Giving Our Best

By |2020-11-30T08:06:04-05:00November 30th, 2020|

We stared at the piles of donated shoes as we entered a local homeless shelter. The director had invited our youth group to help sort through the heaps of used footwear. We spent the morning searching for matches and lining them up in rows across the concrete floor. At the end of the day, we threw away more than half of the shoes because they were too damaged to give to people. Though the shelter couldn’t stop people from giving poor quality items, they refused to distribute shoes that were in bad condition.

The Israelites struggled with giving God their damaged goods too. When the Lord spoke through the prophet Malachi, He rebuked the Israelites for sacrificing blind, lame, or diseased animals when they had strong animals to offer (Malachi 1:6–8). He announced His displeasure (v. 10), affirmed His worthiness, and reprimanded the Israelites for keeping the best for themselves (v. 14). But He also promised to send the Messiah, whose love and grace would transform their hearts and ignite their desire to bring offerings that would be pleasing to the Lord (3:1–4).

Oftentimes, it’s tempting to give God our leftovers. We praise Him and expect Him to give us His all, yet we offer Him our crumbs. When we consider all God has done, we can rejoice in celebrating His worthiness and giving Him our very best.

Sweet Again

By |2020-11-29T08:06:05-05:00November 29th, 2020|

Russian wedding customs are filled with beauty and significance. One such custom takes place during the reception as the toastmaster proposes a toast in honor of the couple. Everyone takes a sip of raised glasses and then begin shouting “Gor’ko! Gor’ko!,” meaning “Bitter! Bitter!” When the guests shout that word, the newlyweds must rise and kiss each other in order to make the drink sweet again.

Isaiah prophesies that the bitter drink of desolation, ruin, and the curse upon the earth (ch. 24) will give way to the sweet hope of a new heaven and new earth (ch. 25). God will prepare a feast of rich foods and the finest and sweetest of drinks. It will be a banquet of continual blessing, fruitfulness, and provision for all people (25:6). There’s more. Under the sovereign reign of the righteous King, death is swallowed up, bitter tears are wiped away, and the shroud of disgrace is removed (vv. 7–8). And His people will rejoice because the One they trusted in and waited for will bring salvation and turn the bitter cup of life sweet again (v. 9).

One day, we’ll be together with Jesus at the wedding supper of the Lamb. When He welcomes His bride home (the Church), the promise of Isaiah 25 will be fulfilled. The life once bitter will be made sweet again.

Breath and Brevity

By |2020-11-28T08:06:03-05:00November 28th, 2020|

Mom, my sisters, and I waited by Dad’s bed as his breaths became shallower and less and less frequent—until they were no more. Dad was a few days shy of eighty-nine when he slipped quietly into the life beyond where God awaited him. His departure left us with a void where he once resided and only memories and mementos to remind us of him. Yet we have the hope that one day we’ll be reunited.

We have that hope because we believe Dad is with God, who knows and loves him. When Dad breathed his first breath, God was there breathing breath into his lungs (Isaiah 42:5). Yet even before his first and with every breath in between, God was intimately involved in each detail of Dad’s life, just as he is in yours and mine. It was the Lord who wonderfully designed and “knit” him together in the womb (Psalm 139:13–14). And when Dad breathed his last breath, God’s Spirit was there, holding him in love and carrying him to be with Him (vv. 7–10)

The same is true for all of God’s children. Every moment of our brief life on Earth is known by God (vv. 1–4). We are precious to Him! With each day remaining and in anticipation of the life beyond, let’s join with “everything that has breath” to praise Him. “Praise the Lord”! (150:6).

Facing the Battle

By |2020-11-27T08:06:02-05:00November 27th, 2020|

Not long ago I met up with a group of friends. As I listened to the conversation, it seemed like everyone in the room was facing some significant battle. Two of us had parents fighting cancer, one had a child with an eating disorder, another friend was experiencing chronic pain, and another was facing major surgery. It seemed a lot for a bunch of people in their thirties and forties.

First Chronicles 16 recounts a key moment in Israel’s history when the ark of the covenant was brought into the City of David (Jerusalem). Samuel tells us it happened in a moment of peace between battles (2 Samuel 7:1). When the ark was in place, symbolizing God’s presence, David led the people in a song (1 Chronicles 16:8–36). Together the nation sang of God’s wonder-working power (vv. 12–14), His promise-keeping ways (vv. 15–18), and His past protection (vv. 19–22). “Look to the LORD and his strength,” they cried out, “seek his face always” (v. 11). They’d need to, because more battles were coming.

Look to the Lord and His strength. Seek His face. That’s not bad advice to follow when illness, family concerns, and other battles confront us, because we haven’t been left to fight in our own waning energies. God is present; God is strong; He’s looked after us in the past and will do so again.

Our God will get us through.

Giving Thanks Always

By |2020-11-26T08:06:05-05:00November 26th, 2020|

In the seventeenth century, Martin Rinkart served as a clergyman in Saxony, Germany, for more than thirty years during times of war and plague. One year he conducted over 4,000 funerals, including for his wife, and at times food was so scarce that his family went hungry. Although he could have despaired, his faith in God remained strong and he gave thanks continually. In fact, he poured his gratitude into “Nun danket alle Gott,” the song that became the well-loved English hymn, “Now Thank We All Our God.”

Rinkart followed the example of the prophet Isaiah, who instructed God’s people to give thanks at all times, including when they had disappointed God (Isaiah 12:1) or when enemies oppressed them. Even then they were to exalt God’s name, making “known among the nations what he has done” (v. 4).

We might give thanks easily during harvest celebrations such as Thanksgiving, when we’re enjoying an abundant feast with friends and family. But can we express our gratitude to God in difficult times, such as when we’re missing someone from our table or when we’re struggling with our finances or when we’re locked in conflict with one close to us?

