THE REAL MIRACLE OF CHRISTMAS

Unlike most of you, I have never carried a child in my womb, nor have I, except for a college biology film, ever witnessed the birth of a child.  I have no firsthand knowledge of this wondrous miracle, but I am fascinated by the facts.

At inception, the female egg is about the size of a grain of sand.  I believe that fertilization of the egg is the beginning of human life, and in that tiny, almost microscopic, mass lives the potential for greatness, for achievement, genius, tenderness, success, leadership, kindness, brilliance and the whole gamut of emotions.  Think of tiny fingers that will one day play Rachmaninoff’s piano concerto #3, feet that will run The Boston Marathon, a mind that will conquer cancer, a voice that will sway the multitude, and arms that will hold a loved one.

Friends speak of a difficult pregnancy and a hard prolonged labor, but they never say, “I wish I hadn’t done it.”  For when that child finally makes his debut appearance, howling in protest at his forced departure from a comfy, warm, safe abode, he may be red and wrinkled and uglier than lye soap, but that’s not what his mother sees.  He may not be a Gerber Baby, but his mother sees nothing but a miracle of life, a miracle of beauty when she first holds him close to her heart.

At this season, we are thinking, as we should be, about the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  We are not sure when He was born.  Bible scholars, judging from historical events of the time, place His birth between 1 BC and 6 BC.  However, we are sure that He was not born on December 25, for shepherds would not have had their sheep in the fields in wintertime.  It is believed that He was born in September or October, meaning that He could have been conceived in December.

It is not important to pinpoint His exact date of birth.  The importance is in knowing that He came.  That is the miracle of Christmas.

We have a convoluted notion concerning the birth of Jesus.  Our beautiful Christmas cards portray Mary and Joseph in a neat open-air stable, a sweet, docile, haloed baby in a pristine manger filled with fresh, sweet hay, with well-groomed, well-behaved cattle in observance.

In reality, Jesus birth parallels the birth of that newborn in a hospital delivery room. There was blood and gore and pain and hard labor and sweat and tears.  This all took place in a non-sterile, dark cave, where the lowing, sweating cattle were stabled, and the acrid aroma of cow manure filled the air.  There was nothing romantic about His birth.

We have a hard time dealing with the humanity of Christ.  But the truth is, at His Father’s bidding, He left the glories of heaven becoming an embryo in the womb of a teenage, Galilean girl.  The Son of God submitted Himself to total oblivion for nine long months.  He relinquished His supernatural power and willingly allowed Himself to be hemmed in by time and space.

He was born a man-child, and as a man-child, he behaved as any newborn behaves.  He screamed when he was hungry.  He cried when He was wet.  Oh yes!  He did wet and mess His diapers.  Joseph, with babe in arms, walked the manure strewn floor, hoping disparately to calm the crying child, so everyone could get a little sleep.  At His birth, only Mary and Joseph knew He was God’s Son.  To all others, He was just another baby born into a poor family.  Only at the heralding of the angels did others become aware that this babe was special.

It is hard to understand that Jesus became as we are—human flesh and blood, but He did.  He did it for us.

Philippians 2:7-8 tells us, “…He set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human!  Having become human, He stayed human.  It was an incredibly humbling process.  He didn’t claim special privileges.  Instead, He lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.”      

II Corinthians 8:9 says, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.”

The song says:

From a loving heavenly Father,

To a world that knew Him not

Came the man of sorrows, Christ the Lord.

In my wanderings He found me,

Bought my soul with His own blood,

Gave to me a peace the world could not afford.

 

Redeeming love, a love that knows no limit.

Redeeming love, a love that shall not die.

My soul shall sing throughout the endless ages,

With choirs extolling His great love on high.

This is the real miracle of Christmas!  His birth, His life lived on this earth as a man, His ministry, His crucifixion, and resurrection all result in His limitless, redeeming love for you and me.

You can experience His redeeming love. You can know the real miracle of Christmas.

Remember, the sun will come out tomorrow!

 

THE TREES OF CHRISTMAS

I’m sitting here with a broad, silly grin on my face, because I have just finished decorating my Christmas tree.  I don’t know why that makes me so happy.  It just does!

I must admit that it becomes a little more difficult each year, and I was not quite sure I would be able to do it this time.  Because of my daily dosage of blood thinner, my doctor has warned me away from ladders, but you can’t trim a tree without a bit of climbing.  So I fudged a little, because my German angel couldn’t get to the top by himself.

The tree is gorgeous!  It is a bright, shining conglomeration of colors and shapes.  Alas!  It has no theme.  I have never cottoned to themed Christmas trees nor those decorated in only one color.  I just want to use all the stuff that I have collected over the years.  I am still using some of my Mom’s decorations.  They are old and faded and tarnished, but they are filled with sweet, sweet memories.  I say it again, “This tree makes me happy!”

