World-renowned violinist, Joshua Bell, has an unusual way of leading the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, a 44-member chamber orchestra. Instead of waving a baton he directs while playing his Stradivarius with the other violinists. Bell told Colorado Public Radio, “Even while I’m playing I can give them all kinds of direction and signals that I think only they would understand at this point. They know by every little dip in my violin, or raise in my eyebrow, or the way I draw the bow. They know the sound I’m looking for from the entire orchestra.”
Just as the orchestra members watch Joshua Bell, the Bible instructs us to keep our eyes on Jesus our Lord. After listing many heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11, the writer says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2).
Jesus promised, “I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Because He is, we have the amazing privilege of keeping our eyes on Him while He conducts the music of our lives.
During a discussion of The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy, a teenager said he prefers his stories in books rather than movies. When asked why, the young man replied, “With a book, I can stay there as long as I want.” There is something to be said for the power of lingering in a book, especially the Bible, and “inhabiting” the stories there.
Hebrews 11, often called “the faith chapter” of the Bible, mentions nineteen people by name. Each one traveled a road of difficulty and doubt, yet chose to obey God. “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth” (v. 13).
How easy it is to rush through our Bible reading without pondering the people and events in the text. Our self-imposed time schedule robs us of going deeper into God’s truth and His plan for our lives. Yet, when we are willing to stay awhile, we find ourselves caught up in the real-life dramas of people like us who chose to stake their lives on God’s faithfulness.
When we open God’s Word, it’s good to recall that we can stay as long as we want.
In 2002, a few months after my sister Martha and her husband, Jim, died in an accident, a friend invited me to a “Growing Through Grief” workshop at our church. I reluctantly agreed to attend the first session but had no intention of going back. To my surprise, I discovered a caring community of people trying to come to grips with a significant loss in their lives by seeking the help of God and others. It drew me back week after week as I worked toward acceptance and peace through the process of sharing our grief together.
Like the sudden loss of a loved one or friend, the death of Stephen, a dynamic witness for Jesus, brought shock and sorrow to those in the early church (Acts 7:57–60). In the face of persecution, “Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him” (8:2). These men of faith did two things together: They buried Stephen, an act of finality and loss. And they mourned deeply for him, a shared expression of their sorrow.
As followers of Jesus, we need not mourn our losses alone. In sincerity and love we can reach out to others who are hurting, and in humility we can accept the concern of those who stand beside us.
As we grieve together, we can grow in understanding and in the peace that is ours through Jesus Christ, who knows our deepest sorrow.
“We’ve created more information in the last five years than in all of human history before it, and it’s coming at us all the time” (Daniel Levitin, author of The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload). “In a sense,” Levitin says, “we become addicted to the hyperstimulation.” The constant barrage of news and knowledge can dominate…
In today’s celebrity-obsessed culture, it isn’t surprising that entrepreneurs are marketing “celebrities as products … allowing them to sell their personal time and attention.” Vauhini Vara’s article in The New Yorker noted that for $15,000, you can have a personal meeting with singer Shakira, while $12,000 will give you and eleven guests lunch with celebrity chef Michael Chiarello at his estate.
Many people treated Jesus like a celebrity as they followed Him from place to place, listened to His teaching, observed His miracles, and sought healing from His touch. Yet Jesus was never self-important or aloof, but available to all. When His followers, James and John, were privately jockeying for position in His coming kingdom, Jesus reminded all His disciples, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all” (Mark 10:43-44).
Soon after Jesus said this, He stopped a procession of people following Him to ask a blind beggar, “What do you want me to do for you?” (v. 51) “Rabbi, I want to see,” the man replied.” He received his sight immediately and followed Jesus (v. 52).
Our Lord “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (v. 45). May we, like Him, be compassionate and available to others today
The US Masters Golf Tournament began in 1934, and since then only three players have won it two years in a row. On April 10, 2016, it appeared that 22-year-old Jordan Spieth would become the fourth. But he faltered, on the last nine holes and finished in a tie for second. Despite his disappointing loss, Spieth was gracious toward tournament champion Danny Willett, congratulating him on his victory and on the birth of his first child, something “more important than golf.”
Writing in the New York Times, Karen Krouse said, “It takes grace to see the big picture so soon after having to sit through a trophy ceremony and watch someone else have his photograph taken.” Krouse continued, “Spieth’s ball-striking was off all week, but his character emerged unscathed.”
Paul urged the followers of Jesus in Colossae to “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Col. 4:5–6).
As those who have freely received God’s grace, it is our privilege and calling to demonstrate it in every situation of life—win or lose.
My parents married in 1933 during the Great Depression. My wife and I are Baby Boomers, part of the dramatic increase in births following World War II. Our four daughters, born in the seventies and eighties, belong to Generations X and Y. Growing up in such different times, it’s not surprising that we have different opinions about many things!
John F. Burns spent forty years covering world events for The New York Times. In an article written after his retirement in 2015, Burns recalled the words of a close friend and fellow journalist who was dying of cancer. “Never forget,” his colleague said, “It’s not how far you’ve traveled; it’s what you’ve brought back.”
Psalm 37 could be considered David’s list of what he “brought back” from his journey of life, from shepherd to soldier and king. The psalm is a series of couplets contrasting the wicked with the righteous, and affirming those who trust the Lord.
“Do not fret because of those who are evil or be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass they will soon wither” (vv. 1–2).
“I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread” (v. 25).
From our experiences in life, what has God taught us? How have we experienced His faithfulness and love? In what ways has the Lord’s love shaped our lives?
It’s not how far we’ve traveled in life, but what we’ve brought back that counts.
I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread. Psalm 37:25
A church in my city has a unique welcome card that captures the love and grace of God for everyone. It says, “If You Are A . . . saint, sinner, loser, winner”—followed by many other terms used to describe struggling people—“alcoholic, hypocrite, cheater, fearful, misfit . . . . You are welcome here.” One of the pastors told me, “We read the card aloud together in our worship services every Sunday.”
How often we accept labels and allow them to define who we are. And how easily we assign them to others. But God’s grace defies labels because it is rooted in His love, not in our self-perception. Whether we see ourselves as wonderful or terrible, capable or helpless, we can receive eternal life as a gift from Him. The apostle Paul reminded the followers of Jesus in Rome that “at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom. 5:6).
The Lord does not require us to change by our own power. Instead He invites us to come as we are to find hope, healing, and freedom in Him. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (v. 8). The Lord is ready and willing to receive us just as we are.