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


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

Peace

by Tim Zingale

Mark 4:35-41
Job 38:1-11

35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.”

36 And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him.

37 And a great storm of wind arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already filling.

38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?”

39 And he awoke and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.

40 He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?”

41 And they were filled with awe, and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?”

Grace and Peace to you from our Lord and Saviour, Jesus who is the Christ. Amen

An artist was commissioned by a wealthy man to paint something that would depict peace. After a great deal of thought, the artist painted a beautiful country scene. There were green fields with cows standing in them, birds were flying in the blue sky and a lovely little village lay in a distant valley. The artist gave the picture to the man, but there was a look of disappointment on his face. The man said to the artist, “This isn’t a picture of true peace. It isn’t right. Go back and try again.”

The artist went back to his studio, thought for several hours about peace, then went to his canvas and began to paint. When he was finished, there on the canvas was a beautiful picture of a mother, holding a sleeping baby in her arms, smiling lovingly at the child. He thought, surely, this is true peace, and hurried to give the picture to the wealthy man. But again, the wealthy an refused the painting and asked the painter to try again.

The artist returned again to his studio. He was discouraged, he was tired and he was disappointed. Anger swelled inside him, he felt the rejection of this wealthy man. Again, he thought, he even prayed for inspiration to paint a picture of true peace. Then, all of a sudden an idea came, he rushed to the canvas and began to paint as he had never painted before. When he finished, he hurried to the wealthy man.

He gave the painting to the man. He studied it carefully for several minutes. The artist held his breath. Then the wealthy man said, “Now this is a picture of true peace.” He accepted the painting, paid the artist and everyone was happy.

And what was this picture of true peace?? The picture showed a stormy sea pounding against a cliff. The artist had captured the furry of the wind as it whipped black rain clouds which were laced with streaks of lightening. The sea was roaring in turmoil, waves churning, the dark sky filled with the power of the furious thunderstorm. And in the middle of the picture, under a cliff, the artist had painted a small bird, safe and dry in her nest snuggled safely in the rocks. The bird was at peace midst the storm that raged about her.”

Peace, tranquility, calmness, these are the emotions which each we seek as we experience the storms of life. We long, we search for peace. We search for the quiet, the calm, the contentment as we experience the storms, the chaos, the uncertainties of life.

As we live with all the brokenness of sin, with all the tension of this sinful world, we cry out, we long for some peace to somehow insulate, or protect us from all the fury around us. We are very much like that wealthy man, searching, dreaming, wanting peace in the middle of the fury of life. We search, we long, for that peace. We even call out as the disciples did to Jesus in that sinking boat, we call out to God for peace, for comfort. We call out to God,, wondering if He is around, wondering if He is sleeping while we are searching.

The question asked more often by human beings is always some variation on this theme,’Where are you, God?” Or “God, are you sleeping?” or “God, are you dead?” or God, do you hear me?” or “God, why don’t you. Answer me?”

And God’s answer, God’s ’s only answer, God’s answer that we can only understand is this: “I am in the midst of you through the crucified Christ” Yes, I am here, I am with you as I was with my Son on the cross of Calvary.”

Our Old Testament Lesson and our gospel lesson focus for us this morning on that question, “Where is God in the tumult of life?” Job asks that question of God as he is suffering, the disciples ask that question of Jesus as they are sinking with their boat into the Sea of Galilee.

“Don’t you care, aren’t you concerned with our plight, why am I suffering like this,” are the questions which beg for an answer in our lessons this morning.

Jesus and the disciples were crossing the sea when a sudden storm broke upon them. The disciples became afraid as the wind blew, and the fury of the storm began to fill the boat with water. These were seasoned fishermen, they had experienced these kinds of storms before, but this one was different, it was worse than they had ever experienced. They used their skills, but still they were sinking.

Then in the middle of the storm, they thought about Jesus, where was he. He was in the stern of the boat sleeping on a pillow. Jesus had that sure confidence in the peace of God which allowed Him to sleep even though the storms of life, even this storm of the sea as it was raging all about him.

But the disciples didn’t have that peace, they were afraid, they wondered if Jesus even cared for them as they awoke Him with this question “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?”

They soon saw Jesus’ caring as He awoke and spoke to the wind and the sea saying: “Peace’ Be Still !”’ Then the sea calmed, the winds stopped there was peace.

Then Jesus asked the disciples a question: “Why are you afraid?? Have you no faith?”

Jesus had peace, he was not afraid because He had faith in the Father to protect and provide for Him.

He wanted His disciples to have that same peace. A peace that knows that no matter what circumstances in life we may find ourselves, God ifs in control, so there is peace. Peace does come, peace is equal to faith in the power of God to control, to provide. The disciples saw the power of God in nature as Jesus calmed the storm. That same power is present in all circumstances of life. There is peace to life when we believe in and trust in the power of God to be with us, to guide us, to save us from all the storms of life.

The disciples were afraid because they could only see the storm, their eyes we fixed on that storm. It was difficult for them to have any peace when they were focused on the storm. The problem for the disciples and our problem is not the storms of life but where our attention is placed. It’s hard to see the Christ in the boat when our attention is riveted on the waves outside the boat. When our attention is so consumed by the storms of life so that we cannot see Christ, or turn to Him, or trust in Him, then there is no peace, no contentment, but only worry and despair.

For example: “A story from the days of sailing ships, tell about a ship caught in a sudden and severe storm. The passengers became panicky, rushing here and there as the waves beat upon the ship. There was fear and dread on the faces of all the passengers except one little boy, who remained calm and cheerful. When asked why he was so calm, he said,”Why should I be afraid? My father is at the helm.” In order words, he was not afraid, because e his father was in control.

So, too, with us we face the storms of life. We need not be afraid, or full of despair, because God through His Son Jesus Christ is in control. God is at the helm of life. We need to believe and trust in His power to guide our lives.

Job, in our first lesson, learned of this power of God to be in control of life as God encountered Job in the whirlwind. Job comes to God with his questions of why. Why did he have to suffer? Was there something he did wrong that he deserved this suffering? He came to God, he, in a sense challenged God with his questions.

And what does God do? He comes to Job in a whirlwind and God asks Job questions. God asks if Job had been present at the beginning of time, was Job present at creation, did he have a hand in creating the world? God asked Job if he was the one to control the seas, if he was the one who created the rain and clouds? God came to Job in all of His power and reminded Job of that power, reminded him that humankind cannot understand the mind or the workings of God.

The text doesn’t say Job’s reply, but if we read further we see that the only reply Job had was to fall on his knees in humble subjection. When he finally saw and encountered God, Job saw his own helplessness and lack of wisdom. Job remained faithful to God in all of his trials, but he never came to a point where he didn’t trust or believe in God’s power to deliver or save him.

