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.
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.
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.
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.
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?”
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.”
While traveling on a road from Glasgow to Edinburgh, Scotland, I was enjoying the beautiful, pastoral countryside when a rather humorous sight captured my attention. There, on a small hilltop, was a rather large flock of pink sheep.
Joash must have been confused and frightened when he was told about the evil deeds of his grandmother Athaliah. She had murdered his brothers to usurp the power of the throne in Judah. But baby Joash had been safely hidden away by his aunt and uncle for 6 years (2 Chron. 22:10-12). As he grew, he enjoyed the love and instruction of his caregivers. When Joash was only 7 years old, he was secretly crowned king and his grandmother was overthrown (23:12-15).
A hero to a generation of people who grew up after World War II, Corrie ten Boom left a legacy of godliness and wisdom. A victim of the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, she survived to tell her story of faith and dependence on God during horrendous suffering.
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.
While I was pastoring a church early in my ministry, my daughter Libby asked me, “Dad, are we famous?” To which I replied, “No, Libby, we’re not famous.” She thought for a moment and then said rather indignantly, “Well, we would be if more people knew about us!”
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.
If you’re like me, you seldom read the full text of contracts for online services before you agree to them. They go on for pages, and most of the legal jargon makes no sense to ordinary people like me.
In J. R. R. Tolkien’s book The Hobbit, the wizard Gandalf explains why he has selected a small hobbit like Bilbo to accompany the dwarves to fight the enemy. He says, “Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.”
Pete Peterson’s first contact with Vietnam was in the Vietnam War. During a bombing raid in 1966, his plane was shot down and he was taken prisoner. Over 30 years later he returned as US Ambassador to Vietnam. One press article called him “a walking billboard for reconciliation.” He realized years ago that God had not saved his life for him to live in anger. Because he believed this, he used the rest of his life and his position to make a difference by pushing for better safety standards for children in Vietnam.
I can still see Jay Elliott’s shocked face as I burst through his front door almost 50 years ago with a “gang” of bees swirling around me. As I raced out his back door, I realized the bees were gone. Well, sort of—I’d left them in Jay’s house! Moments later, he came racing out his back door—chased by the bees I had brought to him.
According to an African fable, four fingers and a thumb lived together on a hand. They were inseparable friends. One day, they noticed a gold ring lying next to them and conspired to take it. The thumb said it would be wrong to steal the ring, but the four fingers called him a self-righteous coward and refused to be his friend. That was just fine with the thumb; he wanted nothing to do with their mischief. This is why, the legend goes, the thumb still stands separate from the other fingers.
Recently, my daughter showed me her collection of sea glass. Also known as beach glass, the varied bits of colored glass are sometimes pieces of pottery but often they are pieces of shattered glass bottles. Originally the glass had a purpose, but then it was casually thrown away and became broken.
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!
Alf Clark walks the city streets looking for Zacchaeus. Well, not the actual one in the Bible—Jesus already found him. Alf and some friends who serve with an urban ministry do what Jesus did in Luke 19. They go purposefully through town to meet with and help those in need.
Often I meet with people who serve in what they think are seemingly small ways in small places. They are frequently discouraged by loneliness, feeling that their acts of service are insignificant. When I hear them speak, I think of one of the angels in C. S. Lewis’ book Out of the Silent Planet. He said: “My people have a law never to speak of sizes or numbers to you. . . . It makes you do reverence to nothings and pass by what is really great.”
People who live in Cherrapunji, India, have developed a unique way to get across the many rivers and streams in their land. They grow bridges from the roots of rubber trees. These “living bridges” take between 10 to 15 years to mature, but once they are established, they are extremely stable and last for hundreds of years.
If my family ever moves from the house where we live now, I want to unhinge the pantry door and take it with me! That door is special because it shows how my children have grown over the years. Every few months, my husband and I place our children against the door and pencil a mark just above their heads. According to our growth chart, my daughter shot up 4 inches in just 1 year!
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.”
My grandfather, my father, and his brothers were all tough men who, understandably, didn’t appreciate people who “got up in their faces about faith.” When my father, Howard, was diagnosed with a rapid and deadly cancer, I was so concerned that I took every opportunity to talk to him about Jesus’ love. Inevitably he would end the discussion with a polite but firm: “I know what I need to know.”
While waiting for an eye examination, I was struck by a statement I saw in the optometrist’s office: “Eighty percent of everything children learn in their first 12 years is through their eyes.” I began thinking of all that children visually process through reading, television, film, events, surroundings, and observing the behavior of others, especially their families. On this Father’s Day, we often think about the powerful influence of a dad.
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.”
My friend Mary tells me that she doesn’t always sing all the words to the hymns and choruses in a church service. She says, “It doesn’t seem honest to sing, ‘All I want is Jesus’ when my heart wants many other things too.” I appreciate her honesty.
One of my favorite places to visit in Jamaica is Ocho Rios, home of Dunn’s River Falls—a spectacle that never ceases to amaze. Water cascades down a long series of rocks as it makes its way to the Caribbean Sea. Adventurers can climb the falls, scrambling over rounded rocks on an invigorating trek to the top. The flowing water, the potentially slippery surface, and the steep angles make the going slow and a bit treacherous.
Two of Australia’s indigenous creatures, kangaroos and emus, have something in common—they seldom move backward. Kangaroos, because of the shape of their body and the length of their strong tail, can bounce along with forward movement, but they cannot shift easily into reverse. Emus can run fast on their strong legs, but the joints in their knees seem to make backward movement difficult. Both animals appear on Australia’s coat of arms as a symbol that the nation is to be ever moving forward and making progress.
In J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, the dwarfs gathered to go up against Smaug, the fierce dragon, to retrieve their stolen treasure. In spite of the dangerously frightening quest, Balin, the dwarfs’ second-in-command, expressed confidence in Thorin: “There is one I could follow. There is one I could call King.” His commitment to the mission, as dangerous as it was, was empowered by his confidence in his leader.
Human beings straddle visible and invisible realities—the natural and the supernatural. I thought about these two worlds when I went out in a boat to watch whales off the coast of New Zealand. A whale would rest on the surface for a while, then breathe deeply a few times, his exhalations creating a spectacular spout, before plunging a mile deep to feed on squid.
Your hair is really healthy,” said my hairdresser after giving me a haircut. “I hope it’s because you use our products.” “No. I’m sorry,” I said. “I just use whatever product is cheap and smells good.” But then I added, “I also try to eat well. I think that makes a big difference.”
For many years I’ve maintained a file folder labeled “Speaking.” It has become thick with articles, quotations, and illustrations that might be useful. Recently I went through it to discard things that are out of date. I found it difficult to throw away many of the items, not because I haven’t used them in a talk but because I haven’t put them into practice. I closed the folder thinking, “These aren’t words to talk about; these are words to live by.”
The lone tree in the field across from my office remained a mystery. Acres of trees had been cut down so the farmer could grow corn. But one tree remained standing, its branches reaching up and spreading out. The mystery was solved when I learned the tree was spared for a purpose. Farmers long ago traditionally left one tree standing so that they and their animals would have a cool place to rest when the hot summer sun was beating down.
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!
I was traveling with some men when we spotted a family stranded alongside the road. My friends immediately pulled over to help. They got the car running, talked with the father and mother of the family, and gave them some money for gasoline. When the mother thanked them over and over, they replied, “We’re glad to help out, and we do it in Jesus’ name.” As we drove away, I thought how natural it was for these friends to help people in need and acknowledge the Lord as the source of their generosity.
In the wake of the shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, many people have felt strongly compelled to help. Some donated blood for the injured, some provided free lunches and coffee at their restaurants for workers. Others wrote letters of comfort or just gave hugs. Some sent gifts of money and teddy bears for the children; others offered counseling. People found ways to serve according to their personalities, abilities, and resources.
Where is Mary Poppins when you need her? I know this sounds as if I’m longing for the good old days when cheerfully unrealistic movies featured characters like this fictional nanny, but what I’m really longing for are people with a vision for the future that is realistically optimistic. I yearn for joyful, creative people who can show us the positive side of what we consider negative, who can remind us that “just a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down.”
During a television news report on the plight of refugees displaced from a war-torn country, I was struck by the words of a 10-year-old girl. Despite there being little possibility of returning to their home, she showed a resilient spirit: “When we go back, I’m going to visit my neighbors; I’m going to play with my friends,” she said with quiet determination. “My father says we don’t have a house. And I said we are going to fix it.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life was at risk every day he stayed in Hitler’s Germany, but he stayed nonetheless. I imagine he shared the apostle Paul’s view that being in heaven was his heart’s desire, but staying where he was needed was God’s present purpose (Phil. 1:21). So stay he did; as a pastor he offered clandestine worship services and resisted the evil regime under Hitler.
I have one of those friends who seems to be better than I am at just about everything. He is smarter; he thinks more deeply; and he knows where to find better books to read. He is even a better golfer. Spending time with him challenges me to become a better, more thoughtful person. His standard of excellence spurs me on to greater things.
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.
In one of my favorite Peanuts cartoons featuring Charlie Brown, the always confident Lucy declares, “How could the world be getting worse with me in it? Ever since I was born the world has shown a distinct improvement!”
Years ago, I was hospitalized following a life-threatening, 38-foot fall from a bridge. While I was there, the wife of the man in the next bed stopped to speak to me. “My husband just told me what happened to you,” she said. “We believe God spared your life because He wants to use you. We’ve been praying for you.”
The language of Proverbs 6:16-19 is strong. In the citing of seven things the Lord hates, sowing “discord among brethren” makes the list. The reason for naming this sin is that it spoils the unity that Christ desires for His followers (John 17:21-22).
Some scents are unforgettable. Recently, my husband mentioned he was running low on shaving cream. “I’ll pick some up,” I offered. “Can you get this kind?” he asked, showing me the can. “I love the smell—it’s the kind my dad always used.” I smiled, recalling the time I had been momentarily taken back to my childhood when I got a whiff of the same shampoo my mom used to wash my hair. For both Tom and me, the fragrances had brought an emotional response and pleasant memory of people we loved who were no longer around.
During my days as a teacher and coach at a Christian high school, I thoroughly enjoyed interacting with teenagers, trying to guide them to a purposeful, Christlike life—characterized by love for God and love for others. My goal was to prepare them to live for God throughout life. That would happen only as they made their faith a vital part of life through the help of the Holy Spirit. Those who didn’t follow Christ floundered after they left the influence of Christian teachers and parents.
A 2010 survey by Newsweek contained some startling statistics: 57 percent of hiring managers believe an unattractive (but qualified) job candidate would have a harder time getting hired; 84 percent of managers said their bosses would hesitate before hiring a qualified older candidate; 64 percent of hiring managers said they believe companies should be allowed to hire people based on appearance. All are clear examples of unacceptable prejudice.
Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake of Jamaica made history when they finished first and second respectively in both the men’s 100-meter and 200-meter race in the 2012 London Olympics. Despite their rivalry on the track, Bolt paid tribute to Blake as a training partner: “Over the years, Yohan has made me a better athlete. He really pushed me and kept me on my toes.” It’s clear that the two spurred each other on to greatness on the track.
Pastors make an easy target for criticism. Every week they are on display, carefully explaining God’s Word, challenging us toward Christlike living. But sometimes we look to find things to criticize. It’s easy to overlook all the good things a pastor does and focus on our personal opinions.
I once asked a counselor what the major issues were that brought people to him. Without hesitation he said, “The root of many problems is broken expectations; if not dealt with, they mature into anger and bitterness.”
While exploring a museum exhibit titled “A Day in Pompeii,” I was struck by the repeated theme that August 24, ad 79 began as an ordinary day. People were going about their daily business in homes, markets, and at the port of this prosperous Roman town of 20,000 people. At 8 a.m., a series of small emissions were seen coming from nearby Mount Vesuvius, followed by a violent eruption in the afternoon. In less than 24 hours, Pompeii and many of its people lay buried under a thick layer of volcanic ash. Unexpected.
During evangelist Billy Graham’s historic 1949 Los Angeles campaign, the big tent that held over 6,000 people was filled to overflowing every night for 8 weeks. Close by was a smaller tent set aside for counseling and prayer. Cliff Barrows, longtime music director and close friend and associate of Graham, has often said that the real work of the gospel took place in “the little tent,” where people gathered on their knees to pray before and during every evangelistic service. A local Los Angeles woman, Pearl Goode, was the heart of those prayer meetings and many that followed.
Some years ago, I came across a poem by George MacDonald titled, “The Hidden Life.” It tells the story of an intellectually gifted young Scot who turned his back on a prestigious academic career to return to his aging father and to the family farm. There he engaged in what MacDonald called, “ordinary deeds” and “simple forms of human helpfulness.” His friends lamented what they saw as a waste of his talents.
