This Day’s Thought from The Ranch- Tuesday


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

Prayer is not our most natural response to the world.  Left to our own impulses, we will always want to do something else before we pray.

Henri Nouwen


This Day's Verse

This is my comfort in my affliction, For Your word has given me life.

Psalm 119:50
The New King James Version


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This Day’s Thought from The Ranch- Monday


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

To know the will of God is the highest of all wisdom.

Billy Graham


This Day's Verse

God’s law was given so that all people could see how sinful they were.  But as people sinned more and more, God’s wonderful grace became more abundant.  So just as sin ruled over all people and brought them to death, now God’s wonderful grace rules instead, giving us right standing with God and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Romans 5:20-21
The New Living Translation


This Day's Smile

Train your child in the way in which you know you should have gone yourself.

Charles Spurgeon


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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- This Week’s Sermon


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

Proposing a New Image for Old Age

by Richard Pfeil

II Corinthians 4:7, 16-18

You might find today’s sermon title a little funny. It’s a beautiful Sunday and we’re talking about getting old.

Why should we bother with this subject of aging? Because we can’t help but experience it. Is there anyone growing younger? We all are going to experience aging, and you don’t have to wait until you are retired to experience the effects of aging, am I right? Can you do now what you could when you were 17?

We will all hopefully deal with aging parents. I say hopefully because it is hoped that you will experience having your parents with you that long. Not everyone does. Hopefully, God willing, we too will become old because the alternative is not all that good.

Paul Mays is the administrator of a nursing home who happened to see a lovely, well-groomed 86 year-old woman walking slowly down to the dining room. He said, “Hey, Mavis. How’s it going? How is everything?” Mavis said, “Well, as good as can be expected.” Then she stopped for a moment and thought a bit and said, “You know this growing old stuff is for the birds. But considering the alternative, I’ll take growing old.”

She represents our ambivalence towards aging in that all of us want to live a long time, but none of us want to grow old. I think the reason for this is due to our image of an old man or an old woman. Think about it. What comes to your mind when I say old man or old woman? Is it wrinkles, sickness, weakness, loss, forgetfulness, nursing home, dependence, crotchetiness, incontinence. All these things come to mind and this is fueled by our mass media which depicts old age as a calamity, something to be avoided. In fact, we try to mask it or hide it with dyes and creams and elective surgeries to show people that we are not growing old. We spent $4 billion on these things on a yearly basis.

In our public discourse, senior citizens are referred to as a problem, as a threat to the collapse of our Social Security system, as a siphon of our medical dollars. Sometimes they are referred to as a burden or “the fate of the young.” With all those negative images, who wants to get old? Nobody does. But is this an accurate image. Is this the real picture of aging and of growing old? If it is, should that be our focus? If not, what should our focus be as we age?

Let’s hear from a man in his own culture and his day–the Apostle Paul. He was very old, but he never retired. He experienced what aging is as well as its effects, and he dealt with it very appropriately. He tells us how we can deal with it ourselves. Growing old and aging can be a very satisfying, very fulfilling experience if we follow Paul’s advice. We find this in II Corinthians 4: 7, 16-18.

We need to develop a right mental image of growing old. So much of what we experience and the meaning of it is dependent upon our expectations. If we expect it to be a very bad experience, we are going to think this as we enter into it. If we expect it to be something very good, we will experience this instead.

Have you seen the movie, “Home Alone”? This little boy is told about the crotchet guy who lives next door and that he has murdered his whole family. If the little boy peeks at him through the window and the man sees him, the boy shuts the blinds real quick because he fears him. However, the little boy finds that he is really a kind, elderly gentleman who was a devout Catholic and a loving person.

To develop a positive imaging of aging, we need to take our lives off what is seen. I am not saying that we should deny reality. You will find a very realistic portrayal of aging in Ecclesiastes 11: 8-10. This tells us to enjoy life while we are young because dark days are ahead. Paul himself does not deny the effects of aging. He says that outwardly we are wasting away.

I witnessed the wasting away of my grandparents and their deaths, and we must be very realistic about this. Aging does keep you from doing the things you did when you were young. As you age, you tend to experience more pain in different places and recovery time is a lot longer. Some people experience some sensory loss. As you age, your bones become more brittle and falls can cause us to become disabled or even crippled. As you age, you lose loved ones.

Now, that’s a realistic picture. However, I’ll say this. All these things are true of every period of your life. This is not unique to aging. We experience these things all through our lives, and they are not a hazard of getting old. They are a hazard of being alive. In fact, if you are over 70, you should praise God because you have already beaten the averages. More than half of your classmates are gone. You are the survivor, the lucky one, the fortunate one. We need to praise God for our lives instead of our losses which is why Paul tells us to fix our eyes not on what is seen but on what is unseen.

What does it mean to fix our eyes? It means to focus on something as a goal or a target. Like an archer who pulls back the arrow and focuses on the bull’s eye, like a golfer who focuses on the hole and not the hazards, our proper focus is to go for the goal. It is by looking at the goal that we derive our motivation, our energy and our enthusiasm. It’s what makes the game meaningful for us, it’s what makes the struggle and pain worthwhile. No runner focuses on the pain while running. If they do, they lose heart and falter. No golfer stares at the bunker or the lake in fear. If they do, they will lose their game. They look at the goal and at the things that are positive in their lives and try to achieve more than they thought they could.

