Breakthrough

He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters. (Psalm 18:16)

Faith-based movies are getting better.

A while back it was hard even to find a film that was clean and decent, much less one that was well done and had a Christian world view. I remember years ago I was in a Christian book store when a lady was asking if anyone had seen the movie she was thinking of buying. I had seen it, but hesitated to give my opinion, since my opinion was, It was poorly written, poorly directed, and poorly acted, but other than that it was great. (I have a theater degree with a major in directing, so admittedly I can be a bit harsh.) Fortunately before I got cornered, another woman gushed, “Oh, it was wonderful!” I guess opinions differ.

Since then I’ve seen some faith-based films I would call wonderful, and they seem to be coming more frequently. I think that for a while Hollywood got the idea that making movies that appealed to Christians was not profitable, probably due to the church people who said all Hollywood movies were from the pit of hell and swore they’d never go to one. (You know who you are.)

But when Mel Gibson recommitted his life to Christ and decided to produce a movie showing “the wounds that healed my wounds,” The Passion of the Christ was proof that a faith-based film could be successful and that Christians didn’t need to be afraid of tackling the stark realities of evil and pain in a fallen world.

What I’m liking best about the movies being produced now is their honesty. Christian movies of the past used to present the believers as the “good guys” and the unbelievers as the “bad guys.” But more recent films are showing the truth about Christians – that we are human, too, and can be just as flawed as the unbelievers, maybe more. Case in point: Breakthrough.

This movie tells the true story (my favorite kind) of a teenager named Josh who broke through the ice, was submerged for 15 minutes, then without a pulse for more than 45 minutes (i.e. clinically dead).

[Spoiler Alert] What happened to this boy was what the doctors called a miracle, but the real miracle (breakthrough) was the transformation in the two main characters.

At the beginning of the story Josh (Topher Grace) is in many ways a typical teenager, growing increasingly unresponsive to his mother’s attempts to connect with him. (Every time the kid rolled his eyes and muttered “Whatever,” I wanted to slap him.)

The mom (Chrissy Metz – This Is Us) has her own issues. She isn’t happy with the new pastor – she doesn’t like his hair, his style of preaching, or the new music he’s brought into the church to appeal to the youth. Her comments are negative, and in many instances downright rude. Seeing the mom and the young pastor interact made me cringe. It also made me laugh. Yep, Christians can be opinionated and unreasonable. (Please don’t ask me how I know…)

Later in the story, under the stress of her son’s life-threatening situation, the mom becomes even more difficult to deal with; she seems angry with everyone. When others freely give their negative prognosis in front of the comatose boy, it was hard to watch the mom’s irate (albeit understandable) lashing out at them, and that rage spilling over onto others.

The father’s unwillingness to go into his son’s hospital room (“It’s hard … “) made me want to drag him there, whether he wanted to be there or not. (This isn’t about you, buddy.)

There were several “God moments” that made me want to cheer, and they weren’t just when Josh wakes up – although that was amazing, too. One of the most poignant scenes is when a flock of friends gathers outside the hospital, holding candles and singing to Josh. Though he’s still in a coma, a single tear trickles down the face of this once cocky, aloof kid, who used to think no one cared about him.

Soon after, the mother’s apology to the pastor and her explanation of why she’s such a “control freak” makes sense of the previous scenes, and her final surrender of her will to God on the roof of the hospital is the turning point of the movie – the real breakthrough.

The story doesn’t end with everything making sense and everyone living happily ever after. Very real questions arise, such as “Why did you get a miracle, but my mom is still dying?” Josh has no pat answers. (And Mom still wants to fix the pastor’s hair.)

Breakthrough doesn’t put God in a box. It is a true story of people who got a glimpse of God’s providence, but there are still things He does that we don’t understand – such as using an atheist to rescue Josh from the frigid water – and in this life there always will be.

Bottom line: Breakthrough is, in my not-so-humble opinion, a well-written, well-directed, well-acted, faith-based movie definitely worth seeing. Far from some of the sappy, humorless, unrealistic films of the past, with one-dimensional characters, this is a story many of us will relate to, with real people and their cringeworthy reactions to life. Enjoy it with the family one of these cold January days. (It’s available on Amazon Prime.)

And to all Christian film-makers out there: You are appreciated! Keep them coming! And keep them real.

Prayer: Lord God, each of us has our quirks and flaws, and yet You are so patient with us. Thank You that we don’t have to be perfect for You to love us and do a work in our lives. Thanks You for the miracles You are doing in our time as well as two thousand years ago. You are the same yesterday, today, and forever. Amen.

While I’m away …

To write the same things again is no trouble for me, and it is a safeguard for you.  (Philippians 3:1)

My sister and I are off on another “adventure” for the first time in over a year. I will not be reading as many of your blogs while I’m away. (I don’t even know if I will have internet access.) And I may not have time to do much writing. But I found a blog from one of our past trips that I believe is worth repeating, for fun and for some serious consideration. It’s a post regarding “last words.”

Enjoy! 🙂

https://seekingdivineperspective.com/2019/07/05/famous-last-words/

Prayer: Lord, I thank You for the opportunity to see Susie again, and a chance to enjoy some of the beautiful world You have created. I trust You for a safe trip and to guide our conversations. Invade our minds with what You want to say to us, and help us not only to hear but to heed, in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Talking with the Contact Tracer

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. (I Peter 3:15b)

Hello? …

Oh, hello, ___________. Yes, I tested positive for Covid two weeks ago. Yes, I was sick for a few days. It wasn’t fun, but to be honest, I’ve had colds that were much worse.

