First Steps

A friend stopped me the other day with some exciting news and then spent 10 minutes describing for me the first steps of her 1-year-old nephew. He could walk! Later I realized how bizarre we might have sounded to an eavesdropper. Most people can walk. What was the big deal?

It struck me that childhood provides a quality of specialness that nearly vanishes for the rest of life. Thinking about our treatment of children gave me further appreciation for the fact that God chooses the word picture of “children” to describe our relationship with Him. The New Testament announces that we are God’s children, with all the rights and privileges of worthy heirs (Rom. 8:16-17). Jesus (the “one and only” Son of God) came, we’re told, to make possible our adoption as sons and daughters in God’s family.

I imagine God views each halting step forward in my spiritual “walk” with the eagerness of a parent watching a child take that very first step.

Perhaps when the secrets of the universe are finally revealed, we will learn an underlying purpose of watching children grow. It may be that God has granted us these times of specialness to awaken us to His infinite love. Of the fullness of that love, our experiences here on earth are mere glimpses.

from Our Daily Bread

The Upside of Setbacks

American swimmer Dara Torres had a remarkable career, appearing in five different Olympics from 1984 to 2008. Late in her career, Torres broke the US record for the 50-meter freestyle—25 years after she herself set that record. But it wasn’t always medals and records. Torres also encountered obstacles in her athletic career: injuries, surgery, as well as being almost twice the age of most other competitors. She said, “I’ve wanted to win at everything, every day, since I was a kid. . . . I’m also aware that setbacks have an upside; they fuel new dreams.”

“Setbacks have an upside” is a great life lesson. Torres’s struggles motivated her to reach for new heights. They have a spiritual benefit too. As James said, “Consider it pure joy . . . whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance” (James 1:2-3).

Adopting this perspective on the difficulties of life is not easy, but it is worthwhile. Trials provide opportunity to deepen our relationship with God. They also provide the opening to learn lessons that success cannot teach by developing in us the kind of patience that waits on God and trusts Him for the strength to endure.

The psalmist reminds us, “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord” (Ps. 27:14).

from Our Daily Bread

No Wonder!

“He’s perfect for you,” my friend told me. She was talking about a guy she had just met. She described his kind eyes, his kind smile, and his kind heart. When I met him I had to agree. Today he’s my husband, and no wonder I love him!

In the Song of Solomon the bride describes her lover. His love is better than wine and more fragrant than ointments. His name is sweeter than anything in this world. So she concludes that it’s no wonder he is loved.

But there is Someone far greater than any earthly loved one, Someone whose love is also better than wine. His love satisfies our every need. His “fragrance” is better than any perfume because when He gave Himself for us, His sacrifice became a sweet-smelling aroma to God (Eph. 5:2). Finally, His name is above every name (Phil. 2:9). No wonder we love Him!

It is a privilege to love Jesus. It is the best experience in life! Do we take the time to tell Him so? Do we express with words the beauty of our Savior? If we show His beauty with our lives, others will say, “No wonder you love Him!”

from Our Daily Bread

A Fishing Lesson

I was fishing quietly on the clear, still waters of Piatt Lake, casting next to a lush weedbed. I watched a large smallmouth bass sneak out of the thick vegetation to investigate. He approached the tempting night crawler on the end of my line, stared at it, and backed into the weeds. This happened several times until he spotted the hook. Then he whipped his tail and disappeared into his lair, never to come out again.

Satan dangles temptation, like a fishhook, right in front of us. It looks tasty. It promises gratification. But Satan’s power ends there. He cannot force us to take the hook. His power stops at the edge of our will—at our decision point. When we are warned by the Holy Spirit and decide to say no, Satan can do no more. James says he runs away (4:7).

As believers, we can receive great comfort from the words of the apostle Peter, who himself experienced great temptation (Matt. 26:33-35). In later life he wrote, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion . . . . Resist him, standing firm in the faith” (1 Peter 5:8-9).

Just as that big old bass ignored my hook, we can in God’s strength successfully resist Satan’s most enticing tactics!

from Our Daily Bread

A Fly’s Reminder

When I first began working in the small office I now rent, the only inhabitants were a few mopey flies. Several of them had gone the way of all flesh, and their bodies littered the floor and windowsills. I disposed of all but one, which I left in plain sight.

That fly carcass reminds me to live each day well. Death is an excellent reminder of life, and life is a gift. Solomon said, “Anyone who is among the living has hope” (Eccl. 9:4). Life on earth gives us the chance to influence and enjoy the world around us. We can eat and drink happily and relish our relationships (vv. 7,9).

We can also enjoy our work. Solomon advised, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might” (v. 10). Whatever our vocation or job or role in life, we can still do things that matter, and do them well. We can encourage people, pray, and express love with sincerity each day.

The writer of Ecclesiastes says, “Time and chance happen to them all. . . . No one knows when their hour will come” (vv. 11-12). It’s impossible to know when our lives on earth will end, but gladness and purpose can be found in this day by relying on God’s strength and depending on Jesus’ promise of eternal life (John 6:47).

from Our Daily Bread

Tissue Boxes

As I sat in the surgical waiting room, I had time to think. I had been here recently, when we received the jarring news that my only brother, much too young, was “brain dead.”

