After Christmas

As I write, one week from Christmas Eve, preparations for the greatest celebration of the year are in full swing. They are affecting me differently this year as I sit by my mother’s hospital bed where we I have been for the past week. I am not sad over being sidelined from the festivities, it simply feels a bit other-worldly, knowing what is taking place out there somewhere. I find myself wondering how I will feel after Christmas.

My social work education involved the study of psychology and sociology, and I realize the effect of those studies on my thinking, particularly about social trends and their effects on us as individuals and groups. I have noticed, for example, there is something satisfying about anticipating and experiencing our end-of-the-year traditions. When they are over and a new year has begun I feel the need to somehow earn that celebration with the efforts of a new year of living, loving, working, and giving. To have doubts about how I will experience Christmas this year makes me wonder if I will somehow miss the sense of my year being complete for having passed through this blessed season.

We are thankful for the prospect of having Mom home a few hours on Christmas Day if she makes the expected transition to another level of care by then and feels up to it. Many people I am aware of have experienced losses, tragedies, and family changes this year to the degree that no sense of normalcy is possible in the observance of December 25. How will they feel after Christmas?

Perhaps we can look back to the beginning for answers. I understand what we celebrate, the birth of Jesus, did not likely occur at the time of year we observe it, but nevertheless, what we celebrate is Christ’s birth. I ask you to think for a moment on the days after Jesus was born, and if I may take the liberty to use this term, the days after Christmas.

We know a few things about the moments and days following the birth of our Savior. Scripture tells about the shepherds, the divine appointment with Simeon and Anna in the Temple, the Wise Men, and the flight to Egypt. We know the horror of Herod’s anger requiring the blood of innocent babies to eradicate a rival to his throne.

Beyond these localized events, what had really changed? The shepherds saw Him no more after finding him in the manger and then returning to their fields. Though they told many, the baby was not seen or heard from again by them to our knowledge.

Simeon no doubt died in peace as he had requested the day his eyes looked upon God’s salvation and the light to lighten the Gentiles. Anna continued to tell the news of a child no one else saw. The wise men traveled on back East to their homes, and things soon became quiet.

Nothing had changed…yet everything had changed.

As Jesus would one day teach about a little leaven leavening the whole lump of dough, the Spirit of God that resided in the Christ child began to work and influence those around Him.

Though most perhaps could not give words to what they felt, there came a time, thirty years after His birth, when people were surprisingly ready to rush out en masse to meet a rough-looking prophet in the wilderness, confess their sins, and be baptized unto repentance.

These who obeyed what John preached had their hearts prepared to receive what Jesus would teach and command as His ministry began to unfold. What had happened during that first Christmas though not immediately obvious, had truly determined what happened after.

I know that sounds simple, but can you see the parallel for your own life? Whatever your expectations for how this season will go—whether you are excited or lonely, busy or bored, contented or anxious, rejoicing or grieving—there is a thing you can do to affect what will come for you after the day of celebration is past.

Suppose you ask God to show you what He wants for you to get from Him this Christmas? “God, help me your way. Help me to receive from You what you came to give me, and to walk in it for all the days after Christmas.”

As in the beginning, the receiving of what God designed to bring will involve repentance. As in the beginning, the receiving of it will involve baptism for the remission of sins. As in the beginning, the receiving of it will involve the glorious infilling of the Holy Ghost. You see, once the leaven of the Word of God manifested in the flesh had completed its initial work, there was a Gospel to be preached in all the earth by Jesus followers that embodied the death, burial, and resurrection of the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior of the world:

Acts 2:37-40 KJV
Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call. And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation.

The PROMISE, heralded by the angels, seen by the shepherds, affirmed by Anna and Simeon, and worshipped by the Wise Men, is unto YOU. Will you choose to walk the path to receive what Jesus came to bring? I pray you find the JOY that was meant to be yours after Christmas.

If you have already experienced this promise but are away from that place in God right now, here is a time to reach for Him again with all your heart and allow Him to restore to you the gift He came to bring.

And if you are currently walking in that truth but find yourself harried, worn, and weary, oh, precious child of God, take a moment to wait before Him, to raise your hands and seek Him for who He is, and let Him joy in flooding you again with His love, hope, peace, strength, and courage. Remember Jesus words to announce His ministry to the world:

Luke 4:18-19 KJV
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.

If I use this time to reach out to the One who fulfilled His Word to us by coming to take away our sins and put His Spirit within us, with a will to receive what He came this year to being me, I will walk in a stronger place after Christmas, no matter what happens around me.

A Perfect Prayer

The information that flowed from the 20th anniversary of 9/11 touched me more deeply than any in recent years.

Reading the transcript detailing the plans of Flight 93 passengers to overpower their hijackers brought the awe of their bravery back to me in fresh waves. I have purchased and am reading Let’s Roll, the book by Todd Beamer’s widow, Lisa. She describes being surprised by an invitation to attend the President’s address to Congress and to the nation, and especially by the repeated ovations she received: an outpouring of gratitude for actions that no doubt spared the destruction of either the White House or the Capitol. I was moved by the desire of so many to say, “Thank you” to one of the heroes, in the person of his grieving widow.

I have also been touched by the role of Lisa Jefferson, the Verizon Airfone operator who handled Todd’s call from Flight 93, giving him information on the other hijackings and the devastation they had brought. Todd and several other passengers and crew relied on her nerves of steel as they made their decision which we will always remember by the last words she heard from Todd: “Are you guys ready? Let’s roll!”

I have read from Mrs. Jefferson’s account in an interview five years later, that the phone had to be taken from her hand some fifteen minutes after it went silent, even after she was informed that Flight 93 had crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. She was still calling Todd’s name.

She, Todd, and the others had hoped that this could somehow end well. She had promised to stay with him until it was over. She could not lightly walk away from that firm commitment. Her book about the experience is Called: “Hello, my name is Mrs. Jefferson. I understand your plane is being hijacked.” I have purchased that book, also.

In reading between these two women’s stories the other night, another event from that week in 2001 ran through my mind. You would not have known of this one unless you worked at Ellisville State School, a residential facility in Mississippi serving individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. I was Coordinator of In-Home Services at the time, having gotten that position after ten years working in one of the four units on the main campus. Though I had begun working with individuals in the community, my office remained on the facility’s sprawling grounds.

The Director had called a chapel service for those whose duties allowed time to attend. We all felt so broken, though Mississippi is a very long way from New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Washington, D.C., or Pennsylvania. I once had voiced my lack of desire to ever visit the Big Apple with the words, “I haven’t lost anything in New York City.” By the evening of 09/11/2001, I knew I had lost much there: they were my brothers and sisters in many ways, though I had never seen them, and would likely never meet their families.

I had been asked ahead of time to say the closing prayer for the service. As it proceeded, I sat back in one of the little wooden pews, admiring the stained glass windows in the small chapel building. It was used at that time for services on Sundays for the people who lived in the facility.

My memory fails me as to all who spoke or what was actually said, but I recall the theme being of hope, the need to be united, and that God is not shaken by what shakes us, therefore we need to turn to Him as the source of help for ourselves and our nation. I appreciated the administration of our facility recognizing our need to come together.

As the service drew toward closing, I felt a stirring I could not dismiss. What was happening within me felt unique and somehow separate from the events unfolding around me. I knew I needed to tune in to the direction God would have my prayer take when my turn came.

