This Week’s Sermon- From College To “Beyond”


This Day's Thought from The Ranch - Logo

FROM COLLEGE TO “BEYOND”
Part 3 of our series on “Transitions”  
(You can still read Parts 1 and 2 here and here)

by Karis Elder
www.theranch.org

 
Note from Eric:  My daughter, Karis, has written a beautiful message for you this week about how God is helping her through the transition from college to what people tell her is the “real world.”  The life lessons she is learning apply to us all.  If you’re a college student, or know of someone who is, these words will be especially relevant, so please read them and forward them on to your family and friends!  Karis’ wordsand God’s Wordmay be just what you need to help you through any transition you’re going through in life.

I don’t know of many people who actually really love transition and change, yet it seems like most of our lives are spent in constant change and transition. We do a lot of waiting in our lifetime, waiting in line, waiting for a new season, waiting for the next thing.

Lately I’ve been going through the transition of graduating from college and living in what people told me was the “real world.” As well as graduating from college I was also transitioning out of our college ministry, and I never realized how hard it could be to transition out of these things into a new stage of life. When I finally graduated and no longer had homework, no longer called myself a student, no longer lived with all of my college friends, no longer had the routine of classes and events, I felt really lost. I realized that for basically my entire life I had been a “student” and that what had come to be a constant solid unchangeable thing in my life was suddenly gone. Most of my friends had recently graduated as well and left to go other places, and it was, and still is, really unsettling.

Transitioning out of our college ministry, which I had been a part of for over 3 years, was also difficult as I had spent so much time and energy pouring into students and loving and serving a campus in such an amazing way that when I didn’t have it anymore, I felt lost as well. I found that so much of the last few years of my life my identity had begun to be really found in being a student and in the things that I did while I was a student. These titles had become my identity and I didn’t even know it till I was stripped down. Bare. Bringing nothing but myself to the Lord. I didn’t realize how much of my identity had been found in what I did rather than who I was. I thought that what I did made me valuable; I thought the good grades I got and the hours I spent studying the Bible for class and the number of spiritual books I read in a month or the number of people I invited to our ministry made me valuable. And when I didn’t have those things any more, I was humbled to find that I’m still valuable and loved by God no matter what I do. My dear friend Kelsey reminded me that I am valuable to God just because I am His child, not because of how many things I ever will do for Him.

Transition is defined as “a change from one state or condition to another,” and when I read that definition, it kinda reminds me of my spiritual life with Christ. The Holy Spirit dwelling within all believers is constantly refining, purifying and transforming us to look like Christ. We are in a constant state of being changed from one condition to another. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 3:18, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” Christians constantly live in the tension of what Bible scholars call the “now-but-not-yet” principle. Believers are new creations in Christ, and yet they are still being transformed into the likeness of Christ. The Kingdom of God is here in our midst, yet all creation is eagerly waiting for the day of final transformation when Jesus comes back. So while we know that both our everyday lives and our spiritual lives our constantly in transition and being changed, so often we just wish away the process and can’t wait to just “be there” already, and we miss the beauty of what God is doing in the process.

I’ve been reading this book called The Good and Beautiful God and just finished a chapter about transformation. At the end of each chapter, the author, James Smith, has a “soul training” exercise for the reader to practice to solidify the truths they read in the chapter, hoping they will continue to “train” with the exercises long after finishing the book.  The practice for this week was solitude, intentional time spent away from other people, where it’s just you and God. Smith quotes Dallas Willard and says “When we go into solitude and silence, we stop making demands on God. It is enough that God is God and we are his.” I’ve been realizing that the only thing that doesn’t change, no matter what transition I will ever go through, is God and my identity in relation to Him. Even though I am not a student, I am still a pupil of my Teacher. Even though I may not be a servant leader in a college ministry, I am still a servant leader in the Kingdom. I am still a child of God, even when one day I am married and have kids of my own. I am still the Beloved of the Lord, even when I am married and have a Beloved of my own. I am still delighted in by the Lord, regardless of how much I “do” in a given week. My job will always be to make disciples of all nations, regardless what my “job title” is. No matter what transition I ever go through, there are some truths that never change, though I will undoubtedly be changed in the transition.

Recently, after I had a really long and hard week, my boyfriend, Terry, and I were praying, and he reminded me about an analogy. He was praying and just encouraging me that even as a caterpillar needs to spend time in a cocoon before it can become a butterfly, that I also need to spend time in my “cocoon” with Jesus as He transforms me into His image. And it is the cocoon (or transition) stage between caterpillar and butterfly that most of us really don’t like—that place where we’re not quite at the place where we used to be, but we’re not quite where we are going yet. The cocoon is such a beautiful and amazing place where God literally takes one thing and turns it into another thing entirely. But so often I just want to be there that I forget the steps and the process it takes to get there. It is in the transition of the cocoon where we find healing, rest, and comfort. But I’ve realized as I’ve gone through many transitions in my life—moving around, changing churches, losing my Mom, getting a job, making new friends, getting a boyfriend, graduating college, transitioning to a new ministry—that sometimes it can also be a little dark, cramped, uncomfortable and painful. And then I remember that in a cocoon, one creature is becoming something entirely different. Some things need to just be changed or refined, and other things need to be totally done away with in the caterpillar’s life so that it can become a beautiful butterfly. So sometimes I don’t want to enter the cocoon. I’m scared of the darkness and the uncomfortableness of transformation. I have no control. I don’t know what’s happening.  But I can trust my Heavenly Father. I can trust that the other times I’ve entered the cocoon, the process was so worth the growth and the transformation that happened. I can trust Jesus as He says “Look, I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:5). The line in the David Crowder song All This Glory is true, “In the middle of the mess, there is majesty.”

It is in the secret place as we rest in the cocoon and refuge of Jesus’ Presence that we find healing and joy in transition. In this transition particularly, I keep hearing Jesus calling like He called the disciples in Mark 6:30, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” It is in that place of quietness and rest with the Lord that we find hope when it seems least likely to be found, when the transition seems like it’s never going to end, and what “is to come” is not coming fast enough. I love this passage in Lamentations, after the prophet Isaiah has been lamenting and in despair, he says:

“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’ The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord” (Lamentations 3:21-26).

The Lord is faithful and His love is steadfast and that gives me hope. No matter if you’re just entering into a transition, in the middle of a transition, or coming out of a transition, God’s love for you never changes. Jesus wants meand He wants youmore than He wants the work that we could do for Him.  The first and highest call on a Christian’s life is just to be with Jesus.  So may you spend time with Him today.

Follow-up from Eric:  For our Ranch Retreat in October, we’re focusing specifically on the topic of “transitions” and how God can help us through them.  Karis will be there, along with some of her friends!  If you’d like to join us, we’d love to spend the weekend with you, too.  Click here to learn more or to register.

The 2nd Annual Ranch Retreat!



Cover photo of "15 Tips For A Stronger Marriage"

If you’d like to get a paperback copy of Eric Elder’s recent series called “15 Tips for a Stronger Marriage” just click this link to visit The Ranch Bookstore and make a donation of any size OR click this link to visit Amazon.com and write a 1-2 sentence review of the series then email us your name, address and link to your review.  Either way we’ll send you a copy of the book anywhere in the world.  Your gifts and reviews help us to keep spreading God’s life-changing Word to people in 160 countries every day!

Make A Donation And Get A Gift!

The Ranch BookstoreHave you ever been a bookstore where you can pick the price for what you want?  Here you can!  Read on…

Welcome to The Ranch Bookstore, featuring dozens of books, CD’s and DVD’s created just for you!  Although you can read, listen to and watch any of these resources for free anytime right here on The Ranch, many people have asked if they can get copies of these resources for themselves or as gifts for their family and friends.

So we’ve made them all available to you simply for a donation of any size to our ministry.  As you consider how much you’d like to donate, can I encourage you to be as generous as you can be?  While we offer everything we do for free so no one will be left out, if you can donate more, know that you’ll be helping to spread God’s life-changing Word to people in 160 countries every day!

Just browse to the item you’d like, click the “Donate” button beside it, and we’ll send it out to you anywhere in the world.  It’s our way of saying thanks for helping to support this ministry.

Please allow 2-3 weeks for delivery (or 3-4 weeks outside the U.S.), as all items are printed and shipping individually when your order is received.  And if ordering from outside the U.S., please consider including an extra $5-10 in your donation to help offset the higher cost of shipping internationally.

Thanks for helping to share the message of Jesus Christ around the world!

Sincerely,

Eric Elder and Greg Potzer
for The Ranch and This Day’s Thought

(The Ranch and This Day’s Thought are ministries of Eric Elder Ministries, a fully recognized, non-profit, 501(c)(3) tax-exempt religious organization.  For tax purposes, please note that the amount of your donation that exceeds the “suggested donation” next to each item is fully tax deductible.)


BOOKS!


15 Tips For A Stronger Marriage, by Eric Elder

15 Tips For A Stronger Marriage, by Eric Elder
Practical tips for newlyweds, nearly-weds or anyone who wants to strengthen their marriage.  Featuring 15 inspirational tips to help your marriage be the best that it can be. Also includes 12 tips on parenting! Paperback, 85 pages. Learn more… (Suggested Donation: $12 or more) 

Also available from Amazon.com.


St. Nicholas: The Believer, by Eric & Lana Elder

St. Nicholas: The Believer, by Eric & Lana Elder 
A new story for Christmas based on the old story of St. Nicholas.  Nicholas had just one life to live, but if he lived it right, one life was all he would need. Paperback, 220 pages. Learn more… (Suggested Donation: $15 or more)

Also available from Amazon.com.


Making The Most Of The Darkness, by Eric Elder

Making The Most Of The Darkness, by Eric Elder 

How to keep trusting in God, even in the face of significant loss.  Featuring 12 inspirational messages to give you hope during your time of loss. Paperback, 192 pages. Learn more… (Suggested Donation: $15 or more)

Also available from Amazon.com.


Romans: Lessons In Renewing Your Mind, by Eric Elder

Romans: Lessons In Renewing Your Mind, by Eric Elder 
How to think clearer, live better and enjoy life more fully.  Featuring 40 inspiring devotionals based on one of the most life-changing books in the Bible. Paperback, 216 pages.  Learn more…(Suggested Donation: $15 or more)

Also available from Amazon.com, or get the eBook for: iPhone, iPad, iPod, Kindle, or Nook


Our Favorite Christian Quotations, compiled by Greg Potzer

Our Favorite Christian Quotations, compiled by Greg Potzer 
Over 250 inspirational quotes from the ministry of This Day’s Thought.  Featuring our favorite Christian quotes to inspire you in your faith in Christ. Learn more… (Suggested Donation: $12 or more)

Also available from Amazon.com or get the ebook for: iPhone, iPad, iPod, Kindle, or Nook


Loving Thoughts, compiled by Greg Potzer, with introduction by Eric Elder

Loving Thoughts, compiled by Greg Potzer, with introduction by Eric Elder 
For those who are passing from this life to the next–and those who love them.  Featuring an inspiring collection of loving thoughts about God, heaven and the hope we have in Christ. Learn more… (Suggested Donation: $7 or more)

Also available from Amazon.com.


The Top 20 Passages In The Bible, by Eric Elder

The Top 20 Passages In The Bible, by Eric Elder 
The 20 most popular passages from the best-selling book of all time.  Featuring 20 inspiring devotionals based on the top 20 passages in the Bible.  Learn more… (Suggested Donation: $12 or more)

Also available from Amazon.com or get the eBook for: iPhone, iPad, iPod, Kindle, or Nook


Israel: Lessons From The Holy Land, by Eric Elder

Israel: Lessons From The Holy Land, by Eric Elder, with photography by Karis & Makari Elder 
A devotional tour of the land where Jesus walked.  Featuring 30 inspiring devotionals based on 30 sites in Israel.  Learn more… (Suggested Donation: $15 or more)

Also available from Amazon.com In Color or In Black & White


Israel For Kids Activity Book, by Eric Elder & Family

Israel For Kids Activity Book, by Eric Elder and family 
Lessons for kids about the Holy Land.  Featuring 30 fun activities for kids including word searches, crosswords, pictures to color, word scrambles, sudokus, coded phrases, mazes and more!  Learn more… (Suggested Donation: $12 or more)

Also available from Amazon.com.


Ephesians: Lessons In Grace, by Eric Elder

Ephesians: Lessons In Grace, by Eric Elder 
How to believe, receive and share God’s gift of grace.  Featuring 20 inspiring devotionals based on one of the most grace-filled books in the Bible.  Learn more… (Suggested Donation: $12 or more)

Also available from Amazon.com


Nehemiah: Lessons In Rebuilding, by Eric Elder

Nehemiah: Lessons In Rebuilding, by Eric Elder 
How to repair, restore and rebuild what’s broken in your life.  Featuring 15 inspiring devotionals based on one of the most ambitious rebuilding projects of all time.  Learn more… (Suggested Donation: $12 or more)

Also available from Amazon.com


Acts: Lessons In Faith, by Eric Elder

Acts: Lessons In Faith, by Eric Elder 
How to find, increase and express your faith in Christ.  Featuring 30 inspiring devotionals based on the lives of the very first followers of Christ.  Learn more… (Suggested Donation: $12 or more)

Also available from: Amazon.com or get the eBook for: iPhone, iPad, iPod, Kindle, or Nook


Jesus: Lessons In Love, by Eric Elder

Jesus: Lessons In Love, by Eric Elder 
How to love God, love others and love yourself more.  Featuring 30 inspiring devotionals based on the greatest “lover” of all time, Jesus Christ.  Learn more… (Suggested Donation: $12 or more)

Also available from Amazon.com.


Exodus: Lessons In Freedom, by Eric Elder

Exodus: Lessons In Freedom, by Eric Elder 
How to get free, stay free and set others free.  Featuring 50 inspiring devotionals based on one of the most dramatic yet practical books of the Bible.  Learn more… (Suggested Donation: $15 or more)

Also available from Amazon.com or get the eBook for: iPhone, iPad, iPod, Kindle, or Nook.


What God Says About Sex, by Eric Elder

What God Says About Sex, by Eric Elder 
An inspirational book to help you discover and put into practice what God says about sex.  Learn more… (Suggested Donation: $12 or more)

Also available from Amazon.com.


Two Weeks With God, By Eric Elder

Two Weeks With God, by Eric Elder 
A 14-day devotional to help you clear your mind and focus on God, based on the songs from Eric Elder’s piano CD, Clear My Mind.  Learn more… (Suggested Donation: $12 or more)

Also available from Amazon.com or get the eBook for your iPhone, iPad, iPod, Kindle, or Nook


Clear My Mind Piano Book, by Eric Elder

Clear My Mind Piano Book, by Eric Elder 
The full piano score for all twelve songs from Eric Elder’s instrumental piano CD, Clear My Mind.  64 pages.

Also available from Amazon.com or listen to samples on AmazoniTunes, or Spotify


Psalms: Lessons In Prayer, by Eric Elder

Psalms: Lessons in Prayer (Coming Soon!), by Eric Elder 
How to be more effective in talking to, listening to, and enjoying your conversations with God. Featuring 45 inspiring devotionals based on the oldest book of prayers in the world.  Learn more… (Suggested Donation: $12 or more)

(COMING SOON!)


MUSIC


Clear My Mind - Cover

Clear My Mind – 100% Pure Piano by Eric Elder 
100% Pure Piano played to soothe your soul, heal your heart, and clear your mind.  All songs were written and performed by Eric Elder on a beautifully restored 1910 Steinway grand piano.  Learn more… (Suggested Donation: $15 or more)


 Also available from Amazon.com or get the MP3’s from: Amazon.comiTunes, or CDBaby or listen to this album on: Spotify or Pandora

Soothe My Soul - Album Artwork

Soothe My Soul100% Pure Piano by Eric Elder and Marilyn Byrnes 
Soothe My Soul features five original songs by Eric Elder and five new favorites, performed by Eric Elder and Marilyn Byrnes.   Learn more… (Suggested Donation: $15 or more)

Also available from Amazon.com or get the MP3’s from: Amazon.comiTunes, or CDBaby or listen to this album on: Spotify or Pandora


Hymns - Album ArtworkHymns100% Pure Piano by Marilyn Byrnes 
These classic hymns are played with an contemporary grace and are especially good for bringing you peace, rest and healing.  Learn more… (Suggested Donation: $15 or more)

Also available from Amazon.com or get the MP3’s from Amazon.comiTunes, or CDBaby or listen to this album on: Spotify or Pandora


Sweet Dreams - Album ArtworkSweet Dreams100% Pure Piano by Marilyn Byrnes 
Performed by Marilyn Byrnes, this music is perfect for giving you “sweet dreams.”   Learn more… (Suggested Donation: $15 or more)

Also available from: Amazon.com or get the MP3’s from: Amazon.comiTunes, or CDBaby or  listen to this album on: Spotify or Pandora


What God Says about Prayer (and Other Inspiring Topics)

What God Says About Prayer and Other Inspiring Topics – 100% Pure Scripture read by Lana Elder 
Encouraging words from God’s Word, read by Lana Elder to inspirational music.   Learn more… (Suggested Donation: $15 or more)

Also available from Amazon.com or get the MP3’s from: Amazon.comiTunes, or CDBaby or listen to this album on: Spotify


Tenderly - Album Artwork

Tenderly100% Pure Piano by Marilyn Byrnes 
Soft and beautiful, Tenderly features 100% pure piano from Marilyn Byrnes.    Learn more… (Suggested Donation: $15 or more)

Also available from: Amazon.com or get the MP3’s from: Amazon.comiTunes, or CDBaby or listen to this album on: Spotify or Pandora


Simply Relaxing - Album Artwork

Simply Relaxing100% Pure Piano by Marilyn Byrnes 
Marilyn Byrnes plays with passion and ease, a combination that makes that makes her music truly “easy listening.”  Learn more… (Suggested Donation: $15 or more)

Also available from Amazon.com or get the MP3’s from: Amazon.comiTunes, or CDBaby or listen to this album on: Spotify or Pandora


Still Waters - Album Artwork

Still Waters100% Pure Piano by Jennifer Ramsey
Jennifer says, “My favorite part of a worship service is the quiet, meditative part during the Lord’s Supper. It is a time of personal worship and reflection at the end of a hectic week… My hope is that you can use this music to help you to meet with God in your quiet time at home, by His ‘still waters.'”  Learn more… (Suggested Donation: $15 or more)

 Also available from Amazon.com or get the MP3’s from Amazon.com


Eden - Album Artwork

Eden100% Pure Piano by Marilyn Byrnes 
From classical to contemporary, this music is sure to brighten your day, featuring 100% pure piano from Marilyn Byrnes.    Learn more… (Suggested Donation: $15 or more)

Also available from Amazon.com or get the MP3’s from: Amazon.comiTunes, or CDBaby or listen to this album on: Spotify or Pandora


Dakota - Album Artwork

Dakota100% Pure Piano by Marilyn Byrnes 
Happy Trails from The Ranch! A delightful collection of jazzy piano favorites to bring joy and relaxation to your spirit.   Learn more… (Suggested Donation: $15 or more)

Also available from Amazon.com or get the MP3’s from: Amazon.comiTunes, or CDBaby or listen to this album on: Spotify or Pandora


Christmas - Album Artwork

Christmas100% Pure Piano by Marilyn Byrnes 
An outstanding collection of Christmas classics played by Marilyn Byrnes in a moving and contemporary style. Christmas is my favorite holiday recording!   Learn more… (Suggested Donation: $15 or more)

Also available from Amazon.com or get the MP3’s from: Amazon.comiTunes, or CDBaby or listen to this album on: Spotify or Pandora


Peace On Earth - Album Artwork

Peace on Earth100% Pure Piano by Marilyn Byrnes 
These songs celebrate the birth of Christ when the angels said, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace toward men.”   Learn more… (Suggested Donation: $15 or more)

Also available from Amazon.com or get the MP3’s from: Amazon.comiTunes, or CDBaby or listen to this album on: Spotify or Pandora


SELECTED PSALMS - 100% Pure Scripture read by Lana Elder.

Selected Psalms100% Pure Scripture read by Lana Elder 
The Psalms are already precious to millions, but when Lana Elder reads them in her soothing voice, they take on a quality that is truly beyond this world!  Recorded in July of 2012, these “Selected Psalms” form the basis of our new devotional series for how to grow closer to God through prayer, called Psalms: Lessons in Prayer. Enjoy!

(COMING SOON!)


VIDEOS


To Lana, With Love, by her Family and FriendsTo Lana, With Love” A Tribute to Lana Elder by her Family and Friends 
A Celebration of the Life of Lana Jane (Olivero) Elder. “To Lana, With Love” captures the Celebration of the Life of Lana Elder, who passed away on November 15th, 2012. This video features inspirational words, music and dance by Lana’s family and friends, filmed on November 19th and 20th, 2012, by filmmaker and family friend, Russell Pond, www.toppup.com. “To Lana, With Love” also includes the short inspirational video, “Eric’s Hope,” to give hope and encouragement to others facing loss.  Learn more… (Suggested Donation: $12 or more)


Also available from Amazon.com


Israel Videos, by Eric Elder

Israel Videos: Lessons From The Holy Land by Eric Elder 
Thirty inspiring videos from the land where Jesus walked. This optional companion DVD goes with the book, “Israel: Lessons From The Holy Land” and will show you the sites and sounds of the land where Jesus walked. Recorded on location all over Israel at places like Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Megiddo, Nazareth, the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. 37 Minutes.   Learn more… (Suggested Donation: $15 or more)


Also available from Amazon.com or get the digital download from Amazon.com


This Week’s Sermon- Change And Transitions


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

CHANGE AND TRANSITIONS

by Shelly Busby
www.shellybusby.com

 
Note from Eric:  Over the next several weeks, we’re focusing our weekend messages on the topic of “TRANSITIONS,” the theme of our 2nd Annual Ranch Retreat this fall.   In today’s message, my friend Shelly Busby writes about a job transition she’s currently going through … and how God is helping her through it.

 

Whether you are going thru a time of change or just coming out of one, change is inevitable. Change challenges us to leave the comfort and security of the familiar.

Have you prayed for change?
Are you waiting for change?
Are you in the middle of change?
Are you in a season of change, finding it’s different then you envisioned it?
Are you wondering if you really heard God right?

Change doesn’t just happen. It’s usually a process.
As much as we hunger and cry out to God for it, when transition comes and change begins, it can be unsettling.

My brother always says, “Living things grow; growing things change.”
So we cry out for change.
And God answers.

Over the last several years I’ve prayed as a restlessness and hunger rose in me; a hunger for MORE. It appeared ‘illogical’ for me to consider leaving my work at our church as we saw God answering prayers better than we imagined. Serving on staff as Director of Adult Ministries, I should have been more eager than ever to remain in a place where God is moving in and thru people at an exponential rate.
I love the Pastors, the staff and all the people.
I love seeing the hand of God impacting new believers literally every day.
I had every reason NOT to leave.
And yet… I wanted more.

Two years ago during a time of church-wide prayer I had a dream that further fueled my hunger for MORE though I didn’t know what MORE looked like (see my post Step Into Your Dream).
Thru prayer and time and tears I began to take steps into change.

Surely I’m not the only one who finally surrendered to my new “assignment” only to be surprised that it would be a long, sometimes exhausting journey that could get lonely.  I didn’t expect I would have to work at it since I did agree, “Yes Lord.”
I’ve prayed for change for years. I’ve asked “When Lord?” and “How much longer Lord?”
I had a long distance view of the assignment He’s called me too.
I’m so ready to do what You’ve called me to do; be who You’ve called me to be…
Eventually I started listening more and speaking less.

I found that in my silence, I heard Him more. It wasn’t that He spoke more.  Rather, I became more aware of Him and less aware of myself.

I’m in a TRANSITION period. At first I fought it and begrudged being held back.  I wanted to expedite things. I wanted to GO.
I’m used to being in an environment of strong believers praying and strategizing and talking about what we can share about God this week. I miss weekly meetings reviewing what God did the week prior.

In March, I asked for the Pastors’ blessing to step out of my role to pursue writing.  It was scary as I have no writing “experience” or education.
I’ve been tempted to write and blog and post on Facebook telling what God is doing.
But God said, “No. Not yet.”
At first I felt naked. I love PEOPLE, especially my people. “What will they think?” God, this is very anti-social.
Then I felt lonely. “Does anyone even care that I’m not there?”
I realized how fond I had become of the role and title I wore. Now it’s just me, a few close friends. And God. Stripped down.

Here, in the waiting; it’s as if God is saying, “Child, just spend time with Me. Don’t be so quick to tell about Me, to show about Me. I want a season of just you and Me.”

The other day I was spending time with Him.
Me:  “I love this time. I could stay here forever, but I still don’t get it Lord. It’s counter to my desire to serve others. That’s what YOU want, isn’t it? What Jesus taught?”
Lord:  “What’s a wedding?”
Me:  “A ceremony where two people who love each other come together marking the commitment to share their lives together as one.”
Lord:  “Who comes?”
Me:  “Usually friends, family, photographers, musicians. Lots of people.”
Lord:  “And what happens?”
Me:  “The public exchange of vows and usually a big celebration.”
Lord:  “And then where do all the people go?”
Me:  “They go home.”
Lord:  “Why don’t they go with the bride and groom?”

He’s not condescending in these questions. I understand He always has a point.

Me:  “That time is special.  It’s set aside for the bride and groom.”
Lord:  “No one goes with them?”  

I know He knows. I’m searching for what He wants me to see.

Me:  “No.  This is their time. To share each other. No one else Lord.”
Lord: “Yes. Their time. A special time. They begin as one.”

Then, with “Follow Me,” He left me with this impression:  “No one else is there when the groom carries the bride over the threshold.”

I can tell you right now: God is interested in your attention.
The only thing that matters is His presence.
WHAT HE WANTS FROM YOU more than ANY thing you can do or be is for you to spend time resting in His presence.

Have you found satisfaction simply being alone in His presence?

“You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13)

All that we DO is additional to what He seeks from us. If we do not first find peace and satisfaction in God’s Presence, then what we do will not be from Him, but only for Him and of our own works.

Being fulfilled in His presence changes how we see and approach that which He’s called us to. This is how we gain Kingdom perspective, and it is foundational to all we do are who we are.

Maybe you are taking steps to walk out the unique purpose God has called you to.
That’s great! You’re right on track. That’s part of what He created you for and how He reaches others.

If you are discouraged or frustrated or confused, or uncomfortable or overwhelmed or downright SCARED –I can totally identify with you!

I’m glad God is not having me move forward yet.  It’s as if I’m in a spiritual pause. This is transition. And I’m loving it.
In this neutral place I am realizing that all those negatives I just mentioned are circumstantial.  And here’s the good news; we are not defined by our circumstances. Rather we are defined by whose we are.

Whatever God has planned for me, I am so grateful that He drew me out to strip me down from the “good” identity I’d grown to love. I had become fond of my role. What I did was my identity.
Leaving has reminded me that there is no higher call than to live simply as a child of God.

Sometimes we need extended states of “pause” to really grasp the bigger picture.  God is God, and we are His.  And He’s concerned with having our full attention.

As you process thru growing in whatever season you are in, remember to first and continuously to find God’s view.

Spend time with Him. Alone.
This is where:
– He strips us down. The grime of earthly perspective is washed off the eyes of our hearts and we gain clarity of vision.
-We become accustomed to His voice in the quiet and recognize Him in the noise of the worldliness. He wants each of us to hear directly from Him!
-Our thoughts are made new as we receive a download from God Himself. We access the mind of Christ!

Practically speaking:
Get in the Word. God speaks thru it.
Gather and worship with other believers. Something just happens when we do this.
But more than anything; take time alone with God daily.
If Jesus did this then how much more should we?

I find it helpful listening to worship to get my mind and body in tune with the spirit. After a song or two and some time in a devotional I take time to listen.
Practice being or becoming AWARE of His presence. He has much to say to you.

“My sheep listen to My voice; I know them, and they follow Me” (John 10:27).

God has plans for you.  You don’t have to figure it all out, you need only show up and take Him at His word. Enjoy being with Him. Everything else will follow. Savor this time of transition, and look forward to what He can do with an expectant heart!

Do not call to mind the former things,
Or ponder things of the past.
“Behold, I will do something new,
     Now it will spring forth;
     Will you not be aware of it?
     I will even make a roadway in the wilderness,
     Rivers in the desert” (Isaiah 43:18-19).

 

Follow-up from Eric:  If you’re going through a time of transition in your own life, I hope you’ll join us this October for our 2nd Annual Ranch Retreat.  We’ll be focusing on the topic of “transitions” and how God can help you through them, too.  Shelly and her husband will be joining us from Texas!  I hope you will, too!   Click here to learn more.

The 2nd Annual Ranch Retreat!



Cover photo of "15 Tips For A Stronger Marriage"

If you’d like to get a paperback copy of Eric Elder’s recent series called “15 Tips for a Stronger Marriage” just click this link to visit The Ranch Bookstore and make a donation of any size OR click this link to visit Amazon.com and write a 1-2 sentence review of the series then email us your name, address and link to your review.  Either way we’ll send you a copy of the book anywhere in the world.  Your gifts and reviews help us to keep spreading God’s life-changing Word to people in 160 countries every day!

This Week’s Sermon- Change, Thoughtfulness, and Hopefulness


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

CHANGE, THOUGHTFULNESS, AND HOPEFULNESS
Part 1 of our series on “Transitions”

by Kelly Albrecht

 
Note from Eric:  Today’s message is by Kelly Albrecht, a friend of Greg’s and mine.  If you were one of our subscribers 10 years ago, you may remember Kelly was the wife of Kirk Albrecht, another friend and our best technical support for The Ranch website.  Sadly for all of us, Kirk passed away 10 years ago at the age of 36 on July 14, 2004.  When we mentioned Kirk’s passing on our website, hundreds wrote in to offer Kelly their prayers and condolences from around the world.  Kelly asked recently if she could write a note of thanks and a message of encouragement to you here on the 10th anniversary of Kirk’s passing, which Greg and I are happy to pass along to you in the message below.  Thanks for blessing her all those years ago, and I pray her message blesses you in return.  Eric

Change, Thoughtfulness, and Hopefulness

By Kelly Albrecht

As I sat to write this, I decided that I wanted to share some of my story but to also write a note of appreciation. My story is about change, thoughtfulness, and hopefulness.

I’m a person of contradictions; I don’t like change or surprises but sometimes I want things to change and love some surprises. I like good changes, good surprises; things that you hope for and want, but didn’t think will ever come. These are the hopes and dreams that make the perfect day, if you were to describe it. When they come, you rejoice. This is hearing a friend or family member has accepted Christ as their Savior, a job promotion, the blooming of a flower, the first words of a child, finding out after years of trying that you are pregnant again, a surprise birthday celebration, finding something you lost, the phone call from a friend you haven’t heard from in years, the “I love you” from a loved one, receiving a postcard or letter from a friend, and the list goes on and on. These are the good changes and surprises. They are the things you can see yourself living with; things you relish coming, things you desire and dream of happening in your life. They are the things that make you smile and feed your soul. They are things that would be considered “happy times” and “sunshine moments.” Then there are changes and surprises that you dread, you pray never happen; ones that bring sadness to your life if they were to come.

Sadly, life is not only the “good times,” the cherished and dreamed about changes and surprises. Those hard times come; they also show no respecter of person, happening to people without warning even. The good thing about the unexpected changes and surprises are: God is still there. He’s guiding and protecting us, in the good times and the bad times. Adversity makes it harder to see God’s guidance and grace but, if we look hard enough, it is there. Sometimes a person sees it, but their friends and family don’t believe that God is still there when adversity strikes. Hopefully you are like me, you may have a few distractors (people that don’t encourage you or see that God is there) but for the most part, you are surrounded by people that through life adversities they are showing you love and encouragement that can only be from God. These are not only people you know personally, but may be a complete stranger; a fellow Christian, or just a person who you happen to cross paths with for a short time. A person God has placed there for that time in your life; to encourage you and to help show you God’s love at a time you really need it. That isn’t saying that these have to be one time encouragers, nor that people will have to stay a stranger; new friends can be born out of adversity. These people may encourage a person in a way that, years later, well, they look back fondly and remember the strength and uplifting these encouraging people brought to their life.

This happened to me 10 years ago tomorrow. That was the day that changed my life, changed the way I lived my comfortable life and I never saw coming. That day left me needing encouragement and support like never before. You see, I was one of those girls you hear about that dreamed as long as she could remember of growing up to become a wife and a mother. I would play house, dress up, and plan my wedding, dream about what kind of man I would marry. When I finally met and married the man of my dreams, I was so excited that God gave me such a wonderful man. Kirk (my beloved) and I were married in 1989 and at that point ten years ago, we had been married just over 15 years and 4 months. We were raising three wonderful children (two girls and a boy) in addition to foster/adopting a boy, and had found out a couple of weeks before this point that I was pregnant with baby number four (a girl). We couldn’t have been happier and had recently moved into our first house. If you had asked us, life was good and we were expecting it to get better and better with each passing day.

One of Kirk’s favorite sayings was: “nothing is more consistent than change.” Remember, I am not a big fan of change or of surprises so; this was quoted to me often when I would voice my displeasure over an unexpected change or news. Also, early on in our marriage we coined the catch phrase, “life is a journey and I can’t wait to see where God takes us next.” Both of those phrases would hit home in a way that I wasn’t prepared for, ways that shook me to my core on July 14, 2004 by one short phone call. Nothing but God could have prepared me for the changes that happened 10 years ago tomorrow. That was the day that my precious Kirk died unexpectedly of a heart attack while at work. Life was good for us; things were going in the right direction, Kirk had a great job, I was homeschooling our children, we were planning on adopting, we were also having another biological child, we had just bought a house and moved in earlier that spring, we were happy. As a couple we were great, the children were healthy, I was healthy, and Kirk was responding well to medicines to treat a long term heart condition. Things seemed to only be going better. We had plans for our future; vacation plans, plans for the children’s future, plans to see our children attend college, graduate, date, get married, have children. We were going to grow old together and all the while grow more and more in love. We were going to go on more mission trips and vacations together. Our plans were all about happiness and being together as a family. Our plans though; there was nothing wrong with our plans in the broader sense, but they were not God’s plans.

When I got home that morning from running errands I was surprised to see there were so many messages on my answering machine. The first one alerted me that something was wrong with Kirk and I was to call his friend and co-worker back. I first heard of Kirk’s heart attack from him. He went to the hospital with my husband and it was from a phone call with him that the doctor took over the phone to talk to me and tell me my husband had died. I was crushed, to say the least. This was the biggest surprise (and very unwanted) that I had ever had in my life. This also would bring about much change I knew.

After hearing that my husband died and arranging a ride to the hospital, I called Eric, a friend of us both and leader of The Ranch. My support started flowing in from not just Eric that day but this whole list at that time. Eric was nice enough to notify Greg of This Day’s Thought (back before the two ministries merged) to notify him that Kirk had died. Kirk was helping Greg with his website at this time. Greg then notified his list of Kirk’s death and asked you all to pray for me and the children. I was very blessed and surprised by the outpouring of love and support many of you gave through email. It really touched my heart to know people cared that much; most of you who had never even met Kirk once in your life. Many of the messages were forwarded to me and I saved them. Eric later kept all the messages and made a nice file of them and printed them out for me. I read and reread them many times over the first few months and even over the years, including this week (the link is here at theranch.org under “About Us” and “A Tribute to Kirk N. Albrecht” if you want to read them). The kind words reminded me that there are many thoughtful people in this world. I do not think I ever took the time to properly thank all you who wrote to me and prayed for the children and me. Thank you so very much and I hope you felt that your well wishes and prayers were appreciated, even though I had never thanked you before now. I am sorry it took so long but I am glad I have the opportunity to today.

Ten years ago doesn’t seem like that long ago, but in some ways it seems a lifetime ago. . Many changes have come to my household in these past ten years and my children are now 24, 22, 12, and 9. Changes from—two learning to drive, different stages of teaching them to cook, vacations, high school graduation, college graduations, first breaths, first smiles, many pictures, talks of life dreams and goals, picnics, watching them make decisions for Christ, many conversations about Kirk, and the list goes on and on. The one thing that hasn’t changed is teaching my children about God’s love and protection and his salvation. Each child is a blessing and is making their mark on the world. Life has changed, but life is still good because God is still in control.

Looking back I am reminded that I never dreamed that I would be a widow at such a young age. The day Kirk died it threw me into a club that I never would have willingly joined. Being a widow, or widower for that matter, is being forced into a club that no one wants to join but, if it is asked of you, there is nothing you can do to stop it. The last ten years was not what I had dreamed my life would be like when as a child I was playing house and dreaming of my future. Through my married life, I never dreamed that I would be a young widow. I wanted to grow old together with Kirk, to have a life full of times together, but in life I have learned that my plans are not always as God has planned. I have also learned that God is using my experiences to help others that are going through the same situation. I went on to finish college, even getting a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy and currently a dissertation away from having a doctoral degree focusing on using one’s faith in counseling, especially while grieving. I miss Kirk every day and thank God for the time we had together, but I know that I have hope for my future because God is there and he will take my life story and use it for his kingdom. Thank all of you for being a part of my life by praying for me all those years ago, prayers that my children and I would know God’s guidance and protection and I am glad to report that God has meet our needs every time.

These last 10 years have brought about much change, but I am so thankful for the outpouring of love and support from everyone and that has left me hopeful that there are still caring people in this world that are willing to pray for and encourage each other. As I look to the future I am reminded for my family that: “life is a journey and I can’t wait to see where God takes us next.” May your life journey also take you to places where you know God’s love, encouragement and blessing and you are surrounded by friends and family in the kingdom of God. In closing I hope you find encouragement from one of my favorite Bible verses that reminds me that God is on this journey with us: “For I know the plans I have for you says the Lord…to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11).

Follow-up from Eric: Thanks for reading Kelly’s message today.  If you’re going through a transition in your own life, I hope you’ll join us this fall for our Ranch Retreat where we’ll be focusing on the topic of “transitions” and how God can help us through them.  We’d love for your to join us.  Click here to learn more.

The 2nd Annual Ranch Retreat!



Cover photo of "15 Tips For A Stronger Marriage"

If you’d like to get a paperback copy of Eric Elder’s recent series called “15 Tips for a Stronger Marriage” just click this link to visit The Ranch Bookstore and make a donation of any size OR click this link to visit Amazon.com and write a 1-2 sentence review of the series then email us your name, address and link to your review.  Either way we’ll send you a copy of the book anywhere in the world.  Your gifts and reviews help us to keep spreading God’s life-changing Word to people in 160 countries every day!

Announcing The 2nd Annual Ranch Retreat!


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

Hi, this is Eric Elder and I’m happy to announce that 3 months from today we’re going to hold our 2nd Annual Ranch Retreat!  We’d love for you to come!

The 2nd Annual Ranch Retreat!

If you’d like a boost in your faith, I hope you’ll join us for a weekend of worship and inspiration here in the heart of the Great Midwest on Columbus Day Weekend, October 10-12th, 2014.  Our theme for the weekend will be “Transitions” and we’ll be asking God to help us as we walk through the transitions each of us face in our lives, with a focus on this verse from the Bible:

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).

We’ll start off with a sumptuous dinner on Friday night followed by some inspirational worship led by Alan Lowry of Saddleback’s GIG Music Ministry and a message to encourage you in your faith from Greg Potzer of This Day’s Thought and myself (plus a special behind-the-scenes look at our ministry, “This Day’s Thought from The Ranch”).   Al’s coming in from Orange County, California, and Greg’s coming in from Denver, Colorado, so if you’re coming from out of state or out of the country, you’ll be in good company!

We’ll continue on Saturday morning with a light and refreshing breakfast, followed by another session of inspirational worship and messages.  We’ll take a break for lunch on your own and some free time in the afternoon to just relax, pray or chat with us and some new friends.

We’ll have an optional prayer walk on Saturday afternoon at the site of my late wife Lana’s Memorial Bench at a cemetery nearby where you’ll have time to consider what God wants you to do with the rest of your “dash” here on earth.  (I’ll also be sharing a personal update with you during the weekend on how we’re doing with our own transition since Lana’s moving on to her new home in heaven.)

We’ll gather again on Saturday night for another great meal, more inspirational worship and another faith-boosting message.  (If the weather’s nice, we may even have a bonfire and cookout here at our home, complete with a sky full of stars and some good old s’mores for dessert…you’ll like ’em so much, you’ll want “s’more”!)

If you stay over till Sunday, we’d love to have you join us for worship at the local church where we attend in Normal, Illinois (you can tell people you were “close to Normal” for a whole weekend!), followed by lunch at the church café (dutch treat) for some extra time of relaxed fellowship.

If all that sounds good to you (I know it sounds good to me!), I hope you’ll join us here in Illinois on Columbus Day Weekend, October 10-12, 2014.  We’re asking for a donation of $150 per person for the whole weekend of activities, which includes a gourmet dinner and hors d’oerves on Friday night, a light & refreshing breakfast and a homestyle dinner on Saturday, and 3 inspirational sets of worship and messages!

Even if we didn’t provide any sumptous meals or inspiring worship and messages, just getting out of your usual routine for a few days might be just what you need to hear from God more clearly and give you the boost in your faith that you need.   So save the dates and join us in October!

(Although we hope you can stay for the whole weekend, we know some of you might be able to join us only on Friday or Saturday, so you can sign up for a one-day registration for just $75.  And as much as I wish I could host you all at my home, I think you’d find it a little crowded with all my kids here!  So here’s a link to some hotels near Lexington, Illinois where most of the activities will be held.)

REGISTRATION

Click here to Register!

Click here to Register!

We’re asking for a donation of $150 per person for the whole weekend of activities (plus a $4.74 processing fee from Eventbrite).  You can also register for just Friday or Saturday for a donation of $75 per person (plus a $2.87 processing fee from Eventbrite).  Please note for tax purposes that only the amount of your donations for the weekend that exceed the suggested donations listed above will be considered tax-deductible.

LOCATION

The retreat will be held at the Lexington Community Center, located at 207 West Main Street in Lexington, Illinois.  Lexington is about 2 hours south of Chicago and 25 minutes north of Bloomington/Normal.  The closest airport is in Bloomington, Illinois (BMI), with flights to many major cities daily.

SCHEDULE OF EVENTS

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 10
5:00-6:30 Check-in at the Lexington Community Center in Lexington, Illinois
6:30 Hors d’Oerves and Fellowship
7:00 Gourmet Dinner
7:45 Worship with Al Lowry
8:15 Behind-the-Scenes with Greg Potzer and Eric Elder
9:15-10:00 Q & A, Prayer and Wrap Up

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 11
9:00-10:00 Gather and enjoy a light & refreshing breakfast at the Lexington Community Center
10:00 Worship with Al Lowry
10:30 Message by Eric Elder
11:30-12:00 Q & A, Prayer and Wrap Up
12:00 Break for lunch on your own at local restaurants

12:00-6:00 Free time for relaxed fellowship and prayer, with an optional prayer walk at Lana Elder’s memorial bench at the Lexington Cemetery

6:00 Gather again at the Lexington Community Center
6:30 Homestyle Dinner
7:15 Worship with Al Lowry
7:45 Message by Eric Elder
8:45-10:00 Q & A, Prayer and Wrap Up

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 12
11:30 Worship together at Eastview Christian Church in Normal, Illinois
1:00-3:00 Lunch (dutch treat) at the church café for some extra time of relaxed fellowship

 ABOUT US

Here’s a little more about us!

About Eric Elder and The Ranch

About Greg Potzer and This Day’s Thought

About Al Lowry and Saddleback’s GIG Ministry

For more information about the retreat, housing or any other details, please call Shelly at (214) 597-4872 or simply reply to this note.  Thanks and hope to see you in October!

Click here to Register!

Click Here to Register!

Eric Elder


 

15 Tips For A Stronger Marriage, by Eric Elder

15 TIPS FOR A STRONGER MARRIAGE, by Eric Elder, featuring 15 inspirational tips to help your marriage be the 
best that it can be.

Practical tips for newlyweds, nearly-weds or anyone who wants to strengthen their marriage.  Also includes 12 tips on parenting!

Want to make your marriage be the 
best that it can be? Here are 15 tips that have been tried and tested in my own 23-year marriage. Each tip contains practical, real-life examples of how they worked for us and how you can adapt and apply them to your own marriage. Also includes a special bonus chapter: 
12 tips on 
parenting! 85 pages.

(Suggested Donation: $12 or more)

paypal-donate-button-cc-lg

Also available from Amazon.com.

15 Tips For A Stronger Marriage

15 inspirational tips to help your marriage be the best that it can be. Also includes 12 tips on parenting!
by Eric Elder

Read it online below!

You're reading 15 TIPS FOR A STRONGER MARRIAGE, by Eric Elder, featuring 15 inspirational tips to help your marriage be the 
best that it can be. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You’re reading 15 TIPS FOR A STRONGER MARRIAGE, by Eric Elder, featuring 15 inspirational tips to help your marriage be the 
best that it can be. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

INTRODUCTION (Back to Table of Contents)

I was sitting with a couple recently to help them plan their wedding when the bride-to-be asked me to do something impossible: she wanted me to talk at her wedding about marriage and what made my marriage to my wife, Lana, so successful.

She said she admired our relationship and wanted to learn whatever she could to make her marriage the best that it could be.

Here’s why her request seemed so impossible: how could I possibly summarize 23 years worth of thoughts on marriage in such a short message on her wedding day? Yet her question also inspired me because I loved the idea of being able to pass along to them anything that might be helpful. So I began to think of all the tips I had heard before we got married, after we got married and throughout our 23 years of marriage. I quickly came up with 4 or 5 sermons to share at her wedding!

In the end, I only shared 1 simple message with them, based on 3 words, which I felt would help them get through anything they might face in the future. I’ll share those 3 words with you in chapter 6, as they serve as the glue that holds all the other tips together. But I still wanted to share with this couple all the other great tips that God had brought to my mind. The result is this little book that I’m now sharing with you.

I wish I could say that if you’ll just put these 15 tips into practice you’ll be guaranteed success in your own marriage, but relationships just don’t work like that. Each one of us is unique and each one of our relationships is unique. Yet I still believe each of these tips can be helpful to you in one way or another, even if it’s just to talk through them with your spouse, or spouse to be, and then adapt and apply them to your own relationship.

To make this book easier to read, I’ve divided it into 7 chapters, 6 of which are about marriage, with a bonus chapter at the end called “12 Tips On Parenting.” I wrote this chapter in response to another question by some other friends who asked for my thoughts on that topic.

Since this book has 7 chapters, you might want to read a chapter a day for 7 days or a chapter a week for 7 weeks. You might also want to go through this book with a few other couples who are newly married, nearly married or just want to strengthen their marriage, no matter how long they’ve been married. Who knows? This book may be just what they need to make their marriage not just good, but great!

Any way you do it, I pray God will bless you through it, both now and for many years to come.

In Christ’s love,
Eric Elder

TABLE OF CONTENTS

CHAPTER 1 (Back to Table of Contents)

You're reading 15 TIPS FOR A STRONGER MARRIAGE, by Eric Elder, featuring 15 inspirational tips to help your marriage be the 
best that it can be. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You’re reading 15 TIPS FOR A STRONGER MARRIAGE, by Eric Elder, featuring 15 inspirational tips to help your marriage be the 
best that it can be. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

Here are the first 7 tips for a stronger marriage. I’ve kept these tips short to help you get started as quickly as possible, but I hope you won’t rush through them.

We have a game at our house called Othello. and the description on the box says the game takes “a minute to learn; a lifetime to master.” The same is true for each of these tips. You can probably read each one in just a few minutes, but they could take a lifetime to master!

So I hope you’ll take some time to really consider how to apply each one to your own marriage. With that in mind, here are the first 7 tips!

1) Pray with each other daily. Before Lana and I got married, I heard someone say that he prayed every night with his wife before they went to bed. He said this assured them of 2 things every day:

1- This assured them that each of them was being prayed for every single day of their lives. Since I believe in the power of prayer, I was so eager to try this even before I got married that I tried it with a friend who was my roommate at the time. It turned out to be so powerful, and we saw so many answers to our prayers, that I was convinced to keep doing it when I entered into marriage as well.

2- This also assured them that each of them would have a chance to express some of their deepest needs that they may never have shared otherwise. Often I would go through a whole day with Lana, talking and doing life together, and think that I knew what she probably wanted prayer for by the end of the day. But there were often times when I would ask her how I could pray for her and she would surprise me with something that I would have never guessed on my own.

No matter how late it was at night or what kind of mood we were in, we kept this commitment daily, even if it was just praying a blessing over each other in Jesus’ name. One of Lana’s favorite prayers to pray for me and for the kids was based on this verse from the Bible:

“The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn His face toward you and give you peace” (Numbers 6:24-26).

I shared this tip with the couple who inspired me to write this book and they posted a message on FaceBook just a few days into their honeymoon:

“A man filled with great wisdom told us before we got married that every night we should pray together before we fell asleep. So far in our short marriage we have done that. There is nothing more intimate.”

I agree! Pray with each other every day.

2) Take out the TV. Lack of communication is the #1 cause of divorce. It’s amazing how even having a TV in the room can impact your communication with your spouse. It’s always easier to turn on the TV than to talk to someone else. The TV doesn’t talk back; you don’t have to listen if you don’t want to. You can be delighted and entertained for hours on end without doing any of the heavy lifting of a relationship. Having a TV in the room is like always having a third person in your marriage. Even when it’s off, the temptation is still there to turn it on.

Lana and I read a book before we got married called The First Years of Forever by Ed and Gaye Wheat which argued convincingly that the patterns you set in the first 2 years of marriage will set the tone for the patterns you’ll have in your 7th year and 14th year and so on. So to set your patterns right from the start, make communication a #1 goal. Lana and I put our TV in the back of a closet for the first year of our marriage. The only time we took it out was when we heard that the Berlin Wall was being torn down live on television, 1 of the most significant news events of that year. Then back into the closet it went.

I can’t tell you the joy that Lana and I had that first year, just the two of us in our 1-bedroom apartment in Houston, Texas. It freed us up to spend all kinds of time together, whether it was cooking dinner, playing games, cleaning dishes, going out or making love. Someone had given us money to buy a new TV as a wedding present, which we saved to get one when our first year was over. But we enjoyed our life without a TV so much that we kept it that way for several years until we finally decided to buy one so we could watch movies or teach the kids. After 23 years, we still watched very little TV, nor did our kids, because we just never developed the a habit. (And when we did start watching TV again, we were shocked at how much more negative the content on TV seemed to have turned in just those few short years.)

Let me add here again that these are suggestions that you’ll have to adapt to your own situation, whether it’s limiting time on the Internet or social media, or watching only a set number of shows or sporting events per month, or whatever it takes to give you the best shot at increasing your time to communicate. As the Apostle Paul reminded the Corinthians:

“Everything is permissible”–but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”–but not everything is constructive (1 Corinthians 10:23).

3) Combine your bank accounts. Communication is the #1 cause for divorce, but finances are a close second. Lana and I were encouraged at the beginning of our marriage to combine our bank accounts and share a checkbook. This meant that we had to talk about our purchases with each other so there were no surprises. This also kept us in check from making whimsical or unnecessary purchases. By combining our bank accounts we were also able to better save our money and make a priority of helping to fulfill each other’s dreams, whether it was a special trip for an anniversary or a missions trip to another country or a new vehicle when we needed one.

Because we had to make our decisions together, we simply made wiser decisions. Although it was harder at first because we had to work together, it kept us from having the mentality that “this is my money” and “this is your money.” We realized early on that “this is God’s money” and we wanted to spend it in the best way possible. As King David said to God:

“Everything comes from You, and we have given You only what comes from Your hand” (1 Chronicles 29:14b).

This may not apply to every situation or every stage of life, but it’s important to do something to make sure your finances enhance your marriage and not take away from it. For instance, I noticed that Lana was supportive whenever I was asked to speak anywhere special, but that doing so cost her in terms of my time and energy. So I began giving her any money I received from these extra speaking engagements, rather than using it for our every day bills. It was a simple way to make sure the money we received was working for our marriage, not against it.

4) Never use the “D” word: Divorce. There’s a funny line in the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, when the house maid Annie gives some money to George Bailey when he’s in dire straights. Annie says, “I’ve been saving this money for a divorce, if ever I got a husband!” It’s a funny line for a movie, but it’s a terrible line for real life. Sometimes you might be tempted to hold things back from your spouse “just in case things don’t work out.” But those very things that you’re holding back might be the pathway to greater intimacy if they were shared, whether it’s money or secrets or simply giving yourself as fully as possible to your spouse.

If you’re committed to marriage for life, which God certainly is, never use the word “divorce,” especially as a threat. Some people hold onto that option and use it as a weapon in an argument. But it’s not a weapon. Jesus said that Moses allowed for divorce only because of the hardness of people’s hearts, but that it wasn’t always that way from the beginning (see Matthew 19:8).

If you’re struggling in your marriage, keep your hearts soft and tender by looking for other ways to deal with your problems, whether you look to God, the Bible, prayer, counselors, friends or perhaps even time away. But not divorce. God says in the Bible:

“I hate divorce” (Malachi 2:16).

And anyone who’s been through one knows why. When I’ve counseled couples for marriage, I’ve sometimes told them that I’m glad to bless their marriage, but on one condition: that if they ever consider a divorce, that they have to come back to me first and get my blessing for that, too. Then I let them know that in all my years of counseling people, I have never recommended that a couple divorce, even in some of the most intense situations. (I have, from time to time, let people know they have the freedom to divorce, both scripturally and as part of the free will that God has given us in all things. But I have also seen God work in some of the most intense situations, especially when both people are willing to do so, that I know I am not the one to recommend that option.)

5) Confess your sins quickly. I heard about a man who walked across America. He said his toughest moments weren’t when he was walking through the rain or snow or to the top of a tall mountain. He said his toughest times were when he got tiny grains of sand in his shoes. Unless he stopped to regularly dump out the sand, those tiny grains would rub against his feet until blisters formed and then he would suffer for days or weeks in extreme pain until his feet healed.

I heard this story in a sermon about marriage one Sunday morning, in the context of confessing even those small sins in our lives to our spouse, dumping them out of our shoes before they rubbed enough to cause more severe pain. I immediately thought of a particular friendship I had with someone that I enjoyed, perhaps a little too much. There was nothing sinful going on, but the fact that this friendship came to mind as I heard this story made me wonder if maybe I should confess it to Lana and ask her what to do about it. I didn’t want to mention it though, because I was afraid the best solution would be to step back from this friendship all together, and I didn’t want to lose the friendship.

But after a few days of praying, I realized that even though this issue seemed like no big deal, as small as a grain of sand, I knew I’d rather dump it out now than let it possibly endanger my marriage down the road. I confessed it to Lana and we agreed it would be best for me to back off from the friendship. Even though it was a good friendship in my life, I felt so much freer after stepped back and it never caused another problem again. Confess any sins right away, even if they’re as small as a grain of sand. As the Bible says,

“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed” (James 5:16).

6) Love your way through any “irreconcilable differences.” I once heard about an interviewer who asked several couples who had gotten a divorce how many “irreconcilable differences” they had in their marriage; things that they were simply never able to agree upon. The average answer was 5 or 6 “irreconcilable differences.” The interviewer then asked the same question of several couples who were still together after 40, 50 and 60 years. Their answer? 5 or 6! It wasn’t the number of irreconcilable differences that made the difference in whether the couples stayed together or not, but their commitment to love each other through them.

We’re all unique. We all have different backgrounds and life experiences. It’s no surprise that we think differently on various topics as well. It’s part of life and it’s all part of what makes being married work so much better than being alone for so many people, because they can each bring their best ideas to table. But invariably this means that many other ideas have to be left on the table, even good ones. Lana and I agreed on a lot of things, but there were probably 5 or 6 that we still never agreed on in all our years together.

We’re all like porcupines, with our various differences and sins poking out of us all the time. And when we get close enough to each other, there’s a good chance we’ll get poked. Yet even porcupines find a way to have baby porcupines. How do they do it? Very carefully!

Don’t let your sins and differences cause you to lose your commitment to a lifetime of marriage no matter what. Love your way through them instead. As the Bible says:

“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (John 15:13).

7) Invite and allow Jesus to love your spouse through you. When I married Lana, I knew without a doubt that she was a gift from God to me. But I also realized that if she was a gift from God to me, then perhaps I was a gift from God to her, too. As such, I often wondered what Jesus would want me to do for her if He were here on earth, for the Bible says that we are the body of Christ and He wants to be able to live His life through us to touch others (see 1 Corinthians 12).

So when Lana would lay in bed at night, exhausted from a long day of taking care of everyone else around her, I would think, “What Would Jesus Do?” If Jesus was here, what would He want to say to her? What would He want to do for her? How would He minister to the deepest needs of her heart right now? Then I would try to let Jesus use me to love her, using my words to speak to her, my hands to stroke her head, my ears to listen to what she’d been going through during the day.

WWJD (What Would Jesus Do) might seem like a trite acronym to put on a bracelet or a bumper sticker, but it’s only trite if we make it so. If we take it seriously–and realize it’s exactly what God wants us to ask at all times and in all situations, especially with our spouse–it can change the dynamics of every relationship that we have.

As I was writing this message to you today, I happened to hear from the wife of a couple I had married several years ago. She shared with me that that this was the single most important tip she learned back then, and that it was the #1 thing that was getting her through the mess she and her husband were in right now, inviting and allowing Jesus to love her spouse through her.

Just as God has placed your spouse in your life as a gift to you, He has placed you in your spouse’s life as a gift to them. Invite and allow Jesus to love your spouse through you. As the Bible says:

“Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27).

That’s enough tips for now (it’s enough for a lifetime, really!) But in the next several chapters I’ll share some more tips that can be just as significant as these. Then I’ll wrap it all up in Chapter 6 with those 3 simple words that serve as the glue to hold all the other tips together.

CHAPTER 2 (Back to Table of Contents)

You're reading 15 TIPS FOR A STRONGER MARRIAGE, by Eric Elder, featuring 15 inspirational tips to help your marriage be the 
best that it can be. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You’re reading 15 TIPS FOR A STRONGER MARRIAGE, by Eric Elder, featuring 15 inspirational tips to help your marriage be the 
best that it can be. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

In this chapter I’m sharing just 4 tips with you. I’ve grouped these together because each one is related to how you balance your needs and callings with the needs and callings of your spouse. These can help to ensure that your marriage is a true partnership to help you both accomplish all that God has put on your hearts to do.

With that in mind, here are tips #8 through 11 for how to have a stronger marriage.

8) Be willing to live for your spouse. I spoke to a man who was divorcing his wife. She wanted to move to another state to fulfill some of her dreams, but he didn’t want to. They were at a stalemate and this was the last straw.

I asked him, “If someone threatened to kill your wife, would you be willing to die for her?”

“Yes, of course,” he replied.

Then I asked, “If you would be willing to die for her, would you be willing to live for her?”

We talked again shortly thereafter and he put his faith in Christ. He reconciled with his wife and they moved across the country. As Jesus told His disciples:

“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

Then Jesus proved His love for His friends by laying down His life for them.

Surprisingly, “laying down your life” doesn’t always mean giving up your own dreams and plans, too. For Jesus also said,

“For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Me will find it” (Matthew 16:25).

Sometimes it’s by helping your spouse achieve their dreams that you’ll be better able to fulfill your own dreams. If God is the one who has put special dreams and desires within both you and your spouse, then He’ll find a way to accomplish those dreams and desires for both of you, too.

9) Help your spouse achieve their goals. This may sound like the previous tip, but the difference is that sometimes you’ll have to take the initiative to help your spouse achieve their goals. It may be that God has put you in their life just for this purpose, because He knew they would need your unique help. After God created Adam, He said:

“It’s not good for the Man to be alone; I’ll make him a helper, a companion” (Genesis 2:18, MSG).

One of the main purposes for marriage, according to God, is so we won’t have to do life alone; that we’ll have a helper and a companion along the way.

Lana was both of those things to me: a wonderful companion and a terrific helper. She helped me do things I could never have done on my own, whether it was building a family or launching a ministry or giving me regular feedback and encouragement on my writing and speaking and planning and dreaming. At the same time, I was able to help her achieve some of her goals. Over the years, however, I realized that she still had other dreams and desires for her life which would never be realized if I didn’t step in to give her a boost. She wanted to do missions work in Africa, visit the Holy Land and make a movie about the life of St. Nicholas.

But with all of her other responsibilities, those dreams seemed either distant or impossible. So I sat down with her and began to pray about each one, asking God how I could help her achieve her dreams. Within a few years, I was able to help her take a missions trip to Africa, visit the Holy Land twice and write out the story of the life of St. Nicholas, which we planned to use as the basis for a movie someday. When we found out that Lana had cancer, I can’t tell you how thankful I was that I had stepped in to help her fulfill those dreams while she was still able to do themand I’d encourage you to do the same.

10) Remember your marriage is a calling, too. I think a word of caution is in order here, too. Be careful when considering giving up one type of “calling” to follow another. I shared my story with a group one day about quitting my job and going into full-time ministry. A woman came up to me afterwards to tell me how excited she was because God was calling her to do the same thing. After congratulating her for being willing to take this step of faith, I asked her what kept her from doing it before. She said, “Well, my husband won’t like it because I’m going to have to move and leave him behind.”

“As in divorce?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said, and she looked at the floor.

I said, “Don’t forsake one type of calling (your marriage) to fulfill another. If this is from God, He’ll help you to do both.”

Your marriage is a calling just as much as any other kind of “calling.” When I quit my job and went into full-time ministry, I knew for me that meant living on faith for all of our financial provision (we all live on faith, actually; it’s just that sometimes we’re more acutely aware of it than others). But I also knew I was called to my marriage with Lana.

So I wrote Lana a letter, telling her that even though I felt called by God to do this ministry, I also felt called by God to marry her and to take care of her as best I could. I committed to her, right at the beginning of our ministry, that if ever she felt she wasn’t being cared for because of the ministry that I was doing, then I would quit doing ministry or I would find another way to do it so that I could care for her better.

I didn’t want to shortchange one calling to fulfill another. As the Bible says rather forcefully:

“Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8).

Lana never had to exercise her right to pull out the letter and pull me out of ministry, although she came close a few times. And whenever she did, we prayed together and I filled out applications for other jobs. God always made a way for me to fulfill both callings, however, so I could keep loving her well and keep doing ministry well. I knew that if I had to neglect one calling to fulfill another, then I was probably doing something wrong, and if God had called me to both, He would help me to find a way to do both.

11) Remember that God is the provider for both of you. If you haven’t noticed, each of these tips builds on the others. While there’s a lot that you can do for your spouse, you can’t do everything! There are some things only God can do. Ultimately, He’s the one who provides for you both. As the Bible says,

“The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it…” (Psalm 24:1a).

When I was first dating Lana, we relied on each other for everything: our conversation, our intimacy, our affirmation, our affection. But when God broke us up for a period of time, we learned to rely on Him as the ultimate source of everything in our lives, including each other. When we finally came back together and eventually got married, we had a new awareness that God was the source of all we needed, even if He used one or the other of us to meet that need. He was still the source of it all.

I was reminded of how much God loved Lana one morning after we had had a funny conversation the day before. Her car had broken down and we needed to find another, but there was no way we could afford one. She told me the kind of car she really wanted to get. She had never cared about makes or models of cars before, just whatever would get her from Point A to Point B. When I looked at the prices of used models online, I thought, “Good luck with that!”

A friend of ours told us when he sent his daughter off to college, the only thing he had to give her were his prayers and these words: “The same God who takes care of me will take care of you.” God did His part, My friend did what he could do, his daughter did what she could do, and God did what only He could do. 4 years later she had a college degree!

So that night as I prayed for Lana and the car she wanted, I said at the end, rather jokingly, “Well, you’ve got my prayers! The same God who takes care of me will take care of you!” Then I rolled over and fell asleep.

The joke was on me, though, when the very next morning I pulled into the parking lot for a men’s group at church and a man pulled in right after me–driving the exact car that Lana had told me she wanted. He had never visited the group before and I had never seen another car like this around town. It was the same exact make, model and color that Lana had wanted!

I told the man that my wife was talking about getting a car just like that and he said he was actually thinking of selling it! I had to shake my head and confess to God that I had forgotten how much He loved her, too–even more than I did–and that He was the one who provided everything for her, just like He provided everything for me. Although we didn’t buy that man’s car, God made a way for us to buy another one–the same model, make and color–within just a few months of those feeble prayers. God really does love our spouse even more than we love them, and He loves to surprise and delight them, just as He loves to surprise and delight us.

Sometimes we make the mistake of trying too hard to please our spouse, only to fall short again and again, when what we really need to do is to trust God that He will provide for them, even when we can’t. So do your best and trust God with the rest.

That’s it for today, and probably more than enough “home work” for you to think about for this chapter! In the next chapter, I’ll share only 1 tip so you can focus on it exclusively.

CHAPTER 3 (Back to Table of Contents)

You're reading 15 TIPS FOR A STRONGER MARRIAGE, by Eric Elder, featuring 15 inspirational tips to help your marriage be the 
best that it can be. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You’re reading 15 TIPS FOR A STRONGER MARRIAGE, by Eric Elder, featuring 15 inspirational tips to help your marriage be the 
best that it can be. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

One of the questions I’m asked most about marriage is “How did you know that Lana was ‘the one’ for you?” Today I’ll share that answer with you in Tip #12 for how to have a stronger marriage.

But don’t think that today’s tip is only for those who are considering marriage. Even if you’ve been married a long, long time, today’s tip can help to re-energize your marriage as you remember why you chose your spouse in the first place.

With that in mind, here’s tip #12 for how to have a stronger marriage.

12) Choose well (and remember why you chose the one you did). Next to your decision to follow Christ, choosing who to marry is the 2nd most important decision you’ll ever make in your life. It’s a decision that will affect you for the rest of your life, and it’s a decision that will affect generations of people long after you’re gone.

I read a book before I got married that scared me, and for good reason: I wasn’t ready to get married. Even though I loved Lana deeply, this book helped me see the enormity of the decision to get married and how it would affect my life from that moment on. The book was called The Mystery of Marriage by Mike Mason. Mike said:

“A marriage, or a marriage partner, may be compared to a great tree growing right up through the center of one’s living room. It is something that is just there, and it is huge, and everything has been built around it, and wherever one happens to be going–to the fridge, to bed, to the bathroom, or out the front door–the tree has to be taken into account. It cannot be gone through; it must respectfully be gone around. It is somehow bigger and stronger than oneself. True, it could be chopped down, but not without tearing the house apart. And certainly it is beautiful, unique, exotic: but also, let’s face it, it is at times an enormous inconvenience.

So there are many things that can be said about one’s life’s mate, but finally, irrevocably, the one definite thing that needs to be said is that he or she is always there. And that, while it may be common enough in the world of trees, is among us human beings a rather remarkable state of affairs” (Mike Mason, The Mystery of Marriage, p. 39).

The book goes on to describe how nothing in life does more to expose our pride, failings and weaknesses than being married. Our selfishness is exposed at every turn. As the Bible says:

“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17).

As helpful as it is for us to be sharpened, the process of chipping away at the ugly and unsightly things in our lives can be painful. I just wasn’t ready. I remember going to my brother and sister-in-law’s wedding, watching them take their vows for a lifetime and thinking, “I can’t do this! I just can’t do it!” It wasn’t that I didn’t love Lana, but that I couldn’t imagine giving up the idea of just living my life for myself.

In the months that followed, however, God began to show me all that I would gain by being married. I had recently put my faith in Christ, and I was already seeing the fruit of having invited Him into my life and taking His thoughts into account before acting on my own. I was eventually convinced that marriage could be worth giving up whatever independence I had before. The question then became, “Who does God want me to marry?”

Although the Bible gives us certain baseline criteria for choosing a spouse, such as believers marrying other believers (2 Corinthians 6:14a and 1 Kings 11:2b), not marrying close relatives (Leviticus 18:6-19), and marrying someone who can help God fulfill His recreative design for the world (Leviticus 18:22-23 and Romans 1:26-27), it doesn’t tell us which person, specifically, who God wants us to marry. At least I didn’t think so. For that, I knew I would have to rely on God’s Holy Spirit. And I’ve found that He is more than happy to help usas long as we’re willing to listen.

So how did I know that Lana was “the one”? For me, my answer came after months of asking God to speak to me clearly if she was the one that He wanted me to marry. I had already come to the conclusion that I wanted to marry her, but I needed to know for sure what God wanted, because I knew that He knew both of us better than we knew ourselves.

One morning I sat down in my bedroom to read my Bible, but didn’t know what to read. I had just finished reading my Bible from cover to cover a few days earlier for the first time in my life, and I wasn’t sure where to start reading again. So I decided to start over at the beginning.

Lana had come to visit me that morning, as we had already been out to watch a friend run a race in downtown Houston. We decided to take some time to pray on our own before going on with the day, so she sat on the couch in the living room with her Bible, and I went to the bedroom with mine. This was a refreshingly new practice for both of us in that previous year.

I opened up my Bible to the first page and began to read again about how God created the world, and how God created Adam, the first man on earth. God put Adam in a beautiful garden and asked him to take care of it. But God saw that even in the midst of this beautiful setting, surrounded by all kinds of spectacular things, Adam was still alone:

“The LORD God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him'” (Genesis 2:18).

So God created Eve and brought her to Adam.

Even though I had heard this story since I was a kid, this was the first time I had seen it from God’s perspective. As I read about Adam being alone in the garden, my heart fell as God’s must have fallen, when He saw how lonely Adam was. Then my heart rose again, as God’s must have risen, when God created Eve and brought her to Adam. I imagined the smile on Adam’s face must have about a mile wide!

As I pictured this scene in my mind, I suddenly had an intense awareness that God was looking down at me just as He had looked at Adam. There I was, surrounded by all kinds of spectacular things, but I was still alone. In that moment, God spoke to my heart. The words seemed to leap off the page, and I felt that God had done the same for me: He had created a woman just for me and He had brought her directly to me. She was sitting in the very next room! After months of praying, I knew that I knew that God really did want to fulfill the desires of my heart and He really did want me to marry Lana.

I got up off the floor and ran down the hall. I didn’t stop to look in the mirror as I ran, but I’m sure if I did, the smile on my face would have been about a mile wide. I told Lana what God had told me through the story of Adam and Eve. We talked and we cried and I asked her to marry me right on the spot. To my delight, she said “Yes!” and we spent the rest of that incredible day together walking and talking and riding paddle boats in the rain at Miller Park.

My eyes still water as I think about it again 25 years later. Even though I didn’t have a ring to give her, and we didn’t have a candlelight dinner, I had something that was even more precious to me: I had a word from God that Lana was “the one.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come back to that story over the years, both in good times and in hard times, and how it has re-energized my love for and commitment to Lana.

For Lana, the story was much simpler: she said she knew from the day she met me that God wanted her to marry me. She said that as soon as we met, there on the 2nd floor of David Kinley Hall at the University of Illinois, that these words immediately popped into her mind: “That’s the man you’re going to marry.”

She said it was the wording that made her realize it was from God, and the way that the words came into her mind. She said the words seemed to come into her mind out of the blue, and they were spoken in the 3rd person: “That’s the man you’re going to marry.” She said that if it was her own thought, she would have said to herself, “That’s the man I’m going to marry!” But she didn’t, and the words were clear: “That’s the man you’re going to marry.” She was so convinced that she went home that night and called one of her best friends to tell her she had just met the man she was going to marry. And she was right!

I tell you these stories not because I think God will speak to you in the exact same way, but to give you confidence that God can speak to you, if you’re willing to listen to Him. God’s Holy Spirit really is alive and active. And, believe it or not, God wants you to know who to marry even more than you want to know it. He has a bigger stake in the outcome of your life than you do, and He knows you and every other person on the planet even better than you know yourself.

I had been diligently seeking God for months for His answer (after dating Lana for years before finally coming to the place of asking God what He wanted for our relationship). And Lana had been praying ever since she was a child for a man to marry who would be like Jesus to her, not that I was ever close to that, but in her eyes at least, she felt that I was the answer to all those prayers.

Once I knew that Lana was the one for me, I knew there was never any going back. I was committed to planting that tree of marriage right in the center of my living room, and I was happier about it than I can possibly tell you. I never used the D word (Divorce) because I knew that wasn’t an option. I knew that for better or worse, neither of us were going away, and we were going to have to work through anything that came our way together. And I couldn’t have been happier about it.

Just like the words “God will never leave you alone” can be either a blessing or a curse depending on how you look at it, the idea of being with another person 24/7 for the rest of your life can be a blessing or a curse, too, depending on how you look at it. That’s why it’s so important to remember why you chose the one you did in the first place, because it can help restore the way you look at your marriage, not as a curse of always having someone else around, but as a blessing of always having someone else around.

If you’re still considering who to marry, I want to encourage you to choose well. No decision, other than your decision to follow Christ, is as important. And no decision this important is one that God wants you to take lightly. He would love to help you know who to marry, for He has a vested interest in the outcome of both of your lives.

For those of you who have already made your choice of who to marry and who are now living out that choice, perhaps even wondering if you made the right choice or not, I’d like to encourage you to look back and remember why you made that choice in the first place.