Well, I could tell you where I’ve been lately and what I’ve been doing, but it wouldn’t be very interesting. I will tell you, though…

I am going to die.

You‘re going to die, too.

Will we die today? Probably not. – But we might.

Will we die of Covid? Probably not. – But we might.

The question isn’t “Are we going to die?” – We are. The real question is, “Then what?

And then comes eternity. Eternity is a lot longer than this life, which is maybe 70 years, maybe 80, maybe 100 if we’re incredibly lucky.

The question isn’t so much “Where have I been?” but “Where am I going?

The important thing isn’t “Who have I been with and what have I been doing?” but “Who am I spending the next life with, and what will I be doing there?

There are only two places people spend eternity – in the presence of Jesus, or away from Him, alone forever. We can be worshiping the One who loved us enough to die for us and basking in His glory – or weeping and gnashing our teeth. I know I’m going to the first place, what about you?

… I suppose I am getting off the subject.

Yes, my husband and I followed the CDC guidelines. We stayed socially distanced, wore masks whenever required to, kept our hands clean, and avoided crowds. We’ve been home most of the time, in fact. And we got Covid anyway.

One thing I haven’t done, though, is be scared, and I think that has helped me stay healthy. Stress is arguably the worst drain on the immune system, don’t you think? Lately the fear the news has fed us night and day have many of us stressed out, possibly more than we have ever been before. We finally just turned it off, and I think that has had a lot to do with our speedy recovery.

But here’s my main source of peace: I don’t believe I’m leaving this world one moment before God is ready to call me home, and when He does, I’m not going to hang around here one moment longer than I have to! That pretty much eliminates most fear-based stress, so I’ve been sleeping remarkably well. – And adequate sleep is crucial for a healthy immune system, too, don’t you think?

Yes, I’ve stayed quarantined since my diagnosis. Spending extra time with Jesus, and it’s been so sweet. Do you know Him? [pause] Would you like to know Him? He wants you to. He loves you!

Do you have a Bible? I’d be happy to give you one. (I believe you have my address.) I could leave you one on our porch. – Don’t worry, I won’t even open my door.

… You do have a Bible? Great! I have a suggestion: Tonight look up the third chapter of the gospel of John – That’s John Chapter 3 – and read it carefully. (Or you can Google “John 3” and read it on line.) It will tell you what to do to be saved. Then you can be sure when your time comes – whether that’s today or in fifty years – you’ll be spending the rest of eternity in a good place. And I hope I see you there.

It was nice meeting you, ___________. – Don’t forget, John 3.

Thanks for calling.

Prayer: Lord, I pray for ___________ (You know her name.). I pray that she remembers what You said through me, and that she’ll forget anything that may have come just from me. I pray that You will lead her to read John 3, or any other passage You lead her to, and open her eyes to the truth of the gospel. Invade her mind with the thoughts that will lead her to surrendering her life to You – so that You can give her eternal life! In Jesus’ name, Amen.

A Christmas Gift for You

MERRY CHRISTMAS to all my readers and blogging brothers and sisters! Some of you (You know who you are.) have been such an encouragement to me during what has not been the most encouraging of years, and I value your friendship, even though most of you I’ve never met face-to-face.

My gift to you is a story that touched my heart, and I hope it will bless you, as well. This story was posted on Barb’s blog, “My Life In Our Father’s World” ( A Change of Perspective – My Life in Our Father’s World ), so it is not my original, but it was too good not to share. I recommend gathering the family around – as many as you have been able to assemble this year – and read the story together. Even if you are alone today, curl up in your favorite chair and imagine Jesus reading over your shoulder; you are not alone. (I also suggest you have some Kleenex ready, as your heart might spring a leak somewhere in the story!)

Enjoy the story, and have a very blessed Christmas.

Love,

Annie

A CHANGE IN PERSPECTIVE

It was Christmas Eve 1942. I was fifteen years old and feeling like the world had caved in on me because there just hadn’t been enough money to buy me the rifle that I’d wanted for Christmas.
We did the chores early that night for some reason. I just figured Daddy wanted a little extra time so we could read in the Bible. After supper was over I took my boots off and stretched out in front of the fireplace and waited for Daddy to get down the old Bible.

I was still feeling sorry for myself and, to be honest, I wasn’t in much of a mood to read Scriptures. But Daddy didn’t get the Bible instead he bundled up again and went outside. I couldn’t figure it out because we had already done all the chores. I didn’t worry about it long though I was too busy wallowing in self-pity.

Soon he came back in. It was a cold clear night out and there was ice in his beard. “Come on, Matt,” he said. “Bundle up good, it’s cold out tonight.” I was really upset then. Not only wasn’t I getting the rifle for Christmas, now he was dragging me out in the cold, and for no earthly reason that I could see. We’d already done all the chores, and I couldn’t think of anything else that needed doing, especially not on a night like this. But I knew he was not very patient at one dragging one’s feet when he’d told them to do something, so I got up and put my boots back on and got my coat. Mommy gave me a mysterious smile as I opened the door to leave the house. Something was up, but I didn’t know what..

Outside, I became even more dismayed. There in front of the house was the work team, already hitched to the big sled. Whatever it was we were going to do wasn’t going to be a short, quick, little job. I could tell. We never hitched up this sled unless we were going to haul a big load. Daddy was already up on the seat, reins in hand. I reluctantly climbed up beside him. The cold was already biting at me. I wasn’t happy. When I was on, Daddy pulled the sled around the house and stopped in front of the woodshed. He got off and I followed.

