It was an early Saturday morning in my sophomore year of high school, and I was eager to get to my job at the local bowling lanes. The evening before, I had stayed late to mop the muddy tile floors because the janitor called in sick. I hadn't bothered to tell the boss about the janitor so I could surprise him. After all, what could go wrong? I thought.
Plenty, as it turns out.
Stepping in the door, I saw inches of standing water, with bowling pins, rolls of toilet paper and boxes of paper score-sheets bobbing on top. Then I realized what I had done: While doing the floors, I had left a large faucet running overnight! Incredibly, my boss greeted me with a huge hug and a big smile—“for trying,” he said.
Saul was actively punishing (Acts 8:1) and harassing Christians (Acts 9:1-2) when he came face to face with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3-4). Jesus confronted the soon-to-be-renamed apostle Paul with his sinful actions. Blinded by the experience, Saul/Paul would need a Christian—Ananias—to restore his sight to him in an act of courage and grace (Acts 9:17).
Both Saul and I received unexpected grace.
Most people know they’re messed up. Instead of lectures, they need a hope for redemption. Stern faces or sharp words can block their view of that hope. Like Ananias, or even my boss, followers of Jesus must become the face of grace in these life-changing encounters with others.
“Patient is combative,” the nurse’s notes read.
What she didn’t realize until later was that I was having an allergic reaction as I awakened after a complicated open-heart surgery. I was a mess, with a tube down my throat. My body began shaking violently, straining against the straps on my arms, which were there to keep me from suddenly pulling out my breathing tube. It was a frightening and painful episode. At one point, a nurse’s assistant to the right side of my bed reached down and simply held my hand. It was an unexpected move, and it struck me as especially gentle. I began to relax, which caused my body to stop shaking so badly.
Having experienced this with other patients, the nurse’s assistant knew that a hand of comfort could minister to me as well. It was a vivid example of how God uses comfort when His children suffer.
Comfort is a powerful and memorable tool for any caregiver, and Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 1:3–4 it’s an important part of God’s toolbox. Not only that, but God also multiplies the impact of His comfort by calling us to use the memory of the comfort He gives us to comfort others in similar situations (vv. 4–6). It is but another sign of His great love; and one we can share with others—sometimes in the simplest of gestures.
In November 2015, I learned I needed open-heart surgery. Surprised and a little shaken, I was naturally drawn to think about the possibility of death. Were there relationships I needed to mend? Were there financial matters I needed to attend to for my family? Even if the surgery was successful, it would be months before I could work. Was there work that could be done ahead of time? And what about work that couldn’t wait; who should I hand that off to? It was a time to both act and pray.
Except I couldn’t do either.
My body was so weary and my mind so fatigued that even the simplest of tasks seemed beyond my strength. Perhaps most surprising, when I tried to pray, my thoughts would drift to the discomfort, or the shallow breathing caused by the damaged heart made me fall asleep. It was frustrating. I couldn’t work and I couldn’t even ask God to let me live so I could spend more time with my family!
The inability to pray troubled me most. But as with all other human needs, the Creator knew this was happening to me. I would eventually recall He made two preparations for such occurrences in our lives: the prayer of the Holy Spirit for us when we can’t pray (Rom. 8:26); and the prayer of others on our behalf (James 5:16; Gal 6:2).
What a comfort it was to know that the Holy Spirit was even then raising my concerns before the Father. What a gift also to hear from friends and family as they prayed for me. Then came another surprise: As my friends and family asked me what to pray for, it became clear that my answers to them were also being heard by God as prayers.
What a gift it is in a time of uncertainty to be reminded God hears our heart even when we think we can’t call out to Him.
Waldo is the cartoonish star of “Where’s Waldo,” a now-classic best-selling children’s book series. Waldo hides himself in the crowded painted scenes on each page, inviting children to find where he’s hiding. Parents around the world love the moments of sweet discovery when their children’s faces signal they’ve found Waldo. They also enjoy the occasions when they’re invited to help find Waldo.
Shortly after Stephen, a deacon in the early church, was stoned to death for proclaiming Christ (see Acts 7), a widespread persecution broke out against Christians, causing many to flee Jerusalem. Another deacon, Philip, followed these fleeing Christians into Samaria, where he proclaimed Christ and it was well received (8:6) While there, the Holy Spirit sent Philip on a special mission to “the desert road.” It must have seemed a strange request given the fruit his preaching was producing in Samaria itself. Imagine Philip’s joy, then, when he met and helped the Ethiopian court official find Jesus in the pages of Isaiah (vv. 26–40).
We, too, are often given the chance to help others “find Jesus” throughout the Scriptures so they may know Him more fully. Like a parent witnessing the joy of discovery in their child’s eyes and like Philip helping the Ethiopian find Jesus, it can be exhilarating for us to witness the moment of discovery in those around us. As we go through our days, may we prepared to share Christ as the Spirit leads us, whether they be people we know well or those we meet even just once.
