On a Hill Far Away

Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love. —Genesis 22:2

I often find myself thinking back to the years when my children were young. One particular fond memory is our morning wake-up routine. Every morning I’d go into their bedrooms, tenderly call them by name, and tell them that it was time to get up and get ready for the day.

When I read that Abraham got up early in the morning to obey God’s command, I think of those times when I woke up my children and wonder if part of Abraham’s daily routine was going to Isaac’s bed to waken him—and how different it would have been on that particular morning. How heart-rending for Abraham to waken his son that morning!

Abraham bound his son and laid him on an altar, but then God provided an alternate sacrifice. Hundreds of years later, God would supply another sacrifice—the final sacrifice—His own Son. Think of how agonizing it must have been for God to sacrifice His Son, His only Son whom He loved! And He went through all of that because He loves you.

If you wonder whether you are loved by God, wonder no more.

Lord, I am amazed that You would love me so much that You would sacrifice Your Son for me. Teach
me to live gratefully in the embrace of Your unfailing love.

God has already proven His love for you.



The Greatest Thing

Mary . . . sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word. —Luke 10:39

During a church service I spotted an infant several rows ahead. As the baby peeked over his father’s shoulder, his eyes were wide with wonder as he looked at the members of the congregation. He grinned at some people, drooled, and chewed his chunky fingers, but never quite found his thumb. The pastor’s words grew distant as my eyes kept sliding back to that sweet baby.

Distractions come in all shapes and sizes. For Martha, distraction took the form of cooking and cleaning—trying to serve Christ instead of listening to Him and talking with Him. Mary refused to be sidetracked. “Mary . . . sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word” (Luke 10:39). When Martha grumbled because Mary wasn’t helping her, Jesus said, “Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her” (v. 42 niv).

Jesus’ words remind us that our relationship with Him is more important than any of the good things that might temporarily capture our attention. It has been said thatgood things are the enemies of great things. For followers of Jesus, the greatest thing in this life is to know Him and to walk with Him.

What do you think Martha’s distractions were? Was she wanting to be seen as a good host? Or was
she jealous of her sister? What attitudes cause you not to make Jesus your top priority?

Teach me, Lord, to get to know You, for that’s when I’ll learn to love You more than anything.

INSIGHT:  The “certain village” mentioned in Luke 10:38 is Bethany, a small village on the eastern slopes of the Mount of Olives (Mark 11:1), about 2 miles from Jerusalem (John 11:18). It was home to three siblings, Martha, Mary, and Lazarus (Luke 10:38; John 11), and Jesus probably stayed at their home when He was in Jerusalem (Matt. 21:17; 26:6; Mark 11:11; 14:3; John 11:1; 12:1). Bethany was where Lazarus was raised from the dead (John 11) and where Simon the leper held a feast to honor Jesus (Mark 14:3). It is also where Mary anointed Jesus with an expensive perfume to prepare Him for His death (vv. 3-8). Jesus’ ascension, it is believed, also took place in Bethany (Luke 24:50-52).


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.”


What We Do

One thing I do . . . I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. —Philippians 3:13-14

When Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic Roger Ebert died, a fellow journalist wrote of him: “With all his notoriety, honors, and celebrity, all his exclusive interviews and star-dusted encounters with movie greats, Ebert never forgot the essence of what we do—review movies. And he reviewed them with an infectious zeal and probing intellect” (Dennis King, The Oklahoman).

The apostle Paul never forgot the essence of what God wanted him to be and do. Focus and enthusiasm were at the heart of his relationship with Christ. Whether he was reasoning with philosophers in Athens, experiencing shipwreck in the Mediterranean, or being chained to a Roman soldier in prison, he focused on his calling to know “Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings” and to teach about Him (Phil. 3:10).

While he was in prison, Paul wrote, “I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (3:13-14). Whatever his circumstances, Paul continually pressed forward in his calling as a disciple of Christ.

May we always remember the essence, the heart, of who we are called to be and what we are called to do as followers of Jesus.

Father, may I be willing to do what I can with all that I have, wherever I am.

Paul was in earnest over one thing only, and that was his relationship to Jesus Christ.    -Oswald Chambers

INSIGHT:  In the verses preceding today’s reading (see vv. 4-6), Paul describes his credentials—his “confidence in the flesh”—including his religious upbringing, his ethnic heritage, his zeal, and a lifetime of devotion to the law of Moses. However, all of this is nothing compared to knowing Christ and receiving the gift of salvation (vv. 7-8).


