Tag  |  faithfulness

A Faithful Servant

Madaleno is a bricklayer. From Monday to Thursday he builds walls and repairs roofs. He is quiet, reliable, and hardworking. Then from Friday to Sunday he goes up to the mountains to teach the Word of God. Madaleno speaks Nahuatl (a Mexican dialect), so he can easily communicate the good news of Jesus to the people in that region. At age 70, he still works with his hands building houses, but he also works to build the family of God.

His life has been threatened several times. He has slept under the stars and faced death from car accidents and falls. He has been kicked out of towns. But he thinks that God has called him to do what he does, and he serves happily. Believing that people need to know the Lord, he relies on God for the strength he needs.

Madaleno’s faithfulness reminds me of the faithfulness of Caleb and Joshua, two of the men Moses sent to explore the Promised Land and report back to the Israelites (Num. 13; Josh. 14:6-13). Their companions were afraid of the people who lived there, but Caleb and Joshua trusted in God and believed He would help them conquer the land.

The work entrusted to us may be different than Madaleno’s or Caleb’s and Joshua’s. But our confidence can be the same. In reaching out to others, we rely not on ourselves but on the strength of our God.

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.”

Related Topics

> Biblical Studies

Lifeblood

Mary Ann believed in God and His Son Jesus, but she struggled with why Jesus had to shed His blood to bring salvation. Who would think of cleansing something with blood? Yet the Bible says, “The law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood” (Heb. 9:22). That, in Mary Ann’s opinion, was disgusting!

Then one day she had to go to a hospital. A genetic condition had altered her immune system, and doctors became alarmed when the illness started attacking her blood. As she was in the emergency room she thought, If I lose my blood, I will die. But Jesus shed His blood so I can live!

Suddenly everything made sense. In the midst of her pain, Mary Ann felt joy and peace. She understood that blood is life, and a holy life was needed to make peace with God for us. Today she is alive and well, thanking God for her health and for Jesus’ sacrifice on her behalf.

Hebrews 9 explains the meaning of the Old Testament blood ritual (vv. 16-22) and the once and for all offering of Jesus that brought animal sacrifice to an end (vv. 23-26). Bearing our sin, He willingly died and shed His blood to become our sacrifice. We now have confidence to enter God’s presence. How could we ever thank Jesus enough for making His sacrifice our sacrifice, His life our life, and His Father our Father?

What Christmas Is All About

Fifty years ago A Charlie Brown Christmas was first broadcast on American television. Some network executives thought it would be ignored, while others worried that quoting the Bible would offend viewers. Some wanted its creator, Charles Schulz, to omit the Christmas story, but Schulz insisted it stay in. The program was an immediate success and has been rebroadcast every year since 1965.

When Charlie Brown, the frustrated director of the children’s Christmas play, is discouraged by the commercial spirit of the holiday season, he asks if anyone can tell him the real meaning of Christmas. Linus recites Luke 2:8-14 including the words, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (vv. 11-14 kjv). Then Linus says, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

During this season filled with our own doubts and dreams, it’s good to ponder afresh God’s great love expressed in the familiar story of Joseph, Mary, the baby Jesus, and the angels who announced the Savior’s birth.

That’s what Christmas is all about.

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.

> Christian Beliefs

A Place of Shelter

Homeless people in Vancouver, British Columbia, have a new way to find nighttime accommodations. A local charity, RainCity Housing, has created specialized benches that convert into temporary shelters. The back of the bench pulls up to create a roof that can shield a person from wind and rain. At night, these sleeping spaces are easy to find because they feature a glow-in-the-dark message that reads: THIS IS A BEDROOM.

The need for shelter can be physical, and it can be spiritual as well. God is a refuge for our souls when we are troubled. King David wrote, “I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (Ps. 61:2). When we’re emotionally overloaded, we are more vulnerable to the Enemy’s tactics—fear, guilt, and lust are a few of his favorites. We need a source of stability and safety.

If we take refuge in God, we can have victory over the Enemy as he tries to influence our hearts and minds. “You have been my refuge, a strong tower against the foe,” David said to the Lord. “I long to . . . take refuge in the shelter of your wings” (vv. 3-4).

When we are overwhelmed, peace and protection are ours through God’s Son, Jesus Christ. “In me you may have peace,” Jesus said. “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

It’s What We Do

My father was critically injured when he took a bullet in the leg as a second lieutenant leading his men on Hill 609 in North Africa during World War II. Dad was never again 100 percent physically. I was born several years after this, and when I was young I didn’t even know he had been wounded. I found out later when someone told me. Although he felt constant pain in his leg, my dad never complained about it, and he never used it as an excuse for not providing for our family.