In 1975, I was a brand new missionary in the country of Belgium.  Everything was good and exciting when I arrived in August, but as Christmas drew nearer and nearer, I just wanted to lie down and die.  I had never, in my thirty-nine years, been away from my family at Christmastime.  However, instead of giving in to despair, I determined to make Christmas as much like home as possible.  To that end, my roommate and I bought a large tree and put it in front of the French doors in our third-floor apartment.  Its beauty brought a bit of cheer to my aching heart.

We were cleaning house on December 23, when Ginny decided to vacuum behind the tree.  (You’d have to meet Ginny.)  All of a sudden, I heard a loud crash and a moan of despair.  My friend had knocked the tree over with the vacuum.  There on the floor lay the denuded tree among dried pine needles and broken ornaments.  There was no way to salvage it so, after I recovered from my urge to kill, we dragged it into the elevator and dumped it in the basement.  Through a series of unlikely, frustrating, even amusing events (another story to be told) we were able to replace the tree, and Christmas came and went without further calamity.

No one is quite sure how or when the Christmas tree originated, but we do know that, even in the middle ages, various cultures brought greenery into their homes in the winter time.  It symbolized life in those cold, dark days.

It is said that Queen Victoria’s beloved Albert introduced the tree into the English culture.

The story, yet unproven, that I love best and want to believe, is that of Martin Luther.

On a Christmas Eve, in the 1500’s, Martin Luther made his way home from vespers.  Walking through the snow-covered woods, he was struck by the beauty of the snow glistened trees.  Their branches, dusted with the soft white powder, shimmered in the moonlight and the twinkling stars overhead seemed to decorate the tips of the evergreens.

At home, he set up a small fir tree and decorated it with tiny candles, which he lighted in honor of Christ’s birth.  He told his children it reminded him of Jesus, who left the stars of heaven to come to earth at Christmas.

I love the beauty of Christmas—the brilliant lights, the vivid colors, the tantalizing aroma of baked goods, the seraphic faces and shining eyes of expectant children, and the pile of gifts under the tree. But this beauty all wrapped up together is only a faint reflection of the beauty of Christ, who is Christmas.

I am continually blessed at this season when I realize that men and women, who deny Christ’s existence, who have totally rejected Him, who hate everything He stands for, continue to celebrate His birth.  O, they deny it, but by simply giving place to Christmas, they are confirming that HE IS!

So—for me—the Christmas tree is a symbol of life and light and hope that Jesus brought to this sad world at His advent.

Now, it occurs to me that another tree really plays the leading role in the story of Christmas, for the gift of Christ’s birth is incomplete without the magnificence of His sacrifice at Calvary.

1 Peter 2:24 says, “…who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree (the cross), that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness…”  

 So, trim your trees, sing “O, Little Town of Bethlehem,” and “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” but while you celebrate Jesus” birth, celebrate, also, His death.  Let Him make Christmas complete in your life.

Remember the sun will come out tomorrow!

           

What A Waste

It was early morning, and I was bouncing around in the back of a huge truck on my way to the city dump, in Calcutta, India. (The city is now called Kolkata)  I have sent tons of garbage to the city dump in my hometown, but I have never been there.  So, why in the world—why would I get up before sunrise to visit a dump?

Actually, this site, where 4,000 tons of new waste is dumped each day, is known as Calcutta’s Garbage Mountain, and it has become, for some twisted reason, a tourist site.  No wonder!  The dump covers sixty acres and is ten stories high.  It is permanently on fire from the combustible waste deposited there, and no one tries to put it out.  A fetid, unbearable stench hangs heavily in the air.

Amazingly, in 2016, Calcutta received an award for impressive waste management.  I dare say that the 30,000 miserable souls that live permanently on or around the garbage heap are not impressed.

Many of these garbage residents are rag pickers or waste pickers.  One can find almost anything there including dead babies, smuggled chocolates and medicine, money and even gold.  These souls spend their days sorting through the “yuck” picking out recyclable stuff and burning rotting bodies.

When Bangladesh broke away from Pakistan in 1971, the population of Calcutta grew from one million to eight million overnight.  (Current population is fourteen million.)  The city had no provision for such an influx.

When engineers were asked for a solution, they replied, “Raze the place and start over!”

I was in Calcutta for the first time in 1980.  The sights I saw and the experiences I had sear the mind and make faint the heart.  Never before had I seen such abject poverty, such suffering.  Multitudes lived on the sidewalks sheltered only by a cardboard lean-to.  They drank from the gutters, and at dusk, they lit their charcoal burners to heat tea and prepare what meager food they had.  All over the city black smoke filled the atmosphere and settled on everything in sight.  Beggars were everywhere.  A trip to the market drew a throng of little black-eyed boys begging to be hired to carry parcels.

