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Refreshed at Simon’s House

By |2022-05-20T09:06:12-04:00May 20th, 2022|

My trip to Simon’s house was unforgettable. Under the cover of a star-lit sky in Nyahururu, Kenya, we made our way to his modest home for dinner. The dirt floor and the lantern light reflected Simon’s limited means. What was on the menu, I don’t recall. What I can’t forget was Simon’s joy that we were his guests. His gracious hospitality was Jesus-like—selfless, life-touching, and refreshing.

In 1 Corinthians 16:15–18, Paul mentioned a family—the household of Stephanas (v. 15)—that had a reputation for their caregiving. They’d “devoted themselves to the service of the Lord’s people” (v. 15). While their service likely included tangible things (v. 17), the impact was such that Paul wrote that “they refreshed my spirit and yours also” (v. 18).

When we have opportunities to share with others, we rightly give attention to matters of food, setting, and other things that are fitting for such occasions. But we sometimes forget that although “the what” and “the where” matter, they’re not the most important things. Memorable meals are great and pleasant settings have their place, but food is limited in its capacity to fully nourish and encourage. True refreshment flows from God and is a matter of the heart; it reaches the hearts of others, and it continues to nourish long after the meal is over.

Loving God

By |2022-01-25T08:06:03-05:00January 25th, 2022|

The professor ended his online class in one of two ways each time. He’d say, “See you next time” or “Have a good weekend.” Some students would respond with “Thank you. You too!” But one day a student responded, “I love you.” Surprised, he replied, “I love you too!” That evening the classmates agreed to create an “I love you chain” for the next class time in appreciation for their professor who had to teach to a blank screen on his computer. A few days later when he finished teaching, the professor said, “See you next time,” and one by one the students replied, “I love you.” They continued this practice for months. The teacher said this created a strong bond with his students, and he now feels they’re “family.”

In 1 John 4:13–21, we, as part of God’s family, find several reasons to say “I love you” to Him. He sent His Son as a sacrifice for our sin (v. 10). He gave us His Spirit to live in us (vv. 13, 15). His love is always reliable (v. 16), and we never need to fear judgment (v. 17). He enables us to love Him and others “because he first loved us” (v. 19).

The next time you gather with God’s people, take time to share your reasons for loving Him. Making an I love you chain for God will bring Him praise and bring you closer together.

Love’s Greatest Gift

By |2022-01-18T08:06:04-05:00January 18th, 2022|

My son Geoff was leaving a store when he saw an abandoned walking frame (a mobility aid) on the ground. I hope there isn’t a person back there who needs help, he thought. He glanced behind the building and found a homeless man unconscious on the pavement.

Geoff roused him and asked if he was okay. “I’m trying to drink myself to death,” he responded. “My tent broke in a storm and I lost everything. I don’t want to live.”

Geoff called a Christian rehabilitation ministry, and while they waited for help, he ran home briefly and brought the man his own camping tent. “What’s your name?” Geoff asked. “Geoffrey,” the homeless man answered, “with a G.” Geoff hadn’t mentioned his own name or its uncommon spelling. “Dad,” he told me later, “that could have been me.”

 Geoff once struggled with substance abuse himself, and he helped the man because of the kindness he’d received from God. Isaiah the prophet used these words to anticipate God’s mercy to us in Jesus: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).

Christ, our Savior, didn’t leave us lost, alone, and hopeless in despair. He chose to identify with us and lift us in love, so that we may be set free to live anew in Him. There is no greater gift.

Practice What You Preach

By |2022-01-14T08:06:05-05:00January 14th, 2022|

I started reading the Bible to my sons when my youngest, Xavier, entered kindergarten. I would look for teachable moments and share verses that would apply to our circumstances and encourage them to pray with me. Xavier memorized Scripture without even trying. If we were in a predicament in which we needed wisdom, he’d blurt out verses that shone a light on God’s truth.

