This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- Trusting God, Moment By Moment


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

TRUSTING GOD, MOMENT BY MOMENT

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

Moment By Moment - First Page

I’d like to encourage you today to put your trust in God for just one moment. Whatever you’re facing, whatever you’re working through, whatever you’re dealing with or wondering about, put your trust in Him for just one moment.

Trust Him that He can walk you through it. Trust Him that He will help you all along the way. Trust Him that He will never leave you or forsake you, that He will never leave you alone, that He is working things out behind the scenes in ways that You could never imagine.

I shared a story yesterday at my son’s graduation ceremony about his commitment to working hard on the things he loves. My wife and I homeschooled all six of our kids, and this was our fourth to graduate from high school. I was speaking to a group of fellow homeschooling families in the area who had gathered to celebrate twenty-two seniors who were graduating this year. I said:

“We hit a pretty major bump in our homeschooling road about four years ago when my wife was diagnosed with cancer, and sadly she passed away just nine months after her diagnosis. Since I work from home, my wife wanted me to keep homeschooling the kids, as long as I felt it was doable for me and working for them. There were plenty of days when I wasn’t sure if it was doable for me or working for them, but we had had days like that before, so we all kept at it. I felt like some things were slipping through the cracks, though, like continuing their piano lessons. I had taught them for years when they were younger, and we had hired teachers for them at other times, but it had been awhile since any of my kids had played at all. I kept telling myself I should get them back into the piano because they were all really good at it, but I hadn’t been able to do it yet.

“One night I came home from an event and heard my son playing an incredible piece on the piano. I hadn’t heard him play in a long time and had never heard that particular piece before. I was stunned, and I asked him when he learned to play it. He said, “Every time you’re gone, I’ve been working on it. I was going to wait until I had finished the whole piece to play it for you.” I about burst into tears. (And I also thought, “I should leave more often!”) But it really spoke to my heart that even when I feel the weakest in my abilities, I can trust my kids to God and His abilities, because He’s able to do way more for them than I ever could. I also learned that I can trust my kids, that if there’s something they really want to learn, they will.”

I had no idea that God, and my son, were already working behind the scenes. As I shared that story yesterday, I was reminded that I could trust God for the things I’m facing today, and will face tomorrow, and the next day, to.

I wrote a song for the piano about twenty years ago called “Moment By Moment.” I wrote it after having attended a conference where the topic one night was about the power of trusting God, even for just one moment. The speaker asked us if we thought we could put our trust in Him for just one moment, that moment, right then. Yes, I thought. I can certainly trust Him for a moment. She then asked if we could trust Him again for the next moment, the one we were now experiencing. Yes, of course, that was easy, too. I could trust Him for another moment.

She said that if we could just keep trusting God like that, moment by moment, those moments would add up to minutes, and minutes would add up to hours, then days, then months, then years. If we can keep trusting God moment by moment, we’ll eventually end up trusting Him for the rest of our lives. “Don’t underestimate what God can do in a moment,” she said. I had to agree. There’s power in trusting God, even if it’s just for one moment.

When I wrote that song almost twenty years ago, I was just getting started with writing music. Although I loved playing the piano and had played my whole life, I had never written anything on my own until a friend walked up to me one day while I was practicing the piano and he gently closed the piano book in front of me. “Play now,” he said. “I’d like to hear what you’d play if you didn’t have someone else’s music in front of you.”

I stared at the closed book. Then stared at him. Then I stared back at the closed book again. I had no idea what to play! I had never played a song without sheet music in front of me. I sat there for over an hour, looking at the closed book, looking at my hands on the keys, and talking to my friend about why I didn’t know how to do what  he was asking me to do.

But because of my friend’s gesture of closing the book in front of me, and his genuine interest to hear what I would play if I were to play what was written on my heart, not just what was written on the page, I gave it a try.

Over the next few weeks, I began turning those heart songs into piano songs that others could listen to and enjoy. “Moment By Moment” was one of the songs that came out, as I reflected on what might happen if I were to really trust God, even in a moment like that.

Last weekend, I had a chance to play that song on stage at our church during a time of communion. As I played, I couldn’t help but reflect back to the time when I first wrote that song, almost twenty years earlier– and how much God had done in my life over through those twenty years. I was now playing the music that was written on my heart, and letting God use it to touch the hearts of several thousand who had gathered to worship Him that morning.

Praise God! I had trusted Him moment by moment, and all of those moments had turned into minutes, then hours, then days and months and years.

“Don’t underestimate what God can do in a moment,” as the speaker had encourage us to do all those years ago.

Keep putting your trust in Him, moment by moment. And when you you, you, and many others around you, will be blessed.

P.S. You can listen “Moment By Moment” (and all of our music) on our website for free anytime day or night. It’s the first track at this link on my album called “Clear My Mind.”

P.P.S. If you play the piano, or know someone who does, you can also get a copy of the piano book for “Moment By Moment” and all twelve songs from my album “Clear My Mind.” Just click this link to get a copy in paperback for a donation of any size to our ministry, or from these links for our NEWLY AVAILABLE ebook version for Kindle or iBooks. Enjoy!

Moment By Moment - Cover

 


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


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

Grace/ Can You Hear The Music Of Faith?

by J. Jeffrey Smead

 

John shares these words of truth with us, John 1:16:

“For of His fullness we have all received and grace upon grace.”

During a British conference on comparative religions, experts from around the world debated what, if any, belief was unique to the Christian faith.

The debate went on for some time until C. S. Lewis wandered into the room.

“What’s the rumpus all about?” he asked.

And heard in reply that his colleagues were discussing Christianity’s unique contribution among world religions.  Lewis responded, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.”

“I give thanks to my God always for you, because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus,”

Beloved in Christ…It is Grace!!

We are called to be a people of Grace.

A people filled to with grace, and overflowing with the joy of the Lord.

Sadly, so many, even those who call themselves followers of the Christ seem to have lost their first love.

They have lost or misplaced that spiritual joy of the Lord.

And as we know the joy of the Lord is our strength.

And the joy of the Lord in a way is the Music of Grace.  The music of Faith.

The author, Max Lucado speaks about grace, “and hearing the music of faith.”

Now, imagine that you want to learn to dance.

Being the rational, cerebral person you are, you go to a bookstore and buy a book on dancing.

You take the book home and get to work.

Finally, you think you have got it, so you invite your wife to come in and watch.

You hold the book open and follow the instructions, step by step.

You even read the words aloud, so she will know that you have done your homework.

“Lean with your right shoulder,” ….and so you lean.

“Now step with your right foot,” …so you step.

“Turn slowly to the left,” …so you turn.

You continue to read, …then dance,

…read, then dance,…until the dance is completed.

You plop exhausted on the couch, look at your wife, and proclaim, “I executed it perfectly.”

“You executed it, all right,” she sighs. “You killed it.”  “What you ask?”

“You forgot the most important part, where is the music?”

You never thought about music.

You remembered the book, you learned the rules.

You laid out the pattern, but you forgot the music.

“Do it again,” she says, putting in a CD.

“This time don’t worry about the steps; just follow the music.”

She extends her hand and the music begins.

The next thing you know, you are dancing and you don’t even have the book.

We as Christians are prone to follow the book while ignoring the music.

We master the doctrine, outline the chapters, memorize the catechisms, debate the rules, and stiffly step down on the dance floor of life…with no music in our hearts.

We measure each step, calibrate each turn, and flop into bed each night exhausted from another day of dancing by the book.

“Let God have you, let God love you.”

Allow the Grace of God to permeate your very being.

Than do not be surprised, if your heart begins to hear music that you have never heard and your feet learn to dance, as never before.

Keep your eyes on Jesus Christ and you will hear the music of the Holy Spirit and you Will dance a life of grace.

And beloved…you will dance…you WILL dance like you have never danced before.

Amen and Amen!


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


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

What’s So Great About Gratefulness?

by Don Jaques
 
1 Thessalonians 5:16-5:18

In “The Hiding Place”, Dutch woman Corrie ten Boom wrote of her family’s experience undergoing the trial of concentration camps under the Third Reich in World War II. Though not Jews themselves, she, her father, and her sister, Betsie, were sent to a series of prison camps for harboring Jews in their Netherlands home. At one point, the two sisters are sent to their third camp, Ravensbruck, and upon their arrival at the barracks, they realize that among other horrors of the camp their barracks are completely infested with fleas. QUOTE: p. 180-181

“Fleas!” I cried. “Betsie, the place is swarming with them!…how can we live in such a place?”

“Show us. Show us how.” It was said so matter of factly it took me a second to realize she was praying. More and more the distinction between prayer and the rest of life seemed to be vanishing for Betsie.

“Corrie!” she said excitedly. “He’s given us the answer! Before we asked, as He always does! In the Bible this morning. Where was it? Read that part again!”

I glanced down the long dim aisle to make sure no guard was in sight, then drew the Bible from its pouch. “It was in First Thessalonians,” I said….”Here it is; ‘Comfort the frightened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all…'” It seemed written expressly to Ravensbruck.

“Go on,” said Betsie. “That wasn’t all.”

“Oh yes; ‘…to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus–‘”

“That’s it, Corrie! That’s His answer. ‘Give thanks in all circumstances!’ That’s what we can do. We can start right now to thank God for every single thing about this new barracks!”

I stared at her, then around me at the dark, foul-aired room.

“Such as?” I said.

“Such as being assigned here together.”

I bit my lip, “Oh yes, Lord Jesus!”

“Such as what you’re holding in your hands.”

I looked down at the Bible. “Yes! Thank You, dear Lord, that there was no inspection when we entered here! Thank You for all the women, here in this room, who will meet You in these pages.”

“Yes,” said Betsie. “Thank You for the very crowding here. Since we’re packed so close, that many more will hear!” She looked at me expectantly. “Corrie!” she pleaded.

“Oh, all right. Thank You for the jammed, crammed, stuffed, packed, suffocating crowds.”

“Thank You,” Betsie went on serenely, “for the fleas and for–”

The fleas! This was too much. “Betsie, there’s no way even God can make me grateful for a flea.”

“‘Give thanks in all circumstances,'” she quoted. “It doesn’t say, ‘in pleasant circumstances.’ Fleas are part of this place where God has put us.”

And so we stood between piers of bunks and gave thanks for fleas. But this time I was sure Betsie was wrong.

(END OF QUOTE)

Who do you relate with? Betsie and her seeming superhuman power to give thanks even for the fleas? Or Corrie, who had come to the end of her rope?

If I’m honest, I think my gut reaction is much like Corrie’s. I know, I know, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says: Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. But when things are going badly my natural response is, “God can’t possibly expect me to give thanks in THESE circumstances!” Can God really be serious about this? And why would he instruct us to do it anyway? For the next few minutes let’s see if we can find some answers to these questions.

As I began studying the passages in the Bible that talk about giving thanks – one thing began to come clear for me. When the Bible says that I’m supposed to give thanks in all circumstances – it also gives me plenty of examples of people who did just that.”

I found the example of Daniel. He hears the news that praying to God is now a federal offense punishable by death. What does he do? He promptly goes to his room, opens the window and proceeds to give thanks to God, just as he was in the habit of doing.

I also discovered Jesus, standing up in front of a hungry crowd of people, with a measly 5 loaves and 2 fish to feed all of them, giving thanks to God for those measly provisions. Even though what he had was not near enough – He gave thanks!

Most incredibly, I discovered Job, who, upon hearing that in one fell swoop he had lost all of his children in a freak accident, comes up with one of the most profound quotes of the Bible…

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
and naked I will depart.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;
may the name of the Lord be praised.”

Thank God I can only imagine the pain of losing just one of my children, let alone all of them at once. But here, this amazing man of God finds the strength to say – even though the Lord has taken away what He gave, I will praise Him still.

But still the question remains – WHY? Why would God make such a crazy demand on us when we’re undergoing the worst of times. Well, I believe the answer is that there are benefits and blessings that God gives to those who will take Him at His word and learn this discipline of giving thanks in ALL circumstances.

So, what are these benefits, these blessings promised from God to those who will give thanks in ALL circumstances?

1. Giving thanks to God prepares the way for Him to reveal his plans for us. (Ps. 50:23)

If you’ve got your Bible with you, turn with me to Psalm 50. Allow me to read, starting in verse 14 (the speaker here is God Himself…)

Psalm 50
14 Sacrifice thank offerings to God,
fulfill your vows to the Most High,
15 and call upon me in the day of trouble;
I will deliver you, and you will honor me.” …

23 He who sacrifices thank offerings honors me,
and he prepares the way
so that I may show him the salvation of God.”

Do you see that? “He who sacrifices thank offerings honors me, and he prepares the way so that I may show him the salvation of God.”

This idea of “preparing the way” calls to mind one of the mundane things

That gets done every week both here and in Oak Harbor. A couple hours before the service starts, a group of incredible servants arrives to do such “spiritual” work as setting up chairs, hauling children’s ministry equipment, and making coffee. These servants “prepare the way” so that the MAIN EVENT of the worship service can happen. If you were to arrive and there was no sound system set up, the musicians hadn’t rehearsed, there were no chairs to sit on, and so on, it would be very difficult for anyone to experience the work of the Lord in their life. There would just be too many distractions.

Well, what does this verse say about how we can see what God wants to do in our lives? It says that those who offer sacrifices of thanksgiving prepare the way for God to show his salvation to them. Just like the work of those on the set up team, our acts of thanksgiving prepare the way for the Lord to reveal his salvation – his way of delivering us from whatever situation we’re facing.

It’s as if God is just waiting for us to say, in our thanksgiving to Him, “God I know that all I have is yours and comes from you – and I trust that just as your word says it, “You are good!” I choose to trust you and thank you!”

I remember one particularly powerful way that I learned this lesson, back in the summer of 1990, on a muggy summer night in the south of France. At the time I was part of a singing group touring for the summer doing evangelistic concerts. After doing our nightly concert, tearing down our equipment, and loading it into our tour bus, we drove a few miles to the youth hostel where were to spend the night.

Just one problem – when we arrived at the youth hostel shortly after 11:00 pm we discovered that they had filled the 35 beds we had reserved since we were so late in arriving. No amount of arguing with them through an interpreter was going to make any difference. They did not have beds for us.

What they did do was refer us to a different hostel in a different part of town that they said might have room for us, if we could make it there before midnight. We tried to telephone them, but got no answer, so all we could do was pack up on the bus and start the drive to this other hostel. On the way, an amazing thing happened. Someone in the front of the bus started softly singing a praise song. Pretty soon a couple of others picked up the refrain, and before we knew it our entire group was singing a song of praise and thanksgiving to God – even though we didn’t know if we would have beds that night. Where there had been disappointment, anger, and fear only a few minutes earlier, the bus now resounded with joy, optimism, and hope.

The great happy end to the story is that when we arrived (just before midnight) we discovered that not only did this hostel have room for all of us, but it was in a safer part of town, and was a cleaner, quieter environment than the original hostel.

But I can’t help but think that, even if that hostel didn’t have room for us that night, we would have found joy in the midst of our uncomfortable night on the bus simply because we had made the choice to praise God anyway.

Now, why else does God want us to learn to give thanks in all circumstances?

2. Giving thanks to God ushers in the peace of God to guard our hearts and minds. (Phil. 4:6-7)

Phil 4:6-7 (NLT)

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. 7If you do this, you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

So, the Apostle Paul writes, get rid of your anxiety and replace it with a lifestyle of prayer – bringing all your needs before God WITH THANKSGIVING. And if we’ll do this, we’re promised something that no amount of money can purchase. Peace. Guarding our hearts and minds beyond anything that the human mind can understand.

We’ve all seen and read of the role the secret service plays in protecting our President. Their job is to put themselves in the way of any harm that is intended for the President or a member of his family. 24 hours a day they surround the first family with protection that is often unseen to the casual observer but is nonetheless very real. In this way, the peace of God guards our heart and mind from the harm our enemy would send our way through any one of the weapons at his disposal.

In addition to the peace promised to those who learn to give thanks in all circumstances, and the way doing so sets the stage for God to show us his salvation, there is a third reason I’ve found that God asks us to develop this discipline.

3. Giving thanks reminds us that God uses all our circumstances to make us more like Him (Romans 8:28-29).

As you may know, the Apostle Paul did not have an easy life. He endured hardships most of us only read books or watch movies about – beatings, imprisonments, hunger, shipwrecks, abandonment – yet even in the midst of this, he wrote in his letter to the Romans, chapter 8, verses 28-29:

Romans 8:28-29
28And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

Here we see one of the most incredible promises of the Bible for you and me. It clearly states that for those who love God, every circumstance of their lives is being used for their ultimate good. Now this takes incredible patience and understanding, because the “good” promised may be very far off in human terms.

Yet even to those of you who are in the midst of pain, crisis, or grief, God says – TRUST ME – I’m STILL IN CONTROL, AND I’M WORKING FOR YOUR GOOD. What good you ask? Verse 29 tells us – the good of being conformed into the likeness of His Son. That some day we might be able to stand before Him and hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You had some hard lessons in your time on earth, but you see now how they ALL shaped you into who I had created you to become. Welcome and enter into your rest!”

We walk by faith, not by sight. So when sight says, “There is no God – look at all the suffering!” Faith says, “Even in this I believe God is good and his love endures forever.”

I’ll close by returning to the story I started with. You remember Corrie ten Boom and her sister Betsie, giving thanks even for the fleas in the Nazi concentration camp Ravensbruck. You’ll remember Corrie saying “This time I knew she was wrong!” Well a couple months later something happened that proved who was right and who was wrong.

Corrie writes…

One evening I got back to the barracks late from a wood-gathering foray outside the walls. A light snow lay on the ground and it was hard to find the sticks and twigs with which a small stove was kept going in each room. Betsie was waiting for me, as always, so that we could wait through the food line together. Her eyes were twinkling.

“You’re looking extraordinarily pleased with yourself,” I told her.

“You know we’ve never understood why we had so much freedom in the big room,” she said (referring to the fact that they had been free to have Bible studies and even sing hymns in the barracks together in the evenings..) “Well, I’ve found out.”

That afternoon, she said, there’d been confusion in her knitting group about sock sizes and they’d asked the supervisor to come and settle it.

“But she wouldn’t. She wouldn’t step through the door and neither would the guards. And you know why?”

Betsie could not keep the triumph from her voice: “Because of the fleas! That’s what she said, ‘That place is crawling with fleas!'”

My mind rushed back to our first hour in this place. I remembered Betsie’s bowed head, remembered her thanks to God for creatures I could see no use for.

May we learn what Betsie and Corrie ten Boom had come to learn – that when we trust God enough to thank Him in all circumstances – even for the creatures and circumstances we can see no use for – He will bless us in ways that surprise us and fill our lives with a peace and a joy that we never knew we could experience.


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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- Remembering To Smile


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

REMEMBERING TO SMILE

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

Miss Janet, Kaleo and me dancing in Miss Janet's 60th dance recital.

Dancing with the Stars: my daughter and me rehearsing for one last dance with Miss Janet.

 

Last weekend I had a chance to dance in a recital with my childhood dance teacher from 40 years ago. She’s now teaching my daughter’s tap class, and at the beginning of the school year, she said, “Eric, you don’t have to sit out in the hallway. You can come and dance with us! Just take off your shoes and dance in your socks.”

Part of me really wanted to do it. I loved those weekly tap classes as a kid. They always made me smile (and as my sister-in-law says, “How can you not smile when tapping?!”).

But another part of me was really embarrassed by the idea. I’m over 50 (53 today, actually!), and I couldn’t imagine how it would look to see myself in the classroom mirror, tapping again. But my tap teacher is now 75 and still tapping away. How could I say “No” to Miss Janet?

So I took off my shoes and went into the classroom, along with my daughter and a few other girls and their moms. By the end of the class, I was hooked. I hadn’t laughed so much or so long in a long, long time, and for that alone, I told Miss Janet I’d be back again the following week. I went out and bought a pair of tap shoes and for the past 9 months have been tapping away with Miss Janet and my daughter every week.

Last weekend was the culmination of our year together, as I danced with my daughter and Miss Janet in her annual recital–her 60th since she began teaching–and she wanted to do it up right with a big bang.

She asked if I would dance with her in a special number at the end of the show, along with several of her other current and former students. Again, I demurred, as I couldn’t imagine dancing in a recital after all these years. But at 75, Miss Janet can still do the splits, so she wondered if I could dance with her and drop her down into the splits and pick her right back up again a couple times during the show.

She hooked me again. How could I say “No” to Miss Janet? So we did it! And we had a blast, laughing all the way.

After the show, I gave Miss Janet a card and a picture, thanking her for the laughs and smiles. The picture I gave her was of a pewter statue my mom had given me back when I was in high school, as my mom said it reminded her of me when I was a boy, taking acrobats from Miss Janet. The smile on the boy’s face was the same smile I had whenever I walked on my hands. There was something about it, walking on my hands and doing back flips, just like tapping, that always made me smile.

Hand Walking

I told Miss Janet that I’ve put this statue on my desk from time to time over the years to remind myself to smile whenever I’m doing the work God’s called me to do. Sometimes I get so bogged down in the details of the work and I forget to smile. I forget that this is what I was made for, this is what God’s called me to do, created me to do, and what I truly enjoy doing!

Whenever I look at this statue, it reminds me to smile. Not just when the work is done, not just when I’m on stage, not just when someone wants to take a picture, but right there in the midst of life, all along the way.

I love the quote of Eric Liddle, the Olympic runner who also had a heart for missions. Although he wanted to move overseas and be a missionary, he also wanted to train for and run in the Olympics. When describing to a friend why he decided to run in the Olympics and then perhaps still be a missionary some day later, Eric said:

“When God created me, He made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.”

There are some things in life that just bring a smile to my face. And if I stop and think about it for long enough, it probably brings a smile to God’s face, too. And He loves bringing smiles to our faces. He loves bringing us joy. He loves bringing us laughter. He loves delighting us with the intimacies and ecstasies of life.

But with all the pressures, obstacles and heartaches that we face, it’s sometimes easy to forget. We forget to smile.

It’s not that life isn’t hard. It’s not that there aren’t times when it’s okay to be sad. It’s not that God wants us to fake it. But sometimes we just have to remind ourselves to smile. And when we do, it can open the door again to bringing joy back to our lives. As the Bible says:

“A happy heart makes the face cheerful… the cheerful heart has a continual feast” (Proverbs 15: 13a, 15b).

I was sad a few weeks ago when Miss Janet told me this would be her last recital. After 60 years of teaching over 7,500 students, she was going to retire after the show. I wanted to cry. But looking at Miss Janet, how could I be sad? She had brought such joy back into my life. I had had so much fun all year that I was ready to take her classes over and over again.

But as I told her in my card, I was so thankful she had invited me to dance with her for one more year, so thankful to dance with her in the recital, and so thankful for the laughs and smiles again. I really needed them.

And whenever I was dancing with her, I didn’t need the reminder.

Thank you, Miss Janet, and many blessings on your years ahead!

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


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

Land of the Giants

by Tim George

 
“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)

In the late 1960’s there was a TV show called Land of the Giants. Seven people from earth found their spaceship caught in a warp of some kind and ended up on a planet where everything was twelve times larger than on earth. Each week they battled giant cats, children, and soldiers. It was a little strange but raised an interesting question. What would we do if everything and everyone was a giant accept for us?

The truth is that we do live in a land of giants. There are things that are bigger than us which seem to stand between us and being where God wants us to be. In the Old Testament, God sent His people, Israel, to a place called The Promised Land. It was a great place to live but it also was inhabited by giants which they would have to face and defeat. We to live in a land of giants which we must face if we are to be where God wants us to be.

I. THE WARFARE WE FACE

A. The Necessity of This Warfare

We must all face the fact that spiritual warfare is a necessity. God never varnishes over the fact that there is going to be warfare for His children. He told Moses there would be blessings and enemies in the Promised Land (Exodus 3:16-17). He promised Joshua the Land but told him he would have to be strong and courageous to face its challenges (Joshua 1:1-7). He promised Gideon he would save Israel but he would have to face the Midiantes (Judges 6:15-16). He anointed David to be king as a youth but David still had Goliath and Saul to fight (1 Samuel).

Our Savior was no less forthcoming with His disciples and with us. Jesus said, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also.” (John 15:18-20). In other words, there is great joy and blessing in following Christ but there will also be battles to fight. They are a necessity and they are very real!

B. The Nature of This Warfare

Consider the nature of the warfare we have to fight. We are to be engaged in offensive warfare. We are not called to hold the fort against the giants of life. Unfortunately, that is the plan many Christians seem to have. They want to circle the wagons at the church building and hold off the devil until Jesus comes back. That is not God’s plan!

When Goliath challenged Israel, Saul hid in his tent and just hope everything would work out. When the Midianites were destroying Israel, Gideon was hiding in a wine press. They had adopted the philosophy of that great theologian, Charlie Brown. He told Lucy, “I have a new philosophy. I’m only going to dread one day at a time.”

We aren’t called to run for cover either. A mother came home from shopping to find five of her children sitting quietly in a circle. When she looked inside the circle she saw they had five young skunks they had found outside. Without thinking, she yelled, “run children, run!” They did, but not before each child grabbed a skunk to take with them. We are often like those children. When faced with the giants of life we panic and make a mess out of things.

God has called us to pull down strongholds (v.4). The word pull down means to dethrone. When the Apostle Paul preached the Gospel at Ephesus many people were saved. In coming to Christ they realized they needed to get rid of their idols of the goddess Diana (see Acts 19:21-27). As people gave up their idols, the local idol makers became alarmed that they were losing business. They said that Paul’s preaching of the gospel had destroyed the magnificence of Diana. In other words, the gospel had pulled down the stronghold of that false god. That is what we are called to. Through the gospel of Jesus Christ we pull down the strongholds of this world system we live in.

We are also called to cast down imaginations (v.5). That means we are to conquer them. We are to attack and conquer imaginations of this world. What are these imaginations? They are the deceptive and fleshly way of thinking common to this world system. Paul spoke of this in Colossians 2:8-10 when he said, “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.”

2 Corinthians 10:5 tells us that a giant is anything that exalts itself above God. We are to cast down every high thing. These are those things that seem too far above us to even hope to win against them. Goliath towered above everyone else in Israel. He was even taller than their king (Saul), the tallest man in all the kingdom. No matter how big Goliath was, Israel could bring him down if they let God fight their battle for them. There are many things that tower above us.

·Intellectual Giants – People that seem to have all the knowledge. They are “experts” and we are not. How can we stand against their evidence?

·Philosophical Giants – People who seem to understand life so much better than we do.

·Material Giants – People who have so much more than we do. Who are we to question what they say or believe?

In the end, a giant is anything or anyone that refuses to give God His rightful place. It is what exalts itself against the knowledge of God. This includes people who are operating in the flesh rather than in the Spirit, circumstances that make it appear that God is not in control, and attitudes that puts man before God.

II. THE WEAPONS OF OUR FIGHT

A. Weapons We Cannot Trust

It is imperative we understand that there are weapons we cannot trust. The weapons of our warfare are not carnal (v.4). We cannot face the giants of life with weapons of our own making. It is that carnal or fleshly nature that is our problem in the first place (see 1 Corinthians 3:1-3).

B. Weapons We Can Trust

God has given us weapons we can trust. These weapons are mighty in God (v.4). Though we live in this world and face the problems of this world, we have a different way to face those problems. This is the emphasis of Galatians 2:20 which reminds us, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”

We cannot trust weapons of this world – we must trust God’s weapons. David refused to fight Goliath with the weapons of Saul. He knew he must fight God’s battle God’s way. We must guard against trusting in the flashy and appealing answers of this world rather than in the trustworthy weapons of God’s armory.

“So Saul clothed David with his armor … And David said to Saul, “I cannot walk with these, for I have not tested them.” So David took them off. Then he took his staff in his hand; and he chose for himself five smooth stones from the brook, and put them in a shepherd’s bag, in a pouch which he had, and his sling was in his hand. And he drew near to the Philistine.”

(1 Samuel 17:38-40)

In future messages we will learn in detail the weapons God has given us to fight His battles. For now let’s take a sneak peek. He has given us:

·His Word – it never returns void.

·Prayer – He is always listening and ready to answer.

·His People – He often has reserves He has prepared to help us fight.

What giants do you face in your life? Do you find other people, circumstances, or things within in your own heart and mind coming between you and obeying God with your whole heart? Hebrews 12:1-2 gives us the ultimate answer for all the giants of life – “Look to Jesus the author and finisher of your faith…”


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


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

Our Peace

by Jim Black

Ephesians 2:11-22

Focus: Jesus has brought peace; destroying the walls between us and making his people ONE in him.

