After being away on business, Terry wanted to pick up some small gifts for his children. The clerk at the airport gift shop recommended a number of costly items. “I don’t have that much money with me,” he said. “I need something less expensive.” The clerk tried to make him feel that he was being cheap. But Terry knew his children would be happy with whatever he gave them, because it came from a heart of love. And he was right—they loved the gifts he brought them.
During the 1980s, a singles’ class at our church became a close-knit family for many people who had lost a spouse through divorce or death. When someone needed to move, class members packed boxes, carried furniture, and provided food. Birthdays and holidays were no longer solitary events as faith and friendship merged into an ongoing relationship of encouragement. Many of those bonds forged during adversity three decades ago continue to flourish and sustain individuals and families today.
Athousand strands of time, events, and people weave into a tapestry we call place. More than just a house, place is where meaning, belonging, and safety come together under the covering of our best efforts at unconditional love. Place beckons us with memories buried deep in our souls. Even when our place isn’t perfect, its hold on us is dramatic, magnetic.
When Moses gathered the children of Israel together to begin work on the tabernacle (Ex. 35–39), he called on Bezalel, a gifted artisan, to help make the furnishings. We’re told that certain women were asked to give their precious bronze mirrors to make the bronze basin he was constructing (38:8). They gave them up to help prepare a place where God’s presence would reside.
Drew, young and enthusiastic, was leading the singing for the first time in a large church. Lois, a long-time attender, wanted to encourage him, but she thought it would be too difficult to get to the front of the church before he left. But then she saw a way to snake through the crowd. Lois told Drew, “I appreciate your enthusiasm in worship. Keep serving Him!”
In the book Kisses from Katie, Katie Davis recounts the joy of moving to Uganda and adopting several Ugandan girls. One day, one of her daughters asked, “Mommy, if I let Jesus come into my heart, will I explode?” At first, Katie said no. When Jesus enters our heart, it is a spiritual event.
News of a simple act of kindness on a New York subway has gone around the world. A young man, head covered by a hooded sweatshirt, fell asleep on the shoulder of an older passenger. When someone else offered to wake the young rider, the older man quietly said, “He must have had a long day. Let him sleep. We’ve all been there.” Then he let the tired fellow rider sleep on his shoulder for the better part of the next hour, until the older man gently eased away to get up for his stop. In the meantime, another passenger snapped a photograph and posted it on social media, and it went viral.
Each morning when I reach my office, I have one simple habit—check all my emails. Most of the time, I’ll work through them in a perfunctory fashion. There are some emails, however, that I’m eager to open. You guessed it—those from loved ones.
Last winter our city was hit by an ice storm. Hundreds of ice-heavy tree limbs cut into power lines, leaving thousands of homes and businesses without electrical power for days. Our family kept basic energy coming into the house through a generator, but we were still unable to cook meals. As we set out to find a place to eat, we drove for miles past closed businesses. We finally found a breakfast restaurant that had not lost power, but it was packed with hungry customers who were in the same fix as we were.
One day when Ann was visiting her husband in the hospital, she began talking with a caregiver who was assisting him. Ann enjoys engaging people in conversation wherever she is, and she also looks for ways to talk to people about Jesus. Ann asked the caregiver if he knew what he wanted to do in the future. When he said he wasn’t sure, she suggested that it’s important to know God first so He can help with such decisions. He then pulled up the sleeve of his shirt to reveal “I am redeemed!” tattooed across his arm.
On Christmas Eve 1914, during the First World War, the guns fell silent along a 30-mile stretch of the Western Front. Soldiers peered cautiously over the tops of trenches while a few emerged to repair their positions and bury the dead. As darkness fell, some German troops set out lanterns and sang Christmas carols. Men on the British side applauded and shouted greetings.
When our children were living at home, one of our most meaningful Christmas morning traditions was very simple. We would gather our family around the Christmas tree where, in sight of the gifts we were receiving from one another, we would read the Christmas story together. It was a gentle reminder that the reason we give gifts is not because the Magi brought gifts to the Christ-child. Rather, our gifts of love for one another were a reflection of God’s infinitely greater Gift of love to us.
John Chrysostom (347–407), archbishop of Constantinople, said this about friendship: “Such is friendship, that through it we love places and seasons; for as . . . flowers drop their sweet leaves on the ground around them, so friends impart favor even to the places where they dwell.”
Chess is an ancient game of strategy. Each player begins with 16 pieces on the chessboard with the goal of cornering his opponent’s king. It has taken different forms over the years. One form is human chess, which was introduced around ad 735 by Charles Martel, duke of Austrasia. Martel would play the game on giant boards with real people as the pieces. The human pieces were costumed to reflect their status on the board and moved at the whim of the players—manipulating them to their own ends.
While traveling on a road from Glasgow to Edinburgh, Scotland, I was enjoying the beautiful, pastoral countryside when a rather humorous sight captured my attention. There, on a small hilltop, was a rather large flock of pink sheep.
When I was growing up, one of the rules in our house was that we weren’t allowed to go to bed angry (Eph. 4:26). All our fights and disagreements had to be resolved. The companion to that rule was this bedtime ritual: Mom and Dad would say to my brother and me, “Good night. I love you.” And we would respond, “Good night. I love you too.”
When Jenny’s husband left her for another woman, she vowed that she would never meet his new wife. But when she realized that her bitterness was damaging her children’s relationship with their father, she asked for God’s help to take the first steps toward overcoming bitterness in a situation she couldn’t change.
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.
If you’re like me, you seldom read the full text of contracts for online services before you agree to them. They go on for pages, and most of the legal jargon makes no sense to ordinary people like me.
In J. R. R. Tolkien’s book The Hobbit, the wizard Gandalf explains why he has selected a small hobbit like Bilbo to accompany the dwarves to fight the enemy. He says, “Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.”
In the African country where my friend Roxanne lives, water is a precious commodity. People often have to travel long distances to collect water from small, contaminated creeks—leading to sickness and death. It’s difficult for organizations like orphanages and churches to serve the people because of a lack of water. But that’s beginning to change.
Pete Peterson’s first contact with Vietnam was in the Vietnam War. During a bombing raid in 1966, his plane was shot down and he was taken prisoner. Over 30 years later he returned as US Ambassador to Vietnam. One press article called him “a walking billboard for reconciliation.” He realized years ago that God had not saved his life for him to live in anger. Because he believed this, he used the rest of his life and his position to make a difference by pushing for better safety standards for children in Vietnam.
I can still see Jay Elliott’s shocked face as I burst through his front door almost 50 years ago with a “gang” of bees swirling around me. As I raced out his back door, I realized the bees were gone. Well, sort of—I’d left them in Jay’s house! Moments later, he came racing out his back door—chased by the bees I had brought to him.
Few people take time to study the US Internal Revenue Service income tax regulations—and for good reason. According to Forbes magazine, in 2013 tax codes surpassed the four million-word mark. In fact, the tax laws have become so complex that even the experts have a hard time processing all the regulations. It’s burdensome in its complexity.
