Tag  |  grace

Trapped in Sin

A police officer rescued a deer whose head had become lodged within a discarded light globe. The officer’s first attempt to pull the plastic object off the frightened animal’s head failed, although it came free during a second try. Officials estimate that the animal had been caught with the globe on its head for at least one full day!

Broken Community

Many of our neighbors’ experiences have left them wondering how to reconcile what they know of the church with what they know of God. They’ve tasted harshness in place of conviction, rejection in lieu of love, and isolation instead of family. Sadly, refraining from any local church involvement has become a norm for them.

More Than We Deserve

I spotted an old ledger designed to record a company’s payroll expenses while shopping in a secondhand store. A chart inside the front cover listed pay calculations based on different hourly wages. These calculations were also split into 15-minute increments. If a person earned $2.35 per hour, and he worked for 15 minutes, the chart showed that he would receive exactly 59 cents. If his workday lasted 8 hours, he would receive $18.80. Using this chart, a business owner could determine and record exactly what each employee had earned—not a penny less, not a penny more.

Fireworks and Mercy

Setting off fireworks after a home team hits a home run is nothing new in pro baseball stadiums, but igniting fireworks after the visiting team hits a homer? No way! But in a game between two major league baseball teams, after a player on the visiting team hit a baseball over the outfield fence for a home run, the fireworks guy mistakenly pushed a button that created a spectacular pyrotechnic display.

Grasping Grace

A volunteer disc jockey on an indie station I listen to once said, “There won’t be any peace until all the religions of the world are one.” That’s a nice, inclusive expression of our longing for peace, love, and unity. However. . .

We Have a Priest

Author William Willimon told the story of an encounter he had with a woman dying of cancer. Exhausted from her battle with the disease, she clutched the crucifix that had been given to her by her grandmother when she was a little girl. It was a symbol of what Jesus meant to her. When Willimon entered the room, he asked if he should summon a priest. The woman held out the crucifix toward him, which depicted the body of Jesus nailed to the cross. She then said, “Thank you—but I have a Priest.”

The Unhappy Sin

Essayist Joseph Epstein writes, “Of the seven deadly sins, only envy is no fun at all.” He goes on to say that envy makes us look “ungenerous, mean, and small-hearted.” There’s plenty of research to back up Epstein’s statement. In fact, psychologists have found that envy decreases life satisfaction and diminishes well-being. It’s correlated with depression and neuroticism, and the hostility envy breeds may actually make us physically sick.

What Sets Us Free

Recently I did some major damage to my shoulder. Several tendons and ligaments were torn and I had to have physical therapy for a few months. The therapist made an interesting statement as he massaged and manipulated the injury site: “You have to get blood to the damaged areas; it’s the only way to heal it, even if it’s painful.” The only way to put right what is broken is to force blood into those areas, no matter how difficult the task, and allow the blood to carry away the scar tissue and heal the injury.

Voice of Reason

Except for technological advances, the first century AD wasn’t much different than the 21st. The human condition can be depressingly consistent: injustice, exploitation, oppression, violence.

Compelling Grace

My friends in my Bible discussion group chuckled when I shared how I was trying to avoid God. I smiled, but it was no joke. His promptings to overlook my demands for justice and extend grace filled me with resentment. I felt like shaking my fist (as the prophet Jonah might have done) and screaming, “You want me to go where, and do what?!”

Portrait of Jesus

So what did Jesus look like? Did he resemble actor James Caviezel who played Jesus in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ? Probably not. Something like Warner Sallman’s famous portrait Head of Christ? Uh, no—don’t think so.

The Same God

People sometimes ask me, “How come the God of the Old Testament seems so cruel and harsh compared to the God of the New Testament?” To answer that question, I start by assuring them that He doesn’t have multiple personalities—the God of the Old and New Testaments is the same God. He’s “the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). I then explain that a good God can’t tolerate sin—an uncomfortable truth for some to acknowledge.

Never Beyond God’s Grace

My springer spaniel was recognized as one of the most talented, hardworking dogs in our hunting community. He would go out on thin ice to retrieve game when other dogs would turn back. Pursuing a pheasant through the thickest bramble and thorn—areas that other dogs would not enter because it was so dense—wasn’t a problem. His determination was so great that he even made a retrieval immediately after breaking his leg! And yet, when he was just 18 months old, I wondered if he would ever be a good hunting dog. His determined personality seemed impossible to harness and I was ready to give up on him because it appeared he would never become an obedient companion.

All I Ever Did

I sat in church with my head bowed and eyes lowered. I’ve failed God so, I thought. He must be very disappointed. Then my pastor said, “Look into Jesus’ eyes. See how He looks at you, how He sees you.” So I did. And in that moment, I wore the Samaritan woman’s shoes . . .

Full-Circle Compassion

Following a tumultuous season in her life, Bethany Haley Williams battled with shame and brokenness. The journey was difficult, but through Jesus she experienced healing that transformed her life.

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> 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.