Every now and then, I receive a note from a friend telling me how blessed she’s been by something I wrote. Often these messages arrive as I’m wondering whether my words make any difference. In the past I expressed my gratitude for her kindness. But lately I’ve come to an even greater awareness of how helpful her encouragement has been to me. Knowing that people are being impacted by my writing helps me to recognize God’s hand in my work and to rely even more on His guidance.
When the father of a murdered teen showed a heart of forgiveness to his daughter’s killer, waves of shock rippled through the courtroom. The serial killer, who had sat emotionless while the families of several victims voiced their pain and rage, broke down in tears at this unexpected moment of grace. Though painful, the father chose to show a taste of Christ-like love even in his pain.
In the Disney movie Inside Out, the internal emotions of Riley, the protagonist, are personified as distinct characters. Everyone loves Joy, who is given every opportunity to be the dominant emotion. Joy attempts to shun Sadness and even make her nonexistent. Unfortunately, Joy’s efforts to prevent Sadness from being expressed result in a near total shutdown of Riley’s feelings, for Sadness had a vital role to play in Riley’s overall well-being.
During a visit to Melbourne, Australia, my hosts took me on a mini-tour of the city. Along the way, they pointed out some buildings that had been converted from churches to bars. I’ve learned that this is a common practice—not only in Australia, but around the world. Troubled, I wondered what the future held for places of worship. Imagine my elation when I read of a bar that’s reversing the trend and returning to its roots as a church!
The origins of crucifixion are unknown, but the Roman Empire was infamous for inflicting the debasing practice on society’s lowest. Yet today, the cross—the representative symbol of crucifixion—is often prominently displayed, cherished by believers in Jesus around the world.
The lead singer of a local Christian band shared how he sat in a doctor’s office awaiting test results. Alone in the waiting room, he cried out to God and felt an overwhelming sense of peace. Like others in the audience, I leaned forward, expecting a joyful proclamation that the result of the cancer test was negative. Instead, the testimony ended with a quiet prayer of gratitude that God answered when he’d called, confirming the promise that He will never leave nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). For this believer, the test results took a backseat to resting in the knowledge that God was with Him.
An article titled “Jacob and Our Wrestling Match with God” reflects on the significance of God changing Jacob’s name, arguing that the name change points to a character transformation. “Jacob,” which means “crooked,” becomes “Israel,” which likely means “One who wrestles with God [and] One who is straight (direct, honest) with God.”
Some close friends recently went through a difficult season in which they struggled financially and emotionally. Yet when all was said and done, the trying time caused them to make positive changes to avoid catastrophe further down the line. Although it didn’t feel like it at the time, their challenge was an expression of God’s goodness.
Hieronymus Bosch’s painting Ascent of the Blessed depicts souls being escorted from a place of darkness through a tunnel leading to dazzling light. At the end of the tunnel awaits a radiant being. The painting portrays a phenomenon often described by those who have had a near-death experience—a “tunnel of light” leading to what seems to be heaven.
The movie Self/less tells the fictional story of a wealthy, dying man trying to attain immortality by transferring his consciousness to a younger man’s “host” body. While things go well at first, it eventually becomes clear that all is not as it should be, as the memories of the younger man begin surfacing in the wealthy man’s mind, resulting in some dire complications.
The term Pax Romana conveys the idea that undisturbed peace reigned throughout the Roman Empire for more than 200 years. Ironically, the very basis of the Pax Romana boast (one united, stable empire) was often the obstacle to true peace. With a large territory that was subject to riots and rebellion, Rome was known to devastate conquered nations in the name of enforcing pax. All who opposed the empire paid dearly for it; as the first-century historian Tacitus wrote, “They create desolation and call it peace.”
Gaius Octavius became the first Roman emperor by working behind the scenes to consolidate his power. He changed his name to Gauis Julius Caesar Octavianus, after his adoptive father, and then promoted the idea of Caesars (Roman emperors) being divine—allowing him to be considered the son of a god. Eventually, Octavius took the title of Augustus Caesar—sole ruler of Rome—whose spirit was deemed worthy of worship by his people.
The British TV series As Time Goes By tells the story of a couple separated by war and reunited 38 years later. The show chronicles how the man and woman come together to form a deep, loving relationship. Through the ups and downs, the couple never loses sight of the fact that they were granted a second chance at love.
I once heard about a first-time author who came to Jesus due to the stunning success of his book. The way he saw it, God escalated the book’s accomplishment beyond the merits of his talent in order to get his attention. Humbled, the author responded by seeking God and ultimately believing in Christ. What makes this story so unusual is that success more often has the opposite effect; after initial demonstrations of gratitude, we tend to forget God in the midst of plenty.
Joni Eareckson Tada, a world-renowned artist, author, and speaker, became a quadriplegic as the result of an accident in 1967. She admits that every morning she wakes up tired and convinced that she can’t face another day with quadriplegia. But she takes her weakness to God, seeking His grace, and continues to serve others—her joy in Jesus radiating through her smile.