I was there for ministry, but I ashamedly admit that there were days I was reluctant to leave the house.  However, on that early morning, in 1980, we were on our way to “Garbage Mountain” not as tourists or to see the sites—we were there to feed the hungry.

The line had already begun to form before our truck came to a halt at the designated site.  It was all very orderly.  In single file, the line of women and children snaked through the wasteland as far as the eye could see waiting politely for the one nutritious meal they would have that day.  They came with their tin cups and other containers.

Each one was given a cup of milk and two substantial whole grain pancakes.  I don’t know how long we were there or how many people we fed, but after awhile they were gone.  I imagined they had found a quiet place among the rubbish to enjoy, perhaps, the only meal they would have that day.

I asked why there were no men in the line.  I was told that, if the men were fed, there would be no motivation to find work.

Our faithful, longtime, missionaries worked tirelessly.  They had established a thriving church, an elementary school, a feeding program and a hospital in Calcutta, and in every place, in every way, they preached the good news of Jesus Christ.  Yet, from a distance, stacked up against eight million “waste” people it seemed so little—too little.

The trip to the dump hung over me like an albatross.  I thought about those emaciated children gladdened by a cup of milk, and I wondered whether or not I had made any difference at all while I was there.

In reflection, I thought of the widow in Mark 12: 42 (The Message) “One poor widow…put in two small coins—a measly two cents.  Jesus…said…this poor widow gave more than all the others…she gave extravagantly what she could not afford—she gave her all.”

The “garbage dump” people around us are seldom lovely and appealing.  Sometimes they are utterly repulsive.  But in Matthew 10:31, Jesus, who cares when a sparrow falls, declared that the least person is worth more to Him then many sparrows.

Jesus asks us to look at the need around us.  He asks to give extravagantly, even what we cannot afford—to give our all.  In fact, Luke 38 (The Message) says, “Give away your life…giving, not getting, is the way.  Generosity begets generosity.”

You may feel that “your all” is not very much, but just as Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes, He will multiply your “gift” and make it more than enough.

Giving “all” brings bonus and blessing.

 

REMEMBER, THE SUN WILL COME OUT TOMORROW!

 

 

 

WHEN LIFE IS NOT FAIR

“Life isn’t fair,” my friend exclaimed, as we walked toward the sanctuary.  She had been telling me about her sister, who was trying to decide whether or not she would undergo Chemo-therapy.

“No,” I thought.  “Life certainly is not fair!”

I sat in the morning service trying to worship and keep my mind on the sermon, but this thought troubled me.

I remembered my childhood, when we wailed at each other, because “You got a bigger piece than I did,” or “I’m going to tell Mama you won’t let me…  That’s not fair!”

As adults our sense of fairness is offended when we see the way powerful people get away with things, and why should some people be born into money and others be born into poverty?  The simple answer is, “The world has never been fair.”

However, by regulating, adjudicating or legislating, we have tried to do away with unfairness.  We give money to people, many of whom don’t even want to work.  Schools have done away with “Winners” and “Losers.”  Everybody gets a ribbon whether or not he ranked first or fifty-seventh.  But mandates don’t create fairness.

Many years ago, when I was a public school teacher, a father sat across the desk from me.  It was parent-teacher conference week.  His daughter was one of my fourth-grade students.

She was a pretty little thing, well behaved for the most part, and she did try.  But she was, on the best of days, a “C” student.

Her father, a psychologist in his own right, imagining that he had the upper hand in this conference, didn’t like what he saw on his daughter’s report card and was determined to change it.

“Look,” he demanded.  “You can change some of these grades.  Just put some more “A’s” on this card.  After-all, she’s a pretty girl.  She will grow up and marry well.  What difference will it make then?” He wanted to level the pathway for his daughter.  He wanted life to be fair.

Reality is that life isn’t based in fairness.  Some things happen that we don’t bring on ourselves.

After waiting seventy-six years, sweet Cecil came along, and we were married.  Five months and eleven days later, God chose to take him home.  That doesn’t make any sense.  All of my friends have enjoyed fifty years or more of marriage.  That’s certainly not fair.

I have envied my brother and his family.  They were always together for holidays.  On Christmas, when I called, I could hear the happy ruckus in the background, and I longed to be with them.

Now my brother, who is the best man in this world, is virtually alone.  His wife is gone.  His oldest daughter died last fall, and his younger daughter has moved away.  That’s not fair.  He deserves better.  I am sad for him.

And the list goes on!

I know that you can add your own story to my catalog of unfairness.

Ninety-nine percent of people think they are treated unfairly at one time or another, and the other one percent think they are not treated fairly enough.  We can spend our time complaining and never extricate ourselves from this quagmire of self-pity, or we can realize that whether we were born with a silver spoon, plastic spoon or no spoon at all, it’s not the circumstances, but what we make of them.  We always have choices about how we respond.  The greatest adversity life can throw at you affords another opportunity to look to Jesus for His “more excellent way.”

