In the fall of 2003, a string of wildfires claimed two dozen lives in the US. The flames had spread fast, and firefighters begged people to leave their homes in Southern California. But many hesitated. Some wanted to take the time to pack clothes, while others wanted to battle the inferno with garden hoses.
When our washing machine malfunctioned, it spewed water through a heating vent and into our basement—drenching wallboard and carpeting. To prevent mold, we had to hire a company that set up special fans inside our house. The company’s motto read: “We will make it like new.”
A spiritual mentor once asked a disheartened young man, “What do you like about yourself?” He looked down and stared at his feet in silence. Minutes later, he finally shared a few things he had done. The mentor patiently shifted the focus away from external behaviors to who the young man was as a person.
The line between victory and defeat can be quite slim. Did the winning shot leave his hands before the buzzer sounded? Did the goalie deflect the ball early enough or did it slip across the line? Relieved victors often say “a win is a win,” but they realize the contest could have gone either way.
As I watched the news of a commercial flight that had been downed by a missile last year, my heart sank. Why would people wantonly take the lives of 298 people? Why? This small, three-letter word sits at the root of all our experiences with pain and suffering. It lingers, and sometimes even haunts to the point where faith and understanding collide in crisis.
In Surprised by Hope, N. T. Wright points out the imbalance of spending 40 days observing Lent while spending one day celebrating Easter. He suggests, “If Lent is a time to give things up, Easter ought to be a time to take things up.”
I hate them. They’re _______!” (He used a euphemism for scum.) As I continued to converse with the teen, it became clear that he strongly disliked a certain group of students at school because of the way they talked and acted. The offending ones were unpleasant for him to be around and my young friend had no love for them. Although a believer in Jesus, he couldn’t stand to be around people he viewed as scum.
Having proceeded with my fellow teachers to our seating for our school’s graduation ceremony, I was amused to find I was sitting directly behind the band. Just 18 inches stood between me and some skilled trumpet players. I wondered how my ears would fare after the first few measures of “Pomp and Circumstance.” And later I stood in wonder as we began a congregational hymn. I couldn’t hear myself singing, however. Only the sound of the majestic brass instruments resonated off the church walls.
In the classic tale of the two frogs, one is placed into a pot of boiling water and is so shocked by the experience that it quickly jumps out. The other is lowered into a pot of cold water over a low heat. The heat is gradually turned up to boiling point, but the frog doesn’t realize the subtle change in temperature and allows itself to slowly boil to death.
Do you have a dark secret that you’ve kept from others? Maybe you did something you think is so bad that if people found out about it they would have nothing to do with you. Perhaps you’re hooked on watching porn or you struggle with substance abuse. Maybe you’re carrying deep hatred for someone who hurt you.
I’ve endured many cycles of success and failure in my long struggle with healthy eating and consistent exercise. Whenever my efforts fail, however, it’s because I’ve succumbed to the allure of something that seemed to offer me true pleasure: another slice of apple cake with fresh maple frosting or a series of leisurely mornings where I don’t have to drag my body out to the road for another run. The truth, of course, is that poor nutrition and a lethargic body yield nothing good at all.
When my oldest daughter was very young, it was always difficult to get her to admit when she had done something wrong. She was skillfully evasive and seemed to have a knack for explaining away a bad situation. Her indiscretions were usually very minor—she was essentially a “good girl.” But her habit of never admitting her mistakes was a source of concern to us.
I’m ashamed to admit it, but sometimes I pray for God to grant me a good parking spot when I pick up my children from school. I wonder if I do this because, deep down, I believe that God is able to take care of only the small things of life, and little more.
In a speech given during the commencement of a newly formed missions agency, my friend—who heads up the ministry—spoke of its mission and vision. He also gave everyone a clear picture of its goals and plans.
After Nelson Mandela’s death at the end of 2013, many stories surfaced of his genuine concern for others. In 1950s Apartheid South Africa, Mandela once saw a white woman standing beside her broken car in Johannesburg. Approaching her, he offered help and was able to fix the car.