Thursday, January 28, 2016

Do You Remember Jabez?

About 15 years ago, it seemed everyone was talking about Jabez, a fellow mentioned only once in the entire Bible. Dr. Bruce Wilkinson had written a little book called The Prayer of Jabez, based on 1 Chronicles 4:9-10, which states:
“Jabez was more honorable than his brothers. His mother had named him Jabez, saying, ‘I gave birth to him in pain.’ Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, ‘Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.’ And God granted his request.”

That’s it – two verses, just over 60 words, but for a time people throughout evangelical Christianity took to praying “the prayer of Jabez.” This obscure character isn’t cited elsewhere in the Scriptures. He’s not in Hebrews chapter 11’s “hall of faith.” Jesus never said anything about him. We don’t even know why he was considered “more honorable than his brothers.” But for quite a while, lots of people found Jabez fascinating.

My first encounter with Jabez (other than as a random name in the Bible) came in the early ‘80s, when I heard Wilkinson speak about him at a couple of conferences. Like folks years later, this little account of the guy with the odd name captured my attention. But for a different reason than many.

In 2000, when the book was published, many of the readers inserted American cultural values into this biblical anecdote. In reading Jabez’s request that God “would bless me and enlarge my territory,” they interpreted “blessing” in materialistic terms – money, luxury cars, nicer, bigger houses, stuff like that.

It’s true the Lord can – and frequently does – provide tangible blessings for His children. That might even mean a much-desired job, necessary funds to get out of debt, or resources for some special purpose. But when I heard Wilkinson speak and later read his book, I never understood Jabez’s prayer and God’s response in that way.

Having been a follower of Jesus for only a few years when I first heard about Jabez, I had great appreciation for people who had invested in my spiritual growth. I had a desire to “pay it forward,” giving some of my time and energy to help other new believers grow as well. So when Wilkinson talked about “enlarging our territory” or “expanding our borders” as another translation puts it, that meant having an impact on people and the world around me, one that could reach into eternity.

So when I prayed for God to enlarge my territory, I wasn’t thinking in terms of a bank account or things in a store or showroom. I asked Him to bring just one man into my life that I could start to disciple, in keeping with Jesus’ Great Commission to “go and make disciples…” (Matthew 28:19). I thought it would be wonderful to have a positive influence for the Lord even in one life.

God answered my prayer. In fact, within six months He had introduced me to two different men, with whom I met individually every week for more than two years. I remain in regular contact with one of them, more than 30 years later.

But when I asked God to enlarge my territory, in effect He said, “I can do better than that.” He also took my goal of one day writing a book and multiplied it. I’ve since had the privilege of writing, editing and co-authoring more than 20 books. A weekly workplace meditation I started writing and editing in 1998, “Monday Manna,” today is being translated – through no doing of mine – into more than 20 languages and is distributed via email around the world, reaching countless thousands of readers.

This blog, which I began in 2008, is re-published on an online newspaper, and a couple of months ago I received an email from someone in the Middle East who had been reading it, telling me how much he appreciated my spiritual perspectives. When God promises “to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20), He’s not kidding.

I’m not writing this to pat myself on the back. Far from it. Much of the above resulted simply from God opening doors and my having enough sense to step through them. I offer this only as an example of how God can answer a simple prayer to bless us and “enlarge our territory.” The one condition: That our motivation be to honor Him and give Him glory, using whatever He has entrusted to us and taking advantage of opportunities He provides.

So I admit to being fond of Jabez. Who knows why, in the midst of a long list of Israelite lineage, God chose to single out this guy and expound on him briefly? Maybe, as Wilkinson suggested in his book, it’s because the Lord wants us to know we have His permission to pray for personal blessings – as long as our hearts are in the right place. How might God be willing to enlarge your territory – if you’d just ask Him to do so?

Monday, January 25, 2016

The Weight of ‘What If?’

As we journey through life, many difficult questions confront us. Few are more perplexing than the universal interrogative, “What if?”

