• Biblical Studies

    Outside the Camp

    Friday was market day in the rural town in Ghana where I grew up. After all these years, I still recall one particular vendor. Her fingers and toes eroded by Hansen’s disease (leprosy), she would crouch on her mat and scoop her produce with a hollowed-out gourd. Some avoided her. My mother made it a point to buy from her regularly. I saw her only on market days. Then she would disappear outside the town.

    In the time of the ancient Israelites, diseases like leprosy meant living “outside the camp.” It was a forlorn existence. Israelite law said of such people,…

    Remember and Celebrate

    On December 6, 1907, explosions rocked a small community in the US state of West Virginia, producing one of the worst disasters in the history of the coal mining industry. Some 360 miners were killed, and it’s been estimated that this horrific tragedy left behind about 250 widows and one thousand children without fathers. Historians maintain that the memorial service became the seedbed from which the celebration of Father’s Day in the US would eventually grow. Out of great loss came remembrance and—eventually—celebration.

    The greatest tragedy in human history occurred when human beings crucified their Creator. Yet, that dark moment also…

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    Christian Beliefs

    Sing Again

    Australia’s regent honeyeater bird is in trouble—it’s losing its song. Though once an abundant species, just three hundred birds now remain; and with so few others to learn from, the males are forgetting their unique song and failing to attract mates.

    Thankfully, conservationists have a plan to rescue the honeyeaters—sing to them. Or more precisely, play them recordings of other honeyeaters singing so they can relearn their heart song. As the males pick up the tune and attract females again, it’s hoped the species will flourish once more.

    The prophet Zephaniah addressed a people in trouble. With so much corruption among them,…

    God’s Great Love

    When a friend asked me to speak with teen girls at a workshop promoting purity, I declined. As a teenage runaway, I struggled and had decades of scars caused by my immorality. After getting married and losing our first child to a miscarriage, I thought God was punishing me for my past sins. When I finally surrendered my life to Christ at the age of thirty, I confessed my sins and repented . . . repeatedly. Still, guilt and shame consumed me. How could I share about God’s grace when I couldn’t even bring myself to fully receive the gift…

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    Christian Living

    Sing Again

    Australia’s regent honeyeater bird is in trouble—it’s losing its song. Though once an abundant species, just three hundred birds now remain; and with so few others to learn from, the males are forgetting their unique song and failing to attract mates.

    Thankfully, conservationists have a plan to rescue the honeyeaters—sing to them. Or more precisely, play them recordings of other honeyeaters singing so they can relearn their heart song. As the males pick up the tune and attract females again, it’s hoped the species will flourish once more.

    The prophet Zephaniah addressed a people in trouble. With so much corruption among them,…

    Built Together to Serve

    In rural Amish culture, the building of a barn is a social event. It would take months for a single farmer and his family to construct a barn, but the Amish, doing it together, make quick work of it. Lumber is stocked ahead of time; tools are prepped. On the designated day, the entire Amish community gathers early morning, divvies up tasks, and together pitches in to raise a barn. In some cases, a barn is built in a single day.

    This is a good picture of God’s vision for the church and our role in it. The Bible says, “All…

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    Christian Ministry & the Church

    Wise Counsel

    While attending seminary, I was working full-time. Add to that a chaplaincy rotation and an internship at a church. I was busy. When my father visited me, he said, “You’re going to have a breakdown.” I shrugged off his warning thinking he was of another generation, and he didn’t understand goal-setting.

    I didn’t have a breakdown. But I did experience a very rough, dry season in which I fell into depression. Since then, I’ve learned to listen to warnings—especially from loved ones—more carefully.

    That’s what Moses did. He was diligently working, serving as Israel’s judge (Exodus 18:13). Yet, he chose to listen…

    Built Together to Serve

    In rural Amish culture, the building of a barn is a social event. It would take months for a single farmer and his family to construct a barn, but the Amish, doing it together, make quick work of it. Lumber is stocked ahead of time; tools are prepped. On the designated day, the entire Amish community gathers early morning, divvies up tasks, and together pitches in to raise a barn. In some cases, a barn is built in a single day.