Function: To encourage a church with the message of reconciliation in Jesus, vertically (with God) and horizontally (with fellow mankind.

“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.”

That’s the way Robert Frost began his famous poem, “Mending Wall.” It’s a wonderful poem full of humor and (I think) a sense of sadness.  Its about two neighbors who go through the same ritual each spring, meeting at the wall to repair it-to refill the gaps that fallen stones have left and repair the damage done by hunters whose pursuit of their game has left the wall in disrepair. The neighbors have apparently done this for many years, yet it strikes the narrator in the poem to question just why it is they have the wall in the first place.

“And on a day we meet to walk the line
and set the wall between us once again
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
we have to use a spell to make them balance:
‘Stay where you are until our backs are turned!’
We wear our fingers tough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of outdoor game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, “Good fences make good neighbors.”
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
“Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it
Where there are cows?
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out, And to whom I was like to give offense.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall , . ..

They don’t have cows anymore that might stray onto the other’s property! Just trees. So why is the wall there? Hasn’t the time come that its purpose no longer exists? Yet, it remains . . . why? Because its always been there?

The truth is: its human nature to construct walls, isn’t it?  In our neighborhoods, we build our houses and then hold up inside of them rarely venturing out to get to know our neighbors. . . . I mean really get to know them. In society in general, we construct walls.   There are the walls which 140 years (this month) after the end of slavery in America still divides black and white. There are walls which divide gender- men and women; there are walls of social status- the divide of affluent and the poor. Walls are all around us! And for many- perhaps they help us feel comfortable, protected, unchallenged. I’m convinced that’s how it was for 1st century Gentiles- to whom Paul is writing his letter of Ephesians to! We see in this text that was just read this divide between Jew & Gentile!

Ephesians is about the church. Paul is writing it to the church at Ephesus to be circulated among other area churches to show them how to be the church! He will concentrate later on- on some of the moral implications of being in Christ. He has emphasized the blessings that are found in Christ, the power that is found in Christ; & he has reminded these Christians from whence they came- “you were dead in your sin.” But ALL of THIS has been to show the church how to be the church! God is about building His church! But, as any good construction worker can tell you, before you can build . . . some things have to go!

Eph 2:11-12

11 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (that done in the body by the hands of men)– 12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. (NIV)

I. Paul starts out this passage by saying, “Remember the WALL!”

Remember Paul is talking to Gentiles, here. . . (like us) “Uncircumcised” was a typical & disrespectful term used by the Jews (“The Chosen”) to describe the Gentiles. They were heathens . . . clearly NOT the people of God! It would be hard to adequately describe for you in today’s terms the disdain that Jews had for Gentiles (& vice versa- no doubt). As wide as the divide has been between whites & blacks in America- I don’t think that quite does it justice. As bitter the divide right now between some fundamentalist Moslems and Christians – that’s not the same thing either! The divide was racial- but extended far beyond race. It was political- but extended far beyond politics. It was religious- but extended far beyond religion. Other ancient Jewish writings refer to Gentiles as “fuel for the fires of hell.”

In the temple in the 1st century there was a literal dividing wall which separated the important part of the temple, the Court of the Israelites, with the Court of the Gentiles. Signs were posted in Latin and Greek warning Gentiles not to go any farther into the temple precincts under penalty of death! Archaeological and other evidence has found such signs! This was a serious divide! Imagine how difficult it must have been for either group to extend the other the right hand of fellowship!

But remember, Paul is talking to Gentile CHRISTIANS! They were Gentiles ‘by birth’ (lit. ‘By flesh’) but they were now Christians and now a part of the church at Ephesus. Paul tells them to remember when they were separated from God! Remember when that wall had separated them from God!   Separation from Christ/ God is the very definition of spiritual death! They were excluded from citizenship among God’s chosen people; ‘foreigners’/ strangers to the covenant / the promise of God.   They were without HOPE because they were without God! Why does Paul want them to remember?

Because one needs to remember ‘how bad it was before Christ’ before one can appreciate ‘how sweet it is in Christ.’ ??? There was this bitter wall which had separated them (not just from the Jews) but from God!

In 1949, following the defeat of Nazi Germany in WW II and the re-organization of Europe, the nation of Germany was divided into East & West. In the East a communist government was set up under the influence of the Soviet Union. In the West a free, democratic government was set up and benefitted greatly from the Marshall Plan & the economics of free enterprise. Life became much better in the West for German citizens. The city of Berlin became a crucible where these divided philosophies would literally divide the city. Fearful of losing many of its citizens, East Germany closed the border between the two states in 1952. But that didn’t keep an estimated 2.5 million East Germans from fleeing to West Germany between 1949 -1961. So, in 1961 the East German government built the Berlin Wall and strictly enforcing such defections. The wall stood for almost 30 years as a very real and symbolic divide between the East & the West.

I still remember a speech given by President Reagan in 1987 at the Brandenburg Gate- a section of the Berlin Wall in West Berlin. At the height of the Cold War, the President used the opportunity to encourage freedom and a new peace. As he spoke about the wall behind him which separated West Berlin from East Berlin for decades, I still remember his words, “Mr. Gorbechev, tear down this wall!”   I can’t help in hearing those words, from recalling images we saw just a few short years later when the wall was quite literally torn down. In November of 1987, the East German government held a press conference and lifted travel restrictions between the two Germanys. And Germans (both from the East & the West) scaled the wall and danced in celebration! Perhaps some of you traveled to Germany in the late eighties and have a piece of that wall? Today nothing of it remains in a united Germany and a whole Berlin. The wall is just gone, a thing of the past. The most frequently asked question in Berlin today is: “Where’s the wall?”

Eph 2:13-18

13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. 14  For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. (NIV)

II. Paul’s emphasis: Christ, himself, is our Peace!  Christ has torn down that wall that had divided for so long! We typically think of ‘Peace’ as the absence of war; especially in our time when that peace is threatened and the issue of war is a real possibility.  Especially now when I think of ‘peace’ my mind conjures up images of those who are protesting the possible war in Iraq and images of those in the 60’s who created their own sub-culture and came to be known as ‘peacenicks’. That’s NOT the kind of peace that Paul is talking about here! Peace is not JUST the absence of hostility . . . it is much more! It has its roots in the Old Testament concept of “shalom”, a fundamental Jewish concept even today. Shalom is a much more comprehensive term for salvation and life with God. It means wholeness, completeness, well-being, prosperity . . . In other words: Shalom is the way things SHOULD be; the ideal!

Christ has restored the ideal by destroying the wall and bringing Jew & Gentile together! Notice, the two are made one in Him! “His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace.” The Gentiles who had been so far away from God- separated by so much- have been brought near! Israel, too, who had been awaiting this coming Messiah, but had failed him miserably in their keeping of the law . . reconciliation happens thru the blood of Christ . . i.e. what God has done in Christ. For Paul, all of this happens IN CHRIST! We were walled away from God and Christ tore down that wall!

Notice the fullness of the Godhead in vs. 18- what happens as a result of this reconciliation. For thru him [Christ] we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. With the barriers gone, we ALL (Jew, Gentile, male, female, black, white, etc.) have full access to Father . . .because we share the one Spirit.

Eph 2:19-22

19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22  And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (NIV)

III. “Welcome to the Great House of God!”

As we said, in order to build, one must tear down first. Now, with the wall torn down, God has built his church; the house of God.

Notice who is in this house. “You . . . are fellow citizens with God’s people (lit. ‘holy people’) and members of God’s household.” In other words, we’re FAMILY! An amazing thing happened when Christ removed that barrier between us and Himself! He also tore down the barriers that we build between ourselves and other people! His church is to be a place where all people can come and share together . . . equally!

Gal 3:28-29 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29  If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise  (NIV)

The ground at the cross is level! This ‘peace’; the restored relationship; is both Vertical & Horizontal!   Between me and God; between you and me! Too many people believe that religion is only what a person does when they are alone with God. They forget that the vertical relationship with God expresses itself in the horizontal relationships with people. Christianity is to be lived out in community with other Christians! The text did NOT say, “He is my peace,” but rather “He is our peace.”

This house seems to be on pretty solid footing “..built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets.” Here I don’t believe Paul has in mind the O.T. prophets, but the numerous evangelists, teachers & preachers like himself who have traveled preaching this message of reconciliation to anyone who would listen!

2 Cor 5:17-20 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 18

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. (NIV)

The message: Reconciliation- “The Wall has come down!” The messengers: the ambassadors like Paul to whom this message had been committed.

But the Cornerstone is Jesus Christ, himself! He is the most important stone in THIS building!  Cornerstones in ancient buildings were the primary load-bearing stones that determined how solid the building was going to be. It set the plumb-line (so to speak) for the rest of the building. One cornerstone unearthed in Palestine was found to weigh 570 tons! God’s church would be built upon the ROCK: Jesus Christ, himself! He is to set the standard for the church, not the world. He is to set the agenda for the church, not the world. In fact, the Christian community has no other reason to exist other than Christ himself.

What does this message have to say to us? The only thing Paul tells us to DO in this text is remember.

If this is God’s Word to His church, what does this have to say to the walls either implicit or explicit that we erect? Among Christians, what walls exist among us? Are there still walls which divide the affluent & the poor? The black & the white? What about less obvious walls like between the old & the young; or the long-timer members vs. the new comers? Are we doing everything we can to be welcoming of EVERYBODY? Does everybody find a comfortable place within our family? Who are we walling in or out . . . even unintentionally & unknowingly?

If this is God’s Word to His church, what does this have to say about our foundation?  Who or What is this church founded upon? What is our cornerstone? Is it Jesus Christ or ourselves?   Our own works or abilities? If tomorrow the very foundations of this congregation were shaken to the very core and everything changed . . . if all of a sudden the government told us that it would be illegal to worship our God and our building was burned down in front of us . . . if our church leaders were arrested and hauled off to prison . . . what would be left? Could this church survive being shaken to the very core? I know that it would if it is built upon the chief cornerstone: Jesus Christ! But if its just built upon men, -even elders or preachers- or programs, or traditions- what would happen?

This text is a call for the church to be the CHURCH!

. . . to be family! . . . to be a place of reconciliation!
. . . to be a place where the walls are let down and open & honest, real relationships are formed!
. . . to be a place where Jesus is central & at the heart & core of everything we do!

And it’s a call for US to be the type of Christians that can form a church such as this!

The invitation of Jesus is offered to you this morning. Its an invitation that is ALWAYS open! Its an invitation for anyone who has a need for the prayers of this church to let those be known so that we can pray for you. Especially if you don’t know Jesus.

Have you had the dividing wall between you and God broken down? Have you committed your life to Jesus Christ who SO wants to destroy that wall for you? Have you turned from the sins of your past, named Him as the Lord of your life and committed your life to Him by being baptized into Christ? If not, let us encourage you to do so this morning!


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


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

The Elements of Love

by Dennis Davidson

 
1 Corinthians 13:4-6

Perhaps you’ve seen this Peanuts cartoon: Linus announces to his cranky sister, Lucy, that he’s going to be a doctor. “You, a doctor?” She asks. “How can you be a doctor? You don’t love mankind.” Linus replies, “I do too love mankind. It’s people I can’t stand.”

Aren’t we all tempted to love that way, in the abstract. It takes much less commitment. It is much less costly.

Love though is not an abstract concept but a living reality. So after contrasting the indispensable virtue of love with words, spiritual gifts and sacrificial deeds, the Bible compresses in four very short verses an amazing descriptive analysis of what this supreme gift is. In our look at love we will find that it is made up of many elements. You may have seen a scientist take a ray of light and pass it through a crystal prism and seen it come out on the other side broken up into its component colors; orange, indigo, violet, yellow, red, blue and green -the colors of the rainbow (colors of the light spectrum).

In the same way God takes love and passes it through Paul’s inspired intellect and it comes out broken down into its elements [fourteen descriptive statements listed in pairs]. In these few words we have what one might call The Spectrum of The Eternal Gift of Love ( or the analysis of love). Will you observe what its elements are? Will you grasp their common names and practice their virtues that make up the supreme gift of love? All of love’s 15 [14] virtuous actions relate to persons and to life. They are concerned primarily with the here and now of daily life.

We hear a great deal about God’s love for man and even man’s love for God but Christ also spoke about man’s love for man. Christianity is not a separate or an added component to life, but the inspiration of every day life, the breathing of the eternal into this temporal world. Love is not simply a component of life but love is an intent, a purpose, that causes thoughts, words and acts of everyday life. This intent to love was the need of the Corinthians, and this is still our need today.

So that we are all diving for pearls at the same depth perhaps we should distinguish the term love used in our text from other terms. The word used here is agape, not eros which denotes physical love or philos which denotes friendship love, but agape, love that originates with and comes from God Himself which sanctifies all other types of love. Agape love is Christian love. So that we understand this distinction the Apostle uses the definite article with agape.

I. REAL LOVE’S BEGINNING, 13:4.

II. REAL LOVE’S CONSTRAINS, 13:4b-6a.

This hymn of love in 1 Corinthians 13 describes how love is demonstrated in specific actions. The first two pair of descriptive characteristics are positive. Next we will look at the four pairs given in the negative that follow. The first characteristic of agape love is given in verse 4.

“The Love is Patient (long-suffering ).”

The word used for patience here is makrothumeo which is made up of two words, makros-meaning “long” and thumos meaning “passion, anger, rage.” The word literally means long tempered or that the temper is a long time in rising. Thus the word denotes a long waiting time during which the waiter refuses to give into anger. It is the quality of self-restraint in the face of provocation that does not hastily retaliate or promptly punish. It’s the quality of having a long fuse.

It could be looked at as love passive. Love waiting for opportunity to begin. Love not in a hurry, calm ready to do its work when opportunity arises.

Our first color in love’s spectrum is that it agape love is slow to arouse resentment and patiently endures provocation waiting for an opening to do its good work.

Robert Ingersoll, the well-known atheist of the last century, often would stop in the middle of his lectures against God and say, “I’ll give God five minutes to strike me dead for the things I’ve said.” He then used the fact that he was not struck dead as proof that God did not exist. Theodore Parker said of Ingersoll’s claim, “and did the gentleman think he could exhaust the patience of the Eternal God in five minutes?”

God’s children who have appropriated His love will not quickly take offense, much less seek revenge. They will bear patiently with the wrongdoer, not rendering evil for evil, but striving to overcome evil with good, not only in thought but in word and deed.

One of ABRAHAM LINCOLN’S earliest political enemies was Edwin M. Stanton. He called Lincoln a “low cunning clown” and “the original gorilla.” “It was ridiculous for people to go to Africa to see a gorilla,” he would say, “when they could find one easily in Springfield, Illinois.” Lincoln never responded to the slander, but when, as president, he needed a secretary of war, he chose Stanton. When his incredulous friends asked why?, Lincoln replied, “Because he is the best man.” Years later, as the slain president’s body lay in state, Stanton looked into the coffin and said through his tears, “There lies the greatest ruler of men the world has ever seen.” Stanton’s animosity was finally broken by Lincoln’s long-suffering, non-retaliatory spirit. Patient love won out.

Which brings us to our next ingredient of love in verse 4. “The Love is Kind.” Some people say that love is blind. It isn’t blind, but it is kind. It sees people’s imperfections and still cares. Love is not unkindly sever in its criticisms or disagreeable in its actions.

The verb chrestemeuetai noun form is chrestos meaning “useful, gracious, kind,” which comes from chraomai meaning “to use.” This is love active and means more than considerate in behavior. It indicates one enabled to make oneself useful. It is the victory over idle selfishness and comfortable self pleasure.

Have you ever noticed how much of Christ’s life was spent doing kind things? He spent a great portion of His life simply helping people. A great demonstration of love you can do for our heavenly Father is to be kind to His other children. How much our brethren need our kindness. How much our neighbors need our kindness. Kindness, not harshness, is more apt to encourage good in another person.

This verb denotes the disposition to put oneself at the service of others. Passive love is patient, is slow to resent affronts. Active love, or kindness, is disposed to do good.

Love must be specific. A person who loves is one who is patient and kind with an elderly grandmother, a cranky neighbor, an insensitive boss, and off-key choir member, a troublesome daughter, or someone who is mean to him. It is to specific people in our lives that we must be patient and kind. If we keep love in the abstract we will insulate ourselves from its sacrifices and actions. How about you? Is your love abstract or concrete? Love without appropriate actions is not love. Love acts in a way that is kind, gracious, useful and beneficial. Love is demonstrated in specific acts.

An article appeared in the newspaper about a young boy who went to the lingerie department of a store to purchase a gift for his mother. Bashfully he whispered to the clerk that he wanted to buy a slip for his mom, but he didn’t know her size.

The woman explained that it would help is he could describe her-was she thin, fat, short, tall, or what? “Well,” replied the youngster, “she’s just about perfect.” So the clerk sent him home with a medium size.

The article reported that a few days later the mother came to the store to exchange the gift. It was too small. She needed a considerably larger size. The little fellow had seen her through the eyes of love, which always look beyond external appearances.

The kindness of love won’t focus on faults or shortcomings. This doesn’t mean that it is blind to people’s weaknesses and sins. But it sees beyond them, accepting people as they are, looking at their best qualities, and wanting what’s best for them.

We need to examine our response to others in the light of love. If negative attitudes quickly surface, if glaring character defects always loom up before us, let’s ask God to help us see others through eyes of love. Love sees faults through a telescope, not a microscope. Remember, more people have been attracted to Christianity by a believer’s kindness that through zeal, eloquence or learning combined.

II. LOVE’S CONSTRAINS 13: 4b-6a.

Love is like a two sided coin. There are some things it is, positives, and some things it is not, negatives. So here follow eight negative qualities that stifle love. Where these are love cannot be. They are enemies of love. The first four deal with the abuse of the gift of love.

(The Love ) is not envious (jealous).

This is the word zeloo from zeo to boil. The word is used to express any wrong feeling when viewing the good of others. Envy or jealousy is a feeling of ill will or begrudging because of the supposed advantages of others.

Love is not in competition with others. When you attempt a good work there will be others doing it better. Do not be jealous or envious of them but grateful for them. eg. Adrian Rodgers’ preaching.

Beware of envy. Eve was envious of God, wanting to know what He knew and satan seduced her. Cain’s envy of Abel’s acceptable worship hatched the murder of his brother. Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery because of envy. Daniel was thrown into the lion’s den because of the jealousy of his fellow officials in Babylon. Real love does not resent the blessings, successes, or well-being of another.

Love is generous and we need to fortify ourselves with great magnanimity and be content with what we are, with what we have and where we are at, doing our best for the Master.

“Does not boast.”

Perpereuetai comes from perperos meaning “vain glory, braggart.” In Greek literature it is used of a talkative, self asserting or self exaggerating persons who put on a show or an outward display. One who sounds his own praises. Love is humble. It puts a seal upon the lips and lets one forget all his accomplishments.

Good communication is essential for a loving marriage. Poet Ogden Nash seems to have hit on a formula to help us remember how to communicate effectively. Nash, in his witty style, wrote:

If you want your marriage to sizzle
With love in the loving cup,
Whenever you’re wrong, admit it;
Whenever you’re right, shut up!

We need to put a seal on our lips and forget what we have done. Our self-esteem needs to come from Jesus’ love for us. A love so amazing that He died for us and has forgiven us and now calls us brethren.

When the Florida Marlins baseball team won their first trip to the WORLD SERIES, the press began to shower praise on manager Jim Leyland. When congratulated on winning his first National League Pennant, Leyland responded, “I didn’t win anything. I didn’t throw a pitch, or make a play, or score a run. The players won this-not me.” What a great attitude of humility! Few things are more noticeable to a watching world than those who are gracious not only in defeat but also in victory.

In other words, Love is humble. A humble person does his deeds of love in the name of Jesus for His heavenly Father and not for the eyes of ears of men.

“Nor becomes arrogant.”

The word phusioutai is from phusa-bellows. It means to be puffed out, full of oneself like air puffs out a pair of bellows. The previous word, boast, denotes outward display, this word, arrogant, the inward disposition. It speaks of conceit and presumptuous self-satisfaction.

The arrogant man boasts or toots his own horn and sees others as inferior. The man of love on the other hand is modest and humble, modest because he is humble. The arrogance that makes unwilling to receive the help of others also makes us insensitive to those who need us.

WILLIAM CAREY, who is often referred to as the father of modern missions, illustrates the kind of love that is not puffed up. He was a brilliant linguist and was responsible for translating parts of the Bible into at least 34 different languages and dialects. Yet his accomplishments grew out of humble beginnings that remained in his heart. He was raised in a simple home in England and worked as a cobbler in his early years. When his efforts for the gospel led him to India, he was often ridiculed for his “low” birth and former occupation. At a dinner party one evening another guest, seeking to call attention to Carey’s humble beginnings, said, “Mr. Carey, I understand that you once worked as a shoemaker.” “Oh no, your lordship, “Carey replied, “I was not a shoemaker, only a shoe repairman.”

By contrast, puffed-up people, full of themselves and having an exaggerated opinion of their own importance, are likely to assume that their happiness, well-being, opinions, and feelings are the only things that really count. Puffed-up people find it easy to dismiss the needs and feelings of others.

The first place we might look to see if we have a puffed-up sense of our own importance is in our prayers. Do we pray only for ourselves and our own interests, or do we also pray for the children, spouses, and concerns of others?

If we are wrong we need to admit it. Not only in marriage, but all relationships benefit from this kind of honesty (Prov. 12:22). Protecting ourselves when we’re wrong makes resolution impossible.

On the other hand, we can be equally hard to live with if we insist that we’re always right-and if we’re afraid to let our spouse know that we are fallible. No one likes to be around someone who always seems to be patting himself on the back.

Two simple guidelines for a marriage that pleases God: admit wrong and keep quiet about being right. It’s a good way to keep the relationship strong.

Button up your lip securely
Against the words that bring a tear,
But be swift with words of comfort,
Words of praise, and words of cheer.

In verse 5 we find the sixth characteristic of the love. does not behave unbecomingly (rudely).

Aschemoneo from schea, “behavior,” and meno, “remain,” literally the word means “un-remainable or unabidable behavior.” Not having the conduct that creates the desire that the person would remain (abide).

Those that behave themselves honorably during any situation with any strata of society, be it in the mansion or in the ghetto, can do so because of agape love. When behavior is disgraceful or dishonorable know that agape love is not there. And if love is not there, God is not abiding there, for God is love. See 1 John 4: 7& 8.

The secret of politeness, courteousness and respectfulness is love. Love controlled behavior does nothing of which one ought to be ashamed. Real love will never ask others to prove their love by doing something that is wrong. Real love will never prompt an unmarried person to say “if you love me you’ll prove it by giving yourself to me.” Those who love will never ask others to prove their love by doing something that is wrong. Those who love will never ask others to prove their loyalty by lying, cheating, or stealing for them.

The next four negatives deal with the Christian life in general. Love…

Does not seek its own.

A tombstone in a small English village reads,

Here lies a miser who lived for himself,
And cared for nothing but gathering wealth.
Now where he is or how he fares,
Nobody knows and nobody cares.

In contrast, a plain tombstone in the courtyard at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London reads, “Sacred is the memory of General Charles George Gordon, who at all times and everywhere gave his strength to the weak, his substance to the poor, his sympathy to the suffering, his heart to God.”

The love is not selfish. The love is not manipulative, it is not used to get ones own way. In agape love there is no “I’ll love you if…” [Jesus said in John 15:10 “If you keep my commandments you will abide in my love,” meaning God will love you regardless but if you want to experience the abiding presence of Him who is love you must keep His commandments.]

Our society confuses love with lust. Unlike lust God’s kind of love is directed outward toward others, not inward toward our selves. It is utterly unselfish. The heart that is so consumed with its own interests cannot show concern for the needs and interests of others. Agape love goes against our natural inclinations to put self first. It is possible to practice this love only if God helps us set aside our own desires and instincts, so that we can give love while expecting nothing in return. Thus the more we become like Christ, the more love we will show to others.

The goal of a person that loves will not be to seek things for himself. Christ taught that the highest happiness is in giving, not getting. Love means not enjoying pleasures which would cause your weaker brother to stumble, even though you think you have a right to. Real love will look beyond its own interests and embrace the concerns of others.

The love is unselfish. A supreme regard to our own happiness is inconsistent with love. Love has a spirit of liberality. So go, give some thing valuable to you away.

The next ingredient in the spectrum of love is: Nor becomes provoked.

Paroxuno can mean “exasperated, irritated, touchy, sharpness of spirit, aroused to resentment.” Real love is not easily driven to irritation or sharpness of spirit.

We look upon a bad temper as a minor weakness, but it is not. A quick temper or touchy disposition is often the one blot on an otherwise noble character.

The sin of the otherwise noble elder brother of the prodigal son in Luke 15:28 was that “he became angry.” How many prodigals are kept out of the Kingdom of God by the unloving character of those who profess to be inside?

An illustration within the book of Corinthians historical context would be in chapter four where there were dissensions and law suits among Christians. Love though is no so provoked.

The Great New England preacher and theologian Jonathan Edwards had a daughter with an uncontrollable temper. When a young man fell in love with her and asked her father for her hand in marriage, Dr. Edwards replied, “You can’t have her.” “But I love her and she loves me,” he protested. “It doesn’t matter,” the father insisted. Asked why, he said, “Because she is not worthy of you.” “But she is a Christian isn’t she?” “Yes,” said Edwards, “but the grace of God can live with some people with whom no one else could ever live.”

Love is seen in a good attitude or temperament. Chuck Swindoll wrote, “The most significant decision I make each day is my choice of an attitude. We my attitudes are right there’s no barrier to high, no valley too deep, no dream to large, not challenge to great for me.”

One day PRESIDENT THOMAS JEFFERSON and a group of companions were traveling across the country on horseback. They came to a river that had overflowed its banks because of a recent downpour. The river had washed away the bridge so each rider was forced to cross it on horseback, fight for his well-being against the currents. Though several riders were preparing to cross a traveler who was not part of their group asked if President Jefferson would carry him across. The President without hesitation agreed. So the man climbed on and the two of they made it safely to the other side. After the stranger had slid off the horse on to dry ground, on of Jefferson’s companions asked, “Why did you select the President?” The man was shocked and admitted he’d no idea that it was the President who’d helped him. “All I know,” He said, “is that on some of your faces was written doubt and no some was faith. His was a faith face. A good attitude has a faith face.

Our next phrase about the love is: Nor take account of (count up) the wrong (evil).

The word logiaomai is a bookkeeping term that means “to count up, to take account of,” as in a ledger or notebook. The thought is keeping score or the desire to settle the account.

Here is mentioned the need of suspicious people. A suspicious person has a negative effect on situations and people he is suspicious of and involved with. If you will think for a moment about the people who influenced you to change you will discover that they were people who believed in you. In an atmosphere of suspicion, men dry up but in a trusting atmosphere they expand and find encouragement. Love does not attribute evil motives or suspicions to others. That is conviction without evidence. Only God can judge the heart.

But this prohibition is not just against suspecting evil of one but it also concerns evil actually done to you by someone. We are to forgive for Christ has forgiven us. Real love will not hold bitter grudges or allow long standing resentments against others, even when the wrongs done against us are spiteful and hurt.

Those that are bringing up some past evil concerning themselves or someone else are out to destroy respect. When we refuse to think evil concerning someone we can respect them, and our respect for a person is the first step toward a person respecting themselves.

Love instead of entering evil as a debt in its accounting books voluntarily passes the eraser over what it endures. Love forgives and removes the record of accountability for the offense. We don’t need to keep record of wrongs to protect ourselves when we are confident that God is in control of the outcome, and when we know that He is looking after our needs.

(Verse 6) Nor rejoices at unrighteousness (injustice).

Unrighteousness (adikiai) means anything not conforming to the standard of the right which is God’s just standard. Unrighteousness denies the truth. All wrong behavior is rooted in a misbelief about reality. All immorality is rooted in a process of self-deception.

Love does not get its kicks out of unrighteousness. Too many Christians are entertained nightly by TV programs that elevate wickedness. Surely God is not well pleased with people who get their entertainment by watching people being beaten, stabbed, raped, yelled at and hated.

Love experiences no joy on seeing faults or falling into sin even of those who are of the opposing party. Love mourns at sin and injustice no matter whose it is. Love does not pass along a juicy morsel of someone else’s failures just because it tastes good to do so. Breaking the news of sin must be for the good of others rather than to promote a “feeding frenzy” around someone else’s embarrassment and pain.

Our society confuses love and lust. Unlike lust, God’s kind of love is directed outward toward others, not inward toward ourselves. It is utterly unselfish. This kind of love goes against our natural inclinations. It is possible to practice this love only if God helps us set aside our own desires and instincts, so that we can give love while expecting nothing in return. Thus the more we become like Christ, the more love we will show to others.

