Our Daily Bread Podcast | Our Daily Bread
Heidi and Jeff came home from an overseas work assignment and settled for several months near family in the state of Michigan—just in time for winter. They were coming from a hot climate and this would be the first time many of their ten children had seen the natural beauty of snow.
But winter weather requires a lot of warm outerwear, including coats, mittens, and boots. For a large family, it was quite an undertaking just to outfit them for the bitterly cold months ahead. But God provided. First, a neighbor brought over footwear, then snow pants, then hats and gloves. Then, a friend urged others at her church to collect a variety of warm clothes in all twelve sizes for each member of the family. By the time the snow arrived, the family had exactly what they needed.
One of the ways we serve God is by serving those in need. First John 3:16–18 encourages us to help others from the abundance of our own possessions (v. 17). Serving helps us to be more like Jesus as we begin to love and see people as He does.
God often uses His children to fulfill needs and to answer prayers. And serving others will encourage our own hearts as we encourage those we serve. As a result, as we move into action, our own faith will grow as God equips us in new ways (v. 18).
Country artist Chris Stapleton’s deeply personal song, “Daddy Doesn’t Pray Anymore,” was inspired by his own father’s prayers for him. The poignant lyrics reveal the reason his father’s prayers ended: not disillusionment or weariness, but his own death. Stapleton imagines that now, instead of speaking with Jesus in prayer, his dad is walking and talking face-to-face with Jesus.
Stapleton’s recollection of his father’s prayers for him brings to mind a biblical father’s prayer for his son. As King David’s life ebbed away, David was making preparations for his son Solomon to take over as the next king of Israel.
After assembling the nation together to anoint Solomon, David led the people in prayer, as he’d done many times before. As David recounted God’s faithfulness to Israel, he prayed for the people to remain loyal to God. Then he included a personal prayer specifically for his son, asking God to “give my son Solomon the wholehearted devotion to keep your commands, statutes and decrees” (1 Chronicles 29:19).W
We too have the remarkable privilege to faithfully pray for the people God has placed in our life. Our example of faithfulness can make an indelible impact that will remain even after we’re gone. Just as God continued to work out the answers to David’s prayers for Solomon and Israel after he was gone, so too the impact of our prayers outlive us.
“No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin, where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.” Those words from Phillips Brooks’ much-loved hymn, “O Little Town of Bethlehem” point to the very heart of Christmas. Jesus came into our broken world to rescue us from our sin and give all who would put their faith in Him a new and vital relationship with God.
In a letter to a friend decades after he wrote the hymn, Brooks poignantly described the outcome of this relationship in his own life: “I cannot tell you how personal this grows to me. He is here. He knows me and I know Him. It is no figure of speech. It is the realest thing in the world, and every day makes it realer. And one wonders with delight what it will grow to as the years go on.”
Brooks’ calm assurance of God’s presence in his life reflects one of the names of Jesus prophesied by Isaiah: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). The gospel of Matthew gives us the meaning of the Hebrew name Immanuel: “God with us” (1:23).
God drew near to us through Jesus so we could know Him personally and be with Him forever. His loving presence with us is the greatest gift of all.
When Jen, a theme park employee, saw Ralph collapse in tears on the ground, she rushed to help. Ralph, a young boy with autism, was sobbing because the ride he’d waited all day to enjoy had broken down. Instead of hurrying him to his feet or simply urging him to feel better, Jen got down onto the ground with Ralph, validating his feelings and allowing him the time to cry.
Jen’s actions are a beautiful example of how we can come alongside those who are grieving or suffering. The Bible tells of Job’s crippling grief after the loss of his home, his herds (his income), his health, and the simultaneous deaths of all his ten children. When his friends learned of his pain, they “set out from their homes . . . [to go] comfort him” (Job 2:11). Job sat on the ground in mourning. When they arrived, his friends sat down with him—for seven days—saying nothing because they saw the depth of his suffering.
