Some years ago my son Brian and I agreed to haul some equipment into an isolated Idaho backcountry ranch for a friend. There are no roads into the area, at least none that my truck could negotiate. So Ralph, the young ranch manager, arranged to meet us at road’s end with a small wagon hitched to a pair of mules.
God bless our homeland, Ghana” is the first line of Ghana’s national anthem. Other African anthems include: “O Uganda, may God uphold thee,” “Lord, bless our nation” (South Africa), and “O God of creation, direct our noble cause” (Nigeria). Using the anthems as prayers, founding fathers called on God to bless their land and its people. Many national anthems in Africa and others from around the world point to God as Creator and Provider. Other lines of anthems call for reconciliation, transformation, and hope for a people often divided along ethnic, political, and social lines.
I love to take pictures of sunsets at Lake Michigan. Some are subtle shades of pastel. Others are bold strokes of bright color. Sometimes the sun sinks quietly behind the lake. Other times it goes down in what looks like a fiery explosion.
I can’t do it,” Robert said, throwing his pencil down in despair. “It’s just too hard!” Reading, writing, and spelling seemed impossible to our dyslexic 9-year-old. At last, a solution was offered. But it was tough. We had to do reading and spelling practice with him for 20 minutes every evening—without exception. Sometimes we just didn’t feel like doing it, and at times we despaired of seeing progress. But we were committed to getting Robert’s reading age and his chronological age to match, so we battled on.
There are sayings in many languages about the difficulty of changing long-established habits. In English, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” In French, “Ce n’est pas à un vieux singe qu’on apprend à faire la grimace” (You can’t teach an old monkey how to pull a funny face). In Spanish, “El loro viejo no aprende a hablar” (An old parrot can’t learn to speak).
The conductor stood on the podium, his eyes scanning the choir and orchestra. The singers arranged the music in their folders, found a comfortable position for standing, and held the folder where they could see the conductor just over the top. Orchestra members positioned their music on the stand, found a comfortable position in their seats, and then sat still. The conductor waited and watched until everyone was ready. Then, with a downbeat of his baton, the sounds of Handel’s “Overture to Messiah” filled the cathedral.
One of my favorite collections of photos is of a family dinner. Preserved in an album are images of Dad, his sons and their wives, and his grandchildren in a time of thanks-giving and intercession.
The people of Ukraine include many wonderful elements in their observance of Christmas. Sometimes wisps of hay are placed on the dinner table as a reminder of the Bethlehem manger. Another portion of their celebration echoes the events of the night when the Savior entered the world. A Christmas prayer is offered and then the father in the household offers the greeting, “Christ is born!” The family then responds, “Let us glorify Him!”
In the heat of the American Civil War, one of President Lincoln’s advisors said he was grateful that God was on the side of the Union. Lincoln replied, “Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.”
An online survey conducted by a New York law firm reveals that 52 percent of Wall Street traders, brokers, investment bankers, and other financial service professionals have either engaged in illegal activity or believe they may need to do so in order to be successful. The survey concludes that these financial leaders “have lost their moral compass” and “accept corporate wrongdoing as a necessary evil.”
Charles Wesley (1707–1788) was a Methodist evangelist who wrote more than 9,000 hymns and sacred poems. Some, like “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing,” are great, soaring hymns of praise. But his poem “Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild,” first published in 1742, is a child’s quiet prayer that captures the essence of how all of us should seek the Lord in sincere, simple faith.
The towering enemy strides into the Valley of Elah. He stands 9 feet tall, and his coat of armor, made of many small bronze plates, glimmers in the sunlight. The shaft of his spear is wrapped with cords so it can spin through the air and be thrown with greater distance and accuracy. Goliath looks invincible.
Visitors to a zoo were outraged when the “African lion” started barking instead of roaring. Zoo staff said they had disguised a Tibetan mastiff—a very large dog—as a lion because they could not afford the real thing. Needless to say, the zoo’s reputation was sullied and people will think twice before visiting it.
The Bavarian city of Nördlingen is unique. It sits in the middle of the Ries Crater, a large circular depression caused by the impact of a huge meteorite a long time ago. The immense pressure of the impact resulted in unusual crystallized rock and millions of microscopic diamonds. In the 13th century, these speckled stones were used to build St. George’s Church. Visitors can see the beautiful crystal deposits in its foundation and walls. Some might say it has a heavenly foundation.
At a dog show near my home, I watched a Cardigan Welsh corgi named Trevor perform. At his master’s command, he ran several yards away and immediately returned, he jumped fences, and he identified objects using his sense of smell. After finishing each exercise, he sat down at his master’s feet and waited for more instructions.
The Channel Tunnel opened on May 6, 1994, nearly two centuries after it was first proposed in 1802 by Napoleon’s engineer, Albert Mathieu. Today the 31-mile passage beneath the English Channel allows thousands of people, cars, and trucks to travel by train each day between England and France. For centuries, people had sailed across the Channel until this surprising new way to go under it was completed.
The Graceland Mansion in Memphis, Tennessee, is one of the most visited homes in the US. It was built in the 1930s and named after the original owner’s great aunt, Grace. It later became famous as the home of Elvis Presley.
The Aran Islands, off the west coast of Ireland, are known for their beautiful sweaters. Patterns are woven into the fabric using sheep’s wool to craft the garments. Many of them relate to the culture and folklore of these small islands, but some are more personal. Each family on the islands has its own trademark pattern, which is so distinctive that if a fisherman were to drown it is said that he could be identified simply by examining his sweater for the family trademark.
Mont Saint-Michel is a tidal island located about a half-mile off the coast of Normandy, France. For centuries it has been the site of an abbey and monastery that has attracted religious pilgrims. Until the construction of a causeway, it was notorious for its dangerous access that resulted in the death of some pilgrims. At low tide it is encompassed by sand banks, and at high tide it is surrounded by water. Accessing the island was a cause for fear.
Jason took a trip to New York during spring break. One afternoon he and some friends piled into a cab and headed for the Empire State Building. To Jason, the ride on the ground seemed chaotic and dangerous. But when he got to the observation deck of the skyscraper and looked down on the city streets, to his amazement he saw order and design. What a difference a change in perspective made!
I have nicknamed our car “No Grace.” Sunday mornings are the worst. I load the car with all the stuff I need for church, get myself in my seat, close the door, and Jay starts backing out of the garage. While I am still getting settled, the seat belt warning starts buzzing. “Please,” I say to it, “all I need is another minute.” The answer, apparently, is no, because it continues buzzing until I am buckled in.
Nicknames are often descriptive of some noticeable aspect of a person’s character or physical attributes. Growing up, my elementary school friends brutally called me “liver lips” since at that stage of development my lips seemed disproportionately large. Needless to say, I have always been glad that the name didn’t stick.
Atop Corcovado Mountain overlooking the city of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, stands Christ the Redeemer, one of the tallest statues of Christ in the world. Standing 30 meters tall, with arms spreading 28 meters, this sculpture weighs 635 metric tons. It can be seen day or night from almost anywhere in the city. One look to the hills brings this figure of Christ the Redeemer into view.
When tragedy strikes, questions follow. Our loss of a loved one may lead us to ask God any number of pointed questions: “Why did You let this happen?” “Whose fault was this?” “Don’t You care about my pain?” Believe me, as the grieving father of a teenager who died tragically I have asked these very questions.
When Kelly Steinhaus visited Harvard Square to ask college students what they thought of Jesus, the answers were respectful of Him. One said He was “a person who took care of people.” Another said, “He sounds like a cool guy.” Others rejected Him outright: “He was just a guy. I don’t think He was the Savior.” And “I do not accept any faith system that says, ‘I am the only way to God.’” Some people thoughtfully question who Jesus is and some reject Him.
In William Zinsser’s book On Writing Well, he says that many writers suffer from “the tyranny of the final product.” They are so concerned with selling their article or book, they neglect learning the process of how to think, plan, and organize. A jumbled manuscript, Zinsser believes, is produced when “the writer, his eye on the finish line, never gave enough thought to how to run the race.”
For countless generations people have looked to the sun and moon to light the day and the night. Whether illuminating our path or providing the life-giving radiance for fruitful crops and the nutrients our bodies need, the sun and moon are part of God’s marvelous provision of light. The book of Genesis tells us that God gave “the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night” (Gen. 1:16).
The Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom are stored securely and protected within the Tower of London under 24-hour guard. Each year, millions visit the display area to “ooh and aah” over these ornate treasures. The Crown Jewels symbolize the power of the kingdom, as well as the prestige and position of those who use them.
When our family lived in Chicago several years ago, we enjoyed many benefits. Near the top of my list were the amazing restaurants that seemed to try to outdo each other, not only in great cuisine but also in portion sizes. At one Italian eatery, my wife and I would order a half portion of our favorite pasta dish and still have enough to bring home for dinner the next night! The generous portions made us feel like we were at Grandma’s house when she poured on the love through her cooking.
When I was a child I often had a toothache,” wrote C. S. Lewis in his classic book Mere Christianity. He continued, “and I knew that if I went to my mother she would give me something that would deaden the pain for that night and let me get to sleep. But I did not go to my mother—at least not till the pain became very bad. . . . I knew she would take me to the dentist the next morning. . . . I wanted immediate relief from pain, but I could not get it without having my teeth set permanently right.”
The name of the southeastern Asian nation of Indonesia is formed by combining two Greek words which together mean “island.” That name is appropriate because Indonesia is made up of more than 17,500 islands spanning nearly 750,000 square miles. Indonesia—an appropriate name for a nation of islands.
The video starts with a puppy at the top of the stairs afraid to go down. Despite much encouragement from people cheering at the bottom, Daisy can’t figure it out. She wants so badly to join them, but fear keeps her pacing the landing. Then a bigger dog comes to help. Simon runs up the steps and then back down, showing Daisy how easy it is. Daisy is not convinced. Simon tries again. This time more slowly. Then he watches Daisy try again. But Daisy still is too scared. Once again Simon goes to the top and demonstrates the technique. Finally Daisy dares to let her back legs follow the front ones. Simon stays beside her. She makes it. Everyone celebrates!
Laura Brooks, a 52-year-old mother of two, didn’t know it but she was one of 14,000 people in 2011 whose name was incorrectly entered into the government database as dead. She wondered what was wrong when she stopped receiving disability checks, and her loan payments and her rent checks bounced. She went to the bank to clear up the issue, but the representative told her that her accounts had been closed because she was dead! Obviously, they were mistaken.
My youngest brother, Scott, was born when I was a senior in high school. This age difference made for an interesting situation when he grew to college age. On his first trip to his college campus, I went along with him and our mom. When we arrived, people thought we were Scott Crowder and his dad and his grandmom. Eventually, we gave up correcting them. No matter what we said or did, our actual relationships were overridden by this humorous case of mistaken identity.
My friend wrote a letter to his newborn child that he wanted him to read when he was older: “My dear boy, Daddy and Mummy wish that you will find and stay focused on the Light. Your Chinese name is xin xuan. Xin means faithfulness, contentment, and integrity; xuan stands for warmth and light.” He and his wife carefully chose a name based on their hopes for their baby boy.
Recently, I had what for me was a “Copernican moment”: I am not at the center of the universe. The world doesn’t revolve around me. It doesn’t move at my pace, in my terms, nor in accord with my preferences.
One of the early games that many parents play with their children involves a fake scare. Dad hides his face behind his hands and suddenly reveals himself while saying, “Boo!” The child giggles at this silliness.
I enjoy nature and giving praise to its Creator, but I sometimes wrongly feel guilty for admiring it too much. Then I remember that Jesus used nature as a teaching tool. To encourage people not to worry, He used simple wildflowers as an example. “Consider the lilies,” He said, and then reminded people that even though flowers do no work at all, God dresses them in splendor. His conclusion? If God clothes something temporary in such glory, He surely will do much more for us (Matt. 6:28-34).
Books on leadership often appear on best-seller lists. Most of them tell how to become a powerful and effective leader. But Henri Nouwen’s book In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership is written from a different perspective. The former university professor who spent many years serving in a community of developmentally disabled adults says: “The question is not: How many people take you seriously? How much are you going to accomplish? Can you show some results? But: Are you in love with Jesus? . . . In our world of loneliness and despair, there is an enormous need for men and women who know the heart of God, a heart that forgives, that cares, that reaches out and wants to heal.”
When I was returning our grandson Alex to his family after a visit, the traffic seemed especially challenging. Fast-maneuvering cars blocked me from the correct toll lane, forcing me to go through a lane where only cars with a prepaid pass are permitted, which I didn’t have. Alex told me that my license plate would be photographed and a ticket might be mailed to me. I was frustrated because a penalty would have to be paid even though my infraction was unintentional.
What changes take place in a life of faith after severe testing? I thought of this as I read the tragic story of a Jamaican dad who accidentally shot and killed his 18-year-old daughter while trying to protect his family from intruders.
In response to the news that a mutual friend of ours had died, a wise brother who knew the Lord sent me these words, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints” (Ps. 116:15). Our friend’s vibrant faith in Jesus Christ was the dominant characteristic of his life, and we knew he was home with God in heaven. His family had that assurance as well, but I had been focused only on their sorrow. And it’s appropriate to consider others during their grief and loss.
Many of us face the challenge of working with limited resources. Equipped with less money, less time, dwindling energy, and fewer helpers, our workload may remain the same. Sometimes, it even increases. There’s a saying that sums up this predicament: “More bricks, less straw.”
I love playing the 5-string banjo. But it has one drawback. The fifth string will harmonize with only a limited number of simple chords. When other musicians want to play more complicated music, the banjoist has to adapt. He can lend marvelous melodic tones to a jam session only by making the right adjustments.
On November 19, 1863, two well-known men gave speeches at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The featured speaker, Edward Everett, was a former congressman, governor, and president of Harvard University. Considered one of the greatest orators of his day, Mr. Everett delivered a formal address lasting 2 hours. He was followed by President Abraham Lincoln, whose speech lasted 2 minutes.
The Chicago River is unusual because it flows backward. Engineers reversed its direction over a century ago because city-dwellers were using it as a dump. Dishwater, sewage, and industrial waste all funneled into the river, which emptied into Lake Michigan. Since the lake supplied drinking water for the city, thousands grew sick and died before city authorities decided to redirect the river to flow backward, away from the lake.
As a workplace chaplain, I’m privileged to be in conversation with many different people. Some are skeptics of the Christian faith. I’ve discovered three major hurdles that keep them from trusting in Christ for salvation.
When I teach English composition, I require students to write in class. I know that in-class writing is their own work, so in this way I become familiar with each student’s writing voice and am able to detect if they “borrow” a bit too heavily from another writer. Students are surprised to learn that their writing voice—which includes what they say as well as how they say it—is as distinctive as their speaking voice. Just as the words we speak come from our hearts, so do the words we write. They reveal who we are.
I looked up the members of my seminary graduating class recently and discovered that many of my friends are now deceased. It was a sober reminder of the brevity of life. Three score and ten, give or take a few years, and we’re gone (Ps. 90:10). Israel’s poet was right: We’re but strangers here and sojourners (39:12).
Jim decided to follow Christ at the age of 10. Fifteen years later his commitment had faded. He had adopted a live-for-the-moment philosophy and developed some bad habits. Then his life seemed to fall apart. He had problems at work. Three family members died almost simultaneously. Fears and doubts began to plague Jim, and nothing seemed to help—until one day when he read Psalm 121:2, “My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” These words cut through the fear and confusion in his heart. He turned back to God for help, and God welcomed him.
My husband and I live in a rural area surrounded by farms where this slogan is popular: “If you ate a meal today, thank a farmer.” Farmers definitely deserve our gratitude. They do the hot, hard work of tilling soil, planting seeds, and harvesting the food that keeps us from starving to death.
Early one morning the wind began to blow and raindrops hit my house like small stones. I peered outside at the yellow-gray sky and watched as trees thrashed in the wind. Veins of lightning lit the sky accompanied by bone-rattling thunder. The power blinked on and off, and I wondered how long the bad weather would continue.
It was the day after. My favorite team had just lost its final game and the dream of a championship was now over. It was cold out and a bit gloomy as I got in the car to go to work. None of this should have mattered much, but it was shaping up to be a blue Monday.
Not long ago I heard the distressed chirping of a bird coming from the side of my neighbor’s house. I discovered that a nest of baby birds was inside a vent covered by a screen, placing a barrier between the mother bird who was trying to feed her hungry chicks. After I told the neighbors, they removed the screen and took the nest and chicks to a safe place to be cared for.
When I was a teen, I witnessed an auto accident. It was a shocking experience that was compounded by what followed. As the only witness to the incident, I spent the ensuing months telling a series of lawyers and insurance adjustors what I had seen. I was not expected to explain the physics of the wreck or the details of the medical trauma. I was asked to tell only what I had witnessed.
In cultures with an abundance of food choices, bread is no longer a necessary part of the diet so some choose to live without it for various reasons. In the first century, however, bread was viewed as an essential staple. A diet without bread was a foreign concept.
The book To Marry an English Lord chronicles the 19th-century phenomenon of rich American heiresses who sought marriages to British aristocracy. Although they were already wealthy, they wanted the social status of royalty. The book begins with Prince Albert, son of Queen Victoria, going to the United States to pay a social call. A mass of wealthy heiresses flood into a ball arranged for Prince Albert, each hoping to become his royal bride.
Visitors to Colorado often become dehydrated without realizing it. The dry climate and intense sun, especially in the mountains, can rapidly deplete the body’s fluids. That’s why many tourist maps and signs urge people to drink plenty of water.
