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.

From Grumpy to Grateful (A Story of Thanksgiving) Chapter 5

And my God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:19

This is the last post from my new children’s book, From Grumpy to Grateful. This book has not been published yet, but until it is, this has been a “sneak preview” for my readers. If you missed the posts leading up to this final chapter, you can find them here:

https://seekingdivineperspective.com/?p=1811

https://seekingdivineperspective.com/?p=1860

https://seekingdivineperspective.com/?p=1823

https://seekingdivineperspective.com/?p=1835

https://seekingdivineperspective.com/?p=1843

CHAPTER FIVE

Usa New Jersey Jersey City Father Waking Up Son Stock ...

          “Hey, Lazybones!”

          Jackson’s heart skipped a beat at the sound of the familiar voice. “You gonna sleep all day?”

          “DAD!” Jackson cried. He sat up and threw his arms around his father.

          “Whoa!” laughed Dad, nearly falling over. He gave his son a hug and a tickle under the ribs. Jackson shrieked with delight. “Hey, get up, buddy. If you’re ready in time, I’ll take you out for doughnuts before school.”

Donut Facts—Best Doughnut Facts (2020)

          “Doughnuts!?” Jackson gasped. The thought of doughnuts seemed too good to be true. His father laughed again at the look of amazement on his son’s face.

          “Yeah, you know, those round things with the holes that we eat too much of when Mom’s not looking?” He winked. “You get dressed. I’ll be downstairs.”

          Dad stepped out of the room, and as he closed the door, Jackson saw his Cardinals jacket hanging on the hook, partially covering the poster of “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.” He heard the rustle of shavings as Homer dug for his breakfast, and he smelled the coffee Mom had brewing in the kitchen. He heard the shower running from the bathroom and knew his sister was getting ready for school.

          Charlotte! School! For perhaps the first time in his life he smiled at the very thought of school. Friends! Teachers! The nice lunch lady – lunch! The library – books! Field trips! Sports! Art class! Jackson felt about to burst with thankfulness for all the people and things in his life – more than he could count or hold. As he dressed, he felt the soft, red cotton shirt against his skin and thought about how much he liked red. He picked up Homer to say, “Good morning,” stroking his little back and feeling the soft, silky fur.

Hamster Stock Photos, Royalty Free Hamster Images ...

          Then he felt something else, something warm and wet trickling down his face. He bowed his head.

          “Thank You, God,” he whispered. “You’ve given me so much … and I’m sorry for saying … well, You know …” He was ashamed even to think about what he had said when he was trying to be as cool as Bill. Then he realized the truth.

          Bill wasn’t cool. Bill was sad.

          “Please help Bill to know how much You love him,” Jackson prayed, remembering his discouraging conversation with the bigger boy. “I tried, but I think it has to be You telling him.”

          Jackson couldn’t explain what it felt like, but at that moment somehow he knew that Jesus was smiling at him.

Find Your Joy – Latter-day Soprano

Prayer: Father, forgive us for taking Your blessings for granted, and for complaining about what we don’t have, instead of discerning those around us who need our prayers, our gifts, our time, and our friendship. You have blessed us to be a blessing. Show us how, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

                      

From Grumpy to Grateful (A Story of Thanksgiving) Chapter 4

From Grumpy to Grateful is my soon-to-be-published-God-willing children’s book. I am still waiting on the illustrations, so it will not be published in time for Thanksgiving, but I wanted to share it with my readers and their children or grandchildren who like to read or be read to. For the posts leading up to this chapter, here are the links:

https://seekingdivineperspective.com/?p=1811

https://seekingdivineperspective.com/?p=1860

https://seekingdivineperspective.com/?p=1823

https://seekingdivineperspective.com/?p=1835

CHAPTER  FOUR

          Play where? With what? Jackson stepped back out into the street, where the other kids were kicking stones around, banging on trash cans with sticks, or just sitting in their doorways, staring at nothing. He didn’t know any of them, and he didn’t know what he would say to them if he did. Some of them seemed mean like Bill, and he was afraid to talk to them. Others seemed tired and sick. Jackson stood leaning against the wall for what seemed like forever. He missed his friends. He missed his sister. Most of all, he missed his dad. What did Mom mean by “since he left us”? Where did he go? His hand throbbed. His stomach growled. His heart ached.