I am of the Apostolic Pentecostal faith. Thirty-five years ago God did a work in my understanding of what it means to live for Him, and after I repented and my sins were washed away in Jesus’ name as I was baptized in that only saving name, I was filled with the Holy Ghost as the disciples in the Early Church were filled. By God’s grace and mercy I have walked in that manner of living for God since then and strive to walk daily in the Spirit, as the Apostle Paul said:

What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore, glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

Thus, as I was approaching my time to contribute to this service I sought to submit my heart and will to God for the prayer He would have come out of my mouth. Many options were available to me: pleas for God’s mercy, comfort, direction, courage, understanding, and peace. He is the source of all these.

But when I was at last called upon and stood to bow my head and pray, none of those words would come. If you have experienced praying in the Holy Ghost, you will understand that I had two options as I opened my mouth: obey what God would have me say or quench the Spirit. I had no desire to do the latter, and the former required overcoming any fears of what others would think of a prayer that was outside the main stream. At last, I realized the only words to utter without quenching the Spirit were these:

“I REPENT!”

I know that I said it loudly and clearly, for I remember the anguish of spirit that accompanied the cry of my heart for myself and my nation. I don’t remember anything else I said in the prayer, or whether I was moved to speak in tongues during it. I only have the sense that it followed the lines of acknowledging, like the prophet Daniel once did (Dan. 9:4-19), my sin and the sin of our nation that had brought us to that hour, our need to receive God’s cleansing by His mercy and to take on His righteousness. It was a perfect prayer for that hour. Once I felt the Spirit had lifted, I ended the prayer and the service concluded.

Outside the anointing that brings boldness we can sometimes wonder how our actions will be perceived by any who do not understand. The comments I recall were positive, as acknowledging the need for raw honesty in the sight of God.

The prayer I felt to utter for the group that day remains valid. We face many more obstacles now than could have been imagined in that week, and our own response still needs to be, “I repent! God have mercy on me, on our nation, on our leaders, and on the future of our children and their children.” Repentance must bring the desire to seek God and to obey what we see in His Word.

I urge you to take time to look deeply into your own heart and pray your own prayer of repentance, then ask God how He would have you change your direction. It is time to reach for God’s Word, to obey the Gospel and keep His commandments with the Spirit living and moving in us. The end, of which I feel 9/11 was only a warning, is drawing very near.

Be it Unto Me: Thoughts on Mary’s story

If I could have known how the words I spoke that day would carry me through so many broken places, I am not sure I could have even uttered them then. But, oh the joy that has come from my surrender and my steps through paths that were unknown then!

Scene one

It was an angel! A real-live breathing, shining, frightening angel. I was no one. A young woman in a small town from a small family with no right to hear the words that he came to bring. Yet he was real, and his words struck my heart, touching something deep within me that I had not known was there until that moment. Feelings rose that I could not put into words. And when he showed me what was to come, what God had said what was going to be, I was amazed. But he answered my one question, “How can these things be?” He told me the Holy Ghost will do the work, and I believed wonderful things were about to unfold just as he said! There was nothing left for this simple handmaiden of the Lord to reply, except, “Be it unto me according to thy word!”

Scene two

Not here! Not now! Not in this horrible, nasty, crowded, confusion of a city with a census in full swing. Could I not have stayed where I had prepared to bring this God-touched child, this God-conceived holy one to birth? How could this happen? Have I already brought shame on my Lord who trusted me to carry this child? And yet here He is, my precious baby, Jesus! And yet still, shepherds – of all people, shepherds – are here surrounding this lowly manger to tell us that not one angel has appeared to them, but a whole heavenly host of angels filling the sky! The angels have told them that He is here! I see it. How could this not be the will of God, even as wrong and out of place as a birth in this stable seems to be? As far as it was from my plan? I must say, “Be it unto me!”

Scene three

Egypt! Why here? Our people were warned never to return to the land of our fathers’ captivity, and yet Joseph says an angel showed him this is where we are to be kept safe. It started with those wise men, majestic kings from the East bringing their unspeakably beautiful gifts. What riches! We had never seen such wealth in all our lives. They bowed in reverence to this precious child as to the true King of Kings! They even shared how they were led by a star to the very spot where we stayed with our young child.

But they had stopped to ask that wicked King Herod where He was. Oh, how long will we be here? The angel in Joseph’s dream said that Herod would be seeking Jesus’ life. Even now I have a horrible foreboding of what could have happened in Bethlehem after we left. Herod is so ruthless. Not one child would he spare in his desperate attempt to clutch his kingdom to himself. Whatever God’s plan for keeping this treasure He has brought into our lives safe from the enemy’s wiles, I can only say, “Be it unto me!”

Scene four

I do not understand. Crowds of people throng the house where He sits to teach. Is it safe? Is it wise to allow this to happen with the Romans about everywhere? Will they not at some point or another come here to see what is going on? These rulers, unlike the ones who were sitting within the temple when He was a boy of twelve, reasoning with them like the wisest of priests, now want to watch him, looking for every word they think might be wrong. Oh, would they not love an opportunity to turn Him over to the filthy clutches of those demonic soldiers who delight to do us hurt at every opprtunity? I must go to Him. I am His mother. If anyone can show him how he is putting himself at risk, His brothers and I must be the ones to speak reason unto Him.

Scene five

We are here at the house where too many are gathered. We cannot even get in at the door! I must have someone tell Him we are here. He will come for me.

How can this be? His only response to the summons that His mother and His brothers are here and waiting to talk to Him was, “Who is my mother? And who are my brothers?”

What is this? Who has He become? I know He would never have said these things when we were alone in our home where I raised Him and nurtured Him and cared for Him. How has He become this person who does not seem to value His own mother?

Yet, what He said – what was it? “For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and my mother.” It recalls to me the moment when we understood that what we thought was disrespect, as He intentionally chose to stay behind without a word to us, knowing we were leaving Jerusalem: “Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” At only twelve years old He had put this thing He felt He must do ahead of our relationship. Is that what He is communicating to me now? “If you want to be among those who are close to me, it cannot be by hindering what I am doing or asking me to place any earthly kinship ahead of my calling. I must only do the work of my Father. Do you want to be a part of that, or will you stand on ceremony, insisting you are right, and not move closer to me?” Oh, dearest Jesus, I will go with you. I will follow you and not suggest that you must go my way. With all my heart I cry unto you now, “Be it into me according to thy word!”

Scene six

All my fears are coming true in one day. Arrested, beaten, and now, a cross! A cross! Oh, if only I could have saved him from this end. I knew they would not abide His teachings going against their authority forever. Even I could never have fathomed the depth of their hatred for Him. No more cruel death ever known than this. How can I even bear to look up at His bruised and bloodied face? And yet, I must! If I had not known him as my son, I could not even recognize him now! The words flood back to me of the aged Simon when we had brought our precious eight-day-old baby to be circumcised: “Yea, and a sword shall pierce thine own soul, also!” There were times I believed my pain was that prophecy coming true, but today there is no doubt left.