What was it that drew you to your spouse? What made him or her so special to you when you first met or when you first started dating? What did God speak to you about him or her along the way? What feelings or emotions stirred within you that made you want to make this commitment to be together forever? Choosing well is important, but remembering can be just as important to helping you stay committed to your choice. As Nehemiah said about the Israelites who went back on some of their earlier choices:

“They refused to listen and failed to remember the miracles You performed among them” (Nehemiah 9:17).

They didn’t listen to God, and they failed to remember the miracles He performed among them. Don’t be like that! Listen to God, and then remember what God has told you.

I’m not saying it’s easy to choose who to marry or to stay married after you’ve made that choice, and I’m not saying that people won’t surprise you down the road with actions and decisions that catch us totally off guard. In fact, I’m saying just the opposite. I’m saying that none of us really know what we’re getting into when we commit to living with another person for the rest of our lives. None of us really know what’s in the hearts of other people living on the planet, let alone what’s in our own hearts. But God knows.

God knows what’s in our hearts, and He knows how to guide and direct us if we’re willing to listen. God also knows how to redeem ANY situation and ANY decision we ever make, even the bad ones. In fact, that’s why He sent Jesus to die: to redeem us from the poor choices we make, the sins we’ve committed along the way, so that we can live a new and abundant life, both here on earth and in heaven forever. No matter how you’ve arrived at the place you’re in right now, you can trust Him to redeem and restore it and to help make it right.

But if you’re not married yet, do yourself and everyone else around you a huge favor: Choose well! Listen to God, then remember the miracles He’s done among you.

CHAPTER 4 (Back to Table of Contents)

You're reading 15 TIPS FOR A STRONGER MARRIAGE, by Eric Elder, featuring 15 inspirational tips to help your marriage be the 
best that it can be. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You’re reading 15 TIPS FOR A STRONGER MARRIAGE, by Eric Elder, featuring 15 inspirational tips to help your marriage be the 
best that it can be. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

I was going to call this tip “How to have a fair fight,” which captures the essence of the message well. But the idea behind this tip isn’t to help you fight better; the idea is to help you express your feelings better so you and your spouse can truly hear what each other is saying and do something about it before it becomes a fight.

I think you’ll find this tip applies to any of your relationships, not just your marriage. In fact, I heard from a single woman who wrote to tell me as I was writing this series to say how surprised she was that God was speaking to her through these marriage tips, even though she’s not married. She wrote:

“I was hesitant at first to read this devotional as I’m not married. I was just scrolling through and saw a part about Lana and yourself getting a car and about marriage being a calling. So I decided to start from the top for I believed God wanted me to learn a thing or two and also to be encouraged as I was feeling a bit down and questioning my future. I enjoyed it and it made me laugh how God worked out your differences, even your breaking up and eventually getting married. That gave me hope since I’m single and struggling relationship wise. My concern about my future especially is that I really want to change my car and I laughed with tears coming to my eyes when you said about Lana’s desires for a car and how you reassured her about God working and providing for you and He will do the same for her. I like the part too about your partner understanding your purpose & dreams and how God can use you to help each other reach their potential and how God can use each other to bring about change & transformation. I have always believed that. Thanks for sharing your testimony. I must read the 7 points from earlier and see what else God wants me to know. God bless!”

So whether you apply this tip to your marriage or to any relationship, I hope you’ll read today’s tip closely and let God speak to your heart.

13) Watch your timing, tone and words. Lana and I didn’t fight often, and when we did, we tried to do so in private. This may have given others the impression that we never fought, but that’s not true. I will say, though, that we were able to avoid many of the all-out fights that others experience simply by following some advice that we learned during pre-marital counseling and some other wisdom that we learned for ourselves from the Bible.

This tip involves 3 aspects of how you express your feelings to each other: your timing, your tone and your words.

First, watch your timing. It’s important, of course, to share your feelings and not to stuff them down inside. We all have feelings and we want others to respect our feelings. But it’s also important to consider the timing of when to share those feelings. Even Jesus didn’t say everything that was on His heart to His disciples, but took into account when they would best receive what He had to say. Jesus said:

“I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear” (John 16:12).

Jesus eventually did share everything on His heart, and He told the disciples that He would send His Holy Spirit later to remind them of everything He said. But He did so at a time when He knew they could best receive it.

Lana and I found that if we had something important to share with each other, especially if it was potentially explosive, that it was best to talk about it when we were both fresh and alert and able to talk about it rationally. We seemed to have our worst conversations when one or both of us were tired and worn out or when we had pressing deadlines that had to be met. It was better if we could realize the timing was bad and set a time to talk later when we could truly listen to each other.

Second, it’s important to watch your tone. It’s easy to jump to conclusions and blame your spouse for things they didn’t even know were wrong. In America, we love the idea of being “innocent until proven guilty.” But in marriage, we often jump to the conclusion that our spouse is guilty and we start an argument based on that assumed guilt rather than simply explaining what we’re feeling. The Bible talks about the importance of tone when it says:

“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1).

When I came to Lana with gentleness, simply sharing something that I was feeling, I was usually met with a gentle response in return. But when I came to her with a harsh or accusatory tone, it stirred up a harsh or angry response. This is a simple law of nature and it’s a simple law of communication: “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.”

Instead of looking straight at your spouse and assuming they are the problem, it’s better to turn shoulder to shoulder and address the problem together. It might even help to remind yourself and your spouse, “I know you’re not my enemy. I’m fighting for you, not against you.” By simply reminding yourselves of this truth, you can often diffuse the bomb that might otherwise explode.

I remember being called to a friend’s house late one night. She and her husband were in the middle of an argument–and it was bad. In fact, when I walked in, I wondered if she should have called the police instead of me.

But as I sat down with both of them and listened to what they were arguing about, it turned out that the husband was trying to tell his wife that he wished he could spend more time with her, because she was often out helping other people in need. They were talking past each other, though, because they were talking about 2 different things. The truth was that they both wanted to do something good; they just needed to work on how to achieve those good things together.

Here the wife thought her husband hated her for wanting to help others, when the truth was that he loved her so much he wanted to spend more time with her! And he loved that she wanted to help other people, but he just wished she would spend more of that energy on him, rather than depleting it all before she got home. By talking through both of their desires, without accusation or harsh words, they were able to find a way to move forward and help meet each of their desires more fully.

This story leads to the third aspect of how to have a fair fight, which is to watch the words you choose. Here’s a simple phrase you can memorize and, if you start using it today, you’ll find your conversations will go much smoother immediately. The phrase is:

“I feel … when … because … “

This focuses the issue on you and your thoughts and feelings rather than on the other person.

In the story I shared above about the couple fighting, the husband started with an accusatory tone by saying “You’re always out helping other people!” To which his wife immediately reacted by saying, “What’s wrong with helping other people?!?” Then she started listing all the good and godly reasons to help others. She was also stung by the word “always” and said, “I’m not always out helping other people!!!” because she began to recall how many the times she stayed home to help him or their family. (It’s better just to drop the words “you always” or “you never” from arguments, because the other person can usually think of at least a few times when they did or did not do whatever they’re being accused of doing).

But because of the husband’s wording (and probably his timing and tone, based on the lateness and intensity of the conversation), he had inadvertently derailed the conversation from the beginning and they began squabbling over side issues. Rather than starting the sentence with the accusatory words “You always…,” consider if he had started by saying, “I feel…,” and then filled in the blanks that followed:

“I feel hurt when you go out to help others because I’d like to spend more time with you myself.”

That’s really what the husband was trying to say, but it came out as anger and jealousy rather than love and affection. By blaming her for wanting to help others, he put her on the defensive from the start, rather than simply expressing what he really wanted, which was to spend more time with her.

Using the words “I feel … when … because…” changes the tenor of your conversations immediately and helps you get closer to meeting your own needs sooner than if you get sidetracked on secondary conversations. You may still need to have those secondary conversations, but you’ll realize that they are just that: secondary. The main thing is to be able to express what you’re feeling, without blame or accusation, by describing how you feel when the other person does or does not do certain things.

Your choice of words can make all the difference, not only for yourself, but also for the other person. The Bible says:

“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver” (Proverbs 25:11, NKJV).

Which means that words that are well timed and placed are beautiful to behold.

As an exercise to help you think through your words the next time you need to express something you’re feeling, imagine a conversation that you may be currently having with your spouse (or co-worker or friend), whether it’s a conversation you’ve been having out loud or if it’s still just in your head, and try to rephrase what you’re feeling using the words “I feel… when… because.”

Think hard about what you’re really feeling and why. Rather than accusing the other person in your head, imagine that you’re truly just trying to express your feelings and what triggers those feelings.

I feel lonely
I feel frustrated

I feel hurt
I feel unappreciated

when you come home late
when you move my piles
when you forget to do what I ask
when you correct me

because I want to go to bed with you
because I don’t know where things are when I need them
because I want to know that you care about me
because I’m trying hard to do the right thing

You can see how each of these statements could lead to further discussion and exploration of why the person feels what they feel and finding a solution that is beneficial for both people.

You might be thinking, “That sounds like a lot of work,” and you’d be right! It is! But the payoff is worth it.

In woodworking there’s a saying, “Measure twice; cut once.” When you carefully take the time to measure a piece of wood twice and then cut it only once, you save yourself a whole lot of time patching things up later. The same could be said of your words: “Think twice; speak once.” As the Bible says:

“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19b).

Although it takes extra time and effort to think through your timing, your tone and your words, you’ll save yourself a whole lot of time and effort in patching things up later!

Coming up next, tips #14 and 15!

CHAPTER 5 (Back to Table of Contents)

You're reading 15 TIPS FOR A STRONGER MARRIAGE, by Eric Elder, featuring 15 inspirational tips to help your marriage be the 
best that it can be. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You’re reading 15 TIPS FOR A STRONGER MARRIAGE, by Eric Elder, featuring 15 inspirational tips to help your marriage be the 
best that it can be. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

Today I’m sharing the last 2 tips of these 15 tips for a stronger marriage. Then in next chapter I’ll conclude with 3 words that tie all the other tips together.

But before I get started on today’s tips, I want to let you know that Tip #15 is perhaps the most significant tip I ever received before getting married. It’s also one of the most delicate to talk about because it has to do with physical intimacy.

For the sake of modesty, and for the sake of getting this message through any spam filters when I first sent this message out by email, I’ve simply used the phrase “physical intimacy” to describe the physical union between a husband and wife, and I’ve used the term “self pleasure” to describe the act of touching yourself in a way that brings you physical pleasure when you are alone. (Now you can see why this tip is so delicate! But I assure you, what you’re going to read today could significantly alter the way you interact with your spouse from this day forward!)

With that preface in mind, here are Tips #14 and 15.

14) Commit to doing something to delight your spouse on a regular basis.  Before I married Lana, I promised to give her a back rub every night, which was something that she absolutely loved. It worked out well for both of us, because she loved being touched, and I loved touching her! For 23 years I kept that commitment and it was one of the best things I ever promised to do, both for her and for myself.

Those back rubs also led to other kinds of intimacy, setting the tone for our bedtime conversations and often culminating in physical passion. By blessing Lana in this one way, I received all kinds of blessings back.

I also committed to making breakfast for her every morning, something which she loved at the time we got married, too. But as time and the seasons of life changed, she began to prefer other things instead, like sleeping in a little longer while I made breakfast for the kids after she had spent the night nursing a baby! I say this to say that some of our commitments may change over time, but the point is to intentionally commit to doing something to delight your spouse on a regular basis. It smooths out the ebbs and flows of life and ensures there’s joy in the midst of anything else that might be going on.

For her part, Lana had made a commitment before we got married, too, but one that she didn’t tell me about until many years into our marriage. She just did it. She committed to herself that she would go to bed every night at the same time that I went to bed. She had watched other couples live their lives in separate bedrooms for years and she saw the devastating effects that this had on their relationships. So she told herself she was going to do whatever she could to try to ensure that didn’t happen in her marriage.

Of course, this ensured she got her nightly back rub! But even more, it meant that we had time to talk and pray together every night; it meant that we were available for physical intimacy on a regular basis; and it increased the likelihood of having a big family like she always wanted!

You and your spouse may have a different set of things you could do to delight one other. If you’re not sure what would delight them, just ask them! Then make a commitment to doing something to delight them in the way they’d love to be delighted on a regular basis. As the Bible says:

“…love one another deeply, from the heart” (1 Peter 1:22b).

15) Make physical intimacy with your spouse the best that it can be. After I was engaged to Lana, I set up an appointment to meet with a man who had counseled many, many people through marital issues regarding their physical intimacy. I met with him specifically because I wanted to ensure that I did everything possible to safeguard our physical relationship and to make it the best that it could possibly be.

One of the most important tips he shared with me was to consider making a commitment to myself and to Lana that I would not engage in self pleasure, but that I would only experience physical pleasure when I was with her. Many men, he said, go into marriage thinking that they’ll be able to be intimate with their wife any time they want. But the reality is that it just doesn’t work that way! And because of that, many spouses decide to simply please themselves whenever they want.

This man told me that he had met with numerous groups of women to discuss issues like this, and asked them what they would think if they knew their husbands were pleasing themselves when they weren’t together. Nearly every woman in every group said they would feel hurt by this, or they would wonder what they were doing wrong that their husbands would do this, or they would wonder what else their husbands might be doing physically when they weren’t together.

Then this man went on to tell me about the blessings couples experienced who had committed to enjoying physical pleasure only when they were together. He said it wasn’t necessary that they engage in full physical intimacy every time, but that they were at least to be with each other and enjoy the closeness of their bodies. Couples who made this commitment built up trust, lowered barriers to intimacy and brought about a lifetime of fulfillment for each other, both inside and outside of the bedroom.

Since I had never even considered how this might play out in marriage, I didn’t know what to think. But this man had thrown down a gauntlet, a challenge, and I had to decide whether or not I was going to pick it up. After talking some more about this with another friend and then with Lana, I decided it was worth a try. So before Lana and I were married, I committed to her that I would not engage in self pleasure, but reserve all physical pleasure only for when I was with her. If for any reason I fell down in this commitment, I committed to confessing it to her before the day was out.

I can attest to the fact that this one tip alone helped me perhaps more than any of the others. Why? Because each of these tips are interrelated and physical intimacy is at the core of what makes marriage unique among all other relationships. So when there’s a breakdown in one area of your relationship, it often affects your physical intimacy as well. In order to ensure I would be able to enjoy the physical pleasures of marriage, I knew I would have to nurture the other areas of my marriage, too. As the saying goes:

“The grass ain’t always greener on the other side; it’s greener where you water it.”

Here’s how some of the tips I’ve mentioned already helped to water our physical intimacy. For instance, by putting our TV in the closet for our first year, it freed up all kinds of time to have meaningful conversations and enjoy soothing back rubs, which often led to physical intimacy. By going to bed every night at the same time as each other and by praying together before we fell asleep, we were able to draw closer spiritually and that drew us closer physically. By confessing our sins quickly to each other, we built up trust between us and kept guilt and shame at bay. By inviting Jesus to use our hands and eyes and words as if they were His very own, we were able to keep our touches and kisses as tender and life-giving as possible.

This isn’t to say that it was easy for me to keep this challenge. Even though my physical intimacy with Lana was incredible from day 1, there were still a few times in our first year of marriage when I fell back into old habits of pleasing myself when I was alone or away from home. It seemed like a quick and easy way to release some of the tension in other areas of my life.

Yet I still wanted to give this idea an honest try, and because of my promise to Lana, I followed through with the rest of it and confessed it to Lana each time before the day was out. The first time I had to confess it to her it was more difficult and embarrassing than I imagined. The second time was even more difficult. So after just a few confessions like this, I was able to break the habit and keep my commitment for the rest of our 23 years of marriage.

I’m not telling you this out of some kind of prudish purity, but simply to let you know that it’s possible! And believe me, my passions and temptations are just as strong as any other man’s! But until my conversation with this marriage counselor, I had never even thought about the idea.

I also tell you this because I can’t describe the multitude of ways this one commitment helped our marriage. Here are just a few:

1) This gave us both confidence that I had control over my body, rather than my body having control over me. This helped Lana to trust me to not cross the line of having physical pleasure with someone else, because I wouldn’t even cross it with myself.

2) This kept me from turning on the TV in a hotel room when I was away from home, or from buying a magazine that I shouldn’t have bought, or from downloading a video that I shouldn’t have downloaded. Even though these things certainly crossed my mind and were ever-present opportunities, there was never any point to engaging in these activities since I knew that they would never culminate in physical pleasure.

3) This ensured that the physical side of our marital relationship was fully alive and vibrant throughout our entire marriage. Roger Staubach, the famous quarterback, was once asked how he felt when one of his teammates always seemed to have a different woman on his arm every night. Roger said, “I’m sure I’m just as sexually active as he is. The difference is that all of mine is with one woman.” Touchdown, Roger! The joy of my physical intimacy with Lana, and the trust that we built into our relationship because of this one commitment, was worth anything it might have cost me in terms of giving up fleeting pleasures on my own.

While I can’t say if this commitment is something that you should make, or that it will have the same impact on your marriage, I do want to encourage you to do whatever you can to nurture the physical intimacy of your marriage.

By the way, one of the best books we read before getting married that helped us in our sexual relationship throughout our entire marriage was called Intended For Pleasure by Ed and Gaye Wheat. The book contains many helpful tips for making your sex life the best that it can be. I highly recommend it for any married couple.

As I mentioned in my own book, What God Says About Sex, physical intimacy with Lana was the most consistently exhilarating, off-the-charts experience of my life! So whether or not you choose to follow the path I chose, I pray you’ll make a commitment to do something to protect your physical intimacy and to keep it alive and active as long as you both shall live. As the Bible says:

“Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure…” (Hebrews 13:4a)

Honor your marriage and keep your marriage bed pure. Don’t look for other ways to find physical pleasure. Look to your spouse and do whatever you can to nurture your relationship with them.

In the next chapter, the conclusion of this series!

CHAPTER 6 (Back to Table of Contents)

You're reading 15 TIPS FOR A STRONGER MARRIAGE, by Eric Elder, featuring 15 inspirational tips to help your marriage be the 
best that it can be. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You’re reading 15 TIPS FOR A STRONGER MARRIAGE, by Eric Elder, featuring 15 inspirational tips to help your marriage be the 
best that it can be. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

Believe it or not, all the tips I’ve shared with you up till now were just the preface, the introduction, to what I’d like to share with you today about how to have a stronger marriage.

When my friends asked me to talk about marriage at their wedding, and what made my marriage to Lana so special, I began to think through all the tips I’ve shared with you up to this point.

But as important as each of those tips are, I felt like the most important thought I could share with them was the one I’m going to share with you today. This idea focuses on just 3 words that really serve as the glue to hold all the other tips together.

Although there are a number of great phrases of 3 words I could have chosen (like “I love you,” “I was wrong,” “I am sorry,” “I forgive you,” or as one reader suggested, “You’re right, dear!”), I chose these 3 because they were 3 words our pastor shared with us at our wedding, and because they conclude a wonderful chapter in the Bible about how we relate to one another. I can honestly say these 3 words carried us through our 23 years together perhaps more than any other advice I’ve shared with you in this book.

You can read below the words I shared with my friends on their wedding day. You can also watch their wedding online on The Ranch website at the link below. It was a beautiful outdoor ceremony, complete with birds chirping and bales of hay on which the guests sat. The the ceremony’s only about 30 minutes long, so feel free to take a look!

Here’s the link to watch:
Watch Korey and Makayla’s Wedding

And here’s the text of what I shared with this beautiful couple that day…

When I met with Korey and Makayla a few months ago to talk about their wedding, Makayla asked me to share some thoughts about what marriage means and what made my marriage to Lana work so well. She said she looked up to us and just wanted to hear from my heart.

So I’m going to tell you 3 short highlights, 3 little snippets from my life and my marriage that I hope will be helpful to you. Really it’s summed up in 3 words; 3 words that I hope you’ll remember today; 3 words that I hope you’ll be able to put into practice in your own marriage.

You might think these 3 words are “I love you,” but they’re not. They’re these:

“And be thankful.”

There’s a passage in the Bible that says many things about loving and caring for one another. The passage talks about all the things that we associate with love, such as:

“…clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity” (Colossians 3:12b-14).

These are all wonderful things. But then Paul goes on and adds these 3 words to all the rest, words that seem to go beyond even just loving each other. Paul says,

“And be thankful” (Colossians 3:15b).

Then he says it again in a lengthier way at the end of the whole passage:

“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father” (Colossians 3:17).

I just want to tell you 3 little snapshots from my life about giving thanks to God for my wife.

On our wedding day, Lana and I wrote our own vows, like you’ve written your own vows. In my vows, I said to Lana: “Lana, you are a gift from God to me, and I plan to treat you as a gift.” From that day on that’s what I tried to do. That was the most amazing day to me, to be able to receive this gift from God and to be able to unwrap it over and over and over again, discovering layers of her that I had no idea about.

On our wedding day I said, “Thank You, Lord, and thank You, Lana, for saying ‘Yes!’ to marrying me.”

Then I just kept saying that throughout my whole 23 years. When I would see how she raised our children, I would say, “Thank You, Lord, for this incredible mother of our children and thank you, Lana, for being a godly mother and wife.” When I would see how she cooked meals for us, took care of us, edited my manuscripts for my ministry, I’d say, “Thank You, Lord, and thank you, Lana.” Lana was a gift from God, and I was so thankful for her.

Our wedding day was 1 snapshot, but there was another snapshot I’d like to share with you, and you, Makayla, were actually very nearby. We were in Israel and Makayla and Jeanette had come with a few of us in our family to Israel and we were in the hotel at the Dead Sea. We had just had a beautiful night of worship, worshipping God in our room with our whole team. After everyone had left, Lana and I went out on the balcony on a beautiful night, and we had a wonderful, romantic, intimate night together. In the midst of that precious night, I just looked up to heaven and I said, “Thank You, Lord, and thank you, Lana.” That was 1 of the most precious memories of my life. I can’t count how many wonderful nights I’ve had like that with her, so often saying in the midst of them, “Thank You, Lord, and thank you, Lana.”

Then there’s a third moment I’d like to share with you, a little snapshot, and this was was just a couple years ago. We were in the car at Walmart, sitting in the parking lot after shopping one night. We were having a really hard conversation; one of those where you say, “Wow, this is hard.” We didn’t have many of those, but that night we were both feeling very passionate about what we felt and believed, and we just weren’t on the same page.

The conversation had to do with what kind of treatment plan we were going to do for her cancer. I had one idea. She had another. And it just got more heated and more passionate. The doctors had told us no matter which path we chose, it wouldn’t make any difference in the outcome, but we still wanted to try everything we could.

When were at the peak of that conversation, I had to stop and just say to myself, “Lana is a gift from God to me; she is not the problem here.” Then rather than face each other and think that we were each other’s problem, we had to put the problem to one side and turn shoulder to shoulder to work on it together.

I just had to back up and say, “Lana, you are a gift from God to me, and the reason I feel so passionate about this is because I just don’t want to lose you. I want to do anything I can to keep you. And I want to remind you, in this conversation, in this heated moment, the only reason I feel so passionate about this is because I love you, so, so much.”

That eased the tension. It changed the dynamics of the conversation.

In the end, it turned out the doctors were right and it wouldn’t have mattered which plan we chose. Lana died just a few months later.

But I am so thankful that in those heated moments in the parking lot, I decided not to keep arguing over it, but rather to give thanks in all things and say, “Thank You, Lord, and thank you, Lana.” She truly was a gift from God to me and I always wanted to treat her as a gift.

With all the other wonderful things you can do for your marriage, remember these 3 words because they can carry you through your whole life:

“And be thankful.”

You understand what it means to forgive. You understand what it means to make a lifelong commitment. You understand love and graciousness and kindness and humility and being second and all those things.

I think you understand this, too, but I just want to highlight and emphasizeeven beyond just loving each other, which is incredibleto be thankful.

“And be thankful.”

“And be thankful.”

“And be thankful.”

And with those words, I married my friends to each other and I prayed that they, like you, would have a long, wonderful and thankful life together!

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for Your wisdom, which You’ve given to us through Your Word to help us to love one another in the best way possible. Help us to apply these words to all of our relationships so that we can love one other more fully and be more thankful in all that we do. Fill us with Your Spirit to do everything You’ve put on our hearts to do today and every day, from this day forward. We pray all this in the strong name of Jesus, who has the power to make all our relationships stronger, too. Amen.

BONUS CHAPTER – 12 TIPS ON PARENTING! (Back to Table of Contents)

You're reading 15 TIPS FOR A STRONGER MARRIAGE, by Eric Elder, featuring 15 inspirational tips to help your marriage be the 
best that it can be. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You’re reading 15 TIPS FOR A STRONGER MARRIAGE, by Eric Elder, featuring 15 inspirational tips to help your marriage be the 
best that it can be. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

As a father of 6 kids, I’m always glad to hear what others are doing to parent their kids. So when some friends of my college-age kids asked me what advice I would give them for raising kids of their own in the future, I put together this list of some of the best pieces of wisdom we gathered over the years that have worked well for us. I thought you might like to read it, too.

Since there are 12 tips and there are 12 months in the year, you might want to focus on trying 1 tip a each month. They’re not in any particular order, so you can pick a tip for each month that seems most helpful to you at the time.

And even if you don’t have kids in your life right now, maybe you know someone who does who might be interested in reading these tips. If so, please pass them along, as each tip includes a special word from God’s Word. Even though I’m not a perfect father, I know Someone who isand His wisdom can’t be beat! With that disclaimer out of the way, here are my “12 Tips On Parenting.”

1) Recognize that children are gifts from the Lord. Your attitude towards your children may be the single-most important item in your parenting toolbox. The Bible says that children are blessings, not burdens: “Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them” (Psalm 127:5a).

You can check your attitude by asking what your heart feels when you hear of someone who already has 2 or 3 children and they tell you they’re expecting a 3rd or 4th. Or 5th. Or 6th. Or 7th, etc. If your heart sinks with the addition of each child, you may secretly be viewing children as burdens, not blessings. If the same person had told you God had given them a 3rd or 4th car (or 5th or 6th or 7th, etc.), or a 3rd or 4th house (or 5th or 6th or 7th, etc.) and your attitude is like “Wow! That’s incredible!” then you may want to rethink your attitude.

Children do take time and energy and attention, just as cars and houses do, and more children take more time and energy and attention, just as more cars and more houses do (just ask anyone who has more than one of any of these!) With great gifts comes great responsibility. But children, like any gifts from the Lord, are still gifts to be treasured, valued and held in the highest regard. Check your attitude, and remember that children really are gifts from the Lord.

2) Love your spouse. This tip may not seem like it has anything to do with parenting, but it’s actually one of the best tips on this list! I have a plaque from my dad that says: “The most important thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother.” My dad reminded me of this one day when I was feeling particularly inadequate about my parenting. He said, “You have no idea what you’re doing for your children just by loving Lana.” Looking back over the years, I’m sure he was right.

A genuine love between parents can do more for children than we can imagine. The Bible says, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her… and the wife should respect her husband” (Ephesians 5:25 and 33b). Parents at odds cause children to take sides and respect only one or the other parent (or neither) and kids can play off that to try to get what they want. If you want your children to treat others with love and respect, then treat your husband or wife with love and respect (even if they don’t do the same for you). Your children will be blessed as a result.

3) Realize that children take time. Children do take time, but they don’t take time away from life. Children take time that enhances life. Trips to the zoo, trips to the beach, sitting down and playing games, setting limits on your workdays and Sundays and weekends so you can be with them, all take time away from other things you could be doing. But the return on your investment is so much greater, both in the moment and in the long run.

For Lana, when she decided to stay home from work so she could homeschool our kids and spend more time with them, it was costly on many levels: financially, personally and professionally. But she never felt like she was wasting her life by doing this, but investing her life. When she was facing death, way too young at the age of 48, she said she was thankful she had spent her time the way she didwith no regrets. Quality time is sometimes only possible because quantity time makes it so.

4) Let everyone work together to make the household work. One of the blessings for me of having a larger family has been to see how all the kids can work together to help keep our household running. Doing everything for our kids was never an option because we simply couldn’t do it all. Responsibilities were given to each child as soon as they were able, from cooking and cleaning to dishes and laundry, from building and bookkeeping to yardwork and petkeeping.

The Bible says, “If you don’t work, you don’t eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10, MSG). We never taught this in a mean-spirited way, but as a matter of getting things done more efficiently (or getting things done at all!) whether it was getting food to the table or chores finished on Saturday. For us, giving kids responsibility was both practical (for keeping our house running) and good training for their future.

5) Discipline in love, not in anger. Discipline is simply more effective when it is separated from anger. The Bible says, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right…” (Ephesians 6:1) but that is quickly followed by these words: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).

I’ve found it best not to explode at my children, not because I don’t want to, but because it’s not useful. They can’t hear you–or your love for them–when you’re screaming. The times I most regret in my parenting are the times when I’ve disciplined in anger. But I’ve never regretted disciplining in love because that has set the stage for their future success in life. A simple tip: count to 10 before disciplining children. For teenagers, wait a week! (I’m serious!)

6) Pray for God to reveal the truth, even if it’s painful to hear. A pastor’s kid once said that it wasn’t fair that his dad was a pastor, because God always seemed to tell his parents whenever he was doing something wrong. We really can pray that God will show us what’s going on in our kids’ lives, even when we can’t see it ourselves. The Bible says, “He [God] gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning. He reveals deep and hidden things; He knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with Him” (Daniel 2:21b-22).

There have been times when I have prayed that God would show me if there’s anything I should know about my kids so I can help them stay on the right path, even if it’s something I didn’t want to hear. I’ve been surprised when, soon after a prayer like this, God has revealed something to me–whether in a dream or a phone bill or an unexpected email–that was painful to hear but has opened the door to a conversation where I can help walk my kids through a difficult situation.

7) Love doesn’t always say “Yes.” A good parent wants to bless and please their children. But some parents say “Yes” to their kids’ pleas solely to win their love and friendship, not because it’s good or best for them. There are times when your kids need a best friend and there are times when you can be one for them. But there are other times when they need you to be a parent, and only you can do that for them.

Some parents say “Yes” to all things in order to win their children’s friendship. But a well-timed or well-reasoned “No” can be just as loving. The Bible says, “A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver” (Proverbs 25:11), which means that certain words we say are beautiful and perfectly fit for the occasion. While this applies to words of any type, it can especially apply to our yes’s and no’s.

8) Keep your words uplifting and encouraging. As parents, our words have an extra weight of authority. As such, we have to be extra careful with what we say, especially when it comes to criticism. Some people may say, “They have a face only a mother could love.” But what if it’s the mother who says, “You’re ugly!” or “You can’t sing!” or “You’re no good at __________ or _________ or __________!”

A good rule of thumb is to give at least 10 positive affirmations for every 1 correction, and then only if it’s necessary for their benefit (for instance, to save them from embarrassment in public). Watch your words, especially your words of criticism. The Bible says, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29).

9) Pray for your children starting before they’re born, both privately and out loud. We’ve prayed for each of our children from the moment we knew they were in Lana’s womb. We’ve prayed for their lives, their health, their faith, their futures, their callings, their spouses, their children and grandchildren and great grandchildren and so on! We’ve done this privately in our own quiet times, as well as out loud at nighttime when we tuck them into bed and kiss them good night.

I still do this even for my college-age kids when they’re home, putting my hand on their heads and praying for them before they go to bed (or before I go to bed, which is more often the case these days!) It may seem awkward, but I believe in the power of prayer, plus I think it’s important that our kids know that we’re praying for them, as a matter of love and care. As the Bible says: “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:16).

10) When your kids sin, love ’em more. Sometimes our kids do things that make us frustrated and make us want to pull back from them. But I’ve found that’s the time I need to “love ’em more.” Someone once asked the famous evangelist Billy Graham what he would do if he found out one of his children had sinned. He said, “Why, I’d love that one even more.” It’s not that Rev. Graham would love them more because of their sin, but because he knew that love is the best antidote to sin.

Our kids need love and acceptance, just like we do, and that’s why they sometimes seek it out in the wrong places, just like we do. It’s at times like these that they need to see our love and forgiveness for them more than ever, just as Jesus did for us when He died on the cross. As the Bible says, “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). When your kids hurt you or mistreat you or disappoint you, don’t pull back. Do what Jesus did and “love ’em more.”

11) Take breaks for rainbows. A life with kids is filled with interruptions. But don’t take the interruptions as sidelines from life, but as one of the best parts of life itself. We have a painting in our home that says, “The work will wait while you show the children the rainbow, but the rainbow won’t wait while you finish the work.” Take advantage of those fleeting moments to enjoy your life with your children.

It’s OK to stop and smell the roses. The Bible says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things” (Philippians 4:8). When we moved to the country, Lana and I would take walks with our kids at sunset whenever we had the chance. There were always plenty of other things to do, but none of them so memorable to me as those sunset walks.

12) Let kids be kids, but don’t let them be in danger. There’s a fine line between letting kids be kids and letting them be in danger, because a lot of the things kids do can be dangerous! It’s one thing if they want to let their hair grow out, but quite another if they want to hang out with dangerous people. It’s one thing to let them be adventurous, but quite another to let them do something that’s truly life threatening.

I’ve had to walk that fine line and have had multiple conversations with my kids about each of these things. And God is the one who has had to remind me multiple times to let my kids be kids, especially my teenagers. But I’ve also had to step in and say, “I’m glad to let you be a teenager, but I won’t let you be in danger.” That’s just wisdom, and knowing which is which often comes only from God, who is happy to let us know the difference. If you’re not sure what to do in a situation, ask God who is glad to pour out His wisdom on you. As the Bible says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5).

 

Thanks for reading these 12 tips on parenting and thanks for passing them along to others who might benefit from reading them. Again, you might want to choose 1 tip each month to focus on with your kids this year or you might want to reread this message from time to time in the years ahead as your kids go through different stages of life. As I’ve been reminded often, none of us are perfect parents. But with God’s help, we can keep trying to be the best that we can be.

May the Lord bless you as you seek to love and bless the children in your life!

In Christ’s love,
Eric Elder

(Back to Table of Contents)

Thanks for reading 15 TIPS FOR A STRONGER MARRIAGE, by Eric Elder, featuring 15 inspirational tips to help your marriage be the 
best that it can be. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

Thanks for reading 15 TIPS FOR A STRONGER MARRIAGE, by Eric Elder, featuring 15 inspirational tips to help your marriage be the 
best that it can be. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

Marriage Book Is Ready!


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

Several people have asked if I would put my recent series on marriage into a paperback book either for themselves or for their family and friends who are newly married, nearly-married or just want to strengthen their marriage no matter how long they’ve been married. So I wanted to let you know the book is ready!

It’s is called “15 TIPS FOR A STRONGER MARRIAGE” and as the title suggests, it contains 15 practical tips to help your marriage be the 
best that it can be. 
I’ve also included a bonus chapter at the end called “12 TIPS ON PARENTING.”  

15 TIPS FOR A STRONGER MARRIAGE, by Eric Elder, featuring 15 inspirational tips to help your marriage be the 
best that it can be. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

This is a beautiful little book of just 85 easy-to-read pages.  And like all of our previous books, we’re making this one available either for a donation of any size to our ministry OR for simply writing a 1-2 sentence review of the book on Amazon.com (for those of you who have read the series already).  Your donations really do help us to keep this ministry going for so many and your reviews on Amazon really do help us to get God’s life-changing Word out to even more people who haven’t yet heard about our ministry.  So whether you make a donation or write a review, thank you!

If you’d like a copy of the book, just follow one of these two links:

1) Click here to visit the bookstore at The Ranch website and then follow the links to make a donation of any size for the book “15 Tips for a Stronger Marriage.”  We’ll be glad to ship the book to you anywhere in the world as our way of saying thanks.

OR

2) Click here to write a 1-2 sentence review on Amazon.com, then send us an email with your name, address, and link to your review so we can send you a complimentary copy of the book!  It ‘s really that easy and we’re happy to do it!  (Just remember to email us your name, address and a link to your review!)

Thanks again!
Eric Elder


 

This Week’s Sermon- 15 Tips for a Stronger Marriage (Part 6-Conclusion)


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

15 TIPS FOR A STRONGER MARRIAGE
(Part 6-Conclusion.  Click here for Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4 and Part 5.)

by Eric Elder
www.theranch.org

My Friends' Wedding (photo by <a href="http://www.danifordphotography.com">Dani Ford</a>)

My Friends’ Wedding (photo by Dani Ford)

Believe it or not, all the tips I’ve shared with you up till now were just the preface, the introduction, to what I’d like to share with you today about how to have a stronger marriage.

When my friends asked me to talk about marriage at their wedding, and what made my marriage to Lana so special, I began to think through all the tips I’ve shared with you up to this point.

But as important as each of these tips are, I felt like the most important thought I could share with them was the one I’m going to share with you today, and it focuses on just 3 words that tie all the other tips together.  (And the 3 words aren’t “I love you,” “I was wrong,” “I am sorry,” “I forgive you,” or, as one reader suggested, “You’re right, dear!” as helpful and important as all those words can be!)

You can read below what I shared with my friends on their wedding day.  You can also watch their wedding online if you’d like at the link below.  It was a beautiful outdoor ceremony, complete with birds chirping and bales of hay on which the guests sat (plus the ceremony is only about 30 minutes long, so feel free to take a look!)

http://theranch.org/?attachment_id=17583

Here’s the text of what I shared with them that day…

When I met with Korey and Makayla a few months ago to talk about their wedding, Makayla asked me to share some thoughts about what marriage means and what made my marriage to Lana work so well.  She said she looked up to us and just wanted to hear from my heart.

So I’m going to tell you three short highlights, three little snippets from my life and my marriage that I hope will be helpful to you.  Really it’s summed up in 3 words; 3 words that I hope you’ll remember today; 3 words that I hope you’ll be able to put into practice.

You might think those 3 words are “I love you,” but they’re not.  They’re these:

“And be thankful.”

There’s a passage in the Bible that says many things about loving and caring for others.  The passage talks about all the things that we associate with love, such as:

“…clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity” (Colossians 3:12b-14).  

These are all wonderful things.  But then Paul goes on and adds these 3 words to all the rest, words that seem to go beyond even just loving each other.  Paul says,

“And be thankful” (Colossians 3:15b).

Then he says it again in a lengthier way at the end of the passage:

“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father” (Colossians 3:17).

I just want to tell you 3 little snapshots from my life about giving thanks to God for my wife.

On our wedding day, Lana and I wrote our own vows, like you’ve written your own vows.  In my vows, I said to Lana:  “Lana, you are a gift from God to me, and I plan to treat you as a gift.”  From that day on that’s what I tried to do.  That day was the most amazing day to me, to be able to receive this gift from God and to be able to unwrap it over and over and over again, discovering layers of her that I had no idea about.

On our wedding day I said, “Thank You, Lord, and thank You, Lana, for saying ‘Yes!’ to marrying me.”

Then I just kept saying that throughout my whole 23 years.  When I would see how she raised our children, I would say, “Thank You, Lord, for this incredible mother of our children and thank you, Lana, for being a godly mother and wife.”  When I would see how she cooked meals for us, took care of us, edited my manuscripts for my ministry, I’d say, “Thank You, Lord, and thank you, Lana.”  Lana was a gift from God, and I was so thankful for her.

There was another snapshot I’d like to share with you.  Our wedding day was one, but there was another snapshot, and you, Makayla, were actually in the vicinity.  We were in Israel and Makayla and Jeanette had come with a few of us in our family to Israel and we were in the hotel at the Dead Sea.  We had just had a beautiful worship night, worshipping God in our room with our whole team.  After everyone had left, Lana and I went out on the balcony on a beautiful night, and we had a wonderful, romantic, intimate night together.  In the midst of that precious night, I just looked up to heaven and I said, “Thank You, Lord, and thank you, Lana.”  I can’t count how many wonderful nights I’ve had like that with her, so often saying in the midst of them, “Thank You, Lord, and thank you, Lana.”

A third moment I’d like to share with you, a little snapshot, was just a few years ago.  We were in the car at Walmart, sitting in the parking lot after shopping.  We were having a really hard conversation; one of those where you say, “Wow, this is hard.”  We didn’t have many of those, but that night we were both feeling very passionate about what we felt and what we believed, and we just weren’t on the same page.

The conversation had to do with what kind of treatment plan we were going to do for her cancer.  I had one idea.  She had another.  And it just got heated and more passionate.  The doctors had told us no matter which one we chose, it wouldn’t make any difference in the outcome.

We were at the peak of that conversation when I had to stop and just say to myself, “Lana is a gift from God to me; she is not the problem here.”  Rather than face each other and think that we were each other’s problem, we had to turn shoulder to shoulder and put the problem to one side and work on it together.

I just had to back up and say, “Lana, you are a gift from God to me, and the reason I feel so passionate about this is because I just don’t want to lose you.  I want to do anything I can to keep you.  And I want to remind you, in this conversation, in this heated moment, the only reason I feel so passionate about this is because I love you, so, so much.”

And that eased the tension.  It changed the dynamics.

In the end, it turned out the doctors were right and it wouldn’t have mattered which plan we chose.  Lana died a few months later.

But I am so thankful that in those heated moments in the parking lot, I decided not to keep arguing over it, but rather to give thanks in all things and say, “Thank You, Lord, and thank you, Lana.”

With all the other wonderful things you can do for your marriage, remember these 3 words because they can carry you through your whole life:

“And be thankful.”  

You understand what it means to forgive.  You understand what it means to make a lifelong commitment.  You understand love and graciousness and kindness and humility and being second and all those things.

I think you understand this, too, but I just want to highlight and emphasize, even beyond just loving each other, which is incredible, to be thankful.

“And be thankful.”

“And be thankful.”

“And be thankful.”

And with those words, I married my friends to each other and I prayed that they, like you, would have a long, wonderful and thankful life together!

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for Your wisdom, which You’ve given to us through Your word to help us to love one another in the best ways possible.  Help us to apply these words to all of our relationships so that we can love one other more fully and be more thankful in all that we do.  Fill us with Your Spirit to do everything You’ve put on our hearts to do today and every day, from this day forward.  We pray all this in the strong name of Jesus, who has the power to make all our relationships stronger, too.  Amen.

P.S.  Thank you for reading these marriage tips and this conclusion today.  Several people have asked if I would put this series together into a small book for either for themselves or for their family and friends who are getting married, newly married or could just use a boost in their marriage no matter how long they’ve been married.  So I’m putting together that book now and will let you know when it’s ready.  I’m glad to hear so many of you have enjoyed this series, and I pray that it will help many, many more people in the years to come as well.  Sincerely, Eric Elder



As a thank you for your donation of any size to our ministry, we’d be glad to send you a paperback copy of another book I’ve written on marriage that focuses specifically on intimacy.  If you’d like a copy, just visit The Ranch Bookstore online to make a donation of any size, and we’ll ship a copy to you anywhere in the world.  Your gifts help us to keep sharing about Christ with others, and we’re happy to send you a gift in return!

Cover of Eric's book on marriage

This Week’s Sermon- 15 Tips for a Stronger Marriage (Part 5)


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

15 TIPS FOR A STRONGER MARRIAGE
(Part 5.  Click here for Part 1Part 2Part 3 and Part 4)

by Eric Elder
www.theranch.org

My Friends' Wedding (photo by <a href="http://www.danifordphotography.com">Dani Ford</a>)

My Friends’ Wedding (photo by Dani Ford)

Today I’m sharing the final 2 of these 15 tips for a stronger marriage.  Next week I’ll conclude with 3 words that will tie all the other tips together.

Before we get started today, though, I wanted to let you know that Tip #15 is perhaps the most significant tip I ever received before getting married, but it’s also one of the most delicate to talk about because it has to do with physical intimacy.

For the sake of modesty, and for the sake of getting this message through any spam filters that might try to block it from getting to you, I’ve simply used the phrase “physical intimacy” to describe the physical union between a husband and wife, and I’ve used the term “self pleasure” to describe the act of touching yourself in a way that brings you physical pleasure when you are alone.  (Now you can see why this tip is so delicate!  But I assure you, what you’re going to read today could significantly alter the way you interact with your spouse from this day forward!)

With that preface in mind, here are Tips #14 and #15.

14) Commit to doing something to delight your spouse on a regular basis.  Before I married Lana, I promised to give her a back rub every night, which was something that she absolutely loved.  It worked out well for both of us, because she loved being touched, and I loved touching her!  For 23 years I kept that commitment, and it was one of the best things I ever promised to do, both for her and for myself.

Those back rubs also led to other kinds of intimacy, setting the tone for our bedtime conversations and often culminating in physical passion.  By blessing Lana in this one way, I received all kinds of blessings back.

I also committed to making her breakfast every morning, something which she loved at the time we got married, too.  But as time and the changing seasons of life moved on, she began to prefer other things instead, like sleeping in a little longer while I made breakfast for the kids after she had spent the night nursing a baby!  I say this to say that some of our commitments may change over time, but the point is to intentionally commit to doing something to delight your spouse on a regular basis.  It smooths out the ebbs and flows of life and ensures there’s joy in the midst of anything else that might be going on.

For her part, Lana made a commitment before we got married, too, but one that she didn’t tell me about until many years into our marriage.  She just did it.  She committed to herself that she would go to bed every night at the same time that I went to bed.  She had watched other couples live their lives in separate bedrooms for years, and she saw the devastating effects that this had on their relationships.  So she told herself she was going to do whatever she could to try to ensure this didn’t happen in her marriage.

Of course, this ensured she got her nightly back rub!  But even more, it meant that we had time to talk and pray together every night; it meant that we were available for physical intimacy on a regular basis; and it definitely increased the likelihood of having a big family like she always wanted!

You and your spouse may have a different set of things you could do to delight one other.  If you’re not sure what would delight them, just ask them!  Then make a commitment to doing something to delight them in the way they’d love to be delighted on a regular basis.  As the Bible says:

“…love one another deeply, from the heart” (1 Peter 1:22b).

15) Make physical intimacy with your spouse the best that it can be.  After I was engaged to Lana, I set up an appointment to meet with a man who had counseled many, many people through marital issues regarding their physical intimacy.  I met with him specifically because I wanted to ensure that I did everything possible to safeguard our physical relationship and to make it the best that it could possibly be.

One of the most important tips he shared with me was to consider making a commitment to myself and to Lana that I would not engage in self pleasure, but that I would only experience physical pleasure when I was with her.  Many men, he said, go into marriage thinking that they’ll be able to be intimate with their wife any time they want.  But the reality is that it just doesn’t work that way!  And because of that, many spouses decide to simply please themselves whenever they want.

This man told me that he had met with numerous groups of women to discuss issues like this, and asked them what they would think if they knew their husbands were pleasing themselves when they weren’t together.  Nearly every woman in every group said they would feel hurt by this, or they would wonder what they were doing wrong that their husbands would do this, or they would wonder what else their husbands might be doing physically when they weren’t together.

Then this man went on to tell me about the blessings couples experienced who had committed to enjoying physical pleasure only when they were together.  He said it wasn’t necessary that they engage in full physical intimacy every time, but that they were at least to be with each other and enjoy the closeness of their bodies.  Couples who made this commitment built up trust, lowered barriers to intimacy and brought about a lifetime of fulfillment for each other, both inside and outside of the bedroom.

Since I had never even considered how this might play out in marriage, I didn’t know what to think.  But this man had thrown down a gauntlet, a challenge, and I had to decide whether or not I was going to pick it up.  After talking some more about this with another friend and then with Lana, I decided it was worth a try.  So before Lana and I were married, I committed to her that I would not engage in self pleasure, but reserve all physical pleasure only for when I was with her.  If for any reason I fell down in this commitment, I committed to confessing it to her before the day was out.

I can attest to the fact that this one tip alone helped me perhaps more than any of the others.  Why?  Because each of these tips are interrelated and physical intimacy is at the core of what makes marriage unique among all other relationships.  So when there’s a breakdown in one area of our relationship, it often affects our physical intimacy as well.  In order to ensure I would be able to enjoy the physical pleasures of marriage, I knew I would have to nurture the other areas of my marriage, too.  As the saying goes:

“The grass ain’t always greener on the other side; it’s greener where you water it.”

Here’s how some of the tips I’ve mentioned already helped to water our physical intimacy.   For instance, by putting our TV in the closet for our first year, it freed up all kinds of time to have meaningful conversations and enjoy soothing back rubs, which often led to physical intimacy.  By going to bed every night at the same time as each other and by praying together before we fell asleep, we were able to draw closer spiritually and that drew us closer physically.  By confessing our sins quickly to each other, we built up trust between us and kept guilt and shame at bay.  By inviting Jesus to use our hands and eyes and words as if they were His very own, we were able to keep our touches and kisses as tender and life-giving as possible.

This isn’t to say that it was easy for me to keep this challenge.  Even though my physical intimacy with Lana was incredible from day one, there were still a few times in our first year of marriage when I fell back into old habits of pleasing myself when I was alone or away from home.  It seemed like a quick and easy way to release some of the tension in other areas of my life.

Yet I still wanted to give this idea an honest try, and because of my promise to Lana, I followed through with the rest of it and confessed it to Lana each time before the day was out.  The first time I had to confess it to her it was more difficult and embarrassing than I imagined.  The second time was even more difficult.  So after just a few confessions like this, I was able to break the habit and keep my commitment for the rest of our 23 years of marriage.

I’m not telling you this out of some kind of prudish purity, but simply to let you know that it’s possible!  And believe me, my passions and temptations are just as strong as any other man’s!  But until my conversation with this marriage counselor, I had never even thought about the idea.

I also tell you this because I can’t describe the multitude of ways this one commitment helped our marriage.  Here are just a few:

1) This gave us both confidence that I had control over my body, rather than my body having control over me.  This helped Lana to trust me to not cross the line of having physical pleasure with someone else, because I wouldn’t even cross it with myself.

2) This kept me from turning on the TV in a hotel room when I was away from home, or from buying a magazine that I shouldn’t have bought, or from downloading a video that I shouldn’t have downloaded.  Even though these things certainly crossed my mind and were ever-present opportunities, there was never any point to engaging in these activities since I knew that they would never culminate in physical pleasure.

3) This ensured that the physical side of our marital relationship was fully alive and vibrant throughout our entire marriage.  Roger Staubach was a famous quarterback who was once asked how he felt when one of his teammates always seemed to have a different woman on his arm every night.  Roger said, “I’m sure I’m just as sexually active as he is. The difference is that all of mine is with one woman.”  Touchdown, Roger!  The joy of my physical intimacy with Lana, and the trust that we built into our relationship because of this one commitment, was worth anything it might have cost me in terms of giving up fleeting pleasures on my own.

While I can’t say if this commitment is something that you should make, or that it will have the same impact on your marriage, I do want to encourage you to do whatever you can to nurture this aspect of your marriage.

As I mentioned in my book What God Says About Sex, physical intimacy with Lana was the most consistently exhilarating, off-the-charts experience of my life!  So whether or not you choose to follow the path I chose, I pray you’ll make a commitment to do something to protect your physical intimacy, keeping it alive and active as long as you both shall live.  As the Bible says:

“Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure…” (Hebrews 13:4a)

Honor your marriage and keep your marriage bed pure.  Don’t look for other ways to find physical pleasure.  Look to your spouse, and then do whatever you can to nurture your relationship with them.

Next week, I’ll conclude this series with 3 words that will tie all the other tips together!



As a thank you for your donation of any size to our ministry, we’d be glad to send you a paperback copy of another book I’ve written on marriage that focuses specifically on intimacy.  If you’d like a copy, just visit The Ranch Bookstore online to make a donation of any size, and we’ll ship a copy to you anywhere in the world.  Your gifts help us to keep sharing about Christ with others, and we’re happy to send you a gift in return!

Cover of Eric's book on marriage

This Week’s Sermon- 15 Tips for a Stronger Marriage (Part 4)


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

15 TIPS FOR A STRONGER MARRIAGE
(Part 4.  Click here for Part 1Part 2 and Part 3)

by Eric Elder
www.theranch.org

My Friends' Wedding (photo by <a href="http://www.danifordphotography.com">Dani Ford</a>)

My Friends’ Wedding (photo by Dani Ford)

I was going to call today’s tip “How to have a fair fight,” which captures the essence of this message well, but the idea behind this tip isn’t to help you fight better; the idea is to help you express your feelings better so you and your spouse can truly hear what each other is saying and then do something about it before it becomes a fight.

Even if you’re not married, I think you’ll find this tip applies to any of your relationships, so I hope you’ll keep reading no matter what season of life you’re in.  In fact, I heard from a single woman 2 weeks ago who wrote to tell me how surprised she was that God was speaking to her through these marriage tips, even though she’s not married.  She wrote:

“I was hesitant at first to read this devotional as I’m not married. I was just scrolling through and saw a part about Lana and yourself getting a car and about marriage being a calling. So I decided to start from the top for I believed God wanted me to learn a thing or two and also to be encouraged as I was feeling a bit down and questioning my future. I enjoyed it and it made me laugh how God worked out your differences, even your breaking up and eventually getting married. That gave me hope since I’m single and struggling relationship wise. My concern about my future especially is that I really want to change my car and I laughed with tears coming to my eyes when you said about Lana’s desires for a car and how you reassured her about God working and providing for you and He will do the same for her. I like the part too about your partner understanding your purpose & dreams and how God can use you to help each other reach their potential and how God can use each other to bring about change & transformation. I have always believed that. Thanks for sharing your testimony. I must read the 7 points from earlier and see what else God wants me to know. God bless!”

So whether you’re single, married or thinking about getting married, I hope you’ll read today’s tip and let God speak to your heart, too.  With that, here’s tip #13 for how to have a stronger marriage.

13) Watch your timing, tone and words.  Lana and I didn’t fight often, and when we did, we tried to do so in private.  This may have given others the impression that we never fought, but that’s not true.  I will say, though, that we were able to avoid many of the all-out fights that others experience simply by following some advice that we learned during pre-marital counseling and some other wisdom that we learned for ourselves from the Bible.

This tip involves 3 aspects of how you express your feelings to each other:  your timing, your tone and your words.

First, watch your timing.  It’s important, of course, to share your feelings and not to stuff them down inside.  We all have feelings and we want others to respect our feelings.  But it’s also important to consider the timing of when to share those feelings.  Even Jesus didn’t say everything that was on His heart to His disciples, but took into account when they would best receive what He had to say.  Jesus said:

“I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear” (John 16:12).

Jesus eventually did share everything on His heart, and He told the disciples that He would send His Holy Spirit later to remind them of everything He said.  But He did so at a time when He knew they could best receive it.

Lana and I found that if we had something important to share with each other, especially if it was potentially explosive, that it was best to talk about it when we were both fresh and alert and able to talk about it rationally.  We seemed to have our worst conversations when one or both of us were tired and worn out or when we had pressing deadlines that had to be met.  It was better if we could realize the timing was bad and set a time to talk later when we could truly listen to each other.

Second, it’s important to watch your tone.  It’s easy to jump to conclusions and blame your spouse for things they didn’t even know were wrong.  In America, we love the idea of being “innocent until proven guilty.”  But in marriage, we often jump to the conclusion that our spouse is guilty and we start an argument based on that assumed guilt rather than simply explaining what we’re feeling.  The Bible talks about the importance of tone when it says:

“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1).

When I came to Lana with gentleness, simply sharing something that I was feeling, I was usually met with a gentle response in return.  But when I came to her with a harsh or accusatory tone, it stirred up a harsh or angry response.  This is a simple law of nature and it’s a simple law of communication:  “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.”

Instead of looking straight at your spouse and assuming they are the problem, it’s better to turn shoulder to shoulder and address the problem together.  It might even help to remind yourself and your spouse, “I know you’re not my enemy.  I’m fighting for you, not against you.”  By simply reminding yourselves of this truth, you can often diffuse the bomb that might otherwise explode.

I remember being called to a friend’s house late one night.  She and her husband were  in the middle of an argument–and it was bad.  In fact, when I walked in, I wondered if she should have called the police instead of me.

But as I sat down with both of them listened to what they were arguing about, it turned out that the husband was trying to tell his wife that he wished he could spend more time with her, because she was often out helping other people in need.  They were talking past each other, though, because they were talking about 2 different things.  The truth was that they both wanted to do something good; they just needed to work on how to achieve those good things together.

Here the wife thought her husband hated her for wanting to help others, when the truth was that he loved her so much he wanted to spend more time with her!  And he loved that she wanted to help other people, but he just wished she would spend more of that energy on him, rather than depleting it all before she got home.  By talking through both of their desires, without accusation or harsh words, they were able to find a way to move forward and help meet each of their desires more fully.

This story leads to the third aspect of how to have a fair fight, which is to watch the words you choose.  Here’s a simple phrase you can memorize and, if you start using it today, you’ll find your conversations will go much smoother immediately.  The phrase is:

“I feel … when …  because … ”

 This focuses the issue on you and your thoughts and feelings rather than on the other person.

In the story I shared above about the couple fighting, the husband started with an accusatory tone by saying “You’re always out helping other people!”  To which his wife immediately reacted by saying, “What’s wrong with helping other people?!?”  Then she started listing all the good and godly reasons to help others.  She was also stung by the word “always” and said, “I’m not always out helping other people!!!” and she began to recall how many the times she stayed home to help him or their family.  (It’s better just to drop using the words “you always” or “you never” from arguments, because the other person can usually think of at least a few times when they did or did not do what they’re being accused of doing).

But because of the husband’s wording (and probably his timing and tone, based on the lateness and intensity of the conversation), he had inadvertently derailed the conversation immediately and they began squabbling over side issues.  Rather than starting the sentence with the accusatory statement “You always…,” consider if he had started with the words, “I feel…,” and then filled in the blanks that followed:

“I feel hurt when you go out to help others because I’d like to spend more time with you myself.”  

That’s really what the husband was trying to say, but it came out as anger and jealousy rather than love and affection.  By blaming her for wanting to help others, he put her on the defensive from the start, rather than simply expressing what he really wanted, which was to spend more time with her.

Using the words “I feel … when … because…” changes the tenor of your conversations immediately and helps you get closer to meeting your own needs sooner than if you get sidetracked on secondary conversations.  You may still need to have those secondary conversations, but you’ll realize that they are just that:  secondary.  The main thing is to be able to express what you’re feeling, without blame or accusation, by describing how feel when the other person does or does not do certain things.

Your choice of words can make all the difference, not only for yourself, but also for the other person.  The Bible says:

“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver” (Proverbs 25:11, NKJV).

Which means they are well placed are beautiful to behold.

As an exercise to help you think through your words the next time you need to express something you’re feeling, imagine a conversation that you may be currently having with your spouse (or co-worker or friend), whether it’s a conversation you’ve been having out loud or if it’s still just in your head, and try to rephrase what you’re feeling using the words “I feel… when… because.”

Think hard about what you’re really feeling and why.  Rather than accusing the other person in your head, imagine that you’re truly just trying to express your feelings and what triggers those feelings.

I feel lonely
I feel frustrated
I feel hurt
I feel unappreciated

when you come home late
when you move my piles
when you forget to do what I ask
when you correct me

because I want to go to bed with you
because I don’t know where things are when I need them
because I want to know that you care about me
because I’m trying hard to do the right thing

You can see how each of these statements could lead to further discussion and exploration of why the person feels what they feel and finding a solution that is beneficial for both people.

You might be thinking, “That sounds like a lot of work,” and you’d be right!  It is!  But the payoff is worth it.

In woodworking there’s a saying, “Measure twice; cut once.”  When you carefully take the time to measure a piece of wood twice and then cut it only once, you save yourself a whole lot of time patching things up later.  The same could be said of your words:  “Think twice; speak once.”  As the Bible says:

“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19b). 

Although it takes extra time and effort to think through your timing, your tone and your words, you’ll save yourself a whole lot of time and effort in patching things up later!

Next week, tip #14!



As a thank you for your donation of any size to our ministry, we’d be glad to send you a paperback copy of another book I’ve written on marriage that focuses specifically on intimacy.  If you’d like a copy, just visit The Ranch Bookstore online to make a donation of any size, and we’ll ship a copy to you anywhere in the world.  Your gifts help us to keep sharing about Christ with others, and we’re happy to send you a gift in return!

Cover of Eric's book on marriage

This Week’s Sermon- 15 Tips for a Stronger Marriage (Part 3)


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

15 TIPS FOR A STRONGER MARRIAGE
(Part 3.  Here are the links to Part 1 and Part 2)

by Eric Elder
www.theranch.org

My Friends' Wedding (photo by <a href="http://www.danifordphotography.com">Dani Ford</a>)

My Friends’ Wedding (photo by Dani Ford)

One of the questions I’m asked most about marriage is “How did you know that Lana was ‘the one’ for you?”  Today I’ll share that answer with you in Tip #12 for how to have a stronger marriage.

But don’t think that today’s tip is only for those who are considering marriage.  Even if you’ve been married a long, long time, today’s tip can help to re-energize your marriage as you remember why you chose your spouse in the first place.

With that in mind, here’s today’s tip for how to have a stronger marriage.

12) Choose well (and remember why you chose the one you did).  Next to your decision to follow Christ, choosing who to marry is the 2nd most important decision you’ll ever make in your life.  It’s a decision that will affect you for the rest of your life, and it’s a decision that will affect generations of people long after you’re gone.

I read a book before I got married that scared me, and for good reason:  I wasn’t ready to get married.  Even though I loved Lana deeply, this book helped me see the enormity of the decision to get married and how it would affect my life from that moment on.  The book was called The Mystery of Marriage by Mike Mason.  Mike said:

“A marriage, or a marriage partner, may be compared to a great tree growing right up through the center of one’s living room.  It is something that is just there, and it is huge, and everything has been built around it, and wherever one happens to be going–to the fridge, to bed, to the bathroom, or out the front door–the tree has to be taken into account.  It cannot be gone through; it must respectfully be gone around.  It is somehow bigger and stronger than oneself.  True, it could be chopped down, but not without tearing the house apart.  And certainly it is beautiful, unique, exotic: but also, let’s face it, it is at times an enormous inconvenience.  

“So there are many things that can be said about one’s life’s mate, but finally, irrevocably, the one definite thing that needs to be said is that he or she is always there.  And that, while it may be common enough in the world of trees, is among us human beings a rather remarkable state of affairs” (Mike Mason, The Mystery of Marriage, p. 39).

The book went on to describe how nothing in life does more to expose our pride, failings and weaknesses than being married.  Our selfishness is exposed at every turn.  As the Bible says:

“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17).  

As helpful as it is for us to be sharpened, the process of chipping away at the ugly and unsightly things in our lives can be painful.  And I just wasn’t ready.  I remember going to my brother and sister-in-law’s wedding, watching them take their vows for a lifetime and thinking, “I can’t do this!  I just can’t do it!”  It wasn’t that I didn’t love Lana, but that I couldn’t imagine giving up the idea of just living my life for myself.

In the months that followed, however, God began to show me all that I would gain by being married.  I had recently put my faith in Christ, and I was already seeing the fruit of having invited Him into my life and taking His thoughts into account before acting on my own.  I was eventually convinced that marriage could be worth giving up whatever independence I had before.  The question then became, “Who does God want me to marry?”

Although the Bible gives us certain baseline criteria for choosing our spouse, such as believers marrying other believers (2 Corinthians 6:14a and 1 Kings 11:2b), not marrying close relatives (Leviticus 18:6-19), and marrying someone who can help God fulfill His recreative design for the world (Leviticus 18:22-23 and Romans 1:26-27), it doesn’t tell us which person, specifically, who God wants us to marry.  At least I didn’t think so.  For that, I knew I would have to rely on God’s Holy Spirit.  And I’ve found that He is more than happy to help us–as long as we’re willing to listen.

So how did I know that Lana was “the one”?  For me, my answer came after months of asking God to speak to me clearly if she was the one that He wanted me to marry.  I had already come to the conclusion that I wanted to marry her, but I needed to know for sure what God wanted, because I knew that He knew both of us better than we knew ourselves.

One morning I sat down in my bedroom to read my Bible, but didn’t know what to read.  I had just finished reading my Bible from cover to cover a few days earlier for the first time in my life, and I wasn’t sure where to start reading again.  So I decided to start over at the beginning.

Lana had come to visit me that morning, and we had already been out to watch a friend run a race in downtown Houston.  We decided to take some time to pray on our own before going on with the day, so she sat on the couch in the living room with her Bible, and I went to the bedroom with mine.  This was a refreshingly new practice for both of us in that past year.

I opened up my Bible to the first page again and began to read about how God created the world, and how God created Adam, the first man on earth.  God put him in a beautiful garden and asked him to take care of it.  But God saw that even in the midst of this beautiful setting, surrounded by all kinds of spectacular things, Adam was still alone:

“The LORD God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him’” (Genesis 2:18).

So God created Eve and brought her to Adam.

Even though I had heard this story since I was a kid, this was the first time I had seen it from God’s perspective.  As I read about Adam being alone in the garden, my heart fell as God’s must have fallen, when He saw how lonely Adam was.  Then my heart rose again, as God’s must have risen, when God created Eve and brought her to Adam.  I imagined the smile on Adam’s face must have about a mile wide!

As I pictured this scene in my mind, I suddenly had an intense awareness that God was looking down at me just as He had looked at Adam.  There I was, surrounded by all kinds of spectacular things, but I was still alone.  In that moment, God spoke to my heart.  The words seemed to leap off the page, and I felt that God had done the same for me:  He had created a woman just for me, and He had brought her to me.  She was sitting in the very next room.  After months of praying, I knew that I knew that God really did want to fulfill the desires of my heart.  He really did want me to marry Lana.

I got up off the floor and ran down the hall.  I didn’t stop to look in the mirror as I ran, but I’m sure if I did, the smile on my face must have been about a mile wide.  I told Lana what God was telling me through the story of Adam and Eve.  We talked and we cried and I asked her to marry me right on the spot.  To my delight, she said, “Yes!” and we spent the rest of that incredible day together walking and talking and riding paddle boats in the rain at Miller Park.

My eyes still water as I think about it again, even 25 years later.  Even though I didn’t have a ring, and we didn’t have a candlelight dinner, I had something that was even more precious to me:  I had a word from God that Lana was “the one.”  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come back to that story over the years, both in good times and in hard times, and how it has re-energized my love for and commitment to Lana.

For Lana, the story was much simpler:  she said she knew from the day she met me that God wanted her to marry me.  She said that as soon as we met, there on the 2nd floor of David Kinley Hall at the University of Illinois, that these words immediately popped into her mind:  “That’s the man you’re going to marry.”

She said it was the wording that made her realize it was from God, and the way that they came into her mind.  She said the words seemed to come into her mind out of the blue, and they were spoken in the 3rd person:  “That’s the man you’re going to marry.”  She said that if it was her own thought, she would have said to herself, “That’s the man I’m going to marry!”  But she didn’t, and the words were clear:  “That’s the man you’re going to marry.”  She was so convinced that she went home that night and called one of her best friends to tell her she had just met the man she was going to marry.  And she was right!

I tell you these stories not because I think God will speak to you in the exact same way, but to give you confidence that God can speak to you, if you’re willing to listen to Him.  God’s Holy Spirit really is alive and active. And, believe it or not, God wants you to know who to marry even more than you want to know it.  He has a bigger stake in the outcome of your life than you do, and He knows you and every other person on the planet even better than you know yourself.

I had been diligently seeking God for months for His answer (after dating Lana for years before finally coming to the place of asking God what He wanted for our relationship).  And Lana had been praying ever since she was a child for a man to marry who would be like Jesus to her, not that I was ever close to that, but in her eyes at least, she felt that I was the answer to all those prayers.

Once I knew that Lana was the one for me, I knew there was never any going back.  I was committed to planting that tree of marriage right in the center of my living room, and I was happier about it than I can possibly tell you.  I never used the D word (Divorce) because I knew that wasn’t an option.  I knew that for better or worse, neither of us were going away, and we were going to have to work through anything that came our way together.  And I couldn’t have been happier about it.

Just like the words “God will never leave you alone” can be either a blessing or a curse depending on how you look at it, the idea of being with another person 24/7 for the rest of your life can be a blessing or a curse, too, depending on how you look at it.  That’s why it’s so important to remember why you chose the one you did in the first place, because it can help restore the way you look at your marriage, not as a curse of always having someone else around, but as a blessing of always having someone else around.

If you’re still considering who to marry, I want to encourage you to choose well.  No decision, other than your decision to follow Christ, is as important.  And no decision this important is one that God wants you to take lightly.  He would love to help you know who to marry, for He has a vested interest in the outcome of both of your lives.

For those of you who have already made your choice of who to marry and who are now living out that choice, perhaps even wondering if you made the right choice or not, I’d like to encourage you to look back and remember why you made that choice in the first place.

What was it that drew you to your spouse?  What made him or her so special to you when you first met or when you first started dating?  What did God speak to you about him or her along the way?  What feelings or emotions stirred within you that made you want to make this commitment to be together forever?  Choosing well is important, but remembering can be just as important to helping you stay committed to your choice.  As Nehemiah said about the Israelites who went back on some of their earlier choices:

“They refused to listen and failed to remember the miracles You performed among them” (Nehemiah 9:17).

They didn’t listen to God, and they failed to remember the miracles He performed among them.  Don’t be like that!  Listen to God, and then remember what God has told you.

I’m not saying it’s easy to choose who to marry or to stay married after you’ve made that choice, and I’m not saying that people won’t surprise you down the road with actions and decisions that catch us totally off guard.  In fact, I’m saying just the opposite.  I’m saying that none of us really know what we’re getting into when we commit to living with another person for the rest of our lives.  None of us really know what’s in the hearts of other people living on the planet, let alone what’s in our own hearts.  But God knows.

God knows what’s in our hearts, and He knows how to guide and direct us if we’re willing to listen.  God also knows how to redeem ANY situation and ANY decision we ever make, even the bad ones.  In fact, that’s why He sent Jesus to die: to redeem us from the poor choices we make, the sins we’ve committed along the way, so that we can live a new and abundant life, both here on earth and in heaven forever.  No matter how you’ve arrived at the place you’re in right now, you can trust Him to redeem and restore it and to help make it right.

But if you’re not married yet, do yourself and everyone else around you a huge favor:  Choose well! Listen to God, then remember the miracles He’s done among you.



As a thank you for your donation of any size to our ministry, we’d be glad to send you a paperback copy of another book I’ve written on marriage that focuses specifically on intimacy.  If you’d like a copy, just visit The Ranch Bookstore online to make a donation of any size, and we’ll ship a copy to you anywhere in the world.  Your gifts help us to keep sharing about Christ with others, and we’re happy to send you a gift in return!

Cover of Eric's book on marriage

The 2nd Annual Ranch Retreat!

The 2nd Annual Ranch Retreat!  October 10-12, 2014 - Come Join Us!!!

If you’d like a boost in your faith, I hope you’ll join us for a weekend of worship and inspiration here in the heart of the Great Midwest on Columbus Day Weekend, October 10-12th, 2014.

We’ll start off with a sumptuous dinner on Friday night, followed by some inspirational worship led by Alan Lowry of Saddleback’s GIG Music Ministry and a faith-boosting message by Greg Potzer of This Day’s Thought and myself, Eric Elder.  (Al’s coming in from Orange County, California and Greg’s coming in from Denver, Colorado, so if you’re coming from out of state or out of the country, you’ll be in good company!)

We’ll continue on Saturday morning with a light and refreshing breakfast, followed by another session of inspirational worship and messages.  We’ll take a break for lunch on your own and some free time in the afternoon to just relax, pray or chat with some new friends.

We’ll have an optional prayer walk on Saturday afternoon at the site of my late wife Lana’s memorial bench at a cemetery nearby where you’ll have time to consider what God wants you to do with the rest of your “dash” here on earth.

Then we’ll gather again on Saturday night for another great meal, more inspirational worship and another faith-boosting message.  (If the weather’s nice, we may even have a bonfire and cookout here at our home, complete with a sky full of stars and some good old s’mores for dessert…you’ll like ’em so much, you’ll want “s’more”!)

If you stay over till Sunday, we’d love to have you join us for worship at our local church in Normal, Illinois (you can tell people you were “close to Normal” for a whole weekend!), followed by lunch at the church café (dutch treat) for some extra time of relaxed fellowship.

If all that sounds good to you (I know it sounds good to me!), I hope you’ll join us here in Illinois on Columbus Day Weekend, October 10-12, 2014.  We’re asking for a donation of $150 per person for the whole weekend of activities, which includes a refreshing breakfast, 2 wonderful dinners and 3 sets of inspirational worship and messages.

Even if we didn’t provide any delicious meals or inspirational worship and messages, just getting out of your usual routine for a few days might be just what you need to hear from God more clearly and give you a boost in your faith.  So I hope save the date and join us in October!  Just click “Register” below to sign up!

(As much as I wish I could host you all in my home, I think you’d find it a little crowded here with my kids at home!  So here’s a link to some hotels near Lexington, Illinois where the activities will be held.)

For more information about housing, locations or any other details, please call Shelly at (214) 597-4872 or send us a note on our Contact Form.

REGISTER HERE!!!

Click here to register for the whole weekend ($150 donation per person.  For multiple registrations, click the link, then increase the number of registrations needed.)

