A battle rages where I live—a rivalry between two universities. The rivalry manifests itself primarily in athletic competition. My alma mater proudly displays the letter “S” as its logo. The S stands for State, as in Michigan State University. The other school brandishes a distinctive “M,” which represents the University of Michigan.
In March 2007, I was standing in an Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp in northern Uganda gazing at hundreds of young refugees who were staring back at me. As I looked into their eyes, saw their malnourished frames, and witnessed their deplorable living conditions, the Holy Spirit filled me in a way I’d never experienced before. I sensed God was telling me, “I love these children. I love them!” And then, it was as if He extended this invitation: “Come love them with me.”
My son and I spent a few days with friends at their home in the beautiful northern region of New England in the US. Our visit followed my ninth consecutive year of fruitful but intense ministry in East Africa. Depleted and in need of recharging, I was grateful for the physical rest my friends’ hospitality provided.
The only thing Julius Kettle didn’t enjoy about returning home from boarding school on weekends was the countless rocks he had to gather. His father was gradually turning their family farm into a structure that looked much like a castle, built from the rocks of the land—rocks that Julius had to collect. Years later my folks bought the property, and when I now look at the castle-house, I can’t help but marvel at how skillfully it was crafted.
During my sister-in-law’s lengthy hospital stay, battling an advanced form of cancer, our family spent many hours in a “family room” just down the hall from her room. We befriended a family whose mother had been diagnosed with the same disease. When both women entered hospice within days of each other, the two families shared tears and hugs. As I talked with a daughter of the mother, she said their experience had been “brutiful”—both brutal and beautiful. Similar to my family’s experience, God’s love and light had consistently peeked through the darkness of their family’s grief and pain.
Imagine you’re a Jewish child, nourished from a young age by the words of the Torah. You can recite the Torah’s opening lines describing how, just before the dawn of God’s magnificent acts of creation, darkness covered the deep and the Spirit of God hovered over the waters (Genesis 1:2). Those mysterious words signaled that something stunning was about to happen. God was doing something new. You’d hear the story of that first day of creation, the inauguration of God’s creation week when He said, “Let there be light”—and light flooded the earth (John 20:3). Adam and Eve in the garden, beginning the great adventure of human life. What stunning possibilities, what hope! You would know well this story—the story of how God’s new world began to flourish.
You have to stick with that movie, even when it gets rough.” My friend pulled The Shawshank Redemption from the DVD player as he spoke. “The rough stuff is what makes the ending so hopeful.”
Many of our neighbors’ experiences have left them wondering how to reconcile what they know of the church with what they know of God. They’ve tasted harshness in place of conviction, rejection in lieu of love, and isolation instead of family. Sadly, refraining from any local church involvement has become a norm for them.
We introduced our sons to the TV series Lost in which marooned passengers from a crashed jetliner try to survive on a mysterious island. It didn’t take long for our boys to start to groan at the end of each episode, aware of how masterful the writers were at creating cliffhangers. There appears to be no ending, only a series of new beginnings.
“Mom, I have an idea for a painting.” A spiritual representation of the restorative work of God, the picture had formed in my son’s mind during a worship service and included Ezekiel’s vision of a valley of dry bones. Though this most recent design was out of the ordinary for both Micah and his painting instructor, she willingly coached him from the beginning sketch to the final brushstroke.
A friend of mine faced a difficult task. Steve discovered that a leader in his church was involved in some sinful activities. After seeking wise and confidential counsel, Steve met with the leader and nervously but firmly urged him to turn from his sin and change his ways. The leader left the meeting distraught. Later, his daughter called Steve in tears. “Dad has locked himself in his room,” she said, “and he says he’s never coming out.”
Agriculture is a vital sector in the South African economy. So when it was blighted by a harsh drought in 2015, it seemed that the entire nation mobilized in earnest prayer and drastic action. When ordinary people saw heartbreaking images of starving animals and desperate farmers on TV, they filled water bottles and drove hundreds of kilometers to deliver them to the thirsty. Farmers who had grain and hay bales stocked their trucks and shared with those in need. When calamity struck, the community sought God and rallied for much-needed relief.
According to the experts, I’m part of the demographic known as Generation X. Maybe you are too. Born between 1965 and 1980, we’ve been described as being cynical about life, fearful of commitment, and spiritually lost. Ouch!
On the fourth Thursday in November, US citizens celebrate Thanksgiving Day. History reveals that for the first few years after the English pilgrims made their home in the New World, they were beset by famine and cold—surviving only through the assistance of friendly Native Americans. And so when they were finally able to have a plentiful harvest in 1621, they celebrated Thanksgiving as a way of remembering both the blessings and the hardships they’d endured.