    This is a good picture of God’s vision for the church and our role in it. The Bible says, “All…

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    Christianity & Culture

    Wise Christians

    The coronavirus pandemic canceled schools around the world. In China, teachers responded with DingTalk, a digital app that enabled class to be held online. Then their students figured out that if DingTalk’s rating fell too low, it might be removed from the App Store. Overnight thousands of one-star reviews dropped DingTalk’s score.

    Jesus wouldn’t be impressed with the students shirking their responsibilities, but He might admire their ingenuity. He told an unusual story about a fired manager who on his final day slashed the bills of his master’s debtors. Jesus didn’t praise the manager’s dishonesty. Rather He commended his cleverness and…

    Your Life’s Passion

    One evening years ago, my wife and I were making our way down a mountain trail, accompanied by two friends. The trail was narrow and wound around a slope with a steep drop on one side and an unclimbable bank on the other.

    As we came around a bend, I saw a large bear moseying along, swinging his head from side to side, and quietly huffing. We were downwind and he hadn’t detected our presence, but he would soon.

    Our friend began to rummage around in her jacket for a camera. “Oh, I must take a picture!” she said. I, being less…

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    Ethical Issues

    A Life of Integrity

    Abel Mutai, a Kenyan runner competing in a grueling international cross-country race, was mere yards from victory—his lead secure. Confused by the course’s signage and thinking he’d already crossed the finish line, however, Mutai stopped short. The Spanish runner in second place, Ivan Fernandez Anaya, saw Mutai’s mistake. Rather than take advantage and bolt past for the win, however, he caught up to Mutai, put out his arm and guided Mutai forward to a gold-medal win. When reporters asked Anaya why he purposefully lost the race, he insisted that Mutai deserved the win, not him. “What would be the merit…

    Justice and Jesus

    Caesar Augustus (63 BC–AD 14), the first emperor of Rome, wanted to be known as a law-and-order ruler. Even though he built his empire on the back of slave labor, military conquest, and financial bribery, he restored a measure of legal due process and gave his citizens Iustitia, a goddess our justice system today refers to as Lady Justice. He also called for a census that brought Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem for the birth of a long-awaited ruler whose greatness would reach to the ends of the earth (Micah 5:2–4).   

    What neither Augustus nor the rest of the world could…

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    Evangelism & Missions

    God’s Embassy

    Ludmilla, a widow aged eighty-two, has declared her home in the Czech Republic: “Embassy of the Kingdom of Heaven,” saying, “My home is an extension of Christ’s kingdom.” She welcomes strangers and friends who are hurting and in need with loving hospitality, sometimes providing food and a place to sleep—always with a compassionate and prayerful spirit. Relying on the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to help her care for her visitors, she delights in the ways God answers their prayers.

    Ludmilla serves Jesus through opening her home and heart, in contrast to the prominent religious leader at whose home Jesus ate…

    Set Apart

    The three-wheeled taxis of Sri Lanka, known as “tuk tuks,” are a convenient and delightful mode of transport for many. Lorraine, a resident of the capital of Colombo, also realized that they’re a mission field: hopping onto a tuk tuk one day, she found the friendly driver more than happy to engage in conversation about religion. The next time, she told herself, she would talk to the driver about the good news.

    The book of Romans starts with Paul declaring himself as “set apart for the gospel of God” (Romans 1:1). The Greek word for “gospel” is evangelion, which means “good news.” Paul…

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    father's Day

    Life Struggles

    And Seven Others

    Tragedy struck near Los Angeles in January 2020 when nine people died in a helicopter crash. Most news stories began something like this, “NBA superstar Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna (“Gigi”), and seven others lost their lives in the accident.”

    It’s natural and understandable to focus on the well-known people involved in a horrible situation like this—and the deaths of Kobe and his precious teenager Gigi are heartbreaking beyond description. But we must keep in mind that in life’s big picture there’s no dividing line that makes the “seven others” (Payton, Sarah, Christina, Alyssa, John, Keri, and Ara) any less significant.

    Sometimes we…

    Safe Hands

    Like the unraveling of a rope, the threads in Doug’s life were breaking one by one. “My mother had lost her prolonged battle with cancer; a long-term romantic relationship was failing; my finances were depleted; my vocation was foggy. . . . The emotional and spiritual darkness around me and within me was deep and debilitating and seemingly impenetrable,” writes pastor and sculptor Doug Merkey. These collective events, combined with living in a cramped attic, became the setting from which his sculpture The Hiding Place emerged. It depicts Christ’s strong, nailed-scarred hands openly cupped together as a place of safety.

