When Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic Roger Ebert died, a fellow journalist wrote of him: “With all his notoriety, honors, and celebrity, all his exclusive interviews and star-dusted encounters with movie greats, Ebert never forgot the essence of what we do—review movies. And he reviewed them with an infectious zeal and probing intellect” (Dennis King, The Oklahoman).
The apostle Paul never forgot the essence of what God wanted him to be and do. Focus and enthusiasm were at the heart of his relationship with Christ. Whether he was reasoning with philosophers in Athens, experiencing shipwreck in the Mediterranean, or being chained to a Roman soldier in prison, he focused on his calling to know “Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings” and to teach about Him (Phil. 3:10).
While he was in prison, Paul wrote, “I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (3:13-14). Whatever his circumstances, Paul continually pressed forward in his calling as a disciple of Christ.
May we always remember the essence, the heart, of who we are called to be and what we are called to do as followers of Jesus.
Earthquakes are prevalent in the Pacific Rim region known as the “Ring of Fire.” Ninety percent of the world’s earthquakes and 81 percent of the world’s largest earthquakes occur there. I learned that many buildings in the city of Hong Kong have been built on granite, which could help minimize damage in the event of an earthquake. The foundation of buildings is especially important in earthquake-prone regions of the world.
My wife and I both have grandmothers who have lived past 100. Talking with them and their friends, I detect a trend that seems almost universal in the reminiscences of older people: They recall difficult times with a touch of nostalgia. The elderly swap stories about World War II and the Great Depression; they speak fondly of hardships such as blizzards, the childhood outhouse, and the time in college when they ate canned soup and stale bread 3 weeks in a row.
Coming from someone who used to value ancestral gods, my 90-year-old father’s statement near the end of his life was remarkable: “When I die,” he spoke laboriously, “nobody should do anything other than what the church will do. No soothsaying, no ancestral sacrifices, no rituals. As my life is in the hands of Jesus Christ, so shall my death be!”
Imagine standing at the bottom of a mountain, elbow-to-elbow with everyone in your community. Thunder and lightning flash; you hear an earsplitting trumpet blast. Amid flames, God descends on the mountaintop. The summit is enveloped in smoke; the entire mountain begins to shake, and so do you (Ex. 19:16-20).
My husband, Jay, and I have a new family member—a 2-month-old tabby cat named Jasper. To keep our new kitten safe, we’ve had to break some old habits, like leaving doors open. But one thing remains a challenge: the open stairway. Cats like to climb. Even as kittens, they know that the world looks better when you’re looking down on it. So whenever I have Jasper downstairs with me, she is determined to go upstairs. Trying to keep her confined to a safe place near me has tested my ingenuity. Gates that work with children and dogs do not work with cats.
As an early riser, my wife enjoys the quiet moments before the house wakes up and uses it to read the Bible and pray. Recently she settled into her favorite chair, only to be confronted by a rather messy couch left there by “someone” watching a football game the night before. The mess distracted her at first, and her frustration with me interrupted the warmth of the moment.
The movie Man of Steel, released in 2013, is a fresh imagining of the Superman story. Filled with breathtaking special effects and nonstop action, it drew crowds to movie theaters around the world. Some said that the film’s appeal was rooted in its amazing technology. Others pointed to the enduring appeal of the “Superman mythology.”
Can a man be officially alive after being declared legally dead? That question became international news when a man from Ohio showed up in good health after being reported missing more than 25 years earlier. At the time of his disappearance he had been unemployed, addicted, and hopelessly behind in child support payments. So he decided to go into hiding. On his return, however, he discovered how hard it is to come back from the dead. When the man went to court to reverse the ruling that had declared him legally dead, the judge turned down his request, citing a 3-year time limit for changing a death ruling.
A friend asked a newly retired man what he was doing now that he was no longer working full-time. “I describe myself as a visitor,” the man replied. “I go see people in our church and community who are in the hospital or care facilities, living alone, or just need someone to talk and pray with them. And I enjoy doing it!” My friend was impressed by this man’s clear sense of purpose and his care for others.
As my wife was babysitting our two young grandsons, they began to argue over a toy. Suddenly, the younger (by 3 years) forcefully ordered his older brother, “Cameron, go to your room!” Shoulders slumped under the weight of the reprimand, the dejected older brother began to slink off to his room when my wife said, “Cameron, you don’t have to go to your room. Nathan’s not the boss of you!” That realization changed everything, and Cam, smiling, sat back down to play.
Beep, beep, beep, beep. The warning sound and flashing lights alerted commuters that the train door was about to close. Yet a few tardy individuals still made a frenzied scramble across the platform and onto the train. The door closed on one of them. Thankfully, it rebounded and the passenger boarded the train safely. I wondered why people took such risks when the next train would arrive in a mere 4 minutes.
A US congressman, John Lewis, was 23 years old when he participated in the historic 1963 civil rights “March on Washington” led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Half a century later, journalist Bill Moyers asked Lewis how he was affected by Dr. King’s I Have A Dream speech that day. Mr. Lewis replied, “You couldn’t leave after hearing him speak and go back to business as usual. You had to do something, you had to act. You had to move. You had to go out and spread the good news.”
In the years following the American Civil War (1861–1865), Union Major General Lew Wallace served as a governor of the New Mexico territories; New Mexico not yet having been admitted as a state. His work there put him in contact with many of the characters that make up the Wild West’s near-mythic history, including Billy the Kid and Sheriff Pat Garrett. It was here that Wallace wrote what has been called by some “the most influential Christian book” of the 19th century, Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ.
One of my favorite collections of photos is of a family dinner. Preserved in an album are images of Dad, his sons and their wives, and his grandchildren in a time of thanks-giving and intercession.
At the beginning of the academic year, a school principal in our city pledged to learn the names of all 600 students in her school. Anyone who doubted her ability or resolve could look at her track record. During the previous year she had learned the names of 700 students, and prior to that, 400 children in a different school. Think of what it must have meant to these students to be recognized and greeted by name.