This is our mistake with aging. We are focusing on the wrong things. We are focusing on the hazards rather than on our goals and dreams. This is probably why we have a very negative view about aging instead of a very positive one. Aging can be a very positive thing. There are a lot of benefits to growing old. One benefit is the fact that you are alive. Another is that you have no more deadlines or schedules, no more performance reviews, no more ladders to climb. You can relax and really enjoy your life. It can be an incredible time of creativity. Some of the best artists and poets painted or wrote during their retirement years. Colonel Sanders of KFC built his business after he retired.

Another nice thing about growing old is that all your life you try to make something of yourself. You try to prove your in-laws or your parents wrong. You try to make something of your life. The wonderful thing about maturity is the fact that you are somebody, and you have always been somebody, and you don’t have to prove it anymore. It’s not something you achieve, it’s simply the gift of being born in the image of God.

Aging actually brings financial stability. People are wealthiest at the end of their lives. I get angry at McDonald’s. Senior citizens can buy a cup of coffee for 25 cents. I’m the one that needs the 25 cent cup of coffee. I have four children. I’m facing three weddings and four college tuitions. My in-laws and most older people are wealthiest at the end of their lives.

Even if we were to focus on the experience of the elderly person, we find that it is not that bad. Here is a realistic picture, despite what our society says, about growing old:

*80% of you who are 55 and older will live and die living independently at home. Only 5% of those 55 and older today will live in a nursing home, and only half of those are there because of the effects of aging. Half of them are there simply because they have outlived everyone and there is no one left at home to take care of them.

*69% of those over 65 say their health is excellent. 85% say they are functionally healthy. Only 15% are unhealthy, and it is not due to the effects of aging. When they study this, it is due to the effects of their former lifestyles. As you get to retirement age, nearly all health problems are preventable and curable. They respond to proper diet and exercise, rest, avoiding alcohol, drugs, smoking and excessive eating. If you do these things, you will reap much benefit as you grow older.

*10% of the population will experience any form of senility of varying degrees. Again, this is not due to aging. This is due more to malnutrition, a tumor, drug use and abuse, depression, boredom, lack of hope, disuse of the mind, or the expectation that you will become forgetful and so you do. The only thing that changes mentally as you grow older is that it takes you longer to process information. Why? Because there is more information to process. Your data banks are very full at that time.

*Only 13% of people 65 and older said that they were lonely. Young people were the largest population group that admitted to loneliness. When asked, 65% of them say that they are lonely.

*45% of people 65 and older said that their lives could be better versus 49% of those who are under 65.

Can you see the real image of aging here? We always focus on the negatives and the reality is that it is much better than we think. Paul tells us that the proper image is not to focus on the hazards of aging, but to focus on the unseen. What is the unseen? For Christians, it means not focusing on the temporary, the material, or the past. It means we focus on the eternal, the spiritual, the purposeful, the dream, what lies ahead, and the possibilities. If we do that, Paul says that we are renewed day by day. We experience an eternal glory that will not fade.

What are some of those things that are unseen? Well, in this text it is the resurrection, eternal life, heaven, God’s kingdom. It is realizing that with every day that passes we are not counting down our lives, we are counting up to our experience of heavenly glory. Paul says that what seem to be unsurmountable problems will be come light and momentary as we focus on heaven. It’s like having an experience of pain and then years later it’s hard to remember the pain. That will be our eternal experience, and that gives us hope now knowing that our wasting away won’t last forever. It is temporary. As we become older, we come closer to the light. If we are going to experience a more satisfying life, one thing we can do is become closer to that unseen world. One of the great gifts we have is time. Spend some time drawing close to the light. As your life is drawn closer to that light, may your heart and soul be drawn as well. As you draw closer to God, his promise is that he will draw closer to you.

Although our bodies are wasting away, our spiritual experience will be a growing satisfaction of being renewed day by day, so much so that in walking with our Lord in our lives, when we hit those shadow times the light of his glory will penetrate that darkness and we can walk through the valley of the shadow of death because he will be with us always.

The unseen represents much more for Paul. Paul did not retire to give up. He kept going, which is an issue I want to raise here. Many children of elderly people attempt to bumper-proof their parents’ lives so that they can squeeze out every ounce of time with them in this life. They limit their parents to such a degree that the parents end their lives watching television and gumming applesauce. That’s unfortunate, because I don’t see Paul doing that. I think it is a shifting of our focus from enjoying and living our lives to making sure we don’t die or that our parents never die or keep from dying. Can you see the shift in focus from something that is positive to something that is negative? I want to keep my parents from dying versus I want to let my parents live and enjoy their lives. We should enjoy our lives and not bumper-proof them to the degree that we squeeze one hundred years out but we don’t live because we died way before. We find that Paul lived his life to the full serving his lord, giving all that he could, until Christ took him home.