Would the text still read true if you replaced your name for the word love? This definition is God’s yardstick for measuring our progress in love, similar to the height marks we placed on the wall as our children were growing? Are you growing in agape love?


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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- What Are You Looking For?


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FOR?

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

 
I’ve just returned from Israel, where I took my two youngest kids to celebrate Easter in the Holy Land. It was a terrific trip, the highlights of which were baptizing my kids in the Jordan River and worshipping with them the next day at the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem with other believers from all over the world. It was a phenomenal!

Eric, Bo, and Kaleo at the Garden Tomb in Israel, Easter 2016

I mean, how could it not be phenomenal? To be in the Holy Land on Easter morning, worshipping in a beautiful garden while looking at an empty tomb that dates back to the time of Christ, listening to the Scriptures being read about what happened on that first Easter morning, right there in that very same city?!?

Yet not everyone was so inspired. On our way out of the service, I heard a woman say (scream, really), “What a waste!” She then continued her tirade as she walked down the street, cutting down everything that happened in that early morning worship service. She was fuming. Absolutely fuming.

I thought, Were we even at the same service? How could she not have been totally moved by the music, the message, and all that happened during that sweet time in the presence of God?

I’ve seen the same thing happen at other sites throughout Israel. I remember the first time I ever stepped foot in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, a church which had been originally been built in the 4th century over the spot where believers had been shown for centuries where Christ was crucified. I fell to my knees and cried for at least ten minutes straight. I was so thankful for what Jesus had done for me there on that hill. It didn’t matter to me that the church was filled with noise and with people and with an eclectic collection of artifacts donated by kings and queens over two millennia. All I could see was the image of my Savior, saving me from my sins, as He died there on that hill nearly 2,000 years ago.

Yet as I walked out of that church, I heard people debating whether the church was beautiful or gaudy, and whether this was more likely the true location of the crucifixion, or was it more likely at the Garden Tomb a short walk away? Some people were shaking their heads at the chaos they they had experienced inside, while others were enthralled to have visited a place where their parents, and grandparents before them, had made similar pilgrimages over the years.

While we were all looking at the same things, we were not all looking for the same things. And therein lied the difference: what we were looking for versus what we were looking at.

I shared this later with our group of 38 people, because after five or six days of touring around, it could have been easy to start thinking that all we were seeing was a bunch of rocks. At the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, you can reach through a hole in the floor and touch the stone that makes up the top of the hill where Jesus died, and over which the church was built. At the Garden Tomb, you can walk inside an empty tomb from the time of Christ, carved out of the rock in the hillside. In Bethlehem, you can walk down some stairs below the altar and touch a similar spot in a hole in the floor that marks where Jesus was quite likely born.

Everywhere we went we saw rocks, whether it was the Western Wall (built out of rocks), or the Church of All Nations (built over the rock where Jesus wept in the Garden of Gethsemane), or the Temple Mount, where stands the iconic “Dome of the Rock,” inside of which is… well, as the name clearly states… a rock!

And yet our trip was about so much more than rocks. It wasn’t what we were looking at that was so important, but what we were looking for.

As I walked into the city of Capernaum, for instance, which contains broken columns of pillars from the ancient synagogue in that city, I was struck by the fact that Jesus healed and transformed the lives of two blind men there when they put their faith in Him. That was the same story that I read in my Bible 2,000 years later and 7,000 miles away that inspired me to put my faith in Jesus, healing me and transforming my life just as miraculously. On this trip, I had in my backpack a copy of a book I had written in which I describe how Jesus changed my life the day I read that story.

I pulled out the book and shared with our group what had happened to me 29 years ago when I read that story of what happened in Capernaum nearly 2,000 years later and 7,000 miles away. Yes, we were all looking at the ancient rocks of Capernaum, chiseled into the shapes of pillars and seats of a synagogue thousands of years ago. But it wasn’t the rocks that I was thinking about as I testified to the group about what Jesus had done in my life. It was the Man who had walked among those rocks, who had taught and healed and touched people’s lives all those years ago, and who was still touching people’s lives like mine all these years later.

Aside from the truth that we were looking at rocks, the bigger truth was that each of those rocks told a story. In fact, wasn’t it Jesus Himself who said, when His followers were praising Him as He entered Jerusalem and the religious leaders told Him to silence His followers:

“I tell you,” He replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out” (Luke 19:40).

And here, 2,000 years later, those same stones still testify to the Savior who spoke those words!

As I shared my testimony with our group that day in Capernaum, I was thankful that it wasn’t just the rocks which testified to the Savior. In the words of a terrific praise song from the 90’s:

“I ain’t gonna let no rock out-praise me!”

It was hard for me to walk around the Holy Land and think about much else except praise for my Savior who has touched me in so many ways. It wasn’t what I was looking at that sparked such strong reactions within me, but what I was looking for.

What about you? What are you looking for today? Don’t just focus on what you’re looking at. Keep your eyes open wide. Who knows? God may even speak to you through a rock.

P.S. I’ve also written a 30-day devotional series (and recorded short, 1-2 minute video clips from locations all over Israel) and posted them on The Ranch website so you can get an up-close and personal experience of the Holy Land for yourself. It’s online and free at this link. Enjoy!

Click to View “Israel: Lessons From The Holy Land” by Eric Elder

Cover of "Israel: Lessons From The Holy Land"

P.P.S. For those of you who like pictures, here are a few from my recent trip with my two youngest kids, along with a short video of their baptisms in the Jordan River.

mount-of-beatitudes-eric-bo-kaleo

Walking down the hill where Jesus multiplied the loaves and fish.

bo-camel

Enjoying a camel ride on the hills where Abraham first entered the “The Promised Land.”

mediterranean-sea-kaleo

Splashing in the Mediterranean Sea after flying half-way around the world to get there.

kaleo-birds-western-wall-plaza

Playing with birds on the Western Wall Plaza.

capernaum-eric-elder

Standing at the entrance to Capernaum with my own testimony of Christ’s healing in hand.

eric-bo-kaleo-and-group

Smiling with our group on the Mount of Olives overlooking the rest of Jerusalem.

baptism-still

Baptizing the youngest two in my family in the Jordan River. Click to watch the one-minute video.


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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- This Week’s Sermon (copy)


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

Message from the Garden Tomb

by Michael Ramsden
(delivered at the Garden Tomb
in Jerusalem on Easter Sunday, 2016)

Click here to listen to this message (20 minutes)

Or click here to watch the entire sunrise service (70 minutes)

The place we’re in, in many senses, is remarkable, because graveyards are not places we normally associate either with hope or with justice.  Graveyards are places that we associate with tears, and in our reading today we read of those tears, as Mary herself wept out loud.

At best, graveyards are places where we have a sense of joyful remembrance, maybe of a life well lived, but now of someone whom we have lost. And it’s not just the physical loss of a body, it’s the relational loss, that we mourn, that we miss the most, the fact that we no longer talk with them and enjoy their company

But the death of Christ has a bitter sting in the tail for those first people who knew Him because there’s also a deep sense of disappointment. You hear of that disappointment when Jesus later appears on the road to Emmaus on the same resurrection morning, and He asked them “Do you know what has happened?” He talks with them and they say, “We thought He would redeem us. We thought He would rescue us. But actually, He has been killed. And now we don’t even know where the body is.”

And Mary’s tears, as she bursts into floods of tears on that day when she wants to bring more spices and herbs to the tomb, she weeps now because that possibility of being physically close, the one thing she could cling onto, the one thing she could hold onto, that memory of Jesus Christ, His body, knowing where His bones were, even that now has been taken away from her. So for her the loss feels total. She has lost everything.

She comes early in the morning when it’s still dark. Now Jesus has already been crucified, at a place possibly not very far from here, and has been laid to rest just a short walk away. And they would come and they would take 75 pounds, that’s about over 30 kilos, of special herbs and aloes, and they’d put them in linen strips and they’d wrap Him up and they’d put a separate one around His head and they’d lay Him in the tomb.

Now if Jesus had been buried in the ground, and then covered with soil, with a marker placed over the top of it, as you will see from opposite on the way from the Mount of Olives, you don’t get any smell coming up. But when you put the body in a stone tomb, and you roll a large rock in front of it, then the odor will come out. And so she is coming, in order to make it possible that people may come and visit and pay their respects, and she’s bringing more herbs and spices to make sure that the aroma of the tomb is just as pleasing as it can be, given the incredible aroma of Christ’s life. And as she comes, she sees that the stone has been rolled away and the tomb is now empty.

So she runs and she finds Peter and John. And we now discover that John is fitter than Peter. Because they have a race and they went running to the tomb. Now John gets there first and he stops and he stares. Peter catches up and he goes flying into the tomb. But it’s John who’s more observant. John looks into the tomb, and the first thing that strikes him is how orderly it is. The fact that the headcloth has been removed, folded neatly and put to one side. The fact that there are all of the linen strips still in place, in almost like a body-like shape, as if somehow the body just came out of it, just lying there. And we read, in this reading of John, if you go home to read it, we read that John believes. Believes what?

Now what is said next is very interesting. It says, “He didn’t yet understand the scripture.” In other words, John, one of the first disciples of Jesus Christ, believed in the resurrection, not for scriptural reasons, not for theological reasons. He had yet to understand exactly what the scripture had to say about the death and the resurrection of the Messiah. He believes because of the evidence. If someone had simply stolen the body, or even moved the body, they would not leave the grave clothes behind. If they had moved the body, they would have picked up sheet with the body in it, and they would have dropped it somewhere else. If they had stolen the body, no thief would take time to remove all of the linen strips and carefully reassemble them, and leave the headcloth neatly folded up. They would have taken it and ran.

And as John processes this, because of the evidence before him, because of the historical reality of it, he is convicted of its truth, and he knows that Christ has risen from the dead.

Now in a day of science, we sometimes find it difficult to believe that God does miracles today. But it is because of science, and it’s because we understand the science, that we can conclude that a miracle took place.

The well-known author C. S. Lewis put it like this: He said it is ridiculous to argue that because we know the laws of nature and maths, that we cannot have miracles. He said, imagine the following scenario: He said, imagine you were to go out into Jerusalem one day (I’m culturalizing it to this place) and you take a couple of hundred shekels with you, and when you get home you haven’t spent any money. And so you put 200 shekels in the bedside table in your hotel room. The next day you go out.You take another couple hundred of shekels with you, another 200 out of the cash machine. You don’t spend anything. You put it in the drawer next to your bedside table. On the third day, when you open the drawer, what should you find?

Well, 400 shekels. 200 plus 200 is 400. Let’s suppose you open the drawer, you look inside and you only find 100 shekels. What do you conclude? I was sharing this illustration last year in Hong Kong and a businessman from the back of the room yelled out in a loud voice, “My wife has gone shopping.”

No, if you open your bedside drawer and you only found 100 shekels there, you wouldn’t go “I don’t believe it! The laws of mathematics have been broken!” No, the laws of the land have been broken. Someone broke into your hotel room and stole 300 bucks out of your drawer! Why can we reliably detect the presence of the thief? It is because we know science, we know math, 2 and 2 is always 4. If there’s only 1, someone has come in form the outside and intervened. That is how you can detect the presence of a thief.

How do we detect God’s presence and intervention?  It isn’t because we don’t understand math and science. It is because we do!

God stepped in and intervened. We know what happens when you die and bodies decompose, decay and smell. But the body is gone. It isn’t there. John sees the evidence, and he believes. His faith is based on fact.

John leaves and Peter leaves and now we’re left with the reading we started with today. Mary stays behind, weeping. She looks back into the tomb, and she sees two angels. You would think that a couple of angels would be enough to awaken her. But it’s not. They ask her a very powerful question. It’s such a powerful question, Mary has to be asked it twice before she understands its significance. They say, “Whom are you looking for?” and Why are you crying (that’s the question that will be asked twice).

And instead of simply stopping to think about why they may be challenging her grief at this point, she simply explains it. “Someone has taken my Lord’s body away. I don’t know where it is.” I have lost everything, that last thing I could cling onto, that last physical piece of Jesus I could hold onto in order to have relationship with Him, to enjoy some kind of ongoing connection. It’s gone.

And at this she turns around, and there’s someone standing behind her. Now if you’ve ever wailed and cried out loud, with tears streaming from your eyes, you know how hard it is to see. She cannot recognize who’s standing behind her, partly because of the tears, and partly because, although she is looking for the right person, she’s looking in the wrong place. She is looking for a body, for a corpse. So it cannot possibly be that Christ is standing behind her. So when she sees Jesus, He now asks her the question again, “Woman, why are you crying?” What is the cause of your tears?

And the answer seems to be obvious. And she’s going to answer it. She is going to say, and indeed does say, “Did you take Him?” Notice she’s not at all interested in blame. She’s not interested in retribution. All she wants is the body back. And this is part of the problem Mary has at this point. It’s not that she’s asking for too much in getting the body back. She’s actually asking for too little. But she doesn’t’ know that. How often we come before God in our prayers, thinking that we’re asking for too much, when actually we’re asking for too little. All she wants is the body returned.

“Did you move Him? If you moved Him, I will go and get Him.” She just wants the body back, just for that physical remembrance that she may have to enjoy some form of connection and relationship. And Jesus then speaks one word. And that one word transforms everything.

I have the privilege of traveling around the world and speaking in lots of different places. It’s a huge honor and I always learn so much more and receive so much more than I ever am able to give away. And as I travel around, due to the wonders of modern technology, I can ring home. And when I ring home, I don’t have to introduce myself and explain to my children who I am. I earn a million miles a year, but that’s not enough that they can’t remember my face or my voice.

So when I ring them up, and my youngest daughter picks up the phone and she says, “Hello?” All I have to do is say, “Emilia,” and she will go, “Dad!” because she recognizes my voice.

And Jesus now uses one word: “Mary.” He calls her by name. And as He calls her name, her tears of grief are transformed into tears of joy.

And Jesus Christ calls every single one of you by name. He calls your name. Do you recognize His voice?

The mission of Christ had not failed. They hoped for redemption. Now the greek word for redemption refers to an ancient process that would have been well-known within Jerusalem in its time. During battles, if some significant generals or fighters were captured, someone would come along. The word lutron is to exchange, or to pay a price for something. But the word for redemption literally means to pay a price, by agency of someone, to take away from somewhere else. And so the process of redemption described an entire process in which someone would come, negotiate for the release, pay a price, go over, bring the captives and restore them back. And that whole process was referred to as redemption. You’ve now been redeemed. You were captive and are now saved.

And on the death of Christ on the cross, He pays the price for our captivity to sin and to death. He goes to the cross, and every sin we have committed, He takes onto Himself. Christ who was betrayed by those closest to Him, disavowed, disowned, denounced, all the names and insults which were hurled to Him, against Him, when Christ goes to the cross, He takes every sin, including yours and mine– all the times we’ve disowned Him, when we’ve disavowed Him, when we’ve betrayed Him, when we have failed Him, when we have ignored Him, when we even deny His existence or His rightful claim over our life, and all of the consequences that deserve, Christ takes on, into Himself, and on the cross He pays the price. He becomes a curse for all that we have done and failed in our life.

And He doesn’t just pay the price for it. Through the resurrection, He conquers over the forces of sin and of death, and He comes and brings new life and offers every one of us new life, redemption, because He has paid the price, because He offers it to us.

Mary was asking for too little when she wanted the body. When she goes to Jesus to hold onto Him, literally in the Greek, to cling onto Him, Jesus says, “Do not cling onto me.” He will ascend to the Father, and we can have relationship with Christ, with God, through the cross, by His Spirit, as He says that to each one of us. We don’t need a memorial. That is why there is so much debate about where exactly is the location of the tomb, because so many things were venerated in the time of Christ–but not Christ–because no one would ever come to the garden again, looking to meet Jesus there, to remember Him there. He was available to Him, they could meet Him, and You can meet Him today. That’s what it means to be a Christian, to know that redemption, of having the curse of sin and of death broken over your life, to know the power of the resurrection, to be forgiven. And when forgiveness comes, relationship is restored. The thing that Mary thought she had lost, she actually gains in a whole new way through the cross and the resurrection. And she can now celebrate it, and so can you, because He has conquered over sin and death itself.

Several years ago, I heard the story of a Welsh pastor who told me the true story of a man he knew very well. This man had lost his wife and children in tragic circumstances in a car crash. They were driving up the brow of a hill at night. And a car driven by two young men who had been drinking, with no lights on, came over the top of the hill in the opposite side of the road and they had a head-on collision. His wife and children were killed outright. The two men driving the car weren’t wearing seat belts. They were thrown out of their seats, through the windscreen of their car, over the roof of the car that they hit, and into a ditch, and they both actually survived.

But neither of them went to prison. Neither of them would confess to driving the car, and because they were both thrown out of the vehicle, there was no way of knowing who had been driving. So not only have this man suffered the physical loss of his wife and children, there was also this collapse of justice, because there had been no righting of the wrong he had suffered.

He was staying at his sister’s house and he fell asleep in the chair and he had a dream, really almost a waking nightmare. He dreamt that the sun was setting in the distance, and he wanted desperately to remain in the light. So he started running towards the horizon, trying to catch up with the setting sun. But the sun was setting at a rate far faster than he could reach it. And the harder he ran, the darker it got, until eventually he was engulfed in complete darkness, and at this he literally sprang out of his chair. His sister looked at him and said, “What’s the matter?” and he explained this dream that he had.

And after he finished the sister looked at him and said, “You know, if you wanted to be in the sun, what you should have done is turned around, ran into the darkness, and you would have met the rising sun as it came over the horizon behind you, and then you would have been in the light sooner.”

Whatever the darkness in your life, if you will turn and run to Christ this day, you will meet the risen Son and enter into His warmth and His light, because of what He has done, in order that you may have peace.

He is able to turn tears of grief into tears of joy. Through the pain of the cross, He has won our salvation.

In a few moments we’re going to sing again, and sing gloriously. But before we do, I want to ask the final question that Jesus put to Mary. What are you looking for? Who are you looking for? Now in the Greek, the verb “to look for” means more than just to look at something. In the same way, if I were to say to you, “In life, what are you looking for?” I don’t mean “What are you looking at?” I mean something much more profound than that. What are you looking for? It entails the idea of desire. What is is that you desire?

When Jesus says, “Who are you looking for?” He is saying, “Whom do you desire to meet?” When you came here today, what was your desire? Whom were you looking for? For an experience in an historical setting? To be here with friends? The most incredible thing this day is that you can meet with the risen Christ, who loves you, gave His life for you, and is desirous for a relationship with you.

Mary was crying because she thought she had lost her relationship with God. The truth is, God weeps over humanity because we have lost our relationship with Him. And when He went to the cross, He paid the price to restore that relationship. And when He rose from the dead, that wasn’t the reversal of a defeat, it was the manifestation of a victory. That we could win a victory in our own life to draw us back to Him, that we may be one with Him.

And as you sit here today, if you know that you need to say Yes to Christ in your life, maybe Christianity is something that has been only a name to you, you don’t know the reality of the relationship of having intimacy with Christ, and you know this day that you need to say Yes to Him, You need to turn to Him, that the relationship simply isn’t there anymore and you need it to be there now, I’d like to lead you in a simple prayer of acknowledgement of what Christ has done and forgiveness of sin. And if that is you, I’d like to ask you to just raise your hand up high wherever you’re sat, so I can see as a sign that as you sit in this place, you need to pray that prayer, and I will pray it with you.

So if that is you, just raise your hand that I can see. So please pray this with me.

Lord, Jesus Christ, we thank You that You love us. We thank You that You are the risen Lord. You came into this world. You paid for our sins. You made forgiveness possible. You have broken the power of sin and of death. We want to receive Your forgiveness. We receive and welcome You into our life. May we follow You Lord Jesus whatever it may cost us and wherever you may lead us. And we pray this in Christ’s precious name, Amen.

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

Wishing you all a most joyous and meaningful Easter celebration!

Greg and Eric for This Day’s Thought from The Ranch


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

An Empty Celebration- Easter

by Jerry Shirley

Philippians 2:5-11

Jeremy was not a normal child. He had a terminal illness which affected both his body and his mind. Still, his parents had tried to give him as normal a life as possible and had sent him to a religious elementary school. At the age of 12, Jeremy was only in second grade, seemingly unable to learn. He was a frustration to his teacher and to all the children in the class.

Springtime came, and the children talked excitedly about the coming of Easter. Their teacher told them the story of Jesus, and then to emphasize the idea of new life springing forth, she gave each of the children a large plastic egg with this assignment: “I want you to take this home and bring it back tomorrow with something inside that shows new life. Do you understand?”

All the children responded enthusiastically, “Yes, Miss Miller!” All of them, that is, except for Jeremy. He just listened carefully, his eyes never leaving the teacher’s face. Had he understood what she had said about Jesus’ death and resurrection? Did he understand the assignment? The teacher thought perhaps she should call his parents and explain the project to them, but she got busy and forgot.

The next morning, 19 children came to school, laughing and talking as they placed their eggs in a large wicker basket on Miss Miller’s desk. After they completed their math lesson, it was time to open the eggs. In the first egg, Miss Miller found a flower. She said, “Oh yes, a flower is certainly a sign of new life. When plants peek through the ground, we know that spring is here.” A small girl in the first row waved her arms. “That’s my egg, Miss Miller,” she called out.

The next egg contained a plastic butterfly, which looked real. The teacher held it up. She said, “We all know that a caterpillar changes and grows into a beautiful butterfly. Yes, that is new life, too.” Little Judy smiled proudly and said, “Miss Miller, that one is mine!”

Next, the teacher found a rock with moss on it. She explained that moss, too, showed life. Billy spoke up from the back of the classroom. “My daddy helped me!”

Then the teacher opened the fourth egg. But the egg was empty! Surely it must be Jeremy’s, she thought, and, obviously, he didn’t understand her instructions. If only she hadn’t forgotten to phone his parents. Because she did not want to embarrass him, she quietly set the egg aside and reached for another. Suddenly Jeremy spoke up. “Miss Miller, aren’t you going to talk about my egg?” A bit flustered, the teacher said, “But Jeremy — your egg is empty!” He looked into her eyes and said softly, “Yes, but Jesus’ tomb was empty, too!”

Truly, the greatest symbol of new life is found in an empty tomb!

“But the angel answered and said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead.”
Matt. 28:5-7

“But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.”
Rom. 8:11

Recently, an article was published that revealed the secrets of hidden “surprises” in computer software and video games. Programmers add these surprises to give the programs an added appeal. Some of the examples were funny like the hidden message “I’m being held prisoner in a software factory.” Others were meant to entertain like a hidden computer pinball game in the Microsoft Word 97 program and hidden virtual picture of the mountain peaks and blue skies in Microsoft Excel 97.

Do you know what these little hidden software surprises are called?

Easter eggs! It’s great to open one and find the surprise.

Imagination is a Wonderful thing…

Out of it we get –

A FAIRY that pays money for Teeth…

A FAT Man that delivers gifts…

A RABBIT that lays Eggs…but it’s all empty celebration.

You don’t need a bunny or some eggs to excite the imagination about Easter. It stands alone on it’s own w/out any help! Our empty celebration is found in the empty tomb!

Here’s 3 Empty Promises We Can Celebrate this Easter:
1. An Empty Life.

v. 7 Jesus showed that THE WAY TO BE FULL IS TO BE EMPTY.

[tell that to my gas tank!]

Real ‘fulfill’ment comes when we’re empty of our own desires and make Jesus our heart’s desire!

Jesus’ Last Words before His Death:

IT IS FINISHED

What does this Mean?

Fulfillment! That Everything that needed to be Done was DONE!

That Jesus has Literally Emptied Himself of Everything he had to offer TO ME/YOU, That We might Live LIFE ABUNDANTLY!

He Poured it all out – that it might be found within us!

When you Watch Him Live – you Know that His life was Consumed for Humanity – You & ME – and that He emptied Himself of all other cares.

Stepped Into Humanity at its Worst – Offered his Very Best!

EMPTIED HIMSELF of ALL LIFE –

To FILL Ours With HIS

If you are not experiencing God’s presence in your life, it may be that you’re not “empty” enough!

We serve a Lord that specializes in filling emptiness!

In creation He flung the universe into an expanse of emptiness/He hung the stars upon nothing (He turned nothing into something, then hung it on nothing!)

Jn. 6–empty stomachs (5,000 plus)

4 plans offered:

1. Disciples said, let’s just get rid of the problem…tell them to go away

Jesus said, that’s not it, they’ll faint on the way home…they’re running on empty.

2. Phillip said, let’s raise the money. He did some figuring and found it would take 200 days’ wages to buy enough bread. (money’s not the solution to every problem…it can’t buy everything! House/not a home; bed/good night’s sleep; medicine/health; beautiful church bldg./power of God!)

3. Andrew found little boy w/ small lunch, and said, it’s not much, but it’s a start!

4. Jesus had the true solution as he took the little boy’s lunch and demonstrated that little is much when God is in it!

In all 4 gospels, Jesus gave thanks prior to even breaking the bread…showing the multitudes that only God can fill their emptiness!

We serve a Lord that specializes in filling emptiness!

In John 2 He filled some empty wash pots…at a wedding feast, a village event that the whole city came out for in those days. There was a festive mood until the unthinkable happened: the host ran out of wine and the people began to scurry about, whispering about the problem, until the whole crowd knew and the host was embarrassed!

The Lord let them scramble for a while before bringing the solution…He allowed them to feel their emptiness/inadequacy…He waited until they ran out of options, and then He took empty waterpots, filled them w/ water, and then worked the miracle!

And the joy that the world has to offer is just temporary…it always runs out, the result is always a void left over…emptiness. But the joy of the Lord is ever new and ever satisfying!

The world offers you its best at first…until you get hooked, and then it’s all downhill from there.

“The best day you’ll ever spend in sin will be the 1st day”

Heb. 11 talks about the pleasures of sin “for a season”

Prov. 14:13

Even in laughter the heart is sorrowful; and the end of that mirth is heaviness.

Prov. 20:17 –

Bread of deceit is sweet to a man; but afterwards his mouth shall be filled with gravel.

But Jesus gives a miraculous joy that never ends. He gives us His best from the start, and somehow, miraculously makes the joy grow and get even better!

Truly, every day w/Jesus is sweeter than the day before/the longer I serve Him the sweeter He grows!

Jesus took waterpots that were used in those days for external washing, and made them useful for something internal, something deeper and more satisfying. He created something fulfilling…and He used emptiness to do it!

We serve a Lord that specializes in filling emptiness!

Are you running on empty? If you’re not experiencing intimacy w/ Christ on a daily basis…it may be that, though you feel empty…you’re not empty enough! Make room for Jesus by taking some irons out of the fire and making Him a priority!

• We need to be emptied of sin.

God can’t fill a vessel that has no room to pour into. It is an impossibility if we harbor sin in our lives. Now, Christians aren’t sinless, but we SHOULD sin LESS! It’s all about desire. True repentance is not perfection, but turning from sin and doing our best to head toward God.

• We need to be emptied of self.

Ladies and gentlemen, we will never find intimacy w/ Christ until we stop bowing down to the shrine of self!

• We need to be emptied of substitutes.

Be careful, often we try to substitute service for surrender/work for worship…but Martha becomes Mary when she drops her “to do list” and falls at the feet of Jesus!

Serving is good and right, but don’t let yourself get so busy doing things for Christ that you neglect spending time with Christ!

Accept no other substitutes for the filling of the Spirit. Don’t fill yourself up w/drugs / food / movies / music / relationships…nothing less than Christ!

Empty yourself out on this altar (toxic waste dump)

Empty the sin, the self, all substitutes.

This Easter, we have the promise of an empty life. Jesus is our example, and we should follow in those footsteps. Also…

2. An Empty Cross

I’ve never appreciated the crucifix hanging on a mirror or a hospital wall. Jesus isn’t there anymore!

The cross is empty…and yet it is full of God’s promises!

THE EMPTY Cross Tells me that I Can BE Forgiven of ALL my SIN…

Cross was a Cruel place of Death…

Jesus was Beaten…Broken…Bruised…

HE TOOK it all on himself – that we might not have to!

v. 6 Jesus showed that THE WAY TO GO UP IS DOWN.

“When I couldn’t go where He was, He came to me”. He came down to my level when I couldn’t get up to His!

The Empty Cross – Tells me that I can be free from my past

Have a Great life in & Through Jesus

It is the place where he died – but today, it is empty. Empty of Jesus body, but full – full of God’s promises. Full of hope – for you and me. The promise of the empty cross is that you and I stand forgiven. Because it was on that cross that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins.

3. An Empty Tomb.

v. 8-9 Jesus showed that THE WAY TO LIVE IS TO DIE.

