The Whole Story

Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him. —Acts 8:35

Recently my 5-year-old grandson, Dallas, asked, “Why did Jesus die on the cross?” So we had a little talk. I explained to him about sin and Jesus’ willingness to be our sacrifice. Then he ran off to play.

A few minutes later, I overheard him talking to his 5-year-old cousin, Katie, explaining to her why Jesus died. Katie said to him, “But Jesus isn’t dead.” Dallas replied, “Yes. He’s dead. Grampy told me. He died on the cross.”

I realized I hadn’t completed the story. So we had another talk as I explained to Dallas that Jesus rose from the dead. We went over the story again until he understood that Jesus is alive today, even though He did die for us.

What a reminder that people need to hear the whole gospel. When a man from Ethiopia asked Philip about a portion of Scripture he did not understand, Philip “opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him” (Acts 8:35).

Tell others the good news about Jesus: that we are all sinners needing salvation; that the perfect Son of God died to save us; and that He rose from the grave, showing His power over death. Jesus, our Savior, is alive and is offering now to live His life through us.

When someone wants to know about Jesus, let’s make sure to tell the whole story!

Lord, Your story is amazing. Help us to tell all of it so others can put their faith in You and enjoy the salvation You offer to all who trust and believe.

Jesus said . . . , “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.” John 11:25

INSIGHT:Two followers of Christ named Philip are mentioned in the New Testament. The first is the Philip Jesus called to be a disciple (John 1:43). The Philip mentioned in today’s passage was among the seven men chosen to oversee the ministry to the widows at the church in Jerusalem (Acts 6:5).


Hidden Mysteries

Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them. —2 Kings 6:16

Most of what goes on in the universe we never see. Many things are too small or move too fast or even too slow for us to see. Using modern technology, however, filmmaker Louis Schwartzberg is able to show stunning video images of some of those things—a caterpillar’s mouth, the eye of a fruit fly, the growth of a mushroom.

Our limited ability to see the awesome and intricate detail of things in the physical world reminds us that our ability to see and understand what’s happening in the spiritual realm is equally limited. God is at work all around us doing things more wonderful than we can imagine. But our spiritual vision is limited and we cannot see them. The prophet Elisha, however, actually got to see the supernatural work that God was doing. God also opened the eyes of his fearful colleague so he too could see the heavenly army sent to fight on their behalf (2 Kings 6:17).

Fear makes us feel weak and helpless and causes us to think we are alone in the world. But God has assured us that His Spirit in us is greater than any worldly power (1 John 4:4).

Whenever we become discouraged by the evil we can see, we need to think instead about the good work God is doing that we cannot see.

Lord, I’m tempted to fear what I cannot understand or control. But my security rests in You and not in what happens to me or around me. Help me to rest in Your unfailing love.

Eyes of faith see God at work in everything.

INSIGHT:Scripture speaks of unseen angels protecting God’s people (Ps. 34:7; Dan. 3:25-28; Matt. 4:6; Acts 5:19; 12:7). They are God’s “servants—spirits sent to care for people who will inherit salvation” (Heb. 1:14 nlt).


Worth It All

What you sow is not made alive unless it dies. —1 Corinthians 15:36

By the end of the 4th century, followers of Christ were no longer being fed to the lions for the entertainment of Roman citizens. But the games of death continued until the day one man jumped out of the crowd in a bold attempt to keep two gladiators from killing each other.

His name was Telemachus. As a desert monk, he had come to Rome for the holidays only to find himself unable to tolerate the bloodlust of this popular pastime. According to the 5th-century bishop and church historian Theodoret, Telemachus cried out for the violence to stop but was stoned to death by the crowd. The Emperor Honorius heard about his courageous act and ordered an end to the games.

Some may question Telemachus. Was his action the only way to protest a tragic blood sport? The apostle Paul asked a similar question of himself: “Why do we stand in jeopardy every hour?” (1 Cor. 15:30). In 2 Corinthians 11:22-33, he chronicled some of his travails for the love of Christ, many of which could have killed him. Had it all been worth it?