What unfulfilled dreams do you have? That’s the unseen. Fulfill them. What places have you always wanted to see but haven’t? See them. What skills have you wanted to develop but didn’t have time for? Develop them. What educational level did you hope to attain? What goals have you left unaccomplished? Accomplish those goals, get your degree. I don’t care what age you are. If you see a need in the community that you have always wanted to fulfill, meet that need. If there is a ministry in the church that you’ve always wanted to start, start it. If you always wanted to be a missionary, become one. If you always wanted to do something positive with your finances, form a trust and do it. If you always wanted to spend time with your kids and grandkids but because you were working so much you didn’t have time, spend time with your children and grandchildren now. Don’t let society, don’t let your kids, and don’t let yourself put you on the sidelines or on a shelf. You are very useful. Make your life count. Finish well.

Think of Paul’s life. All his life he looked over his shoulder because people wanted to kill him. He experienced distress all through his life. He was beaten with rods, he was flogged with 39 lashes five times, he was nearly stoned to death, he was shipwrecked three times, he was lost at sea for a day, he was opposed every-where, he was slandered and maligned and ridiculed inside and outside the church. At the end of his life he was alone. He had no spouse, no home, no major medical insurance, no retirement center, and he was in prison with an incurable disease. Yet, what was his attitude? How does he end his life? Here’s what he says: “Therefore, we do not lose heart. Although outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”

How can we have such an attitude? Do what Paul did. Don’t focus on the problems and the hazards. When you see a rosebush, do you see a flower with nasty thorns that prick you, or do you see a thorn bush beautified by flowers? Think of the difference in focus. What is your focus of aging. Our focus should be on the opportunities that we have and things that we can do, the unseen, drawing closer to the Lord, living our lives so that we can walk with him. If we do this, aging can become like an antique car. Think of that image. That could be your image of old age.


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This Day’s Thought from The Ranch- Friday


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

Prayer is a principal means for opening oneself to the power and love of God that is already there—in the depths of reality.

James A. Pike


This Day's Verse

“For you shall go out in joy, and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.”

Isaiah 55:12
The Revised Standard Version


This Day's Smile

Many a friendship, long, loyal and self-sacrificing, rests on no thicker a foundation than a kind word.

Frederick W. Faber


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This Day’s Thought from The Ranch- Thursday


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

Humility is the source of all true greatness: pride is ever impatient, ready to be offended  He who thinks nothing is due to him, never thinks himself ill-treated.

Francis Fenelon


This Day's Verse

“And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Revelation 7:17
The New International Version


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This Day’s Thought from The Ranch- Wednesday


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

When a man realizes that he is a beloved child of the Creator of all, then he is ready to see his neighbors in the world as brothers and sisters.

Robert Runcie


This Day's Verse

And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”

2 Corinthians 12:9
The New King James Version


This Day's Smile

Why is it we can’t take the first or second suggestion from the Lord rather than the sixth or seventh disaster.

Unknown


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This Day’s Thought from The Ranch- Tuesday


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

If we will feed Christ with the food of our houses, even outward food, Christ will reward us with the food of his house, which is spiritual food.

Jonathan Edwards


This Day's Verse

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.

Proverbs 3:5-6
The English Standard Version


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This Day’s Thought from The Ranch- Monday


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

My determination is to transfer this habit of worry into an instant moment of prayer and leave it with God.

Charles Swindoll


This Day's Verse

Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it.  How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live!

Hebrews 12:9
The New International Version


This Day's Smile

Most middle-class Americans tend to worship their work, to work at their play and to play at their worship.  As a result, their meanings and values are distorted, their relationships disintegrate faster than they can keep them in repair, and their lifestyles resemble a cast of characters in a plot.

Gordon Dahl


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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- This Week’s Sermon


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

Trust And Obey

by Paul Fritz

God Chose and Guided Abraham (Genesis 11:27-12:20)

Peter T. Forsythe was right when he said, “The first duty of every soul is to find not its freedom but its Master”.
Warren W. Wiersbe, The Integrity Crisis, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1991, p. 22.

1. Aim: To lead the people to understand how God chose and guided Abraham because of his faith and obedience

2. Explanation of the Aim: Everyone needs to know that God has specially created them for a unique purpose. God chose and guided Abraham as an example of how He blesses those who trust and obey Him.

God not only calls Abraham out of his familiar surroundings but sets him apart for special service, blessings and future multiplication purposes.

Ask God to help you realize all the ways that Abraham did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God. Instead, Abraham chose to grow more mature in faith by going to a land that he knew nothing about.

Let us learn how to give God greater glory through a remarkable faith as demonstrated in our obedience to His promises.

(Gen. 11:27-12:20)

Great people of faith act in such a way that they have a confident expectation that God will do what He says. Abraham experienced some anxious moments, but refused to give in to fear and looked beyond the superficial difficulties to move where God directed him to go.

Faith is the evidence of things not seen and the assurance of things hoped for. As a result, Abraham has been known as the Father of faith. His life is an example of how we should trust God to use us in great ways since the things that are impossible with men are possible with God. (Luke 1:37)

Whenever God tells us to do something we can be assured that even though it may not make human sense at the time, it will always result in our best interests.

Just as God fulfilled all of His promises to Abraham so we can claim all the promises in Christ according to 2 Cor. 1:20 which says, “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken to us to the glory of God.”

Allow the power of the Holy Spirit and the truth of God’s promises to be appropriated in all aspects of your life, relationships and ministries.

Understand some of the difficulties that Abraham faced in leaving his home to a strange land.