Charles Wesley (1707–1788) was a Methodist evangelist who wrote more than 9,000 hymns and sacred poems. Some, like “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing,” are great, soaring hymns of praise. But his poem “Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild,” first published in 1742, is a child’s quiet prayer that captures the essence of how all of us should seek the Lord in sincere, simple faith.
After the terrorist attack and the collapse of the Twin Towers in New York City on September 11, 2001, Cynthia Otto took care of the search-and-rescue dogs. Years later she established a Working Dog Center where young pups are put through specialized training to prepare them to help victims of disaster.
When Deng Jinjie saw people struggling in the water of the Sunshui River in the Hunan province of China, he didn’t just walk by. In an act of heroism, he jumped into the water and helped save four members of a family. Unfortunately, the family left the area while he was still in the water. Sadly, Jinjie, exhausted from his rescue efforts, was overwhelmed and swept away by the river current and drowned.
The Bavarian city of Nördlingen is unique. It sits in the middle of the Ries Crater, a large circular depression caused by the impact of a huge meteorite a long time ago. The immense pressure of the impact resulted in unusual crystallized rock and millions of microscopic diamonds. In the 13th century, these speckled stones were used to build St. George’s Church. Visitors can see the beautiful crystal deposits in its foundation and walls. Some might say it has a heavenly foundation.
According to an African fable, four fingers and a thumb lived together on a hand. They were inseparable friends. One day, they noticed a gold ring lying next to them and conspired to take it. The thumb said it would be wrong to steal the ring, but the four fingers called him a self-righteous coward and refused to be his friend. That was just fine with the thumb; he wanted nothing to do with their mischief. This is why, the legend goes, the thumb still stands separate from the other fingers.
When Kelly Steinhaus visited Harvard Square to ask college students what they thought of Jesus, the answers were respectful of Him. One said He was “a person who took care of people.” Another said, “He sounds like a cool guy.” Others rejected Him outright: “He was just a guy. I don’t think He was the Savior.” And “I do not accept any faith system that says, ‘I am the only way to God.’” Some people thoughtfully question who Jesus is and some reject Him.
Many consider the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates as the father of Western medicine. He understood the importance of following moral principles in the practice of medicine, and is credited with writing the Hippocratic Oath, which still serves as an ethical guide for today’s medical doctors. One key concept of the oath is “to do no harm.” It implies that a physician will do only what he thinks will benefit his patients.
While visiting the charming Cotswold area of England, I purchased some bone china mugs as souvenirs. I used them carefully, but eventually one fell into the sink and shattered. I thought about that mug recently when I learned about the Japanese art of Kintsugi.
The Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom are stored securely and protected within the Tower of London under 24-hour guard. Each year, millions visit the display area to “ooh and aah” over these ornate treasures. The Crown Jewels symbolize the power of the kingdom, as well as the prestige and position of those who use them.
My office is downstairs, but I make frequent trips upstairs to various rooms in my house for one thing or another. Unfortunately, by the time I get upstairs I often forget what I was planning to do when I got there. Researcher Gabriel Radvansky has come up with an explanation for this phenomenon. He proposes that a doorway serves as an “event boundary.”
The name of the southeastern Asian nation of Indonesia is formed by combining two Greek words which together mean “island.” That name is appropriate because Indonesia is made up of more than 17,500 islands spanning nearly 750,000 square miles. Indonesia—an appropriate name for a nation of islands.
Human beings straddle visible and invisible realities—the natural and the supernatural. I thought about these two worlds when I went out in a boat to watch whales off the coast of New Zealand. A whale would rest on the surface for a while, then breathe deeply a few times, his exhalations creating a spectacular spout, before plunging a mile deep to feed on squid.
In the ancient Near East a treaty between a superior (a lord or king) and an inferior (his subjects) was called a suzerain treaty. The ratification ceremony required animals to be sacrificed and cut in half. The animal parts were then arranged in two rows on the ground, forming an aisle between them. As the suzerain walked between the halves, he was publicly declaring he would keep the covenant and would become like the slain animals if he failed to keep his word.
Former major league baseball player Tony Graffanino tells of an ongoing ministry effort in a European country. Each year his organization holds a week-long baseball camp. During this week they also offer a daily Bible study. In past years, the leader tried to find reasoned ways to convince the campers that God exists so they would place their faith in Him. After about 13 years, they had seen only 3 people decide to follow Jesus.
At a communion service my wife and I attended, the congregation was invited to come forward to receive the bread and cup from one of the pastors or elders. They told each one personally of Jesus’ sacrifice for him or her. It was an especially moving experience during what can often become just routine. After we returned to our seats, I watched as others slowly and quietly filed past. It was striking to see how many had tears in their eyes. For me, and for others I talked with later, they were tears of gratitude.
Following the death of computer pioneer Steve Jobs in 2011, more than one million people from around the world posted tributes to him online. The common theme was how Jobs had changed their lives. They said they lived differently because of his creative innovations, and they wanted to express their appreciation and their sorrow. The screen of one tablet computer said in large letters: iSad.
Molly wanted her dad’s help, but she was afraid to ask. She knew that when he was working on his computer, he didn’t want to be interrupted. He might get upset at me, she thought, so she didn’t ask him.
The video starts with a puppy at the top of the stairs afraid to go down. Despite much encouragement from people cheering at the bottom, Daisy can’t figure it out. She wants so badly to join them, but fear keeps her pacing the landing. Then a bigger dog comes to help. Simon runs up the steps and then back down, showing Daisy how easy it is. Daisy is not convinced. Simon tries again. This time more slowly. Then he watches Daisy try again. But Daisy still is too scared. Once again Simon goes to the top and demonstrates the technique. Finally Daisy dares to let her back legs follow the front ones. Simon stays beside her. She makes it. Everyone celebrates!
Managing a saltwater aquarium, I discovered, is no easy task. I had to run a portable chemical laboratory to monitor nitrate levels and ammonia content. I pumped in vitamins and antibiotics and sulfa drugs and enzymes. I filtered the water through glass fibers and charcoal.
