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    Clean Containers

    “Hatred corrodes the container that carries it.” These words were spoken by former Senator Alan Simpson at the funeral of George H.W. Bush. Attempting to describe his dear friend’s kindness, Senator Simpson recalled how the 41st president of the United States embraced humor and love rather than hatred in his professional leadership and personal relationships.

    I relate to the senator’s quote, don’t you? Oh, the damage done to me when I harbor hatred!

    Medical research reveals the damage done to our bodies when we cling to the negative or release bursts of anger. Our blood pressure rises. Our hearts pound. Our spirits sag.…

    God Waited

    When Denise Levertov was just twelve, long before she became a renowned poet, she had the gumption to mail a package of poetry to the great poet T. S. Eliot. She then waited for a reply. Surprisingly, Eliot sent two pages of hand-written encouragement. In the preface to her collection The Stream and the Sapphire, she explained how the poems “trace [her] own movement from agnosticism to Christian faith.” It’s powerful, then, to recognize how one of the later poems (“Annunciation”) narrates Mary’s surrender to God. Noting the Holy Spirit’s refusal to overwhelm Mary and the Spirit’s desire for Mary to…

    Washed in Love

    A small church in southern California recognized an opportunity to express God’s love in a practical way. Christ followers gathered at a local laundry mat to give back to their community by washing clothes for those in financial need. They cleaned and folded clothes together, sometimes providing a hot meal or bags of groceries for recipients.

    One volunteer discovered the greatest reward was in the “actual contact with people . . . hearing their stories.” Because of their relationship with Jesus, these volunteers wanted to live out their faith through loving words and actions that helped them nurture genuine relationships with…

    Never Forgotten

    Egged on by my children to prove I’d endured years mastering the basics of piano, I sat down and started playing the C Major scale. Having played very little piano in nearly two decades, I was surprised I remembered! Feeling brave, I proceeded to play seven different scales by heart one right after the other. I was shocked! Years of practicing had imprinted the notes and technique so deeply in my fingers’ “memory” that they instantly knew what to do.  

    There are some things that can never be forgotten. But God’s love for His children is far more deeply imprinted…

    The Father’s Blessing

    Recently, several people within our church—those who had experienced poor relationships with their fathers—asked me to stand in as a loving, father figure and offer a blessing over them. The blessing asked forgiveness for the ways a father can hurt his children by setting too high expectations or being distant or failing to offer tender presence and affirmation. It also pronounced delight, admiration, and abundant love. As I shared the blessing, I wept. I realized how I still needed to receive such words, and how much my children need them too.

    The Scriptures repeatedly speak of God as our Father, a…

    Lord of the . . . Nails?

    I was getting in my car when the glint caught my eye: a nail, embedded in my rear tire’s sidewall. I listened for the telltale whistle of air. Thankfully, the hole was plugged—at least for the moment.

    As I drove to a tire store, I wondered: How long has that nail been there? Days? Weeks? I wondered: How long have I been protected from a threat I didn’t even know existed?

    We can sometimes live under the illusion that we’re in control. But that nail reminded me: we’re not. 

    But when life feels out-of-control and unstable, we have a God whose reliability we can…

    What You’re Worth

    Now an accomplished writer, Caitlin describes the depression she battled after fighting off an assault. The emotional violence cut deeper than her physical struggle, for she felt it proved “how undesirable I was. I was not the kind of girl you wanted to get to know.” She felt unworthy of love, the kind of person others use and toss aside.

    God understands. He lovingly shepherded Israel, but when He asked them what He was worth, “they paid me thirty pieces of silver” (Zechariah 11:12). This was the price of a slave; what masters must be reimbursed should their slave be accidentally…

    Jesus and the Bigger Story

    A generous friend offered to babysit our kids so my wife and I could go on a date. “You should go somewhere fancy!” she gushed. Being pragmatists, we decided to go grocery shopping instead. When we returned, grocery bags in arms, our friend asked why we hadn’t done anything special. We told her that what makes a date special isn’t so much what you do, but who you’re with.

    One of the few books of the Bible that doesn’t record God directly saying or doing anything, the book of Ruth could seem to be pretty ordinary. So some read it as…

    God’s Special Treasure

    Imagine a vast throne room. Seated confidently on the throne is a great and powerful king. He is surrounded by all manner of attendants, each on their best behavior. Now imagine a box that sits at the king’s feet. From time to time the king reaches down and runs his hands through the contents. And what’s in the box? Jewels, gold, and gemstones particular to the king’s tastes. This box holds the king’s private treasures, a collection that brings him great joy. Can you see that image in your mind’s eye?

    The Hebrew word for this treasure is segulah, and it…

    The Older Brother

    Author Henri Nouwen recalls his visit to a museum in St Petersburg, Russia, where he spent hours reflecting on Rembrandt’s portrayal of the prodigal son. As the day wore on, changes in the natural lighting from a nearby window left Nouwen with the impression that he was seeing as many different paintings as there were changes of light. Each seemed to reveal something else about a father’s love for his broken son.

    Nouwen describes how, at about four o’clock, three figures in the painting appeared to “step forward.” One was the older son who resented his father’s willingness to roll out…

    “Love You—Whole World”

    My three-year old niece, Jenna, has an expression that never fails to melt my heart. When she loves something (really loves it), be it banana cream pie, jumping on the trampoline, or playing Frisbee, she’ll proclaim, “I love it—whole world!” (“whole world” accompanied with a dramatic sweep of her arms).

    A Light in the Darkness

    In These Are the Generations, Mr. Bae describes God’s faithfulness and the power of the gospel to penetrate the darkness. His grandfather, parents, and his own family were all persecuted for sharing their faith in Christ. But an interesting thing happened when Mr. Bae was imprisoned for telling a friend about God: his faith grew. The same was true for his parents when they were sentenced to a concentration camp—they continued to share Christ’s love even there. Mr. Bae found the promise of John 1:5 to be true: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

    Before His arrest…

    A Road Not Traveled

    Folks ask me if I have a five-year plan. How can I plan five years “down the road” on a road I’ve never traveled?

    I think back to the 1960s when I was a minister to students at Stanford University. I had been a physical education major in college and had a lot of fun, but I left no record of being a scholar. I felt wholly inadequate in my new position. What was I to do? Most days I wandered around the campus, a blind man groping in the darkness, asking God to show me what to do. One day…

    Just a Touch

    It was just a touch, but it made all the difference to Colin. As his small team was preparing to do charitable work in a region known for hostility to Christians, his stress level began to rise dangerously. When he shared his worries with a teammate, his friend stopped, placed his hand on his shoulder, and shared a few encouraging words with him. Colin now looks back on that brief touch as a turning point, a powerful reminder of the simple truth that God was with him.

    John, the close friend and disciple of Jesus, had been banished to the desolate…

    Truth: Bitter or Sweet?

    I’d had the spot on my nose for the better part of a year when I went to the doctor about it. The biopsy results came back days later with words I didn’t want to hear: skin cancer. Though the cancer was operable and not life-threatening, it was a bitter pill to swallow.

    God commanded Ezekiel to swallow a bitter pill—a scroll containing words of lament and woe (Ezekiel 2:10; 3:1–2). He was “to fill [his] stomach with it” and share the words with the people of Israel, whom God considered “obstinate and stubborn” (2:4). One would expect a scroll filled—front…

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