So, with us, as we face the unanswered questions, as we face the whys, the how comes, as we face suffering, as we face the tragedies of life.

It is not that we disbelieve God’s ability to do anything to save. We all too frequently fail to trust the power He has. We come to God with our human condition of sin. We come to God with our inability to really understand God, so we give up. We question, we ask, we search, but we don’t wait for an answer.

As Pastor Paul Scheidt says in Preaching Helps:

“God calls us to faith, but we prefer to hope for miracles.

“Surely we say, “Our Creator, who supports the earth’s foundations, can arrest the storm in a moment. He has before; perhaps he will again.”

But if our prayer is one-dimensional request for a miraculous calm, we may let ourselves in for a large helping of disappointment and despair if God’s plan dictates some thing different from our request.

The prayer of of faith will include a second dimension that God will help us, hear his voice in the storm. His voice which says loud and clear, I am with you, I am with you.”

As Job found out, as the disciples found out the only answer to our questions about life comes with a simple but powerful answer, “I am with you, period.”

That is all we need to know our God is with us as we face all the why questions of life.

40 He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?”

Amen


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


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

Tithing

by Dean Morgan

Malachi 3:6-12

Let me begin by making three statements about tithing:

1. Tithe means “a tenth” – Genesis 28:22 – “And this stone which I have set as a pillar shall be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will surely give a tenth to You.” The word tithe in the Hebrew means “a tenth.”

2. The Lord claims the tithe as His – Leviticus 27:30 – “And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the tree, is the LORD’S, It is holy to the LORD.”

3. Obedience in tithing carries a promise read Malachi 3:10.

I don’t believe for one minute that tithing buys God’s blessing. But I do believe that it opens a door – or better, a “window” – of release for God to bless continually and mightily. The concept underlying this practice and promise is found throughout the Bible, but in the book of Malachi, God most pointedly deals with tithing. There he faces his people with the charge of neglect in the “covenant” practice.

In this passage, the Lord calls for the return of his people. But when they ask, “In what way shall we return” (v. 7), the Lord says something completely foreign to our way of thinking.

• He doesn’t tell them to get on their knees & pray.

• He doesn’t instruct them to read the Bible.

  • He doesn’t demand they go to the temple more often.

Rather, He starts by talking to them about their money – about tithing. Notice that it’s His starting place.

First, the Lord contrasts His own changelessness with the unfaithfulness of their fathers.

Though God created us and promised to sustain us, it is a great difficulty for many of us to give God His portion.

Consider this: before the fall of man, God gave Adam and his wife stewardship over all creation. Genesis 1:27, 28 – “(27) So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. (28) Then God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

After this, God said, in effect, “I only ask one thing of you: that you honor the fact that a certain portion of creation is Mine and Mine alone.” That’s essentially what God said when He told Adam not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Genesis 2:16-17 – “(16) And the LORD commanded the man, saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; (17) but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.’”

We usually think of that prohibition as only being “to eat or not to eat.” But the issue was deeper. It was an issue of recognized rights. It involved man understanding and accepting that a small portion of all he had within his reach was reserved – it belonged to the Lord. The Lord said, “Everything else is yours, but this is Mine.”

We are dealing with exactly the same issue when we discuss the tithe – God’s claim on 10% of our income. Again let’s read Leviticus 27:30 – “And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the tree, is the Lord’s. It is holy to the Lord.”

Of course, we know so well the events at the beginning. Satan came, tempting the man and woman and saying, in effect, “God knows that if you ever get hold of His portion, too, you’ll be so much better off than you are now” (see Genesis 3:5).

How easily we’re persuaded by the supposition that if we can just have what God says is His, we’ll be better off! And the tempter succeeded, with the bottom line being that man tried to take God’s job into his own hands.

“You will be like God,” the serpent hissed, and man fell for it. The tragedy is that all of God’s likeness that they needed was already theirs, for God had created them marvelously and miraculously, fully in His image. They didn’t need God’s power, only the blessing of His Person imprinted in their nature. They didn’t need God’s position, only the promise of His provision to sustain their every need. But in Adam and Eve’s pursuit of “acquiring,” they took God’s portion, thereby not only losing what they thought they would gain, but what they already had as well.

To see the divine claim on 10% of our income and to surrender it in worship, faithfully, is to find life’s financial starting place and life’s essential beginning point of blessing once we’re in Christ.

His Pattern and Blueprint

All of us understand the concept of a pattern or blueprint. The tailor who designed the clothes you’re wearing had to follow a pattern or the clothing would not fit. It would be too tight in some places, or it would be too loose and would feel uncomfortable in other places if it were not made according to pattern. A building would not be safe, nor would an engine run, if not made according to the blueprint.

It is the same thing with life. We have to start right. His commandments and precepts are blueprints–designs provided so we can build lives that stand strong and tall.

The pattern for godliness that God gave Adam included directions on how mankind is to relate to any portion that God says is His.

Rob God? How?

Malachi’s message pointed back to the beginning–“your fathers.” And so we’ve seen how early the issue of man taking God’s portion became a problem. Then the prophet asks a strange question: “Will a man rob God?” (Malachi 3:8).

It’s important here to say the obvious: God doesn’t have a cash-flow problem! So how is it that the prophet says that the people’s not tithing had “robbed” him? A look at the whole text answers the question: God had been robbed of his opportunity to bless his people! God has been robbed of his opportunity not just to bless you but to bless others since you aren’t paying the tithe.

That’s His heart–his desire. God wants to bless! Notice that when He says that if we’ll return, He’ll open the windows of heaven, and pour out a blessing we won’t be able to contain, the Lord isn’t merely talking about financial benefit. He’s talking about all His blessings. The “windows of heaven” aren’t a bank, but they are the openings from which all life’s benedictions flow.

Malachi 3:10 (NIV)–“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this, says the LORD and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.”

• When the windows of heaven are open over your home, there is joy and happiness.

• When the windows of heaven are open over your business, there is fruitfulness and prosperity

• When the windows of heaven are open over your mind, there is peace and confidence.

  • When the windows of heaven are open over your body and soul, there is health and contentment.

“The windows of heaven” are the Bible’s words to describe the source from which God blesses, and that’s what God delights to bring about. God’s request for our tithe isn’t an appeal from a hard-pressed deity suffering for cash. It’s a request that we not deprive Him of blessing us in very real ways. It’s also a request that we not deprive Him of blessing others with the money we give. He’s calling us to order our finances on the earth side of things in a way that lines up with the release of special graces waiting to be poured out from the heaven side of things. Tithing starts right–by aligning us under the place where the blessings of God are released: heaven’s windows.

But the decision to tithe is ours.

Just as surely as the Lord Jesus Christ knocks at the doors of our hearts & says, “If you’ll open the door, I’ll come in, and you’ll be saved,” we have that choice. And having received Him as Savior, we can stop there or move ahead as His disciples. The wisest & most sensitive of us choose growing in him, making Him Lord in our life’s daily matters. And nothing says, “Yes, Lord,” any clearer than our obedience and our worship with our tithe.