I was traveling with some men when we spotted a family stranded alongside the road. My friends immediately pulled over to help. They got the car running, talked with the father and mother of the family, and gave them some money for gasoline. When the mother thanked them over and over, they replied, “We’re glad to help out, and we do it in Jesus’ name.” As we drove away, I thought how natural it was for these friends to help people in need and acknowledge the Lord as the source of their generosity.
I’ll never forget the Easter Sunday in 1993 when Bernhard Langer won the Masters golf tournament. As he stepped off the 18th green to receive the green jacket—one of golf’s most coveted prizes—a reporter said, “This must be the greatest day of your life!” Without missing a beat, Langer replied: “It’s wonderful to win the greatest tournament in the world, but it means more to win on Easter Sunday—to celebrate the resurrection of my Lord and Savior.”
Laura Brooks, a 52-year-old mother of two, didn’t know it but she was one of 14,000 people in 2011 whose name was incorrectly entered into the government database as dead. She wondered what was wrong when she stopped receiving disability checks, and her loan payments and her rent checks bounced. She went to the bank to clear up the issue, but the representative told her that her accounts had been closed because she was dead! Obviously, they were mistaken.
My youngest brother, Scott, was born when I was a senior in high school. This age difference made for an interesting situation when he grew to college age. On his first trip to his college campus, I went along with him and our mom. When we arrived, people thought we were Scott Crowder and his dad and his grandmom. Eventually, we gave up correcting them. No matter what we said or did, our actual relationships were overridden by this humorous case of mistaken identity.
During a television news report on the plight of refugees displaced from a war-torn country, I was struck by the words of a 10-year-old girl. Despite there being little possibility of returning to their home, she showed a resilient spirit: “When we go back, I’m going to visit my neighbors; I’m going to play with my friends,” she said with quiet determination. “My father says we don’t have a house. And I said we are going to fix it.”
One day, my 3-year-old granddaughter Katie surprised her mom and dad with a bit of theological expertise. She said to them, “You both had sisters who died. Then God took them up to heaven to be with Him. Isn’t God powerful!”
In Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is a remarkable natural wonder—a pool about 40 feet deep and 300 feet across that Native Americans called “Kitch-iti-kipi,” or “the big cold water.” Today it is known as The Big Spring. It is fed by underground springs that push more than 10,000 gallons of water a minute through the rocks below and up to the surface. Additionally, the water keeps a constant temperature of 45 degrees Fahrenheit, meaning that even in the brutally cold winters of the Upper Peninsula the pool never freezes. Tourists can enjoy viewing the waters of Big Spring during any season of the year.
Books on leadership often appear on best-seller lists. Most of them tell how to become a powerful and effective leader. But Henri Nouwen’s book In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership is written from a different perspective. The former university professor who spent many years serving in a community of developmentally disabled adults says: “The question is not: How many people take you seriously? How much are you going to accomplish? Can you show some results? But: Are you in love with Jesus? . . . In our world of loneliness and despair, there is an enormous need for men and women who know the heart of God, a heart that forgives, that cares, that reaches out and wants to heal.”
Legendary basketball coach John Wooden (1910–2010) believed that character is far more important than reputation. “Your reputation is what you’re perceived to be by others,” Coach Wooden often told his players, “but your character is what you really are. You’re the only one that knows your character. You can fool others, but you can’t fool yourself.”
St. Nicholas Church in Galway, Ireland, has both a long history and an active present. It’s the oldest church in Ireland, and it provides guidance in a very practical way. The church towers over the town, and its steeple is used by ships’ captains as a guide for navigating their way safely into Galway Bay. For centuries, this church has reliably pointed the way home for sailors.
My wife, Martie, is a great cook. After a long day I often look forward to the smell of spicy aromas that promise a tasty feast. Not only does she know how to prepare a meal, but she is also a master at the presentation. The colors of the food on the plate, beautifully arranged in a harmony of meat, white puffy rice, and vegetables welcome me to pull up my chair and enjoy her handiwork. But the food was not so attractive before she got her hands on it. The meat was raw and squishy, the rice was hard and brittle, and the vegetables needed to be scrubbed and trimmed.
In the Czech Republic and other places, the Christmas celebration includes “Christingles.” A Christingle is an orange, representing the world, with a candle placed in the top of it to symbolize Christ the light of the world. A red ribbon encircles the orange, symbolizing the blood of Jesus. Four toothpicks with dried fruits are placed through the ribbon into the sides of the orange, representing the fruits of the earth.
Simon had emigrated from the Netherlands to the United States. His wife, Kay, and all three of their children had been born in the US. Then Jenny married Roberto from Panama. Bill married Vania from Portugal. And Lucas married Bora from South Korea.
Eunice McGarrahan gave an inspiring talk on Christian discipleship in which she said, “A costume is something you put on and pretend that you are what you are wearing. A uniform, on the other hand, reminds you that you are, in fact, what you wear.”
In December each year, a neighborhood of 13 families near where we live sets up a dazzling display of 300,000 Christmas lights. People drive for miles and wait in line for hours to see the flashing, colorful lights and hear the music that is programmed to go with it. The sound-and-light display is so elaborate that it requires a network of 64 computers to keep everything synchronized.
During the Christmas season we wait. We wait in traffic. We wait in checkout lines to purchase gifts. We wait for family to arrive. We wait to gather around a table filled with our favorite foods. We wait to open presents lovingly chosen.
East Africa is one of the driest places on earth, which is what makes “Nairobi” such a significant name for a city in that region. The name comes from a Masai phrase meaning “cold water,” and it literally means “the place of water.”
On a trip to Massachusetts, my husband and I visited Plymouth Rock, an iconic symbol in the United States. It is traditionally thought to be the place where the Pilgrims, who traveled to America on the Mayflower in 1620, first set foot. While we enjoyed learning about its significance, we were surprised and disappointed that it is so small. We learned that due to erosion and people chipping off pieces, it is now just one-third its original size.
During the 2012 US presidential campaign, television coverage of speeches and debates often included “fact checking” by analysts who compared the candidates’ statements with their actual records. Were they telling the truth or manipulating the facts to their advantage?