And—by the way, you are permitted to question God.  Jesus did.  He cried, “Why have you forsaken me?”  God understands you.  He knows your struggle.  He knows your need.  You can complain to Him.  He will not hold it against you, but while you are complaining, do a little listening.

This world often judges us unfairly, because we are judged by what we can do and the number of people we impress.  I am grateful this world is not my ultimate judge.

One day, after I have navigated the rocky shoals of this life, I will stand before my maker, God Himself, the one who said, “WHOSOEVER WILL MAY COME,” the one who said He would make no difference between “JEW or non-JEW, SLAVE and FREE, MALE and FEMALE.  He will be my judge, and His judgment will be absolutely fair.  He won’t care about how much money I have accumulated or how many people I have impressed.  I will be judged by three things only.

  1. Has the blood of Jesus Christ been applied to my life—is my name written in His book?
  2. Have I been faithful to Him?
  3. Have I obeyed His Word?

On that day, I expect to hear the words from Matthew 25:23.  “…Well done, good and faithful servant…enter into the joy of your Lord.”

In spite of this world’s unfairness, just be faithful to God.  Through His compassion, kindness, and love, you will receive more than you deserve, more than you can ever earn and more than you can ever hope for.

Remember, the sun will come out tomorrow!

OUT OF STYLE

My family never could have been accused of being stylish.  At least the concept was not important in our home.  However, because of Mama’s ingenuity and nimble fingers, we were always clean and neat—not a bad looking bunch.

I remember standing in the middle of the floor while Mama, with scissors and newspaper fashioned a dress pattern, trying her best to make it like the one she had seen in J.C. Penney’s, occasionally holding it up against me to make sure it would fit.  I adored every new frock she made.  We were “homemade,” to be sure—from top to bottom.

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Mama taught me to sew on her old treadle sewing machine, when I was still a little girl.  By the time I was a young teen-ager I was making my own clothes.  I remember the stinging remarks of my classmate—one of the elite—making fun of my homemade dress.  To that point, I had been extremely proud of my ability to fashion a garment for myself.

That was, perhaps, the moment when I first began to think about style.  Yet, I have never been consumed with it.  I love pretty clothes, but I have always worn what I like—the things that look best on me regardless of whether or not it is the latest fashion.  I’m usually two or three years behind the times, and never really seem to catch up.

I have a lovely necklace that is made of hundreds of tiny golden glass beads strung together in a torsade.  I wore it to church a few weeks ago, and one of my pastor’s wives remarked, “O, did you know gold is coming back into style.”

Being who I am, I replied, “Imagine that!  All this time I didn’t even know that it was out of style.”

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Many people are obsessed with the need to be stylish.  I have observed people, particularly women—young women—who insist on wearing the latest style only to look ridiculous.  There is little individuality in this world today.  We follow the crowd like bunch of sheep.  We are not only expected to dress according to the present trend, but our speech and conduct must be politically stylish as well.

However, if you are a follower of Jesus, it is not the trends of this world or the crowd that will determine your style.  I do not speak of clothing, necessarily, but I speak of our manner of living.

Think of it!  The fashions of this world change from day to day. It’s enough to make your head spin.  It’s difficult to keep up, and the pocket book suffers.  We’re never quite sure whether or not we are trendy enough.

Am I wearing the right clothing?  Do I drive the right car?  Is my house nice enough?  Is my background impressive?  Do I run with the right crowd?  We want so much to fit in—to keep up with the times.

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It is comforting to me to know that Christ’s way never changes.  It has been the same since the beginning.  In fact you could call Him downright “Old Fashioned.”

The prophet Jeremiah, in 6:16 (the Message) tells us to “Go stand at the crossroads and look around.  Ask for directions to the OLD road, the tried and true road.  Then take it.  Discover the right route for your souls.”

1 Peter 2:21.  “For to this were you called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps.”

This simply means that we are to trace His life exactly.  Remember Kindergarten, when your teacher gave you a fat pencil and a paper with the ABC’s printed on it.  It was your task to trace over those big letters until you could get them right.  It wasn’t easy, but you finally did it.

This old road is difficult to be sure, but He has set an example, and He has forged the path.  When we place our feet in the prints He has left, we are living His lifestyle.

In Philippians 2:5, we read, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.” We are to think as Jesus thought, to love what He loved, to hate what He hated.  Our thoughts, desires, and motives should be the thoughts, desires and motives, which filled the heart of our Lord.

WE ARE TO IMITATE HIM—TO REPRODUCE HIS IMAGE.

 THE OLD ROAD is not very popular in our world today.  It is a road less traveled, but it is the road that leads to peace, and rest, and joy and contentment.

You can choose to live according to the changing fashions of this world, or you can live the Life Style of Christ.

 

the sun will come out tomorrow!