Although we hope you can stay for the whole weekend, we know some of you might only be able to join us for Friday or Saturday.  Use the links below to register for just one day at $75 per day.

Click here to register for Friday only  ($75 donation per person.)
Click here to register for Saturday only ($75 donation per person.)

Please note that for tax purposes only the amount you donate above the suggested donation will be considered tax-deductible.  Your extra donations go directly into the ministry to help us keep sharing Christ with others, so thanks for your extra help, too!

LOCATION

The retreat will be held at the Lexington Community Center, located at 207 West Main Street in Lexington, Illinois.  Lexington is about 2 hours south of Chicago and 25 minutes north of Bloomington/Normal.  The closest airport is in Bloomington, Illinois (BMI), with flights to many major cities daily.

SCHEDULE OF EVENTS

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 10
5:00-6:30 Check-in at the Lexington Community Center in Lexington, Illinois
6:30 Appetizers and Fellowship
7:00 Dinner
7:45 Worship with Al Lowry
8:15 Message by Greg Potzer and Eric Elder
9:15-10:00 Q & A, Prayer and Wrap Up

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 11
9:00-10:00 Gather and enjoy a casual breakfast at the Lexington Community Center
10:00 Worship with Al Lowry
10:30 Message by Eric Elder
11:30-12:00 Q & A, Prayer and Wrap Up
12:00 Break for lunch on your own at local restaurants

12:00-6:00 Free time for relaxed fellowship and prayer, with an optional prayer walk at Lana Elder’s memorial bench at the Lexington Cemetery

6:00 Gather again at the Lexington Community Center
6:30 Dinner
7:15 Worship with Al Lowry
7:45 Message by Eric Elder
8:45-10:00 Q & A, Prayer and Wrap Up

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 12
11:30 Worship together at Eastview Christian Church in Normal, Illinois
1:00-3:00 Lunch (dutch treat) at the church café, with extra time for relaxed fellowship and prayer

 ABOUT US

Here’s a little more about us!

About Eric Elder and The Ranch

About Greg Potzer and This Day’s Thought

About Al Lowry and Saddleback’s GIG Ministry

For more information about the retreat, housing or any other details, please call Shelly at (214) 597-4872 or just send us a note on our Contact Form!

This Week’s Sermon- 15 Tips For A Stronger Marriage (Part 2)


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

15 TIPS FOR A STRONGER MARRIAGE
(Part 2)

by Eric Elder
www.theranch.org

My Friends' Wedding (photo by <a href="http://www.danifordphotography.com">Dani Ford</a>)

My Friends’ Wedding (photo by Dani Ford)

 

Last week I shared 7 tips with you for how to have a stronger marriage.  This week I was going to share 7 more, but have decided to give you just 4 today, because I want to be sure you have time to read and consider deeply how you might apply each of them to your own life.  Then at the end of the series I’ll share 1 final tip of just 3 words that can serve as the glue to hold all of the other tips together.

Again, if you know of others who are newly married, nearly married or would like a boost in their marriage no matter how long they’ve been married, I hope you’ll pass these tips along to them.  (You can still read Part 1 with the first 7 tips at this link.)

With that in mind, here are tips 8 through 11 for how to have a stronger marriage.

8) Be willing to live for your spouse.  I spoke to a man who was divorcing his wife.  She wanted to move to another state to fulfill some of her dreams, but he didn’t want to.  They were at a stalemate and this was the last straw.  I asked him, “If someone threatened to kill your wife, would you be willing to die for her?”  “Yes, of course,” he replied.  Then I asked, “If you would be willing to die for her, would you be willing to live for her?”  We talked again shortly thereafter and he put his faith in Christ.  He reconciled with his wife and they moved across the country.  As Jesus told His disciples:

“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).  

Then Jesus proved His love for His friends by laying down His life for them.

Surprisingly, “laying down your life” doesn’t always mean giving up your own dreams and plans, too.  For Jesus also said,

“For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Me will find it” (Matthew 16:25).

Sometimes it’s by living your life to help your spouse achieve their dreams that you’ll be able to fulfill your own dreams even better.  If God is the one who has put particular dreams and desires within both you and your spouse, then He’ll find a way to accomplish those dreams and desires for both of you, too.

9) Help your spouse achieve their goals.  This may sound like the previous tip, but the difference is that sometimes you’ll have to take the initiative to help your spouse achieve their goals.  It just may be that God has put you in their life just for this purpose, because He knew they would need your unique help.  After God created Adam, He said:

“It’s not good for the Man to be alone; I’ll make him a helper, a companion” (Genesis 2:18, MSG). 

One of the main purposes for marriage, according to God, is so we won’t have to do life alone; that we’ll have a helper and a companion along the way.

Lana was both of those things to me:  a wonderful companion and a terrific helper.  She helped me do things I could never have done on my own, whether it was building a family or launching a ministry or giving me regular feedback and encouragement on my writing and speaking and planning and dreaming.  At the same time, I was able to help her achieve some of her goals.  Over the years, however, I realized that she still had other dreams and desires for her life which would never be realized if I didn’t step in to give her a boost.  She wanted to do missions work in Africa, visit the Holy Land and make a movie about the life of St. Nicholas.

But with all of her other responsibilities, those dreams seemed either distant or impossible.  So I sat down with her and began to pray about each one, asking God how I could help her achieve her dreams.  By the end of her life, I was able to help her take a missions trip to Africa, visit the Holy Land twice and write out the story of the life of St. Nicholas, which we planned to use as the basis for a movie someday.  When we found out that Lana had cancer, I can’t tell you how thankful I was that I had stepped in to help her fulfill those dreams while she was still able to do them–and I’d encourage you to do the same.

10) Remember your marriage is a calling, too.   I think a word of caution is in order here, too.  Be careful when considering giving up one type of “calling” to follow another.  I shared my story with a group one day about quitting my job and going into full-time ministry.  A woman came up to me afterwards to tell me how excited she was because God was calling her to do the same thing.  After congratulating her for being willing to take this step of faith, I asked her what kept her from doing it before.  She said, “Well, my husband won’t like it because I’m going to have to move and leave him behind.”  “As in divorce?” I asked.  “Yes,” she said, and she looked at the floor.  I said.  “Don’t forsake one type of calling (her marriage) to fulfill another.  If this is from God, He’ll help you to do both.”

Your marriage is a calling just as much as any other kind of “calling.”  When I quit my job and went into full-time ministry, I knew for me that meant living on faith for all of our financial provision (we all live on faith, actually; it’s just that sometimes we’re more acutely aware of it than at others).  But I also knew I was called to my marriage with Lana as well.  So I wrote Lana a letter so she could hold onto it and remind me if necessary, telling her that even though I felt called by God to do this ministry, I also felt called by God to marry her and to take care of her as best I could.  I committed to her, right at the beginning of our ministry, that if ever she felt she wasn’t being cared for because of the ministry that I was doing, then I would quit doing ministry or find another way to do it so that I could care for her better.

I didn’t want to shortchange one calling to fulfill another.  As the Bible says rather forcefully:

“Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8).  

Lana never had to exercise her right to pull me out of ministry, although she came close to it a few times.  And when she did, we prayed and I filled out applications for other jobs.  God always made a way for me to fulfill both callings, however, so I could keep loving her well and keep doing ministry well.  I knew that if God had called me to both, He would help me to find a way to do both.  But I also knew that if I had to neglect one calling to fulfill another, then I was probably doing something wrong.

11) Remember that God is the provider for you both.  If you haven’t noticed, each of these tips builds on the others.  While there’s a lot that you can do for your spouse, you can’t do everything!  There are some things only God can do.  Ultimately, He’s the one who provides for you both.  As the Bible says,

“The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it…” (Psalm 24:1a).

When I was first dating Lana, we relied on each other for everything: our conversation, our intimacy, our affirmation, our affection.  But when God broke us up for a period, we learned to rely on Him as the ultimate source of everything in our lives, including each other.  When we finally came back together and eventually got married, we had a new awareness that God was the source of all we needed, even if He used one or the other of us to meet that need.  He was the source of it all.

I was reminded of how much God loved Lana one morning after we had had a funny conversation the day before.  Her car had broken down and we needed to get another, but there was no way we could afford it.  She told me the kind of car she really wanted to get.  She had never cared about makes or models before, just whatever would get her from Point A to Point B.  When I looked at the prices of used models online, I thought, “Good luck with that!”  A friend of ours told us when he sent his daughter off to college, the only thing he had to help her out were his prayers and these words:  “The same God who takes care of me will take care of you.”  God did His part, my friend did his part and my friend’s daughter did her part. 4 years later she had a college degree.  So that night as I prayed for Lana and the car she wanted, I said at the end, rather jokingly, “Well, you’ve got my prayers!  The same God who takes care of me will take care of you!”  Then I rolled over and fell asleep.

The joke was on me, though, when the very next morning I pulled into the parking lot for a men’s group at church and a man pulled in right after me–driving the very same car that Lana had told me she wanted.  He had never visited the group before and I had never seen another car like this around town before.  It was the exact same make, model and color Lana had wanted!  I told him my wife was talking about getting a car just like that, and he said he was actually thinking of selling it!  I had to shake my head and confess to God that I had forgotten how much He loved Lana–even more than I did–and that He was the one who provided for her, just like He provided for me.  Although we didn’t buy that man’s car, God made a way for us to buy another one, the same model, make and color, within just a few months of my prayers.  God really does love our spouse even more than we love them, and He loves to surprise and delight them, just as He loves to surprise and delight us.

Sometimes we make the mistake of trying too hard to please our spouse, only to fall short again and again, when what we really need to do is to trust God that He will provide for them, even when we can’t.  So do your best, and trust God with the rest.

 

That’s it for today, and probably more than enough “home work” for this week!  Next week, I’ll share more tips with you, then wrap it all up with 3 words to tie all the other tips together.

(P.S. Last week I noted a prayer of blessing in the Bible that Lana regularly prayed for me and the kids, but I referenced the wrong book of the Bible.  The prayer is found in Numbers 6:24-26, not Deuteronomy 6:24-26, just in case you’re looking for that prayer!)



As a thank you for your donation of any size to our ministry, we’d be glad to send you a paperback copy of another book I’ve written on marriage that focuses specifically on intimacy.  If you’d like a copy, just visit The Ranch Bookstore online to make a donation of any size, and we’ll ship a copy to you anywhere in the world.  Your gifts help us to keep sharing about Christ with others, and we’re happy to send you a gift in return!

Cover of Eric's book on marriage

This Week’s Sermon- 15 Tips For A Stronger Marriage (Part 1)


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

15 TIPS FOR A STRONGER MARRIAGE
(Part 1)

by Eric Elder
www.theranch.org

 

My Friends' Wedding (photo by <a href="http://www.danifordphotography.com">Dani Ford</a>)

My Friends’ Wedding (photo by Dani Ford)

 

Last month I performed a wedding for some friends of our family.  The bride said she really admired my marriage with Lana and wondered if I would share with them any thoughts I had about what made our marriage so successful.  She said she wanted to get the best possible start for her new lifetime commitment of her own.

Although it would be hard to summarize 23 years of thoughts on marriage into just a few short tips, I began to write out some of the things that really did help to make our marriage work as well as it did.

I wish I could say that if you just put each of these 15 tips into practice in your own marriage that you would be guaranteed a successful marriage, but relationships just don’t work like that.  Each of us is unique, and the way we relate to each other is unique.  Yet, I’ll explain along the way how each tip helped to strengthen our marriage, and hopefully that will help you to adapt them and apply them to your own situation.

This week I’ll share the first 7 tips and I’ll share the rest of the tips over the weeks that follow.  Then I’ll wrap it all up with  a final tip that can serve as the glue that holds all the others together, and which can be summed up in 3 short words (and the 3 words are not “I love you” or “I am sorry,” as helpful and important as those are!)

Since there are 7 tips in today’s message, you might want to save or print this message and read 1 tip a day for the next 7 days so you can really consider how to apply each tip to your own marriage.  And if you know someone who is getting married or who is newly married, or even someone who’s been married awhile but might like to strengthen their own marriage, you might want to share this message with them, too.  It just may be the boost they need to make their marriage not just good, but great!

With that as background, here are the first 7 tips for how to have the strongest marriage possible.

1) Pray with each other daily.  Before Lana and I got married, I heard someone say that he prayed every night with his wife before they went to bed.  He said this assured them of 2 things every day.  1- This assured them that each of them was being prayed for every single day of their lives.  Since I believe in the power of prayer, I was so eager to try this even before I got married that I tried it with my roommate at the time.  It turned out to be so powerful, and we saw so many answers to our prayers, that I was convinced to do it when I entered into marriage as well.  2- This assured them that each of them would have a chance to express some of their deepest needs that they may never have shared otherwise.  Often I would go through a whole day with Lana, talking and doing life together, and think that I knew what she probably wanted prayer for by the end of the day.  But there were often times when I asked her how I could pray for her and she would surprise me with something that I would have never guessed on my own.

No matter how late it was at night or what kind of mood we were in, we kept this commitment daily, even if it was just praying a blessing over each other in Jesus’ name.  One of Lana’s favorite prayers to pray for me and for the kids was this one from the Bible:

“The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn His face toward you and give you peace” (Numbers 6:24-26).

I shared this tip with the couple I married and a few days into their honeymoon they posted this on their Facebook page:  “A man filled with great wisdom told us before we got married that every night we should pray together before we fall asleep.  So far in our short marriage we have done that.  There is nothing more intimate.”  I agree!

2) Take out the TV.  Lack of communication is the #1 cause of divorce.  It’s amazing how even having a TV in the room can impact the communication with your spouse.  It’s always easier to turn on the TV than to talk to someone else.  The TV doesn’t talk back; you don’t have to listen if you don’t want to.  You can be delighted and entertained for hours on end without doing any of the heavy lifting of a relationship.  Having a TV in the room is like always having a third person in your marriage, even when it’s off, because the temptation to turn it on is still there.

Lana and I read a book before marriage called, “The First Years of Forever” by Ed and Gaye Wheat, which argued convincingly that the patterns you set in the first 2 years of your marriage will set the tone for the patterns you’ll have in your 7th year and 14th year and so on.  So to set the patterns right from the start, make communication a #1 goal.  Lana and I put our TV in the back of the closet for the first year of our marriage.  The only time we got it out was when we heard that the Berlin Wall was being torn down live on television, 1 of the most significant news events of that year.  Then back into the closet it went.

I can’t tell you the joy that Lana and I had that first year, just the two of us in our 1-bedroom apartment in Houston, Texas.  It freed us up to spend all kinds of time together, whether it was cooking dinner, playing games, cleaning dishes, going out or making love.  Someone had given us money to buy a new TV as a wedding present, which we saved for when our first year was over.  But we enjoyed our life without a TV so much that we kept it that way for several years, until we eventually bought a new one to watch movies or to teach the kids.  23 years later, we still watched very little TV, nor did our kids, because we never developed the a habit.  (And when we did start watching TV again, we were shocked at how much more negative the content on TV seemed to have turned in just those few short years.)

Let me add here again that these are suggestions that you’ll have to adapt to your own situation, be it limiting time on the Internet or social media, or watching only a set number of shows or sporting events per month, or whatever it takes to give you the best shot at increasing your time to communicate.  As the Apostle Paul reminded the Corinthians:

“Everything is permissible”–but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”–but not everything is constructive (1 Corinthians 10:23).

3) Combine your bank accounts.  Communication is the #1 cause for divorce, but finances are a close second.  Lana and I were encouraged at the beginning of our marriage to combine our bank accounts and share a checkbook.  This meant that we had to talk about our purchases with each other so there were no surprises.  This also kept us in check from making whimsical or unnecessary purchases.  By combining our bank accounts we were also able to better save our money and make a priority of helping to fulfill each other’s dreams, whether it was a special trip for an anniversary or a missions trip to another country or a new vehicle when we needed one.

Because we had to make our decisions together, we simply made wiser decisions.  Although it was harder at first because we had to work together, it kept us from having the mentality that “this is my money” and “this is your money.”  We realized early on that  “this is God’s money” and we wanted to spend it in the best way possible.  As King David said in the Bible:

“Everything comes from You, and we have given You only what comes from Your hand” (1 Chronicles 29:14b).

This may not apply to every situation or every stage of life, but it’s important to do something to make sure your finances enhance your marriage and not take away from it.  For instance, I noticed that Lana was supportive whenever I was asked to speak anywhere special, but that doing so cost her in terms of my time and energy.  So I began giving her any money I received from these extra speaking engagements, rather than using it for our every day bills.  It was a simple way to make sure the money we received was working for our marriage, not against it.

4) Never use the “D” word: Divorce.  There’s a funny line in the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, when the house maid Annie gives some money to George Bailey when he’s in dire straights.  Annie says, “I’ve been saving this money for a divorce, if ever I got a husband!”  It’s a funny line for a movie, but it’s a terrible line for real life.  Sometimes we’re tempted to hold things back from our spouse “just in case things don’t work out.”  But those very things that you’re holding back could be the pathway to greater intimacy if they were shared, whether it’s money or secrets or simply giving yourself as fully as possible to your spouse.

If you’re committed to marriage for life, which God certainly is, never use the word “divorce,” especially as a threat.  Some people hold onto that option and use it as a weapon in an argument.  But it’s not a weapon.  Jesus said that Moses allowed for divorce only because of the hardness of people’s hearts, but that it wasn’t always that way from the beginning (see Matthew 19:8).

If you’re having problems in your marriage, keep your hearts soft and tender by looking for other ways to deal with your problems, whether you look to God, the Bible, prayer, counselors, friends, or perhaps even time away.  But not divorce.  “I hate divorce,” God says in the Bible (Malachi 2:16), and anyone who’s been through one knows why.

When I’ve counseled couples for marriage, I’ve sometimes told them that I’m glad to bless their marriage, but on one condition:  that if they ever consider a divorce, that they have to come back to me first and get my blessing for that, too.  Then I let them know that in all my years of counseling people through even some of the most intense situations, I’ve never blessed a divorce.  I’ve always felt that God can work through even the most intense situations, especially if both people are willing to do so.

5) Confess your sins quickly.  I heard about a man who walked across America.  He said his toughest moments weren’t when he was walking through the rain or snow or to the top of a tall mountain.  He said his toughest times were when he got tiny grains of sand in his shoes.  Unless he stopped to regularly dump out the sand, those tiny grains would rub against his feet until blisters formed and then it would be days or weeks of extreme pain until his feet healed.

I heard this story in a sermon about marriage one Sunday morning, in the context of confessing even those small sins in our lives to our spouse, dumping them out before they rubbed enough to cause more severe pain.  I immediately thought of a particular friendship I had with someone that I enjoyed, perhaps a little too much.  There was nothing sinful going on, but the fact that this friendship came to mind as I heard this story made me wonder if maybe I should confess it to Lana and ask her what to do about it.  I didn’t want to mention it though, because I was afraid the best solution would be to step back from this friendship all together, and I didn’t want to lose the friendship, too.

But after a few days of praying, I realized that even though this issue seemed like a tiny deal, as small as a grain of sand, I knew I’d rather dump it out now than to let it possibly endanger my marriage down the road.  I confessed it to Lana and we agreed it would be best for me to politely back off from the friendship.  Even though it was a good friendship in my life, I felt so much freer after that, and it never caused another problem again.  Confess any sins right away, even if they’re as small as a grain of sand.  As the Bible says,

“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed” (James 5:16).

6) Love your way through any “irreconcilable differences.”  I once heard about an interviewer who asked several couples who had gotten a divorce how many “irreconcilable differences” they had in their marriage, things that they were simply never able to agree upon.  The average answer was 5 or 6 “irreconcilable differences.”  The interviewer then asked the same question of several couples who were still together after 40, 50 and 60 years.  Their average answer?  5 or 6!  It wasn’t the number of irreconcilable differences that made the difference in whether the couples stayed together or not, but their commitment to love each other through them.

We’re all unique.  We all have different backgrounds and life experiences.  It’s no surprise that we think differently on various topics as well.  It’s part of life, and it’s all part of what makes being married work so much better than being alone for so many people, because they can each bring their best ideas to table.  But invariably this means that many other ideas have to be left on the table, even good ones.  Lana and I agreed on a lot of things, but there were probably 5 or 6 that we never did agree on in all our years together.

We’re all like porcupines, with our various differences and sins poking out of us all the time.  And when we get close enough to someone else, there’s a good chance we’ll get poked.  Yet even porcupines find a way to have baby porcupines.  How do they do it?  Very carefully!

Don’t let your sins and differences cause you to lose your commitment to a lifetime of marriage no matter what.  Love your way through them instead.  As the Bible says:

“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (John 15:13). 

7) Invite and allow Jesus to love your spouse through you.  When I married Lana, I knew without a doubt that she was a gift from God to me.  But I also realized that if she was a gift from God to me, then perhaps I was a gift from God to her, too.  As such, I often wondered what Jesus would want me to do for her if He were here on earth, for the Bible says that we are the body of Christ and He wants to live His life through us to touch others (see 1 Corinthians 12).

So when Lana would lay in bed at night, exhausted from a long day of taking care of everyone else around her, I would think, “What Would Jesus Do?”  If He were here, what would He want to say to her?  What would He want to do for her?  How would He minister to those deepest needs of her heart right now?  Then I would try to let Jesus use me to love her, using my words to speak to her, my hands to stroke her head, my ears to listen to what she’d been going through during the day.

WWJD (What Would Jesus Do) might seem like a trite acronym to put on a bracelet or a bumper sticker, but it’s only trite if we make it so.  If we take it seriously–and realize it’s exactly what God wants us to ask at all times and in all situations, especially with our spouse–it can change the dynamics of every relationship that we have.

As I was writing this message to you today, I happened to hear from the wife of a couple I had married several years ago.  She shared with me that that this was the single most important tip she learned back then, and that it was the #1 thing that was getting her through the mess they were in right now, inviting and allowing Jesus to love her spouse through her.

Just as God has placed your spouse in your life as a gift to you, He has placed you in your spouse’s life as a gift to them.  Invite and allow Jesus to love your spouse through you.  As the Bible says:

“Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27).

 

That’s enough tips for this week (it’s enough for a lifetime, really!)  But next week I’ll share some more tips that can be just as significant as these.  Then I’ll wrap it all up with 3 simple words that serve as the glue to hold all the other tips together.



If you’d like to hear more thoughts on marriage, I’ve posted more details about what I’ve learned from God in a book that you can read for free anytime day or night on my website at this link.   Or if you’d like a paperback or ebook version, just click the link below to get a copy from our bookstore for a donation of any size to our ministry.  Your gifts help us to keep sharing about Christ with others, and we’re happy to send you a gift in return!

Cover of Eric's book on marriage

This Week’s Sermon- The Power of Learning from Others


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

THE POWER OF LEARNING FROM OTHERS
by Eric Elder
www.theranch.org

Lana (2nd from right) and her 3 college grads, taken 6 years ago this week when Karis (right), Lucas (2nd from left) and Makari (left) were still in high school

Lana (2nd from right) and her 3 college grads, taken 6 years ago this week when Karis (right), Lucas (2nd from left) and Makari (left) were still in high school

I’ve just been to the last of 3 college graduations in the past 5 months, and I’m so thankful not only to the kids for all of their hard work, but to Lana, for being the incredible mother and teacher that she was. Lana homeschooled Karis, Lucas and Makari from kindergarten through high school, so today I just wanted to honor her for the incredible job she did.  At the same time, I’d like to let you in on one of her secrets of success:  learning from others.  As Paul encouraged  the Philippians:

“Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me–put it into practice” (Philippians 4:9a).

Believe it or not, when I first started dating Lana 30 years ago, one of the questions I had about marrying her was what kind of mother she would be. And to be honest, she had the same question!

She said that college had prepared her for a job in business or computers, but it hadn’t prepared her for one of her most important jobs: mothering. She knew how to do accounting, computer programming and business writing, but she wished she had taken classes in cooking, sewing, nursing or child psychology.

There was so much to learn and she had to do it all on-the-job. I remember the first time she tried making spaghetti for the 2 of us. Having come from a family with 9 kids, she had no idea how to make various-sized portions, so she just put the whole box of spaghetti into the boiling water. We had spaghetti for a week!

But Lana spent the next 23 years learning everything she could to become the incredible wife and mother that she was. When someone made a meal that she liked, she asked them for the recipe and tips on how to make it. When she found an older woman who knew how to quilt, she asked her for lessons and ended up making many beautiful quilts over the years. When she had questions about child-raising, she read books on parenting. When the kids were sick and she had no idea what to do, she looked up answers in a big medical book my mom gave us when we first got married.

From the time Karis was born, Lana wanted to homeschool our kids. Homeschooling was still pretty new at the time, and neither of us knew anything about it. But Lana said the reason she wanted to have the kids in the first place was because she wanted to spend time with them, and homeschooling seemed to be a great way to do that.

So even before Karis was old enough to go to school, Lana started going to homeschooling conventions, asking other homeschoolers how they did what they did and researching the best curricula and lesson plans she could find.

Karis (center, waving) graduating from Liberty on May 10, 2014

Karis (center, waving) graduating from Liberty on May 10, 2014

We heard from other homeschooling parents to just take it a year at a time and decide each year if we thought this was still the best plan for the kids and ourselves. So we started that 1st year with just 1 year in mind. Then every spring, we’d re-evaluate if it was going to work again for another year. 1 year turned into 2, and 2 years turned into 3. Eventually Lana was teaching 6 different kids, with 6 different learning styles, in 6 different grade levels.

Lucas graduating from Hillsong on Dec 2, 2013

Lucas graduating from Hillsong on Dec 2, 2013

She headed up the local homeschooling group and coordinated various field trips and reading programs. To anyone who met her at that time, they would have thought she was just a natural supermom. But she would be the first to say that she wasn’t. She had worked as long and as hard as the kids to become the incredible mother that she was. When Karis graduated from high school, I was so proud of Karis, but I was also so proud of Lana. I gave her a note saying that she should get a certificate, too, for being such a great mother and teacher.

Makari graduating from Bethel on May 8, 2014

Makari graduating from Bethel on May 8, 2014

As I watched each of the kids walk across their respective stages this year to receive their college diplomas (Karis with a 4-year degree in biblical studies from Liberty in Lynchburg, Virginia; Lucas with a 3-year diploma in worship and leadership from Hillsong in Sydney, Australia; and Makari with a 2-year certificate in transformational ministry from Bethel in Redding, California), I couldn’t help but look to heaven, too, and say to Lana, “Well done, Mama! Well done!” I wished she was there in person to see each of them graduate, but I couldn’t help but be thankful for her investment of time, love and attention into each of the kids’ lives. I could see the fruit of all her efforts right before my eyes.

I can’t believe Lana’s been gone now, as of this week, for a year and a half. She was only sick for 9 months, and she’s been gone now for 18, twice as long as she was sick. Time just keeps flying by. But as I think about her life and her investment in the kids, I also think about one of her favorite stories that encouraged her to make the most of the life that she had.

It was a story about a women who had a neighbor with a beautiful flower garden. Every time this woman complimented her neighbor on something in her garden, her neighbor would dig up part of the plant and give it to her to plant in her own yard. Over the years, this woman had been given countless starts for countless plants, yet her own garden remained bare. She thought she’d never be able to have a beautiful garden like her neighbor, so she never even bothered to put the plants in the ground. She ended up jealous and dejected, with nothing to show for all that she had been given.

Lana didn’t want to be like this woman with the bare garden at the end of her life. So whenever she saw something beautiful in someone else’s life, or something that someone else was doing that she liked, Lana would ask how to do it, how to make it work in her own life, then she’d give it a try and see if she could do it, too. Although Lana and I both wondered at the beginning of our life together what kind of mother she would be, she turned out to produce one of the most beautiful gardens I’ve ever seen, all because she kept learning from others as much as she could, then putting what she learned into practice in her life.

If Lana were here I know she would encourage you to do the same. If you see something in life that you like in others, or something that others do well that you’d like to do, too, ask them how to do it. Learn from them all you can. Then plant what you’re given and watch what blooms. It’s never too late to start!

Lana, I love you. I’m proud of you. You continue to encourage me and the kids and so many others to be the best that we can be, too. CONGRATULATIONS! You have so much to be proud of!



As a thank you for your donation of any size to our ministry or for writing a 1-2 sentence review of our latest CD on Amazon,  we’ll send you a copy of the CD in the mail, anywhere in the world!  It’s a 100% Pure Piano CD called Tenderly by Marilyn Byrnes.  You can listen to the whole CD online for free anytime by visiting this link.  But to get a complimentary CD instead, just make a donation of any size to The Ranch at this link OR write a 1-2 sentence review on Amazon at this link.  Your reviews help us spread the word about this music and help to multiply the blessings all around!   Thank you!

You’re listening to TENDERLY, featuring 100% Pure Piano versions of inspirational and classical music performed by Marilyn Byrnes. Also available in CD and MP3 formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

This Week’s Sermon- Listen To One Another


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

LISTEN TO ONE ANOTHER
Part 3 in the “One Another” Series. Click here to read Part 1 and Part 2

by Kent Sanders
ArtistsSuitcase.com

 

One evening a few months ago, I was sitting on the couch with my laptop when my wife Melanie came home from work. She sat down and I asked how her day was. She proceeded to share some events from her day while I continued to write and listen to her at the same time.

She talked for about 10 minutes, and there was a slight pause. Then the conversation went something like this:

Me: “So, you had a pretty good day?”

Melanie: “What? No, I didn’t have a good day! I just spent several minutes telling you how bad it was!”

Busted!

The truth is that I hadn’t been listening at all. I heard her talking but was completely disengaged from the conversation.

It seems increasingly harder for us to listen to one another. We are constantly distracted by our phones, computers, and the chaos of the world around us. But technology and media can never replace authentic human relationships. One of the most important ways to express the value of those relationships is by listening to others.

Listen to this simple and direct teaching from James:

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. [James 1.19-20, ESV]

These verses may be simple to understand but they’re hard to put into practice. Here are 10 tips to help you be “quick to hear, slow to speak” in your conversations:

1. Be genuinely interested in the other person. Every person is inherently interesting, and everyone has a story to share. There is something to learn from everyone.

2. Be fully present, mentally and emotionally. It’s easy to fake being interested while half-heartedly paying attention. Put down your phone, look the other person in the eye, and focus completely on what they’re saying.

3. Empathize with the other person. When you empathize, you are not only listening to facts, you’re trying to put yourself in their shoes and see things from their perspective.

4. Restate what the other person is saying in your own words. This helps them know you’re paying attention and affirms that you’re listening.

5. Don’t try to offer solutions (unless they ask for one). As a man, I am often guilty of this since guys always want to “fix things.” But most people don’t want a solution; they want someone to listen and empathize with their feelings and perspective.

6. Take the time to listen. Slow down enough to be fully engaged in the conversation. Don’t think about all the things you have to do, or your next appointment. If you don’t have time to listen attentively, set another time when you can be fully present.

7. Assume you can learn something from the other person. It’s easy to categorize others into those whom we enjoy being around, and those whom we perceive as burdens on our time. But in most conversations, you can learn something or take away a new insight if you are searching for it.

8. Don’t project the conversation in your head. Have you ever been talking to someone and played the entire conversation out in your head before it’s done? This is a surefire way to kill a genuine connection with someone.

9. Make a game out of it. This may sound silly, but it can be a fun way to improve your listening skills. Challenge yourself to pay attention and to fully engage in the conversation. See how long you can go without thinking about something else.

10. Have a servant attitude. Above all, listening is a way to serve others and show the compassion and love of Christ. When you look at prayer from the perspective of God listening to us, the least we can do is return the favor by listening to His children!

Today you will likely have a conversation with someone. (That is, unless you’re a hermit and never talk to anyone.) Challenge yourself to be truly present in your next conversation. It’s a great opportunity to practice your listening skills, which is one of the powerful ways to build relationships and let people know you care.

Kent Sanders writes on art and creativity at ArtistsSuitcase.com. He is also Professor of Worship at St. Louis Christian College in Florissant, MO. You can connect with him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.  When you subscribe to the Artist’s Suitcase you will receive a free Artist’s Manifesto, a study guide and an EP of 5 songs!



As a thank you for your donation of any size to our ministry or for writing a 1-2 sentence review of our latest CD on Amazon,  we’ll send you a copy of the CD in the mail, anywhere in the world!  It’s a 100% Pure Piano CD called Tenderly by Marilyn Byrnes.  You can listen to the whole CD online for free anytime by visiting this link.  But to get a complimentary CD instead, just make a donation of any size to The Ranch at this link OR write a 1-2 sentence review on Amazon at this link.  Your reviews help us spread the word about this music and help to multiply the blessings all around!   Thank you!

You’re listening to TENDERLY, featuring 100% Pure Piano versions of inspirational and classical music performed by Marilyn Byrnes. Also available in CD and MP3 formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

This Week’s Sermon- Encourage One Another


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

ENCOURAGE ONE ANOTHER
Part 2 in the “One Another” Series. Click here to read Part 1, Forgive One Another.

by Kent Sanders
ArtistsSuitcase.com

 

About ten years ago I was on a train heading back home to Illinois, where I lived at the time. At one of the stops a complete stranger got up and gave a handwritten note to me. He was a young man with a backpack and I only caught a glimpse of him as the train pulled away. He must have overheard a phone conversation I had about some discouraging things I was facing.

The note said, “Do not be discouraged. Keep running the race that God has set for you. Do the work that God has planned for your life and trust Him to take care of the rest. Don’t get down when things aren’t running smoothly. Just trust God to take care of them. Keep your chin up (Hebrews 3.13).”

I still have that note. It was a simple yet incredible reminder of the power of encouragement. It’s a power that you and I possess but don’t use nearly enough.

Everyone needs encouragement. To see this firsthand, all you have to do is look in the eyes of the people you meet each day. It’s not hard to see the despair, anxiety, stress and hopelessness that in their eyes. Most people are starving for words of hope and affirmation.

This need is so deep, and so universal, that God commands us to encourage others with our words and actions. Listen to Paul’s instruction from 1 Thessalonians:

We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. [1 Thessalonians 5.12-22, ESV]

These verses are packed with practical ideas about how you can encourage others. Let’s look at five of them:

1. You encourage others by respecting their authority. Paul commands us to respect our spiritual leaders. It would easy to perceive this as a burden, but it’s actually a joy because you have the opportunity to encourage those who are responsible for caring for your soul. It’s a win-win for everyone!

2. You encourage others by being compassionate. The idle, the fainthearted, the weak…they all need help and support. It’s easy to judge others who aren’t living up to your standards, but the truth is that none of us live up to God’s standards. It’s much more effective to help and serve then condemn and judge.

3. You encourage others by your ethical behavior. Did you notice Paul’s two commands concerning evil? We shouldn’t repay anyone evil for evil, and we should stay away from every form of evil. The virtue, character and integrity you demonstrate is a form of encouragement all by itself.

4. You encourage others by maintaining good relationships. Rejoicing, giving thanks and being at peace with others are all ways to build great relationships. Anyone can be a powerful encourager if he or she invests in healthy relationships with others.

5.  You encourage others by being intentional about it. Admonishing, being patient and helping are intentional actions. You can’t really help others by accident, and you certainly can’t be patient with others by accident! Encouraging others involves being mindful of the opportunities around us to be a positive force in the people’s lives, and then taking action.

You don’t need to be a superhero or possess amazing talents to be an encourager. You just need to be intentional about it. You can make a tremendous difference in people’s lives when you notice their needs and do something about it.

Who in your life could use some encouragement?

Maybe it’s a widow in your neighborhood who could use an encouraging word.

Maybe it’s your boss who is struggling under the weight of his or her responsibilities.

Maybe it’s your pastor who is dealing with unfair criticism from church members.

Maybe it’s the retail clerk who rang you up at the store, and you couldn’t help but notice despair and hopelessness in her eyes.

Maybe it’s your son or daughter who is struggling in school.

Or maybe it’s your husband or wife who has gained a few pounds and desperately needs to know you love and accept them unconditionally.

We live in a time of abundance. There is an abundance of technology, food, entertainment, and knowledge. But ironically, there is a critical lack of love and affirmation. Everywhere you look, people are thirsting for encouragement.

The ancient philosopher Plato said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Sometimes people will put on a happy face for everyone, but you can be assured that everyone you meet is going through a trial of some kind and could use a little encouragement.

And you, my friend, have the amazing opportunity to bring hope and healing through your words and actions. Whom will you encourage today?

Kent Sanders writes on art and creativity at ArtistsSuitcase.com. He is also Professor of Worship at St. Louis Christian College in Florissant, MO. You can connect with him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.  When you subscribe to the Artist’s Suitcase you will receive a free Artist’s Manifesto, a study guide and an EP of 5 songs! 



As a thank you for your donation of any size to our ministry or for writing a 1-2 sentence review of our latest CD on Amazon,  we’ll send you a copy of the CD in the mail, anywhere in the world!  It’s a 100% Pure Piano CD called Tenderly by Marilyn Byrnes.  You can listen to the whole CD online for free anytime by visiting this link.  But to get a complimentary CD instead, just make a donation of any size to The Ranch at this link OR write a 1-2 sentence review on Amazon at this link.  Your reviews help us spread the word about this music and help to multiply the blessings all around!   Thank you!

You’re listening to TENDERLY, featuring 100% Pure Piano versions of inspirational and classical music performed by Marilyn Byrnes. Also available in CD and MP3 formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

This Week’s Sermon- Forgive One Another

Note from Eric Elder:  I’ve asked my good friend Kent Sanders to share a series of messages with you over the next few weeks.  He’ll be writing about practical ways to build better relationships, starting this week with forgiveness.  I hope you enjoy learning from Kent as much as I do.  You can learn more about Kent from the links at the end of today’s message.


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

FORGIVE ONE ANOTHER
Part 1 of the “One Another” Series
by Kent Sanders

 

I don’t cook very often (for good reason), but I admit that I can make a pretty good peach pie. A few months ago, my Dad gave me a large bag of sliced peaches he had picked from a peach tree in his back yard. I decided I would try to make a pie. I gathered all the ingredients for my special recipe, mixed them up, poured it over a crust and added another crust on top, and baked it.

When I took it out of the oven and let it cool off for a while, I couldn’t wait to taste it. I took a big bite and something didn’t taste right. In fact, it tasted pretty terrible. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it until my wife asked, “Did you add sugar?”

Then it hit me: In my quest to bake a perfect pie, I left out a key ingredient. The result was a bitterness that ruined the whole thing.

A bitter pie is something that can easily be replaced. But a bitter heart is a much more serious problem.

It’s easy to become bitter and angry when you’ve been hurt by someone. But when you carry around the emotional baggage from the past, it only hurts yourself and those you love. I have known people in their thirties who still held grudges toward people who had hurt them in high school. I have met others who kept a mental list of everyone who had ever wronged them.

Have you ever met someone like this, or perhaps even been that person? If so, these words from the Apostle Paul are for you:

“Put on then, as  God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved,  compassionate hearts,  kindness,  humility, meekness, and patience,  bearing with one another and,  if one has a complaint against another,  forgiving each other;  as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.  And above all these put on  love, which  binds everything together in  perfect harmony.  And let  the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called  in one body. And  be thankful.”  [Colossions 3.12-15, ESV]

Paul’s instruction in these verses is easy to understand, but difficult to put into practice. Forgiveness is never easy, but it’s possible with God’s help.

Let’s look at a few practical observations about forgiveness from this passage:

1. Forgiveness is a choice. Paul speaks about forgiveness in terms of a command, not an option. When you think of how others have hurt you in the past, your first thought is probably not, “I feel like forgiving them!” But forgiveness doesn’t come from your emotions. There is never a time when you feel like forgiving others. It’s a choice or a decision to let go of your anger and hatred toward someone.

2. Jesus is the model for forgiveness. We are to forgive others just as Christ has forgiven us. Those are tough words! When you consider the offenses you have committed against God, the often petty complaints we have against others don’t seem so important. But even if someone has committed a serious offense against you, Jesus continues to be the model for forgiving others completely.

3. Love is the driving force behind forgiveness. Love is the binding agent of all relationships. In the simplest terms, love means doing what is best for someone else. Forgiveness is always the best option. Hatred and anger never results in good. Love is always the best option, even though it is not always easy.

4. The result of forgiveness is peace. Did you notice the connection in these verses between forgiving others and peace? When you let go of your anger, you experience a peace like never before. The person who hurt you no longer has hold of your mind and emotions. You are free to experience all that life has to offer when you let go of your anger and bitterness.

No one said forgiveness was easy. But when God commands something, we know it’s possible when we rely on his strength to help us accomplish it.

Is there someone you need to forgive? Only you can answer that question. Search your heart: Are you angry or bitter at someone because they have hurt you?

Regardless of the offense, forgiveness is possible. It may take time, and even professional help of some kind, but it’s possible. Ask God to give you wisdom so you can begin the healing process in your life.

Kent Sanders writes on art and creativity at ArtistsSuitcase.com, which you can subscribe to at this link. He is also Professor of Worship at St. Louis Christian College in Florissant, MO. You can connect with him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.



As a thank you for your donation of any size to our ministry or for writing a 1-2 sentence review of our latest CD on Amazon,  we’ll send you a copy of the CD in the mail, anywhere in the world!  It’s a 100% Pure Piano CD called Tenderly by Marilyn Byrnes.  You can listen to the whole CD online for free anytime by visiting this link.  But to get a complimentary CD instead, just make a donation of any size to The Ranch at this link OR write a 1-2 sentence review on Amazon at this link.  Your reviews help us spread the word about this music and help to multiply the blessings all around!   Thank you!

You’re listening to TENDERLY, featuring 100% Pure Piano versions of inspirational and classical music performed by Marilyn Byrnes. Also available in CD and MP3 formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

This Week’s Sermon- Payday’s HERE! 3 Stories For Easter


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

PAYDAY’S HERE! 3 STORIES FOR EASTER
Part 3 of 3. Click to read Part 1 and Part 2

by Eric Elder
www.theranch.org

 

For the last two weeks I’ve been telling you, “Payday’s Coming!  Payday’s Coming!”  But today, I can tell you “Payday’s HERE!”  There are times when you have to wait and wait and wait for the promise of some kind of payday to come in your life.  But I’m here to tell you that the day WILL come when YOUR payday will arrive, too!

Yesterday I officiated at the wedding of a family friend who I’ve known for over 15 years and for whom I’ve prayed many times like I’ve prayed for my own kids.  After all those years of praying and waiting for a man who will be the perfect match for her, her payday finally came! As I watched these two come together during the wedding ceremony, I was reminded that for all those years of waiting and praying, payday does eventually come.

Wedding Day

Easter holds the same promise for all of us who believe in Jesus.  We can wait and wait and wait for God to move in our lives, sometimes going through the hardest of times along the way, only to see God work in ways that go beyond anything we can imagine.  Jesus went through betrayal, beatings and death, only to rise again from the dead in the greatest payday story of all time:  paying for the sins of all humanity, and rising from the dead to give assurance to each of us who believe in Him that we will be raised from the dead one day, too.  As Christian painter Ron DeCianni has said:

“The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the single act in history that separates Christianity from every other religion, every other philosophy and every other belief system.”  

It’s true.  While other spiritual leaders may have had good teachings, it’s what Jesus did for me by His death and resurrection that makes me want to follow Him for the rest of my life and on into heaven forever.  The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the greatest payday story of all time.

My hope today is that you will KNOW that paydays do come.  God does not give us hope just to string us along for the rest of our lives, never fulfilling our dreams along the way.  Yes, we may go through hard times.  Yes, we may have to wait and wait and wait until what we’re praying for comes true.  Yes, we may have some stretching and learning and growing to do along the way.  But the day WILL finally come when our waiting will all be over and we’ll see our dreams come true, both here on earth and in heaven forever.

I’ve told you 2 of the 3 stories I promised to tell you for Easter from my trip to Dallas a few weeks ago.  I’ve told you about how God spoke to me through a romance novel, how God spoke through me to deliver a powerful sermon, and today I want to tell you about how God reached down and touched me through a white handkerchief.  Believe me, I’ve saved the best story for last, for this Easter Sunday.

As I mentioned last week, I went to Dallas for a 20-year reunion of the church where I was ordained.  I was just planning to hang out with friends from many years ago.  But on Saturday night, the senior pastor texted to ask me if I’d be willing to share my testimony at the 4th service at their church the following day, the service I told him I would be attending.  I texted back saying, “I’m willing,” but I really wasn’t prepared or ready to speak for the whole service.

The senior pastor then texted back and said not to worry, that it was their least attended service, and I could just share from my heart.  I was relieved and said I’d be glad to do it.  So I wrote down 3 things I wanted to share with them from my heart, just 3 simple lines of a few words each:

  • Affirm them in their love
  • Remind them of the truth
  • Identify with their struggle

That’s it!  Just so you know, I usually write out my entire messages in full, preparing my thoughts as fully as possible.  But with no time to prepare, that’s all I was able to write down before I drove off to the church.  By the time I arrived, I was already getting texts from my friends who had attended the earlier services saying they couldn’t wait to hear me speak at the 4th service.

I walked in a little early and heard part of the 3rd service.  The senior pastor was giving an impassioned plug for everyone to attend the 4th service, telling them about his friend who was coming to share his powerful testimony, and to stay if they possibly could!  I looked down at my 3 short lines of notes in my journal in my hands and started to panic!  And when I walked back in to attend the 4th service where I was supposed to share (the service that was supposed to be the “least attended” service of the day) the church was packed from front to back, with people waiting to hear what I had to share!

Now I was more nervous than ever.  As I stood in the front row, singing worship songs, I knew I just had to trust God, but I was still pretty nervous.  Let me add that I’m also a pretty emotional speaker.  When I speak, I often get so passionate about what God has put on my heart that I usually end up in tears at some point.  My wife, Lana, would often hand me a Kleenex just before I got up to speak, because I usually forget and then I would have to ask someone to bring one to me during the message.  But Lana wasn’t there anymore, having died a little more than a year earlier, so I was standing there without her in the front row.  Of course, I had forgotten to bring a Kleenex again, too, and I wasn’t even thinking about it.  I was just panicking about the message I was supposed to give in just a few minutes.

In those final moments of panic, I raised my right hand during worship and called out to heaven, “Lana, help me!”  Just at that moment, a friend of mine from 17 years ago tapped me on the shoulder and put a white handkerchief in my outstretched hand.  I looked at him and looked at the handkerchief, then looked back up to heaven and said, “Thank you!”  God had answered my prayer for help within moments of asking Him!  My panicky heart was instantly calmed, and the panic was replaced with confidence, confidence that God was with me and would walk me through this difficult time, too.

The senior pastor introduced me and I stepped up onto the stage, white handkerchief in hand, and delivered perhaps the most powerful message I’ve ever shared in my life (you can still listen to it here).  Those 3 short notes on my page turned into a full-length message of life and healing and power for all who heard it, including me, and for those who stayed an additional 2 hours after the service for prayer and ministry.

But the story wasn’t over yet.  I took the handkerchief home with me, as my friend who had given it to me had left the church by the time I was ready to go.  I offered to mail it back to him, but after telling him the story of how God had touched me through it, he told me to definitely keep it.

One week later, on a Saturday morning, my 21-year old son woke up and said he wanted to go see Lana’s mom.  She had been sick and was staying at a hospital 2 hours away in Chicago, but he really felt he should go to see her, so I gave him directions and sent him on his way.

The rest of the kids and I thought we’d try to run up there a few days later.  But when my son arrived at the hospital, he found out that the family had called for someone to pray a final prayer with their mom, as they knew she couldn’t hold on to her life here much longer.

Lana’s mom had prayed throughout her life, but like many people, she was still afraid of dying.  Lana tried various times to reassure her mom that by faith in Christ, we can have confidence that God will take us home to be with Him in heaven when we die, as Christ had promised:

“In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2).

After Lana’s death, her mom had asked me from time to time if I’d had any signs from Lana in heaven, and I had shared several stories with her about times when I sensed very clearly that Lana was fully alive in heaven as Jesus had promised for all who believe in Him.  I had also sent the white handkerchief with my son as he headed to the hospital that day so he could share the story with Lana’s mom if the chance arose.

When my son arrived at the hospital and realized there might not be much more time, he called us to see if the kids and I wanted to talk on video with Lana’s mom directly.  We called a few minutes later and after saying our hello’s, I began to tell Lana’s mom the story of the white handkerchief, and how my friend had put it in my hand just after I reached up to heaven and called out, “Lana, help me!”

I told her that my son had the handkerchief there with him at the hospital.  He pulled it out of his pocket and touched it to her face.  Instantly her face seemed to totally change, as she looked like she had been touched by the hand of God Himself.  She looked at us through the phone and was truly touched.  I reminded Lana’s mom that Jesus is real, heaven is real, and even though we didn’t want her to go anytime soon, if this was her time, that she could know that by faith in Jesus, she could be assured of joining Jesus and Lana in heaven, too.

All of Lana’s 8 brothers and sisters were in the room with their mom, and were also touched by the story, and were thankful for this reminder that their sister was in heaven with Jesus, too.  We said our goodbyes and our final “I love you’s.”  The following day, we got the call that Lana’s mom had passed peacefully from this life to the next.

I felt like God was still answering our prayers after all these years, even sending a white handkerchief to Lana’s mom to relieve her from her fears of death, just as He had used it to relieve me from my fears of speaking the week before.

While the circumstances were different, I couldn’t help but think of the story in the Bible where God used a handkerchief to display His power through the Apostle Paul:

“God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them” (Acts 19:11-12).

I’m amazed that God is so eager to get His message of love to people that He’ll even use things like handkerchiefs to deliver it!

If you’re worried about life, worried about your future, worried about how things will turn out in the end, take confidence from this:  God really will work all things for good for those who love Him and who are called according to His purpose.  As the great evangelist Billy Graham has said:

“I try not to worry about life too much because I read the last page of THE book and it all turns out all right.” 

Keep putting your faith and trust in Jesus, both for your life here on earth, and for your life with Him forever in heaven.  You won’t have to wait for payday forever.  Whether it’s a long-awaited wedding, or preaching a powerful message at a church after 17 years of being away, or getting a message from God at just the right time, even in the form of a white handkerchief.

Payday WILL come for all of us, as Easter so powerfully reminds us.   Keep putting your faith in Jesus!  He’ll work all things out for you in the end, as He does for all who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.

Happy Easter!

With Love,
Eric Elder



As a thank you for your donation of any size to our ministry or for writing a 1-2 sentence review of our latest CD on Amazon,  we’ll send you a copy of the CD in the mail, anywhere in the world!  It’s a 100% Pure Piano CD called Tenderly by Marilyn Byrnes.  You can listen to the whole CD online for free anytime by visiting this link.  But to get a complimentary CD instead, just make a donation of any size to The Ranch at this link OR write a 1-2 sentence review on Amazon at this link.  Your reviews help us spread the word about this music and help to multiply the blessings all around!   Thank you!

You’re listening to TENDERLY, featuring 100% Pure Piano versions of inspirational and classical music performed by Marilyn Byrnes. Also available in CD and MP3 formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

This Week’s Sermon- Payday’s Coming: 3 Stories For Easter


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

PAYDAY’S COMING: 3 STORIES FOR EASTER
(Part 2 of 3 – You can read Part 1 here)

by Eric Elder
www.theranch.org

 

We had a fire here at our farm yesterday, one that almost took out our whole house and garage!  A neighbor had started a small fire in a field about 1/4 mile away and across the road when the wind picked up and carried some burning ashes across the road.  Within minutes the dried cornstalks from last year’s harvest were in full flame and the fire was rushing across the field and heading for our house in the shape of a perfect wedge.  (You can see the wedge leading up to our house in the trail of burnt cornstalks in the picture below.)

Clover Ranch after a fire in the field.

By the time I dialed 911, got the kids out of the house and the cars out of the garage, the flames were as high as my head and just 50 feet away.  Then just as suddenly as the flames came up to our house, they miraculously died out as they hit the dirt and the grass all along the edge of our property, blazing right along past us and jumping another road and into another field.  Four fire trucks and a couple of hours later, the last of the fires in the fields were put out.

Thankfully, no one was hurt and our house and garage and everything in them were spared.

You just can’t avoid disasters in life.  You don’t even have to go looking for them; sometimes they just come right up to your doorstep.  And while not every disaster has a good outcome like we had yesterday, you can trust that in all things God really can and will work things out “for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

As we approach Holy Week this week, I’d like to tell you a story of a disaster my wife and I went through almost 17 years ago which seemed tragic at the time, but which God worked out for our good in the end, even culminating in one of the most powerful messages I’ve ever preached just a few weeks ago.  I’ll also share a bit from the life of David.  My goal is to help you see that you can keep trusting in God no matter what you’re going through, knowing that it will all be worth it in the end.

Our disaster started with a blessing about 18 years ago when a start-up church in Texas called to see if I’d like to come down for a month or so and minister alongside their senior pastor.  They had heard about me through a mutual friend, and thought it might be a powerful mix of gifts.  It turned out it was.

During those weeks I spent in Texas, I saw God work in and through me in some powerful ways, ministering alongside people who shared my vision for seeing people healed, restored and set free in Jesus’ name from anything that was hindering them in their lives.

But near the end of my stay, I got a call from my wife back home in Illinois saying that the she was afraid she might be starting to miscarry our recently conceived baby.

I jumped on the next plane out of Dallas, flew home and walked in the house to find my wife in tears.  She had just miscarried the tiny baby, not more than 8 weeks along in its little life.  As I held that tiny baby in my hands, the tiniest I’d ever seen with my own eyes, I looked in amazement at its precious little hands and feet and sweet dark eyes.  Although the baby would never get to take a breath, it was still one of the most precious of God’s creations that I’ve ever held in my hands.

We named that little baby “Valor,” which means courage or bravery, “strength of mind in the face of danger.”  We had no idea that God was going to use those qualities to build up our own faith in the months ahead, taking what looked like utter defeat and working it out for good in the end.

The church in Texas called again a few months later, this time asking if we’d consider moving to the Dallas area and serving with them full time.  They couldn’t pay us much, they said, but they’d take care of us if we moved there.

So we had sold our house, loaded up our 3 kids and everything we owned, and made the move.

Again, we saw God work in powerful ways.  But at the same time, my wife, Lana, had another miscarriage.  Then more ministry, then another miscarriage.  Then more ministry, and yet another miscarriage.  Four times in that year Lana had gone through the excitement of a pregnancy and the grief of a loss.  Then about a year into our stay, we got another piece of crushing news.  Some of the strongest supporters in our new church had recently lost their jobs, and the church could no longer afford to support a 2nd pastor.  They could pay me for one more month, but after that, I’d have to find something else to do.

I was devastated.  I was shocked, disappointed and confused.  We had already sold our house back in Illinois and had bought another house in Texas.  We had planned to stay there for many years, putting down roots with our growing family.  Now those fresh roots were being pulled up overnight, and Lana had now lost more children (4) than she had delivered (3).

I don’t want to belabor the point, but it was hard.  It was painful.  And to be honest, I felt hurt, rejected and betrayed by those who invited me to come and who said they’d take care of me if I moved there.  I didn’t feel particularly cared for, and after serving so successfully together during the entire year, it broke our hearts to have to say goodbye.

The week after being let go from the church, God spoke to my heart to move back to Illinois and start our Internet ministry at theranch.org full time.  So we packed up the kids again and everything we owned and moved back to Illinois, staying at a house my in-laws said we could use, and starting all over again.

Within a few months, we started to see how God was beginning to work through us in new ways.  When I spoke at the church in Texas, my words went to about 100 people.  But when I spoke on the Internet, my words went to about 100 countries! Lana conceived again, and this time the pregnancy lasted!  Within 5 years we had added another 3 kids to our family.

I could see God at work in so many ways, but the hurt and pain of having to leave Texas so abruptly lingered.  I knew that our work and our friends there were significant, but it was hard to keep up with the friendships without the hurt and pain getting in the way.  As is often the case, it was because of the great love we had shared that the hurt ran so deep.

Over the years, however, I visited the church again from time to time when we were in Texas.  I felt God still had a plan and a purpose in it all, and I needed to keep His goals in mind.  It was hard at first, but I felt it was the right thing to do.  Throughout the process, I had some tremendous conversations with the leaders and the people that did much to restore our friendships again.

Looking back, and with much more age and experience under our belts, we all realize we could have and should have handled things differently.   And while it’s taken time and effort to restore some of those damaged relationships, it has been effort that was well spent.

A few months ago, I was invited to attend a reunion at the church celebrating 20 years of ministry.  And that’s why I began my 14-hour drive to Dallas which I mentioned to you last week, when I listened to a romance novel that blew me away, and how God spoke to me through the book about the recent loss of my own sweet wife.

On Saturday night in Dallas, I got a text from the senior pastor asking if I’d be willing to share my testimony at one of the services the following day.  I hadn’t planned to speak, as I was just planning to hang out with some of my friends from all those years ago.  I said I was willing, though, and he said that would be great.

When I stood up to speak the next day, the power of God came on me in an incredible way, which I’ll share with you in more detail next week.  But the bottom line was that the message I shared was perhaps the most powerful message I’ve ever shared in my life.  We prayed for and ministered to people for another 2 hours after the service ended, even in the midst of a rare Texas ice storm.  (You can still listen to My Testimony here.)

What I thought was going to be a simple trip to a church reunion in Texas turned out to be a powerful time of healing, reconciliation and deliverance for many people–including me.

I was reminded again that God is able to work through anything, even some of our biggest disappointments and losses in life.  It didn’t happen overnight, but it did happen.  And I was glad to be able to publicly thank and honor the church and its leadership for taking the risk on my so many years ago and bringing me onto their staff.

Sometimes you can avoid the fires of life, like we did on the farm yesterday.  But sometimes you just have to keep walking through them.

I was reminded of this as I read part of King David’s story again a few weeks ago.  Even though he was anointed king over all of Israel when he was just a young shepherd on the hills of Bethlehem, he didn’t finally take over the kingdom until he was 30 years old.  Even then he still had a lot of battles left to fight to regain the whole kingdom over which he was anointed to rule!

I was reading just a few paragraphs of his story in the book of 1st Samuel and it says:

“David defeated the Philistines…David also defeated the Moabites…David fought Hadadezer…And David became famous after he returned from striking down eighteen thousand Edomites in the Valley of Salt.” (from 1 Samuel 8:1-14).

And this was just a few paragraphs out of 23 chapters that describe his life up to that point!  Sometimes we get lulled into thinking that if we have battles to fight, or people to forgive or tough times to walk through, that maybe we’re not walking in the will of God.  But sometimes those battles and people and tough times are the very things that God will use to complete the victory!  After all that he went through, “Payday” finally came for David, and it can come for you, too.

If you need encouragement that God can work all things for good, take a look at the life of David, as found in the Bible in the books of 1st and 2nd Samuel, starting with 1st Samuel, chapter 16.  You’ll see how God can bring good out of any situation, even if it looks impossible at the time.

God really can and will work through any situation, whether it’s trouble at home or trouble in the field, trouble at work or trouble at church, trouble with your kids or trouble having kids.  Remember in ALL THINGS, God can works for the good of those who love Him.  As the Bible says:

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

I pray you have a great Palm Sunday today and Holy Week this week.  Next week we’ll look at one more story from my trip to Dallas, a story about a white handkerchief, plus the biggest payday of all time–the resurrection of Jesus Christ.



As a thank you for your donation of any size to our ministry or for writing a 1-2 sentence review of our latest CD on Amazon,  we’ll send you a copy of the CD in the mail, anywhere in the world!  It’s a 100% Pure Piano CD called Tenderly by Marilyn Byrnes.  You can listen to the whole CD online for free anytime by visiting this link.  But to get a complimentary CD instead, just make a donation of any size to The Ranch at this link OR write a 1-2 sentence review on Amazon at this link.  Your reviews help us spread the word about this music and help to multiply the blessings all around!   Thank you!

You’re listening to TENDERLY, featuring 100% Pure Piano versions of inspirational and classical music performed by Marilyn Byrnes. Also available in CD and MP3 formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

St. Nicholas: The Believer, by Eric & Lana Elder

ST. NICHOLAS: THE BELIEVER, by Eric & Lana Elder, a new story for Christmas based on the old story of St. Nicholas. Also available in paperback, audio and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

A new story for Christmas based on the old story of St. Nicholas.

If you’ve never read about the real St. Nicholas who lived in the 3rd and 4th centuries A.D., you’ll find his story both fascinating and inspirational. Even if you have read the historical account of his life, this version may just be the most human telling of his story you’ve ever heard. 220 pages.

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Also available from Amazon.com, or get the ebook for: Kindle

St. Nicholas: The Believer

A new story for Christmas based on the old story of St. Nicholas
by Eric and Lana Elder

Read it online below!

Or Listen to Part 1 here (29-1/2 minutes, including the Dedication, Introduction, Prologue and Chapters 1-5)

 

St. Nicholas: The Believer, by Eric and Lana Elder

You’re reading ST. NICHOLAS: THE BELIEVER, by Eric and Lana Elder, a new story for Christmas based on the old story of St. Nicholas. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

DEDICATION (Back to Table of Contents)

This book is dedicated to my sweet wife, Lana, who inspired me and helped me to tell you this spectacular story.

Lana had just finished making her final edits and suggestions on this book the week before she passed from this life to the next, way too young at the age of 48.

It was her idea and her dream to share the story of St. Nicholas with as many people as possible. She wanted to inspire them to give their lives to others as Jesus had given His life for us. This book is the first step in making that dream a reality.

To the world Lana may have been just one person, but to me she was the world. This book is lovingly dedicated to her.

INTRODUCTION (Back to Table of Contents)

by Eric Elder

There was a time when I almost gave up celebrating Christmas. Our kids were still young and weren’t yet hooked on the idea of Santa Claus and presents, Christmas trees and decorations.

I had read that the Puritans who first came to America were so zealous in their faith that they didn’t celebrate Christmas at all. Instead they charged fines to businesses in their community who failed to keep their shops open on Christmas day. They didn’t want anything to do with a holiday that was, they felt, rooted in paganism. As a new believer and a new father myself, the idea of going against the flow of the excesses of Christmas had its appeal, at least in some respects.

Then I read an article by a man who simply loved celebrating Christmas. He could think of no greater way to celebrate the birth of the most important figure in human history than throwing the grandest of parties for Him–gathering and feasting and sharing gifts with as many of his family and friends as possible. This man was a pastor of deep faith and great joy. For him, the joy of Christ’s birth was so wondrous that he reveled in every aspect of Christmas, including all the planning, decorating and activities that went along with it. He even loved bringing Santa Claus into the festivities, our modern-day version of the very real and very ancient Saint Nicholas, a man of deep faith and great joy as well who Himself worshipped and adored the Baby who was born in Bethlehem.

So why not celebrate the birth of Christ? Why not make it the biggest party of the year? Why not make it the “Hap-Happiest season of all”?

I was sold. Christmas could stay–and my kids would be much hap-happier for it, too.

I dove back into celebrating Christmas with full vigor, and at the same time took a closer look into the life of the real Saint Nicholas, a man who seemed almost irremovably intertwined with this Holy Day. I discovered that Saint Nicholas and Santa Claus were indeed one and the same, and that the Saint Nicholas who lived in the 3rd and 4th centuries after the birth of Christ was truly a devout follower of Christ himself.

As my wife and I read more and more about Nicholas’ fascinating story, we became enthralled with this believer who had already been capturing the hearts and imaginations of believers and nonbelievers alike throughout the centuries.

With so many books and movies that go to great lengths to tell you the “true” story of Santa Claus (and how his reindeer are really powered by everything from egg nog to Coca-Cola), I’ve found that there are very few stories that even come close to describing the actual person of who Saint Nicholas was, and in particular, what he thought about the Man for whom Christmas is named, Jesus Christ. I was surprised to learn that with all the historical documents that attest to Saint Nicholas’ faith in Christ, compelling tellings of those stories seem to have fallen by the wayside over the ages.

So with the encouragement and help of my sweet wife, Lana, we decided to bring the story of Saint Nicholas back to life for you, with a desire to help you recapture the essence of Christmas for yourself.

While some people, with good reason, may still go to great lengths to try to remove anything that might possibly hint of secularism from this holiest day of the year, it seems to me equally fitting to go to great lengths to try to restore Santa to his rightful place–not as the patron saint of shopping malls, but as a beacon of light that shines brightly on the One for whom this Holy Day is named.

It is with deep faith and great joy that I offer you this Christmas novella–a little story. I’ve enjoyed telling it and I hope you’ll enjoy hearing it. It just may be the most human telling of the story of Saint Nicholas you’ve ever heard.

Above all, I pray that God will use this story to rekindle your love, not only for this season of the year, but for the One who makes this season so bright.

May God bless you this Christmas and always!

In Christ’s love,
Eric Elder

P.S. I’ve divided this story into 7 parts and 40 chapters to make it easier to read. If you’d like, you can read a part a day for 7 days leading up to Christmas. Or if you’d like to use this book as a daily devotional, you can read a chapter a day for 40 days leading up to Christmas, counting the Prologue, Epilogue and Conclusion as separate chapters. If you start on November 15th, you’ll finish on Christmas Eve!

St. Nicholas: The Believer, by Eric and Lana Elder

You’re reading ST. NICHOLAS: THE BELIEVER, by Eric and Lana Elder, a new story for Christmas based on the old story of St. Nicholas. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

PART 1

PART 2

PART 3

PART 4

PART 5

PART 6

PART 7

PART 1

St. Nicholas: The Believer, by Eric and Lana Elder

You’re reading ST. NICHOLAS: THE BELIEVER, by Eric and Lana Elder, a new story for Christmas based on the old story of St. Nicholas. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

PROLOGUE (Back to Table of Contents)

My name is Dimitri–Dimitri Alexander. But that’s not important. What’s important is that man over there, lying on his bed. He’s–well, I suppose there’s really no better way to describe him except to say–he’s a saint. Not just because of all the good he’s done, but because he was–as a saint always is–a Believer. He believed that there was Someone in life who was greater than he was, Someone who guided him, who helped him through every one of his days.

If you were to look at him closely, lying there on his bed, it might look to you as if he was dead. And in some sense, I guess you would be right. But the truth is, he’s more alive now than he has ever been.

My friends and I have come here today to spend his last day on earth with him. Just a few minutes ago we watched as he passed from this life to the next.

I should be crying, I know. Believe me, I have been–and I will be again. But for now, I can’t help but simply be grateful that he has finally made it to his new home, a home that he has been dreaming about for many years. A home where he can finally talk to God face to face, like I’m talking to you right now.

Oh, he was a saint all right. But to me, and to so many others, he was something even more. He was–how could I put it? An inspiration. A friend. A teacher. A helper. A giver. Oh, he loved to give and give and give some more, until it seemed he had nothing left to give at all. But then he’d reach down deep and find a little more. “There’s always something you can give,” as he would often say.

He always hoped, in some small way, that he could use his life to make a difference in the world. He wanted, above all, to help people. But with so many needs all around, what could he possibly do?

He was like a man on a beach surrounded by starfish that had been washed up onto the shore. He knew that they would die if they didn’t make it back into the water.

Not knowing how to save them all, the man on the beach did what he could. He reached down, picked one up, and tossed it back into the water. Then reached down again, picked up another, and did the same.

Someone once asked the man why he bothered at all–that with so many needs all around, how could he possibly make any difference. He’d just toss another starfish into the water and say, “It made a difference to that one.” Then he’d reach down and pick up another.

You see, to the world you may be just one person, but to one person you may be the world.

In many ways, my friend was just like you and me. Each one of us has just one life to live. But if you live it right, one life is all you need. And if you live your life for God, well, you just might touch the whole world.

Did his life make any difference? I already know my answer, because I’m one of those that he reached down and picked up many, many years ago. But how about I tell you his story, and when I get to the end, I’ll let you decide if his life made a difference or not. And then maybe, by the time we’re finished, you’ll see that your life can make a difference, too.

Oh, by the way, I haven’t told you his name yet, this man who was such a great saint, such a great believer in the God who loved him, who created him, who sustained him and with whom he is now living forever.

His name is Nicholas–and this is his story.

CHAPTER 1 (Back to Table of Contents)

Nicholas lived in an ideal world. At least that’s the way he saw it. As a nine-year-old boy, growing up on the northern coast of what he called the Great Sea–you might call it the Mediterranean–Nicholas couldn’t imagine a better life.

He would often walk through the streets with his father, acting as if they were on their way to somewhere in particular. But the real reason for their outing was to look for someone who was struggling to make ends meet, someone who needed a lift in their life. A simple hello often turned into the discovery of a need to be met. Nicholas and his father would pray, and if they could meet the need, they found a way to do it.

Nicholas couldn’t count the number of times his dad would sneak up behind someone afterwards and put some apples in their sack, or a small coin or two. As far as Nicholas knew, no one ever knew what his father had done, except to say that sometimes they heard people talking about the miracle of receiving exactly what they needed at just the right time, in some unexpected way.

Nicholas loved these walks with his father, just as he loved his time at home with his mother. They had shown the same love and generosity with him as they had shown to so many others.

His parents had somehow found a way to prosper, even in the turbulent times in which they lived. They were, in fact, quite wealthy. But whether their family was rich or poor seemed to make no difference to Nicholas. All he knew or cared about was that his parents loved him like no one else on earth. He was their only son, and their times together were simple and truly joyful.

Their richest times came at night, as they shared stories with each other that they had heard about a Man who was like no other Man they had ever known. A Man who lived on the other side of the Great Sea about 280 years earlier. His name was Jesus. Nicholas was enthralled with the stories of this Man who seemed to be so precious in the eyes of his parents. Jesus seemed both down-to-earth and larger-than-life, all at the same time. How could anyone be so humble, yet so noble? How could He be so poor that He was born in an animal stable, yet so generous that He could feed 5,000 people? How could He live His life so fully, yet die a death so cruelly? Jesus was, to Nicholas, an enigma, the most fascinating person about whom he’d ever heard. One day, Nicholas thought to himself, he hoped to visit this land on the other side of the sea–and walk where Jesus walked.

For all the love that Nicholas and his parents shared and which held them together, there was one thing that threatened to pull them apart. It was the one thing that seemed to be threatening many families in their country these days, irrespective of their wealth or poverty, their faith or lack of faith, their love for others or their lack of love.

Nicholas’ friends and neighbors called it the plague. His parents had mentioned it from time to time, but only in their prayers. They prayed for the families who were affected by the plague, asking God for healing when possible, and for strength of faith when not. Most of all, his parents prayed for Nicholas that regardless of what happened around him, he would always know how very much they loved him, and how very much God loved him.

Even though Nicholas was so young, he had seen enough of life to know that real threats existed in the world. Yet he also had been shielded from those threats, in a way, by the love of his parents and by their devout faith in God. As his father had learned over the years, and had many times reminded Nicholas, “In all things, God works for the good of those who love Him.” And Nicholas believed him. Up to this point, he’d had no real reason to doubt the words his father had spoken.

But it would be only a matter of months before Nicholas’ faith would be challenged and he would have to decide if he really believed those words for himselfthat in all things, God would truly work for the good of those who loved Him.

Tonight, however, he simply trusted the words of his father, listening to his parents’ prayers for him–and for those in his city–as he drifted off into a perfect sleep.

CHAPTER 2 (Back to Table of Contents)

Nicholas woke to the sounds of birds out his window. The air was fresh, washed clean by the seaside mist in the early morning.

But the news this morning was less than idyllic. A friend of Nicholas’ family had contracted the sickness that they had only heard about from people in other cities. The boy was said to be near the point of death.

Nicholas’ father had heard the news first and had gone to pray for the boy. Returning home just as Nicholas awoke, his father shared the news with his wife and with Nicholas.

“We need to pray,” he said, with no hint of panic in his voice, but with an unmistakable urgency that caused all three of them to slip down to their knees.

Nicholas’ father began the prayer: “Father, You know the plans You have for this child. We trust You to carry them out. We pray for Your healing as we love this boy, but we know that You love him even more than we do. We trust that as we place him in Your hands this morning, You will work all things together for good, as You always do for those who love You.”

It was a prayer Nicholas had heard his father pray many times before, asking for what they believed was best in every situation, but trusting that God knew best in the end. It was the same type of prayer Nicholas had heard that Jesus had prayed the night before He died: “If You are willing,” Jesus prayed, “take this cup from Me. Yet not My will, but Yours be done.”

Nicholas never quite knew what to make of this prayer. Wouldn’t God always want what’s best for us? And how could someone’s death ever be a good thing? Yet his father prayed that prayer so often, and with such sincerity of heart, that Nicholas was confident that it was the right thing to pray. But how God could answer any other way than healing the boy–and still work it out for good–remained a mystery.

After Nicholas’ mother had added her own words to the prayer, and Nicholas himself had joined in, his father concluded with thanks to God for listening–and for already answering their prayers.

As they stood, the news came to their door, as if in direct answer to what they had just prayed. But it wasn’t the answer they were hoping for. The boy had died.

Nicholas’ mother began to weep quietly, but not holding back on her tears. She wept as she felt the loss of another mother, feeling the loss as if it were her own son who had died.