Chris Simpson’s life used to be consumed by hate. After he and his wife lost their first child, he was confused and angry. He directed that anger toward various ethnic groups and covered his body with hate-filled tattoos.
When Mother Teresa died in 1997, people marveled again at her example of humble service to Christ and to people in great need. She had spent 50 years ministering to the poor, sick, orphaned, and dying through the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta, India.
Everything in this world eventually comes to an end, which at times can be disheartening. It’s the feeling you get when you read a book that’s so good you don’t want it to end. Or when you watch a movie that you wish would go on a little while longer.
Throughout London, there are statues and other items made from a unique building material called Coade stone. Developed by Eleanor Coade for her family business in the late 1700s, this artificial stone is virtually indestructible and has the capacity to withstand time, weather, and man-made pollution. Though it was a marvel during the Industrial Revolution, Coade stone was phased out in the 1840s following Eleanor’s death, and it was replaced by Portland cement as a building material. In spite of that, however, there remain today dozens of examples of this sturdy, ceramic-like stone that have withstood the harsh London environment for over 150 years.
If you like growing pumpkins, you have probably heard of Dill’s Atlantic Giant variety of premium pumpkin seeds. Developed on a family farm in Atlantic Canada, the pumpkins grown from these seeds have set records around the world. In 2011, a pumpkin grown in Quebec set a new world record at 1,818.5 pounds (825 kg). That size of pumpkin could yield almost 1,000 pieces of pie!
The book To Marry an English Lord chronicles the 19th-century phenomenon of rich American heiresses who sought marriages to British aristocracy. Although they were already wealthy, they wanted the social status of royalty. The book begins with Prince Albert, son of Queen Victoria, going to the United States to pay a social call. A mass of wealthy heiresses flood into a ball arranged for Prince Albert, each hoping to become his royal bride.
Visitors to Colorado often become dehydrated without realizing it. The dry climate and intense sun, especially in the mountains, can rapidly deplete the body’s fluids. That’s why many tourist maps and signs urge people to drink plenty of water.
Years ago, world-famous evangelist Billy Graham was scheduled to speak at Cambridge University in England, but he did not feel qualified to address the sophisticated thinkers. He had no advanced degrees and he had never attended seminary. Billy confided in a close friend: “I do not know that I have ever felt more inadequate and totally unprepared for a mission.” He prayed for God’s help, and God used him to share the simple truth of the gospel and the cross of Christ.
When a wildfire raged through the beautiful canyons near Colorado Springs, Colorado, it destroyed the habitat of all kinds of wildlife and hundreds of homes. People across the nation cried out to God, pleading with Him to send rain to douse the flames, put an end to the destruction, and give firefighters relief. Some people’s prayers had an interesting condition attached to them. They asked God to show mercy and send rain without lightning, which they feared would start even more fires.
Sometimes cleaning out Grandpa’s attic pays off. For an Ohio man, it paid off in the discovery of a more than 100-year-old set of mint-condition baseball cards. Appraisers placed the cards’ value at $3 million.
Frank, Ted, and I were fishing for bluegill on Rice Lake in Ontario, Canada. We were on a pontoon boat, and the fish were really biting. Busy baiting and hooking, we slowly became aware that the action had slacked off. Then we realized why: The boat was no longer sitting where we had put it. A strong wind had come up and pushed it across the water. The anchor could not hold us and was sliding across the lake bottom. We hauled it up, returned to our hot spot, and re-anchored. We were moved away again. After a third try, we went back to shore. We could not get our anchor to grab and stick.
So many predictions of the end of the world have come and gone. Those predictions are unsettling and often fill people with fear. Yet the Bible does refer to a time called “the day of the Lord” when He will return. It will happen, but only God knows when.
As a Jewish kid growing up in New York, Michael Brown had no interest in spiritual things. His life revolved around being a drummer for a band, and he got mixed up with drugs. But then some friends invited him to church, where he found the love and prayers of the people to be irresistible. After a short spiritual struggle, Michael trusted Jesus as Savior.
As our final project for a high school earth science class, a friend and I built a stream table. With extensive help from my father, we built a long plywood box with a hinge in the middle. Then we lined it with plastic and filled it with sand. At one end we attached a hose. At the other end was a drainage hole. After assembling all of it, we raised one end of the stream table, turned on the water, and watched as it created a path directly to the hole at the other end. The next part of the experiment was to place a rock in the stream and watch how it changed the path of the water.
When our kids were teens, we repeatedly had the following discussion after their church youth group meeting: I asked, “How was youth group tonight?” And they responded, “It was boring.” After several weeks of this, I decided to find out for myself. I slipped into the gym where their meeting was held, and I watched. I saw them participating, laughing, listening—having a great time. That night on the way home I asked about their evening and, once again, they said, “It was boring.” I responded, “I was there. I watched. You had a great time!” They responded, “Maybe it wasn’t as bad as usual.”
Deborah Kendrick loves to attend Broadway musicals even though she is blind and always struggles to understand the setting and the movements of the characters onstage. Recently, however, she attended a play that used D-Scriptive, a new technology that conveys the visual elements of the stage production through a small FM receiver. A recorded narration, keyed to the show’s light and sound boards, describes the set and the action as it unfolds onstage. Writing in The Columbus Dispatch, Deborah said, “If you ask me if I saw a show last week in New York, my answer is yes . . . I genuinely, unequivocally mean that I saw the show.”
James Madison, fourth president of the United States, was instrumental in the drafting of the US constitution. He warned against creating laws “so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood.” Based on some of the complicated government forms I’ve read, that’s advice that still needs to be heeded a little more often!
Watchman Nee was arrested for his faith in Christ in 1952, and he spent the rest of his life in prison. He died in his jail cell on May 30, 1972. When his niece came to collect his few possessions, she was given a scrap of paper that a guard had found by his bed. On it was written his life’s testimony:
When I was pastoring a small church, we faced a huge crisis. Unless we could complete the extensive renovations necessary to bring our building up to the proper safety codes, we would lose our place of worship. A desperate time of fundraising ensued to pay for those renovations; but of all the money given, one gift captured our leadership’s attention.
