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A Closing Door

Beep, beep, beep, beep. The warning sound and flashing lights alerted commuters that the train door was about to close. Yet a few tardy individuals still made a frenzied scramble across the platform and onto the train. The door closed on one of them. Thankfully, it rebounded and the passenger boarded the train safely. I wondered why people took such risks when the next train would arrive in a mere 4 minutes.

Sledding And Praying

When the snow flies in Michigan, I like to get my grandkids, grab our plastic sleds, and go slipping and sliding down our backyard. We zoom down the hill for about 10 seconds, and then climb back up for more.

Our Source Of Help

Twenty-year-old Lygon Stevens, an experienced mountaineer, had reached the summits of Mt. McKinley, Mt. Rainier, four Andean peaks in Ecuador, and 39 of Colorado’s highest mountains. “I climb because I love the mountains,” she said, “and I meet God there.” In January 2008, Lygon died in an avalanche while climbing Little Bear Peak in southern Colorado with her brother Nicklis, who survived.

Battling Distractions

Every day I drive the same highway to and from the office, and every day I see an alarming number of distracted drivers. Usually they’re talking on the phone or texting, but I have also seen people reading the newspaper, putting on makeup, and eating a bowl of cereal while trying to maneuver a car at 70+ miles per hour! In some circumstances, distractions are fleeting and harmless. In a moving vehicle, they can kill.

The Hand Of God

When NASA began using a new kind of space telescope to capture different spectrums of light, researchers were surprised at one of the photos. It shows what looks like fingers, a thumb, and an open palm showered with spectacular colors of blue, purple, green, and gold. Some have called it “The Hand of God.”

Strengthen My Hands

Singapore’s first Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, is the man credited with making Singapore what it is today. During his leadership, Singapore grew to be rich and prosperous and one of the most developed nations in Asia. Asked if he ever felt like giving up when he faced criticism and challenges during his many years of public service, he replied, “This is a life-long commitment.”

Quiet Rest

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.

Answer The Cry

When my grandchildren were young, my son took them to see the stage production of The Lion King. As the young lion, Simba, stood over his father, King Mufasa, who had been killed by his evil uncle, little Simba, afraid and alone, cried out, “Help, Help, Help!” At that moment, my 3-year-old grandson stood on his chair in the hushed theater and shouted, “Why doesn’t somebody help him?!”

When Others Won’t Forgive

I was having lunch with two men who had opened their lives to Christ while they were in prison. The younger man had been discouraged by the fact that the family from whom he had stolen would not forgive him.

A Wonderful Explosion

In the book Kisses from Katie, Katie Davis recounts the joy of moving to Uganda and adopting several Ugandan girls. One day, one of her daughters asked, “Mommy, if I let Jesus come into my heart, will I explode?” At first, Katie said no. When Jesus enters our heart, it is a spiritual event.

Pointing To God

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.

When God Is Quiet

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.

You Had To Act

A US congressman, John Lewis, was 23 years old when he participated in the historic 1963 civil rights “March on Washington” led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Half a century later, journalist Bill Moyers asked Lewis how he was affected by Dr. King’s I Have A Dream speech that day. Mr. Lewis replied, “You couldn’t leave after hearing him speak and go back to business as usual. You had to do something, you had to act. You had to move. You had to go out and spread the good news.”

The Wonder Of Sight

On the livescience.com website, I read something pretty amazing: “If you were standing atop a mountain surveying a larger-than-usual patch of the planet, you could perceive bright lights hundreds of miles distant. On a dark night, you could even see a candle flame flickering up to 30 miles (48 km) away.” No telescopes or night-vision goggles needed—the human eye is so profoundly designed that even long distances can be spanned with clear sight.

Leaving It Behind

In the year or so after our teenage son got his driver’s license and started carrying a wallet, we got several calls from people who had found it somewhere. We cautioned him to be more careful and not leave it behind.

God’s Refreshing Word

When I was a boy, our family would occasionally travel across Nevada. We loved the desert thunderstorms. Accompanied by lightning bolts and claps of thunder, huge sheets of rain would blanket the hot sand as far as the eye could see. The cooling water refreshed the earth—and us.