Nicholas’ father took hold of her hand and pulled Nicholas close, saying a quiet prayer for the family of the boy who had died, and adding another prayer for his own family. He gave his wife and son one more final squeeze, then walked out the door to return to the other boy’s home.

CHAPTER 3 (Back to Table of Contents)

The boy’s death had a sobering effect on the whole city. The people had known the boy, of course, and were sad for the family.

But his death was more sobering because it wasn’t an isolated event. The people had heard stories of how the sickness had been spreading through the cities around them, taking the lives of not just one or two people here and there, but entire familiesentire neighborhoods. The death of this boy seemed to indicate that the plague had now arrived in their city, too.

No one knew how to stop it. All they could do was pray. And pray they did.

As the sickness began to spread, Nicholas’ parents would visit the homes of those who lay dying. While his parents’ money was powerless to offer relief to the families, their prayers brought a peace that no amount of money could buy.

As always, Nicholas’ father would pray that death would pass them over, as it had passed over the Israelites in Egypt when the plague of death overtook the lives of the firstborn of every family that wasn’t willing to honor God. But this sickness was different. It made no distinction between believer or unbeliever, firstborn or last born, or any other apparent factor. This sickness seemed to know no bounds, and seemed unstoppable by any means.

Yet Nicholas watched as his father prayed in faith nonetheless, believing that God could stop the plague at any moment, at any household, and trusting God to work it all out for good, even if their lives, too, were seemingly cut short.

These latter prayers were what people clung to the most. More than anything else, these words gave them hope–hope that their lives were not lived in vain, hope that their deaths were not going unnoticed by the God who created them.

A visit by Nicholas’ father and mother spoke volumes to those who were facing unbearable pain, for as the plague spread, fewer and fewer people had been willing to leave their own homes, let alone visit the homes where the sickness had struck. The prayers of Nicholas’ father, and the tears of his mother, gave the families the strength they needed to face whatever came their way.

Nicholas watched in wonder as his parents dispensed their gifts of mercy during the day, then returned home each night physically spent, but spiritually strengthened. It made him wonder how they got their strength for each day. But it also made him wonder how long their own family could remain untouched by this plague.

When Nicholas finally found the courage to voice this question out loud, a question that seemed to be close to all of their hearts, his father simply answered that they had only two choices: to live in fear, or to live in love, and to follow the example of the One in whom they had entrusted their lives. They chose to live in love, doing for others what they would want others to do for them.

So every morning Nicholas’ father and mother would wake up and pray, asking their Lord what He would have them do. Then, pushing aside any fears they might have had, they put their trust in God, spending the day serving others as if they were serving Christ Himself.

While his father’s response didn’t answer the immediate question on Nicholas’ heart– which was how much longer it might be till the sickness visited their own home–it seemed to answer a question that went much deeper. It answered the question of whether or not God was aware of all that was going on, and if He was, whether or not He cared enough to do anything about it.

By the way that God seemed to be directing his parents each day, Nicholas gained a peace of mind that God was indeed fully aware of all that was going on in the lives of every person in his city of Pataraand that God did indeed care. God cared enough to send Nicholas’ parents to those who needed to hear a word from Him, who needed a touch from His hands, who needed a touch from God not just in their flesh, but in their spirits as well.

It seemed to Nicholas to be a more glorious answer to his question than he could have imagined. His worry about when the sickness might visit their own home dissipated as he went to sleep that night. Instead, he prayed that God would use his own hands and words–Nicholas’ hands and words–as if they were God’s very own, reaching out to express God’s love for His people.

CHAPTER 4 (Back to Table of Contents)

In the coming days, Nicholas found himself wanting to help his father and mother more and more as they delivered God’s mercy to those around them.

They worked together to bring food, comfort and love to each family touched by the plague. Some days it was as simple as stopping by to let a mother know she wasn’t alone. Others days it was bringing food or drink to an entire family who had taken ill. And still other days it was preparing a place in the hills around their city where they carefully laid the bodies of those who had succumbed to the sickness and whose spirits had passed from this life to the next.

Each day Nicholas’ heart grew more and more aware of the temporal nature of life on earth, and more and more in tune with the eternal nature of the life that is unseen. It seemed to Nicholas that the line between the two worlds was becoming less and less distinct. What he had once thought of as solid and reallike rocks and trees, or hands and feetsoon took on a more ethereal nature. And those things that were more difficult for him to touch beforelike faith and hope, love and peacebegan to become more solid and real.

It was as if his world was turning both upside down and inside out at the same time, not with a gut-wrenching twisting, but as if his eyes themselves were being re-calibrated, adjusting better to see with more clarity what was really going onfocusing more acutely on what really mattered in life. Even surrounded by so much sickness and death, Nicholas felt himself coming alive more fully than he’d ever felt before.

His father tried to describe what Nicholas was feeling by using words that he’d heard Jesus had said, that whoever tried to hold onto this life too tightly would lose it, but whoever was willing to let go of this life, would find true life. By learning how to love others without being constrained by fear, being propelled forward by love instead, Nicholas was starting to experience how it felt to truly live.

Whether that feeling could sustain him through what lay ahead, he didn’t know. But what he did know was that for now, more than anything else, he wanted to live each day to the fullest. He wanted to wake up each day looking for how God could use him, then do whatever God was willing to give him to do. To do anything less would be to shortchange himself from living the life God had given him to liveand to shortchange God from the work God wanted to get done.

As the days passed, Nicholas came to know what his father and mother already knew: that no one knew how many more days they had left in this world. His family no longer saw themselves as human beings having a temporary spiritual experience, but as spiritual beings, having a temporary human experience. With eyes of faith, they were able to look into whatever lay ahead of them without the fear that gripped so many of the others around them.

CHAPTER 5 (Back to Table of Contents)

When Nicholas awoke one day to the sound of his mother coughing, time seemed to stand still.

For all the preparation his parentsand his own faithhad given him, it still caught him off guard to think that the sickness might have finally crossed over the threshold of their own home.

He thought that maybe God would spare them for all the kindness they had shown to others during the previous few months. But his father had cautioned him against such thinking, reminding him that for all the good that Jesus had done in His lifefor all the healing that He had brought to othersthere still came a time when He, too, had to face suffering and death. It didn’t mean that God didn’t love Jesus, or wasn’t concerned for Him, or hadn’t seen all the good He had done in His life. And it didn’t mean that Jesus remained indifferent to what was about to take place either. Jesus even told His disciples that His heart was deeply troubled by what He was about to go through, but that didn’t mean He shrank back from what lay ahead of Him. No, He said, it was for this very hour that He had come. Greater love, He told His disciples, had no one than this: that they lay down their lives for their friends.

Nicholas’ mother coughed again, and time slowly began to move again for Nicholas. He stood to his feet. As he approached his mother, she hesitated for a moment. It was as if she was torn between wanting him to stand stillnot to come one step closer to the sickness that had now reached her bodyor to get up on her feet, too, and throw her arms around him, assuring him that everything would be all right. But a moment later, Nicholas had made her decision unnecessary, for he was already in her arms, holding on as tight as he could as they both broke down in tears. As Nicholas was learning, having faith doesn’t mean you can’t cry. It just means that you can trust God, even with your tears.

Nicholas’ father had already shed some of his own tears that morning. He had gone outside before the sunrise, this time not to visit the homes of others, but to pray. For him, the place where he always returned when he needed to be alone with God was to the fresh air by the sea, not far from their home. While he knew he could pray anywhere, at any time, it was by the sea that he felt closest to God. The sound of the waves, rhythmically washing up on the shore, seemed to have a calming, mesmerizing effect on him.

He had arrived in time to watch the sunrise off to his left, looking down the shoreline of the Great Sea. How many sunrises had he seen from that very spot? And how many more would he have left to see? He turned his head and coughed, letting the question roll back out to sea with the next receding wave. The sickness had come upon him as well.

This wasn’t the first time he had asked himself how many days he had left to live. The difference this time was that in the past, he had always asked it hypothetically. He would come to this spot whenever he had an important decision to make, a decision that required he think beyond the short term. He would come here when he needed to look into eternity, taking into account the brevity of life. Here, at the edge of the sea, it was as if he could grasp both the brevity of life and the eternity of heaven at the same time.

The daily rising of the sun and the swelling, cresting and breaking of the waves on the shore reminded him that God was still in control, that His world would carry onwith or without himjust as it had since God had first spoken the water and earth into existence, and just as it would until the day God would choose for its end, to make way for the new heaven and the new earth. In light of eternity, the lifespan of the earth seemed incredibly short, and the lifespan of man even shorter still. In that short span of life, he knew that he had to make the most of each day, not just living for himself, and not even just living for others, but ultimately living for the God who had given him life. If God, the Creator of all things, had seen fit to breathe into him the breath of life, then as long as he could still take a breath, he wanted to make the most of it.

Coughing again, Nicholas’ father remembered that this was no mere intellectual exercise to help him come to grips with a difficult decision. This time–as he looked out at the sunrise once more, and at one more wave rolling inhe realized that this was the final test of everything that he had believed up until this point.

Some of life’s tests he had passed with flying colors. Others he had failed when fear or doubt had taken over. But this was a test he knew he wanted to pass more than any other.

He closed his eyes and asked for strength for another day. He let the sun warm his face, and he gently opened the palms of his hands to feel the breeze as it lifted up along the shore and floated over his body. He opened his eyes and looked one more time at the sea.

Then he turned and walked toward home, where he would soon join his precious wife and his beloved son in a long, tearful embrace.

PART 2

Listen to Part 2 here (28 minutes, including Chapters 6-11)

St. Nicholas: The Believer, by Eric and Lana Elder

You’re reading ST. NICHOLAS: THE BELIEVER, by Eric and Lana Elder, a new story for Christmas based on the old story of St. Nicholas. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

CHAPTER 6 (Back to Table of Contents)

Nicholas stood alone. He was on the same stretch of beach where his father had stood just ten years earlier, looking out at the sunrise and the waves on the seashore.

Nicholas’ father never made it out to look at the Great Sea again, having finally succumbed to the sickness himself. Nicholas’ mother passed away first, within two weeks of the first signs of illness. His father lasted another three days after that, as if holding on as long as he could to make sure his wife passed as peacefully as possible from this life to the next, and making sure Nicholas was as ready as possible to take the next steps in his own life.

Nicholas’ father didn’t shy away from tears, but he didn’t want them wasted on wrongful emotions either. “Don’t cry because it’s over,” his father had said to both his wife and his son. “Smile because it was beautiful.”

There was a time and place for anger and disappointment, but this wasn’t the time for either. If given the chance to do it all over again, his parents would have chosen to do exactly what they did. It was not foolishness, they said, to be willing to risk their lives for the sake of others, especially when there were no guarantees that they would have survived anyway.

As it turned out, the plague ended up taking the lives of almost a third of the people in Patara before it finally ran its course. The sickness seemed to have a mind of its own, affecting those who tried to shield themselves from it as well as those who, like his parents, had ventured out into the midst of it.

After the death of his parents, Nicholas felt a renewed sense of urgency to pick up where they had left off, visiting those who were sick and comforting the families of those who had died.

Then, almost as suddenly as it came to their city, the plague left. Nicholas had spent most of the next few weeks sleeping, trying to recover from the long daysand even longer nightsof ministering to those who were affected. When he was awake, he spent his time trying to process his own feelings and emotions in light of the loss of the family he loved. In so many ways, his parents were his life. His life was so intertwined with theirs, and having them taken so suddenly from him, he hardly knew what to do without them. He went to live with his uncle, a priest who lived in the monastery in Patara, until he was ready to venture out further into the world on his own. Now that time had come, and it was time for Nicholas to make his decision.

Unlike many others who had been orphaned by the plague, Nicholas had been left with a sizable inheritance. The question on his heart wasn’t what he would do to make a living, but what he would do to make a life. Through all that he had experienced, and now recognizing the brevity of life for himself, Nicholas now knew why his father had come so often to this shore to pray. Now it was Nicholas’ turn to consider his own future in light of eternity.

What should I do? Where should I go? How should I spend the rest of my days? The questions could have overwhelmed him, except that his father had prepared him well for moments like these, too.

His father, always a student of the writings of Scripture and of the life of Christ, had told him that Jesus taught that we needn’t worry so much about the trouble down the road as just the trouble for that day. Each day has enough trouble of its own, Jesus said.

As Nicholas thought about this, his burden lifted. He didn’t have to figure out what he was going to do with the rest of his life just yet. He only had to decide on his next step.

He had enough money to travel the length of the entire world back and forth three times and still have enough to live on for years to come. But that wasn’t really what he wanted to do. He had never had a desire to live wildly or lavishly, for the life he knew up to this point already gave him tremendous satisfaction. But there was one place he had always wanted to see with his own eyes.

As he looked out across the sea, to the south and to the west, he knew that somewhere in between lay the place he most wanted to visita land that seemed more precious in his mind than any other. It was the land where Jesus had lived, the land where He had walked and taught, the land where He was born and died, and the land where so many of the stories of His lifeand almost the entirety of Scripture itselfhad taken place.

Nicholas knew that some decisions in life were made only through the sweat and agony of prayer, trying desperately to decide between two seemingly good, but mutually exclusive paths. But this decision was not one of them. This was one of those decisions that, by the nature of the circumstances, was utterly simple to make. Apart from his uncle, there was little more to keep him in Patara, and nothing to stop him from following the desire that had been on his heart for so long.

He was glad his father had shown him this spot, and he was glad that he had come to it again today. He knew exactly what he was going to do next. His decision was as clear as the water in front of him.

CHAPTER 7 (Back to Table of Contents)

Nicholas’ arrival on the far shores of the Great Sea came sooner than he could have imagined. For so long he had wondered what it would be like to walk where Jesus walked, and now, at age 19, he was finally there.

Finding a boat to get there had been no problem, for his hometown of Patara was one of the main stopovers for ships traveling from Egypt to Rome, carrying people and cargo alike. Booking passage was as simple as showing that you had the money to pay, which Nicholas did.

But now that he had arrived, where would he go first? He wanted to see everything at once, but that was impossible. A tug at his sleeve provided the answer.

“You a Christian?” the small voice asked.

Nicholas looked down to see a boy not more than ten looking up at him. Two other children giggled nearby. To ask this question so directly, when it was dangerous in general to do so, showed that the boy was either a sincere follower of Christ looking for a fellow believer, or it showed that he had ulterior motives in mind. From the giggles of his little friends nearby, a boy and a girl just a bit younger than the one who had spoken, Nicholas knew it was probably the latter.

“You a Christian?” the boy asked again. “I show you holy places?”

Ah, that’s it, thought Nicholas. Enough pilgrims had obviously come here over the years that even the youngest inhabitants knew that pilgrims would need a guide once they arrived. Looking over the three children again, Nicholas felt they would suit him just fine. Nicholas had a trusting heart, and while he wasn’t naive enough to think that trouble wouldn’t find him here, he also trusted that the same God who had led him here would also provide the help he needed once he arrived. Even if these children were doing it just for the money, that was all right with Nicholas. Money he had. A map he didn’t. He would gladly hire them to be his living maps to the holy places.

“Yes, and yes,” Nicholas answered. “Yes, I am indeed a Christian. And if you would like to take me, then yes, I would be very interested to see the holy places. I would love for your friends to come along with us, too. That way, if we meet any trouble, they can defend us all!”

The boy’s mouth dropped open and his friends giggled again. It wasn’t the answer the boy had expected at all, at least not so fast and not without a great deal of pestering on his part. Pilgrims who arrived were usually much more skeptical when they stepped off their boats, shooing away anyone who approached themat least until they got their land legs back and their bearings straight. But the boy quickly recovered from his shock and immediately extended his right hand in front of him, palm upraised, with a slight bow of his head. It gave Nicholas the subtle impression as if to say that the boy was at Nicholas’ serviceand the not-so-subtle impression that the boy was ready for something to be deposited in his open hand. Nicholas, seeing another opportunity to throw the boy off guard, happily obliged.

He gently placed three of his smallest, but shiniest coins into the boy’s upraised palm and said, “My name is Nicholas. And I can see you’re a wise man. Now, if you’re able to keep your hand open even after I’ve set these coins in it, you’ll be even wiser still. For he who clenches his fist tightly around what he has received will find it hard to receive more. But he who opens his hand freely to heavenfreely giving in the same way that he has freely receivedwill find that his Father in heaven will usually not hold back in giving him more.”

Nicholas motioned with his hand that he intended for the boy to share what he had received with his friends, who had come closer at the appearance of the coins. The boy obviously was the spokesman for all three, but still he faltered for a moment as to what to do. This man was so different from anyone else the boy had ever approached. With others, the boy was always trying, usually without success, to coax even one such coin from their pockets, but here he had been given three in his very first attempt! The fact that the coins weren’t given grudgingly, but happily, did indeed throw him off balance. He had never heard such a thought like that of keeping his hands open to give and receive. His instinct would have been to instantly clench his fist tightly around the coins, not letting go until he got to the safest place he could find, and only then could he carefully inspect them and let their glimmers shine in his eyes. Yet he stood stock still, with his hand still outstretched and his palm facing upward. Almost against his own self-will, he found himself turning slightly and extending his hand to his friends.

Seizing the moment, the two others each quickly plucked a coin from his hand. Within an instant of realizing that they, too, were about to clench their fists around their newly acquired treasure, they slowly opened their fingers as well, looking up at the newly arrived pilgrim with a sense of bewilderment. They were bewildered not just that he had given them the coins, but that they were still standing there with their palms open, surprising even themselves that they were willing to follow this man’s peculiar advice.

The sight of it all made Nicholas burst out in a gracious laugh. He was delighted by their response and he quickly deposited two more of his smallest coins into each of their hands, now tripling their astonishment. It wasn’t the amount of the gifts that had astonished them, for they had seen bigger tips from wealthier pilgrims, but it was the generous and cheerful spirit that accompanied the gifts that gave them such a surprise.

The whole incident took place in less than a minute, but it set Nicholas and his new friends into such a state that each of them looked forward to the journey ahead.

“Now, you’d better close your hands again, because a wise manor woman–“ he nodded to the little girl, “also takes care of that which they have been given so that it doesn’t get lost or stolen.”

Then, turning to walk toward the city, Nicholas said, “How about you let me get some rest tonight, and then, first thing in the morning, you can start showing me those holy places?”

While holy places abounded in this holy land, in the magical moments that had just transpired, it seemed to the three childrenand even to Nicholas himself–that they had just stepped foot on their first.

CHAPTER 8 (Back to Table of Contents)

Nicholas woke with the sun the next morning. He had asked the children to meet him at the inn shortly after sunrise. His heart skipped a beat with excitement about the day ahead. Within a few minutes, he heard their knock–and their unmistakable giggles–at the door.

He found out that their names were Dimitri, Samuel and Ruthie. They were, to use the common term, “alumni,” children whose parents had left them at birth to fend for themselves. Orphans like these dotted the streets throughout the Roman Empire, byproducts of people who indulged their passions wherever and with whomever they wanted, with little thought for the outcome of their actions.

While Dimitri could have wallowed in self-pity for his situation, he didn’t. He realized early on that it didn’t help to get frustrated and angry about his circumstances. So he became an entrepreneur.

He began looking for ways he could help people do whatever they needed, especially those things which others couldn’t do, or wouldn’t do, for themselves. He wasn’t often rewarded for his efforts, but when he was, it was all worth it.

He wasn’t motivated by religion, for he wasn’t religious himself, and he wasn’t motivated by greed, for he never did anything that didn’t seem right if it were just for the money, as greedy people who only care about money often do. He simply believed that if he did something that other people valued, and if he did it good enough and long enough, then somehow he would make it in life. Some people, like Dimitri, stumble onto godly wisdom without even realizing it.

Samuel and Ruthie, on the other hand, were just along for the ride. Like bees drawn to honey, Samuel and Ruthie were drawn to Dimitri, as often happens when people find someone who is trying to do what’s right. Samuel was eight, and like Dimitri, wasn’t religious himself, but had chosen his own name when he heard someone tell the story of another little boy named Samuel who, when very young, had been given away by his parents to be raised by a priest. Samuel, the present-day one, loved to hear about all that the long-ago Samuel had done, even though the other one had lived over 1,000 years before. This new Samuel didn’t know if the stories about the old Samuel were true, but at the time he chose his name, he didn’t particularly care. It was only in the past few months, as he had been traveling to the holy sites with Dimitri, that he had begun to wonder if perhaps the stories really were true.

Now Ruthie, even though she was only seven, was as sharp as a tack. She always remembered people’s names and dates, what happened when and who did what to whom. Giggling was her trademark, but little though she was, her mind was eager to learn and she remembered everything she saw and everything she was taught. Questions filled her mind, and naturally spilled right out of her mouth.

Dimitri didn’t mind these little tag-alongs, for although it might have been easier for him to do what he did by himself, he also knew of the dangers of the streets and felt compelled to help these two like an older brother might help his younger siblings. And to be completely honest, he didn’t have anyone else to call family, so finding these two a few years earlier had filled a part of his heart in a way that he couldn’t describe, but somehow made him feel better.

Nicholas took in the sight of all three beaming faces at his door. “Where to first?” asked Dimitri.

“Let’s start at the beginning,” said Nicholas, “the place where Jesus was born.” And with that they began the three-day walk from the coast of Joppa to the hills of Bethlehem.

CHAPTER 9 (Back to Table of Contents)

After two days of walking and sleeping on hillsides, Nicholas and his new friends had just a half day left before they reached Bethlehem. For Nicholas, his excitement was building with every hill they passed, as he was getting closer and closer to the holy place he most wanted to see, the birthplace of Jesus.

“Why do you think He did it?” asked Dimitri. “I mean, why would Jesus want to come hereto earth? If I were already in heaven, I think I’d want to stay there.”

Even though Dimitri was supposed to be the guide, he didn’t mind asking as many questions as he could, especially when he was guiding someone like Nicholas, which didn’t happen very often.

Nicholas didn’t mind his asking, either, as Nicholas had done the same thing back home. His parents belonged to a community of believers that had been started about 250 years earlier by the Apostle Paul himself when Paul had visited their neighboring city of Myra on one of his missionary journeys, telling everyone who would listen about Jesus. Paul had lived at the same time as Jesus, although Paul didn’t become a believer himself until after Jesus died and rose again from the dead. Paul’s stories were always remarkable.

Nicholas got to hear all of the stories that Paul had told while he was in Myra, as they were written down and repeated by so many others over the years.

As a child, Nicholas thought that anything that happened 250 years ago sounded like ancient history. But as he started to get a little older, and now that his parents had passed away, too, it didn’t seem that long ago at all. The stories that Nicholas heard were the same stories his father and his grandfather and his great grandfather, back to six or seven generations, had heard, some for the very first time from the Apostle Paul in person. Nicholas loved to hear them over and over, and he asked many of the same questions that Dimitri was now asking himlike why would Jesus leave heaven to come down to earth in person.

“The simple answer is because He loved us,” said Nicholas. “But that alone probably doesn’t answer the question you’re really asking, because God has always loved us. The reason Jesus came to earth was, well, because there are some things that need to be done in person.”

Nicholas went on to explain the gospel–the good news–to the children of how Jesus came to pay the ultimate price with His life for anything we had ever done wrong, making a way for us to come back to God with a clean heart, plus live with Him in heaven forever.

Throughout the story, the children stared at Nicholas with rapt attention. Although they had been to Bethlehem many times before and had often taken people to the cave that was carved into the hillside where it was said that Jesus was born, they had never pictured it in their minds quite like this before. They had never understood the motivations behind why God did what He did. And they had never really considered that the stories they heard about Jesus being God in the flesh were true. How could He be?

Yet hearing Nicholas’ explanation made so much sense to them, that they wondered why they had never considered it as true before. In those moments, their hearts and minds were finally opened to at least the possibility that it was true. And that open door turned out to be the turning point for each of them in their lives, just as it had been for Nicholas when he first heard the Truth. God really did love them, and God had demonstrated that love for them by coming to the earth to save them from their certain self-destruction.

For Nicholas, when he first heard about the love of the Father for him, the idea was fairly familiar to him because he had already had a good glimpse of what the love of a father looked like from the love of his own father. But to Dimitri, Samuel and Ruthie, who had never had a father, much less one like Nicholas had just described, it was simultaneously one of the most distantly incomprehensible, yet wonderfully alluring descriptions of love they had ever heard.

As they made their way through the hills toward Bethlehem, they began to skip ahead as fast as their hearts were already skipping, knowing that they would soon see again the place where God had, as a Man, first touched earth less than 300 years earlier. They would soon be stepping onto ground that was indeed holy.

CHAPTER 10 (Back to Table of Contents)

It was evening when they finally arrived at their destination. Dimitri led them through the city of Bethlehem to the spot where generations of pilgrims had already come to see the place where Jesus was born: a small cave cut into the hillside where animals could easily have been corralled so they wouldn’t wander off.

There were no signs to mark the spot, no monuments or buildings to indicate that you were now standing on the very spot where the God of the universe had arrived as a child. It was still dangerous anywhere in the Roman Empire to tell others you were a Christian, even though the laws against it were only sporadically enforced.

But that didn’t stop those who truly followed Christ from continuing to honor the One whom they served as their King. Although Jesus taught that His followers were to still respect their earthly rulers, if forced to choose between worshipping Christ or worshipping Caesar, both the Christians and Caesar knew who the Christians would worship. So the standoff continued.

The only indication that this was indeed a holy site was the well-worn path up the hill that made its way into and out of the cave. Tens of thousands of pilgrims had already made their way to this spot during the past 250 years. It was well known to those who lived in Bethlehem, for it was the same spot that had been shown to pilgrims from one generation to the next, going back to the days of Christ.

As Dimitri led the three others along the path to the cave, Nicholas laughed, a bit to himself, and a bit out loud. The others turned to see what had made him burst out so suddenly. He had even surprised himself! Here he was at the one holy site he most wanted to see, and he was laughing.

Nicholas said, “I was just thinking of the wise men who came to Bethlehem to see Jesus. They probably came up this very hill. How regal they must have looked, riding on their camels and bringing their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. For a moment I pictured myself as one of those kings, riding on a camel myself. Then I stepped in some sheep dung by the side of the road. The smell brought me back in an instant to the reality that I’m hardly royalty at all!”

“Yes,” said Ruthie, “but didn’t you tell us that the angels spoke to the shepherds first, and that they were the first ones to go and see the baby? So smelling a little like sheep dung may not make you like the kings, but it does make you like those who God brought to the manger first!”

“Well said, Ruthie,” said Nicholas. “You’re absolutely right.”

Ruthie smiled at her insight, and then her face produced another thoughtful look. “But maybe we should still bring a gift with us, like the wise men did?” The thought seemed to overtake her, as if she was truly concerned that they had nothing to give to the King. He wasn’t there anymore to receive their gifts, of course, but still she had been captivated by the stories about Jesus that Nicholas had been telling them along the road. She thought that she should at least bring Him some kind of gift.

“Look!” she said, pointing to a spot on the hill a short distance away. She left the path and within a few minutes had returned with four small, delicate golden flowers, one for each of them. “They look just like gold to me!”

She smiled from ear to ear now, giving each one of them a gift to bring to Jesus. Nicholas smiled as well. There’s always something you can give, he thought to himself. Whether it’s gold from a mine or gold from a flower, we only bring to God that which is already His anyway, don’t we?

So with their gifts in hand, they reached the entrance to the caveand stepped inside.

CHAPTER 11 (Back to Table of Contents)

Nothing could have prepared Nicholas for the strong emotion that overtook him as he entered the cave.

On the ground in front of him was a makeshift wooden manger, a feeding trough for animals probably very similar to the one in which Jesus had been laid the night of His birth. It had apparently been placed in the cave as a simple reminder of what had taken place there. But the effect on Nicholas was profound.

One moment he had been laughing at himself and watching Ruthie pick flowers on the hillside and the next moment, upon seeing the manger, he found himself on his knees, weeping uncontrollably at the thought of what had taken place on this very spot.

He thought about everything he had ever heard about Jesusabout how He had healed the sick, walked on water and raised the dead. He thought about the words Jesus had spokenwords that echoed with the weight of authority as He was the Author of life itself. He thought about his own parents who had put their lives on the line to serve this Man called Jesus, who had died for him just as He had died for them, giving up their very lives for those they loved.

The thoughts flooded his mind so fully that Nicholas couldn’t help sobbing with deep, heartfelt tears. They came from within his very soul. Somewhere else deep inside him, Nicholas felt stirred like he had never felt in his life. It was a sensation that called for some kind of response, some kind of action. It was a feeling so different from anything else he had ever experienced, yet it was unmistakably clear that there was a step he was now supposed to take, as if a door were opening before him and he knew he was supposed to walk through it. But how?

As if in answer to his question, Nicholas remembered the golden flower in his hand. He knew exactly what he was supposed to do, and he wanted more than anything to do it.

He took the flower and laid it gently on the ground in front of the wooden manger. The golden flower wasn’t just a flower anymore. It was a symbol of his very life, offered up now in service to his King.

Nicholas knelt there for several minutes, engulfed in this experience that he knew, even in the midst of it, would affect him for the rest of his life. He was oblivious to anything else that was going on around him. All he knew was that he wanted to serve this King, this Man who was clearly a man in every sense of the word, yet was clearly one and the same with God as well, the very essence of God Himself.

As if slowly waking from a dream, Nicholas began to become aware of his surroundings again. He noticed Dimitri and Samuel on his left and Ruthie on his right, also on their knees. Having watched Nicholas slip down to his knees, they had followed suit. Now they looked alternately, back and forth between him and the manger in front of him.

The waves of emotion that had washed over Nicholas were now washing over them as well. They couldn’t help but imagine what he was experiencing, knowing how devoted he was to Jesus and what it had willingly cost Nicholas’ parents to follow Him. Each of them, in their own way, began to experience for themselves what such love and devotion must feel like.

Having watched Nicholas place his flower in front of the manger, they found themselves wanting to do the same. If Jesus meant so much to Nicholas, then certainly they wanted to follow Jesus as well. They had never in their entire lives experienced the kind of love that Nicholas had shown them in the past three days. Yet somehow they knew that the love that Nicholas had for them didn’t originate with Nicholas alone, but from the God whom Nicholas served. If this was the kind of effect that Jesus had on His followers, then they wanted to follow Jesus, too.

Any doubts that Nicholas had had about his faith prior to that day were all washed away in those timeless moments. Nicholas had become, in the truest sense of the word, a Believer.

And from those very first moments of putting his faith and trust fully in Jesus, he was already inspiring others to do the same.

PART 3

Listen to Part 3 here (27-1/2 minutes, including Chapters 12-17)

St. Nicholas: The Believer, by Eric and Lana Elder

You’re reading ST. NICHOLAS: THE BELIEVER, by Eric and Lana Elder, a new story for Christmas based on the old story of St. Nicholas. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

CHAPTER 12 (Back to Table of Contents)

Once again, Nicholas was standing on a beach, alone. This time, however, it was on the shores of the Holy Land, looking back across the Great Sea towards his home.

In the months following his visit to Bethlehem, Nicholas, along with his young guide and bodyguards, had searched for every holy place that they could find that related to Jesus. They had retraced Jesus’ steps from His boyhood village in Nazareth to the fishing town of Capernaum, where Jesus had spent most of His adult years.

They had waded into the Jordan River where Jesus had been baptized and they swam in the Sea of Galilee where He had walked on the water and calmed the storm.

They had visited the hillside where Jesus had taught about the kingdom of heaven, and they had marveled at the spot where He had multiplied the five loaves of bread and two fish to feed a crowd of over 5,000 people.

While it was in Bethlehem that Nicholas was filled with wonder and awe, it was in Jerusalem where he was filled with mission and purpose. Walking through the streets where Jesus had carried His cross to His own execution, Nicholas felt the weight on his shoulders as if he were carrying a cross as well. Then seeing the hill where Jesus had died, and the empty tomb nearby where Jesus had risen from the dead, Nicholas felt the weight on his shoulders lifting off, as Jesus must have felt when He emerged from the tomb in which He had been sealed.

It was in that moment that Nicholas knew what his mission and purpose in life would be: to point others to the One who would lift their burdens off as well. He wanted to show them that they no longer had to carry the burdens of their sin, pain, sickness and need all alone. He wanted to show them that they could cast all their cares on Jesus, knowing that Jesus cared for them. “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened,” Jesus had said, “and I will give you rest.”

The stories Nicholas had heard as a child were no longer vague and distant images of things that might have been. They were stories that had taken on new life for him, stories that were now three dimensional and in living color. It wasn’t just the fact that he was seeing these places with his own eyes. Others had done that, and some were even living there in the land themselves, but they had still never felt what Nicholas was feeling. What made the difference for Nicholas was that he was seeing these stories through the eyes of faith, through the eyes of a Believer, as one who now truly believed all that had taken place.

As his adventures of traveling to each of the holy sites came to an end, Nicholas returned to the spot where he had first felt the presence of God so strongly: to Bethlehem. He felt that in order to prepare himself better for his new calling in life, he should spend as much time as he could living and learning in this special land. While exploring the city of Bethlehem and its surroundings, he found another cave nearby, in the city of Beit Jala, that was similar to the cave in which Jesus had been born. He took up residence there in the cave, planning to spend as much time as he could living and learning how to live in this land where His Savior had lived.

Dimitri, Samuel and Ruthie had gained a new sense of mission and purpose for their lives as well. As much as they wanted to stay with Nicholas, they felt even more compelled to continue their important work of bringing more people to see these holy places. It was no longer just a way for them to provide a living for themselves, but they found it to be a holy calling, a calling to help others experience what they had experienced.

It had been four full years now since Nicholas had first arrived on this side of the Sea. During that time, he often saw his young friends as they brought more and more pilgrims to see what they had shown to Nicholas. In those few short years, he watched each of them grow up “in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men,” just as Jesus had done in His youth in Nazareth.

Nicholas would have been very happy to stay here even longer, but the same Spirit of God that had drawn him to come was now drawing him back home. He knew that he couldn’t stay on this mountaintop forever. There were people who needed him, and a life that was waiting for him back home, back in the province of Lycia. What that life held for him, he wasn’t sure. With his parents gone, there was little to pull him back home, but it was simply the Spirit of God Himself, propelling him forward on the next leg of his journey.

Making arrangements for a ship home was harder than it was to find a ship to come here, for the calm seas of summer were nearing their end and the first storms of winter were fast approaching. But Nicholas was convinced that this was the time, and he knew that if he waited any longer, he might not make it home again until spring–and the Spirit’s pull was too strong for that kind of delay.

So when he heard that a ship was expected to arrive any day now, one of the last of the season to sail through here on its way from Alexandria to Rome, he quickly arranged for passage. The ship was to arrive the next morning, and he knew he couldn’t miss it.

He had sent word, through a shopkeeper, to try to find his three best friends to let them know that he would be sailing in the morning. But as the night sky closed in, he had still not heard a word from them.

So he stood there on the beach alone, contemplating all that had taken place and all that had changed in his life since coming to the Holy Land–and all that was about to change as he left it. The thoughts filled him with excitement, anticipation and, to be honest, just a little bit of fear.

CHAPTER 13 (Back to Table of Contents)

Although Nicholas’ ship arrived the following morning just as expected, the children didn’t.

Later that afternoon, when the time came for him to board and the three still hadn’t shown up, Nicholas sadly resigned himself to the possibility that they just might miss each other entirely. He had started walking toward the ship when he felt a familiar tug at his sleeve.

“You a Christian?” came the voice once again, but this time with more depth as about four years were added to his life. It was Dimitri, of course. Nicholas turned on the spot and smiled his broadest smile.

“Am I a Christian? Without a doubt!” he said as he saw all three of them offering smiles to him in return. “And you?” he added, speaking to all three of them at once.

“Without a doubt!” they replied, almost in unison. It was the way they had spoken about their faith ever since their shared experience in Bethlehem, an experience when their doubts about God had faded away.

As Nicholas tried to take in all three of their faces just one more time, he wondered which was more difficult: to leave this precious land, or to leave these three precious youth whom he had met there. They all knew that God had called them together for a purpose, and they all trusted that God must now be calling them apart for another purpose, too, just as Nicholas had previously felt he was to move to Bethlehem and they were to continue their work taking pilgrims from city to city.

But just because they knew what God’s will was, it didn’t mean it was always easy to follow it. As Nicholas had often reminded them, tears were one of the strongest signs of love in the world. Without tears at the loss of those things that matter most, it would be hard to tell if those things really mattered at all.

A lack of tears wouldn’t be a problem today. Once again, Nicholas asked them all to hold out their right hands in front of them. As he reached into his pocket to find three of his largest coins to place into each of their outstretched hands, he found he wasn’t fast enough. Within an instant, all three children had wrapped their arms completely around Nicholas’ neck, his back and his waist, depending on their height. They all held on as tightly as possible, and as long as possible, before one of the ship’s crewmen signaled to Nicholas that the time had come.

As Nicholas gave each of them one last squeeze, he secretly slipped a coin into each of their pockets. Throughout their time together, Nicholas’ gifts had helped the children immeasurably. But it wasn’t Nicholas’ presents that blessed them so much as it was his presence–his willingness to spend so much time with them. Still, Nicholas wanted to give them a final blessing that they could discover later when he was gone, as he often did his best giving in secret.

Nicholas wasn’t sure whether to laugh or to cry at the thought of this final gift to them, so he did a little of both. Under his breath, he also offered a prayer of thanks for each of their lives, then bid them farewell, one by one. The children’s hugs were the perfect send-off as he stepped onto the ship and headed for home–not knowing that their hugs and kind words would also help to carry him through the dark days that he was about to face ahead.

CHAPTER 14 (Back to Table of Contents)

The wind whipped up as soon as Nicholas’ ship left the shore. The ship’s captain had hoped to get a head start on the coming storm, sailing for a few hours along the coast to the harbor in the next city before docking again for the night. It was always a longer trip to go around the edges of the Great Sea, docking in city after city along the way, instead of going directly across to their destination. But going straight across was also more perilous, especially at this time of year. So to beat the approaching winter, and the more quickly approaching storm, they wanted to gain as many hours as they could along the way.

Keeping on schedule, Nicholas found out, was more than just a matter of a captain wanting to make good on his contract with his clients. It was also soon to become a matter of life and death for the families of the crew on board, including the family of the captain. Nicholas found out that a famine had begun to spread across the empire, now affecting the crew’s home city back in Rome. The famine had begun in the countryside as rain had been sparse in the outlying areas, but now the shortages in the country were starting to deplete the reserves in Rome as well. Prices were rising and even families who could afford to pay for food were quickly depleting their resources to get it.

The ship’s captain was not a foolish man, having sailed on these seas for almost 30 years. But he also knew that the risk of holding back on their voyage at a time like this could mean they would be grounded for the rest of the winter. If that happened, his cargo of grain might perish by spring, as well as his family. So the ship pressed on.

It looked to Nicholas like they had made the right decision to set sail. He, too, felt under pressure to get this voyage underway, although it wasn’t family or cargo that motivated him. It was the Spirit of God Himself. He wouldn’t have been able to explain it to anyone except to those who had already experienced it. All he knew was that it was imperative that they start moving.

He had thought he might spend still more time in the Holy Land, perhaps even his entire life. It felt like home to him from the very beginning, as he had heard so many stories about it when he was growing up. He had little family waiting for him elsewhere, and up to this point, he was content to stay right where he was, except for the Spirit’s prompting that it was time to go.

The feeling started as a restlessness at first, a feeling that he was suddenly no longer content to stay where he was. He couldn’t trace the feeling to anything particular that was wrong with where he was, just that it was time to go. But where? Where did God want him to go? Did God have another site for him to see? Another part of the country in which he was supposed to live? Perhaps another country altogether that he was supposed to visit?

As the restlessness grew, his heart and his mind began to explore the options in more detail. He had found in the past that the best way to hear from God was to let go of his own will so that he could fully embrace God’s will, whatever that may be. While letting go was always hard for him, he knew that God would always lead him in the ways that were best. So, finally letting go of his own will, Nicholas began to see God’s will much more clearly in this situation as well. As much as he felt like the Holy Land was his new home, it wasn’t really his home. He felt strongly that the time had come for him to return to the region where he had been born, to the province of Lycia on the northern coast of the Sea. There was something, he felt, that God wanted him to do there–something for which he had been specifically equipped and called to do, and was, in fact, the reason that God had chosen for him to grow up there when he was young. Just as Nicholas had felt drawn to come to the Holy Land, he now felt drawn to return home.

To home he was headed, and to home he must go. That inner drive that he felt was as strong–if not stronger–than the drive that now motivated the ship’s captain and crew to get their cargo home, safe and sound, to their precious families.

Storm or no storm, they had to get home.

CHAPTER 15 (Back to Table of Contents)

Nicholas’ ship never made it to the next harbor along the coast. Instead, the storm they were trying to outrun had outrun them. It caught hold of their ship, pulling it away from the coast within the first few hours at sea. It kept pulling them further and further away from the coast until, three hours later, they found themselves inescapably caught in its torrents.

The crew had already lowered the sails, abandoning their attempts to force the rudder in the opposite direction. They now hoped that by going with the storm rather than against it they would have a better chance of keeping the ship in one piece. But this plan, too, seemed only to drive them into the deepest and most dangerous waters, keeping them near the eye of the storm itself.

After another three hours had passed, the sea sickness that had initially overcome their bodies was no longer a concern, as the fear of death itself was now overtaking all but the most resilient of those on board.

Nicholas, although he had traveled by ship before, was not among those considered to be most resilient. He had never experienced pounding waves like this before. And he wasn’t the only one. To a man, as the storm worsened, each began to speak of this as the worst storm they had ever seen.

The next morning, when the storm still hadn’t let up, and then again on the next morning and the next, and as the waves were still pounding them, they were all wondering why they had been in such a hurry to set out to beat the storm. Now they just hoped and prayed that God would let them live to see one more day, one more hour. As wave after wave pummeled the ship, Nicholas was simply praying they would make it through even one more wave.

His thoughts and prayers were filled with images of what it must have been like for the Apostle Paul, that follower of Christ who had sailed back and forth across the Great Sea several times in similar ships. It was on Paul’s last trip to Rome that he had landed in Myra, only miles from Nicholas’ hometown. Then, as Paul continued on from Myra to Rome, he faced the most violent storm he had ever faced at sea, a raging fury that lasted more than fourteen days and ended with his ship being blasted to bits by the waves as it ran aground on a sandbar, just off the coast of the island of Malta.

Nicholas prayed that their battle with the wind wouldn’t last for fourteen days. He didn’t know if they could make it through even one more day. He tried to think if there was anything that Paul had done to help himself and the 276 men who were on his ship with him to stay alive, even though their ship and its cargo were eventually destroyed. But as hard as he tried to think, all he could remember was that an angel had appeared to Paul on the night before they ran aground. The angel told Paul to take heart–that even though the ship would be destroyed, not one of the men aboard would perish. When Paul told the men about this angelic visit, they all took courage, as Paul was convinced that it would happen just as the angel said it would. And it did.

But for Nicholas, no such angel had appeared. No outcome from heaven had been predicted and no guidance had come about what they should or shouldn’t do. All he felt was that inner compulsion that he had felt before they departed–that they needed to get home as soon as they could.

Not knowing what else to do, Nicholas recalled a phrase of his father’s: “standing orders are good orders.” If a soldier wasn’t sure what to do next, even if the battle around him seemed to change directions, if the commanding officer hadn’t changed the orders, then the soldier was to carry on with the most recent orders given. Standing orders are good orders. It was this piece of wisdom from his father, more than any other thought, that guided Nicholas and gave him the courage to do what he did next.

CHAPTER 16 (Back to Table of Contents)

When the storm seemed to be at its worst, Nicholas’ thoughts turned to the children he had just left. His thoughts of them didn’t fill him with sadness, but with hope.

He began to take courage from the stories they had all learned about how Jesus had calmed the storm, how Moses had split the Red Sea and how Joshua had made the Jordan River stop flowing. Nicholas and the children had often tried to imagine what it must have been like to be able to exercise control over the elements like that. Nicholas had even, on occasion, tried to do some of these things himself, right along with Dimitri, Samuel and Ruthie. When it rained, they lifted their hands and prayed to try to stop the rain from coming down. But it just kept raining on their heads. When they got to the Sea of Galilee, they tried to walk on top of the water, just like Jesus did–and even Peter did, if only for a few short moments. But Nicholas and the children assumed they must not have had enough faith or strength or whatever it might have taken for them to do such things.

As another wave crashed over the side of the ship on which Nicholas was now standing, he realized there was a common thread that ran through each of these stories. Maybe it wasn’t their faith that was the problem after all, but God’s timing. In each instance from the stories he could remember, God didn’t allow those miracles on a whim, just for the entertainment of the people who were trying to do them. God allowed them because God had places for them to go, people they needed to see and lives that needed to be spared. There was an urgency in each situation that required the people to accomplish not only what was on their heart, but what was on God’s heart as well.

It seemed that the miracles were provided not because of their attempts to try to reorder God’s world, but in God’s attempts to try to reorder their worlds. It seemed to Nicholas that it must be a combination of their prayers of faith, plus God’s divine will, that caused a spark between heaven and earth, ignited by their two wills working together, that burst into a power that could move mountains.

When Jesus needed to get across the lake, but His disciples had already taken off in the boat, He was able to ignite by faith the process that allowed Him to walk on water, and thereafter calm the storm that threatened to take their lives when He finally did catch up to them.

“Standing orders are good orders,” Nicholas recalled, and he believed with all his heart that if God hadn’t changed His orders, then somehow they needed to do whatever they could to get to the other side of the Sea. But it wasn’t enough for God to will it. God was looking for someone willing, here on earth to will it, too, thereby completing the divine connection and causing the miracle to burst forth. Like Moses when he lifted his staff into the air or Joshua’s priests who took the first steps into the Jordan River, God needed someone to agree with Him in faith that what He had willed to happen in heaven should happen here on earth. God had already told Nicholas what needed to happen. Now it was up to Nicholas to complete the divine connection.

“Men!” Nicholas yelled to get the crew’s attention. “The God whom I serve, and who Has given each one of us life, wants us to reach our destination even more than we want to reach it. We must agree in faith, here and now, that God not only can do it, but that He wills us to do it. If you love God, or even if you think you might want to love God, I want you to pray along with me, that we will indeed reach our destination, and that nothing will stand in the way of our journey!”

As soon as Nicholas had spoken these words, the unthinkable happened: not only did the wind not stop, but it picked up speed! Nicholas faltered for a moment as if he had made some sort of cosmic mistake, some sort of miscalculation about the way God worked and what God wanted him to do. But then he noticed that even though the wind had picked up speed, it had also shifted directions, ever so slightly, but in such a distinct and noticeable way that God had gotten the attention of every man on board. Now, instead of being pounded by the waves from both sides, they were sailing straight through them, as if a channel had been cut into the waves themselves. The ship was driven along like this, not only for the next several moments, but for the next several hours.

When the speed and direction of the ship continued to hold its steady but impressively fast course, the captain of the ship came to Nicholas. He said he had never seen anything like this in his whole life. It was as if an invisible hand was holding the rudder of the ship, steady and straight, even though the ropes that held the rudder were completely unmanned, as they had been abandoned long ago when the winds first reached gale force.

Nicholas knew, too–even though he was certainly not as well seasoned as the captain–that this was not a normal phenomenon on the seas. He felt something supernatural taking control the moment he first stood up to speak to the men, and he felt it still as they continued on their path straight ahead.

What lay before them he didn’t know. But what he did know was that the One who had brought them this far was not going to take His hand off that rudder until His mission was accomplished.

CHAPTER 17 (Back to Table of Contents)

The storm that they thought was going to take their lives turned out to be the storm that saved many more. Rather than going the long way around the sea, following the coastline in the process, the storm had driven them straight across it, straight into the most dangerous path that they never would have attempted on their own at that time of year.

When they sighted land early on the morning of the fifth day, they recognized it clearly. It was the city of Myra, just a few miles away from Nicholas’ hometown, and the same city where the Apostle Paul had changed ships on his famous journey to Rome.

It was close enough to home that Nicholas knew in his heart that he was about to land in the exact spot where God wanted him to be. God, without a doubt, had spared his life for a purpose, a purpose which would now begin the next chapter of his life.

As they sailed closer to the beach, they could see that the storm that raged at sea had hardly been felt on shore.

The rains that had flooded their ship for the past several days, and that should have been watering the land as well, hadn’t made it inland for several months. The drought that the captain and sailors had told him had come to Rome had already been here in Lycia for two and a half years. The cumulative effect was that the crops that were intended to supply their reserves for the coming winter and for next year’s seed had already been depleted. If the people of Lycia didn’t get grain to eat now, many would never make it through the winter, and still more would die the following spring, as they wouldn’t have seed to plant another crop. This ship was one of the last that had made it out of the fertile valleys of Egypt before the winter, and its arrival at this moment in time was like a miracle in the eyes of the people. It was certainly an answer to their prayers.

But that answer wasn’t so clear to the captain of the ship. He had been under strict orders from the keeper of the Imperial storehouses in Rome that not one kernel of grain could be missing when the ship arrived back in Rome. The ship had been weighed in Alexandria before it left Egypt and it would be weighed again in Rome–and the captain would be held personally responsible for any discrepancy. The famine had put increasing pressure on the emperor to bring any kind of relief to the people. Not only this, but the families of the captain and crew themselves were awaiting the arrival of this food. Their jobs, and the lives of their families, relied on the safe delivery of every bit of grain aboard.

Yet without the faith and encouragement of Nicholas, the captain knew that the ship and its cargo would have been lost at sea, along with all of their lives.

While it was clear to Nicholas that God had brought him back to his homeland, he too wasn’t entirely certain what to do about the grain. While it seemed that giving at least some of the grain to the people of Myra was in order, Nicholas still tried to see it from God’s perspective. Was this city, or any other city throughout the empire, any more in need of the grain than Rome, which had bought and paid for it to be delivered? But it also seemed to Nicholas that the ship had been driven specifically to this particular city, in a straight and steady line through the towering waves.

The whole debate of what they were to do next took place within just a matter of minutes of their arrival on shore. And Nicholas and the captain had little time to think through what they were going to do, as the people of the city were already running out to see the ship for themselves, having been amazed at the way God had seemingly brought it to their famished port. They were gathering in larger and larger numbers to welcome the boat, and giving thanks and praise to God at the same time.

Both Nicholas and the captain knew that only God Himself could answer their dilemma. The two of them, along with the rest of the crew, had already agreed the night before–as they were so steadily and swiftly being carried along through the water–that the first thing they would do when they arrived on shore was to go to the nearest church and give thanks to God for His deliverance. Upon seeing where they had landed, Nicholas knew exactly where they could find that church. It was one that his family had visited from time to time as they traveled between these twin cities of Patara and Myra. Telling the people that their first order of duty was to give thanks to God for their safe passage, Nicholas and the captain and his crew headed to the church in Myra.

As they made their way across the city and up into the hills that cradled the church, they had no idea that the priests inside its walls had already been doing battle with a storm of their own.

PART 4

Listen to Part 4 here (30 minutes, including Chapters 18-24)

St. Nicholas: The Believer, by Eric and Lana Elder

You’re reading ST. NICHOLAS: THE BELIEVER, by Eric and Lana Elder, a new story for Christmas based on the old story of St. Nicholas. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

CHAPTER 18 (Back to Table of Contents)

Nicholas’ next step in life was about to be determined by a dream. But it wasn’t a dream that Nicholas had conceived–it was a dream that God had conceived and had put in the mind of a man, a priest in the city of Myra.

In the weeks leading up to Nicholas’ arrival in Myra, a tragedy had befallen the church there. Their aging bishop, the head of their church, had died. The tragedy that had fallen upon the church wasn’t the bishop’s death, for he had lived a long and fruitful life and had simply succumbed to the effects of old age. The tragedy arose out of the debate that ensued regarding who should take his place as the next bishop.

While it would seem that such things could be resolved amicably, especially within a church, when people’s hearts are involved, their loyalties and personal desires can sometimes muddy their thoughts so much that they can’t see what God’s will is in a particular situation. It can be hard for anyone, even for people of faith, to keep their minds free from preconceived ideas and personal preferences regarding what God may, or may not, want to do at any given time.

This debate was the storm that had been brewing for a week now, and which had reached its apex the night before Nicholas’ arrival.

That night one of the priests had a dream that startled him awake. In his dream he saw a man whom he had never seen before who was clearly to take up the responsibilities of their dearly departed bishop. When he woke from his dream, he remembered nothing about what the man looked like, but only remembered his name: Nicholas.

“Nicholas?” asked one of the other priests when he heard his fellow priest’s dream. “None of us have ever gone by that name, nor is there anyone in the whole city by that name.”

Nicholas was, to be sure, not a popular name at the time. It was only mentioned once in passing in one of Luke’s writings about the early church, along with other names which were just as uncommon in those days in Myra like Procorus, Nicanor, Timon and Parmenas. It seemed ridiculous to the other priests that this dream could possibly be from God. But the old priest reminded them, “Even the name of Jesus was given to His father by an angel in a dream.”

Perhaps it was this testimony from the gospels, or perhaps it was the unlikelihood that it would ever happen, that the priests all agreed that they would strongly consider the next person who walked through their door who answered to the name of Nicholas. It would certainly help to break the deadlock in which they found themselves.

What a surprise then, when they opened their doors for their morning prayers, when an entire shipload of men started to stream into the church!

The priests greeted each of the men at the door as they entered, welcoming them into the church. The last two to enter were the captain and Nicholas, as they had allowed all of the others to enter first. The captain thanked the priests for opening their doors to them for their morning prayers, then turned to Nicholas and said, “And thanks to Nicholas for having this brilliant idea to come here today.”

The astonished priests looked at one another in disbelief. Perhaps God had answered their prayers after all.

CHAPTER 19 (Back to Table of Contents)

The captain’s concern about what to do with the grain on his ship dissipated when they arrived at the church as fast as the storm had dissipated when they arrived on shore.

Within moments of beginning their morning prayers, he was convinced that it could only have been the mighty hand of God that had held their rudder straight and true. He knew now for sure he wanted to make an offering of the grain to the people who lived there. God spoke to him about both the plan and the amount. It was as if the captain were playing the role of Abraham in the old, old story when Abraham offered a portion of his riches to Melchizedek the priest.

The captain was willing to take his chances with his superiors in Rome rather than take any chances with the God who had delivered them all. He knew that without God’s guidance and direction so far on this journey, neither he nor his men nor the ship nor its grain would have ever made it to Rome at all.

When the captain stood up from his prayers, he quickly found Nicholas to share the answer with him as well. Nicholas agreed both to the plan and to the amount. The captain asked, “Do you think it will be enough for all these people?”

Nicholas replied, “Jesus was able to feed 5,000 people with just five loaves of bread and two fishand what you want to give to this city is much more than what Jesus had to start with!”

“How did He do it?” asked the captainalmost to himself as much as to Nicholas.

“All I know,” answered Nicholas, “is that He looked up to heaven, gave thanks and began passing out the food with His disciples. In the end everyone was satisfied and they still had twelve baskets full of food left over!”

“That’s exactly what we’ll do then, too,” said the captain.

And the story would be told for years to come how the captain of the ship looked up to heaven, gave thanks and began passing out the grain with his crew. It was enough to satisfy the people of that city for two whole years and to plant and reap even more in the third year.

As the priests said goodbye to the captain and crew, they asked Nicholas if he would be able to stay behind for a time. The winds of confusion that had whipped up and then subsided inside the captain’s mind were about to pale in comparison to the storm that was about to break open inside the mind of Nicholas.

CHAPTER 20 (Back to Table of Contents)

When the priests told Nicholas about their dream and that he just might be the answer to their prayers, Nicholas was dumbfounded and amazed, excited and perplexed. He had often longed to be used by God in a powerful way, and it was unmistakable that God had already brought him straight across the Great Sea to this very spot at this very hour!

But to become a priest, let alone a bishop, would be a decision that would last a lifetime. He had oftentimes considered taking up his earthly father’s business. His father had been highly successful at it, and Nicholas felt he could do the same. But even more important to him than doing the work of his father was to have a family like his father.

Nicholas’ memories of his parents were so fond that he longed to create more memories of his own with a family of his own. The custom of all the priests Nicholas knew, however, was to abstain from marriage and child-bearing so they could more fully devote themselves to the needs of the community around them.

Nicholas pulled back mentally at the thought of having to give up his desire for a family of his own. It wasn’t that having a family was a conscious dream that often filled his thoughts, but it was one of those assumptions in the back of his mind that he took for granted would come at some point in his future.

The shock of having to give up on the idea of a family, even before he had fully considered having one yet, was like a jolt to his system. Following God’s will shouldn’t be so difficult, he thought! But he had learned from his parents that laying down your will for the sake of God’s will wasn’t always so easy, another lesson they had learned from Jesus.

So just because it was a difficult decision wasn’t enough to rule it out. An image also floated through his mind of those three smiling faces he had met when he first landed in the Holy Land, with their heads bowed down and their hands outstretched. Hadn’t they seemed like family to him? And weren’t there hundredseven thousandsof children just like them, children who had no family of their own, no one to care for them, no one to look after their needs?

And weren’t there countless others in the worldwidows and widowers and those who had families in name but not in their actual relationshipswho still needed the strength and encouragement and sense of family around them? And weren’t there still other families as well, like Nicholas and his parents, who had been happy on their own but found additional happiness when they came together as the family of believers in their city? Giving up on the idea of a family of his own didn’t mean he had to give up on the idea of having a family altogether. In fact, it may even be possible that he could have an even larger “family” in this way.

The more Nicholas thought about what he might give up in order to serve God in the church, the more he thought about how God might use this new position in ways that went beyond Nicholas’ own thoughts and desires. And if God was indeed in this decision, perhaps it had its own special rewards in the end.

The fury of the storm that swept through his mind began to abate. In its place, God’s peace began to flow over both his mind and his heart. Nicholas recognized this as the peace of God’s divine will being clearly revealed to him. It only took another moment for Nicholas to know what his answer would be.

The storms that had once seemed so threatening–whether the storm at sea or the storm in the church or the storms in the minds of both the captain and Nicholas–now turned out to be blessings of God instead. They were blessings that proved to Nicholas once again that no matter what happened, God really could work all things for good for those who loved Him and who were called according to His purpose.

Yes, if the priests would have him, Nicholas would become the next bishop of Myra.

CHAPTER 21 (Back to Table of Contents)

Nicholas didn’t suddenly become another man when he became a bishop. He became a bishop because of the man he already was. As he had done before with his father so many years earlier, Nicholas continued to do now, here in the city of Myra and the surrounding towns: walking and praying and asking God where he could be of most help.

It was on one of these prayerful walks that Nicholas met Anna Maria. She was a beautiful girl only eleven years old, but her beauty was disguised to most others by the poverty she wore. Nicholas found her one day trying to sell flowers that she had made out of braided blades of grass. But the beauty of the flowers also seemed to be disguised to everyone but Nicholas, for no one would buy her simple creations.

As Nicholas stepped towards her, she reminded him instantly of little Ruthie, whom he had left behind in the Holy Land, with the golden flowers in her hand on the hillsides of Bethlehem.

When he stopped for a closer look, God spoke to his heart. It seemed to Nicholas that this must have been what Moses felt when he stopped to look at the burning bush in the desert, a moment when his natural curiosity turned into a supernatural encounter with the Living God.

“Your flowers are beautiful,” said Nicholas. “May I hold one?”

The young girl handed him one of her creations. As he looked at it, he looked at her. The beauty he saw in both the flower and the girl was stunning. Somehow Nicholas had the ability to see what others could not see, or did not see, as Nicholas always tried to see people and things and life the way God saw them, as if God were looking through his eyes.

“I’d like to buy this one, if I could,” he said.

Delighted, she smiled for the first time. She told him the price, and he gave her a coin.

“Tell me,” said Nicholas, “what will you do with the money you make from selling these beautiful flowers?”

What Nicholas heard next broke his heart.

Anna Maria was the youngest of three sisters: Sophia, Cecilia and Anna Maria. Although their father loved them deeply, he had been plunged into despair when his once-successful business had failed, and then his wife passed away shortly thereafter. Lacking the strength and the resources to pick himself up out of the darkness, the situation for his family grew bleaker and bleaker.

Anna Maria’s oldest sister, Sophia, had just turned 18, and she turned a number of heads as well. But no one would marry her because her father had no dowry to offer to any potential suitor. And with no dowry, there was little likelihood that she, nor any of the three girls, would ever be married.

The choices facing their father were grim. He knew he must act soon or risk the possibility of Cecilia and Anna Maria never getting married in the future, either. With no way to raise a suitable dowry for her, and being too proud to take charity from others, even if someone had had the funds to offer to him, her father was about to do the unthinkable: he was going to sell his oldest daughter into slavery to help make ends meet.

How their father could think this was the best solution available to him, Nicholas couldn’t imagine. But he also knew that desperation often impaired even the best-intentioned men. By sacrificing his oldest daughter in this way, the father reasoned that perhaps he could somehow spare the younger two from a similar fate.

Anna Maria, for her part, had come up with the idea of making and selling flowers as a way to spare her sister from this fate that was to her worse than death. Nicholas held back his tears out of respect for Anna Maria and the noble effort she was making to save her sister.

He also refrained from buying Anna Maria’s whole basket of flowers right there on the spot, for Nicholas knew it would take more than a basket full of flowers to save Sophia. It would take a miracle. And as God spoke to his heart that day, Nicholas knew that God just might use him to deliver it.

CHAPTER 22 (Back to Table of Contents)

Without show and without fanfare, Nicholas offered a prayer for Anna Maria, along with his thanks for the flower, and encouraged her to keep doing what she could to help her family–and to keep trusting in God to do what she couldn’t.

Nicholas knew he could help this family. He knew he had the resources to make a difference in their lives, for he still had a great deal of his parents’ wealth hidden in the cliffs near the coast for occasions such as this. But he also knew that Anna Maria’s proud father would never accept charity from any man, even at this bleakest hour.

Her father’s humiliation at losing his business, along with his own personal loss, had blinded him to the reality of what was about to happen to his daughter. Nicholas wanted to help, but how? How could he step into the situation without further humiliating Anna Maria’s father, possibly causing him to refuse the very help that Nicholas could extend to him. Nicholas did what he always did when he needed wisdom. He prayed. And before the day was out, he had his answer.

Nicholas put his plan into action–and none too soon! It just so happened that the next day was the day when Sophia’s fate would be sealed.

Taking a fair amount of gold coins from his savings, Nicholas placed them into a small bag. It was small enough to fit in one hand, but heavy enough to be sure that it would adequately supply the need.

Hiding under the cover of night, he crossed the city of Myra to the home where Anna Maria, her father and her two older sisters lived.

He could hear them talking inside as he quietly approached the house. Their mood was understandably downcast as they discussed what they thought was their inevitable next step. They asked God to give them the strength to do whatever they needed to do.

For years, Sophia and her sisters had dreamed of the day when they would each meet the man of their dreams. They had even written love songs to these men, trusting that God would bring each of them the perfect man at the perfect time.

Now it seemed like all their songs, all their prayers and all their dreams had been in vain. Sophia wasn’t the only one who felt the impact of this new reality, for her two younger sisters knew that the same fate might one day await each of them.

The girls wanted to trust God, but no matter how hard they thought about their situation, each of them felt like their dreams were about to be shattered.

At Anna Maria’s prompting, they tried to sing their favorite love song one more time, but their sadness simply deepened at the words. It was no longer a song of hope, but a song of despair, and the words now seemed so impossible to them.

It was not just a song, but a prayer, and one of the deepest prayers Nicholas had ever heard uttered by human tongue. His heart went out to each of them, while at the same time it pounded with fear. He had a plan, and he hoped it would work, but he had no way of knowing for sure. He wasn’t worried about what might happen to him if he were discovered, but he was worried that their father would reject his gift if he knew where it had come from. That would certainly seal the girls’ doom. As Sophia and Cecilia and Anna Maria said their goodnights–and their father had put out the lights–Nicholas knew that his time had come.

Inching closer to the open window of the room where they had been singing, Nicholas bent down low to his knees. He lobbed the bag of coins into the air and through the window. It arced gracefully above him and seemed to hang in the air for a moment before landing with a soft thud in the center of the room. A few coins bounced loose, clinking faintly on the ground, rolling and then coming to a stop. Nicholas turned quickly and hid in the darkness nearby as the girls and their father awoke at the sound.

They called out to see if anyone was there, but when they heard no answer, they entered the room from both directions. As their father lit the light, Anna Maria was the first to see it–and gasped.

There, in the center of the room, lay a small round bag, shimmering with golden coins at the top. The girls gathered around their father as he carefully picked up the bag and opened it.

It was more than enough gold to provide a suitable dowry for Sophia, with more to spare to take care of the rest of the family for some time to come!

But where could such a gift have come from? The girls were sure it had come from God Himself in answer to their prayers! But their father wanted to know more. Who had God used to deliver it? Certainly no one they knew. He sprinted out of the house, followed by his daughters, to see if he could find any trace of the deliverer, but none could be found.

Returning back inside, and with no one to return the money to, the girls and their father got down on their knees and thanked God for His deliverance.

As Nicholas listened in the darkness, he too gave thanks to God, for this was the very thing Nicholas hoped they would do. He knew that the gift truly was from God, provided by God and given through Nicholas by God’s prompting in answer to their prayers. Nicholas had only given to them what God had given to him in the first place. Nicholas neither wanted nor needed any thanks nor recognition for the gift. God alone deserved their praise.

But by allowing Nicholas to be involved, using Nicholas’ own hands and his own inheritance to bless others, Nicholas felt a joy that he could hardly contain. By delivering the gift himself, Nicholas was able to ensure that the gift was properly given. And by giving the gift anonymously, he was able to ensure that the true Giver of the gift was properly credited.

The gift was delivered and God got the credit. Nicholas had achieved both of his goals.

CHAPTER 23 (Back to Table of Contents)

While Nicholas preferred to do his acts of goodwill in secret, there were times when, out of sheer necessity, he had to act in broad daylight. And while it was his secret acts that gained him favor with God, it was his public acts that gained him favor with men.

Many people rightly appreciate a knight in shining armor, but not everyone wants to be rescued from evil–especially those who profit from it.

One such man was a magistrate in Myra, a leader in the city who disliked Nicholas intensely–or anyone who stood in the way of what he wanted.

This particular magistrate was both corrupt and corruptible. He was willing to do anything to get what he wanted, no matter what it cost to others. Although Nicholas had already been at odds with him several times in the past, their conflict escalated to a boiling point when news reached Nicholas that the magistrate had sentenced three men to death–for a crime Nicholas was sure they did not commit. Nicholas couldn’t wait this time for the cover of darkness. He knew he needed to act immediately to save these men from death.

Nicholas had been entertaining some generals from Rome that afternoon whose ship had docked in Myra’s port the night before. Nicholas had invited the generals to his home to hear news about some changes that had been taking place in Rome. A new emperor was about to take power, they said, and the implications might be serious for Nicholas and his flock of Christ-followers.

It was during their luncheon that Nicholas heard about the unjust sentencing and the impending execution. Immediately he set out for the site where the execution was to take place. The three generals, sensing more trouble might ensue once Nicholas arrived, set out after him.

When Nicholas burst onto the execution site, the condemned men were already on the platform. They were bound and bent over with their heads and necks ready for the executioner’s sword.

Without a thought for his own safety, Nicholas leapt onto the platform and tore the sword from the executioner’s hands. Although Nicholas was not a fighter himself, Nicholas made his move so unexpectedly that the executioner made little attempt to try to wrestle the sword back out of the bishop’s hands.

Nicholas knew these men were as innocent as the magistrate was guilty. He was certain that it must have been the men’s good deeds, not their bad ones, that had offended the magistrate. Nicholas untied the ropes of the innocent men in full view of the onlookers, defying both the executioner and the magistrate.

The magistrate came forward to face Nicholas squarely. But as he did so, the three generals who had been having lunch with Nicholas also stepped forward. One took his place on Nicholas’ left, another on Nicholas’ right and the third stood directly in front of him. Prudently, the magistrate took a step back. Nicholas knew that this was the time to press the magistrate for the truth.

Although the magistrate tried to defend himself, his pleas of fell on deaf ears. No one would believe his lies anymore. He tried to convince the people that it was not he who wanted to condemn these innocent men, but two other businessmen in town who had given him a bribe in order to have these men condemned. But by trying to shift the blame to others, the magistrate condemned himself for the greed that was in his heart.

Nicholas declared: “It seems that it was not these two men who have corrupted you, sir, but two others–whose names are Gold and Silver!”

Cut to the quick, the magistrate broke down and made a full confession in front of all the people for this and for all the other wrongs he had done, even for speaking ill of Nicholas, who had done nothing but good for the people. Nicholas set more than three prisoners free that day, as even the magistrate was finally set free from his greed by his honest confession. Seeing the heartfelt change in the magistrate, Nicholas pardoned him, forever winning the magistrate’s favor–and the people’s favor–from that moment on.

When Nicholas was born, his parents had named him Nicholas, which means in Greek “the people’s victor.” Through acts like these, Nicholas became “the people’s victor” both in name and in deed.

Nicholas was already becoming an icon–even in his own time.

CHAPTER 24 (Back to Table of Contents)

Within three months of receiving her unexpected dowry from Nicholas, Sophia had received a visit from a suitor–one who “suited her” just fine. He truly was the answer to her prayers, and she was thankfully, happily and finally married.

Two years later, however, Sophia’s younger sister Cecilia found herself in dire straights as well. Although Cecilia was ready to be married now, her father’s business had not improved, no matter how hard he tried. As the money that Nicholas had given to the family began to run out, their despair began to set in. Pride and sorrow had once again blinded Cecilia’s father to the truth, and he felt his only option was to commit Cecilia to a life of slavery, hoping to save his third and final daughter from a similar fate.

While they were confident that God had answered their prayers once, their circumstances had caused them to doubt that He could do it again. A second rescue at this point was more than they could have asked for or imagined.

Nicholas, however, knowing their situation by this time much more intimately, knew that God was prompting him again to intercede. It had been two years since his earlier rescue, but in all that time the family never suspected nor discovered that he was the deliverer of God’s gift.

As the time came closer to a decision on what they should do next, Nicholas knew his time to act had come as well. And in order to make it clear that his gift was to be used first and foremost for Cecilia’s dowry, and then after that for any other needs the family might have, he waited until the night before she was to be sold into slavery to make his move.

Once again waiting for the cover of darkness, Nicholas approached their house. Cecilia and Anna Maria had already gone to bed early that night, sent there by their father who had told them not to expect any similar miracle to what happened for Sophia. But somewhere in the depths of his despair, their father still had a glimmer of hope in his heart, a wish perhaps, more than anything else, that Someone really was watching out for him and that his prayers just might still be answered. With that hope, he decided to stay awake and stay close to the window, just in case some angel did appear–whether an earthly one or a heavenly one.

Nicholas knew this might happen, and he knew that Cecilia’s father might still reject his gift if he found out that Nicholas had given it. But he also hoped that perhaps her father’s proud heart had softened a bit and he would accept the gift even if Nicholas was discovered.

Seeing that the house was perfectly quiet, Nicholas knelt down beside the open window. He tossed the second bag of gold into the room.

The bag had barely hit the ground when the girls’ father leapt out of the window through which it had come and overtook Nicholas as he tried to flee. You might have thought that Nicholas had taken a bag of gold rather than given a bag of gold the way the girls’ father chased him down!

Fearing that all his efforts had been wasted, Nicholas’ heart was eased as the man didn’t rebuke Nicholas but thanked him without even looking at who he had caught.

“Please hear me out,” he said. “I just want to thank you. You’ve done so much already for me and my family that I couldn’t have expected such a gift again. But your generosity has opened my eyes to the pride in my heart–a pride that almost cost me the lives of two daughters now.”

The girls’ father had spoken both breathlessly and quickly to be sure that the stranger would hear him before trying to escape again. But when he looked up to see who he was talking to–Nicholas the priest–the shock on their father’s face was evident. How could a priest afford to give such an incredible gift?

In answer to this unasked question, Nicholas spoke: “Yes, it was I who delivered this gift to you, but it was God who gave it to me to give to you. It is not from the church and not from the charity of my own hand. It came from my father who earned it fairly by the work of his hands. He was a businessman like you. And if he were alive today, he would have wanted to give it to you himself. I’m sure of it. He, of all people, knew how difficult it was to run a business, just as you do. He also loved his family, just as you do, too.”

Nicholas paused to let his words sink in, then continued, “But please, for my sake and for God’s sake, please know that it was God Himself who has answered your prayers–for He has. I am simply a messenger for Him, a deliverer, a tool in His hands, allowing Him to do through me what I know He wants done. As for me, I prefer to do my giving in secret, not even letting my right hand know what my left hand is doing.”

The look on Nicholas’ face was so sincere and he conveyed his intentions with such love and devotion for the One whom he served, that the girls’ father could not help but to accept Nicholas’ gift as if it had truly come from the hand of God Himself.

But as they said their goodbyes, the girls and their father could hardly contain their thankfulness to Nicholas, too, for letting God use him in such a remarkable way.

As much as Nicholas tried to deflect their praise back to God, he also knew he did have a role to play in their lives. Although God prompts many to be generous in their hearts, not everyone responds to those promptings as Nicholas did.

