fbpx
Large Print

Christmas Light

By |2022-12-03T01:33:19-05:00December 3rd, 2022|

To my eyes, the Christmas tree looked to be ablaze in fire! Not because of artificial strings of lights but from real fire. Our family was invited to a friend’s “altdeutsche tradition”—the old German way—celebration, featuring delicious traditional desserts and a tree with real, lit candles. (For safety, the freshly cut tree was lit one night only.)

As I watched the tree appear to burn, I thought of Moses’ encounter with God in the burning bush. While tending sheep in the wilderness, Moses was surprised by a flaming bush that was somehow not consumed by the flames. As Moses approached the bush to investigate, God called to him. The message from the burning bush was not one of judgment but of rescue for the people of Israel. God had seen the plight of His people who were enslaved in Egypt and had “come down to rescue them” (Exodus 3:8).

While God rescued the Israelites from the Egyptians, all of humanity still needed rescue—not just from physical suffering, but also from the effects that evil and death brought into our world. Hundreds of years later, God responded by sending down Light, His son Jesus, (John 1:9-10), sent not “to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him” (John 3:17).

Who You Are

By |2022-12-02T01:33:11-05:00December 2nd, 2022|

In 2011, after a decade of childlessness, my wife and I chose to start afresh in a new country. Exciting as the move was, it required my leaving a broadcast career, which I missed. Feeling lost, I asked my friend Liam for advice.

“I don’t know what my calling is anymore,” I told Liam dejectedly.

“You’re not broadcasting here?” he asked. I said I wasn’t.

“And how is your marriage?”

Surprised at his change of topic, I told Liam that Merryn and I were doing well. We’d faced heartbreak together but emerged closer through the ordeal.

“Commitment is the core of the gospel,” he said, smiling. “Oh, how the world needs to see committed marriages like yours! You may not realize the impact you’re having already, beyond what you do, simply by being who you are.”

When a difficult work situation left Timothy dejected, the apostle Paul didn’t give him career goals. Instead, he encouraged Timothy to live a godly life, setting an example through his speech, conduct, love, faith and purity (4:12–13, 15). He would best impact others by living faithfully.

It’s easy to value our lives based on our career success when what matters most is our character. I had forgotten that. But a word of truth, a gracious act, even a committed marriage can bring great change—because through them something of God’s own goodness touches the world.

Mutual Encouragement

By |2022-12-01T01:33:21-05:00December 1st, 2022|

After another week of being beaten down by more medical setbacks, I slumped onto the sofa. I didn’t want to think about anything. I didn’t want to talk to anybody. I couldn’t even pray. Discouragement and doubt weighed me down as I turned on the television. I began watching a commercial showing a little girl talking to her younger brother. “You’re a champion,” she said. As she continued affirming him, his grin grew. So did mine.

God’s people have always struggled with discouragement and doubt. Quoting Psalm 95, which affirms that God’s voice can be heard through the Holy Spirit, the writer of Hebrews warned believers in Jesus to avoid the mistakes made by the Israelites while wandering in the wilderness (Hebrews 3:7–11). “See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God,” he wrote. “But encourage each other daily” (vv. 12–13).

With our lifeline of hope secured in Christ, we can experience the power-packed fuel we need to persevere: mutual encouragement within the fellowship of believers (v. 13). When one believer doubts, other believers can offer affirmation and accountability. As God strengthens us, His people, we can offer the power of mutual encouragement to one another.

Warning Sounds

By |2022-11-30T03:00:00-05:00November 30th, 2022|

Ever had a close encounter with a rattlesnake? If so, you might have noticed that the sound of the rattle seemed to get more intense as you moved nearer to the viper. Research reported in 2021 in Current Biology reveals that the venomous reptiles do increase their rattling rate when they think a threat is approaching. This “high-frequency mode” can cause us to think they’re closer than they are. As one researcher put it, “The misinterpretation of distance by the listener . . . creates a distance safety margin.”

