Tag  |  faithfulness

A Work In Progress

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

Story Stewards

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

Another Hero Of Christmas

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

An Honest Heart

I came across an epitaph on an old gravestone in a cemetery the other day. It read, “J. Holgate: An honest man.”

D-Day

Recently I asked my older sister, Mary Ann, if she remembered when our family moved into the house where we lived for many years. She replied, “You were about 9 months old, and I remember that Mother and Daddy stayed up all night packing boxes and listening to the radio. It was June 6, 1944, and they were listening to live coverage of the Normandy Invasion.”

What’s In A Name?

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.

The Blessing Of Giving

It made no sense for a widow to donate her last few coins to a corrupt institution in Jerusalem, where scribes who were dependent on those gifts “devour[ed] widows’ houses” (Mark 12:40). But in that woman’s act, Jesus saw a moving display of the proper attitude toward money (vv.41-44).

The Good And The Bad

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.

Faithful To The Finish

After running 32 kilometers (20 miles) of the Salomon Kielder Marathon in Great Britain, a runner dropped out and rode a bus to a wooded area near the finish line. Then, he re-entered the race and claimed third prize. When officials questioned him, he stated that he stopped running because he was tired.

Tell The Story

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.”

Expect Great Things

William Carey was an ordinary man with an extraordinary faith. Born into a working-class family in the 18th century, Carey made his living as a shoemaker. While crafting shoes, Carey read theology and journals of explorers. God used His Word and the stories of the discovery of new people groups to burden him for global evangelism. He went to India as a missionary, and not only did he do the work of an evangelist but he learned Indian dialects into which he translated the Word of God. Carey’s passion for missions is expressed by his words: “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.” Carey lived out this maxim, and thousands have been inspired to do missionary service by his example.

Choose Your God

I recently saw a commercial for an online game based on Greek mythology. It spoke about armies, mythological gods, heroes, and quests. What got my attention was the description of how to get the game started. You go online to register, choose your god, then build your empire.

Stand Fast

As I waited to make a right-hand turn at a busy intersection, an ambulance appeared over the crest of a hill, speeding in my direction. Someone behind me honked, urging me into the crossroads. I knew the ambulance would be unlikely to stop and that it could have been disastrous to make my turn. So I kept my foot on the brake pedal and stayed put.

Still Bearing Fruit

Sometimes the harvest comes late. Sometimes you sow seeds of hope without really knowing it. Sometimes the fruit of your life comes in a way and time you would never expect.

Standing In The Fire

Wrapped in blankets in my grand- parents’ pickup, I watched as fire consumed our home. My father says I slept soundly as he carried my brother and me and our puppies out to safety. When I woke up and saw the huge blaze, I was already safe. I was too curious and too young to be scared.

Heman’s Honesty

I marvel at Heman, the poet who wrote Psalm 88. His lot in life was unrelieved distress. “My soul is full of troubles,” he lamented (v.3). He was fed up with suffering!

Fret-Free Living

Does it bother you to see how much attention is paid in today’s culture to people who stand for all the wrong things? Perhaps it is entertainment stars who get the headlines while espousing immoral philosophies in their music, movies, or programs. Or it could be leaders who openly thumb their noses at right-living standards.

Free To Choose

When it was learned that the biggest football game of the 2011 season was scheduled to be played on Yom Kippur, the student government at the University of Texas petitioned school officials to change the date. They said it was unfair to make Jewish students choose between the classic football rivalry with Oklahoma and observing their most important and sacred holy day of the year. But the date was not changed. Even in societies where people have religious freedom, difficult choices are still required of every person of faith.

You Never Know

During my seminary years, I directed a summer day camp for boys and girls at the YMCA. Each morning, I began the day with a brief story in which I tried to incorporate an element of the gospel.

Promises You Can Bank On

After a global financial crisis, the US government enacted stricter laws to protect people from questionable banking practices. Banks had to change some of their policies to comply. To notify me of such changes, my bank sent me a letter. But when I got to the end I had more questions than answers. The use of phrases like “we may” and “at our discretion” certainly didn’t sound like anything I could depend on!

Empty Me

What a rotten design,” I grumbled, as I emptied our paper shredder. I was following good advice about shredding personal documents, but I could not empty the container without spilling strips of confetti all over the carpet! One day as I was gathering trash, I debated whether I’d even bother since it was only half-full. But when I slipped a small plastic bag over the top and flipped it upside down, I was pleased to see that not a bit of paper had fallen on the floor.

Paul, The Aged

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.

Trouble Ahead

Inevitably, trouble will invade our lives: A bad report from a medical test, the betrayal of a trusted friend, a child who rejects us, or a spouse who leaves us. The list of possibilities is long, but there are only two options: forge ahead on our own, or turn to God.

He Calls Me Friend

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.

Looking Ahead

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 Brief

Icounted once and discovered that Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address contains fewer than 300 words. This means, among other things, that words don’t have to be many to be memorable.