Oh, now He speaks to me! From his agony as He hangs there, he is mindful of me! “Woman, behold thy son,” and to His beloved disciple, John, “Son, behold thy mother.” Now John is here to comfort and support me, though he has no words. We are all broken together. I am a mother who submitted to the will of God for bearing a child conceived by the Holy Ghost. I do not understand how it could have come to this. Oh, how can it be, that in my heart swell the words that I uttered to the angel and to the God who sent him to me. With my head bowed in sorrow, my spirit somehow whispers, “Be it unto me according to thy word.”

Scene seven

Risen! That tomb is empty! He has been seen now of over five hundred people! Ascended – caught up into the Heavens in the clouds. An angel was there, declaring, “…He shall come again in like manner…” Instructions to wait at Jerusalem for the promise of the Father.

I must be there! I must receive this promise! I will not miss anything my risen Lord has asked me to do. As beautiful as it was when the Holy Ghost overshadowed me to conceive, what will it be like to receive the Holy Ghost as Jesus said?

An upper room. Fervent prayer. Then, tongues of fire! A rushing mighty wind! One hundred twenty of us all speaking in unknown tongues at once! Joy unspeakable and full of glory! No joy I have ever felt compares to the love, the flood of power and joy flowing out of my innermost being! It is truly the river of living water Jesus spoke of.

Peter is preaching to the amazed crowd who have gathered to hear and to see. He tells their convicted hearts what to do about their sin. They know now that they have crucified the Lord of Glory! He gives them hope: “Repent, and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.”

We are being baptized in the lovely name, the only saving name, the name of Jesus. Three thousand people today. This will grow and cover the whole earth as God desires.

I know the officials will fight against it, as they fought everything else that He did, but I know, too, that this is the reason why He came! I see it now. I understand all that He did, taught, and suffered was to bring us – even me – to this appointed time when God’s laws would be written in our hearts, and this precious Son I bore and raised and gave up to die would conquer death and come to live in me as the Holy Ghost! What more is there to come? I cannot say, but I will shout these throughout my days on earth and into eternity, “Be it unto me according to thy word! Oh, hallelujah! Hallelujah! Be it unto me!”

Let’s talk about me

I have my ups and downs, to say the least. I believe that I am trying — often that I am doing my best…until I am faced with hard evidence to the contrary.

Recently, I clicked on a video by Brother Ken Gurley, entitled, “Am I Backsliding? Seven Road Signs to Spiritual Siberia.” I felt I had clicked pretty much “at random.” I have heard his devotionals before, but do not make a habit of catching them.

As I took in his description of choices that will take us farther from God, or that signal we have already become dangerously comfortable with our distance from Him, I was sobered to realize too many of them sounded strikingly familiar.

That was Thursday morning, February 18.

Friday night, February 19, as I was lying down for the night, I reached for my phone. I was about to do another round of the ritual review of Facebook, email, and like activities when it crossed my mind to change things up and click on Holy Ghost Radio instead (HolyGhostRadio.com).

A lady was speaking about our need to be prayer warriors and how our trials come to get us to a deeper place in God. (I apologize that I do not recall her name.) Two statements she made especially stood out. First, she challenged us to recognize that the things we want to see God do in our lives will not happen simply because we want them to: they will happen when we fall on our faces before God and seek Him diligently for Him to bring them to pass. Secondly, she stated that God already has a date set for our trial to end. “God has already set a date…”

After hearing that message and another one with similar challenges, I went to my prayer spot. As I was settling in to pray, I saw a small notebook had slipped from a storage box at some point and landed right in front of where I was about to plant my face to pray. I almost didn’t pick it up, since my mind was made up to pray right then, but it kept standing out to me. I finally picked it up and opened it “at random.” Remember, this was February 19. I had just heard a messaged that stressed, “God has already set a date for your trial to end.”

The page I opened to was one of two or three sets of message notes I had taken almost twenty years ago: February 20, 2002. On February 19 I opened a notebook I had not looked into for almost two decades “at random” to the date of the next day. What was the message about? REPENTANCE.

Over the next hour or so in prayer, God opened my heart to see the paths I had quietly been walking for awhile that were taking me farther and farther from His will and His ways. A restlessness I had been experiencing came into better view. Pursuits I had focused my energy and attention toward were shown up to be far out of the bounds of what God had called me to do and who He wanted me to be: a warrior to changes things on my knees. I am not called to “exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me,” as KING David confessed of himself, Psalm 131:1.

The meekness test

Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth, Numbers 12:3

Some Bible words I have struggled to fully understand over the years. I have a general concept in most cases, but realize that I would not use the word to express myself to others: a key indicator that it doesn’t resonate in my lexicon.

I believe through the experience I am describing, I grasped an idea of the true meaning of meekness: the state of understanding how fully we need God’s mercy and love and grace and care and guiding and…I suppose that list would be endless.

After finding a place of deep repentance, from things you would probably find boring if described, but yet shown to cause too much distance between my precious Lord and me, the picture of my spirit and heart for God having grown weaker and cooler that should have ever been was fearful to me.

I have felt badly over those things before, but I do not believe I reached the point of repentance that brought a state of meekness in the past. The tipping point came with a hunger to go forward in a manner that — more that simply avoiding the mistakes again — caused me to desire to go deeper in God and be closer than ever to Him, knowing my heart was clean and uncompromised on the inside.

It was that quiet knowledge that I could not walk that was unless He kept me and sustained me and provided me His mercies new every morning that gave me an understanding of the concept of meekness.

What about our biblical example? Moses was considered the meekest man who ever lived. Was this characteristic always part of his life? How meek was he while raking sand over the body of that Egyptian task master? As he drove away the shepherds from the well at Midian so Zipporah and her sisters could draw water?

Perhaps there was some meekness in his life then, but I submit that forty years of tending sheep and reliving what had gone wrong in his life when he knew should have been a deliverer for his people — the family he abandoned in Egypt — brought Moses to a point of knowing he was nothing on his own. In fact, at one point in the wilderness journey, he cried out, “If thy presence go not with me, carry us not up hence,” Exodus 33:15. He never reached a place of feeling he could do this work by his strength and wisdom. He must have the Spirit of God working to go even the next step forward.

What other example has stood out to you in the Bible regarding the quality of meekness? This one may not be on your list, but I have frequently thought of it lately. In addition to words I sometimes stumble over in my understanding of the Word of God, there are instances in the biblical record that have stumped me.

One of these was the root meaning behind the two different sacrifices offered by Cain and Abel, the first offspring of Adam and Eve. You recall how Abel initiated the process of offering at all by bringing a lamb from his flock to sacrifice to God. He was a keeper of sheep. Cain, on the other hand was a “tiller of the ground,” and brought of the abundance of his produce. God accept Abel’s offering but warned Cain that he could make amends and accepted also. That went poorly, with Cain ignoring God’s warnings and eventually killing his brother: a pattern that has repeated itself over history.

Pardon me my wonderings, but over the years, I have pondered how Cain and Abel were to know the nature of the sacrifices God expected to be offered. The Law of Moses was still thousands of years away. Abraham would not come on the scene for generations.

The experience of their parents was obviously a large factor in their understanding of how to relate to the God who had created them. But I am so literal, and the fact that God did not command the same sacrifice He made in order to clothe Adam and Eve with skins after their grievous sin to be repeated, nor did the Word record their ever doing so, left me room for questions. No sacrifice is recorded until Abel chose to do so, though nothing in the Word says that sacrifices were not offered.