I’ve always been impressed by the solemn, magnificent simplicity of the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery. The carefully choreographed event is a moving tribute to soldiers whose names—and sacrifice—are “known but to God.” Equally moving are the private moments of steady pacing when the crowds are gone: back and forth, hour after hour, day by day, in even the worst weather.
In September 2003, Hurricane Isabel was bearing down on Washington, DC, and the guards were told they could seek shelter during the worst of the storm. Surprising almost no one, the guards refused! They unselfishly stood their post to honor their fallen comrades even in the face of a hurricane.
Underlying Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 6:1-6, I believe, is His desire for us to live with an unrelenting, selfless devotion to Him. The Bible calls us to good deeds and holy living, but these are to be acts of worship and obedience (vv.4-6), not orchestrated acts for self-glorification (v.2). The apostle Paul endorses this whole-life faithfulness when he pleads with us to make our bodies “a living sacrifice” (Rom. 12:1).
May our private and public moments speak of our devotion and wholehearted commitment to You, Lord.
We serve a God who loves us more than our labors.
Oh, it’s true that God wants us to work to feed our families and to responsibly take care of the world He created. And He expects us to serve the weak, hungry, naked, thirsty, and broken people around us even as we remain alert to those who have not yet responded to the Holy Spirit's tug on their lives.
And yet we serve a God who loves us more than our labors.
We must never forget this because there may come a time when our ability to “do for God” is torn from us by health or failure or unforeseen catastrophe. It is in those hours that God wants us to remember that He loves us not for what we do for Him but because of who we are: His children! Once we call on the name of Christ for salvation, nothing—“trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger of sword”—will ever again separate us “from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:35, 39).
When all we can do or all we have is taken from us, then all He wants us to do is rest in our identity in Him.
Raucous laughter marked the guests in my father's hospital room: Two old truck drivers, one former country/western singer, one craftsman, two women from neighboring farms, and me.
"...and then he got up and busted the bottle over my head," the craftsman said, finishing his story about a bar fight.
The room bursts into laughter at this now-humorous memory. Dad, struggling for breath as his laughing fought with his cancer for the air in his lungs, puffs out a reminder to everybody that “Randy is a preacher" so they need to watch what they say. Everything got quiet for about two seconds; then the whole room exploded as this news makes them laugh harder and louder.
Suddenly, about forty minutes into this visit, the craftsman clears his throat, turns to my dad, and gets serious. "No more drinking and bar fights for me, Howard. Those days are behind me. Now I have a different reason to live. I want to tell you about my Savior."
He then proceeded to do just that, over my father's surprisingly mild protests. If there's a sweeter, gentler way to present the gospel message, I've never heard it.
My dad listened and watched, and some years later believed in Jesus too.
It was a simple testimony from an old friend living a simple life, reminding me again that simple isn't naïve or stupid; it's direct and unpretentious.
Just like Jesus. And salvation.
At a winter retreat in northern New England, one of the men asked the question, “What was your favorite Christmas gift ever?”
One athletic man seemed eager to answer. “That’s easy,” he said, glancing at his friend next to him. “A few years back, I finished college thinking I was a sure bet to play professional football. When it didn’t happen, I was angry. Bitterness ate at me, and I shared that bitterness with anyone who tried to help me.”
“On the second Christmas—and second season without football—I went to a Christmas play at this guy’s church,” he said, gesturing toward his friend. “Not because I wanted Jesus, but just to see my niece in her Christmas pageant. It’s hard to describe what happened because it sounds silly, but right in the middle of that kids’ play, I felt like I needed to be with those shepherds and angels meeting Jesus. When that crowd finished singing ‘Silent Night,’ I just sat there weeping.
“I got my best Christmas present ever that very night,” he said, again pointing to his friend, “when this guy sent his family home without him so he could tell me how to meet Jesus.”
It was then that his friend piped up: “And that, guys, was my best Christmas present ever.”
This Christmas, may the joyful simplicity of the story of Jesus’ birth be the story we tell to others.
During the Boxer Rebellion in China in 1900, missionaries trapped in a home in T’ai Yüan Fu decided their only hope for survival rested on running through the crowd that was calling for their deaths. Aided by weapons they held, they escaped the immediate threat. However, Edith Coombs, noticing that two of her injured Chinese students had not escaped, raced back into danger. She rescued one, but stumbled on her return trip for the second student and was killed.
Meanwhile, missionaries in Hsin Chou district had escaped and were hiding in the countryside, accompanied by their Chinese friend Ho Tsuen Kwei. But he was captured while scouting an escape route for his friends in hiding and was martyred for refusing to reveal their location.
In the lives of Edth Coombs and Tsuen Kwei we see a love that rises above cultural or national character. Their sacrifice reminds us of the greater grace and love of our Savior.
As Jesus awaited His arrest and subsequent execution, He prayed earnestly, “Father if you are willing, take this cup from me.” But He concluded that request with this resolute example of courage, love, and sacrifice: “Yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). His death and resurrection made our eternal lives possible.