Kindness Gone Viral

News of a simple act of kindness on a New York subway has gone around the world. A young man, head covered by a hooded sweatshirt, fell asleep on the shoulder of an older passenger. When someone else offered to wake the young rider, the older man quietly said, “He must have had a long day. Let him sleep. We’ve all been there.” Then he let the tired fellow rider sleep on his shoulder for the better part of the next hour, until the older man gently eased away to get up for his stop. In the meantime, another passenger snapped a photograph and posted it on social media, and it went viral.

It’s Worth It

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.

Out Of The Darkness

I don’t know what desperate situation gripped Asaph, the writer of Psalm 77, but I’ve heard, and made, similar laments. Over the past dozen years since I lost my daughter, many others who have experienced the loss of a loved one have shared with me heartbreaking sentiments like these:

A Storyteller

In the years following the American Civil War (1861–1865), Union Major General Lew Wallace served as a governor of the New Mexico territories; New Mexico not yet having been admitted as a state. His work there put him in contact with many of the characters that make up the Wild West’s near-mythic history, including Billy the Kid and Sheriff Pat Garrett. It was here that Wallace wrote what has been called by some “the most influential Christian book” of the 19th century, Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ.

What’s Your Motto?

Grug Crood, the dad of a caveman family in an animated movie, believes that there’s no safe place beyond their cave. They huddle together at night so he can protect them. He thinks his teenage daughter should give up her adventurous side because it can only lead to danger. His motto for his family is “Never not be afraid.” In other words, “Always be afraid.”

Too Late To Change?

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).

Love Letter

Each morning when I reach my office, I have one simple habit—check all my emails. Most of the time, I’ll work through them in a perfunctory fashion. There are some emails, however, that I’m eager to open. You guessed it—those from loved ones.

Extraordinary Showers

What do fish, tadpoles, and spiders have in common? They have all fallen from the sky like rain in various parts of the world. Fish fell on the Australian town of Lajamanu. Tadpoles pelted areas of central Japan on multiple occasions. Spiders showered down on the San Bernardo Mountains in Argentina. Although scientists suspect that the wind plays a part in these intriguing showers, no one can fully explain them.

Where Can I Help?

Last winter our city was hit by an ice storm. Hundreds of ice-heavy tree limbs cut into power lines, leaving thousands of homes and businesses without electrical power for days. Our family kept basic energy coming into the house through a generator, but we were still unable to cook meals. As we set out to find a place to eat, we drove for miles past closed businesses. We finally found a breakfast restaurant that had not lost power, but it was packed with hungry customers who were in the same fix as we were.

Mistakes Made Beautiful

Early in his career, jazz player Herbie Hancock was invited to play in the quintet of Miles Davis, already a musical legend. In an interview, Hancock admitted being nervous but described it as a wonderful experience because Davis was so nurturing. During one performance, when Davis was near the high point of his solo, Hancock played the wrong chord. He was mortified, but Davis continued as if nothing had happened. “He played some notes that made my chord right,” Hancock said.

Assembly Required

When our daughter and her fiancé began receiving wedding presents, it was a happy time. One gift they received was a bench cabinet that had to be assembled—and I volunteered for the task because they already had so much to do to prepare for the wedding. Although it took a couple of hours, it was much easier than expected. All of the wooden pieces were precut and predrilled, and all the hardware for assembly was included. The instructions were virtually foolproof.

The Beautiful Bride

I have officiated at a lot of weddings. Often planned according to the dreams of the bride, each of the weddings has been unique. But one thing is the same: adorned in their wedding dresses with hair beautifully done and faces aglow, brides steal the show.

I Am Redeemed!

One day when Ann was visiting her husband in the hospital, she began talking with a caregiver who was assisting him. Ann enjoys engaging people in conversation wherever she is, and she also looks for ways to talk to people about Jesus. Ann asked the caregiver if he knew what he wanted to do in the future. When he said he wasn’t sure, she suggested that it’s important to know God first so He can help with such decisions. He then pulled up the sleeve of his shirt to reveal “I am redeemed!” tattooed across his arm.

Where Are You?

