When Moses gathered the children of Israel together to begin work on the tabernacle (Ex. 35–39), he called on Bezalel, a gifted artisan, to help make the furnishings. We’re told that certain women were asked to give their precious bronze mirrors to make the bronze basin he was constructing (38:8). They gave them up to help prepare a place where God’s presence would reside.
Give up our mirrors? For most of us, that would be hard to do. That’s not something we’re asked to do, but it makes me think about how too much scrutiny and self-examination can be disconcerting. It can make us think too much about ourselves and not enough about others.
When we can forget about our own faces quickly and remember that God loves us as we are—in all our imperfections—then we can begin to “look out not only for [our] own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil. 2:4).
Augustine said that we get lost in loving ourselves but found in loving others. Put another way, the secret of happiness is not getting our face right but giving our hearts away, giving our lives away, giving our selves away, in love.
When I was in elementary school my friend Kent and I would often spend time looking at the night sky with a pair of German-made binoculars. We marveled at the stars in the sky and the mountains on the moon. All throughout the evening we took turns saying, “Hand me the binocs!”
Centuries earlier a Jewish shepherd boy looked up at the night sky and also marveled. He did not have a pair of binoculars or a telescope to aid him. But he had something even more important—a personal relationship with the living God. I imagine the sheep quietly bleating in the background as David gazed skyward. Later he would write the inspired text: “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night reveals knowledge” (Ps. 19:1-2).
In our busy schedules, we can so easily forget to stand in awe of the heavenly beauty our Creator has prepared for our enjoyment and His glory. When we set aside time to look at the night sky and marvel at what is there, we gain a deeper understanding of God and His eternal power and glory.
When John F. Kennedy was president of the US, photographers sometimes captured a winsome scene. Seated around the president’s desk in the Oval Office, cabinet members are debating matters of world consequence. Meanwhile, a toddler, the 2-year-old John-John, crawls around and inside the huge presidential desk, oblivious to White House protocol and the weighty matters of state. He is simply visiting his daddy.
That is the kind of shocking accessibility conveyed in the word Abba when Jesus said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for You” (Mark 14:36). God may be the sovereign Lord of the universe, but through His Son, God became as approachable as any doting human father. In Romans 8, Paul brings the image of intimacy even closer. God’s Spirit lives inside us, he says, and when we do not know what we ought to pray “the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered” (v.26).
Jesus came to demonstrate that a perfect and holy God welcomes pleas for help from a widow with two mites and a Roman centurion and a miserable publican and a thief on a cross. We need only call out “Abba” or, failing that, simply groan. God has come that close to us.
Drew, young and enthusiastic, was leading the singing for the first time in a large church. Lois, a long-time attender, wanted to encourage him, but she thought it would be too difficult to get to the front of the church before he left. But then she saw a way to snake through the crowd. Lois told Drew, “I appreciate your enthusiasm in worship. Keep serving Him!”
As Lois walked away, she ran into Sharon, who she hadn’t seen in months. After a short conversation, Sharon said, “Thank you for what you do for the Lord. Keep serving Him!” Because Lois had gone out of her way to give encouragement, she was now in the right place to receive unexpected encouragement.
After Ruth and her mother-in-law, Naomi, left Moab and returned to Israel, they received an unexpected blessing. They were both widows with no one to provide for them, so Ruth went to glean grain from a field (Ruth 2:2-3). The field happened to be owned by Boaz, a distant relative of Naomi’s. He noticed Ruth, provided for her needs, and later became her husband (2:20; 4:13). Ruth received a blessing because she was in the right place at the right time (2:11-23).
Sometimes God uses unexpected encounters to bring unexpected blessings.
We often see surveys that ask people if they are happy, satisfied with their work, or enjoying life. But I’ve never seen an opinion poll that asked, “Are you holy?” How would you answer that question?
One Bible dictionary defines holiness as “separation to God and conduct fitting for those separated.” Author Frederick Buechner said that when writing about a person’s character, “nothing is harder to make real than holiness.” He adds that “holiness is not a human quality at all, like virtue. Holiness is . . . not something that people do, but something that God does in them.”
Romans 6 presents the stunning gift that God gives us through faith in Christ: “We were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (v.4). The pursuit of holiness occurs daily as we yield ourselves in obedience to the Lord instead of following our old ways of self-gratification. “Now you are free from the power of sin and have become slaves of God. Now you do those things that lead to holiness and result in eternal life” (v.22 nlt).
