In the 1880s, Daeida Wilcox and her husband bought 160 acres of land with the aim of creating a town. But this wouldn’t be any old town. Daeida’s dream was that “Hollywood” would be nothing less than a Christian utopia—free of alcohol and guns, a place of peace.
Carrie Stuart Parks is a talented writer and an award-winning artist. But you may want to think twice before signing up to become her next work of art. Parks is an FBI-trained forensic artist. Most of her “artwork” is comprised of the drawings she has made of criminals through eyewitness accounts and the human faces she has rendered after viewing the remains of unidentified victims.
In 2004, a man went over a dry, brown patch of grass while mowing his lawn. A blade on the mower struck a rock and created a spark, which resulted in a fire that soon raged out of control. The resulting catastrophe, known as the Bear Fire, blackened 10,484 acres of land and destroyed more than 80 homes. To put out the blaze required the efforts of 33 fire crews and 42 fire engines.
For more than a decade now my family and I have lived in rental homes. This has made it possible for us to be ready to pack up and move whenever God revealed His next plans for us. Recently, however, we’ve been asked to leave our current home as the owner has new plans for it. It’s a beautiful house on a very large plot in the middle of a forest, so we’ve grown very fond of living there. But after 6 years we’re saying goodbye and don’t yet know where we’re headed.
In 2003, the Crafton family—dad, mom, two daughters, and a son—sold their home and possessions and set out on a sailing voyage in which they traveled 30,000 miles over 83 months. The family says the experience, something not practical or possible for most of us, drew them closer together and made their lives feel more open and spacious. Before setting sail, parents Tom and Kathleen realized that their successful careers and two houses, though providing the external symbols of success, weren’t making for the life they desired. So they headed for open waters.
When missionary Adoniram Judson entered Burma (Myanmar) in July 1813, he found an unreached people in a hostile land. Today, there are some 3,700 congregations who trace their origin to Judson’s pioneering ministry. His primary legacy, however, is the complete translation of the Bible into Burmese—still in use today. Judson’s path was difficult, for he faced opposition, rejection, imprisonment, serious illness, pain. He also lost two wives and seven children to death. But through it all he persevered for the cause of Christ.
Recently I had the privilege of speaking at a summer camp for boys, aged 9 to 12. During that week, the Holy Spirit moved and twelve campers received Jesus as their Savior. On the last night, one 9-year-old boy—who had received salvation during the camp—approached me and said, “You changed my life!” I smiled and replied, “I’m so happy, but God is the One who truly changed your life!” I knew it was God who had done the work in the precious boy’s heart.
I carefully crafted a Scripture lesson for my church youth group. After I presented it, a young man in the group said, “I believe you could have done a better job.” I was hurt. But then I recalled a phrase once spoken by a longtime worker in the church: “We call ourselves servants of God, but when we’re treated like one we get upset.”
In great cities,” noted Nathaniel Hawthorne, “it is unfortunately the case, that the poor are compelled to be the neighbors and fellow-lodgers of the vicious.” Hawthorne was writing about the slums of early 19th-century London, but his observation is timeless. Those among us who lack money tend to congregate in neighborhoods marred by crime and human exploitation.
As the father of four children, I tell them four words nearly every day: “You should be thankful!” I say it to them during dinner when they turn up their noses at vegetables. I say it to them when they want to get a toy that “all” their friends have. For my kids, and I suspect for many of us, giving thanks to God is an individual discipline—the proper response to what He’s done.
A couple found themselves in a no-win situation. During an intense drought, they faced a $500 fine if they watered their lawn more than twice a week. So in time it turned brown. Local officials noticed and informed them that—in spite of the drought—they were required to keep their grass “looking healthy and green” or face (you guessed it) a $500 fine.
Finishing up a long day’s work, I pressed the touch screen on my computer one last time and saw a date that was very familiar. Just like that it hit me: Today is my dad’s birthday. Quickly my thoughts went to my mom. Widowed 20 years ago, my mother is a living testimony of God’s provision and strength for those who come face to face with life’s hard unpredictability.
By God’s grace, my family has few financial worries. We have everything we need, and most everything we want. This frightens me, because it sounds exactly like the church in Laodicea. They said, “I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!” But Jesus replied, “And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked” (Revelation 3:17).
Gladiator contains an inspiring scene set just before a battle. The Roman general Maximus exhorts his troops with these words: “Remember, what we do in life echoes in eternity!” He encouraged his men to conduct themselves with the kind of valor that would cause them to be remembered long after their death. But he also knew that their conduct in the present could affect their future.
In C. S. Lewis’ The Horse and His Boy (from the Chronicles of Narnia series), Shasta embarked on a long journey from his village to escape being sold as a slave. As he traveled, he became aware of something following him: