In 1987, our family moved to California to take up the pastorate of a church in the Long Beach area. The day we flew into town, my secretary picked us up at the airport to take us to our house. As we pulled into traffic, the very first thing I saw was a bumper sticker that read: “Welcome To California . . . Now Go Home!” It was not exactly a warm and cheery welcome to sunny southern California!
As an umpire stood behind the plate at a girls’ softball game, he heard a player’s mother start chanting: “We want a new ump! We want a new ump!” Soon, other parents took up the chant. The ump smiled, then turned toward the crowd and yelled, “I want new parents! I want new parents!” The heckling died away.
In his book A Crack in the Edge of the World, Simon Winchester writes of the small earthquake-prone town of Parkfield, California. Seeking to attract tourists, a hotel sign reads: “Sleep Here When It Happens.” A local restaurant menu features a large steak called “The Big One,” and desserts are called “Aftershocks.” But all humor aside, a real earthquake can be a terrifying experience. I know. I’ve lived through California earthquakes.
While a friend and I walked along the path of the former Berlin Wall, he told me, “This is one of those ‘never say never’ places in my life.” He explained that during the years when the Wall divided the city, he had made a dozen trips through Checkpoint Charlie to encourage members of the church living under continuing surveillance and opposition in East Germany. More than once, he had been detained, questioned, and harassed by the border guards.
My Australian friend Graham wasn’t born blind. He was blinded by a freak accident at age 9. Yet he never felt sorry for himself. Wherever he went, he shared what Jesus Christ meant to him. His last trip was to Thailand as a practicing physiotherapist. Besides using his professional skills there, he wanted to share the gospel of Christ.
New York City. Easter Sunday, 7:30 a.m. I was the only customer at Jimmy’s Diner in East Harlem when a man entered and approached my table. He said, “Good morning, and God bless you,” left a gospel tract, and quickly walked out. I smiled, appreciating his witness and realizing that God has His people everywhere. That night I attended church with our daughter Debbie, joining an enthusiastic congregation of 300 people, most in their twenties and thirties. Their infectious love for Christ and others was a bright light in a city that is often considered spiritually dark.
The spotted owl has been disappearing in the US. Originally it was believed that old growth logging was its greatest threat. But research shows that one of the owl’s relatives may be the problem. For the past 15 years, the barred owl has been rapidly migrating westward. Barred owls, which used to live exclusively east of the Mississippi, compete for the same food as spotted owls but are more aggressive and adaptable.
Martie and I recently traveled to some major cities in several countries. We were struck with how lost our world is and grieved over the millions who have never heard the message of the saving grace of Jesus. The thought of reaching our world for Christ felt overwhelming.
During a trip to the Far East, I visited an unusual shrine made up of hundreds of statues. According to our guide, worshipers would pick the statue that looked the most like an ancestor and pray to it.
A friend of mine has the opportunity each winter to attend the Super Bowl as a journalist. His job is to garner interviews with Christian athletes and National Football League personnel for a faith-based radio program.
Imagine being a visitor in a foreign land, showing up unannounced at a gathering of people you have never met and who have never heard of you—and then being allowed to address that group just a few minutes later. That can happen only if something breaks down barriers— something like mutual friends.
Jean-Dominique Bauby’s memoir, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, describes his life after a massive stroke left him with a condition called “Locked-In Syndrome.” Although he was almost completely paralyzed, Bauby was able to write his book by blinking his left eyelid. An aide would recite a coded alphabet, until Bauby blinked to choose the letter of a word he was dictating. The book required about 200,000 blinks to write. Bauby used the only physical ability left him to communicate with others.
A missionary and I were invited to lunch with David, a man in his late seventies who generously supported the missionary’s ministry. David was not able to visit the missionary’s country, but as he gave thanks for the food, he prayed with complete ease for the people, places, and situations there. Having prayed regularly for that ministry, he had no trouble mentioning specifics. David had a perspective on missions that extended beyond his own country of Singapore.