Albert Einstein was heard to say, “Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former.” Sadly, it does seem that far too often there is no limit to the foolishness we get ourselves into—or the damage we create by our foolishness and the choices it fosters.
We’re often looking for God’s will—especially when we’re in a difficult situation. We wonder, What will happen to me here? Should I stay or does God want me somewhere else? The only way to know for sure is to do what He asks you to do right now—the duty of the present moment—and wait for God to reveal the next step.
Boxing and strong-man competitions have a unique aspect to them. In the events, the athletes compete individually for the purpose of demonstrating their superior strength. It’s like arm wrestling—you do it to prove that you are the strongest person in the room.
What’s special about September 4? Perhaps it’s your birthday or anniversary. That would make it special. Or maybe you could celebrate the historic events of this day. For instance, in 1781, the city of Los Angeles, California, was founded. Or this: In 1993, Jim Abbott, a pitcher for the New York Yankees, didn’t let anyone get a hit off his pitches—and he was born without a right hand. Or if you’re a TV fan: In 1951, the first live US coast-to-coast television broadcast was aired from San Francisco.
One of my favorite Bible passages that applies to work is Nehemiah 1–2. King Artaxerxes’ employee Nehemiah had been such an exemplary worker that the king wanted to honor him by helping him when he was sad that Jerusalem was still in ruins. He asked Nehemiah, “Why is your face sad? . . . What do you request?” (2:2,4). He wasn’t just any worker for the king, he was the cupbearer, the man who tasted the king’s drink to protect him from being poisoned. In order to have earned such a position, he apparently worked hard and honored God in everything he did. And the king granted his requests.
It was almost impossible not to see the giant billboard with the red background and huge white letters that shouted: “This year thousands of men will die from stubbornness.” Later I learned that the billboard was one of hundreds just like it targeted at middle-aged men who typically avoid routine medical screenings and often die from preventable conditions.
Sir Christopher Wren designed and built more than 50 church buildings in London during the late 1600s. His design style had two prominent features—the first of which was sturdy, tall steeples. The second, however, was more profound. Wren was convinced that all of the windows in his churches must use clear glass as opposed to the stained glass so popular in churches of that era. In part, his reason for the clear glass is found in words attributed to him: “God’s greatest gift to man is light.” Allowing light to bathe people as they worshiped was, to Wren, a celebration of that gift.
Pandora is one of the musical marvels of the Internet age. It helps you create your own personal radio station by allowing you to “customize” your music. It plays a song and you then click a thumbs up or thumbs down sign to indicate whether or not you like it. You end up with a grouping of only songs that you like.
The news is quick to report all the details of famous people’s wrongdoings and their subsequent confessions. Perhaps it’s an athlete who was arrested for driving while drunk. Or it could be a politician caught in an indiscretion. Only God knows the heart, but when we hear a stuttered “I’m . . . uh . . . sorry,” we may wonder if they are truly repentant or just sorry they got caught.
Much of the scenery I saw during our vacation in Alaska was through the windows of moving vehicles. I was thankful for glass that allowed me to see the beauty while remaining warm and dry. But the windows also presented a challenge. When it rained, water drops on the outside obscured the view. When the temperature changed, condensation caused fog to develop on the inside.
When a local bookstore rearranged its shelves, I noticed an increase in the number of titles relating to sorcery and witchcraft. In fact, the religion section had become a virtual “standoff” between light and darkness. Christian titles flanked one side of the aisle, while roughly the same number of occult books lined the other side.
A heavy thunderstorm delayed our flight to Frankfurt, causing us to miss our connecting flight. We were told that we had been confirmed on another flight the next evening. But when we arrived at the gate, we were told that we were on standby. The flight was full.
When asked “What’s love?” children have some great answers. Noelle, age 7, said, “Love is when you tell a guy you like his shirt, then he wears it every day.” Rebecca, who is 8, answered, “Since my grandmother got arthritis, she can’t bend over and polish her toenails anymore. So my grandfather does it for her all the time, even after his hands got arthritis too. That’s love.” Jessica, also 8, concluded, “You really shouldn’t say ‘I love you’ unless you mean it. But if you mean it, you should say it a lot. People forget.”
On a sandy beach in Uruguay, giant concrete fingers partially submerged in sand reach up toward the sky. It is called the Monument to the Drowned. Locals just call it La Mano, “The Hand.” It was created by Chilean artist Mario Irarrázabal as a warning to swimmers about the danger of drowning. “The Hand” has become a tourist attraction, but its real purpose remains to remind swimmers about the perils of the sea.
Among God’s creatures, the butterfly is one of the most stunningly beautiful! Its gentle flight, colorful wings, and amazing migratory patterns are traits that make the butterfly a masterpiece of the natural world.
On January 18, 2012, the longest winning streak in US intercollegiate varsity sports history—252 consecutive victories—ended when Trinity College lost a squash match to Yale. The morning after the team’s first loss in 14 years, Trinity’s coach, Paul Assaiante, received an e-mail from a friend, a prominent professional football coach, who wrote, “Well, now you get to bounce back.” Ten days later, that football coach’s team lost in one of the most widely seen athletic events—the NFL Super Bowl. All of us must cope with defeat.
When airplane pilots are training, they spend many hours in flight simulators. These simulators give the students a chance to experience the challenges and dangers of flying an aircraft—but without the risk. The pilots don’t have to leave the ground, and if they crash in the simulation, they can calmly walk away.
Every year when I put out the hummingbird feeder, the busy little birds start battling for position. Even though there are four places at the “table,” the birds fight for whatever place one of their neighbors is using. The source of food at each place is the same—a reservoir of syrup in the bottom of the feeder. Knowing that all the feeding stations are equal, I shake my head at their greediness.
When Jason was asked to sing at a church he was visiting, he was delighted to participate even though he wasn’t asked until a few minutes before the service started. He chose a familiar hymn, “To God Be the Glory,” because it was a song that was especially meaningful to him. He practiced it a few times in the church basement and sang it without accompaniment in the church service.
How is behavior altered? In his book The Social Animal, David Brooks notes that some experts have said people just need to be taught the long-term risks of bad behavior. For example, he writes: “Smoking can lead to cancer. Adultery destroys families, and lying destroys trust. The assumption was that once you reminded people of the foolishness of their behavior, they would be motivated to stop. Both reason and will are obviously important in making moral decisions and exercising self-control. But neither of these character models has proven very effective.” In other words, information alone is not powerful enough to transform behavior.
Eric was one of the good guys. As a police officer, he saw his work as service to his community and was fully committed to serving at all costs. Evidence of this desire was seen on the door of Eric’s locker at the police station, where he posted John 15:13.
Years ago, while my husband and I were visiting the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC, we noticed a baby stroller by itself with no one nearby. We assumed that the parents had left it there because it was too bulky and were now carrying their child. But as we approached, we saw a sleeping baby inside. Where was a parent . . . a sibling . . . a babysitter? We hung around for quite some time before hailing a museum official. No one had shown up to claim that precious child! The last we saw of him, he was being wheeled away to a safe place.
The fifth book of the New Testament, the Acts of the Apostles, records the beginnings of the Christian church under the leadership of the people Jesus had appointed. Some scholars have suggested that this book could also be called the Acts of the Holy Spirit, because the Spirit’s power supplied courage for the apostles in the face of every hardship.
My son Mark and I were leaving the Clyde Peterson Ranch in Wyoming to head back to Michigan. In the distance we spotted a huge bird sitting in a solitary tree overlooking a steep canyon. As we approached, the golden eagle leaped from the tree and soared out over the canyon, the golden streaks in its feathers shimmering in the morning sun. Its immense size and beauty filled us with wonder. We felt privileged to witness this magnificent demonstration of God’s awesome creativity.
There are many who say, ‘Who will show us any good?’” (Ps. 4:6). These words of David seem to describe the pessimistic outlook we so easily develop in our world today. The front page of newspapers and the top stories on the Internet or television seem to focus on crime, accidents, politics, the economy, and prominent people behaving badly. Our conversations at work and home begin to dwell on difficulties, and it’s enough to discourage anyone. Where can we turn for better news?
Church services often end with a benediction. A common one is taken from Peter’s concluding remarks in his first epistle: “May the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you” (1 Peter 5:10). Sometimes omitted in the benediction is the phrase “after you have suffered a while.” Why? Perhaps because it is not pleasant to speak of suffering.
In an interview with Wired magazine, filmmaker George Lucas was asked how he wanted to be remembered. He replied: “I’ll be remembered as a filmmaker. . . . Hopefully some of the stories I told will still be relevant. . . . If you’ve raised children, you know you have to explain things to them, and if you don’t, they end up learning the hard way. . . . So the old stories have to be reiterated again in a form that’s acceptable to each new generation. I don’t think I’m ever going to go much beyond the old stories, because I think they still need to be told.”
None of us can say that we have no regrets. Often we are led down paths of bad choices—some paths longer than others—which can have a lingering effect on the mind, body, and soul.
James Madison, fourth president of the United States, was instrumental in the drafting of the US constitution. He warned against creating laws “so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood.” Based on some of the complicated government forms I’ve read, that’s advice that still needs to be heeded a little more often!
My husband and I were at a public swimming pool when the people around us started staring into the sky. A small plane was emitting smoke in the form of letters. As we watched, the pilot spelled out the letters: “I L-O-V-E.” People began speculating: Maybe it was to be a marriage proposal. Perhaps a romantic man is standing nearby on a balcony with his girlfriend and will soon pop the Will-you-marry-me? question. We kept gazing upward: “I L-O-V-E Y-O-U J-E-.” I heard young girls guessing: “I bet it will be Jen or maybe Jessica.” He kept spelling. No. It was: “J-E-S-U-S.” The pilot was declaring love for Jesus for many people to see.
Not far from my house, authorities have rigged a camera to snap pictures of drivers who race through red lights. The offenders later receive in the mail a ticket along with a “red-light photo,” which is visual proof of their traffic violation.
When the first flowers of spring bloomed in our yard, my 5-year-old son waded into a patch of daffodils. He noticed some debris from plants that had expired months before and remarked, “Mom, when I see something dead, it reminds me of Easter because Jesus died on the cross.” I replied, “When I see something alive—like the daffodils—it reminds me that Jesus came back to life!”
Commercial aircraft carry two flight-data recorders called “black boxes.” One logs the performance and condition of the aircraft in flight, and the other records the conversation of the crew with air-traffic controllers on the ground. These boxes are insulated to protect against extreme temperatures and are fitted with underwater locator beacons that emit sounds to the surface. After an airplane crash, these boxes are retrieved and the data carefully analyzed to determine the cause of the crash. Air safety experts want to learn from past mistakes, among other things, so they won’t be repeated.
William Carey was an ordinary man with an extraordinary faith. Born into a working-class family in the 18th century, Carey made his living as a shoemaker. While crafting shoes, Carey read theology and journals of explorers. God used His Word and the stories of the discovery of new people groups to burden him for global evangelism. He went to India as a missionary, and not only did he do the work of an evangelist but he learned Indian dialects into which he translated the Word of God. Carey’s passion for missions is expressed by his words: “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.” Carey lived out this maxim, and thousands have been inspired to do missionary service by his example.
For 2 decades, ecologist Mike Hands has worked to help farmers in Central America adopt more effective methods of growing their crops. It’s difficult, however, for them to abandon their long tradition of “slash and burn” agriculture, even though they know it destroys the soil and pollutes the air.
Sometimes when the infinite God conveys His thoughts to finite man, mystery is the result. For example, there’s a profound verse in the book of Psalms that seems to present more questions than answers: “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His faithful servants” (116:15 niv).
A college student I met had recently placed her faith in Christ. She described her initial life-change this way: “When I trusted Christ for salvation, it felt like God reached down from heaven and placed a new set of eyes in my eye sockets. I could understand spiritual truth!”
Under it. Over it. Around it. Through it. Nothing will stop me from doing it.” I often hear people express this kind of attitude when they get an idea or see an opportunity that seems good or profitable. They devote all of their resources to getting it done.
The expression “red tape” describes the annoying way that bureaucracy prevents things from getting done. Originally, the phrase referred to the common practice of binding official documents with red ribbon. In the early 1800s, the term was popularized by the writings of Scottish historian Thomas Carlyle, who was protesting governmental foot-dragging. Following the American Civil War, the problem of “red tape” resurfaced as war veterans struggled to receive their benefits. The term denotes frustration and disappointment because of the burdensome hurdles it erects to accomplishing goals.
Qumran was a first-century Jewish community that had isolated itself from outside influences to prepare for the arrival of the Messiah. They took great care in devotional life, ceremonial washings, and strict adherence to rules of conduct. Surviving documents show that they would not allow the lame, the blind, or the crippled into their communities. This was based on their conviction that anyone with a physical “blemish” was ceremonially unclean. During their table fellowship, disabled people were never on their guest lists.
I recently saw a commercial for an online game based on Greek mythology. It spoke about armies, mythological gods, heroes, and quests. What got my attention was the description of how to get the game started. You go online to register, choose your god, then build your empire.
I was delighted when I received a free gift in the mail—a CD of Scripture set to music. After listening to it several times, some of the melodies took root in my mind. Before long, I could sing the words to a couple of verses in the book of Psalms without the help of the recording.
There are a lot of things that intrigue me about Jesus. One of the aspects of His ministry that has always produced jaw-dropping, head-scratching responses is His upside-down teaching about life.
I love watching soccer, and I am a fan of the Liverpool Football Club in England’s Premier League. When the Reds are playing, it is an anxiety-filled experience for me. Because one goal or one misplay can change the game’s outcome, I feel a constant tension as I watch. That is part of what makes the games enjoyable. Recently, though, I saw a tape-delayed replay of one of Liverpool’s games. I was surprised how much calmer I felt seeing the replay. Why? Because I already knew the outcome, and as a result I was able to relax and enjoy the action.
A prisoner who survived 14 years in a Cuban jail told how he kept his spirits up and his hope alive: “I had no window in my cell, and so I mentally constructed one on the door. I ‘saw’ in my mind a beautiful scene from the mountains, with water tumbling down a ravine over rocks. It became so real to me that I would visualize it without effort every time I looked at the cell door.”
My friend was having a conversation with a man who didn’t have much good to say about the Christian faith. My friend knew that if he were to sound too “religious,” he would jeopardize any chance to witness. So, in the middle of their discussion, he said, “Hey, Bob, do you know where sinners go?”
El Bulli restaurant, 2 hours north of Barcelona, is so popular that customers must reserve a table 6 months in advance. But noted Spanish chef Ferran Adrià decided to close the doors of his award-winning restaurant for 2 years so he and his staff could have time to think, plan, and innovate. Adrià told Hemispheres Magazine, “If we are winning all the prizes, why change? Working 15 hours a day leaves us very little time to create.” In the midst of great success, they took time out for what is most important to them.
Beauty, wealth, power, love, mar- riage, and pleasure are good things, but they’re not the best. The best is loving God and taking in His love—bringing Him glory and making Him our friend for life. That leads to the best possible life because it gives us satisfaction and joy now (John 10:10), and it’s what Christians are going to be doing forever.
In all the years I’ve worked with people, I’ve yet to meet someone whose life was all messed up because he or she kept God’s commands. Yet, in a day when personal freedom is celebrated as an inalienable right, talk of conforming our lifestyle to God’s ways is often viewed as an infringement. And anyone who speaks out in favor of God’s boundaries is ruled out of bounds. But in this frenzy to be free, it should not go unnoticed that our society is increasingly marked with a haunting sense of meaninglessness and despair.
It seems that wherever you go these days, you see signs encouraging people to wash their hands. With the constant threat of germs and viruses spreading disease throughout the general public, health officials continually remind us that unwashed hands form the single greatest agent for the spread of germs. So, in addition to the signs calling for vigilant hand- washing, public places will often provide hand sanitizers to help take care of germs and bacteria.
In his book Christmas 1945, Matthew Litt tells about the first peacetime Christmas celebration in the US after World War II. The New York Daily News alerted readers to expect a fleet of warships in New York Harbor: “Christmas Day will find a mighty armada, consisting of 4 battleships, 6 carriers, 7 cruisers, and 24 destroyers.” But instead of waging war, the military ships hosted 1,000 needy children.
You don’t have to gaze long at the night sky to marvel at the wonder of God’s awe-inspiring handiwork. The massive stretch of galaxies and the cloudy mass of our own Milky Way remind us of the spectacular creation and the sustaining work of Jesus by whom it is all held together (Col. 1:16-17). It’s as though all of us have front-row seats in the theater of God’s creative power.
We refer to Christmas as the season of giving. Most of us try hard to find gifts that friends and family will like, but not all gifts are equal. Some gifts come with a subtle hint, like an exercise machine or a book about weight loss. Other gifts are those that the giver really wants for himself. But the best gifts are those that come from someone who loves us and knows what we want.
After Adam and Eve disobeyed God, joy was lost. God expelled them from their garden home to prevent something worse from happening. If they had eaten from the tree of life after eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, they would have lived forever in their misery.
People’s attitudes toward Bible prophecy vary widely. Some believers are so preoccupied with it that they are constantly talking about the latest world events, thinking they are biblical signs that Christ could return at any moment. Others are so casual in their view of prophecy that it seems as if they don’t believe it’s relevant to the Christian life at all.
Willard S. Boyle, Nobel Prize winner in physics, was the co-inventor of the “electronic eye” behind the digital camera and the Hubble telescope. He was in the market for a new digital camera and visited a store in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The salesman tried to explain the complexity of the camera to Boyle, but stopped because he felt it was too complicated for him to understand. Boyle then bluntly said to the salesman: “No need to explain. I invented it.”