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.
Many of us make promises to ourselves to mark the beginning of a new year. We make pledges such as I’m going to save more, exercise more, or spend less time on the Internet. We begin the year with good intentions, but before long old habits tempt us to take up our old ways. We slip up occasionally, then more frequently, and then all the time. Finally, it’s as if our resolution never existed.
Even at the end of his life, C. S. Lewis showed an interest in the spiritual nurture of younger believers. Although in ill health, he took time to respond to the letter of a child named Philip. Complimenting the boy’s fine written expression, Lewis said he was delighted that Philip understood that in the Narnia Chronicles the lion Aslan represented Jesus Christ. The next day, Lewis died at his home in the Kilns, Oxford, England, one week before his 65th birthday.
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.
Ukrainian gymnast Larisa Latynina held the record of 18 Olympic medals. She won them in the 1956, 1960, and 1964 Olympics. The 48-year-old record was surpassed when Michael Phelps swam for his 19th gold in the 4 x 200-meter freestyle relay in the 2012 London Games. “[Latynina] kind of got lost in history,” the publisher of the International Gymnast magazine said. When the Soviet Union broke up, “we had forgotten about her.”
Eunice McGarrahan gave an inspiring talk on Christian discipleship in which she said, “A costume is something you put on and pretend that you are what you are wearing. A uniform, on the other hand, reminds you that you are, in fact, what you wear.”
In December each year, a neighborhood of 13 families near where we live sets up a dazzling display of 300,000 Christmas lights. People drive for miles and wait in line for hours to see the flashing, colorful lights and hear the music that is programmed to go with it. The sound-and-light display is so elaborate that it requires a network of 64 computers to keep everything synchronized.
We call it the Integrity League, but it’s really just a bunch of guys who get together at lunchtime to play basketball. We call fouls on ourselves, attempt to avoid angry outbursts, and simply try to keep everything fair and enjoyable. We are competitive and we don’t like to lose—but we all agree that integrity and honesty should control the atmosphere.
A week after C. S. Lewis died in 1963, colleagues and friends gathered in the chapel of Magdalen College, Oxford, England, to pay tribute to the man whose writings had fanned the flames of faith and imagination in children and scholars alike.
In November 1963, the same day that President John F. Kennedy was shot, another leader died—Clive Staples Lewis. This Oxford scholar, who had converted from atheism to Christianity, was a prolific writer. Intellectual books, science fiction, children’s fantasies, and other works flowed from his pen with a strong Christian message. His books have been used by God in the conversion of many, including a politician and a Nobel Prize-winning scientist.
On the first night at family camp, the camp director informed the families of the schedule for the week. When finished, he asked if anyone else had anything to say. A young girl stood up and made a passionate appeal for help. She shared about her little brother—a boy with special needs—and how he could be a challenge to care for. She talked about how tiring this was for her family, and she asked everyone there to help them keep an eye on him during the week. It was an appeal born out of genuine concern for her brother and her parents. As the week went on, it was great to see people pitching in to help this family.
When snowstorms bury the grazing lands, ranchers must feed their herds by hand. As hay is tossed from wagons and trucks, the strongest animals bull their way to the front. Timid or sickly animals get little or no feed unless the rancher intervenes.
Sgt. Richard Kirkland was a Confederate soldier in the US Civil War (1861–1865). When the Union’s failed charge at Marye’s Heights during the Battle of Fredericksburg left wounded soldiers abandoned in no-man’s land, Kirkland got permission to help them. Collecting canteens, he leaped the stone wall and bent over the first soldier to lend assistance. At great personal risk, the “Angel of Marye’s Heights” extended the mercy of Christ to enemy soldiers.
My wife, Martie, is a careful shopper when it comes to buying healthy and nutritious food. No matter how attractive the packaging looks, she checks the list of ingredients on the back of the box. Lots of difficult-to-pronounce words usually announce the presence of preservatives that work against good nutrition. She always puts those items back on the shelf and continues to look for labels with lists of natural food products that contribute to good health.
If you like growing pumpkins, you have probably heard of Dill’s Atlantic Giant variety of premium pumpkin seeds. Developed on a family farm in Atlantic Canada, the pumpkins grown from these seeds have set records around the world. In 2011, a pumpkin grown in Quebec set a new world record at 1,818.5 pounds (825 kg). That size of pumpkin could yield almost 1,000 pieces of pie!
It’s a rather nondescript house that sits on a busy thoroughfare. With no distinctive characteristics, this rather plain home is easy to ignore. But as I drove past it the other day, I noticed a “For Sale” sign in the yard. Attached to the sign was a smaller notice that happily announced: “I’m gorgeous inside.” While I’m not in the market for a new house, that sign intrigued me. What could make this otherwise forgettable house gorgeous inside?
I love the YouTube video of people in a food court of a mall, who in the midst of their ordinary lives were suddenly interrupted by someone who stood up and boldly began singing the “Hallelujah Chorus.” To the surprise of everyone, another person got up and joined the chorus, and then another, and another. Soon the food court was resounding with the celebrative harmonies of Handel’s masterpiece. A local opera company had planted their singers in strategic places so that they could joyfully interject the glory of God into the everyday lives of lunching shoppers.
Not long ago my wife, Janet, and I bought a quantity of beef from a friend who raised cattle on a small farm. It was less expensive than meat from a grocery store, and we put it in the freezer to use throughout the coming months.
Recently, I began studying the kings of the Old Testament with some friends. I noticed on the chart that we were using that a few of the leaders of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah are labeled good, but most of them are labeled bad, mostly bad, extra bad, and the worst.
When a sudden change in technology made his job obsolete, a highly trained scientist found himself working in a fast-food restaurant. One evening after our Bible study he described the situation as difficult and humbling. He said, “One good thing I can say is that the young people there seem very interested in my faith.” A member of the group responded, “I admire you for being humble. I know your faith must have something to do with it.”
My friend Linda grew up planning to become a medical missionary. She loves the Lord and wanted to serve Him as a doctor by taking the gospel to sick people in parts of the world where medical care is hard to find. But God had other plans. Linda has indeed become a medical missionary, but not the way she expected.
According to the International Basketball Federation, basketball is the world’s second-most popular sport, with an estimated 450 million followers in countries around the globe. In the US, the annual NCAA tournament in March often brings mention of legendary coach John Wooden. During his 27 years at UCLA, Wooden’s teams won an unprecedented 10 National Championship titles. Yet, today, John Wooden, who died in 2010, is remembered not just for what he accomplished but for the person he was.
When I think of my father, I think of this saying: “He didn’t tell me how to live; he lived, and he let me watch him do it.” During my youth, I watched my dad walk with God. He participated in Sunday morning church services, taught an adult Bible-study class, helped with counting the offering, and served as a deacon. Outside of church, he faithfully defended the gospel and read his Bible. I saw him express his love for the Lord through outward actions.
During a recent study, 200,000 employees were interviewed to discover the missing ingredient in their productivity. The study concluded that appreciation and affirmation topped the list of what they wanted most from their superiors. This research implies that receiving affirmation is a basic human need.
Aradio ad for a church caught my attention: “Because you’ve heard about Christianity, you might not be interested in religion. Well, it might surprise you—Jesus wasn’t interested in religion either. But He was big on relationship and teaching us to love one another.” It continued, “You may not like everything about our church, but we offer authentic relationship, and we’re learning to love God and each other. You’re welcome to visit.”
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.
A while ago, I wrote an article about my wife, Marlene, and her struggles with vertigo. When the article appeared, I was unprepared for the tidal wave of response from readers offering encouragement, help, suggestions and, mostly, concern for her well-being. These messages came from all over the world, from people in all walks of life. Expressions of loving concern for my wife poured in to the point where we could not even begin to answer them all. It was overwhelming in the best kind of way to see the body of Christ respond to Marlene’s struggle. We were, and remain, deeply grateful.
When going through old family photos, my cousins and I joke about which physical characteristics we’ve inherited. We notice primarily the negative ones: short legs, crooked teeth, unruly cowlicks. All of us can easily identify in our ancestors our own least favorite body part. In addition to physical attributes, we also inherited character traits—some good, some not so good. But we don’t always pay as much attention to those.
After I had minor eye surgery, the nurse told me, “Don’t look down for the next 2 weeks. No cooking or cleaning.” The last part of those instructions was a little easier to take than the first part! The incisions needed to heal, and she didn’t want me to put any unnecessary pressure on them by looking down.
So many predictions of the end of the world have come and gone. Those predictions are unsettling and often fill people with fear. Yet the Bible does refer to a time called “the day of the Lord” when He will return. It will happen, but only God knows when.
If you Google “person of influence,” the search will take you to various lists of “the most influential people in the world.” These lists usually include political leaders; business entrepreneurs and athletes; along with people in science, the arts, and entertainment. You will not find the names of cooks and cleaners who work for them. Yet those in so-called lowly positions often influence the people they serve.
Perhaps you are familiar with the saying, “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” Admittedly, there are ways to speak of people that can honor them. But this saying highlights our darker experiences. In a world of ever-present media—social and professional—we are continually confronted with people’s lives at a level of intimacy that can be inappropriate.
The annual Texas Book Festival in Austin draws thousands of people who enjoy browsing for books, attending discussions led by acclaimed authors, and gleaning advice from professional writers. At one such festival, an author of young adult fiction told aspiring writers, “Write the book that you want to find on the shelf.” That’s a powerful recommendation for writing and for living. What if we decided to live the way we want everyone else to live?
As our final project for a high school earth science class, a friend and I built a stream table. With extensive help from my father, we built a long plywood box with a hinge in the middle. Then we lined it with plastic and filled it with sand. At one end we attached a hose. At the other end was a drainage hole. After assembling all of it, we raised one end of the stream table, turned on the water, and watched as it created a path directly to the hole at the other end. The next part of the experiment was to place a rock in the stream and watch how it changed the path of the water.
In whatever a man does without God, he must fail miserably—or succeed more miserably,” wrote George MacDonald (1824–1905), a Scottish novelist, poet, and Christian minister. This intriguing statement is often cited by modern speakers and writers and appears in MacDonald’s book Unspoken Sermons.
Some years ago I found myself in an elevator with a couple of men. It was late at night, and we all looked weary. The elevator came to a stop, and a larger-than-life cowboy ambled in, wearing a battered hat, an old, stained sheepskin coat, and rundown logger boots. He looked us up and down, met our eyes, and growled, “Good evening, men.” All of us straightened up and squared our shoulders. We were trying to live up to the name.
I woke up one morning and discovered that my Internet connection was not working. My service provider conducted some tests and concluded that my modem needed to be replaced, but the earliest they could do so was the next day. I panicked a little when I thought about being without the Internet connection for 24 hours! I thought, How am I going to survive without it?
While I was traveling with a chorale from a Christian high school, it was great to see the students praise God as they led in worship in the churches we visited. What happened away from church was even better to see. One day the group discovered that a woman had no money for gas—and they spontaneously felt led by God to take up a collection. They were able to give her enough money for several tankfuls of gas.
For years I taught adult Bible-study classes in a local church and took great pains to consider Scripture carefully before answering questions during the lessons. Later, during a lecture in my first semester of seminary at age 40, I learned that I’d given a woman who had attended one of my classes a terrible answer to her heartfelt question. I was certain my response had been causing her distress over the 2 years since I had seen her, and I was eager to correct myself for her sake.
If you take a course on writing or attend a writer’s conference, you’ll likely hear the phrase, “Show, don’t tell.” In other words, “show” your readers what is happening, don’t just tell them. Don’t tell readers what you did; describe doing it.
When our kids were teens, we repeatedly had the following discussion after their church youth group meeting: I asked, “How was youth group tonight?” And they responded, “It was boring.” After several weeks of this, I decided to find out for myself. I slipped into the gym where their meeting was held, and I watched. I saw them participating, laughing, listening—having a great time. That night on the way home I asked about their evening and, once again, they said, “It was boring.” I responded, “I was there. I watched. You had a great time!” They responded, “Maybe it wasn’t as bad as usual.”
I love baseball and have been a fan of the sport since I was a little kid. I especially enjoy following the Detroit Tigers. But during a recent season, the Tigers’ poor play and losing record early in the season frustrated me greatly. So for my own personal well-being, I took a break. I spent 4 days avoiding anything to do with my favorite team.
As a young man, Robert Robinson (1735–1790) enjoyed getting into trouble with his friends, so the stories go. At age 17, though, he heard a sermon by George Whitefield from Matthew 3:7, and realized his need for salvation in Christ. The Lord changed Robinson’s life, and he became a preacher. He also wrote several hymns, including his best-known “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.”