“I think we’ll put on the high sideboards,” he said. “Here, help me.” The high sideboards! It had been a bigger job than I wanted to do with just the low sideboards on, but whatever it was we were going to do would be a lot bigger with the high side boards on.

Then Daddy went into the woodshed and came out with an armload of wood – the wood I’d spent all summer hauling down from the mountain, and then all Fall sawing into blocks and splitting. What was he doing? Finally I said something. I asked, “what are you doing?” You been by the Widow Jensen’s lately?” he asked. Mrs.Jensen lived about two miles down the road. Her husband had died a year or so before and left her with three children, the oldest being eight. Sure, I’d been by, but so what?

Yeah,” I said, “Why?”

“I rode by just today,” he said. “Little Jakey was out digging around in the woodpile trying to find a few chips. They’re out of wood, Matt.” That was all he said and then he turned and went back into the woodshed for another armload of wood. I followed him. We loaded the sled so high that I began to wonder if the horses would be able to pull it. Finally, he called a halt to our loading then we went to the smoke house and he took down a big ham and a side of bacon. He handed them to me and told me to put them in the sled and wait. When he returned he was carrying a sack of flour over his right shoulder and a smaller sack of something in his left hand.

“What’s in the little sack?” I asked. Shoes, they’re out of shoes. Little Jakey just had gunny sacks wrapped around his feet when he was out in the woodpile this morning. I got the children a little candy too. It just wouldn’t be Christmas without a little candy.”

We rode the two miles to Mrs.Jensen’s pretty much in silence. I tried to think through what Daddy was doing. We didn’t have much by worldly standards. Of course, we did have a big woodpile, though most of what was left now was still in the form of logs that I would have to saw into blocks and split before we could use it. We also had meat and flour, so we could spare that, but I knew we didn’t have any money, so why was he buying them shoes and candy? Really, why was he doing any of this? Widow Jensen had closer neighbors than us; it shouldn’t have been our concern.

We came in from the blind side of the Jensen house and unloaded the wood as quietly as possible then we took the meat and flour and shoes to the door. We knocked. The door opened a crack and a timid voice said, “Who is it?” “Lucas Miles, Ma’am, and my son, Matt, could we come in for a bit?”
Mrs.Jensen opened the door and let us in. She had a blanket wrapped around her shoulders. The children were wrapped in another and were sitting in front of the fireplace by a very small fire that hardly gave off any heat at all. Mrs.Jensen fumbled with a match and finally lit the lamp.

“We brought you a few things, Ma’am,” Daddy said and set down the sack of flour. I put the meat on the table. Then he handed her the sack that had the shoes in it. She opened it hesitantly and took the shoes out one pair at a time. There was a pair for her and one for each of the children – sturdy shoes, the best, shoes that would last. I watched her carefully. She bit her lower lip to keep it from trembling and then tears filled her eyes and started running down her cheeks. She looked up at my Daddy like she wanted to say something, but it wouldn’t come out.

“We brought a load of wood too, Ma’am,” he said. Then turned to me and said, “Matt, go bring in enough to last awhile. Let’s get that fire up to size and heat this place up.” I wasn’t the same person when I went back out to bring in the wood. I had a big lump in my throat and as much as I hate to admit it, there were tears in my eyes too. In my mind I kept seeing those three kids huddled around the fireplace and their mother standing there with tears running down her cheeks with so much gratitude in her heart that she couldn’t speak.

My heart swelled within me and a joy that I’d never known before filled my soul. I had given at Christmas many times before, but never when it had made so much difference. I could see we were literally saving the lives of these people.

I soon had the fire blazing and everyone’s spirits soared. The kids started giggling when Daddy handed them each a piece of candy and Mrs.Jensen looked on with a smile that probably hadn’t crossed her face for a long time. She finally turned to us. “God bless you,” she said. “I know the Lord has sent you. The children and I have been praying that he would send one of his angels to spare us.”

In spite of myself, the lump returned to my throat and the tears welled up in my eyes again. I’d never thought of my Daddy in those exact terms before, but after Widow Jensen mentioned it I could see that it was probably true. I was sure that a better man than Daddy had never walked the earth. I started remembering all the times he had gone out of his way for Mommy and me, and many others. The list seemed endless as I thought on it.

Daddy insisted that everyone try on the shoes before we left. I was amazed when they all fit and I wondered how he had known what sizes to get. Then I guessed that if he was on an errand for the Lord that the Lord would make sure he got the right sizes.

Tears were running down Widow Jensen’s face again when we stood up to leave. My Daddy took each of the kids in his big arms and gave them a hug. They clung to him and didn’t want us to go. I could see that they missed their Daddy and I was glad that I still had mine.

At the door he turned to Widow Jensen and said, “The Mrs. wanted me to invite you and the children over for Christmas dinner tomorrow. The turkey will be more than the three of us can eat, and a man can get cantankerous if he has to eat turkey for too many meals. We’ll be by to get you about eleven. It’ll be nice to have some little ones around again. Matt, here, hasn’t been little for quite a spell.” I was the youngest. My two brothers and two sisters had all married and had moved away.

Mrs.Jensen nodded and said, “Thank you, Brother Miles. I don’t have to say, May the Lord bless you, I know for certain that He will.”