A JOURNEY BACK IN TIME

My big brother, well, you can’t really call him my “big brother,” because I’m bigger than he is.  Nevertheless, my older brother came from Fort Worth to spend Christmas with me.  Having lost both his wife and oldest daughter in the last eighteen months he needed a change.

Paul and I are good together.  He’s quiet and I never shut-up.  We both like to cook, and being retired ministers, we always have something to talk about.  We spent a lot of time just reminiscing—comparing notes and sharing sweet, good, meaningful times from the past.

We spent hours driving through Mesa, where we were both raised.  Paul was constantly looking for landmarks—something familiar.

“It’s not fair.  It’s just not fair,” he grumbled, as we drove up and down and back and forth.

“What’s not fair?” I asked.

“They changed everything,” he complained.  “Nothing is as it should be.”

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I couldn’t help laughing.  “Do you realize it has been nearly seventy years since you lived here?” I asked.

We looked for the big pink hotel that used to be on the corner of Center and Main Street, for Paul L. Sales, and Valley National Bank, and our High School—all of them gone.

However, my brother did find some landmarks.  He knew where all the irrigation canals were.  When he found them, he figured out where everything else ought to be.

“May’s Store was just on the other side of this canal,” he declared. “They sold fruit and nuts and dates, and June was born about a mile west of that canal, and I used to walk home down this canal bank.”

He also found the great Bottle tree on Brown Road, where we lived when I was three.  The house is not there, but the irrigation ditch still runs by the side of the road.

As we drove down Broadway, Paul said, “O, look!  See that building.  It was behind that building, in a tent revival, where I was saved, when I was ten.  What a blessed landmark!

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Through the years, I have had the privilege of visiting many well known Landmarks scattered across this world.  I have zoomed to the top 1063 ft., wrought iron Eiffel Tower, in Paris, France.  In Agra, India, I sat in the gardens and contemplated the beauty of the Taj Mahal.  I have craned my neck to view the top of the Washington monument, on the National Mall in   D.C., and from a boat, in the middle of the Thames River, I gazed at the London Eye, a giant Ferris wheel, from which you may view all of London and its surrounding areas.

These were memorable experiences.  Yet, I am, somehow, more touched by the canals in Mesa and the remembrance of my brother’s landmark salvation.

Landmarks are exactly what the word implies—an object that marks the boundary of land.  A landmark may also be an object that marks a certain locality, like the Bottle tree, and it can be a structure of unusual historic interest, or an event that marks a turning point in one’s life.

Proverbs 22:28 tells us, “Do not remove the ancient landmark which your fathers have set.”

There is a reason for not moving landmarks.  Landmarks keep things stable, secure and correct.  It keeps confusion away.  It helps people identify what is mine and what is yours.

Physical landmarks are important and even necessary, but personal, spiritual landmarks define our life.  Though the building on Le Baron St. is no longer there, I can still see the five-year-old me kneeling at a tear-stained altar with my Sunday school teacher, as I surrendered my heart to Jesus.  I can take you to the place where God called me into ministry, and I could show you the bedroom, where I struggled night after night with The Lord as He revealed His plan for me and faraway places.

Personal spiritual landmarks are sacred ground.  When times are hard, we can go back in thought, at least, to these landmarks, and reflect with humble gratitude about what God did for us there.  He will reassure, reaffirm and refresh us again with His life-giving presence.

Now, we must consider GOD’S Landmarks put in place before you and I ever existed.

In Jeremiah 6:16, The Lord says to us, “…Stand in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where the good way is, and walk in it, then you will find rest for your souls…”

Long ago God set up some landmarks for us.  They have not changed, nor, do they need to be updated, because human needs and nature remain as they were from the beginning.  Those unchangeable landmarks are to be found in His word.  They are in place for our protection.  When He says, “Ask for the old paths—the good way, and walk in it,” He is saying, “Walk in obedience.  Walk according to My Word.”

Today, as a society, we are unhappy, dissatisfied, unfulfilled.  We have tried everything to fill up the empty spaces, but it is not working.  We’ve lost our way because we have ignored the ancient landmarks.  It is time to search out God’s Word—to walk in the old paths where the way is good.  Only then will we find the peace for which we long.

THE SUN WILL COME OUT TOMORROW!

For Unto Us…

 

Christmas, 1975, was difficult for me.  I was a rookie missionary in Belgium away from my family for the first time.  When I thought about Christmas alone, I wanted to lie down and die, but I didn’t.  I made the best of things.

My Christmas experiences, that first year in Belgium, have furnished me with sweet, funny, and ridiculous stories, with which I have entertained people for over forty years.

A couple of weeks before Christmas I received a telephone call from one of our Belgian pastors, who knew of my ministry to children.

“Sister Faye,” he said, “We would like to invite you to our church on Saturday afternoon before Christmas.  We have asked a group of Gypsy children to be our guests.  Our own children will present a Christmas program, and, afterward, we will give gifts to all the Gypsy kids.”