In Paul’s mind the matter was settled. Trading things that will soon come to an end for honor that will last forever is a good investment. In the resurrection, a life that has been lived in behalf of Christ and others is seed for an eternity we will never regret.

Give us courage, Father, to make and live by choices that show the difference the love of Jesus makes in our lives. Help us not to trade away eternal values for convenience and comfort.

Now is the time to invest in eternity.

INSIGHT:First Corinthians 15 is known by many as the resurrection chapter, for it is a key passage that defends the truth of Jesus’ resurrection and the believer’s hope of a future resurrection, after which we will live forever with Christ. Other accounts in the Bible of people who were raised from the dead include the widow’s son in Zarephath (1 Kings 17), Jairus’s daughter (Mark 5), a widow’s son (Luke 7), and Lazarus (John 11). In these instances, however, those raised from the dead would later die of natural causes.


Walking on Water

Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid. —Matthew 14:27

When I learned to sail, I had to walk along a very unsteady floating platform to reach the little boats in which we had our lessons. I hated it. I don’t have a good sense of balance and was terrified of falling between the platform and the boat as I attempted to get in. I nearly gave up. “Fix your eyes on me,” said the instructor. “I’m here, and I’ll catch you if you slip.” I did what he said, and I am now the proud possessor of a basic sailing proficiency certificate!

Do you avoid taking risks at all costs? Many of us are reluctant to step out of our comfort zones in case we fail, get hurt, or look stupid. But if we allow that fear to bind us, we’ll end up afraid to do anything.

The story of Peter’s water-walking adventure and why it supposedly failed is a popular choice for preachers (Matt. 14:22-33). But I don’t think I’ve ever heard any of them discuss the behavior of the rest of the disciples. In my opinion, Peter was a success. He felt the fear but responded to the call of Jesus anyway. Maybe it was those who never tried at all who failed.

Jesus risked everything for us. What are we prepared to risk for Him?

Father, thank You for stretching out Your hand and saying, “Come.” Help me to get out of the boat, knowing that it is totally safe to walk on water with You.

“Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.” Helen Keller

INSIGHT:The Sea of Galilee is partially ringed with a series of hills and valleys, which makes it vulnerable to sudden storms. With little warning, winds can whip through these ravines in such a way that they lash the waters of the Galilee quite violently, causing what might otherwise be a typical storm to be deadly and threatening to anyone on the water. This could explain why seasoned fishermen who made their living on the Sea of Galilee could be periodically caught in potentially life-threatening storms.


Shopping with Liam

He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel. —Genesis 3:15

My son Liam loves to pick dandelions for his mother. To date, she hasn’t wearied of receiving them. One man’s weed is a little boy’s flower.

One day I took Liam shopping with me. As we hurried past the floral section, he pointed excitedly to an arrangement of yellow tulips. “Daddy,” he exclaimed, “you should get those dandelions for Mommy!” His advice made me laugh. It made a pretty good Facebook post on his mother’s page too. (By the way, I bought the tulips.)

Some see in weeds a reminder of Adam’s sin. By eating the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve brought on themselves the curse of a fallen world—relentless work, agonizing birth, and eventual death (Gen. 3:16-19).

But Liam’s youthful eyes remind me of something else. There is beauty even in weeds. The anguish of childbirth holds hope for us all. Death is ultimately defeated. The “Seed” God spoke of in Genesis 3:15 would wage war with the serpent’s offspring. That Seed is Jesus Himself, who rescued us from the curse of death (Gal. 3:16).

The world may be broken, but wonder awaits us at every turn. Even weeds remind us of the promise of redemption and a Creator who loves us.

Help us, Father, to find You even in the midst of all life’s pain and aggravations. Forgive us for so often overlooking the beauty You have planted everywhere.

Creation reminds us of the promise of redemption.

INSIGHT:After the fall, Adam and Eve were barred from the Garden of Eden by cherubim (angels). God then established a form of worship to teach the necessity of a Savior to regain access to His presence. Of the tabernacle and then the temple, God said, “I will speak with you from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim,” which were fashioned out of gold and stretched their wings over the mercy seat (Ex. 25:17-22). The reminder of God’s holiness and the need for sacrifice and mercy were central to Old Testament worship.