Out on the sled I felt a warmth that came from deep within and I didn’t even notice the cold. When we had gone a ways, Daddy turned to me and said, “Matt, I want you to know something. Your Mother and me have been tucking a little money away here and there all year so we could buy that rifle for you, but we didn’t have quite enough.

Then yesterday a man who owed me a little money from years back came by to make things square. Your Mom and me were real excited, thinking that now we could get you that rifle, and I started into town this morning to do just that, but on the way I saw little Jakey out scratching in the woodpile with his feet wrapped in those gunny sacks and I knew what I had to do. Son, I spent the money for shoes and a little candy for those children. I hope you understand.”

I understood, and my eyes became wet with tears again. I understood very well, and I was so glad Daddy had done it. Now the rifle seemed very low on my list of priorities. He had given me a lot more. He had given me the look on Mrs. Jensen’s face and the radiant smiles of her three children. For the rest of my life, Whenever I saw any of the Jensens, or split a block of wood, I remembered, and remembering brought back that same joy I felt riding home beside of my Daddy that night. He had given me much more than a rifle that night, he had given me the best Christmas of my life..

Accidental Fast, Spiritual Feast

“My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.”    John 4:34

As a teenager, I struggled with an eating disorder for the last few years of high school. But the first semester of my freshman year at college I managed to get my eating somewhat under control. Living in a totally new environment, meeting new friends, and having new experiences distracted me from my obsession with food. With the ample amount of walking between classes and life in a dorm room with no kitchen, the few extra pounds I had given too much attention to for the past couple of years had melted away, along with the dark cloud that had always seemed to follow me to and from every meal. 

But as the holiday season approached, the extended visit home with the lifelong family Christmas traditions, frankly scared me. The biggest challenge of all loomed ahead: my parents’ Christmas open house.

This annual tradition had grown from a gathering of my parents and their friends and their children, to families with their children’s “significant others,” and now grandchildren, as well. This gathering centered around food, and my mother’s food was famous. (One year a young adult guest asked my mother for a “doggie bag.” The rest of the guests, while not agreeing as to the propriety of the request, agreed wholeheartedly to the sentiment.) Home baked Christmas cookies, including “seven-layer bars” (Just picture seven of the most delicious and fattening ingredients piled up and cut into bars.), spiral cut ham and turkey for finger sandwiches, some of the most exquisite appetizers, including my very favorites – mayonnaise and parmesan cheese spread over bread and broiled until golden brown (Nope, no calories there.) – all these delights, not to mention the colorful ginger-ale-rainbow-sherbet punch, made the idea of surviving the evening binge-free seem like an impossibility. I prayed for God’s help but anticipated an evening of either abject failure or being miserable with deprivation as I watched everyone else eating what I wanted to stuff myself with.

As the food was being laid out on the long dining room table, the first of the guests began to arrive. One of them was Claire, a former high school classmate that I hadn’t seen since graduation. I had been home just once for fall break, and had only seen my friend Laurie. Having “rediscovered” Jesus (getting plugged into a fellowship of other Christian girls in my dorm) I’d had so much to share with Laurie that later I was afraid I had “talked her ear off.” And since she hadn’t cried out, “What must I do to be saved?!” I had concluded that my attempt at “witnessing” had been  unfruitful.

I welcomed Claire and offered her something to drink. We got a couple of diet Cokes from the bar and sat on the couch to catch up on each others’ lives. To my surprise, Claire started asking me about my faith; it seemed she had talked with Laurie, who had told her I had a lot to share. I began to tell her about some of my experiences, but as more guests arrived, the noise level increased accordingly. When it got to the point of being frustrating, Claire and I went upstairs to my room to continue the conversation. 

As Jesus said, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks,” (Luke 6:45) and I felt my joy tumbling out with my words. I told her how we’ve all sinned, and how when I realized Jesus loved me enough to die for me, paying the penalty for my sin, it set me free to stop wallowing in guilt and live the “abundant life” He had created me for. (I did not tell her about my eating issues – baby steps…) Every time I thought perhaps I was babbling on too much, Claire would ask another question, and off I’d go again. Occasionally she would say, “Yes, Laurie was telling me about that!” I marveled that she had heard my testimony from someone who was not even a believer yet. Nothing at the bar could have matched my spiritual “high” as I sensed God’s presence in that room, wooing another soul.

I don’t know exactly how long we were there, talking about school, life, and most of all Jesus, but it must have been pretty long, because when we came back downstairs people had started to leave, and empty platters were being cleared away  – and I hadn’t eaten a bite. I barely had time to greet my parents’ friends and hear “Imagine! Little Ann is in college now!” I was delighted to find that the open house had passed, with my feeling neither guilty nor deprived. In fact, when we were talking about Jesus, I don’t remember the thought of food having crossed my mind.

Have you ever tried to rid your life of some sinful habit or obsession? Do you find that when your mind dismissed that thing, there was a vacuum that sucked it right back in? Its’ not enough to reject sin; something has to replace it. Paul wrote, “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.” (Ephesians 5:18) That night I was terrified I would spend all evening binging, but God gave me something better – and more satisfying – to do. 

If there’s something in your life that you are finding hard to let go of, pray about what the Lord might want to take its place – another way that your time, energy, and resources could be spent for His kingdom. Then stay close to Him and see where He leads you. 

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for dying to pay for our sins. If any of the readers of this post do not yet know You, please open their hearts and minds to You. Be not only our Savior, but also the Lord of our lives. Please continue cleansing our minds of the depraved, the deceiving, the distracting, and the dark. And replace them with what is true, noble, just, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy. In Your name, amen.

