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Better Together in Christ

Dr. Tiffany Gholson had seen crime impact her small American city of East Saint Louis, Missouri in many ways. By 2023, however, the town recorded a 31 percent drop in homicides and a 37 percent drop in crime overall. What happened? A partnership. Working together, the city’s Public Safety Enforcement Group—including the state and city police, the city school district, and a faith organization—combined efforts to turn the tide for all citizens.

“We say it’s a marriage,” Dr. Gholson stated, with all members of the city partnership joining in to help citizens. The school district’s Wraparound Wellness Center, which she leads, involves school social workers, nurses, and staff to support kids impacted by crime or accidents. Other agencies share their strengths. Police commit to talk more with people on the street—and listen.

The psalmist David wrote, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1). Harmony, David added, “is as refreshing as the dew from Mount Hermon” (v. 3 nlt). David was referring to people who share a unifying faith in God. Rather than divided by doctrines or politics, we are one. The concept may feel elusive, yet it blesses all. It’s a beautiful goal for believers—especially in our cities desperately in need of the love of Jesus, but also our concern for one another.

By |2024-07-14T02:33:17-04:00July 14th, 2024|

Worship First

I’d never planned to start a non-profit organization about adult friendship, and when I felt called to do so, I had so many questions. How would the charity be financed, and who should help me build it? My greatest help on these matters ended up coming not from a business book, but a biblical one.

The book of Ezra is essential reading for anyone called by God to build something. Recounting how the Jews rebuilt Jerusalem after their exile, it shows how God provided funds through public donations and government grants (Ezra 1:4-11; 6:8-10), and how both volunteers and contractors did the work (1:5; 3:7). It shows the importance of preparation time, with rebuilding not beginning until the second year of the Jews’ return (3:8). It shows how opposition may come (ch. 4). But one thing in the story particularly stood out to me. A whole year before any building began, the Jews erected the altar (3:1-6). The people worshiped “though the foundation of the Lord’s temple had not yet been laid” (v. 3). Worship came first.

Is God calling you to start something new? Ezra’s principle is poignant whether you’re starting a charity, a Bible study, a creative project, or some new task at work. Even a God-given project can take our attention away from Him, so let’s focus on God first. Before we work, we worship.

By |2024-07-13T02:33:20-04:00July 13th, 2024|

Uncovered Sins

A thief broke into a phone repair shop, smashed the glass of a display case, and began pocketing phones and more. He tried to conceal his identity from the surveillance camera by covering his head with a cardboard box. But during the burglary, the box briefly tipped, uncovering his face. Minutes later, the store owner saw the video footage of the robbery, called the police, and they arrested the robber outside a nearby store. His story reminds us that every hidden sin will be uncovered one day.

It's human nature to try to hide our sins. But in Ecclesiastes we read that we should keep God’s commandments for every hidden thing will be brought before His righteous gaze and just verdict (Ecclesiastes 12:14). The author wrote, “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind” (v. 13). Even the hidden things which the Ten Commandments rebuked (Leviticus 4:13) won’t escape His evaluation. He’ll bring every deed into judgment, whether good or evil. But, because of His grace, we can find forgiveness for our sins in Jesus and His sacrifice on our behalf (Ephesians 2:4-5).

When we’re conscious of and internalize His commandments, it can lead to a reverent fear of Him and a lifestyle to match. Let’s bring our sins to Him and experience anew His loving, forgiving heart.

By |2024-07-12T02:33:26-04:00July 12th, 2024|

Heavenly Abundance

I expected eight bananas. Instead, when I opened the grocery bags delivered to my home, I discovered twenty bananas! I quickly realized that my move to England meant I also moved from ordering groceries in pounds to requesting them in kilograms. Instead of three pounds, I had ordered three kilograms (nearly seven pounds!) of bananas.

With such an abundance, I made several batches of a favorite banana bread recipe to share the blessing with others. As I mashed up the fruit, I began thinking about the other areas of my life where I have experienced unexpected abundance—and each path led back to God.

