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The Gospel in Unexpected Places

Recently, I found myself someplace I’d seen in movies and on TV more times that I could count: Hollywood, California. There, in the foothills of Los Angeles, those enormous white letters marched proudly across that famous hillside as I viewed them from my hotel window.

Then I noticed something else: down to the left was a prominent cross. I’d never seen that in a movie. And the moment I left my hotel room, some students from a local church began to share Jesus with me.

We might sometimes think of Hollywood as only the epicenter of worldliness, in utter contrast with God’s kingdom. Yet clearly Christ was at work there, catching me by surprise by His presence.

The Pharisees were consistently surprised by where Jesus turned up. He didn’t hang out with the people they expected. Instead, Mark 2:13–17 tells us He spent time with “tax collectors and sinners” (v. 15), people whose lives practically screamed “Unclean!” Yet there Jesus was, among those who needed Him most (v. 17).

More than 2,000 years later, Jesus continues to plant His message of hope and salvation in unexpected places, among the most unexpected of people. And He’s called and equipped us to be a part of that mission.   

By |2023-06-29T02:33:25-04:00June 29th, 2023|

When You’re Lonely

At 7 p.m., Hui-Liang was in his kitchen, eating rice and leftover fish balls. The Chua family in the apartment next door was having dinner too, and their laughter and conversation cut through the silence of Hui-Liang’s unit, where he’d lived alone since his wife died. He’d learned to live with loneliness; over the years, its stabbing pain had become a dull ache. But tonight, the sight of the one bowl and pair of chopsticks on his table pierced him deeply.

Before he went to bed that night, Hui-Liang read Psalm 23, his favorite psalm. The words that mattered to him were only four syllables: “You are with me” (v. 4). More than the shepherd’s practical acts of care toward the sheep, it was his steadfast presence and loving gaze over every detail of the life of the sheep (vv. 2−5) that gave Hui-Liang peace.

Just knowing that someone is there, that someone is with us, brings great comfort in those lonely moments. God promises His children that His love will always be with us (Psalm 103:17), and that He’ll never leave us (Hebrews 13:5). When we feel alone and unseen—whether in a quiet kitchen, on the bus going home from work, or even in a crowded supermarket—we can know that the Shepherd’s gaze is always on us. We can say, “You are with me.”

By |2023-06-28T02:33:13-04:00June 28th, 2023|

Heaping Coals on Enemies

Dan endured daily beatings from the same prison guard. He felt compelled by Jesus to love this man, so one morning, before the beating was about to begin, Dan said, “Sir, if I’m going to see you every day for the rest of my life, let’s become friends.” The guard said, “No sir. We can never be friends.” Dan insisted and reached out his hand.

The guard froze. He began to shake, then grabbed Dan’s hand and wouldn’t let go. Tears streamed down his face. He said, “Dan. My name is Rosoc. I would love to be your friend.” The guard didn’t beat Dan that day, or ever again.

 Scripture tells us, “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you” (Proverbs 25:21–22). This doesn’t mean we’re to kill our enemies with kindness. The “coals” imagery may reflect an Egyptian ritual in which a guilty person showed his repentance by carrying a bowl of hot coals on his head. Similarly, our kindness may cause our enemies to become red in the face from embarrassment, which may lead them to repentance.

Who is your enemy? Who do you dislike? Dan discovered the kindness of Christ was strong enough to change any heart—his enemy’s and his own. We can too.

By |2023-06-27T02:33:22-04:00June 27th, 2023|

Easy Money

In the late 1700s, a young man discovered a mysterious depression on Nova Scotia’s Oak Island. Guessing that pirates—perhaps even Captain Kidd himself—had buried treasure there, he and a couple of companions started digging. They never found any treasure, but the rumor took on a life of its own. Over the centuries, others continued digging at the site—expending a great amount of time and expense. The hole is now more than 100 feet (30 meters) deep.

Such obsessions betray the emptiness in the human heart. A story in the Bible shows how one man’s behavior revealed just such a void in his heart. Gehazi had long been a reliable servant of the great prophet Elisha. But when Elisha declined the lavish gifts of a military commander whom God had healed of leprosy, Gehazi concocted a story to get some of the loot (2 Kings 5:22). When Gehazi returned home, he lied to the prophet (v. 25). But Elisha knew. He asked him, “Was not my spirit with you when the man got down from his chariot to meet you?” (v. 26). In the end, Gehazi got what he wanted, but lost what was important (v. 27).

Jesus taught us not to pursue this world’s treasures and to instead “store up . . . treasures in heaven” (Matthew 6:20).

Beware of any shortcuts to your heart’s desires. Following Jesus is the way to fill the emptiness with something real.

By |2023-06-26T02:33:37-04:00June 26th, 2023|

Remembering the Sacrifice

Following the Sunday morning worship service, my Moscow host took me to lunch at a restaurant outside the Kremlin. Upon arrival, we noticed a line of newlywed couples in wedding garb approaching the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier outside the Kremlin wall. The happiness of their wedding day intentionally included remembering the sacrifices others had made to help make such a day possible. It was a sobering sight as the couples took pictures by the memorial before laying wedding flowers at its base.  

All of us have cause to be thankful for others who, in one way or another, made sacrifices to bring a measure of fullness to our lives. None of those sacrifices are unimportant, but neither are those sacrifices the most important. It’s only at the foot of the cross where we see the sacrifice Jesus made for us and begin to understand how thoroughly our lives are indebted to the Savior.

To that end, coming to the Lord’s Table to take communion reminds us of Jesus’ sacrifice—pictured in the bread and cup. Paul wrote, “whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). May our times at His table remind us to live every day in remembrance and gratitude of all that Jesus’ sacrifice has done in us and for us.

