Tag  |  sanctification

Gentle Lights

Wang Xiaoying (pronounced Shao-ying) lives in a rural area of China’s Yunnan province. Due to health problems, her husband couldn’t find work in the fields, causing hardship for the family. Her mother-in-law attributed the trouble to Xiaoying’s faith in God. So she mistreated Xiaoying and urged her to go back to the traditional religion of her ancestors.

But because Xiaoying’s husband had observed her transformed life, he said, “Mother, it isn’t enough for Xiaoying alone to believe in God; we too should put our faith in God!” Because of the noticeable change in his wife, he is now considering the good news of Jesus.

People will watch our walk before listening to our talk. The best witness combines good behavior with appropriate words, reflecting the difference Christ makes in our lives.

This was the apostle Peter’s instruction to the first-century believers, and to us, on how we can introduce Jesus to a hostile world. He challenged his readers to be “eager to do good” (1 Peter 3:13), to live obediently in Christ, to have a good conscience, and to be prepared to explain to others why we have such hope (v. 15). If we do this, we have no reason to fear or be ashamed when people mistreat or slander us because of our beliefs.

Whatever our situation, let’s shine for Jesus where we are. He can provide the grace we need to reach even those who don’t agree with us.

Something New

It was only scrap wood, but Charles Hooper saw much more than that. Salvaging old timbers from a long-abandoned corncrib, he sketched some simple plans. Then he felled a few oak and poplar trees from his wooded property and painstakingly squared them with his grandfather’s broadax. Piece by piece, he began to fit together the old lumber with the new.

            Today you can see Charles and Shirley Hooper’s postcard-perfect log cabin, tucked away in the trees on Tennessee Ridge. Part guesthouse, part museum for family heirlooms, the structure stands as an enduring tribute to Charles’ vision, skill, and patience.

            Writing to a Gentile audience, Paul told the church at Ephesus how Jesus was creating something new by bringing together Jewish and non-Jewish believers as a single entity. “You who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ,” Paul wrote (Eph. 2:13). This new structure was “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord” (vv. 20-21).

            The work continues today. God takes the brokenness of our lives, artfully fits us together with other broken and rescued people, and patiently chips away our rough edges. He loves His work, you know.

Focus On The Process

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.”


Sculptors have a term for the artist’s ability to look at a rough piece of stone and see it in its final, perfected form. It is called “hyperseeing.”

What’s At Stake?

To stake or not to stake? That’s the question Marilyn faced when she planted a tree sapling last summer. The salesman said, “Stake it for one year so it will be supported in strong winds. Then remove them so it can grow deep roots on its own.” But a neighbor told her, “Staking may cause more harm than good. The tree needs to start building strong roots right away, or it may never. Not staking is best for long-term health.”

More Than Information

How is behavior altered? In his book The Social Animal, David Brooks notes that some experts have said people just need to be taught the long-term risks of bad behavior. For example, he writes: “Smoking can lead to cancer. Adultery destroys families, and lying destroys trust. The assumption was that once you reminded people of the foolishness of their behavior, they would be motivated to stop. Both reason and will are obviously important in making moral decisions and exercising self-control. But neither of these character models has proven very effective.” In other words, information alone is not powerful enough to transform behavior.

New Eyes

A college student I met had recently placed her faith in Christ. She described her initial life-change this way: “When I trusted Christ for salvation, it felt like God reached down from heaven and placed a new set of eyes in my eye sockets. I could understand spiritual truth!”

Planted In The House Of The Lord

After conducting a series of interviews with elderly people, author Don Gold published the book Until the Singing Stops: A Celebration of Life and Old Age in America.

God’s Timing

Pastor Audley Black’s church near the south coast of Jamaica has been in a building program since at least 2005. That was the first time I visited his church and saw that they were expanding. The last time I was there—in the spring of 2011—some of the walls were up. By that summer, they had started on the roof. When I suggested to Pastor Black that perhaps the church would be done by 2013 when I thought I might return, he said it was a possibility.

True Religion

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.

An Exercise In Godliness

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.

Let’s Be Ready

Happy New Year! Looking forward to what this new year might bring, I can’t help but wonder if 2012 will be the year when Jesus comes back. But then I also wonder if I’m ready.

The Craftsman’s Touch

Irecently saw a documentary about the making of a Steinway piano. It traced the meticulous care that goes into crafting this fine instrument. From the cutting of trees until the piano appears on a showroom floor, it goes through countless delicate adjustments by skilled craftsmen. When the year-long process is complete, accomplished musicians play the piano and often comment on how the same rich sounds could never be produced by a computerized assembly line. The secret to the final product is the craftsman’s touch.

Baby Food

Have you ever tasted baby food? I have. It’s terribly bland. But babies have no other choice without teeth. They certainly can’t eat a nice, juicy steak!

The Pleasure Is Mine

I always look forward to summer. The warm sunshine, baseball, beaches, and barbecues are pleasures that bring joy after a long, cold winter. But pleasure-seeking isn’t just seasonal. Don’t we all enjoy good food, engaging conversation, and a crackling fire?

Open Wide!

Early in the spring, my wife and I watched a fascinating bird show outside our kitchen window. A couple of blackbirds with straw in their beaks entered a small vent in the house next door. A couple of weeks later, to our delight, we saw four baby birds stick their heads out of the vent. Mom and Dad took turns feeding their hungry babies.

A Royal Wedding

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.

Keeping The Wonder

On a recent trip, my wife was seated near a mother with a young boy on his first flight. As the plane took off, he exclaimed, “Mom, look how high we are! And everything’s getting smaller!” A few minutes later he shouted, “Are those clouds down there? What are they doing under us?” As time passed, other passengers read, dozed, and lowered their window shades to watch the in-flight video. This boy, however, remained glued to the window, absorbed in the wonder of all he was seeing.