Nicholas would wait to see how the family fared over the next few years to see if they would need any help for Anna Maria, too.

But Nicholas never got the chance. The new emperor had finally come into power, and the course of Nicholas’ life was about to change again. Even though Nicholas often came to the rescue of others, there were times when, like the Savior he followed, it seemed he was unable to rescue himself.

PART 5

Listen to Part 5 here (25-1/2 minutes, including Chapters 25-30)

St. Nicholas: The Believer, by Eric and Lana Elder

You’re reading ST. NICHOLAS: THE BELIEVER, by Eric and Lana Elder, a new story for Christmas based on the old story of St. Nicholas. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

CHAPTER 25 (Back to Table of Contents)

Back when Jesus was born, there was a king who felt so threatened by this little baby boy that he gave orders to kill every boy in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under. Three hundred and three years later, another king felt just as threatened by Jesus, as well as his followers.

This new king’s name was Diocletian, and he was the emperor of the entire Roman Empire. Even though the Romans had killed Jesus hundreds of years earlier, Diocletian still felt threatened by the Christians who followed Jesus. Diocletian declared himself to be a god and he wanted all the people in his empire to worship him.

Although Christians were among the most law-abiding citizens in the land, they simply couldn’t worship Diocletian. He considered this an act of insurrection, an act which must be quenched in the strongest way possible. By the time Diocletian had finally risen to his full power, he ordered that all Bibles be burned, that Christian churches be destroyed and that those who followed Christ be imprisoned, tortured and put to death.

While persecution against Christians had been taking place for many years under Roman rule, none of those persecutions compared to that which took place during the reign of Diocletian. Nicholas, for his part, didn’t fear Diocletian, but as always, he feared for those in his church who followed Jesus.

Having such a visible role in the church, Nicholas knew that he would be targeted first, and if he were taken away, he feared for what would happen to those who would be left behind. But Nicholas had already made his decision. He knew that even if he was killed he could trust God that God could still accomplish His purpose on earth whether Nicholas were a part of that or not. It was this foundational faith and trust in God and His purposes that would help Nicholas through the difficult years ahead.

Rather than retreat into hiding from the certain fate that awaited him, Nicholas chose to stand his ground to the end. He vowed to keep the doors to his church wide open for all who wanted to come in. And he kept that vow for as long as he could until one day when those who came in were soldiers–soldiers who had come for him.

CHAPTER 26 (Back to Table of Contents)

Nicholas was ready when the soldiers arrived. He knew that his time for second-guessing his decision to keep the church open was over. Unfortunately, the days for his church were over, too, as the soldiers shut the doors for good when they left.

For all the goodwill that Nicholas had built up with people in his town over the years, even with the local soldiers, these were no local soldiers who came for Nicholas. Diocletian had sent them with demands that his orders be carried out unquestioningly, and that those who didn’t carry them out would suffer the same fate as those who were to be punished.

Nicholas was given one last chance to renounce his faith in Christ and worship Diocletian instead, but Nicholas, of course, refused. It wasn’t that he wanted to defy Roman authority, for Christ Himself taught His followers that it was important to honor those in authority and to honor their laws. But to deny that Jesus was His Lord and Savior would have been like trying to deny that the sun had risen that morning! He simply couldn’t do it. How could he deny the existence of the One who had given him life, who had given him faith and who had given him hope in the darkest hours of his life. If the soldiers had to take him away, so be it. To say that a mere man like Diocletian was God, and that Jesus was anything less than God, was unconscionable.

For all his faith, Nicholas was still subject to the same sensations of pain that every human being experiences. His strong faith did not exempt him from the natural fear that others feel when they are threatened with bodily harm. He also feared the idea of imprisonment, having to be isolated from others for so long, especially when he didn’t know how long his imprisonment might last–or if he would survive it at all.

Nicholas knew that these fears were healthy, given to him by God, to keep out any danger and to protect him from anything that might possibly harm his body. But right now, as Nicholas was being forcefully taken away, he wished he could suppress those fears.

“God, help me,” he called out as the shackles that the soldiers were putting on his wrists cut into them. This was the beginning of a new kind of pilgrimage for Nicholas–a pilgrimage that would last far longer than his years in the Holy Land.

It would be hard to compare these two journeys in terms of their impact on his life, for how could you compare a journey freely taken, where you could come and go as you please and stop the journey at any time, with a journey that was forced upon you against your will, where even venturing out to catch a glimpse of the sun was under someone else’s control and not yours?

Yet Nicholas found that he was able to sense the presence of God in a way that equalled, if not surpassed, all that he had experienced in the Holy Land. As he had learned from other believers, sometimes you don’t realize that Jesus is all you need until Jesus is all you have.

Over the course of his imprisonment, whenever the door to Nicholas’ prison cell opened, he didn’t know if the guards were there to set him free or to sentence him to death. He never knew if any given day might be his last. But the byproduct of this uncertainty was that Nicholas received a keen awareness of the brevity of life, as well as a continual awareness of the presence of God.

Nicholas found that by closing his eyes he could sense God’s presence in a way he had never sensed it before. This cell wasn’t a prison–it was a sanctuary. And all Nicholas wanted to do was to stay in God’s presence as long as he could. Soon, Nicholas didn’t even have to close his eyes. He simply knew that he was always in the presence of God.

Of course, his time in prison was also filled with the stinging pain of the worst kind of hell on earth. The soldiers were relentless in their attempts to get Nicholas to renounce his faith. The pain they inflicted ranged from prodding him with hot branding irons and squeezing his flesh with hot pincers to whipping him severely, then pouring salt and vinegar in his wounds. As a result, his back was permanently scarred. The unsanitary conditions of the prison caused Nicholas to experience more kinds of sickness than he had ever experienced before. At times he even wondered if death might be better than what he had to endure there.

It was during one of those times, the darkest perhaps, of the five years he had spent so far in prison, that the door to his cell opened. A light streamed in, but as he looked at it closely, it wasn’t the light of the sun, for as far as Nicholas could tell in his isolated cell, it was still just the middle of the night.

The light that entered the room was the light of a smile, a smile on the face of Nicholas’ young friend, now grown to be a man. It was the light of the smiling face of Dimitri.

CHAPTER 27 (Back to Table of Contents)

Nicholas had seen few faces in his time in prison, and fewer still that gave him any kind of encouragement. To see a smile on someone’s face, let alone a face that Nicholas loved so much, was pure joy.

It hadn’t been easy for Dimitri to find Nicholas. Dimitri had come to Myra knowing that Nicholas had taken a church there. But it had been years since Dimitri had heard from his friend, a time in which Dimitri himself had been imprisoned. Having only recently been set free, Dimitri made his way across the Great Sea in search of Nicholas. Dimitri had to search hard to find Nicholas, but Dimitri had come too far to give up without seeing his old friend and mentor, the first person who had shown him the love of Christ.

Using the street-smarts that he had acquired as a guide in the Holy Land, Dimitri was able to navigate his way through or around most anyone or anything that stood in his way. Dimitri’s tenacity, plus the hand of God’s guidance, helped Dimitri to find his friend, and to find this door which he opened that night for this special visit. It was a visit that, to Nicholas, seemed like a visit by an angel from heaven.

After the door closed behind them, and after an extended embrace, Dimitri sat down on the floor next to Nicholas. They sat in silence for several minutes, neither of them having to say a word. In holy moments like these, words were unnecessary.

The darkness in the small cell was so great that they didn’t even try to look at one another, but simply sat there side by side. Dimitri’s eyes had not yet adjusted to the pitch-blackness enough to see anything anyway, and Nicholas was content to merely know that his friend was right there by him. Nicholas could hear the sound of Dimitri’s breath, a sound which increased Nicholas’ joy, knowing that his friend was still alive and was right there in the flesh.

Nicholas drew in another deep breath and with it he breathed in a new sense of life. It was a breath of life that his friend couldn’t help but bring with him.

CHAPTER 28 (Back to Table of Contents)

“And how are our two young bodyguards doing?” Nicholas asked at last, referring to Samuel and Ruthie. Nicholas had been praying often for all three of them, as he cared for them as if they were his own young brothers and sister.

Dimitri hesitated. He looked at Nicholas but couldn’t say a word. He was eager to tell Nicholas everything that had happened in the years that had passed, about how Samuel and Ruthie continued taking people to the holy places, sharing with others the same good news of Jesus that they had discovered in their days with Nicholas.

Like Dimitri, Samuel and Ruthie had to stop guiding pilgrims when the “Great Persecution” came, as it was now being called. All three of them began spending most of their days seeing to the needs of the other believers in Jerusalem, believers who were facing imprisonment and death, just like Nicholas. Since they were not in a high profile position like Nicholas though, the three of them were able to avoid being caught longer than Nicholas. But eventually, they too were imprisoned, being repeatedly questioned, threatened and tortured for their faith.

Samuel and Dimitri were strong enough to withstand the abuse, but Ruthie was too frail. One day, after being treated particularly harshly, she returned to them and collapsed. Although she had obviously been crying from the pain in her body, somehow she had also managed to keep a smile in her heart.

“How can you do it?” asked Samuel. “How can you possibly still smile, even after all that?”

Ruthie replied, “I feel like I’ve been walking and talking with Jesus for so long now that even death wouldn’t really change that. I’ll just keep on walking and talking with Him forever.”

Ruthie smiled again and Dimitri couldn’t help but smile back at her. But her body was giving out and she knew it. She could sense that she was just moments away from passing from this life to the next.

“You can’t go!” said Samuel. “You’ve got to stay here with me! There’s still too much work to be done!” But Ruthie was slipping away.

“If you die, I’ll just pray that God will bring you back to life!” Samuel was desperate now to hang onto her. But Ruthie just smiled again. She had truly found the secret of living life to the fullest, and nothing, not even death, could take that away.

She spoke, quietly now, with just a whisper. “You could pray that God would raise me from the dead, but the truth is, I’ve already been raised from the dead once. When we met Nicholas, and he introduced us to Jesus, I was raised from the dead and given a whole new life. From then on, I knew that I would live forever.”

With that, Ruthie passed through the veil and into the visible presence of God. The smile that adorned her face in life continued to shine on her face in death, and Dimitri knew where she was. She was just continuing to do what she had always done, walking and talking with Jesus, but now face to face.

Nicholas sat in silence as Dimitri told him the story, taking it all in. As much as he thought he would be sad, his heart began to soar instead. None of this was new to him, of course, but hearing about Ruthie’s faith brought his own back to life again as well.

You would think a man like Nicholas wouldn’t need to be encouraged in his faith. He had brought faith to countless others, and he was a bishop no less. But Nicholas also knew in his heart of hearts that it was people like him who sometimes needed the most encouragement in their faith. Great faith, he knew, did not come to those who have no doubts. Great faith came to those who have had their faith stretched so far that it had to grow, or else it would break completely. By continuing to trust God no matter what, Nicholas found that he was able to fill in any gaps in his faith along the way, helping it to grow even further.

As sad as he was for Ruthie’s passing, Nicholas couldn’t help but smile from deep down in his heart the same way that Ruthie must have done on the day that she died. He longed for the day when he could see Jesus face to face, just as Ruthie was now seeing Him. Yet he loved the work that God had given him on earth to do, too.

“We can’t lose, can we?” said Nicholas with a reflective smile. “Either we die and get to be with Jesus in heaven, or we live and get to continue His work here on earth. Either way we win, don’t we? Either way we win.”

“Yes, either way we win,” echoed Dimitri. “Either way we win.”

For the next several hours, Nicholas and Dimitri shared stories with each other of what God had done in their lives during their time apart. But nothing could have prepared Nicholas for what Dimitri was about to tell him next. For Dimitri, it seems, had met a girl. And not just any girl, but a girl Nicholas knew very well by now. Her name was Anna Maria.

CHAPTER 29 (Back to Table of Contents)

In his journey to find Nicholas, Dimitri looked for anyone who might know of his whereabouts. When he got to Myra, he went first to the church where Nicholas had served as bishop. Not finding him there, Dimitri took to the streets to see if he could find anyone who knew anything about him. And who did he find in the streets, but the very girl–now a woman–that Nicholas had found so many years ago, selling her braided flowers to anyone who would buy them.

She was no longer covered in the cloak of poverty. Both her inner and outer beauty were immediately evident to Dimitri. He was so taken by her that he couldn’t help but be drawn into a conversation. And she seemed to be just as taken by him. She couldn’t believe that a man of his stature and faith was willing to talk to her. He was, she thought, the kindest and most impressive man she had ever met.

When Dimitri mentioned his mission, searching for the bishop named Nicholas, Anna Maria gasped. How could this man, this stranger from the other side of the Great Sea, know anything about Nicholas? Dimitri shared the story of how they met, and Nicholas had rescued him from his poverty of faith. Anna Maria couldn’t help but share what Nicholas had done for her family as well, saving her two older sisters from slavery by throwing a bag of gold through the window for each of them on the eve of their 18th birthdays.

But then, Anna Maria’s smile faded. It was now only a few days until her own 18th birthday, but Nicholas had been taken away to prison five years earlier. No one had seen nor heard from him in all those years. She didn’t even know where he was. Although her father had had a change of heart, and wouldn’t dream of selling Anna Maria into slavery, he still had no dowry to offer to any potential suitor. Without a dowry, as Dimitri knew very well, Anna Maria’s future was dim. And with Nicholas in prison, there was no chance he would be able to rescue their family a third time. Anna Maria had taken again to selling her flowers in the street, and although they were more impressive than her earlier creations, she could barely earn enough from their sales to help the family with the cost of food from time to time.

Dimitri listened, and like Nicholas before him, he knew within minutes what God was prompting him to do. He could be the answer to Anna Maria’s prayers, and with much more than just a dowry. But he also knew that these things take time, so he just treasured these thoughts in his heart, buying a flower from Anna Maria, thanking her for sharing what she knew about Nicholas and continuing on his way, promising to get in touch with her if he ever located their precious friend.

On the eve of Anna Maria’s birthday, Dimitri found himself in the very spot where Nicholas had hidden twice before, years earlier, just outside the open window of Anna Maria’s home. The conversation inside was subdued, as Anna Maria and her father prayed, knowing that there was no way for Nicholas to appear again. They put out the lights and headed for bed.

Dimitri waited for what seemed to him like hours, knowing that he couldn’t dare wake them and risk exposing his plan. For he had saved up enough in his years of working in the Holy Land to easily fill a bag with golden coins suitable for a dowry. But he couldn’t just hand them the money, for he had more in mind than just giving them the dowry. He wanted Anna Maria’s father to give it back to him someday, as a wedding gift to him! It was a long shot, and he knew he would need more time to be sure she was the one for him. He also felt this was the best way to make it all work out in the end, even if she wasn’t the one for him. Something told him, however, that she was. And with that thought in mind, he made his next move.

Carefully and quietly, he reached over the windowsill and let the bag drop quietly down on the floor below. No one heard and no one stirred. Having done his duty to God and to his own heart, he set off again in search of Nicholas. Two weeks later, Dimitri had found Nicholas, and was now sharing with him the story of how he had met the woman of his dreams.

The news couldn’t have been any sweeter to Nicholas’ ears. And again his heart lightened and soared, for even though he was locked away from the rest of the world in his prison cell, Nicholas saw the fruit of his prayers–prayers that were answered in the most incredible way imaginable. He could still make a difference in the world, even from here in prison, even when the world tried to shut him down.

Before Dimitri left that night, he embraced Nicholas one more time; then he was gone. He disappeared through the prison door as miraculously as he had entered it.

It would be five more years until Nicholas would see Dimitri again. Diocletian’s grip continued to tighten around the Christians’ necks. But during all those remaining years in prison, Nicholas felt freer in his heart than he had ever felt before. No man could keep Nicholas from worshipping Jesus, and no man could keep Jesus from doing what He wanted done.

When the day finally came for Nicholas to be set free, the guard who opened Nicholas’ door looked in and said, “It’s time to go. You’re free.”

Nicholas simply looked at the guard with a smile. He had already been free for quite some time.

CHAPTER 30 (Back to Table of Contents)

Thinking Nicholas must not have heard him, the guard spoke again. “I said you’re free, you’re free to go. You can get up and go home now.”

At the word “home,” Nicholas stirred. He hadn’t seen his home, or his church, or hardly any other soul than Dimitri for ten years. He stood to his feet and his movements began to accelerate as he responded to the guard’s words.

“Home?” Nicholas said.

“Yes, home. You can go home now. The emperor has issued a decree that has set all Christians free.”

The emperor he was referring to was a new emperor named Constantine. Diocletian’s efforts had failed to constrain the Christians. Instead of quenching their spirits, Diocletian had strengthened them. Like Nicholas, those who weren’t killed grew stronger in their faith. And the stronger they grew in their faith, the stronger they grew in their influence, gaining new converts from the citizens around them. Even Diocletian’s wife and daughter had converted to Christianity.

Diocletian stepped down from ruling the empire, and Constantine stepped up.

Constantine reversed the persecution of the Christians, issuing the Edict of Milan. This edict showed a new tolerance for people of all religions and resulted in freedom for the Christians. Constantine’s mother, Helen, was a devout Christian herself. Even though no one quite knew if Constantine was a Christian, the new tolerance he displayed allowed people to worship whoever they pleased and however they pleased, the way it should have been all along.

As much as Diocletian had changed the Roman world for the worse, Constantine was now changing it for the better. Their reigns were as different as night and day and served as a testament of how one person really can affect the course of history forever–either for good or for evil.

Nicholas was aware, now more than ever, that he had just one life to live. But he was also aware that if he lived it right, one life was all that he would need. He resolved in his heart once more to do his best to make the most of every day, starting again today.

As he was led from his prison cell and returned to the city of Myra, it was no coincidence, he thought, that the first face he saw there was the face of Anna Maria.

He recognized her in an instant. But the ten years in prison, and the wear and tear it had taken on his life, made it hard for her to recognize him as quickly. But as soon as she saw his smile, she too knew in an instant that it was the smile of her dear old friend Nicholas. Of course it was Nicholas! And he was alive, standing right there in front of her!

She couldn’t move, she was so shocked. Two children stood beside her, looking up at their mother, and then looking at the man who now held her gaze. Here was the man who had done so much for her and her family. Her joy was uncontainable. With a call over her shoulder, Anna Maria shouted, “Dimitri! Dimitri! Come quickly! It’s Nicholas!”

Then she rushed towards Nicholas, giving him an embrace and holding on tight. Dimitri emerged from a shop behind them, took one look at Nicholas and Anna Maria and rushed towards them as well, sweeping his children up with him as he ran.

Now the whole family was embracing Nicholas as if he was a dear brother or father or uncle who had just returned from war. The tears and the smiles on their faces melted together. The man who had saved Anna Maria and her family from a fate worse than death had been spared from death as well! And Dimitri grinned from ear to ear, too, seeing his good friend, and seeing how happy it made Nicholas to see Dimitri and Anna Maria together with their new family.

Nicholas took hold of each of their faces–one at a time–and looked deeply into their eyes. Then he held the children close. The seeds he had planted years ago in the lives of Dimitri and Anna Maria were still bearing fruit, fruit he could now see with his own two eyes. All his efforts had been worth it, and nothing like the smiles on their faces could have made it any clearer to him than that.

Throughout the days and weeks ahead, Nicholas and the other believers who had been set free had many similar reunions throughout Myra. Those days were like one long, ongoing reunion.

Nicholas, as well as the others who had managed to survive the Great Persecution, must have appeared to those around them as Lazarus must have appeared, when Jesus called him to come out of the tomb–a man who had died, but was now alive. And like Lazarus, these Christians were not only alive, but they led many more people to faith in Christ as well, for their faith was now on fire in a whole new way. What Diocletian had meant for harm, God was able to use for good. This new contingent of Christians had emerged with a faith that was stronger than ever before.

Nicholas knew that this new level of faith, like all good gifts from God, had been given to him for a purpose, too. For as big as the tests had been that Nicholas had faced up to now, God was preparing him for the biggest test yet to come.

PART 6

Listen to Part 6 here (34 minutes, including Chapters 31-36)

St. Nicholas: The Believer, by Eric and Lana Elder

You’re reading ST. NICHOLAS: THE BELIEVER, by Eric and Lana Elder, a new story for Christmas based on the old story of St. Nicholas. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

CHAPTER 31 (Back to Table of Contents)

“And you’ve still never told her, after all these years?” Nicholas asked Dimitri. It had been twelve years since Nicholas had gotten out of prison, and they were talking about the bag of gold that Dimitri had thrown into Anna Maria’s open window five years before that.

“She’s never asked,” said Dimitri. “And even if I told her it was me, she wouldn’t believe me. She’s convinced you did it.”

“But how could I, when she knew I was in prison?” It was a conversation they had had before, but Nicholas still found it astounding. Dimitri insisted on keeping his act of giving a secret, just as Nicholas had done whenever possible, too.

“Besides,” added Dimitri, “she’s right. It really was you who inspired me to give her that gift, as you had already given her family two bags of gold in a similar way. So in a very real sense, it did come from you.”

Nicholas had to admit there was some logic in Dimitri’s thinking. “But it didn’t start with me, either. It was Christ who inspired me.”

And to that, Dimitri conceded and said, “And it was Christ who inspired me, too. Believe me, Anna Maria knows that as much as anyone else. Her faith is deeper than ever before. Ever since she met you, she continues to give God credit for all things.”

And with that, Nicholas was satisfied, as long as God got the credit in the end. For as Nicholas had taught Dimitri years earlier, there’s nothing we have that did not come from God first.

Changing subjects, Nicholas said, “You’re sure she won’t mind you being away for three months? I can still find someone else to accompany me.”

“She’s completely and utterly happy for me to go with you,” said Dimitri. “She knows how important this is to you, and she knows how much it means to me as well. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

They were discussing their plans to go to the Council of Nicaea that summer. Nicholas had been invited by special request of the emperor, and each bishop was allowed to bring a personal attendant along with him. Nicholas asked Dimitri as soon as he received the invitation.

The Council of Nicaea would be a remarkable event. When Nicholas first opened the letter inviting him to come, he couldn’t believe it. So much had changed in the world since he had gotten out of prison twelve years earlier.

Yet there it was, a summons from the Roman emperor to appear before him at Eastertide. The only summons a bishop would have gotten under Emperor Diocletian would have been an invitation to an execution–his own! But under Constantine’s leadership, life for Christians had radically changed.

Constantine had not only signed the edict that called for true tolerance to be shown to the Christians, which resulted in setting them free from prison, but he also had started giving them their property back–property which had been taken away under his predecessor. Constantine was even beginning to fund the building and repair of many of the churches that had been destroyed by Diocletian. It was the beginning of a new wave of grace for the Christians, after such an intense persecution before.

As a further sign of Constantine’s new support for the cause of Christianity, he had called for a gathering of over 300 of the leading bishops in the land. This gathering would serve two purposes for Constantine: it would unify the church within the previously fractured empire, and it wouldn’t hurt his hopes of bringing unity back to the whole country. As the leader of the people, Constantine asserted that it was his responsibility to provide for their spiritual well-being. As such, he pledged to attend and preside over this historic council himself. It would take place in the city of Nicaea, starting in the spring of that year and continuing for several months into the summer.

When Nicholas received his invitation, he quietly praised God for the changing direction of his world. While the Great Persecution had deepened the faith of many of those who survived it, that same persecution had taken its toll on the ability of many others, severely limiting their ability to teach, preach and reach those around them with the life-changing message of Christ.

Now those barriers had been removedwith the support and approval of the emperor himself. The only barriers that remained were within the hearts and minds of those who would hear the good news, and would have to decide for themselves what they were going to do with it.

As for Nicholas, he had grown in influence and respect in Myra, as well as the region around him. His great wealth was long since gone, for he had given most of it away when he saw the Great Persecution coming, and what remained had been discovered and ransacked while he was in prison. But what he lost in wealth he made up for in influence, for his heart and actions were still bent towards giving–no matter what he had or didn’t have to give. After giving so much of himself to the people around him, he was naturally among those who were chosen to attend the upcoming council. It would turn out to become one of the most momentous events in history, not to mention one of the most memorable events in his own life–but not necessarily for a reason he would want to remember.

CHAPTER 32 (Back to Table of Contents)

Although Christians were enjoying a new kind of freedom under Constantine, the future of Christianity was still at risk. The threats no longer came from outside the church, but from within. Factions had begun to rise inside the ranks of the growing church, with intense discussions surrounding various theological points which had very practical implications.

In particular, a very small but vocal group, led by a man named Arius, had started to gain attention as they began to question whether Jesus was actually divine or not.

Was Jesus merely a man? Or was He, in fact, one with God in His very essence? To men like Nicholas and Dimitri, the question was hardly debatable, for they had devoted their entire lives to following Jesus as their Lord. They had risked everything to follow Him in word and deed. He was their Lord, their Savior, their Light and their Hope. Like many of the others who would be attending the council, it was not their robes or outer garments that bore witness to their faith in Christ, but the scars and wounds they bore in their flesh as they suffered for Him. They had risked their lives under the threat of death for worshipping Christ as divine, rather than Emperor Diocletian. There was no question in their minds regarding this issue. But still there were some who, like Arius, felt this was a question that was up for debate.

In Arius’ zeal to see that people worshipped God alone, Arius could not conceive that any man, even one as good as Jesus, could claim to be one with God without blaspheming the name of God Himself. In this, Arius was not unlike those who persecuted Jesus while He was still alive. Even some of those who were living then and had witnessed His miracles with their own eyes, and heard Jesus’ words with their own ears, could not grasp that Jesus could possibly be telling the truth when He said, “I and the Father are one.” And for this, they brought Jesus to Herod, and then to Pilate, to have Him crucified.

As a boy, Nicholas had wondered about Jesus’ claim, too. But when Nicholas was in Bethlehem, it all finally made perfect sense to him–that God Himself had come down from heaven to earth as a man to take on the sins of the world once and for all as God in the flesh.

Arius, however, was like the Apostle Paul before he met the Jesus on the road to Damascus. Before his life-changing experience, the Apostle Paul wanted to protect what he felt to be the divinity of God by persecuting anyone who said they worshipped Jesus as God. For no man, according to Paul’s earlier way of thinking, could possibly consider himself to be one with God.

Like Arius, Paul could not believe the claims of Jesus and His followers. But on the road to Damascus, as Paul was on his way to round up and kill more Christians in his zeal, Paul met the Living Christ in a vision that blinded him physically, but awakened him spiritually to the Truth. In the days that followed, Paul’s physical eyes were healed and he repented of his misguided efforts. He was baptized in Jesus’ name and began to preach from then on that Jesus was not merely a man, but that Jesus’ claims about Himself to be one with the Father were completely true. Paul gave his life in worship and service to Christ, and had to endure, like Nicholas had to endure, imprisonment and an ever-present threat of death for his faith.

Arius was more like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day who, in their zeal to defend God, actually crucified the Lord of all creation. Arius felt justified in trying to gather support among the bishops for his position.

Nicholas and Dimitri didn’t think Arius’ ideas could possibly gather many supporters. Yet they would soon find out that Arius’ personal charisma and his excellent oratorial skills might actually hold sway over some of the bishops who had not yet given the idea nor its implications full consideration.

Nicholas and Dimitri, however, like the Apostle Paul, the Apostle John and tens of thousands of others in the time since Jesus lived and died and rose again from the dead, had discovered that Jesus was, thankfully and supernaturally, both fully human and fully divine.

But what would the rest of the bishops conclude? And what would they teach as truth to others for the countless generations to come? This was to become one of the pivotal questions that was to be determined at this meeting in Nicaea. Although Nicholas was interested in this debate, he had no idea that he was about to play a key role in its outcome.

CHAPTER 33 (Back to Table of Contents)

After a grand processional of bishops and priests, a boys’ choir and Constantine’s opening words, one of the first topics addressed at the council was the one brought forth by Arius–whether or not Jesus Christ was divine.

Arius made his opening arguments with great eloquence and great persuasion in the presence of Constantine and the rest of the assembly. Jesus was, he asserted, perhaps the foremost of all created beings. But to be co-equal with God, one in substance and essence with Him, was impossible–at least according to Arius. No one could be one with God, he said.

Nicholas listened in silence, along with every other bishop in that immense room. Respect for the speaker, especially in the presence of the emperor, took precedence over any type of muttering or disturbance that might accompany other types of gatherings like this, especially on a subject of such intensity. But the longer Arius spoke, the harder it became for Nicholas to sit in silence.

After all, Nicholas’ parents had given their lives for the honor of serving Christ their Lord. Nicholas himself had been overwhelmed by the presence of God in Bethlehem, at the very spot where God made His first appearance as Man in the flesh. Dimitri, Samuel and Ruthie had all been similarly affected by that visit to Bethlehem. They had walked up the hill in Jerusalem where the King of kings had been put to death by religious leadersleaders who, like Arius, doubted Jesus’ claims to be one with God.

Nicholas had always realized that Jesus was unlike any other man who had ever lived. And after Jesus died, He had risen from the dead, appeared to the twelve disciples and then appeared to more than 500 others who were living in Jerusalem at the time. What kind of man could do that? Was it just a mass hallucination? Was it just wishful thinking on the part of religious fanatics? But these weren’t just fans, they were followers who were willing to give up their lives, too, for their Lord and Savior.

The arguments continued to run through Nicholas’ head. Hadn’t the prophet Micah foretold, hundreds of years before Jesus was born, that the Messiah would be “from of old, from ancient times”? Hadn’t the Apostle John said that Jesus “was with God in the beginning,” concluding that Jesus “was God.”

Like others had tried to suggest, Arius said that Jesus had never claimed to be God. But Nicholas knew the Scriptures well enough to know that Jesus had said, “I and the Father are one. Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father… Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in Me?”

Even Jesus’ detractors at the time that He was living said that the reason they wanted to stone Jesus was because Jesus claimed to be God. The Scriptures said that these detractors cornered Jesus one day and Jesus said, “I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?”

They replied, “We are not stoning you for any of these, but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.”

Jesus had certainly claimed to be God, a claim that got Him into hot water more than once. His claim showed that He was either a madman or a liar–or that He was telling the Truth.

Nicholas’ mind flooded with Scriptures like these, as well as with memories of the years he had spent in prisonyears he would never get back again–all because he was unwilling to worship Diocletian as a god, but was fully willing to worship Jesus as God. How could Nicholas remain silent and let Arius go on like this? How could anyone else in the room take it, he thought? Nicholas had no idea.

“There was nothing divine about him,” Arius said with conviction. “He was just a man, just like any one of us.”

Without warning, and without another moment to think about what he was doing, Nicholas stood to his feet. Then his feet, as if they had a mind of their own, began to walk deliberately and intently across the massive hall towards Arius. Arius continued talking until Nicholas finally stood directly in front of him.

Arius stopped. This breach of protocol was unprecedented.

In the silence that followed, Nicholas turned his back towards Arius and pulled down the robes from his own back, revealing the hideous scars he had gotten while in prison. Nicholas said, “I didn’t get these for just a man.'”

Turning back towards Arius and facing him squarely, Nicholas saw the smug smile return to Arius’ face. Arius said, “Well, it looks like you were mistaken.” Then Arius started up his speech again as if nothing at all had happened.

That’s when Nicholas did the unthinkable. With no other thought than to stop this man from speaking against his Lord and Savior, and in plain site of the emperor and everyone else in attendance, Nicholas clenched his fist. He pulled back his arm and he punched Arius hard in the face.

Arius stumbled and fell back, both from the impact of the blow and from the shock that came with it. Nicholas, too, was stunned–along with everyone else in the room. With the same deliberate and intentional steps which he had taken to walk up to Arius, Nicholas now walked back to his chair and took his seat.

A collective gasp echoed through the hall when Nicholas struck Arius, followed by an eruption of commotion when Nicholas sat back down in his seat. The disruption threatened to throw the entire proceedings into chaos. The vast majority of those in the room looked like they could have jumped to their feet and given Nicholas a standing ovation for this bold act–including, by the look on his face, even the emperor himself! But to others, Arius chief among them, no words nor displays of emotion could express their outrage. Everyone knew what an awful offense Nicholas had just committed. It was, in fact, illegal for anyone to use violence of any kind in the presence of the emperor. The punishment for such an act was to immediately cut off the hand of anyone who struck another person in the presence of the emperor.

Constantine knew the law, of course, but also knew Nicholas. He had once even had a dream about Nicholas in which Nicholas warned Constantine to grant a stay of execution to three men in Constantine’s court–a warning which Constantine heeded and acted upon in real life. When Constantine shared that dream with one of his generals, the general recounted to Constantine what Nicholas had done for the three innocent men back in Myra, for the general was one of the three who had seen Nicholas’ bravery in person.

Although Nicholas’ actions against Arius may have appeared rash, Constantine admired Nicholas’ pluck. Known for his quick thinking and fast action, Constantine raised his hand and brought an instant silence to the room as he did so. “This is certainly a surprise to us all,” he said. “And while the penalty for an act such in my presence is clear, I would prefer to defer this matter to the leaders of the council instead. These are your proceedings and I will defer to your wisdom to conduct them as you see fit.”

Constantine had bought both time and goodwill among the various factions. The council on the whole seemed to agree with Nicholas’ position, at least in spirit, even if they could not agree with his rash action. They would want to exact some form of punishment, since not to do so would fail to honor the rule of law. But having been given permission by the emperor himself to do as they saw fit, rather than invoke the standard punishment, they felt the freedom to take another form of action.

After a short deliberation, the leaders of the council agreed and determined that Nicholas should be defrocked immediately from his position as a bishop, banished from taking part in the rest of the proceedings in Nicaea and held under house arrest within the palace complex. There he could await any further decision the council might see fit at the conclusion of their meetings that summer. It was a lenient sentence, in light of the offense.

But for Nicholas, even before he heard what the punishment was going to be, he was already punishing himself more than anyone else ever could for what he had just done. Within less than a minute, he had gone from experiencing one of the highest mountaintops of his life to experiencing one of its deepest valleys.

Here he was attending one of the greatest conclaves in the history of the world, and yet he had just done something he knew he could never take back. The ramifications of his actions would affect him for the rest of his life, he was sure of it, or at least for whatever remained of his life. The sensation he felt could only be understood, perhaps, by those who had experienced it before–the weight, the shame and the agony of a moment of sin that could have crushed him, apart from knowing the forgiveness of Christ.

When Nicholas was defrocked of his title as bishop, it was in front of the entire assembly. He was disrobed of his bishop’s garments, then escorted from the room in shackles. But this kind of disgrace was a mere trifle compared to the humiliation he was experiencing on the inside. He was even too numb to cry.

CHAPTER 34 (Back to Table of Contents)

“What have I done?” Nicholas said to Dimitri as the two sat together in a room near the farthest corner of the palace. This room had become Nicholas’ make-shift prison cell, as he was to be held under house arrest for the remainder of the proceedings. Dimitri, using his now-extensive skills at gaining access to otherwise unauthorized areas, had once again found a way to visit his friend in prison.

“What have you done?!? What else could you have done?” countered Dimitri. “If you hadn’t done it, someone else surely would have, or at least should have. You did Arius, and all the rest of us, a favor with that punch. Had he continued with his diatribe, who knows what punishment the Lord Himself might have brought down upon the entire gathering!” Of course, Dimitri knew God could take it, and often does, when people rail against Him and His ways. He is much more long-suffering than any of us could ever be. But still, Dimitri felt Nicholas’ actions were truly justified.

Nicholas, however, could hardly see it that way at the moment. It was more likely, he thought, that he had just succeeded in giving Arius the sympathy he needed for his cause to win. Nicholas knew that when people are losing an argument based on logic, they often appeal to pure emotion instead, going straight for the hearts of their listeners, whether or not their cause makes sense. And as much as Arius may have been losing his audience on the grounds of logic, Nicholas felt that his actions may have just tipped the emotional scales in Arius’ favor.

The torment of it all beat against Nicholas’ mind. Here it was, still just the opening days of the proceedings, and he would have to sit under house arrest for the next two months. How was he going to survive this onslaught of emotions every day during that time?

Nicholas already knew this prison cell was going to be entirely different than the one in which Diocletian had put him for more than a decade. This time, he felt he had put himself in jail. And although this prison was a beautifully appointed room within a palace, to Nicholas’ way of thinking, it was much worse than the filthy one in which he had almost died.

In the other cell, he knew he was there because of the misguided actions of others. This gave him a sense that what he had to endure there was part of the natural suffering that Jesus said would come to all who followed Him. But in this cell, he knew he was there because of his own inane actions, actions which he viewed as inexcusable, a viewpoint which he felt many of those in attendance would rightly share.

For decades Nicholas had been known as a man of calm, inner strength and of dignity under control. Then, in one day, he had lost it alland in front of the emperor no less! How could he ever forgive himself. “How,” he asked Dimitri, “could I ever take back what I’ve just done to the name of the Lord.”

Dimitri replied, “Perhaps He doesn’t want you to take it back. Maybe it wasn’t what you think you did to His name that He cares about so much, as what you did in His name. You certainly did what I, and the vast majority of those in the room wished they would have done, had they had the courage to do so.”

Dimitri’s words lingered in the air. As Nicholas contemplated them, a faint smile seemed to appear on his face. Perhaps there was something to be said for his heart in the matter after all. He was sincerely wanting to honor and defend his Lord, not to detract from Him in any way. Peter, he remembered, had a similar passion for defending his Lord. And Nicholas now realized what Peter may have felt when Peter cut off the ear of one of the men who had come to capture Jesus. Jesus told Peter to put away his sword and then Jesus healed the man’s ear. Jesus could obviously defend Himself quite well on His own, but Nicholas had to give Peter credit for his passionate defense of his Master.

Nicholas was still unconvinced that he had done the right thing, but he felt in good company with others who had acted on their passions. And Dimitri’s words helped him to realize that he was not alone in his thinking, and he took some comfort from the fact that Dimitri hadn’t completely forsaken him over the incident. This support from Dimitri acted like a soothing balm to Nicholas’ soul, and helped him to get through yet one more of the darkest times of his life.

Although Nicholas was convinced that the damage he had done was irreversible in human terms–and that God was going to have to work time-and-a-half to make anything good come out of this one–Nicholas knew what he had to do. Even in this moment of his deepest humiliation, he knew the best thing he could do was to do what he had always done: to put his complete faith and trust in God. But how? How could he trust that God possibly use this for good?

As if reading Nicholas’ mind, Dimitri knew exactly what Nicholas needed to help him put his trust back in God again. Dimitri did what Nicholas had done for him and Samuel and Ruthie so many years ago. Dimitri told him a story.

CHAPTER 35 (Back to Table of Contents)

Dimitri began, “What kind of story would you like to hear today? A good story or a bad story?” It was the way Nicholas had introduced the Bible stories that he told to Dimitri, Samuel and Ruthie during their many adventures in the Holy Land. Nicholas would then begin delighting the children with a story from the Bible about a good character or a bad character, or a good story or a bad story, sometimes which ended the exact opposite way it began.

Nicholas looked up with interest.

“It doesn’t matter,” Dimitri continued, “because the story I have to tell you today could be either good or bad. You just won’t know till the end. But I’ve learned from a good friend,” he said as he winked at Nicholas, “that the best way to enjoy a story is to always trust the storyteller.”

Nicholas had told them that he watched people’s reactions whenever he told stories back home.

“When people trust the storyteller,” Nicholas had said, “they love the story no matter what happens, because they know the storyteller knows how the story will end. But when people don’t trust the storyteller, their emotions go up and down like a boat in a storm, depending on what’s happening in the story. The truth is, only the storyteller knows for sure how the story will end. So as long as you trust the storyteller, you can enjoy the whole story from start to finish.”

Now it was Dimitri’s turn to tell a story to Nicholas. The story he chose to tell was about another man who had been sent to jail, a man by the name of Joseph. Dimitri recounted for Nicholas how Joseph’s life appeared to go up and down.

Dimitri started: “Joseph’s father loved Joseph and gave him a beautiful, colorful coat. Now that’s good, right?”

Nicholas nodded.

“But no, that was bad, for Joseph’s brothers saw the coat and were jealous of him and sold him into slavery. Now that’s bad, right?”

Nicholas nodded.

“No, that was good, because Joseph was put in charge of the whole house of a very wealthy man. Now that’s good, right?”

Nicholas nodded again.

“No, that’s bad,” said Dimitri, “because the wealthy man’s wife tried to seduce him, and when Joseph resisted, she sent him to jail. Now that’s bad, right?”

Nicholas stopped nodding either way because he knew where this was going.

“No, that’s good,” said Dimitri, “because Joseph was put in charge over all the other prisoners. He even helped to interpret their dreams. Now that’s good, right?”

Nicholas continued to listen carefully.

“No, that’s bad, because after interpreting their dreams, Joseph asked one of the men to help him out of prison when he got out, but the man forgot about Joseph and left him behind. Now that’s bad, right?”

Nicholas saw himself as the man who had been left behind in prison.

“No! That’s good! Because God had put Joseph in just the right place at just the right time. When the king of Egypt had a dream and he needed someone to interpret it, the man who had been set free suddenly remembered that Joseph was still in jail and told the king about him.

The king summoned Joseph, asked for an interpretation and Joseph gave it to him. The king was so impressed with Joseph that he put Joseph in charge of his whole kingdom. As a result, Joseph was able to use his new position to save hundreds of thousands of lives, including the lives of his own father and even his brothersthe very ones who had sold him into slavery in the first place. And that’s very good!”

“So you see,” said Dimitri, “just as you’ve always told us, we never know how the story will turn out until the very end. God knew what He was doing all along! You see…

– at just the right time, Joseph was born and his father loved him,
– so that at just the right time his brothers would mistreat him,
– so that at just the right time the slave traders would come along and buy him,
– so that at just the right time he would be put in charge of a wealthy man’s house,
– so that at just the right time he would be thrown into jail,
– so that at just the right time he would be put in charge of the prisoners,
– so that at just the right time he could interpret their dreams,
– so that at just the right time he could interpret Pharaoh’s dreams,
– so that at just the right time he would become second in command over all of Egypt,
– so that at just the right time Joseph would be in the one place in the world that God wanted him to be so that he could save the lives of his father and brothers and many, many others!

“All along the way, Joseph never gave up on God. He knew the secret of enjoying the story while he lived it out: he always trusted the Storyteller, the One who was writing the story of his life.”

All of Nicholas’ fears and doubts faded away in those moments and he knew he could trust the Storyteller, the One who was writing the story of his life, too. Nicholas’ story wasn’t over yet, and he had to trust that the God who brought him this far could see him through to the end.

Nicholas looked at Dimitri with a smile of thanks, then closed his eyes. It would be a long two months of waiting for the council’s decision. But he knew that if he could trust God in that one moment, and then in the next moment, and then the next, each of those moments would add up to minutes, and minutes would add up to hours. Hours would turn into weeks, then months, then years. He knew that it all began with trusting God in a moment.

With his eyes still closed, Nicholas put his full faith and trust in God again. The peace of God flooded his heart.

Soon, two months had passed by. The council was ready to make their final decisions on many matters, including the decision that had landed Nicholas under house arrest in the first placeand Nicholas was about to find out the results.

CHAPTER 36 (Back to Table of Contents)

“They did it!” It was Dimitri, bursting through the door to Nicholas’ room as soon as the palace guard had opened it.

“They did it!” he repeated. “It’s done! The council has voted and they’ve agreed with you! All but two of the 318 bishops have sided with you over Arius!”

Relief swept over Nicholas’ whole body. Dimitri could feel it in his body, too, as he watched the news flood over Nicholas’ entire being.

“And furthermore,” said Dimitri, “the council has decided not to take any further action against you!”

Both pieces of news were the best possible outcome Nicholas could have imagined. Even though Nicholas’ action had cost him his position as a bishop, it had not jeopardized the outcome of the proceedings. It was even possiblethough he never knew for surethat his action against Arius had perhaps in some way shaped what took place during those summer months at that historic council.

Within minutes of Dimitri’s arrival, another visitor appeared at Nicholas’ door. It was Constantine.

The council’s decision about what to do with Nicholas was one thing, but Constantine’s decision was another. A fresh wave of fear washed over Nicholas as he thought of the possibilities.

“Nicholas,” said the emperor, “I wanted to personally thank you for coming here to be my guest in Nicaea. I want to apologize for what you’ve had to endure these past two months. This wasn’t what I had planned for you and I’m sure it wasn’t what you had planned, either. But even though you weren’t able to attend the rest of the proceedings, I assure you that your presence was felt throughout every meeting. What you did that day in the hall spoke to me about what it means to follow Christ more than anything else I heard in the days that followed. I’d like to hear more from you in the future, if you would be willing to be my guest again. But next time, it won’t be in the farthest corner of the palace. Furthermore, I have asked for and received permission from the council to reinstate you to your position as Bishop of Myra. I believe the One who called you to serve Him would want you to continue doing everything you’ve been doing up to this point. As for me, let me just say that I appreciate what you’ve done here more than you can possibly know. Thank you for coming, and whenever you’re ready, you’re free to go home.”

Nicholas had been listening to Constantine’s words as if he were in a dream. He could hardly believe his ears. But when the emperor said the word “home,” Nicholas knew this wasn’t a dream, and the word rang like the sweetest bell in Nicholas’ ears. Of all the words the emperor had just spoken, none sounded better to him than that final word: home. He wanted nothing more than to get back to the flock he served. It was for them that he had come to this important gathering in the first place, to ensure that the Truths he had taught them would continue to be taught throughout the land.

After more than two months of being separated from them, and the ongoing question of what would become of them and the hundreds of thousands of others like them in the future who would be affected by their decisions here, Nicholas could finally go home. He was free again in more ways than one.

PART 7

Listen to Part 6 here (20 minutes, including Chapters 37, the Epilogue and the Conclusion)

St. Nicholas: The Believer, by Eric and Lana Elder

You’re reading ST. NICHOLAS: THE BELIEVER, by Eric and Lana Elder, a new story for Christmas based on the old story of St. Nicholas. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

CHAPTER 37 (Back to Table of Contents)

Nicholas stood at his favorite spot in the world one last time: by the sea. Eighteen years had passed since he had retuned to Myra from the council in Nicaea. In the days since coming home, he continued to serve the Lord as he had always done: with all his heart, soul, mind and strength.

Nicholas had come to the shore with Dimitri and Anna Maria, who had brought with them one of their grandchildren, a young girl seven years old, named Ruthie.

Ruthie had been running back and forth in the waves, as Dimitri and Anna Maria tried to keep up with her. Nicholas had plenty of time to look out over the sea and as he often did, look out over eternity as well.

Looking back on his life, Nicholas never knew if he really accomplished what he wanted to in life: to make a difference in the world. He had seen glimpses along the way, of course, in the lives of people like Dimitri, Samuel, Ruthie, Sophia, Cecilia and Anna Maria.

He had also learned from people like the ship’s captain that when the captain arrived in Rome, his ship miraculously weighed exactly the same as before he had set sail from Alexandriaeven after giving the people of Myra several years’ worth of grain from it. Reminders like these encouraged Nicholas that God really had been guiding him in his decisions.

He still had questions though. He never quite knew if he had done the right thing at the council in Nicaea. He never quite knew if his later private conversations with Constantine might have impacted the emperor’s personal faith in Christ.

He was encouraged, however, to learn that Constantine’s mother had also made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land just as Nicholas had done. And after her visit, she persuaded Constantine to build churches over the holy sites she had seen. She had recently completed building a church in Bethlehem over the spot where Jesus was born, as well as a church in Jerusalem over the spot where Jesus had died and risen from the dead.

Nicholas knew he had had both successes and mistakes in his life. But looking back over it, he couldn’t always tell which was which! Those times that he thought were the valleys turned out to be the mountaintops, and the mountaintops turned out to be valleys. But the most important thing, he reminded himself, was that he trusted God in all things, knowing that God could work anything for good for those who loved Him, who were called according to His purpose.

What the future held for the world, Nicholas had no idea. But he knew that he had done what he could with the time that he had. He tried to love God and love others as Jesus had called him to do. And where he had failed along the way, he trusted that Jesus could cover those failures, too, just as Jesus had covered his sins by dying on the cross.

As Nicholas’ father had done before him, Nicholas looked out over the sea again, too. Then closing his eyes, he asked God for strength for the next journey he was about to take.

He let the sun warm his face, then he opened the palms of his hands and let the breeze lift them into the air. He praised God as the warm breeze floated gently through his fingertips.

Little Ruthie returned from splashing in the water, followed closely by Dimitri and Anna Maria. Ruthie looked up at Nicholas, with his eyes closed and his hands raised towards heaven. Reaching out to him, she tugged at his clothes and asked, “Nicholas, have you ever seen God?”

Nicholas opened his eyes and looked down at Ruthie, then smiled up at Dimitri and Anna Maria. He looked out at the sunshine and the waves and the miles and miles of shoreline that stretched out in both directions before him. Turning his face back towards Ruthie, Nicholas said, “Yes, Ruthie, I have see God. And the older I get, the more I see Him everywhere I look.”

Ruthie smiled, and Nicholas gave her a warm hug. Then just as quickly as she had run up to him, she ran off again to play.

Nicholas exchanged smiles with Dimitri and Anna Maria, then they, too, were off again, chasing Ruthie down the beach.

Nicholas looked one last time at the beautiful sea, then turned and headed towards home.

EPILOGUE (Back to Table of Contents)

So now you know a little bit more about me–Dimitri Alexander–and my good friend, Nicholas. That was the last time I saw him, until this morning. He had asked if he could spend a few days alone, just him and the Lord that he loved. He said he had one more journey to prepare for. Anna Maria and I guessed, of course, just what he meant.

We knew he was probably getting ready to go home, to his real home, the one that Jesus had said He was going to prepare for each of us who believe in Him.

Nicholas had been looking forward to this trip his whole life. Not that he wanted to shortchange a single moment of the life that God that had given him here on earth, for he knew that this life had a uniquely important purpose as well, or else God would never have created it with such beauty and precision and marvelous mystery.

But as Nicholas’ life here on earth wound down, he said he was ready. He was ready to go, and he looked forward to everything that God had in store for him next.

So when Nicholas sent word this morning for Anna Maria and me and a few other friends to come and see him, we knew that the time had come.

As we came into this room, we found him lying on his bed, just as he is right now. He was breathing quietly and he motioned for us to come close. We couldn’t hold back our tears, and he didn’t try to stop us. He knew how hard it was to say goodbye to those we love. But he also made it easier for us. He smiled one more time and spoke softly, saying the same words that he had spoken when Ruthie had died many years before: “Either way we win,” he said. “Either way we win.”

“Yes, Nicholas,” I said. “Either way we win.” Then the room became quiet again. Nicholas closed his eyes and fell asleep for the last time. No one moved. No one said a word.

This man who lay before us slept as if it were just another night in his life. But we knew this was a holy moment. Nicholas had just entered into the presence of the Lord. As Nicholas had done throughout his life, we were sure he was doing right now in heaven, walking and talking and laughing with Jesus, but now they were face to face.

We could only imagine what Nicholas might be saying to Jesus. But we knew for certain what Jesus was saying to him: “Well done, My good and faithful servant. Well done. Come and share your Master’s happiness.”

I have no idea how history might remember Nicholas, if it will remember him at all. He was no emperor like Constantine. He was no tyrant like Diocletian. He was no orator like Arius. He was simply a Christian trying to live out his faith, touching one life at a time as best he knew how.

Nicholas may have wondered if his life made any difference. I know my answer, and now that you know his story, I’ll let you decide for yourself. In the end, I suppose only God really knows just how many lives were touched by this remarkable man.

But what I do know this: each of us has just one life to live. But if we live it right, as Nicholas did, one life is all we need.

CONCLUSION (Back to Table of Contents)

by Eric Elder

What Nicholas didn’t know, and what no one who knew him could have possibly imagined, was just how far and wide this one life would reach–not only throughout the world, but also throughout the ages.

He was known to his parents as their beloved son, and to those in his city as their beloved bishop. But he has become known to us by another name: Saint Nicholas.

The biblical word for “saint” literally means “believer.” The Bible talks about the saints in Ephesus, the saints in Rome, the saints in Philippi and the saints in Jerusalem. Each time the word saints refers to the believers who were in those cities. So Nicholas rightly became known as “Saint Nicholas,” or to say it another way, “Nicholas, The Believer.” The Latin translation is “Santa Nicholas,” and in Dutch “Sinterklaas,” from which we get the name “Santa Claus.”

His good name and his good deeds have been an inspiration to so many, that the day he passed from this life to the next, on December 6th, 343 A.D., is still celebrated by people throughout the world.

Many legends have been told about Nicholas over the years, some giving him qualities that make him seem larger than life. But the reason that so many legends of any kind grow, including those told about Saint Nicholas, is often because the people about whom they’re told were larger than life themselves. They were people who were so good or so well-respected that every good deed becomes attributed to them, as if they had done them themselves.

While not all the stories attributed to Nicholas can be traced to the earliest records of his life, the histories that were recorded closest to the time period in which he lived do record many of the stories found in this book. To help you sort through them, here’s what we do know:

  • Nicholas was born sometime between 260-280 A.D. in the city of Patara, a city you can still visit today in modern-day Turkey, on the northern coast of the Mediterranean Sea.
  • Nicholas’ parents were devout Christians who died in a plague when Nicholas was young, leaving him with a sizable inheritance.
  • Nicholas made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and lived there for a number of years before returning to his home province of Lycia.
  • Nicholas traveled across the Mediterranean Sea in a ship that was caught in a storm. After praying, his ship reached its destination as if someone was miraculously holding the rudder steady. The rudder of a ship is also called a tiller, and sailors on the Mediterranean Sea today still wish each other luck by saying, “May Nicholas hold the tiller!”
  • When Nicholas returned from the Holy Land, he took up residence in the city of Myra, about 30 miles from his hometown of Patara. Nicholas became the bishop of Myra and lived there the rest of his life.
  • Nicholas secretly gave three gifts of gold on three separate occasions to a man whose daughters were to be sold into slavery because he had no money to offer to potential husbands as a dowry. The family discovered Nicholas was the mysterious donor on one of his attempts, which is why we know the story today. In this version of the story, we’ve added the twist of having Nicholas deliver the first two gifts, and Dimitri deliver the third, to capture the idea that many gifts were given back then, and are still given today, in the name of Saint Nicholas, who was known for such deeds. The theme of redemption is also so closely associated with this story from Saint Nicholas’ life, that if you pass by a pawn shop today, you will often see three golden balls in their logo, representing the three bags of gold that Nicholas gave to spare these girls from their unfortunate fate.
  • Nicholas pled for the lives of three innocent men who were unjustly condemned to death by a magistrate in Myra, taking the sword directly from the executioner’s hand.
  • “Nicholas, Bishop of Myra” is listed on some, but not all, of the historical documents which record those who attended the real Council of Nicaea, which was convened by Emperor Constantine in 325 A.D. One of the council’s main decisions addressed the divinity of Christ, resulting in the writing of the Nicene Creed–a creed which is still recited in many churches today. Some historians say that Nicholas’ name does not appear on all the record books of this council because of his banishment from the proceedings after striking Arius for denying that Christ was divine. Nicholas is, however, listed on at least five of these ancient record books, including the earliest known Greek manuscript of the event.
  • The Nicene Creed was adopted at the Council of Nicaea and has become one of the most widely used, brief statements of the Christian faith. The original version reads, in part, as translated from the Greek: “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father, the only-begotten; that is, of the essence of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; By whom all things were made both in heaven and on earth; Who for us men, and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate and was made man; He suffered, and the third day He rose again, ascended into heaven; From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead…” Subsequent versions, beginning as early as 381 A.D., have altered and clarified some of the original statements, resulting in a few similar, but not quite identical statements that are now in use.
  • Nicholas is recorded as having done much for the people of Myra, including securing grain from a ship traveling from Alexandria to Rome, which saved the people in that region from a famine.
  • Constantine’s mother, Helen, did visit the Holy Land and encouraged Constantine to build churches over the sites that she felt were most important to the Christian faith. The churches were built on the locations she had been shown by local believers where Jesus was born, and where Jesus died and rose again. Those churches, The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, have been destroyed and rebuilt many times over the years, but still in the same locations that Constantine’s mother, and likely Nicholas himself, had seen.
  • The date of Nicholas’ death has been established as December 6th, 343 A.D., and you can still visit his tomb in the modern city of Demre, Turkey, formerly known as Myra, in the province of Lycia. Nicholas’ bones were removed from the tomb in 1087 A.D. by men from Italy who feared that they might be destroyed or stolen, as the country was being invaded by others. The bones of Saint Nicholas were taken to the city of Bari, Italy, where they are still entombed today.

Of the many other stories told about or attributed to Nicholas, it’s hard to know with certainty which ones actually took place and which were simply attributed to him because of his already good and popular name. For instance, in the 12th century, stories began to surface of how Nicholas had brought three children back to life who had been brutally murdered. Even though the first recorded accounts of this story didn’t appear until more than 800 years after Nicholas’ death, this story is one of the most frequently associated with Saint Nicholas in religious artwork, featuring three young children being raised to life and standing next to Nicholas. We have included the essence of this story in this novel in the form of the three orphans who Nicholas met in the Holy Land and whom he helped to bring back to life–at least spiritually.

While all of these additional stories can’t be attributed to Nicholas with certainty, we can say that his life and his memory had such a profound effect throughout history that more churches throughout the world now bear the name of “Saint Nicholas” than any other figure, outside of the original disciples themselves.

Some people wonder if they can believe in Saint Nicholas or not. Nicholas probably wouldn’t care so much if you believed in him or not, but that you believed in the One in whom He believed, Jesus Christ.

A popular image today shows Saint Nicholas bowing down, his hat at his side, kneeling in front of baby Jesus in the manger. Although that scene could never have taken place in real life, for Saint Nicholas was born almost 300 years after the birth of Christ, the heart of that scene couldn’t be more accurate. Nicholas was a true believer in Jesus and he did worship, adore and live his life in service to the Christ.

Saint Nicholas would have never wanted his story to replace the story of Jesus in the manger, but he would have loved to have his story point to Jesus in the manger. And that’s why this book was written.

While the stories told here were selected from the many that have been told about Saint Nicholas over the years, these were told so that you might believe–not just in Nicholas, but in Jesus Christ, his Savior. These stories were written down for the same reason the Apostle John wrote down the stories he recorded about Jesus in the Bible. John said he wrote his stories:

“…that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31).

Nicholas would want the same for you. He would want you to become what he was: a Believer.

If you’ve never done so, put your faith in Jesus Christ today, asking Him to forgive you of your sins and giving you the assurance that you will live with Him forever.

If you’ve already put your faith in Christ, let this story remind you just how precious your faith really is. Renew your commitment today to serve Christ as Nicholas served Him: with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength. God really will work all things together for good. As the Bible says:

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Thanks for reading this special book about this special man, and I pray that your Christmas may be truly merry and bright. As Clement Moore said in his now famous poem, A Visit From St. Nicholas:
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”
Eric Elder

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS (Back to Table of Contents)

Special thanks to Joe Wheeler and Jim Rosenthal whose book, St. Nicholas: A Closer Look at Christmas, provided much of the background material for this novella. Their research and documentation of the life of St. Nicholas, and the historical context in which he lived, was the most informative, authoritative and inspirational we found on the subject. Thank you, Joe and Jim, for helping to keep the spirit of St. Nicholas alive!

ABOUT THE AUTHORS (Back to Table of Contents)

Eric & Lana Elder have written numerous Christmas stories that have captivated and inspired thousands as part of an annual Christmas production known as The Bethlehem Walk.

St. Nicholas: The Believer marks the debut of their first full-length Christmas story. Eric & Lana have also collaborated on several other inspirational books including:

  • Two Weeks With God
  • What God Says About Sex
  • Exodus: Lessons In Freedom
  • Jesus: Lessons In Love
  • Acts: Lessons In Faith
  • Nehemiah: Lessons In Rebuilding
  • Ephesians: Lessons In Grace
  • Israel: Lessons From The Holy Land
  • Israel For Kids: Lessons From The Holy Land
  • The Top 20 Passages In The Bible
  • Romans: Lessons In Renewing Your Mind
  • and Making The Most Of The Darkness

To order or learn more, please visit:  www.InspiringBooks.com

St. Nicholas: The Believer, by Eric and Lana Elder

Thanks for reading ST. NICHOLAS: THE BELIEVER, by Eric and Lana Elder, a new story for Christmas based on the old story of St. Nicholas. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

San Nicolás: El Creyente

(The Spanish Edition of St. Nicholas: The Believer). Un cuento nuevo para Navidad basada en la antigua historia de San Nicolás
por Eric y Lana Elder
traducido por Victor J. Palomino

Léalo en línea de abajo!

Estás leyendo ST. NICOLÁS: EL CREYENTE, por Eric y Lana Elder, un cuento nuevo para Navidad basada en la antigua historia de San Nicolás (Spanish Edition). Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

Estás leyendo SAN NICOLÁS: EL CREYENTE, por Eric y Lana Elder, un cuento nuevo para Navidad basada en la antigua historia de San Nicolás (Spanish Edition). Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

Dedicatorio (Volver al índice de contenidos)
por Eric Elder

Este libro estás dedicado a mi querida esposa, la cual me inspiró y me ayudó a decirles a ustedes este cuento espectacular.

Lana acababa de terminar su redacción final y sugerencias sobre este libro la semana antes de pasar de esta vida a la próxima, demasiadamente joven a la edad de 48 años.

Fue su idea y su sueño compartir la historia de San Nicolás con tan cuantas personas posible. Ella quería inspirarlos a dar sus vidas por otros como Jesús había dado su vida por nosotros. Este libro es el primer paso en realizar ese sueño.

Al mundo Lana tal vez habría sido sólo una persona, pero para mí ella era el mundo. Este libro está dedicado a ella con gran amor.

Introducción (Volver al índice de contenidos)
por Eric Elder

Hubo un tiempo que casi había dejado de celebrar la Navidad. Nuestros hijos aún eran pequeños y todavía no estaban sometidos a la idea de Santa Claus y los regalos, el arbolito y las decoraciones navideñas.

Había leído que los religiosos puritanos que primero habían venido a Norte América eran tan fervientes en su fe que no celebraban nada de la Navidad. En vez, ellos les ponían una multa a los negociantes en sus comunidades que dejaban de mantener sus tiendas abiertas el día de Navidad. Ellos no querían nada que ver con un día de fiesta que ellos sentían que basadas en el paganismo. Para mí como recién convertido al evangelio y recién padre la idea de ir contra el exceso navideño en nuestra cultura me agradaba por lo menos en algunos aspectos.

Entonces leí un artículo por un hombre que simplemente le encantaba celebrar la Navidad. No encontraba mejor manera de celebrar el nacimiento del personaje más importante en la historia humana que tener una fiesta enorme en Su nombre—colectando y festejando y compartiendo regalos con tantas familias y amigos como fuera posible. Este hombre era un pastor de gran fe y gran gozo. Para él el gozo del nacimiento de Jesús era tan maravilloso que se deleitaba en todos los aspectos de la Navidad, incluyendo su preparación, decoraciones y actividades que eran parte de la celebración. Hasta le encantaba tener en el festejo a Santa Claus, nuestra versión moderna del real y verdadero personaje de antaño, San Nicolás, un hombre también de gran fe y gran gozo que adoraba y le hacía culto al niño que nació en Belém.

Entonces, ¿Por qué no celebrar el nacimiento de Cristo? ¿Por qué no tener la celebración más grande del año? ¿Por qué no celebrar la fiesta más feliz de todas?

Ya tenía la respuesta. Celebraría la Navidad—y mis hijos serían más felices en celebrarla también.

Me dediqué a celebrar la Navidad con gran esfuerzo y a la vez me dediqué a investigar intensamente la vida del verdadero San Nicolás, un hombre que estaba inamoviblemente entrelazado con este Día Santo. Descubrí que San Nicolás y Santa Claus eran verdaderamente la misma persona, y que San Nicolás, que vivió en el tercer y cuarto siglo después del nacimiento de Cristo, fue verdaderamente creyente de Cristo.

Mientras mi esposa y yo leíamos más y más sobre la fascinante historia de Nicolás, nos apasionaba más este creyente que ya por mucho tiempo capturaba los corazones y las imaginaciones de creyentes e incrédulos al igual por los siglos.

Con tantos libros y películas que se esmeran en contar el “verdadero” cuento de Santa Claus (así como el de sus venados realmente motorizados por Coca-Cola y ponche navideño), descubrí que hay muy pocos cuentos que se esmeran en realmente describir quien era San Nicolás, y particularmente, lo que él creía sobre el Hombre por el cual la Navidad se celebra, Jesucristo. Me sorprendí que a pesar de todos los documentos históricos que afirman la fe en Cristo de San Nicolás, cuentos imperiosos de ellos han desaparecido por medio de los años.

Entonces con el apoyo y la ayuda de mi querida esposa, Lana, decidimos revivirles a ustedes la historia de San Nicolás con el deseo de que ustedes capturen de nuevo la esencia de la Navidad.

Mientras algunos, hasta con buenos motivos, se esmeran en quitar todo lo que sea secular de este día de los más santos del año, a mi me parece preciso esmerarme en restaurar a Santa a su lugar correcto—no como el santo patrón de los centros comerciales, pero como un faro que brilla su luz en Él por el cual celebramos ese Día Santo.

Es con gran fe y gran gozo que les ofrezco esta novela corta de Navidad. Ha sido mi deseo contársela y espero que a ustedes les encante oírla. Tal vez sea el relato más humano de la historia de San Nicolás que ustedes han oído.

Sobre todo, le ruego a Dios que use esta historia para despertar tu amor, no sólo por esta fiesta del año, pero por Aquél que ilumina la fiesta.

¡Qué Dios los bendiga en esta Navidad y siempre!

En el amor de Cristo,

Eric Elder

P.D. He dividido este cuento en siete partes y cuarenta capítulos para facilitar la lectura. Si prefieren, pueden leer una parte por siete días antes de Navidad. O si prefieren, usen este libro como un devocional leyendo un capítulo por día por cuarenta días antes de Navidad, contando el prólogo, el epílogo y la conclusión como capítulos separados. Si empiezan el 15 de noviembre, entonces terminarán el Día de Nochebuena.

Estás leyendo ST. NICOLÁS: EL CREYENTE, por Eric y Lana Elder, un cuento nuevo para Navidad basada en la antigua historia de San Nicolás (Spanish Edition). Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

Estás leyendo SAN NICOLÁS: EL CREYENTE, por Eric y Lana Elder, un cuento nuevo para Navidad basada en la antigua historia de San Nicolás (Spanish Edition). Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

TABLA DE CONTENIDO

PARTE 1

PARTE 2

PARTE 3

PARTE 4

PARTE 5

PARTE 6

PARTE 7

Estás leyendo ST. NICOLÁS: EL CREYENTE, por Eric y Lana Elder, un cuento nuevo para Navidad basada en la antigua historia de San Nicolás (Spanish Edition). Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

Estás leyendo SAN NICOLÁS: EL CREYENTE, por Eric y Lana Elder, un cuento nuevo para Navidad basada en la antigua historia de San Nicolás (Spanish Edition). Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

PARTE 1

Prólogo (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Mi nombre es Demetrio—Demetrio Alejandro. Pero eso no es lo importante. Lo importante es aquel hombre allá, acostado en la cama. Él es—bueno, supongo que no hay otra manera de describirlo menos que decir—él es un santo. No sólo por todo lo bueno que ha hecho, pero porque él era—como todos los santos son—un creyente. Él creía que había Alguien mayor que él en la vida, Alguien que lo guiaba, que lo ayudaba cada día de su vida.

Si usted lo mirara de cerca, acostado allí en la cama, le parecería que esta muerto. Y puede tener razón. Pero la verdad es que él ahora está más vivo que antes jamás.

Mis amigos y yo hemos venido aquí hoy para pasar su último día en la tierra con él. Sólo hace unos minutes que lo vimos pasar de esta vida a la próxima.

Yo debería estar llorando, lo sé. Créame he llorado—y lloraré de nuevo. Pero por lo pronto, lo único que siento es gratitud porque él por fin ha llegado a su nuevo hogar, el hogar que él ha estado soñando por años. El hogar donde él por fin puede hablar con Dios cara a cara, como yo le estoy hablando a usted en este momento.

Cierto, verdaderamente era un santo. Pero para mí y muchos otros, él era mucho más. Él era—¿cómo podría decirlo? Una inspiración. Un amigo. Un maestro. Un ayudante. Un donante. Cómo le encantaba dar y dar y dar más, hasta que parecía no tener nada más que dar. Pero en esos momentos él extendía su mano más abajo y encontraba un poco más. “Siempre hay algo que se puede dar,” era lo que él muchas veces decía.

Él vivía con la esperanza de que, aunque en la forma más mínima, podía usar su vida para cambiar el mundo. Quería, sobre todo, ayudar a las personas. Pero con tantas necesidades en su alrededor, ¿qué podía hacer?

Era como un hombre en la playa rodeado de estrellas de mar que habían sido llevadas a la orilla por la marea. Sabía que morirían si no entraran de nuevo al mar.

Sin saber cómo poder salvarlas todas, el hombre en la playa hizo lo que pudo. Se agachó, tomó una en la mano, y la tiró al mar. Entonces se agachó de nuevo, tomó otra, e hizo lo mismo.

Alguien una de esas veces le preguntó al hombre por qué se molestaba en hacer eso—porque con tanta necesidad a su alrededor, ¿cómo era posible salvarlas todas? El hombre simplemente tiró otra al mar diciendo, “Tal vez no todas, pero ésa ya podrá vivir.” Entonces se agachó y tomó otra.

Pues bien, en el mundo tal vez eres sólo una persona, pero para una persona tú puedes ser un mundo.

En muchas formas mi amigo era igual a usted y a mí. Cada uno de nosotros tenemos sólo una vida para vivir. Pero si la vivimos correctamente, una vida es sólo lo que necesitamos. Y si vivimos nuestra vida para Dios, bueno, es posible que toquemos todo un mundo.

¿Cambió el mundo la vida de mi amigo? Yo ya sé la respuestas, porque yo fui uno de aquellos que él tomó hace muchísimos años. Pero es mejor que yo le haga el cuento, y cuando termine, le dejaré decidir si su vida ha cambiado el mundo o no. Y tal vez, cuando termine, usted verá que su vida también puede cambiarlo.

Perdón, pero no le he dicho su nombre todavía, este hombre que fue un gran santo, un gran creyente en el Dios que lo amó, que lo creó, que lo sostenía y con quien él vive ahora para siempre.

Su nombre es Nicolás—y ésta es su historia.

 

Capítulo 1 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Nicolás vivía en un mundo ideal. Por lo menos así era come él se lo imaginaba. Como un niño de nueve años de edad, creciendo en la costa norte del Gran Mar según él lo llamaba—Usted lo llamaría el Mar Mediterráneo—Nicolás no se podía imaginar una vida mejor.

Muchas veces caminaba por las calles con su padre, pretendiendo caminar a algún lugar en particular. Pero la verdadera razón por sus caminatas era para buscar a una persona con dificultades económicas, una persona que necesitaba una ayuda en la vida. Un simple saludo a veces se volvía en el descubrimiento de una necesidad que se debía enfrentar. Nicolás y su padre oraban, y si podían resolver esa dificultad, buscaban el modo de hacerlo.

Nicolás no tenía idea de veces que su padre se acercaba a una persona por detrás y después le ponía unas manzanas en su bolso, o una o dos monedas. Según Nicolás, nadie se daba cuenta de lo que su padre había hecho, y a veces él oía a la gente hablar del milagro de recibir exactamente lo que necesitaban en el momento preciso, de una manera inesperada.

A Nicolás le encantaban esas caminatas con su padre, al igual que le encantaba pasar tiempo con su madre en la casa. Sus padres le mostraban el mismo amor y generosidad a él que se lo mostraban a tantísimos otras personas.

De cierta manera sus padres habían aprendido a prosperar aún en los tiempos turbios en los cuales vivían. Realmente ellos eran muy ricos. Pero ser rico o pobre a Nicolás no le parecía ser importante. Lo único que sabía y le importaba era que sus padres lo amaban como ninguna otra persona en el mundo. Él era su único hijo, y sus horas juntas eran simples y verdaderamente felices.

Sus tiempos más copiosos eran por la noche mientras compartían cuentos que habían oído—cuentos de un Hombre que no era como ningún otro Hombre que ellos conocían. Un Hombre que había vivido al otro lado del Gran Mar como doscientos ochenta años antes. Su nombre era Jesús. Nicolás estaba cautivado con los cuentos de ese Hombre que parecía ser algo digno de estimación en los ojos de sus padres. Jesús le parecía ser humilde y real a la vez. ¿Cómo podía una persona tener esas dos características al igual? ¿Cómo podía ser tan pobre que había nacido en un establo de animales, y a la vez ser tan generoso que podía darle de comer a cinco mil personas? ¿Cómo podía vivir Su vida tan repleta, y a la vez morir una muerte tan cruel? Jesús era para Nicolás incomprensible, la persona más fascinante que él jamás había oído. Algún día, Nicolás pensaba, él anhelaba visitar ese lugar al otro lado del mar—y caminar donde Jesús caminó.

