised Jesus as he walked across the gorge as calmly as if he was strolling on a sidewalk. When the wind became treacherous, he stopped and crouched. He rose and regained his balance, thanking God for “calming that cable.” With every step on that tightrope, he displayed his dependence on the power of Christ to everyone listening then and now as the video is watched across the world. When the winds of a storm caused waves to overtake the disciples on the sea of Galilee, fear seeped through their pleas for help (Mark 4:35–38). After Jesus stilled the squall, they knew He controlled the winds and everything else (vv. 39–41). Slowly they learned to grow in their trust of Him. Their personal experiences could help others recognize the Lord’s intimate availability and extraordinary might. As we experience life’s storms or walk on the tightropes of trust stretched over the deep valleys of affliction, we can demonstrate confident faith in the power of Christ. God will use our faith-walk to inspire others to hope in Him.
8/19/20230
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Festivals of Worship

Attending a large event might change you in a surprising way. After interacting with more than 1,200 people at multi-day gatherings in the UK and US, researcher Daniel Yudkin and his colleagues learned that large festivals can impact our moral compass and even affect our willingness to share resources with others. Their research found that sixty-three percent of attendees had a “transformative” experience at the festival that also left them feeling more connected to humanity and more generous toward friends, family, and even complete strangers. When we gather with others to worship God, however, we can experience more than merely the social “transformation” of a secular festival; we commune with God Himself. God’s people undoubtedly experienced that  connection to Him when they gathered in Jerusalem in ancient times for their sacred festivals throughout the year. They traveled—without modern conveniences—to be present at the temple three times a year for “the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the Festival of Weeks and the Festival of Tabernacles” (Deuteronomy 16:16). These gatherings were times of solemn remembrance, worship, and “rejoic[ing] before the Lord” with family, servants, foreigners, and others (v. 11). Let’s gather with others for worship to help one another to continue to enjoy Him and trust in His faithfulness.
8/18/20230
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More Than Brand Ambassadors

Competition in the internet age has become fierce. Increasingly, companies are developing creative ways to attract customers. Take Subaru, for instance. Subaru owners are famously loyal, so the company has invited “Subbie superfans” to become “brand ambassadors” of the vehicles. The company’s website says, “Subaru Ambassadors are an exclusive group of energetic individuals who volunteer their passion and enthusiasm to spread the word about Subaru and help shape the future of the brand.” The company wants Subaru ownership to become a part of people’s very identity—something they’re so passionate about that they can’t help but share. In 2 Corinthians 5, Paul describes a different “ambassador” program, one of inviting others to follow Jesus. “Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others” (v. 11). Paul then adds, “He has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” (vv. 19–20). Many products promise to meet deep needs, to give us a sense of happiness, wholeness and purpose. But only one message—the message of reconciliation entrusted to us as believers in Jesus—is truly good news. And we have the privilege of delivering that message to a desperate world.
8/17/20230
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The Power of Persistence

In 1917, a young seamstress was thrilled to get admitted to one of New York City’s most renowned fashion design schools. But when Ann Cone (later Ann Lowe) arrived from Florida to register for classes, the school director told her she wasn’t welcome. “To be blunt, Mrs. Cone, we didn’t know that you were a Negro,” he said. Refusing to leave, she whispered a prayer: Please let me stay here. Please let me stay here. Seeing her persistence, the director let Ann stay, but segregated her from the whites-only classroom whose back door would be open “for you to hear.” Undeniably talented, Ann still graduated six months early and later attracted high-society clients including former first lady of the US Jacqueline Kennedy, whose world-famous wedding gown she designed. She made the gown twice, seeking God’s help after a pipe burst above her sewing studio, ruining the first dress. Persistence like that is powerful, especially in prayer. In Jesus’ parable of the persistent widow, a widow pleads repeatedly for justice from a corrupt judge. At first, he refused her but “because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see she gets justice” (Luke 18:5). With far more love and generosity, “will not God bring about justice for His chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night?” He will, said Jesus (v. 7). As He inspires us, let’s seek to persistently pray and never give up. In His time and perfect way, God will answer.
8/16/20230
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Jesus Our Brother

Bridger Walker was only six when a menacing dog lunged at his younger sister. Instinctively, Bridger jumped in front of her, shielding her from the dog’s ferocious attack. After receiving emergency care and ninety stitches to his face, Bridger explained his actions. “If someone had to die, I thought it should be me.” Thankfully, plastic surgeons have helped Bridger’s face heal. But his brotherly love, evidenced in recent pictures where he’s seen hugging his sister, remains strong as ever. Ideal family members watch over us and care for us. True brothers step in when we’re in trouble and come alongside us when we’re afraid or alone. In reality, even our best brothers are imperfect; some even wound us. We have one brother, however, who’s always on our side, however: Jesus. Hebrews tells us that Christ, as an act of humble love, joined the human family, sharing our “flesh and blood” and becoming like us, “fully human in every way” (2:14, 17). As a result, Jesus is our truest brother, and He delights in calling us His “brothers and sisters” (v. 11). We refer to Jesus as our Savior, Friend, and King—and each of these are true. However, Jesus is also our brother who has experienced every human fear and temptation, every despair or sadness. Our brother stands alongside us—always.
8/15/20230
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Lonely, but Not Forgotten

