Tax Time

Tax Time

By Pat Knight

Soon we will be preoccupied calculating our annual Federal income tax returns, begrudgingly sending our sums to the IRS. Since most of us attempt to spend our personal funds wisely, it is baffling to accept that the big machinery of government may be using our funds inefficiently and with impunity.

Taxes have been demanded of workers for centuries. King “Solomon had twelve governors over all Israel, who supplied provisions for the king and his royal household. Each one had to provide supplies for one month in the year”(1 Kings 4:7) Lest you think that a small task, the following list provides the daily requirements for feeding King Solomon’s court, totaling  thousands of people:

185 bushels of flour
375 bushels of meal
10 head of stall-fed cattle
20 pasture-fed cattle
100 sheep
100 goats
Deer, gazelle, roebucks and choice fowl (1 Kings 4:22). 

In Nehemiah’s day there was a loud outcry from the people due to their astronomically high tax rates. The Jewish people were paying as much as one half of their harvest produce and a portion of their income in tithes to support the temple. Taxes placed such an extreme financial burden on some families, they were forced to mortgage their fertile fields to pay their assessment. Others in desperate situations sold their own sons and daughters into slavery. Bondservants were common during hard times when the poor, unable to pay their debts, sold themselves into slavery (Nehemiah 5:1-5). A slave could buy his freedom or another could do it for him. Such is the redemption of Christ, when He bought our sins by granting our freedom from slavery to sin.  

It is estimated that during Jesus’ time the Jews were paying thirty to forty percent of their income for taxes and temple dues. No wonder the position of tax collector was so despised and the official himself deplored for padding his pockets by collecting more taxes than were actually due.

One day the Pharisees, the religious, political leaders among the Israelite people, deliberately attempted to trap Jesus by asking Him an ambiguous question. It was a verbal snare designed to destroy Jesus’ credibility, no matter how He answered. The Pharisees asked Jesus, “‘is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?’”(Matthew 22:17).

 Jesus responded, “‘You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax’” (Matthew 22:18). Jesus then asked the men to describe whose image and inscription was engraved on the coin. When the Pharisees replied to Jesus that both sides of the coin focused on Caesar, Jesus emphatically responded, “‘Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s’” (Matthew 22:21).  

Jesus instructed that all people have obligations to the government as long as those demands do not conflict with their allegiance to God. The Pharisees were amazed by Jesus’ answer and left in utter defeat. They failed to acknowledge that they were daily reaping the benefits of their taxes paid to Rome by gaining access to Caesar’s currency for monetary exchange, traveling on Rome’s government subsidized highways, and enjoying of a degree of military protection and peace.

In our current culture, there are many requirements of our government that do not conflict with our obligations to God. The apostle Paul taught that the people’s main priority is dedication to God: “‘everyone should submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted’” (Romans 13:1-3). 

Christians are instructed to obey laws and to respect elected officials, as a matter of civil obedience, but also for conscience’s sake (Romans 13:5). We are instructed to pay taxes and to show respect for authority, even if we are aware of corruption. Injustice and fraud likely exist in all governments, yet God rules over them all. “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors (1 Peter 2:13).

Let us readily participate in any democratic process to lessen the bureaucratic burden of tax laws. Consistent prayer, in which we ask God to advocate for change, will unleash power and potential for revision beyond any strategy man can employ.

An old adage says that two absolutes in life are death and taxes. It may seem like taxes have existed forever, but a Christian defines forever as eternal life in heaven.

The imperfection of justice in this life is the strongest proof that in the next world justice and vengeance will be fulfilled to the utmost. —David Augsburger

Let us adopt Jesus’ attitude when He was apprehended at the temple at age twelve, instructing the teachers of religious law. When questioned about His educational endeavor, Jesus responded, “‘I must be about my Father’s business’” (Luke 2:49). Who among us has the time or energy to complain about tax rates if we prioritize our life’s activities to conform to our Savior’s objectives?

Distracted Allegiance

Distracted Allegiance

By Pat Knight

Some winters in the northeast are longer and harsher than others. At the beginning of April, we watch for signs of thinning ice. When there is a winter-long depth of more than three feet of solid ice, melting takes considerable time. One morning the sunrise illuminated the sky just enough to expose ripples on the lake water. Water? The previous night there was still ice jammed into the cove. Now, there were only a few slivers leisurely floating.  