In their humanness, Job’s friends later offered Job insensitive advice. But for the first seven days, they gave him the wordless and tender gift of presence. We may not understand someone’s grief, but we don’t need to understand in order to love them well by simply being with them.
We stared at the piles of donated shoes as we entered a local homeless shelter. The director had invited our youth group to help sort through the heaps of used footwear. We spent the morning searching for matches and lining them up in rows across the concrete floor. At the end of the day, we threw away more than half of the shoes because they were too damaged to give to people. Though the shelter couldn’t stop people from giving poor quality items, they refused to distribute shoes that were in bad condition.
The Israelites struggled with giving God their damaged goods too. When the Lord spoke through the prophet Malachi, He rebuked the Israelites for sacrificing blind, lame, or diseased animals when they had strong animals to offer (Malachi 1:6–8). He announced His displeasure (v. 10), affirmed His worthiness, and reprimanded the Israelites for keeping the best for themselves (v. 14). But He also promised to send the Messiah, whose love and grace would transform their hearts and ignite their desire to bring offerings that would be pleasing to the Lord (3:1–4).
Oftentimes, it’s tempting to give God our leftovers. We praise Him and expect Him to give us His all, yet we offer Him our crumbs. When we consider all God has done, we can rejoice in celebrating His worthiness and giving Him our very best.
Russian wedding customs are filled with beauty and significance. One such custom takes place during the reception as the toastmaster proposes a toast in honor of the couple. Everyone takes a sip of raised glasses and then begin shouting “Gor’ko! Gor’ko!,” meaning “Bitter! Bitter!” When the guests shout that word, the newlyweds must rise and kiss each other in order to make the drink sweet again.
Isaiah prophesies that the bitter drink of desolation, ruin, and the curse upon the earth (ch. 24) will give way to the sweet hope of a new heaven and new earth (ch. 25). God will prepare a feast of rich foods and the finest and sweetest of drinks. It will be a banquet of continual blessing, fruitfulness, and provision for all people (25:6). There’s more. Under the sovereign reign of the righteous King, death is swallowed up, bitter tears are wiped away, and the shroud of disgrace is removed (vv. 7–8). And His people will rejoice because the One they trusted in and waited for will bring salvation and turn the bitter cup of life sweet again (v. 9).
One day, we’ll be together with Jesus at the wedding supper of the Lamb. When He welcomes His bride home (the Church), the promise of Isaiah 25 will be fulfilled. The life once bitter will be made sweet again.
Mom, my sisters, and I waited by Dad’s bed as his breaths became shallower and less and less frequent—until they were no more. Dad was a few days shy of eighty-nine when he slipped quietly into the life beyond where God awaited him. His departure left us with a void where he once resided and only memories and mementos to remind us of him. Yet we have the hope that one day we’ll be reunited.
We have that hope because we believe Dad is with God, who knows and loves him. When Dad breathed his first breath, God was there breathing breath into his lungs (Isaiah 42:5). Yet even before his first and with every breath in between, God was intimately involved in each detail of Dad’s life, just as he is in yours and mine. It was the Lord who wonderfully designed and “knit” him together in the womb (Psalm 139:13–14). And when Dad breathed his last breath, God’s Spirit was there, holding him in love and carrying him to be with Him (vv. 7–10)
The same is true for all of God’s children. Every moment of our brief life on Earth is known by God (vv. 1–4). We are precious to Him! With each day remaining and in anticipation of the life beyond, let’s join with “everything that has breath” to praise Him. “Praise the L
Not long ago I met up with a group of friends. As I listened to the conversation, it seemed like everyone in the room was facing some significant battle. Two of us had parents fighting cancer, one had a child with an eating disorder, another friend was experiencing chronic pain, and another was facing major surgery. It seemed a lot for a bunch of people in their thirties and forties.