Trust And Sadness

In early 1994, when our family found out that the US soccer team would be playing in Michigan in the World Cup, we knew we had to go.

Learning To Trust

When I stuck my camera into the bush to take a picture of the baby robins, they opened their mouths without opening their eyes. They were so used to having mama robin feed them whenever the branches moved that they didn’t even look to see who (or what) was causing the disturbance.

The Last Jellybean

One afternoon Angela gave her young daughter four jellybeans and let her know that was all the candy she was going to receive.

How To Bloom

My family and I live in an apartment, so our “flower garden” consists of what we can grow in indoor pots. For a long time our plants would not flower despite watering and fertilizing. Then we discovered that the soil had to be raked and turned over if the plants were to bloom. Now our potted plants are a pure joy to look at with their healthy leaves and blooming flowers.

The Stones

Not long ago, our friends had a gathering at their house and invited a group of people who were all music lovers. Kevin and Ilsa, who are both gifted musicians, requested that each person or couple bring a rock for a fire pit that was often the site for their evening musical jams. But they didn’t want just plain ol’ rocks. They asked that each one be marked with a name or date or event that indicated how or when everyone had become friends.

The Overflow

Joyful shouts filtered into our house from outside and I wanted to know what was so wonderful out there. I peeked through the curtains and watched two young boys splashing in a thick stream of water that gushed from a fire hydrant.

Five-Minute Rule

I read about a 5-minute rule that a mother had for her children. They had to be ready for school and gather together 5 minutes before it was time to leave each day.

Are We There Yet?

If there is any such thing as a universal question, it may be this: Are we there yet? Generations of children have asked it. They have then grown into adults who have to answer the same question when their children ask.

Win Or Lose

During the 2009 college football season, University of Texas quarterback Colt McCoy began every post-game interview by thanking God for the opportunity to play. When he was injured early in the national championship game, he was forced to watch from the sidelines as his team lost.

Rearview Mirror Reflections

I’ve always thought that you can see the hand of God best in the rearview mirror. Looking back, it’s easier to understand why He placed us in the home that He did; why He brought certain people and circumstances into and out of our lives; why He permitted difficulties and pain; why He took us to different places and put us in various jobs and careers.

The Year In Review

During the last week of December, newscasters often look back at the significant events of the past year—the triumphs and failures of prominent people, natural disasters, economic challenges, and the deaths of celebrities and leaders. The most surprising events usually receive top billing.

A Collector’s Heaven

People love to collect things—from baseball cards to stamps to coins. And while collecting can be a fun hobby, it is sobering to think that once we leave this earth, everything we own becomes part of someone else’s collection. What value would it be to have collected much on earth but little or nothing for eternity?

Daily Diligence

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.”

Popularity

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.

By God’s Help

The word Ebenezer in the hymn “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” refers to a time when the people of Israel were trying to regain the close relationship they once had with God. Their spiritual leader, Samuel, told them that if they would abandon their foreign gods and return to the Lord wholeheartedly, He would deliver them from being oppressed by their enemy, the Philistines (1 Sam. 7:2-3).

Sparrow’s Flight

After dinner one night, a tiny brown sparrow flew inside our house through the front door. A chase ensued. Each time my husband got near to it, the little intruder fluttered away in a desperate search for an exit. Before we could escort it safely outside, the bird toured the house so frantically that we could see its chest throbbing from its rapid heartbeat.

Promises, Promises

When people say with a sigh, “Promises, promises,” it’s often when they’ve been disappointed by someone who failed to keep a commitment. The more it happens, the greater the sadness and the deeper the sigh.

A Man My Age

On a recent flight, I got ready to do some work. Spread out on my tray were my laptop computer, backup hard drive, iPod, and other gadgets that are part of being a 21st-century “road warrior.” As I worked, a young man seated beside me asked if he could make a comment. He told me how inspirational it was for him, a young man, to see someone my age so enthusiastically embracing modern technology. In spite of his intention to compliment me, I suddenly felt about 120 years old. What did he mean by “someone my age ”? I wondered. After all, I was “only” 57.

What Is Secure?

During the worldwide financial crisis of 2008, a widow lost a third of her income when her bank stocks no longer paid dividends after her trusted bank failed. The Wall Street Journal quoted her tearful response as an example of the feelings of many people who were similarly affected: “You just think, ‘This can’t be happening.’ What is secure anymore?”

Run!

In the award-winning film Chariots of Fire, one of the characters is legendary British sprinter Harold Abrahams. He is obsessed with winning, but in a preliminary 100-meter dash leading up to the 1924 Olympics, he is soundly beaten by his rival, Eric Liddell. Abrahams’ response is deep despair. When his girlfriend, Sybil, tries to encourage him, Harold angrily declares, “I run to win. If I can’t win, I won’t run!” Sybil responds wisely, “If you don’t run, you can’t win.”