A pesar de todo el amor que Nicolás y sus padres compartían y que los unía, había una cosa que amenazaba separarlos. Era la cosa que parecía amenazar a muchas familias en su país en esos tiempos, sin distinguir entre ricos y pobres, su fe o falta de ella, su amor por otras personas o su falta de amor.

Los amigos de Nicolás y sus vecinos le llamaban la plaga. Sus padres la habían mencionado de vez en cuando, pero sólo en sus oraciones. Ellos oraban por las familias afectadas por la plaga, pidiéndole a Dios sanidad cuando fuera posible, y por fuerza de fe cuando no lo era. Sobre todo, sus padres oraban que Nicolás, a pesar de todo lo que pasara a su alrededor, él siempre supiera lo mucho que ellos lo amaban, y lo muchísimo que Dios lo amaba.

A pesar de que Nicolás era un niño, había visto suficiente para saber de la verdadera amenaza que existía en el mundo. Aún, él había sido protegido de esa amenaza, de cierto modo, por el amor de sus padres y por su devota fe en Dios. Como su padre había aprendido por medio de los años, y tantísimas veces se lo había recordado a Nicolás, “Dios dispone todas las cosas para el bien de quienes lo aman.” Y Nicolás le creía. Hasta ahora, él no tenía razón de dudar las palabras dichas por su padre.

Pero serían sólo unos meses antes de que la fe de Nicolás fuera desafiada, y él tendría que decidir por sí mismo si él creía esas palabras—que Dios dispone todas las cosas para el bien de quienes lo aman.

Esta noche, sin embargo, él simplemente confiaba en las palabras de su padre, mientras escuchaba a sus padres orar por él—y por aquellos en la ciudad—mientras se dejaba caer en un sueño perfecto.

 

Capítulo 2 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Nicolás se despertó oyendo el cantar de las aves afuera de su ventana. El aire estaba fresco y limpio como lavado por la niebla de la temprana mañana.

Pero la noticia de la mañana era menos grata. Al hijo de unos amigos de la familia de Nicolás se le había pegado la enfermedad que sólo se encontraba en otras ciudades. El niño estaba a punto de morir.

El padre de Nicolás había oído la noticia primero y había ido a orar por el niño. Al regresar a casa cuando Nicolás se despertaba, su padre compartió la noticia con su esposa y con su hijo.

“Tenemos que orar,” dijo el padre sin sugerencia de pánico en su voz, pero con la inconfundible urgencia que causó a los tres caer de rodilla.

El padre de Nicolás empezó la oración: “Padre, Tú sabes los planes que tú tienes para este niño. Confiamos que Tú los lleves a cabo. Oramos por sanidad porque amamos a este niño, pero sabemos que Tú lo amas más que nosotros. Confiamos que mientras ponemos a este pequeño en tus manos esta mañana, Tú dispones de todo para el bien, como tú siempre lo haces para todos quienes te aman.

Era una oración que Nicolás había oído a su padre decir muchas veces antes, pidiendo por lo que ellos creían que era lo mejor en cada situación, pero confiando que Dios sabía el mejor fin. Era la misma oración que Nicolás había oído que Jesús dijo la noche antes de morir: “Padre, si quieres,” Jesús oró, “no me hagas beber este trago amargo pero no se cumpla mi voluntad, sino la tuya.”

A Nicolás le era difícil entender esta oración. ¿No querrá Dios lo mejor para nosotros siempre? Y ¿cómo puede ser la muerte de algún bien? Aún, su padre oraba esa oración tantas veces que Nicolás estaba seguro que era la correcta oración. Pero cómo Dios podía contestar la oración de otra forma—y aún disponer de todo para el bien—le parecía un misterio.

Después de que la madre de Nicolás añadió sus palabras de oración y Nicolás mismo había hecho su petición, su padre terminó dándole gracias a Dios por escucharlos—y por ya haberles contestado la oración.

Mientras se ponían de pie, la noticia vino a la puerta, como si fuera una respuesta directa a lo que acababan de orar. Pero no era la respuesta que esperaban. El niño había muerto.

La madre de Nicolás empezó a llorar en silencio pero a la vez con lágrimas en los ojos. Lloraba al sentir la pérdida de la madre, sintiendo la pérdida como si fuera su propio hijo que había muerto. El padre de Nicolás la tomó de la mano y abrazó a su hijo, diciendo una silenciosa oración por la familia del niño que acababa de morir, y añadiendo otra oración por su propia familia. Abrazó de nuevo a su esposa y a su hijo, entonces salió por la puerta para regresar a la casa del niño fallecido.

 

Capítulo 3 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

La muerte del niño tuvo un efecto aleccionador en toda la ciudad. La gente del pueblo conocía al niño, claro, y todos estaban tristes por la pérdida de la familia.

Pero su muerte fue más aleccionadora porque no fue un evento único. La gente había oído de cómo la enfermedad se propagaba por todas las ciudades cercanas llevando con ella no solo una o dos vidas aquí o allí, pero familias enteras—comunidades enteras. La muerte de este niño les indicaba que la plaga también había llegado a su pueblo.

Nadie sabía cómo detenerla. Lo único que podían hacer era orar. Y en oración se pusieron.

Así que la enfermedad se propagaba, los padres de Nicolás visitaban los hogares de aquellos que morían. Mientras el dinero de sus padres no tenía ningún poder en ofrecer alivio a las familias, sus oraciones les traerían más paz que cualquier cifra de dinero.

Como siempre, el padre de Nicolás oraba que la muerte se alejara de ellos, como se había alejado de los israelitas en Egipto cuando la plaga de muerte venció sobre las vidas de cada primogénito de cada familia indispuesta a servir a Dios. Pero esta enfermedad era diferente. No distinguía entre creyentes ni incrédulos, primero o último en nacer, ni ningún otro factor aparente. La enfermedad no tenía fronteras, parecía ser invencible.

Aún, Nicolás observaba mientras su padre, a pesar de todo, oraba lleno de fe creyendo que Dios era capaz de detener la plaga en cualquier momento, en cualquier hogar, y confiando que Dios lo dispone de todo para el bien, aunque sus vidas, también, parecían ser abreviadas.

Estas últimas oraciones eran a las que todos se aferraban más. Más que nada, las palabras les daban esperanza—esperanza que sus vidas no eran vividas en vano, esperanza que sus muertes no serían olvidadas por el Dios que los había creado.

La visita del padre y la madre de Nicolás era de gran bienestar para aquellos enfrentando sufrimientos insoportables, porque mientras la plaga se propagaba, menos y menos personas estaban dispuestos a salir de sus casa, y mucho menos visitar las casas donde la enfermedad había atacado. Las oraciones del padre de Nicolás y las lágrimas de su madre, les daban a las familias la fuerza necesaria para encarar cualquier cosa que se les enfrentaba.

Nicolás observaba con asombro a sus padres repartir sus regalos de misericordia durante el día, y después regresar a la casa cada noche totalmente agotados pero espiritualmente colmados de fuerza. Nicolás se preguntaba cómo ellos podían adquirir la fuerza necesaria para cada día. Pero también se preguntaba cuánto tiempo sus propios padres podían seguir sin ser contagiados con la plaga.

Cuando Nicolás por fin tuvo la audacia de darle alta voz a sus preguntas, preguntas que todos estaban a punto de hacer, su padre simplemente respondió que ellos solo tenían dos opciones: vivir en miedo, o vivir en amor siguiendo el ejemplo de Aquel a quien ellos habían confiado sus vidas. Ellos escogieron vivir en amor, haciendo por los demás lo que ellos querían que otros hicieran por ellos.

Así que cada mañana el padre y la madre de Nicolás se levantaban y oraban, pidiéndole a su Señor lo que Él quería que ellos hicieran. Entonces, echando atrás todo miedo que ellos tuvieran, ponían su confianza en Dios, pasando el día sirviendo a los demás como si estuvieran sirviendo al mismo Cristo.

Mientras la respuesta de su padre no contestaba inmediatamente la pregunta que Nicolás tenía en su corazón—la cual era cuánto tiempo más pasaría antes que la enfermedad visitara su propia casa—esa respuesta le parecía contestar otra pregunta más profunda. Contestaba la pregunta si Dios tenía en cuenta todo lo que estaba pasando, y si lo tenía en cuenta, le importaba o no le importaba a Él suficientemente para intervenir.

De modo que Dios guiaba directamente a sus padres cada día, Nicolás obtuvo cierta paz en su corazón que Dios tenía, ciertamente y totalmente, en cuenta todo lo que ocurría en las vidas de cada persona de la ciudad de Patara—y que a Dios definitivamente le importaba. A Dios le importaba tanto que había enviado a los padres de Nicolás a aquellos que necesitaban escuchar una palabra de Él, que necesitaban tocar las manos de Él, que necesitaban contacto con Dios no sólo en su cuerpo pero también en su alma.

Nicolás se imaginaba que la respuesta a su pregunta era más gloriosa que lo que él se lo había imaginado. Su preocupación sobre cuando la enfermedad visitaría su propia casa desapareció cuando se durmió esa noche. En vez, oró que Dios usara sus manos y sus palabras—las manos y las palabras de Nicolás—como si fueran del mismo Dios, extendiéndose para expresar el amor de Dios a su pueblo.

 

Capítulo 4 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Los días siguientes, Nicolás se encontraba queriendo ayudar a su padre y a su madre más y más mientras ellos llevaban la misericordia de Dios a aquellos a su alrededor.

Trabajaban juntos para llevar comida, comodidad y amor a cada familia afectada por la plaga. Algunos días eran tan simples como detenerse en una casa para decirle a una madre que ella tenía compañeros en su sufrimiento. Otros días era llevando comida y bebida a una familia entera que había sufrido la enfermedad. Y aún otros días eran para preparar un lugar en las colinas alrededor del pueblo donde cuidadosamente enterraban a las personas que habían fallecido y ya estaban en la próxima vida.

Cada día el corazón de Nicolás se daba cuenta de la naturaleza temporal de la vida en la tierra, y estaba más y más en sintonía con la naturaleza eterna de la vida impalpable. Le parecía a Nicolás que la diferencia entre los dos mundos cada día se diferenciaba menos. Lo que se había imaginado una vez que era sólido y real—como las piedras y los árboles, como las manos y los píes—de repente tomaban una naturaleza más impalpable. Y aquellas cosa que le eran más difíciles de palpar—empezaban a ser más sólidas y verdaderas.

Le parecía que su mundo se estaba volteando al revés y hasta de lado todo a la misma vez, no con un giro desgarrador, pero como si sus propios ojos se calibraban, se ajustaban mejor para ver con más claridad lo que verdaderamente ocurría–enfocándose con más precisión en las cosa que realmente importaban en la vida. Aún rodeado de tantas muertes y enfermedad, Nicolás se sentía vivir de nuevo con más plenitud que antes había sentido.

Su padre trató de describir lo que Nicolás sentía usando palabras que Jesús dijo, que el que procura conservar su vida, la perderá; pero el que está dispuesto a perderla, encontrará verdadera vida. Aprendiendo ahora a amar al prójimo sin límites de temor y siguiendo adelante en amor, Nicolás se sentía estar verdaderamente vivo.

Si ese sentimiento lo podía sostener por los eventos que aún tendrían que pasar, él no lo sabía. Pero lo que sí sabía era que por lo pronto, más que antes, él quería vivir cada día en plenitud. Él quería despertarse cada día con la anticipación de cómo Dios lo usaría, y después hacer cualquier cosa que Dios estaba dispuesto a darle. Hacer menos que eso era renunciar la vida que Dios quería que el viviera—y engañar a Dios de la obra que Él quería que se hiciera.

Al par que los días pasaban, Nicolás llegó a saber lo que su padre y su madre ya sabían: que nadie sabía cuántos más días le quedaban en este mundo. Sus padres ya no se veían como humanos con una experiencia temporal, pero como seres espirituales. Con ojos de fe, ellos podían mirar hacia adelante sin el temor que captaba a tantos otros de sus vecinos.

 

Capítulo 5 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Una mañana cuando Nicolás se despertó oyendo toser a su madre, su corazón le pareció detenerse.

Por toda la preparación que sus padres—y hasta su propia fe—le habían dado, aún le sorprendió que la enfermedad actualmente podía cruzar el umbral de su propia casa.

Él pensó que tal vez Dios los libraría a todos por la amabilidad que ellos les habían mostrado a otros durante los últimos meses. Pero su padre le había advertido contra ese modo de pensar, recordándole que a pesar de todo el bien que Jesús había hecho en Su vida—por toda la sanidad que Él había traído a otros—aún llegaría la hora cuando Él, también, tendría que enfrentar el sufrimiento y la muerte. No era que Dios no lo amaba, o que no estaba preocupado por Él, o que no había visto todo el bien que había hecho en su vida. Y tampoco era que Jesús se mantenía indiferente a lo que estaba a punto de ocurrir. Jesús hasta les dijo a sus discípulos que su corazón estaba lleno de angustia por lo que tenía que pasar, pero eso no significaba que Él se arrepentía de lo que tenía por delante. No, Él dijo, “Precisamente para afrontarlo he venido. Nadie tiene amor más grande, que el que da su vida por sus amigos.”

La madre de Nicolás tosió de nuevo, y para el niño los minutos empezaron a avanzar lentamente. Se levantó. Al acercarse a su madre, ella se detuvo por un momento. Era como si ella estuviera indecisa entre querer que su hijo se detuviera—que no se acercara un paso más a la enfermedad que ahora estaba en su cuerpo—o levantarse, también, y abrazarlo dejándole saber que todo estaría bien. Pero en un momento más, Nicolás le había hecho innecesario el momento de indecisión, porque él ya estaba en sus brazos, abrazándola fuertemente mientras los dos estaban en llanto. Como Nicolás estaba prendiendo, tener fe no significa que no se debe llorar. Pero significa que uno puede confiar en Dios, hasta con las propias lágrimas.

El padre de Nicolás ya había derramado sus propias lágrimas esa mañana. Había salido de la casa antes de amanecer, esta vez no para visitar a otros, pero para orar. Para él, el lugar al que siempre regresaba cuando necesitaba estar a solas con Dios era al aire fresco a la orilla del mar, no muy lejos de su casa. Aunque él sabía que podía orar en cualquier lugar, en cualquiera ocasión, era a la orilla del mar donde él se sentía íntimamente cerca a Dios. El sonido de las olas y el ritmo del agua en la arena parecían calmarlo teniendo un efecto hipnotizador sobre él.

Él había llegado a tiempo para observar el amanecer del sol a su izquierda, mirando por la orilla del Gran Mar. ¿Cuántos amaneceres había visto de este mismo lugar? Y ¿cuántos más tendría por ver? Volteó la cabeza y tosió dejando que las preguntas regresaran al mar con la próxima ola que retorcía. La enfermedad le había llegado también a él.

Esta no era la primera vez que se preguntaba cuantos días tendría por vivir. La diferencia esta vez era que antes siempre la preguntaba suponiendo el futuro. El venía a este lugar siempre que tenía que hacer una decisión importante, una decisión que requería que él pensara más allá del tiempo presente. Él venía aquí cuando miraba hacia la eternidad, pensando en lo breve que la vida es. Aquí, a la orilla de mar, era como si él pudiera entender a la vez la brevedad de la vida y lo eterno del cielo.

El diario salir del sol, la intensidad, cresta y romper de las olas en la orilla le dejaban saber que Dios aún estaba en control, que Su mundo continuaría—con o sin él—como lo continuaba desde que Dios había pronunciado en existencia el mar y la tierra, y continuaría hasta que Dios decidiera terminarlo, para preparar un nuevo cielo y una nueva tierra. Comparado con la eternidad, el tiempo del mundo le parecía increíblemente breve, y la vida de un hombre más breve aún. Y en ese corto tiempo que vivía, él sabía que tenía que aprovechar al máximo cada día, no sólo en el vivir para sí mismo, ni tampoco por los demás, pero principalmente vivir para Dios que le había dado la vida. Si Dios, el creador de todo, le había deseado dar el aliento viviente, entonces mientras él tuviera vida, él quería usarla lo máximo posible.

Tosiendo otra vez, el padre de Nicolás recordó que esto no era solamente un ejercicio intelectual para ayudarlo a formar una decisión difícil. Esta vez—mientras miraba hacia el amanecer del sol de nuevo, y otra ola que revolvía—se dio cuenta de que esta sería la prueba final de todo lo que él había creído hasta este momento.

En algunas de las pruebas de la vida él había salido sobresaliente. En otras él había fracasado cuando estaba lleno de miedo o dudas. Pero esta era una prueba que él quería aprobar más que ninguna otra.

Cerró los ojos y pido fuerzas para enfrentar otro día. Dejó que el sol le calentara la cara y delicadamente abrió sus manos para sentir la brisa que venía por la orilla del mar en las palmas de sus manos y que flotaba por su cuerpo. Abrió los ojos y miró otra vez hacia el mar.

Entonces dio una vuelta y empezó a caminar a su casa, donde pronto encontraría a su querida esposa y amado hijo en un fuerte y triste abrazo.

 

Estás leyendo ST. NICOLÁS: EL CREYENTE, por Eric y Lana Elder, un cuento nuevo para Navidad basada en la antigua historia de San Nicolás (Spanish Edition). Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

Estás leyendo SAN NICOLÁS: EL CREYENTE, por Eric y Lana Elder, un cuento nuevo para Navidad basada en la antigua historia de San Nicolás (Spanish Edition). Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

PARTE 2

 

Capítulo 6 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Nicolás estaba sólo. Estaba en la misma parte de la playa donde su padre había estado orando sólo diez años antes, mirando el amanecer del día y las olas a la orilla de la playa.

El padre de Nicolás no pudo volver a salir a ver nunca más el Gran Mar porque fue finalmente vencido por la enfermedad después de aquel día. La madre de Nicolás falleció primero, dentro de dos semanas de haberse enfermado. Su padre vivió otros tres días después de la muerte de su esposa, como si estuviera esperando lo más posible estar cierto que su esposa pasara en paz de esta vida a la próxima, y para estar cierto que Nicolás estaba lo más listo posible para tomar sólo el próximo paso de su vida.

El padre de Nicolás no fue tímido en derramar sus lágrimas, pero no quería que fueran perdidas en emociones injustas tampoco. “No llores porque ha terminado,” su padre le dijo

Había una temporada y lugar para enojo y desencanto, pero esta no era la temporada de ninguna de las dos. Si tuviera la oportunidad de hacerlo todo de nuevo, sus padres hubieran escogido hacer exactamente lo mismo que habían hecho. “No era una tontería,” ellos dijeron, “estar dispuesto a arriesgar la vida amando a otros, especialmente cuanto no había ninguna garantía que ellos sobrevivirían.”

Al final, la plaga terminó tomando las vidas de casi la tercera parte de la gente de Patara antes de finalmente tomar su rumbo. La enfermedad parecía tener una mente propia, enfermando a aquellos que se protegían al igual que aquellos, como sus padres, que se aventuraban a salir al medio de ella.

Después de la muerte de sus padres, Nicolás sintió un nuevo sentimiento urgente de llevar a cabo la obra de sus padres, visitando a aquellos que estaban enfermos y animando a los familiares de aquellos que habían fallecido.

Entonces, casi tan pronto como había llegado a su ciudad, la plaga desapareció. Nicolás pasó casi las próximas semanas durmiendo, tratando de recuperarse de los largos días—y más largas noches—de suministrar a aquellos que estaban enfermos. Cuando estaba despierto, pasaba el tiempo tratando de entender sus propios sentimientos y emociones sintiendo la pérdida de su propia amada familia. Su vida estaba tan entrelazada con la de ellos, y al ser arrebatada tan de repente de él, apenas sabía la próxima cosa que hacer sin ellos. Nicolás fue a vivir con su tío, un sacerdote que vivía en el monasterio de Patara, hasta estar listo para aventurar adelante en el mundo a solas. Por fin la hora había llegado, y ahora Nicolás tendría que tomar una decisión.

Diferencia a tantos otros que la plaga había dejado huérfanos, a Nicolás le habían dejado una considerable herencia. La pregunta en su corazón no era que haría para ganarse la vida, pero que haría para hacerse de una vida. Por medio de todo lo que él había vivido, y ahora reconociendo la brevedad de la vida por sí mismo, Nicolás en este momento ya sabía por qué su padre había venido tantas veces a la orilla del mar para orar. Ahora era el turno de Nicolás de pensar en su propio futuro considerando lo más eterno.

¿Qué debo hacer? ¿Adónde debo ir? ¿Cómo debo pasar el resto de mi vida? Las preguntas lo hubieran vencido, excepto que su padre también lo había preparado bien para momentos como éstos.

Su padre, siempre estudiante de las Santas Escrituras y de la vida de Cristo, le había enseñado que Jesús les dijo a sus discípulos que no se preocuparan mucho por los problemas por venir sino en los problemas de cada día. “Cada día tiene ya sus problemas,” Jesús dijo.

Mientras Nicolás pensaba sobre esto, su carga se aliviaba. No tenía que saber qué hacer el resto de su vida en este momento. Sólo tenía que decidir su próximo paso.

Tenía suficiente dinero para viajar el mundo entero tres o cuatro veces y aún tendría suficiente dinero para vivir los años venideros. Pero en realidad eso no era lo que él quería hacer. Nunca le había interesado vivir con lujo o sin control, pues la vida que conocía hasta este momento siempre le daba muchísima satisfacción. Pero había un lugar que él siempre había querido ver con sus propios ojos.

Mientras miraba el mar, al sur y al oeste, sabía que a lo lejos estaba el lugar que más quería visitar—la tierra que en su mente le parecía la más preciosa de todas. Era la tierra donde Jesús había vivido, la tierra donde Él había caminado, había enseñado, la tierra donde Él había nacido y había muerto, y la tierra donde tantos cuentos de Su vida—y casi de la entera Santas Escrituras—habían tomado lugar.

Nicolás sabía que en la vida ciertas decisiones sólo se tomaban bajo el sudor y la agonía de la oración, tratando desesperadamente de decidir entre dos fines aparentemente buenos, y a la vez caminos diferentes. Pero esta decisión no era una de ellas. Ésta era una decisión que, por lo natural de sus circunstancias, era verdaderamente fácil de tomar. Además de su tío, había tan poco que lo mantuviera en Patara, y nada que lo detuviera en llevar a cabo el deseo que había tenido en su corazón por tanto tiempo.

Se alegró que su padre le había mostrado este lugar, y se alegró de haber venido a él de nuevo hoy. Sabía exactamente la próxima cosa que iba a hacer. Su decisión era tan clara como el agua del mar delante de él.

 

Capítulo 7 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

La llegada de Nicolás a la costa lejana del Gran Mar vino más repentina de lo que se había imaginado. Hacía tiempo que Él se había imaginado caminar dónde Jesús caminó, y ahora, a la edad de diecinueve años, por fin estaba allí.

Encontrar un barco para que lo llevara allí no fue difícil, porque su propia ciudad de Patara era uno de los puertos principales de parada para los barcos navegando de Egipto a Roma, llevando a viajeros al igual que carga. Reservar el pasaje era tan simple cómo mostrar que uno tenía el dinero para comprarlo, lo cual Nicolás tenía.

Pero ya que había llegado, ¿adónde iría primero? Quería verlo todo de una vez, aunque eso era imposible. La solución vino al sentir que lo halaban de la manga.

¿Usted es cristiano?” una pequeña voz le preguntó. Nicolás inclinó su cabeza abajo y vio a un niño que no parecía tener más de diez año mirándolo. Dos niños más cerca de él se reían. Hacer esta pregunta tan abiertamente, cuando en general era peligroso hacerla, mostraba que el niño era un fiel creyente de Cristo buscando a otro creyente, o mostraba que tenía otros motivos en mente. De la risa de sus amiguitos a su lado, un niño y una niña poco menor que el que había hecho la pregunta, Nicolás sintió que el motivo probablemente era el segundo.

¿Usted es cristiano?” el niño le preguntó de nuevo. “Yo lo puedo llevar a los sitios sagrados.”

Ah, eso es,” se dijo Nicolás. Tantos peregrinos obviamente han venido a este lugar todos estos años que hasta los más pequeños de allí sabían que los peregrinos necesitaban un guía al llegar. Mirando a los tres niños otra vez, Nicolás sintió que ellos lo podían ayudar. El corazón de Nicolás confiaba, y al no ser incauto tampoco pensando que aquí no tendría dificultades, confiaba que el mismo Dios que lo había traído a este lugar también le proveería la ayuda que necesitaba al llegar. Aunque estos niños lo hacían sólo para ganar unas monedas, eso le parecía bien a Nicolás. Él tenía dinero. Pero no tenía un mapa. Con gran gusto él los emplearía para que fueran como un mapa viviente a los sitios sagrados.

Sí, y sí,” Nicolás contestó. “Verdaderamente, soy cristiano. Y si ustedes quieren llevarme, entonces sí, porque tengo mucho interés en ver los sitios sagrados. Y sería un gran gusto si tus amigos vinieran con nosotros, también. Entonces, si nos encontramos en un apuro, ellos nos pueden defender a los dos.”

El niño se quedó sorprendido y sus amigos se rieron de nuevo. No era la respuesta que esperaba, por lo menos no tan rápido y no sin pasar mucho tiempo molestando al hombre. Siempre los peregrinos que venían eran mucho más escépticos al salir del barco, deshaciéndose rápidamente de todos lo que se les acercaban—por lo menos hasta estar en tierra un rato y tener sus planes en orden. Pero el niño pronto se recuperó del asombro e inmediatamente extendió la mano derecha, palma arriba, inclinando la cabeza para saludarlo. A Nicolás le dio la delicada impresión que el niño estaba a su disposición y la indelicada impresión que el niño estaba listo para que Nicolás le pusiera una moneda en la mano abierta. Al ver otra oportunidad para sorprender al niño de nuevo, Nicolás resolvió hacerlo con gusto.

Delicadamente le puso tres de sus más pequeñas, pero más brillantes monedas, en la palma de la mano y le dijo, “Mi nombre es Nicolás. Y ya veo que eres un hombre sabio. Ahora bien, si eres capaz de mantener la mano abierta después de haberte puesto tres monedas en ella, serás aún más sabio. Pues, para él que aprieta el puño tomando lo que ha recibido le será difícil recibir más. Pero para él que abre la mano voluntariamente hacia el cielo—voluntariamente dando igualmente de lo que voluntariamente ha recibido—reconocerá que su Padre celestial por lo general no se detendrá en darle más.”

Nicolás hizo una seña con la mano indicándole al niño que era su intención que compartiera lo que había recibido con sus amigos, los cuales se habían acercado más al ver las monedas. El niño irrevocablemente era el portavoz de los tres, pero aún se detuvo un momento pensando en lo que iba a hacer. Este hombre era tan diferente a otros que el niño había conocido. Con los otros, el niño siempre trataba, generalmente sin éxito, de engatusarlos en que le dieran una de las monedas de su bolso, y ahora este hombre le había dado tres monedas en su primer intento. El hecho que las monedas no habían sido dadas a regañadientes, pero felizmente, verdaderamente lo habían confundido. Nunca había oído a nadie decir eso de mantener la mano abierta para dar y recibir. Su instinto era enseguida apretar el puño con las monedas dentro, y correr hasta llegar al lugar más seguro, y a solas entonces abrir la mano para examinarlas y dejar que su brillo iluminara sus ojos. Pero aún él estaba en asombro, con el brazo extendido y la palma de la mano hacia arriba. Casi contra su propia voluntad, se sintió girar ligeramente y extenderles la mano a sus amigos.

Tomando la oportunidad, los otros dos rápidamente tomaron una moneda de su mano. Al instante de realizar que ellos, también, estaban a punto de apretar sus puños aferrando sus nuevos tesoros, lentamente abrieron la mano, mirando al recién llegado peregrino con asombro. No sólo estaban asombrados que él les había dado la moneda, pero que aún estaban delante de él con la mano abierta, sorprendiéndose hasta ellos mismos de estar dispuestos a seguir el extraño consejo de este hombre.

La escena causó que Nicolás empezara a reírse a carcajadas. Estaba a gusto que habían respondido de esa manera y rápidamente les puso en las manos dos más de sus pequeñas monedas, ahora triplicando su asombro. No era la cantidad del regalo que los asombraba, porque ellos habían visto propinas más grandes de peregrinos más ricos, pero era el espíritu de generosidad y alegría que acompañaba el regalo que los sorprendió.

El incidente completo duró menos de un minuto, pero había preparado a Nicolás y sus nuevos amigos a anticipar el viaje que los esperaba.

Ahora, deben cerrar la mano otra vez, porque un hombre sabio—o una mujer–,” dijo inclinándose hacia la niña, “también cuida lo que se le ha dado para que no se le pierda o se lo roben.”

Entonces, dando una vuelta para caminar hacia la ciudad, Nicolás dijo, “¿A ver si me dejan descansar esta noche, y entonces, al amanecer del día pueden empezar a enseñarme los sitios sagrados?”

Mientras abundaban los sitios sagrados en esta tierra santa, en los momentos mágicos que acababan de transcurrir, les parecía a los tres niños—y hasta al mismo Nicolás— que ellos acababan de pisar el primero.

 

Capítulo 8 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

La mañana siguiente, Nicolás se despertó al salir el sol. Les había dijo a los niño que se encontraran con él en el mesón poco después del amanecer. Sentía tener el corazón lleno de alegría anticipando el día por delante. Dentro de unos momentos, oyó un toque en la puerta y la inconfundible risa de los niños.

Supo que el nombre de los niños eran Demetrio, Samuel y Rut. Ellos tenían, para decir la verdad, experiencia en la vida. Eran hijos de padres que los habían dejado al nacer para aprender por su cuenta. Huérfanos como estos niños abundaban por las calles en todo el imperio romano, productos de un pueblo que disfrutaba sus placeres por dondequiera y con cualquier persona que ellos deseaban, sin pensar en los resultados de sus acciones.

Mientras Demetrio había podido vivir como víctima de su situación, no lo hizo. Había realizado de muy niño que de nada le valdría frustrándose o enojándose con sus circunstancias. Así que comenzó a ser negociante. Empezó a buscar maneras de trabajar ayudando a la gente a hacer lo que necesitaban, principalmente esas cosas que ellos no podían hacer por su cuenta o no querían hacer. Muchas veces no fue compensado por su esfuerzo, pero cuando lo era, se fijó que valía la pena trabajar.

No lo hacía por motivo de religión, porque él no era religioso, ni lo hacía por motivo de avaricia, porque nunca había hecho nada que no le parecía honesto si era sólo por el dinero, como los mezquinos lo hacen porque su único interés es el dinero. Simplemente, él pensaba que si hacía algún trabajo que otros valuaban, y si lo hacía bien y tomaba tiempo en hacerlo, entonces, de algún modo, el tendría éxito en la vida. Algunos como Demetrio se tropezaban con sabiduría divina sin realizarlo.

Samuel y Rut, al contrario, sólo lo acompañaban para ver qué bien les traería. Como abejas atraídas a la miel, Samuel y Rut eran atraídos a Demetrio, como a menudo pasa cuando una persona procede en hacer bien. Samuel tenía ocho años, y como Demetrio, no era religioso tampoco, pero había escogido su nombre él mismo cuando oyó a alguien contar la historia de otro niño llamado Samuel el cual, cuando era aún muy pequeño, sus padres lo habían entregado a un sacerdote para criarlo. Al Samuel de hoy le encantaba escuchar los cuentos de lo que el otro niño había hecho aunque había vivido más de mil años antes. El Samuel presente no sabía si los cuentos del otro Samuel eran ciertos, pero sin importarle había tomado su nombre ya varios años. Fue sólo en los últimos meses, viajando a los sitios sagrados con Demetrio, que había empezado a pensar si los cuentos eran verdaderamente ciertos.

Y Rut, aunque tenía sólo siete años, tenía chispa. Nunca se le olvidaban los nombres de la gente ni las fechas ni lo que había pasado ni cuándo ni quién le hizo qué a quién. La risa era su característica, pero aunque era pequeña, su mente anhelaba aprender y ella recordaba todo lo que veía y todo lo que se le enseñaba. Tenía la cabeza llena de preguntas, y naturalmente ella las hacía en alta voz.

A Demetrio no le molestaba que los pequeños lo siguieran, porque aunque habría sido más fácil hacer lo que tenía que hacer sólo, sabía también de los peligros que se encontraban en la calle y se sentía obligado a ayudar a los dos niños como un hermano mayor hubiera ayudado a sus hermanitos. Y con toda honestidad, él no tenía a nadie a quien llamar familia, así que al encontrarse con estos dos unos años antes se le llenó parte del corazón de una manera que no podía describir, pero de algún modo lo hacía sentir más a gusto.

Nicolás miró la escena de las tres caras radiantes en su umbral. “¿Adónde primero?” preguntó Demetrio.

“Empecemos en el principio,” dijo Nicolás, “en el sitio dónde Jesús nació.” Y con eso empezaron el viaje a pie de tres días de la costa de Jope a las colinas de Belén.

 

Capítulo 9 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Después de dos días de caminar y dormir en las colinas, Nicolás y sus nuevos amigos tenían sólo medio día de viaje antes de llegar a Belén. El gozo de Nicolás se intensificaba con cada colina que subían y bajaban, porque estaban al llegar al sitio santo que más anhelaba ver, el lugar donde Jesús nació.

“¿Por qué te imaginas que lo hizo?” Demetrio preguntó. “Es decir, ¿Por qué había querido Jesús venir al Mundo? Si yo estuviera ya en el cielo, pienso que habría querido quedarme allá.”

Aunque Demetrio había de ser el guía, no le importaba hacer tan cuantas preguntas le venían a la mente, especialmente cuando guiaba a una persona como Nicolás, lo cual no ocurría mucho.

A Nicolás no le molestaban tampoco sus preguntas, porque él mismo les había hecho muchas preguntas a sus padres. Ellos pertenecían a una comunidad de creyentes que se había inaugurado casi doscientos cincuenta años antes por el mismo apóstol Pablo cuando él había visitado la vecina ciudad de Mira en uno de sus viajes misioneros, enseñándoles de Jesús a todos los que lo escuchaban. Pablo había vivido durante los años de Jesús, aunque Pablo mismo no llegó a ser creyente hasta después de Jesús morir y resucitar de la muerte. Los cuentos de Pablo siempre eran dignos de escuchar.

Nicolás tuvo la oportunidad de escuchar todos los cuentos de Pablo cuando estuvo en Mira, como habían sido escritos y contados por muchas personas por los años.

De niño, Nicolás pensaba que algo que había pasado más de doscientos cincuenta años era historia de la antigüedad. Pero al crecer, y ahora aún más que sus padres habían fallecido, no le parecía nada de tiempos lejanos. Los cuentos que Nicolás había oído eran los mismos que su padre y su abuelo y su bisabuelo habían oído seis o siete generaciones antes y algunos parientes hasta los habían oído por primera vez del mismo Pablo. A Nicolás le encantaba oírlos de nuevo vez y tras otra, y había hecho muchas de las mismas preguntas que Demetrio hacía ahora—como porque Jesús dejó el cielo para venir al mundo en persona.

“La respuesta es simple, porque nos amaba,” dijo Nicolás. “Pero sólo con esa respuesta no se contesta en realidad la pregunta que me estás haciendo, porque Dios siempre nos ha amado. La razón por la cual Jesús vino al mundo era, pues, porque habían cosas que tenían que hacer en persona.”

Nicolás empezó a explicarles el evangelio—las buenas nuevas—a los niños, de cómo Jesús vino a pagar el precio máximo con su vida por todo el mal que nosotros le habíamos hecho así preparándonos una senda para regresar a Dios con el corazón limpio, y además vivir con Él en el cielo para siempre.

Mientras Nicolás les contaba la historia, los niños lo miraban con completa atención. Aunque ellos habían estado antes en Belén muchas veces, y a menudo habían llevado a peregrinos a la cueva que había sido tallada de la ladera de la colina donde se decía que Jesús había nacido, nunca antes se les había imaginado que fuera así. Nunca habían entendido la razón por qué Dios hizo lo que hizo. Y nunca habían considerado que los cuentos que habían escuchado de Jesús, Dios en forma humana, eran ciertos. ¿Cómo podía ser eso?

A pesar de todo, al oír la explicación de Nicolás, ellos la entendían tan bien que se preguntaban cómo no la habían considerado cierta antes. En esos momentos sus corazones y mentes por fin se abrieron por lo menos a la posibilidad que era verdad. Y esa realización fue el punto de partida de cada una de sus vidas, así como lo había sido para Nicolás la primera vez que le explicaron la verdad. Dios verdaderamente los amaba, y Dios les había demostrado ese amor a ellos en venir al mundo y salvarlos de la cierta y propia destrucción.

Cuando Nicolás oyó por primera vez cuanto el Padre lo amaba, la idea la entendía porque él ya había visto a su propio padre demostrarle amor. Pero para Demetrio, Samuel y Rut, que nunca habían tenido un padre, ni menos uno como el que Nicolás había descrito, era una idea distantemente incomprensible y a la vez una maravillosa y llamativa descripción de un amor que no conocían.

Caminando colina arriba hasta llegar a Belén, empezaron un paso más ligero así como sus corazones latían, sabiendo que pronto verían otra vez el sitio donde Dios había, como hombre, tocado por primera vez el Mundo menos de trescientos años antes. Pronto estarían pisando tierra que era verdaderamente santa.

 

Capítulo 10 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Ya era de noche cuando finalmente llegaron a su destino. Demetrio los guió por la ciudad de Belén al lugar donde generaciones de peregrinos habían ya venido a ver dónde Jesús nació: una pequeña cueva que había sido tallada de la ladera de una colina dónde los animales se podían acorralar para que no se escaparan.

No había señal para marcar el lugar, ningún monumento o edificio para indicar que uno estaba delante del lugar donde el Dios del universo había llegado como un niño. Aún era peligroso en todo el imperio romano confesarle a alguien que uno era cristiano, aunque las leyes contra serlo eran impuestas sólo ocasionalmente.

Pero eso no detenía a aquellos que verdaderamente profesaban conocer a Cristo de continuar honrando a Aquel que ellos servían como su Rey. Aunque Jesús les enseñó a sus discípulos que ellos deberían respetar a los gobernantes terrenales, si los forzaran a escoger entre adorar a Cristo o a Cesar, ambos los cristianos y el mismo Cesar sabían a quien los cristianos adorarían. Así que el enfrentamiento continuaba.

Lo único que indicaba que verdaderamente este era un sitio santo era la bien usada senda colina arriba que llevaba a un creyente a la cueva. Diez miles de peregrinos ya habían llegado a este lugar en los últimos doscientos cincuenta años. Los habitantes de Belén lo conocían bien, pues era el mismo lugar que se les había enseñado a los peregrinos por generaciones desde los días de Cristo.

Mientras Demetrio guiaba a los otros tres por la senda a la cueva, Nicolás se rió calladamente y después en alta voz. Los otros dieron una vuelta para ver qué era lo que lo había hecho reír tan de improviso. ¡Hasta él mismo se había sorprendido! Aquí estaba en el lugar más santo que anhelaba ver, y se estaba riendo.

Nicolás dijo, “Estaba pensando en los reyes magos que vinieron a Belén a ver a Jesús. Seguramente subieron por esta misma colina. Me imagino lo grandioso que eran, montados en sus camellos y trayendo sus regalos de oro, incensio y mirra. Por un instante me imaginaba que yo era uno de esos reyes montado en un camello. De repente pisé en la senda el excremento de una oveja. ¡En un instante el olor me regresó de nuevo a la realidad que no soy nada de grandioso!”

”Sí,” dijo Rut, “pero no nos dijo usted que los ángeles habían hablado con los pastores primero, y que ellos fueron los primeros en ir a ver al bebé? ¡Entonces, tener el olor de excremento de oveja no le hace parecer a uno de los reyes, pero le hace parecer a aquellos que Dios trajo al pesebre primero!”

“Bien dicho, Rut,” Nicolás dijo. “Tienes absolutamente la razón.”

Rut sonrió al contemplar su idea, y entonces sus ojos les dieron saber que tenía otra idea. “Pero, ¿tal vez nosotros también debemos traer un regalo, como los reyes magos?” La idea la motivaba, como si verdaderamente se preocupaba por no tener nada que traerle al Rey. Era cierto que Él ya no estaba ahí para recibir su regalo, aún ella estaba cautivada con los cuentos de Jesús que Nicolás les decía por el camino. Ella pensaba que por lo menos tenían que traerle algún regalo.

“¡Miren!” les dijo la niña señalando un lugar en la colina a una distancia de ellos. Dejó la senda y en unos momentos había regresado con cuatro pequeñas y delicadas flores doradas, una para cada uno de ellos. “Me parecen como si fueran de oro.”

De pronto ella sonrió ampliamente y le dio a cada uno un regalo para llevarle a Jesús. Nicolás sonrió también. Siempre hay algo que podemos darle, él pensó. Sea el oro de una mino o el oro de una flor, le traemos a Dios sólo lo que ya es suyo, no es cierto?

Y con sus regalos en mano, llegaron a la entrada de la cueva, y entraron en ella.

 

Capítulo 11 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Nada podía haber preparado a Nicolás a sentir la fuerte emoción que lo llenó al entrar en la cueva.

En el suelo delante de él había un pesebre de madera improvisado, un cajón para darles de comer a los animales, seguramente muy parecido al que fue usado para poner a Jesús la noche que nació. Aparentemente alguien lo había puesto allí como una memoria de lo que había ocurrido allí. Pero para Nicolás el resultado fue profundo.

Un momento él se reía de sí mismo y miraba a Rut recoger flores de la colina, y el próximo momento, al ver el pesebre, se encontró arrodillado, llorando sin control al pensar en lo que había ocurrió en ese mismo lugar.

Pensó en todo lo que toda su vida él había oído decir de Jesús—de cómo él había curado a los enfermos, caminado sobre el agua y levantado a un muerto. Pensó en las palabras que Jesús había hablado—palabras que resonaban con el peso de autoridad como el autor de la misma vida. Pensó en sus propios padres que habían ofrecido sus vidas por aquellos que amaban para servir a este Hombre llamado Jesús que había muerto también por ellos.

Los pensamientos le llenaban completamente la mente de tal manera que Nicolás sólo podía llorar con sinceras lágrimas. Le salían del alma. También, muy profundo dentro de él, Nicolás se sintió conmovido como nunca en la vida se había sentido. Era una sensación que le provocaba una respuesta, una acción. Era un sentimiento tan diferente a cualquier otro que jamás había tenido, pero sin duda alguna, había ahora un paso que Nicolás tenía que tomar, como si una puerta se abriera delante de él y él sabía que tenía que entrar por ella. Pero, ¿cómo?

Como una respuesta a su pregunta, Nicolás recordó la flor dorada en su mano. Sabía exactamente lo que tenía que hacer y él quería hacerlo con todo deseo.

Levantó la flor en su mano y la puso delicadamente en el piso delante del pesebre de madera. La flor dorada ya no era solamente una flor. Era un símbolo de su propia vida, ofrecida al servicio del Rey.

Nicolás se quedó arrodillado allí por varios minutos rindiéndose a la sensación que en el momento sabía, mientras la experimentaba, que lo cambiaría por el resto de la vida. No se daba cuenta de nada en su alrededor. Lo único que sabía era que tenía que servir a este Rey, a este Hombre que ciertamente era Hombre en todo sentido, pero que también era uno con Dios, la propia naturaleza de Dios mismo.

Como despertándose lentamente de un sueño, Nicolás empezó otra vez a darse cuenta de su ambiente. Se fijó en Demetrio y Samuel a su izquierda y en Rut a su derecha, también arrodillados. De haber visto a Nicolás arrodillarse, ellos también hicieron lo mismo. Ahora miraban de Nicolás al pesebre delante de él.

La emoción que había llenado a Nicolás ahora los llenaba a ellos también. Ellos se imaginaban lo que él sentía, sabiendo de su devoción a Jesús y lo que les había costado a sus padres seguirlo a Él. Cada uno de ellos, de su propia manera, empezó a sentir dentro de sí lo que era sentir tal amor y devoción.

Al ver a Nicolás colocar su flor delante del pesebre, ellos empezaron a sentir el mismo deseo. Si Cristo era tan importante para Nicolás, entonces definitivamente también querían seguir a Jesús. Nunca en la vida ellos habían sido amados como Nicolás los había amado esos últimos tres días. Pero a pesar de todo sabían que el amor que Nicolás les había mostrado no se originaba sólo en él, pero en Dios a quien Nicolás servía. Si este era el efecto que Jesús hacía sentir en sus siervos, entonces ellos también querían servir a Jesús.

Cualquier duda que Nicolás había tenido en su fe antes de ese día, todas habían desaparecido en esos momentos eternos. Nicolás había llegado a ser, verdaderamente, un creyente.

Y desde ese primer momento de poner totalmente su fe y confianza en Jesús, él ya estaba inspirando a otros a hacer lo mismo.

 

Estás leyendo ST. NICOLÁS: EL CREYENTE, por Eric y Lana Elder, un cuento nuevo para Navidad basada en la antigua historia de San Nicolás (Spanish Edition). Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

Estás leyendo SAN NICOLÁS: EL CREYENTE, por Eric y Lana Elder, un cuento nuevo para Navidad basada en la antigua historia de San Nicolás (Spanish Edition). Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

PARTE 3

 

Capítulo 12 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Una vez más, Nicolás estaba sólo frente al mar. Esta vez, sin embargo, estaba en la orilla de la Tierra Santa, mirando hacía el Gran Mar y hacia su tierra natal.

En los meses después de su visita a Belén, Nicolás, junto con su joven guía y guarda espaldas, habían buscado todos los sitios santos posibles relacionados con Jesús. Habían vuelto a trazar los pasos de Jesús de su infancia en el pueblo de Nazaret hasta las aldeas pescadoras en Capernaúm, donde Jesús había vivido de mayor.

Ellos habían puestos sus pies en el agua del río Jordán donde Jesús había sido bautizado y habían nadado en el Mar de Galilea donde Él había caminado en el agua y calmado la tormenta.

Ellos habían visitado el monte donde Jesús había hablado del reino de los cielos, y se habían maravillado en el lugar done Él había dividido los cinco panes y los dos peses para darle de comer a la multitud de más de cinco mil personas.

Aunque fue en Belén donde Nicolás se llenó de asombre y adoración, fue en Jerusalén done se llenó de misión y propósito. Al caminar por las calles donde Jesús había llevado Su cruz al lugar de su propia crucifixión, Nicolás sintió el peso en los hombros como si también cargara la cruz. Entonces, al ver el monte donde Jesús había muerto, y la cercana tumba vacía donde Jesús había resucitado de la muerte, Nicolás sintió desaparecer el peso sobre los hombros, como Jesús se habría sentido al salir de la tumba donde lo habían sellado.

Fue en ese momento cuando Nicolás supo cual sería su misión y su propósito en la vida: señalar a otros a Él que también era capaz de levantar sus cargas. Quería mostrarles que ellos ya no tenían que llevar solos las cargas del pecado, del dolor, de la enfermedad y de la necesidad. Quería mostrarles que ellos podían arrojar sus preocupaciones sobre Jesús, y saber que Jesús se interesaba en ellos. “Vengan a mí, todos ustedes que están cansados y agobiados,” Jesús había dicho, “y yo les daré descanso.”

Los cuentos que Nicolás había oído de niño ya no eran imágenes imprecisas y lejanas de lo que podía haber ocurrido. Eran cuentos que habían tomado nueva vida para él, cuentos que ahora eran de tres dimensiones y de todo color. No era sólo que ahora había visto estos sitios con sus propios ojos. Otros ya habían hecho eso, y algunos hasta vivían allí en ese lugar, pero aún nunca habían sentido lo que Nicolás sentía. La diferencia en Nicolás era que él veía esos cuentos por medio de ojos de fe, por medio de ojos de un creyente, como uno que ahora verdaderamente creía todo lo que había ocurrido.

A medio que su aventura de viajar a cada uno de los sitios sagrados concluía, Nicolás regresó al lugar donde por primera vez había sentido la presencia de Dios tan fuertemente: a Belén. Sentía que para prepararse mejor para el nuevo llamamiento de su vida, debía pasar tan cuanto tiempo posible viviendo y aprendiendo en esta tierra tan especial. Mientras exploraba la ciudad de Belén y lo que la rodeaba, encontró otra cueva cerca, en la ciudad de Beit Jala, que era parecida a la cueva donde Jesús había nacido. Empezó a vivir en esa cueva con la esperanza de vivir y aprender lo más posible de todo lo que había en esta tierra donde su Salvador había vivido.

Demetrio, Samuel y Rut también habían sentido una nueva misión y propósito en la vida. Aunque querían haberse quedado con Nicolás, se sentían obligados a continuar su importante obra de guiar a más personas a ver estos sitios santos. Ya no era solo para ganarse la vida, pero ahora sabían que era un llamamiento sagrado, un llamamiento para ayudar a otros sentir lo que ellos habían sentido.

Ya habían pasado cuatro años desde que Nicolás había llegado a esta orilla del Gran Mar. Durante esos años, a menudo él veía a sus jóvenes amigos traer más y más peregrinos a ver lo que ellos le habían mostrado a Nicolás. En esos años que pasaron tan rápido, él vio a cada uno de ellos crecer en “sabiduría y estatura, gozando del favor de Dios y toda la gente,” igual que Jesús lo había hecho en su infancia en Nazaret.

A Nicolás le hubiera encantado quedarse allí más tiempo, pero el mismo Espíritu de Dios que lo había traído a ese lugar, ahora lo atraía a regresar a su pueblo. Sabía que no podía mantener esa experiencia santa para siempre. Había gente que lo necesitaba, y una vida que lo esperaba en su pueblo en la provincia de Licia. Lo que le esperaba esa vida, él no lo sabía. Con sus padres ya muertos, había poco que lo atraía a su hogar, pero era simplemente el Espíritu de Dios que lo movía hacía delante en la próxima fase de su viaje.

Buscar un barco para regresar era más difícil que encontrar uno para venir a este lugar porque los mares en calma del verano estaban al terminar y las primeras tormentas de otoño estaban al llegar. Pero Nicolás estaba convencido que ese era el momento, y sabía que si esperaba más tiempo, tal vez no llegaría a su destino hasta la primavera—y la atracción del Espíritu era demasiado fuerte para demorar.

Así que cuando supo que un barco estaba a punto de llegar en cualquier momento, uno de los últimos de la temporada de viaje entre Alejandría y Roma, rápidamente él hizo planes para viajar. El barco había de llegar la próxima mañana, y él sabía que no podía quedarse atrás.

Había mandado un recado por medio del dueño de una tienda a sus tres amigos diciéndoles que se embarcaría por la mañana. Pero aún al anochecer él no había tenido ninguna noticia de ellos.

Entonces estaba solo enfrente al mar pensando en todo lo que había ocurrido y en todo lo que había cambiado su vida desde el momento de llegar a la Tierra Santa—y en todo lo que cambiaría al embarcar de allí. Esos pensamientos lo llenaban de emoción, anticipación y hasta, sinceramente, de miedo.

 

Capítulo 13 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Aunque el barco de Nicolás llegó la siguiente mañana como esperaba, los niños no habían llegado.

Esa tarde, cuando era el momento de embarcar, los tres aún no habían llegado. Nicolás tristemente, había renunciado la posibilidad que se encontraran otra vez. Empezó a caminar hacia el barco, cuando sintió que alguien lo halaba de la manga.

“¿Es usted cristiano?” se le dirigió una voz otra vez, pero esta vez con más madurez que cuatro años antes. Era Demetrio, claro. Nicolás dio una vuelta enseguida y sonrió con una amplia sonrisa.

“¿Qué si soy cristiano? ¡Sin duda.” Dijo al ver a los tres niños también con sonrisas. “¿Y ustedes?” añadió, preguntándoles a sus tres amigos.

“¡Sin duda!” contestaron los tres, casi a la vez. Así era como hablaban de su fe desde haber compartido esa experiencia en Belén, la experiencia cuando sus dudas acerca de Dios habían desaparecido.

Mientras Nicolás contemplaba las tres caras una vez más, pensó en qué era más difícil: dejar esta preciosa tierra, o dejar a estos precios jovencitos que había conocido allí. Sabían que Dios los había llamado para un propósito, y ellos confiaban que Dios ahora los llamaba a separarse para otro propósito también, como cuatro años antes Nicolás sentía llamado a vivir en Belén y ellos a continuar llevando a los peregrinos de ciudad a ciudad.

Pero aún sabiendo la voluntad de Dios era difícil someterse a ella. Como Nicolás a veces les recordaba, las lágrimas indicaban el amor más fuerte del mundo. Sin lágrimas, cuando uno pierde lo que le importa más, sería difícil decidir si esas cosas eran verdaderamente importantes.

La falta de lágrimas no sería el problema hoy. Una vez más Nicolás les pidió que pusieran su mano derecha delante de ellos. Al poner su mano en el bolsillo para poner tres monedas grandes en sus manos abiertas, no pudo hacerlo tan rápido como esperaba. Al instante los tres jovencitos habían puesto sus brazos completamente alrededor del cuello, la espalda y la cintura de Nicolás, según la altura de cada niño. Cada uno lo abrazaba fuertemente y por mucho tiempo, cuando uno de los marinos del barco le dijo a Nicolás que ya era hora de embarcar.

Mientras Nicolás abrazaba a cada uno de ellos una vez más, en secreto les puso una moneda en cada uno de sus bolsillos. Durante el tiempo que habían pasado juntos, los regalos de Nicolás habían ayudado a los niños inmensamente. Pero no eran los regalos de Nicolás que los bendecían tanto como su presencia—su deseo de pasar tanto tiempo con ellos. Aún, Nicolás quería darles una última bendición que ellos iban a descubrir después de despedirse y, como siempre, él daba sus mejores bendiciones en secreto.

Nicolás no sabía si reír o llorar al darles este último regalo, así que hizo las dos cosas. En silencio también ofreció una oración de agradecimiento por cada una de sus vidas, entonces se despidió de cada uno de ellos por última vez. Los abrazos de los niños fue la mejor despedida al pisar en el barco y dirigirse a su pueblo—sin saber que sus abrazos y sus palabras dulces también lo ayudarían a llevarlo a través de los días tenebrosos que él estaba a punto de enfrentar.

 

Capítulo 14 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

El viento azotó el barco tan pronto como había salido de la orilla. El capitán del barco esperaba adelantar el viaje antes que la tormenta llegara, navegando unas horas por la costa al puerto de la próxima ciudad y pasar la noche allí. Navegar por la costa del Gran Mar prolongaba el viaje, deteniéndose en los puertos de cada ciudad en vez de seguir directamente al destino final. Pero navegar directamente era también más peligroso, especialmente en esta estación del año. Así que para evitar el invierno cercano, y la anticipada tormenta, querían navegar cada día lo más posible.

Nicolás se dio cuenta que mantener fechas previstas era más que un asunto del deseo del capitán para cumplir el contrato con los clientes. Era también un asunto de vida o muerte para las familias del equipo del barco que venían a bordo, incluyendo la familia del capitán. Nicolás llegó a saber que una escasez de comida se realizaba por todo el imperio, ahora afligiendo la ciudad de Roma. El hambre había comenzado en las áreas rurales ya que había escasez de lluvia en los alrededores, pero la escasez ya empezaba a disminuir las reservas en Roma también. Los precios subían, pero aún las familias que podían comprar la comida rápidamente reducían sus recursos para obtenerla.

El capitán del barco no era un hombre ignorante, ya que él había navegado estas aguas por casi treinta años. Pero también sabía que el riesgo de detener el viaje en este momento podía paralizarlo hasta pasar el invierno. Si eso pasara, la carga de grano se destruiría para la primavera, al igual que su familia. Así que era preciso que el barco siguiera adelante.

A Nicolás le parecía que la decisión de seguir navegando era beneficiosa. Él también sentía el deseo de continuar con el viaje, aunque no era familia ni carga que se lo causaba. Era el mismo Espíritu de Dios. No podía explicárselo a nadie, menos a los que ya lo habían sentido. Lo único que sabía era que continuar el viaje era importante.

Había pensado pasar más tiempo en la Tierra Santa, quizás hasta su vida entera. Se sentía a gusto allí desde el principio porque había oído tantos cuentos del lugar toda su niñez. No tenía mucha familia que lo esperaba en ningún otro lugar, y hasta este momento, estaba contento en quedarse donde estaba, si no fuera por el impulso del Espíritu indicándole que era hora de salir.

Ese sentimiento le empezó como una inquietud al principio, sentía que ya no estaba tan a gusto en quedarse donde estaba. No podía proyectar el sentimiento a algo en particular que le estorbaba donde estaba, sólo que ya era tiempo de salir de allí. Pero, ¿adónde? ¿Adónde quería Dios que él fuera? ¿Tenía Dios otro sitio que debía ver? ¿En otra parte del país que debía vivir? Tal vez, ¿otro país que debería visitar?

Mientras la inquietud le crecía, su corazón y mente empezaron a explorar las opciones en más detalles. Había aprendido en el pasado que el mejor modo de escuchar a Dios era deshaciéndose de su propia voluntad, para dedicarse totalmente a la voluntad de Dios, fuera lo que fuera. Mientras dejar atrás su voluntad siempre era difícil, él sabía que Dios lo guiaría por sendas mejores. Finalmente, dejando su propia voluntad, Nicolás empezó a ver la voluntad de Dios más claramente aún en esta situación. Aunque sentía que la Tierra Santa era su nuevo hogar, verdaderamente no era su hogar. Sentía con seguridad que ya era la hora de regresar a su región natal, a la provincia de Licia en la costa norte del Gran Mar. Había algo, sentía él, que Dios quería que él hiciera allí—algo que por lo cual se había preparado y había sido llamado, y era, en efecto, la razón que Dios había escogido para que él creciera allí desde su niñez. Tal como Nicolás había sentido alivio cuando fue a la Tierra Santa, ahora se sentía aliviado al regresar a su pueblo.

A su pueblo se dirigía, y a su pueblo tenía que ir. Ese impulso interno que sentía era tan fuerte—y hasta más fuerte—como el impulso que obligaba al capitán y el equipo del barco a llevar al pueblo la carga, sana y salva, a sus queridas familias.

Tormenta o no, tenía que seguir adelante.

 

Capítulo 15 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

El barco de Nicolás no pudo llegar al próximo puerto en la costa. Al contrario, con el deseo de navegar delante de la tormenta, se encontraron en el medio de ella. La tormenta azotaba el barco llevándolo lejos de la costa en las primeras horas del viaje, y empujando el barco más y más lejos de la costa, hasta que tres horas más tarde se encontraba prisionero en sus olas.

El equipo ya había bajado las velas abandonando todo esfuerzo de guiar el barco con el timón en dirección contraria. La esperanza era que en seguir el paso de la tormenta en vez de ir contra él podrían mejor mantener el barco a salvo. Pero esta opción también parecía llevarlos dentro de aguas más profundas y peligrosas manteniéndolo cerca del ojo de la tormenta.

Después de tres horas los mareos que al principio los pasajeros y el equipo tenían ya no era la preocupación. Ahora el miedo de morir los llenaba a todos, menos a los más valientes a bordo.

Aunque Nicolás había viajado en barco antes, no se consideraba uno de los más valientes. Él nunca había sentidos olas como estas azotar un barco. Y él no era el único. Al empeorarse la tormenta, cada hombre decía que esta era la tormenta más terrible que jamás había visto.

La próxima mañana cuando la tormenta aún azotaba, y también la próxima, y la próxima aún, y las olas los tiraba de lado a lado, todos pensaban cual había sido la razón de la prisa en tratar de navegar delante de la tormenta. Ahora ellos solo esperaban y oraban que Dios los permitiera vivir para poder presenciar sólo un día más, una hora más. Mientras ola tras ola golpeaba el barco, Nicolás sólo oraba que Dios los permitiera resistir una ola más.

Los pensamientos y oraciones de Nicolás se llenaban de curiosidad sobre las experiencias del Apóstol Pablo, ese creyente en Cristo que había navegado de ida y vuelta por el Gran Mar tantas veces en barcos semejantes a este. Fue en el último viaje de Pablo a Roma que había puesto pie en Mira, solo a unos kilómetros del pueblo de Nicolás. Entonces, al continuar de Mira a Roma, se enfrentó con una de las tormentas más violentas que había sufrido en el mar, una rabiosa furia que duró más de catorce días y terminó en que las olas destrozaran su barco llevándolo a fondo en un banco de arena, cerca de la costa de la isla de Malta.

Nicolás oró que esa batalla con el viento no durara catorce días. No sabía si podrían pasar aún un solo día más. Trató de pensar si Pablo había hecho algo para poder salvar su vida y las de los doscientos setenta y seis hombres en la tripulación que navegaban con él, aunque el barco y la carga se habían perdido. Pero con lo mucho que pensaba, lo único que recordó fue que un ángel se le había aparecido a Pablo la noche antes de que el barco se echara a fondo. El ángel le dijo a Pablo que se animara—que aunque el barco se destruiría, ninguno de los hombros a bordo iba a morir. Cuando Pablo les contó a los marinos de la visita angélica, todos se armaron de valor, porque Pablo estaba convencido que iba a suceder como el ángel se lo había dicho. Y así fue.

Pero a Nicolás no se le apareció ningún ángel. No había consecuencia celestial ni consejo alguno de lo que ellos deberían o no deberían hacer. Lo único que sintió fue esa obligación interna que había sentido antes de apartar del puerto—que necesitaban llegar al destino en cuanto antes.

Sin saber qué más hacer, Nicolás recordó el dicho de su padre: “Mandatos corrientes son mandatos beneficios.” Si un soldado no sabía qué hacer a continuación, aunque la batalla a su alrededor le parecía cambiar de origen, si el comandante no había cambiado el mandato, entonces el soldado debía continuar con el mandato más corriente. Mandatos corrientes son mandatos beneficios. Fue este dicho sabio de su padre, más que cualquier otro pensamiento que guiaba a Nicolás y le daba el valor para hacer lo que hizo después.

 

Capítulo 16 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Cuando la tormenta parecía estar a punto de vencerlos, Nicolás empezó a pensar en los niños que acababa de dejar. La visión de ellos no lo llenaba de tristeza sino de esperanza.

Él empezaba a animarse con los cuentos que ellos habían aprendido de Jesús calmando la tormenta, de Moisés dividiendo el Mar Rojo, y de Josué deteniendo la corriente del Río Jordán. Nicolás y los niños a veces se imaginaban cuál sería el resultado de poder controlar las fuerzas de la naturaleza de tal manera. Hasta Nicolás mismo, en algunas ocasiones, había intentado hacerlo, así como Demetrio, Samuel y Rut. Cuando llovía, levantaban las manos y oraban para detener la lluvia. Pero sólo continuaba lloviendo mojándoles la cabeza. Cuando llegaron al Mar de Galilea, trataron de caminar sobre el agua, así como Jesús lo había hecho—y hasta Pedro lo hizo, aunque fue por sólo unos momentos. Nicolás y los niños presumían que ellos no tenían suficiente fe o fuerzas o cualquier otra cosa necesaria para poder hacer tales cosas.

Aún mientras otra ola azotaba el barco donde Nicolás ahora estaba, se dio cuenta que estos cuentos tenían algo en común. Tal vez no era la fe que causaba el problema, pero el momento divino. En cada cuento que recordaba, Dios no permitió esos milagros por capricho como para entretener a aquellos que intentaban hacerlos. Dios los permitió porque Dios tenía sitios que tenían que visitar, personas que tenían que ver y vidas que tenían que ayudar. En cada situación había algo urgente que requería hacer no sólo lo que las personas querían hacer por su cuenta, pero lo que Dios mismo en su corazón quería hacer.

Le parecía que los milagros se habían hecho no sólo en el deseo de reorganizar el mundo de Dios, pero en el deseo de Dios de reorganizar el mundo de los fieles. A Nicolás le parecía que era una combinación de orar en fe, más la voluntad divina de Dios, que causaba esa chispa entre el cielos y la tierra y, encendida por ambos deseos a la vez unidos, que había explotado en un poder que era capaz de mover montañas.

Cuando Jesús tenía que cruzar el lago, pero los discípulos ya habían salido en el bote, Él pudo encender, por medio de fe, el proceso que lo dejó caminar en el agua, y a la vez calmar la tormenta que amenazaba quitarles la vida cuando por fin llegó a donde estaban ellos.

“Mandatos corrientes eran mandatos beneficiosos,” Nicolás recordó, y él creía con todo su ser que si Dios no había cambiado el mandato, entonces ellos tendrían que hacer todo lo necesario para llegar al otro lado del Gran Mar. Pero no era suficiente que sólo fuera la voluntad de Dios. Dios buscaba a alguien dispuesto, aquí en la tierra, que también tuviera esa voluntad, de modo que se completara la conexión divina y causara que el milagro explotara. Como Moisés cuando levantó su vara en lo alto o cuando los sacerdotes de Josué tomaron el primer paso al entrar en el Río Jordán, Dios necesitaba a alguien que estuviera de acuerdo con su voluntad en plena fe que lo que Él deseaba en el cielo ocurriría aquí en la tierra. Dios ya le había dicho a Nicolás lo que debería ocurrir. Ahora le tocaba a Nicolás completar la conexión divina.

“¡Oigan, todos!” Nicolás gritó para llamarle la atención a la tripulación. “¡El Dios que yo sirvo y que nos ha dado a cada uno de nosotros la vida, quiere que nosotros lleguemos a nuestro destino más que nosotros mismos lo queremos. Debemos de estar de acuerdo en fe, aquí y en este momento, no sólo que Dios es capaz de hacerlo, pero que su voluntad es que lo hagamos. Si ustedes aman a Dios, o por lo menos si creen que lo desean amar, quiero que oren conmigo, que verdaderamente lleguemos a nuestro destino y que nada se enfrente con nuestro viaje!”

Tan pronto como Nicolás dijo esas palabras, lo inexpresable ocurrió: no sólo el viento no dejó de soplar, pero se impulsó. Nicolás se detuvo por un momento, como si hubiera cometido un error cósmico o fallado en calcular a Dios y lo que Él quería que hiciera. Pero entonces se dio cuenta que aunque el viento había aumentado, también había cambiado de dirección ligeramente, pero de tal distinta y evidente forma que Dios les había llamado la atención a todos a bordo. En vez de ser golpeado por las olas por los dos lados, ahora el barco navegaba por medio de ellas, como si un canal había sido segado en las mismas olas. El barco se movía de ese modo, no sólo por unos momentos, pero por las próximas horas.

Cuando la velocidad y dirección del barco continuaban su firme y impresionante curso, el capitán se acercó a Nicolás. Le dijo que nunca en la vida había visto tal cosa. Le parecía como si una mano invisible estaba a cargo del timón del barco, firme y derecha, aunque nadie estaba a cargo de las cuerdas amarradas al timón, ya que habían abandonado controlarlo cuando los vientos empezaron a soplar a lo máximo.

Nicolás sabía también—aunque ciertamente no tenía la experiencia del capitán—que esto no había sido un fenómeno normal en alta mar. Él había sentido algo fuera de lo corriente tomando control desde el momento que se había dirigido a la tribulación, y lo sentía aún mientras seguían adelante.

Lo que había por delante, él no lo sabía. Pero lo que sí sabía era que Él que los había traído hasta aquí no quitaría su mano del timón hasta terminar lo que intentaba desempeñar.

 

Capítulo 17 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

La tormenta que amenazaba terminar sus vidas, resultó en salvar muchas más. En vez de seguir la distancia más alejada por la orilla, la tormenta los había llevado directamente por el centro del mar, directo por las partes más peligrosas que ellos no se habrían sometido por su cuenta en esa temporada del año.

Al ver tierra al amanecer del quinto día, supieron con seguridad donde estaban. Era la ciudad de Mira, sólo a unos kilómetros del pueblo de Nicolás, y la misma ciudad donde el Apóstol Pablo había cambiado de barco en su famoso viaje a Roma.

Estaban tan cerca a su pueblo que Nicolás supo dentro de sí que estaba a punto de tocar pie en el lugar exacto donde Dios quería que él estuviera. Dios, sin duda alguna, le había salvado la vida para un propósito que ahora empezaría el próximo capítulo de su vida.

Al navegar más cerca a la costa, se dieron cuenta que la tormenta que los azotaba en alta mar, apenas se había realizado en la costa.

Las lluvias que habían inundado el barco los últimos días, y que también deberían haber estado saciando la tierra, no la habían mojado por varios meses. La sequía que el capitán y los marinos le habían dicho a Nicolás que había en Roma, ya se había realizado en Licia por dos años y medios. El sumo resultado era que la cosecha que habría de llenar los almacenes para el invierno entrante y para proporcionar las semillas para el próximo año ya se habían agotado. Si la gente de Lira no conseguía grano para comer ahora, muchos no podrían sobrevivir el invierno, y muchos más morirían la próxima primavera, ya que no tendrían semilla para sembrar otra cosecha. El barco era uno de los últimos que pudo salir de la tierra fértil de Egipto antes del invierno, y llegar en este momento y con esta necesitad le parecía a la gente como un milagro. Ciertamente había sido la respuesta a sus oraciones.

Pero la respuesta no era tan simple para el capitán del barco. Él tenía órdenes precisas de los encargados de los almacenes del Imperio Romano que ni una semilla de todo el grano había de desaparecer al llegar el barco a Roma. El barco se había pesado en Alejandría antes de partir de Egipto y de nuevo se pesaría en Roma—y el capitán personalmente sería responsable de cualquiera diferencia. La escasez de comida había aumentado la preocupación del emperador por traer alivio a su pueblo. No solamente eso, pero las familias del capitán y los marinos esperaban la llegada de la comida. Sus empleos y las vidas de sus familias, dependían de la segura llegada de cada grano a bordo.

Pero aún, sin la fe y el apoyo de Nicolás, el capitán sabía que el barco y la carga se habrían perdido en alta mar, así como sus vidas.

Aunque Nicolás sabía ciertamente que Dios lo había regresado a su pueblo, no estaba totalmente seguro que hacer acerca de la necesidad de grano. Aunque le parecía que ofrecerle por lo menos parte de la carga a la gente de Mira sería lo correcto, Nicolás aún lo contemplaba del punto de vista de Dios. ¿No estaba esta ciudad, o cualquiera otra en el imperio, con la misma necesidad de la carga que Roma que la había comprado y pagado para que se la entregaran? Pero a Nicolás también le parecía que el barco había sido llevado específicamente a esta ciudad en particular, en ruta directa y precisa en medio de las enormes olas.

La decisión de lo que se debería hacer en ese momento tomó lugar sólo dentro de unos minutos de haber llegado a la orilla. Y Nicolás y el capitán tuvieron poco tiempo para pensar en las opciones de lo que iban a hacer porque los habitantes ya corrían para ver el barco con sus propios ojos, cada uno maravillado del modo que Dios aparentemente lo había traído a su puerto hambriento. Se reunían en grupos más y más grandes para darle la bienvenida al barco y a la vez, darle las gracias y la adoración a Dios.

Ambos, Nicolás y el capitán sabían que sólo Dios mismo podía resolver el problema. Los dos, así como la tripulación, ya habían convenido la noche anterior—mientras velozmente y sin fuerzas humanas el agua los agitaba—que lo primero que harían al llegar a tierra sería ir a la parroquia más cercana y darle gracias a Dios por rescatarlos. Al ver donde habían llegado, Nicolás sabía exactamente donde estaba la parroquia. Era una que su familia había visitado de vez en cuando al viajar entre las dos ciudades de Patara y Mira. Después de decirle a la tripulación que su primera obligación era la de darle gracias a Dios por traerlos a ese lugar con toda seguridad, Nicolás, el capitán y los marinos partieron para la parroquia de Mira.

Al cruzar la ciudad y subir la colina donde estaba acunada la parroquia, no tenían idea que los clérigos dentro sus muros ya habían estado batallando con una batalla propia.

 

Estás leyendo ST. NICOLÁS: EL CREYENTE, por Eric y Lana Elder, un cuento nuevo para Navidad basada en la antigua historia de San Nicolás (Spanish Edition). Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

Estás leyendo SAN NICOLÁS: EL CREYENTE, por Eric y Lana Elder, un cuento nuevo para Navidad basada en la antigua historia de San Nicolás (Spanish Edition). Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

PARTE 4

 

Capítulo 18 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

El próximo paso de la vida de Nicolás estaba a punto de determinarse por medio de un sueño. Pero no fue uno que Nicolás había soñado—fue un sueño que Dios había concebido y había puesto en el corazón de un hombre, un clérigo de la ciudad de Mira.

Las semanas antes de llegar Nicolás a Mira, una tragedia había sucedido en la parroquia del pueblo. El anciano obispo, el dirigente de la parroquia, había muerto. La tragedia que había sucedido no era la muerte del obispo, pues había vivido una larga y productiva vida y simplemente se había sometido a los efectos de la edad. La tragedia era la disputa que resultó a causa de quién tomaría el puesto de ser el próximo obispo.