First Chronicles 16 recounts a key moment in Israel’s history when the ark of the covenant was brought into the City of David (Jerusalem). Samuel tells us it happened in a moment of peace between battles (2 Samuel 7:1). When the ark was in place, symbolizing God’s presence, David led the people in a song (1 Chronicles 16:8–36). Together the nation sang of God’s wonder-working power (vv. 12–14), His promise-keeping ways (vv. 15–18), and His past protection (vv. 19–22). “Look to the LORD and his strength,” they cried out, “seek his face always” (v. 11). They’d need to, because more battles were coming.
Look to the Lord and His strength. Seek His face. That’s not bad advice to follow when illness, family concerns, and other battles confront us, because we haven’t been left to fight in our own waning energies. God is present; God is strong; He’s looked after us in the past and will do so again.
Our God will get us through.
In the seventeenth century, Martin Rinkart served as a clergyman in Saxony, Germany, for more than thirty years during times of war and plague. One year he conducted over 4,000 funerals, including for his wife, and at times food was so scarce that his family went hungry. Although he could have despaired, his faith in God remained strong and he gave thanks continually. In fact, he poured his gratitude into “Nun danket alle Gott,” the song that became the well-loved English hymn, “Now Thank We All Our God.”
Rinkart followed the example of the prophet Isaiah, who instructed God’s people to give thanks at all times, including when they had disappointed God (Isaiah 12:1) or when enemies oppressed them. Even then they were to exalt God’s name, making “known among the nations what he has done” (v. 4).
We might give thanks easily during harvest celebrations such as Thanksgiving, when we’re enjoying an abundant feast with friends and family. But can we express our gratitude to God in difficult times, such as when we’re missing someone from our table or when we’re struggling with our finances or when we’re locked in conflict with one close to us?
Let’s echo Pastor Rinkart, joining hearts and voices as we give praise and thanks to “the eternal God, whom earth and Heaven adore.” We can “sing to the LORD, for he has done glorious things” (v. 5).
The country of El Salvador has honored Jesus by placing a sculpture of Him in the center of its capital city. Although the monument resides in the middle of a busy traffic circle, its height makes it easy to see, and its name—The Divine Savior of the World—communicates reverence for His supernatural status.
The monument’s name affirms what the Bible says about Jesus (1 John 4:14). He is the one who offers salvation to everyone. Jesus crosses cultural boundaries and accepts any sincere person who wants to know Him, regardless of age, education, race, past sin, or social status.
The apostle Paul traveled the ancient world telling people about Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection. He shared this good news with political and religious authorities, soldiers, Jews, Gentiles, men, women, and children. Paul explained that a person could begin a relationship with Christ by declaring Jesus to be the ruler of his or her life, and believing that God had indeed raised Jesus from the dead (Romans 10:9). He said, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame. . . . Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:11, 13).
Jesus isn’t a distant image to be honored; we must a person-to-person connection with Him through faith. May we see the value of the salvation He offers and move forward into a spiritual relationship with Him today.
Do you know what a group of turkeys is called? I didn’t. Had to look it up. It’s called a rafter. Why am I writing about turkeys? Because I’ve just returned from a weekend at a mountain cabin. Each day, I marveled at the train of turkeys parading past our porch.
I’d never been turkey-watching before. They scratched fiercely with spectacular talons. Then they hunted and pecked at the ground. Eating, I assume. (This was my first turkey-observation time, so I’m not 100% positive.) The scrawny scrubs in the area didn’t look like they could sustain anything. Yet here were these turkeys, a dozen of ’em, all of which looked delectably plump.
Watching those well-fed turkeys brought to mind Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:26: “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” Jesus uses God’s provision for seemingly worthless birds to remind us of His care for us. If a bird’s life matters, how much more does ours? Jesus then contrasts fretting about our daily needs (vv. 27–31) with a life in which we “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness,” (v. 33), a life in which we’re confident of His rich provision for our needs.
Because if God can care for that rafter of wild turkeys, He can certainly look after you and me.
He was an aging military veteran, rough-edged and given to even rougher language. One day a friend cared enough about him to inquire about his spiritual beliefs. The man’s dismissive response came quickly: “God doesn’t have space for someone like me.”
