Spoken Word Messages

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We all experience change—at times refreshing, often challenging, and sometimes overwhelming. In time, we can look back and see God’s sustaining hand in our...

John the Baptist caused quite a stir with his preaching in the wilderness. Not only did he attract a large following of humble disciples, but he also drew the attention of powerful figures of the day.[i] Multitudes came to be baptized by him. Soldiers and tax collectors sought his guidance. Religious leaders demanded, “Who art thou?” (John 1:22). Not bad for someone who wore clothes of camel hair and lived on wild honey and locusts.[ii]

These beautiful gardens are more than a collection of vibrant plants and peaceful footpaths. What you see here in the heart of Manila, Philippines, is an emblem of peace. This is the Japanese Garden at Rizal Park, which was created to promote peace between the Philippines and Japan. These two countries were once at war. But more than five decades ago, the Japanese government made a donation, and officials from both countries worked together to make this garden a symbol of friendship and forgiveness. Today it is a beloved landmark here in Manila. It celebrates not just the beauty and wonder of nature but also the beauty and wonder of forgiveness, friendship, and peace.

Nearly everywhere you go in the Philippines, you see the name José Rizal. His image is found on coins and postage stamps, in living rooms and classrooms. His name lives on in countless city streets, monuments, and plazas, including this large urban park on the eastern shore of Manila Bay. It was in this part of the city in 1896 that José was executed at the age of 35 for his involvement in the Philippine Revolution. We are in the park that bears his name.

The oldest existing university in all of Asia was established more than 400 years ago here in Manila, Philippines. The University of Santo Tomas is named for the renowned Dominican priest Thomas Aquinas, a revered theologian and philosopher. This university is the largest Catholic university in the world in a single campus, and it stands as a beautiful monument to a long-standing devotion to education. 

So much of everything here in the Philippines seems to center around the family. You see tight-knit family relationships—not just among parents, children, and siblings, but across multiple generations. A grandparent, a nephew, a sister-in-law, a second cousin—they’re all simply family, and that means they love you, care for you, and, quite often, live nearby. It’s part of the Philippine culture of family love and strength, so it’s no wonder people in the Philippines are known to put family first.  

Here at the heart of the Mexican capital stands the Monumento a la Revolución, or the Monument to the Revolution. Among the most iconic symbols of Mexico, this landmark commemorates the Mexican Revolution of more than a century ago. Similar monuments are found all over the world. Very often, they are visual reminders of the quest for freedom.  

The world is a fascinating place filled with fascinating people. Every time we visit a new place or meet a new person, the world opens a bit wider for us. Every new perspective, every new insight from a new friend has the potential to enrich our lives and unify the human family just a little more.

The oldest church building in Mexico, commonly known as La Iglesia de la Conchita, was built nearly 500 years ago in 1525 in what is today the Coyoacán neighborhood of Mexico City. This important building is part of Mexico’s cultural and artistic heritage. But it’s more than a historic landmark. Houses of faith like this one stand as a reminder of our basic human desire to connect with God.

In our modern world, it’s so easy to indulge in pleasure. Our great-grandparents had to spend most waking moments with countless backbreaking chores just to survive, but today many of those tasks don’t burden us anymore. We are more free than ever before to seek entertainment, to do what we want to do, go where we want to go, and eat what we want to eat, all without a lot of effort.

“Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two [brothers], … Peter, and Andrew … , casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers.

After the death of Jesus Christ, one of His disciples, a man named Joseph of Arimathea, asked for permission to take the body of Jesus. With help from other disciples, Joseph tenderly, lovingly wrapped the Savior’s body in a clean linen cloth, laid the Lord in a tomb, and rolled a great stone in front of the opening. 

Have you ever had a feeling that you needed to do some act of goodness? Maybe a name came to your mind along with the thought, “She needs a friend; you should reach out.” Or maybe a decision had been weighing on you, when you received a sudden spark of clarity and somehow you knew—beyond your own reasoning—what you should do. You may have felt a nudge to apologize to someone. Or perhaps a message came to your heart that helped you see someone with more patience and compassion.

This unique and wonderful land of the Philippines is a crossroads of world cultures and races, a unique mix of East and West. Comprising over 7,000 islands in the western Pacific Ocean, this nation is known for its fertile soil, tropical climate, and rich natural resources, earning it the nickname “the Pearl of the Orient.” The Philippines is truly one of the most beautiful places on earth.

We all wish we could make the world a better place. It’s just that we assume big problems require big solutions, and our efforts seem so small. But what if, instead of being paralyzed thinking of what we can’t do, we each picked something simple we can do?

