Fireworks of Life

By |2020-12-31T08:06:07-05:00December 31st, 2020|

On New Year’s Eve, when high-powered fireworks detonate across cities and towns worldwide, the noise is loud on purpose. By their nature, say manufacturers, flashy fireworks are meant to split the atmosphere, literally. “Repeater” blasts can sound the loudest, especially when exploded near the ground.

Troubles, too, can boom through our hearts, minds, and homes. The “fireworks” of life—family struggles, relationship problems, work challenges, financial strain, even church division—can feel like explosions, rattling our emotional atmosphere.

Yet we know the One who lifts us over this uproar. Christ Himself “is our peace,” Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:14. When we abide in His presence, His peace is greater than any disruption, quieting the noise of any worry, hurt, or disunity.

This would have been powerful assurance to Jews and Gentiles alike. They had once lived “without hope and without God in the world” (v. 12). Now they faced threats of persecution and internal threats of division. But in Christ, they’d been brought near to Him, and consequently to each other, by His blood. “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility” (v. 14).

As we start a New Year, with threats of unrest and division ever rumbling on the horizon, let’s turn from life’s noisy trials to seek our ever present Peace. He quiets the booms, healing us.

True Success

By |2020-12-30T08:06:03-05:00December 30th, 2020|

My interview guest politely answered my questions. I had a feeling, though, that something lurked beneath our interaction. A passing comment brought it out.

“You’re inspiring thousands of people,” I said.

“Not thousands,” he muttered. “Millions.

And as if pitying my ignorance, my guest reminded me of his credentials—the titles he held, the things he’d achieved, the magazine covers he’d graced, the millions of lives he’d touched. It was an awkward moment.

Ever since that experience, I’ve been struck by how God revealed Himself to Moses on Mount Sinai (Exodus 34:5–7). Here was the Creator of the cosmos and Judge of humanity, but God didn’t use His titles. Here was the Maker of 100-billion galaxies, but such feats weren’t mentioned either. Instead, God introduced Himself as “the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness” (v. 6). When God reveals who He is, it isn’t His titles or achievements He lists but the kind of character He has.

As people made in God’s image and called to follow His example (Genesis 1:27; Ephesians 5:1–2), this is profound. Achievement is good, titles have their place, but what really matters is how compassionate, gracious, and loving we’re becoming.

Like that interview guest, we too can base our significance on our achievements. I have. But our God has modeled what true success is—not what’s written on our business cards and resumés, but how we’re becoming like Him.

Unseen Realities

By |2020-12-29T08:06:05-05:00December 29th, 2020|

In 1876, men drilling for coal in central Indiana thought they had found the gates of hell. Historian John Barlow Martin reports that at six hundred feet, “foul fumes issued forth amid awesome noises.” Afraid they had “bitten into the roof of the devil’s cave,” the miners plugged the well and scurried back to their homes.

The miners, of course, were mistaken — and some years later, they would drill again and be rich in natural gas. Even though they were mistaken, I find myself a little jealous of them. These miners lived with an awareness of the spiritual world that is often missing from my own life. It’s easy for me to live as if the supernatural and the natural rarely intersect and to forget that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but . . . against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).

When we see evil winning in our world, we shouldn’t give in or try to fight it in our own strength. Instead, we are to resist evil by putting on “the full armor of God” (vv. 13-18). Studying Scripture, meeting regularly with other Christians for encouragement, and making choices with the good of others in mind can help us “stand against the schemes of the devil” (v. 11). Equipped by the Holy Spirit, we can able to stand firm in the face of anything (v. 13).

Rebuilding the Ruins

By |2020-12-28T08:06:03-05:00December 28th, 2020|

At seventeen, Dowayne had to leave his family’s home in Manenberg, a part of Cape Town, South Africa, because of his stealing and addiction to heroin. He didn’t go far, building a shack of corrugated metal in his mother’s backyard, which soon became known as the Casino, a place to use drugs. When he was nineteen, however, Dowayne came to saving faith in Jesus. His journey off drugs was long and exhausting, but he got clean with God’s help and with the support of his Christian friends. And ten years after Dowayne built the Casino, he and others turned the hut into a house church. What was once a dark and foreboding place now is a place of worship and prayer.

