Our Daily Bread
A Christian organization works to promote the healing nature of forgiveness. One of their activities involves a skit in which a person who has been wronged is strapped back to back with a rope to the wrongdoer. Only the one sinned against can untie the rope. No matter what she does, she’s got someone on her back. Without forgiveness—without untying the rope—she cannot escape.
Offering forgiveness to someone who comes to us in sorrow for their wrongdoing begins the process of releasing us and them from the bitterness and pain that can cling to us over wrongs we’ve suffered. In Genesis, we see two brothers separated for twenty years after Jacob stole Esau’s birthright. After this long time, God told Jacob to return to his homeland (Genesis 31:3). He obeyed, but nervously, sending ahead to Esau gifts of herds of animals (32:13–15). When the brothers met, Jacob bowed at Esau’s feet seven times in humility (33:3). Imagine his surprise when Esau ran and embraced him, both of them weeping over their reconciliation (33:4). No longer was Jacob held by the sin he committed against his brother.
Do you feel imprisoned by unforgiveness, saddled with anger, fear, or shame? Know that God through His Son and Spirit can release you when you seek His help. He will enable you to begin the process of untying any ropes and setting you free.
My heart is full from attending the funeral of a faithful woman. Her life wasn’t spectacular. She wasn’t known widely outside her church, neighbors, and friends. But she loved Jesus, her seven children, and twenty-five grandchildren. She laughed easily, served generously, and could hit a softball a long way.
Ecclesiastes says, “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting” (7:2). “The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning” because there we learn what matters most (7:4). New York Times columnist David Brooks says there are two kinds of virtues: those that look good on a résumé and those you want said at your funeral. Sometimes these overlap, though often they seem to compete. When in doubt, always choose the eulogy virtues.
The woman in the casket didn’t have a résumé, but her children testified that “she rocked Proverbs 31” and its description of a godly woman. She inspired them to love Jesus and care for others. As Paul said, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1), so they challenged us to imitate their mother’s life as she imitated Jesus.
What will be said at your funeral? What do you want said? It’s not too late to develop eulogy virtues. Rest in Jesus. His salvation frees us to live for what matters most.
In February 1497, a Monk named Girolama Savonarola started a fire. Leading up to this, he and his followers spent several months collecting items that they thought might entice people to sin or neglect their religious duties—including artwork, cosmetics, instruments, and dresses. On the appointed day, thousands of vanity items were gathered at a public square in Florence, Italy, and set on fire. The event has come to be known as the Bonfire of the Vanities.
Savonarola might have found inspiration for his extreme actions in some shocking statements from the Sermon on the Mount. “If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away,” said Jesus. “And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away” (Matthew 5:29–30). But if we interpret Jesus’s words literally, we miss the point of the message. The entire sermon is a treatise on going deeper than the surface, to focus on the state of our hearts rather than blaming our behavior on external distractions and temptations.
The Bonfire of the Vanities made a great show of destroying belongings and works of art, but it is unlikely that the hearts of those involved were changed in the process. Only God can change a heart. That’s why the psalmist prayed, “Create in me a pure heart, O God” (Psalm 51:10). Life’s vanities don’t matter. It’s our heart that counts.
One of our sons, Brian, is a high school basketball coach. One year, as his team was threading its way through the Washington State Basketball Tournament, well-meaning folks around town asked, “Are you going to win it all this year?” Both players and coaches felt the pressure, so Brian adopted a mantra: “Play with joy!”
I thought of the apostle Paul’s last words to the elders of Ephesus: “That I may finish my race with joy” (Acts 20:24 nkjv). His aim was to complete the tasks Jesus had given him. I have made these words my mantra and my prayer: “May I run and finish my race with joy.” Or as Brian says, “May I play with joy!” And by the way, Brian’s team did win the state championship that year.
We all have good reasons to get grouchy: world news, everyday stresses, health problems. Nevertheless God can give us a joy that transcends these conditions if we ask Him. We can have what Jesus called, "My joy" (John 15:11).
Joy is a fruit of the Spirit of Jesus (Galatians 5:22). So I must remember each morning to ask Him to help me: "May I play with joy!” Author Richard Foster said, “To pray is to change. This is a great grace. How good of God to provide a path whereby our lives can be taken over by . . . joy.”
My grandmother recently sent me a folder full of old photographs, and as I thumbed through them, one caught my eye. In it, I’m two years old, and I’m sitting on one end of a hearth in front of a fireplace. On the other end, my dad has his arm around my mom’s shoulders. Both are gazing at me with expressions of love and delight.
I pinned this photo to my dresser, where I see it every morning. It’s a wonderful reminder of their love for me. The truth is, though, that even the love of good parents is imperfect. I saved this photo because it reminds me that although human love may fail sometimes, God’s love never fails—and according to Scripture, God looks at me the way my parents are looking at me in this picture.
The prophet Zephaniah described this love in a way that astounds me. He describes God as rejoicing over His people with singing. God’s people had not earned this love. They had failed to obey Him or to treat each other with compassion. But Zephaniah promised that in the end, God’s love would prevail over their failures. God would take away their punishment (Zephaniah 3:15) and He would rejoice over them (v. 17). He would gather His people into his arms, bring them home, and restore them (v. 20).
That’s a love worth reflecting on every morning.