In our Bible-study class, we were reading Ephesians 4:17-24 out loud when Alyssa began to cry. Most of us were wondering why, when she quietly said, “I’m crying because hearing this passage read out loud makes me see the condition that lost people are in. They’re separated from God and are blind to it! That breaks my heart.”
Francis Asbury rode 6,000 miles a year on horseback for nearly half a century. Despite ill health, he drove himself tirelessly. He sustained himself with venison jerky—a food that wouldn’t spoil during his extended travels. Asbury is remembered for introducing the Methodist “circuit-riding preacher” as an effective way to capture the American frontier for Christ. Planting new churches in remote areas was central to his approach.
Recently our family was in Erie, Pennsylvania, visiting a relative. While there, we had a chance to swim in the community swimming pool. It was fun, but our host wanted to take us to Lake Erie to enjoy the sandy beaches, the cresting waves, and the beauty of the setting sun. My children protested because they wanted to swim in the pool. But I tried to get them to see that going to the beaches of Presque Isle would be a much greater plan.
An organizational consultant in New York says that his graduate students typically recall only 5 percent of the main ideas in a presentation of graphs and charts, while they generally remember half of the stories told in the same presentation. There is a growing consensus among communication experts about the power of the personal touch in relating an experience. While facts and figures often put listeners to sleep, an illustration from real life can motivate them to action. Author Annette Simmons says, “The missing ingredient in most failed communication is humanity.”
When E. Stanley Jones, well-known missionary to India, had the opportunity to meet with Mahatma Gandhi, he asked a searching question of India’s revered leader: “How can Christianity make a stronger impact on your country?” Gandhi very thoughtfully replied that three things would be required.
The Grand Rapids Art Museum has over 5,000 works of art, including 3,500 prints, drawings, and photographs; 1,000 works of design; and 700 paintings and sculptures. As I read about the new museum and anticipated visiting, I couldn’t help but think about God’s “museum.”
Almost every week we see news about a search-and-rescue mission. It may involve a child who wandered away from a family picnic and is lost, or a hiker stranded on a mountain, or people trapped in the rubble following an earthquake. In every case, the people at risk are unable to help themselves. Those who are found and saved usually have lasting gratitude for those who joined in the search and rescued them.
Macauley Rivera, one of my dearest friends in Bible college, had a passion for the Savior. His heart’s desire was to graduate, marry his fiancée Sharon, return to the inner city of Washington, DC, and plant a church to reach his friends and family for Christ.
Bible teacher Lehman Strauss was brought to Christ through the power of the Word when he was young. At his girlfriend’s suggestion, he read Romans 3:23, 5:8, and 10:13. As he did, he was convicted of his sin. He wept and believed.
A young man was preaching to the passersby in Hounslow, on the outskirts of London, England. Most ignored him, a few ridiculed, and several stopped to listen. But regardless of the reaction of the people, he was undeterred. With a strong voice and clear resolve, he poured out his heart—not with the words of an angry prophet, but with deep concern for the men and women on that street. His eyes, facial expressions, and tone of voice revealed an attitude of compassion, not condemnation. In it all, he boldly shared the love and grace of Jesus Christ.
Pulitzer Prize-winning author David Halberstam died in a traffic accident 5 months before the publication of his landmark book about the US war in Korea. In the days following the author’s death, fellow writers and colleagues volunteered to conduct a national book tour on his behalf. During every engagement, they paid tribute to Halberstam by reading from his new book and offering personal recollections of their friend.
Marketing professionals have known for years that a product recommendation from a friend is among the most effective means of advertising. That’s why many large companies recruit consumers who receive free samples of their products along with the encouragement to recommend them to family and friends. One major US corporation regularly sends coupons and products to 725,000 selected people called “connectors,” who spread the word to others.