How would you feel if you were told that you must prepare to leave everything behind and go to a place they had never heard of before?

The BIBLE STORY focuses on Abraham’s faith and obedience that God blessed in ways that demonstrate the Lord’s complete dependability regardless of outward circumstances.

Concentrate on looking at the trust and obedience that God blessed in the heart of Abraham.

How can we grow in our trust and obedience to God. Even if you have been a Christian for a long time you can mature in your trust and obedience as you seek to be more like Jesus in every way. Perhaps you need to express your faith and willingness to obey God in regards to studying your Bible, witnessing, praying and following the directions of those who are over you in the Lord.

What are some of the things that frighten people about having to go to a new place that is completely strange to them? Why?

What are some of the reasons why a person like Abraham might hesitate to go to a completely strange land when he has everything he needs in his own area?

Why do you think that God often tests our faith? How do you think people are able to grow in their faith?

What are some of the ways that you can determine if a person has great faith in God and in His promises?

One time Abraham was directed by God to go to a strange land and he went, not knowing what was ahead. God rewarded Abraham’s faith and obedience and will do the same for anyone who will take Him at His word.

The Bible Story (Gen. 11:27- 12:20)

1. Abraham’s faith is tested when God directs him to leave the things he loves the most, his land, his security and his dearest friends. But God knew what was best because Abraham’s land had become idolatrous, his family and friends were a constant temptation to him and he could not continue there without being infected by his surroundings.

2. God’s directives are always best even though they may seem difficult to adhere to at the time. Whenever we leave our human dependencies and rely completely on God and His word we will never be disappointed. Learn to replace all the negative human responses of our old sinful nature with the positive aspects of faith, love, and hope that come from the Spirit that empowers us to do whatever God asks of us.

3. God guided Abraham because he was willing to abandon his natural affections for divine grace in determining his future. Only when we are willing to replace the negative desires of our sinful nature with the positive responses given to us by the Holy Spirit are we able to discern God’s best for our relationships, ministries and directions. Jesus said, “Unless a person is willing to love me so much that it would appear that they hate their own Father, Mother, wife etc, they cannot be my disciples.” (Luke 14:26)

4. God always wants to know if we are willing to be completely yielded to His will before He reveals greater plans for our life. We need to learn how to be faithful in the little things before we can expect God to give us greater responsibilities. Jesus said, “If you have not been faithful in the little things, who will give you responsibilities over much.” (Luke 16:10-12) Whenever our natural affections come into competition with God’s choices we must learn to yield all of our rights to the Lord.

6. God guided Abraham as long as he demonstrated great faith and obedience to His word. When people consistently exhibit a trusting and obedient heart to the scriptures and the leading of the Holy Spirit, they will enjoy the blessings of being guided in the best paths of life. Jesus said, “If anyone is willing to do my will, they will know of the correct teaching.” (John 7:17) Abraham was willing to abandon the sinful environment of his homeland because God was preparing him to do a new thing in his life and also through his descendants of the faith.

7. God is able to make a way in the wilderness and a stream in the desert for anyone who looks to Him alone for their directives. (Isa. 43:10-13) Let the Lord guide you through His word, through prayer and through godly counselors.

8. God directed Abraham through a special covenant when He said, “Leave your country, your people, and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you. I will make your name great and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and whoever curses you I will curse and all peoples on the earth will be blessed through you.” (Gen. 12:1-3)

9. God’s promises help us determine what directions the Lord wants us to take in our decisions. Abraham knew that every promise God makes is conditioned on our obedience and trust in His will. Unless he was willing to listen and follow God’s commands he could not expect to receive any more revelation, instruction or illumination about the next best decision to take.

10. The more we obey God, the more He reveals about His will for our life. If you want to know what God wants you to do tomorrow you must be first do everything He asks of you today.

Here are suggestions in growing in your trust and obedience. Ask yourselves these questions:

God’s will is determined by seven main criteria:

1). What the Bible tell us to do?

2). Have we sought out advice from godly counselors? 3). Have we prayed and asked God for directions?

4). Have we consulted with people who are our spiritual mentors?

5). Have we discerned where the Lord gives us the greater peace and joy in our service to Him?

6). Have we understood how we can use our spiritual gifts for God’s kingdom priority purposes

7). What are the ways we can best help the church grow in qualitative and quantitative measures?

Let us explore how Abraham serves as a great example for a person who trusted and obeyed the Lord and was blessed for doing God’s will even though it might not have made sense at the time.

Romans 4:20,21 – “Yet, he did not waver through unbelief, but was strengthened in his faith…being fully persuaded that God had power to do what He had promised.”

“He leadeth me Oh precious thought. Oh words with heavenly comfort fraught. Whatever I do, wherever I be. Still, tis God’s hand that leadeth me.”

Ask the Lord to guide, lead and provide all the wisdom you need to discern God’s best will for your life.

Where our Captain bids us go,

‘Tis not ours to murmur no;

He that gives the sword and shield

Chooses too the battlefield

Where we are to fight the foe.


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This Day’s Thought from The Ranch- Friday


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

You can see God from anywhere if your mind is set to love and obey Him.

