Archives: December 2016

Hope Springs Eternal

A mere half-hour watching the news today can fill one with despair as we witness the effects of greed, selfishness, and depravity. It pains the heart to see the utter devastation of the downtrodden. As we take in such brokenness it can lead us to lower our weary heads and simply trudge through life one day at a time—hope for a better tomorrow diminishing with each passing moment.

Whose Building?

“House of Herod,” reads the heading to a chart in my study Bible. The graphic shows a family tree beginning with Herod “the Great.” He’s known—among other things—for killing the baby boys of Bethlehem. Herod fathered Herod Antipas, who married his brother’s ex-wife and executed John the Baptist. There’s Salome, the granddaughter whose dance “won” that execution. Don’t forget Herod Agrippa I, the grandson who murdered James the brother of John (see Acts 12:1–2).

Willing Humility

According to The Wall Street Journal, there’s a new fad among top-level executives. It’s called humility. One former leader states that humility “is the flavor du jour.” Companies prize humble leaders because they listen well and share the limelight. Of course, the leaders have to actually be humble. Fakers abound, like a former executive who constantly stole the limelight from subordinates. According to one observer, “He didn’t understand the humility part of being humble.”

God’s Job, and Ours

When I was first called to pastor a church, my family and I were, frankly, broke! I had just finished Bible college and my wife had been homeschooling our young daughters. The church was in a popular area, and house prices were at a premium. We needed a home, but they were all so very expensive. We really liked one place, but had no money for a deposit or to offer for rent. The real estate agent asked us if we wanted it.

Rescued

The Laingsburg flood of 1981 was the worst of its kind in South African history. In two days nearly half a meter (almost 17 inches) of rain fell, 104 people died, and 184 houses were destroyed. The town of Laingsburg was built close to the “dry river bed” of the Buffalo River. What the town engineers failed to realize, however, is that this relatively small river floods its banks every 100 years or so. Although the local farmers were initially grateful for the rain, their relief soon turned to dread as a six-meter (almost twenty-foot) wall of water rushed through the town, carrying with it people, animals, houses, and belongings.

Everlasting

Gary Alexander had the job of demolishing some buildings that were more than a hundred years old. After reducing the structures to rubble, he noticed part of a wall still standing. These words were scrawled on the bricks: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life” (John 6:47 kjv).

What Christmas Is About

In Charles M. Schulz’s classic TV special A Charlie Brown Christmas, Charlie Brown set out to buy a Christmas tree. As the play’s director, Charlie was determined that his theatrical work would not reflect the commercialization of Christmas that he saw all around him.

God Came for a Visit

Two passages in Luke 1 are often called “songs” because of their similarity to the Old Testament psalms. The Magnificat of Mary (Luke 1:46-55) is well known. But the “Benedictus” (Luke 1:67-79), which is taken from blessed or praise, the first word in the Latin translation, is less known. Filled with Old Testament quotations and allusions, the Benedictus speaks of the work of the Messiah and the work of His messenger (Luke 1:69,80).

Approaching Prayer

At times I’m hesitant to invite others to pray for me. If, for example, I say, “Please pray for me, I’m experiencing a spiritual attack in a certain area,” do I sound arrogant? Do I sound as if I think I’ve done something so important the enemy’s trying to stop me? Am I possibly calling something a spiritual attack that’s actually a consequence of something I’ve done or haven’t done? Will friends and ministry partners grow weary of repeated requests for prayer? Are my prayer needs too personal to share?

Blocked Love

“Do you know what hurts so very much? It’s love. Love is the strongest force in the world, and when it is blocked that means pain. There are two things we can do when this happens. We can kill that love so that it stops hurting. But then of course part of us dies, too. Or we can ask God to open up another route for that love to travel.” —Corrie ten Boom, The Hiding Place

What You Have

“You can’t get blood from a rock.” That saying, used sometimes in my part of the world, means that we can’t get from another person or situation what simply isn’t there. For example, I might say, “I can’t get blood from a rock” when I’m trying to collect a debt from someone who doesn’t have the money to repay me. Trying to acquire cash from someone who isn’t capable of providing it is impossible.

