Many believers in Jesus are well acquainted with the traditional Christmas carol “We Three Kings of Orient Are” by John Henry Hopkins, Jr. What many might not realize is that the book of Matthew never specifies how many “wise men” there were—only that there were “some” (Matthew 2:1). The idea that there were three wise men developed over the course of church history, but that number isn’t universally accepted. In fact, Syriac Christian churches celebrate no less than twelve visitors from the east!
As a pastor, I’ve seen this happen on several occasions during a service: a mother hears a faint cry from beyond the sanctuary, gets up, walks toward the rear of the room, and immediately goes to the nursery where her child is being cared for. Without anyone telling her, she knew that it was her baby who cried out and she needed to go and relieve the childcare volunteer by providing care for her precious child. Studies have shown that mothers are especially attuned to the cries of their own children and can often identify their kid’s cries from those of other children with 100 percent accuracy!
Jesus knew His Father couldn’t grant His request, yet He prayed it anyway. He had to die on the cross to save us, yet He still pled with His Father to take away “this cup of suffering” (Luke 22:42). Why did Jesus pray when He knew the answer was No? He prayed because of the sheer terror that lay before Him (Luke 22:44). Jesus prayed because prayer isn’t primarily about getting what we want. It’s about our relationship with our heavenly Father.
A volunteer disc jockey on an indie station I listen to once said, “There won’t be any peace until all the religions of the world are one.” That’s a nice, inclusive expression of our longing for peace, love, and unity. However. . .
As I drove home, night had begun to settle with an added veil of heavy fog. When the fog suddenly lifted, I found myself off the road and headed toward a patch of trees. I quickly slammed on my brakes. The low-lying branches of a large pine tree scraped against the hood of my car like hands reaching out to warn me of the ominous trunks just beyond. The dense fog had changed my perception: I had mistaken someone’s back porch-light for the streetlight I knew to be near the curve of the road.
The human heart expands and contracts to circulate blood through the body. When the heart contracts, it pushes blood out to the extremities. When it expands, the heart fills up with incoming blood. There’s a rare physical condition, however, that stiffens the heart muscle. This less-flexible state means that the organ can’t expand to take in the proper amount of blood—a physical hardening of the heart.
A man who owned a car dealership became better “known for the cars he kept than the ones he sold.” During his 5 decades running the dealership, he held on to select cars that customers traded in, and quite a few new models too, amassing a collection of more than 500 automobiles that he kept parked on a farm. Right before the man died in 2014, his collection sold by auction. The sale drew 25,000 people, was filmed for TV’s History channel, and raised $2.8 million (US). It’s obvious that the owner was really into collecting cars. Yet, when he died, he wasn’t able to take any of them with him.
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.”
When I was a young believer in Jesus, I was encouraged to keep a thanksgiving journal. It was a little booklet I carried with me as a means to capture the daily happenings that filled my heart with gratitude. Sometimes I would pen my thanks items at the end of the week, following a time of reflection.
Abe lived in a country that was closed to the message of Jesus. We became friends in the first month I lived there, and he soon asked me to teach him the Bible. He gave his life to Christ during our second Bible study, and he eagerly devoured whatever I could teach him.
Soldiers who have fought together will tell you that the relational bond they share with their fellow soldiers is incredibly strong. In fact, some veterans report that the friendships they share with fellow veterans, although different in character, are as important to them as the relationship they have with their spouse. This doesn’t minimize the importance of marriage, but points to the depth of friendships forged in the crucible of sacrifice.
In Britain we love to talk about the weather. We talk about it with people we know and with those we’ve just met. The subject is raised at the start of business meetings and over the dinner table. Sometimes touching on the weather is merely an icebreaker, a way to start or develop a conversation. Often, however, it’s merely a way of being somewhat friendly, but at the same time avoiding any real intimacy, depth of relationship, or feeling of commitment. So discussing whether it’s sunny or rainy keeps us at a distance but extends a form of friendliness.