Patience To Be Patient

Children want things now: “But I want dessert now!” “Are we there yet?” “Now can we open our presents?” In contrast, as we get older we learn to wait. Medical students wait through training. Parents wait in hopes that the prodigal will return. We wait for what is worth waiting for, and in the process we learn patience.

School Of Hard Knocks

Of all my childhood memories, one stands out above the others. While I have no idea what my teacher said, I clearly remember telling her to “shut up.” She sent me home, so I got up and left my kindergarten class to walk the half-block home. Walking down the sidewalk, I saw my mother weeding in the garden behind our house. I was now faced with a strategic decision—continue on my way and tell my mother why I was home early from school, or turn around and go back to face my teacher.

Feeding Ourselves

The eaglets were hungry, and Mom and Dad seemed to be ignoring them. The oldest of the three decided to solve his hunger problem by gnawing on a twig. Apparently it wasn’t too tasty, because he soon abandoned it.

Nature Abhors A Vacuum

According to the ancient philosopher Aristotle, “Nature abhors a vacuum.” Aristotle based his conclusion on the observation that nature requires every space to be filled with something, even if that something is colorless, odorless air.

Aim High

When my daughter and her family were in town for a visit, I had a chance to take my son and two sons-in-law out for a “guy” outing.


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.


If we’re not careful, we may become like the man who prided himself on being an expert archer. The secret to his success was that after he shot his arrow at the side of a barn, he painted a bull’s-eye around the arrow.

Older Or Better?

We know we’re getting older when we say things like, “Can you believe how young those professional baseball players are?” And it’s a sure sign of aging when we no longer ask, “How are you?” but say, “Hey, you look terrific”—as if we’re surprised.

Time To Grow Up

While browsing through some birthday cards in a gift shop, I found one that made me laugh. Its message read: “You are only young once, but you can be immature forever.” That card tickled my funny bone. There is something winsome about never having to grow up, as any fan of Peter Pan can attest.

Confidence In What?

While walking through a home-improvement store, I saw a man wearing a bright red T-shirt bearing this melancholy message: “Confidence: The feeling you have just before you understand the situation.”

Champion Marksman

Matt Emmons, Olympic gold medalist in rifle shooting in 2004, was set to win another event at Athens. He had a commanding lead and hoped to make a direct bull’s-eye on his last shot. But something went wrong—he hit the target, but he was aiming at the wrong one! That wrong focus dropped him to eighth place and cost him a medal.

David’s Questions

An African proverb states, “The one who asks questions doesn’t lose his way.” That concept can be helpful as we consider David’s questions in the Psalms. He was clearly seeking God’s guidance for the way he should go.

God’s Origami

Not long ago, I attended a class in origami, where I learned that the term comes from two Japanese words that mean “folding paper.” In this process, a piece of paper is transformed into a bird or other unique shape by a series of geometric folds and creases.

The Search For Satisfaction

When it comes to jigsaw puzzles, we all know that to enjoy a satisfying outcome you need all the pieces. In many ways, life is like that. We spend our days putting it together, hoping to create a complete picture out of all the scattered parts.

Our Co-Pilot?

The bumper sticker “Jesus is my co-pilot” may be a well-intentioned sentiment, but it has always troubled me. Whenever I’m in the driver’s seat of my life, the destination is nowhere good. Jesus is not meant to be just a spiritual “co-pilot” giving directions every now and then. He is always meant to be in the driver’s seat. Period!

Agents Of Change

With 4 years of seminary under my belt, I walked into my first ministry with a long agenda. As a new pastor, I thought I was there to change that place. Instead, God used that place to change me.

Like A Tree

In the quietness of my final years I plan to watch a tree grow—a birch tree I planted as a tiny sapling over 30 years ago. It stands now in mature splendor, just outside our picture window—beautiful in every season of the year.

Time For A Change

A friend once told me, “In my lifetime I’ve seen a lot of things change, and I’ve been against them all!” Perhaps he overstated the point, but many of us would agree that we don’t like change—especially if it involves altering our habits and attitudes.

Treasure Hunt

On January 1, 2008, Keith Severin and his 7-year-old son, Adrien, agreed that they would spend at least 15 minutes every day that year searching together for treasure. Carlos Alcalá’s article in the Sacramento Bee described how they went out each day in every kind of weather to see what they could find. A year later their collection of coins, golf balls, recyclable bottles and cans, and various other items had yielded more than $1,000. In the process, they enjoyed many hours of companionship and fun.

Bad Idea?

The former athlete had neglected his body for too long, so he began an exercise routine. The first day, he did several push-ups and went for a light jog. The next day, more push-ups, a few sit-ups, and a longer run. Day 3: exercises and a mile-and-a-half run. On Day 4, our ex-athlete in re-training woke up with a sore throat.

In Which Realm Do You Live?

I was working with a petroleum company in Singapore when an inspector from another country visited. He came to check on a cargo of oil destined for his country, which was at war. When he heard the shriek of fighter planes overhead, he instinctively ran for cover. Embarrassed, he explained, “Sorry, I thought I was back home.” He did what he would have done had he been in his war-torn country.

The Galatia Church

I was driving through the countryside when I spotted a church building whose name surprised me. It said, “The Galatia Church.” The name caught my attention because I was certain no one would choose to name a church this unless it was a geographic necessity.

The Heat Of Our Desire

Pastor A. W. Tozer (1897–1963) read the great Christian theologians until he could write about them with ease. He challenges us: “Come near to the holy men and women of the past and you will soon feel the heat of their desire after God. They mourned for Him, they prayed and wrestled and sought for Him day and night, in season and out, and when they had found Him the finding was all the sweeter for the long seeking.”

