Senseless violence and dark injustice can make for a steady rain in life—dampening spirits in mists of gray. In the summer of 2013, a 17 year old from a rough neighborhood jumped in front of his mother to protect her from an attack. The bullet struck and killed him, leaving his mother clutching his lifeless body in front of their home. The boy’s brother, who witnessed the crime, said later, “I lost a big piece of my heart that night.”
After a driver lost control of his vehicle and struck some trees, injuring a passenger with him, he blamed the accident on a spider. He told police that an arachnid on the car’s visor—above his head—distracted him. Fortunately, even though he crashed due to the conflict with this tiny foe, the passenger’s injuries were minor. The damage to the vehicle, however, was not. Things could have been much different if the driver had simply hit the brakes, pulled over to the side of the road, and calmly dealt with his eight-legged enemy.
BibleGateway.com allows online users to read the Scriptures in a variety of translations and languages. Over a twelve-month period ending in November 2016, more than 180 million unique visitors visited the website—resulting in around 1.7 billion page views. As people entered the ‘Gateway’, they searched for verses using keywords. The most popular search terms in order? Love, faith, and peace.
Dr. Richard Swenson in his book Margin writes, “We must have some room to breathe. We need freedom to think and permission to heal. Our relationships are being starved to death by velocity. . . . Our children lay wounded on the ground, run over by our high-speed good intentions. Is God now pro-exhaustion? Doesn’t He lead people beside the still waters anymore? Who plundered those wide-open spaces of the past, and how can we get them back? There are no fallow lands for our emotions to lie down and rest in.”
Rocky Seto, a long-time assistant coach for the Seattle Seahawks, left American football behind to become a pastor. Seto was highly respected by his players, and under his leadership, the Seahawks won the American National Football League’s Super Bowl in 2013. But in 2017, at just forty-one years old, Rocky believed he was called by God to leave American football to teach the Scriptures full time. Now serving with a church, the man who once said, “Jesus is better than the Super Bowl,” continues to ‘compete’ for the souls of men and women as a pastor.
My wife grabbed hold of one end of the rope, and I held the other. Facing each other, we began pulling on the taut cord. Why this two-person tug of war? We were helping some couples see what conflict in marriage can be like. But then—no longer tugging—one of us took a step towards the other. Soon both of us moved to the centre of the now slackening rope until our hands met in unity.
I heard the story of a man who spent ten years overseeing the largest hiking trail in America. The North Country Trail winds all the way from New York State in the east to North Dakota in the west. Why did this man help to preserve and grow the trail? As a believer in Jesus, his conviction is that all of creation is God’s and that He has called us to steward (care for) it well. So he and nearly 800 volunteers have been caring for all 4,600 miles of its scenic beauty.
“I wake up in cold sweats every so often thinking, What did we bring to the world?” Tony Fadell, who helped create the iPhone, voiced those words of concern over the self-absorption that can come with too much ‘iFocus’ in our use of technology. He noted that communication devices—though capable of much good—are designed to meet individual needs and aren’t always about what’s best for healthy family and community relationships.
“Sometimes, going to church just seems irrelevant. After all, we listen to sermons via podcasts and can live- stream a church service . . . in our pajamas. Personally, I enjoy having access to so many Christian resources at the swipe of my finger on my iPhone. . . . I also meet in Christian community on Wednesday nights for small group Bible study. That’s good enough, right?” Those words, from a thoughtful post by Lindsay Blackburn, reflect the ambivalence many people feel about being part of a local church.
Author Sarah Wells, in her blog post “Church, Why Bother?” writes, “On Sunday mornings, I have the keen sense of worshiping God with other believers in my community while other believers around my community, my state, the country, and the world also worship. All of those believers are strangely and mysteriously and powerfully connected to us by the Holy Spirit, and we are all together worshiping one God in a dedicated space at a dedicated time.”
When we first welcomed a fifteen-year-old Chinese exchange student into our family, we thought it would be for only one year of high school. But years later he’s still part of the family. And we’ve added his younger brother to our growing group. Both young men were quiet and a bit reclusive when they first arrived—adapting to a new culture. But it’s been beautiful to see their hearts open to God’s love and to our own. Their faces now typically display smiles, and laughter effortlessly spills from their lips.
During a lengthy battle with cancer, I’ve learned many helpful lessons, and my life has been enriched in countless ways. By God’s grace, one thing I’ve encountered is something I call “The Gratitude Cycle.” The cycle involves: Facing a challenge (like a disease); growing in faith through the experience (drawing closer to God); and possessing a heart of gratefulness to God (looking daily for things you can give thanks for). And when you face your next trial, a deepened faith and focused spirit of gratitude can provide greater hope and resiliency.
It’s been said that more is caught than taught. That was true for my siblings and I as we witnessed our parents caring for their parents. My grandmothers, both widows, lived in homes adjacent to our own—purchased by my father and mother. And in time, a grandmother’s sister-in-law also came to live in our little community. All three were doted on by Mom and Dad.
In the book You and Me Together, Francis Chan writes, “The problem many couples [have] is that they spend a lot of time looking at themselves and each other, but very little time staring at God.” These words point us to the importance of placing our focus on Him.