Of course, I accepted the invitation—I was anxious to go.

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When I arrived at the little storefront church, I was amazed at what I saw.  The platform was piled high with wonderful gifts—baby dolls and toy trucks, basketballs and roller skates—almost anything a child could desire.  There were also great bags of sweets—candies and cookies and other pastry.

The pastor had explained to me that he had gone to merchants and explained the need.  He had also shared the needs with patisseries and sweet shops.  Everyone had been generous with his donations.

The Gypsy kids came.  They came with their Moms and Dads, their Grandmas and Grandpas, Aunts and Uncles and Cousins.  They filled every crook and cranny in that little sanctuary.

The church kids presented a great program.  Then pastor walked to the platform.  He explained very meticulously how this thing was going to work.

He said, in French, “We have a gift and sweets for all the children.   There is enough for everyone.  So, we will come one row at a time.  When row one is finished, then row two will come, and so on.  Do you understand?”

“ Oui, oui,”  they shouted with one accord.

“D’accord,” said the pastor.  “Row one may come.”

At his word, the whole Gypsy congregation, kids, moms and dads, and every other relative rushed the platform nearly mowing down the pastor.

“Non, non!  Attendez, attendez,” he cried.  “Vous n’avez pas compris.”  (You did not understand.)   “Go back to your seats.”

Back to their seats they went, and we started all over.

“Now,” said the pastor, “Let’s try again.  Row one must come first.”

Again, the whole audience broke and ran for the platform.  After several tries, the pastor just gave up.  His Gypsy guests helped themselves to the gifts and the sweets, and walked out the door without a “Thank you” or backward glance.

The pastor was bewildered—divested.  He had worked so hard.  I was truly sorry for him, and I was truly sorry for those beautiful black eyed kids.  I think I understood.  They were marginalized, unaccepted by society, living in squalor, with hardly enough to keep body and soul together.  All of life they had been left out, living on the edge.

Suddenly there was all this beautiful, shiny, new stuff meant for them.  So, breaking all the rules, they claimed it.  Someone had finally included them.

Most of us have felt left out, unnoticed, unappreciated at one time or another.  We ask, “Why not me?  Why do the good things always happen to someone else?  Why don’t I win the lottery?”

Great News!  You have not been left out.  You have been personally included in the greatest “give-away” of all time.

“For unto US, you and me, a child is born, unto US, you and me, a Son is given…and His name shall be called WONDERFUL, COUNSELOR, MIGHTY GOD, EVERLASTING FATHER, PRINCE OF PEACE.”

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This child, who is born to us, is wonderful in every way—in His birth, His teaching, His deeds, His death, and His resurrection.  Wonderful to us!

Do you lack wisdom?  He is our counselor.  We never go wrong when we follow His counsel.

His is our Mighty God—our Hero God—able to do exceedingly more than we can ever imagine.

Being alone as I am, I sometimes feel the need for a protector.  This child, who was born to me, has become my Everlasting Father—my absolute, eternal protector.  He will never cease to protect, never desert or grow weary.

He is the Prince of Peace.  In the middle of this nutty, out of control world, He keeps me in perfect peace.

This Christmas I am seized by the wonder of Christ.  I am gripped by the fact that He is mine—that he was born for me.  His love, His forgiveness His life, and all that includes, is God’s gift to me.  I have not been left out.

Just like those needy Gypsy children, you may claim God’s bright, shiny, wonderful gifts for yourself.  YOU HAVE NOT BEEN LEFT OUT!

 

THE SUN WILL COME OUT TOMORROW

 

 

IF JESUS GOES WITH ME…

I’m really a pretty resilient person.  I have been able to compartmentalize my life so that, normally, distressing situations do not take me prisoner, rendering me incapable of functioning.  I am aware that this balance stems totally from my relationship with God.

However, the past weeks have been so difficult, the problem so seemingly impossible that the shine on my calm demeanor has dulled and my smile is sometimes fleeting.

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Saturday afternoon, I felt so sad and tired and helpless. My mind was tangled with all the things that didn’t work and none that did.  I couldn’t see anything good coming from all of this.  But, I couldn’t sit and mope, so I crawled off the sofa and went to the piano.

Now, you already know, from past blogs, that, though I can read the music, I do not really play the piano.  I “plunk” the piano.  Opening the piano bench, I found an old, thin, paperback songbook – “Evangel Songs.” The pages are yellow and brittle and stained.  My father’s name, W.H. Clark, is scrawled in large penciled letters, in the top margin of page 1.  That made me smile. The Book was published in 1931 and cost $ 0.20.

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I leafed carefully through the book until I found the song on page 8 – “If Jesus Goes With Me.”  As I began to sing and play, I was immediately transported back to the beginning days of my ministry, when as a young woman having left an assured teaching position I was now trying to find my way into what I was sure was God’s call upon my life.