A. W. Tozer


This Day's Verse

When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shat not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.  For I am the LORD thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour:

Isaiah 43:2-3
The King James Version


This Day's Smile

What would it be like if you lived each day, each breath, as a work of art in progress?  Imagine that you are a Masterpiece unfolding, every second of every day, a work of art taking form with every breath.

Thomas Crum


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This Day’s Thought from The Ranch- Thursday


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

Blessed are the single-hearted, for they shall enjoy much peace…If you refuse to be hurried and pressed, if you stay your soul on God, nothing can keep you from that clearness of spirit which is life and peace.  In that stillness you will know what His will is.

Amy Carmichael


This Day's Verse

And he sat down and called the twelve; and he said to them, “If any one would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”

Mark 9:35
The Revised Standard Version


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This Day’s Thought from The Ranch- Wednesday


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

We should be completely clear about these two facts: God is not obligated to heal, and healing is not His greatest gift.

Unknown


This Day's Verse

“So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.”

Acts 20:32
The New King James Version


This Day's Smile

When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint.  When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.

Helder Camara


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This Day’s Thought from The Ranch- Tuesday


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

It is always the case that when the Christian looks back, he is looking at the forgiveness of sins.

Karl Barth


This Day's Verse

So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

Romans 10:17
The English Standard Version


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This Day’s Thought from The Ranch- Monday


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

If this is to be a Happy New Year, a year of usefulness, a year in which we shall live to make this earth better, it is because God will direct our pathway. How important then, to feel our dependence upon Him!

Matthew Simpson


This Day's Verse

“See, I am dong a new thing!  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?  I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.”

Isaiah 43:19
The New International Version


This Day's Smile

We will open the book.  Its pages are blank.  We are going to put words on them ourselves.  The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year’s Day.

Edith Lovejoy Pierce


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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- This Week’s Sermon


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

TAKING INVENTORY

Psalm 32:1-11

by Joseph Mcculley

Once upon a time, I worked at a grocery store. At another time I worked for a plastics company. At both of these places we would take an inventory every so often. We would count all the items and ensure what was on the books matched with what we actually had on hand. Most businesses do this sort of thing on a regular basis.

Also, at the end of a year most businesses attempt to reconcile all of their accounts. If a customer owes them they may try to collect it. If they owe money, maybe they will try to settle that account. We recently reconciled our bank account and to make sure everything balanced out.

Likewise, I think the end of the year is a good time for us to look back on the past year (or longer if necessary) and take inventory of our lives and ensure we don’t have any open accounts that need our attention.

King David did this in Ps. 32.

David & Bathsheba’s sin; Uriah killed; David attempts to hide his sin by marrying Bathsheba. About 1 year passes and David has been greatly weighed down by his terrible sin. Finally, Nathan, the prophet, comes to confront David. David makes things right between himself and God.

People need to take inventory of their lives and settle any open accounts they have.

The Forms of sin found in our lives (1-2).

As we are taking inventory over this past year, we need to pay special attention to sins in our lives, they come in various forms.

Transgressions = rebellion against a rightful authority whether God or man; a malicious and forcible opposition to God

Sins = “a coming short of the mark”, not doing one’s duty, failing to live up to expectations

Iniquities = moral crookedness, wrong doing, infraction of God’s law

Guile = an insincerity, a cunning, a falseness to self, others or to God.

I spell these out with an attempt to try to get you to think of some ways in which you might have sinned against God or man. However, the first three are often used collectively to refer to all past misdeeds whether against God or man.

The Effects of sin our lives (2-4).

Physical problems (Bones waxed old, v.3) –

See Psalm 6:2

Outward behavior can adversely affect us inwardly. Sin can cause all sorts of health problems. Sin can cause premature aging which is certainly implied here.

Spiritual Anguish (my roaring, v. 3b) – (see Psalm 6:2)

roaring = groaning from terrible suffering (Ps. 22 and Is. 53).

Conviction (God’s heavy hand, v. 4)

Conviction is the reason for the physical problems and the spiritual anguish.

Sapped Vitality (moisture is turned into drought, v.4).

All dried up, dehydrated. Ever been dehydrated? That is the idea here, not moisture, totally sapped of energy and you become lethargic.

David experienced these effects of sin as long as he kept silent about his sin (v.3). This then leads us to see what the remedy for sins committed is.

The Remedy for sins in our lives (v.5).

Acknowledge your sins

acknowledge (yada) = to know, to own up to

Don’t hide your sins

Hide = to conceal by covering over

We must not try to hide our sins from God.

How futile it is to try to hide something from a God who is sees and knows everything. When we quit trying to cover sin ourselves, that is when God, Himself will cover it.

When we cover things, the result is they stay fresh (like food) or they stay hot (like coffee in the mugs the Jenkins gave us).

When God covers it, He remembers them no more.

Psalm 103:12 “As far as the east is from the west, [so] far hath he removed our transgressions from us.”

Heb. 8:12 “For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.”

Confess your sins

Make no reservations, no excuses, no attempts to hold fast and hide some small part of your sin. Please compare what was just said with the following verses: Prov. 28:13 “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh [them] shall have mercy.” 1 John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us [our] sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

“God is swifter to forgive than we are to confess” (Scroggie, p.187).

All sin is ultimately against God, so we need to confess sin to Him, but at times we may need to go to another person(s) too.