When you listen to their stories, it becomes clear that perhaps the most difficult part of being a prisoner is isolation and loneliness. In fact, research reveals that in the state of Florida, regardless of the length of their incarceration, most prisoners receive only two visits from friends or loved ones during their time behind bars. Loneliness is a constant reality. It’s a pain I imagine Joseph felt as he sat in prison, unjustly accused of a crime. There had been a glimmer of hope. God helped Joseph correctly interpret a dream from a fellow inmate who happened to be a trusted servant of Pharaoh. Joseph told the man he would be restored to his position and asked the man to mention him to Pharaoh so Joseph could gain his freedom (Genesis 40:14). But the man “did not remember Joseph; he forgot him” (v. 23). For two more years, Joseph waited. In those years of waiting, without any sign that his circumstances would change, Joseph was never completely alone because God’s Spirit was with him (39:23). Eventually, the servant of Pharaoh remembered his promise and Joseph was released after correctly interpreting another dream (41:9—14). Regardless of circumstances that make us feel we’ve been forgotten, and the feelings of loneliness that creep in, we can cling to God’s reassuring promise to His children: “I will not forget you!” (Isaiah 49:15).
8/14/20230
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A Different Approach

When Mary Slessor sailed to the African nation of Calabar (now Nigeria) in the late 1800s, she was enthusiastic to continue the missionary work of the late David Livingstone. Her first assignment, teaching school while living among fellow missionaries, left her burdened for a different way to serve. So she did something rare in that region—she moved in with the people she was serving. Mary learned their language, lived their way, and ate their food. She even took in dozens of children who’d been abandoned. For nearly forty years she brought hope and the gospel to those who needed both. The apostle Paul knew the importance of truly meeting the needs of those around us. He mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:5 that there are “different kinds of service, but the same Lord.” And “we have different gifts” (Romans 12:6). So he served people in their area of need. For instance, “to the weak [he] became weak” (1 Corinthians 9:22). One church I’m aware of recently announced the launch of an “all abilities” ministry approach complete with a barrier-free facility—making worship available for people with disabilities. This is the Paul-like kind of thinking that wins hearts and allows the gospel to flourish in a community. As we live out our faith before those around us, may God lead us to fresh and different ways to introduce them to Jesus.
8/13/20230
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Forever Faithful God

  When Xavier was an elementary student, I drove him to and from school. One day, things didn’t go according to plan. I was late to pick him up. I parked the car, praying frantically as I ran toward his classroom. I found him hugging his backpack as he sat on a bench next to a teacher. “I’m so sorry, Mijo. Are you okay?” He sighed. “I’m fine, but I’m mad at you for being late.” How could I blame him? I was mad at me too. I loved my son, but I knew there would be many times when I’d disappoint him. I also knew he might feel disappointed with God one day. So I worked hard to teach him that God never has and never will break a promise. Psalm 33 encourages us to celebrate God’s faithfulness with joyful praises (vv. 1–3) because “the word of the lord is right and true; he is faithful in all he does” (vv. 4–5). Using the world God created as tangible proof of His power and dependability (vv. 5–7), the psalmist calls on the “people of the world” to worship God (vv. 8–9). When plans fail or people let us down, we can be tempted to be disappointed in God. However, we can rely on God’s trustworthiness because His plans “stand firm forever” (vv. 10–11). We can praise God, even when things go wrong because our loving Creator sustains everything and everyone. God is forever faithful.
8/12/20230
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Who Am I?

Robert Todd Lincoln lived under the extensive shadow of his father, beloved American president Abraham Lincoln. Long after his father’s death, Robert’s identity was engulfed by his father’s overwhelming presence. Lincoln’s close friend, Nicholas Murray Butler, wrote that Robert often said, “No one wanted me for secretary of war, they wanted Abraham Lincoln’s son. No one wanted me for minister to England, they wanted Abraham Lincoln’s son. No one wanted me for president of the Pullman Company, they wanted Abraham Lincoln’s son.” Such frustration isn’t limited to the children of the famous. We all are familiar with the feeling of not being valued for who we are. Yet nowhere is the depth of our value more evident than in the way God loves us. The apostle Paul recognized us for who we were in our sins, and for who we become in Christ. He wrote, “At just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6). God loves us because of who we are—even at our worst! Paul wrote, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (v. 8). God’s values us so much that He allowed His Son to go to the cross on our behalf. Who are we? We are God’s beloved children. Who could ask for more?
8/11/20230
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The God of All Our Days

After an unsuccessful surgery, Joan’s doctor said she’d need to undergo another operation in five weeks. As time passed, anxiety built. Joan and her husband were senior citizens, and their family lived far away. They’d need to drive to an unfamiliar city and navigate a complex hospital system, and they’d be working with a new specialist. Although these circumstances seemed overwhelming, God took care of them. During the trip, their car’s navigation system broke down, but they arrived on time because they had a paper map. God supplied wisdom. At the hospital, a Christian pastor prayed with them and offered to help later that day. God provided support. After the operation, Joan received good news of a successful surgery. While we won’t always experience healing or rescue, God is faithful and always close to vulnerable people—whether young, old, or otherwise disadvantaged. Centuries ago, when captivity in Babylonian had weakened the Israelites, Isaiah reminded them that God had upheld them from birth and would continue to care for them. Through the prophet, God said, “Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you” (Isaiah 46:4).God will not abandon us when we need Him the most. He can supply our needs and remind us He’s with us at every point in our lives. He’s the God of all our days.
8/10/20230
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Good Trouble for God