In the book What’s Gone Wrong With the Harvest? James Engel and Wilbert Norton illustrate on a graph how people often go through a series of preconversion stages before stepping over the line of faith and receiving Jesus as their Savior.
In his book Teacher Man, Pulitzer Prize-winner Frank McCourt reflects on his 30 years as a teacher in New York City high schools. He used a variety of techniques in his English and creative writing classes, but one that seemed to surface again and again was the power of a compelling story to capture attention and encourage learning.
A woman bought a bottle of cod liver oil to give to her dog so he could have a healthier and shinier coat. Every morning, she pried the dog’s jaws open and forced the liquid down his throat. He struggled, but she persisted. He doesn’t know what’s good for him! she thought. Faithfully, each day she repeated the process.
A 110-year-old Israeli Bedouin shepherd was admitted to a Beersheba hospital while experiencing a heart attack. In spite of his age, doctors worked hard to save him. The man was thought to be the oldest heart patient ever to be treated successfully with anticlotting drugs. A hospital spokesperson reported that the Bedouin returned to his tent in the Negev Desert to tend his goats.
Mark Twain said, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
Every believer has a unique story of encountering Christ. Ann, a receptionist at RBC Ministries, told me that she has kept a journal for much of her life. She treasures the account she recorded about her conversion when she was 15. Here is an excerpt. “[I] went to see Billy Graham. I got saved! I’m very happy. . . . When I got saved I felt warmth in my heart.”
Sports brings out the best and the worst in people. The news media often focus on the worst. Those who comfort players with “It’s not whether you win or lose that counts; it’s how you play the game” seldom make world news. But once in a while they do.
After visiting a homeless shelter, a group of teenagers couldn’t wait to express what they had experienced. Excitedly, they wrote about their visits with men and women of all ages who were poor and destitute.
If you didn’t know him, you might think Nick Vujicic has everything going for him. Nick has never had a sore arm. He’s never had knee problems. He’s never smashed his finger in a door, stubbed his toe, or banged his shin against a table leg.
In John 3:16 we read, "For God so loved the world." But what about His love for individuals? The rest of the verse reveals the central purpose behind God's sacrifice of His Son: "That whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." Therefore, without exception, every person may interpret John 3:16 like this: "For God so loved me!"
What's the greatest novel ever written? Many readers would vote for Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace, which, depending on the edition, can run well over 1,000 pages. Even after his novel was finished, Tolstoy continued to write—often until he was on the brink of exhaustion, unable to sleep, and on the verge of a breakdown.
In the days of John Wesley, lay preachers with limited education would sometimes conduct the church services. One man used Luke 19:21 as his text: "Lord, I feared Thee, because Thou art an austere man" (KJV). Not knowing the word austere, he thought the text spoke of "an oyster man."
God has limitless ways of reaching people. So if you feel that you don’t have the ability to reach others for Christ, think about 76-year-old Ethel Hatfield. Desiring to serve her Lord, she asked her pastor if she could teach a Sunday school class. He informed her that he thought she was too old! She went home heavy-hearted and disappointed.
Canadian minister John Gladstone has made a compelling application of a sad episode in the life of Isaac Watts. That famous English hymnwriter fell in love with a beautiful young woman, Elizabeth Singer. She admired his poetry, his mind, and his spirit, but for all her admiration she could not overcome her revulsion at his appearance.
What do teenagers mean when they say they’re “chillaxin”? (They’re chilling and relaxing.) What if they ask for some “cheddar”? (That’s cash.) If a teen likes someone’s new clothes, he might just say, “money,” meaning cool. Teenagers have their own lingo that some of us might not understand, and it seems to be always changing.
Recently, I met the man who introduced me to Jesus 35 years ago. Warren Wiersbe, former pastor of Moody Church in Chicago and Bible teacher for the Back to the Bible ministry, had preached the gospel at a Bible conference in 1972. It was the first time I heard the good news of God’s love for me as shown in Jesus’ death on the cross. The Spirit opened my eyes and heart that night, and I received Jesus Christ as my Savior (John 1:12).