Hallowing Halloween

The word hallow isn’t used much anymore, and when it is, the uses have a broad range of meaning. Christians use the word when we say the Lord’s prayer, as in “Hallowed be Thy name.” Often the word is associated with the last day of October, which we in the US refer to as Halloween, a shortened form of All Hallows’ Eve.

Go Beyond Reading

Pastor, where are the Our Daily Bread devotionals?” The words came harshly—almost in anger. The latest edition had not yet been placed in the rack outside the church auditorium. This led at least one reader to confront the pastor about their absence. Although it was not his responsibility to distribute the booklets, he felt terrible about the way this parishioner had reprimanded him for not making sure the devotional guides were there on time.

Struggling To Kneel

Just before John Ashcroft was being sworn in as a US senator, he met with family and friends for prayer. As they gathered around him, he saw his dad trying to get up from the couch where he sat. Since his father was in frail health, Ashcroft told him, “That’s okay, Dad. You don’t have to stand up to pray for me.” His father replied, “I’m not struggling to stand up. I’m struggling to kneel.”

The Teacher As A Midwife

The mother of the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates was a midwife. So Socrates grew up observing that she assisted women in bringing new life into the world. This experience later influenced his teaching method. Socrates said, “My art of midwifery is in general like theirs; the only difference is that my patients are men, not women, and my concern is not with the body but with the soul that is in travail of birth.”

Running Every Day

The Pikes Peak Ascent is a challenging mountain foot race, covering 13.32 miles while gaining 7,815 feet in altitude. My good friend Don Wallace ran it 20 times. In his final race, he crossed the finish line one week before his 67th birthday! Instead of training just before a race, Don ran 6 miles a day, year round, with rare exceptions, wherever he happened to be. He’s done that for most of his adult life and continues to this day.

Small Step—Giant Leap

In July 1969, I was at Fort Benning, Georgia, training to become a US Army officer. Infantry Officer Candidate School was intense and highly regimented with only rare moments of free time. Surprisingly, on the evening of July 20, we were ordered to our company Day Room, seated in front of a flickering television set, and told simply, “This is history.”

God’s Masterpieces

The Grand Rapids Art Museum has over 5,000 works of art, including 3,500 prints, drawings, and photographs; 1,000 works of design; and 700 paintings and sculptures. As I read about the new museum and anticipated visiting, I couldn’t help but think about God’s “museum.”


When I was a little girl, my parents bought their first house. One afternoon, the family hopped into the car and drove to see where we soon would be living.

God Is At Work

We always crave change in a new year. This is why on January 1 we start diets, exercise programs, and new hobbies. Of course, a month later we’re usually back to our old bad habits. Maybe that’s because we crave too big a change and do not have enough power and will to make the changes.

Planting Time

Somewhere in the world right now a farmer is dropping seeds into the ground. Soon those seeds will begin to change the place where they were planted. The carefully prepared soil that appears barren today will become a field ready for harvest.

A Commitment To Walk

One thing that impresses me about my wife is her commitment to walk two to four times a week for at least an hour. Come rain, snow, sleet, or shine, my wife layers up or down (depending on the weather), puts on her headphones, and off she goes walking through our community.

A Convenient Christianity

So many television programs, so little time to watch them. Apparently that’s what our culture thinks, because now technology allows us to see an hour-long program in just 6 minutes or less! The Minisode Network has pruned episodes of popular series into shorter, more convenient packages for interested viewers. “The shows you love—only shorter” is how it’s advertised. All to make our life more convenient.

In Your Head

I love the prayer that begins, “God be in my head.” When I first heard it, admittedly I thought it sounded a little weird. But then I got to thinking how unfortunate it is if in our efforts to get closer to Jesus we focus on our emotional experience of Him and check our brains at the door. Without His truth ringing in our heads, we’re bound to get off track.

The Ripening Self

In his early years of ministry, the English preacher Charles Simeon (1759–1836) was a harsh and self-assertive man. One day he was visiting a friend and fellow pastor in a nearby village. When he left to go home, his friend’s daughters complained to their father about Simeon’s manner. So he took the girls to the backyard and said, “Pick me one of those peaches.” It was early summer, and the peaches were green. The girls asked why he wanted green, unripe fruit. He replied, “Well, my dears, it is green now, and we must wait; but a little more sun, and a few more showers, and the peach will be ripe and sweet. So it is with Mr. Simeon.”

Shark Tonic

Have you ever heard of shark “tonic”? It isn’t a serum that prevents shark attacks or a medicine given to sharks. The actual term is “tonic immobility,” described as “a natural state of paralysis that animals enter. . . . Sharks can be placed in a tonic immobility state by turning them upside down. The shark remains in this state of paralysis for an average of 15 minutes before it recovers.”

Do Something With Nothing

A newspaper ad showed three people waiting for a city bus. Two of them were bored and listless, while the third was happily playing a game on a small electronic device. “Do something with your nothing,” the ad said. “That nothing time. The time in between everything else you have to do.” The idea was to sell the portable player so people could use all those segments of wasted “waiting” time.

Looks Can Be Deceiving

On June 22, 2002, a 33-year-old pitching star for the St. Louis Cardinals was found dead in his Chicago hotel room. He was young, physically active, and appeared to be in good health. However, the autopsy revealed that he had a 90-percent blockage in two of three coronary arteries, an enlarged heart, and a blood clot in one of the arteries. His appearance misled many to think that he was physically healthy.

Building A City

For 41 years, New York’s Empire State Building enjoyed the distinction of being the world’s tallest building at 1,250 feet. Since then, others have passed it, including the 1,483-foot Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and the 1,670-foot Taipei 101 building. The 2,657-foot Burj in Dubai to be completed in late 2008 will surpass those by far.

