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    Goodbyes and Hellos

    When my brother David suddenly died of cardiac failure, my perspectives on life changed dramatically. Dave was the fourth of seven children, but he was the first of us to pass—and the unexpected nature of that passing gave me much to ponder. It became apparent that as age began to catch up with us our family’s future was going to be marked more by loss than by gain. It was going to be characterized as much by goodbyes as hellos.

    None of this was a surprise intellectually—that is just how life works. But this realization was an emotional lightning bolt to…

    Hope Blossoms

    In the city of Philadelphia, when weedy vacant lots were cleaned up and brightened with beautiful flowers and trees, nearby residents also brightened—in overall mental health. This proved especially true for those who struggled economically.

    “There’s a growing body of evidence that green space can have an impact on mental health,” said Dr. Eugenia South, “and that’s particularly important for people living in poorer neighborhoods.” South, a faculty member at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, is coauthor of a study on the subject.

    The downtrodden people of Israel and Judah found fresh hope in the prophet Isaiah’s vision of…

    A Glimmer on the Sea

    “I lay on my bed full of stale liquor and despair,” wrote journalist Malcolm Muggeridge of a particularly dismal evening during his work as a World War II spy. “Alone in the universe, in eternity, with no glimmer of light.”

    In such a condition, he did the only thing he thought sensible; he tried to drown himself. Driving to the nearby Madagascar coast, he began the long swim into the ocean until he grew exhausted. Looking back, he glimpsed the distant coastal lights. For no reason clear to him at the time, he started swimming back toward the lights. Despite…

    When the Splendor Is Gone

    I can never recapture the splendor that was our daughter Melissa. Fading from my memory are those wonderful times when we watched her joyfully playing high school volleyball. And it’s sometimes hard to remember the shy smile of contentment that crossed her face when we were doing family activities. Her death at age seventeen dropped a curtain on the joy of her presence.

    In the book of Lamentations, Jeremiah’s words show he understood that the heart can be punctured. “My splendor is gone,” he said, “and all that I had hoped from the Lord” (3:18). His situation was far different from…

    Costly Joy

    At the sound of the digital melody, all six of us sprang into action. Some slipped shoes on, others simply bolted for the door barefoot. Within seconds we were all sprinting down the driveway chasing the ice cream truck. It was the first warm day of summer, and there was no better way to celebrate than with a cold, sweet treat! There are things we do simply because of the joy it brings us, not out of discipline or obligation.

    In the pair of parables found in Matthew 13:44–46, the emphasis is selling everything to gain something else. We might think the…

    Life to the Full

    Seventeenth-century philosopher Thomas Hobbes famously wrote that human life in its natural state is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Hobbes argued that our instincts tend toward war in a bid to attain dominance over others; thus the establishment of government would be necessary to maintain law and order.

    The bleak view of humanity sounds like the state of affairs that Jesus described when He said, “All who have come before me are thieves and robbers” (John 10:7). But Jesus offers hope in the midst of despair. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy,” but then the good…

    Our Reason for Joy

    When the schoolyear began, fourteen-year-old C.J. would hop off the bus every afternoon and dance down his driveway. His mom recorded and shared videos of C.J.’s afterschool boogie time. He danced because he enjoyed life and “making people happy” with every move. One day, two garbage collectors took time out of their busy work schedule to stomp, spin, and sway with the young boy who inspires others to dance with him. This trio demonstrates the power of sincere and infectious joy.

    The writer of Psalm 149 describes the original source of enduring and unconditional joy—God. The psalmist encourages God’s people to…

    Do Whatever

    In a recent film, a self-proclaimed “genius” rants to the camera about the world’s “horror, corruption, ignorance, and poverty,” declaring life to be godless and absurd. While such thinking isn’t unusual in many modern film scripts, what’s interesting is where it leads. In the end, the lead character turns to the audience and implores us to do whatever it takes to find a little happiness. For him, this includes leaving traditional morality behind.

