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).