viva la vida

With lush orchestral chord progressions and an infectious melody, Coldplay’s Viva la Vida grabbed Song of the Year honors at the 2009 Grammys. That title, which means “long live life,” conveys a bitter irony. The protagonist depicted in the lyrics had held immense power but now was dealing with a reversal of fortunes. “I used to rule the world,” the words…

love and magic

When an atheist online reader of ODJ submitted a comment that called religion “anti-science” and Christianity “magic,” a fascinating online dialog ensued. I thought of the books authored by brilliant minds—articulating a reasoned and logical case for belief in God. I pondered the complexity of the human eye, the intricate design of a giraffe’s neck, and the oddity of the duckbilled…

Christmas accusation

Few things seem more out of place than the appalling account of Herod’s slaughter of the innocents (Matthew 2:16). Why would a loving God permit a tyrant’s massacre of children to stain the beauty and poignancy of the Christmas story?

Matthew recounts in stark simplicity: “[Herod] sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two…

dogs and cats and whales

Frank’s dog tormented cats. So when Thor broke free one day and ran off, Frank got a bad feeling. Sure enough, the dog snatched a poor, unsuspecting cat in its jaws. But then, out of the shadows, came a furious streak of gray—another cat! Launching itself onto Thor’s back, it viciously raked the dog’s eyes and nose. The hapless hound…

what is a Christian?

Under “religious views” on her Facebook profile, my wife lists the simple phrase “Jesus-follower.” She uses that explanatory term to avoid political and cultural connotations associated with the word Christian. In some cultures, people are “born Christian.” But that is a misunderstanding of what it means to follow Jesus. Ironically, a friend of mine in the United Kingdom asked me…

boring

The gospel of Matthew contains the most important news the world has known. Why then, is its beginning so . . . boring? Genesis starts with epic majesty: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” In contrast, Matthew writes tepidly: “This is a record of the ancestors of Jesus” (Matthew 1:1). Yawn.

But, then again, Matthew’s list…

radical generosity

You’ve likely heard the phrase: “He’d give you the shirt off his back.” It describes the kind of generosity displayed by someone who thinks of the needs of others ahead of his own.

A pastor friend of mine infused life into that phrase when he gave this startling challenge to his congregation: “What would happen if we took the coats…

in the arena

Theodore Roosevelt got things done. He was the driving force behind the completion of the ambitious Panama Canal project, won the Nobel Peace Prize, and served as Assistant Secretary of the US Navy. Oh, and he also became the 26th president of the United States (jump-starting his country’s conservation movement).

Like anyone who accomplishes great things, Teddy Roosevelt had his…

there you are!

"There are two kinds of people,” said advice columnist Abigail Van Buren. “Those who walk into a room and say, ‘There you are!’ and those who say, ‘Here I am!’” The one Person who could have rightly declared, “Here I am,” seemed oddly reluctant to promote Himself. Jesus was much more interested in others. At His first miracle, He admonished…

oh well

“I would rather work with pagans than with other Christians!”

My friend’s statement wouldn’t be particularly surprising for an agnostic or atheist to make. But he’s a minister. Why can believers in Jesus sometimes be so difficult and nasty? How does that resonate with the way Jesus told us to resolve conflict?

In ancient Mesopotamia, Abraham’s son Isaac showed a…

i'm fine

In my country, it’s customary to say, “How are you doing?” when greeting someone. And then comes the inevitable reflexive response: “Fine, how are you doing?”—regardless of how the person actually feels. It’s simply a greeting.

My pastor is from the Democratic Republic of Congo, so he has a fresh take on this perfunctory part of my culture. Pastor Kizombo…

art and balance

Organizers call it a “radically open art competition.” It’s also highly democratic. ArtPrize lures artists to my hometown with the possibility of winning substantial cash—if the attendees like what you create. Art aficionados can wander past hundreds of exhibits scattered throughout the city, but they can vote for only one.

Many of the works are awe-inspiring. An elaborate, multicolored ice…

desperate

Tom Thompson works for the charitable organization World Help. One day as he sat in a boat on the Ganges River, he saw people ceremoniously dumping ashes from incinerated corpses into the same water where people bathed, collected drinking water, brushed their teeth, washed their clothes, and disposed of sewage in the most old-fashioned way imaginable. (Don’t think too hard…

every sparrow

My mother, so dignified and proper for her entire life, now lay in a hospice bed—held captive by debilitating age. Quivering from mini-strokes and struggling for breath, her deathly condition defied the gorgeous spring day that danced tantalizingly on the other side of the windowpane.

I had already played out this scenario numerous times in my mind. Yet all the…

touch

Kiley had ventured outside her home country only once in her 18 years. So when she had the chance to go to Kenya to help with a medical mission, she was thrilled—and a little uneasy. After all, she didn’t have any real medical experience.

As she provided basic medical care in a remote village, she met a woman with elephantiasis.…