For me, food is more than a necessity—it’s a wonderfully enjoyable part of life! I enjoy sitting down to a well-prepared meal, especially when I’m feeling hungry. I imagine that the disciples were hungry for lunch when they returned to the well where Jesus was interacting with the Samaritan woman. They urged Him, “Rabbi, eat” (John 4:31). His response? “I have food to eat of which you do not know” (v.32), which made them wonder if someone had already brought Him something to eat (v.33).
One person’s actions can affect an entire group. This truth became clear to journalist Sebastian Junger as he followed a platoon of soldiers. Junger watched a soldier accost another soldier whose bootlaces were trailing on the ground. He didn’t confront him out of concern for his fashion. He confronted him because his loose laces put the entire platoon at risk—he couldn’t be counted on not to trip and fall at a crucial moment. Junger realized that what happens to one happens to everyone.
I know very little about persecution. My physical well-being has never been threatened because of what I believe or what I say. What little I “know” about the subject comes from what I hear and read. But that is not true for many of our brothers and sisters around the world. Some of them live in danger every day simply because they love Jesus and want others to know Him too.
Years ago I was a camp counselor for some rebellious boys. I found it challenging to deal with their behavior. They would mistreat the animals at the petting zoo and occasionally fight among themselves. So I adopted a calm and firm approach to leading them. And although they often exasperated me, I always made sure their physical needs were taken care of.
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.
At David Schumm’s memorial service, we celebrated the optimism, perseverance, and faith of a man with severe cerebral palsy. For all of David’s 74 years, the simple tasks of daily life required great effort. Through it all, he kept smiling and helping others by giving more than 23,000 hours as a hospital volunteer, along with encouraging at-risk teens.
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.”
Is ambition wrong? Is it wrong to be driven, to push to be the best? It can be. The difference between right and wrong ambition is in our goal and motivation—whether it’s for God’s glory or our own.
A popular clothing retailer requires that its sales clerks dress like the models in the store windows who advertise its clothes. This practice is referred to as “guarding their brand.” The idea behind it is that shoppers will be more likely to purchase clothes because they will want to look like the people they see wearing them.
When I was a young child, our family escaped near tragedy. Most of the main appliances in the house, as well as the furnace, were fueled by natural gas, but a small leak in one of the gas lines put our lives at risk. As the gas poured into our little house, our family was overcome by the lethal fumes and we lost consciousness. Had we not been discovered by a neighbor who happened to stop by for a visit, we all could have been killed by this dangerous, unseen enemy.
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.
Love is the centerpiece of thriving relationships. Scripture makes it clear that we need to be people who love—love God with all our hearts, love our neighbor as ourselves, and love our enemies. But it’s hard to love when we don’t feel loved. Neglected children, spouses who feel ignored by their mates, and parents who are alienated from their children all know the heartache of a life that lacks love.
In his battle with cancer, Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Inc., said: “Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything—all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure—these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.” His suffering influenced the choices he made.
Four-year-old Eliana was helping her mom pick up some of Eliana’s things before bedtime. When Mommy told her to put away the clothes on her bed, Eliana hit her limit. She turned around, put her little hands on her hips, and said, “I can’t do everything!”
The difference between a compliment and flattery is often motive. A compliment offers genuine appreciation for a quality or action seen in another person. The goal of flattery is usually self-advancement through gaining the favor of someone else. Compliments seek to encourage; flattery attempts to manipulate.
We were in line at the ice cream store when I noticed him. His face bore the marks of too many fights—a crooked nose and some scars. His clothes were rumpled, though clean. I stepped between him and my children, using my back to erect a wall.
The Mission Point Lighthouse was built in 1870 on a peninsula in Northern Michigan to warn ships of sand bars and rocky shores along Lake Michigan. That lighthouse got its name from another kind of lighthouse, a mission church, which was built 31 years earlier.
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.
It occurred to me one day that my right foot does all the pedal work when I’m driving my automatic transmission car. It alone works the accelerator and the brake. The left foot is idle. What happens if I decide that to be equitable, my left foot ought to replace my right foot half the time when I am driving? If you have never done so, please don’t try it!
Greek fire was a chemical solution that was used in ancient warfare by the Byzantine Empire against its enemies. According to one online source, it was developed around ad 672 and was used with devastating effect, especially in sea warfare because it could burn on water. What was Greek fire? Its actual chemical composition remains a mystery. It was such a valuable military weapon that the formula was kept an absolute secret—and was lost to the ravages of history. Today, researchers continue to try to replicate that ancient formula, but without success.
One night a clergyman was walking to church when a thief pulled a gun on him and demanded his money or his life. When he reached in his pocket to hand over his wallet, the robber saw his clerical collar and said: “I see you are a priest. Never mind, you can go.” The clergyman, surprised by the robber’s unexpected act of piety, offered him a candy bar. The robber said, “No thank you. I don’t eat candy during Lent.”
While visiting the campus of Purdue University on a frigid winter day, I came upon two young men chipping away thick ice on the sidewalk next to a fraternity house. Thinking they must be underclassmen who had been assigned the tough job by older fraternity brothers, I said, “They didn’t tell you about this when you joined, did they?” One looked up with a smile and said, “Well, we’re both upperclassmen. I’m the fraternity vice-president and my friend here is the president.” I thanked them for their hard work and went on my way having been reminded that serving others is the mark of a true leader.
As a child, I loved it when my mom read to me. I would sit on her lap and listen to every word. As she read, I examined the details of every picture and waited eagerly to hear what was on the next page.
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.
During a children’s church service, the teacher talked about the first of the Ten Commandments: “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Ex. 20:3). She suggested some ways for the kids to keep this command. She said, “Nothing should come before God—not candy, not schoolwork, not video games.” She told them that putting God first meant that time with Him reading the Bible and praying should come before anything else.
A while back, an Emmy award-winning actress took a courageous stand and walked out in the middle of the Annual American Music Awards ceremony. Her reason? She grew increasingly upset and disappointed by what she described as “an onslaught of lewd jokes and off-color remarks” and raw and raunchy comments by presenters, performers, and hosts. She said the evening was an affront to anyone with a shred of dignity and self-respect.
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.
When the Day of Discovery television crew interviews people for a biography, we especially enjoy talking with those who knew the person whose life-story we are telling. Over the years, we’ve talked with a man who roomed with Eric Liddell in an internment camp in China; a woman who as a teenager lived in the home of C. S. Lewis during World War II; and a man who chauffeured Dr. George Washington Carver on a speaking tour throughout the southern US. They all spoke freely and openly about the special person they knew.
Karl Elsener, a Swiss designer of surgical equipment in the 19th century, worked for years on perfecting a military knife. Today his Swiss Army Knife is associated with excellence in blades and a variety of utilities. One model includes knife blades, a saw, scissors, a magnifying glass, a can opener, a screwdriver, a ruler, a toothpick, a writing pen, and more—all in one knife! If you are out camping in the wild, this one item can certainly make you feel equipped for survival.
When you attend a children’s choir concert, you’re not surprised when the children look everywhere but at the director. They wiggle, squirm, and poke each other. They stand on tiptoes to search for parents in the audience. They raise their hands to wave when they see them. Oh, yes, and they occasionally sing. We smile at their antics. The behavior is cute in children. It’s not so cute when adult choir members don’t watch the conductor. Good music depends on singers who pay attention to the director so they can stay together as they sing.
I love being with people . . . most of the time. There is a special joy that resonates in our hearts when we are with people we enjoy. But unfortunately we are not always with those we like to be around. Sometimes people can be prickly, which may be why someone has said, “The more I get to know people, the more I love my dog!” When we don’t find joy in a relationship, we tend to blame the other person; then we excuse ourselves as we exit to be with people we like.
As we look forward to the New Year with plans and resolutions, the voices of godly men from the past encourage us to think about something we prefer to ignore—our own death.
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.
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.
My wife, Martie, is a great shop- per. When she shops for groceries, she reads all the nutrition labels and considers the best deal by looking at the price per unit. But her best trick is looking for the “use by” date. She doesn’t just grab the first gallon of milk she sees, but rather she goes for the gallon with the latest “use by” date so she can bring home the freshest milk from the store.
Years ago I lost my job in my chosen profession due to circumstances beyond my control. So I took on two lesser-paying jobs in order to try to make ends meet. Yet it still was very difficult to earn enough to pay my monthly expenses.
I don’t know if this is true in every marriage, but for some reason I have a tendency to tune out everything around me and concentrate on my own thoughts. This is especially frustrating to my wife, Martie, when she is talking to me about something important. When she notices the distant look in my eyes, she often says, “Have you heard anything I’ve said?”
Nine years ago today a good friend went out for a lunchtime jog and never came back. Kurt De Haan, who was the managing editor of Our Daily Bread, died of a heart attack on that sunny Thursday. Some of us who worked with Kurt still keep mementos of him in our offices.
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.
A professional football player’s team was having a terrible season, losing week after week. A reporter asked him how he stayed motivated to play hard and give his best even though his team lost almost every game. He responded, “My dad is watching that game. My mom is watching that game. You better believe I’m going to do my best!” He recognized that there was more at stake than just winning or losing. People were watching, and that reality always drove him to do his best.
As the NFL playoff game ended and the Green Bay Packers celebrated their victory over the Chicago Bears, my daughter Lisa noticed that her little girl, 4-year-old Eliana, was crying. That seemed odd, since neither of Eliana’s parents particularly cared who won the game.
Champion athlete Eric Liddell’s decision not to run on Sunday in the 1924 Olympic Games was not difficult because of his deep belief that the Lord’s Day was for worship and rest.
Because of his arthritis, Roger could no longer handle the winters of Illinois, so he moved to tropical Bangkok, Thailand. One day he remembered his grandmother’s favorite song, “What You Are”: What you are speaks so loud that the world can’t hear what you say; they’re looking at your walk, not listening to your talk; they’re judging from your actions every day.
While standing in a checkout line, I was estimating my bill and trying to keep my son from wandering away. I barely noticed when the woman ahead of me shuffled toward the exit, leaving all of her items behind. The clerk confided that the woman didn’t have enough money to pay her bill. I felt terrible; if only I had been aware of her situation earlier, I would have helped her.
One of the qualities I most admire in others is the gift of quiet, behind-the-scenes encouragement. I remember arriving home from a stay in the hospital and finding that my friend Jackie (who had surgery a few days earlier) sent me a book of God’s promises.
In Outlive Your Life, Max Lucado writes: “Hospitality opens the door to uncommon community. It’s no accident that hospitality and hospital come from the same Latin word, for they both lead to the same result: healing. When you open your door to someone, you are sending this message: ‘You matter to me and to God.’ You may think you are saying, ‘Come over for a visit.’ But what your guest hears is, ‘I’m worth the effort.’”
As we got off the bus at a home for mentally and physically challenged children in Copse, Jamaica, I didn’t expect to find a football player. While the teen choir and the other adult chaperones dispersed to find kids to hug, love, and play with, I came upon a young man named William.
Not long ago, a friend of mine was facing surgery. Two disks in his back and a detached Achilles tendon were creating a lot of pain. After assuring him of my prayers, I was struck with the idea of sending him something in writing to further encourage him. So I sent the following e-mail:
For several years, I’ve corresponded with a pastor in Nepal who often travels with his church members to distant communities in the Himalayas to preach and plant churches. Recently he sent me his itinerary for the following week and asked me to pray.
Here in New England where I live, baseball is a near-religious pursuit. Even if it were against the law to talk about the Boston Red Sox while at work, the fans couldn’t stop—they love their team that much.
Many high school students with autism or Down syndrome feel excluded and ignored. They often eat alone in a crowded cafeteria because other students don’t know how to relate to them or simply don’t care. To address this need, speech therapist Barbara Palilis began “Circle of Friends”—a program that pairs students with disabilities with nondisabled peers for lunch dates and social activities. Through this outreach, special-needs students and those nondisabled peers who befriend them continue to be enriched and changed through the gift of acceptance, friendship, and understanding.
When my wife and I were visiting a church for a special musical program, we arrived early to get a good seat. Before the program began, we overheard two members seated behind us complaining about their church. They criticized the pastoral staff, leadership, music, ministry priorities, and several other things that made them unhappy. They were either unconcerned about or oblivious to the presence of two visitors in their midst.
As Dolores was driving along a country road, she noticed that a car was following her rather closely. She could almost feel the irritation of the driver as she drove cautiously and slowly navigated several turns.
Before my husband and I travel, we go to the bank and trade in our US dollars for the currency of the country we’ll be visiting. We do this so we can pay for expenses while we’re away from home.