Without The Empty Tomb –

There is No SAVIOR

No Salvation…Hope…

Nothing is Sure…

Tomb, You shall not hold Him longer, Death is strong, but life is stronger

Stronger than the dark, the light; Stronger than the wrong, the right;

Faith and hope triumphant say; Christ will rise on Easter Day.

While the patient earth lies waiting; Till the morning shall be breaking

Shuddering beneath the burden dread Of her Master, cold and dead,

Hark! she hears the angels say; Christ will rise on Easter Day.

And when sunrise smites the mountains Pouring light from heavenly fountains

Then the earth blooms out to greet; Once again the blessed feet;

And her countless voices say; Christ has risen on Easter Day.

For, in the fact of the empty tomb is the truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the promise to every one of us that we too will be raised to eternal life. To those who know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, death has lost its sting – it is no longer something to be feared. What fear is there when we have the promise that one day we will live forever with Him in Heaven?

The world gives us promises full of emptiness: God gives us emptiness full of promise!

Silly rabbit…eggs aren’t for kids, it’s an empty tomb…full of promises for all who would be God’s children!


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


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

Palm Sunday- Almost!

by Melvin Newland

Luke 23:13-23:24

On the southern border of the empire of Cyrus, there lived a great chieftain named Cagular who tore to shreds & completely defeated the various detachments of Cyrus’ army sent to subdue him.

Finally the emperor, amassing his whole army, marched down, surrounded & overwhelmed Cagular’s forces, captured him & his wife, & brought them to the capital for execution.

On the scheduled day for their execution, he & his wife were brought to the judgment chamber – Cagular, a fine looking man of more than 6 feet, with a noble manner about him – a magnificent specimen of a man.

So impressed was Cyrus with his appearance, that he said to Cagular: “What would you do should I spare your life?”

“Your Majesty, if you spared my life, I would return to my home & remain your obedient servant as long as I lived.”

“What would you do if I spared the life of your wife?”

“Your Majesty, if you spared the life of my wife, I would die for you.”

So moved was the emperor by Cagular’s words & attitude that he freed them both & returned Cagular to his homeland to serve as its governor.

Upon arriving home, Cagular reminisced about the trip with his wife. “Did you notice the marble at the entrance of the palace? Did you see the tapestry on the walls as we went down the corridor into the throne room? And did you see the throne on which the emperor sat? It must have been carved from one lump of pure gold.”

His wife replied: “I really don’t remember any of that.”

“Well,” said Cagular in amazement, “What do you remember?”

His wife looked at him & said, “I remember only the face of the man who said he would die for me.”

(Adapted from the sermon “The Love of God” by John Redpath, Abingdon Press, 1979)

And this morning, folks, I want to talk to you about the one who did die for us.

As you know, today is a day celebrated throughout Christianity as “Palm Sunday,” the day of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. It was a spectacular day, a day of celebration for many.

His arrival was so much a celebration by the people that the leading Pharisees of Jerusalem exclaimed, “Look how the whole world has gone after him!” (John 11:19)

And for the next few days the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Herodians, & the chief priests tried again & again to trap Jesus with trick questions in an effort to turn the people against Him. But in that they failed miserably.

Well, you know about some of the events of that week: the people wanting to crown Jesus as their king, the cleansing of the Temple, Jesus washing the disciple’s feet, the Last Supper & their partaking of the Passover meal together.

Following that meal they went to the Garden at Gethsemane where Jesus spent time in prayer, & where Judas, the betrayer, brought the Temple Guards to arrest Him. For the rest of that night Jesus had to endure the scorn & abuse heaped upon Him during the illegal night-time trials before the Jewish Sanhedrin.

The witnesses couldn’t get their lies straight, but the priests were so filled with hatred that their verdict was that He was certainly worthy of death because He called himself the Son of God.

But since only Roman authorities could order the death penalty, just as soon as it was daybreak they took Him to the Roman governor, Pilate, accusing Jesus of sedition, seeking to incite the people to rebellion.

All of that is already familiar to most of you here. So this morning I want us to turn to the Gospel of Luke & view that scene where Gov. Pilate tries to release Jesus. It is found in Luke 23:13 24.

“Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers & the people, & said to them, ‘You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined Him in your presence & have found no basis for your charges against Him.

“Neither has Herod, for he sent Him back to us; as you can see, He has done nothing to deserve death. Therefore, I will punish Him & then release Him.’

“With one voice they cried out, ‘Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!’ (Barabbas had been thrown into prison for an insurrection in the city, & for murder.)

“Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again. But they kept shouting, ‘Crucify Him! Crucify Him!’

“For the third time he spoke to them: ‘Why? What crime has this man committed? I have found in Him no grounds for the death penalty. Therefore I will have Him punished & then release Him.’

“But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that He be crucified, & their shouts prevailed. So Pilate decided to grant their demand. He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection & murder, the one they asked for, & surrendered Jesus to their will” (Luke 23:13 24).

A poet once wrote, “Of all the words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, ‘It might have been.'”

If that is true, then one of the most tragic words in human language must be the word “almost.”

“Almost” speaks of aborted opportunities & missed chances. And I’m sure that as long as this world exists, “almosts” will dot the pages of human history. “I almost climbed the mountain.” “We almost reached our goal.” “I almost closed the deal.” “We almost got there in time.” We have all had those “almost” experiences, haven’t we?

I suppose that the most infamous “almoster” in history would have to be Pilate because he almost released Jesus. He almost lowered the gavel & said, “I dismiss all the charges because this man is innocent.” He almost set Him free.

What a change that would have made in our perception of Pilate. Why, we might be calling him “St. Pilate” today. He almost did it, you see. But he didn’t. Yet he could have, & that is his tragedy.

He had the authority to do it. He wore the signet ring that said he had the power to do it. All he had to do was speak the word decisively, & Jesus would have been set free. And he did it, almost.

Verse 23 says, “But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that He be crucified, & their shouts prevailed. So Pilate decided to grant their demand.”

He listened to their voices. We could even say, I suppose, that he listened to the voices of evil, to the voice of Satan.

We’ve heard such voices, too, haven’t we, voices saying, “Go on – do it! No one will ever know!” Satan beckons us into paths we should not go.

But Pilate didn’t have to listen to those voices. There were other voices he could have listened to.

He could have listened to his wife who sent a note that said, “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of Him” (Matthew 27:19). He could have listened to her voice. And he almost did.

He could have listened to his own voice. Pilate was no dummy. He knew what was going on.

He knew that Annas & Caiaphas, the chief priests, were corrupt & greedy. He knew they were lying about Jesus. He could have listened to his own voice, to reason & common sense. He almost did, but he didn’t.

Pilate is not the only one who has played the game of “almost.” Some of us have played that game, too. “Preacher, I almost made the decision today, I almost accepted Christ today.” “I almost said, ‘Here I am, Lord, use me.'”

But the Bible very clearly teaches that there are no “almosts” with God. There is no “almost” heaven, no “almost” place where we can go. It is either heaven or hell. And Pilate’s tragedy could be our tragedy too.

FATHER, FORGIVE THEM!

So when we open our Bible & continue reading the story of Jesus, we read about a crucifixion. Even though Pilate came that close to freeing Jesus, he didn’t do it. So, as we view that scene we see soldiers going about their tasks. They were used to crucifying people. They had done it many times before.

First, they laid the crosses down upon the ground. Then they placed Jesus & the two thieves upon them, driving sharp spikes through their hands & feet. Then they hoisted the rough wooden crosses into the air & dropped them into the holes that had held crosses before.

They probably even drove some stakes into the ground around the crosses to steady them, & then they were done. Jesus was crucified.

You would think that by now the chief priests Annas & Caiaphas would have been satisfied. But there was something about the sign placed on the cross that angered them. It read, “Jesus, King of the Jews.”

Once again they stormed into the presence of Pilate. And we could only wish that Pilate had been as firm & decisive earlier, as he shows himself to be now. For when they come rushing into his presence, protesting the wording of the sign, Pilate says, “That’s enough. What I have written, I have written. The sign stays. ‘Jesus, King of the Jews.'”

So there He hangs between heaven & earth. Looking through tears & blood He could see the faces of the people who had gathered around Him. It was an unusually large crowd, perhaps, for there were no football games or soccer matches to watch in that day. So they went to watch the crucifixions.

And as we view that scene & look at their faces, we look for a friendly face, someone we might recognize. Where was Peter? Surely Peter would have shown up, but Peter is not there, nor James nor Andrew nor Bartholomew.

The soldiers gather underneath the cross & begin throwing dice, gambling. And every time we look at them we see a little bit of ourselves, don’t we?

Sometimes we’re so close to the cross, & yet so far away. They were right there, right next to the blood that was dropping to the ground.

They could hear the cries of pain. They could look up any time they wanted to & see Jesus dying there. And yet, their minds were someplace else. They were rolling dice to see who would get His robe.

Listen, Jesus is praying, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34) “Father, forgive the soldier who drove the nails into my hands. Forgive Pilate who found me innocent, but sentenced me to die anyway.

“Forgive Annas & Caiaphas & the Sanhedrin & all the rest. And Father, also forgive the Christians who will meet in a church building in Flint Ridge in 2015 because their sins nailed me here too. Yes Father, forgive them all.”

I don’t know if we could ever pray that kind of prayer. Sometimes we have a hard time getting along with our neighbors. Sometimes we have a hard time forgiving our spouses, or our children, or even our brothers & sisters in the church.

But yet Jesus taught us to pray, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”

ELOI, ELOI, LAMA SABACHTHINI?

The gospels tell us that Jesus spoke 7 times on the cross. Three times he spoke before the darkness came. “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”

Then He responded to one of the thieves & said, “Today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43) He also looked at Mary, His mother, & John, the apostle, & said, “‘Dear woman, here is your son,’ & to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.” (John 19:26-27)

Suddenly darkness covered the earth. The winds started to blow. Lightning & thunder rolled across the sky, & even the ground began to shake.

And when the storm was at its height, Jesus cried out, “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthini?” (Matthew 27:46) Those who stood in the distance could barely hear His words. Some said, “Maybe He calls for Elijah. Lets see if Elijah comes.”

But those who were closest heard what He said. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” “Why have you left me alone?” At that moment the sins of this world your sins & mine caused God the Father to turn His face from His Son.

Then the darkness left, & 3 more cries came from His lips,”I thirst,” “It is finished,” & “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” (Luke 23:46) Then it is all over.

The greatest victory of all had been won. On a hill that looked like a skull, outside of Jerusalem, everything that God had worked for & planned was finally realized in the death & burial &, three days later, in the resurrection of Jesus.

THE MESSAGE OF CALVARY

You know, there is probably nothing more consistent about life than its inconsistencies.

The world says: “Life is like a tossed salad. You stick in your fork & you never know for sure what you’re going to get.”

The world says: “Life is like a roller coaster with its ups & downs & twists & turns, & you never really know what will happen next.”

But if there is one very strong message that comes to us from Calvary, it is that God is able to take all the inconsistencies, all the fragments & pieces of our life & weave them together into a beautiful tapestry, just as He planned.

And that is a message we need to hear. Because one day the sun shines, & the next it rains. One day we think everything is going our way, & the next our world comes crashing down around us. One moment we’re young & healthy, & the next the doctor tells us that he has some bad news for us.

Yet, Jesus is saying, “It really doesn’t matter because all of you who have really committed yourselves to Me will find righteousness, & goodness, & victory, not defeat. You’ll find that your despair is replaced with eternal hope, because that is the message of Calvary.”

So in the light of all that, our prayer this morning ought to be, “O God, almighty God, help us never, ever to look at the cross & see the One who died there without feeling the touch of a tear on our cheek, without feeling our hearts strangely moved & broken.”

“Let us never come there, Lord, & just casually look at it, & almost be moved by it. But then turn away from it & go on with life as usual.”

You see, the ultimate tragedy in every worship service is that there are people who are almost ready to make a decision.

There are people who stand right on the brink of saying, “I surrender all. I’m going to follow Jesus.” And they almost do it.

Others are just like those soldiers casting dice at the feet of Jesus. They’re so engrossed in what they’re doing that they never look up & let the message sink in & make a change in their lives. They’re so near & yet so far.

So this morning, once again, we offer the invitation of Jesus, praying that if you’re almost there, you won’t turn away like Caiaphas & Annas & Pilate & the soldiers. But that you will look & see & listen & make that decision.

It is the invitation of Jesus, our Savior & our Lord. I really don’t know how anybody can say “No” to Him. But some do. I pray that you will not, that you will answer “Yes,” & come to make your commitment to Christ as we stand & as we sing together, “All to Jesus I surrender, all to Him I freely give.”


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


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

Be Still

by Jeff Strite

Psalms 46:1-46:11

How many of you have ever heard the term: “Circuit Riders”?

Circuit Riders were preachers back in the 1700s and 1800s who would ride from church to church and hold services. There were more churches than preachers in that day and a Circuit Rider would travel from congregation to congregation.

One Circuit Rider was out riding one afternoon and came upon a man out working in his field. Thinking to start a conversation and invite the man to church, the preacher called out: “Fine day isn’t it?”

“It’s fine for you”, the man replied, “All you have to do is ride around on that horse thinking about God all day long, while I have to sweat here in this field and then walk home afterward. I don’t think it’s right you should have things so easy while I have to work so hard.”

The preacher responded: “You’re right. You do work hard in the fields and I admire that, but you need to realize that the kind of work I do is a work of different kind.”

“Yeah, sure”, the man answered. “But it’s not really work. All you do is ride around thinking about God all the time. That’s not hard.”

“Oh, but it’s harder than you think”, the minister answered. And then a thought occurred to him: “I tell you what. Just to prove to you how difficult it can be to ‘think about God’ – if you can think about God and nothing else for 1 minute… I’ll give you my horse.”

“You can’t be serious,” said the farmer.

But the preacher assured him he was.

“You’re on”, said the man and immediately he sat down in silence.

Ten seconds went by… then 20 seconds… then 25 seconds.

About then, the farmer looked up at the minister, and said,

“Does that include the saddle?”

All the man had to do to get that horse was say nothing.

All he had to do was “THINK” about God… and nothing else for 60 SECONDS.

But he couldn’t do that.

“Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10a

That sounds like God is asking us… to be still.

Just be quiet in His presence and know that He’s God.

But just like that farmer there are a lot people have a hard time doing that.

I’ve heard it said that “Nature abhors a vacuum.”

In the same way, many people abhor… quiet.

They struggle with silence.

I just read an article by a Medical Doctor telling about the time he was Resident attending a Seminar. He wrote:

“In one discussion group the discussion leader asked us a question to which no one had an immediate answer. So he waited. And waited. And waited. Finally, one of my colleagues offered an answer that happened to be incorrect but which then sparked a lively discussion we all found quite valuable.

After the seminar, I had a chance to talk with the discussion leader and remarked how unfazed he’d seemed by the silence that had greeted his question, which had seemed to stretch on for what I’d figured to be almost five minutes.

The man replied that the silence had only lasted 30 seconds.

‘Wow,’ I said. ‘Only 30 seconds? It seemed like a lot more.'”

(Alex Lickerman M.D. – Happiness in this World – “The Art of Silence”)

Why would he think it went on for so long?

Because many people abhor… silence.

They’ll do just about anything to fill the emptiness because too much quiet is unsettling to them.

• A person will step into their car, start the engine, and the radio will immediately come on filling the car with sound until that person is done driving.

• One man I talked to this week said that when his mother the first thing she does is turn on her TV … and she leaves it on all day long. She hardly ever watches it, but it never goes off until she gets ready for bed at night.

• And then there are people who walk or run in town, and they’ve got these “things” in their ears. What’s in their ears? Ear buds. They are listening to something. And they are so inwardly focused, that they don’t see anyone else while they’re on their run.

There’s music and all kinds of noise that bombards us everywhere we go.

At department stores

At Malls

In Restaurants

At the grocery

At Walmart

Even in elevators

People seem to feel the need to fill every waking moment with noise.

It’s like they can’t stand to be around silence.

But… that’s really not always true.

I once read an expert that noted that people only feel comfortable being silent when they’re in the presence of someone they’re comfortable with. When they’re with those people… it’s nothing to just sit and say nothing.

Have you ever seen a young boy and girl out on a date. They could sit and look at each other forever and not notice. Because they like being around each other.

Or a husband and wife who are deeply in love, can feel totally at ease sitting down at the table together and being together. Because they enjoy each other’s company.

Be still, and know that I am God.

The only way you can be silent around God is if you’re comfortable in His presence.

OR if you want to LEARN to be comfortable in His presence.

You see, the way to learn to be truly comfortable around God is start practicing being quiet in His presence.

Years ago I attended a seminar on Prayer down at the Indian Creek Christian Church. Preachers attend seminars all the time and often times these gatherings don’t tell you much you didn’t already know. But this speaker taught things about prayer I’d never considered before. And one of these things he talked about was this idea of being still in God’s presence.

He asked how many of us were or had been parents. He noted that most parents end up having their kids come and sit in their laps.

Sometimes a child will come and sit there and chatter away.

Sometimes the child will ask for things.

Sometimes the child will just talk about something that intrigues them or bothers them.

But every once in a while a child will just crawl up into their parent’s laps and just sit there.

They don’t want anything.

They don’t even want to talk about anything.

They just want to be with you.

Sit with you.

Just be held by you.

Do you remember how it felt to have a child do that?

You’d do anything for that child.

You might give them whatever they want

But there’s nothing like the feeling of having a child that just wants to be with you.

That one action says I LOVE you.

I TRUST you.

I feel SAFE with you.

There is nothing in this world that compares to that feeling.

Now when people pray – what do they usually do?

That’s right, they ask God for things.

And there’s nothing wrong with that.

God tells we don’t receive because we don’t ask (James 4:2)

And Jesus taught us “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” Matthew 7:7

There’s not a thing wrong with asking God for anything in prayer.

But, can you imagine what it must be like for God, when one of His children just wants to be with Him. When a child of God just comes to Him and wants nothing more than to silently sit in His “lap”?

But how could you possibly do such a thing?

Well, the speaker at the prayer seminar then suggested a couple of things.

First, he noted that the Bible talks about the different positions people would take in prayer.

o Some folks would lay prostrate on the ground.

o Elijah bowed himself down on the earth and put his face between his knees.

o And others would life up their hands in praise.

Every position helped the worshipper visualize something in prayer.

So this speaker suggested holding out your hand as if you were holding God’s hand.

OR stretching out your hands as if reaching up for God.

And then, just not ask for anything… not say anything.

Just sit there, stand there, lie there and visualize yourself being alone with God.

So on the way home from the Seminar, driving down the road in my car (not closing my eyes) I reached across the seat as if God was sitting beside me and visualized holding His hand. And I did that for a fair amount of time (I didn’t clock it).

This wasn’t about “putting in my time” or going thru a ritual.

This was a gift I was giving to God.

Since I’ve come here I’ve taken to coming into church (when there’s no one around) and standing front of the communion table – and lifting up my hands as if reaching out for God. I’ll hold that position as long as I can (arms get tired) and then I may bring my arms down closer to my body, or put eventually put them down at my sides. I’ll continue doing that until I feel that I’ve felt that I’ve given God proper attention.

I’ve found that I can do this for about 10 to 15 minutes (again, it’s not about how long I do it… but whether I feel I’ve given God a time of special intimate attention) but when I do it I find that I feel closer to God and better about myself. And I’ve found that my other prayer times have begun to focus more on giving thanks to God than on getting things from God.

Now, this isn’t about attaining a certain level of righteousness.

You don’t become MORE righteous than someone else by doing this, if you do this at all. This is all about trying to give a special gift to God by spending time alone with Him and communicating a desire to show Him how much you love Him.

Now, I have encountered a couple of problems while doing this kind of activity.

1st, my mind tends to drift.

Has your mind ever drifted? Sure it has.

I’ll be standing there, trying to think about God… and my mind will stray.

I’ll begin to think about something that needs done.

I’ll remember a phone call I meant to make.

Of someone I need to visit.

A bill that needs to be paid.

And before you know it my mind is far away from God.

One of the techniques I’ve found helps to combat this… is to go thru the Alphabet.

A – God you are the Alpha and Omega.

B – You are the Beginning and the End.

C – You are the Creator.

A, B, C, D, etc. all the way through Z.

(Q and X can get difficult, so you can skip them).

Or I’ll go over a list of things that I’m thankful for.

I’ll do this for a few moments and then I find its’ easier to return to being focused on God.

But there is another problem.

I do this “quiet” thing in order to feel closer to God and offer up my time to God in a special way.

But there’s times when I don’t feel that DESERVE to be in His presence. Like it would all be a sham because I’ve fallen short in one way or another. And when I get to feelng that I don’t deserve to be able to spend this time with God I have developed a little phrase I use to focus my thinking…

I say to God:

“I’m not doing this because I DESERVE to come into your presence.

I’m doing it because I NEED to come into your presence.”

And when I THINK on that truth… I feel more comfortable spending that time because I’m able to focus on… Being still and knowing that He is God.

What I’ve found interesting is that God knows He needs to remind us to be still… and to wait for Him.

Psalm 4:4 says: “when you are on your beds, search your hearts AND BE SILENT.”

Psalm 27:14 declares: “WAIT FOR THE LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.”

In Psalm 62:2 & 5 David says: “Truly (God) is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken. For God alone, O my soul, WAIT IN SILENCE, for my hope is from him.”

And one of my favorites is from Isaiah 40:31 “But they that WAIT UPON THE LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”

We need to be still.

We need to be quiet.

We need to WAIT for God.

And you know why people have such a problem with that?

It’s because when things are quiet, it feels so empty.

So meaningless.

Like there’s nothing going on.

It feels like God’s just NOT THERE and not doing anything.

But one college professor put it this way,

“When you think nothing is happening, be assured (with God) something is happening. He is not sitting idly by.”

(H.B. London Jr. The Pastor’s Weekly Briefing)

Or as Psalm 37:5-7 puts it “Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun. BE STILL before the LORD and WAIT PATIENTLY for him…”

But sometimes we get in such a rush to do things on our timetable that we miss God’s timing. We can become like the man who prided himself on being exceedingly punctual.

Every work day for eight years, he followed a very precise routine every morning.

His alarm went off at 6:30 AM.

He’d get up, shave, shower and eat his breakfast.

He brushed his teeth, picked up his briefcase, got into his car, and ride the ferry across to the river.

Then he’d get off the ferry, walk into the office building, get on the elevator, ride it to the 17th floor, and sit down in his chair at precisely 8:00 AM.

He followed this same routine this every year for eight years… then one morning his alarm did not go off, and he overslept fifteen minutes.

He was panic-stricken.

He rushed to the shower, nicked himself shaving, gulped down his breakfast, grabbed his briefcase, jumped into his car, and sped down to the ferry landing.

He got out of the car and saw the ferry… just a few feet from the dock. And he said to himself, “I think that I can make this,”… and he ran down the dock made an enormous leap…and landed with a thud on the deck of the ferry.

The captain rushed down to make sure he was alright and said to him,

“Man, that was a tremendous leap! I’ve never seen anything like it. But, you know, if you would have just waited just another minute (pause) we would’ve reached the dock, and you could’ve walked on.”

People misjudge the distance between God and themselves.

They think they’ve got to make up the difference all by themselves when all they had to do was BE STILL… BE QUIET… & WAIT.

Now, one last thought:

As I was working on this sermon it occurred to me that this “being still” thing sounded a lot like Eastern religions! Yoga and meditation… where people sit around contemplating their navels.

One website that promotes Yoga said it this way:

“What is meditation? … One of my favorite answers is simple… Nothing.

That’s what happens when you meditate. Nothing at all.

That’s what meditation is. The art of doing nothing.

(http://www.doyouyoga.com/meditation-and-the-art-of-doing-nothing-at-all/)

But when God calls us to be still… He’s NOT asking us to do nothing.

He’s NOT asking us to focus on nothing.

You remember what God says we need to focus on????

“Be still… and know that I am God.”

Not only does nature abhor a vacuum… so does our soul.

If you don’t fill yourself with God, something else is going to fill it.

Jesus told us: “When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order.

Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first.” Matthew 12:43-45

Jesus is saying… you can’t just empty yourself out and expect everything to be good.

Your soul will not permit a vacuum.

If you don’t fill yourself with God, something else will take His place.

And YOU WILL NOT like the end result.

Be still and know that I am God.

A preacher friend of mine once shared with me about asking people in the congregation what their favorite Bible verse was. And of course, everybody seems to have something in Scripture that speaks to them. One young lady’s answer – however – shook him.

She had palsy and there were times when she would shake uncontrollably.

She raised her hand and said “My favorite verse is ‘Be still and know that I am God.”

Here was a woman whose body would never seem to allow her to be “still” and yet – that was her goal in life. That was what she longed for. Just to know God… and have Him STILL her heart. To give her His peace.

One person said it this way: Sometimes God stills the storm for His child, and sometimes He stills the storm in His child.


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


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

Overcoming Disappointment

by Ray Pritchard

Ezra 3

The year is 537 B.C. The place is Jerusalem. The Jews have just returned from a long captivity in Babylon. Some have been gone from their homeland for 70 years. Others have been gone for 50 years. They were sent into captivity as part of God’s judgment on generations of disobedience. Now at last the first wave of Jews is returning to the land. But everything has changed. The countryside is in the hands of their enemies. The city of Jerusalem lies in ruins. The walls have been torn down and buildings have been looted. And worst of all, the temple built by Solomon 500 years earlier is no more. It’s gone. Vanished. Utterly destroyed. So complete was the work that it seemed as if the temple and all its glory had been some strange dream. The Babylonians took the gold and the silver and everything else of value. The temple itself was razed. The Ark of the Covenant is gone, the altar of sacrifice is gone, and the temple implements are gone. In its place lies a field of rubble.

So the Jews go to work with vigor and determination. First, they rebuild the altar (vs. 1-6). Second, they relay the foundation of the temple (vs.7-9). Then they pause for a public praise celebration (vs. 10-11). In the midst of the cheering and the singing, a strange thing happens: “But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy. No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away” (Ezra 3:12-13). The young folks danced and cheered while the old folks wept bitter tears. And the shouts of joy mixed with the weeping so that no one could tell them apart. What a strange scene.

If you do the math, it all makes sense. The temple had been destroyed in 586 B.C. Fifty years later the Jews return from captivity and begin to rebuild it. The older folks who could remember Solomon’s temple were at least 65 years old. Meanwhile, two whole generations had been born in Babylon. Those young people had no memory of the glories of Solomon’s temple. Having grown up in pagan Babylon, they cheered the beginning of a new temple. But to the old folks, it was like comparing a tarpaper shack to the Taj Mahal. How pitifully small it seemed to them when compared with what they once had known. Their disappointment was so great that they wept while others rejoiced.

Misplaced Expectations

Everyone knows disappointment sooner or later. Friends break their word, marriages end in divorce, our children move away and never call us, colleagues betray us, the company lays us off, doctors can’t cure us, our investments disappear, our dreams are shattered, the best-laid plans go astray, other Christians disappoint us, and very often, we disappoint ourselves. We live in a world of disappointment, and if we do not come to grips with this truth, we are doomed to be unhappier tomorrow than we are today.

English author Joseph Addison declared, “Our real blessings often appear to us in the shape of pains, losses and disappointments.” We have all heard the story of Alexander the Great who wept because there were no more worlds to conquer. Hugo Grotius, the father of modern international law, said, “I have accomplished nothing worthwhile in my life.” John Quincy Adams, sixth President of the U.S.–wrote in his diary: “My life has been spent in vain and idle aspirations.” And this is the epitaph written by famed author Robert Louis Stevenson: “Here lies one who meant well, who tried a little, and failed much.” Cecil Rhodes opened up Africa and established an empire, but what were his dying words? “So little done, so much to do.” Joe Torre is the manager of the New York Yankees. Years ago he was the broadcaster for the California Angels (now the Anaheim Angels). During a broadcast one night, he mentioned that a little boy had asked him before the game, “Didn’t you used to be somebody?” And perhaps you’ve heard Abraham Lincoln’s reply when he was asked how it felt to lose the race for U.S. Senator to Stephen Douglas in 1858: “I feel like the boy who stubbed his toe: I am too big to cry and too badly hurt to laugh.”

Dr. Jerome Frank at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore talks about “our assumptive world.” He means that we all make certain assumptions about life. Often our assumptions are unstated. Deep down, we believe that if we do certain things, others will treat us in a certain way. We assume that we have earned certain things out of life. If those expectations are not met, we are disappointed. There is a strong correlation between good mental health and having assumptions that match reality. And there is a high correlation between misplaced assumptions and a variety of emotional problems, including depression. Put simply, we are disappointed when things don’t go the way we thought they were going to go. Wrong expectations lead to disappointment, and disappointment leads to despair.

