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God’s Great Love Cycle

As a new believer in Jesus at the age of thirty, I had lots of questions after committing my life to Him. When I started reading the Scriptures, I had even more questions. I reached out to a friend. “How can I possibly obey all God’s commands? I just snapped at my husband this morning!”

“Just keep reading your Bible,” she said, “and ask the Holy Spirit to help you love like Jesus loves you.”

After more than twenty years of living as a child of God, that simple but profound truth still helps me embrace the three steps in His great love cycle: First, the apostle Paul affirmed that love is central in the life of a believer in Jesus. Second, by continuing to pay the “debt to love one another,” followers of Christ will walk in obedience, “for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law” (Romans 13:8). Finally, we fulfill the law because “Love does no harm to a neighbor” (v. 10).

When we experience the depth of God’s love for us, demonstrated best through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, we can respond with gratitude. Our grateful devotion to Jesus leads to loving others with our words, actions, and attitudes. Genuine love flows from the one true God who is love (1 John 4:19).

Loving God, help us get caught up in Your great love cycle!

By |2024-02-09T01:33:56-05:00February 9th, 2024|

Brought Low

Pride precedes and often leads to humiliation—something a man in Norway found out. Not even dressed in running clothes, the individual arrogantly challenged Karsten Warholm—the world record holder in the 400-meter hurdles—to a race. Warholm, training in an indoor public facility, obliged the challenger and left him in his dust. At the finish line, the two-time world champion smiled when the man insisted that he’d had a bad start and wanted to race again!

In Proverbs 29:23 we read, “Pride brings a person low, but the lowly in spirit gain honor.” God’s dealings with the proud is one of Solomon’s favorite themes in the book (11:2; 16:18; 18:12). The word pride in these verses means “swelling” or “puffed up”—taking credit for what rightfully belongs to God. When we’re filled with pride, we think more highly of ourselves than we should. Jesus once said, “Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12). Both He and Solomon point us to pursue humility and lowliness. This isn’t false modesty, but right-sizing oneself and acknowledging that all that we have comes from God. It’s being wise and not saying things arrogantly “in haste” (Proverbs 29:18, 20).   

Let’s ask God to give us the heart and wisdom to humble ourselves to honor Him and avoid humiliation.

By |2024-02-08T01:33:18-05:00February 8th, 2024|

Angels on the Walls

When Wallace and Mary Brown moved to an impoverished part of Birmingham, England, to pastor a dying church, they didn’t know that a gang had made the grounds of their church and home its headquarters. The Browns had bricks thrown through their windows, their fences set on fire, and their children threatened. The abuse continued for months; the police were unable to stop it.

The book of Nehemiah recounts how the Israelites rebuilt Jerusalem’s broken walls. When locals set out to “stir up trouble,” threatening them with violence (Nehemiah 4:2–8), the Israelites “prayed to . . . God and posted a guard” (v. 9). Feeling God used this passage to direct them, the Browns, their children, and a few others walked round their church’s walls, praying that He would install angels as guards to protect them. The gang jeered, but the next day, only half of them showed up. The day after that, only five were there, and the day after, no one came. The Browns later heard the gang had given up terrorizing people.

This miraculous answer to prayer isn’t a formula for our own protection, but it’s a reminder that opposition to God’s work will come and must be fought with the weapon of prayer. “Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome,” Nehemiah told the Israelites (v. 14). He can even set violent hearts free.

By |2024-02-07T01:33:34-05:00February 7th, 2024|

Surrendering to God

Born on a farm, Judson Van DeVenter learned to paint, studied art, and became an art teacher. God, however, had a different plan for him. Friends valued his work in church and urged him to go into evangelism. Judson felt God calling him too, but it was hard for him to give up his love for teaching art. He wrestled with God, but “at last,” he wrote, “the pivotal hour of my life came, and I surrendered all.”