I Shall Not Want

Before they were a week old, the eaglets were fighting over food. Neither was strong enough to hold up his head for more than a few seconds, so the pair looked like fuzzballs with bobble-heads attached. But whenever the parents brought food to the nest, the bigger eaglet was quick to peck down his brother to keep him from getting a single bite. His aggression would have been understandable if food was scarce, or if the parents couldn’t be trusted to supply what he needed. But nothing could be further from the truth. The eaglets were being fed fish many times their size; there was more than enough for both of them.

Silence And Trust

In one of Joe Morgenstern’s weekly Wall Street Journal columns about movies, he considered the impact of the great film stars in close-up scenes where they said nothing at all. “Movie stars,” he wrote, “can do as little as they do at crucial moments because, having already earned our respect, they can assume that we’re paying attention.” This quality of powerful silence that we admire in actors and actresses, however, can be frustrating or disappointing in our relationship with God when He is silent.

God Has Time For You

Historian Cassius Dio recorded a revealing event from the life of Hadrian, the Roman Emperor from ad 117–138: “Once, when a woman made a request of [Hadrian] as he passed by on a journey, he at first said to her, ‘I haven’t time,’ but afterwards, when she cried out, ‘Cease, then, being emperor,’ he turned about and granted her a hearing.”

God’s Devotion

In 1826, the British author Thomas Carlyle married Jane Welsh, who also was an accomplished writer. She dedicated herself to his success and served him wholeheartedly.

Related Topics

> Biblical Studies

On a Hill Far Away

I often find myself thinking back to the years when my children were young. One particular fond memory is our morning wake-up routine. Every morning I’d go into their bedrooms, tenderly call them by name, and tell them that it was time to get up and get ready for the day.

When I read that Abraham got up early in the morning to obey God’s command, I think of those times when I woke up my children and wonder if part of Abraham’s daily routine was going to Isaac’s bed to waken him—and how different it would have been on that particular morning. How heart-rending for Abraham to waken his son that morning!

Abraham bound his son and laid him on an altar, but then God provided an alternate sacrifice. Hundreds of years later, God would supply another sacrifice—the final sacrifice—His own Son. Think of how agonizing it must have been for God to sacrifice His Son, His only Son whom He loved! And He went through all of that because He loves you.

If you wonder whether you are loved by God, wonder no more.

The Tree Of Love

The corkscrew willow tree stood vigil over our backyard for more than 20 years. It shaded all four of our children as they played in the yard, and it provided shelter for the neighborhood squirrels. But when springtime came and the tree didn’t awaken from its winter slumber, it was time to bring it down.

And Then You Laugh

Noise. Vibration. Pressure. Fireball. Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield used these words to describe being launched into space. As the rocket raced toward the International Space Station, the weight of gravity increased and breathing became difficult. Just when he thought he would pass out, the rocket made a fiery breakthrough into weightlessness. Instead of lapsing into unconsciousness, he broke into laughter.

> Christian Beliefs

Debits and Credits

When my husband was teaching an accounting class at a local college, I took one of the tests just for fun to see how well I could do. The results were not good. I answered every question wrong. The reason for my failure was that I started with a faulty understanding of a basic banking concept. I reversed debits and credits.

            We sometimes get our debits and credits confused in the spiritual realm as well. When we blame Satan for everything that goes wrong—whether it’s bad weather, a jammed printer, or financial trouble—we’re actually giving him credit that he doesn’t deserve. We are ascribing to him the power to determine the quality of our lives, which he does not have. Satan is limited in time and space. He has to ask God’s permission before he can touch us (Job 1:12; Luke 22:31).

            However, as the father of lies and prince of this world (John 8:44; 16:11), Satan can cause confusion. Jesus warned of a time when people would be so confused that they wouldn't know right from wrong (16:2). But He added this assurance: “The prince of this world now stands condemned” (v. 11 niv).

            Problems will disrupt our lives, but they cannot defeat us. Jesus has already overcome the world. To Him goes all the credit.

Batter in the Bowl

My daughter and I consider brownies to be one of the seven wonders of the culinary world. One day, as we were mixing the ingredients of our favorite chocolate treat, my daughter asked if I would leave some batter in the bowl after pouring most of it into the baking pan. She wanted to enjoy what was left over. I smiled and agreed. Then, I told her, “That’s called gleaning, you know, and it didn’t start with brownies.”

            As we enjoyed the remnants of our baking project, I explained that Ruth had gathered leftover grain in order to feed herself and her mother-in-law Naomi (Ruth 2:2-3). Because both of their husbands had died, the women had returned to Naomi’s homeland. There Ruth met a wealthy landowner named Boaz. She asked him, “Please let me glean . . . after the reapers among the sheaves” (v. 7). He willingly consented and instructed his workers to purposely let grain fall for her (v. 16).