When I let go, when I give, when I release, I make room for life and abundance to flow into my life according to God’s order.

If I hesitate to start tithing because I’m worried about how I’m going to make it, and in my effort to make ends meet I violate the Lord’s first principle of giving, am I succumbing to a deception luring me to put myself in God’s place? Am I saying that I am better able to make things work out than God is?

I believe I need to mention something here before we go on. Some still raise a tired question: “Isn’t tithing only in the Old Testament?”

The idea in this expressed doubt is that tithing is part of the law and therefore has no meaning to NT believers. This resistance usually projects the notion that teaching tithing will deprive a Christian of his “liberty” or move a believer “into law and out of grace.”

Jesus Himself addressed the issue of tithing. It’s recorded in two NT books – Matthew & Luke.

Jesus was dealing with the Pharisees – a tough breed of religionists who were looking for every way they could to attend to the letter of the law without attending to its spiritual demands.

Read Matthew 23:23 (Also is found in Luke 11:42).

The “woe” on these religious hypocrites was not for their tithing, but for their neglect of “weightier matters”–justice, mercy and faith. Now, the Pharisees were attending to the letter of the law in the presenting of their tithes, and it wasn’t just a matter of bringing one bushel of wheat out of every ten. They were even weighing out the tithe of the tiniest spices – mint & cummin!

If tithing was unimportant to the Savior, if it was meaningless to maintain within the new order He was bringing, then as a part of emphasizing that new order He could well have said, “Take care of justice and mercy, and quit bothering with tithing – mint, cummin or anything else!” But instead Jesus says, “These you ought to have done” – referring to their tithing– “without leaving the others undone”–referring to their attitudes.

He uses the word “ought”. When we acknowledge that something ought to be, we are appealing to a higher order – to the divine will. We are saying, “There are certain laws that should not be violated.” With this “ought,” Jesus is saying of the practice of tithing, “This is a precept that ought not to be violated.” By the affirmation of Jesus our Lord Himself, tithing is thereby made a timeless practice, as important to New Testament believers as to Old.

In tracing the footsteps of Abraham, we find that Scripture says of him: “And he gave him [Melchizedek] a tithe of all” (Genesis 14:20). Abraham is revealed as a man who learned the pathway to promise before the law was ever given! Tithing was established in the Scripture before the Law of Moses. It precedes and transcends the Mosaic code as a principle built into the fabric of the human order of things.

Rebuking the Devourer

To cap off the grand truth of the tithe, God makes an incredible promise. As a part of His response to our worshipping him through the faith-exercise of tithes and offerings, He says, “I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes” (Malachi 3:11). It’s another evidence of the fact that how we deal with our money is a spiritual issue touching all of life. These words reveal that when we obey in the material realm, it impacts the spiritual realm.

Who is “the devourer”?

Jesus taught us that we have a common enemy whose animosity is leveled toward all mankind.

John 10:10 – “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly”

1 Peter 5:8 – “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.”

The thief advances with viciousness and in terms of our finances, devours in some of the most obvious ways. Breakdowns. Repairs needed. An unexplainable onslaught of illness. The dishwasher or the garbage disposal goes “pop,” and there goes $79.50 out the window or $123.52 down the drain. Investments go sour. Money owed us isn’t paid. The devourer often comes in any or all such things that eat up – or devour–our resources.

Now God doesn’t promise that we’ll never have a car breakdown or that mechanical things will never wear out if we tithe. Neither is tithing a formula guarantee that we’ll never have to get flu shots. But the Lord does say, “These things aren’t going to eat you up!”

As we learn the liberty of full, free, let-go obedience to the Lord and His ways, we have an overcoming promise. God says He sill make it His mission to rebuke the oppressive forces that chew up our finances and cause reversal in our situations. Tithing holds no magic promise of trial-free living, but tithing does have a share in the promise that when we face trials of any kind, we have reason to expect God to come against the advances of our adversary.

Cursed?

There is a devourer seeking to curse, to swallow up, to eat through and spit out, if you please. And whether we like it or not, choosing not to tithe is to choose to step out from under God’s umbrella of blessing. Without His protection, you and I are far more vulnerable to life’s “rain” of circumstances–however mild or fierce.

So the Lord calls us to “prove Him,” to give him the opportunity to pour out blessings on us that we cannot contain. He says that He will open the windows of heaven and rebuke the devourer (vv. 10-11). The first is a promise of abundance, and the other is a promise of victory over the adversary.

Money and the Miraculous

When I voluntarily give at least 10% of my budget into His kingdom enterprise, I’m saying, “I can ‘see’ His ability to create enough to make my budget run with less than the unbeliever claims he needs.”


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


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

KINDNESS

by D. Greg Ebie

Galatians 5:16-25 (NIV)

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Tony Campolo tells about an incident that happened to him on his way into work. Walking the sidewalk pathways of downtown, Tony would often pass by a number of homeless and transient people. From time to time, they would make requests for money; generally, he ignored them.

One day a bag lady, whom he had seen before in his mad dash to get from point A to B, shuffled out of a donut shop with a steaming hot cup of coffee. Their eyes met and Tony forced a smile. Putting down her coat and bags she called out, “Hey mister, would you like a sip of my coffee?”

Now if you were Tony how would you respond? Keep waking and ignore her? That’s what Tony did, or at least he started to. A half a block away, he turned back around and said, “Hey lady! Yes, yes I would like a taste of your coffee.” She held out the cup with her dirty hand; he took the cup and swallowed what had to be the most delicious cup of coffee he had tasted in a long time.

“Isn’t it good,” she said.

“Yes it IS GOOD! and thank you. By the way, why did you offer me your coffee?”

“Because it was so good, I thought someone might like to share it with me and enjoy it too.”

A small, yet simple act of kindness from a stranger interrupted Tony Campolo’s walk to the office. Kindness comes in all shapes and sizes, yet regardless of how big or small we all appreciate a kind act. This morning we are going to focus on “THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT IS . . . KINDNESS.”

The fruit of the Spirit is OF THE SPIRIT and not the saints. Kindness is born of the Spirit; human energy or effort does not naturally produced kindness; it comes from God. Yes, people can be kind apart from God, but their kindness is impure and incomplete.

The Kindness of God – What is God’s kindness like?

Jeremiah 31:3 (NIV)

The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.

Who is it that God is drawing to Him with loving-kindness, the righteous? No! God’s loving kindness is given to those who have rebelled against the Lord and turned away from Him. God is kind to the wicked.

Luke 6:35 (NIV)

Love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back . . . because [God] is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.