          Jackson hadn’t known that a person could be hungry for something besides food, but here he was finding a new kind of hunger. His eyes were hungry for color – his red jacket, his dad’s blue car, Mom’s marigolds she had planted around the mailbox, and the yellow, green, and purple kite he and Dad had flown at the park last Saturday. Here everything was grey – the sky, the street, the buildings, the dusty clothes, even the faces of the other children.

          Jackson’s ears were hungry for music and laughter. The only sounds here were the buzzing flies, the cry of a hungry baby, and the angry yelling of boys getting into a fight. (At his school Mr. Drake would have broken up the fight. By the time recess was over, he would have the boys playing together like best friends. But these children were on their own all day.)

          Jackson’s nose was hungry for the smells that greeted him when he got home from school each day. His favorite was the aroma of popcorn Mom sometimes made him as an afternoon snack. The warm, buttery smell would fill the house. But here everything smelled of sweat, garbage, and gas fumes.

          Jackson’s body was hungry for a hug.

Excellence in Child Health and Development

Mom always had a hug for him when he got home, and sometimes the two of them would snuggle up on the couch and read a book together. Here Mom seemed too sad to do anything fun.

          Jackson’s mind was hungry to read something, to learn something, to talk to a friendly person. Here the hunger of boredom and loneliness was more than he could stand. He buried his face in his hands and began to cry.

Sad boy crying — Stock Photo © olly18 #109861816

          “Hey ‘Jack,’” said a familiar voice.

          Charlotte!

          Jackson spun around to see his sister. Unlike the rags he wore, she was dressed in a clean school uniform. Unlike Jackson’s dirty, tear-streaked face, her face was washed and her cheeks rosy. Her hair was brushed, and she had a French braid at one side, tied with a red ribbon.

          “You can call me ‘Jackie,’” he sighed. He had lost all interest in being cool and just wanted things to get back to the way they had been.

          “Jackie,” she said, smiling kindly. “Do you remember when you asked, ‘What did God ever do for me?’?” As Jackson remembered, his face burned with shame.

          “Yeah,” he said, looking down at his dirty hands.

          Charlotte didn’t say anything for a moment. She waited as Jackson thought about what he had said, back when he was trying so hard to be cool. When Jackson finally looked up at her, she said quietly:

          “Well, today He didn’t do it.”

Prayer: Father, You not only meet all of our needs, but many of our wants, as well. But too often we forget to thank You. We even complain that we don’t have more! Help us to see not only the blessings in our lives, but ways we can use what we have to bless those who are truly in need, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

                       

From Grumpy to Grateful (A Story of Thanksgiving) Chapter 3

I have been sharing with my readers (and their children and grandchildren) my first children’s book, From Grumpy to Grateful, which I’m hoping will be published next year. If you missed the first posts, here are the links:

https://seekingdivineperspective.com/?p=1811

https://seekingdivineperspective.com/?p=1860

https://seekingdivineperspective.com/?p=1823

“Rich and poor have this in common: The LORD is the Maker of them all.” (Proverbs 22:2)

CHAPTER THREE

          “Wake up, Jack!” the voice that startled Jackson sounded like his mother’s voice, but it didn’t sound as sweet and kind as it usually did. Had he overslept? Jackson opened his eyes to see his mother, but she looked different. She was thinner and tired looking, and the joy he usually saw in her face was not there. “Hurry up,” she said. “It’s time to go to the alley.”

          Jackson blinked as the morning rays of sun nearly blinded his eyes. Where were the blinds on his windows? For that matter, where were the posters on his wall? Where were his soccer trophies, his Lego sets and his hamster, Homer? The room was almost bare. The only thing there besides his bed was a worn, dirty cloth bag in the corner. Even his clock was gone.

          “What time is it?” he asked.

          “Time for you to get up and get to the dumptsters before all the food is gone!” His mother sounded urgent. “They’ll have nothing but garbage in them by the time you get there if you don’t get going!”

          Dumpsters?

          “Isn’t Dad taking me to school?” Jackson asked, confused.

          “School?” said his mother, sounding angry. “Poor children don’t go to school. And we haven’t seen your father since he left us. Wake up, boy, and stop wasting time!”

          Dazed, Jackson got out of bed. He looked around but didn’t see any of his clothes. Then he realized he was expected to go out in the clothes he had slept in. They were rumpled and not very clean looking, but his mother didn’t seem to care about that.

          “Don’t forget your bag, stupid boy!” she snapped, tossing him the cloth bag. Jackson was wide awake now, as his jaw dropped open in surprise. He would be in big trouble is he ever called another kid that word, and Mom never called anyone “stupid,” especially not her own children! What was the matter with her?