Pat’s first job was working on the night crew at a grocery store. After closing time, he and the other employees stocked the shelves. Pat’s boss had instructed them to always turn the soup cans forward so that the label could be read easily. But he had gone a little further by saying, “Make sure that they’re facing forward—three cans back.” One night as Pat was arranging the shelves, his co-workers began to scoff, “Just make sure the front can is turned the right way. Who’s gonna know?”
A man who grew up on a ranch in West Texas tells about a rickety, old windmill that stood alongside his family’s barn and pumped water to their place. It was the only source of water for miles.
During the early years of the Prot- estant Reformation in Europe, Katharina Von Bora, a former nun, married Martin Luther (1525). By all accounts, the two had a joyous married life. Luther said, “There is no bond on earth so sweet, nor any separation so bitter, as that which occurs in a good marriage.”
When I was growing up, I stayed with my grandparents for a week or two every summer. They lived on a street that dead-ended into some railroad tracks. I would often awaken several times on my first night as the box cars rumbled by or when an engineer blew the train whistle. By the end of my visit, however, I had grown so accustomed to the noise that I could sleep straight through the night without interruption. I had tuned out the sounds.
Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” Quoting those words of St. Catherine of Siena, the Bishop of London began his message to Prince William and Kate Middleton at their wedding in Westminster Abbey. Many watching on TV were deeply touched as the bishop affirmed their choice “to be married in the sight of a generous God who so loved the world that He gave Himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ.” Then he urged the couple to pursue a love that finds its center beyond themselves.
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 Native Americans of Michigan were the state’s first highway route engineers. With few exceptions, Michigan’s major highways follow the trails they cut through the wilderness hundreds of years before the white man came. A trail was 12-18 inches wide, and for safety the people followed single file. Then pack horses followed these trails, widening them. Later came wagons, and the trails became dirt roads and then highways.
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.
For many years, Allen Funt’s Candid Camera television program delighted viewers by using a hidden camera to catch the often hilarious reactions of ordinary people to unexpected situations. Their approach, according to his son Peter was: “We believe people are wonderful, and we’re out to confirm it.” Peter feels the perspective of some other similar shows is that “people are stupid, and we’re going to find ways to underscore that.”
A church in Naperville, Illinois, is basking in excitement about its brand-new bells in the belfry above its sanctuary. When the church was built many years ago, they didn’t have the money to purchase bells. However, for its 25th anniversary they were able to raise the funds to hang three bells in the vacant space. Even though they are stunning, there is one problem: the congregation will never hear the bells ring. Although they look real, they are artificial.
While searching for an interesting way to instruct my college writing class about the concept of writing a biographical sketch, I found this idea: Write a biography in six words. When asked to do this, Pulitzer Prize winner Ernest Hemingway wrote this poignant bio: “For sale: baby shoes, never used.” Imagine the sad story behind those six words.
Steve was just an ordinary guy. He quietly served in a church I attended years ago. He helped prepare communion, shoveled the church sidewalks in the winter, and mowed the lawn in the summer. He spent time with teenage boys who had no fathers in the home. I often heard him telling people at church in his quiet way how good the Lord was to him. During prayer meeting he didn’t talk much about himself but would ask us to pray for those he was telling about Jesus’ forgiveness and love.
Our friend is a computer “techie.” One night when our family was at his house, I noticed a verse taped to his monitor: “I have made a covenant with my eyes” (Job 31:1). Evidently, he understood the potential danger of spending hours alone in front of a computer with easy access to indecent images.
It seems we most often think about how we can glorify God through our lives when we are active and strong. But I wonder if we should also consider how we might glorify God through our death.
Many businesses have “points programs” that offer rewards to loyal customers. You can stack up these rewards by using their companies’ services, like eating at local restaurants, staying at certain hotels, or flying on particular airlines. Choosing to spend your money this way makes a lot of sense.
While we were out for a family drive, a spotless white sign with perfect red lettering caught my attention: “Gutters and Windows—Quality Work Guaranteed.” The sign was pristine, but I feared the house and barn directly behind it might collapse at any moment. The paint was peeling, the windows were cracked, and the gutters were nonexistent!
The New Year is often the time when we resolve to take better care of ourselves—to exercise, eat right, and perhaps shed some of the pounds we gained over the holidays. Paul says, “Exercise profits a little” (1 Tim. 4:8), so I struggle to be as fit as I can be. I try to eat right, more or less, though I do love fried chicken. I lift weights and walk, but I know that my body is not long for this world. Its strength is fading.
When my husband, Carl, pursued a relationship with me while we were dating, he was serious about it. He called. He wrote notes. He asked thoughtful questions. He bought me flowers, candy, books, dinner, and other gifts. He spent a lot of time and effort in his pursuit of me.
On a trip out of the country, I hap- pened to meet an attorney who was from my hometown in New Jersey. We were surprised at how much we had in common. In the course of the conversation, he asked, “Did you say your name was Stillwell?” I said, “No, it’s Stowell.” He then mentioned that he had a client named Stillwell. “Is it Art Stillwell?” I asked, and, to my surprise, he said yes. Art Stillwell attended my church and was an influential businessman in the community.
Irecently saw a documentary about the making of a Steinway piano. It traced the meticulous care that goes into crafting this fine instrument. From the cutting of trees until the piano appears on a showroom floor, it goes through countless delicate adjustments by skilled craftsmen. When the year-long process is complete, accomplished musicians play the piano and often comment on how the same rich sounds could never be produced by a computerized assembly line. The secret to the final product is the craftsman’s touch.
There’s an old Sunday school song that periodically comes back to my mind. Its words testify to the blessing of the peace that Jesus so generously gives: “I have the peace that passes understanding down in my heart—down in my heart to stay!”
Buying and selling real estate in the US is tricky business these days. Housing prices have dropped significantly, and if you’re trying to unload commercial property it’s even more difficult. So, in the game of real estate, it remains important to keep this old adage in mind: “The three most important things to know about buying and selling property are location, location, location!”
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.
In 1876, Henry Clay Work wrote the song “My Grandfather’s Clock.” The song describes a grandfather’s clock that faithfully ticks its way through its owner’s life. Childhood, adulthood, and old age are all viewed in relationship to his beloved timepiece. The refrain says:
A 47-year-old Austrian man gave away his entire $4.7 million fortune after concluding that his wealth and lavish spending were keeping him from real life and happiness. Karl Rabeder told the Daily Telegraph (London), “I had the feeling I was working as a slave for things I did not wish for or need. It was the biggest shock in my life when I realized how horrible, soulless, and without feeling the ‘five-star’ lifestyle is.” His money now funds charities he set up to help people in Latin America.
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.
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?”
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.
Celebrating my 60th birthday really changed my perspective on life— I used to think people in their sixties were “old.” Then I started counting the number of productive years I might have left and set the number at 10. I went along with this dead-end kind of thinking until I remembered a very productive co-worker who was 85. So I sought him out to ask what life after 60 was like. He told me of some of the wonderful ministry opportunities the Lord had given him over the last 25 years.
As we hurtle through the first part of this new century, we see an increase in people questioning time-honored standards. This was plainly detailed recently by a teen pop star—a girl who professes faith in Jesus.
Someone has defined friendship as “knowing the heart of another and sharing one’s heart with another.” We share our hearts with those we trust, and trust those who care about us. We confide in our friends because we have confidence that they will use the information to help us, not harm us. They in turn confide in us for the same reason.
While staying at our house for a while, my granddaughter Addie began asking, “Whatcha doin’ Grand-pa?” over and over. Whether I was working at my computer, putting on my shoes to go outside, sitting down to read, or helping in the kitchen, she sidled up to me and asked what I was doing.
During the Cold War (1947–1991), a time of tension between the world’s superpowers, Albert Einstein said, “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.” It was a moment of clarity that focused on the consequences of the choice to fight a nuclear war. Regardless of the motives for making such a choice, the results would be devastating.
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!”
Amid the celebration, there was tragedy. It was the opening ceremonies of the 1992 Summer Olympic Games in Barcelona. One by one the teams entered the stadium and paraded around the track to the cheers of 65,000 people. But in one section of Olympic Stadium, shock and sadness fell as Peter Karnaugh, father of United States swimmer Ron Karnaugh, was stricken with a fatal heart attack.
Corrie ten Boom (1892–1983) was a World War II concentration camp survivor and Christian who became a popular speaker around the world. Thousands attended her meetings as she talked about how she had learned to forgive her captors just as Christ had forgiven her sins.
Not long ago, my wife, Janet, and I accepted an invitation to dine with a Christian woman who attends our Sunday school class. In her zeal to prepare a meal for us, she cut her index finger deeply. As we drove her to the emergency room, we prayed for her, and then we kept her company in the waiting room. Several hours later, our friend finally saw the doctor.
I’ve received a lot of good advice in my life. Near the top of the list is this wise observation from a friend: “Life is not made by the dreams that you dream but by the choices that you make.”
Jim was sharing the gospel with Kerri. He told her she was separated from a holy God because of her sin, and that Jesus had died and risen for her salvation. She kept coming up with one reason not to believe: “But if I do receive Him, I won’t have to tell other people about it, will I? I don’t want to do that.” She said that didn’t fit her personality; she didn’t want to have to tell others about Jesus.
My friend Tim Davis tells the story of being in Trinidad as a little boy when Queen Elizabeth came to visit their town. He recalls going with his missionary parents to join hundreds of others who gathered to greet the queen. Waving his little flag, he watched as the entourage came down the street—first the soldiers, then the mounted guard, and then the limousine from which she waved to the cheering crowd. He looked on as the queen drove out of town, leaving everyone to return to life as usual. In Tim’s words, “Royalty came to town and nothing changed!”
In Singapore, the Chinese New Year season’s social and business dinners often begin with a dish consisting of salads, dressings, pickles, and raw fish. The name of the dish, Yu Sheng, is a pun that sounds like “year of prosperity.” It is traditional for those present to toss the salad together. As they do, certain phrases are repeated to bring about good fortune.
If you were to ask me who I am, I’d tell you that I’m a follower of Jesus. But I have to admit, at times following Him is a real challenge. He tells me to do things like rejoice when I’m persecuted (Matt. 5:11-12); to turn the other cheek (vv.38-39); to give to someone who wants to take from me (vv.40-42); to love my enemies, bless those who curse me, and do good to those who hate me (vv.43-44). This kind of lifestyle seems very upside down to me.
Ray Stedman told about a young man who had stopped attending the church Ray was pastoring. The young man said that when he was at work he would sometimes lose his temper and treat co-workers poorly. Then, when Sunday rolled around, he didn’t want to go to church because he felt like a hypocrite.
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.”
The Nobel Prize is awarded annually to people in a variety of fields who have made an extraordinary impact. Leaders in economics, physics, literature, medicine, and peace are recognized for their contributions. When a person is acknowledged with a Nobel Prize, it is the ultimate affirmation of years of training, effort, education, and sacrifice in pursuit of excellence—investments that are the source of their impact.
Dwight L. Moody said, “When a man thinks he has got a good deal of strength, and is self-confident, you may look for his downfall. It may be years before it comes to light, but it is already commenced.” This was true of King Uzziah.
A medical school program in New York gives students who are training for geriatric medicine a unique opportunity. They experience life as nursing home residents for 10 days. They learn some of the struggles of maneuvering a wheelchair and being raised out of bed with a lift, as well as reaching the shower bar from a seated position. One student learned how little things counted for a lot—like lowering nameplates on doors so that patients can find their rooms more easily, or putting the TV remote in a reachable location.
Have you ever heard skeptics say that the Christian faith is nothing more than a crutch—that the only reason people claim to trust Jesus is that they are weaklings who have to make up “religion” to get by?
My wife, Martie, and I have grown to love England—its history, culture, and people. One of our favorite activities when we visit is going to outdoor concerts (also known as proms) on the sloping lawns of ancient estates. “The Last Night of the Proms” event is the best, with fireworks and hundreds of nationals waving little British flags to rousing patriotic tunes.
Internationally acclaimed violinist Midori believes that focused, diligent practice is the key to performance. While playing a rigorous schedule of 90 concerts a year, she still practices an average of 5 or 6 hours a day. Jane Ammeson, in NWA WorldTraveler magazine, quoted Midori as saying: “I have to practice for my job and I practice every day. . . . It’s not really the hours, but the quality of the work that needs to be done. I see with students, that they play and they call it practice, but they are not listening and not watching. If you have your textbook open, it doesn’t mean that you are studying.”
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.