Jesus doesn’t tell us to love our friends and treat them nicely. He says love your enemies! Why? Because that is what God is like; we are to follow His example. God is kind to the ungrateful—those who take God’s kindness for granted and don’t give it a second thought—and the wicked—those who turn their back upon God and despise Him.

Notice how Matthew expresses the kindness of God in the parallel passage of Jesus’ teaching.

Matthew 5:45 (NIV)

He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

The kindness of God does not discriminate! God does not treat His enemies differently than He does His friends. God shows His enemies kindness in order to win their friendship, as Paul told the Romans, “God’s kindness leads to repentance” (Romans 2:4 NIV).

God’s kindness is without limit. Kindness breaks down barriers and boundaries. Kindness opens the door to the fullness of God’s love and fellowship. Kindness takes in the objectionable and critical; it welcome those filled with bitterness and resentment. Kindness even takes in us!

Ephesians 2:7 (NLT)

God can always point to us as examples of the incredible wealth of his favor and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us through Christ Jesus.

We who believe show others the riches of God’s incredible kindness. God offers His kindness to those who do not deserve it and us regardless of how the recipients of His kindness respond.

The fruit of the Spirit is kindness. Jesus said as we are connected to Him we would bear much fruit. Remember that apart from Christ we can do nothing! Separated from Jesus there is no fruit (See John 15:5).

Kindness Illustrated – The Good Samaritan

Jesus show us what the kindness of God looks like as it is expressed in our lives. THE FRUIT OF KINDNESS DEVELOPS AND MATURES TO BE GIVEN TO OTHERS.

Luke 10:30-35 (NIV)

A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. “Look after him,” he said, “and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.”

The story of the Good Samaritan shows us four different types of people. We encounter people like this everyday; however, today we are not called to be FRUIT INSPECTORS, but FRUIT PRODUCERS. In other words we need to take a look in the mirror and see which of these types of people look back at us. Let’s allow the Holy Spirit to reveal the condition of our hearts to us so we can be transformed to be the person God would have us to become and produce much fruit.

1. The Selfish and Hostile

The robbers represent the selfish and hostile. These people are only interested in what they want. They will climb the latter of success regardless of whom they have to step on doing what ever it takes to get what they want. Their motto is simply “The end justifies the means.” If I want money and wealth then I can do what ever I want to have it, including taking it from you.

James 4:1 (MsgB)

Where do you think all these appalling wars and quarrels come from? Do you think they just happen? Think again. They come about because you want your own way, and fight for it deep inside yourselves.

The priest and the Levite represent the next two types of people. Jesus does not tell us why the priest or Levite crossed over to the other side of the road. While one would expect both of these to have offered to help because of their religious standing, they passed by.

2. The Indifferent

The priest and Levite may have just been indifferent. Perhaps they are just overwhelmed by the need and feel that they have nothing to offer those in need. The indifferent lack a heart of compassion.

The indifferent won’t kick you when your down, but they won’t offer you a hand to get up either. They ignore you and just pass by minding their own business.

3. The Legalistic

The priest and Levite may also be legalistic. They justify their lack of compassion in order to remain holy in the eyes of their peers. The legalistic follow their man made rules and ignore God’s higher law to love your neighbor as yourself.

If I stop to get involved, I’ll be late for work.

I can’t give because we have made a commitment to get out of debt.

If I say something nice, then my friends will make fun of me.

4. The Kind and Compassionate

The Samaritan is kind and compassionate. Jesus shows us what Godly kindness is like through the Samaritan. The Holy Spirit will help to bring about these things in our lives so kindness fully develops and matures.

1. Kindness will take action.

The Samaritan did not pass by or ignore the one in need. The Samaritan took action to do what he could to help meet the need.

Kindness is love in action. Kindness is not an attitude we develop in our heart; it is not a new way of thinking about the situations we encounter. Kindness has to get out; kindness held in is not kindness at all.

Remember we have said we are talking about THE FRUIT of the Spirit and not the fruits. Love is the blossom; without love it is impossible for the fruit to be produced in our lives. 1 Corinthians 13 tells us, “Love is kind;” in other words, love takes action and finds expression through kindness.

Kindness is love serving. To serve others requires action!

Kindness will give; it will share.

Kindness will provide for others; it supplies what is lacking or needed.

Sometimes all that is needed is a kind word. An elderly lady always went to the local post office because the employees were so friendly. Once she was waiting in a long line to buy stamps just prior to Christmas. The man in line behind her said, “Mamma there’s no need for you to wait in line; you can buy your stamps at the machine in the lobby.” The old woman said, “I know, but the machine won’t smile or ask about my arthritis.” The only action the machine could provide was to dispense stamps, but the action of the employees dispensed stamps and kindness!

Colossians 3:12 (NIV)

Therefore, as God’s chosen people . . . clothe yourselves with . . . kindness.

2. Kindness will take a risk.

The Samaritan did not stop to consider if the robbers were still lurking behind the rocks. Or what if it is all a trap and the Samaritan becomes the victim? The Samaritan was willing to put his possessions and even his life in jeopardy to offer kindness to the one who was in need.

What if Jesus had wanted to play it safe? What if He didn’t want to take any chances? We would still be lost in our sin without any hope for salvation.

Philippians 2:6-8 (MsgB)

He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! . . . He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that: a crucifixion.

Jesus was willing to take a chance and risk everything so He could meet our need. The wages of sin is death (see Romans 6:23); Jesus was not worried about the price. He determined to provide what we needed no matter what. That’s what kindness does; it will take a risk.

3. Kindness will pay the price.

The Good Samaritan didn’t examine the man’s wounds and then calculate the cost. The Samaritan was willing to pay the price and do whatever to took to help the man in need. Wine was poured on the wounds to purify and prevent infection; oil was added to comfort and soothe. The Samaritan paid for the man’s care at the inn; he paid the price!

The price was paid even without the guarantee that the man would recover from his wounds or even that the man would be thankful for his assistance! Jews hated Samaritans, but the Samaritan didn’t let this prejudice keep him from giving to meet a need. Kindness pays the price regardless of the outcome. Paying the price means you assume the risk.

Jesus assures us that while paying the price may come with no guarantees in this world, God will assure us of a surefire dividend that we can’t lose! In other words, paying the price of kindness has its rewards!

Luke 12:33 (MsgB)

Be generous. Give to the poor. Get yourselves a bank that can’t go bankrupt, a bank in heaven far from bank robbers, safe from embezzlers, a bank you can bank on.

Luke 6:38 (MsgB)

Give away your life; you’ll find life given back, but not merely given back—given back with bonus and blessing. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity.”

Kindness will take action; it takes risk and will pay the price.

4. Kindness will put others first.

The Samaritan didn’t worry about his schedule for the day. He didn’t think about himself but put the needs of the wounded man ahead of himself. Not only did the Samaritan give of his resources, but he also gave of his time. Putting others first often means being willing to give of our time.