A very severe and tragic event in US history was the forced relocation of thousands of Native Americans in the early 19th century. Native American tribes, who had struck treaties with and fought alongside the burgeoning white population, were driven out of their ancestral lands. In the winter of 1838, thousands of Cherokee were forced to embark on a brutal 1,000-mile march westward known as The Trail of Tears. This injustice resulted in the deaths of thousands of people, many of whom had little or no clothing, shoes, or supplies for such a journey.
From across the intersection, I watched as a car hesitated when the traffic light turned green. Then, out of nowhere, a voice began screaming, “Go! Go! Come on, go!” The driver appeared frightened by the angry cries, and he was a bit confused as to where the voice was coming from. Then I saw it—the car behind him was equipped with a loudspeaker that enabled him to yell at other drivers! Eventually, the hesitant driver collected himself and moved along. I was struck by the rudeness and impatience of the angry driver.
What did Jesus see when He looked at the woman at the well in John 4? He saw someone who wanted acceptance and desperately needed to know she was loved. Most of all, He saw someone who needed what only He could give—a new heart.
Adam and Eve didn’t need hope because they didn’t lack anything they needed. And they had every reason to think that life would go on as pleasantly as it started—with every good thing that God had given them to enjoy. But they put it all at risk for the one thing the serpent said that God had withheld: the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:17; 3:5). So when the serpent came with his offer, Eve was quick to indulge, and Adam quick to follow (3:6). They got what they wanted: knowledge. But they lost what they had: innocence. With the loss of innocence came the need for hope—hope that their guilt and shame could be removed and goodness restored.
In 2010, my brothers and I cele- brated our dad’s 90th birthday. We hosted an open house with great food and fellowship. In the living room, family and friends took up banjo, guitar, mandolin, fiddle, upright bass, and Irish drum to play and sing all afternoon. A big cake was prepared with this written on it in frosting: “Praise the Lord! Blessed is the man who fears the Lord—Psalm 112:1. Happy 90th birthday, Hal.”
Years ago I saw a cartoon that depicted a sour, disgruntled, elderly gentleman standing in rumpled pajamas and robe at his apartment door. He had just secured the door for the night with four locks, two deadbolts, and a chain latch. Later he noticed a small white envelope stuck beneath the door. On the envelope was a large sticker in the shape of a heart. It was a valentine. Love had found a way.
Imagine looking through your fam- ily tree and finding this description of your ancestor: “A prostitute, she harbored enemies of the government in her house. When she was confronted by the authorities, she lied about it.”
Every summer, thousands of Good Morning America viewers cast their votes to select “The Most Beautiful Place in America.” I was delighted when the winner for 2011 was announced—Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in my home state of Michigan. Admittedly, I didn’t expect the winning location to be in my own backyard. It reminded me of the time my wife, Martie, and I visited Niagara Falls. A man nearby watched our tourist behavior and quipped, “Ain’t nothin’ to it. I see it every day.”
Perhaps the most painful statement a person can hear is, “I don’t love you anymore.” Those words end relationships, break hearts, and shatter dreams. Often, people who have been betrayed guard themselves against future pain by deciding not to trust anyone’s love again. That settled conviction may even include the love of God.
When he was a teenager, my son asked me one of those questions that make you earn your pay as a parent. “Dad,” Steve inquired, “if God has existed for eternity, what was He doing before He created the universe?”
Recently I was reading about how easy it is to mishandle the message of the Bible. We may try to make it support what we already believe is true instead of allowing it to speak to us with God’s intended message. Some people use the Bible to defend one side of an issue, while others use the Bible to attack that same issue. Both quote Scripture to support their views, but both can’t be right.
My wife, Shirley, and I enjoyed a cruise along the fjords of Norway in celebration of our 50th wedding anniversary. As we journeyed northward, we stopped in numerous towns and villages, often visiting churches. Among them was a 12th-century church that our guide described proudly as “still a working church.” I asked, “What do you mean?” She referred to the days of the state church, when the state-appointed pastors simply collected their paychecks but no one attended the services. But this church had been faithfully holding worship services and actively serving the Lord for almost 1,000 years!
To many Londoners, 1666 looked like the year when Jesus would return. Prophecy enthusiasts had added 1,000 years since Christ’s birth to 666, the number of Antichrist, to arrive at the date 1666.
True confession: When I found out that astronaut Rex Walheim would be taking a copy of Our Daily Bread with him into space for the last mission of the shuttle Atlantis, I looked ahead to find out which devotionals I had written that he would be reading. The idea of having my words read in outer space seemed, well, pretty amazing for this small-town kid.
You’re sitting in a darkened theater enjoying a concert, a play, or a film, when suddenly a smartphone screen lights up as a person reads an incoming text and perhaps takes time to reply. In his book The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, Nicholas Carr says that in our connected world, “The sense that there might be a message out there for us” is increasingly difficult to resist.
Not far from where my husband and I live is a farm with a lot of horses. During certain seasons, some of the horses have masks over their eyes. For a long time I felt sorry for the horses who weren’t allowed to see. But then I learned that my assumption about the masks was wrong. The masks are made of mesh, so horses can see through them. But flies, which cause eye disease, can’t get through them. The masks don’t keep the horses from seeing; they keep them from going blind!
I loved Malcom’s prayer at church the other day. Only 7 years old, he stood in front of 100 other kids and prayed: “Jesus, thank You that some of us get to play football and go to church, and for safety on the ride here, and for forgiveness of our sins, and for eternal life. We love You, Jesus. Please don’t ever forget how much we love You!”
A friend who lives in Singapore told me about an old Chinese greeting. Instead of “How are you?” people would ask “Have you eaten until you are full?” The greeting likely originated during a time when food was scarce and many people did not know when they would have their next meal. When food was available, it was advisable to eat until they were full.
A pastor, who was trained in trauma and grief counseling, commented that the greatest challenge for people who are hurting is often not the immediate heartache of the loss. Instead, the biggest problem is adjusting to the different kind of life that follows. What once was normal may never be normal again. So the challenge for those offering help is to assist the sufferers as they establish the “new normal.” It may be a new normal that no longer includes robust health, a treasured relationship, or a satisfying job. Or it may be living without a loved one who has been taken in death. The gravity of such losses forces us to live a different kind of life—no matter how unwelcome it may be.
As a 12-year-old, I was curious about the Bible my dad was given when he retired from the paper mill. It came in a special cedar box marked The Holy Bible, and I assumed that “holy” meant it was off-limits to me. But still I peered inside. In the center of the Bible was a picture of Jesus hanging on the cross, along with the words of John 3:16. There was also a see-through red film covering the page, which I assumed meant He bled and died.
One of the most dangerous aspects of flying is the landing. As the aircraft gets closer to land, the air traffic is more congested, the weather on the ground may be far worse than the weather at 30,000 feet, and the runways may not be clear of other planes. So pilots rely on the air-traffic controller to coordinate all the details so that every plane can arrive without incident. Without the air-traffic controller, chaos would be certain.
Texas Ranger baseball player Josh Hamilton has battled the demons of drug and alcohol addiction. So when his team won their playoff series in 2010, Hamilton was concerned about the postgame celebration. He admitted that it’s not good for a recovering alcoholic to be in the midst of a “rainstorm” of champagne. But something beautiful happened. Instead of champagne, his teammates stocked the locker room with ginger ale so that Hamilton could be included in the celebration. What a great picture of community and putting others’ needs above your own.
My wife was working at home on her computer recently when she suddenly noticed her laptop battery power was low and the computer was about to shut down. The computer was plugged in, though, so it shouldn’t have been using the battery. Following the laptop cord to the extension cord, she finally noticed that the extension cord was actually plugged back into itself instead of the wall outlet! She looked at me, amused, and said, “There’s a devotional in there somewhere.”
In 1960, everyone in the high school I attended participated in Project TALENT. For several days, we took tests that surveyed our aptitudes in academic subjects. In addition, we were asked to express our plans, hopes, and dreams for the future. What we didn’t know was that we were among 400,000 participants from 1,300 schools in the largest study of high school students ever conducted in the US. None of us involved in the study could have imagined how our lives would turn out.
We wondered why a friend of ours kept traveling to Hobart, Tasmania. Recently she invited us to join her there. From the airport we drove over a bridge and through the city and suburbs. Nothing outstanding—but we kept on traveling. After a few difficult hairpin turns that took us slowly and sharply uphill, we saw the outline of the coast below. Still quite ordinary looking.
My first glimpse of the Promised Land from the hills of Moab was disappointing. “Did this look a lot different when the Israelites got here?” I asked our guide as we looked toward Jericho. I was expecting a dramatic contrast from the east side of the Jordan. “No,” she answered. “It has looked the same for thousands of years.”
On February 10, 1675, 50 colonial families in Lancaster, Massachusetts, feared possible Native American raids. Joseph Rowlandson, the Puritan minister of the village, was in Boston pleading with the government for protection, while Mary, his wife, stayed behind with their children. At sunrise, the settlers were attacked. After some of the settlers were killed, Mary and other survivors were taken captive.
In August 2011, NASA released a composite image from the Hubble telescope that left people smiling. The image is of two galaxies beginning to collide. The collision looks like a heavenly exclamation point (!). The latest statistic I’ve read says there are about 100 billion observable galaxies in the universe. Each galaxy has hundreds of billions of stars, and more galaxies are being discovered.
Howard Sugden, my pastor when I was in college, preached many memorable sermons. After all these years, the one titled “But God . . .” still makes me stop whenever I come to those words in the Bible. Here are a few examples of verses that encourage me with the reminder of God’s righteous intervention in human affairs:
In 2010, auto manufacturers recalled a staggering 20 million cars in the US for various defects. The thought of such a large number of defective cars on the road is startling enough. But what is more disturbing is the apathy of some owners. In one instance, the executive director of the Center for Auto Safety warned owners, “It’s a free repair. Get it done. It may save your life.” Yet, despite the risk to their own lives, 30 percent never responded.
Microbes from Mars fell on the very early Earth . . . , and the offspring of those microbes are still here—and they are us.” That’s how one astronomer speculated about how life originated on Mars and then came to Earth.
Across the United States and around the world, we often experience the dramatic effect of something no one can see. In 2011, for instance, several US cities were devastated by tornadoes that blew apart neighborhoods and business districts. And during each hurricane season, we are shocked as winds of more than 100 miles an hour threaten to destroy what we have built.
At a cultural show in Bandung, Indonesia, we enjoyed a wonderful orchestra performance. Before the finale, the 200 people in the audience were each handed an angklung, a musical instrument made of bamboo. We were taught how to shake it in rhythm with the conductor’s timing. Soon we thought we were performing like an orchestra; we felt so proud of how well we were doing! Then it dawned on me that we were not the ones who were good; it was the conductor who deserved the credit.
By the time I was born, my great- grandfather, Abram Z. Hess, had already lost his sight. He was known for the beautiful wooden objects he had carved on a lathe—and also as someone who could quote many verses of Scripture. He and his friend Eli would often share Scripture verses back and forth. A bit of a competitive spirit resulted in their admission that Eli could cite more references while my grandfather could recite more verses.
Recently, I couldn’t find my credit card. I began frantically looking for it because losing a credit card is no small thing. Automatic payments and daily purchases would all be disrupted until it could be replaced. Not to mention the possibility of someone finding it and charging items to our account. What a relief it was when my wife found it on the floor under the computer table.
In Revelation 5, the apostle John portrays Jesus, the Lion of Judah (v.5), as a wounded Lamb (v.6). Referring to this word picture, preacher Charles Spurgeon asked, “Why should our exalted Lord appear in His wounds in glory?” His reply: “The wounds of Jesus are His glory.”
When my friend Marci’s father- in-law passed away, she stopped making his favorite dessert: pineapple salad. One day, her little boy asked why she no longer served it. She replied, “It reminds me of Papa, and it makes me sad; Papa really liked that dessert.” Her son replied in a chipper tone, “Not better than heaven!”
Four people—a pilot, a professor, a pastor, and a hiker—were flying in a small plane when the engines died. The pilot said, “There are only three parachutes. Since this is my plane, I’m taking one of them.” He put it on and jumped out. The professor said, “I’m brilliant and the world needs me, so I’m taking a parachute,” and he jumped out.
I recently saw an ad for a brand of clothing geared toward youth. It consists of blue jeans and all the accessories designed to go with them. There is nothing novel about that. What got my attention, however, was the name of this clothing line. It is called “True Religion.” That caused me to stop and think. Why was that name chosen? Am I missing some deeper significance? What is the connection between a brand of jeans and true religion? What do they mean by it? My musings left me with questions for which I had no answers.
The beauty of the black lacy design against the pastel purple and orange background grabbed my attention. The intricacy of the fragile pattern led me to assume that it had been created by a skilled artist. As I looked more closely at the photo, however, I saw the artist admiring his work from a corner of the photo. The “artist” was a worm, and its work of art was a partially eaten leaf.
My car broke down in a tunnel during rush hour in downtown Boston. Angry drivers expressed their frustration as they struggled past me. Eventually, the car was towed to a station for repairs. Later it broke down again, stranding me along the Interstate at 2 a.m. Back to the shop it went.
Whenever a tsunami warning is given on the northern coastline of Maui, Hawaii, the people living in Hana rush up the side of a mountain to a high place of safety. Nearby is a tall wooden cross that was placed there many years ago by missionaries. For their physical safety, people run to the area where the cross is located.
On Sunday, July 18, 2010, one of the busiest highways in Europe became what some called “the longest table in the world.” Officials closed a 60-kilometer (37-mile) section of the A40 Autobahn in Germany’s Ruhr region so people could walk and bicycle or sit at one of 20,000 tables set up on the roadway. An estimated 2 million people came to enjoy an event the director hoped would connect people from many cultures, generations, and nations.
One snap of the shutter, and there it was . . . one beautiful moment captured in time for eternity. The late summer sun reflected in the breaking wave made the water look like liquid gold splashing onto the shore. If my friend had not been there with his camera, the wave would have gone unnoticed, like so many others that have come and gone, seen only by God.
The people of Israel were struggling. They had been taken captive by the Babylonians and forced to live in a country far from home. What could the prophet Isaiah give these weary people to help them?
It seems to me rather contradictory that Jesus, who was so gentle at times (Matt. 19:13-15), would call some people fools. Yet, as recorded in the Gospels a number of times, our Lord used this derogatory term to describe those He spoke about—especially the Pharisees (see Matt. 23:17-19; Luke 11:39-40).
Life is a risky enterprise. Sometimes we fly high, enjoying great success. But then suddenly we fall into deep disappointments and the haunting reality of failure, leaving our hearts wondering if there is anything worth looking forward to.
When someone asks, “How are you?” it has become common for the response to be, “I’m good.” When we say this, we are really saying, “I’m well” or “I’m doing fine,” speaking of our general well-being and not our character. I have answered with that response more times than I can count, but lately it has begun to bother me. Because, whether we realize it or not, we are saying something specific when we use the word good.
According to lie-detection experts, “Our natural tendency is to trust people.” However, not everyone is trustworthy all the time. Signs that someone may be lying include fidgeting, lack of eye contact, and noticeable pauses in speaking. Even with these clues, experts warn that it is still quite tough to tell deceivers from honest people.
In the Star Wars trilogy there’s a scene that reminds me of some church people I know. At an establishment somewhere in a remote corner of the galaxy, grotesque-looking creatures socialize over food and music. When Luke Skywalker enters with his two droids, C3PO and R2D2 (who are more “normal” than anyone else there), he is surprisingly turned away with a curt rebuff: “We don’t serve their kind here!”
The Devil and Daniel Webster” is a short story by Stephen Vincent Benet. In it, Jabez Stone, a New England farmer, has such “bad luck” that he sells his soul to the devil to become prosperous. Eventually, the devil comes to collect Jabez’s debt. But the eminent lawyer Daniel Webster is called in to defend him. Through a skillful series of arguments, Webster wins the case against the devil, and Jabez is saved from perdition.
I love cinnamon. I love cinnamon rolls, cinnamon graham crackers, cinnamon candies, cinnamon toast, cinnamon apples, and cinnamon pretzels. Cinnamon is one of those spices that makes other things taste better. However, it never crossed my mind to think about where cinnamon comes from. Then, on a recent trip to Sri Lanka, I learned that 90 percent of all the cinnamon in the world comes from that island nation located in the Indian Ocean. For all of the cinnamon I’ve enjoyed over the years, I never stopped to consider its source.
Charles Finney, a 29-year-old lawyer, was concerned about his soul’s salvation. On October 10, 1821, he retreated to a wooded area near his home for a time of prayer. While there, he had a profound conversion experience. He wrote: “The Holy Spirit . . . seemed to go through me, body and soul. . . . Indeed it seemed to come in waves of liquid love.”
The story is told of a young preach- er named Augustus Toplady, who was taking a walk through the English countryside when a sudden storm swept across the landscape. Toplady spotted a wide rock formation with an opening—a cleft—where he sought shelter until the storm passed. As he sat out the deluge, he contemplated the connection between his shelter and God’s help in life’s storms.
While going through some old files, I came across a 1992 special issue of TIME magazine titled “Beyond the Year 2000: What To Expect in the New Millennium.” It was fascinating to read the predictions made 2 decades ago about what the future would hold. Some general observations were on target, but no one foresaw many of the events and innovations that have radically changed our lives. The most telling statement to me was, “The first rule of forecasting should be that the unforeseen keeps making the future unforeseeable.”
Roger lost his job due to the com- pany being downsized. For months he searched, applied for jobs, prayed, asked others to pray, and trusted God. Roger and his wife Jerrie’s emotions fluctuated though. They saw God provide for them in unexpected ways and experienced His grace, but sometimes they worried that a job would never come. For 15 long months, they waited.