Why were the old people disappointed? They remembered how good things used to be. And because they were living in the past with all its glory, they could not deal with the present reality. If we are ever going to overcome that sort of disappointment, three things are necessary. We must do what the Jews did in Ezra 3.

I. A New Dedication–Rebuild the Altar

The returning exiles began by rebuilding the altar so they could offer sacrifices to God. Verse 1 notes that all the people (“as one man”) assembled in Jerusalem. The two key leaders knew what to do. Jeshua the high priest and Zerubbabel (the man who led the exiles back from Babylon) led the people in reconstructing the altar of God. When it was finished, they began to offer the morning and evening sacrifices as God had mandated in the book of Leviticus. Then they made offerings for the Feast of Tabernacles (v. 4). “After that, they presented the regular burnt offerings, the New Moon sacrifices and the sacrifices for all the appointed sacred feasts of the LORD, as well as those brought as freewill offerings to the LORD. On the first day of the seventh month they began to offer burnt offerings to the LORD, though the foundation of the LORD’s temple had not yet been laid” (Ezra 3:5-6).

They built the altar even before they started rebuilding the temple. Why? Worship must always come first. Out of the rubble of their past disobedience, they first made sure they were right with God. In a sense, by making sacrifices first, they were saying, “Lord, we want to get right with you.” The altar was the symbolic center of Old Testament religion. It was the place where they brought their lambs, goats and bulls to be offered to the Lord. They killed the animal, poured out its blood, and burned the flesh before the Lord. Without the altar there could be no proper worship, no assurance of divine protection, no guarantee of forgiveness, no access to God, and no lifting of the burden of guilt and failure. The altar was the link between God and man. During all the years in Babylon, the people had no altar and thus no clear access to God and no assurance of forgiveness. Their disobedience had taken the altar away and broken their fellowship with God.

There are times when we all need a new beginning with God. Sometimes we need a new beginning because of our own sin. Sometimes the circumstances of life have so defeated us that we need a fresh start. Sometimes we feel that hope is gone forever. And in those moments, we must do what the Jews did. We must return to the altar of sacrifice. For Christians, that means returning to the cross of Jesus Christ where his blood was shed for our sins. That’s why I often say, “Run to the cross!” And not just for the unsaved but for Christians, too. We all need the healing that comes from the cross of Jesus Christ. And we need it every day.

The Man Who Denied God

Often we wonder if God will take us back, or will he turn us away? The answer is yes, he’ll take you back, but you’ll never know until you make that journey on your own. Several months ago I was the guest host on Open Line, the question-and-answer program heard nationally on the Moody Broadcasting Network. With about three minutes left in the program, I took one final call. As soon as I heard the man’s voice, I knew he was distraught. He proceeded to tell me a story unlike anything I have ever heard before. “I used to be a Christian but my wife left me for another man. When she told me she was leaving, I got angry and ripped up the Bible in front of her. Then I denied God in the name of the Trinity.” His voice broke and he started weeping. “I know it was wrong to do that, but I don’t think God will ever take me back. What can I do?” I glanced at the clock and saw that we had about 90 seconds left in the program. It was a dilemma because this was the kind of call you wish you had a whole hour to discuss. But the seconds were ticking away and I had to say something quickly. “Sir, I don’t have much time, so let me tell you this one thing. I know God loves you just the way you are and he will take you back.” “But I ripped up the Bible in front of my wife.” “Sir, I know God loves you and he will take you back.” “But I denied God in the name of the Trinity.” “God loves you and he will take you back.” The man wept openly as I said those words. Now we were down to the last 30 seconds. “We’re almost out of time so I want you to listen carefully. Your broken heart tells me that God will take you back. The Lord never turns away a broken heart. When this program is over, I want you to get on your knees, put the Bible in front of you, tell the Lord you know the Bible is the Word of God, and ask him to forgive you. And I want you to renounce your denial of faith. Tell the Lord that you know he is God, and ask the Lord Jesus to forgive you. Ask him for a fresh start. If you do that, you will not be turned away.” With that, our time ran out and the program was over. I never heard from the man again. I don’t know if he took my counsel or not. But I am sure I told him the truth. No matter how great sin may be, if we turn to the Lord, he will abundantly pardon. “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy” (Micah 7:18).

II. A New Obedience–Relaid the Foundation

Having rebuilt the altar, and thus re-established their relationship with God, the Jews proceeded to relay the foundation of the temple. This involved a massive cleanup effort. Remember that when they came back, they found a city basically turned into rubble, like Berlin at the end of World War II. And where Solomon’s temple had been, they found a field of rubble–piles of rocks, smashed bits of wood, with weeds and bushes growing up amid the debris. When they first saw it, there was nothing that looked like a temple. Nothing. All had been destroyed, torn down, and then burned. “Then they gave money to the masons and carpenters, and gave food and drink and oil to the people of Sidon and Tyre, so that they would bring cedar logs by sea from Lebanon to Joppa, as authorized by Cyrus king of Persia. In the second month of the second year after their arrival at the house of God in Jerusalem, Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, Jeshua son of Jozadak and the rest of their brothers (the priests and the Levites and all who had returned from the captivity to Jerusalem) began the work, appointing Levites twenty years of age and older to supervise the building of the house of the LORD” (Ezra 3:7-8).

As I study this story in its larger context, I am struck by two facts: First, they committed themselves to follow the Lord in the details of life. Verses 2 and 4 emphasize that when they rebuilt the altar, they did it “according to the Law,” that is, they followed the details of what God told Moses to do. That’s significant because nearly 1,000 years had passed since God had spoken to Moses on Mount Sinai. Lots of water had passed under the bridge in the intervening centuries. Empires had come and gone, Israel itself had gone through the conquest, the period of the Judges, the reign of the three great kings, Saul, David and Solomon, then the bizarre period of the divided kingdom, and finally the humiliation of total defeat and exile in Babylon. Now it was time to start over. What do you do then? You go back to the basics, back to the drawing board, you go back and read the instruction manual so you don’t make the same mistakes all over again. That’s what they did in Ezra 3.

Second, they relaid the foundation in spite of the enemies all around them. As the story unfolds in the chapters that follow, those enemies will do everything they can to discourage them, to harass them, to oppose them, and to stop them altogether. And in fact, the enemies will succeed for a period of time. It takes courage to stand against a hostile world. When the enemy lines up against you, what will you do then? You put faith ahead of your fears.

Put it all together and it looks like this. In spite of the rubble and in spite of the opposition, and in spite of all that had happened in the past, the people of God banded together and got to work. They raised money to buy new cedar logs, they organized their workers into teams, and everyone pitched in and went to work. They picked up those huge boulders and dragged them to the side. They cut down the bushes, dug up the weeds, cleared out the broken timber and the jagged pieces of metal. Little by little, day by day, week by week, they worked to clean out a half-century of neglect.

Do not miss the point. When you are disappointed and don’t know what to do, take a lesson from the Jews.

Do what you know is right!
Do what you know is right!
Do what you know is right!

You can’t stay in bed forever. Someone has to mop the floor. Someone has to take out the trash. Someone has to open the office. Someone has to turn on the lights. Someone has to pay the bills. Someone has to fix the motor. Someone has to enter the data. Someone has to make the sales presentation. Someone has to review the charts. Someone has to make the lesson plans. Someone has to see the patients. Someone has to grade the papers.

Don’t let your discouragement keep you from doing what you know you have to do. If you can’t keep your big promises, keep your small ones. If you can’t follow the big plan, follow the small one. If you can’t see ten steps into the future, then take two or three steps. Or just take the next step in front of you. Motivational speaker John Maxwell said, “The smallest act of obedience is better that the greatest intention.” He’s right. Better to do a little than to sit around dreaming about doing a lot.

If you cannot obey God in some grand gesture, then obey him in the small things of life. Do what you know needs to be done, and do it for the glory of God.

III. A New Priority–Resolved to Praise the Lord

“When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, the priests in their vestments and with trumpets, and the Levites (the sons of Asaph) with cymbals, took their places to praise the LORD, as prescribed by David king of Israel. With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the LORD: ‘He is good; his love to Israel endures forever.’ And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid” (Ezra 3:10-11).

Once the foundation was laid, the people and their leaders stopped and gave thanks to God. This is united, public praise. It is intense, emotional and God-centered. When they sang, they declared, “He is good,” not “We are good.” They didn’t even say, “We did this with God’s help,” even though that would have been true. They openly gave God all the credit.

I am struck by the fact that they did not wait until the building was done to praise the Lord. Even though laying the foundation was significant, there was a mountain of work left to do. Years would pass before the temple was finished. This was only the first step, but they stopped anyway and gave thanks to the Lord. What a lesson that is for all of us.

Yesterday Marlene and I were on North Avenue going to pick up our lawnmower from the repair shop. We happened to tune in while a preacher was talking about the importance of praising the Lord. He made the point (loudly) that praise is a choice, not a feeling. “You aren’t supposed to wait until you feel like praising the Lord. You’re to praise the Lord at all times whether you feel like it or not. Many times you won’t feel like praising the Lord. That doesn’t matter. Praise isn’t about your feelings. Praise is a choice we make without regard to our feelings.” He was exactly right. Don’t wait until the victory is won to praise the Lord. Stop and praise him before the battle is begun. Then praise him in the midst of the conflict. And praise him even when things seem to be going against you. Do what the Jews did and praise him for a good beginning. That will put your soul in the right place to continue to work with joy in the days to come.

It is a great advance in the spiritual life if you can praise the Lord even when things are not going well. In the midst of the devastation of Jerusalem, with only the foundation of the temple relaid, with rubble on every hand, after returning to find their homeland controlled by their enemies, still the people said with one voice, “God is good.” That’s true faith. Anyone can praise God when the sun in shining, all the bills are paid, your marriage is strong, your kids are doing well, you just got a raise, and the future is bright. It’s something else to praise God when things are far from perfect. It’s a great thing to be able to look at your life and say, “It’s not what I wish it was, but God is still good to me.”

Why Young and Old Need Each Other

So why did the young people rejoice? Because Babylon was all they had known. They had never seen Solomon’s temple, didn’t remember its glory and hadn’t witnessed its destruction. All they knew about that, they had heard from their parents and their parents’ friends. The older generation told them tales of the glorious olden days. But they knew none of it by experience. So when they saw the temple foundation relaid, to them it was an amazing answer to prayer. It was the closest thing to a temple they had ever seen, and they saw no reason to weep. This was a time to celebrate the goodness of the Lord.

But I do not think we should be overly hard on the old folks. They remembered how good things had been, and they recalled what had been lost through disobedience. It was well that they should weep, and even better that they should pass on the lessons learned through bitter experience many years earlier. It is still true today:

The young need the old to remind them of the past.

The old need the young to encourage them about the future.

Four Life Lessons

As we stand back and survey this amazing, touching episode, four lessons stand out to help us overcome the disappointments of life.

A. Yield your memories and your dreams to the Lord.

Was your past better and happier than your present? Yield it to the Lord. Was your past filled with sadness and pain? Give that to the Lord, too. Do you have great dreams, bright hopes, big plans for the future? That’s wonderful. It’s good to dream big, but in all your dreaming, and all your hoping, and all your planning, yield it all to the Lord. Lay it at his feet and say, “Your will be done.” Take the past with its happiness and sadness, take the future with all its unlimited possibilities, and give it all, past and present, to the Lord who spans the generations. Say to him, “Lord, you are the God of yesterday and you are the God of tomorrow, I yield them both to you so that I may live for your glory today.”

B. Accept your present situation as from the Lord.

To “accept” does not mean passive resignation to the problems of life. This is not a call to give up and stop fighting for what you believe in. But it does mean accepting the reality that you are where you are right now because this is where God wants you to be, because if God wanted you to be somewhere else, you would be somewhere else. Only those who have a high view of God can come to this conclusion. Sometimes you must come to this certainty by a conscious choice of the heart. Blessed is the person who can say, “I am here by the sovereign choice of a loving God, and I know my Lord makes no mistakes.” This does not mean it is wrong to change your situation if you need to (and if you can), but it gives you the bedrock confidence that Higher Hands are at work in your life and that you are being led by the Lord. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4 KJV).

C. Resolve to obey God right where you are.

Disappointment may cause us to become bitter, and bitterness may make us lethargic toward the duties of life. We may find a thousand excuses not to do the things we know we ought to do. And little by little things begin to slide, jobs are not done, chores are not finished, projects are left uncompleted, phone calls are not returned, appointments are not met, messages are not answered, papers are not written, goals are not met, and down we slide into a bottomless pit of despair. The answer is so simple that we often miss it. Resolve in your heart that you will obey God right where you are. No excuses. No delays. No hoping for better days, happier times, or more favorable circumstances. If things aren’t what you wish they were, roll up your sleeves anyway and go to work. Who knows? Your willingness to do what needs to be done may change the way things are. And even if the situation does not improve, you can hardly make it worse by doing what needs to be done. And if you somehow make it worse, at least you have the satisfaction of knowing that you made it worse by doing your duty, not by giving up and throwing in the towel. “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might” (Ecclesiastes 9:10a).

D. Praise God for his goodness in spite of your circumstances.

This is what the people of God did in Ezra’s day. They rolled up their sleeves, got to work, and as they worked, with the fulfillment of their dreams still far in the future, they offered public praise to God. If this were a parable, I would say, “Go and do likewise.”

Rough Seas Make Great Sailors

And let this be the basis of your thanksgiving. God’s goodness is proved not only in what he gives, but also in what he allows. Hard times are hard precisely because they force you out of your comfort zone. They put you in a place where you are virtually forced to trust God. They move the spiritual life from theory to reality. You can hear all the sermons you want about how God takes care of his children, but it’s not until you experience it for yourself that those truths become the liberating foundation of a life that cannot be blown away by the winds of adversity. Here’s a quote I found this week: “One can learn about sailing in the classroom, but it takes rough seas to make a great sailor.” Well said. You can read about sailing until you know all the nautical terms by heart, but you’ll never learn how to sail, much less be a great sailor, until you take your turn at the helm while your sailboat fights through a squall off Cape Fear. When the waves are pounding, the wind is howling, and the rain rolls across the deck in horizontal sheets, then you’ll learn how to sail and how to survive. If you don’t learn at that point, you probably won’t survive. When the storm has passed, you will thank God for the knowledge and confidence that could not have come any other way. There are no shortcuts to spiritual maturity. So give thanks to God even though your circumstances are not the best.

Better to Begin Small

As we come to the end of this message, there is much we need to ponder. For one thing, God’s grace is so great that, no matter how great our sin, there is always the possibility of a new beginning with him. The very fact that the Jews returned from Babylon proves this fact. No matter how checkered your past may be, the grace of God is always greater than your sin. While the scars of the past may be with you forever, those scars do not determine what your future will be. So if you need a new beginning, turn to the Lord with all your heart because he will not turn you away. There is a second truth the flows from the first: When we have been humbled by God, our praise will be sweeter because it will be unmixed with sinful pride. The Jews could never say, “Look at us, we did it, we brought ourselves back from Babylon.” No way. God humbled them, he punished them, and when the time came, he brought them home again. And he gave them the strength to relay the foundation of the temple. Human pride had been crushed years earlier. Now God alone would get the glory.

Let’s close with two statements I would like you to repeat out loud. That’s right. Wherever you happen to be right now, I’d like you to say the next two sentences aloud:

It is better to begin small with God than not to begin at all.

It is better to rejoice over what you have than to weep over what you used to have.

Disappointment is a tricky emotion. It’s not wrong to remember the past and it’s certainly not wrong to grieve over what you lost. If our loss was caused by our own stupid choices, then grieving may keep us from making the same mistakes again. But eventually there comes a time when we must move on. At that point our beginnings are likely to be small and insignificant. Do not despair. From tiny acorns mighty oaks someday grow. When God wanted to save the world, he started with a baby in a manger. Small beginnings are no hindrance to the Lord. Go ahead and get started. You never know what God will do.

How long are you going to allow your future to be defined by your past? How long will you choose to stay in your disappointment? Don’t despise your present because it’s not what you wanted it to be or because it’s not what your past used to be. Lay your disappointments at the foot of the cross. Let Jesus have them. Take your burdens to the Lord and leave them there. Give thanks for all your blessings. Then by God’s grace, move forward with your life, determined to serve the Lord. Amen.


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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- God’s Provision


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

GOD’S PROVISION
by Eric Elder
The Ranch

 

Are you in need of something from God today? If so, let me encourage you (as a friend recently encouraged me) that “God’s provision is there before the need has presented itself. It is merely a matter of the light shining on the provision so it can be seen.”

I’ve been amazed to see this truth lived out in my own life over the last few weeks.

A few weeks ago, I was talking to another friend who shared with me, rather unintentionally, that his family was down to their last $49 in their bank account. He was trying hard to fill it back up, but his hard work wasn’t bearing as much fruit as he needed.

He had done so much for me over the years that I wondered what I could do for him. I looked in my own bank account and saw that I had $500.36. Before I had time to talk myself out of it, I wrote out a check for $500 and put it in the mail to my friend. I knew it was the right thing to do. I just had to trust that God would somehow provide for us both.

The day my check arrived at my friend’s house, another need presented itself, this time, a bill I hadn’t anticipated for $2,000! To make matters worse, I got a message from my bank saying that a check I had deposited a few months earlier had accidentally been deposited twice, so they were removing the amount of that check, which just happened to be $500, from my bank account! And I found out from my friend that same day that my check to him for $500 had just arrived at his house!

I took a deep breath and said, “God, I know You were prompting me to do this. I’m going to have to trust You to cover it.” I was headed out of town for the weekend and didn’t have time to think about it or hardly even worry about. I had to trust that God would work it out.

When I got back from my trip, I saw an email in my inbox that I had already seen just before I left on my trip, but had simply ignored it because it looked like spam. It was an agent for a company who said he had a client who was interested in buying one of the domain names I owned. (A domain name is a website address, like www.theranch.org or www.thisdaysthought.org. I’ve bought and used several domain names over the years for different projects, each of which has cost me about $15 a year.)

I checked out this agent’s website, and the company actually looked legitimate. And the domain name their client wanted to buy was one which I had used many years ago, and thought I might use again some day, but I wasn’t sure if I ever would. So I wrote to the agent and asked what his client was offering to pay for the domain name.

He wrote back and said, “$1,000.”

$1,000! I couldn’t believe it! On one hand, I wanted to jump at the opportunity. But on the other hand, I was still wondering if maybe I should hang onto that domain name in case I decided to use it someday again.

I thought, If they had offered me $10,000, that would be a no-brainer. I’d just pick out another domain name if I ever needed one in the future. But for $1,000, I’m not sure if I should give it up.

There was a button on the agent’s website where I could make a counter offer. I thought about entering $10,000, but that seemed ridiculous. I would have been happy for maybe $2,000 or $3,000 for it. But for $10,000, it would certainly be an easy decision.

Not wanting to give it much more thought, especially since I still wondered if this was even a legitimate offer, I clicked the button to make a counter offer. I entered $10,000 and pushed “Send.”

A few hours later, I got an email saying the client would like to move forward with the purchase, and they were willing to offer $2,500, but that would be their final offer.

$2,500! That was right in the $2,000-$3,000 range that I said I would be happy for! And not coincidentally, that was exactly the amount I was needing to cover for my two unexpected expenses of $500 for my friend and $2,000 for myself.

“God, I can’t believe it! I’m sorry I had so little faith!” Trusting now that it was God’s provision, I clicked the “Accept Offer” button. By the end of the week, I had transferred my domain name to the client and deposited their check into my bank account. My friend cashed my check, and I paid my unexpected bill.

When I looked back at the original email from the agent, I saw that it had come on the same morning as my friend had received my check (and I received my notice from my bank), and the same day I received that unexpected bill for $2,000. God’s provision was already right there in my inbox. It was merely a matter of the light shining on the provision so it could be seen.

This reminded me of the unusual way Jesus paid a bill for a friend and Himself one day, too.

When a tax collector came to Jesus and Peter asking them to pay their two-drachma “temple tax,” Jesus gave Peter these unusual instructions. Jesus said:

“…go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for My tax and yours” (Matthew 17:27b).

I can imagine the surprise on Peter’s face when he threw out his fishing line, reeled in a fish, and there in its mouth was a four-drachma coin!

The provision for both Peter and Jesus was there all along, either already in the fish’s mouth, or perhaps on the bottom of the lake, just waiting for the God of the universe to direct the fish to nibble along till it picked up the coin in its mouth and went to the spot where Peter would be fishing. God’s provision was already there before the need presented itself. It was merely a matter of the light shining on the provision so it could be seen.

I was thinking about sharing my story with you today, about God’s provision for me, but then something else unexpected came up that made me hesitate. Another need presented itself that I had no way of meeting. I thought, God, how can I write this story about You providing for our needs even before the needs present themselves when I’m facing another need right now that I have no idea how I’m going to meet?!? But then something amazing happened–just yesterday.

Back on Thursday, when this need arose, we had a terrible snowstorm. Schools and businesses were closed for the first time all winter. My mail had been delivered to my mailbox before the storm got too bad, but by the time I made it out to the mailbox later in the day, the door to the mailbox had blown open by the storm and a magazine was hanging half-way out, soaked in snow. I wondered if anything else had blown out, and as I looked around, I did find one piece of junk mail, almost completely covered and soaked by the wet snow. I tried to look for any other mail that might have blown out, but the storm was too fierce to keep searching any further.

Then yesterday, when almost all of the snow had finally melted, I looked out in my yard. There were six pieces of mail, strewn all over the yard, that had been completely covered by the snow just a few days earlier. I picked up each one, some important, others not, and one from a church where I used to attend. When I finally opened the last letter from the church, I was in shock! Enclosed was a check for the exact amount of the need I had learned about on the day of the snowstorm! A letter was attached explaining that the church wanted to give a special one-time gift from their surplus offerings from last year to gospel-centered ministries. This check was a portion of that surplus for the year! In all the years since we attended that church, we had never received such a gift before!

Again, I was astounded, not only that the need was covered, but that it was already covered on the same day that the need had presented itself. God’s provision was already there; it was merely hidden under a blanket of snow until the light of the sun shown upon it!


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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- Asking For Blessings


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

ASKING FOR BLESSINGS
by Eric Elder
The Ranch

In this photo: Janette Oke praying for me and signing my notepad the night before my daughter and I visited the set of When Calls The Heart, a Hallmark TV series based on Janette’s book by the same title.

 

Last month I had the rare opportunity to meet Janette Oke, author of the book which served as the basis for the new TV series running on the Hallmark Channel called “When Calls The Heart.” My daughter and I were invited to attend a special event on the set near Vancouver where the show is filmed, as my daughter is going into acting herself. I have to admit, I’ve never read any of Janette Oke’s books before; I’ve only seen them all over the shelves at bookstores (she’s written over 75 novels, selling more than 30 million books!).
 
And yet, when the key people were introduced at a gathering for fans and friends of the show on Friday night–including actors, producers and script writers–I was floored when Janette was introduced. Why? Because here was the woman behind this entire “world” I had been watching for two years on TV with my family. She’s the one who envisioned the characters, described the settings, and infused them with her faith and values. While it’s taken hundreds of cast and crew members to bring that world to the screen, it all started in her mind 33 years ago when she first wrote the book When Calls The Heart (she’s now 81 years young).
 
As a writer myself, I was struck by how our words can have an effect on people all over the world, even decades or generations after our words are first written. I thought, “I would love to have a portion of whatever God has given to Janette!”
 
When I saw her standing in the ballroom at one point during the night with only one or two others around her, I thought perhaps I could ask her to pray for me. Although I didn’t know what she might say, I thought it was worth it to try. I walked over and introduced myself, saying, “Thank you for using your gift to reach so many people, including me. I’m a writer, too, and I wondered if you would pray for me, that God would use my words to reach many people for His kingdom as well?”
 
Janette said she’d be glad to pray for me, pulled me in close, and launched into a beautiful one or two minute prayer, speaking directly into my ear.
 
After praying, she signed a notebook I was carrying, writing, “Eric, May God continue to lead you. Janette Oke”
 
It may seem bold or unusual to ask someone to bless you with a portion of that which God has blessed them. Yet it’s not the first time I’ve asked someone to pray for me like that. I’ve taken courage from those in the Bible who have asked others to bless them as well, like Elisha asking for a blessing from Elijah: “Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,” (2 Kings 2:9b) or Jacob asking for a blessing from the man with whom he had wrestled all night: “I will not let you go unless you bless me!” (Genesis 32:26b).
 
It’s not that I’m expecting instant answers from these prayers, and it’s not like I’m trying to rub a magical charm for good luck. It’s asking for a prayer of blessing from those whom God has already blessed. And as a believer in prayer, I trust that God will answer those prayers some day, in some way–and even in ways that might go beyond all I could ask or imagine.
 
I remember asking a famous singer one time if he would pray for my voice. He said, “Sure,” then asked, “What happened to your voice?” thinking that perhaps I had injured it in some way.
 
I said, “Oh, my voice is fine, I just wish I could sing like you!” He laughed, then prayed for me, gladly. It’s not that I thought my voice would suddenly change to sound like his, for we’re all gifted and wired in unique ways. He didn’t get to where he was by just a prayer–it takes lots of hard work, training, and “practice, practice, practice.”
 
But I also know that Jesus has “good gifts” He wants to give us, and He encourages us to ask in order to receive them. As Jesus said: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8).
 
My daughter and I asked for prayers of blessings from two other people during our weekend on the set, too.
 
We met the father of one of the child actors on the show and were able to talk with him about how their family got connected with the production. As he answered our questions, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if he would pray for my daughter that God would open some similar doors for her?” I didn’t know if he was a Christian or not. But at one point while we were talking, he mentioned how “blessed” he felt by all that had happened to their family. I decided then and there that it was worth asking him for a blessing, too.
 
I asked, “Would you mind praying for my daughter that God would bless her as you and your family have been blessed?”
 
He paused for a moment, then said, “No one’s ever asked me to do that before. But sure, I’d be glad to.” He took our hands in his and prayed an honest, godly, and heart warming prayer.
 
The third blessing we received came at the end of the weekend’s activities when my daughter talked to an actor with whom she was very impressed. He wasn’t an actor on this particular show, but happened to be on the set that day with us. Again, we weren’t sure if he was a Christian or not, but had heard from a member of the crew that they thought he was involved with a church nearby. My daughter stepped up to talk to him, looked at him sincerely and asked, “Would you pray for me? I’m going into acting, too, and I would love to receive what you have.”
 
He looked at her and said, “Not many people ask me that! But okay, let’s pray.” He then launched into a lengthy prayer for her, which turned into a 45-minute conversation about acting, Hollywood, boundaries, and balancing work and family life. That prayer and conversation turned out to be the highlight of the whole weekend for my daughter.
 
I tell you these stories not to be a name dropper, for I have no interest in that. I tell you these stories because I want to encourage YOU to ask for blessings from those you meet, those who have been gifted in ways that you may want to grow, too.
 
It’s good to check your motives before asking for a blessing, as this isn’t meant to be a substitute to try to curry someone’s favor or as a way to get close enough to someone to get their autograph! It’s simply and truly a way to ask God to bless you as others have been blessed. If that’s your desire, then let me encourage you to consider asking, too! If the person you ask says, “Yes,” then receive whatever blessing God chooses to pour out on you. Who knows how your life and the lives of those around you–perhaps even the lives of people all around the world for generations to come–might be affected by your asking!
When I came home from our weekend in Vancouver, a friend told me that she had been praying that I would receive everything God wanted me to receive on the trip. As I thought about her prayers, I thought about those three blessings that others had prayed over my daughter and me. I thought, “Yes, Lord, I think I have received everything You wanted me to receive.”
 
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. Ask God, yes, but don’t be afraid to ask people sometimes, too. Their prayers of blessings may rock more than just your world.
 
P.S. If you’ve never seen When Calls The Heart, Season 3 starts tonight, Sunday, February 21st, here in the U.S. It’s a show that’s filled with faith, strong values, and beautiful characters and scenery, all shot in the Canadian West. If you have a DVR, set it to record the show every Sunday night! (You might even catch Janette Oke in a cameo role in the season finale!)
 
And here are some links if you want to catch up on previous episodes:

wcth-poster-signatures

In this photo: “Cody,” “Clara,” and dozens of other cast and crew members sign posters on the set of When Calls The Heart. Bottom: a highway sign we saw on our way to the set for the show (the set also happens to be named “Hope Valley.”)

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


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

Gluttony-A Deadly Sin

by John Kapteyn

We have been talking about deadly sins. Sins that plant themselves deep within us and can take over our lives. Sins that lead us to other sin and sins that separate us from God.