    But will “do whatever” work? Facing his own despair at life’s horrors, the Old Testament writer of Ecclesiastes gave it a try long ago, searching for happiness through…

    Keepers of the Light

    They call them “Keepers of the Light.”

    At the lighthouse on the cape of Hatteras Island just off the North Carolina coast of the United States, there’s a memorial to those who’ve tended the light stations there since 1803. Shortly after the existing structure was moved inland because of shoreline erosion, the names of the keepers were etched on the old foundation stones and arranged into an amphitheater shape facing the new site. That way—as a placard explains—today’s visitors can follow in the historical keepers’ footsteps and “watch over” the lighthouse as well.

    Jesus is the ultimate light-giver. He said, “I am…

    The Smiling Jesus

    If you were to play the part of Jesus in a movie, how would you approach the role? That was the challenge faced by Bruce Marchiano, who played Jesus in the 1993 Visual Bible movie Matthew. Knowing that millions of viewers would draw conclusions about Jesus based on his work, the weight of getting Christ “right” felt overwhelming. He fell to his knees in prayer and begged Jesus for—well, for Jesus.

    Bruce gained insight from the first chapter of Hebrews, where the writer tells us how God the Father set the Son apart by anointing Him “with the oil of joy”…

    Eclipse

    I will restore David’s fallen shelter—I will repair its broken walls and restore its ruins—and will rebuild it as it used to be. Amos 9:11

     

    I was prepared with eye protection, an ideal viewing location, and homemade moon pie desserts. Along with millions of people in the U.S., my family watched the rare occurrence of a total solar eclipse—the moon covering the entire disk of the sun.

     

    The eclipse caused an unusual darkness to come over the typically bright summer afternoon. Although for us this eclipse was a fun celebration and a reminder of God’s incredible power over creation (Psalm 135:6–7), throughout…

    Hungry for God

    A new believer in Jesus was desperate to read the Bible. However, he’d lost his eyesight and both hands in an explosion. When he heard about a woman who read Braille with her lips, he tried to do the same—only to discover that the nerve endings of his lips had also been destroyed. Later, he was filled with joy when he discovered that he could feel the Braille characters with his tongue! He had found a way to read and enjoy Scripture.

    Joy and delight were the emotions the prophet Jeremiah experienced when he read the God’s Word. “When your words…

    Grief Overturned

    According to Jim and Jamie Dutcher, filmmakers known for their knowledge of wolves, when happy, wolves wag their tails and romp about. But after the death of a pack member, they grieve for weeks. They visit the place where the pack member died, showing grief by their drooping tails and mournful howls. 

    Grief is a powerful emotion that we’ve all experienced, particularly at the death of a loved one or a treasured hope. Mary Magdalene experienced it. She had belonged to Jesus’s supporters and traveled with Him and His disciples (Luke 8:1–3). But Jesus’s cruel death on a cross separated them…

    The Faith to Endure

    Ernest Shackleton (1874–1922) led an unsuccessful expedition to cross Antarctica in 1914. When his ship, aptly named Endurance, became trapped in heavy ice in the Weddell Sea, it became an endurance race just to survive. With no means of communicating with the rest of the world, Shackleton and his crew used lifeboats to make the journey to the nearest shore—Elephant Island. While most of the crew stayed behind on the island, Shackleton and five crewmen spent two weeks traveling 800 miles across the ocean to South Georgia to get help for those left behind. The “failed” expedition became a victorious entry…

    Thoughts of Joy

    In What We Keep, a collection of interviews by Bill Shapiro, each person tells of a single item that holds such importance and joy that he or she would never part with it.

    This caused me to reflect on the possessions that mean the most to me and bring me joy. One is a simple forty-year-old recipe card in my mom’s handwriting. Another is one of my grandma’s pink teacups. Other people may value treasured memories—a compliment that encouraged them, a grandchild’s giggle, or a special insight they gleaned from Scripture.

    What we often keep stashed away in our hearts, though, are…

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