In the book God in the Dock, author C. S. Lewis describes the kind of people we have trouble getting along with. Selfishness, anger, jealousy, or other quirks often sabotage our relationship with them. We sometimes think, Life would be much easier if we didn’t have to contend with such difficult people.
When I needed a locksmith to get into my car, I had a pleasant surprise. After he arrived and began opening my little Ford’s door, we began chatting and I recognized his warm, familiar accent.
The Aran Islands, off the west coast of Ireland, are known for their beautiful sweaters. Patterns are woven into the fabric using sheep’s wool to craft the garments. Many of them relate to the culture and folklore of these small islands, but some are more personal. Each family on the islands has its own trademark pattern, which is so distinctive that if a fisherman were to drown it is said that he could be identified simply by examining his sweater for the family trademark.
Alf Clark walks the city streets looking for Zacchaeus. Well, not the actual one in the Bible—Jesus already found him. Alf and some friends who serve with an urban ministry do what Jesus did in Luke 19. They go purposefully through town to meet with and help those in need.
Often I meet with people who serve in what they think are seemingly small ways in small places. They are frequently discouraged by loneliness, feeling that their acts of service are insignificant. When I hear them speak, I think of one of the angels in C. S. Lewis’ book Out of the Silent Planet. He said: “My people have a law never to speak of sizes or numbers to you. . . . It makes you do reverence to nothings and pass by what is really great.”
I have nicknamed our car “No Grace.” Sunday mornings are the worst. I load the car with all the stuff I need for church, get myself in my seat, close the door, and Jay starts backing out of the garage. While I am still getting settled, the seat belt warning starts buzzing. “Please,” I say to it, “all I need is another minute.” The answer, apparently, is no, because it continues buzzing until I am buckled in.
In William Zinsser’s book On Writing Well, he says that many writers suffer from “the tyranny of the final product.” They are so concerned with selling their article or book, they neglect learning the process of how to think, plan, and organize. A jumbled manuscript, Zinsser believes, is produced when “the writer, his eye on the finish line, never gave enough thought to how to run the race.”
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.
After a group of high schoolers visited an orphanage during a ministry trip, one student was visibly upset. When asked why, he said it reminded him of his own situation 10 years earlier.
In her book Listening to Others, Joyce Huggett writes about the importance of learning to listen and respond effectively to those in difficult situations. As she relates some of her own experiences of listening to suffering people, she mentions that they often thank her for all she’s done for them. “On many occasions,” she writes, “I have not ‘done’ anything. I have ‘just listened.’ I quickly came to the conclusion that ‘just listening’ was indeed an effective way of helping others.”
Afriend told me he had recently accomplished one of the things on his “bucket list” (a list of things to do before you die) when he took his sister to Europe. Although he had traveled there many times, she had never been there. What struck me was the unselfish nature of having that goal on his “bucket list.” It caused me to wonder how many of my dreams and goals are focused on others, not on myself.
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.
In the wake of the shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, many people have felt strongly compelled to help. Some donated blood for the injured, some provided free lunches and coffee at their restaurants for workers. Others wrote letters of comfort or just gave hugs. Some sent gifts of money and teddy bears for the children; others offered counseling. People found ways to serve according to their personalities, abilities, and resources.
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.”
My husband and I had recently moved into our house when a man dropped off a large box of strawberries on our front sidewalk. He left a note saying he wanted us to share them with our neighbors. He meant well, but some children discovered the box before any adults did and had a strawberry-throwing party at our white house. When we returned home, we saw children we knew watching us from behind a fence. They had “returned to the scene of the crime” to see how we would react to the mess. We could have just cleaned it up ourselves, but to restore our relationship, we felt it was important to talk with them and require their help in cleaning our strawberry-stained house.
In one of my favorite Peanuts cartoons featuring Charlie Brown, the always confident Lucy declares, “How could the world be getting worse with me in it? Ever since I was born the world has shown a distinct improvement!”
The language of Proverbs 6:16-19 is strong. In the citing of seven things the Lord hates, sowing “discord among brethren” makes the list. The reason for naming this sin is that it spoils the unity that Christ desires for His followers (John 17:21-22).
Martin Lindstrom, an author and speaker, thinks that cellphones have become akin to a best friend for many owners. Lindstrom’s experiment using an MRI helped him discover why. When the subjects saw or heard their phone ringing, their brains fired off neurons in the area associated with feelings of love and compassion. Lindstrom said, “It was as if they were in the presence of a girlfriend, boyfriend, or family member.”
During my days as a teacher and coach at a Christian high school, I thoroughly enjoyed interacting with teenagers, trying to guide them to a purposeful, Christlike life—characterized by love for God and love for others. My goal was to prepare them to live for God throughout life. That would happen only as they made their faith a vital part of life through the help of the Holy Spirit. Those who didn’t follow Christ floundered after they left the influence of Christian teachers and parents.
A 2010 survey by Newsweek contained some startling statistics: 57 percent of hiring managers believe an unattractive (but qualified) job candidate would have a harder time getting hired; 84 percent of managers said their bosses would hesitate before hiring a qualified older candidate; 64 percent of hiring managers said they believe companies should be allowed to hire people based on appearance. All are clear examples of unacceptable prejudice.
I was surprised to see a nationally distributed news article commending a group of teenage snowboarders who hold weekly church services on a Colorado ski slope. In the Summit Daily News, Kimberly Nicoletti’s story captured a wide audience with her account of teens who love to snowboard and to tell how Jesus changed their lives. Undergirding the teenagers is a Christian youth organization equipping them to demonstrate God’s love.
During the rehearsal for my brother’s wedding ceremony, my husband snapped a picture of the bride and groom as they faced each other in front of the pastor. When we looked at the photograph later, we noticed that the camera’s flash had illuminated a metal cross in the background, which appeared as a glowing image above the couple.
Twelve years into our marriage, my wife and I were discouraged by the emotional roller-coaster of hopes raised and dashed in attempting to have children. A friend tried to “explain” God’s thinking. “Maybe God knows you’d be a bad father,” he said. He knew that my mother had struggled with a terrible temper.
Missionary Egerton Ryerson Young served the Salteaux tribe in Canada in the 1700s. The chief of the tribe thanked Young for bringing the good news of Christ to them, noting that he was hearing it for the first time in his old age. Since he knew that God was Young’s heavenly Father, the chief asked, “Does that mean He is my Father too?” When the missionary answered, “Yes,” the crowd that had gathered around burst into cheers.
Two men were killed in our city on the same day. The first, a police officer, was shot down while trying to help a family. The other was a homeless man who was shot while drinking with friends early that day.
The fence around the side yard of our home was showing some wear and tear, and my husband, Carl, and I decided we needed to take it down before it fell down. It was pretty easy to disassemble, so we removed it quickly one afternoon. A few weeks later when Carl was raking the yard, a woman who was walking her dog stopped to give her opinion: “Your yard looks so much better without the fence. Besides, I don’t believe in fences.” She explained that she liked “community” and no barriers between people.
Some years ago, I came across a poem by George MacDonald titled, “The Hidden Life.” It tells the story of an intellectually gifted young Scot who turned his back on a prestigious academic career to return to his aging father and to the family farm. There he engaged in what MacDonald called, “ordinary deeds” and “simple forms of human helpfulness.” His friends lamented what they saw as a waste of his talents.