            Like Boaz, who provided for Ruth from the bounty of his fields, God provides for us out of His abundance. His resources are infinite, and He lets blessings fall for our benefit. He willingly provides us with physical and spiritual nourishment. Every good gift we receive comes from Him.

Unpredictable

In the 2003 US Women’s Open, the relatively unknown Hilary Lunke secured the greatest prize in women’s golf—and a place in history. Not only did she win the US Open in an 18-hole playoff, but it was also her only professional victory. Her surprising and inspiring win underscores the fact that one of the most exciting things about sports is its unpredictability.

            The unpredictability of life is not always so thrilling, however. We devise and strategize. We make plans, projections, and proposals about what we would like to see happen in life, but often they are little more than our best guess. We have no idea what a year, a month, a week, or even a day might bring. So we pray and plan, and then we trust the God who knows fully and completely what we can never predict. That is why I love the promise of Psalm 46:10: “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”

            Life is unpredictable. There are countless things I can never know with certainty. What I can know, however, is that there is a God who knows all and loves me deeply. And by knowing Him, I can “be still”—I can be at peace. 

> Christian Living

Purpose in Routine

A rolling-ball clock in the British Museum struck me as a vivid illustration of the deadening effects of routine. A small steel ball traveled in grooves across a tilted steel plate until it tripped a lever on the other side. This tilted the plate back in the opposite direction, reversed the direction of the ball and advanced the clock hands. Every year, the steel ball traveled some 2,500 miles back and forth, but never really went anywhere.

It’s easy for us to feel trapped by our daily routine when we can’t see a larger purpose. The apostle Paul longed to be effective in making the gospel of Christ known. “I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air” (1 Cor. 9:26 niv). Anything can become monotonous—traveling, preaching, teaching, and especially being confined in prison. Yet Paul believed he could serve Christ his Lord in every situation.

Routine becomes lethal when we can’t see a purpose in it. Paul’s vision reached beyond any limiting circumstance because he was in the race of faith to keep going until he crossed the finish line. By including Jesus in every aspect of his life, Paul found meaning even in the routine of life. 

And so can we.

Under Siege

During the Bosnian War (1992–1996), more than 10,000 people—civilians and soldiers—were killed in the city of Sarajevo as gunfire and mortar rounds rained down from the surrounding hills. Steven Galloway’s gripping novel The Cellist of Sarajevo unfolds there, during the longest siege of a capital city in modern warfare. The book follows three fictional characters who must decide if they will become completely self-absorbed in their struggle to survive, or will somehow rise above their numbing circumstances to consider others during a time of great adversity.

From a prison in Rome, Paul wrote to the Christians in Philippi, saying: “Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil. 2:4). Paul cited Jesus as the great example of a selfless focus on others: “Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, . . . made Himself of no reputation . . . humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (vv. 5-8). Rather than seeking sympathy from others, Jesus gave all He had to rescue us from the tyranny of sin.

Our continuing challenge as followers of Jesus is to see through His eyes and respond to the needs of others in His strength, even in our own difficult times.

Faultfinders Anonymous

Like many people, when I read a newspaper or magazine I notice the misteaks in grammar and spelling. (You saw that, didn’t you!) I’m not trying to find errors; they leap off the page at me! My usual reaction is to criticize the publication and the people who produce it. “Why don’t they use ‘spell check’ or hire a proofreader?”

            You may have a similar experience in your area of expertise. It seems that often, the more we know about something, the more judgmental we become over mistakes. It can infect our relationships with people as well.

            Yet Philippians 1:9 expresses a different approach. Paul wrote, “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment.” God’s plan is that the more we know and understand, the more we love. Rather than cultivating a critical spirit and pretending we don’t notice or don’t care, our understanding should nourish empathy. Criticism is replaced by compassion.

            Instead of our being faultfinders, the Lord calls us to be “filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (v. 11).

            When the Lord fills our hearts, we can overlook mistakes, hold our criticism, and love others, no matter how much we know about them! 

> Christian Ministry & the Church

Power In Praise

Willie Myrick was kidnapped from his driveway when he was 9 years old. For hours, he traveled in a car with his kidnapper, not knowing what would happen to him. During that time, Willie decided to sing a song called Every Praise. As he repeatedly sang the words, his abductor spewed profanity and told him to shut up. Finally, the man stopped the car and let Willie out—unharmed.

God’s World

I knew my son would enjoy receiving a map of the world for his birthday. After some shopping, I found a colorful chart of the continents, which included illustrations in every region. A birdwing butterfly hovered over Papua, New Guinea. Mountains cascaded through Chile. A diamond adorned South Africa. I was delighted, but I wondered about the label at the bottom of the map: Our World.

Enjoying His Meal

It’s not about the table, whether it’s square or round. It’s not about the chairs—plastic or wooden. It’s not about the food, although it helps if it has been cooked with love. A good meal is enjoyed when we turn off the TV and our cell phones and concentrate on those we’re with.