The two teenage boys heard the sound of their parents’ car and panicked. How would they explain the mess in the house? Their father’s instructions had been clear that morning before he and their mother drove out of town: no parties, no rowdy friends. But the unruly friends came and the boys allowed them to stay, despite their father’s warning. Now the house was in a jumble and the boys were tipsy and disheveled. In fear, they hid.

Better Or Worse?

At the beginning of each new year, experts give their predictions about the economy, politics, weather, and a host of other topics. Will there be war or peace? Poverty or prosperity? Progress or stagnation? People everywhere are hoping that this year will be better than last, but no one knows what will happen.

Standing On The Edge

My little girl stood apprehensively at the pool’s edge. As a nonswimmer, she was just learning to become comfortable in the water. Her instructor waited in the pool with outstretched arms. As my daughter hesitated, I saw the questions in her eyes: Will you catch me? What will happen if my head goes under?

He Leads Me

In Istanbul, Turkey, in 2005, one sheep jumped off a cliff and then nearly 1,500 others followed! In the end, about one-third of them died. Not knowing which way to go, sheep mindlessly follow other members of the flock.

Delay May Not Mean Denial

My sons’ birthdays are in December. When they were small, Angus quickly learned that if he didn’t receive a longed-for toy for his birthday at the beginning of the month, it might be in his Christmas stocking. And if David didn’t receive his gift for Christmas, it might appear for his birthday 4 days later. Delay didn’t necessarily mean denial.

Is Jesus Still Here?

Ted Robertson’s home in Colorado was one of more than 500 destroyed by the Black Forest Fire in June 2013. When he was allowed to return and sift through the ash and rubble, he was hoping to find a precious family heirloom made by his wife—a tiny ceramic figurine of baby Jesus about the size of a postage stamp. As he searched the charred remains of their home, he kept wondering, “Is the baby Jesus still here?”

Out Of Egypt

One year when our family was traveling through Ohio on the way to Grandma’s house, we arrived in Columbus just as a tornado warning was issued. Suddenly everything changed as we feared that our children might be in danger.

In The Neighborhood

It was the buzz of our neighborhood. A famous professional football player had moved in just two houses down from where we lived. We had seen him on television and read about his great skills on the field, but we never thought he would choose to reside in our neighborhood. Initially, our expectations were that we would welcome him into the neighborhood and we would all become great friends. But his life was obviously far too busy for any of us to get to know him personally.

The Smells Of The Stable

A stable? What a place to give birth to the Messiah! The smells and sounds of a barnyard were our Savior’s first human experience. Like other babies, He may even have cried at the sounds of the animals and the strangers parading around His temporary crib.

Lasting Peace

On Christmas Eve 1914, during the First World War, the guns fell silent along a 30-mile stretch of the Western Front. Soldiers peered cautiously over the tops of trenches while a few emerged to repair their positions and bury the dead. As darkness fell, some German troops set out lanterns and sang Christmas carols. Men on the British side applauded and shouted greetings.

What Really Matters

When our children were living at home, one of our most meaningful Christmas morning traditions was very simple. We would gather our family around the Christmas tree where, in sight of the gifts we were receiving from one another, we would read the Christmas story together. It was a gentle reminder that the reason we give gifts is not because the Magi brought gifts to the Christ-child. Rather, our gifts of love for one another were a reflection of God’s infinitely greater Gift of love to us.

Remember The Wrapping

At our house some Christmas events are the same each year. Among them is my wife Martie’s appeal to the kids and grandkids as they attack their gifts: “Save the paper, we can use it next year!” Martie loves to give nice gifts, but she also appreciates the wrapping. Presentation is part of the beauty of the gift.

Just The Right Time

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.

In Jesus’ Name

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 Heart Of Christmas

Charles Dickens’ novel A Christmas Carol was released on December 19, 1843, and has never been out of print. It tells the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, a wealthy, sour, stingy man who says, “Every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas,’ on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding!” Yet, one Christmas Eve, Scrooge is radically changed into a generous and happy man. With great humor and insight, Dickens’ book captures the universal longing for inner peace.

My Friends And I

John Chrysostom (347–407), archbishop of Constantinople, said this about friendship: “Such is friendship, that through it we love places and seasons; for as . . . flowers drop their sweet leaves on the ground around them, so friends impart favor even to the places where they dwell.”

