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.
At 14, I had been wandering from Jesus. But then I turned back to Him and went from a rebellious teenager to His passionately enthusiastic disciple. One night, I planned to stay up until God revealed Himself to me. This lasted about 3 hours before I succumbed to tired eyes and fell asleep. The next morning, I was deeply disappointed that a tangible experience with God didn’t take place. For I thought that He would surely respond to the eager expectations of a young girl. Over the years, however, God has revealed Himself to me in many unexpected ways as I’ve surrendered myself to Him.
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.
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.”
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.”
They say that justice is blind, but recent research suggests that justice likes to snack as well! In 2010, a team of researchers tracked the rulings of eight judges during 1,100 parole-board hearings over 10 months. Nearly 65 percent of the prisoners were granted parole during hearings held right after the judges had eaten breakfast. Over the next few hours, the chances of getting a favorable parole hearing plummeted. But the prisoners’ chances of parole increased to 65 percent again after the judges’ mid-morning snack or lunch.
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.
NASA astronaut Gene Cernan is known as the last man to walk on the moon. In 1972 he was the commander of Apollo 17. He and his crew voyaged to the moon and spent 22 hours exploring the lunar surface. When asked what it’s like to stand on the moon, Cernan responded, “Looking back to see the earth in all of its fullness and beauty was like looking out from God’s front porch.”
Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the problem of evil. I watch the news and see atrocities committed against the innocent (Psalm 73:3-16). People in my town, nation, and the world don’t have food to eat or access to good medical care. Natural disasters swallow people alive. Children face cruel words and actions. Wars break out with devastating effects. And then I receive news that a child or a young person I know has died before he or she has really had a chance to live, that families I know are breaking up, and that friends are in deep financial distress.
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).
Bob Goff traveled to a country where he witnessed extreme human rights violations. In response, he chose to live out the call of Isaiah 58:3 by seeking justice on behalf of the oppressed. Goff founded Restore International to “fight for freedom and human rights, working to improve educational opportunities and to be helpful to those in need of a voice and a friend.” For more than a decade, Restore has helped to free those in bonded labor and sex trafficking, along with other exploited men, women, and children in select troubled countries.