Perhaps that was just part of his “tough-guy” act, but his words couldn’t be further from the truth! God creates space especially for the rough, the guilt-ridden, and the excluded to belong and thrive in His community. This was obvious from the beginning of Jesus’s ministry, when He made some surprising choices for His disciples. First, He chose several fishermen from Galilee—the “wrong side of the tracks” from the perspective of those in Jerusalem. He also selected a tax collector, Matthew, whose profession included extorting from his oppressed countrymen. Then, for good measure, Jesus invited the “other” Simon—“the Zealot” (Mark 3:18).
We don’t know much about this Simon (he isn’t Simon Peter), but we do know about the Zealots. They hated traitors like Matthew, who got rich by collaborating with the despised Romans. Yet with divine irony, Jesus chose Simon along with Matthew, brought them together, and blended them into His team.
Don’t write anyone off as too “bad” for Jesus. After all, He said, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32). He has plenty of space for the tough cases—people like you and me.
After Vicki’s old car broke down with no option for repair, she started scraping together money for another vehicle. Chris, a frequent customer of the restaurant where Vicki works at the drive-thru window, one day heard her mention she needed a car. “I couldn’t stop thinking about it,” Chris said. “I [had] to do something.” So he bought his son’s used car (his son had just put it up for sale), shined it up, and handed Vicki the keys. Vicki was shocked. “Who . . . does that?” she said in amazement and gratitude.
The Scriptures call us to live with open hands, giving freely as we can—providing what’s truly best for those in need. As Timothy says: “Command [those who are rich] to do good, to be rich in good deeds” (1 Timothy 6:18). We don’t merely perform a benevolent act here or there, but rather live out a cheerful spirit of giving. Big-heartedness is our normal way of life. “Be generous and willing to share,” we’re told (v. 18).
As we live with an open, generous heart, we don’t need to fear running out of what we need. Rather, the Bible tells us that in our compassionate generosity, we’re taking “hold of [true] life” (v. 19). With God, genuine living means loosening our grip on what we have and giving to others freely.
When World War I erupted in 1914, British statesman Sir Edward Grey declared, “The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.” Grey was right. When the “war to end all wars” finally ended, some 20 million had been killed (10 million of them civilians) and another 21 million injured.
While not on the same scale or magnitude, devastation can also occur in our personal lives. The home, workplace, church, or neighborhood can also be shrouded by the dark specter of conflict. This is one of the reasons our God calls us to be difference-makers in the world. But to do so we must rely on His wisdom. The apostle James wrote, “The wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness” (James 3:17–18).
The role of peacemaker is significant because of its harvest. The word righteousness means “right standing” or “right relationship.” Peacemakers can help restore relationships. No wonder Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9). His children, relying on His wisdom, become instruments of His peace where it is needed most.
In his graveside tribute to a famous Dutch scientist, Albert Einstein didn’t mention their scientific disputes. Instead, he recalled the “never-failing kindness” of Hendrik A. Lorentz, a beloved physicist known for his easy manner and fair treatment of others. “Everyone followed him gladly,” Einstein said, “for they felt he never set out to dominate but always simply to be of use.”
Lorentz inspired scientists to put aside political prejudice and work together, especially after World War I. “Even before the war was over,” Einstein said of his fellow Nobel Prize winner, “[Lorentz] devoted himself to the work of reconciliation.”
Working for reconciliation should be the goal of everyone in the church. True, some conflict is inevitable. Yet we must do our part to work for peaceful resolutions. Paul wrote, “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry” (Ephesians 4:26). To grow together, Paul advised, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs” (v. 29).
Finally, said Paul, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (vv. 31–32). Turning from conflict whenever we are able helps build God’s church. In this, indeed, we honor God.
