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    The Forecaster’s Mistake

    In 1854, a young Russian artillery officer viewed the battlefield carnage occurring far below his cannon’s hilltop placement. “It’s a funny sort of pleasure,” Leo Tolstoy wrote, “to see people killing each other. And yet, every morning and every evening, I would . . . spend hours at a time watching.”

    Tolstoy’s outlook soon changed. After seeing firsthand the devastation and suffering in the city of Sevastopol, he wrote, “You understand all at once, and quite differently from what you have before, the significance of those sounds of shots which you heard in the city.”

    The prophet Jonah once climbed a hill…

    In the End

    I’m often given the privilege of leading spiritual retreats. Getting away for a few days to pray and reflect can be deeply enriching, and during the program I sometimes ask participants to do an exercise: “Imagine your life is over and your obituary is published in the paper. What would you like it to say?” Some attendees change their life’s priorities as a result, aiming to finish their lives well.

    Second Timothy 4 contains the last known written words of the apostle Paul. Though probably only in his sixties, and though having faced death before, he senses his life is nearly…

    The Gift of Repentance

    “No! I didn’t do it!” Jane heard her teenage son’s denial with a sinking heart, for she knew he wasn’t telling the truth. She breathed a prayer asking God for help before asking Simon again what happened. He continued to deny he was lying, until finally she threw her hands up in exasperation. Saying she needed a time out, she began to walk away when she felt a hand on her shoulder and heard his apology. He responded to the convicting of the Holy Spirit, and repented.

    In the Old Testament book of Joel, God called His people to true repentance…

    Let There Be Light

    In my daughter’s earliest days, I often named for her the things she encountered. I’d identify objects or allow her to touch something unfamiliar and say the word for her, bringing understanding—and vocabulary—to the vast world she was exploring. Though my husband and I might naturally have expected (or hoped) her first word would be Mama or Daddy, she surprised us with an entirely different first word: her small mouth murmured dight one day—a sweet, mispronounced echo of the word light I’d just shared with her.

    Light is one of God’s first words recorded for us in the Bible. As the Spirit of God hovered…

    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,…

    Age Is Just a Number

    Youthfulness shouldn’t stop anyone from achievement. It certainly didn’t stop eleven-year-old Mikaila. Instead of putting up a lemonade stand, Mikaila opened a lemonade business. Me & the Bees Lemonade started with her grandmother’s recipe and eventually earned a $60,000 investment from investors on the television show Shark Tank. She also signed a contract with a major grocer to sell her lemonade at fifty-five of the chain’s stores.

    Mikaila’s drive and dreams point us back to Paul’s words to Timothy: “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young” (1 Timothy 4:12).

    Timothy, though not a child like Mikaila, was likely…

    God Cleans the Stains

    What if our clothes were more functional, having the ability to clean themselves after we dropped ketchup or mustard or spilled a drink on them? Well, according to the BBC, engineers in China have developed a special “coating which causes cotton to clean itself of stains and odors when exposed to ultraviolet lights.” Can you imagine the implications of having self-cleaning clothes?

    A self-cleaning coating might work for stained clothing, but only God can clean a stained soul. In ancient Judah, God was angry with His people because they had “turned their backs on” Him, given themselves to corruption and evil,…

    Warts and All

    Oliver Cromwell, known as the “Protector of England,” was a military commander in the seventeenth century. It was common practice during those days for people of importance to have their portraits painted. And it wasn’t unusual for an artist to avoid depicting the less attractive aspects of a person’s face. Cromwell, however, wanted nothing to do with a likeness that would flatter him. He cautioned the artist, “You must paint me just as I am—warts and all—or I won’t pay you.” 

    Apparently, the artist complied. The finished portrait of Cromwell displays a couple of prominent facial warts that in the present…

    A Fresh Start

    The Chinese New Year, celebrated by Chinese families everywhere, is tied to the lunar calendar. Usually falling somewhere in late January to mid–February, this time for family reunions comes with many traditions—some of great significance. Buying and donning new clothes, giving our homes a good cleaning, and paying off outstanding debts remind us that we are putting the past behind and starting the year with a clean slate.

    These traditions also remind me of our new life in Christ. No matter who we used to be or what we’ve done, we can put it all behind us. We can stop beating…

    Love’s Greatest Gift

    My son Geoff was leaving a store when he saw an abandoned walking frame (a mobility aid) on the ground. I hope there isn’t a person back there who needs help, he thought. He glanced behind the building and found a homeless man unconscious on the pavement.

    Geoff roused him and asked if he was okay. “I’m trying to drink myself to death,” he responded. “My tent broke in a storm and I lost everything. I don’t want to live.”

    Geoff called a Christian rehabilitation ministry, and while they waited for help, he ran home briefly and brought the man his own…

    Darkness and Light

    As I sat in the courtroom, I witnessed several examples of the brokenness of our world: a daughter estranged from her mother; a husband and wife who’d lost the love they once had and now shared only bitterness; a husband yearning for reconciliation with his wife and to be reunited with his children. They were in desperate need of changed hearts, healing of wounds, and for God’s love to prevail.

    Sometimes when the world around us seems to hold only darkness and despair, it’s easy to give in to despair. But then the Spirit, who lives inside believers in Christ (John…

    Life by Death

    Carl had contracted cancer and needed a double lung transplant. He asked God for new lungs, but felt odd doing so. He confessed it’s a strange thing to pray, because “someone has to die so I might live.”  

    Carl’s dilemma highlights a basic truth of Scripture: God uses death to bring life. We see this in the story of the Exodus. Born into slavery, the Israelites languished under the oppressive hands of the Egyptians. Pharaoh wouldn’t release his grip until God made it personal. Every eldest son would die, unless the family killed a spotless lamb and slathered its blood…

    Etch A Sketch Forgiveness

    The little red rectangular box was magical. As a kid, I could play with it for hours. When I turned one knob on the box, I could create a horizontal line on its screen. Turn the other knob and voila—a vertical line. When I turned the knobs together, I could make diagonal lines, circles, and creative designs. But the real magic came when I turned my Etch A Sketch toy upside down, shook it a little and turned it right side up. A blank screen appeared, offering me the opportunity to create a new design.

    God’s forgiveness works much like that…

    Washed

    My friend Bill described Gerard, an acquaintance of his, as being “very far from God for a very long time.” But one day, after Bill met with Gerard and explained to him how God’s love has provided the way for us to be saved, Gerard became a believer. Through tears, he repented of his sin, and gave his life to Jesus. Afterward, Bill asked Gerard how he felt. Wiping away tears, he answered simply, “Washed.”

    What an amazing response! That’s precisely the essence of salvation made possible through faith in Jesus’ sacrifice for us on the cross. In 1 Corinthians 6,…

    Drawn Near

    In the wake of the coronavirus, retrieving something from my safety deposit box required even more layers of protocol than before. Now I had to make an appointment, call when I arrived to be granted entrance to the bank, show my identification and signature, and then wait to be escorted into the vault by a designated banker. Once inside, the heavy doors locked again until I’d found what I needed inside the metal box. Unless I followed the instructions, I wasn’t able to enter.

    In the Old Testament, God had specific protocols for entering part of the tabernacle called the Most…