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True Identity

As my friend reviewed the pictures I took of her, she pointed out the physical characteristics she saw as imperfections. I asked her to look closer. “I see a beautiful and beloved daughter of the Almighty King of Kings,” I said. “I see a compassionate lover of God and others, whose genuine kindness, generosity, and faithfulness have made a difference in so many lives.” When I noticed the tears brimming her eyes, I said, “I think you need a tiara!” Later that afternoon, we picked out the perfect crown for my friend so she would never forget her true identity.

When we come to know the Lord personally, He crowns us with love and calls us His children (1 John 2:29-3:1). He gives us the power to persevere in faith so that “we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming” (1 John 2:28). Though He accepts us as we are, His love purifies us and transforms us into His likeness (vv. 2-3). He helps us recognize our need for Him and repent as we rejoice in the power to turn away from sin (vv. 4-9). We can live in faithful obedience and love (v. 10), with His truth hidden in our hearts and His Spirit present in our lives.

My friend didn’t really need a tiara or any other trinket that day. But we both needed the reminder of our worth as God’s beloved children.

By |2021-12-02T08:06:08-05:00December 3rd, 2021|

Celebrating Diversity

At the 2019 graduation ceremony at a local high school, 608 students prepared to receive their diplomas. The principal began by asking students to stand when he read the name of the country where they were born: Afghanistan, Bolivia, Bosnia. . . . The principal kept going until he’d named sixty countries and every student was standing and cheering together. Sixty countries, one high school.

The beauty of unity amid diversity was a powerful image that celebrated something near to God’s heart, people living together in unity.

We read an encouragement for unity among God’s people in Psalm 133, a psalm of ascent—a song sung as people entered Jerusalem for annual celebrations. The psalm reminded the people of the benefits of living harmoniously (v. 1) despite differences that could cause division. In vivid imagery, unity is described as refreshing dew (v. 3) and oil—used to anoint priests (Exodus 29:7)—“running down” the head, beard and clothing of a priest (v. 2). Together, these images point to the reality that in unity God’s blessings flow so lavishly they can’t be contained.

For believers in Jesus, despite differences such as ethnicity, nationality or age, there is a deeper unity in the Spirit (Ephesians 4:3). When we stand together and celebrate that common bond as Christ leads us, we can embrace our God-given differences and celebrate the source of true unity.

By |2021-12-02T08:06:08-05:00December 2nd, 2021|

We Need Our Church Community

I grew up the firstborn son of a Southern Baptist preacher. Every Sunday the expectation was clear: I was to be in church. Possible exceptions? Maybe if I had a significant fever. But the truth is, I absolutely loved going, and even went a few times feverish. But the world has changed, and the numbers for regular church attendance are not what they used to be. Of course, the quick question is why? The answers are many and varied. Author Kathleen Norris counters those answers with a response she received from a pastor to the question “Why do we go to church?” He said, “We go to church for other people. Because someone may need you there.”

Now by no means is that the only we reason we go to church, but his response does resonate with the heartbeat of the writer to the Hebrews. He urged the believers to persevere in the faith, and to achieve that goal he stressed “not giving up meeting together.” Why? Because something vital would be missed in our absence – “encouraging one another” (v. 25). We need that mutual encouragement to “spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (v. 24). Brothers and sisters, keep meeting together, because someone may need you there. And the corresponding truth is that you may need them as well.

By |2021-12-01T08:06:07-05:00December 1st, 2021|

A Great Light

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).

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

Trusting God in Opposition

Raised in a tribe in the Philippines opposed to belief in Christ, Esther received salvation through Jesus after an aunt prayed for her during Esther’s battle with a life-threatening illness. Today, Esther leads Bible studies in her local community in spite of threats of violence and even death. She serves joyfully, saying “I can’t stop telling people about Jesus because I ‘ve experienced the power, love, goodness, and faithfulness of God in my life.”

Serving God in the face of opposition is a reality for many today just as it was for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, three young Israelites living in captivity in Babylon. In the book of Daniel, we learn that they refused to pray to a large golden image of King Nebuchadnezzar even when threatened with death. The men testified that God was capable of protecting them but they chose to serve Him “even if” He didn’t rescue them (Daniel 3:18). When they were thrown into the fire, God actually joined them in their suffering (v. 25). To everyone’s amazement, they survived without even “a hair of their heads singed” (v. 27).

If we face suffering or persecution for an act of faith, ancient and modern examples remind us that God’s Spirit is present with us to strengthen and sustain us when we choose to obey Him, “even if” things turn out differently than we hope.

