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    Strengthened by Grace

    During the American Civil War, the penalty for desertion was execution. But the Union armies rarely executed deserters because their commander-in-chief Abraham Lincoln pardoned nearly all of them. This infuriated Edwin Stanton, the Secretary of War, who believed that Lincoln’s leniency only enticed would-be deserters. But Lincoln empathized with soldiers who had lost their nerve and who had given in to their fear in the heat of battle. And his empathy endeared him to his soldiers. They loved their “Father Abraham,” and their affection led the soldiers to want to serve Lincoln all the more.

    When Paul calls Timothy to join…

    Surrendering All

    Two men remembered for serving others for Jesus left careers in the arts to commit themselves to where they believed God had called them. James O. Fraser (1886–1938) decided not to pursue being a concert pianist in England to serve the Lisu people in China, while the American Judson Van DeVenter (1855–1939) chose to become an evangelist instead of pursuing a career in art. He later wrote the hymn, “I Surrender All.”

    While having a vocation in the arts is the perfect calling for many, these men believed God called them to relinquish one career for another. Perhaps they found inspiration…

    God of the Invisible

    “Sometimes I feel as if I’m invisible. But I so want God to use me.”

     Ann was tidying up the exercise room at the hotel I was visiting when we struck up a conversation. As we talked, I discovered she had an amazing story.

     “I used to be a crack addict and prostitute living on the streets,” she said. “But I knew God wanted me to put down my pipe and walk with Him. One day years ago I knelt at Jesus’s feet, and He set me free.”

     I thanked Ann for sharing what the Lord had done for her and assured her…

    Giving Our Best

    We stared at the piles of donated shoes as we entered a local homeless shelter. The director had invited our youth group to help sort through the heaps of used footwear. We spent the morning searching for matches and lining them up in rows across the concrete floor. At the end of the day, we threw away more than half of the shoes because they were too damaged to give to people. Though the shelter couldn’t stop people from giving poor quality items, they refused to distribute shoes that were in bad condition.

    The Israelites struggled with giving God their damaged…

    Returning Home

    Walter Dixon had five days to honeymoon before he shipped off to the Korean War. Within a year, troops found Dixon’s jacket on the battlefield, with letters from his wife stuffed in the pockets. Military officials informed his young wife that her husband had been killed in action. Actually, Dixon was alive and spent the next 2.5 years as a POW. Every waking hour, he plotted to get home. Dixon escaped five times but was always recaptured. Finally, he was set free. You can imagine the shock when he returned home!

    God’s people knew what it was to be captured, moved…

    Now, then Next

    I recently attended a high school graduation during which the speaker provided a needed challenge for the young adults awaiting their diplomas. He mentioned that this was a time in their lives when everyone was asking them, “What’s next?” What career would they be pursuing next? Where would they be going to school or working next? Then he said that the more important question was what were they doing now?

    In the context of their faith journey, what daily decisions would they be making that would guide them each day to live for Jesus and not for themselves?

    His words reminded me…

    Spiritual Driving

    I don’t remember many specifics about my driver’s education class. But for some reason, an acronym we learned, S-I-P-D-E, remains firmly lodged in my memory.

    The letters stood for Scan, Identify, Predict, Decide, and Execute, a process we were taught to practice continually. We were to scan the road, identify hazards, predict what the hazards might do, decide how we’d respond, and then, if necessary, execute that plan. It was a strategy for being intentional to avoid accidents.  

    I wonder how that idea might translate to our spiritual lives. In Ephesians 5, Paul told Ephesian believers, “Be very careful, then, how you live, not as unwise,…

    Wonderful Reward

    Donelan, a teacher, had always been a reader, but one day it literally paid off. She was planning a trip and reviewing her lengthy travel insurance policy when on page 7 she discovered a wonderful reward. As part of their “It Pays to Read” contest, the company was giving $10,000 to the first person to read that far into the contract. They also donated thousands of dollars to schools in Donelan’s area for children’s literacy. She says, “I’ve always been that nerd who reads contracts. I was the most surprised of anyone!”

    The psalmist wanted his eyes opened to “see wonderful…

    A Great Work

    The security guard found and removed a piece of tape that was keeping a door from clicking shut. Later, when he checked the door, he found it had been taped again. He called the police, who arrived and arrested five burglars.

    Working at the Watergate building in Washington, D.C., the headquarters of a major political party in the US, the young guard had just uncovered the biggest political scandal of his lifetime simply by taking his job seriously—and doing it well.

    Nehemiah began rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem—a task he took very seriously. Toward the end of the project, neighboring rivals asked…

    Living on Purpose

    “We’re going on vacation!” my wife enthusiastically told our three-year-old grandson Austin as we pulled out of the driveway on the first leg of our trip. Little Austin looked at her thoughtfully and responded, “I’m not going on vacation. I’m going on a mission!”

    We’re not sure where our grandson picked up the concept of going “on a mission,” but his comment gave me something to ponder as we drove to the airport: “As I leave on this vacation and take a break for a few days, am I keeping in mind that I’m still ‘on a mission’ to live each…

    Shining Light

    I felt nervous about a five-week prayer class I agreed to teach at a local church. Would the students like it? Would they like me? My anxiety was ill-focused, leading me to over-prepare lesson plans, video slides, and class handouts. Yet with a week to go, I still hadn’t encouraged many people to attend.
    In prayer, however, I was reminded that the class was a service that shined light on God. Because the Holy Spirit would use the class to point people to our heavenly Father, I could set aside my nervousness about public speaking. When Jesus taught His disciples in…

    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…

    Sweeter Than Honey

    His topic was racial tension. Yet the speaker remained calm and collected. Standing on stage before a large audience, he spoke boldly—but with grace, humility, kindness, and even humor. Soon the tense audience visibly relaxed, laughing along with the speaker about the dilemma they all faced: how to resolve their hot issue, but cool down their feelings and words. Yes, how to tackle a sour topic with sweet grace.

    King Solomon advised this same approach for all of us: “Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones” (Proverbs 16:24). In this way, “The hearts of…

    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”…

    The Bell

    Jackson dreamed of becoming a US Navy Seal from early childhood—an ambition that led to years of physical discipline and self-sacrifice. He eventually faced grueling tests of strength and endurance including what’s referred to by trainees as “hell week.”

    Jackson was physically unable to complete the exhaustive training, and reluctantly rang a bell to inform the commander and other trainees of his choice to leave the program. For most, this would feel like failure. But in spite of the extreme disappointment, Jackson was later able to see his military failure as preparation for his life’s work.
    The apostle Peter experienced his…

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