One day, a sixth-grade student noticed a classmate cutting his arm with a small razor. Trying to do the right thing, she took it from him and threw it away. Surprisingly, instead of being commended for her act, she received a ten-day school suspension. Why? She briefly had the razor in her possession—something not allowed at school. Asked if she would do it again, she replied: “Even if I got in trouble, . . . I would do it again.” Just as this girl’s act of trying to do good got her into trouble at her school (her suspension was later reversed), Jesus’ act of kingdom intervention got Him into good trouble with religious leaders. The Pharisees interpreted Jesus’ healing a man with a deformed hand as a violation of their rules. Christ told them if God’s people were allowed to care for animals in dire situations on the Sabbath, “how much more valuable is a person than a sheep!” (Matthew 12:12). Because He’s Lord of the Sabbath, Jesus could regulate what is and isn’t permitted on it (vv. 6–8). Knowing that it would offend the religious leaders, He restored the man’s hand to wholeness anyway (vv. 13–14).     Sometimes believers in Christ can get into “good trouble”—doing what’s honors Him but what might not make certain people happy—as they help others in need. When we do, as God guides us, we imitate Jesus and reveal that people are more important than rules and rituals.
8/9/20230
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Different Together in Jesus

Business analyst Francis Evans once studied 125 insurance salesmen to find out what made them successful. Surprisingly, competence wasn’t the key factor. Instead, Evens found customers were more likely to buy from salesmen with the same politics, education, and even height as them. Academics call this homophily: the tendency to prefer people like us. Homophily is at work in other areas of life, too, with us tending to marry and befriend people similar to us. While natural, homophily can be destructive when left unchecked. When we only prefer “our kind” of people, society can fracture along racial, political, and economic lines. In the first century, Jews stuck with Jews, Greeks with Greeks, and rich and poor never mingled. And yet, in Romans 16:1–16, Paul could describe the church in Rome as including Priscilla and Aquila (Jewish), Epenetus (Greek), Phoebe (a “benefactor of many,” so probably wealthy), and Philologus (a name common for slaves). What had brought such different people together? Jesus—in whom there’s “neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free” (Galatians 3:28). It’s natural to want to live, work, and go to church with people like us. Jesus pushes us beyond that. In a world fracturing along various lines, He’s making us a people who are different together—united in Him as one family.
8/8/20230
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A Thousand Dots of Light

You wouldn’t think anyone would be excited about going to a place called Dismals Canyon to watch gnats. Yet this forest in northwestern Alabama attracts a number of tourists each year, many in May and June when the gnat larvae hatch and become glowworms. At night, these glowworms cast a brilliant blue luminescence, and thousands of them together create a breathtaking light. In a way, the apostle Paul writes about believers in Christ as glowworms. He explains that “you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord” (Ephesians 5:8). But sometimes we wonder how “this little light of mine” can make a difference. Paul suggests it isn’t just a solo act. He calls us “children of light” (v. 8) and explains that we “share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light (Colossians 1:12). Being light in the world is a collective effort, the work of the body of Christ, the work of the church. Paul reinforces this with the picture of us “glowworms” worshiping together, “speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:19). When we get discouraged, thinking our life testimony is just one little dot in a midnight culture of pitch black, we might take assurance from the Bible. We’re not alone. Together, as God guides us, we make a difference and glow a brilliant light. It seems that a whole congregation of glowworms might attract a whole lot of interest.  
8/7/20230
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Release from Slavery

“You are like Moses, leading us out from slavery!” Jamila exclaimed. As a bonded brick-kiln worker in Pakistan, she and her family (and her parents before her) suffered because of the exorbitant amount they owed the kiln owner. Barely able to survive, they used much of their earnings just to pay off the interest. But when they received a gift from a nonprofit agency that released them from their debt, they felt tremendous relief. In thanking the agency’s representative for their freedom, Jamila, a Christian, pointed to the example of God’s release of Moses and the Israelites from slavery. The Israelites had been oppressed by the Egyptians for hundreds of years, laboring under harsh conditions. They cried out to God, asking for help (Exodus 2:23). But their workload increased, for the new pharaoh ordered them not only to make bricks but also to gather the straw for these bricks (Exodus 5:6–8). When the Israelites again cried out against the oppression, God again promised to be their God (6:7). No longer would they be slaves, for He would redeem them with “an outstretched arm” (v. 6). Under God’s direction, Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt (see Exodus 14). Today God still delivers us, for through the outstretched arms of His Son Jesus on the cross, we are set free from a far greater enslavement to the sin that once controlled us. We’re no longer slaves, but free!
8/6/20230
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Priority of God’s Presence

In 2009, a research team at Stanford University studied more than two hundred students in an experiment that included switching between tasks and memory exercises. Surprisingly, the study found that students who viewed themselves as good multitaskers because they were in the habit of doing several things at a time, did worse than those who preferred to perform one task at a time. Multitasking made it more difficult to focus their thoughts and filter irrelevant information. Maintaining focus when our minds are distracted can be a challenge. When Jesus visited Mary and Martha’s home, Martha was busy working and “distracted by all the preparations” (Luke 10:40). Her sister Mary chose to sit and listen to Jesus teach, gaining wisdom and peace that would never be taken away from her (vv. 39–42). When Martha asked Jesus to encourage Mary to help her, He responded, “You are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one” (vv. 41–42). God desires our attention. But, like Martha, we’re often distracted by tasks and problems. We neglect God’s presence even though He alone can provide the wisdom and hope we need. When we make spending time with Him through prayer and meditating on Scripture a priority, He’ll give us the guidance and strength we need to address the challenges we face.
8/5/20230
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People of Refuge