P.S. This was not the end of my struggles with eating and body image. There was a process the Lord took me through, involving His Word and my faith. I will tell that story in a future post.

Christmas Cards, Goth, and God

“For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.”   –  John 3:17

A few decades ago (!) I found some unique “Christmas cards” that I couldn’t resist.
The front did not look like a Christmas card, but had a photo of four teenagers that could be described as “alternative.” Dressed in black from head to toe, they had spiked hair, tattoos, piercings, and angry, rebellious expressions on their faces. Inside it simply said, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” – John 3:17

The feedback I got  was pretty consistent. Friends told me that their first reaction was “Wha — ???” They wondered what in the world I was thinking. Was this a joke? Then as they opened it,  the light came on. Of course. Jesus came for everyone, including (especially?) these lost souls. One friend said the card had given her a gentle rebuke from the Lord.

I am as guilty as the next person of thinking in stereotypes. I make comparisons, often based on my own insecurities. It doesn’t take much for me to feel inferior, whether it’s another woman who’s stylishly dressed with perfect hair, perfect makeup, perfect nails, and (I assume) perfect everything else – or someone who looks as though she devotes little or not time to her looks and somehow tumbles out of bed just looking naturally cool. I am repeatedly reminding myself that when I make comparisons or assumptions, I could miss out on something special.

One of my daughter Joanna’s best friends in high school was a Christian girl who did not fit the usual image of a “Christian girl.” With her black lipstick and nail polish, black clothes, and unconventional haircut, she looked more like the kids on the Christmas card. I was proud that my daughter had taken the time to get to know her, and learned that this “look” was actually a strategy for reaching out to kids that most church people would avoid – and vise versa. Joanna thought this was pretty cool. I did, too.

I offered to take the girls to the mall one day, since they really wanted to go, and neither of them was driving yet. (Besides, I liked them.) As we were walking through the mall together, Joanna’s friend gave me an odd look.

“Is something wrong?” I asked.

“You’re walking with us,” she said. Suddenly I felt extremely “un-cool.” I was cramping their style!

“– I’m sorry! Would you like me to leave you two alone?”

“Oh no!” she hastily reassured me. “It’s just that my mom usually walks behind me and pretends she doesn’t know me.” She smirked. I laughed, realizing that her mom was one of those “together” people I had always felt inferior to. I could tell by the look on Joanna’s face that this time I was the cool mom, and I proudly continued walking with them.

Have you ever seen someone who is different from you and assumed they wouldn’t be interested in you or anything you have to offer? DON’T ASSUME! Prayerfully consider how you might approach that individual with the gospel – or just a friendly exchange. You might be pleasantly surprised at the response you get from someone who may have done some assuming of his own. The mutual “pleasant surprise” might affect the people around you, too. How often do you see a “cool” teen interacting with an elderly person in public? Or a preppy kid sharing a laugh with a kid dressed in an “artsy” style? How often do you see a pastor reaching out to an alcoholic on the street, or a churchy lady expressing love for a woman employed in the “adult entertainment” industry? Would such a sight make you curious about what they’re talking about? Some of my most amazing encounters have happened at a gay pride parade, a cancer ward, or a soup kitchen.

DON’T LIIMIT GOD! Ask Him to send you where He wants you to go, and watch for His hand at work in your life. And don’t worry about what you’ll say, He has told us not to.

” … don’t worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given to you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Hoy Spirit.”   Mark 13:11

Prayer: Father in Heaven, who gave Your only begotten Son to save all of us, help us not to try to put limits on Your power. If we have put You in a box in our minds, help us to open the box and give You full reign in our lives. Send us where You want us to go. May we encounter the people You want us to interact with, today and every day. In Jesus’ name, amen.

FEAR NOT! (Yes, Celebrate Christmas!)

Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season.” (II Timothy 4:2) 

So, we’re into the holiday season, and with it the yearly Christmas controversy – almost as intense as the Halloween controversy.

[Some zealous Christ-followers have a strong conviction that October 31 is “the devil’s day,” and that no true believer in Jesus should be doing anything that day, except perhaps praying. Some who are a little less fearful hand out Christian tracts to trick-or-treaters along with the candy, and even some children have given out tracks as they go door-to-door. (Their parents have been accused on social media of allowing their children to “worship Satan.”) Then there are people like me, who believe every day, including October 31, belongs to God, and why would we give Satan dominion over one hour? As some of my more long-time readers know, my friends and I held an evangelistic outreach on October 31 for 15 years, a multimedia presentation called “Satan’s Worst Nightmare,” about the death, burial, resurrection, and ultimate victory of Jesus over Satan. Still, people accused me of serving Satan. (by laughing at him? I’m confused…) I was asked, “Why don’t you do all that, just do it on a different day?” Answer: If we’re preparing an outdoor attraction for a cold Michigan evening, we’re going to do it when there are a large number of people out and about, looking for good things to take home with them. It’s called “strategy.”]

I absolutely respect the rights of others to live by their own convictions. But I am ultimately accountable to God, and I need to live by the convictions He has given me. And my conviction is, “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season.” (II Timothy 4:2) 

So now we’re entering the joyful season where we celebrate Christ’s birth! And again some people are on the attack, regarding the “pagan” ways that Christmas is celebrated, how Santa, Rudolph, and other traditions have taken the place of Jesus. So, we’re being told that a true Christian should refuse to participate in any kind of Christmas celebration.