Later that morning, I noticed the cove nearly filled with large, flat, chunks of floating ice. Earlier the lake was exposed and moving, like pieces of a shattered mirror. Now the impression was one of mini-icebergs. We were familiar with the phenomenon: ice in the larger part of the lake breaks up, and the wind blows it into the cove, where it is trapped. When I first noticed the cove devoid of ice, the timing was perfect. I had peered out the window a mere moment after the ice collapsed beneath the surface. Then later, more ice floated into the cove from the large, open lake.

Our relationship with our heavenly Father is comparable to the shattered ice floes that blow into the cove. Some days we walk closely by His side, and other days we withdraw, preferring self-reliance, slowly replacing dependence on our Lord. God never moves. It is His desire to be an integral part of our lives, guiding and directing. If anyone moves, God is not the one to depart. It is our spiritual wanderlust that pulls us away from a consistent walk with our Lord.

God created us for communion with Him. “And our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3). Just imagine! The supreme God of the whole universe desires to walk and talk with us. We serve a loving, patient God, who “is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9b).

If you have ever been in the presence of someone who has lost a contact lens, you know instinctively that all activity stops abruptly. Feet remain glued to the floor, as eyes scour the surrounding area for the tiny disc. With far more intensity, God searches for the soul distracted from His care. “For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him” (2 Chronicles 16:9). God pours His love and strength into the person completely yielded to Him, who forsakes self-reliance to fully rely on God.

Historically and repeatedly, the children of God ignored Him. He punished His rebellious people who disobeyed covenantal laws by worshiping false gods in the form of idols. God is merciful. “The Lord Himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:8). God loves us and extends mercy just as lavishly as He did the wandering, rebellious Israelites of centuries ago. 

We tend to blindly follow other people, whereas, we are commanded to imitate God, not man. He sets the standard. “I the Lord do not change” (Malachi 3:6). We are assured God’s promises will apply forever, perpetually affirming our importance to Him. “Jesus replied, ‘Anyone who loves me, will obey my teaching.  My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him’” (John 14:23). God not only abides within our hearts, He knows us more completely than we are familiar with ourselves.

We are nothing apart from our status in God. He elevates us as His children, showering us with an eternal gift as joint heirs with Christ. “The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now, if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:16-17). All things belong to Jesus, but He graciously shares His inheritance with believers.

If you were notified by an estate attorney that you have been designated to inherit a glorious kingdom, what reaction would you display? I am assuming you would be excited and incredulous. And yet, as joint heirs with Christ, we are assured of an inheritance in heaven forever and ever. Now, those are the kind of riches about which we kick up our heels and celebrate. But, do we? What will it take to convince us, that in God’s eyes, we are so loved and our company so desired, that He plans to spend an eternity with us?

In view of our value to God, He sent His pure, sinless Son to earth to ultimately die for us. “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:7). There have been isolated recorded instances in history where one person substituted his life for another, but “Jesus Christ, the Righteous One—is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). God’s forgiveness through Christ’s atoning sacrifice is impartial, with worldwide application for those who receive Him by faith. No sin or crime is too egregious for Him to forgive, substituting eternal death for life everlasting in heaven with Him.

Jesus was not only physically tortured during crucifixion, but He suffered an unprecedented emotional burden, carrying the sins of the entire world on His shoulders—past, present, and future. Jesus Christ substituted His perfect life for our sinful ones. You were redeemed with “the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Peter 1:19). If crucifixion were required for each of us to atone for our personal sins, there would be few crosses dotting the horizon. Let us not minimize the gift of life bought with the blood of Jesus.

Can we exclaim with the psalmist, “‘the Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy’” (Psalm 126:3)? Because God loves us with immeasurable love and sacrifice, why do we, like the ice in the cove that moves on a whim, act so inconsistently in our relationship to our Lord? The cove ice is blown by the wind, producing an unsettled surface. “The one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind” (James 1:6). Let us be reminded of the source of our power and saving grace. God craves our nearness, so why do we resist?  “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8, NKJV).

