• 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

    No Misunderstanding

    Alexa, Siri, and other voice assistants embedded in smart devices in our homes occasionally misunderstand what we’re saying. A six-year-old talked to her family’s new device about cookies and a dollhouse. Later her mom received an email saying that an order of seven pounds of cookies and a $170 dollhouse were on their way to her home. Even a talking parrot in London, whose owner had never bought anything online, somehow ordered a package of golden gift boxes without her knowledge. One person asked their device to “turn on the living room lights,” and it replied, “There is no pudding…

    An Unexpected Guest

    Zach was a lonely guy. When he walked down the city streets, he could feel the hostile glares. But then his life took a turn. Clement of Alexandria, one of the church fathers, says that Zach became a very prominent Christian leader and a pastor of the church in Caesarea. Yes, we’re talking about Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector who climbed a sycamore tree to see Jesus (Luke 19:1–10).

    What prompted him to climb the tree? Tax collectors were perceived as traitors because they heavily taxed their own people to serve the Roman Empire. Yet Jesus had a reputation for accepting…

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    Christian Living

    The Whatevers

    Every Friday evening, the national news my family views concludes the broadcast by highlighting an uplifting story. In contrast to the rest of the news, it’s always a breath of fresh air. A recent “good” Friday story focused on a reporter who had suffered from COVID-19, fully recovered, and then decided to donate plasma to possibly help others in their fight against the virus. At the time the jury was still out on how effective antibodies would be. But when many of us felt helpless and even in light of the discomfort of donating plasma (via needle), she felt it…

    Frolicking in Freedom

    A third-generation farmer, Jim was so moved when he read “You who revere my name. . . . will go and frolic like well-fed calves” (Malachi 4:2) that he prayed to receive Jesus’ offer of eternal life. Vividly recalling his own calves’ leaps of excitement after exiting their confined stalls at high speed, Jim finally understood God’s promise of true freedom.

    Jim’s daughter told me this story because we‘d been discussing the imagery in Malachi 4, where the prophet made a distinction between those who revered God’s name, or remained faithful to Him, and those who only trusted in themselves (4:1–2).…

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    Christian Ministry & the Church

    Like a Symphony

    I surprised my wife with concert tickets to listen to a performer she’d always wanted to see. The gifted singer was accompanied by the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, and the setting was the matchless venue at Red Rocks—an open-air amphitheater built between two three hundred-foot rock formations at more than 6,000 feet above sea level. The orchestra played a number of well-loved classical songs and folk tunes. Their final number was a fresh treatment of the classic hymn, “Amazing Grace.” The beautiful, harmonized arrangement took our breath away!

    There’s something beautiful about harmony—individual instruments playing together in a way that creates a…

    Jesus Is Our Peace

    A monk named Telemachus lived a quiet life, but his death at the end of the fourth century changed the world. Visiting Rome from the East, Telemachus intervened in the blood sport of the gladiatorial arena. He jumped over the stadium wall and tried to stop the gladiators from killing each other. But the outraged crowd stoned the monk to death. The emperor Honorius, however, was moved by Telemachus’ act and decreed the end of the 500-year practice of gladiator games.

    When Paul calls Jesus “our peace,” he refers to the end of hostility between Jews and gentiles (Ephesians 2:14). God’s…

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    Christianity & Culture

    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…

    Secret Giver

    For Christopher, a physically disabled veteran, everyday activities had become more challenging, took longer to finish, and increased his pain. Still, he did his best to serve his wife and child. Passersby would see him using a push-mower to cut his lawn every week.
    One day, Christopher received a letter—and an expensive riding lawnmower—from an anonymous donor. The secret giver’s satisfaction came through the privilege of helping someone in need.

    Jesus doesn’t say that all of our giving should be in secret, but He does remind us to check our motives when we give (Matthew 6:1). He also said: “So when you…

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    Ethical Issues

    Unbreakable in Jesus

    Louis Zamperini survived, somehow. His military plane crashed at sea during the war, killing eight of eleven men onboard. “Louie” and two others clambered into life rafts. They drifted for two months, fending off sharks, riding out storms, ducking bullets from an enemy plane, and catching and eating raw fish and birds. They finally drifted onto an island and were immediately captured. For two years Louie was beaten, tortured, and worked mercilessly as a prisoner of war. His remarkable story is told in the book, Unbroken.

    Jeremiah is one of the Bible’s unbreakable characters. He endured enemy plots (11:18), was whipped…

    First Forgive

    We called ourselves “sisters in Christ.” But my white friend and I had begun to act like enemies. Over a café breakfast one morning, we argued unkindly over our differing racial views. Then we parted, with me vowing not to see her again. One year later, however, we were hired by the same ministry—working in the same department, unable not to reconnect. Awkwardly at first, we talked over conflicts. Then, over time, God helped us to apologize to each other and to heal, but also give the ministry our best.

