I can resist anything except temptation.” We might smile at this quip by Oscar Wilde, but it also may invite us to challenge ourselves: Has our pursuit of holiness—reflecting God and conforming to His will—been weakened through the corrosive influence of modern culture’s love of pleasure? How can we, as we seek to honor God, resist temptation?
Many of us, perhaps unconsciously, try to win the love of God. We endeavor to be better people, to do more to spread His love and grace, to work harder. But God doesn’t love us because of the things we accomplish for Him; He loves us “because of his mercy” (Titus 3:5), as Paul wrote to Titus while he ministered on the island of Crete.
Jesus’ ascension receives little attention these days. The way we often tell the story, the whole affair is mostly anticlimactic. We tend to think of the ascension as this brief, strange moment when Jesus pulled off one last spectacular feat, vanishing into some distant place. Or worse, the story leaves us empty. What kind of good news is this? He simply bolts after promising a new life and a new world?
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.