A Work In Progress

Pablo Casals was considered to be the preeminent cellist of the first half of the 20th century. When he was still playing his cello in the middle of his tenth decade of life, a young reporter asked, “Mr. Casals, you are 95 years old and the greatest cellist that ever lived. Why do you still practice 6 hours a day?”

A Ukrainian Christmas

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!”

Story Stewards

Many people take great care to make sure their resources are used well after they die. They set up trusts, write wills, and establish foundations to guarantee that their assets will continue to be used for a good purpose after their life on earth is done. We call this good stewardship.

A Special Birth

In the pages of Scripture, several baby-boy births stand out. Cain, the firstborn after creation. Isaac, the hope of Israel’s future. Samuel, the answer to a mother’s fervent prayer. All extremely important. All joyously expected. And all described exactly the same by the chroniclers of Scripture: In each case, we are told that the mother conceived and bore a son (Gen. 4:1; 21:2-3; 1 Sam. 1:20).

Another Hero Of Christmas

For most of my life, I missed the importance of Joseph in the Christmas story. But after I became a husband and father myself, I had a greater appreciation for Joseph’s tender character. Even before he knew how Mary had become pregnant, he decided that he wasn’t going to embarrass or punish her for what seemed to be infidelity (Matt. 1:19).

Snug As A Bug In A Rug!

When I was a child, my family lived in a house my father built in the cedar breaks west of Duncanville, Texas. Our house had a small kitchen-dinette area, two bedrooms, and a great room with a large stone fireplace in which we burned 2-foot-long cedar logs. That fireplace was the center of warmth in our home.

Snake In A Box

At a nature center, I watched my friend’s rosy-cheeked toddler pat the side of a large glass box. Inside the box, a bull snake named Billy slithered slowly, eyeing the little girl. Billy’s body was as thick as my forearm and he sported brown and yellow markings. Although I knew Billy could not escape from his container, seeing a menacing-looking creature so close to a small child made me shudder.

Wonders Of The Heart

Our heart beats about 100,000 times every day, pumping blood to every cell in our bodies. This adds up to about 35 million beats a year and 2.5 billion beats in an average lifetime. Medical science tells us that every contraction is similar to the effort it would take for us to hold a tennis ball in our palm and give it a good hard squeeze.

Our Life Is A Primer

The New England Primer was published in the late 1600s. Throughout the colonies that would later become the United States, the book became a widely used resource.

Stones Cry Out

Every year it seems that Christmas becomes more and more commercialized. Even in nations where the majority of people call themselves “Christian,” the season has become more about shopping than worshiping. The pressure to buy gifts and plan elaborate parties makes it increasingly difficult to stay focused on the real meaning of the holiday—the birth of Jesus, God’s only Son, the Savior of the world.

Johnny’s Race

When 19-year-old Johnny Agar finished the 5k race, he had a lot of people behind him—family members and friends who were celebrating his accomplishment.

Better Than Before

As infants, my children had nearly perfect skin. Their flesh was soft—they had no dry elbows or rough patches on their feet. Smooth and new, it contrasted with mine, which was marked by years of various scars and callouses.

Human Chess

Chess is an ancient game of strategy. Each player begins with 16 pieces on the chessboard with the goal of cornering his opponent’s king. It has taken different forms over the years. One form is human chess, which was introduced around ad 735 by Charles Martel, duke of Austrasia. Martel would play the game on giant boards with real people as the pieces. The human pieces were costumed to reflect their status on the board and moved at the whim of the players—manipulating them to their own ends.

Called By Name

At the beginning of the academic year, a school principal in our city pledged to learn the names of all 600 students in her school. Anyone who doubted her ability or resolve could look at her track record. During the previous year she had learned the names of 700 students, and prior to that, 400 children in a different school. Think of what it must have meant to these students to be recognized and greeted by name.

Whose Side Are You On?

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.”

Losing Our Way

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.”

Struggling With Addiction

Eric was struggling with an addiction, and he knew it. His friends and family members encouraged him to stop. He agreed that it would be best for his health and relationships, but he felt helpless. When others told him how they had quit their bad habits, he replied, “I’m happy for you, but I can’t seem to stop! I wish I had never been tempted in the first place. I want God to take the desire away right now.”