The Mission Point Lighthouse was built in 1870 on a peninsula in Northern Michigan to warn ships of sand bars and rocky shores along Lake Michigan. That lighthouse got its name from another kind of lighthouse, a mission church, which was built 31 years earlier.
For our grandson’s birthday, my wife baked and decorated a gigantic chocolate chip cookie to serve at his party. She got out her cookbook, gathered the ingredients, and began to follow the simple steps involved in making cookies. She followed a simple recipe and everything turned out well.
When you buy a nice piece of jewelry, it is often tucked into a setting of black- or dark-colored velvet. I think it’s designed that way so that your attention is immediately drawn to the beauty of the jewelry. If the packaging were highly decorated, it would compete with the beauty of the treasure.
Leah must have laid awake all night thinking of the moment when her new husband would awaken. She knew that it was not her face he expected to see, but Rachel’s. Jacob had been a victim of deception, and when he realized that a “bait and switch” had occurred, he quickly made a new deal with Laban to claim the woman he had been promised (Gen. 29:25-27).
Manuel Gonzalez was the first rescue worker to reach the 33 miners trapped for 69 days in a Chilean mine explosion in 2010. At great risk to his own life, he went underground more than 2,000 feet to bring the trapped men back to the surface. The world watched in amazement as one by one each miner was rescued and transported to freedom.
The expression “red tape” describes the annoying way that bureaucracy prevents things from getting done. Originally, the phrase referred to the common practice of binding official documents with red ribbon. In the early 1800s, the term was popularized by the writings of Scottish historian Thomas Carlyle, who was protesting governmental foot-dragging. Following the American Civil War, the problem of “red tape” resurfaced as war veterans struggled to receive their benefits. The term denotes frustration and disappointment because of the burdensome hurdles it erects to accomplishing goals.
A prisoner who survived 14 years in a Cuban jail told how he kept his spirits up and his hope alive: “I had no window in my cell, and so I mentally constructed one on the door. I ‘saw’ in my mind a beautiful scene from the mountains, with water tumbling down a ravine over rocks. It became so real to me that I would visualize it without effort every time I looked at the cell door.”
Every age has its own thoughts, ideas, and values that influence the culture, the “spirit of the age.” It is the kind of growing consensus that morally lulls us to sleep, gradually causing us to accept society’s latest values.
Before the electronic gadgets and distractions of today, the long summer days of my boyhood were brightened each week when the bookmobile arrived. It was a bus lined with book-filled shelves that were transported from the regional library to neighborhoods so that those without transportation could access them. Because of the bookmobile, I spent many a happy summer day reading books that would otherwise have been inaccessible. To this day, I am thankful for the love of books that the bookmobile fostered in me.
A popular song from years ago titled “From a Distance” envisions a world of harmony and peace. It says, “God is watching us from a distance.” Indeed God is watching us, but not from a distance. He is present, in the room with you, right in front of you, gazing at you with unbounded love in His eyes.
I met a man who was absolutely convinced that God couldn’t forgive him for the things he’d done. An older man took him under his wing, and a year later, I was delighted that the younger man had not only accepted Jesus as his Savior but was also consuming Scripture ravenously. Three years later, though, when I talked with him, I noticed that his enthusiasm had been replaced by grumbling: “I just don’t understand how God can let evil people prosper while so many of His children (including himself, he might have added) are struggling to make ends meet.” The grumbling ate at the joy of his faith.
One day when I was in downtown Chicago, I hailed a taxi. Once inside, I noticed several advertisements for a New Age guru posted on the seat in front of me. The driver claimed that this mystic was the “divine one” for our day. He believed that God appointed various leaders throughout the ages, and that Jesus had merely been the appointee for His time.
Not long ago my wife’s car needed to be towed. When I explained to the man at the towing company how to find our home, I instructed him to tell the driver not to follow his global positioning system (GPS). Because another street with the same name as ours was separated from our home address by a field, special instructions were necessary. He assured me he would pass on my directions.
I’m fascinated with history, so I eagerly watched a television special on England’s great King Arthur. A theme surfaced as each historian acknowledged that there were no eyewitness accounts nor historical evidence to support the story of King Arthur, his knights, and their Round Table. Repeatedly, the story was referred to as “legend” or “mythology.” It appears that the story is merely a legend woven together over centuries from fragments of other stories.
Ed Dobson, my former pastor, often said that he disliked preaching about financial giving to the church. He said his previous job required fundraising, so he didn’t like putting any unnecessary pressure on people. But when he was teaching through 2 Corinthians, and he came to chapters 8 and 9, he couldn’t avoid the topic of giving. What I remember most about his sermon was the illustration he used. He placed an offering plate on the floor, stepped into it, and stood there as he talked about the importance of giving our whole selves to the Lord, not just our wallets.
In June 2011, when disastrous flood- waters chased residents of Minot, North Dakota, from their homes, the people of that community did what seemed to come naturally to them—they helped others who were in need. People from more than an hour away, without being asked, showed up to help. Some loaned their campers to those who lost their homes and others allowed their garages to be used for temporary storage. The people of North Dakota were showing what it means to be good neighbors.
When I was a child, someone close to me thought they could motivate me to do better by frequently asking me, “Why are you so stupid?” I didn’t know how much this had affected me until I was a teenager and heard someone behind me say, “Stupid!” At the word, I quickly turned around, thinking he was talking to me.
The Masters Tournament is one of the most prestigious in professional golf. In 2009, Kenny Perry placed second after leading during the final round. Writing in The New York Times, Bill Pennington described Perry as “disappointed but not despondent” after the loss. “I’ll look back on it occasionally and wonder what I might have done differently, but I won’t dwell on it,” Perry said. “If this is the worst thing that happens in my life, I’ve got it pretty good. I won’t let it dog me. There are so many other things in life that matter more . . . . I’ll go home tonight with my family and we’ll have fun.”