A Learner

The poster in the church hallway pictured a young boy dressed in Middle Eastern clothing, with Bible in hand, walking up a hill to church. The caption read: “Jesus was a good Christian boy who went to Sunday school every Sunday.”

End Of Construction

Years ago, Ruth Bell Graham, wife of evangelist Billy Graham, saw a sign by the road: “End of Construction—Thank you for your patience.” Smiling, she remarked that she wanted those words on her gravestone.

Chip Off The Ol’ Block

I’ll never forget the time I was asked to bring my family to a banquet where I was to be the speaker. After dinner, my son Matt came up to me and asked to sit on my lap. “Sure,” I said and picked him up.

Snapshots Of Time

The designers of an innovative Web site call their creation a “snapshot” of our world. Every hour, computers monitor international news sources, select the most frequently occurring words and pictures, then display them as an interactive image. Over time, these hourly snapshots compose a mosaic of unfolding world events.

Better With Age

Some people are obsessed with physical fitness—daily workouts, vitamins, organic food—in spite of the fact that our bodies keep ticking away in inevitable decline. In our twenties and thirties we think we’re invincible, but in the decades that follow, the eyesight starts to go, then the knees, then the mind. Let’s face it, trying to ensure long-lasting physical health is like trying to stem the tide with a pitchfork!

Dragon Skin

In the fifth Chronicle of Narnia, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Edmund, Lucy, and their spoiled cousin Eustace are summoned to help on a quest in the Eastern Sea. Along the way, Eustace is tempted by enchanted treasure and turned into a dragon. The desperate dragon accepts the help of the great lion Aslan, king of Narnia. But Eustace can only be freed by allowing Aslan’s claws to painfully tear off the dragon’s flesh. Grateful for his deliverance, Eustace chooses to become a better boy.

2,000-Year-Old Sprout

In June of 2006, Israeli doctors and scientists successfully germinated a 2,000-year-old date palm seed. Found at the Herodian fortress of Masada on the west bank of the Dead Sea, the seed was tagged “Methuselah” for the man with the oldest recorded age in the Bible (Gen. 5:27). In addition to the challenge of awakening a long-dormant seed, the team also wanted to learn more about the tree praised in Scripture for its shade, food, beauty, and medicinal qualities.

Training For Life

When Dean Karnazes completed the 26.2-mile New York Marathon in November 2006, it marked the end of an almost impossible feat of endurance. Karnazes had run 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days. This exceptional athlete’s ultra-endurance feats include: running 350 continuous miles, mountain biking for 24 hours straight, and swimming across San Francisco Bay. That level of fitness requires relentless, dedicated training.

The Quiet Road

Fifty miles west of Asheville, North Carolina, I turned off the busy highway and drove the remaining distance to the city on the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway. On that late October afternoon I drove slowly, stopping often to savor the mountain vistas and the last of the brilliant autumn leaves. The journey was not efficient in terms of getting to my destination quickly, but it was effective in restoring my soul.

Growth Persuasion

My Uncle Lester, who lived in Florida, was discouraged by the lack of fruit on his grapefruit tree. Someone told him he needed to whack the trunk of the tree a few times with a board.

Be Coachable!

Casey Seymour, a successful soccer player and coach, notes that everyone on his team hates the 10-by-100 drill that ends practice. Before the men can leave the field, they must run 100 yards 10 times at full speed with minimal rest. If they don’t beat a prescribed time, they have to do it again.

Keep The Fire Burning

Modern furnaces have taken the work out of keeping warm in cold climates. We simply set the timer on the thermostat, and the house is warm when we get up in the morning. But in former days, fire was carefully tended and fuel supplies were closely monitored. Running out could be deadly.

Which Way Am I Growing?

Some folks grow old gracefully, while others become grouchy and ill-tempered. It’s important to know which way we’re growing, because we’re all growing older.

What God Owes Us

A story is told about a vendor who sold bagels for 50 cents each at a street corner food stand. A jogger ran past and threw a couple of quarters into the bucket but didn’t take a bagel. He did the same thing every day for months. One day, as the jogger was passing by, the vendor stopped him. The jogger asked, “You probably want to know why I always put money in but never take a bagel, don’t you?” “No,” said the vendor. “I just wanted to tell you that the bagels have gone up to 60 cents.”

Hurry Sickness

Hurry up!" "We're late!" "You're too slow!" How often do impatient words crop up in our speech, revealing our fast-paced life? If we're not careful, we become people living in the fast lane, demanding quick arrivals and instant results. Stress experts call this "hurry sickness."

Frog And Toad

One of my favorite children’s books is Frog And Toad Together by Arnold Lobel. Frog had a garden that Toad admired, and he wanted one too. So Frog told him: “It is very nice, but it was hard work.” When he gave Toad some flower seeds, Toad quickly ran home and planted them.

A Daily Beauty

When you look in a mirror, what do you see? Do you see a lovely reflection? A handsome face? Or do you see a plain or unattractive countenance?

Tramps And Pilgrims

During the Great Depression of the early 1930s, many men became tramps. They hopped freight trains to travel from place to place, slept in empty boxcars, and earned a little money by doing seasonal jobs. When they couldn’t find a job, they resorted to begging. My mother was a "soft touch" for any such drifters who came to our door for food. They had lost the comfortable security of a home.

When The Pressure Is On

What makes a shiny apple look so delicious? The skin, of course. But what is it about an apple that actually makes it delicious? The juice and substance inside. That’s the apple’s real "character."

Groans Now, Glory Later

I once heard of a Christian seminar titled, “How To Live A Stress-Free Life.” Such an unrealistic hope promptly made me stressful! Yet we all long for relief from life’s many pressures.

