15 Tips For A Stronger Marriage

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

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

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

INTRODUCTION (Back to Table of Contents)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ’s love,
Eric Elder

TABLE OF CONTENTS

CHAPTER 1 (Back to Table of Contents)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I agree! Pray with each other every day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I hate divorce” (Malachi 2:16).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER 2 (Back to Table of Contents)

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, of course,” he replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“As in divorce?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER 3 (Back to Table of Contents)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So God created Eve and brought her to Adam.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER 4 (Back to Table of Contents)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I feel … when … because … “

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I feel lonely
I feel frustrated

I feel hurt
I feel unappreciated

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coming up next, tips #14 and 15!

CHAPTER 5 (Back to Table of Contents)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the next chapter, the conclusion of this series!

CHAPTER 6 (Back to Table of Contents)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And be thankful.”

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

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

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

“And be thankful” (Colossians 3:15b).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And be thankful.”

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

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

“And be thankful.”

“And be thankful.”

“And be thankful.”

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

Will you pray with me?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

In Christ’s love,
Eric Elder

(Back to Table of Contents)

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

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

St. Nicholas: The Believer

A new story for Christmas based on the old story of St. Nicholas
by Eric and Lana Elder

Read it online below!

Or Listen to Part 1 here (29-1/2 minutes, including the Dedication, Introduction, Prologue and Chapters 1-5)

 

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

You’re reading ST. NICHOLAS: THE BELIEVER, by Eric and Lana Elder, a new story for Christmas based on the old story of St. Nicholas. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

DEDICATION (Back to Table of Contents)

This book is dedicated to my sweet wife, Lana, who inspired me and helped me to tell you this spectacular story.

Lana had just finished making her final edits and suggestions on this book the week before she passed from this life to the next, way too young at the age of 48.

It was her idea and her dream to share the story of St. Nicholas with as many people as possible. She wanted to inspire them to give their lives to others as Jesus had given His life for us. This book is the first step in making that dream a reality.

To the world Lana may have been just one person, but to me she was the world. This book is lovingly dedicated to her.

INTRODUCTION (Back to Table of Contents)

by Eric Elder

There was a time when I almost gave up celebrating Christmas. Our kids were still young and weren’t yet hooked on the idea of Santa Claus and presents, Christmas trees and decorations.

I had read that the Puritans who first came to America were so zealous in their faith that they didn’t celebrate Christmas at all. Instead they charged fines to businesses in their community who failed to keep their shops open on Christmas day. They didn’t want anything to do with a holiday that was, they felt, rooted in paganism. As a new believer and a new father myself, the idea of going against the flow of the excesses of Christmas had its appeal, at least in some respects.

Then I read an article by a man who simply loved celebrating Christmas. He could think of no greater way to celebrate the birth of the most important figure in human history than throwing the grandest of parties for Him–gathering and feasting and sharing gifts with as many of his family and friends as possible. This man was a pastor of deep faith and great joy. For him, the joy of Christ’s birth was so wondrous that he reveled in every aspect of Christmas, including all the planning, decorating and activities that went along with it. He even loved bringing Santa Claus into the festivities, our modern-day version of the very real and very ancient Saint Nicholas, a man of deep faith and great joy as well who Himself worshipped and adored the Baby who was born in Bethlehem.

So why not celebrate the birth of Christ? Why not make it the biggest party of the year? Why not make it the “Hap-Happiest season of all”?

I was sold. Christmas could stay–and my kids would be much hap-happier for it, too.

I dove back into celebrating Christmas with full vigor, and at the same time took a closer look into the life of the real Saint Nicholas, a man who seemed almost irremovably intertwined with this Holy Day. I discovered that Saint Nicholas and Santa Claus were indeed one and the same, and that the Saint Nicholas who lived in the 3rd and 4th centuries after the birth of Christ was truly a devout follower of Christ himself.

As my wife and I read more and more about Nicholas’ fascinating story, we became enthralled with this believer who had already been capturing the hearts and imaginations of believers and nonbelievers alike throughout the centuries.

With so many books and movies that go to great lengths to tell you the “true” story of Santa Claus (and how his reindeer are really powered by everything from egg nog to Coca-Cola), I’ve found that there are very few stories that even come close to describing the actual person of who Saint Nicholas was, and in particular, what he thought about the Man for whom Christmas is named, Jesus Christ. I was surprised to learn that with all the historical documents that attest to Saint Nicholas’ faith in Christ, compelling tellings of those stories seem to have fallen by the wayside over the ages.

So with the encouragement and help of my sweet wife, Lana, we decided to bring the story of Saint Nicholas back to life for you, with a desire to help you recapture the essence of Christmas for yourself.

While some people, with good reason, may still go to great lengths to try to remove anything that might possibly hint of secularism from this holiest day of the year, it seems to me equally fitting to go to great lengths to try to restore Santa to his rightful place–not as the patron saint of shopping malls, but as a beacon of light that shines brightly on the One for whom this Holy Day is named.

It is with deep faith and great joy that I offer you this Christmas novella–a little story. I’ve enjoyed telling it and I hope you’ll enjoy hearing it. It just may be the most human telling of the story of Saint Nicholas you’ve ever heard.

Above all, I pray that God will use this story to rekindle your love, not only for this season of the year, but for the One who makes this season so bright.

May God bless you this Christmas and always!

In Christ’s love,
Eric Elder

P.S. I’ve divided this story into 7 parts and 40 chapters to make it easier to read. If you’d like, you can read a part a day for 7 days leading up to Christmas. Or if you’d like to use this book as a daily devotional, you can read a chapter a day for 40 days leading up to Christmas, counting the Prologue, Epilogue and Conclusion as separate chapters. If you start on November 15th, you’ll finish on Christmas Eve!

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

You’re reading ST. NICHOLAS: THE BELIEVER, by Eric and Lana Elder, a new story for Christmas based on the old story of St. Nicholas. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

PART 1

PART 2

PART 3

PART 4

PART 5

PART 6

PART 7

PART 1

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

You’re reading ST. NICHOLAS: THE BELIEVER, by Eric and Lana Elder, a new story for Christmas based on the old story of St. Nicholas. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

PROLOGUE (Back to Table of Contents)

My name is Dimitri–Dimitri Alexander. But that’s not important. What’s important is that man over there, lying on his bed. He’s–well, I suppose there’s really no better way to describe him except to say–he’s a saint. Not just because of all the good he’s done, but because he was–as a saint always is–a Believer. He believed that there was Someone in life who was greater than he was, Someone who guided him, who helped him through every one of his days.

If you were to look at him closely, lying there on his bed, it might look to you as if he was dead. And in some sense, I guess you would be right. But the truth is, he’s more alive now than he has ever been.

My friends and I have come here today to spend his last day on earth with him. Just a few minutes ago we watched as he passed from this life to the next.

I should be crying, I know. Believe me, I have been–and I will be again. But for now, I can’t help but simply be grateful that he has finally made it to his new home, a home that he has been dreaming about for many years. A home where he can finally talk to God face to face, like I’m talking to you right now.

Oh, he was a saint all right. But to me, and to so many others, he was something even more. He was–how could I put it? An inspiration. A friend. A teacher. A helper. A giver. Oh, he loved to give and give and give some more, until it seemed he had nothing left to give at all. But then he’d reach down deep and find a little more. “There’s always something you can give,” as he would often say.

He always hoped, in some small way, that he could use his life to make a difference in the world. He wanted, above all, to help people. But with so many needs all around, what could he possibly do?

He was like a man on a beach surrounded by starfish that had been washed up onto the shore. He knew that they would die if they didn’t make it back into the water.

Not knowing how to save them all, the man on the beach did what he could. He reached down, picked one up, and tossed it back into the water. Then reached down again, picked up another, and did the same.

Someone once asked the man why he bothered at all–that with so many needs all around, how could he possibly make any difference. He’d just toss another starfish into the water and say, “It made a difference to that one.” Then he’d reach down and pick up another.

You see, to the world you may be just one person, but to one person you may be the world.

In many ways, my friend was just like you and me. Each one of us has just one life to live. But if you live it right, one life is all you need. And if you live your life for God, well, you just might touch the whole world.

Did his life make any difference? I already know my answer, because I’m one of those that he reached down and picked up many, many years ago. But how about I tell you his story, and when I get to the end, I’ll let you decide if his life made a difference or not. And then maybe, by the time we’re finished, you’ll see that your life can make a difference, too.

Oh, by the way, I haven’t told you his name yet, this man who was such a great saint, such a great believer in the God who loved him, who created him, who sustained him and with whom he is now living forever.

His name is Nicholas–and this is his story.

CHAPTER 1 (Back to Table of Contents)

Nicholas lived in an ideal world. At least that’s the way he saw it. As a nine-year-old boy, growing up on the northern coast of what he called the Great Sea–you might call it the Mediterranean–Nicholas couldn’t imagine a better life.

He would often walk through the streets with his father, acting as if they were on their way to somewhere in particular. But the real reason for their outing was to look for someone who was struggling to make ends meet, someone who needed a lift in their life. A simple hello often turned into the discovery of a need to be met. Nicholas and his father would pray, and if they could meet the need, they found a way to do it.

Nicholas couldn’t count the number of times his dad would sneak up behind someone afterwards and put some apples in their sack, or a small coin or two. As far as Nicholas knew, no one ever knew what his father had done, except to say that sometimes they heard people talking about the miracle of receiving exactly what they needed at just the right time, in some unexpected way.

Nicholas loved these walks with his father, just as he loved his time at home with his mother. They had shown the same love and generosity with him as they had shown to so many others.

His parents had somehow found a way to prosper, even in the turbulent times in which they lived. They were, in fact, quite wealthy. But whether their family was rich or poor seemed to make no difference to Nicholas. All he knew or cared about was that his parents loved him like no one else on earth. He was their only son, and their times together were simple and truly joyful.

Their richest times came at night, as they shared stories with each other that they had heard about a Man who was like no other Man they had ever known. A Man who lived on the other side of the Great Sea about 280 years earlier. His name was Jesus. Nicholas was enthralled with the stories of this Man who seemed to be so precious in the eyes of his parents. Jesus seemed both down-to-earth and larger-than-life, all at the same time. How could anyone be so humble, yet so noble? How could He be so poor that He was born in an animal stable, yet so generous that He could feed 5,000 people? How could He live His life so fully, yet die a death so cruelly? Jesus was, to Nicholas, an enigma, the most fascinating person about whom he’d ever heard. One day, Nicholas thought to himself, he hoped to visit this land on the other side of the sea–and walk where Jesus walked.

For all the love that Nicholas and his parents shared and which held them together, there was one thing that threatened to pull them apart. It was the one thing that seemed to be threatening many families in their country these days, irrespective of their wealth or poverty, their faith or lack of faith, their love for others or their lack of love.

Nicholas’ friends and neighbors called it the plague. His parents had mentioned it from time to time, but only in their prayers. They prayed for the families who were affected by the plague, asking God for healing when possible, and for strength of faith when not. Most of all, his parents prayed for Nicholas that regardless of what happened around him, he would always know how very much they loved him, and how very much God loved him.

Even though Nicholas was so young, he had seen enough of life to know that real threats existed in the world. Yet he also had been shielded from those threats, in a way, by the love of his parents and by their devout faith in God. As his father had learned over the years, and had many times reminded Nicholas, “In all things, God works for the good of those who love Him.” And Nicholas believed him. Up to this point, he’d had no real reason to doubt the words his father had spoken.

But it would be only a matter of months before Nicholas’ faith would be challenged and he would have to decide if he really believed those words for himselfthat in all things, God would truly work for the good of those who loved Him.

Tonight, however, he simply trusted the words of his father, listening to his parents’ prayers for him–and for those in his city–as he drifted off into a perfect sleep.

CHAPTER 2 (Back to Table of Contents)

Nicholas woke to the sounds of birds out his window. The air was fresh, washed clean by the seaside mist in the early morning.

But the news this morning was less than idyllic. A friend of Nicholas’ family had contracted the sickness that they had only heard about from people in other cities. The boy was said to be near the point of death.

Nicholas’ father had heard the news first and had gone to pray for the boy. Returning home just as Nicholas awoke, his father shared the news with his wife and with Nicholas.

“We need to pray,” he said, with no hint of panic in his voice, but with an unmistakable urgency that caused all three of them to slip down to their knees.

Nicholas’ father began the prayer: “Father, You know the plans You have for this child. We trust You to carry them out. We pray for Your healing as we love this boy, but we know that You love him even more than we do. We trust that as we place him in Your hands this morning, You will work all things together for good, as You always do for those who love You.”

It was a prayer Nicholas had heard his father pray many times before, asking for what they believed was best in every situation, but trusting that God knew best in the end. It was the same type of prayer Nicholas had heard that Jesus had prayed the night before He died: “If You are willing,” Jesus prayed, “take this cup from Me. Yet not My will, but Yours be done.”

Nicholas never quite knew what to make of this prayer. Wouldn’t God always want what’s best for us? And how could someone’s death ever be a good thing? Yet his father prayed that prayer so often, and with such sincerity of heart, that Nicholas was confident that it was the right thing to pray. But how God could answer any other way than healing the boy–and still work it out for good–remained a mystery.

After Nicholas’ mother had added her own words to the prayer, and Nicholas himself had joined in, his father concluded with thanks to God for listening–and for already answering their prayers.

As they stood, the news came to their door, as if in direct answer to what they had just prayed. But it wasn’t the answer they were hoping for. The boy had died.

Nicholas’ mother began to weep quietly, but not holding back on her tears. She wept as she felt the loss of another mother, feeling the loss as if it were her own son who had died.

Nicholas’ father took hold of her hand and pulled Nicholas close, saying a quiet prayer for the family of the boy who had died, and adding another prayer for his own family. He gave his wife and son one more final squeeze, then walked out the door to return to the other boy’s home.

CHAPTER 3 (Back to Table of Contents)

The boy’s death had a sobering effect on the whole city. The people had known the boy, of course, and were sad for the family.

But his death was more sobering because it wasn’t an isolated event. The people had heard stories of how the sickness had been spreading through the cities around them, taking the lives of not just one or two people here and there, but entire familiesentire neighborhoods. The death of this boy seemed to indicate that the plague had now arrived in their city, too.

No one knew how to stop it. All they could do was pray. And pray they did.

As the sickness began to spread, Nicholas’ parents would visit the homes of those who lay dying. While his parents’ money was powerless to offer relief to the families, their prayers brought a peace that no amount of money could buy.

As always, Nicholas’ father would pray that death would pass them over, as it had passed over the Israelites in Egypt when the plague of death overtook the lives of the firstborn of every family that wasn’t willing to honor God. But this sickness was different. It made no distinction between believer or unbeliever, firstborn or last born, or any other apparent factor. This sickness seemed to know no bounds, and seemed unstoppable by any means.

Yet Nicholas watched as his father prayed in faith nonetheless, believing that God could stop the plague at any moment, at any household, and trusting God to work it all out for good, even if their lives, too, were seemingly cut short.

These latter prayers were what people clung to the most. More than anything else, these words gave them hope–hope that their lives were not lived in vain, hope that their deaths were not going unnoticed by the God who created them.

A visit by Nicholas’ father and mother spoke volumes to those who were facing unbearable pain, for as the plague spread, fewer and fewer people had been willing to leave their own homes, let alone visit the homes where the sickness had struck. The prayers of Nicholas’ father, and the tears of his mother, gave the families the strength they needed to face whatever came their way.

Nicholas watched in wonder as his parents dispensed their gifts of mercy during the day, then returned home each night physically spent, but spiritually strengthened. It made him wonder how they got their strength for each day. But it also made him wonder how long their own family could remain untouched by this plague.

When Nicholas finally found the courage to voice this question out loud, a question that seemed to be close to all of their hearts, his father simply answered that they had only two choices: to live in fear, or to live in love, and to follow the example of the One in whom they had entrusted their lives. They chose to live in love, doing for others what they would want others to do for them.

So every morning Nicholas’ father and mother would wake up and pray, asking their Lord what He would have them do. Then, pushing aside any fears they might have had, they put their trust in God, spending the day serving others as if they were serving Christ Himself.

While his father’s response didn’t answer the immediate question on Nicholas’ heart– which was how much longer it might be till the sickness visited their own home–it seemed to answer a question that went much deeper. It answered the question of whether or not God was aware of all that was going on, and if He was, whether or not He cared enough to do anything about it.

By the way that God seemed to be directing his parents each day, Nicholas gained a peace of mind that God was indeed fully aware of all that was going on in the lives of every person in his city of Pataraand that God did indeed care. God cared enough to send Nicholas’ parents to those who needed to hear a word from Him, who needed a touch from His hands, who needed a touch from God not just in their flesh, but in their spirits as well.

It seemed to Nicholas to be a more glorious answer to his question than he could have imagined. His worry about when the sickness might visit their own home dissipated as he went to sleep that night. Instead, he prayed that God would use his own hands and words–Nicholas’ hands and words–as if they were God’s very own, reaching out to express God’s love for His people.

CHAPTER 4 (Back to Table of Contents)

In the coming days, Nicholas found himself wanting to help his father and mother more and more as they delivered God’s mercy to those around them.

They worked together to bring food, comfort and love to each family touched by the plague. Some days it was as simple as stopping by to let a mother know she wasn’t alone. Others days it was bringing food or drink to an entire family who had taken ill. And still other days it was preparing a place in the hills around their city where they carefully laid the bodies of those who had succumbed to the sickness and whose spirits had passed from this life to the next.

Each day Nicholas’ heart grew more and more aware of the temporal nature of life on earth, and more and more in tune with the eternal nature of the life that is unseen. It seemed to Nicholas that the line between the two worlds was becoming less and less distinct. What he had once thought of as solid and reallike rocks and trees, or hands and feetsoon took on a more ethereal nature. And those things that were more difficult for him to touch beforelike faith and hope, love and peacebegan to become more solid and real.

It was as if his world was turning both upside down and inside out at the same time, not with a gut-wrenching twisting, but as if his eyes themselves were being re-calibrated, adjusting better to see with more clarity what was really going onfocusing more acutely on what really mattered in life. Even surrounded by so much sickness and death, Nicholas felt himself coming alive more fully than he’d ever felt before.

His father tried to describe what Nicholas was feeling by using words that he’d heard Jesus had said, that whoever tried to hold onto this life too tightly would lose it, but whoever was willing to let go of this life, would find true life. By learning how to love others without being constrained by fear, being propelled forward by love instead, Nicholas was starting to experience how it felt to truly live.

Whether that feeling could sustain him through what lay ahead, he didn’t know. But what he did know was that for now, more than anything else, he wanted to live each day to the fullest. He wanted to wake up each day looking for how God could use him, then do whatever God was willing to give him to do. To do anything less would be to shortchange himself from living the life God had given him to liveand to shortchange God from the work God wanted to get done.

As the days passed, Nicholas came to know what his father and mother already knew: that no one knew how many more days they had left in this world. His family no longer saw themselves as human beings having a temporary spiritual experience, but as spiritual beings, having a temporary human experience. With eyes of faith, they were able to look into whatever lay ahead of them without the fear that gripped so many of the others around them.

CHAPTER 5 (Back to Table of Contents)

When Nicholas awoke one day to the sound of his mother coughing, time seemed to stand still.

For all the preparation his parentsand his own faithhad given him, it still caught him off guard to think that the sickness might have finally crossed over the threshold of their own home.

He thought that maybe God would spare them for all the kindness they had shown to others during the previous few months. But his father had cautioned him against such thinking, reminding him that for all the good that Jesus had done in His lifefor all the healing that He had brought to othersthere still came a time when He, too, had to face suffering and death. It didn’t mean that God didn’t love Jesus, or wasn’t concerned for Him, or hadn’t seen all the good He had done in His life. And it didn’t mean that Jesus remained indifferent to what was about to take place either. Jesus even told His disciples that His heart was deeply troubled by what He was about to go through, but that didn’t mean He shrank back from what lay ahead of Him. No, He said, it was for this very hour that He had come. Greater love, He told His disciples, had no one than this: that they lay down their lives for their friends.

Nicholas’ mother coughed again, and time slowly began to move again for Nicholas. He stood to his feet. As he approached his mother, she hesitated for a moment. It was as if she was torn between wanting him to stand stillnot to come one step closer to the sickness that had now reached her bodyor to get up on her feet, too, and throw her arms around him, assuring him that everything would be all right. But a moment later, Nicholas had made her decision unnecessary, for he was already in her arms, holding on as tight as he could as they both broke down in tears. As Nicholas was learning, having faith doesn’t mean you can’t cry. It just means that you can trust God, even with your tears.

Nicholas’ father had already shed some of his own tears that morning. He had gone outside before the sunrise, this time not to visit the homes of others, but to pray. For him, the place where he always returned when he needed to be alone with God was to the fresh air by the sea, not far from their home. While he knew he could pray anywhere, at any time, it was by the sea that he felt closest to God. The sound of the waves, rhythmically washing up on the shore, seemed to have a calming, mesmerizing effect on him.

He had arrived in time to watch the sunrise off to his left, looking down the shoreline of the Great Sea. How many sunrises had he seen from that very spot? And how many more would he have left to see? He turned his head and coughed, letting the question roll back out to sea with the next receding wave. The sickness had come upon him as well.

This wasn’t the first time he had asked himself how many days he had left to live. The difference this time was that in the past, he had always asked it hypothetically. He would come to this spot whenever he had an important decision to make, a decision that required he think beyond the short term. He would come here when he needed to look into eternity, taking into account the brevity of life. Here, at the edge of the sea, it was as if he could grasp both the brevity of life and the eternity of heaven at the same time.

The daily rising of the sun and the swelling, cresting and breaking of the waves on the shore reminded him that God was still in control, that His world would carry onwith or without himjust as it had since God had first spoken the water and earth into existence, and just as it would until the day God would choose for its end, to make way for the new heaven and the new earth. In light of eternity, the lifespan of the earth seemed incredibly short, and the lifespan of man even shorter still. In that short span of life, he knew that he had to make the most of each day, not just living for himself, and not even just living for others, but ultimately living for the God who had given him life. If God, the Creator of all things, had seen fit to breathe into him the breath of life, then as long as he could still take a breath, he wanted to make the most of it.

Coughing again, Nicholas’ father remembered that this was no mere intellectual exercise to help him come to grips with a difficult decision. This time–as he looked out at the sunrise once more, and at one more wave rolling inhe realized that this was the final test of everything that he had believed up until this point.

Some of life’s tests he had passed with flying colors. Others he had failed when fear or doubt had taken over. But this was a test he knew he wanted to pass more than any other.

He closed his eyes and asked for strength for another day. He let the sun warm his face, and he gently opened the palms of his hands to feel the breeze as it lifted up along the shore and floated over his body. He opened his eyes and looked one more time at the sea.

Then he turned and walked toward home, where he would soon join his precious wife and his beloved son in a long, tearful embrace.

PART 2

Listen to Part 2 here (28 minutes, including Chapters 6-11)

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

You’re reading ST. NICHOLAS: THE BELIEVER, by Eric and Lana Elder, a new story for Christmas based on the old story of St. Nicholas. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

CHAPTER 6 (Back to Table of Contents)

Nicholas stood alone. He was on the same stretch of beach where his father had stood just ten years earlier, looking out at the sunrise and the waves on the seashore.

Nicholas’ father never made it out to look at the Great Sea again, having finally succumbed to the sickness himself. Nicholas’ mother passed away first, within two weeks of the first signs of illness. His father lasted another three days after that, as if holding on as long as he could to make sure his wife passed as peacefully as possible from this life to the next, and making sure Nicholas was as ready as possible to take the next steps in his own life.

Nicholas’ father didn’t shy away from tears, but he didn’t want them wasted on wrongful emotions either. “Don’t cry because it’s over,” his father had said to both his wife and his son. “Smile because it was beautiful.”

There was a time and place for anger and disappointment, but this wasn’t the time for either. If given the chance to do it all over again, his parents would have chosen to do exactly what they did. It was not foolishness, they said, to be willing to risk their lives for the sake of others, especially when there were no guarantees that they would have survived anyway.

As it turned out, the plague ended up taking the lives of almost a third of the people in Patara before it finally ran its course. The sickness seemed to have a mind of its own, affecting those who tried to shield themselves from it as well as those who, like his parents, had ventured out into the midst of it.

After the death of his parents, Nicholas felt a renewed sense of urgency to pick up where they had left off, visiting those who were sick and comforting the families of those who had died.

Then, almost as suddenly as it came to their city, the plague left. Nicholas had spent most of the next few weeks sleeping, trying to recover from the long daysand even longer nightsof ministering to those who were affected. When he was awake, he spent his time trying to process his own feelings and emotions in light of the loss of the family he loved. In so many ways, his parents were his life. His life was so intertwined with theirs, and having them taken so suddenly from him, he hardly knew what to do without them. He went to live with his uncle, a priest who lived in the monastery in Patara, until he was ready to venture out further into the world on his own. Now that time had come, and it was time for Nicholas to make his decision.

Unlike many others who had been orphaned by the plague, Nicholas had been left with a sizable inheritance. The question on his heart wasn’t what he would do to make a living, but what he would do to make a life. Through all that he had experienced, and now recognizing the brevity of life for himself, Nicholas now knew why his father had come so often to this shore to pray. Now it was Nicholas’ turn to consider his own future in light of eternity.

What should I do? Where should I go? How should I spend the rest of my days? The questions could have overwhelmed him, except that his father had prepared him well for moments like these, too.

His father, always a student of the writings of Scripture and of the life of Christ, had told him that Jesus taught that we needn’t worry so much about the trouble down the road as just the trouble for that day. Each day has enough trouble of its own, Jesus said.

As Nicholas thought about this, his burden lifted. He didn’t have to figure out what he was going to do with the rest of his life just yet. He only had to decide on his next step.

He had enough money to travel the length of the entire world back and forth three times and still have enough to live on for years to come. But that wasn’t really what he wanted to do. He had never had a desire to live wildly or lavishly, for the life he knew up to this point already gave him tremendous satisfaction. But there was one place he had always wanted to see with his own eyes.

As he looked out across the sea, to the south and to the west, he knew that somewhere in between lay the place he most wanted to visita land that seemed more precious in his mind than any other. It was the land where Jesus had lived, the land where He had walked and taught, the land where He was born and died, and the land where so many of the stories of His lifeand almost the entirety of Scripture itselfhad taken place.

Nicholas knew that some decisions in life were made only through the sweat and agony of prayer, trying desperately to decide between two seemingly good, but mutually exclusive paths. But this decision was not one of them. This was one of those decisions that, by the nature of the circumstances, was utterly simple to make. Apart from his uncle, there was little more to keep him in Patara, and nothing to stop him from following the desire that had been on his heart for so long.

He was glad his father had shown him this spot, and he was glad that he had come to it again today. He knew exactly what he was going to do next. His decision was as clear as the water in front of him.

CHAPTER 7 (Back to Table of Contents)

Nicholas’ arrival on the far shores of the Great Sea came sooner than he could have imagined. For so long he had wondered what it would be like to walk where Jesus walked, and now, at age 19, he was finally there.

Finding a boat to get there had been no problem, for his hometown of Patara was one of the main stopovers for ships traveling from Egypt to Rome, carrying people and cargo alike. Booking passage was as simple as showing that you had the money to pay, which Nicholas did.

But now that he had arrived, where would he go first? He wanted to see everything at once, but that was impossible. A tug at his sleeve provided the answer.

“You a Christian?” the small voice asked.

Nicholas looked down to see a boy not more than ten looking up at him. Two other children giggled nearby. To ask this question so directly, when it was dangerous in general to do so, showed that the boy was either a sincere follower of Christ looking for a fellow believer, or it showed that he had ulterior motives in mind. From the giggles of his little friends nearby, a boy and a girl just a bit younger than the one who had spoken, Nicholas knew it was probably the latter.

“You a Christian?” the boy asked again. “I show you holy places?”

Ah, that’s it, thought Nicholas. Enough pilgrims had obviously come here over the years that even the youngest inhabitants knew that pilgrims would need a guide once they arrived. Looking over the three children again, Nicholas felt they would suit him just fine. Nicholas had a trusting heart, and while he wasn’t naive enough to think that trouble wouldn’t find him here, he also trusted that the same God who had led him here would also provide the help he needed once he arrived. Even if these children were doing it just for the money, that was all right with Nicholas. Money he had. A map he didn’t. He would gladly hire them to be his living maps to the holy places.

“Yes, and yes,” Nicholas answered. “Yes, I am indeed a Christian. And if you would like to take me, then yes, I would be very interested to see the holy places. I would love for your friends to come along with us, too. That way, if we meet any trouble, they can defend us all!”

The boy’s mouth dropped open and his friends giggled again. It wasn’t the answer the boy had expected at all, at least not so fast and not without a great deal of pestering on his part. Pilgrims who arrived were usually much more skeptical when they stepped off their boats, shooing away anyone who approached themat least until they got their land legs back and their bearings straight. But the boy quickly recovered from his shock and immediately extended his right hand in front of him, palm upraised, with a slight bow of his head. It gave Nicholas the subtle impression as if to say that the boy was at Nicholas’ serviceand the not-so-subtle impression that the boy was ready for something to be deposited in his open hand. Nicholas, seeing another opportunity to throw the boy off guard, happily obliged.

He gently placed three of his smallest, but shiniest coins into the boy’s upraised palm and said, “My name is Nicholas. And I can see you’re a wise man. Now, if you’re able to keep your hand open even after I’ve set these coins in it, you’ll be even wiser still. For he who clenches his fist tightly around what he has received will find it hard to receive more. But he who opens his hand freely to heavenfreely giving in the same way that he has freely receivedwill find that his Father in heaven will usually not hold back in giving him more.”

Nicholas motioned with his hand that he intended for the boy to share what he had received with his friends, who had come closer at the appearance of the coins. The boy obviously was the spokesman for all three, but still he faltered for a moment as to what to do. This man was so different from anyone else the boy had ever approached. With others, the boy was always trying, usually without success, to coax even one such coin from their pockets, but here he had been given three in his very first attempt! The fact that the coins weren’t given grudgingly, but happily, did indeed throw him off balance. He had never heard such a thought like that of keeping his hands open to give and receive. His instinct would have been to instantly clench his fist tightly around the coins, not letting go until he got to the safest place he could find, and only then could he carefully inspect them and let their glimmers shine in his eyes. Yet he stood stock still, with his hand still outstretched and his palm facing upward. Almost against his own self-will, he found himself turning slightly and extending his hand to his friends.

Seizing the moment, the two others each quickly plucked a coin from his hand. Within an instant of realizing that they, too, were about to clench their fists around their newly acquired treasure, they slowly opened their fingers as well, looking up at the newly arrived pilgrim with a sense of bewilderment. They were bewildered not just that he had given them the coins, but that they were still standing there with their palms open, surprising even themselves that they were willing to follow this man’s peculiar advice.

The sight of it all made Nicholas burst out in a gracious laugh. He was delighted by their response and he quickly deposited two more of his smallest coins into each of their hands, now tripling their astonishment. It wasn’t the amount of the gifts that had astonished them, for they had seen bigger tips from wealthier pilgrims, but it was the generous and cheerful spirit that accompanied the gifts that gave them such a surprise.

The whole incident took place in less than a minute, but it set Nicholas and his new friends into such a state that each of them looked forward to the journey ahead.

“Now, you’d better close your hands again, because a wise manor woman–“ he nodded to the little girl, “also takes care of that which they have been given so that it doesn’t get lost or stolen.”

Then, turning to walk toward the city, Nicholas said, “How about you let me get some rest tonight, and then, first thing in the morning, you can start showing me those holy places?”

While holy places abounded in this holy land, in the magical moments that had just transpired, it seemed to the three childrenand even to Nicholas himself–that they had just stepped foot on their first.

CHAPTER 8 (Back to Table of Contents)

Nicholas woke with the sun the next morning. He had asked the children to meet him at the inn shortly after sunrise. His heart skipped a beat with excitement about the day ahead. Within a few minutes, he heard their knock–and their unmistakable giggles–at the door.

He found out that their names were Dimitri, Samuel and Ruthie. They were, to use the common term, “alumni,” children whose parents had left them at birth to fend for themselves. Orphans like these dotted the streets throughout the Roman Empire, byproducts of people who indulged their passions wherever and with whomever they wanted, with little thought for the outcome of their actions.

While Dimitri could have wallowed in self-pity for his situation, he didn’t. He realized early on that it didn’t help to get frustrated and angry about his circumstances. So he became an entrepreneur.

He began looking for ways he could help people do whatever they needed, especially those things which others couldn’t do, or wouldn’t do, for themselves. He wasn’t often rewarded for his efforts, but when he was, it was all worth it.

He wasn’t motivated by religion, for he wasn’t religious himself, and he wasn’t motivated by greed, for he never did anything that didn’t seem right if it were just for the money, as greedy people who only care about money often do. He simply believed that if he did something that other people valued, and if he did it good enough and long enough, then somehow he would make it in life. Some people, like Dimitri, stumble onto godly wisdom without even realizing it.

Samuel and Ruthie, on the other hand, were just along for the ride. Like bees drawn to honey, Samuel and Ruthie were drawn to Dimitri, as often happens when people find someone who is trying to do what’s right. Samuel was eight, and like Dimitri, wasn’t religious himself, but had chosen his own name when he heard someone tell the story of another little boy named Samuel who, when very young, had been given away by his parents to be raised by a priest. Samuel, the present-day one, loved to hear about all that the long-ago Samuel had done, even though the other one had lived over 1,000 years before. This new Samuel didn’t know if the stories about the old Samuel were true, but at the time he chose his name, he didn’t particularly care. It was only in the past few months, as he had been traveling to the holy sites with Dimitri, that he had begun to wonder if perhaps the stories really were true.

Now Ruthie, even though she was only seven, was as sharp as a tack. She always remembered people’s names and dates, what happened when and who did what to whom. Giggling was her trademark, but little though she was, her mind was eager to learn and she remembered everything she saw and everything she was taught. Questions filled her mind, and naturally spilled right out of her mouth.

Dimitri didn’t mind these little tag-alongs, for although it might have been easier for him to do what he did by himself, he also knew of the dangers of the streets and felt compelled to help these two like an older brother might help his younger siblings. And to be completely honest, he didn’t have anyone else to call family, so finding these two a few years earlier had filled a part of his heart in a way that he couldn’t describe, but somehow made him feel better.

Nicholas took in the sight of all three beaming faces at his door. “Where to first?” asked Dimitri.

“Let’s start at the beginning,” said Nicholas, “the place where Jesus was born.” And with that they began the three-day walk from the coast of Joppa to the hills of Bethlehem.

CHAPTER 9 (Back to Table of Contents)

After two days of walking and sleeping on hillsides, Nicholas and his new friends had just a half day left before they reached Bethlehem. For Nicholas, his excitement was building with every hill they passed, as he was getting closer and closer to the holy place he most wanted to see, the birthplace of Jesus.

“Why do you think He did it?” asked Dimitri. “I mean, why would Jesus want to come hereto earth? If I were already in heaven, I think I’d want to stay there.”

Even though Dimitri was supposed to be the guide, he didn’t mind asking as many questions as he could, especially when he was guiding someone like Nicholas, which didn’t happen very often.

Nicholas didn’t mind his asking, either, as Nicholas had done the same thing back home. His parents belonged to a community of believers that had been started about 250 years earlier by the Apostle Paul himself when Paul had visited their neighboring city of Myra on one of his missionary journeys, telling everyone who would listen about Jesus. Paul had lived at the same time as Jesus, although Paul didn’t become a believer himself until after Jesus died and rose again from the dead. Paul’s stories were always remarkable.

Nicholas got to hear all of the stories that Paul had told while he was in Myra, as they were written down and repeated by so many others over the years.

As a child, Nicholas thought that anything that happened 250 years ago sounded like ancient history. But as he started to get a little older, and now that his parents had passed away, too, it didn’t seem that long ago at all. The stories that Nicholas heard were the same stories his father and his grandfather and his great grandfather, back to six or seven generations, had heard, some for the very first time from the Apostle Paul in person. Nicholas loved to hear them over and over, and he asked many of the same questions that Dimitri was now asking himlike why would Jesus leave heaven to come down to earth in person.

“The simple answer is because He loved us,” said Nicholas. “But that alone probably doesn’t answer the question you’re really asking, because God has always loved us. The reason Jesus came to earth was, well, because there are some things that need to be done in person.”

Nicholas went on to explain the gospel–the good news–to the children of how Jesus came to pay the ultimate price with His life for anything we had ever done wrong, making a way for us to come back to God with a clean heart, plus live with Him in heaven forever.

Throughout the story, the children stared at Nicholas with rapt attention. Although they had been to Bethlehem many times before and had often taken people to the cave that was carved into the hillside where it was said that Jesus was born, they had never pictured it in their minds quite like this before. They had never understood the motivations behind why God did what He did. And they had never really considered that the stories they heard about Jesus being God in the flesh were true. How could He be?

Yet hearing Nicholas’ explanation made so much sense to them, that they wondered why they had never considered it as true before. In those moments, their hearts and minds were finally opened to at least the possibility that it was true. And that open door turned out to be the turning point for each of them in their lives, just as it had been for Nicholas when he first heard the Truth. God really did love them, and God had demonstrated that love for them by coming to the earth to save them from their certain self-destruction.

For Nicholas, when he first heard about the love of the Father for him, the idea was fairly familiar to him because he had already had a good glimpse of what the love of a father looked like from the love of his own father. But to Dimitri, Samuel and Ruthie, who had never had a father, much less one like Nicholas had just described, it was simultaneously one of the most distantly incomprehensible, yet wonderfully alluring descriptions of love they had ever heard.

As they made their way through the hills toward Bethlehem, they began to skip ahead as fast as their hearts were already skipping, knowing that they would soon see again the place where God had, as a Man, first touched earth less than 300 years earlier. They would soon be stepping onto ground that was indeed holy.

CHAPTER 10 (Back to Table of Contents)

It was evening when they finally arrived at their destination. Dimitri led them through the city of Bethlehem to the spot where generations of pilgrims had already come to see the place where Jesus was born: a small cave cut into the hillside where animals could easily have been corralled so they wouldn’t wander off.

There were no signs to mark the spot, no monuments or buildings to indicate that you were now standing on the very spot where the God of the universe had arrived as a child. It was still dangerous anywhere in the Roman Empire to tell others you were a Christian, even though the laws against it were only sporadically enforced.

But that didn’t stop those who truly followed Christ from continuing to honor the One whom they served as their King. Although Jesus taught that His followers were to still respect their earthly rulers, if forced to choose between worshipping Christ or worshipping Caesar, both the Christians and Caesar knew who the Christians would worship. So the standoff continued.

The only indication that this was indeed a holy site was the well-worn path up the hill that made its way into and out of the cave. Tens of thousands of pilgrims had already made their way to this spot during the past 250 years. It was well known to those who lived in Bethlehem, for it was the same spot that had been shown to pilgrims from one generation to the next, going back to the days of Christ.

As Dimitri led the three others along the path to the cave, Nicholas laughed, a bit to himself, and a bit out loud. The others turned to see what had made him burst out so suddenly. He had even surprised himself! Here he was at the one holy site he most wanted to see, and he was laughing.

Nicholas said, “I was just thinking of the wise men who came to Bethlehem to see Jesus. They probably came up this very hill. How regal they must have looked, riding on their camels and bringing their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. For a moment I pictured myself as one of those kings, riding on a camel myself. Then I stepped in some sheep dung by the side of the road. The smell brought me back in an instant to the reality that I’m hardly royalty at all!”

“Yes,” said Ruthie, “but didn’t you tell us that the angels spoke to the shepherds first, and that they were the first ones to go and see the baby? So smelling a little like sheep dung may not make you like the kings, but it does make you like those who God brought to the manger first!”

“Well said, Ruthie,” said Nicholas. “You’re absolutely right.”

Ruthie smiled at her insight, and then her face produced another thoughtful look. “But maybe we should still bring a gift with us, like the wise men did?” The thought seemed to overtake her, as if she was truly concerned that they had nothing to give to the King. He wasn’t there anymore to receive their gifts, of course, but still she had been captivated by the stories about Jesus that Nicholas had been telling them along the road. She thought that she should at least bring Him some kind of gift.

“Look!” she said, pointing to a spot on the hill a short distance away. She left the path and within a few minutes had returned with four small, delicate golden flowers, one for each of them. “They look just like gold to me!”

She smiled from ear to ear now, giving each one of them a gift to bring to Jesus. Nicholas smiled as well. There’s always something you can give, he thought to himself. Whether it’s gold from a mine or gold from a flower, we only bring to God that which is already His anyway, don’t we?

So with their gifts in hand, they reached the entrance to the caveand stepped inside.

CHAPTER 11 (Back to Table of Contents)

Nothing could have prepared Nicholas for the strong emotion that overtook him as he entered the cave.

On the ground in front of him was a makeshift wooden manger, a feeding trough for animals probably very similar to the one in which Jesus had been laid the night of His birth. It had apparently been placed in the cave as a simple reminder of what had taken place there. But the effect on Nicholas was profound.

One moment he had been laughing at himself and watching Ruthie pick flowers on the hillside and the next moment, upon seeing the manger, he found himself on his knees, weeping uncontrollably at the thought of what had taken place on this very spot.

He thought about everything he had ever heard about Jesusabout how He had healed the sick, walked on water and raised the dead. He thought about the words Jesus had spokenwords that echoed with the weight of authority as He was the Author of life itself. He thought about his own parents who had put their lives on the line to serve this Man called Jesus, who had died for him just as He had died for them, giving up their very lives for those they loved.

The thoughts flooded his mind so fully that Nicholas couldn’t help sobbing with deep, heartfelt tears. They came from within his very soul. Somewhere else deep inside him, Nicholas felt stirred like he had never felt in his life. It was a sensation that called for some kind of response, some kind of action. It was a feeling so different from anything else he had ever experienced, yet it was unmistakably clear that there was a step he was now supposed to take, as if a door were opening before him and he knew he was supposed to walk through it. But how?

As if in answer to his question, Nicholas remembered the golden flower in his hand. He knew exactly what he was supposed to do, and he wanted more than anything to do it.

He took the flower and laid it gently on the ground in front of the wooden manger. The golden flower wasn’t just a flower anymore. It was a symbol of his very life, offered up now in service to his King.

Nicholas knelt there for several minutes, engulfed in this experience that he knew, even in the midst of it, would affect him for the rest of his life. He was oblivious to anything else that was going on around him. All he knew was that he wanted to serve this King, this Man who was clearly a man in every sense of the word, yet was clearly one and the same with God as well, the very essence of God Himself.

As if slowly waking from a dream, Nicholas began to become aware of his surroundings again. He noticed Dimitri and Samuel on his left and Ruthie on his right, also on their knees. Having watched Nicholas slip down to his knees, they had followed suit. Now they looked alternately, back and forth between him and the manger in front of him.

The waves of emotion that had washed over Nicholas were now washing over them as well. They couldn’t help but imagine what he was experiencing, knowing how devoted he was to Jesus and what it had willingly cost Nicholas’ parents to follow Him. Each of them, in their own way, began to experience for themselves what such love and devotion must feel like.

Having watched Nicholas place his flower in front of the manger, they found themselves wanting to do the same. If Jesus meant so much to Nicholas, then certainly they wanted to follow Jesus as well. They had never in their entire lives experienced the kind of love that Nicholas had shown them in the past three days. Yet somehow they knew that the love that Nicholas had for them didn’t originate with Nicholas alone, but from the God whom Nicholas served. If this was the kind of effect that Jesus had on His followers, then they wanted to follow Jesus, too.

Any doubts that Nicholas had had about his faith prior to that day were all washed away in those timeless moments. Nicholas had become, in the truest sense of the word, a Believer.

And from those very first moments of putting his faith and trust fully in Jesus, he was already inspiring others to do the same.

PART 3

Listen to Part 3 here (27-1/2 minutes, including Chapters 12-17)

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

You’re reading ST. NICHOLAS: THE BELIEVER, by Eric and Lana Elder, a new story for Christmas based on the old story of St. Nicholas. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

CHAPTER 12 (Back to Table of Contents)

Once again, Nicholas was standing on a beach, alone. This time, however, it was on the shores of the Holy Land, looking back across the Great Sea towards his home.

In the months following his visit to Bethlehem, Nicholas, along with his young guide and bodyguards, had searched for every holy place that they could find that related to Jesus. They had retraced Jesus’ steps from His boyhood village in Nazareth to the fishing town of Capernaum, where Jesus had spent most of His adult years.

They had waded into the Jordan River where Jesus had been baptized and they swam in the Sea of Galilee where He had walked on the water and calmed the storm.

They had visited the hillside where Jesus had taught about the kingdom of heaven, and they had marveled at the spot where He had multiplied the five loaves of bread and two fish to feed a crowd of over 5,000 people.

While it was in Bethlehem that Nicholas was filled with wonder and awe, it was in Jerusalem where he was filled with mission and purpose. Walking through the streets where Jesus had carried His cross to His own execution, Nicholas felt the weight on his shoulders as if he were carrying a cross as well. Then seeing the hill where Jesus had died, and the empty tomb nearby where Jesus had risen from the dead, Nicholas felt the weight on his shoulders lifting off, as Jesus must have felt when He emerged from the tomb in which He had been sealed.

It was in that moment that Nicholas knew what his mission and purpose in life would be: to point others to the One who would lift their burdens off as well. He wanted to show them that they no longer had to carry the burdens of their sin, pain, sickness and need all alone. He wanted to show them that they could cast all their cares on Jesus, knowing that Jesus cared for them. “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened,” Jesus had said, “and I will give you rest.”

The stories Nicholas had heard as a child were no longer vague and distant images of things that might have been. They were stories that had taken on new life for him, stories that were now three dimensional and in living color. It wasn’t just the fact that he was seeing these places with his own eyes. Others had done that, and some were even living there in the land themselves, but they had still never felt what Nicholas was feeling. What made the difference for Nicholas was that he was seeing these stories through the eyes of faith, through the eyes of a Believer, as one who now truly believed all that had taken place.

As his adventures of traveling to each of the holy sites came to an end, Nicholas returned to the spot where he had first felt the presence of God so strongly: to Bethlehem. He felt that in order to prepare himself better for his new calling in life, he should spend as much time as he could living and learning in this special land. While exploring the city of Bethlehem and its surroundings, he found another cave nearby, in the city of Beit Jala, that was similar to the cave in which Jesus had been born. He took up residence there in the cave, planning to spend as much time as he could living and learning how to live in this land where His Savior had lived.

Dimitri, Samuel and Ruthie had gained a new sense of mission and purpose for their lives as well. As much as they wanted to stay with Nicholas, they felt even more compelled to continue their important work of bringing more people to see these holy places. It was no longer just a way for them to provide a living for themselves, but they found it to be a holy calling, a calling to help others experience what they had experienced.

It had been four full years now since Nicholas had first arrived on this side of the Sea. During that time, he often saw his young friends as they brought more and more pilgrims to see what they had shown to Nicholas. In those few short years, he watched each of them grow up “in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men,” just as Jesus had done in His youth in Nazareth.

Nicholas would have been very happy to stay here even longer, but the same Spirit of God that had drawn him to come was now drawing him back home. He knew that he couldn’t stay on this mountaintop forever. There were people who needed him, and a life that was waiting for him back home, back in the province of Lycia. What that life held for him, he wasn’t sure. With his parents gone, there was little to pull him back home, but it was simply the Spirit of God Himself, propelling him forward on the next leg of his journey.

Making arrangements for a ship home was harder than it was to find a ship to come here, for the calm seas of summer were nearing their end and the first storms of winter were fast approaching. But Nicholas was convinced that this was the time, and he knew that if he waited any longer, he might not make it home again until spring–and the Spirit’s pull was too strong for that kind of delay.

So when he heard that a ship was expected to arrive any day now, one of the last of the season to sail through here on its way from Alexandria to Rome, he quickly arranged for passage. The ship was to arrive the next morning, and he knew he couldn’t miss it.

He had sent word, through a shopkeeper, to try to find his three best friends to let them know that he would be sailing in the morning. But as the night sky closed in, he had still not heard a word from them.

So he stood there on the beach alone, contemplating all that had taken place and all that had changed in his life since coming to the Holy Land–and all that was about to change as he left it. The thoughts filled him with excitement, anticipation and, to be honest, just a little bit of fear.

CHAPTER 13 (Back to Table of Contents)

Although Nicholas’ ship arrived the following morning just as expected, the children didn’t.

Later that afternoon, when the time came for him to board and the three still hadn’t shown up, Nicholas sadly resigned himself to the possibility that they just might miss each other entirely. He had started walking toward the ship when he felt a familiar tug at his sleeve.

“You a Christian?” came the voice once again, but this time with more depth as about four years were added to his life. It was Dimitri, of course. Nicholas turned on the spot and smiled his broadest smile.

“Am I a Christian? Without a doubt!” he said as he saw all three of them offering smiles to him in return. “And you?” he added, speaking to all three of them at once.

“Without a doubt!” they replied, almost in unison. It was the way they had spoken about their faith ever since their shared experience in Bethlehem, an experience when their doubts about God had faded away.

As Nicholas tried to take in all three of their faces just one more time, he wondered which was more difficult: to leave this precious land, or to leave these three precious youth whom he had met there. They all knew that God had called them together for a purpose, and they all trusted that God must now be calling them apart for another purpose, too, just as Nicholas had previously felt he was to move to Bethlehem and they were to continue their work taking pilgrims from city to city.

But just because they knew what God’s will was, it didn’t mean it was always easy to follow it. As Nicholas had often reminded them, tears were one of the strongest signs of love in the world. Without tears at the loss of those things that matter most, it would be hard to tell if those things really mattered at all.

A lack of tears wouldn’t be a problem today. Once again, Nicholas asked them all to hold out their right hands in front of them. As he reached into his pocket to find three of his largest coins to place into each of their outstretched hands, he found he wasn’t fast enough. Within an instant, all three children had wrapped their arms completely around Nicholas’ neck, his back and his waist, depending on their height. They all held on as tightly as possible, and as long as possible, before one of the ship’s crewmen signaled to Nicholas that the time had come.

As Nicholas gave each of them one last squeeze, he secretly slipped a coin into each of their pockets. Throughout their time together, Nicholas’ gifts had helped the children immeasurably. But it wasn’t Nicholas’ presents that blessed them so much as it was his presence–his willingness to spend so much time with them. Still, Nicholas wanted to give them a final blessing that they could discover later when he was gone, as he often did his best giving in secret.

Nicholas wasn’t sure whether to laugh or to cry at the thought of this final gift to them, so he did a little of both. Under his breath, he also offered a prayer of thanks for each of their lives, then bid them farewell, one by one. The children’s hugs were the perfect send-off as he stepped onto the ship and headed for home–not knowing that their hugs and kind words would also help to carry him through the dark days that he was about to face ahead.

CHAPTER 14 (Back to Table of Contents)

The wind whipped up as soon as Nicholas’ ship left the shore. The ship’s captain had hoped to get a head start on the coming storm, sailing for a few hours along the coast to the harbor in the next city before docking again for the night. It was always a longer trip to go around the edges of the Great Sea, docking in city after city along the way, instead of going directly across to their destination. But going straight across was also more perilous, especially at this time of year. So to beat the approaching winter, and the more quickly approaching storm, they wanted to gain as many hours as they could along the way.

Keeping on schedule, Nicholas found out, was more than just a matter of a captain wanting to make good on his contract with his clients. It was also soon to become a matter of life and death for the families of the crew on board, including the family of the captain. Nicholas found out that a famine had begun to spread across the empire, now affecting the crew’s home city back in Rome. The famine had begun in the countryside as rain had been sparse in the outlying areas, but now the shortages in the country were starting to deplete the reserves in Rome as well. Prices were rising and even families who could afford to pay for food were quickly depleting their resources to get it.

The ship’s captain was not a foolish man, having sailed on these seas for almost 30 years. But he also knew that the risk of holding back on their voyage at a time like this could mean they would be grounded for the rest of the winter. If that happened, his cargo of grain might perish by spring, as well as his family. So the ship pressed on.

It looked to Nicholas like they had made the right decision to set sail. He, too, felt under pressure to get this voyage underway, although it wasn’t family or cargo that motivated him. It was the Spirit of God Himself. He wouldn’t have been able to explain it to anyone except to those who had already experienced it. All he knew was that it was imperative that they start moving.

He had thought he might spend still more time in the Holy Land, perhaps even his entire life. It felt like home to him from the very beginning, as he had heard so many stories about it when he was growing up. He had little family waiting for him elsewhere, and up to this point, he was content to stay right where he was, except for the Spirit’s prompting that it was time to go.

The feeling started as a restlessness at first, a feeling that he was suddenly no longer content to stay where he was. He couldn’t trace the feeling to anything particular that was wrong with where he was, just that it was time to go. But where? Where did God want him to go? Did God have another site for him to see? Another part of the country in which he was supposed to live? Perhaps another country altogether that he was supposed to visit?

As the restlessness grew, his heart and his mind began to explore the options in more detail. He had found in the past that the best way to hear from God was to let go of his own will so that he could fully embrace God’s will, whatever that may be. While letting go was always hard for him, he knew that God would always lead him in the ways that were best. So, finally letting go of his own will, Nicholas began to see God’s will much more clearly in this situation as well. As much as he felt like the Holy Land was his new home, it wasn’t really his home. He felt strongly that the time had come for him to return to the region where he had been born, to the province of Lycia on the northern coast of the Sea. There was something, he felt, that God wanted him to do there–something for which he had been specifically equipped and called to do, and was, in fact, the reason that God had chosen for him to grow up there when he was young. Just as Nicholas had felt drawn to come to the Holy Land, he now felt drawn to return home.

To home he was headed, and to home he must go. That inner drive that he felt was as strong–if not stronger–than the drive that now motivated the ship’s captain and crew to get their cargo home, safe and sound, to their precious families.

Storm or no storm, they had to get home.

CHAPTER 15 (Back to Table of Contents)

Nicholas’ ship never made it to the next harbor along the coast. Instead, the storm they were trying to outrun had outrun them. It caught hold of their ship, pulling it away from the coast within the first few hours at sea. It kept pulling them further and further away from the coast until, three hours later, they found themselves inescapably caught in its torrents.

The crew had already lowered the sails, abandoning their attempts to force the rudder in the opposite direction. They now hoped that by going with the storm rather than against it they would have a better chance of keeping the ship in one piece. But this plan, too, seemed only to drive them into the deepest and most dangerous waters, keeping them near the eye of the storm itself.

After another three hours had passed, the sea sickness that had initially overcome their bodies was no longer a concern, as the fear of death itself was now overtaking all but the most resilient of those on board.

Nicholas, although he had traveled by ship before, was not among those considered to be most resilient. He had never experienced pounding waves like this before. And he wasn’t the only one. To a man, as the storm worsened, each began to speak of this as the worst storm they had ever seen.

The next morning, when the storm still hadn’t let up, and then again on the next morning and the next, and as the waves were still pounding them, they were all wondering why they had been in such a hurry to set out to beat the storm. Now they just hoped and prayed that God would let them live to see one more day, one more hour. As wave after wave pummeled the ship, Nicholas was simply praying they would make it through even one more wave.

His thoughts and prayers were filled with images of what it must have been like for the Apostle Paul, that follower of Christ who had sailed back and forth across the Great Sea several times in similar ships. It was on Paul’s last trip to Rome that he had landed in Myra, only miles from Nicholas’ hometown. Then, as Paul continued on from Myra to Rome, he faced the most violent storm he had ever faced at sea, a raging fury that lasted more than fourteen days and ended with his ship being blasted to bits by the waves as it ran aground on a sandbar, just off the coast of the island of Malta.

Nicholas prayed that their battle with the wind wouldn’t last for fourteen days. He didn’t know if they could make it through even one more day. He tried to think if there was anything that Paul had done to help himself and the 276 men who were on his ship with him to stay alive, even though their ship and its cargo were eventually destroyed. But as hard as he tried to think, all he could remember was that an angel had appeared to Paul on the night before they ran aground. The angel told Paul to take heart–that even though the ship would be destroyed, not one of the men aboard would perish. When Paul told the men about this angelic visit, they all took courage, as Paul was convinced that it would happen just as the angel said it would. And it did.

But for Nicholas, no such angel had appeared. No outcome from heaven had been predicted and no guidance had come about what they should or shouldn’t do. All he felt was that inner compulsion that he had felt before they departed–that they needed to get home as soon as they could.

Not knowing what else to do, Nicholas recalled a phrase of his father’s: “standing orders are good orders.” If a soldier wasn’t sure what to do next, even if the battle around him seemed to change directions, if the commanding officer hadn’t changed the orders, then the soldier was to carry on with the most recent orders given. Standing orders are good orders. It was this piece of wisdom from his father, more than any other thought, that guided Nicholas and gave him the courage to do what he did next.

CHAPTER 16 (Back to Table of Contents)

When the storm seemed to be at its worst, Nicholas’ thoughts turned to the children he had just left. His thoughts of them didn’t fill him with sadness, but with hope.

He began to take courage from the stories they had all learned about how Jesus had calmed the storm, how Moses had split the Red Sea and how Joshua had made the Jordan River stop flowing. Nicholas and the children had often tried to imagine what it must have been like to be able to exercise control over the elements like that. Nicholas had even, on occasion, tried to do some of these things himself, right along with Dimitri, Samuel and Ruthie. When it rained, they lifted their hands and prayed to try to stop the rain from coming down. But it just kept raining on their heads. When they got to the Sea of Galilee, they tried to walk on top of the water, just like Jesus did–and even Peter did, if only for a few short moments. But Nicholas and the children assumed they must not have had enough faith or strength or whatever it might have taken for them to do such things.

As another wave crashed over the side of the ship on which Nicholas was now standing, he realized there was a common thread that ran through each of these stories. Maybe it wasn’t their faith that was the problem after all, but God’s timing. In each instance from the stories he could remember, God didn’t allow those miracles on a whim, just for the entertainment of the people who were trying to do them. God allowed them because God had places for them to go, people they needed to see and lives that needed to be spared. There was an urgency in each situation that required the people to accomplish not only what was on their heart, but what was on God’s heart as well.

It seemed that the miracles were provided not because of their attempts to try to reorder God’s world, but in God’s attempts to try to reorder their worlds. It seemed to Nicholas that it must be a combination of their prayers of faith, plus God’s divine will, that caused a spark between heaven and earth, ignited by their two wills working together, that burst into a power that could move mountains.

When Jesus needed to get across the lake, but His disciples had already taken off in the boat, He was able to ignite by faith the process that allowed Him to walk on water, and thereafter calm the storm that threatened to take their lives when He finally did catch up to them.

“Standing orders are good orders,” Nicholas recalled, and he believed with all his heart that if God hadn’t changed His orders, then somehow they needed to do whatever they could to get to the other side of the Sea. But it wasn’t enough for God to will it. God was looking for someone willing, here on earth to will it, too, thereby completing the divine connection and causing the miracle to burst forth. Like Moses when he lifted his staff into the air or Joshua’s priests who took the first steps into the Jordan River, God needed someone to agree with Him in faith that what He had willed to happen in heaven should happen here on earth. God had already told Nicholas what needed to happen. Now it was up to Nicholas to complete the divine connection.

“Men!” Nicholas yelled to get the crew’s attention. “The God whom I serve, and who Has given each one of us life, wants us to reach our destination even more than we want to reach it. We must agree in faith, here and now, that God not only can do it, but that He wills us to do it. If you love God, or even if you think you might want to love God, I want you to pray along with me, that we will indeed reach our destination, and that nothing will stand in the way of our journey!”

As soon as Nicholas had spoken these words, the unthinkable happened: not only did the wind not stop, but it picked up speed! Nicholas faltered for a moment as if he had made some sort of cosmic mistake, some sort of miscalculation about the way God worked and what God wanted him to do. But then he noticed that even though the wind had picked up speed, it had also shifted directions, ever so slightly, but in such a distinct and noticeable way that God had gotten the attention of every man on board. Now, instead of being pounded by the waves from both sides, they were sailing straight through them, as if a channel had been cut into the waves themselves. The ship was driven along like this, not only for the next several moments, but for the next several hours.

When the speed and direction of the ship continued to hold its steady but impressively fast course, the captain of the ship came to Nicholas. He said he had never seen anything like this in his whole life. It was as if an invisible hand was holding the rudder of the ship, steady and straight, even though the ropes that held the rudder were completely unmanned, as they had been abandoned long ago when the winds first reached gale force.

Nicholas knew, too–even though he was certainly not as well seasoned as the captain–that this was not a normal phenomenon on the seas. He felt something supernatural taking control the moment he first stood up to speak to the men, and he felt it still as they continued on their path straight ahead.

What lay before them he didn’t know. But what he did know was that the One who had brought them this far was not going to take His hand off that rudder until His mission was accomplished.

CHAPTER 17 (Back to Table of Contents)

The storm that they thought was going to take their lives turned out to be the storm that saved many more. Rather than going the long way around the sea, following the coastline in the process, the storm had driven them straight across it, straight into the most dangerous path that they never would have attempted on their own at that time of year.

When they sighted land early on the morning of the fifth day, they recognized it clearly. It was the city of Myra, just a few miles away from Nicholas’ hometown, and the same city where the Apostle Paul had changed ships on his famous journey to Rome.

It was close enough to home that Nicholas knew in his heart that he was about to land in the exact spot where God wanted him to be. God, without a doubt, had spared his life for a purpose, a purpose which would now begin the next chapter of his life.

As they sailed closer to the beach, they could see that the storm that raged at sea had hardly been felt on shore.

The rains that had flooded their ship for the past several days, and that should have been watering the land as well, hadn’t made it inland for several months. The drought that the captain and sailors had told him had come to Rome had already been here in Lycia for two and a half years. The cumulative effect was that the crops that were intended to supply their reserves for the coming winter and for next year’s seed had already been depleted. If the people of Lycia didn’t get grain to eat now, many would never make it through the winter, and still more would die the following spring, as they wouldn’t have seed to plant another crop. This ship was one of the last that had made it out of the fertile valleys of Egypt before the winter, and its arrival at this moment in time was like a miracle in the eyes of the people. It was certainly an answer to their prayers.

But that answer wasn’t so clear to the captain of the ship. He had been under strict orders from the keeper of the Imperial storehouses in Rome that not one kernel of grain could be missing when the ship arrived back in Rome. The ship had been weighed in Alexandria before it left Egypt and it would be weighed again in Rome–and the captain would be held personally responsible for any discrepancy. The famine had put increasing pressure on the emperor to bring any kind of relief to the people. Not only this, but the families of the captain and crew themselves were awaiting the arrival of this food. Their jobs, and the lives of their families, relied on the safe delivery of every bit of grain aboard.

Yet without the faith and encouragement of Nicholas, the captain knew that the ship and its cargo would have been lost at sea, along with all of their lives.

While it was clear to Nicholas that God had brought him back to his homeland, he too wasn’t entirely certain what to do about the grain. While it seemed that giving at least some of the grain to the people of Myra was in order, Nicholas still tried to see it from God’s perspective. Was this city, or any other city throughout the empire, any more in need of the grain than Rome, which had bought and paid for it to be delivered? But it also seemed to Nicholas that the ship had been driven specifically to this particular city, in a straight and steady line through the towering waves.

The whole debate of what they were to do next took place within just a matter of minutes of their arrival on shore. And Nicholas and the captain had little time to think through what they were going to do, as the people of the city were already running out to see the ship for themselves, having been amazed at the way God had seemingly brought it to their famished port. They were gathering in larger and larger numbers to welcome the boat, and giving thanks and praise to God at the same time.

Both Nicholas and the captain knew that only God Himself could answer their dilemma. The two of them, along with the rest of the crew, had already agreed the night before–as they were so steadily and swiftly being carried along through the water–that the first thing they would do when they arrived on shore was to go to the nearest church and give thanks to God for His deliverance. Upon seeing where they had landed, Nicholas knew exactly where they could find that church. It was one that his family had visited from time to time as they traveled between these twin cities of Patara and Myra. Telling the people that their first order of duty was to give thanks to God for their safe passage, Nicholas and the captain and his crew headed to the church in Myra.

As they made their way across the city and up into the hills that cradled the church, they had no idea that the priests inside its walls had already been doing battle with a storm of their own.

PART 4

Listen to Part 4 here (30 minutes, including Chapters 18-24)

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

You’re reading ST. NICHOLAS: THE BELIEVER, by Eric and Lana Elder, a new story for Christmas based on the old story of St. Nicholas. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

CHAPTER 18 (Back to Table of Contents)

Nicholas’ next step in life was about to be determined by a dream. But it wasn’t a dream that Nicholas had conceived–it was a dream that God had conceived and had put in the mind of a man, a priest in the city of Myra.

In the weeks leading up to Nicholas’ arrival in Myra, a tragedy had befallen the church there. Their aging bishop, the head of their church, had died. The tragedy that had fallen upon the church wasn’t the bishop’s death, for he had lived a long and fruitful life and had simply succumbed to the effects of old age. The tragedy arose out of the debate that ensued regarding who should take his place as the next bishop.

While it would seem that such things could be resolved amicably, especially within a church, when people’s hearts are involved, their loyalties and personal desires can sometimes muddy their thoughts so much that they can’t see what God’s will is in a particular situation. It can be hard for anyone, even for people of faith, to keep their minds free from preconceived ideas and personal preferences regarding what God may, or may not, want to do at any given time.

This debate was the storm that had been brewing for a week now, and which had reached its apex the night before Nicholas’ arrival.

That night one of the priests had a dream that startled him awake. In his dream he saw a man whom he had never seen before who was clearly to take up the responsibilities of their dearly departed bishop. When he woke from his dream, he remembered nothing about what the man looked like, but only remembered his name: Nicholas.

“Nicholas?” asked one of the other priests when he heard his fellow priest’s dream. “None of us have ever gone by that name, nor is there anyone in the whole city by that name.”

Nicholas was, to be sure, not a popular name at the time. It was only mentioned once in passing in one of Luke’s writings about the early church, along with other names which were just as uncommon in those days in Myra like Procorus, Nicanor, Timon and Parmenas. It seemed ridiculous to the other priests that this dream could possibly be from God. But the old priest reminded them, “Even the name of Jesus was given to His father by an angel in a dream.”

Perhaps it was this testimony from the gospels, or perhaps it was the unlikelihood that it would ever happen, that the priests all agreed that they would strongly consider the next person who walked through their door who answered to the name of Nicholas. It would certainly help to break the deadlock in which they found themselves.

What a surprise then, when they opened their doors for their morning prayers, when an entire shipload of men started to stream into the church!

The priests greeted each of the men at the door as they entered, welcoming them into the church. The last two to enter were the captain and Nicholas, as they had allowed all of the others to enter first. The captain thanked the priests for opening their doors to them for their morning prayers, then turned to Nicholas and said, “And thanks to Nicholas for having this brilliant idea to come here today.”

The astonished priests looked at one another in disbelief. Perhaps God had answered their prayers after all.

CHAPTER 19 (Back to Table of Contents)

The captain’s concern about what to do with the grain on his ship dissipated when they arrived at the church as fast as the storm had dissipated when they arrived on shore.

Within moments of beginning their morning prayers, he was convinced that it could only have been the mighty hand of God that had held their rudder straight and true. He knew now for sure he wanted to make an offering of the grain to the people who lived there. God spoke to him about both the plan and the amount. It was as if the captain were playing the role of Abraham in the old, old story when Abraham offered a portion of his riches to Melchizedek the priest.

The captain was willing to take his chances with his superiors in Rome rather than take any chances with the God who had delivered them all. He knew that without God’s guidance and direction so far on this journey, neither he nor his men nor the ship nor its grain would have ever made it to Rome at all.

When the captain stood up from his prayers, he quickly found Nicholas to share the answer with him as well. Nicholas agreed both to the plan and to the amount. The captain asked, “Do you think it will be enough for all these people?”

Nicholas replied, “Jesus was able to feed 5,000 people with just five loaves of bread and two fishand what you want to give to this city is much more than what Jesus had to start with!”

“How did He do it?” asked the captainalmost to himself as much as to Nicholas.

“All I know,” answered Nicholas, “is that He looked up to heaven, gave thanks and began passing out the food with His disciples. In the end everyone was satisfied and they still had twelve baskets full of food left over!”

“That’s exactly what we’ll do then, too,” said the captain.

And the story would be told for years to come how the captain of the ship looked up to heaven, gave thanks and began passing out the grain with his crew. It was enough to satisfy the people of that city for two whole years and to plant and reap even more in the third year.

As the priests said goodbye to the captain and crew, they asked Nicholas if he would be able to stay behind for a time. The winds of confusion that had whipped up and then subsided inside the captain’s mind were about to pale in comparison to the storm that was about to break open inside the mind of Nicholas.

CHAPTER 20 (Back to Table of Contents)

When the priests told Nicholas about their dream and that he just might be the answer to their prayers, Nicholas was dumbfounded and amazed, excited and perplexed. He had often longed to be used by God in a powerful way, and it was unmistakable that God had already brought him straight across the Great Sea to this very spot at this very hour!

But to become a priest, let alone a bishop, would be a decision that would last a lifetime. He had oftentimes considered taking up his earthly father’s business. His father had been highly successful at it, and Nicholas felt he could do the same. But even more important to him than doing the work of his father was to have a family like his father.

Nicholas’ memories of his parents were so fond that he longed to create more memories of his own with a family of his own. The custom of all the priests Nicholas knew, however, was to abstain from marriage and child-bearing so they could more fully devote themselves to the needs of the community around them.

Nicholas pulled back mentally at the thought of having to give up his desire for a family of his own. It wasn’t that having a family was a conscious dream that often filled his thoughts, but it was one of those assumptions in the back of his mind that he took for granted would come at some point in his future.

The shock of having to give up on the idea of a family, even before he had fully considered having one yet, was like a jolt to his system. Following God’s will shouldn’t be so difficult, he thought! But he had learned from his parents that laying down your will for the sake of God’s will wasn’t always so easy, another lesson they had learned from Jesus.

So just because it was a difficult decision wasn’t enough to rule it out. An image also floated through his mind of those three smiling faces he had met when he first landed in the Holy Land, with their heads bowed down and their hands outstretched. Hadn’t they seemed like family to him? And weren’t there hundredseven thousandsof children just like them, children who had no family of their own, no one to care for them, no one to look after their needs?

And weren’t there countless others in the worldwidows and widowers and those who had families in name but not in their actual relationshipswho still needed the strength and encouragement and sense of family around them? And weren’t there still other families as well, like Nicholas and his parents, who had been happy on their own but found additional happiness when they came together as the family of believers in their city? Giving up on the idea of a family of his own didn’t mean he had to give up on the idea of having a family altogether. In fact, it may even be possible that he could have an even larger “family” in this way.

The more Nicholas thought about what he might give up in order to serve God in the church, the more he thought about how God might use this new position in ways that went beyond Nicholas’ own thoughts and desires. And if God was indeed in this decision, perhaps it had its own special rewards in the end.

The fury of the storm that swept through his mind began to abate. In its place, God’s peace began to flow over both his mind and his heart. Nicholas recognized this as the peace of God’s divine will being clearly revealed to him. It only took another moment for Nicholas to know what his answer would be.

The storms that had once seemed so threatening–whether the storm at sea or the storm in the church or the storms in the minds of both the captain and Nicholas–now turned out to be blessings of God instead. They were blessings that proved to Nicholas once again that no matter what happened, God really could work all things for good for those who loved Him and who were called according to His purpose.

Yes, if the priests would have him, Nicholas would become the next bishop of Myra.

CHAPTER 21 (Back to Table of Contents)

Nicholas didn’t suddenly become another man when he became a bishop. He became a bishop because of the man he already was. As he had done before with his father so many years earlier, Nicholas continued to do now, here in the city of Myra and the surrounding towns: walking and praying and asking God where he could be of most help.

It was on one of these prayerful walks that Nicholas met Anna Maria. She was a beautiful girl only eleven years old, but her beauty was disguised to most others by the poverty she wore. Nicholas found her one day trying to sell flowers that she had made out of braided blades of grass. But the beauty of the flowers also seemed to be disguised to everyone but Nicholas, for no one would buy her simple creations.

As Nicholas stepped towards her, she reminded him instantly of little Ruthie, whom he had left behind in the Holy Land, with the golden flowers in her hand on the hillsides of Bethlehem.

When he stopped for a closer look, God spoke to his heart. It seemed to Nicholas that this must have been what Moses felt when he stopped to look at the burning bush in the desert, a moment when his natural curiosity turned into a supernatural encounter with the Living God.

“Your flowers are beautiful,” said Nicholas. “May I hold one?”

The young girl handed him one of her creations. As he looked at it, he looked at her. The beauty he saw in both the flower and the girl was stunning. Somehow Nicholas had the ability to see what others could not see, or did not see, as Nicholas always tried to see people and things and life the way God saw them, as if God were looking through his eyes.

“I’d like to buy this one, if I could,” he said.

Delighted, she smiled for the first time. She told him the price, and he gave her a coin.

“Tell me,” said Nicholas, “what will you do with the money you make from selling these beautiful flowers?”

What Nicholas heard next broke his heart.

Anna Maria was the youngest of three sisters: Sophia, Cecilia and Anna Maria. Although their father loved them deeply, he had been plunged into despair when his once-successful business had failed, and then his wife passed away shortly thereafter. Lacking the strength and the resources to pick himself up out of the darkness, the situation for his family grew bleaker and bleaker.

Anna Maria’s oldest sister, Sophia, had just turned 18, and she turned a number of heads as well. But no one would marry her because her father had no dowry to offer to any potential suitor. And with no dowry, there was little likelihood that she, nor any of the three girls, would ever be married.

The choices facing their father were grim. He knew he must act soon or risk the possibility of Cecilia and Anna Maria never getting married in the future, either. With no way to raise a suitable dowry for her, and being too proud to take charity from others, even if someone had had the funds to offer to him, her father was about to do the unthinkable: he was going to sell his oldest daughter into slavery to help make ends meet.

How their father could think this was the best solution available to him, Nicholas couldn’t imagine. But he also knew that desperation often impaired even the best-intentioned men. By sacrificing his oldest daughter in this way, the father reasoned that perhaps he could somehow spare the younger two from a similar fate.

Anna Maria, for her part, had come up with the idea of making and selling flowers as a way to spare her sister from this fate that was to her worse than death. Nicholas held back his tears out of respect for Anna Maria and the noble effort she was making to save her sister.

He also refrained from buying Anna Maria’s whole basket of flowers right there on the spot, for Nicholas knew it would take more than a basket full of flowers to save Sophia. It would take a miracle. And as God spoke to his heart that day, Nicholas knew that God just might use him to deliver it.

CHAPTER 22 (Back to Table of Contents)

Without show and without fanfare, Nicholas offered a prayer for Anna Maria, along with his thanks for the flower, and encouraged her to keep doing what she could to help her family–and to keep trusting in God to do what she couldn’t.

Nicholas knew he could help this family. He knew he had the resources to make a difference in their lives, for he still had a great deal of his parents’ wealth hidden in the cliffs near the coast for occasions such as this. But he also knew that Anna Maria’s proud father would never accept charity from any man, even at this bleakest hour.

Her father’s humiliation at losing his business, along with his own personal loss, had blinded him to the reality of what was about to happen to his daughter. Nicholas wanted to help, but how? How could he step into the situation without further humiliating Anna Maria’s father, possibly causing him to refuse the very help that Nicholas could extend to him. Nicholas did what he always did when he needed wisdom. He prayed. And before the day was out, he had his answer.

Nicholas put his plan into action–and none too soon! It just so happened that the next day was the day when Sophia’s fate would be sealed.

Taking a fair amount of gold coins from his savings, Nicholas placed them into a small bag. It was small enough to fit in one hand, but heavy enough to be sure that it would adequately supply the need.

Hiding under the cover of night, he crossed the city of Myra to the home where Anna Maria, her father and her two older sisters lived.

He could hear them talking inside as he quietly approached the house. Their mood was understandably downcast as they discussed what they thought was their inevitable next step. They asked God to give them the strength to do whatever they needed to do.

For years, Sophia and her sisters had dreamed of the day when they would each meet the man of their dreams. They had even written love songs to these men, trusting that God would bring each of them the perfect man at the perfect time.

Now it seemed like all their songs, all their prayers and all their dreams had been in vain. Sophia wasn’t the only one who felt the impact of this new reality, for her two younger sisters knew that the same fate might one day await each of them.

The girls wanted to trust God, but no matter how hard they thought about their situation, each of them felt like their dreams were about to be shattered.

At Anna Maria’s prompting, they tried to sing their favorite love song one more time, but their sadness simply deepened at the words. It was no longer a song of hope, but a song of despair, and the words now seemed so impossible to them.

It was not just a song, but a prayer, and one of the deepest prayers Nicholas had ever heard uttered by human tongue. His heart went out to each of them, while at the same time it pounded with fear. He had a plan, and he hoped it would work, but he had no way of knowing for sure. He wasn’t worried about what might happen to him if he were discovered, but he was worried that their father would reject his gift if he knew where it had come from. That would certainly seal the girls’ doom. As Sophia and Cecilia and Anna Maria said their goodnights–and their father had put out the lights–Nicholas knew that his time had come.

Inching closer to the open window of the room where they had been singing, Nicholas bent down low to his knees. He lobbed the bag of coins into the air and through the window. It arced gracefully above him and seemed to hang in the air for a moment before landing with a soft thud in the center of the room. A few coins bounced loose, clinking faintly on the ground, rolling and then coming to a stop. Nicholas turned quickly and hid in the darkness nearby as the girls and their father awoke at the sound.

They called out to see if anyone was there, but when they heard no answer, they entered the room from both directions. As their father lit the light, Anna Maria was the first to see it–and gasped.

There, in the center of the room, lay a small round bag, shimmering with golden coins at the top. The girls gathered around their father as he carefully picked up the bag and opened it.

It was more than enough gold to provide a suitable dowry for Sophia, with more to spare to take care of the rest of the family for some time to come!

But where could such a gift have come from? The girls were sure it had come from God Himself in answer to their prayers! But their father wanted to know more. Who had God used to deliver it? Certainly no one they knew. He sprinted out of the house, followed by his daughters, to see if he could find any trace of the deliverer, but none could be found.

Returning back inside, and with no one to return the money to, the girls and their father got down on their knees and thanked God for His deliverance.

As Nicholas listened in the darkness, he too gave thanks to God, for this was the very thing Nicholas hoped they would do. He knew that the gift truly was from God, provided by God and given through Nicholas by God’s prompting in answer to their prayers. Nicholas had only given to them what God had given to him in the first place. Nicholas neither wanted nor needed any thanks nor recognition for the gift. God alone deserved their praise.

But by allowing Nicholas to be involved, using Nicholas’ own hands and his own inheritance to bless others, Nicholas felt a joy that he could hardly contain. By delivering the gift himself, Nicholas was able to ensure that the gift was properly given. And by giving the gift anonymously, he was able to ensure that the true Giver of the gift was properly credited.

The gift was delivered and God got the credit. Nicholas had achieved both of his goals.

CHAPTER 23 (Back to Table of Contents)

While Nicholas preferred to do his acts of goodwill in secret, there were times when, out of sheer necessity, he had to act in broad daylight. And while it was his secret acts that gained him favor with God, it was his public acts that gained him favor with men.