Victorious Living

Victorious Living

By Pat Knight

I have always known that as a child of God, I have the ability to lead a victorious life. When I was young, I naively believed spiritual victory was instinctive. Now I understand that in order for victory to be won, a battle must be overcome. How will any of us achieve triumph without previously encountering conflict? How else do we experience trust unless we practice the art? During hardships, we are commanded to persevere, but we are incapable of acquiring perseverance without habitually practicing it. There is no healing without sickness; no power without weakness; no success without failure. Trials offer the opportunity to grow in faith, and as a result, we mature in our walk with Christ himself.

Few believers have been tested by God more intensely than Abraham. The patriarchs’ only son was a direct gift from God, through whom God would complete His promise to Abraham, with “descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky or sand on the seashore” (Genesis 22:17).

Abraham, commanded by God to sacrifice his covenant son as a burnt offering, was poised with knife in hand, ready to plunge it into Isaac, who was strapped to the sacrificial altar. On their three-day journey to the mountaintop, Isaac questioned his father as to where they would find the lamb for the altar. Abraham answered, “‘God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering my son’” (v. 8).

God was testing Abraham’s obedience. The best Abraham hoped for was that God might raise his son from the dead. He never questioned God, nor did his resolve falter. Just as the father was positioned to slay his son, “the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, ‘Abraham, Abraham! … Do not lay a hand on the boy,’ he said. ‘Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.’”

“Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son” (vv. 11-13).

As we know, obedience is a difficult discipline, especially when the investment is so costly. However, our Lord accepts full responsibility for the consequence of our obedience. Not only did Abraham experience God’s faithfulness, but he also learned the measure of his own trust—the extent to which he followed and obeyed his heavenly Father.

Words are easily dispensed and often insignificant, but submissive actions require commitment, determination, and tenacious faith. Abraham could hardly have understood God’s reasons for providing a son in his old age, only to take him away. In spite of his lack of comprehension, Abraham believed in God so passionately, that His faith overwhelmed his doubt. He was willing to place all of his confidence in the Lord’s plans, for Abraham had witnessed His glory and faithfulness previously. He believed in Almighty God without reservation.

God already knew Abraham would react courageously that day, for He is omniscient (all-knowing). God tested Abraham so he would learn about His God and himself. Abraham’s personal, adamant faith and steadfast obedience were reinforced in the face of huge consequences. Most importantly, Abraham ascertained the unlimited extent to which he could trust the living God; His faithfulness, loving kindness, protection, and promises; God’s desire and ability to provide all of his needs (Philippians 4:19).

Abraham’s test of faith is included in God’s Word to stimulate in believers’ hearts a similar love of our heavenly Father. Satan tempts us to fail. God never tempts; He tests us to illustrate His love and mercy. It is important for every believer to acquire knowledge of self-motivation and priorities; any limits that might inhibit our growth in faith. Obedience is evidence of genuine faith. Questions are raised during a test of faith. To what extent do my actions reflect my love for God? Am I willing to yield to His will? How much of my life am I capable of surrendering in light of Jesus’ humiliating, heinous suffering on the cross to secure my redemption? Like Jesus, may we pray that God’s will be accomplished in all of life’s circumstances.

There can be no victory when there is no submission to the will of God. ─J. Vernon McGee

Some of our most important lessons are mastered while struggling with unrelenting trials. The apostle, Paul, admitted, “‘that is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, insults, hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong’” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). Paul accessed God’s power, transforming his afflictions into spiritual victory. Hardships of any kind are best approached with confidence, acknowledging that God’s perfect plans, in His precise timing, are sovereign components to victory.

To navigate adversity, call on your heavenly Father, for “God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1). God is always in control of His creation. We need never fear when He is directing our lives, a comforting declaration of his mighty, sustaining presence.

The apostle James instructs us how to react to the variety of adversities that assail us: “‘Consider it pure joy whenever we face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything’” (James 1:2-4). Joy results from recognizing that God has included our welfare in His plans, for He loves and cares for His own.

Christian maturity is an impossible journey without God’s abiding presence and assistance. When faced with hardship or grief, we learn to run straight into the arms of Jesus, trading our weakness for His incredible power, trusting Him unconditionally. The happy outcome is that we draw closer to our Lord, producing Christlikeness in our lives.