In his book Stuntman! My Car-Crashing, Plane-Jumping, Bone-Breaking, Death-Defying Hollywood Life, Hal Needham reflects on taking risks. Needham has slugged it out in fist fights, raced cars at high speed, walked on wings of airborne planes, fallen off horses, and has even been set on fire! He risked his life to entertain film audiences and to distinguish himself as a top Hollywood stuntman.
Through the years, quite a few people have predicted the return of Jesus at a specific time. Just last year an American radio preacher stirred up the interest of the mainstream media with his prediction that Jesus would return on May 21, 2011.
A couple who brought their elderly aunt to live with them were concerned that she would not feel at home. So they transformed a room in their house into an exact replica of her bedroom at the home she left behind. When their aunt arrived, her furniture, wall hangings, and other favorite things felt like a special “Welcome home!” to her.
The Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard (1813–1855) wrote: “If I were to wish for anything, I should not wish for wealth and power, but . . . for the eye which, ever young and ardent, sees the possible.”
Years ago, when I was a student at the University of California at Berkeley, I developed a friendship with a fellow student who had suffered a terrible loss. His child had died and his wife had left him because she couldn’t deal with the pain.
The Devil and Daniel Webster” is a short story by Stephen Vincent Benet. In it, Jabez Stone, a New England farmer, has such “bad luck” that he sells his soul to the devil to become prosperous. Eventually, the devil comes to collect Jabez’s debt. But the eminent lawyer Daniel Webster is called in to defend him. Through a skillful series of arguments, Webster wins the case against the devil, and Jabez is saved from perdition.
Steve was just an ordinary guy. He quietly served in a church I attended years ago. He helped prepare communion, shoveled the church sidewalks in the winter, and mowed the lawn in the summer. He spent time with teenage boys who had no fathers in the home. I often heard him telling people at church in his quiet way how good the Lord was to him. During prayer meeting he didn’t talk much about himself but would ask us to pray for those he was telling about Jesus’ forgiveness and love.
Now that my daughter is learning to talk, she has adopted a favorite word: more. She will say “more” and point to toast with jam. She held out her palm and said “More!” when my husband gave her some coins for her piggy bank. She even exclaimed, “More Daddy!” one morning after her father left for work.
It seems we most often think about how we can glorify God through our lives when we are active and strong. But I wonder if we should also consider how we might glorify God through our death.
Charles Finney, a 29-year-old lawyer, was concerned about his soul’s salvation. On October 10, 1821, he retreated to a wooded area near his home for a time of prayer. While there, he had a profound conversion experience. He wrote: “The Holy Spirit . . . seemed to go through me, body and soul. . . . Indeed it seemed to come in waves of liquid love.”
Everybody was wrong about the ark of the covenant (an item in the tabernacle that represented the throne of God). After losing a battle to the Philistines, Israel sent messengers to Shiloh to ask that the ark be hauled to Ebenezer, the site of their army camp.
Years ago I came to know a young man who rode with a motorcycle gang. He had grown up on a mission field where his parents served. When his family returned to the US, he seemed unable to adjust to life. He lived a troubled existence and was killed in a street fight with a rival gang.
A friend described his grandmother as one of the greatest influences in his life. Throughout his adult years, he has kept her portrait next to his desk to remind himself of her unconditional love. “I really do believe,” he said, “that she helped me learn how to love.”
On November 24, 1971, a man known today as D. B. Cooper hijacked a commercial flight between Portland and Seattle by threatening to blow up the plane unless he received $200,000. After landing to receive a ransom, he ordered the plane back into the air. Then the rear stairs of the 727 aircraft were lowered, and he parachuted into the night. He was never captured, and the case is still unsolved. This act hastened the age of airport security in which trust and confidence have been replaced by suspicion and fear. What he did affected us all.
My cable company sent a postcard inviting me to check out its latest improvements in TV channels. The card indicated that I needed to contact the company to get the necessary new digital equipment and explained how to hook it up and activate it. After that, the ad said I was just to “sit back and enjoy the World of More.”
Ilove to walk Idaho’s paths and trails and enjoy its grandeur and picturesque beauty. I’m often reminded that these treks are symbolic of our spiritual journey, for the Christian life is simply walking—with Jesus alongside as our companion and guide. He walked through the land of Israel from one end to the other, gathering disciples, saying to them, “Follow Me” (Matt. 4:19).
While awaiting a routine medical procedure in a local hospital, I noticed a wall plaque showing Christ on a cross. Later, a nurse asked me several administrative questions, in-cluding, “Do you have any spiritual needs you’d like to discuss with a chaplain?” I said that I appreciated her asking that question, which I found unusual in today’s world. She replied with a smile that they are a faith-based hospital and “that’s part of our mission.” I was impressed that the people were not afraid to be who they are in an increasingly secular and pluralistic society.
It’s my first day on the tractor! A crisp morning breeze brushes across the field. Crickets and country silence yield to the roar of the engine. Dropping the plow into the soil, I head out across the field. I look down at the gauges and gearshift, squeeze the cold steel of the steering wheel, and admire the power at my disposal. Finally, I look back to view the results. Instead of the ramrod straight line I was expecting, I see what looks like a slithering snake, with more bends and curves than the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
While in Brazil, I went to see Iguazu Falls, one of the greatest waterfalls in the world. The massive falls are breathtaking, but what impressed me most at Iguazu was not the sight of the falls or the spray of the water. It was the sound. The sound was beyond deafening—I felt as if I was actually inside the sound itself. It was an overwhelming experience that reminded me how small I am by comparison.
Ted, one of the elders in our church, used to be a police officer. One day after responding to a report of violence, he said the situation turned life-threatening. A man had stabbed someone and then menacingly turned the blade toward Ted. A fellow officer had taken position and fired his weapon at the assailant as he attacked Ted. The criminal was subdued, but Ted was shot in the crossfire. As he was driven by ambulance to the hospital, he felt deep waves of peace flowing over his soul from the Holy Spirit. Ted felt so tranquil that he was able to offer words of comfort to the law enforcement officer who was emotionally distraught over the crisis.
