|Our Daily Bread|
|Shackled but Not Silent|
|Sat, 25 May 2019 00:00:00 +0000|
In the summer of 1963, after an all-night bus ride, civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer and six other black passengers stopped to eat at a diner in Winona, Mississippi. After law enforcement officers forced them to leave, they were arrested and jailed. But humiliation wouldn’t end with unlawful arrest. All received severe beatings, but Fannie’s was the worst. After a brutal attack that left her near death she burst out in song: “Paul and Silas was bound in jail, let my people go.” And she didn’t sing alone. Other prisoners, restrained in body but not in soul, soon joined her in worship.
According to Acts 16, Paul and Silas found themselves in a difficult place when they were imprisoned for telling others about Jesus. But discomfort didn’t dampen their faith. “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God” (v. 25). Their bold worship created the opportunity to continue to talk about Jesus. “Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house” (v. 32).
Most of us will not likely face the extreme circumstances encountered by Paul, Silas, or Fannie, but each of us will face uncomfortable situations. When that happens, our strength comes from our faithful God. May there be a song in our hearts that will honor the Lord and give us boldness to speak for Him—even in the midst of trouble.
|“God Saved My Life”|
|Fri, 24 May 2019 00:00:00 +0000|
When Aaron (not his real name) was 15, he began praying to Satan: “I felt like he and I had a partnership.” Aaron started to lie, steal, and manipulate his family and friends. He also experienced nightmares: “I woke up one morning and saw the devil at the end of the bed. He told me that I was going to pass my exams and then die.” Yet when he finished his exams, he lived. Aaron reflected, “It was clear to me that he was a liar.”
Hoping to meet girls, Aaron went to a Christian festival, where a man offered to pray for him. “While he was praying, I felt a sense of peace flood my body.” He felt something “more powerful, and more liberating,” than what he felt from Satan. The man who prayed told Aaron God had a plan and Satan was a liar. This man echoed what Jesus said of Satan when He responded to some who opposed him: “He is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).
Aaron turned to Christ from Satanism and now “belongs to God” (v. 47). He ministers in an urban community, sharing the difference following Jesus makes. He is a living testament of God’s saving power: “I can say with confidence that God saved my life.”
God is the source of all that is good, holy, and true. We can turn to Him to find truth.
|Thu, 23 May 2019 00:00:00 +0000|
Lisa felt no sympathy for those who cheated on their husband or wife . . . until after she found herself deeply unsatisfied with her marriage and struggling to resist a dangerous attraction. That painful experience helped develop in her a new compassion for others and greater understanding of Jesus’s words: “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone” (John 8:7).
Jesus was teaching in the temple courts when He made that powerful statement. A group of teachers of the law and Pharisees had just dragged a woman caught in adultery before Him and challenged, “In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” (v. 5). Because they considered Jesus a threat to their authority, the question was “a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him” (v. 6)—and getting rid of Him.
Yet when Jesus replied, “Let any one of you who is without sin . . .” not one of the woman’s accusers could bring themselves to pick up a stone. One by one, they walked away.
Before we critically judge another’s behavior while looking lightly at our own sin, let’s remember that all of us “fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Instead of condemnation, our Savior showed this woman—and you and me—grace and hope (8:10–11; John 3:16). How can we not do the same for others?
|The Heart of Fasting|
|Wed, 22 May 2019 00:00:00 +0000|
Hunger pangs gnawed at my nerves. My mentor had recommended fasting as a way to focus on God. But as the day wore on, I wondered: How did Jesus do this for forty days? I struggled to rely on the Holy Spirit for peace, strength, and patience. Especially patience.
If we are physically able, fasting can teach us the importance of our spiritual food. As Jesus said, "Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4). Yet, as I learned firsthand, fasting on its own doesn't necessarily draw us closer to God!
In fact, God once told His people through the prophet Zechariah that their practice of fasting was useless since it wasn't leading to service for the poor. "Was it really for me that you fasted?" God asked pointedly (Zechariah 7:5).
God's question revealed that the primary problem wasn't their stomachs; it was their cold hearts. By continuing to serve themselves, they were failing to draw closer to God's heart. So He urged them, "Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor" (vv. 9-10).
Our goal in any spiritual discipline is to draw closer to Christ. As we grow in likeness to Him, we'll gain a heart for those He loves.
|Tue, 21 May 2019 00:00:00 +0000|
Human beings are not special—at least according to the London Zoo. In 2005, the zoo introduced a four-day exhibit: “Humans in Their Natural Environment.” The human “captives” were chosen through an online contest. To help visitors understand the humans, the zoo workers created a sign detailing their diet, habitat, and threats. According to the zoo’s spokesperson, the goal of the exhibit was to downplay the uniqueness of human beings. One participant in the exhibit seemed to agree. “When they see humans as animals, here, it kind of reminds them that we’re not that special.”
What a stark contrast to what the Bible says about human beings: God “fearfully and wonderfully” made us in “his image” (Psalm 139:14; Genesis 1:26–27).
David began Psalm 139 by celebrating God’s intimate knowledge of him (vv. 1–6) and His all-encompassing presence (vv. 7–12). Like a master weaver, God not only formed the intricacies of David’s internal and external features (vv. 13–14), but He also made him a living soul, giving spiritual life and the ability to intimately relate to God. Meditating on God’s handiwork, David responded in awe, wonder, and praise (v. 14).
Human beings are special. God created us with marvelous uniqueness and the awesome ability to have an intimate relationship with Him. Like David, we can praise Him because we are the workmanship of His loving hands.
|Mon, 20 May 2019 00:00:00 +0000|
Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot mystery The Clocks features antagonists who commit a series of murders. Although their initial plot targeted a single victim, they found it necessary to take more lives in order to cover up the original crime. When confronted by Poirot, one of the conspirators confessed, lamenting, “It was only supposed to be the one murder.”