In my time of need and uncertainty, God sent me a mentor.  This roly-poly evangelist and his wife radiated the beauty of Jesus, and I fell in love with them.  Whenever I was in the area, I showed up at their front door.  They always welcomed me.  Rev. Wood and I sat together for hours talking about God and the ministry.  He shared personal experiences of his own struggles and successes.

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One day Claude Wood took my hands in his, and looking me in the eyes, began to sing.

If Jesus goes with me, I’ll go anywhere!

‘Tis heaven to me, wherever I be, if He is there!

I count it a privilege here His cross to bear;

If Jesus goes with me, I’ll go anywhere!

It may be in the valley, where countless dangers hide;

It may be in the sunshine that I, in peace, abide;

But this one thing I know—if it be dark or fair,

If Jesus is with me, I’ll go anywhere!

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As my friend sang those old words, the presence of God settled around us and His peace filled my heart.  I knew in that moment, as I have known all these years since, that regardless of what the future holds, Jesus will be there.

Sitting at the piano on Saturday afternoon, I felt as though I was, once again, that uncertain young woman looking for an answer.  Then that same divine assurance came flooding into my dark valley, and I knew that God, in His own time, would solve this unsolvable situation.

This truth is not new to me, but being human, I am sometimes overwhelmed by situations and circumstances.  And I am still human enough to want to solve the problems on my own.  I have GOOD IDEAS!  They don’t work, but they are good.  I fuss and fume and try to reason with unreasonable people.  I lose sleep and limp through the days.  I tell God how I want this thing accomplished, and when it must be done.

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The reality is, sometimes I cannot help myself.  I can’t solve the problem.

The Psalmist says in 124:8, “Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”

Think about it!  That One, who made earth with His outstretched arm, extends his strong hand to you and me.  His reach is long.  It stretches to wherever you are today, both physically and spiritually.

Hebrews 13:6 say, “…The Lord is my helper; I will not fear.  What can man do to me?” So, my job is to trust Him.

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Proverbs 3:5 – 6.  “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him…”

Micah 7:7 sets us an example.  “…I will look to the Lord.  I will wait for the God of my salvation.  My God will hear me.”

I will no longer look to my own abilities or resources.  I will look to “…Him who is able to do exceedingly, abundantly above all…” Ephesians 3:20.

Remember, no matter how deep and dark the valley, Jesus is there.

THE SUN WILL COME OUT TOMORROW!!!

Promises, Promises!

 

Have you ever broken a promise?  Of course, you have.  We all have.  We break promises for a variety of reasons.

Sometimes a promise, made in good faith with every good intention, is broken because unexpected circumstances prevent the keeping of it.

Some promises are broken, simply because the person making it changed his mind.

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Others promises are broken, because, the person who promised simply lied.  He had no intention, from the beginning, of keeping his word.

Early in our relationship, I asked Cecil to make me a promise.

 

I don’t remember now what it was about, but he laughingly refused.  Only later did I learn that, from his childhood, He was taught he must never make a promise to anyone.

That teaching was based on Matthew 5:33 – 37 and James 5:12.  Both references give the same admonition telling us that we must not swear at all.  Those who influenced Cecil, interpreted this to mean that we must never make a promise at all, for we are incapable of keeping promises.  Only God can do that.

Well, don’t you know, this caused a bit of an uproar before our wedding.

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When I showed my sweetheart the wedding ceremony that my brother had written for us, Cecil said, I can’t do that.  I can’t make that vow!”

I was flabbergasted!  “You can’t promise to love me, and cherish me, and be faithful to me,” I asked in astonishment?

 “You know I will,” he said worriedly, “but I can’t say it that way.”

My creative brother found a way to rewrite that part of the ceremony to accommodate my worried groom.  To my way of thinking, it was only a matter of semantics.  I knew Cecil would do exactly as he said because he was a truthful man.

However, avoiding promises, because you might break them, is not the issue.  The issue is one of truth because God witnesses every word we speak.  When we lightly commit ourselves to something without any real guilt at our failure to follow through, we treat people unjustly and deceitfully no matter how trivial the promise.  What if the broken promise is important enough to wreck havoc in life?

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Years ago, I watched a segment of the Oprah Winfrey show. She prefaced her program by saying that America is in trouble because we have become a nation of liars.   Earlier, she had provided a diary for certain people in her audience asking them to record each time they had lied during the previous week.

She began to question the audience asking, “How many times did you lie?”

“Thirteen,” came a reply.

“And you,” she asked?

“Thirty-five times.”

“What about you?”

“Twenty-seven.”

With each response, the roar of laughter increased until the audience was totally out of control.  For some reason, it was hilarious, the fact that their friends and neighbors were liars.

If honesty prevailed among us; if we were not inconsistent and hypocritical, promises would never be necessary.  A truly good person can live by the truth of his sayings and the reality of his actions.  He need make no promises.  His “yes” means “yes,” and his “no” means “no.”