I’m not sure the apostle Paul would agree.

In his journeys through the ancient world Paul preached the gospel to anyone who would listen. He was the first to purposefully preach the Messiah to Gentiles, and he came under severe attack from the Jews for doing so. Peter later came on board, but only after God gave him a vivid dream and an encounter with a devout Gentile believer.

The point is, when Jesus gave the Great Commission, He said to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every person. (Mark 16:15) I’m guessing this includes Westerners who celebrate Christmas in ways we would not connect to Jesus.

In Acts 17 we read about an experience Paul had in Athens as he was waiting to meet up with Silas and Timothy:

While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. (Acts 17: 16)

But instead of being “offended” and leaving town, Paul stayed in Athens, reasoning with the Jews, God-fearing Greeks, and some Greek philosophers, who took him to a meeting of the Areopagus to  give his message.

[T]hey said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we want to know what they mean.” (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)  

Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.” (Acts 17: 19b- 23)

And Paul goes on to explain the gospel to the very interested crowd.

When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” At that, Paul left the Council. A few men became followers of Paul and believed. (Acts 17: 32-34a)

Do you see what happened? Paul met these people where they were. He didn’t rail against their idols, but rather commended them on their interest in spiritual things. And he used their altar to an unknown god as a springboard to introduce them to the God they had not known up to that point. And some of these people were saved.

This story comes back to me every time I hear someone railing against the “pagan” traditions of this fallen world that the Church has let creep into our celebrations, with the implication that true believers should therefore retreat from all things Christmas.

Reflecting on Acts 17, I think, What?! Waste a golden opportunity to share the gospel???

What other time of year do we hear songs about Jesus being played in the streets, in the stores, on the radio, even Christmas specials on TV? Like the Greek philosophers in Athens, minds and hearts are wide open! As people are hearing “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” for the hundredth time, we can ask, “Do you know what this song is about?” If the answer is “Now that you mention it, no, I don’t,” we have a perfect opening to share what “God and sinners reconciled!” means. Even if that person doesn’t receive Jesus on the spot, from then on every time they hear that song the Lord will remind them that Jesus is His way of reconciling with a lost, sinful world. Why would I refuse to participate in this annual open mission field?

Prayer: Lord, forgive us for wanting to put limits on when we can share the gospel or who can receive it. Pour Your creativity into us, and open our eyes to opportunities to share Your good news, especially in this unusual Christmas season, where many souls are hungrier than ever. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Home School Bible Class: The Nativity

These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. (Deuteronomy 6: 6-7)

Today I tested positive for Covid again. (Dang!) I had been looking forward to getting over to my daughter’s house and finally starting up Bible lessons with my granddaughters again. Even though the doctor said I probably wasn’t contagious, it looks like a few more days of quarantine for Nana. So we won’t be starting class back up until Monday.

Meanwhile, I’m putting together a “syllabus” for December. We will, of course, be studying the Nativity. The theme of the unit is “How do you respond to Jesus?” We’ll look at all the people who were part of the Nativity story and how they responded to Jesus, everything from skepticism to faith and submission, from ecstatic and wanting to tell everyone to quietly pondering, from worship to jealousy and murderous hatred – or complete indifference. (“No room.”)

Some of my readers are home schooling parents, and I know right now some of you are home schooling through no choice of your own! Some of you may have kids in public school, where they aren’t learning about the Bible, but you would like them to. Many children can’t go to Sunday school for an unspecified length of time. Some of you may just want to have some special Christmastime devotions with your children. I wanted to share my outline with any of you who might want to use it as a lesson plan, or a springboard for your own lessons.

I have numbered the days instead of assigning dates to them, as different families will be working within different schedules. I hope that some of you find this useful. I myself was blessed just looking at the many things God did in the short time centering around Jesus’s birth, and the many ways that different individuals responded to Him. It gave me a great deal to think of in terms of my own response to God when He reveals Himself to me.

Day 1: Luke 1:5-25 The Birth of John the Baptist Foretold – Zechariah’s and Elizabeth’s responses

Day 2: Luke 1:26 -38 Gabriel Visits Mary with the News of Jesus – Mary’s response [Optional, at parents’ discretion: Deuteronomy 22: 20-21 – How the community might respond – Mary’s courage]

Day 3: Matthew 1:18-25 Joseph Learns Mary Is Expecting – How he responds

Day 4: Luke 1:39-56 Mary Visits Elizabeth – How Elizabeth responds (how John the Baptist responds!) and Mary’s response in song.

Day 5: Luke 1:57-80 John the Baptist’s Birth (How is Zechariah responding now?)

Day 6: Luke 2: 1-7 Jesus is born! How Bethlehem responds (He’s come a long way – Do you have room for Him?) Song: “O Come to My Heart, Lord Jesus”

Day 7: Luke 2:8-20 The Angel Tells the Shepherds – How the shepherds respond; how Mary responds

Day 8: Matthew 2: 1-12 (also: Micah 5:2 – prophecy) The Magi’s Visit – How Herod responds – How the Magi respond when they find Jesus

Day 9: Mathew 2:13-18 Escape to Egypt – Joseph’s response to a dream; Herod’s response when he realizes he’s been outwitted by the Magi

Day 10: Matthew 2: 9-23 Herod Dies; Joseph’s response to another dream

Day 11: Prophecies – Isaiah 7:14, Isaiah 9:6 [Memory Verse] Optional music: Play “For Unto Us a Child Is Born” from Handel’s Messiah

Day 12: John 1: 1-12 John 1:1-12 The Word Made Flesh – How the world responds to Jesus, how “His own” respond to Him, and how some will respond, and what their reward is (Will you be one of them?)