Experiencing joy amidst trials is an avenue to spiritual victory. We gain Christian maturity by navigating life’s trials with perseverance and steadfastness, obeying God in all situations. Our Lord’s mercy, grace, and compassion encourage us to navigate afflictions as we resolve to develop wholehearted faith. We are commanded to “rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4). There are no exceptions to God’s directive. His plans for our lives are perfectly designed and authenticated, with higher purposes than we fully understand. Our responsibility, then, is to acknowledge that God has chosen wisely for each of His followers. Such knowledge produces joy. Therein is the victory!

Songs in the Night

I have the fun privilege of announcing that Pat’s new book, A FEAST OF JOY, is now available for purchase! FEAST OF JOY is Pat’s third book of devotionals in which she connects real-life situations with Biblical truths. Pat’s writing is so vividly descriptive that you will easily imagine yourself present in each story. She sprinkles pertinent Scripture references throughout her writing to help you apply the verses to your own life. Her writing is sure to inspire and teach you more about how to live daily with joy no matter what your circumstances may be. Below her post, I have placed links to online booksellers where you can buy FEAST OF JOY.

Songs in the Night

By Pat Knight

The evening was still and peaceful. Only the water’s rhythmical lapping against the shoreline was detectable. Suddenly, out of the silent night, a cacophony of sounds erupted, as if a celestial baton signaled nature to commence a disharmonic concert. The large, common loons were the first to warm up, with mournful, eerie cries. The vocal wail usually opened the birds’ evening conversation, followed by yodels and hoots for social interaction. As their powerful voices were propelled across the waters, human listeners were privileged to peer into the private verbal world of the prehistoric loons. Their variety of strident sounds comprised night choruses. At times, the loons’ calls were eerie; at others, musical. But they always pierced the tranquility of the night, shocking listeners with sudden exclamation and impetuous strength.

As if on cue, perching owls began to softly but persistently hoot, the tone increasing in intensity with mating calls, vociferous and overbearing to human ears. Then, when the imaginary baton snapped the animal world to attention, the plaintive wails produced a rackety, raucous ensemble of dissonant notes. With no attempt to harmonize, neighboring dogs and an occasional coyote chimed in. It was increasingly more difficult to merely listen to the developing discord of sounds. I had the growing urge to leap through the front door, yelling my own primitive, obnoxious sounds, to add a little more confused clatter. It was then I was reminded that there are no clashes in nature. Just as God created the improbable blending of conflicting color hues to form beautiful blankets of wildflowers on land, so the animal kingdom comingles with songs in the night.

Praise to God is the ultimate expression of worship.

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come before Him with joyful songs. Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise; give thanks to Him and praise His name.  For the Lord is good and His love endures forever; His faithfulness continues through all generations” (Psalm 100:1-2; 4-5).

Interestingly, God does not specify that we sing hymns of praise with perfect pitch or with trained voices. Our mass of vocal tones may reach God’s ears as discordant, just as we detect the animal concert. Of utmost importance to our Lord is our praise and gratitude, glorifying His name.

King Agrippa I (Herod) seized and imprisoned the apostle Peter, who was kept heavily guarded by four soldiers at all times. Peter prayed in prison, while in their homes, fellow Christians fervently petitioned God for his release. Assured of a guilty conviction, the night before Peter’s scheduled trial he was asleep in prison, chained between two soldiers. Guards stood at his prison door. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared, shining light in the dark dungeon, reflecting the glory of God. With immediacy, the angel jostled Peter awake and persuaded him to get up. As Peter stood, the chains spontaneously fell from his wrists. The angel instructed Peter to get dressed and follow him out of prison. They walked past guards without incident. The prison doors opened to them, as the angel escorted Peter the length of a city street and disappeared, leaving the disciple to mentally grasp the full ramifications of the miracle that had just occurred. “Peter admitted, ‘Now I know without a doubt that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from Herod’s clutches and from everything the Jewish people were hoping would happen’” (Acts 12:11). When Christians pray, God graciously answers, often with miraculous results.

