Theologian Stanley Hauerwas has observed that many believers in Jesus “think they have a relationship with God that they go to church to have expressed. . . . I think that’s to get it exactly backwards.” A local church isn’t merely a gathering of people who already have a relationship with Jesus. Meeting together is central to that relationship.
As I was growing up, I often felt as if I didn’t quite fit in. I was different from even my close friends but couldn’t figure out why. I tried to take an interest in what my friends liked and to talk and act like them. But it wasn’t until I went to college that I decided to stop worrying about what other people thought of me. Knowing that my identity was in Jesus, I didn’t have to try to be the ‘cool kid’ anymore.
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!
On the evening before his sister’s marriage in 1882, Scottish preacher George Matheson experienced great pain and loneliness. He’d relied on his sister for help with his work as a church leader, so he may have been worried and distraught over how he would cope without her. His emotions were probably also intensified by the memories of some years before when his fiancée, after learning he was going blind, broke off their engagement. That evening Matheson turned his anguish to prayer and, in mere minutes, wrote the now-beloved hymn, “O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go.” He who’d felt abandoned found love and rest in the One who would never leave him.
People have fought over salt for thousands of years. A highly valued staple, governments have even tried to control the sale of it. In the fifteenth century, Venice and Genoa actually went to war over the seasoning agent. And in the early nineteenth century, thousands of Napoleon’s troops died during his retreat from Moscow because their wounds wouldn’t heal due to the lack of it. Gandhi led more than 60,000 people in the 240-mile Salt March to protest the British’s monopoly on the sale of the substance.
Though I haven’t spent much time playing it over the past twenty years, I still take out my violin every so often. I keep it stored in a temperature-consistent closet, safely enclosed in a velvet case. Even so, the small tuning fork I keep in the case has been needed on more than one occasion. The vibrations from the tuning fork create the tone I need to set my A-string pitch. I can then tune the other three strings and hear a true and resonant sound as I pull the bow across the strings.
My son and I had the opportunity to take a tour of the impressive Museum of the Bible (MOTB) in Washington, DC, before its official opening. A guide led us through the 430,000-square-foot, eight-floor edifice and gave us a glimpse of the extraordinary structure that will house research labs and libraries, exhibitions, classrooms, lecture halls, gathering rooms, and biblical gardens.
Loneliness. Lynsi Snyder felt it engulf her at age eighteen when her father died. Trying to fill the void, she abused substances, was married and divorced three times, and ended up still feeling alone and like a “piece of trash.”
One year, because of a bereavement in our family, we celebrated a different sort of Christmas. Since we weren’t spending the holiday at home, we couldn’t devote the usual time to preparing special meals and gifts. So we tried—some days more successfully than others—to focus on the gift of God becoming Man to be with us. That is, Immanuel, who comforts us in our grief and reassures us that He’s with us, each and every day (Matthew 1:23).
A ministry leader once tried an interesting communication experiment. Holding giant whiteboards and some markers, he engaged passersby on his city’s streets. On one whiteboard, people were asked to write what they wanted to tell the church. The messages weren’t very kind. On the other board, people were asked to write, “What do you want to say to Jesus?” To Him they wrote surprisingly tender messages such as, “I miss you,” “I’m sorry,” and “I love you.”
As my mom and I entered the indoor prayer garden our church recently built, I suddenly felt the sweet peace and presence of the Holy Spirit. The room had plants, a paved walkway with Scriptures displayed, a small waterfall, and a lit cross on the wall. In contrast to this peaceful, awe-inspiring sanctuary, just outside we could see contractors working on a different part of the building—with dust, tools, noisy machines, and everything else one might expect to find at a construction site.
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.
After feeling a stinging sensation on my left leg, I discovered three tiny bite marks. I thought the culprit was some harmless insect and didn’t pay much attention to it. After a few days, however, the site of the bite turned deep red and was surrounded by a larger pink area. Within a week a blister formed, the skin hardened, and pain set in. I became concerned and decided to see a doctor. It turned out that the insect had been a poisonous spider—a brown recluse! To combat the effects, I was immediately given some strong antibiotics.
Between 2013 and 2016, South Africa experienced a devastating drought with the driest period on record. With little or no rain, the effects of death could be seen everywhere. Crops withered, livestock perished, and people suffered as food became scarce and rivers and dams dried up. The country was a sad-looking, brown dust bowl until the rains finally came. When the skies opened, the entire nation celebrated as new life was birthed. Lush, green grass that had lain dormant for three years now pushed its way up through the cracked, dry ground, and within days it was on glorious display throughout the country.
In American football, the start of a play is usually hard-hitting as players strive to overpower their opponents. But at the close of a middle school game in 2016, the quarterback simply stood up and started casually walking toward his opponent’s goal line. The opposing team was tricked by his calm demeanor and let him walk for twenty yards before realizing what was going on, and by then it was too late. The quarterback scored and his team won the game—all because he started the play in a way that no one expected.