Many people rightly appreciate a knight in shining armor, but not everyone wants to be rescued from evil–especially those who profit from it.

One such man was a magistrate in Myra, a leader in the city who disliked Nicholas intensely–or anyone who stood in the way of what he wanted.

This particular magistrate was both corrupt and corruptible. He was willing to do anything to get what he wanted, no matter what it cost to others. Although Nicholas had already been at odds with him several times in the past, their conflict escalated to a boiling point when news reached Nicholas that the magistrate had sentenced three men to death–for a crime Nicholas was sure they did not commit. Nicholas couldn’t wait this time for the cover of darkness. He knew he needed to act immediately to save these men from death.

Nicholas had been entertaining some generals from Rome that afternoon whose ship had docked in Myra’s port the night before. Nicholas had invited the generals to his home to hear news about some changes that had been taking place in Rome. A new emperor was about to take power, they said, and the implications might be serious for Nicholas and his flock of Christ-followers.

It was during their luncheon that Nicholas heard about the unjust sentencing and the impending execution. Immediately he set out for the site where the execution was to take place. The three generals, sensing more trouble might ensue once Nicholas arrived, set out after him.

When Nicholas burst onto the execution site, the condemned men were already on the platform. They were bound and bent over with their heads and necks ready for the executioner’s sword.

Without a thought for his own safety, Nicholas leapt onto the platform and tore the sword from the executioner’s hands. Although Nicholas was not a fighter himself, Nicholas made his move so unexpectedly that the executioner made little attempt to try to wrestle the sword back out of the bishop’s hands.

Nicholas knew these men were as innocent as the magistrate was guilty. He was certain that it must have been the men’s good deeds, not their bad ones, that had offended the magistrate. Nicholas untied the ropes of the innocent men in full view of the onlookers, defying both the executioner and the magistrate.

The magistrate came forward to face Nicholas squarely. But as he did so, the three generals who had been having lunch with Nicholas also stepped forward. One took his place on Nicholas’ left, another on Nicholas’ right and the third stood directly in front of him. Prudently, the magistrate took a step back. Nicholas knew that this was the time to press the magistrate for the truth.

Although the magistrate tried to defend himself, his pleas of fell on deaf ears. No one would believe his lies anymore. He tried to convince the people that it was not he who wanted to condemn these innocent men, but two other businessmen in town who had given him a bribe in order to have these men condemned. But by trying to shift the blame to others, the magistrate condemned himself for the greed that was in his heart.

Nicholas declared: “It seems that it was not these two men who have corrupted you, sir, but two others–whose names are Gold and Silver!”

Cut to the quick, the magistrate broke down and made a full confession in front of all the people for this and for all the other wrongs he had done, even for speaking ill of Nicholas, who had done nothing but good for the people. Nicholas set more than three prisoners free that day, as even the magistrate was finally set free from his greed by his honest confession. Seeing the heartfelt change in the magistrate, Nicholas pardoned him, forever winning the magistrate’s favor–and the people’s favor–from that moment on.

When Nicholas was born, his parents had named him Nicholas, which means in Greek “the people’s victor.” Through acts like these, Nicholas became “the people’s victor” both in name and in deed.

Nicholas was already becoming an icon–even in his own time.

CHAPTER 24 (Back to Table of Contents)

Within three months of receiving her unexpected dowry from Nicholas, Sophia had received a visit from a suitor–one who “suited her” just fine. He truly was the answer to her prayers, and she was thankfully, happily and finally married.

Two years later, however, Sophia’s younger sister Cecilia found herself in dire straights as well. Although Cecilia was ready to be married now, her father’s business had not improved, no matter how hard he tried. As the money that Nicholas had given to the family began to run out, their despair began to set in. Pride and sorrow had once again blinded Cecilia’s father to the truth, and he felt his only option was to commit Cecilia to a life of slavery, hoping to save his third and final daughter from a similar fate.

While they were confident that God had answered their prayers once, their circumstances had caused them to doubt that He could do it again. A second rescue at this point was more than they could have asked for or imagined.

Nicholas, however, knowing their situation by this time much more intimately, knew that God was prompting him again to intercede. It had been two years since his earlier rescue, but in all that time the family never suspected nor discovered that he was the deliverer of God’s gift.

As the time came closer to a decision on what they should do next, Nicholas knew his time to act had come as well. And in order to make it clear that his gift was to be used first and foremost for Cecilia’s dowry, and then after that for any other needs the family might have, he waited until the night before she was to be sold into slavery to make his move.

Once again waiting for the cover of darkness, Nicholas approached their house. Cecilia and Anna Maria had already gone to bed early that night, sent there by their father who had told them not to expect any similar miracle to what happened for Sophia. But somewhere in the depths of his despair, their father still had a glimmer of hope in his heart, a wish perhaps, more than anything else, that Someone really was watching out for him and that his prayers just might still be answered. With that hope, he decided to stay awake and stay close to the window, just in case some angel did appear–whether an earthly one or a heavenly one.

Nicholas knew this might happen, and he knew that Cecilia’s father might still reject his gift if he found out that Nicholas had given it. But he also hoped that perhaps her father’s proud heart had softened a bit and he would accept the gift even if Nicholas was discovered.

Seeing that the house was perfectly quiet, Nicholas knelt down beside the open window. He tossed the second bag of gold into the room.

The bag had barely hit the ground when the girls’ father leapt out of the window through which it had come and overtook Nicholas as he tried to flee. You might have thought that Nicholas had taken a bag of gold rather than given a bag of gold the way the girls’ father chased him down!

Fearing that all his efforts had been wasted, Nicholas’ heart was eased as the man didn’t rebuke Nicholas but thanked him without even looking at who he had caught.

“Please hear me out,” he said. “I just want to thank you. You’ve done so much already for me and my family that I couldn’t have expected such a gift again. But your generosity has opened my eyes to the pride in my heart–a pride that almost cost me the lives of two daughters now.”

The girls’ father had spoken both breathlessly and quickly to be sure that the stranger would hear him before trying to escape again. But when he looked up to see who he was talking to–Nicholas the priest–the shock on their father’s face was evident. How could a priest afford to give such an incredible gift?

In answer to this unasked question, Nicholas spoke: “Yes, it was I who delivered this gift to you, but it was God who gave it to me to give to you. It is not from the church and not from the charity of my own hand. It came from my father who earned it fairly by the work of his hands. He was a businessman like you. And if he were alive today, he would have wanted to give it to you himself. I’m sure of it. He, of all people, knew how difficult it was to run a business, just as you do. He also loved his family, just as you do, too.”

Nicholas paused to let his words sink in, then continued, “But please, for my sake and for God’s sake, please know that it was God Himself who has answered your prayers–for He has. I am simply a messenger for Him, a deliverer, a tool in His hands, allowing Him to do through me what I know He wants done. As for me, I prefer to do my giving in secret, not even letting my right hand know what my left hand is doing.”

The look on Nicholas’ face was so sincere and he conveyed his intentions with such love and devotion for the One whom he served, that the girls’ father could not help but to accept Nicholas’ gift as if it had truly come from the hand of God Himself.

But as they said their goodbyes, the girls and their father could hardly contain their thankfulness to Nicholas, too, for letting God use him in such a remarkable way.

As much as Nicholas tried to deflect their praise back to God, he also knew he did have a role to play in their lives. Although God prompts many to be generous in their hearts, not everyone responds to those promptings as Nicholas did.

Nicholas would wait to see how the family fared over the next few years to see if they would need any help for Anna Maria, too.

But Nicholas never got the chance. The new emperor had finally come into power, and the course of Nicholas’ life was about to change again. Even though Nicholas often came to the rescue of others, there were times when, like the Savior he followed, it seemed he was unable to rescue himself.

PART 5

Listen to Part 5 here (25-1/2 minutes, including Chapters 25-30)

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

You’re reading ST. NICHOLAS: THE BELIEVER, by Eric and Lana Elder, a new story for Christmas based on the old story of St. Nicholas. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

CHAPTER 25 (Back to Table of Contents)

Back when Jesus was born, there was a king who felt so threatened by this little baby boy that he gave orders to kill every boy in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under. Three hundred and three years later, another king felt just as threatened by Jesus, as well as his followers.

This new king’s name was Diocletian, and he was the emperor of the entire Roman Empire. Even though the Romans had killed Jesus hundreds of years earlier, Diocletian still felt threatened by the Christians who followed Jesus. Diocletian declared himself to be a god and he wanted all the people in his empire to worship him.

Although Christians were among the most law-abiding citizens in the land, they simply couldn’t worship Diocletian. He considered this an act of insurrection, an act which must be quenched in the strongest way possible. By the time Diocletian had finally risen to his full power, he ordered that all Bibles be burned, that Christian churches be destroyed and that those who followed Christ be imprisoned, tortured and put to death.

While persecution against Christians had been taking place for many years under Roman rule, none of those persecutions compared to that which took place during the reign of Diocletian. Nicholas, for his part, didn’t fear Diocletian, but as always, he feared for those in his church who followed Jesus.

Having such a visible role in the church, Nicholas knew that he would be targeted first, and if he were taken away, he feared for what would happen to those who would be left behind. But Nicholas had already made his decision. He knew that even if he was killed he could trust God that God could still accomplish His purpose on earth whether Nicholas were a part of that or not. It was this foundational faith and trust in God and His purposes that would help Nicholas through the difficult years ahead.

Rather than retreat into hiding from the certain fate that awaited him, Nicholas chose to stand his ground to the end. He vowed to keep the doors to his church wide open for all who wanted to come in. And he kept that vow for as long as he could until one day when those who came in were soldiers–soldiers who had come for him.

CHAPTER 26 (Back to Table of Contents)

Nicholas was ready when the soldiers arrived. He knew that his time for second-guessing his decision to keep the church open was over. Unfortunately, the days for his church were over, too, as the soldiers shut the doors for good when they left.

For all the goodwill that Nicholas had built up with people in his town over the years, even with the local soldiers, these were no local soldiers who came for Nicholas. Diocletian had sent them with demands that his orders be carried out unquestioningly, and that those who didn’t carry them out would suffer the same fate as those who were to be punished.

Nicholas was given one last chance to renounce his faith in Christ and worship Diocletian instead, but Nicholas, of course, refused. It wasn’t that he wanted to defy Roman authority, for Christ Himself taught His followers that it was important to honor those in authority and to honor their laws. But to deny that Jesus was His Lord and Savior would have been like trying to deny that the sun had risen that morning! He simply couldn’t do it. How could he deny the existence of the One who had given him life, who had given him faith and who had given him hope in the darkest hours of his life. If the soldiers had to take him away, so be it. To say that a mere man like Diocletian was God, and that Jesus was anything less than God, was unconscionable.

For all his faith, Nicholas was still subject to the same sensations of pain that every human being experiences. His strong faith did not exempt him from the natural fear that others feel when they are threatened with bodily harm. He also feared the idea of imprisonment, having to be isolated from others for so long, especially when he didn’t know how long his imprisonment might last–or if he would survive it at all.

Nicholas knew that these fears were healthy, given to him by God, to keep out any danger and to protect him from anything that might possibly harm his body. But right now, as Nicholas was being forcefully taken away, he wished he could suppress those fears.

“God, help me,” he called out as the shackles that the soldiers were putting on his wrists cut into them. This was the beginning of a new kind of pilgrimage for Nicholas–a pilgrimage that would last far longer than his years in the Holy Land.

It would be hard to compare these two journeys in terms of their impact on his life, for how could you compare a journey freely taken, where you could come and go as you please and stop the journey at any time, with a journey that was forced upon you against your will, where even venturing out to catch a glimpse of the sun was under someone else’s control and not yours?

Yet Nicholas found that he was able to sense the presence of God in a way that equalled, if not surpassed, all that he had experienced in the Holy Land. As he had learned from other believers, sometimes you don’t realize that Jesus is all you need until Jesus is all you have.

Over the course of his imprisonment, whenever the door to Nicholas’ prison cell opened, he didn’t know if the guards were there to set him free or to sentence him to death. He never knew if any given day might be his last. But the byproduct of this uncertainty was that Nicholas received a keen awareness of the brevity of life, as well as a continual awareness of the presence of God.

Nicholas found that by closing his eyes he could sense God’s presence in a way he had never sensed it before. This cell wasn’t a prison–it was a sanctuary. And all Nicholas wanted to do was to stay in God’s presence as long as he could. Soon, Nicholas didn’t even have to close his eyes. He simply knew that he was always in the presence of God.

Of course, his time in prison was also filled with the stinging pain of the worst kind of hell on earth. The soldiers were relentless in their attempts to get Nicholas to renounce his faith. The pain they inflicted ranged from prodding him with hot branding irons and squeezing his flesh with hot pincers to whipping him severely, then pouring salt and vinegar in his wounds. As a result, his back was permanently scarred. The unsanitary conditions of the prison caused Nicholas to experience more kinds of sickness than he had ever experienced before. At times he even wondered if death might be better than what he had to endure there.

It was during one of those times, the darkest perhaps, of the five years he had spent so far in prison, that the door to his cell opened. A light streamed in, but as he looked at it closely, it wasn’t the light of the sun, for as far as Nicholas could tell in his isolated cell, it was still just the middle of the night.

The light that entered the room was the light of a smile, a smile on the face of Nicholas’ young friend, now grown to be a man. It was the light of the smiling face of Dimitri.

CHAPTER 27 (Back to Table of Contents)

Nicholas had seen few faces in his time in prison, and fewer still that gave him any kind of encouragement. To see a smile on someone’s face, let alone a face that Nicholas loved so much, was pure joy.

It hadn’t been easy for Dimitri to find Nicholas. Dimitri had come to Myra knowing that Nicholas had taken a church there. But it had been years since Dimitri had heard from his friend, a time in which Dimitri himself had been imprisoned. Having only recently been set free, Dimitri made his way across the Great Sea in search of Nicholas. Dimitri had to search hard to find Nicholas, but Dimitri had come too far to give up without seeing his old friend and mentor, the first person who had shown him the love of Christ.

Using the street-smarts that he had acquired as a guide in the Holy Land, Dimitri was able to navigate his way through or around most anyone or anything that stood in his way. Dimitri’s tenacity, plus the hand of God’s guidance, helped Dimitri to find his friend, and to find this door which he opened that night for this special visit. It was a visit that, to Nicholas, seemed like a visit by an angel from heaven.

After the door closed behind them, and after an extended embrace, Dimitri sat down on the floor next to Nicholas. They sat in silence for several minutes, neither of them having to say a word. In holy moments like these, words were unnecessary.

The darkness in the small cell was so great that they didn’t even try to look at one another, but simply sat there side by side. Dimitri’s eyes had not yet adjusted to the pitch-blackness enough to see anything anyway, and Nicholas was content to merely know that his friend was right there by him. Nicholas could hear the sound of Dimitri’s breath, a sound which increased Nicholas’ joy, knowing that his friend was still alive and was right there in the flesh.

Nicholas drew in another deep breath and with it he breathed in a new sense of life. It was a breath of life that his friend couldn’t help but bring with him.

CHAPTER 28 (Back to Table of Contents)

“And how are our two young bodyguards doing?” Nicholas asked at last, referring to Samuel and Ruthie. Nicholas had been praying often for all three of them, as he cared for them as if they were his own young brothers and sister.

Dimitri hesitated. He looked at Nicholas but couldn’t say a word. He was eager to tell Nicholas everything that had happened in the years that had passed, about how Samuel and Ruthie continued taking people to the holy places, sharing with others the same good news of Jesus that they had discovered in their days with Nicholas.

Like Dimitri, Samuel and Ruthie had to stop guiding pilgrims when the “Great Persecution” came, as it was now being called. All three of them began spending most of their days seeing to the needs of the other believers in Jerusalem, believers who were facing imprisonment and death, just like Nicholas. Since they were not in a high profile position like Nicholas though, the three of them were able to avoid being caught longer than Nicholas. But eventually, they too were imprisoned, being repeatedly questioned, threatened and tortured for their faith.

Samuel and Dimitri were strong enough to withstand the abuse, but Ruthie was too frail. One day, after being treated particularly harshly, she returned to them and collapsed. Although she had obviously been crying from the pain in her body, somehow she had also managed to keep a smile in her heart.

“How can you do it?” asked Samuel. “How can you possibly still smile, even after all that?”

Ruthie replied, “I feel like I’ve been walking and talking with Jesus for so long now that even death wouldn’t really change that. I’ll just keep on walking and talking with Him forever.”

Ruthie smiled again and Dimitri couldn’t help but smile back at her. But her body was giving out and she knew it. She could sense that she was just moments away from passing from this life to the next.

“You can’t go!” said Samuel. “You’ve got to stay here with me! There’s still too much work to be done!” But Ruthie was slipping away.

“If you die, I’ll just pray that God will bring you back to life!” Samuel was desperate now to hang onto her. But Ruthie just smiled again. She had truly found the secret of living life to the fullest, and nothing, not even death, could take that away.

She spoke, quietly now, with just a whisper. “You could pray that God would raise me from the dead, but the truth is, I’ve already been raised from the dead once. When we met Nicholas, and he introduced us to Jesus, I was raised from the dead and given a whole new life. From then on, I knew that I would live forever.”

With that, Ruthie passed through the veil and into the visible presence of God. The smile that adorned her face in life continued to shine on her face in death, and Dimitri knew where she was. She was just continuing to do what she had always done, walking and talking with Jesus, but now face to face.

Nicholas sat in silence as Dimitri told him the story, taking it all in. As much as he thought he would be sad, his heart began to soar instead. None of this was new to him, of course, but hearing about Ruthie’s faith brought his own back to life again as well.

You would think a man like Nicholas wouldn’t need to be encouraged in his faith. He had brought faith to countless others, and he was a bishop no less. But Nicholas also knew in his heart of hearts that it was people like him who sometimes needed the most encouragement in their faith. Great faith, he knew, did not come to those who have no doubts. Great faith came to those who have had their faith stretched so far that it had to grow, or else it would break completely. By continuing to trust God no matter what, Nicholas found that he was able to fill in any gaps in his faith along the way, helping it to grow even further.

As sad as he was for Ruthie’s passing, Nicholas couldn’t help but smile from deep down in his heart the same way that Ruthie must have done on the day that she died. He longed for the day when he could see Jesus face to face, just as Ruthie was now seeing Him. Yet he loved the work that God had given him on earth to do, too.

“We can’t lose, can we?” said Nicholas with a reflective smile. “Either we die and get to be with Jesus in heaven, or we live and get to continue His work here on earth. Either way we win, don’t we? Either way we win.”

“Yes, either way we win,” echoed Dimitri. “Either way we win.”

For the next several hours, Nicholas and Dimitri shared stories with each other of what God had done in their lives during their time apart. But nothing could have prepared Nicholas for what Dimitri was about to tell him next. For Dimitri, it seems, had met a girl. And not just any girl, but a girl Nicholas knew very well by now. Her name was Anna Maria.

CHAPTER 29 (Back to Table of Contents)

In his journey to find Nicholas, Dimitri looked for anyone who might know of his whereabouts. When he got to Myra, he went first to the church where Nicholas had served as bishop. Not finding him there, Dimitri took to the streets to see if he could find anyone who knew anything about him. And who did he find in the streets, but the very girl–now a woman–that Nicholas had found so many years ago, selling her braided flowers to anyone who would buy them.

She was no longer covered in the cloak of poverty. Both her inner and outer beauty were immediately evident to Dimitri. He was so taken by her that he couldn’t help but be drawn into a conversation. And she seemed to be just as taken by him. She couldn’t believe that a man of his stature and faith was willing to talk to her. He was, she thought, the kindest and most impressive man she had ever met.

When Dimitri mentioned his mission, searching for the bishop named Nicholas, Anna Maria gasped. How could this man, this stranger from the other side of the Great Sea, know anything about Nicholas? Dimitri shared the story of how they met, and Nicholas had rescued him from his poverty of faith. Anna Maria couldn’t help but share what Nicholas had done for her family as well, saving her two older sisters from slavery by throwing a bag of gold through the window for each of them on the eve of their 18th birthdays.

But then, Anna Maria’s smile faded. It was now only a few days until her own 18th birthday, but Nicholas had been taken away to prison five years earlier. No one had seen nor heard from him in all those years. She didn’t even know where he was. Although her father had had a change of heart, and wouldn’t dream of selling Anna Maria into slavery, he still had no dowry to offer to any potential suitor. Without a dowry, as Dimitri knew very well, Anna Maria’s future was dim. And with Nicholas in prison, there was no chance he would be able to rescue their family a third time. Anna Maria had taken again to selling her flowers in the street, and although they were more impressive than her earlier creations, she could barely earn enough from their sales to help the family with the cost of food from time to time.

Dimitri listened, and like Nicholas before him, he knew within minutes what God was prompting him to do. He could be the answer to Anna Maria’s prayers, and with much more than just a dowry. But he also knew that these things take time, so he just treasured these thoughts in his heart, buying a flower from Anna Maria, thanking her for sharing what she knew about Nicholas and continuing on his way, promising to get in touch with her if he ever located their precious friend.

On the eve of Anna Maria’s birthday, Dimitri found himself in the very spot where Nicholas had hidden twice before, years earlier, just outside the open window of Anna Maria’s home. The conversation inside was subdued, as Anna Maria and her father prayed, knowing that there was no way for Nicholas to appear again. They put out the lights and headed for bed.

Dimitri waited for what seemed to him like hours, knowing that he couldn’t dare wake them and risk exposing his plan. For he had saved up enough in his years of working in the Holy Land to easily fill a bag with golden coins suitable for a dowry. But he couldn’t just hand them the money, for he had more in mind than just giving them the dowry. He wanted Anna Maria’s father to give it back to him someday, as a wedding gift to him! It was a long shot, and he knew he would need more time to be sure she was the one for him. He also felt this was the best way to make it all work out in the end, even if she wasn’t the one for him. Something told him, however, that she was. And with that thought in mind, he made his next move.

Carefully and quietly, he reached over the windowsill and let the bag drop quietly down on the floor below. No one heard and no one stirred. Having done his duty to God and to his own heart, he set off again in search of Nicholas. Two weeks later, Dimitri had found Nicholas, and was now sharing with him the story of how he had met the woman of his dreams.

The news couldn’t have been any sweeter to Nicholas’ ears. And again his heart lightened and soared, for even though he was locked away from the rest of the world in his prison cell, Nicholas saw the fruit of his prayers–prayers that were answered in the most incredible way imaginable. He could still make a difference in the world, even from here in prison, even when the world tried to shut him down.

Before Dimitri left that night, he embraced Nicholas one more time; then he was gone. He disappeared through the prison door as miraculously as he had entered it.

It would be five more years until Nicholas would see Dimitri again. Diocletian’s grip continued to tighten around the Christians’ necks. But during all those remaining years in prison, Nicholas felt freer in his heart than he had ever felt before. No man could keep Nicholas from worshipping Jesus, and no man could keep Jesus from doing what He wanted done.

When the day finally came for Nicholas to be set free, the guard who opened Nicholas’ door looked in and said, “It’s time to go. You’re free.”

Nicholas simply looked at the guard with a smile. He had already been free for quite some time.

CHAPTER 30 (Back to Table of Contents)

Thinking Nicholas must not have heard him, the guard spoke again. “I said you’re free, you’re free to go. You can get up and go home now.”

At the word “home,” Nicholas stirred. He hadn’t seen his home, or his church, or hardly any other soul than Dimitri for ten years. He stood to his feet and his movements began to accelerate as he responded to the guard’s words.

“Home?” Nicholas said.

“Yes, home. You can go home now. The emperor has issued a decree that has set all Christians free.”

The emperor he was referring to was a new emperor named Constantine. Diocletian’s efforts had failed to constrain the Christians. Instead of quenching their spirits, Diocletian had strengthened them. Like Nicholas, those who weren’t killed grew stronger in their faith. And the stronger they grew in their faith, the stronger they grew in their influence, gaining new converts from the citizens around them. Even Diocletian’s wife and daughter had converted to Christianity.

Diocletian stepped down from ruling the empire, and Constantine stepped up.

Constantine reversed the persecution of the Christians, issuing the Edict of Milan. This edict showed a new tolerance for people of all religions and resulted in freedom for the Christians. Constantine’s mother, Helen, was a devout Christian herself. Even though no one quite knew if Constantine was a Christian, the new tolerance he displayed allowed people to worship whoever they pleased and however they pleased, the way it should have been all along.

As much as Diocletian had changed the Roman world for the worse, Constantine was now changing it for the better. Their reigns were as different as night and day and served as a testament of how one person really can affect the course of history forever–either for good or for evil.

Nicholas was aware, now more than ever, that he had just one life to live. But he was also aware that if he lived it right, one life was all that he would need. He resolved in his heart once more to do his best to make the most of every day, starting again today.

As he was led from his prison cell and returned to the city of Myra, it was no coincidence, he thought, that the first face he saw there was the face of Anna Maria.

He recognized her in an instant. But the ten years in prison, and the wear and tear it had taken on his life, made it hard for her to recognize him as quickly. But as soon as she saw his smile, she too knew in an instant that it was the smile of her dear old friend Nicholas. Of course it was Nicholas! And he was alive, standing right there in front of her!

She couldn’t move, she was so shocked. Two children stood beside her, looking up at their mother, and then looking at the man who now held her gaze. Here was the man who had done so much for her and her family. Her joy was uncontainable. With a call over her shoulder, Anna Maria shouted, “Dimitri! Dimitri! Come quickly! It’s Nicholas!”

Then she rushed towards Nicholas, giving him an embrace and holding on tight. Dimitri emerged from a shop behind them, took one look at Nicholas and Anna Maria and rushed towards them as well, sweeping his children up with him as he ran.

Now the whole family was embracing Nicholas as if he was a dear brother or father or uncle who had just returned from war. The tears and the smiles on their faces melted together. The man who had saved Anna Maria and her family from a fate worse than death had been spared from death as well! And Dimitri grinned from ear to ear, too, seeing his good friend, and seeing how happy it made Nicholas to see Dimitri and Anna Maria together with their new family.

Nicholas took hold of each of their faces–one at a time–and looked deeply into their eyes. Then he held the children close. The seeds he had planted years ago in the lives of Dimitri and Anna Maria were still bearing fruit, fruit he could now see with his own two eyes. All his efforts had been worth it, and nothing like the smiles on their faces could have made it any clearer to him than that.

Throughout the days and weeks ahead, Nicholas and the other believers who had been set free had many similar reunions throughout Myra. Those days were like one long, ongoing reunion.

Nicholas, as well as the others who had managed to survive the Great Persecution, must have appeared to those around them as Lazarus must have appeared, when Jesus called him to come out of the tomb–a man who had died, but was now alive. And like Lazarus, these Christians were not only alive, but they led many more people to faith in Christ as well, for their faith was now on fire in a whole new way. What Diocletian had meant for harm, God was able to use for good. This new contingent of Christians had emerged with a faith that was stronger than ever before.

Nicholas knew that this new level of faith, like all good gifts from God, had been given to him for a purpose, too. For as big as the tests had been that Nicholas had faced up to now, God was preparing him for the biggest test yet to come.

PART 6

Listen to Part 6 here (34 minutes, including Chapters 31-36)

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

You’re reading ST. NICHOLAS: THE BELIEVER, by Eric and Lana Elder, a new story for Christmas based on the old story of St. Nicholas. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

CHAPTER 31 (Back to Table of Contents)

“And you’ve still never told her, after all these years?” Nicholas asked Dimitri. It had been twelve years since Nicholas had gotten out of prison, and they were talking about the bag of gold that Dimitri had thrown into Anna Maria’s open window five years before that.

“She’s never asked,” said Dimitri. “And even if I told her it was me, she wouldn’t believe me. She’s convinced you did it.”

“But how could I, when she knew I was in prison?” It was a conversation they had had before, but Nicholas still found it astounding. Dimitri insisted on keeping his act of giving a secret, just as Nicholas had done whenever possible, too.

“Besides,” added Dimitri, “she’s right. It really was you who inspired me to give her that gift, as you had already given her family two bags of gold in a similar way. So in a very real sense, it did come from you.”

Nicholas had to admit there was some logic in Dimitri’s thinking. “But it didn’t start with me, either. It was Christ who inspired me.”

And to that, Dimitri conceded and said, “And it was Christ who inspired me, too. Believe me, Anna Maria knows that as much as anyone else. Her faith is deeper than ever before. Ever since she met you, she continues to give God credit for all things.”

And with that, Nicholas was satisfied, as long as God got the credit in the end. For as Nicholas had taught Dimitri years earlier, there’s nothing we have that did not come from God first.

Changing subjects, Nicholas said, “You’re sure she won’t mind you being away for three months? I can still find someone else to accompany me.”

“She’s completely and utterly happy for me to go with you,” said Dimitri. “She knows how important this is to you, and she knows how much it means to me as well. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

They were discussing their plans to go to the Council of Nicaea that summer. Nicholas had been invited by special request of the emperor, and each bishop was allowed to bring a personal attendant along with him. Nicholas asked Dimitri as soon as he received the invitation.

The Council of Nicaea would be a remarkable event. When Nicholas first opened the letter inviting him to come, he couldn’t believe it. So much had changed in the world since he had gotten out of prison twelve years earlier.

Yet there it was, a summons from the Roman emperor to appear before him at Eastertide. The only summons a bishop would have gotten under Emperor Diocletian would have been an invitation to an execution–his own! But under Constantine’s leadership, life for Christians had radically changed.

Constantine had not only signed the edict that called for true tolerance to be shown to the Christians, which resulted in setting them free from prison, but he also had started giving them their property back–property which had been taken away under his predecessor. Constantine was even beginning to fund the building and repair of many of the churches that had been destroyed by Diocletian. It was the beginning of a new wave of grace for the Christians, after such an intense persecution before.

As a further sign of Constantine’s new support for the cause of Christianity, he had called for a gathering of over 300 of the leading bishops in the land. This gathering would serve two purposes for Constantine: it would unify the church within the previously fractured empire, and it wouldn’t hurt his hopes of bringing unity back to the whole country. As the leader of the people, Constantine asserted that it was his responsibility to provide for their spiritual well-being. As such, he pledged to attend and preside over this historic council himself. It would take place in the city of Nicaea, starting in the spring of that year and continuing for several months into the summer.

When Nicholas received his invitation, he quietly praised God for the changing direction of his world. While the Great Persecution had deepened the faith of many of those who survived it, that same persecution had taken its toll on the ability of many others, severely limiting their ability to teach, preach and reach those around them with the life-changing message of Christ.

Now those barriers had been removedwith the support and approval of the emperor himself. The only barriers that remained were within the hearts and minds of those who would hear the good news, and would have to decide for themselves what they were going to do with it.

As for Nicholas, he had grown in influence and respect in Myra, as well as the region around him. His great wealth was long since gone, for he had given most of it away when he saw the Great Persecution coming, and what remained had been discovered and ransacked while he was in prison. But what he lost in wealth he made up for in influence, for his heart and actions were still bent towards giving–no matter what he had or didn’t have to give. After giving so much of himself to the people around him, he was naturally among those who were chosen to attend the upcoming council. It would turn out to become one of the most momentous events in history, not to mention one of the most memorable events in his own life–but not necessarily for a reason he would want to remember.

CHAPTER 32 (Back to Table of Contents)

Although Christians were enjoying a new kind of freedom under Constantine, the future of Christianity was still at risk. The threats no longer came from outside the church, but from within. Factions had begun to rise inside the ranks of the growing church, with intense discussions surrounding various theological points which had very practical implications.

In particular, a very small but vocal group, led by a man named Arius, had started to gain attention as they began to question whether Jesus was actually divine or not.

Was Jesus merely a man? Or was He, in fact, one with God in His very essence? To men like Nicholas and Dimitri, the question was hardly debatable, for they had devoted their entire lives to following Jesus as their Lord. They had risked everything to follow Him in word and deed. He was their Lord, their Savior, their Light and their Hope. Like many of the others who would be attending the council, it was not their robes or outer garments that bore witness to their faith in Christ, but the scars and wounds they bore in their flesh as they suffered for Him. They had risked their lives under the threat of death for worshipping Christ as divine, rather than Emperor Diocletian. There was no question in their minds regarding this issue. But still there were some who, like Arius, felt this was a question that was up for debate.

In Arius’ zeal to see that people worshipped God alone, Arius could not conceive that any man, even one as good as Jesus, could claim to be one with God without blaspheming the name of God Himself. In this, Arius was not unlike those who persecuted Jesus while He was still alive. Even some of those who were living then and had witnessed His miracles with their own eyes, and heard Jesus’ words with their own ears, could not grasp that Jesus could possibly be telling the truth when He said, “I and the Father are one.” And for this, they brought Jesus to Herod, and then to Pilate, to have Him crucified.

As a boy, Nicholas had wondered about Jesus’ claim, too. But when Nicholas was in Bethlehem, it all finally made perfect sense to him–that God Himself had come down from heaven to earth as a man to take on the sins of the world once and for all as God in the flesh.

Arius, however, was like the Apostle Paul before he met the Jesus on the road to Damascus. Before his life-changing experience, the Apostle Paul wanted to protect what he felt to be the divinity of God by persecuting anyone who said they worshipped Jesus as God. For no man, according to Paul’s earlier way of thinking, could possibly consider himself to be one with God.

Like Arius, Paul could not believe the claims of Jesus and His followers. But on the road to Damascus, as Paul was on his way to round up and kill more Christians in his zeal, Paul met the Living Christ in a vision that blinded him physically, but awakened him spiritually to the Truth. In the days that followed, Paul’s physical eyes were healed and he repented of his misguided efforts. He was baptized in Jesus’ name and began to preach from then on that Jesus was not merely a man, but that Jesus’ claims about Himself to be one with the Father were completely true. Paul gave his life in worship and service to Christ, and had to endure, like Nicholas had to endure, imprisonment and an ever-present threat of death for his faith.

Arius was more like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day who, in their zeal to defend God, actually crucified the Lord of all creation. Arius felt justified in trying to gather support among the bishops for his position.

Nicholas and Dimitri didn’t think Arius’ ideas could possibly gather many supporters. Yet they would soon find out that Arius’ personal charisma and his excellent oratorial skills might actually hold sway over some of the bishops who had not yet given the idea nor its implications full consideration.

Nicholas and Dimitri, however, like the Apostle Paul, the Apostle John and tens of thousands of others in the time since Jesus lived and died and rose again from the dead, had discovered that Jesus was, thankfully and supernaturally, both fully human and fully divine.

But what would the rest of the bishops conclude? And what would they teach as truth to others for the countless generations to come? This was to become one of the pivotal questions that was to be determined at this meeting in Nicaea. Although Nicholas was interested in this debate, he had no idea that he was about to play a key role in its outcome.

CHAPTER 33 (Back to Table of Contents)

After a grand processional of bishops and priests, a boys’ choir and Constantine’s opening words, one of the first topics addressed at the council was the one brought forth by Arius–whether or not Jesus Christ was divine.

Arius made his opening arguments with great eloquence and great persuasion in the presence of Constantine and the rest of the assembly. Jesus was, he asserted, perhaps the foremost of all created beings. But to be co-equal with God, one in substance and essence with Him, was impossible–at least according to Arius. No one could be one with God, he said.

Nicholas listened in silence, along with every other bishop in that immense room. Respect for the speaker, especially in the presence of the emperor, took precedence over any type of muttering or disturbance that might accompany other types of gatherings like this, especially on a subject of such intensity. But the longer Arius spoke, the harder it became for Nicholas to sit in silence.

After all, Nicholas’ parents had given their lives for the honor of serving Christ their Lord. Nicholas himself had been overwhelmed by the presence of God in Bethlehem, at the very spot where God made His first appearance as Man in the flesh. Dimitri, Samuel and Ruthie had all been similarly affected by that visit to Bethlehem. They had walked up the hill in Jerusalem where the King of kings had been put to death by religious leadersleaders who, like Arius, doubted Jesus’ claims to be one with God.

Nicholas had always realized that Jesus was unlike any other man who had ever lived. And after Jesus died, He had risen from the dead, appeared to the twelve disciples and then appeared to more than 500 others who were living in Jerusalem at the time. What kind of man could do that? Was it just a mass hallucination? Was it just wishful thinking on the part of religious fanatics? But these weren’t just fans, they were followers who were willing to give up their lives, too, for their Lord and Savior.

The arguments continued to run through Nicholas’ head. Hadn’t the prophet Micah foretold, hundreds of years before Jesus was born, that the Messiah would be “from of old, from ancient times”? Hadn’t the Apostle John said that Jesus “was with God in the beginning,” concluding that Jesus “was God.”

Like others had tried to suggest, Arius said that Jesus had never claimed to be God. But Nicholas knew the Scriptures well enough to know that Jesus had said, “I and the Father are one. Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father… Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in Me?”

Even Jesus’ detractors at the time that He was living said that the reason they wanted to stone Jesus was because Jesus claimed to be God. The Scriptures said that these detractors cornered Jesus one day and Jesus said, “I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?”

They replied, “We are not stoning you for any of these, but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.”

Jesus had certainly claimed to be God, a claim that got Him into hot water more than once. His claim showed that He was either a madman or a liar–or that He was telling the Truth.

Nicholas’ mind flooded with Scriptures like these, as well as with memories of the years he had spent in prisonyears he would never get back again–all because he was unwilling to worship Diocletian as a god, but was fully willing to worship Jesus as God. How could Nicholas remain silent and let Arius go on like this? How could anyone else in the room take it, he thought? Nicholas had no idea.

“There was nothing divine about him,” Arius said with conviction. “He was just a man, just like any one of us.”

Without warning, and without another moment to think about what he was doing, Nicholas stood to his feet. Then his feet, as if they had a mind of their own, began to walk deliberately and intently across the massive hall towards Arius. Arius continued talking until Nicholas finally stood directly in front of him.

Arius stopped. This breach of protocol was unprecedented.

In the silence that followed, Nicholas turned his back towards Arius and pulled down the robes from his own back, revealing the hideous scars he had gotten while in prison. Nicholas said, “I didn’t get these for just a man.'”

Turning back towards Arius and facing him squarely, Nicholas saw the smug smile return to Arius’ face. Arius said, “Well, it looks like you were mistaken.” Then Arius started up his speech again as if nothing at all had happened.

That’s when Nicholas did the unthinkable. With no other thought than to stop this man from speaking against his Lord and Savior, and in plain site of the emperor and everyone else in attendance, Nicholas clenched his fist. He pulled back his arm and he punched Arius hard in the face.

Arius stumbled and fell back, both from the impact of the blow and from the shock that came with it. Nicholas, too, was stunned–along with everyone else in the room. With the same deliberate and intentional steps which he had taken to walk up to Arius, Nicholas now walked back to his chair and took his seat.

A collective gasp echoed through the hall when Nicholas struck Arius, followed by an eruption of commotion when Nicholas sat back down in his seat. The disruption threatened to throw the entire proceedings into chaos. The vast majority of those in the room looked like they could have jumped to their feet and given Nicholas a standing ovation for this bold act–including, by the look on his face, even the emperor himself! But to others, Arius chief among them, no words nor displays of emotion could express their outrage. Everyone knew what an awful offense Nicholas had just committed. It was, in fact, illegal for anyone to use violence of any kind in the presence of the emperor. The punishment for such an act was to immediately cut off the hand of anyone who struck another person in the presence of the emperor.

Constantine knew the law, of course, but also knew Nicholas. He had once even had a dream about Nicholas in which Nicholas warned Constantine to grant a stay of execution to three men in Constantine’s court–a warning which Constantine heeded and acted upon in real life. When Constantine shared that dream with one of his generals, the general recounted to Constantine what Nicholas had done for the three innocent men back in Myra, for the general was one of the three who had seen Nicholas’ bravery in person.

Although Nicholas’ actions against Arius may have appeared rash, Constantine admired Nicholas’ pluck. Known for his quick thinking and fast action, Constantine raised his hand and brought an instant silence to the room as he did so. “This is certainly a surprise to us all,” he said. “And while the penalty for an act such in my presence is clear, I would prefer to defer this matter to the leaders of the council instead. These are your proceedings and I will defer to your wisdom to conduct them as you see fit.”

Constantine had bought both time and goodwill among the various factions. The council on the whole seemed to agree with Nicholas’ position, at least in spirit, even if they could not agree with his rash action. They would want to exact some form of punishment, since not to do so would fail to honor the rule of law. But having been given permission by the emperor himself to do as they saw fit, rather than invoke the standard punishment, they felt the freedom to take another form of action.

After a short deliberation, the leaders of the council agreed and determined that Nicholas should be defrocked immediately from his position as a bishop, banished from taking part in the rest of the proceedings in Nicaea and held under house arrest within the palace complex. There he could await any further decision the council might see fit at the conclusion of their meetings that summer. It was a lenient sentence, in light of the offense.

But for Nicholas, even before he heard what the punishment was going to be, he was already punishing himself more than anyone else ever could for what he had just done. Within less than a minute, he had gone from experiencing one of the highest mountaintops of his life to experiencing one of its deepest valleys.

Here he was attending one of the greatest conclaves in the history of the world, and yet he had just done something he knew he could never take back. The ramifications of his actions would affect him for the rest of his life, he was sure of it, or at least for whatever remained of his life. The sensation he felt could only be understood, perhaps, by those who had experienced it before–the weight, the shame and the agony of a moment of sin that could have crushed him, apart from knowing the forgiveness of Christ.

When Nicholas was defrocked of his title as bishop, it was in front of the entire assembly. He was disrobed of his bishop’s garments, then escorted from the room in shackles. But this kind of disgrace was a mere trifle compared to the humiliation he was experiencing on the inside. He was even too numb to cry.

CHAPTER 34 (Back to Table of Contents)

“What have I done?” Nicholas said to Dimitri as the two sat together in a room near the farthest corner of the palace. This room had become Nicholas’ make-shift prison cell, as he was to be held under house arrest for the remainder of the proceedings. Dimitri, using his now-extensive skills at gaining access to otherwise unauthorized areas, had once again found a way to visit his friend in prison.

“What have you done?!? What else could you have done?” countered Dimitri. “If you hadn’t done it, someone else surely would have, or at least should have. You did Arius, and all the rest of us, a favor with that punch. Had he continued with his diatribe, who knows what punishment the Lord Himself might have brought down upon the entire gathering!” Of course, Dimitri knew God could take it, and often does, when people rail against Him and His ways. He is much more long-suffering than any of us could ever be. But still, Dimitri felt Nicholas’ actions were truly justified.

Nicholas, however, could hardly see it that way at the moment. It was more likely, he thought, that he had just succeeded in giving Arius the sympathy he needed for his cause to win. Nicholas knew that when people are losing an argument based on logic, they often appeal to pure emotion instead, going straight for the hearts of their listeners, whether or not their cause makes sense. And as much as Arius may have been losing his audience on the grounds of logic, Nicholas felt that his actions may have just tipped the emotional scales in Arius’ favor.

The torment of it all beat against Nicholas’ mind. Here it was, still just the opening days of the proceedings, and he would have to sit under house arrest for the next two months. How was he going to survive this onslaught of emotions every day during that time?

Nicholas already knew this prison cell was going to be entirely different than the one in which Diocletian had put him for more than a decade. This time, he felt he had put himself in jail. And although this prison was a beautifully appointed room within a palace, to Nicholas’ way of thinking, it was much worse than the filthy one in which he had almost died.

In the other cell, he knew he was there because of the misguided actions of others. This gave him a sense that what he had to endure there was part of the natural suffering that Jesus said would come to all who followed Him. But in this cell, he knew he was there because of his own inane actions, actions which he viewed as inexcusable, a viewpoint which he felt many of those in attendance would rightly share.

For decades Nicholas had been known as a man of calm, inner strength and of dignity under control. Then, in one day, he had lost it alland in front of the emperor no less! How could he ever forgive himself. “How,” he asked Dimitri, “could I ever take back what I’ve just done to the name of the Lord.”

Dimitri replied, “Perhaps He doesn’t want you to take it back. Maybe it wasn’t what you think you did to His name that He cares about so much, as what you did in His name. You certainly did what I, and the vast majority of those in the room wished they would have done, had they had the courage to do so.”

Dimitri’s words lingered in the air. As Nicholas contemplated them, a faint smile seemed to appear on his face. Perhaps there was something to be said for his heart in the matter after all. He was sincerely wanting to honor and defend his Lord, not to detract from Him in any way. Peter, he remembered, had a similar passion for defending his Lord. And Nicholas now realized what Peter may have felt when Peter cut off the ear of one of the men who had come to capture Jesus. Jesus told Peter to put away his sword and then Jesus healed the man’s ear. Jesus could obviously defend Himself quite well on His own, but Nicholas had to give Peter credit for his passionate defense of his Master.

Nicholas was still unconvinced that he had done the right thing, but he felt in good company with others who had acted on their passions. And Dimitri’s words helped him to realize that he was not alone in his thinking, and he took some comfort from the fact that Dimitri hadn’t completely forsaken him over the incident. This support from Dimitri acted like a soothing balm to Nicholas’ soul, and helped him to get through yet one more of the darkest times of his life.

Although Nicholas was convinced that the damage he had done was irreversible in human terms–and that God was going to have to work time-and-a-half to make anything good come out of this one–Nicholas knew what he had to do. Even in this moment of his deepest humiliation, he knew the best thing he could do was to do what he had always done: to put his complete faith and trust in God. But how? How could he trust that God possibly use this for good?

As if reading Nicholas’ mind, Dimitri knew exactly what Nicholas needed to help him put his trust back in God again. Dimitri did what Nicholas had done for him and Samuel and Ruthie so many years ago. Dimitri told him a story.

CHAPTER 35 (Back to Table of Contents)

Dimitri began, “What kind of story would you like to hear today? A good story or a bad story?” It was the way Nicholas had introduced the Bible stories that he told to Dimitri, Samuel and Ruthie during their many adventures in the Holy Land. Nicholas would then begin delighting the children with a story from the Bible about a good character or a bad character, or a good story or a bad story, sometimes which ended the exact opposite way it began.

Nicholas looked up with interest.

“It doesn’t matter,” Dimitri continued, “because the story I have to tell you today could be either good or bad. You just won’t know till the end. But I’ve learned from a good friend,” he said as he winked at Nicholas, “that the best way to enjoy a story is to always trust the storyteller.”

Nicholas had told them that he watched people’s reactions whenever he told stories back home.

“When people trust the storyteller,” Nicholas had said, “they love the story no matter what happens, because they know the storyteller knows how the story will end. But when people don’t trust the storyteller, their emotions go up and down like a boat in a storm, depending on what’s happening in the story. The truth is, only the storyteller knows for sure how the story will end. So as long as you trust the storyteller, you can enjoy the whole story from start to finish.”

Now it was Dimitri’s turn to tell a story to Nicholas. The story he chose to tell was about another man who had been sent to jail, a man by the name of Joseph. Dimitri recounted for Nicholas how Joseph’s life appeared to go up and down.

Dimitri started: “Joseph’s father loved Joseph and gave him a beautiful, colorful coat. Now that’s good, right?”

Nicholas nodded.

“But no, that was bad, for Joseph’s brothers saw the coat and were jealous of him and sold him into slavery. Now that’s bad, right?”

Nicholas nodded.

“No, that was good, because Joseph was put in charge of the whole house of a very wealthy man. Now that’s good, right?”

Nicholas nodded again.

“No, that’s bad,” said Dimitri, “because the wealthy man’s wife tried to seduce him, and when Joseph resisted, she sent him to jail. Now that’s bad, right?”

Nicholas stopped nodding either way because he knew where this was going.

“No, that’s good,” said Dimitri, “because Joseph was put in charge over all the other prisoners. He even helped to interpret their dreams. Now that’s good, right?”

Nicholas continued to listen carefully.

“No, that’s bad, because after interpreting their dreams, Joseph asked one of the men to help him out of prison when he got out, but the man forgot about Joseph and left him behind. Now that’s bad, right?”

Nicholas saw himself as the man who had been left behind in prison.

“No! That’s good! Because God had put Joseph in just the right place at just the right time. When the king of Egypt had a dream and he needed someone to interpret it, the man who had been set free suddenly remembered that Joseph was still in jail and told the king about him.

The king summoned Joseph, asked for an interpretation and Joseph gave it to him. The king was so impressed with Joseph that he put Joseph in charge of his whole kingdom. As a result, Joseph was able to use his new position to save hundreds of thousands of lives, including the lives of his own father and even his brothersthe very ones who had sold him into slavery in the first place. And that’s very good!”

“So you see,” said Dimitri, “just as you’ve always told us, we never know how the story will turn out until the very end. God knew what He was doing all along! You see…

– at just the right time, Joseph was born and his father loved him,
– so that at just the right time his brothers would mistreat him,
– so that at just the right time the slave traders would come along and buy him,
– so that at just the right time he would be put in charge of a wealthy man’s house,
– so that at just the right time he would be thrown into jail,
– so that at just the right time he would be put in charge of the prisoners,
– so that at just the right time he could interpret their dreams,
– so that at just the right time he could interpret Pharaoh’s dreams,
– so that at just the right time he would become second in command over all of Egypt,
– so that at just the right time Joseph would be in the one place in the world that God wanted him to be so that he could save the lives of his father and brothers and many, many others!

“All along the way, Joseph never gave up on God. He knew the secret of enjoying the story while he lived it out: he always trusted the Storyteller, the One who was writing the story of his life.”

All of Nicholas’ fears and doubts faded away in those moments and he knew he could trust the Storyteller, the One who was writing the story of his life, too. Nicholas’ story wasn’t over yet, and he had to trust that the God who brought him this far could see him through to the end.

Nicholas looked at Dimitri with a smile of thanks, then closed his eyes. It would be a long two months of waiting for the council’s decision. But he knew that if he could trust God in that one moment, and then in the next moment, and then the next, each of those moments would add up to minutes, and minutes would add up to hours. Hours would turn into weeks, then months, then years. He knew that it all began with trusting God in a moment.

With his eyes still closed, Nicholas put his full faith and trust in God again. The peace of God flooded his heart.

Soon, two months had passed by. The council was ready to make their final decisions on many matters, including the decision that had landed Nicholas under house arrest in the first placeand Nicholas was about to find out the results.

CHAPTER 36 (Back to Table of Contents)

“They did it!” It was Dimitri, bursting through the door to Nicholas’ room as soon as the palace guard had opened it.

“They did it!” he repeated. “It’s done! The council has voted and they’ve agreed with you! All but two of the 318 bishops have sided with you over Arius!”

Relief swept over Nicholas’ whole body. Dimitri could feel it in his body, too, as he watched the news flood over Nicholas’ entire being.

“And furthermore,” said Dimitri, “the council has decided not to take any further action against you!”

Both pieces of news were the best possible outcome Nicholas could have imagined. Even though Nicholas’ action had cost him his position as a bishop, it had not jeopardized the outcome of the proceedings. It was even possiblethough he never knew for surethat his action against Arius had perhaps in some way shaped what took place during those summer months at that historic council.

Within minutes of Dimitri’s arrival, another visitor appeared at Nicholas’ door. It was Constantine.

The council’s decision about what to do with Nicholas was one thing, but Constantine’s decision was another. A fresh wave of fear washed over Nicholas as he thought of the possibilities.

“Nicholas,” said the emperor, “I wanted to personally thank you for coming here to be my guest in Nicaea. I want to apologize for what you’ve had to endure these past two months. This wasn’t what I had planned for you and I’m sure it wasn’t what you had planned, either. But even though you weren’t able to attend the rest of the proceedings, I assure you that your presence was felt throughout every meeting. What you did that day in the hall spoke to me about what it means to follow Christ more than anything else I heard in the days that followed. I’d like to hear more from you in the future, if you would be willing to be my guest again. But next time, it won’t be in the farthest corner of the palace. Furthermore, I have asked for and received permission from the council to reinstate you to your position as Bishop of Myra. I believe the One who called you to serve Him would want you to continue doing everything you’ve been doing up to this point. As for me, let me just say that I appreciate what you’ve done here more than you can possibly know. Thank you for coming, and whenever you’re ready, you’re free to go home.”

Nicholas had been listening to Constantine’s words as if he were in a dream. He could hardly believe his ears. But when the emperor said the word “home,” Nicholas knew this wasn’t a dream, and the word rang like the sweetest bell in Nicholas’ ears. Of all the words the emperor had just spoken, none sounded better to him than that final word: home. He wanted nothing more than to get back to the flock he served. It was for them that he had come to this important gathering in the first place, to ensure that the Truths he had taught them would continue to be taught throughout the land.

After more than two months of being separated from them, and the ongoing question of what would become of them and the hundreds of thousands of others like them in the future who would be affected by their decisions here, Nicholas could finally go home. He was free again in more ways than one.

PART 7

Listen to Part 6 here (20 minutes, including Chapters 37, the Epilogue and the Conclusion)

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

You’re reading ST. NICHOLAS: THE BELIEVER, by Eric and Lana Elder, a new story for Christmas based on the old story of St. Nicholas. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

CHAPTER 37 (Back to Table of Contents)

Nicholas stood at his favorite spot in the world one last time: by the sea. Eighteen years had passed since he had retuned to Myra from the council in Nicaea. In the days since coming home, he continued to serve the Lord as he had always done: with all his heart, soul, mind and strength.

Nicholas had come to the shore with Dimitri and Anna Maria, who had brought with them one of their grandchildren, a young girl seven years old, named Ruthie.

Ruthie had been running back and forth in the waves, as Dimitri and Anna Maria tried to keep up with her. Nicholas had plenty of time to look out over the sea and as he often did, look out over eternity as well.

Looking back on his life, Nicholas never knew if he really accomplished what he wanted to in life: to make a difference in the world. He had seen glimpses along the way, of course, in the lives of people like Dimitri, Samuel, Ruthie, Sophia, Cecilia and Anna Maria.

He had also learned from people like the ship’s captain that when the captain arrived in Rome, his ship miraculously weighed exactly the same as before he had set sail from Alexandriaeven after giving the people of Myra several years’ worth of grain from it. Reminders like these encouraged Nicholas that God really had been guiding him in his decisions.

He still had questions though. He never quite knew if he had done the right thing at the council in Nicaea. He never quite knew if his later private conversations with Constantine might have impacted the emperor’s personal faith in Christ.

He was encouraged, however, to learn that Constantine’s mother had also made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land just as Nicholas had done. And after her visit, she persuaded Constantine to build churches over the holy sites she had seen. She had recently completed building a church in Bethlehem over the spot where Jesus was born, as well as a church in Jerusalem over the spot where Jesus had died and risen from the dead.

Nicholas knew he had had both successes and mistakes in his life. But looking back over it, he couldn’t always tell which was which! Those times that he thought were the valleys turned out to be the mountaintops, and the mountaintops turned out to be valleys. But the most important thing, he reminded himself, was that he trusted God in all things, knowing that God could work anything for good for those who loved Him, who were called according to His purpose.

What the future held for the world, Nicholas had no idea. But he knew that he had done what he could with the time that he had. He tried to love God and love others as Jesus had called him to do. And where he had failed along the way, he trusted that Jesus could cover those failures, too, just as Jesus had covered his sins by dying on the cross.

As Nicholas’ father had done before him, Nicholas looked out over the sea again, too. Then closing his eyes, he asked God for strength for the next journey he was about to take.

He let the sun warm his face, then he opened the palms of his hands and let the breeze lift them into the air. He praised God as the warm breeze floated gently through his fingertips.

Little Ruthie returned from splashing in the water, followed closely by Dimitri and Anna Maria. Ruthie looked up at Nicholas, with his eyes closed and his hands raised towards heaven. Reaching out to him, she tugged at his clothes and asked, “Nicholas, have you ever seen God?”

Nicholas opened his eyes and looked down at Ruthie, then smiled up at Dimitri and Anna Maria. He looked out at the sunshine and the waves and the miles and miles of shoreline that stretched out in both directions before him. Turning his face back towards Ruthie, Nicholas said, “Yes, Ruthie, I have see God. And the older I get, the more I see Him everywhere I look.”

Ruthie smiled, and Nicholas gave her a warm hug. Then just as quickly as she had run up to him, she ran off again to play.

Nicholas exchanged smiles with Dimitri and Anna Maria, then they, too, were off again, chasing Ruthie down the beach.

Nicholas looked one last time at the beautiful sea, then turned and headed towards home.

EPILOGUE (Back to Table of Contents)

So now you know a little bit more about me–Dimitri Alexander–and my good friend, Nicholas. That was the last time I saw him, until this morning. He had asked if he could spend a few days alone, just him and the Lord that he loved. He said he had one more journey to prepare for. Anna Maria and I guessed, of course, just what he meant.

We knew he was probably getting ready to go home, to his real home, the one that Jesus had said He was going to prepare for each of us who believe in Him.

Nicholas had been looking forward to this trip his whole life. Not that he wanted to shortchange a single moment of the life that God that had given him here on earth, for he knew that this life had a uniquely important purpose as well, or else God would never have created it with such beauty and precision and marvelous mystery.

But as Nicholas’ life here on earth wound down, he said he was ready. He was ready to go, and he looked forward to everything that God had in store for him next.

So when Nicholas sent word this morning for Anna Maria and me and a few other friends to come and see him, we knew that the time had come.

As we came into this room, we found him lying on his bed, just as he is right now. He was breathing quietly and he motioned for us to come close. We couldn’t hold back our tears, and he didn’t try to stop us. He knew how hard it was to say goodbye to those we love. But he also made it easier for us. He smiled one more time and spoke softly, saying the same words that he had spoken when Ruthie had died many years before: “Either way we win,” he said. “Either way we win.”

“Yes, Nicholas,” I said. “Either way we win.” Then the room became quiet again. Nicholas closed his eyes and fell asleep for the last time. No one moved. No one said a word.

This man who lay before us slept as if it were just another night in his life. But we knew this was a holy moment. Nicholas had just entered into the presence of the Lord. As Nicholas had done throughout his life, we were sure he was doing right now in heaven, walking and talking and laughing with Jesus, but now they were face to face.

We could only imagine what Nicholas might be saying to Jesus. But we knew for certain what Jesus was saying to him: “Well done, My good and faithful servant. Well done. Come and share your Master’s happiness.”

I have no idea how history might remember Nicholas, if it will remember him at all. He was no emperor like Constantine. He was no tyrant like Diocletian. He was no orator like Arius. He was simply a Christian trying to live out his faith, touching one life at a time as best he knew how.

Nicholas may have wondered if his life made any difference. I know my answer, and now that you know his story, I’ll let you decide for yourself. In the end, I suppose only God really knows just how many lives were touched by this remarkable man.

But what I do know this: each of us has just one life to live. But if we live it right, as Nicholas did, one life is all we need.

CONCLUSION (Back to Table of Contents)

by Eric Elder

What Nicholas didn’t know, and what no one who knew him could have possibly imagined, was just how far and wide this one life would reach–not only throughout the world, but also throughout the ages.

He was known to his parents as their beloved son, and to those in his city as their beloved bishop. But he has become known to us by another name: Saint Nicholas.

The biblical word for “saint” literally means “believer.” The Bible talks about the saints in Ephesus, the saints in Rome, the saints in Philippi and the saints in Jerusalem. Each time the word saints refers to the believers who were in those cities. So Nicholas rightly became known as “Saint Nicholas,” or to say it another way, “Nicholas, The Believer.” The Latin translation is “Santa Nicholas,” and in Dutch “Sinterklaas,” from which we get the name “Santa Claus.”

His good name and his good deeds have been an inspiration to so many, that the day he passed from this life to the next, on December 6th, 343 A.D., is still celebrated by people throughout the world.

Many legends have been told about Nicholas over the years, some giving him qualities that make him seem larger than life. But the reason that so many legends of any kind grow, including those told about Saint Nicholas, is often because the people about whom they’re told were larger than life themselves. They were people who were so good or so well-respected that every good deed becomes attributed to them, as if they had done them themselves.

While not all the stories attributed to Nicholas can be traced to the earliest records of his life, the histories that were recorded closest to the time period in which he lived do record many of the stories found in this book. To help you sort through them, here’s what we do know:

  • Nicholas was born sometime between 260-280 A.D. in the city of Patara, a city you can still visit today in modern-day Turkey, on the northern coast of the Mediterranean Sea.
  • Nicholas’ parents were devout Christians who died in a plague when Nicholas was young, leaving him with a sizable inheritance.
  • Nicholas made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and lived there for a number of years before returning to his home province of Lycia.
  • Nicholas traveled across the Mediterranean Sea in a ship that was caught in a storm. After praying, his ship reached its destination as if someone was miraculously holding the rudder steady. The rudder of a ship is also called a tiller, and sailors on the Mediterranean Sea today still wish each other luck by saying, “May Nicholas hold the tiller!”
  • When Nicholas returned from the Holy Land, he took up residence in the city of Myra, about 30 miles from his hometown of Patara. Nicholas became the bishop of Myra and lived there the rest of his life.
  • Nicholas secretly gave three gifts of gold on three separate occasions to a man whose daughters were to be sold into slavery because he had no money to offer to potential husbands as a dowry. The family discovered Nicholas was the mysterious donor on one of his attempts, which is why we know the story today. In this version of the story, we’ve added the twist of having Nicholas deliver the first two gifts, and Dimitri deliver the third, to capture the idea that many gifts were given back then, and are still given today, in the name of Saint Nicholas, who was known for such deeds. The theme of redemption is also so closely associated with this story from Saint Nicholas’ life, that if you pass by a pawn shop today, you will often see three golden balls in their logo, representing the three bags of gold that Nicholas gave to spare these girls from their unfortunate fate.
  • Nicholas pled for the lives of three innocent men who were unjustly condemned to death by a magistrate in Myra, taking the sword directly from the executioner’s hand.
  • “Nicholas, Bishop of Myra” is listed on some, but not all, of the historical documents which record those who attended the real Council of Nicaea, which was convened by Emperor Constantine in 325 A.D. One of the council’s main decisions addressed the divinity of Christ, resulting in the writing of the Nicene Creed–a creed which is still recited in many churches today. Some historians say that Nicholas’ name does not appear on all the record books of this council because of his banishment from the proceedings after striking Arius for denying that Christ was divine. Nicholas is, however, listed on at least five of these ancient record books, including the earliest known Greek manuscript of the event.
  • The Nicene Creed was adopted at the Council of Nicaea and has become one of the most widely used, brief statements of the Christian faith. The original version reads, in part, as translated from the Greek: “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father, the only-begotten; that is, of the essence of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; By whom all things were made both in heaven and on earth; Who for us men, and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate and was made man; He suffered, and the third day He rose again, ascended into heaven; From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead…” Subsequent versions, beginning as early as 381 A.D., have altered and clarified some of the original statements, resulting in a few similar, but not quite identical statements that are now in use.
  • Nicholas is recorded as having done much for the people of Myra, including securing grain from a ship traveling from Alexandria to Rome, which saved the people in that region from a famine.
  • Constantine’s mother, Helen, did visit the Holy Land and encouraged Constantine to build churches over the sites that she felt were most important to the Christian faith. The churches were built on the locations she had been shown by local believers where Jesus was born, and where Jesus died and rose again. Those churches, The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, have been destroyed and rebuilt many times over the years, but still in the same locations that Constantine’s mother, and likely Nicholas himself, had seen.
  • The date of Nicholas’ death has been established as December 6th, 343 A.D., and you can still visit his tomb in the modern city of Demre, Turkey, formerly known as Myra, in the province of Lycia. Nicholas’ bones were removed from the tomb in 1087 A.D. by men from Italy who feared that they might be destroyed or stolen, as the country was being invaded by others. The bones of Saint Nicholas were taken to the city of Bari, Italy, where they are still entombed today.

Of the many other stories told about or attributed to Nicholas, it’s hard to know with certainty which ones actually took place and which were simply attributed to him because of his already good and popular name. For instance, in the 12th century, stories began to surface of how Nicholas had brought three children back to life who had been brutally murdered. Even though the first recorded accounts of this story didn’t appear until more than 800 years after Nicholas’ death, this story is one of the most frequently associated with Saint Nicholas in religious artwork, featuring three young children being raised to life and standing next to Nicholas. We have included the essence of this story in this novel in the form of the three orphans who Nicholas met in the Holy Land and whom he helped to bring back to life–at least spiritually.

While all of these additional stories can’t be attributed to Nicholas with certainty, we can say that his life and his memory had such a profound effect throughout history that more churches throughout the world now bear the name of “Saint Nicholas” than any other figure, outside of the original disciples themselves.

Some people wonder if they can believe in Saint Nicholas or not. Nicholas probably wouldn’t care so much if you believed in him or not, but that you believed in the One in whom He believed, Jesus Christ.

A popular image today shows Saint Nicholas bowing down, his hat at his side, kneeling in front of baby Jesus in the manger. Although that scene could never have taken place in real life, for Saint Nicholas was born almost 300 years after the birth of Christ, the heart of that scene couldn’t be more accurate. Nicholas was a true believer in Jesus and he did worship, adore and live his life in service to the Christ.

Saint Nicholas would have never wanted his story to replace the story of Jesus in the manger, but he would have loved to have his story point to Jesus in the manger. And that’s why this book was written.

While the stories told here were selected from the many that have been told about Saint Nicholas over the years, these were told so that you might believe–not just in Nicholas, but in Jesus Christ, his Savior. These stories were written down for the same reason the Apostle John wrote down the stories he recorded about Jesus in the Bible. John said he wrote his stories:

“…that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31).

Nicholas would want the same for you. He would want you to become what he was: a Believer.

If you’ve never done so, put your faith in Jesus Christ today, asking Him to forgive you of your sins and giving you the assurance that you will live with Him forever.

If you’ve already put your faith in Christ, let this story remind you just how precious your faith really is. Renew your commitment today to serve Christ as Nicholas served Him: with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength. God really will work all things together for good. As the Bible says:

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Thanks for reading this special book about this special man, and I pray that your Christmas may be truly merry and bright. As Clement Moore said in his now famous poem, A Visit From St. Nicholas:
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”
Eric Elder

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS (Back to Table of Contents)

Special thanks to Joe Wheeler and Jim Rosenthal whose book, St. Nicholas: A Closer Look at Christmas, provided much of the background material for this novella. Their research and documentation of the life of St. Nicholas, and the historical context in which he lived, was the most informative, authoritative and inspirational we found on the subject. Thank you, Joe and Jim, for helping to keep the spirit of St. Nicholas alive!

ABOUT THE AUTHORS (Back to Table of Contents)

Eric & Lana Elder have written numerous Christmas stories that have captivated and inspired thousands as part of an annual Christmas production known as The Bethlehem Walk.

St. Nicholas: The Believer marks the debut of their first full-length Christmas story. Eric & Lana have also collaborated on several other inspirational books including:

  • Two Weeks With God
  • What God Says About Sex
  • Exodus: Lessons In Freedom
  • Jesus: Lessons In Love
  • Acts: Lessons In Faith
  • Nehemiah: Lessons In Rebuilding
  • Ephesians: Lessons In Grace
  • Israel: Lessons From The Holy Land
  • Israel For Kids: Lessons From The Holy Land
  • The Top 20 Passages In The Bible
  • Romans: Lessons In Renewing Your Mind
  • and Making The Most Of The Darkness

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

Thanks for reading ST. NICHOLAS: THE BELIEVER, by Eric and Lana Elder, a new story for Christmas based on the old story of St. Nicholas. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

San Nicolás: El Creyente

(The Spanish Edition of St. Nicholas: The Believer). Un cuento nuevo para Navidad basada en la antigua historia de San Nicolás
por Eric y Lana Elder
traducido por Victor J. Palomino

Léalo en línea de abajo!

Estás leyendo ST. NICOLÁS: EL CREYENTE, por Eric y Lana Elder, un cuento nuevo para Navidad basada en la antigua historia de San Nicolás (Spanish Edition). Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

Estás leyendo SAN NICOLÁS: EL CREYENTE, por Eric y Lana Elder, un cuento nuevo para Navidad basada en la antigua historia de San Nicolás (Spanish Edition). Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

Dedicatorio (Volver al índice de contenidos)
por Eric Elder

Este libro estás dedicado a mi querida esposa, la cual me inspiró y me ayudó a decirles a ustedes este cuento espectacular.

Lana acababa de terminar su redacción final y sugerencias sobre este libro la semana antes de pasar de esta vida a la próxima, demasiadamente joven a la edad de 48 años.

Fue su idea y su sueño compartir la historia de San Nicolás con tan cuantas personas posible. Ella quería inspirarlos a dar sus vidas por otros como Jesús había dado su vida por nosotros. Este libro es el primer paso en realizar ese sueño.

Al mundo Lana tal vez habría sido sólo una persona, pero para mí ella era el mundo. Este libro está dedicado a ella con gran amor.

Introducción (Volver al índice de contenidos)
por Eric Elder

Hubo un tiempo que casi había dejado de celebrar la Navidad. Nuestros hijos aún eran pequeños y todavía no estaban sometidos a la idea de Santa Claus y los regalos, el arbolito y las decoraciones navideñas.

Había leído que los religiosos puritanos que primero habían venido a Norte América eran tan fervientes en su fe que no celebraban nada de la Navidad. En vez, ellos les ponían una multa a los negociantes en sus comunidades que dejaban de mantener sus tiendas abiertas el día de Navidad. Ellos no querían nada que ver con un día de fiesta que ellos sentían que basadas en el paganismo. Para mí como recién convertido al evangelio y recién padre la idea de ir contra el exceso navideño en nuestra cultura me agradaba por lo menos en algunos aspectos.

Entonces leí un artículo por un hombre que simplemente le encantaba celebrar la Navidad. No encontraba mejor manera de celebrar el nacimiento del personaje más importante en la historia humana que tener una fiesta enorme en Su nombre—colectando y festejando y compartiendo regalos con tantas familias y amigos como fuera posible. Este hombre era un pastor de gran fe y gran gozo. Para él el gozo del nacimiento de Jesús era tan maravilloso que se deleitaba en todos los aspectos de la Navidad, incluyendo su preparación, decoraciones y actividades que eran parte de la celebración. Hasta le encantaba tener en el festejo a Santa Claus, nuestra versión moderna del real y verdadero personaje de antaño, San Nicolás, un hombre también de gran fe y gran gozo que adoraba y le hacía culto al niño que nació en Belém.

Entonces, ¿Por qué no celebrar el nacimiento de Cristo? ¿Por qué no tener la celebración más grande del año? ¿Por qué no celebrar la fiesta más feliz de todas?

Ya tenía la respuesta. Celebraría la Navidad—y mis hijos serían más felices en celebrarla también.

Me dediqué a celebrar la Navidad con gran esfuerzo y a la vez me dediqué a investigar intensamente la vida del verdadero San Nicolás, un hombre que estaba inamoviblemente entrelazado con este Día Santo. Descubrí que San Nicolás y Santa Claus eran verdaderamente la misma persona, y que San Nicolás, que vivió en el tercer y cuarto siglo después del nacimiento de Cristo, fue verdaderamente creyente de Cristo.

Mientras mi esposa y yo leíamos más y más sobre la fascinante historia de Nicolás, nos apasionaba más este creyente que ya por mucho tiempo capturaba los corazones y las imaginaciones de creyentes e incrédulos al igual por los siglos.

Con tantos libros y películas que se esmeran en contar el “verdadero” cuento de Santa Claus (así como el de sus venados realmente motorizados por Coca-Cola y ponche navideño), descubrí que hay muy pocos cuentos que se esmeran en realmente describir quien era San Nicolás, y particularmente, lo que él creía sobre el Hombre por el cual la Navidad se celebra, Jesucristo. Me sorprendí que a pesar de todos los documentos históricos que afirman la fe en Cristo de San Nicolás, cuentos imperiosos de ellos han desaparecido por medio de los años.

Entonces con el apoyo y la ayuda de mi querida esposa, Lana, decidimos revivirles a ustedes la historia de San Nicolás con el deseo de que ustedes capturen de nuevo la esencia de la Navidad.

Mientras algunos, hasta con buenos motivos, se esmeran en quitar todo lo que sea secular de este día de los más santos del año, a mi me parece preciso esmerarme en restaurar a Santa a su lugar correcto—no como el santo patrón de los centros comerciales, pero como un faro que brilla su luz en Él por el cual celebramos ese Día Santo.

Es con gran fe y gran gozo que les ofrezco esta novela corta de Navidad. Ha sido mi deseo contársela y espero que a ustedes les encante oírla. Tal vez sea el relato más humano de la historia de San Nicolás que ustedes han oído.

Sobre todo, le ruego a Dios que use esta historia para despertar tu amor, no sólo por esta fiesta del año, pero por Aquél que ilumina la fiesta.

¡Qué Dios los bendiga en esta Navidad y siempre!

En el amor de Cristo,

Eric Elder

P.D. He dividido este cuento en siete partes y cuarenta capítulos para facilitar la lectura. Si prefieren, pueden leer una parte por siete días antes de Navidad. O si prefieren, usen este libro como un devocional leyendo un capítulo por día por cuarenta días antes de Navidad, contando el prólogo, el epílogo y la conclusión como capítulos separados. Si empiezan el 15 de noviembre, entonces terminarán el Día de Nochebuena.

Estás leyendo ST. NICOLÁS: EL CREYENTE, por Eric y Lana Elder, un cuento nuevo para Navidad basada en la antigua historia de San Nicolás (Spanish Edition). Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

Estás leyendo SAN NICOLÁS: EL CREYENTE, por Eric y Lana Elder, un cuento nuevo para Navidad basada en la antigua historia de San Nicolás (Spanish Edition). Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

TABLA DE CONTENIDO

PARTE 1

PARTE 2

PARTE 3

PARTE 4

PARTE 5

PARTE 6

PARTE 7

Estás leyendo ST. NICOLÁS: EL CREYENTE, por Eric y Lana Elder, un cuento nuevo para Navidad basada en la antigua historia de San Nicolás (Spanish Edition). Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

Estás leyendo SAN NICOLÁS: EL CREYENTE, por Eric y Lana Elder, un cuento nuevo para Navidad basada en la antigua historia de San Nicolás (Spanish Edition). Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

PARTE 1

Prólogo (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Mi nombre es Demetrio—Demetrio Alejandro. Pero eso no es lo importante. Lo importante es aquel hombre allá, acostado en la cama. Él es—bueno, supongo que no hay otra manera de describirlo menos que decir—él es un santo. No sólo por todo lo bueno que ha hecho, pero porque él era—como todos los santos son—un creyente. Él creía que había Alguien mayor que él en la vida, Alguien que lo guiaba, que lo ayudaba cada día de su vida.

Si usted lo mirara de cerca, acostado allí en la cama, le parecería que esta muerto. Y puede tener razón. Pero la verdad es que él ahora está más vivo que antes jamás.

Mis amigos y yo hemos venido aquí hoy para pasar su último día en la tierra con él. Sólo hace unos minutes que lo vimos pasar de esta vida a la próxima.

Yo debería estar llorando, lo sé. Créame he llorado—y lloraré de nuevo. Pero por lo pronto, lo único que siento es gratitud porque él por fin ha llegado a su nuevo hogar, el hogar que él ha estado soñando por años. El hogar donde él por fin puede hablar con Dios cara a cara, como yo le estoy hablando a usted en este momento.

Cierto, verdaderamente era un santo. Pero para mí y muchos otros, él era mucho más. Él era—¿cómo podría decirlo? Una inspiración. Un amigo. Un maestro. Un ayudante. Un donante. Cómo le encantaba dar y dar y dar más, hasta que parecía no tener nada más que dar. Pero en esos momentos él extendía su mano más abajo y encontraba un poco más. “Siempre hay algo que se puede dar,” era lo que él muchas veces decía.

Él vivía con la esperanza de que, aunque en la forma más mínima, podía usar su vida para cambiar el mundo. Quería, sobre todo, ayudar a las personas. Pero con tantas necesidades en su alrededor, ¿qué podía hacer?

Era como un hombre en la playa rodeado de estrellas de mar que habían sido llevadas a la orilla por la marea. Sabía que morirían si no entraran de nuevo al mar.

Sin saber cómo poder salvarlas todas, el hombre en la playa hizo lo que pudo. Se agachó, tomó una en la mano, y la tiró al mar. Entonces se agachó de nuevo, tomó otra, e hizo lo mismo.

Alguien una de esas veces le preguntó al hombre por qué se molestaba en hacer eso—porque con tanta necesidad a su alrededor, ¿cómo era posible salvarlas todas? El hombre simplemente tiró otra al mar diciendo, “Tal vez no todas, pero ésa ya podrá vivir.” Entonces se agachó y tomó otra.

Pues bien, en el mundo tal vez eres sólo una persona, pero para una persona tú puedes ser un mundo.

En muchas formas mi amigo era igual a usted y a mí. Cada uno de nosotros tenemos sólo una vida para vivir. Pero si la vivimos correctamente, una vida es sólo lo que necesitamos. Y si vivimos nuestra vida para Dios, bueno, es posible que toquemos todo un mundo.

¿Cambió el mundo la vida de mi amigo? Yo ya sé la respuestas, porque yo fui uno de aquellos que él tomó hace muchísimos años. Pero es mejor que yo le haga el cuento, y cuando termine, le dejaré decidir si su vida ha cambiado el mundo o no. Y tal vez, cuando termine, usted verá que su vida también puede cambiarlo.

Perdón, pero no le he dicho su nombre todavía, este hombre que fue un gran santo, un gran creyente en el Dios que lo amó, que lo creó, que lo sostenía y con quien él vive ahora para siempre.

Su nombre es Nicolás—y ésta es su historia.

 

Capítulo 1 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Nicolás vivía en un mundo ideal. Por lo menos así era come él se lo imaginaba. Como un niño de nueve años de edad, creciendo en la costa norte del Gran Mar según él lo llamaba—Usted lo llamaría el Mar Mediterráneo—Nicolás no se podía imaginar una vida mejor.

Muchas veces caminaba por las calles con su padre, pretendiendo caminar a algún lugar en particular. Pero la verdadera razón por sus caminatas era para buscar a una persona con dificultades económicas, una persona que necesitaba una ayuda en la vida. Un simple saludo a veces se volvía en el descubrimiento de una necesidad que se debía enfrentar. Nicolás y su padre oraban, y si podían resolver esa dificultad, buscaban el modo de hacerlo.

Nicolás no tenía idea de veces que su padre se acercaba a una persona por detrás y después le ponía unas manzanas en su bolso, o una o dos monedas. Según Nicolás, nadie se daba cuenta de lo que su padre había hecho, y a veces él oía a la gente hablar del milagro de recibir exactamente lo que necesitaban en el momento preciso, de una manera inesperada.

A Nicolás le encantaban esas caminatas con su padre, al igual que le encantaba pasar tiempo con su madre en la casa. Sus padres le mostraban el mismo amor y generosidad a él que se lo mostraban a tantísimos otras personas.

De cierta manera sus padres habían aprendido a prosperar aún en los tiempos turbios en los cuales vivían. Realmente ellos eran muy ricos. Pero ser rico o pobre a Nicolás no le parecía ser importante. Lo único que sabía y le importaba era que sus padres lo amaban como ninguna otra persona en el mundo. Él era su único hijo, y sus horas juntas eran simples y verdaderamente felices.

