“We’re in the library, and we can see the flames right outside!” She was scared, we could hear it in her voice. We know her voice—she’s our daughter. At the same time we knew her college campus was the safest place for her and her almost 3,000 fellow students. The 2018 Woolsey Fire spread quicker than anyone anticipated—most of all fire personnel. The record heat and dry conditions in the California canyon, along with the legendary Santa Ana winds, were all the rather small sparks needed to ultimately burn 97,000 acres, destroy over 1,600 structures, and kill three people. In the photos taken after the fire was contained, the usual lush coastline resembled the barren surface of the moon.
In the book of James, the author starts out naming small but powerful things: “bits in the mouths of horses” and the rudders of ships (James 3:3-4). And while familiar, these examples are somewhat removed from us. But then he names something a little closer to home, something small that every human being possesses—a tongue. And while this chapter is first directed specifically to teachers (v. 1), the application quickly spreads to each of us. The tongue, small as it is can lead to disastrous results.
Our small tongues are powerful, but our big God is more powerful. His help on a daily basis provides the strength to rein in and guide our words.
It used to take the steady eye and the firm hand of a farmer to drive a tractor or combine down straight rows. But even the best eyes would overlap rows, and by end of day even the strongest hands would be fatigued. But now there is autosteer, a GPS-based technology that allows for accuracy to within one inch when planting, cultivating, and spraying. It’s incredibly efficient. Plus, it’s hands-free. Just imagine sitting in a mammoth combine and instead of gripping the wheel, you’re gripping a roast beef sandwich. An amazing tool to keep you moving straight ahead.
You may recall the name Josiah. He was crowned king when he was only “eight years old” (2 Kings 22:1). Years later, in his mid-twenties, Hilkiah the high priest found “the Book of the Law” in the temple (v. 8). It was then read to the young king, who tore his robes in sorrow due to his ancestor’s disobedience to God. Josiah set about to do what was “right in the eyes of the
Allowing the Scriptures we have to guide us day by day keeps our lives in line with knowing God and His will. The Bible is an amazing tool we have that if followed keeps us moving straight ahead.
They looked down at the faded photograph, then up at me, then over at my father, then back at me, then back at my father. Their eyes were wide as the proverbial saucers. “Dad, you look just like Papa when he was young!” My father and I grinned because this was something we’ve known for a long time, but it wasn’t until recently that my children came to the same realization. While my father and I are different people, in a very real sense to see me is to see my father as a younger man: tall lanky frame, full head of dark hair, prominent nose, and rather large ears. No, I am not my father, but I am most definitely my father’s son.
A follower of Jesus named Philip once asked, “
In that moment Jesus was being straightforward with His beloved disciples and us: If you want to know what God is like, look at Me.
Once upon a time. Those four words just might be among of the most powerful in the entire world. Some of my earliest memories as a boy contain a variation on that potent phrase. My mother came home one day with a large, hardcover illustrated edition of biblical stories—My Good Shepherd Bible Story Book. Every evening before lights-out, my brother and I would sit expectantly as she read to us of a time long ago filled with interesting people and the God who loved them. Those stories became a lens for how we looked at the great big world.
The undisputed greatest storyteller ever? Jesus of Nazareth. He knew we all carry inside us an innate love for stories, so that was the medium He consistently used to communicate His good news: Once upon a time there was a man who scattered “seed on the ground” (Mark 4:26). Once upon a time there was “a mustard seed” . . . (v. 31), and on and on. Mark’s gospel clearly indicates that Jesus used stories in His interactions with everyday people (v. 34) as a way to help them see the world more clearly and understand more thoroughly the God who loved them.
That’s wise to remember as we desire to share with others God’s good news of mercy and grace. The use of story is almost impossible to resist.
About six years ago, my wife received a small rebate from something she’d purchased. It wasn’t something she had expected, it just showed up in the mail. About the same time, a good friend shared with her the immense needs of women in another country, entrepreneurial-minded women trying to better themselves by way of education and business. However, as is often the case, their first barrier was financial.
My wife took that rebate and made a micro-loan to a ministry devoted to helping these women. When the loan was repaid, she simply loaned again, and again, and so far has made twenty-seven such investments. My wife enjoys many things, but there’s rarely a smile as big on her face as when she receives an update on the flourishing taking place in the lives of women she’s never met.