Seventeenth-century Quaker leader Isaac Pennington said, “The Lord has been teaching me to live upon Himself—not from anything received from Him, but upon the life itself.” The people in John 6 wanted to live off Jesus, but not for the same reason. It was not because their hearts were loyal to Him, but because their hearts were loyal to what they thought He could provide for them—namely, food and deliverance from Roman oppression.
In her book Food in Medieval Times, author Melitta Adamson writes of European culinary delights in the Middle Ages. Wild game, pastries, puddings, and other exotic foods illustrate the creative joy taken in food preparation. But with all these wonderful entrées there was a problem—overeating. This tendency was compounded by the Christian calendar, which abounded with fasts and feasts. Abstaining from meals was often followed by gluttony.
I love reading church slogans. You know, the ones you see on the marquee in front of churches. Recently I noticed a slogan that said, “Come in and experience the presence of God.” That one caught my attention, primarily because it’s an important promise to make and sometimes a hard promise to keep. Hard, because if we’re not careful our churches might reflect the presence of its people more than the presence of our God.
A while back, Our Daily Bread published an article I wrote about a young woman who wore a T-shirt that said, “Love Is for Losers.” In it, I commented on what a sad message that was, and I wrote about the hurt this motto represented.
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.
The Energizer Bunny can’t top the Service Partners of RBC Ministries. RBC, the publishers of Our Daily Bread, has a volunteer program called Service Partners that gives people the opportunity to donate their skills and time—helping us accomplish our mission “to make the life-changing wisdom of the Bible understandable and accessible to all.”
Popularity is fickle. Just ask a politician. Many of them watch their ratings to see how their constituents view their policies. They may start with a high rating, but then it steadily declines during their term.
If we’re not careful, we may become like the man who prided himself on being an expert archer. The secret to his success was that after he shot his arrow at the side of a barn, he painted a bull’s-eye around the arrow.
People who are trying to be friendly sometimes ask, “Are you keeping busy?” The question seems harmless, but in my mind it carries a subtle message. Beneath the surface is a test of personal value. If I can’t rattle off a list of things I have to do, I feel as if I’m admitting that I’m not worth much.
Because I am not a “fix it” kind of guy, I had to call a friend who is a great handyman to make some repairs in my home recently. He came over, and I gave him my list. But to my surprise, he told me I would be doing the repairs myself! He modeled for me how to do it, instructed me along the way, and stayed with me. I followed his example and successfully made the repairs. This modeling seems close to what Jesus did when He called His first disciples.
In 1945, professional golfer Byron Nelson had an unimaginable season. Of the 30 tournaments he entered, he won an amazing 18 times—including 11 in a row. Had he chosen to, he could have continued his career and perhaps become the greatest of all time. But that was not his goal. His goal was to earn enough money playing golf to buy a ranch and spend his life doing what he really loved. So, instead of continuing on at the peak of his career, Nelson retired at age 34 to become a rancher. He had different goals.
As a result of adult children neglecting their responsibilities, some elderly parents in Singapore are forced to seek financial help from charities and other state agencies. Speaking about this escalating situation, a government official said, “We cannot legislate love.”
One of my boyhood hobbies was building model planes. Every time I opened a new box, the first thing I saw was the instructions, but I didn’t think I needed to follow them. In my mind I knew exactly how to put the model together. Not until I had glued a few pieces together did I realize I had skipped an important step, like putting the pilot in the cockpit.
On Jack Borden’s 101st birthday, he awoke at 5 a.m., ate a hearty breakfast, and was at his law office by 6:30 ready to begin his day. When asked the secret of his long life, the practicing attorney smiled and quipped, “Not dying.”
Everything was quiet in our yard. While I worked at the patio table, our dog, Maggie, lay nearby in the grass. A slight rustling of dry leaves changed everything. Maggie made her move, and suddenly she was circling a tree, where a woodchuck clung tightly to the trunk.
We know we’re getting older when we say things like, “Can you believe how young those professional baseball players are?” And it’s a sure sign of aging when we no longer ask, “How are you?” but say, “Hey, you look terrific”—as if we’re surprised.
While browsing through some birthday cards in a gift shop, I found one that made me laugh. Its message read: “You are only young once, but you can be immature forever.” That card tickled my funny bone. There is something winsome about never having to grow up, as any fan of Peter Pan can attest.
A few years ago, the banking empire Citicorp ran a series of billboards about money: “Money changes hands—just be sure it doesn’t change the rest of you!” and “If people say you’re made of money, you should work on your personality!” These ads gave a refreshingly new perspective on riches.
As we sat at the table one day last week, my oldest son began protesting about his little sister “always” copying him. When she imitates his laugh or eats her French fries before her burger like he does, it annoys him. My wife and I tried to get him to realize that he has an opportunity to influence her by setting a good example.
Isaac Hann was a little-known pastor who served a small church in Loughwood, England, in the mid-18th century. At the close of his ministry, the membership of the church numbered 26 women and 7 men. And only 4 of the men attended with any regularity.
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.
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.
After being diagnosed with terminal cancer, 47-year-old Randy Pausch returned to Carnegie Mellon University to deliver a final lecture to colleagues, students, and friends. The professor of computer science thought that perhaps 150 people might show up. Instead the 400-seat auditorium was packed. For an hour, Randy opened his heart to them in a humorous, insightful, and moving farewell that was focused more on living than dying. Within weeks, the videotaped lecture had been seen by millions on the Internet and later became the seed of a bestselling book. Those facing death often have an unusually clear perspective on what is truly important in life.
Just after we moved to a house in a new neighborhood, we invited my sister-in-law and her husband over for Sunday dinner. As we were greeting Sue and Ted at the door, an odd noise directed their eyes toward the kitchen. As I followed their gaze, I froze in horror. An errant hose of our old portable dishwasher was whipping about like the trunk of an angry elephant, spewing water everywhere!
There was a time when a certain West Coast city may have been one of the most hostile places to the gospel in America. Posters in coffee shops advertised witchcraft meetings where you could learn to cast a spell on your enemies.
News that a solar eclipse would take place on July 22, 2009, brought an alarming prediction. It was predicted that the eclipse would sufficiently affect gravitational pull, causing tectonic plates to “pop a seam,” resulting in a sizable earthquake and a subsequent devastating tsunami in Japan. The US Geological Survey responded that no scientists “have ever predicted a major earthquake. They do not know how, and they do not expect to know how, anytime in the foreseeable future.”
Hans Geiger, Marie Curie, Rudolf Diesel, Samuel Morse, and Louis Braille share something in common. They all invented or discovered something significant that bears their name. Their names, along with many others, appear in the “Encyclopedia Britannica’s Greatest Inventions,” a list of “325 innovations that have had profound effects on human life.”
According to a long-held Christian tradition, the apostle Paul was beheaded and buried in Rome around ad 67. In 2009, scientists conducted carbon dating tests on what many believe to be his remains. While these tests on the bone fragments confirmed that they date from the first or second century, positive identification re-mains in question. But no matter where Paul’s bones rest, his heart lives on through his letters in the New Testament.
Picher, Oklahoma, is no more. In mid-2009, this once-bustling town of 20,000 went out of business. In the first quarter of the 1900s, Picher was a boomtown because of its abundant lead and zinc. Workers extracted the ore, which was used to help arm the US during both World Wars.
Have you ever been really thirsty? Years ago, I visited my sister Kathy in Mali, West Africa. During an afternoon of seeing the sights, the temperature had risen far above 100ºF. Parched, I told her, “Hey, I need something to drink.” When Kathy told me she had forgotten to bring along a supply of filtered water, I began to get a bit desperate. The longer we drove, the more I wondered what it was like to truly die of thirst.
In a commentary on Ecclesiastes 9:15, Martin Luther cites the story of Themistocles, the soldier and statesman who commanded the Athenian squadron. Through his strategy, he won the Battle of Salamis, drove the Persian army from Greek soil, and saved his city. A few years later, he fell out of favor, was ostracized by his countrymen, and was banished from Athens. Thus, Luther concludes, “Themistocles did much good for his city, but received much ingratitude.”
On October 19, 2008, I heard the news that Levi Stubbs, lead singer for Motown’s vocal group The Four Tops, had died at age 72. As a boy, I enjoyed the Four Tops, especially Stubbs’ emotion-filled, passionate voice. I had never met him or heard the group in concert, yet his passing affected me at an unexpected level.
In the spring of 2009, Susan Boyle took the stage of Britain’s Got Talent. Compared to the other contestants, she was plain-looking. No one expected much when she raised the microphone to her lips. But then she began to sing. Spellbound, the judges were clearly taken with the beauty and power of the voice that filled the auditorium as the audience stood to their feet cheering with delight. All were surprised that such a rivetingly beautiful song came from such an unlikely source.
Last week I had several opportunities to show grace. I wasn’t perfect, but I was pleased with the way I handled one situation in particular. Instead of getting angry, I said, “I understand how that could have happened. I’ve certainly made my share of mistakes,” and I left it at that.
Matt Emmons, Olympic gold medalist in rifle shooting in 2004, was set to win another event at Athens. He had a commanding lead and hoped to make a direct bull’s-eye on his last shot. But something went wrong—he hit the target, but he was aiming at the wrong one! That wrong focus dropped him to eighth place and cost him a medal.
John Steinbeck’s Pulitzer prizewinning novel The Grapes of Wrath begins with a scene in drought-ravaged Oklahoma during the Great Depression. With the crops dying and the land choked by dust, the women watched the men to see if they would break under the strain. When they saw the men’s will to carry on, they took heart. Steinbeck writes, “Women and children knew deep in themselves that no misfortune was too great to bear if their men were whole.” The issue was not happiness, prosperity, or satisfaction, but wholeness. This is the great need of us all.
In 1970, the Beatles began work on a documentary intended to show how their music was made. But instead of revealing the process of musical creativity, the film pulled the curtain back on a display of self-interest and bickering. The band members were more concerned about their own songs than the advancement of the group. Shortly after the project was completed, the group dissolved in disharmony and broken friendships.
Not long ago, I attended a class in origami, where I learned that the term comes from two Japanese words that mean “folding paper.” In this process, a piece of paper is transformed into a bird or other unique shape by a series of geometric folds and creases.
Cartoonist Scott Adams has become famous for his humorous cartoon strip “Dilbert.” He also wrote a book in the 1990s called The Dilbert Principle. In it he mocks technology, leadership fads, and incompetent managers. Many laugh out loud at the connections the book makes with their own work-a-day world.
I have learned much about the conscious remembrance of God from Brother Lawrence, a cook in a 17th-century monastery. In his book The Practice of the Presence of God, Brother Lawrence mentioned practical ways to “offer God your heart from time to time in the course of the day,” even in the midst of chores such as cooking or repairing shoes. One’s depth of spirituality, said Lawrence, does not depend on changing things you do but rather changing your motive—doing for God what you ordinarily do for yourself.
I heard a teenager from a Christian family declare, “My mom doesn’t think swear words are bad.” He then indicated which words she found acceptable—words that have long been considered inappropriate.
When it comes to jigsaw puzzles, we all know that to enjoy a satisfying outcome you need all the pieces. In many ways, life is like that. We spend our days putting it together, hoping to create a complete picture out of all the scattered parts.
During the 1920s and 30s, photographer August Sander set out to portray a cross-section of German society. Through his lens he saw factory workers and financiers, actresses and housewives, Nazis and Jews. Even though his published collection contains only people in and around his hometown of Cologne, he captured what David Propson, writing in The Wall Street Journal, called “a universe of humanity in his restricted sphere.”
Sports team names have a variety of origins. They come from history (Spartans, Mountaineers), nature (Cardinals, Terrapins), and even colors (Orange, Reds). One even comes from the mollusk family.
A woman in Oregon was caught driving 103 miles per hour with her 10-year-old grandson in the car. When she was stopped by the police, she told them that she was only trying to teach him never to drive that fast. I suppose she wanted him to do as she said, not as she did.
It has been said that the Roman Empire ran on olive oil. It was used in cooking, bathing, medicine, ceremonies, lamps, and cosmetics. For decades, olive oil from southern Spain was shipped to Rome in large clay jugs called amphorae. Those jugs, not worth sending back, were discarded in a growing heap of broken shards known as Monte Testaccio. The fragments of an estimated 25 million amphorae created that man-made hill, which stands today on the bank of the Tiber River in Rome. In the ancient world, the value of those pots was not their beauty but their contents.
With 4 years of seminary under my belt, I walked into my first ministry with a long agenda. As a new pastor, I thought I was there to change that place. Instead, God used that place to change me.
Early in our marriage, I thought I knew the ultimate shortcut to my wife’s heart. I arrived home one night with a bouquet of a dozen red roses behind my back. When I presented the flowers to Martie, she thanked me graciously, sniffed the flowers, and then took them into the kitchen. Not quite the response I had expected.