Biblical Principles:

When we know that we have sinned against a person we are to that person and seek forgiveness (Matt. 5).

When others have sinned against us, then we are to go to that person(s) and let them know so that we can have reconciliation (Matt. 18).

One lady told Glenna that she believed Glenna was doing something wrong and that I, as pastor, would not approve, therefore she should stop what she was doing. Glenna, came to me (without mentioning any names) to ensure that she wasn’t doing anything that I disapproved of. I assured her that what she was doing was perfectly alright by me. I commended her for doing the right thing. The only way she could know for sure if I was offended or not was to come and talk to me about it.

A while back, I was joking around and hurt someone by my comment. I was told about how I had hurt the person, so I had to go to them and ask for their forgiveness.

The Results of sins removed in our lives (6-10).

You will encourage others to seek forgiveness too (v.6)

You know the blessedness of having sins forgiven.

You will want other to receive forgiveness too “while He may be found”.

There will be a time when forgiveness will no longer be an option.

Time will run out.

Time to settle differences here on earth will run out. (told not to let the sun go down).

Time to ask for God’s forgiveness will run out too.

You will experience security (v.7).

Sin in a person’s life will cause doubt and insecurity.

Sin will cause a Christian to doubt if he is even saved…..

You will hear God’s instructions and guidance (8).

You will understand God’s Word (instruction, teachings). Sin can certainly hinder/block your understanding of Scripture.

Guidance with the eye is gentle guidance. God will not have to hit you over the head with a 2X4 in order to get your attention.

You will understand why God sometimes allows trials in your life (9).

A bit and bridle do not keep the horse from the rider, but near to the rider.

Likewise, God sometimes uses things in our lives (like a bit & bridle, that we may not like too much) to keep us near to Himself, not to drive us far from Him.

You will see God’s mercy, gladness & joy (10-11).

Today, in Psalm 32 we have seen:

The Forms of sin found in our lives (1-2).

The Effects of sin our lives (2-4).

The Remedy for sins in our lives (v.5).

The Results of sins removed in our lives (6-10).

If you are able to get on your knees and pray to God.

Take inventory of your life.

Ask Him to show you the sins in your life.

When He shows them to you-confess them.

Ask Him if you need to go another person and seek their forgiveness too.


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This Day’s Thought from The Ranch- Friday and Year-End Update

Year-End Update: We could use your help! Gratefully, we have received $10,971 from 159 people during our annual fundraiser for this ministry. With our goal being $15,000 for 2017, we still have $4,029 to go.

Greg and I were talking recently about how it would be much easier to reach our goals, we supposed, if we simply set them lower… that if our goal had been to raise $5,000, then we would have already reached our goal and doubled it!

But our purpose for setting goals for our ministry is not just to meet them, but to carry out all that we believe God has put on our hearts to do.

If you’d like to be one of those who helps us this year to meet our goal of $15,000–with a stretch goal of an additional $10,000–we’ll gladly put your donation to good use for Christ, reaching nearly 40,000 people daily in over 160 countries with an encouraging word for their faith.

Your donations are fully tax-deductible here in the U.S., but must be made online or postmarked by mail by December 31st to count towards your 2017 taxes. Thanks for your help, and many blessings for the New Year! Eric

Click here to make online donation online

OR

Send your donation by mail to:
The Ranch Fellowship
25615 E 3000 North Road
Chenoa, IL 61726 USA


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

Idolatry isn’t simply worshiping a carved image; an idol is the one thing I think I can’t live without.  What do I think I can’t live without?  I was realizing that there were a lot of things I could live without–and it was freeing and very liberating.  I was not controlled by my past addictions or my old idols.

Christopher Yuan


This Day's Verse

Surely there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off.

Proverbs 23:18
The English Standard Version


This Day's Smile

No one can go back and make a brand new start, my friend,
But anyone can start from here and make a brand new end.

Unknown


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This Day’s Thought from The Ranch- Thursday


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

Let no man think himself to be holy because he is not tempted, for the holiest and highest in life have the most temptations.

John Wycliffe


This Day's Verse

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved.

Romans 10:9-10
The New Living Translation


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This Day’s Thought from The Ranch- Wednesday


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

This joy in God is not like any pleasure found in physical or intellectual satisfaction.  Nor is it such as a friend experiences in the presence of a friend.  But, if we are to use any such analogy, it is more like the eye rejoicing in light.

Augustine


This Day's Verse

For eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show his might in behalf of those whose heart is blameless toward him.

2 Chronicles 16:9
The Revised Standard Version


This Day's Smile

It’s good to talk about troubles that are over.

Yiddish folk saying


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This Day’s Thought from The Ranch- Tuesday


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

Treasure the love you receive above all.  It will survive long after your gold and good health have vanished.

Og Mandino


This Day's Verse

“If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.  By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit so you will be My disciples.”

John 15:7-8
The New King James Version


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This Day’s Thought from The Ranch- Monday

May you have a most joyous and meaningful Christmas celebration!

Greg and Eric


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

Love came down on Christmas Day so many years ago and brought the greatest happiness the world would ever know.  Peace came down on Christmas Day to fill the hearts of men with all the sweet tranquility each Christmas brings again.  Joy came down on Christmas Day as angels came to earth heralding the miracle of our Messiah’s birth.

