Her name was Saralyn, and I sorta had a crush on her back in our public school days. She had the most wonderful laugh. I’m not sure whether she knew about my crush, but I suspect she did. After graduation I lost track of her, as they say. Our lives went in different directions as lives often do.
I keep up with my graduating class in some online forums, and I was intensely sad when I heard that Saralyn died. I found myself wondering about the direction her life had taken over the years. This is happening more and more the older I grow, this experience of losing friends and family. But many of us tend to avoid talking about that.
While we still sorrow, the hope the apostle Paul heralds is that death doesn’t have the final say (1 Corinthians 15:54–55). There is something that follows, another word: resurrection. Paul grounds that hope in the reality of the resurrection of Christ (v. 12), and says “if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (v. 14). If our hope as believers is limited to this world only, that’s just a pity (v. 19).
We will one day see those again who have “fallen asleep in Christ” (v. 18)—grandparents and parents, friends and neighbors, or even old schoolyard crushes.
Death doesn’t get the last word. Resurrection does.
For a man who lives by a code, so to speak, it felt like a major failure. What’d I do? Well, I fell asleep. Our kids have a curfew to meet when they’re out for the evening. They’re good kids, but my practice is to wait up until I hear their hands turn the front doorknob. I want to know they’re home safe. I don’t have to do this: I choose to. But one night I awoke to my daughter saying through a smile, “Dad, I’m safe. You should go to bed.” Despite our best intentions, sometimes fathers fall asleep at their posts. It was very humbling, and also very human.
But that never happens with God. Psalm 121 is a reassuring song about our God as guardian and protector of His children. The psalmist declares that the Lord who watches over us “will not slumber” (v. 3). And for emphasis, he repeats that truth in verse 4: he “will neither slumber nor sleep.” Can you even imagine? The Lord never falls asleep at His post. He is always keeping watch over us—the sons and daughters and aunts and uncles and mothers, and even fathers. It’s not so much that God has to do this, but rather that, out of His great love, God chooses to. That promise is definitely something to sing about.
What does it mean to be real? That’s the very big question answered in the small children’s book—The Velveteen Rabbit. It is the story of toys in a nursery, and the journey of a velveteen rabbit to becoming real by allowing himself to be loved by a child. One of the other toys is the old and wise Skin Horse. He “had seen a long succession of mechanical toys arrive to boast and swagger, and by and by break . . . and pass away.” They looked and sounded impressive, but their boasting eventually amounted to nothing when it came to love.
Boasting starts out strong, but in the end always fades away. Jeremiah lists three areas where this is evident: “wisdom . . . strength . . . riches” (Jeremiah 9:23). The wise old prophet had been around long enough to know a thing or two, and he countered such boasting with the Lord’s truth: “But let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the Lord” (v. 24).
Let us, the children, boast in God, our good Father. In the unfolding story of His great love, it is the wonderful way you and I grow to become more and more real.
Pastor and spiritual writer Eugene Peterson had the opportunity to hear a lecture by Swiss physician and highly respected pastoral counselor Paul Tournier. Peterson had read the doctor’s works, and admired his approach to healing. The lecture left a deep impression on Peterson. As he listened, he had the feeling that Tournier lived what he spoke and spoke what he lived. Peterson chose this word to describe his experience: “Congruence. It is the best word I can come up with.”
Congruence – it’s what some refer to as “practicing what you preach” or “walking your talk.” John stresses that if any of us “claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister,” then we’re “still in the darkness” (1 John 2:9). In essence, our lives and our words simply don’t match up. John goes further to say such people “do not know where they are going” (v. 11). The word he chose to describe how incongruence leaves us? Blind.
Living closely aligned to God by allowing the light of His Word to illuminate our paths keeps us from living blind. The result is a godly vision giving clarity and focus to our days—our words and actions match up. When others observe this congruence, the impression our lives leave is not necessarily that of someone who knows everywhere they’re going, but someone who clearly knows who they are following.
“Don’t ever miss the chance to show your babies the moon!” she said. Before our mid-week prayer service began, a group of us talked about the previous night’s Harvest Moon. The full moon was especially striking, as it seemed to sit on the horizon. Mrs. Webb was the elder voice in our conversation, a gray-haired lover of God’s grand creation. She knew my wife and I had two children in our house at the time, and she wanted to help me train up them in a way worth going. Don’t ever miss the chance to show your babies the moon!
Mrs. Webb would’ve made a good psalmist. Her brand of attentiveness is reflected in David’s description of the heavenly bodies that “have no speech . . . yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world” (Psalm 19:3–4). Neither the psalmist nor Mrs. Webb had any intention of worshiping the moon or the stars, but rather the creative hands behind them. The heavens and skies reveal nothing less than the glory of God (v. 1).
