“Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages. Bitter cold. Long months of complete darkness. Constant danger. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success.” – December 1901
So it is said the advertisement placed in the Times of London read in promotion of Ernest Shackleton’s expedition to the Antarctic at the turn of the 20th century. Numerous men showed up to join him spurred by the promise of risk and the faint possibility of success. On the third expedition, his ship The Endurance was trapped by the sea ice. For 22 months the crew found themselves braving the elements and clinging to meager hopes. This is where the love of honor took them; it carried them to an unexplored land. The chances of survival were small, but their lives were not “small.” They lived “big.” All the men survived.
The ancient Japanese art of kintsugi (“golden joinery”) is the process of repairing pottery using powdered gold or silver mixed with lacquer to glue the broken pieces back together. A cheap, common bowl becomes a masterpiece when mended with gleaming ribbons of precious metal. As you admire such a piece, you are reminded that the beauty comes at a price: being shattered.
In the area where I grew up, there is a isolated back road that serves as an alternate, straight-line route connecting two counties. I would take this road daily when I was a day commuter at one of the local colleges. At one point along this route, there is a series of rolling hills that climb over a high ridge. The road rises to the crest of the ridge before taking a steep plunge from the highest point called King Hill into a long stretch of bottomland.
The Westminster Clock Tower in London was built in the 1800’s, and has become an international, instantly-recognizable landmark. The tower is often referred to (mistakenly) as “Big Ben,” the name given to the bell within the tower. The faces of the clock stand 180 feet above ground, and each one is 23 feet across. Housed within the structure is a massive pendulum that regulates the clockwork mechanism and maintains the timing and consistency of the movement. This pendulum weighs in at over 660 pounds yet sitting on the top of this weight is a small collection of old English pennies. The small mass added by each penny might seem to be negligible amount, but for each penny removed or added, two-fifths of a second are gained or lost per day.
Two-fifths of a second. Not much, right? But, given 100 years at that rate, it would result in a difference of 4 hours. From two-fifths of a second to 4 hours is quite a span of time. The shift in time could occur all because you add or remove one penny.
The little moments often reverberate most loudly throughout history, and our smallest decisions are the seeds of larger outcomes. We find this truth stated emphatically by Jesus: “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much” (Luke 16:10). How we handle the little things reveals how we will handle the big things. What matters most is not the size of our responsibility but the depth of our integrity. This is especially true when our faithfulness is practiced in secret. The praise of the world for our stance, work or ministry matters none if our heart is unfaithful or divided before God.
A small truth rightly applied (or misapplied), a seemingly-minuscule act of obedience or the careful stewardship of those things that others see as trivial can will add up over time.
Mind your pennies.
We will recognize that we serve Christ when we serve others, even in the most seemingly insignificant moments. – Matthew 25:40b “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”
We will remember that we will give an account one day for every moment of our lives. – Ecclesiastes 12:14 For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.
We will serve God with passion, knowing that he is the ultimate one for whom we live. – Colossians 3:23-24 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.
As a child growing up on a farm, there were plenty of opportunities to fix fence, split wood and find lost cows. At times the cattle proved too adept at breaking through or jumping over the fences, so we lengthened posts and installed more levels of rails. One day as my father and I worked on the fence, he came alongside me and showed me what he needed me to do. He measured a section of fencepost, marked it with the point of a 40 penny nail and lifted the heavy end of a plank while pushing it up to the mark on the post.
“All I’m asking you to do is hold it to this mark,” he said. “After I level out the other end and nail it, I’ll come back down here and nail this end.” So I stood there, with my back to his work, staring out into the pasture, holding the plank.
We have been praying together for quite a few days now, so it is a good time for a spiritual checkup. Today’s approach is a little different than usual; we’ll get back to our devotion-based format tomorrow.
Early this morning, I asked myself a series of questions as I reflected on the prayers we have shared over the last month. Answering these questions did one of two things: either I saw changes in the area I thought about, gave God thanks and asked him to continue to work in that way, or I saw a struggle with the idea and asked God to work powerfully to lead me toward change. I invite you to ask yourself each question, read the verse(s) that follow and pray about God’s work in you in each area.
Do I have a deepening love for God’s Word? Psalm 119:103 How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Am I making time in my schedule for God? Mark 1:35 And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.
Have my prayers become routine and repetitive or are they dynamic and Spirit-led? Ephesians 6:18 Praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints…
Do I pray more about temporal needs than the things that build God’s eternal kingdom? Matthew 6:33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
Am I practicing an attitude of worship every day? Colossians 3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
Do I see that my endurance, character and hope have been strengthened over the last 30 days? Romans 5:3-4 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.