People can sometimes use increasing volume with harsh words that push others away during a conflict—exhibiting anger and resorting to shouting. The writer of Proverbs shares some wise advice for times like these: “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). He goes on to say that “soothing” and “wise” words can be “a tree of life” and a source of “knowledge” (vv. 4, 7).

Jesus provided the ultimate reasons for gently appealing to those with whom we enter into conflict: extending love that reveals us to be His children (Matthew 5:43–45) and seeking reconciliation—“[winning] them over” (18:15). Instead of raising our voice or using unkind words during conflicts, may we show civility, wisdom, and love to others as God guides us by His Spirit.

Reading Backwards

By |2022-11-21T03:00:00-05:00November 21st, 2022|

Reading the last chapter of a mystery novel first may sound like a bad idea to those who love the suspense of a good story. But some people enjoy reading a book more if they know how it ends.

In Reading Backwards, author Richard Hays shows how important the practice is for our understanding of the Bible. By illustrating how the unfolding words and events of Scripture anticipate, echo, and throw light on one another, Professor Hays gives us reason to read our Bibles forward and backward.

Hays reminds readers that it was only after Jesus’ resurrection that His disciples understood His claim to rebuild a destroyed temple in three days. The apostle John tells us, “The temple he had spoken of was his body” (2:21). Only then could they understand a meaning of their Passover celebration never before understood (see Matthew 26:17–29). Only in retrospect could they reflect on how Jesus gave fullness of meaning to an ancient king’s deep feelings for the house of God (Psalm 69:9; John 2:16–17). Only by rereading their Scriptures in light of the true temple of God (Jesus Himself) could the disciples grasp how the ritual of Israel’s religion and Messiah would throw light on one another.

And now, only by reading these same Scriptures backward and forward, can we see in Jesus everything that any of us has ever needed or longed for. 

The Socratic Club

By |2022-11-20T03:00:00-05:00November 20th, 2022|

In 1941, the Socratic Club was established at England’s Oxford University. The club was formed for the express purpose of encouraging debate between believers in Jesus and atheists or agnostics.

Religious debate at a secular university isn’t that unusual, but what is surprising the man who chaired the Socratic Club for fifteen years—the great Christian scholar C. S. Lewis. Willing to have his thinking tested, Lewis believed that faith in Christ could stand up to whatever scrutiny it received. He knew there was credible, rational evidence for believing in Jesus.

In a sense, Lewis was practicing Peter’s advice to believers scattered by persecution when he reminded them, “In your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). Notice the two key points Peter makes. We have good reasons for our hope in Christ. And we’re to present our reasoning with “gentleness and respect.”

Trusting Christ isn’t religious escapism or wishful thinking. Our faith is grounded in the facts of history, including the resurrection of Jesus and the evidence of the creation bearing witness to its Creator. As we rest in God’s wisdom and the strength of the Spirit, may we be ready to share the reasons we have for knowing and trusting our great God.

Small Kindnesses

By |2022-11-13T01:33:02-05:00November 13th, 2022|

Amanda works as a visiting nurse who rotates among several nursing homes—often bringing her eleven-year-old daughter Ruby to work. For something to do, Ruby began asking residents, “If you could have any three things, what would you want?” and recording their answers in her notebook. Surprisingly, many of their wishes were for little things—Vienna sausages, chocolate pie, cheese, avocados. So Ruby set up a GoFundMe to help her provide for their simple wishes. And when she delivers the goodies, she doles out hugs. She says, “It lifts you. It really does.” 

When we show compassion and kindness like Ruby’s, we reflect our God who “is gracious and compassionate . . . and rich in love” (Psalm 145:8). That’s why the apostle Paul urged us, as God’s people, to “clothe [our]selves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Colossians 3:12). Because God has shown great compassion to us, we naturally long to share His compassion with others. And as we do so intentionally, we “clothe” ourselves in it.