Paul appears to have had a similar experience of reflecting on God’s abundance in his life. In his first letter to Timothy, Paul paused to describe his life before Jesus, describing himself as a “persecutor and a violent man” (1 Timothy 1:13); the “the worst” of sinners (v. 15). Into Paul’s brokenness, God lavishly poured out grace, love, and faith (v. 14). After recounting all the abundance in his life, Paul couldn’t help but express praise to God, declaring Him worthy of all “honor and glory for ever and ever” (v. 17).

Like Paul, we all received an overwhelming abundance of grace when we accepted Jesus’ offer of rescue from sin (v. 15). As we pause to reflect on all the resulting blessings, we’ll find ourselves joining Paul in grateful praise to our generous God.

By |2024-07-11T02:33:06-04:00July 11th, 2024|

Search My Heart, God

To reduce food waste, a supermarket chain in Singapore sells slightly blemished fruits and vegetables at lower prices. In one year, this initiative saved more than 850 tons (778,000 kg) of produce that previously would’ve been thrown out for not meeting aesthetic standards. Shoppers soon learned that outward appearances—scars and quirky shapes—don’t affect flavor and nutritional value. What’s on the outside doesn’t always determine what’s on the inside.

The prophet Samuel learned a similar lesson when he was sent by God to anoint the next king of Israel (1 Samuel 16:1). When he saw Eliab, the firstborn son of Jesse, Samuel thought he was the chosen one. But God said: “Do not consider his appearance or his height . . . . People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (v. 7). Out of Jesse’s eight sons, God chose the youngest, David—who was tending his father’s sheep (v. 11)—to be the next king.

God is more concerned with our hearts than with outward credentials—the school we attended, what we earn, or how much we volunteer. Jesus taught His disciples to focus on purifying their hearts of selfish and evil thoughts because “what comes out of a person is what defiles them” (Mark 7:20). Just as Samuel learned not to consider outward appearances, may we, with God’s help, examine our hearts—our thoughts and intentions—in all that we do.

By |2024-07-10T02:33:11-04:00July 10th, 2024|

Do I Belong?

Actress Sally Field finally felt what we all long for. When she won a second Oscar in 1985, she exclaimed in her acceptance speech: “I’ve wanted more than anything to have your respect. The first time I didn’t feel it. But this time I feel it. And I can't deny the fact that you like me, right now, you like me.”

An Ethiopian eunuch was also amazed by his acceptance. As a gentile and as a eunuch, he was denied entrance into the temple’s inner courts (see Ephesians 2:11–12 and Deuteronomy 23:1). Yet he yearned to be included. Philip found him returning from another unsatisfying pilgrimage to Jerusalem (Acts 8:27).

The Ethiopian man was reading Isaiah, which promised that eunuchs who “hold fast to my covenant” will receive “an everlasting name” and “[a memorial] within my temple and its walls” (Isaiah 56:4–5). How could this be? Then Philip “told him the good news about Jesus,” and the man responded, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” (Acts 8:35–36).

He was asking, Am I really allowed in? Do I belong? Philip baptized him as a sign that Jesus had bulldozed every barrier (Ephesians 2:14). Jesus embraces—and unites—everyone who turns from sin and puts their trust in Him. The man “went on his way rejoicing.” He finally and fully belonged (Acts 8:39).

By |2024-07-09T02:33:06-04:00July 9th, 2024|

Serving Jesus

In the early 1800s, Elizabeth Fry was appalled by the conditions in a London women’s prison. Women and their children were crowded together and made to sleep on the cold stone floors. Although they weren’t given bedding, a tap flowed with gin. For years, she visited the prison and ushered in change by providing clothes, opening a school, and teaching the Bible. But many saw her biggest influence as her loving presence and clear messages of hope.

In her actions she followed Jesus’ invitation to serve those in need. For instance, while on the Mount of Olives, Jesus shared several stories about the end of the age, including one about the welcome of “the righteous to eternal life” (Matthew 25:46). In it the King tells the righteous people that they gave Him something to drink, invited Him in, and visited Him in prison (vv. 35–36). When they couldn’t recall doing so, the King responds: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (v. 40).

