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    The Dwindles

    It started with a tickle in my throat. Uh oh, I thought. That tickle turned out to be influenza. And that was just the beginning of bronchial affliction. Influenza morphed into whooping cough—yes, that whooping cough—and that turned into pneumonia.

    Eight weeks of torso-wracking coughing—it’s not called whooping cough for nothing—has left me humbled. I don’t think of myself as old. But I’m old enough to start thinking about heading that direction. A member of my church’s small group has a funny name for the health issues that assail us as we age: “the dwindles.” But there’s nothing funny about dwindling’s work “in action.”   

    In…

    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…

    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…

    From Wisdom to Joy

    The phone rang and I picked it up without delay. Calling was the oldest member of our church family—a vibrant, hard-working woman who was nearly 100 years old. Putting the final touches on her latest book, she asked some writing questions to help her cross the finish line. As always, however, I soon was asking her questions—about life, work, love, family. Her many lessons from a long life sparkled with wisdom. She told me, “Pace yourself.” And soon we were laughing about times she’d forgotten to do that—her wonderful stories all seasoned with true joy.

    Wisdom leads to joy, the Bible teaches.…

    The Joy God Provides

    When Marcia’s out in public, she always tries to smile at others. It’s her way of reaching out to people who might need to see a friendly face. Most of the time, she gets a genuine smile in return. But during a time when Marcia was mandated to wear a facemask, she realized that people could no longer see her mouth, thus no one could see her smile. It’s sad, she thought, but I’m not going to stop. Maybe they’ll see in my eyes that I’m smiling.

    There’s actually a bit of science behind that idea. The muscles for the corners of…

    Children of God

    I once spoke at a secular conference for childless couples. Heartbroken over their infertility, many attendees despaired at their future. Having walked the childless path too, I tried to encourage them. “You can have a meaningful identity without becoming parents,” I said. “I believe you are fearfully and wonderfully made, and there’s new purpose for you to find.”

    A woman later approached me in tears. “Thank you,” she said. “I’ve felt worthless being childless and needed to hear that I’m fearfully and wonderfully made.” I asked the woman if she was a Christian. “I walked away from God years ago,”…

    Finding Joy in Praise

    When the famous British writer C. S. Lewis first gave his life to Christ, he initially resisted praising God. In fact, he called it “a stumbling block.” His struggle was “in the suggestion that God Himself demanded it.” Yet Lewis finally realized “it is in the process of being worshipped that God communicates His presence” to His people. Then we, “in perfect love with God,” find joy in Him no more separable “than the brightness a mirror receives” from the “brightness it sheds.”

    The prophet Habakkuk arrived at this conclusion centuries earlier. After complaining to God about evils aimed at the…

    Watch Me!

    “Watch my fairy princess dance, Grandma!” my three-year-old granddaughter gleefully called as she raced around the yard of our cabin, a big grin on her face. Her “dancing” brought a smile; and her big brother’s glum, “She’s not dancing, just running,” didn’t staunch her joy at being on vacation with family.

    The first Palm Sunday was a day of highs and lows. When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, the crowds enthusiastically shouted, “Hosanna . . . blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Matthew 21:6–9). Yet many in the crowd were expecting a Messiah…

    It’s Jesus!

    During an episode of the popular US television talent competition “America’s Got Talent,” a five-year-old girl sang with such exuberance that a judge compared her to a famous child singer and dancer in the 1930s. He remarked, “I think Shirley Temple is living somewhere inside of you.” Her unexpected response: “Not Shirley Temple. Jesus!”

    I marveled at the young girl’s deep awareness that her joy came from Jesus living in her. Scripture assures us of the amazing reality that all who trust in Jesus not only receive the promise of eternal life with God but also Jesus’ presence living in them…

    Dig It Up

    When Rebecca’s brother and sister-in-law started having marriage problems, Rebecca prayed earnestly for their reconciliation. But they divorced. Then her sister-in-law took the children out of state and their dad didn’t protest. Rebecca never again saw the nieces she dearly loved. Years later she said, “Because of trying to handle this sadness on my own, I let a root of bitterness start in my heart, and it began to spread to my family and friends.”

    The book of Ruth tells about a woman named Naomi who struggled with a heart of grief that grew into bitterness. Her husband died in a…

    Fireworks of Life

    On New Year’s Eve, when high-powered fireworks detonate across cities and towns worldwide, the noise is loud on purpose. By their nature, say manufacturers, flashy fireworks are meant to split the atmosphere, literally. “Repeater” blasts can sound the loudest, especially when exploded near the ground.

    Troubles, too, can boom through our hearts, minds, and homes. The “fireworks” of life—family struggles, relationship problems, work challenges, financial strain, even church division—can feel like explosions, rattling our emotional atmosphere.

    Yet we know the One who lifts us over this uproar. Christ Himself “is our peace,” Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:14. When we abide in His…

    Rebuilding the Ruins

    At seventeen, Dowayne had to leave his family’s home in Manenberg, a part of Cape Town, South Africa, because of his stealing and addiction to heroin. He didn’t go far, building a shack of corrugated metal in his mother’s backyard, which soon became known as the Casino, a place to use drugs. When he was nineteen, however, Dowayne came to saving faith in Jesus. His journey off drugs was long and exhausting, but he got clean with God’s help and with the support of his Christian friends. And ten years after Dowayne built the Casino, he and others turned the…

    Joy to the World

    Every Christmas we decorate our home with nativity scenes from around the world. We have a German nativity pyramid, a manager scene fashioned out of olive wood from Bethlehem, and a brightly colored Mexican folk version. Our family favorite is a whimsical entry from Africa. Instead of the more traditional sheep and camels, a hippopotamus gazes contently at the baby Jesus.

    The unique cultural perspective brought to life in these nativity scenes warms my heart as I ponder each beautiful reminder that Jesus’s birth was not just for one nation or culture. It is good news for the whole earth, a…

    Breath and Brevity

    Mom, my sisters, and I waited by Dad’s bed as his breaths became shallower and less and less frequent—until they were no more. Dad was a few days shy of eighty-nine when he slipped quietly into the life beyond where God awaited him. His departure left us with a void where he once resided and only memories and mementos to remind us of him. Yet we have the hope that one day we’ll be reunited.

    We have that hope because we believe Dad is with God, who knows and loves him. When Dad breathed his first breath, God was there breathing…

    If Only We Could . . .

    The Weeping Alaskan Cedar tree whipped from side to side in the storm’s strong winds. Regie loved the tree that had not only provided shelter from the summer sun but also protected her family from the neighbors’ gaze. Now the fierce storm was tearing the roots from the ground. Quickly, Regie, with her 15-year-old son in tow, ran to try to rescue the tree. With her hands and 90-pound frame firmly planted against it, she hoped with her son’s help to keep it from falling over. But they weren’t strong enough.

    God was King David’s strength when he called out to…

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