A Lesson From The Oak Tree

Have you ever noticed that in winter some oak trees retain their crisp, dry leaves long after the maples, the elms, and the walnuts have become bare skeletons? Even the strong winter winds and the early spring rains do not completely strip the oak branches of all their old leaves. But as springtime progresses, warmer winds blow and something wonderful begins to happen. Tiny buds start appearing at the tips of the twigs, and the dried remnants of the preceding season fall off. New life replaces the old.

“Garbage Mary”

She dressed in rags, lived in a tenement house amid mounds of garbage, and spent much of her time rummaging through trash cans. The local newspaper picked up her story after the woman who was known in her neighborhood as “Garbage Mary” had been admitted to a psychiatric hospital. Astonishingly, in her filthy apartment police found stock certificates and bankbooks indicating she was worth at least a million dollars.

The Choice Is Ours

One summer afternoon I climbed a hill near my home. When I reached the top, I stretched out on the grass to relax.

A Three-Step Conversion

Someone has said that a committed Christian undergoes three conversions: "First to Christ, then to the church, and then back to the world."

Getting In Shape

A woman went to a diet center to lose weight. The director took her to a full-length mirror. On it he outlined a figure and told her, "This is what I want you to look like at the end of the program."

Knowing God Personally

Most Christians would prefer to see God perform mighty miracles rather than to have fellowship with Him and learn His ways.

Carried Along

A chorus of groans erupted after the announcement that our flight had been delayed an hour and a half because bad weather in Chicago was allowing only a few planes to land. But a short time later, another announcement caused those same people to cheer. We were told that a medical courier was transporting bone marrow needed for a transplant, and this gave our flight top priority to land in Chicago. In a few minutes we were on our way, "carried along" by the important mission of another person.

Dirty Laundry

Whenever my husband and I leave the house, our dog Maggie goes sniffing for old shoes and dirty laundry. She surrounds herself with what she finds and then sleeps with it near her nose. The familiar smells comfort her until we return.

Bring Out The Shine

Many years ago I bought a 1964 Volkswagen from my neighbor. The car was mechanically sound, but the outside looked pretty rough. Dents marred its surface, and dirt and grime had dulled its once deep blue color.

Roughed Up To Grow Up

Many Christians have to be lovingly roughed up before they will grow up. Although the heavenly Father never allows His children to suffer needlessly, sometimes He lets them experience hard knocks so they'll become mature believers.

Spiritual Reupholstering

When we moved into our home 5 years ago, we discovered that the former owner had left us six dining room chairs. They were covered with fabric of beautiful African art—tasteful zebra stripes. We appreciated the unexpected gifts and used them frequently when entertaining guests.

Keep The Goal In View

Bible scholar William Barclay tells of his walks through the meadow with his bull terrier Rusty. Whenever his dog came to a shallow creek, he jumped in and started removing stones, one by one, dropping them haphazardly on the shore. This pointless activity would go on for hours.

Rock Bottom

I was in my early thirties, a dedicated wife and mother, a Christian worker at my husband's side. Yet inwardly I found myself on a trip nobody wants to take—the trip downward. I was heading for that certain sort of breakdown that most of us resist, the breakdown of my stubborn self-sufficiency.

Growing Old; Growing Up

Old age is the season when we can give ourselves to "soul-making," as the Quakers say. We can concentrate on getting to know God better and cultivating character traits that make us more like Him. Age breaks down our strength and energy and strips us of our busyness. It's God's way of getting us to slow down so we'll take more time for Him. We can think more deeply about life, about ourselves, and about others.

No Looking Back

When I was a boy on the farm, my dad would tell me, "You can't plow a straight row if you look back." You can test this for yourself by looking back as you walk through snow or along a sandy beach. Your tracks won't be straight.

Five-Finger Prayers

Prayer is a conversation with God, not a formula. Yet sometimes we might need to use a "method" to freshen up our prayer time. We can pray the Psalms or other Scriptures (such as The Lord's Prayer), or use the ACTS method (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication). I recently came across this "Five-Finger Prayer" to use as a guide when praying for others:

  • When you fold your hands, the thumb is nearest you. So begin by praying for those closest to you—your loved ones (Philippians 1:3-5).
  • The index finger is the pointer. Pray for those who teach—Bible teachers and preachers, and those who teach children (1 Thessalonians 5:25).
  • The next finger is the tallest. It reminds you to pray for those in authority over you—national and local leaders, and your supervisor at work (1 Timothy 2:1-2).
  • The fourth finger is usually the weakest. Pray for those who are in trouble or who are suffering (James 5:13-16).
  • Then comes your little finger. It reminds you of your smallness in relation to God's greatness. Ask Him to supply your needs (Philippians 4:6,19).

Known Unto God

While visiting a World War I military cemetery in France, I was struck by the number of grave markers bearing only these words:

Touching Bottom

Crowds gathered each week to hear the soul-stirring sermons of Joseph Parker, the famous pastor of London's City Temple in the late 19th century. Then a crisis hit him hard. His wife died after an agonizing illness. Parker later said he would not have allowed a dog to suffer as she did. A heartbroken husband whose prayers had gone unanswered, he confessed publicly that for a week he had even denied that God existed.

Short & Full Of Trouble

Jacob's life was full of trials. And as it was for the old patriarch, so it is for us. Life buffets and restricts us, makes demands on us that we do not want to bear. Yet even the most unjust, undeserved, and pointless suffering is an opportunity for us to respond in a way that our Lord can turn us into His own likeness. We can take joy in our trials, because we know that adversity is working to make us "perfect and complete, lacking nothing" (James 1:3-4). But this takes time.

More Than Wishing

As a child, C. S. Lewis enjoyed reading the books of E. Nesbit, especially Five Children and It. In this book, brothers and sisters on a summer holiday discover an ancient sand fairy who grants them one wish each day. But every wish brings the children more trouble than happiness because they can't foresee the results of getting everything they ask for.

