What’s your definition of success? People have said, “It’s being happy,” “Reaching my goals,” “Seeing people receive salvation.” One friend said, “Success is God’s prosperity in all areas of my life: spiritual, physical, financial, and relational.”
He shouldn’t have been there, but the pain and isolation made him desperate. Was this the sum total of his life—to scream “Unclean! Unclean!” whenever anyone came near him? To wear torn clothes to signal his diseased state . . . to feel so alone?
It was a holy place, a sacred place, a place unlike any other temple. Before there had come the marble and gold, altars and precious stones, columns, walls, and the Holy of Holies, it was a place of divine-human intimacy. The construction costs were relatively small, it had no great beauty, and it was nothing anyone would envy.
As a missionary served in Estonia, many deaf people received salvation in Jesus. The new believers began praying fervently for the ability to hear, and, miraculously, two were healed! But then, as the missionary recalls, “Immediately these two brothers were on the outside of the deaf community.” That’s when the remaining deaf believers in Jesus recognized their deafness was a gift—something that allowed them to reach a segment of society in a personal way.
Kitsch Jesus” is very popular. In paintings and posters, he’s portrayed as having straight teeth, perfect skin, bright blue eyes, and long, flowing hair. He’s often in soft focus, sitting in a peaceful sunlit field and is almost always gazing lovingly at the lamb he cradles in his arms. “Kitsch Jesus” wears long, white robes even when he’s painted in a modern setting, and occasionally he holds a shepherd’s staff. “Kitsch Jesus” rarely has a care in the world and never sports a furrowed brow. He’s a lavender-scented, greeting-card Jesus who is all pixies and daisies and skipping through the fields.
Cornelius was praying when he had a vision of an angel who told him to invite the apostle Peter to his home (Acts 10:2-6). The Roman officer sent his servants to find the apostle, making it clear that Cornelius and his family were ready to hear Peter’s message (Acts 10:22). Having had his own divine guidance (Acts 10:9-21), Peter went with them, shared the gospel, and Cornelius’ whole family became believers (Acts 10:23-48). The event is one beautiful, divinely arranged appointment.
A couple I know met, fell in love, and in time realized they wanted to give their lives to each other in marriage. But there was a catch. Both had been married before and had children from those marriages. The divorces had been bitter, and their children still felt the effects. How would another marriage affect their sons and daughters? Would the two families successfully integrate? Would it all be worth it?
Here in Britain, the houses of famous people are often commemorated with a small blue plaque. On a house in my town of Oxford reads one such sign: “C. S. LEWIS, Scholar and Author, lived here 1930–1963.” Many contemporary British writers, scientists, politicians, and others dream of having a blue plaque on their house one day to commemorate their lives.
During the eighth century, a farmhand named Caedmon served at Whitby Abbey in the north of England. One night he had an extraordinary dream. In the dream, someone asked Caedmon to sing a song about creation. Being a farmer and not a singer, he initially refused. But as the dream progressed, he did indeed compose a song praising the Creator.
In a recent email, a woman named Renee told me how she and her husband had unsuccessfully spent years trying to start a family. After numerous rounds of in vitro fertilization treatment and several years waiting to adopt, they were exhausted from the ordeal and considering bringing the journey to an end. Knowing that my wife and I had walked a similar path, Renee asked a question. “How do you give up on a dream of parenthood without regretting what might have been?”
God loves us. Most of us know this. But how many of us feel it? Paul knew that understanding God’s love was a difficult proposition. He believed supernatural revelation was required even to get started (Ephesians 3:16,18). God’s love is so large and our comprehension so small. How can we ever truly understand His love for us?
Recently I decided to renovate the living room of our old terrace house. I painted the ceiling and replaced the ugly and dated lights. I took down the faded curtains and put up roller blinds. I spent hours on the walls—sanding off flaking paint, filling the many dents and holes, resanding, then applying multiple coats of new paint. A cement slab in the corner was removed and new tiles were laid. The fireplace also needed to be replaced. Finally, I sanded back the skirting boards and repainted them with gloss. It was hard work, but I felt proud of the changes I saw each day.
The memory is vivid. My wife Merryn and I sat in emotional pain, talking. “If this really is our last chance to have a baby and it doesn’t happen,” Merryn said, “I need something else.” We’d spent the past decade trying everything to start a family—IVF treatment, healing prayer, adoption—all without success. We now awaited the result of one final IVF round. “If it doesn’t happen,” she said, her face downcast, “I have to have something else to look forward to.”
Christmas cards and nativity scenes depict the wise men visiting the Christ-child. But I think the story is bigger than the way it’s presented. The wise men’s journey is also a paradigm for our spiritual journey.