Day 13: Review story and memory verse; quiz:

How did they respond?

A. Zechariah              B. Bethlehem              C. Wisemen                 D. Shepherds

E. Joseph                     F. Herod                      G. Simeon                   H. Mary

I. Anna                         J. Elizabeth   (One of these is the answer twice.)                                                                                   

_____________doubted, was struck dumb, got his voice back then declared, “His name is John.”

_____________ said, “God has done this for me.”

_____________ had questions, but quickly trusted and said, “I am the Lord’s servant.”

_____________ was disappointed, merciful, then after a dream believed and obeyed.”

_____________ ignored Jesus, couldn’t be bothered – no room.

_____________ were excited, wanted to see Him, then went out and told everyone!

_____________ quietly pondered things in her heart.

_____________ were seeking Him, found Him, worshipped Him, and sneaked home.

_____________ hated Jesus, seeing Him as a rival, and set out to kill Him.

_____________ recognized Him as the Messiah, praise God.

_____________ saw Him after many years of prayer, ran and told everyone.

When you hear the name “Jesus,” how do you respond?

_________________________________________________________________________________________________

Day 14: Movie Night! “The Nativity Story” (available on Amazon Prime) Watch with the whole family – this is an excellent movie!

Prayer: Lord Jesus, as we get ready to celebrate Your birth, help us to look more deeply into the familiar stories. Help us see Your hand in the lives of the people involved and consider how they responded. Help us to consider how You are working our lives to draw us closer to You and to make us more like You. Let us respond as the wise men did, diligently seeking You, and as John the Baptist did, leaping for joy when we hear Your voice! Let us be like Mary, bursting into song as we realize how magnificent Your grace is toward us, and like the shepherds, running to tell anyone and everyone who will listen that You have come! Amen.

Participating in the Supernatural

Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. (Hebrews 13:3)

Life for Christ-followers in some countries makes our problems in the U.S. look like a stroll in the park. Harassment, arrests, beatings, rapes, forced marriages, kidnappings, imprisonment, murder, and executions on false charges. Even in countries whose governments do not officially persecute Christians, believers frequently fall victim to violence, having homes and churches destroyed, and other atrocities while the authorities looks the other way. During the pandemic some countries, whose official religion is something other than Christianity, have denied Christians the government benefits everyone else is getting, and they are left to fend for themselves.

One day as I was in my comfortable living room, contemplating the plight of my brothers and sisters around the globe, I tried to imagine what it was like for them. They seemed to be in such impossible situations…

“But God …”

With Him all things are possible, so that morning I became more ambitious with my prayers. Knowing my imagination was no match for His power, I prayed for the hungry and those who were trying to feed them, that He would multiply their resources. (Remember the loaves and fishes?) I prayed encouragement for those who were in prison and feeling hopeless and abandoned – that their spiritual eyes would be opened to glimpse the angels in their cells with them, or their ears opened to hear the music of heaven. I prayed if they were sweltering in the heat, the Lord would send them cool breezes from heaven, and if they were shivering with the cold, He would “wrap them in invisible blankets.” I had a good feeling about that prayer, and I’ve been praying in this way ever since.

As I read today’s devotional from Open Doors, a ministry to the persecuted Church, I learned that part of that prayer had been answered specifically for a believer named Paul in Afghanistan:

“Under the communist regime, Paul was arrested on false charges and put in a notorious prison where tens of thousands were executed. There was no heat in the jail during the cold winters. He had to sleep on the freezing mud floor with only his overcoat. A prisoner next to him was trembling with cold since he did not even have a jacket. Paul remembered John the Baptist had said, “The man who has two coats should share with him who has none.” (Luke 3:11) He took off his only coat and gave it to the neighbor. From then on, the Lord miraculously kept him warm every night.” – from Open Doors’ Devotional, Standing Strong Through the Storm, November 23

Here in America admittedly we don’t see a lot of miracles – answers to prayer that can’t be explained by natural laws. (My children’s book, From Grumpy to Grateful, begins with a young boy’s complaints regarding this subject.) We read about such miracles – usually in another part of the world – and sometimes wish we could experience those things, too. But if we have been praying for the “impossible,” we have participated in that miracle! I don’t know exactly how it works, but through prayer God invites us to partner with Him in what He wants to do. What an honor.

The hardest thing for many of the persecuted is the feeling of abandonment. Surrounded by enemies of the gospel who seemingly have the power over their circumstances, a believer can feel very alone. The answer to our prayers for a suffering individual often takes the form of a peaceful reassurance that he or she is not forgotten. Many saints have testified that they suddenly felt the power of others’ prayers just when they needed it most, and that assurance gave them the strength to go on.

If we find prayer boring, is it because we’re praying with low expectations? Often if we ask The Almighty for anything remotely difficult, we might tack on a timid “…if it be Your will …” and don’t really expect much to happen. I wonder if God is bored with our prayers, too. I wonder sometimes if at our prayer meetings, He is silently urging us to truly believe He can do the “impossible” – Come on, ask Me to do something BIG!

One more thought: Whether we see the results of our prayers immediately, a little later, much later, or not at all in this life, God does hear and answer our prayers. Faith can cause us to pray expectantly, joyfully. Although I pray many of the same things daily, I love asking Jesus to take my life that day and do with it what He wants, because I believe He will – and I’m excited to see what He has for me – or someone I’m praying for – that day.

Prayer: Lord, we are so blessed, often we forget that fellow believers struggle just to survive. Help us remember them in our prayers. Let them know they have not been forgotten. Comfort the grieving with the assurance of their eternal heavenly home. Remind the brokenhearted, betrayed, and abandoned by family, that they are part of a greater, forever family and that they are dearly loved. Bless those believers who are aiding the destitute. Move people’s hearts to give; multiply their resources supernaturally, if necessary, until there is even enough overflow to share with their neighbors and glorify You among the unbelievers. Remind Your servants of the truth of Your Word, and bring the right passages to their memories at the moment they need them most.

Lord, we know it is likely that some of Your servants will pay the ultimate price for their faith today. Give them the supernatural grace to leave this world with smiles on their faces and Your praise on their lips, enough to baffle their persecutors, perhaps even pointing them to You.

Finally, Jesus, help us to be inspired by their willingness to give up everything for You. You gave everything for us, and we can never thank You enough. In Your name we pray, amen.

Isolated and Thankful

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

So, I finally got Covid. No clue where I got it. (Maybe masks don’t work…?) I have been through a sore throat stage, a coughing/bronchitis stage, a nausea stage (from consuming “lots of liquids” and little solids except cold meds and supplements – *bleah*) and now that my appetite is back, I can’t taste much or smell at all. These are pretty much the stages of every cold I have ever had, and I’ve had at least 200 of them. Only this time it’s been much milder than usual.

So, on this Thanksgiving Day I am THANKFUL.

Thankful that I was so sick so often as a teenager and twenty-something that I became a bona fide health nut by the time I was thirty.

Thankful that with my frequent illnesses and my love of singing I never dared take up smoking. (According to the CDC, twice as many people will die this year of tobacco-related illness than of Covid.)

Thankful that through knowing Christ I was delivered from an eating disorder in my early 30’s, and that the emotional healing helped me toward better physical health – not through an instant miracle, but through natural means, with self-discipline being an added bonus.

Thankful that at 67 I’m remarkably healthy, probably due to my early experiences, which at the time seemed “SO unfair!” (“All things work together for good to those who love the Lord, who are called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28)

I’m thankful that my husband Marty has had mild symptoms, too, due to his healthy lifestyle. (Thankful that we were both born with healthy, functioning bodies to begin with.)

Thankful that each day as I offered my body to God as a “living sacrifice,” (Romans 12:1) He has accepted it. (He takes good care of His stuff.)

Thankful that being isolated for Thanksgiving isn’t getting us down, that we can finally be around each other, since we both have the same thing. Thankful that Marty’s stomach issues and the fact that I can’t taste mean neither of us is particularly bothered by the fact that I don’t feel up to cooking.

Thankful for Marty’s revelation last night: “Hey, after this we can go visit Ben and Rachel and the boys, and Kelly and Erickson.” (We haven’t seen our son-in-law, our daughter-in-law, or our youngest grandchild in most of a year, and our children only from arm’s length.)

Thankful that I finally can say “been there, had that, got the antibodies.” I will be researching today whether any of the nursing homes would be allowed to have me and my fellow Covid survivors come to sing Christmas carols to the residents who have been dying for human contact since March. If we can produce the proof that we are well and immune, they won’t have to fear us, and with the antibodies we won’t be afraid of them, either. We might even be permitted to give them smiles – the things my one elderly friend has said she’s missed the most through all of this.

Thankful that I know my Creator, and this pandemic has never been an occasion for fear. If I live, I live for Him, if I die, I go to Him. It’s win-win. It’s just been a matter of finding alternative ways to share His love and Good News with those around me (or in the case of this blog, with those around the world.)

I suppose I should explain what I mean by “Good News” for those who may be reading this blog for the first, last, and/or only time. It’s really a “bad news/good news” reality, so please read carefully to make sure you’re in the “good news” column!

First the BAD NEWS:

“All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) In other words, nobody’s perfect. (Duh.)

“The wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23a) That’s eternal death, folks, away from God. Why? God is holy and we aren’t. Face it, if a bunch of unholy people entered a holy place (heaven) that place would be polluted and no longer perfect.

But here’s the GOOD NEWS:

“…but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23b) God made a way for us to have the penalty of our sins cancelled and to be made perfect. He loved us – even before we loved Him! – so much that Jesus, His Only Begotten Son, paid that penalty Himself by dying on the Cross. He’s the only One who has lived a perfect life, so He’s the only One who could be the atoning Sacrifice, paying the debt for all of us. “Wages” are what we’ve earned; a “gift” is something we haven’t earned. We don’t deserve God’s gift, but He offers it to us anyway. All we need to do is receive it – receive Him.

“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12)

The greatest gift in the universe is being held out to you! Receive it or refuse it, it’s your choice.

If you have never made the conscious choice to receive this gift, I pray you receive it today, give your life to Jesus, and begin a brand new life as a child of God. He will help you become the person He created you to be, and you will have more to be thankful for than ever before.

Prayer: Jesus, thank You for taking the penalty for our sins, for dying so that we can live – forever! If we had nothing else in this world but Your salvation, we still could never thank You enough. Thank You that we have the promise of heaven, and no fear, no man, no virus can take from us Your inexpressibly precious gift that You have given us through Your death. In Your name, Amen.