To the End

Renowned playwright George Bernard Shaw (1856–1950) left an unusual last will and testament. Because he found English spelling rules unnecessarily confusing (which they are!), he requested that the United Kingdom adopt a phonetic alphabet he had created to simplify things. He even left a large portion of his estate to implement the plan. Schoolchildren would have been forever grateful to Shaw, but alas, the courts deemed the request “impossible.” The money went to other causes.

Hard Words

A friend of mine faced a difficult task. Steve discovered that a leader in his church was involved in some sinful activities. After seeking wise and confidential counsel, Steve met with the leader and nervously but firmly urged him to turn from his sin and change his ways. The leader left the meeting distraught. Later, his daughter called Steve in tears. “Dad has locked himself in his room,” she said, “and he says he’s never coming out.”

Presence in the Seasons

For seven years, I was at home fulltime with our kids. While I did freelance work to bring in some income, I enjoyed the flexibility and routine of that season. Meals were normally served on time, I was able to deep clean my house regularly, and I enjoyed throwing baby showers and other ways of blessing others. When I returned to fulltime work, my state of normal changed, and I had to shift my expectations.

Confident Hope

It’s truly difficult to sit beside someone who’s grieving or in despair, a person who has taken one hit after another and has lost all hope. Whenever we surrender hope, our life slowly ebbs from us. We may continue to put one foot in front of the other, but we can no longer see the beauty around us. We no longer find joy in our life or in relationship with others. We see only gloom, and we find it nearly impossible to move toward light and love.

Related Topics

> christian living

Upending

A backyard bash was underway when a man carrying a gun approached and demanded money from the partygoers. The partiers would have handed their money to the bandit, but no one had any cash! So they offered what they did have—a drink. Surprisingly, the crook accepted and joined their party. An unexpected response changed everything.

Running the Race

In 2005 Dean Karnazes ran 350 miles in eighty hours—setting the world record for distance running without sleep. Ten years later, Rob Young, nicknamed the “Marathon Man,” broke the record by covering nearly 374 miles in eighty-eight hours. Young, who had endured abuse by his father as a child, said he ran with two goals in mind: to test the limits of human endurance and to help the world become a better place for kids.

Is This Heaven?

In the fantasy-drama Field of Dreams, Ray Kinsella heard a mysterious voice whispering from his cornfield: “If you build it, he will come.” In time, Ray realized the voice was calling him to build a baseball field among his rows of cornstalks. When he built the ball field, major-league baseball players from the past miraculously emerged from the remaining cornstalks to play ball.

> daily devotional

Far Greater Love

During a major sports competition, a male sprinter jumped the gun, resulting in a false start and immediate disqualification from the event. His responses included tearing off his sprinter’s bib, writhing on the ground, and weeping in a curled-up position at the side of the track. A female sprinter was running well in her event when she slipped coming over a hurdle on a rain-slicked track and fell to the ground. Her race for all intents and purposes was over, but she got up and finished it with a look of calm determination on her face.

Upending

A backyard bash was underway when a man carrying a gun approached and demanded money from the partygoers. The partiers would have handed their money to the bandit, but no one had any cash! So they offered what they did have—a drink. Surprisingly, the crook accepted and joined their party. An unexpected response changed everything.

Unappreciated?

Have you ever gone out of your way to do something kind for others, only to have them ignore your effort? You stayed up past midnight to finish a report for your boss or planned a special getaway for your family. You were excited to please them, but ended up disappointed when they didn’t even say thank you.

