Near the epic conclusion of Tolkien’s Return of the King, Frodo stands on the threshold of destroying the “One Ring of Power.” All he has to do is throw it into the consuming fires of Mount Doom. But the hobbit can’t do it. He holds on to the ring, powerless to let go despite the ring’s destructive power.
A gospel song by Mahalia Jackson expresses that without God, we can’t do anything, and that we must depend on Jesus. We might nod at the lyrics and sing along, but perhaps we could take a moment to ponder how much we really do live out our faith in this wholehearted way. Do we depend on Jesus fully, rather than on the trappings of religion or tradition? Do we know in both our head and our heart that our sins are forgiven?
Many years ago, my pastor was talking with a church youth group about “masks.” He asked the students to state what God would see under their masks, should they choose to remove them. What was under their façades? Most gave superficial answers, but one, a senior in high school, had a much more profound response. She had experienced a painful life that included a suicide attempt and had found trouble nearly everywhere she went. Quietly she said, “I think God would see brokenness, but he would also see beauty.”
Are you close to someone who seems particularly far from God? It might help to keep in mind that this person is probably not less reachable than Paul, who claimed he was the worst of sinners because he had persecuted God’s people (1 Timothy 1:12-16). Paul realized if God could save him, He could reach anyone.
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.
I recently read of the plight of “370,000 . . . ordinary middle-class people” forced to rummage “in stinking piles of rubbish for rotten cabbage leaves.” Hundreds of thousands of people in the country were scavenging for food while members of the political upper crust were “enjoying lavish parties and gourmet cuisine.” The article revealed unjust conditions and the failure of governmental leaders to do the right thing to help their people.
I was ready to board a plane when my flight was cancelled due to engine failure. Unable to get on another flight, I had to wait until the next day. Because of my travel woes, the airline paid for my overnight stay at a nearby hotel. I was exhausted and ready for a good night’s sleep, but I wasn’t able to rest well because of the jarring sound of jet engines. Perhaps if I lived right near an airport, I’d be used to the sound of jets taking off and landing and would sleep right through the night!
A woman was running in a half-marathon in Ontario, Canada. It was a warm-up for the Detroit Marathon, the race in which she hoped to qualify for the renowned Boston Marathon. Somehow she missed the turn for the half-marathon and instead ran twenty-six miles—the complete marathon! Not only did she complete it, she posted the fastest time for a female runner and automatically qualified to run the Boston Marathon.
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.”
According to the World Health Organization, more than a billion young people are at risk of hearing loss because of personal audio devices and damaging levels of sound at some entertainment venues, where noise levels can top 120 decibels for hours on end! Doctors warn that a steady onslaught of loud noise, particularly through earbuds, is damaging the hearing ability of a generation.
Agriculture is a vital sector in the South African economy. So when it was blighted by a harsh drought in 2015, it seemed that the entire nation mobilized in earnest prayer and drastic action. When ordinary people saw heartbreaking images of starving animals and desperate farmers on TV, they filled water bottles and drove hundreds of kilometers to deliver them to the thirsty. Farmers who had grain and hay bales stocked their trucks and shared with those in need. When calamity struck, the community sought God and rallied for much-needed relief.
Nicky Cruz was full of hatred and bitterness. His parents practiced witchcraft and mentally abused their son as he grew up in Puerto Rico. His mother even called him “Son of Satan.” Sent to live with his brother in New York City at age 15, Nicky soon joined a gang. His violent and cunning ways led to his becoming their warlord.
The human heart expands and contracts to circulate blood through the body. When the heart contracts, it pushes blood out to the extremities. When it expands, the heart fills up with incoming blood. There’s a rare physical condition, however, that stiffens the heart muscle. This less-flexible state means that the organ can’t expand to take in the proper amount of blood—a physical hardening of the heart.
A terrible storm with subsequent avalanches ravaged the Annapurna region of Nepal. The area is a popular one for hikers from around the world, and many were caught out on the mountains, leading to their death from the cold or the avalanches. Astonishingly, rescue attempts were hampered as crews were forced to assist new hikers to the area—those who still wanted to challenge the mountains despite the obvious dangers and repeated warnings. The likelihood of more avalanches was great, while high winds and impossible navigation over paths that had simply disappeared made it extremely dangerous.
It’s obvious,” my brother said. “A southerly wind is a wind that’s blowing toward the South.” I tried to protest. He rushed out and picked up a dictionary, returning with the gleeful smugness of the elder brother. “Read it and weep!” he said. When I read aloud the final phrase of the dictionary entry: “concerning winds, southerly means from a southern direction” he grabbed the book from me. He read the entry again, blinking in disbelief before stalking off dejectedly. He couldn’t accept the truth at first, even after reading it for himself. He had been convinced that he was right.