All this background information is for this purpose: After many years of visiting this idea, in my recent review of who I am and where I stand, I found a concept of what perhaps motivated Abel that had not occurred to me in the past. I fully believe his sacrifice came from a heart that saw how deeply he needed the mercy and forgiveness of his Maker. More than anyone, he felt his own humanity, his capacity for error, his potential to grieve the Lover of his soul. If there was anything Abel could do to reach deeply into a connection with the heart of his God, that was his desire. No casual approach or offering could meet the need of his own heart to be covered by the help and the hand of the One who had created him for His own pleasure.

No indication can be unearthed that Cain deeply felt a need to connect with God in a way that would change him. The result was tragic.

Why would I focus on this distinction? A man after God’s own heart would much later say: The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise. Psalm 51:17

The final thought

What about me? I feel I have hit a place of repentance, but if I do not remain in a state of repentance, I will be like the a tree we once cut down in the back yard. I began to notice shoots coming off the tree months later, but did not address them. As I continued to put off any action, another tree had slowly grown up from the one had been dealt with years before.

I need the “mercy new every morning” to be applied to my life. I need to the crucify the flesh every day: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life must be dealt with daily. My heart must be open to God’s Word, work, and desire to have His will to be done in me every day.

The Reason

THE REASON

Part 1: Elena’s story

Elena Bogren paused at the kitchen window as a scene from across the street caught her eye. The front door was open, a slim figure silhouetted in the light spilling out from the Kelly’s festive entry way. Elena had a glimmer of recognition for that slight, erect frame. “Well, little Johnny made it in after all. Late, as usual,” Elena observed wryly. “That boy!” As she was remembering a much younger Johnny playing in her own front yard, a much plumper and somewhat stooped figure stepped up to enfold the young man in her outstretched arms. Elena could not help letting her eyes linger on the tender scene.

A moment later, Grandma Kelly glanced up from the embrace of her grandson to meet Elena’s eyes across the way. She gazed for a long second before turning to usher the young man into their annual family gathering. Elena’s brief surge of warmth on glimpsing her neighbors’ celebration now turned to burning shame at her own awkward gawking. It was not her party, after all. She turned back to the painful task at hand.

Her mother’s recipe books had plenty of ways to bake a ham; that certainly was not the problem. Jim had brought an enormous spiral-sliced beauty home this evening, the perfunctory gift from his office managers, and beamed as he set it down among cans of sweet potatoes and English peas. “I didn’t want you to have to shop for the fixings,” he proclaimed as he planted a sweet kiss on her cheek. “Thank you for doing this,” he added.

That cheek had seen more than one tear brushed away this evening. She must not let Jim see how badly it hurt to attempt this meal her mother’s loving hands had prepared so many times. Elena had assured Jim he would have Christmas Eve dinner, and a dinner he would have. She had resolved in her heart that no matter how badly it hurt, she would make it happen. Lord knows, he deserved that much. She had turned down his offer of help with the few preparations this one required and shooed him away to his armchair to relax with the paper, a pleasure he had only recently returned to occasionally enjoying.

Jim had supported her unflinchingly as her mother lost her battle, painful day by excruciating day, with cancer. He managed so well over those months, surviving on take-out food, sandwiches, and whatever a can could afford. Elena had only to focus on her mother’s care during the darkest days of her life. Jim had been her rock through those final hours and the service that followed, just three weeks ago.

She thought she had been handling the meal prep stoically enough until the door across the street had opened. The floodgate of her own happy Christmas Eve memories flew open with it: the faces aglow from the fireplace, little ones nestled in the laps of parents and grandparents, Christmas carols forming the backdrop for happy conversation.

Elena’s siblings and grown children had been spared facing this first empty holiday in the home where they had made lifelong memories. Elena did not expect any of them to make another trip to spend Christmas here, after they had exhausted leave time and finances to be with their mother and grandmother at the end. She had assured them she was fine.

Though she had tried to brace herself for what she knew would be difficult, Elena had not anticipated the pain simply preparing a meal, with the glow of a “normal” Christmas Eve so nearby, could bring. And when that glow had burst into even more robust light shining through her own windows, Elena did not bother to look out again at the beautiful decorations she knew the Kelly’s must have just powered on. She focused anew on her resolve to pull this one off for Jim, but she grew more convinced that Christmas was not a season she would celebrate ever again after tonight.

Part 2: The Keene’s story

“Looks like the Kelly’s are getting things kicked off in style again,” Ralph said to Jack, his faithful Schnauzer. Just as he had reached down to pick up the evening paper the lights had blazed to life down the street: not the inside lights–those seemed to have been burning around the clock for the last few days—but the brilliance of their outdoor Christmas decorations, worked on for weeks, but by their unique family tradition, only brought to life the night before Christmas.

“Probably has a lot to do with the power bill,” grunted Ralph, who knew Tom Kelly to be thrifty fellow. Gail Kelly on the other hand, “Grandma” to most, always got her way somehow, when it came to doing Christmas in a big fashion. Despite himself, Ralph had to admire the display a minute before heading back to rejoin his wife in their dimly lit home.

The sight of Cathy’s slumped shoulders with her back to the window and face toward that door–the one she almost never opened anymore–brought fresh pain to his heart. The Kelly’s yard decorations were now casting a soft halo of light around the frame of Jerry’s door. Ralph knew what his wife was thinking. He, too, pictured the mornings that door had burst open when little Jerry could stand the wait no longer. Ralph could still hear his scurrying feet and his gleeful voice urging them into the living room on Christmas mornings.

Cathy had seemed to enjoy those mornings as much as Jerry, and Ralph had to admit they were his joy, as well. Being able to provide a “good Christmas” for their only son had put extra pride in his fatherly heart. It made the long hours he spent away at work seem less of a burden. At this moment he wished for some of those hours back to just toss a ball around with his son.

“Cathy, maybe we should go out for a drive, find some place to grab a bite to eat. Don’t you want to get out for a little bit?” He always wanted to take her pain if he could, to fix things.

“If there is somewhere we could go that it wouldn’t be Christmas,” she snapped. Cathy wondered again why the whole world had to go so crazy over a day on the calendar. They assumed everyone was merry and bright. She only wanted to hide away until the madness ended. “I wish those infernal Kelly’s would stop imposing their perfect family celebration on the rest of us,” she added. “People should realize Christmas just isn’t for everyone.”

Part 3: Tawana’s story

Sin hurt worse at Christmas. Any other day, one could put off the effects of having alienated family and abandoned beliefs for a life of promised pleasure. One could believe on any other day that the promise would be realized somehow. But this night it was all pain and loneliness.

On her way back to a house that was not was not home, Tawana paused heavy steps for a moment outside the window of the only home on this street lit up for the holidays. She remembered how her father had decorated for her every year, a lifetime ago. As she was about to continue toward the place where another man was waiting, she heard a deep, aged voice as a man began to speak, the words carrying through the window into the cold air.

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night.” Visions of little boys in bathrobes and girls in angel costumes flooded Tawana’s mind. She wanted to run from the pain of those memories, but her feet seemed riveted to the sidewalk for some reason.

“…Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger…” Why was she still standing here? She had realized a long time ago Christmas was not—and never would be again—for anyone like her.

Part 4: The Kelly’s story

“Grandpa, why did they invite the shepherds to Jesus’ birthday?” Little Rod was always interrupting, and his mother’s stern glance had no effect.