You know: “What if I had done this, instead of doing that?” or, “What if I made that decision, instead of this one?” For many people, the echoes of “what if” plague them throughout their adult lives. They wonder what might have been if they had gone to a different college, if they had taken a different job, or if they had married someone else.  

Sometimes it’s a singular act: “What if I had turned left instead of right – or if I had just kept going straight?” “What if I hadn’t canceled that appointment?” “What if I had been better prepared for that interview?” “What if I had made that investment, or taken that risk I chose to avoid?”

The problem with what-if ponderings is there’s nothing we can do about them. They exist in the increasingly distant past, and no amount of wishing or remorse can restore them to the present. H.G. Wells’s fanciful time machine has yet to be invented, and even if we could send ourselves back to fateful moments in our personal histories, there’s no certainty we could change anything anyway. And if we could, what might be the impact on the “space-time continuum,” as fretted the characters in the film, “Back to the Future”?

In reality, even if  (sometimes it’s hard to escape that “what if” phrase) we could alter decisions or actions in the past, there’s no guarantee that the outcomes would have been better than what we’ve experienced.

For instance, I spent my first year of college in Houston, Texas, then transferred to the Ohio State University, where I majored in journalism. What if I hadn’t transferred? Or if I’d transferred, but not to Ohio State? I would have had a different set of friends and professors. My career path probably would have been different, perhaps dramatically so. I wouldn’t have become the ardent Buckeye fan that I am. And I wouldn’t have met my wife in a Columbus, Ohio suburb, gotten married and been blessed with the children and grandchildren we’ve had.

Sure, there are things along the way I’d like to change. More than a few, actually. But even my failures, blunders, and foolish decisions have turned into experiences from which I’ve profited and grown. We often think, “If I only knew then what I know now,” but usually we know things now because of mistakes we had to learn from then.

If there was anyone who wished he could change the past, it was the apostle Paul. A one-time zealous persecutor of those who followed Jesus Christ, he literally saw the light on the road to Damascus and became an irrepressible Christ follower himself. He sometimes reflected on his past life, but ultimately concluded, “…But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12-14).

The apostle wasn’t ignoring or excusing his previous actions and attitudes, but recognized the futility of dwelling on the unchangeable past. Instead, he chose to focus on the present and the future, intent on not adding to his collection of regrets.

We also have the assurance of knowing that when we act unwisely, God already has dealt with the “what if” questions and ordained an acceptable resolution. “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’” (Jeremiah 29:11).

We needn’t worry about foiling the Master Planner’s sovereign plans. He’s already studied our lives, from beginning to end, and made contingencies for every “what if” along the way. “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Psalm 139:16).

So fear not. “Oh, no!” isn’t part of God’s vocabulary. As the song says, “When you don’t understand, when you can’t see His plan, when you can’t trace His hand, trust His heart.”

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Deciding Which Road to Take

Over the years I’ve enjoyed the writings of the late poet Robert Frost. Perhaps my favorite is his poem, “The Road Not Taken,” partly because it’s so profound in its simplicity.

Even though it consists of only 20 lines, I’ll not quote it in entirety, but here are the key verses:
The most-traveled path is not
always the best to follow.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair….
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

That last thought, “I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference,” echoes as a reminder that taking the most popular, well-traveled path may seem convenient but it’s not always the best.

This poem brings to mind another quote I came across some time back: “It’s better to walk alone than with a crowd going in the wrong direction.”

We used to hear a lot about the pitfalls of peer pressure, how striving to please those around us and following their lead could result in serious consequences. That hasn’t changed. It’s probably been the case since the beginning of time. Shepherds understand that sheep are prone to follow each other, even into calamity, and the prophet Isaiah observed thousands of years ago, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray…” (Isaiah 53:6). In many ways we are indeed like sheep, following the crowd, sometimes without a clue about where we’re heading.

At one time the Judeo-Christian ethic was largely embraced in our society – not only in our churches, but also schools, houses of government, and even places of business. That’s where our notions of loving our neighbors as ourselves, doing to others as we would have them do to us, and being kind to strangers came from. Today, however, society as a whole seems intent on drifting away from principles that undergirded our everyday lives – and excluding God from the entire equation.