The Challenge of Transition

Be strong and very courageous. —Joshua 1:7

After former professional athlete Chris Sanders suffered a career-ending injury, he told a group of military veterans that although he had never experienced combat, “I understand the pressures of transitions.”

Whether it’s the loss of a job, the loss of a marriage, a serious illness, or a financial setback, every major change brings challenges. The former athlete told the soldiers that the key to success when you are transitioning into a new way of living is to reach out and get help.

The book of Joshua is recommended reading whenever we find ourselves in transition. After 40 years of wandering and setbacks, God’s people were poised to enter the Promised Land. Moses, their great leader, had died, and Joshua, his assistant, was in charge.

God told Joshua to “be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go” (Josh. 1:7). God’s words of direction were to be the bedrock of Joshua’s leadership in every situation.

The Lord’s charge and promise to Joshua apply to us as well: “Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (v. 9).

He is with us in every transition.

Father, I’m bringing You my trials and frustrations. You know each and every detail. Please comfort me as only You can, and provide exactly what I need for today. Help me give my unfulfilled expectations to You, trusting You’re working out a plan for me.

God remains faithful in every change.

INSIGHT:From personal observation, Joshua knew that the Canaanites lived in strongly fortified cities (Num. 13:28-29). But God’s command was accompanied with a promise of victory: “No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life; as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you nor forsake you” (Josh. 1:5).


A Loving Father

As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him. —Psalm 103:13

The parents were obviously weary from dragging their two energetic preschoolers through airports and airplanes, and now their final flight was delayed. As I watched the two boys running around the crowded gate area, I wondered how Mom and Dad were going to keep the little guys settled down for our half-hour flight into Grand Rapids. When we finally boarded, I noticed that the father and one of the sons were in the seats behind me. Then I heard the weary father say to his son, “Why don’t you let me read one of your storybooks to you.” And during the entire flight, this loving father softly and patiently read to his son, keeping him calm and focused.

In one of his psalms David declares, “As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him” (Ps. 103:13). The word pities refers to showing love and compassion. This tender word gives us a picture of how deeply our heavenly Father loves His children, and it reminds us what a great gift it is to be able to look to God and cry, “Abba, Father” (Rom. 8:15).

God longs for you to listen again to the story of His love for you when you are restless on your own journey through life. Your heavenly Father is always near, ready to encourage you with His Word.

I rejoice in Your presence and Your love for me, Lord. Today I choose joy in knowing Your love is constant and unchanging, forever fixed.

God’s great love for His child is one of His greatest gifts.

INSIGHT:Commentator Adam Clarke provides this background to Psalm 103: “The inscription in the Hebrew, and in all the Versions, gives this Psalm to David; and yet many of the ancients believed it to refer to the times of the captivity, or rather to its conclusion, in which the redeemed Jews give thanks to God for their restoration. It is a Psalm of inimitable sweetness and excellence; contains the most affectionate sentiments of gratitude to God for his mercies; and the most consoling motives to continue to trust in God, and be obedient to him.”


A Missing Sheep

We are His people and the sheep of His pasture. —Psalm 100:3

Laura loaded a borrowed goat and sheep into a trailer to transport them to church for a rehearsal of a live nativity. The animals head-butted and chased each other for a bit and then settled down. Laura started for the church but first had to stop for gas.

While pumping the gas, she noticed the goat standing in the parking lot! And the sheep was gone! In the commotion of getting them settled she had forgotten to lock one of the latches. Laura called the sheriff and some friends who searched frantically along a stretch of businesses, cornfields, and woods during the last daylight hours. Many were praying that she would find the borrowed animal.

The next morning Laura and a friend went out to post “Lost Sheep” flyers at local businesses. Their first stop was the gas station. A customer overheard them asking the cashier about posting a flyer and said, “I think I know where your sheep is!” The sheep had wandered to his neighbor’s farm, where he had put it in the barn for the night.

The Lord cares about lost sheep—including you and me. Jesus came from heaven to earth to show us His love and provide salvation (John 3:16). He goes to great lengths to seek and find us (Luke 19:10).