Paul goes on to tell us: “over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity” (v. 14). And he reminds us that we are to “do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus” (v. 17), remembering that all good things come from the Lord. When we are kind to others, our spirits are lifted.

Both Are True

By |2022-11-12T01:33:02-05:00November 12th, 2022|

After three decades, Feng Lulu was reunited with her birth family. As a toddler, she was kidnapped while playing outside her house, but through the help of All-China Women’s Federation, she was finally located. Because she was so young when she was abducted, Feng Lulu doesn’t remember it. She grew up believing she’d been sold because her parents couldn’t afford to keep her, so learning the truth surfaced many questions and emotions.

When Joseph was unexpectedly reunited with his brothers, it’s likely he experienced some complex emotions. He’d been sold by his brothers into slavery in Egypt as a young man. Despite a series of painful twists and turns, God propelled Joseph to a position of authority. When his brothers came to Egypt to buy food during a famine, they—unwittingly—sought it from him.

Joseph acknowledged to his brothers that God redeemed their wrongdoing, saying He used it to “save [their] lives by a great deliverance” (Genesis 45:7). Yet Joseph doesn’t mince words or redefine their hurtful actions toward him—he described them accurately as “selling [him]” (v. 5).

We sometimes try to put an overly positive spin on difficult situations, focusing on the good God brings from them without acknowledging the emotional struggle. Let’s take care not to redefine a wrong as being good simply because God redeemed it: we can look for Him to bring good from it while still recognizing the hardship and pain wrongdoing causes. Both are true.

The Source

By |2022-11-11T01:33:12-05:00November 11th, 2022|

It was 1854, and something was killing thousands of people in London. It must be the bad air, people thought. And indeed, as unseasonable heat baked the sewage-fouled River Thames, the smell grew so bad it became known as “The Great Stink.”

But the worst problem wasn’t the air. Research by Dr. John Snow would show that contaminated water was the cause of the cholera epidemic.

We humans have long been aware of another crisis—one that stinks to high heaven. We live in a broken world—and we’re prone to misidentify the source of this problem, treating symptoms instead. Wise social programs and policies do some good, but they’re powerless to stop the root cause of society’s ills—our sinful hearts!

When Jesus said, “Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them,” He wasn’t referring to physical diseases (Mark 7:15). Rather, He was diagnosing the spiritual condition of every one of us. “It is what comes out of a person that defiles them,” He said (v. 15), listing a litany of evils lurking inside us (vv. 21–22).

“Surely I was sinful at birth,” David wrote (Psalm 51:5). His lament is one we can all voice. We’re broken from the beginning. That’s why David prayed, “Create in me a pure heart, O God” (v. 10). Every day, we need that new heart, created by Jesus through His Spirit.

Instead of treating the symptoms, we must let Jesus purify the source.

Legacy of Friends

By |2022-11-10T01:33:04-05:00November 10th, 2022|

I met him in the 1970s when I was a high school English teacher and basketball coach, and he was a tall, gangly freshman. Soon he was on my basketball team and in my classes—and a friendship was formed. This same friend, who had served with me as a fellow editor for many years, stood before me at my retirement party and shared about the legacy of our longstanding friendship.

What is it about friends connected by the love of God that encourages us and brings us closer to Jesus? The writer of Proverbs understood that friendship has two encouraging components: First, true friends give valuable advice, even if it’s not easy to give or take (27:6): “Wounds from a friend can be trusted,” he explains. Second, a friend who is nearby and accessible is important in times of crisis (v. 10): “Better a neighbor nearby than a relative far away.”

It’s not good for us to fly solo in life. As Solomon noted: “Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed” (Ecclesiastes 4:9 NLT). In life, we need to have friends and we need to be friends. May God help us “love one another with brotherly affection” (Romans 12:10 ESV) and “carry each other’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2)—becoming the kind of friend that can encourage others and draw them closer to the love of Jesus.

Go to Top