Are you becoming more holy? By God’s grace and power, the answer can be a resounding “Yes! More and more each day.”
When I was growing up, I had an inflatable plastic punching dummy. It was about as tall as I was and had a smiling face painted on it. My challenge was to hit it hard enough to make it stay down. But no matter how hard I tried, it always bounced right back up again. The secret? There was a lead weight in the bottom that always kept it upright. Sailboats operate by the same principle. The lead weights in their keels provide the ballast to keep them balanced and upright in strong winds.
It’s like that in the life of a believer in Christ. Our power to survive challenges resides not in us but with God, who dwells within us. We’re not exempt from the punches that life throws at us nor from the storms that inevitably threaten our stability. But with full confidence in His power to sustain us, we can say with Paul, “We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Cor. 4:8-9).
Join the many travelers through life who through deep waters of pain and suffering embrace with unshakable confidence the truth that God’s grace is sufficient and that in our weakness He is made strong (12:9). It will be the ballast to your soul.
One of the most popular tourist attractions in England is the giant stone pillars of Stonehenge. These massive pieces of granite are also a great source of mystery. Every year, people travel to Stonehenge with questions such as: Why were they erected? Who accomplished this extraordinary engineering marvel? And perhaps we wonder most of all how they did it. But visitors leave having received no answers from the silent stones. The mystery remains.
The Scriptures speak of a greater mystery—the fact that God came to live among us as a man. Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 3:16, “Great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up in glory.”
This brief overview of the life of Christ—the mystery of godliness—is remarkable. What prompted the Creator of the universe to come and live and die for His creation, however, is not a mystery. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). God’s great love for us is at the root of the mystery of godliness, and the cross has made it plain for all to see.
I call them Mell Notes—little comments my daughter Melissa made in her Bible to help her apply a passage to her life.
In Matthew 7, for instance, she had drawn a box around verses 1 and 2 that talk about not judging others because, when you do, “with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.” Next to it she wrote this Mell Note: “Look at what you are doing before you look at others.”
Melissa was an “others-oriented” teen. She lived the words of Philippians 2:4. Her classmate Matt, who knew her from church nursery through her final days in the eleventh grade when she died in a car accident, said of Melissa at her memorial service: “I don’t think I ever saw you without a smile or something that brightened up people’s days.” Her friend Tara said this: “Thanks for being my friend, even when no one else was as nice and cheerful as you.”
In a day in which harsh judgment of others seems to be the rule, it’s good to remember that love starts with us. The words of Paul come to mind: “Now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:13).
What a difference we’ll make if, when we look at others, we say, “Love starts with me.” And wouldn’t that be a great reflection of God’s love for us?
According to researchers from the University of Bristol, the European rock ant may be better than we are at staying on top of the housing market. The researchers found that the ant colonies use scout ants to continually monitor their colonies’ living conditions. Using social skills complex enough to stun the scientists, the rock ants work together to find the right living space, darkness, and security needed to give the queen mother and her larvae the best available housing.
In the days of Moses, the families of Israel were looking for a new home. The slave yards of Egypt had been brutal. The wilderness of Sinai was no place to settle down. But there was a problem. According to Israelite scouts, the homeland to which God was leading them was already occupied—by walled cities and giants who made the scouts feel like grasshoppers in their own eyes (Num. 13:28,33).
Sometimes it may be helpful to compare ourselves to insects. House-hunting rock ants instinctively follow the ways of their Creator. But we often let our fears keep us from following and trusting God. When we rest in the assurance of His presence and love, we can say, “Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations.”
If you’re like me, you’ve struggled with having to say no to taking on a new responsibility—especially if it’s for a good cause and directly related to helping others. We may have sound reasons for carefully selecting our priorities. Yet sometimes, by not agreeing to do more, we may feel guilty or we may think that somehow we have failed in our walk of faith.
But according to Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, wisdom recognizes that everything in life has its own season—in human activities as in the realm of nature. “There is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven” (3:1).
Perhaps you are getting married or becoming a parent for the first time. Maybe you are leaving school and entering the workforce, or moving from fulltime work to retirement. As we move from season to season, our priorities change. We may need to put aside what we did in the past and funnel our energy into something else.
When life brings changes in our circumstances and obligations, we must responsibly and wisely discern what kind of commitments we should make, seeking in whatever we do to “do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). Proverbs 3:6 promises that as we acknowledge Him in all our ways, He will guide us in the way we should go.