Pastor Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan rightly observes that Christianity is unique among all religions for it is about God’s pursuit of us to draw us to Himself. In every other religious system, people pursue their god, hoping that through good behavior, keeping of rituals, good works, or other efforts they will be accepted by the god they pursue.
How far is it from Nazareth to Bethlehem? If you’re in Pennsylvania, it’s about 9 miles and takes about 10 minutes by car. But if you’re in Nazareth of Galilee, and you’re traveling along with your pregnant wife, as Joseph was, it’s about 80 miles to Bethlehem. That journey probably took Joseph and Mary about a week, and they didn’t stay in a nice hotel when they got there. All Joseph could find was a stall in a stable, and that’s where Mary delivered “her firstborn Son” (Luke 2:7).
A friend described his grandmother as one of the greatest influences in his life. Throughout his adult years, he has kept her portrait next to his desk to remind himself of her unconditional love. “I really do believe,” he said, “that she helped me learn how to love.”
On November 24, 1971, a man known today as D. B. Cooper hijacked a commercial flight between Portland and Seattle by threatening to blow up the plane unless he received $200,000. After landing to receive a ransom, he ordered the plane back into the air. Then the rear stairs of the 727 aircraft were lowered, and he parachuted into the night. He was never captured, and the case is still unsolved. This act hastened the age of airport security in which trust and confidence have been replaced by suspicion and fear. What he did affected us all.
Each year at the end of November, the President of the United States issues an official pardon for the National Thanksgiving Turkey. During this lighthearted ceremony, one president remarked: “Our guest of honor looks a little nervous. Nobody’s told him yet that I’m going to give him a pardon.” The poor turkey had a good reason to be uneasy—without an acquittal, he was doomed to be Thanksgiving dinner.
When FBI agents train bank tellers to identify counterfeit bills, they show them both fake money and real money, and they study both. To detect a counterfeit problem, they must look for the differences in the genuine bill compared to the counterfeit—and not the similarities.
Robyn and Steve have a counseling ministry that provides very little income. Recently, a family crisis forced them to embark on a 5,000-mile round trip in their well-used minivan.
Ted, one of the elders in our church, used to be a police officer. One day after responding to a report of violence, he said the situation turned life-threatening. A man had stabbed someone and then menacingly turned the blade toward Ted. A fellow officer had taken position and fired his weapon at the assailant as he attacked Ted. The criminal was subdued, but Ted was shot in the crossfire. As he was driven by ambulance to the hospital, he felt deep waves of peace flowing over his soul from the Holy Spirit. Ted felt so tranquil that he was able to offer words of comfort to the law enforcement officer who was emotionally distraught over the crisis.
The United States has spent mil- lions of dollars looking for water on Mars. A few years ago, NASA sent twin robots, Opportunity and Spirit, to the red planet to see if water was present or had been present at one time. Why did the US do this? The scientists who are poring over data sent back from those two little Martian rovers are trying to figure out if life ever existed on Mars. And for that to have happened, there had to be water. No water, no life.
Awriter for The Washington Post conducted an experiment to test people’s perception. He asked a famous violinist to perform incognito at a train station in the nation’s capital one January morning. Thousands of people walked by as he played, but only a few stopped to listen. After 45 minutes, just $32 had been dropped into the virtuoso’s open violin case. Two days earlier, this man—Joshua Bell—had used the same $3.5 million Stradivarius for a sold-out concert where people paid $100 a seat to hear him perform.
For nearly a year, a former publish- ing colleague lived under a cloud of fear that he would be fired. A new boss in the department, for reasons unknown, began filling his personnel file with negative comments. Then, on the day my friend expected to lose his job, the new boss was fired instead.
When I was a teenager, my dad and I went on many hunting and fishing trips together. Most became happy memories, but one fishing expedition was nearly a disaster. We drove up into a high mountain range and set up camp in a remote area. Then Dad and I trudged a long way down the mountain to get to a stream to fish. After a long day fishing in the hot sun, it was time to return to camp. But as we began to head back, Dad’s face grew pale. He was dizzy and nauseated, and he had almost no strength.
In his book Long for This World, Jonathan Weiner writes about science’s promise to radically extend how long we live. At the center of the book is English scientist Aubrey de Grey, who predicts that science will one day offer us 1,000-year lifespans. Aubrey claims that molecular biology has finally placed a cure for aging within our reach.
Conventional wisdom questions how much can be accomplished with little. We tend to believe that a lot more can be done if we have large financial resources, talented manpower, and innovative ideas. But these things don’t matter to God. Consider just a couple of examples:
Someone once asked me why she should be like Jesus now since she would become like Him when she got to heaven (1 John 3:1-3). Great question! Especially when it’s easier to just be yourself.
It happened again. I got the urge to clean my office. Before I could resist, I had created an even bigger mess than I started with. One pile turned into many piles when I started sorting books, papers, and magazines. As the mess mushroomed, I lamented that I had started. But there was no going back.
Recently I was called for jury duty. It meant extraordinary inconvenience and lots of lost time, but it was also serious business. During the first day’s orientation, the judge lectured us on the responsibility at hand and the important nature of the task. We were going to sit in judgment of people who either had disputes (civil court) or were charged with crimes (criminal court). I felt a great sense of inadequacy for the task at hand. Passing judgment on another person, with serious life consequences riding on the decision, is not a simple thing. Because we’re flawed human beings, we may not always make the right judgments.
Most of us would agree that life has its ups and downs. Wise King Solomon believed this and reflected on our responses to fluctuating circumstances. In Ecclesiastes, he wrote: “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven: . . . a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance” (3:1-4).
Twenty-month-old James was lead- ing his family confidently through the hallways of their large church. His daddy kept an eye on him the whole time as James toddled his way through the crowd of “giants.” Suddenly the little boy panicked because he could not see his dad. He stopped, looked around, and started to cry, “Daddy, Daddy!” His dad quickly caught up with him and little James reached up his hand, which Daddy strongly clasped. Immediately James was at peace.
The Israelites and the Philistines were at war. While Saul relaxed under a pomegranate tree with his men, Jonathan and his armor-bearer left camp quietly to see if the Lord would work on their behalf, believing that “nothing restrains the Lord from saving by many or by few” (1 Sam. 14:6).
Today marks the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks in the US on September 11, 2001. It’s hard to think about that date without mental images of the destruction, grief, and loss that swept over America and the world following those tragic events. The loss of thousands of lives was compounded by the depth of loss felt corporately—a lost sense of security as a country. The sorrow of loss, personal and corporate, will always accompany the memory of the events of that day.
Some Christians grow up believing work is bad—that it’s a curse brought about by Adam and Eve’s sin. Left uncorrected, this mistaken belief can cause people to feel that what they do in their jobs every day isn’t important to God—or at the very least, isn’t as important as the work of missionaries and pastors. This is not true, as Genesis 1:26-31 teaches us.
The Ironman Triathlon consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2-mile run. It is not an easy feat for anyone to accomplish. But Dick Hoyt participated in the race and completed it with his physically disabled son Rick. When Dick swam, he pulled Rick in a small boat. When Dick cycled, Rick was in a seat-pod on the bike. When Dick ran, he pushed Rick along in a wheelchair. Rick was dependent on his dad in order to finish the race. He couldn’t do it without him.
Are you part of the problem or part of the solution? Whether that question is posed during a business meeting, a church council, or a family discussion, it often springs from a sense of exasperation in trying to comprehend why someone has acted in a certain way. More often than not, the answer is a matter of perspective.
In the episodes of an old television show, the veteran police lieutenant always said this to the young officers on their way out to the street for their day’s assignments: “Be careful out there!” It was both good advice and a word of compassion because he knew what could happen to them in the line of duty.
Some years ago when our children were still small, I flew home after a 10-day ministry trip. In those days people were allowed to visit the airport boarding area to greet incoming passengers. When my flight landed, I came out of the jet-bridge and was greeted by our little ones—so happy to see me that they were screaming and crying. I looked at my wife, whose eyes were teary. I couldn’t speak. Strangers in the gate area also teared up as our children hugged my legs and cried their greetings. It was a wonderful moment.
After a global financial crisis, the US government enacted stricter laws to protect people from questionable banking practices. Banks had to change some of their policies to comply. To notify me of such changes, my bank sent me a letter. But when I got to the end I had more questions than answers. The use of phrases like “we may” and “at our discretion” certainly didn’t sound like anything I could depend on!
You give them something to eat” (Mark 6:37). It’s easy to miss those words from Jesus. A huge crowd had gathered to hear Him. Late in the day, the disciples got nervous and started pressing Him to send them away (v.36). “You give them something to eat,” Jesus replied (v.37).
Near one of the most majestic sites in God’s nature is a botanical garden of awe-inspiring beauty. On the Canadian side of Niagara Falls is the Floral Showhouse. Inside the greenhouse is a vast array of beautiful flowers and exotic plants. In addition to the flora my wife and I observed, something else caught our attention—the wording of a plaque.
When my wife and I were engaged, her dad gave us a special wedding present. As a watchmaker and jeweler, he made our wedding rings. To make my wedding band, Jim used gold scraps left over from resizing other rings—scraps that were seemingly without much value. But in the hands of this craftsman, those pieces became a thing of beauty that I cherish to this day. It is amazing what a master craftsman can do with what others might view as useless.
A 60-year-old hotel in Kansas is being renovated into apartments. A rusty ship that is docked in Philadelphia is being restored and may become a hotel or a museum. Hangar 61, an admired piece of architecture at the old Stapleton Airport in Colorado, is being transformed into a church. Each structure had a specific use that is no longer viable. Yet someone was able to see promise and a new purpose in each one.
I have a good friend I fish with now and then. He’s a very thoughtful man. After climbing into his waders and boots and gathering up his gear, he sits on the tailgate of his truck and scans the river for 15 minutes or more, looking for rising fish. “No use fishing where they ain’t,” he says. This makes me think of another question: “Do I fish for souls where they ain’t?”
When our youngest son joined the Army, we knew that challenges lay ahead. We knew that he would face danger and be tested physically, emotionally, and spiritually. We also knew that in some ways our home would never fully be his home again. In the months leading up to his departure, my wife and I steeled ourselves for these challenges.
Sometimes I am ashamed of my prayers. Too often I hear myself using familiar phrases that are more like mindless filler than thoughtful, intimate interaction. One phrase that annoys me, and that I think might offend God, is “Lord, be with me.” In Scripture, God has already promised not to leave me.
One day I bought an inexpensive model of the solar system for my son. Installing it required me to suspend each planet from the ceiling. After bending up and down several times, I was lightheaded and tired. Hours later, we heard a “plink” as Jupiter hit the floor.
England’s Imperial War Museum is housed in a building in London that was a former location of the Bethlem Royal Hospital, a care center for the mentally ill. The hospital was commonly known as “Bedlam,” which gradually became a term used to describe scenes of chaos and madness.
A case before the US Supreme Court focused on whether a religious symbol, specifically a cross, should be allowed on public land. Mark Sherman, writing for the Associated Press, said that although the cross in question was erected in 1934 as a memorial to soldiers who died in World War I, one veteran’s group that opposed it called the cross “a powerful Christian symbol” and “not a symbol of any other religion.”
Until the day I was found, I didn’t know I was lost. I was going about business as usual, moving from task to task, distraction to distraction. But then I received an e-mail with the heading: “I think you’re my cousin.” As I read my cousin’s message, I learned that she and another cousin had been searching for my branch of the family for nearly 10 years. The other cousin promised her father, shortly before he died, that she would find his family.
In the Roman Empire, pagans would often call on the name of a god or goddess as they placed bets in a game of chance. A favorite deity of the gambler was Aphrodite, the Greek word for Venus, the goddess of love. During the roll of the dice, they would say “epaphroditus!” literally, “by Aphrodite!”
In the aftermath of Haiti’s devastat- ing earthquake in January 2010, the scenes of destruction and death were often punctuated by someone being pulled alive from the rubble, even after all hope seemed gone. Relief and tears of joy were followed by deep gratitude toward those who worked around the clock, often risking their own lives to give someone else another chance to live.
Do I really have to read Leviticus?” A young executive asked me this in earnest as we talked about the value of spending time in reading the Bible. “The Old Testament seems so boring and difficult,” he said.
We like to read about comebacks—about people or companies who face near disaster and turn things around. The Ford Motor Company is an example of that. In the 1940s, a reluctance by leadership to modernize almost destroyed Ford. In fact, the government nearly took over the company lest its demise threaten the US war effort. But when Henry Ford II was released from his military duties to run the company, things turned around. Ford became one of the biggest corporations in the world.
The book of Jonah has the makings of a great movie plot. It contains a runaway prophet, a terrible storm at sea, the prophet swallowed by a great fish, God sparing the prophet’s life, and the repentance of a pagan city.
An elderly TV star was asked by talk-show host Larry King about heaven. King prefaced his question by referring to Billy Graham, who had told King he “knew what would be ahead. It would be paradise. He was going to heaven.”
In a radio interview, a basketball superstar was asked about his knack for making the game-winning shot in crucial situations. The reporter asked how he was able to be so calm in such pressure-packed moments. His answer was that he tried to simplify the situation. “You only have to make one shot,” the player replied. One shot. That is the essence of simplifying a difficult situation. Focus only on what is in front of you right now. Don’t worry about the expectations of your coach or teammates. Simplify.
While enjoying the arrival of a new great-niece, I was reminded of how much work it is to take care of a newborn baby. They are needy little creations who want feeding, changing, holding, feeding, changing, holding, feeding, changing, holding. Totally unable to care for themselves, they depend on those older and wiser people surrounding them.
Afriend of mine pastors a church in a small mountain community not far from Boise, Idaho. The community is nestled in a wooded valley through which a pleasant little stream meanders. Behind the church and alongside the stream is a grove of willows, a length of grass, and a sandy beach. It’s an idyllic spot that has long been a place where members of the community gather to picnic.
Paul said in Romans 5:20, “Where sin abounded, grace abounded much more.” But that radical concept opens a theological floodgate. The biblical writer Jude warned that it is possible to “change the grace of our God into a license for immorality” (Jude 4 NIV). Why be good if you know you will be forgiven? Not even an emphasis on repentance erases this danger completely.
For all of us who, like Job, have suffered through tragedy and then dared to aim our questions at God, chapter 38 of Job’s book should give us plenty to think about. Imagine what it must have felt like for the great man of the East when “out of the whirlwind” he heard God say, “Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me” (vv.1-3). Gulp!
Recently, I listened to an audiobook by a militant advocate for atheism. As the author himself read his own work with spiteful sarcasm and contempt, it made me wonder why he was so angry.
London’s domed St. Paul’s Cathedral has an interesting architectural phenomenon called the “whispering gallery.” One Web site explains it this way: “The name comes from the fact that a person who whispers facing the wall on one side can be clearly heard on the other, since the sound is carried perfectly around the vast curve of the Dome.”
Imagine standing shoulder to shoulder with onlookers by a dirt road. The woman behind you is on her tiptoes, trying to see who is coming. In the distance, you glimpse a man riding a donkey. As He approaches, people toss their coats onto the road. Suddenly, you hear a tree crack behind you. A man is cutting down palm branches, and people are spreading them out ahead of the donkey.
The penny has been called the most despised unit of US currency. Many people will not bother to pick up a one-cent coin if they see it lying on the ground. But some charities are finding that pennies add up to significant sums, and that children are generous givers. As one participant said, “Small contributions can make a huge difference.”
It’s my duty to grill the burgers, brats, steaks, or whatever else my wife has on the menu. And while I’m not the greatest chef when it comes to outdoor cooking, I love the unforgettable aroma of grilling over a charcoal fire. So the mention of a “fire of coals” in John 21:9 catches my attention. And I find myself wondering why John would include this detail in the story about Jesus calling a failing Peter back to serve and follow Him.
A major US newspaper has called Christopher Parkening “the leading guitar virtuoso of our day, combining profound musical insight with complete technical mastery of his instrument.” There was a time, however, when Parkening gave up playing the guitar professionally. At the height of his career as a classical guitarist, he retired at age 30, bought a ranch in Montana, and spent his days fly-fishing. But early retirement did not bring him the satisfaction he had hoped for.
Several years ago a friend of mine visited an exhibit of relics from the infamous Titanic voyage. Exhibit visitors were given a replica ticket with the name of an actual passenger or crew member who, decades earlier, had embarked on the trip of a lifetime. After the tour group walked through the exhibit viewing pieces of silver dinnerware and other artifacts, the tour ended with an unforgettable twist.
I first met my wife, Marlene, in college. I was majoring in pastoral studies, and she was working on a degree in elementary education. The first time I saw her working with children, I knew what a natural fit this was for her. She loved children. It became even more obvious when we got married and had children of our own. Seeing her with them was an education in unconditional love and acceptance. It was clear to me that there is nothing in all the world like the tender love and compassion of a mother for her newborn child.
Why is it taking my hair so long to get dry? I wondered. As usual, I was in a hurry, and I didn’t want to go outside into the wintry weather with wet hair. Then I realized the problem. I had changed the setting on the hairdryer to “warm” instead of “hot” to accommodate my niece’s preferences.
Fay Weldon went through what she thought was a near-death experience in 2006 when an allergic reaction stopped her heart. She retold her experience to Elizabeth Grice of the London Daily Telegraph. She said that a “terrible creature” tried to pull her through pearly gates, while doctors tried to pull her back. Later, she said, “If that was dying, I don’t want to do it again.” It’s “just more of the same. More struggle.”
The Chester Beatty Library in Dublin, Ireland, has an extensive collection of ancient Bible fragments dating back to the second century AD. One fragment on display is a piece of Acts 17:16.
