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Hope Cuts through Storms

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He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. Psalm 107:29

In the spring of 2021, several storm-chasers recorded videos and took photos of a rainbow next to a tornado in Texas. In one video, long stalks of wheat in a field bent under the power of the whirling winds. A brilliant rainbow cut across the gray skyline and arched toward the twister. Bystanders in another video stood on the side of the road and watched the symbol of hope standing firm beside the twisting funnel-shaped cloud.

In Psalm 107, the psalmist offers hope and encourages us to turn to God during difficult times. He describes some who were in the middle of a storm, “at their wits’ end” (v. 27). “Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress” (v. 28).

God understands His children will sometimes struggle to feel hopeful when life feels like a storm. We need reminders of His faithfulness, especially when the horizon looks dark and tumultuous.

Whether our storms come as substantial obstacles in our lives, as emotional turmoil, or as mental stress, God can still our storms “to a whisper” and guide us to a place of refuge (vv. 29–30). Though we may not experience relief in our preferred way or time, we can trust God to keep the promises He’s given in Scripture. His enduring hope will cut through any storm.

When have you struggled to feel hopeful during a storm in your life? How has God given you reminders of His promises through Scripture and His people when you needed a burst of hope?

Loving God, thank You for being my hope-giver no matter what’s going on in my life.

INSIGHT

Psalm 107 is a song of thanksgiving (vv. 1, 31) celebrating God as the loving and merciful Deliverer, Savior, Protector, and Provider of people in crisis (see vv. 2, 41). Citing four groups of people in various situations of trouble and distress (vv. 4, 10, 17, 23), the psalmist describes how God had redeemed and rescued them from adversity, bondage, foolish ways, danger at sea, and ultimately death. God will save those who turn to Him for help (v. 41). The psalmist calls on the worshiper to “give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind.” This refrain occurs in verses 8, 15, 21, and 31. Highlighting God’s sovereignty and mighty power (vv. 33–42), the psalmist closes his song with an invitation: “Let the one who is wise heed these things and ponder the loving deeds of the Lord” (v. 43).

By |2022-05-31T09:06:11-04:00May 31st, 2022|
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Healing for the Whole World

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God . . . reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation. 2 Corinthians 5:18

Tucked into a remote gorge in western Slovenia, a secret medical facility (Franja Partisan Hospital) housed an extensive staff that tended to thousands of wounded soldiers during World War II—all the while staying hidden from the Nazis. Though avoiding detection from numerous Nazi attempts to locate the facility is in itself a remarkable feat, even more remarkable is that the hospital (founded and run by the Slovenia resistance movement) cared for soldiers from both the Allied and Axis armies. The hospital welcomed everyone.

Scripture calls us to help the whole world to be spiritually healed. This means we need to have compassion for all—regardless of their views. Everyone, no matter their ideology, deserves Christ’s love and kindness. Paul insists that Jesus’ all-embracing love “compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all” (2 Corinthians 5:14). All of us suffer the sickness of sin. All of us are in desperate need of the healing of Jesus’ forgiveness. And He’s moved toward all of us in order to heal us.

Then, in a surprising move, God entrusted us with “the message of reconciliation” (v. 19). God invites us to tend to wounded and broken people (like us). We participate in healing work where the sick are made healthy through union with Him. And this reconciliation, this healing, is for all who will receive it.

Who are the people you think God won’t (or shouldn’t) heal? Where might He call you to be a reconciler and a healer?

God, I need healing. And so it shouldn’t surprise me that everyone else needs healing too. Help me be part of Your healing of others.

INSIGHT

Paul makes this sobering statement in 2 Corinthians 5:10: “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ.” Yet he uses this truth not as a scare tactic but as a tool to spur us on to useful service for God. This is why he says, “Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others” (v. 11). Paul added, “Christ’s love compels us” (v. 14). Because Jesus “died for all, . . . those who live should no longer live for themselves” (v. 15). Jesus’ love motivates our service for Him.

By |2022-05-30T09:06:10-04:00May 30th, 2022|
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Pressing Pause to Pray

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[They] did not inquire of the Lord. Joshua 9:14

The fire hydrant gushed into the street, and I saw my opportunity. Several cars had splashed through before me, and I thought, What a great way to get a free wash! My car hadn’t been cleaned for a month and the dust was thick. So I fired it up and headed into the deluge.