For Sale— ”As Is”

A house listed for sale “As Is” usually means the seller is unable or unwilling to spend any money to repair it or make it attractive. Any necessary repairs or desired improvements are the responsibility of the buyer after the purchase is complete. “As Is” on a real estate listing is equivalent to saying, “Buyer beware. Home may require significant further investment.”

Happy Ending

In its “plot,” the story of the Bible ends up very much where it began. The broken relationship between God and human beings has healed over at last, and the curse of Genesis 3 is lifted. Borrowing images from Eden, Revelation pictures a river and a tree of life (Rev. 22:1-2). But this time a great city replaces the garden setting—a city filled with worshipers of God. No death or sadness will ever darken that scene. When we awake in the new heaven and new earth, we will have at last a happy ending.

Amani

Amani, which means “peace” in Swahili, is the name of a Labrador retriever pup that has some special friends. Amani lives with two young cheetahs at the Dallas Zoo. Zoologists placed the animals together so the cheetahs could learn Amani’s relaxed ways. Since dogs are generally at ease in public settings, the experts predict that Amani will be a “calming influence” in the cheetahs’ lives as they grow up together.

A Lesson In Praise

Psalm 150 is not only a beautiful expression of praise, it’s also a lesson in praising the Lord. It tells us where to praise, why we’re to praise, how we’re to praise, and who should offer praise.

God Whispers “Fish”

A number of years ago our sons and I enjoyed some days together drifting and fishing the Madison River in Montana with two fishing guides who also served as our boatmen.

Resting In God

It was our last holiday together as a family before our eldest son went off to college. As we filled the back pew in the little seaside church, my heart filled with love as I glanced along the row of my five reasonably tidy children. “Please protect them spiritually and keep them close to You, Lord.” I prayed silently, thinking of the pressures and challenges each of them faced.

Hope In Suffering

When I opened my Bible to read Jeremiah 1 through 4, the subhead ascribed to the book startled me: “Hope in Time of Weeping.” I almost cried. The timing was perfect, as I was walking through a season of weeping over the death of my mom.

Outlasting Bitterness

During the Second World War, Corrie ten Boom’s family owned a watchmaking business in the Netherlands, and they actively worked to protect Jewish families. Eventually, the entire ten Boom family was sent to a concentration camp, where Corrie’s father died 10 days later. Her sister Betsie also died in the camp. While Betsie and Corrie were in the camp together, Betsie’s faith helped to strengthen Corrie’s.

The Warmth Of The Sun

On a November day in 1963, the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson and Mike Love wrote a song quite unlike the band’s typically upbeat tunes. It was a mournful song about love that’s been lost. Mike said later, “As hard as that kind of loss is, the one good that comes from it is having had the experience of being in love in the first place.” They titled it “The Warmth of the Sun.”

Dealing With Distractions

A restaurant owner in the village of Abu Ghosh, just outside Jerusalem, offered a 50-percent discount for patrons who turned off their cell phones. Jawdat Ibrahim believes that smartphones have shifted the focus of meals from companionship and conversation to surfing, texting, and business calls. “Technology is very good,” Ibrahim says. “But . . . when you are with your family and your friends, you can just wait for half an hour and enjoy the food and enjoy the company.”

Can You Help?

The administrators of the high school in Barrow, Alaska, were tired of seeing students get into trouble and drop out at a rate of 50 percent. To keep students interested, they started a football team, which offered them a chance to develop personal skills, teamwork, and learn life lessons. The problem with football in Barrow, which is farther north than Iceland, is that it’s hard to plant a grass field. So they competed on a gravel and dirt field.

Goodbye

When Max Lucado participated in a half-Ironman triathlon, he experienced the negative power of complaint. He said, “After the 1.2-mile swim and the 56-mile bike ride, I didn’t have much energy left for the 13.1-mile run. Neither did the fellow jogging next to me. He said, ‘This stinks. This race is the dumbest decision I’ve ever made.’ I said, ‘Goodbye.’” Max knew that if he listened too long, he would start agreeing with him. So he said goodbye and kept running.