Even at the end of his life, C. S. Lewis showed an interest in the spiritual nurture of younger believers. Although in ill health, he took time to respond to the letter of a child named Philip. Complimenting the boy’s fine written expression, Lewis said he was delighted that Philip understood that in the Narnia Chronicles the lion Aslan represented Jesus Christ. The next day, Lewis died at his home in the Kilns, Oxford, England, one week before his 65th birthday.
After 20 children and 6 staff members were murdered in a Connecticut school, the entire nation was stunned that such a horrific thing could happen. Everyone focused on the tragedy and the questions surrounding it: What kind of person would do such a thing, and why? How can we prevent it from happening again? How can we help the survivors? Amid the chaos, an unlikely group moved in and made a difference.
I received this note from a friend serving in an orphanage in a developing country: “Yesterday, as I was sitting at my office desk, I noticed a trail of ants on the floor. As I followed it, I was shocked to see that thousands of ants had blanketed the walls of our office building—inside and out. They swarmed everything. Fortunately, one of the workers . . . set to work. Less than an hour later, the ants were gone.”
We call it the Integrity League, but it’s really just a bunch of guys who get together at lunchtime to play basketball. We call fouls on ourselves, attempt to avoid angry outbursts, and simply try to keep everything fair and enjoyable. We are competitive and we don’t like to lose—but we all agree that integrity and honesty should control the atmosphere.
A few years ago, my friend’s mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Since then, Beth has been forced to make tough decisions about her mom’s care, and her heart has often been broken as she watched her vibrant and fun-loving mom slowly slipping away. In the process, my friend has learned that real love is not always easy or convenient.
In November 1963, the same day that President John F. Kennedy was shot, another leader died—Clive Staples Lewis. This Oxford scholar, who had converted from atheism to Christianity, was a prolific writer. Intellectual books, science fiction, children’s fantasies, and other works flowed from his pen with a strong Christian message. His books have been used by God in the conversion of many, including a politician and a Nobel Prize-winning scientist.
On the first night at family camp, the camp director informed the families of the schedule for the week. When finished, he asked if anyone else had anything to say. A young girl stood up and made a passionate appeal for help. She shared about her little brother—a boy with special needs—and how he could be a challenge to care for. She talked about how tiring this was for her family, and she asked everyone there to help them keep an eye on him during the week. It was an appeal born out of genuine concern for her brother and her parents. As the week went on, it was great to see people pitching in to help this family.
My husband and I live in a rural area surrounded by farms where this slogan is popular: “If you ate a meal today, thank a farmer.” Farmers definitely deserve our gratitude. They do the hot, hard work of tilling soil, planting seeds, and harvesting the food that keeps us from starving to death.
When snowstorms bury the grazing lands, ranchers must feed their herds by hand. As hay is tossed from wagons and trucks, the strongest animals bull their way to the front. Timid or sickly animals get little or no feed unless the rancher intervenes.
At her birthday celebration, the honored guest turned the tables by giving everyone at the party a gift. Kriste gave each of us a personal note expressing what we mean to her, along with encouraging words about the person God made us to be. Enclosed with every note was one piece of a jigsaw puzzle as a reminder that each of us is unique and important in God’s plan.
Each year young people in our community participate in a “Be Nice” campaign spearheaded by a mental health organization. In one of the events in 2012, 6,000 students spelled out the words BE NICE with their bodies on their schools’ sports fields. One principal said, “We want students to come to school and learn without the distraction of fear or sadness or uneasiness around their peers. We are working hard to make sure students are lifting each other up, rather than tearing each other down.”
Outside my office window, the squirrels are in a race against winter to bury their acorns in a safe, accessible place. Their commotion amuses me. An entire herd of deer can go through our back yard and not make a sound, but one squirrel sounds like an invasion.
Only hours before Kim Haskins’ high school graduation, an auto accident took the life of her father and left Kim and her mother hospitalized. The next day, Joe Garrett, Kim’s high school principal, visited her at the hospital and said they wanted to do something special for her at the school. The Gazette (Colorado Springs) article by James Drew described the outpouring of love and support as the teachers, administrators, and classmates—deeply touched by Kim’s loss—filled the high school auditorium a few days later at a graduation ceremony just for her.
Not long ago my wife, Janet, and I bought a quantity of beef from a friend who raised cattle on a small farm. It was less expensive than meat from a grocery store, and we put it in the freezer to use throughout the coming months.
During a recent study, 200,000 employees were interviewed to discover the missing ingredient in their productivity. The study concluded that appreciation and affirmation topped the list of what they wanted most from their superiors. This research implies that receiving affirmation is a basic human need.
Aradio ad for a church caught my attention: “Because you’ve heard about Christianity, you might not be interested in religion. Well, it might surprise you—Jesus wasn’t interested in religion either. But He was big on relationship and teaching us to love one another.” It continued, “You may not like everything about our church, but we offer authentic relationship, and we’re learning to love God and each other. You’re welcome to visit.”
On September 7, 1838, Grace Darling, the daughter of an English lighthouse keeper, spotted a shipwreck and survivors offshore. Together, she and her father courageously rowed their boat a mile through rough waters to rescue several people. Grace became a legend for her compassionate heart and steady hand in risking her life to rescue others.
A while ago, I wrote an article about my wife, Marlene, and her struggles with vertigo. When the article appeared, I was unprepared for the tidal wave of response from readers offering encouragement, help, suggestions and, mostly, concern for her well-being. These messages came from all over the world, from people in all walks of life. Expressions of loving concern for my wife poured in to the point where we could not even begin to answer them all. It was overwhelming in the best kind of way to see the body of Christ respond to Marlene’s struggle. We were, and remain, deeply grateful.
Steve was almost 5 when his father, missionary pilot Nate Saint, was killed in 1956, along with four other men, by the Waodani tribe in Ecuador. But as a result of the love and forgiveness demonstrated by the families of the martyred men, there is now a growing community of believers among the Waodani.
When I’m about to leave the house, sometimes my wife, Martie, stops me and says, “You can’t go to the office dressed like that!” It’s usually something about the tie not matching the jacket or the color of the slacks being out of sync with the sportcoat. Though being questioned about my fashion choices may feel like an affront to my good taste, I have realized that her correcting influence is always an upgrade.
In June 2012, the Waldo Canyon fire destroyed 346 homes in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and burned more than 18,000 acres of mountain forest. The fire was declared 100-percent contained when perimeter lines had been built around the entire area of the blaze. It had been confined to a defined area until it could be fully extinguished. A fire information official warned residents that they might continue to see smoke in the burn area because even though the fire was fully contained it “is not controlled and it is not out.”
I’ve noticed through the years that those who have suffered are quick to comfort other sufferers. When a young couple suffers the loss of a child, another couple who also lost a child in the past asks if they can help. If a couple loses their main income, almost immediately another couple steps forward to offer their aid, remembering their own journey through foreclosure years earlier. Again and again we see the body of Christ supporting and encouraging one another. These Christians have learned that they can use the trials they’ve been through to reach out to others going through similar difficulties.