Let’s echo Pastor Rinkart, joining hearts and voices as we give praise and thanks to “the eternal God, whom earth and Heaven adore.” We can “sing to the LORD, for he has done glorious things” (v. 5).

Anyone and Everyone

By |2020-11-25T08:06:04-05:00November 25th, 2020|

The country of El Salvador has honored Jesus by placing a sculpture of Him in the center of its capital city. Although the monument resides in the middle of a busy traffic circle, its height makes it easy to see, and its name—The Divine Savior of the World—communicates reverence for His supernatural status.

The monument’s name affirms what the Bible says about Jesus (1 John 4:14). He is the one who offers salvation to everyone. Jesus crosses cultural boundaries and accepts any sincere person who wants to know Him, regardless of age, education, race, past sin, or social status.

The apostle Paul traveled the ancient world telling people about Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection. He shared this good news with political and religious authorities, soldiers, Jews, Gentiles, men, women, and children. Paul explained that a person could begin a relationship with Christ by declaring Jesus to be the ruler of his or her life, and believing that God had indeed raised Jesus from the dead (Romans 10:9). He said, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame. . . . Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:11, 13).

Jesus isn’t a distant image to be honored; we must a person-to-person connection with Him through faith. May we see the value of the salvation He offers and move forward into a spiritual relationship with Him today.

Taught by Turkeys

By |2020-11-24T08:06:04-05:00November 24th, 2020|

Do you know what a group of turkeys is called? I didn’t. Had to look it up. It’s called a rafter. Why am I writing about turkeys? Because I’ve just returned from a weekend at a mountain cabin. Each day, I marveled at the train of turkeys parading past our porch.

I’d never been turkey-watching before. They scratched fiercely with spectacular talons. Then they hunted and pecked at the ground. Eating, I assume. (This was my first turkey-observation time, so I’m not 100% positive.) The scrawny scrubs in the area didn’t look like they could sustain anything. Yet here were these turkeys, a dozen of ’em, all of which looked delectably plump.

Watching those well-fed turkeys brought to mind Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:26: “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” Jesus uses God’s provision for seemingly worthless birds to remind us of His care for us. If a bird’s life matters, how much more does ours? Jesus then contrasts fretting about our daily needs (vv. 27–31) with a life in which we “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness,” (v. 33), a life in which we’re confident of His rich provision for our needs.

Because if God can care for that rafter of wild turkeys, He can certainly look after you and me.

Space for Me

By |2020-11-23T08:06:03-05:00November 23rd, 2020|

He was an aging military veteran, rough-edged and given to even rougher language. One day a friend cared enough about him to inquire about his spiritual beliefs. The man’s dismissive response came quickly: “God doesn’t have space for someone like me.”

Perhaps that was just part of his “tough-guy” act, but his words couldn’t be further from the truth! God creates space especially for the rough, the guilt-ridden, and the excluded to belong and thrive in His community. This was obvious from the beginning of Jesus’s ministry, when He made some surprising choices for His disciples. First, He chose several fishermen from Galilee—the “wrong side of the tracks” from the perspective of those in Jerusalem. He also selected a tax collector, Matthew, whose profession included extorting from his oppressed countrymen. Then, for good measure, Jesus invited the “other” Simon—“the Zealot” (Mark 3:18).

We don’t know much about this Simon (he isn’t Simon Peter), but we do know about the Zealots. They hated traitors like Matthew, who got rich by collaborating with the despised Romans. Yet with divine irony, Jesus chose Simon along with Matthew, brought them together, and blended them into His team.

Don’t write anyone off as too “bad” for Jesus. After all, He said, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32). He has plenty of space for the tough cases—people like you and me.

An Open, Generous Heart

By |2020-11-22T08:06:03-05:00November 22nd, 2020|

After Vicki’s old car broke down with no option for repair, she started scraping together money for another vehicle. Chris, a frequent customer of the restaurant where Vicki works at the drive-thru window, one day heard her mention she needed a car. “I couldn’t stop thinking about it,” Chris said. “I [had] to do something.” So he bought his son’s used car (his son had just put it up for sale), shined it up, and handed Vicki the keys. Vicki was shocked. “Who . . . does that?” she said in amazement and gratitude.

The Scriptures call us to live with open hands, giving freely as we can—providing what’s truly best for those in need. As Timothy says: “Command [those who are rich] to do good, to be rich in good deeds” (1 Timothy 6:18). We don’t merely perform a benevolent act here or there, but rather live out a cheerful spirit of giving. Big-heartedness is our normal way of life. “Be generous and willing to share,” we’re told (v. 18).

As we live with an open, generous heart, we don’t need to fear running out of what we need. Rather, the Bible tells us that in our compassionate generosity, we’re taking “hold of [true] life” (v. 19). With God, genuine living means loosening our grip on what we have and giving to others freely.

Instruments of Peace

By |2020-11-21T08:06:04-05:00November 21st, 2020|

When World War I erupted in 1914, British statesman Sir Edward Grey declared, “The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.” Grey was right. When the “war to end all wars” finally ended, some 20 million had been killed (10 million of them civilians) and another 21 million injured.

While not on the same scale or magnitude, devastation can also occur in our personal lives. The home, workplace, church, or neighborhood can also be shrouded by the dark specter of conflict. This is one of the reasons our God calls us to be difference-makers in the world. But to do so we must rely on His wisdom. The apostle James wrote, “The wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness” (James 3:17–18).

The role of peacemaker is significant because of its harvest. The word righteousness means “right standing” or “right relationship.” Peacemakers can help restore relationships. No wonder Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9). His children, relying on His wisdom, become instruments of His peace where it is needed most.

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