The early Christian church grew exceptionally fast numerically and in faith, in spite of rabid persecution. Jesus had taught them while on earth that if they had faith as small as a grain of mustard seed, “‘Nothing will be impossible for you’” (Matthew 17:20). The early Christians had embraced Christ’s teachings and were witnessing miraculous outcomes. When believers join in prayer, there is no limit to what God will accomplish in their lives, individually or collectively. God’s promises have not changed in centuries: His supreme power, like that which resurrected His Son from death, is available to each of us. “You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive because you ask with the wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures” (James 4:2b-3).

God is neither a puppet provider nor a magician, who caters to our every materialistic whim and desire. But, if we have sincere, pressing needs in our lives, God listens to our requests, and He promises to respond positively, if the petition conforms to His will.

 “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence,
so that we may receive mercy and find grace
to help us in our time of need”
(Hebrews 4:16).

Dorcas, an excellent seamstress, spent her days performing good deeds, helping the poor and sewing garments for the needy. As soon as her death was reported to the disciples, Peter traveled to her hometown of Joppa. The sight he witnessed was one of devotion and friendship: local widows readily displayed the clothing Dorcas had made for the desperate. Many recipients were in prayer for her recovery. Peter understood the loss of Dorcas’ love and good works to the community. When he prayed for her still life to revive, Dorcas immediately sat upright in response to the powers endowed on Jesus’ disciple. Her friends still talked about her miraculous healing days later, and many people believed in the Lord because of Dorcas’ life and her revival from the dead. Prayer by one or a multitude of people produces magnificent results. 

What a wonderful, unique privilege we are granted as children of the King! Our words are music to God, who separates the cacophony of sounds to create individual clarity from believers around the globe, all searching for Him at one time. Unlike the animal and bird calls that produce nighttime pandemonium, those seeking God approach the throne of grace with pure motives, making a joyful noise.


You can find FEAST OF JOY at:
Amazon
Apple Books
Barnes & Noble
Xulon

Fragile Bubbles

Fragile Bubbles

By Pat Knight

Bubbles fizz and burst in a bath. Iridescent bubbles sparkle from a waterfall. Opalescent bubbles blown from a child’s bubble blowing solution shimmer in sunlight. Pure enchantment, the kind that transports us to younger years, allures us to the most simplistic, unadorned entertainer of all—the lowly bubble. 

Most toddlers are fascinated with the fine art of bubble blowing. Mastering blowing bubbles from an open-ended wand submerged in a colorful bottle of bubble solution may seem like only child’s play. It is not as easy as it initially appears.

Fanatic enthusiasm caused our grandsons to puff more air than necessary to create a perfectly formed bubble. Rather than blowing hard with the strength to inflate a balloon, only a delicate, measured whisper of exhaled breath will suffice to release the perfect bubble, teaching the children the value of gentleness, patience, and self-control. It is surprising how little practice and how much patience is required to learn the technique.

The major lesson to be learned from bubble blowing is that some things in life cannot be forced. Easy goes the bubble blowing. Puffing with vigor only causes the soapy, slippery film to drip off the wand. Too much pressure defeats the purpose and destroys that which we were trying to preserve. To advance peacefully, deliberately, and gently throughout life is an admirable goal. We can always add more pressure. However, if we begin with force, there is no room for adjustment, and irreparable damage may be done in the process. The bubble may be lost. Is it possible we were imposing too much force, producing an unwanted, imperfect outcome? As a result, our impatience ruined the bubble. Gentleness and patience is required to sustain the beautiful and the fragile in life.

Whenever one of us gently breathed on the soapy solution, a bubble slowly stretched out until it separated from the wand, propelled into mid-air. Then, chasing and bursting the iridescent bubbles extended the game. Bubbles are elusive. When coerced or captured, delicate touch pops the orb. Chasing and popping floating bubbles is as challenging as blowing them into shape. Beware of someone who wants to burst your bubble!

Once the art of bubble-blowing is mastered, the game continues as long as the toddler’s attention span endures. Sometimes after a gentle infusion of air, the squirming sphere stretches out from the wand until it looks as if it will spontaneously pop. But, if smooth, steady breath is maintained, the bubble eventually slides off in an elongated shape and perches on a surface nearby.

Playing bubble games is not so far from a real life enactment of problem-solving. If we were in a position of authority, as Jesus was on earth, would we exhibit His gentleness? Or, would we, inadvertently or purposefully burst bubbles with an inappropriate show of arrogance, aggression, or authority?