Crack!

It happened so fast. The sun had already beaten down on my black car that morning, heating its glass and interior. But the water from the hydrant was frigid. As soon as the cold gush hit the hot windshield, a crack struck like lightning from top to bottom. My “free” car wash ended up costing me plenty.

If only I had “pressed pause” beforehand to think or even to pray. Ever have a moment like that? The people of Israel did, under far weightier circumstances. God had promised to help them drive out other nations as they entered the land He’d given them (Joshua 3:10) so they wouldn’t be tempted by false gods (Deuteronomy 20:16–18). But one of the nations saw Israel’s victories and used stale bread to trick them into believing they lived far away. “The Israelites sampled their provisions but did not inquire of the Lord. Then Joshua made a treaty of peace” (Joshua 9:14–15, italics added), unknowingly circumventing God’s instructions.

When we make prayer a first resort instead of a last, we invite God’s direction, wisdom, and blessing. May He help us remember to “press pause” today.

What decision have you rushed into instead of talking it over with God? What do you need to discuss with Him today?

Thank You, Father, for giving wisdom “generously” and “without finding fault” (James 1:5) to those who ask. Please help me to pause more to talk to You.

INSIGHT

The account in Joshua 9 is known as the “Gibeonite deception.” The story is rather obscure, but the caution not to rely on our understanding but to seek counsel from God is seen in other Scripture passages. Proverbs 3:5–6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” The Hebrew word translated “understanding” in this passage refers to limited human discernment. Solomon’s prayerful posture is instructive as well. On the threshold of governing God’s people, he asked for a “discerning heart” (1 Kings 3:9). God’s answer? “I will give you a wise and discerning heart” (v. 12).

By |2022-05-29T09:06:11-04:00May 29th, 2022|
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Narrow Door Cafe

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Make every effort to enter through the narrow door. Luke 13:24

Croissants, dumplings, pork curry, and all sorts of scrumptious food await those who find and enter the Narrow Door Cafe. Located in the Taiwanese city of Tainan, this cafe is literally a hole in the wall. Its entrance is barely forty centimeters wide (less than sixteen inches)—just enough for the average person to squeeze his way through! Yet, despite the challenge, this unique cafe has attracted large crowds.

Will this be true of the narrow door described in Luke 13:22–30? Someone asked Jesus, “Are only a few people going to be saved?” (v. 23). In reply, Jesus challenged the person to “make every effort to enter through the narrow door” to God’s kingdom (v. 24). He was essentially asking, “Will the saved include you?” Jesus used this analogy to urge the Jews not to be presumptuous. Many of them believed they’d be included in God’s kingdom because they were Abraham’s descendants or because they kept the law. But Jesus challenged them to respond to Him before “the owner of the house . . . closes the door” (v. 25). 

Neither our family background nor our deeds can make us right with God. Only faith in Jesus can save us from sin and death (Ephesians 2:8–9; Titus 3:5–7). The door is narrow, but it’s wide open to all who will put their faith in Jesus. He’s inviting us today to seize the opportunity to enter through the narrow door to His kingdom.

How can you have confidence you’ll enter through the narrow door and be assured of eternal life with Jesus? Why is this decision so important?

Jesus, thank You for inviting me into Your kingdom. I believe You came to die for me and You rose from the grave. Come into my life and be my Savior.

INSIGHT

Jesus’ words in Luke 13:22–30 are directed to the people of Israel. They were literally eating and drinking with Him and listening to His teaching (v. 26). Yet there’s a larger truth for all of us. When Christ refers to people from all directions coming to God’s feast (v. 29), He’s signaling the inclusion of gentiles in the kingdom of God. This is what’s meant by “those who are last [the gentiles] will be first” (v. 30). Jesus’ somewhat lengthy response to the original question, “Are only a few people going to be saved?” (v. 23), doesn’t necessarily mean that the number of the saved will be few. Rather, the “narrow door” (v. 24) is a reference to the exclusive way to God—only through Jesus the Son. As many as are willing to enter through Christ will be admitted to the kingdom.