The Leviticus Reminder

If you are following the Bible reading schedule in Our Daily Bread, you've been in the book of Leviticus lately. Leviticus may be one of the least-read books in the Bible, and you might be wondering what its purpose really is. Why all those laws and rules about clean and unclean animals? (ch.11). What message was God giving to the Israelites—and to us?

The Right Light

Eating in the dark is no fun. Low light in a restaurant is one thing; eating in a room with no light at all is another. The same is true in our walk with God. Unless we take advantage of the light He gives, we will miss seeing what He is doing for us.

A Stone In The Mouth

We would all cringe at the thought of a mouth full of gravel. But a stone in the mouth can actually be desirable—at least that seems to be true for the cranes that inhabit the Taurus mountains of southern Turkey.

The Pine Looper

In the summer of 1992, a fire blackened 4,500 acres of forest about 35 miles north of Atlantic City. One homeowner saw a fireball with 60-foot flames come roaring up across the street from his house, before veering away. The Associated Press quoted him as saying, "I've worked 25 years of my life here. The thought of having it gone in 10 minutes makes you want to stay for the last possible minute."

Let's Get Growing!

Several years ago my interest in flowers had our home resembling a nursery. There's something about the presence of growing plants that I find very enjoyable. As I daily inspected their progress, I gained from my little green friends a new appreciation of the joy and necessity of the wonderful process of growth.

A Matter Of Taste

Two cockroaches decided to visit their favorite restaurant. While the larger of the two was enjoying his meal, the smaller one said,“You wouldn’t believe the house I just left. It was spotless. The lady had to be a cleanaholic. Everything was immaculate—the sink, the counter, the floors. You couldn’t find a crumb anywhere.”The other cockroach stopped his munching, looked with some annoyance at his companion, and said,“Do you have to talk like that while I’m eating?"

The Ring

I'm not much for jewelry. A wedding ring was all I ever wanted —until now. Next to my wedding ring, on the little finger of my left hand, rests a simple silver band. It's my daughter Melissa's.
Soon after Mell died in a car accident in June 2002, just 6 weeks short of her 18th birthday, I was in her bedroom when I found the ring. I recalled having seen it on her beautiful hand.

Restoring God's Image

As a young boy, theologian Alister McGrath enjoyed experimenting with chemicals in his school's laboratory. He liked to drop a tarnished coin into a beaker of diluted nitric acid. He often used an old British penny bearing the image of Queen Victoria. Because of the accumulated grime, Her Majesty's image couldn't be seen clearly. But the acid cleansed away the grime and the Queen's image reappeared in shining glory.

The Discus Thrower

A Scottish athlete in the 19th century made an iron discus based on a description he read in a book. What he didn't know was that the discus used in official competition was made of wood with only an outer rim of iron. His was solid metal and weighed three or four times as much as those being used by other discus throwers.

Pain And Gain

Years ago I was an extremely anxious Christian. When I began spiraling downward emotionally, God didn't intervene, for He knew I needed to reach the end of myself. When I finally hit rock bottom, the "rock" on which I fell was Jesus Christ.
The Lord immediately began rebuilding me, applying truths from His Word to teach me trust and faith. Gradually He changed me into the joyful, God-dependent person He intended me to be. Through this painful but profitable experience, I learned that when God disciplines us, our greatest gain isn't what we get but what we become.

Being Useful

Jesus emerged from obscurity and was baptized by John the Baptist. When He came out of the water, He heard His Father say, "You are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased" (Luke 3:22).

Life's Seasons

When we are young, we can't wait to grow up. When we are old, we look back longingly to former years. But God intends that we joyfully take each season of life as it comes. Whatever our age, He imparts what we need to be all that we can be. He asks us to commit our way to Him and accept the struggles He allows and the strength He provides.

Healthcare For The Heart

If you're over 40 years old, your heart has already beat more than 1.5 billion times. I know that when my heart stops, it will be too late to change my ways. So I've been trying to control my weight, get exercise, and watch not only what I eat but also what's eating me.

Gardening Tips

I picked up a gardening book the other day and got some good advice: Take care of the soil, and don't worry about the plants. If the soil is good, the seed will take root and grow."

Holy, Holy, Holy

Time flies when you're having fun." This cliché has no basis in fact, but experience makes it seem true.

Copy The Master

The Louvre in Paris is perhaps the most famous art museum in the world. It displays originals by such masters as Delacroix, Michelangelo, Rubens, da Vinci, Ingres, Vermeer, and many others.

Likable Christians

The local newspaper reported the death of a semi-pro baseball pitcher I had admired during my teenage years. His name was Elmer "Lefty" Nyenhouse. He was a likable Christian. The article said that he had been active in his church and a respected member of his community until his death at 88.

"God Makes No Mistakes"

A few days after arriving on the campus of Texas A&M University in 1984, Bruce Goodrich was awakened at 2 a.m. Upperclassmen roused him out of bed to initiate him into the Corps of Cadets, a military-style training program.

Becoming A Mentor

According to Homer's Odyssey, when King Odysseus went off to fight in the Trojan war, he left his son Telemachus in the hands of a wise old man named Mentor. Mentor was charged with the task of teaching the young man wisdom.

Christ-Centered Faith

Some Christians try to live from one dramatic mountaintop experience to another. Their relationship with the Lord is based on their feelings at the moment. They go from Bible conferences to seminars to Bible studies, trying to maintain an emotional high.

Yielding Control

During a visit with a friend suffering from Lou Gehrig's disease, I asked what lessons God was teaching her as she traveled down this difficult road. Her immediate response was, "Loss of control."