According to the ancient philosopher Aristotle, “Nature abhors a vacuum.” Aristotle based his conclusion on the observation that nature requires every space to be filled with something, even if that something is colorless, odorless air.
Someone shared with me her observation about two bosses. One is loved but not feared by his subordinates. Because they love their boss but don’t respect his authority, they don’t follow his guidelines. The other boss is both feared and loved by those who serve under him, and their good behavior shows it.
Louis Armstrong was well known for his smiling face, raspy voice, white handkerchief, and virtuoso trumpet playing. Yet his childhood was one of want and pain. He was abandoned by his father as an infant and sent to reform school when he was only 12. Surprisingly, this became a positive turning point.
A tour of the federal prison on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay left me with some unforgettable images. As our tour boat pulled into the dock, I could see why this now-closed maximum-security federal prison was once known as “The Rock.”
One of the smartest people I know is a college friend who became a Christian while studying at a state university. He graduated with honors and went on to study at a respected seminary. He served a small church as pastor for several years and then accepted a call to another small church far from family and friends. After 12 years at that church, he sensed that the congregation needed new leadership, so he stepped down. He hadn’t been offered a job at a bigger church or a teaching position at a college or seminary. In fact, he didn’t even have another job. He just knew that God was leading him in a different direction, so he followed.
The lounging lions in Kenya’s Masai Mara game reserve looked harmless. They rolled on their backs in low-lying bushes. They rubbed their faces on branches as if trying to comb their magnificent manes. They drank leisurely from a stream. They strode slowly across dry, scrubby terrain as if they had all the time in the world. The only time I saw their teeth was when one of them yawned.
A hotel in Singapore introduced an express buffet—eat all you can in 30 minutes and pay just half the price! After that experience, one diner reported: “I lost my decorum, stuffing my mouth with yet more food. I lost my civility, . . . and I lost my appetite for the rest of the day, so severe was my heartburn.”
My son and his wife have a 120- pound American bulldog with a powerful body and fearsome face. Yet until we became friends, “Buddy” wasn’t sure he could trust me. As long as I was on my feet, he’d keep his distance and wouldn’t look me in the eye. Then one day I learned that if I’d get down on the ground, the mood of Buddy’s big-jowled face would change. Sensing I was no longer a threat, he’d playfully come running like a freight train, pounce on me with his big feet, and want me to scratch his muscular neck.
Every so often I catch myself wondering about the whole grand scheme of faith. I stand in an airport, for example, watching important-looking people in business suits, briefcases clutched to their sides, as they pause at an espresso bar before scurrying off to another concourse. Do any of them ever think about God? I wonder.
Newgrange is a 5,000-year-old burial passage tomb in Ireland. Built by the members of a farming community in Ireland’s Boyne Valley, this magnificent structure covers more than an acre of land. It was a place where people went to struggle with the issue of death. It is best known for the beam of sunlight that moves through the chamber for 17 minutes each day from December 19 to 23 during the winter solstice, the shortest days of the year. Some say it serves as a powerful symbol of the victory of life over death.
During a devotional session at a conference, our leader asked us to read aloud 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, and substitute the word “Jesus” for “love.” It seemed so natural to say, “Jesus suffers long and is kind; Jesus does not envy; Jesus does not parade Himself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek His own . . . . Jesus never fails.”
Displayed on the wall of my friends’ lake house is a collection of pictures. Each one of the photos is of a sunset, taken from their deck during various seasons. While each is strikingly beautiful—no two are identical. When I look at them, it reminds me of what another friend once called a sunset—“God’s beautiful signature at the end of a day.”
Not many years ago, we watched as the “WWJD” craze swept through the Christian community. The bracelet-emblazoned theme “What Would Jesus Do?” was a valuable reminder to many people that we should consider the heart and mind of Jesus when making choices. As we seek to live in a way that honors the Savior, it is appropriate to measure our attitudes and decisions against the example our Lord set for us.
After a 4-year-old got into trouble at preschool, his mom asked him what he had done wrong. He explained, “I was angry with a playmate. But you told me that I should not hit anyone, so I asked my friend to do it for me!”
When we wash our hands to clean off the grime and germs, do we actually clean them ourselves? No and yes. To be precise, the soap and water does the job—not us. But we make the choice to use the soap and water to clean our hands.
As my wife and I were walking through a shopping mall, we came to a T-shirt stand. While browsing the shirts and their often humorous sayings, I noticed one with a disturbing message. It read, “So Many Christians, So Few Lions.” That shirt, with its reference to the first-century practice of throwing Christians to the lions in the Coliseum in Rome, wasn’t at all funny.
Steve often witnesses to his co- workers. But when he mentions something directly from the Bible, someone frequently responds: “Wait! That was written by men, and it’s full of errors just like any other book.”
For a dozen years, I took an auto emergency kit on every long driving trip but never had to use it. It became such a familiar item that on the night we really needed it, I forgot it was there. But fortunately my wife remembered.
In August 1914, when Britain entered World War I, Oswald Chambers was 40 years old with a wife and a 1-year-old daughter. It wasn’t long before men were joining the army at the rate of 30,000 a day, people were asked to sell their automobiles and farm horses to the government, and lists of the dead and wounded began appearing in daily newspapers. The nation faced economic uncertainty and peril.
Despite my best efforts to write clearly, sometimes I’m mis-understood. I feel bad about my failure and try to improve my skills. Occasionally, however, readers take words out of context or read into them something that bears no resemblance to the intended meaning. This is frustrating because there’s no way to control how people use words once they are published.
Itold my doctor who is an agnostic that he should be glad God created us. Seeing a needle in his hands, I wondered, Perhaps I should keep quiet. But I added, “If we are still evolving, then you wouldn’t know the exact spots to place those needles.” He asked, “Do you really believe in God?” I replied, “Of course. Aren’t we intricately made?” I was thankful for this opportunity to begin to witness to my doctor.
Remember when phones were for making phone calls? With the advent of the smart phone, what was once a way to talk to someone has become a storehouse of data. Add cell-phone applications (computer programs) to that, and you can read sports reports, play games, plan trips, find an apartment—or any of well over 100,000 other tasks available with an “app.”
The people of Israel had backslidden, and God wanted Hosea to show them how much that hurt Him. So, in the first few chapters of Hosea, we read a bizarre story: God commanded the prophet to marry a prostitute named Gomer. Put on display as the faithful husband of an unfaithful spouse, Hosea experienced a pain similar to what God felt when Israel was spiritually unfaithful.
My husband and I rode the train backward from Grand Rapids to Chicago last summer. Sitting in seats that faced the rear of the train, all we could see was where we had been, not where we were going. Buildings, lakes, and trees flew by the window after we had passed them. I didn’t like it. I’d rather see where I’m going.
Trust, but verify.” My husband loves that quote from Ronald Reagan. During his time in office, the former US President wanted to believe everything he was told in his political dealings with others. But since the security of his country depended on the truth being told—he strived to verify everything.
Have you ever wondered how an airplane pilot knows how to get from point A to point B? Most likely, he uses VOR, short for VHF Omni-directional Radio Range, a navigational system invented in the early 1950s. It still guides many aircraft to their destination today. The pilot sets the course of the aircraft on his dial. If the aircraft drifts from that set course, the instrument shows the pilot that the plane is deviating so he can correct it to align the aircraft to the set course again.
The radio engineers who work at RBC Ministries were getting ready to broadcast a program via satellite. They had prepared everything, including the satellite link. But just as they were to begin uploading, the signal to the satellite was lost. Confused, the engineers labored to reconnect the link, but nothing worked. Then they got the word—the satellite was gone. Literally. The satellite had suddenly and surprisingly fallen from the sky. It was no longer there.
When the Pharisees came to Jesus with the woman caught in adultery and asked Him what should be done with her, He knelt for a moment and scribbled in the sand (John 8:6-11). We have no idea what He wrote. But when they continued asking Him, Jesus responded in one short sentence: “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first” (v.7). His few words accomplished much in confronting the Pharisees with their own sin, for they walked away one by one. Even today those words resound around the world.
Addie was a bit worried. Before we all sat down for Sunday dinner, someone had started eating. That’s when our 3-year-old granddaughter said, “We haven’t prayed yet.” She was concerned that we might forget to give thanks.
The Narnia children’s books written by C. S. Lewis symbolize Christian truth. In the tale Prince Caspian, Lewis tells the story of a tyrant who usurped the throne of the enchanted land of Narnia. His young nephew, Prince Caspian, has heard stories of Narnia’s great king who died and rose again to break the power of evil. His uncle dismisses this story as a fairy tale. However, the boy later discovers that the ancient story is in fact true.
Iguazu Falls on the border of Brazil and Argentina is a spectacular waterfall system of 275 falls along 2.7 km (1.67 miles) of the Iguazu River. Etched on a wall on the Brazilian side of the Falls are the words of Psalm 93:4, “Mightier than the thunders of many waters, mightier than the waves of the sea, the Lord on high is mighty!” (RSV). Below it are these words, “God is always greater than all of our troubles.”
In March 2009, a 62-year-old woman was charged with stealing more than $73,000 from her church in the state of Washington. When the detectives interrogated her, she told them: “Satan had a big part in the theft.” It sounds like she was saying that the devil made her do it.
A friend who is a commercial pilot told me about a flight in which he encountered a serious mechanical issue—a problem with dangerous implications. When the situation occurred, the warning lights in the cockpit informed him of the problem and he monitored it all the way to the destination, ultimately landing safely.
On the day of His resurrection, Jesus appeared to His disciples and showed them His hands and feet. We are told that at first they could not believe for joy—it appeared too wonderful to be true (Luke 24:40-41). Thomas was not with the disciples, but he also had trouble believing until he saw for himself. When Jesus appeared to Thomas and told him to put his fingers in the nail holes and his hand in His side, Thomas cried, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).
The other day I ran across a troubling report about people who think it is acceptable to use the ocean as a giant garbage dump. Here is an excerpt: “If you should see this amazing floating pile of plastic in the Pacific Ocean, it’s called ‘The Great Pacific Garbage Patch.’ It features three million tons of plastic debris floating in an area larger than Texas. An eye-popping 46,000 pieces of plastic float on every square mile of ocean!” Other sources estimate the amount of garbage is even bigger. Plastic is especially bad because it does not dissolve.
I was excited about going to the baseball park to watch the Detroit Tigers play the Chicago White Sox. I proudly put on my Tigers T-shirt that morning before going to the opposing team’s stadium. But I had to wear a sweatshirt over my team’s shirt because it was cool outside. So I was disappointed that no one at U.S. Cellular Field could see which team I was there to cheer for. No one knew I was a Tigers’ fan. After a 3-hour rain delay, the game finally started and I could cheer for my team and get my loyalty out in the open.
Erin’s life was so different from that of most 8-year-olds. While other kids were running and playing and eating ice cream, Erin was lying in a bed being fed through a tube—able to see only the brightest lights and hear only the loudest sounds. Her life consisted of needles and nurses and hospital visits as she battled ongoing illnesses and profound disabilities.
The book The Preacher and the Presidents chronicles the ministry of evangelist Billy Graham. Spanning presidents from Harry S. Truman to George W. Bush, Graham often had an open door to the White House. Yet despite his unusual sphere of influence, Graham repeatedly credited the grace of God working through him for his influence—not any personal talent he might possess.
While walking through a home-improvement store, I saw a man wearing a bright red T-shirt bearing this melancholy message: “Confidence: The feeling you have just before you understand the situation.”
The words grace and peace are found in all of Paul’s greetings in his New Testament letters to the churches. And in his letters to Timothy and Titus, he also includes mercy: “Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord” (2 Tim. 1:2). Let’s examine each of these words.
The ancient road from Jerusalem to Jericho is a narrow, treacherous path along a deep gorge in the Judean wilderness. Its name is Wadi Kelt, but it’s known as the valley of the shadow, for this is the location that inspired David’s 23rd Psalm. The place itself offers little reason to compose such a hopeful poem. The landscape is bleak, barren, and perilously steep. It’s a good place for thieves, but not for anyone else.
If you’re like me, you love a good deal. Not just bargain shopping, but when you manage to cut a great deal for yourself without giving anything up in return. So if you can identify with these kinds of deals, you’ll understand the prodigal son’s scheme when he decided to return home.
Francis Chan, in his book Crazy Love, tells of a family with an interesting Christmas tradition. On Christmas morning, the Robynson family doesn’t focus on opening presents under the Christmas tree. Instead, they make pancakes and coffee, and serve the breakfast to the homeless. This is a small but creative way to show God’s love and generosity to the poor.
In 1776, the 13 British colonies in North America protested the limitations placed on them by the king of England and engaged in a struggle that gave birth to a brand-new republic. The infant nation soon adopted that now-famous document known as the Declaration of Independence.
During the worldwide financial crisis of 2008, a widow lost a third of her income when her bank stocks no longer paid dividends after her trusted bank failed. The Wall Street Journal quoted her tearful response as an example of the feelings of many people who were similarly affected: “You just think, ‘This can’t be happening.’ What is secure anymore?”
People tend to remember negative images more than they do positive ones, according to an experiment conducted at the University of Chicago. While people claim that they want to turn away from the barrage of bad news in the media—reports on tragedies, diseases, economic downturns—this study suggests that their minds are drawn to the stories.
Recently I was fishing with some friends and waded into a current that was too strong for my old legs. I should have known better; it’s a well-known fact that you can wade into flows that you can’t back out of.
Corporal Desmond Doss was the first conscientious objector to earn the Congressional Medal of Honor, the United States’ highest military award. A devout follower of Christ, Doss believed that it was not right for him to kill others, but he wanted to serve his country so he volunteered as a medic. During boot camp, his fellow soldiers ridiculed him for refusing to fire a rifle. They mocked him when he read his Bible and knelt beside his bunk at night to pray. But in combat, it was a different story.
In a message to the 2002 graduates of Cedarville University, Dr. Paul Dixon encouraged them with these words: “Your times are in God’s hands.” Our family listened and thought it was appropriate for the graduates, which included our daughter Julie.
Before they were a week old, the eaglets were fighting over food. Neither was strong enough to hold up his head for more than a few seconds, so the pair looked like fuzzballs with bobble-heads attached. But whenever the parents brought food to the nest, the bigger eaglet was quick to peck down his brother to keep him from getting a single bite. His aggression would have been understandable if food was scarce, or if the parents couldn’t be trusted to supply what he needed. But nothing could be further from the truth. The eaglets were being fed fish many times their size; there was more than enough for both of them.
In one of Joe Morgenstern’s weekly Wall Street Journal columns about movies, he considered the impact of the great film stars in close-up scenes where they said nothing at all. “Movie stars,” he wrote, “can do as little as they do at crucial moments because, having already earned our respect, they can assume that we’re paying attention.” This quality of powerful silence that we admire in actors and actresses, however, can be frustrating or disappointing in our relationship with God when He is silent.
When the horrors of war visited the civilians of Nanjing, China, women were not spared in the mounting violence and many were assaulted and killed. In this threatening environment, Minnie Vautrin took heroic measures to protect Chinese women from harm. Serving as a missionary teacher at Ginling College in Nanjing, Minnie cooperated with Chinese nationals, missionaries, surgeons, and business people and turned the college into a “safety zone,” a place of refuge for thousands of women and girls.
Historian Cassius Dio recorded a revealing event from the life of Hadrian, the Roman Emperor from ad 117–138: “Once, when a woman made a request of [Hadrian] as he passed by on a journey, he at first said to her, ‘I haven’t time,’ but afterwards, when she cried out, ‘Cease, then, being emperor,’ he turned about and granted her a hearing.”
As a young girl, Amy Carmichael (1867-1951) wished she had blue eyes instead of brown. She even prayed that God would change her eye color and was disappointed when it didn’t happen. At age 20, Amy sensed that the Lord was calling her to serve Him as a missionary. After serving in various places, she went to India. It was then that she realized God’s wisdom in the way He had made her. She may have had a more difficult time gaining acceptance from the brown-eyed people if her eyes had been blue. She served God in India for 55 years.
Giraffes have the shortest sleep cycle of any mammal. They sleep only between 10 minutes and 2 hours in a 24-hour period and average just 1.9 hours of sleep per day. Seemingly always awake, the giraffe has nothing much in common with most humans in that regard. If we had so little sleep, it would probably mean we had some form of insomnia. But for giraffes, it’s not a sleep disorder that keeps them awake. It’s just the way God has made them.
After my doctor announced that I had cancer, I tried to listen to what he said, but I couldn’t. I went home, pulled a blanket over my head, and fell asleep on the couch, as if sleeping could change the diagnosis.
In 1602, Italian artist Caravaggio produced a painting called The Taking of Christ. This work, an early example of the Baroque style, is compelling. Created in dark hues, it allows the viewer to contemplate Jesus’ arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane. Two main elements of the scene depicted in the painting demand the observer’s attention. The first is Judas as he delivers the traitor’s kiss. Immediately, however, the viewer’s focus is drawn toward Jesus’ hands, which are passively clasped together to show that He offered no resistance to this injustice. Although He possessed the power to create a universe, Christ gave Himself up voluntarily to His captors and to the waiting cross.
For His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus chose a donkey to serve as His royal transportation. His disciples were instructed to say, “The Lord has need of it” (Mark 11:3). Isn’t it astounding that the Son of God should use such lowly means to accomplish His purposes? Alexander MacLaren commented on this: “Christ comes to us in like fashion, and brushes aside all our convenient excuses. He says, ‘I want you, and that is enough.’ ”
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, was the site of a battle that turned the tide of America’s Civil War. One of the focal points of the conflict was a rocky knoll called Little Round Top where Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and the men of the 20th Maine Infantry stood their ground. Had the Confederate troops gotten past Chamberlain’s men, some historians believe the Union army would have been surrounded—possibly leading to the loss of the war. The “20th Maine” was the last line of defense.
