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A Blessing Bowl

The familiar bing of an arriving email caught my attention while I wrote at my computer. Usually I try to resist the temptation to check every email but the subject line was too enticing: “You are a blessing.”

Eagerly, I opened it to discover a faraway friend telling me she was praying for my family. Each week, she displays one Christmas card photo in her kitchen table “Blessing Bowl” and prays for that family. She wrote, “I thank God every time I remember you” (Philippians 1:3) and then highlighted our efforts to share God’s love with others—our “partnership” in the gospel.

Through my friend’s intentional gesture, the apostle Paul’s words to the Philippians came trickling into my inbox, creating the same joy in my heart I suspect readers received from his first-century thank-you note. It seems Paul made it a habit to speak his gratitude to those who worked alongside him. A similar phrase opens many of his letters: “I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world” (Romans 1:8).

In the first century, Paul blessed his co-laborers with a thank-you note of prayerfulness. In the twenty-first century, my friend used a Blessing Bowl to bring joy into my day. How might we thank those who serve the mission of God with us today?

 

Praising Through Problems

“It’s cancer.” I wanted to be strong when Mom said those words to me. But I burst into tears. You never want to hear those words even one time. But this was Mom’s third bout of cancer. After a routine mammogram and biopsy, Mom learned that she had a malignant tumor under her arm.

Though Mom was the one with bad news, she had to comfort me. Her response was eye opening for me: “I know God is always good to me. He’s always faithful.” Even as she faced a difficult surgery, followed up by radiation treatments, Mom was assured of God’s presence and faithfulness.

How like Job. Job lost his children, his wealth, and his health. But after hearing the news, Job 1:20 tells us, “He fell to the ground in worship.” When advised to curse God, he said, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (2:10). What a radical initial response. Though Job later complained, ultimately he accepted that God had never changed. Job knew that God was still with him and that He still cared.

For most of us, praise is not our first response to difficulties. Sometimes the pain of our circumstances is so overwhelming, we lash out in fear or anger. But watching Mom’s response reminded me that God is still present, still good. He will help us through hard times.

How to Change a Life

Sometimes our lives can change in a moment through the powerful impact of others. For rock ‘n’ roll legend Bruce Springsteen, it was the work of musical artists that helped him through a difficult childhood and a persistent struggle with depression. He found meaning in his own work through the truth he’d experienced firsthand, that “You can change someone’s life in three minutes with the right song.”

Like a compelling song, others’ well-chosen words can also give us hope, even change the course of our lives. I’m sure most of us could share stories of a conversation that forever impacted our lives—words from a teacher that changed the way we saw the world, words of encouragement that restored our confidence, gentle words from a friend that carried us through a difficult time.

Perhaps this why the book of Proverbs spends so much time emphasizing our responsibility to treasure words and use them wisely. Scripture never treats speech as if it’s “just talk.” Instead, we are taught that our words can have life-or-death consequences (Proverbs 18:21). In just a few words we could crush someone’s spirit, or, through words of wisdom and hope, nourish, and strengthen others (Proverbs 15:4).

Not all of us have the ability to create powerful music. But we each can seek God’s wisdom to serve others through our speech (Psalm 141:3). With just a few well-chosen words, God can use us to change a life.

National Treasure

When an advertiser altered a photo of Michelangelo’s famous marble sculpture of the biblical hero David, Italy’s government and gallery officials objected. Picturing David with a military rifle slung over his shoulder (instead of his slingshot) would be a violation—“like taking a hammer to it or worse,” a cultural official said.

In first-century Jerusalem, David was remembered as the shepherd-songwriter and soldier-king of Israel’s fondest memories and greatest hopes Prophets foretold that David’s descendant would finally defeat the enemies of Israel. So, centuries later, when crowds welcomed Jesus as the Son of David (Matthew 21:6–9) they were expecting him to lead the revolt that would overthrow their Roman occupiers. Instead Jesus knocked over the tables of Temple money-changers to restore His Father’s house as a house of prayer for all nations, Israel’s leaders were furious. This wasn’t the kind of Messiah and son of David they were looking for. So without realizing what they were doing, they called for Roman executioners to take a hammer to the hands and feet of the true glory of Israel.

Instead of stopping them, Jesus let himself be lifted up on a cross of shame—defaced and disgraced. Only by resurrection would it be known that the true Son of David had defeated His enemies with love, and enlisted the children of all nations to spread the word. 

Be Still

“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…

All Generations

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!

Generations…

Privileged Access

Even though it was just a replica, the tabernacle set up in southern Israel was awe-inspiring. Built life-size and as close as possible to the specifications laid out in Exodus 25–27 (without actual gold and acacia wood, of course), it stood tall in the Negev desert.

When our tour group was taken through the “Holy Place” and into the “Most…

Forgiven!

My friend Norm Cook sometimes had a surprise for his family when he arrived home from work. He would walk through the front door, and shout, “You’re forgiven!” It wasn’t that family members had wronged him and needed his forgiveness. He was reminding them that though they doubtless had sinned throughout the day, they were by God’s grace fully forgiven.

The…

What We Bring Back

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).

“The Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him; though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand” (vv. 23–24).

“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