Unknown


This Day's Verse

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep.  Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them.  They were terrified, but the angel reassured them.  “Don’t be afraid!” he said.  “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people.  The Savior–yes, the Messiah, the Lord–has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!”

Luke 2:8-11
The New Living Translation


This Day's Smile

Let no Pleasure tempt thee,
no Profit allure thee,
no Ambition corrupt thee,
no Example sway thee,
no Persuasion move thee,
to do anything which thou knowest to be Evil;
So shalt thou always live jollily:
for a good Conscience is a continual Christmas.
Adieu.

Benjamin Franklin


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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- St. Nicholas: The Believer, Part 7 of 7


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

ST. NICHOLAS: THE BELIEVER
Part 7 of 7

by Eric & Lana Elder

MERRY CHRISTMAS TO YOU! I hope this Christmas is especially meaningful to you this year, as Christ would love to make Himself real to you in a special way. Today, I’m posting the conclusion of our story, St. Nicholas: The Believer. 

While the stories I’ve shared in this book have been selected from the many stories that have been told about Saint Nicholas over the years, these were told so that you might believe–not just in Nicholas, who was indeed a very real person who lived back in the 3rd and 4th centuries A.D, but also in Jesus Christ, his Savior, who was indeed a very real person who inspired Nicholas to do the incredible things he did. The reason I shared these stories in this book is 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).

Wishing you a Very Merry Christmas!

With Love,
Eric Elder

ST. NICHOLAS: THE BELIEVER
A new story for Christmas based on the old story of St. Nicholas

by Eric & Lana Elder

Click here to listen to Part 7 of the Audiobook, St. Nicholas: The Believer.

PART 7

CHAPTER 37

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 oldnamed 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 seen 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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading and Merry Christmas!

(If you missed some of this story, here’s a link to read the whole of the story online OR you can get the paperback or eBook as a keepsake for yourself or others to reread again in the future in our online bookstore.)

St. Nicholas: The Believer, by Eric & Lana Elder, A new story for Christmas based on the old story of St. Nicholas

Here are a few pictures of St. Nicholas statues you can still see today in Demre, Turkey: on the left is my favorite because of the strength, humanity and love for children portrayed; on the top right is an earlier version by another sculptor on display in front of the church of St. Nicholas; and on the bottom right is a portrayal of Nicholas in his role as the Bishop of Myra (present-day Demre), which stands in a courtyard of the church.

And here’s a short video of my favorite statue of St. Nicholas, sculpted by Necdet Can and placed in the town square of Demre, Turkey, where Nicholas lived and ministered in the 3rd and 4th centuries A.D.

Click to watch a 360-degree video of the St. Nicholas Statue in Demre, Turkey


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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- St. Nicholas: The Believer, Part 6 of 7


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

ST. NICHOLAS: THE BELIEVER
Part 6 of 7

by Eric & Lana Elder

 

As Christmas approaches tomorrow can I encourage you to put your faith in Christ for everything in your life? No matter what you’re thinking about, struggling with, needing, wanting, or hoping for, remember that Christ came to live and die for you. There’s nothing He wouldn’t do for you, and nothing that He would withhold from you unless He had something better in mind. He wants you to put your trust in Him, your faith in Him, your hope in Him. He is so worthy of your trust, so “trust-worthy.”

Today I’m posting Part 6 of our book, St. Nicholas: The Believer, in which Nicholas discovers once again just how trustworthy Christ is, even when things look the most desperate. If you need some hope today, I pray you’ll read this section of the story, even if you haven’t read any of the others. You’ll find out, like Nicholas did, that Christ is always worthy of your trust. I’ll post the conclusion of this story tomorrow, on Christmas Day.

You can read Part 6 below, or listen to Part 6 at this link, or order the paperback, eBook or audiobook from Amazon at this link. (If you missed them, you can follow this link to read the other parts of the story!)

Enjoy!
Eric

St. Nicholas: The Believer, by Eric & Lana Elder, A new story for Christmas based on the old story of St. Nicholas

ST. NICHOLAS: THE BELIEVER
A new story for Christmas based on the old story of St. Nicholas

by Eric & Lana Elder

PART 6

CHAPTER 31

“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

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

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

“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

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

“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.

To be concluded…tomorrow!

(Or if you can’t wait, you can order the paperback, eBook or audiobook from Amazon at this link!)

St. Nicholas: The Believer, by Eric & Lana Elder, A new story for Christmas based on the old story of St. Nicholas


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This Day’s Thought from The Ranch- Friday


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

This is Christmas: not the tinsel, not the giving and receiving, not even the carols, but the humble heart that receives anew the wondrous gift, the Christ.

Frank McKibben


This Day's Verse

While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son.  She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

Luke 2:6-7
The New International Version


This Day's Smile

To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas.

Calvin Coolidge


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This Day’s Thought from The Ranch- Thursday


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

Their night watch had been interrupted by an explosion of light from heaven and a symphony of angels.  God goes to those who have time to hear him–and so on this cloudless night he went to simple shepherds.

