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Brave Your Storm

A fierce thunderstorm lashed Memphis, Tennessee, on the evening of April 3, 1968. Weary and feeling ill, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. decided not to give his planned speech for striking sanitation workers at a church hall. He was surprised by an urgent phone call saying a large crowd had braved the weather to hear him. So he went to the hall and spoke for forty minutes, delivering what some say was his greatest speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.”

The next day, King was killed by an assassin’s bullet, but his speech still inspires oppressed people that they’ll “get to the Promised Land.” Likewise, early followers of Jesus were uplifted by a stirring message. The book of Hebrews, written to encourage Jewish believers facing threats for their faith in Christ, offers firm spiritual encouragement to not lose hope. As it urged, “strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees” (v. 12). As Jews, they would recognize that appeal as originally coming from the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 35:3).

But now, as Christ’s disciples, they were called to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith” (vv. 1–2). The writer encouraged them: “You will not grow weary and lose heart” (v. 3).

Certainly squalls and storms await us in this life. But in Jesus, we outlast life’s tempests by standing in Him.

By |2022-01-17T08:06:03-05:00January 17th, 2022|

Darkness and Light

As I sat in the courtroom, I witnessed several examples of the brokenness of our world: a daughter estranged from her mother; a husband and wife who’d lost the love they once had and now shared only bitterness; a husband yearning for reconciliation with his wife and to be reunited with his children. They were in desperate need of changed hearts, healing of wounds, and for God’s love to prevail.

Sometimes when the world around us seems to hold only darkness and despair, it’s easy to give in to despair. But then the Spirit, who lives inside believers in Christ (John 14:26), reminded me that Jesus died for that brokenness and pain. When Jesus came into the world as a human, He brought light into the darkness (John 1:4; 8:12). We see this in His conversation with Nicodemus, who furtively came to Jesus in the cover of darkness, but left impacted by the Light (3:1–2; 19:38–40).

Jesus taught Nicodemus that “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (3:16).

Yet even though Jesus brought light and love into the world, many remain lost in the darkness of their sin (vv. 19–20). If we’re His followers, we have the light that dispels darkness. In gratitude, let’s pray that God make us beacons of His love (Matthew 5:14–16).

By |2022-01-16T03:00:00-05:00January 16th, 2022|

Life by Death

Carl had contracted cancer and needed a double lung transplant. He asked God for new lungs, but felt odd doing so. He confessed it’s a strange thing to pray, because “someone has to die so I might live.”  

Carl’s dilemma highlights a basic truth of Scripture: God uses death to bring life. We see this in the story of the Exodus. Born into slavery, the Israelites languished under the oppressive hands of the Egyptians. Pharaoh wouldn’t release his grip until God made it personal. Every eldest son would die, unless the family killed a spotless lamb and slathered its blood across their doorposts (Exodus 12:6–7).

Today, you and I have been born into the bondage of sin. Satan would not release his grip on us until God made it personal, sacrificing His perfect Son on the blood-spattered arms of the cross.

Jesus calls us to join Him there. Paul explains, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). When we put our faith in God’s spotless Lamb, we commit to daily dying with Him—dying to our sin so we might rise with Him to new life (Romans 6:4–5). We express this faith in baptism and every time we say no to the shackles of sin and yes to the freedom of Christ. We’re never more alive than when we die with Jesus.

By |2022-01-15T03:00:00-05:00January 15th, 2022|

Practice What You Preach

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.

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

A Ludicrous Investment

In 1929, as the US economy crashed, millions of people lost everything. But not Floyd Odlum. As everyone else panicked and sold their stocks at cut-rate prices, Odlum appeared to foolishly jump in and purchase stocks just as the nation’s future disintegrated. But Odlum’s “foolish” perspective paid off, yielding robust investments that endured for decades.

God told Jeremiah to make what seemed like an absolutely ludicrous investment: “buy [the] field at Anathoth in the territory of Benjamin” (Jeremiah 32:8). This was no time to be buying fields, however. The entire country was on the verge of being ransacked. “The army of the king of Babylon was . . . besieging Jerusalem” (v. 2) Whatever field Jeremiah purchased would soon be Babylon’s. What fool makes an investment when everything would soon be lost?

Well, the person who’s listening to God—the One who intended a future no one else could envision. “This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Houses, fields and vineyards will again be bought in this land” (v. 15). God saw more than the ruin. God promised to bring redemption, healing, and restoration. A ludicrous investment in a relationship or service for God isn’t foolish—it’s is the wisest possible move when God leads us to make it (and it's essential that we prayerfully seek to know He’s behind the instruction). A “foolish” investment in others as God leads makes all the sense in the world.

By |2022-01-13T08:06:03-05:00January 13th, 2022|

Hearing Us from Heaven

At eighteen months old, little Maison had never heard his mother’s voice. Then doctors fitted him with his first hearing aids and his mom Lauryn asked Maison, “Can you hear me?” The child’s eyes lit up. “Hi Baby!” his mom added. A smiling Maison softly replied, “Hi!” In tears, the mother knew she’d witnessed a miracle. She’d given birth to Maison prematurely after gunmen shot her three times during a random home invasion. Weighing just one pound, Maison spent 158 days in intensive care and wasn’t expected to survive, let alone be able to hear.