By |2023-06-27T13:59:04-04:00June 25th, 2023|

He Makes Us New

As a traveling executive, Shawn Seipler wrestled with an odd question. What happens to leftover soap in hotel rooms? Thrown out as trash for landfills, millions of soap bars could instead find new life, Seipler believed. So he launched Clean the World, a recycling venture that has helped more than eight thousand hotels, cruise lines, and resorts turn millions of pounds of discarded soap into sterilized, newly molded soap bars. Sent to people in need in more than one hundred countries, the recycled soap helps prevent countless hygiene-related illnesses and deaths.

As Seipler said, “I know it sounds funny, but that little bar of soap on the counter in your hotel room can literally save a life.”

The gathering up of something used or dirty to give it new life is also one of the most loving traits of our Savior, Jesus. In that manner, after He fed a crowd of five thousand with five small barley loaves and two small fish, He still said to His disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted” (John 6:12).

In our lives, when we feel “washed up,” God sees us not as wasted lives but as His miracles. Never throwaways in His sight, we have divine potential for new kingdom work. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). What makes us new? Christ within us.

By |2023-06-24T02:33:26-04:00June 24th, 2023|

God’s Mighty Power

The seemingly impossible happened when hurricane-force winds changed the flow of the mighty Mississippi River. In August 2021, Hurricane Ida came ashore on the coast of Louisiana, and the astonishing result was a “negative flow,” meaning water actually flowed upriver for several hours.

Experts estimate that over its life cycle a hurricane can expend energy equivalent to 10,000 nuclear bombs! Such incredible power to change the course of flowing water helps me understand the Israelites’ response to a far more significant “negative flow” recorded in Exodus.

While fleeing the Egyptians who’d enslaved them for centuries, the Israelites came to the edge of the Red Sea. In front of them was a wide body of water and behind them was the heavily armored Egyptian army. In that seemingly impossible situation, “the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land . . . and the Israelites went through the sea” (Exodus 14:21–22). Rescued in that incredible display of power, “the people feared the Lord” (v. 31).

Responding with awe is natural after experiencing the immensity of God’s power. But it didn’t end there; the Israelites also “put their trust” in God (v. 31).

As we experience God’s power in creation, we too can stand in awe of His might and place our trust in Him.

By |2023-06-23T02:33:14-04:00June 23rd, 2023|

Faith Comes from Hearing

When Pastor Bob suffered an injury that affected his voice, he entered fifteen years of crisis and depression. What, he wondered, does a pastor do who can’t talk? He struggled with this question, pouring out his grief and confusion to God. He reflected, “I only knew one thing to do—to go after the Word of God.” As he spent time reading the Bible, his love for God grew: “I’ve devoted my life to absorbing and immersing myself in the Scripture because faith comes from hearing and hearing by the word of God.”

We find his  phrase “faith comes from hearing” in the apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans. Paul longed for all of his fellow Jewish people to believe in Christ and be saved (Romans 10:9). How would they believe? Through the faith that “comes from hearing the message . . . through the word about Christ” (v. 17).

Pastor Bob seeks to receive and believe in Christ’s message, especially as he reads the Bible. He can only speak for an hour a day and has constant pain when he does so, but he continues to find peace and contentment from God through his immersion in Scripture. So too we can trust that Jesus will reveal Himself to us in our struggles. He will increase our faith as we hear His message, whatever challenges we face.

By |2023-06-22T02:33:30-04:00June 22nd, 2023|

Step by Step

A dozen teams, each including three people standing shoulder to shoulder, prepared for the four-legged race. Bound to the person in the middle by colorful rags at their ankles and knees, each trio locked their eyes on the finish line. When the whistle blew, the teams lunged forward. Most of them fell and struggled to regain their footing. A few groups chose to hop instead of walk. Some gave up. But one team delayed their start, confirmed their plan, and communicated as they moved forward. They stumbled along the way but pressed on and soon passed all the teams. Their willingness to cooperate, step-by-step, enabled them to cross the finish line together.

Living for God within the community of believers in Jesus often feels as frustrating as trying to move forward during a four-legged race. We often stumble when interacting with people who hold different opinions from us. Frequently, we push forward when others aren’t with us on the same page.

Peter speaks of prayer, hospitality, and using our gifts to align ourselves in unity for life ahead. He urges believers in Jesus to “love each other deeply” (1 Peter 4:8) to be hospitable without complaining, and to “serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms” (v. 10). When we ask God to help us communicate and cooperate, we can lead the race in showing the world how to celebrate differences and live together in unity.

By |2023-06-21T02:33:04-04:00June 21st, 2023|

True Religion

The summer after my sophomore year of college, a classmate died unexpectedly. I’d seen him just a few days prior and he looked fine. We and our classmates were young and in what we thought was the prime of our lives, having just become sisters and brothers after pledging our respective sorority and fraternity.

But what I remember most about my classmate’s death was witnessing my fraternity friends live out what James calls true religion. The men in his fraternity became like brothers of the sister of the deceased. They attended her wedding and traveled to her baby shower years after her brother’s death. One even gifted her a cell phone to contact him whenever she needed to call.

The “brothers” remind of what James calls “genuine religion” (James 1:27 nlt): “to look after orphans and widows in their distress” (v. 27).  While my friend’s sister wasn’t an orphan in the literal sense, she no longer had her brother. Her new “brothers” filled in the gap.

And that’s what all of us who want to practice true and pure life in Jesus can do—“do what [Scripture] says” (v. 22), including caring for those in need (2:14–17). Our faith in Him prompts us to look after the vulnerable as we keep ourselves from the negative influences of the world as He helps us. After all, it’s the only true religion God accepts.

By |2023-06-20T02:33:18-04:00June 20th, 2023|
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