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 taught?” they say. “Little children, love one another.” When the meal ends, Babette reveals to the sisters that she spent all she had on the food. She gave everything — including any chance of returning to her old life as an acclaimed chef in Paris — so that her friends, eating, might feel their hearts open.
Jesus appeared on earth as a stranger and servant, and He gave everything so that our spiritual hunger might be satisfied. In John’s gospel, He reminds His listeners that when their ancestors wandered hungry in the wilderness, God provided quail and bread (Exodus 16). That food satisfied for a time, but Jesus promises that those who accept Him as the “bread of life” will “live forever” (John 6:48, 51). His sacrifice satisfies our spiritual cravings.
Not Second Rate
After the conclusion of the First World War, US President Woodrow Wilson was recognized as one of the most powerful leaders on earth. But few knew that after a devastating stroke in 1919, it was his wife who managed nearly all of his affairs, determining which issues should be brought to his attention. In fact, modern historians believe that for a short while, it was really Edith Wilson who served as the President of the United States.
If asked to name the leaders of the early church, most of us would list Peter, Paul, and Timothy as a handful possessing well-documented gifts. But in Romans 16, Paul lists nearly forty people of diverse backgrounds—men, women, slaves, Jews, and gentiles—all of whom contributed to the life of the church in diverse ways.
And far from considering them second-rate members of the church, it’s clear that Paul held these people in the highest regard. He describes them as outstanding among the apostles (v. 7)—people to be celebrated for their service for Jesus.
Many of us feel that we’re too ordinary to be leaders in the church. But the truth is that each of us has gifts that can used to serve and help others. In God’s strength, may we use our gifts to His honor!
Steel and Velvet
Poet Carl Sandburg wrote of former US president Abraham Lincoln, “Not often in the story of mankind does a man arrive on earth who is both steel and velvet, . . . who holds in his heart and mind the paradox of terrible storm and peace unspeakable and perfect.” “Steel and velvet” described how Lincoln balanced the power of his office with concern for individuals longing for freedom.
Only one person in all history perfectly balanced strength and softness, power and compassion. That man is Jesus Christ. In John 8, when confronted by the religious leaders to condemn a guilty woman, Jesus displayed both steel and velvet. He showed steel by withstanding the demands of a bloodthirsty mob, instead turning their critical eyes upon themselves. He said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (v. 7). Then Jesus modeled the velvet of compassion by telling the woman, “Neither do I condemn you . . . . Go now and leave your life of sin” (v. 11).
Reflecting His “steel and velvet” in our own responses to others can reveal the Father’s work of conforming us to be like Jesus. We can show His heart to a world hungry for both the velvet of mercy and the steel of justice.
When We Praise
When nine-year-old Willie was abducted from his front yard in 2014, he sang his favorite gospel song Every Praise over and over again. During the three-hour ordeal, Willie ignored the kidnapper’s repeated orders to keep silent as they drove around. Eventually, the kidnapper let Willie out of the car unharmed. Later, Willie described the encounter, saying that while he felt his fear give way to faith, the abductor seemed agitated by the song.
Willie’s response to his dire situation is reminiscent of the experience shared by Paul and Silas. After being flogged and thrown into jail, they reacted by “praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose” (Acts 16:25–26).
Upon witnessing this awesome demonstration of power, the jailer believed in the God of Paul and Silas, and had his entire household baptized along with him (vv. 27–34). Through the avenue of praise, both physical and spiritual chains were broken that night.
We may not always experience a visibly dramatic rescue like Paul and Silas, or like Willie. But we know that God responds to the praises of His people! When He moves, chains fall apart.
Truth: Bitter or Sweet?
I’d had the spot on my nose for the better part of a year when I went to the doctor about it. The biopsy results came back days later with words I didn’t want to hear: skin cancer. Though the cancer was operable and not life-threatening, it was a bitter pill to swallow.
God commanded Ezekiel to swallow a bitter pill—a scroll containing words of lament and woe (Ezekiel 2:10; 3:1–2). He was “to fill [his] stomach with it” and share the words with the people of Israel, whom God considered “obstinate and stubborn” (2:4). One would expect a scroll filled—front and back—with correction to taste like a bitter pill. Yet Ezekiel describes it being “as sweet as honey” in his mouth (3:3).
Ezekiel seems to have acquired a taste for God’s correction. Instead of viewing (tasting!) His rebuke as something to avoid, Ezekiel recognized that what is good for the soul is “sweet.” God instructs and corrects us with lovingkindness, helping us live in a way that honors and pleases Him.
Some truths are bitter pills to swallow while others taste sweet. If we remember how much God loves us, His truth will taste more like honey. His words are given to us for our good, providing wisdom and strength to forgive others, refrain from gossip, and bear up under mistreatment. Help us, Lord, to recognize your wisdom as the sweet counsel it truly is!