Perhaps you are familiar with the saying, “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” Admittedly, there are ways to speak of people that can honor them. But this saying highlights our darker experiences. In a world of ever-present media—social and professional—we are continually confronted with people’s lives at a level of intimacy that can be inappropriate.
The annual Texas Book Festival in Austin draws thousands of people who enjoy browsing for books, attending discussions led by acclaimed authors, and gleaning advice from professional writers. At one such festival, an author of young adult fiction told aspiring writers, “Write the book that you want to find on the shelf.” That’s a powerful recommendation for writing and for living. What if we decided to live the way we want everyone else to live?
In May 2011, a young woman took cover in a bathtub during a tornado that devastated her city of Joplin, Missouri. Her husband covered her body with his and took the blows from flying debris. He died, and she survived because of his heroism. She naturally wrestles with the question, “Why?” But a year after the tornado, she said that she finds comfort because even on her worst day ever, she was loved.
Sinclair Lewis’ novel Main Street tells the story of Carol, a sophisticated city woman who marries a country doctor. She feels superior to others in her new small-town environment. But her husband’s response to a medical crisis challenges her snobbery. An immigrant farmer terribly injures his arm, which needs to be amputated. Carol watches with admiration as her husband speaks comforting words to the injured man and his distraught wife. The physician’s warmth and servant attitude challenges Carol’s prideful mindset.
If you take a course on writing or attend a writer’s conference, you’ll likely hear the phrase, “Show, don’t tell.” In other words, “show” your readers what is happening, don’t just tell them. Don’t tell readers what you did; describe doing it.
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!
Years ago I was a camp counselor for some rebellious boys. I found it challenging to deal with their behavior. They would mistreat the animals at the petting zoo and occasionally fight among themselves. So I adopted a calm and firm approach to leading them. And although they often exasperated me, I always made sure their physical needs were taken care of.
Edward Payson was a famous preacher in a bygone era. One stormy Sunday, he had only one person in his audience. Some months later, his lone attendee called on him: “I was led to the Savior through that service,” he said. “For whenever you talked about sin and salvation, I glanced around to see to whom you referred, but since there was no one there but me, I had no alternative but to lay every word to my own heart and conscience!”
Is ambition wrong? Is it wrong to be driven, to push to be the best? It can be. The difference between right and wrong ambition is in our goal and motivation—whether it’s for God’s glory or our own.
A popular clothing retailer requires that its sales clerks dress like the models in the store windows who advertise its clothes. This practice is referred to as “guarding their brand.” The idea behind it is that shoppers will be more likely to purchase clothes because they will want to look like the people they see wearing them.
Love is the centerpiece of thriving relationships. Scripture makes it clear that we need to be people who love—love God with all our hearts, love our neighbor as ourselves, and love our enemies. But it’s hard to love when we don’t feel loved. Neglected children, spouses who feel ignored by their mates, and parents who are alienated from their children all know the heartache of a life that lacks love.
Friendship is one of life’s greatest gifts. True friends seek a special kind of good for their friends: the highest good, which is that they might know God and love Him with all of their heart, soul, and mind. German pastor and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “The aim of friendship is exclusively determined by what God’s will is for the other person.”
We were in line at the ice cream store when I noticed him. His face bore the marks of too many fights—a crooked nose and some scars. His clothes were rumpled, though clean. I stepped between him and my children, using my back to erect a wall.
I met my friend Angie for lunch after having not seen her for several months. At the end of our time together, she pulled out a piece of paper with notes from our previous get-together. It was a list of my prayer requests she had been praying for since then. She went through each one and asked if God had answered yet or if there were any updates. And then we talked about her prayer requests. How encouraging to have a praying friend!
In 2002 the Oakland Athletics built a winning baseball team in an unorthodox way. They had lost three top players after 2001, and the team didn’t have money to sign any stars. So Oakland’s general manager, Billy Beane, used some often-neglected statistics to assemble a group of lesser-known players either “past their prime” or seen by other teams as not skilled enough. That ragtag team ran off a 20-game winning streak on the way to winning their division and 103 games.
In 1962, John Glenn made history as the first American to orbit the Earth. As the rocket ascended, ground control said, “Godspeed, John Glenn.” “Godspeed” comes from the expression, “May God prosper you.”
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).
Greek fire was a chemical solution that was used in ancient warfare by the Byzantine Empire against its enemies. According to one online source, it was developed around ad 672 and was used with devastating effect, especially in sea warfare because it could burn on water. What was Greek fire? Its actual chemical composition remains a mystery. It was such a valuable military weapon that the formula was kept an absolute secret—and was lost to the ravages of history. Today, researchers continue to try to replicate that ancient formula, but without success.
As a child, I loved it when my mom read to me. I would sit on her lap and listen to every word. As she read, I examined the details of every picture and waited eagerly to hear what was on the next page.
Qumran was a first-century Jewish community that had isolated itself from outside influences to prepare for the arrival of the Messiah. They took great care in devotional life, ceremonial washings, and strict adherence to rules of conduct. Surviving documents show that they would not allow the lame, the blind, or the crippled into their communities. This was based on their conviction that anyone with a physical “blemish” was ceremonially unclean. During their table fellowship, disabled people were never on their guest lists.
At the funeral of former US First Lady Betty Ford, her son Steven said, “She was the one with the love and the comfort, and she was the first one there to put her arms around you. Nineteen years ago when I went through my alcoholism, my mother . . . gave me one of the greatest gifts, and that was how to surrender to God, and to accept the grace of God in my life. And truly in her arms I felt like the prodigal son coming home, and I felt God’s love through her. And that was a good gift.”
The story has been told about a conductor who was rehearsing his orchestra. The organ was giving a beautiful melody, the drums were thundering, the trumpets were blaring, and the violins were singing beautifully. But the conductor noticed something missing—the piccolo. The piccolo player had gotten distracted and hoped his instrument wouldn’t be missed. The conductor reminded him: “Each one of us is necessary.”
During a difficult recession, I organized a support group for fellow Christians to help them cope with unemployment. We provided resumé reviews, networking, and prayer support. One problem emerged: Whenever someone got a job, he or she almost never returned to the group to offer encouragement. That increased the loneliness and isolation of those left in the group.
I love being with people . . . most of the time. There is a special joy that resonates in our hearts when we are with people we enjoy. But unfortunately we are not always with those we like to be around. Sometimes people can be prickly, which may be why someone has said, “The more I get to know people, the more I love my dog!” When we don’t find joy in a relationship, we tend to blame the other person; then we excuse ourselves as we exit to be with people we like.
Some years back, another man and I were reading together Matthew 26 about Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. “I know this much,” he told me as we read along, “if I’d been with Jesus in Gethsemane, I’d have had His back. No way would I have fallen asleep!” Indignant, he continued, “How could anyone fall asleep after hearing Jesus tell them how troubled He was? He was practically begging!” (v.38).