John Harper had no idea what was about to unfold as he and his six-year-old daughter embarked on the Titanic. But one thing he knew: he loved Jesus and he was passionate that others know Him too. As soon as the ship hit an iceberg and water started pouring in, Harper, a widower, put his little girl on a lifeboat and headed into the chaos to save as many people as possible. As he distributed life jackets he reportedly shouted, “Let the women, children, and the unsaved into the lifeboats.” Until his last breath, Harper shared about Jesus with anyone who was around him. John willingly gave his life away so others could live.
There was One who laid down His life freely two thousand years ago so you and I can live not only in this life but for all eternity. Jesus didn’t just wake up one day and decide He would pay the penalty of death for humanity’s sin. This was His life mission. At one point when He was talking with the Jewish religious leaders He repeatedly acknowledged “I lay down my life” (John 10:11, 15, 17, 18). He didn’t just say these words but lived them by actually dying a horrific death on the cross. He came so that the Pharisees, John Harper, and we “may have life, and have it to the full” (v. 10).
A few years ago, my doctor gave me a stern talk about my health. I took his words to heart and began going to the gym and adjusting my diet. Over time, both my cholesterol and my weight went down, and my self-esteem went up. But then something not so good happened: I began noticing other people’s dietary choices and judging them. Isn’t it funny that often when we find a scoring system that grades us well, we use it to lift ourselves up and put others down. It seems to be an innate human tendency to cling to self-made standards in an attempt to justify ourselves—systems of self-justification and guilt-management.
Paul warned the Philippians about doing such things. There were those were putting their confidence in religious performance or cultural conformity, and Paul wanted them to know that he had more reason to boast of such things: “If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more” (v. 4). Yet Paul knew his pedigree and performance was “garbage” compared to “knowing Christ” (v. 8). Only Jesus loves us as we are, rescues us, and gives us the power to become more like Him. No earning required; no score-keeping possible.
Boasting is bad in itself, but a boast based on false confidence is tragic. The gospel calls us away from misplaced confidence and into communion with a Savior who loves us and gave Himself for us.
The Weeping Alaskan Cedar tree whipped from side to side in the storm’s strong winds. Regie loved the tree that had not only provided shelter from the summer sun but also protected her family from the neighbors’ gaze. Now the fierce storm was tearing the roots from the ground. Quickly, Regie, with her 15-year-old son in tow, ran to try to rescue the tree. With her hands and 90-pound frame firmly planted against it, she hoped with her son’s help to keep it from falling over. But they weren’t strong enough.
God was King David’s strength when he called out to Him in another kind of storm (Psalm 28:8). Some commentators say he wrote this during a time when his world was falling apart. His own son rose in rebellion against him and tried to take the throne (2 Samuel 15). He felt so vulnerable and weak that he feared God might remain silent, and he would die (Psalm 28:1). “Hear my cry for mercy as I call to you for help,” he said to God (v. 2). God gave David strength to go on, even though his relationship with his son never mended.
How we long to prevent bad things from happening! If only we could. But in our weakness, God promises we can always call to Him to be our Rock (vv. 1–2). When we don’t have the strength, He is our shepherd and will carry us forever (vv. 8–9).
In the chaos of fleeing his home during the California wildfires of 2018, Gabe, a high school senior, missed the state-qualifying cross-country race for which he’d been training. Missing this meet meant he wouldn’t have the chance to compete at the state meet—the culminating event of his four-year running career. In light of the circumstances, the state athletics board gave Gabe another chance: he’d have to run a qualifying time by himself, on a rival high school’s track, in “street shoes” because his running shoes were in the charred rubble of his home. When he showed up to “race,” Gabe was surprised by his competitors who had come to supply him with proper shoes and to run alongside him to ensure he kept the pace necessary to be entered in the state meet.
Gabe’s opponents had no obligation to help him. They could have given into their natural desires to look out for themselves (Galatians 5:13); doing so might have improved their own odds of winning. But Paul urges us to display the fruit of the Spirit in our lives—to “serve one another in love, with humility” and to demonstrate kindness and goodness (vv. 13, 22). When we lean on the Spirit to help us not act on our natural instincts, we’re better able to love those around us.