Bearing Grapes

As I read a modern paraphrase of John 15:1-8, I began to reconsider my concept of what it means to be a fruitful Christian. Jesus said, "I am the Real Vine and my Father is the Farmer. He cuts off every branch of Me that doesn't bear grapes. And every branch that is grape-bearing He prunes back so it will bear even more" (The Message by Eugene Peterson).

Think About It

According to one little boy, "Thinking is when your mouth stays shut and your head keeps talking to itself."

Changed To Bring Change

One night a woman dreamed that she was having a conversation with God. She was angry about all the suffering and evil she saw around her, so she complained to the Lord, "Why don't You do something about all this?" God gently replied, "I did. I created you."

A Passion For The Word

The Bible—how much of it do you know and understand? Does it seem overwhelming? Do you feel it's too late in life to study it seriously?

A Long Obedience

Every January, health club memberships dramatically increase and exercise rooms become crowded with what some people call "the New Year's resolution crowd." Fitness regulars know that by March many of the newcomers will be gone. "They don't see results as quickly as they think they will," says one club director. "People don't realize it takes a lot of work and perseverance to get in shape."

Building A Life

It was a sunny, sad day in 1982—the day after my husband's funeral. I had gone alone to Bill's grave, hardly knowing why. As with Mary Magdalene who visited Jesus' tomb, the risen Lord was waiting for me. He impressed the words of Philippians 1:21 on my mind, still numbed by Bill's untimely death from cancer.

Wise Counsel

I'll never forget Jake. His legs seemed too thin and spindly to hold him against the current of the river. His patched and discolored waders looked older than he was. His fishing vest was tattered and held together with safety pins; his ancient hat was battered and sweat-stained; his antiquated fly rod was scarred and taped.

The Gift Of Thought

In some ways humans are inferior to animals. I have seen some incredibly strong men, but never one "as strong as an ox." Men can run 100 meters in under 10 seconds, but that doesn't begin to compare with the speed of a cheetah. There are people who have an uncanny sense of direction, but even they can't explain how migrating swallows can return unerringly to the same place year after year.

Lipstick On A Bulldog

"In a lot of organizations, change is like putting lipstick on a bulldog. There's a tremendous amount of effort involved, and most times all you get is some cosmetics—and an angry bulldog." So writes Dave Murphy of the San Francisco Chronicle.

Related Topics

> Biblical Studies

On a Hill Far Away

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

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

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

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

The Tree Of Love

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

And Then You Laugh

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

> Christian Beliefs

It’s What We Do

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

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

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

Reflecting God’s Glory

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

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

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

Baking with Jess

One morning as Lilia prepared for work, her 4-year-old daughter Jess set to work too. The family had purchased a conveyor toaster, and the concept of cycling bread through the small countertop oven fascinated Jess. Minutes later, Lilia discovered a loaf and a half of toast piled on the counter. “I’m a very good baker!” Jess declared.

It’s no miracle that an inquisitive girl could turn bread into toast. But when Jesus transformed a boy’s five loaves and two fish into a meal for thousands, the crowd on the hillside recognized the miraculous nature of the event and wanted to make Him king (see John 6:1-15).

Jesus’ kingdom, of course, is “not of this world” (John 18:36), and so He slipped away. When the crowd found Him the next day, Christ identified a flaw in their motives: “You seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled” (6:26). They mistakenly thought “King” Jesus would give them full stomachs and national freedom. But Jesus counseled them, “Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life” (v. 27).

An earthbound view will cause us to treat Jesus as a means to an end. He is, in fact, our Bread of Life.

> Christian Living

Behind the Scenes

The outreach activities of our church culminated with a city-wide service. As the team that had organized and led the events—comprised of our youth music group, counselors, and church leaders—walked onto the stage, we all excitedly applauded and poured out our appreciation for their hard work.

One man, however, was hardly noticeable, yet he was the leader of the team. When I saw him a few days later, I thanked and congratulated him for his work and said, “We hardly noticed you during the program.”

“I like to work in the background,” he said. He was not concerned with getting recognition for himself. It was time for those who did the work to receive appreciation.

His quiet demeanor was an entire sermon to me. It was a reminder that when serving the Lord, I need not seek to be recognized. I can give honor to God whether or not I’m openly appreciated by others. A Christ-first attitude can subdue any petty jealousies or unhealthy competition.

Jesus, who is “above all” (John 3:31), “must become greater; I must become less” (v.30). When we have this attitude, we will seek the progress of God’s work. It is Christ, not us, who should be the focus of all we do.

Love Comes First

One evening my friend showed me one of the three decorative plaques that would be part of a wall arrangement in her living room. “See, I’ve already got Love,” she said, holding up the plaque with the word written on it. “Faith and Hope are on order.”

So Love comes first, I thought. Faith and Hope soon follow! 

Love did come first. In fact, it originated with God. First John 4:19 reminds us that “We love [God] because he first loved us.” God’s love, described in 1 Corinthians 13 (known as the “love chapter”), explains a characteristic of real love when it says, “Love never fails” (v. 8).

Faith and hope are essential to the believer. It is only because we are justified by faith that “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1). And hope is described in Hebrews 6 as “an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (v. 19).

One day we will have no need of faith and hope. Faith will become sight and our hope will be realized when we see our Savior face to face. But love is eternal, for love is of God and God is love (1 John 4:7-8). “Now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love”—it’s first and last (1 Cor. 13:13).

Purpose in Routine

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

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

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

And so can we.

> Christian Ministry & the Church

Power In Praise

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

God’s World

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

Enjoying His Meal

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

> Christianity & Culture

Losing Our Way

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

The Power To Change

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

Disposable Culture

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

> Ethical Issues

I’ve Come to Help

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

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

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

Speak Up

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

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

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

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

A Letter from the Battlefield

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

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

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

> Evangelism & Missions

Who Is My Neighbor?

