His Death Brings Life

By |2020-08-07T19:33:05-04:00August 8th, 2020|

During her ministry to men incarcerated in South Africa’s most violent prison, Joanna Flanders-Thomas witnessed the power of Christ to transform hearts. In Vanishing Grace, Philip Yancey describes her experience: “Joanna started visiting prisoners daily, bringing them a simple gospel message of forgiveness and reconciliation. She earned their trust, got them to talk about their abusive childhoods, and showed them a better way of resolving conflicts. The year before her visits began, the prison recorded 279 acts of violence against inmates and guards; the next year there were two.”

The apostle Paul wrote, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Corinthians 5:17 nasb). While we may not always see that newness expressed as dramatically as Flanders-Thomas did, the gospel’s power to transform is the greatest hope-providing force in the universe. New creations. What an amazing thought! The death of Jesus launches us on a journey of becoming like Him—a journey that will culminate when we see Him face to face (see 1 John 3:1–3).  

As believers in Jesus we celebrate our life as new creations. Yet we must never lose sight of what that cost Christ. His death brings us life. “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (v. 21 nasb). 

Letting Go

By |2020-08-07T19:33:05-04:00August 7th, 2020|

“Your father is actively dying,” said the hospice nurse. “Actively dying” refers to the final phase of the dying process and was a new term to me, one that felt strangely like traveling down a lonely one-way street. On my dad’s last day, not knowing if he could still hear us, my sister and I sat by his bed. We kissed the top of his beautiful bald head. We whispered God’s promises to him. We sang “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” and quoted the 23rd Psalm. We told him we loved him and thanked him for being our dad. We knew his heart longed to be with Jesus and we told him he could go. Speaking those words was the first painful step in letting go. A few minutes later, our dad was joyously welcomed into his eternal home.

The final release of a loved one is painful. Even Jesus’ tears flowed when His good friend Lazarus died (John 11:35). But because of God’s promises, we have hope beyond physical death. Psalm 116:15 says that God’s “faithful servants”—those who belong to Him—are “precious” to Him. Though they die, they’ll be alive again.

Jesus promises, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die” (John 11:25–26). What comfort it brings to know we’ll be in God’s presence forever.

In the Father’s Ways

By |2020-08-05T13:33:53-04:00August 6th, 2020|

In the 1960s, the bustling community of North Lawndale, on Chicago’s West Side, was a pilot community for interracial living. A handful of middle-class African Americans bought homes there on “contract”—that combined the responsibilities of home ownership with the disadvantages of renting. In a contract sale, the buyer accrued no equity, and if he missed a single payment, he would immediately lose his down payment, all his monthly payments, and the property itself. Unscrupulous sellers sold at inflated prices, then the families were evicted when they missed a payment. Another family would buy on contract, and the cycle fueled by greed just kept going.

Samuel appointed his sons judges over Israel, and they were driven by greed. His sons “did not follow in his ways” (1 Samuel 8:3). In contrast to Samuel’s integrity, his sons “turned aside after dishonest gain” and used their position to their own advantage. This unjust behavior displeased the elders of Israel and must have displeased God as well, putting in motion a cycle of kings that fills the pages of the Old Testament (vv. 4–5).

To refuse to walk in God’s ways allows room for the perversion of those values, and injustice always flourishes. To walk in God’s ways means honesty and justice are clearly seen not only in words but in deeds as well. Those good deeds are never an end in themselves, but always that others may see and glorify our Father in heaven.

Loved, Beautiful, Gifted

By |2020-08-05T13:33:53-04:00August 5th, 2020|

Malcolm appeared confident as a teenager. But this confidence was a mask. In truth, a turbulent home left him fearful, desperate for approval, and feeling falsely responsible for his family’s problems. “For as far back as I remember,” he says, “every morning I would go into the bathroom, look in the mirror, and say out loud to myself, ‘You are stupid, you are ugly, and it’s your fault.’”

Malcolm’s self-loathing continued until he was twenty-one, when he had a divine revelation of his Christian identity. “I realized that God loved me unconditionally and nothing would ever change that,” he recalls. “I could never embarrass God, and He would never reject me.” In time, Malcolm looked in the mirror and spoke to himself differently. “You are loved, you are beautiful, you are gifted,” he said, “and it’s not your fault.”

Malcolm’s experience illustrates what God’s Spirit does for the believer in Jesus—He frees us from fear by revealing how profoundly loved we are (Romans 8:15, 38–39), and confirms that we are children of God with all the benefits that status brings (8:16–17; 12:6–8). As a result, we can begin seeing ourselves correctly by having our thinking renewed (12:2–3).

Years later, Malcolm still whispers those words each day, reinforcing who God says he is. In the Father’s eyes he is loved, beautiful, and gifted. And so are we.

God’s Mercy at Work

By |2020-08-03T16:19:30-04:00August 4th, 2020|

My anger percolated when a woman mistreated, blamed, and gossiped about me. I wanted everyone to know what she’d done—wanted her to suffer as I’d suffered because of her behavior. I steamed with resentment until a headache pierced my temples. But as I began praying for my pain to go away, the Holy Spirit convicted me. How could I plot revenge while begging God for relief? If I believed the Lord would care for me, why wouldn’t I trust Him to handle this situation? Knowing that people who are hurting often hurt other people, I asked God to help me forgive the woman and work toward reconciliation.

The psalmist David understood the difficulty of trusting God while enduring unfair treatment. Though David did his best to be a loving servant, King Saul succumbed to jealousy and wanted to murder him (1 Samuel 24:1-2). David suffered while God worked things out and prepared him to take the throne, but still he chose to honor God instead of seeking revenge (vv. 3-7). He did his part to reconcile with Saul and left the results in God’s hands (vv. 8-22)

When it feels like people get away with wrongdoing, we struggle with the injustice. But with God’s mercy at work on our hearts and the hearts of others, we can forgive as He’s forgiven us and receive the blessings He’s prepared for us.