One day, I got angry and spoke harshly within his earshot. My son hugged me and said, “Practice what you preach, Mama.”

Xavier’s gentle reminder echoes the wise counsel of the apostle James as he addresses Jewish believers in Jesus scattered in various countries (James 1:1). Highlighting the various ways sin can interfere with our witness for Christ, James encourages God’s people to “humbly accept the word planted in” us (v. 21). By hearing but not obeying Scripture, we’re like people who look in the mirror and forget what we look like (vv. 23–24). We can lose sight of the privilege we’ve been given as image-bearers—made right with God through the blood of Christ.

Believers in Jesus are commanded to share the gospel. The Holy Spirit changes us while empowering us to become better representatives and therefore messengers of the good news. As our loving obedience helps us reflect the light of God’s truth and love wherever He sends us, we can point others to Jesus by practicing what we preach.

A Great Light

By |2021-11-30T08:06:11-05:00November 30th, 2021|

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many Singaporeans stayed home to avoid being infected. But I blissfully continued swimming, believing it was safe.

My wife, however, feared that I might pick up an infection at the public pool and pass it on to her aged mother—who, like other seniors, were more vulnerable to the virus. “Can you just avoid swimming for some time, for my sake?” she asked.

At first, I wanted to argue that there was little risk. Then I realized that this mattered less than her feelings. Why would I insist on swimming—hardly an essential thing—when it made her worry unnecessarily?

In Romans 14, Paul addressed issues like whether believers in Christ should eat certain foods or celebrate certain festivals. He was concerned that some people were imposing their views on others.

Paul reminded the church in Rome, and us, that believers in Jesus may view situations differently. We also have diverse backgrounds that color our attitudes and practices. He wrote, “Let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister” (v. 13).

God’s grace gives us great freedom even as it helps us express His love to fellow believers. We can use that freedom to put the spiritual needs of others above our own convictions about rules and practices that don’t contradict the essential truths found in the gospel (v. 20).

Insult to Injury

By |2021-11-28T08:06:12-05:00November 28th, 2021|

During the Golden Age of radio, Fred Allen (1894–1956) used comedic pessimism to bring smiles to a generation living in the shadows of economic depression and a world at war. His sense of humor was born out of personal pain. Having lost his mother before he was three, he was later estranged from his father who struggled with addictions. He once rescued a young boy from the traffic of a busy New York City street with a memorable, “What’s the matter with you, kid? Don’t you want to grow up and have troubles?”

The life of Job unfolds in such troubled realism. When his early expressions of faith eventually gave way to despair, his friends multiplied his pain by adding insult to injury. With good sounding arguments they insisted that if he could admit his wrongs (4:7–8) and learn from the God’s correction, he would find strength to laugh in the face of his problems (5:22).

Job’s “comforters” meant well while being so wrong (1:6–12). Never could they have imagined that they would one day be invoked as examples of “With friends like that, who needs enemies?” Never could they have imagined the relief of Job praying for them, or why they would need prayer at all (42:10–11). Never could they have imagined how they foreshadowed the accusers of the One who suffered so much misunderstanding to become the source of our greatest joys.                                     

Comfort Shared

By |2021-11-03T09:08:04-04:00November 3rd, 2021|

When my daughter Hayley came to visit me, I saw her three-year-old son, Callum, wearing a strange piece of clothing. Called a ScratchMeNot, it’s a long-sleeved top with mittens attached to the sleeves. My grandson Callum suffers from chronic eczema, a skin disease that makes his skin itch, making it rough and sore. “The ScratchMeNot prevents Callum from scratching and injuring his skin,” Hayley explained.

Seven months later, Hayley’s skin flared up, and she couldn’t stop scratching. “I now understand what Callum endures,” Hayley confessed to me. “Maybe I should wear a ScratchMeNot!”

Hayley’s situation reminded me of 2 Corinthians 1:3–5, in which Paul says that our God is “the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.”