My Father Is with Me

You will be scattered, each to his own, and will leave Me alone. And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me. —John 16:32

A friend struggling with loneliness posted these words on her Facebook page: “It’s not that I feel alone because I have no friends. I have lots of friends. I know that I have people who can hold me and reassure me and talk to me and care for me and think of me. But they can’t be with me all the time—for all time.”

Jesus understands that kind of loneliness. I imagine that during His earthly ministry He saw loneliness in the eyes of lepers and heard it in the voices of the blind. But above all, He must have experienced it when His close friends deserted Him (Mark 14:50).

However, as He foretold the disciples’ desertion, He also confessed His unshaken confidence in His Father’s presence. He said to His disciples: “[You] will leave Me alone. And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me” (John 16:32). Shortly after Jesus said these words, He took up the cross for us. He made it possible for you and me to have a restored relationship with God and to be a member of His family.

Being humans, we will all experience times of loneliness. But Jesus helps us understand that we always have the presence of the Father with us. God is omnipresent and eternal. Only He can be with us all the time, for all time.

Heavenly Father, thank You for Your promise that You will never leave me or forsake
me. When I feel lonely, help me to remember You are always with me.

If you know Jesus, you’ll never walk alone.



Feeling Insignificant?

 I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. —Psalm 139:14

We are among seven billion people who coexist on a tiny planet that resides in a small section of a rather insignificant solar system. Our earth, in reality, is just one miniscule blue dot among millions of celestial bodies that God created. On the gigantic canvas that is our universe, our beautiful, majestic Earth appears as a tiny speck of dust.

That could make us feel extremely unimportant and inconsequential. However, God’s Word suggests that just the opposite is true. Our great God, who “measured the waters in the hollow of His hand” (Isa. 40:12), has singled out each person on this planet as supremely important, for we are made in His image.

For instance, He has created everything for us to enjoy (1 Tim. 6:17). Also, for all who have trusted Jesus as Savior, God has given purpose (Eph. 2:10). And then there’s this: Despite the vastness of this world, God cares specifically about each of us. Psalm 139 says He knows what we are going to say and what we are thinking. We can’t escape His presence, and He planned our earthly existence before we were born.

We don’t need to feel unimportant when the God of the universe is that interested in us!

Lord, I look out into the vastness of the heavens and I see the grandeur of Your infinite power, yet
You look at me from heaven and see someone You know, love, and care about.
Thank You that You find value in me.

 The God who created the universe is the God who loves you.

INSIGHT: The Psalms often give us insight into our human condition and encourage us with comforting thoughts about God’s power and wisdom. The opening verses of Psalm 139 affirm God’s omnipresence and omniscience, that He is everywhere and knows everything. In verse 14 David makes it personal. If God made us and His works are marvelous, then we are marvelous.


Something New

We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. —Ephesians 2:10

It was only scrap wood, but Charles Hooper saw much more than that. Salvaging old timbers from a long-abandoned corncrib, he sketched some simple plans. Then he felled a few oak and poplar trees from his wooded property and painstakingly squared them with his grandfather’s broadax. Piece by piece, he began to fit together the old lumber with the new.

Today you can see Charles and Shirley Hooper’s postcard-perfect log cabin, tucked away in the trees on Tennessee Ridge. Part guesthouse, part museum for family heirlooms, the structure stands as an enduring tribute to Charles’ vision, skill, and patience.

Writing to a Gentile audience, Paul told the church at Ephesus how Jesus was creating something new by bringing together Jewish and non-Jewish believers as a single entity. “You who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ,” Paul wrote (Eph. 2:13). This new structure was “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord” (vv. 20-21).

The work continues today. God takes the brokenness of our lives, artfully fits us together with other broken and rescued people, and patiently chips away our rough edges. He loves His work, you know.

Lord, we can’t thank You enough for Your passionate love for us. Help us to see that You bring
us together in this beautiful body of believers known as Your church.

Our rough edges must be chipped away to bring out the image of Christ.

INSIGHT: The Jews believed they alone were God’s favored people (Gen. 17:9-14), so God would never save the Gentiles (Eph. 3:4-8). Correcting this, Paul says that Christ through the cross has torn down the wall of hostility that separated Jews and Gentiles (2:12-14) and has brought them together into a new unified humanity—the church (vv. 15-18).