Jesus was preaching in a home in Capernaum. Crowds of people gathered and swelled the house with more listeners lining up outside. Today we would describe the situation as standing room only. To many, the possibility of placing a stretcher carrying a paralytic close enough for Jesus to interact with the man would have looked bleak. When one is paralyzed, it is imperative to have innovative friends who will anticipate needs and assist with daily care.

Not to be deterred, the paralytic’s friends confidently carried his pallet up the outside stairs of the house. Once on the roof, all four men began digging until they successfully removed a large section of roof, opening an area sufficient to lower their friend on the mat down into the room directly in front of Jesus. “When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven’”(Mark 2:5). Jesus healed his spiritual paralysis first, then addressed his physical needs. “‘I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.’ He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God” (vv. 11-12).

The house was filled with curious people that day. Through tenacity of the paralytic’s friends, the man on his stretcher was placed in front of Jesus. Christ admired the men’s perseverance, daring, and sense of urgency. Another bubble was preserved to announce God’s love and forgiveness to the gathering of people when He presented a new life of physical freedom to the paralytic man. Though the man had never before experienced mobility, when Jesus gave the command for him to walk, the man did not hesitate, nor did he whimper that he didn’t know how. He trusted His Lord and took one step at a time. A bubble was suspended over the house that day, riding air currents to deliver the message of the Gospel to the lost.

Most children love to blow bubbles. Sometimes the bubbles are created with ease and at other times, we must corral the child’s aggression. An iridescent sphere is produced using the slightest puff of breath. Its beauty is simple, its message complex. When a strong blast of breath is propelled toward the open wand, the sloppy, soapy solution quickly drips down an arm, the bubble lost. Bubble-making requires practice to produce perfectly formed orbs every time. Such is life.

Jesus said, “‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’” (John 14:6). Though Christians are anxious for non-believers to know the personal love and saving grace of Jesus as we do, we cannot force the relationship. If we do, the bubble merely disintegrates into a sticky, gooey mess. We tried too hard. The higher the stakes, the harder we blow. For best results, we must relax, take a deep breath and exhale with deliberate intent. As the bubble begins to bulge outward, we persist with short, easy puffs. The outcome is too important to lose to impatience. It is always worth relaxing and waiting for valuable results. We cannot force love or respect. Jesus will only be seen in our lives through humility, kindness, and compassion. Like unpretentious bubbles, our goodness and gentleness will exalt Christ.

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Colossians 3:12). To project the attributes of Christ, we must develop a delicate, tender approach, just as He acted on earth, honoring and loving all people. The one character from the pages of the Bible known for gentle forbearance was Jesus. He reacted to everyone with the manner in which He would like to be treated. “But you, O Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness” (Psalm 86:15).

During the process of attempting to perfect their bubble blowing skills, children learn the importance of breathing lightly for success or blowing frantically, leading to disappointment. It appears that gentleness and the bubbles that stay afloat prevail, carrying with them the message of patient endurance and perseverance. What splendid lessons from inconsequential bubbles, elevated to tutors of life lessons!

Quack Attack

Quack Attack

By Pat Knight

From the shoreline, we witnessed the erratic, audacious activity of three mallard ducks involved in a physical scuffle. They were aggressively flapping into each other, first in the water, then in the air. There must have been a distinct reason for the unusual behavior among a group of birds that is normally a peaceable species.

God observes similar harassing behavior, as Christians interact during disagreement, criticism, or quarreling. At such times it is difficult to distinguish between Christian and non-Christian conduct. What a shame! “It is to one’s honor to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel” (Proverbs 20:3). 

We are commanded to love one another. “Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other … God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ. All glory and power to him forever and ever!” (1 Peter 4:8, 10-11, NLT). Love and serve with the capabilities God provides; with all the strength He infuses to glorify His name and to encourage others.

Occasionally heard are comments such as, “I would never have guessed he is a Christian from the way he acts at work.” Or, “she is so involved in gossiping and backbiting, how can she claim to be a believer?” God is unhappy with the person and abhors such behavior. Incriminating words, off-color jokes, or unkind remarks place God’s stamp of disapproval on a Christian’s testimony.