Philippians 2:3 (NIV)

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.

Ephesians 4:28 (NLT)

If you are a thief, stop stealing. Begin using your hands for honest work, and then give generously to others in need.

Perhaps we could paraphrase what Paul tells us like this: “Have you been living only for yourself? Stop it! Think of others and share with those in need.” Kindness will put others first.

5. Kindness will finish what it starts.

The Samaritan didn’t just bandage the man’s wounds. He didn’t just take the man to a safe place where he could receive more help. He even did more than pay for room and board the man would receive. He also promised to pay whatever else was needed to nurse the man back to health. THE SAMARITAN FINISTHED WHAT HE STARTED!

Philippians 1:6 (GW)

I’m convinced that God, who began this good work in you, will carry it through to completion on the day of Christ Jesus.

Quaker, Stephen Grellet wrote: “I expect to pass through this world but once, any good thing therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any fellow-creature, let me do it now, let me not defer to neglect it, FOR I SHALL NOT PASS THIS WAY AGAIN.” [quoted in Winward, The Fruit of the Spirit page 136]

Kindness will take ACTION. Kindness takes a risk and is willing to pay the price. Kindness puts others first, it finishes what it starts. And finally:

6. Kindness does not seek recognition.

What was the Good Samaritan’s name? Jesus doesn’t tell us. The Good Samaritan does not seek out the priest and the Levite to promote himself over them. The Samaritan is content to remain unknown.

Likewise, our kindness is not to elevate our reputation, or make us look good in the eyes of other people. Real kindness does not seek to find glory for oneself; instead, kindness gives glory to God.

Corinthians 10:31 (MsgB)

As a matter of fact, do everything that way, heartily and freely to God’s glory.

KINDNESS DOES NOT SEEK RECOGNITION, INSTEAD THE RECOGNITION AND GLORY GOES TO GOD. The fruit of the Spirit expressed in our lives is like electricity. When you plug something into an outlet it makes a connection to the source, but the electricity will not flow through wires or do anything until the circuit is complete. When you turn on the switch the circuit is then closed; in this way the current runs through your electrical appliance to do the work it is designed to do, and then the power continues to flow back to the source. The electricity that is generated at a power-plant completes a circle through all the electrical things you use in your home and back to where it all started.

Are you going to allow God’s Spirit to produce kindness in your life?

Will you take action?

Are you willing to take a risk?

Will you pay the price?

Are you ready to put others first in your life?

Will you finish what you start?

Are you willing to give the glory back to God and not seek recognition for yourself?


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


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

PEACE

by Russell Brownworth

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. John 20:19 – 31 (NRSV)

I‘m definitely a Thomas kind of guy. Thomas didn’t want to believe what seemed too good to believe until he had seen Jesus like the other disciples had seen Jesus. It’s not that he didn’t have faith; Thomas had stronger faith than the other disciples earlier–before Jesus was arrested. The Pharisees had threatened to stone Jesus to death, and Jesus announced he was going to Jerusalem to confront them. The other disciples protested loudly that it was too dangerous. But Thomas just said, well, let’s go and die with him. That’s faith!

Thomas was no doubter, but he also had no sense of timing. When Jesus appeared to the disciples on the evening of resurrection day Thomas was the only one of the bunch to miss church.

I’ve often wondered just why Thomas missed meeting with the group on that evening. My best guess is that he was pretty resigned to the fact that it was “game-over”. The Pharisees had won, Jesus was dead, and there was nothing left to do but start figuring-out a life beyond following Jesus, because there was no more Jesus to follow.

And then there’s the other wonderment–why did Thomas come back to the group a week later. It had to be that some of the other disciples went and got Thomas…brought him back into the fold. They had seen the resurrected Lord, and they shared the good news with him. Thomas’ faith had flickered, and his friends brought him back. Somewhere in that there’s a sermon for any church with as many inactive members as active ones!

We are waiting like the disciples, door shut, Thomas, the backslider has been reclaimed, and we’re remembering the last time we saw Jesus enter the room. We recall his first words, “Peace be with you”. Jesus said those words three times in our text, and each time they brought a different kind of peace…

I. Saving Peace

There is a peace that rescues. The disciples had shut the doors for fear that what had happened to Jesus would happen to them. When suddenly Jesus was present with them, that fear vanished with the realization of victory.

My family watched the movie “The Passion” with its two grueling and graphic hours depicting the arrest, beating, trial and crucifixion of Jesus. Afterwards, when Jesus appeared to the disciples, he had the marks of his suffering, but it was obvious those marks didn’t have him anymore.

There is a peace that is surreal when the darkness of disaster and defeat are replaced by the morning light of victory. When Jesus said, “peace be with you” he was saying, “I am with you–your victory, your peace…I am here to save.” Even the name “Jesus” means “God saves”. Saving Peace, and…

II. Sending Peace

“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

This second kind of peace Jesus brought with him is sending peace. The Father sent Jesus into the world to seek and to save that which was lost–us! He told the disciples, and he also tells us, that in the same way the Father sent him to the mission of reconciling all people to him, Jesus sends us to that same mission.

A story is told of a woman who wanted peace in the world and peace in her heart, but was very frustrated. The world seemed to be falling apart. She would read the papers and get depressed.

One day she decided to go shopping, and she went into a mall and picked a store at random. She walked in and was surprised to see Jesus behind the counter. She knew it was Jesus because he looked just like the pictures she’d seen on holy cards and devotional pictures. She finally got up her nerve and asked, Excuse me, are you Jesus?

I am.

Do you work here? No, I own the store.

Oh, what do you sell here?

Just about everything, Jesus said. Feel free to walk up and down the aisles, make a list, see what it is you want and then come back and we’ll see what we can do for you.

She did just that, walked up and down the aisles. There was [for sale] peace on earth, no more war, no hunger or poverty, peace in families, no more drugs, harmony, clean air, careful use of resources. She wrote furiously. By the time she got back to the counter, she had a long list. Jesus took the list, skimmed through it, looked up at her and smiled. No problem. And then he bent down behind the counter and picked out all sorts of things, stood up and laid out the packets.

She asked, What are these?

Seed packets, Jesus said. This is a catalog store.

She said, You mean I don’t get the finished product?

No, this is a place of dreams. You come and see what it looks like, and I give you the seeds. You plant the seeds. You go home and nurture them and help them to grow and someone else reaps the benefits.

Oh, she said. And she left the store without buying anything.

Sometimes it is easier to dwell on saving peace than on the peace which compels us to “go into all the world” with the good news.

But he said “peace” to them once more…

III. Symbiotic Peace

Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”

This was the eighth day…a whole week later than the first time Jesus said, “peace” to them. This time he came back when Thomas was there. Thomas may have felt pretty second-class as a disciple. But Jesus came back and spoke the same wonderful word to him…. “Peace”!

