At the beginning of each new year, experts give their predictions about the economy, politics, weather, and a host of other topics. Will there be war or peace? Poverty or prosperity? Progress or stagnation? People everywhere are hoping that this year will be better than last, but no one knows what will happen.
A while ago I attended a conference on the Middle Ages. In one seminar we actually prepared several foods that would have been common in medieval times. We used pestle and mortar to grind cinnamon and fruit to make jam. We cut orange rinds and broiled them with honey and ginger to produce a sweet snack. We crushed almonds with water and other ingredients to create almond milk. And, finally, we prepared a whole chicken to serve as a main dish with rice. As we sampled these dishes, we enjoyed a tasty culinary experience.
In the African country where my friend Roxanne lives, water is a precious commodity. People often have to travel long distances to collect water from small, contaminated creeks—leading to sickness and death. It’s difficult for organizations like orphanages and churches to serve the people because of a lack of water. But that’s beginning to change.
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.
The story is told that in the late 1800s a group of European pastors attended D. L. Moody’s Bible conference in Massachusetts. Following their custom, they put their shoes outside their room before they slept, expecting them to be cleaned by hotel workers. When Moody saw the shoes, he mentioned the need to others because he knew their custom. But he was met with silence. Moody collected all the shoes and cleaned them himself. A friend who made an unexpected visit to his room revealed what Moody had done. The word spread, and the next few nights others took turns doing the cleaning.
While reading the obituary of Eugene Patterson, Pulitzer Prize-winning editor of the Atlanta Constitution from 1960 to 1968, I was struck by two things. First, for many years Patterson was a fearless voice for civil rights during a time when many opposed racial equality. In addition, he wrote a column every day for 8 years. That’s 2,922 newspaper columns! Day after day, year after year. Courage and consistency were key factors in the impact of his life.
After trying on my new sunglasses in the car one day, my daughter handed them back and said, “These are not sunglasses, Mom. They’re just fashion lenses. Let me guess,” she teased, “you bought them because you look cute in them.”
Nicknames are often descriptive of some noticeable aspect of a person’s character or physical attributes. Growing up, my elementary school friends brutally called me “liver lips” since at that stage of development my lips seemed disproportionately large. Needless to say, I have always been glad that the name didn’t stick.
An acquaintance of mine was hunting with friends near Balmoral, the country estate of the queen of England. As they walked, he twisted his ankle so badly that he couldn’t go on, so he told his friends to continue and he would wait by the side of the road.
Recently, a friend from my youth emailed me a picture of our junior high track team. The grainy black-and-white snapshot showed a vaguely familiar group of teens with our two coaches. I was instantly swept back in time to happy memories of running the mile and the half-mile in track meets. Yet even as I enjoyed remembering those days, I found myself thinking about how easily I had forgotten them and moved on to other things.
After a group of high schoolers visited an orphanage during a ministry trip, one student was visibly upset. When asked why, he said it reminded him of his own situation 10 years earlier.
In their book Dear Mrs. Kennedy, Jay Mulvaney and Paul De Angelis note that during the weeks following the assassination of US President John Kennedy, his widow, Jacqueline, received nearly one million letters from people in every part of the world. Some came from heads of state, celebrities, and close friends. Others were sent by ordinary people who addressed them to “Madame Kennedy, Washington” and “Mrs. President, America.” All wrote to express their grief and sympathy for her great loss.
Not long ago I developed a physical problem. My left shoulder and arm were aching, I had a painful rash on my forearm and thumb, and I struggled daily with fatigue. When I finally went to the doctor, I learned that I had a case of shingles. The doctor put me on antiviral medication and said it would take several weeks for the disease to run its course.
The name of the southeastern Asian nation of Indonesia is formed by combining two Greek words which together mean “island.” That name is appropriate because Indonesia is made up of more than 17,500 islands spanning nearly 750,000 square miles. Indonesia—an appropriate name for a nation of islands.
When the British Broadcasting Corporation asked for examples of important-sounding, obscure, and even bizarre job titles, one writer offered hers: Underwater Ceramic Technician. She was a dishwasher at a restaurant. Sometimes titles are used to make a job sound more important.
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.
Many of us face the challenge of working with limited resources. Equipped with less money, less time, dwindling energy, and fewer helpers, our workload may remain the same. Sometimes, it even increases. There’s a saying that sums up this predicament: “More bricks, less straw.”