Rooted Love

When I think of all the wonders of God’s magnificent creation, I am especially awed by the giant sequoia tree. These amazing behemoths of the forest can grow to around 300 feet tall with a diameter that exceeds 20 feet. They can live over 3,000 years and are even fire resistant. In fact, forest fires pop the sequoia cones open, distributing their seeds on the forest floor that has been fertilized by the ashes. Perhaps the most amazing fact is that these trees can grow in just 3 feet of soil and withstand high winds. Their strength lies in the fact that their roots intertwine with other sequoias, providing mutual strength and shared resources.

Defeated Adversary

The roaring lion is the legendary “king of the jungle.” But the only lions many of us see are the lethargic felines that reside in zoos. Their days are filled with lots of rest, and their dinner is served to them without the lions having to lift a single paw.

Amazing Guide

When actors and actresses make a movie, it’s the director who sees the “big picture” and the overall direction. Actress Marion Cotillard admits she didn’t understand everything the director was doing in one of her recent films. She said, “I found it very interesting to allow myself to be lost, because I knew that I had this amazing guide. . . . You abandon yourself for a story and a director that will make it all work.”

Windfall

Upon winning $314 million in a 2002 lottery, a happy business owner expressed noble desires. He wanted to start a charitable foundation, put laid-off workers back on the job, and do nice things for his family. Already wealthy, he told reporters the big win wouldn’t change him.

Heartbreak And Hope

When American country singer George Jones died at the age of 81, his fans remembered his remarkable voice and his hard life and personal struggles. While many of his songs reflected his own despair and longing, it was the way he sang them that touched people deeply. Chicago Tribune music critic Greg Kot said, “His voice was made for conveying heartbreak.”

Creeping Christmas?

I love Christmas. The celebration of the birth of Christ and the beauty and wonder of the season make it “the most wonderful time of the year” for me. In recent years, however, the season has been accompanied by a growing irritation. Every year “Christmas stuff” comes out earlier and earlier—creeping all the way back to early fall.

The Final Picture

What started as an empty 11-acre field in Belfast, Northern Ireland, ended up as the largest land portrait in the British Isles. Wish, by artist Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada, is made from 30,000 wooden pegs, 2,000 tons of soil, 2,000 tons of sand, and miscellaneous items such as grass, stones, and string.

The Drinking Gourd

Prior to the American Civil War (1861–1865), fugitive slaves found freedom by following the Underground Railroad, a term for the secret routes from the South to the North and the abolitionists who helped them along the way. Slaves would travel at night for many miles, keeping on track by following the light of the “Drinking Gourd.” This was a code name for the collection of stars known as the Big Dipper, which points to the North Star. Some believe the fugitives also used encoded directions in the lyrics of the song “Follow the Drinking Gourd” to keep them from getting lost as they traveled.

The Honor Of Following

While visiting Jerusalem, a friend of mine saw an old rabbi walking past the Wailing Wall. The interesting thing about the aged rabbi was the five young men walking behind him. They too were walking bent over, limping—just like their rabbi. An Orthodox Jew watching them would know exactly why they were imitating their teacher. They were “followers.”

Tear Down The Wall

The years following World War II were labeled the Cold War as nations exchanged threats and jockeyed for power. The Berlin Wall, built in August 1961, stood for almost 3 decades as one of the most powerful symbols of the smoldering animosity. Then, on November 9, 1989, it was announced that citizens could cross freely from East to West Berlin. The entire wall was demolished the following year.

Oranges Or Milk?

When I told my young daughter that a 3-month-old baby boy was coming to our house for a visit, she was delighted. With a child’s sense of hospitality, she suggested that we share some of our food with the baby; she thought he might enjoy a juicy orange from the bowl on our kitchen counter. I explained that the baby could drink only milk, but that he might like oranges when he was older.

Multiply It

Amy had battled cancer for 5 years. Then the doctor told her that the treatments were failing and she had just a few weeks to live. Wanting some understanding and assurance about eternity, Amy asked her pastor, “What will heaven be like?”

Horse Power

Think for a moment of the power, beauty, and majesty of a galloping horse—his head held high, his mane flying in the wind, and his legs working in unison to provide speed, power, and abandon.