We all come to Jesus at different times and in different walk–but his peace is still his peace. Symbiosis is: a cooperative, mutually beneficial relationship between two people or groups. [4] To be “symbiotically-peaceful” is to get along with each other in the kind of love God planned for us.

Three times Jesus said “peace” to his followers–

• Saving peace that covers our sins and saves us from hell

• Sending peace that commissions us to go bring people to the fold

  • Symbiotic peace that conjoins us and holds us together in a bond of brotherhood and the selfless love of God.

Together this saving, sending and symbiosis-making peace is the whole point of the resurrection. It is what Paul meant when he told us that God was in Christ to reconcile the whole world to himself– and has given us that very same mission.

Peace is the work of reconciliation–first I am reconciled to God with his saving peace, having been rescued from my sins. Then I take part in rescuing others because of his sending peace. And I am taught to live in symbiotic God-love, the peace that passes all understanding.

It is a matter of living in peace.

In Joseph Cardinal Bernardin’s little book, The Gift of Peace….there is a gripping and moving account of his meeting with Steven Cook, the young man who had accused Cardinal Bernardin of sexual abuse….In 1993, the accusation became public, and Cardinal Bernardin had to live in the blare of public curiosity, constant media attention and the deep pain of experiencing his credibility and integrity questioned by many people who simply assume that an accusation is the equivalent of guilt. And then, over time, Mr. Cook acknowledged that the charges were false, and the case was dropped. The Cardinal plunged back into his busy schedule but he kept thinking about Steven Cook, his accuser, now critically ill with AIDS, living alone.

So Cardinal Bernardin did the most remarkable thing. He located Mr. Cook and invited him to meet at a seminary outside Philadelphia.

Cardinal Bernardin explained that his only reason for wanting to see Mr. Cook was to tell him that he, Cardinal Bernardin, harbored no ill feelings. He wanted to pray with Mr. Cook.

Steven Cook accepted that invitation and said that he wanted to apologize for the hurt and embarrassment he had caused. When the meeting happened, Mr. Cook told his story, including his alienation from the church. They talked for awhile. The cardinal said what he had come to say, and he gave Mr. Cook an inscribed Bible and offered to celebrate Mass. Mr. Cook hesitated at first. Cardinal Bernardin took a 100-year-old chalice out of his case. Steven, this is a gift from a man I don’t even know. He asked me to use it to say Mass for you some day. Please, Steven responded tearfully, let’s celebrate Mass now.

Afterward, Steven Cook said, a big burden has been lifted from me today. I feel healed and very much at peace.

Cardinal Bernardin reflected, as we flew back to Chicago that evening, Father Donohue and I felt the lightness of spirit that an afternoon of grace brings to one’s life.

This is the sum total of what saving, sending and symbiotic peace means in the human family.

And so…brothers and sisters….take a moment and pass the peace; take this lifetime and pass the peace!


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


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

Proposing a New Image for Old Age

by Richard Pfeil

II Corinthians 4:7, 16-18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

Trust And Obey

by Paul Fritz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Gen. 11:27-12:20)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God’s will is determined by seven main criteria:

1). What the Bible tell us to do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where our Captain bids us go,

‘Tis not ours to murmur no;

He that gives the sword and shield

Chooses too the battlefield

Where we are to fight the foe.


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


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

TAKING INVENTORY

Psalm 32:1-11

by Joseph Mcculley

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

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

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

King David did this in Ps. 32.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See Psalm 6:2

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

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

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

Conviction (God’s heavy hand, v. 4)

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

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

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

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

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

Acknowledge your sins

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

Don’t hide your sins

Hide = to conceal by covering over

We must not try to hide our sins from God.

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

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

When God covers it, He remembers them no more.

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

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

Confess your sins

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

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

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

Biblical Principles:

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

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

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

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

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

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

You know the blessedness of having sins forgiven.

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

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

Time will run out.

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

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

You will experience security (v.7).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today, in Psalm 32 we have seen:

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

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

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

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

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

Take inventory of your life.

Ask Him to show you the sins in your life.

When He shows them to you-confess them.

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


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


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

ST. NICHOLAS: THE BELIEVER
Part 7 of 7

by Eric & Lana Elder

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

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

“…that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31).

Nicholas would want the same for you. He would want you to become what he was: a Believer.

If you’ve never done so, put your faith in Jesus Christ today, asking Him to forgive you of your sins and giving you the assurance that you will live with Him forever.

If you’ve already put your faith in Christ, let this story remind you just how precious your faith really is. Renew your commitment today to serve Christ as Nicholas served Him: with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength. God really will work all things together for good. As the Bible says:

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Wishing you a Very Merry Christmas!

With Love,
Eric Elder

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

by Eric & Lana Elder

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

PART 7

CHAPTER 37

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Little Ruthie returned from splashing in the water, followed closely by Dimitri and Anna Maria. Ruthie looked up at Nicholas, with his eyes closed and his hands raised towards heaven. Reaching out to him, she tugged at his clothes and asked, “Nicholas, have you ever seen God?”

Nicholas opened his eyes and looked down at Ruthie, then smiled up at Dimitri and Anna Maria. He looked out at the sunshine and the waves and the miles and miles of shoreline that stretched out in both directions before him. Turning his face back towards Ruthie, Nicholas said, “Yes, Ruthie, I have seen God. And the older I get, the more I see Him everywhere I look.”

Ruthie smiled, and Nicholas gave her a warm hug. Then just as quickly as she had run up to him, she ran off again to play.

Nicholas exchanged smiles with Dimitri and Anna Maria, then they, too, were off again, chasing Ruthie down the beach.

Nicholas looked one last time at the beautiful sea, then turned and headed towards home.

EPILOGUE

So now you know a little bit more about me–Dimitri Alexander–and my good friend, Nicholas. That was the last time I saw him, until this morning. He had asked if he could spend a few days alone, just him and the Lord that he loved. He said he had one more journey to prepare for. Anna Maria and I guessed, of course, just what he meant.

We knew he was probably getting ready to go home, to his real home, the one that Jesus had said He was going to prepare for each of us who believe in Him.

Nicholas had been looking forward to this trip his whole life. Not that he wanted to shortchange a single moment of the life that God that had given him here on earth, for he knew that this life had a uniquely important purpose as well, or else God would never have created it with such beauty and precision and marvelous mystery.

But as Nicholas’ life here on earth wound down, he said he was ready. He was ready to go, and he looked forward to everything that God had in store for him next.

So when Nicholas sent word this morning for Anna Maria and me and a few other friends to come and see him, we knew that the time had come.

As we came into this room, we found him lying on his bed, just as he is right now. He was breathing quietly and he motioned for us to come close. We couldn’t hold back our tears, and he didn’t try to stop us. He knew how hard it was to say goodbye to those we love. But he also made it easier for us. He smiled one more time and spoke softly, saying the same words that he had spoken when Ruthie had died many years before: “Either way we win,” he said. “Either way we win.”

