When Edward Klee returned to Berlin after being away for many years, the city he remembered and loved was no longer there. It had changed dramatically, and so had he. Writing in Hemispheres magazine, Klee said, “Returning to a city you once loved tends to be a hit-or-miss proposition . . . . It can be a letdown.” Going back to the places of our past may produce a feeling of sorrow and loss. We are not the same person we were then, nor is the place that was so significant in our lives exactly as it was.
Nehemiah had been in exile from the land of Israel for many years when he learned of the desperate plight of his people and the devastation in the city of Jerusalem. He received permission from Artaxerxes, the Persian king, to return and rebuild the walls. After a night reconnaissance to examine the situation (Neh. 2:13–15), Nehemiah told the inhabitants of the city, “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace” (v. 17).
Nehemiah did not return to reminisce but to rebuild. It’s a powerful lesson for us as we consider the damaged parts of our past that need repair. It is our faith in Christ and His power that enables us to look ahead, move forward, and rebuild.
British writer Evelyn Waugh wielded his words in a way that accentuated his character flaws. Eventually the novelist converted to Christianity, yet he still struggled. One day a woman asked him, “Mr. Waugh, how can you behave as you do and still call yourself a Christian?” He replied, “Madam, I may be as bad as you say. But believe me, were it not for my religion, I would scarcely be a human being.”
Waugh was waging the internal battle the apostle Paul describes: “I want to do what is right, but I can’t” (Rom. 7:19 nlt). He also says, “The trouble is not with the law . . . [It] is with me, for I am all too human” (v. 14
When we come in faith to Christ, admitting our wrongdoing and need of a Savior, we immediately become a new creation. But our spiritual formation remains a lifelong journey. As John the disciple observed: “Now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But . . . when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).
W. T. Stead, an innovative English journalist at the turn of the 20th century, was known for writing about controversial social issues. Two of the articles he published addressed the danger of ships operating with an insufficient ratio of lifeboats to passengers. Ironically, Stead was aboard the Titanic when it struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic on April 15, 1912. According to one report, after helping women and children into lifeboats, Stead sacrificed his own life by giving up his life vest and a place in the lifeboats so others could be rescued.
There is something very stirring about self-sacrifice. No greater example of that can be found than in Christ Himself. The writer of Hebrews says, “This Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God . . . . For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified” (Heb. 10:12,14 nkjv). In his letter to the Galatians, Paul opened with words describing this great sacrifice: “The Lord Jesus Christ . . . gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age” (Gal. 1:3-4).
Jesus’ offering of Himself on our behalf is the measure of His love for us. That willing sacrifice continues to rescue men and women and offer assurance of eternity with Him.
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.
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.
In our media-saturated age, image consultants have become indispensable. Entertainers, athletes, politicians, and business leaders seem desperate to manage the way they are perceived in the eyes of the world. These high-priced consultants work to shape how their clients are viewed—even if sometimes there is a stark contrast between the public image and the real person inside.
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.”
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.”
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.
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!”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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 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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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."
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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."
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.
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?"
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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).
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."
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."
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.
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.
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.
"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.