Less than the least of all God’s mercies.” This was the motto 17th-century English poet and clergyman George Herbert engraved on his signet ring, and it was the phrase with which he signed his letters and books. Jacob had spoken these words when he pondered God’s goodness despite his own sin and shame: “I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies and of all the truth which You have shown Your servant” (Gen. 32:10).
No one wants to be weak, so we find ways to appear strong. Some of us use the force of our emotions to manipulate people. Others use the force of personality to control people, and some use intellect to intimidate. Although these create an illusion of strength, they are signs of weakness.
I’ll never forget my first experience using an automatic car wash. Approaching it with the dread of going to the dentist, I pushed the money into the slot, nervously checked and rechecked my windows, eased the car up to the line, and waited. Powers beyond my control began moving my car forward as if on a conveyor belt. There I was, cocooned inside, when a thunderous rush of water, soap, and brushes hit my car from all directions. What if I get stuck in here or water crashes in? I thought irrationally. Suddenly the waters ceased. After a blow-dry, my car was propelled into the outside world again, clean and polished.
Chinese New Year happens to fall on the same day as Valentine’s Day in 2010. While these two festivals have very different origins, there are some similarities in how they are celebrated. In both cases, loved ones give gifts to express love for one another. Whether it is giving roses to your beloved on Valentine’s Day or hong bao (red packets with money) to family and friends on Chinese New Year, they represent tokens of love.
When someone said to my friend, “See you in a year,” it sounded odd when he replied, “Yes, see you on the other side.” He meant that he’d see him on the other side of a one-year deployment for the US Navy. But because the phrase is often used of heaven, it made me think about the uncertainty of life. I wondered, Who will be here in another year? Who might by then be on the other side—in heaven?
At the age of 16, pianist Leon Fleisher made his formal debut at Carnegie Hall with the New York Philharmonic. He went on to win prestigious international competitions and played in the world’s finest concert halls. But at the age of 37, Fleisher was struck with dystonia, a neurological condition that crippled his right hand. After a period of despondency and withdrawal, he turned to teaching and conducting, because, as he said, he loved music more than he loved the piano.
A year ago today, 155 people on US Airways Flight 1549 thought they were going to die. During take-off from New York City, their plane struck a flock of geese, disabling both engines. In a powerless glide, the captain maneuvered over the densely populated area, then announced: “Brace for impact.” Less than 90 seconds later, the crippled plane made a water landing in the frigid Hudson River, where boats and ferries quickly arrived to rescue the passengers and crew, all of whom survived. People called it the “miracle on the Hudson” and praised the pilot and crew. One grateful passenger said simply, “We have a second chance in life.”
Some words used to describe the opening ceremony of the 2008 summer Olympics were awesome, breathtaking, and extravagant. One commentator observed, “This shows what happens when you give an artist an unlimited budget.”
The Puritans wisely sought to connect all of life to its source in God, bringing the two worlds together rather than dividing them into sacred and secular. They had a saying, “God loveth adverbs; and careth not how good, but how well.” Adverbs describe verbs—our words of action and activity. The proverb implies that God cares more about the spirit in which we live than the concrete results.
Mark your calendar now if you want to see the next celestial convergence of Venus, Jupiter, and the moon. On November 18, 2052, you’ll be able to peer through the evening darkness as those solar system neighbors “gather” in a tiny area of the sky. That remarkable juxtaposition of reflective spheres last sparkled the night sky on December 1, 2008, and it will happen again 4 decades from now.
Longtime California pastor Ray Stedman once told his congregation: “On New Year’s Eve we realize more than at any other time in our lives that we can never go back in time. . . . We can look back and remember, but we cannot retrace a single moment of the year that is past.”
As a young girl in the late 1920s, Grace Ditmanson Adams often traveled with her missionary parents through inland China. Later, she wrote about those trips and the crowded places where they stayed overnight—village inns full of people coughing, sneezing, and smoking, while babies cried and children complained. Her family put their bedrolls on board-covered trestles in a large room with everyone else.
Some night when you’re away from city lights, “lift up your eyes on high” (Isa. 40:26). There in the heavens you’ll see a luminous band of stars stretching from horizon to horizon—our galaxy.
I didn’t think that the hesitation in my car engine and that little yellow “check engine” light on my dashboard really needed my immediate attention. I sang it away, saying that I would get to it tomorrow. However, the next morning when I turned the key to start my car, it wouldn’t start. My first reaction was frustration, knowing that this would mean money, time, and inconvenience. My second thought was more of a resolution: I need to pay attention to warning lights that are trying to get my attention—they can mean something is wrong.
Huang, a nonbeliever, was a visiting scientist at the University of Minnesota in 1994. While there, he met some Christians and enjoyed their fellowship. So when they learned he would be returning to Beijing, they gave him the name of a Christian to contact who was also moving there.
After someone stole a valuable ceramic figurine of Baby Jesus from a nativity scene in Wellington, Florida, officials took action to keep thieves from succeeding again. An Associated Press report described how they placed a GPS tracking device inside the replacement figurine. When Baby Jesus disappeared again the next Christmas, sheriff’s deputies were led by the signal to the thief’s apartment.
I was driving through the countryside when I spotted a church building whose name surprised me. It said, “The Galatia Church.” The name caught my attention because I was certain no one would choose to name a church this unless it was a geographic necessity.
We were gathered with family for Thanksgiving dinner when someone asked if each person would share what he or she was thankful for. One by one we talked. Three-year-old Joshua was thankful for “music,” and Nathan, aged 4, for “horses.” We were all silenced, though, when Stephen (who was soon to turn 5) answered, “I’m thankful that Jesus loves me so well.” In his simple faith, he understood and was grateful for the love of Jesus for him personally. He told us that Jesus showed His love by dying on a cross.
A college professor at a Christian school perceived that his students held a distorted view of heaven; they considered it to be static and boring. So, to stir their imaginations, he asked them these questions:
In a 1950s novel, there is a scene in which four village men confess their sins to one another. One of the men, Michelis, cries out, “How can God let us live on the earth? Why doesn’t He kill us to purify creation?” “Because, Michelis,” one of the men answered, “God is a potter; He works in mud.”
The geological features at Yellowstone National Park fascinate me. But when I walk among the geysers, I’m aware of how close I am to danger. I am walking atop one of the largest, most active volcanoes in the world.
Soon after her family left for the evening, Carol started to think that her hospital room must be the loneliest place in the world. Nighttime had fallen, her fears about her illness were back, and she felt overwhelming despair as she lay there alone.
Our dog, Dolly, is a 7-year-old West Highland Terrier. She loves to dig in the dirt, which means she gets very dirty. We bathe her every week or so at home, but occasionally she gets so grimy and tangled that we have to take her to a professional groomer.
Last fall my wife, Carolyn, and I were driving up a winding mountain road near our home in Idaho when we came across a large flock of sheep moving down the road toward us. A lone shepherd with his dogs was in the vanguard, leading his flock out of summer pasture into the lowlands and winter quarters.
On October 2, 1954, First Lieutenant James O. Conway was taking off from Boston Logan Airport, flying a plane that carried a load of munitions. When his plane became airborne, he suddenly lost power over Boston’s bay. In an instant, Conway faced a brutal choice—eject from the plane and save his own life, or crash the plane into the bay causing his own death.
It was 40 years ago or more that I observed a friend of mine showing great affection for someone I considered unworthy of love. I thought my friend was being taken in, and I was afraid he would be disillusioned and saddened in the end.
A gripping photograph of an old woman sitting in a pile of garbage made me ponder. She was smiling as she ate a packet of food she had foraged from the garbage dump. It took so little for the woman to be satisfied.
In 2008, the Day of Discovery film crew traveled to China on a special assignment—to retrace the life of missionary Eric Liddell, the 1924 Olympic gold medalist whose story was told in the movie Chariots of Fire. The crew took with them Eric’s three daughters, Patricia, Heather, and Maureen—allowing them to revisit some of the places where the two older sisters had lived in China. Also along on the trip was their elderly Aunt Louise.
Recently our family was in Erie, Pennsylvania, visiting a relative. While there, we had a chance to swim in the community swimming pool. It was fun, but our host wanted to take us to Lake Erie to enjoy the sandy beaches, the cresting waves, and the beauty of the setting sun. My children protested because they wanted to swim in the pool. But I tried to get them to see that going to the beaches of Presque Isle would be a much greater plan.
While shopping in a nearby tourist town, I wandered into a small store stuffed with clothing and other items all marked with the slogan “Life is good.” Sometimes we need to remind ourselves of that simple truth.
After the US entered World War II in 1941, Estelle tried to talk her boyfriend Sidney out of joining the Army. But he enlisted and began his training in April of the following year. For the next 3 years he wrote her love letters—525 in all. Then in March 1945, she learned that her beloved fiancé had been killed in combat.
The documentary film Young@Heart gives a rollicking look at a senior chorus of 24 singers whose average age is 80. Filled with humor and poignant moments, the film includes this remarkable singing group’s deeply moving performance at a New England prison. When the concert concludes, the singers walk into the audience, greeting the surprised prisoners with handshakes and hugs.
In his classic book A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, W. Phillip Keller gives a striking picture of the care and gentleness of a shepherd. In verse 3 when David says, “He restores my soul,” he uses language every shepherd would understand.
An organizational consultant in New York says that his graduate students typically recall only 5 percent of the main ideas in a presentation of graphs and charts, while they generally remember half of the stories told in the same presentation. There is a growing consensus among communication experts about the power of the personal touch in relating an experience. While facts and figures often put listeners to sleep, an illustration from real life can motivate them to action. Author Annette Simmons says, “The missing ingredient in most failed communication is humanity.”
Remember the story of The Little Engine That Could? That determined little train climbed the steep hill by chanting positively, “I think I can. I think I can.” And then, as it gained more resolve, it declared, “I know I can. I know I can.”
When I teach writing, I explain that it’s generally better to use short words or phrases first in a series, as in “arts and letters” and “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Early in my career, I explained to authors that it just sounds better this way, but then I discovered a “rule” about this. And I learned that authors are more likely to accept editorial changes when I can point them to a rule than when I just say, “Trust me.”
Sometimes we are overwhelmed by life. The crushing waves of disappointment, endless debt, debilitating illness, or trouble with people can cause hopelessness, depression, or despair. It happened to Jesus’ disciples. And it has happened to me.
Let’s say you were really famous. People would want to know all kinds of things about you. Then let’s say you called me up and asked, “How’d you like to write my biography?” Let’s say I agreed. I would be all over you like a moth on a streetlight, buzzing around trying to find out all I could about you. I’d ask you a thousand questions. I would ask for your list of contacts and call everyone on it to find out more about you. Then I would ask you to hand over anything related to your life. Papers. Pictures. The works.
It’s easy to think of God as a divine fly-swatter, just waiting for you to land so that—whap—He can nail you for your sins. But that’s not what we see in Revelation 2–3 in His letters to the seven churches. The pattern of the letters demonstrates God’s loving heart for wayward people.
I once came across a scene of beauty outside Anchorage, Alaska. Against a slate-gray sky, the water of an ocean inlet had a slight greenish cast, interrupted by small whitecaps. Soon I saw these were not whitecaps at all but whales—silvery white beluga whales in a pod feeding no more than 50 feet offshore. I stood with other onlookers, listening to the rhythmic motion of the sea, following the graceful, ghostly crescents of surfacing whales. The crowd was hushed, even reverent. For just a moment, nothing else mattered.
You can learn a lot about a person by what his or her T-shirt says. Recently, one of these messages caught my attention as I walked through a local shopping mall. A young woman wore a bright red T-shirt that said, “Love Is for Losers.” Maybe she thought it was clever or provocative, even funny. Or perhaps she had been hurt by a relationship and had pulled away from others rather than risk being hurt again. Either way, the T-shirt got me thinking.
Daddy, help me.” Those were the last words Dianne and Gary Cronin heard their daughter say as she struggled to breathe. Kristin, 14 years old, died suddenly—just 2 days after saying she didn’t feel well. A strep infection attacked her body on Thursday. By Saturday, she was pleading with her daddy to help her.
One would think that selling one’s soul, as Faust offered his to the devil in Goethe’s Dr. Faustus, is only a figment of literary fiction. Medieval as it seems, however, several cases of soul-selling have occurred.
Singer Ray Stevens is generally given credit for writing the phrase “There is none so blind as he who will not see,” a line from the song “Everything Is Beautiful.” But preacher Matthew Henry used the phrase 250 years ago when commenting on the lyrics of another songwriter, Asaph.
In a suburb of Nairobi, Kenya, a group of international refugees has been singing songs that they hope will wake up their homeland. According to the BBC, the group Waayah Cusub has been enjoying extensive airplay on radio stations and television channels by using bold lyrics to address social issues. One of the musicians says, “We are not happy with what is happening back home; in fact we have recorded a thought-provoking song that we hope will bring our leaders back to their senses.”
On the way home from a family camping trip, 6-year-old Tanya and her dad were the only ones still awake in the car. As Tanya looked at the full moon through the car window, she asked, “Daddy, do you think I can touch the moon if I stand on my tiptoes?”
One reason we’re left here on earth and not taken to heaven immediately after trusting in Christ for salvation is that God has work for us to do. “Man is immortal,” Augustine said, “until his work is done.”
On April 25, 1915, soldiers of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps landed on the Gallipoli peninsula expecting a quick victory. But fierce resistance by the Turkish defenders resulted in an 8-month stalemate during which thousands on both sides were wounded or killed.
When God promised Abraham and his wife Sarah that they would have a son, Abraham laughed in unbelief and replied, “Shall a child be born to a man who is one hundred years old? And shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” (Gen. 17:17).
In the television series The West Wing, fictional president Josiah Bartlet regularly ended staff meetings with two words—“What’s next?” It was his way of signaling that he was finished with the issue at hand and ready to move on to other concerns. The pressures and responsibilities of life in the White House demanded that he not focus on what was in the rear-view mirror—he needed to keep his eyes ahead, moving forward to what was next.
A Chinese festival called Qing Ming is a time to express grief for lost relatives. Customs include grooming gravesites and taking walks with loved ones in the countryside. Legend has it that it began when a youth’s rude and foolish behavior resulted in the death of his mother. So he decided that henceforth he would visit her grave every year to remember what she had done for him. Sadly, it was only after her death that he remembered her.
In 1876, the Sioux leader Crazy Horse joined forces with Sitting Bull to defeat General Custer and his army at Little Bighorn. Not much later, though, starvation caused Crazy Horse to surrender to US troops. He was killed while trying to escape. Despite this sad conclusion to his life, he became a symbol of heroic leadership of a threatened people.
A young adult was struggling with his faith. After growing up in a home where he was loved and nurtured in a godly way, he allowed bad decisions and circumstances to turn him away from the Lord. Although as a child he had claimed to know Jesus, he now struggled with unbelief.
According to a career-building Web site, certain words should be avoided on the job. When someone in authority asks you to do a project, you shouldn’t say, “Sure, no problem,” if you don’t mean it and aren’t going to follow through. Otherwise, you’ll become known as someone who doesn’t keep his word. And don’t say, “That’s not my job,” because you may need that person’s help in the future.
Franklin Graham regrets it now, but in his youth he was wild and rebellious. One day he went roaring up to his dad’s house on his Harley Davidson motorcycle to ask for some money. Dressed in his leathers, dusty and bearded, he burst into his father’s living room—and walked right into a meeting of Billy’s executive board.
Our grandson Cameron was born 6 weeks prematurely. Undersized and in danger, he became a resident of the hospital’s neonatal unit for about 2 weeks until he gained enough weight to go home. His biggest challenge was that, in the physical exercise of eating, he burned more calories than he was taking in. This obviously hindered his development. It seemed that the little guy took two steps backward for every step of progress he made.
When we meet Naomi in the Scriptures, her life is a mess. She and her husband had gone to Moab searching for food during a famine. While in that land, their two sons married Moabite women, and life was good—until her husband and sons died and she was stuck, widowed in a foreign land.
Like many people, I enjoy the Google homepage artwork that appears on special days and holidays. Last Valentine’s Day, the artistic logo showed an older couple—a man with a cane and a white-haired woman—walking hand in hand as the woman held two heart-shaped balloons. It was a beautiful reminder that while our culture glorifies youthful romance, true love has many stages during our journey through life.
I was having breakfast with a friend who had recently celebrated his 60th birthday. We discussed the “trauma” of the number 6 being the first digit in his age and all that the age of 60 implies (retirement, social security, etc.). We also pondered the fact that he felt so much younger than such a “large” number would seem to indicate.
As a young girl writing in my diary, my secret ambition was to compose the perfect sentence. I wondered what it would look and sound like. Perhaps it would include a strong verb and colorful adjectives.
In his book On the Wing, Alan Tennant chronicles his efforts to track the migration of the peregrine falcon. Valued for their beauty, swiftness, and power, these amazing birds of prey were favorite hunting companions of emperors and nobility. Sadly, the wide use of the pesticide DDT in the 1950s interfered with their reproductive cycle and placed them on the endangered species list.
If I were to scoop up a handful of dirt and blow into it, all I would get is a dirty face. When God did it, He got a living, breathing human being capable of thinking, feeling, dreaming, loving, reproducing, and living forever.