> ethics

rotten fruit

There’s a “quick sale” area in my local supermarket where fruit is offered at a huge discount. If not sold quickly, the fully ripened edibles will become soft, flabby, and infected with fungus.

judgment of justice

An acquaintance of mine, who is highly intelligent and has a philosophical bent, also carries antipathy toward God and religion. He enjoys being provocative, recently quoting the second-century philosopher Epicurus who said: “There is no such thing as justice in the abstract; it is merely a compact between men.”

if My people

I was speaking with three friends about the lamentable condition of our country. They mentioned the continued practice of abortion, the rise of homosexual marriage, and the debt crisis. One friend cited 2 Chronicles 7:14, and said that our nation’s problems will only be solved when our country turns to God. I said that would be difficult to pull off, as our nation believes in the separation of church and state. We cannot compel Muslims, Buddhists, or atheists to worship Yahweh. Nor would we want to. Life goes badly—both for those inside and outside the church—whenever Christianity becomes the religion of the state.

> faith

Entering into God’s Rest

My son and I spent a few days with friends at their home in the beautiful northern region of New England in the US. Our visit followed my ninth consecutive year of fruitful but intense ministry in East Africa. Depleted and in need of recharging, I was grateful for the physical rest my friends’ hospitality provided.

You Have a Choice

You mean, I can choose to believe in Jesus?” my young Nepali friend asked in surprise as I was giving her a ride to the grocery store. She was an international student at the same university I was attending and had been coming for several months to a weekly Bible study. As we were discussing her thoughts regarding the study, she suddenly became shocked by the realization that she could choose what to believe. She had grown up in a culture where faith was something she was born into, with no choice given to her.

Philip Flunked

In college, I had the, ahem, joy of taking a class about the history of the English language. The professor would ramble on and on about his life and all kinds of odd facts during his lectures. We listened intently, however, because his tests were famously difficult. He didn’t simply ask us to recall facts, he required us to think differently. The questions were designed to ensure that we could apply our knowledge in unique ways.

> health

Hope for Today

Someone close to me recommitted his life to God, began taking his wife and young daughter to church, and was seeking to follow Jesus faithfully. Within weeks, however, his world began to fall apart. His daughter was admitted to the hospital with a chest infection, his business partner refused to pay him, and his wife asked for some time apart. He looked drained and weary when I offered to pray for him, saying he’d rather not have any help from God. From the moment he’d chosen to serve the Lord again, he said it felt as if a huge target had been placed on his back and the Enemy was having a field day.

Something More Powerful

When France’s ministry of health realized that 17.8 percent of French women smoked while pregnant, they came up with a plan. For a trial period of thirty-six months, seventeen French hospitals paid women up to 300 euros to stop smoking during their pregnancies. Of the 612 participants, 22.5 percent of the women gave up their cigarettes.

Real Rest

During the long, harsh Alaskan winter, Denali National Park rangers rely on teams of sled dogs to help them patrol the vast, snowy wilderness. Dogsled patrols can last up to 6 weeks, and the dogs are always raring to go.

> relationships

Covenant Relationship

Two different friends from different spheres of my life—one a man, one a woman—told me about their unfaithful spouses during the same week. Both felt betrayed and angry. They wondered if they would ever feel whole again.

Gifts from God

Police were sent to a home in response to a report of domestic child abuse. When they arrived at the house, they found a scared four-year-old girl with a black eye, swollen cheek, and bruises covering a majority of her tiny frame. The officers were devastated when they asked her to say her name and she meekly replied, “Idiot.”

The Grand Project of Salvation

The Swedish writer Fredrick Backman’s 2012 debut novel A Man Called Ove is the tale of a man who sees no reason to live. After the death of his wife (the one person who brought him laughter, intimacy, and joy) and after losing his job, Ove plots his suicide. But then he’s drawn into the larger story around him: There’s a pregnant woman who needs his support, a neighbor in conflict with authorities who are trying to force him into a nursing home, and a young man estranged from his father. Ove discovers reasons to live as he moves beyond himself and toward others.