Less Than The Least

Unlike those who think highly of themselves, Jacob knew that he had been ruined by sin (Gen. 32:10). He thought himself a man unworthy of God’s grace. He had cheated his brother Esau out of his birthright (ch.27), and his brother hated him for it. Now, years later, Jacob was going to face Esau again.

Perception Or Reality?

We often hear it said, “Perception is reality.” That idea for Americans may have dawned on September 26, 1960—the date of the first televised debate between two presidential candidates. In front of the cameras, John Kennedy appeared composed; Richard Nixon appeared nervous. The perception was that Kennedy would be a stronger leader. The debate not only turned that election, but it also changed the way politics is done in the US. Politics by perception became the rule of the day.

Does God Care?

Minnie and George Lacy were faced with some questions: “Is Jesus enough? Is our relationship with Christ sufficient to sustain us? Will He be enough to help us want to go on living? Does He care?”

Hands Off!

I remember bobbing for apples when I was a child, a game that required me to have my hands tied behind my back. Trying to grab a floating apple with my teeth without the use of my hands was a frustrating experience. It reminded me of the vital importance of our hands—we eat with them, greet with them, and use them to do just about anything that is vital to our existence.

Mosaic

For 3 weeks every fall season, our city becomes an art gallery. Nearly 2,000 artists from around the world display their creations in galleries, museums, hotels, parks, city streets, parking lots, restaurants, churches, and even in the river.

What Love Is

Years ago I asked a young man who was engaged to be married, “How do you know that you love her?” It was a loaded question, intended to help him look at his heart’s motives for the upcoming marriage. After several thoughtful moments, he responded, “I know I love her because I want to spend the rest of my life making her happy.”

Music And Megaphone

Christopher Locke buys old trumpets, trombones, and French horns and transforms them into acoustic amplifiers for iPhones and iPads. His creations are modeled on the trumpetlike speakers used in the first phonographs during the late 1800s. Music played through Christopher’s AnalogTelePhonographers has a “louder, cleaner, richer, deeper sound” than what is heard from the small speakers in the digital devices. Along with being interesting works of art, these salvaged brass instruments require no electrical power as they amplify the music people love to hear.

Shadowed

Someone was shadowing me. In a darkened hallway, I turned the corner to go up a flight of stairs and was alarmed by what I saw, stopping dead in my tracks. It happened again a few days later. I came around the back of a favorite coffee shop and saw the large shape of a person coming at me. Both incidents ended with a smile, however. I’d been frightened by my own shadow!

Working For The Wind

Howard Levitt lost his $200,000 Ferrari on a flooded Toronto highway. He had driven into what seemed like a puddle before realizing that the water was much deeper and rising quickly. When the water reached the Ferrari’s fenders, its 450-horsepower engine seized. Thank-fully he was able to escape the car and get to high ground.

New To The Family

While on a ministry trip with a Christian high school chorale to Jamaica, we witnessed an illustration of God’s love in action. On the day we visited an orphanage for disabled children and teens, we learned that Donald, one of the boys our kids had interacted with—a teen with cerebral palsy—was going to be adopted.

All Together

For years my wife’s piano and my banjo had an uncomfortable and infrequent relationship. Then, after Janet bought me a new guitar for my birthday, she expressed an interest in learning to play my old guitar. She is a very capable musician, and soon we were, together, playing songs of praise on our guitars. I like to think that a new kind of “praise connection” has filled our home.

First Response

When my husband, Tom, was rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery, I began to call family members. My sister and her husband came right away to be with me, and we prayed as we waited. Tom’s sister listened to my anxious voice on the phone and immediately said, “Cindy, can I pray with you?” When my pastor and his wife arrived, he too prayed for us (James 5:13-16).

Tiny Island

Singapore is a tiny island. It’s so small that one can hardly spot it on the world map. (Try it, if you don’t already know where Singapore is.) Because it is densely populated, consideration of others is especially important. A man wrote to his fiancée who was coming to Singapore for the first time: “Space is limited. Therefore . . . you must always have that sense of space around you. You should always step aside to ensure you are not blocking anyone. The key is to be considerate.”