By |2021-11-29T08:06:10-05:00November 29th, 2021|

Insult to Injury

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.                                     

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

Bold Faith

After Prem Pradham’s (1924–1998) plane was shot down during World War II, he was wounded in the leg by ground fire while parachuting to safety. As a result, he walked with a limp for the rest of his life. He once noted, “I have a lame leg. Isn’t it strange of God that He called [me] to preach the gospel in the Himalaya Mountains?” And preach in Nepal he did—but not without opposition that included imprisonment in “dungeons of death” where prisoners faced extreme conditions. In a span of fifteen years, Prem spent ten years in fourteen different prisons. His bold witness, however, bore the fruit of changed lives for Christ that included guards and prisoners who took the message of Jesus to their own people.

Peter faced opposition due to his faith in Jesus and for being used by God to heal a “man who was lame” (Acts 4:9). But he used the opportunity to boldly speak for Christ (vv. 8–13). Though some today will also face the ire of hardhearted religious leaders (vv. 10–11), we also encounter individuals and groups who are spiritually destitute. Family members, co-workers, fellow students, and others we share life and space with need to hear about the One in whom “salvation is found” (v. 12), who died as payment for our sins and was raised from the dead as proof of His power to forgive (v. 10). May they hear as we prayerfully and boldly proclaim this good news of salvation found in Jesus (v. 12).

By |2021-11-27T08:06:06-05:00November 27th, 2021|

Mighty Warrior

Diet Eman was an ordinary, shy young woman in the Netherlands—in love, working, and enjoying time with family and friends—when the Germans invaded in 1940. As Diet (pronounced Deet) later wrote, “When there is danger on your doorstep, you want to act almost like an ostrich burying its head in the sand.” Yet Diet felt God calling her to resist the German oppressors, which included risking her life to find hiding places for Jews and other pursued people. This unassuming young woman became a warrior for God.  

We find many stories in the Bible similar to Diet’s, stories of God using seemingly unlikely characters to serve Him. For instance, when the angel of the Lord approached Gideon, he proclaimed, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior” (Judges 6:12). Yet Gideon seemed anything but mighty. He’d been secretly threshing wheat away from the prying eyes of the Midianites, who oppressively controlled Israel at the time (vv. 1–6). He was from the weakest clan of Israel (Manasseh) and the “least” in his family (v. 15). He didn’t feel up to God’s calling and even requested several signs. Yet God used him to defeat the cruel Midianites (see ch. 7).

God saw Gideon as “mighty.” And just as God was with and equipping Gideon, so God is with us, His “dearly loved children” (Ephesians 5:1)—supplying all we need to live for and serve Him in little and big ways.

By |2021-11-26T08:06:07-05:00November 26th, 2021|

A Thankful Heart

Seneca, the great philosopher of ancient Rome (4 bc–ad 65), was once accused by the empress Messalina of adultery. After the Senate sentenced Seneca to death, the emperor Claudius instead exiled him to Corsica, perhaps because he suspected the charge was false. This reprieve may have shaped Seneca’s view of thankfulness when he wrote: “. . . homicides, tyrants, thieves, adulterers, robbers, sacrilegious men, and traitors there always will be, but worse than all these is the crime of ingratitude.”

By |2021-11-25T08:06:03-05:00November 25th, 2021|

The Will of God

God's will is sometimes hard. He asks us to do the right things. He calls us to endure hardship without complaining; to love awkward people; to heed the voice inside us that says, You mustn't; to take steps we'd rather not take. So we must tell our souls all day long: "Hey soul, listen up. Be silent: Do what Jesus is asking you to do."

 "My soul waits in silence for God only” (Psalm 62:1 nasb). "My soul, wait in silence for God only" (62:5 nasb). The verses are similar, but different. David says something about his soul; then says something to his soul. “Waits in silence” addresses a decision, a settled state of mind. "Wait in silence” is David stirring his soul to remember that decision.

David determines to live in silence—quiet submission to God's will. This is our calling as well, the thing for which we were created. We will be at peace when we've agreed: "Not my will, but yours be done" (Luke 22:42). This is our first and highest calling when we make Him Lord and the source of our deepest pleasure. “I desire to do your will,” the psalmist said (Psalm 40:8).

We must always ask for God's help, of course, for our “hope comes from Him" (62:5). When we ask for His help He delivers it. God never asks us to do anything He will not or cannot do.

By |2021-11-24T08:06:09-05:00November 24th, 2021|
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