For those of us who don’t have the spiritual gift of evangelism, the word witness can stir up some unpleasant memories or paralyzing anxieties. In fact, I’ve sometimes felt like a complete failure when I tried to follow methods that were designed to make witnessing easier.
How do bees lead one another to nectar? Scientists say it’s all about the “waggle” dance. The theory was regarded with skepticism when it was first proposed by Nobel Prize-winning zoologist Karl von Frisch in the 1960s. But now, researchers in the United Kingdom have used tiny radar responders attached to worker bees to support von Frisch’s theory. They’ve confirmed that the bee orients its body toward the food source and uses the intensity of its waggle dance to signal the distance to other bees.
The film Saving Private Ryan, though disturbingly graphic, tells the gripping story of a World War II rescue squad sent to bring a soldier out of harm’s way. One by one the squad members are killed—sacrificed for the life of Private James Ryan. Finally, mortally wounded and near death, the squad leader calls young James close and simply says, “Earn this.” Men had given their lives to save Private Ryan, and he needed to embrace the sense of indebtedness such sacrifice should engender. Ryan owed his life to those who had rescued him.
If you’re like most people, you think that when God does something important, He uses important people to get it done—people like John Stott, Billy Graham, or Joni Eareckson Tada. The rest of us just fill space until Jesus comes. But that’s not true.
The sign outside Dave James’ shop in Seattle, Washington, says more about getting your life repaired than it does about fixing your vacuum cleaner, but Dave is in business to do both. The top line of the sign is always the same: Free Bibles Inside. The second line changes and features thoughts such as: Surrender Your Heart for a Brand-New Start.
A knock came at the door of the home of a man who had a young family. When the father answered the door, he was greeted by someone he had never met—a friendly man from a nearby church who had stopped by to say hello.
On a beautiful, warm January morning, a colleague and I were having breakfast in an outdoor coffee shop at MacRitchie Reservoir Park in Singapore. With a beautiful lake and immaculate gardens surrounding us and a light breeze blowing across the water, the setting was quiet, calm, and lovely.
I was filling out an online survey when I came to this question: "What is something that is true about you that most people would not guess?" The answer is that I am very sentimental. I get choked up at the movies when the violins start to swell, eyes fill with tears, and the boy finds his long-lost dog—or something comparable. I'm just a softie when it comes to those things.
Countless times I’ve heard myself say, “I’m going to bake a cake.” Then one day I realized that I’ve never baked a cake in my life—only my oven can do that. I simply mix the right ingredients and allow the oven to do its part. Through that division of labor, I have the joy of seeing others taste and enjoy delicious cake.
Roman emperors are not generally remembered for their wisdom, but there are a few exceptions. One great thinker was Marcus Aurelius, emperor of Rome from AD 161 to 180. Gifted with a brilliant mind, he was one of the great intellectual rulers in Western civilization.
Most Christians are not engaged in professional ministry. They don’t preach or sing or work for an evangelistic agency. Their time between Sundays is spent doing jobs that don’t seem to have value for the spread of the gospel. Therefore, some believers may view themselves as second-class disciples.
In his book Love Is Now, Peter Gilquist mentioned that he and several other friends were invited to speak to a group of UCLA students. After the meeting, a young man expressed a desire to discuss the matter of salvation. So Gilquist arranged to meet with him the next morning.
George Washington Carver is well known as an African-American scientist who developed scores of products from the peanut. Dr. Carver was also a humble servant of God who took every opportunity to speak to others about the Savior he loved and served.
Darmeisha didn't like the neighbor woman Suzanne, but she still knocked at her door frequently. She was an unhappy 8-year-old who seemed to enjoy mocking people. Most of their conversations ended with Suzanne telling her that she needed to go home.