Increasingly, those of us who believe we stand accountable before a holy, all-knowing, almighty God find ourselves having to take this “road less traveled by.” Does that mean we’re in the wrong, that mankind has suddenly gotten so smart God is no longer necessary? Have we become so “enlightened”?

I doubt it. Highly intelligent people throughout the centuries have honored and worshipped God and viewed their lives and work as ways of serving Him and others. In our culture we tend to equate “blessings” with prosperity, but ironically we’ve been so blessed in that way many people no longer feel a need for God. That’s doesn’t mean He’s no longer there – or that His ways are no longer right.

Jesus often spoke about this, noting that even the religious leaders were more concerned about what other people thought of them than how they were viewed by God. Peer pressure, and the adoration of men, served as their motivations. This is why the Lord admonished His followers, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).

Long before Robert Frost wrote his celebrated poem, Jesus spoke about a spiritual road less traveled. “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).

This doesn’t mean becoming regulated by a system of rules and rituals, but rather recognizing that although the vast majority may be joining in following a popular path, they may in fact be heading in the wrong direction. As Proverbs 16:25 warns, There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.”

This is why Joshua, not long before he died, declared to the Israelites he had been leading, “chose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15). This is a choice we each must make – it can’t happen by default. If we don’t consciously make this decision, it’s very likely someone will make it for us. And in these times, when people choose the road they will take, it’s not the one that leads to God.

Monday, January 18, 2016

THINK Before You Speak

We’re all familiar with the admonition, “Look before you leap.” Makes sense – a leap of a few feet might be of little consequence, but leaping off a cliff or from a building several stories high wouldn’t be a good idea. So preceding our leaping with our looking seems quite wise.

We could say something similar about speaking, especially in these days of quick, immediate communication – texting, email, voicemail, social media. A proper admonition would be, “Think before you speak.”

Recently I came across an acronym that encourages us to do just that. This acronym, THINK, stands for:
            T – is it true?
            H – is it helpful?
            I – is it inspiring?
            N – is it necessary?
            K – is it kind?

Unfortunately, much of our communication these days is anything but these. We don’t seek to check the veracity of statements we hear and read. If we agree with them, if they reinforce our biases and prejudices, they must be true, right? Why bother trying to be helpful when we can belittle and degrade? Rather than inspiring, we too often opt for discouraging and criticizing. Much of what we communicate, whether in person or via impersonal methods, isn’t necessary at all. And sadly, kindness is sometimes our last consideration when we’re intent on giving someone a piece of our mind.

Not to dwell on politics, but since this is a Presidential election year, I think it would be extremely refreshing – surprising, or even shocking – if the candidates would choose to focus on their own strengths and views and policies rather than exerting so much energy in trying to discredit and diminish their opponents. Don’t bet on it.

But we don’t have to be running for public office to find value in a commitment to THINK before we say something.

Perhaps the strongest biblical admonition along these lines is found in Ephesians 4:29, which tells us, Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

The Scriptures don’t stop there. Repeatedly passages in the Bible urge that if we don’t have something good to say, it’s better to zip the lip. For instance, Ecclesiastes 10:12 states, “Words from the mouth of the wise are gracious, but fools are consumed by their own lips.” Remind you of anyone you know, or someone you’ve seen on the news?

Proverbs 13:3 offers these words of caution: “He who guards his lips guards his life, but he who speaks rashly will come to ruin.” The Bible’s book of wisdom also states, “A man who lacks judgment derides his neighbor, but a man of understanding holds his tongue” (Proverbs 11:12).

Even Jesus taught sternly against waging a war of words. Speaking to religious leaders of the day, He said, “You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks…. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:34-37).

And as followers of Christ, we should be striving to emulate Jesus’ example of saying only what is fitting for the moment. As the apostle Paul wrote, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Colossians 4:6).

