There are few events of greater historical significance in the 20th century than China’s Cultural Revolution. The Communist Party instituted changes at every level of society to enforce its ideology. These included the persecution of the nation’s Christians, with many sent to labor camps. It’s estimated that the Cultural Revolution resulted in the death of 30 million Chinese people and forced the church underground. But decades later, it turns out that the efforts to wipe out Christianity had the opposite effect. Experts believe that there are more Christians worshiping in underground churches in China than there are total believers in the US!
I read an online obituary for a friend’s father. My heart ached for my friend as I imagined how painful it would be to lose a parent. I sent him an email of condolence and was surprised by his quick response. “It’s been a tough year, but I’m rejoicing in our hope in Christ.” Even as he mourned, he spoke of hope and faith.
While doing research for a sermon, I stumbled upon a curious creature—the “Jesus Christ lizard.” That’s another name for the common basilisk, a small lizard from South America that’s able to run on its rear legs on the surface of water. This might seem like a miracle, but the basilisk is able to accomplish this feat because of the skin between its toes, allowing it to float on the water for the briefest of moments. Without those flaps of skin, the common basilisk would be, well, common!
When I speak at high schools, one question I’m frequently asked is, “If God loves us, why do so many people suffer in the world?” In responding to my listeners, I challenge the idea that God best expresses His love to us by giving us things and simply making our lives easy. This inaccurate way of viewing how He operates exists and persists both inside and outside of the church.
Since the early days of human existence it’s been a constant foe. Recently it came calling in a friend’s life as she lamented her children not walking with Jesus. Another friend bemoaned the death of what had been a loving marriage. A family member looked at me with teary eyes, trying to form words that couldn’t come due to dementia. Another family member, deep in the throes of grief because of her father’s death, said softly, “I can’t believe he’s gone.”
Essayist Joseph Epstein writes, “Of the seven deadly sins, only envy is no fun at all.” He goes on to say that envy makes us look “ungenerous, mean, and small-hearted.” There’s plenty of research to back up Epstein’s statement. In fact, psychologists have found that envy decreases life satisfaction and diminishes well-being. It’s correlated with depression and neuroticism, and the hostility envy breeds may actually make us physically sick.
Except for technological advances, the first century AD wasn’t much different than the 21st. The human condition can be depressingly consistent: injustice, exploitation, oppression, violence.
When my sister left a high-paying government job after 14 years, many people were surprised. I believe God led her to the job (a long story), used it to train and equip her (another long story), and called her away from it (yet another lengthy tale). In fact, she had to leave her work with no new job in place. There wasn’t time to ponder, because she had loads of projects to finish and hand over. Yet, by God’s grace, she didn’t fret. She was fully convinced that God her Shepherd would provide for her (Psalm 23:1).
In just a few short hours, my husband and I learned that— although our lives were soon to be united in marriage— we wouldn’t walk identical paths. We had been dating for over a year when each of our fathers entered the hospital on the same day, though in two different facilities. One man breathed raggedly in his final stages of cancer; the other lay bleeding internally on the operating table after an open-heart procedure—two lives hovering between heaven and earth. The next day, one remained; the other did not.
Let me be the first to say to you, Happy Ascension Day! Today we commemorate when Jesus’ disciples witnessed their risen Lord being “taken up to heaven” (Luke 24:50-51). It’s understandable if you didn’t know about this special date. Generally speaking, it’s a day on the church calendar that often comes quietly and goes with little attention or fanfare.
When my friend received a traffic ticket for speeding in a construction zone, he decided to contest it in court. As he put it, he was driving below the posted speed limit when another vehicle raced past him. The police officer’s radar gun had recorded the other car’s speed. But the judge would have none of it.
As my sister and I were growing up, our parents taught us about the love of Jesus and to enjoy intimate prayer with Him. As I grew older, sometimes life’s varied challenges pressed hard on me, and my prayers became requests based on need rather than tender dialogues with the One who delights in giving to His children (Matthew 7:11). In other words, my prayers were based on circumstances rather than on God’s character. Over time, I’ve learned to ask according not only to His will but also His goodness.
Not long ago I was certain that God was moving my husband and me in a specific direction. Two different sources, without consulting one another, encouraged us to pursue the same opportunity. So we did. Doors flew open as we kept moving forward. We were encouraged and excited, for what we never thought would happen was coming together right before our very eyes. As we bathed the whole process in prayer, God seemed to be honoring our requests. Until the eleventh hour, that is. That’s when the final door was slammed shut in our faces. We were shocked, and felt cheated and tricked by God. There was absolutely no way to make our dream a reality.