“Yes, Nicholas,” I said. “Either way we win.” Then the room became quiet again. Nicholas closed his eyes and fell asleep for the last time. No one moved. No one said a word.

This man who lay before us slept as if it were just another night in his life. But we knew this was a holy moment. Nicholas had just entered into the presence of the Lord. As Nicholas had done throughout his life, we were sure he was doing right now in heaven, walking and talking and laughing with Jesus, but now they were face to face.

We could only imagine what Nicholas might be saying to Jesus. But we knew for certain what Jesus was saying to him: “Well done, My good and faithful servant. Well done. Come and share your Master’s happiness.”

I have no idea how history might remember Nicholas, if it will remember him at all. He was no emperor like Constantine. He was no tyrant like Diocletian. He was no orator like Arius. He was simply a Christian trying to live out his faith, touching one life at a time as best he knew how.

Nicholas may have wondered if his life made any difference. I know my answer, and now that you know his story, I’ll let you decide for yourself. In the end, I suppose only God really knows just how many lives were touched by this remarkable man.

But what I do know this: each of us has just one life to live. But if we live it right, as Nicholas did, one life is all we need.

CONCLUSION

by Eric Elder

What Nicholas didn’t know, and what no one who knew him could have possibly imagined, was just how far and wide this one life would reach–not only throughout the world, but also throughout the ages.

He was known to his parents as their beloved son, and to those in his city as their beloved bishop. But he has become known to us by another name: Saint Nicholas.

The biblical word for “saint” literally means “believer.” The Bible talks about the saints in Ephesus, the saints in Rome, the saints in Philippi and the saints in Jerusalem. Each time the word saints refers to the believers who were in those cities. So Nicholas rightly became known as “Saint Nicholas,” or to say it another way, “Nicholas, The Believer.” The Latin translation is “Santa Nicholas,” and in Dutch “Sinterklaas,” from which we get the name “Santa Claus.”

His good name and his good deeds have been an inspiration to so many, that the day he passed from this life to the next, on December 6th, 343 A.D., is still celebrated by people throughout the world.

Many legends have been told about Nicholas over the years, some giving him qualities that make him seem larger than life. But the reason that so many legends of any kind grow, including those told about Saint Nicholas, is often because the people about whom they’re told were larger than life themselves. They were people who were so good or so well-respected that every good deed becomes attributed to them, as if they had done them themselves.

While not all the stories attributed to Nicholas can be traced to the earliest records of his life, the histories that were recorded closest to the time period in which he lived do record many of the stories found in this book. To help you sort through them, here’s what we do know:

  • Nicholas was born sometime between 260-280 A.D. in the city of Patara, a city you can still visit today in modern-day Turkey, on the northern coast of the Mediterranean Sea.
  • Nicholas’ parents were devout Christians who died in a plague when Nicholas was young, leaving him with a sizable inheritance.
  • Nicholas made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and lived there for a number of years before returning to his home province of Lycia.
  • Nicholas traveled across the Mediterranean Sea in a ship that was caught in a storm. After praying, his ship reached its destination as if someone was miraculously holding the rudder steady. The rudder of a ship is also called a tiller, and sailors on the Mediterranean Sea today still wish each other luck by saying, “May Nicholas hold the tiller!”
  • When Nicholas returned from the Holy Land, he took up residence in the city of Myra, about 30 miles from his hometown of Patara. Nicholas became the bishop of Myra and lived there the rest of his life.
  • Nicholas secretly gave three gifts of gold on three separate occasions to a man whose daughters were to be sold into slavery because he had no money to offer to potential husbands as a dowry. The family discovered Nicholas was the mysterious donor on one of his attempts, which is why we know the story today. In this version of the story, we’ve added the twist of having Nicholas deliver the first two gifts, and Dimitri deliver the third, to capture the idea that many gifts were given back then, and are still given today, in the name of Saint Nicholas, who was known for such deeds. The theme of redemption is also so closely associated with this story from Saint Nicholas’ life, that if you pass by a pawn shop today, you will often see three golden balls in their logo, representing the three bags of gold that Nicholas gave to spare these girls from their unfortunate fate.
  • Nicholas pled for the lives of three innocent men who were unjustly condemned to death by a magistrate in Myra, taking the sword directly from the executioner’s hand.
  • “Nicholas, Bishop of Myra” is listed on some, but not all, of the historical documents which record those who attended the real Council of Nicaea, which was convened by Emperor Constantine in 325 A.D. One of the council’s main decisions addressed the divinity of Christ, resulting in the writing of the Nicene Creed–a creed which is still recited in many churches today. Some historians say that Nicholas’ name does not appear on all the record books of this council because of his banishment from the proceedings after striking Arius for denying that Christ was divine. Nicholas is, however, listed on at least five of these ancient record books, including the earliest known Greek manuscript of the event.
  • The Nicene Creed was adopted at the Council of Nicaea and has become one of the most widely used, brief statements of the Christian faith. The original version reads, in part, as translated from the Greek: “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father, the only-begotten; that is, of the essence of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; By whom all things were made both in heaven and on earth; Who for us men, and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate and was made man; He suffered, and the third day He rose again, ascended into heaven; From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead…” Subsequent versions, beginning as early as 381 A.D., have altered and clarified some of the original statements, resulting in a few similar, but not quite identical statements that are now in use.
  • Nicholas is recorded as having done much for the people of Myra, including securing grain from a ship traveling from Alexandria to Rome, which saved the people in that region from a famine.
  • Constantine’s mother, Helen, did visit the Holy Land and encouraged Constantine to build churches over the sites that she felt were most important to the Christian faith. The churches were built on the locations she had been shown by local believers where Jesus was born, and where Jesus died and rose again. Those churches, The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, have been destroyed and rebuilt many times over the years, but still in the same locations that Constantine’s mother, and likely Nicholas himself, had seen.
  • The date of Nicholas’ death has been established as December 6th, 343 A.D., and you can still visit his tomb in the modern city of Demre, Turkey, formerly known as Myra, in the province of Lycia. Nicholas’ bones were removed from the tomb in 1087 A.D. by men from Italy who feared that they might be destroyed or stolen, as the country was being invaded by others. The bones of Saint Nicholas were taken to the city of Bari, Italy, where they are still entombed today.

Of the many other stories told about or attributed to Nicholas, it’s hard to know with certainty which ones actually took place and which were simply attributed to him because of his already good and popular name. For instance, in the 12th century, stories began to surface of how Nicholas had brought three children back to life who had been brutally murdered. Even though the first recorded accounts of this story didn’t appear until more than 800 years after Nicholas’ death, this story is one of the most frequently associated with Saint Nicholas in religious artwork, featuring three young children being raised to life and standing next to Nicholas. We have included the essence of this story in this novel in the form of the three orphans who Nicholas met in the Holy Land and whom he helped to bring back to life–at least spiritually.