Then there’s one more admonition I’m often reminded of when tempted to speak impulsively what’s on my mind: “Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue” (Proverbs 17:28).

So once again, since we’re still early in the new year, it wouldn’t hurt if we each resolved to THINK before we speak or write.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Where Are We Shining the Light?

One of the things I love about Christmas Eve services is the traditional lighting of the candles in the dimmed sanctuary. As candle after candle is lit, darkness is dispelled and the vast room glows with the flickering flames.

A troubling thought occurred to me, however, at the end of our last Christmas Eve service. Perhaps it was an epiphany. Once the last notes of “Silent Night” had been sung, the pastor dismissed us with the cautionary words: “Please extinguish your candles before you leave.”

Practically speaking, this admonition made perfect sense. We didn’t want to accidentally drip hot wax on the carpet, or on someone else leaving the building. Much worse, we didn’t want to drop our candles and cause a fire, or perhaps have a flame touch someone’s flowing hair. Just the thought of such things causes an involuntary shudder.

But I couldn’t help but wonder: At the end of every other worship service throughout the year, are we doing something similar? Are those of us who profess faith in Jesus Christ “extinguishing our candles” before we leave the sanctuary?

During a worship service it’s easy to feel all warm and fuzzy. We’re among like-minded people – or so it seems. We sing hymns and praise songs affirming our faith. We hear sermons reinforcing our beliefs. When we hear the lyrics, “Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place,” we heartily agree. Our “lights” burn brightly .

But what happens when we leave the sanctuary, return to our cars, and head to our homes or a restaurant to eat? Or the following day, when work and school and household responsibilities vie for our attention? Did we leave our lights in the building we commonly refer to as the “church”? What impact – if any – are we having on the dark influences in the world around us?

During his so-called “sermon on the mount,” Jesus challenged His followers, telling them, “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.” Then Jesus completed the metaphor: “In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).

Are we doing this? Or are we, as we’re instructed on Christmas Eve, extinguishing the flames on our “lights” as we leave each worship service and returning the world outside the stained glass, appearing and acting much like those who never think of darkening a church building’s doors?

This is a humbling, thought. Is the world around us – our workplaces, schools, communities, homes – any brighter because we’re there, serving as “the light of the world”?

The apostle Paul gave a reminder to believers in the church of Ephesus that applies to us as well: “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with fruitless deeds of darkness…everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is light that makes everything visible” (Ephesians 5:8-13).

This is a question we should ask ourselves: Are we living as children of light? Or are we, outside of the formal worship center, virtually indistinguishable from anyone else? Do we brighten a room when we walk into it, or do we serve only to add to the darkening gloom? And if we realize that we’re not being the light of the world God desires for us to be, what are we going to do about it?

It’s still early in the year, so maybe we should do a bit of soul-searching and try to find some honest answers to these questions. During this year, will we fit the description of Isaiah 58:8, “Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard”?

Monday, January 11, 2016

Anger Is Not Your Friend

Are you mad about something? Have feelings of anger been churning inside of you for some reason – or for no reason at all?

From time to time I write about anger, mainly because it’s something we all can relate to based on experience. Anger might be a problem we wrestle with personally. It might be an issue we’ve had to confront in relationships. It might be something we’ve regretfully encountered in the workplace, at school, or even at church. It might be prompted by what we see happening in society. Maybe all of the above.

We live in an increasingly angry world. Disagreements over politics, ideologies, beliefs, even sports teams can propel us into fits of anger. The escalation of gun violence in some ways might be a reflection of the anger that pervades our society. As can be any form of physical, emotional or psychological abuse.

Politicians indulge in angry tirades, and find it garners lots of media attention. Their ardent followers applaud – often snarling with anger of their own. Most popular TV shows and hit movies feature one or more characters that display anger as their constant, controlling companion.

I’ve wrestled with anger myself. At times it still gets the best of me, but be assured, you should have seen me before I met Jesus Christ. I once used anger as a mental 2-by-4 and was more than willing to bludgeon anyone who dared cross me. Now I realize that while anger can tempt me, I don’t have to yield to it.