By |2022-05-28T09:06:03-04:00May 28th, 2022|
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The Forecaster’s Mistake

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Let the one who has my word speak it faithfully. Jeremiah 23:28

At noon on September 21, 1938, a young meteorologist warned the U.S. Weather Bureau of two fronts forcing a hurricane northward toward New England. But the chief of forecasting scoffed at Charles Pierce’s prediction. Surely a tropical storm wouldn’t strike so far north.

Two hours later, the 1938 New England Hurricane made landfall on Long Island. By 4:00 p.m. it had reached New England, tossing ships onto land as homes crumbled into the sea. More than six hundred people died. Had the victims received Pierce’s warning—based on solid data and his detailed maps—they likely would have survived.

The concept of knowing whose word to heed has precedent in Scripture. In Jeremiah’s day, God warned His people against false prophets. “Do not listen [to them],” He said. “They fill you with false hopes. They speak visions from their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord” (Jeremiah 23:16). God said of them, “If they had stood in my council, they would have proclaimed my words to my people” (v. 22).

“False prophets” are still with us. “Experts” dispense advice while ignoring God altogether or twisting His words to suit their purposes. But through His Word and Spirit, God has given us what we need to begin to discern the false from the true. As we gauge everything by the truth of His Word, our own words and lives will increasingly reflect that truth to others.

What’s the standard you use when you decide whether something is true? What in your attitude needs to change toward those who disagree with you?

Loving God, so many claim to speak for You these days. Help me learn what You really have to say. Make me sensitive to Your Spirit, not the spirit of this world.

INSIGHT

In Jeremiah 23, God spoke through the prophet Jeremiah against the “shepherds” (kings and priests, vv. 1–2) and prophets (vv. 9–40) for their continued disobedience and for leading the people astray. The shepherds were called to be godly leaders who guided and protected; instead, they’d destroyed and scattered “the sheep of [God’s] pasture” (v. 1). And rather than speaking God’s truths, the prophets “prophesied by Baal and led [God’s] people Israel astray” (v. 13). They “live[d] a lie” and strengthened “the hands of evildoers” so that they didn’t turn back “from their wickedness” (v. 14). God warned the people not to listen to the false prophets who weren’t speaking for God and offered only “false hopes” (v. 16). Because of their refusal to listen, Judah would be exiled at the hands of the Babylonians. Yet God wouldn’t forsake them forever (vv. 3–8).

By |2022-05-27T09:06:11-04:00May 27th, 2022|
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Turn Up the Heat

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Be earnest and repent. Revelation 3:19

Temperatures where we live in Colorado can change quickly—sometimes within a few minutes. So my husband, Dan, was curious about the temperature differences in and around our home. As a fan of gadgets, he was excited to unpack his latest “toy”—a thermometer showing temperature readings from four “zones” around our house. Joking that it was a “silly” gadget, I was surprised to find myself frequently checking the temperatures too. The differences inside and out fascinated me.

Jesus used temperature to describe the “lukewarm” church in Laodicea, one of the richest of the seven cities cited in the book of Revelation. A bustling banking, clothing, and medical hub, the city was hampered by a poor water supply, so it needed an aqueduct to carry water from a hot spring. By the time the water arrived in Laodicea, however, it was neither hot nor cold.

The church was tepid too. Jesus said, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:15–16). As Christ explained, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent” (v. 19).

Our Savior’s plea remains urgent for us too. Are you spiritually neither hot nor cold? Accept His correction and ask Him to help you live an earnest, fired-up faith.

What’s the temperature of your faith? If your commitment to God is lukewarm, how will you pray to seek more loving heat and zeal?

If my commitment to You cools down, Father, send the loving heat of Your Holy Spirit to awaken and warm up my faith.

INSIGHT

Laodicea, a rich commercial city famed for its high-quality black wool and medicinal eye ointment, was dependent for its water supply on the hot springs from Hierapolis six miles north. By the time the piped water reached Laodicea, it had become lukewarm. The stern rebuke to the Laodiceans describing them as “lukewarm” and “blind and naked” (Revelation 3:16–17) as well as Jesus’ call to repentance in verse 18 are couched in terms of these economic activities. Earlier, the apostle Paul had expressed concern for the Laodicean believers. His letter to the Colossians was also meant to be shared with them and likewise a letter sent to Laodicea was to be shared with the Colossians (Colossian 4:16). Some scholars believe this letter is the one sent to the Ephesians.