You can’t see it, hear it, or touch it, but scent is powerful. The smell of things like crayons, petunias, and colognes evoke memories that transport me to the past and bring to mind people and places I might not otherwise recall.
I often take a moment as I wait at our grocery store checkout stand to scan the covers of the magazines displayed there. It seems that if they aren’t about sex and money, they’re about diet, fitness, health, and outward beauty. There’s nothing there for the soul.
When I was a young teenager, my dad, uncles, cousins, and I went trout fishing at the head waters of the Sacramento River in California. The source of the river is melted snow, so the water was swift, clear, cold, and refreshing. My cousins and I couldn’t resist stepping into the cool current while angling for rainbow trout.
An antique dealer thought the wrinkled old baseball card she found might be worth $10. After posting it on eBay, she began to wonder if it might be more valuable than she had thought. She removed the posting and consulted a professional evaluator who confirmed that the photo on the 1869 card showed the Cincinnati Red Stockings, the first professional baseball team in the US. The card sold for more than $75,000.
American businessman Mark Bent has spent $250,000 to develop and manufacture an affordable solar-powered flashlight. Thousands have been distributed free or at low cost to people living in African refugee camps. One daily solar charge provides 7 hours of life-giving illumination for people in homes, schools, and medical clinics where darkness had encouraged crime and violence.
In the quietness of my final years I plan to watch a tree grow—a birch tree I planted as a tiny sapling over 30 years ago. It stands now in mature splendor, just outside our picture window—beautiful in every season of the year.
On a trip through Chicago, I saw a poster advertising a business management seminar. The poster’s message was intriguing: The Value of a Leader Is Directly Proportional to That Leader’s Values. The accuracy of that statement struck me. What we value shapes our character—and will ultimately define how we lead, or whether we can lead at all. This does not apply only to leaders, however.
A friend of mine has the opportunity each winter to attend the Super Bowl as a journalist. His job is to garner interviews with Christian athletes and National Football League personnel for a faith-based radio program.
William Adams (1564–1620) is believed to be the first Englishman to reach Japan. Taking a liking to Adams, the ruling Japanese shogun made him his interpreter and personal advisor concerning the Western powers. Eventually, Adams was presented with two swords with rank of a Samurai. This showed just how much the Japanese revered Adams. Because William Adams served his foreign king well, he was also rewarded with greater opportunity for influence.
Imagine being a visitor in a foreign land, showing up unannounced at a gathering of people you have never met and who have never heard of you—and then being allowed to address that group just a few minutes later. That can happen only if something breaks down barriers— something like mutual friends.
In 1955, when the South was still highly segregated, Emmett Till, a black teenager from Chicago, visited relatives in Mississippi. After Emmett “dared” to talk to a white woman, two white men brutally murdered him. An all-white, male jury found the two “not guilty”—after deliberating for barely an hour. The two men later confessed to the crime in a Life magazine article.
The recent global financial crisis caused people to pay closer attention to their credit report. When credit was easy to get, some people became careless about how they used it. They didn’t bother to save for what they wanted; they just borrowed. Being in debt was no big deal. But in a crisis, that is no longer the case. Having good credit is suddenly very important.
Alyssa, who is 6 and just learning to read, often saw her parents and grandparents reading their Bibles in the morning. Early one day, she woke up before everyone else. Grandma found her sitting on the couch, with her Bible and a devotional booklet on her lap. She wanted to follow the example of spending time with God at the beginning of the day.
Along the old Oregon Trail in Idaho there is a marker—a giant lava boulder known locally as Register Rock. It’s located in an area which was one of the favorite overnight camping areas for westbound immigrants who traveled the trail in the 19th century.
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.
The former athlete had neglected his body for too long, so he began an exercise routine. The first day, he did several push-ups and went for a light jog. The next day, more push-ups, a few sit-ups, and a longer run. Day 3: exercises and a mile-and-a-half run. On Day 4, our ex-athlete in re-training woke up with a sore throat.
In her insightful book The Forgotten Man, Amity Shlaes provides fascinating stories about what life was like during the Great Depression in the US. At the center of that economic drama was “the forgotten man,” a term used for the countless individuals who were thrown out of work.
On May 29, 1953, New Zealander Edmund Hillary and his Sherpa guide, Tenzing Norgay, became the first people to reach the peak of Mount Everest, the highest mountain in the world. Since Tenzing did not know how to use the camera, Edmund took a photo of Tenzing as evidence that they did reach the top.
How much would you be willing to pay for a piece of fruit? In Japan, someone paid more than $6,000 for one Densuke watermelon. Grown only on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, this beautiful dark-green sphere looks like a bowling ball. The nearly 18-pound watermelon was one of only a few thousand available that year. The fruit’s rarity brought an astronomical price on the market.
Pastor A. W. Tozer (1897–1963) read the great Christian theologians until he could write about them with ease. He challenges us: “Come near to the holy men and women of the past and you will soon feel the heat of their desire after God. They mourned for Him, they prayed and wrestled and sought for Him day and night, in season and out, and when they had found Him the finding was all the sweeter for the long seeking.”
I read a fable about a man who was browsing in a store when he made the shocking discovery that God was behind a sales counter. So the man walked over and asked, “What are You selling?” God replied, “What does your heart desire?” The man said, “I want happiness, peace of mind, and freedom from fear . . . for me and the whole world.” God smiled and said, “I don’t sell fruit here. Only seeds.”
The word hallow isn’t used much anymore, and when it is, the uses have a broad range of meaning. Christians use the word when we say the Lord’s prayer, as in “Hallowed be Thy name.” Often the word is associated with the last day of October, which we in the US refer to as Halloween, a shortened form of All Hallows’ Eve.
Radovan Karadzic, once the leader of the Bosnian Serbs and accused of genocide, had been one of the most wanted men in the world. By growing a long, white beard, carrying false papers, and practicing alternative medicine, he fooled everyone—for a while. After 13 years in hiding, he was finally arrested.
As I walked into church one Sunday morning, a little boy looked at me and said to his mother, “Mom, is that Jesus?” Needless to say, I was curious to hear her response. “No,” she said, “that’s our pastor.”
Giants hold a special place in our lore—both historical and literary. From the real giant Goliath to the fictional giant of Jack and the Beanstalk fame, we are fascinated by these larger-than-life characters.
The opening ceremony of the Beijing Summer Olympics on August 8, 2008, impressed the world. I saw it on TV as more than 90,000 people watched it live in the Bird’s Nest Stadium in Beijing. It was inspiring to hear about China’s 5,000 years of history and the inventions she had contributed to the world: paper-making, movable-type printing, the compass, and fireworks.
The mother of the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates was a midwife. So Socrates grew up observing that she assisted women in bringing new life into the world. This experience later influenced his teaching method. Socrates said, “My art of midwifery is in general like theirs; the only difference is that my patients are men, not women, and my concern is not with the body but with the soul that is in travail of birth.”
Woman’s Day magazine surveyed more than 2,000 people to check out their honesty level. When asked, “How honest are you?” 48 percent said very honest, 50 percent said somewhat honest, and the other 2 percent said not very honest.
On a map in the back of my Bible, each of Paul’s missionary journeys is shown by a colored line with arrows indicating his direction of travel. On the first three, the arrows lead away from his place of departure and back to a point of return. On the fourth journey, however, Paul was traveling as a prisoner, bound for trial before Caesar, and the arrows point only one direction, ending in Rome.
We Christians can sometimes be a joyless lot, preoccupied with maintaining our dignity. That’s an odd attitude, though, since we’re joined to a God who has given us His wonderful gift of joy and laughter.
Every time Susan opens her mouth, it sounds like the blare of an ambulance siren. This TV commercial uses humor to indicate that a dental problem could reveal a more serious physical ailment. So she’d better see her dentist soon!
The Pikes Peak Ascent is a challenging mountain foot race, covering 13.32 miles while gaining 7,815 feet in altitude. My good friend Don Wallace ran it 20 times. In his final race, he crossed the finish line one week before his 67th birthday! Instead of training just before a race, Don ran 6 miles a day, year round, with rare exceptions, wherever he happened to be. He’s done that for most of his adult life and continues to this day.
When E. Stanley Jones, well-known missionary to India, had the opportunity to meet with Mahatma Gandhi, he asked a searching question of India’s revered leader: “How can Christianity make a stronger impact on your country?” Gandhi very thoughtfully replied that three things would be required.
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.
During a summer of international sports scandals involving gambling and substance abuse, two athletes were applauded for their character as much as their professional accomplishments. A record crowd of 75,000 cheered Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn during their 2007 induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. “Whether we like it or not,” Ripken said, “as big leaguers, we are role models. The only question is, will it be positive or will it be negative?”
The Grand Rapids Art Museum has over 5,000 works of art, including 3,500 prints, drawings, and photographs; 1,000 works of design; and 700 paintings and sculptures. As I read about the new museum and anticipated visiting, I couldn’t help but think about God’s “museum.”
An entry I read on a favorite blog caught my eye. It was the morning of his ninth wedding anniversary. Not having a lot of money, the writer ran out to get his wife, Heidi, their favorite French pastry—pain au chocolat. After sprinting several miles, he arrived home, exhausted, to find her in the kitchen just pulling a chocolate-filled croissant out of the oven. It was pain au chocolat.
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.
Dwight D. Eisenhower was known for his courageous leadership during World War II. His battle-tested skill equipped the troops to reclaim Europe. Soon after returning to the US as a hero, he was elected president.
The caller to the radio program mentioned religion, so the radio talk show host began to rant about hypocrites. “I can’t stand religious hypocrites,” he said. “They talk about religion, but they’re no better than I am. That’s why I don’t like all this religious stuff.”
Third John presents a sharp contrast between the way two members of the church welcomed believers who visited them. The letter is addressed to “the beloved” Gaius, whom John loved “in truth” (v.1). The truth was in him as he walked with God (v.3). Whatever he did for his “brethren”—itinerant missionaries and teachers such as Paul—he did it faithfully and with love (vv.5-6).
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.
In journalism, the term gatekeeper refers to reporters, editors, and publishers who consider various news items and determine which stories are newsworthy. Some long-time news professionals warn that the Internet allows information to get through without being checked at the gate.
A music professor with a well-trained voice usually sang the major male solo parts in the choir of a large church. A young man named Bob who had no training sometimes took a few shorter solos. As the choir director prepared for the Christmas cantata, she felt that Bob’s voice and style made him a natural for the lead role. However, she didn’t know how she could give it to him without offending the older man.
I love hosting festive dinners. Sometimes I’ll say: “Tonia, we haven’t had anyone over for dinner in a while. Who do you think we should invite?” We go through our proposed guest list and suggest friends we have never invited or have not invited in a while. And it seems like this list is normally comprised of people who look and sound and live like we do, and who can reciprocate. But if we were to ask Jesus whom we should have over for dinner, He would give us a totally different guest list.
In August 2007, a major bridge in Minneapolis collapsed into the Mississippi River, killing 13 people. In the weeks that followed, it was difficult for me not to think about that tragedy whenever crossing a bridge over a body of water.
My Chinese family name sets me apart from others with different family names. It also confers on me a family responsibility. I am a member of the Hia family. As a member of the family, I am expected to carry on the Hia line and uphold the honor of my ancestors.
My garage serves as “storage” for things that don’t have a place in our home, and, frankly, there are times when I am ashamed to open the door. I don’t want anyone to see the clutter. So, periodically, I set aside a workday to clean it up.
In the book What’s Gone Wrong With the Harvest? James Engel and Wilbert Norton illustrate on a graph how people often go through a series of preconversion stages before stepping over the line of faith and receiving Jesus as their Savior.
When Presbyterian clergyman Elijah Lovejoy (1802–1837) left the pulpit, he returned to the printing presses in order to reach more people. After witnessing a lynching, Lovejoy committed to fighting the injustice of slavery. His life was threatened by hateful mobs, but this did not stop him: “If by compromise is meant that I should cease from my duty, I cannot make it. I fear God more than I fear man. Crush me if you will, but I shall die at my post.” Four days after these words, he was killed at the hands of another angry mob.
Every morning Harry, a Christian, walked into his office singing a song from the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical Oklahoma: “Oh, what a beautiful morning; oh, what a beautiful day! I got a beautiful feeling, everything’s going my way!”
We always crave change in a new year. This is why on January 1 we start diets, exercise programs, and new hobbies. Of course, a month later we’re usually back to our old bad habits. Maybe that’s because we crave too big a change and do not have enough power and will to make the changes.
Somewhere in the world right now a farmer is dropping seeds into the ground. Soon those seeds will begin to change the place where they were planted. The carefully prepared soil that appears barren today will become a field ready for harvest.
