During the 1980s, a singles’ class at our church became a close-knit family for many people who had lost a spouse through divorce or death. When someone needed to move, class members packed boxes, carried furniture, and provided food. Birthdays and holidays were no longer solitary events as faith and friendship merged into an ongoing relationship of encouragement. Many of those bonds forged during adversity three decades ago continue to flourish and sustain individuals and families today.
Paul’s letter to the followers of Jesus in Thessalonica paints a picture of life-giving relationships in God’s family. “We were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children” (1 Thess. 2:7). “For you remember, [brothers and sisters], our labor and toil . . . that we might not be a burden to any of you” (v.9). “We exhorted, and comforted, and charged every one of you, as a father does his own children” (v.11). Like mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters, Paul and his associates shared the gospel and their lives with these fellow believers who “had become dear” to them (v.8).
In God’s family of faith, He provides mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers for us. The Lord gives His joy as we share our lives together in His grace and love.
Lee Geysbeek of Compassion International told about a woman who had the opportunity to travel to a distant land to visit the child she sponsored. She decided to take the child, who was living in abject poverty, to a restaurant.
The boy ordered a hamburger, and the sponsor ordered a salad. When the food came to the table, the boy, who assuredly had never had such a meal in his life, surveyed the scene. He looked at his huge hamburger and over at his sponsor’s small salad. Then he took his knife and cut the burger in half, offered it to his sponsor, rubbed his tummy, and asked, “Hungry?”
A child who had next to nothing his whole life was willing to share half of what he had with someone he thought might need more. This child can be a good reminder the next time we meet someone in physical, emotional, or spiritual need. As followers of Jesus, our faith in Him should be mirrored through our actions (James 2:17).
We encounter people in need every day. Some around the globe, some simply around the corner. Some in need of a warm meal, others a kind word. What a difference followers of Christ, who have experienced His love, could make by doing good and sharing (Heb. 13:16).
When a defendant stands before a judge, he or she is at the mercy of the court. If the defendant is innocent, the court should be a refuge. But if the defendant is guilty, we expect the court to exact punishment.
In Nahum, we see God as both a refuge and a judge. It says, “The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble” (1:7 niv). But it also says, “He will make an end of Nineveh; he will pursue his foes into the realm of darkness” (v.8 niv). Over 100 years earlier, Nineveh had repented after Jonah preached God’s forgiveness, and the land was safe (Jonah 3:10). But during Nahum’s day, Nineveh was plotting “evil against the Lord” (Nah. 1:11). In chapter 3, Nahum details Nineveh’s destruction.
Many people know only one side of God’s dealings with the human race but not the other. They think that He is holy and wants only to punish us, or that He is merciful and wants only to show kindness. In truth, He is judge and refuge. Peter writes that Jesus “committed Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:23). As a result, He “bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness” (v.24).
The whole truth about God is good news! He is judge, but because of Jesus, we can go to Him as our refuge.
When a powerful typhoon swept through the city of Tacloban, Philippines, in 2013, an estimated 10,000 people died, and many who survived found themselves homeless and jobless. Necessities became scarce. Three months later, while the town was still struggling to dig itself out from the destruction, a baby was born on a roadside near Tacloban amid torrents of rain and strong wind. Although the weather brought back painful memories, residents worked together to find a midwife and transport the mother and newborn to a clinic. The baby survived, thrived, and became a symbol of hope during a time of despair.
Forty years of Philistine oppression marked a grim period in Israel’s national history. During this time, an angel informed an Israelite woman that she would give birth to a special son (Judg. 13:3). According to the angel, the baby would be a Nazirite—a man set apart to God—and would “begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines” (v.5). The infant, Samson, was a gift of hope born in a troubled time.
Trouble is unavoidable, yet Jesus has the power to rescue us from despair. Christ was born “to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet in the way of peace” (Luke 1:76-79).
A thousand strands of time, events, and people weave into a tapestry we callplace. More than just a house, place is where meaning, belonging, and safety come together under the covering of our best efforts at unconditional love. Place beckons us with memories buried deep in our souls. Even when our place isn’t perfect, its hold on us is dramatic, magnetic.
The Bible speaks frequently of place. We see an example in Nehemiah’s longing for a restored Jerusalem (Neh. 1:3-4; 2:2). It’s no surprise, then, that Jesus would speak of place when He wants to comfort us. “Let not your heart be troubled,” He began. Then He added: “I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:1-2).
For those who have fond memories of earthly places, this promise links us to something we can easily understand and look forward to. And for those whose places have been anything but comforting and safe, Jesus promises that one day they will hear the sweet song place sings, for they will inhabit it with Him.
Whatever the struggle, whatever the faltering on your faith journey, remember this: There’s a place in heaven already waiting, fitted just for you. Jesus wouldn’t have said so if it weren’t true.