My parents loved the Savior and raised us to love, trust, and serve Him. Through good times and bad, they simply trusted God, worked hard, and loved us unconditionally. Proverbs 14:26 says that “Whoever fears the Lord has a secure fortress, and for their children it will be a refuge” (niv). My dad did that for our family. No matter what difficulties he faced, he provided a safe place for us spiritually, emotionally, and physically.

We parents can provide a safe haven for our families with the help of our perfect heavenly Father, whose love for His children is deep and eternal.

Reflecting God’s Glory

The 12th-century Chinese artist Li Tang painted landscapes animated with people, birds, and water buffalo. Because of his genius with fine line sketches on silk, Li Tang is considered a master of Chinese landscape art. For centuries, artists from around the world have depicted what they see in God’s art gallery of creation: “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork” (Ps. 19:1). The Bible tells us that our creativity as human beings comes from being made in the image of the Master Creator (Gen. 1:27).

God chose artists who worked with wood, gold, silver, bronze, and gems to create the furnishings, utensils, altars, and garments that were to be used when the ancient Israelites worshiped Him in the tabernacle  (Ex. 31:1-11). These artistic renderings of spiritual realities prompted and guided the priests and the people in their worship of the Lord who had called them to be His people.

Through many types of artistic expression, we reflect the beauty of creation and honor the Creator and Redeemer of this marvelous world.

> Christian Living

Taking Notice

When I clean my house for a special event, I become discouraged because I think that guests won’t notice what I clean, only what I don't clean. This brings to mind a larger philosophical and spiritual question: Why do humans more quickly see what's wrong than what's right? We are more likely to remember rudeness than kindness. Crimes seem to receive more attention than acts of generosity. And disasters grab our attention more quickly than the profound beauty all around us.

But then I realize I am the same way with God. I tend to focus on what He hasn't done rather than on what He has, on what I don't have rather than on what I have, on the situations that He has not yet resolved rather than on the many He has.

When I read the book of Job, I am reminded that the Lord doesn't like this any more than I do. After years of experiencing prosperity, Job suffered a series of disasters. Suddenly those became the focus of his life and conversations. Finally, God intervened and asked Job some hard questions, reminding him of His sovereignty and of everything Job didn't know and hadn't seen (Job 38–40).

Whenever I start focusing on the negative, I hope I remember to stop, consider the life of Job, and take notice of all the wonders God has done and continues to do.

An Invitation to Rest

At a friend’s bedside in a hospital emergency ward, I was moved by the sounds of suffering I heard from other patients in pain. As I prayed for my friend and for the ailing patients, I realized anew how fleeting our life on earth is. Then I recalled an old country song by Jim Reeves that talks about how the world is not home for us—we’re “just a-passin’ through.”

  Our world is full of weariness, pain, hunger, debt, poverty, disease, and death. Because we must pass through such a world, Jesus’ invitation is welcome and timely: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). We need this rest.

There is hardly a funeral ceremony I’ve attended where John’s vision of “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev. 21:1-5) is not quoted, and it certainly holds relevance for funerals.

But I believe the passage is more for the living than the dead. The time to heed Jesus’ invitation to come rest in Him is while we are still living. Only then can we be entitled to the promises in Revelation. God will dwell among us (v. 3). He will wipe away our tears (v. 4). There will be “no more death or mourning or crying or pain” (v. 4).

Accept Jesus’ invitation and enter His rest!

Reject Apathy

The room was splashed with an assortment of enchanting colors as women in beautiful saris scurried around, completing the final touches for a fundraising event. Formerly from India, these women now live in the USA. Yet they remain concerned for their native country. Upon hearing about the financial situation of a Christian school for autistic children in India, they not only heard the need, but they also took it to heart and responded.

Nehemiah did not allow his comfortable position in life as cupbearer and confidant to the most powerful man at that time to nullify his concerns for his countrymen. He talked to people who had just come from Jerusalem to find out the condition of the city and its citizens (Neh. 1:2). He learned that “those who survived the exile . . . are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire” (v. 3).

Nehemiah’s heart broke. He mourned, fasted, and prayed, asking God to do something about the terrible conditions (v. 4). God enabled Nehemiah to return to Jerusalem to lead the rebuilding effort (2:1-8).