We can’t imagine Abraham’s heartbreak when God called him to surrender his son Isaac. In the wake of God’s command to “sacrifice him there as a burnt offering” (Genesis 22:2) we ask ourselves what precious thing God is calling us to sacrifice. We know that God ultimately spared Isaac (v. 12), and yet the point is made: Abraham was willing to surrender what was most precious to him. He trusted God to provide in the midst of a most difficult calling.

We say we love God, but are we willing to sacrifice what’s dearest to us? Judson Van DeVenter followed God’s call into evangelism and later penned the beloved hymn “I Surrender All.” In time, God called Judson back into teaching. One of his students was a young man named Billy Graham.

God’s plan for our lives has purposes we can’t imagine. He longs for us to be willing to surrender what is dearest. Seems that’s the least we can do. After all, He sacrificed for us His only begotten Son.

By |2024-02-06T01:33:04-05:00February 6th, 2024|

Extending Dignity

Maggie’s guest showed up in church shockingly dressed. No one should have been surprised though; her young friend was a prostitute. Maggie’s visitor shifted uneasily in her seat, alternately tugging at her much-too-short skirt and folding her arms self-consciously around herself.

“Oh, are you cold?” Maggie asked, deftly diverting attention away from how she was dressed. “Here! Take my shawl.”

Maggie never evangelized in the traditional sense. Yet she introduced dozens of people to Jesus simply by inviting them to come to church and helping them feel comfortable. The gospel had a way of shining through her winsome methods. She treated everyone with dignity.

When religious leaders dragged a woman before Jesus with the harsh (and accurate) charge of adultery, Christ kept the attention off her until He sent her accusers away. Once they were gone, He could have scolded her. Instead, He asked two simple questions: “Where are they?” and “Has no one condemned you?” (John 8:10). The answer to the latter question, of course, was no. So Jesus gave her the gospel in one brief statement: “Then neither do I condemn you.” And then the invitation: “Go now and leave your life of sin” (v. 11).

Never underestimate the power of genuine love for people—the kind of love that refuses to condemn, even as it extends dignity and forgiveness to everyone.  

By |2024-02-05T01:33:17-05:00February 5th, 2024|

Rewired by Gratitude

After being diagnosed with a brain tumor, Christina Costa noticed how much of the talk around facing cancer is dominated by the language of fighting. She found that this metaphor quickly started to feel exhausting. She “didn’t want to spend over a year at war with [her] own body.” Instead, what she found most helpful were daily practices of gratitude—for the team of professionals caring for her and for the ways her brain and body were showing healing. She experienced firsthand that no matter how difficult the struggle, practices of gratitude can help resist depression and “wire our brains to help us build resilience.”

Costa’s powerful story reminded me that practicing gratitude isn’t just something believers do out of duty. Although it’s true that God deserves our gratitude, it’s also profoundly good for us. When we lift up our hearts to say, “Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits” (Psalm 103:2), we’re reminded of the countless ways God’s at work—assuring us of forgiveness, working healing in our bodies and hearts, letting us experience “love and compassion” and countless “good things” in His creation (vv. 3–5).

While not all suffering will find complete healing in this lifetime, our hearts can always be renewed by gratitude, for God’s love is with us “from everlasting to everlasting” (v. 17). 

By |2024-02-04T01:33:37-05:00February 4th, 2024|

Gifted with Love

On her wedding day, Gwendolyn Stulgis wore the wedding dress of her dreams. Then she gave it away—to a stranger. Stulgis believed a dress deserved more than sitting in a closet collecting dust. Other brides agreed. Now scores of women have bonded on her social media site to donate and receive wedding dresses. As one giver said, “I hope this dress gets passed from bride to bride to bride, and it just gets worn out and is in tatters at the end of its life because of all the celebrating that’s done in it.”

The spirit of giving can feel like a celebration, indeed. As it is written, “One person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed” (Proverbs 11:24–25).

The apostle Paul taught this principle in the New Testament. As he said his goodbyes to the believers in Ephesus, he gave them a blessing (Acts 20:32) and reminded them of the importance of generosity. Paul pointed to his own work ethic as an example for them to follow. “In everything I did,” he said, “I showed you that by . . . hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus Himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (v. 35).

