Recently as I sat in a circle of leaders from our church, a woman asked a simple question, provoking rich discussion. “What are your hopes for our church?” There were several responses, for our little community has many hopes. But on that night this spilled out of me: “I hope we become more and more the kind of people who learn to resist the anxieties of this world because we believe Jesus is with us and that Jesus is doing something with us.”
During a conversation with friends, several in the circle took turns recounting their early experiences with certain words in the Christian vocabulary. One person said, “Whenever I heard the word life mentioned by a Christian or in the Bible, I always thought it was only talking about heaven. I never thought it had much to do with me right now.” Most everyone nodded in agreement. “Yeah, it was difficult to know what there really was to be excited about,” another confessed. “I imagined playing harps somewhere in the clouds, and I felt guilty when the whole idea just didn’t excite me too much.”
Wolves devour lambs. Leopards pounce on goats. A calf is never safe around a lion, and neither is a child! Though very touching, the picture of predators living in harmony with their prey can strike us as naïve. Prophetic pictures of such a scene have been interpreted different ways, but the image is striking. So, how different would things have to be for animals to be able to live like that? Perhaps not that different at all.
In 1893, the inventor of the machine gun was asked if his invention would make wars even more devastating. He replied that he believed they would make wars impossible. Many inventors and great scientists have said similar things over the years, only to discover that this was not the truth. Scientific progress has not slowed the beat of war, but has only made it far more deadly than it had ever been before.
I once met a beautiful East African girl named Mercy, a patient at a hospital where I volunteered in Kampala, Uganda. During one of my visits, the girl’s teenage brother summoned me to his sister’s bed. He explained that their parents had died and he, at age 14, was his sister’s sole caregiver. “I have learned you and a Mzungu man [my friend, David Kuo] gave pillows to the patients last week,” he said. “My sister, named Mercy, wasn’t here when you came. She has never slept on a pillow before. Would you please bring her one?”
South Africa’s electrical grid has long been stretched, but when a coal silo at a power station collapsed, it led to months of widespread blackouts across the country. The power outages were initially frustrating, but citizens quickly adapted to the daily 2-hour blackouts and worked around those times. Generators were employed, people bought fewer perishable foods, and they were careful to make sure the washing-machine cycle would finish before the electricity went off for the day.
An antivirus update for my laptop kept blocking the last phase of my radio recordings—the words I spoke between songs. I tried restoring the computer to an earlier date, prior to the update, which worked for one session of recordings. But when I tried to record another radio show, the antivirus once again stopped me from saving my work. In the end, I restored the laptop to a time when it worked properly, uninstalled the antivirus, and reinstalled a different one. The new antivirus is now working well alongside my recording software and I can save my work without hindrance. Phew!
As the father of four children, I tell them four words nearly every day: “You should be thankful!” I say it to them during dinner when they turn up their noses at vegetables. I say it to them when they want to get a toy that “all” their friends have. For my kids, and I suspect for many of us, giving thanks to God is an individual discipline—the proper response to what He’s done.
Many Christians are familiar with the classic hymn “It Is Well with My Soul.” The first line of the song reads, “When peace like a river attendeth my way.” But, for most of us, peace isn’t a mighty and strong river. It’s more like a feather that can be easily pushed aside by the concerns and worries of life. For me, holding on to peace in the midst of turmoil is like trying to catch a piece of dust in the air!
US President Abraham Lincoln’s secretary of war, Edwin Stanton, was angered by an army officer who accused him of favoritism. Stanton complained to Lincoln, who suggested that Stanton write the officer a letter. Later, Stanton told the President he was ready to send the strongly worded letter. Lincoln said, “You don’t want to send that letter. . . . Put it in the stove. That’s what I do when I have written a letter while I am angry. It’s a good letter, and you had a good time writing it and feel better. Now burn it, and write another.”
From a Distance,” the 1991 Grammy Song of the Year popularized by Bette Midler, describes what the world looks like from a distance: “From a distance the world looks blue and green . . . there is harmony . . . And no one is in need. And there are no guns, no bombs, and no disease . . . We are instruments . . . playing songs of hope, playing songs of peace.” The song ends with the lingering refrain: “God is watching us from a distance.”
A few years ago, my husband and a friend of his attempted the Three Peaks Challenge—climbing the highest mountains of Scotland, England, and Wales within 24 hours. This included scaling Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the British Isles at 1,344 meters. It was sunny at the foot of Ben Nevis as the men, dressed in just T-shirts and shorts, started their ascent. As they approached the summit, however, the weather changed; they hit ice and thick fog and their skimpy clothing simply wasn’t enough. They made it down the mountain, but the challenge was off.
As we pause and reflect on another 12 months gone by, we’re often quick to aim for greater balance in all areas during the new year. Author and pastor Andy Stanley suggests that we aim to find a rhythm in the changing seasons of life. Instead of trying to carve out equal amounts of time for each activity in order to attain and maintain a balanced lifestyle, there are seasons which require us to work longer or shorter hours, spend less or exercise more, cut out or add certain foods to our diet, and so on.