During recent elections in my country, one struggling mom I know exchanged her vote for a bag of diapers. We had discussed the benefits of each candidate, so her choice disappointed me. “But what about your convictions?” I asked. She remained silent. Six months after her candidate won, taxes went even higher. Everything is now more expensive than before . . . even diapers!
In countries around the world, political corruption is not new. Spiritual corruption is not new either. Satan tried to lure Jesus into “selling” His convictions (Matt. 4:1-10). The tempter came to Him when He was tired and hungry. He offered Him immediate satisfaction, fresh bread in seconds, a miraculous delivery, the kingdoms of the world and their glory.
But Jesus knew better. He knew that shortcuts were dangerous enemies. They may offer a road free from suffering, but in the end the pain they carry is much worse than anything we can imagine. “It is written,” Jesus said three times during His temptation (vv.4,7,10). He held firm to what He knew was true from God and His Word.
When we are tempted, God can help us too. We can depend on Him and the truth of His Word to help us avoid dangerous shortcuts.
Recently my wife, Marlene, and I received a panicky phone call from our son and his wife. The night before, they had found two bats in their house. I know bats are an important part of the ecosystem, but they are not my favorite among God’s creatures, especially when they are flying around inside.
Yet Marlene and I were thankful we could go over to our kids’ house and help. We helped them to plug the holes that might have been used by these unwelcome visitors to enter their house.
Another unwelcome visitor that often intrudes into our lives is suffering. When trials come, we can easily panic or lose heart. But these difficult circumstances can become the instruments our loving heavenly Father uses to make us more like Christ. That’s why James wrote, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work” (James 1:2-4).
We are not expected to enjoy trials or to celebrate suffering. But when these unwelcome visitors arrive, we can look for God’s hand in them and trust that He can use them to make us more like His Son.
Charles Ponzi’s name will be forever associated with the financial fraud scheme he elevated to a way of life. After some minor financial crimes and brief times in jail, in early 1920 he began offering investors a 50 percent return on their money in 45 days and a 100 percent return in 90 days. Although it seemed too good to be true, the money poured in. Ponzi used money from new investors to pay prior investors and fund his lavish lifestyle. By the time his fraud was discovered in August 1920, investors had lost 20 million dollars and five banks had failed. Ponzi spent 3 years in prison, was later deported to Italy, and died penniless in 1949 at the age of 66.
The Old Testament book of Proverbs frequently contrasts the reputations of wise and foolish people: “The memory of the righteous is blessed, but the name of the wicked will rot. . . . He who walks with integrity walks securely, but he who perverts his ways will become known” (Prov. 10:7,9). Solomon sums it up by saying, “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, loving favor rather than silver and gold” (22:1).
We seek a good name, not to honor ourselves but to glorify Christ our Lord whose name is above all names.
The day before Billy Graham’s interview in 1982 on The Today Show, his director of public relations, Larry Ross, requested a private room for Graham to pray in before the interview. But when Mr. Graham arrived at the studio, his assistant informed Ross that Mr. Graham didn’t need the room. He said, “Mr. Graham started praying when he got up this morning, he prayed while eating breakfast, he prayed on the way over in the car, and he’ll probably be praying all the way through the interview.” Ross later said, “That was a great lesson for me to learn as a young man.”
Prayerfulness is not an event; it is a way of being in relationship with God. This kind of intimate relationship is developed when God’s people view prayerfulness as a way of life. The Psalms encourage us to begin each day by lifting our voice to the Lord (Ps. 5:3); to fill our day with conversations with God (55:17); and in the face of accusations and slander, to give ourselves totally to prayer (109:4). We develop prayer as a way of life because we desire to be with God (42:1-4; 84:1-2; 130:5-6).
Prayer is our way of connecting with God in all life’s circumstances. God is always listening. We can talk to Him any time throughout the day.
What is one major obstacle to developing your prayer life? What changes do you sense God wants to make in your heart so that you see prayer as a way of life?
Imagine standing at the bottom of a mountain, elbow-to-elbow with everyone in your community. Thunder and lightning flash; you hear an earsplitting trumpet blast. Amid flames, God descends on the mountaintop. The summit is enveloped in smoke; the entire mountain begins to shake, and so do you (Ex. 19:16-20).
When the Israelites had this terrifying experience near Mount Sinai, they begged Moses, “You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die” (20:19). The Israelites were asking Moses to mediate between them and the Almighty. “So the people stood afar off, but Moses drew near the thick darkness where God was” (v.21). After meeting with God, Moses brought God’s messages back down the mountain to the people below.
Today, we worship the same God who displayed His staggering greatness on Mount Sinai. Because God is perfectly holy and we are desperately sinful, we cannot relate to Him. Left to ourselves we too would (and should) shake in terror. But Jesus made it possible for us to know God when He took our sins on Himself, died, and rose again (1 Cor. 15:3-4). Even now, Jesus is the go-between for us to a holy and perfect God (Rom. 8:34; 1 Tim. 2:5).