> Christianity & Culture

Losing Our Way

An online survey conducted by a New York law firm reveals that 52 percent of Wall Street traders, brokers, investment bankers, and other financial service professionals have either engaged in illegal activity or believe they may need to do so in order to be successful. The survey concludes that these financial leaders “have lost their moral compass” and “accept corporate wrongdoing as a necessary evil.”

The Power To Change

Educator and best-selling author Tony Wagner is a firm believer in “disruptive innovation” that changes the way the world thinks and works. In his book Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World, he says, “Innovation occurs in every aspect of human endeavor,” and “most people can become more creative and innovative—given the right environment and opportunities.”

Disposable Culture

More than ever, we live in a disposable culture. Think for a minute about some of the things that are made to be thrown away—razors, water bottles, lighters, paper plates, plastic eating utensils. Products are used, tossed, and then replaced.

> Ethical Issues

I’ve Come to Help

Reporter Jacob Riis’s vivid descriptions of poverty in 19th-century New York City horrified a generally complacent public. His book How the Other Half Lives combined his writing with his own photographs to paint a picture so vivid that the public could not escape the certainty of poverty’s desperate existence. The third of fifteen children himself, Riis wrote so effectively because he had lived in that world of terrible despair.

                 Shortly after the release of his book, he received a card from a young man just beginning his political career. The note read simply, “I have read your book, and I have come to help. Theodore Roosevelt.” (This politician later became a US President.)

            True faith responds to the needs of others, according to James (1:19-27). May our hearts be moved from inaction to action, from words alone to deeds that back them up. Compassionate action not only aids those mired in life’s difficulties, but it may also make them open to the greater message from our Savior who sees their need and can do so much more for them.

Speak Up

When I hear stories about young people who have been bullied, I notice there are always at least two levels of hurt. The first and most obvious comes from the mean-spirited nature of those actually doing the bullying. That’s terrible on its own. But there’s another, deeper hurt that may end up being even more damaging than the first: The silence of everyone else.

It hurts the one being bullied because they’re stunned that no one will help. That often makes bullies more brazen, leading them to intensify their meanness. Worse, it heightens the embarrassment, false shame, and loneliness of the victim. So it is imperative to speak up for others and speak out against the behavior (see Prov. 31:8a).

Jesus knows precisely what it feels like to be bullied and to be left to suffer completely alone. Without cause, He was arrested, beaten, and mocked (Luke 22:63-65). Matthew 26:56 says that “all the disciples forsook Him and fled.” Peter, one of His closest friends, even denied three times that he knew Him (Luke 22:61). While others may not understand fully, Jesus does.

When we see others being hurt, we can ask Him for the courage to speak up.

A Letter from the Battlefield

For more than two decades, Andrew Carroll has been urging people not to throw away the letters written by family members or friends during a time of war. Carroll, director of the Center for American War Letters at Chapman University in California, considers them an irreplaceable link to tie families together and open a door of understanding. “Younger generations are reading these letters,” Carroll says, “and asking questions and saying, ‘Now I understand what you endured, what you sacrificed.’ ”

When the apostle Paul was imprisoned in Rome and knew his life would soon end, he wrote a letter to a young man whom he considered a “son in the faith,” Timothy. Like a soldier on the battlefield, Paul opened his heart to him: “The time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Tim. 4:6-8).

When we read the letters in the Bible that the heroes of the Christian faith have left for us and grasp what they endured because of their love for Christ, we gain courage to follow their example and to stand strong for those who come after us.

> Evangelism & Missions

Faithful Service

Having served in World War I, C. S. Lewis was no stranger to the stresses of military service. In a public address during the Second World War, he eloquently described the hardships a soldier has to face: “All that we fear from all the kinds of adversity . . . is collected together in the life of the soldier on active service. Like sickness, it threatens pain and death. Like poverty, it threatens ill lodging, cold, heat, thirst, and hunger. Like slavery, it threatens toil, humiliation, injustice, and arbitrary rule. Like exile, it separates you from all you love.”

The apostle Paul used the analogy of a soldier suffering hardship to describe the trials a believer may experience in service to Christ. Paul—now at the end of his life—had faithfully endured suffering for the sake of the gospel. He encourages Timothy to do the same: “You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (2 Tim. 2:3).

Serving Christ requires perseverance. We may encounter obstacles of poor health, troubled relationships, or difficult circumstances. But as a good soldier we press on—with God’s strength—because we serve the King of Kings and Lord of Lords who sacrificed Himself for us!

Tears of a Teen

As I sat with four teenagers and a 20-something homeless man at a soup kitchen in Alaska, I was touched by the teens’ compassion for him. They listened as he talked about what he believed and then they gently presented the gospel to him—lovingly offering him hope in Jesus. Sadly, the man refused to seriously consider the gospel.

As we were leaving, one of the girls, Grace, expressed through her tears how much she didn’t want the man to die without knowing Jesus. From the heart, she grieved for this young man who, at least at this point, was rejecting the love of the Savior.