When the sheep was found, Laura nicknamed her Miracle. And God’s salvation of us is a miracle of His grace.

Heavenly Father, as we care for the things dear to us, how much more do You care for us, Your children! Thank You for answered prayer and for the miracle of Your grace.

The Good Shepherd gives His life for His sheep. John 10:11

INSIGHT:Jesus’ association with the outcasts of society (vv. 1-2) offended the self-righteous Pharisees and religious leaders who saw themselves as the only people fit to go to heaven. Their statement that “this man receives sinners and eats with them” (v. 2) was meant to be a scathing attack on His character, but it accurately affirmed what Jesus came to do (Matt. 9:10-13). In response to this criticism, Jesus told three parables: the lost sheep (vv. 4-7), the lost coin (vv. 8-10), and the lost son (vv. 11-32). All three parables follow the same pattern: something is lost, it is found, and then there is rejoicing.


Look at the Tassels

Remember all the commandments of the Lord and do them. —Numbers 15:39

Best-selling author Chaim Potok began his novel The Chosen by describing a baseball game between two Jewish teams in New York City.  Reuven Malter, the book’s main character, notices that the opposing players’ uniforms have a unique accessory—four long ropelike tassels that extend below each teammate’s shirt. Reuven recognizes the tassels as a sign of strict obedience to God’s Old Testament laws.

The history of these fringes—known as tzitzit—began with a message from God. Through Moses, God told His people to create tassels containing some strands of blue thread and attach them to the four corners of their top garments (Num. 15:38). God said, “You may look upon [the tassels] and remember all the commandments of the Lord and do them” (v. 39).

God’s memory device for the ancient Israelites has a parallel for us today. We can look at Christ who consistently kept the whole law in our place and obeyed His heavenly Father (John 8:29). Having received His work on our behalf, we now “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts” (Rom. 13:14). Keeping our eyes on God’s Son helps us to honor our heavenly Father.

Dear Jesus, thank You for being my spiritual role model. Help me to walk in Your steps so that I can honor and obey God with the Holy Spirit’s help.

If Christ is the center of your life, you’ll always be focused on Him.

INSIGHT:The book of Numbers is part of the opening segment of the Old Testament Scriptures. It is book four of the five-book Pentateuch, referred to in Judaism as the Torah (the Law). These books were written by Moses as a record not only of the beginning of time and life (Genesis), but also the beginning of the nation of Israel (Exodus through Deuteronomy). This book received its name because of Moses’ order to number the population of the tribes. Jewish names for the book of Numbers include “and the Lord spoke” and “in the wilderness” (both names coming from Num. 1:1).


Failure Is Not Fatal

You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. —John 6:69

Prime Minister Winston Churchill knew how to bolster the spirits of the British people during World War II. On June 18, 1940, he told a frightened populace, “Hitler knows that he will have to break us . . . or lose the war. . . . Let us therefore brace . . . and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire [lasts] for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour!’ ”

We would all like to be remembered for our “finest hour.” Perhaps the apostle Peter’s finest hour was when he proclaimed, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (John 6:69). Sometimes, however, we let our failures define us. After Peter repeatedly denied that he knew Jesus, he went out and wept bitterly (Matt. 26:75; John 18).

Like Peter, we all fall short—in our relationships, in our struggle with sin, in our faithfulness to God. But “failure is not fatal,” as Churchill also said. Thankfully, this is true in our spiritual life. Jesus forgave the repentant Peter for his failure (John 21) and used him to preach and lead many to the Savior.

Failure is not fatal. God lovingly restores those who turn back to Him.

Dear Father, thank You for Your forgiveness. Thank You that Your mercy and grace are given freely through the shed blood of Your Son, Jesus.

When God forgives, He removes the sin and restores the soul.

INSIGHT:The story of Peter’s denial of Christ is found in each of the four gospel records (Matt. 26; Mark 14; Luke 22; John 18). Of these records, Mark’s account bears particular interest since scholars believe it is the record of Peter’s memories of his time with Jesus. If so, then in Mark’s gospel Peter recounts the story of his denials as a personal testimony of his failure.