Phil and Sandy, moved by stories of refugee children, opened their hearts and home to two of them. After they picked them up at the airport, they nervously drove home in silence. Were they ready for this? They didn’t share the same culture, language, or religion, but they’d become people of refuge for these precious children. Boaz was moved by the story of Ruth. He’d heard how she left her people to support Naomi, and when Ruth came to glean in his field, Boaz prayed this blessing over her, “May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge” (Ruth 2:12). Ruth reminded Boaz of his blessing when she interrupted his sleep one night. Awakened by movement at his feet, Boaz asked, “Who are you?” Ruth replied, “I am your servant Ruth. Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a guardian-redeemer of our family” (3:9, emphasis added). The Hebrew word for “corner of garment” and “wings” is the same. Boaz gave Ruth refuge by marrying her, and their great-grandson David echoed their story in his praise to the Lord. “How priceless is your unfailing love, O God!” he wrote. “People take refuge in the shadow of your wings” (Psalm 36:7).
8/4/20230
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Authentic and Vulnerable

“Hey, Poh Fang!” A church friend texted. “For this month’s care group meeting, let’s get everyone to do what James 5:16 says. Let’s create a safe environment of trust and confidentiality, so we can share an area of struggle in our life and pray for each other.” For a moment, I wasn’t sure how to reply. While our small-group members have known each other for years, we’d never really openly shared all our hurts and struggles with one another. Afterall, it’s scary to be vulnerable. But the truth is, we’re all sinners and we all struggle. We all need Jesus. Authentic conversations about God's amazing grace and our dependency on Christ have a way of encouraging us to keep trusting in Him. With Jesus, we can stop pretending to have trouble free lives. So I replied, “Yes! Let’s do that!” Initially, it was awkward. But as one person opened up and shared, another soon followed. Though a few kept silent, there was understanding. No one was pressured. We ended the time by doing what the second part of James 5:16 says, “Pray for each other.” That day I experienced the beauty of fellowship with believers in Jesus. Because of our common faith in Christ, we can be vulnerable with each other and depend on Him and others to help us in our weaknesses and struggles.
8/3/20230
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The Powerful and the Weak

Perhaps the most heartwarming tradition in college football happens at the University of Iowa. The Stead Family Children’s Hospital sits next to Iowa’s Kinnick Stadium, and the hospital’s top floor has floor-to-ceiling windows offering a great view of the field. On game days, sick children and their families fill the floor to watch the action below, and at the end of the first quarter, coaches, athletes and thousands of fans turn to the hospital and wave. For those few moments, the children’s eyes light up. It’s powerful to see the athletes, with a packed stadium and thousands more watching on TV, pause and show they care. The Scriptures instruct those who have power (and all of us have some kind of power) to care for those who are weak, watch over those who are struggling, and tend to those whose bodies are broken. Too often, though, we ignore those in need of attention (Ezekiel 34:6). The prophet Ezekiel rebuked Israel’s leaders for their selfishness, for disregarding those who most needed help. “Woe to you,” Ezekiel said. “You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured” (vv. 2, 4). How often do our personal priorities, leadership philosophies, or economic policies demonstrate little regard for those in distress? God shows us a different way, where those with power watch out for those who are weak (vv. 11–12).
8/2/20230
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Faith of a Child

As our adopted granny lay in her hospital bed after suffering several strokes, her doctors were unsure of the amount of brain damage she had endured. They needed to wait until she was a bit better to test her brain function. She spoke very few words and even fewer were understandable. But when the 86-year-old woman who had babysat my daughter for twelve years saw me, she opened her parched mouth and asked: “How is Kayla?” The first words she spoke to me were about my child whom she had loved so freely and fully. Jesus loved children too and put them in the forefront even though His disciples disapproved. Some parents would seek out Christ and present their children to Him. He chose to bless the children as He “[placed] his hands on them” (Luke 18:15). But not everyone was happy that He was blessing little ones. The disciples scolded the parents and asked them to quit bothering Jesus. But He intervened and said, “Let the little children come to me” (v. 16). He called them an example of how we should receive God’s kingdom—with simple dependence, trust, and sincerity. Young children rarely have a hidden agenda. What you see is what you get. As our heavenly Father helps us regain childlike trust, may our faith and dependence on Him be as open as a child’s.
8/1/20230
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Staying on Track with God

Years ago, a train carrying 218 people derailed in northwestern Spain, killing 79 people, and hospitalizing 66 more. The driver couldn’t explain the accident, but the video footage could and did. The train was going far too fast before it hit a deadly curve. The limit of allowable speed limit had been created to protect everyone on board the train. Despite being a thirty-year veteran of Spain’s national rail company, however, the driver had for whatever reason ignored the speed boundary and many people lost their lives. In Deuteronomy 5, Moses reviewed God’s original covenant boundaries for His people. Moses encouraged a new generation to regard God’s instruction as their own covenant with Him (v. 3), and then he restated the Ten Commandments (vv. 7–21). By repeating the commandments and drawing lessons from the previous generation’s disobedience, Moses invited the Israelites to be reverent, humble, and mindful of God’s faithfulness. God had made a way for His people so they wouldn’t wreck their lives or the lives of others. If they ignored His wisdom, they would do so at their own peril. Today, as God leads us, let’s make all of Scripture our delight, counselor, and the guardrail for our lives. And as the Spirit guides us, we can keep on track within His wise protection and devote our lives wholeheartedly to Him.
7/31/20230
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Lower Deck People