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.
At the age of 86, Ken Deal concluded more than 3 decades of volunteer jail and prison ministry with a final Sunday sermon. His message to the inmates was about serving the Lord while incarcerated. Many of the examples he used came from prisoners, some serving life sentences. In a place everyone wants to leave, he encouraged them to grow and to share the good news of Jesus Christ with others.
After 20 children and 6 staff members were murdered in a Connecticut school, the entire nation was stunned that such a horrific thing could happen. Everyone focused on the tragedy and the questions surrounding it: What kind of person would do such a thing, and why? How can we prevent it from happening again? How can we help the survivors? Amid the chaos, an unlikely group moved in and made a difference.
I received this note from a friend serving in an orphanage in a developing country: “Yesterday, as I was sitting at my office desk, I noticed a trail of ants on the floor. As I followed it, I was shocked to see that thousands of ants had blanketed the walls of our office building—inside and out. They swarmed everything. Fortunately, one of the workers . . . set to work. Less than an hour later, the ants were gone.”
At her birthday celebration, the honored guest turned the tables by giving everyone at the party a gift. Kriste gave each of us a personal note expressing what we mean to her, along with encouraging words about the person God made us to be. Enclosed with every note was one piece of a jigsaw puzzle as a reminder that each of us is unique and important in God’s plan.
Jim Davidson was climbing down Mount Rainier when he fell through a snow bridge and into a crevasse (a pitch-black, ice-walled crack in a glacier). As Jim stood bloodied and bruised in that dark ice cave, he reflected on his childhood and recalled how his father had repeatedly reminded him that he could accomplish great things if he pressed through adversity. Those words helped to sustain Jim as he spent the next 5 hours climbing out of that dark ice cave to safety with very little gear and under extremely difficult circumstances.
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.
In June 2012, the Waldo Canyon fire destroyed 346 homes in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and burned more than 18,000 acres of mountain forest. The fire was declared 100-percent contained when perimeter lines had been built around the entire area of the blaze. It had been confined to a defined area until it could be fully extinguished. A fire information official warned residents that they might continue to see smoke in the burn area because even though the fire was fully contained it “is not controlled and it is not out.”
Francis Schaeffer, author and Christian apologist, struggled to spell words correctly because of dyslexia. At the college he attended, spelling errors lowered the grade on all written assignments. During his first year, a professor told Schaeffer, “This is the best philosophy paper I’ve ever read, but it’s the worst spelling. What am I going to do? I can’t pass you.”
I’ve noticed through the years that those who have suffered are quick to comfort other sufferers. When a young couple suffers the loss of a child, another couple who also lost a child in the past asks if they can help. If a couple loses their main income, almost immediately another couple steps forward to offer their aid, remembering their own journey through foreclosure years earlier. Again and again we see the body of Christ supporting and encouraging one another. These Christians have learned that they can use the trials they’ve been through to reach out to others going through similar difficulties.
On a sandy beach in Uruguay, giant concrete fingers partially submerged in sand reach up toward the sky. It is called the Monument to the Drowned. Locals just call it La Mano, “The Hand.” It was created by Chilean artist Mario Irarrázabal as a warning to swimmers about the danger of drowning. “The Hand” has become a tourist attraction, but its real purpose remains to remind swimmers about the perils of the sea.
Baseball Hall-of-Fame catcher Gary Carter was a follower of Jesus. During his 19-year career, he drew strength and endurance from his faith in God to compete day after day. In an article that appeared in the Wall Street Journal shortly after Carter died of brain cancer at age 57, writer Andrew Klavan told how Carter had influenced his life.
In September 1961, Harvey Karlsen, a high school student in Brooklyn, New York, wrote to C. S. Lewis in England. Harvey had read Lewis’ book The Screwtape Letters and asked the author, “When you wrote this book, did Satan give you any trouble, and if he did, what did you do about it?”
Now in my sixties, I reflect back on wise spiritual leaders who had a positive impact on my life. In Bible school, God used my Old Testament professor to make the Word come alive. My Greek teacher relentlessly employed high standards to goad my study of the New Testament. And the senior pastor in my first pastoral ministry shepherded me in building vital ministries to help others grow spiritually. Each of these teachers encouraged me in different ways.