Sus tiempos más copiosos eran por la noche mientras compartían cuentos que habían oído—cuentos de un Hombre que no era como ningún otro Hombre que ellos conocían. Un Hombre que había vivido al otro lado del Gran Mar como doscientos ochenta años antes. Su nombre era Jesús. Nicolás estaba cautivado con los cuentos de ese Hombre que parecía ser algo digno de estimación en los ojos de sus padres. Jesús le parecía ser humilde y real a la vez. ¿Cómo podía una persona tener esas dos características al igual? ¿Cómo podía ser tan pobre que había nacido en un establo de animales, y a la vez ser tan generoso que podía darle de comer a cinco mil personas? ¿Cómo podía vivir Su vida tan repleta, y a la vez morir una muerte tan cruel? Jesús era para Nicolás incomprensible, la persona más fascinante que él jamás había oído. Algún día, Nicolás pensaba, él anhelaba visitar ese lugar al otro lado del mar—y caminar donde Jesús caminó.

A pesar de todo el amor que Nicolás y sus padres compartían y que los unía, había una cosa que amenazaba separarlos. Era la cosa que parecía amenazar a muchas familias en su país en esos tiempos, sin distinguir entre ricos y pobres, su fe o falta de ella, su amor por otras personas o su falta de amor.

Los amigos de Nicolás y sus vecinos le llamaban la plaga. Sus padres la habían mencionado de vez en cuando, pero sólo en sus oraciones. Ellos oraban por las familias afectadas por la plaga, pidiéndole a Dios sanidad cuando fuera posible, y por fuerza de fe cuando no lo era. Sobre todo, sus padres oraban que Nicolás, a pesar de todo lo que pasara a su alrededor, él siempre supiera lo mucho que ellos lo amaban, y lo muchísimo que Dios lo amaba.

A pesar de que Nicolás era un niño, había visto suficiente para saber de la verdadera amenaza que existía en el mundo. Aún, él había sido protegido de esa amenaza, de cierto modo, por el amor de sus padres y por su devota fe en Dios. Como su padre había aprendido por medio de los años, y tantísimas veces se lo había recordado a Nicolás, “Dios dispone todas las cosas para el bien de quienes lo aman.” Y Nicolás le creía. Hasta ahora, él no tenía razón de dudar las palabras dichas por su padre.

Pero serían sólo unos meses antes de que la fe de Nicolás fuera desafiada, y él tendría que decidir por sí mismo si él creía esas palabras—que Dios dispone todas las cosas para el bien de quienes lo aman.

Esta noche, sin embargo, él simplemente confiaba en las palabras de su padre, mientras escuchaba a sus padres orar por él—y por aquellos en la ciudad—mientras se dejaba caer en un sueño perfecto.

 

Capítulo 2 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Nicolás se despertó oyendo el cantar de las aves afuera de su ventana. El aire estaba fresco y limpio como lavado por la niebla de la temprana mañana.

Pero la noticia de la mañana era menos grata. Al hijo de unos amigos de la familia de Nicolás se le había pegado la enfermedad que sólo se encontraba en otras ciudades. El niño estaba a punto de morir.

El padre de Nicolás había oído la noticia primero y había ido a orar por el niño. Al regresar a casa cuando Nicolás se despertaba, su padre compartió la noticia con su esposa y con su hijo.

“Tenemos que orar,” dijo el padre sin sugerencia de pánico en su voz, pero con la inconfundible urgencia que causó a los tres caer de rodilla.

El padre de Nicolás empezó la oración: “Padre, Tú sabes los planes que tú tienes para este niño. Confiamos que Tú los lleves a cabo. Oramos por sanidad porque amamos a este niño, pero sabemos que Tú lo amas más que nosotros. Confiamos que mientras ponemos a este pequeño en tus manos esta mañana, Tú dispones de todo para el bien, como tú siempre lo haces para todos quienes te aman.

Era una oración que Nicolás había oído a su padre decir muchas veces antes, pidiendo por lo que ellos creían que era lo mejor en cada situación, pero confiando que Dios sabía el mejor fin. Era la misma oración que Nicolás había oído que Jesús dijo la noche antes de morir: “Padre, si quieres,” Jesús oró, “no me hagas beber este trago amargo pero no se cumpla mi voluntad, sino la tuya.”

A Nicolás le era difícil entender esta oración. ¿No querrá Dios lo mejor para nosotros siempre? Y ¿cómo puede ser la muerte de algún bien? Aún, su padre oraba esa oración tantas veces que Nicolás estaba seguro que era la correcta oración. Pero cómo Dios podía contestar la oración de otra forma—y aún disponer de todo para el bien—le parecía un misterio.

Después de que la madre de Nicolás añadió sus palabras de oración y Nicolás mismo había hecho su petición, su padre terminó dándole gracias a Dios por escucharlos—y por ya haberles contestado la oración.

Mientras se ponían de pie, la noticia vino a la puerta, como si fuera una respuesta directa a lo que acababan de orar. Pero no era la respuesta que esperaban. El niño había muerto.

La madre de Nicolás empezó a llorar en silencio pero a la vez con lágrimas en los ojos. Lloraba al sentir la pérdida de la madre, sintiendo la pérdida como si fuera su propio hijo que había muerto. El padre de Nicolás la tomó de la mano y abrazó a su hijo, diciendo una silenciosa oración por la familia del niño que acababa de morir, y añadiendo otra oración por su propia familia. Abrazó de nuevo a su esposa y a su hijo, entonces salió por la puerta para regresar a la casa del niño fallecido.

 

Capítulo 3 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

La muerte del niño tuvo un efecto aleccionador en toda la ciudad. La gente del pueblo conocía al niño, claro, y todos estaban tristes por la pérdida de la familia.

Pero su muerte fue más aleccionadora porque no fue un evento único. La gente había oído de cómo la enfermedad se propagaba por todas las ciudades cercanas llevando con ella no solo una o dos vidas aquí o allí, pero familias enteras—comunidades enteras. La muerte de este niño les indicaba que la plaga también había llegado a su pueblo.

Nadie sabía cómo detenerla. Lo único que podían hacer era orar. Y en oración se pusieron.

Así que la enfermedad se propagaba, los padres de Nicolás visitaban los hogares de aquellos que morían. Mientras el dinero de sus padres no tenía ningún poder en ofrecer alivio a las familias, sus oraciones les traerían más paz que cualquier cifra de dinero.

Como siempre, el padre de Nicolás oraba que la muerte se alejara de ellos, como se había alejado de los israelitas en Egipto cuando la plaga de muerte venció sobre las vidas de cada primogénito de cada familia indispuesta a servir a Dios. Pero esta enfermedad era diferente. No distinguía entre creyentes ni incrédulos, primero o último en nacer, ni ningún otro factor aparente. La enfermedad no tenía fronteras, parecía ser invencible.

Aún, Nicolás observaba mientras su padre, a pesar de todo, oraba lleno de fe creyendo que Dios era capaz de detener la plaga en cualquier momento, en cualquier hogar, y confiando que Dios lo dispone de todo para el bien, aunque sus vidas, también, parecían ser abreviadas.

Estas últimas oraciones eran a las que todos se aferraban más. Más que nada, las palabras les daban esperanza—esperanza que sus vidas no eran vividas en vano, esperanza que sus muertes no serían olvidadas por el Dios que los había creado.

La visita del padre y la madre de Nicolás era de gran bienestar para aquellos enfrentando sufrimientos insoportables, porque mientras la plaga se propagaba, menos y menos personas estaban dispuestos a salir de sus casa, y mucho menos visitar las casas donde la enfermedad había atacado. Las oraciones del padre de Nicolás y las lágrimas de su madre, les daban a las familias la fuerza necesaria para encarar cualquier cosa que se les enfrentaba.

Nicolás observaba con asombro a sus padres repartir sus regalos de misericordia durante el día, y después regresar a la casa cada noche totalmente agotados pero espiritualmente colmados de fuerza. Nicolás se preguntaba cómo ellos podían adquirir la fuerza necesaria para cada día. Pero también se preguntaba cuánto tiempo sus propios padres podían seguir sin ser contagiados con la plaga.

Cuando Nicolás por fin tuvo la audacia de darle alta voz a sus preguntas, preguntas que todos estaban a punto de hacer, su padre simplemente respondió que ellos solo tenían dos opciones: vivir en miedo, o vivir en amor siguiendo el ejemplo de Aquel a quien ellos habían confiado sus vidas. Ellos escogieron vivir en amor, haciendo por los demás lo que ellos querían que otros hicieran por ellos.

Así que cada mañana el padre y la madre de Nicolás se levantaban y oraban, pidiéndole a su Señor lo que Él quería que ellos hicieran. Entonces, echando atrás todo miedo que ellos tuvieran, ponían su confianza en Dios, pasando el día sirviendo a los demás como si estuvieran sirviendo al mismo Cristo.

Mientras la respuesta de su padre no contestaba inmediatamente la pregunta que Nicolás tenía en su corazón—la cual era cuánto tiempo más pasaría antes que la enfermedad visitara su propia casa—esa respuesta le parecía contestar otra pregunta más profunda. Contestaba la pregunta si Dios tenía en cuenta todo lo que estaba pasando, y si lo tenía en cuenta, le importaba o no le importaba a Él suficientemente para intervenir.

De modo que Dios guiaba directamente a sus padres cada día, Nicolás obtuvo cierta paz en su corazón que Dios tenía, ciertamente y totalmente, en cuenta todo lo que ocurría en las vidas de cada persona de la ciudad de Patara—y que a Dios definitivamente le importaba. A Dios le importaba tanto que había enviado a los padres de Nicolás a aquellos que necesitaban escuchar una palabra de Él, que necesitaban tocar las manos de Él, que necesitaban contacto con Dios no sólo en su cuerpo pero también en su alma.

Nicolás se imaginaba que la respuesta a su pregunta era más gloriosa que lo que él se lo había imaginado. Su preocupación sobre cuando la enfermedad visitaría su propia casa desapareció cuando se durmió esa noche. En vez, oró que Dios usara sus manos y sus palabras—las manos y las palabras de Nicolás—como si fueran del mismo Dios, extendiéndose para expresar el amor de Dios a su pueblo.

 

Capítulo 4 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Los días siguientes, Nicolás se encontraba queriendo ayudar a su padre y a su madre más y más mientras ellos llevaban la misericordia de Dios a aquellos a su alrededor.

Trabajaban juntos para llevar comida, comodidad y amor a cada familia afectada por la plaga. Algunos días eran tan simples como detenerse en una casa para decirle a una madre que ella tenía compañeros en su sufrimiento. Otros días era llevando comida y bebida a una familia entera que había sufrido la enfermedad. Y aún otros días eran para preparar un lugar en las colinas alrededor del pueblo donde cuidadosamente enterraban a las personas que habían fallecido y ya estaban en la próxima vida.

Cada día el corazón de Nicolás se daba cuenta de la naturaleza temporal de la vida en la tierra, y estaba más y más en sintonía con la naturaleza eterna de la vida impalpable. Le parecía a Nicolás que la diferencia entre los dos mundos cada día se diferenciaba menos. Lo que se había imaginado una vez que era sólido y real—como las piedras y los árboles, como las manos y los píes—de repente tomaban una naturaleza más impalpable. Y aquellas cosa que le eran más difíciles de palpar—empezaban a ser más sólidas y verdaderas.

Le parecía que su mundo se estaba volteando al revés y hasta de lado todo a la misma vez, no con un giro desgarrador, pero como si sus propios ojos se calibraban, se ajustaban mejor para ver con más claridad lo que verdaderamente ocurría–enfocándose con más precisión en las cosa que realmente importaban en la vida. Aún rodeado de tantas muertes y enfermedad, Nicolás se sentía vivir de nuevo con más plenitud que antes había sentido.

Su padre trató de describir lo que Nicolás sentía usando palabras que Jesús dijo, que el que procura conservar su vida, la perderá; pero el que está dispuesto a perderla, encontrará verdadera vida. Aprendiendo ahora a amar al prójimo sin límites de temor y siguiendo adelante en amor, Nicolás se sentía estar verdaderamente vivo.

Si ese sentimiento lo podía sostener por los eventos que aún tendrían que pasar, él no lo sabía. Pero lo que sí sabía era que por lo pronto, más que antes, él quería vivir cada día en plenitud. Él quería despertarse cada día con la anticipación de cómo Dios lo usaría, y después hacer cualquier cosa que Dios estaba dispuesto a darle. Hacer menos que eso era renunciar la vida que Dios quería que el viviera—y engañar a Dios de la obra que Él quería que se hiciera.

Al par que los días pasaban, Nicolás llegó a saber lo que su padre y su madre ya sabían: que nadie sabía cuántos más días le quedaban en este mundo. Sus padres ya no se veían como humanos con una experiencia temporal, pero como seres espirituales. Con ojos de fe, ellos podían mirar hacia adelante sin el temor que captaba a tantos otros de sus vecinos.

 

Capítulo 5 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Una mañana cuando Nicolás se despertó oyendo toser a su madre, su corazón le pareció detenerse.

Por toda la preparación que sus padres—y hasta su propia fe—le habían dado, aún le sorprendió que la enfermedad actualmente podía cruzar el umbral de su propia casa.

Él pensó que tal vez Dios los libraría a todos por la amabilidad que ellos les habían mostrado a otros durante los últimos meses. Pero su padre le había advertido contra ese modo de pensar, recordándole que a pesar de todo el bien que Jesús había hecho en Su vida—por toda la sanidad que Él había traído a otros—aún llegaría la hora cuando Él, también, tendría que enfrentar el sufrimiento y la muerte. No era que Dios no lo amaba, o que no estaba preocupado por Él, o que no había visto todo el bien que había hecho en su vida. Y tampoco era que Jesús se mantenía indiferente a lo que estaba a punto de ocurrir. Jesús hasta les dijo a sus discípulos que su corazón estaba lleno de angustia por lo que tenía que pasar, pero eso no significaba que Él se arrepentía de lo que tenía por delante. No, Él dijo, “Precisamente para afrontarlo he venido. Nadie tiene amor más grande, que el que da su vida por sus amigos.”

La madre de Nicolás tosió de nuevo, y para el niño los minutos empezaron a avanzar lentamente. Se levantó. Al acercarse a su madre, ella se detuvo por un momento. Era como si ella estuviera indecisa entre querer que su hijo se detuviera—que no se acercara un paso más a la enfermedad que ahora estaba en su cuerpo—o levantarse, también, y abrazarlo dejándole saber que todo estaría bien. Pero en un momento más, Nicolás le había hecho innecesario el momento de indecisión, porque él ya estaba en sus brazos, abrazándola fuertemente mientras los dos estaban en llanto. Como Nicolás estaba prendiendo, tener fe no significa que no se debe llorar. Pero significa que uno puede confiar en Dios, hasta con las propias lágrimas.

El padre de Nicolás ya había derramado sus propias lágrimas esa mañana. Había salido de la casa antes de amanecer, esta vez no para visitar a otros, pero para orar. Para él, el lugar al que siempre regresaba cuando necesitaba estar a solas con Dios era al aire fresco a la orilla del mar, no muy lejos de su casa. Aunque él sabía que podía orar en cualquier lugar, en cualquiera ocasión, era a la orilla del mar donde él se sentía íntimamente cerca a Dios. El sonido de las olas y el ritmo del agua en la arena parecían calmarlo teniendo un efecto hipnotizador sobre él.

Él había llegado a tiempo para observar el amanecer del sol a su izquierda, mirando por la orilla del Gran Mar. ¿Cuántos amaneceres había visto de este mismo lugar? Y ¿cuántos más tendría por ver? Volteó la cabeza y tosió dejando que las preguntas regresaran al mar con la próxima ola que retorcía. La enfermedad le había llegado también a él.

Esta no era la primera vez que se preguntaba cuantos días tendría por vivir. La diferencia esta vez era que antes siempre la preguntaba suponiendo el futuro. El venía a este lugar siempre que tenía que hacer una decisión importante, una decisión que requería que él pensara más allá del tiempo presente. Él venía aquí cuando miraba hacia la eternidad, pensando en lo breve que la vida es. Aquí, a la orilla de mar, era como si él pudiera entender a la vez la brevedad de la vida y lo eterno del cielo.

El diario salir del sol, la intensidad, cresta y romper de las olas en la orilla le dejaban saber que Dios aún estaba en control, que Su mundo continuaría—con o sin él—como lo continuaba desde que Dios había pronunciado en existencia el mar y la tierra, y continuaría hasta que Dios decidiera terminarlo, para preparar un nuevo cielo y una nueva tierra. Comparado con la eternidad, el tiempo del mundo le parecía increíblemente breve, y la vida de un hombre más breve aún. Y en ese corto tiempo que vivía, él sabía que tenía que aprovechar al máximo cada día, no sólo en el vivir para sí mismo, ni tampoco por los demás, pero principalmente vivir para Dios que le había dado la vida. Si Dios, el creador de todo, le había deseado dar el aliento viviente, entonces mientras él tuviera vida, él quería usarla lo máximo posible.

Tosiendo otra vez, el padre de Nicolás recordó que esto no era solamente un ejercicio intelectual para ayudarlo a formar una decisión difícil. Esta vez—mientras miraba hacia el amanecer del sol de nuevo, y otra ola que revolvía—se dio cuenta de que esta sería la prueba final de todo lo que él había creído hasta este momento.

En algunas de las pruebas de la vida él había salido sobresaliente. En otras él había fracasado cuando estaba lleno de miedo o dudas. Pero esta era una prueba que él quería aprobar más que ninguna otra.

Cerró los ojos y pido fuerzas para enfrentar otro día. Dejó que el sol le calentara la cara y delicadamente abrió sus manos para sentir la brisa que venía por la orilla del mar en las palmas de sus manos y que flotaba por su cuerpo. Abrió los ojos y miró otra vez hacia el mar.

Entonces dio una vuelta y empezó a caminar a su casa, donde pronto encontraría a su querida esposa y amado hijo en un fuerte y triste abrazo.

 

Estás leyendo ST. NICOLÁS: EL CREYENTE, por Eric y Lana Elder, un cuento nuevo para Navidad basada en la antigua historia de San Nicolás (Spanish Edition). Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

Estás leyendo SAN NICOLÁS: EL CREYENTE, por Eric y Lana Elder, un cuento nuevo para Navidad basada en la antigua historia de San Nicolás (Spanish Edition). Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

PARTE 2

 

Capítulo 6 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Nicolás estaba sólo. Estaba en la misma parte de la playa donde su padre había estado orando sólo diez años antes, mirando el amanecer del día y las olas a la orilla de la playa.

El padre de Nicolás no pudo volver a salir a ver nunca más el Gran Mar porque fue finalmente vencido por la enfermedad después de aquel día. La madre de Nicolás falleció primero, dentro de dos semanas de haberse enfermado. Su padre vivió otros tres días después de la muerte de su esposa, como si estuviera esperando lo más posible estar cierto que su esposa pasara en paz de esta vida a la próxima, y para estar cierto que Nicolás estaba lo más listo posible para tomar sólo el próximo paso de su vida.

El padre de Nicolás no fue tímido en derramar sus lágrimas, pero no quería que fueran perdidas en emociones injustas tampoco. “No llores porque ha terminado,” su padre le dijo

Había una temporada y lugar para enojo y desencanto, pero esta no era la temporada de ninguna de las dos. Si tuviera la oportunidad de hacerlo todo de nuevo, sus padres hubieran escogido hacer exactamente lo mismo que habían hecho. “No era una tontería,” ellos dijeron, “estar dispuesto a arriesgar la vida amando a otros, especialmente cuanto no había ninguna garantía que ellos sobrevivirían.”

Al final, la plaga terminó tomando las vidas de casi la tercera parte de la gente de Patara antes de finalmente tomar su rumbo. La enfermedad parecía tener una mente propia, enfermando a aquellos que se protegían al igual que aquellos, como sus padres, que se aventuraban a salir al medio de ella.

Después de la muerte de sus padres, Nicolás sintió un nuevo sentimiento urgente de llevar a cabo la obra de sus padres, visitando a aquellos que estaban enfermos y animando a los familiares de aquellos que habían fallecido.

Entonces, casi tan pronto como había llegado a su ciudad, la plaga desapareció. Nicolás pasó casi las próximas semanas durmiendo, tratando de recuperarse de los largos días—y más largas noches—de suministrar a aquellos que estaban enfermos. Cuando estaba despierto, pasaba el tiempo tratando de entender sus propios sentimientos y emociones sintiendo la pérdida de su propia amada familia. Su vida estaba tan entrelazada con la de ellos, y al ser arrebatada tan de repente de él, apenas sabía la próxima cosa que hacer sin ellos. Nicolás fue a vivir con su tío, un sacerdote que vivía en el monasterio de Patara, hasta estar listo para aventurar adelante en el mundo a solas. Por fin la hora había llegado, y ahora Nicolás tendría que tomar una decisión.

Diferencia a tantos otros que la plaga había dejado huérfanos, a Nicolás le habían dejado una considerable herencia. La pregunta en su corazón no era que haría para ganarse la vida, pero que haría para hacerse de una vida. Por medio de todo lo que él había vivido, y ahora reconociendo la brevedad de la vida por sí mismo, Nicolás en este momento ya sabía por qué su padre había venido tantas veces a la orilla del mar para orar. Ahora era el turno de Nicolás de pensar en su propio futuro considerando lo más eterno.

¿Qué debo hacer? ¿Adónde debo ir? ¿Cómo debo pasar el resto de mi vida? Las preguntas lo hubieran vencido, excepto que su padre también lo había preparado bien para momentos como éstos.

Su padre, siempre estudiante de las Santas Escrituras y de la vida de Cristo, le había enseñado que Jesús les dijo a sus discípulos que no se preocuparan mucho por los problemas por venir sino en los problemas de cada día. “Cada día tiene ya sus problemas,” Jesús dijo.

Mientras Nicolás pensaba sobre esto, su carga se aliviaba. No tenía que saber qué hacer el resto de su vida en este momento. Sólo tenía que decidir su próximo paso.

Tenía suficiente dinero para viajar el mundo entero tres o cuatro veces y aún tendría suficiente dinero para vivir los años venideros. Pero en realidad eso no era lo que él quería hacer. Nunca le había interesado vivir con lujo o sin control, pues la vida que conocía hasta este momento siempre le daba muchísima satisfacción. Pero había un lugar que él siempre había querido ver con sus propios ojos.

Mientras miraba el mar, al sur y al oeste, sabía que a lo lejos estaba el lugar que más quería visitar—la tierra que en su mente le parecía la más preciosa de todas. Era la tierra donde Jesús había vivido, la tierra donde Él había caminado, había enseñado, la tierra donde Él había nacido y había muerto, y la tierra donde tantos cuentos de Su vida—y casi de la entera Santas Escrituras—habían tomado lugar.

Nicolás sabía que en la vida ciertas decisiones sólo se tomaban bajo el sudor y la agonía de la oración, tratando desesperadamente de decidir entre dos fines aparentemente buenos, y a la vez caminos diferentes. Pero esta decisión no era una de ellas. Ésta era una decisión que, por lo natural de sus circunstancias, era verdaderamente fácil de tomar. Además de su tío, había tan poco que lo mantuviera en Patara, y nada que lo detuviera en llevar a cabo el deseo que había tenido en su corazón por tanto tiempo.

Se alegró que su padre le había mostrado este lugar, y se alegró de haber venido a él de nuevo hoy. Sabía exactamente la próxima cosa que iba a hacer. Su decisión era tan clara como el agua del mar delante de él.

 

Capítulo 7 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

La llegada de Nicolás a la costa lejana del Gran Mar vino más repentina de lo que se había imaginado. Hacía tiempo que Él se había imaginado caminar dónde Jesús caminó, y ahora, a la edad de diecinueve años, por fin estaba allí.

Encontrar un barco para que lo llevara allí no fue difícil, porque su propia ciudad de Patara era uno de los puertos principales de parada para los barcos navegando de Egipto a Roma, llevando a viajeros al igual que carga. Reservar el pasaje era tan simple cómo mostrar que uno tenía el dinero para comprarlo, lo cual Nicolás tenía.

Pero ya que había llegado, ¿adónde iría primero? Quería verlo todo de una vez, aunque eso era imposible. La solución vino al sentir que lo halaban de la manga.

¿Usted es cristiano?” una pequeña voz le preguntó. Nicolás inclinó su cabeza abajo y vio a un niño que no parecía tener más de diez año mirándolo. Dos niños más cerca de él se reían. Hacer esta pregunta tan abiertamente, cuando en general era peligroso hacerla, mostraba que el niño era un fiel creyente de Cristo buscando a otro creyente, o mostraba que tenía otros motivos en mente. De la risa de sus amiguitos a su lado, un niño y una niña poco menor que el que había hecho la pregunta, Nicolás sintió que el motivo probablemente era el segundo.

¿Usted es cristiano?” el niño le preguntó de nuevo. “Yo lo puedo llevar a los sitios sagrados.”

Ah, eso es,” se dijo Nicolás. Tantos peregrinos obviamente han venido a este lugar todos estos años que hasta los más pequeños de allí sabían que los peregrinos necesitaban un guía al llegar. Mirando a los tres niños otra vez, Nicolás sintió que ellos lo podían ayudar. El corazón de Nicolás confiaba, y al no ser incauto tampoco pensando que aquí no tendría dificultades, confiaba que el mismo Dios que lo había traído a este lugar también le proveería la ayuda que necesitaba al llegar. Aunque estos niños lo hacían sólo para ganar unas monedas, eso le parecía bien a Nicolás. Él tenía dinero. Pero no tenía un mapa. Con gran gusto él los emplearía para que fueran como un mapa viviente a los sitios sagrados.

Sí, y sí,” Nicolás contestó. “Verdaderamente, soy cristiano. Y si ustedes quieren llevarme, entonces sí, porque tengo mucho interés en ver los sitios sagrados. Y sería un gran gusto si tus amigos vinieran con nosotros, también. Entonces, si nos encontramos en un apuro, ellos nos pueden defender a los dos.”

El niño se quedó sorprendido y sus amigos se rieron de nuevo. No era la respuesta que esperaba, por lo menos no tan rápido y no sin pasar mucho tiempo molestando al hombre. Siempre los peregrinos que venían eran mucho más escépticos al salir del barco, deshaciéndose rápidamente de todos lo que se les acercaban—por lo menos hasta estar en tierra un rato y tener sus planes en orden. Pero el niño pronto se recuperó del asombro e inmediatamente extendió la mano derecha, palma arriba, inclinando la cabeza para saludarlo. A Nicolás le dio la delicada impresión que el niño estaba a su disposición y la indelicada impresión que el niño estaba listo para que Nicolás le pusiera una moneda en la mano abierta. Al ver otra oportunidad para sorprender al niño de nuevo, Nicolás resolvió hacerlo con gusto.

Delicadamente le puso tres de sus más pequeñas, pero más brillantes monedas, en la palma de la mano y le dijo, “Mi nombre es Nicolás. Y ya veo que eres un hombre sabio. Ahora bien, si eres capaz de mantener la mano abierta después de haberte puesto tres monedas en ella, serás aún más sabio. Pues, para él que aprieta el puño tomando lo que ha recibido le será difícil recibir más. Pero para él que abre la mano voluntariamente hacia el cielo—voluntariamente dando igualmente de lo que voluntariamente ha recibido—reconocerá que su Padre celestial por lo general no se detendrá en darle más.”

Nicolás hizo una seña con la mano indicándole al niño que era su intención que compartiera lo que había recibido con sus amigos, los cuales se habían acercado más al ver las monedas. El niño irrevocablemente era el portavoz de los tres, pero aún se detuvo un momento pensando en lo que iba a hacer. Este hombre era tan diferente a otros que el niño había conocido. Con los otros, el niño siempre trataba, generalmente sin éxito, de engatusarlos en que le dieran una de las monedas de su bolso, y ahora este hombre le había dado tres monedas en su primer intento. El hecho que las monedas no habían sido dadas a regañadientes, pero felizmente, verdaderamente lo habían confundido. Nunca había oído a nadie decir eso de mantener la mano abierta para dar y recibir. Su instinto era enseguida apretar el puño con las monedas dentro, y correr hasta llegar al lugar más seguro, y a solas entonces abrir la mano para examinarlas y dejar que su brillo iluminara sus ojos. Pero aún él estaba en asombro, con el brazo extendido y la palma de la mano hacia arriba. Casi contra su propia voluntad, se sintió girar ligeramente y extenderles la mano a sus amigos.

Tomando la oportunidad, los otros dos rápidamente tomaron una moneda de su mano. Al instante de realizar que ellos, también, estaban a punto de apretar sus puños aferrando sus nuevos tesoros, lentamente abrieron la mano, mirando al recién llegado peregrino con asombro. No sólo estaban asombrados que él les había dado la moneda, pero que aún estaban delante de él con la mano abierta, sorprendiéndose hasta ellos mismos de estar dispuestos a seguir el extraño consejo de este hombre.

La escena causó que Nicolás empezara a reírse a carcajadas. Estaba a gusto que habían respondido de esa manera y rápidamente les puso en las manos dos más de sus pequeñas monedas, ahora triplicando su asombro. No era la cantidad del regalo que los asombraba, porque ellos habían visto propinas más grandes de peregrinos más ricos, pero era el espíritu de generosidad y alegría que acompañaba el regalo que los sorprendió.

El incidente completo duró menos de un minuto, pero había preparado a Nicolás y sus nuevos amigos a anticipar el viaje que los esperaba.

Ahora, deben cerrar la mano otra vez, porque un hombre sabio—o una mujer–,” dijo inclinándose hacia la niña, “también cuida lo que se le ha dado para que no se le pierda o se lo roben.”

Entonces, dando una vuelta para caminar hacia la ciudad, Nicolás dijo, “¿A ver si me dejan descansar esta noche, y entonces, al amanecer del día pueden empezar a enseñarme los sitios sagrados?”

Mientras abundaban los sitios sagrados en esta tierra santa, en los momentos mágicos que acababan de transcurrir, les parecía a los tres niños—y hasta al mismo Nicolás— que ellos acababan de pisar el primero.

 

Capítulo 8 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

La mañana siguiente, Nicolás se despertó al salir el sol. Les había dijo a los niño que se encontraran con él en el mesón poco después del amanecer. Sentía tener el corazón lleno de alegría anticipando el día por delante. Dentro de unos momentos, oyó un toque en la puerta y la inconfundible risa de los niños.

Supo que el nombre de los niños eran Demetrio, Samuel y Rut. Ellos tenían, para decir la verdad, experiencia en la vida. Eran hijos de padres que los habían dejado al nacer para aprender por su cuenta. Huérfanos como estos niños abundaban por las calles en todo el imperio romano, productos de un pueblo que disfrutaba sus placeres por dondequiera y con cualquier persona que ellos deseaban, sin pensar en los resultados de sus acciones.

Mientras Demetrio había podido vivir como víctima de su situación, no lo hizo. Había realizado de muy niño que de nada le valdría frustrándose o enojándose con sus circunstancias. Así que comenzó a ser negociante. Empezó a buscar maneras de trabajar ayudando a la gente a hacer lo que necesitaban, principalmente esas cosas que ellos no podían hacer por su cuenta o no querían hacer. Muchas veces no fue compensado por su esfuerzo, pero cuando lo era, se fijó que valía la pena trabajar.

No lo hacía por motivo de religión, porque él no era religioso, ni lo hacía por motivo de avaricia, porque nunca había hecho nada que no le parecía honesto si era sólo por el dinero, como los mezquinos lo hacen porque su único interés es el dinero. Simplemente, él pensaba que si hacía algún trabajo que otros valuaban, y si lo hacía bien y tomaba tiempo en hacerlo, entonces, de algún modo, el tendría éxito en la vida. Algunos como Demetrio se tropezaban con sabiduría divina sin realizarlo.

Samuel y Rut, al contrario, sólo lo acompañaban para ver qué bien les traería. Como abejas atraídas a la miel, Samuel y Rut eran atraídos a Demetrio, como a menudo pasa cuando una persona procede en hacer bien. Samuel tenía ocho años, y como Demetrio, no era religioso tampoco, pero había escogido su nombre él mismo cuando oyó a alguien contar la historia de otro niño llamado Samuel el cual, cuando era aún muy pequeño, sus padres lo habían entregado a un sacerdote para criarlo. Al Samuel de hoy le encantaba escuchar los cuentos de lo que el otro niño había hecho aunque había vivido más de mil años antes. El Samuel presente no sabía si los cuentos del otro Samuel eran ciertos, pero sin importarle había tomado su nombre ya varios años. Fue sólo en los últimos meses, viajando a los sitios sagrados con Demetrio, que había empezado a pensar si los cuentos eran verdaderamente ciertos.

Y Rut, aunque tenía sólo siete años, tenía chispa. Nunca se le olvidaban los nombres de la gente ni las fechas ni lo que había pasado ni cuándo ni quién le hizo qué a quién. La risa era su característica, pero aunque era pequeña, su mente anhelaba aprender y ella recordaba todo lo que veía y todo lo que se le enseñaba. Tenía la cabeza llena de preguntas, y naturalmente ella las hacía en alta voz.

A Demetrio no le molestaba que los pequeños lo siguieran, porque aunque habría sido más fácil hacer lo que tenía que hacer sólo, sabía también de los peligros que se encontraban en la calle y se sentía obligado a ayudar a los dos niños como un hermano mayor hubiera ayudado a sus hermanitos. Y con toda honestidad, él no tenía a nadie a quien llamar familia, así que al encontrarse con estos dos unos años antes se le llenó parte del corazón de una manera que no podía describir, pero de algún modo lo hacía sentir más a gusto.

Nicolás miró la escena de las tres caras radiantes en su umbral. “¿Adónde primero?” preguntó Demetrio.

“Empecemos en el principio,” dijo Nicolás, “en el sitio dónde Jesús nació.” Y con eso empezaron el viaje a pie de tres días de la costa de Jope a las colinas de Belén.

 

Capítulo 9 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Después de dos días de caminar y dormir en las colinas, Nicolás y sus nuevos amigos tenían sólo medio día de viaje antes de llegar a Belén. El gozo de Nicolás se intensificaba con cada colina que subían y bajaban, porque estaban al llegar al sitio santo que más anhelaba ver, el lugar donde Jesús nació.

“¿Por qué te imaginas que lo hizo?” Demetrio preguntó. “Es decir, ¿Por qué había querido Jesús venir al Mundo? Si yo estuviera ya en el cielo, pienso que habría querido quedarme allá.”

Aunque Demetrio había de ser el guía, no le importaba hacer tan cuantas preguntas le venían a la mente, especialmente cuando guiaba a una persona como Nicolás, lo cual no ocurría mucho.

A Nicolás no le molestaban tampoco sus preguntas, porque él mismo les había hecho muchas preguntas a sus padres. Ellos pertenecían a una comunidad de creyentes que se había inaugurado casi doscientos cincuenta años antes por el mismo apóstol Pablo cuando él había visitado la vecina ciudad de Mira en uno de sus viajes misioneros, enseñándoles de Jesús a todos los que lo escuchaban. Pablo había vivido durante los años de Jesús, aunque Pablo mismo no llegó a ser creyente hasta después de Jesús morir y resucitar de la muerte. Los cuentos de Pablo siempre eran dignos de escuchar.

Nicolás tuvo la oportunidad de escuchar todos los cuentos de Pablo cuando estuvo en Mira, como habían sido escritos y contados por muchas personas por los años.

De niño, Nicolás pensaba que algo que había pasado más de doscientos cincuenta años era historia de la antigüedad. Pero al crecer, y ahora aún más que sus padres habían fallecido, no le parecía nada de tiempos lejanos. Los cuentos que Nicolás había oído eran los mismos que su padre y su abuelo y su bisabuelo habían oído seis o siete generaciones antes y algunos parientes hasta los habían oído por primera vez del mismo Pablo. A Nicolás le encantaba oírlos de nuevo vez y tras otra, y había hecho muchas de las mismas preguntas que Demetrio hacía ahora—como porque Jesús dejó el cielo para venir al mundo en persona.

“La respuesta es simple, porque nos amaba,” dijo Nicolás. “Pero sólo con esa respuesta no se contesta en realidad la pregunta que me estás haciendo, porque Dios siempre nos ha amado. La razón por la cual Jesús vino al mundo era, pues, porque habían cosas que tenían que hacer en persona.”

Nicolás empezó a explicarles el evangelio—las buenas nuevas—a los niños, de cómo Jesús vino a pagar el precio máximo con su vida por todo el mal que nosotros le habíamos hecho así preparándonos una senda para regresar a Dios con el corazón limpio, y además vivir con Él en el cielo para siempre.

Mientras Nicolás les contaba la historia, los niños lo miraban con completa atención. Aunque ellos habían estado antes en Belén muchas veces, y a menudo habían llevado a peregrinos a la cueva que había sido tallada de la ladera de la colina donde se decía que Jesús había nacido, nunca antes se les había imaginado que fuera así. Nunca habían entendido la razón por qué Dios hizo lo que hizo. Y nunca habían considerado que los cuentos que habían escuchado de Jesús, Dios en forma humana, eran ciertos. ¿Cómo podía ser eso?

A pesar de todo, al oír la explicación de Nicolás, ellos la entendían tan bien que se preguntaban cómo no la habían considerado cierta antes. En esos momentos sus corazones y mentes por fin se abrieron por lo menos a la posibilidad que era verdad. Y esa realización fue el punto de partida de cada una de sus vidas, así como lo había sido para Nicolás la primera vez que le explicaron la verdad. Dios verdaderamente los amaba, y Dios les había demostrado ese amor a ellos en venir al mundo y salvarlos de la cierta y propia destrucción.

Cuando Nicolás oyó por primera vez cuanto el Padre lo amaba, la idea la entendía porque él ya había visto a su propio padre demostrarle amor. Pero para Demetrio, Samuel y Rut, que nunca habían tenido un padre, ni menos uno como el que Nicolás había descrito, era una idea distantemente incomprensible y a la vez una maravillosa y llamativa descripción de un amor que no conocían.

Caminando colina arriba hasta llegar a Belén, empezaron un paso más ligero así como sus corazones latían, sabiendo que pronto verían otra vez el sitio donde Dios había, como hombre, tocado por primera vez el Mundo menos de trescientos años antes. Pronto estarían pisando tierra que era verdaderamente santa.

 

Capítulo 10 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Ya era de noche cuando finalmente llegaron a su destino. Demetrio los guió por la ciudad de Belén al lugar donde generaciones de peregrinos habían ya venido a ver dónde Jesús nació: una pequeña cueva que había sido tallada de la ladera de una colina dónde los animales se podían acorralar para que no se escaparan.

No había señal para marcar el lugar, ningún monumento o edificio para indicar que uno estaba delante del lugar donde el Dios del universo había llegado como un niño. Aún era peligroso en todo el imperio romano confesarle a alguien que uno era cristiano, aunque las leyes contra serlo eran impuestas sólo ocasionalmente.

Pero eso no detenía a aquellos que verdaderamente profesaban conocer a Cristo de continuar honrando a Aquel que ellos servían como su Rey. Aunque Jesús les enseñó a sus discípulos que ellos deberían respetar a los gobernantes terrenales, si los forzaran a escoger entre adorar a Cristo o a Cesar, ambos los cristianos y el mismo Cesar sabían a quien los cristianos adorarían. Así que el enfrentamiento continuaba.

Lo único que indicaba que verdaderamente este era un sitio santo era la bien usada senda colina arriba que llevaba a un creyente a la cueva. Diez miles de peregrinos ya habían llegado a este lugar en los últimos doscientos cincuenta años. Los habitantes de Belén lo conocían bien, pues era el mismo lugar que se les había enseñado a los peregrinos por generaciones desde los días de Cristo.

Mientras Demetrio guiaba a los otros tres por la senda a la cueva, Nicolás se rió calladamente y después en alta voz. Los otros dieron una vuelta para ver qué era lo que lo había hecho reír tan de improviso. ¡Hasta él mismo se había sorprendido! Aquí estaba en el lugar más santo que anhelaba ver, y se estaba riendo.

Nicolás dijo, “Estaba pensando en los reyes magos que vinieron a Belén a ver a Jesús. Seguramente subieron por esta misma colina. Me imagino lo grandioso que eran, montados en sus camellos y trayendo sus regalos de oro, incensio y mirra. Por un instante me imaginaba que yo era uno de esos reyes montado en un camello. De repente pisé en la senda el excremento de una oveja. ¡En un instante el olor me regresó de nuevo a la realidad que no soy nada de grandioso!”

”Sí,” dijo Rut, “pero no nos dijo usted que los ángeles habían hablado con los pastores primero, y que ellos fueron los primeros en ir a ver al bebé? ¡Entonces, tener el olor de excremento de oveja no le hace parecer a uno de los reyes, pero le hace parecer a aquellos que Dios trajo al pesebre primero!”

“Bien dicho, Rut,” Nicolás dijo. “Tienes absolutamente la razón.”

Rut sonrió al contemplar su idea, y entonces sus ojos les dieron saber que tenía otra idea. “Pero, ¿tal vez nosotros también debemos traer un regalo, como los reyes magos?” La idea la motivaba, como si verdaderamente se preocupaba por no tener nada que traerle al Rey. Era cierto que Él ya no estaba ahí para recibir su regalo, aún ella estaba cautivada con los cuentos de Jesús que Nicolás les decía por el camino. Ella pensaba que por lo menos tenían que traerle algún regalo.

“¡Miren!” les dijo la niña señalando un lugar en la colina a una distancia de ellos. Dejó la senda y en unos momentos había regresado con cuatro pequeñas y delicadas flores doradas, una para cada uno de ellos. “Me parecen como si fueran de oro.”

De pronto ella sonrió ampliamente y le dio a cada uno un regalo para llevarle a Jesús. Nicolás sonrió también. Siempre hay algo que podemos darle, él pensó. Sea el oro de una mino o el oro de una flor, le traemos a Dios sólo lo que ya es suyo, no es cierto?

Y con sus regalos en mano, llegaron a la entrada de la cueva, y entraron en ella.

 

Capítulo 11 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Nada podía haber preparado a Nicolás a sentir la fuerte emoción que lo llenó al entrar en la cueva.

En el suelo delante de él había un pesebre de madera improvisado, un cajón para darles de comer a los animales, seguramente muy parecido al que fue usado para poner a Jesús la noche que nació. Aparentemente alguien lo había puesto allí como una memoria de lo que había ocurrido allí. Pero para Nicolás el resultado fue profundo.

Un momento él se reía de sí mismo y miraba a Rut recoger flores de la colina, y el próximo momento, al ver el pesebre, se encontró arrodillado, llorando sin control al pensar en lo que había ocurrió en ese mismo lugar.

Pensó en todo lo que toda su vida él había oído decir de Jesús—de cómo él había curado a los enfermos, caminado sobre el agua y levantado a un muerto. Pensó en las palabras que Jesús había hablado—palabras que resonaban con el peso de autoridad como el autor de la misma vida. Pensó en sus propios padres que habían ofrecido sus vidas por aquellos que amaban para servir a este Hombre llamado Jesús que había muerto también por ellos.

Los pensamientos le llenaban completamente la mente de tal manera que Nicolás sólo podía llorar con sinceras lágrimas. Le salían del alma. También, muy profundo dentro de él, Nicolás se sintió conmovido como nunca en la vida se había sentido. Era una sensación que le provocaba una respuesta, una acción. Era un sentimiento tan diferente a cualquier otro que jamás había tenido, pero sin duda alguna, había ahora un paso que Nicolás tenía que tomar, como si una puerta se abriera delante de él y él sabía que tenía que entrar por ella. Pero, ¿cómo?

Como una respuesta a su pregunta, Nicolás recordó la flor dorada en su mano. Sabía exactamente lo que tenía que hacer y él quería hacerlo con todo deseo.

Levantó la flor en su mano y la puso delicadamente en el piso delante del pesebre de madera. La flor dorada ya no era solamente una flor. Era un símbolo de su propia vida, ofrecida al servicio del Rey.

Nicolás se quedó arrodillado allí por varios minutos rindiéndose a la sensación que en el momento sabía, mientras la experimentaba, que lo cambiaría por el resto de la vida. No se daba cuenta de nada en su alrededor. Lo único que sabía era que tenía que servir a este Rey, a este Hombre que ciertamente era Hombre en todo sentido, pero que también era uno con Dios, la propia naturaleza de Dios mismo.

Como despertándose lentamente de un sueño, Nicolás empezó otra vez a darse cuenta de su ambiente. Se fijó en Demetrio y Samuel a su izquierda y en Rut a su derecha, también arrodillados. De haber visto a Nicolás arrodillarse, ellos también hicieron lo mismo. Ahora miraban de Nicolás al pesebre delante de él.

La emoción que había llenado a Nicolás ahora los llenaba a ellos también. Ellos se imaginaban lo que él sentía, sabiendo de su devoción a Jesús y lo que les había costado a sus padres seguirlo a Él. Cada uno de ellos, de su propia manera, empezó a sentir dentro de sí lo que era sentir tal amor y devoción.

Al ver a Nicolás colocar su flor delante del pesebre, ellos empezaron a sentir el mismo deseo. Si Cristo era tan importante para Nicolás, entonces definitivamente también querían seguir a Jesús. Nunca en la vida ellos habían sido amados como Nicolás los había amado esos últimos tres días. Pero a pesar de todo sabían que el amor que Nicolás les había mostrado no se originaba sólo en él, pero en Dios a quien Nicolás servía. Si este era el efecto que Jesús hacía sentir en sus siervos, entonces ellos también querían servir a Jesús.

Cualquier duda que Nicolás había tenido en su fe antes de ese día, todas habían desaparecido en esos momentos eternos. Nicolás había llegado a ser, verdaderamente, un creyente.

Y desde ese primer momento de poner totalmente su fe y confianza en Jesús, él ya estaba inspirando a otros a hacer lo mismo.

 

Estás leyendo ST. NICOLÁS: EL CREYENTE, por Eric y Lana Elder, un cuento nuevo para Navidad basada en la antigua historia de San Nicolás (Spanish Edition). Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

Estás leyendo SAN NICOLÁS: EL CREYENTE, por Eric y Lana Elder, un cuento nuevo para Navidad basada en la antigua historia de San Nicolás (Spanish Edition). Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

PARTE 3

 

Capítulo 12 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Una vez más, Nicolás estaba sólo frente al mar. Esta vez, sin embargo, estaba en la orilla de la Tierra Santa, mirando hacía el Gran Mar y hacia su tierra natal.

En los meses después de su visita a Belén, Nicolás, junto con su joven guía y guarda espaldas, habían buscado todos los sitios santos posibles relacionados con Jesús. Habían vuelto a trazar los pasos de Jesús de su infancia en el pueblo de Nazaret hasta las aldeas pescadoras en Capernaúm, donde Jesús había vivido de mayor.

Ellos habían puestos sus pies en el agua del río Jordán donde Jesús había sido bautizado y habían nadado en el Mar de Galilea donde Él había caminado en el agua y calmado la tormenta.

Ellos habían visitado el monte donde Jesús había hablado del reino de los cielos, y se habían maravillado en el lugar done Él había dividido los cinco panes y los dos peses para darle de comer a la multitud de más de cinco mil personas.

Aunque fue en Belén donde Nicolás se llenó de asombre y adoración, fue en Jerusalén done se llenó de misión y propósito. Al caminar por las calles donde Jesús había llevado Su cruz al lugar de su propia crucifixión, Nicolás sintió el peso en los hombros como si también cargara la cruz. Entonces, al ver el monte donde Jesús había muerto, y la cercana tumba vacía donde Jesús había resucitado de la muerte, Nicolás sintió desaparecer el peso sobre los hombros, como Jesús se habría sentido al salir de la tumba donde lo habían sellado.

Fue en ese momento cuando Nicolás supo cual sería su misión y su propósito en la vida: señalar a otros a Él que también era capaz de levantar sus cargas. Quería mostrarles que ellos ya no tenían que llevar solos las cargas del pecado, del dolor, de la enfermedad y de la necesidad. Quería mostrarles que ellos podían arrojar sus preocupaciones sobre Jesús, y saber que Jesús se interesaba en ellos. “Vengan a mí, todos ustedes que están cansados y agobiados,” Jesús había dicho, “y yo les daré descanso.”

Los cuentos que Nicolás había oído de niño ya no eran imágenes imprecisas y lejanas de lo que podía haber ocurrido. Eran cuentos que habían tomado nueva vida para él, cuentos que ahora eran de tres dimensiones y de todo color. No era sólo que ahora había visto estos sitios con sus propios ojos. Otros ya habían hecho eso, y algunos hasta vivían allí en ese lugar, pero aún nunca habían sentido lo que Nicolás sentía. La diferencia en Nicolás era que él veía esos cuentos por medio de ojos de fe, por medio de ojos de un creyente, como uno que ahora verdaderamente creía todo lo que había ocurrido.

A medio que su aventura de viajar a cada uno de los sitios sagrados concluía, Nicolás regresó al lugar donde por primera vez había sentido la presencia de Dios tan fuertemente: a Belén. Sentía que para prepararse mejor para el nuevo llamamiento de su vida, debía pasar tan cuanto tiempo posible viviendo y aprendiendo en esta tierra tan especial. Mientras exploraba la ciudad de Belén y lo que la rodeaba, encontró otra cueva cerca, en la ciudad de Beit Jala, que era parecida a la cueva donde Jesús había nacido. Empezó a vivir en esa cueva con la esperanza de vivir y aprender lo más posible de todo lo que había en esta tierra donde su Salvador había vivido.

Demetrio, Samuel y Rut también habían sentido una nueva misión y propósito en la vida. Aunque querían haberse quedado con Nicolás, se sentían obligados a continuar su importante obra de guiar a más personas a ver estos sitios santos. Ya no era solo para ganarse la vida, pero ahora sabían que era un llamamiento sagrado, un llamamiento para ayudar a otros sentir lo que ellos habían sentido.

Ya habían pasado cuatro años desde que Nicolás había llegado a esta orilla del Gran Mar. Durante esos años, a menudo él veía a sus jóvenes amigos traer más y más peregrinos a ver lo que ellos le habían mostrado a Nicolás. En esos años que pasaron tan rápido, él vio a cada uno de ellos crecer en “sabiduría y estatura, gozando del favor de Dios y toda la gente,” igual que Jesús lo había hecho en su infancia en Nazaret.

A Nicolás le hubiera encantado quedarse allí más tiempo, pero el mismo Espíritu de Dios que lo había traído a ese lugar, ahora lo atraía a regresar a su pueblo. Sabía que no podía mantener esa experiencia santa para siempre. Había gente que lo necesitaba, y una vida que lo esperaba en su pueblo en la provincia de Licia. Lo que le esperaba esa vida, él no lo sabía. Con sus padres ya muertos, había poco que lo atraía a su hogar, pero era simplemente el Espíritu de Dios que lo movía hacía delante en la próxima fase de su viaje.

Buscar un barco para regresar era más difícil que encontrar uno para venir a este lugar porque los mares en calma del verano estaban al terminar y las primeras tormentas de otoño estaban al llegar. Pero Nicolás estaba convencido que ese era el momento, y sabía que si esperaba más tiempo, tal vez no llegaría a su destino hasta la primavera—y la atracción del Espíritu era demasiado fuerte para demorar.

Así que cuando supo que un barco estaba a punto de llegar en cualquier momento, uno de los últimos de la temporada de viaje entre Alejandría y Roma, rápidamente él hizo planes para viajar. El barco había de llegar la próxima mañana, y él sabía que no podía quedarse atrás.

Había mandado un recado por medio del dueño de una tienda a sus tres amigos diciéndoles que se embarcaría por la mañana. Pero aún al anochecer él no había tenido ninguna noticia de ellos.

Entonces estaba solo enfrente al mar pensando en todo lo que había ocurrido y en todo lo que había cambiado su vida desde el momento de llegar a la Tierra Santa—y en todo lo que cambiaría al embarcar de allí. Esos pensamientos lo llenaban de emoción, anticipación y hasta, sinceramente, de miedo.

 

Capítulo 13 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Aunque el barco de Nicolás llegó la siguiente mañana como esperaba, los niños no habían llegado.

Esa tarde, cuando era el momento de embarcar, los tres aún no habían llegado. Nicolás tristemente, había renunciado la posibilidad que se encontraran otra vez. Empezó a caminar hacia el barco, cuando sintió que alguien lo halaba de la manga.

“¿Es usted cristiano?” se le dirigió una voz otra vez, pero esta vez con más madurez que cuatro años antes. Era Demetrio, claro. Nicolás dio una vuelta enseguida y sonrió con una amplia sonrisa.

“¿Qué si soy cristiano? ¡Sin duda.” Dijo al ver a los tres niños también con sonrisas. “¿Y ustedes?” añadió, preguntándoles a sus tres amigos.

“¡Sin duda!” contestaron los tres, casi a la vez. Así era como hablaban de su fe desde haber compartido esa experiencia en Belén, la experiencia cuando sus dudas acerca de Dios habían desaparecido.

Mientras Nicolás contemplaba las tres caras una vez más, pensó en qué era más difícil: dejar esta preciosa tierra, o dejar a estos precios jovencitos que había conocido allí. Sabían que Dios los había llamado para un propósito, y ellos confiaban que Dios ahora los llamaba a separarse para otro propósito también, como cuatro años antes Nicolás sentía llamado a vivir en Belén y ellos a continuar llevando a los peregrinos de ciudad a ciudad.

Pero aún sabiendo la voluntad de Dios era difícil someterse a ella. Como Nicolás a veces les recordaba, las lágrimas indicaban el amor más fuerte del mundo. Sin lágrimas, cuando uno pierde lo que le importa más, sería difícil decidir si esas cosas eran verdaderamente importantes.

La falta de lágrimas no sería el problema hoy. Una vez más Nicolás les pidió que pusieran su mano derecha delante de ellos. Al poner su mano en el bolsillo para poner tres monedas grandes en sus manos abiertas, no pudo hacerlo tan rápido como esperaba. Al instante los tres jovencitos habían puesto sus brazos completamente alrededor del cuello, la espalda y la cintura de Nicolás, según la altura de cada niño. Cada uno lo abrazaba fuertemente y por mucho tiempo, cuando uno de los marinos del barco le dijo a Nicolás que ya era hora de embarcar.

Mientras Nicolás abrazaba a cada uno de ellos una vez más, en secreto les puso una moneda en cada uno de sus bolsillos. Durante el tiempo que habían pasado juntos, los regalos de Nicolás habían ayudado a los niños inmensamente. Pero no eran los regalos de Nicolás que los bendecían tanto como su presencia—su deseo de pasar tanto tiempo con ellos. Aún, Nicolás quería darles una última bendición que ellos iban a descubrir después de despedirse y, como siempre, él daba sus mejores bendiciones en secreto.

Nicolás no sabía si reír o llorar al darles este último regalo, así que hizo las dos cosas. En silencio también ofreció una oración de agradecimiento por cada una de sus vidas, entonces se despidió de cada uno de ellos por última vez. Los abrazos de los niños fue la mejor despedida al pisar en el barco y dirigirse a su pueblo—sin saber que sus abrazos y sus palabras dulces también lo ayudarían a llevarlo a través de los días tenebrosos que él estaba a punto de enfrentar.

 

Capítulo 14 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

El viento azotó el barco tan pronto como había salido de la orilla. El capitán del barco esperaba adelantar el viaje antes que la tormenta llegara, navegando unas horas por la costa al puerto de la próxima ciudad y pasar la noche allí. Navegar por la costa del Gran Mar prolongaba el viaje, deteniéndose en los puertos de cada ciudad en vez de seguir directamente al destino final. Pero navegar directamente era también más peligroso, especialmente en esta estación del año. Así que para evitar el invierno cercano, y la anticipada tormenta, querían navegar cada día lo más posible.

Nicolás se dio cuenta que mantener fechas previstas era más que un asunto del deseo del capitán para cumplir el contrato con los clientes. Era también un asunto de vida o muerte para las familias del equipo del barco que venían a bordo, incluyendo la familia del capitán. Nicolás llegó a saber que una escasez de comida se realizaba por todo el imperio, ahora afligiendo la ciudad de Roma. El hambre había comenzado en las áreas rurales ya que había escasez de lluvia en los alrededores, pero la escasez ya empezaba a disminuir las reservas en Roma también. Los precios subían, pero aún las familias que podían comprar la comida rápidamente reducían sus recursos para obtenerla.

El capitán del barco no era un hombre ignorante, ya que él había navegado estas aguas por casi treinta años. Pero también sabía que el riesgo de detener el viaje en este momento podía paralizarlo hasta pasar el invierno. Si eso pasara, la carga de grano se destruiría para la primavera, al igual que su familia. Así que era preciso que el barco siguiera adelante.

A Nicolás le parecía que la decisión de seguir navegando era beneficiosa. Él también sentía el deseo de continuar con el viaje, aunque no era familia ni carga que se lo causaba. Era el mismo Espíritu de Dios. No podía explicárselo a nadie, menos a los que ya lo habían sentido. Lo único que sabía era que continuar el viaje era importante.

Había pensado pasar más tiempo en la Tierra Santa, quizás hasta su vida entera. Se sentía a gusto allí desde el principio porque había oído tantos cuentos del lugar toda su niñez. No tenía mucha familia que lo esperaba en ningún otro lugar, y hasta este momento, estaba contento en quedarse donde estaba, si no fuera por el impulso del Espíritu indicándole que era hora de salir.

Ese sentimiento le empezó como una inquietud al principio, sentía que ya no estaba tan a gusto en quedarse donde estaba. No podía proyectar el sentimiento a algo en particular que le estorbaba donde estaba, sólo que ya era tiempo de salir de allí. Pero, ¿adónde? ¿Adónde quería Dios que él fuera? ¿Tenía Dios otro sitio que debía ver? ¿En otra parte del país que debía vivir? Tal vez, ¿otro país que debería visitar?

Mientras la inquietud le crecía, su corazón y mente empezaron a explorar las opciones en más detalles. Había aprendido en el pasado que el mejor modo de escuchar a Dios era deshaciéndose de su propia voluntad, para dedicarse totalmente a la voluntad de Dios, fuera lo que fuera. Mientras dejar atrás su voluntad siempre era difícil, él sabía que Dios lo guiaría por sendas mejores. Finalmente, dejando su propia voluntad, Nicolás empezó a ver la voluntad de Dios más claramente aún en esta situación. Aunque sentía que la Tierra Santa era su nuevo hogar, verdaderamente no era su hogar. Sentía con seguridad que ya era la hora de regresar a su región natal, a la provincia de Licia en la costa norte del Gran Mar. Había algo, sentía él, que Dios quería que él hiciera allí—algo que por lo cual se había preparado y había sido llamado, y era, en efecto, la razón que Dios había escogido para que él creciera allí desde su niñez. Tal como Nicolás había sentido alivio cuando fue a la Tierra Santa, ahora se sentía aliviado al regresar a su pueblo.

A su pueblo se dirigía, y a su pueblo tenía que ir. Ese impulso interno que sentía era tan fuerte—y hasta más fuerte—como el impulso que obligaba al capitán y el equipo del barco a llevar al pueblo la carga, sana y salva, a sus queridas familias.

Tormenta o no, tenía que seguir adelante.

 

Capítulo 15 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

El barco de Nicolás no pudo llegar al próximo puerto en la costa. Al contrario, con el deseo de navegar delante de la tormenta, se encontraron en el medio de ella. La tormenta azotaba el barco llevándolo lejos de la costa en las primeras horas del viaje, y empujando el barco más y más lejos de la costa, hasta que tres horas más tarde se encontraba prisionero en sus olas.

El equipo ya había bajado las velas abandonando todo esfuerzo de guiar el barco con el timón en dirección contraria. La esperanza era que en seguir el paso de la tormenta en vez de ir contra él podrían mejor mantener el barco a salvo. Pero esta opción también parecía llevarlos dentro de aguas más profundas y peligrosas manteniéndolo cerca del ojo de la tormenta.

Después de tres horas los mareos que al principio los pasajeros y el equipo tenían ya no era la preocupación. Ahora el miedo de morir los llenaba a todos, menos a los más valientes a bordo.

Aunque Nicolás había viajado en barco antes, no se consideraba uno de los más valientes. Él nunca había sentidos olas como estas azotar un barco. Y él no era el único. Al empeorarse la tormenta, cada hombre decía que esta era la tormenta más terrible que jamás había visto.

La próxima mañana cuando la tormenta aún azotaba, y también la próxima, y la próxima aún, y las olas los tiraba de lado a lado, todos pensaban cual había sido la razón de la prisa en tratar de navegar delante de la tormenta. Ahora ellos solo esperaban y oraban que Dios los permitiera vivir para poder presenciar sólo un día más, una hora más. Mientras ola tras ola golpeaba el barco, Nicolás sólo oraba que Dios los permitiera resistir una ola más.

Los pensamientos y oraciones de Nicolás se llenaban de curiosidad sobre las experiencias del Apóstol Pablo, ese creyente en Cristo que había navegado de ida y vuelta por el Gran Mar tantas veces en barcos semejantes a este. Fue en el último viaje de Pablo a Roma que había puesto pie en Mira, solo a unos kilómetros del pueblo de Nicolás. Entonces, al continuar de Mira a Roma, se enfrentó con una de las tormentas más violentas que había sufrido en el mar, una rabiosa furia que duró más de catorce días y terminó en que las olas destrozaran su barco llevándolo a fondo en un banco de arena, cerca de la costa de la isla de Malta.

Nicolás oró que esa batalla con el viento no durara catorce días. No sabía si podrían pasar aún un solo día más. Trató de pensar si Pablo había hecho algo para poder salvar su vida y las de los doscientos setenta y seis hombres en la tripulación que navegaban con él, aunque el barco y la carga se habían perdido. Pero con lo mucho que pensaba, lo único que recordó fue que un ángel se le había aparecido a Pablo la noche antes de que el barco se echara a fondo. El ángel le dijo a Pablo que se animara—que aunque el barco se destruiría, ninguno de los hombros a bordo iba a morir. Cuando Pablo les contó a los marinos de la visita angélica, todos se armaron de valor, porque Pablo estaba convencido que iba a suceder como el ángel se lo había dicho. Y así fue.

Pero a Nicolás no se le apareció ningún ángel. No había consecuencia celestial ni consejo alguno de lo que ellos deberían o no deberían hacer. Lo único que sintió fue esa obligación interna que había sentido antes de apartar del puerto—que necesitaban llegar al destino en cuanto antes.

Sin saber qué más hacer, Nicolás recordó el dicho de su padre: “Mandatos corrientes son mandatos beneficios.” Si un soldado no sabía qué hacer a continuación, aunque la batalla a su alrededor le parecía cambiar de origen, si el comandante no había cambiado el mandato, entonces el soldado debía continuar con el mandato más corriente. Mandatos corrientes son mandatos beneficios. Fue este dicho sabio de su padre, más que cualquier otro pensamiento que guiaba a Nicolás y le daba el valor para hacer lo que hizo después.

 

Capítulo 16 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Cuando la tormenta parecía estar a punto de vencerlos, Nicolás empezó a pensar en los niños que acababa de dejar. La visión de ellos no lo llenaba de tristeza sino de esperanza.

Él empezaba a animarse con los cuentos que ellos habían aprendido de Jesús calmando la tormenta, de Moisés dividiendo el Mar Rojo, y de Josué deteniendo la corriente del Río Jordán. Nicolás y los niños a veces se imaginaban cuál sería el resultado de poder controlar las fuerzas de la naturaleza de tal manera. Hasta Nicolás mismo, en algunas ocasiones, había intentado hacerlo, así como Demetrio, Samuel y Rut. Cuando llovía, levantaban las manos y oraban para detener la lluvia. Pero sólo continuaba lloviendo mojándoles la cabeza. Cuando llegaron al Mar de Galilea, trataron de caminar sobre el agua, así como Jesús lo había hecho—y hasta Pedro lo hizo, aunque fue por sólo unos momentos. Nicolás y los niños presumían que ellos no tenían suficiente fe o fuerzas o cualquier otra cosa necesaria para poder hacer tales cosas.

Aún mientras otra ola azotaba el barco donde Nicolás ahora estaba, se dio cuenta que estos cuentos tenían algo en común. Tal vez no era la fe que causaba el problema, pero el momento divino. En cada cuento que recordaba, Dios no permitió esos milagros por capricho como para entretener a aquellos que intentaban hacerlos. Dios los permitió porque Dios tenía sitios que tenían que visitar, personas que tenían que ver y vidas que tenían que ayudar. En cada situación había algo urgente que requería hacer no sólo lo que las personas querían hacer por su cuenta, pero lo que Dios mismo en su corazón quería hacer.

Le parecía que los milagros se habían hecho no sólo en el deseo de reorganizar el mundo de Dios, pero en el deseo de Dios de reorganizar el mundo de los fieles. A Nicolás le parecía que era una combinación de orar en fe, más la voluntad divina de Dios, que causaba esa chispa entre el cielos y la tierra y, encendida por ambos deseos a la vez unidos, que había explotado en un poder que era capaz de mover montañas.

Cuando Jesús tenía que cruzar el lago, pero los discípulos ya habían salido en el bote, Él pudo encender, por medio de fe, el proceso que lo dejó caminar en el agua, y a la vez calmar la tormenta que amenazaba quitarles la vida cuando por fin llegó a donde estaban ellos.

“Mandatos corrientes eran mandatos beneficiosos,” Nicolás recordó, y él creía con todo su ser que si Dios no había cambiado el mandato, entonces ellos tendrían que hacer todo lo necesario para llegar al otro lado del Gran Mar. Pero no era suficiente que sólo fuera la voluntad de Dios. Dios buscaba a alguien dispuesto, aquí en la tierra, que también tuviera esa voluntad, de modo que se completara la conexión divina y causara que el milagro explotara. Como Moisés cuando levantó su vara en lo alto o cuando los sacerdotes de Josué tomaron el primer paso al entrar en el Río Jordán, Dios necesitaba a alguien que estuviera de acuerdo con su voluntad en plena fe que lo que Él deseaba en el cielo ocurriría aquí en la tierra. Dios ya le había dicho a Nicolás lo que debería ocurrir. Ahora le tocaba a Nicolás completar la conexión divina.

“¡Oigan, todos!” Nicolás gritó para llamarle la atención a la tripulación. “¡El Dios que yo sirvo y que nos ha dado a cada uno de nosotros la vida, quiere que nosotros lleguemos a nuestro destino más que nosotros mismos lo queremos. Debemos de estar de acuerdo en fe, aquí y en este momento, no sólo que Dios es capaz de hacerlo, pero que su voluntad es que lo hagamos. Si ustedes aman a Dios, o por lo menos si creen que lo desean amar, quiero que oren conmigo, que verdaderamente lleguemos a nuestro destino y que nada se enfrente con nuestro viaje!”

Tan pronto como Nicolás dijo esas palabras, lo inexpresable ocurrió: no sólo el viento no dejó de soplar, pero se impulsó. Nicolás se detuvo por un momento, como si hubiera cometido un error cósmico o fallado en calcular a Dios y lo que Él quería que hiciera. Pero entonces se dio cuenta que aunque el viento había aumentado, también había cambiado de dirección ligeramente, pero de tal distinta y evidente forma que Dios les había llamado la atención a todos a bordo. En vez de ser golpeado por las olas por los dos lados, ahora el barco navegaba por medio de ellas, como si un canal había sido segado en las mismas olas. El barco se movía de ese modo, no sólo por unos momentos, pero por las próximas horas.

Cuando la velocidad y dirección del barco continuaban su firme y impresionante curso, el capitán se acercó a Nicolás. Le dijo que nunca en la vida había visto tal cosa. Le parecía como si una mano invisible estaba a cargo del timón del barco, firme y derecha, aunque nadie estaba a cargo de las cuerdas amarradas al timón, ya que habían abandonado controlarlo cuando los vientos empezaron a soplar a lo máximo.

Nicolás sabía también—aunque ciertamente no tenía la experiencia del capitán—que esto no había sido un fenómeno normal en alta mar. Él había sentido algo fuera de lo corriente tomando control desde el momento que se había dirigido a la tribulación, y lo sentía aún mientras seguían adelante.

Lo que había por delante, él no lo sabía. Pero lo que sí sabía era que Él que los había traído hasta aquí no quitaría su mano del timón hasta terminar lo que intentaba desempeñar.

 

Capítulo 17 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

La tormenta que amenazaba terminar sus vidas, resultó en salvar muchas más. En vez de seguir la distancia más alejada por la orilla, la tormenta los había llevado directamente por el centro del mar, directo por las partes más peligrosas que ellos no se habrían sometido por su cuenta en esa temporada del año.

Al ver tierra al amanecer del quinto día, supieron con seguridad donde estaban. Era la ciudad de Mira, sólo a unos kilómetros del pueblo de Nicolás, y la misma ciudad donde el Apóstol Pablo había cambiado de barco en su famoso viaje a Roma.

Estaban tan cerca a su pueblo que Nicolás supo dentro de sí que estaba a punto de tocar pie en el lugar exacto donde Dios quería que él estuviera. Dios, sin duda alguna, le había salvado la vida para un propósito que ahora empezaría el próximo capítulo de su vida.

Al navegar más cerca a la costa, se dieron cuenta que la tormenta que los azotaba en alta mar, apenas se había realizado en la costa.

Las lluvias que habían inundado el barco los últimos días, y que también deberían haber estado saciando la tierra, no la habían mojado por varios meses. La sequía que el capitán y los marinos le habían dicho a Nicolás que había en Roma, ya se había realizado en Licia por dos años y medios. El sumo resultado era que la cosecha que habría de llenar los almacenes para el invierno entrante y para proporcionar las semillas para el próximo año ya se habían agotado. Si la gente de Lira no conseguía grano para comer ahora, muchos no podrían sobrevivir el invierno, y muchos más morirían la próxima primavera, ya que no tendrían semilla para sembrar otra cosecha. El barco era uno de los últimos que pudo salir de la tierra fértil de Egipto antes del invierno, y llegar en este momento y con esta necesitad le parecía a la gente como un milagro. Ciertamente había sido la respuesta a sus oraciones.

Pero la respuesta no era tan simple para el capitán del barco. Él tenía órdenes precisas de los encargados de los almacenes del Imperio Romano que ni una semilla de todo el grano había de desaparecer al llegar el barco a Roma. El barco se había pesado en Alejandría antes de partir de Egipto y de nuevo se pesaría en Roma—y el capitán personalmente sería responsable de cualquiera diferencia. La escasez de comida había aumentado la preocupación del emperador por traer alivio a su pueblo. No solamente eso, pero las familias del capitán y los marinos esperaban la llegada de la comida. Sus empleos y las vidas de sus familias, dependían de la segura llegada de cada grano a bordo.

Pero aún, sin la fe y el apoyo de Nicolás, el capitán sabía que el barco y la carga se habrían perdido en alta mar, así como sus vidas.

Aunque Nicolás sabía ciertamente que Dios lo había regresado a su pueblo, no estaba totalmente seguro que hacer acerca de la necesidad de grano. Aunque le parecía que ofrecerle por lo menos parte de la carga a la gente de Mira sería lo correcto, Nicolás aún lo contemplaba del punto de vista de Dios. ¿No estaba esta ciudad, o cualquiera otra en el imperio, con la misma necesidad de la carga que Roma que la había comprado y pagado para que se la entregaran? Pero a Nicolás también le parecía que el barco había sido llevado específicamente a esta ciudad en particular, en ruta directa y precisa en medio de las enormes olas.

La decisión de lo que se debería hacer en ese momento tomó lugar sólo dentro de unos minutos de haber llegado a la orilla. Y Nicolás y el capitán tuvieron poco tiempo para pensar en las opciones de lo que iban a hacer porque los habitantes ya corrían para ver el barco con sus propios ojos, cada uno maravillado del modo que Dios aparentemente lo había traído a su puerto hambriento. Se reunían en grupos más y más grandes para darle la bienvenida al barco y a la vez, darle las gracias y la adoración a Dios.

Ambos, Nicolás y el capitán sabían que sólo Dios mismo podía resolver el problema. Los dos, así como la tripulación, ya habían convenido la noche anterior—mientras velozmente y sin fuerzas humanas el agua los agitaba—que lo primero que harían al llegar a tierra sería ir a la parroquia más cercana y darle gracias a Dios por rescatarlos. Al ver donde habían llegado, Nicolás sabía exactamente donde estaba la parroquia. Era una que su familia había visitado de vez en cuando al viajar entre las dos ciudades de Patara y Mira. Después de decirle a la tripulación que su primera obligación era la de darle gracias a Dios por traerlos a ese lugar con toda seguridad, Nicolás, el capitán y los marinos partieron para la parroquia de Mira.

Al cruzar la ciudad y subir la colina donde estaba acunada la parroquia, no tenían idea que los clérigos dentro sus muros ya habían estado batallando con una batalla propia.

 

Estás leyendo ST. NICOLÁS: EL CREYENTE, por Eric y Lana Elder, un cuento nuevo para Navidad basada en la antigua historia de San Nicolás (Spanish Edition). Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

Estás leyendo SAN NICOLÁS: EL CREYENTE, por Eric y Lana Elder, un cuento nuevo para Navidad basada en la antigua historia de San Nicolás (Spanish Edition). Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

PARTE 4

 

Capítulo 18 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

El próximo paso de la vida de Nicolás estaba a punto de determinarse por medio de un sueño. Pero no fue uno que Nicolás había soñado—fue un sueño que Dios había concebido y había puesto en el corazón de un hombre, un clérigo de la ciudad de Mira.

Las semanas antes de llegar Nicolás a Mira, una tragedia había sucedido en la parroquia del pueblo. El anciano obispo, el dirigente de la parroquia, había muerto. La tragedia que había sucedido no era la muerte del obispo, pues había vivido una larga y productiva vida y simplemente se había sometido a los efectos de la edad. La tragedia era la disputa que resultó a causa de quién tomaría el puesto de ser el próximo obispo.

Aunque parecía que tal problema se podía resolver amistosamente, especialmente dentro de una parroquia, cuando es asunto de los corazones humanos, la lealtad y el deseo personal muchas veces confunden a la gente tanto que no pueden distinguir cual es la voluntad de Dios en cierta situación. Es difícil para todos, hasta para la gente religiosa, mantener sus mentes fuera de ideas premeditadas y preferencias personales con respeto a lo que Dios quiere o no quiere hacer en tal momento.

Este debate era la tormenta que ahora se agitaba ya por una semana, y la cual había llegado a su ápice la noche antes de llegar Nicolás.

Esa noche uno de los clérigos había tenido un sueño que lo había despertado repentinamente. En su sueño vio a un hombre que nunca había visto y que claramente iba a tomar las responsabilidades del querido y difunto obispo. Cuando despertó del sueño, no recordaba nada de la apariencia del hombre, pero solo recordaba su nombre: Nicolás.

“¿Nicolás?” preguntó uno de los otros clérigos al oír del sueño de su compañero. “Ninguno de nosotros jamás hemos usado ese nombre, ni tampoco hay nadie llamado Nicolás en toda la ciudad.”

Nicolás no era, por cierto, un nombre popular en esa época. Solo se mencionó de paso en el evangelio de de Lucas cuando se estableció la iglesia, así como otros nombres también fuera de lo común en esos días en Mira, nombres como Prócaro, Nicanor, Timón, Parmenas. A los otros clérigos les parecía ridículo la posibilidad que este sueño fuera divino. Pero el clérigo mayor les recordó, “Hasta el nombre de Jesús se lo había dado un ángel a su padre en un sueño.

Tal vez era este testimonio del evangelio o tal vez era la falta de posibilidad que jamás ocurriera, que los clérigos decidieron que verdaderamente considerarían a la próxima persona que entrara por la puerta y respondiera al nombre de Nicolás. Ciertamente sería beneficioso para romper la situación en que se encontraban de no poder seguir adelante.

¡Cuál fue su sorpresa entonces, cuando al abrir la puerta principal para las oraciones matutinas, ellos se encontraron con la tripulación entera de un barco a punto de entrar en la parroquia!

Los clérigos saludaron a cada hombre al entrar por la puerta, dándoles la bienvenida a la parroquia. Los últimos dos por entrar fueron el capitán y Nicolás, ya que habían dejado entrar a todos los otros hombres primero. El capitán les dio las gracias a los clérigos por dejarlos compartir sus oraciones matutinas con ellos, entonces, refiriéndose a Nicolás les dijo, “Y gracias a Nicolás por tener la brillante idea de venir aquí hoy.”

Los asombrados clérigos se miraron los unos a los otros sin poder creerlo. Tal vez Dios les había contestado sus oraciones al cabo.

 

Capítulo 19 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Al llegar a la parroquia la preocupación del capitán de qué hacer con el grano en el barco desapareció tan pronto como había desaparecido la tormenta al llegar a la orilla.

Dentro de unos momentos de haber comenzado las oraciones matutinas, él ya estaba convencido que solo podía haber sido la mano de Dios que había sostenido el timón del barco derecho y cierto. Ahora ya sabía que quería presentarle a la gente del pueblo una ofrenda del grano en el barco. Dios le había hablado de ambos, el plan y la cantidad. Era como si el capitán estuviera desempeñado el papel de Abran en el muy antiguo cuento de Abran ofreciéndole parte de su riqueza al sacerdote Melquisedec.

El capitán estaba dispuesto a correr el riesgo con sus superiores en Roma en vez de correrlo con el Dios que los había rescatado a todos ellos. Sabía que sin ser guiados y dirigidos por Dios hasta este punto del viaje, ni él ni la tripulación ni el barco ni la carga podrían llegar hasta Roma.

Cuando el capitán se levantó después de las oraciones, enseguida buscó a Nicolás para compartir la repuesta con él también. Nicolás estaba de acuerdo con el plan y la cantidad. El capitán le preguntó, “¿Le parece que será suficiente para toda esta gente?”

Nicolás le respondió, “Jesús pudo darles de comer a cinco mil personas con solo cinco panes y dos peces—y la cantidad que usted quiere darle a esta ciudad es mucho más de lo que Jesús tenía para empezar.”

“¿Cómo fue que lo hizo?” se preguntó el capitán a sí mismo y a la vez a Nicolás.

“Lo único que sé,” respondió Nicolás, “es que Él miró hacia el cielo, dio gracias y empezó a repartir la comida con sus discípulos. Al fin todos estaban satisfechos y aún tenían de sobra doce canastas llenas.”

“Entonces eso es exactamente lo que haremos también,” dijo el capitán.

Y en el pueblo se contaría por muchos años como el capitán del barco miró hacia el cielo, dio gracias y empezó a repartir el grano con sus marinos. Fue suficiente para satisfacer a la gente del pueblo por dos años enteros y para sembrar y cosechar aún más el tercer año.

Al despedirse los clérigos del capitán y la tripulación, le pidieron a Nicolás que se quedara con ellos por un tiempo. Los vientos de confusión que habían azotado y después cesado dentro de la mente del capitán no serían nada comparado con la tormenta que estaba a punto de formalizarse en la mente de Nicolás.

 

Capítulo 20 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Cuando los clérigos le dijeron a Nicolás acerca del sueño y que tal vez él sería la respuesta de sus oraciones, Nicolás se quedó pasmado y sorprendido, emocionado y confuso. Muchas veces había querido ser usado por Dios con gran poder, y era indiscutible que Dios ya lo había traído por medio del Gran Mar a este lugar en este momento.

Pero ser clérigo, mucho menos obispo, sería una decisión que lo influiría toda la vida. Había pensado en seguir el negocio de su padre terrenal. Él había tenido mucho éxito en su carrera, y Nicolás se imaginaba que también podía hacer lo mismo. Pero aún más importante que continuar la carrera de su padre era tener una familia como su padre la había tenido.