“What, Rod? What do you mean?” the booming voice replied, not without some irritation.

“Well, the rich wise men were on their way with the presents, right?”

“Yes, the wise men were traveling to seek the newborn king and came some time later. Can we finish the story now?”

“But wasn’t that enough for baby Jesus? Why would they want the old smelly shepherds to come to their party, too?”

Something in Rod’s innocent voice arrested Grandpa Kelly’s heart. He knew why the outcast shepherds had been invited to the birthplace of the King of Kings. Rev. Tom Kelly, retired from many years pastoring a flock, remembered the hurting people he had reached out to over the years and the joy of seeing hope come into their eyes. The youngster’s question touched what had been burdening his mind this holiday season. Now, he could put it into words.

“You see, Rod, Jesus wasn’t coming just for those wise men, and He did not care so much about their gifts. When He grew up and started His ministry, the folks He touched first and most often were the hurting, the lonely, and the poor—people like those shepherds.”

“People like that lady outside, Grandpa?” Rod was pointing to the front window. All eyes turned to see a slim disheveled figure go pale and turn away.

Just like her,” Grandpa exclaimed and moved quicker than he had in a while. Bounding to the front door, he threw it open. “Ma’am, wait! Ma’am stop, please!”

Tawana froze, mortified at being spotted, but she could not help turning back toward the kind voice.

“Won’t you come inside and join us?”

“Join…you?” she faltered. “But I don’t even know you. Why would you ask me to come in? Besides, I’m not the type you people usually invite to parties.”

“Well, ma’am, seeing you standing out here has helped us remember why we are celebrating this night. You see, it was you, all of us, everyone really, that Jesus came for in the first place. He would not want you to be left out. You are the very reason why He came!”

The old man’s words sounded so peaceful and inviting that though she felt painfully ashamed of the signs of a godless lifestyle she knew her appearance bore, Tawana simply could not resist this love she was feeling. It did not matter at this moment that she did not understand. She allowed the weathered arm of Grandma Kelly to slip around her shoulders and draw her into the warmth inside.

Once Tawana was settled in near the fireplace with a cup of hot cocoa pressed into her cold hands, a thought began to come into focus in Gail Kelly’s mind. Remembering the sadness she had seen in Elena Bogren’s eyes earlier, the grandmother of many years felt God leading her to cross the street and knock on Jim and Elena’s door.

About the same time, Johnny remembered how he had caught sight of Mr. Keene when he went out to plug in the lights. He and Jerry had been great friends, but he had seen little of Jerry’s parents in the years since his death. Life had worn on and circumstances seemed to have separated them all. With the hearty approval of everyone present, he decided it was worth a try to reach out to them as well.

As the Spirit of the One they were celebrating went with the two emissaries, hurting hearts—even the ones hardened by years of pain—began a miraculous healing, and the Kelly’s gathering gently swelled.

That night the Savior of the world did what He came to do, as His children lived out the very reason why He came. Grandpa led them all in one more reading of Scripture after the fine meal they shared:

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings to the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound…to comfort all that mourn;” Isaiah 61:1-2 KJV.

Part 5: Your Story

Our individual stories are being written as we walk through our daily lives. How they play out will depend on our own understanding of our value to the One who robed Himself in flesh to live among us and to shed His own blood to purge us from our sins. Once we see with eyes of faith the love He wants to shed abroad in our hearts by the power the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of God that can live in us, and we respond to what we have seen with repentance and the washing away of our sins in the name of the Savior who died for us, Jesus Christ, we have paved the way for His love to pour into our souls in ways we could scarcely have imagined possible in this life.

At this season of seasons, seek to understand that you–with your hopes, your fears, your dreams, and your pain–are the reason why He came. So is your hurting neighbor, and those kids down the street whose mother does not know what the future holds for their little struggling family. As you recognize this, and respond as God directs, you are in line to have a more deeply blessed Christmas this year than any you have ever known. May God be with you, as He came to do.

Coming to God

But without faith it is impossible to please him, for he that cometh to God must first believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him, Hebrews 11:6.

What does it mean to “come to God”? This is the central theme of all time if it were to be distilled to its core element. Nothing else we do in life will eternally affect us as will our choices relative to the things of God and our never-dying souls.

More has been written on this than could be contained in a vast library of printed books, with ideas and doctrines so diverse that it is not possible for them all to be true. And yet they continue to multiply. No wonder so many people shut off their inner voices that had been urging them to continue seeking until they find the truth. It is not easy to find. But is it impossible?

The Scripture verse above says that it is not impossible. It does not say that it is easy. “Diligently seek” is not a phrase that carries a connotation of occasional thought, blind acceptance, or comfortable acquiescence. Let us break down what God says is required for coming to Him, by focusing on the elements of this verse.

He that cometh to God… Who is “he”?

  • Someone who has faith (Hebrews 11:6, But without faith it is impossible to please God…)
  • Someone who is being drawn to come to God (John 6:44, No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him…)
  • Someone who is beginning to respond to that drawing (James 4:8, Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you.)

How does he “come to God”? The image above of a child’s first steps has implications…

  • The child is being called to come. (John 15:16, Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you…)
  • The child has to take a physical step. (Luke 9:23, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.)
  • The child will be rewarded when he takes even a halting step. (John 6:37, …and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.)

How does he “believe” and “have faith”?

  • He hears the Word of God (Romans 10:17, …faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.)
  • He believes what he hears, understanding that believing requires some kind of response (Acts 2:37, Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?)
  • He acts on what he has heard; he obeys the Word (Romans 6:17, But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.)
  • This response of obedience allows him to receive more of the Word (John 7:17, If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine…)

How does he “diligently seek”?

  • He continues to make steps (2 John 1:6, And this is love, that we walk after his commandments.)
  • He fights to know the truth (Jeremiah 29:13, And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.)
  • He forsakes all to follow (Matthew 13:46, Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.)

Our illustration of child’s first steps is instructive in more ways than one. In that child’s mind, he knows there is a response required of him to do what his parent is asking: “Come to me.” That infant brain is struggling to make the connection between what he understands and what his little body knows how to do. His muscles are not yet trained to respond.

It is not the first time he has been asked to come, yet this time he wills himself more strongly than ever to get his chubby body balanced, to raise his little foot, to lean forward slightly at the same time, to plant his foot and stay upright while he repeats the process with the other foot. Even if he falls, he is rewarded for trying. But he must keep trying.

Years later, if he is asked to come to his father, failing to do so will be an act of disobedience, of choosing not to continue, but today it is a factor of him attempting to discern what it means to “Come to Daddy,” and of not giving up until he makes it happen.

God draws us to Him. That drawing requires a response. That response is not a one-time acquiescence, but a full-time walk of submission and obedience that brings more knowledge to be obeyed, more light in which to walk. (John 8:12,…I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.)

But what if we start to follow, obey a little, face something we are not quite ready to embrace, and decide to stop? Jesus told His disciples, Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth is come, he will guide you into all truth, John 16:23. A guide can only lead you where you will follow him.

The Spirit of God will lead you, but if you stop going forward, He does not. You are perfectly welcome to stay somewhere along the way that fails to get you into “all truth.” God is a gentleman, and though He will prompt and stir, draw and convict, He will not, cannot, force you to continue to follow. What then?