Today we look at a fifth deadly sin. And as we consider this sin – it may seem harmless compared to the others. After all, is gluttony not simply a problem about eating too much. Is that real that bad a sin? And do we really have a problem with gluttony? How many people here have a problem with eating too much?

Well, that may be true. We may not have a problem with eating too much but we may still have a problem with gluttony. And as we consider what gluttony really is, we may discover that we need to deal with this sin as well.

What is gluttony? One Bible dictionary defines a glutton as one habitually given to greedy and voracious eating. To be voracious means to be exceedingly eager. To be called a glutton is not a nice thing. A glutton a person was given to loose and excessive living. In the NT it was used to describe a rascal or scoundrel who had a uncontrolled or excessive fondness for some specified object or pursuit.

Gluttony has to do with much more than food. A glutton is one who craves food but a glutton is also any person who is craving for something to satisfy his soul.

For the hunger we feel is a much deeper hunger than to fill our stomach. For there is a great cavity within each one of us that earns to be filled. We often fill that hunger with things – clothes, jewelry, cars, sex, food. We eat out of boredom, we eat to rewards ourselves, we eat out of frustration (so easy to eat when we are upset), we eat when we are depressed, we eat when we are stressed or angry. We eat because we hope it will satisfy our longing. But it doesn’t.

Our real inner longing isn’t for food. It is for something deeper and more meaningful. Our longing is for purpose, for love, for community, for God. That is why God put that hunger in us.

But that hunger is painful and rather than allow us to see how empty we are without God we fill it before we get to that point that we ask God to fulfill our deepest desires.

Frederick Buechner says that a glutton is one who runs to the icebox for a cure to a spiritual malnutrition. That we use our possessions to camouflage a bankrupt emotional and spiritual life. That we seek status and position to camouflage our low self-esteem. We run after anything and everything to camouflage our fear of becoming nothing.

The prophet Amos made this charge against the people of Israel:

Amos 6:-5 You lie on beds inlaid with ivory and lounge on your couches. You dine on choice lambs and fattened calves. You strum away on your harps like David and improvise on musical instruments. You drink wine by the bowlful and use the finest lotions, but you do not grieve over the ruin of Joseph.

The nation was in political, and more important yet, spiritual ruin and yet they drank and indulged themselves to excess so they ignored there problems. Like someone who goes to the fridge to get a sandwich or another bottle of beer rather than to deal with the problems in their life. They escape reality but nothing is really changed. To close my eyes top a situation does not take it away.

What do you crave in life? What do you desire more than anything else? What satisfies your soul’s appetite? Is it food, is it drink? Is it work? It is so easy for a man to work long hours to feel important or to escape the problems in his marriage. Is it recognition? is it acceptance? Iis it a sport or hobby you can loose yourself in?

So often these things do not seem that bad. In fact these things are gifts from God. God has blessed us with so much food and such a variety of tastes. But we can so easily abuse this gift. We can abuse our talents, our work, our skills, almost anything.

And when we do, we see why gluttony is such a terrible sin.

For the things we crave are of no lasting value. That’s what Solomon discovered as he looked back over his life

Eccl 2:10 I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labor. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.

It leads to poverty – even in this world.

Prov 23:20 Do not join those who drink too much wine or gorge themselves on meat, for drunkards and gluttons become poor, and drowsiness clothes them in rags.

We see it addicts – even the rich can loose it all.

It stops us from dealing with the problems and lets them increase

Isa 22:13 But see, there is joy and revelry, slaughtering of cattle and killing of sheep, eating of meat and drinking of wine! “Let us eat and drink,” you say, “for tomorrow we die!”

If the people had dealt with the problem they they would not die tomorrow. God would not have judged Israel. See this in time of Noah. Perhaps to drunk or full to see flood waters coming, but they came none the less. More concerned with cravings than with building an ark.

And gluttony make selfish – parable of rich man and Lazarus

Luke 16:19-21 “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.

Gluttonous person will not share since he cannot ever get enough for himself.

To be gluttonous leads us to sin to satisfy the cravings of our sinful nature rather than to be godly.

Rom 13:13 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.

And the worst things is that our true hunger will never be satisfied.

Jesus teaches us that we are to crave only one kind of food – food that comes from heaven. Symbolically that is what the feeding of the 5,000 was about. There was a great hunger – over 5,000 people.

There was a small boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish. The boy must have craved this food. But he gave that food to Christ. Trusting in Him to fill His hunger rather than this food.

When we give our cravings over to Christ, when we ask him to fill them rather than to fill them with our own food, then he feeds us. He feeds us with food that is more than we need. They all had enough to eat. Matthew says they were all satisfied. And there was still much left over.

There is nothing wrong with having a good meal. Jesus enjoyed good meals – some even called Him a glutton. In heaven we will enjoy a rich feast. But our feeding must not be for deeper purposes.

It must be for strength.

Eccl 10:17 Blessed are you, O land whose king is of noble birth and whose princes eat at a proper time– for strength and not for drunkenness.

When we seek to have our cravings, our emptiness filled by Christ, then and only then will we be satisfied.

John 6:27 Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”

John 6:35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.

Friends, are you hungry? Do you feel empty inside? Have you tried to fill that emptiness but somehow could not? Have you tried to be so busy that you could pretend that it is isn’t there? These things have not really worked, have they?

Confess to God that you have not brought your hunger to Him. That you have had your desires filled elsewhere. That you have lived for work or pleasures that have not satisfied.

God calls you to come to Him.

Isa 55:1-2 Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.

Come to His table. Eat of the bread of life. Crave for the Lord, seek Him with all your might.


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


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

Making God More Real in Your Life

by Jerry Shirley

John 14:6-14:15

Jesus is having a Q&A session with His disciples. They have left their jobs, boat investments, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, and all their life plans in order to follow the Lord. It has been about 3 years of this, and they think He is about to set up His earthly kingdom and they will rule with Him.

Jesus drops a bomb on them, stating that He is going to be killed, and will go to heaven. The Q&A begins.

Peter, bold and brash, asks the first question in 13:36 [read]

Jesus says, you can’t go where I’m going right now, but you will later!

Thomas asks the next question in 14:5

He wants a map. Jesus says, just follow me. He doesn’t point the way, He IS the way!

Philip is next [vv. 7-8]

“About the Father, we want to see Him too. Make Him more real to us if you are going to Him.” Philip says, “If you’ll show Him to us we will understand better and know Him better.”

Philip’s desire is a good one, though a little misguided. The desire of our hearts should be to know God better. We need to move from mere head knowledge to heart knowledge. [Just a closer walk with thee…]

Philippians 3:10

That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death;

“Know” is a keyword in John’s gospel, used 141 times. Study them and you find 4 levels of ‘knowing’:

1. Knowing facts. [head knowledge]
2. Knowing the truth behind the facts. [deeper head knowledge]
3. Knowing the truth behind the facts, personally [heart knowledge]
4. Knowing the truth behind the facts, personally, and intimately [deepest heart knowledge]

Remember, the Bible calls intimacy between husband and wife ‘having knowledge’ of them. [Adam knew Eve and she conceived / Mary was a virgin in that she had not known a man]

The highest level of knowing is intimacy, and not just physical…it can be emotional intimacy and, most importantly, spiritual intimacy.

When I first met Kimberly, we started out at the first level…facts and stats like age, college major, hometown, and some of those introductory things you want to know like: Coke or Pepsi, Cubs or Cardinals, calves or cankles! It was at a verbal, superficial level.

The more we talked the more interested I became, and we went to the second level. I began to know the truth behind the facts as I learned more about the inner person, her upbringing, and why she thinks the way she thinks and feels the way she feels, and what is her worldview.

We became close friends and through courting, began pursuing a relationship. I liked her…big like! She liked me back, checking the box my friend passed her in class! In time, through developing a close, heart knowledge relationship, I knew I loved her. And through a lot of effort, many gifts, and much prayer, she was deceived into loving me back! We gained heart knowledge of one other that went beyond the facts and stats, and even beyond friendship. About 7 months later we were engaged, and married 10 months after that.

Now, if you consider each of those first 3 ‘knowledges’ to be bases on a ball diamond, and if you remember that we have children, you can reasonably assume that eventually the blessed 3rd base coach waved me home! And for more than 20 years now we have been getting to know each other better, and we’re still trying to know each other better, and yes, sometimes there’s something you want to forget, and eventually you’ll see something you’d like to ‘unsee’, but overall, it’s a continual pursuit of deeper intimacy in all areas. [recently I asked my folks for a recent photo and dad said, we haven’t taken pictures in years…matter of fact, we have got rid of all mirrors in the house, just to help remove all evidence!]

Eventually time takes it’s toll on all of us, but the knowledge and closeness and intimacy should ever deepen.

When it comes to God, we begin with a set of facts about Him:

Once upon a time I learned that He created me, loved me even though I sin, was born of a virgin, died for me, and rose again, and wanted to save me. Over time I learned the ‘why’ about those facts. He made me for His glory, and to serve Him, and He loved me, in spite of MY nature, because of HIS nature. I learned why He had to be virgin born, why He chose to die, and what His resurrection meant for me. I believed and was born again. Head knowledge became heart knowledge. I was 6, and now for more than 30 years [just barely a little more!] I have been getting to know Him more intimately! Today He is more real to me than ever before, and I want tomorrow to break today’s record!

This is what Philip was seeking when he said, “Show us the Father!” He wanted God to be more real in His life!

1. The Meaningful Request.

v. 8

• Philip’s desire.

Don’t think for one minute that he is expressing doubt. He is not questioning Jesus’ claim that He is one with the Father. He simply wants to know God better.

A principle: The longer we are saved, the more our desires should change – we should become more interested in God Himself, rather than just in what God can DO for us.

When we are born again, it is because we need something, like mercy and forgiveness. So, we come to God wanting something we need. Great! After that, we realize that God can give us more than salvation, like joy, peace, guidance, and help. And tangible things like financial and health needs. Again, we are asking God for something we need…and let’s be clear, there’s nothing wrong with that! God wants to be your source of needs.

But as we grow in grace, somewhere along the way we need to have a shift in our thinking…we should become less interested in the gifts of God and more interested in the God of the gifts. Now it’s not just about what God can do for me, but about my desire to know Him better.

This is one problem I have with today’s health and wealth movement. After all, He’s not some heavenly genie, cosmic Santa Claus, or holy slot machine. He’s our Father, friend, and Redeemer! This is a whole new level of spiritual maturity. Most Christians never take their relationship with Christ to the next level. We need to talk about how to go to that next level and know God more deeply and Him be more real in our lives!

Have you ever had a prayer time in which you never asked God for anything? You just had a talk with the Lord, and spent time with Him, or praised Him? Don’t get me wrong–I’m glad that when I need something, I can seek the hand of God. But I also want to seek the face of God!

Philip’s desire was good…

• Philip’s deficiency.

When he asked to see the Father, he meant with his physical eyes. He wanted a literal manifestation before him. It was a good desire to want to know God better, but it was misguided in this way.

We still have this problem today in our world. It’s the root of all idol worship…wanting something to see, touch, and manipulate.

Romans 1:23

And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.

They turn away from the true God, and turn to one of their own making. It’s the first 2 commandments broken! An ‘other God’. A ‘graven image’.

You don’t see a lot of wooden and stone idols in America like many parts of the world, but that doesn’t mean that idolatry isn’t alive and well. [American Idols!] Today we bow to the idol of materialism…money and things and people. It’s easy to tell what your idols are. What are your goals in life? What is your passion? Riches and fame? You bow to those things…they are your gods. You may achieve what you seek, but you will be empty of satisfaction. God may allow you to have what you want, but in the end, will you like what you have?

Some have created another Bible. Oh, it’s the same words, but only believed ‘cafeteria style’ [creation / homosexuality] We have also created another Jesus…many alternate versions of Him, as a matter of fact. Churches and people decide to remake Him into another image they come up with. Just because they call Him by the same name doesn’t mean He’s the same God!

A tall, ugly Jerry? No, that’s another guy by the same name.

Man’s greatest need is to know God. And when we do, we should want to know Him better. Philip is on the right track with his desire, but he had a deficiency, and Jesus tells him how to correct it.

1. That’s the Meaningful Request.
2. The Master’s Reply.

[Most Christians never take their relationship with Christ to the next level. We need to talk about how to go to that next level and know God more deeply and Him be more real in our lives! That’s tonite…]

v. 9 This is a mild rebuke…and He’s saying it not just to Philip, but to all of them. They have spent all this time with Him, and still don’t get it. It is possible to be in the very presence of the obvious and still not see it.

Traveling around the country we are shocked at how many locals have never seen the things we drove for days to see! It took us 12 years and a recommendation from someone across the country to decide to go see the blue mound! All I ever wanted our first 5 years here was Popeye’s, and then they came, and I never go!

The end of v. 9 is where Jesus makes it clear that it is THRU HIM that get to know the Father.

Now, there are some things that nature and creation tell us about God, like the fact that He is a God of design and order, with style and mathematical precision.

Even evolutionists are now making our point without knowing it. Because all of creation screams out that there is a design to it, they have begun saying things like “Evolution has designed the river otter to be an excellent swimmer.” What? Did you say design? Evolution is about random chance, and things adapting themselves and making themselves better, not being designed. That would require a designer! The same people admit that a building had a builder and a painting had a painter. But creation…have a Creator? Well, I just don’t see it!

Romans 1:20

For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:

Romans 1:21-22

21 Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.

22 Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,

We know some things about the Father just from His creation. But it took Jesus coming to earth in flesh, living and dying for us, conquering death in order for us to know that God is much more than a creative designer, but is a loving God of mercy and grace and forgiveness who longs to know us and to be known by us.

Hebrews 1:3

[Jesus] Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high;

When you look at Jesus, you see the brightness and glory of the Father…they are one!

How do we see God in Christ?

• Through the words that He speaks.

v. 10 When you hear the voice of Jesus, you hear the voice of the Father.

When I was a kid, my sister would come in and say “Clean your room.” I’d say, “You’re not the boss of me!” Then she would clarify that “Dad said.” Now it had some power behind it. The disciples need to realize this about Jesus’ words. “The Father said!”

We see Jesus speaking profound words at 12 years of age, to the amazement of the spiritual leaders.

Later, as an adult, some soldiers were sent to arrest Him. They hid in the bushes, listening to what He was saying, and they went back without Him. Their bosses said, where is He? They said, “Never a man spake like this man.” And all who listened to Him were ‘astonished’ at His words.

Put Jesus’ words in anyone else’s mouth and they don’t fit. Jesus said I am meek and lowly. Can you imagine Peter saying that? Jesus spoke of believing in things you can’t see with your eyes. Thomas would never say that. Jesus’ words are powerful because they are God’s words!

• Through the works that He does.

vv. 11 The ‘work’ Jesus did was salvation, which proves He is God! His primary work on earth was not feeding multitudes, walking on water, or even raising the dead, like Lazarus.

Luke 19:10

For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.

How do we see the Father in the Son? For each good work of Jesus on earth, we see an attribute of God…for instance:

• When Jesus healed the sick, we see the mercy of God. And better than being healed of physical sickness is someone being healed of spiritual sin-sickness!

Isaiah 53:5

… with his stripes we are healed.

• When Jesus calmed storms, we see the power of God. “Peace be still,” He said, and the winds and waves laid down like whipped pup. Power!

• When Jesus lived sinlessly, His entire life, we see the holiness of God.

• When Jesus ate and fellowshipped with sinners, we see the grace of God.

• When Jesus died on the cross, we see the love of God.

I’ve never seen God physically, but I’ve seen Jesus, and so I know what the Father looks like, sounds like, and what makes up His character. Jesus is God…spelling Himself out in a language that mankind can understand!

Jesus shows us the Father thru His words and His works!

3. A Magnificent Revelation.

v. 12

• The privilege of greater works – Can we really do greater works than Jesus? Not in quality, but in quantity! 3,000 were saved in 1 day in Acts. And millions of Christians today can go about giving the gospel, where Jesus was just one person, and He never left His homeland.

• The pathway of greater works – How can we get on track to do greater works? Because if we get involved in them, God will become more real to us!

vv. 13-14 Prayer.

It’s something we need teaching on, as the disciples asked. None of us have arrived. We must be challenged, reminded, and we must practice everyday!

Does this verse mean you can ask for anything you want and you will receive it? No, there’s a qualifier here, that the Father be glorified.

1 John 5:14

And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us:

In context, Jesus says this in conjunction with doing greater works. If we get serious about doing ‘greater works’, there will be many needs, and Jesus here promises that those needs will be met…so the work can be accomplished…so the Father will be glorified.

v. 15b Obedience.

You see, we have a bad habit of claiming promises out of context, which may or may not apply to us.

Philippians 4:19

But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.

We love to quote it, but it is given in the context of faithful givers. Does it apply to you? Nowhere does the Bible make financial promises to the unfaithful, but it does say there’s a curse upon those who know better and don’t give. [Mal. 3]

v. 15a Love.

We can apply the love motive to any commandments of God, OT or NT. But in context here, Jesus is saying if you love me you’ll pray, if you love me you’ll give, if you love me, you’ll serve…you’ll obey, you’ll witness, you’ll want to do the greater works, and thru it all you will come to know me and the Father more. We will become more real in your life!

Most Christians never take their relationship with Christ to this level. Most never witness…most never turn their life upside down in such a way as to forsake everything and seek the greater works. Why? We could talk about fear and ignorance and make all kinds of explanations, but the bottom line is this — it’s a love problem! When you really love somebody, no sacrifice is too great.

When Peter denied the Lord, cursing and swearing, it was simply the symptoms of being a guy whose motives for following the Lord needed to be deepened. He knew the Lord, and loved the Lord.

Jesus saw Him after His resurrection and 3 times asked if he loved Him. Of course He did, but he needed to love more deeply.

I love Jesus, but there’s a greater work to be done, a greater love to possess.

You pray, yes…but “Lord, teach us to pray,” there’s a greater work of prayer to be done.

Lord, I believe, help Thou mine unbelief! Greater faith.

We give, but there’s a greater work to be done!

I feel like I obey God in many areas, but as I look at the greater chunk of my life…opening up all areas for inspection, there’s room for a lot more obedience!

You may serve, but there’s greater works which need to be done…will you step up and do them?

When you love somebody, you love what they love. Jesus loves the church. Jesus loves lost souls. Jesus loves glorifying the Father. And this is the purpose of greater works.

• The purpose of greater works.

Glorifying God can be done thru every detail of our lives. It’s not just something we do when we sing, give, serve, or pray.

1 Corinthians 10:31

Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.

Nothing brings God more glory than helping others get saved, because now there’s a new child of God who can bring Him more glory like He deserves. Wanting to bring God glory leads us to do greater works. And these things make God more real in our lives!


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


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

Turning Quiet Places Into Holy Places

by Robert Donato

Luke 5:12-5:16

Theologian A. W. Tozer gives tremendous insight as he writes these profound words in his book The Knowledge of the Holy: “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”

What do you think about God? Do you see Him as being bigger than our star-strewn universe? If so, then the problems of life won’t seem so overwhelming. On the other hand, if we project God onto a small screen in our minds, life’s obstacles can take on giant proportions. We will tremble and quake before them. We will act first and pray later, and the twin fists of panic and worry will pummel our hearts with fear.

In his book Your God Is Too Small, British pastor J.B. Phillips challenges us not to settle for such a meager concept of God.

“Let us fling wide the doors and windows of our minds and make some attempt to appreciate the “size” of God. He must not be limited to religious matters or even to the “religious” interpretation of life. He must not be confined to one particular section of time nor must we imagine Him as the local god of this planet or even only of the universe that astronomical survey has so far discovered. It is not, of course, physical size that we are trying to establish in our minds…It is rather to see the immensely broad sweep of the Creator’s activity, the astonishing complexity of His mental processes which science laboriously uncovers, the vast sea of what we can only call “God” in a small corner of which man lives and moves and has his being.” (JB Phillips, Your God Is to Small NY NY Macmillan Co. 1961 pp 61-62)

Through Jesus Christ, God offers to us understanding and intimacy.

Everywhere Jesus went people came to Him with their needs. His reputation spread as He met those needs. Then the demands increased. His journeys were filled with times of teaching and then the meeting of human needs. It’s what He was about. It’s why He came. As Jesus read in the synagogue (Luke 4:16-21) He foretold of His own ministry. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

As Jesus did these things people were changed. Hope was restored. Renewal of mind and spirit took place. It was an amazing time because of the power of Jesus Christ was unleashed. In Him, heaven met people.

As people encounter the Living God, then as well as today, they sense the bigness of deity’s presence, and find in Jesus Christ a Person that can be trusted. If we are to remain in His presence we must draw ever closer to Him

This is accomplished by…

I. Closeness to God Requires Obedience.

Deity descends on the lonely life of a leper v.12 “and it came about that while He was in one of the cities, behold, there was a man full of leprosy; and when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and implored Him, saying, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.”

Leprosy, according to Wm. Barclay, proliferated in two forms in Palestine. “There was one which was rather like a very bad skin disease, and it was the less serious of the two. There was one in which the disease, starting from a small spot, ate away the flesh until the wretched sufferer was left with only the stump of a hand or leg. It was literally a living death.”

This was probably the type, which afflicted this man who knelt at the feet of Jesus. Luke says he was “full” of leprosy. He was compelled by the Law to be ostracized from the rest of society. Therefore the agony of his leprosy was intensified by the social stigma attached to it.

Death’s tentacles grabbed his heart as well as his body. When he walked down the street, people kept their distance. Mothers covered their children’s eyes. Doctors shook their heads. No one dared step too close to an open grave

When the leper saw Jesus he knew this Man held life in His hands.

Desperate lunge of faith, he drew near, falling in the dust before Jesus, he spoke in a trembling voice: “Lord, if you are willing…” No bargaining, no expectations. Just a glint of faith, and that was enough to open the floodgates of Jesus’ compassion. “And He stretched out his hand, and touched him saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.” And immediately the leprosy left him” (v.13).

Did you see what Jesus did? He reached out and “touched” the leper. He could have cleansed him from a distance, as a doctor might call your prescription in to the local drugstore. But Jesus came to touch the untouchables, to hold the Father’s cup of love to the parched lips of humanity. The leper drank deeply as the Master reached out His hand. How long had it been since he felt the tender touch of another human being? How long since he had belonged and had been welcome among others?

Immediately the leper was healed. No empty promises from Jesus, but the unmistakable release of heaven’s power.

At that point Jesus instructed the man to go to the Temple to offer sacrifices that Moses commanded in this kind of situation. Jesus knew that such an action would be a witness to the priests and that it was the only way the man could ever be received back into the community. How refreshing Jesus’ action is. Instead of promoting himself as a wonder-worker, He promoted respect for God’s laws. A miracle of God had taken place. A man had received his life back. Transformation came to a man on a collision course toward ugly, painful death. And the news of Jesus continued to spread as crowds of people came near to Him to be healed of their sicknesses.

II. Closeness to God Grows Through Prayer.

Luke interjects a curious, almost out of place statement at this point in the story. “But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”

In the midst of many needs, Jesus withdrew to a quiet place where He could be alone with His Father in prayer.

Luke 6:12 “One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God.”

Mk 1:35 “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where He prayed.”

Mk 6:46 “After leaving them, He went up on a mountainside to pray.”

Luke 3:21, at the time of His baptism, it was while He was praying that the Holy Spirit descended on Him. All through the N.T. references are made to the importance of prayer in the life of Jesus. Obviously prayer was an energizing habit of His life.

How intriguing to think that the One who needed to pray so little because of who He was, prayed then and still prays now. There is no way to look at Jesus without noticing the depth of His devotional life. It was an essential part of who He was.

Many people look at Jesus and say, “Oh, how He healed.” Others look at Him and say, “Oh what a great teacher.” Some might look at him and proclaim, “Oh how he loved.” All of them would be right. But we need to look once more and proclaimed “Oh how He prayed.”

Prayer was a priority action for Him. It was so important that He taught His disciples how to pray.

Why would prayer be so important to Jesus? Why would it be such a passion with Him? We see one possible answer in John 6:38 where Jesus says, “I have come down from heaven not to do my Will but to do the will of Him who sent Me.” Jesus was so committed to His Father’s will that He want4ed to listen often to the Father. Nothing would shake that relationship-the one relationship around which all other relationships revolved. It was the relationship that enabled Him to be who He was. If this relationship were hindered, it would negatively impact what He came to do.

His relationship with the Father was what Satan tried to destroy in our Lord’s temptation in the wilderness. If Satan could have gotten Jesus to compromise that relationship, then it could never be said again that Jesus and the Father were one. The plan of salvation would have failed, and the enemy would have won. But Jesus didn’t cave in. The enemy did not win; the presence of God in human history was not compromised and it prevailed.

How important is prayer in your life?

III. Closeness to God Makes Us Strong

All through His ministry Jesus taught His disciples to “pray and not give up.” What did Jesus say to them on the night of His betrayal? “Pray that you will not fall into temptation” (Luke 22:40). Earlier He told them “Pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5:44). “Pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:28). When he taught His disciples to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, He was telling them to stay focused on the will and way of the Father.

Looking at Jesus’ prayer patterns we see that He wants us to pray. He wants us to withdraw to solitary places to be with God so our relationship with Him can be vital and real. How can we who need prayer so much, but who pray so little expect to be closely bonded with God, when Jesus who needed to pray so little prayed so much?

The most important thing we can do in our lives is to develop our relationship with God. Our relationship should not be a business or religious arrangement. Rather it should be a bonded relationship of persons so deeply moved by what God has done for them that they want to love Him and be with Him. In John 17, in His high priestly prayer Jesus reflects upon the relationship He has with His Father, “just as You are in Me and I am in You” (v.21) Then He prays for us when He says, “May they also be in us” (v.21). Those words of petition have love written all over them. That has relationship written all over it. This is not a mere religious experience or a philosophical notion. Rather, this is a personal relationship with the living God who sent His only Son into the world to die for our sins.

What are you doing to deepen your relationship with God? As we look at Jesus and see how much weight He placed on prayer, it’s a necessary question to ask ourselves. How is your prayer life? Are you allowing God’s truth to grow in you so that His ways become the normal operating ways of your life? We need to pay attention to a profound detail about life mentioned numerous times in the Bible. It says to all who have received Christ into their lives and have chosen to live for God, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph 6:12).

Life is no picnic out there. It’s real world 101. The apostle Peter took more than his share of shots from the enemy and was led to write in his letter “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith” (1 Pet 5:8-9). How can we resist him if we don’t have somebody that is stronger than this “roaring lion” within us? Do you think you can actually take on a roaring lion barehanded? I don’t want the job, especially when the lion is the devil himself. I much prefer that God take on this lion. I would like Jesus Christ who died and was raised again from the dead to take on this lion. I would like the Holy Spirit, who is mightier than all the demons of hell, to take on this lion.

If we want to live a life of victory in Jesus, we must develop our personal relationship with Him We must nourish ourselves on His Word. We must refresh ourselves from His well of water that springs up to eternal life in us. We must spend time with Him. We must draw near to Him so our thoughts become His thoughts and our ways become His ways. Then, we can face the lion and take him down, “because the One who is in us is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

I urge you cultivate a precious relationship with God. Don’t neglect it. Make it special. Love Him. Draw close to Him. Whisper, “I love You, Lord,” into His ear throughout the day. Set aside special moments when you open His love letter to you. Sing His praises. Lift up His name. Quiet your heart before Him. Let the littleness of your life get lost in His greatness. Pray to Him. Worship Him. Shut out the world until you only hear God. Become like a child and bask in His embrace.

Don’t you sometimes feel like the leprous man who found healing and restoration in Jesus? Remember how you had nothing and suddenly you were given your life back again. You were headed for destruction and suddenly you heard Jesus say, ” am willing…be clean!” You felt like a nobody who heard Jesus say, “I love you and I forgive you. Welcome home.” Don’t you want to grow in that kind of relationship? When you look into the face of God, don’t you want to say, “I may lose everything else in the world, but I am not going to lose my relationship with God.”

Find ways to cultivate your relationship with God. Make your devotional life a high priority. Protect it. Cherish it. Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.

Every day, find a way to quiet your heart in God’s presence. There is your peace. There is your victory. There is your strength. There is your first love.


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


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

The Hour Of The Power Of Darkness

by Jeff Strite

Luke 22:39-22:54

One woman told about her favorite spot at the local zoo. It was an exhibit called the House of Night. It was a place where you could see creatures of the night that would crawl and fly about, but because it held creatures of the night… it was nearly totally dark.  She said that one very bright day, she stepped into the exhibit and (of course) was instantly plunged into total darkness. Almost immediately (she said) “a small hand grabbed mine.”