Los recuerdos que Nicolás tenía de sus padres eran tan tiernos que él anhelaba tener recuerdos con su propia familia. Sin embargo, Nicolás sabía que la costumbre de todos los clérigos era privarse del matrimonio y de tener hijos para dedicarse totalmente a las necesidades de la gente a su alrededor.

Nicolás de detuvo mentalmente al pensar en la posibilidad de tener que renunciar el deseo de tener su propia familia. No era que el tener una familia era un sueño que él dejaba correr a menudo por su mente, pero era una de esas suposiciones en el fondo de su alma que él daba por hecho y que ocurriría en el futuro.

La sorpresa de tener que renunciar la idea de tener una familia, hasta antes de totalmente haber pensado en tener una, era como un sobresalto a su ser. “¡Seguir la voluntad de Dios no debe ser tan difícil!” pensó él. Pero él había aprendido de sus padres que echar atrás el deseo personal por el de Dios no era siempre fácil. Esa fue otra enseñanza que habían aprendido de Jesús.

Entonces, sólo por ser una decisión difícil no era suficiente razón para echarla de su mente. La imagen también corría por su mente de esos tres niños sonrientes que había conocido al pisar en la orilla de la Tierra Santa, con sus caras al suelo y las manos extendidas. ¿No le habían parecido como familia a él? ¿Y no había cientos—hasta miles—de niños igual a ellos, niños sin familias, sin que nadie los cuidara, sin que nadie se ocupara de sus necesidades?

Y ¿no había muchísimos más en el mundo—viudas y viudos y esos que tenían familia sólo en nombre pero sin una relación personal—que aún necesitaban ayuda y apoyo y el sentir de una familia a mano? ¿Y no había también otras familias como la de Nicolás, que habían sido felices pero hallaban aún más felicidad al reunirse en el pueblo como una familia de creyentes? Rendirse a la idea de tener una familia propia no significaba que tenía que rendirse a la idea de tener una familia del todo. De hecho, era posible que él tuviera una familia aún más grande de este modo.

Mientras más Nicolás pensaba en lo que tenía que rechazar para servir a Dios en la parroquia, más pensaba en como Dios podía usar este nuevo puesto en modos que ni las ideas ni el deseo de Nicolás se podían imaginar. Y si Dios de veras era parte de la decisión, tal vez tendría su propia recompensa al final.

La furia de la tormenta que corría por su mente comenzó a reducirse. En su lugar, la paz de Dios empezó a fluir sobre su mente y su corazón a la vez. Nicolás de dio cuenta que era la paz de la divina voluntad de Dios revelándose claramente en él. Sólo tomó un momento más para saber cuál sería su respuesta.

La tormenta que al principio lo amenazaba de tal manera—fuera la tormenta en el mar o la tormenta en la parroquia o la tormenta en la mente de ambos el capitán y Nicolás—ahora en vez se había vuelto en una bendición de Dios. Eran bendiciones que de nuevo le demostraban a Nicolás que no importaba lo que pasara, Dios verdaderamente dispone todas las cosas para el bien de quienes lo aman, los que han sido llamados de acuerdo con Su propósito.

Sí, si lo clérigos lo necesitaban, Nicolás sería el próximo obispo de Mira.

 

Capítulo 21 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Nicolás no llegó a ser un hombre diferente al momento de tomar el puesto de obispo. Llegó a ser obispo por ser el hombre que él era. Como lo había hecho con su padre muchos años antes, Nicolás continuó haciéndolo ahora y aquí en la ciudad de Mira y en los pueblos cercanos: caminar y orar y pedirle a Dios que le mostrara dónde podía usarlo de máximo beneficio.

Fue en una de esas piadosas caminatas que Nicolás llegó a conocer a Ana María. Era una bella niña de once años, pero para otros su belleza estaba escondida por su pobreza. Nicolás se encontró con ella un día que ella intentaba de vender flores que ella había hecho de hojas de hierba entrelazadas. Pero la belleza de las flores también a todos estaba escondida pero no a Nicolás, ya que a nadie le interesaba su simple creación.

Al tomar un paso hacia ella, Nicolás pensó en la pequeña Rut, la niña que él había dejado en la Tierra Santa, aguantando en su mano las flores doradas de la colina de Belén.

Cuando se detuvo para verla mejor, Dios le habló al corazón. Le parecía sentirse como Moisés se habría sentido cuando se detuvo para mirar la zarza ardiente en el desierto, el momento cuando su curiosidad humana llegó a ser un enfrentamiento divino con el Dios viviente.

“Tus flores son bellas,” le dijo Nicolás. “¿Me permites tomar una?”

La niña le entregó una de sus creaciones. Mientras la veía, él también observaba a la niña. La belleza que veía en ambas, la flor y la niña, era asombrosa. De alguna forma Nicolás tenía el don de ver lo que otros no podían ver, o no veían, porque Nicolás siempre pretendía ver a la gente y las situaciones y la vida del punto de vista de Dios, como si Dios estuviera observándolo todo por medio de sus ojos.

“Me gustaría comprar ésta si es posible,” le dijo.

Encantada, la niña sonrió por primera vez. Le dijo el precio y él le dio la moneda.

“Dime,” le dijo Nicolás, “¿Qué piensas hacer con el dinero que te ganes vendiendo estas bellas flores?”

Lo que Nicolás oyó siguiente le partió el corazón.

Ana María era la menor de tres hermanas: Sofía, Cecilia y Ana María. Aunque su padre las amaba entrañablemente, su negocio que una vez había tenido mucho éxito, tristemente había terminado en fracaso, y pronto después su esposa había fallecido. Sin las fuerzas ni los recursos de poder levantarse de nuevo de esa oscuridad, la situación de su familia llegó a ser cada día más y más seria.

La hermana mayor de Ana María, Sofía, acababa de cumplir diez y ocho años, y su belleza causaba que muchos galanes se interesaran en ella. Pero ninguno se casaría con ella porque su padre no tenía dote que ofrecerles a ninguno de los pretendientes. Y sin dote, había poca posibilidad que Sofía o sus hermanas llegaran a casarse.

Las opciones delante de su padre eran lúgubres. Sabía que tenía que llegar a una decisión pronto para no arriesgar la posibilidad que Cecilia y Ana María no se casaran tampoco en el futuro. Sin poder ofrecer una dote apropiada, y también siendo demasiado orgulloso para aceptar caridad de otros, aunque otros tuvieran los recursos que ofrecerle, su padre estaba a punto de hacer lo que nadie se podía imaginar: iba a vender a su hija mayor como esclava para poder resolver el caso.

Cómo pensar que ésa era la mejor solución que el padre tenía a su disposición, Nicolás no se lo podía imaginar. Pero también sabía que la desesperación nublaba hasta el hombre con mejores intenciones. Al sacrificar a su hija mayor de esta manera, el padre pensaba que de alguna manera podía salvar a las menores de tal destino.

Ana María, por su parte, había inventado la idea de hacer y vender flores para intentar de prevenir ese destino de su hermana que a ella le parecía peor que la muerte. Nicolás se reprimió las lágrimas por respeto a Ana María y el esfuerzo noble que hacía para salvar a su hermana.

También se abstuvo de comprar al momento la cesta llena de flores de Ana María, porque él sabía que se necesitaba más que una cesta llena de flores para salvar a Sofía. Se necesitaba un milagro. Y mientras Dios le hablaba al corazón ese día, Nicolás sabía que Dios lo podría usar para producirlo.

 

Capítulo 22 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Sin exhibición ni jactancia, Nicolás ofreció una oración por Ana María, y junto con las gracias por la flor, él la animó diciéndole que continuara haciendo todo lo posible por su familia—y que continuara confiando que Dios iba a hacer lo que ella no podía hacer.

Nicolás sabía que él podía ayudar a esta familia. Sabía que tenía los recursos para mejorar su situación. Aún todavía tenía escondida en un acantilado cerca de la costa suficiente de la herencia que sus padres le habían dejado y esperaba la oportunidad para usarla en ocasiones como estas. Pero, él también sabía que el padre de Ana María era demasiado orgulloso para aceptar caridad de un hombre, aún si fuera su hora más afligida.

La humillación del padre de haber perdido su negocio, así como su pérdida personal, lo habían cegado a la realidad de lo que le estaba a punto de suceder a su hija mayor. Nicolás quería ayudarlo, ¿pero cómo? ¿Cómo podía darle una mano sin humillar más al padre de Ana María, posiblemente causando que rechazara la ayuda que Nicolás le podía ofrecer? Nicolás hizo lo que siempre hacía cuando necesitaba sabiduría. Se puso a orar. Y antes de anochecer, ya tenía la respuesta.

Nicolás le puso mano al plan—y sin detenerse mucho. Ocurría que el día siguiente era cuando el destino de Sofía se sellaba.

Sacando la cantidad adecuada de monedas de su reserva, Nicolás la puso en una bolsa pequeña. Era suficientemente pequeña para llevarla en una mano, pero suficientemente pesada para asegurar que exactamente podía resolver la situación de la familia.

Escondido bajo la oscuridad de la noche, cruzó la ciudad de Mira hacia la casa donde Ana María, su padre y sus dos hermanas mayores vivían.

Podía escuchar hablar a las muchachas adentro al acercarse en silencio a la casa. Naturalmente, su estado de ánimo era deprimido mientras hablaban de cuál sería su cierto futuro. Le pedían a Dios que les diera la fuerza necesaria para hacer lo que tenían que hacer a continuación.

Por muchos años, Sofía y sus hermanas habían soñado en el día cuando cada una de ellas conocería al hombre de sus sueños. Hasta ya les habían escrito canciones de amor a esos hombres, confiando que Dios en su perfecto tiempo les traería a cada una de ellas el hombre perfecto.

Ahora les parecía que todos sus cantos, todas sus oraciones y todos sus sueños habían sido en vano. Sofía no era la única en sentir el impacto de la nueva realidad, ya que sus dos hermanas menores sabían que el mismo destino tal vez les esperaba a cada una de ellas.

Las muchachas querían confiar en Dios, pero mientras más pensaban en su situación, cada una sentía que sus sueños se destrozaban.

Al pedírselo Ana María, las tres intentaron cantar su canción favorita una vez más, pero se entristecían más con la letra de la canción. Ya no era una canción de esperanza, pero una canción de desespero, y las palabras les parecían tan imposibles.

Ya no era una canción, pero una oración, y una de las oraciones más profundas que Nicolás había oído decir con labios humanos. El corazón se le partía por cada una de ellas, mientras a la vez le latía con temor. Él tenía un plan y esperaba que lo pudiera poner por encima, pero no estaba seguro. No se preocupaba por lo que le pasaría si fuera descubierto, pero se preocupaba que el padre rechazara el regalo si supiera de donde vino. Eso ciertamente sellaría el destino adverso de las muchachas. Al decirse las buenas noches—y el padre apagar las luces—Nicolás supo que ya era la hora de actuar.

Acercándose lentamente a la ventana abierta del cuarto donde ellas habían estado cantando, Nicolás se arrodilló. Lanzó la bolsa con las monedas por la ventana. La bolsa hizo un arco garboso sobre él y parecía detenerse en el aire por un momento antes de caer con un ruido sordo en el centro del cuarto. Varias de las monedas sueltas tintinearon silenciosamente al caer en el piso, rodando y después cesando. Nicolás dio una vuelta rápidamente y se escondió en la oscuridad cercana, a la vez que las muchachas y el padre se despertaron al oír el sonido.

Preguntaron si alguien estaba ahí, pero al no escuchar respuesta alguna, entraron en el cuarto por diferentes puertas. Cuando el padre encendió la luz, Ana María fue la primera en ver la bolsa—y se quedó con la boca abierta.

Allí, en el centro del cuarto, estaba una pequeña bolsa redonda, brillando con monedas de oro. Las muchachas se acercaron a su padre mientras él la recogió y la abrió.

Había más del oro suficiente para dar una buena dote para Sofía, con más de sobra para proporcionar las necesidades de la familia por un tiempo.

Pero, ¿de dónde había venido ese regalo? Las muchachas estaban segura que era de Dios mismo como para contestarles sus oraciones. Pero el padre quería saber más. ¿A quién había usado Dios para facilitárselo? Cierto era que no había sido ningún conocido. Salió corriendo de la casa perseguido por sus hijas, para averiguar quién se lo había dado, pero no pudieron encontrar a nadie.

Al regresar a la casa sin nadie a quien devolverle el dinero, las muchachas y el padre se arrodillaron para darle gracias a Dios por su salvación.

Mientras Nicolás escuchaba en la oscuridad, él también le dio gracias a Dios, porque eso era exactamente lo que él esperaba que ellos hicieran. Él sabía que el regalo verdaderamente había sido de Dios, procedido de Dios y dado por Nicolás a medio de la sugerencia de Dios como respuesta a sus oraciones. Nicolás solo les había dado lo que Dios le había dado a él principalmente. Nicolás no quería ni necesitaba el agradecimiento ni el reconocimiento del regalo. Solo Dios merecía la alabanza.

Pero al dejar que Nicolás tomara parte en la acción y usara sus propias manos y herencia para bendecir a otros, el nuevo obispo sintió un gozó que casi no podía contener. Al entregar el regalo él mismo, Nicolás aseguraba que fuera correctamente dado. Y al dar el regalo anónimo, él aseguraba que el verdadero dador del regalo fuera correctamente reconocido.

El regalo fue enviado y Dios recibió el reconocimiento. Nicolás había logrado sus dos metas.

 

Capítulo 23 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Mientras Nicolás prefería hacer sus obras de caridad en secreto, había veces que por necesidad, tuvo que hacerlas a la vista. Y aunque eran sus obras secretas que fueron más apreciadas por Dios, eran sus obras públicas que fueron más apreciadas por los hombres.

Mucha gente, apropiadamente, aprecia a un caballero con armadura brillante, pero no todos quieren ser libres de la maldad—especialmente aquellos que se ganan la vida de eso.

Uno de esos hombres fue un alcalde mayor de Mira, un gobernante de la ciudad al cual Nicolás no le caía nada bien—ni nadie que tratara de detenerlo en hacer lo que él quería hacer.

El alcalde mayor era a la vez corrupto y corruptible. Estaba dispuesto a hacerlo todo para adquirir lo que quería sin conciencia del costo a los demás. Aunque Nicolás ya había tenido discordias con él varias veces en el pasado, su conflicto con él había escalado a punto alto cuando supo que el gobernante había condenado a muerte a tres hombres—por un crimen que Nicolás estaba seguro que ellos no habían cometido. Con gran anticipación, esta vez a Nicolás no le fue posible esperar hasta que noche lo cubriera. Sabía que tenía que actuar inmediatamente para librar a estos hombres de la muerte.

Esa tarde Nicolás estaba atendiendo a varios generales de Roma cuyos barcos habían llegado al puerto de Mira la noche anterior. Nicolás había invitado a los generales a su casa para saber noticia de varios cambios que estaban ocurriendo en Roma. “Un emperador nuevo está a punto de tomar el poder del imperio,” ellos le dijeron, “y las consecuencias pueden ser graves para usted, señor obispo, y para todos los discípulos de Jesucristo.”

Fue durante el almuerzo que Nicolás oyó decir de la sentencia injusta y la muerte inminente de los tres hombres inocentes. Inmediatamente se puso en camino hacia el lugar donde iban a llevar a cabo la muerte. Los generales, al darse cuenta del alboroto que ocurriría, lo siguieron.

Cuando Nicolás entró de golpe en el lugar donde ocurriría la muerte, los condenados ya estaban en la plataforma. Estaban amarrados y de rodillas con el cuello y la cabeza abajo lista para la espada del verdugo.

Sin pensar en su propia vida, Nicolás brincó sobre la plataforma y le arrebató la espada de la mano al verdugo. Aunque Nicolás no era pendenciero, Nicolás actuó tan rápidamente que el verdugo no hizo mucho para agarrar la espada de nuevo de la mano del obispo.

Nicolás sabía que estos hombres eran tan inocentes como el alcalde mayor era culpable. Estaba seguro que habían sido sus hechos de caridad y no falsos, que habían ofendido al gobernante. Delante todos los curiosos, Nicolás desató las sogas que amarraban a los inocentes, desafiando a la vez al verdugo y el alcalde.

El gobernante vino a donde estaba Nicolás y se puso delante de él. Pero al hacerlo, los generales que estaban almorzando con Nicolás también se acercaron. Uno tomó su puesto a la derecha de Nicolás, otro a la izquierda y el tercero precisamente enfrente a él. Con toda prudencia, el alcalde mayor dio un paso atrás. Nicolás sabía que era hora de insistir que dijera la verdad.

Aunque el gobernante trató de defenderse, sus súplicas cayeron en oídos sordos. Ya nadie creía sus mentiras. Intentó de convencer a la gente de que él no era el que quería condenar a los hombres, pero que dos negociantes del pueblo le había dado un soborno para condenar a los hombres. Pero al tratar de poner la culpa sobre otros, se condenó él mismo con la avaricia que tenía en el corazón.

Nicolás declaró, “Me parece que no eran esos dos hombres que lo habían corrompido a usted, Señor Alcalde, pero otros dos hombres—llamados Oro y Plata.

Arrepentido, el alcalde mayor empezó a llorar y a confesarse delante de todos ésta y todas las otras maldades que había hecho, hasta por hablar con malicia de Nicolás, el cual sólo había hecho bien a todo el pueblo. Nicolás puso en libertad a más de tres prisioneros ese día, ya que hasta el alcalde mayor por fin se había liberado de su avaricia con su honesta confesión. Al ver el verdadero cambio del gobernante, Nicolás lo perdonó, para siempre adquiriendo el favor de él—y el de la gente—de ese momento en adelante.

Cuando Nicolás nació sus padres le pusieron el nombre de Nicolás, que significa en griego “el vencedor del pueblo.” Por medio de hechos come estos, Nicolás llego a ser “el vencedor del pueblo” en nombre y en hecho.

Nicolás ya llegaba a distinguirse—hasta en sus propios tiempos.

 

Capítulo 24 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Dentro de tres meses de haber recibido la dote inesperada de Nicolás, Sofía había recibido una visita de un pretendiente—uno que le parecía perfecto. Verdaderamente él era la respuesta a sus oraciones, y ella estaba agradecida, feliz y, por fin, casada.

Dos años después, sin embargo, la hermana menor de Sofía se encontró también en la misma situación. Aunque Cecilia ya tenía la edad para casarse, el negocio de su padre no había mejorado con tanto que había trabajado en él. Al acabarse el dinero que Nicolás le había dado a la familia, ellos estaban a punto de desesperación. El orgullo y la tristeza otra vez cegaban la realidad de la situación, y el padre sentía que su única opción era vender a Cecilia como esclava esperando poder remediar el destino de su tercera y última hija.

Aunque sabían por cierto que Dios les había contestado sus oraciones una vez, las circunstancias les causaban dudar que Él lo hiciera de nuevo. Un segundo rescate ahora era más de lo que ellos podían esperaran o imaginarse.

Sin embargo, sabiendo la situación más íntimamente ahora, Nicolás sabía que Dios le estaba pidiendo que intercediera de nuevo. Habían pasado dos años desde el primer rescate, pero en todo ese tiempo la familia no se daba idea ni había descubierto que él era el que les había entregado el regalo de Dios.

Mientras el tiempo se aproximaba en decidir qué hacer esta vez, Nicolás sabía que la hora había llegado de actuar de nuevo. Y para dejar saber claramente que su regalo tendría que ser usado primeramente y principalmente para la dote de Cecilia y después para cualquiera otra necesidad que la familia tuviera, él esperó actuar hasta la noche antes que la joven sería vendida a la esclavitud.

Una vez más, esperando a ser escondido por la oscuridad de la noche, Nicolás se acercó a la casa. Cecilia y Ana María se habían acostado temprano esa noche en obediencia a las ordenes de su padre, el cual les había dicho que no esperaran similar milagro como el que había sucedido con Sofía. Pero de alguna manera, en la profundidad de su desesperación, el padre aún tenía un poco de esperanza en su corazón—un deseo tal vez, más que otra cosa—que una persona realmente los estaba cuidando y que sus oraciones tal vez se contestarían. Con esa esperanza, decidió quedarse despierto y cerca de la ventana en caso que un ángel apareciera—fuera terrenal o celestial.

Nicolás tenía la impresión que eso sucedería, y también sabía que el padre de Cecilia rechazaría el regalo si supiera que Nicolás era el que lo daba. Pero también esperaba que el corazón orgulloso del padre, se hubiera emblandecido suficientemente para aceptar el regalo aunque fuera descubierto.

Al ver que la casa estaba perfectamente tranquila, Nicolás se arrodilló delante de la ventana abierta. Tiró la segunda bolsa de oro en el cuarto.

La bolsa apenas había tocado el piso cuando el padre de las muchachas corrió hacia la ventana por donde había venido, y alcanzó a Nicolás al tratar de escaparse. Del modo que el padre de las muchachas lo persiguió, uno hubiera pensado que Nicolás se había llevado una bolsa de oro en vez de haber dejado una.

Temiendo que todos sus esfuerzos fueran en vano, el corazón de Nicolás se tranquilizó al ver que el hombre no lo regañaba pero le daba las gracias sin apenas ver a quien había agarrado.

“Por favor, escúcheme,” le dijo el padre. “Solo quiero darle las gracias. Usted ha hecho tanto por mí y mi familia que yo no imaginaba recibir otro regalo. Pero su generosidad me ha abierto los ojos al vano orgullo en mi corazón—un orgullo que casi me ha costado la vida de dos hijas.”

El padre de de las muchachas habló sin aliento y rápidamente para asegurar que el desconocido lo escuchara antes de tratar de escaparse otra vez. Pero cuando alzó los ojos para ver con quien hablaba—Nicolás, el obispo—el asombro en la cara del padre fue evidente. ¿Cómo podía un clérigo tener suficientes recursos para dar un regalo como este?

Como respuesta a la pregunta que en realidad no se había preguntado en alta voz, Nicolás respondió, “Sí, fui yo el que le entregué este regalo. Pero fue Dios quien me lo dio para que se lo diera a usted. No es de la parroquia y no es caridad mía. Vino de mi padre que lo ganó honestamente con su propio sudor. Él era un negociante como usted. Y si estuviera vivo hoy día, hubiera querido dárselo él mismo, estoy seguro de eso. Él, más que cualquiera otra persona, sabía lo difícil que era tener un negocio, igual que usted lo sabe. Él también amaba a su familia igual que usted ama la suya.”

Nicolás dejó de hablar para que sus palabras penetraran el corazón del padre antes de continuar. “Pero por favor, por mí y por Dios, quiero que usted sepa que fue Dios mismo que contestó sus oraciones—porque Él lo ha hecho—yo sólo soy un mensajero de Él, un enviado, una herramienta en Sus manos, dejando que Él haga por medio de mi lo que yo sé que Él quiere hacer. Por mi parte, yo prefiero dar caridad en secreto sin que la mano derecha sepa lo que la izquierda está haciendo.”

La mirada en la cara de Nicolás era tan sincera y daba su intención con todo amor y devoción a Quien él servía, que el padre de las muchachas solo pudo aceptar el regalo de Nicolás como si verdaderamente había venido de la mano de Dios mismo.

Pero al despedirse, las muchachas y el padre apenas podían contener su gratitud porque Nicolás también se había dejado usar por Dios de manera tan admirable.

Por todo lo que Nicolás trataba de intentar que la alabanza fuera solo a Dios, también sabía que él tenía un papel que desempeñar en sus vidas. Aunque Dios instigue a muchos a ser generosos de corazón, no todos responden a ese inicio como Nicolás lo hacía.

Nicolás esperaría ver cómo le iba a la familia los próximos años para ver si necesitaba alguna ayuda para Ana María también.

Pero Nicolás no tuvo esa oportunidad. El nuevo emperador por fin había tomado el poder, y la vía de la vida de Nicolás estaba a punto de cambiar de nuevo. Aunque Nicolás a menudo rescataba a otros, había veces, como le había pasado al mismo Señor que él seguía, que le parecía que no podía rescatarse a sí mismo.

 

Estás leyendo ST. NICOLÁS: EL CREYENTE, por Eric y Lana Elder, un cuento nuevo para Navidad basada en la antigua historia de San Nicolás (Spanish Edition). Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

Estás leyendo SAN NICOLÁS: EL CREYENTE, por Eric y Lana Elder, un cuento nuevo para Navidad basada en la antigua historia de San Nicolás (Spanish Edition). Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

PARTE 5

 

Capítulo 25 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Cuando Jesús nació, hubo un rey que se sentó tan amenazado por este niñito que dio la orden de matar en Belén y su vecindad a todos los niños de dos años y menores. Trescientos tres años después, otro rey se sentía igualmente amenazado por Jesús y sus seguidores.

El nombre del nuevo rey era Diocleciano, y él era el emperador de todo el imperio romano. Aunque los romanos habían matado a Jesús cientos de años antes, Diocleciano aún se sentía amenazado por los cristianos fieles a Jesús. Diocleciano mismo se había declarado dios y él quería que todos en el imperio lo adoraran.

Aunque los cristianos eran algunos de los mejores cumplidores de las leyes del imperio, ellos no podían someterse a adorar a Diocleciano. El emperador consideraba eso una insurrección, un acto que se tenía que detener en la forma más severa. Al llegar Diocleciano al supremo poder, emitió una serie de edictos para quemar todas las Biblias, destruir todas las parroquias cristianas, y encarcelar, torturar, y matar a todos los que seguían a Cristo.

Aunque la persecución de cristianos ya ocurría por muchos años bajo el poder del imperio romano, ninguna de esas persecuciones se comparaba con la que ocurrió bajo el reino de Diocleciano. Personalmente, Nicolás no le temía a Diocleciano, pero como siempre, el temía lo que le podía pasar a los cristianos de su parroquia.

Teniendo un papel tan evidente en la parroquia, Nicolás sabía que lo centrarían a él primero, y si lo eliminaran, temía lo que le sucedería a los que él había dejado. Pero Nicolás ya había decidido que hacer. Sabía que si aunque lo mataran, podía confiar que Dios llevaría a cabo su intención en la tierra fuera o no fuera Nicolás parte de ella. Era la fe fundamental que él tenía y su confianza en Dios y Su propósito que lo ayudarían a mantenerse firme en los difíciles años por delante.

En vez de esconderse para evitar el cierto destino que lo esperaba, Nicolás decidió defender su posición. Juró que mantendría las puertas de la parroquia abierta de par en par invitando a todos los que querían entrar. Y cumplió su promesa por lo tanto que pudo hasta el día en que los que entraron fueron soldados—soldados que venían a buscarlo.

 

Capítulo 26 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Nicolás ya estaba listo cuando los soldados llegaron. Sabía que ya no tendría que pensar más en la decisión que había hecho de dejar las puertas de la parroquia abiertas. Desafortunadamente, también habían terminado los días de su parroquia, ya que los soldados cerraron las puertas para siempre.

Con toda la buena voluntad que Nicolás había creado con la gente del pueblo en sus años en Mira, y hasta con los soldados de allí, estos no eran soldados locales que habían venido por él. Diocleciano los había enviado con la petición que sus ordenes fueran llevadas a cabo sin pregunta alguna, y que aquellos que no las llevaban a cabo sufrirían el mismo fin que los castigados.

Los soldados le dieron a Nicolás una oportunidad más de rechazar su fe en Cristo y de adorar a Diocleciano en vez, pero Nicolás, por supuesto, la rechazó. No era que él quería desobedecer la autoridad de Roma, porque sabía bien que fue el mismo Cristo que les enseño a sus discípulos la importancia de honrar a aquellos en autoridad y honrar las leyes. Pero, rechazar que Jesús era Señor y Salvador sería como rechazar que el sol había salido esa mañana. Él simplemente no podía hacer eso. ¿Cómo podía rechazar la existencia de Él que le había dado vida, que le había dado fe y que le había dado esperanza en las horas más oscura de su vida? Si los soldados tenían que llevárselo, entonces bien. Decir que un humano como Diocleciano era Dios, y que Jesús era cualquier cosa menos que Dios, era inconcebible.

Nicolás sabía que era apropiado sentir ese temor ya que había sido dado por Dios para deshacerse de peligro y para protegerlo de cualquiera cosa que dañaría su cuerpo. Pero ahora mismo, al ser brutalmente arrastrado, Nicolás deseaba eliminar esos temores.

“Dios mío, ayúdame,” dijo mientras que las cadenas con que los soldados lo amarraban se hundían en sus muñecas. Este era el principio de un nuevo peregrinaje para Nicolás—un peregrinaje que duraría más que sus años en la Tierra Santa.

Era difícil comparar los dos peregrinajes en la forma del impacto que causaron en su vida. Pues, ¿Cómo se podría comparar un viaje hecho por voluntad propia—uno en el que se puede ir y venir por cuenta propia y se puede regresar en cualquier instante—con uno que es forzado sin voluntad propia—uno que hasta el salir afuera para ver el sol estaba bajo el control de otra persona y no propio?

Pero aún Nicolás se dio cuenta de poder sentir la presencia de Dios de modo parecido, y hasta superado, a todo lo que había sentido en la Tierra Santa. Como había aprendido de otros creyentes, a veces uno no se da cuenta que lo único que se necesita es Jesús hasta que Jesús es lo único que tiene.

Durante el tiempo de su encarcelamiento, cada vez que se abría la puerta de la celda, Nicolás no sabía si los guardias habían venido para liberarlo o para condenarlo a muerte. No sabía si el día que despertaba iba a ser el último. Pero, el resultado de esa inseguridad fue que Nicolás llegó a darse cuenta de lo breve que es la vida, igual que del continuo conocimiento de la presencia de Dios.

Nicolás supo que al cerrar los ojos podía sentir la presencia de Dios como nunca antes la había presenciado. Su celda no era una cárcel—era un santuario. Y lo único que Nicolás quería hacer era mantenerse en la presencia de Dios lo más posible. Después de un tiempo Nicolás no tenían ni que cerrar los ojos. Sencillamente sabía que siempre estaba en la presencia de Dios.

Ciertamente, sus días en la cárcel también estaban repletos del dolor más agudo que se podía sentir en un infierno terrenal. Los soldados constantemente lo azotaban con interrogaciones para que renunciara su fe. El dolor que le producían variaba entre pincharlo con tenazas calientes y darle una severa paliza y al fin echarle sal y vinagre en las heridas. Como resultado ya Nicolás tenía la espalda llena de cicatrices permanentes. La falta de higiene en la cárcel le causaba enfermedades que nunca había tenido antes. A veces hasta pensaba que morir sería mejor que el sufrimiento que sentía allí.

Fue durante uno de esos momentos, tal vez el más oscuro de los cinco años que había pasado en la cárcel hasta ese momento, que la puerta de su celda se abrió. Una luz entró en ella, pero al examinarla más detalladamente, vio que no era la luz del sol, ya que sabía aún dentro de la aislada celda que era la media noche.

La luz que entraba en la celda era la de una sonrisa, una sonrisa en la cara del joven amigo de Nicolás, ahora ya hecho un hombre. Era la luz en la cara alegre de Demetrio.

 

Capítulo 27 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Durante su tiempo en la cárcel, Nicolás había visto pocas caras y menos aún una que le diera ánimo. Al ver una sonrisa en la cara de alguien, y más en una cara que Nicolás amaba tanto, lo lleno de verdadero gozo.

A Demetrio no le había sido fácil encontrar a Nicolás. Demetrio había venido a Mira sabiendo que él había tomado un puesto en la parroquia de la ciudad. Pero habían pasado muchos años desde que él había sabido de su viejo amigo, tiempo que Demetrio también había pasado en la cárcel. Al ser liberado recientemente, Demetrio navegó por el Gran Mar en busca de Nicolás. Demetrio tuvo que investigar mucho para encontrar a Nicolás, pero había viajado demasiado para rendirse sin ver a su viejo amigo y consejero, la primera persona que le había hablado del amor de Cristo.

Usando los conocimientos de la calle que había aprendido como guía en la Tierra Santa, Demetrio pudo desenvolverse a través y alrededor de casi todo el mundo y todas las cosa que trataban de impedirlo. El empeño que él tenía, más la mano de Dios que guía, ayudaron a Demetrio a encontrar a su amigo y a encontrar esta puerta que él abrió esa noche para gozar de esta visita tan especial. Fue la visita que a Nicolás le parecía como la visita de un ángel celestial.

Después de cerrar la puerta detrás de ellos, y después de un fuerte abrazo, Demetrio se sentó en el suelo al lado de Nicolás. Se sentaron en silencio por varios minutos, ninguno de ellos tenía la necesidad de decir nada. En momentos santos como estos, no se necesitaban las palabras.

La oscuridad en la pequeña celda era tan intensa que ellos no atentaron de mirarse, pero sólo se sentaron allí lado a lado. Los ojos de Demetrio aún no se habían acostumbrado a la oscuridad total suficientemente para poder ver nada de todos modos, y Nicolás estaba contento solo en saber que su amigo estaba ahí a su lado. Nicolás podía oír el sonido de la respiración de Demetrio, un sonido que aumentaba su gozo al saber que su amigo aún estaba vivo y estaba con él en carne y hueso.

Nicolás respiró profundamente de nuevo y con el acto se le infundió un nuevo sentido de vida. Era un hálito de vida que su amigo no podía haber dejado de traer con él.

 

Capítulo 28 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

“¿Qué me dices de tus jóvenes guardaespaldas?” por fin Nicolás le preguntó, refiriéndose a Samuel y Rut. A menudo Nicolás oraba por los tres jóvenes porque los quería como si fueran sus propios hermanos menores.

Demetrio vaciló un momento. Miro a Nicolás pero no pudo decir ni una palabra. Estaba ansioso de contarle todo lo que había pasado en los últimos años—como Samuel y Rut seguían llevando a los peregrinos a los sitios sagrados, compartiendo con ellos las mismas buenas nuevas de Jesús que habían aprendido durante sus años con Nicolás.

Como Demetrio, Samuel y Rut tuvieron que dejar de guiar a los peregrinos cuando llegó la “Gran Persecución”, como la llamaban ahora. Los tres empezaron a pasar casi todo su tiempo cuidando de las necesidades de otros creyentes en Jerusalén, creyentes que se enfrentaban con encarcelamiento y muerte, igual que Nicolás. Como no estaban en posición destacada como Nicolás, ellos habían evitado detención mucho después que Nicolás. Pero finalmente fueron encarcelados, y repetidamente interrogados, azotados y torturados por la fe.

Samuel y Demetrio eran suficientemente fuertes para resistir el abuso, pero Rut era muy frágil. Un día después de someterla a abusos insuperables, regresó a ellos y se desplomó. Aunque obviamente había estado llorando a cause del dolor que sentía en el cuerpo, de algún modo también continuaba con una sonrisa en el corazón.

“¿Cómo es que lo haces?” le preguntó Samuel. “¿Cómo es posible que sonríes todavía después de todo eso?

Rut respondió, “Siento que he estado caminando y hablando con Jesús por tanto tiempo que ni la muerte en realidad cambiaría nada de eso. Simplemente continuaría caminando y hablando con Él para siempre.”

Rut sonrió de nuevo y Demetrio solo pudo devolverle la sonrisa. Pero su cuerpo se estaba dando por vencido y ella lo sabía. Sentía que sólo estaba al instante al pasar de esta vida a la próxima.

“¡No te puedes ir?” le dijo Samuel. “¡Tienes que quedarte aquí conmigo! Aún hay mucho que tenemos que hacer!” Pero la vida de Rut se deslizaba.

“!Si te mueres, oraré que Dios te resucite!” Samuel ya estaba desesperado queriendo mantenerla cerca de él. Pero Rut solo sonrió otra vez. Verdaderamente había encontrado el secreto de vivir la vida repleta, y nada, ni la muerte, le podía quitar eso.

Ella habló, más en silencio ahora, solo como un murmuro. “Ora que Dios me levante de la muerte, pero la verdad es que una vez ya fui levantada de la muerte, cuando conocimos a Nicolás, y él nos introdujo a Jesús, fui levantada de la muerte, y una vida nueva y repleta se me ha dado. De ahí en adelante, supe que viviría para siempre.”

Con eso, Rut pasó por la cortina entre la vida y la muerte y a la presencia del visible Dios. La sonrisa que adornaba su cara en vida continuaba brillando su cara en la muerte, y Demetrio sabía donde ella estaba. Simplemente, ella continuaba haciendo lo que siempre había hecho, caminando y hablando con Jesús, pero ahora lo hacía cara a cara.

Nicolás se sentó en silencio escuchándolo todo intensamente mientras Demetrio le contaba lo ocurrido. Por tanto que pensaba entristecerse, su corazón comenzó a alzarse en vez. Ciertamente, nada de esto le era nuevo, pero al oír de la fe de Rut, la suya se revivió de nuevo también.

Uno pensaría que un hombre como Nicolás no necesitaba que lo animaran en la fe. Él había ayudado a muchísimos a crecer en la fe, y, además, él era nada menos que un obispo. Pero Nicolás también sabía muy dentro de su corazón que era la gente como él que a veces necesitaba más ánimo en la fe. Gran fe, él sabía, no les viene a aquellos que no tienen dudas. Gran fe les viene a aquellos que han tenido que extender su fe para que creciera, si no se hubiera destrozado por completo. Al continuar confiando en Dios, sea lo que sea, Nicolás llegó a saber que uno podía derribar dudas en el camino oscuro que lo ayudaban a ascender aún más.

Tan triste como estaba por la muerte de Rut, Nicolás no pudo evitar una sonrisa de lo profundo de su corazón igual como Rut lo habría hecho el día que murió. Con gran alegría esperaba el día de poder ver a Jesús en persona, igual que Rut Lo veía ahora. Sin embargo, Nicolás amaba la obra que Dios le había dado que hacer en la tierra, también.

“No perdemos, ¿no es cierto?” dijo Nicolás con una sonrisa pensando en lo ocurrido. “O morimos y vamos al cielo a estar con Jesús, o vivimos y continuamos su obra aquí en el mundo. Con cualquier fin somos vencedores, ¿No es cierto? No importa el fin, ya somos vencedores.”

“Sí, con cualquier fin somos vencedores,” repitió Demetrio. “No importa el fin, ya somos vencedores.”

Durante las próximas hora, Nicolás y Demetrio compartieron cuentos de lo que Dios había hecho en sus vidas durante los años de separación. Pero nada había podido prepara a Nicolás para lo que Demetrio le estaba a punto de decirle después. Parecía que Demetrio había conocido a una muchacha. Y no era una muchacha cualquiera. Ella se llamaba Ana María.

 

Capítulo 29 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

En su viaje en busca de Nicolás, Demetrio hablaba con cualquiera persona que supiera dónde encontrarlo. Al llegar a Mira, primero fue a la parroquia donde Nicolás servía como obispo. Al no encontrarlo allí, Demetrio empezó a caminar por las calles para ver si se encontraba con alguien que supiera algo de él. Y con quién fue que Demetrio se encontró si no con la misma muchacha—ahora ya hecha una mujer—que Nicolás había conocido hace muchos años, vendiendo flores entrelazadas a cualquiera persona que las comprara.

Ella ya no estaba vestida en el manto de la pobreza. Demetrio inmediatamente observó a la vez la belleza del interior y del exterior de la muchacha. Él estaba tan impresionado con ella que no podía dejar de conversar con ella. Y ella también parecía estar impresionada con él. A ella no le parecía ser capaz de que un hombre de su importancia y fe quería hablar con ella. Él era, ella pensaba, el hombre más bueno e impresionante que ella había conocido.

Cuando Demetrio le dijo el propósito de venir a Mira—de encontrar al obispo llamado Nicolás—Ana María se quedó boquiabierta. ¿Cómo podía saber este hombre, este extranjero del otro lado del Gran Mar nada de Nicolás? Demetrio compartió con ella su experiencia de cómo él había conocido a Nicolás y como Nicolás lo había rescatado de su pobreza de fe. Ana María solo podía compartir lo que Nicolás había hecho por su familia también, salvar a sus dos hermanas mayores de la esclavitud tirando una bolsa de oro por la ventana para cada una de ellas la víspera de cumplir los diez y ocho años.

Pero de pronto la sonrisa de Ana María desapareció. Ahora, solo en unos días, ella cumpliría los diez y ocho años, pero a Nicolás se lo habían llevado a la cárcel hace cinco años. Nadie ni lo había visto ni había sabido de él en todos esos años. Ni ella misma sabía donde él estaba. Aunque su padre ya no era el mismo hombre que antes, ya que no pensaba en vender a Ana María a la esclavitud, él aún no tenía la dote que ofrecerle a un pretendiente. Sin una dote, como Demetrio bien sabía, el destino de Ana María sería difícil. Y con Nicolás encarcelado, no había la oportunidad de que él pudiera rescatar a su familia esta tercera vez. Ana María de nuevo había empezado a vender sus flores en la calle, y aunque eran más impresionantes que las primeras, ella apenas podía ganar lo suficiente para ayudar a la familia de vez en cuando con los gastos de la comida.

Demetrio la escuchó, y como Nicolás antes de él, supo dentro de unos minutos lo que Dios quería que él hiciera. Él podía ser la respuesta a las oraciones de Ana María, y con mucho más que una dote. Pero sabiendo que esas cosas tomaban tiempo, él solo guardó esas ideas en su corazón. Le compró una flor a Ana María y le dio las gracias por decirle lo que ella sabía de Nicolás. Al despedirse de ella, le prometió que volvería a hablar con ella otra vez en el futuro si él localizaba a su querido amigo.

La víspera del cumpleaños de Ana María, Demetrio fue al mismo lugar donde Nicolás se había escondido ya dos veces muchos años antes, debajo de la ventana abierta de la casa de Ana María. La conversación adentro era adolecida. Ana María y su padre oraban sabiendo que no había posibilidad de que Nicolás regresara de nuevo. Entonces apagaron las luces y se acostaron.

Demetrio esperó por lo que le parecía ser varias horas, sabiendo que no podía despertarlos y arriesgar su plan. Pues, él había ahorrado lo suficiente en sus años de trabajo en la Tierra Santa para fácilmente llenar una bolsa con monedas de oro para cubrir la dote. Pero él no podía simplemente darles el dinero, pues él tenía otras ideas además de sólo darles la dote. ¡Él quería que el padre de Ana María se lo devolviera algún día, como un regalo matrimonial! Tal vez sería difícil y sabía que necesitaría más tiempo para estar seguro que ella era la que él realmente amaba. Él también sentía que esta era la mejor manera de que todo se realizara al fin, aunque ella no fuera la verdadera mujer para él. Algo le presenciaba, sin embargo, que ella lo era. Y con esa idea en mente, él hizo lo que tenía que hacer.

Cuidadosamente y sin hacer ruido alguno, él alzó la mano hasta la repisa de la ventana y dejo caer la bosa en silencio en el piso. Nadie lo oyó ni nadie se despertó. Después de hacer esa obra para Dios y para su propio corazón, de nuevo continuó buscando a Nicolás. Dos semanas después, Demetrio había encontrado a Nicolás, y ahora compartía con él como él había conocido a la mujer de sus sueños.

La noticia no podía haberle caído más dulcemente en los oídos de Nicolás. Y de nuevo su corazón se alivió y se elevó, porque aunque aún encarcelado y fuera del mundo en su celda, Nicolás podía observar el fruto de sus oraciones—que fueron contestadas increíblemente de modo inesperado. Él aún podía cambiar el mundo, hasta desde la prisión, mientras el mundo trataba de detenerlo.

Antes de irse esa noche, Demetrio abrazó a Nicolás otra vez; y entonces desapareció. Desapareció por las puertas de la cárcel tan milagrosamente come había entrado.

Pasarían cinco años más antes de que Nicolás viera a Demetrio de nuevo. Diocleciano continuaba tratando de desesperar a los cristianos. Pero durante los años que Nicolás aún estaba en la cárcel, su alma se sintió más libre que nunca antes. Nadie podía dejar que Nicolás alabara a Jesús, ni nadie podía dejar que Jesús hiciera lo que Él quería hacer.

Cuando el día por fin llegó que Nicolás fue liberado, el guardia que abrió la puerta de su celda lo miró y dijo, “Es hora de salir. Estás en libertad.”

Nicolás solo miró al guardia con una sonrisa. Él ya había estado en libertad por un tiempo.

 

Capítulo 30 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Pensando que Nicolás no lo había oído, el guardia habló de nuevo, “Dije que estás en libertad. Ya puedes levantarte y regresar a tu casa.”

Al escuchar la palabra “casa”, Nicolás se emocionó. Él no había visto su casa, ni su parroquia, ni había escuchado la voz de otra persona además de la de Demetrio, en casi diez años. Se levantó y sus movimientos se aceleraron comprendiendo por fin las palabras del guardia.

“¿A casa?” exclamó Nicolás.

“Sí, a casa. Ya puedes regresar a tu casa. El emperador ha proclamado libres a todos los cristianos.”

El emperador a quien se refería era el nuevo emperador Constantino. Diocleciano había fallado en su deseo de constreñir a los cristianos. En vez de apagar su espíritu, Diocleciano lo había fortalecido. Como Nicolás, aquellos que no habían muerto habían crecido en la fe. Y mientras más fuerte era su fe, más fuerte era su influencia, siendo testigos a los ciudadanos cristianizados en medio de ellos. Hasta la misma esposa de Diocleciano y su hija se habían convertido a la fe cristiana.

Diocleciano dejó de gobernar el imperio y Constantino subió al poder.

Constantino cambió la situación de perseguir a los cristiano firmando el Edicto de Milán. Este edicto daba nueva tolerancia a la gente de toda religión y resultó en libertad para los cristianos. Elena, la madre de Constantino, era cristiana. Aunque nadie sabía si Constantino lo era también, la nueva tolerancia que él demostró estableció la libertad de adoración a cualquier dios y de cualquier modo que preferían, como se debería haber hecho desde el principio.

Por tanto que Diocleciano había cambiado el mundo romano para lo peor, Constantino ahora lo estaba cambiando para lo mejor. Sus reinos eran tan diversos como el día y la noche y servían como testigo de cómo una persona verdaderamente podía cambiar el curso de la historia—para el bien o para el mal.

Nicolás se daba cuenta, ahora más que antes, de que él tenía solo una vida por delante. Pero también se daba cuenta de que si la vivía correctamente, una vida era sólo lo que el necesitaba. Decidió en su corazón otra vez hacer todo lo posible para aprovechar al máximo todos los días, empezando de nuevo con el presente.

Mientras lo sacaban de su celda en la cárcel y lo llevaban a la ciudad de Mira, él pensó que no era coincidencia que la primera cara que vio fue la de Ana María.

La reconoció al momento. Pero por causa de los diez años en la cárcel, y lo mucho que se le había gastado la vida allí, a Ana María le fue difícil reconocerlo al instante. Pero tan pronto como vio su sonrisa, se dio cuenta enseguida que era la sonrisa de su viejo amigo Nicolás. ¡Claro que era Nicolás! Y estaba vivo y delante de ella.

Ella estaba tan sorprendida que no podía ni moverse. Dos niños estaban a su lado, mirando a su madre, y después al hombre a quién ella ahora miraba. Aquí estaba el hombre que había ayudado tanto a su familia y a ella. No podía contener el gozo. Volviendo la cabeza Ana María gritó. “Demetrio! ¡Demetrio ¡Ven pronto! ¡Es Nicolás!

De pronto ella empezó a correr hacia Nicolás, abrazándolo fuertemente. Demetrio salió de una tienda detrás de ellos, les echó una mirada a Nicolás y a Ana María y también empezó a correr hacia ellos, cargando a sus hijos mientras corría.

Ahora toda la familia abrazaba a Nicolás como si fuera un hermano o un padre o un tío que acaba de venir de la guerra. Las lágrimas y las sonrisas en sus caras se volvían una. El hombre que había salvado a Ana María y a su familia de un destino peor que la muerte había sido salvado de la muerte también. Y Demetrio sonreía, también, de ver a su buen amigo, y de ver lo contento que Nicolás estaba de verlo a él y a Ana María juntos con su nueva familia.

Nicolás tomó la cara de cada uno de ellos en sus manos—una a la vez—y miró profundamente en sus ojos. Entonces abrazó a cada uno de los niños. La semilla que él había sembrado años antes en las vidas de Demetrio y Ana María aún daban fruto, fruto que él ahora podía ver con sus propios ojos. Todo el esfuerzo que había puesto valía la pena, y nada menos que las sonrisas en sus caras eran claramente muestras de eso.

Por los próximos días y semanas, Nicolás y todos los creyentes liberados habían tenidos semejantes experiencias por toda Mira. Esos días eran como una larga y continua reunión de amigos y familias.

Nicolás, así como los otros que habían sobrevivido la Gran Persecución, seguramente le parecía a la gente de Mira ser como Lázaro en Betania cuando Jesús lo mandó a salir de la tumba—un hombre que había muerto, pero ahora estaba vivo. Y como Lázaro, estos cristianos no estaban solamente vivos, pero ellos traían mucha gente a fe en Cristo también, ya que su fe estaba viva de un modo nuevo. Lo que Diocleciano pensaba hacer para el mal, Dios pudo transformarlo para el bien. Estos embajadores de la fe habían surgido con una fe que era más fuerte que nunca antes.

Nicolás sabía que este nuevo nivel de fe, como todos los buenos dones de Dios, se les había dado por algún propósito, también. Por lo difíciles que habían sido las pruebas que él había enfrentado hasta ese momento, Dios lo estaba preparando para una aún más difícil.

 

Estás leyendo ST. NICOLÁS: EL CREYENTE, por Eric y Lana Elder, un cuento nuevo para Navidad basada en la antigua historia de San Nicolás (Spanish Edition). Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

Estás leyendo SAN NICOLÁS: EL CREYENTE, por Eric y Lana Elder, un cuento nuevo para Navidad basada en la antigua historia de San Nicolás (Spanish Edition). Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

PARTE 6

 

Capítulo 31 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

“¿Y tú todavía no se lo has mencionado en todos estos años?” Nicolás le preguntó a Demetrio. Habían pasado doce años desde que Nicolás había salido de la cárcel, y ellos hablaban de la bolsa de oro que Demetrio había tirado por la ventana abierta de Ana María cinco años antes de salir de la carcel.

“Ella nunca me lo ha preguntado,” dijo Demetrio. “Además, si se lo hubiera dicho no lo habría creído. Está convencida que usted fue quien lo hizo.”

“¿Pero cómo pude ser yo cuando ella sabía que yo estaba encarcelado?” Era una conversación que ellos habían tenido antes, pero a Nicolás le parecía sorprendente. Demetrio insistía en mantener en secreto el acto de caridad, igual como Nicolás lo había hecho cada vez que era posible.

“Además,” añadió Demetrio, “Ella tiene razón. Verdaderamente fue usted el que me inspiró a darle ese regalo, ya que usted le había dado a su familia dos bolsas de oro de la misma forma que yo lo hice. Así que, en cierto sentido, vino de usted.”

Nicolás tuvo que admitir la lógica de Demetrio. “Pero no comenzó conmigo tampoco, fue Cristo el que me inspiró.”

Y con eso, Demetrio admitió y dijo, “Y fue Cristo el que me inspiró a mí también. Créame usted, Ana María cree eso más que cualquiera otra persona. Su fe es más firme que nunca antes. Desde que lo conoció a usted, ella sigue dándole gracias a Dios por todo.”

Y con eso Nicolás estaba satisfecho, por tanto que Dios recibiera las gracias al fin. Como Nicolás le había enseñado a Demetrio muchos años antes, no hay nada que tenemos que no haya provenido de Dios primero.

Y cambiando el tema, Nicolás le preguntó, “¿Estás seguro que a ella no le va a importar que tú estés lejos por tres meses? Todavía podría encontrar a otra persona que me acompañe.”

“Ella está completa y totalmente contenta en que yo vaya con usted,” Demetrio le dijo. “Ella sabe lo importante que esto es para usted, y también sabe lo que significa para mí también. Yo no quiero perdérmelo.”

Ellos hablaban de las preparaciones para asistir al Concilio de Nicea ese verano. Nicolás había sido invitado por petición especial del emperador, y a cada obispo se le permitía traer un asistente personal. Tan pronto como Nicolás recibió la invitación, le pidió a Demetrio que fuera con él.

El concilio sería un evento magnífico. Al abrir la invitación para asistir, Nicolás no pudo creerlo. Tanto había cambiado en el mundo desde su encarcelamiento doce años antes.

Aún, ahí lo tenía, petición del emperador romano para presentarse delante de él al empezar la temporada de pascua. La única petición que un obispo habría recibido bajo Diocleciano habría sido la invitación a una ejecución pública—la propia. Pero bajo el gobierno de Constantino, la vida del cristiano había cambiado radicalmente.

Constantino no sólo había firmado el mandato que daba plena tolerancia a los cristianos, el cual resultó en liberar a todos ellos encarcelados, pero también había empezado a devolverles sus propiedades—propiedades que habían sido arrebatadas bajo el emperador anterior. Constantino también había empezado a financiar el arreglo de las parroquias que habían sido destruidas por Diocleciano. Era el principio de un nuevo aliento de gracia para los cristianos, después de la intensa persecución que habían sufrido.

Como otra señal del apoyo de Constantino a los cristianos, él había convocado una conferencia de los más influyentes obispos del imperio. Constantino quería llevar a cabo dos propósitos con la conferencia: unificar la iglesia dentro del imperio anteriormente dividido, y a la vez no perder la esperanza de unir a todo el país. Como el gobernante del pueblo, Constantino afirmaba su responsabilidad de ofrecerle bienestar espiritual a los ciudadanos. Y por eso, había jurado asistir, y él mismo presidir en este concilio histórico. Tomaría lugar en la ciudad de Nicea, comenzando en la primavera de ese año y continuando por varios meses hasta llegar el verano.

Cuando Nicolás recibió la invitación, enseguida le dio gracias a Dios por los cambios que ocurrían en su mundo. Mientras la Gran Persecución había fortalecido la fe de los que la habían sobrevivido, esa misma persecución había arruinado las destrezas de muchos más, limitando la habilidad de enseñar, predicar y evangelizar a otros cerca de ellos con el mensaje de Cristo que es capaz de cambiar las vidas.

Ahora esos obstáculos habían sido eliminados—con el apoyo y consentimiento del emperador mismo. El único obstáculo que existía estaba dentro de los corazones y mentes de aquellos que oirían las buenas nuevas, y que tendrían que decidir por sí mismos que hacer con el mensaje.

La influencia y respeto de Nicolás había aumentado en Mira y también por las regiones cercanas. Su gran riqueza hacía tiempo que se había agotado, ya que la había dado casi toda al ver venir la Gran Persecución, y lo que quedaba de ella había sido descubierta y saqueada mientras estaba encarcelado. Pero por todo lo material que había perdido, él lo había recibido de nuevo en influencia, pues su corazón y su vida aún estaban dirigidos hacia la caridad—sin importarle lo que tenía o no tenía. Después de gastarse dando tanto a la gente a su alrededor, él fue naturalmente uno de los escogidos para asistir al concilio anticipado. Llegaría a ser uno de los eventos más monumentales de la historia, y no hace falta decir uno de los eventos más monumentales de la propia vida de Nicolás—pero no necesariamente por razones que él quisiera recordar.

 

Capítulo 32 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Aunque los cristianos gozaban una nueva libertad bajo Constantino, el futuro del Cristianismo aún estaba en ciertos peligros. Las amenazas ya no venían por fuera de la iglesia, pero por dentro. Facciones habían empezado a sumergir dentro de la iglesia que crecía, con intensas discusiones sobre varios temas teológicos que tenían consecuencias muy prácticas.

Particularmente, un grupo pequeño pero muy elocuente, dirigido por Arrio, había empezado a llamar la atención de la gente preguntando si Jesús realmente era divino o no.

¿Fue Jesús solo un hombre? ¿O fue Él, verdaderamente, uno con Dios en su propia naturaleza? Para hombres como Nicolás y Demetrio, la pregunta era indiscutible, ya que ellos habían dedicado toda su vida siguiendo a Jesús como su Señor. Ellos lo habían dejado todo atrás para seguirlo a Él en palabra y en acciones. Él era su Señor, su Salvador, su Luz y su Esperanza. Como muchos que asistirían al concilio, no eran sus mantos ni sus vestuarios exteriores que eran testigos de su fe en Cristo, pero las cicatrices y heridas que llevaban en el cuerpo al sufrir por Él. Ellos habían arriesgado su vida bajo amenaza de muerte por adorar al divino Cristo y no al emperador Diocleciano. En su pensar no había pregunta alguna sobre este tema. Pero aún había otros que sentían que esta era una pregunta que se debía discutir.

En el entusiasmo de Arrio de ver a la gente adorar sólo a Dios, él no podía imaginar que un hombre, ni uno tan bueno como Jesús, pudiera declararse uno con Dios sin blasfemar el nombre del mismo Dios. En este sentido, Arrio no era diferente a aquellos que habían perseguido a Jesús cuando aún vivía. Hasta algunos que habían vivido entonces y habían sido testigos de sus milagros con sus propios ojos, y habían oído las palabras de Jesús con sus propios oídos, no podían entender que era posible que Jesús decía la verdad cuando dijo, “El Padre y yo somos uno.” Y por eso, llevaron a Jesús a Herodes, y después a Pilato, para crucificarlo.

De niño Nicolás también había pensado en esa afirmación de Jesús. Pero cuando Nicolás estuvo en Belén, por fin lo entendió todo perfectamente—que Dios mismos vino del cielo a la tierra como hombre humano para sufrir los pecados del mundo una vez por todas como Dios en cuerpo humano.

Arrio, sin embargo, era como el Apóstol Pablo rumbo a Damasco antes de conocer a Jesús. Antes de la experiencia que cambió su vida, el Apóstol Pablo quería proteger lo que él sentía que era la santidad de Dios persiguiendo a todos los que admitían adorar a Jesús como Dios. Porque, según Pablo pensaba antes, nadie podía considerarse uno con Dios.

Como Arrio, Pablo no podía creer la afirmación de Jesús y sus seguidores. Pero en ruta a Damasco, mientras en su entusiasmo él iba a buscar y matar a los cristianos, Pablo se encontró con Cristo, el Hijo del Dios viviente, en una visión que lo dejó ciego físicamente, pero que lo despertó espiritualmente a la Verdad. En los días siguientes, los ojos físicos de Pablo se curaron y él se arrepintió de sus vanos esfuerzos. Él fue bautizado en el nombre de Jesús y empezó a predicar de ese momento que Jesús no había sido solamente un hombre, pero que su afirmación de ser uno con el Padre era completamente cierta. Pablo dio su vida en adoración y servicio a Cristo, y tuvo que soportar, como Nicolás había soportado, prisión y toda amenaza de muerte por su fe.

Arrio, se parecía más a los gobernantes religiosos del tiempo de Jesús los cuales, en su entusiasmo por defender a Dios, actualmente crucificaron al Señor de toda creación. Arrio se sentía justificado en su esmero en conseguir el apoyo de los obispos a su punto de vista.

Ni Nicolás ni Demetrio pensaban que las ideas Arrio podrían obtener mucho apoyo. Pero pronto verían que el carácter carismático de Arrio y su elocuente modo de expresarse podían prevalecer sobre varios de los obispos que aún no habían pensado mucho en esa teología ni en las consecuencias.

Sin embargo, Nicolás y Demetrio, como el Apóstol Pablo, el Apóstol Juan y miles de otros desde la época cuando Jesús vivió y murió y resucitó de la muerte de nuevo, habían descubierto que Jesús era, agradecida y sobrenaturalmente, totalmente hombre y totalmente divino a la vez.

¿Pero cuál sería la conclusión de los otros obispos? Y ¿qué verdad teológica enseñarían a otros por todas las generaciones por venir? Esas llegarían a ser las preguntas fundamentales que se decidirían en esa conferencia en Nicea. Aunque Nicolás estaba interesado en esa discusión, no tenía idea alguna que él tendría un papel principal en el resultado.

 

Capítulo 33 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Después de una gran procesión de obispos y clérigos, un coro de monaguillos y unas palabras iniciales del Emperador Constantino, uno de los primeros temas de discusión fue el que propuso Arrio—si Cristo era o no era divino.

Arrio presentó sus argumentos iniciales con gran elocuencia y gran convicción delante de Constantino y el resto de la asamblea. Jesús era, él indicó, tal vez el principal de todos los seres creados. Pero ser igual a Dios, uno en sustancia y naturaleza con Él, era imposible—por lo menos según Arrio. “Nadie podía ser uno con Dios,” el dijo.

Nicolás escuchaba en silencio, junto con los otros obispos en el inmenso salón. El respeto para el orador, especialmente en la presencia del emperador, tenía prioridad sobre todo tipo de murmurar o distracción que a veces acompañaban conferencias de ese tipo, especialmente cuando era sobre un tema tan penetrante. Pero mientras más hablaba Arrio, más difícil le era a Nicolás quedarse sentado en silencio.

Después de todo, los padres de Nicolás habían dado su vida en honor de servir a Cristo, su Señor. Nicolás mismo había estado agobiado con la presencia de Dios en Belén, en el mismo lugar donde Dios apareció por primera vez como hombre en carne humana. Demetrio, Samuel y Rut habían sido semejantemente conmovidos con la visita a Belén. Habían subido la colina en Jerusalén donde el Rey de reyes había sido crucificado por los gobernantes religiosos—gobernantes que, como Arrio, dudaban la afirmación que de Jesús era uno con Dios.

Nicolás siempre había sabido que Jesús era diferente a otros hombres que vivieron. Y después de Jesús morir, él había resucitado de la muerte, se le había aparecido a los doce discípulos y entonces se les apareció a más de quinientos otros habitantes de Jerusalén en esos tiempos. ¿Qué clase de hombre era ese? ¿Fue cómo una alucinación de masas? ¿Fue solo un deseo de los admiradores religiosos? Pero estos hombres no eran solo admiradores, ellos eran seguidores de Él dispuestos a dar sus vidas, también, por su Señor y Salvador.

Nicolás no podía dejar de pensar en los argumentos. ¿No había anunciado ya el profeta Miqueas, cientos de años antes de nacer Jesús, que los orígenes del Mesías “se remontan hasta la antigüedad, hasta tiempos inmemoriales?” ¿No había dicho el apóstol Juan que Jesús “estaba con Dios en el principio,” añadiendo que Jesús “era Dios?”

Como otros habían tratado de sugerir, Arrio dijo que Jesús nunca había afirmado que él era Dios. Pero Nicolás conocía las Escrituras suficientemente bien y sabía que Jesús había dicho, “El Padre y yo somos uno. El que me ha visto a mí, ha visto al Padre. ¿Acaso no crees que yo estoy en el Padre y el Padre está en mí?”

Hasta los mismos enemigos de Jesús en los años que Él vivía dijeron que la razón que ellos querían apedrear a Jesús era porque Jesús afirmaba ser Dios. Las Escrituras decían que estos enemigos rodearon a Jesús un día y Él les dijo, “Yo les he mostrado muchas obras irreprochables que proceden del Padre. ¿Por cuál de ellas me quieren apedrear?”

Ellos respondieron, “No te apedreamos por ninguna de ellas sino por blasfemia: porque tú, siendo hombre, te haces pasar por Dios.”

Jesús ciertamente afirmaba que Él era Dios, una afirmación que lo había puesto en dificultades. Su afirmación mostraba que Él era un loco o un mentiroso—o que Él decía la verdad.

Nicolás tenía la mente llena de referencias de las Escrituras como estas, así como de memorias de los años que había pasado encarcelado—años que él nunca tendría de nuevo—todo por no estar dispuesto a adorar a Diocleciano como un dios, pero estaba preparado a adorar a Jesús como Dios. ¿Cómo podía quedar callado y dejar que Arrio siguiera hablando así? ¿Cómo es que los representantes en el salón podían quedarse en silencio? A Nicolás no le cabía en la mente.

“Él no tenía nada divino,” Arrio dijo con plena convicción. “Él fue solo un hombre como cada uno de nosotros.”

Sin aviso, y sin ningún otro momento para pensar en lo que iba a hacer, Nicolás se puso de pie. Y luego sus pies, como si tuvieran su propia disposición, se pusieron en camino preciso y fijo por el inmenso salón hacia Arrio. Arrio continuó hablando hasta que por fin Nicolás se detuvo delante de él.

Arrio dejó de hablar. Esta violación de formalidad no se había visto antes.

En el silencio siguiente, Nicolás le dio la espalda a Arrio y se quitó el manto que tenía en la espalda, enseñándoles a todos las horribles cicatrices de las heridas que sufrió en la prisión. Nicolás dijo, “No adquirí éstas por “solo un hombre.””

Dando una vuelta hacia Arrio y enfrentándose a él otra vez, Nicolás se fijo en la sonrisa condescendiente en la cara del Arrio. Arrio dijo, “Pues, parece que has hecho un error.” Entonces Arrio comenzó su discurso de nuevo como si nada hubiera pasado.

Entonces fue cuando Nicolás hizo lo inesperado. Sin otra idea que solamente detener que este hombre hablara mal de su Señor y Salvador, y en plena vista del emperador y de todos los delegados, Nicolás apretó el puño. Echo el brazo atrás y le dio a Arrio un puñetazo fuerte en la cara.

Arrio tropezó y cayó hacia atrás, tal como por la fuerza del golpetazo como el asombro de lo ocurrido. Nicolás también se quedó pasmado—así como todos los delegados en el salón. Con los mismos precisos y fijos pasos que lo habían llevado delante de la asamblea, Nicolás ahora caminó hacia su butaca y se sentó.

Todos en el salón se habían quedado boquiabiertos cuando Nicolás le pegó a Arrio, y a continuación surgió la explosión de un alboroto cuando Nicolás volvió a sentarse en su butaca. El alboroto amenazaba echar todo el proceso del concilio en desorden. La mayoría de los delegados en el salón estaban a punto de ponerse de pie para aplaudir el acto de Nicolás por su audacia—incluyendo, por su mirada, el mismo emperador. Pero para los otros, y Arrio siendo el principal de ellos, ni palabras ni muestra de emoción podían expresar la indignación. Todos sabían el delito horrible que Nicolás había cometido. En hecho, usar cualquier tipo de violencia delante del emperador se consideraba un acto ilegal. El castigo por el acto era inmediatamente cortarle la mano de la persona que había golpeado a la otra en la presencia del emperador.

Constantino sabía la ley, claro, pero también conocía a Nicolás. Hasta una vez había tenido un sueño en el cual Nicolás lo advertía de conceder freno a cámara de muerte a tres hombres en la corte del emperador—advertencia que Constantino obedeció y realizó en la vida real. Cuando Constantino compartió el sueño con uno de sus generales, el general le contó al emperador lo que Nicolás había hecho por tres hombres inocentes en Mira, ya que el general era uno de los que había visto el valor de Nicolás en persona.

Aunque el acto de Nicolás contra Arrio parecía ser impulsivo, Constantino admiraba el valor de Nicolás. Conocido por su rapidez de pensar y de actuar, Constantino levantó la mano y al momento todos en el salón se quedaron en silencio al ver al emperador. “Es cierto que esto nos sorprende a todos,” dijo. “Y mientras el castigo de tal acto en mi presencia está en lo claro, yo prefiero, en vez, diferir este caso a los líderes del concilio. Este congreso es de ustedes y yo difiero a su sabiduría en conducirlo como a ustedes les parezca.”

Constantino había puesto tiempo y a la vez buena voluntad entre los diferentes bandos. Casi todo el concilio estaba a favor de Nicolás, por lo menos en sentimiento, aunque no podían apoyarlo en la acción. Algún castigo era debido, ya que no dárselo dejaría de honrar la letra de la ley. Pero al tener el permiso del mismo emperador para actuar de modo apropiado, en vez de dar el castigo corriente, ellos sintieron la libertad de tomar otra forma de acción.

Después de discutir el asunto por un tiempo, los líderes del concilio llegaron a un acuerdo y decidieron apartar del sacerdocio a Nicolás inmediatamente quitándole su puesto de obispo, prohibiéndole la participación durante el resto del concilio en Nicea y conteniéndolo bajo arresto domiciliario en el complejo del palacio. Allí él esperaría cualquiera otra decisión que el concilio tuviera al concluir la asamblea en el verano. Era una sentencia benévola, tomando en cuenta la infracción.

Pero para Nicolás, hasta antes de oír cual iba a ser su castigo, él ya estaba castigándose más de lo que otra persona lo podía castigar por lo que acababa de hacer. Dentro de un minuto, él había experimentado emociones de euforia como en la cumbre de una montaña a trastorno como en lo más bajo de un valle.

En Nicea él era delegado a una de las más importantes asambleas en la historia del mundo, y él acababa de hacer algo que sabía que no podía deshacer. La ramificación del acto lo afectaría por el resto de la vida, estaba seguro, por lo menos por el resto que le quedaba de vivir. La emoción que sentía solo la podía entender, tal vez, aquellos que la habían sentido antes—el peso, la pena y la agonía de un momento pecaminoso que lo podría haber desbaratado, si no fuera por conocer el perdón de Cristo.

Cuando apartaron a Nicolás de su puesto de obispo, fue delante de toda la asamblea. Fue despojado del manto de obispo, y entonces fue llevado fuera del salón en cadenas. Pero esa vergüenza no era nada comparada con la humillación que él sentía por dentro. Estaba hasta demasiado entumecido para llorar.

 

Capítulo 34 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

“¿Qué es lo que he hecho? Nicolás le preguntó a Demetrio mientras los dos estaban sentados cerca de la esquina más lejana del palacio. Esta habitación se había convertido en la improvisa celda de Nicolás, mientras lo mantenían en arresto domiciliario por el resto de la conferencia. Demetrio, usando su presente y extensa habilidad de obtener acceso a partes privadas del palacio, de nuevo había conseguido el modo de visitar a su amigo encarcelado.

“¿Qué ha hecho? ¿Qué podía haber hecho?” respondió Demetrio. “Si usted no lo hubiera hecho, seguro que otra persona lo hubiera hecho, o por lo menos debería haberlo hecho. Usted le hizo a Arrio, y a todos nosotros también, un favor con ese puñetazo. Si él hubiera continuado con esa ofensa, ¡quién sabe el castigo que el Señor habría pronunciado sobre toda la asamblea!” Claro que Demetrio sabía que Dios podía aguantar la descarga de Arrio, y mucho más, siempre lo hacía cuando la gente le forma escándalos a Él y sus propósitos. Él sufre a largo plazo mucho más que cualquiera de nosotros pudiéramos sufrir. Pero aún, Demetrio sentía que el evento de Nicolás era razonable.

Nicolás, sin embargo, apenas podía comprenderlo de ese modo ahora. Le parecía que tal vez había provocado el éxito de la causa de Arrio dejando que los delegados sintieran piedad por él. Nicolás sabía que cuando alguien está a punto de perder un debate basado en razón, muchas veces va derecho a la emoción y a los corazones del público, sea razonable o no. Y por tanto que Arrio estuviera cansando a los delegados con su la falta de lógica, Nicolás pensaba que ahora lo que él había hecho excedía las escalas de emoción a favor de Arrio.

La corriente de sus pensamientos golpeaba la mente de Nicolás. Aquí estaban, solo en los primeros días del concilio, y él tendría que estar bajo arresto domiciliario los próximos dos meses. ¿Cómo podría sobrevivir los dolores emocionales cada día todo ese tiempo?

Nicolás ya sabía que su celda en el palacio sería totalmente diferente a la que tenía cuando Diocleciano lo encarceló por más de diez años. Esta vez, sentía que había sido él mismo que lo había encarcelado. Y aunque esta prisión era una bella habitación en el palacio, los pensamientos de Nicolás, eran peores que la asquerosa celda donde él casi había muerto.

En la otra celda, él sabía que estaba allí por causa de las malas intenciones de otros. Eso le hacía sentir que lo que tenía que sufrir allí era parte del sufrimiento común que Jesús dijo que todos Sus seguidores tendrían. Pero en esta celda, sabía que él estaba allí por causa de su propia absurda acción, acción que el juzgaba imperdonable, un pensamiento que seguramente todos en la asamblea compartían.

Por los años la gente conocía a Nicolás como un hombre tranquilo, con fuerza interna y dignidad controlada. Entonces, en solo un día, había perdido esa reputación—y, mucho más, delante del emperador. ¿Cómo podía perdonarse? “¿Cómo?” le preguntó a Demetrio. “¿No soy capaz de echar atrás lo que le he hecho al nombre del Señor?”

Demetrio contestó, “Tal vez Él no quiere que usted lo eche atrás. Tal vez lo que le interesa a Él no es lo que usted piensa que le hizo a su nombre, pero lo que usted hizo en su nombre. Ciertamente usted hizo lo que yo, y la mayoría de los delegados en el salón hubieran querido hacer, si hubieran tenido el valor de hacerlo.”

Las palabras de Demetrio se sostenían en el aire. Mientras Nicolás pensaba en ellas, una afable sonrisa se formó en su boca. A lo mejor había por fin alguna lógica en la intención de su corazón al portarse como lo hizo. Él sinceramente quería honrar y defender a su Señor, no quería de ningún modo quitarle la atención que Él solo se merecía. “Pedro,” él recordó, “tenía pasión similar en defender a su Señor.” Y Nicolás ahora se daba cuenta de lo que Pedro podía haber sentido cuando le cortó la oreja a uno de los hombres que había venido a detener a Jesús. Jesús le dijo a Pedro que guardara su espada y entonces Jesús le sanó la oreja al hombre. Jesús, indudablemente, podía defenderse perfectamente bien Él solo, pero Nicolás aún aprobaba la pasión que Pedro tenía al defender al Maestro.

Todavía Nicolás no estaba convencido que había hecho lo correcto, pero se sentía compañero de otros que habían actuado apasionadamente. Y las palabras de Demetrio lo ayudaron a realizar que él no estaba solo en su pensar, y se conformó un poco en el hecho que Demetrio no lo había abandonado por cause del incidente. El apoyo de Demetrio era como una pomada calmante al corazón de Nicolás, y lo ayudó a seguir adelante en la vida, aún en otro momento difícil.

Aunque Nicolás estaba convencido que el daño que había hecho era irrevocable en términos humanos—y que Dios tendría que obrar doble para traer algo bueno del incidente—Nicolás sabía lo que él tenía que hacer. Hasta en este momento de profunda humillación, él sabía que lo mejor que podía hacer es lo que él siempre había hecho: poner completa fe y confianza en Dios. ¿Pero cómo? ¿Cómo podía confiar que Dios era capaz de usar este episodio para el bien?

Casi sabiendo lo que Nicolás pensaba, Demetrio sabía exactamente lo que su amigo necesitaba para poder confiar en Dios de nuevo. Demetrio hizo lo que Nicolás había hecho por él y Samuel y Rut ya hace muchos años. Demetrio le dijo un cuento.

 

Capítulo 35 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Demetrio comenzó preguntándole, “¿Qué tipo de cuento te gustaría escuchar hoy? ¿Uno misericordioso o uno maligno?” Así era como Nicolás había introducido cada uno de los cuentos bíblicos que les contaba a Demetrio, Samuel y Rut durante sus tantas aventuras en la Tierra Santa. Luego Nicolás deleitaba a los niños con un cuento de la Biblia sobre un personaje benévolo o uno malvado, o un cuento misericordioso o uno maligno, y a veces el cuento terminaba exactamente diferente a como había empezado.

Nicolás lo miró con interés.

“Eso no es importante,” continuó Demetrio, “porque el que tengo que contarle hoy pudiera ser misericordioso o maligno. No lo podrá saber hasta el fin. Pero he aprendido de un buen amigo,” dijo al guiñándole el ojo a Nicolás, “que la mejor manera de disfrutar un cuento es siempre confiando en el narrador del cuento.”

Nicolás les había dicho que él siempre se fijaba en la reacción de la gente de su pueblo que escuchaba el cuento.

“Cuando la gente confía en el narrador del cuento,” Nicolás les había dicho, “ellos pueden disfrutar el cuento sin importarles lo que sucede, porque ellos saben que el narrador sabe como el cuento va a terminar. Pero cuando la gente no confía en el narrador, sus emociones suben y bajan como un barco en una tormenta, dependiendo solo en lo que está pasando en el cuento en ese momento. La verdad es que solo el narrador sabe como el cuento va a terminar. Así que, mientras uno confía en el narrador del cuento, uno puede disfrutar el cuento desde el principio hasta el fin.”

Ahora era el turno de Demetrio de decirle un cuento a Nicolás. El cuento que escogió decirle era de otro hombre que también había sido encarcelado, un hombre llamado José. Demetrio le contó a Nicolás como la vida de José parecía subir y bajar.

Demetrio empezó a relatar el cuento. “El padre de José lo amaba y le regaló una bella túnica de todo color. Ahora pues, eso es bueno, ¿no?”

Nicolás asintió.

“Pero no, eso fue malo, ya que los hermanos de José vieron la túnica y se llenaron de celos y lo vendieron como esclavo. Ahora pues, eso es malo, ¿no?”

Nicolás asintió.

“No, eso fue bueno, porque a José lo pusieron a cargo de las propiedades de un hombre muy rico. Ahora pues, eso es bueno, ¿no?”

Nicolás asintió de nuevo.

“No, eso fue malo,” dijo Demetrio, “porque la esposa del hombre rico intentó seducirlo, y cuando José la resistió, ella lo mandó a la cárcel. Ahora pues, eso es malo, ¿no?”

Nicolás dejó de asentir si era bueno o malo porque ya tenía idea de la intención de su amigo.

“No, eso fue bueno,” dijo Demetrio, “porque a José lo pusieron a cargo de todos los otros prisioneros. Hasta los ayudaba a interpretar sus sueños. Ahora pues, eso es bueno, ¿no?”

Nicolás continuó escuchando seriamente.

“No, eso fue malo, porque después de interpretar sus sueños, José le pidió a uno de los hombres que lo ayudara a salir de la prisión cuando él saliera, pero el hombre olvidó a José y lo dejó allí. Ahora pues, eso es malo, ¿no?”

Nicolás se imaginaba ser el hombre olvidado en la prisión.

“¡No! ¡Fue bueno! Porque Dios había puesto a José en el lugar preciso en el tiempo preciso. Cuando el faraón de Egipto tuvo un sueño y necesitaba a alguien que so lo interpretara, el hombre que había sido encarcelado de repente recordó que José todavía estaba en la prisión y se lo dijo al faraón.

“El faraón mandó a llamar a José, le pidió una interpretación y José se la dio. El faraón estaba tan encantado con José que lo puso a cargo de todo su reino. Como resultado, José pudo usar su nuevo puesto para salvar a ciento miles de vidas incluyendo la de su propio padre y hasta las de sus hermanos—los mismos que lo habían vendido como esclavo al principio. ¡Y eso es muy bueno!

“Así que puede ver,” dijo Demetrio, “como siempre me ha dicho usted, nunca somos capaces de saber el final del cuento hasta que se termine. Dios sabía lo que estaba haciendo en cada etapa. Usted puede ver…

  • en el momento preciso, José nació y su padre lo amaba,

  • para que en el momento preciso sus hermanos lo maltrataran,

  • para que en el momento preciso lo comerciantes de esclavos vinieran y lo compraran,

  • para que en el momento preciso lo pusieran a cargo de las propiedades de un hombre rico,

  • para que en el momento preciso lo encarcelaran,

  • para que en el momento preciso lo pusieran a cargo de los prisioneros,

  • para que en el momento preciso él interpretara los sueños,

  • para que en el momento preciso él interpretara el sueño del faraón,

  • para que en el momento preciso José estuviera en el único lugar del mundo que Dios quería que él estuviera para salvar las vidas de su padre, sus hermanos y muchos, muchos más.