Nehemiah accomplished great things for his people because he asked great things of a great God and relied on Him. May God open our eyes to the needs of those around us, and may He help us to become passionate and creative problem-solvers who bless others.

> Christian Ministry & the Church

A Hint of Heaven

The world-class botanical garden across the street from our church was the setting for an all-church community gathering. As I walked around the gardens greeting people I have known for years, catching up with those I hadn’t seen recently, and enjoying the beautiful surroundings cared for by people who know and love plants, I realized that the evening was rich with symbols of how the church is supposed to function—a little hint of heaven on earth.

A garden is a place where each plant is placed in an environment in which it will thrive. Gardeners prepare the soil, protect the plants from pests, and make sure each one receives the food, water, and sunlight it needs. The result is a beautiful, colorful, and fragrant place for people to enjoy.

Like a garden, church is meant to be a place where everyone works together for the glory of God and the good of all; a place where everyone flourishes because we are living in a safe environment; a place where people are cared for according to their needs; where each of us does work we love—work that benefits others (1 Cor. 14:26).

Like well-cared-for plants, people growing in a healthy environment have a sweet fragrance that draws people to God by displaying the beauty of His love. The church is not perfect, but it really is a hint of heaven. 

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.

> 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

The God Who Paints

Nezahualcoyotl (1402–1472) may have had a difficult name to pronounce, but his name is full of significance. It means “Hungry Coyote,” and this man’s writings show a spiritual hunger. As a poet and ruler in Mexico before the arrival of the Europeans, he wrote, “Truly the gods, which I worship, are idols of stone that do not speak nor feel. . . . Some very powerful, hidden and unknown god is the creator of the entire universe. He is the only one that can console me in my affliction and help me in such anguish as my heart feels; I want him to be my helper and protection.”

We cannot know if Nezahualcoyotl found the Giver of life. But during his reign he built a pyramid to the “God who paints things with beauty,” and he banned human sacrifices in his city.

The writers of Psalm 42 cried out, “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (v. 2). Every human being desires the true God, just as “the deer pants for streams of water” (v. 1).

Today there are many Hungry Coyotes who know that the idols of fame, money, and relationships can’t fill the void in their souls. The Living God has revealed Himself through Jesus, the only One who gives us meaning and fulfillment. This is good news for those who are hungry for the God who paints things with beauty.

Opening Doors

Charlie Sifford is an important name in American sports. He became the first African-American playing member of the Professional Golfers Association (PGA) Tour, joining a sport that, until 1961, had a “whites only” clause in its by-laws. Enduring racial injustice and harassment, Sifford earned his place at the game’s highest level, won two tournaments, and in 2004 was the first African-American inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame. Charlie Sifford opened the doors of professional golf for players of all ethnicities.

Opening doors is also a theme at the heart of the gospel mission. Jesus said, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:19-20).

The word nations (v. 19) is from the Greek word ethnos, which is also the source of the word ethnic. In other words, “Go and make disciples of all ethnicities.” Jesus’ work on the cross opened the way to the Father for everyone.

Now we have the privilege of caring for others as God has cared for us. We can open the door for someone who never dreamed they’d be welcomed personally into the house and family of God.

Who Is My Neighbor?

Mary enjoyed her midweek church group meeting when she and several friends gathered to pray, worship, and discuss questions from the previous week’s sermon. This week they were going to talk about the difference between “going” to church and “being” the church in a hurting world. She was looking forward to seeing her friends and having a lively discussion.

As she picked up her car keys, the doorbell rang. “I’m so sorry to bother you,” said her neighbor Sue, “but are you free this morning?” Mary was about to say that she was going out when Sue continued, “I have to take my car to the repair shop. Normally I would walk or cycle home, but I’ve hurt my back and can’t do either at the moment.” Mary hesitated for a heartbeat and then smiled. “Of course,” she said.

Mary knew her neighbor only by sight. But as she drove her home, she learned about Sue’s husband’s battle with dementia and the utter exhaustion that being a caregiver can bring with it. She listened, sympathized, and promised to pray. She offered to help in any way she could.

Mary didn’t get to church that morning to talk about sharing her faith. Instead she took a little bit of Jesus’ love to her neighbor who was in a difficult situation.