What better way to tell people to mind their own business than to quote Jesus? People who seldom read the Bible are quick to quote Matthew 7:1 when they want to silence someone whose opinion they don’t like. “Judge not, that you be not judged” seems like the perfect response.
Thanks a lot,” the man behind the postal counter said to the person in front of me. The clerk, Jon, had seen me in line and was hoping I would overhear him. When it was my turn, I said hello to Jon, who had been a student of mine when I taught high school in the 1980s.
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.
Each year, one of my goals is to read the entire Bible. While listing it among my New Year’s resolutions, I noticed a bookmark on my desk. On one side was a brief appeal for people to take in foster children. On the other side were these words referring to that appeal: “Don’t read it. Live it. Real children. Real stories. Real life.” The people who produced the bookmark knew how easily we absorb information without acting on it. They wanted people to respond.
Our life had always been rather simple. When my wife and I were first married, we were not looking for riches or fame—just a way to glorify God with whatever He gave us to do. In all arenas of our life, that purpose stayed clear. As our children grew and I began working at RBC Ministries, our goal continued to center around glorifying God.
So many television programs, so little time to watch them. Apparently that’s what our culture thinks, because now technology allows us to see an hour-long program in just 6 minutes or less! The Minisode Network has pruned episodes of popular series into shorter, more convenient packages for interested viewers. “The shows you love—only shorter” is how it’s advertised. All to make our life more convenient.
One of the most important events in Jewish history is the exodus, when God freed His people from the bondage of Egypt. Prior to leaving Egypt, the Israelites were commanded to eat a special meal called the Passover. As an act of judgment upon the Egyptians, God said that He would strike down every firstborn son, but He would pass over the houses that had the blood of a lamb on the top and sides of the door frame (Ex. 12).
Tis the season to receive catalogs in the mail. Every trip to the mailbox ends with an armload of slick holiday catalogs. Each one claims to offer me something I need—immediately. “Don’t wait!” “Limited offer!” “Order now!”
The 16th-century Italian painter Caravaggio received scathing criticism in his day for depicting people of the Bible as common. His critics reflected a time when only members of royalty and aristocracy were considered appropriate subjects for the “immortality” of art. His commissioned canvas of St. Matthew and the Angel so offended church leaders that it had to be redone. They could not accept seeing Matthew with the physical features of an everyday laborer.
In the western panhandle of Texas is a small town named Texline. It had an ostentatious beginning in the late 1800s as a thriving center along a new railroad line. Within a few years, though, most of the shops had closed and the town’s population shriveled to about 400. In 2000, the population was still just over 500.
On a crisp October morning, our local newspaper featured a stunning photo of sun-drenched aspen trees whose leaves had turned autumn gold. The caption read: FOR A LIMITED TIME ONLY. The irresistible invitation to take a drive through the mountains to savor the brilliant colors conveyed the urgency of doing it quickly. Autumn leaves that are golden today are often gone tomorrow.
Years ago, Ruth Bell Graham, wife of evangelist Billy Graham, saw a sign by the road: “End of Construction—Thank you for your patience.” Smiling, she remarked that she wanted those words on her gravestone.
Research conducted by a leading compensation technology firm found that among employees planning to leave their companies, a majority felt they were underpaid. Fewer than 20 percent of them, however, were receiving less than the industry standard for their duties.
In Thailand, the people greatly love and admire King Bhumibol (Rama IX), who has led them for over 60 years. To display their respect for the king, the Thai people wear bright yellow shirts every Monday, because yellow is the official color of the king.
I’ll never forget the time I was asked to bring my family to a banquet where I was to be the speaker. After dinner, my son Matt came up to me and asked to sit on my lap. “Sure,” I said and picked him up.
The designers of an innovative Web site call their creation a “snapshot” of our world. Every hour, computers monitor international news sources, select the most frequently occurring words and pictures, then display them as an interactive image. Over time, these hourly snapshots compose a mosaic of unfolding world events.
A pastor friend told me about a sign he had seen in front of a neighborhood church. Instead of just advertising the congregation’s own time of worship, the sign also listed the schedule for two other churches that met at different times in the same small town. Interestingly, my friend didn’t think this was impractical or foolish. Instead, he imagined what it must do for a church to put such unselfishness at the heart of everything it did!
When I heard about the service agency called Love, INC, I assumed that meant Love, Incorporated. But it actually means Love—In the Name of Christ. The organization’s goal is to mobilize churches to reach out to a hurting and needy world in the name of Christ.
In the fifth Chronicle of Narnia, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Edmund, Lucy, and their spoiled cousin Eustace are summoned to help on a quest in the Eastern Sea. Along the way, Eustace is tempted by enchanted treasure and turned into a dragon. The desperate dragon accepts the help of the great lion Aslan, king of Narnia. But Eustace can only be freed by allowing Aslan’s claws to painfully tear off the dragon’s flesh. Grateful for his deliverance, Eustace chooses to become a better boy.
Our 4-year-old grandson loves to play pretend games with grand-ma. He comes over to our home once a week, and Ma-Ma (that's what he calls her) takes him to the supermarket, to the botanical gardens to feed fish and turtles, and to ride the underground train—all without leaving our home! He guards this game of pretend so jealously as something between Ma-Ma and him that one day when we rode the real train, he asked, "Why are there other people in our train?"
I love the story of the stressed-out woman who was tailgating a man as they drove on a busy boulevard. When he slowed to a stop at a yellow light, the woman hit the horn, cussing and screaming in frustration and gesturing angrily. As she was still in mid-rant, she heard a tap on her window and looked up into the face of a police officer who ordered her to exit the car with her hands up. He took her to the police station and placed her in a holding cell.
She lived out spiritual humility, yet she had much on a human level to be proud of. As an author of over 70 books and a translator of many others into Afrikaans, Annalou Marais had much cause to brag—but she was more concerned about honoring Christ than advancing herself. She worked behind the scenes of the Bible conference, doing a servant’s tasks with a smiling face and a joyful heart. It would have been natural for her to desire, and even deserve, the spotlight. Instead, she quietly served, joyfully weeping as God worked in people’s hearts. It was an impressive humility, because it was completely genuine.
In the film The Guardian, the viewer is taken into the world of United States Coast Guard rescue swimmers. Eighteen weeks of intense training prepares these courageous men and women for the task of jumping from helicopters to rescue those in danger at sea. The challenges they face include hypothermia and death by drowning. Why would people risk so much for strangers? The answer is found in the rescue swimmer’s motto, “So Others May Live.”
One morning I was looking at a bouquet of flowers in a vase on an old carpenter’s bench in front of our “window on the world.” I realized the bouquet was spent; its leaves had wilted and the blossoms were falling.
Dog shows on TV can be entertaining. The dog owners are impeccably dressed and trot along with their pedigreed pooches as they show off their unique canine beauty. The dogs have been trained to stand confidently with chins lifted high, their shiny coats carefully brushed and styled. To me, they all look like winners.
Since my dad was a pastor, I got stuck with the label known to every pastor’s kid: PK. But, much to the congregation’s disappointment, the title didn’t stop me from being my mischievous little self. I can’t count the times I heard, “Little Joe, you’re the pastor’s son. You should be an example.” But I didn’t want to be an example! I was only 5 and wanted to have fun with my friends!
The story is told of a Christian who was home on furlough from serving in the armed forces. He was rushing to catch his train when he ran into a fruit stand on the station platform, knocking most of the piled-up apples to the ground.
In January 2006, a mine explosion in rural West Virginia threatened the lives of 13 coal miners. Having grown up in that state, I was among the millions riveted to the news for the next few days. Tragically, all but one of the miners were found dead. To compound the pain of that loss, the first reports given to the families said that all but one had been found alive. When the grim news of the deaths came, the grief was compounded with anger—and a desire to blame someone for the whole gut-wrenching event.
For some folks, the word holiness conjures up images of stuffy prudes—people who are “good” in the worst sense of the word, with sullen and morose faces. They are full of self-righteousness and rigid duty, “on hold for the next life,” as a Washington Post writer put it.
People often ask me what I miss most about serving as president of Moody Bible Institute. Without question it’s the students. I love their passion for Jesus and the way they demonstrate it to the world around them. Non-Christian employers often told me of the students’ exemplary work ethic. Chicago’s police super-intendent once said, "When the Moody students return to campus, it’s like somebody turned on the lights on the Near North side."
Canadian minister John Gladstone has made a compelling application of a sad episode in the life of Isaac Watts. That famous English hymnwriter fell in love with a beautiful young woman, Elizabeth Singer. She admired his poetry, his mind, and his spirit, but for all her admiration she could not overcome her revulsion at his appearance.
Our house in Boise, Idaho, backs up to a park with a walking track. You can see most of the path from our kitchen window, and because of that I’ve learned to recognize people by their walk.
Francis Collins earned a Ph.D. in physical chemistry at Yale University and then entered medical school. During his training at a North Carolina hospital, a dying woman often talked to him about her faith in Christ. He rejected the existence of God, but he couldn’t ignore the woman’s serenity. One day she asked, “What do you believe?” Caught off guard, Collins’ face turned red as he stammered, “I’m not really sure.” A few days later the woman died.
Andrew Marton recalls the first time he met his future brother-in-law Peter Jennings, who was a top foreign news correspondent in 1977. He said he was so nervous that he acted like “a jittery fan in the presence of a journalistic hero whose personal wattage could light up Manhattan.”
Years ago when Romania was under the control of Communism, Bela Karolyi coached gymnastics. He skillfully developed the talents of stars such as gold-medalist Nadia Comaneci. For his success in training athletes who were bringing fame to his Iron Curtain country, he was rewarded with an expensive car and many other favors. But Bela hungered for freedom. So one day, carrying only a small suitcase, he resolutely walked out of Romania into penniless liberty.
On February 9, 1964, the Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show and captivated the youth of America. After hearing their music and seeing their "look," I did what millions of young American boys did—I begged my parents to let me grow my hair. Then, along with my best friend Tommy, I started a garage band. The Beatles’ performance had such an impact on us that we intentionally tried to be like them. It was a significant introduction to the power of influence.
Vincent Van Gogh bought a mirror and used his own likeness in many of his paintings. Rembrandt also used himself as a model, completing nearly 100 self-portraits. These artists had a good example, that of God Himself, who used His own likeness as the pattern for His crown jewel of creation (Gen. 1:27).
How would you define “the Christmas spirit”? Would it be a friendly smile between strangers, the sound of familiar carols, a tree with twinkling lights in a sea of brightly wrapped packages, or just that good feeling you get this time of the year?
We leave fingerprints on doorknobs, on books, on walls, on keyboards. Each person’s fingerprints are unique, so we leave our identity on everything we touch. Some supermarkets are even testing a technology that allows customers to pay by fingerprint. Each customer’s unique print and bank account number are kept on file so that the only thing needed to pay a bill is a scan of their finger.
At the memorial service for LeRoy Eims, longtime staff member with The Navigators, I pondered why hundreds of colleagues and friends had come from across the US to pay tribute. Why did so many people love him so deeply?
A high school senior honored as one of the "Best & Brightest" in our community has provided a forceful demonstration of integrity. When his school team was given the word auditorium in a regional spelling bee, Brady Davis glanced down to ponder his response and noticed that the word was printed on the microphone stand. He called this to the attention of the judges who responded with a more difficult word. Brady did what he knew was right whether others noticed or not.
After years of a remarkable and fruitful ministry in India, Amy Carmichael became a bedridden sufferer. As the courageous founder and dynamic heart of the Dohnavur Fellowship, she had been instrumental in rescuing hundreds of girls and boys from a terrible life of sexual servitude.
After the South lost the US Civil War, John Wilkes Booth wanted to be remembered as its avenger against the North. Some scholars speculate that because he was an actor, Booth’s planned assassination of President Lincoln was, in his mind, his greatest “performance.”
My wife and I adore miniature roses. Recently, we planted several bushes, but one did not survive. We returned it to the nursery and asked for an exchange. It was midsummer and the mini roses section was limited.
Jeff, a 20-year-old in our community, has been given more than he deserves. He had deliberately dropped a brick from a highway overpass that went through the windshield of a car driven by Vickie Prantle. It split open her face, put out her right eye, destroyed her teeth, and necessitated a long series of painful surgeries.
In 2002, I was in Jakarta, Indonesia, to teach a 2-night Bible conference. The first night, I went early to the host church, and the pastor asked if he could show me around the building. It was impressive in its beauty.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the great London preacher, found in Noah’s life the principle that “every act of faith condemns the world.” “By faith Noah . . . moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith” (Hebrews 11:7).