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

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

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

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

Faithful Service

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

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

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

Tears of a Teen

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

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

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

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

> Life Struggles

Beyond Disappointment

Perhaps you’ve seen the video of the little boy who learns he’s getting another sister. In the middle of his meltdown he laments, “It’s always girls, girls, girls, girls!”

The story gives an amusing glimpse into human expectations, but there’s nothing funny about disappointment. It saturates our world. One story from the Bible seems especially steeped in disappointment. Jacob agreed to work 7 years for the right to marry his boss’s daughter Rachel. But after fulfilling his contract, Jacob got a wedding night surprise. In the morning he discovered not Rachel but her sister Leah.

We focus on Jacob’s disappointment, but imagine how Leah must have felt! What hopes and dreams of hers began to die that day as she was forced to marry a man who did not love or want her? 

Psalm 37:4 tells us, “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Are we to believe that God-fearing people are never disappointed? No, the psalm clearly shows that the writer sees injustice all around him. But he takes the long view: “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him” (v. 7). His conclusion: “The meek will inherit the land” (v. 11).

In the end, it was Leah whom Jacob honored and buried in the family grave plot with Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah (Gen. 49:31). And it was through the lineage of Leah—who in life thought she was unloved—that God blessed the world with our Savior. Jesus brings justice, restores hope, and gives us an inheritance beyond our wildest dreams.

Grey Power

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

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

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

Darkness and Light

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

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

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

> Marriage & Family

His Choice

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

Bring The Boy To Me

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

The Girl In The Yellow Coat

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

> Relationships

Seeing Ourselves

Long ago, before the invention of mirrors or polished surfaces, people rarely saw themselves. Puddles of water, streams, and rivers were one of the few ways they could see their own reflection. But mirrors changed that. And the invention of cameras took fascination with our looks to a whole new level. We now have lasting images of ourselves from any given time throughout our entire life. This is good for making scrapbooks and keeping family histories, but it can be detrimental to our spiritual well-being. The fun of seeing ourselves on camera can keep us focused on outward appearance and leave us with little interest in examining our inner selves.

Self-examination is crucial for a healthy spiritual life. God wants us to see ourselves so that we can be spared the consequences of sinful choices. This is so important that Scripture says we are not to participate in the Lord’s Supper without first examining ourselves (1 Cor. 11:28). The point of this self-examination is not only to make things right with God but also to make sure we are right with one another. The Lord’s Supper is a remembrance of Christ’s body, and we can’t celebrate it properly if we’re not living in harmony with other believers.

Seeing and confessing our sin promotes unity with others and a healthy relationship with God. 

Coming Alongside

When my sister Carole was diagnosed with breast cancer, our family worried. That diagnosis, with its surgeries and treatments, caused us to fear for her well-being, which drove our family to prayer on her behalf. Over the ensuing months, Carole’s updates were honest about the challenges. But we all celebrated when the report came back that the surgery and treatments had been successful. Carole was on the road to recovery!

Then, less than a year later, my sister Linda faced the same battle. Immediately, Carole came alongside Linda, helping her understand what to expect and how to prepare for what she would face. Carole’s experience had equipped her to walk with Linda through her own trial.

This is what Paul calls for in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, where we read, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”

Thankfully, the Lord doesn’t waste anything. Our struggles not only give us an opportunity to experience His comfort, but they also open the door for us to share that comfort with others in their struggles.

Faultfinders Anonymous

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

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

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

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

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

> Retirement

Age Is Not a Factor

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

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

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

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

> Spiritual Growth

God's Compass

During World War II, small compasses saved the lives of 27 sailors 300 miles off the coast of North Carolina. Waldemar Semenov, a retired merchant seaman, was serving as a junior engineer aboard the SS Alcoa Guide when a German submarine surfaced and opened fire on the ship. The ship was hit, caught fire, and began to sink. Semenov and his crew lowered compass-equipped lifeboats into the water and used the compasses to guide them toward the shipping lanes closer to shore. After three days, the men were rescued.

The psalmist reminded God’s people that His Word was a trustworthy “compass.” He likened it to a lamp. In that day, the flickering light cast by an olive oil lamp was only bright enough to show a traveler his next step. To the psalmist, God’s Word was such a lamp, providing enough light to illuminate the path for those pursuing God (Ps. 119:105). When the psalmist was wandering in the dark on a chaotic path of life, he believed that God, through the guidance of His Word, would provide direction.

When we lose our bearings in life, we can trust our God who gives His trustworthy Word as our compass, using it to lead us into deeper fellowship with Him.

Baby Steps

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

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

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

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

Continuing with Christ

As a child, my favorite week of the summer was the one I spent at a Christian youth camp. At the end of the week, I’d sit elbow-to-elbow with friends in front of an enormous bonfire. There, we would share what we had learned about God and the Bible and sing. One song I still remember focused on deciding to follow Jesus. The chorus contained an important phrase: “no turning back.”

When Elisha decided to follow the prophet Elijah, Elisha did something incredible that made it difficult, impossible really, for him to return to his prior occupation of farming. After going home and having a farewell banquet, Elisha “took a yoke of oxen and slaughtered them” (1 Kings 19:21). Leaving his way of life, he burned up his plowing equipment. He roasted the freshly butchered meat over the blaze and fed everyone present. Then “[Elisha] arose and followed Elijah, and became his servant” (v. 21).

Giving ourselves to God, who deserves our devotion, often comes with a price. At times, it means making difficult decisions about relationships, finances, and living arrangements. However, nothing compares with what we gain when we continue on with Christ. Jesus said, “Whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matt. 16:25).

> When Life Hurts

When Things Don’t Go Well

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

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

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

God’s Good Heart

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

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

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

Desert Places

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

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

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

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