The tears of this teen remind me of the apostle Paul who served the Lord humbly and had great sorrow in his heart for his countrymen, desiring that they trust in Christ (Rom. 9:1-5). Paul’s compassion and concern must have brought him to tears on many occasions.

If we care enough for others who have not yet accepted God’s gift of forgiveness through Christ, we will find ways to share with them. With the confidence of our own faith and with tears of compassion, let’s take the good news to those who need to know the Savior.

The Likes of Us

In the late 19th century, William Carey felt a call to travel to India as a missionary to share the good news of Jesus. Pastors around him scoffed: “Young man, if God wants to save [anyone] in India, He will do it without your help or mine!” They missed the point of partnership. God does very little on earth without the likes of us.

As partners in God’s work on earth, we insist that God’s will be done while at the same time committing ourselves to whatever that may require of us. “Your kingdom come. Your will be done,” Jesus taught us to pray (Matt. 6:10). These words are not calm requests but holy demands. Give us justice! Set the world aright!

We have different roles to play, we and God. It is our role to follow in Jesus’ steps by doing the work of the kingdom both by our deeds and by our prayers.

We are Christ’s body on earth, to borrow Paul’s metaphor in Colossians 1:24. Those we serve, Christ serves. When we extend mercy to the broken, we reach out with the hands of Christ Himself.

> Gratefulness & Thankfulness

Silent Helper

The discovery of penicillin revolutionized health care. Prior to the 1940s, bacterial infections were often fatal. Since then, penicillin has saved countless lives by killing harmful bacteria. The men who recognized its potential and developed it for widespread use won a Nobel Prize in 1945.

Long before the discovery of penicillin, other silent killers were at work saving lives by destroying bacteria. These silent killers are white blood cells. These hard workers are God’s way of protecting us from disease. No one knows how many invasions they have stopped or how many lives they have saved. They receive little recognition for all the good they do.

The Lord gets similar treatment. He often gets blamed when something goes wrong, but He seldom gets credit for all the things that go right. Every day people get up, get dressed, drive to work or school or the grocery store, and return safely to their families. No one knows how many times God has protected us from harm. But when there is a tragedy, we ask, “Where was God?”

When I consider all the wonderful things that God does silently on my behalf each day (Isa. 25:1), I see that my list of praises is much longer than my list of petitions.

> Life Struggles

Grey Power

Dutch artist Yoni Lefevre created a project called “Grey Power” to show the vitality of the aging generation in the Netherlands. She asked local schoolchildren to sketch their grandparents. Lefevre wanted to show an “honest and pure view” of older people, and she believed children could help supply this. The youngsters’ drawings reflected a fresh and lively perspective of their elders—grandmas and grandpas were shown playing tennis, gardening, painting, and more!

Caleb, of ancient Israel, was vital into his senior years. As a young man, he infiltrated the Promised Land before the Israelites conquered it. Caleb believed God would help his nation defeat the Canaanites, but the other spies disagreed (Josh. 14:8). Because of Caleb’s faith, God miraculously sustained his life for 45 years so he might survive the wilderness wanderings and enter the Promised Land. When it was finally time to enter Canaan, 85-year-old Caleb said, “Just as my strength was then, so now is my strength” (v. 11). With God’s help, Caleb successfully claimed his share of the land (Num. 14:24).

God does not forget about us as we grow older. Although our bodies age and our health may fail, God’s Holy Spirit renews us inwardly each day (2 Cor. 4:16). He makes it possible for our lives to have significance at every stage and every age.

An Exchange

Jen sat on her patio pondering a scary question: Should she write a book? She had enjoyed writing a blog and speaking in public but felt God might want her to do more. “I asked God if He wanted me to do this,” she said. She talked with Him and asked for His leading.

She began to wonder if God wanted her to write about her husband’s pornography addiction and how God was working in his life and their marriage. But then she thought that it might publicly disrespect him. So she prayed, “What if we wrote it together?” and she asked her husband Craig. He agreed.

While he didn’t say what sin he committed, King David engaged in a public conversation about his struggles. He even put them into song. “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away,” he wrote (Ps. 32:3 niv). So he said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord” (v. 5). Not everyone should go public with their private battles. But when David confessed his sin, he found peace and healing that inspired him to worship God.

Craig and Jen say that the process of writing their deeply personal story has brought them closer than ever. How like God, who loves to exchange our guilt, shame, and isolation for His forgiveness, courage, and community!

Darkness and Light

When I was a boy, I delivered newspapers to about 140 homes on two streets that were connected by a cemetery. Since I delivered a morning newspaper, I had to be out at 3:00 a.m. walking through that cemetery in the darkness. Sometimes I would be so frightened that I would actually run! I was afraid until I was standing safely under a streetlight on the other side. The scary darkness was dispelled by the light.