By |2022-05-26T09:06:04-04:00May 26th, 2022|
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Run Away

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How then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way? Matthew 26:54

The introductory lesson on aikido, a traditional Japanese form of martial arts, was an eye-opener. The sensei, or teacher, told us that when faced with an attacker, our first response should be to “run away.” “Only if you can’t run away, then you fight,” he said seriously.

Run away? I was taken aback. Why was this highly skilled self-defense instructor telling us to run away from a fight? It seemed counterintuitive—until he explained that the best form of self-defense is to avoid fighting in the first place. Of course!

When several men came to arrest Jesus, Peter responded as some of us might have by drawing his sword to attack one of them (Matthew 26:51; see John 18:10). But Jesus told him to put it away, saying, “How then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” (Matthew 26:54).

While a sense of justice is important, so is understanding God’s purpose and kingdom—an “upside-down” kingdom that calls us to love our enemies and return evil with kindness (5:44). It’s a stark contrast to how the world might react, yet it’s a response that God seeks to nurture in us.

Luke 22:51 even describes Jesus healing the ear of the man Peter had struck. May we learn to respond to difficult situations as He did, always seeking peace and restoration as God provides what we need.

How did you respond to a difficult situation recently? How does this compare with how you think Jesus might have responded?

Father God, give me a new understanding of Your greater purposes in Your kingdom, and a godly, loving, and peace-seeking heart to respond to situations as Your Son did.

INSIGHT

The betrayal and arrest of Jesus is recorded in all four gospels (Matthew 26:47–56; Mark 14:43–50; Luke 22:47–50; John 18:1–14). In Matthew 26, Jesus declared that His arrest in the garden of Gethsemane “must happen in this way” (v. 54) so that Scripture “might be fulfilled” (v. 56). Christ had forewarned His disciples three times about His betrayal and death in Jerusalem (Matthew 16:21; 17:22; 20:18–19), and they didn’t understand what He meant (Luke 18:34). Peter expressed disbelief saying, “Never, Lord!” (Matthew 16:22). Perhaps that’s why he was so quick to draw his sword to resist Jesus’ arrest (John 18:10).

By |2022-05-25T09:06:04-04:00May 25th, 2022|
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Generous Giving

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Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. Leviticus 19:10

General Charles Gordon (1833–1885) served Queen Victoria in China and elsewhere, but when living in England he’d give away 90 percent of his income. When he heard about a famine in Lancashire, he scratched off the inscription from a pure gold medal he’d received from a world leader and sent it up north, saying they should melt it down and use the money to buy bread for the poor. That day he wrote in his diary: “The last earthly thing I had in this world that I valued I have given to the Lord Jesus.”

General Gordon’s level of generosity might seem above and beyond what we’re able to extend, but God has always called His people to look out for those in need. In some of the laws He delivered through Moses, God instructed the people not to reap to the edges of their field nor gather the entire crop. Instead, when harvesting a vineyard, He said to leave the grapes that had fallen “for the poor and the foreigner” (Leviticus 19:10). God wanted His people to be aware of and provide for the vulnerable in their midst.

However generous we may feel, we can ask God to increase our desire to give to others and to seek His wisdom for creative ways to do so. He loves to help us show His love to others.

How might you extend generosity today, whether through practical help, a listening ear, or some other way? When have you been on the receiving end of someone’s generosity? How did that feel?

Giving Father, thank You for sending Jesus to live as one of us and to die for us. Fill my heart with love and thanks for this amazing gift.

INSIGHT

Leviticus 19 instructs landowners in Israel to allow the poor and foreigners to harvest the edges of their fields and vineyards. It might seem like a strange law, but the book of Ruth shows how important it was in Israel. Ruth was the Moabite wife of a deceased Israelite husband, left only with her Israelite mother-in-law, Naomi. Their lands were under the ancient equivalent of foreclosure, so they had to glean in the corners of someone else’s field. That someone was Boaz. He demonstrated his love for God by not only following the law and allowing Ruth to gather in his fields, but also by redeeming her and her family’s land. One strange law opened the door for Ruth and Naomi to survive and for Boaz to show faithfulness. In the end, they joined in the family tree of Jesus Himself, whose obedience would one day redeem the world.