> Life Struggles

Flowing Peace

“I’m not surprised you lead retreats,” said an acquaintance in my exercise class. “You have a good aura.” I was jolted but pleased by her comment, because I realized that what she saw as an “aura” in me, I understood to be the peace of Christ. As we follow Jesus, He gives us the peace that transcends understanding (Phil. 4:7) and radiates from within—though we may not even be aware of it.

Jesus promised His followers this peace when, after their last supper together, He prepared them for His death and resurrection. He told them that though they would have trouble in the world, the Father would send them the Spirit of truth to live with them and be in them (John 14:17). The Spirit would teach them, bringing to mind His truths; the Spirit would comfort them, bestowing on them His peace. Though soon they would face trials—including fierce opposition from the religious leaders and seeing Jesus executed—He told them not to be afraid. The Holy Spirit’s presence would never leave them.

Although as God’s children we experience hardship, we too have His Spirit living within and flowing out of us. God’s peace can be His witness to everyone we meet—whether at a local market, at school or work, or in the gym.  Amy Boucher Pye

Out of the Ruins

In the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem you’ll find Tiferet Yisrael Synagogue. Built in the 19th century, the synagogue was dynamited by commandos during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.

For years the site lay in ruins. Then, in 2014, rebuilding began. As city officials set a piece of rubble as the cornerstone, one of them quoted from Lamentations: “Restore us to yourself, Lord, that we may return; renew our days as of old” (5:21). 

Lamentations is Jeremiah’s funeral song for Jerusalem. With graphic imagery the prophet describes the impact of war on his city. Verse 21 is his heartfelt prayer for God to intervene. Still, the prophet wonders if that is even possible. He concludes his anguished song with this fearful caveat: “unless you have utterly rejected us and are angry with us beyond measure” (v.22). Decades later, God did answer that prayer as the exiles returned to Jerusalem. 

Our lives too may seem to be in ruins. Troubles of our own making and conflicts we can’t avoid may leave us devastated. But we have a Father who understands. Gently, patiently, He clears away the rubble, repurposes it, and builds something better. It takes time, but we can always trust Him. He specializes in rebuilding projects.

What’s in the Bank?

In the winter of 2009, a large passenger plane made an emergency landing in New York’s Hudson River. The pilot, Captain Chesley Sullenberger, who landed the plane safely with no casualties, was later asked about those moments in the air when he was faced with a life-or-death decision. “One way of looking at this,” he said, “might be that for 42 years I’ve been making small, regular deposits in this bank of experience, education, and training. And on [that day] the balance was sufficient so that I could make a very large withdrawal.”

Most of us will at some time face a crisis. Perhaps it will be a job termination or the results of a medical test, or the loss of a precious family member or friend. It is in those times that we must dig down deep into the reserves of our spiritual bank account.

And what might we find there? If we have enjoyed a deepening relationship with God, we’ve been making regular “deposits” of faith. We have experienced His grace (2 Cor. 8:9; Eph. 2:4-7). We trust the promise of Scripture that God is just and faithful (Deut. 32:4; 2 Thess. 3:3).

God’s love and grace are available when His children need to make a “withdrawal” (Ps. 9:10; Heb. 4:16).

> 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

Who Am I Working For?

Henry worked 70 hours a week. He loved his job and brought home a sizeable paycheck to provide good things for his family. He always had plans to slow down but he never did. One evening he came home with great news—he had been promoted to the highest position in his company. But no one was home. Over the years, his children had grown up and moved out, his wife had found a career of her own, and now the house was empty. There was no one to share the good news with.

Solomon talked about the need to keep a balance in life with our work. He wrote, “Fools fold their hands and ruin themselves” (Eccl. 4:5). We don’t want to go to the extreme of being lazy, but neither do we want to fall into the trap of being a workaholic. “Better one handful with tranquillity than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind” (v. 6). In other words, it is better to have less and enjoy it more. Sacrificing relationships at the altar of success is unwise. Achievement is fleeting, while relationships are what make our life meaningful, rewarding, and enjoyable (vv. 7-12).

We can learn to work to live and not live to work by choosing to apportion our time wisely. The Lord can give us this wisdom as we seek Him and trust Him to be our Provider.

My Personal Space

An industrial design graduate from a Singapore university was challenged in a workshop to come up with a novel solution to a common problem using only ordinary objects. She created a vest to protect one’s personal space from being invaded while traveling in the crush of crowded public trains and buses. The vest was covered with long, flexible plastic spikes normally used to keep birds and cats away from plants.

