• Topic > Spiritual Growth

    The Picture of Despair

    During the Great Depression in the United States, famed photographer Dorothea Lange snapped a photo of Florence Owens Thompson and her children. This well-known photograph, “Migrant Mother,” is the picture of a mother’s despair in the aftermath of the failed pea harvest. Lange took it in Nipomo, California, while working for the Farm Security Administration, hoping to make them aware of the needs of the desperate seasonal farm laborers.

    The book of Lamentations presents another snapshot of despair—that of Judah in the wake of the destruction of Jerusalem. Before the army of Nebuchadnezzar swept in to destroy the city, the people…

    Before You Even Ask

    My friends Robert and Colleen have experienced a healthy marriage for decades, and I love watching them interact. One will pass the butter to the other at dinner before being asked for it. The other will refill a glass at the perfect moment. When they tell stories, they finish each other’s sentences. Sometimes it seems they can read each other’s mind.

    It’s comforting that God knows and cares for us even more than any person we know and love. When the prophet Isaiah describes the relationship between God and His people in the coming kingdom, he describes a tender, intimate relationship.…

    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…

    Liberated by Jesus

    “I lived with my mother so long that she moved out!” Those were the words of KC whose life before sobriety and surrender to Jesus was not pretty. He candidly admits supporting his drug habit by stealing—even from loved ones. That life is behind him now and he rehearses this by noting the years, months, and days he’s been clean. When KC and I regularly sit down to study God’s Word together, l’m looking at a changed man.

    Mark 5:15 speaks of a former demon possessed individual who had also been changed. Prior to his healing, helpless, hopeless, homeless, and desperate…

    The Hardest Places

    Geoff is a youth pastor today in the same city where he once abused heroin. God transformed both his heart and his circumstances in a breathtaking way. “I want to keep kids from making the same mistakes and suffering the pain I went through,” Geoff said. “And Jesus will help them.” Over time, God set him free from the slavery of addiction and has given him a vital ministry in spite of his past.

    God has ways of bringing unexpected good out of situations where hope seems lost. Joseph was sold into slavery in Egypt and falsely accused and sent to…

    Mercy’s Lament

    Her father blamed his illness on witchcraft. It was AIDS. When he died, his daughter, ten-year-old Mercy, grew even closer to her mother. But her mother was sick too, and three years later she died. From then on, Mercy’s sister raised the five siblings. That’s when Mercy began to keep a journal of her deep pain.

    The prophet Jeremiah kept a record of his pain too. In the grim book of Lamentations, he wrote of atrocities perpetrated on Judah by the Babylonian army. Jeremiah’s heart was especially grieved for the youngest victims. “My heart is poured out on the ground,” he…

    Guiding Children to God

    An outspoken atheist believes it’s immoral for parents to teach their children religion as though it were actually true. He even claims that parents who pass along their faith to their children are committing child abuse. Though these views are extreme, I do hear from parents who are hesitant to boldly encourage their children toward faith. While most of us readily hope to influence our children with our view of politics or nutrition or sports, for some reason some of us treat our convictions about God differently.

    In contrast, Paul wrote of how Timothy had been taught “from infancy . .…

    No Line to Love

    Sometimes when my Labrador retriever wants attention, he’ll take something of mine and parade it in front of me. One morning as I was writing at the desk with my back turned, Max snatched my wallet and ran off. But realizing I hadn’t seen him do it, he returned and nudged me with his nose—wallet in mouth, eyes dancing, tail wagging, taunting me to play.

    Max’s antics made me laugh, but they also reminded me of my limitations when it comes to being attentive to others. So often I’ve intended to spend time with family or friends, but other things occupy…

    Waiting with the Turtle

    Every fall, when the painted turtle senses winter coming, she dives to the bottom of her pond, burying herself in the muck and mud. She pulls into her shell and goes still: her heart rate slows, almost stopping. Her body temperature drops, staying just above freezing. She stops breathing, and she waits. For six months, she stays buried, and her body releases calcium from her bones into her bloodstream, so that she slowly begins even to lose her shape.

    But when the pond thaws, she will float up, and breathe again. Her bones will reform, and she will feel the warmth…

    Slowing Down Time

    A lot has changed since the electric clock was invented in the 1840s. We now keep time on smart watches, smart phones and laptops. The entire pace of life seems faster—with even our “leisurely” walking speeding up. This is especially true in cities and can have a negative effect on health, scholars say. “We’re just moving faster and faster and getting back to people as quickly as we can,” Professor Richard Wiseman observed. “That’s driving us to think everything has to happen now.”

    Moses, the writer of one of the oldest of the Bible’s psalms, reflected on time. He reminds us…

    A Hundred Years from Now

    “I just want people to remember me a hundred years from now,” said screenwriter Rod Serling in 1975. Creator of the TV series The Twilight Zone, Serling wanted people to say of him, “He was a writer.” Most of us can identify with Serling’s desire to leave a legacy—something to give our lives a sense of meaning and permanence.

    The story of Job shows us a man struggling with meaning amid life’s impermanence. In a moment, not just his possessions but those most precious to him, his children, were taken. Then his friends accused him of deserving this fate. Job cried out:…

    Good for You

    People the world over spent an estimated $98.2 billion on chocolate in 2016. The number is staggering, yet at the same time not all that surprising. Chocolate, after all, tastes delicious and we enjoy consuming it. And the world rejoiced collectively when the sweet treat was found to have significant health benefits too. Chocolate contains flavonoids that help safeguard the body against aging and heart disease. Never has a prescription for health been so well received or heeded (in moderation, of course!).

    Solomon suggested there’s another “sweet” worthy of our investment: wisdom. He recommended his son eat honey “for it is…

    Prompted to Pray

    “Several years ago I was prompted to pray for you often, and I wonder why.”

    That text message from an old friend came with a photo of a note in her Bible: “Pray for James. Cover mind, thoughts, words.” Beside my name she recorded three separate years.

    I looked at the years and caught my breath. I wrote back and asked what month she began to pray. She responded, “Sometime around July.”

    That was the month I was preparing to leave home for extended study abroad. I would be facing an unfamiliar culture and language and have my faith challenged like never before.…

    Beautiful Fruit

    “Kids should be able to throw a seed anywhere they want [in the garden] and see what pops up,” suggests Rebecca Lemos-Otero, founder of City Blossoms. While this is not a model for careful gardening, it reflects the reality that each seed has the potential to burst forth with life. Since 2004 City Blossoms has created gardens for schools and neighborhoods in low-income areas. The kids are learning about nutrition and gaining job skills through gardening. Rebecca says, “Having a lively green space in an urban area . . . creates a way for kids to be outside doing something…

    A Christmas Visitor

    On Christmas Eve, 1944, a man known as “Old Brinker” lay dying in a prison hospital, waiting for the makeshift Christmas service led by fellow prisoners. “When does the music start?” he asked William McDougall, who was imprisoned with him in Muntok Prison in Sumatra. “Soon,” replied McDougall. “Good,” replied the dying man. “Then I’ll be able to compare them with the angels.” 

    Although decades earlier Brinker had moved away from his faith in God, in his dying days he confessed his sins and found peace with Him. Instead of greeting others with a sour look, he would smile, which “was…

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