Sometimes God allows us to go through trying times such as an illness, loss, or crisis. He teaches us through our suffering to appreciate the greatest suffering that Christ went through on our behalf on the cross. In turn, when we rely on Him for comfort and strength, we’re able to comfort and encourage others in their suffering. Let’s reflect on whom we can extend comfort because of what God has brought us through.

Outside the Camp

By |2021-09-14T09:06:02-04:00September 14th, 2021|

Friday was market day in the rural town in Ghana where I grew up. After all these years, I still recall one particular vendor. Her fingers and toes eroded by Hansen’s disease (leprosy), she would crouch on her mat and scoop her produce with a hollowed-out gourd. Some avoided her. My mother made it a point to buy from her regularly. I saw her only on market days. Then she would disappear outside the town.

In the time of the ancient Israelites, diseases like leprosy meant living “outside the camp.” It was a forlorn existence. Israelite law said of such people, “They must live alone” (Leviticus 13:45–46). Outside the camp was also where the carcasses of the sacrificial bulls were burned (Leviticus 4:12). Outside the camp was not where you wanted to be.

This harsh reality breathes life into the statement about Jesus in Hebrews 13: “Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore” (v. 13). Jesus was crucified outside the gates of Jerusalem, a significant point when we study the Hebrew sacrificial system.

We want to be popular, to be honored, to live comfortable lives. But God calls us to go “outside the camp”—where the disgrace is. That’s where we’ll find the vendor with Hansen’s disease. That’s where we’ll find people the world has rejected. That’s where we’ll find Jesus.

A Good Reason

By |2021-08-25T09:06:03-04:00August 25th, 2021|

The two women occupied the aisle seats across from each other. The flight was two hours, so I couldn’t help but see some of their interactions. It was clear they knew each other, might even be related. The younger of the two (probably in her sixties) kept reaching in her bag to hand the older (I’d guess in her nineties) fresh apple slices, then homemade finger sandwiches, then a towelette for clean up, and finally a crisp copy of the New York Times. Each hand-off was done with such tenderness, such dignity. As we stood to exit the plane, I told the younger woman, “I noticed the way you cared for her. It was beautiful.” She replied, “She’s my best friend. She’s my mother.”  

Wouldn’t it be great if we could all say something like that? Some parents are like best friends. Some parents are nothing like that. The truth is those relationships are always complicated at best. While Paul’s letter to Timothy doesn’t ignore that complexity, it still calls us to put our “religion into practice” by taking care of parents and grandparents—our “relatives,” our “own household” (1 Timothy 5:4, 8).

We all too often practice such care only if family members were good to us. In other words, if they deserve it. But Paul offers up a more beautiful reason to repay them. Take care of them because “this is pleasing to God” (v. 4).    

Loving Your Enemy

By |2021-08-23T09:06:03-04:00August 23rd, 2021|

I ducked into a room before she saw me. I was ashamed of hiding, but I didn’t want to deal with her right then—or ever. I longed to tell her off, to put her in her place. Though I was annoyed by her behavior, it’s likely I had irritated her even more!

The Jews and Samaritans also shared a mutually irritating relationship.  Being a people of mixed origin and worshiping their own gods, the Samaritans—in the eyes of the Jews—had spoiled the Jewish bloodline and faith, erecting a rival religion on Mount Gerazim (John 4:20). In fact, the Jews so despised Samaritans they walked the long way around rather than take the direct route through their country.

Jesus revealed a better way. He brought salvation for all people, including Samaritans. So He ventured into the heart of Samaria to bring living water to a sinful woman and her town (John 4:4-42). His last words to His disciples were to follow His example. They must share His good news with everyone, beginning in Jerusalem and dispersing through Samaria until they reached “the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Samaria was more than the next geographical sequence. It was the most painful part of the mission. The disciples must overcome lifetimes of prejudice to love people they didn’t like.

Does Jesus matter more than our grievances? There’s only one way to be sure. Love your “Samaritan.”

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