“Por todas las etapas de la vida, José nunca dejó de confiar en Dios. Él sabía el secreto de cómo disfrutar el cuento mientras lo vivía: él siempre confiaba en el Narrador, Él que estaba escribiendo el cuento de su vida.”

Todo el miedo y dudas de Nicolás desaparecieron en esos momentos y él sabía que también era capaz de confiar en el Narrador, Él que estaba escribiendo el cuento de su vida. El cuento de Nicolás no había terminado todavía, y él tenía que confiar que el mismo Dios que lo había traído hasta este episodio de su vida era capaz de llevarlo hasta el fin.

Nicolás miró a Demetrio con una sonrisa de agradecimiento, entonces cerró los ojos. Serían un par de largos mese mientras esperaba la decisión del concilio. Pero él sabía, si era capaz de confiar en Dios en ese momento y después en el próximo, que cada uno de esos momentos llegarían a ser minutos, y los minutos llegarían a ser horas. Las horas se convertirían en semanas y después en meses y después en años. Sabía que todo empezaba confiando en Dios en un momento.

Con los ojos todavía cerrados, Nicolás puso toda su fe y confianza en Dios otra vez. La paz de Dios le llenó el corazón.

Pronto, dos meses habían pasado. El concilio estaba listo para ofrecer la decisión final sobre muchos asuntos, incluyendo la decisión que había terminado en poner a Nicolás en arresto domiciliario al principio—y Nicolás estaba a punto de saber la decisión.

 

Capítulo 36 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

“¡Lo han hecho!” Fue Demetrio el que explotó por la puerta de la habitación de Nicolás tan pronto como el guardia del palacio la había abierto.

“¡Lo han hecho!” repitió. “¡Han terminado! ¡El concilio ha elegido y están de acuerdo con usted! ¡Todos menos dos de los trescientos diez y ocho obispos se han puesto de parte de usted en vez de Arrio!

Un sentido de alivio llenó todo el cuerpo de Nicolás. Demetrio, también, lo podía sentir en su propio cuerpo al ver que la noticia confortaba a Nicolás.

“Y además,” dijo Demetrio, “¡el concilio ha decidido no realizar ninguna otra acción contra usted!”

Ambas noticias eran el mejor resultado que Nicolás se podía haber imaginado. Aunque su acción le había costado el puesto de obispo, no había puesto en peligro el resultado del procedimiento. Hasta era posible—aunque nunca llegó a saberlo ciertamente—que su acción contra Arrio tal vez había dado forma a lo ocurrido durante esos meses de verano en el histórico concilio.

Minutos después de la llegada de Demetrio, otra visita llegó a la puerta de Nicolás. Era Constantino.

La decisión del concilio sobre qué hacer con Nicolás era una cosa, pero la decisión de Constantino era otra. Un nuevo temor llenó a Nicolás al pensar en lo que le podría ocurrir.

“Nicolás,” dijo el emperador, “Deseaba personalmente darle las gracias por venir a ser mi huésped in Nicea. Quiero pedirle perdón por lo que ha tenido que soportar estos últimos meses. Eso no es lo que esperaba yo y estoy seguro que no es lo que usted esperaba tampoco. Pero, aunque usted no pudo asistir al resto del procedimiento, le aseguro que su presencia fue considerada en cada reunión. Lo que usted hizo ese día fue testigo para mí de lo que significa seguir a Cristo más que cualquiera otra cosa que escuché en los siguientes días. Quiero saber más de usted en el futuro, si usted está dispuesto a ser mi huésped de nuevo. Pero la próxima vez no será en la esquina más lejana del palacio. Además, he pedido y he recibido el permiso del concilio para restaurarlo a su puesto de Obispo de Mira. Es mi opinión que Aquel que lo llamó a usted a servirlo a Él desea que usted continúe haciendo todo lo que ha hecho hasta ahora. De mi parte, quiero que usted sepa que yo aprecio lo que usted hizo aquí más de lo que pueda imaginarse. Gracias por venir, y cuando esté listo, usted está en plena libertad para regresar a su hogar.”

Nicolás escuchaba las palabras de Constantino como si estuviera en un sueño. Apenas podía creer lo que escuchaba con sus propios oídos. Pero cuando el emperador dijo la palabra “hogar,” Nicolás se dio cuenta que no era un sueño, y la palabra cayó en sus oídos como la campanada más dulce. De todas las palabras dichas por el emperador, ninguna le parecía mejor que la última: hogar. Lo único que quería era regresar a servir a su congregación. Fue por ellos que él vino a este importante concilio en primer lugar, para asegurar que las verdaderas palabras que él les había enseñado se continuaran enseñando por toda la tierra.

Después de más de dos meses de estar separado de ellos, y la continua pregunta de qué les pasaría a ellos y a los otros cientos de miles como ellos en el futuro que serían afectados por la decisión hecha in Nicea, Nicolás por fin podía regresar a su hogar. Estaba en libertad de nuevo, pero en más de una forma.

 

Estás leyendo ST. NICOLÁS: EL CREYENTE, por Eric y Lana Elder, un cuento nuevo para Navidad basada en la antigua historia de San Nicolás (Spanish Edition). Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

Estás leyendo SAN NICOLÁS: EL CREYENTE, por Eric y Lana Elder, un cuento nuevo para Navidad basada en la antigua historia de San Nicolás (Spanish Edition). Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

PARTE 7

 

Capítulo 37 (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Por última vez Nicolás estaba en el lugar más preferido de todos: a la orilla del mar. Habían pasado diez y ocho años desde regresar a Mira del concilio en Nicea. En los días después de haber regresado, él continuaba sirviendo al Señor como siempre lo había hecho: con todo su corazón, toda su alma, con toda su mente, y con todas sus fuerzas.

Nicolás había venido a la orilla del mar con Demetrio y Ana María, los cuales habían traído con ellos a uno de sus nietos, una niña de siete años llamada Rut.

Rut estaba corriendo de arriba a abajo por la playa saltando las olas, mientras Demetrio y Ana María trataban de seguirla. Nicolás tenía tiempo para mirar hacia el mar, y como a veces lo hacía, miraba hacia la eternidad también.

Pensando en su vida, Nicolás no sabía si había cumplido en la vida la misión que quería cumplir: tomar la oportunidad para cambiar el mundo. A veces tenía un vistazo de cambios, claro, en las vidas de gente como Demetrio, Samuel, Rut, Sofía, Cecilia y Ana María.

También había aprendido de gente como el capitán del barco que cuando el capitán llegó a Roma, el barco milagrosamente pesaba exactamente lo mismo que antes de salir del Alejandría—aunque le había dado de la mercancía del barco a la gente de Mira la cantidad de grano necesaria para durarle varios años. Recuerdos como esos animaban a Nicolás que Dios realmente lo estaba guiando en las decisiones que hacía.

Pero aún tenía preguntas. Nunca llegó a saber si lo que había hecho en el Concilio de Nicea era lo debido. Tampoco llegó a saber si la conversación privada que tuvo con Constantino pudo haber afectado la fe en Cristo del emperador.

Le dio aliento saber, sin embargo, que la madre de Constantino también había peregrinado a la Tierra Santa como Nicolás lo había hecho. Y después de la jornada, ella convenció a Constantino a edificar parroquias sobre los sitios santos que ella había visitado. Recientemente ella había terminado de edificar una parroquia en Belén sobre el lugar donde Jesús había nacido, así como unas parroquias en Jerusalén sobre el sitio donde Jesús había muerto y resucitado.

Nicolás sabía que había tenido ambos éxitos y fracasos en la vida. Pero fijándose en el pasado, no era capaz de identificar cuáles etapas de su vida eran un éxito y cuáles eran un fracaso. Los tiempos que pensaba que eran valles oscuros se habían vuelto en experiencias de alta montaña, y los de cima se habían convertido en valles profundos. Pero lo más importante era, se forzaba en recordar, que él confiaba en Dios en todas las etapas de la vida, sabiendo que Dios disponía de todas las cosa para el bien de quienes Lo aman, que habían sido llamados de acuerdo con Su propósito.

Lo que el futuro tenía disponible para el mundo, Nicolás no lo sabía. Pero lo que sí sabía era que él había aprovechado los días que Dios le había dado. Fue su intención amar a Dios y amar al prójimo como Jesús le había dicho. Y cuando a veces fracasó, él confiaba que Jesús podía cubrir esos fracasos, también, del mismo modo que Él había cubierto sus pecados al morir en la cruz.

Como el padre de Nicolás había hecho antes de él, Nicolás, también, miró hacia el mar otra vez. Entonces, cerrando los ojos, le pidió a Dios fuerza para la próxima jornada que tomaría.

Dejó que el sol le calentara la cara, entonces él abrió sus manos y dejó que las brisas del mar las levantaran hacia lo alto. Alabó a Dios mientras las brisas cálidas flotaban delicadamente por las llamas de sus dedos.

La pequeña Rut regresó salpicando en el agua, seguida por Demetrio y Ana María. Rut miró hacia Nicolás, con los ojos cerrados y las manos hacia el cielo. Sujetándolo, lo haló del manto y le preguntó, “¿Nicolás, alguna vez ha visto usted a Dios?”

Nicolás abrió los ojos y vio a Rut, entonces les echó una sonrisa a Demetrio y Ana María. Volvió los ojos al sol y las olas y las miles y miles de orillas que se extendían en ambas direcciones delante de él. Volviendo los ojos de nuevo a Rut, Nicolás le dijo, “Sí, Rut, he visto a Dios. Y mientras más viejo soy, más Lo veo dondequiera que miro.”

Rut sonrió, y Nicolás le dio un abrazo fuerte. Y entonces, tan pronto como había venido hacia él, se fue de nuevo a jugar en el agua.

Nicolás miró a Demetrio y Ana María y sonrió, entonces la pareja también, siguió persiguiendo a Rut por la orilla de la playa.

Por última vez, Nicolás miró hacia el bello mar, entonces dio una vuelta y empezó a caminar hacia su hogar.

 

Epílogo (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Así que ahora ya saben ustedes un poco acerca de mí—Demetrio Alejandro—y mi buen amigo, Nicolás. Esa fue la última vez que lo vi, hasta esta mañana. Pidió que le dejáramos pasar unos días sólo, sólo él con el Señor que amaba. Dijo que tenía que prepararse para una jornada más. Ana María y yo entendimos exactamente lo que nos quería decir.

Sabíamos que estaba preparándose para regresar a su hogr, a su verdadero hogar, el que Jesús dijo que iba a preparar para cada uno de nosotros que creíamos en Él.

Nicolás ya había estado anticipando el viaje toda la vida. No era que él quería dar menos de lo debido ni a un momento de la vida que Dios le había dado aquí en la tierra, ya que él sabía que su vida tenía un propósito también, o Dios no la hubiera creado nunca con tanta belleza y precisión y maravillosos misterios.

Pero mientras la vida de Nicolás aquí en la tierra llegaba a su fin, él dijo que estaba listo. Estaba listo a retirarse, y anhelaba todo lo que Dios le había prometido a continuación.

Así que cuando esta mañana Nicolás nos mandó un recado a Ana María y a mí y a unos cuantos otros amigos que viniéramos a verlo, sabíamos que la hora había llegado.

Entrando en la habitación, lo encontramos acostado en la cama, tal como está ahora mismo. Respirando silenciosamente indicó que nos acercáramos. No nos fue posible reprimir las lágrimas y él no intentó detener nuestra emoción. Él sabía lo difícil que era despedirse de seres queridos. Pero, él también logró que la despedida fuera menos difícil para todos nosotros. Sonrió una vez más y nos habló calladamente, diciendo las mismas palabras que había pronunciado cuando Rut murió muchos años antes: “Con cualquier fin somos vencedores,” nos dijo. “No importa el fin, ya somos vencedores.”

“Sí, Nicolás,” le dije, “No importa el fin. Ya somos vencedores.” Entonces el silencio llenó la habitación. Nicolás cerró los ojos y se quedó dormido por última vez. Nadie pudo moverse. Nadie dijo ni una palabra más.

El hombre que estaba delante de nosotros dormía como si fuera cualquiera otra noche de su vida. Pero nosotros sabíamos que este era un momento divino. Nicolás acababa de entrar en la presencia del Señor. Como Nicolás lo había hecho toda su vida, nosotros estábamos seguros de lo que estaba haciendo ahora: caminando y hablando y riéndose con Jesús, pero ahora estaban cara a cara.

Sólo podíamos imaginarnos lo que Nicolás le estaba diciendo a Jesús. Pero estábamos seguros de lo que Jesús le estaba diciendo a él: “Hiciste bien, siervo bueno y fiel! ¡Ven a compartir la felicidad de tu Señor!”

No tengo ni idea de cómo la historia va a recordar a Nicolás, si de veras se acordará de él. Él no fue un emperador como Constantino. No fue un tirano como Diocleciano. No fue un orador como Arrio. Fue simplemente un cristiano que vivió su fe, afectando una vida a la vez de la mejor forma que podía.

Nicolás tal vez pensaba si su vida había cambiado el mundo de alguna manera. Yo sé la respuesta, y ahora que ustedes saben su historia, dejo que ustedes decidan por sí mismos. Al fin de todo, sólo Dios sabe verdaderamente cuántas vidas fueron afectadas por este hombre extraordinario.

Pero lo que yo sé es esto: cada uno de nosotros sólo tenemos una vida para vivir. Pero si la vivimos bien, como Nicolás lo hizo, una vida es todo lo que necesitamos.

 

Conclusión (Volver al índice de contenidos)
Por Eric Elder

Lo que Nicolás no supo, y lo que nadie que lo conoció pudo imaginarse, fue lo mucho que su vida afectaría a la gente—no sólo por todo el mucho, pero por todas las generaciones.

Para sus padres, él fue un hijo querido, y para aquellos en la ciudad él fue su obispo querido. Para nosotros, él ha llegado a ser conocido por otro nombre: Santa Claus.

La palabra bíblica de “santo” literalmente es “creyente”. La Biblia nos habla de los santos en Éfeso, los santos en Roma, los santos en Filipos y los santos en Jerusalén. Cada vez la palabra se refiere a los creyentes que vivían en esas ciudades. Así que Nicolás correctamente llegó a ser “San Nicolás”, o para decirlo de otro manera, “Nicolas, el creyente.” La tradición latina es “Santa Nicolás,” y en holandés “Sinterklass,” de donde viene el nombre “Santa Claus”.

Su buen nombre y sus hechos de caridad ha sido una inspiración para tantos que el día que él pasó de esta vida a la próxima, el 6 de diciembre de 343 A. D., aún se celebra por mucha gente alrededor del mundo.

Muchas leyendas se han contado de Nicolás por los años, algunas dándole características que son extraordinarias. Pero la razón que hay tantas leyendas, incluyendo esas que se cuentan de San Nicolás, es porque a veces los otros personajes en las leyendas tienen características extraordinarias. Eran personas tan bondadosas o tan respetadas que cada acto benévolo que se atribuía a ellos era como si ellos mismos lo hubieran hecho.

Aunque no todos los cuentos acerca de Nicolás se basan en los primeros datos de su vida, las historias escritas en los años que él vivió documentan muchos de los cuentos que se encuentran en este libro. Para ayudarlos a analizarlos mejor, aquí está lo que sabemos de su vida:

  • Nicolás nació entre los años 260 a 280 A.D. en la ciudad de Patara, una ciudad que aún se puede visitar hoy día en Turquía de hoy, en la costa norte del Mar Mediterráneo.

  • Los padres de Nicolás estaban dedicados al cristianismo y murieron en la plaga cuando Nicolás era solo un niño dejándolo con una gran herencia.

  • Nicolás hizo un peregrinaje a la Tierra Santa y vivió allí por varios años antes de regresar a su provincia natal de Licia.

  • Nicolás viajó por el Mar Mediterráneo en un barco en una tormenta. Después de orar, el barco llegó a su destino como si alguien estuviera a cargo del timón. El timón del barco también se llama barra del timón, y los marinos en el Mediterráneo de hoy aún se desean buena suerte con el dicho, “¡Qué Nicolás aguante tu barra del timón!”

  • Cuando Nicolás regresó de la Tierra Santa, el vino a vivir en Mira, como a treinta millas de su ciudad natal de Patara. Nicolás llegó a ser el obispo de Mira y vivió allí el resto de su vida.

  • En secreto Nicolás dio tres regalos de oro en tres ocasiones separadas a un hombre cuyas hijas serían vendidas como esclavas por no tener nada que ofrecerles como dote a sus pretendientes. La familia supo que Nicolás había sido el que había dado el dinero una de las veces, por eso sabemos esa historia hoy. En esta versión de la historia, hemos añadido, en cambio, el regalo de Nicolás de las primeras dos bolsas de monedas y Demetrio la tercera, para captar la idea que muchos regalos fueron dados en esos días, y aún se dan hoy, en el nombre de San Nicolás, que tenía la fama de dar regalos. El tema de redención también están tan asociado con esta historia de la vida de Nicolás, que si uno pasa por una casa de empeño hoy, muchas veces pueden ver tres globos dorados como insignia, representando las tres bolsas de oro que Nicolás ofreció para rescatar a las muchachas de su destino desafortunado.

  • Nicolás defendió la vida de tres hombres inocentes que injustamente habían sido condenados a muerte por un gobernador en Mira, arrebatando directamente la espada de la mano del verdugo.

  • “Nicolás, Obispo de Mira” está incluido en varios, pero no todos, los documentos históricos, que mencionan los delegados que asistieron al real Concilio de Nicea, el cual fue convocado por el Emperador Constantino en 325 A.D. Una de las decisiones principales del concilio fue sobre la divinidad de Cristo y resulto en la escritura del Credo de Nicea—un credo que aún se dice en muchas iglesias hoy. Varios históricos dicen que el nombre de Nicolás no aparece en todos los documentos del concilio porque lo hicieron desaparecer de la asamblea después de pegarle a Arrio por negar que Cristo era divino. Nicolás, sin embargo, es mencionado en por lo menos cinco de de los documentos antiguos, incluso el primer manuscrito en griego del evento.

  • El Credo de Nicea fue adoptado por el Concilio de Nicea y ha llegado a ser una de las más usadas y breves declaraciones de la fe cristiana. La versión original dice, en parte, de la traducción del griego: “Creemos en un solo Dios, El Padre Todopoderoso, Creador de todo lo visible y lo invisible. Y en un solo Señor Jesucristo, el Hijo de Dios, engendrado del Padre, el unigénito; es decir siendo de una sustancia con el Padre, Dios de Dios, Luz de Luz; Dios verdadero de Dios, engendrado, no creado, siendo de una sustancia con el Padre; por quien todo fue hecho bajo el cielo y en la tierra; quien por los hombres y nuestra salvación bajó del cielo y se encarnó y se hizo hombre; sufrió y el tercer día resucitó y ascendió a los cielos, y vendrá otra vez para juzgar a los vivos y a los muertos…” Otras versiones, comenzando tan pronto como en el 381 A.D. han cambiado y clarificado varias de las expresiones originales, resultando en varias similares, pero no exactas frases que se usan hoy.

  • Existen documentos en los cuales hablan de las cosas que Nicolás había hecho por la gente de Mira que incluyen datos asegurándole grano de un barco que viajaba de Alejandría a Roma, el cual rescató a la gente de la región del hambre.

  • Elena, la madre de Constantino, visitó la Tierra Santa y estimuló que Constantino construyera iglesias sobre, en su opinión, los sitios más importantes de la fe cristiana. Las iglesias fueron construidas en los sitios que los creyentes locales le habían mostrado donde Jesús había nacido y donde Él había muerto y resucitado. La Basílica de la Natividad en Belén y La Iglesia del Santo Sepulcro en Jerusalén han sido destruida y reconstruidas muchas veces, pero aún en el mismo lugar donde la madre de Constantino, y probablemente Nicolás mismo, las había visto.

  • La muerte de Nicolás se ha establecido el 6 de diciembre del 343 A.D., y uno aún puede visitar su tumba en la ciudad de Demre, Turquía, antes llamada Myra, en la provincia de Licia. Loa restos de Nicolás fueron desenterrados de la tumba en el 1,087 A.D. por italianos que temían que fueran destruidos o robados, ya que el país fue atacado por extranjeros. Los restos de Nicolás fueron llevados a la ciudad de Bari, Italia donde aún están enterrados hoy.

De las tantas otras historias que se cuentan o se atribuyen a Nicolás, es difícil decir con certeza cuales verdaderamente ocurrieron y cuales sólo se atribuyen a él por su buena reputación y su excelente nombre. Por ejemplo, en el siglo doce, historias se contaban de cómo Nicolás había resucitado a tres niños que habían sido brutalmente asesinados. Aunque el primer documento de esta historia no se conoció hasta ochocientos años después de la muerte de Nicolás, esta historia es una de la más frecuentemente asociada con San Nicolás en las obras de arte religioso, mostrando a tres niños resucitados delante de Nicolás. Hemos incluido sustancia de esa historia en esta novela en la forma de tres huérfanos que Nicolás conoció en la Tierra Santa y que él resucitó—por lo menos en forma espiritual.

Aunque todas las historias adicionales no se pueden asignar a Nicolás totalmente, podemos decir que su vida y su memoria han tenido un efecto tan profundo en la historia que más iglesias por todo el mundo hoy día llevan el nombre de “San Nicolás” que cualquier otro personaje, además de los originales discípulos.

Algunos se preguntan si es correcto o no creer en San Nicolás. Estamos seguros que a Nicolás no le importaría tanto si uno cree en él o no, pero le importaría más que uno crea en Él que él creyó, Jesucristo.

Una imagen popular hoy día muestra a San Nicolás de rodilla, su sombrero a su lado, delante del niño Jesús en el pesebre. Aunque esa imagen nunca había podido ocurrir en la vida real, ya que San Nicolás nació casi trescientos años después del nacimiento de Cristo, la intención del artista no puede ser más precisa. Nicolás fue un verdadero creyente en Jesús y el alababa, adoraba, y vivió su vida sirviendo a Cristo.

San Nicolás nunca hubiera querido que su historia sustituyera la historia de Jesús en el pesebre, pero él hubiera querido que su historia señalara a Jesús en el pesebre. Y esa fue la razón que se escribió este libro.

Mientras las historias contadas en este libro fueron seleccionadas de las muchas que se han contado de San Nicolás por medio de los años, estas fueron contadas para que usted creyera—no sólo en Nicolás, pero en Jesucristo, su Salvador. Estas historias fueron escritas por la misma razón que el Apóstol Juan escribió la historia que contó de Jesús en la Biblia, Juan dijo que él escribió su evangelio:

“…para que ustedes crean que Jesús es el Cristo, el Hijo de Dios, y para que al creer en su nombre tengan vida” (Juan 20:31).

Nicolás desearía lo mismo de ustedes. Él quisiera que ustedes se convirtieran en lo que él era: un creyente.

Si ustedes no lo han hecho, pongan su fe en Jesucristo hoy, pidiéndole que los perdone de sus pecados y les dé la garantía de vivirán con Él para siempre.

Si ya han puesto su fe en Cristo, dejen que esta historia les confirme lo realmente hermosa que es su fe. Renuevan hoy su compromiso de servir a Cristo como Nicolás lo sirvió: con todo tu corazón, con toda tu alma, con toda tu mente y con todas tus fuerzas. Dios realmente dispondrá todas las cosas para el bien de quienes lo aman. La Biblia dice:

Ahora bien, sabemos que Dios dispone todas las cosas para el bien de quienes lo aman, los que han sido llamados de acuerdo con su propósito” (Romanos 8:28).

Gracias por leer este libro especial sobre este hombre especial, y es mi petición que su Navidad verdaderamente sea feliz y llena de luz. Como Clement Moore escribió en su famoso poema, Una visita de San Nicolás:

¡Navidad a todos, y a todos muy buenas noches?”

Eric Elder

 

Reconocimiento (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Gracias a Joe Wheeler y Jim Rosenthal cuyo libro, San Nicolás: Una Vista Más Fija Sobre la Navidad, proveyó mucho del material exterior para esta novela. Su investigación y documentación de la vida de San Nicolás, y el contexto histórico en cual él vivió, fue el más informativo, autoritario y inspirador que encontramos sobre el tema. Gracias, Joe y Jim por ayudarnos a mantener vivo el espíritu de San Nicolás.

 

Sobre el Traductor (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Víctor Palomino nació en la Habana, Cuba en un hogar cristiano. Año y medio antes de la revolución castrista, su familia vino a vivir a Chicago para estar con su abuela maternal la cual los médicos le habían dado poco tiempo para vivir. Isabel Mercedes, su abuela, llegó a vivir ocho años más influyendo la fe de sus hijos y nietos hasta su muerte.

Víctor estudió en la Universidad del Estado de Illinois donde se especializó en pedagogía. Por más de treinta años él enseño español, inglés y oratoria en Illinois a estudiantes de los grados primarios hasta los universitarios. Por más de diez años, él trabajó en la administración de las escuelas públicas del estado. Víctor también ha sido estudiante del español en sus viajes a Méjico, Costa Rica, Honduras, Perú, Cuba, Puerto Rico y España.

 

Sobre los Autores (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Eric y Lana Elder han escrito varios cuentos de navidad que han cautivado e inspirado a miles como parte de una producción anual navideña conocida como Jornada a Belén.

San Nicolás: el Creyente es el estreno de su primer cuento complete de navidad. Eric y Lana también han colaborado en varios libros de inspiración incluyendo:

  • Dos semanas con Dios
  • Lo que Dios Dice Sobre el Sexo
  • Éxodo: Lecciones Sobre Libertad
  • Jesús: Lecciones Sobre el amor
  • Hechos: Lecciones Sobre la Fe
  • Nehemías: Lecciones Sobre la Reconstrucción
  • Efesios: Lecciones Sobre la Gracia
  • Israel: Lecciones de la Tierra Santa
  • Israel Para Niños: Lecciones de la Tierra Santa
  • Los mejores 20 Pasajes de la Biblia
  • Romanos: Lecciones Sobre la Renovación Mental
  • y Triunfando Sobre la Oscuridad

Para comprar material o recibir información, favor de visitar:
www.InspiringBooks.com (Volver al índice de contenidos)

Estás leyendo ST. NICOLÁS: EL CREYENTE, por Eric y Lana Elder, un cuento nuevo para Navidad basada en la antigua historia de San Nicolás (Spanish Edition). Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

Gracias por leer SAN NICOLÁS: EL CREYENTE, por Eric y Lana Elder, un cuento nuevo para Navidad basada en la antigua historia de San Nicolás (Spanish Edition). Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size.

St. Nicholas: The Believer (AudioBook)

A new story for Christmas based on the old story of St. Nicholas, written by Eric & Lana Elder and read by Eric Elder.

Listen Here!

(To see the full playlist in the app, click here)

St. Nicholas: The Believer - Audiobook Cover

Credits

St. Nicholas: The Believer was written by Eric & Lana Elder and read by Eric Elder.  Copyright 2009-2014 Eric & Lana Elder.  All rights reserved.

You can also read this book yourself in English or Spanish at the following links:

Making The Most Of The Darkness

12 inspirational messages to give you hope during your time of loss
by Eric Elder

Read it online below!

Making The Most Of The Darkness, by Eric Elder

You’re reading MAKING THE MOST OF THE DARKNESS, by Eric Elder, featuring 12 inspirational messages to give you hope during your time of loss. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

INTRODUCTION (Back to Table of Contents)

Let me start off by saying, “I’m sorry.” If you’re about to read this book, chances are good that you’ve probably lost someone or some thing that was very precious to you. And for that, perhaps the best thing I can say to you right now is simply, “I’m sorry.”

I wish there were something more I could do for you, or say to you, that would help to take away your pain or to ease your burden, even just a little. Although it may not seem like much, perhaps saying, “I’m sorry,” is just enough for right now.

Sometimes it’s just enough to know that there are other people who care, that there are other people who are aware of your pain and that there are other people who have walked through the darkness as well. I wish I could say I know what you’re going through, but I don’t. And even though no two losses are the same, sometimes it’s nice just to know that other people have walked through the darkness and found something special along the way, something they may have never noticed when they were walking in the light. Stars, for instance, shine brighter when there are no other lights around.

I’m not saying it’s easy, or altogether wonderful to walk in the darkness. It’s not. But if you read through the words on the following pages, you’ll find that there are beautiful lights along the way, glimpses of heaven and riches that glisten that you may never have noticed had you not walked this way. Samuel Rutherford, a Scottish pastor in the 1600s, said:

“Jesus came into my prison cell last night, and every stone flashed like a ruby.”

On the pages that follow, I’d like to share with you some of the rubies I saw as I walked through my own period of darkness—my first year of grief after losing my precious wife, Lana. I wrote these 12 messages while I was walking through the darkness, not after the fear and danger were gone, which always seems to make things look brighter and more obvious than before. I wrote them in the midst of the pain and heartache that I was experiencing, both as a way to help me stay focused on the One who was walking through it with me, and as a way to give hope to others who were walking through their own times of darkness.

At the beginning of my journey, I read a book called Getting to the Other Side of Grief. As I was just getting started, I honestly didn’t know that there was another side of grief and, if there was, if I’d ever get there myself. The pain was just too intense. But the authors of the book had both lost their spouses, they made a compelling case for the fact that there is another side of grief, and if I was willing to work through it—and in my case, to walk through it with God—I could get there, too.

I took their words to heart and I began to walk with intentionality, trusting that their words were true. More than that, I had the promise of God’s Word in the Bible that says that He will work all things together for our good:

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

I knew this to be true from the previous 26 years of following Him. But I had never had to put it to the test more than in this first year after losing my sweet wife. She was, after Christ Himself, the greatest gift God had ever given me. And losing her was like losing part of myself, too.

On the pages that follow, you’ll get to know a little bit more about me and her and my family and our faith in God. Even though we may not have gone through what you’re going through right now, I hope that something of what we’ve gone through will be of help to you. There’s something about walking with others through their pain that helps to ease our own pain, even if just a little bit.

On the other hand, you may be hesitant to walk with me through these 12 messages for fear that they might open up some of your own wounds in a deeper way. If that’s the case, let me encourage you to keep reading on two fronts:

1) When I decided to put these 12 messages into this book, I was even fearful myself to reread them at first. Having just walked through an entire year of grief, I didn’t really want to relive it. Yet as I reread each of the messages, I was surprised at how hopeful I felt after reading each one, and to see that God was indeed walking with me every step of the way—even when I sometimes couldn’t see it for myself.

2) There’s something cathartic about walking through someone else’s pain that brings healing in our own. That’s one of the reasons people love watching good movies so much, even sad ones, because people are able to release some of their own emotions as they watch others go through similar struggles, even if they’re not exactly the same.

I remember one night some friends invited me to watch a movie with them when I was stopped for the night at their house on a long trip with the kids. This was before Lana had died, but after I had discovered that she may not live much longer. My friends said the movie was about some guys who bought a zoo and that the kids and I might like it.

I had no idea that the movie was about a husband who lost his wife to a serious illness and dealt with the aftermath of that tragic event. As I realized what the movie was about, I started to boil inside, thinking that I would have never watched it if I had known what it was about, and I wouldn’t have had my kids watch it either. I didn’t want to think about Lana dying, let alone what life might be like once she was gone.

But somehow I stayed in my seat, for as the movie unfolded, I was drawn into the story, drawn into the way the main characters walked through this loss in their life. Although it wasn’t all peaches and roses, it wasn’t without hope, either. Many of the thoughts and emotions they expressed were the same thoughts and emotions that had flitted through my own mind but never wanted to entertain. Watching now, however, in the context of someone else’s pain, somehow seemed to ease my own.

As the movie came to a close, I was so thankful I had watched. It didn’t end all neat and tidy, but it did end with hope. And while the movie itself wasn’t about God, it gave me hope that with God somehow He would be able to work it all out in the end. So perhaps reading our story will give you that hope, too.

I also want to let you know you can read these messages at your own pace. I wrote these over the course of a year, so I was at a slightly different place in my grief with each message. One of the books I read on grief during this past year was one that was timed to be read over the course of a year, not all at once (called Journeying Through Grief). Grief is a process, and we can’t walk through every stage right away, even if we wanted to. In fact, sometimes it can be better if we don’t try to rush grief. Bob Deits, the author of several books on grief, said:

“Grief is the last act of love we have to give those who have died.”

If you’re just trying to avoid pain, you might be tempted to rush through your grief as fast as possible. But if, on the other hand, your grief is a way to express your last act of love to one who has died, you might rather take as much time as you need to make sure you express it well.

There’s no hurry or timetable with grief. But I can say there is another side of it. As I mention in the final chapter of this book, I’m thankful now to be able to see it for myself.

There is another side of grief. As Jesus said to His disciples just before He died:

“You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy” (John 16:20b).

That may have sounded like an outlandish promise to the disciples at the time, except for the fact that it was Jesus who was saying it—the same Jesus whom they had seen heal the sick, walk on water and raise the dead. If anyone could make a promise like that and live up to it, Jesus could.

So with that hope in mind, and with my heartfelt condolences for the loss that you’ve experienced, I invite you to read the 12 messages that follow. I pray that they give you hope for your future—and that they help you to see the stones along the way flash like rubies.

In Christ’s love,
Eric Elder

P.S. Throughout the book, I’ll be talking more about Lana and our 6 kids. As a way of introduction, here’s one of my favorite pictures of our family, taken at Christmastime in 2009. I’m 2nd from the left and Lana’s 2nd from the right. The kids, from left to right, are Karis, Kaleo, Josiah, Bo (in front), Lucas (in back) and Makari.

Eric Elder Family ~ Christmas 2009

TABLE OF CONTENTS

CHAPTER 1 – 2 STORIES AND A CONCLUSION (Back to Table of Contents)

Making The Most Of The Darkness, by Eric Elder

You’re reading MAKING THE MOST OF THE DARKNESS, by Eric Elder, featuring 12 inspirational messages to give you hope during your time of loss. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

Dear friends, thanks so much for your thoughts and prayers and kindnesses since my sweet wife Lana passed away on November 15th. It’s been 4 months now and I wanted to share some thoughts with you on Lana, healing and God’s will. I apologize in advance for the length of this message, but if you’ve been discouraged or having trouble trusting God, especially in the face of significant loss, I hope you’ll read this message. This message is really just two stories, with some follow-up comments to help you bring them together and apply them to your lives.

I haven’t shared these stories publicly until this week, as they are so personal and intimate that I’ve just been treasuring them in my own heart. But I feel they’re important to share as a way of testifying to what God is doing in my life, and hopefully encouraging you at the same time.

The first story started on the day of Lana’s funeral, on November 20th, 2012. Before she died, Lana had asked me to preach at her funeral if it ever came to that. She said I didn’t have to do it if I didn’t think I could, but if I could, she wanted me to be the one to do it. I did get up and preach, but not without seriously considering backing out several times, even a few times during the service just before I was about to speak. I just wasn’t sure if I could do it.

One of the reasons I felt so unsure, apart from the sadness I felt in my heart from already missing her, was that I felt like I had lost so much in the days leading up to her death. I had not only lost my best friend, my encourager, my partner in ministry and, apart from Jesus, the greatest source of joy and delight in my life. We had also depleted all of the money in our bank account during those final months of her battle with cancer. On the morning of her funeral, we had $26.45 in the bank. I felt like I had lost everything. (I hadn’t, but I felt like it.)

The morning of the funeral, I prayed that God would give me the strength to do what I wanted to do and needed to do. I also prayed, more as a wish than anything else, that God would give the kids some kind of inheritance from Lana from the gifts that came in. I knew that no amount of money would make up to them for losing their mother, but I wished I had something I could give them as an inheritance from her. $26.45 wasn’t going to go very far among the 6 kids.

So I prayed that God would provide enough from the memorial gifts to pay for the funeral and still have some left over for the kids. From past funerals, I knew that the gifts that are received are sometimes just enough to pay for the funeral and that’s it, so I wasn’t expecting much. But then in my heart, I prayed, “God, if there’s any way to give the kids $1,000 each as an inheritance, that would be great.” But then from deeper still in my heart, I thought that what I would really like for them is if I could put $5,000 into each of their bank accounts. I quickly did the math and $5,000 times 6 kids would be $30,000.

There’s no way, I thought. With $26.45 in the bank, I knew it was an outlandish request. But I laid it out before God anyway. Later that day, I got up to preach at Lana’s funeral. (If you haven’t watched it yet, I’d encourage you to watch it online at lanaelder.com. It was like no other service, funeral or otherwise, that I’ve ever been to before and I think you’ll find it both inspiring and helpful. So please watch it if you can!)

Starting that day and the days that followed, people did begin sending in memorial gifts for our family in honor of Lana. Some gave $5, some gave $15 and some gave $20 or $100. A few gave $1,000 and some even gave $5,000. By December 4th, just 2 weeks and 1 day after the funeral, we had received just over $30,000 from over 200 different people, none of whom knew about my private prayer to God!

Now keep that date and that astounding answer to prayer in mind as I tell you the 2nd story. For it was on December 4th, just one year earlier, that we had first discovered the lump in Lana’s breast, our first indicator that anything was even wrong at all.

It was on that day that we had heard a missionary talk about their work in Kenya, teaching women how to do self-exams for breast cancer. Later that night we checked and discovered the lump. We thought it was probably nothing serious, as is often the case. But over the next few weeks, and after a mammogram, then an ultrasound and finally a biopsy, the doctors confirmed that the lump really was cancerous. At that time, the doctors had no reason to think that the cancer had already spread. They felt that with treatment, they could remove it and all would be fine. We were shocked but felt this was beatable.

A few days later, Lana was listening to a podcast on her phone of a sermon that gave her some encouragement. When she was done listening, she handed her phone to me so I could listen to it, too. But as she handed me her phone, I felt God speak to me as loud and clear as any time I’d ever heard Him speak in my life. Although He didn’t speak in audible words, the effect of what He was saying was, “This is a good message, Eric. But it’s not My message for you in this situation. This time I have something else in mind.”

As I listened to the message, I found it was all about praying “bold prayers,” that we shouldn’t just pray for a “C” on a test, but for an “A.” That we shouldn’t just pray that we would survive a difficult marriage, but that it would thrive. That we shouldn’t just pray for a sickness to go away, but for a long and healthy and abundant life instead. It was the kind of message I would normally believe and receive and be encouraged to pray with all my heart in whatever difficult situation I faced.

But if God had really spoken to me, then what was He saying in regards to Lana’s healing? With a great sadness in my heart, I felt He was saying, “Eric, I know you have the faith to ask for the moon and get it. But not this time. This time I have something else in mind.” God brought to my mind Psalm 23, reminding me that He would be with me, even in the face of death:

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me…” (Psalm 23:4).

I felt that verse was a little extreme. This cancer was beatable. It didn’t have to end in death. Then why was God telling me this? But the following week I found out why.

A few days later, Lana went in for a few more tests. She had started having some other symptoms, some unexplainable bleeding and intense lower back pain. The tests showed that it was worse than the doctors initially thought. The cancer had already spread to her lungs and liver and spine. In addition, the cancer was in a special category called “triple negative,” which meant that it wouldn’t respond to normal treatments that worked for other types of breast cancers. There was no cure, the doctors said. The best they could do was to treat the symptoms and try to keep her as comfortable as possible for as long as possible, but that the cancer would eventually take her life. Statistically, the doctors said she had about 1 to 3 years to live, depending on how she responded to treatment. The majority of women with Stage 4, triple-negative breast cancer don’t make it past 5 years. And only 1 in a hundred ever make it to 10 years.

We were devastated. But having heard God speak to me the week before, even before the doctors told us what was going on, somehow gave me great faith. Not faith that Lana would be healed, although I believed God could still heal her in an instant, but faith that He would be with us through it all. This was no news to God. He had already revealed it to me before we, or even the doctors, had an inkling about what was coming.

Knowing that God was with us gave me great peace in my heart. But as comforting as this was, I still didn’t know how to walk forward in a practical way, given what I felt God was saying to me. If God had told me that Lana was going to be healed, and to walk in faith and stand on the promise of the words He had spoken to my heart, I knew how to walk that out: read and reread the Scriptures, fast and pray, gather others to fast and pray, and look for answers from any doctor or person of faith who could help us beat this disease. But if I had really heard right, and God was really saying, “I know you have the faith to ask for the moon and get it, Eric, but not this time,” how could I walk that out? How could I stand on something that I didn’t want to believe and didn’t want to be true?

Was I supposed to just give up on the possibility of healing? Not bother praying at all for her? Not ask others to join us in fasting and prayer? Not go to the doctors to try to get whatever help we could find? I felt that taking any of those paths would be utterly wrong. Lana wanted to live and I wanted her to live! And who knows? Maybe I had heard wrong. Maybe the doctors were wrong. And even if I had heard right, and the doctors were right, maybe God would still heal her miraculously! God’s default position on healing is that we should be healed, as evidenced by the many ways He has created our bodies to heal themselves, to automatically seal up cuts, fight off infections and repair damaged tissue. God has demonstrated His desire for our healing throughout the Bible, performing miraculous healings from cover to cover. God loves healing and wants us to be healed! There’s no doubt that God is a healing God!

So I tried to remember what other biblical characters when they received a word from God that they didn’t want to believe either.

I thought of Hezekiah, who was sick and dying when God spoke to him through the prophet Isaiah, saying that Hezekiah’s sickness would end in death. Hezekiah wept bitterly and pleaded with God for a different outcome:

“Remember, O LORD, how I have walked before You faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in Your eyes” (2 Kings 20:3a).

God heard Hezekiah’s prayers, healed him and gave him an extra 15 years of life.

I thought of King David, who got a word from God through Nathan the prophet saying that the child born to David and Bathsheba would die. But David didn’t give up and didn’t give in. He fasted and prayed and wept before God every night saying:

“Who knows? The LORD may be gracious to me and let the child live” (2 Samuel 12:22).

In David’s case, however, his child still died after 7 days, but not without David pleading with God for a different outcome.

Then I thought of Jesus, who, when faced with His own imminent death, knelt down and prayed so earnestly that His sweat fell like drops of blood:

“Father, if You are willing, take this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42).

Jesus knew what His Father was asking of Him, yet still He pleaded for another way, that the cup He was about to drink would somehow be taken from Him. Yet Jesus yielded to His Father’s will, even over His own.

From these 3 stories of Hezekiah and David and Jesus, I felt I was in good company that even if I had heard right from God, I could still plead with Him, in fasting and prayer and tears, and pour out my heart to Him for what Lana and I both wanted: that she would be healed completely and gloriously and continue to live a long, healthy and abundant life.

So we fasted and prayed and called others to join us in fasting and prayer. We talked to doctors and nurses and researchers and nutritionists, both locally and globally, to see if God had an answer through them. We called the elders of our church, and 2 of our former churches, to anoint us with oil and pray for Lana’s healing. We held prayer meetings in our living room and drove and flew to get prayer from some of the most faith-filled men and women of God we knew.

As time marched on, however, the tests continued to come back blacker and bleaker. Either what God had spoken to me at the beginning was true, or God was preparing the way for one of the most miraculous turnarounds of all time. Either way, we felt good about the steps we were taking, about doing everything we could possibly do to bring about her healing and about trusting in God completely, whatever the outcome.

As much as Lana and I, and many of you, wished that the outcome had been different, I can say that when it came time to say our final goodbyes, we had no regrets. We had done everything we could think of doing to keep her alive, and God had kept His promise to be with us through it all.

Let me tie these 2 stories together for you by sharing 2 journal entries from December 4th, 2012, the first of which was written early in the morning as I was remembering the one-year anniversary of finding the lump that took Lana’s life, and the 2nd of which was written at midnight that same night, after receiving the checks in the mail that put us over $30,000 in memorial gifts in her honor.

“12/4/12 – Father, thank You for revealing to me and Lana the lump in her right breast one year ago today… Lord, any thoughts about this being the one-year anniversary of the day You revealed this lump? ‘I’ve given you a great gift, Eric. A chance to see into the future, and to make your plans accordingly. I have not hidden what is to happen from My prophets. I warned Abraham about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah before it happened, just as I told him that he and Sarah would have a child in a year, and just as I told you, Eric, that your friends would have a child in a year. Although I didn’t tell you an exact date [regarding Lana], I did tell you what the outcome would be, both by showing you the lump, and by confirming that while you could pray for healing, this wasn’t My will in this case. I wanted you to know, Eric, because I wanted you to have time to plan, prepare and say goodbye properly. And you have done marvelously. Your kids, your friends, your family, are all living testaments to that fact. I also gave you test after test, and doctor after doctor, to confirm this to you, for you wanted the truth, and you knew the truth would set you free. They were hard truths to hear, and hard to watch you hear, but they were necessary to help you absorb and understand what I was saying. I’ve given you a gift Eric, both in what I revealed, and in the fact that I do reveal My knowledge to My children. Lana wanted to live and not die, and she was right to do so, for that’s My will [He wants all of us to live forever!]. But I wanted you to know so you could plan, prepare, and say goodbye properly. I wanted you to care for her and love her and be with her to the fullest extent possible, so when she passed through the veil, you would have no regrets, nothing left undone, nothing more you could have done, but love her thoroughly. I did this for you, yes, but also for Me, for I wanted you to be able to care for her on earth as I cared for her from heaven. You were, and still are, My hands and feet and voice to many on earth. You will be sad, no doubt, for to lose the one you love, when you have loved so deeply, is sad. But you will rejoice as well, for you have been given a great and wonderful gift.’”

“12 midnight – Father, thank You for helping us reach the $30,000 mark that I had asked You for, to give $5,000 to each of the kids as an inheritance from Lana. Lord, we only had $26.45 in our bank account the day of the funeral. It was an outlandish prayer, and within a few weeks, You’ve brought the full amount I extravagantly asked for. ‘Open your mouth wide, Eric, and I will fill it.’ Thank You, Lord! I love You. By the way, the sunset looked delicious tonight, like rainbow sherbet, and I wanted to lick it. ‘Thank You.’ Thank You, Lord.”

Yes, life can be extremely hard. But it also offers sunsets that look like rainbow sherbet! The trick is to not let the hardest parts of life overshadow the best parts about it. God is at work in both. The Bible says:

“Friends, when life gets really difficult, don’t jump to the conclusion that God isn’t on the job. Instead, be glad that you are in the very thick of what Christ experienced. This is a spiritual refining process, with glory just around the corner… So if you find life difficult because you’re doing what God said, take it in stride. Trust Him. He knows what He’s doing, and He’ll keep on doing it” (1 Peter 4:12-13, 19, The Message).

Friends, God loves you and has a unique calling and purpose for your life, just as He had a unique calling and purpose for Lana’s life. Don’t be discouraged when life doesn’t work out the way you think it should. God is still on the job. Keep putting your trust in Him. He knows what He’s doing, and He’ll keep on doing it.

Thanks for reading these 2 stories, and thanks again for your prayers and kindnesses you’ve shown to me and my family, especially during this past year. It means so much, and is yet one more reminder of all that’s good in life. May God bless you and keep you as you keep putting your trust in Him!

CHAPTER 2: KEEPING YOUR EYES OPEN (Back to Table of Contents)

Making The Most Of The Darkness, by Eric Elder

You’re reading MAKING THE MOST OF THE DARKNESS, by Eric Elder, featuring 12 inspirational messages to give you hope during your time of loss. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

Last week I shared 2 stories and a conclusion with you about how God has been helping me to keep the hardest parts of life from overshadowing the best parts about it. Based on the responses I’ve gotten, it was one of the most significant messages I’ve ever shared.

This week, I’d like to follow up on that message and share a few more stories to help you keep trusting in God even in the face of significant loss. I know you may not have lost a spouse like I have, but you may be facing something just as challenging in your own life, whether it’s a divorce, a broken relationship, a wayward son or daughter, a job loss, a change in health or the loss of a dream that meant the world to you.

In any case, I want to encourage you to keep your eyes open to what God is doing all around you. Even though you may not see God doing what you expect Him to do in one particular area, if you can see God at work in other areas, it can help you to keep putting your trust in Him.

I believe this is what Jesus did for John the Baptist when John was in prison and facing the very real possibility of death. Up to this point, John had thought that Jesus was the one who was going to save God’s people. But perhaps it was something about being in prison that seemed to make John wonder if what he had previously thought was true. John sent his followers to Jesus to ask, “Are You the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Matthew 11:3) After all, didn’t Jesus come to “set the captives free” (Luke 4:18)? And wasn’t John a captive, in desperate need of freedom?

But Jesus sent a message back to John, saying,

“Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of Me” (Matthew 11:4-6).

It’s as if Jesus was reminding John of all the things that God was doing all around him. And even if God didn’t do what John may have thought He should do, John could still trust God to do what was right. When Jesus said, “Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of Me,” it’s almost as if Jesus was saying, “Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of what they think I should or should not be doing.” Sometimes we’re so focused on one area of our lives that we miss what God is doing in other areas.

It turns out that John wasn’t set free, even though others in the Bible were, like Daniel when he was rescued from the lions’ den (Daniel 6), or Peter when an angel led him out of jail (Acts 12), or Paul and Silas when an earthquake loosened their chains and caused the prison doors to fly open (Acts 16). In John’s case, he only lived long enough to hear back from Jesus that God was indeed still on the job and working in the world.

I believe it was just what John needed to hear in order to face what he had to face: his own imminent death.

It may have seemed like John had lost his faith there at the end. But by coming to Jesus with his doubts, that didn’t mean he lost his faith. That was an expression of his faith. It showed that John still looked to Jesus for answers, even in the face of circumstances he couldn’t understand. If this was a test of John’s faith, I believe he passed it with flying colors, as Jesus later said of him:

“I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist…” (Matthew 11:11a).

I don’t know if the trial that my wife Lana just went through was a test, or simply the result of living in a world that’s been subjected to sin and sickness and decay. But if it was a test, I believe she passed with flying colors, keeping her faith in Christ to the end. Now I’m praying that I’ll be able to pass with flying colors, too.

One of the ways I’m trying to do that is by doing what Jesus told John to do: to keep his eyes open to the work that Jesus was still doing in the world and not to base his conclusions on what he thought Jesus should or should not be doing.

Let me share just a few brief stories of what I’ve seen God doing lately, some of which may seem trivial, but in the face of the loss that I’ve had, even the smallest glimpse of God is worth more than gold to me.

A few weeks ago I was helping my kids do some late-night craft projects: tie-dying a dress with my daughter and making rubbery, squishy bugs with my son. I was already worn out from the day, and going back and forth on these 2 projects was wearing me down further. I wanted to help them, but I was definitely missing Lana and the help that she would have been in moments like these.

At one point, I went upstairs to take a break and, as I passed a mirror, I noticed that I was still wearing some old reading glasses, as I had lost my new pair a few weeks earlier. As I looked in the mirror I decided it was time to order another new pair, as I hadn’t been able to find mine. On the way back down the stairs to the basement where my daughter was tie-dying her dress, I paused on the steps and reached my hand up to heaven. I said, “Lana, help me!” (I know it’s God that helps us, but I still find myself talking to Lana in heaven, especially at times like these.) Then I continued on down the stairs.

As I got down on my hands and knees on the cold cement floor of the basement to help with the tie-dying project, I happened to look to my left and there, under the basement sink, hanging on some bottles of soap and shampoo, were my reading glasses that had been missing for weeks! Had I not been doing these projects with the kids, down on my hands and knees on the cold cement floor of the basement, I never would have found them! And had I not remembered the conversation with myself in the mirror upstairs just a few minutes earlier, and my quick call for help from heaven as I walked down the steps again, I wouldn’t have put my prayer and the answer together either. My whole outlook on helping the kids for the rest of that night changed in that instant. It was as if a little reward had been dropped out of heaven and was dangling on the bottles of soap in front of me.

That may not seem like a God-moment to you, and it may not have seemed like one to me, either, if this was the first time something like this had happened. But just a few weeks earlier, when I was recovering from the flu and getting ready to start back into homeschooling our 3 youngest kids for the first time since Lana died, I had reached up to heaven as well. After gathering up literally dozens of books from around the house that the kids use for school, we were still missing 2 books. In an act of desperation more than anything else, I looked up to heaven and said, “Lana, help me!” Within minutes we found the 2 missing books. They appeared practically out of thin air.

But more than that, after we found those 2 missing books, one of my sons wanted to take a break and do some kind of “outside project.” Even though it was the middle of winter and the temperature was literally below freezing outside, I said, “OK, let’s fix that broken pole on the trampoline.” It wasn’t a very practical idea, as it was too cold to actually jump on the trampoline anytime soon, but it was the first thing that came to my mind that would be quick and easy enough to get outside and back inside before we froze.

So we went out into the freezing cold to start working on the trampoline pole and I happened to look up into the net above us. There, hanging at the top of the net, were my daughter’s prescription glasses that had been missing since Lana’s funeral more than 2 months earlier! It was as if they had been dropped down from heaven and had gotten caught in the net for us to find!

How they had survived the cold and the wind and the snow for 2 months, I didn’t know. But what I did know was that within minutes of calling out to heaven for help, I had found 2 missing schoolbooks AND a pair of missing glasses! All the while trying to help my kids, which was something I needed to do and wanted to do, but was having trouble working up the strength to do. The moment I saw those glasses in the net, my whole perspective on the day changed. I knew that God was at work and that I was doing exactly what I should be doing. It gave me the strength to go on.

Just this past week, as the weather has started to get nicer here in Illinois, I was walking around the yard with a friend who’s spent years in the landscaping business, asking his advice about where and what kind of trees we could plant around the house. This was a project that Lana and I had been wanting to do for some time. To be honest, it was hard to even think about planting trees, as sometimes it feels like the dreams and plans I had with Lana died when she died. But I have to remember that I didn’t die, and that God might still want me to keep some of those shared dreams and plans alive, too.

So there we were, walking around the yard and sharing ideas, when my daughter reached down and found a charm on the ground for a charm bracelet. Then she found another a few feet away, and then a 3rd a few feet from that. They still had the tags on them, as we had bought them for her birthday party the month before, but we had lost them somewhere between the store and the house during a snowstorm that night. Now here they were, out in the middle of the yard, hundreds of feet from the house, as we were trying to plan and continue the dream of planting more trees in the yard!

Again, it may seem trivial to you (and perhaps makes you wonder about us and why we keep losing so many things!) But to me, it was as if God was saying, “Yes, this is exactly what I want you to be doing, walking around the yard and planning where to put trees for the future! Keep moving forward on the dreams that you and Lana shared, and keep going on with all that I have called you to do in your life! You’ll be blessed as you do these things, just as will others when you’re done doing them!”

I feel like Jesus keeps telling me, as He seemed to be telling John the Baptist, to keep my eyes open to the things that He’s doing in the world, and to keep on trusting in Him, even in the face of all that I’ve lost.

I could share a dozen more stories from the past 4 months since Lana died where I’ve seen God at work in such small ways that it’s changed my outlook on everything else going on around me, but I’ll let these suffice to encourage you to keep your eyes open to the things God is doing in your life and the lives of those around you.

It reminds me of a grandfather who was out fishing with his grandson one day when the grandson asked if his grandfather had ever seen God. His grandfather gazed out across the lake where they were sitting and answered, “The older I get, the more I see Him everywhere I look.”

Don’t be discouraged when you don’t see God at work in your life the way you think He should be working. Don’t give up on Him because things don’t always go your way. Don’t think for a minute that He doesn’t love you just because you’ve lost something precious in your life. As the Bible says,

“He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all–how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32).

As we head into Passion Week, this week before Easter when Jesus experienced some of the most intense pain and suffering that this world has to offer, remember that you’re not alone. Jesus knows what it’s like to suffer and die. He knows what it’s like to lose those who are close to you, like He did when He lost his good friends Lazarus and John the Baptist. In the case of Lazarus, Jesus raised him back to life. In the case of John the Baptist, Jesus spoke words of encouragement so John could face death with faith. Regardless of the outcome, Jesus never left them alone.

In all things, remember that God really does love you and has a unique calling and purpose for your life. Keep your eyes open. The more you do, the more you’ll see Him everywhere you look.

CHAPTER 3: HAVING FAITH IN THE RESURRECTION (Back to Table of Contents)

Making The Most Of The Darkness, by Eric Elder

You’re reading MAKING THE MOST OF THE DARKNESS, by Eric Elder, featuring 12 inspirational messages to give you hope during your time of loss. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

Happy Easter from our house to yours! We could all use a dose of faith, and Easter Sunday is a great day to get one. If you’re struggling with trusting in God, even in the face of significant loss, this message is for you.

Eric Elder and Kids

It’s been almost 5 months since we took this picture of me and my 6 kids, not knowing that just 2 weeks later my wife Lana would pass on to be with the Lord (she was inside resting when this picture was taken, as we were in the middle of a 10-hour filming session for a project to give hope to other families facing loss). Since that day, we’ve had to celebrate 7 major holidays without our beloved Lana: Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day, 2 birthdays, and now Easter.

Each of these “firsts” without her this year could have easily overwhelmed me with grief if it weren’t for my faith in Jesus Christ and the prayers of people like you.

But when Christmas rolled around, God reminded me why we celebrate the holiday at all: Christmas is the celebration of the birth of the baby who would one day defeat death forever! While celebrating Christmas was still hard without Lana, God’s reminder of the reason we were celebrating it helped me to keep a balanced perspective on her life and her death…and her new life with Him.

The same holds true for Easter. While there’s no doubt it’s been hard to go through our Easter traditions this year without Lana, God keeps reminding me of the purpose of this holiday, too. Easter is the day we remember that Jesus rose from the dead and, because He rose from the dead, we can be assured that all of us who have put our faith in Him will be raised from the dead, too, including my dear wife, Lana. Without Lana here with me this week, it’s already been a different kind of holiday. I found myself videotaping the kids during an Easter egg hunt so that I could come home and show her the tape, only to remember that she wouldn’t be there when I got home. But then God reminded me that it’s quite likely that Lana’s not missing a thing. The Bible says that we are surrounded by “a great cloud of witnesses,” witnesses who have kept their faith to the end and who remind us to do the same.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:1-3).

As sad as it is that I’m having to celebrate Easter without Lana here with me in the flesh, the truth is that without Jesus, there would be no holiday to celebrate at all, and there would be no hope of Lana being raised from the dead either. So in the midst of my heartache, God keeps reminding me of the whole truth: not just the truth that she’s gone, but the truth that she’s gone to be with Jesus, and has been raised to a new life in spectacular glory. And having the whole truth in mind brings His peace to my heart. As the Bible says:

“Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13).

We do have hope. True hope. Not a desperate clinging to the mere idea that maybe there’s some kind of life after this life, but a firm faith in the reality that there really is a heaven, and that Jesus is really there, with my beloved Lana right alongside Him.

I don’t want to try to prove to you today that Jesus rose from the dead, but I would like to remind you of the fact that He did rise from the dead and that His resurrection was witnessed by many here on earth. Not only that, but there were others in the Bible who were once dead who were also resurrected to new life and who have also appeared afterward to people here on earth, too!

As for Jesus’ resurrection, and His appearance to people on earth, listen to some of these verses from the Bible:

“When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had driven seven demons” (Mark 16:9).

“Afterward Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking in the country” (Mark 16:12).

“Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; He rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen Him after He had risen” (Mark 16:14).

“Afterward, Jesus appeared again to His disciples, by the Sea of Tiberias” (John 21:1).

“This was now the third time Jesus appeared to His disciples after He was raised from the dead” (John 21:14).

“After that, He appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all He appeared to me [Paul]…” (1 Corinthians 15:6-8a).

What’s even more amazing to me and that I’ve been reminded of since Lana passed on to be with Jesus, is that I keep reading verses that I’ve read before, but that strike me now in a new light: that Jesus wasn’t the only one who died and rose again and appeared to people here on earth. Listen to this!

“And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, He gave up His spirit. At that moment, the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people” (Matthew 27:50-53).

Not only was Jesus raised from the dead, but many others were raised as well who appeared to many people in Jerusalem. Even Peter, James and John saw people raised from the dead while Jesus was still living, when they saw Moses and Elijah standing on the mountaintop, talking with Jesus:

“After six days Jesus took with Him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus” (Matthew 17:1-3).

Moses and Elijah were so real that Peter asked Jesus if he should build a shelter for each one of them, even though they had been dead for thousands of years! It was a reminder to them, and to me, that God is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living, as Jesus once told the Saducees, the group of religious leaders in Jesus’ day who didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead. Jesus said:

“Now about the dead rising–have you not read in the book of Moses, in the account of the bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!” (Mark 12:26-28).

I share all this as a preface to what I’m about to share next. As with some of the other stories I’ve shared with you recently, I do so with hesitancy as I don’t want you to think I’ve lost my mind. I’m also not sure what to think of them myself, for I realize I’m still in the midst of grief, and perhaps the grief is clouding how I think and see spiritual things right now. Then again, perhaps it’s during our most difficult times that we’re apt to be the closest to God and that we’re able to best see what’s really true!

On New Year’s Eve, I was praying on my knees during a time of worship at a large Christian conference, celebrating the New Year with over 20,000 other believers. As I knelt there on the floor, I felt as if Lana was leaning down next to me. She whispered in my ear, as she had done many times before in my life: “I love you, Eric Elder.” Her voice was as clear and soft and sweet as at any time I’d ever heard her say that to me before. I could almost feel her breath on the side of my face.

The next night I felt her presence again, this time as I lay in bed. I wrote in my journal the following morning:

“Father, thank You for Lana’s love for me and mine for her. I miss her Lord. But how can I be anything but grateful to You for giving her to me to be my wife for so many years. This morning I woke up and literally felt her arms around me and heard her voice talking to me. I couldn’t move for several minutes, it was so real, her touch and her words. I even thought I saw her when I turned my head. Thank You, Lord, for her continued presence, even if it is in my dreams, or in that state between dreams and wakefulness. Thank You, Lord, and thank you, Lana.”

I’ve reached up to heaven many times in the last few months and have taken hold of Lana’s forearm and felt like she’s taken hold of mine, only to find the arms of Jesus taking hold of both of us, as He promised that He would never leave us nor forsake us. He promised us that death would not separate us, for we had put our faith in Him. He promised us that we would live forever, not just at the end of time, but right now, in abundant life.

As Jesus told Martha in the Bible, after her brother Lazarus died:

“Your brother will be raised up.”

To which Martha replied:

“I know that he will be raised up in the resurrection at the end of time.”

To which Jesus replied:

“You don’t have to wait for the End. I am, right now, Resurrection and Life. The one who believes in Me, even though he or she dies, will live. And everyone who lives believing in Me does not ultimately die at all. Do you believe this?” (John 11:23-26, The Message).

Martha said she believed it. Lana said she believed it. And I can say I believe it, too.

As I shared at the celebration of Lana’s life back in November, a good friend of mine sent me this text which helped me to see the reality of Lana’s new life in heaven:

“It is so hard to be in this place, but it is good to know Lana is seeing our Father and Jesus face to face. She is touching them and hearing their voices, and talking to them about anything and everything she wants to. Somehow you, because you are one, are part of that. It takes my breath away.”

When I think about it, really think about it, it takes my breath away, too.

This is the great hope that we have in the resurrection, not only that Jesus was raised from the dead, but that all of us who have put our faith in Him will be raised from the dead as well.

As Jonathan Edwards, the great evangelist, said at the funeral of David Brainerd, the great missionary:

“True saints, when absent from the body, are present with the Lord” (quoting from the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:8).

As Jesus Himself said to the thief on the cross who was dying next to Him and who had just put his faith in Jesus:

“I tell you the truth, today you will be with Me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).

Jesus really did rise from the dead. And those who put their faith in Him really will rise from the dead, too.

If you’ve never put your faith in Christ, let me encourage you, as Lana would encourage you, as Jesus Himself would encourage you: put your faith in Him today. Believe that He died for your sins. Believe that He’s forgiven you of your sins. And believe that He will raise you to new life with Him, starting right now and forever. As the Bible says:

“That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).

Eric Elder Family, November 1, 2012As we close, let me share one more picture with you. This is a picture we took later on the same day as the picture I shared earlier, when Lana came out to join us again for the filming session. Although her body was weak, her spirit was as strong as ever.

At Christmastime I had a hard time deciding which picture to send out with our Christmas letters. I couldn’t imagine sending out a Christmas picture from now on without Lana in it. But when I looked at the picture of just me and the kids, I couldn’t help but be thankful for all the blessings I have in my life because Lana’s been a part of it. So I decided to send out both.

I share these 2 pictures today because they remind me that I have a choice to make every day. I can either look at what I’ve lost and be sad, or I can look at what I’ve been given because Lana’s been a part of my life, and be glad. It’s the same choice we all have to make, every day.

It’s not a matter of looking at the glass as half-full or half-empty, but trusting God that He will provide us with just what we need when we need it. Zig Ziglar, a fellow Christian and famous motivational speaker who died just 2 weeks after Lana, once said that He teaches advanced math:

You + God = Enough

As the Bible says:

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13, KJV).

During the last few weeks of Lana’s life she was still helping me edit a book that we had been working on together on the life of St. Nicholas. After Lana died, I looked at the edits she had made in the margins of the book. In the story, one of our characters said:

“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it was beautiful.”

And in the margin of the book, Lana had written: “Amen!”

I felt like she was speaking to me again, and it was another reminder to me that we really are surrounded by “a great cloud of witnesses,” including Lana, who are cheering us on.

Yes, I still cry. But I can smile, too. That’s the great hope we have because of the resurrection.

I pray the Lord will bless you richly this Easter and in the days ahead. He really has risen! He has risen indeed!

CHAPTER 4: REAPING A HARVEST (Back to Table of Contents)

Making The Most Of The Darkness, by Eric Elder

You’re reading MAKING THE MOST OF THE DARKNESS, by Eric Elder, featuring 12 inspirational messages to give you hope during your time of loss. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

I’d like to share an incredible story with you today about something that happened to me just last week.

As many of you know, I run a website called The Ranch to encourage people in their faith. On the day of Lana’s funeral, the computer that runs our website happened to crash, too, and it’s taken the past 10 months to completely rebuild it from scratch.

To be honest, I wasn’t even sure if God wanted me to rebuild them. When Lana died, I laid everything down at God’s feet, telling Him I was only going to pick up what He wanted me to pick up again. It was a good time to re-prioritize my life, to see what was important to Him and to me and to start over again with so many things.

But after a few months of contemplating all of this, I was convinced that I was to keep pressing on with our online ministry.

One of the notes that convinced me came from a Jewish woman who had visited the website several years ago. On May 25, 2010, she wrote:

“I was sent to your site by accident, and have been reading the stories, and the one about Capernaum has me confused even more. The more I read, the more questions I have. I’ve never seen Jesus portrayed as this site does. I should tell you that I’m Jewish and I believe in the one true G-d of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

“I’ve read some of the stories on your site and have to wonder how they could be true, but I can’t stop reading them either, something just feels right about them. My heritage has ingrained in me that Jesus isn’t for my people. I can’t explain why, but I find some of the stories making me cry and I’m not one that cries easily. It doesn’t make sense. I don’t even know why I’m writing. I’m just really confused. How can this G-d of yours, be the G-d I’ve grown up with? Would Jesus love someone who hasn’t been faithfully reading the Torah for a long time?

“I’m sorry, I know this doesn’t make any sense, and I’ve always been told that Jesus doesn’t love Jews. But after reading some of the stories I just don’t know what to believe. Is it possible he might love a Jew?”

After corresponding with her a few times over the next 3 years, I received this note from her on May 4, 2013:

“Dear Eric,

“I don’t know if you will remember me or not, but I’m feeling led to tell you what’s happened since we first communicated. I wrote you about 3 years ago, about completely believing in the G-d of my ancestors, but not so sure about the Christians claiming Jesus was the Messiah we’ve longed for all these millennium. Someone had accidentally forwarded me one of your Daily Thoughts. I couldn’t get it out of my head….

“In the time that life has moved on for both of us, I’ve learned that I can believe Jesus is the Messiah. He truly is the Son of G-d. I’ve also learned that I don’t have to give up my Jewish heritage or traditions. I can be fully Jewish and a believer. I’ve found a wonderful Messianic Synagogue where I’ve accepted the Messiah Yeshua (Jesus Christ). I’m learning to read the scriptures and see them in a whole new way. I’m amazed how much of the Tanakh is in the New Testament, and how they complement each other.

“I was telling a friend at lunch today, when I’m quiet I can hear G-d speaking to my innermost being. I see Him working in my life in ways I could have never imagined. It is the most wonderful thing in the world. I truly believe the email that was sent to me by mistake was Divine appointment and no mistake….

“Thank you for your ministry and commitment to the L-rd. You truly have touched lives and made a difference. I’m living proof.”

Reading her note made me cry and rejoice at the same time. I wrote back to tell her that her note, along with several other clear indications from God, had helped me to decide to bring the website up again. Even if I never wrote another message, or added one more thing to it, I felt it was important to bring all of the content back online for people to read in the future and have their lives changed, too.

So I began rebuilding the website from the ground up, going back 15 years to when I first broadcast my first live message over the Internet, from my house in Illinois to a friend’s house in Texas, back in the days before Skype, before Facebook, before Twitter and Pinterest and Instagram.

When I did my first live webcast, CNN, ABC and FoxNews had all just started doing their first live webcasts, too. The pope started broadcasting his weekly prayers from the Vatican the month before, and Billy Graham started broadcasting his evangelistic crusades the month after.

I just read this week that Google is celebrating their 15th anniversary this month, too, having launched their little startup company to index the web the same month that I launched The Ranch.

I tell you this to say that a lot of life has passed in the past 15 years, and I had a lot of content to convert, restore and bring up to date from those early days 15 years ago. But as I’ve been reading the stories and messages I’ve posted over all these years, and watching the videos from even those earliest days, I’ve found myself crying, touched by the way God spoke through those messages to people back then, and how He could still speak to me through those messages today.

To my amazement, my old self was able to minister to my new self, because both of my “selves” were simply sharing and receiving words of life from the Word of God.

In those very first broadcasts, which you can now watch online again on our Video Archives page, I shared about keeping your eyes fixed on the goal, and that we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

Well, this past year, I’ve been able to start reaping a harvest from all those years of planting. Notes like the one above from the Jewish woman are glimpses. On my 15th anniversary, I posted another video on my website, sharing another glimpse, this time of several trees that Lana and I have planted over the years which astoundingly have all begun to produce fruit just this year. And last week, I got a glimpse of another harvest of another kind.

For 15 years, I have been producing content to put on The Ranch website, including books, music and videos. From the beginning, I felt it was important to offer these resources to people around the world on our website, free of cost, so they could access them anytime night or day.

But along the way, I’ve sometimes wondered if I’ve been shooting myself in the foot financially, paying to put these things online, and paying annual fees to keep the music and messages and videos streaming 24/7/365 days of the year when I could possibly be charging for them instead.

In an effort to expand our reach to as many people as possible, I’ve also started posting our books and music and videos other places online, on places like Pandora and iTunes, Amazon and Barnes & Noble, Spotify, Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook.

About a year and a half ago, some of these services have actually begun to pay me for streaming my content on their sites. On Pandora, for instance, every time someone creates a radio station (by typing in my name) to listen to some of my music, I’m paid .00017 cents per “listen.” It takes a lot of listens to earn a full penny! But over the past year and a half, I’ve been getting checks for $20, $30 or $40 every 3 months, meaning my songs are being played over 70,000 times a month!

I’ve also helped other people record their music and put it on our website over the years. One of these artists is actually doing phenomenal on Pandora now, and is getting a check for over $2,000 every 3 months. Their songs are being played nearly 5 million times a month!

I’ve been thrilled for them, and at the same time, just as happy to get my check for $30 or $40 every 3 months for my music, too.

But last week, when I opened my email from the company that pays my streaming royalties, there was not just 1 statement, but 2. In the first statement, they said I had earned $38 from my songs for the quarter, and I said, “Thank You, Lord.” But when I opened the 2nd statement, they said they were paying me an additional $14,305!

Apparently, every time this other artist who is doing phenomenal was being paid as the performer of their songs, I was supposed to be paid also as their record label, as I had helped them to record their music and publish it online. So the royalty company was catching up and paying me the royalties for all the time that this artist was being paid as well!

It couldn’t have come at a better time, too, as I felt I was being squeezed on every side financially in the past 2 months. I hadn’t been able to write any messages while I was rebuilding the website, and I hadn’t been able to let anyone know of our financial needs either. At the same time, I felt God was clearly leading me to keep rebuilding the website, keep converting and restoring all of the content, and to continue making it all available free of charge to anyone who came to the website, day or night.

The Bible verse that the kids and I have been memorizing the past 2 weeks happens to be Matthew 6:33, which talks about not worrying about what you will eat or drink or wear, but to seek God first in all things:

“But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).

I just kept putting that verse at the forefront of my mind, and kept rebuilding the website. As I was putting some of the final touches on the website on Thursday, that’s when the surprise email came. The check was deposited in my bank account overnight. When I woke up early in the next morning, I couldn’t believe the money was actually in the bank. What surprised me even more was what happened next.

I had decided to use the money to refill the bank accounts of my kids, as they had been having to use some of their inheritance money from Lana to pay for bills for college. If you’ll remember, they had each miraculously received $5,000 in answer to my seemingly impossible prayer on the day of Lana’s funeral. As I began to transfer the $14,305 into each of their accounts, I was astounded that I was able to fill their accounts back up to $5,000 each, to within $3.74! It made me cry again, not just the significance of receiving such a large check, but receiving the exact amount needed to bring each of their accounts back up to where they were 2 weeks after Lana’s funeral. Of course the money is helpful, but what was even more helpful to me was to know that God was still answering my prayers. After going through such a significant loss, it’s easy to wonder sometimes if God even hears us. But this was one more reminder to me that He does hear us…and answers, too. Just because He doesn’t answer every prayer the way we hope, we can trust Him and know that He hears us and does answer, sometimes in ways that that go off the charts.

I just wanted to share this incredible story with you as encouragement to you to keep planting. Keep watering. Keep investing in people and projects and activities that bring glory to God. As the Bible says:

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).

I wish Lana were here to see the blessings of what we’re reaping right now, such as the Jewish woman who came to Christ or the fruit trees that are now bearing fruit or the music we’ve recorded being played before millions and blessing us back at the same time.

But I have no doubt she’s seeing, enjoying and perhaps even playing a significant role from her new home in heaven in bringing part of heaven to earth as we go along.

Thank You, Lord, that even out of tragedy You’re able to bring fruit that lasts. And thank you, friends, for continuing to pray for us, believe in us and minister to us so we can keep on ministering to others.

I truly appreciate it, and I’m truly looking forward to this next season of planting and harvesting, as long as the Lord allows.

CHAPTER 5: KEEPING JESUS AT THE CENTER (Back to Table of Contents)

Making The Most Of The Darkness, by Eric Elder

You’re reading MAKING THE MOST OF THE DARKNESS, by Eric Elder, featuring 12 inspirational messages to give you hope during your time of loss. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

I spoke Thursday night at to a group of people at our church who gather each week and encourage one another through some of life’s toughest struggles.

I shared with them how God had helped me to keep my life from spinning out of control during some of the toughest times as I was in the process of losing my sweet wife, Lana, to cancer last year.

One of the ways God helped me was by reminding me to keep Jesus at the center of my life. I’d like to share with you today what I shared with them on Thursday night. I hope you’ll be encouraged to keep Jesus at the center of your life, too, no matter what you may be going through today. Here’s the message as I shared it live with our group.

Thanks, Jason, and if you don’t know me, my name’s Eric Elder, and I’ve been a part of Care Groups before. I haven’t been here for this current season of Care Groups, but I used to lead, 2 years ago, a group for people overcoming homosexuality, and helping them with struggles with same-sex attraction and just how to walk through that.

Last spring, I was unfortunately in a group called GriefShare because my wife passed away last November from breast cancer.

And so I’m back again tonight just to share with you a little bit about my walk and keeping Jesus at the center of my life, even through some of these difficult times.

Let me just encourage you to open your Bible, if you have a Bible with you, and just read along with me. We’re going to look at First John, starting in chapter 2. John says, in verse 15:

“Don’t love the world’s ways. Don’t love the world’s goods. Love of the world squeezes out love for the Father. Practically everything that goes on in the world—wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important—has nothing to do with the Father. It just isolates you from him. The world and all its wanting, wanting, wanting is on the way out—but whoever does what God wants is set for eternity” (1 John 2:15-17, The Message).

Keeping Jesus at the center, for me, this past year and a half since we found out my wife had cancer and then she died about 9 months later, you know there were a lot of times when I felt like my world was spinning out of control.

She’s been more than just essential to my life. And this is wrong to say this, but in many ways she was my savior. Of course, Jesus is my Savior. He’s the One that redeemed me, saved me and is the One that’s going to carry me into heaven when I die.

But because I came out of homosexuality, back 28 years ago, really through an encounter with Christ, but it was also through the help of my wife, who was my girlfriend at the time. We had started dating and I had actually been involved with someone else at the time and I had to confess to her that not only was I involved with someone else at the time that I started dating her, but I was involved with another man.

That was an excruciating 2-hour conversation, of me not saying anything, and her wondering if I was an ax-murderer, or what I had to confess that was so terrible. But as I shared that with her, she loved me so unconditionally, and she was so gracious to me, and she just treated me with such kindness and gentleness. Just the way she walked me through that, and through temptations and through life, I can really say she saved me from a lot.

So I know that Jesus is the center of my life. He has been since I put my faith in Him. As one of my friends said about her husband, she said, “Jesus is like my cake, and my husband is the icing on my Jesus cake.”

I said, “Oh, that’s really nice. That was Lana for me. Jesus was my cake, and Lana was the icing on my Jesus cake.”

But as she started going through cancer and the doctors were saying that it was incurable, and they didn’t know how long she had to live, but it wasn’t long, I started seeing that maybe Jesus and Lana had sort of merged roles in such a way that the thought of losing her felt like I was losing my cake, too.

I don’t know if it’s right or wrong, because I know we’re supposed to be so intertwined—you know, it would be sad if she died and I felt nothing—so I know God gives us those kinds of relationships for a reason. But there was a time there, just a few months before she died, where we were having some of these hard conversations about what the future would look like, and what I was going to do if she did pass on.

She was talking to me about remarriage and things like that, and I didn’t want to hear it. That was the farthest thing from my mind. I was not interested in even entertaining the thought. I just wanted her, and I wanted her alive.

And yet a few weeks into that cycle of conversations, somewhere from the back of my mind, as my life was spinning out of control, and what I thought was my center was being taken away from me, I started gravitating in my mind back to some other things that gave me some peace and some happiness and some comfort, and that included former homosexual relationships from over 25 years earlier.

And I just thought, you know, I have no interest at all in getting married again. But there was a part of me that said, “But if there was a man that came along, what would I do then?” Because it didn’t involve the same kind of commitment, the same kind of relationship, the same kind of work, it just was sort of fun. At least that was my memory of it from long ago.

