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    Pruned to Thrive

    As I watched a bumblebee land lightly on the Russian sage, I marveled at its lush branches. The bush exploded with color, its brilliant blue blossoms attracting eyes and bees alike.       

    Yet only last fall, I’d wondered if it would ever blossom again. When my wife’s parents trimmed the periwinkle plant down to a stub, I’d assumed they’d decided to get rid of it. But now I was witnessing the radiant result of pruning that had seemed brutal to me. 

    The surprising beauty that results from harsh cuts may be one of the reasons Jesus chose pruning imagery to describe…

    Breaking the Cycle

    David’s first beating came at the hands of his father on his seventh birthday, after he accidentally broke a window. “He kicked me and punched me,” David said. “Afterward, he apologized. He was an abusive alcoholic, and it’s a cycle I’m doing my best to end now.” 

    But it took a long time for David to get to this point. Most of his teen years and twenties were spent in jail or on probation, and in and out of addiction treatment centers. When it felt like his dreams were entirely dashed, he found hope in a Christ-centered treatment center through a relationship…

    Curling Up with the Good Book

    The small country of Iceland is a nation of readers. In fact, it’s reported that each year it publishes and reads more books per person than any other country. On Christmas Eve, it’s a tradition for Icelanders to give books to family and friends and then read long into the night. This tradition dates back to World War II, when imports were restricted but paper was cheap. Icelandic publishers began flooding the market with new titles in late fall. Now a catalog of the country’s new releases is sent to every Icelandic home in mid-November. This tradition is known as…

    What’s Wrong with the World?

    There is an oft-heard story that The London Times posed a question to readers at the turn of the twentieth century.

    What’s wrong with the world?

    That’s quite the question, isn’t it? Someone might quickly respond, “Well, how much time do you have for me to tell you?” And that would be fair, as there seems to be so much that’s wrong with our world. As the story goes, The Times received a number of responses, but one in particular has endured in its brief brilliance. The English writer, poet, and philosopher G.K. Chesterton penned this four-word response, a refreshing surprise to the usual…

    Slow, but Sure

    I ran into an old friend who told me what he’d been up to, but I confess it seemed too good to be true. Within a few months of that conversation, however, his band was everywhere—from charting top singles on the radio to having a hit song pulsing under TV ads. His rise to fame was meteoric.

    We can be obsessed with significance and success—the big and the dramatic, the quick and the meteoric. But the parables of the mustard seed and yeast compare the way of the Kingdom (God’s reign on earth) to small, hidden, and seemingly insignificant things…

    Begin with the End

    “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I was often asked that question as a child. And the answers changed like the wind. A doctor. A firefighter. A missionary. A worship leader. A physicist—or actually, MacGyver!  (a favorite TV character.) .Now, as a dad of four kids, I think of how difficult that question must be for them. There are times when I want to say, “I know what you’ll be great at!” Parents can sometimes see more in their children than the children can see in themselves.

    This resonates with what Paul saw in the Philippian believers—those…

    His Death Brings Life

    During her ministry to men incarcerated in South Africa’s most violent prison, Joanna Flanders-Thomas witnessed the power of Christ to transform hearts. In Vanishing Grace, Philip Yancey describes her experience: “Joanna started visiting prisoners daily, bringing them a simple gospel message of forgiveness and reconciliation. She earned their trust, got them to talk about their abusive childhoods, and showed them a better way of resolving conflicts. The year before her visits began, the prison recorded 279 acts of violence against inmates and guards; the next year there were two.”

    The apostle Paul wrote, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a…

    How to Rebuild

    It was nighttime when the leader set out by horseback to inspect the work that lay ahead. As he toured the destruction all around him, he saw city walls that had been destroyed and gates that had been burned. In some areas, the vast debris made it tough for his horse to get through. Saddened, the rider turned toward home.

    When it came time to report the damage to the officials of the city, he began by saying, “You see the trouble we are in” (Nehemiah 2:17). He reported that the city was in ruins, and the protecting city wall had…

    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…

    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…

    The Approval of One

    When the legendary composer Guiseppi Verdi (1813–1901) was young, a hunger for approval drove him toward success. Warren Wiersbe wrote of him, “When Verdi produced his first opera in Florence, the composer stood by himself in the shadows and kept his eye on the face of one man in the audience—the great Rossini. It mattered not to Verdi whether the people in the hall were cheering him or jeering him; all he wanted was a smile of approval from the master musician.”

    Whose approval do we seek? A parent? A boss? A love interest? For Paul, there was but one answer.…

    Better Than Ever

    The Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris is a spectacular building. Its architecture is spellbinding, and its stained-glass windows and splendid interior features are breathtaking. But after centuries of standing sentry over the Paris landscape, it is falling apart. Time and pollution have taken their toll, and it is time for this glorious structure to be repaired.

    So the people who love this eight-century-old landmark are coming to its rescue. In a recent year, the French government set aside more than six million dollars to help restore the church. Its supporting flying buttresses must be shored up. Many of its exterior stonework…

    Life Changes

    Stephen grew up in a rough part of East London and fell into crime by the age of ten. He said, “If everyone’s selling drugs and doing robberies and fraud, then you’re going to get involved. It’s just a way of life.” But when he was twenty, he had a dream that changed him: “I heard God saying, Stephen, you’re going to prison for murder.” This vivid dream served as a warning, and he turned to God and received Jesus as his Savior—and the Holy Spirit transformed his life.

    Stephen set up an organization that teaches inner-city kids discipline, morality, and…

    Who We Are

    I’ll never forget the time I took my future wife to meet my family. With a twinkle in their eyes, my two elder siblings asked her, “What exactly do you see in this guy?” She smiled and assured them that by God’s grace I had grown to be the man she loved.

    I loved that clever reply because it also reflects how, in Christ, the Lord sees more than our past. In Acts 9, He directed Ananias to heal Saul, a known persecutor of the church whom God had blinded. Ananias was incredulous at receiving this mission, stating that Saul had…

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