Today's Our Daily Bread Devotional
7/30/20230
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Quiet, Please

Green Bank, West Virginia, is a tiny community in the rugged US Appalachian Mountains of the USA. The town resembles dozens of other small towns in the area—with one major exception. None of the 142 residents have access to the internet. This total disconnect isn’t a technology boycott or a desire to get back to a simpler lifestyle. The absence of Wi-Fi access or cellular phone towers is because of the Green Bank Observatory, whose telescope is constantly trained on the sky. To prevent interference with the leading-edge technology of the observatory, local officials do not allow citizens to use high-tech communication devices. As a result, Green Bank is one of the most technologically quiet places in North America. Sometimes quiet is the best environment for moving forward—especially in our relationship with God. Jesus Himself modeled this by retreating to quiet, secluded places to talk with His Father. In Luke 5:16 we read, “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” Perhaps the key word there is often. This was Christ’s regular practice, and it sets the perfect example for us. If the Creator of the universe was this aware of His dependence upon His Father, how much more do we need Him! Retreating to a quiet place to be refreshed in God’s presence equips us to go forward in His renewing strength. Where can you find such a place today?
7/29/20230
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The Long Game

When Tun’s country suffered a coup, the military began terrorizing believers in Jesus and killing their farm animals. Having lost their livelihood, Tun’s family scattered to various countries. For nine years, Tun existed in a refugee camp far from his family. He knew God was with him, but during the separation, two family members died. Tun grew despondent. Long ago, another people group faced brutal oppression. So God appointed Moses to lead those people—the Israelites—out of Egypt. Moses reluctantly agreed. But when he approached Pharaoh, the Egyptian ruler only intensified the oppression (Exodus 5:6–9). “I do not know the LORD and I will not let Israel go,” he said (v. 2). The people complained to Moses (vv. 20–21), who complained to God (vv. 22–23). In the end, God freed the Israelites in spectacular fashion. The people got the freedom they wanted—but in God’s way and timing. He plays a long game, teaching us about His character and preparing us for something greater. Tun made good use of his years in a refugee camp, earning a master’s degree from a New Delhi seminary. Now he’s a pastor to his own people—refugees like him who have found a new home. The journey hasn’t been easy. “My story as a refugee forms the crucible for leading as a servant,” he says. In his testimony, Tun cites Moses’ song in Exodus 15:2, “The Lord is my strength and my defense.” And today, He’s ours as well.
7/28/20230
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Extra Grace Required

While we decorated for a special event at church, the woman in charge griped about my inexperience. After she walked away, another woman approached me. “Don’t worry about her. She’s what we call an E.G.R.—Extra Grace Required.” I laughed. Soon I started using that label every time I had a conflict with someone. Years later, I sat in that same church sanctuary listening to that E.G.R.’s obituary. The pastor shared how she had served God behind the scenes and given generously to others. I asked God to forgive me for judging and gossiping about her and anyone else I’d labeled as an E.G.R. in the past. After all, I needed extra grace as much as any other believer in Jesus. In Ephesians 2, the apostle Paul states that all believers were “by nature deserving of wrath” (v. 3). But God gave us the gift of salvation, a gift which we did nothing to deserve, a gift we’d never be able to earn “so that no one can boast” (v. 9). No one. As we submit to God moment by moment during this lifelong journey, the Holy Spirit will work to change our character so we can reflect the character of Christ. Every believer requires extra grace. But we can be grateful that God’s grace is sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9).
7/27/20230
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Castaway Faith

In June 1965, six Tongan teenagers sailed from their island home in search of adventure. But when a storm broke their mast and rudder the first night, they drifted for days without food or water before reaching the uninhabited island of ‘Ata. It would be fifteen months before they were found. The boys worked together on ‘Ata to survive, setting up a small food garden, hollowing out tree trunks to store rainwater, even building a makeshift gym. When one boy broke his leg from a cliff fall, the others set it using sticks and leaves. Arguments were managed with mandatory reconciliation, and each day began and ended with singing and prayer. When the boys emerged from their ordeal healthy, their families were amazed—their funerals had already been held. Being a believer in Jesus in the first century could be an isolating experience. Persecuted for your faith and often stranded from family, one could feel adrift. The apostle Peter’s encouragement to such castaways was to stay disciplined and prayerful (1 Peter 4:7), to look after each other (v. 8), to manage arguments (v. 9), and use whatever abilities one has to get the work done (vv. 10–11). In time, God would bring them through their ordeal strong and steadfast (5:10). In times of trial, “castaway faith” is needed. Those Tongan teens showed us the way. We pray and work in solidarity, and God brings us through.
7/26/20230
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Every Grief

“I measure every Grief I meet,” the nineteenth-century poet Emily Dickinson wrote, “With narrow, probing, eyes – / I wonder if It weighs like Mine – / Or has an Easier size.” The poem is a moving reflection on how people carry the unique ways they’ve been wounded throughout their lives. Dickinson concludes, almost hesitantly, with her only solace: the “piercing Comfort” of seeing at Calvary her own wounds reflected in the Savior’s: “Still fascinated to presume / That Some – are like my own –.” The book of Revelation describes Jesus, our Savior, as a “Lamb, looking as if it had been slain” (5:6; see v. 12), His wounds still visible. Wounds earned through taking upon Himself the sin and despair of His people (1 Peter 2:24–25), so that they might have new life and hope. And Revelation describes a future day when the Savior will “wipe every tear” from each of His children’s eyes (21:4). Jesus won’t minimize their pain, but truly see and care for each person’s unique grief—while inviting them into the new, healing realities of life in His kingdom, where there is “no more death or mourning or crying or pain” (v. 4). Where healing water will flow “without cost from the spring of the water of life” (v. 6; see 22:2). Because our Savior has carried our every grief, we can find rest and healing in His kingdom.
7/25/20230
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Hope in Grief