A homeless man spends time in our local library. One afternoon, while I was writing there, I took a lunch break. After I finished the first half of a turkey and Swiss cheese sandwich, an image of the man’s face came to mind. A few minutes later, I offered him the untouched part of my lunch. He accepted.
A rallying cry often heard today in our economically challenged world is “Less and less.” Governments are called to balance their budgets. People are urged to use less energy and decrease consumption of limited resources. It is good advice that we should all heed. In the realm of faith, however, there are no shortages of love and grace and strength. Therefore, as followers of Christ, we are urged to demonstrate His love in our lives in ever-increasing measure.
Years ago I saw a cartoon that depicted a sour, disgruntled, elderly gentleman standing in rumpled pajamas and robe at his apartment door. He had just secured the door for the night with four locks, two deadbolts, and a chain latch. Later he noticed a small white envelope stuck beneath the door. On the envelope was a large sticker in the shape of a heart. It was a valentine. Love had found a way.
After 10 years of renting in a charming location, we discovered that our landlord suddenly needed to sell the house. I asked God to change the circumstances and make it possible for my wife and me to stay in this place we’d made home, where we’d watched our children grow up. But God said no.
Elizabeth’s story was moving, to say the least. Following a terribly humiliating experience in Massachusetts, she caught a bus to New Jersey to escape her embarrassment. Weeping uncontrollably, she hardly noticed that the bus had made a stop along the way. A passenger sitting behind her, a total stranger, began making his way off the bus when he suddenly stopped, turned, and walked back to Elizabeth. He saw her tears and handed her his Bible, saying that he thought she might need it. He was right. But not only did she need the Bible, she needed the Christ it speaks of. Elizabeth received Him as a result of this simple act of compassion by a stranger who gave a gift.
My wife, Martie, is a great shop- per. When she shops for groceries, she reads all the nutrition labels and considers the best deal by looking at the price per unit. But her best trick is looking for the “use by” date. She doesn’t just grab the first gallon of milk she sees, but rather she goes for the gallon with the latest “use by” date so she can bring home the freshest milk from the store.
Years ago I lost my job in my chosen profession due to circumstances beyond my control. So I took on two lesser-paying jobs in order to try to make ends meet. Yet it still was very difficult to earn enough to pay my monthly expenses.
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.
Because of my wife’s busy sched- ule, sometimes she can commit only a limited amount of time every week to each of our grandchildren. When possible, however, she will rearrange her schedule to spend more time with them—not out of duty, but because she loves them. When I see her with them, I understand what the word delight means.
Texas Ranger baseball player Josh Hamilton has battled the demons of drug and alcohol addiction. So when his team won their playoff series in 2010, Hamilton was concerned about the postgame celebration. He admitted that it’s not good for a recovering alcoholic to be in the midst of a “rainstorm” of champagne. But something beautiful happened. Instead of champagne, his teammates stocked the locker room with ginger ale so that Hamilton could be included in the celebration. What a great picture of community and putting others’ needs above your own.
One of the qualities I most admire in others is the gift of quiet, behind-the-scenes encouragement. I remember arriving home from a stay in the hospital and finding that my friend Jackie (who had surgery a few days earlier) sent me a book of God’s promises.
During the US Civil War, hatred became entrenched between the North and South. In one instance, President Abraham Lincoln was criticized for speaking of benevolent treatment for the Southern rebels. The critic reminded Lincoln that there was a war going on, the Confederates were the enemy, and they should be destroyed. But Lincoln wisely responded, “I destroy my enemies when I make them my friends.”
My friend Melissa’s 9-year-old daughter Sydnie was in the hospital for chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant when I had a dream about her. I dreamed she was staying in a central room at the hospital with her parents. Surrounding her room was a block of other rooms where family and friends were staying and continually praying for her during her times of treatment.
In Outlive Your Life, Max Lucado writes: “Hospitality opens the door to uncommon community. It’s no accident that hospitality and hospital come from the same Latin word, for they both lead to the same result: healing. When you open your door to someone, you are sending this message: ‘You matter to me and to God.’ You may think you are saying, ‘Come over for a visit.’ But what your guest hears is, ‘I’m worth the effort.’”
As we got off the bus at a home for mentally and physically challenged children in Copse, Jamaica, I didn’t expect to find a football player. While the teen choir and the other adult chaperones dispersed to find kids to hug, love, and play with, I came upon a young man named William.
Not long ago, a friend of mine was facing surgery. Two disks in his back and a detached Achilles tendon were creating a lot of pain. After assuring him of my prayers, I was struck with the idea of sending him something in writing to further encourage him. So I sent the following e-mail:
For several years, I’ve corresponded with a pastor in Nepal who often travels with his church members to distant communities in the Himalayas to preach and plant churches. Recently he sent me his itinerary for the following week and asked me to pray.
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.
Many high school students with autism or Down syndrome feel excluded and ignored. They often eat alone in a crowded cafeteria because other students don’t know how to relate to them or simply don’t care. To address this need, speech therapist Barbara Palilis began “Circle of Friends”—a program that pairs students with disabilities with nondisabled peers for lunch dates and social activities. Through this outreach, special-needs students and those nondisabled peers who befriend them continue to be enriched and changed through the gift of acceptance, friendship, and understanding.
When my wife and I were visiting a church for a special musical program, we arrived early to get a good seat. Before the program began, we overheard two members seated behind us complaining about their church. They criticized the pastoral staff, leadership, music, ministry priorities, and several other things that made them unhappy. They were either unconcerned about or oblivious to the presence of two visitors in their midst.
As Dolores was driving along a country road, she noticed that a car was following her rather closely. She could almost feel the irritation of the driver as she drove cautiously and slowly navigated several turns.
Back in the 1930s, my childhood home was loving and happy, but my parents were often away. On those occasions, the center of warmth in our home was the kitchen and our tiny, joyous housekeeper named Annie.
In Tennyson’s classic poem “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” valiant cavalry troops riding into battle are described by the imposing phrase, “Into the valley of death rode the six hundred.” Those words portray a sense of foreboding that anticipated the tragedy that lay before them.
Is it possible that technological advances in communication have left us unable to confront people properly? After all, employers can now send layoff notices via e-mail. And people can criticize others on Facebook and Twitter instead of talking face to face. Perhaps it might be better to put all that aside and emulate how Paul communicated with Peter when they had a disagreement.
During the early years of the Prot- estant Reformation in Europe, Katharina Von Bora, a former nun, married Martin Luther (1525). By all accounts, the two had a joyous married life. Luther said, “There is no bond on earth so sweet, nor any separation so bitter, as that which occurs in a good marriage.”
Statistics are tricky. While numbers give us information, sometimes they can also desensitize us to the people those numbers represent. This hit me recently as I read a statistic: Every year 15 million people die from hunger. That’s chilling, and for those of us who live in cultures of plenty, it’s hard to fathom. In 2008, nearly 9 million children died before their fifth birthday, with a third of those deaths related to hunger. These are staggering numbers, but they are much more than numbers. They are individuals loved by God.