    God also healed the bitter division between Esau and his twin brother…

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    Evangelism & Missions

    The Whatevers

    Every Friday evening, the national news my family views concludes the broadcast by highlighting an uplifting story. In contrast to the rest of the news, it’s always a breath of fresh air. A recent “good” Friday story focused on a reporter who had suffered from COVID-19, fully recovered, and then decided to donate plasma to possibly help others in their fight against the virus. At the time the jury was still out on how effective antibodies would be. But when many of us felt helpless and even in light of the discomfort of donating plasma (via needle), she felt it…

    Send Me

    When Swedish missionary Eric Lund felt called by God to go to Spain to do mission in the late 1890s, he immediately obeyed. He saw little success there, but persevered in his conviction of God’s calling. One day, he met a Filipino man, Braulio Manikan, and shared the gospel with him. Together, Lund and Manikan translated the Bible into a local Philippine language, and later started the first Baptist mission station in the Philippines. Many would turn to Jesus—all because Lund, like Isaiah, responded to God’s call: “Here am I. Send me” (Isaiah 6:8).

    In Isaiah 6:8, God asked for a willing…

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    father's Day

    Life Struggles

    From Mess to Message

    Darryl was a baseball legend who nearly destroyed his life with drugs. But Jesus set him free, and he’s been clean for years. Today he helps others struggling with addiction and points them to faith. Looking back, he affirms that God turned his mess into a message.

    Nothing is too hard for God. When Jesus came ashore near a cemetery after a stormy night on the Sea of Galilee with His disciples, a man possessed by darkness immediately approached Him. Jesus spoke to the demons inside him, drove them away, and set him free.

    When Jesus left, the man begged to go…

    Peace in the Chaos

    Something that sounded like firecrackers roused Joanne from sleep. Glass shattered. Wishing she didn’t live alone, she got up to see what was going on. The dark streets were empty and the house seemed to be okay—then she saw the broken mirror.

    Investigators found a bullet only a half-inch from the gas line. If it had struck the line, she probably wouldn’t have made it out alive. Later they discovered it was a stray bullet from nearby apartments, but Joanne was afraid to be at home. She prayed for peace, and once the glass was cleaned up, her heart calmed.

    Psalm 121…

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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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    mission

    Mother's Day

    Relationships

    The Sweet Aroma of Christ

    I knew a rancher who lived near Lometa, Texas. His two grandsons were my best friends. We would go into town with him and follow him around while he shopped and chatted with the folks he knew. He knew them all by name and he knew their stories. He’d stop here and there and ask about a sick child or a difficult marriage, and he’d offer a word of encouragement or two. He would share Scripture and pray if it seemed the right thing to do. I’ll never forget the man. He was something special. He didn’t force his faith…

    Mercy and Grace

    A stately sunflower stood on its own in the center of a lonely stretch of national highway, just a few feet from the fast lane. As I drove past I wondered how it had grown there with no other sunflowers visible for miles. Only God could create a plant so hardy it could thrive so close to the roadway in the gray gravel lining the median. There it was, thriving, swaying gently in the breeze and cheerfully greeting travelers as they hurried by.

    The Old Testament tells the story of a faithful king of Judah who also showed up unexpectedly. His…

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    Spiritual Growth

    Move Your Fence

    The village vicar couldn’t sleep. As World War II raged, he’d told a small group of American soldiers they couldn’t bury their fallen comrade inside the fenced cemetery next to his church. Only burials for church members were allowed. So the men buried their beloved friend just outside the fence.

    The next morning, however, the soldiers couldn’t find the grave. “What happened? The grave is gone,” one soldier told the reverend. “Oh, it’s still there,” he told him. The soldier was confused, but the churchman explained. “I regretted telling you no. So, last night, I got up—and I moved the fence.”

    God…

    God’s Molded Instruments

    Considered one of the greatest video games ever made, Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time published by Nintendo has sold more than seven million copies worldwide. It’s also popularized the ocarina, a tiny, ancient, potato-shaped musical instrument made of clay.

    The ocarina doesn’t look like much of a musical instrument. However, when it’s played—by blowing into its mouthpiece and covering various holes around its misshapen body—it produces a strikingly serene and hauntingly hopeful sound. 

    The ocarina’s maker took a lump of clay, applied pressure and heat to it, and transformed it into an amazing musical instrument. I see a picture of…

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    When Life Hurts

    Rise Again

    Olympic runner Ryan Hall is the U.S. record holder for the half marathon. He completed the event distance of 13.1 miles (21 kilometers) in a remarkable time of fifty-nine minutes and forty-three seconds, making him the first U.S. athlete to run the race in under one hour. While Hall has celebrated record-setting victories, he has also known the disappointment of not being able to finish a race. 

    Having tasted both success and failure, Hall credits his faith in Jesus for sustaining him. One of his favorite Bible verses is an encouraging reminder from the book of Proverbs that “though the righteous…

    Hope in Grief

    As the cabbie drove us to London’s Heathrow Airport, he told us his story. He had come alone to the United Kingdom at age fifteen, seeking to escape war and deprivation. Now, eleven years later, he has a family of his own and is able to provide for them in ways unavailable in his native land. But he laments that he’s still separated from his parents and siblings. He told us that he has had a hard journey that won’t be complete until he’s reunited with his family.

    Being separated from our loved ones in this life is hard, but losing…

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