A case before the US Supreme Court focused on whether a religious symbol, specifically a cross, should be allowed on public land. Mark Sherman, writing for the Associated Press, said that although the cross in question was erected in 1934 as a memorial to soldiers who died in World War I, one veteran’s group that opposed it called the cross “a powerful Christian symbol” and “not a symbol of any other religion.”
We live in an age dominated by all kinds of public opinion polls. Decisions are being driven by the crowd, and some of that is good. Surveys can inform us about people’s experiences with products, helping us make wiser purchases. Opinion polls can give government officials a sense of how their policy initiatives will be received. While information gleaned is a matter of personal opinion, it can be helpful in shaping decision-making on a variety of levels.
In his book Through the Valley of the Kwai, Scottish officer Ernest Gordon wrote of his years as a prisoner of war during World War II. The 6' 2" man suffered from malaria, diphtheria, typhoid, beriberi, dysentery, and jungle ulcers, and the hard labor and scarcity of food quickly plunged his weight to less than 100 pounds.
Ienjoy playing golf, so I occasionally watch instructional videos. One such video, however, left me disappointed. The teacher presented a golf swing that had at least 8 steps and a dozen sub-points under each step. That was just too much information!
In the aftermath of Haiti’s devastat- ing earthquake in January 2010, the scenes of destruction and death were often punctuated by someone being pulled alive from the rubble, even after all hope seemed gone. Relief and tears of joy were followed by deep gratitude toward those who worked around the clock, often risking their own lives to give someone else another chance to live.
Weddings have long been an occasion for extravagance. Modern weddings have become a chance for young women to live out the fantasy of being “a princess for a day.” An elegant gown, an elaborate hairstyle, attendants in color-coordinated dresses, bouquets of flowers, an abundance of food, and lots of celebrating with friends and family contribute to the fairytale atmosphere. Many parents start saving early so they can afford the high cost of making their daughter’s dream come true. And royal weddings take extravagance to a level that we “commoners” seldom see. In 1981, however, many of us got a peek at one when the wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana was broadcast worldwide.
In some cultures, the title below your name on your business card is very important. It identifies your rank. The way you are treated depends on your title as compared with others around you.
Afriend of mine pastors a church in a small mountain community not far from Boise, Idaho. The community is nestled in a wooded valley through which a pleasant little stream meanders. Behind the church and alongside the stream is a grove of willows, a length of grass, and a sandy beach. It’s an idyllic spot that has long been a place where members of the community gather to picnic.
Whenever my wife, Martie, and I get ready to go on vacation, we like to read about our destination, study the maps, and anticipate the joy of finally arriving at the place we’ve dreamed about for so long.
The road was smooth and we were making good progress as we headed for Jay’s dad’s house in South Carolina. As we drove through the mountains in Tennessee, I began seeing detour signs. But Jay kept going, so I assumed that they didn’t apply to us. Shortly before we reached the North Carolina border, we came to a sign that said the highway ahead was closed due to a rock slide. We would have to turn around. Jay was surprised. “Why wasn’t there any warning?” he wanted to know. “There were lots of warnings,” I said. “Didn’t you see the signs?” “No,” he said, “why didn’t you mention them?” “I assumed that you saw them,” I answered. We now tell this story to entertain our friends.
The Gran Telescopio Canarias, one of the world’s most powerful telescopes, sits atop an extinct volcano on La Palma, Canary Islands. Inaugurated in July 2009 by King Carlos of Spain, it offers astronomers an unusually clear view of the heavens. Located at 7,870 feet, the telescope is above the cloud cover, where the prevailing winds are dry and turbulence-free. Here, near the equator, scientists can study all of the Northern Celestial Hemisphere and part of the Southern.
Whenever I read the Gospels, I identify with the disciples. Like me, they seemed slow to catch on. Jesus kept saying things like “Don’t you understand it yet?” and “Are you still so dull?” (see Mark 7:18). Finally, however, Peter “got it,” at least one part of it. When Jesus asked, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Christ” (8:29).
In the hectic downtown of one of Asia’s great cities, I marveled at the busy sidewalks filled with people. There seemed to be no room to move in the crush of humanity, yet it also seemed that everyone was moving at top speed.
Newgrange is a 5,000-year-old burial passage tomb in Ireland. Built by the members of a farming community in Ireland’s Boyne Valley, this magnificent structure covers more than an acre of land. It was a place where people went to struggle with the issue of death. It is best known for the beam of sunlight that moves through the chamber for 17 minutes each day from December 19 to 23 during the winter solstice, the shortest days of the year. Some say it serves as a powerful symbol of the victory of life over death.
Have you heard of the “Christocentric Principle” of biblical understanding? Simply put, it means that everything we know about God, angels, Satan, human hopes, and the whole universe is best understood when viewed in relationship to Jesus Christ. He is at the center.
Not many years ago, we watched as the “WWJD” craze swept through the Christian community. The bracelet-emblazoned theme “What Would Jesus Do?” was a valuable reminder to many people that we should consider the heart and mind of Jesus when making choices. As we seek to live in a way that honors the Savior, it is appropriate to measure our attitudes and decisions against the example our Lord set for us.
When we wash our hands to clean off the grime and germs, do we actually clean them ourselves? No and yes. To be precise, the soap and water does the job—not us. But we make the choice to use the soap and water to clean our hands.
Seventeenth-century Quaker leader Isaac Pennington said, “The Lord has been teaching me to live upon Himself—not from anything received from Him, but upon the life itself.” The people in John 6 wanted to live off Jesus, but not for the same reason. It was not because their hearts were loyal to Him, but because their hearts were loyal to what they thought He could provide for them—namely, food and deliverance from Roman oppression.
Several years ago, I was driving down the freeway when my car died. I pulled over to the side of the road, got out of the car, and opened the hood. As I looked at the engine I thought, A lot of good this does me. I know nothing about cars. I don’t even know where to start!