Louise was a lively, playful girl who brought smiles to all she met. At the age of five, she tragically succumbed to a rare disease. Her sudden passing was a shock to her parents, Day Day and Peter, and to all of us who worked with them. We grieved along with them. Yet, Day Day and Peter have found the strength to keep going. When I asked Day Day how they were coping, she said they drew strength from focusing on where Louise was—in Jesus’ loving arms. “We rejoice for our daughter whose time is up to go into eternal life,” she said. “By God’s grace and strength, we can navigate through the grief and continue to do what He has entrusted us to do.” Day Day’s comfort is found in her confidence in the heart of God who revealed Himself in Jesus. Biblical hope is much more than mere optimism; it is an absolute certainty based on God’s promise, which He will never break. In our sadness, we can cling to this powerful truth, as Paul encouraged those grieving over departed friends: “We believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him” (1 Thessalonians 4:14). May this certain hope give us strength and comfort today—even in our grief.
7/24/20230
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Remember in Prayer

Malcolm Cloutt was named a 2021 Maundy Money honoree by Queen Elizabeth II, an annual service award given to British men and women. Cloutt, who was one hundred years old at the time of the recognition, was honored for having given out one thousand Bibles during his lifetime. Cloutt has kept a record of everyone who’s received a Bible and prays for them regularly. Cloutt’s faithfulness in prayer is a powerful example of the kind of love we find throughout Paul’s writings in the New Testament. Paul often assured the recipients of his letters that he was regularly praying for them. To his friend Philemon he wrote, “I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers” (Philemon 1:4). In his letter to Timothy, Paul wrote, “Night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers” (2 Timothy 1:3). To the church in Rome, Paul emphasized that he remembered them in prayer “constantly” and “at all times” (Romans 1:9–10). While we might not have a thousand people to pray for like Malcolm, intentional prayer for those we know is powerful because God responds to our prayers. When prompted and empowered by His Spirit to pray for a specific individual, I’ve found a simple prayer calendar can be a useful tool. Dividing names into a daily or weekly calendar helps me be faithful to pray. What a beautiful demonstration of love when we remember others in prayer.
7/23/20230
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Drenched by the Spirit

Author Scot McKnight shares how when he was in high school, he had what he calls a “Spirit-drenched experience.” While at a camp, the speaker challenged him to enthrone Christ in his life by surrendering to the Spirit. Later, he sat under a tree and prayed, “Father, forgive me of my sins. And Holy Spirit, come inside and fill me.” Something mighty happened, he said. “From that moment my life has been completely different. Not perfect, but different.” He suddenly had the desire to read the Bible, pray, meet with other believers in Jesus, and serve God. Before the risen Jesus ascended to heaven, He told His friends: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised” (Acts 1:4). They would “receive power” to become His “witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (v. 8). God gives the Holy Spirit to indwell everyone who believes in Jesus. This first happened at Pentecost (see Acts 2); today it occurs whenever someone trusts in Christ. God’s Spirit also continues to fill those who believe in Jesus throughout our lives. We too, with the help of the Spirit, bear the fruit of changed character and desires (Galatians 5:22–23). Let’s praise and thank God for comforting us, convicting us, partnering with us, and loving us.
7/22/20230
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Room for Silence

If you like peace and quiet, there’s a room in Minneapolis, Minnesota, that you’ll love. It absorbs 99.99 percent of all sound! The world-famous anechoic (echo-free) chamber of the Orfield Laboratories has been called the “quietest place on earth.” People who want to experience this soundless space are required to sit down to avoid getting disoriented by the lack of noise, and no one has ever been able to spend more than forty-five minutes in the room. Few of us need that much silence. Yet we do sometimes long for a little quiet in a loud and busy world. Even the news we watch and the social media we ingest bring a kind of clamorous “noise” that competes for our attention. So much of it is infused with words and images that stir up negative emotions. Immersing ourselves in it can easily drown out the voice of God. When the prophet Elijah went to meet God on the mountain of Horeb, he didn’t find Him in the loud, destructive wind or in the earthquake or in the fire (1 Kings 19:11–12). It wasn’t until Elijah heard a “gentle whisper” that he covered his face and ventured out of the cave to meet with “the Lord God Almighty” (vv. 12–14). Your spirit may well be craving quiet but—even more so—it may be yearning to hear the voice of God. Find room for silence in your life so you’ll never miss God’s “gentle whisper” (v. 12).  
7/21/20230
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Putting on Humility