          When Jackson stepped out into the bright sunlight, he felt as if someone had opened a giant oven. He was confused by the street. He had never seen this place before, and he almost went back to ask his mother where he was supposed to go. But she had seemed so irritated that he decided to figure it out on his own.

          He noticed there were other children, each dressed in ragged clothes similar to what he was wearing, each carrying a dirty cloth bag, all headed in the same direction. He started to follow them.

          After walking a few blocks, the children came around a corner into an alley behind some tall buildings. Jackson saw fire escapes overhead and dumpsters lined up along the wall.

Alley Dumpster Stock Pictures, Royalty-free Photos ...

The other children climbed onto some old crates and worked together to lift the lid on the first dumpster.

          Then it was a free-for-all, as children grabbed packages of food, fruits and vegetables, and anything else they could get their hands on that might be eaten. They reminded Jackson of his friends at his last birthday party after Kaplan broke the pinata.

          Jackson scrambled up the side of the dumpster and started grabbing. None of what he ended up with was his favorite food – no cereal, no peanut butter, no pizza. But he did get a package of green peppers that was a day past its “best by” date, an open box of stale crackers, a couple of bruised apples, and a dented can of black beans. He began to realize why his mother had looked thin and sad. How long had she been living on leftovers from other people’s trash?

          Just then Jackson saw something shining in the dumpster, and he decided to reach in one more time to see if it was something exciting. As he did, he was suddenly bumped by another boy and nearly fell in. As he grabbed the side of the dumpster to catch himself, there was a sharp pain in his hand, and he saw a trickle of blood roll down the rusty metal side. He realized what had been sparkling in the sun was only a piece of broken glass, and he had just cut his hand.

          As Jackson walked back to his house, he tried hard not to cry. His stomach was rumbling so much that even the bruised apples were starting to look good. He held onto his hand, trying to stop the bleeding. He was anxious to get back to his mother and have her wash the wound, kiss it and bandage it up. Mom always made him feel better.

          But when Jackson got home Mom didn’t seem too concerned about the cut. She just wanted to know what was in his bag. When he showed her what he had collected, she seemed disappointed and irritated with him for not getting more. While she tried to figure out how to open the can of beans, Jackson washed his hand and wrapped it in an old rag.

          “Where’s Charlotte?” he asked his mother.

          “Who?” His mother sounded annoyed.

          “Charlotte. My sister?” Why would Mom not know what he was talking about?

          “Stupid boy!” – There was that word again! “You don’t have a sister. What’s the matter with you today?”

          Jackson felt as if he had just been punched in the stomach. Not have a sister? What was going on? Where was Charlotte? Where was Dad? Where was his school?

          “Go play,” his mother snapped, sounding tired. She sat at the rickety table and buried her face in her hands.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we pray for those who don’t know where their next meal is coming from. You have told us to help the poor, the widow, and the orphan. Jesus, You said that whatever we do for them we are doing for You. Open our eyes to ways we can meet the needs of those within our reach, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

From Grumpy to Grateful (A Thanksgiving Story) Chapter 2

I’m sharing my new, soon-to-be-published-God-willing children’s book, From Grumpy to Grateful, with my readers in the next few days leading up to Thanksgiving. If you missed the first two posts, here are the links:

https://seekingdivineperspective.com/?p=1811

https://seekingdivineperspective.com/?p=1860

When Herod saw Jesus, he was greatly pleased, because for a long time he had been wanting to see him. From what he had heard about him, he hoped to see him perform some miracle. Luke 23:8

CHAPTER TWO

          “Don’t let him bother you, Jackie,” said Charlotte, who was brushing her hair at the bathroom mirror. Charlotte was Jackson’s sister. She was three years older than he was, and a lot more grown up when it came to handling mean kids. She had a way of making Jackson feel better – usually.

10 Challenging Questions You Should Ask Your Sister ...

But today even Charlotte couldn’t lift him out of his sour mood.

          “Don’t call me ‘Jackie’!” he snapped. “I’m not a little kid anymore. It’s Jack now.”

          Nobody called Bill “Billy.” That would be like asking to get punched in the nose. The kids respected Bill. Or maybe they were just afraid of him, but anyway, Bill was cool, and Jackson wanted to be cool, too.

          “OK, Jack,” his sister said, smiling a little. “Don’t let that kid get to you. He’s always been mean, especially since his parents got divorced. He’s mean to everybody.”

