The two women occupied the aisle seats across from each other. The flight was two hours, so I couldn’t help but see some of their interactions. It was clear they knew each other, might even be related. The younger of the two (probably in her sixties) kept reaching in her bag to hand the older (I’d guess in her nineties) fresh apple slices, then homemade finger sandwiches, then a towelette for clean up, and finally a crisp copy of the New York Times. Each hand-off was done with such tenderness, such dignity. As we stood to exit the plane, I told the younger woman, “I noticed the way you cared for her. It was beautiful.” She replied, “She’s my best friend. She’s my mother.”
Wouldn’t it be great if we could all say something like that? Some parents are like best friends. Some parents are nothing like that. The truth is those relationships are always complicated at best. While Paul’s letter to Timothy doesn’t ignore that complexity, it still calls us to put our “religion into practice” by taking care of parents and grandparents—our “relatives,” our “own household” (1 Timothy 5:4, 8).
We all too often practice such care only if family members were good to us. In other words, if they deserve it. But Paul offers up a more beautiful reason to repay them. Take care of them because “this is pleasing to God” (v. 4).
Alice Kaholusuna recounts a story of how the Hawaiian people would sit outside their temples for a lengthy amount of time preparing themselves before entering in. Even after entering, they would creep to the altar to offer their prayers. Afterward, they would sit outside again for a long time to “breathe life” into their prayers. When missionaries came to the island, not always but sometimes their prayers felt different. They would stand up, utter a few sentences, call them “prayer,” say amen, and be done with it. The Hawaiians described these prayers as “without breath.”
Alice’s story speaks of how sometimes God’s people may not take the opportunity to “be still, and know” (Psalm 46:10). Make no mistake—God hears our prayers, whether they’re quick or slow. But often the pace of our lives mimics the pace of our hearts, and we need to allow ample time for God to speak not only into our lives but the lives of those around us. How many life-giving moments have we missed by rushing, saying amen, and being done with it?
We’re often impatient with everything from slow people to the slow lane in traffic. Yet, I believe God in His kindness says, “Be still. Breathe in and out. Go slow, and remember that I am God, your refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” To do so is to know that God is God. To do so is to trust. To do so is to live.
A River Runs Through It is Norman Maclean’s masterful story of two boys growing up in western Montana with their Presbyterian minister father who loved preaching and fly-fishing. On Sunday mornings, Norman and his brother, Paul, went to church where they heard their father preach. Once Sunday evening rolled around, there was another service and their father would preach again. But between those two services, they were free to walk the hills and streams with him “while he unwound between services.” It was an intentional withdrawing on their father’s part to “restore his soul and be filled again to overflowing for the evening sermon.”
Throughout the gospels, Jesus is seen teaching multitudes on hillsides and cities, and healing the sick and diseased who were brought to Him. All this interaction was in line with the Son of Man’s mission: “to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). But it’s also noted that He “often withdrew to lonely places” (5:16). His time there was spent communing with the Father, being renewed and restored to step back once more into his mission.
In our faithful efforts to serve, it is good for us to remember that Jesus “often” withdrew. If this practice was important for Jesus, how much more so for us? May we regularly spend time with our Father, who can fill us again to overflowing.
My mother has been committed to many things over the course of her life, but one that has remained constant is her desire to see little children introduced to Jesus. Of the few times I’ve witnessed my mother display disagreement publicly, all were when someone attempted to cut a children’s ministry budget in favor of what they felt were more “serious” expenditures. “I took off one summer when I was pregnant with your brother, but that’s it,” she told me. I did a little family math and I realized my mom had been working with children in the church for fifty-five years.
Mark 10 records one of the endearing stories in the Gospels commonly titled “The Little Children and Jesus.” People were bringing children to Jesus that He might touch and bless them. But the disciples tried to prevent this from happening. Mark records Jesus as “indignant”—and rebuking His very own disciples: “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (v. 14).
Charles Dickens wrote, “I love these little people; and it is not a slight thing when they, who are so fresh from God, love us.” And it is not a slight thing when we, who are older, do all we can to make sure the little children are never hindered from the ever-fresh love of Jesus.
I’d see her welcoming the dawn each day. She was our local power walker. As I drove my kids to school, she’d be there on the road’s shoulder. Equipped with an oversized pair of headphones and knee-high, colorful socks, she walked with an alternating movement of arms and feet, always with one foot in contact with the ground. The sport is different from running or jogging. Power walking involves an intentional restraint, a reining in of the body’s natural inclination to run. Although it doesn’t look like it, there’s just as much energy, focus, and power involved as in running or jogging. But it’s under control.