Being generous reflects God. “For God so loved the world that He gave” (John 3:16). Let’s follow His glorious example as He guides us.

By |2024-02-03T01:33:04-05:00February 3rd, 2024|

Deep Friendship in Christ

There’s a monument in the chapel of Christ’s College, Cambridge, dedicated to two seventeenth-century physicians, John Finch and Thomas Baines. Known as the “inseparable friends,” Finch and Baines collaborated on medical research and traveled together on diplomatic trips. When Baines died in 1680, Finch lamented their “unbroken marriage of souls” that had lasted thirty-six years. Theirs had been a friendship of affection, loyalty, and commitment.

King David and Jonathan had a friendship equally as close. They shared deep mutual affection (1 Samuel 20:41), and even made vows of commitment to each other (vv. 8–17, 42). Their friendship was marked by radical loyalty (1 Samuel 19:1; 20:13), Jonathan even sacrificing his right to the throne so David could become king (20:30–31). When Jonathan died, David lamented that Jonathan’s love to him had been “more wonderful than that of women” (2 Samuel 1:26).

We may feel uncomfortable today likening friendship to marriage, but maybe friendships like Finch and Baines’ and David and Jonathan’s can help our own reach greater depth. Jesus welcomed His friends to lean against Him (John 13:23–25), and the affection, loyalty, and commitment He shows us can be the basis of the deep friendships we build together.

By |2024-02-02T01:33:40-05:00February 2nd, 2024|

All-Star Humility

After a game, a college basketball star stayed behind to help workers throw out empty cups and food wrappers. When a fan posted a video of him in action, more than eighty thousand people viewed it. One person commented, “[The young man] is one of the most humble guys you will ever meet in your life.” It would’ve been easier for the basketball player to leave with his teammates and celebrate his role in the team’s victory. Instead, he volunteered for a selfless job.

The ultimate spirit of humility is seen in Jesus, who left His high position in heaven to take the role of a servant on earth (Philippians 2:7). Jesus didn’t have to do it, but He willingly humbled himself. His ministry on earth included teaching, healing, and loving all people—and dying and rising to save them.

Although Christ’s example can inspire us to sweep a floor, pick up a hammer, or dish up food, it may be most powerful when it finds its way into our attitude toward others. True humility is an inner quality that not only changes our actions but also changes what’s important to us. It motivates us to “value others above [ourselves]” (v. 3).

Author and preacher Andrew Murray said, “Humility is the bloom and the beauty of holiness.” May our lives reflect this beauty as, through the power of His Spirit, we reflect the heart of Christ (vv. 2–5).

By |2024-02-01T01:33:24-05:00February 1st, 2024|

Fully Surrendered to Christ

In 1920, John Sung, the sixth child of a Chinese pastor, received a scholarship to study at a university in the United States. He graduated with the highest honors, completed a master’s program, and earned a PhD. But while pursuing his studies, he had walked away from God. Then, one night in 1927, he surrendered his life to Him and felt called to be a preacher.

Many high-paying opportunities awaited him back in China, but on the ship home, he was convicted by the Holy Spirit to lay aside his ambitions. As a symbol of his commitment, he threw all his awards into the sea, keeping only his PhD certificate to give to his parents out of respect for them.

John Sung understood what Jesus said about becoming His disciples: “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” (Mark 8:36). As we deny ourselves (v. 34) and leave our old life behind (v. 35) to follow Christ and His leading, it may mean sacrificing personal desires and material gain that distract us from following Him.

For the next twelve years, John carried out his God-given mission wholeheartedly, preaching the gospel to thousands throughout China and Southeast Asia. How about us? We may not be called to be preachers or missionaries, but wherever God calls us to serve, by His Spirit working in us, may we fully surrender to Him.

By |2024-01-31T01:33:20-05:00January 31st, 2024|
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