We too can encourage those around us—from babies and teenagers to spouses and neighbors—to stop, look, and listen for declarations and proclamations of God’s glory are all around us. Drawing attention to the work of His hands in turn leads to worshiping the awesome God behind the whole show. Don’t ever miss the chance.
I grew up in a church full of traditions. One came into play when a beloved family member or friend died. Often a church pew or possibly a painting in a hallway showed up not longer after with a brass plate affixed: “In Memory of . . .” The deceased’s name would be etched there, a shining reminder of a life passed on. I always appreciated those memorials. And I still do. Yet at the same time they’ve always given me pause because they are static, an inanimate object, in a very literal sense something “not alive.” Is there a way to add an element of “life” to the memorial?
Following the death of his beloved friend Jonathan, David wanted to remember him and to keep a promise to him (1 Samuel 20:12–17). But rather than simply seek something static, David searched and found something very much alive—a son of Jonathan (2 Samuel 9:3). David’s decision here is dramatic. He chose to extend kindness (v. 1) to Mephibosheth (v. 6) in the specific forms of restored property, “all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul,” and the ongoing provision of food and drink, “you will always eat at my table” (v. 7). As we continue to remember those who have died with plaques and paintings, we could also recall David’s example and extend kindness to those still living.
Who has died but you don’t want to forget? Consider David’s beautiful example of a living memorial of kindness. Who might that someone still living be, and what might a specific kindness to them look like?
Does the sun rise in the east? Is the sky blue? Is the ocean salty? Is the atomic weight of Cobalt 58.9? Okay, that last one you might only know if you’re a science geek or tend to dabble in trivia, but the other questions have an obvious answer: “Yes.” In fact, questions like those are usually mixed with a hint of sarcasm.
If we’re not careful our modern, sometimes jaded ears can hear a bit of sarcasm in Jesus’s question to an invalid: “Do you want to get well?” (John 5:6). The obvious answer would seem to be, “Are you kidding me?! I’ve been wanting help for thirty-eight years now.” But there’s no sarcasm present, that’s the furthest thing from the truth. Jesus’s voice is always filled with compassion, and His questions are always posed for our good.
Jesus knew the man wanted to get well. He also knew it had probably been a long time since anyone had even made an offer to care. Before the divine miracle, Jesus’s intent was to restore in him a hope that had grown cold. He did this by asking a rather obvious question, and then giving ways to respond: “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk” (v. 8). We’re like the invalid, each of us with places in our lives where hope has withered. He sees us and compassionately invites us to believe in hope again, to believe in Him.
My family, all five of us, found ourselves staying in the heart of Rome over the Christmas holidays. I don’t know when I’ve ever seen more people jammed together in one place. As we snaked our way through crowds to see sights like the Vatican and the Coliseum, I repeatedly emphasized to my kids the practice of “situational awareness”—pay attention to where you are, who is around you, and what’s going on. We live in a day when the world, at home and abroad, isn’t a safe place. And with the use of cell phones and ear buds, kids (and adults for that matter) don’t always practice an awareness of surroundings.
Situational awareness. This is an aspect of Paul’s prayer for the believers in Philippi recorded in Philippians 1:9–10. His desire for them was an ever-increasing discernment as to the who/what/where of their situations. But rather than some goal of personal safety, Paul prayed with a grander purpose that God’s holy people might be good stewards of the love of Christ they’d received, discern “what is best,” live “pure and blameless,” and be being filled with good qualities that only Jesus can produce (vv. 10–11). This kind of living springs from a constant awareness that God is the who in our lives, and our increasing reliance on Him is what brings Him pleasure. And in any and all situations is where we can share from the overflow of His great love.
She was completely focused on the top shelf, where the glass jars of spaghetti sauce sat. I'd been standing beside her in the grocery aisle for a minute or two eyeing that same shelf, trying to decide. But she seemed oblivious to my presence, lost in her own predicament. Now I have no problem with top shelves because I'm a fairly tall man. She, on the other hand, was not tall, not at all. I spoke up and offered to help. Startled, she said, "Goodness, I didn't even see you standing there. Yes, please help me."
The disciples had quite the situation on their hands-hungry crowds, a remote place, and time slipping away-"It's already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food" (Matthew 14:15). When challenged by Jesus to take care of the people themselves, they responded, "We have here only . . ." (v. 17). All they seemed to be aware of was their lack. Yet standing right beside them was Jesus, not just the multiplier of bread but the Bread of Life Himself.
We can get so wrapped up in our challenges and trying to figure them out for ourselves with our often-limited reach that we miss the abiding presence of the risen Christ. From remote hillsides to grocery store aisles and everywhere else in-between, He is Emmanuel-God right there with us, an ever-present help in trouble.