Aunque parecía que tal problema se podía resolver amistosamente, especialmente dentro de una parroquia, cuando es asunto de los corazones humanos, la lealtad y el deseo personal muchas veces confunden a la gente tanto que no pueden distinguir cual es la voluntad de Dios en cierta situación. Es difícil para todos, hasta para la gente religiosa, mantener sus mentes fuera de ideas premeditadas y preferencias personales con respeto a lo que Dios quiere o no quiere hacer en tal momento.

Este debate era la tormenta que ahora se agitaba ya por una semana, y la cual había llegado a su ápice la noche antes de llegar Nicolás.

Esa noche uno de los clérigos había tenido un sueño que lo había despertado repentinamente. En su sueño vio a un hombre que nunca había visto y que claramente iba a tomar las responsabilidades del querido y difunto obispo. Cuando despertó del sueño, no recordaba nada de la apariencia del hombre, pero solo recordaba su nombre: Nicolás.

“¿Nicolás?” preguntó uno de los otros clérigos al oír del sueño de su compañero. “Ninguno de nosotros jamás hemos usado ese nombre, ni tampoco hay nadie llamado Nicolás en toda la ciudad.”

Nicolás no era, por cierto, un nombre popular en esa época. Solo se mencionó de paso en el evangelio de de Lucas cuando se estableció la iglesia, así como otros nombres también fuera de lo común en esos días en Mira, nombres como Prócaro, Nicanor, Timón, Parmenas. A los otros clérigos les parecía ridículo la posibilidad que este sueño fuera divino. Pero el clérigo mayor les recordó, “Hasta el nombre de Jesús se lo había dado un ángel a su padre en un sueño.

Tal vez era este testimonio del evangelio o tal vez era la falta de posibilidad que jamás ocurriera, que los clérigos decidieron que verdaderamente considerarían a la próxima persona que entrara por la puerta y respondiera al nombre de Nicolás. Ciertamente sería beneficioso para romper la situación en que se encontraban de no poder seguir adelante.

¡Cuál fue su sorpresa entonces, cuando al abrir la puerta principal para las oraciones matutinas, ellos se encontraron con la tripulación entera de un barco a punto de entrar en la parroquia!

Los clérigos saludaron a cada hombre al entrar por la puerta, dándoles la bienvenida a la parroquia. Los últimos dos por entrar fueron el capitán y Nicolás, ya que habían dejado entrar a todos los otros hombres primero. El capitán les dio las gracias a los clérigos por dejarlos compartir sus oraciones matutinas con ellos, entonces, refiriéndose a Nicolás les dijo, “Y gracias a Nicolás por tener la brillante idea de venir aquí hoy.”

Los asombrados clérigos se miraron los unos a los otros sin poder creerlo. Tal vez Dios les había contestado sus oraciones al cabo.

 

Capítulo 19 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Al llegar a la parroquia la preocupación del capitán de qué hacer con el grano en el barco desapareció tan pronto como había desaparecido la tormenta al llegar a la orilla.

Dentro de unos momentos de haber comenzado las oraciones matutinas, él ya estaba convencido que solo podía haber sido la mano de Dios que había sostenido el timón del barco derecho y cierto. Ahora ya sabía que quería presentarle a la gente del pueblo una ofrenda del grano en el barco. Dios le había hablado de ambos, el plan y la cantidad. Era como si el capitán estuviera desempeñado el papel de Abran en el muy antiguo cuento de Abran ofreciéndole parte de su riqueza al sacerdote Melquisedec.

El capitán estaba dispuesto a correr el riesgo con sus superiores en Roma en vez de correrlo con el Dios que los había rescatado a todos ellos. Sabía que sin ser guiados y dirigidos por Dios hasta este punto del viaje, ni él ni la tripulación ni el barco ni la carga podrían llegar hasta Roma.

Cuando el capitán se levantó después de las oraciones, enseguida buscó a Nicolás para compartir la repuesta con él también. Nicolás estaba de acuerdo con el plan y la cantidad. El capitán le preguntó, “¿Le parece que será suficiente para toda esta gente?”

Nicolás le respondió, “Jesús pudo darles de comer a cinco mil personas con solo cinco panes y dos peces—y la cantidad que usted quiere darle a esta ciudad es mucho más de lo que Jesús tenía para empezar.”

“¿Cómo fue que lo hizo?” se preguntó el capitán a sí mismo y a la vez a Nicolás.

“Lo único que sé,” respondió Nicolás, “es que Él miró hacia el cielo, dio gracias y empezó a repartir la comida con sus discípulos. Al fin todos estaban satisfechos y aún tenían de sobra doce canastas llenas.”

“Entonces eso es exactamente lo que haremos también,” dijo el capitán.

Y en el pueblo se contaría por muchos años como el capitán del barco miró hacia el cielo, dio gracias y empezó a repartir el grano con sus marinos. Fue suficiente para satisfacer a la gente del pueblo por dos años enteros y para sembrar y cosechar aún más el tercer año.

Al despedirse los clérigos del capitán y la tripulación, le pidieron a Nicolás que se quedara con ellos por un tiempo. Los vientos de confusión que habían azotado y después cesado dentro de la mente del capitán no serían nada comparado con la tormenta que estaba a punto de formalizarse en la mente de Nicolás.

 

Capítulo 20 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Cuando los clérigos le dijeron a Nicolás acerca del sueño y que tal vez él sería la respuesta de sus oraciones, Nicolás se quedó pasmado y sorprendido, emocionado y confuso. Muchas veces había querido ser usado por Dios con gran poder, y era indiscutible que Dios ya lo había traído por medio del Gran Mar a este lugar en este momento.

Pero ser clérigo, mucho menos obispo, sería una decisión que lo influiría toda la vida. Había pensado en seguir el negocio de su padre terrenal. Él había tenido mucho éxito en su carrera, y Nicolás se imaginaba que también podía hacer lo mismo. Pero aún más importante que continuar la carrera de su padre era tener una familia como su padre la había tenido.

Los recuerdos que Nicolás tenía de sus padres eran tan tiernos que él anhelaba tener recuerdos con su propia familia. Sin embargo, Nicolás sabía que la costumbre de todos los clérigos era privarse del matrimonio y de tener hijos para dedicarse totalmente a las necesidades de la gente a su alrededor.

Nicolás de detuvo mentalmente al pensar en la posibilidad de tener que renunciar el deseo de tener su propia familia. No era que el tener una familia era un sueño que él dejaba correr a menudo por su mente, pero era una de esas suposiciones en el fondo de su alma que él daba por hecho y que ocurriría en el futuro.

La sorpresa de tener que renunciar la idea de tener una familia, hasta antes de totalmente haber pensado en tener una, era como un sobresalto a su ser. “¡Seguir la voluntad de Dios no debe ser tan difícil!” pensó él. Pero él había aprendido de sus padres que echar atrás el deseo personal por el de Dios no era siempre fácil. Esa fue otra enseñanza que habían aprendido de Jesús.

Entonces, sólo por ser una decisión difícil no era suficiente razón para echarla de su mente. La imagen también corría por su mente de esos tres niños sonrientes que había conocido al pisar en la orilla de la Tierra Santa, con sus caras al suelo y las manos extendidas. ¿No le habían parecido como familia a él? ¿Y no había cientos—hasta miles—de niños igual a ellos, niños sin familias, sin que nadie los cuidara, sin que nadie se ocupara de sus necesidades?

Y ¿no había muchísimos más en el mundo—viudas y viudos y esos que tenían familia sólo en nombre pero sin una relación personal—que aún necesitaban ayuda y apoyo y el sentir de una familia a mano? ¿Y no había también otras familias como la de Nicolás, que habían sido felices pero hallaban aún más felicidad al reunirse en el pueblo como una familia de creyentes? Rendirse a la idea de tener una familia propia no significaba que tenía que rendirse a la idea de tener una familia del todo. De hecho, era posible que él tuviera una familia aún más grande de este modo.

Mientras más Nicolás pensaba en lo que tenía que rechazar para servir a Dios en la parroquia, más pensaba en como Dios podía usar este nuevo puesto en modos que ni las ideas ni el deseo de Nicolás se podían imaginar. Y si Dios de veras era parte de la decisión, tal vez tendría su propia recompensa al final.

La furia de la tormenta que corría por su mente comenzó a reducirse. En su lugar, la paz de Dios empezó a fluir sobre su mente y su corazón a la vez. Nicolás de dio cuenta que era la paz de la divina voluntad de Dios revelándose claramente en él. Sólo tomó un momento más para saber cuál sería su respuesta.

La tormenta que al principio lo amenazaba de tal manera—fuera la tormenta en el mar o la tormenta en la parroquia o la tormenta en la mente de ambos el capitán y Nicolás—ahora en vez se había vuelto en una bendición de Dios. Eran bendiciones que de nuevo le demostraban a Nicolás que no importaba lo que pasara, Dios verdaderamente dispone todas las cosas para el bien de quienes lo aman, los que han sido llamados de acuerdo con Su propósito.

Sí, si lo clérigos lo necesitaban, Nicolás sería el próximo obispo de Mira.

 

Capítulo 21 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Nicolás no llegó a ser un hombre diferente al momento de tomar el puesto de obispo. Llegó a ser obispo por ser el hombre que él era. Como lo había hecho con su padre muchos años antes, Nicolás continuó haciéndolo ahora y aquí en la ciudad de Mira y en los pueblos cercanos: caminar y orar y pedirle a Dios que le mostrara dónde podía usarlo de máximo beneficio.

Fue en una de esas piadosas caminatas que Nicolás llegó a conocer a Ana María. Era una bella niña de once años, pero para otros su belleza estaba escondida por su pobreza. Nicolás se encontró con ella un día que ella intentaba de vender flores que ella había hecho de hojas de hierba entrelazadas. Pero la belleza de las flores también a todos estaba escondida pero no a Nicolás, ya que a nadie le interesaba su simple creación.

Al tomar un paso hacia ella, Nicolás pensó en la pequeña Rut, la niña que él había dejado en la Tierra Santa, aguantando en su mano las flores doradas de la colina de Belén.

Cuando se detuvo para verla mejor, Dios le habló al corazón. Le parecía sentirse como Moisés se habría sentido cuando se detuvo para mirar la zarza ardiente en el desierto, el momento cuando su curiosidad humana llegó a ser un enfrentamiento divino con el Dios viviente.

“Tus flores son bellas,” le dijo Nicolás. “¿Me permites tomar una?”

La niña le entregó una de sus creaciones. Mientras la veía, él también observaba a la niña. La belleza que veía en ambas, la flor y la niña, era asombrosa. De alguna forma Nicolás tenía el don de ver lo que otros no podían ver, o no veían, porque Nicolás siempre pretendía ver a la gente y las situaciones y la vida del punto de vista de Dios, como si Dios estuviera observándolo todo por medio de sus ojos.

“Me gustaría comprar ésta si es posible,” le dijo.

Encantada, la niña sonrió por primera vez. Le dijo el precio y él le dio la moneda.

“Dime,” le dijo Nicolás, “¿Qué piensas hacer con el dinero que te ganes vendiendo estas bellas flores?”

Lo que Nicolás oyó siguiente le partió el corazón.

Ana María era la menor de tres hermanas: Sofía, Cecilia y Ana María. Aunque su padre las amaba entrañablemente, su negocio que una vez había tenido mucho éxito, tristemente había terminado en fracaso, y pronto después su esposa había fallecido. Sin las fuerzas ni los recursos de poder levantarse de nuevo de esa oscuridad, la situación de su familia llegó a ser cada día más y más seria.

La hermana mayor de Ana María, Sofía, acababa de cumplir diez y ocho años, y su belleza causaba que muchos galanes se interesaran en ella. Pero ninguno se casaría con ella porque su padre no tenía dote que ofrecerles a ninguno de los pretendientes. Y sin dote, había poca posibilidad que Sofía o sus hermanas llegaran a casarse.

Las opciones delante de su padre eran lúgubres. Sabía que tenía que llegar a una decisión pronto para no arriesgar la posibilidad que Cecilia y Ana María no se casaran tampoco en el futuro. Sin poder ofrecer una dote apropiada, y también siendo demasiado orgulloso para aceptar caridad de otros, aunque otros tuvieran los recursos que ofrecerle, su padre estaba a punto de hacer lo que nadie se podía imaginar: iba a vender a su hija mayor como esclava para poder resolver el caso.

Cómo pensar que ésa era la mejor solución que el padre tenía a su disposición, Nicolás no se lo podía imaginar. Pero también sabía que la desesperación nublaba hasta el hombre con mejores intenciones. Al sacrificar a su hija mayor de esta manera, el padre pensaba que de alguna manera podía salvar a las menores de tal destino.

Ana María, por su parte, había inventado la idea de hacer y vender flores para intentar de prevenir ese destino de su hermana que a ella le parecía peor que la muerte. Nicolás se reprimió las lágrimas por respeto a Ana María y el esfuerzo noble que hacía para salvar a su hermana.

También se abstuvo de comprar al momento la cesta llena de flores de Ana María, porque él sabía que se necesitaba más que una cesta llena de flores para salvar a Sofía. Se necesitaba un milagro. Y mientras Dios le hablaba al corazón ese día, Nicolás sabía que Dios lo podría usar para producirlo.

 

Capítulo 22 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Sin exhibición ni jactancia, Nicolás ofreció una oración por Ana María, y junto con las gracias por la flor, él la animó diciéndole que continuara haciendo todo lo posible por su familia—y que continuara confiando que Dios iba a hacer lo que ella no podía hacer.

Nicolás sabía que él podía ayudar a esta familia. Sabía que tenía los recursos para mejorar su situación. Aún todavía tenía escondida en un acantilado cerca de la costa suficiente de la herencia que sus padres le habían dejado y esperaba la oportunidad para usarla en ocasiones como estas. Pero, él también sabía que el padre de Ana María era demasiado orgulloso para aceptar caridad de un hombre, aún si fuera su hora más afligida.

La humillación del padre de haber perdido su negocio, así como su pérdida personal, lo habían cegado a la realidad de lo que le estaba a punto de suceder a su hija mayor. Nicolás quería ayudarlo, ¿pero cómo? ¿Cómo podía darle una mano sin humillar más al padre de Ana María, posiblemente causando que rechazara la ayuda que Nicolás le podía ofrecer? Nicolás hizo lo que siempre hacía cuando necesitaba sabiduría. Se puso a orar. Y antes de anochecer, ya tenía la respuesta.

Nicolás le puso mano al plan—y sin detenerse mucho. Ocurría que el día siguiente era cuando el destino de Sofía se sellaba.

Sacando la cantidad adecuada de monedas de su reserva, Nicolás la puso en una bolsa pequeña. Era suficientemente pequeña para llevarla en una mano, pero suficientemente pesada para asegurar que exactamente podía resolver la situación de la familia.

Escondido bajo la oscuridad de la noche, cruzó la ciudad de Mira hacia la casa donde Ana María, su padre y sus dos hermanas mayores vivían.

Podía escuchar hablar a las muchachas adentro al acercarse en silencio a la casa. Naturalmente, su estado de ánimo era deprimido mientras hablaban de cuál sería su cierto futuro. Le pedían a Dios que les diera la fuerza necesaria para hacer lo que tenían que hacer a continuación.

Por muchos años, Sofía y sus hermanas habían soñado en el día cuando cada una de ellas conocería al hombre de sus sueños. Hasta ya les habían escrito canciones de amor a esos hombres, confiando que Dios en su perfecto tiempo les traería a cada una de ellas el hombre perfecto.

Ahora les parecía que todos sus cantos, todas sus oraciones y todos sus sueños habían sido en vano. Sofía no era la única en sentir el impacto de la nueva realidad, ya que sus dos hermanas menores sabían que el mismo destino tal vez les esperaba a cada una de ellas.

Las muchachas querían confiar en Dios, pero mientras más pensaban en su situación, cada una sentía que sus sueños se destrozaban.

Al pedírselo Ana María, las tres intentaron cantar su canción favorita una vez más, pero se entristecían más con la letra de la canción. Ya no era una canción de esperanza, pero una canción de desespero, y las palabras les parecían tan imposibles.

Ya no era una canción, pero una oración, y una de las oraciones más profundas que Nicolás había oído decir con labios humanos. El corazón se le partía por cada una de ellas, mientras a la vez le latía con temor. Él tenía un plan y esperaba que lo pudiera poner por encima, pero no estaba seguro. No se preocupaba por lo que le pasaría si fuera descubierto, pero se preocupaba que el padre rechazara el regalo si supiera de donde vino. Eso ciertamente sellaría el destino adverso de las muchachas. Al decirse las buenas noches—y el padre apagar las luces—Nicolás supo que ya era la hora de actuar.

Acercándose lentamente a la ventana abierta del cuarto donde ellas habían estado cantando, Nicolás se arrodilló. Lanzó la bolsa con las monedas por la ventana. La bolsa hizo un arco garboso sobre él y parecía detenerse en el aire por un momento antes de caer con un ruido sordo en el centro del cuarto. Varias de las monedas sueltas tintinearon silenciosamente al caer en el piso, rodando y después cesando. Nicolás dio una vuelta rápidamente y se escondió en la oscuridad cercana, a la vez que las muchachas y el padre se despertaron al oír el sonido.

Preguntaron si alguien estaba ahí, pero al no escuchar respuesta alguna, entraron en el cuarto por diferentes puertas. Cuando el padre encendió la luz, Ana María fue la primera en ver la bolsa—y se quedó con la boca abierta.

Allí, en el centro del cuarto, estaba una pequeña bolsa redonda, brillando con monedas de oro. Las muchachas se acercaron a su padre mientras él la recogió y la abrió.

Había más del oro suficiente para dar una buena dote para Sofía, con más de sobra para proporcionar las necesidades de la familia por un tiempo.

Pero, ¿de dónde había venido ese regalo? Las muchachas estaban segura que era de Dios mismo como para contestarles sus oraciones. Pero el padre quería saber más. ¿A quién había usado Dios para facilitárselo? Cierto era que no había sido ningún conocido. Salió corriendo de la casa perseguido por sus hijas, para averiguar quién se lo había dado, pero no pudieron encontrar a nadie.

Al regresar a la casa sin nadie a quien devolverle el dinero, las muchachas y el padre se arrodillaron para darle gracias a Dios por su salvación.

Mientras Nicolás escuchaba en la oscuridad, él también le dio gracias a Dios, porque eso era exactamente lo que él esperaba que ellos hicieran. Él sabía que el regalo verdaderamente había sido de Dios, procedido de Dios y dado por Nicolás a medio de la sugerencia de Dios como respuesta a sus oraciones. Nicolás solo les había dado lo que Dios le había dado a él principalmente. Nicolás no quería ni necesitaba el agradecimiento ni el reconocimiento del regalo. Solo Dios merecía la alabanza.

Pero al dejar que Nicolás tomara parte en la acción y usara sus propias manos y herencia para bendecir a otros, el nuevo obispo sintió un gozó que casi no podía contener. Al entregar el regalo él mismo, Nicolás aseguraba que fuera correctamente dado. Y al dar el regalo anónimo, él aseguraba que el verdadero dador del regalo fuera correctamente reconocido.

El regalo fue enviado y Dios recibió el reconocimiento. Nicolás había logrado sus dos metas.

 

Capítulo 23 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Mientras Nicolás prefería hacer sus obras de caridad en secreto, había veces que por necesidad, tuvo que hacerlas a la vista. Y aunque eran sus obras secretas que fueron más apreciadas por Dios, eran sus obras públicas que fueron más apreciadas por los hombres.

Mucha gente, apropiadamente, aprecia a un caballero con armadura brillante, pero no todos quieren ser libres de la maldad—especialmente aquellos que se ganan la vida de eso.

Uno de esos hombres fue un alcalde mayor de Mira, un gobernante de la ciudad al cual Nicolás no le caía nada bien—ni nadie que tratara de detenerlo en hacer lo que él quería hacer.

El alcalde mayor era a la vez corrupto y corruptible. Estaba dispuesto a hacerlo todo para adquirir lo que quería sin conciencia del costo a los demás. Aunque Nicolás ya había tenido discordias con él varias veces en el pasado, su conflicto con él había escalado a punto alto cuando supo que el gobernante había condenado a muerte a tres hombres—por un crimen que Nicolás estaba seguro que ellos no habían cometido. Con gran anticipación, esta vez a Nicolás no le fue posible esperar hasta que noche lo cubriera. Sabía que tenía que actuar inmediatamente para librar a estos hombres de la muerte.

Esa tarde Nicolás estaba atendiendo a varios generales de Roma cuyos barcos habían llegado al puerto de Mira la noche anterior. Nicolás había invitado a los generales a su casa para saber noticia de varios cambios que estaban ocurriendo en Roma. “Un emperador nuevo está a punto de tomar el poder del imperio,” ellos le dijeron, “y las consecuencias pueden ser graves para usted, señor obispo, y para todos los discípulos de Jesucristo.”

Fue durante el almuerzo que Nicolás oyó decir de la sentencia injusta y la muerte inminente de los tres hombres inocentes. Inmediatamente se puso en camino hacia el lugar donde iban a llevar a cabo la muerte. Los generales, al darse cuenta del alboroto que ocurriría, lo siguieron.

Cuando Nicolás entró de golpe en el lugar donde ocurriría la muerte, los condenados ya estaban en la plataforma. Estaban amarrados y de rodillas con el cuello y la cabeza abajo lista para la espada del verdugo.

Sin pensar en su propia vida, Nicolás brincó sobre la plataforma y le arrebató la espada de la mano al verdugo. Aunque Nicolás no era pendenciero, Nicolás actuó tan rápidamente que el verdugo no hizo mucho para agarrar la espada de nuevo de la mano del obispo.

Nicolás sabía que estos hombres eran tan inocentes como el alcalde mayor era culpable. Estaba seguro que habían sido sus hechos de caridad y no falsos, que habían ofendido al gobernante. Delante todos los curiosos, Nicolás desató las sogas que amarraban a los inocentes, desafiando a la vez al verdugo y el alcalde.

El gobernante vino a donde estaba Nicolás y se puso delante de él. Pero al hacerlo, los generales que estaban almorzando con Nicolás también se acercaron. Uno tomó su puesto a la derecha de Nicolás, otro a la izquierda y el tercero precisamente enfrente a él. Con toda prudencia, el alcalde mayor dio un paso atrás. Nicolás sabía que era hora de insistir que dijera la verdad.

Aunque el gobernante trató de defenderse, sus súplicas cayeron en oídos sordos. Ya nadie creía sus mentiras. Intentó de convencer a la gente de que él no era el que quería condenar a los hombres, pero que dos negociantes del pueblo le había dado un soborno para condenar a los hombres. Pero al tratar de poner la culpa sobre otros, se condenó él mismo con la avaricia que tenía en el corazón.

Nicolás declaró, “Me parece que no eran esos dos hombres que lo habían corrompido a usted, Señor Alcalde, pero otros dos hombres—llamados Oro y Plata.

Arrepentido, el alcalde mayor empezó a llorar y a confesarse delante de todos ésta y todas las otras maldades que había hecho, hasta por hablar con malicia de Nicolás, el cual sólo había hecho bien a todo el pueblo. Nicolás puso en libertad a más de tres prisioneros ese día, ya que hasta el alcalde mayor por fin se había liberado de su avaricia con su honesta confesión. Al ver el verdadero cambio del gobernante, Nicolás lo perdonó, para siempre adquiriendo el favor de él—y el de la gente—de ese momento en adelante.

Cuando Nicolás nació sus padres le pusieron el nombre de Nicolás, que significa en griego “el vencedor del pueblo.” Por medio de hechos come estos, Nicolás llego a ser “el vencedor del pueblo” en nombre y en hecho.

Nicolás ya llegaba a distinguirse—hasta en sus propios tiempos.

 

Capítulo 24 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Dentro de tres meses de haber recibido la dote inesperada de Nicolás, Sofía había recibido una visita de un pretendiente—uno que le parecía perfecto. Verdaderamente él era la respuesta a sus oraciones, y ella estaba agradecida, feliz y, por fin, casada.

Dos años después, sin embargo, la hermana menor de Sofía se encontró también en la misma situación. Aunque Cecilia ya tenía la edad para casarse, el negocio de su padre no había mejorado con tanto que había trabajado en él. Al acabarse el dinero que Nicolás le había dado a la familia, ellos estaban a punto de desesperación. El orgullo y la tristeza otra vez cegaban la realidad de la situación, y el padre sentía que su única opción era vender a Cecilia como esclava esperando poder remediar el destino de su tercera y última hija.

Aunque sabían por cierto que Dios les había contestado sus oraciones una vez, las circunstancias les causaban dudar que Él lo hiciera de nuevo. Un segundo rescate ahora era más de lo que ellos podían esperaran o imaginarse.

Sin embargo, sabiendo la situación más íntimamente ahora, Nicolás sabía que Dios le estaba pidiendo que intercediera de nuevo. Habían pasado dos años desde el primer rescate, pero en todo ese tiempo la familia no se daba idea ni había descubierto que él era el que les había entregado el regalo de Dios.

Mientras el tiempo se aproximaba en decidir qué hacer esta vez, Nicolás sabía que la hora había llegado de actuar de nuevo. Y para dejar saber claramente que su regalo tendría que ser usado primeramente y principalmente para la dote de Cecilia y después para cualquiera otra necesidad que la familia tuviera, él esperó actuar hasta la noche antes que la joven sería vendida a la esclavitud.

Una vez más, esperando a ser escondido por la oscuridad de la noche, Nicolás se acercó a la casa. Cecilia y Ana María se habían acostado temprano esa noche en obediencia a las ordenes de su padre, el cual les había dicho que no esperaran similar milagro como el que había sucedido con Sofía. Pero de alguna manera, en la profundidad de su desesperación, el padre aún tenía un poco de esperanza en su corazón—un deseo tal vez, más que otra cosa—que una persona realmente los estaba cuidando y que sus oraciones tal vez se contestarían. Con esa esperanza, decidió quedarse despierto y cerca de la ventana en caso que un ángel apareciera—fuera terrenal o celestial.

Nicolás tenía la impresión que eso sucedería, y también sabía que el padre de Cecilia rechazaría el regalo si supiera que Nicolás era el que lo daba. Pero también esperaba que el corazón orgulloso del padre, se hubiera emblandecido suficientemente para aceptar el regalo aunque fuera descubierto.

Al ver que la casa estaba perfectamente tranquila, Nicolás se arrodilló delante de la ventana abierta. Tiró la segunda bolsa de oro en el cuarto.

La bolsa apenas había tocado el piso cuando el padre de las muchachas corrió hacia la ventana por donde había venido, y alcanzó a Nicolás al tratar de escaparse. Del modo que el padre de las muchachas lo persiguió, uno hubiera pensado que Nicolás se había llevado una bolsa de oro en vez de haber dejado una.

Temiendo que todos sus esfuerzos fueran en vano, el corazón de Nicolás se tranquilizó al ver que el hombre no lo regañaba pero le daba las gracias sin apenas ver a quien había agarrado.

“Por favor, escúcheme,” le dijo el padre. “Solo quiero darle las gracias. Usted ha hecho tanto por mí y mi familia que yo no imaginaba recibir otro regalo. Pero su generosidad me ha abierto los ojos al vano orgullo en mi corazón—un orgullo que casi me ha costado la vida de dos hijas.”

El padre de de las muchachas habló sin aliento y rápidamente para asegurar que el desconocido lo escuchara antes de tratar de escaparse otra vez. Pero cuando alzó los ojos para ver con quien hablaba—Nicolás, el obispo—el asombro en la cara del padre fue evidente. ¿Cómo podía un clérigo tener suficientes recursos para dar un regalo como este?

Como respuesta a la pregunta que en realidad no se había preguntado en alta voz, Nicolás respondió, “Sí, fui yo el que le entregué este regalo. Pero fue Dios quien me lo dio para que se lo diera a usted. No es de la parroquia y no es caridad mía. Vino de mi padre que lo ganó honestamente con su propio sudor. Él era un negociante como usted. Y si estuviera vivo hoy día, hubiera querido dárselo él mismo, estoy seguro de eso. Él, más que cualquiera otra persona, sabía lo difícil que era tener un negocio, igual que usted lo sabe. Él también amaba a su familia igual que usted ama la suya.”

Nicolás dejó de hablar para que sus palabras penetraran el corazón del padre antes de continuar. “Pero por favor, por mí y por Dios, quiero que usted sepa que fue Dios mismo que contestó sus oraciones—porque Él lo ha hecho—yo sólo soy un mensajero de Él, un enviado, una herramienta en Sus manos, dejando que Él haga por medio de mi lo que yo sé que Él quiere hacer. Por mi parte, yo prefiero dar caridad en secreto sin que la mano derecha sepa lo que la izquierda está haciendo.”

La mirada en la cara de Nicolás era tan sincera y daba su intención con todo amor y devoción a Quien él servía, que el padre de las muchachas solo pudo aceptar el regalo de Nicolás como si verdaderamente había venido de la mano de Dios mismo.

Pero al despedirse, las muchachas y el padre apenas podían contener su gratitud porque Nicolás también se había dejado usar por Dios de manera tan admirable.

Por todo lo que Nicolás trataba de intentar que la alabanza fuera solo a Dios, también sabía que él tenía un papel que desempeñar en sus vidas. Aunque Dios instigue a muchos a ser generosos de corazón, no todos responden a ese inicio como Nicolás lo hacía.

Nicolás esperaría ver cómo le iba a la familia los próximos años para ver si necesitaba alguna ayuda para Ana María también.

Pero Nicolás no tuvo esa oportunidad. El nuevo emperador por fin había tomado el poder, y la vía de la vida de Nicolás estaba a punto de cambiar de nuevo. Aunque Nicolás a menudo rescataba a otros, había veces, como le había pasado al mismo Señor que él seguía, que le parecía que no podía rescatarse a sí mismo.

 

Estás leyendo ST. NICOLÁS: EL CREYENTE, por Eric y Lana Elder, un cuento nuevo para Navidad basada en la antigua historia de San Nicolás (Spanish Edition). Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

Estás leyendo SAN NICOLÁS: EL CREYENTE, por Eric y Lana Elder, un cuento nuevo para Navidad basada en la antigua historia de San Nicolás (Spanish Edition). Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

PARTE 5

 

Capítulo 25 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Cuando Jesús nació, hubo un rey que se sentó tan amenazado por este niñito que dio la orden de matar en Belén y su vecindad a todos los niños de dos años y menores. Trescientos tres años después, otro rey se sentía igualmente amenazado por Jesús y sus seguidores.

El nombre del nuevo rey era Diocleciano, y él era el emperador de todo el imperio romano. Aunque los romanos habían matado a Jesús cientos de años antes, Diocleciano aún se sentía amenazado por los cristianos fieles a Jesús. Diocleciano mismo se había declarado dios y él quería que todos en el imperio lo adoraran.

Aunque los cristianos eran algunos de los mejores cumplidores de las leyes del imperio, ellos no podían someterse a adorar a Diocleciano. El emperador consideraba eso una insurrección, un acto que se tenía que detener en la forma más severa. Al llegar Diocleciano al supremo poder, emitió una serie de edictos para quemar todas las Biblias, destruir todas las parroquias cristianas, y encarcelar, torturar, y matar a todos los que seguían a Cristo.

Aunque la persecución de cristianos ya ocurría por muchos años bajo el poder del imperio romano, ninguna de esas persecuciones se comparaba con la que ocurrió bajo el reino de Diocleciano. Personalmente, Nicolás no le temía a Diocleciano, pero como siempre, el temía lo que le podía pasar a los cristianos de su parroquia.

Teniendo un papel tan evidente en la parroquia, Nicolás sabía que lo centrarían a él primero, y si lo eliminaran, temía lo que le sucedería a los que él había dejado. Pero Nicolás ya había decidido que hacer. Sabía que si aunque lo mataran, podía confiar que Dios llevaría a cabo su intención en la tierra fuera o no fuera Nicolás parte de ella. Era la fe fundamental que él tenía y su confianza en Dios y Su propósito que lo ayudarían a mantenerse firme en los difíciles años por delante.

En vez de esconderse para evitar el cierto destino que lo esperaba, Nicolás decidió defender su posición. Juró que mantendría las puertas de la parroquia abierta de par en par invitando a todos los que querían entrar. Y cumplió su promesa por lo tanto que pudo hasta el día en que los que entraron fueron soldados—soldados que venían a buscarlo.

 

Capítulo 26 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Nicolás ya estaba listo cuando los soldados llegaron. Sabía que ya no tendría que pensar más en la decisión que había hecho de dejar las puertas de la parroquia abiertas. Desafortunadamente, también habían terminado los días de su parroquia, ya que los soldados cerraron las puertas para siempre.

Con toda la buena voluntad que Nicolás había creado con la gente del pueblo en sus años en Mira, y hasta con los soldados de allí, estos no eran soldados locales que habían venido por él. Diocleciano los había enviado con la petición que sus ordenes fueran llevadas a cabo sin pregunta alguna, y que aquellos que no las llevaban a cabo sufrirían el mismo fin que los castigados.

Los soldados le dieron a Nicolás una oportunidad más de rechazar su fe en Cristo y de adorar a Diocleciano en vez, pero Nicolás, por supuesto, la rechazó. No era que él quería desobedecer la autoridad de Roma, porque sabía bien que fue el mismo Cristo que les enseño a sus discípulos la importancia de honrar a aquellos en autoridad y honrar las leyes. Pero, rechazar que Jesús era Señor y Salvador sería como rechazar que el sol había salido esa mañana. Él simplemente no podía hacer eso. ¿Cómo podía rechazar la existencia de Él que le había dado vida, que le había dado fe y que le había dado esperanza en las horas más oscura de su vida? Si los soldados tenían que llevárselo, entonces bien. Decir que un humano como Diocleciano era Dios, y que Jesús era cualquier cosa menos que Dios, era inconcebible.

Nicolás sabía que era apropiado sentir ese temor ya que había sido dado por Dios para deshacerse de peligro y para protegerlo de cualquiera cosa que dañaría su cuerpo. Pero ahora mismo, al ser brutalmente arrastrado, Nicolás deseaba eliminar esos temores.

“Dios mío, ayúdame,” dijo mientras que las cadenas con que los soldados lo amarraban se hundían en sus muñecas. Este era el principio de un nuevo peregrinaje para Nicolás—un peregrinaje que duraría más que sus años en la Tierra Santa.

Era difícil comparar los dos peregrinajes en la forma del impacto que causaron en su vida. Pues, ¿Cómo se podría comparar un viaje hecho por voluntad propia—uno en el que se puede ir y venir por cuenta propia y se puede regresar en cualquier instante—con uno que es forzado sin voluntad propia—uno que hasta el salir afuera para ver el sol estaba bajo el control de otra persona y no propio?

Pero aún Nicolás se dio cuenta de poder sentir la presencia de Dios de modo parecido, y hasta superado, a todo lo que había sentido en la Tierra Santa. Como había aprendido de otros creyentes, a veces uno no se da cuenta que lo único que se necesita es Jesús hasta que Jesús es lo único que tiene.

Durante el tiempo de su encarcelamiento, cada vez que se abría la puerta de la celda, Nicolás no sabía si los guardias habían venido para liberarlo o para condenarlo a muerte. No sabía si el día que despertaba iba a ser el último. Pero, el resultado de esa inseguridad fue que Nicolás llegó a darse cuenta de lo breve que es la vida, igual que del continuo conocimiento de la presencia de Dios.

Nicolás supo que al cerrar los ojos podía sentir la presencia de Dios como nunca antes la había presenciado. Su celda no era una cárcel—era un santuario. Y lo único que Nicolás quería hacer era mantenerse en la presencia de Dios lo más posible. Después de un tiempo Nicolás no tenían ni que cerrar los ojos. Sencillamente sabía que siempre estaba en la presencia de Dios.

Ciertamente, sus días en la cárcel también estaban repletos del dolor más agudo que se podía sentir en un infierno terrenal. Los soldados constantemente lo azotaban con interrogaciones para que renunciara su fe. El dolor que le producían variaba entre pincharlo con tenazas calientes y darle una severa paliza y al fin echarle sal y vinagre en las heridas. Como resultado ya Nicolás tenía la espalda llena de cicatrices permanentes. La falta de higiene en la cárcel le causaba enfermedades que nunca había tenido antes. A veces hasta pensaba que morir sería mejor que el sufrimiento que sentía allí.

Fue durante uno de esos momentos, tal vez el más oscuro de los cinco años que había pasado en la cárcel hasta ese momento, que la puerta de su celda se abrió. Una luz entró en ella, pero al examinarla más detalladamente, vio que no era la luz del sol, ya que sabía aún dentro de la aislada celda que era la media noche.

La luz que entraba en la celda era la de una sonrisa, una sonrisa en la cara del joven amigo de Nicolás, ahora ya hecho un hombre. Era la luz en la cara alegre de Demetrio.

 

Capítulo 27 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Durante su tiempo en la cárcel, Nicolás había visto pocas caras y menos aún una que le diera ánimo. Al ver una sonrisa en la cara de alguien, y más en una cara que Nicolás amaba tanto, lo lleno de verdadero gozo.

A Demetrio no le había sido fácil encontrar a Nicolás. Demetrio había venido a Mira sabiendo que él había tomado un puesto en la parroquia de la ciudad. Pero habían pasado muchos años desde que él había sabido de su viejo amigo, tiempo que Demetrio también había pasado en la cárcel. Al ser liberado recientemente, Demetrio navegó por el Gran Mar en busca de Nicolás. Demetrio tuvo que investigar mucho para encontrar a Nicolás, pero había viajado demasiado para rendirse sin ver a su viejo amigo y consejero, la primera persona que le había hablado del amor de Cristo.

Usando los conocimientos de la calle que había aprendido como guía en la Tierra Santa, Demetrio pudo desenvolverse a través y alrededor de casi todo el mundo y todas las cosa que trataban de impedirlo. El empeño que él tenía, más la mano de Dios que guía, ayudaron a Demetrio a encontrar a su amigo y a encontrar esta puerta que él abrió esa noche para gozar de esta visita tan especial. Fue la visita que a Nicolás le parecía como la visita de un ángel celestial.

Después de cerrar la puerta detrás de ellos, y después de un fuerte abrazo, Demetrio se sentó en el suelo al lado de Nicolás. Se sentaron en silencio por varios minutos, ninguno de ellos tenía la necesidad de decir nada. En momentos santos como estos, no se necesitaban las palabras.

La oscuridad en la pequeña celda era tan intensa que ellos no atentaron de mirarse, pero sólo se sentaron allí lado a lado. Los ojos de Demetrio aún no se habían acostumbrado a la oscuridad total suficientemente para poder ver nada de todos modos, y Nicolás estaba contento solo en saber que su amigo estaba ahí a su lado. Nicolás podía oír el sonido de la respiración de Demetrio, un sonido que aumentaba su gozo al saber que su amigo aún estaba vivo y estaba con él en carne y hueso.

Nicolás respiró profundamente de nuevo y con el acto se le infundió un nuevo sentido de vida. Era un hálito de vida que su amigo no podía haber dejado de traer con él.

 

Capítulo 28 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

“¿Qué me dices de tus jóvenes guardaespaldas?” por fin Nicolás le preguntó, refiriéndose a Samuel y Rut. A menudo Nicolás oraba por los tres jóvenes porque los quería como si fueran sus propios hermanos menores.

Demetrio vaciló un momento. Miro a Nicolás pero no pudo decir ni una palabra. Estaba ansioso de contarle todo lo que había pasado en los últimos años—como Samuel y Rut seguían llevando a los peregrinos a los sitios sagrados, compartiendo con ellos las mismas buenas nuevas de Jesús que habían aprendido durante sus años con Nicolás.

Como Demetrio, Samuel y Rut tuvieron que dejar de guiar a los peregrinos cuando llegó la “Gran Persecución”, como la llamaban ahora. Los tres empezaron a pasar casi todo su tiempo cuidando de las necesidades de otros creyentes en Jerusalén, creyentes que se enfrentaban con encarcelamiento y muerte, igual que Nicolás. Como no estaban en posición destacada como Nicolás, ellos habían evitado detención mucho después que Nicolás. Pero finalmente fueron encarcelados, y repetidamente interrogados, azotados y torturados por la fe.

Samuel y Demetrio eran suficientemente fuertes para resistir el abuso, pero Rut era muy frágil. Un día después de someterla a abusos insuperables, regresó a ellos y se desplomó. Aunque obviamente había estado llorando a cause del dolor que sentía en el cuerpo, de algún modo también continuaba con una sonrisa en el corazón.

“¿Cómo es que lo haces?” le preguntó Samuel. “¿Cómo es posible que sonríes todavía después de todo eso?

Rut respondió, “Siento que he estado caminando y hablando con Jesús por tanto tiempo que ni la muerte en realidad cambiaría nada de eso. Simplemente continuaría caminando y hablando con Él para siempre.”

Rut sonrió de nuevo y Demetrio solo pudo devolverle la sonrisa. Pero su cuerpo se estaba dando por vencido y ella lo sabía. Sentía que sólo estaba al instante al pasar de esta vida a la próxima.

“¡No te puedes ir?” le dijo Samuel. “¡Tienes que quedarte aquí conmigo! Aún hay mucho que tenemos que hacer!” Pero la vida de Rut se deslizaba.

“!Si te mueres, oraré que Dios te resucite!” Samuel ya estaba desesperado queriendo mantenerla cerca de él. Pero Rut solo sonrió otra vez. Verdaderamente había encontrado el secreto de vivir la vida repleta, y nada, ni la muerte, le podía quitar eso.

Ella habló, más en silencio ahora, solo como un murmuro. “Ora que Dios me levante de la muerte, pero la verdad es que una vez ya fui levantada de la muerte, cuando conocimos a Nicolás, y él nos introdujo a Jesús, fui levantada de la muerte, y una vida nueva y repleta se me ha dado. De ahí en adelante, supe que viviría para siempre.”

Con eso, Rut pasó por la cortina entre la vida y la muerte y a la presencia del visible Dios. La sonrisa que adornaba su cara en vida continuaba brillando su cara en la muerte, y Demetrio sabía donde ella estaba. Simplemente, ella continuaba haciendo lo que siempre había hecho, caminando y hablando con Jesús, pero ahora lo hacía cara a cara.

Nicolás se sentó en silencio escuchándolo todo intensamente mientras Demetrio le contaba lo ocurrido. Por tanto que pensaba entristecerse, su corazón comenzó a alzarse en vez. Ciertamente, nada de esto le era nuevo, pero al oír de la fe de Rut, la suya se revivió de nuevo también.

Uno pensaría que un hombre como Nicolás no necesitaba que lo animaran en la fe. Él había ayudado a muchísimos a crecer en la fe, y, además, él era nada menos que un obispo. Pero Nicolás también sabía muy dentro de su corazón que era la gente como él que a veces necesitaba más ánimo en la fe. Gran fe, él sabía, no les viene a aquellos que no tienen dudas. Gran fe les viene a aquellos que han tenido que extender su fe para que creciera, si no se hubiera destrozado por completo. Al continuar confiando en Dios, sea lo que sea, Nicolás llegó a saber que uno podía derribar dudas en el camino oscuro que lo ayudaban a ascender aún más.

Tan triste como estaba por la muerte de Rut, Nicolás no pudo evitar una sonrisa de lo profundo de su corazón igual como Rut lo habría hecho el día que murió. Con gran alegría esperaba el día de poder ver a Jesús en persona, igual que Rut Lo veía ahora. Sin embargo, Nicolás amaba la obra que Dios le había dado que hacer en la tierra, también.

“No perdemos, ¿no es cierto?” dijo Nicolás con una sonrisa pensando en lo ocurrido. “O morimos y vamos al cielo a estar con Jesús, o vivimos y continuamos su obra aquí en el mundo. Con cualquier fin somos vencedores, ¿No es cierto? No importa el fin, ya somos vencedores.”

“Sí, con cualquier fin somos vencedores,” repitió Demetrio. “No importa el fin, ya somos vencedores.”

Durante las próximas hora, Nicolás y Demetrio compartieron cuentos de lo que Dios había hecho en sus vidas durante los años de separación. Pero nada había podido prepara a Nicolás para lo que Demetrio le estaba a punto de decirle después. Parecía que Demetrio había conocido a una muchacha. Y no era una muchacha cualquiera. Ella se llamaba Ana María.

 

Capítulo 29 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

En su viaje en busca de Nicolás, Demetrio hablaba con cualquiera persona que supiera dónde encontrarlo. Al llegar a Mira, primero fue a la parroquia donde Nicolás servía como obispo. Al no encontrarlo allí, Demetrio empezó a caminar por las calles para ver si se encontraba con alguien que supiera algo de él. Y con quién fue que Demetrio se encontró si no con la misma muchacha—ahora ya hecha una mujer—que Nicolás había conocido hace muchos años, vendiendo flores entrelazadas a cualquiera persona que las comprara.

Ella ya no estaba vestida en el manto de la pobreza. Demetrio inmediatamente observó a la vez la belleza del interior y del exterior de la muchacha. Él estaba tan impresionado con ella que no podía dejar de conversar con ella. Y ella también parecía estar impresionada con él. A ella no le parecía ser capaz de que un hombre de su importancia y fe quería hablar con ella. Él era, ella pensaba, el hombre más bueno e impresionante que ella había conocido.

Cuando Demetrio le dijo el propósito de venir a Mira—de encontrar al obispo llamado Nicolás—Ana María se quedó boquiabierta. ¿Cómo podía saber este hombre, este extranjero del otro lado del Gran Mar nada de Nicolás? Demetrio compartió con ella su experiencia de cómo él había conocido a Nicolás y como Nicolás lo había rescatado de su pobreza de fe. Ana María solo podía compartir lo que Nicolás había hecho por su familia también, salvar a sus dos hermanas mayores de la esclavitud tirando una bolsa de oro por la ventana para cada una de ellas la víspera de cumplir los diez y ocho años.

Pero de pronto la sonrisa de Ana María desapareció. Ahora, solo en unos días, ella cumpliría los diez y ocho años, pero a Nicolás se lo habían llevado a la cárcel hace cinco años. Nadie ni lo había visto ni había sabido de él en todos esos años. Ni ella misma sabía donde él estaba. Aunque su padre ya no era el mismo hombre que antes, ya que no pensaba en vender a Ana María a la esclavitud, él aún no tenía la dote que ofrecerle a un pretendiente. Sin una dote, como Demetrio bien sabía, el destino de Ana María sería difícil. Y con Nicolás encarcelado, no había la oportunidad de que él pudiera rescatar a su familia esta tercera vez. Ana María de nuevo había empezado a vender sus flores en la calle, y aunque eran más impresionantes que las primeras, ella apenas podía ganar lo suficiente para ayudar a la familia de vez en cuando con los gastos de la comida.

Demetrio la escuchó, y como Nicolás antes de él, supo dentro de unos minutos lo que Dios quería que él hiciera. Él podía ser la respuesta a las oraciones de Ana María, y con mucho más que una dote. Pero sabiendo que esas cosas tomaban tiempo, él solo guardó esas ideas en su corazón. Le compró una flor a Ana María y le dio las gracias por decirle lo que ella sabía de Nicolás. Al despedirse de ella, le prometió que volvería a hablar con ella otra vez en el futuro si él localizaba a su querido amigo.

La víspera del cumpleaños de Ana María, Demetrio fue al mismo lugar donde Nicolás se había escondido ya dos veces muchos años antes, debajo de la ventana abierta de la casa de Ana María. La conversación adentro era adolecida. Ana María y su padre oraban sabiendo que no había posibilidad de que Nicolás regresara de nuevo. Entonces apagaron las luces y se acostaron.

Demetrio esperó por lo que le parecía ser varias horas, sabiendo que no podía despertarlos y arriesgar su plan. Pues, él había ahorrado lo suficiente en sus años de trabajo en la Tierra Santa para fácilmente llenar una bolsa con monedas de oro para cubrir la dote. Pero él no podía simplemente darles el dinero, pues él tenía otras ideas además de sólo darles la dote. ¡Él quería que el padre de Ana María se lo devolviera algún día, como un regalo matrimonial! Tal vez sería difícil y sabía que necesitaría más tiempo para estar seguro que ella era la que él realmente amaba. Él también sentía que esta era la mejor manera de que todo se realizara al fin, aunque ella no fuera la verdadera mujer para él. Algo le presenciaba, sin embargo, que ella lo era. Y con esa idea en mente, él hizo lo que tenía que hacer.

Cuidadosamente y sin hacer ruido alguno, él alzó la mano hasta la repisa de la ventana y dejo caer la bosa en silencio en el piso. Nadie lo oyó ni nadie se despertó. Después de hacer esa obra para Dios y para su propio corazón, de nuevo continuó buscando a Nicolás. Dos semanas después, Demetrio había encontrado a Nicolás, y ahora compartía con él como él había conocido a la mujer de sus sueños.

La noticia no podía haberle caído más dulcemente en los oídos de Nicolás. Y de nuevo su corazón se alivió y se elevó, porque aunque aún encarcelado y fuera del mundo en su celda, Nicolás podía observar el fruto de sus oraciones—que fueron contestadas increíblemente de modo inesperado. Él aún podía cambiar el mundo, hasta desde la prisión, mientras el mundo trataba de detenerlo.

Antes de irse esa noche, Demetrio abrazó a Nicolás otra vez; y entonces desapareció. Desapareció por las puertas de la cárcel tan milagrosamente come había entrado.

Pasarían cinco años más antes de que Nicolás viera a Demetrio de nuevo. Diocleciano continuaba tratando de desesperar a los cristianos. Pero durante los años que Nicolás aún estaba en la cárcel, su alma se sintió más libre que nunca antes. Nadie podía dejar que Nicolás alabara a Jesús, ni nadie podía dejar que Jesús hiciera lo que Él quería hacer.

Cuando el día por fin llegó que Nicolás fue liberado, el guardia que abrió la puerta de su celda lo miró y dijo, “Es hora de salir. Estás en libertad.”

Nicolás solo miró al guardia con una sonrisa. Él ya había estado en libertad por un tiempo.

 

Capítulo 30 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Pensando que Nicolás no lo había oído, el guardia habló de nuevo, “Dije que estás en libertad. Ya puedes levantarte y regresar a tu casa.”

Al escuchar la palabra “casa”, Nicolás se emocionó. Él no había visto su casa, ni su parroquia, ni había escuchado la voz de otra persona además de la de Demetrio, en casi diez años. Se levantó y sus movimientos se aceleraron comprendiendo por fin las palabras del guardia.

“¿A casa?” exclamó Nicolás.

“Sí, a casa. Ya puedes regresar a tu casa. El emperador ha proclamado libres a todos los cristianos.”

El emperador a quien se refería era el nuevo emperador Constantino. Diocleciano había fallado en su deseo de constreñir a los cristianos. En vez de apagar su espíritu, Diocleciano lo había fortalecido. Como Nicolás, aquellos que no habían muerto habían crecido en la fe. Y mientras más fuerte era su fe, más fuerte era su influencia, siendo testigos a los ciudadanos cristianizados en medio de ellos. Hasta la misma esposa de Diocleciano y su hija se habían convertido a la fe cristiana.

Diocleciano dejó de gobernar el imperio y Constantino subió al poder.

Constantino cambió la situación de perseguir a los cristiano firmando el Edicto de Milán. Este edicto daba nueva tolerancia a la gente de toda religión y resultó en libertad para los cristianos. Elena, la madre de Constantino, era cristiana. Aunque nadie sabía si Constantino lo era también, la nueva tolerancia que él demostró estableció la libertad de adoración a cualquier dios y de cualquier modo que preferían, como se debería haber hecho desde el principio.

Por tanto que Diocleciano había cambiado el mundo romano para lo peor, Constantino ahora lo estaba cambiando para lo mejor. Sus reinos eran tan diversos como el día y la noche y servían como testigo de cómo una persona verdaderamente podía cambiar el curso de la historia—para el bien o para el mal.

Nicolás se daba cuenta, ahora más que antes, de que él tenía solo una vida por delante. Pero también se daba cuenta de que si la vivía correctamente, una vida era sólo lo que el necesitaba. Decidió en su corazón otra vez hacer todo lo posible para aprovechar al máximo todos los días, empezando de nuevo con el presente.

Mientras lo sacaban de su celda en la cárcel y lo llevaban a la ciudad de Mira, él pensó que no era coincidencia que la primera cara que vio fue la de Ana María.

La reconoció al momento. Pero por causa de los diez años en la cárcel, y lo mucho que se le había gastado la vida allí, a Ana María le fue difícil reconocerlo al instante. Pero tan pronto como vio su sonrisa, se dio cuenta enseguida que era la sonrisa de su viejo amigo Nicolás. ¡Claro que era Nicolás! Y estaba vivo y delante de ella.

Ella estaba tan sorprendida que no podía ni moverse. Dos niños estaban a su lado, mirando a su madre, y después al hombre a quién ella ahora miraba. Aquí estaba el hombre que había ayudado tanto a su familia y a ella. No podía contener el gozo. Volviendo la cabeza Ana María gritó. “Demetrio! ¡Demetrio ¡Ven pronto! ¡Es Nicolás!

De pronto ella empezó a correr hacia Nicolás, abrazándolo fuertemente. Demetrio salió de una tienda detrás de ellos, les echó una mirada a Nicolás y a Ana María y también empezó a correr hacia ellos, cargando a sus hijos mientras corría.

Ahora toda la familia abrazaba a Nicolás como si fuera un hermano o un padre o un tío que acaba de venir de la guerra. Las lágrimas y las sonrisas en sus caras se volvían una. El hombre que había salvado a Ana María y a su familia de un destino peor que la muerte había sido salvado de la muerte también. Y Demetrio sonreía, también, de ver a su buen amigo, y de ver lo contento que Nicolás estaba de verlo a él y a Ana María juntos con su nueva familia.

Nicolás tomó la cara de cada uno de ellos en sus manos—una a la vez—y miró profundamente en sus ojos. Entonces abrazó a cada uno de los niños. La semilla que él había sembrado años antes en las vidas de Demetrio y Ana María aún daban fruto, fruto que él ahora podía ver con sus propios ojos. Todo el esfuerzo que había puesto valía la pena, y nada menos que las sonrisas en sus caras eran claramente muestras de eso.

Por los próximos días y semanas, Nicolás y todos los creyentes liberados habían tenidos semejantes experiencias por toda Mira. Esos días eran como una larga y continua reunión de amigos y familias.

Nicolás, así como los otros que habían sobrevivido la Gran Persecución, seguramente le parecía a la gente de Mira ser como Lázaro en Betania cuando Jesús lo mandó a salir de la tumba—un hombre que había muerto, pero ahora estaba vivo. Y como Lázaro, estos cristianos no estaban solamente vivos, pero ellos traían mucha gente a fe en Cristo también, ya que su fe estaba viva de un modo nuevo. Lo que Diocleciano pensaba hacer para el mal, Dios pudo transformarlo para el bien. Estos embajadores de la fe habían surgido con una fe que era más fuerte que nunca antes.

Nicolás sabía que este nuevo nivel de fe, como todos los buenos dones de Dios, se les había dado por algún propósito, también. Por lo difíciles que habían sido las pruebas que él había enfrentado hasta ese momento, Dios lo estaba preparando para una aún más difícil.

 

Estás leyendo ST. NICOLÁS: EL CREYENTE, por Eric y Lana Elder, un cuento nuevo para Navidad basada en la antigua historia de San Nicolás (Spanish Edition). Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

Estás leyendo SAN NICOLÁS: EL CREYENTE, por Eric y Lana Elder, un cuento nuevo para Navidad basada en la antigua historia de San Nicolás (Spanish Edition). Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

PARTE 6

 

Capítulo 31 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

“¿Y tú todavía no se lo has mencionado en todos estos años?” Nicolás le preguntó a Demetrio. Habían pasado doce años desde que Nicolás había salido de la cárcel, y ellos hablaban de la bolsa de oro que Demetrio había tirado por la ventana abierta de Ana María cinco años antes de salir de la carcel.

“Ella nunca me lo ha preguntado,” dijo Demetrio. “Además, si se lo hubiera dicho no lo habría creído. Está convencida que usted fue quien lo hizo.”

“¿Pero cómo pude ser yo cuando ella sabía que yo estaba encarcelado?” Era una conversación que ellos habían tenido antes, pero a Nicolás le parecía sorprendente. Demetrio insistía en mantener en secreto el acto de caridad, igual como Nicolás lo había hecho cada vez que era posible.

“Además,” añadió Demetrio, “Ella tiene razón. Verdaderamente fue usted el que me inspiró a darle ese regalo, ya que usted le había dado a su familia dos bolsas de oro de la misma forma que yo lo hice. Así que, en cierto sentido, vino de usted.”

Nicolás tuvo que admitir la lógica de Demetrio. “Pero no comenzó conmigo tampoco, fue Cristo el que me inspiró.”

Y con eso, Demetrio admitió y dijo, “Y fue Cristo el que me inspiró a mí también. Créame usted, Ana María cree eso más que cualquiera otra persona. Su fe es más firme que nunca antes. Desde que lo conoció a usted, ella sigue dándole gracias a Dios por todo.”

Y con eso Nicolás estaba satisfecho, por tanto que Dios recibiera las gracias al fin. Como Nicolás le había enseñado a Demetrio muchos años antes, no hay nada que tenemos que no haya provenido de Dios primero.

Y cambiando el tema, Nicolás le preguntó, “¿Estás seguro que a ella no le va a importar que tú estés lejos por tres meses? Todavía podría encontrar a otra persona que me acompañe.”

“Ella está completa y totalmente contenta en que yo vaya con usted,” Demetrio le dijo. “Ella sabe lo importante que esto es para usted, y también sabe lo que significa para mí también. Yo no quiero perdérmelo.”

Ellos hablaban de las preparaciones para asistir al Concilio de Nicea ese verano. Nicolás había sido invitado por petición especial del emperador, y a cada obispo se le permitía traer un asistente personal. Tan pronto como Nicolás recibió la invitación, le pidió a Demetrio que fuera con él.

El concilio sería un evento magnífico. Al abrir la invitación para asistir, Nicolás no pudo creerlo. Tanto había cambiado en el mundo desde su encarcelamiento doce años antes.

Aún, ahí lo tenía, petición del emperador romano para presentarse delante de él al empezar la temporada de pascua. La única petición que un obispo habría recibido bajo Diocleciano habría sido la invitación a una ejecución pública—la propia. Pero bajo el gobierno de Constantino, la vida del cristiano había cambiado radicalmente.

Constantino no sólo había firmado el mandato que daba plena tolerancia a los cristianos, el cual resultó en liberar a todos ellos encarcelados, pero también había empezado a devolverles sus propiedades—propiedades que habían sido arrebatadas bajo el emperador anterior. Constantino también había empezado a financiar el arreglo de las parroquias que habían sido destruidas por Diocleciano. Era el principio de un nuevo aliento de gracia para los cristianos, después de la intensa persecución que habían sufrido.

Como otra señal del apoyo de Constantino a los cristianos, él había convocado una conferencia de los más influyentes obispos del imperio. Constantino quería llevar a cabo dos propósitos con la conferencia: unificar la iglesia dentro del imperio anteriormente dividido, y a la vez no perder la esperanza de unir a todo el país. Como el gobernante del pueblo, Constantino afirmaba su responsabilidad de ofrecerle bienestar espiritual a los ciudadanos. Y por eso, había jurado asistir, y él mismo presidir en este concilio histórico. Tomaría lugar en la ciudad de Nicea, comenzando en la primavera de ese año y continuando por varios meses hasta llegar el verano.

Cuando Nicolás recibió la invitación, enseguida le dio gracias a Dios por los cambios que ocurrían en su mundo. Mientras la Gran Persecución había fortalecido la fe de los que la habían sobrevivido, esa misma persecución había arruinado las destrezas de muchos más, limitando la habilidad de enseñar, predicar y evangelizar a otros cerca de ellos con el mensaje de Cristo que es capaz de cambiar las vidas.

Ahora esos obstáculos habían sido eliminados—con el apoyo y consentimiento del emperador mismo. El único obstáculo que existía estaba dentro de los corazones y mentes de aquellos que oirían las buenas nuevas, y que tendrían que decidir por sí mismos que hacer con el mensaje.

La influencia y respeto de Nicolás había aumentado en Mira y también por las regiones cercanas. Su gran riqueza hacía tiempo que se había agotado, ya que la había dado casi toda al ver venir la Gran Persecución, y lo que quedaba de ella había sido descubierta y saqueada mientras estaba encarcelado. Pero por todo lo material que había perdido, él lo había recibido de nuevo en influencia, pues su corazón y su vida aún estaban dirigidos hacia la caridad—sin importarle lo que tenía o no tenía. Después de gastarse dando tanto a la gente a su alrededor, él fue naturalmente uno de los escogidos para asistir al concilio anticipado. Llegaría a ser uno de los eventos más monumentales de la historia, y no hace falta decir uno de los eventos más monumentales de la propia vida de Nicolás—pero no necesariamente por razones que él quisiera recordar.

 

Capítulo 32 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Aunque los cristianos gozaban una nueva libertad bajo Constantino, el futuro del Cristianismo aún estaba en ciertos peligros. Las amenazas ya no venían por fuera de la iglesia, pero por dentro. Facciones habían empezado a sumergir dentro de la iglesia que crecía, con intensas discusiones sobre varios temas teológicos que tenían consecuencias muy prácticas.

Particularmente, un grupo pequeño pero muy elocuente, dirigido por Arrio, había empezado a llamar la atención de la gente preguntando si Jesús realmente era divino o no.

¿Fue Jesús solo un hombre? ¿O fue Él, verdaderamente, uno con Dios en su propia naturaleza? Para hombres como Nicolás y Demetrio, la pregunta era indiscutible, ya que ellos habían dedicado toda su vida siguiendo a Jesús como su Señor. Ellos lo habían dejado todo atrás para seguirlo a Él en palabra y en acciones. Él era su Señor, su Salvador, su Luz y su Esperanza. Como muchos que asistirían al concilio, no eran sus mantos ni sus vestuarios exteriores que eran testigos de su fe en Cristo, pero las cicatrices y heridas que llevaban en el cuerpo al sufrir por Él. Ellos habían arriesgado su vida bajo amenaza de muerte por adorar al divino Cristo y no al emperador Diocleciano. En su pensar no había pregunta alguna sobre este tema. Pero aún había otros que sentían que esta era una pregunta que se debía discutir.

En el entusiasmo de Arrio de ver a la gente adorar sólo a Dios, él no podía imaginar que un hombre, ni uno tan bueno como Jesús, pudiera declararse uno con Dios sin blasfemar el nombre del mismo Dios. En este sentido, Arrio no era diferente a aquellos que habían perseguido a Jesús cuando aún vivía. Hasta algunos que habían vivido entonces y habían sido testigos de sus milagros con sus propios ojos, y habían oído las palabras de Jesús con sus propios oídos, no podían entender que era posible que Jesús decía la verdad cuando dijo, “El Padre y yo somos uno.” Y por eso, llevaron a Jesús a Herodes, y después a Pilato, para crucificarlo.

De niño Nicolás también había pensado en esa afirmación de Jesús. Pero cuando Nicolás estuvo en Belén, por fin lo entendió todo perfectamente—que Dios mismos vino del cielo a la tierra como hombre humano para sufrir los pecados del mundo una vez por todas como Dios en cuerpo humano.

Arrio, sin embargo, era como el Apóstol Pablo rumbo a Damasco antes de conocer a Jesús. Antes de la experiencia que cambió su vida, el Apóstol Pablo quería proteger lo que él sentía que era la santidad de Dios persiguiendo a todos los que admitían adorar a Jesús como Dios. Porque, según Pablo pensaba antes, nadie podía considerarse uno con Dios.

Como Arrio, Pablo no podía creer la afirmación de Jesús y sus seguidores. Pero en ruta a Damasco, mientras en su entusiasmo él iba a buscar y matar a los cristianos, Pablo se encontró con Cristo, el Hijo del Dios viviente, en una visión que lo dejó ciego físicamente, pero que lo despertó espiritualmente a la Verdad. En los días siguientes, los ojos físicos de Pablo se curaron y él se arrepintió de sus vanos esfuerzos. Él fue bautizado en el nombre de Jesús y empezó a predicar de ese momento que Jesús no había sido solamente un hombre, pero que su afirmación de ser uno con el Padre era completamente cierta. Pablo dio su vida en adoración y servicio a Cristo, y tuvo que soportar, como Nicolás había soportado, prisión y toda amenaza de muerte por su fe.

Arrio, se parecía más a los gobernantes religiosos del tiempo de Jesús los cuales, en su entusiasmo por defender a Dios, actualmente crucificaron al Señor de toda creación. Arrio se sentía justificado en su esmero en conseguir el apoyo de los obispos a su punto de vista.

Ni Nicolás ni Demetrio pensaban que las ideas Arrio podrían obtener mucho apoyo. Pero pronto verían que el carácter carismático de Arrio y su elocuente modo de expresarse podían prevalecer sobre varios de los obispos que aún no habían pensado mucho en esa teología ni en las consecuencias.

Sin embargo, Nicolás y Demetrio, como el Apóstol Pablo, el Apóstol Juan y miles de otros desde la época cuando Jesús vivió y murió y resucitó de la muerte de nuevo, habían descubierto que Jesús era, agradecida y sobrenaturalmente, totalmente hombre y totalmente divino a la vez.

¿Pero cuál sería la conclusión de los otros obispos? Y ¿qué verdad teológica enseñarían a otros por todas las generaciones por venir? Esas llegarían a ser las preguntas fundamentales que se decidirían en esa conferencia en Nicea. Aunque Nicolás estaba interesado en esa discusión, no tenía idea alguna que él tendría un papel principal en el resultado.

 

Capítulo 33 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Después de una gran procesión de obispos y clérigos, un coro de monaguillos y unas palabras iniciales del Emperador Constantino, uno de los primeros temas de discusión fue el que propuso Arrio—si Cristo era o no era divino.

Arrio presentó sus argumentos iniciales con gran elocuencia y gran convicción delante de Constantino y el resto de la asamblea. Jesús era, él indicó, tal vez el principal de todos los seres creados. Pero ser igual a Dios, uno en sustancia y naturaleza con Él, era imposible—por lo menos según Arrio. “Nadie podía ser uno con Dios,” el dijo.

Nicolás escuchaba en silencio, junto con los otros obispos en el inmenso salón. El respeto para el orador, especialmente en la presencia del emperador, tenía prioridad sobre todo tipo de murmurar o distracción que a veces acompañaban conferencias de ese tipo, especialmente cuando era sobre un tema tan penetrante. Pero mientras más hablaba Arrio, más difícil le era a Nicolás quedarse sentado en silencio.

Después de todo, los padres de Nicolás habían dado su vida en honor de servir a Cristo, su Señor. Nicolás mismo había estado agobiado con la presencia de Dios en Belén, en el mismo lugar donde Dios apareció por primera vez como hombre en carne humana. Demetrio, Samuel y Rut habían sido semejantemente conmovidos con la visita a Belén. Habían subido la colina en Jerusalén donde el Rey de reyes había sido crucificado por los gobernantes religiosos—gobernantes que, como Arrio, dudaban la afirmación que de Jesús era uno con Dios.

Nicolás siempre había sabido que Jesús era diferente a otros hombres que vivieron. Y después de Jesús morir, él había resucitado de la muerte, se le había aparecido a los doce discípulos y entonces se les apareció a más de quinientos otros habitantes de Jerusalén en esos tiempos. ¿Qué clase de hombre era ese? ¿Fue cómo una alucinación de masas? ¿Fue solo un deseo de los admiradores religiosos? Pero estos hombres no eran solo admiradores, ellos eran seguidores de Él dispuestos a dar sus vidas, también, por su Señor y Salvador.

Nicolás no podía dejar de pensar en los argumentos. ¿No había anunciado ya el profeta Miqueas, cientos de años antes de nacer Jesús, que los orígenes del Mesías “se remontan hasta la antigüedad, hasta tiempos inmemoriales?” ¿No había dicho el apóstol Juan que Jesús “estaba con Dios en el principio,” añadiendo que Jesús “era Dios?”

Como otros habían tratado de sugerir, Arrio dijo que Jesús nunca había afirmado que él era Dios. Pero Nicolás conocía las Escrituras suficientemente bien y sabía que Jesús había dicho, “El Padre y yo somos uno. El que me ha visto a mí, ha visto al Padre. ¿Acaso no crees que yo estoy en el Padre y el Padre está en mí?”

Hasta los mismos enemigos de Jesús en los años que Él vivía dijeron que la razón que ellos querían apedrear a Jesús era porque Jesús afirmaba ser Dios. Las Escrituras decían que estos enemigos rodearon a Jesús un día y Él les dijo, “Yo les he mostrado muchas obras irreprochables que proceden del Padre. ¿Por cuál de ellas me quieren apedrear?”

Ellos respondieron, “No te apedreamos por ninguna de ellas sino por blasfemia: porque tú, siendo hombre, te haces pasar por Dios.”

Jesús ciertamente afirmaba que Él era Dios, una afirmación que lo había puesto en dificultades. Su afirmación mostraba que Él era un loco o un mentiroso—o que Él decía la verdad.

Nicolás tenía la mente llena de referencias de las Escrituras como estas, así como de memorias de los años que había pasado encarcelado—años que él nunca tendría de nuevo—todo por no estar dispuesto a adorar a Diocleciano como un dios, pero estaba preparado a adorar a Jesús como Dios. ¿Cómo podía quedar callado y dejar que Arrio siguiera hablando así? ¿Cómo es que los representantes en el salón podían quedarse en silencio? A Nicolás no le cabía en la mente.

“Él no tenía nada divino,” Arrio dijo con plena convicción. “Él fue solo un hombre como cada uno de nosotros.”

Sin aviso, y sin ningún otro momento para pensar en lo que iba a hacer, Nicolás se puso de pie. Y luego sus pies, como si tuvieran su propia disposición, se pusieron en camino preciso y fijo por el inmenso salón hacia Arrio. Arrio continuó hablando hasta que por fin Nicolás se detuvo delante de él.

Arrio dejó de hablar. Esta violación de formalidad no se había visto antes.

En el silencio siguiente, Nicolás le dio la espalda a Arrio y se quitó el manto que tenía en la espalda, enseñándoles a todos las horribles cicatrices de las heridas que sufrió en la prisión. Nicolás dijo, “No adquirí éstas por “solo un hombre.””

Dando una vuelta hacia Arrio y enfrentándose a él otra vez, Nicolás se fijo en la sonrisa condescendiente en la cara del Arrio. Arrio dijo, “Pues, parece que has hecho un error.” Entonces Arrio comenzó su discurso de nuevo como si nada hubiera pasado.

Entonces fue cuando Nicolás hizo lo inesperado. Sin otra idea que solamente detener que este hombre hablara mal de su Señor y Salvador, y en plena vista del emperador y de todos los delegados, Nicolás apretó el puño. Echo el brazo atrás y le dio a Arrio un puñetazo fuerte en la cara.

Arrio tropezó y cayó hacia atrás, tal como por la fuerza del golpetazo como el asombro de lo ocurrido. Nicolás también se quedó pasmado—así como todos los delegados en el salón. Con los mismos precisos y fijos pasos que lo habían llevado delante de la asamblea, Nicolás ahora caminó hacia su butaca y se sentó.

Todos en el salón se habían quedado boquiabiertos cuando Nicolás le pegó a Arrio, y a continuación surgió la explosión de un alboroto cuando Nicolás volvió a sentarse en su butaca. El alboroto amenazaba echar todo el proceso del concilio en desorden. La mayoría de los delegados en el salón estaban a punto de ponerse de pie para aplaudir el acto de Nicolás por su audacia—incluyendo, por su mirada, el mismo emperador. Pero para los otros, y Arrio siendo el principal de ellos, ni palabras ni muestra de emoción podían expresar la indignación. Todos sabían el delito horrible que Nicolás había cometido. En hecho, usar cualquier tipo de violencia delante del emperador se consideraba un acto ilegal. El castigo por el acto era inmediatamente cortarle la mano de la persona que había golpeado a la otra en la presencia del emperador.

Constantino sabía la ley, claro, pero también conocía a Nicolás. Hasta una vez había tenido un sueño en el cual Nicolás lo advertía de conceder freno a cámara de muerte a tres hombres en la corte del emperador—advertencia que Constantino obedeció y realizó en la vida real. Cuando Constantino compartió el sueño con uno de sus generales, el general le contó al emperador lo que Nicolás había hecho por tres hombres inocentes en Mira, ya que el general era uno de los que había visto el valor de Nicolás en persona.

Aunque el acto de Nicolás contra Arrio parecía ser impulsivo, Constantino admiraba el valor de Nicolás. Conocido por su rapidez de pensar y de actuar, Constantino levantó la mano y al momento todos en el salón se quedaron en silencio al ver al emperador. “Es cierto que esto nos sorprende a todos,” dijo. “Y mientras el castigo de tal acto en mi presencia está en lo claro, yo prefiero, en vez, diferir este caso a los líderes del concilio. Este congreso es de ustedes y yo difiero a su sabiduría en conducirlo como a ustedes les parezca.”