Have I become more thankful? Am I thanking God in all circumstances? 1 Thessalonians 5:18 Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
Are my concerns centered on the things I am “missing out on” during this season or am I focused on what God desires to do in me during this season? Philippians 1:6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
Am I resting in God’s care and provision? Psalm 16:1-2 Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge. I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.”
Is my primary motivation fear or faith? John 14:27 “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”
Do I “stockpile” my worries and concerns or do I turn them over to God immediately? Matthew 6:34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
Is there a deeper awareness of God’s holiness and a stronger hatred of my personal sin? Romans 12:9 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.
Do I pray for God to bring spiritual revival to my life, my family, our church and our nation? Psalm 85:6 Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?
Have I been praying for our local, state and national leaders during this time of crisis? 1Timothy 2:1-3 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior…
Is there anything that stands in the way of me hearing God clearly, following Christ fully and being led by the Holy Spirit? Psalm 139:23-24 Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!
Am I willing to say “yes” to everything Christ wants for me, no matter the cost? Romans 12:1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
The women who arrived at the tomb of Jesus early that Sunday found it empty.
Well, almost empty.
Two angels were waiting for them. Preceding the announcement of the Resurrection of Christ, they asked the women the question, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” (Luke 24:5).
The question is not just a question for Easter, but it is one to be asked every time we run to anything less than eternal to bring lasting meaning. Too often, the “dead” things of the world are the focus of our pursuits instead of the “living” things offered to us by God.
Blind Willie Johnson seemed to know early on that his future lay at the crossroads of two vocations. He built a cigar box guitar for himself when he was only five and told his father that proclaiming the things of God to the masses was his desire. He grew to become a preacher, and yes, a bluesman too. The story goes that, when he was seven, his father beat Willie’s unfaithful stepmother; she took bitter revenge by throwing lye in the young boy’s face, permanently blinding him. Throughout the rest of his life, locked in a darkness fashioned by the fury of others, Willie sang songs of God, redemption and a much better future.
All human history and the balance of the entire universe shifted some two thousand years ago through one cruel and common act on the outskirts of a dusty town in a corner of the Roman Empire.
This was a common practice. In 40 BC, two thousand people were executed by the cross in one day. Some historians estimate, in AD 70 alone, two hundred people were killed each day throughout the year by crucifixion. On the surface, one more day of executions did not stand out as anything particularly special.
When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. – Luke 9:51.
Through times of difficulty, the pursuit of our purpose gives us both the direction and the endurance to continue moving forward. This truth is seen clearly in the movement of Jesus toward his death in Jerusalem. His crucifixion, ordained from eternity past, did not come about as a contingency plan, for God never has an emergency. The death of Christ was agreed upon before creation, long before guilty humanity and a sinful world limped along in a universe gone wrong. Jesus was born for this; the cradle pointed to the cross, and the cross pointed to the tomb.
His name was John Romulus Brinkley, but he called himself “Doctor.” Attending a school that taught non-traditional medicine and receiving a certificate valid in only eight states gave him the supposed right to confer such a title upon himself to lend reputability to his “practice.” In 1923, he began selling his cure-alls via a radio show broadcast beamed from a 1000-watt tower in Milford, Kansas.
COVID-19 has changed our lives; we must be honest about that fact. Even after this season passes and we return to somewhat-familiar schedules and routines, the way we navigate crisis situations as well as the details of our everyday lives will be different in the future. There will not be a complete return to “the way things were before.” Systems, structures, policies, mindsets and people themselves are changing and will continue to do so. If there is a common theme running through conversations, news reports and the hearts of people the world over, it is uncertainty.
“How long will this last?” “What does the rest of the summer and the remainder of 2020 look like?” “Should I cancel my plans now or wait to see what happens?” “What will we look like as a nation when this is over?”
These and countless other questions recirculate daily, and as of now, no solid answers emerge. Though some people may be weathering this season with a high degree of adaptation, for many others, the unknowns are proving to be major challenges. So what do we do when we face this degree of nearly-crushing uncertainty? If we turn to the pages of the Old Testament, we find a single statement that swings our compass needle to true north when the normal landmarks are lost in the fog.
King Jehoshaphat had a problem. Actually, the entire nation of Judah had a problem: their enemies were closing in. The people of Moab and Ammon, long-time adversaries of the people of God, had crept around the southern end of the Dead Sea and had made their way northward to the oasis of Engedi. Because this region lies alongside a rolling mountain range, enemies could move stealthily using the cover offered by the landscape along the western shore of the Dead Sea and be upon the people of Judah without advance warning.
When word of the eminent attack reaches Jehoshaphat, his first response might be the last resort for many people: he prays. He gathers the people together and leads them in a prayer. He calls upon God, and remembers the Lord’s sovereign control, his goodness and his promises (2 Chronicles 20:5-11).