In 1978, Nobel Prize winner Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn spoke at Harvard’s commencement ceremony. The students in the audience had reason to be proud of their accomplishments. They were graduating from one of the world’s most prestigious universities. Future success, at least by worldly standards, probably seemed assured.

At first, September 19, 1985, seemed like a normal day here in Mexico City, as millions of good, hardworking people busily began their morning. Then, around 7:19, a powerful 8.1-magnitude earthquake jolted the city, and life changed in an instant. Thousands of people lost their lives. Thousands more were injured. Large sections of the city were cut off from electricity and water. Hundreds of buildings collapsed, trapping people under piles of rubble.

The story is told of a man who was looking through his wife’s belongings shortly after she passed away. In her dresser, he found a very nice piece of clothing that she had bought on a trip many years earlier. He realized that she had never worn it; she was saving it for a special occasion. And now it was too late.

We live in a time when people value busyness. If your schedule is full and your to-do list is long, people assume you’re living a pretty successful life. But is that necessarily so?

For as long as people have put pen to paper, they have found satisfaction in keeping journals. So many people of all ages record special moments in their lives, expressing their inmost feelings and thoughts. Some do it to leave a record for their posterity; others write only for themselves. There’s just something about putting our life into words that helps us see it clearly, understand it, and over time, make it better.

As conflicts rage around the world, we may feel unsafe, helpless, even hopeless at times. But God doesn’t want His children to feel that way. He knows all about the world’s problems; yet He also knows how to give, as the scripture says, “beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness” (Isaiah 61:3). Jesus said, “I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness” (John 12:46). Because of that belief, that trust, we can find beauty even on ugly days, light even on dark days, and peace and joy even amid turmoil and sorrow.

Beauty feeds our souls. We need food, water, and shelter to survive, but we need beauty to thrive. So in addition to planting vegetable gardens, we plant flowers. We build shelters, but we also paint murals, lay decorative tile, strum guitars, and build fountains like those we see here in beautiful abundance in Mexico. We crave the creativity that enhances our existence, even though some might consider it “nonessential.”

In a court of law, a judge is someone who has been chosen or appointed to pass judgment, based on their qualifications and wisdom. In the court of everyday life, we often decide to become self-appointed judges, even if we aren’t qualified or wise. That may be all right when it comes to personal decisions about what to do and how to live. But it becomes a problem when we start judging other people.

It takes the earth a little more than 365 days to circle the sun. Over the centuries, we’ve come to see the completion of one of those orbits and the beginning of a new one as a kind of fresh start for our lives. We use a new year to reflect on the past and anticipate the future. We ask ourselves, What have I learned? How have I changed? Who have I helped—even in small and simple ways? And what are my goals for the coming year?

Many years ago, a man resolved to write in his journal at the end of each day. It’s a resolution many people make, but his journal entries were different. They weren’t just a log of what happened that day. Before he wrote, he pondered this question: “Have I seen the hand of God reaching out to touch us or our children or our family today?” As he made it a habit to reflect on that question, he began to see evidence of God’s loving intervention that he hadn’t noticed before. It was as if simply asking the question “allowed God to show [him] what He had done.”[1] Somewhat unexpectedly, the more he recorded God’s goodness, the more he became aware of it.

Here inside the Charles Dickens House in London, England, sits a desk that once belonged to the great novelist. It was here that Charles Dickens wrote many of the works that are now considered classics of English literature.

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.

For well over a hundred years, The Nutcracker ballet has delighted audiences at Christmastime. The ballet opens with family and friends gathering on Christmas Eve. The gift of a nutcracker unleashes a fantastic adventure for a little girl named Clara, complete with gingerbread soldiers, dancing snowflakes, a handsome prince, and a sugar plum fairy. Audiences around the world love the imaginative story, the unforgettable musical score by Tchaikovsky, and the fanciful choreography and sets. But at least part of the magic of The Nutcracker happens in gathering—the coming together of different people, not only onstage but also in the audience.

Friendship is at the heart of Christmas. On that first Christmas night, angels declared it to be a time of “peace [and] good will” (Luke 2:14). That spirit has persisted to this day. At Christmastime, we tend to think of others a little more kindly; we feel more generosity and compassion toward neighbors and strangers. As Charles Dickens wrote in his beloved story A Christmas Carol, “I have always thought of Christmas time … as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people … as if they really were fellow-passengers.”[1]

All good things, all important things, take time. That’s a truth that even children learn, and the lesson seems to come most powerfully at Christmas. Each year, children—and those who are children at heart—wait eagerly for the magic and wonder of Christmas. Excitement mounts as we count down the weeks, anticipate the days. Surely at least some of the joy found at this festive season comes from the fact that we’ve been looking forward to it for so long.