Because God commands us to love one another and to be peacemakers, extending kindness and patience in all circumstances, how can we possibly rationalize inappropriate words? “We speak as those approved by God, who are to be entrusted with His Gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts” (1 Thessalonians 2:4). Sanctified by Jesus, we are set apart for holy purposes, taking our directions solely from God. He is the one who specifies conduct and speech. We are instructed to “imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God” (Ephesians 5:1-2, NLT). 

We are quick to dismiss bad language as a slip of the tongue. God expects us to be personally responsible for every word we utter. Do your words uplift or degrade?

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29).

Our words carry the ability to slice through a person, bringing him to his knees, and crippling his spirit. Positive, loving speech enhances our Christian testimony. Cruel words cast doubt on our relationship with Christ.

There are times when Christians are guilty of spiritual cannibalism. We have all seen it happen: cutting words disfigure and disable, ingesting God’s children alive. We witness jealousy, egotistical comments, and hurtful, tactless responses. Irascible words produce deep wounds that seldom heal.

Like large mammals who hunt their prey, people also stalk the unsuspecting with criticism and gossip. As the animal moves in for a quick, decisive kill, we characteristically destroy with anger, untruths, slander, judgment, or accusations, until we have devoured one of God’s beloved creatures. We claim to be more advanced intellectually than the animal world, but such actions prove us wrong. If we’ve circulated in Christian circles very long, we’ve observed variations of this scenario, completely contrary to God’s teachings to love and treat others as we want to be treated.

Does it provide self-satisfaction to watch a fellow Christian squirm and suffer? If we notice a person physically in harm’s way, we likely intervene to prevent injury or to save a life. So, why do we hesitate to get involved when emotional or spiritual health are threatened? We are specifically commanded, “All of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing” (1 Peter 3:8).

At the time the Israelites escaped their Egyptian slave masters and were traveling toward the Promised Land, Miriam questioned Moses’ authority as their leader, expressing jealousy of her brother’s assignment as God’s prophet. She challenged God’s decision by exposing and criticizing Moses’ marriage to a foreign-born woman, attempting to undermine his authority. Miriam demanded to know why God had spoken solely through Moses and not through her or her other brother, Aaron.

God answered Miriam by confirming that He chooses His prophets and that Moses was greater than all the others (Numbers 12:4-9). As severe judgment for Miriam’s rebellion, God inflicted her with leprosy. Her skin instantly turned white as snow. Her gracious, forgiving brother, Moses, prayed for her healing. God promised to heal Miriam, but first required that she remain quarantined outside the camp alone for seven days, holding up the journey for all the people until her punishment was fulfilled. She was designated an outcast until she could resume contact with the rest of the community.

Learning from Miriam and Aaron’s rebellion, it is necessary that we trust God to choose His appropriate followers for specific ministries. He lavishes each believer with distinct spiritual gifts. If we tirelessly use our own gifts to serve Jesus, we will have neither time nor energy to monitor how others are occupied with their individual assignment from God. 

Steaming jealousy, escalating anger, and a contorted sense of self-worth apparently motivated Miriam. She was not different from people today; only the circumstances vary. God was displeased with her. “The anger of the Lord burned against them and he left them” (Numbers 12:9). When our Lord views similar tendencies in His children today, He displays equal displeasure and disciplines His own. Jealousy is a trait that insidiously consumes our emotions. Priorities change. Apathy replaces faith. Destruction of spiritual relationships is inevitable. Any prolonged jealousy leaves victims in its path. A good dose of repentance, strengthened with personal, fervent prayers for forgiveness is the antidote God honors.

Deception erodes trust. Where there is no trust, there arises doubt and suspicion. Then, relations with God and people degenerate; we have sinned against both. We need not look far to find examples of the damage lying and deceit cause in the world around us. Betrayal among friends is often irreversible, unresponsive to human efforts of repair. “But with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26b). Our heavenly Father is able to reinstate our broken relationships just as he did for Miriam and Moses. Jesus taught, “‘For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled; and those who humble themselves will be exalted’” (Luke 18:14b). 

The flailing ducks couldn’t resist pecking at one another until feathers flew. God urges us to employ Jesus’ attribute of a gentle spirit. “No one should seek his own good but the good of others” (1 Corinthians 10:24). Leave squawking and aggression to the avian species. 