We often hear emphasis on the last word in this phrase—“God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7)—and rightly so. But our giving has a specific quality about it—it should not be “reluctantly or under compulsion,” and we are called not to “sow sparingly” (v. 6). In a word, our giving is to be “cheerful.” And while each of us will give a little differently, our faces are places for telling evidence of our cheer.
Attend any rodeo with riding and roping competition and you’ll see them—competitors with four fingers on one hand and a nub where their thumb should be. It’s a common injury in the sport—a thumb gets caught between a rope on one end and a decent-sized steer pulling on the other, and the thumb is usually the loser. It’s not a career-ending injury, but the absence of a thumb changes things. Without using your thumb, try to brush your teeth or button a shirt or comb your hair or tie your shoes or even eat. That little overlooked member of your body plays a significant role.
The apostle Paul indicates a similar scenario in the church. Those often less visible and frequently less vocal members sometimes experience an “I don’t need you” response from the others (1 Corinthians 12:21). Usually this is unspoken, but there are times when it is said aloud.
God calls us to have equal concern and respect for one other (v. 25). Each and every one of us is a part of Christ’s body (v. 27), regardless of the gifting we have received, and we need each other. Some of us are eyes and ears, so to speak, and some of us are thumbs. But each of us plays a vital role in the body of Christ, sometimes more than meets the eye.
The young father was at the end of his rope. “Ice cream! Ice cream!” his toddler screamed. The meltdown in the middle of the crowded mall began drawing the attention of shoppers nearby. “Fine, but we just need to do this for mommy first, okay?” “Nooooo! Ice cream!”And then she approached them: a small, well-dressed woman with shoes that matched her handbag. “He’s having a big fit,” the father said. The woman smiled and responded, “Actually, it looks like a big fit is having your little boy. Don’t forget he’s so small. He needs you to be patient and stay close.” The situation didn’t magically resolve itself, but it was just the kind of pause the father and son needed in the moment.
Echoes of the wise woman’s words are heard in Psalm 103. David writes of the Lord who is “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love” (v. 8). He then continues by invoking the image of an earthly father who “has compassion on his children,” and even more so “the
We often fail, and are overwhelmed by what this big world hands us. What an amazing assurance to know of our Father’s patient, ever-present abounding love.
The year was 1918, near the end of World War I, and photographer Eric Enstrom was putting together a portfolio of his work. He wanted to include one that communicated a sense of fullness in a time that felt quite empty to so many people. In his now much-loved photo, a bearded old man sits at a table with his head bowed and his hands clasped in prayer. On the surface before him there is only a book, spectacles, a bowl of gruel, a loaf of bread, and a knife. Nothing more, but also nothing less.
Some might say the photograph reveals scarcity. But Enstrom’s point was quite the opposite: Here is a full life, one lived in gratitude, one you and I can experience as well regardless of our circumstances. Jesus announces the good news in John 10: “life . . . to the full.” (10). We do a grave disservice to such good news when we equate full with many things. The fullness Jesus speaks of is not measured in worldly categories like riches or real estate, but rather a heart, mind, soul, and strength brimming in gratitude that the Good Shepherd gave “His life for the sheep,” (v. 11) and cares for us and our daily needs. This is a full life, enjoying relationship with God, that’s possible for every one of us.
Wallace Stegner’s mother died at the age of fifty. When Wallace, a novelist and short story writer, was eighty, he finally wrote her a note – “Letter, Much Too Late” – in which he praised the virtues of a woman who grew up, married, and raised two sons in the harsh history of the early Western United States. She was the kind of wife and mother who was an encourager, making the best of situations, especially those that were less than desirable. One of his enduring memories is the strength his mother displayed by way of her voice. Stegner wrote: “Singing, naturally. You never lost an opportunity to sing.” As long as she lived, Stegner’s mother sang, grateful for blessings large and small.
The psalmist too took opportunities to sing. There was singing when the days were good, and when they were not so good. The songs were not forced or coerced, but a natural response to the “Maker of heaven and earth” (v. 6) and how He “gives food to the hungry” (v. 7) and “gives sight to the blind” (v.8) and “sustains the fatherless and the widow” (v. 9). This is really a lifestyle of singing, one that builds strength over time as daily trust is placed in “the God of Jacob . . . who “remains faithful forever” (vv. 5–6). The quality of our voices is not the point, but our response to the Lord’s sustaining goodness—a lifestyle of praise. As the old hymn puts it: “There’s within my heart a melody.”