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    Free from Condemnation

    As a couple drove their trailer through dry Northern California, they felt a tire blow and heard the scrape of metal against pavement. The sparks ignited the 2018 Carr Fire—a wildfire that burned nearly 230,000 acres, destroyed more than 1,000 homes, and resulted in the deaths of several people.

    God’s Special Treasure

    Imagine a vast throne room. Seated confidently on the throne is a great and powerful king. He is surrounded by all manner of attendants, each on their best behavior. Now imagine a box that sits at the king’s feet. From time to time the king reaches down and runs his hands through the contents. And what’s in the box? Jewels, gold, and gemstones particular to the king’s tastes. This box holds the king’s private treasures, a collection that brings him great joy. Can you see that image in your mind’s eye?

    The Hebrew word for this treasure is segulah, and it…

    The Older Brother

    Author Henri Nouwen recalls his visit to a museum in St Petersburg, Russia, where he spent hours reflecting on Rembrandt’s portrayal of the prodigal son. As the day wore on, changes in the natural lighting from a nearby window left Nouwen with the impression that he was seeing as many different paintings as there were changes of light. Each seemed to reveal something else about a father’s love for his broken son.

    Nouwen describes how, at about four o’clock, three figures in the painting appeared to “step forward.” One was the older son who resented his father’s willingness to roll out…

    Scar Stories

    The butterfly flitted in and out of my mother’s panda-faced pansies. As I child, I longed to catch it. I raced from our backyard into our kitchen and grabbed a glass jar, but on my hasty return, I tripped and hit the concrete patio hard. The jar smashed under my wrist and left an ugly slash of flesh that would require eighteen stitches to close. Today the scar crawls like a caterpillar across my wrist, telling the story of both wounding and healing.

    When Jesus appeared to the disciples after His death, He brought His scars. John reports Thomas wanting to…

    Seeds of Grace

    For nearly four decades, a man in India has worked to bring a scorched, sandy wasteland back to life. Seeing how erosion and changing ecosystems had destroyed the river island he loved, he began to plant one tree at a time, bamboo then cotton. Now, lush forests and abundant wildlife fill more than 1,300 acres. However, the man insists the rebirth was not something he made happen. Acknowledging the amazing way the natural world is designed, he marvels at how seeds are carried to fertile ground by the wind. Birds and animals participate in sowing them as well, and rivers…

    A Feast of Love

    In the Danish film Babette’s Feast, a French refugee appears in a coastal village. Two elderly sisters, leaders of the community’s religious life, take her in, and for fourteen years Babette works as their housekeeper. When Babette comes into a large sum of money, she invites the congregation of twelve to join her for an extravagant French meal of caviar, quail in puff pastry, and more.

    As they move from one course to the next, the guests relax; some find forgiveness, some find love rekindled, and some begin recalling miracles they’d witnessed and truths they’d learned in childhood. “Remember what we were…

    A Ready Remedy

    Following the park guide, I scribbled notes as he taught about the plants of the Bahamian primeval forest. He told us which trees to avoid. The Poison wood tree, he said, secretes a black sap that causes a painful, itchy rash. But not to worry! The antidote could usually be found growing right next it. “Cut into the red bark of the Gum Elemi tree,” he said, “and rub the sap on the rash. It will immediately begin to heal.”

    I nearly dropped my pencil in astonishment. I hadn’t expected to find a picture of salvation in the forest. But in…

    A Ready Remedy

    Following the park guide, I scribbled notes as he taught about the plants of the Bahamian primeval forest. He told us which trees to avoid. The Poison wood tree, he said, secretes a black sap that causes a painful, itchy rash. But not to worry! The antidote could usually be found growing right next it. “Cut into the red bark of the Gum Elemi tree,” he said, “and rub the sap on the rash. It will immediately begin to heal.”

    I nearly dropped my pencil in astonishment. I hadn’t expected to find a picture of salvation in the forest. But in…

    More than Water

    One of my earliest childhood memories of church was a pastor walking down the aisle, exhorting us to “remember the waters of our baptism.” “Remember the waters?” I asked myself quizzically. “How can you remember water?” He then proceeded to splash everyone with water, which as a young child simultaneously delighted and confused me.

    Why should we think about baptism? When  a person is baptized, there’s so much more to it than the water. Baptism symbolizes how through faith in Christ, we‘ve become “clothed” with Him (Galatians 3:27). Or in other words, it’s celebrating that we belong to Jesus and that…

    Tight Circles

    A classmate gave my family a registered collie that had become too old to breed puppies. We soon learned this beautiful dog had, sadly, spent much of her life inside a small pen. She would only walk in tight circles. She couldn’t fetch or run in a straight line. And even with a large yard in which to play, she thought she was fenced in.

    The first Christians, many who were Jews, were used to being fenced in by the Mosaic law. Though the law was good and had been given by God to convict them of sin and lead them…

    Another Chance

    At the Second Chance Bike Shop near our neighborhood, volunteers rebuild cast-off bicycles and donate them to needy kids. Shop founder Ernie Clark also donates bikes to needy adults, including the homeless, the disabled, and military veterans struggling to make it in civilian life. Not only do the bicycles get a second chance but sometimes the recipients get a new start too. One veteran used his new bike to get to a job interview.

    Second chances can transform a person’s destiny, especially when the second chance comes from God. The prophet Micah extoled such grace during a time the nation of…

    More Than Hacks

    I recently found a “hack” (a clever solution to a tricky problem) when one of my grandchildren warmed her stuffed rabbit on our fireplace glass. The resulting globs of bunny fur weren’t pretty, but a fireplace expert provided a great hack—a tip for how to make the glass look like new. It worked, and now we no longer allow stuffed animals near the fireplace!

    I bring up hacks because sometimes we can view Scripture as a collection of hacks—tips to make life easier. While it’s true that the Bible has much to say about how to live a Christ-honoring new life,…

    A Sad Story

    Painfully, the evil that has long been swept under the rug—sexual abuse of many women by men who had power over them—has come to light. Enduring vile headline after headline, my heart sank when I heard proof of abuse by two men I admired. The church has our own sordid scandals. These days are a reckoning.

    King David faced his own reckoning. Samuel tells us that one afternoon, David “saw a woman bathing” (2 Samuel 11:2). And David wanted her. Though Bathsheba was the wife of one his loyal soldiers (Uriah), David took her anyway. When Bathsheba told David she was…

    Back in the Battle

    As a child, she had hurled vicious words at her parents. Little did she know that those words would be her last interaction with her parents. Now, even after years of counseling, she can’t forgive herself. Guilt and regret paralyze her.

    We all live with regrets—some of them quite terrible. But the Bible shows us a way through the guilt. Let’s look at one example.

    There’s no sugarcoating what King David did. It was the time “when kings go off to war,” but “David remained in Jerusalem” (2 Samuel 11:1). Away from the battle, he stole another man’s wife and tried to…

    Will You Come Back?

    Ron and Nancy’s marriage was deteriorating rapidly. She had an affair, but after some time she admitted her sin to God. She knew what He wanted her to do but it was difficult. She shared the truth with Ron. Instead of asking for a divorce, Ron chose to give Nancy a chance to win his trust back by showing that she’d changed. In a miraculous way God restored their marriage.

    Ron’s actions are a picture of God’s love and forgiveness shown toward sinners like you and me. The prophet Hosea understood this well. He was commanded by God to marry an…

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