You may be uncomfortable with what I am about to say, but Scripture is replete with examples of religious, even spiritual, people who are not part of the true Kingdom of God. Consider these:

  • Matthew 7:21-23, Not everyone that sayeth unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
  • Luke 13:24, Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.
  • Jude 12, These are spots in your feasts of charity, when they feast with you, feeding themselves without fear: clouds they are without water, carried about of winds
  • 2 Timothy 3:2-7, For men shall be lovers of their own selves… lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God, having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof…ever learning, but never able to come to the knowledge of the truth…
  • Romans 1:18, For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness.

Someone did not continue to seek; they found a bit of truth, maybe repented at one time, but never followed on to fully obey. They stopped and camped right there, building a whole doctrine around a piece of the puzzle that was never meant to stand alone.

What did those who continued to follow on find and obey? Remember the question from Acts 2:37, Men and brethren what shall we do? Here is what they were told:

Acts 2:38, Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. Three actions:

  • Repent (Luke 13:5, I tell you,… except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.)
  • Be baptized (Mark 16:16, He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.)
  • Receive the gift of the Holy Ghost (John 14:26, But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.)

There are many who now direct those who would come to God to “just believe,” without ever fully defining for them what that means. Notice how many action words Jesus used:

  • do (Matthew 7:21, Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.)
  • keep (John 14:15, If ye love me, keep my commandments.)
  • walk (John 12:35, Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you…)
  • follow (John 10:27, My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.)
  • come (Matthew 11:28, Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.)

Having heard these things, how will you seek? Diligently, with a heart to obey what is revealed to you? Or casually, only willing to justify your actions and lifestyle?

Only knowing the truth as Jesus defined it, by obeying His Word continually, will ever make you free:

John 8:31-32, …If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.

And it goes on and on, until we meet Him face to face:

Philippians 3:14, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

Hebrews 12: 14, Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.

I would love to hear your thoughts.

My 61st Year

Yep, today I am the big 6-1, which means I have lived my 61st year, my year of being officially 60 years old, in 2020. It is a year we were none prepared for, yet a year of growth for me and, I trust, for many others.

It has been a year of much sorrow, of great anxiety, of profound perplexity, of unrivaled destruction, and yet a year for peeling back the layers of what is familiar and endeavoring to find what matters the most. Here are a few of the highlights for me.

I have discovered in a fresh way that what ultimately matters is living in the love of God: knowing Him through the power of the Holy Ghost, being immersed in His Word, and desiring to obey it more that ever before. I earnestly believe we are only in the shallow waters of what is approaching — as bad as it has been this year, this may look tame in the rearview mirror.

I have learned, in a deeper way than I ever thought possible to savor the contact with dear family and friends. I have enjoyed the chance to perhaps think of something to make the day of one who is my elder and take a chance to do it (while there are still people left who are my elders, lol).

I have learned to share more genuinely the sorrow of those who have lost these opportunities.

I have learned that my God is a provider; though I knew it, I have watched Him open doors in the middle of a dearth and pour out blessings on those who hold those with open hands.

I have discovered in a fresh way that just enjoying the moment, without deep preconceived expectations of what it has to be, can bring a blessing. I have also learned, in balance to that idea, that the act of making people aware of what you want or need gives them the opportunity to bless you, whereas wishing someone would just notice and offer doesn’t produce much reward.

This is not selfish, I realize; just being a human who lives in community with others who care and would love to address your concerns if they only knew them (translation: there is no value in trying to be Super Woman and handle it all on your own).

There are other things I could share, but I am aware our attention spans have been narrowed down by social media. I hope to disengage enough from that in the coming year to get my heart and spirit into the best condition possible. I have a book to finish editing and seek to have published.

My best advice for people of all ages? You are never to old to live a dream. Just pick a place to start, and see what comes to you. I know you will be surprised at where the road leads. For example, I have seen opportunities for public speaking this year that I could not have anticipated. It was on my bucket list, but only God could have opened the doors.

Above all else, I will say without question, my Jesus will do to depend on.

These things I have seen, and I know

Seeing is believing — a maxim tried and true for most situations. Yet, Jesus upbraided the disciple who failed to believe until his eyes had seen his resurrected Savior. Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed, John 20:29. Jesus pointed to a belief that goes beyond the sight of our eyes.

We know that faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen, Hebrews 11:1. In fact, this passage goes even farther to say in verse 6, But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. Let us unpack that a bit. What is the reward, and how do we diligently seek?

I submit that our initial reward is seeing our need to obey the Gospel: Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, Acts 2:38. How does this occur? It starts with what God does.

We understand that no one can come to God unless that person is drawn (John 6:44). When the hint that God was drawing me to Himself started to filter through my carnality many years ago, I began to turn my thoughts toward Him. My life at that time was so worldly that nobody in my circle would have suspected any connection with God beginning to form, but it was, and I responded. One small act of pulling away from a choice that I sensed God was discouraging me from taking turned something in my life. I was all alone and grown and no one but God would have known, but in that moment, though I did not fully understand what I felt, I chose to respond. From that simple act, more choices began to be presented to slowly take the path that could bring me closer to what I knew of God. When I had gone as far down that path as I knew, He drew me further to what He desired for me to know, the Acts 2:38 Gospel, which was new to me. At every step there was a choice, and there continues to be one every day.

Beyond salvation, through the act of walking obediently with God by faith, reading and hearing the preached Word of God, conditioning my heart with prayer and worship, striving for a holiness lifestyle, loving Jesus with all my heart, and knowing the joy of serving Him, I have been blessed to experience, to see, and thus to truly know truths that once were hidden to me. Let me share a few of those with you.

Revelation – I am not talking about the book of the Bible by that name, but rather to the idea of God imparting knowledge to a prepared heart, knowledge that the individual could not otherwise have received. Let me be perfectly clear: this is not referring to any supposed idea that “goes beyond” what is written in the Word. I will address that misconception first:

Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation, 2 Peter 1:20

Forever, O Lord, thy word is settled in heaven, Psalm 119:89

thou has magnified thy word above all thy name, Psalm 138:2

For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, if any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book, Revelation 22:18.

But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than that ye have received, let him be accursed, Galatians 1:8

From these Scriptures, it should be clear that there is a warning against casually handling the Word of God. We are not to look into the Word to find justification for what we already believe. We are never to claim some new “revelation” and peddle our “new truth” to hungry souls, exalting our own ideas as though they could supersede the Word of God.

Do you see and understand what I am not alleging? I will not advocate any “revelation” that grants the alleged receiver assumed authority to reinterpret what the Word clearly says.

Rather, I demonstrate to you that there is a revelation that opens the eyes of the obedient believer to see the Word and its treasures as God meant them to be seen by obedient hearts. Consider these Scriptures:

Blessed art thou Simon Barjona, for flesh and blood hath not revealed this unto thee, but my Father which is in Heaven, Matthew 16:17 Simon Peter was the first among the disciples to see the truth that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God. At that point something had been revealed to him that had not yet been revealed to others.

Then opened He their understanding that they might understand the Scriptures. Luke 24:45. This refers to the all the disciples who, though they had walked with Jesus three and a half years, did not understand His Words or the Scriptures prophesying of Him. Jesus had to open their understanding so that they could see what was meant by the Scriptures. At that point, truths were revealed to them that were not revealed to others.

