Our Place of Safety
9 June 2023, 12:00 am
Retired teacher Debbie Stephens Browder is on a mission to convince as many people as possible to plant trees. The reason? Heat. Extreme heat in the United States is the number-one weather-related cause of death. In response, Stephens Browder says, “I’m starting with trees.” The canopy of heat protection that trees provide is one significant way to protect communities. Stephens Browder explains, “It’s life or death. It’s not just about beautifying the community. It’s about saving lives.”
The fact that shade isn’t just refreshing but potentially life-saving would have been well known to the psalmist who wrote Psalm 121; in the Middle East, the risk of sunstroke is constant. This reality adds depth to the psalm’s vivid description of God as our surest place of safety, the One in whose care “the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night” (v. 6).
This verse can’t mean that believers in Jesus are somehow immune to pain or loss in this life (or that heat isn’t dangerous!). After all, Christ tells us, “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). But this metaphor of God as our shade does vividly reassure us that, whatever comes our way, our lives are held in His watchful care (Psalm 121:7–8). There we can find rest through trusting Him, knowing that nothing can separate us from His love (John 10:28; Romans 8:39).More
Strengthened through Trials
8 June 2023, 12:00 am
The memories flooded back when I rustled through some envelopes and glimpsed a sticker that said, “I’ve had an eye test.” In my mind I saw my four-year-old son proudly wearing the sticker after enduring stinging eyedrops. Because of weak eye muscles, he had to wear a patch for hours each day over his strong eye—thereby forcing the weaker eye to develop. He also needed surgery. He met these challenges one by one, looking to us as his parents for comfort and depending on God with childlike faith. Through these challenges he developed resilience.
People who endure trials and suffering are often changed by the experience. But the apostle Paul went further and said to “glory in our sufferings” because through them we develop perseverance. With perseverance comes character; and with character, hope (Romans 5:3–4). Paul certainly knew trials—not only shipwrecks but imprisonment for his faith. Yet he wrote to the believers in Rome that “hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit” (v. 5). He recognized that God’s Spirit keeps our hope in Jesus alive when we put our trust in Him.
Whatever hardships you face, know that God will pour out His grace and mercy on you. He loves you.
A Loving Warning
7 June 2023, 12:00 am
In 2010, a tsunami struck the Indonesian island of Sumatra, killing more than four hundred people. But the deaths could have been prevented or minimized had the tsunami warning system been working properly. The tsunami detection networks (buoys) had become detached and drifted away.
Jesus said His disciples had a responsibility to warn fellow disciples to things that could harm them spiritually—including unrepentant sin. He outlined a process in which a believer who’s been sinned against by another can humbly, privately, and prayerfully “point out” the sin to the offending believer (Matthew 18:15). If the person repents, then the conflict can be resolved and relationship restored. If the believer refuses to repent, then “one or two others” can help resolve the conflict (v. 16). If the sinning person still doesn’t repent, then the issue is to be brought before “the church” (v. 17). If the offender still won’t repent, the individual is to be removed from assembly fellowship, but he or she can certainly still be prayed for and shown Christ’s love.
As believers in Jesus, let’s pray for the wisdom and courage we need to care for one another enough to lovingly warn others of the dangers of unrepentant sin and of the joys of restoration to our heavenly Father and other believers. Jesus will be “there . . . with [us]” as we do (v. 20).More
Places of the Heart
6 June 2023, 12:00 am
Here are some vacation tips: The next time you’re traveling through Middleton, Wisconsin, you might want to visit the National Mustard Museum. For those of us who feel that one mustard is plenty, this place amazes, featuring 6,090 different mustards from around the world. In Mclean, Texas, you might be surprised to run across the Barbed Wire Museum—or more surprised there is such a passion for, well . . . fencing.
It’s telling what kinds of things we choose to make important. One writer says you could do worse than spend an afternoon at the Banana Museum (though we beg to differ).
We laugh in fun, yet it’s sobering to admit we maintain our own museums—places of the heart where we celebrate certain idols of our own making. God instructs us, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3) and “you shall not bow down to them or worship them” (v. 5). But we do anyway, creating our own graven gods, perhaps of wealth or lust or success—or of some other fill-in-the-blank “treasure” we worship in secret.
It’s easy to read this passage and miss the point. Yes, God holds us accountable for the museums of sin we create. But he also speaks of “showing love to a thousand generations of those who love [Him]” (v. 6). He knows how trivial our “museums” really are. He knows our true satisfaction lies only in our love for Him.More