At times I’ve been the target of anger in the workplace, as well as others I have worked with. Overbearing, self-centered bosses determined there was only one way – and it happened to be their way – were quick to verbally assault those who disagreed. How else would people know who’s the boss, right?

Sadly, we’re all acquainted with anger in many of its unexpected, sometimes volcanic forms. But one thing is certain: It’s not our friend, nor our ally. I was reminded of this while reading a Bible passage that said, “A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control” (Proverbs 29:11).

Years ago I was working on the editorial desk of a suburban newspaper. One of the editors was known for his outbursts of anger. One morning while reading an article a reporter had written, for whatever cause, the editor took a ruler he was holding – the wooden kind with a hard metal edge imbedded in it – and flung it across the room. Staring in amazement at the ruler’s flight, I saw it whiz past one of the reporters, narrowly missing her ear.

Wow! I have no idea what in the article made the editor so irate, but it’s unlikely flinging a ruler and threatening the well-being of everyone in its path would have improved the content.

Another passage I’ve often reflected on states, “A fool shows his annoyance at once, but a prudent man overlooks an insult” (Proverbs 12:16). These days when we’re offended, society says we’re to let the offending party know about it immediately. “You hurt my feelings!” “You’re intolerant!” “You’re judgmental!” “You’re a jerk!” But this proverb declares that foolishness prompts us to be quick in communicating annoyance.

Patience and anger are uneasy bedfellows at best. Because to be patient means being capable of restraining emotions, including an angry response, whether it be verbal, physical or both. “A patient man has great understanding, but a quick-tempered man displays folly” (Proverbs 14:29). Again, the Bible asserts that it’s foolish to display uncontrolled anger.

Then there’s my all-time favorite, one I’ve had to revisit – and apply – more times than I could ever remember: “When there are many words, transgression is not avoidable, but he who restrains his lips is wise” (Proverbs 10:19). Often in the heat of anger we’re tempted to blurt out whatever we’re thinking and feeling. Minutes or even moments later we realize how unwise our spontaneous statements were. Unfortunately, by that time the damage has been done. While we might be feeling good for having gotten something off our chest, the targets of our wrath remain reeling, with aftershocks still being felt long afterward.

So the trick is simple, although we might agree it’s easier said than done: “’In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry” (Ephesians 4:26). In other words, give yourself a chance to simmer down, and don’t lash out impulsively when damage control is impossible. Then find a time to talk through differences calmly and reasonably. In a word, whenever necessary, WAIT. I’ll have to make a note of that myself!

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Snow - Friend or Foe?

Snow is sometimes the beauty, but at other times it can be the beast.
It seems we have a love-hate relationship with snow. Many of us were disappointed when we failed to experience the much-heralded “white Christmas” a couple of weeks ago. Almost without fail, we rush to our windows and marvel as the first snowflakes of the season cascade to the ground in all of their feathery whiteness. But then, when we have to drive through an accumulation of snow, or have to drag out the snow shovels to clear our sidewalks and driveways, or after it has hung around for weeks and weeks, turning gray and black on the roadways, our fascination with snow quickly fades.

When highways are clear and dry, it’s a delight to drive along, gazing at the sun glistening in the frozen crystals. But during a snowstorm, when traction is treacherous and our tires want to guide our vehicles in directions we wish not to take, anger and expletives (expressed or not) compete with our sense of wonderment. Snow – love it and hate it.

Recently I was reminded that snow has more uses than just for snowballs, snowmen and snow angels. It also serves as an excellent metaphor for what God desires to do in each of our hearts.

In the Bible, sin is associated with darkness, blackness. It is described as the dirtiest of dirt, the foulest of impurities. This is why, just as blood serves as a purifying agent within the human body, we’re told in the Bible, “the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). This analogy is extended to snow in its purest, freshest form: “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18).