Smiling, she asked “And who do you belong to?”  A little boy, in a very quiet voice said: “I’m yours… till the lights come on.”

There are a lot of people who have trouble with the dark. Children especially are notorious for that kind of fear, but adults can struggle with it as well.

A friend of mine went thru a very difficult divorce and she ended up living in an upstairs apartment in the middle of town. She was very lonely and for the first 6 months she had difficulty sleeping because she was afraid of the dark. Even months afterward, the only way she could get to sleep was if she had a night light on.

People OFTEN fear the dark.  The dark is a filled with the “unknown”, and with anxiety and uncertainty.

Scientists have even found that if a person spends too much time in the dark can suffer with a condition they call SAD syndrome. That’s an appropriate acronym because those who suffer from it often become moody and depressed. SAD is an acronym for “seasonal affective disorder” because it often happens in winter.

Now in our text this morning, Jesus is addressing those who’ve come to arrest Him:  “… this is your hour, and the power of darkness.” Luke 22:53

There is a power in darkness.   The power of uncertainty, and anxiety and fear.  And during those times of darkness we may be trapped in something we can’t control.

This morning’s text is a case study in the power of darkness and the feeling of helplessness it can bring. Even Jesus is caught up in it. Luke 22:42-44 tells us that Jesus prayed:  “‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.’  An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.”

In just a few hours,

• Jesus is going to be put on trial … not once, not twice, but 6 different times.
• Pilate going to order Him to be taken away and beaten by Roman soldiers.
• Then Jesus will be forced to carry a heavy cross through the city and all the way up the hill to the crucifixion place on Calvary.
• Then He’ll be nailed to that cross, and the cross will be lifted up and dropped into position.
• And Jesus will hang by those nails for 6 long hours.
• And ultimately… He’ll die there.

It’s little wonder Jesus was in anguish as He prayed.  It’s little wonder Jesus prayed “If there is ANY WAY for this cup to be taken from me…let’s do it!”  It’s little wonder that when He prayed, His sweat was like drops of blood.

There’s a relatively rare medical condition where people literally “sweat” blood.  It’s called “hematohidrosis.” Your sweat glands are surrounded by numerous blood vessels, and when a person undergoes intense stress those blood vessels dilate to the point of rupturing. Then blood goes into the sweat glands and comes out as droplets of blood mixed with sweat.

Now, my point is this:  Jesus was facing a time of crisis. An hour of darkness.  And it’s a situation that EVEN He – the Son of God – cannot change.  It is a situation that has affected not just Him, but also those closest to Him.

How He faced that that crisis, and how He deals with that darkness He couldn’t change tells us a lot about how we can deal with our own personal times of darkness. And as I studied this passage, I found 3 basic principles for how we can face situations we don’t seem to be able to stop or change.

The first principle is found in Luke 22:40 & 46  Verse 40 says “And when he came to the place, he said to them, ‘Pray that you may not enter into temptation.'”  And in verse 46 He repeats His advice “Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.”

This caught me a little by surprise.  Who did Jesus say His disciples should pray for?  Not for HIM… but for themselves.  “Pray that YOU may not enter into temptation.”

Now, what possible temptation could they be facing?  The temptation they faced was this:  The temptation to feel that God had abandoned them.

Have you ever seen what a child does when they’re in bed and they become afraid of the dark? What do they do?  That’s right. They go get in bed with Mom and Dad.  They seek out an adult. That’s what that little boy did at the zoo.  As long as the child is with that adult (mom, dad, police, etc.) they’re not afraid.  And that’s because the adult represents power and protection that even the dark can’t overcome.

But as we get older (and we face a time of darkness) we find that WE are the adults in the room. And it doesn’t always seem quite right to find some other person and slip our hand into theirs for comfort.

A man named Paul Faulkner told of a woman who came to him for counseling. She told him that nothing was working in her life. Her daughter had been killed, her husband was unfaithful, and now she thought she was about to lose her job.  In the course of the counseling session, Faulkner asked her:   “When the world crashes in on you, to whom do you go?”  She paused a long time before saying, “I guess I just go to myself.”  She told him that the one word that most described her was “alone.”

You see – that’s the temptation.   The temptation to go it alone.

As adults we tend to forget that there is someone out there who is bigger than we are… someone bigger than the darkness we face.

Philippians 4:5b-7 says something very interesting: “The Lord is near; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Don’t be ANXIOUS about anything.  Why not? Why shouldn’t I get anxious???  Because the Lord is near.   He’s the big guy in the room.  He’s the one who wants to hold your hand when you become afraid.  And He’s promised to never leave you or forsake you.

But if I forget that He is near the power of darkness can overwhelm me.

And so I need to reach out and take hold of His hand, especially when life gets dark.

But how?  How do I take hold of God’s hand?  That leads me to the 2nd principle of this text:   When faced with a situation you can’t handle, you take hold of God’s hand through prayer. You see – prayer is faith in action. Prayer is the act of looking to the God who answers prayer. Prayer is the declaration that God has the POWER to help me walk thru the darkness.

Luke 22 tells me “(Jesus) withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed…. An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. Luke 22:41, 43-44

Now notice, Jesus’ prayer didn’t change the outcome.  Here is the Son of God in prayer – not once, not twice but 3 times asking that this cup be  taken away.

* That he could be excused the sufferings of death,
* delivered from the curse of the law,
* and shielded from the wrath of God that He was bear to the cross because He carried in His person all the sins of all mankind.

The pain that Jesus was about to endure was not just the physical torture of the Cross but also the mental and spiritual torture that He would endure because He was going to the cross as our substitute. On the cross, Jesus bore OUR punishment of sin.  The horror of what Jesus was about to go  thru was more than anyone would want to endure  And so Jesus prayed.

But His prayer didn’t change the outcome.  He still endured the trials, the beatings, the nails and ultimately the wrath of God upon the sin of all mankind.

So, why pray?  Why would Jesus bother?  Because prayer was taking hold of His Father’s hand. It was the point at which the darkness was so intense that only the comfort of prayer was going to do anything for Him.

One man noted: If we had witnessed His struggle that night, we might have said, “If He is so broken up when all He is doing is praying, what will He do when He faces real crisis? Why can’t He approach this ordeal with the calm confidence of His 3 sleeping friends?” Yet when the test came, Jesus walked to the cross with the courage, and His 3 friends fell apart and ran away.

I read of a woman who was facing a terrible situation and her friend was trying to console her. The friend said, “I guess suffering colors our lives.”

To which the woman replied: “Yes. But I get to choose which color.”

In prayer we may be overcome with our personal darkness, but praying gives us the power to choose which color the darkness becomes for us. It allows us to choose which shade of blackness we face.

In His praying, Jesus chose the color of His suffering.   Through His praying He sought His Father’s comfort and strength.  And Jesus received that comfort and strength through the angel.  The angel didn’t rescue Jesus from His fate, the angel rescued Him from His suffering.  The angel came to give Jesus — peace.

Some might say – that kind of prayer is a pipe dream.   They says “If the world gets dark around me, I want something real and tangible. I want something that makes sense. How could you possibly think that just praying changes anything?”

At this point in the sermon, I’ve instructed the people in the sound booth to turn off all auditorium lights.   Our suffering could be compared to this darkness you sense now.  How am I going to turn those lights back on? What if I didn’t know where the light switches were? Or what if I couldn’t get to them because I couldn’t find my way in the dark, or there were obstacles between me and them?   How could I turn those lights back on?  I would ask the sound crew wouldn’t I?  (To the Sound Crew) Would you turn the lights back on?  Why did the lights come back on?   Because I asked.

That’s exactly Philippians 4:6-7 promises us:   “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

When you and I face dark times we need to make our requests known to God.   And because we ask, God says He will turn on the lights in our darkness.   Now, it may not make any sense. It may surpass all understanding. But when we make our requests known to God He promises to turn on the lights… to give us His peace.

And so the first principle of dealing with the dark times in life is to remember that God is nearby. He’ll never leave you nor forsake you. He’s the big guy in the room.  The 2nd principle is take hold of His hand by praying.  And the 3rd principle is believing that God has the power to help me walk thru the darkness.

In Luke 22 we’re told that “(Jesus) withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.'” Luke 22:41-42

These are the only words we read in Scripture of the prayer Jesus prayed in Gethsemane  “Not my will, but Thine be done.”  This a prayer of submission to the Father’s will.  Jesus is saying “I don’t like this plan. I don’t REALLY want to do this plan, but no matter what happens I will stick with the plan… because I trust you to work the plan.”

You see, when we follow God, we have to believe that He HAS A PLAN.

That plan may be painful, it may be hard to understand, it may even be scary. But there is a plan and it has a reason behind it.  Even when the darkness we’re surrounded by isn’t part of His plan, He can make it part of His plan.

One of the most disturbing things I hear people say to folks who are going through difficult times is “it happened for a reason,” as if God caused the problems or the loss or the betrayal they’ve had to endure.   That really disturbs me because I seriously doubt that that’s true all the time.

I think many of the problems we experience in our lives are not the result of God’s plan, but of our own foolish choices. Or the result of the mean-spirited or thoughtless actions of others. But God says it doesn’t matter. Whether something has happened in our lives that is part of His plan or not… if we trust Him, He’ll MAKE that problem part of His plan.

That’s what Romans 8:28 is telling us when it says “we know that in all things God works   for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

Do you love God?  Have you been called according to His purpose?

Well, God is telling you that ALL THINGS will work together for good in your life.  Note that it’s not saying that “all things are good”  Nor that “All things are of God”  BUT it is saying – it doesn’t make any difference. God will MAKE all things will work together for good in your life.

Because God has a plan.

And because of that, because we believe God has a plan, prayer gives us the power to walk through our dark times with confidence.

After His prayer, a group of soldiers come to arrest Jesus. The man who would betray Him with a kiss leads this band of men.

And what does Jesus do?  He speaks kindly to Judas (are you betraying Son of man with a kiss?)  He gently rebukes the soldiers (are you coming after me like I’m a leader of a rebellion?)  And when Peter cuts off the ear of one of them Jesus touches the man’s ear and heals him.  AND THEN, Jesus allows Himself to be taken away to suffer and die at the hands of evil men.

How could Jesus do that?  How could Jesus so confidently walk to His torture and death?  Because He trusted His Father to carry Him thru the darkness.  And He knew He had to go through this time of darkness – to suffer, to die, and be buried He had to go through ALL of that so that He could rise from the dead and conquer the grave.

I listened to one teacher explain that this often how God does things in our lives.  He called it “The Death of a Vision”. He explained that almost all of the great men and women in Scripture received a vision of what God could do in their lives. This was followed by the “death” of that vision and then by the resurrection of their dreams.

You see it over and over again throughout Scripture.

1. Abraham was given a vision – he will have a son.   But then his vision died: Abraham is asked by God to sacrifice his son on Mt. Moriah.  Then God supplies a ram for the sacrifice and Abraham literally receives his son back from the dead.

2. Joseph was given a vision – he would be a great man  But then his vision died: brothers sell him into slavery and he ends up being unjustly accused and thrown into prison.  Then God literally pulls raises Joseph from the dead – rescuing him from prison to be the 2nd most important man in Egypt.

3. Moses had a vision that he would be the savior of Israel and rescue them from slavery  But then his vision dies: he ends up running for his life and spending 40 years in the wilderness.  Then God literally brings him back from the dead to face Pharaoh and free Israel.

You see it again, and again, and again throughout Scripture. Men filled with vision, being overcome by the darkness of failure – but then God worked all things together for good in their lives just like He can do for us.

This is so important that God made this message part of our salvation: Romans 6:1-5  “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.”

We serve a God of hope, and of light, and of resurrection. We have a gift from God that this world cannot understand and cannot equal. We have the ability to walk through the darkness of this world with confidence because Jesus is the light of our lives.   But you can’t have that confidence and light until you first belong to Jesus.


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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- When Calls The Heart


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

WHEN CALLS THE HEART
by Eric Elder
The Ranch

Note from Eric: Sorry for the delay in today’s message, as I was traveling home from Vancouver all day without an Internet connection to post this message until now. Hope you still enjoy it, especially for fans of Hallmark’s series When Calls The Heart!

makari-daniel-erin-mamie-mitchell-jesse-jan-2016

In this photo: Makari and me with actors Daniel Lissing (“Jack”) and Erin Krakow (“Elizabeth”), Mamie Laverock (“Rosaleen”) and Mitchell Kummen (“Gabe”), and Jesse Hutch (“Luke” on Debbie Macomber’s Cedar Cove)

My daughter Makari and I met this weekend in Vancouver, British Columbia, to be on the set and meet the cast and crew of Hallmark’s television series When Calls The Heart. I’d like to share some pictures with you from the weekend and encourage you to trust God with your whole heart. As I told some of the cast and crew, for me this isn’t just a TV show. It’s a weekly boost in my faith that heals, inspires and touches my heart in a deep, deep way. And that’s no accident.

Fourteen years ago, I sent an email to Brian Bird, one of the co-executive producers of the show (along with Michael Landon, Jr), back when Brian was writing and producing another TV series called Touched By An Angel. Touched was one of the few TV shows we could watch together as a family, just like When Calls The Heart is now. And that was no accident either.

Brian and the others involved in the production of both of these shows wanted to create high quality, uplifting shows that inspired faith in the hearts of viewers, rather than denigrating it.  I wrote to Brian fourteen years ago because I wanted to express my sincere thanks for the show. It wasn’t just a show to distract us from our lives; it was a show that helped us to live our lives better. Like going to church, the show gave us a weekly boost in our faith and the hope to go on through its very real and very practical messages, on topics ranging from death to forgiveness to building better relationships.

But to tell my story properly, I really have to back up to two weeks before I wrote to Brian Bird fourteen years ago, as I didn’t even know he existed then. What was really on my heart was that I wanted to write a letter to Martha Williamson, the executive producer of Touched By An Angel.  I had just finished reading a book by her, in which she told why she latched onto the show in the first place, and how she shaped it to be so faith-inspiring. I was so thankful for her tenacity to take on this project, that I wanted to write her a sincere letter of thanks.

But I had never written to a television exec before. How would I find her? How would I get a letter through to her? And what were the chances that she would ever see it at all, given all the other fan mail they must receive every day? I didn’t have time to write a heartfelt letter that no one would ever read. More than likely, I thought, my letter would probably just end up as some statistic showing that one more viewer liked their show. I had much more to say than that, and it wasn’t worth my time if my letter would just end up as a checkmark on some tally sheet for a busy executive.

I already had about 1,000 emails in my own inbox that were still awaiting responses, some for several months, and I felt obligated to take care of those before I sat down to write to Martha Williamson. I told myself if I got my inbox down to zero, I would write a letter to her.

To my surprise, two weeks later I finished answering every email that was in my inbox, plus the new ones that came in during those two weeks, plus the new ones that came as responses to my responses. My inbox was showing the rare (and never-to-be-repeated) number of emails as “zero.” Having achieved that miraculous goal, I decided to write a letter to Martha Williamson.

So I did. I spent the rest of the day trying to think of how best to communicate my sincere thanks. By Friday afternoon, I was finished with my letter. The next question was going to be how to get it to her. But I was worn out and decided to wait till the next week to figure out that part.

On Saturday night, our family watched Touched By An Angel once again, and once again we were moved to tears and greater faith by the story that we saw.

On Sunday morning, I got an email from one of the subscribers on my mailing list who gets my weekly messages. He asked if I could change his email to a new address so he could keep getting our messages. My wife was looking over my shoulder as I was going through my emails and noticed that his name was “Al Lowry.”

“Al Lowry?” she said. “Wasn’t that the name of the dad in last night’s episode of Touched by an Angel?”

I remembered his name, too, because “LOWRY” was written in bold letters on the back of the daughter’s basketball jersey in one of the scenes.

I said, “Yeah, I think it was.”

So I wrote to “Al Lowry” and told him I changed his email address, then I added that it was funny because he had the same name as the character on  Touched by an Angel that we had seen the night before.

Al wrote back to say that it was funny because the guy who wrote that episode was in his small group at his church and had used Al’s name as the character name in the show!

What?!?! I couldn’t believe it! I did a quick search on the Internet to find the name of the writer, Brian Bird, and discovered he was not only a writer, but was also a co-producer–right alongside Martha Williamson!

Here I had been praying about how to get a letter to Martha Williamson to thank her for the show, and was reluctant to even write the letter because I thought she would never read it! But here was a way to be sure it got into her hands!

I told Al what I had been trying to do and asked if he could pass along my letter to Brian. He said he would, and Brian said he’d pass it along to Martha Williamson!

Brian then wrote back to me and asked if I could send my letter to the network also, as they were in the midst of trying to decide whether or not to renew the show for another season. Brian said that they gave serious consideration to letters like mine from viewers, so he sent me the addresses where I could also send my letter. A few weeks later, I learned that the show had been renewed for one more season, and another twenty-some episodes.

Did my letter make any difference? I can’t say for sure. But I know that God had put it on my heart to write it, so I did my part. Then He did His part and put it in the hands of someone who could do something with it. Praise God! Whatever the reason, my family and I, and millions of others, were able to enjoy the show every week for another year, along with millions of others who were also touched by Touched.

In the years that followed, Al Lowry became a good personal friend of mine, shortly thereafter joining our ministry as a member of our board of directors. I continued to correspond with Brian, who was, and still is, a tremendous inspiration to me in my own writing, as we both continue to do our best to touch people with high quality, uplifting and faith-affirming messages.

Although I’ve kept in touch with Brian over the years by email, Facebook and phone, this weekend was the first time we ever met face-to-face! Brian had invited my daughter and me to a special event he had put together for a small group of fans and friends of When Calls The Heart, as she is going into acting, too. It was a total blast.

makari-patty-brian-eric-michael-neill-derek-robin-jan-2016

In this photo: Makari and me with executive producers Brian Bird (and his wife Patty) and Michael Landon, Jr., director Neill Fearnley and writers Derek Thompson and Robin Bernheim.

In one sense, meeting Brian in person wasn’t a big deal, as we had been conversing for the past fourteen years. But in another sense, meeting him in person WAS a big deal, as the seeds of our growing friendship–and the mutual encouragement that we’ve gained–were planted so many years ago.  That one small act of following through with what God had put on my heart has yielded numerous benefits not only for me and Brian and Al, but for all those who are touched by the work we’ve all been able to do, both apart and together. Who knows what might happen from here?

As for me, I’m glad I trusted God and did what He put on my heart to do all those years ago and all along the way.

What about you? Is there something God is putting on your heart to do today? Listen to His call, give it a chance, then follow through and see what God might do with it. Trust God from the bottom of your heart, and let Him take care of the rest.

As the Bible says:

“Trust God from the bottom of your heart;
   don’t try to figure out everything on your own.
Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go;
   He’s the one who will keep you on track.” 
(from Proverbs 3:5-6, The Message Bible)

P.S. If you’ve never seen When Calls the Heart, you can catch up with Seasons 1 and 2 online or on DVD. Then start watching Season 3, here in the States, on Sunday nights starting February 21st!
Click to get Season 1 from Amazon
Click to get Season 2 from Amazon
Click to get the premiere of Season 3 on Amazon


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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- It’s That Time Of Year


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

IT’S THAT TIME OF YEAR

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

I was listening to a song on the radio one day with my 21-year-old daughter, Makari, and I said to her, “I wish I could write a song like that one day.”

She turned to me and said, “You can!”

“Really?!?” I said. “Do you think so?”

“Of course, you can!” she replied, with total confidence in my abilities.

As I sat there and thought about it, I couldn’t believe how her simple belief in me changed my whole attitude towards the idea of writing a song that other people might actually come to love as much as I loved listening to that song on the radio.

I’ve since written several songs that I’ve actually come to love like that! I haven’t published them yet, but I hope to someday, and perhaps someday someone else will be blessed by my music as much as I’ve been blessed by the music of others.

I tell you that story to encourage you this year to set some goals for yourself that you can believe in. What a difference it makes to have even one confidence-boosting statement  come into your mind, to help you reach for and attain that which God has put on your heart and enabled you to do.

My good friend, Kent Sanders, has encouraged me in my own goal-setting this year in a book he wrote called The Artist’s Suitcase. In his chapter called “Y is for Year,” Kent gave me a great idea for envisioning myself at the end of the year, trying to imagine myself doing some things that I’m not doing now.

One of the things I envisioned was a picture of myself, holding onto a finished script and score for a new musical I’m working on based on the life of St. Nicholas, which my wife and I wrote as a full-length novel a few years ago. I had already started writing the first three scenes and songs at the end of last year, and with my new Kent-inspired vision in mind, I could actually see myself finishing it by the end of this year and holding a copy of the completed script and score in my hand!

I’m telling you this now, that this is one of my goals, as an extra incentive to help me stick to that plan! I’m also planning to Skype with Kent and another good friend for an hour each week to help us all keep on track with the visions God has put on our hearts. I can’t tell you how much doing that same thing helped me last year, as Kent and I both had books we wanted to write. By talking to each other weekly about our progress, reading each other’s work as we went along, we both launched our books on the same day last year. Even though each of our books were both very different from the other, our mutual goal of writing and publishing a book kept us on track all throughout the year.

I’m telling you all of this, not only for my own accountability, but to encourage you in your own goal setting this year. What are some of the things God has put on your heart for the coming year? What would you like to change, improve, or see different, if you could change and envision one or two (or ten or fifteen) things by the end of the year? Regardless of how you fared on last year’s goals, today is a new day. This year is a new year. Perhaps part of your answer to achieving your goals this year is contained in something I’ve shared here today already:

1) Go ahead and dream. Envision yourself one year from now and what you would hope would be different in your life. This is not a pipe dream. This is essential to moving you forward. As the Bible says: “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18, KJV).

2) Believe you can do it. This doesn’t have to be just positive “self talk.” Run your ideas past God and past others. Let them speak into your life to help give you a boost in your confidence, like I received from my daughter when I shared with her my desire to write an incredible song. If God has put a desire on your heart, trust Him to help you carry it through to completion. As the Apostle Paul said in the Bible:  “I thank my God every time I remember you… being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:1, 6).

3) Enlist someone to walk with you towards achieving your goal. Whether you ask a friend, a mentor, a pastor, a small group leader, a cousin, a relative, your parents, or your children, pick one or two or three other people with whom you can talk about your goals and walk with you towards achieving them on a regular basis throughout the year. They will be honored, and you will increase your chance of success exponentially. As King Solomon wrote: “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up… A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:9, 10a, 12b).

Go ahead and dream. Believe you can do it. And enlist someone to walk with you towards achieving your goal. You can do what God has put on your heart to do. You were created to do good works here on earth. And God would love to help you do those good works. As the Bible says: “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10).

You can do it! I know you can!

P.S. I borrowed the title of today’s message from my daughter, Makari, who also wrote a message this week about goal-setting on her own blog. Makari brought out several great points about achieving your goals, and about not leaving anything behind in your “old year” that God may still want you to work on or work through in your “new year.” Click here to read Makari’s New Year’s post on her website.

And speaking of Makari, here are a few parting shots of her and me from our trip to Turkey last year. I’d like to publicly thank her for encouraging me to go ahead and take this trip when I didn’t think I could do it (having wanted to go there with my wife several years ago, but we were never able to get there before she passed away). Makari encouraged me to still go, and said that she would be glad to come with me if I didn’t want to go alone. It was just the boost I needed and we had a terrific trip (plus we learned much more about the life of St. Nicholas and the land where he lived and ministered back in the 3rd and 4th centuries A.D.).

In the pictures below, we’re inside the famous Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, inside the St. Nicholas Church in Demre (Myra), and outside at a cafe near the St. Nicholas Church, where we enjoyed some of Turkey’s fabulous food and our first cups of Turkish coffee! Thanks Makari!

makari-and-eric-in-turkey-april-2015

And here’s a final goodbye from our flight home…

eric-and-makari-click-to-play

Click to watch our 1-minute “final goodbye” on our flight home

(If you missed our St. Nicholas story, you can still read the entire book online from the beginning at this link, or get a copy in paperback, eBook or audiobook as a gift for yourself or others in our online bookstore.)

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

 


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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- 2016 Guilt-Free Read Through The Bible


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

2016 Guilt-Free Read Through The Bible!

by Al  Lowry
Founder of GIG, a music ministry at Saddleback Church

Note from Eric Elder: If you’ve ever wanted to try reading through the Bible in a year, my good friend (and a member of our ministry’s board of directors) Al Lowry will be heading up another “guilt-free” read through the Bible for 2016. You can read Al’s thoughts on it below, along with the thoughts of some other members of the group from last year. I hope you’ll join him for this exciting way to get more out of the Bible than you may have ever gotten before! Here’s Al’s letter…

Dear friends,

Last year at this time, Eric Elder informed me of a “guilt-free” read through the Bible for 2015 and challenged me to head up a forum for others who might like to join in.

Though I had a desire to embark on this endeavor, I have to confess I’d tried on many occasions,  always falling short.

This is when he emphasized that “guilt free” was the theme of this read (hmm, “guilt free,” I liked the sound of that. )

He gave me a few examples:

If you miss a day, you can make it up later, or just pick up where you want to.

If one passage stands out, focus on it and realize God can give you the message he wants you to receive, simply by being faithful in plodding along… Guilt free, eh? Well, maybe!

So, that is exactly what I did.

Some days I read less than the entire plan. Other times my attention level was low and I felt like I probably didn’t comprehend much of what I read. On other occasions, I confess, (wait, NO GUILT), I skipped the reading altogether.

This may not sound like a high level of commitment, but I would like to report that 365 days later, I have completed somewhere between one-half and two-thirds of the Bible. And though far from being the Bible scholar I would wish to be, I’ve read more of the Bible in a year than I’ve ever read before, and I’ve definitely received insight far beyond what I would’ve anticipated.

This all began a year ago when Eric published my intention on his Sunday sermon for The Ranch. About 200 people signed up, and mainly because of the positive comments I received from others who participated, I’ve decided to repeat the reading this year and see if I can fill in some of the gaps that I missed. I would like to invite you to join in.

There are many other great yearly read-through programs, a lot of them with smart commentaries and great depth.  Though I sometimes include my own insights or devotionals, what you’ll mostly find in my writings is encouragement for struggling readers. I am a very regular guy who struggles, but who wants to step up my walk. I have come to realize there are many like myself out there.

If you are one of them, please feel free to take a stab at this guilt-free participation in reading the most important book ever written. The easy steps on how to sign up and access our reading plan are included below. You can sign up and adjust the plan at any time.

To join our Facebook group where you can learn more and interact with me and others who are reading along with you, click here:

Click here to join our “2016 Guilt-Free Read Through The Bible” Facebook Group!

To access the daily Bible readings we’ll be using, just click this link from your computer, tablet or smart phone to sign up. You’ll have a choice to read the passages or listen to them, in whichever version or language you choose. There’s also an option to have the daily readings emailed to you in the version you choose, too, by going to the settings after signing up for the reading plan. It’s all free, as well as guilt free! Sign up for the Bible readings here:

Click here to sign up for our 2016 Bible reading plan

And for extra encouragement, here are a few comments from people who took this journey with me last year:

“Yay – are we starting the No-Guilt One Year bible reading over again!? I am in…..”

“It was amazing how the assigned Word spoke volumes to my daily situation most days… and I loved checking off when each book was completed. I spent 2015 reading through one translation of the Bible, so I’m considering doing the same structured reading using a different translation.”

“I have appreciated your honesty as you walked us through a year of guilt-free reading. After missing days here and there I probably would have given up, if it were not for your authenticity in sharing that you also missed days. I have read the Bible all my life, but this is the first structured read through in a year, and I am a changed person. I long to know God better. I crave His Word and what He wants to reveal to me.”

“I tried to read everyday but when that didn’t happen, I caught up when I could. Thank you for the way you have explained different passages, and thank you also for letting us know who to pray for in the different situations that have arisen over the past year. We all need each other when we are struggling through the storm. Please let me know if you have any more plans for Bible reading.”

“I’m sure I speak for many when I thank you for your commitment, diligence, creativity, vulnerabilty, honesty, wisdom and simply being human in all of your faithful writings all year when many of us have stumbled in our commitment to reading (but no guilt!). I know that the day you meet our Lord Jesus Christ, his words to you will surely be, ‘Well done, fine servant!'”

“I thank God this was a ‘guilt free’ commitment…….. however, I still fee guilty must admit……. I did read your synopsis and comments faithfully over the past year…… seldom reading the actual scripture……….. seldom missing your message……….. I really enjoyed and reaped much benefit from your insights…… so honest, real, and on target…………….. THANK YOU!!! I would love to try it again in the next year………. your insights were enlightening, and encouraging…….. just post those again this year please………!”