As an adult leader, I arranged a student fieldtrip to an obstacle course. We instructed students to slip into safety gear and scale an eight-foot wall. Those who volunteered to go first encouraged each climber to trust the harness and keep moving forward without looking down. One of our students stared at the barrier as we secured belts and buckles around her waist. “There’s no way I can do this,” she said. Affirming the strength of her harness, we encouraged her and cheered when she climbed up the wall and stepped onto the high platform.
When we face problems that seem impossible to conquer, fears and insecurities can cause doubts. The assurance of God’s unchanging might, goodness, and faithfulness creates a strong harness of trust. This confident assurance fueled the courage of the Old Testament saints, who demonstrated that faith trumps our need to know every detail of God’s plan (Hebrews 11:1–13, 39). With conviction, we seek God earnestly, often standing alone when we trust Him. We can adjust the way we approach our challenges by viewing our circumstances with an eternal perspective‒knowing our trials are only temporary (vv. 13–16).
Focusing on the inevitable tough roads and steep climbs in life can prevent us from believing that God will bring us through. But knowing He’s with us, we can harness our uncertainties by faith as we trust God to help us overcome obstacles that once seemed impossible.
A wildfire in Andilla, Spain, scorched nearly 50,000 acres of woodland. When scientists entered the area they expected total devastation; and they did indeed see miles of blackened oaks, pines, and junipers. However, in the middle of the wreckage, a group of nearly 1,000 bright green cypress trees remained standing. The trees’ unusual ability to retain water had allowed them to safely endure the fire.
In the days of King Nebuchanezzar’s reign in Babylon, a small cluster of friends survived the flames of the king’s wrath. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to worship a statue Nebuchadnezzar had created, and they told him, “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it” (Daniel 3:17). Infuriated, the monarch cranked up the heat seven times hotter than normal (v. 19).
The soldiers who carried out the king’s orders and tossed the friends into the blaze burned up and died, yet onlookers watched Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego walk around inside the flames “unbound and unharmed.” Someone else was in the furnace as well—a fourth man who looked “like a son of the gods” (v. 25). Many scholars say this was a preincarnate appearance of Jesus.
Jesus is with us when we face intimidation and trials. In the moments when we are urged to give in to pressure, we don’t have to be afraid. We may not always know how or when God will help us, but we know He’s with us. He will give us the strength to stay faithful to Him through every “fire” we endure.
Lily, a Bible translator, was flying home to her country when she was detained at the airport. Her mobile phone was searched, and when the officials found an audio copy of the New Testament on it, they confiscated the phone and questioned her for two hours. At one point they asked her to play the Scripture app, which happened to be set at Matthew 7:1–2: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Hearing these words in his own language, one of the officers turned pale. Later, she was released and no further action was taken.
We don’t know what happened in that official’s heart at the airport, but we know that God’s word accomplishes what He desires (see Isaiah 55:11). Isaiah prophesied these words of hope to God’s people in exile, assuring them that even as the rain and snow make the earth bud and grow, so too does God’s word achieve His purposes (vv. 10–11).
As those who follow Christ, we can read this passage to bolster our confidence in God. We may feel that we’re facing unyielding circumstances, such as Lily with the airport officials, but we can trust that God is working through His word, even when we don’t see the final outcome.
As his peers were promoted one by one, Benjamin couldn’t help but feel a little envious. “How come you’re not a manager yet? You deserve it,” friends told him. But Ben decided to leave his career to God. “If this is God’s plan for me, I’ll just do my job well,” he replied.
Several years later, Ben was finally promoted. By then, his added experience enabled him to do his job confidently and won him the respect of subordinates. Some of his peers, meanwhile, were still struggling with their supervisory responsibilities, as they had been promoted before they were ready. Ben realized God had taken him the “long way around” so that he would be better prepared for his role.