What a wonder that when we serve others with the help of the Holy Spirit, we serve Jesus! We can follow Elizabeth Fry’s example, and we can also serve from home, such as through intercessory prayer or writing letters. Jesus welcomes us to love Him as we use our spiritual gifts and talents to assist others.

By |2024-07-08T02:33:07-04:00July 8th, 2024|

Trapped in Chocolate

Two workers at a Mars candy factory in Pennsylvania fell into a large vat of chocolate. This might sound like the beginning of a joke—and perhaps a lovely predicament to chocolate lovers! But the men—though unhurt—were waist-deep in the confection and couldn’t get out on their own. Firefighters ultimately had to cut a hole in the side of the vat to deliver them to safety.

When the prophet Jeremiah found himself at the bottom of a mud-filled cistern, the story was anything but sweet. As a messenger to God’s people in Jerusalem, he’d proclaimed the urgency for them to leave the city because it would soon “be given into the hands of the army of the king of Babylon” (Jeremiah 38:3). Some of King Zedekiah’s officials demanded Jeremiah be “put to death” because they claimed his words were “discouraging the soldiers” (v. 4). The king consented and they “lowered Jeremiah by ropes into the cistern” where he “sank down into the mud” (v. 6).

When another of the king’s officials—a foreigner, no less—advocated for Jeremiah’s well-being, saying the others had “acted wickedly,” Zedekiah realized he’d made a mistake and empowered Ebed-Melek to lift Jeremiah “out of the cistern” (vv. 9, 13).

Even when we're doing the right thing--as Jeremiah was--we might sometimes feel like we’re stuck in the mud. Let’s ask Him to lift our spirits as we wait for His help in the troubles we face.

By |2024-07-07T02:33:05-04:00July 7th, 2024|

Our Armor in Christ

Pastor Bailey’s newfound friend shared with him the story of his abuse and addiction. Though the young man was a believer in Jesus, because of his exposure to sexual abuse and pornography at an early age, he was plagued with a problem that was bigger than he was. And in his desperation, he reached out for help.

As Christ-followers, we wage war with unseen forces of evil (2 Corinthians 10:3-6). But we’ve been given weapons to fight our spiritual battles. They aren’t the weapons of the world, however. On the contrary, we’ve been given “divine power to demolish strongholds” (v. 4). What does that mean? “Strongholds” are well-built, secure places. Our God-given arms include “weapons of righteousness in the right hand for attack and the left hand for defense” (6:7 nlt). Ephesians 6:13-18 expands the list of things that help protect us: the Scriptures, faith, salvation, prayer, and the support of other believers. When faced with forces bigger and stronger than us, appropriating these munitions can make the difference between standing and stumbling.

God also uses counselors and other professionals to help those who struggle with forces too big to tackle alone. The good news is that in and through Jesus, we needn’t surrender when we struggle. We have the armor of God!

By |2024-07-06T02:33:10-04:00July 6th, 2024|

Grappling with God

An old friend sent me a note after my husband’s death: “[Alan] was . . . a grappler with God. He was a real Jacob/Israel and a strong reason why I am a Christian today.” I’d never thought to compare Alan’s struggles with the patriarch Jacob’s, but it fit. Throughout his life, Alan struggled with himself and wrestled with God for answers. He loved God but couldn’t always grasp the truths that God loved him, forgave him, and heard his prayers. Yet his life had its blessings, and he positively influenced many.

Jacob’s life was characterized by struggle. He connived to get his brother Esau’s birthright. He fled home and struggled for years with his kinsman and father-in-law Laban. Then he fled Laban. He was alone and afraid to meet Esau. Yet he’d just had a heavenly encounter: “The angels of God met him” (32:1), perhaps a reminder of his earlier dream from God (28:10–22). Now Jacob had another encounter: all night he wrestled with a “man,” God in human form, who renamed him Israel, because he “struggled with God and with humans and [overcame]” (32:28). God was with and loved Jacob despite and through it all.

All of us have struggles. But we’re not alone; God is with us in each one. Those who believe in God are loved, forgiven, and promised eternal life (John 3:16). We can hold fast to Him.

By |2024-07-05T02:33:21-04:00July 5th, 2024|
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