I recently saw an ad for a brand of clothing geared toward youth. It consists of blue jeans and all the accessories designed to go with them. There is nothing novel about that. What got my attention, however, was the name of this clothing line. It is called “True Religion.” That caused me to stop and think. Why was that name chosen? Am I missing some deeper significance? What is the connection between a brand of jeans and true religion? What do they mean by it? My musings left me with questions for which I had no answers.
For years, scientists have wondered how fire ants, whose bodies are denser than water, can survive floods that should destroy them. How do entire colonies form themselves into life rafts that can float for weeks? A Los Angeles Times article explained that engineers from the Georgia Institute of Technology discovered that tiny hairs on the ants’ bodies trap air bubbles. This enables thousands of the insects, “which flounder and struggle in the water as individuals,” to ride out the flood when they cling together.
Is it possible to be too helpful? Can our helpfulness actually make life more difficult for others? Yes, if we’re being bothersome, intrusive, smothering, manipulative, or controlling. If the help we are giving is driven only by our own anxiety, we may be just trying to help ourselves.
In the Star Wars trilogy there’s a scene that reminds me of some church people I know. At an establishment somewhere in a remote corner of the galaxy, grotesque-looking creatures socialize over food and music. When Luke Skywalker enters with his two droids, C3PO and R2D2 (who are more “normal” than anyone else there), he is surprisingly turned away with a curt rebuff: “We don’t serve their kind here!”
In my family scrapbook is a picture of my daughter at age 4 working next to me, using a toy hammer to repair the siding on the house. Side by side we worked that day; she imitated my every action, absolutely convinced that she too was fixing the house. Rarely have I enjoyed a chore more. In the picture, it’s obvious that she’s enjoying it too.
Cicero was one of the greatest thinkers of the Roman Empire. He was a skilled orator, lawyer, politician, linguist, and writer. Still today he is quoted for his clear prose and practical wisdom.
People who study sharks tell us that they are most likely to attack when they sense blood in the water. The blood acts as a trigger to their feeding mechanism and they attack, often in a group, creating a deadly feeding frenzy. Blood in the water marks the vulnerability of the target.
In the mid-1970s, divorce filings and final decrees appeared in the Public Records section of our local newspaper. Rev. Bill Flanagan, a pastor at our church, read those names week after week and began to picture people, not statistics. So he created a Divorce Recovery Workshop to offer help and healing in Christ to hurting people during a difficult time. When concerned church members told Bill he was condoning divorce, he softly replied that he was simply extending God’s grace to folks in need.
The New Year is often the time when we resolve to take better care of ourselves—to exercise, eat right, and perhaps shed some of the pounds we gained over the holidays. Paul says, “Exercise profits a little” (1 Tim. 4:8), so I struggle to be as fit as I can be. I try to eat right, more or less, though I do love fried chicken. I lift weights and walk, but I know that my body is not long for this world. Its strength is fading.
Driving a huge truck over the icy roads of northern Alaska would seem to be a task that requires a sense of humor. But when one driver heard another driver named Alex laugh often and rather loudly over the truck-to-truck communication system, he grew irritated. So he made some disparaging remarks about Alex and his good-natured guffaws.
Artist and scientist Michael Flynn designed a singing bowl for display in ArtPrize, an international art competition held in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The bowl requires no electricity but it does require something that is in short supply: cooperation.
There’s an old Sunday school song that periodically comes back to my mind. Its words testify to the blessing of the peace that Jesus so generously gives: “I have the peace that passes understanding down in my heart—down in my heart to stay!”
Where you live has a way of making certain demands on how you live. In my neighborhood, the garbage collector comes on Tuesday mornings, so it’s my responsibility to get our garbage can out to the curb the night before. Letting the trash pile up on the curb for days before doesn’t make for happy neighbors. And we have lots of children playing outside, so signs are posted everywhere reminding drivers to slow down. That means I drive slowly and watch for little ones who, without looking, chase wayward balls into the street.
Although my culinary skills remain undeveloped, occasionally I use a box of premixed ingredients to make a cake. After adding eggs, vegetable oil, and water, I stir it all together. To bake a palate-pleasing cake, it’s vital to have the correct balance of the right ingredients. That helps me picture the relationship of the greatest commandment (Matt. 22:36-38) and the Great Commission (28:19-20) as we spread the gospel.
Usually we’re told to smile before someone takes our picture. But in some parts of the US, a no-smiling policy is enforced when getting your photo taken for a driver’s license. Because of identity theft, these motor vehicle departments carefully check new photos that are taken to be sure they don’t match photos already in the system. If someone gets a picture taken under a false name, an alarm is sent to the operator. From 1999 to 2009, one state stopped 6,000 people from getting fraudulent licenses. But why no smiling? The technology recognizes a face more easily if the person has a neutral facial expression.
While traveling in a foreign country, my husband noticed that the paved roads had deep indentations. When he asked about them, our driver explained that they were caused by the tires of trucks carrying illegal, overweight loads. When stopped by police, the drivers paid bribes to avoid being fined. The truckers and police officers came out ahead financially, but other drivers and taxpayers were left with an unfair financial burden and the inconvenience of poor roads.
My friend and I were traveling together, and she seemed a bit frazzled. When we got to the airport, she forgot to have her identification readily available and couldn’t find her reservation confirmation number. The ticket agent waited patiently, smiled, and then helped her at the “self” check-in. After receiving her ticket, she asked, “Where do we go next?” The agent smiled again, pointed at me, and said to her, “Stay close to your friend.”
On February 1, 1960, four students from an all-black college sat down at a “whites only” lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina. One of them, Franklin McCain, noticed an older white woman seated nearby looking at them. He was sure that her thoughts were unkind toward them and their protest against segregation. A few minutes later she walked over to them, put her hands on their shoulders, and said, “Boys, I am so proud of you.”
I wear only two pieces of jewelry: a wedding band on my finger and a small Celtic cross on a chain around my neck. The ring represents my vow to be faithful to Carolyn, my wife, as long as I shall live. The cross reminds me that it is not for her sake alone, but for Jesus’ sake that I do so. He has asked me to be faithful to her until death shall separate us.
My friend Dan, who was soon to graduate from high school, was required to make a senior presentation. He had 15 minutes to share how he had made it to the point of graduation and to thank those who had helped him along the way.
In the Roman Empire, pagans would often call on the name of a god or goddess as they placed bets in a game of chance. A favorite deity of the gambler was Aphrodite, the Greek word for Venus, the goddess of love. During the roll of the dice, they would say “epaphroditus!” literally, “by Aphrodite!”
Naomi and Ruth came together in less-than-ideal circumstances. To escape a famine in Israel, Naomi’s family moved to Moab. While living there, her two sons married Moabite women: Orpah and Ruth. Then Naomi’s husband and sons died. In that culture, women were dependent on men, which left the three widows in a predicament.
My wife, Martie, is a great cook. Sitting down after a busy day to enjoy her culinary delights is a real treat. Sometimes after dinner she runs errands, leaving me alone with the choice of grabbing the remote or cleaning up the kitchen. When I’m on my good behavior, I roll up my sleeves, load the dishwasher, and scrub the pots and pans—all for the joy of hearing Martie’s grateful response, which is usually something like, “Wow, Joe! You didn’t have to clean up the kitchen!” Which gives me a chance to say, “I wanted to show you how much I love you!”