The psalmist understood the connection between fear and darkness, but he also knew that God is greater than those fears. He wrote, “You shall not be afraid of the terror by night, nor of the arrow that flies by day, nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness” (Ps. 91:5-6). Neither terrors of night nor evil in the darkness need to drive us to fear. We have a God who sent His Son, the Light of the World (John 8:12).

In the light of God’s love and grace and truth, we can find courage, help, and strength to live for Him.

> Marriage & Family

His Choice

When our children were small, I often prayed with them after we tucked them into bed. But before I prayed, I sometimes would sit on the edge of the bed and talk with them. I remember telling our daughter Libby, “If I could line up all the 4-year-old girls in the world, I would walk down the line looking for you. After going through the entire line, I would choose you to be my daughter.” That always put a big smile on Libby’s face because she knew she was special.

Bring The Boy To Me

I don’t believe in God and I won’t go,” Mark said.

The Girl In The Yellow Coat

It was her yellow raincoat that caught my attention, and quickly I became increasingly interested in this cute freshman with long, brown hair. Soon I worked up my courage, interrupted Sue as she walked along reading a letter from a guy back home, and awkwardly asked her for a date. To my surprise, she said yes.

> Relationships

Whose Mess?

“Could they not carry their own garbage this far?” I grumbled to Jay as I picked up empty bottles from the beach and tossed them into the trash bin less than 20 feet away. “Did leaving the beach a mess for others make them feel better about themselves? I sure hope these people are tourists. I don’t want to think that any locals would treat our beach with such disrespect.”

The very next day I came across a prayer I had written years earlier about judging others. My own words reminded me of how wrong I was to take pride in cleaning up other people’s messes. The truth is, I have plenty of my own that I simply ignore—especially in the spiritual sense.

I am quick to claim that the reason I can’t get my life in order is because others keep messing it up. And I am quick to conclude that the “garbage” stinking up my surroundings belongs to someone other than me. But neither is true. Nothing outside of me can condemn or contaminate me—only what’s inside (Matt. 15:19-20). The real garbage is the attitude that causes me to turn up my nose at a tiny whiff of someone else’s sin while ignoring the stench of my own.

Be Near

My friend was going through some difficult challenges in her life and family. I didn’t know what to say or do, and I told her so. She looked at me and said, “Just be near.” That’s what I did, and later on we started talking about God’s love.

Many times we don’t know how to respond when others are grieving, and words may do more harm than good. Serving others requires that we understand them and find out what they need. Often we can help by meeting practical needs. But one of the best ways to encourage those who are suffering is to be near—to sit beside them and listen.

God is near to us when we call out to Him. “The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears, and delivers them out of all their troubles,” the psalmist says. “The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit” (Ps. 34:17-18).

By putting ourselves in the shoes of others and allowing our hearts to feel compassion, we can help those who are hurting. We can be near them as God is with us and sit close to them. At the right time, the Holy Spirit will give us the words to say, if they are needed.

Help for a Heavy Load

It’s amazing what you can haul with a bicycle. An average adult with a specialized trailer (and a bit of determination) can use a bicycle to tow up to 300 pounds at 10 mph. There’s just one problem: Hauling a heavier load means moving more slowly. A person hauling 600 pounds of work equipment or personal possessions would only be able to move at a pace of 8 miles in one hour.

Moses carried another kind of weight in the wilderness—an emotional weight that kept him at a standstill. The Israelites’ intense craving for meat instead of manna had reduced them to tears. Hearing their ongoing lament, an exasperated Moses said to God, “I am not able to bear all these people alone, because the burden is too heavy for me” (Num. 11:14).

On his own, Moses lacked the resources necessary to fix the problem. God responded by telling him to select 70 men to stand with him and share his load. God told Moses, “[The men] shall bear the burden of the people with you, that you may not bear it yourself alone” (v. 17).

As followers of Jesus, we don’t have to handle our burdens alone either. We have Jesus Himself, who is always willing and able to help us. And He has given us brothers and sisters in Christ to share the load. When we give Him the things that weigh us down, He gives us wisdom and support in return.

> Spiritual Growth

Baby Steps

My baby is learning to walk. I have to hold her, and she clings to my fingers because she is still unsteady on her feet. She is afraid of slipping, but I’m there to steady her and watch over her. As she walks with my help, her eyes sparkle with gratitude, happiness, and security. But sometimes she cries when I don’t let her take dangerous paths, not realizing that I am protecting her.

Like my baby girl, we often need someone to watch over us, to guide and steady us in our spiritual walk. And we have that someone—God our Father—who helps His children learn to walk, guides our steps, holds our hand, and keeps us on the right path.

King David knew all about the need for God’s watchful care in his life. In Psalm 18 he describes how God gives us strength and guidance when we are lost or confused (v. 32). He keeps our feet steady, like the feet of the deer that can climb high places without slipping (v. 33). And if we do slip, His hand is there for us (v. 35).