Light in the Darkness

I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness. John 12:46

During a trip to Peru, I visited one of the many caves found throughout that mountainous country. Our guide told us that this particular cave had already been explored to a depth of 9 miles—and it went even deeper. We saw fascinating bats, nocturnal birds, and interesting rock formations. Before long, however, the darkness of the cave became unnerving—almost suffocating. I was greatly relieved when we returned to the surface and the light of day.

That experience was a stark reminder of how oppressive darkness can be and how much we need light. We live in a world made dark by sin—a world that has turned against its Creator. And we need the Light.

Jesus, who came to restore all of creation—including humanity—to its intended place referred to Himself as that “light” (John 8:12).  “I have come as a light into the world,” He said, “that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness” (12:46).

In Him, we not only have the light of salvation but the only light by which we can find our way—His way—through our world’s spiritual darkness.

How have you seen God’s light displayed in our broken world? In what ways have you shared His light?

When we walk in the Light, we won’t stumble in the darkness.

INSIGHT:  The imagery of Jesus as light (v. 46) is the key feature of today’s text, but it is also a key feature in the entire gospel of John. In fact, John uses the word light to describe Jesus twenty times, clustered into several key parts of the book: chapter 1 (six times), chapter 3 (five times), chapters 8–9 (three times), and chapter 12 (six times). In each instance, except for references in chapter 1, Jesus is the one speaking, using light as a self-portrait.


The Blame Game

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! —John 1:29

I’ve been blamed for a lot of things, and rightly so. My sin, failure, and incompetence have caused grief, anxiety, and inconvenience for friends and family (and probably even for strangers). I’ve also been blamed for things that were not my fault, things I was powerless to change.

But I have stood on the other side of the fence hurling accusations at others. If they had just done something different, I tell myself, I would not be in the mess I’m in. Blame hurts. So whether guilty or not, we waste lots of time and mental energy trying to find someone else to carry it for us.

Jesus offers us a better way to deal with blame. Even though He was blameless, He took upon Himself the sin of the world and carried it away (John 1:29). We often refer to Jesus as the sacrificial lamb, but He was also the final scapegoat for everything that is wrong with the world (Lev. 16:10).

Once we acknowledge our sin and accept Christ’s offer to take it away, we no longer have to carry the weight of our guilt. We can stop looking for someone to blame for what’s wrong with us, and we can stop accepting blame from others trying to do the same.

Thanks to Jesus, we can stop playing the blame game.

Help me, Lord, to be honest when I am at fault and to confess that toYou—instead of looking
for someone else to blame. Thank You for taking my blame on Yourself.

Honesty about our sin brings forgiveness.



The Gift Of Tears

Jesus wept. —John 11:35

I called a longtime friend when his mother died. She had been a close friend of my mother, and now both had passed on. As we spoke, our conversation slipped easily into a cycle of emotion—tears of sorrow now that Beth was gone and tears of laughter as we recalled the caring and fun person she had been.

Many of us have experienced that strange crossover from crying one moment and laughing the next. It’s an amazing gift that emotions of both sorrow and joy can provide a physical release in this way.

Since we are made in God’s image (Gen. 1:26), and humor is such an integral part of almost every culture, I imagine that Jesus must have had a wonderful sense of humor. But we know that He also knew the pain of grief. When his friend Lazarus died, Jesus saw Mary weeping, and “He groaned in the spirit and was troubled.” A short time later, He too began to weep (John 11:33-35).

Our ability to express our emotions with tears is a gift, and God keeps track of each tear we cry. Psalm 56:8 says, “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book” (nlt). But one day—we are promised (Rev. 7:17)—God “will wipe away every tear.”

Lord, You have made us to laugh, to cry, to yearn, to love—and to miss those who have gone before us. Help
us to love even more deeply, confident in Your goodness and in the resurrection You promise.

Our loving heavenly Father, who washed away our sins, will also wipe away our tears.

INSIGHT: Not only did Jesus weep for others but also for His own suffering in Gethsemane. The enemy Jesus faced was death—both physical and spiritual. As the sin-bearer, the Lord Jesus Christ bore the full wrath of God for sinners (Isa. 53:4). He experienced a full range of human emotions so He could be a compassionate High Priest for us (Heb. 2:18).