Over the past several years, I’ve been privileged to travel with teenagers on eight mission trips. One thing I’ve learned in those excursions is that teens are not too young to make an impact for Jesus—either on me or on others whose lives they touch.
I’ve been amazed at the impact that my wife, Martie, has had on the lives of our kids. Very few roles demand the kind of unconditional, self-sacrificing perseverance and commitment as that of motherhood. I know for certain that my character and faith have been shaped and molded by my mom, Corabelle. Let’s face it, where would we be without our wives and mothers?
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.
One Sunday while preaching, a pastor was accosted and punched by a man. He continued preaching, and the man was arrested. The pastor prayed for him and even visited him in jail a few days later. What an example of the way to respond to insult and injury!
The book titled UnChristian lists reasons why some non-Christians don’t like people who profess faith in Jesus Christ. Their major complaints have to do with the way some Christians act toward unbelievers. The unbelievers in the study tended to view Christians as being hypocritical, judgmental, harsh, and unloving toward people not like themselves.
As 19-year-old Amelia waited in her doctor’s office, she recognized the familiar hymn “Softly and Tenderly Jesus Is Calling” playing over the speaker. It made her smile when she remembered the words. Perhaps a song with the lyrics “shadows are gathering, deathbeds are coming” was not the most appropriate background music for a doctor’s office!
In 1860, Thomas Inman recom- mended that his fellow doctors not prescribe a medicine for a cure if they weren’t sure it would work. They were to give the patient “the benefit of our doubts.” This phrase is also a legal term meaning that if a jury has conflicting evidence that makes the jurors doubtful, they are to give the verdict of “not guilty.”
At the end of my mother’s earthly journey, she and Dad were still very much in love and shared a strong faith in Christ. My mother had developed dementia and began to lose memories of even her family. Yet Dad would regularly visit her at the assisted living home and find ways to accommodate her diminished capacities.
Have you ever felt overwhelmed by rules and expectations? Think of how the Jewish people must have felt as they tried to keep up with more than 600 rules from the Old Testament and many more that had been imposed on them by the religious leaders of their day. And imagine their surprise when Jesus simplified the pursuit of righteousness by narrowing the list down to just two—“love the Lord your God” (Matt. 22:37) and “love your neighbor as yourself” (v.39).
London’s domed St. Paul’s Cathedral has an interesting architectural phenomenon called the “whispering gallery.” One Web site explains it this way: “The name comes from the fact that a person who whispers facing the wall on one side can be clearly heard on the other, since the sound is carried perfectly around the vast curve of the Dome.”
November 9, 2010, marked the 21st anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall. On that day in 1989, an announcement over East German TV informed people that they were free to travel to West Germany. A day later, East German bulldozers began to dismantle the wall that for 28 years had divided East and West Germany.
Imagine standing shoulder to shoulder with onlookers by a dirt road. The woman behind you is on her tiptoes, trying to see who is coming. In the distance, you glimpse a man riding a donkey. As He approaches, people toss their coats onto the road. Suddenly, you hear a tree crack behind you. A man is cutting down palm branches, and people are spreading them out ahead of the donkey.
John Wayne, famous American actor and film icon, once said, “Talk low, talk slow, and don’t say too much.” His advice is hard for me to follow since I’m a fast talker and I don’t always speak quietly or limit my words. However, this idea of controlling our speech can be a useful tool when dealing with anger. The Bible says we are supposed to be “slow to speak” (James 1:19), and that “a soft answer turns away wrath” (Prov. 15:1).
At the 2009 Kansas high school state track championship, an unusual thing happened. The team that won the girls 3,200-meter relay was disqualified. But what happened next was even more unusual. The team that was awarded the state championship by default turned right around and gave their medals to the team that had been disqualified.
Some say that theology is only for “professionals.” But the situation in the days of the prophet Jeremiah illustrates why it’s important for everyone to know what God says about Himself.
I have a friend whose note cards are imprinted with a picture of Rodin’s The Thinker, the famous sculpture depicting a man in sober reflection. Below the picture is this inscription: “Life is not fair.”
I was fishing a local trout stream last summer, when my attention was fixed on a fish that was feeding nearby. I looked up and there on the bank I spied an acquaintance—nationally known fly-fishing guide and outfitter Dave Tucker. Immediately I became aware of my own performance, bungled the next cast, and lost the fish. So it is when we turn our attention away from the activity at hand and think about ourselves.
Not long ago, my wife, Janet, and I accepted an invitation to dine with a Christian woman who attends our Sunday school class. In her zeal to prepare a meal for us, she cut her index finger deeply. As we drove her to the emergency room, we prayed for her, and then we kept her company in the waiting room. Several hours later, our friend finally saw the doctor.
Golda Meir knew both struggle and success during her life. As prime minister of Israel, she experienced many episodes of conflict and loss, as well as the periodic joy of successes and victory in the life of the fledgling State of Israel. She said of joy and sorrow, “Those who don’t know how to weep with their whole heart, don’t know how to laugh either.”
In Singapore, the Chinese New Year season’s social and business dinners often begin with a dish consisting of salads, dressings, pickles, and raw fish. The name of the dish, Yu Sheng, is a pun that sounds like “year of prosperity.” It is traditional for those present to toss the salad together. As they do, certain phrases are repeated to bring about good fortune.
If you were to ask me who I am, I’d tell you that I’m a follower of Jesus. But I have to admit, at times following Him is a real challenge. He tells me to do things like rejoice when I’m persecuted (Matt. 5:11-12); to turn the other cheek (vv.38-39); to give to someone who wants to take from me (vv.40-42); to love my enemies, bless those who curse me, and do good to those who hate me (vv.43-44). This kind of lifestyle seems very upside down to me.
His face was grimy, his hair long and dirty. Beer stained his clothing and perfumed the air around him. When he stepped into the church building, the Sunday worshipers ignored him. They were stunned when the man approached the pulpit, took off his wig, and began preaching. That’s when they realized he was their pastor.
Norena’s South Florida home was severely damaged during Hurricane Andrew in 1992. She received an insurance settlement, and the repair work began. But the contractors left when the money ran out, leaving an unfinished home with no electricity. For 15 years, Norena got by with a tiny refrigerator and a few lamps connected to extension cords. Surprisingly, her neighbors didn’t seem to notice her dilemma. Then, acting on a tip, the mayor got involved and contacted an electrical contractor who restored power to her house within a few hours.
In a brief biography of St. Francis of Assisi, G. K. Chesterton begins with a glimpse into the heart of this unique and compassionate man born in the 12th century. Chesterton writes: “As St. Francis did not love humanity but men, so he did not love Christianity but Christ. . . . The reader cannot even begin to see the sense of a story that may well seem to him a very wild one, until he understands that to this great mystic his religion was not a thing like a theory but a thing like a love-affair.”
