The songs play it. The movies portray it. Even our church services have their part to play. “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” Yeah, well what if it isn’t? For many people, holidays bring up painful memories.
Sore spots from childhood or the loss of loved ones hit hard during this sentimental season. While many people celebrate the joys of Christmastime, others suffer lonely holidays.
During one of the most desperate times of King David’s life, the anointed future king of Israel found himself running from two separate enemies—hardly a time to celebrate. With the Philistines to the west and King Saul to the east, a distressed David sought refuge in the cave of Adullam (1 Samuel 22:1–2).
David felt very alone.
His situation offers encouragement to us during lonely holidays.
His name is a byword for betrayal. But it never began that way. “Judas” is the Greek form for the Hebrew name Judah—a common designation in ancient Israel.
(Painting: “The Judas Kiss” by Gustave Doré, Public Domain, via Wikimedia)
Judas’s treacherous betrayal came as a complete shock to all who knew him. On the surface, he appeared as dedicated as all the other apostles.
- Chosen by Jesus.
- Worker of miracles.
- Even entrusted as treasurer.
So when Jesus foretold His betrayal at the Last Supper, no disciple at the table pointed and said, “Aha, Judas! I knew there was something about you!” The whole group remained clueless. Each one, in fact, asked, “Surely not I, Lord?” (Matthew 26:22).
Strangely, even Judas asked. Don’t you wonder why?
Sometimes the ordinary days make us wonder if God has forgotten us. After all, when we read the Bible, it all seems so exciting. Our lives, on the other hand, seem boring.
But the natural events in Joseph’s ordinary day in the Dothan Valley revealed God behind the scenes.
Jacob’s 10 oldest sons had traveled north to pasture their father’s flocks at Shechem. So Jacob dispatched Joseph, whom he loved more than all his other sons, from the Valley of Hebron to check on their welfare.
When Joseph arrived, he found that his brothers had moved further north to the lush pastures of Dothan. Seeing him in the distance, the brothers—jealous of their father’s love for Joseph—purposed to kill the boy. But the presence of a nearby cistern convinced them instead to hurl Joseph into it—and leave him there to die (see Genesis 37:12-28).
It seemed that God dropped the ball. But His painful providence would prove wiser than Joseph’s limited insight.
The same is true for you. God uses your natural stuff in His marvelous plan.
In King David’s day, the city of Jerusalem stood as a renovation and expansion of Jebus, a site the Hebrews never occupied in the territory of Benjamin.
Those who come to Jerusalem today for the first time are often surprised to learn that the original Jerusalem, “The City of David,” sat on a mere ten acres just south of the Temple Mount. Hardly impressive, it looks like some third-world neighborhood.
Steep slopes surround the City of David and gave it in a strategic advantage during any military threat. So much so, the inhabitants of Jebus felt confident “David cannot enter here” (2 Samuel 5:6). But he did, and David made the site his new capital.
The steep slopes became King David’s military strength.
But the slopes also played into his moral weakness. Here’s how.
I’ll never forget the images of Mount Carmel’s scorching flames in December 2010. The largest fire in Israel’s history billowed so much smoke that a NASA satellite could photograph it.
In addition to the tragic loss of life—both human and animal—the devastating inferno destroyed 5 million trees.
(Photo: Fires on Mount Carmel in 2010, by יחידה אווירית משטרת ישראל CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)
While reading about the fire in the news, I thought about the scenic overlook on Mount Carmel I have visited many times. The name of the place is Muhraqa, which means, ironically, “burning.”
Fortunately, most of Mount Carmel’s beautiful historic sites (including Muhraqa) escaped the 2010 forest fire. Beauty untouched beside utter devastation.
In a land where water is life, the lushness of Mount Carmel came to represent nothing less than the blessing of God.
We all need people to influence us. God made us that way. From the languages we speak to the character we develop—it all begins with those who surround us in our formative years.
It starts with our environment, but it shouldn’t end there. It cannot.
When it does, it’s tragic. That was the case with King Joash.
But it doesn’t have to be that way with us.
Len Bailey’s book, Sherlock Holmes and the Needle’s Eye, portrays Holmes and Watson traveling to biblical days to solve biblical “mysteries.”
The time travel is a fascinating aspect to the book, but the mysteries are “solved” simply by Holmes’ keen observation of Scripture. It’s the same premise I learned in Howard Hendricks’ class on Bible Study Methods. In that class, we even read a portion of Conan Doyle’s books where Holmes employs his powers of observation.
Once in this book, Watson asked how Holmes, a critic, could have such faith in the Bible. Holmes replied:
Faith has nothing to do with it, old boy. I’m just a better reader than you are.
The book is creative and entertaining, though sometimes it stretches the bounds of tolerance when Holmes offers Watson long paragraphs of historical background, sounding more like a Bible Dictionary than a detective.
Although each mystery rests on the keen observation of often-obscure passages, most of the conclusions offered are still debatable—answers that have been provided by scholars for centuries.
For example . . .
My dad used to have an old pickup truck I would borrow for odd jobs. It wasn’t a good-looking truck, but it was faithful. The only glitch in the deal was the gas gauge. It read “almost empty” no matter how much gas you had.
If you had just filled up, it read “almost empty.” If you had half a tank, it read “almost empty.” The gauge only worked when you were out of gas! It would immediately move from “almost empty” to “empty.” I remember once I coasted into a gas station on fumes and a prayer.
I have found one thing in life that cuts the cable from the gas tank to the gas gauge quicker than anything else.
- It drains your relationships with people and dries up your walk with God.
- It blurs your vision, exaggerates your emotions, and takes a healthy, balanced perspective of life and twists it of proportion.
I’m talking about the pervasive and infectious attitude of bitterness.
You can be riding along with a full tank, but bitterness will show you a gauge “almost empty.”
The true value of our hearts is hidden. But sometimes we reveal its value by how we give—not by how much. That’s the currency God cares most about.
On His way out of the temple for the last time, Jesus sat down in the Court of the Women and observed those who made donations to the treasury. To be sure, this seemed an odd place to pause.
But the Lord had a lesson to teach His disciples.
It’s a lesson on how He values our hearts.
Her name is as well-known as any apostle. Yet the truth about her life often lies shrouded behind myths, fiction, and flat-out conjecture.
Modern art and bestselling novels paint her as everything from a prostitute to the infamous woman caught in adultery to the wife of Jesus Himself.
But the Scriptures portray Mary Magdalene as a different person altogether.
Surprisingly, she was more like us than we would expect.