Hours before 2007 began, some friends of ours in the UK were aboard their boat, anticipating the arrival of the new year, when a violent storm struck. But they were able to send us this reassuring note: “John and Linda are sitting on board the good ship Norna, and happy to say that we are secure. . . . The wind is storm force ten [48-55 knots]. Hope that all of you have a happy and prosperous new year.”
Mallory doesn’t feel loved by God. She received Jesus as her Savior several years ago and is confident that she is forgiven and will spend eternity with Him. She believes what God says in His Word, but she would also like to feel loved.
As a boy, I was fascinated by the book The Invisible Man. The main character played an elaborate game of hide-and-seek, staying just out of reach of mere mortals “cursed” with a visible nature. To have a physical presence, he wore clothes and wrapped his face in bandages. When it was time to escape, he simply removed everything and disappeared.
My 2-year-old grandson was fascinated by the bubbling mud pool, the result of geothermal activity in Rotorua, New Zealand. On moving to another spot and seeing no bubbles there, he remarked, “No batteries?” He was so accustomed to his electronic toys that he attributed even natural phenomena to battery power!
In the 1960s, the Kingston Trio released a song called “Desert Pete.” The ballad tells of a thirsty cowboy who is crossing the desert and finds a hand pump. Next to it, Desert Pete has left a note urging the reader not to drink from the jar hidden there but to use its contents to prime the pump.
I remember sitting one Christmas season in London listening to Handel’s Messiah, with a full chorus singing about the day when “the glory of the Lord shall be revealed.” I had spent the morning viewing remnants of England’s glory—the crown jewels, the Lord Mayor’s gilded carriage—and it occurred to me that just such images of wealth and power must have filled the minds of Isaiah’s contemporaries who first heard that promise.
In Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, the central character is Ebenezer Scrooge. As a boy, I enjoyed watching the old black-and-white version of that movie with Alastair Sim portraying Scrooge. Sim did a phenomenal job presenting the heartless, miserly, self-centered Scrooge. I still look in the television schedule each Christmas to learn when I can watch that particular rendition of Dickens’ tale.
Pastor Louie was preaching on the pervasiveness of sin. “It’s everywhere!” he stated emphatically. He told about waiting for a traffic light when he saw the man in the car in front of him finish his Coke, open the door, set the glass bottle on the street, and drive away.
A number of computer games come with a special feature called the “Boss Key.” If you’re playing a game when you’re supposed to be working, and someone (like the boss) walks into your office, you quickly strike the Boss Key. Your computer screen changes immediately, hiding what you’ve been doing.
One thing that impresses me about my wife is her commitment to walk two to four times a week for at least an hour. Come rain, snow, sleet, or shine, my wife layers up or down (depending on the weather), puts on her headphones, and off she goes walking through our community.
In 2005, Japan’s unmanned Haya-busa spacecraft visited an “impossible” asteroid. Images and data indicate that the asteroid, named Itokawa, is twice as porous as loose sand. This has astonished scientists, who believe that asteroids make repeated impacts with other space rocks and hence should be very dense. As they make additional discoveries, scientists may learn why Itokawa is different. But for now, we have an asteroid that challenges scientific understanding.
Melbourne, Australia, is home to the Shrine of Remembrance, a war memorial honoring those who died for their country. Built following World War I, it has since been expanded to honor those who served in subsequent conflicts.
Is there any human feeling more powerful than that of betrayal? Ask a high school girl whose boyfriend has dumped her for a pretty cheerleader. Or tune your radio to a country-western station and listen to the lyrics of infidelity. Or check out the murders reported in the daily newspaper, an amazing number of which trace back to a quarrel with an estranged lover.
Stepping outside and gazing heavenward on a star-studded evening always helps to soothe my soul after a trouble-filled day. When I peer into the night sky, I forget, at least for a moment, the cares of life on earth.
Questions about God’s existence often troubled H. A. Hodges, a brilliant young professor of philosophy at Oxford University. One day as he strolled down the street, he passed by an art store. His attention was gripped by a simple picture in the window. It showed Jesus kneeling to wash His disciples’ feet.
At 3:00 one August morning, I awoke to experience a total lunar eclipse. It began at the precise moment the astronomers predicted and progressed just as they said it would. In one sense, it was a natural, recurring event, but it was also a phenomenal glimpse at the power and glory of God.
The Hubble Space Telescope has taken photos of the Helix Nebula. Some astronomers describe it as “a trillion-mile-long tunnel of glowing gases.” At its center is a dying star that has ejected dust and gas stretching toward its outer rim. Remarkable photos of it look like the blue iris of a human eye complete with eyelids. Because of this, some have called it the “Eye of God.”
Historian Laurel Ulrich received a Pulitzer Prize for her book The Midwife’s Tale. The book was based on the diary of Martha Ballard, who lived during the American Revolution. Martha was a midwife who traveled by canoe, horse, or sometimes on foot to assist women in delivering their babies. At a time when many women died in childbirth, Martha’s track record was extraordinary. In more than 1,000 deliveries, she never lost a mother in childbirth.
A popular afternoon television program a few years ago was hosted by a self-proclaimed medium. He supposedly received messages from spirits of the dead to give to their family members in his studio audience. His readings prompted many people to believe in this occultic practice.
Niagara Falls is one of the most spectacular sights I have ever seen. The roar of 6 million cubic feet of water each minute makes it the most powerful waterfall in North America. Few people, however, know that more than 50 percent of the river’s water is diverted before it reaches those falls via four huge tunnels. This water passes through hydroelectric turbines that supply power to nearby areas in the US and Canada before returning to the river well past the Falls.
When rainy-season storms caused flooding in a nature preserve in Thailand, seven elephant calves became unlikely victims. As they tried to ford a river at their usual crossing point, dangerous currents swept them over a 250-foot waterfall. Wildlife advocates said the loss could have been prevented. A spokesperson for the Thailand Wildlife Fund complained that the protective barriers, which had been built at the crossing where four other young elephants had died earlier, were useless.
The discovery of penicillin revolutionized health care. Prior to the 1940s, bacterial infections were often fatal. Since then, penicillin has saved countless lives by killing harmful bacteria. The men who recognized its potential and developed it for widespread use won a Nobel Prize in 1945.
When my son Steve left home in the summer of 2006 to join the US Navy, he knew the gravity of his decision. He understood that once he walked onto that naval base for boot camp, he was giving up everything a teenager lives for. He was leaving behind his freedom, his guitars, his music, and his girlfriend. He surrendered the right to make his own choices and to do what he wanted to do. He said, in effect, “I am making myself a living sacrifice. I no longer do things for me; I do them for the service of my country.”
The word amateur has been redefined over the years and has lost the luster of its original meaning. The English word comes from the Latin word amore, which means “to love.” An amateur is someone who does something simply for the love of it.
A trial has just ended, and the reactions to the verdict could not be more different. The family of the alleged murderer celebrates the declaration of a mistrial due to a legal technicality. Meanwhile, the grieving parents whose daughter has died wonder about a justice system that would allow such a decision. As they stand weeping before a mass of microphones and cameras, they exclaim: “Where is the justice in this? Where is the justice?”
In 19th-century England, debtors’ prison housed those unfortunate souls who couldn’t pay their bills. New prisoners were escorted to the “chummage,” a prison dormitory. Since the people were not there for violent crimes, a spirit of trust and camaraderie soon developed. They played games together and had plenty to eat. Some were even allowed private rooms.
Americans spend more than $20 billion annually on various anti-aging products that claim to cure baldness, remove wrinkles, build muscle, and renew the powers of youth. Can those products deliver what they promise? Dr. Thomas Perls of Boston University School of Medicine says there is “absolutely no scientific proof that any commercially available product will stop or reverse aging.”
You don't have to tour Resurrection Bay in Alaska to appreciate the natural marvels of our earth, but it helps. You don't have to snorkel the warm waters of Jamaica to be impressed with the hidden beauty of our planet's seas, but it helps. You don't have to view the Rockies, experience the Rock of Gibraltar, or gaze at Mount Fuji to realize how awe-inspiring are the vistas of our globe, but it helps.
In his historical novel Chesapeake, James Michener tells the story of multiple generations living near a marsh. One character, Chris Pflaum, is introduced as a restless 13-year-old sitting in class waiting for summer break. But when the teacher reads a poem by Sidney Lanier, the boy's heart is stirred.
A man wearing jeans, a T-shirt, and a baseball cap positioned himself against a wall beside a trash can at the L’Enfant Plaza station in Washington, DC. He pulled out a violin and began to play. In the next 43 minutes, as he performed six classical pieces, 1,097 people passed by, ignoring him.
Jesus put a damper on His own party. On Sunday, He entered Jerusalem as the triumphant king, welcomed into the city by throngs of worshipers shouting, “Hosanna!” and honoring Him by waving palm branches. The healer of the sick and the giver of great wisdom had come, and the masses adored Him.
In Cantonese, a Chinese dialect, the word for wait sounds like the word for class. Making a pun on this word, some senior folks in Hong Kong identify themselves as “third-class citizens,” which also means “people of three waits.” They wait for their children to return home from work late at night. They wait for the morning sun to dispel their sleepless nights. And with a sigh of resignation, they wait for death.
In Dostoevsky’s novel The Brothers Karamazov, Ivan Karamazov refers to “the miracle of restraint”—God’s choice to curb His own power. The more I get to know Jesus, the more that observation impresses me.
The phrase “God is good, all the time; all the time, God is good” is repeated by many Christians almost like a mantra. I often wonder if they really believe it or even think about what they’re saying. I sometimes doubt God’s goodness—especially when it feels as though God isn’t hearing or answering my prayers. I assume that if others were more honest, they’d admit they feel the same way.
Some people looking for love have found help in an unusual place—a taxicab in New York City. Taxicab driver Ahmed Ibrahim loves to set up blind dates for his single passengers. His matchmaking services have been featured on the Fox News Channel, The Wall Street Journal, and NBC’s Today show. He doesn’t assist just anybody though; they have to be serious about looking to settle down with someone. Ahmed loves to help romance blossom, and he even hands out roses on Valentine’s Day.
From childhood we are taught how to succeed in the world of ungrace. “You get what you pay for.” “The early bird gets the worm.” “No pain, no gain.” I know these rules well because I live by them. I work for what I earn; I like to win; I insist on my rights. I want people to get what they deserve.
King David looked out at the world and was troubled. He didn’t need the Internet to paint a bleak picture of society or The New York Times to remind him of crime and suffering. Even without a cable news show to give him all the bad news, he saw the evil.
After finishing high school in 1941, Clair Hess anticipated serving his country by joining the army. But when he developed a heart murmur from a bout with scarlet fever, he was denied acceptance. He admits that he was envious of his fellow graduates and other servicemen in their uniforms, but he was helped by reading Psalm 37 and seeing how the psalmist David handled envy.
From our first breath until our last, we have few truly essential needs. Without oxygen, we would perish in minutes. We must have food and water. Our bodies, when exhausted, require rest. And in harsh weather, we must seek shelter. So, while we are needy creatures, our basic needs are few.
A British factory worker and his wife were excited when, after many years of marriage, they discovered they were going to have their first child. According to author Jill Briscoe, who told this story, the man eagerly told his fellow workers that God had answered his prayers. But they made fun of him for asking God for a child.
Bison are made in such a way that their natural inclination is to look down; the design of their necks makes it difficult for them to look up. In contrast, giraffes are designed in a way that makes looking up easy; the way their necks were made makes it difficult for them to look down. Two creatures created by the same God but with distinctively different body parts and purposes. Giraffes eat leaves from branches above. Bison eat grass from the field below. God provides food for both, and neither has to become like the other to eat.
“What on earth are you doing?!” You may have heard that phrase when your mom told you to clean your room and found you playing with your toys instead, or maybe when your teacher caught you passing notes in class.
A Major League baseball player announced his retirement, saying, “All of a sudden, that passion isn’t there anymore. Physically, I think I could still do it. But something that I loved my whole life and had such a passion for became a major, major job for me. It’s not like it used to be.”
Nola Ochs, a student at Fort Hays State University in Kansas, took a break from her studies recently to celebrate her 95th birthday. She began attending college at Fort Hays in 1930 but didn’t graduate. When she realized she was only a few credits away from earning her degree, she returned to the university in 2006. Nola is not going to let her age prevent her from honoring a commitment over 76 years ago to finish her education.
I’m a news junkie. I like knowing what’s going on in the world. But sometimes the atrocities of life make me feel as if I’m a kid watching a scary movie. I don’t want to see what happens. I want to turn away to avoid watching.
In a commencement address to a graduating class at Miami University, columnist George Will gave some statistics that help to diminish our sense of self-importance. He pointed out that “the sun around which Earth orbits is one of perhaps 400 billion stars in the Milky Way, which is a piddling galaxy next door to nothing much.” He added, “There are perhaps 40 billion galaxies in the still-unfolding universe. If all the stars in the universe were only the size of the head of a pin, they still would fill Miami’s Orange Bowl to overflowing more than 3 billion times.”
In the book Flags of Our Fathers, James Bradley recounts the World War II battle of Iwo Jima and its famous flag-raising on Mount Suribachi. Bradley’s father, John, was one of the flag-raisers. But more important, he was a Navy corpsman—a medic.
Few today believe the pagan idea that the world is under the control of warring gods like Artemis, Pan, and Apollo. Yet even sophisticated skeptics readily acknowledge the reality of "forces" over which we have no control. For example, they attribute our inability to prevent violence in various places around the world to what they vaguely call "international forces." And they speak of "economic forces" beyond our control. For example, millions of people are starving despite the fact that there is more than enough food in the world to provide for every person on the earth.
If you are still young and energetic, you may find it difficult to sympathize with the feelings that afflict many older people. But those who have passed the midpoint on life’s journey and have begun to descend the westering slope can appreciate what David said: "I have been young, and now am old" (Ps. 37:25). And because aging often brings with it pain and loss, there may be those who vainly wish that their summertime days would never end.
While the outcome of the Second World War was still uncertain, Franklin Roosevelt died and Harry Truman was sworn in as the next president of the United States. The following day, President Truman told reporters, "When they told me yesterday what had happened, I felt like the moon, the stars, and all the planets had fallen on me." Certainly Truman faced crushing responsibilities.
Some of Jesus’ words to His disciples about having faith in God leave me wondering if I can ever exercise that level of trust and confidence in prayer. I can’t recall telling a mountain to relocate itself into the ocean and watching it happen.
The earth’s population is now over 6.6 billion. And depending on where we live, finding moments of solitude where we can gaze at the silent night sky is increasingly difficult. Yet, according to the writer of Psalm 19, if we were able to steal away to a spot where the only sound was our heartbeat and the only sight the canopy of the stars, we could hear a message from those heavens.
Dalton Conley, a sociologist at New York University, and his wife, Natalie Jeremijenko, have two children. Several years ago, they sought permission from the city to change their 5-year-old son’s name to Yo Xing Heyno Augustus Eisner Alexander Weiser Knuckles Jeremijenko-Conley. Actually, a lot of that name was already his, but his parents added three of the middle names. They had specific reasons for each one.
Was God sadistically absent? That’s what Robert McClory, professor emeritus of journalism at the Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, asked after Hurricane Katrina devastated the New Orleans area of the US.
In his book The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell observes that struggling businesses are often turned around by one key decision. Many once-foundering companies are now thriving and successful because of a choice that became the tipping point.
Some years ago I placed a squirrel feeder on a fir tree a few yards from our home. It’s a simple device—two boards and a nail on which to impale a corncob. Each morning a squirrel comes to enjoy that day’s meal. She’s a pretty thing—black with a round, gray tummy.
I hadn’t been water-skiing in 15 years, but when friends offered to take my son-in-law Todd and me out on the lake last summer, how could I say no? It seemed like a good idea until I watched Todd have trouble getting upright on his skis. He had done a lot of skiing, but as he tried to get up on one ski, he kept falling. So when it came to my turn, I didn’t have a lot of confidence.
At a wedding I attended, the bride’s grandfather quoted from memory a moving selection of Scripture about the relationship of husband and wife. Then a friend of the couple read “Sonnet 116” by William Shakespeare. The minister conducting the ceremony used a phrase from that sonnet to illustrate the kind of love that should characterize a Christian marriage: “Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds.” The poet is saying that true love does not change with circumstances.
Visiting Alaska for the first time, I was excited that we were staying at the Mt. McKinley Lodge. As we were checking in, I caught a glimpse of a mass of rock through a large picture window, and I hurried out to the deck facing the mountain.
Paul Gerhardt, a pastor in Germany during the 17th century, had every reason not to be glad. His wife and four of his children died; the Thirty Years’ War brought death and devastation across Germany; church conflict and political interference filled his life with distress. Yet despite great personal suffering, he wrote more than 130 hymns, many of them characterized by joy and devotion to Jesus Christ.
Martha, a 26-year-old woman with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), needed help. When a group of ladies from Evanston, Illinois, heard about her, they jumped into action. They began to give round-the-clock nursing care. They bathed her, fed her, prayed for her, and witnessed to her. Martha, who had not received Christ as her Savior and couldn’t understand how a loving God could let her get ALS, saw His love in these women and eventually became a Christian. She is with the Lord today because 16 women, following Jesus’ example, personified God’s love.
On a teaching trip to the Bible lands, our study group had just spent a restful night at our Tiberias hotel. When I awoke, I went to my window and gazed at the beauty of the sunrise on the Sea of Galilee. As I thought ahead to the places we would be visiting that day—the same places where Jesus had walked 2,000 years before—I was excited about the opportunities of the day that had begun with the splendor of the sunrise.
“Keep on travelin’. Keep on . . .” sang the teenagers of the Dayspring Chorale. They had just sung the first five words of their Sunday evening concert when everything went dark. All power was gone.