The CEO of a frozen treats franchise went undercover on the television series Undercover Boss, donning a cashier’s uniform. Working at one of the franchise’s stores, her wig and makeup disguised her identity as she became the “new” employee. Her goal was to see how things were really working from the inside and on the ground. Based on her observations, she was able to solve some of the issues the store was facing. Jesus took on a “humble position” to solve our issues. He became human—walking the earth, teaching us about God, and ultimately dying “on a cross” for our sins (Philippians 2:8). This sacrifice exposed Christ’s humility as He obediently gave His life as our sin offering. He walked the earth as a man and experienced what we experience—from ground level. As believers in Jesus, we’re called to have the “same attitude” as our Savior especially in our relationships with other believers (v. 5). God helps us to clothe ourselves in humility and adopt the mindset of Christ (v. 3). He prompts us to live as servants ready to meet others’ needs and willing to lend a helping hand. As God leads us to humbly love others, we’re in a better position to serve them and to compassionately seek solutions to the issues they face.
7/20/20230
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Slow-Walking Sin Out the Door

Winston knows he’s not supposed to chew them. So he’s adopted a sly strategy. We call it slow-walking. If Winston spies a discarded, unguarded shoe, he’ll casually meander in that direction, grab it, and just keep walking. Slowly. Nothing to see here. Right out the door if no one notices. “Uh, Mom, Winston just slow-walked your shoe out the door.” It’s apparent that sometimes we think we can “slow-walk” our sin past God. We’re tempted to think that He won’t notice. It’s no big deal, we rationalize—whatever “it” is. But like Winston, we know better. We know those choices don’t please God. Like Adam and Eve in the garden, we may try to hide due to the shame of our sin (Genesis 3:10) or pretend like it didn’t happen. But Scripture invites us to do something very different: to run to God’s mercy and forgiveness. Proverbs 28:13 tells us, “Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” We don’t have to try to slow-walk our sin and hope no one notices. When we tell the truth about our choices—to ourselves, to God, to a trusted friend—we can find freedom from the guilt and shame of carrying secret sin (1 John 1:9).
7/19/20230
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Doing Something Right

The letter from “Jason,” an inmate, surprised my wife and me. We “foster” puppies to become service dogs assisting people with disabilities. One such puppy had graduated to the next training phase, which was run by prisoners who have been taught how to train the dogs. Jason’s letter to us said, “Snickers is the seventeenth dog I’ve trained, and she is the best one. When I see her looking up at me, I feel like I’m finally doing something right.” Jason isn’t the only one with regrets. We all have them. Manasseh, king of Judah, had plenty. Second Chronicles 33 outlines some of his atrocities: building sexually explicit altars to pagan gods (v. 3), practicing witchcraft, and sacrificing his own children (v. 6). He led the entire nation down this sordid path (v. 9). “The Lord spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they paid no attention,” reads the account (v. 10). Eventually, God got his attention. The Babylonians invaded, “put a hook in his nose, . . . and took him to Babylon” (v. 11). Next, Manasseh finally did something right. “He sought the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly” (v. 12). God heard him and restored him as king. Manasseh replaced the pagan practices with worship of the one true God (vv. 15–16). Do your regrets threaten to consume you? It’s not too late. God hears our humble prayer of repentance.
7/18/20230
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What’s My Purpose?

“I felt so useless,” Harold said. “Widowed and retired, kids busy with their own families, spending quiet afternoons watching shadows on the wall.” He’d often tell his daughter, “I’m old and have lived a full life. I have no purpose anymore. God can take me any time.” One afternoon, however, a conversation changed Harold’s mind. “My neighbor had some problems with his kids, so I prayed for him,” Harold said. “Later, I shared the gospel with him. That’s how I realized I still have a purpose! As long as there are people who haven’t heard of Jesus, I must tell them about the Savior.” When Harold responded to an everyday, ordinary encounter by sharing his faith, his neighbor’s life was changed. In 2 Timothy 1, the apostle Paul mentions two women who’d likewise been used by God to change another person’s life: the life of Paul’s young coworker, Timothy. Lois, Timothy’s grandmother, and Eunice, his mother, had a “sincere faith” which they’d passed on to him (v. 5). Through everyday events in an ordinary household, young Timothy learned a genuine faith that was to shape his growth into a faithful disciple of Jesus and, eventually, his ministry as leader of the church at Ephesus. No matter what our age, background, or circumstances, we have a purpose—to tell others about Jesus.
7/17/20230
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Prayer and Transformation

In 1982, pastor Christian Führer began Monday prayer meetings at Leipzig’s St. Nicholas Church. For years, a handful gathered to ask God for peace amid global violence and the oppressive East German regime. Though communist authorities watched churches closely, they were unconcerned until attendance swelled and spilled over to mass meetings outside the church gates. On October 9, 1989, seventy thousand demonstrators met and peacefully protested. Six thousand East German police stood ready to respond to any provocation. The crowd remained peaceful, however, and historians consider this day a watershed moment. A month later, the Berlin Wall fell. The massive transformation all started with a prayer meeting. L we turn to God and begin relying on His wisdom and strength, things often begin to shift and reshape. Like Israel, when we cry “out to the Lord in [our] trouble,” we discover the God who alone is capable of profoundly transforming even our most dire predicaments and answering our most vexing questions (Psalm 107:28). God stills “the storm to a whisper” and turns “the desert into pools of water” (vv. 29, 35). The One to whom we pray brings hope out of despair and beauty out of ruin. But it’s God who (in His time—not ours) enacts transformation. Prayer is how we participate in the transforming work He’s doing.
7/16/20230
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Empowered for the Everyday