Constantino había puesto tiempo y a la vez buena voluntad entre los diferentes bandos. Casi todo el concilio estaba a favor de Nicolás, por lo menos en sentimiento, aunque no podían apoyarlo en la acción. Algún castigo era debido, ya que no dárselo dejaría de honrar la letra de la ley. Pero al tener el permiso del mismo emperador para actuar de modo apropiado, en vez de dar el castigo corriente, ellos sintieron la libertad de tomar otra forma de acción.

Después de discutir el asunto por un tiempo, los líderes del concilio llegaron a un acuerdo y decidieron apartar del sacerdocio a Nicolás inmediatamente quitándole su puesto de obispo, prohibiéndole la participación durante el resto del concilio en Nicea y conteniéndolo bajo arresto domiciliario en el complejo del palacio. Allí él esperaría cualquiera otra decisión que el concilio tuviera al concluir la asamblea en el verano. Era una sentencia benévola, tomando en cuenta la infracción.

Pero para Nicolás, hasta antes de oír cual iba a ser su castigo, él ya estaba castigándose más de lo que otra persona lo podía castigar por lo que acababa de hacer. Dentro de un minuto, él había experimentado emociones de euforia como en la cumbre de una montaña a trastorno como en lo más bajo de un valle.

En Nicea él era delegado a una de las más importantes asambleas en la historia del mundo, y él acababa de hacer algo que sabía que no podía deshacer. La ramificación del acto lo afectaría por el resto de la vida, estaba seguro, por lo menos por el resto que le quedaba de vivir. La emoción que sentía solo la podía entender, tal vez, aquellos que la habían sentido antes—el peso, la pena y la agonía de un momento pecaminoso que lo podría haber desbaratado, si no fuera por conocer el perdón de Cristo.

Cuando apartaron a Nicolás de su puesto de obispo, fue delante de toda la asamblea. Fue despojado del manto de obispo, y entonces fue llevado fuera del salón en cadenas. Pero esa vergüenza no era nada comparada con la humillación que él sentía por dentro. Estaba hasta demasiado entumecido para llorar.

 

Capítulo 34 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

“¿Qué es lo que he hecho? Nicolás le preguntó a Demetrio mientras los dos estaban sentados cerca de la esquina más lejana del palacio. Esta habitación se había convertido en la improvisa celda de Nicolás, mientras lo mantenían en arresto domiciliario por el resto de la conferencia. Demetrio, usando su presente y extensa habilidad de obtener acceso a partes privadas del palacio, de nuevo había conseguido el modo de visitar a su amigo encarcelado.

“¿Qué ha hecho? ¿Qué podía haber hecho?” respondió Demetrio. “Si usted no lo hubiera hecho, seguro que otra persona lo hubiera hecho, o por lo menos debería haberlo hecho. Usted le hizo a Arrio, y a todos nosotros también, un favor con ese puñetazo. Si él hubiera continuado con esa ofensa, ¡quién sabe el castigo que el Señor habría pronunciado sobre toda la asamblea!” Claro que Demetrio sabía que Dios podía aguantar la descarga de Arrio, y mucho más, siempre lo hacía cuando la gente le forma escándalos a Él y sus propósitos. Él sufre a largo plazo mucho más que cualquiera de nosotros pudiéramos sufrir. Pero aún, Demetrio sentía que el evento de Nicolás era razonable.

Nicolás, sin embargo, apenas podía comprenderlo de ese modo ahora. Le parecía que tal vez había provocado el éxito de la causa de Arrio dejando que los delegados sintieran piedad por él. Nicolás sabía que cuando alguien está a punto de perder un debate basado en razón, muchas veces va derecho a la emoción y a los corazones del público, sea razonable o no. Y por tanto que Arrio estuviera cansando a los delegados con su la falta de lógica, Nicolás pensaba que ahora lo que él había hecho excedía las escalas de emoción a favor de Arrio.

La corriente de sus pensamientos golpeaba la mente de Nicolás. Aquí estaban, solo en los primeros días del concilio, y él tendría que estar bajo arresto domiciliario los próximos dos meses. ¿Cómo podría sobrevivir los dolores emocionales cada día todo ese tiempo?

Nicolás ya sabía que su celda en el palacio sería totalmente diferente a la que tenía cuando Diocleciano lo encarceló por más de diez años. Esta vez, sentía que había sido él mismo que lo había encarcelado. Y aunque esta prisión era una bella habitación en el palacio, los pensamientos de Nicolás, eran peores que la asquerosa celda donde él casi había muerto.

En la otra celda, él sabía que estaba allí por causa de las malas intenciones de otros. Eso le hacía sentir que lo que tenía que sufrir allí era parte del sufrimiento común que Jesús dijo que todos Sus seguidores tendrían. Pero en esta celda, sabía que él estaba allí por causa de su propia absurda acción, acción que el juzgaba imperdonable, un pensamiento que seguramente todos en la asamblea compartían.

Por los años la gente conocía a Nicolás como un hombre tranquilo, con fuerza interna y dignidad controlada. Entonces, en solo un día, había perdido esa reputación—y, mucho más, delante del emperador. ¿Cómo podía perdonarse? “¿Cómo?” le preguntó a Demetrio. “¿No soy capaz de echar atrás lo que le he hecho al nombre del Señor?”

Demetrio contestó, “Tal vez Él no quiere que usted lo eche atrás. Tal vez lo que le interesa a Él no es lo que usted piensa que le hizo a su nombre, pero lo que usted hizo en su nombre. Ciertamente usted hizo lo que yo, y la mayoría de los delegados en el salón hubieran querido hacer, si hubieran tenido el valor de hacerlo.”

Las palabras de Demetrio se sostenían en el aire. Mientras Nicolás pensaba en ellas, una afable sonrisa se formó en su boca. A lo mejor había por fin alguna lógica en la intención de su corazón al portarse como lo hizo. Él sinceramente quería honrar y defender a su Señor, no quería de ningún modo quitarle la atención que Él solo se merecía. “Pedro,” él recordó, “tenía pasión similar en defender a su Señor.” Y Nicolás ahora se daba cuenta de lo que Pedro podía haber sentido cuando le cortó la oreja a uno de los hombres que había venido a detener a Jesús. Jesús le dijo a Pedro que guardara su espada y entonces Jesús le sanó la oreja al hombre. Jesús, indudablemente, podía defenderse perfectamente bien Él solo, pero Nicolás aún aprobaba la pasión que Pedro tenía al defender al Maestro.

Todavía Nicolás no estaba convencido que había hecho lo correcto, pero se sentía compañero de otros que habían actuado apasionadamente. Y las palabras de Demetrio lo ayudaron a realizar que él no estaba solo en su pensar, y se conformó un poco en el hecho que Demetrio no lo había abandonado por cause del incidente. El apoyo de Demetrio era como una pomada calmante al corazón de Nicolás, y lo ayudó a seguir adelante en la vida, aún en otro momento difícil.

Aunque Nicolás estaba convencido que el daño que había hecho era irrevocable en términos humanos—y que Dios tendría que obrar doble para traer algo bueno del incidente—Nicolás sabía lo que él tenía que hacer. Hasta en este momento de profunda humillación, él sabía que lo mejor que podía hacer es lo que él siempre había hecho: poner completa fe y confianza en Dios. ¿Pero cómo? ¿Cómo podía confiar que Dios era capaz de usar este episodio para el bien?

Casi sabiendo lo que Nicolás pensaba, Demetrio sabía exactamente lo que su amigo necesitaba para poder confiar en Dios de nuevo. Demetrio hizo lo que Nicolás había hecho por él y Samuel y Rut ya hace muchos años. Demetrio le dijo un cuento.

 

Capítulo 35 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Demetrio comenzó preguntándole, “¿Qué tipo de cuento te gustaría escuchar hoy? ¿Uno misericordioso o uno maligno?” Así era como Nicolás había introducido cada uno de los cuentos bíblicos que les contaba a Demetrio, Samuel y Rut durante sus tantas aventuras en la Tierra Santa. Luego Nicolás deleitaba a los niños con un cuento de la Biblia sobre un personaje benévolo o uno malvado, o un cuento misericordioso o uno maligno, y a veces el cuento terminaba exactamente diferente a como había empezado.

Nicolás lo miró con interés.

“Eso no es importante,” continuó Demetrio, “porque el que tengo que contarle hoy pudiera ser misericordioso o maligno. No lo podrá saber hasta el fin. Pero he aprendido de un buen amigo,” dijo al guiñándole el ojo a Nicolás, “que la mejor manera de disfrutar un cuento es siempre confiando en el narrador del cuento.”

Nicolás les había dicho que él siempre se fijaba en la reacción de la gente de su pueblo que escuchaba el cuento.

“Cuando la gente confía en el narrador del cuento,” Nicolás les había dicho, “ellos pueden disfrutar el cuento sin importarles lo que sucede, porque ellos saben que el narrador sabe como el cuento va a terminar. Pero cuando la gente no confía en el narrador, sus emociones suben y bajan como un barco en una tormenta, dependiendo solo en lo que está pasando en el cuento en ese momento. La verdad es que solo el narrador sabe como el cuento va a terminar. Así que, mientras uno confía en el narrador del cuento, uno puede disfrutar el cuento desde el principio hasta el fin.”

Ahora era el turno de Demetrio de decirle un cuento a Nicolás. El cuento que escogió decirle era de otro hombre que también había sido encarcelado, un hombre llamado José. Demetrio le contó a Nicolás como la vida de José parecía subir y bajar.

Demetrio empezó a relatar el cuento. “El padre de José lo amaba y le regaló una bella túnica de todo color. Ahora pues, eso es bueno, ¿no?”

Nicolás asintió.

“Pero no, eso fue malo, ya que los hermanos de José vieron la túnica y se llenaron de celos y lo vendieron como esclavo. Ahora pues, eso es malo, ¿no?”

Nicolás asintió.

“No, eso fue bueno, porque a José lo pusieron a cargo de las propiedades de un hombre muy rico. Ahora pues, eso es bueno, ¿no?”

Nicolás asintió de nuevo.

“No, eso fue malo,” dijo Demetrio, “porque la esposa del hombre rico intentó seducirlo, y cuando José la resistió, ella lo mandó a la cárcel. Ahora pues, eso es malo, ¿no?”

Nicolás dejó de asentir si era bueno o malo porque ya tenía idea de la intención de su amigo.

“No, eso fue bueno,” dijo Demetrio, “porque a José lo pusieron a cargo de todos los otros prisioneros. Hasta los ayudaba a interpretar sus sueños. Ahora pues, eso es bueno, ¿no?”

Nicolás continuó escuchando seriamente.

“No, eso fue malo, porque después de interpretar sus sueños, José le pidió a uno de los hombres que lo ayudara a salir de la prisión cuando él saliera, pero el hombre olvidó a José y lo dejó allí. Ahora pues, eso es malo, ¿no?”

Nicolás se imaginaba ser el hombre olvidado en la prisión.

“¡No! ¡Fue bueno! Porque Dios había puesto a José en el lugar preciso en el tiempo preciso. Cuando el faraón de Egipto tuvo un sueño y necesitaba a alguien que so lo interpretara, el hombre que había sido encarcelado de repente recordó que José todavía estaba en la prisión y se lo dijo al faraón.

“El faraón mandó a llamar a José, le pidió una interpretación y José se la dio. El faraón estaba tan encantado con José que lo puso a cargo de todo su reino. Como resultado, José pudo usar su nuevo puesto para salvar a ciento miles de vidas incluyendo la de su propio padre y hasta las de sus hermanos—los mismos que lo habían vendido como esclavo al principio. ¡Y eso es muy bueno!

“Así que puede ver,” dijo Demetrio, “como siempre me ha dicho usted, nunca somos capaces de saber el final del cuento hasta que se termine. Dios sabía lo que estaba haciendo en cada etapa. Usted puede ver…

  • en el momento preciso, José nació y su padre lo amaba,

  • para que en el momento preciso sus hermanos lo maltrataran,

  • para que en el momento preciso lo comerciantes de esclavos vinieran y lo compraran,

  • para que en el momento preciso lo pusieran a cargo de las propiedades de un hombre rico,

  • para que en el momento preciso lo encarcelaran,

  • para que en el momento preciso lo pusieran a cargo de los prisioneros,

  • para que en el momento preciso él interpretara los sueños,

  • para que en el momento preciso él interpretara el sueño del faraón,

  • para que en el momento preciso José estuviera en el único lugar del mundo que Dios quería que él estuviera para salvar las vidas de su padre, sus hermanos y muchos, muchos más.

“Por todas las etapas de la vida, José nunca dejó de confiar en Dios. Él sabía el secreto de cómo disfrutar el cuento mientras lo vivía: él siempre confiaba en el Narrador, Él que estaba escribiendo el cuento de su vida.”

Todo el miedo y dudas de Nicolás desaparecieron en esos momentos y él sabía que también era capaz de confiar en el Narrador, Él que estaba escribiendo el cuento de su vida. El cuento de Nicolás no había terminado todavía, y él tenía que confiar que el mismo Dios que lo había traído hasta este episodio de su vida era capaz de llevarlo hasta el fin.

Nicolás miró a Demetrio con una sonrisa de agradecimiento, entonces cerró los ojos. Serían un par de largos mese mientras esperaba la decisión del concilio. Pero él sabía, si era capaz de confiar en Dios en ese momento y después en el próximo, que cada uno de esos momentos llegarían a ser minutos, y los minutos llegarían a ser horas. Las horas se convertirían en semanas y después en meses y después en años. Sabía que todo empezaba confiando en Dios en un momento.

Con los ojos todavía cerrados, Nicolás puso toda su fe y confianza en Dios otra vez. La paz de Dios le llenó el corazón.

Pronto, dos meses habían pasado. El concilio estaba listo para ofrecer la decisión final sobre muchos asuntos, incluyendo la decisión que había terminado en poner a Nicolás en arresto domiciliario al principio—y Nicolás estaba a punto de saber la decisión.

 

Capítulo 36 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

“¡Lo han hecho!” Fue Demetrio el que explotó por la puerta de la habitación de Nicolás tan pronto como el guardia del palacio la había abierto.

“¡Lo han hecho!” repitió. “¡Han terminado! ¡El concilio ha elegido y están de acuerdo con usted! ¡Todos menos dos de los trescientos diez y ocho obispos se han puesto de parte de usted en vez de Arrio!

Un sentido de alivio llenó todo el cuerpo de Nicolás. Demetrio, también, lo podía sentir en su propio cuerpo al ver que la noticia confortaba a Nicolás.

“Y además,” dijo Demetrio, “¡el concilio ha decidido no realizar ninguna otra acción contra usted!”

Ambas noticias eran el mejor resultado que Nicolás se podía haber imaginado. Aunque su acción le había costado el puesto de obispo, no había puesto en peligro el resultado del procedimiento. Hasta era posible—aunque nunca llegó a saberlo ciertamente—que su acción contra Arrio tal vez había dado forma a lo ocurrido durante esos meses de verano en el histórico concilio.

Minutos después de la llegada de Demetrio, otra visita llegó a la puerta de Nicolás. Era Constantino.

La decisión del concilio sobre qué hacer con Nicolás era una cosa, pero la decisión de Constantino era otra. Un nuevo temor llenó a Nicolás al pensar en lo que le podría ocurrir.

“Nicolás,” dijo el emperador, “Deseaba personalmente darle las gracias por venir a ser mi huésped in Nicea. Quiero pedirle perdón por lo que ha tenido que soportar estos últimos meses. Eso no es lo que esperaba yo y estoy seguro que no es lo que usted esperaba tampoco. Pero, aunque usted no pudo asistir al resto del procedimiento, le aseguro que su presencia fue considerada en cada reunión. Lo que usted hizo ese día fue testigo para mí de lo que significa seguir a Cristo más que cualquiera otra cosa que escuché en los siguientes días. Quiero saber más de usted en el futuro, si usted está dispuesto a ser mi huésped de nuevo. Pero la próxima vez no será en la esquina más lejana del palacio. Además, he pedido y he recibido el permiso del concilio para restaurarlo a su puesto de Obispo de Mira. Es mi opinión que Aquel que lo llamó a usted a servirlo a Él desea que usted continúe haciendo todo lo que ha hecho hasta ahora. De mi parte, quiero que usted sepa que yo aprecio lo que usted hizo aquí más de lo que pueda imaginarse. Gracias por venir, y cuando esté listo, usted está en plena libertad para regresar a su hogar.”

Nicolás escuchaba las palabras de Constantino como si estuviera en un sueño. Apenas podía creer lo que escuchaba con sus propios oídos. Pero cuando el emperador dijo la palabra “hogar,” Nicolás se dio cuenta que no era un sueño, y la palabra cayó en sus oídos como la campanada más dulce. De todas las palabras dichas por el emperador, ninguna le parecía mejor que la última: hogar. Lo único que quería era regresar a servir a su congregación. Fue por ellos que él vino a este importante concilio en primer lugar, para asegurar que las verdaderas palabras que él les había enseñado se continuaran enseñando por toda la tierra.

Después de más de dos meses de estar separado de ellos, y la continua pregunta de qué les pasaría a ellos y a los otros cientos de miles como ellos en el futuro que serían afectados por la decisión hecha in Nicea, Nicolás por fin podía regresar a su hogar. Estaba en libertad de nuevo, pero en más de una forma.

 

Estás leyendo ST. NICOLÁS: EL CREYENTE, por Eric y Lana Elder, un cuento nuevo para Navidad basada en la antigua historia de San Nicolás (Spanish Edition). Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

Estás leyendo SAN NICOLÁS: EL CREYENTE, por Eric y Lana Elder, un cuento nuevo para Navidad basada en la antigua historia de San Nicolás (Spanish Edition). Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

PARTE 7

 

Capítulo 37 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Por última vez Nicolás estaba en el lugar más preferido de todos: a la orilla del mar. Habían pasado diez y ocho años desde regresar a Mira del concilio en Nicea. En los días después de haber regresado, él continuaba sirviendo al Señor como siempre lo había hecho: con todo su corazón, toda su alma, con toda su mente, y con todas sus fuerzas.

Nicolás había venido a la orilla del mar con Demetrio y Ana María, los cuales habían traído con ellos a uno de sus nietos, una niña de siete años llamada Rut.

Rut estaba corriendo de arriba a abajo por la playa saltando las olas, mientras Demetrio y Ana María trataban de seguirla. Nicolás tenía tiempo para mirar hacia el mar, y como a veces lo hacía, miraba hacia la eternidad también.

Pensando en su vida, Nicolás no sabía si había cumplido en la vida la misión que quería cumplir: tomar la oportunidad para cambiar el mundo. A veces tenía un vistazo de cambios, claro, en las vidas de gente como Demetrio, Samuel, Rut, Sofía, Cecilia y Ana María.

También había aprendido de gente como el capitán del barco que cuando el capitán llegó a Roma, el barco milagrosamente pesaba exactamente lo mismo que antes de salir del Alejandría—aunque le había dado de la mercancía del barco a la gente de Mira la cantidad de grano necesaria para durarle varios años. Recuerdos como esos animaban a Nicolás que Dios realmente lo estaba guiando en las decisiones que hacía.

Pero aún tenía preguntas. Nunca llegó a saber si lo que había hecho en el Concilio de Nicea era lo debido. Tampoco llegó a saber si la conversación privada que tuvo con Constantino pudo haber afectado la fe en Cristo del emperador.

Le dio aliento saber, sin embargo, que la madre de Constantino también había peregrinado a la Tierra Santa como Nicolás lo había hecho. Y después de la jornada, ella convenció a Constantino a edificar parroquias sobre los sitios santos que ella había visitado. Recientemente ella había terminado de edificar una parroquia en Belén sobre el lugar donde Jesús había nacido, así como unas parroquias en Jerusalén sobre el sitio donde Jesús había muerto y resucitado.

Nicolás sabía que había tenido ambos éxitos y fracasos en la vida. Pero fijándose en el pasado, no era capaz de identificar cuáles etapas de su vida eran un éxito y cuáles eran un fracaso. Los tiempos que pensaba que eran valles oscuros se habían vuelto en experiencias de alta montaña, y los de cima se habían convertido en valles profundos. Pero lo más importante era, se forzaba en recordar, que él confiaba en Dios en todas las etapas de la vida, sabiendo que Dios disponía de todas las cosa para el bien de quienes Lo aman, que habían sido llamados de acuerdo con Su propósito.

Lo que el futuro tenía disponible para el mundo, Nicolás no lo sabía. Pero lo que sí sabía era que él había aprovechado los días que Dios le había dado. Fue su intención amar a Dios y amar al prójimo como Jesús le había dicho. Y cuando a veces fracasó, él confiaba que Jesús podía cubrir esos fracasos, también, del mismo modo que Él había cubierto sus pecados al morir en la cruz.

Como el padre de Nicolás había hecho antes de él, Nicolás, también, miró hacia el mar otra vez. Entonces, cerrando los ojos, le pidió a Dios fuerza para la próxima jornada que tomaría.

Dejó que el sol le calentara la cara, entonces él abrió sus manos y dejó que las brisas del mar las levantaran hacia lo alto. Alabó a Dios mientras las brisas cálidas flotaban delicadamente por las llamas de sus dedos.

La pequeña Rut regresó salpicando en el agua, seguida por Demetrio y Ana María. Rut miró hacia Nicolás, con los ojos cerrados y las manos hacia el cielo. Sujetándolo, lo haló del manto y le preguntó, “¿Nicolás, alguna vez ha visto usted a Dios?”

Nicolás abrió los ojos y vio a Rut, entonces les echó una sonrisa a Demetrio y Ana María. Volvió los ojos al sol y las olas y las miles y miles de orillas que se extendían en ambas direcciones delante de él. Volviendo los ojos de nuevo a Rut, Nicolás le dijo, “Sí, Rut, he visto a Dios. Y mientras más viejo soy, más Lo veo dondequiera que miro.”

Rut sonrió, y Nicolás le dio un abrazo fuerte. Y entonces, tan pronto como había venido hacia él, se fue de nuevo a jugar en el agua.

Nicolás miró a Demetrio y Ana María y sonrió, entonces la pareja también, siguió persiguiendo a Rut por la orilla de la playa.

Por última vez, Nicolás miró hacia el bello mar, entonces dio una vuelta y empezó a caminar hacia su hogar.

 

Epílogo (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Así que ahora ya saben ustedes un poco acerca de mí—Demetrio Alejandro—y mi buen amigo, Nicolás. Esa fue la última vez que lo vi, hasta esta mañana. Pidió que le dejáramos pasar unos días sólo, sólo él con el Señor que amaba. Dijo que tenía que prepararse para una jornada más. Ana María y yo entendimos exactamente lo que nos quería decir.

Sabíamos que estaba preparándose para regresar a su hogr, a su verdadero hogar, el que Jesús dijo que iba a preparar para cada uno de nosotros que creíamos en Él.

Nicolás ya había estado anticipando el viaje toda la vida. No era que él quería dar menos de lo debido ni a un momento de la vida que Dios le había dado aquí en la tierra, ya que él sabía que su vida tenía un propósito también, o Dios no la hubiera creado nunca con tanta belleza y precisión y maravillosos misterios.

Pero mientras la vida de Nicolás aquí en la tierra llegaba a su fin, él dijo que estaba listo. Estaba listo a retirarse, y anhelaba todo lo que Dios le había prometido a continuación.

Así que cuando esta mañana Nicolás nos mandó un recado a Ana María y a mí y a unos cuantos otros amigos que viniéramos a verlo, sabíamos que la hora había llegado.

Entrando en la habitación, lo encontramos acostado en la cama, tal como está ahora mismo. Respirando silenciosamente indicó que nos acercáramos. No nos fue posible reprimir las lágrimas y él no intentó detener nuestra emoción. Él sabía lo difícil que era despedirse de seres queridos. Pero, él también logró que la despedida fuera menos difícil para todos nosotros. Sonrió una vez más y nos habló calladamente, diciendo las mismas palabras que había pronunciado cuando Rut murió muchos años antes: “Con cualquier fin somos vencedores,” nos dijo. “No importa el fin, ya somos vencedores.”

“Sí, Nicolás,” le dije, “No importa el fin. Ya somos vencedores.” Entonces el silencio llenó la habitación. Nicolás cerró los ojos y se quedó dormido por última vez. Nadie pudo moverse. Nadie dijo ni una palabra más.

El hombre que estaba delante de nosotros dormía como si fuera cualquiera otra noche de su vida. Pero nosotros sabíamos que este era un momento divino. Nicolás acababa de entrar en la presencia del Señor. Como Nicolás lo había hecho toda su vida, nosotros estábamos seguros de lo que estaba haciendo ahora: caminando y hablando y riéndose con Jesús, pero ahora estaban cara a cara.

Sólo podíamos imaginarnos lo que Nicolás le estaba diciendo a Jesús. Pero estábamos seguros de lo que Jesús le estaba diciendo a él: “Hiciste bien, siervo bueno y fiel! ¡Ven a compartir la felicidad de tu Señor!”

No tengo ni idea de cómo la historia va a recordar a Nicolás, si de veras se acordará de él. Él no fue un emperador como Constantino. No fue un tirano como Diocleciano. No fue un orador como Arrio. Fue simplemente un cristiano que vivió su fe, afectando una vida a la vez de la mejor forma que podía.

Nicolás tal vez pensaba si su vida había cambiado el mundo de alguna manera. Yo sé la respuesta, y ahora que ustedes saben su historia, dejo que ustedes decidan por sí mismos. Al fin de todo, sólo Dios sabe verdaderamente cuántas vidas fueron afectadas por este hombre extraordinario.

Pero lo que yo sé es esto: cada uno de nosotros sólo tenemos una vida para vivir. Pero si la vivimos bien, como Nicolás lo hizo, una vida es todo lo que necesitamos.

 

Conclusión (Volver al índice de contenidos)
Por Eric Elder

Lo que Nicolás no supo, y lo que nadie que lo conoció pudo imaginarse, fue lo mucho que su vida afectaría a la gente—no sólo por todo el mucho, pero por todas las generaciones.

Para sus padres, él fue un hijo querido, y para aquellos en la ciudad él fue su obispo querido. Para nosotros, él ha llegado a ser conocido por otro nombre: Santa Claus.

La palabra bíblica de “santo” literalmente es “creyente”. La Biblia nos habla de los santos en Éfeso, los santos en Roma, los santos en Filipos y los santos en Jerusalén. Cada vez la palabra se refiere a los creyentes que vivían en esas ciudades. Así que Nicolás correctamente llegó a ser “San Nicolás”, o para decirlo de otro manera, “Nicolas, el creyente.” La tradición latina es “Santa Nicolás,” y en holandés “Sinterklass,” de donde viene el nombre “Santa Claus”.

Su buen nombre y sus hechos de caridad ha sido una inspiración para tantos que el día que él pasó de esta vida a la próxima, el 6 de diciembre de 343 A. D., aún se celebra por mucha gente alrededor del mundo.

Muchas leyendas se han contado de Nicolás por los años, algunas dándole características que son extraordinarias. Pero la razón que hay tantas leyendas, incluyendo esas que se cuentan de San Nicolás, es porque a veces los otros personajes en las leyendas tienen características extraordinarias. Eran personas tan bondadosas o tan respetadas que cada acto benévolo que se atribuía a ellos era como si ellos mismos lo hubieran hecho.

Aunque no todos los cuentos acerca de Nicolás se basan en los primeros datos de su vida, las historias escritas en los años que él vivió documentan muchos de los cuentos que se encuentran en este libro. Para ayudarlos a analizarlos mejor, aquí está lo que sabemos de su vida:

  • Nicolás nació entre los años 260 a 280 A.D. en la ciudad de Patara, una ciudad que aún se puede visitar hoy día en Turquía de hoy, en la costa norte del Mar Mediterráneo.

  • Los padres de Nicolás estaban dedicados al cristianismo y murieron en la plaga cuando Nicolás era solo un niño dejándolo con una gran herencia.

  • Nicolás hizo un peregrinaje a la Tierra Santa y vivió allí por varios años antes de regresar a su provincia natal de Licia.

  • Nicolás viajó por el Mar Mediterráneo en un barco en una tormenta. Después de orar, el barco llegó a su destino como si alguien estuviera a cargo del timón. El timón del barco también se llama barra del timón, y los marinos en el Mediterráneo de hoy aún se desean buena suerte con el dicho, “¡Qué Nicolás aguante tu barra del timón!”

  • Cuando Nicolás regresó de la Tierra Santa, el vino a vivir en Mira, como a treinta millas de su ciudad natal de Patara. Nicolás llegó a ser el obispo de Mira y vivió allí el resto de su vida.

  • En secreto Nicolás dio tres regalos de oro en tres ocasiones separadas a un hombre cuyas hijas serían vendidas como esclavas por no tener nada que ofrecerles como dote a sus pretendientes. La familia supo que Nicolás había sido el que había dado el dinero una de las veces, por eso sabemos esa historia hoy. En esta versión de la historia, hemos añadido, en cambio, el regalo de Nicolás de las primeras dos bolsas de monedas y Demetrio la tercera, para captar la idea que muchos regalos fueron dados en esos días, y aún se dan hoy, en el nombre de San Nicolás, que tenía la fama de dar regalos. El tema de redención también están tan asociado con esta historia de la vida de Nicolás, que si uno pasa por una casa de empeño hoy, muchas veces pueden ver tres globos dorados como insignia, representando las tres bolsas de oro que Nicolás ofreció para rescatar a las muchachas de su destino desafortunado.

  • Nicolás defendió la vida de tres hombres inocentes que injustamente habían sido condenados a muerte por un gobernador en Mira, arrebatando directamente la espada de la mano del verdugo.

  • “Nicolás, Obispo de Mira” está incluido en varios, pero no todos, los documentos históricos, que mencionan los delegados que asistieron al real Concilio de Nicea, el cual fue convocado por el Emperador Constantino en 325 A.D. Una de las decisiones principales del concilio fue sobre la divinidad de Cristo y resulto en la escritura del Credo de Nicea—un credo que aún se dice en muchas iglesias hoy. Varios históricos dicen que el nombre de Nicolás no aparece en todos los documentos del concilio porque lo hicieron desaparecer de la asamblea después de pegarle a Arrio por negar que Cristo era divino. Nicolás, sin embargo, es mencionado en por lo menos cinco de de los documentos antiguos, incluso el primer manuscrito en griego del evento.

  • El Credo de Nicea fue adoptado por el Concilio de Nicea y ha llegado a ser una de las más usadas y breves declaraciones de la fe cristiana. La versión original dice, en parte, de la traducción del griego: “Creemos en un solo Dios, El Padre Todopoderoso, Creador de todo lo visible y lo invisible. Y en un solo Señor Jesucristo, el Hijo de Dios, engendrado del Padre, el unigénito; es decir siendo de una sustancia con el Padre, Dios de Dios, Luz de Luz; Dios verdadero de Dios, engendrado, no creado, siendo de una sustancia con el Padre; por quien todo fue hecho bajo el cielo y en la tierra; quien por los hombres y nuestra salvación bajó del cielo y se encarnó y se hizo hombre; sufrió y el tercer día resucitó y ascendió a los cielos, y vendrá otra vez para juzgar a los vivos y a los muertos…” Otras versiones, comenzando tan pronto como en el 381 A.D. han cambiado y clarificado varias de las expresiones originales, resultando en varias similares, pero no exactas frases que se usan hoy.

  • Existen documentos en los cuales hablan de las cosas que Nicolás había hecho por la gente de Mira que incluyen datos asegurándole grano de un barco que viajaba de Alejandría a Roma, el cual rescató a la gente de la región del hambre.

  • Elena, la madre de Constantino, visitó la Tierra Santa y estimuló que Constantino construyera iglesias sobre, en su opinión, los sitios más importantes de la fe cristiana. Las iglesias fueron construidas en los sitios que los creyentes locales le habían mostrado donde Jesús había nacido y donde Él había muerto y resucitado. La Basílica de la Natividad en Belén y La Iglesia del Santo Sepulcro en Jerusalén han sido destruida y reconstruidas muchas veces, pero aún en el mismo lugar donde la madre de Constantino, y probablemente Nicolás mismo, las había visto.

  • La muerte de Nicolás se ha establecido el 6 de diciembre del 343 A.D., y uno aún puede visitar su tumba en la ciudad de Demre, Turquía, antes llamada Myra, en la provincia de Licia. Loa restos de Nicolás fueron desenterrados de la tumba en el 1,087 A.D. por italianos que temían que fueran destruidos o robados, ya que el país fue atacado por extranjeros. Los restos de Nicolás fueron llevados a la ciudad de Bari, Italia donde aún están enterrados hoy.

De las tantas otras historias que se cuentan o se atribuyen a Nicolás, es difícil decir con certeza cuales verdaderamente ocurrieron y cuales sólo se atribuyen a él por su buena reputación y su excelente nombre. Por ejemplo, en el siglo doce, historias se contaban de cómo Nicolás había resucitado a tres niños que habían sido brutalmente asesinados. Aunque el primer documento de esta historia no se conoció hasta ochocientos años después de la muerte de Nicolás, esta historia es una de la más frecuentemente asociada con San Nicolás en las obras de arte religioso, mostrando a tres niños resucitados delante de Nicolás. Hemos incluido sustancia de esa historia en esta novela en la forma de tres huérfanos que Nicolás conoció en la Tierra Santa y que él resucitó—por lo menos en forma espiritual.

Aunque todas las historias adicionales no se pueden asignar a Nicolás totalmente, podemos decir que su vida y su memoria han tenido un efecto tan profundo en la historia que más iglesias por todo el mundo hoy día llevan el nombre de “San Nicolás” que cualquier otro personaje, además de los originales discípulos.

Algunos se preguntan si es correcto o no creer en San Nicolás. Estamos seguros que a Nicolás no le importaría tanto si uno cree en él o no, pero le importaría más que uno crea en Él que él creyó, Jesucristo.

Una imagen popular hoy día muestra a San Nicolás de rodilla, su sombrero a su lado, delante del niño Jesús en el pesebre. Aunque esa imagen nunca había podido ocurrir en la vida real, ya que San Nicolás nació casi trescientos años después del nacimiento de Cristo, la intención del artista no puede ser más precisa. Nicolás fue un verdadero creyente en Jesús y el alababa, adoraba, y vivió su vida sirviendo a Cristo.

San Nicolás nunca hubiera querido que su historia sustituyera la historia de Jesús en el pesebre, pero él hubiera querido que su historia señalara a Jesús en el pesebre. Y esa fue la razón que se escribió este libro.

Mientras las historias contadas en este libro fueron seleccionadas de las muchas que se han contado de San Nicolás por medio de los años, estas fueron contadas para que usted creyera—no sólo en Nicolás, pero en Jesucristo, su Salvador. Estas historias fueron escritas por la misma razón que el Apóstol Juan escribió la historia que contó de Jesús en la Biblia, Juan dijo que él escribió su evangelio:

“…para que ustedes crean que Jesús es el Cristo, el Hijo de Dios, y para que al creer en su nombre tengan vida” (Juan 20:31).

Nicolás desearía lo mismo de ustedes. Él quisiera que ustedes se convirtieran en lo que él era: un creyente.

Si ustedes no lo han hecho, pongan su fe en Jesucristo hoy, pidiéndole que los perdone de sus pecados y les dé la garantía de vivirán con Él para siempre.

Si ya han puesto su fe en Cristo, dejen que esta historia les confirme lo realmente hermosa que es su fe. Renuevan hoy su compromiso de servir a Cristo como Nicolás lo sirvió: con todo tu corazón, con toda tu alma, con toda tu mente y con todas tus fuerzas. Dios realmente dispondrá todas las cosas para el bien de quienes lo aman. La Biblia dice:

Ahora bien, sabemos que Dios dispone todas las cosas para el bien de quienes lo aman, los que han sido llamados de acuerdo con su propósito” (Romanos 8:28).

Gracias por leer este libro especial sobre este hombre especial, y es mi petición que su Navidad verdaderamente sea feliz y llena de luz. Como Clement Moore escribió en su famoso poema, Una visita de San Nicolás:

¡Navidad a todos, y a todos muy buenas noches?”

Eric Elder

 

Reconocimiento (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Gracias a Joe Wheeler y Jim Rosenthal cuyo libro, San Nicolás: Una Vista Más Fija Sobre la Navidad, proveyó mucho del material exterior para esta novela. Su investigación y documentación de la vida de San Nicolás, y el contexto histórico en cual él vivió, fue el más informativo, autoritario y inspirador que encontramos sobre el tema. Gracias, Joe y Jim por ayudarnos a mantener vivo el espíritu de San Nicolás.

 

Sobre el Traductor (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Víctor Palomino nació en la Habana, Cuba en un hogar cristiano. Año y medio antes de la revolución castrista, su familia vino a vivir a Chicago para estar con su abuela maternal la cual los médicos le habían dado poco tiempo para vivir. Isabel Mercedes, su abuela, llegó a vivir ocho años más influyendo la fe de sus hijos y nietos hasta su muerte.

Víctor estudió en la Universidad del Estado de Illinois donde se especializó en pedagogía. Por más de treinta años él enseño español, inglés y oratoria en Illinois a estudiantes de los grados primarios hasta los universitarios. Por más de diez años, él trabajó en la administración de las escuelas públicas del estado. Víctor también ha sido estudiante del español en sus viajes a Méjico, Costa Rica, Honduras, Perú, Cuba, Puerto Rico y España.

 

Sobre los Autores (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Eric y Lana Elder han escrito varios cuentos de navidad que han cautivado e inspirado a miles como parte de una producción anual navideña conocida como Jornada a Belén.

San Nicolás: el Creyente es el estreno de su primer cuento complete de navidad. Eric y Lana también han colaborado en varios libros de inspiración incluyendo:

  • Dos semanas con Dios
  • Lo que Dios Dice Sobre el Sexo
  • Éxodo: Lecciones Sobre Libertad
  • Jesús: Lecciones Sobre el amor
  • Hechos: Lecciones Sobre la Fe
  • Nehemías: Lecciones Sobre la Reconstrucción
  • Efesios: Lecciones Sobre la Gracia
  • Israel: Lecciones de la Tierra Santa
  • Israel Para Niños: Lecciones de la Tierra Santa
  • Los mejores 20 Pasajes de la Biblia
  • Romanos: Lecciones Sobre la Renovación Mental
  • y Triunfando Sobre la Oscuridad

Para comprar material o recibir información, favor de visitar:
www.InspiringBooks.com (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Estás leyendo ST. NICOLÁS: EL CREYENTE, por Eric y Lana Elder, un cuento nuevo para Navidad basada en la antigua historia de San Nicolás (Spanish Edition). Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

Gracias por leer SAN NICOLÁS: EL CREYENTE, por Eric y Lana Elder, un cuento nuevo para Navidad basada en la antigua historia de San Nicolás (Spanish Edition). Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

St. Nicholas: The Believer (AudioBook)

A new story for Christmas based on the old story of St. Nicholas, written by Eric & Lana Elder and read by Eric Elder.

Listen Here!

(To see the full playlist in the app, click here)

St. Nicholas: The Believer - Audiobook Cover

Credits

St. Nicholas: The Believer was written by Eric & Lana Elder and read by Eric Elder.  Copyright 2009-2014 Eric & Lana Elder.  All rights reserved.

You can also read this book yourself in English or Spanish at the following links:

San Nicolás: El Creyente, por Eric y Lana Elder

SAN NICOLÁS: EL CREYENTE, por Eric y Lana Elder, un cuento nuevo para Navidad basada en la antigua historia de San Nicolás (Spanish Edition). Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our <a href="http://theranch.org/bookstore/">bookstore</a> for a donation of any size.

(Spanish Edition of St. Nicholas: The Believer). Un cuento nuevo para Navidad basada en la antigua historia de San Nicolás.

If you’ve never read about the real St. Nicholas who lived in the 3rd and 4th centuries A.D., you’ll find his story both fascinating and inspirational. Even if you have read the historical account of his life, I believe you’ll find this version to be the most human telling of his story you’ve ever heard. Spanish Edition – 234 pages.

(Suggested Donation: $12 or more)

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Also available from Amazon.com.

This Week’s Sermon- Payday’s Coming: 3 Stories For Easter


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

PAYDAY’S COMING: 3 STORIES FOR EASTER
(Part 1 of 3)

by Eric Elder
www.theranch.org

 

When some friends of mine got divorced and later remarried each other, another friend, and their mentor through it all, stood up at their second wedding and said:  “It’s Payday!”

What he meant was that after having walked with them through all of their troubles and heartache he was finally seeing the fruit of all of that hard work.

Although not every story ends the same way, we can trust that with God every story can have a “Payday” ending of its own–for God really does work “for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

As we get ready for Easter, I’d like to share 3 stories with you over the next 3 weeks to remind you that “Payday’s Coming!”  Yes, there’s pain and suffering in life.  Yes, there are trials and tribulations we have to walk through.  Yes, people leave us and hurt us and sometimes we hurt ourselves.

But somehow, someway, in God’s economy, He’ll work it all out for good if we’ll just keep trusting in Him and following His promptings along the way.  “Payday’s Coming!”  We just need to keep trusting in Him.

I know that’s easier said than done sometimes, though, so I’d like to tell you these 3 stories over the next 3 weeks to encourage you that it’s all worth it.  The 3 stories all happened to me over a recent trip to Texas and involve a romance novel, a powerful sermon and a white handkerchief.  I’ll also highlight the stories of 3 Bible characters along the way: Joseph, David and Jesus.

Today, let’s start with the romance novel and the story of Joseph.

I don’t usually read romance novels, but when I got in my car to start the 14-hour drive from Illinois to Texas one weekend, I thought I’d download a book to listen to as I drove.

I had discovered recently that a woman on my mailing list writes romance novels.  She had ordered some of my devotional books last fall, and I thought it would be interesting to read some of her books, too.  But she had so many to choose from that I didn’t know which one to read.  And to be honest, as a middle-aged man who had just lost his wife a little over a year ago, I wasn’t sure I was up for listening to a romance novel about 20-somethings falling in love, for a multitude of reasons!

I was almost at the entrance to the highway to start my trip, which happened to be near my wife’s gravesite, so I decided to pull over and park next to my wife’s memorial bench and find a book to download before I began my long trek.

Still not knowing which book to choose, I saw that the author had done a podcast interview about one of her books, so I decided to watch it.  In the podcast, she said she had never written a book like this before.  It was about a man whose wife had died a year earlier, and his wife had given him a letter to be opened on the one-year anniversary of her death.

The author said, “I try to be creative and I’ve never done this before: I did first-person male point of view.”  She went on to describe how she had written this book from the man’s perspective to capture what he was thinking and feeling as he walked through this season of his life.

I couldn’t believe it.  Here I was, sitting next to my wife’s gravesite just a little more than a year after she had died, listening to this podcast.  I felt like God wanted to speak directly to me!  I immediately downloaded the book, got on the road and started listening.

Within minutes, I was in tears, and I think I cried all the way to St. Louis.  The book captured everything I was thinking and feeling, having just gone through the same thing in my own life like the main character in the book.  The book ministered to my heart in such a deep and profound way.  Most of all, it opened me up to see HOPE again for my future.

I’ve always known that God was there and that He can work things out in the end, but this book gave me hope that He will work things out in the end.  There’s a big difference between knowing God can do something and God will do something.  While I have felt God’s comfort through the past year, now He was giving me His confidence.

My confidence began to build when I first got on the road and started listening to this book, and it continued to build throughout the rest of the trip, as I’ll share with you more over the next 2 weeks.  I knew that God was clearly directing my steps, and I knew He would continue to direct them, as long as I kept trusting in Him and listening to His promptings.  It wasn’t Payday yet, but I could see it coming.

If you need encouragement that God will work all things for good in your life, I’d encourage you to read the story of Joseph this week.  You can find his story in the Bible in Genesis chapters 37 to 50, and take special note of one of Joseph’s “Paydays” that he experiences in chapter 41.

I won’t go into the whole story here, because I think you’ll really enjoy it more if you read it yourself.  But suffice it to say, Joseph had been through terrible trials, from his brothers selling him into slavery, to being wrongfully accused and thrown into jail for a crime he didn’t commit, to seeing people he helped along the way forget about him and leave him in prison.  But Joseph never stopped trusting in God.

Just when things looked like they’d never, ever get better, Joseph got summoned from his prison cell to appear before the king.  By the end of that day, Joseph had been made 2nd in command over all of Egypt.  After all the trials that Joseph had gone through, his whole life changed in a single day.  But God had been with him through it all, guiding, directing and training Joseph to complete the work that God had called him to do.

Joseph summed up his own story like this when he later talked to his brothers who had sold him into slavery:

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20).

Joseph trusted God and you can, too.  God can provide just what you need, right when you need it, whether it’s a romance novel for the road or a summons from the king.

Payday’s coming!  Trust that God can take whatever’s bad in your life and turn it into good.  Then believe that He not only can do it, but that He will do it.  That’s His specialty.  And that’s His will.  As the Bible says:

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Next week we’ll look at a powerful sermon, and a Payday that came for a shepherd boy named David.



As a thank you for your donation of any size to our ministry or for writing a 1-2 sentence review of our latest CD on Amazon,  we’ll send you a copy of the CD in the mail, anywhere in the world!  It’s a 100% Pure Piano CD called Tenderly by Marilyn Byrnes.  You can listen to the whole CD online for free anytime by visiting this link.  But to get a complimentary CD instead, just make a donation of any size to The Ranch at this link OR write a 1-2 sentence review on Amazon at this link.  Your reviews help us spread the word about this music and help to multiply the blessings all around!   Thank you!

You’re listening to TENDERLY, featuring 100% Pure Piano versions of inspirational and classical music performed by Marilyn Byrnes. Also available in CD and MP3 formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

8 Ways To Enjoy Our Music


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

8 WAYS TO ENJOY OUR MUSIC
by Eric Elder
www.theranch.org


I’d like to share with you 8 ways you can enjoy the music we’ve created here at The Ranch.

I know this isn’t a typical Sunday Sermon, but from time to time, I like to share with you things on The Ranch you might not see otherwise on your own. I also believe music is a huge part of our life of faith and can sometimes speak as powerfully as any sermon. So I hope you’ll listen to our music whatever way you can and enjoy your time with God.

Please known this isn’t a “sales pitch” for our music, as you can listen to it for free anytime day or night on our website. We simply want to help you know how you can access it, whether on our website or on your favorite music players and apps.

I’ve highlighted our most recent CD that we’ve created as an example of how to listen to our music. The CD is called Tenderly and features 100% pure piano versions of 13 beautiful and inspiring songs, all performed by my sister, Marilyn Byrnes.

You’re listening to TENDERLY, featuring 100% Pure Piano versions of inspirational and classical music performed by Marilyn Byrnes. Also available in CD and MP3 formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

Here are a few comments that have come in already this week about this CD:

“Beautifully done – very relaxing and calming!” Sue

“I just came across this music and it is awesome!!! It really lifted my spirits and gave me peace…definitely would be listening to it forever :)” Zinta

“I gave this CD a 5-star rating, because not only is it beautifully played, it was inspiring and complete listening pleasure. I would definitely recommend it for anyone.” Lydia

And here’s a link to one of the songs from the CD, “The Prayer,” which you can click and play in another window while you read the rest of today’s message. This is just one of more than a dozen CDs and 150 songs we feature on The Ranch that you can listen to for free anytime. With that in mind, here are 8 ways you can enjoy our music.

1) Listen for free on The Ranch website anytime. Click the “Listen to Music” tab on The Ranch website to see a list and to listen to all the CDs we offer. Many are instrumental so you can just enjoy the music as you relax, pray, meditate or work without words to get in the way of what you’re doing or what you’re hearing from God. Other CDs feature popular worship songs and hymns played in a fresh and contemporary way. And still others include scriptures reading by my late wife, Lana, read to inspirational music. Here’s the direct link to all the CDs:
 http://theranch.org/listen-to-music/

2) Listen on Pandora. Pandora is an Internet Radio service that lets you listen to customized radio stations that you create. Just go to Pandora.com and create a radio station featuring “Marilyn Byrnes” (my sister) or “Eric Elder” (myself), and you’ll hear one of our songs, followed by a few songs from similar artists, then another one of our songs, an so on. Pandora offers both free and paid subscriptions. Here’s a link that will create a radio station automatically based on Marilyn’s music (and you’ll hear mine, too, as it’s similar!): Marilyn Byrnes on Pandora.

3) Listen on iTunes Radio. iTunes Radio is another Internet Radio service like Pandora, offered for free within iTunes. Just go to your Music Library in iTunes on your computer, or tap the Radio icon in the lower left of the iTunes Music app on your phone or music player, and then type one of our names to create a station based on our music (Eric Elder, Marilyn Byrnes, or Lana Elder, to hear Lana’s scripture CD). Once created, you can click our station anytime in iTunes to heard our songs, along with a mix of songs from other artists. Here’s a link to a station I created with all 3 of our names already entered: Eric Elder Radio.

4) Download from iTunes. You can also download any of our single songs or entire albums from iTunes easily and inexpensively and take our music with you to listen to anytime on your favorite music player. Just visit the iTunes store and search for Eric Elder, Marilyn Byrnes or Lana Elder to find all of our music. Here’s a direct link to Tenderly on iTunes: Tenderly on iTunes.

5) Listen on Spotify. Spotify offers free and paid subscriptions to listen to entire CDs of any of our music. Like many of these services, the only difference between the free and paid subscriptions is whether they display ads or not. But either way you choose, you can listen to our music by simply typing in our names or the names of any of our albums. Here’s a link that will take you directly to the Tenderly CD on Spotify where you can listen to the whole thing. Tenderly on Spotify.

6) Listen on Beats Music. Beats Music is a mobile app for playing all kinds of music instantly. One of the things I like about listening to our music on Beats Music is that you can listen to an entire collection of one artist at a time, without other artists in between and without having to click on a different album when one album is finished. For instance, when I click the search bar in the top left corner of the app, I can search for “Marilyn Byrnes,” then choose her name, then click “See All” and swipe to the right to see All Songs. I click shuffle and I can listen to a mix of 87 of her songs, nonstop for as long as I like! You can download the app from beatsmusic.com.

7) Buy CDs or mp3 downloads from Amazon. If you’d rather have physical CDs for your car, your stereo or just to have in your collection, you can get all of our music from Amazon.com. You can also listen to samples and download all of our music in mp3 format as well. Here’s a link to Tenderly on Amazon.

8) Get a CD from The Ranch! Besides offering all of our music to you 24/7 for free from The Ranch website, we also offer all of our music on CD in 2 other ways: 1) Make a donation of any size to our ministry and we’ll send you a CD as our way of saying thanks, or 2) Listen to our music first on our website, then write a 1-2 sentence review of the CD you’d like on Amazon or iTunes and we’ll send you a complimentary copy of the CD to say thank you. Your donations and your reviews help us to create more music and get the word out to others, thereby multiplying the blessing to even more people. Visit our online bookstore to make a donation or follow the links from the bookstore to the CD on Amazon or iTunes where you can write a review. Just be sure to send us your name, mailing address and a link to your review and we’ll ship out a CD to you anywhere in the world. Thanks for helping us to spread the music God has given us!

9) (BONUS!! Updated 8/8/2014) Download The Ranch App!  Now you can download an app for your phone or table and listen to our music anytime.  Look for The Ranch App on your favorite App Store today!

I hope this has been helpful to you, as I know that music is a big part of many of your lives. Music has been around since the creation of the world, and has always been a backdrop for life on earth. As God said to Job in the Bible:

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone–while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?” (Job 38:4-7).

I pray our music brings you pleasure and joy today as well.

P.S. Last week I wrote an article on how you can upload your own music to various music services like we do here at The Ranch so you can share your song with the world. In case you missed it, here’s the link:
Sharing Your Song With The World



How To Upload Music To iTunes

by Eric Elder
www.theranch.org

Want to share your music with the world?  Here’s a walk-through video of how to upload your songs to iTunes and other platforms, using CD Baby as the digital music distributor.  Click the play button on the video to watch.  I’ve also included a transcript of the video below.

Here’s a transcript of the video:

Hi, this is Eric Elder and I’d like to show you today how you can upload your music to places like iTunes, Rhapsody, Spotify and other online service providers so you can share your music with the world.

Today we’re going to upload a single song, this is one that my sister recorded just in the last week or two.  She recorded it on the piano and it’s called, “Amazing Grace.”  It’s an old classic hymn, performed in a nice, new contemporary way.

So this is the album artwork that we’re going to use, and I’ll just show you where we’re going here.  This is the iTunes store and we have about a dozen other CDs out here:  Sweet Dreams, Simply Relaxing, Eden, Christmas, Peace on Earth.  We’ve recorded a number of CDs between myself, my sister and some friends, and we’ve uploaded them to places like iTunes so that other people can enjoy them too.

Now instead of uploading them to iTunes directly, we upload them to a website called cdbaby.com.  Unless you’re a big music publisher, selling more than 20 or 30 CDs in your repertoire,  then you need to use one of these other music distributors like cdbaby.com.  There are others out there, but this one works just fine.

I already have an account on cdbaby.com so I can just login, but I’ll just show you if you wanted to join now, you can just click join now and sign up for free.  Then you can start uploading your music do it that way.  I’ll just login using my account.  I’m at a website called members.cdbaby.com, not much different than the regular cdbaby.com, but it just takes me directly to the page I need.

Here in the middle it says “Add a new title,” so I just click “Add a new title” and it asks if you want to sell an album or a single song.  We’re just going to sell a single song.  Here’s the current pricing: you can sell a standard single song for $12.95, or there’s a pro version that gives you some other distribution and royalty collection rights, but we’re just going to go for the standard option for right now.

I’ll click standard, and then it will ask you all of your information.  Now I’ve already filled this out, so I’m going to just take you right to the form that I’ve already filled out.  I’ll walk you through the same forms, you just don’t have to watch me type, so it will go a little quicker.

So I’m going back to my dashboard and this morning I did this already.  It’s called Marilyn Byrnes, Amazing Grace, it’s a single and I’m just going to edit that record there that I created earlier.

It pulls it up and it lets you start through all the same menus if you create this from scratch.  It asks you what language is your single in and you can pick any language and I’ll pick English.

For the artist name, I’ve typed in Marilyn Byrnes, and the song title, “Amazing Grace” and in parentheses I put “100% Pure Piano.”  It’s nice to let people know, as this will show up on iTunes or other places when people search for it.  I’m showing them that this is a piano version, not a solo song version, it’s not a sung version, etc.

It asks if it’s a cover or an original or a public domain song.  A cover just means that you’re using someone else’s song, that they own the copyright.  Original means you’ve written it.  And public domain means it’s old enough that anyone can  use it or it’s just in the public domain; it’s just a free song that people can use.

I’m going to choose Cover, even though this is an old classic hymn, it was arranged by someone recently, so we’re going to give them credit as well.  It asks for a release date.  I’m going to pick today.  And then a record label.  I’ve just created my own record label called IMR Publishing, and I use that for all my CDs.  If you don’t have one, it says you can just leave it empty and it’ll put your name in there just as the artist.

For the Copyright Owner, the same thing, it will just default if you leave it blank.  But if there’s someone different, or in our case, I just put Marilyn Byrnes.

It asks for the bar code, and most people don’t have bar code numbers that they can use.  I happen to because I’ve done this a number of times and I sell books and other things as well, so I have a bar code.  But if you don’t have one, you can just click this button that says, “I’d like you to assign a bar code to my CD for $5,” and they’ll assign a bar code for you.  I’ve entered the bar code number that I’ve assigned to it from my own catalogue of bar codes, and I click Save and Continue.

Now we’re going to just basic information about the album.  It asks of course for a contract here.  You can read all the terms of service, and after you’ve read it you click “I agree.”  Type in your signature.  Just type your name, and then you can go on to the next page.

Now it’s going to ask for information about the track itself.  First it asks “Are the lyrics clean or explicit?”  Of course there are no lyrics on this; it’s just a piano version, so I click “Clean.”  Then it asks for a composition type.  Is it original, is it a cover or public domain.  We’ve already checked Cover.  And who is the artist on this track?  I’ve listed it as Marilyn Byrnes.

Now it asks for a songwriter.  Since we have a song writer, I could click “Add a new songwriter.”  This is the one who’s arranged the song in the version that she’s playing.  Since I’ve already used some of these songwriters before on other CDs, I can just pick it off of the list.  So I’ve picked the songwriter and it asks for who’s the publisher for this particular version of the song, and I’ve typed in the publisher name of the publisher who printed the sheet music for the music that she’s playing.

Click “Save and Continue” and it asks for a short description of the song.  I’ve typed in a simple description, “A fresh take on an old classic.”  This will show up usually just on cdbaby for these kind of fields as people search, and it just tells them a little bit more about the song.

Then it will ask for album notes.  You can type in here, if you have a whole CD and you’ve got album notes, and you’ve got a description of the artist and it’s got some information about your band or who you are.  You can paste all of that information in right here.  I’ve just put a simple sentence that says, “A soothing, 100% Pure Piano version of the classic hymn, Amazing Grace.”  I’ll click save and continue and we’ll keep going.

Now it’s going to ask for a Genre; what kind of music is this? And you can just click the fields here.  Is it spiritual?  Is it rock? Is it reggae?  I’ve clicked spiritual, and then it asks for a sub-category under that.  And under “Spiritual” there are choices like inspirational or hymns or Christian rock.  And I’ve put Hymns.  Then it asks for a second Genre.  I’ve picked Easy Listening.  You can pick whatever seems to work for your music.  And I’ve called it Background Music.

Then it asks for the Album Mood or Style, and I have chosen it’s featuring piano, because maybe people are just looking for piano music.  Or it says featuring guitar or it says it’s party music or whatever kind of music you have.

It asks for the location of where you live.  If you want to put your state you can.  And then it says Artists that you sound like.  So if people are searching for, in our case, David Lanz–he writes a lot of nice piano music–or Jim Brickman who wrote this one and others.  I put their names in so as people are searching for their music, they might find ours, too.  I’ve also put my name, Eric Elder, because some of my music sounds similar to what my sister plays, so that would give them a chance to find my music as well.

Then it asks for a price that you want to put on CD Baby.  It defaults to 99 cents, which is a typical price for most downloads.  You can increase it here to a max of $2.99 per track, but I’m just going to leave it at the default of 99 cents.

Click save and continue and it will ask for an ISRC number.  Now this is different than the UPC number (bar code).  A UPC number is for the whole album.  So if you sell a CD in a store, it will have that bar code on the back.  That’s the bar code for the whole album.  The ISRC number is for the individual song number and you assign those yourself or you can click a button that says, “I need you to assign an ISRC.”  So it will give this particular track a special number and that’s the number that people will use to record it, track it and send you money in payments, so it’s an  important number.  I happen to have a block of my own ISRC numbers because I do this many times, so I just type that in.  But if you don’t have one, you just say “I’d like you to assign one.”

I click save and continue, and then it’s going to ask us about digital distribution and how do we want it to go out.  What other organizations or companies do we want it to go to.  You’ll see on the right that there are all kinds of things: Amazon MP3, so it will go to Amazon for digital downloads, Apple iTunes so that people can find it there and download it.  You can just keep going through: Rhapsody, Shazam, Spotify.  There’s just a number here.  And then you just check a box over at the left of which of these services that you want and you can just click “Do everything that downloads, streams and pays me for it.”

There’s another button here that says, “Do it all, even unpaid,” because sometimes you just want the exposure, and so you can also put it on unpaid services.  For this particular case, I’m putting it on streaming and downloading.

The next screen says Digital territory restrictions.  Do you want to sell it worldwide or do you want to limit it to certain territories and countries?  I want to sell it worldwide.

The next page has to do with Sync licensing, and that means, what if somebody on YouTube finds your music and they want to put it to a video, or maybe some movie  company finds it and they want to put it as background to a movie, you can actually click on here and choose option “I want to choose everything, sync it to All Media.  If anybody finds it and they want to use it, go ahead and license it automatically for me, then just send me the royalties.”  So that’s a nice option if you want to do that.

I’m clicking None because right now I’m using someone else’s song; it’s not one I’ve written myself.  If I had written it myself, I might have said “Opt in and let’s sync it to everything.”  But for now, I’m just going to say “None,” and save and continue.  You can come back and change these settings later (not for all screens, but at least for this one).

Now it asks for the artwork. What’s the cover that’s going to show like I showed you on the other page on iTunes, that’s the cover that’s going to come up, and it tells you exactly what size it should be.  It should be 1400×1400 pixels.  It needs to be a JPG file, etc., etc.  I have already uploaded this this morning, so this is the cover that I want to display for this single when people pull it up in iTunes or other places.  To upload it, you click “Browse” and you can look for it on your computer wherever the artwork is and then it will upload.

Click save and continue and then it will ask for the Audio file itself.  So now it’s going to say “Do you want to upload the audio file?” and Yes, I do.  It’s asking for a WAV or FLAC file, and it tells you it needs to be stereo, 44.1 KHz sample rate, and 16bit.  So when you save your files, this is the file format that it’s looking for.  You can then just click upload and it will let you have a Browse menu and you’ll be able to browse through your computer and upload it.  So I’ve uploaded this track “amazing-grace-marilyn-byrnes.wav”.

Click save and continue and it will offer you a few more options if you want to give people digital download cards where they can download things for free.  I just skip this, I just say “No thanks, proceed to the cart.”  You can look over all of that information later and see if you want to do that or not.

And amazingly, here I am at the end.  It says I have a CD Single called “Amazing Grace (100% Pure Piano)” and I’m going to upload it.  It’s going to cost me $12.95–a one time fee–to do that.  And I say, yes, I want to checkout.  And then it will ask you for all of your address, billing information and everything like that.

Once you click OK on this, you will be set and your CD will be uploaded, whether you do a whole CD or whether you do a single track.

I’m just going to play here a version of the song for you so you can hear what the song is that we’re uploading.  I’ll go back to iTunes and play “Amazing Grace.”

And since I haven’t quite checked out yet, I’m going to do that still here this afternoon, and within 24-48 hours this song will be available for sale on iTunes as well, and people will be able to listen to it, download it and enjoy it worldwide. (Note: Although your songs are sent from CD Baby to other providers with a few days, it may take from several weeks to several months before they appear on some of platforms due to their own internal processes, so be patient if you don’t see it  other places right away!)

When you also sign up on CD Baby, they just ask for your bank account information so that they can deposit the royalty checks to you automatically.  It all just happens sort of behind-the-scenes.  It’s a great way to get your music out to a lot of people so people can be blessed all over the world by it.

It’s never been easier to upload information and to get out your particular song, whatever’s on your heart, you can get it out to people and countries throughout the world using some of these new technologies.

I hope you’ve enjoyed watching this class, but I also hope that you will really be blessed, and more importantly that other people will be blessed by the music you’ve produced, because ultimately our music is meant to be heard.  It’s nice when we can hear it ourselves, but it’s extra nice when other people can be blessed and they can enjoy it, too.

Hope you’ve enjoyed this.  Come visit us anytime.  You can listen to all this music for free on theranch.org.  And if you like any of it, you can go buy it and download it and get it on CDs from places like iTunes and Amazon.

(Here’s a link to the whole song, “Amazing Grace” that you can listen to here on The Ranch website.)

Sharing Your Song With The World (Plus 33 Quotes On Music)


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

Learn how to publish your music to iTunes or Amazon for free
(Plus 33 Quotes On Music)

by Eric Elder
www.theranch.org

 

I love to play the piano.  But until I was 30, I only played for myself.  I just loved doing it for the sheer joy of doing it.  I loved figuring out the notes and hearing them come together to form songs.  To think that the music I was hearing was coming out of notes I was playing was, in itself, fully satisfying.  As Carlos Santana says,

“When you play from your heart, all of a sudden there’s no gravity.  You don’t feel the weight of the world, of bills, of anything.  That’s why people love it.  Your so-called insurmountable problems disappear, and instead of problems you get possibilities.”

I was quite happy to just play for myself.

But one day a friend came over and heard me play.  He said, “You wrote those songs?”  I told him I did.  He said, “You should record them!”

I didn’t know why I should record them.  I just liked playing them.  But he said he had some recording equipment and he’d be glad to help me record them.  So we set up a time for him to come back, and a few days later he had recorded a dozen of my songs.

When he played back the tape for me, I couldn’t believe it.  The songs sounded completely different!  For the first time I was able to hear my songs without having to play the keys in front of me.  It was a totally different experience.

As odd as it may sound for me to say this, the songs really touched my heart.  I no longer heard them as “my songs” but just songs.  Even today, when I hear other people play my songs, I don’t usually recognize them at first.  I just love them.  And somehow, they really minister to my heart in a deep way.  When I first heard them played back, I thought, if they touch me like this, maybe they would touch others, too.

So a few years later I went back and recorded the songs again, this time taking a little more care to record them as best I could; then I posted them on my website.  People started writing in to say how touched they were by the music.  Some even said it was so relaxing that they turned on my music at night before they went to bed and woke up to it still playing in the morning (which makes me wonder how many people have actually listened to my music…they might just be sleeping through it!).

Music has the power to touch people in a way that goes beyond words.  The Bible tells of a young boy named David who played the harp for a king:

“Whenever the spirit from God came upon Saul, David would take his harp and play. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him” (1 Samuel 16:23).

Many times as I play the piano, I find it calms my own soul as well as the souls of those who listen.  In the 16th century, Martin Luther said:

“Beautiful music is the art of the prophets that can calm the agitations of the soul; it is one of the most magnificent and delightful presents God has given us.”

For me, music is like the oil that lubricates the engine of my life.  Things just seem to run smoother with music, be more enjoyable.  Of course, there are times when silence is golden.  But the right music at the right time can change the whole atmosphere of almost any situation.

I remember walking around SeaWorld in San Antonio one day with my wife and young kids.  As we strolled from activity to activity, everything seemed so perfect and calm and wonderful.  I couldn’t believe it.  Then I realized what was happening.  Although the weather was gorgeous and we were truly having fun, I noticed that there was music playing everywhere we went.  It was coming out of speakers hidden in the rocks in the ground that lined every path and trail in the park.  It was like having a sound track synced to our lives, and it was beautiful.

Whether you’re a musician or not, I’m sure you can appreciate how music can touch people in ways that go beyond words.  As Plato said:

“Music training is a more potent instrument than any other, because rhythm and harmony find their way into the secret places of the soul.”

If you are a musician, I’d like to encourage you today to consider sharing the songs that God has put on your heart with others.  As I’ve shared my story about how I went from just playing the piano for myself to sharing it with the world, others have asked to me help them record their music and put it online, too.

Since that time, I’ve helped to record dozens of CDs and hundreds of songs.  I love doing it because I love to see people come alive as they’re able to share their songs with others, and I love to see how others are blessed when they listen to those songs.  I don’t do it for money.  I just do it for joy!

So this week I recorded a short 15-minute video to show you how you can publish your music online on websites like iTunes, Rhapsody, Spotify, BeatsMusic and more.  As an example, I show how I uploaded one of my sister’s beautiful piano recordings of “Amazing Grace” to CDBaby.com, who will then distribute it to other music services for digital streaming and downloading.

It’s a fairly simple process that you can do by yourself, and it’s fairly inexpensive, too.  Sometimes it just takes watching someone else walk through the process and then you can do it on your own from there.

I’ve also posted a video previously that shows how you can publish your books and music on Amazon.com for free.  This is especially useful if you want to print high-quality, physical copies of your books or music.  Here’s a link to both videos.

How to publish your songs on iTunes, etc.:
http://wp.me/ppN3U-4pf

How to publish CD’s on Amazon.com:
http://wp.me/ppN3U-27T

As a final encouragement, I’d like to share with you 33 quotes on music that my friend and partner in ministry, Greg Potzer, shared with me.  Greg’s a collector of quotes extraordinaire, and his quotes on music are just as fun and thoughtful as the daily quotes he shares with you on this list.  I’ve shared some of them already in the message above.

For those of you who have considered taking up an instrument or singing or songwriting for yourself but haven’t yet gotten to it, it’s never too late to start.  As Michel de Montaigne, a writer during the French Renaissance in the 1500’s, said:

“There is nothing more notable in Socrates than that he found time, when he was an old man, to learn music and dancing, and thought it time well spent.”

I hope this message is helpful to you and that it inspires you to share your music with others.  Only God knows how many lives will be blessed when you do.

P.S. You can listen to my music and the music of my sister and other friends anytime for free on The Ranch at this link:
http://theranch.org/listen-to-music/

33 QUOTES ON MUSIC
Compiled by Greg Potzer of “This Day’s Thought from The Ranch”

“Everything you do is music and everywhere is the best seat.”  John Cage

“The greatest respect an artist can pay to music is to give it life.”  Pablo Casals

“Jazz is the only music in which the same note can be played night after night but differently each time.”  Ornette Coleman

“Music is the space between the notes.”  Claude Debussy

“If it sounds good, it IS good.”  Duke Ellington

A young composer once came to Mozart for advice on how to develop creatively.  “Begin writing simple things first,” Mozart told him; “songs for example.”  “But you composed symphonies when you were only a child,” the man exclaimed.  “Ah,” Mozart answered, “but I didn’t go to anybody to find out how to become a composer!”  David Ewen

“It’s taken me all my life to learn what not to play.”  Dizzy Gillespie

“God created the universe in order to hear music, and everything has a song of praise for God.”  Louis Ginsberg

“An instrument becomes an extension of the player’s own body.”  Mickey Hart

“I can tell you much more about what a man is really thinking by listening to him play than by hearing him talk.  You can’t hide anything in that horn.”  Jo Jones

“Because I am a storyteller, I live by words.  Perhaps music is a purer art form.  It may be that when we communicate with life on another planet, it will be through music, not through language or words.”  Madeline L’Engle

“I never practice, I always play.”  Wanda Landowska

“Ouf!  Let me get out; I must have air.  It’s incredible!  Marvelous!  It has so upset and bewildered me that when I wanted to put on my hat, I couldn’t find my head.” Jean Francois Le Sueur (writing about Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5)

“Beautiful music is the art of the prophets that can calm the agitations of the soul; it is one of the most magnificent and delightful presents God has given us.”  Martin Luther

“Music comes to you at strange times but you have to be ready to catch it, because if you don’t she may be gone for good.”  Wynton Marsalis

“Improvisation is not the expression of accident but rather of the accumulated yearnings, dreams, and wisdom of our very soul.”  Yehudi Menuhim

“There is nothing more notable in Socrates than that he found time, when he was an old man, to learn music and dancing, and thought it time well spent.”  Michel de  Montaigne

“When I am completely myself, entirely alone, or during the night when I cannot sleep, it is on such occasions that my ideas flow best and most abundantly.  When and how these come I know not, nor can I force them.”  Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

“I wrote more than three thousand songs, seven of them good.”  Jack Norworth

“There’s this great line in a Chrissie Hynde song where she says, ‘When I first heard a song flying to the sun, I wanted to be one.’  You know, it’s not that you want to sing the song, it’s that you want to be one.”  Joan Osborne

“If I miss one day of practice, I notice it. If I miss two days, the critics notice it. If I miss three days, the audience notices it.”  Ignacy Paderewski

“First you learn your instrument, then you learn the music, and then you forget all that stuff and just play.”  Charlie Parker

“If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn.”  Charlie Parker

“Don’t play the saxophone.  Let it play you.”  Charlie Parker

“Music training is a more potent instrument than any other, because rhythm and harmony find their way into the secret places of the soul.”  Plato

“Music, to create harmony, must investigate discord.”  Plutarch

“When you play from your heart, all of a sudden there’s no gravity.  You don’t feel the weight of the world, of bills, of anything.  That’s why people love it.  Your so-called insurmountable problems disappear, and instead of problems you get possibilities.”  Carlos Santana

“The notes I handle no better than many pianists.  But the pauses between the notes- ah, that is where the art resides!”  Artur Schnabel

“My music is best understood by children and animals.”  Igor Stravinsky

“Music praises God.  Music is well or better able to praise him than the building of the church and all its decoration; it is the Church’s greatest ornament.”  Igor Stravinsky

“A wise friend of my father’s had said to me: ‘You should not go into music unless it is a compulsion.  In the end, all you really have as a center is the music itself.  Make sure that you have to be with it every day.  If that’s true, the you should become a musician.’”  Michael Tilson Thomas

“When I hear music, I fear no danger.  I am invulnerable.  I see no foe.  I am related to the earliest times, and to the latest.”  Henry David Thoreau

“Amateurs work until they get it right. Professionals work until they can’t get it wrong.”  Unknown



If you like piano music, you can listen to our most recent CD we’ve recorded for use on The Ranch website called Tenderly, by Marilyn Byrnes by visiting this link.  The CD features a baker’s dozen (13) beautiful songs songs such as “The Prayer,” “The Wind Beneath My Wings” and my personal favorite, “Can You Read My Mind” (from the movie Superman.)  You can also get a physical copy of this CD in one of 2 ways:  1) Make a donation of any size to The Ranch from this link and we’ll send you a copy as our way of saying thanks, or 2) Just listen to the CD on our website for free, then write a 1-2 sentence review on Amazon from this link, and we’ll send you a complimentary CD as our way of saying thanks!  (Just remember to email us your name, address and a link to your review.)  Your reviews help to get the word out about the music so we can inspire even more people around the world, so thank you!

You’re listening to TENDERLY, featuring 100% Pure Piano versions of inspirational and classical music performed by Marilyn Byrnes. Also available in CD and MP3 formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!