When God led the Israelites out of Egypt (Exodus 13:17–18), He chose a longer way because the “shortcut” to Canaan was fraught with risk. The longer journey, note Bible commentators, also gave them more time to strengthen themselves physically, mentally, and spiritually for subsequent battles.
The shortest way isn’t always the best. Sometimes God lets us take the longer route in life, whether it’s in our career or other endeavors, so that we will be better prepared for the journey ahead. When things don’t seem to happen quickly enough, we can trust in God—the one who leads and guides us.
Walter Dixon had five days to honeymoon before he shipped off to the Korean War. Within a year, troops found Dixon’s jacket on the battlefield, with letters from his wife stuffed in the pockets. Military officials informed his young wife that her husband had been killed in action. Actually, Dixon was alive and spent the next 2.5 years as a POW. Every waking hour, he plotted to get home. Dixon escaped five times but was always recaptured. Finally, he was set free. You can imagine the shock when he returned home!
God’s people knew what it was to be captured, moved far away, and to long for home. Due to their rebellion against God, they were exiles. They woke each morning yearning to return, but they had no way to rescue themselves. Thankfully, God promised He’d not forgotten them. “I will restore them because I have compassion on them” (10:6). He would meet the people’s relentless ache for home, not because of their perseverance, but because of His mercy: “I will signal for them . . . and they will return” (vv. 8–9).
Our sense of exile may come because of our bad decisions or because of hardships beyond our control. Either way, God hasn’t forgotten us. He knows our desire and will call to us. And if we’ll only answer, we’ll find ourselves returning to Him—returning home.
Mack, having struggled with drug abuse and sexual sin, was desperate. Relationships that he valued were in disarray and his conscience was beating him up. In his misery, he found himself unannounced at a church asking to speak with a pastor. There he found relief in sharing his complicated story and in hearing about God’s mercy and forgiveness.
Psalm 32 is believed to have been composed by David after his sexual sin. He compounded his wrongdoing by devising a sinister strategy that resulted in the death of the woman’s husband (see 2 Samuel 11–12). While these ugly incidents were behind him, the effects of his actions remained. Psalm 32:3–4 describes the deep struggles he experienced before he acknowledged the ugliness of his deeds; the gnawing effects of unconfessed sin were undeniable. What brought relief? Relief began with confession to God and accepting the forgiveness He offers (v. 5).
What a great place for us to start—at the place of God’s mercy—when we say or do things that cause hurt and harm to ourselves and others. The guilt of our sin need not be permanent. There’s One whose arms are open wide to receive us when we acknowledge our wrongs and seek His forgiveness. We can join the chorus of those who sing, “Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered” (v. 1).
When two of my grandchildren tried out for the musical Alice in Wonderland Jr., their hearts were set on getting leading roles. Maggie wanted to be young Alice, and Katie thought Mathilda would be a good role. But they were chosen to be flowers. Not exactly a ticket to Broadway.
Yet my daughter said the girls were “excited for their friends who got the [leading roles]. Their joy seemed greater cheering for their friends and sharing in their excitement.”
What a picture of how our interactions with each other in the Body of Christ should look! Every local church has what might be considered key roles. But it also needs the flowers—the ones who do vital but not-so-high-profile work. If others get roles we desire, may we choose to encourage them even as we passionately fulfill the roles God has given us.
In fact, helping and encouraging others is a way to show love for Him. Hebrews 6:10 says, “[God] will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people.” And no gift from His hand is unimportant: “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace” (1 Peter 4:10).
Just imagine a church of encouragers “diligently” using their God-given gifts to His glory (Hebrews 6:11). Now that makes for joy and excitement!
A woman complained to her pastor that she’d noticed a lot of repetition in his sermons. “Why do you do that?” she queried. The preacher replied, “People forget.”
There are lots of reasons we forget—the passage of time, growing older, or just being too busy. We forget passwords, names of people we’ve known for years, or even where we parked our car. My husband says, “There’s only so much I can fit in my brain. I have to delete something before I can remember something new.”