The leaders of this church look to Jeremiah 33 for how God can bring healing and restoration to people and places, as He’s done with Dowayne and the former Casino. The prophet Jeremiah spoke to God’s people in captivity, saying that although the city would not be spared, yet God would heal His people and would “rebuild them,” cleansing them from their sin (Jeremiah 33:7–8). Then the city would bring Him joy, renown, and honor (v. 9).

When we’re tempted to despair over the sin that brings heartbreak and brokenness, let’s continue to pray that God will bring healing and hope, even as He’s done in a backyard in Manenberg.

A Song in the Night

By |2020-12-27T08:06:04-05:00December 27th, 2020|

The sun had long set when our electrical power suddenly went out. I was at home with our two younger children, and this was their first time experiencing a power outage. After verifying that the utility company knew about the outage, I located some candles, and the kids and I huddled together in the kitchen around the flickering flames. They seemed nervous and unsettled, so we began to sing. Soon the concerned looks on their faces were replaced with smiles. Sometimes in our darkest moments we need a song.        

Psalm 103 was prayed or sung after the people of God had returned from exile to a homeland that had been laid waste. In a moment of crisis, they needed to sing. But not just any song, they needed to sing about who God is and what He does. Psalm 103 also helps us remember that He’s compassionate, merciful, patient, and full of faithful love (v. 8). And in case we wonder if the judgment for our sin still hangs over our heads, the psalm announces that God isn’t angry, has forgiven, and feels compassion. These are good things to sing during the dark nights of our lives.

Maybe that’s where you find yourself: In a dark and difficult place, wondering if God really is good, questioning His love for you. If so, pray and sing to the One who abounds in love!

Who Needs Me?

By |2020-12-26T08:06:02-05:00December 26th, 2020|

While on a red-eye flight to Washington, DC, opinion writer Arthur Brooks overheard an elderly woman whisper to her husband, “It’s not true that no one needs you anymore.” The man murmured something about wishing he were dead, and his wife replied, “Oh, stop saying that.” When the flight ended, Brooks turned around and immediately recognized the man. He was a world-famous hero. Other passengers shook his hand, and the pilot thanked him for the courage he displayed decades ago. How had this giant sunk into despair?

Elijah bravely and single-handedly defeated 450 prophets of Baal. That was the problem. He hadn’t really done it alone; God was there all along! But later, feeling all alone, he asked God to take his life.

God lifted Elijah’s spirits by bringing him into His presence and giving him new people to serve. He must go and “anoint Hazael king over Aram,” Jehu “king over Israel,” and Elisha “to succeed you as prophet” (1 Kings 19:15–16). Invigorated with renewed purpose, Elijah found and mentored his successor.

Your great victories may lie in the rearview mirror. You may feel your life has peaked, or that it never did. No matter. Look around. The battles may seem smaller, the stakes less profound, but there are still others who need you. Serve them well for Jesus’ sake, and it will count. They are your purpose—the reason you’re still here.

Joy to the World

By |2020-12-25T08:06:03-05:00December 25th, 2020|

Every Christmas we decorate our home with nativity scenes from around the world. We have a German nativity pyramid, a manager scene fashioned out of olive wood from Bethlehem, and a brightly colored Mexican folk version. Our family favorite is a whimsical entry from Africa. Instead of the more traditional sheep and camels, a hippopotamus gazes contently at the baby Jesus.

The unique cultural perspective brought to life in these nativity scenes warms my heart as I ponder each beautiful reminder that Jesus’s birth was not just for one nation or culture. It is good news for the whole earth, a reason for people from every country and ethnicity to rejoice.