          “But nobody’s mean to him,” said Jackson.

          Charlotte laughed. “Yeah, they’re too scared of him. Come on, let’s get ready for Sunday school.”

          “I don’t want to go today,” said Jackson, trying on his new “cool” act.

          “What?!” cried Charlotte, looking very surprised. “You can’t be serious!”

          Wow, thought Jackson, this is a sure way to get attention!

          “You had fun last week,” said Charlotte. “That story about Jesus walking on water? And then Peter doing it? That was awesome! You said so yourself.”

            “Well, I haven’t walked on water lately,” said Jackson in his coolest voice. “Let’s see Jesus help me do it.”

          Charlotte looked surprised that Jackson would say such a thing, but she replied, “Well … I suppose you could ask Him.”

          Jackson went out to the sidewalk where the bug Bill had squashed the day before still lay, covered with hungry ants. He found a puddle in the pothole by the end of the driveway.

          “OK, Jesus,” he said. “Do Your stuff.” He took a deep breath and stepped out over the puddle. As he lowered his foot, it sank ankle deep into the water.

          “Way to go, Jackie,” said Charlotte, rolling her eyes. “Now you gotta go change your shoes and socks, and we’re gonna be late for church.”

          “I told you, it’s Jack, and I don’t wanna go!” Jackson snapped back. He felt a knot in his stomach for what he was about to say, but he said it anyway.

          “What has God ever done for me? I’ve never been healed! I’ve never seen anyone raised from the dead! I’ve never had loaves and fishes multiplied for me! I’ve never seen any miracles! Maybe it is all a fairy tale.”

            Charlotte looked shocked and about to cry. Jackson felt bad for making her feel that way, but he also felt cool.

          “Well,” said Charlotte, frowning, “Mom and Dad won’t let you skip church anyway, so you’re going, Jack.” She said the new name in such a nasty way that Jackson was starting to wonder whether being cool was going to be worth losing the good relationship he had with his sister.

To be continued …

Prayer: Father, thank You for Your patience with us when we are being ungrateful and foolish. Open our eyes to Your goodness, and help us reflect the joy that is available to us every day when we are close to You and grateful for Your presence in our lives. In the name of Your precious Son, Amen.

     

From Grumpy to Grateful (A Story of Thanksgiving) Chapter 1

My first children’s book, From Grumpy to Grateful, is being prepared for publication. For the next few days my readers are getting a preview, to prepare for Thanksgiving, and perhaps to share with the children in your life.

If you missed the intro yesterday, here’s the link:

https://seekingdivineperspective.com/?p=1811

CHAPTER ONE

                “Sunday school?” Bill laughed, even though Jackson wasn’t trying to be funny. “Why would I want to do that?”

          Jackson felt his face getting red as the bigger boy rejected his invitation so rudely.

          “Well …” he began, “we sing songs and hear stories about God and stuff.”

          “God!?” Bill laughed even louder. “You still believe in those fairy tales?” Jackson had never heard Bible stories called “fairy tales” before, and it gave him a sick feeling in his stomach.

          “Fairy tales? No! Jesus really lived, and He healed people! He walked on water! He even rose from the dead after they killed Him!”

          Bill snickered and crushed a beetle on the sidewalk. “Yeah, and that bug’s gonna come back to life any second now.” With that he let out a loud laugh that made Jackson’s face burn. By now the kids next door were looking his way, and he felt like crawling under a rock.

          “Jesus … loves you,” he said, so softly the other boy could hardly hear him.

          “Sure He does,” said Bill sarcastically. He looked tough, but Jackson thought he sounded angry, too. “What did God ever do for me?” he demanded.

          “Jesus loves you so much He died for you!” Jackson suddenly felt stronger as he heard himself say the words, but Bill was quick to answer, and the feeling didn’t last.

          “I told you, I don’t believe in that stuff! What did He … what did God ever do for me?” he demanded again, and Jackson thought he heard a catch in his voice, as if he were trying not to cry. Jackson almost felt sorry for him, but Bill was bigger than he was, and the way he clenched his fists made Jackson back away and stop trying to talk to him.

          “OK,” Jackson murmured, walking away.

Prayer: Dear Jesus, we get discouraged sometimes when the people around us reject the gospel. Remind us when we are rejected that You were rejected, too, and that in our rejection we are sharing in Your sufferings. Help us not to let discouragement keep us from sharing our faith. Give us courage to speak out, even when it doesn’t seem that we’re being heard. In Your precious name, amen.