Two siblings went down truly divergent paths. One turned his back on Jesus and eventually spent years in prison. The other lived out the grace and love of God, compassionately caring for family, those inside the body of Christ, and those on the outside. Two lives marked by actions that spoke loudly.
I recently witnessed an encounter where someone entirely dismissed and degraded another person. “Leave now,” the instigator said, “you’re not wanted here.” I took great offense for the person who received such cruel treatment. But I also felt profound sadness for the individual who spewed such mean-spirited words. I know how to help one who’s been rejected, but it’s far more difficult to know how to help one whose soul has been poisoned by contempt for another.
My son and I constructed a model of the solar system in which each planet is aligned near the next. Looking at this contraption, one might think that real planets aren’t very far from each other. But that’s not the case: if the Sun was the size of a basketball, the bb-sized Earth would be located 31 yards away, and the small planetoid Pluto would be 1,232 yards away! The distances between planets are vast, almost beyond our ability to comprehend.
My friend was walking through a sculpture park when she saw the sculptor Rodin’s statue of Eve, which captures the moment Eve understood what she had done against God. My friend wept at Eve’s desperate, twisting figure, shattered by shame and fear, hanging her head and raising her hand in an attempt to block Him from smiting her.
A woman named Wednesday was out walking when she saw a well-dressed woman coming toward her. The woman drifted in her path, pushing Wednesday to the edge of the sidewalk. As she brushed by, Wednesday noticed she was carrying a $60,000 Birkin handbag. She realized if she was going to be accepted in New York’s prestigious Upper East Side, she would have to get one.
Like many people with a guilt-inclined personality, accepting that the gospel is good news for me hasn’t come easy. Having grown up in the church, I knew the story, but could always think of why I might be exempt from sharing the joy of the gospel. I would worry about Jesus’ future separation between true and false believers (Matthew 25:31-46), troubled by the thought that even people who profess faith can be lost. I was haunted by the passage about the unforgivable sin (Matthew 12:30-32), wondering if perhaps I could push God too far away to return to Him. Christ coming again is supposed to be the best kind of news, but I sometimes wondered for how many people it would feel that way.
Susan had suffered one disappointment after another, and she was feeling disillusioned with God. She asked me and another friend to pray with her, and we gladly did. I’ll never forget my friend’s prayer, “Lord, let Susan know You love her—that You see her.” The next day Susan thanked us for our prayers. She said she’d been feeling invisible, and our prayers helped her to feel visible again. She knew afresh that God saw her.
“Pastor, the results came out positive. My wife has breast cancer.” When a congregation member broke this news to me one Sunday morning, I was speechless. What could I possibly say to comfort my friend in light of this bitter news? After a moment of silence, I quickly remembered the words that most comforted me when my own wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. And so with a level voice, I replied, “I want you to know that I’m here for both of you, no matter what.” He wore the same expression of gratitude that I had worn years before when a friend encouraged me with those identical words.
Afriend opened up to me about the sexual abuse he suffered as a boy. Prompted by God to face what he had buried for decades, he courageously began to unpack tragic memories of seduction and exploitation, events that shattered his innocence and left him drowning in an ocean of shame.
My parents didn’t have much money, so when Dad gave me a small pocketknife, I treasured it. The gift came with one caveat though. Because I was only eight years old, I couldn’t use it—I could only carry it in my pocket!
The World in Crisis, and No Genius in Sight” read an editorial headline of The Wall Street Journal in July 2016. The article was written against the backdrop of a world watching to see who would win the presidential election in the US; investors and economists speculating the impact of Brexit (the UK’s exit from the European Union) on the world’s economy; the dark cloud of terrorism looming over Europe; and waves of refugees looking for safe haven.
Jasper Fu drives two hours a day for Uber, an app-based taxi service. He doesn’t do it for the money, since he already has a fulltime job. He says he does it because it’s a good way to “talk to people.” Chinese culture encourages quiet restraint, so it can seem inappropriate to walk up to a stranger and start a conversation. It’s different when you’re picking them up in your car. Jasper says, “Under no other circumstance can I find a stranger to talk with me for like 10 to 20 minutes.”
The old lumberjack always strode with a purpose. But not today. Today the world clawed at his soul. As the gruff Swedish immigrant trudged up the hill to his family farm, tears rolled down his cheeks. The date was December 7, 1941, and Axel Gustafson had just heard the news of the attack on Pearl Harbor. His sons would be going to war.