That heart-warming story reminds me of the God who hears us. King Solomon prayed fervently for God’s attuned ear, especially during troubling times. When “there is no rain ” (1 Kings 8:35), during “famine or plague,” disaster or disease (v. 37), war (v. 44), and even sin, “hear from heaven their prayer and their plea,” Solomon prayed, “and uphold their cause” (v. 45).

In His goodness, God responded with a promise that still stirs our hearts. “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14). Heaven may seem a long way off. Yet Christ is with those who believe in Him. God hears our prayers, and He answers them.

By |2022-01-12T08:06:02-05:00January 12th, 2022|

Escape or Peace?

“ESCAPE” the hot-tub store billboard blared. It got my attention—and got me thinking. My wife and I talk about getting a hot tub . . .  someday. It'd be like a vacation in our back yard! Except for the cleaning. And the electric bill. And . . . suddenly, the hoped-for escape starts to sound like something I might need escape from.

Still, that word entices so effectively because it promises something we want: relief. Comfort. Security. Escape. It’s something our culture tempts and teases us with in myriad ways. Now, there's nothing wrong with resting, or a getaway to someplace beautiful. That said, there’s a difference between escaping life’s hardships and trusting God with them.  

In John 16, Jesus tells his disciples the next chapter of their lives will test their faith. “In this world you will have trouble,” He summarizes at the end. But then He adds this promise, “But take heart! I have overcome the world” (v. 33). Jesus didn’t want His disciples to cave in to despair. Instead, He invited them to trust Him, to know the rest that He provides: “I have told you these things,” he said, “so that in me you may have peace.”

Jesus doesn’t promise us a pain-free life. But He does promise that as we trust and rest in Him, we can experience a peace that’s deeper and more satisfying than any escape the world tries to sell us.

By |2022-01-11T08:06:03-05:00January 11th, 2022|

Etch A Sketch Forgiveness

The little red rectangular box was magical. As a kid, I could play with it for hours. When I turned one knob on the box, I could create a horizontal line on its screen. Turn the other knob and voila—a vertical line. When I turned the knobs together, I could make diagonal lines, circles, and creative designs. But the real magic came when I turned my Etch A Sketch toy upside down, shook it a little and turned it right side up. A blank screen appeared, offering me the opportunity to create a new design.

God’s forgiveness works much like that Etch A Sketch game. He wipes away our sins, creating a clean canvas for us. Even if we remember wrongs we committed, God chooses to forgive and forget. He’s wiped them out and doesn’t hold our sins against us. He doesn’t treat us according to our sinful actions (Psalm 103:10), but extends grace through forgiveness. We have a clean slate—a new life awaiting us when we seek God’s forgiveness. We can be rid of guilt and shame because of His amazing gift to us.

The psalmist reminds us that our sins have been separated from us as the east is separated from the west (v. 12). That’s as far away as you can get! In God’s eyes, our sins no longer cling to us like a scarlet letter or a bad drawing. That’s reason to rejoice and to thank God for His amazing grace and mercy.

By |2022-01-10T08:06:03-05:00January 10th, 2022|

Washed

My friend Bill described Gerard, an acquaintance of his, as being “very far from God for a very long time.” But one day, after Bill met with Gerard and explained to him how God’s love has provided the way for us to be saved, Gerard became a believer. Through tears, he repented of his sin, and gave his life to Jesus. Afterward, Bill asked Gerard how he felt. Wiping away tears, he answered simply, “Washed.”

What an amazing response! That’s precisely the essence of salvation made possible through faith in Jesus’ sacrifice for us on the cross. In 1 Corinthians 6, after Paul gives examples of how disobedience against God leads to separation from Him, he says, “That is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 11). “Washed,” “sanctified, “justified”—words that point to believers being forgiven and made right with Him.

Titus 3:4–5 tells us more about this miraculous thing called salvation. “God our Savior . . . saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth.” Our sin keeps us from God, but through faith in Jesus, the penalty of it is washed away. We become new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17), gain access to our heavenly Father (Ephesians 2:18), and we’re made clean (1 John 1:7). He alone provides what we need to be washed.

By |2022-01-09T08:06:04-05:00January 9th, 2022|

Drawn Near

In the wake of the coronavirus, retrieving something from my safety deposit box required even more layers of protocol than before. Now I had to make an appointment, call when I arrived to be granted entrance to the bank, show my identification and signature, and then wait to be escorted into the vault by a designated banker. Once inside, the heavy doors locked again until I’d found what I needed inside the metal box. Unless I followed the instructions, I wasn’t able to enter.

In the Old Testament, God had specific protocols for entering part of the tabernacle called the Most Holy Place. Behind a special curtain, one that “separate[d] the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place,” only the high priest could enter once a year (Exodus 26:33; Hebrews 9:7). Aaron, and the high priests who would come after him, were to bring offerings, bathe, and wear sacred garments before entering (Leviticus 16:3–4). God’s instructions weren’t for health or security reasons; they were meant to teach the Israelites about the holiness of God and our need for forgiveness.

At the moment of Jesus’ death, that special curtain was torn, symbolically showing that all people who believe in His sacrifice for their forgiveness of sin can enter God’s presence (Matthew 27:51). The tear in the tabernacle curtain is reason for our unending joy—Jesus has enabled us to draw near to God always!

By |2022-01-08T08:06:03-05:00January 8th, 2022|
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