In his very first Little League baseball game, a young player on the team I was coaching got hit in the face with a ball. He was not hurt but was understandably shaken. For the rest of the season, he was afraid of the ball. Game after game, he bravely tried, but he just couldn’t seem to hit the ball.
There are many who say, ‘Who will show us any good?’” (Ps. 4:6). These words of David seem to describe the pessimistic outlook we so easily develop in our world today. The front page of newspapers and the top stories on the Internet or television seem to focus on crime, accidents, politics, the economy, and prominent people behaving badly. Our conversations at work and home begin to dwell on difficulties, and it’s enough to discourage anyone. Where can we turn for better news?
When a friend started making random despairing statements, people were concerned for him and started giving advice and offering encouragement. As it turned out, he was simply having fun by quoting song lyrics out of context to start a conversation. Friends who tried to help wasted their time by offering help he didn’t need and advice he didn’t want. The consequences of my friend’s misleading statements were not serious, but they could have been. In taking time to respond to his false need, someone could have neglected someone else’s truly serious need.
I met my friend Angie for lunch after having not seen her for several months. At the end of our time together, she pulled out a piece of paper with notes from our previous get-together. It was a list of my prayer requests she had been praying for since then. She went through each one and asked if God had answered yet or if there were any updates. And then we talked about her prayer requests. How encouraging to have a praying friend!
Just before Christmas one year, a friend was diagnosed with leukemia and was told she must begin chemotherapy immediately. Just a few weeks earlier, Kim had told friends how blessed and content she felt with a loving family, a comfortable home, and a new grandson. As she entered the hospital, Kim asked Jesus to make His presence known to her and to stay close.
Of the many things I love about my mom, chief among them may be her candor. Many times I have called to ask her opinion on a matter and she has consistently responded, “Don’t ask my opinion unless you want to hear it. I’m not going to try to figure out what you want to hear. I’ll tell you what I really think.”
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.
The story has been told about a conductor who was rehearsing his orchestra. The organ was giving a beautiful melody, the drums were thundering, the trumpets were blaring, and the violins were singing beautifully. But the conductor noticed something missing—the piccolo. The piccolo player had gotten distracted and hoped his instrument wouldn’t be missed. The conductor reminded him: “Each one of us is necessary.”
During a difficult recession, I organized a support group for fellow Christians to help them cope with unemployment. We provided resumé reviews, networking, and prayer support. One problem emerged: Whenever someone got a job, he or she almost never returned to the group to offer encouragement. That increased the loneliness and isolation of those left in the group.
After high school, Darrell Blizzard left the orphanage where he grew up to join the US Army Air Corps. World War II was in full swing, and soon he faced responsibilities usually given to older and more experienced men. He told a reporter years later that a four-mule plow team was the biggest thing he’d driven before he became the pilot of a four-engine B-17. Now in his late eighties, he said, “We were all just kids flying those things.”
Are you looking for encourage- ment? Do you need a little boost today amid all the bad news coming your way? The psalmist David can lift your spirit in an unexpected way through some words we often think of as negative.
When my daughter Debbie was a little girl, she took ballet lessons. One dance exercise involved jumping over a rolled-up gym mat. Debbie’s first attempt resulted in her bouncing off this hurdle. For a moment she sat on the floor stunned, and then she began to cry. Immediately, I darted out to help her up and spoke soothing words to her. Then, holding her hand, I ran with her until she successfully jumped over the rolled-up mat. Debbie needed my encouragement to clear that hurdle.
I love the words always and never. They hold so much hope! I would like to think that I could always be happy and that life would never fail me. But reality says that I won’t always be happy and that the things I hope would never happen just might. So, as good as these words sound, they struggle to live up to their potential—unless you are thinking about the promise of Jesus’ presence.
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.
During the US Civil War, hatred became entrenched between the North and South. In one instance, President Abraham Lincoln was criticized for speaking of benevolent treatment for the Southern rebels. The critic reminded Lincoln that there was a war going on, the Confederates were the enemy, and they should be destroyed. But Lincoln wisely responded, “I destroy my enemies when I make them my friends.”
My friend Melissa’s 9-year-old daughter Sydnie was in the hospital for chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant when I had a dream about her. I dreamed she was staying in a central room at the hospital with her parents. Surrounding her room was a block of other rooms where family and friends were staying and continually praying for her during her times of treatment.