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So, you will agree with me that promises are often broken, and broken promises often do great harm.  Perhaps someone has broken his promise to you.  Maybe it was a wedding vow or a financial contract.  You can put your broken promise in the blank.  Whatever it was, it was life changing inflicting unbearable hurt upon you.  Be encouraged today.

There is still one who always keeps His promises.

It is impossible to count the promises of God contained in the Bible, though some have tried.  It has been estimated that there are between 3,000 and 8,000 promises, and, according to Romans 4:21, God has power to keep them all.  Hebrews 10:23 says He will do just that.

In Numbers 23:19, we read, “God is not a man that He should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change His mind.  Does He speak and then not act?  Does He promise and not fulfill?”

1 Kings 8:56 says, “…Not one word has failed of all the good promises He gave…”

2 Corinthians 1:20, “For no matter how many promises God has made they are YES in Christ.”

“His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by His own glory and goodness. Through these, He has given us His VERY GREAT AND PRECIOUS PROMISES so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.”

EVERYTHING THAT WE NEED TO HELP US LIVE A GODLY LIFE HAS BEEN PROMISED TO US.

NOW, THAT’S A BRILLIANT RAY OF SUNSHINE!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow…

Two weeks ago I had never thought of blogging nor did I see a need for it.  I wondered how in the world one could sit in front of his computer all day, when there are so many more exciting and demanding things to do. Now here I am, in front of my computer writing my first blog, and I believe it is God ordained.

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By way of introduction, I am that seventy-seven year old first time bride recently turned eighty. It has been almost three years since my Cecil died – years of pain and sorrow and bewilderment and lots of whys. However, my strong faith in a God who does not fail, a faith developed over three-quarters of a century, has brought me up and out of the pit of despair. It is “tomorrow” and the sun has come out. My tears have been spent, and I have touched again that stream of divine joy, which, for a time, was obscured by the darkness.

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I am ready to remember and celebrate the good and sweet things that defined my brief time with Cecil.

Right now I am remembering in particular that Cecil CHOSE me.   With all my wrinkles, arthritic knees and my pace maker, still he chose me.

Now I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. I’m not bad looking, when I’m fully clothed. In fact, Cecil used to say, “You clean up quite well.” You should know, however, that I am not about to run a marathon or win a bathing beauty contest. Cecil just chose me as I was.

Remember when we were kids choosing teams for kick ball or some other game. We jumped up and down, waving our arms, and yelling at the team captains, “Choose me! Choose me!   We all wanted to be the first one chosen.

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My adopted grand niece used to say, “Mommy, Mommy tell me about how you choosed me, when you went to the hospital and said, ‘I want that baby, the one with the black eyes and the curly hair.’ Tell me Mommy, tell me how you choosed me.”

 

To be chosen is a wondrous thing that marks us for favor or special privilege.   We all long for that kind of affirmation to one degree or another. We all long to be special to someone.

Cecil could have had a harem of women had he wanted, and if he could have stayed ahead of the law. When he was alone those years, he sometimes wandered into a restaurant on Sunday, and invariably, someone would call, “Cecil, come eat with us.” There they were – a table full of lovely, white haired ladies, some of them still beautiful and well turned out. He never refused the invitation.

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In fact, he loved it. He was like a rooster in a hen house. I am positive that any one of those women would have been delighted at his attention. Now that I think of it, did he just wander in?

 

BUT HE CHOSE ME! It was a defining moment in my life, a life changing moment. Someone loved me, someone wanted me.

The beauty of all this is that long before Cecil ever appeared on the horizon, I had already been chosen by another.

In Ephesians 1:4, we are told that God chose us and loved us before time began, before the foundations of the world were laid. The passage goes on to tell us He determined to adopt us and make us His sons and daughters. Our adoption included our redemption and forgiveness of sin. Our Father took great pleasure in making these plans for an abundant life.

It is amazing to know that before I ever came to be, I existed in the heart and mind of God. He knit me together or embroidered me in my mother’s womb, and He had detailed plans for my life before I breathed my first breath.

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He chose me and He has chosen you! You are His favored child.

 

 

I don’t know where are you today? Have you, figuratively, crawled back into bed and pulled the covers over your head? Perhaps the doctor has delivered a hopeless diagnosis. Your marriage is in trouble. Your kids are running wild. The money has dried up. And God doesn’t hear you anymore. You feel totally alone and unloved.

Listen to me. YOU ARE HIGHLY FAVORED! If you call Jesus Savior, it is because He has Chosen you.

Yes, the night comes. Sooner or later it comes for all of us. But night is always followed by the morning, and with the morning comes the joy.

God has a plan for every moment of your life. Walk with Him. He will be your load star leading you up and out of the darkness.

THE SUN WILL COME OUT TOMORROW!

The sun will come out tomorrow...