A minister referred to Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem and asked: “What if the donkey on which Jesus was riding had thought all the cheering was for him? What if that small animal had believed that the hosannas and the branches were in his honor?”
Certain names from the past can elicit a variety of responses. The mention of Hitler, for example, brings feelings of contempt. On the other hand, a great historical figure like Churchill brings a positive response. Even within the circle of our own acquaintances, we remember some individuals with thankfulness, while we think negatively of others whose lives were spent in selfish pursuits.
When D. L. Moody was moving into old age, he was asked to grant permission for his biography. Moody refused, saying, “A man’s life should never be written while he is living. What is important is how a man ends, not how he begins.”
In the eyes of most people, Jacob’s brother Esau was the greater man of the two. Through the years he had accumulated immense wealth and power. He was the ruler of the land of Edom and could have met Pharaoh on his own terms. Yet Esau, with all his earthly authority, could not have blessed Pharaoh. Only Jacob had that power (Genesis 47:10).
While giving a sermon, missionary Hudson Taylor filled a glass with water and placed it on a table in front of him. As he was speaking, he pounded his fist hard enough to make the water splash onto the table. He then explained, “You will come up against much trouble. But when you do, remember, only what’s in you will spill out.”
The tabernacle in the wilderness was a tent where the glory of God dwelt. The structure was made of badger skins and was plain on the outside. But inside it was exquisitely beautiful (Exodus 25–27).
Personal faith in Christ comes with social obligations. If we believe that He reigns as Lord over history as well as Lord over our individual lives, we dare not focus solely on the "world within" and forget the "world without." Restricting His sovereignty to our personal struggles demeans Him. What do we imply about the Savior when we seek God's will about moving to another city or marrying someone, but never seek His mind on the plight of the homeless, the rights of the unborn, or racial equality?
Followers of Jesus are to be "rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share" (1 Timothy 6:18). This was demonstrated in the aftermath of the tsunami disaster in Southeast Asia. Christians quickly poured in money, materials, and manpower to bring relief to the suffering. That help has continued.
Cornelius, a first-century Roman military official, was assigned the task of maintaining order in turbulent Judea. Most Romans of that time believed in many gods—but not Cornelius. He feared the one true God, gave generously to the needy, and prayed regularly (Acts 10:2). Even though the Jewish people didn't accept him as one of their own, God recognized him as one of His. Cornelius agreed with God about what was good and he acted accordingly.
On December 26, 2004, masses of people suddenly became our new neighbors. They were left with broken lives after a monstrous tsunami swept across 12 Asian countries, killing tens of thousands of their friends, relatives, and countrymen. Millions of survivors became destitute. But how did they become our neighbors?
Thirty-five hundred years ago, Moses asked God who He was and got a peculiar answer. God said, "Say to the children of Israel, 'I AM has sent me to you.' . . . This is My name forever" (Exodus 3:14-15).
After living more than 80 years, I know that any claim that offers an effortless way to develop a lean, well-conditioned body is a hoax. So is any sermon title that promises an easy way to become like Christ.
In the first century, a Jewish man who wanted to become a disciple of a rabbi (teacher) was expected to leave family and job to join his rabbi. They would live together 24 hours a day—walking from place to place, teaching and learning, studying and working. They discussed and memorized the Scriptures and applied them to life.
A college student named Kelly shattered her arm in the first volleyball game of the season. This meant she couldn't work at her part-time job. Then her car stopped running. To top it all off, the young man she had been dating stopped calling. Kelly felt so low that she began spending hours alone in her room crying.
When we were children, my brother and I recited this prayer every night before supper: "God is great, God is good. Let us thank Him for this food." For years I spoke the words of this prayer without stopping to consider what life would be like if it were not true—if God were not both great and good.
When we moved into our home 5 years ago, we discovered that the former owner had left us six dining room chairs. They were covered with fabric of beautiful African art—tasteful zebra stripes. We appreciated the unexpected gifts and used them frequently when entertaining guests.
American writer Mark Twain was known for his wit and charm. On a trip to Europe he was invited to dinner with a head of state. When his daughter learned of the invitation, she said, "Daddy, you know every big person there is to know except God." Sadly, that was true, because Mark Twain was an unbelieving skeptic.
When John became a salesman in a well-known insurance company years ago, his aim was to work effectively in his firm without compromising his Christian integrity. But there were those who considered him naive. In their view, one could possess either job security or Christian integrity—not both.
In one version of the mythical tale of King Arthur, the young king is hiding in a tree, nervously awaiting his betrothed. After falling, he felt he had to explain himself to the princess. So he recounted how he mysteriously was able to pull a sword out of a stone, entitling him to be king.
Attar of Roses, a fragrant oil, is one of the most valuable products of Bulgaria and is heavily taxed for export. A tourist, unwilling to pay the duty, sought to evade customs by concealing two vials of the precious fluid in his suitcase. Apparently a little of the perfume had spilled in his suitcase. By the time he reached the train station, the aroma was emanating from the luggage, declaring the presence of the hidden treasure. The authorities immediately knew what the man had done and confiscated the costly souvenirs.
Four times in 1 Samuel 18, the writer tells us that David "behaved wisely" (vv.5,14,15,30). In fact, he behaved "more wisely than all the servants of Saul, so that his name became highly esteemed" (v.30).
In a Peanuts cartoon by Charles Schulz, Marcie gives her schoolteacher some flowers. Not to be outdone, Peppermint Patty says to the teacher, "I thought about doing the same thing, Ma'am, but I never got around to it. Could you use a vase full of good intentions?"
The cover of a recent Our Daily Bread pictures a leaf-strewn road through the mountains of Vermont. Those who use the road can enjoy a smooth and beautiful ride over difficult terrain. To make this possible, others had to work hard to chart the route, clear the trees, and level the rough spots.
Often we Christians are urged not just to "talk the talk" but to "walk the talk." The same advice may be expressed in these words: Don't let your behavior contradict your professed belief. At other times we are admonished to be sure that life and lip agree. If our conduct doesn't harmonize with our confession of faith, however, that discrepancy nullifies the testimony of the gospel which we proclaim.
During these days of horrific world events, Christians should be appalled but not taken by surprise. Jesus forewarned us of terrible times to come (Luke 21:25-28). In today's reading, Peter reassured believers by reminding them of God's unfolding purposes and final victory.
It was a tragic mistake. On July 3, 1988, the guided-missile cruiser USS Vincennes shot down an Iranian airliner with 290 souls aboard. All were lost. The ship's captain mistakenly thought they were under attack by an F-14 Iranian fighter.
I once overheard this comment about a person who was always critical: "The trouble with him is that he's forgotten what it's like to be human!" How easily we forget our past struggles and become unsympathetic toward those who are struggling today. But there's one who hasn't forgotten what it's like to be human—Jesus.
A large company uses suction to extract contaminating substances from steel drums. Powerful pumps draw the materials out of the barrels, but the workers must carefully regulate the force of these pumps. If they take out too much air, the drums will collapse like paper cups, because the outer pressure will exceed the inner pressure.
As a young boy, theologian Alister McGrath enjoyed experimenting with chemicals in his school's laboratory. He liked to drop a tarnished coin into a beaker of diluted nitric acid. He often used an old British penny bearing the image of Queen Victoria. Because of the accumulated grime, Her Majesty's image couldn't be seen clearly. But the acid cleansed away the grime and the Queen's image reappeared in shining glory.
Much of our attention and praise is directed toward highly visible and successful people. But occasionally we read about an ordinary, obscure person being honored for many years of faithful service. It may be a school custodian, a cafeteria worker, a handyman, or a clerk in a store who has served others in a dependable and unselfish way.
In the mid-1800s, Texas rancher Samuel Augustus Maverick refused to brand his cattle. When neighboring cowboys came upon a calf without a brand, they called it a "maverick." The word entered the English language and came to refer to a person who takes an independent stand and refuses to conform.
A missionary was teaching a class of young girls about kindness. She told them about Jesus, who said that a person who gives a cup of water in His name "will by no means lose his reward" (Mark 9:41).
Aldous Huxley (1894-1963), one of the world's leading intellects, was visiting with Houston Smith, a well-known professor of philosophy and religion. As they were driving to an engagement, Huxley said, "You know, Houston, it's rather embarrassing to have spent one's entire lifetime pondering the human condition and . . . find that I really don't have anything more profound to pass on by way of advice than, 'Try to be a little kinder.'"
All of us are bound to repeat ourselves as we go about our daily routine. Time after time we eat, sleep, work, and clean up. We can lose our enthusiasm for life if "there is nothing new under the sun" (Ecclesiastes 1:9).
The Louvre in Paris is perhaps the most famous art museum in the world. It displays originals by such masters as Delacroix, Michelangelo, Rubens, da Vinci, Ingres, Vermeer, and many others.
We may readily agree with the statement that "all men are created equal." But we don't have to live long before discovering that life treats some people better than others. This is something we must learn to accept without resentment.
In 2000, a movie was digitally transmitted over the Internet from a studio in California to its world premiere in Atlanta, Georgia. It went from studio to theater screen without ever touching film. With digital distribution, electronic impulses are used instead of huge reels of celluloid.
I read about a young boy who had been naughty. During family devotions the father prayed for his son and mentioned a number of bad things the boy had done. Soon afterward the mother heard the 6-year-old sobbing. When she asked what was wrong, the boy cried out, "Daddy always tells God the bad things about me. He never tells Him the good things I do!"
In Charles Dickens' novel David Copperfield, young David returns from a happy visit with friends to find his widowed mother remarried to Edward Murdstone, a harsh and domineering man. Mr. Murdstone and his permanently visiting sister Jane set out to conquer David's spirit through cruel punishment and intimidation.
Following the death of our 17-year-old daughter in a car accident in June 2002, each member of our family handled the loss differently. For my wife, among the most helpful sources of comfort were visits from moms who had also lost a child in an accident.
Who is Jesus? Observing the ways He is portrayed these days, it's almost impossible to recognize Him as the Jesus of the Bible. Some groups add to what the Bible says about Him, while others diminish Him to simple humanity, claiming that He was merely a wise teacher or a master moralist. Some would like to make Him disappear altogether.
If you have a letter from Mark Twain in your attic, it could be worth a lot of money. A personal, 9-page letter written to his daughter in 1875 sold for $33,000 back in 1991. Ordinary correspondence from the author of Tom Sawyer usually brings $1,200 to $1,500 a page. Experts say that even though Twain wrote 50,000 letters during his lifetime, demand is still strong for these personal notes from one of America's favorite authors.
Some Christians try to live from one dramatic mountaintop experience to another. Their relationship with the Lord is based on their feelings at the moment. They go from Bible conferences to seminars to Bible studies, trying to maintain an emotional high.
When I was growing up, wearing white in the US after Labor Day was a serious fashion blunder. So even though I love white clothes, every year I dutifully start putting them away at the end of August.
I have often been encouraged by people without their realizing it. I remember walking through the main lounge of a Christian retirement community late one evening. The residents had gone to their rooms for the night, except for one elderly woman. Unaware of my presence, she patiently worked on a jigsaw puzzle and joyfully hummed to herself. She seemed to be quite content.
A U.S. News & World Report cover story explored the subject of happiness. According to the article, scientists have found that "strong marriages, family ties, and friendships predict happiness, as do spirituality and self-esteem. Hope is crucial, as is the feeling that life has meaning." But what if some of these elements are missing in our lives? Researchers say that "helping people be a little happier can jump-start a process that will lead to stronger relationships, renewed hope, and general upward spiraling of happiness."
A man who had just been elected to the British Parliament brought his family to London. He felt important as he told them about his new job and gave them a tour of the city. When they entered Westminster Abbey, his 8-year-old daughter was awestruck by the size of that magnificent structure. Her proud father asked, "What, my dear, are you thinking about?" She replied, "Daddy, I was just thinking about how big you are in our house, but how small you look here!"
I read a fable about a man who was browsing in a store when he made the shocking discovery that God was behind a sales counter. So the man walked over and asked, "What are You selling?" God replied, "What does your heart desire?" The man said, "I want happiness, peace of mind, and freedom from fear . . . for me and the whole world." God smiled and said, "I don't sell fruit here. Only seeds."
Michelle Singletary and her husband decided to reduce their Christmas spending. They made some presents themselves and thought of creative ways to give their time and service to others.
Ever have one of those hectic days when you need more time than the clock offers? When everyone is after you for help and your tasks seem endless? You might wonder: Did Jesus ever struggle like this? And if so, how did He handle it?
With friends like his, Job didn't need enemies. His three would-be comforters failed miserably in their efforts to ease his pain. Instead of bringing sympathy, they delivered accusations that only compounded his anguish.