Every Moment Holy is a beautiful book of prayers for a variety of activities, including ordinary ones like preparing a meal or doing the laundry. Necessary tasks that can feel repetitive or mundane. The book reminded me of the words of author G. K. Chesterton, who wrote, “You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.” Such encouragement reorients my perspective on the activities of my day. Sometimes I’m inclined to divide my activities into ones that appear to have spiritual value, like reading devotions before a meal, and other activities I think have little spiritual value, such as doing the dishes after the meal. Paul erased that divide in a letter to the people of Colosse who had chosen to live for Jesus. He encouraged them with these words: “whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus” (3:17). Doing things in Jesus’ name means both honoring Jesus as we do them and having the assurance that His Spirit helps strengthen us to accomplish them. “Whatever you do.” All the ordinary activities of our lives, every moment, can be empowered by God’s Spirit and done in a way that honors Jesus.
7/15/20230
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Deep Waters

When Bill Pinkney sailed solo around the world in 1992—taking the hard route around the perilous Great Southern Capes—he did it for a higher purpose. His voyage was to inspire and educate children. That included students at his former inner-city Chicago elementary school. His goal? To show how far they could go by studying hard and making a commitment—the word he chose in naming his boat. When Bill takes schoolkids on the water in Commitment, he says, “They’ve got that tiller in their hand and they learn about control, self-control, they learn about teamwork . . . all the basics that one needs in life to be successful.” Pinkney’s words paint a portrait of Solomon’s wisdom. “The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out” (Proverbs 20:5). He invited others to examine their life goals. Otherwise, “it is a trap,” said Solomon, “to dedicate something rashly and only later to consider one’s vows” (v. 25). In contrast, William Pinkney had a clear purpose that eventually inspired 30,000 students across the U.S. to learn from his journey. He became the first African American inducted into the National Sailing Hall of Fame. “Kids were watching,” he said. With similar purpose, let’s set our course by the deep counsel of God’s instructions to us.
7/14/20230
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Personal Responsibility

My friend’s eyes revealed what I was feeling—fear! We two teens had behaved poorly and were now cowering before the camp director. The man, who knew our dads well, shared lovingly but pointedly that our fathers would be greatly disappointed. We wanted to crawl under the table—feeling the weight of personal responsibility for our offense. God gave Zephaniah a message for the people of Judah that contained potent words about personal responsibility for sin (Zephaniah 1:1, 6–7). After describing the judgments He would bring against Judah’s foes (ch. 2), He turned His eyes on His guilty, squirming people (ch. 3). “What sorrow awaits rebellious, polluted Jerusalem” God proclaimed (3:1 nlt). “They [are] still eager to act corruptly” (v. 7). He'd seen the cold hearts of His people—their spiritual apathy, social injustice, and ugly greed—and He was bringing loving discipline. And it didn’t matter if the individuals were “leaders,” “judges,” “prophets”—everyone was guilty before Him (vv. 3–4). The apostle Paul wrote the following to believers in Jesus who persisted in sin, “You are storing up terrible punishment for yourself. . . . [God] will judge everyone according to what they have done” (Romans 2:5–6 NLT). So, in Jesus’ power, let’s live in a way that honors our holy, loving Father and leads to no remorse.  
7/13/20230
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Wash Me!

“Wash me!” Though those words weren’t written on my vehicle, they could have been. So, off to the car wash I went, and so did other drivers who wanted relief from the grimy leftovers from salted roads following a recent snowfall. The lines were long, and the service was slow. But it was worth the wait. I left with a clean vehicle and, for compensation for service delay, the car wash was free of charge! Getting cleaned at someone else’s expense—that’s the gospel of Jesus Christ. God, through the death and resurrection of Jesus, has provided forgiveness for our sins. Who among us hasn’t felt the need “to bathe” when the “dirt and grime” of life have clung to us? When we’re stained by selfish thoughts or actions that harm ourselves or others and rob us of peace with God? Psalm 51 is the cry of David when temptation had triumphed in his life. When confronted by a spiritual mentor about his sin (see 2 Samuel 12), he prayed a “Wash me!” prayer: “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow” (v. 7). Feeling dirty and guilty? Make your way to Jesus and remember these words: ”If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
7/12/20230
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Who Deserves the Praise?

From the spiral staircase to the expansive bedroom, from the hardwood floors to the plush carpeting, from the huge laundry room to the well-organized office, the realtor showed a potential home to the young couple. At every corner they turned, they raved about its beauty: “You’ve picked the best place for us. This house is amazing!” Then the realtor responded with something they thought a bit unusual yet true: “I’ll pass along your compliment to the builder. The one who built the house deserves the praise; not the house itself or the one who shows it off.” The realtor’s words echo the writer of Hebrews: “The builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself” (3:3). The writer was comparing the faithfulness of Jesus, the Son of God, with the prophet Moses (vv. 1–6). Though Moses was privileged to speak to God face to face and to see His form (Numbers 12:8), he was still only “a servant” in the house of God (Hebrews 3:5). Christ, as Creator (1:2, 10), deserves honor as divine “builder of everything” and as Son “over God’s house” (3:4, 6). God’s house is His people. When we serve God faithfully, it’s Jesus the divine builder who deserves the honor. Any praise we, God’s house, receive ultimately belongs to Him.
7/11/20230
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From Darkness to Light

Nothing could pull Aakash out of his dark depression. Severely injured in a truck accident, he was taken to a missionary hospital in Southwest Asia. Eight operations repaired his broken bones, but he couldn’t eat. Depression set in. His family depended on him to provide, which he couldn't do, so his world grew darker. One