He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given, Matthew 13:11 Do you see the pattern? Some saw in their spirit, their mind and understanding, what others were not allowed by God to see.

I know this to be true because I experienced it. I clearly recall when I was in the stage of going to an Apostolic Pentecostal church and begin drawn to the power of the Holy Ghost that flowed there and to the preaching of the Word that had such authority (as the people described the preaching of Jesus in Matthew 7:29) because of the anointing. A desire to have that in me was growing but I was skeptical with my education and background of a traditional church view for this area. One of the most striking aspects of this time in my life was reading the Bible and having the knowledge that the One who wrote this Word now was drawing near to me and illuminating its pages. Remember, the drawing works two ways: Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you, James 4:8.

During this time, God led me from a vague understanding of how the godhead is to be viewed to a soul-deep knowledge and understanding of the Holy One. Sound bold? It should, because it is. I know the moment God opened my eyes to see that He is the Mighty God in Christ, and His name is Jesus.

A revelation is God-directed; it opens the understanding to truth in the Word of God (never beyond it, for such is not revelation but deception), and it comes to some while others do not yet (or ever) have it.

There are those who say this idea is dangerous and even heretical, that God shows Himself in unique ways to individuals and opens their understanding to the truth. It was not a strange idea to Jesus when He promised, And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free, John 8:32.

To whom is the Arm of the Lord revealed? Where is the dividing line of who does and does not receive a revelation? Remember the expression, “water off a duck’s back”? We understand that the coated feathers of a waterfowl do not receive water as readily as thirsty, prepared soil. It is the same with the human heart. Some receive the knowledge of God as life-giving water, while others splash around a bit yet are never affected inside. Is the individual hapless in this? Do people bear any responsibility for their condition with regard to receiving truth? More specifically, do they have any power over whether they are ready to receive a revelation from God?

Our pastor recently preached on the relationship between repentance and revelation. Some people in Jesus’ day, like the Pharisees, walked all around Jesus in earshot of His words yet received nothing from Him. His main interaction with them was to rebuke their proud and evil practices. The poor people on the other hand, who knew they were in need, heard Him gladly.

In another contrast a multitude of people were fed and then tried to crown Jesus king. Many of those same voices later called out for His death, while a remnant clung to Him and were still there to claim His Spirit when it was poured out on the Day of Pentecost. Prepared hearts, willing to obey, made the difference. Consider these Scriptures:

Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth, John 16:13

And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him, Acts 5:32

If our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them, 2 Corinthians 4:3-4.

And he said, Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand, Luke 8:10.

And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory, I Timothy 3:16.

Lord, who hath believed our report, and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed, Isaiah 53:1

But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report? Romans 10:16.

The Apostle Paul, after humbling himself in repentance and being baptized in Jesus name, receiving the Holy Ghost, summed up his desire this way:

That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death, Philippians 3:10. Whatever it took to know more of God, Paul wanted it. Do you?

Beyond revelation, what have I seen and know? I have seen and know that the Word of God is complete and it addresses every minute aspect of our lives: thoughts, words, relationships, finances, secret places of our hearts, our “private” lives, and this list could go on and on infinitely. The Word of God bears this out in many Scriptures, but consider these:

Through desire, a man, having separated himself, seeketh and intermeddleth with all wisdom, Proverbs 18:1

Thy word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against thee, Psalm 119:11.

Blessed is the man whom thou choosest, and causest to approach unto thee, that he may dwell in thy courts: we shall be satisfied with the goodness of thy house, even of thy holy temple, Psalm 65:4

For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart, Hebrews 4:12

There is no aspect of the life we are to live, no place of hurt or triumph, no area of uncertainty or concern left out of the scope of the Word of God.

Here is a simplistic picture that many may relate to. When I was young, my mother packed my lunch. I would grab my little lunch box off the counter and take it to school, not thinking much about it until the time came to eat. When I opened it, I was sure to find what I needed for that moment. It was already in there, waiting for me, when the time arrived to use it. I have found the Word of God, as I have tried to hide it in my heart consistently, has been there for me, both in the times of my need and the seasons of my joy.

Your move. Do you want more? Would you have God reveal Himself to you? Seek to know Him, to understand His Word. Respond as He draws you, with a made-up mind to obey what He reveals to you. Find a place where the Word is preached under the anointing of the Holy Ghost in a church built on the foundation of the Apostles’ doctrine (Acts 2:38).

And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart, Jeremiah 29:13

Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled, Matthew 5:6.

Questions? Thoughts? Leave a comment below; I would love to hear your thoughts.



Which Way Is Up?

Isn’t that the question of the day — when all that we knew and considered routine a few months ago is now being upended? Fear of getting and sharing an illness we had never heard of this time last year is now causing our very world to be paused, and we honestly do not know how or when the uncertainty will end.

We each find comfort during unsettling times in various ways: exercising our faith, communicating with friends and family or, one of my favorites, reading. Words can inspire, challenge, and comfort us as no other source can, and the written word seems to provide an extra measure of stability amid a changing reality.

I have held off on mentioning this, but at the dawn of the developing pandemic, I had completed and uploaded a book for self-publishing on Amazon. It was the worst possible time, of course, for a book launch or anything else that involved self-promotion, as the last thing I needed was attention for my work when the world was falling apart around us. In the last few days, though, I have begun to think more about the book’s contents and how they might benefit others facing uncertainty.

The work is a collection of essays on a variety of ideas. A few are personal experiences, and others are truths that I felt were worth passing along to others. Each is intended to inspire, challenge, and encourage.

I am offering a few insights into the first few pieces, to give an idea of what is inside. Some have a splash of humor, others are more serious. All are from my heart.

Up Is Just Backwards When You’re on the Way Down: Thirty Doses of Wit and Wisdom on Staying Upright

Chapter 1) SUNSHINE IS FOR EVERYONE, FIRE FOR A FEW

Ah, the warmth of the sunshine! One of the few things left on earth that is free is the benefit of that great glowing orb in the blue sky. Thus far, no government has found a way to tax it or to ration it out. If you can get to it, you can enjoy as much sunshine as you want. (Just remember the sunscreen.)

Fire, on the other hand, requires some effort. We are not told exactly when fire became part of the human experience, though our impression is that man has always warmed himself in that manner. The earliest specific references to fire in the Bible come from chapters 19 and 22 in Genesis. The first reference speaks of fire from Heaven raining on Sodom and Gomorrah, and the second reference mentions fire for the impending sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham (when God tested Abraham before providing a ram for the sacrifice).

We know that fire requires effort. Wood must be gathered (or chopped and split), laid in order, and lit by some source of flame or heat—unless you have one of those push-button, flame-throwing, gas-burning fireplaces. But I digress.

Freeware, anyone?

We love the sound of that word “free,” don’t we? I mean, the pulse quickens just a little to think we might be getting something new, and we owe nothing for it.

Recently I bought a new laptop, and as I readied it for use, my twenty-something-year-old daughter advised it would run a lot better if I wouldn’t put all that “stuff” on it. I was mildly offended, as I was sure my “stuff” … was necessary for making the device run optimally …

Chapter 2) UP IS JUST BACKWARDS WHEN YOU’RE ON THE WAY DOWN

Have you ever been lost? I mean the scary kind of lost that says, “I have no idea where to go from here.” I am not talking about the feeling of, “Where in the world of this vast Walmart parking lot is my car?” I am asking if you have ever felt the kind of lost that says, “If they don’t come looking for me soon, this is going to make the papers!”