For about 2 weeks, this just really puzzled me and it just weighed on me, because I was like, “This has been over 25 years since I’ve had any serious consideration to that at all.” God had just broken that off of me in a wonderful way and given me a wife and 6 children of our own. So to have these thoughts again and go, “Wow, why would I even be going there? Why would I go back there?”

I had a conversation with Jason and he said that it makes some sense, that when your life is being threatened in these ways and something’s being threatened to be taken away from you, you sort of gravitate towards what brought you peace and comfort in the past. And I knew he was right, but it bothered me that it was even on my mind and was even— do you know what I mean? I mean it was like, “Oh, my gosh, I don’t even want to have that thought again.”

It was about 2 weeks of struggling with this and just trying to work it out in my brain.

Then I woke up one Sunday morning, and I just started reading Romans chapter 1, and I read the passage that really changed my life, where Paul talks about homosexuality and talks about how the end of that is not going to be good for us. That is a passage that changed my life, and it was a hinge and a turning point in everything regarding my faith, as well as my sexuality.

So to read that passage again, I was just like, “OK, that’s right. That’s right. This was in my past. This is not going to be part of my future.”

Then I came to church, and Pastor Baker was talking about the topic again that morning, and he just was talking about it and he said, “You can justify it, you can rationalize it, you can go through all kinds of arguments about it”—and I’m paraphrasing him here, I don’t want to put words in his mouth, but if you’ve heard him speak on this, you know where he stands—but he said, “You know, the bottom line is that if God says it’s not good for you, then it’s not going to go well for you.”

He says, “If there’s anything in the Bible, whether it’s adultery or fornication or sex outside of marriage or before marriage, or any topic in the Bible, if God says this is not good for you, the bottom line is: it’s just not going to go well for you.”

That was like number 2 that day where I was like, “Whew. That’s right, I don’t even have to think about this. The Bible is very clear, and it’s been very clear in the past.”

And then later that night, I had a conversation with a friend and his wife who had a similar diagnosis a few years ago, and he was worried that she might die. He said something that shocked me, he said, “I was wondering if maybe, if God took her, that He was then releasing me and I could go and pursue homosexuality.”

And I was like, “You can’t do that!” Somehow hearing it from someone else, the very thoughts that I was considering, but hearing them speak it as if that was what God was really going to say and I was like, “Now I know it’s wrong. I just didn’t care.” You just get to the point where, “God, I know this is wrong, I understand it’s wrong, but I don’t care. I just want to do what I want to do,” which is what John says:

“The world and all its wanting, wanting, wanting…”

You just want to do what you want to do. But if you do what God wants you to do, that’s when you’ll have eternal life. That’s when things will go well for you.

So those 3 things for me: just reading the Word that morning and finding Romans chapter 1 again, just hearing the pastor and coming to church and getting reminded again, “You know, it’s just not going to go well for you.”

And then hearing my friend just speak the words that I was thinking. Just to verbalize those and say, “Wow.”

After 2 weeks of just being perplexed about this, it just cleared up. It totally cleared up and it’s not come back again. I just needed that though, I needed to hear from God in some very clear ways.

Then when Lana did pass away, I didn’t have that struggle. I didn’t have that wrestling anymore, because I had invited God in, and I said, “God, I want to do what You want, and I really want Your will more than anything else. And as bad as this hurts, I am not going to go back into something that would hurt me even more, because You don’t want me to do that. You want me to have life, and life abundant.”

And sometimes, as we’ve learned in GriefShare, when someone close to you dies like that, it puts a wall up between you and people around you, because they don’t really know what that relationship was like.

They don’t know, for instance, this is the first time I’ve ever shared this publicly, how Lana has been so vital, not just my best friend, my lover, my everything to me, mother of my kids, my homeschool teacher of all my kids. Not just all those important things, but how she helped me in this area of sexuality. And then to lose that, it’s hard for me to explain to other people.

And so there’s this wall that sort of goes up between you and other people to where you’re not really able to let them in, and they’re not able to enter in, because they don’t know what that has meant to you and what you have lost.

But in GriefShare they said that God knows what it’s like to lose someone close to Him. And God lost a son. God knows what it’s like to weep. And Jesus lost his best friend in Lazarus. And they can enter in with you. And even if other people can’t, you can still invite God in, and let Him come into your life. Let Him be with you and fill those lonely places.

God really has done that. I still miss Lana terribly. I wish she was here. I would take her back in a heartbeat. But God has really come in. He really has walked me through this. He really has helped me in so many ways.

I want you to look at another passage with me. Then we’ll go to a song, where you can just meditate on what it means to you to keep Jesus at the center. This is in Hebrews, just back a few pages, Hebrews chapter 12, starting in verse 2. The writer of Hebrews says this:

Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how He did it. Because He never lost sight of where He was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—He could put up with anything along the way: cross, shame, whatever. And now He’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility He plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!

“… My dear child, don’t shrug off God’s discipline, but don’t be crushed by it either. It’s the child He loves that He disciplines; the child He embraces, He also corrects. God is educating you; that’s why you must never drop out. He’s treating you as dear children. This trouble you’re in isn’t punishment; it’s training, the normal experience of children. Only irresponsible parents leave children to fend for themselves. Would you prefer an irresponsible God? We respect our own parents for training and not spoiling us, so why not embrace God’s training so we can truly live? While we were children, our parents did what seemed best to them. But God is doing what is best for us…” (Hebrews 12:2-3, 5b-10a, The Message).

I felt like, as my life was spinning out of control, that God had to sort of correct me, discipline me, bring me back in. And it was a discipline that I welcomed. I didn’t want Him to leave me alone. I needed Him. And the truth is, we all need Him.

Maybe you’re at a place where you feel like you’re either being crushed by God because He’s either giving you more than you think you can handle or you feel like you’re being disciplined by Him or maybe you feel like you’re being punished. I want you just to not think about it that way.

If there’s some path that you’re not on a good path, God can come in and correct you, if you’re willing to let Him, and just let Him help you get back onto the good path.

God has so much for us. He wants us to live. He wants us to live an abundant life. He has great plans and purposes for you and for me. I just want to encourage you to keep Jesus at the center of your life.

Let’s pray:

Father, thank You for these words, God, and allowing me to share some of the crazy things that have happened to me over the last year and a half. God, I just thank You for walking me through it. I thank You for keeping me on Your path. I thank You, Lord, when I was tempted to veer, that You brought me back. God, I pray for each person listening to this tonight (and reading and listening later!), that You would keep them on Your good path, Lord. Help them to keep walking with You, Lord. Help them to keep their eyes fixed on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of their faith. Lord, help them to know Your great love for them. And I pray most of all You’d help them to overcome the world, Lord, and not let the world overcome them. We pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

P.S. You can visit The Ranch and listen to my son Lucas sing Jesus at the Center.

CHAPTER 6: LIVING A LIFE WITH NO REGRETS (Back to Table of Contents)

Making The Most Of The Darkness, by Eric Elder

You’re reading MAKING THE MOST OF THE DARKNESS, by Eric Elder, featuring 12 inspirational messages to give you hope during your time of loss. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

We had a wonderful “Night of Worship” here at The Ranch last night! Thanks to those of you who came and to those of you who prayed for the night to be a blessed one. It was!

Thanks, too, for your gracious notes from places like the Philippines and South Africa, saying you wish you could be here. We hope to make this an annual event, so perhaps in the future we can meet many more of you in person as well.

During the night I shared 3 video clips of my dear wife Lana that were filmed last year on November 1st, 2012, just 2 weeks before she passed away. She had a message that I felt was perfect for the evening.

So as we were worshipping outside by the bonfire, under the stars and with a half-moon shining, we projected the video of Lana onto the side of the barn and enjoyed hearing what she had to say to us about “living a life with no regrets.”

I’d like to share those 3 clips with you today as well. I believe they’ll be particularly helpful to you if you’re wrestling with a big decision and don’t know what to do, or if you’re just wondering how you can make the most of the life God has given you.

This video was shot by a film team who heard about our situation and offered to spend the day with us at our home, just to capture some memories for us and to offer hope to others who might face a similar loss in the future. Lana agreed, and we spent an amazing day with Drew Waters, Josh Spake and by Skype, Josh’s wife Candice.

Although the film team will be putting all the footage they shot that day into another format, editing it for their own purposes as background for an upcoming movie called Nouvelle Vie (which means “new life” in French) they’ve graciously allowed us to use the raw footage for other purposes like this.

I’ve posted these 3 clips in 1 video on our website at the link below, or you can read the message in the transcript below that.

Here’s the link to the video…

Lana Elder – Living Life With No Regrets

And here’s the transcript…

CANDICE: A lot of people in your position are very fearful, very scared, very worried, but you have come at this from a whole stance of hope, which is very, again I use the word profound. Because it’s unusual, and it’s so—you can just see how God is working and continues to work in your life. And so, describe what that peace is like for you and how it’s helped you battle fear, anxiety, being scared and stuff like that.

LANA: Well, I’ve always tried to live my life with no regrets. And so, whenever I had a big decision to make, I would think—obviously I would pray about it and ask God what’s best, and then I would just have to say, “Will I regret having made this decision?” Especially ones like—I went to college, I met my husband Eric in college and we got married shortly after college and I was pregnant with my first child and had to decide whether I would stay at home or work, and staying at home meant a severe cutback in pay. But I wanted to live a life of no regrets, so I decided I would rather stay home and be with my child, than have the money and have some other luxuries. And it’s a decision I’ve never regretted. So I’ve been a stay-at-home mom all my life—or since college. I know at times some people would wonder why I would get a college degree and then not even use it and stay home. But I remember thinking, even as I was making that decision, if something were to happen to me or one of my children—a death—I would have regretted going to work. So I was really glad—I mean, not glad, but when I found this out—it just made me glad that I hadn’t taken my life to go to work and missed seeing my kids grow up. It just changes everything. My kids, I just love to be around them. And so, having made that decision gives me great hope for situations like this that I made the right decision. It made some impact on our finances, but the other impact is, I think, much greater—the impact it had on my kids’ lives, because I wouldn’t have been able to take them to a lot of the programs like AWANA scripture memorization. I would have been too busy. And my kids, I love them, and they have great hope in God as well and love Jesus, and I think that’s because of the way they were brought up.

CANDICE: How do you describe the peace that passes all understanding in your life? What does that feel like? Describe that from your perspective.

LANA: The peace that surpasses all understanding is just really being with God. And when you’re reading scripture, or in worship, it’s so wonderful to have that peace. And even having made decisions, and seeing how they impact your life over the years, how that decision that impacts your life, and you know that it’s a good decision, that just gives you great peace, knowing that you did the right thing.

ERIC: Can I just have her clarify one thing, too, that not everybody chooses to stay home, if she just could talk about that, that this was the vision for what you [Lana] wanted to do, but other people are called to do other things, because she believes that strongly. I just don’t want to give the wrong impression. So maybe you could just say something about that.

LANA: Absolutely. Yes, I do want to clarify that. Not everyone is called to stay at home. There are certainly many instances where women are called to go to work, or both parents can go to work, but for me, it was really just what I was called to do. That’s just how God created me, just to be a mother and stay home with my kids.

CANDICE: I think that’s wonderful. The reason it’s wonderful is because I think you mentioned a couple things: One is that you would have been too busy to go to AWANA or scripture memory class and that greatly impacted your kids, and 2, you mentioned that, in situations like this, you’ve been able to spend your life with your kids. That’s what you wanted. And I think it just makes it perfect the point that you are in God’s will and right where you need to be, where He has you in this pursuit of what you’ve dedicated your life to, and so I commend you for that. I think that you have fulfilled that calling beautifully. Another question I had for you is, I wanted to see what some of the messages are that you have for Eric and your kids, so let’s start with Eric. What is something that you would like to share with him? What is a message you have for him?

LANA: Eric is just incredible. He’s incredibly talented and can play the piano, write music, do carpentry work, he knows everything about the computer, and he’s incredibly gifted. So I just want him to press on, keep going with a lot of the projects he’s already started. I know he has a couple that he and I have been working on together—the St. Nicholas project, talking about the life of Christ and how much he [Nicholas] was a believer in Jesus and that’s how he became so famous as St. Nicholas, our Santa Claus right now. So I just want him to continue to press on with things. I know he will and God will use him greatly. I love him incredibly much. He’s my prince and he takes incredible care of me and the kids. So I’m not worried. That’s another thing that makes passing into heaven at this time just so peaceful, because I know the kids are going to be in great hands, with Eric taking care of them.

CANDICE: Thank you for sharing that Lana. What about for the kids? What message do you want to tell the kids?

LANA: My kids have been just wonderful. I was blessed, again, to be able to homeschool, and Eric encouraged me to do that as well [because Lana wanted to try it]. He was a great encouragement, and my kids, I just know that they love Jesus. That’s been great comfort to know that they’re going to do great in life in whatever God has called them to do. I don’t know what they’re called to do, each of them yet, but I just know that they’ll do well, because everything they do, they do so well. I have no fear of anything going wrong, I just know they’re going to be blessed for the rest of their lives. I had 6 blessings. They’re awesome. I’m going to miss them.

CANDICE: What dreams do you have for your kids?

LANA: My dreams for my kids is just that they would love the Lord with all their heart, soul, mind and strength. And they do that, and so whatever dreams that they have, I know that God will help them fulfill them, whatever it is. Because if they keep seeking God, they’re going to be on the straight path. They’ll do what God’s called them to do and so that’s my dream, that they would do that, they would just keep loving Jesus, and loving each other and loving their neighbors.

CANDICE: Lana, what dreams do you have for Eric?

LANA: Pretty much the same thing. Like I said, he’s incredibly talented, and gifted and can do anything, and he has great dreams for some projects that he’s working on, and I just pray that he can just continue to fulfill those dreams and do what God’s called him to do. I know that God has a unique plan for my family, but for everyone, God has a unique plan, and I know that if they just keep following Jesus, and asking Him for direction, they’ll do well. And your dreams [Eric] will come true.

ERIC: They have. They already have.

LANA: I know. Love you, buddy.

DREW: I’ve got a question for you. What do you hope that people watching this get from it?

LANA: I would hope that the people that are watching this, that they would know that they have a unique calling in life. Everyone God created so uniquely, like everybody has different fingerprints, just so unique. So I would hope that people watching this would know that God created them uniquely, that He has different dreams for them as well. But if they keep following God, or asking God for direction, that God will show them what their unique place is in the world, what they’re uniquely designed or created to do, that they would just keep seeking God, and keep seeking the answers to what they feel called to do.

DREW: Lana, I’ve got another question for you, and this is a very direct question, so I apologize for it, but you don’t seem fearful of death. Why is that?

LANA: I’m actually not fearful of death and I believe, the only thing I can attribute it to, is just having followed God for so long, waking up and talking to Him each day, throughout the day, He’s helped me through many things. And since I am talking to Him all the day long, death will be just like meeting Him and talking to Him all day long—but without my kids and family [laughter]. I don’t know why I don’t fear death, but God has been such a loving God to me and I feel like I’ve been so blessed throughout my life, like I said earlier, about living my life with no regrets, and just doing everything I’ve wanted to do. Even the past years, I’ve gone everywhere I’ve wanted to go. I wanted to go to Israel and see the Holy Land and I got to go there 5 years ago, and then miraculously got to go 2 years after that. So I’ve been to Israel twice and I’m so blessed to have done that. So I’ve done everything I’ve wanted to do, and I don’t have—there’s not like one place I’d like to go see still or anything that I still need to accomplish. So I feel like I’ve done everything, and I can go see Jesus at any time. It would be fine. But I know it’s hard for people who I’m leaving behind. Since my diagnosis, I’ve tried to live my life like I’m going to live. I didn’t want to live like I’m going to die. I wanted to live like I’m going to live. So that’s all I’ve done, just keep going on with the normal day. But I know it’s hard for the people that are left behind, because I feel their pain. I feel sorry for them, because I would like to be with them as well. But also, I just love Jesus, and I’m looking forward to that day, too.

ERIC [later that day]: They just asked me to say a few words to you, and there’s just not enough words to express what you’ve meant to me. I remember on our wedding day, I just said to you that you were a gift from God to me and I wanted to treat you as a gift. You’ve been just a super gift, and I feel like I’ve unwrapped layer after layer of you. You’ve just given yourself to me in everything. You have sacrificed so much for me, for the ministry, for the kids—just everything. You’re a giver, and you’ve just given your life away. And I can’t think of anything better you could do with your life. You don’t just live your life, you give your life. That means so much to me, and I know that’s going to mean a lot to our kids, just to know that your life was not lived in vain, and that your death won’t be in vain if you do die. If you’re healed, hallelujah! That won’t be in vain, either!

I gave this to Lana—it’s a little plaque—for our anniversary back in April this year, and it says, “And they lived happily ever after.” It just reminds me of the joy that we’ve had together. You know, I’m going to cry a lot if you pass away. But I felt like God said, “Tearfulness is OK. Fearfulness is not.” So I think it’s OK to be tearful, but I’m not fearful, either.

And this just came in the mail today. I just got 2 more tiles for your collection here and I just wanted to unwrap this with you. This is a quote from Alfred Lloyd Tennyson. It says:

“If I had a flower for every time I thought of you, I could walk through my garden forever.”

It’s so true. I’m sure there won’t be a day that goes by that I don’t think about you. And this is really from me, and the kids and from everybody that knows you, and it just says, “You are loved.” And you are.

LANA: You’re really good at expressing your love to me all the time. You’re just always so kind and so generous. He [Eric] makes it easy for me to love him because he’s so much like Jesus, always thoughtful and kind and he puts me above himself all the time. He wants to make sure I’m taken care of. So I just appreciate these things, too, his gracious, kind gifts, thoughtful gifts, just incredible.

ERIC: Thanks. And I’m not like Jesus, but I was thinking just last week as you were just laying in bed and the pain was on you, and even in your pain you were writing a message to our subscribers in different countries and giving them hope and encouraging them with your hope. And I was just thinking of Jesus on the cross, just going through the pain and suffering for each one of us, and I thought, “Wow, you’re like Jesus! I’m married to someone like Jesus!” So I’m just so thankful to you and I just love you so much.

LANA: Thanks, thanks a lot. I love you.

JOSH: Let me ask you a couple questions. To your children, what is your wife’s legacy?

ERIC: For my children, just to say what Lana’s legacy is, I think her heartbeat is to give. She wants to give, give and give some more. And I think it’s hard for her to do. I think she’s struggled with it because we have so many needs. We all have needs. The kids have needs, and Lana has needs, and yet she’s just given so much. We give money away and we give things away and she gives food away and she just gives away. I feel like she’s a giver. I know that’s her heart, even for some of the projects we’re working on now, just to tell, for instance, the St. Nicholas story, of a man who gave his life away, too, because he was following the One who gave His life for all of us. So I think that’s her legacy. I feel like she’s following Jesus and that she denies herself many times so that she can give, and I don’t think that you can get better than that.

JOSH: How long have you all been married?

ERIC: We’ve been married 23 years, and we’ve known each other 28 years, and they’ve been super, all super. I have no regrets. I can’t complain that she’s being taken now. How could I complain to God and say, “God, why did you take her?” All I should be able to do is say, “God, thank You! How could You possibly love me so much that You would give me 28 years with her?” So I’m sad. I’m disappointed if you go. But I cannot complain, for one single day.

JOSH: How is she not replaceable?

ERIC: How is she not replaceable? I can’t think of how she is replaceable. I can’t imagine anything—I mean there is nothing that could replace her. She’s a unique creation of God—one of a kind. There’s no replacing any one of us. We’re all here for a reason, we’re all here for a purpose, just like Lana. There are lots of people that we love, lots of people that are friends, lots of people that do a lot for us and we’re really close to, and I don’t think any of us are replaceable.

JOSH: I’m going to ask one more question. So the heart of the story of Nouvelle Vie is finding life. And we don’t know what’s going to happen, right? You know God is a miraculous God and God could really pull through, or He may choose not to, and whatever it is, He’s glorified in all things. If God chooses to take your wife from you, how do you persevere? How do you go on?

ERIC: Nouvelle Vie means “new life,” and for me, as a Christian, I’ve already been given a new life. And some people say, even if Lana dies, we’re going to pray and raise her from the dead. And I love that. I would love to do that. I have prayed that for some of my friends in the past, too. But the truth is, I know what being dead is like, and I’ve already been dead, and Jesus has already raised me from the dead. I’ve now got a new life and now I’m going on. I’m going to have a new life forever because of Jesus and what He’s done for me. So we could pray that Lana would be raised from the dead, and that might happen, but the truth is that she’s already been raised from the dead. She knows what a dead life is like and she’s been given a new life already, and that’s going to continue on for eternity. So to me, that’s part of the hope of Nouvelle Vie, that it speaks about the new life that we can have right now, today, starting this very day. You don’t have to wait till you die to be raised from the dead. You can be resurrected. You can be redeemed. You can be restored, anytime you choose to just put your faith in Christ, to ask Him to forgive you of your sins. He will take you to be with Him forever in heaven, and give you a whole new life here on earth. So that’s the hope that I have, and the courage that I have, that your passing [Lana] really is “passing.” As the Bible says, it’s a sleeping, you fall asleep, then you’ll be woken up by Jesus when He comes back for us. It’ll be a short sleep for you, and maybe a long few years for us, but in the light of eternity, it’ll just be a blink of an eye. And I can’t wait to see you again.

CHAPTER 7: BUILDING A SAFETY NET (Back to Table of Contents)

Making The Most Of The Darkness, by Eric Elder

You’re reading MAKING THE MOST OF THE DARKNESS, by Eric Elder, featuring 12 inspirational messages to give you hope during your time of loss. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You might think that walking across the grand canyon on a tightrope without a safety net is crazy. But there’s something crazier still, and that’s doing life without a safety net.

I recently spoke at one of our former churches about how you can build a safety net in your own life to keep from losing your faith in God, even in the face of significant loss. I’ve included a link to the message below, and the text of the message below that just as I gave it that morning.

Here’s a link to the audio…

Listen to “Building A Safety Net”

And here’s the text of the message…

Thanks, Tony. I made it through the first hour, but I’ll tell you, I had to grab a box of Kleenex to do it.

This is the first time I’ve stood up and preached on a Sunday morning since 10 months ago when I preached at my wife’s funeral. Just putting on my suit this morning—this is the same suit and shirt I wore preaching her funeral—and just putting it on again today, I said, “OK, God, I think I’m ready.” But can I ask you to pray for me, too, because I need all the help I can get. Let’s pray.

“Father, we thank You so much for walking us through the tragedies of life and just being there for us. Thank You for other believers, and especially for people in this room who have walked our family through this as well. I just pray that You would speak to each one of our hearts, Lord, that You would just help remind us that You are there, that You are with us, and that You can walk us through anything we go through. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

When Ron asked me to preach and to join in this series that you’re doing on “Who We Are,” and he asked me in particular to preach on this message, “Who We Are As The Church,” I was very happy to say yes. Because I am a strong believer in the church. And the church of course is not just the building and the bricks and the place where we gather, the church is the body of believers, the church is you and me, doing life together, that is the church, and that is who we are.

So I just want to talk to you today about the value of the church, the power of the church, and of course, you’re here this morning, so that means you’re already reaping the benefits of being part of the church. But I also want to encourage you this morning to get involved in a deeper way with some of the people around you. Because when we do life together, with close friendships, that’s when we really grow the most, that’s when we can support each other the most, and that’s when we can be supported when we need help as well.

We’re all going to go through losses. You might not have had a loss like I had this past year, but we all suffer losses in all kinds of ways: loss of job, loss of relationship, loss of health, loss of finances, or as in my case, loss of someone that I dearly love. It’s a part of life and we’re all going to go through it. So my encouragement for you today—this is my bottom line of the whole thing and then I’ll expand it—my bottom line is just get plugged in to some other believers so you can be there for them and they can be there for you. And that way you can get through these tragedies without losing your faith in Jesus. OK? Let’s start off.

Do you recognize this guy [showing photo of a man walking across a tight rope]?

It’s Nik Wallenda, who 3 months ago walked across a gorge near the Grand Canyon, live on international television—without a safety net underneath him.

Just last week, this clip was voted the number one moment on TV for 2013. Of all the different—the final episode of “The Office,” or whatever other moments there were—this was the number 1, the moment that people most were riveted by—as they watched this man, live on television, walk across a tiny wire—never been done before—across the Grand Canyon, without a safety net below him.

And you might say, “That guy is crazy.” And you would be right! But I’ll tell you, there’s something crazier, and that’s doing life without a safety net. And I want to talk to you this morning about how you can build a safety net under you. Because the truth is, even though he had no physical net, that man had a lot of people around him.

As you watch him do that, and you watch the tape of it, there are people on one side of the canyon, people on the other side, he’s been training for years, there were people talking to him in his headset, warning him about the wind, making sure things were going all right, talking to him the entire way. He’s talking to God. He’s talking to his team. This man was prepared. He did not do life alone, and you cannot do life alone. It’s even crazier, if you think you can do life on your own, and I’ll tell you some stories about me over these last couple years, particularly this last year and a half of walking through and how I just could not make it on my own.

A lot of things helped me through, my faith in Christ being the chief among them, but the believers in the body, coming around me was right up there and really helped make this so that I didn’t lose my faith as well.

This reminds me of a little cartoon. My kids love these cartoons and show them to me. I love this one.

Cartoon:  Don't worry, I got your back!

This shows 2 stick figures and the one says, “Don’t worry, I got your back,” and he’s holding the other stick figure’s back in his hand.

Who’s got your back? And whose back have you got? That’s what we’re talking about today. When we were searching for these, I found a few others. I just throw these in for your entertainment.

Cartoon: Well that's not a good sign.

The next one says, “Well, that’s not a good sign,” and the sign says, “BAD.”

Cartoon: Stop! You're under a rest!

The next one: “Stop, you’re under a rest!” If you’re not a musician, that’s a quarter-note rest, and he’s under “a rest,” so as a musician, that’s actually funny.

Cartoon: I found this humerus

And you might not like this, but I found this humerus. This is your humerus [pointing to forearm].

Anyway, when I talk about grief and death, it can sometimes be a heavy topic, so I hope you don’t mind if I lighten it up at some moments.

Let’s open our Bibles, and I would like you to look at 3 scriptures today. The first one is in 1 Peter chapter 2. It’s in the New Testament near the very end, 1 Peter chapter 2. We’re going to look at 3 different passages that talk about doing life together. This first one in 1 Peter chapter 2 is talking about coming together as “living stones.” This is, to me, the picture of the church. It’s not the brick and mortar that we see, it’s us as a people, we are living stones. 1 Peter chapter 2, verses 4 and 5, says this:

“As you come to Him, the Living Stone [that’s Jesus]—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to Him—you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:4-5).

We are living stones. We are the church, not a building, but a people.

Let’s look at Hebrews, chapter 10, verse 25, also in the New Testament there, towards the end. This is a verse that talks about the importance of gathering together—being with other believers. Hebrews, chapter 10, verse 25, says this:

“Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25).

It’s very straightforward. Get together with other believers so you can encourage each other. Don’t forsake the assembly of the believers. Keep plugging in to other people’s lives.

And the 3rd verse is in Ecclesiastes, back in the Old Testament, Ecclesiastes chapter 4, verses 7 through 12. This is a passage that’s often read at weddings because it talks about 2 people coming together and helping one another, but I think it also equally applies to us as believers, coming together. That’s why I want to read it to you. Ecclesiastes 4, verses 7 through 12:

“Again I saw something meaningless under the sun: There was a man all alone; he had neither son nor brother. There was no end to his toil, yet his eyes were not content with his wealth. ‘For whom am I toiling,’ he asked, ‘and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?’ This too is meaningless—a miserable business! Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:7-12).

And when people read this at weddings, they talk about the 3 strands being a couple, the husband and wife, and God being the 3rd strand, and that is not easily broken. It applies just as well to us, as a body of believers—2 or 3 or many of us gathered together—are not easily broken. We can help each other. We can help each other up. And we can walk with each other through this thing called life.

I just want to tell you what’s helped me through. As I mentioned, it’s been 10 months since I preached at Lana’s funeral. And I can say that over all my years—I’ve gone to church all my life, and church is wonderful and I still go to church every week—but I have grown the most, and I have been loved and supported the most and I have been encouraged in my faith the most, when I have gotten involved in a small group.

When I get together on a weekly basis with a few—6, 8, 10, 12—other people and study the Word of God, pray with each other, share with each other, that is by far the place I have grown the most in my faith, where I have been most encouraged, most supported and I have been able to use my gifts to encourage others as well.

If you’re not in a small group right now, I encourage you to consider doing it—and not just consider it, but do it! But at least consider it. Give it a thought.

I want to walk you through some of the ways that small groups have helped me. And your small group might be a structured thing that gets together. It might be one of your best friends who is a believer that you talk to across the country or around the world by Skype. I’m not limiting the church to just what’s here, but what you’ve got here is awesome. And there are people that are glad to lead you and walk through life with you here, That one-on-one, right-here-in-person connection is so wonderful. So I want to encourage you to do that as well.

At first, when Lana and I discovered the lump on her breast, she wasn’t going to get it tested. She had had this before, and different kinds of tests, and she would go and the doctors would have her tested and tested again and it never turned out to be anything—just false positives, no big deal. And so this is what she felt like again, she felt “no, this probably isn’t anything.” But to me it was different. Something had changed and this was a different thing. I was very concerned about it but she wasn’t wanting to go talk to anyone about it.

We went to our small group one night and we split up—the guys went into the kitchen to talk a little bit and the ladies stayed in the living room—and as I left for the kitchen, I leaned over to her, and the ladies were sitting there, and I said to Lana, “Now are you going to share with them what we’re praying about?” And all the ladies turned and looked at her.

She said, “I wasn’t, but I guess I am now!” I left and she shared with them, and they really encouraged her, just through their life experiences and some friends of theirs, to just at least do it, “for our sake, just go do it.” And I’m so glad they did, because they discovered it was cancerous. They discovered it had already spread throughout her body, that it was Stage 4, triple-negative [breast cancer], and in their words, “incurable.”

Having that knowledge ahead of time could seem like a terrible death blow to your life and your faith, but it was a gift from God, to be able to know that and walk through this, knowing that there was not a good chance that she was going to make it through.

But it started with our small group. You may think, “You know, I can do this on my own.” But we can’t. We help each other. We need each other.

That small group walked us through. They cried with us, they helped us at doctor’s appointments and they were there at the funeral. They helped participate in the service. And they’ve been there for our family since.

After she died, I got in another small group. It was called GriefShare, which you have here at the church, too—a terrific program. And I was so hungry for this program. I couldn’t wait, every week, to go to GriefShare, where we were with about a dozen other people. We just watched a video. You could talk if you wanted. You didn’t have to talk if you didn’t want to, which was perfect, because some days I wanted to talk and some I didn’t want to say a thing.

It was hard. It was extremely hard. One of the lessons was to go home and write down all the things that you’ve lost with the death of your loved one. And I just got so choked up. I thought, “I would fill up pages of what I’ve lost. I do not want to do this, God! I can’t take it.” Just to sit there and list out every single thing I lost when I lost Lana. A homeschool teacher of my kids, my wife, my best friend, my intimate lover. I thought, “God, I can’t do this.”

But the next day I went home and I said, “OK, God. They said to do it. They said this is good for me. I’m going to trust them.” And I did. I started writing down the things that I mentioned to you.

I got to the end of the page and I was actually done. There were some big ones on my list. But I looked at it and I said, “This is what I’ve lost. I still have my kids. I still have my health. I still have my ministry. I still have my friends. I still have my faith.” The list of things I still had was huge. And it just helped me to go through that exercise.

It was hard work. But every week I was like, “OK, give me more God.” Because if you don’t deal with your grief now, it’s going to come out later and probably in ways you don’t want it to.

You can go through GriefShare any time. You can go through it several times. There were people in our class, one had lost her mother years ago and she was just now starting to process it. She said, “I need to deal with this, because it’s coming out in the way I treat my kids, the way I treat my work, the way I treat my bosses and friends. I just need to deal with it.”

Recovery doesn’t mean that you’re going to “get over it.” Rick Warren—some of you may know him and he wrote The Purpose Driven Life—he lost his son to suicide earlier this year. He has done an excellent series on grief, and whatever you think of the man, I’d say set it aside, and watch this series on grief. It is so powerful and so right on. You can go to saddleback.com or you can download an app [called simply “Saddleback”] and watch it streaming on the Internet. But he says that you don’t get over a loss, but you can get through it. You can get through it.

So I want to encourage you: you can get through it. If you haven’t dealt with a loss in your life—some kind of grief in your life—it’s going to come out in bad ways. I want to encourage you: do the hard work.

About a month ago, I felt like I really turned a corner, to where it was no longer heart-wrenching to think about Lana, but actually heart-warming. They say in recovery, that’s a huge step, to where you can look back and think with fondness of the memories, without that searing pain that, for me, accompanied me for so many of the last 10 months.

I’m so glad now to reap the harvest of our garden. Lana always planted tomatoes and peppers and onions and we would make salsa in the fall. We just did this a few weeks ago with the kids and made Lana’s Sweet Salsa recipe. We videotaped it so we would remember how to do it and how to make it. You can watch it online if you want to go to The Ranch and look up “Lana’s Sweet Salsa.

But just to do that with the kids and actually have that be a fun thing, an enjoyable thing, and say, “Yeah, this is what we were doing last year with Mom, and this is so good that we learned how to do this and I want to keep doing it.” Without that terrible pain. I feel like we’ve turned a corner and I’m able to say, “All right. We’re going to make it. We’re going to make it. With God’s help, and with people around us, we are going to make it.”

I also want to say, when you’re in a small group, people show up. They’re able to help you. They’re able to bring a meal. Rick Warren said, when he was standing outside his son’s house and they were waiting for the police to come and take care of all the things, that his small group was there on the driveway with him. They showed up in those first moments. He had been in the same small group for years. He was there for them when they needed it. And now, they were there for him. He said, and I’m paraphrasing, “You don’t even have to say much. In fact, the greater the loss, the less you have to say.” So if you’re worried about what to say, don’t worry. The less say may even be better! Just show up. Just be there.

Rick also mentions that people sometimes say, “Let me know if I can do anything. Give me a call if you need anything.” But he said that’s not really helpful to someone who’s grieving because their world is so befuddled. To me, people would offer that, but I didn’t know what I needed. I didn’t have any clue. I didn’t even know how to get through a day. Rick said, “Just say: I can bring a meal. Do you want it Tuesday or Wednesday?” A simple choice. A simple offer of what you can do. And I would say, “Wednesday.” And I would be happy. They would be happy. And we would get a meal.

So if you know people who are going through grief, show up. Then offer something of service, just a practical, simple help. Give them a choice. If they say no, you can walk away. Or if you know the person well, you might have to just press through and just do it anyway. But show up, and then serve them.

If you’re not involved with some other people in your life, you’re going to have to do it alone, and I’ll tell you that’s terrible to do.

We homeschool our kids. I’ve got 3 in college and my youngest 3 are here in the service this morning: 10, 13, and 15. Lana wanted me to continue homeschooling as much as I could. I work from home, so it’s possible—it’s conceivable at least. But whether I could do it, I didn’t know. She died in November, so we had another spring to go through, January through May. And I didn’t know if I could do it. I didn’t know what to do.

But we tried to keep everything as much the same as possible because so much had already changed. I said, “I’m going to do it.” But I had 2 ladies that offered to help—Christian friends of ours—and they said, “Can we come in once a week and just help with their math or play a game with them or anything?” I said, “Perfect, thanks.”

I knew I could do it then because I didn’t have to bear it all myself. They would come and I was glad they could learn their conjunctions and I can’t even think of everything they learned this year. But I really was happy just to have someone there helping, just to come in and I could go sit in my room for awhile, write a message or do something else.

There are ways that people have stepped in and helped. I’ve had personal friends that have said, “Just call me anytime, day or night,” and I’ve done it.

There were times when I was overwhelmed and I was like, “I don’t know how I’m going to take it.” Even before Lana died, thinking about her dying, I would be like, “I cannot take this.” And my brain would start going in circles and I would think I was going crazy and I would call somebody and I’d say, “Can you just sit on the phone with me. I don’t even know what to say. But if you’ll just sit on the phone with me, I think I’ll be all right.” Then after a few minutes, it would pass and I could say, “OK, thanks.” And I could hang up and I could go on.

If you need help, ask for it. You would think, in my position—I’ve walked many people through the death of their friends, their loved ones, their spouses and I’ve preached at their funerals—I should know this. I should be able to get through this. I should be able to speak to myself and talk myself through anything.

But I heard from another friend, who worked at a cemetery out in Denver, and he said that the manager of the cemetery—who’s been doing this for years and walked thousands of families through their grief process— when his dad died, a few weeks later he was driving down the street and his wife was sitting next to him and she said, “All right, pull over. I’m going to drive.”

He said, “Why? What’s wrong?”

She said, “That’s the 3rd red light you’ve gone straight through.” He had no idea. Of all people, he should have known what to do and how to help himself through it. But we don’t. None of us—none of us—none of us are super men, super women.

Let me encourage you today: get involved in a small group so that you can help others. And when you need it, they can help you, too.

I have one more slide here I want to show you.

Cartoon: This is not a drill

This is not a drill. It’s a hammer. My kids hate that I explain the jokes, but sometimes people miss the obvious. This is not a drill. This life is so serious. Our faith is so important. Your role in God’s kingdom is so important.

I really struggled. Not really in questioning God, but questioning His plan. My kids don’t question that I love them, but sometimes they question my wisdom. They question whether I really know what’s best for them. And I’ll tell you that goes through my brain sometimes. I still have faith in God, but I do wonder sometimes, “Are You sure this is the best?”

And one of the questions I had was, and that God had for me was: “Do you still believe I can heal someone that has cancer?”

And I said, “Yes, God. I’ve seen it before, and I believe I’ll see it again.”

And then He asked me: “Do you believe I can heal someone who has triple-negative, stage 4, terminal breast cancer?” which is what Lana had.

That was a harder one. But I said, “Yes, God. You can do anything, absolutely, anything.”

And God asked a 3rd question: “What will you do if you see someone healed of triple-negative, stage 4 breast cancer?”

You know, part of you just wants to be mad. But the other part says, “I will rejoice. You give and You take away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” And so I just said that to God: “I will rejoice.” And I truly will. “You give and You take away. I will praise Your name forever.”

I believe that prayer broke something, and helped me reach a turning point in my life, to come back and say, “God has a unique purpose and plan for every one of our lives. He had a unique purpose and plan for Lana’s life, and her death, and what we’re going through now.”

And He has a unique purpose for yours. Don’t take what happened to Lana as any indication of what God has in mind for you. She would hate that, because you have your own life. She would want you to keep believing, and she said this in her video before she died: “I want no one to lose faith over this. I want you to keep having faith in the same Jesus that I put my faith in, and hope to see very soon myself.”

Keep your faith. Keep trusting God no matter what. We are the church, His people. Let’s pray.

Father, thank You for this time again. Seal these things in our heart, that we can serve You even better. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

CHAPTER 8: LOOKING FORWARD: 3 STORIES OF HOPE (Back to Table of Contents)

Making The Most Of The Darkness, by Eric Elder

You’re reading MAKING THE MOST OF THE DARKNESS, by Eric Elder, featuring 12 inspirational messages to give you hope during your time of loss. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

I’d like to talk to you this morning about hope—capital H-O-P-E—hope. I know you don’t want to hear about heartache today. We all have enough of that. You want to hear about hope, and I do too.

So I want to share 3 stories with you about how God has given me hope over the past year. I pray they give you hope, and then you can pass it on to others. The 3 stories I’d like to share with you have to do with a ring, an apple and 3 emails.

Wedding RingThe first story is about a ring. Several years ago my wife, Lana, lost her wedding ring one day. She had already been up and going for awhile before she realized that her ring was missing from her finger. She never went without it, so she was surprised and disturbed that it was missing.

So we started looking all over the house. We looked by the kitchen sink where she did the dishes. We looked in the bathroom where it might have come off. We looked everywhere we could, but we couldn’t find it all day.

By the end of the day, we were going back to bed and she thought to look under the bed. There was her ring on the floor. She said, “You know, I remember waking up this morning and hearing this ‘clink, clink, clink.’”

I said, “Well, that would have been good information to know as we were searching for your ring all day!”

She went on to say that at night, when she put her hand under her pillow, she would sometimes play with her ring, spinning it around and taking it on and off. The night before, she must have taken it off and fell asleep, and then it must have fallen to the ground in the morning when she got up.

So that became a little joke between us over the years. Whenever something would go missing, one of us would say, “Did you hear anything go ‘clink, clink, clink?’”

So a few months ago I was sitting with a couple at our dining room table. At one point in the conversation, I looked down at my hand and noticed my ring was missing. I’ve always worn my wedding ring, too, and even though Lana passed away about 8 months before this, I still wore my ring every day. I couldn’t bring myself to take it off. Even though I knew there might come a day when I would take it off, I couldn’t imagine ever wanting to take it off. And honestly, I was dreading that day.

So when I noticed my ring was missing, I panicked. I thought, “Where’s my ring?” I felt naked and embarrassed in front of this couple, wondering if they noticed it, too. I wondered what they might think of me—if I had taken it off because I wanted to start dating again or something, which I definitely didn’t! All these thoughts started racing through my mind, all the time wondering, “Where could my ring be?”

Then I remembered something. Earlier in the year, I had decided to start losing some weight. I’m a stress eater, so when I get stressed, I eat. By January of this year I had gained more weight than I had ever gained in my life. I knew that I needed to stay healthy, for myself and for my kids and I wanted to start losing weight again, but I just didn’t have the fortitude to do it at the time. As the year went on, however, I decided to do it, and began losing weight, week by week. The night before I had met with this couple, I was laying in bed and noticed that my ring was loose and could come right off and go back on again. So I laid there in bed, spinning it around and taking it off and on, and then must have fallen asleep with it off.

As I was sat there at the dining table with this couple, I thought to myself, “You know, I do remember hearing this ‘clink, clink, clink’ when I woke up!”

After saying goodbye to my visitors, I went upstairs, looked under my bed, and there was my ring on the floor. I looked to heaven and said, “OK, Lana, now I get it. Now I can see how you could have overlooked hearing that ‘clink, clink, clink’ when you lost your ring years ago.” And so I had a little smile in that moment in my mind with Lana.

Although I was dreading the day when I would have to take off my ring, having that little smile with Lana made me think: “Well, today’s as good a day as any. At least I can look back on it with fondness and a smile, rather than with sadness. So I’ll try and just leave it off.” So I left it off. I still felt naked for the rest of the day, and even today when I look down and see that it’s missing, I feel like part of me is missing, too. But at least I can look down and think about it with a smile now, and with thankfulness for the time that I did have with Lana.

I tell you that story to say that sometimes God gives us those little moments of grace. Moments that we may have been dreading in the future, but when they come, God gives us the grace to get through it—sometimes even with a little smile that says, “It’s going to be OK. I love you and I’ll walk you through this, too.”

In one of the books I read on grief, called Decembered Grief by Harold Ivan Smith, I read a quote that has helped me through this new season of my life. The quote is from an unidentified woman and says:

“It has taken me many months to get to the point where I can say, ‘All right, the future is not going to be what you thought it was. It’s gone, and you’re not going to have it. You just will not have it. Your future went with him. Now you’ve got to build a new one.’”

I didn’t like reading those words at first, but over time I knew they were true for me, too. I’ve come to realize that the future is not going to be what I thought it would be, either. It’s gone, and I’m not going to have it. I just will not have it. Now I’ve got to build a new one.

Many of you know what this is like in your own life. You’ve reached those points in your life where you’ve had to say, “This isn’t the direction I thought my life was going to take.” And at some point you’ve had to let it go and say, “It’s not going to happen; they’re not coming back,” just as I’ve had to say, “OK, she’s not coming back.”

And she’s not. As much as I hate to say that, I know that God still has a future for me. It reminds me that I just need to keep “fixing my eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of my faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross…” (see Hebrews 12:2).

As much as I wish I had my old life back, I know the best thing I can do now is to keep moving forward—to keep saying, “God, I’m going to fix my eyes on You. I’m going to trust You, no matter what, because I know You’ll work it all out somehow for good in the end.” And I know He will.

Apple PiesThe 2nd story I want to tell you today has to do with an apple. There’s a quote I read years ago that I thought was profound and beautiful. It said:

“The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time to plant a tree is today.”

I thought of that quote this spring as I looked at 2 pine trees in our yard, one of which I planted this past Christmas in honor of Lana, and the other which Lana and I planted 19 Christmases ago, almost 20 years now. The tree I recently planted is only about a foot tall, but the older tree is one of the largest in our yard. We had bought the tree from a nursery that winter and had brought it into our house for a few days at Christmas to decorate it and put presents underneath it. Then, after Christmas, we took it out to my dad’s farm and planted it, not knowing that one day we would eventually be living there ourselves. Over the years that tree has grown and grown, and now it’s one of the tallest that we have.

So over the years, I’ve taken this quote to heart about planting trees, and every year we plant a few more, and a few more, and few more trees. We don’t have a forest by any means, but we do have more trees than we would have had otherwise, had I not stopped from time to time and just said, “OK, I’m going to stop at Big R and pick up a tree and we’ll put it in the ground.”

For some reason, this has been an amazing year for fruit trees, and for all the trees that Lana and I planted with the kids over the years. This is the first time any of them have produced an significant amount of fruit. And not just one tree, but nearly all of them have started bearing fruit, even those we planted just a year or 2 ago, when normally they should take 5 or 6 or 7 years before they produce any fruit. So this year we had apples from 4 different trees, cherries, peaches, and even 2 little plums on a new plum tree! All these trees started bearing fruit—just this year.

When I saw all these trees bearing fruit, part of me was tempted to be really sad and wonder, “How could Lana have missed all that fruit?” But the other part of me said, “Lana would be thrilled to know that all her hard work has paid off and is now bearing fruit—fruit that will last.” And that made me so glad that we just kept planting and planting and planting, because the Bible says:

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).

Even though Lana is gone this year and can’t enjoy it herself, we’re all enjoying the fruit of all that she’s done.

And picking up an apple tree from Big R is hardly a big deal, but Lana’s investment in my life, and our 6 kids’ lives, and your lives and many other people’s lives—whether it was at home or in her writings or recordings or any of the number of things she invested in—those things are bearing fruit now in so many wonderful ways.

I was preaching at a church last week and took an apple with me from one of the trees that Lana and I had planted. And because it was a smaller congregation of friends that we knew and loved, my kids and I baked some pies for them from the apples off the tree, too, so they could enjoy some of the fruit from Lana’s life as well.

I told them what I’m telling you today: just keep planting. Not all the trees we planted have taken root. Some of them have died—in fact, several have. But not everything we do in life takes root, either. Jesus spoke very clearly about this when He told the parable of the seeds. He said:

“A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. Some fell on rock, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown” (Luke 8:5-8a).

So not everything we plant will bear fruit. But I want to encourage you to keep planting and planting and planting because at the proper time you will reap a harvest, too, if you do not give up.

I had a friend who seemed to turn everything he touched into gold. He was a great businessman and a great supporter of missions. When people would say to him that everything he touched seemed to turn to gold, his response was, “No, but I do touch a lot of things—and when those things that do bear fruit come to fruition, they bear a lot of fruit.” Sometimes in order to bear a lot of fruit, we just need to plant a lot of seed. So I want to encourage you to keep planting. Keep watering. Don’t give up. One day, you will reap a harvest, if you do not give up.

The 3rd story I want to tell you today is based on 3 emails I received recently.

If you’ve been reading along with me through this series, you’ll remember my story about a Jewish woman who emailed me 3 years ago after “accidentally” receiving one of our daily emails when a co-worker sent it to her by mistake instead of another co-worker. She started reading the stories about Jesus on our website, and began wondering if He really was the Messiah they’ve been waiting for for so long. She eventually put her faith in Christ and wrote to me back in May to tell me about her new-found faith (see chapter 4).

Well, was I ever surprised when we hosted our “Night of Worship at The Ranch” a few weeks ago here in Illinois and she came up and introduced herself to me as we were gathering to get some food before the time of worship! Here she was, someone in “real life” who had been touched by something we posted on our website many years ago, and which she had just discovered 3 years ago. As a result, she had a complete change of heart and complete change of life as well. I shouldn’t be surprised, because we hear regularly from people who say how important our messages are to them, but there’s something about meeting people in person who have been touched by what we’ve done that gives us an even greater glimpse of what God can do through our lives when we’re willing to live them for Him.

I tell you that again to say: keep investing in people’s lives. Don’t give up. Don’t become weary in doing good. At the proper time you will reap a harvest, too, if you don’t give up.

In that same message (in chapter 4), I mentioned that some of the music that we’ve put on our website has begun to pay dividends in a big way, with a surprise royalty check that came a few weeks ago from Pandora. And the check came at a time when things were becoming tighter and tighter for us financially, as I haven’t been able to write or do the fundraising that I normally would have done in the time since Lana’s passing. And it came the same week I had finally finished putting all of our books and music on The Ranch website for free, so people could listen day or night without charge, from anywhere in the world.

As I said before, I was concerned I was shooting myself in the foot by not pursuing a publishing or record label for these books and music, but I just kept hearing Jesus’ words in my head, saying:

“So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:31-33).

Well, to follow this up, I received another email from Pandora 10 days ago saying that they had accepted my most recent piano CD, “Soothe My Soul,” to play on their Internet radio stations! This was a huge breakthrough for us, as they’re actually only playing a dozen songs that we’ve produced over the years, which they accepted early on when they were just a small company. But in the years since then, we’ve produced a dozen whole CD’s, and have submitted each one, but they’ve declined each one, saying they simply receive more music submissions than they can include in their catalog. But each year, we keep submitting our latest recordings, and each year, we keep getting rejected. But after 10 years of rejections, last week they accepted our most recent submission and will begin playing it online within the next few weeks!

In case I haven’t mentioned it enough today, let me say it again: keep planting!

And I’d like to mention one final email today—this one came just before I stood up to preach last Sunday at a local church. It came from a grade school friend of mine who is now a missionary in another country. She had reposted a link to my sermon from last week for her Facebook friends to read. Her note, that I just read this morning, said:

“I am begging you….PLEASE take a short time out of your day to listen to this message from my dear friend Eric Elder. It will touch your heart and give you the tools we all need in life!”

She had written me earlier to say how much she enjoyed the message, and I see now that she is passing it along to others. But I have to tell you, the day I stood up to preach that message last week was one of the hardest days I’ve had to walk through yet. It had been about 10 months since Lana died, and was the first time I stood up to preach at a Sunday morning service since I preached at her funeral 10 months earlier. I had only had 4 hours of sleep at best, and when it was 6 in the morning and I was getting my 3 kids ready to go and drive 45 minutes to preach 3 services in a row, I still wasn’t sure what I was going to say. As I was getting everyone ready that morning in the house, I said to myself, “I am never going to say ‘yes’ to preaching again. This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever done, to say ‘yes’ to preaching again. There’s no way I can do it.”

If I hadn’t already said ‘yes,’ and the services weren’t about to begin in just a few hours, I would have cancelled if I could have. I truly didn’t know what I was going to say, and I truly wondered why I was doing it at all. Plus, I had already accepted several other preaching engagements for the following weeks at other churches as well. Even though I thought I was ready when I said ‘yes,’ now I wondered if I could ever do it again.

But I did. And God helped me through it. And even more amazing, He spoke to people and touched their hearts through what I had to say. So much so, in fact, that people like this friend in another country is now pleading with her friends online to listen to the recording as it touched her so much. It reminded me of a passage from 2 Corinthians, chapter 4, about how God can shine through the broken places in our lives in ways so people see His glory, even though we ourselves are nothing more than cracked clay pots. Here’s what Paul says to the Corinthians, in The Message translation of the Bible:

“Remember, our Message is not about ourselves; we’re proclaiming Jesus Christ, the Master. All we are is messengers, errand runners from Jesus for you. It started when God said, “Light up the darkness!” and our lives filled up with light as we saw and understood God in the face of Christ, all bright and beautiful.

“If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness. We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives. That’s to prevent anyone from confusing God’s incomparable power with us. As it is, there’s not much chance of that. You know for yourselves that we’re not much to look at. We’ve been surrounded and battered by troubles, but we’re not demoralized; we’re not sure what to do, but we know that God knows what to do; we’ve been spiritually terrorized, but God hasn’t left our side; we’ve been thrown down, but we haven’t broken. What they did to Jesus, they do to us—trial and torture, mockery and murder; what Jesus did among them, He does in us—He lives! Our lives are at constant risk for Jesus’ sake, which makes Jesus’ life all the more evident in us. While we’re going through the worst, you’re getting in on the best!

“We’re not keeping this quiet, not on your life. Just like the psalmist who wrote, ‘I believed it, so I said it,’ we say what we believe. And what we believe is that the One who raised up the Master Jesus will just as certainly raise us up with you, alive. Every detail works to your advantage and to God’s glory: more and more grace, more and more people, more and more praise!

“So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever” (2 Corinthians 4:5-18, The Message).

I just want to encourage you, God is glorified through what you do, too. Maybe there are days when you don’t feel like getting up, you don’t feel like going to work, you don’t feel like going to a Bible study, you don’t feel like leading a small group, you don’t feel like preaching, you don’t feel like teaching, you don’t feel like whatever it is that you have to do.

Can I just encourage you not to give up? Keep planting. Keep reaching out. If you need time out, take time out, but then get back up and go at it again. With God there’s always hope. He’s given it to me this year, and I hope I’ve given a little bit to you.

Let’s pray:

Father, thank You that You can use the weak clay pots of our lives and our brokenness to let streams of Your light shine through it. I praise You, God, that somehow You give us the strength to keep going. I thank You, Lord, for the people who have prayed for us and kept us going, and held our arms up when we couldn’t do it ourselves. Lord, I pray for each person reading this today, that You would give them hope for a very specific situation in their lives—that thing which they’re facing that they struggle to find hope for—I pray You would give them hope, kindle a new flame in them, encourage them to keep going on, keep pressing through and keep planting seeds, for at the proper time I know that they will reap a harvest, and generations down the road—even when we’re gone—will reap a harvest from what they plant now. We pray this all in Jesus’ name, Amen.

CHAPTER 9: MAKING THE MOST OF THE DARKNESS (Back to Table of Contents)

Making The Most Of The Darkness, by Eric Elder

You’re reading MAKING THE MOST OF THE DARKNESS, by Eric Elder, featuring 12 inspirational messages to give you hope during your time of loss. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

Some of the scariest times in my life have not been those where things are swirling all around me, but actually in the pitch black, in the silence of night. But I’ve also found that some of the most amazing things in life can best be seen when it’s dark.

Here’s a transcript of a message I shared this week on how God can help you overcome fear with His love. It’s one of the most important lessons I’ve learned this past year as I’ve been walking through my own times of darkness…

Good evening and if you don’t know me, I’m Eric Elder. The quick snapshot of my past year has been in some ways some of the darkest times of my life, and in other ways, some of the most enlightening times of my life.

My wife passed away a year ago next week and Jason was here and helped me conduct the service here at the church. She died quickly after 9 months of breast cancer. I’ve got 6 kids, 3 still at home with me and 3 in college, so it’s been—as you can imagine—a difficult year, but an amazing year at the same time.

I just wanted to encourage you tonight that God’s love never fails you. God’s love never leaves you. Even in your darkest hours, I want to encourage you that God is still with you, and I can tell you He’s been with me. I have preached that and taught that for years. Knowing that going into this, I still get into those dark moments and I wonder how it’s going to turn out. Then I remember God’s great love for me and I just know it’s going to be all right. He’s going to work all things for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (see Romans 8:28).

So I just want to continue tonight in the series that Jason has started in 1 John chapter 4. This is a passage that talks about God’s great love for us, that the only reason we can love others is because He loved us first and sent Jesus to die for us. It is out of His love that comes down to us that we can then extend that love to others.

I’m not going to read the whole chapter to you, but if you need some encouragement that God loves you this week, I encourage you to read 1 John chapter 4. That’s not the gospel of John, not the book of John, but later in the Bible, 1 John. It’s a letter that he wrote, and I’m going to look at verses 17 through 19.

“God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day—our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love. We, though, are going to love—love and be loved. First we were loved, now we love. He loved us first” (1 John 4:17-19, The Message).

As I said, the scariest times in my life have not been those where things are swirling all around me, but actually in the pitch black, in the silence of night. I was at an amusement park and went on an attraction where you just sit in a seat in a theater and they swirl all kinds of things around you. They had little fake rat tails that ran across your feet under the seats and they sprayed water at you and all these things went by you on the screen.

But the scariest time of that whole attraction was when they shut off all the lights completely, and it was totally silent, and you had no idea what was coming next. You didn’t know where it was coming from. You couldn’t see anything. And I’ll tell you, for all the other things that came at me that day, that was the moment when I panicked. Even though I knew I was in a safe environment and they were going to take care of me—I was going to be fine—I just had this moment thinking, “What’s it going to be?” because it was pitch black and it was totally silent.

Sometimes that’s the way we feel in life. Take kids, for instance. When are they most scared? At night, in their beds, even though there’s nothing there. Nothing’s going to happen. But because they can’t see, they don’t know.

And we’re the same way, it’s when we don’t see what’s going on, when we don’t know what’s going to happen, that we can become consumed with fear. And that’s when we most need to remember: God loved us first and His love is still there for us, even in the darkness.

I want to encourage you, in those dark times, to make the most of the darkness. Because the truth is, there are some things that can be seen better when it’s pitch black outside.

If you’ve ever walked past a house during the day and you look in the windows but they’ve got a curtain up, a curtain like this [holding up a curtain], it’s really hard to see anything that’s going on inside because of the daylight. You can’t really see.

I don’t know if you can see me behind here [stepping behind the curtain]. Can you tell how many fingers I’m holding up? No? Nothing?

You can’t see in. But if you walk by the same house at nighttime—and Jason if you want to turn the lights off—if you walk by the same house again at nighttime and the lights are on inside, it’s amazing, especially with sheer curtains like this. When the lights are on in the house, can you see me now? Can you tell how many fingers I’m holding up now? [the people can see and start to respond I hold up different number of fingers: 5, 2, 3, 1.]

Quite a difference, isn’t it?

I’ll tell you, when Lana died, for those first few days especially, I felt like I could glimpse into heaven like I’d never seen before. It was so dark on my side, but it was so bright on her side. When we were married, we became one, and even death doesn’t separate love. And I felt like I could see into heaven, and she was dancing with Christ, and because, in some supernatural way I was one with her, I was there with Him as well.

It was dark on my side, but I could see into the windows of heaven better than I could ever see before. Thankfully, I was able to keep my eyes open and say, “OK, I’m going to make the most of this darkness and I want to learn everything I can about heaven while I’m here.” And I looked at passages about heaven and when exactly you go there? Is Lana there right now or is she dead in the ground? Is she dancing with Jesus or is she in some waiting zone?

The conclusions I came to may not be the same ones you come to, but I have no reason to believe that Jesus was saying anything other than the truth when He told the thief on the cross:

“Today, you will be with Me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).

Whatever “today” is to God, because He is outside of any constraint of time, Lana is there with Him today. She was there the moment she died. She was there with God. God loved her, and God loves me, and all of this reminds me that God is with us all the time. But again, it was because of the darkness that I could actually see.

There’s another story I want to tell you, too. This was when I was driving in California last year. It was September and we dropped our daughter off in Northern California for school. So our whole family took a road trip and went to see my brother and my sister who live out west. Lana and all of us, we took a big drive.

We dropped my daughter off and then we drove down the coast, down Highway 1 that winds along California along these cliffs with hairpin turns. I had been there before—with its beautiful scenery, it’s incredible—so I wanted to take the family on this drive, a couple hour drive to where we were going to spend the night.

But we got a late start for the day and it was getting closer to nighttime. Then the fog rolled in, some rain came up, and all of a sudden it was pitch black. We were practically alone on this road of hairpin turns, because no other car would dare drive on it, except someone random from Illinois who didn’t know any other way to go.

I was amazed how dark it was. There were no cities. There were no streetlights. There were no gas stations. We were out in the middle of a desert and mountains, so there were no houses, nothing inland. It’s just ocean on the other side, so there was nothing out there—it was pitch black. And it was terrifying. It was probably the most terrifying drive of my life.

It was probably also the longest “2-hour” drive, which actually took 8, I’ve ever made in my life and just took us forever to get there. My wife was in a lot of pain from the cancer. We were just trying to get to the hotel. I had given up on the “scenic” idea a long time ago but this was still the quickest way that we knew to get there.

Every once in awhile I would have to pull off to the side of the road. It was so tense. It was so difficult for me to drive and to see. And when I did, the first time I pulled off, I got out of the car and I just sort of “shook off.” I said, “OK, God, You’re going to have to help me.”

Then I looked up. Even though the fog was all around us, it was totally clear above us! The sky was full of stars—more stars than I had ever seen in my life. I live in the country here in Illinois and I thought we had the place that could see the most stars of any place on the planet Earth. But this place had 10-fold—100-fold—what I had ever seen before because there were simply no lights anywhere for miles and miles around. The sky was just filled with stars.

And I thought, as I was driving earlier in the car, that if I just riding and not driving, I would have closed my eyes in fear. But after I stopped and looked up into the sky, I saw a sight I had never seen before. It was incredible. Even though the drive didn’t get any better, my attitude sure did! I was actually driving through a wonderland.

I’ve heard when you’re down in a well— even in the daytime—if you go down in a deep, deep well, you can see the stars up above. Of course, normally, you can’t see any stars when the sun is shining—except 1 star, the sun—but you can’t see any of the others. But down in a well you can see the stars. In fact the deeper you go in the well, the more stars you see.

It’s one of those natural phenomena, just like the curtain here, that veil that I showed you, it actually because of the darkness that surrounds you that you can see things you never saw before.

A 3rd story I want to tell you is about a cocoon.

Imagine a cocoon for a caterpillar—my kids and I were walking down the road this morning and we saw a little caterpillar—imagine all those hundreds of legs or however many they have, and they’re grounded for life, or so it seems.

They’re walking along, as slow as a snail’s pace, literally, and then they crawl into here [this cocoon] to die, or so they think. They spin this little cocoon. This is their last hurrah. And they come in here thinking this is it, this is the end.

But the changes and the transformations that take place inside this dark, claustrophobic place are amazing. When that caterpillar comes out again, it doesn’t have those hundreds of legs. It’s not grounded. Now it can fly, it can flit, it can float. It can go faster than it could have ever gone before. It can go higher than it could have ever imagined.

This is certainly an analogy for our transformation into heaven. In an instant we will be changed, the Bible says. We’ll get new bodies. We’ll be like the angels, the Bible says (see 1 Corinthians 15:35-58 and Mark 12:25). I can’t even imagine what it’s going to be like.

But this is also, I think, an analogy for our life here on earth, for the ones who are left behind, as in my case, or for you if you’re in a dark place right now.

I read about a woman who had gone through a similar grief. She had lost her mother. And she said she went into like a cocoon-like state for about 2 years. She said it was dark and terrible for her.

But she said that when she came out, she couldn’t believe the transformation that had taken place in her while she was inside that cocoon. She said she felt more alive, more radiant, more compassionate, more gracious and more loving than she had ever felt before she had entered that cocoon. She learned that God was able to make the most out of her darkness.

It wasn’t necessarily the things that she did, but what God did in her, and what God can do in us, if we allow Him to, during those dark times.

C.S. Lewis’ wife died of cancer, too. He married her knowing that she had cancer. They said it was terminal, but they still hoped she would be healed. He married her, anyway, and she died. He wrote several things about this, but here’s one of the quotes that he wrote that I really love. It says:

“Grace grows best in winter.”

Grace grows best in winter. Sometimes we grow more gracious and loving in the winter seasons of our life than we do when the sun is shining. There are a lot of things that grow well in the summer and in the light. But there are certain things that seem to just grow best in winter, in the darkness.

I want to read one more passage for you, and this is from Romans chapter 8, because maybe you’re in a dark place right now, or maybe when you go home tonight, you’re going to feel like you’re in a dark place.

I want to encourage you that God still loves you. In fact, He may be doing a transformation in you that you’re not even aware of. Don’t give up on Him, because He’s certainly not given up on you. So this is Romans chapter 8, near the end of the chapter. Paul says:

“I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us” (Romans 8:38-39, The Message).

Paul says nothing—nothing—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love, because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.

I want to pray for you, that God would embrace you with His love—that you would feel it and that you would make the most of the darkness.

Whether it’s the illustration of the veil, and seeing into heaven, or whether it’s the illustration of the well and a starry night with fog all around, or the cocoon, where it may be dark, but you can trust that a huge transformation is taking place, I just want to encourage you and remind you just to let God embrace you with His love. Let Him make the most out of your darkness.

Let’s pray.

Father, thank You for carrying me through this past year, even those darkest nights, and even those that may be yet to come. I pray that You would help me to remember how much You love me. I pray for those reading these words, God, that You would help them to know that You love them, too. God, I know You’re embracing them with Your love. Your love never fails. Your love has been demonstrated in Jesus when He first loved us and came to die for our sins, so we could be free of them. And Lord, that same grace that saved us is the same grace that sustains us. God, I pray that You would embrace each person in this room, and each person reading this later, that You would embrace them with Your love, a love that can overcome fear, a love that never fails, and a love that can never separate us from You. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

CHAPTER 10: LEAVING A LEGACY (Back to Table of Contents)

Making The Most Of The Darkness, by Eric Elder

You’re reading MAKING THE MOST OF THE DARKNESS, by Eric Elder, featuring 12 inspirational messages to give you hope during your time of loss. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

This is one of my all-time favorite pictures. It’s a picture of my wife, Lana, giving our oldest daughter, Karis, one big last kiss before sending Karis “off to school” for the first time ever…at age 19!

Karis and Lana Off To SchoolSince Karis was homeschooled from kindergarten through high school, we had never sent her off to school before. But when Karis decided to move 4 states away to Virginia for her sophomore year of college, we finally got to experience it.

Karis and I had gotten up early in the morning to start the 12-hour drive to drop her off in Virginia, but Lana called me after we had been on the road for about 30 minutes. Lana was crying because, even though she had said goodbye to Karis, she realized she hadn’t given her a goodbye kiss. I said I could turn around and meet her half-way if she wanted. Lana said, “Would you?”

So I turned around and drove back towards home. Lana met us half-way, still crying, and pulled over on the side of the road. She jumped out of the van and ran to give Karis one big last kiss. It was one of the sweetest moments I’ve ever seen in my life.

Looking back on that picture now, I’m so thankful I turned around that day, and so thankful that Lana wanted me to. I had no idea that 18 months later Lana would be diagnosed with terminal cancer, and 9 months after that she would be gone.

As hard as it’s been to lose Lana, memories like these remind me of the legacy Lana left us. Her life was filled with love for me and for the kids and for those around her, and that love still helps to fill the holes in our hearts that were created when she passed away.

Some people, because of their great love for others and the investment they’ve made in their lives, leave a legacy when they die. Others, because of their lack of love or the abuse they’ve doled out over the years, simply leave a vacancy. It’s much easier to fill a hole in your heart that’s already been filled with love, than to fill a hole in your heart that’s been empty for years.

Thankfully God can fill both kinds of holes! His love is limitless! But I’m thankful, too, for Lana’s love, as it has helped me through so much of this past year without her. It inspires me to want to leave a legacy when I leave this life as well.

As we come to the end of the calendar year, and as I come to the end of this first year without Lana, I can honestly say I’m looking forward to the new year ahead. I feel that God has many more things for me to do in my lifetime, and I want to make the most of the days I have left.

Two weeks ago, my daughter Karis turned in her final paper and graduated from college with a 4-year degree in biblical studies. Two weeks before that, my 2nd oldest, Lucas, walked across the stage at his college graduation, graduating with a 3-year advanced diploma in worship in leadership. And next May, my 3rd oldest, Makari, will graduate with a 2-year certificate in transformational ministry.

As much as I wish Lana were here to see these milestones herself, I can’t help but be thankful for all the fruit that her years of labor and love have borne.

When Lana left, she left a legacy, not a vacancy. And that inspires me to want to leave a legacy as well. How can I do that? I believe the best way is to do what Lana did, which was the same thing that Jesus called each of us to do: love God and love others as we love ourselves. Jesus said:

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40).

I want to leave a legacy in the future, not a vacancy. Of all the goals I could set for myself in the New Year, this one inspires me the most. I pray it inspires you, too.

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for helping us through 2013, and I pray that You’ll help us through 2014 as well, with love in our hearts for You and for those around us, so that we can leave a legacy of Your love everywhere we go. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

CHAPTER 11: HELPING OTHERS REACH THEIR GOALS (Back to Table of Contents)

Making The Most Of The Darkness, by Eric Elder

You’re reading MAKING THE MOST OF THE DARKNESS, by Eric Elder, featuring 12 inspirational messages to give you hope during your time of loss. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

As you head into a new year, I’d like to encourage you to consider making one of your goals to help someone else reach one of their goals. That way if one of you succeeds, you’ll both succeed at the same time! And you may just help someone do something they never could have done on their own.

About 8 years ago, I came to the realization that my wife had some goals for her life that she may never achieve without some help. There were 3 in particular I was concerned about: 1) She wanted to go to Africa and help orphans in need. 2) She wanted to go to Israel and walk where Jesus walked. 3) She wanted to make a movie about St. Nicholas to inspire others in their faith at Christmastime.

Lana had talked about wanting to do each of these things from time to time, but was never able to move forward on them. Raising our kids and helping me reach some of my goals had become her full-time focus. She was happy to do these things, but I felt that some of her dreams got shelved in the process, and I didn’t want her to miss out on anything that she felt called to do herself.

So I began to pray to see if there was anything I could do to help her reach her goals. And I’m so glad I did.

The Bible says that each of us has different gifts, and we’re to use those gifts for the common good (see 1 Corinthians chapter 12), so God began to show me how I could use my gifts to help her with her goals.

First, I talked to her about her dream of wanting to go to Africa. I asked if she would want to go on a missions trip if we could find one with a reputable group that we could trust was doing good work there. She said that would be great. The very next day, I was in a bookstore looking for a book that I had been waiting to come out for months. The publisher had contacted me a year earlier to ask if the author might mention one of my stories in his book, but I never knew what he decided to do.

That very next day after talking to Lana about going to Africa, I happened to find the book in the bookstore! It had just been published and I quickly began to skim through it to see if there was any mention of my story. There wasn’t! But I was enthralled by the vision of the author. After skimming through the first 100 pages, I got to a line that stunned me: the author said he was trying to recruit thousands of American volunteers to come to Africa the following year!

I bought the book and brought it home to Lana. I said, “How would you like to go next year?” Within 24 hours, we had found a reputable group! She said, “Yes!” and we began to save money and raise money for both of us to go to Africa along with our 2 oldest kids and one of their friends.

Lana Holding Sleeping Orphan in SwazilandEven though it seemed impossible, a year later, all 5 of us were on the plane and headed to Africa to do what Lana had dreamed of doing for a lifetime. Here’s a picture of Lana holding one of the orphans there as he slept on her shoulder.

There’s a great 5-minute video on our website that you can watch about our trip called Planting Hope In Swaziland.

Having seen one “impossible” dream come true, the next year I began to pray about her desire to go to Israel. We decided to put together a study-tour of some of the places she most wanted to visit and invite others who might want to come along with us, too. We knew it would take a couple of years to save enough money for even one of us to go, but we decided to start making plans. But before we even got started, God provided another answer.

A woman who was staying at Clover Ranch for a few months and helping us to renovate it told us she was going to Israel at the end of her stay with us. She asked Lana if she’d like to come along and be her guest! Two months later, Lana was walking where Jesus walked! When Lana came back, she said she was so inspired by the trip that she wanted us to still plan our own study-tour and bring some of the kids and anyone else who wanted to come along with us.

So we continued planning and saving for our own trip to Israel, and 2 years later both of us went, along with 4 of our 6 kids and several friends who wanted to join us! (My 2 younger kids want to go now, so I’m hoping to take another trip over there in the next year or two if you want to join us! Start planning now!)

Lana and Family in JerusalemHere’s a picture of us in Israel with the hills of Jerusalem in the background.

You can also still read a devotional book on our website that we put together when we came back, along with 30 minute-long video devotionals you can watch to see for yourself the places you’re learning about. It’s called Israel: Lessons from the Holy Land.

Two of Lana’s dreams had come true now, and I had already been praying about the 3rd: a movie about the life of St. Nicholas to inspire others at Christmastime. It seemed like a long-shot, but the first 2 seemed impossible and they came true, so maybe this one could, too! But I had no idea what I could do to help her.

As I prayed, I read about a project called the “National Novel Writing Month.” It was started by a group of writers who wanted to encourage other writers to “write that novel they’ve always wanted to write.” It didn’t cost a thing—just a commitment to try to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days, and they would walk alongside you and encourage you along the way.

I don’t know how to make a movie, but I do like to write. So I asked Lana if it would help if I tried to write down some of the highlights of what we had learned about St. Nicholas and put them together in a compelling story of his life. Then, once we fleshed out the story, maybe we could try to find someone who could help us turn it into a movie. So we outlined our ideas for a book and I dedicated time each day during the month of November to write a chapter of the story. I went a little over the 30 days, going a few days into December, and went a little under on the word-count, writing just 35,000 words instead of 50,000. But in the end, we felt like we had a book captured the essence of the story and, most importantly, the essence of what Lana wanted to share.

We still had some changes we wanted to make to the story, so we set the book aside and began to pray about what to do with it next. One day we were able to get in touch with a Hollywood scriptwriter who said he was willing to take a look at the project and wanted to see our book when we were done. Ironically, that was the very same day we got the call that Lana was diagnosed with cancer.

Our life and focus shifted dramatically that day, and by the end of the year, Lana was gone. But during those final weeks of her battle, Lana took out the St. Nicholas book again and made her final edits and suggestions, asking me to take it the rest of the way. So for Christmas this year, I made the changes she suggested and published the book online in the weeks leading up to Christmas. On Christmas Eve, I submitted the final copy to our printer for a beautiful paperback edition.

It makes me cry to think about it, but not just with sadness for missing her. It makes me cry with thankfulness that God would have prompted me 8 years ago to help Lana fulfill each one of these lifelong dreams. Had I not followed those promptings, she may never have had a chance to do any of them.

I say all of this to encourage you to consider making one of your goals this year to help someone else reach one of their goals.

Maybe your husband or wife has said something to you over the years about a dream that’s been on their heart. Or maybe your children or parents have wanted to do something that may seem to be impossible. Or maybe your friends or family or co-workers have talked with you about something they’ve wanted to do for years, but have never gotten around to doing it. Perhaps the only thing they’re waiting for is you!

The Bible says that God has given each of us different gifts for the common good. None of us are given all of the gifts, but working together we can accomplish all that God has called us to do. As the Apostle Paul said to the Corinthians:

“Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and He gives them to each one, just as He determines” (1 Corinthians 12:8-11).

Paul then goes on to describe people who have all kinds of gifts, but makes note that no one has all of the gifts:

“And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?” (1 Corinthians 12:28-29).

We need each other to help us accomplish all that God has put on our hearts to do. And that means that others need us to help them accomplish what God has put on their hearts to do. Helping others is also a great way to help ourselves as we deal with our own losses. As we invest in the lives of others, we can begin to see that God is not finished with us yet.

A good friend of mine, Kent Sanders, sent me a small key this year along with a note that read:

“I am enclosing a little something as a reminder of the incredible power you have to unlock the God-given potential of others.”

Thinking back on Lana’s goals and how God helped me to fulfill them, plus Kent’s note about unlocking the potential of others, helps to remind me that God’s not finished with me yet, and to be on the lookout for other ways I can use my gifts to help others accomplish their goals, too. Perhaps they’ll encourage you to do the same.

Let’s pray:

Father, thank You for giving us a brand-new year with a clean slate and a wide open calendar. Help us to accomplish all that You’ve put on our hearts to do this year, and help us to be on the lookout for how we can help others accomplish what You’ve put on their hearts as well. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

CHAPTER 12: STORING THE MEMORIES (Back to Table of Contents)

Making The Most Of The Darkness, by Eric Elder

You’re reading MAKING THE MOST OF THE DARKNESS, by Eric Elder, featuring 12 inspirational messages to give you hope during your time of loss. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

One of the things I look forward to at the end of each year is to look back. I’m often surprised at all that’s happened during the year, and it gives me hope for the year to come.

This past year has been no exception. As I was writing my year-end letter for my family and friends this week, I was amazed at all that God helped me to do this year, even though I felt like so much of it was just absorbed in my grief of losing Lana. As God reminded me of all that He has done in my life this year, I was reminded of the words of Jesus:

“But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (John 14:26).

As I looked through my journal, as I looked through my Facebook posts, as I looked through pictures on my phone and in albums, I was reminded of all that God was doing in my life, even when I wasn’t aware of it at the time.

This time of looking back truly has given me hope for the future. I’m in a different place now after a year of grief than I was last year at this time. And in many ways, I’m in a different place now than I’ve ever been in my life. Things will never be the same.

That’s a statement that has often brought a flood of tears. But as I’ve looked back over all that God has done in my life this past year, I can see that statement in a different light. From here on out, things will never be the same. And I praise God for it. It reminds me of the lyrics to a song by Stephen Schwartz called, “For Good,” from his popular musical, Wicked:

“It well may be
That we will never meet again
In this lifetime
So let me say before we part
So much of me
Is made of what I learned from you
You’ll be with me
Like a handprint on my heart
And now whatever way our stories end
I know you have re-written mine…
Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better?
But because I knew you
I have been changed for good.”

In the weeks before Lana died, she asked me to put together a picture book of all the work we’ve done on the house here at Clover Ranch and send it to a friend who helped us so much with the project. As I looked through pictures from the past 7 years, I was amazed at the transformation that I saw had taken place from year to year. It was a lot of work and it took a lot of time, but it was beautiful in the end.

I put together the book and sent it to our friend as Lana had asked. But it was so helpful to me to look back, and gave me such hope for the future as I look forward, that I bought an extra album for myself and printed out an extra set of pictures so I could keep a copy, too. It’s filled with memories I’ll treasure for the rest of my life.

As hard as it was to look back at the past, I’ve been encouraged by it as I look forward to the future. Perhaps you’ll find it encouraging, too.

In closing, I’d like to share with you the year-end letter I wrote to my family and friends this week. As you’ve been with me on this journey, I certainly consider you my family and friends, too! It’s a summation of some of the things you’ve already read in these messages, but written from the vantage point of one-year down the road. I pray it encourages you that with God’s help, whatever your loss, He really can help you get through it. There really is another side to grief, and I’m thankful now to be able to see it for myself.

With that introduction, here’s my year-end letter.

January 18th, 2014

Happy New Year to you! I wanted to send you an updated picture of our family, along with an update on how we’re doing. I was torn again this year between which Christmas picture to send you, so I’m sending you both.

Eric Elder Family, Christmas Eve -1

Eric-Elder-Family-Christmas-Eve-2013-4x6-2

We took these on Christmas Eve at the Lexington Cemetery, about 7 miles from our home, where we installed a memorial bench for Lana this fall. One picture seems to highlight Lana’s beautiful memorial and the other seems to highlight the beautiful faces of our kids. I think Lana’s spirit is clearly evident in both!