At the end of his prayer, he speaks these words to God: “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you” (v. 12). To give you a spoiler alert, God does answer the prayer and deals decisively with the gathered enemies. But let’s not skip ahead to the closure and miss the lesson. Jehoshaphat acknowledges the brutal reality of the situation (“We do not know what to do…”) and pairs it with a biblical response (“…But our eyes are upon you”). This should be our response as well. We must address the reality of the difficulty and uncertainty before us, but follow that admission with the unwavering focus upon God’s sovereignty, goodness and promises.
In other words: your vision must be greater than your struggle.
It’s also important to note why Jehoshaphat could respond in the way he did when facing enemies bent on his destruction. The king immediately and boldly turned to God in the struggle because he sought to live for God daily. Earlier in the book of 2 Chronicles, we find that God was with Jehoshaphat because of his obedience (17:3-4), and “he was courageous in the ways of the Lord” (17:6). Walking by faith in difficulty was not a new idea for him because walking by faith was his everyday practice.
The things you depend on in comfort are the things you default to in crisis. In this season, are the things you have depended upon in the past for peace, hope and guidance starting to show their limits? Or are you finding that the practice of daily faith is revealing Christ to be more than enough in the midst of all uncertainty?
In every situation, prayer will be our first response and not our last resort. – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
God would reveal to us anything that we are placing as a priority before seeking him. – Matthew 6:33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
In every uncertainty, we will cling to the unchanging nature of God. – Hebrews 13:8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
I once portrayed Jesus in a Christmas production. I grew my hair out for nearly a year, added extensions and slathered on a fake tan. By the time of the December rehearsals, the look was complete. The show dramatized the teachings and miracles of Jesus as well as his death and resurrection. Onstage, everything was smooth and flowing; backstage was a flurry of activity from propmasters, stage crews, lighting and sound technicians, and a host of makeup and wardrobe volunteers. Near the end of the production, there was one scene requiring a specialized technical team.
I was in fifth grade when I first got glasses. Sitting in the optometrist’s chair with the phoropter (the big swing arm device with all the lenses and focus wheels on it) against my face the doctor would ask, “Which is better: one or two?” As he flipped through the lens options, I always felt like I was taking a test that I was going to fail.
“A butterfly comes from a chrysalis; a moth comes from a cocoon.” I remember that from Science class as a kid. But I have discovered the teachers didn’t tell us everything about this topic. A caterpillar encases itself in a chrysalis to become a butterfly, but to go from ground-dwelling to airborne takes some doing. Until recently, I thought it had to be a simple process. Caterpillar goes to sleep, wings sprout, chrysalis pops open, butterfly stretches for a while, then one flap, two, and it takes to the breeze. That’s what I was taught.
The Instagram account of one of my friends revealed the downward spiral. She and her husband have been at home with their children for the last three weeks. At first, she was posting creative activities that she had given her children. Smiles abounded. Shots of the kids playing on the lawn came often. Family bonds were strengthened.
At the time, it was the highest and fastest roller coaster in the Southeastern United States. Rising above the city like a giant, green silly straw, The Kumba reached 65 miles per hour in the initial drop and continued into a maze of track wrapped and woven through the trees and walkways in the amusement park. It was the first roller coaster I had ever ridden. I rode it once, went back through the line again, then again. On the third trip, like the previous two, I sat in the same car, but I sat in a seat that had been vacant on the other trips.
Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts, nor measure words, but to pour them all out just as they are, chaff and grain together knowing that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then, with the breath of kindness blow the rest away.
When was the last time that you talked to somebody else? Really talked? About the hard, rough, and bothersome parts of your life?
“An impossibility, with God, becomes a glorious impossibility.”-Larry Watson
I remember helping my father set a corner post for a fence once. My brother and I were just little kids, and the post was a section cut from a heavy electrical pole. To sink this post, the required hole was deep and wide. To make matters even more difficult, the section was lying on a flatbed trailer and needed to be moved to the hole and dropped in place.
I looked at the hole, then the giant-sized post, then at my brother and then at my own hands. “This is will not happen,” I thought. My father looked at the pole, then at the hole, then at us. Lowering himself into a crouch beside the trailer, he said, “Roll it off on my back.”
(Since we may be in this season for a longer period of time than 30 days, after praying it over, I’ll be posting a new prayer focus every day until most of us are back to the new normal. That is the reason that the “30 Days…” title has changed. Praying for you during this season. – DCG)
I read an article recently about a man who started on a seven-month, 7000-mile hike. He began along the Pacific Crest Trail (running from Mexico to Canada through California, Oregon and Washington State) before connecting with the Continental Divide Trail (running along the backbone of the Rockies from Canada to Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico to the Mexican border). The hiker explained how he prepared the supplies that he carried with him in order to reduce overall weight.