Jesus knew what it was like to lose His personal space in the commotion of crowds desperate to see and touch Him. A woman who had suffered from constant bleeding for 12 years and could find no cure touched the fringe of His robe. Immediately, her bleeding stopped (Luke 8:43-44).

Jesus’ question, “Who touched me?” (v. 45) isn’t as strange as it sounds. He felt power come out of Him (v. 46). That touch was different from those who merely happened to accidentally touch Him.

While we must admit that we do sometimes wish to keep our personal space and privacy, the only way we help a world of hurting people is to let them get close enough to be touched by the encouragement, comfort, and grace of Christ in us.

Abigail’s Reminder

David and 400 of his warriors thundered through the countryside in search of Nabal, a prosperous brute who had harshly refused to lend them help. David would have murdered him if he hadn’t first encountered Abigail, Nabal’s wife. She had packed up enough food to feed an army and traveled out to meet the troops, hoping to head off disaster. She respectfully reminded David that guilt would haunt him if he followed through with his vengeful plan (1 Sam. 25:31). David realized she was right and blessed her for her good judgment.

David’s anger was legitimate—he had protected Nabal’s shepherds in the wilderness (vv.14-17) and had been repaid evil for good. However, his anger was leading him into sin. David’s first instinct was to sink his sword into Nabal, even though he knew God did not approve of murder and revenge (Ex. 20:13; Lev. 19:18).

When we’ve been offended, it’s good to compare our instincts with God’s intent for human behavior. We may be inclined to strike at people verbally, isolate ourselves, or escape through any number of ways. However, choosing a gracious response will help us avoid regret, and most important it will please God. When our desire is to honor God in our relationships, He is able to make even our enemies to be at peace with us (see Prov. 16:7). 

> Retirement

Age Is Not a Factor

After owning and working at his dental lab for 50 years, Dave Bowman planned to retire and take it easy. Diabetes and heart surgery confirmed his decision. But when he heard about a group of young refugees from Sudan who needed help, he made a life-changing decision. He agreed to sponsor five of them.

As Dave learned more about these young Sudanese men, he discovered that they had never been to a doctor or a dentist. Then one day in church someone mentioned the verse, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it” (1 Cor. 12:26). He couldn’t get the verse out of his mind. Sudanese Christians were suffering because they needed medical care, and Dave sensed that God was telling him to do something about it. But what?

Despite his age and bad health, Dave began exploring the possibility of building a medical center in Sudan. Little by little, God brought together the people and the resources, and in 2008 Memorial Christian Hospital opened its doors to patients. Since then, hundreds of sick and injured people have been treated there.

Memorial Christian Hospital stands as a reminder that God cares when people suffer. And often He works through people like us to share His care—even when we think our work is done.

> Spiritual Growth

Time to Grow

In Debbie’s new home, she discovered an abandoned plant in a dark corner of the kitchen. The dusty and ragged leaves looked like those of a moth orchid, and she imagined how pretty the plant would look once it had sent up new bloom-bearing stems. She moved the pot into a spot by the window, cut off the dead leaves, and watered it thoroughly. She bought plant food and applied it to the roots. Week after week she inspected the plant, but no new shoots appeared. “I’ll give it another month,” she told her husband, “and if nothing has happened by then, out it goes.”

         When decision day came, she could hardly believe her eyes. Two small stems were poking out from among the leaves! The plant she’d almost given up on was still alive.

         Do you ever get discouraged by your apparent lack of spiritual growth? Perhaps a frequently lost temper or that spicy piece of gossip you just can’t resist passing on. Or perhaps you get up too late to pray and read your Bible, in spite of resolving to set the alarm earlier.

         Why not tell a trusted friend about the areas of your life in which you want to grow spiritually and ask that person to pray for and encourage you to be accountable? Be patient. You will grow as you allow the Holy Spirit to work in you.

The Restoration Business

Adam Minter is in the junk business. The son of a junkyard owner, he circles the globe researching junk. In his book Junkyard Planet, he chronicles the multibillion-dollar industry of waste recycling. He notes that entrepreneurs around the world devote themselves to locating discarded materials such as copper wire, dirty rags, and plastics and repurposing them to make something new and useful.

After the apostle Paul turned his life over to the Savior, he realized his own achievements and abilities amounted to little more than trash. But Jesus transformed it all into something new and useful. Paul said, “Whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ” (Phil. 3:7-8). As a student of religious law, he had been an angry and violent man (Acts 9:1-2). After being transformed by Christ, the tangled wreckage of his angry past was transformed into the love of Christ for others (2 Cor. 5:14-17).