In the frenzied early days of the Internet, Web developers were making up their own rules. The result was confusion. Among the problems was that what looked good on one computer was unreadable on another. This caused developers to refer to the Internet as the wild, wild Web, an allusion to the days of the wild, wild West in the US when law and order were pretty much nonexistent. To bring order out of chaos, Web developers started calling for others to agree on common standards.
I wouldn’t want to pick a fight with a sky full of angels, but I must admit that I’ve always wondered about the promise of peace the angelic host made to the shepherds in the fields outside Bethlehem. For the last 2,000 years, peace on our planet has been at best a rare commodity. Wars continue to ravage innocent lives, domestic violence is a growing calamity, divorce rates soar, churches split, and peace in our restless and wayward hearts seems to be an elusive dream.
During a devotional session at a conference, our leader asked us to read aloud 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, and substitute the word “Jesus” for “love.” It seemed so natural to say, “Jesus suffers long and is kind; Jesus does not envy; Jesus does not parade Himself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek His own . . . . Jesus never fails.”
When I was a freshman in Bible college, I began to be bolder about speaking up for the Lord. Not surprisingly, my new habit created friction with some. Attending a social event with my former high school friends bore this out. One young woman to whom I had witnessed earlier laughed at my concern about where she would spend eternity. Ed, a friend who knew of my faith, said jokingly, “Three cheers for the old rugged cross!” I felt put down and rejected.
Displayed on the wall of my friends’ lake house is a collection of pictures. Each one of the photos is of a sunset, taken from their deck during various seasons. While each is strikingly beautiful—no two are identical. When I look at them, it reminds me of what another friend once called a sunset—“God’s beautiful signature at the end of a day.”
On December 4, 2007, a 19-year- old soldier serving in Iraq saw a grenade being thrown from a rooftop. Manning the machine gun in the turret of his Humvee, he tried to deflect the explosive—but it fell inside his vehicle. He had time to jump to safety. Instead, he threw his body over the grenade in a stunningly selfless act that saved the lives of four fellow soldiers.
One of the major obstacles to show- ing compassion is making prejudgments about who we think is worthy of our compassion. Jesus told a parable to answer the question: “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). Or, who qualifies as worthy of our neighborly acts?
After his return from the moon, Neil Armstrong was often plagued by the media. Seeking greater privacy, he moved his family into a small town. But notoriety was a nuisance even there. Armstrong’s barber found out that people would pay good money to get a lock of his hair. So after giving the space hero several haircuts, he sold the clippings to a buyer for $3,000! Armstrong was shocked at the barber’s opportunism.
I can still remember what it was like to take our family on vacation, only to have the kids in the backseat mar the joy of it all by their bickering and complaining. Who doesn’t remember the disruptive effects of “Dad, she touched me!” or “Mom, he won’t give me a turn!”
In August 1914, when Britain entered World War I, Oswald Chambers was 40 years old with a wife and a 1-year-old daughter. It wasn’t long before men were joining the army at the rate of 30,000 a day, people were asked to sell their automobiles and farm horses to the government, and lists of the dead and wounded began appearing in daily newspapers. The nation faced economic uncertainty and peril.
On a whim, I bought a red foil balloon at the grocery store. The message “I Love You” streamed across the front in billowy script. As I was loading bags into my car, the balloon’s string slid through my fingers. I stood there watching it float away, and soon it was nothing more than a tiny red dot—finally, just a memory.
In the 1930s, jockey Johnny Longden was rammed in mid-race. While thundering steeds came up from behind, Johnny was thrown sideways off his horse. Seeing his predicament, another jockey reached out and attempted to push Longden back up on his mount. Unfortunately, he pushed too hard and Longden flew over the horse onto the other side. Still another jockey nearby grabbed him and was able to help him safely back on his horse. Amazingly, Johnny Longden won the race! A newspaper dubbed it “the ultimate impossibility.” Helping hands had not only saved him from severe injury and possible death, but allowed him to win the race.
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.”
In the New Testament, hospitality is a hallmark of Christian living. It is listed as a characteristic of church leaders (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:8) and is commanded for every follower of Jesus as an expression of love (Rom. 12:13; 1 Peter 4:9). But its meaning goes deeper than being a gracious host or opening our homes to guests.
Glance at any newspaper and the headlines tell you what’s wrong with the world. Watch television, listen to the radio, talk to friends, and you will find no shortage of opinions as to what is wrong on planet Earth. That’s because pointing out what’s wrong is easy.
As a result of adult children neglecting their responsibilities, some elderly parents in Singapore are forced to seek financial help from charities and other state agencies. Speaking about this escalating situation, a government official said, “We cannot legislate love.”
You have to work hard to offend Christians. By nature, Christians are the most forgiving, understanding, and thoughtful group of people I’ve ever dealt with. They never assume the worst. They appreciate the importance of having different perspectives. They’re slow to anger, quick to forgive, and almost never make rash judgments or act in anything less than a spirit of total love. . . . No, wait—I’m thinking of golden retrievers!
Long ago my wife decided that driving within the speed limit gives her a wonderful sense of freedom. She tells me, “I don’t ever need a radar detector. And I never have to slow down when I see a state patrol car or worry about paying a fine for speeding.” Even on long trips when the miles seem to grind slowly along, she sets the cruise control at the posted speed limit and enjoys the journey. “Besides,” she reminds me, “it is the law.”
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.
During a January research trip to Germany, I was dismayed to learn that we would be staying at a monastery. I pictured an austere place with no heat, cold stone floors, and hard beds. Instead, I found a warm, welcoming, comfortable room. My colleague said, “The monks believe in treating their guests as they would treat Christ.” Though they don’t live in such comfort themselves, they are content.
Erin’s life was so different from that of most 8-year-olds. While other kids were running and playing and eating ice cream, Erin was lying in a bed being fed through a tube—able to see only the brightest lights and hear only the loudest sounds. Her life consisted of needles and nurses and hospital visits as she battled ongoing illnesses and profound disabilities.
When Jesus commanded, “Judge not,” He was not implying that we should be naïve or imprudent. Of course we need to think critically and analytically in this world where we are often confronted with error and wrongdoing. Instead, He meant that we should not be condemning or accusing, a point Paul made eloquently: “Judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts” (1 Cor. 4:5).
While making his landmark documentary about World War II, filmmaker Ken Burns and his colleagues watched thousands of hours of military footage. Scenes of the devastating Battle of Peleliu often invaded their dreams at night. Burns told Sacramento Bee reporter Rick Kushman, “You’re listening to the ghosts and echoes from an almost inexpressible past. If you do that, you put yourself into the emotional maelstrom.”
Last spring the window to one of the rooms in our house was repeatedly attacked by a robin. The bird would perch at the base of the window, ruffle its feathers, chirp loudly, and then fly headfirst into the glass.
Dr. Scott Kurtzman, chief of surgery at Waterbury Hospital in Connecticut, was on his way to deliver a lecture when he witnessed a horrible crash involving 20 vehicles. The doctor shifted into trauma mode, worked his way through the mess of metal, and called out, “Who needs help?” After 90 minutes of assisting, and the victims were taken to area hospitals, Dr. Kurtzman commented, “A person with my skills simply can’t drive by someone who is injured. I refuse to live my life that way.”