Christmas Hope

Christmas Hope

By Pat Knight

When Jesus was born over two thousand years ago, the Jews were a conquered people ruled by the Roman Empire under King Herod the Great. He was a ruthless, jealous madman, a schemer who took advantage of the Roman political climate to claim his way to the top position. Herod launched ambitious building endeavors and capital improvements, creating an unjust burden on the Jewish citizens, extracting thirty-five percent of their annual income.

The Wise Men stopped in the capital city, Jerusalem, to seek information about the newborn King of the Jews after following His supernatural star for many months. They were looking for the exact time and place of His birth. After King Herod gathered the Sadducees to study the Old Testament prophecy, he informed the Magi to look in Bethlehem. Then Herod the Great secretly commanded the Wise Men to present him with a report as soon as they located the new King.

The Wise Men reached Joseph and Mary with the Christ child at their home in Egypt, where an angel had directed them to relocate after Jesus’ birth.  As the Magi prepared to return home through Jerusalem to report their findings to King Herod, they were visited by God’s angel. He delivered the holy message for them to take another route home, avoiding King Herod altogether. Soon, the king suspected he had been tricked by the Wise Men. In his fury he gave orders to kill all boys in Bethlehem and its vicinities two years old and under, in accordance with the earlier visit from the Magi.

Herod’s ordered killings initiated great sorrow and fear when soldiers stormed every house searching for little victims. The soldier’s orders were non-negotiable. What a heartbreaking massacre, a mass killing to ameliorate one man’s pride. Brutal Herod the Great had already killed several of his family members. Herod was deranged. He didn’t hesitate to kill anyone to advance his personal agenda, his means of abolishing those who stood in his way. Herod didn’t handle competition in a healthy way. He kept order with the secret police and firm tyrannical rule.

Herod’s oppressive, bullying, totalitarian rule isn’t so unlike the style of anarchy we are witnessing by leaders in our current society. As we listen to news broadcasts, we are informed that cities are collapsing world-wide. We gasp in horror when acts of terror are committed within our borders. As in King Herod’s day, heinous acts are rationalized to promote personal power and greed. There are just as many merciless, ruthless madmen holding high government positions  today as there were in Herod the Great’s day (37 BC to 4 AD). There is little interest in discussion or tolerance. Oppressive governments first squash, then annihilate dissenters.

Over the centuries, the Israelites had grown weary of waiting for the promised Messiah. As Roman tyranny grew more suffocating, the Jews were anticipating a political Savior, one who would  finally release the nation of Israel from servitude, particularly from fear of dictators like Herod the Great. But the angels announced a Savior who would accomplish so much more—delivering them from sin and death, a miracle that compelled the angels to sing, “‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests’” (Luke 2:14). We are still claiming this victory today.

We cannot ignore the nefarious worldwide activity prevailing all around us. In contrast, Jesus personifies gifts of peace, joy, love, and grace. As we focus on Jesus’ power and authority during this Christmas season, the negativism of this world recedes in our minds; our priorities re-adjust on the blessed hope that changes our perspective.

The cacophony of current event chatter heard from around the world bombards us with discouragement. God assures us that hope is alive and well. Hope is confident expectation in God and His future plans. As humans we cannot manufacture hope by our own efforts. Hope is centered in God, personally demonstrated to us by the death of Christ on the cross. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).

Do not allow foreboding fear to overshadow you this Christmas. Instead, renew your hope, gratitude, and love in the Babe of Bethlehem, who matured into our personal Savior. He will lavish believers with love and grace, encouraging you during this hopeful season. God keeps His promises; He never disappoints.

Our Messiah is more creative, powerful, and authoritative than all fear-mongering terrorists combined. Jesus is the very definition of hope, the Prince of Peace, able to rest our fearful spirits with His calming, trustworthy promises. He admonishes you to come to Him for soothing peace of mind. Centuries ago, in the midst of heavy-handed government, the shepherds and Wise Men found cause to rejoice at Jesus’ birth. May we do the same this Christmas.

Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;
let the sea resound, and all that is in it;
let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them.
Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy” (Psalm 96:11-12).