Envision a front yard, with large patches devoid of grass. During a rain, the exposed dirt turns to mud, hardly a gardener’s vision of beauty. Yet that same yard, after a new snow, sparkles and shines in the sunlight, with none of the grassless soil underneath anywhere in sight.

In Psalm 51, one of King David’s most beloved psalms of repentance and confession, he offers a similar comparison: “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow…. Hide you face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity” (Psalm 51:7).

I don’t know about you, but whenever I think about God in His holiness, righteousness and purity, it seems beyond the realm of possibility to imagine standing before Him one day with all of my flaws, warts, failed good intentions – and sins. And yet we’re promised, “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure” (1 John 3:2-3). Sounds like mission impossible, doesn’t it?

We can’t purify ourselves. There’s no question about that. But through the atoning sacrifice of Christ, His blood shed for us, He provides the necessary and perfect cleansing, making us white as snow – even whiter than snow.

So the next time you see snowflakes blanketing the ground, turning your ordinary-looking yard or street into a proverbial winter wonderland, remember how God is desiring to do that for you – from the inside out. 

Monday, January 4, 2016

You Can’t Take It With You – and That’s Good

Perhaps you’ve heard the story of the guy who specified in his will that he be buried in his luxury convertible, with a cigar stuck in his mouth, and a wad of cash in his hand. After the mourners departed, one of the cemetery caretakers responsible for closing the grave looked down and commented, “Man, that’s livin’!”

When we each depart from this life,
we won't be needing a moving van.
Obviously, it’s really not. When we take our final breath, whatever we’ve got, we can’t take it with us. After all, when was the last time you saw a U-Haul truck following a hearse? But that’s not a bad thing. Even the best stuff deteriorates over time, crumbling or breaking or wearing out, and if the next life is all Jesus promised it will be, we won’t be needing any of the temporal world’s material trappings anyway.

Recently I gained a fresh perspective on this. The daughter of our longtime friends passed away, and at her memorial service several people shared warm memories about how special she was. Nancy was a special person in many ways.

She was born with profound birth defects, both physical and mental, keeping her from what we commonly refer to as a “normal” life. Nancy required special shoes, and her learning capacity was limited – but in some ways, it was exceptional. She had a phenomenal memory for certain things, like names and numbers. Once she met you, Nancy never forgot you – and her first impressions were lasting ones. Her candor also was unusual. She’d be quick to tell you what she was thinking, like it or not, but without guile or malice.

Despite her disabilities, Nancy never complained, even when the cancer that claimed her life had confined her to a wheelchair and made an oxygen tank a constant companion. She had one other exceptional quality – a firm, unswerving faith in Jesus Christ. Her cognitive limitations were no hindrance to her believing in the God of eternity, who came in the flesh to offer humankind life everlasting. And the care and compassion of the hospice workers underscored that reality.

But getting back to “you can’t take it with you”: As one of the speakers observed while recounting his memories of Nancy, when she passed away and went to be with her Savior and Lord, she left behind her wheelchair, her oxygen tank – and the special shoes she’d worn for so many years. And as she passed from this life to the next, she left behind a broken body, exchanging it for a new, eternal one without scars, pain, or limits.

Of course she also left behind her loving parents, who held the bittersweet knowledge that their precious daughter was finally experiencing life abundant and unending, just as Jesus promised.

There was one other important thing Nancy left behind – a wonderful legacy in which she had taught the many people who had the privilege of knowing her that a meaningful, joyful life doesn’t consist of outward appearances, but rather of inner beauty that human frailties can’t diminish.

Perhaps that’s one of the things Jesus had in mind when He told His followers, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).

When Nancy passed from this life, she didn’t leave a lengthy resume of career accomplishments, a hefty bank account, or a large collection of costly baubles. But she did leave an indelible image of a person who loved God, loved her family and friends, and understood what really mattered in this earthly life.

She practiced what some sage stated long ago: “You can’t take it with you, but you can send it on ahead.” The things that, as Jesus said, aren’t subject to moths and rust, and can’t be stolen. If only we all were as wise as Nancy.