There is no more helpless feeling, I suppose. It hasn’t happened to me more than once that I can remember, but it left a memory of fear when the familiar woods where I played began to look frightening and strange when it was time to get home.

When you are lost, things happen differently in how you relate to the world around you. Reason and intellect can assure you that a particular direction has to be right. But, taking off in that direction (instead of staying put, as all the scouting and survival manuals tell us to do) only leads further into hopelessness. Often, lost people who were later found had simply gotten turned around yet were convinced they were going the right way. The innate directional signals that should have helped them reach familiar territory got scrambled in their minds. At that point, they could not believe their map, compass, spouse, or…well, you get the picture, I am sure …

Chapter 3) THAT WAS THEN, THIS IS ME…NOW

“Yeah, I did that, but I was much younger, then — just a kid, really. I like to think I have a little wisdom on me now…don’t I?”

We may as well face it: we care how others see us; what they think of the choices we have made and the things we have done. If some example of our being less than wise is brought up, we are quick to put some distance between us now and the person who could have done that then. After all, we are allowed a few missteps in the teen and early adult years, right?

But, what if “then” was just last week?

What if we hurt someone’s feelings, forgot an important event, yelled at our kids, or jumped in front of an older lady in the check-out line because we were running late? And what if we did those things, like…yesterday?

What if we can’t put distance between ourselves and our less-than-stellar actions?

Maybe the more important question is, “Why do we want so badly to distance ourselves anyway?”

Perhaps because our actions seem to define who we are. We crave to be validated by others, to be part of a bigger group, to have others simply like us. The smile or chuckle we get from listeners for a comment we intended to be funny lets us know it was well-received. A blank stare or raised eyebrows says it was totally off-point and poorly timed. Our feelings about those responses weigh heavily on even the most independent, introverted among us …

Chapter 4) HOW TO SCRUB YOUR BATHROOM FLOOR IN 30 EASY STEPS:

Ladies, be sure to keep this handy for reference — you will want to try this at least once.

1) Start deep cleaning the kitchen and doing laundry.

2) Notice your cell-phone ringing.

3) Try to ignore it because you are on a serious roll with this cleaning.

4) Side-eye the phone and observe the number is your 76-year-old mother’s mobile phone.

5) Remember, she always uses her land-line phone from home, unless something goes wrong …

Chapter 5) FOUR MINUTES THAT CHANGED THE WORLD

  1. True ____ False ____ An inch is a large unit of measure.

The answer is obvious…isn’t it?

This was an actual question on a Physical Science exam during my freshman year in college — possibly a final, since I remember vividly my agitated state of mind upon reading it. After all, it cost me what could have been a perfect score and helped earn only my second “B” at the school (the first was in Volleyball, but enough said about that).

I was only in the class because of a foul-up on the part of my academic advisor (another story in itself) resulting in my having to abandon the biology minor I had invested three courses in pursuing. Physical science seemed downright hokey to me after sailing through zoology and botany. Adding to my somewhat wounded pride was the undeniable fact that I simply did not like the instructor. He seemed to teach at a level of challenge designed to keep the university’s sports teams winning, with or without the players having to apply themselves academically.

With such a positive mindset, the exam question asking whether an inch was a large unit of measure set my brain to screaming, “COMPARED TO WHAT???!!! MILES OR MICRONS???!!!” With a fifty percent chance of getting that one right, as you might guess, I did not. I can’t remember which I chose but probably checked “True,” just to make my point.

Great choice …

THE REST OF THE STORY

Here are the titles to the other chapters, or doses, if you will. I would love to know how you like whatever you choose to read. Leave a comment below, or a review wherever you purchase the books. God bless.

WHAT’S UP WITH HIM??

FROM COLORS TO CHEMISTRY, FROM ADDITION TO ALGEBRA

THE SAGA OF SALLY

TWO THINGS I BET YOU CAN’T DO AT ONE TIME

THAT’S WHAT YOU GET!

JUST DON’T PLAN ON DOING ANYTHING TOMORROW

WHEN YOU HAVE TIME

WHAT ARE YOU HERE TO DO?

HOW DO YOU WALK ON WATER?

WHAT GETS TO YOU?

WHAT IS YOUR EARLIEST FAITH MEMORY?

GOD WITH HIS SKIN ON?

“ARE YOU GOING TO EAT THAT?”

HOLINESS

FENCE OR GUARDRAIL?

THE TRUE WONDER OF THE SEASON

MY HEART ON CHRISTMAS EVE, 2013

CHECK IT OUT!

THE SHOW-ME STATE…OF MIND

SOMETHING FOR NOTHING?

WHERE DO YOU GET YOUR WATER?

FATHERLESS DAY

THE CLOSING OF THE DOOR

ALL DONE!

WELL, WHAT IS IT GOING TO BE?

WHATEVER

WHATEVER life appears to have thrown at you, turn your face toward Jesus, put your situation and yourself in His hands, and seek Him with all your heart. You will not believe what He will bring out of your troubles and put into your life once you lock on to Him and refuse to let go.

I am not speaking some namby-pamby “Name it and claim it” words into the air. I am talking about a search for Jesus that brings one to an altar of repentance with tears and heart-wrenching prayer. I am talking about total commitment to obey the Acts 2:38 gospel message or to realign with it or to simply declare you have been living it faithfully and do not understand what is happening to you, but you will die holding on if God doesn’t deliver you.

Things WILL happen, somewhere in your heart and life and world when you do this.

You see, God devises means (2 Samuel 14:14) to bring about His plans: not often obvious, but always intentional.

There was a Hebrew family who was prophesied to serve in a strange land four hundred years and afterward come out with great substance and be brought into a promised land to possess it. The plan for getting them there called for a Hebrew youth to rise to power in that strange country first, save the day for them, and win the right to establish his own family in the choicest part of the land. We know that beautiful part of the story.

But the ugly part was used to bring about the beautiful part. Joseph was not likely to wake up one day in his father’s house where he was favored above his brothers and decide to run off to Egypt to find his fortune. Yet, he had to be gotten to Egypt.

So, God’s plan called for a cruel crime to be committed that broke his heart and his father’s, and must have seemed to both to have no possibility of any kind of happy ending.

But Joseph was rock-solid faithful to God, and after going through more and worse trials he was brought out and made the centerpiece of one of the greatest deliverances of the Old Testament. His family saw what God had done, repented and reconciled to him, and planted themselves where they could grow into a mighty nation from a small nomadic family.

Not every story turns out so well. Many testimonies have beautiful stories of redemption and restoration because of faithfulness.

Daniel 3:17-18 KJV

If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods…

We know this story for how gloriously it worked out for these three young men. Even if it had gone against them (as it did for some referenced in Hebrews 11:36-39), their battle cry of “But if not…” would have still rung in our ears as the way to give it all to God no matter what. It can become our own rallying cry at at altar of prayer.

The time is short, and the door is closing. Some will fall, but we do not have to. We can let the forces coming against us propel us to an altar, or back to one again and again. We can see what God will do, trusting Him to bring unbelievable deliverance for us or our loved ones out of what presently does not make sense to our human eyes. If we see nothing else from it, we will see His face in peace one day, and positively declare that it was worth it all!