By |2022-05-24T09:06:04-04:00May 24th, 2022|
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In the End

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I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 2 Timothy 4:7

I’m often given the privilege of leading spiritual retreats. Getting away for a few days to pray and reflect can be deeply enriching, and during the program I sometimes ask participants to do an exercise: “Imagine your life is over and your obituary is published in the paper. What would you like it to say?” Some attendees change their life’s priorities as a result, aiming to finish their lives well.

Second Timothy 4 contains the last known written words of the apostle Paul. Though probably only in his sixties, and though having faced death before, he senses his life is nearly over (2 Timothy 4:6). There will be no more mission trips now or writing letters to his churches. He looks back over his life and says, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (v. 7). While he hasn’t been perfect (1 Timothy 1:15–16), Paul assesses his life on how true he’s stayed to God and the gospel. Tradition suggests he was martyred soon after.

Contemplating our final days has a way of clarifying what matters now. Paul’s words can be a good model to follow. Fight the good fight. Finish the race. Keep the faith. Because in the end what will matter is that we’ve stayed true to God and His ways as He provides what we need to live, fight life’s spiritual battles, and finish well.

Imagine your life is over and your obituary is published. What would you like it to say? What changes might you make now to “finish the race” well?

Father God, strengthen me to live faithfully for You, right to the end.

INSIGHT

Paul used several word pictures in 2 Timothy 4 to describe his life. He noted that he was “being poured out like a drink offering” (v. 6). This is likely a reference to the sacrificial ceremony instituted by God in Numbers 15:1–10, in which wine was poured out (see Hosea 9:4). However, well before the time of Moses, Jacob “poured out a drink offering” to God at Bethel (Genesis 35:14).

Paul also employed two metaphors from athletic competition, including fighting “the good fight” and completing “the race” (2 Timothy 4:7), references to Olympic sports of the day. And he spoke of “the time for my departure” (v. 6), an image evocative of a voyage. Paul, who’d traveled much during his lifetime to share the good news of Jesus, was now constrained by chains. Yet one final trip awaited him. His cold, damp prison cell served as a port of departure for heaven.

By |2022-05-23T09:06:05-04:00May 23rd, 2022|
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Something Deep and Binding

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God created mankind in his own image. Genesis 1:27

Amina, an Iraqi immigrant, and Joseph, an American from birth, attended a political protest on opposite sides. We’ve been taught to believe that those who are separated by ethnicity and politics carry unbridled animosity toward each other. However, when a small mob accosted Joseph, trying to set his shirt on fire, Amina rushed to his defense. “I don’t think we could be any further apart as people,” Joseph told a reporter, “and yet, it was just kinda like this common ‘that’s not OK’ moment.” Something deeper than politics knit Amina and Joseph together.

Though we often have genuine disagreements with one another—substantial differences we often can’t ignore—there are far deeper realities that bind us together. We’re all created by God and bound together in one beloved human family. God has created each of us—regardless of gender, social class, ethnic identity or political persuasion—“in his own image” (Genesis 1:27). Whatever else might be true, God is reflected in both you and me. Further, He’s given us a shared purpose to “fill” and “rule” God’s world with wisdom and care (v. 28).

Whenever we forget how we’re bound together in God, we do damage to ourselves and others. But whenever we come together in His grace and truth, we participate in His desire to make a good and flourishing world.

Who seems to be completely different from you? What would it be like to spend time with them, sharing what you have in common?

God, the way the world is right now, it’s hard to believe that because of You every person shares something deep inside. Help me see this truth.

INSIGHT

The Latin term imago Dei means “image of God.” Biblically speaking, the lofty notion that humans are created in the likeness of God is rooted in Genesis 1:26: “Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ ” Contextually understood, humans are created by God and are like Him in unique ways that allow them, on His behalf, to “rule over” (to have dominion over) what He’s created. This grand governing assignment includes the capacity to reason critically, to judge wisely, and to create with beauty and utility. These and other aspects of being like God are included in humans being “crowned . . . with glory and honor” (Psalm 8:5).

By |2022-05-22T09:06:04-04:00May 22nd, 2022|
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