Max Lucado


This Day's Verse

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaca, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)  To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

Luke 2:4-5
The King James Version


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This Day’s Thought from The Ranch- Wednesday


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

Lord, just as the angels glorified You, just as the shepherds were filled with praise, and just as the Magi worshipped You, may I also bow my head and lift my heart to You.  Lord, You gave Your best for me.  May my sacrifice of worship be acceptable in Your sight on this day and every day.  Amen.

Unknown


This Day's Verse

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the suffering and afflicted.  He has sent me to comfort the broken-hearted, to announce liberty to captives and to open the eyes of the blind.

Isaiah 61:1
The Living Bible


This Day's Smile

Our hearts grow tender with childhood memories and love of kindred, and we are better throughout the year for having, in spirit, become a child again at Christmas-time.

Laura Ingalls Wilder


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This Day’s Thought from The Ranch- Tuesday


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

Lord Jesus, master of  both the light and the darkness, send your Holy Spirit upon our preparations for Christmas.  We are your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking the light.  To you we say, “Come Lord Jesus!”

Henri Nouwen


This Day's Verse

For a child is born to us, a son is given to us.  The government will rest on his shoulders.  And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His government and its peace will never end.  He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity.  The passionate commitment of the LORD of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen!

Isaiah 9:6-7
The New Living Translation


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This Day’s Thought from The Ranch- Monday and A Night of Remembrance

A Night of Remembrance: I spoke last week at a special service called “A Night of Remembrance.” If you’ve lost someone recently, especially in this past year, I hope you’ll listen to or read this special message. Here’s the link: A Night of Remembrance. Know that you’re not alone. Sincerely, Eric Elder


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

During this Christmas season,
May you be blessed
With the spirit of the season,
which is peace,
The gladness of the season,
which is hope,
And the heart of the season,
which is love.

John Greenleaf Whittier


This Day's Verse

“I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near.  A star will come out of Jacob, a scepter will rise out of Israel.”

Numbers 24:17
The New International Version


This Day's Smile

Perhaps the best Yuletide decoration is each of us being wreathed in smiles.

Unknown


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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- St. Nicholas: The Believer, Part 5 of 7


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

ST. NICHOLAS: THE BELIEVER
Part 5 of 7

by Eric & Lana Elder

Today I’m posting Part 5 of my book, St. Nicholas: The Believer, in which you’ll read about one of those most dangerous times in St. Nicholas’s life. Through it all, Nicholas trusted in the One who held on to him through all his fears: Jesus Christ, the LORD OF ALL… the same One who holds onto us through all of ours.

ST. NICHOLAS: THE BELIEVER
A new story for Christmas based on the old story of St. Nicholas

by Eric & Lana Elder

Click here to listen to Part 5 of the Audiobook, St. Nicholas: The Believer

PART 5

CHAPTER 25

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

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

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

“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

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

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.

To be continued…next week!

(Or if you can’t wait, here’s a link to keep reading the rest of the story online OR you can get the paperback or eBook as a gift for yourself or others in our online bookstore.)

St. Nicholas: The Believer, by Eric & Lana Elder, A new story for Christmas based on the old story of St. Nicholas

My daughter and I rode horses on the mountains of Turkey last April, and it was one of the coolest things–at least for her! Taking the turns on the clifftops at a full gallop was much more fun for me back when I was her age and thought I was immortal! But the ride was awesome and the scenery was gorgeous. At the same time, it was clear to me that this was a rugged–and sometimes very dangerous–place to live.

In some ways, Turkey is today much like it was in the days when St. Nicholas lived there, back in the 3rd and 4th centuries A.D. A new emperor had come into power in Rome who tightened his grip around Christians like a noose.

Here’s a short, 60-second video at one of the more tame stretches of our trek on the Lycian Way through the mountains of Turkey.

riding-horses-in-patara-click-to-play

Riding Horses in Patara, Turkey, April 2015

And here are a few pictures of some of the great people we met in St. Nicholas’s hometown of Patara: my daughter (right) and me (left) with the wonderful host family of the Akay Pension, my daughter and me with the mayor of Patara, and my daughter and our super horse wrangler who spurred us onward and upward!


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This Day’s Thought from The Ranch- Friday and Year-End Update

Special Note from Eric: We’re thankful to have received $9,229 from 134 people during our annual fundraiser last month, but we still have $5,771 to go to meet our goal for this year of $15,000, with an additional stretch goal of $10,000. If you could help us with a special year-end gift, it will help us to start the new year as strongly as possible! Thanks! Eric

Click here to make online donation online

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Use this address to send cash or checks:
The Ranch Fellowship
25615 E 3000 North Road
Chenoa, IL 61726 USA


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

Some see life hopeless, other hopeful.  Even when things are less than perfect, if you can think of the good, the beautiful, the hopeful, you’ll be more than sustained–you’ll conquer.

Unknown


This Day's Verse

Praise the Lord; praise God our savior!  For each day he carries us in his arms.  Our God is a God who saves!  The Sovereign LORD rescues us from death.

Psalm 68:19-20
The New Living Translation


This Day's Smile

The friend given you, by circumstances over which you have no control, was God’s own gift.

Frederick Robertson


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This Day’s Thought from The Ranch- Thursday


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

Is it possible that I am so busy doing that I no longer have time to enjoy being?

Unknown


This Day's Verse

And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.

Colossians 3:15
The New King James Version


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