It was October, a month in my part of the world when temperatures begin to dip and the leaves of many types of trees turn brilliant colors. The trees dazzled me with their autumn glory. Leaves sported deep reds, bright yellows, soft orange hues, and a beautiful color somewhere between green and yellow. I plopped down in the middle of a grove of trees to soak it all in. Then I lay down in a bed of leaves and gazed up at the blue sky. I was within a natural cathedral that swayed to and fro in the chilly fall wind.
In 2011 an earthquake and tsunami caused a catastrophic meltdown of three nuclear reactors in Japan. A massive evacuation ensued, displacing thousands, with a 20-kilometer radius marked as an “exclusion zone.”
The title of Eugene Peterson’s book A Long Obedience in the Same Direction has its origins in a quote from the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. Raised in a Christian family, Nietzsche turned to atheism and later surprisingly wrote, “The essential thing in heaven and earth is that there should be a long obedience in the same direction; there thereby results . . . in the long run, something which has made life worth living.”
I’m the point person for the visitation team at my church. This means that I visit people in the hospital, at their homes, and in hospice. I also solicit volunteers to go out and visit others and provide encouragement, spiritual conversations, and prayer. Being ill can be a lonely path for many—especially the elderly. Yet younger people can also contract serious illnesses and experience difficulties.
An organization in South Africa began a compassionate project many years ago. The group buys houses in impoverished areas and paints them red. They then hire house parents who live in the red houses, providing beacons of light to the troubled communities. Over the years, these houses have become havens for children at risk and other hurting people in need of a safe place, a hot meal, a listening ear, and a warm hug.
The word fellowship conjures up some rather strange associations in my mind. When I hear it spoken, I immediately think of coffee and donuts, along with the basement meeting spaces in churches where those coffee and donuts are served. Most strangely, I also think about the 2001 movie The Fellowship of the Ring. So somehow my concept of Christian community has become inextricably tied to a tale of men, dwarves, and elves dealing with “one ring to rule them all.”
Martin Luther challenged the medieval idea that only priests, monks, and nuns possessed a divine call. He said that just as people are made right with God by salvation in Jesus, they’re also called to serve Him in whatever jobs they do. In this way “the entire world [will] be full of service to God, not only the churches but also the home, the kitchen, the cellar, the workshop, and the field of townsfolk and farmers.”
My wife was quiet and sincere—a behind-the-scenes kind of person. She taught and mentored students in her home church in the 1980s and 1990s. But she chose not to retire from that ministry. And over the past 10 years, she continued to teach and mentor the children of her former students. In fact, she ministered to two generations of believers in Jesus within the same family. All in all, 40 years of faithful service.
One Sunday morning, my friend Sally announced some upcoming women’s events to our congregation. Sitting in the back, I made sure she could see my smiling face. Later she exclaimed, “You smiled at me the whole time!” I admitted that the “encouraging smile” idea had come from someone else—my friend Suzy. Several months before, Suzy had beamed at me during a short presentation I made to the church family.
I doubt that any word gets tossed around in our world with such frequency and flippancy as love. It’s common for us to justify selfish behavior or whitewash actions harmful to others all in the name of some weak notion of “love.” Too often our actions performed under the guise of love have nothing whatsoever to do with the reality of it.
I have a friend who has spent most of his life with people who live on society’s margins: People experiencing poverty or homelessness, those who wrestle with addictions or simply exist outside the mainstream, anyone who might be considered an outcast. “That’s where I seem to fit,” my friend says. “On the edges.” He helps believers in Jesus learn how to be in true friendship with those who are different. “This kind of friendship isn’t as complicated as we like to make it,” my friend insists. “Often it’s as simple as knowing someone’s name and how they like their coffee.”
Picnics are usually a lot of fun, unless you realize— minutes before you leave—that you’re supposed to bring a dish to share! When this happened to me, I quickly put some meat in a pot, cranked up the heat, and left the kitchen to finish other preparations. Several minutes later, I smelled something burning. I ran to the kitchen, but of course it was too late to salvage the burnt offering.
An audition for a singing competition on TV captured my attention. Strumming on a guitar he’d learned to play just a year earlier, a young man named Anderson wowed the judges when he performed his original song, “My Best Friend.”
Steady rains had transformed the hardened terrain of our backyard into a soaked softness. Walking outside, I felt the coolness of the water and mud squishing between my toes. Our dogs had been digging in a small area, so I decided to move a few cement blocks to block the patch of ground from their reach. My work left me covered with moist dirt and grass. Deciding to wash before heading indoors, I watched the clear stream of water make my skin clean once again.
Today Mother’s Day is celebrated in my corner of the world. We take our moms out to eat, send them cards, and post our love for them on social media sites. I’ve noticed that most people don’t praise their mom for being a dynamic speaker, an inspirational leader, or an accomplished musician. We love our moms for much simpler things.