If you feel that your life is just an accumulation of junk, remember that God has always been in the restoration business. When we turn our lives over to Him, He makes us into something new and useful for Him and others.  

A Better View

As a child, I loved to climb trees. The higher I climbed, the more I could see. Occasionally, in search of a better view, I might inch out along a branch until I felt it bend under my weight. Not surprisingly, my tree-climbing days are over. I suppose it isn’t very safe—or dignified.

Zacchaeus, a wealthy man, set aside his dignity (and perhaps ignored his safety) when he climbed a tree one day in Jericho. Jesus was traveling through the city, and Zacchaeus wanted to get a look at Him. However, “because he was short he could not see over the crowd” (Luke 19:3). Fortunately, those things did not stop him from seeing and even talking with Christ. Zacchaeus’s plan worked! And when he met Jesus, his life was changed forever. “Salvation has come to this house,” Jesus said (v. 9).

We too can be prevented from seeing Jesus. Pride can blind us from seeing Him as the Wonderful Counselor. Anxiety keeps us from knowing Him as the Prince of Peace (Isa. 9:6). Hunger for status and stuff can prevent us from seeing Him as the true source of satisfaction—the Bread of Life (John 6:48).

What are you willing to do to get a better view of Jesus? Any sincere effort to get closer to Him will have a good result. God rewards people who earnestly seek Him (Heb. 11:6).

> When Life Hurts

An Invitation to Rest

At a friend’s bedside in a hospital emergency ward, I was moved by the sounds of suffering I heard from other patients in pain. As I prayed for my friend and for the ailing patients, I realized anew how fleeting our life on earth is. Then I recalled an old country song by Jim Reeves that talks about how the world is not home for us—we’re “just a-passin’ through.”

  Our world is full of weariness, pain, hunger, debt, poverty, disease, and death. Because we must pass through such a world, Jesus’ invitation is welcome and timely: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). We need this rest.

There is hardly a funeral ceremony I’ve attended where John’s vision of “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev. 21:1-5) is not quoted, and it certainly holds relevance for funerals.

But I believe the passage is more for the living than the dead. The time to heed Jesus’ invitation to come rest in Him is while we are still living. Only then can we be entitled to the promises in Revelation. God will dwell among us (v. 3). He will wipe away our tears (v. 4). There will be “no more death or mourning or crying or pain” (v. 4).

Accept Jesus’ invitation and enter His rest!

When Things Don’t Go Well

The first words that many people like to quote when misfortune hits are: “We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). But that’s hard to believe in hard times. I once sat with a man who had lost his third son in a row, and I listened as he lamented, “How can this tragedy work for my good?” I had no answer but to sit silently and mourn with him. Several months later, he was thankful as he said, “My sorrow is drawing me closer to God.”

Tough as Romans 8:28 may be to understand, countless testimonies give credence to the truth of it. The story of hymn writer Fanny Crosby is a classic example. The world is the beneficiary of her memorable hymns, yet what worked together for good was born out of her personal tragedy, for she became blind at the age of 5. At only age 8, she began to write poetry and hymns. Writing over 8,000 sacred songs and hymns, she blessed the world with such popular songs as “Blessed Assurance,” “Safe in the Arms of Jesus,” and “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior.” God used her difficulty to bring good for her and us and glory for Him.

When tragedy befalls us, it’s hard to understand how anything good can come from it, and we won’t always see it in this life. But God has good purposes and always remains with us.

God’s Good Heart

Roger had been through a lot. He had open-heart surgery to repair a leaky valve. Then, within just a couple of weeks, doctors had to perform the surgery again because of complications. He had just begun to heal with physical therapy when he had a biking accident and broke his collarbone. Added to this, Roger also experienced the heartbreak of losing his mother during this time. He became very discouraged. When a friend asked him if he had seen God at work in any small ways, he confessed that he really didn’t feel he had.

            I appreciate Roger’s honesty. Feelings of discouragement or doubt are part of my life too. In Romans, the apostle Paul says, “We can rejoice . . . when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation” (5:3-4 nlt). But that doesn’t mean we always feel the joy. We may just need someone to sit down and listen to us pour out our hearts to them, and to talk with God. Sometimes it takes looking back on the situation before we see how our faith has grown during trials and doubts.

            Knowing that God wants to use our difficulties to strengthen our faith can help us to trust His good heart for us.