Again, to join our Facebook discussion group, please visit:

Click here to join our “2016 Guilt-Free Read Through The Bible” Facebook Group!

And to sign up for the daily Bible readings themselves, click the link below. We’re using the YouVersion “Read Through The Bible” plan, where you’ll be able to easily access the daily Bible readings and choose your preferred version and language.

Click here to sign up for our 2016 Bible reading plan

Hope you’ll join us!

Al Lowry


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


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

ST. NICHOLAS: THE BELIEVER
Part 7 of 7

by Eric & Lana Elder

Today on Christmas Eve, I’m posting the conclusion of our book, St. Nicholas: The Believer. I have to say, rereading this section today makes my tears flow again, just thinking about the difference one person can make in the world–including you and me.

As I wrote in the conclusion of the book, 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 we wrote this book.

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).

Wishing you a Very Merry Christmas!

With Love,
Eric Elder

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

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

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

You can read Part 7 of St. Nicholas: The Believer below, or you can listen to the audio version of Part 7 at this link in about 20 minutes:

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

(You can also read the entire book online from the beginning at this link, or get a copy in paperback, eBook or audiobook as a gift for yourself or others in our online bookstore.)

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

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

by Eric & Lana Elder

PART 7

CHAPTER 37

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Little Ruthie returned from splashing in the water, followed closely by Dimitri and Anna Maria. Ruthie looked up at Nicholas, with his eyes closed and his hands raised towards heaven. Reaching out to him, she tugged at his clothes and asked, “Nicholas, have you ever seen God?”

Nicholas opened his eyes and looked down at Ruthie, then smiled up at Dimitri and Anna Maria. He looked out at the sunshine and the waves and the miles and miles of shoreline that stretched out in both directions before him. Turning his face back towards Ruthie, Nicholas said, “Yes, Ruthie, I have seen God. And the older I get, the more I see Him everywhere I look.”

Ruthie smiled, and Nicholas gave her a warm hug. Then just as quickly as she had run up to him, she ran off again to play.

Nicholas exchanged smiles with Dimitri and Anna Maria, then they, too, were off again, chasing Ruthie down the beach.

Nicholas looked one last time at the beautiful sea, then turned and headed towards home.

EPILOGUE

So now you know a little bit more about me–Dimitri Alexander–and my good friend, Nicholas. That was the last time I saw him, until this morning. He had asked if he could spend a few days alone, just him and the Lord that he loved. He said he had one more journey to prepare for. Anna Maria and I guessed, of course, just what he meant.

We knew he was probably getting ready to go home, to his real home, the one that Jesus had said He was going to prepare for each of us who believe in Him.

Nicholas had been looking forward to this trip his whole life. Not that he wanted to shortchange a single moment of the life that God that had given him here on earth, for he knew that this life had a uniquely important purpose as well, or else God would never have created it with such beauty and precision and marvelous mystery.

But as Nicholas’ life here on earth wound down, he said he was ready. He was ready to go, and he looked forward to everything that God had in store for him next.

So when Nicholas sent word this morning for Anna Maria and me and a few other friends to come and see him, we knew that the time had come.

As we came into this room, we found him lying on his bed, just as he is right now. He was breathing quietly and he motioned for us to come close. We couldn’t hold back our tears, and he didn’t try to stop us. He knew how hard it was to say goodbye to those we love. But he also made it easier for us. He smiled one more time and spoke softly, saying the same words that he had spoken when Ruthie had died many years before: “Either way we win,” he said. “Either way we win.”

“Yes, Nicholas,” I said. “Either way we win.” Then the room became quiet again. Nicholas closed his eyes and fell asleep for the last time. No one moved. No one said a word.

This man who lay before us slept as if it were just another night in his life. But we knew this was a holy moment. Nicholas had just entered into the presence of the Lord. As Nicholas had done throughout his life, we were sure he was doing right now in heaven, walking and talking and laughing with Jesus, but now they were face to face.

We could only imagine what Nicholas might be saying to Jesus. But we knew for certain what Jesus was saying to him: “Well done, My good and faithful servant. Well done. Come and share your Master’s happiness.”

I have no idea how history might remember Nicholas, if it will remember him at all. He was no emperor like Constantine. He was no tyrant like Diocletian. He was no orator like Arius. He was simply a Christian trying to live out his faith, touching one life at a time as best he knew how.

Nicholas may have wondered if his life made any difference. I know my answer, and now that you know his story, I’ll let you decide for yourself. In the end, I suppose only God really knows just how many lives were touched by this remarkable man.

But what I do know this: each of us has just one life to live. But if we live it right, as Nicholas did, one life is all we need.

CONCLUSION

by Eric Elder

What Nicholas didn’t know, and what no one who knew him could have possibly imagined, was just how far and wide this one life would reach–not only throughout the world, but also throughout the ages.

He was known to his parents as their beloved son, and to those in his city as their beloved bishop. But he has become known to us by another name: Saint Nicholas.

The biblical word for “saint” literally means “believer.” The Bible talks about the saints in Ephesus, the saints in Rome, the saints in Philippi and the saints in Jerusalem. Each time the word saints refers to the believers who were in those cities. So Nicholas rightly became known as “Saint Nicholas,” or to say it another way, “Nicholas, The Believer.” The Latin translation is “Santa Nicholas,” and in Dutch “Sinterklaas,” from which we get the name “Santa Claus.”

His good name and his good deeds have been an inspiration to so many, that the day he passed from this life to the next, on December 6th, 343 A.D., is still celebrated by people throughout the world.

Many legends have been told about Nicholas over the years, some giving him qualities that make him seem larger than life. But the reason that so many legends of any kind grow, including those told about Saint Nicholas, is often because the people about whom they’re told were larger than life themselves. They were people who were so good or so well-respected that every good deed becomes attributed to them, as if they had done them themselves.

While not all the stories attributed to Nicholas can be traced to the earliest records of his life, the histories that were recorded closest to the time period in which he lived do record many of the stories found in this book. To help you sort through them, here’s what we do know:

  • Nicholas was born sometime between 260-280 A.D. in the city of Patara, a city you can still visit today in modern-day Turkey, on the northern coast of the Mediterranean Sea.
  • Nicholas’ parents were devout Christians who died in a plague when Nicholas was young, leaving him with a sizable inheritance.
  • Nicholas made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and lived there for a number of years before returning to his home province of Lycia.
  • Nicholas traveled across the Mediterranean Sea in a ship that was caught in a storm. After praying, his ship reached its destination as if someone was miraculously holding the rudder steady. The rudder of a ship is also called a tiller, and sailors on the Mediterranean Sea today still wish each other luck by saying, “May Nicholas hold the tiller!”
  • When Nicholas returned from the Holy Land, he took up residence in the city of Myra, about 30 miles from his hometown of Patara. Nicholas became the bishop of Myra and lived there the rest of his life.
  • Nicholas secretly gave three gifts of gold on three separate occasions to a man whose daughters were to be sold into slavery because he had no money to offer to potential husbands as a dowry. The family discovered Nicholas was the mysterious donor on one of his attempts, which is why we know the story today. In this version of the story, we’ve added the twist of having Nicholas deliver the first two gifts, and Dimitri deliver the third, to capture the idea that many gifts were given back then, and are still given today, in the name of Saint Nicholas, who was known for such deeds. The theme of redemption is also so closely associated with this story from Saint Nicholas’ life, that if you pass by a pawn shop today, you will often see three golden balls in their logo, representing the three bags of gold that Nicholas gave to spare these girls from their unfortunate fate.
  • Nicholas pled for the lives of three innocent men who were unjustly condemned to death by a magistrate in Myra, taking the sword directly from the executioner’s hand.
  • “Nicholas, Bishop of Myra” is listed on some, but not all, of the historical documents which record those who attended the real Council of Nicaea, which was convened by Emperor Constantine in 325 A.D. One of the council’s main decisions addressed the divinity of Christ, resulting in the writing of the Nicene Creed–a creed which is still recited in many churches today. Some historians say that Nicholas’ name does not appear on all the record books of this council because of his banishment from the proceedings after striking Arius for denying that Christ was divine. Nicholas is, however, listed on at least five of these ancient record books, including the earliest known Greek manuscript of the event.
  • The Nicene Creed was adopted at the Council of Nicaea and has become one of the most widely used, brief statements of the Christian faith. The original version reads, in part, as translated from the Greek: “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father, the only-begotten; that is, of the essence of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; By whom all things were made both in heaven and on earth; Who for us men, and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate and was made man; He suffered, and the third day He rose again, ascended into heaven; From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead…” Subsequent versions, beginning as early as 381 A.D., have altered and clarified some of the original statements, resulting in a few similar, but not quite identical statements that are now in use.
  • Nicholas is recorded as having done much for the people of Myra, including securing grain from a ship traveling from Alexandria to Rome, which saved the people in that region from a famine.
  • Constantine’s mother, Helen, did visit the Holy Land and encouraged Constantine to build churches over the sites that she felt were most important to the Christian faith. The churches were built on the locations she had been shown by local believers where Jesus was born, and where Jesus died and rose again. Those churches, The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, have been destroyed and rebuilt many times over the years, but still in the same locations that Constantine’s mother, and likely Nicholas himself, had seen.
  • The date of Nicholas’ death has been established as December 6th, 343 A.D., and you can still visit his tomb in the modern city of Demre, Turkey, formerly known as Myra, in the province of Lycia. Nicholas’ bones were removed from the tomb in 1087 A.D. by men from Italy who feared that they might be destroyed or stolen, as the country was being invaded by others. The bones of Saint Nicholas were taken to the city of Bari, Italy, where they are still entombed today.

Of the many other stories told about or attributed to Nicholas, it’s hard to know with certainty which ones actually took place and which were simply attributed to him because of his already good and popular name. For instance, in the 12th century, stories began to surface of how Nicholas had brought three children back to life who had been brutally murdered. Even though the first recorded accounts of this story didn’t appear until more than 800 years after Nicholas’ death, this story is one of the most frequently associated with Saint Nicholas in religious artwork, featuring three young children being raised to life and standing next to Nicholas. We have included the essence of this story in this novel in the form of the three orphans who Nicholas met in the Holy Land and whom he helped to bring back to life–at least spiritually.

While all of these additional stories can’t be attributed to Nicholas with certainty, we can say that his life and his memory had such a profound effect throughout history that more churches throughout the world now bear the name of “Saint Nicholas” than any other figure, outside of the original disciples themselves.

Some people wonder if they can believe in Saint Nicholas or not. Nicholas probably wouldn’t care so much if you believed in him or not, but that you believed in the One in whom He believed, Jesus Christ.

A popular image today shows Saint Nicholas bowing down, his hat at his side, kneeling in front of baby Jesus in the manger. Although that scene could never have taken place in real life, for Saint Nicholas was born almost 300 years after the birth of Christ, the heart of that scene couldn’t be more accurate. Nicholas was a true believer in Jesus and he did worship, adore and live his life in service to the Christ.

Saint Nicholas would have never wanted his story to replace the story of Jesus in the manger, but he would have loved to have his story point to Jesus in the manger. And that’s why this book was written.

While the stories told here were selected from the many that have been told about Saint Nicholas over the years, these were told so that you might believe–not just in Nicholas, but in Jesus Christ, his Savior. These stories were written down for the same reason the Apostle John wrote down the stories he recorded about Jesus in the Bible. John said he wrote his stories:

“…that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31).

Nicholas would want the same for you. He would want you to become what he was: a Believer.

If you’ve never done so, put your faith in Jesus Christ today, asking Him to forgive you of your sins and giving you the assurance that you will live with Him forever.

If you’ve already put your faith in Christ, let this story remind you just how precious your faith really is. Renew your commitment today to serve Christ as Nicholas served Him: with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength. God really will work all things together for good. As the Bible says:

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Thanks for reading this special book about this special man, and I pray that your Christmas may be truly merry and bright. As Clement Moore said in his now famous poem, A Visit From St. Nicholas:

“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

Eric Elder

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Special thanks to Joe Wheeler and Jim Rosenthal whose book, St. Nicholas: A Closer Look at Christmas, provided much of the background material for this novella. Their research and documentation of the life of St. Nicholas, and the historical context in which he lived, was the most informative, authoritative and inspirational we found on the subject. Thank you, Joe and Jim, for helping to keep the spirit of St. Nicholas alive!

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Eric & Lana Elder have written numerous Christmas stories that have captivated and inspired thousands as part of an annual Christmas production known as The Bethlehem Walk.

St. Nicholas: The Believer marks the debut of their first full-length Christmas story. Eric & Lana have also collaborated on several other inspirational books including:

  • Two Weeks With God
  • What God Says About Sex
  • Exodus: Lessons In Freedom
  • Jesus: Lessons In Love
  • Acts: Lessons In Faith
  • Nehemiah: Lessons In Rebuilding
  • Ephesians: Lessons In Grace
  • Israel: Lessons From The Holy Land
  • Israel For Kids: Lessons From The Holy Land
  • The Top 20 Passages In The Bible
  • Romans: Lessons In Renewing Your Mind
  • and Making The Most Of The Darkness

To order or learn more, please visit:  www.InspiringBooks.com

Thanks for reading and Merry Christmas!

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

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


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


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

ST. NICHOLAS: THE BELIEVER
Part 6 of 7

by Eric & Lana Elder

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

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

Here’s a short video I shot while in Istanbul earlier this year that will set the stage for today’s story.

Click to watch a 40-second video of Istanbul

And here are a few pictures from Istanbul and the nearby city of Nicaea, where Nicholas met with Constantine and 300 other bishops to write out the Nicene Creed, a brief statement of faith which is still recited today in churches throughout the world. Pictured here is my daughter on the lawn outside of the Hagia Sophia, a shot she took inside that massive cathedral, and a shot of me at the edge of the lake in Nicaea, the location of Constantine’s summer palace where Nicholas attended the First Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D.

You can read Part 6 of St. Nicholas: The Believer below, or you can listen to the audio version of Part 6 at this link in just under 35 minutes:

Click here to listen to Part 6 of the Audiobook, St. Nicholas: The Believer.

(You can also read the entire book online from the beginning at this link, or get a copy in paperback, eBook or audiobook as a gift for yourself or others in our online bookstore.)

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

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

by Eric & Lana Elder

PART 6

CHAPTER 31

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER 32

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER 33

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arius stopped. This breach of protocol was unprecedented.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER 34

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER 35

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

Nicholas looked up with interest.

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

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

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

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

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

Nicholas nodded.

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

Nicholas nodded.

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

Nicholas nodded again.

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

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

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

Nicholas continued to listen carefully.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER 36

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be concluded…on Christmas Eve!

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

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


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


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

ST. NICHOLAS: THE BELIEVER
Part 5 of 7

by Eric & Lana Elder

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

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

Today I’m posting Part 5 of our book, St. Nicholas: The Believer, where you’ll read about one of those most dangerous times in St. Nicholas’s life, as the emperor who ruled tried to bring him down, along with many others like him. Through it all, Nicholas trusted in the Ruler who held onto him with an ever stronger grip: Jesus Christ, the LORD OF ALL–the same Ruler who holds onto us as well.

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

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

Riding Horses in Patara, Turkey, April 2015

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

You can read Part 5 of St. Nicholas: The Believer below, or you can listen to the audio version of Part 5 at this link in about 30 minutes:

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

(You can also read the entire book online from the beginning at this link, or get a copy in paperback, eBook or audiobook as a gift for yourself or others in our online bookstore.)

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

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

by Eric & Lana Elder

PART 5

CHAPTER 25

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER 26

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER 27

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER 28

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER 29

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER 30

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

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

“Home?” Nicholas said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued…next week!

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

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


Watch Here! | Listen Here! | Ask for Prayer | Contact Us | Visit Our Website | Subscribe | Facebook | Twitter | Tumblr | Bookstore


This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- St. Nicholas: The Believer, Part 4 of 7


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

ST. NICHOLAS: THE BELIEVER
Part 4 of 7

by Eric & Lana Elder

 
Today is St. Nicholas Day around the world (December 6th), commemorating the day the real St. Nicholas died in A.D. 343. Here’s a 90-second video inside the St. Nicholas Church in Demre (Myra), Turkey, where his bones were originally entombed. Not only will you see the church, but you’ll hear how walking into this church impacted me.

Today I’m also posting Part 4 of our book, St. Nicholas: The Believer, which details one of the most memorable stories from Nicholas’ life: saving three girls from a devastating fate.

Click here to see a 90-second video of the Church of St. Nicholas in Myra, Turkey

And here are a few pictures inside the church, which was has been built and rebuilt over the spot where St Nicholas’ bones were originally entombed. The pictures here, taken by my daughter Makari, show an archway with a mosaic floor, light streaming into the main sanctuary, a tomb which has been broken into (Nicholas’ bones were removed in a nighttime raid in A.D. 1087 when they were under threat of destruction by invaders, then taken to Bari, Italy, where they remain today), and a fresco on a domed ceiling featuring Jesus and His disciples.

You can read Part 4 of St. Nicholas: The Believer below, or you can listen to the audio version of Part 4 at this link in about 30 minutes:

Click here to listen to Part 4 of the Audiobook, St. Nicholas: The Believer.

(You can also read the entire book online from the beginning at this link, or get a copy in paperback, eBook or audiobook as a gift for yourself or others in our online bookstore.)

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

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

by Eric & Lana Elder

PART 4

CHAPTER 18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

To be continued…next week!

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

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


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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- St. Nicholas: The Believer, Part 3 of 7


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

ST. NICHOLAS: THE BELIEVER
Part 3 of 7

by Eric & Lana Elder

 
Here’s Part 3 of our book, St. Nicholas: The Believer. This scene captures Nicholas’ miraculous crossing of the Mediterranean Sea from Israel to the city of Myra (today known as Demre). Here’s a 30-second video of the famous rock tombs of Myra, which were carved into the side of a mountain several hundred years before Nicholas’ arrival there.

rock-tombs-click-to-play

Click here to see the Rock Tombs in Myra, Turkey

And here are a few pictures of the ruins of ancient Myra, which my daughter Makari  took on our trip there in April of this year. You can see here the rock tombs, an archway under the theater, and the entrances and exits of the theater from behind the stage.

You can read Part 3 of St. Nicholas: The Believer below, or you can listen to the audio version of Part 3 at this link in just under 30 minutes:

Click here to listen to Part 3 of the Audiobook, St. Nicholas: The Believer.

(You can also read the entire book online from the beginning at this link, or get a copy in paperback, eBook or audiobook as a gift for yourself or others in our online bookstore.)

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

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

by Eric & Lana Elder

PART 3

CHAPTER 12

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

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

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

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

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

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.

To be continued…next week!

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

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


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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- St. Nicholas: The Believer, Part 2 of 7


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

ST. NICHOLAS: THE BELIEVER
Part 2 of 7

by Eric & Lana Elder

 
Today I’m posting Part 2 of 7 of our book, St. Nicholas: The Believer. Today’s story takes place in various locations around Israel, where the real-life St. Nicholas visited back in the 4th century A.D. His life was strongly impacted by his visit, as was mine when I first visited Israel 20 years ago.  I was able to see the spot in Bethlehem where Jesus was born… the same spot which St. Nicholas would have seen, and which Constantine’s mother would have seen, after which she commissioned a church to be built on that spot in 327 A.D. It’s amazing that this same spot has been visited by countless people over nearly 2,000 years, as the birthplace of the most significant figure in human history.

Here’s a short video clip I shot while on a trip to Bethlehem a few years ago, showing the star on the ground where “X marks the spot,” the place that has been shown to believers since the days of St. Nicholas as the location of the stable where Jesus was born. (By the way, I’m taking another group to Israel for Easter in March of 2016. If you’d like to join us, click here to learn more!)

Click here to see inside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem

And here are a few pictures my daughter took on that same trip to Israel… of a waterfall in the mountains of En Gedi where David fled from King Saul, an unmarked tomb by the side of a road, and the Temple Mount in Jerusalem where Jesus once walked, taught and touched people’s lives 2,000 years ago.

You can read Part 2 of St. Nicholas: The Believer below, or you can listen to the audio version of Part 2 at this link in just under 30 minutes:

Click here to listen to Part 2 of the Audiobook, St. Nicholas: The Believer.

(You can also read the entire book online from the beginning at this link, or get a copy in paperback, eBook or audiobook as a gift for yourself or others in our online bookstore. If you only have 5 minutes, read chapter 7!)

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

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

by Eric & Lana Elder

PART 2

CHAPTER 6

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

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

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

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

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

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.

To be continued…next week!

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

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


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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- St. Nicholas: The Believer, Part 1 of 7


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

ST. NICHOLAS: THE BELIEVER
Part 1 of 7

by Eric & Lana Elder

 
Starting today and continuing for the next 5 weeks, I’ll be posting, as a series, the entire book my wife and I wrote about the real St. Nicholas who lived in the 3rd and 4th centuries A.D. It’s a new book for Christmas based on the old story of St. Nicholas. This spring, my daughter and I went to visit Nicholas’ hometown of Patara, Turkey. The photos below (taken by my daughter, Makari) feature the ancient theater, main street and parliament building in Patara. 

patara-theater-mainstreet-parliament-by-makari-elder-april-2015

Take a look at the 2-minute video (below) to see for yourself the Roman ruins of the city where Nicholas lived while he was alive. Then read on to start the fascinating story of this fascinating man who loved Jesus with all of His heart.

(If you’d like to read this story along with others this year, just forward this email to some friends and invite them to read along with you! It’s a great way to get into the true spirit of Christmas and enjoy a good book at the same time. You can also listen to the whole audiobook for free online… you can listen to Part 1  just under 30 minutes.)

patara-theater-click-to-play

Click here to see the 2-minute video of the Patara Theater in Turkey

Click here to listen to Part 1 of the Audiobook, St. Nicholas: The Believer.

Read Part 1 below! Next week…Part 2!

(This book is also available in paperback or eBook formats as a gift for yourself or others in our online bookstore.)

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

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

by Eric & Lana Elder

DEDICATION

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

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 one part a day as I send them out for the 6 Sundays leading up to Christmas, with Part 7 on sent on Christmas Eve. Or if you’d like to use this book as a daily devotional, you can read one chapter a day for 40 days leading up to Christmas, counting the Prologue, Epilogue and Conclusion as separate chapters. You can start today with just the Prologue and finish with the Conclusion on Christmas Eve!

PART 1

PROLOGUE

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

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

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

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

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

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.

To be continued…next week!

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

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


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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- Need Strength?


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

HOW TO “DRAW STRENGTH” FROM THE LORD

by Eric Elder
www.theranch.org

 

Sometimes people will quote a famous Psalm and say, “The Lord is my strength.” But what does that mean? How can you “draw strength” from the Lord? What steps can you take to really get the strength you need from Him to go through whatever you’re going through today?

Here are three things you can do to “draw strength” from Him.

1) Admit your weakness. This may seem obvious, but it’s not always easy. You may think you’re strong. You may think you can do it on your own. But the truth is, we could all use a little more help, no matter how big or strong we might be.

I was at a practice yesterday for the Nutcracker Ballet, which my daughter and I–and several others fathers and daughters–are going to be performing in December. At one point during the show, when the Rat Queen dies, two of the fathers need to pick her up and carry her off the stage, holding her high above their heads. During practice, two of the biggest and strongest men in the show went to pick up the Rat Queen. But after lifting her to chest height and then trying to make the transition to hoist her above their heads, her feet went higher than her head, and they nearly lost their grip.

The choreographer asked if perhaps it would be safer and easier if a third man joined the other two on stage.”Yes!” agreed the two men. As big and strong as they were, they knew they needed help, as the move simply required more agility than they were able to achieve on their own. A third man joined the other two on stage, and the next time they tried to lift the Rat Queen over their heads, they were able to do it easily and safely, to everyone’s benefit and thankfulness (especially the Rat Queen’s!)

No matter how big and strong you may be, don’t be surprised if life throws something at you that puts you in over your head. To draw strength from the Lord, you have to first admit your weakness.

2) Ask for help. Again, this may seem obvious, but it’s not easy to ask for help, either. It’s one thing to admit your weakness to yourself, but it takes an extra step of courage to admit it to someone else.

King David was strong. The Bible says he fought bears and even one of the biggest men in the Bible, Goliath–and won. But even David asked God for help. Psalm 28 records David as saying:

“To You I call, O LORD my Rock; do not turn a deaf ear to me. For if You remain silent, I will be like those who have gone down to the pit. Hear my cry for mercy as I call to you for help, as I lift up my hands toward Your Most Holy Place” (Psalm 28:1-2).

David asked for help, and God answered Him. By the end of the same Psalm, David said:

“Praise be to the LORD, for He has heard my cry for mercy. The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in Him, and I am helped” (Psalm 28:6-7a).

Admitting your weakness is a good first step to getting God’s strength. Asking for help is a good second one. But there’s a third step that really makes all the difference.

3) “Lean on” the Lord. God is more than happy to help you take some of the weight off your shoulders, but you have to lean on Him to let Him do it.

When you lean to the left, your weight shifts to your left leg; when you lean to the right, your weight shifts to the right leg. When you “lean on” the Lord, you need to shift your weight, too. But how do you do that?

I was in Turkey earlier this year and found a fantastic piece of driftwood along the coastline of the Mediterranean Sea. This stick was nearly as tall as me and 1-1/2 to 2 inches in diameter, yet it was surprisingly lightweight and easy to carry. But in order to make use of it as I climbed up and down the rocky hills along the coast, I had to lean on it, shifting my weight from my own legs and onto the makeshift staff itself.

The staff didn’t help me if I just carried it by my side. And it didn’t help when I just set it on the ground with every step I took. It only helped me when I shifted my weight from myself and onto it, transferring my weight from my own legs and onto the staff; only then was I able to gain the advantage of having this “third leg” help me up the hills.

Remembering that piece of driftwood is a visual reminder for me whenever I need the strength to do something I know I can’t do on my own. I know I can “lean on” the Lord, shifting the weight of my burden onto Him.

It’s amazing how making that mental shift noticeably lifts the weight off of me, transferring it onto Him, thereby giving me a rush of strength–God’s strength–in the process!

How do I draw strength from the Lord? I admit my weakness. I ask for His help.  Then I lean on Him, transferring the weight of my burden onto Him, thereby getting the rush of strength to do what I could never possibly do without Him.

Then, like King David, I’m able to say:

“Praise be to the LORD, for He has heard my cry for mercy. The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in Him, and I am helped” (Psalm 28:6-7a).

For what do you need God’s strength today? Admit your weakness. Ask God for help. Then lean on the Lord, transferring the weight of your burden onto Him.

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for being so much bigger and stronger than we are. Thank You for wanting to help us through this life. Thank You for loving us so much that You don’t want to see us crushed under the weight of whatever life throws our way. Father, we admit we are weak. We admit that things sometimes overwhelm us. We admit that we need Your help. Please help us! We call out to You for mercy and help, lifting our hands, as King David did, to Your Holy Place. Help us to transfer the weight of our burdens to you, letting go of those things that are holding us back, weighing us down or filling us with despair. Help us to lean on You, to put our full weight on You, so that we can feel and experience the rush of Your strength as we do. Lord, thank You for being our strength and our shield. Our hearts trust in You, and we are so thankful for Your help. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

P.S. I hope this message has been helpful! Starting next week, I’ll begin posting a special story for Christmas that my wife and I finished writing three years ago this week, just days before she passed from this life to the next.  The story is called “St. Nicholas: The Believer,” and it’s a new story for Christmas based on the old story of St. Nicholas.

I’ve posted this story the last two years in the weeks leading up to Christmas, and I’ve heard back from so many of you that it’s been such a help as you prepare your hearts for the holidays that I want to do it again.

What’s new this year is that I’ll also be including a few pictures and short videos that I shot on location in Turkey earlier this year, when my daughter and I went to visit the places where the real-life Nicholas lived and ministered, way back in the 3rd and 4th centuries A.D.

Here’s a sneak peek from the coast of Nicholas’s hometown of Patara (today known as Gelemish), on the southern edge of Turkey along the Mediterranean Sea (taken by my daughter, Makari).

Cliffs at Patara, Turkey, taken by Makari Elder

Our trip was both fascinating and inspiring, and I’m looking forward to sharing more with you in the weeks ahead. Here’s a short video I took of the place where I used that piece of driftwood to hike up and down the rocky coastline. (Take a look at that rugged coast and you can see why that driftwood was so helpful in hiking through those hills. You can see that piece of driftwood on the ground at the bottom right of the screen near the end of this video.)

Click to play video of Patara Coastline

Click here to see the video of the Patara Coastline

I’m looking forward to sharing more with you next week!


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