Aware that love of God and neighbor is a central teaching of Scripture, I did my doctoral dissertation on “The Concept of Love in the Psychology of Sigmund Freud.” I learned that though this influential thinker had no faith in God, he stressed the supreme importance of love.
Every man needs pockets large enough to carry all the important things in life: wallet, keys, breath mints. By looking at my wife’s purse, it seems she has a whole universe of resources, but at least men have the essentials! With just a quick reach into a pocket, I have access to cash, credit cards, and the exclusive privileges that a set of keys offers.
Recently, as I left a shop, I overheard the man who had served me whisper in disappointment, "He called me ‘uncle,’ when he’s definitely older than I am." Since childhood, my Chinese culture has taught me it is polite to say, "Thank you, Uncle!" for help received.
My wife and I went to see a large-screen 3-D documentary on life in the sea. We put on plastic eyeglasses that created a 3-dimensional effect and then marveled as one surprise after another jumped out at us from the screen.
We prayed. Quietly sometimes. Aloud other times. For more than 17 years we prayed. We prayed for our daughter Melissa’s health and direction, for her salvation, and often for her protection. Just as we prayed for our other children, we asked God to have His hand of care on her.
In The Magician’s Nephew, one of the books in C.S. Lewis’ Narnia Chronicles, Digory and Polly use special rings to go into other universes. In one instance, they are transported to a place where they witness the creation of a new world. In the darkness, a beautiful voice sings stars into existence, followed by a newly created sunrise. In the morning light, they see that a mysterious lion is the singer. In response to his voice, grass spreads out like carpet, and trees grow in moments. Then animals begin to form out of the ground. When Narnia’s creation is complete, Aslan, its creator, gives the gift of speech to animals and celebrates with his creatures.
When our boys were small, we played a game called "Sardines." We’d turn out all the lights in our home and I would hide in a closet or some other cramped place. The rest of the family groped about in the darkness to find my hiding place and then hide with me until we were squeezed together like sardines. Hence the name.
I’ll never forget the time I had my picture taken with Shaquille O’Neal, one of the giants of professional basketball. I never thought of myself as short until I stood next to his 7'1" frame. With my head tucked under his arm, I suddenly realized that I wasn’t as tall as I thought I was, at least not when standing next to the Shaq!
Why does spiritual passion fade so easily? When we first experience God’s love, we spend hours thinking about Him, studying His Word, and telling others how much He means to us. Then it happens. Our busy schedules slowly dampen our passion. Our longing for Jesus and our study of His character become an occasional glance. Surely the object of our affection hasn’t changed!
A woman told me that when she was growing up, the kids next door weren’t allowed to play with her because she didn’t go to church. Later, when she became a Christian and told her mother, her mom replied, “You’re not going to start acting like you’re better than all of us, are you?” That mom got the wrong impression of Christians from her neighbors.
When I went to Moody Bible Institute as an 18-year-old, I enrolled in the pastors program. I could picture myself preaching and leading a church just as my home church pastor was doing. Then, after hearing about the five faithful missionaries to the Auca Indians who were tragically killed in Ecuador, I even considered dedicating my life to missions.
On December 26, 2004, an earthquake shook the whole earth. Many people didn’t feel it, but the South Asian region and parts of Africa suffered a devastating tsunami as a result. According to reporter Randolph Schmid, however, “No point on Earth remained undisturbed.” That earthquake, he tells us, “shook the ground everywhere on Earth’s surface.”
Our family was at Disney World a few years ago when God handed us one of His little blessings. Disney World is a huge place—107 acres huge, to be exact. You could walk around for days without seeing someone you know. My wife and I decided to do our own thing while our children sought out the really cool stuff. We parted at 9 a.m. and were planning a rendezvous around 6 p.m.
Emilie, wife of 19th-century Ger man pastor Christoph Blumhardt, envied his ability to pray for his parishioners and then effortlessly fall asleep. So one night she pleaded, “Tell me your secret!”
Marcie (not her real name) had broken up with her boyfriend, and now he was harassing her. He followed her, stared at her, and intimidated her in subtle ways. She avoided him as much as she could.
Rising 6.3 miles from its base on the ocean floor and stretching 75 miles across, Hawaii's Mauna Loa is the largest volcano on Earth. But on the surface of the planet Mars stands Olympus Mons, the largest volcano yet discovered in our solar system. The altitude of Olympus Mons is three times higher than Mt. Everest and 100 times more massive than Mauna Loa. It's large enough to contain the entire chain of the Hawaiian islands!
I had read that hummingbirds can fly backwards, but the cynic in me doubted it. So when my wife mounted a hummingbird feeder by the kitchen window and filled it with sugar water, I sat down with a cup of coffee to see if it was true.
In AD 64, someone set fire to Rome. A few days later, two-thirds of the city lay in smoldering ruins. A rumor spread that the emperor Nero had set the fire because he wanted to rebuild the city and name it after himself. Needing a scapegoat to get himself off the proverbial hot-seat, he chose to blame a defenseless and unpopular minority—Christians. He then initiated such intense persecution that he’s been referred to as the first Antichrist. It’s believed that both Peter and Paul were martyred during this time.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of the southern United States, displaced families and individuals were often referred to in the media as “refugees.” For some, this term was viewed as insulting, so it prompted reporters to scramble for another word that would not be perceived as negative. They decided on the word evacuees.
Sometimes it feels as if God isn’t listening to me.” Those words, from a woman who tried to stay strong in her walk with God while coping with an alcoholic husband, echo the heartcry of many believers. For 18 years, she asked God to change her husband. Yet it never happened.
When writing on the life of Simon Peter, songwriter and author Michael Card described the apostle as “a fragile stone.” It is a term filled with contrast, yet one that aptly describes Peter.
Unlike David in 2 Samuel 16, we like to take revenge, silence our critics, insist on fairness, and set everything right. But David told those who wanted to defend him: “Let [Shimei] alone, and let him curse; for so the Lord has ordered him” (v.11).
When members of the US Second Continental Congress approved the remarkable document known as the Declaration of Independence, they plainly declared their belief in God. The drafters of this noble proclamation knew that the sweeping freedoms they were proposing could work well only in a society where the Creator is acknowledged. They affirmed that God has “endowed” all people with the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” because He values each of us.
God knows and numbers the stars, yet He is concerned about you and me, even though we’re broken by sin. He binds our shattered hearts with sensitivity and kindness, and He brings healing into the depths of our souls. The greatness of God’s power is the greatness of His heart. His strength is the measure of His love. He is a tender and mighty God.
In 1977, the United States launched a rocket into space. On board was a small craft called Voyager I, a probe that was jettisoned into space to explore the planets. After Voyager was done sending back photos and data from the planet Jupiter and its neighbors, it didn’t stop working. It just kept going.
In the fall of 1982, Deborah Kiley set out with three other young people to deliver the 58-foot yacht Trashman from Maine to Florida. Off the coast of North Carolina, they encountered gale winds and mountainous seas that sank their boat. Enduring 4 grueling days at sea without food or fresh water, the crew clung to life in a rubber dinghy in shark-infested waters.
A farmer had a weather vane on his barn, on which was written "God is love." When friends asked why, the farmer said, "This is to remind me that no matter which way the wind blows, God is love."
It is wonderful to be young, with clear sight, acute hearing, elastic step, pulses drumming to the march of exhilarating health. But old age has glories that youth cannot know. It is a blessed old age indeed if it ends brightly at evening time.
Isaiah’s words about patiently waiting for the Lord anticipate the future with confident hope. From our place of trial, we wait for salvation that is certain to come. Jesus assured His followers, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).
A primary school in Japan is testing a system to improve the security of students and also give their parents peace of mind. A radio frequency identification tag carried by each student sends a signal to receivers at school gates, and a computer shows when each student enters or leaves. The system can automatically send an e-mail to notify parents that their children have arrived at school or left for home. In cities where children often commute long distances to school, the system has received high marks from parents, and the kids think it’s cool.
What was wrong with the ancient Israelites? Why did they have such trouble trusting God? In Hebrews 3, we’re reminded that they heard God’s promise yet refused to believe. I think I know why—we have the same problem today.
An antique rack in the entryway to our home holds the canes and walking-sticks of several generations of our family. My favorite is a slender staff with a gold-plated knob engraved with the initials “DHR.” It belonged to my wife Carolyn’s great-grandfather, Daniel Henry Rankin. Curiously, his initials are the same as mine.
Photographer David Crocket of Seattle’s KOMO-TV knows that solid mountains can move. On May 18, 1980, he was at the foot of towering Mount St. Helens when it erupted. For 10 hours he was nearly buried by the falling debris. As the atmosphere cleared, a helicopter pilot spotted him. He was dramatically rescued and flown to a hospital.
In his book Jesus Among Other Gods, Ravi Zacharias tells a story about a girl who became hopelessly lost in a dark and dense forest. She called and screamed, but to no avail. Her alarmed parents and a group of volunteers searched frantically for her. When darkness fell, they had to give up for the night.
At a Colorado ranch where I once worked, we had a mule named Prunes. He was big, strong, and intelligent. He was also the ringleader of a small band of horses that regularly escaped from the corral.
What if we didn't have faith in God but accepted instead the God-denying theory of evolution? Suppose we had an atheistic view of life. Cornell University biologist William Provine declared in a public debate that if you're a consistent Darwinian, you realize there's no life after death, no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning for our existence, no free will. Life would be empty.
A young boy was at the barbershop for a haircut. The room was filled with cigar smoke. The lad pinched his nose and exclaimed, "Who's been smoking in here!" The barber sheepishly confessed, "I have." The boy responded, "Don't you know it's not good for you?" "I know," the barber replied. "I've tried to quit a thousand times but I just can't." The boy commented, "I understand. I've tried to stop sucking my thumb, but I can't quit either!"
I've heard it said that there are three things a person needs to be happy:
Something to do-meaningful work or helping others.
Someone to love-someone to whom we can give of ourselves, such as a spouse, a child, or a friend.
Something to look forward to-a vacation, a visit from a loved one, improved health, the realization of a dream.
World-famous Russian author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was sent to a Siberian prison because he criticized communism. Languishing there under intolerable conditions year after year, he decided to end his life. But suicide, he firmly believed, would be against God's will. He thought it would be better for a guard to shoot him.
In Western culture, the Christmas season is a time for a revelry of gift-giving. A world-famous department store annually issues a catalog of gifts of value beyond extravagance. One of them was a $10 million zeppelin-a 230-foot-long, 50-foot-wide airship capable of flying for 24 hours without refueling.
In the 1700s, John Newton went to sea with his father on a merchant ship. Soon after his father retired, Newton was pressed into service on a warship. Facing intolerable conditions, he deserted and later requested a transfer to a slave ship that was soon to set sail for Africa.
A young Christian dad took his parenting role seriously. When his son was an infant, he protected him. As the boy grew, his dad played ball with him, encouraged him, and tried to teach him about God and life. But in his teen years, the boy went too far and too fast in his move toward independence.
It turns out that we humans reason largely by means of our hearts and not by our heads. As French mathematician and theologian Blaise Pascal noted long ago, "The heart has reasons that reason does not know."
Several hundred miles off the coast of Guam is the Mariana Trench, the deepest place in the ocean. On January 23, 1960, Jacques Piccard and Donald Walsh climbed into a submersible vessel and were lowered into the cold, lonely darkness. Their descent into the deep, which set the world record, has never been repeated.
If there is anything that we love to hate more than the arrogance of others, it would have to be an awareness of our own weakness. We detest it so much that we invent ways to cover our personal inadequacy.
I once read some theology on the bumper of a car in front of me. It said, "If you go to hell, don't blame Jesus!" The slogan apparently was an attempt by the driver to do some evangelism. I gave him credit for trying, but I wondered if those who saw that warning felt it was put there in love.
When a cowboy applied for an insurance policy, the agent asked, "Have you ever had any accidents?" After a moment's reflection, the applicant responded, "Nope, but a bronc did kick in two of my ribs last summer, and a couple of years ago a rattlesnake bit me on the ankle."
Magician Harry Houdini often performed an amazing escape. He was handcuffed, put inside a sack, and locked in a trunk—but he always managed to free himself. Some claimed that he had supernatural powers, but Houdini himself said that all his tricks could be explained.
Jesus, an itinerant rabbi from the town of Nazareth, asserted that He was the light of the world. That was an incredible claim from a man in first-century Galilee, an obscure region in the Roman Empire. It could not boast of any impressive culture and had no famous philosophers, noted authors, or gifted sculptors. And we have no record that Jesus had any formal education.
As a teacher with many years of experience in high school and college classrooms, I have observed many kinds of students. One in particular is what I call the "just me and the teacher" student. This pupil has a kind of one-on-one conversation with the teacher—almost as if no one else were in the class. The teacher's rhetorical questions, for instance, result in verbal answers from this student—oblivious to anyone else's reaction. While the class is filled with other pupils, this one seems to think it's "just me and the teacher."
Picture yourself swinging a pick, digging from dawn to dusk, chiseling a cistern out of the hard, unyielding stone. You stay on the job, working through the biting cold of winter and the blazing heat of summer.
When my dog Whitaker and I take our morning walk through the deep woods of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, the air is filled with sound. Birds of many species break the early morning silence with their songs.
The theory of evolution is not without its problems. One scientist says this about life starting on its own: "Amino acids would have to be arranged in an exact sequence to form a protein . . . just like the letters in a sentence. Mere laws of chemistry and physics cannot do that. The probability of a protein forming by chance would be 1064 [10 with 64 zeros after it] to 1!"
A question about the title of a hymn took me back to a wonderful old song I grew up singing in church called "Let Him Have His Way With Thee." The chorus says: "His power can make you what you ought to be; His blood can cleanse your heart and make you free; His love can fill your soul, and you will see 'twas best for Him to have His way with thee."
When you shift your mind into neutral and just let it idle, where do your thoughts go? Do you worry about money? We are to be careful with money, but Jesus taught that we are not to be full of care about it. If you have put your faith in the Lord, you don't have to worry about life's necessities. God Himself has assumed responsibility for your food and clothing—and all your needs.
Brandon Moody was attending his uncle D. L. Moody's church on Easter morning. The final scene in the impressive pageant was a depiction of Jesus' ascension into heaven. The actor who was playing Jesus was being hoisted by stagehands through an opening in the ceiling. But when he was halfway up, they lost their grip and down came the actor—thankfully uninjured. With amazing presence of mind, the actor said to the shocked congregation, "And one more thing. Love one another."
It was a sad day in May 2003 when "The Old Man of the Mountain" broke apart and slid down the mountainside. This 40-foot profile of an old man's face, carved by nature in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, had long been an attraction to tourists, a solid presence for residents, and the official state emblem. It was written about by Nathaniel Hawthorne in his short story The Great Stone Face.
When something big happens—a blessing or a tragedy—we recognize it immediately and respond with praise or pleadings to God. When we find a long-sought-after job, hear of a loved one coming to Christ, or get bad news from the doctor, we think of God and turn to Him. But in the little things—the routine, the mundane, the details—it's easy for us to overlook that He is working (Jeremiah 32:19).
Chilean poet Pablo Neruda was a lonely and unhappy child, with no siblings or friends. One day he was investigating the backyard of his home and discovered a hole in the fence surrounding the yard. Suddenly a small hand reached out toward him from the other side of the fence. Then just as suddenly the hand was gone. On the ground was a small toy sheep.
Change is one thing we can be sure of in this life. Our relationships change as we move to new places, experience illness, and ultimately face death. Even the cells in our bodies are always in the process of change. When cells wear out, most are replaced by new ones. This is especially noticeable with our skin—we shed and regrow outer skin cells about every 27 days.
When I was a young girl in West Michigan, we always celebrated spring and the blooming of the first flowers on May 1. I'd make a basket out of construction paper and fill it with any flowers I could find—mostly daffodils and violets. Then I would place the basket on my neighbor's doorstep, knock on her door, and quickly hide behind a bush. I'd peek out to watch her as she opened the door and picked up her surprise. When she went inside, I'd run home.
Moses, on the occasion of his call by God, made excuses. "O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither before nor since You have spoken to Your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue" (Exodus 4:10).
Our friends were traveling from Georgia to Illinois in a rented van. About halfway to their destination, their van was damaged when it hit a huge hole in the road. Other cars were disabled as well, and it was a rather chaotic scene.
I was in my second year of widowhood and I was struggling. Morning after morning my prayer-life consisted of one daily sigh: "Lord, I shouldn't be struggling like this!" "And why not?" His still, small voice asked me from within one morning.
Let's be honest. Are we always able to trust ourselves in everything? Even the apostle Paul said emphatically about himself, "I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified" (1 Corinthians 9:27). He wouldn't trust himself to do the right thing unless he kept his body under strict discipline.
In today's Scripture, we read that a mysterious and awesome visitor appeared to Manoah and his wife (Samson's parents). When Manoah asked, "What is Your name?" the visitor didn't answer the question directly but instead "ascended in the flame of the altar" (Judges 13:17-20). Then Manoah knew he had seen God in human form.
A team led by an Australian astronomer calculated the number of stars in the known universe to be 70 sextillion—7 followed by 22 zeros. That unfathomable number is said to be more than the grains of sand in every beach and every desert on earth. The calculation was the by-product of research on the development of galaxies. One team member said, "Finding the number of stars is not really the research we were doing, but it was a nice result to play around with."
Today's text states that God causes the cypress tree and the myrtle tree to flourish where once thorns and briers encumbered the ground. This analogy reminds us that God can bring forth beauty and grace where evil once flourished.