The little baby depicted in each of our nativity scenes revealed this truth of God’s heart for the entire world. As John wrote in relation to Christ’s conversation with an inquisitive Pharisee named Nicodemus, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

 The gift of Jesus is good news for everyone. No matter where on earth you call home, Jesus’s birth is God’s offer of love and peace to you. And all who find new life in Christ, “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9) will one day celebrate God’s glory forever and ever.

When Peace Breaks Out

By |2020-12-24T08:06:04-05:00December 24th, 2020|

On a cold Christmas Eve in Belgium in 1914, the sound of singing floated from the trenches where soldiers were dug in. Strains of the carol “Silent Night” rang out in German and then in English. Soldiers who earlier in the day had been shooting at each other laid down their weapons and emerged from their trenches to shake hands in the “no man’s land” between them, exchanging Christmas greetings and spontaneous gifts from their rations. The ceasefire continued through the next day as the soldiers talked and laughed and even organized soccer matches together.

The Christmas Truce of 1914 that occurred along World War I’s western front offered a brief glimpse of the peace the angels proclaimed on the first Christmas Eve long ago. An angel spoke to terrified shepherds with these reassuring words: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you” (Luke 2:10–11). Then a multitude of angels appeared, “praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests’” (vv. 13–14).

Jesus is the “Prince of Peace” who saves us from our sins (Isaiah 9:6). Through His sacrifice on the cross He offers forgiveness and peace with God to all who trust in Him.

 

No Glitz, Just Glory

By |2020-12-23T08:06:04-05:00December 23rd, 2020|

Looking at the handmade Christmas ornaments my son, Xavier, crafted over the years and the annual mismatched baubles Grandma had sent him, I couldn’t figure out why I was not content with our decorations. I’d always valued the creativity and memories each ornament represented. So, why did the allure of the retail stores’ holiday displays tempt me to desire a tree adorned with perfectly-matched bulbs, shimmering orbs, and satin ribbons?

As I began to turn away from our humble decor, I glimpsed a red heart-shaped ornament with a simple phrase scripted on it−Jesus, My Savior. How could I have forgotten my family and my hope in Christ are the reasons I love celebrating Christmas? Our simple tree looked nothing like the trees in the storefronts, but the love behind every decoration made it beautiful.

Like our modest tree, the Messiah didn’t meet the world’s expectations in any way (Isaiah 53:2). Jesus “was despised and rejected” (v. 3). Yet, in an amazing display of love, He still chose to be “pierced for our transgressions” (vv. 4–5). He endured punishment, so we could enjoy peace (v. 5). Nothing is more beautiful than that.

With renewed gratitude for our perfect decorations and our perfect Savior, I stopped longing for glitz and praised God for His glorious love. Sparkling adornments could never match the beauty of His sacrificial gift−Jesus.

Curling Up with the Good Book

By |2020-12-22T08:06:04-05:00December 22nd, 2020|

The small country of Iceland is a nation of readers. In fact, it’s reported that each year it publishes and reads more books per person than any other country. On Christmas Eve, it’s a tradition for Icelanders to give books to family and friends and then read long into the night. This tradition dates back to World War II, when imports were restricted but paper was cheap. Icelandic publishers began flooding the market with new titles in late fall. Now a catalog of the country’s new releases is sent to every Icelandic home in mid-November. This tradition is known as the Christmas Book Flood.

We can be thankful God blessed so many with the ability to craft a good story and to educate, inspire, or motivate others through their words. There’s nothing like a good book! The best-selling book of all, the Bible, was composed by many authors who wrote in poetry and prose— some great stories, some not so—but all of it inspired. As the apostle Paul reminded Timothy, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” and equipping God’s people “for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16–17). Reading the Bible convicts, inspires, and helps us to live for Him—and guides us into the truth (2:15).

In our reading, let’s not forget to find time to curl up with the greatest book of all, the Bible.

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