And so on this day, waiting for news about my wife who was undergoing a serious surgical procedure, I penned a lengthy note to her. Then, surrounded by nervous chatter and oblivious children, I listened for the quiet voice of God.

Suddenly, news! The surgeon wanted to see me. I went to a secluded room to wait. There, on the table, sat two tissue boxes, conspicuously available. They weren’t for the sniffles. They were for cold, hard phrases like I heard when my brother died—“brain dead” and “nothing we can do.”

In such times of grief or uncertainty, the honesty of the psalms makes them a natural place to turn. Psalm 31 was the heart-cry of David, who endured so much that he wrote, “My life is consumed by anguish” (v. 10). Compounding that grief was the pain of abandonment by his friends and neighbors (v. 11).

But David had the bedrock of faith in the one true God. “I trust in you, Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in your hands” (vv. 14-15). His lament concludes with resounding encouragement and hope. “Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord” (v. 24).

This time in the waiting room, the surgeon gave us good news: My wife could expect a full and complete recovery. Of course we’re relieved and grateful! But even if she hadn’t been “okay,” our times still remain in God’s capable hands.

from Our Daily Bread

Lessons in Suffering

The close-up image on the giant screen was big and sharp, so we could see the deep cuts on the man’s body. A soldier beat him while an angry crowd laughed at the man whose face was now covered with blood. The scenes appeared so real that, in the silence of the open-air theater, I cringed and grimaced as if I could feel the pain myself. But this was only a film reenactment of Jesus’ suffering for us.

Reminding us of Jesus’ suffering, Peter wrote, “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21). While suffering comes in different forms and intensity, it is to be expected. Ours may not be as intense as that experienced by Paul, who for the sake of Christ was beaten with rods, stoned, and shipwrecked. He was attacked by bandits, and he endured hunger and thirst (2 Cor. 11:24-27). Likewise, we may not suffer like those who endure severe persecution in cultures where Christianity is not welcomed.

In some form or another, however, suffering will come our way as we deny ourselves, endure harassment, bear insults, or refuse to engage in activities that do not honor the Lord. Even exercising patience, avoiding revenge, and forgiving others in order to foster good relationships are forms of following in His steps.

Whenever we encounter suffering, may we remember what Jesus endured for us.

from Our Daily Bread

2 A.M. Friends

A friend told me about a group of people who share a strong bond of faith in Christ. One of them, a 93-year-old woman, said, “I feel like I can call any of you at 2 a.m., and I don’t even have to apologize if I feel the need for any type of assistance.” Whether the need is prayer, practical help, or someone to be there during a time of need, these friends are unconditionally committed to each other.

The same sense of commitment shines through Paul’s letter to the followers of Jesus in Colossae. Writing from prison in Rome, Paul says he is sending Tychicus and Onesimus to encourage them (Col. 4:7-9). Aristarchus, Mark, and Justus send their greetings (vv.10-11). And Epaphras is “always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured” (v. 12). These are bold assurances of practical help and deep-seated love.

Are you part of a “2 a.m. group”? If so, give thanks for the faithfulness of friends. If not, ask the Lord to connect you with another person with whom you can share a commitment to pray and care. I suspect it will soon grow to include others. Share the love of Christ with one another.

Anything. Anytime. Anywhere. All in Jesus’ name!

from Our Daily Bread

Doesn’t God Care?

Why does the intoxicated driver escape an accident unharmed while his sober victim is seriously injured? Why do bad people prosper while good people suffer? How often have you been so confused by things going on in your life that you have cried out, “Doesn’t God care?”

Habakkuk struggled with this same question as he saw the distressing situation in Judah where wickedness and injustice were running rampant (Hab. 1:1-4). His confusion drove him to ask God when He would act to fix the situation. God’s reply was nothing short of perplexing.

God said that He would use the Chaldeans as the means of Judah’s correction. The Chaldeans were notorious for their cruelty (v. 7). They were bent on violence (v. 9) and worshiped nothing but their military prowess and false gods (vv. 10-11).

In moments when we don’t understand God’s ways, we need to trust His unchanging character. That’s exactly what Habakkuk did. He believed that God is a God of justice, mercy, and truth (Ps. 89:14). In the process, he learned to look at his circumstances from the framework of God’s character instead of looking at God’s character from the context of his own circumstances. He concluded, “The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights” (Hab. 3:19).

from Our Daily Bread

Feeling Forsaken

In his book The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis records an imaginary conversation between a senior devil and a junior devil as they discuss how to properly tempt a Christian. The two devils desired to destroy the believer’s faith in God. “Be not deceived,” the senior devil says to the junior. “Our cause is never more in jeopardy than when a human . . . looks round upon a universe in which every trace of [God] seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”

The Bible gives us many examples of people who acted with faith despite their feelings of abandonment. Abram felt that God’s promise of an heir had gone unheeded (Gen. 15:2-3). The psalmist felt ignored in his trouble (Ps. 10:1). Job’s troubles were so great that he thought God might even kill him (Job 13:15). And Jesus from the cross cried out: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46). Yet in each instance God was shown to be faithful (Gen. 21:1-7; Ps. 10:16-18; Job 38:1–42:17; Matt. 28:9-20).

Although Satan may try to tempt you to think you are forsaken, God is always near. He never forsakes His own. “God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you’ ” (Heb. 13:5). We may boldly say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid” (v. 6).

from Our Daily Bread