    Doug…

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    Marriage & Family

    Complete in Christ

    In a popular film, an actor plays a success-driven sports agent whose marriage begins to crumble. Attempting to win his wife, Dorothy, back, he looks into her eyes and says, “You complete me.” It’s a heart-warming message that echoes a tale in Greek philosophy. According to that myth, each of us is a “half” that must find our “other half” to become whole.

    The belief that a romantic partner “completes” us is now part of popular culture. But is it true? I talk to many married couples who still feel incomplete because they haven’t been able to have children, and others…

    God’s Love Is Stronger

    In 2020, Alyssa Mendoza received a surprising email from her father in the middle of the night. The message had instructions about what to do for her mother on her parents’ twenty-fifth anniversary. Why was this shocking? Alyssa’s father had passed away ten months earlier. She discovered that he had written and scheduled the email while he was sick, knowing he might not be there. He’d also arranged and paid for flowers to be sent to his wife for upcoming years on her birthday, future anniversaries, and Valentine’s Day.

    This story could stand as an example of the kind of love…

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    Mother's Day

    Relationships

    Witness Marks

    “See that?” The clock repairman pointed his flashlight beam on a small, fine mark roughly engraved inside the old grandfather clock he was working on in our home. “Another repairman could have put that there almost a century ago,” he said. “It’s called a ‘witness mark,’ and it helps me know how to set the mechanism.”

    Before the age of technical bulletins and repair manuals, “witness marks” were used to help the person making a future repair to align moving parts with precision. They were more than just time-saving reminders; they were often left as a simple kindness to the next…

    Little Foxes

    A pilot couldn’t fit his tea into the cupholder so he set it on the center console. When the plane hit turbulence the drink spilled onto the control panel, shutting off an engine. The flight was diverted and landed safely, but when it happened again to a crew from a different airline two months later, the manufacturer realized there was a problem. The plane cost US$300 million, but its cupholders were too small. This seemingly small oversight led to some harrowing moments.

    Small details can wreck the grandest plans, so the man in the Song of Songs urges his lover to…

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    Spiritual Growth

    The Essence of Prayer

    When Abraham Lincoln became president of the United States, he was tasked with leading a fractured nation. Lincoln is viewed as a wise leader and a man of high moral character, but another element to his makeup, perhaps, was the foundation for everything else. He understood that he was inadequate for the task at hand. His response to that inadequacy? Lincoln said, “I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day.”

    When we come to grips…

    Where’s God?

    In Martin Handford’s book Where’s Waldo? a series of children’s puzzle books first created in 1987, the elusive character wears a red and white striped shirt and socks with a matching hat, blue jeans, brown boots, and glasses. Handford has cleverly hidden Waldo in plain sight within the busy illustrations filled with crowds of characters at various locations around the world. Waldo isn’t always easy to see, but the creator promises readers will always be able to find him. Though looking for God isn’t really like looking for Waldo in a puzzle book, our Creator promises we can find Him, too.

    Through…

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    When Life Hurts

    Revelation and Reassurance

    Baby gender reveals in 2019 were dramatic. A look back reveals that in July, a video showed a car emitting blue smoke to indicate “It’s a Boy!” In September, a crop-duster plane in Texas dumped hundreds of gallons of pink water to announce “It’s a Girl!” There was another “reveal” though that uncovered significant things about the world these children will grow up in. At the conclusion of 2019, YouVersion revealed that the most shared, highlighted, and bookmarked verse of the year on its online and mobile Bible app was Philippians 4:6, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in…

    Resilient Faith

    Towering dunes along the north shore of Silver Lake put nearby homes at risk of sinking into shifting sands. Though residents have tried moving mounds of sand in efforts to protect their homes, they have watched helplessly as well-built houses were buried right before their eyes. As a local sheriff oversaw the cleanup of a recently destroyed cottage, he affirmed the process couldn’t be opposed or prevented. No matter how hard homeowners try to avoid the dangers of these unsteady embankments, the dunes simply cannot provide a strong foundational support.

    Jesus knew the futility of building a house on sand. After…

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