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    The Main Actor

    I once heard about a student taking a class in preaching at a prominent seminary. The student, a young man who was a bit full of himself, delivered his sermon with eloquence and evident passion. He sat down self-satisfied, and the professor paused a moment before responding. “That was a powerful sermon,” he said. “It was well-organized and moving. The only problem is that God was not the subject of a single one of your sentences.”

    The professor highlighted a problem all of us struggle with at times: We can talk as if we’re the primary actor (emphasizing what we do,…

    Walking Backward

    I stumbled upon footage from a British newsreel crew who filmed six-year-old Flannery O’Connor on her family farm in 1932. Flannery, who would go on to become an acclaimed US writer, caught the crew’s curiosity because she’d taught a chicken to walk backwards. Apart from the novelty of the feat, I thought this glimpse of history was a perfect metaphor. Flannery, due to both her literary sensibilities and her spiritual convictions, spent her thirty-nine years definitely walking backwards—thinking and writing in a counter-cultural way. Publishers and readers were entirely baffled by how her biblical themes ran counter to the religious…

    Something to Brag About

    What does it mean to be real? That’s the very big question answered in the small children’s book—The Velveteen Rabbit. It is the story of toys in a nursery, and the journey of a velveteen rabbit to becoming real by allowing himself to be loved by a child. One of the other toys is the old and wise Skin Horse. He “had seen a long succession of mechanical toys arrive to boast and swagger, and by and by break . . . and pass away.” They looked and sounded impressive, but their boasting eventually amounted to nothing when it came…

    Unexpected Winners

    Perhaps the most preposterous, spellbinding moment in the 2018 Winter Olympics was when the Czech Republic’s world champion snowboarder Ester Ledecka won an event in a completely different sport: skiing! And she took the first-place gold medal even though she had the unenviable position of skiing 26th—a feat believed to be basically impossible.

    Amazingly, Ledecka qualified to race the women’s super-G—an event that combines downhill skiing with a slalom course. After she won by .01 of a second on borrowed skis, the cameras showed she was just as shocked as the media and other contestants who had assumed the winner would be…

    More than a Symbol

    On the verge of making team history, University of Iowa basketball star Jordan Bohannon intentionally missed the free throw that would have broken a twenty-five-year-old school record. Why? In 1993, days after Iowa’s Chris Street had made thirty-four free throws in a row, he lost his life in a car crash. Bohannon chose to honor Street’s memory by not breaking his record.

    Bohannon showed a keen awareness of things more important than his own advancement. We see similar values in the life of the young warrior David. Hiding in a cave with his ragtag army, David longed for a drink from…

    Shelve Them and Move On

    I’m reminded of some wise advice a radio broadcaster friend once gave me. Early on in his career, as my friend struggled to know how to deal with both criticism and praise, he felt that God was encouraging him to shelve both. What’s the essence of what he took to heart? Learn what you can from criticism and accept praise. Then shelve both and humbly move on in God’s grace and power.                      

    Criticism and praise stir in us powerful emotions that, if left unchecked, can lead to either self-loathing or an overinflated ego. In Proverbs we read of the benefits of encouragement…

    Giving Credit

    In the early 1960s, some unusual paintings featuring a person or animal with huge, sad eyes became popular. Some considered the work “kitschy”—or tacky—but others delighted in it. As the artist’s husband began to promote his wife’s creations, the couple grew quite prosperous. But the artist’s signature—Margaret Keane—didn’t appear on her work. Instead, Margaret’s husband presented his wife’s work as his own. Margaret fearfully remained silent about the fraud for twenty years until the couple’s marriage ended. It took a courtroom “paint-off” between them to prove the true artist’s identity.

    The man’s deception was clearly wrong, but even as followers of…

    Following the Leader

    In the sky over our house, three fighter jets scream through the sky—flying in formation so close together they appear to be one. “Wow,” I say to my husband Dan. “Impressive,” he agrees. We live not far from an Air Force Base and it’s not unusual to see such sights.

    Every time these jets fly over, however, I have the same question: how can they fly so close together and not lose control? One obvious reason, I learned, is humility. Trusting that the lead pilot is traveling at precisely the correct speed and trajectory, the wing pilots surrender any desire to switch…

    "By the Grace of God I Am What I Am"

    The way we continually talk about our own inabilities is an insult to our Creator. To complain over our incompetence is to accuse God falsely of having overlooked us. Get into the habit of examining from God’s perspective those things that sound so humble to men. You will be amazed at how unbelievably inappropriate and disrespectful they are to Him.

    Asking for Help

    Her email arrived late in a long day. In truth, I didn’t open it. I was working overtime to help a family member manage his serious illness. I didn’t have time, therefore, for social distractions.

    The next morning, however, when I clicked on my friend’s message, I saw this question: “Can I help you in any way?” Feeling embarrassed, I started to answer no. Then I took a deep breath to pause. I noticed then that her question sounded familiar—if not divine.

    That’s because Jesus asked it. Hearing a blind beggar call out to Him on the Jericho Road, Jesus stopped to…

    The Right Way to Pray

    I admire people who record prayer requests in journals tattered from daily handling, those who keep track of every prayer and praise and then faithfully update their lists. I’m inspired by those who gather with others to pray and whose kneeling wears out the carpet at their bedsides. For years, I tried to copy their styles, to simulate a perfect prayer life, and to imitate the eloquence of the so-much-more-articulate-than-me folks. I strived to unravel what I thought was a mystery, as I longed to learn the right way to pray.

    Eventually, I learned that our Lord simply desires prayer that…

    Humble Love

    When Benjamin Franklin was a young man he made a list of twelve virtues he desired to grow in over the course of his life. He showed it to a friend, who suggested he add “humility” to it. Franklin liked the idea. He then added some guidelines to help him with each item on the list. Among Franklin’s thoughts about humility, he held up Jesus as an example to emulate.

    Jesus shows us the ultimate example of humility. God’s Word tells us, “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God,…

    Getting There (2)

    They said to Him, ’Rabbi . . . where are You staying?’ He said to them, ’Come and see’ —John 1:38-39

    Where our self-interest sleeps and the real interest is awakened. “They . . . remained with Him that day . . . .” That is about…

    Vicarious Intercession

    Beware of thinking that intercession means bringing our own personal sympathies and concerns into the presence of God, and then demanding that He do whatever we ask. Our ability to approach God is due entirely to the vicarious, or substitutionary, identification of our Lord with sin. We have “boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus.”

    Spiritual stubbornness is the most effective hindrance to intercession, because it is based on a sympathetic “understanding” of things we see in ourselves and others that we think needs no atonement.

    Amnesia

    Emergency Services in Carlsbad, California, came to the rescue of a woman with an Australian accent who couldn’t recall who she was. Because she was suffering from amnesia and had no ID with her, she was unable to provide her name or where she had come from. It took the help of doctors and international media to restore her health, tell her story, and reunite her with her family.

    Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, also lost sight of who he was and where he had come from. His “amnesia,” though, was spiritual. In taking credit for the kingdom he’d been given,…

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