I kept the first few months of last year as low-key as possible: doing school with the 3 younger kids, finishing projects around the house and working on some behind-the-scenes things for the ministry. I wrote a few messages for The Ranch website and spoke at a few churches, but overall it was nice to spend some time out of public view for awhile after our whirlwind year.

In April I drove to Houston in a friend’s truck to pick up the granite bench for Lana’s memorial. My cousin Joan had found it at a craft shop there and sent us a picture just a few days before Lana passed away. Lana loved it and I did too. It turned out to be cheaper to pick it up myself than to ship it to Illinois, and the road trip gave me some extra time on my own to think and pray.

While I was in Houston, I visited the church where we were married. Of course I cried as I knelt at the front of the church where I said my vows to Lana: “You are a gift from God to me and I plan to treat you as a gift.” As I walked through the empty hallways that day, I felt like I was reliving a scene from the Titanic. My mind filled in the empty hallways with people and dancing and private moments with Lana (and the photographer) from 24 years ago. I don’t think I needed a photographer to remember anything from that day.

We tried to keep things the same as much as possible around the house this year because so much had already changed in our lives. We planted a garden as usual in the spring, and we made Lana’s favorite salsa with all the tomatoes and peppers and parsley that we grew. The rest of the garden was overtaken with weeds when our tiller broke, just so you’re not left with some picturesque but false view of our life in the country—although we all still love it out here!

The rest of our summer was filled with fun things like Kaleo’s dance recital in May, Josiah’s week at Boy Scout camp in June, and music festivals and a camping trip to the sand dunes on Lake Michigan in July and August.

In the fall I drove Makari back out to California (in her 1993 convertible 240SX…the best way to head out west!) to start her 2nd year at Bethel College in Redding where she’ll finish a 2-year certificate in transformational ministry in May. On the last day of our trip, driving through the mountains with the top down in the beautiful sun, I somehow felt that everything was going to be all right.

It was a turning point for me and, by the time I flew back to Illinois and started school with the 3 younger kids again, I felt like my heart was really on its way to healing. The deep pain of losing Lana was starting to be replaced with so many beautiful memories, and it’s just been getting better and better ever since.

In December I flew to Australia to spend 2 weeks with Lucas and watch him graduate after 3 years with an advanced diploma in worship and leadership from Hillsong International Leadership College. It was great to meet Lucas’ friends and teachers, see a ballet at the Sydney Opera House, spend a day at the Taronga Zoo and see The Hunger Games 2 at the world’s largest IMAX theater.

Two weeks after Lucas graduated, Karis texted me to let me know she had just turned in her final paper to finish her bachelor’s degree in biblical studies from Liberty University Online. She’ll have a graduation ceremony in Virginia in May, but as of now I have 2 college graduates! I’m so proud of both of them, and I know Lana would be so pleased at the fruit of all her labors of homeschooling the kids from kindergarten through high school.

We were all together for 2 weeks at Christmas before Makari had to fly back to California for her 2nd semester at Bethel. We’re starting to get back into the swing of school here at the house, too, happy to have Lucas home for awhile after being so far away for much of the last 3 years. Last weekend we had a movie night here at the house with all the kids (minus Makari) to watch the first of the Lord of the Rings movies as Bo had just finished reading the first book.

And that brings us up to today, January 18th, 2014. It’s a new year and a new season of life. Psalm 5:3 has become one of my daily prayers:

“In the morning, O LORD, You hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before You and wait in expectation.”

I never could have made it without God’s help and without your love and prayers. Thank you! I appreciate you all so much.

Love,
Eric

P.S. Here are a few more pictures of Lana’s memorial bench. If you’re ever in Illinois and would like a quiet place to think and pray, Lana’s bench is a perfect place to do it. She would love to know that you were taking time to think and pray, not about her, but about anything in your life that you’d like to think and pray about!

You’ll find the bench in the northeast corner of the Lexington Cemetery in Lexington, Illinois, just off Highway 55 at the Lexington exit. I think it’s a beautiful memorial in a beautiful spot to a beautiful woman.

Lana Elder Memorial Bench - Front

Lana Elder's Memorial Bench - Back

Placing Flowers At Lana's Bench

Flowers At Lana's Bench

Lana's Bench At Sunset

(Back to Table of Contents)

Making The Most Of The Darkness, by Eric Elder

Thanks for reading MAKING THE MOST OF THE DARKNESS, by Eric Elder, featuring 12 inspirational messages to give you hope during your time of loss. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

Romans: Lessons In Renewing Your Mind

40 inspiring devotionals based on one of the most life-changing books in the Bible
by Eric Elder

Read it online below!

You're reading ROMANS: LESSONS IN RENEWING YOUR MIND, by Eric Elder, featuring forty inspiring devotionals based on one of the most life-changing books in the Bible. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You’re reading ROMANS: LESSONS IN RENEWING YOUR MIND, by Eric Elder, featuring forty inspiring devotionals based on one of the most life-changing books in the Bible. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

About This Book (Back to Table of Contents)

God has used the book of Romans to change many lives since it was written almost 2,000 years ago, including Saint Augustine’s back in the 4th century, Martin Luther’s in the 16th, John Wesley’s in the 18th—and mine in the 20th!  So I’ve written this study guide to help you reap the benefits from this life-changing book, too.

Each lesson in this study focuses on a different aspect of renewing your mind, based on different passages from the book of Romans.  Some days you’ll read just a verse or two, while other days you’ll read whole chapters.  But if you’ll keep reading through the suggested passages each day, by the end of this study you’ll have read through the entire book of Romans.

At the end of each chapter, I’ve included some “Questions for Reflection” that you can use for personal reflection or group discussion.  The study is divided into 40 lessons (counting the Introduction and Conclusion), so you can complete the study by doing one lesson a day for 40 days, or five lessons a week for eight weeks, or a lesson a week for 40 weeks, whichever suits you or your group best.

At the end of this book, I’ve included four additional devotionals that I wrote, plus one that my wife Lana wrote, after Lana’s diagnosis with Stage 4 cancer, which took place midway through writing this series.  I’ve included these special messages to highlight the importance of keeping your mind focused on God’s perspective on your life at all times.  May God bless you as you seek to renew your mind, day by day, and may your life be transformed in the process.

Eric Elder

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Introduction: God Would Love To Renew Your Mind (Back to Table of Contents)

You're reading ROMANS: LESSONS IN RENEWING YOUR MIND, by Eric Elder, featuring forty inspiring devotionals based on one of the most life-changing books in the Bible. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You’re reading ROMANS: LESSONS IN RENEWING YOUR MIND, by Eric Elder, featuring forty inspiring devotionals based on one of the most life-changing books in the Bible. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

Scripture Reading: Romans 12:1-2

God would love to renew your mind.  He would love to replace any thoughts you have that are pulling you down with thoughts that will pull you up.  He would love to give you new thoughts, His thoughts, thoughts that will change the trajectory of the rest of your life.

How do I know?  Because God has given me new thoughts, His thoughts, and thoughts that have changed the trajectory of my life as I’ve read the book of Romans for the first time as an adult twenty-five years ago.

I wasn’t in the pit of despair.  I didn’t hate myself or my life.  I didn’t even know I was headed in the wrong direction with my life.  But as I began reading through the book of Romans, starting with chapter 1, God began answering questions that had been on my heart for a long time.  He began speaking to me through the words on the pages in such a clear and convincing way that I knew it was God who was speaking to me.

The things I read caused me to reevaluate my life, what I had been doing so far, and what I wanted to do in the future.  In the weeks that followed, God had so changed my thinking that I came to the point that I wanted to put my faith in Christ for everything in my life:  for the forgiveness of my sins, for the direction of my life, for my job, my body, my finances, my future.  Everything that was a part of me, I gave to Him.

Now, twenty-five years later, I am in a totally different place than I would have been had I stayed on the path I was on.  Even though I didn’t realize at the time the direction my life could have taken, God knew―and He wanted to spare me from it.  He picked me up, turned me around, and put me on a new path―a path that was headed toward an abundant and eternal life.

How did this life-change all get started?  It started with an idea.  A thought.  A thought that maybe God was right and I was wrong.  A thought that maybe if I were to truly follow God with my whole heart, that no matter where He led me, He would take me places that I could never have gone on my own.  A thought that if I trusted Him completely, that He really loved me, that He really cared for me deeply, and that He really knew what was best for me, then He would always lead me down a path that was in my best interest and His―even if I didn’t understand it at the time.

Ideas are powerful.  In the Academy Award-nominated movie, Inception, the main character asks an intriguing question:

“What is the most resilient parasite?  A bacteria?  A virus?  An intestinal worm?”  

Then he answers his own question with these words:

“An idea.  An idea is like a virus.  Resilient, highly contagious.  Once an idea has taken hold in the brain it’s almost impossible to eradicate.”  

Later on in the movie, he adds:

“And the smallest seed of an idea can grow.  It can grow to define…or destroy you.”  

Ideas have started revolutions of all kinds―both good and bad.  The United States was started with an idea back in 1776.  But so were the terrorist attacks that killed so many of our people on September 11th, 2001.

Some of the ideas that have been planted in our minds are great.  They should be be nourished and fed.  But other ideas have taken root that aren’t so great.  They should probably be rooted out and destroyed, before they destroy us.

I’ve been talking with some friends who grew up having had seeds of faith planted deep within them when they were younger―seeds which were watered regularly as they got older.  But somewhere along the way, other people have planted doubts in their minds, doubts that have cropped up and overshadowed their faith.  Doubts that have grown so large that you can hardly tell that they ever had a seed of faith at all.  Unfortunately, they have begun watering and nurturing these doubts―by the books they read, the shows they watch, and the people with which they have surrounded themselves.

And yet I know they once had seeds of faith.  I was there when some of those seeds were planted.  I was there as they were being watered.  I even did some of the watering myself.  I believe they are still there!

But sometimes things happen along the way, both things that happen to us and things that we do to ourselves, that cause those good seeds within us to get crowded out and wither, letting the bad seeds grow up wild and unhindered.

It might seem like there’s no way out once this cycle begins.  It might seem sometimes that people have gone too far down the wrong path―that they’ll never be able to change.  But that’s a lie!

The truth is, God can change people’s hearts and minds in an instant.  He can turn a life around on a dime.  He can restore the years that have been wasted and put people back on the right path―His path―the path that leads to an abundant and eternal life.

But how?  How can God do it?  How can He transform you into the person that He wants you to be― into the person that you truly want to be, too?

The apostle Paul gave us an idea in the book of Romans―several ideas, in fact!  Ideas that can turn your life around and help you look at everything that happens to you differently.  Paul wrote the book of Romans as letter to those who believed in Jesus Christ in the city of Rome, almost 2,000 years ago.  He wrote it about 25 years after Jesus died and rose again from the dead.  At one point in his letter, Paul said:

“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is―His good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2).

God is saying the same thing to us today:  He doesn’t want us to be conformed to the pattern of this world―the worldly way in which things are done.  Instead, He wants us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.  Why?  Because then we’ll be able to know His will for our lives―His good, pleasing and perfect will—and to test it out and approve it for ourselves!  To know God’s will for our lives—how awesome would that be?

In the lessons ahead, I’ll be exploring with you several of Paul’s many ideas for how to renew your mind, from how you think about yourself, to how you think about God—and the people and situations that God has placed in your life.

For some of you, this will be a new and exciting venture into unexplored territory.  For others of you, this may be a new look at something you’ve tried to tackle before but haven’t yet found the secret of success.  In either case, take courage:  God is still in the life-changing business and He would love to change your life by renewing your mind!

I remember seeing some flowers that my friend and neighbor Mary Lou had planted in her front yard.  The flowers called impatiens, which grew into huge bushes, bursting with color.  My wife and I decided to plant some in our yard.  But even though we planted them in the perfect spot and watered them regularly, they hardly grew more than a few inches tall, while Mary Lou’s impatiens were flowing over and out of her planter boxes.

We couldn’t figure out what was wrong.  Then we asked her what her secret was.  It turns out it wasn’t a secret, she just used Miracle Grow (a type of fertilizer that helps plants grow to their fullest potential)!

My goal in this study is to give you a bit of Miracle Grow for your faith to help you grow to your fullest potential.

Sometimes we try doing things by ourselves.  We may be doing the exact same things that other people around us, but you would hardly know it by the results.  The difference may not be what we’re doing, but what we’re feeding on while we’re doing it.  My goal is to give you a key ingredient of faith!  Faith to believe that God can really do all that He says He can do in our lives!  As Jesus said, just a little bit of that stuff has the power to move mountains!

For some of you, moving a mountain may be just what you need right now.  So as we go through this study, I’ll be sharing some stories from my own life—as well as some stories from the Bible and from Christians throughout the ages—that I pray will boost your faith.  I pray they’ll give you the burst of life that you need to keep pressing forward and keep moving in the direction that God has in mind for you.

For today, let me encourage you to simply begin by seeking the Lord for His wisdom.  When you ask God for wisdom, He’s glad to give it to you, pouring His thoughts into your mind.  As He says in the book of Isaiah:

“Seek the LORD while He may be found;
call on Him while He is near. 

Let the wicked forsake his way
and the evil man his thoughts. 

Let him turn to the LORD,
and He will have mercy on him,
and to our God, for He will freely pardon. 

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways My ways,”
declares the LORD. 

“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are My ways higher than your ways
and My thoughts than your thoughts. 

As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven, 

and do not return to it
without watering the earth 

and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower
and bread for the eater, 

so is My Word that goes out from
My mouth:
It will not return to Me empty, 

but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I
sent it.”
(Isaiah 55:6-11)

God would love to renew your mind.  He would love to pour out His wisdom upon you like rain from heaven, refreshing your soul as He does.  He would love to feed and nourish those ideas that will one day define you, and root out and destroy any ideas that could possibly destroy you.

In the lessons ahead, I pray that God will transform your life by renewing your mind.  I pray that God will use this time to renew your mind in powerful ways, transforming your life all along the way.  I’m looking forward to it myself, and I hope you are, too!

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for giving us ways to transform our lives by renewing our minds.  Thank You for the seeds of ideas that You’ve planted within us, those that are good and godly.  Help us to feed and nurture them so that we can grow to our fullest potential.  At the same time, we pray that You would help us root out any ideas that have been planted in our minds that are not from you, ideas that could be destroying us, even without our knowledge, so that we can live the life that You desire for us to live.  We pray this all in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection

1. Read Romans 12:1-2.  What are some of the benefits of renewing your mind?

2. Read Isaiah 55:1-14.  What are some ways you could renew your mind, based on this passage?

3. Read Philippians 4:8.  What seeds have been planted in your life that God might want you to nourish?

4. Read Ephesians 5:1-20.  What seeds have been planted in your life that God might want you to root out?

Lesson 1: Belonging To Jesus (Back to Table of Contents)

You're reading ROMANS: LESSONS IN RENEWING YOUR MIND, by Eric Elder, featuring forty inspiring devotionals based on one of the most life-changing books in the Bible. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You’re reading ROMANS: LESSONS IN RENEWING YOUR MIND, by Eric Elder, featuring forty inspiring devotionals based on one of the most life-changing books in the Bible. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

Scripture Reading: Romans 1:1-7

One of the best places to start when renewing your mind is with how you identify yourself.  For how you look at yourself affects how you look at everything around you.

Let’s take a look at how Paul identified himself in the opening words of his letter to the Romans.  Paul introduced himself by saying:

“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus…”  (Romans 1:1a).

It’s a simple, but powerful statement.  In the original Greek language―which Paul used to write this letter―the word servant is more like our word for slave.

We bristle at a word like that today.  No one wants to be a slave.  But it all depends on who your master is.  When you serve a master who loves you, cares for you, feeds you, clothes you, and would die for you, what better person to serve?

Some people might not like the idea of belonging to someone else, but Paul didn’t mind.  He was glad to be a servant of Christ Jesus.

The truth is, we all serve something or someone.  We’re either slaves to sin, slaves to work, slaves to others, or slaves to ourselves―who may be the worst master of all.  As for me, I’d rather serve Jesus!

Paul went on to say that not only did he belong to Jesus, but he wanted the Romans to belong to Jesus as well.  After introducing himself, Paul said:

“And you also are called to belong to Jesus Christ” (Romans 1:6).

I love the way Paul said this, that he wanted them “to belong to Jesus Christ.”  It makes me think about my own life, and how I identify myself.  As I read Paul’s words to the Romans, I felt like God was saying to me:

“Eric, from what do you get your identity?  Your family?  Your ministry?  Your website?  I don’t want you to get your identity from anything but Me.  Not that your family isn’t great…or your ministry…or your website.  But I don’t want you to draw your strength from them.  I want you to draw your strength from Me.  I want you to draw your life from Me.  I am your Source.  I am your Life.  I am your All in All.”

Hearing this made me want to stand up and shout:  “I belong to Jesus!”  He bought me.  He paid the price for me.  And I know that He’s willing to do whatever’s best for me―something that He’s already proven true by doing the most extreme thing that He could possibly do for me:  giving up His life.

It reminded me of the saying:

“Sometimes you don’t realize that Jesus is all you need until Jesus is all you have.”

Thankfully you don’t have to lose everything you’ve got in order to realize that Jesus is all you need.

I remember going to a training class several years ago to work with AIDS patients.  The teacher of the class tried to help us understand what life was like for a person who was dying of AIDS.

During one of the exercises, the teacher asked each of us to write down, on three slips of paper,  the three most important things in our lives―whether it was a person, a car, a house, a job, our health, our money, or whatever!

So we took a few minutes to write down those things that were most important to us.

A few minutes later, the teacher came around the room and took from each of us the paper on which we had written our third most important thing.  Then he asked:  “How does that feel?”

Well, it felt like a punch in the stomach.  On my paper, I had written down, “my family.”  And to have my family taken away gave me a horrible, sinking feeling.  He went on to say that this is what AIDS patients often feel when they lose those things that are most important to them.

Then he came around a second time and took away our second most important thing.  On my paper, I had written the name of my wife, “Lana.”  Again, when the paper was taken away, and again he asked:  “How does that feel?”  Again, I had that horrible, sinking feeling.  The whole room was silent as everyone considered what it would be like to lose this second most important thing in our lives.

Finally, he started to walk around the room the third time to take away our last piece of paper―the most important thing in our lives.  As he walked towards me, I began to smile.  I couldn’t help it.  I almost burst out laughing, I was so happy!

As the teacher walked up to me and asked for my paper, I didn’t know what to say.  All I could say was, “You can’t take it away!”

He said, “Yes, I can.  Give me the paper.”

I said, “Well, you can take away the paper, but you can’t take away what’s written on it!”

On my last piece of paper, I had written the name of the most important thing to me in life:  “Jesus.”

If your identity is in anything other than Jesus, it can all be taken away, whether it’s your spouse, your family, your job, your car, or anything else that’s important to you.  But if your identity is in Jesus Christ, His love for you can never be taken away!

As Paul says later in the book of Romans:

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

When you belong to Jesus, nothing in all creation can separate you from His love!

My daughter, Karis, recently wrote a blog post about how finding her identity in Christ is helping her to live the fullest life possible, even during her single years.  Here’s an excerpt from what she wrote:

A few weeks ago, I was at school praying about what to major in, what I should be doing with my life and just what God would want me to do after I finish college.

Then as I was praying I felt the Holy Spirit whisper to me,What if you were single the rest of your life? What if all you had was Me? Would I be enough?”

Wait.

Pause.

What?

I know I’ve read stories of women who have had this happen to them, but never would I have thought that would be me. A life of singleness? Ha, not me.

But as I sat there, I realized… I could honestly answer, “Yes.” 

And as soon as I did, I had such peace.  I realized that all my ideas of what I was going to do with my life after I left school, how I pictured my life in ministry, everything, it was all with a husband, like I planned my life around him (and I don’t even have a boyfriend!). Which isn’t wrong at all, but I feel like I could use my single years so much better if I focused on God wholeheartedly, not holding anything back.

Sometimes a girl will completely wrap her identity around a guy that she likes and without him she doesn’t even know what to do. He is everything to her, she spends all her time with him, her identity is in him, her source of satisfaction, and contentment, and just everything. And in a human relationship that is not healthy. 

But towards God, our identity should be Him. A woman’s love for a guy should come from her love for Christ. And I want my identity to be found in Him. I definitely believe that if you’re not content with who you are, being in a relationship isn’t going to make it better.

When I decided I was just going to live totally in love with Jesus, being content with Him no matter what happens, and doing the things I want to do even if I don’t have a husband, it felt so perfect. I felt so free.

And it’s not that I still don’t want a husband, not at all!

But if I never do find a guy, I’ll be perfectly content with the love of Jesus.

As you can tell from just these two stories—my own and my daughter’s—how you identify yourself can make a huge difference in how you view everything else around you.  This is why finding your identity in Christ is such a great place to start if you’re wanting to renew your mind.

Paul could have identified himself as a tentmaker, because he did make tents for a living.  I’m sure making tents was a great thing to do and I’m sure it helped a lot of people.  But that’s not how he identified himself.  His identity was in Christ.

How about you?  How do you identify yourself―in your mind, at least, if not publicly?  Are you a mother, husband, doctor, lawyer, teacher, nurse, janitor, assistant, homemaker, pastor, president, king?  There’s no higher title than to say that you’re a servant of Jesus Christ, the King of all kings, the Giver of all good gifts, the Doer of all good things.

Jesus wants you to belong to Him.

If you already belong to Jesus, then draw your strength from Him.  Draw your life from Him.  He’s your Source.  He’s your Life.  He’s your All in All.

And if you don’t belong to Jesus, is there anything holding you back from giving your life fully to Him?  He really does love you and He really does want to make things right between you and God again.  Turn away from anything that’s holding you back from Him so you can put your full faith and trust in Him.

As Paul would tell you―and I would concur―there’s nothing better in life than belonging to Jesus!

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for Paul’s reminder to us of the importance of belonging to Jesus.  Help us to remember that we do belong to Him.  Help us to find our identity in Him.  Help us to draw our strength from Him, realizing that He is our Source, He our Life, and He is our All in All.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection

1. Read Romans 1:1-7.  How does Paul identify himself?

2. What was Paul called to do?

3. How do you identify yourself?

4. How might your life be different if you identified yourself―whether publicly or privately―as someone who “belonged to Jesus Christ”?

Lesson 2: Encouraging One Another (Back to Table of Contents)

You're reading ROMANS: LESSONS IN RENEWING YOUR MIND, by Eric Elder, featuring forty inspiring devotionals based on one of the most life-changing books in the Bible. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You’re reading ROMANS: LESSONS IN RENEWING YOUR MIND, by Eric Elder, featuring forty inspiring devotionals based on one of the most life-changing books in the Bible. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

Scripture Reading: Romans 1:8-17 

In our first lesson in this study on renewing your mind, we talked about the importance of belonging to Jesus―of finding your identity in Him.  He is our All in All and the ultimate source of our strength.  But God has also given us something to help us.  He’s given us one another.

One of the best ways to renew your mind is to fellowship with other believers, to encourage one another in your faith, so you can give each other a fresh perspective on your life and the situations that you face.

This is what the Apostle Paul longed to do with the Christians living in Rome when he wrote his letter to them in about 57 A.D.  If you know anything about this time period in Roman history, you’ll know that those were the days of the gladiators, the colosseums, and fights-to-the-death in huge arenas.

It was only seven years after Paul’s letter to the Romans―in 64 A.D.―that the mad Emperor Nero blamed the Christians for setting fire to Rome, a fire that many historians believed that Emperor Nero himself set so that he could rebuild the city more to his liking.  This newly emerging group of Christians was an easy scapegoat.  They were already looked down upon by the people because they chose to follow Christ rather than pay honor to the official Roman gods―one of which included Emperor Nero himself.

The Roman historian Tacitus―who lived in Rome at the time―says that after the fire, Nero arrested a vast number of Christians and had them tortured in the most heinous ways.  Tacitus writes:

“In their very deaths they were made the subjects of sport: for they were covered with the hides of wild beasts, and torn to death by dogs, or nailed to crosses, or set on fire, and when the day waned, burned to serve for the evening lights. Nero offered his own gardens for that spectacle…”  (Tacitus, Annals 15.44, circa 100 A.D.)

Just in case you missed what Tacitus was saying in that last statement, he was saying that Christians were set on fire to serve as human torches to light Nero’s gardens after the sun had gone down.

It is into this setting, just seven years earlier, that the Apostle Paul wrote his letter to the Romans.  For quite some time, he had wanted to visit them in person so that they could encourage one another in their faith.  But being prevented from coming in person once again, Paul wrote them a letter instead, a letter that has survived to this day and still encourages Christians around the world.

Listen to Paul’s heartfelt love for his Christian brothers and sisters:

“First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world. God, whom I serve with my whole heart in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you in my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you.

I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong―that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.  I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles” (Romans 8:8-13).

Life is hard for all of us at times.  And it’s in those times that we need one another even more than ever.  We need one another’s perspectives on the situations that we face, just as Paul gave his perspective to the Roman Christians.  Although they were being ridiculed and persecuted―and they could have felt that God was treating them unfairly―Paul helped them to see their situation in another light.  He thanked God for them, because their faith was being reported throughout the world.

Rather than seeing their situation as lowly and humiliating, Paul saw that their stars of faith were shining brightly―stars that illuminated the darkness around them.

Amazingly, Paul was eager to join them in this dark place.  While Paul could have been hesitant for many reasons to go to Rome, he wasn’t.  As a natural-born citizen of Rome and one of the greatest intellectual thinkers of his day, he could have been embarrassed to align himself with those who followed Christ―a man who was mocked by the Roman leaders and crucified under the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate.

But Paul wasn’t ashamed.  He didn’t flinch at the possibility that he could be ridiculed, beaten, jailed, or killed for his faith.  Why?  Because Paul knew the life-changing power of the gospel that he preached―the “good news” of Christ.

Paul knew that the gospel had the power to save those who responded to it.  He was eager to go to Rome and to have a harvest among those who were yet to believe.  Paul said:

“I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.  For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith’” (Romans 1:16-17).

We could all use a few more Pauls in our lives, people who believe so much in the power of the gospel that their faith rubs off on us.

If you need a new perspective on your life―and the situations you’re facing in it―can I encourage you to find some other believers and to be honest with them about the struggles you’re facing?  You can’t go it alone, and God doesn’t want you to.  Even though Jesus may be all you need, the reason He’s all you need is because He provides you with all you need―like believing friends who can help you through this life.

Let me encourage you to seek out and engage other Christians in heartfelt conversations.  It’s risky.  It’s hard.  But it’s so worth it.  Ask them to tell you if they see anything in your life that you might not be able to see on your own.  Ask them what God may be doing in and through the situations you’re facing.  Open up the Word of God with them to see how God has brought others through situations like the ones you’re facing.  And if you think your situation is so unique that God’s Word doesn’t address it, that’s most likely because you haven’t read enough of God’s Word!

God has so much to say to you, but sometimes it takes others to help you see it.  If you don’t have church home, find one that strongly believes that the Bible is God’s Word.  Get involved with a group of other Christians.  Join a chat room or an Internet forum where you can lift each other up with your prayers and concerns.

Or, if you want, ask another Christian to go through this study of the book of Romans with you, whether you get together in person or share with each other electronically, half-way around the world.

One of my own kids is in Sydney, Australia, right now and I’m thankful that we’re still able to encourage one another in our faith from literally half-way around the world!  He shares with me what he’s learning, and I share with him what I’m learning, and we both encourage one another with the new things we’re learning about life from God’s Word.  The same thing happens with my wife and our other kids here in the house, and with our church and small group that we attend regularly.  As iron sharpens iron, so one man or woman can sharpen another.

You may not be getting thrown to the lions, but you’ll still benefit from surrounding yourself with other believers.  Seek them out.  Share your story with them.  Ask them to give you a boost in your faith, and give them a boost in their faith while you’re at it.

And if you’re the one who’s feeling particularly strong right now, can I encourage you to take some time to write or call, email or text, or just stop by and visit someone who could use your perspective on their life today?  As Paul longed to be with the Romans so they could be “mutually encouraged by each other’s faith”―God wants you to do the same with those around you.  You’ll be glad you did.

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for reminding us that even though Jesus is all we need, that we still need each other, and that our fellowship with other believers is one of the great blessings that Jesus wants to give us.  Lord, for those who have such a fellowship, thank You.  For those who need such a fellowship, I pray that You would answer their prayers.  Help them to reach out to those around them and share honestly the struggles they’re going through in life.  Then provide them with the fresh perspective and practical help they need to help them through this time with a faith that shines brightly for You.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection

1. Read Romans 1:8-17.  Why was Paul thankful for the Romans?

2. Why did he long to see them?  And what was he praying for them constantly?

3. Do you have a group of Christians with whom you can enjoy the benefits of fellowship?  If so, what are some of the benefits of fellowship.  If not, where could you start to find such a group?

4. Why was Paul not ashamed of the gospel?

Lesson 3: Giving Thanks (Back to Table of Contents)

You're reading ROMANS: LESSONS IN RENEWING YOUR MIND, by Eric Elder, featuring forty inspiring devotionals based on one of the most life-changing books in the Bible. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You’re reading ROMANS: LESSONS IN RENEWING YOUR MIND, by Eric Elder, featuring forty inspiring devotionals based on one of the most life-changing books in the Bible. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

Scripture Reading: Romans 1:18-23 

One of the quickest ways to get a new perspective on life is by giving thanks―by taking a few minutes to thank God for the things in your life for which you are truly grateful.  But giving thanks doesn’t always come naturally.

You can sometimes get so caught up in the heat of the battles you’re facing that all of your thoughts, prayers and attention are focused on the battles only.  Then, when you get so consumed by the battles that you stop giving thanks for the good things that are happening in your life, you head down a path that can lead to destruction.

I’ve heard it said that “rebellion against God doesn’t begin with a clenched fist, but with a heart that refuses to give thanks.”

When you stop giving thanks for the things in your lives that are good and meaningful to you, you can oftentimes find yourself slipping into anger and frustration with the world—and with the God who created it.  Your fists may begin to clench and you may feeling like rebelling against anything else that God might want to say to you, or want you to do.

The Apostle Paul cited this refusal to give thanks as the beginning of the end for the citizens of Rome, as many people there were already engaging in all kinds of evil.  He said:

“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness… For although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Romans 1:18, 21).

If it feels like your thinking has become futile and your heart seems to have darkened, perhaps it’s time to reverse that cycle by giving thanks.

In her book, The Hiding Place, Corrie Ten Boom tells the story of a time when she and her sister were in a concentration camp in Germany during the Holocaust.  When they were thrown into a bunkhouse that was infected with fleas, her sister remembered that they needed to give thanks in all circumstances―even for the fleas.  But Corrie said it was too much.  She said, “There’s no way even God can make me grateful for a flea.”

But as the weeks went on, she discovered that the women in her barracks were being given an unusual amount of freedom.  They could read to each other from a Bible they had hidden, and they could  pray with one another.  One day they discovered why when Betsy overheard the guards say that they wouldn’t step foot into their barracks.  Why not?  “That place is crawling with fleas!” the guard said.  It was then that Corrie remembered her sister’s prayers of thanks even for the fleas.

The movie, Fireproof, also talks about the importance of giving thanks.  The story is about a fireman whose wife wants out of their marriage.  She’s fed up with him, and he’s equally fed up with her.  But as they head towards divorce, the fireman’s father steps in and challenges his son to try something he calls “The Love Dare” for forty days.  He hands his son a hand-written journal in which he’s written specific steps the son can take each day to try to repair his relationship with his wife.

After 20 frustrating days of trying to do it on his own, the fireman has a heartfelt conversation with his dad.  His dad encourages him to put His faith in Christ and ask Him for help, but the son refuses, saying he doesn’t need a crutch to get through life.  The dad responds by saying that Jesus is more than just a crutch―He’s the most significant part of his life.  The son still doesn’t get it, so the dad continues:

DAD:  “If I ask you why you’re so frustrated with Catherine, what would you say?”

SON:  “She’s stubborn.  She makes everything difficult for me.  She’s ungrateful.  She’s constantly griping about something.”

DAD:  “Has she thanked you the last 20 days?”

SON:  “No.  And you’d think after I washed the car, I’ve changed the oil, do the dishes, clean the house, that she would try to show me a little bit of gratitude.  Well, she doesn’t.  That is what really ticks me off.  Dad, for the last three weeks, I have bent over backwards for her.  I have tried to demonstrate that I still care about this relationship.  I bought her flowers, which she threw away.  I have taken her insults and her sarcasm, but last night was it.  I made dinner for her, I did everything I could to demonstrate that I care about her, to show value for her, and she spat in my face.  She does not deserve this, Dad.  I am not doing it anymore.  How am I supposed to show love to somebody over and over and over who constantly rejects me?”

DAD:  “That’s a good question.”

SON: (after a long pause) “Dad, that is not what I’m doing.”

DAD:  “Isn’t it?  Son, you just asked me: ‘How can someone show love over and over again when they’re constantly rejected?’  You can’t love her, because you can’t give her what you don’t have.”

You’ll have to see the movie to find out how it ends.  But the Dad made his point:  What does it feel like to God, when He shows His love to us over and over and over again, yet we refuse to, or forget to, or get so overwhelmed with life that we no longer want to give Him thanks?

For me, I’ve found it helpful to be intentional about giving thanks to God.  I keep a prayer journal handy and try to write in it at least every few days.  I used to begin by writing down all the prayers that were on my heart, which felt good to get them down on paper.  But I began to realize that I wasn’t taking as much time to stop and give thanks to God for all the prayers that He had already answered.

So I changed my approach several years ago and began starting every entry with these words, “Father, thank You…” and then listing something for which I am sincerely thankful, something specific that has happened in the past day or two, or even those things that were particularly hard or challenging, but that I was trying to view from God’s perspective to see how He might be using them for good.

I’ve found that as I start my prayer time with thanks, it changes the rest of my prayer time.  I now have more expectancy, more eagerness to see how God might answer my prayers, and more hope that God really can bring something good out of even the bad things that I might be facing.

Rather than waiting to see how things turn out before I thank God for them, I’ve found it much better to thank Him up front.

I remember eating an incredible fish dinner up in Boise, Idaho one time on a business trip.  Our hosts had taken us out to a fancy restaurant.  I’m sure it was the best fish I had ever eaten.  After the meal, when the waitress came to our table to ask how everything was, I could hardly contain myself in thanking her for the great meal.

But as I was thanking her, I realized that she didn’t cook the fish, she just brought it to the table, so I asked her to please give my thanks to the chef.  But as she walked away, I realized that the chef didn’t make the fish, he just prepared it.  The one I really needed to thank was God who created the fish!  So before I got up from the table, I said a heartfelt prayer of thanks, saying, “Thank You, Lord, for this food!”

Then it hit me.  Wasn’t that the same prayer I said before I ate it:  “Thank You Lord, for this food”?  But somehow it meant so much more to me now that I realized it really had come from Him!  I made a mental note that the next time I prayed before a meal, I’d try to make it just as heartfelt as I felt that day afterwards.

It reminded me of the prayer that Jesus prayed before His meal with over 5,000 people on the hillside in Galilee, when all He had was two loaves of bread and five pieces of fish.  The Bible says:

“Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, He gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then He gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over” (Matthew 14:19b-21).

Jesus could have waited till the end of the meal to give thanks for His Father’s incredible provision, but He didn’t.  He gave thanks up front, even though the meal in front of Him may have looked quite meager.  His Father in heaven took His prayer of thanks and super-sized their meal right in front of their eyes!

You don’t have to wait to give thanks to God till you see the answers to your prayers.  Give thanks to Him up front for what you have been given, and trust Him to take the next step.

The Romans, because of their refusal to give thanks to God, found that their thinking had become futile and their hearts were darkened.  If you want your thoughts to be more purposeful and your hearts to become brighter, do what Paul suggested:  begin by giving thanks to God.

Come to the Father today with your prayers.  Come to Him with thanksgiving in your heart.  Thank Him for those things in your life for which you’re truly grateful.  Thank Him for those things―even fleas―that may be hard to give thanks for right now, but which God can use in your life for good.  And thank Him for the answers to your prayers that haven’t even come yet, but by faith you believe will come in a way that goes beyond all you can ask or imagine.

Let God renew your mind today by giving thanks to Him.

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for the answers to so many prayers that we have prayed in the past.  Thank You for those things which we’re struggling through today, for as hard as they may seem, we trust that You can work all things for good, for those who love You and are called according to Your purpose.  Thank You in advance for the answers to prayer that are yet to come.  We trust that You can super-size those answers in just the right way and at just the right time.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection

1. Read Romans 1:18-23.  What did Paul say happened to the thinking of those who refused to give glory and thanks to God?

2. Why do you think their refusal to give thanks caused them to fall into some of the sins listed in this passage?

3. According to verse 32, what is the ultimate outcome for those who head down this path?

4. What are some things in your life for which you can truly give thanks to God?

Lesson 4: Asking God For His Truth (Back to Table of Contents)

You're reading ROMANS: LESSONS IN RENEWING YOUR MIND, by Eric Elder, featuring forty inspiring devotionals based on one of the most life-changing books in the Bible. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You’re reading ROMANS: LESSONS IN RENEWING YOUR MIND, by Eric Elder, featuring forty inspiring devotionals based on one of the most life-changing books in the Bible. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

Scripture Reading: Romans 1:24-32

Of all the passages in the Bible, the one that has changed my thinking and the direction of my life more than any other is the one that we’re looking at today―a passage at the end of Romans chapter 1.

It’s a little hard for me to talk about, though, because what God spoke to me through this passage was very personal and specific to me.  While this passage may not speak to you as personally, the principle that I learned from reading it that day does apply to every one of us:  if you ask God for His Truth―and listen for His honest answer with an open heart and ears to hear―God will answer you!

What happened to me was that I had just been reading another passage in the Bible that puzzled me.  It said that all of us had sinned and that the penalty for sin was death.  Therefore, all of us would eventually die because of our sins (see Romans 3:23 and 6:23).

I thought this was a little strong because I felt I had been a pretty good kid all my life.  I hadn’t done anything that I felt I would even get put in jail for, let alone die from.  But the Bible seemed to say otherwise.  So I shared my question about these verses with the guys in my small group Bible study.  One of them suggested that I ask God what He thought about how good I had been.

I thought that was a fair question, so I went home that night and got ready to pray.  But before I did, I started to wonder:  What if it was true?  What if I really had done something that could possibly kill me?  I wondered if I really wanted to hear God’s answer to that question or not.

But as I thought through what He might say, I decided that what I wanted more than anything was God’s truth.  Either what the Bible said was true and what I thought was wrong, or what I thought was true, and the Bible was wrong.  Both couldn’t be true.  So I asked God to show me the truth.

Within two weeks, God answered my prayer.  He brought me to Romans chapter 1, where I read Paul’s words about what happened when people “exchanged the truth of God for a lie” (Romans 1:25a).  God had my attention, for that’s just what I was wondering, if I had ever exchanged God’s truth for a lie.  As I read the words that followed, I was amazed to see that Paul, writing almost 2,000 years ago, described the same path that I had taken in life a just few years earlier.  Paul said:

“They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator―who is forever praised. Amen.

Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.

Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, He gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them” (Romans 1:25-32).

Even though I felt I had been pretty good all my life, there was one area that I had kept secret from most people.  When I went off to college, I became sexually involved in a series of relationships with other men on campus.  While on one level I felt that what I was doing was wrong, on another level it seemed so “right” because it seemed to fill a legitimate need that I had in my life for close male friends.

What I didn’t know was that I was trying to meet that need in a way that could have possibly killed me.  AIDS was just beginning to surface at the time, but it didn’t seem like that real of a threat to me.  I never even considered the possibility that I might die from what I was doing.

But as I read this passage in Romans, I began to see what I had been doing in a whole new light.  I began to see that not only did homosexuality go against the way that God had designed my reproductive organs to work―they would never produce life in this way―but it could have actually led to my death instead.  Instead of giving me abundant life, it could have lead to my imminent death.  And God didn’t want me to die.  He wanted me to live!  But because of the decisions that I had made, I was afraid I might already be carrying within me the seeds of my own destruction.

I didn’t want to die.  I wanted to live.  But I wondered how I could possibly undo what I had done.  I couldn’t take it back.  I also wondered how I could possibly change my thoughts and feelings and emotions regarding other guys.  I couldn’t think of any way to change them myself, and I didn’t see how anyone else could change me either―not my family, or my friends, or a counselor―no one.

But then I read another story in the Bible about Jesus and how two blind men came to Him for healing.  They called out to Jesus:  “Have mercy on us!”

Instead of just touching their eyes or telling them to dip in a particular pool of water, as He did when He healed others, this time Jesus asked the men a question.  He said:

“Do you believe that I am able to do this?”  (Matthew 9:28b)

It seemed as if Jesus was asking me the same question.  I didn’t want to live my life in a way that could possibly kill me, but I didn’t know how to change it either.  As I read this passage, I felt like Jesus was asking me:  “Eric, do you believe that I am able to do this, too?”

I thought about everything that I had ever heard about Jesus―how He healed the sick, walked on water, and raised the dead.  I thought to myself, If anyone can do this, Jesus can.

As I thought about this, I just put my hand up in the air and said, “Yes, Lord, I believe.”

And as soon as I said those words, Jesus reached out to me just like He did to the blind men.  He touched me.  He healed me.  He changed my life forever.

The next day I went to a church service where I heard about how Jesus came to die for our sins so that we wouldn’t have to.  For the first time in my life, I realized that I was a sinner and needed a Savior.  I went home that night and knelt down on my bed.  With my head on my pillow, I asked God to forgive me for everything I had done that had gone against Him and His plans for my life.  I put my faith in Him, and asked Him to fill me with His Holy Spirit so that I could live the life He wanted me to live.

I woke up the next morning with a whole new perspective on life.  Even though I got up and ate breakfast and went to work just the same as the day before, I knew that God had given me a new shot at life.  He picked me up off the path of death and put me on the path of life instead.

On this new path, God has given me a wife, six children of my own, and the promise of eternal life with Him forever.  I’m now on a path of life and life abundant!  It’s been twenty-four years since that day, and I’ve never looked back.

I took a risk when I asked God to reveal His Truth to me.  But it was the best risk I’ve ever taken in my life.  Because of that risk, I realized that God was right and I was wrong, that I had exchanged the truth of God for a lie.  I put my faith in Him and His Word from that day on.  It’s changed my life and the lives of my wife and kids—who wouldn’t be here otherwise—forever.

Maybe you have days when you feel like God is distant―that He doesn’t seem to care about you or what you’re going through―that He’s simply not interested in the details of your life or the direction that it takes.  But nothing could be further from the truth!  God loves you so much!  The truth is that God wants you to know His will for your life even more than you want to know it!  He’d love to reveal His Truth to you if you’re willing to ask Him.

I want to encourage you to ask God to renew your mind today.  Ask Him to reveal His Truth to you on those topics that are close to your heart.  Ask Him to pour His thoughts into your thoughts.  Ask Him to give you a new way of thinking about your life and the direction that you’re headed.  If you’re on course, God will tell you.  But if you’re not, God will tell you that, too―if you’ll listen for His voice with an open heart and ears to hear.

If you want to renew your mind, ask God your questions, open His Word, and listen for His answers.

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for letting us come to You with our honest questions.  We pray that You would give us Your honest answers, too.  We do want to know Your Truth.  We do want to know how to live our lives in ways that we can have life abundant.  Open our ears so that we can hear You clearly, and open our hearts to Your Word that You’ve given to us on the pages of the Bible.  Help us to put our faith and trust in You for everything in our lives, including the forgiveness of our sins and the promise that we can live with You forever when we put our faith in Christ.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection

1. Read Romans 1:24-32.  Looking at this passage, what are some ways that the people in Rome got off track when they “exchanged the truth of God for a lie”?

2. What are some ways they might get back on track if they wanted to?

3. Why is it sometimes hard for us to hear God’s Truth in our lives?

4. After reading this passage and hearing this story, is there any particular Truth from God that you’d like Him to reveal to you?

Lesson 5: Listening To Your Conscience (Back to Table of Contents)

You're reading ROMANS: LESSONS IN RENEWING YOUR MIND, by Eric Elder, featuring forty inspiring devotionals based on one of the most life-changing books in the Bible. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You’re reading ROMANS: LESSONS IN RENEWING YOUR MIND, by Eric Elder, featuring forty inspiring devotionals based on one of the most life-changing books in the Bible. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

Scripture Reading: Romans 2:1-16

When Steve Jobs finished designing the first Macintosh computer, he did something special: he asked everyone who helped him design that first revolutionary machine to sign a large piece of paper.  He then took that paper and turned it into an engraving template.  When those first Macs finally rolled off the assembly line, the names of their creators were engraved inside every case.

You couldn’t see the signatures from the outside―and most people never even knew they existed on the inside because few people had any reason to open up a computer in those days.  But if you did open one up and looked deep inside, you’d see them―the signatures of their creators, including “steven jobs.”

But Steve Jobs wasn’t the first one to sign his creation on the inside.  God did it, too, when He created you.  He’s written His name deep inside you.  And if you take a closer look, you’ll find that it’s not just His name that’s written there, but also His laws―His words of instruction to help you live the fullest life possible.

As God said in the book of Hebrews:

“I will put My laws in their minds
and write them on their hearts. 

I will be their God,
and they will be My people”
(Hebrews 8:10b)

The Apostle Paul echoes these thoughts in his letter to the Romans, saying that your conscience “bears witness” to the fact that God has written the requirements of His laws upon your heart.

“Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them” (Romans 2:14-15).

Your conscience has been implanted in your mind by God.  It helps you to consider your options and the outcomes of your actions.  It helps you to regulate your passions and desires, comparing them to God’s passions and desires for you.  When your passions and desires are different than God’s, your conscience kicks in to let you know that something is amiss and needs to be addressed.

But your conscience is a warning indicator only.  You can override it.  You can ignore it.  You still have free will.  But God has put your conscience within you to help you make decisions, if you’re willing to listen to it.  Your conscience is a warning indicator to let you know you’d better check something out before proceeding.

How do you check it out?  By comparing what you’re wanting to do with God’s Word.

Even though God has written His Word on your heart, sometimes you can’t read the writing so clearly.  Your vision gets blurred by your own thoughts and desires.

That’s why God has also given you His Word in black and white―on the pages of the Bible―so you can read it clearly.  That’s why He’s given you His Word in the flesh―in the form of His Son Jesus―so you can know exactly what He says about it.  That’s why He’s given you His Holy Spirit―which Jesus said He would send to His followers after He was gone―to remind you of all the things He has already spoken to you.

I can think of times in my own life―and maybe you can think of times in yours―when I’ve done some things that felt so “right” on one level, but on another level felt so “wrong.”   At those times when I’ve ignored the warning lights and overridden them, I’ve ended up in places that God never wanted me to go.

But at those times when I have taken notice of God’s warning lights and decided to check out what I was doing and compare it to what God wanted me to do according to His Word, I’ve found that it’s way better to do what’s right―even if it means laying down some things that I personally desire.  Whenever I’ve done what I’ve felt God wanted instead, I’ve found that His plans for me are so much better than the plans I had in mind, giving me peace of mind and life abundant.  As someone has wisely said:

A clear conscience makes a soft pillow.

If you’d like to sleep on a soft pillow tonight, I’d encourage you to listen to your conscience.  If there’s something on your heart or mind that has turned on the warning lights, check it out.

Take a look in God’s Word, as written on the pages of the Bible in black and white, and compare what you’re doing with what God wants you to do.  If they don’t match up, a change is in order.  Just thank God for His warning lights and do what’s right, whatever it takes.  As Paul said:

“For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous” (Romans 2:13).

As I was thinking about the idea of Steve Jobs engraving his name inside his computers―and God engraving His Word upon our hearts―I was inspired to write a haiku.  A haiku is a short Japanese poem that doesn’t usually rhyme but is often made up of just 17 syllables―five in the first line, seven in the second, and five in the third.

So here’s my haiku, from God to you:

My name is written

upon your heart awaiting

… rediscovery

God loves you so much that He’s taken the time to write His name on your heart.  He’s written His instructions for you there, too, to help you live the fullest life possible.

If you’d like to renew your mind today, listen to your conscience.  Check out what your conscience is saying and compare it to God’s Word.  Listen to His Son.  Obey His Holy Spirit.  If you do these things, you’ll live!  If you don’t, you risk losing everything, even those things you love the most.

Listen to your conscience―and live!

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for writing Your Words on our hearts, and thank You for giving us a conscience to help us know when what we’re doing is different from what You want us to do.  Help us to listen to You, to follow Your Words, and to live the life that You’ve created us to live.  Fill us with Your Holy Spirit to help us to stop doing anything that doesn’t bring glory and honor to You, and to start doing those things that do.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection

1. Read Romans 2:1-16.  Can you remember a time when your conscience warned you that something you were doing was amiss?  What were the results when you either did or didn’t do what your conscience warned you about?

2. Read Hebrews 8:7-13.  While some people might think that their consciences are formed based solely on the conditions in which they were raised, what does this passage in Hebrews, and the above passage in Romans, suggest is the true basis for your conscience?

3. What reason does Paul give for God being so kind, tolerant and patient towards us in Romans 2:4?

4. After reflecting on today’s message, are there any changes you’d like to make in your own life, or any warning indicators that you need to check out according to God’s Word?

Lesson 6: Getting To The Heart (Back to Table of Contents)

You're reading ROMANS: LESSONS IN RENEWING YOUR MIND, by Eric Elder, featuring forty inspiring devotionals based on one of the most life-changing books in the Bible. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You’re reading ROMANS: LESSONS IN RENEWING YOUR MIND, by Eric Elder, featuring forty inspiring devotionals based on one of the most life-changing books in the Bible. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

Scripture Reading: Romans 2:17-29

I have thought for some time now that someone should make a movie about two men engaged in an epic battle with each other.  In some ways, it would be like every other movie:  the hero and villain would be at war throughout the movie, with the hero having the upper hand at some points, and the villain gaining the upper hand at others.  Near the end, the hero would deliver the fatal blow that sends the villain to his doom forever.

But the difference in this movie would be that just before the closing credits begin to roll, the camera would back up from the final battle scene, revealing to the audience that the hero and the villain were one and the same person, fighting inside the brain of a man’s head.  Having achieved the victory in his mind, we would then see the man finally stand up and walk forward to do what’s right.  No longer bound by the thoughts that were raging within him, he would finally be free to live the life he was called to live.

An audience of such a movie might think that they had been tricked into thinking that the whole battle was “real” for the entire movie, when it was only being played out inside the man’s head.  But to those who saw what was taking place at a deeper level, they would realize that what took place inside the man’s head was no less real than what took place after he stood up at the end.

The victory in your mind is often just as critical as the victory in the physical world.  In fact, you often need to secure the victory in your mind first before you can secure the victory in the physical world.

There are, however, ways to cover up your true thoughts and feelings with words and actions that make it look like you’ve got it all together on the inside.  This kind of activity might deceive men, but it never deceives God.  God wants you to win the victory in your mind and in the physical world.  When there’s a disconnect between what’s going on inwardly and what’s going on outwardly, God wants you to get to the heart.

Paul addressed this disconnect in his letter to the Romans.  The Jews were priding themselves on the outward signs of their faith, like the fact that they were circumcised, whereas the Gentiles, or non-Jews, weren’t.  But Paul said:

“A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical.  No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly, and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code.  Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God” (Romans 2:28-29).

In some ways, the Jews could have seen circumcision as one of the symbols of their salvation.  It was a physical sign imprinted on their bodies that showed that they belonged to God, that they were children of a special covenant between God and His people.  But Paul said that if their circumcision was external only, then it would only merit praise from men, not from God.

God wanted their circumcision to be a “circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code.”  Paul said that the Gentiles, who didn’t have the law of God written down for them, would be more honoring to God than the Jews if the Gentiles kept the requirements of the law by doing what’s right.  Paul said:

“If those who are not circumcised keep the law’s requirements, will they not be regarded as though they were circumcised?  The one who is not circumcised physically and yet obeys the law will condemn you who, even though you have the written code and circumcision, are a lawbreaker” (Romans 2:26-27).

This isn’t to say that circumcision and the rest of the laws were of no value to the Jews, as we’ll find out next time in chapter 3 of Paul’s letter.  But it is to say that God wants our inward reality to match up with our outward reality.  And when we get to the heart first, the outward actions will flow much more naturally.

I got an email from a friend who has been struggling with pornography for years, thinking of himself as an addict.  He hasn’t been sure if he will ever break free.  Although I believe he can and will break free one day, it’s hard for him to believe it, because of the length and the strength of his battle.

Yet in his most recent email, he said he had just been to a counselor who asked him many in-depth questions about his struggle.  After reviewing the situation, the counselor said that he doesn’t think my friend has an addiction and gave him several reasons why.  This was news to my friend because he’s been feeling like an addict for years!  It changed my friend’s thinking about his situation.  He’s already had some small victories in his battle since then!

My friend’s actions are beginning to change because he has changed the way he thinks about his problem.  He now sees that there really is a possibility that he can be free from this battle that has dogged him for so long.

God cares about what’s going on inside your brain.  He cares about what’s going on inside your heart.  And He cares about what you do as a result of what’s going on inside your brain and heart.  What happens internally is just as important―and just as real―as what happens externally.

I remember a book in which the main character in the book has a dreamlike conversation with one of his mentors who had unfortunately died the previous year.  As their conversation comes to a close, the main character asks:

“Tell me one last thing.  Is this real?  Or has this been happening inside my head?

His mentor replies:

“Of course it is happening inside your head, but why on earth should that mean it is not real?”

Sometimes we think that the thoughts in our head are separate from, and unrelated to, the actions that we take in our lives.  We treat the two as different realities.  But the truth is that our thoughts influence our actions.  Both are real and God cares about both.

God wants you to have the victory on the inside so you can have the victory on the outside.

He doesn’t want you to be obedient just so you can say you have faith in Him.  He wants you to have faith in Him so that you can be obedient, for that’s the way you can live your life to the fullest potential.

While there can be value in just doing things because you know they’re right, even if you don’t feel like doing them, there’s much more value if what you do on the outside matches up with what you think and feel on the inside.  When they match up, you’ll feel better about what you’re doing, others will feel better about what you’re doing, and God will be honored by what you’re doing.

As God said to Samuel when Samuel was trying to discern who should be the next king of Israel:

“Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him.  The Lord does not look at the things man looks at.  Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7-8).

Ask God to renew your heart and mind today.  Ask Him to reveal anything within you that is improperly motivated, or that seeks for anything other than the good of others and the glory of God.  Then, if God reveals anything to you that needs to be changed internally, ask Him for help to know how to change it.  Ask Him to remake you from the inside out.  Give Him permission to do that work inside you, whatever it takes.

Then, when God is done remaking you on the inside, you’ll be able to stand up, move forward, and do what’s right.  No longer bound by the thoughts that were raging inside you, you’ll finally be free to live the life you were called to live!

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for caring about what goes on inside us―our thoughts and feelings―just as much as you care about what we do on the outside. Thank You for the reminder that both are real, and both are really important to You.  Fill our minds and hearts with Your will for our lives and help us to believe and act on Your will.  We pray that doing so will make an tremendous difference to us and to those around us in the weeks and months and years ahead.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection

1. Read Romans 2:17-29.  What was the problem that Paul was addressing with the Jews in this passage?

2. What did Paul mean when he said that “circumcision is circumcision of the heart”?  How can someone be circumcised in their heart?

3. In what ways do your thoughts and feelings sometimes differ from your actions?  And in what ways are they related?

4. Are there any areas in your life where your thoughts and feelings are disconnected from your actions?  What might you do today to help them line up more closely?

Lesson 7: Becoming Conscious Of Sin (Back to Table of Contents)

You're reading ROMANS: LESSONS IN RENEWING YOUR MIND, by Eric Elder, featuring forty inspiring devotionals based on one of the most life-changing books in the Bible. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You’re reading ROMANS: LESSONS IN RENEWING YOUR MIND, by Eric Elder, featuring forty inspiring devotionals based on one of the most life-changing books in the Bible. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

Scripture Reading: Romans 3:1-20

Some people have no problem recognizing sin in their life.  In fact, they magnify their faults in their minds, whether real or imagined, thinking less of themselves than they ought to think.

Yet other people have the problem of not recognizing sin in their life.  They magnify their strengths instead, whether real or imagined, thinking better of themselves than they ought to think.

Most of us fall somewhere in between:  we magnify some weaknesses out of proportion, while minimizing others.

God wants us to have an honest and objective look.  For those of you who think you’re perfect, I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news today.  And for those of you who don’t think you’re perfect, I don’t want you to magnify what I’m about to say and make you feel worse about yourselves.  But here’s the truth, according to what God says through Paul in his letter to the Romans:

“There is no one righteous, not even one;
there is no one who understands,
no one who seeks God.

All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;

there is no one who does good,
not even one” (Romans 3:10-12).

The truth is, the gospel―or good news—of Jesus Christ is often bad news before it’s good news.  If you’re not aware of your sinfulness, you’ll never be aware of your need for a Savior.  And if you don’t recognize your need for a Savior, you’ll never find salvation.

God didn’t give you the laws of the Bible―the ten commandments and the six hundred and some additional laws that followed in the Old Testament―to crush you.  He gave them to help you and protect you.  And to the extent that you keep those laws, you’ll be blessed.  But when you fall short of being able to keep those laws, God sent Jesus to make up the difference―to fill the gap between the best that you can do and the best that God wants for you.

And since the Bible says that “there is no one righteous, not even one,” that means that God sent Jesus for each one of us.  If you want to renew your mind and get a new perspective on life, it’s important to see your sins as God sees them.  For when you see how short you’ve fallen compared to God’s righteousness, you can see what needs to happen to make up the difference:  put your faith in Christ!

This is not a message just for non-Christians to encourage them to put their faith in Christ.  This is just as much a message for Christians, who need God’s grace just as much after being saved as before.  As professor and philosopher Dallas Willard says:

“The sinner is not the one who uses a lot of grace.  The saint uses more grace.  The saint burns grace like a 747 burns fuel on takeoff, because everything they do is a manifestation of grace.  But we have to learn how to use it.  It means we no longer trust just our efforts to manage our lives.”

Throughout the book of Romans, Paul addressed the differences and similarities between Jews and Gentiles―the non-Jews.  What good is it being a Jew, some have asked, if both Jews and Gentiles both can be saved by grace?  Here’s what Paul said:

“What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision?  Much in every way! First of all, they have been entrusted with the very words of God” (Romans 3:1-2).

God gave His words in the form of the Scriptures to the Jews, and to the extent that they heeded those words they were blessed.  But to the extent that they didn’t heed those words, there was a gap.

God gave them ways to fill that gap, through sacrifices of atonement that they and their leaders could make.  But as good as this was, it was never enough to completely fill the gap.  Paul said that it was only because of God’s forbearance―His patience, self-control, and restraint―that He never brought upon them the full punishment they deserved for their sins.  Paul said:

“Because in His forbearance, He had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished” (Romans 3:25b).

But when the time was right, God provided a way to fill the gap completely, once and for all.  He filled it by offering His own Son Jesus Christ as a sacrifice for our sins.  That’s the gospel, or good news of Jesus Christ.  Even though none of us are righteous on our own, we can become righteous by putting our faith in Jesus Christ.

If you feel like a sinner today, hallelujah!  When you become conscious of your sins, you’ve hit upon a truth of God.  That means you can also recognize your need for a Savior―someone who can save you from your sins!  And that means you can be saved, if you recognize Jesus as your Savior!  It really is great news!

Becoming conscious of sin is one of the main purposes of the laws that God gave us.  As Paul said:

“Therefore no one will be declared righteous in His sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin” (Romans 3:20).

If you want to renew your mind today, ask God to help you become conscious of sin in your life.  Then, when you become aware of what needs changing in your life, invite Jesus in to do His work.  Remember, God’s grace is just as much available to you after you’ve become a Christian as before.

At the same time, as you ask God to help you to become conscious of sin in your life, don’t let Satan magnify your weaknesses out of proportion.

I had a friend this week who shared with me that she was struggling to hear from God.  She felt like God wasn’t answering her prayers and she wondered what she might be doing wrong.  At one point in our conversation, she confessed to me this that she felt God wasn’t answering her prayers because she had gone off a special diet she had started for her health.  She had eaten some candy bars.  She was squirming as she told me, and she said she hadn’t told anyone else what she was thinking.  But from the way she said it, I knew she was dead serious and completely distraught.  I looked at her and said:

“Satan is lying to you.  The truth is that God loves you so much that He has already paid the ultimate price for you―by sending Jesus to die for your sins.  There’s nothing He wouldn’t do for you if it’s in His will for your life.  There may be a good reason for you to be careful about what you eat for the sake of your health.  But that’s a different issue.  I don’t believe that God is holding anything back from you because you ate some candy bars.  If you believe that God wants for you what you’re praying for, then keep on praying for it!  Believe that God will answer your prayers and don’t let anything stop you from praying for it.”

My friend listened intently to what I was saying, and when I was finished, she asked if I could repeat it all for her one more time, which I did.  Sometimes it’s hard to get your mind around God’s grace.  And I admit that I fall into the same mental trap at times, too, and maybe you do as well.  Maybe you’ve had thoughts like these:

– “I don’t have enough money because I haven’t made enough contacts this week―God must not love me, or He thinks bad about me, and He’s not answering my prayers because of it.”  (Maybe there’s a connection between your contacts and your money, but maybe not.  Your work matters to God, but don’t let Satan lie to you that it’s because God doesn’t love you because you haven’t done enough.  If you fall short in what you can do, ask God for forgiveness and let Jesus fill the gap.)

– “My kids are a mess because of a sin I committed in high school and now they’re just following in my footsteps, even though I’ve repented a thousand times for it since then.” (No, don’t let Satan lie to you.  If you’ve confessed it, you’re forgiven.  God has wiped the slate clean and starts all over again with your kids on their own.)

– “I’ve been praying for a husband or wife, but no one will marry me.  It must be because of my ____.” (Fill in the blank:  nose, temper, scar, income, freckles, hair, lack of hair, etc.  No, don’t let Satan lie to you, either.  There are plenty of people who have gotten married in spite of having a multitude of traits that seem to be ignored, and even adored, by their devoted spouse.  While there may be qualities or characteristics about yourself that God does want you to work on, that’s likely a different issue.  Trust God that He is answering your prayers and working on your behalf, behind the scenes.  At the proper time, you will see the fruit of your prayers.)

If there’s a a gap between you and perfection, there’s good news for you―even as a Christian.  Jesus came to fill the gap!

God want to renew your mind.  He’s given you His law so you can become conscious of sin.  But once you’re aware of it, don’t wallow in it!  Put your faith in Christ, and let Him make things right again.  If you’ve confessed it, God has forgiven it.

As the Apostle John said:

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for helping us to become conscious of our sins, so that we can see our need for a Savior, so that we can find salvation!  Thank you for the good news of Jesus Christ, who came to fill in the gap between the best that we can do and the best that God has in store for us.  We ask that You would fill the gaps in our lives today where we fall short, as we put our faith in Jesus Christ.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection

1. Read Romans 3:1-20.  Why does Paul say, in verse 20, that no one can become righteous by observing the law, but through the law we become conscious of sin?

2. Read 1 John 1:8-10.  How do John’s words compare with Paul’s?

3. In your own life, do you think you tend to magnify, or minimize, your sins?  How might God help you to get His perspective on them?

4. Have you ever experienced the good news of Jesus Christ for yourself, putting your faith in Him for the forgiveness of your sins? If not, why not ask Him to fill the gap for you today in prayer? And if so, why not ask Him for extra grace today to fill any other gaps in your life where you feel like you’re falling short?

Lesson 8: Being Redeemed By Jesus (Back to Table of Contents)

You're reading ROMANS: LESSONS IN RENEWING YOUR MIND, by Eric Elder, featuring forty inspiring devotionals based on one of the most life-changing books in the Bible. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You’re reading ROMANS: LESSONS IN RENEWING YOUR MIND, by Eric Elder, featuring forty inspiring devotionals based on one of the most life-changing books in the Bible. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

Scripture Reading: Romans 3:21-31

The great evangelist D.L. Moody was once confronted by a woman who said she didn’t like his method of evangelism. D. L. Moody responded, “I don’t particularly like my method either. What’s yours?”

The woman said, “I don’t have one.”

To which D.L. Moody replied, “Then I like mine better!”

There are many methods for sharing your faith, such as “The Four Spiritual Laws” from Campus Crusade, “Steps to Peace with God” from Billy Graham, “The Two Questions” from Evangelism Explosion, or “The Ten Commandments” from The Way of the Master.  As someone has said, sharing your faith is like prayer:  there’s probably only one wrong way to do it, and that’s to not do it at all!

Still, I’d like to give you a method of sharing your faith today that I hope will make it easier for you to do it.  It’s called “The Roman Road,” and it begins with a Scripture that’s found in the passage we’re looking at today in the book of Romans, chapter 3.

But before I start, I’d like to remind you that sharing your faith is not about a method, but about a person, Jesus Christ.  Remember that it is not a method that saves people, but Jesus―and He would love to work through you to touch the lives of those around you.  When you remember this, it takes the pressure off of you and your method.  It’s Jesus who will save people!

I’d also like to remind you to pray for opportunities to share with others.  Sometimes we don’t share with others because we don’t spend time praying for opportunities to share.  But if you’ll pray for God to open doors for you to share your faith, He’ll open your eyes to those who need to hear His good news today.  Pray for opportunities to share, and trust that God will help you share as He opens up those opportunities to you!

And third, a practical way to get into a spiritual conversation with someone is to ask if you can pray for them, perhaps for their health or a situation in their life where they might need God’s intervention.  As they share with you their need, you can pray for that need specifically, and afterwards share how God may have helped you or someone you know with a similar need.  You can let them know that we can trust God for all of our needs because of what He has already done for us through Jesus.  This can lead naturally into a conversation about the needs we all have in life, and the way that Jesus can meet those needs.

Having said that, let’s take a look at “The Roman Road,” a way of walking people through a few passages in the book of Romans, like walking them down a road and pointing out highlights along the way.

While there are many Scriptures that are included in the various versions of “The Roman Road,” I’d like to give you just four to make it as easy as possible for you to remember.  Since we’re in this series on renewing your mind, I think it’s helpful to commit these verses to memory so you can have them at the forefront of your mind, for your own sake, as well as for the sake of those people that God brings your way.

The Roman Road starts with Romans, chapter 3, verse 23:

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” (Romans 3:23).

We’ve all sinned.  None of us has a perfect moral scorecard.  Unfortunately, sin has consequences.  The consequences of sin are stated clearly in Romans chapter 6, verse 23:

“For the wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23).

The wages, or what we’ve earned for our sins, is death.  Death is a natural outcome of what happens when we go against God’s will for our lives.  God wants us to have an abundant life, but when we go against His plan for us, we head in the opposite direction and head down a path that leads to death instead.

The good news is that Jesus came to put us back on track and to save us from the penalty of death, as described in Romans chapter 5, verse 8:

“But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

God loves us so much that He doesn’t want us to die, so He made a way for us to be free from sin and free from facing an eternity of death and separation from Him.  When Christ died on the cross, He took our sins upon Him to pay the penalty for us with His own life.

Although God makes this offer available freely to anyone, He doesn’t force it on anyone.  He wants us to come to Him of our own free will, confessing with our mouth that ‘Jesus is Lord’ and believing in our heart that God raised Him from the dead.  When we do that, God will save us, as described in Romans 10:9:

“That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).

When you put your faith in Christ, you’ll be saved and given a new life, both here on earth and on into heaven forever.

While there are many other passages from the book of Romans that you could use to share God’s good news with people, these four verses make up the core of the gospel:  addressing the fact that we’ve all sinned (Romans 3:23), that the penalty for sin is death (Romans 6:23), that God loved us so much that He made a way for us to be freed from our sins (Romans 5:8), and that by putting our faith in Jesus we can be saved from our sins and given eternal life (Romans 10:9).

While it may sound simple, don’t underestimate what God can do in someone’s life through a few verses from the book of Romans.

It was while reading the book of Romans that a man named Augustine put his faith in Christ, back in 386 A.D.  He was sitting in the garden of a friend, weeping as he thought about the wickedness of his life.  Some children nearby were singing “Tolle, lege.  Tolle, lege.” which means “Take up and read.  Take up and read.”  A scroll of the book of Romans was laying open next to Augustine, so he “took up and read”.  The first few verses he saw, in Romans 13:13-14, described the condition of his life―and what to do about it:

“Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature” (Romans 13:13-14).

Augustine put his faith in Christ that day, and became one of the greatest theologians and leaders in the history of the church.

It was while reading the book of Romans that another man named Martin Luther put his faith in Christ, about 1,000 years after Saint Augustine.  Luther was an Augustinian monk who was burdened by the weight of trying to do enough good works to get into heaven.  But that burden was finally lifted when he read a verse from the book of Romans.  Romans 1:17 showed him that he wouldn’t be declared righteous by his good works, but by his faith in Christ:

“For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith’” (Romans 1:17).

Martin Luther put his faith in Christ that day, and went on to lead a reformation that has impacted lives all over the world.

It was while listening to someone reading Luther’s notes on the book of Romans that John Wesley put his faith in Christ, several hundred years later.  As Wesley listened to Luther’s introductory comments about Romans, Wesley’s heart was “strangely warmed,” as he described it, and he committed his life entirely to Christ.  John Wesley, and his brother Charles, went on to found the Methodist movement, also contributing many of the great hymns of the faith that we still sing today.

And Paul’s words to the Romans are still affecting people today, almost 2,000 years after they were written, as it was while reading the book of Romans that I put my faith in Christ, too.  As I was reading Romans 1:18-32, I realized that I was a sinner, too, and needed a Savior.  Now here I am today encouraging you from what I’ve learned from the book of Romans so you can share it with others.

These are just a few of the lives that have been touched by reading just a few verses from the book of Romans!  So don’t underestimate the power of a few verses from this book to change lives.  If you’ve been redeemed by Jesus, tell others about it, using the Roman Road if you want as a way to help them understand the good news of Christ.  And if you haven’t yet been redeemed by Jesus, I’d encourage you to keep reading the Bible so you can put your faith in Him today.

If you’re up for a challenge, I’d also encourage you to commit to memory these four simple verses from Romans: 3:23, 6:23, 5:8 and 10:9.  Memorizing scripture is a great way to renew your mind, and as you keep these particular verses at the forefront of your mind, they’ll also help you as you talk with others about how they can be redeemed by Jesus, too.

Perhaps you’re reading this today and you’re like Augustine, or Luther, or Wesley, or me, and these verses that I’ve been sharing from the book of Romans have somehow sparked your thinking and moved your heart in a way that you, too want to commit your life to Christ.  If so, put your faith in Him today for everything in your life.  Ask Him to forgive you of your sins and invite Him to be your Lord and Savior.  Do what Paul encouraged the Romans to do and you’ll be saved, too:

“That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for sending Jesus to redeem us from our sins.  Help us to share that life-changing message with those around us.  Open our eyes today to those who need to hear this message, and open their hearts to be receptive as we share it, so they can put their faith in You as well.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection

1. Read Romans 3:21-31.  What do you think about Paul’s claim that “all have sinned” in verse 23?  What evidence do you see in your life or the lives of those around you that argue either for or against this claim?

2. How does Paul say we can be justified in God’s eyes and redeemed from this situation, as stated in verses 24-26?

3. What place does boasting have in the life of a Christian, according to verses 27-28?

4. Why not take some time today to write down the four verses mentioned in this message and commit them to memory as a way to keep them at the forefront of your mind?  The verses are:  Romans 3:23, Romans 6:23, Romans 5:8, and Romans 10:9.  After you’ve memorized them, consider sharing these verses with a friend who has already put their faith in Christ as a way to practice what you’ve learned, then pray for God to give you opportunities with someone else who still needs to hear this good news!

Lesson 9: Believing God (Back to Table of Contents)

You're reading ROMANS: LESSONS IN RENEWING YOUR MIND, by Eric Elder, featuring forty inspiring devotionals based on one of the most life-changing books in the Bible. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You’re reading ROMANS: LESSONS IN RENEWING YOUR MIND, by Eric Elder, featuring forty inspiring devotionals based on one of the most life-changing books in the Bible. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

Scripture Reading: Romans 4:1-12

I’d like to talk to you today about believing God.  Not just believing in God.  But believing God― believing that He will do what He says He will do.  The reason I want to talk to you about believing God is because what you believe influences what you do.  Or, to put it another way, you do what you believe.

If you believe that people are going to hell if they don’t put their faith in Jesus, then you’ll do something about it.  If you’re not doing something about it, then perhaps you’re just giving intellectual assent to an idea, but you’re not really believing it.

I have a friend who went to the doctor for a checkup.  The doctor told him, “Your dad had a heart attack by the time he was forty-eight, and you’re going to have a heart attack by the time you’re forty-eight, unless you start making some changes in your life.”  My friend had known this was a possibility before, but it wasn’t until his doctor told him the truth so directly that my friend finally believed it.  That day, he began that day to change the way he ate, the way he exercised, and the way he lived his life.  And today, he’s still going strong.  Why?  Because he believed what his doctor said.

How much more so, when we hear what God says about our lives, should be believe Him and do what He says?

Abraham is an excellent example for all of us of someone who believed God, who heard what God said and took it to heart, and then backed up what he believed with his actions.

If you remember the story, God told Abraham that he would have so many descendants they would outnumber the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore.  This was a pretty lofty idea considering that Abraham was old and childless.  But the Bible says:

“Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness” (Romans 4:3).

Several years later, when God called Abraham to become circumcised as a way of sealing God’s covenant with him, Abraham did what God said that very day.  Within a year, he and his wife Sarah had their first child―the first of a long line of those promised descendants.

While Abraham’s obedience to be circumcised was important and necessary for the fulfillment of God’s plan for his life, the apostle Paul notes in his letter to the Romans that it wasn’t after Abraham was circumcised that he was declared righteous in God’s sight, but before.  In fact, Abraham was declared righteous several years before his circumcision.  He was declared righteous the moment he believed.  (You can read more about this part of Abraham’s story in Genesis chapters 15 through 18.)

Abraham’s circumcision was a natural outworking of the faith that Abraham had already expressed in his heart to God.  His actions were directly influenced by what he believed.

Dallas Willard is one of the spiritual giants of our generation.  When asked what he would advise someone to do who wanted to grow spiritually, he said:

“Do the next right thing you know you ought to do.”

You might have thought he could have said, “Read the Bible more,” or “Pray more,” or “Go to church more.”  But he didn’t.  He said that the best course of action was to do the next right thing you know you ought to do, because that’s likely the very thing that God wants you to do.  He said this may very well involve reading the Bible more so you can get clarity on what it is that God really wants you to do.  Or it may involve praying more because you’ll need God’s wisdom for how to do it.  Or it may involve going to church more because you’ll most likely need the help of others to do what God has put on your heart to do.  But in any case, you’ll grow tremendously when you do the next right thing you know you ought to do.

My question for you today is this:  what’s the next right thing you know you ought to do?

What is it that God has called you to do that He is wanting you to step out in faith and do next?  Maybe it’s something regarding your family, your job, your finances, or your health.  Maybe it’s something regarding your calling, your gifting, your relationships, or the way you use your time.  Maybe it’s something that is quiet and internal, or maybe it’s something that is “out loud” and vocal.  Maybe it’s something you need to start doing.  Or maybe it’s something you need to stop doing.

Although I don’t know what it might be that God is putting on your heart right now as you read these words, I imagine there are probably one or two things that have already started coming to your mind as “the next right thing you know you ought to do.” Whatever it is, I want to encourage you to do it.  Believe in your heart that God has called you to it, then step out in faith and let Him help you do it!

You may remember the story of the widow’s oil, back in the Old Testament.  This widow had lost her husband, and she and her two sons were struggling to live.  She was at a point of desperation because her husband’s creditors were coming to take away her boys as slaves.

She cried out to Elisha, a man of God, and asked him what to do.  Elisha asked what she had left in her house.  She said that she had nothing there at all, “except a little oil” (2 Kings 4:5).

So Elisha told her what to do next.  He told her to go around to all her neighbors and ask for their empty jars.  She and her sons did what Elisha said.

She went all over the neighborhood asking for empty jars and brought them home.  Elisha told her to fill them up with the little oil that she had.  By faith, she began pouring out the oil into the first jar, and it didn’t stop!  It just kept flowing and flowing as she poured it into jar after jar, until every jar she had collected was full.

Elisha told her:

“Go, sell the oil and pay your debts.  You and your sons can live on what is left” (2 Kings 4:7b).

I love this story for several reasons, but one that stands out to me today is the fact that the widow believed what God was telling her to do through the prophet Elisha, then she went out and acted on that belief.  She did the next right thing she knew she ought to do.

One way to renew your mind today is to believe God―not just believe in Him―but really believe Him, because what you believe influences what you do.

Abraham wasn’t credited with righteousness after he was circumcised, but before, when he first believed God.  It was only afterwards that he stepped out in faith and acted on what he believed.

The widow’s life didn’t start to turn around after she had sold all her jars of oil and got the money for them, but before, when she first believed what God told her to do through the prophet Elisha.  It was only afterwards that she stepped out in faith and acted on what she believed.

God wants you to believe Him, too.  He wants you believe what He says and then to act on that belief, to do the next right thing that you know you ought to do.  For some of you, this might mean picking up a project that you’ve been putting off for years.  You might think, “Not that, Lord!  It’s been on the back burner for so long, I don’t think I’ll ever get around to it.”  For others of you, this might mean acting on something you heard just yesterday.  You might think, “Not that, Lord!  I just heard about it yesterday, I need a few more days, or months, or years to think about it.”

We can all think of reasons not to do what we know we ought to do.  But I want to encourage you today to believe God, and then act on that belief.  Don’t let doubt and discouragement hold you back from doing “the next right thing” that God has called you to do.

Believe God today, and then act on that belief!  One day, like Abraham and Sarah, and like the widow and her sons, people will be telling the story of what happened to you when you believed God, too.

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for creating each of us with special tasks to accomplish here on earth.  Help us to have the faith today to believe what You say when You speak to us, and then to act on that belief.  Help us today to step out in faith and do the next right thing we know we ought to do.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection

1. Read Romans 4:1-12.  Why do you think God credited Abraham with righteousness when he first believed God, rather than after he took his famous steps of obedience?

2. Read James 2:15-18.  What are some of the differences between believing God and believing in God, based on this passage?

3. What is the relationship between faith and works, as described by the passage in James?

4. What comes to your mind as “the next right thing you ought to do?”  What steps could you take to help clarify that those things really are from God, and then to step out in faith to begin doing them?

Lesson 10: Being Fully Persuaded (Back to Table of Contents)

You're reading ROMANS: LESSONS IN RENEWING YOUR MIND, by Eric Elder, featuring forty inspiring devotionals based on one of the most life-changing books in the Bible. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You’re reading ROMANS: LESSONS IN RENEWING YOUR MIND, by Eric Elder, featuring forty inspiring devotionals based on one of the most life-changing books in the Bible. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

Scripture Reading: Acts 10

I’d like to give you some hope today― hope that God has the power to do what He has promised.