“He’s going to find me,” I thought. I felt my little heart pound faster as I heard my five-year-old cousin’s footsteps round the corner. He was coming closer. Five steps away. Three. Two. “Found you!”
Hide-and-seek. Most recall fond memories of playing the game as children. Yet sometimes in life the fear of being found isn’t fun, but rooted in a deep instinct to flee. Run and hide. People may dislike what they see.
As children of a fallen world, we are prone to play what a friend of mine labels, “a mixed up game of hide-and-seek” between God and us. It’s more like a game of pretending to hide—because either way, He sees all the way through to our messy insides. We both know it, though we like to pretend He can’t really see.
Yet God continues to seek. “Come out,” He calls to us. “I want to see you, even your most shameful parts”—an echo of the same voice that called to the first human who hid out of fear: “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9). Such a warm invitation voiced in the form of a piercing question. “Come out of hiding, dear child, and come back into relationship with me.”
It may seem far too risky, preposterous even. But there, within the safe confines of our Father’s care, any of us, no matter what we’ve done or failed to do, we can be fully known and loved.
The famous French artist Edgar Degas is remembered worldwide for his paintings of ballerinas. Less known is the envy he expressed of his friend and artistic rival Édouard Manet, another master painter. Said Degas of Manet: “Everything he does he always hits off straightaway, while I take endless pains and never get it right.”
It’s a curious emotion, envy—listed by the apostle Paul among the worst passions, as bad “as every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip” (Romans 1:29 nlt). It results from “foolish thinking,” Paul writes—the result of worshiping idols instead of worshiping God (v. 28
Author Christina Fox says that among believers envy develops “because our hearts have turned from our one true love.” In our envy, she said, “we are chasing after the inferior pleasures of this world instead of looking to Jesus. In effect, we’ve forgotten whose we are.”
Yet there’s a remedy. Turn back to God. “Offer every part of yourself to him,” Paul wrote (Romans 6:13)—your work and life especially. In another of his letters Paul wrote, “Everyone should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else” (Galatians 6:4).
Thank God for His blessings—not just things, but for the freedom of His grace. Seeing our own God-given gifts, we find contentment again.
Fire swept through the home of a family of six from our church. Although the father and son survived, the father was still hospitalized while his wife, mother, and two small children were laid to rest. Unfortunately, heartbreaking events like this continue to happen again and again. When they’re replayed, so is the age-old question: Why do bad things happen to good people? And it doesn’t surprise us that this old question doesn’t have new answers.
Yet the truth that the psalmist puts forth in Psalm 46 has also been replayed and rehearsed and embraced repeatedly. “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (v. 1). The conditions described in verses 2–3 are catastrophic—earth and mountains moving and sea waters raging. We shudder when we imagine being in the midst of the stormy conditions poetically pictured here. But sometimes we do find ourselves there—in the swirling throes of a terminal illness, tossed by a devastating financial crisis, stung and stunned by the deaths of loved ones. It’s tempting to rationalize that the presence of trouble means the absence of God. But the truth of Scripture counters such notions. “The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress” (vv. 7, 11). He is present when our circumstances are unbearable, and we find comfort in His character: He is good, loving, and trustworthy.
Although Anne Sheafe Miller died in 1999 at the age of 90, she nearly passed away in 1942 after developing septicaemia following a miscarriage and all treatments proved to be unsuccessful. When a patient at the same hospital mentioned his connection to a scientist who’d been working on a new wonder drug. Anne’s doctor pressed the government to release a tiny amount for Anne. Within a day, her temperature was back to normal! Penicillin had saved Anne’s life.
Since the fall, all human beings have experienced a devastating spiritual condition brought about by sin (Romans 5:12). Only the death and resurrection of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit has make it possible for us to be healed (8:1–2). The Holy Spirit enables us to enjoy abundant life on earth and for eternity in the presence of God (vv. 3–10). “And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you” (v. 11).
When your sinful nature threatens to drain the life out of you, look to the source of your salvation, Jesus, and be strengthened by the power of His Spirit (vv. 11–17). “The Spirit helps us in our weakness” and “intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God” (vv. 26–27).
The comic book hero is as popular as ever. In 2017 alone, six superhero movies accounted for more than $4 billion (US) in box office sales. But why are people so drawn to big action flicks?
Maybe it’s because, in part, such stories resemble God’s Big Story. There’s a hero, a villain, a people in need of rescue, and plenty of riveting action.
In this story, the biggest villain is Satan, the enemy of our souls. But there are lots of “little” villains as well. In the book of Daniel, for example, one is Nebuchadnezzar, the tyrannical king of much of the known world, who decided to kill anyone who didn’t worship his colossal statue (Daniel 3:1–6). When three courageous Jewish officials refused (vv. 12–18), God dramatically rescued them from a blazing furnace (vv. 24–27).
But in a surprising twist, we see this villain’s heart begin to change. In response to this spectacular event, Nebuchadnezzar said, “Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego” (v. 28).
But then he threatened to kill anyone who defied God (v. 29), not yet understanding that God didn’t need his help. Nebuchadnezzar would learn more about God (and himself) in chapter 4—but that’s another story.
What we see in Nebuchadnezzar is not just a villain, but someone on a spiritual journey. In God’s story of redemption, our Hero, Jesus, reaches out to everyone needing rescue—including the villains among us.