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    Loving the Stranger

    When I moved to a new country, one of my first experiences left me feeling unwelcome. After finding a seat in the little church where my husband was preaching that day, a gruff older gentleman startled me when he said, “Move along down.” His wife apologized as she explained that I was sitting in the pew they always occupied. Years later I learned that congregations used to rent out pews, which raised money for the church and also ensured no one could take another person’s seat. Apparently some of that mentality carried on through the decades.

    Later, I reflected on how…

    How to Reflect Christ

    Thérèse of Lisieux was a joyful and carefree child—until her mother died when she was just four years old. She became timid and easily agitated. But many years later on Christmas Eve, all of that changed. After celebrating the birth of Jesus with her church community, she experienced God releasing her from her fear and giving her joy. She attributed the change to the power of God leaving heaven and becoming a man, Jesus, and through His dwelling in her.

    What does it mean for Christ to dwell within us? It’s a mystery, said Paul to the Colossian church. It’s one…

    Self-Checking

    Recently I read through a stack of World War II-era letters my dad sent to my mother. He was in North Africa and she was in West Virginia. Dad, a second lieutenant in the US Army, was tasked with censoring soldiers’ letters—keeping sensitive information from enemy eyes. So it was rather humorous to see—on the outside of his letters to his wife—a stamp that said, “Censored by 2nd Lt. John Branon.” Indeed, he had cut out lines from his own letters!

    Self-censoring is really a good idea for all of us. Several times in Scripture, the writers mention the importance of…

    In the Father’s Ways

    In the 1960s, the bustling community of North Lawndale, on Chicago’s West Side, was a pilot community for interracial living. A handful of middle-class African Americans bought homes there on “contract”—that combined the responsibilities of home ownership with the disadvantages of renting. In a contract sale, the buyer accrued no equity, and if he missed a single payment, he would immediately lose his down payment, all his monthly payments, and the property itself. Unscrupulous sellers sold at inflated prices, then the families were evicted when they missed a payment. Another family would buy on contract, and the cycle fueled by…

    Not Taking Advantage

    Several inmates were collecting roadside garbage to reduce their jail time when their supervisor, James, collapsed. They rushed to his aid and realized he was having a medical emergency. One inmate borrowed James’s phone to call for help. The sheriff’s department later thanked the inmates for helping get their supervisor prompt medical attention, especially because they could have instead neglected him—to his great detriment as he was having a stroke—or used the situation to their own advantage to escape. 

    The kindness of the inmates’ actions is not unlike those of Paul and Silas when they were imprisoned. After they’d been stripped,…

    The Kindness Man

    Disillusioned and wanting a more meaningful life, Leon quit his job in finance. Then one day he saw a homeless man holding up a sign at a street corner: KINDNESS IS THE BEST MEDICINE. Leon says, “Those words rammed straight into me. It was an epiphany.” 

    Leon decided to begin his new life by creating an international organization to promote kindness. He travels around the world, relying on strangers to provide him with food, gas, and a place to stay. Then he rewards them with good deeds of his own such as feeding orphans or building on to a school for…

    Just a Spark

    “We’re in the library, and we can see the flames right outside!” She was scared, we could hear it in her voice. We know her voice—she’s our daughter. At the same time we knew her college campus was the safest place for her and her almost 3,000 fellow students. The 2018 Woolsey Fire spread quicker than anyone anticipated—most of all fire personnel. The record heat and dry conditions in the California canyon, along with the legendary Santa Ana winds, were all the rather small sparks needed to ultimately burn 97,000 acres, destroy over 1,600 structures, and kill three people. In…

    Does What We Do Matter?

    I dropped my forehead to my hand with a sigh, “I don’t know how I’m going to get it all done.” My friend’s voice crackled through the phone: “You have to give yourself some credit. You’re doing a lot.” He then listed the things I was trying to do—maintain a healthy lifestyle, work, do well in graduate school, write, and attend a Bible study. I wanted to do all these things for God, but instead I was more focused on what I was doing than how I was doing it—or that perhaps I was trying to do too much.

    Paul reminded…

    An Old Clay Pot

    I’ve acquired a number of old clay pots over the years. My favorite was excavated from a site dated during Abraham’s time (circa fifteenth century BC). It’s at least one item in our home that is older than I! It’s not much to look at: stained, cracked, chipped, and in need of a good scrubbing. It’s very fragile. I keep it to remind me that I’m just a man made out of mud. Though fragile and weak, I carry an immeasurably precious treasure—Jesus. “We have this treasure [Jesus] in jars of clay” (2 Corinthians 4:7).

    Paul continues: “We are hard pressed…

    Shining the Light

    Stephen told his parents that he needed to get to school early every day, but for some reason he never explained why it was so important. Yet they made sure he arrived at Northview High School by 7:15 each morning.

    On a wintry day during his junior year, Stephen was in a car accident that sadly took his life. Later, his mom and dad found out why he’d been going to school so early. Each morning he and some friends had gathered at the school entrance to greet other students with a smile, a wave, and a kind word. It made…

    Led by His Word

    At the BBC in London, Paul Arnold’s first broadcasting job was making “walking sounds” in radio dramas. While actors read from scripts during a walking scene, Paul as stage manager made corresponding sounds with his feet—careful to match his pace to the actor’s voice and spoken lines. The key challenge, he explained, was yielding to the actor in the story, “so the two of us were working together.”

    A divine version of such cooperation was sought by the author of Psalm 119, which emphasizes living by the precepts of God’s Word. As Psalm 119:1 says: “Blessed are those whose ways are…

    Written on the Heart

    As a professor, I’m often asked by students to write letters of recommendation for them—for leadership positions, study-abroad programs, graduate schools, and even jobs. In each letter, I have a chance to praise the student’s character and qualifications.

    When Christians traveled in the ancient world, they often carried with them similar “letters of commendation” from their churches. Such a letter ensured that the traveling brother or sister would be welcomed hospitably.

    The apostle Paul didn’t need a letter of recommendation when he spoke to the church in Corinth—they knew him. In his second letter to that church, Paul wrote that he preached…

    The Lost Envelope

    We were on the way home from a visit with family in another state when I found it. I was pumping gas when I noticed a dirty, bulky envelope on the ground. I grabbed it, dirt and all, and looked inside. To my surprise, it contained one hundred dollars.

    Hazardous Materials

    The sound of a siren increased to an ear-piercing level as an emergency vehicle sped by my car. Its flashing lights glared through my windshield, illuminating the words “hazardous materials” printed on the side of the truck. Later, I learned it had been racing to a science laboratory where a 400-gallon container of sulfuric acid had begun to leak. Emergency workers had to contain the substance immediately because of its ability to damage whatever it came in contact with.

    As I thought about this news story, I wondered what would happen if sirens blared every time a harsh or critical word…

    God Talk

    A study conducted by the Barna Group in 2018 found that most Americans don’t like to talk about God. Only seven percent of Americans say they talk about spiritual matters regularly — and practicing Christians in America aren’t that different. Only thirteen percent of regular churchgoers say they have a spiritual conversation about once a week.

    Perhaps it’s not surprising that spiritual conversations are on the decline. Talking about God can be dangerous. Whether because of a polarized political climate, because disagreement might cause a rift in a relationship, or because a spiritual conversation might cause you to realize a change…

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