My Brothers and Sisters

Several years ago when the Southern California economy took a downturn, Pastor Bob Johnson saw not only difficulty but also opportunity. So he scheduled a meeting with the mayor of his city and asked, “What can our church do to help you?” The mayor was astonished. People usually came to him for help. Here was a minister offering him the services of an entire congregation.

Together the mayor and pastor came up with a plan to address several pressing needs. In their county alone, more than 20,000 seniors had gone the previous year without a single visitor. Hundreds of foster children needed families. And many other kids needed tutoring to help them succeed in school.

Some of those needs could be addressed without much financial investment, but they all required time and interest. And that’s what the church had to give.

Jesus told His disciples about a future day in which He would say to His faithful followers, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance” (Matt. 25:34). He also said they would express surprise at their reward. Then He would tell them, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (v. 40). 

God’s kingdom work gets done when we give generously of the time, love, and resources He has provided us.

Unfailing Love

On a recent airline flight the landing was a little rough, jostling us left and right down the runway. Some of the passengers were visibly nervous, but the tension broke when two little girls sitting behind me cheered, “Yeah! Let’s do that again!”

Children are open to new adventures and see life with humble, wide-eyed wonder. Perhaps this is part of what Jesus had in mind when He said that we have to “receive the kingdom of God like a little child” (Mark 10:15).

Life has its challenges and heartaches. Few knew this better than Jeremiah, who is also called “the weeping prophet.” But in the middle of Jeremiah’s troubles, God encouraged him with an amazing truth: “The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning” (Lam. 3:22–23 nlt).

God’s fresh mercies can break into our lives at any moment. They are always there, and we see them when we live with childlike expectation—watching and waiting for what only He can do. Jeremiah knew that God’s goodness is not defined only by our immediate circumstances and that His faithfulness is greater than life’s rough places. Look for God’s fresh mercies today.

Your Journey

I grew up in the rebellious 1960s and turned my back on religion. I had attended church all my life but didn’t come to faith until my early twenties after a terrible accident. Since that time, I have spent my adult years telling others of Jesus’ love for us. It has been a journey.

Certainly “a journey” fittingly describes life in this broken world. On the way we encounter mountains and valleys, rivers and plains, crowded highways and lonely roads—highs and lows, joys and sorrows, conflict and loss, heartache and solitude. We can’t see the road ahead, so we must take it as it comes, not as we wish it would be.

The follower of Christ, however, never faces this journey alone. The Scriptures remind us of the constant presence of God. There is nowhere we can go that He is not there (Ps. 139:7-12). He will never leave us or forsake us (Deut. 31:6; Heb. 13:5). Jesus, after promising to send the Holy Spirit, told His disciples, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:18).

The challenges and opportunities we face on our journey can be met confidently, for God has promised us His never-failing presence.  

Desert Solitaire

Desert Solitaire is Edward Abbey’s personal history of his summers as a park ranger in what is now called Arches National Park in Utah. The book is worth reading if only for Abbey’s bright language and vivid descriptions of the US Southwest.

But Abbey, for all his artistry, was an atheist who could see nothing beyond the surface of the beauty he enjoyed. How sad! He lived his entire life in praise of beauty and missed the point of it all.

Most ancient peoples had theories of origins enshrouded in legend, myth, and song. But Israel’s story of creation was unique: It told of a God who created beauty for our enjoyment and childlike delight. God thought up the cosmos, spoke it into being and pronounced it “beautiful.” (The Hebrew word for good also signifies beauty.) Then, having created a paradise, God in love spoke us into being, placed us in Eden, and told us, “Enjoy!”

Some see and enjoy the beauty of the Creator’s good gifts all around them, but don’t “worship him as God or even give him thanks.” They “think up foolish ideas of what God [is] like. As a result, their minds become dark and confused”  (Rom. 1:21 nlt).

Others see beauty, say “Thank You, God,” and step into His light.

From the Heart

In many cultures, loud weeping, wailing, and the tearing of clothing are accepted ways of lamenting personal sorrow or a great national calamity. For the people of Old Testament Israel, similar outward actions expressed deep mourning and repentance for turning away from the Lord.

       An outward demonstration of repentance can be a powerful process when it comes from our heart. But without a sincere inward response to God, we may simply be going through the motions, even in our communities of faith.

