Mortality motivates and eternity influences. These two things motivated and influenced Puritan leader Richard Baxter, who is credited with saying, “The face of death, and nearness of eternity, did much to convince me what books to read, what studies to prefer and prosecute, what company and conversation to choose. It drove me early into the vineyard of the Lord, and taught me to preach as a dying man to dying men.” Baxter’s mortality made him discriminating as to how to use his time. When we look at the Scriptures, it’s clear that they influenced his understanding.
In the Shakespearean play Othello, the main bad guy is named Iago. He pretends to be Othello’s closest friend, offering counsel and advice, but all the while he’s plotting his friend’s downfall behind the scenes. The play is carefully constructed so that it’s impossible for even the audience to grasp the underhanded deceit of Iago until the very last scene. He’s plausible right up until the end, and if his part is acted well, the audience will often gasp when his true nature is finally revealed, for the character’s deception is convincingly hidden by his words and actions.
We’re in that sweet season of hope and possibilities. No matter how difficult the year may have been, most of us hope for a better and brighter new year. At the end of last year, I knew I would be juggling my job along with the daunting task of handling the responsibilities of a colleague who was going on maternity leave.
Recently a store that’s part of a huge retail chain labeled its Bibles as “fiction.” A pastor shopping for a gift came across the Bibles and saw “Fiction” written on the price tag. So he took a pic and posted it on social media with the comment: “[Name withheld] has Bibles for sale under the genre of FICTION. Hmm.” The retailer has since apologized, saying the Bibles were mislabeled and the mistake had been corrected.
As a second-grader at a mission school in Ghana, I didn’t fare too well. Our two teachers gallantly juggled lesson plans for students spanning seven grades. This academic effort took place in a two-room cinderblock structure with an aluminum roof that began to broil us by noon each day. Distractions waged war on my 7-year-old attention span, and they were winning—handily.
When I began training my hunting dog, I kept him very close to me, issued only one command, and made sure to enforce the command, should he not understand or obey. Each time we had success, I would give him a little more freedom and then repeat the command, making sure he received a lot of affirmation and praise for his compliance. These days I can let him loose in the woodlands and be assured that all I have to do is call his name and then give a hand signal and he will do as I tell him without delay—most of the time at least! He hears my voice, he is listening all the time for it, and he wants to obey because he trusts me.
My three sons have grown up and spread their wings, so I’ve become more and more thankful for texting. It’s one way I can stay in touch with them. Even though one lives an hour’s drive from me and another is 3 hours away, we can still digitally discuss the stuff of life.
I’m not exactly what you would call a stargazer, but I’ve spent my fair share of clear nights gazing up into the heavens. I’ve learned enough about the star field to point out constellations such as the Big Dipper or Orion’s Belt or Aquarius. And I’ll never forget the time that locating the North Star was the only thing that saved me from spending the night lost in a cold, wet swamp. I used it to find my way out of the inky darkness.
My friend is a highly qualified mountaineer who has climbed some of the world’s greatest rock and ice routes, including the famous north walls of the Eiger and Matterhorn. So does he teach his clients how to climb better by demonstrating specialized equipment, showing them how to pull themselves up with two fingers on steep walls of rock, or how to place ice axes into ice that’s only a quarter-inch thick? You would think so, but he actually spends the first few days teaching them how to walk! Most people assume they have the basics sorted out, but—in fact—they can’t even walk properly, and that will prevent them from climbing to their full potential.
Day 7. The alarm clock buzzes; it is morning again. I roll over and hit the snooze bar, not ready to get out of bed yet. My spirit cries out for nourishment; my body appeals for more sleep. I’m still struggling to have regular quiet time with God.
Fire requires oxygen and fuel in tandem to keep burning—something that’s important to know in my part of the world when winter snowstorms come calling! If you don’t have enough oxygen flowing to the logs you’ve set ablaze, the fire will die down. And if you run out of wood, you’ll soon be trying to warm your hands over cooling ashes!
I overheard my 11-year-old son telling his grandmother about one of his classes at school. “On our first day of Studio Art,” he said, “our teacher told us to draw self-portraits. Mine was bad. Everyone’s was bad. The next day she taught us how to use lines, and everyone’s self-portraits improved.”
A-poe-la-pi is an elderly Akha, a member of a hill tribe people who live on some mountain ranges in China. During a missions trip, my friends and I visited A-poe-la-pi. He said to us, “Due to the downpour last night, I couldn’t make it to the gathering. Could you share with me God’s Word?” You see, A-poe-la-pi is illiterate, so the weekly gathering is the only way for him to take in Scripture. As we shared, he listened intently. And his earnest attitude reminded me that when we listen to or study the Bible to gain the wisdom of God, we honor Him.
After reaching the top of Dog Tooth Peak in the Sierra Nevada National Forest in the US, Larry Bishop began his descent. On his way down, he took a tumble off the trail and landed on a slim ledge of granite. Staying on that perch required him to cling to the side of the mountain for 52 hours—the alternative was a 10,000-foot drop! Eventually, Larry was airlifted to safety when a member of a rescue team risked his own life to reach him.
Dave gazed at the magnificent network of trails reaching into the Canadian wetlands before him. At the swampier sections, timbers strategically placed between patches of terra firma served to keep hikers dry—in theory.