Whether we are new believers just learning to walk in the faith or we are further along in our walk with God, all of us need His guiding, steadying hand.

Not Again!

As I was reading the text message on my mobile phone, my temperature started to rise and my blood began to boil. I was on the verge of shooting back a nasty message when an inner voice told me to cool down and reply tomorrow. The next morning after a good night’s sleep, the issue that had upset me so greatly seemed so trivial. I had blown it out of proportion because I didn’t want to put another person’s interest before my own. I was unwilling to inconvenience myself so I could help someone.

            Regretfully, I am tempted to respond in anger more often than I would like to admit. I constantly find myself having to put into practice familiar Bible truths, such as “Be angry, and do not sin” (Eph. 4:26) and “Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil. 2:4).

            Thankfully, God has given us His Spirit who will assist us in our battle with our sin. The apostles Paul and Peter called it the “sanctifying work of the Spirit” (2 Thess. 2:13; 1 Peter 1:2 niv). Without His power, we are helpless and defeated; but with His power, we can have victory.

How To Have Peace

The Kamppi Chapel of Silence in Helsinki, Finland, stands out in its urban setting. The curved structure, covered with wood, buffers the noise from the busy city outside. Designers created the chapel as a quiet space and a “calm environment for visitors to compose themselves.” It’s a welcome escape from the hustle and bustle of the city.

            Many people long for peace, and a few minutes of silence may soothe our minds. But the Bible teaches that real peace—peace with God—comes from His Son. The apostle Paul said, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1). Without Christ, we are enemies of God because of our sin. Thankfully, accepting Jesus’ sacrifice reconciles us to God and ends the hostility that existed between us (Col. 1:19-21). He now sees us as Christ presents us—“holy, and blameless, and above reproach” (v. 22).

            Having peace with God does not ensure problem-free living. However, it does steady us during difficult times. Jesus told His followers, “In the world you will have tribulation,” but He also said, “In Me you may have peace” (John 16:33). Because of Christ, the true peace of God can fill our hearts (Col. 3:15).

> When Life Hurts

Seeing Beyond Loss

Author William Zinsser described his last visit to see the house where he grew up, a place he greatly loved as a boy. When he and his wife arrived at the hill overlooking Manhasset Bay and Long Island Sound, they found that the house had been demolished. All that remained was a huge hole. Disheartened, they walked to the nearby seawall. Zinsser looked across the bay, absorbing the sights and sounds. Later, he wrote of this experience, “I was at ease and only slightly sad. The view was intact: the unique configuration of land and sea I remember so well that I still dream about it.”

The psalmist wrote of a difficult time when his soul refused to be comforted and his spirit was overwhelmed (Ps. 77:2-3). But in the midst of his trouble, he shifted his focus from his sadness to his Savior, saying, “I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High. I will remember the works of the Lord . . . Your wonders of old” (vv. 10-11). 

In dealing with disappointment, we can either focus on our loss or on God Himself. The Lord invites us to look to Him and see the scope of His goodness, His presence with us, and His eternal love.

Desert Places

Dry. Dusty. Dangerous. A desert. A place where there is little water, a place hostile to life. It’s not surprising, then, that the word deserted describes a place that is uninhabited. Life there is hard. Few people choose it. But sometimes we can’t avoid it.

In Scripture, God’s people were familiar with desert life. Much of the Middle East, including Israel, is desert. But there are lush exceptions, like the Jordan Valley and areas surrounding the Sea of Galilee. God chose to “raise His family” in a place surrounded by wilderness, a place where He could make His goodness known to His children as they trusted Him for protection and daily provision (Isa. 48:17-19).

Today, most of us don’t live in literal deserts, but we often go through desert-like places. Sometimes we go as an act of obedience. Other times we find ourselves there through no conscious choice or action. When someone abandons us, or disease invades our bodies, we end up in desert-like circumstances where resources are scarce and life is hard to sustain.

But the point of going through a desert, whether literally or figuratively, is to remind us that we are dependent on God to sustain us—a lesson we need to remember even when we’re living in a place of plenty.

The Challenge of Transition

After former professional athlete Chris Sanders suffered a career-ending injury, he told a group of military veterans that although he had never experienced combat, “I understand the pressures of transitions.”

            Whether it’s the loss of a job, the loss of a marriage, a serious illness, or a financial setback, every major change brings challenges. The former athlete told the soldiers that the key to success when you are transitioning into a new way of living is to reach out and get help.

            The book of Joshua is recommended reading whenever we find ourselves in transition. After 40 years of wandering and setbacks, God’s people were poised to enter the Promised Land. Moses, their great leader, had died, and Joshua, his assistant, was in charge.

            God told Joshua to “be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go” (Josh. 1:7). God’s words of direction were to be the bedrock of Joshua’s leadership in every situation.

             The Lord’s charge and promise to Joshua apply to us as well: “Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (v. 9).

            He is with us in every transition.