The Battle’s Over. Really.

By |2020-08-03T16:19:30-04:00August 3rd, 2020|

For twenty-nine years after World War II ended, Hiroo Onoda hid in the jungle, refusing to believe his country had surrendered. Japanese military leaders had dispatched Onoda to a remote island in the Philippines (Lubang) with orders to spy on the Allied forces. Long after a peace treaty had been signed and hostilities ceased, Onoda remained in the wilderness. In 1974, Onoda’s commanding officer traveled to the island to find him and convince him the war was over.

For three decades, Onoda lived a meager, isolated existence, because he refused to surrender—refused to believe the conflict was done. We can make a similar mistake. Paul proclaims the stunning truth that “all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death” (Romans 6:3). On the cross, in a powerful, mysterious way, Jesus put to death Satan’s lies, death’s terror, and sin’s tenacious grip. Though we’re “dead to sin” and “alive to God, ”(v. 11) we often live as though evil still holds the power. We yield to temptation, succumbing to sin’s seduction. We listen to lies, failing to trust Jesus. But we don’t have to yield. We don’t have to live in a false narrative. By God’s grace we can embrace the true story of Christ’s victory.

While we’ll still wrestle with sin, liberation comes as we recognize that Jesus has already won the battle. May we live out that truth in His power.

Kind Correction

By |2020-07-29T09:33:51-04:00August 2nd, 2020|

The early spring weather was refreshing and my traveling companion, my wife, couldn’t have been better. But the beauty of those moments together could have quickly morphed into tragedy if it weren’t for a red and white warning sign that prompted me I was headed in the wrong direction. Because I hadn’t turned wide enough, I momentarily saw a “Do Not Enter” sign staring me in the face. I quickly adjusted, but shudder to think of the harm I could have done to my wife, myself, and others if I’d ignored the sign that reminded me I was going the wrong way.

The closing words of James emphasize the importance of correction. Who among us hasn’t needed to be “brought back” by those who care for us from paths or actions, decisions or desires that could’ve been hurtful? The harm that could have been done to ourselves or others is unthinkable had someone not courageously intervened at the right time. James stresses the value of kind correction with these words, “Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins” (v. 20). Correction is an expression of God’s mercy. May our love and concern for the well-being of others compel us to speak and act in ways that the Lord can use to “bring that person back” (v. 19).

A Divine Duet

By |2020-07-29T09:33:51-04:00August 1st, 2020|

At a children’s music recital, I watched a teacher and student seat themselves in front of a piano. Before their duet began, the teacher leaned over and whispered some last-minute instructions. As music flowed from the instrument, I noticed that the student played a simple melody while the teacher’s accompaniment added depth and richness to the song. Near the end of the piece, the teacher nodded his approval.

The Christian life is much more like a duet than a solo performance. Sometimes, though, I forget that Jesus is “sitting next to me,” and it’s only by His power and guidance that I can “play” at all. I try to hit all the right notes on my own—to obey God in my own strength, but this usually ends up seeming fake and hollow. I try to handle problems with my limited ability, but the result is often discord with others.

My Teacher’s presence makes all the difference. When I rely on Jesus to help me, I find my life is more honoring to God. I serve joyfully, love freely, and I’m amazed as God blesses my relationships. It’s like Jesus told His first disciples, “If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

Each day we play a duet with our good Teacher—it’s His grace and power that carry the melody of our spiritual lives.

Shining Light

By |2020-07-29T09:33:51-04:00July 31st, 2020|

I felt nervous about a five-week prayer class I agreed to teach at a local church. Would the students like it? Would they like me? My anxiety was ill-focused, leading me to over-prepare lesson plans, video slides, and class handouts. Yet with a week to go, I still hadn’t encouraged many people to attend.
In prayer, however, I was reminded that the class was a service that shined light on God. Because the Holy Spirit would use the class to point people to our heavenly Father, I could set aside my nervousness about public speaking. When Jesus taught His disciples in His Sermon on the Mount, He told them, “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house” (Matthew 5:14–15).

Reading those words, I finally sent out a class announcement on social media. Almost immediately, people started registering—expressing gratitude and excitement. Seeing their reactions, I reflected more on Jesus’s teaching: “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (v. 16).
With that perspective, I taught the class with joy. I pray that my simple deed becomes a beacon and encourages others to shine their light for God too.

Touch the Needy

By |2020-07-29T09:33:51-04:00July 30th, 2020|

It wasn’t surprising when Mother Teresa received the Nobel Peace Prize. True to form, she received the award “in the name of the hungry, of the naked, of the homeless, of the blind, of the lepers, of all those who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society.” Those were the people she ministered to for most of her life.

Jesus modeled how to care for and love the marginalized, regardless of circumstances. Unlike the synagogue leaders who respected the Sabbath law more than the sick (Luke 13:14), when Jesus saw an ill woman at the Temple, He was moved with compassion. He looked beyond the physical impairment and saw God’s beautiful creation in bondage. He called her and pronounced freedom and healing. Then He “put his hands on her and immediately she straightened up and praised God” (v. 13). By touching her, He upset the leader of the synagogue because it was the Sabbath. Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath (Luke 6:5), compassionately chose to heal the woman—a person who had faced discomfort and humiliation for nearly two decades.

I wonder how often we see someone as underserving of our compassion. Or maybe we’ve experienced rejection because we didn’t meet somebody else’s standard. May we not be like the religious elite who care more about rules than fellow humans. Instead, let’s follow Jesus’s example and treat others with compassion, love, and dignity.

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