When people ask Michael St. Jacques, a Franciscan brother, what he’s wearing, he says, “It’s called a habit.” He wears the distinctive brown robe for a definite reason. St. Jacques told Hemispheres magazine, “We have the choice to wear it, and a lot of us make a real effort to because it acts as a magnet. People tell me things they’ve never told anyone. Complete strangers will confess something they did 30 years ago and ask if God can forgive them.” You might say that Michael is clothed in “approachability.”
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.
In his book The First Man, James Hansen chronicles Neil Armstrong’s flight to the moon. The author explains how each astronaut was asked to fill out a report upon completion of the flight. The report listed how they traveled from Houston, Texas, to Cape Kennedy, Florida, to the Moon, to the Pacific Ocean, to Hawaii, and returned to Houston, Texas. What a list of destinations!
Many churches celebrate the first Sunday in October as World Communion Sunday. It is a time to observe the Lord’s Supper with a special awareness of celebrating together with our brothers and sisters in Christ around the globe. On this day, being with a community of believers has become very meaningful to me.
In my college years I worked as a guide, taking boys on treks into Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. On one occasion one of my hikers—a small, slow chap—lagged behind and took the wrong fork on a trail. When we arrived at our campsite he was nowhere to be found. I frantically went out to search for him.
One of my boyhood hobbies was building model planes. Every time I opened a new box, the first thing I saw was the instructions, but I didn’t think I needed to follow them. In my mind I knew exactly how to put the model together. Not until I had glued a few pieces together did I realize I had skipped an important step, like putting the pilot in the cockpit.
Robert Lowry felt that preaching would be his greatest contribution in life. However, this 19th-century pastor is best remembered for his gospel music and hymns. Lowry composed words or music for more than 500 songs, including “Christ Arose,” “I Need Thee Every Hour,” and “Shall We Gather at the River?”
When the Pharisees came to Jesus with the woman caught in adultery and asked Him what should be done with her, He knelt for a moment and scribbled in the sand (John 8:6-11). We have no idea what He wrote. But when they continued asking Him, Jesus responded in one short sentence: “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first” (v.7). His few words accomplished much in confronting the Pharisees with their own sin, for they walked away one by one. Even today those words resound around the world.
Everything was quiet in our yard. While I worked at the patio table, our dog, Maggie, lay nearby in the grass. A slight rustling of dry leaves changed everything. Maggie made her move, and suddenly she was circling a tree, where a woodchuck clung tightly to the trunk.
When I heard that David was in the office for a board meeting, I was excited. He and I had a mutual friend, Sharon, who had died several years earlier. We had a few minutes to reminisce about her and her love for life and God. What a delight to connect with someone who has loved someone you have loved! There’s a special bond because you love to talk about that cherished person.
Recently I was in a crowded shop- ping area when I saw a woman plowing her way through the crowd. What intrigued me was the message on her T-shirt, which read in bold capital letters, it’s all about me. Her actions reinforced the words on her shirt.
The H1N1 pandemic focused the world’s attention on viruses. Viruses are living organisms that need a host to survive and wreak their havoc. In some cases, a virus can be present for many years before the host is even aware of it. During that time, the virus can inflict widespread and untold damage. Take it away from the host, and it remains dormant or dies.
When my kids were young, I thought they would be impressed with what few accomplishments I may have had—that they would read my books and be impressed by my speaking engagements. But then I discovered that they hadn’t read any of my books and had no idea where I had been on a speaking gig. When my oldest son finally read one of my books, he told me that the only reason he read it was so that I would stop telling people that my children have never read my books!
In 1776, the 13 British colonies in North America protested the limitations placed on them by the king of England and engaged in a struggle that gave birth to a brand-new republic. The infant nation soon adopted that now-famous document known as the Declaration of Independence.
When I first became a Christian and started attending church at age 19, I immediately fell in love with singing the great hymns of the faith. My heart overflowed with joy and thanksgiving as we sang of God’s love for us in Christ. Soon one of my favorite hymns (from the late 1600s) became “Fairest Lord Jesus!” I love the simplicity of the melody and the awesomeness of the One exalted in these words:
In his book Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, Oliver Sacks devotes a chapter to the therapeutic role of music with people suffering from Alzheimer’s. He writes of watching people with advanced dementia respond to songs that bring back memories that had seemed lost to them: “Faces assume expression as the old music is recognized and its emotional power felt. One or two people, perhaps, start to sing along, others join them and soon the entire group—many of them virtually speechless before—is singing together, as much as they are able.”
As a kid, I loved watching the film Little Lord Fauntleroy. The story focuses on Cedric, a boy growing up in a poor home with his mother in Brooklyn. He discovers the stunning news that he is actually the direct descendant of the Earl of Dorincourt and the heir of a vast fortune. One day he’s a nobody playing “kick the can” on the streets of New York, and then suddenly he’s traveling through an English town to the cries of “Your lordship!” from adoring villagers.
In 1948, the US Air Force Chief of Staff noticed that no one attended the funeral of an airman at Arlington National Cemetery, and that deeply disturbed him. He talked with his wife about his concern that each soldier be honored at burial, and she began a group called the Arlington Ladies.
When you walk into the bookstore and see a table filled with books on dieting, you know it must be January. After several weeks of overeating all kinds of holiday foods, people in many cultures turn their attention to not eating.
If you follow sports at all, you know that sports fans can change like the weather. A team’s star player can hear 70,000 cheering voices if he does well—or 70,000 booing voices if he messes up.
As a man of unwavering steadfastness, the apostle Paul had a fixed ambition. He spelled it out in his letter to the Philippians: "Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death" (1:20).
Health experts tell us we should drink at least 64 ounces of water each day. It may reduce the risk of heart attack, give our skin a healthy glow, and help us lose weight. We should drink even more water during exercise or if we live in a hot or dry climate. Even if we're not thirsty, we ought to drink water anyway.
In his book Folk Psalms of Faith, Pastor Ray Stedman says he wishes that all churchgoers could stand in the pulpit on a Sunday morning and watch the faces in the congregation during the sermon.