Many Christians have succumbed to the false notion that their witness to one individual doesn't count for much. But that certainly isn't supported by what we read in the Gospels. Even though Jesus' public ministry was limited to a little more than 3 years, He was never too busy to deal with one person at a time.
"You don't want to interview me for your television program," the man told me. "You need someone who is young and photogenic, and I'm neither." I replied that we indeed wanted him because he had known C. S. Lewis, the noted author and the subject of our documentary. "Sir," I said, "when it comes to telling the story of a person's life, there is no substitute for an eyewitness."
As a young boy, I enjoyed singing hymns in church like "Throw Out the Lifeline" and "Let the Lower Lights Be Burning," which used images of shipwreck and danger at sea to illustrate our spiritual responsibility to others. But living in landlocked Oklahoma I had never seen the ocean, and my nautical experience was limited to sailing matchbox boats on mud puddles. I knew the words but had little concept of how to rescue a "fainting, struggling seaman."
Two young men had been friends from childhood. One was a Christian, the other was not. The second man was about to embark on a long ocean voyage, and the believer felt the urge to speak to him about Christ before he left. "I'll do it on the way to the dock," he promised himself. But when they reached the dock, he still hadn't done so.
Honey ants survive in difficult times by depending on certain members of their group known as "honey pots." They take in so much nectar that they swell up until they resemble little round berries, hardly able to move. When food and water become scarce, these ants act as "social stomachs" and sustain the entire colony by dispensing what they have stored in their own bodies.
John, a friend of mine, was once addicted to drugs. Several times he nearly died. He was a broken man when he entered the Christian rehabilitation program that my husband and I established. By the end of the program, John had become a Christian.
I'm a novice at growing flowers. But I've learned to appreciate the difference between annuals and perennials. Every spring I usually buy trays of annual bedding plants. Once in the ground, they immediately take root. Their brief life always ends with the autumn frosts, and the soil lies barren until my next annual spring planting. I prefer to plant perennial flowers. They go on living from year to year, and regularly bloom, flower, and reproduce.
As a child growing up in the former Soviet Union, Nickolas was the only one in his school who refused to join the political group for young people. Because of his faith in God, he was singled out for ridicule, given bad grades he did not deserve, and denied a recommendation to the university. Despite the opposition, he persisted, and in later years he led some of his persecutors to trust in Jesus Christ. Now he is the pastor of a thriving church in Belarus.
Parents, teachers, and school board members in central Texas were astounded when a retired couple offered 4-year college scholarships to all 45 children in a local school's first-grade class. The only conditions are that the child stays off drugs, graduates from the high school in that district, and attends an accredited Texas public university, junior college, or trade school. Years earlier, a company had paid half the college tuition for one of the donors, and he never forgot. "They helped me," he says, "and now it's my turn."
John the Baptist had been dead for at least 2 years and the memory of his ministry had begun to fade. That's the way it is when a public figure leaves the scene and is eclipsed by a more illustrious successor.
On Memorial Day in the United States, thousands of people visit cemeteries and monuments to remember and honor their loved ones. They ponder a name carved in stone and recall the person for whom it stands.
A man told me that his oldest brother had died. When I expressed surprise that I had not heard the news already, he said, "We never had it announced in any way. He cared about nobody and nobody cared about him."
Dave Thomas, founder of Wendy's restaurants, appeared in more than 800 television commercials. He offered his homespun humor and "old-fashioned hamburgers" to a worldwide audience. Viewers saw him as friendly, funny, believable, and caring. In spite of his popularity, though, Thomas always said he was "the messenger, not the message."
Medtronic was one of the fastest growing medical technology companies in the USA during the 1990s. By all measurements—stock prices, revenue increases, and earnings per share—it has been thriving.
One of my sons was a master at tuning out what he didn't want to hear. In church, his mind was a million miles away. He could tell you the number of panels in the ceiling and how many seats were in the choir loft. Many times I heard my wife say to him in the midst of a scolding, "Are you listening to me?"