My daughter showed me a great picture a few weeks ago with the word HOPE written on the palm of someone’s hand.  What was unique about the picture was that the word HOPE on the hand could be seen reflected in a side mirror of a car, with these words written in small print on the bottom of the mirror:

“OBJECTS IN MIRROR ARE CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR.”

I thought it was a great picture of the hope that God offers to each one of us.  When God promises to do something, you can take it to the bank.  You can trust that He will bring it to pass.  Even if the answers to your prayers might look like they are far off, those answers could really be much closer than you think!

After I saw this picture, my wife and daughter were looking for a new car on the Internet.  Our van had broken down and could no longer be repaired, so we’ve been looking for something to replace it.  My wife has had her eye on a particular little car that she’s really liked for several years.  It’s not like her to care much for cars at all, but this one seemed to be just right for her and my daughter.

As they looked, they found it:  the exact car they were looking for.  Everything was perfect about it:  the style, the color, even the design on the front.  The only thing wrong with it, from my perspective, was the price!  (It was the right price for the car, just the wrong price for us!)

A friend of mine told me that when he sent his daughter off to school he said he sent her off with only his prayers, because he couldn’t afford to send her to the school.  He told her:  “The same God who takes care of me will take care of you..”

Through prayer and hard work, his daughter was able to make it through that school.  God did take care of her.

So as I went to bed with my wife that night after looking at the cars, I told her about my friend’s words for his daughter.  Then I smiled and said, “You’ve got my prayers!  The same God who takes care of me will take care of you!”  We both laughed and went to bed.

The next morning, I went to a men’s breakfast at 6:00 a.m.  As I pulled into the parking lot, someone pulled in right behind me, someone who had never been to the group before.  He just happened to be driving the very same car my wife and daughter had been looking at on the Internet:  the exact style, color, and even the design painted on the front.

I couldn’t believe it!  It hadn’t even been 8 hours since I had prayed that prayer.  I got out and asked him how he liked his car.  He said he loved it.  I asked if he’d ever consider selling it.  He said, “Actually, I’m thinking about it.”  He said things had recently changed in his life, and he didn’t need this car anymore.

We talked some more, and after breakfast, I asked if I could take a look at the car.  I started taking a few pictures for my wife, then I got inside.  As I looked around, my eyes landed on the mirror on the right-hand side.  There reflected in the mirror, I could see the full length of the side of the car, with these words at the bottom:

“OBJECTS IN MIRROR ARE CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR.”

I almost cried.  I didn’t know if this particular car was God’s answer to our prayers or not, but I did see clearly that if God wanted to answer them, He could do it in an instant.  I took a picture of the car in the mirror, with the words displayed at the bottom, and I repented of my unbelief.  I told God that day that I was sorry for being so flippant the night before, saying to my wife, “The same God who takes care of me will take care of you.”  I know that God can do anything, absolutely anything.

Let me add that it’s been a few weeks now and we haven’t gotten the car yet.  The man’s not quite ready to sell and we’re not quite ready to buy.  We’re not even sure if this is even God’s answer or if He has another answer in the works.  But seeing the car gave me a boost in my faith, and was a vivid reminder of the hope we can have in God—even when it seems like the odds are against us.

That’s the kind of faith that Abraham had.  The Bible says:

“Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’ Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead―since he was about a hundred years old―and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what He had promised” (Romans 4:18-21).

I love the way that starts:  “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed…”  And I love the way it ends:  “…being fully persuaded that God had power to do what He had promised.”

Abraham was fully persuaded that God had the power to do what He had promised.  And that’s the kind of faith that God wants you to have.  How can you do that?  How can you become fully persuaded that God has the power to do what He has promised?

I’d like to give you two ideas today to help give you a boost in your faith.  By doing these two things, I believe that God will renew your mind and give you hope for your future, too.

The first is to take time to read the stories about how God has been faithful to people in the Bible.  Stories like Abraham’s in Genesis chapters 15 through 18.  Stories like Moses’ in Exodus chapter 1 through 4.  Stories like Joshua’s in the book of Joshua, or Esther’s in the book of Esther, or Ruth’s in the book of Ruth.  The Bible is filled with stories from cover to cover about how God has worked in the lives of ordinary people to do extraordinary things.  As you read these stories, you’ll be filled with faith that God can do similar things for you.

The second is to look at stories from people living today who have been touched by the hand of God.  The same God who worked in the lives of men and women thousands of years ago is still at work in the lives of men and women today.  I’ve posted many such stories on our website at www.theranch.org about people who are living today who have seen God work in their lives in astounding ways.  One of those stories is about a woman named Liesl Alexander, a woman who was locked in a mental institution for years, taking 36 medications a day, and was written off as one of the most hopeless cases in the institution.

Yet when a group of people from a local church came and began to pray for her, her life turned around completely.  By the power of Christ, she was set free to live the life that God had created her to live.  For the past 20 years, she’s been sharing her testimony about how Christ has changed her life, encouraging anyone who will listen to be fully persuaded that “God can do anything, absolutely anything.”

God wants you to be fully persuaded that He can do what He has promised to do.  Take some time this week to read the Bible and look for stories of how God has touched people’s lives in powerful ways, then look at our website or other Christian books to see how God has worked in other people’s lives today.  You’ll see that God really can do anything― absolutely anything.

Remember:

“OBJECTS IN MIRROR ARE CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR.”

HOPE is closer than you might think.

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for reminding us that You are always at work on our behalf, and that the answers to our prayers could be revealed in an instant. Help us to trust You fully―to be fully persuaded―that You can do anything, absolutely anything.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection

1. Read Romans 4:13-25.  What does this passage say to you today about hope?

2. While Abraham and Sarah’s story might seem unbelievable, for they were old and past the age of child-bearing, how can their story give you hope for any situation that you’re praying about right now? 

3. What story does Paul refer to, in verses 23-25, to remind us about God’s ability to bring life out of death?

4. What are some steps you can take this week to help yourself become more “fully persuaded” that God can do what He has promised to do, whether they are steps suggested by this lesson, or other steps that might not have been mentioned?  Consider committing to doing one or two of those things..

Lesson 11: Calling Things That Are Not As Though They Were (Back to Table of Contents)

You're reading ROMANS: LESSONS IN RENEWING YOUR MIND, by Eric Elder, featuring forty inspiring devotionals based on one of the most life-changing books in the Bible. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You’re reading ROMANS: LESSONS IN RENEWING YOUR MIND, by Eric Elder, featuring forty inspiring devotionals based on one of the most life-changing books in the Bible. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

Scripture Reading: Romans 4:16-25

As we’re looking at ways to renew your mind, I’d like to draw your attention to one more verse from Romans chapter 4 before moving on to chapter 5.  There’s a phrase in this verse that is not only extremely quotable and memorable, but can also be a powerful force for defining your future, if you’ll take it to heart.

In talking about God, Paul described Him as:

“…the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were” (Romans 4:17b).

I love that phrase:  the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.

If you can believe that God can give life to the dead, which He has proven over and over, and that He can call things into existence that have never existed before, which He has also proven over and over, then you can believe that God can do miracles in your own life that will outshine anything you’ve ever seen before.

Some people bristle at the idea of “name it and claim it” theology referring to the idea that we can have anything we want if we’ll just speak it forth, believe in it hard enough, and start walking in that direction.  While there’s incredible power in positive thinking—and it’s certainly much better than negative thinking—it can lead to problems if what we’re naming isn’t in line with what God wants us to claim.  Rather than being a blessing to us, what we’re wanting could actually harm us, as every parent knows who has given in to a poorly thought-out request by one of their children.

But when you get your thinking in line with God’s, and ask Him for things that He would love to give you, then it becomes a different story.  When God names it, He wants you to claim it!  When God puts a desire in your heart, He wants you to speak it forth, to believe in it fully, and to start walking in that direction.

This is exactly why God commended Abraham.  Abraham was sad and dejected that he had no heirs to whom he could pass on all the blessings he had received in  his life.  When he expressed that sadness to God, God spoke to Abraham, giving him a promise that seemed unbelievable.  God changed Abraham’s name from Abram―which means “exalted father”―to Abraham, which means “father of many,” saying:

“You will be the father of many nations” (Genesis 17:5).

Abraham’s first response was to fall down and laugh!  The Bible says:

“Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, ‘Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?’” (Genesis 17:17).

But when God assured Abraham that what He had spoken would come to pass, Abraham believed God.  He acted on that belief, circumcising himself and his whole family, and God honored him for his faith and obedience.

Within a year of Abraham’s conversation with God, Abraham and Sarah had their promised son. They named him Isaac―which means “laughter”―as God had told them to name him.  And so began the promised inheritance to Abraham that has continued from one generation to the next until this very day.

Even though Abraham’s body was as good as dead, in terms of its ability to bring forth life, and his wife had been barren her whole life, God proved to them both that He is a God “who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.”

God has been doing the same thing throughout eternity.

God spoke the world into existence with a word.  He called Gideon a “mighty warrior” when Gideon saw himself as the least in his family and the weakest family in his tribe.  He called David a “king” and a “man after My own heart” even though David was just a shepherd boy at the time and was told he had a wicked heart by his brother.

The Bible is full of stories of God giving life to the dead and calling things that are not as though they were, with the story of Jesus’s death and resurrection being chief among them!  But the stories of God calling things that are not as though they were didn’t end in biblical days.  They still continue today!

Let me tell you just one.

About ten years ago I was invited to attend a Billy Graham evangelism conference in Amsterdam.  My passport was about to expire, so I had to fill out an application for a new one.  On the application, it asked for my occupation.  I wasn’t sure exactly what to put in the blank, as the ministry I do on the Internet doesn’t seem to fit into a neatly defined category.

Yet at the time I was feeling more and more that one of God’s callings on my life was to be an author.  I loved writing and had written extensively for my own website, filling up hundreds of electronic pages with digital ink.  Yet I never considered myself an author, since the only book I had ever published was a devotional booklet I had written the year before, and photocopied at home for the people who asked for it.

That hardly seemed to qualify my as an author, yet I felt that’s what God was calling me to be.  So, as a statement of faith of God’s calling on my life, I filled in the “occupation” blank with just one word:  “Author.”

When I arrived at the airport in Amsterdam, the customs official took a look at my passport, then asked me what I did.  I said I was an author.  He asked,  “What kind of books do you write?”

I thought about my little devotional booklet and said, “Devotional books to encourage people in their faith.”

He asked where I was headed, and I told him about the Billy Graham conference.  He said, “With a last name like ‘Elder’ that fits.”  He smiled, stamped my passport, and waved me on through.

Something in my heart told me that being an author “fit,” too.  I realized that I wasn’t stretching the truth when I said I was an author.  I was believing the truth.  From that moment on, it changed both my outlook and my expectations for the future.

Since that time, I’ve written and published over a dozen books.  My weekly messages, like this one that you’re reading right now, are being sent by email to over 35,000 subscribers around the world.  I’m not sure what the official qualifications would be for someone to be declared an “author.”  But for me, I believe I became an author the moment I believed it myself, came into alignment with God’s plan for my life in that area, and started walking in obedience to that calling.

God has a way of seeing our potential before we do and then speaking it into existence.  How?  Because God can see an oak tree in an acorn.

If you’re willing to open your eyes to see things as God sees them, you’ll start seeing oak trees in acorns, too.  You’ll see the potential in yourself and in the lives of others that you may never have seen before.

I could tell you story after story of people who are alive today whose lives and situations have been changed dramatically because they put their faith in Christ.  I could tell you about marriages that have been dead for years and ended in divorce, but which God brought back to life when both people put their faith in Christ.  I could tell you about couples who have been declared infertile by doctors, but whom God has said would bear a child within a year―like Abraham and Sarah―and have!  I could tell you about people involved in lifestyles that could literally kill them, lifestyles which some people say are impossible to change, but which God has changed, giving them new lives instead.  As the angel told Mary:

“For nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:37).

When you get in line with God’s plans for your life, nothing will be impossible for you, either.

If God has spoken into your life about your future, believe Him.  Put your faith into action and start walking in the direction He’s told you to walk.  If you’re not sure what God has called you to do, keep seeking Him for His wisdom.  Read the Bible.  Pray.  Ask others what they think about your future.  Then when God gives you the next step to take, take it!

Don’t be discouraged if what God says about your future doesn’t line up with your present.

Remember that God called Abraham “a father of many nations” before he and Sarah had even conceived their first child together.  Remember that God called Gideon a “mighty warrior” back when Gideon felt like he was the weakest of the weak.  Remember that God called David “a man after My own heart” even when others were saying otherwise.  Remember that God sees an oak tree in an acorn.

Put your trust in God, and remember who He is.  He is:

“… the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.”

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for reminding us today of who You are and what You can do.  Give us the faith we need to see Your promises come to pass in our lives.  Fill us with Your wisdom, Your plans, Your purposes, and Your ways, so that we can take hold of them by faith and begin walking in obedience to Your calling on our lives, starting even today.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection

1. Read Romans 4:16-25.  What reasons might Abraham have had for why it could have seemed impossible for God to fulfill what He had promised to him?

2. What reasons might you have for why it could seem impossible for God to fulfill what He has promised to you?  How might Abraham have overcome His doubts?  How might you overcome yours?

3. Read Judges 7:1-7.  In reading this part of Gideon’s story, what reason does God give for why He sometimes does what seems impossible through us?  What hope does this give you for your situation?

4. If God has given you a promise about your calling or your future, what next steps could you take to put your faith into action and start walking in the direction of that future?  If you don’t feel that God has spoken to you about your future, what next steps could you take to begin learning more about it from Him?

Lesson 12: Having Peace With God (Back to Table of Contents)

You're reading ROMANS: LESSONS IN RENEWING YOUR MIND, by Eric Elder, featuring forty inspiring devotionals based on one of the most life-changing books in the Bible. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You’re reading ROMANS: LESSONS IN RENEWING YOUR MIND, by Eric Elder, featuring forty inspiring devotionals based on one of the most life-changing books in the Bible. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

Scripture Reading: Romans 5:1-11

God wants to give you a lift today.  He wants to pick you up, brush you off, and give you a new start.  In particular, God wants to give you peace―His peace―a deep peace that will renew and restore you and give you the strength to go on.

How can you have the peace of God?  It starts by having peace with God, by coming to the place where you’re reconciled with Him, the place where you know that you are loved, forgiven, and walking in harmony with Him.  The apostle Paul tells us that this kind of peace is available to you when you put your faith in Christ:

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand” (Romans 5:1-2a).

But this message today isn’t just for those who need to put their faith in Christ for the first time.  It’s for everyone who needs a reminder of the peace that God has in store for those who trust in Him.  As the Bible says:

“You will keep in perfect peace
him whose mind is steadfast,
because he trusts in You.”
(Isaiah 26:3)

God wants you to trust in Him.  He wants you to keep your mind steadfast, resolutely firm and unwavering.  And when you trust in Him, keeping your mind steadfast, He will keep you in peace―perfect peace.

Why is it so hard then to have God’s peace?  Sometimes it’s because we make it harder than it really is.  Dallas Willard gives a simple and practical definition of what it means to trust Christ:

“Trusting Christ means you want to be with Him as much as possible.”

When you trust someone, you’re happy to be with them.  And when you realize what Christ has done for you―and what He’s still capable of doing for you―it makes it easier to trust Him and to want to be with Him as much as possible.  As the apostle Paul continues his letter to the Romans, he gives us some reasons why we can trust Christ so fully―and why we would want to be with Him as much as possible, too.  Paul says:

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8).

Let me unpack for just a minute, because it will help you understand just how very much God loves you.  If you think about it, you’ll realize how very rare it is for one person to die for another, even if the person they’re dying for is “righteous.”  Yet in some cases, it’s possible that someone might die for someone else if the person they’re dying for is truly “good.”   But then think about what Christ has done.  He’s gone further still, not just dying for those who “deserve” it, but for those who don’t deserve it at all―which, as it turns out, happens to be every one of us.

You see, Christ loves you with an overwhelming love―a love that He wants to pour out on you―not just once when you first get saved, but continually for the rest of your life here on earth and on into eternity.

When you realize that Christ loves you this much―and wants to continue loving you this much―you’ll see why you can trust Him completely, and why you would want to be with Him as much as possible.

Trusting Christ brings you peace with God.  And when you have peace with God, this opens the possibility for you to have the peace of God in many other areas of your life as well.

I was sitting at a table last week with some men who were discussing how God has brought His peace into their lives.  Their stories were not only interesting, but interwoven.

One of the men had gotten out of jail about a year ago.  After having lived a life of self-destruction for years, he finally put his faith in Christ while in prison.  He found that the hours he spent there alone with God were some of the sweetest hours of his life.

But his greatest fear while he was in prison was what would happen when he finally got out.  What would happen when he came back into the reality of this world, facing those whom he had wronged so horribly?  What would happen when he had to face his wife and kids again, whom he had led into a destructive lifestyle?  What would happen when he had to face his in-laws again, whom he had pushed away over and over?

As it turned out, one of this man’s in-laws was seated at the table with us―the father-in-law who knew how much trouble this man had caused for his daughter―the father-in-law who was so upset with this guy that he even paid for a lawyer to help his daughter start divorce proceedings.

Yet when the son-in-law put his faith in Christ in prison, something changed.  The father-in-law realized that his son-in-law was now his “brother-in-Christ.”  Rather than condemning his son-in-law when he got out of prison, he found himself forgiving him instead.  He went to visit his son-in-law at home and offered his forgiveness instead of divorce papers.  He told his son-in-law that God wanted him to wipe the slate clean between them, and was offering them a new start in their relationship.

When God reconciled these two men to Himself through Christ, He also laid the foundation for them to reconcile with each other down the road.  Once they each discovered how they could have peace with God, they also discovered they could now have peace with one another.  Can you see how having peace with God can help you experience the peace of God in other areas of your life?  God wants you to have both.

God wants you to be at peace, and He says that you can have that peace by keeping your mind steadfast and trusting in Him.  If you want to renew your mind and experience God’s peace, I want to encourage you to do what Isaiah said to do:  keep your mind steadfast and continue to trust in God.  Remember:

“You will keep in perfect peace
him whose mind is steadfast,
because he trusts in You.”
(Isaiah 26:3)

Also remember that,

“Trusting Christ means you want to be with Him as much as possible.”

If you have areas in your own life where you feel unrest, or areas where Satan has tried to steal your peace, can I encourage you to bring those areas to Jesus again today?  He really does love you.  He is for you.  And He wants you to experience His peace, not just once in your lifetime, but throughout your lifetime, a peace that “transcends all understanding” (Philippians 4:7).

As you read your Bible this week, I want to encourage you to read it with three thoughts in mind.  First, read the text for what it says, filling your mind with God’s words.  But don’t just stop there.  Take time to meditate on the words that you’re reading, mulling them over in your mind, reflecting on what the words mean and what they might mean to your life today.  And third, be sure to pray while you’re reading, asking God to speak to you about the words on the page, realizing that His word really is “living and active” (Hebrews 4:12).  This is one of the best ways to spend as much time with Him as possible.

Remember that the Bible is not just a textbook on living.  It’s a textbook that comes with a built-in teacher, the Holy Spirit.  It’s like taking a class in school and being taught by the author of the textbook himself.  While you can learn a lot by just reading the text, you can learn even more when you go to class with the Author, asking Him your questions, letting Him give you more insights into what He’s written, and letting Him correct your thinking in those cases where you’ve possibly misread the text or missed a crucial word here or there.  Don’t just read the text and miss spending time with the Author!  You’ll love your classes more, and He’ll love spending the extra time with you, too.

I pray this has given you a lift today, and I pray that as you put these words into practice, God will give you His perfect peace.

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for offering Your peace to us through faith in Your Son Jesus Christ.  Help us to put our faith in Him again today, trusting Him with our salvation and everything else in our lives.  Help us to give over anything in our lives that is causing us unrest right now, and truly trust You in that area, too.  Forgive us of our sins, and lead us into the fullness of life that You offer to us, both here on earth and on into eternity.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection

1. Read Romans 5:1-11.  How does Paul say we can gain access to the peace that God has to offer us?

2. According to verse 5, what means does God use to pour out His love into our hearts?  How might you invite God to pour out His love into your heart in a new way today?

3. How can Paul’s illustration of the different kinds of people that someone might possibly die for help you to understand better Christ’s love for you and what He has done for you?

4. If you’ve never put your faith in Christ, trusting that He died for your sins so that you could have peace with God, is there anything holding you back from doing it today?  If so, can you confess it to Him and let it go so you can put your faith fully in Him?  And if you’ve already put your faith in God, but are still struggling to experience His peace, is there anything holding you back from trusting Him more fully with every area of your life today?  If so, then ask God for His help with those areas, and ask Him to fill you with His peace―a peace that transcends all understanding

Lesson 13: Rejoicing In Our Sufferings (Back to Table of Contents)

You're reading ROMANS: LESSONS IN RENEWING YOUR MIND, by Eric Elder, featuring forty inspiring devotionals based on one of the most life-changing books in the Bible. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You’re reading ROMANS: LESSONS IN RENEWING YOUR MIND, by Eric Elder, featuring forty inspiring devotionals based on one of the most life-changing books in the Bible. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

Scripture Reading: Romans 5:2-4

I’d like to talk to you today about pain. While it may not sound like a very pleasant topic, when I shared this message with a group of men on Friday morning, one of them wrote to me later in the day and said:

“Thanks for your devotional this morning. I got there in a pretty lousy frame of mind and you had me full of joy before you were done.”  

It’s amazing how getting God’s perspective on a subject can give you a whole new attitude towards it—especially a subject like pain. I’d like to give you a new perspective on pain today so that you’ll never see it the same again.

Even though we may not like to think about pain, we sometimes like to talk about it. Like a good fish story, we often try to outdo one another with how much pain we’ve had to endure in life. One person starts talking about their pain and then another chimes in to say, “Aw, that’s nothing. You should have seen…”

I had this happen just a few weeks ago. Three of us were talking about what we’ve gone through to get some warts off the soles of our feet. One guy started by talking about the pain he felt when he dug a knife deep into his skin to get one out. The other guy started talking about the pain he felt when a doctor froze a wart off his foot.

I couldn’t resist. I had to add my story, not only because it seemed worse in my eyes than any of the pain that they had described (it was my own pain, after all, which always tends to seem worse, I’m sure), but also because it was such a strange method to me. My doctor, after trying various other painful treatments, finally used one that outdid them all: he applied some juice from something called a blister beetle from South America directly onto my wart. While I felt nothing whatsoever as he put it on, within a few hours, the skin on the bottom of my foot had blistered to the size of a silver dollar, pulling up what felt like every layer of skin that could possibly have been on the sole of my foot—and the wart along with it. The pain while that blister grew was more excruciating and intense than any other treatment I had received on that wart so far.

But as painful as it was, within a few weeks, the wart was gone. The wart that had plagued me for several years, causing me pain every time I walked, was finally gone.

As Daniel Defoe has said:

“God will often deliver us in a manner that seems initially to destroy us.”

How true that is about pain.

In the book of Romans, the apostle Paul describes pain in a surprising similar way, saying that pain—or “sufferings” in this case—is not just something we have to endure, but something that we can actually rejoice in:

“And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:2b-4).

Paul says that the pain we experience in life is not without purpose. Rather, it can produce in us perseverance. Perseverance can then produce character. And character produces hope.

Some of the most hopeful people I know are not those who have a pollyanna, happy-go-lucky view of life who have never experienced deep pain. Instead, the people I know who are the most hopeful are those who have been through the wringer of life and have persevered through it. The pain they’ve endured has built up their character and given them hope—a hope that they can then pass on to others who need it.

Pain is not without purpose. In fact, pain has been designed by God to let us know that something in our life needs attention. It’s a sign that something is broken and either needs to be fixed before it gets worse, or, as in the case of the pain of losing a loved one, serves an indicator of the depth of our deep love for that person. When you can acknowledge that your pain serves a purpose, it can change your whole perspective on it.

I think my perspective began to change when I first read a book by Dr. Paul Brand called, Fearfully and Wonderfully Made. In the book, Dr. Brand describes his work among modern-day lepers.

Leprosy is a disease that affects the nervous system. Those who have leprosy often don’t feel pain because their nerve endings don’t work properly. As a result, lepers’ bodies can often become disturbingly deformed, losing fingers or toes, or going blind in their eyes. It’s not the leprosy itself that causes these abnormalities. It’s the fact that lepers no longer have the benefits of pain.

They don’t know if a stove is hot or cold until they’ve left their hand on it too long, damaging their fingers beyond repair. They don’t know they’ve stubbed their toe on a rock until the bruises and swelling gives them a visual clue that they’ve hit something far too hard. Believe it or not, they don’t realize that they’re supposed to blink every few seconds, because they never feel what it’s like to have dry, sore eyes. As a result, they often go blind, unless someone teaches them how to blink on a regular basis to give their eyes the moisture they need. Imagine giving thanks for the ability to feel that your eyes are dry and sore!

Yet lepers often wish they had something most of the rest of us wish we didn’t have: pain. Lepers, perhaps more than the rest of us, seem to understand that pain—when used in the way for which God intended it—serves a terrific purpose. If lepers could feel pain, they would probably rejoice like the apostle Paul, saying “Praise God, I can feel the pain!” They know that without it, they’re in for bigger hurts down the road.

So far, I’ve been talking about physical pain. But if you’ll indulge me to go a little longer than usual with today’s message, I’d like to talk for a few minutes about a pain that can often go deeper and last longer than physical pain, and that’s the pain we feel in our hearts and minds when we get hurt by someone else.

I was reminded of this again this past month when I read a blog post by a friend. His post left me stunned. He had served with me in my ministry several years ago, encouraging me, mentoring me, giving me opportunities to use my gifts and talents in ways that went beyond what I could do for myself. Yet a day came when he took me out to lunch and said that he was going to have to step back from my ministry. He said his priorities had changed and he needed to refocus his time and attention on some other things.

I was hurt. A lot. I had enjoyed our friendship and our times together, our conversations, and our urging one another on in the Lord. His reasons for stepping back didn’t seem to line up. Something was wrong, but I didn’t know what.  The pain of not knowing, and the feelings of hurt and rejection, have surfaced in my heart from time to time for the last several years.

Yet when I read his blog post a few weeks ago, I finally understood. Something had gone wrong.

He had begun to make a shift in his thinking several years ago on a number of topics. He confessed that he lost his job a few years ago at a large ministry because his views and opinions had shifted so radically that they could no longer keep him on staff. As I read his message, my heart began to break for him. It also began to melt for him. I finally started to understand that his stepping back from my ministry was a blessing in disguise, for if he hadn’t done so then, it would have become a bigger problem for me and my ministry today than I could have imagined.

In talking with God about it after I read his blog post, I felt like God was saying to me:

“What looked like rejection was really protection—My protection.”

It still hurt, but it definitely made the hurt feel better. I’d like to share what I wrote in my journal after I finally knew the truth.  Here’s what I felt God was saying to me:

“Oh, no doubt about it, Eric, I know it hurt. But there’s also no doubt that I allowed that hurt to help you avoid a bigger one in the future. Pain is not without purpose. In fact, I’ve designed it precisely for that purpose—to make you aware that something is wrong so you can take action before things get worse. If you don’t respond to the initial pain, like a toothache, I’ve designed the pain to escalate in intensity so you will respond. If you don’t respond to even that, then, well, the consequences are your own. But the pain itself serves a very good purpose: to spare you from greater pain down the road. If you’ll believe that and take it to heart, you’ll never see pain as your enemy again. Pain is your friend, if you’ll respond to it in My ways.”

Again, these words are my paraphrase of what I felt God was saying to me that day.  They helped me to understand what Paul was talking about when he said that we could actually “rejoice in our sufferings,” for suffering does have a purpose. And these words helped me to understand that we have a choice to make regarding the pains that we experience in life.

There’s a story that’s told in The Westside Baptist, that illustrates this well. It goes like this:

There were two young boys who were raised in the home of an alcoholic father.  As young men, they each went their own way.  Years later, a psychologist who was analyzing what drunkenness does to children in the home searched out these two men.  One had turned out to be like his father, a hopeless alcoholic.  The other had turned out to be a teetotaler (someone who abstains from alcohol).  The counselor asked the first man, “Why did you become an alcoholic?”  And the second, “Why did you become a teetotaler?”

And they both gave the same identical answer in these words: “What else could you expect when you had a father like mine?” 

It’s not what happens to you in life but how you react to it that makes the difference.  Every human being in the same situation has the possibilities of choosing how he will react, either positively or negatively.

We all experience pain. Jesus wept. I’ve wept. I imagine you’ve wept, too. We would hardly be human if we didn’t. Yet pain is not without purpose, and depending on how you respond to it, it can define your future for years to come.

My kids were crying this week because one of our newly born kittens had died. It was only a few weeks old, but they had already become very attached to it. When they found it dead, they couldn’t help but cry.

As I talked to them about it, I told them that I was sorry for the kitten and for them, but I was thankful that they were able to cry. It showed me that they really cared. Their tears were an expression that something had gone wrong in the world. Their tears revealed to me that they had already begun to care for one of God’s creatures that was given to us for such a short amount of time. Their tears were response enough.

As Charles Robinson has said:

“Jesus wept once; possibly more than once. There are times when God asks nothing of His children except silence, patience, and tears.”

Pain has a purpose, whether it’s to reveal something that needs to be addressed, or to reveal a depth of love that we’ve felt for something or someone we once held close, but now have lost.

Pain hurts, but that doesn’t mean that pain has to be your enemy. As lepers have discovered, pain can be a blessing, sparing you from greater pain down the road. Pain can be a blessing if you’ll let God use it in your life to work His purposes, responding to it in ways that God wants you to respond.

When pain threatens to get you down, remind yourself (meaning “put it in your mind again”) that pain is not without purpose. Ask God to help you persevere through your pain. Ask Him to use it to build up your character. Then ask Him to fill your life with hope–hope for yourself, and hope that you can pour into the lives of others.

As Paul said,

“And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:2b-4).

I pray that from this day forward you’ll never look at pain the same way again.

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for Your words in the Bible that challenge our thinking on so many topics, including the topic of pain. Help us to see the purpose of pain from Your perspective, and help us to respond to it in ways that You would have us respond. Help us to understand the role of pain in our lives so we can not just endure it, but somehow, as Paul did, to truly rejoice in the midst of it. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection

1. Read Romans 5:3-5.  What are the three benefits that Paul says can come when we “rejoice in our sufferings”?

2. By calling us to rejoice in our sufferings, Paul implies that we have a choice in how we respond to pain.  What are some other choices―whether good or bad―that we might make instead?  Why do you think Paul encourages us to rejoice instead of some of those other options?

3. Have you ever seen God use a painful situation in your life, whether physical or emotional, for something good in the end?  

4. How might recalling how God has used what’s painful in the past encourage you in anything painful you might be experiencing right now?  If you’d like, why not ask God, and perhaps a few other trusted people in your life, to give you that strength to persevere through any pain that you’re facing right now in your life until you gain the character and hope that God has in store for you.

Lesson 14: Being Freed From Sin (Back to Table of Contents)

You're reading ROMANS: LESSONS IN RENEWING YOUR MIND, by Eric Elder, featuring forty inspiring devotionals based on one of the most life-changing books in the Bible. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You’re reading ROMANS: LESSONS IN RENEWING YOUR MIND, by Eric Elder, featuring forty inspiring devotionals based on one of the most life-changing books in the Bible. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

Scripture Reading: Romans 5:12-21

One of the best depictions I’ve ever read of the tragedy that took place when sin entered the world was in a fictional book by Ted Dekker called Black.  Ted spent the majority of his book describing a world where no one had ever sinned.  The people knew there was a particular fruit that they were forbidden to eat located across a certain bridge, but no one went there to eat it.

Instead, they lived out their days doing incredible things with each other and with their God who created them.  They had children and built homes and gathered daily to enjoy the lives they had been given.  But one day, one of the men gave in to his temptations.  He crossed the bridge and ate the fruit.

The moment he did, evil was unleashed from the forrest beyond.  Huge black bats swarmed out of the forrest and covered the land in a dark cloud, devouring people and trees and everything in their path.  Only those who found shelter of some kind or another escaped the death and destruction that came upon their land.

Through one man’s sin, evil was unleashed upon everyone.

As I read about this horde of evil that covered their world, it was one of the saddest moments I’ve ever felt while reading a book.  I couldn’t believe it happened.  I couldn’t believe this guy ate the fruit.  I couldn’t believe how utterly tragic it was for everyone else and everything else on the planet.

Thankfully, the story didn’t end with that book, but I’ll have to let you read the series for yourself to find out what happens next.

It turns out that Ted’s story was a powerful retelling of another old, old story, one that the apostle Paul talked about in his letter to the Romans.  In chapter 5, Paul described what happened to the world when the first man, Adam, sinned.  He described how death entered into the world and reigned over it as a result.  But that story didn’t end there either.  Here’s what Paul said:

“… sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned… But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!” (Romans 5:12,15).

I’m sharing this story with you today because I want to give you God’s perspective on the world around you.  While there was once a time when death reigned over the earth, you’re now living in a time when life reigns over the earth―life that has come through God’s abundant grace through Jesus Christ.  As Paul went on to say:

“For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:17).

You now live in a colorful, life-filled, and joyous world―if you have the eyes to see it.  I know that it sometimes takes eyes of faith, but it’s the truth.  Life reigns because Christ has come.  If you’ve put your faith in Christ, death no longer has mastery over you.  You’re no longer a slave to sin, because God has sent you a new Master you can serve, Someone who loves you, cares for you, and has given His life for you―Jesus Christ.

I had a friend who died a few years ago, and when he did, a strange thought crossed my mind.  As sad as I was for his death, and the loss of his friendship here on earth, I was thankful for one thing.  I thought:  “You lucky guy.  You’re finally free from sin.”

You see, he had a tremendous ministry that touched the lives of many people.  But he also had a private battle with sin―one that he fought valiantly and victoriously, but still a battle nonetheless.  When he died, I knew his battle with sin was finally over.  It seemed like a strange thought to me, until I remembered that the apostle Paul talked about this very thing.

In Romans chapter 6, Paul said:

“… because anyone who has died has been freed from sin” (Romans 6:7).

Paul wasn’t advocating that people should die in order to be freed from sin!  On the contrary, he was saying that people who had put their faith in Christ and were baptized in His name had already died with Him, in order to be raised to live a new life with Him, both here on earth and on into heaven one day.

You don’t have to die to be freed from sin.  You just have to put your faith in Christ, being baptized into His death, and rising again to live a new life―a new, colorful, joy-filled life.

When I thought about my friend’s death in these terms, I realized that He wasn’t freed from sin on the day he died physically.  He was freed from sin from the moment he put his faith in Christ and was baptized, which was many, many years earlier.  From that point on, he had a new view of life, and God had a new view of him.

Sure, he still had battles to face, but he faced them with confidence, knowing that Christ had already freed him from those sins.  Temptations would come, as always, but now he knew he could resist them because now he had the power of Christ.  He went on to make the most of the rest of his time here on earth, living victoriously and sharing Christ with many others, being a truly positive force in the world for good.

In your battle against sin, you may think a dark cloud surrounds you, a cloud of death and destruction that is constantly hanging over your head, like the swarm of bats from a Ted Dekker novel.

But that’s a lie.  The truth is, that cloud of darkness was pushed back when Christ died for you on the cross.  On that day, color was restored to the world.  Joy became available again.   Freedom from sin became a reality for everyone who would put their faith in Him.

God doesn’t want you to sin.  Sin separates you from Him and from those you love.  But if you’ve been baptized into Christ, you’ve been freed from sin.  Sure, you may still have to fight off temptations, but now you can do it from a position of strength, not from a position of defeat.

If you’ve never been baptized into Christ, I’d encourage you to do so as soon as possible.  Being baptized into His death will allow you to be raised with Him to a new life with Him.  Baptism can renew not only your mind, but your heart and soul as well.  It will change your outlook on life.  And it will help you to be freed from sin.  You may still have a battle to fight, but you’ll be fighting it with Christ, which makes all the difference in the world!

As further encouragement that you can be freed from sin, here and now, let me close with the words of the apostle Paul on the subject.

“What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?  Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

“If we have been united with Him like this in His death, we will certainly also be united with Him in His resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with Him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin―because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.

“Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, He cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over Him. The death He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life He lives, He lives to God.

“In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:1-10).

If you’ve put your faith in Christ, you can count yourselves as “dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus,” too.

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for setting us free from sin by dying for us.  Help us to see that death no longer reigns over us, but because of Christ, we can reign in life.  Help us to put our faith in You anew today, trusting that the world is gloriously new because of You.  Help us to see it the way You see it, so we can enjoy it as You intended us to enjoy it, living valiantly and victoriously while we’re here.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection

1. Read Romans 5:12-6:10.  Why does Paul say “the gift is not like the trespass” in comparing the effects of Adam’s sin with the effects of Christ’s death and resurrection?

2. What can we do to “reign in life,” as Paul says in verse 17?

3. Have you ever thought of baptism as a way of dying to your old self, and being raised to new life?  What about this idea might be attractive to you?

4. Have you ever been baptized?  If so, what difference does being baptized make in how you view your battle with sin today?  If you haven’t been baptized, what difference might baptism make in your battle with sin?  If you need further encouragement to be baptized, here are a few more verses you might read:  Acts 2:38, Matthew 3:16-17, Mark 16:16, 1 Peter 3:21, John 3:5, and Acts 8:35-38.

Lesson 15: Bearing Fruit To God (Back to Table of Contents)

You're reading ROMANS: LESSONS IN RENEWING YOUR MIND, by Eric Elder, featuring forty inspiring devotionals based on one of the most life-changing books in the Bible. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You’re reading ROMANS: LESSONS IN RENEWING YOUR MIND, by Eric Elder, featuring forty inspiring devotionals based on one of the most life-changing books in the Bible. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

Scripture Reading: Romans 6:11-7:6

Is it OK to sin―at least a little bit every once in awhile?  After all, if we’ve already put our faith in Christ, He’s already forgiven us of our sins.  So He’ll forgive us again, won’t He?

While this is actually a reasonable idea on the surface―at least in terms of being forgiven of your sins by Christ―when you look at it at a deeper level, grasping what happens to your relationship with God and those around you every time you do sin, you’ll see that your best bet is to stay as far away from sin as you can, as often as you can, and for as much of your life as you can!

It’s like a kid saying, “My dad says not to run out in the road.  But I know he’ll still love me even if I do run out in the road, so what’s the big deal if I do it once in awhile?”  A kid like that would be missing the point entirely.  The point isn’t whether or not the dad would still love him just as much if he ran out in the road.  The point is that the dad doesn’t want him to get hit by a truck!

If the only reason you shouldn’t sin is because you think Jesus might be mad at you if you do, then you need to re-adjust your thinking!  It’s not that Jesus won’t love you just as much if you sin―it’s that He wants you to live!  He wants to protect you from engaging in things that could be dangerous to you and to those around you.  Sure, He’ll still love you.  But that’s the reason He doesn’t want you to sin… because He loves you.

The apostle Paul addressed this issue very clearly in his letter to the Romans, who, having been convinced that Jesus had forgiven them of all their sins, might have been tempted to fall back into sin again, thinking that it no longer mattered if they sinned, because they could still be assured of Christ’s love for them.  Paul said:

“What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?  By no means! … What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:15,21-23).

Sin leads to death, but Christ gives you life!  If the choice is to sin or to follow Christ, Paul says to follow Christ!

But there’s an even greater reason to drop your life of sin and follow Christ.  Paul says it’s because God wants you to bear fruit―good fruit.  When you follow sin, you bear fruit that leads to death.  But when you follow Christ you bear fruit for God.  Here’s how Paul said it in his letter to the Romans.

“So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God. For when we were controlled by the sinful nature, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death. But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code” (Romans 7:4-6).

God didn’t abandon His laws when Christ came.  His laws are still good and will protect you from sin.  What God did was to make an offering on your behalf to pay the penalty for your sins so you wouldn’t have to pay it yourself.  Now, when you put your faith in Christ, you receive forgiveness of your sins.  If you continue to sin, there will still be other consequences―for sin still always has consequences―but the good news is that you will no longer be separated from your relationship with Him because of your sin.

Whenever you sin, even if it’s “just a little,” it puts a wedge between you and God, as well as between yourself and those around you.  God doesn’t want that wedge, and neither do you.  He loves you too much for anything to come between Him and you.  And I believe, if you’ve read this far into the message already, that you love Him too much to put that wedge between the two of you, too.

I was once teaching a class of adults how to use computers.  One of the students had been using very colorful language throughout the class, not necessarily swearing, but still they were undoubtedly “off” color.  I had introduced myself as a technology expert, which, in my role as their teacher, I was.  But it wasn’t until later in the day that I mentioned that I was also a pastor.  Immediately, this man who had been so colorful with his words all day turned colorfully red in the face, too!  He quickly began to apologize for his language in front of me and the rest of the class.

In my attempt to be honest, for I really wasn’t bothered by it, I said something that made him turn even redder still.  I said, “That’s OK.  You don’t have to apologize to me.  I’m not the one who’s been watching over your every day anyway.”  The whole class turned to him with a look that said he was really in trouble now!

The truth is that his language really didn’t affect his relationship with me much at all.  But by his reaction, it seems like it may have affected his relationship with God quite a bit.  It may have seemed like a “little sin” to him, but the fact that he was embarrassed in front of me and the class gave me the impression that it may have been a much bigger deal in his relationship with God.

I didn’t say this to the man to make him feel more guilty than he already did for saying those things in front of me.  Just like I’m not saying these things to make you feel more guilty of the things you may be doing in your own life.  Believe me, I know how hard it is to keep from sinning, even though I’ve been trying to follow Christ with my whole heart for 24 years.  I’m still not, by any means, “sin-free.”  I wish I were, because I know that whenever I sin, it causes damage..  This, in turn, makes me want to stay away from it as much as humanly possible.

And in the bigger picture, I not only see the damage that sin causes, but I also see that it hinders my ability to bear fruit for God.  And that is perhaps the biggest damage of all.

God has created you to do good works.  He has things He wants you to do in this life.  When you sin, you hinder those good works, sometimes more than you can possibly imagine.  Believe me when I say that God has good works for you to do.  He has created you uniquely, with special gifts and abilities.  He’s poured unique talents into your life.  He’s trained you up to be an asset to Him.  He wants to use you to reach out into the world, both in large and small ways.

Don’t let Satan hinder you from accomplishing all that God has created you to do.  Don’t follow the path of sin that would keep you from the path God has lined out for you.  Don’t let yourself become a slave again to those things of which you’re now ashamed, things which bore fruit for death.  Serve God fully instead, bearing good fruit to Him.

How do you do that?  By keeping away from sin as much as possible, and by staying close to Jesus as much is possible.  As Jesus said:

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in Me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing.  If anyone does not remain in Me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be My disciples” (John 15:5-8).

God wants you to bear fruit―much fruit, as Jesus said.  Keep away from sin, even “little sins,” as much as possible.  Not because God will love you less if you do sin, but because He loves you so much He doesn’t want you to leave His side even for a minute.  When you stay close to Him, you will bear fruit for Him.

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for loving us so much that You gave us rules for how to live the best possible lives here on earth.  Thank You for saving us from what we have earned because of our sins, and giving us the gift of eternal life instead, if we’ve put our faith in Christ.  Help us to stay as close as possible to Him so that we can bear as much fruit as possible for You.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection

1. Read Romans 6:11-7:6.  What does Paul say we should offer to God in verses 11-14?  How might offering these things to sin lead to death, whereas offering them to God leads to life?

2. In verses 15-18, Paul says that just because we’re free from the law, it doesn’t mean that we’re not still slaves to something else.  What is that other thing, and why is it so much better than being a slave to sin?

3. In chapter 7, verses 1-3, what illustration does Paul use to talk about being set free from the law?  What does being freed from the law allow us to do?

4. Is anything specific hindering you from bearing as much fruit as possible for God?  Is there an action step you can take this week to help you drop whatever is hindering you, and get any closer to Jesus?  Ask God, and perhaps a few trusted friends, to help you do it so that you can bear as much fruit for Him as possible.

Lesson 16: Setting Your Mind On What The Spirit Desires (Back to Table of Contents)

You're reading ROMANS: LESSONS IN RENEWING YOUR MIND, by Eric Elder, featuring forty inspiring devotionals based on one of the most life-changing books in the Bible. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You’re reading ROMANS: LESSONS IN RENEWING YOUR MIND, by Eric Elder, featuring forty inspiring devotionals based on one of the most life-changing books in the Bible. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

Scripture Reading: Romans 7:7-8:11

What is it about rules that makes us want to break them?  I was in a church one day when the pastor was talking about the benefits of a new diet he had started.  He was telling us how he ate a bowl of oatmeal every morning for breakfast, and how much of a change that was from the way he used to eat.  He said he previously used to sit down some nights and eat an entire 2-pound bag of peanut M&M’s in one sitting!

As surprised as I was to hear that, as soon as he said it, something sprang to life within me.  I began to imagine what it would be like to sit down and eat a whole bag of peanut M&M’s, all by myself, in one sitting.  It sounded crazy.  I’d never even thought about the idea before.  That’s a lot of M&M’s!  But it sounded really good, too.  (And for some of my international readers, peanut M&M’s are peanuts dipped in chocolate and covered by a hard candy shell).

The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to do it.  Although it seemed wrong, I still wanted to do it.  Somehow, his sermon on the benefits of his new diet just made me want to eat more.  The very thing he was telling me not to do was the very thing I wanted to do―and it was his sermon that sparked the idea in me to do it!

When one of my daughters asked me what I wanted for Christmas that year, only one thing came to mind:  a 2-pound bag of peanut M&M’s.

What was happening to me?  Why was I now desiring something that I had never thought of desiring until I was told that I shouldn’t desire it?  Wouldn’t it have been better if I had never heard that sermon at all?  And what could I do about it now that I had?

The apostle Paul described this dilemma in Romans chapter 7 (except for the part about the peanut M&M’s), which also includes one of the most tongue-twisting passages in all of Scripture:

“What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “Do not covet.”  But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire.  For apart from law, sin is dead. Once I was alive apart from law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.

“Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! But in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it produced death in me through what was good, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.

“We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.  I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do―this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

“So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:7-24).

I like the way Paul puts this.  He says that the law is good, but that sin is always present, too, ready to spring into life at any moment.  And when sin sees an opportunity, it seizes it, producing within us our covetous desires. The law is not the problem—sin is.  And sin seems already nearby and ready to seize upon such opportunities.

It seems like a dilemma that could cripple us for life.  But Paul doesn’t leave us there, and neither does God.  Paul asks: “Who will rescue me from this body of death?”  Then he continues this passage by answering that question, as well telling how you can win the battle over the sins and temptations that you face in life, too.  Paul says:

“Thanks be to God―through Jesus Christ our Lord!  So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.  Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering.  And so He condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.

“Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.  You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you.  And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit, who lives in you” (Romans 7:25-8:11).

Paul says it clearly:  the one who can rescue you from the battles you’re facing is Jesus Christ our Lord. The same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead is living within you, if you’ve put your faith in Him.  And that same Spirit can bring you the same life-giving power and victory, if you’ll set your mind on what the Spirit desires.

Jesus has already fought the hardest battle on your behalf, dying for your sins so you don’t have to.  Now your job is to set your mind on what the Spirit desires, letting go of anything that is pulling you back into your sinful desires.

If you can win the battle in your mind, you’re well on your way to winning the battle in your flesh, too.

My sweet daughter bought me a 2-pound bag of peanut M&M’s for Christmas that year.  But when I got the bag and came face to face with the choice I was about to make, I did something I hadn’t expected.  I changed my mind.

Whereas before I had only imagined what it would be like to indulge my desires, I now thought through what that decision would mean down the road.  What if I really did eat the whole bag in one sitting?  How sick would I get?  How many pounds would I instantly be adding to my already increasing body fat?  In a matter of minutes, I had changed my mind.  I decided to just eat just a few.  I shared a few more.  Then I put the rest away in a cupboard, to be eaten only occasionally as a special treat, or to be served to friends who stopped by.

Instead of being controlled by my fleshly desires, I set my mind on what the Spirit desires instead.  And in so doing, I won the victory.

Believe me, I know there are bigger battles in life than facing a 2-pound bag of peanut M&M’s.  But I also know that God is bigger than any of those battles, too.  The choices you make in your mind will affect the choices you make with your body.  I want to encourage you today to make good choices―to set your mind on what the Spirit desires, and not on fleshly things.

When tempted to look at someone who’s attractive for longer than you should, just look away.  Leave them there.  And don’t look back.  When tempted to click on an inappropriate website, just let it go.  Don’t click that link.  Ask yourself, “What does the Spirit desire?”

When tempted to start a bad habit, remember that the best way to stop a bad habit is never to start in the first place.  Just don’t do it.  Don’t even get started.  When fighting a bad habit that you’ve already started, just drop it.  Let it go.  Find a way to redirect your time and energy into something more godly and healthy.

In every battle, call upon the Spirit of Christ who lives within you to help you do what He wants you to do.  Remember:

“And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit, who lives in you.”

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for doing the hardest work of all in our battle against sin.  Help us to do the hard work we have to do of setting our minds on what Your Spirit desires.  Help us in the battles we face today so we can drop whatever might threaten to harm us, and to take hold of that which will lead us to life.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection

1. Read Romans 7:7-8:11.  Have you ever experienced what Paul described in verse 9 where “sin sprang to life” after hearing about something you shouldn’t do?

2. What does Paul say is the cause such experiences?  Is the law at fault, or something else?

3. What encouragement do you take from the solution Paul puts forth, that if the Spirit of Christ lives in you―the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead―that He can give life to your mortal bodies as well?

4. Is there an area in your life where you could use the help of the Spirit of Christ right now to overcome a battle that you’re facing?  How could simply setting your mind on what the Spirit desires help you in this area?

Lesson 17: Knowing Who The Holy Spirit Is (Back to Table of Contents)

You're reading ROMANS: LESSONS IN RENEWING YOUR MIND, by Eric Elder, featuring forty inspiring devotionals based on one of the most life-changing books in the Bible. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You’re reading ROMANS: LESSONS IN RENEWING YOUR MIND, by Eric Elder, featuring forty inspiring devotionals based on one of the most life-changing books in the Bible. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

Scripture Reading: Romans 8:9-11

I used to think that the Holy Spirit was like a light inside my heart.  But one day, God helped me to understand that the Holy Spirit is not a substance, but a person―a person who wanted to live and act and move in my life.  As Jesus said:

“And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever―the Spirit of Truth. The world cannot accept Him, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. But you know Him, for He lives with you and will be in you. … All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. … I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when He, the Spirit of Truth, comes, He will guide you into all truth” (John 14:16-17, 25-26, and 16:12-13a).

The Holy Spirit really is a person, not just some spiritual substance that flows through your body.

I realized this most clearly when I was worshipping God in the middle of a large sanctuary with hundreds of other people.  As I was singing, I was thinking about the beauty of Jesus and how great it could be if I could really see Him with my own eyes.  Far away at the front of the sanctuary there was a stained glass window with a picture of Jesus on it.

While everyone else was still standing and singing, I just sat down in my seat and closed my eyes.  I began to picture what Jesus would look like in my mind―something like that far-away image of Him in the stained glass window.  But suddenly, with my eyes still closed, I pictured two eyes directly in front of mine!  They were so close that I couldn’t look at both eyes at the same time.  I had to look back and forth between them, as you might do when looking close into the eyes of someone you loved.

With my own eyes still closed, I felt that His eyes were coming closer and closer to mine―so close, in fact, that I had to back up in my seat.  But when they finally came as close as they possibly could without touching me, the two eyes disappeared.  I wondered where they had gone.  At the same time, I sensed that they hadn’t left me at all.  Instead, I realized they had somehow passed right through me and began to turn around inside my head.

I felt my own eyes refocusing, as if Jesus Himself wanted to look through my eyes.  I could picture His arm going down inside my arm as if He were putting my arm on like a sleeve.  His hand went down inside my hand as if putting on a glove.  I could imagine His feet going down into my legs, one at a time, like He was putting on a pair of jeans.  His feet slid down into my feet as if putting on a pair of shoes.

My mind began to be flooded with Scriptures about how the Spirit of God really does lives inside us, like the ones I mentioned earlier.  I began to understand that He wanted to take up residence within me, live inside me and carry out His will through me—at least to the extent that I allowed Him free reign to do so.  I invited Him in and asked Him to push all of me out, so that I could be filled with Him as full as possible, from head to toe and from fingertip to fingertip.

I felt like God was telling me that when I was ready to open my eyes again, He wanted to look through my eyes and help me see the world as He sees it.  He wanted to use my hands to do what He wanted them to do.  He wanted me to walk where He would walk.  He wanted me to hear my ears what He would hear, speak with my mouth what He would speak, and feel with my heart what He would feel with His.

When I finally did open my eyes, I did see the world differently.  I realized that the Spirit of God wasn’t just a light inside my heart.  He was a person―a person who had literally come to take up residence inside my mortal body, giving life to it, as well as power, wisdom and direction.  As Paul said in Romans chapter 8:

“You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit, who lives in you” (Romans 8:9-11).

These verses have incredible power if you’ll take them to heart.

I saw their power displayed most clearly when my wife Lana was pregnant with our second child.  Lana was having some abnormal bleeding early on in the pregnancy, so she went in for a test.  They drew her blood on two different days and checked the level of her hormones.  If the baby was OK, her hormones would be doubling every day.  But if the baby wasn’t OK, then her hormones wouldn’t be rising, but going down instead.  When we got the results, we found that her hormones were dropping rapidly.

The doctor told us this could only mean one of three things:  1) either the baby had died and was about to miscarry on its own, or 2) the baby had lodged in Lana’s fallopian tubes instead of her womb, and if the baby wasn’t removed, it would burst the tubes and die, possibly killing Lana at the same time.  The third option was that the test was wrong.

The only way the doctor would be able to tell for sure was to do an interior ultrasound, which we scheduled for the next day.  That night, before the ultrasound, Lana called a friend to pray for her.  The friend suggested she read Romans chapter 8.  As Lana read these ancient words of the apostle Paul, she was struck in a new way by verse 11:

“And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit, who lives in you” (Romans 8:11).

She realized that if the Spirit of God was living inside her, the same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead could raise this baby from the dead, too.  We both began to call upon God’s Spirit fervently, and asked others to do the same.

The next day, we went to the hospital for the interior ultrasound.  The nurse called Lana into the room and I sat in the waiting room outside.  After a long and emotional wait, the nurse called me in.  I saw Lana laying on the hospital bed.  She was crying.  The nurse took me over to the ultrasound machine and pointed to a black dot in the middle of it.  She said, “Do you see that dot on the screen?”

I could see it, the black dot that was our baby.  I was about to burst into tears myself when the nurse said, “Do you see how it’s beating?  That’s your baby’s heartbeat!”

Lana wasn’t crying because the baby had died!  She was crying because the baby was alive!  But that couldn’t be!  Lana’s hormones were dropping so rapidly.  I realized there weren’t just three options, but four, because the Spirit of God who raised Jesus from the dead was now living inside Lana’s mortal body as well!  We felt like we had just witnessed the “dunamis” power of God, God’s dynamite that, when ignited by faith, causes miracles to happen!

Lana went on to carry the baby to full term and give birth to a completely healthy little boy―a little boy who is now nineteen years old and full of faith himself, believing that the same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead can do all kinds of miracles in the world today.

The Holy Spirit is not just some ethereal substance that flows in and out of your life.  He is a person, a person who carries with Him the power of God, and who has taken up residence within you, if you belong to Christ.  The Holy Spirit wants to work in your life in powerful ways, too.  He wants you to call upon Him  and His power by faith.

Whether you’re battling with life or death, or battling with a sin that’s overwhelming you, God’s Spirit can give you power to win those battles.  If you’re struggling with reading the word of God or struggling to understand how it applies to your life, God’s Spirit can help to guide you into all truth.  If you’re trying to mend a broken relationship, or wondering how to go on with life having lost someone who was precious to you, God’s Spirit, the Counselor and Comforter, can bring you a wisdom and a peace that passes all understanding.

If you want to renew your mind today, renew your thinking about the Holy Spirit.  When you see Him as a person, rather than a substance, it will change the way you talk with Him—and what you can expect of Him.

I know a pastor who says that he always gets super-excited when he sees God’s Spirit moving in even a small way in an audience where he is speaking and ministering.  He gets excited because He knows that since God’s Spirit is a person, that means that if part of Him shows up, then all of Him is there!

If you belong to Christ, then you don’t just have a little bit of the Holy Spirit living inside of you, but the whole of Him living inside of you―the same Spirit who raised Christ from the dead.

Call on God’s Holy Spirit today and invite Him to do His powerful work in your life right now.

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for sending Your Holy Spirit to live inside us when we belong to Christ.  We call upon Him now to bring life to our mortal bodies, both here on earth, and in heaven forever.  Raise to life those things in our lives which seem like they might be dead, so that we can be filled again with the abundant life that You have in store for us instead.  We pray this in the strong name of Jesus, Amen.

Questions for Reflection

1. Read Romans 8:9-11.  How have you pictured the Holy Spirit who lives in you, if you belong to Christ and He lives within you?  

2. What difference would it make in your life to picture Him as a person, rather than a substance?

3. Are there some particular areas of your life where you could really use the Spirit’s power right now?  Why not talk to Him right now and invite Him, by faith, to do His life-changing power in your life?

4. If you don’t belong to Christ, and don’t have the Spirit of God living within you, why not invite Him into your life today?  Turn away from any sin in your life and ask Jesus to forgive you, then invite His Holy Spirit to take up residence within you, giving you His power to do His work in your life.

Lesson 18: Receiving The Spirit Of Sonship (Back to Table of Contents)

You're reading ROMANS: LESSONS IN RENEWING YOUR MIND, by Eric Elder, featuring forty inspiring devotionals based on one of the most life-changing books in the Bible. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You’re reading ROMANS: LESSONS IN RENEWING YOUR MIND, by Eric Elder, featuring forty inspiring devotionals based on one of the most life-changing books in the Bible. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

Scripture Reading: Romans 8:12-17

It’s only been ten days since Steve Jobs died and I’m still mourning the loss.  I’ve followed his life and career for the last 28 years, ever since I used one of his first computers, an Apple Lisa (the predecessor to the Mac), to write a poem (complete with text and graphics) to my college sweetheart at the time (now my wife of 22 years).

It was an experience that changed my view of computers, and my major in college, and my eventual career.  I no longer saw computers as cold, sterile, and unmerciful machines.  Instead, I began to see them as devices that could help me give expression to some of my innermost thoughts and feelings.

Today, 28 years later, I’m still using one of Steve Jobs’ computers to give expression to my innermost thoughts and feelings, now using them to encourage people all over the world to put their faith in Christ for everything in their lives.

I’ve written to Steve a couple of times in recent years to thank him for the impact he’s had on my life and, by extension, the lives of so many others, as I use his computers to reach out around the world.  I’ve also prayed for him and shared my faith in Christ with him in those letters, hoping to give to him the best blessing I can think of in return for the blessing he’s been to me.  I don’t know if he ever did put his faith in Christ or not, but my hope and prayer is that at some point he did.

Although Steve’s time of decision has come and gone, there’s still time for you to make yours.  If you haven’t yet put your faith in Christ for everything in your life, especially for the forgiveness of your sins, I’d encourage you to do it today.

Jesus told the story of a rich man and a beggar, both of whom died about the same time.  Jesus said:

“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

“The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried.  In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

“He looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

“But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

“He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father’s house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

“Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

“‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead’” (Luke 16:19-31).

There are times when I wish we could get into heaven based on all the good we’ve done in our lives.  But when I remember how much we’ve all sinned, I’m thankful that it’s not based on what we’ve done in life, for none of us have a perfect moral scorecard.  Instead, it’s based on our faith in the One who gave us life, and our acceptance of the sacrifice that has been made for our sins.  As Jesus said to Martha when her brother died:

“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26)

It has always been this way.  God has always required a sacrifice for our sins in order to escape the penalty that we would have received otherwise.  Even in the days when the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, God didn’t tell them to write their good deeds on the doorframes of their homes.  He told them to put the blood of a lamb on their doorframes, as a sign of their faith in Him.  Then, when He saw that sign, He would “pass over” their homes and not bring upon them the destruction that they would have received otherwise (see Exodus 12).

Why then do people not put their faith in Christ?  Sometimes people have an intellectual block that keeps them from doing it.  But other times there’s a more practical reason: they simply don’t have a good example of what a loving father looks like, which makes it hard for them to believe that there’s a loving Father in heaven who cares about them deeply, too.

I don’t know much about Steve Jobs’ personal life, but I do know that he was given up for adoption at birth.  His biological parents were unmarried college students at a time when abortion was still illegal in the U.S.  His biological mother left the University of Wisconsin and went to San Francisco to give birth, where Steve was adopted by his new parents.

When Steve eventually discovered who his biological parents were, he made contact with his mother and his biological sister, with whom he later became close friends.  But according to his biological father, Steve never did make contact with him, even up to Steve’s death.

I’m not a psychologist, but I’ve heard from some of my friends who have been adopted that they sometimes wrestle with feelings of abandonment and self-worth, wondering why their parents might have given them up for adoption.  In some cases, this sense of worthlessness can drive them to prove their worth in other ways.

I have no idea if this was a factor in Steve Jobs’ own personal drive, yet if it was, he went after it with gusto.  By this time last year, the company he helped to create had become worth more than any other technology company in the world, and just a few months ago, it became the most valuable company of any industry, based on the value of it’s stock.  More important than building a thriving company, Steve’s life has influenced millions of other lives around the world like a huge tidal wave, touching lives of people who didn’t even know who he was until this week.

But Steve Jobs life didn’t become more valuable as his stock price and market influence grew.  The truth is, his life was worth more than even he could have ever imagined even before he started his famous computer company in his garage. His Father in heaven had placed a value on him before anyone but God Himself even knew he was alive.

It’s the same for you.  God has loved you since before you were born.  Your life is worth more to Him than you can imagine, and has had immeasurable value since before you even had a chance to make your mark on the world.  God loves you so much He sent His Son to die for your sins so you wouldn’t have to, inviting you back into a personal relationship with Him if you’ll just put your faith in Christ.

This is perhaps the most important part of today’s message:  when you put your faith in Christ, God adopts you as His son or daughter.  When you put your faith in Christ, you become an heir of God, and a co-heir with Christ.  You receive from God the “Spirit of sonship,” which includes the full rights and privileges of a son or daughter, as well the ability to see God as the truly loving Father that He is.  The apostle Paul describes this Spirit of sonship like this:

“…those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by Him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs―heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory” (Romans 8:12-17).

What difference does it make to be able to view God in your mind as the loving Father that He is?  All the difference in the world.  Paul uses the word “Abba” in his description of God, an Aramaic word that means “Daddy.”  It’s a term of endearment.  It describes a relationship that is not just a father and a son who are connected by birth, but who are connected by true affection for one another.

My younger kids will often call me “Daddy.”  It’s a truly affectionate term.  Every once in a while, even my teenagers will still call me “Daddy,” whether it’s my nineteen year old son writing an email to me from college, or my seventeen year old daughter using her most playful voice to tell me I’m doing something silly.  It always warms my heart when they do this, to think that they not only see me as their father, but also as their “Abba,” their “Daddy.”

That’s the kind of relationship God the Father wants to have with you.  He doesn’t want to be a distant and formal father, but a close and familiar one—a “Daddy”—a “Daddy” you can trust and run to and lean on whenever you need to.

Although God wants you to make the most of your life here on earth, and to use the gifts and abilities that He’s given you to their fullest, you don’t have to create a multi-billion dollar corporation to prove your worth to Him and to enter into that sweet relationship with Him.  You just have to believe in Him, putting your faith in Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.  And when you do, you’ll be given the Spirit of sonship, and become adopted as His son or daughter, with all the rights and privileges that go along with it.

If you’ve already put your faith in Christ, you’ve already been adopted as His child. Your role now is to believe it and receive it, letting it’s truth sink deep into your life and heart today.  If you’ve never put your faith in Christ, I’d encourage you to do it today and receive God’s Spirit of sonship right now.

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for giving us Your Spirit of sonship when we put our faith in Christ.  We pray that You will help solidify what that means in our lives today, helping us to know that You really do care about us, that we have worth just by being one of Your children, and that You will strengthen us by that same Spirit in our lives today.  Thank You Daddy.  We love you.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection

1. Read Romans 8:12-17.  What images come to mind when you think of the word “Daddy”?  How would using the word “Daddy” to describe God change your relationship with Him, compared to other words you could use for Him?

2.  What are some of the benefits Paul lists in this passage of receiving the Spirit of sonship?

3.  What difference would it make to think of yourself as an heir of God, and a co-heir with Christ?

4.  If you’ve never put your faith in Christ, what benefits do you see of being adopted by God?  Why not put your faith in Christ today and receive from God His Spirit of sonship?

Lesson 19: Knowing That In ALL Things God Works For Your Good (Back to Table of Contents)

You're reading ROMANS: LESSONS IN RENEWING YOUR MIND, by Eric Elder, featuring forty inspiring devotionals based on one of the most life-changing books in the Bible. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You’re reading ROMANS: LESSONS IN RENEWING YOUR MIND, by Eric Elder, featuring forty inspiring devotionals based on one of the most life-changing books in the Bible. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

Scripture Reading: Romans 8:28

I want to encourage you today that God can work ALL things for your good in your life no matter what you’re facing.  He really is FOR you, even in those things that seem hardest to face, and you can trust that He can work for your good even in those things.

I’ve been reading the book, Pollyanna, this week to my kids.  The book was written back in 1913 about an eleven-year-old girl whose contagious optimism transformed an entire town.  If you’ve ever heard someone described as a “pollyanna,” it’s a term that came from this book.

But as I read the book this week again, I realized that for all her optimism, Pollyanna was in no way a naive little girl who was ignorant about the real pain that people face in life.  Her profound optimism wasn’t the result of ignorance, but it was the way she was able to keep sane and healthy in spite of severe losses in her life.  Born on the mission field, Pollyanna lost her mother when she was young, then lost her father when she was eleven.  She was sent to live with her stern and strict aunt on the East Coast, where she often had to fight back tears at the unfair treatment she received.

Yet with all the bad that was thrown at her, Pollyanna chose to train her mind to try to see the good in life, believing that there was always something she could be glad about.  It was something she learned from her father when she was on the mission field.  He called it the “glad game.”

In talking about the game to a woman named Nancy, Pollyanna said:

“We began it when some crutches came in a missionary barrel.  You see, I’d wanted a doll.  But when the barrel came the lady wrote that no dolls came in, just the little crutches.  So she sent ’em along.  The game was to find something about everything to be glad about, no matter what.  We began right then―on the crutches.”

Nancy said, “I can’t see anythin’ to be glad about gettin’ a pair of crutches when you wanted a doll.”

“There is―there is,” Pollyanna crowed.  “I couldn’t see it either at first.  Father had to tell it to me.  You just be glad because you don’t― need― ’em!  You see, it’s easy when you know how!  Only sometimes it’s almost too hard, like when your father goes to Heaven.”

Rather than being naive about life, it was Pollyanna’s disappointments in life that helped her to see things in a whole new light.  She went on playing the “glad game” in her new town, helping the people see that no matter what they faced in life, there was always something to be glad about.  Without giving away too much of the story, Pollyanna even found a way to be thankful when she did have to use crutches by the end of the book.

In a similar way, the apostle Paul is known for saying some of the most optimistic things in his letters in the New Testament.  For instance, in his letter to the Philippians he wrote:

“Rejoice in the Lord always.  I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4).

Some people might think, “Sure, that’s easy for Paul to say, as he was one of the most highly educated and influential leaders in the early church.”  But the truth is, Paul saw more suffering in his lifetime than most of us would ever see in ten or twelve lifetimes, if we were able to live that many.  Paul wrote:

“I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness” (2 Corinthians 11:23b-30).

Yet in spite of all this, Paul was still able to encourage people to “Rejoice in the Lord always.”  In his letter to the Romans, Paul explained why we can rejoice always.  He wrote:

“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, emphasis added).

I have quoted this verse more often to myself and to others than perhaps any other verse in the Bible.  It’s a statement that I’ve tested for myself over and over again and continue to find to be true.  It’s not just a “pollyanna” way of looking at the world.  It’s a truth that God has given us to hold onto tightly, knowing that no matter how things look in the situations that we’re facing, we can trust Him to work in those situations for our good, if we’re willing to trust those situations to Him.

But like Pollyanna in the book, there are times when finding the good in a situation seems like a daunting task.  But rather than running away from such tasks, Pollyanna relished them.  At one point, a sick and bedridden woman challenged Pollyanna to find something in her situation that she could be glad about.  Pollyanna sprang to her feet and clapped her hands.  She said:

“Oh goody, that’ll be a hard one―won’t it?  I’ve got to go, now, but I’ll think and think all the way home.  Goodbye, I’ve had a lovely time!”  

Pollyanna did think and think and came up with several ideas, one of which was to encourage the woman to be glad she had her hands and arms.  That simple statement made the woman wonder why she didn’t do something with her hands and arms, so she began to knit little things for fairs and hospitals.  She became so glad to think she could do something with them.

I think people sometimes view me as being a little too “pollyanna-ish,” too, when I tell them to trust God completely in every situation that He can work it for our good.  But I’ve found that sometimes when I tell people stories of God’s faithfulness to me in my life, they often don’t realize, or don’t take seriously when I tell them, how desperately I’ve had to pray through the situations in which I’ve been.  They only hear the outcome of the stories, knowing that somehow God turned even awful situations into something good.

I think that’s the way we sometimes read the stories in the Bible, too.  Since we already know how they end, we can sometimes gloss over how dramatic the turnarounds really were.

For instance, when Moses and the Israelites were up against the Red Sea, with no where to turn and the chariots from Egypt pressing in, all of a sudden, God opened up the Red Sea so they could pass through on dry ground.  It was a near-death experience for them all, yet God delivered them through it.  But since it only takes a few paragraphs to read through the whole story, we don’t always get the sense of impending doom that the people must have felt.  I imagine Moses went through some serious questions for God about how God could possibly work this one out for good.  Yet God told Moses to stand firm, that Moses would indeed see God’s deliverance… and he did (see Exodus, chapter 14).

Or when Daniel spent the night in the lion’s den and came out alive the next day.  People may just think that Daniel found a safe place to hide or that the lion’s just weren’t hungry.  But if you read the story closely, you’ll see that as soon as Daniel was lifted out of the lion’s den, those who had falsely accused Daniel were thrown into the den themselves, and the text says:

“And before they reached the floor of the den, the lions overpowered them and crushed all their bones” (Daniel 6:24b).

I imagine Daniel had some serious questions for God about how God could possibly work this one out for good.  Yet Daniel was extracted without even a wound on him (see Daniel, chapter 6).

When we hear stories of God’s faithfulness to others, we tend to minimize the adversity they faced, and maximize the possibility that God could bring them through it.  Yet when we experience our own life-dramas, we tend to maximize the adversity we’re facing, and minimize the possibility that God can bring us through it.

Today, I want to stir up your faith.  I want to help you see the truth that God can work all things for your good, too.  I want to encourage you to keep putting your faith in Christ.  Regarding the situations you’re facing in life today, ask yourself:

“What good might God be doing through this?  What good might come out of what I’m going through right now?  What might God be doing that I can hang onto in faith, and hope for, and pray towards?  What good might God be doing on my behalf right now?”

God wants to turn your thinking around today.  He wants you to see that He really can―and does―work all things for good for those who love Him and who are called according to His purpose.

This isn’t just a “glad game” from a children’s story.  This is a truth from God, recorded in His Word, in order to help you see your life the way He sees it, full of hope and promise and significance.

God loves you and really can work for your good in ALL things.

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for showing us that there are different ways to look at the things we’re going through in life.  Help us to look at the things we’re facing and see them as You see them.  Help us to look for and see the good that You’re working in those situations so that we can face them with courage and faith.  Help us to overcome our weakness so that we can keep putting our trust in You for everything in lives.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection

1. Read Romans 8:28 and 2 Corinthians 11:23b-30.  How might the trials Paul faced in life have helped him to come to the point of believing that God really could work for his good in ALL things? 

2. If faith is like a muscle that gets stronger and stronger the more we use it, what kinds of things might God put someone through to help them grow as strong in their faith as possible?

3. What good might God be doing in the situations you’re facing in life right now?

4. Like Pollyanna, what can you find to be glad about in those situations?

Lesson 20: Knowing That God Is FOR You (Back to Table of Contents)

You're reading ROMANS: LESSONS IN RENEWING YOUR MIND, by Eric Elder, featuring forty inspiring devotionals based on one of the most life-changing books in the Bible. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You’re reading ROMANS: LESSONS IN RENEWING YOUR MIND, by Eric Elder, featuring forty inspiring devotionals based on one of the most life-changing books in the Bible. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

Scripture Reading: Romans 8:31-39

I have a riddle for you today.  Can you answer all seven of the following questions with the same word?

1. The word has seven letters

2. Preceded God

3. Greater than God

4. More evil than the devil

5. All poor people have it

6. Wealthy people need it

7. If you eat it, you will die

I’ll give you the answer at the end of today’s message.  But for now, I’d like to talk to you about Romans chapter 8.

In the last lesson, I talked about how God can work ALL things together for good for those who love Him and who are called according to His purpose.  In this lesson, I want share why God works all things for your good.  It comes because God is, ultimately, FOR you.  And if God is FOR you, who can be against you?  That’s the question the apostle Paul asks at the end of Romans chapter 8:

“What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all―how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is He that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died―more than that, who was raised to life―is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us”
(Romans 8:31-34).

It’s easy to wonder sometimes if God is really FOR you.  You lose your job and it makes you wonder what happened.  You get a horrible report from the doctor and you wonder what you did wrong.  You open an email from a friend to discover some news you wish you had never read and you wonder how God could be working in this, too.

Yet the truth is that God IS for you.  He loves you deeply and cares about your life more than you could possibly imagine.  He is as heartbroken about the things that break our hearts as we are, yet He has a perspective that is greater than ours.  He can see the good in situations that we can hardly grasp while we’re going through it.

Often it’s only through hindsight that we can see what God saw in foresight.  That job loss wasn’t the worst thing that happened to our career after all, but actually helped us leapfrog forward.  That bad report from the doctor turned out to deepen our faith rather than shatter it.  And that email from a friend brought situations to light that never could have been dealt with had they stayed in the dark.

If only we could have the foresight that God has, we would be able to weather the storms that come at us much better.  If we could see things as He sees them, our minds would be refreshed rather than distraught when seemingly bad news comes along.  Today, I’d like to give you a lens through which you can look at everything that comes your way, and to see it in foresight rather than waiting till it’s long past to see it in hindsight.

The lens of life comes through looking at everything through the cross of Christ.  Rather than be tossed to and fro by the storms of your life that come along, God has settled that matter once and for all when He sent Jesus to die for your sins.  He didn’t have to come along and rescue you, but He did.  God didn’t wait until you were cleaned up and doing good for Him to send Jesus to die, but, as Paul said in Romans 5:8:

“While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

If this question is settled, why then do we still wonder if God loves us when things go wrong in our lives?  Why do we wonder why funds seem to have dried up, or job opportunities seem limited, or our health or relationships seem to be falling apart?  It’s a natural feeling, I know, but it’s not the truth.  If God loved you when you were still in the muck and mire of sin, why would he then abandon you when you’re trying your hardest to follow Him?

My wife and I have felt this before.  After giving birth to three healthy children, my wife had a miscarriage.  It was a blow to us emotionally and personally.  Then she had a second miscarriage.  Then a third.  Then a fourth.  It was as if everything we were doing was falling apart.  Yet we felt like we were giving our all for the cause of Christ more than ever before.  It was natural to wonder what we were doing wrong.

Yet it was during a time of worship when my wife had a breakthrough.  She was listening to a worship CD by Don Moen about the healing power of Jesus when she finally surrendered to whatever God’s will was for her in this area of her life.

She wasn’t happy about the miscarriages, but she knew that all she could do was to trust Him completely.  She had asked herself all the important questions, trying to find out if there was anything she was doing to contribute to these miscarriages.  But finding nothing, there was no more she could do but to continue to trust in God.  She did, and God gave her the peace that passes understanding that somehow, in some way, He would work all things for her good.

Just after this, she became pregnant again and this time she was able to carry the child to full term, giving birth to our fourth child.  Then came a fifth, and eventually a sixth.  Whether the turnaround in her heart and mind had anything to do with the turnaround in the situation, we still don’t know.  But what we do know is that when she came to the end of herself and put her faith in Christ again, she regained the peace that God was indeed FOR her.  And regardless of what happened after that, she decided she was going to praise God.

I have felt the same at other time of my life.  When I’m praying to God for funding for a special project, or just for our daily needs as we minister to others, it sometimes feels like pulling teeth.  Like I’m begging God to do something for me that I know He doesn’t have to do, but that I wish He would do for our sake and the sake of those we’re trying to reach through our ministry.

Then I think about what God has already done for me through Christ, and it’s like I put on a whole new set of glasses.  I can finally see what God is wanting me to see.  Rather than wondering what I’m doing wrong, I start seeing things from God’s perspective.  I start seeing that there’s nothing that God would withhold from me, if He thought it was for my good.  As Paul said:

“If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all―how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32).

I sometimes think I’m asking God for too much when I ask for money―whether it’s ten dollars, or a hundred, or a thousand.  But then I remember what He’s already done for me.  If someone were to give you ten dollars, or a hundred, or a thousand, they’d be giving up a lot for you.  What if they gave you ten thousand, or ten million, then they’d really be paying a price.

But what about someone who’s gone to war for you, and lost an arm or a leg for you, so you could be free?  If someone gave up their arm for you, that’s worth way more than ten million dollars.  Now imagine if they gave up their life for you.  What price could you put on that?  And then, to take it a step further, imagine that they were not only willing to give their life for you, but their most cherished possession in the world, their child, so that you could live?  Now we’re talking priceless to the n-th degree.  And that’s what God has done for us by sending Jesus to die for us.  And somehow we wonder if God still loves us if He doesn’t send us ten bucks, or a hundred, or a thousand?

The truth is, there’s nothing God wouldn’t do for you.  He loves you and He is overwhelmingly FOR you.  He wants to work all things for good in your life because He created you.  He has a purpose for your life.  And He wants to see you fulfill that purpose.

Don’t ever think that because you don’t get what you want, when you want it, that it means that God doesn’t love you.  It’s a lie.  There may be other reasons involved, and their may be things that God wants you to change, or redirect, or pray differently about.  But it’s not because He doesn’t love you.  He’s already settled that point beyond argument.  And when you look at what’s going on in your present situation through the lens of what He’s already done for you in the past, you’ll see it clearly too.  You’ll have the foresight that most people only get in hindsight.  Your mind will be fixed on the good that God is doing and wants to do through you, rather than the bad that may seem to be engulfing you.  This isn’t just positive thinking.  This is godly thinking.  This is looking at life as God sees it.

Once you see that God is for you, you’ll become convinced, like the apostle Paul was, that there is nothing else in life that can separate you from His love.  Nothing!  As Paul said in the conclusion of chapter 8:

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:37-39).

What can separate you from the love of God?  It’s the same answer as the answer to today’s riddle:  Nothing!

1. NOTHING has seven letters

2. NOTHING preceded God

3. NOTHING  is greater than