Like the schemers in the story, the chief priests and Pharisees of Jesus’s day formed a conspiracy of their own. After Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11:38–44), they called an emergency meeting and plotted to take His life (11:45–53). But they didn’t stop there. After Jesus rose from the dead, the religious leaders spread lies about what happened at the grave (Matthew 28:12–15). Then they began a campaign to silence Jesus’s followers (Acts 7:57–8:3). What started as a religious plot against one man for the “greater good” of the nation became a web of lies, deceit, and multiple casualties.
Sin plunges us down a road that often has no end in sight, but God always provides a way of escape. When Caiaphas the high priest said, “It is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish” (John 11:50) he didn’t understand the profound truth of his words. The chief priests’ and Pharisees’ conspiracy would help bring about the redemption of mankind.
Jesus saves us from sin’s vicious grip. Have you received the freedom He offers?
|The Crooked Steeple|
|Sun, 19 May 2019 00:00:00 +0000|
Turns out that crooked church steeples make people nervous. When we visited with some friends, they shared how, after a fierce windstorm, their church's proud steeple was . . . crooked, causing some alarm.
Of course, the church quickly repaired the flagging spire, but the humorous image got me thinking. Often church is seen as a place where everything is expected to look perfect; it’s not seen as a place where we can show up… crooked. Right?
But in a fallen, broken world, all of us are “crooked,” each with our own collection of natural weaknesses. We might be tempted to keep our vulnerabilities under wraps, but Scripture encourages the opposite attitude. In 2 Corinthians 12, for example, Paul suggests that it’s in our weaknesses—for him, an unnamed struggle he calls a “thorn in the flesh” (v. 7)—that Christ is most likely to reveal His power. For Jesus had told Paul, “My power is made perfect in weakness" (v. 9). So Paul concluded, "For Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong" (v. 10).
We may not like our imperfections, but hiding them only denies Jesus’s power to work within those aspects of ourselves. When we invite Christ into the crooked places in us, He gently mends and redeems in ways our effort could never accomplish.
|We Need Each Other|
|Sat, 18 May 2019 00:00:00 +0000|
While on a hike with my kids, we discovered a light, springy green plant growing in small clumps on the trail. According to a signpost, the plant is commonly called deer moss, but it’s not actually a moss at all. It’s a lichen. A lichen is a fungus and an alga growing together in a mutualistic relationship in which both organisms benefit from each other. Neither the fungus nor the alga can survive on its own, but together they form a hardy plant that can live in some alpine areas for up to 4,500 years. Because the plant can withstand drought and low temperatures, it is one of the only food sources for caribou (reindeer) in deep winter.
The relationship between the fungus and the alga reminds me of our human relationships. We rely on each other. To grow and flourish, we need to be in relationship with each other.
Paul, writing to believers in Colossae, describes how our relationships should look. We are to clothe ourselves with “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Col. 3:12). We ought to forgive each other and live in peace “as members of one body” (v. 15).
It’s not always easy to live in peace with our families or friends. But when the Spirit empowers us to have humility and forgiveness in our relationships, our love for each other points to Christ (John 13:35) and brings glory to God.
|God’s Amazing Hands|
|Fri, 17 May 2019 00:00:00 +0000|
Twenty minutes into a flight from New York to San Antonio, the flight plan changed as calm gave way to chaos. When one of the plane’s engines failed, debris from the engine smashed through a window causing the cabin to decompress. Sadly, several passengers were injured and one person was killed. Had not a calm, capable pilot been in the cockpit—one trained as a Navy fighter pilot—things could have been tragically worse. The headline in our local paper read, “In Amazing Hands.”
In Psalm 31, David revealed that he knew something about the Lord’s amazing, caring hands. That’s why he could confidently say, “Into your hands I commit my spirit” (Psalm 31: 5). David believed that the Lord could be trusted even when life got bumpy. Because he was targeted by unfriendly forces, life was very uncomfortable for David. Though vulnerable, he was not without hope. In the midst of harassment David could breathe sighs of relief and rejoice because his faithful, loving God was his source of confidence (vv. 5–7).
Perhaps you find yourself in a season of life when things are coming at you from every direction, and it’s difficult to see what’s ahead. In the midst of uncertainty, confusion, and chaos one thing remains absolutely certain: those who are secure in the Lord are in amazing hands.
|Thu, 16 May 2019 00:00:00 +0000|
“Bear” was a gift for my grandchild—a heaping helping of love contained in a giant stuffed animal frame. Baby D’s response? First, wonder. Next, an amazed awe. Then, a curiosity that nudged a daring exploration. He poked his pudgy finger at Bear’s nose, and when the Bear tumbled forward into his arms he responded with joy joy JOY! Baby D laid his toddler head down on Bear’s fluffy chest and hugged him tightly. A dimpled smile spread across his cheeks as he burrowed deeply into Bear’s cushiony softness. The child had no idea of Bear’s inability to truly love him. Innocently and naturally, he felt love from Bear and returned it with all his heart.
In his first of three letters to early Christians, the apostle John boldly states that God Himself is love. “We know and rely on the love God has for us,” he writes. “God is love” (1 John 4:16).
God loves. Not in the pillow of a pretend animal but rather, with the outstretched arms of a real human body encasing a beating but breaking heart (John 3:16). Through Jesus, God communicated His extravagant and sacrificial love for us.
John goes on in verse 4:19, “We love because he first loved us.” When we believe we are loved, we love back. God’s real love makes it possible for us to love God and others. With all our hearts.