       After a plague of locusts devastated the land of Judah, God, through the prophet Joel, called the people to sincere repentance to avoid His further judgment. “Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning” (Joel 2:12).

       Then Joel called for a response from deep inside: “Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity” (v. 13). True repentance comes from the heart.

       The Lord longs for us to confess our sins to Him and receive His forgiveness so we can love and serve Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

       Whatever you need to tell the Lord today, just say it—from the heart.

Do We Have To?

Joie started the children’s program with prayer, then sang with the kids. Six-year-old Emmanuel squirmed in his seat when she prayed again after introducing Aaron, the teacher. Then Aaron began and ended his talk with prayer. Emmanuel complained: “That’s four prayers! I can’t sit still that long!”

If you think Emmanuel’s challenge is difficult, look at 1 Thessalonians 5:17: “Pray continually” or always be in a spirit of prayer. Even some of us adults can find prayer to be boring. Maybe that’s because we don’t know what to say or don’t understand that prayer is a conversation with our Father.

Back in the 17th century, François Fénelon wrote some words about prayer that have helped me: “Tell God all that is in your heart, as one unloads one’s heart, its pleasures and its pains, to a dear friend. Tell Him your troubles, that He may comfort you; tell Him your joys, that He may sober them; tell Him your longings, that He may purify them.” He continued, “Talk to Him of your temptations, that He may shield you from them: show Him the wounds of your heart, that He may heal them . . . . If you thus pour out all your weaknesses, needs, troubles, there will be no lack of what to say.”

May we grow in our conversation with God so that it might become our joy to spend time with Him.

Keep Up the Good Work

My son loves to read. If he reads more books than what is required at school, he receives an award certificate. That bit of encouragement motivates him to keep up the good work.

When Paul wrote to the Thessalonians he motivated them not with an award but with words of encouragement. He said, “Brothers and sisters, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more” (1 Thess. 4:1). These Christians were pleasing God through their lives, and Paul encouraged them to continue to live more and more for Him.

Maybe today you and I are giving our best to know and love and please our Father. Let’s take Paul’s words as an incentive to continue on in our faith.

But let’s go one step further. Who might we encourage today with Paul’s words? Does someone come to mind who is diligent in following the Lord and seeking to please Him? Write a note or make a phone call and urge this person to keep on in their faith journey with Him. What you say may be just what they need to continue following and serving Jesus. 

A Fan for Life

Cade Pope, a 12-year-old boy from Oklahoma, mailed out 32 handwritten letters—one to each executive in charge of a National Football League (NFL) team in the US. Cade wrote, “My family and I love football. We play fantasy football and watch [the] games every weekend. . . . I am ready to pick an NFL team to cheer on for a lifetime!”

Jerry Richardson, owner of the Carolina Panthers football team, responded with a handwritten note of his own. The first line read: “We would be honored if our [team] became your team. We would make you proud.” Richardson went on to commend some of his players. His letter was not only personal and kindhearted—it was the only response that Cade received. Not surprisingly, Cade became a loyal fan of the Carolina Panthers.

In Psalm 86, David spoke about his allegiance to the one true God. He said, “When I am in distress, I call to you, because you answer me. Among the gods there is none like you, Lord” (vv. 7-8). Our devotion to God is born from His character and His care for us. He is the one who answers our prayers, guides us by His Spirit, and saves us through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ. He deserves our lifelong loyalty.

Dying for Others

I love birds, which is why I bought six caged birds and carried them home to our daughter Alice, who began to care for them daily. Then one of the birds fell ill and died. We wondered if the birds would be more likely to thrive if they were not caged. So we freed the surviving five and observed them fly away in jubilation.

Alice then pointed out, “Do you realize, Daddy, that it was the death of one bird that caused us to free the rest?”

Isn’t that what the Lord Jesus did for us? Just as one man’s sin (Adam’s) brought condemnation to the world, so one Man’s righteousness (Jesus’s) brought salvation to those who believe (Rom. 5:12–19). Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11).

John makes it more practical when he says, “Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters” (1 John 3:16). This won’t likely mean literal death, but as we align our lives with Jesus’s example of sacrificial love, we find that we are “laying down our lives.” For instance, we might choose to deprive ourselves of material goods in order to share them with others (v. 17) or make time to be with someone who needs comfort and companionship.

Who do you need to sacrifice for today?