The preacher was right. People forget. So we often need reminders to help us remember what God has done for us. The Israelites had a similar tendency. Even with the many miracles they’d seen, they still needed to be reminded of His care for them. In Deuteronomy 8, God reminded the Israelites that He’d allowed them to experience hunger in the wilderness, but then provided an amazing superfood for them every day—manna. He supplied clothing that never wore out. He led them through a wilderness of snakes and scorpions and provided water from a rock. They’d learned humility, as they realized how totally dependent they were on God’s care and provision (vv. 2–4, 15–18).
God’s faithfulness “continues through all generations” (Psalm 100:5). Whenever we find ourselves forgetting, we can think about the ways He’s answered our prayers, and that reminds us of His goodness and faithful promises.
Years ago, I was invited to speak to the residents of a university’s fraternity house. They had a reputation for rowdiness so I brought along a friend for support. They were in a celebratory mood, having just won a football championship. At dinner, chaos reigned! Eventually, the president of the house announced: “There are two guys here that want to talk about God.”
I rose on rubbery legs and began to tell them of God’s love, and the room grew still. There was rapt attention. A vigorous and honest Q & A followed. Later, we started a Bible study there and in subsequent years many found the Savior.
I recall many days like that when I “saw Satan fall from heaven like lightning,” but there were other days when it was I who fell—flat on my face.
Luke 10 tells of Jesus’s disciples returning from a mission to report great success. Many had been brought into the kingdom, demons were put to flight, and people were healed. The disciples were pumped! Jesus replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (v. 18). But then He issued a caveat: “Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (v. 20).
We delight in success. But we may despair when we seem to fail. Keep doing what God has called you to do—and leave the results to Him. He has your name in His book!
When we purchased our home, we also inherited an established grapevine. As gardening novices, my family invested considerable time learning how to prune, water, and care for it. When our first harvest came, I popped a grape from the vine into my mouth—only to be disappointed with an unpleasant, sour taste.
The frustration I felt about painstakingly tending a grapevine, only to have a bitter harvest, echoes the tone of Isaiah 5. There we read an allegory of God’s relationship to the nation of Israel. God, pictured as a farmer, had cleared the hillside of debris, planted good vines, built a watchtower for protection, and crafted a press to enjoy the results of his expected harvest (Isaiah 5:1–2). To the farmer’s dismay, the vineyard, representing Israel, produced sour-tasting grapes of selfishness, injustice, and oppression (v. 7). Eventually, God reluctantly destroyed the vineyard while saving a remnant of vines that someday would produce a good harvest.
In the gospel of John, Jesus revisits the vineyard illustration, saying, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit” (John 15:5). In this parallel imagery Jesus pictures us, His followers, as grapevine branches connected to Him, the main vine. Now, as we remain connected to Jesus through prayerful reliance on His Spirit, we have direct access to the spiritual nourishment that will produce the sweetest fruit of all, love.
In Pontiac, Michigan, a demolition company bulldozed the wrong building. Investigators believe that the owner of a house scheduled to be demolished nailed the numbers of his own address to a neighbor’s house to avoid demolition.
Jesus did the opposite. He was on a mission to let his own “house” be torn down for the sake of others. Imagine the scene and how confused everyone must have been, including Jesus’ own disciples. Picture them eyeing one another as Jesus challenged the religious leaders. “Destroy this temple,” Christ said, “and I will raise it again in three days” (John 2:19). The leaders retorted indignantly, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” (v. 20). He knew He was referring to the temple of His own body (v. 21). They didn’t.
They didn’t understand He had come to show that the harm we do to ourselves and to one another would ultimately fall on Him. He would atone for it.
God has always known our hearts far better than we do. So He didn’t entrust the fullness of his plans even to those who saw His miracles and believed in Him (vv. 23–25). Then as now He was slowly revealing the love and goodness in Jesus’ words that we couldn’t understand even if He told us.