Power under control—that’s the key. Biblical humility, like power walking, is often viewed as weakness. The truth is, it’s not. Humility is not diminishing our strengths or abilities, but rather allowing them to be reined in much like the arms and legs and feet guided by the mind of an early morning power walker.
Micah’s words “walk humbly,” are a call for us to rein in our inclination to go ahead of God. He says to “act justly and love mercy” (6:8) and that can bring with it a desire to do something and do it fast. That’s fair since the daily injustices in our world are so overwhelming. But we are to be controlled and directed by God. Our goal is to see His will and purposes accomplished in the dawning of His kingdom here on earth.
His name is Spencer. But everybody calls him “Spence.” He was a state track champion in high school; then he went on to attend a prestigious university on a full academic scholarship. He lives now in one of America’s largest cities and is highly respected in the field of chemical engineering. But if you were to ask Spence his greatest achievements to date, he wouldn’t mention any of those things. He would excitedly tell you about the trips he makes to Nicaragua every few months to check in on the kids and teachers in the tutoring program he helped establish in one of the poorest areas of the country. And he’d tell you how enriched his life has been by serving them.
“The least of these.” It is a phrase people use in a variety of ways, yet Jesus used it to describe those who, according to the world’s standards, have little or nothing to offer you in return for our service. They are the men and women and children the world often overlooks—if not forgets completely. Yet it is exactly those people Jesus elevates to such a beautiful status by saying “whatever you did” for them, “you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40) You don’t have to have a degree from a prestigious university to understand Jesus’s meaning: Serving “the least” is the same as serving Him. All it really takes is a willing heart.
“The Lord is my high tower . . . . We left the camp singing.” On September 7, 1943, Etty Hillesum wrote those words on a postcard, then threw it from a train. Those were the final recorded words we would hear from her. On November 30, 1943, she was murdered at Auschwitz. Later, Hillesum’s diaries of her experiences in concentration camps were translated and published. They chronicled her perspectives on the horrors of Nazi occupation side by side with the beauty of God’s world. Her diaries have been translated into sixty-seven languages—a gift to future generations who would read and believe the good as well as the bad.
The apostle John did not sidestep the harsh realities of Jesus’ life on earth; he wrote of both the good Jesus did and the challenges He faced. The final words from his gospel give insight into the purpose behind the book that bears his name. Jesus performed “many other signs . . . which are not recorded” (20:30) by John. But these, he says, were “written that you may believe” (v. 31). John’s “diary” ends on the note of triumph: “Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God.” The gift of those gospel words allows us the opportunity to believe, and “have life in his name.”
The gospels are diary accounts of God’s love for us. They’re words to read and believe and share, for they lead us to life. They lead us to Christ.
The weather forecast said bomb cyclone. That’s what happens when a winter storm rapidly intensifies as the atmospheric pressure drops. By the time night fell the blizzard conditions made the highway to the Denver airport almost impossible to see. Almost. But when it’s your daughter who’s flying home to visit, you do what you have to do. You pack extra clothes and water (just in case you get stranded on the highway), drive very slowly, pray without ceasing, and last but not least trust your headlights. And sometimes you can achieve the almost impossible.
Jesus foretold of a storm on the horizon, one that would involve His death (John 12:32–33), and one that would challenge His followers to stay faithful and serve (v. 26). It was going to get dark and be almost impossible to see. Almost. So what did Jesus tell them to do? Believe, or trust, the light (v. 36). That was the only way they could keep going forward and stay faithful.
Jesus would only be with them a little while longer. But believers have His Spirit as our constant guide to light the way. We too will face dark times when it’s almost impossible to see the way ahead. Almost. But by believing, or trusting in the Light, we can press on.
I live in Colorado, a state in the western US known for the Rocky Mountains and our annual snowfall. But the worst natural disaster in my state had nothing to do with snow, but rain. The Big Thompson flood occurred on July 31, 1976, around the resort town of Estes Park. When the water finally receded, the death toll was 144 lives, not including livestock. In the wake of that disaster significant studies were done in the area, especially in regard to the foundation of roads and highways. The walls of the roads that withstood the storm were those filled with concrete. In other words, they had a sure and strong foundation.
In our lives the question is not if the floods will come, but when. Sometimes we have advance notice, but usually not. Jesus stresses a strong foundation for such times—one built by not just hearing His words but also by living out the gospel (Luke 6:47). That practice is almost like pouring concrete into your life. When the floods come, and they will, we can withstand them because we’ve been “well built” (v. 48). The absence of practice leaves our lives vulnerable to collapse and destruction (v. 49). It’s the difference between being wise and foolish.
It’s good to pause occasionally and do a little foundation assessment. The Lord will help us to fortify the weak places that we might stand strong in His power when the floods come.