While all of these additional stories can’t be attributed to Nicholas with certainty, we can say that his life and his memory had such a profound effect throughout history that more churches throughout the world now bear the name of “Saint Nicholas” than any other figure, outside of the original disciples themselves.

Some people wonder if they can believe in Saint Nicholas or not. Nicholas probably wouldn’t care so much if you believed in him or not, but that you believed in the One in whom He believed, Jesus Christ.

A popular image today shows Saint Nicholas bowing down, his hat at his side, kneeling in front of baby Jesus in the manger. Although that scene could never have taken place in real life, for Saint Nicholas was born almost 300 years after the birth of Christ, the heart of that scene couldn’t be more accurate. Nicholas was a true believer in Jesus and he did worship, adore and live his life in service to the Christ.

Saint Nicholas would have never wanted his story to replace the story of Jesus in the manger, but he would have loved to have his story point to Jesus in the manger. And that’s why this book was written.

While the stories told here were selected from the many that have been told about Saint Nicholas over the years, these were told so that you might believe–not just in Nicholas, but in Jesus Christ, his Savior. These stories were written down for the same reason the Apostle John wrote down the stories he recorded about Jesus in the Bible. John said he wrote his stories:

“…that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31).

Nicholas would want the same for you. He would want you to become what he was: a Believer.

If you’ve never done so, put your faith in Jesus Christ today, asking Him to forgive you of your sins and giving you the assurance that you will live with Him forever.

If you’ve already put your faith in Christ, let this story remind you just how precious your faith really is. Renew your commitment today to serve Christ as Nicholas served Him: with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength. God really will work all things together for good. As the Bible says:

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Thanks for reading this special book about this special man, and I pray that your Christmas may be truly merry and bright. As Clement Moore said in his now famous poem, A Visit From St. Nicholas:

“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

Eric Elder

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Special thanks to Joe Wheeler and Jim Rosenthal whose book, St. Nicholas: A Closer Look at Christmas, provided much of the background material for this novella. Their research and documentation of the life of St. Nicholas, and the historical context in which he lived, was the most informative, authoritative and inspirational we found on the subject. Thank you, Joe and Jim, for helping to keep the spirit of St. Nicholas alive!

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Eric & Lana Elder have written numerous Christmas stories that have captivated and inspired thousands as part of an annual Christmas production known as The Bethlehem Walk.

St. Nicholas: The Believer marks the debut of their first full-length Christmas story. Eric & Lana have also collaborated on several other inspirational books including:

  • Two Weeks With God
  • What God Says About Sex
  • Exodus: Lessons In Freedom
  • Jesus: Lessons In Love
  • Acts: Lessons In Faith
  • Nehemiah: Lessons In Rebuilding
  • Ephesians: Lessons In Grace
  • Israel: Lessons From The Holy Land
  • Israel For Kids: Lessons From The Holy Land
  • The Top 20 Passages In The Bible
  • Romans: Lessons In Renewing Your Mind
  • and Making The Most Of The Darkness

To order or learn more, please visit:  www.InspiringBooks.com

Thanks for reading and Merry Christmas!

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

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

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

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

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


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


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

ST. NICHOLAS: THE BELIEVER
Part 6 of 7

by Eric & Lana Elder

 

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

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

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

Enjoy!
Eric

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

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

by Eric & Lana Elder

PART 6

CHAPTER 31

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER 32

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER 33

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arius stopped. This breach of protocol was unprecedented.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER 34

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER 35

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

Nicholas looked up with interest.

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

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

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

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

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

Nicholas nodded.

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

Nicholas nodded.

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

Nicholas nodded again.

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

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

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

Nicholas continued to listen carefully.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER 36

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be concluded…tomorrow!

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

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


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


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

ST. NICHOLAS: THE BELIEVER
Part 5 of 7

by Eric & Lana Elder

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

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

by Eric & Lana Elder

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

PART 5

CHAPTER 25

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER 26

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER 27

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER 28

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER 29

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER 30

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

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

“Home?” Nicholas said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued…next week!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Riding Horses in Patara, Turkey, April 2015

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


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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- 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 I’m posting Part 4 of 7 of my book, St. Nicholas: The Believer. These chapters include one of the most memorable stories from Nicholas’ life: saving three girls from a devastating fate. Even if you haven’t read the other parts, you can read this one today and be blessed.

Also, I’ve posted a 90-second video at the end of this message which I shot a few years ago inside the St. Nicholas Church in Demre (Myra), Turkey, where Nicholas’s bones were first entombed. In the video, you’ll not only see this ancient church, but you’ll hear how walking into the church has impacted me today.

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

by Eric & Lana Elder

Click here to listen to Part 4 of the Audiobook, St. Nicholas: The Believer

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

Here are a few pictures inside the St. Nicholas Church in Myra (present-day Demre), Turkey, which was has been built and rebuilt over the spot where St Nicholas’ bones were first entombed. The pictures here 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.

And here’s a 90-second video I shot of the church itself and how it impacted me when I first walked into it.

Click here to see a 90-second video of the Church of St. Nicholas in Myra, Turkey


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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

 
Today I’m publishing Part 3 of St. Nicholas: The Believer, a new story for Christmas based on the old story of St. Nicholas. My hope in writing and publishing this story for free online is to help rekindle your faith in Christ in the days leading up to Christmas.

If you missed parts 1 and 2, you can still catch up at this link. For those who would rather listen than read, here’s a link to listen to Part 3:

Click here to listen to Part 3 of the Audiobook, St. Nicholas: The Believer.

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

And here are some pictures my daughter and I took of the actual city of Myra (today known as Demre) on the coast of Turkey where the real St. Nicholas lived and ministered in the 3rd and 4th centuries A.D. You can see here some rock tombs, an archway under a theater, and the entrances and exits of the same theater from behind the stage.

And here’s a 30-second video of the famous rock tombs of Myra, which were carved into the mountainside several hundred years before Nicholas’ arrival there.

rock-tombs-click-to-play

Click here to see the Rock Tombs in Myra, Turkey



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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 my book, St. Nicholas: The Believer. (If you missed Part 1 from last week, you can still catch up at this link.) I’m posting this series as a way to help you keep Christ in Christmas.

I’m also including a video at the end of today’s post to give you a glimpse inside the real Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. This is the same spot which has been visited by countless people for nearly 2 millennia as the birthplace of the most significant figure in human history: Jesus Christ. Enjoy!

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

by Eric & Lana Elder

Click here to listen to Part 2 of the Audiobook, St. Nicholas: The Believer.

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

 

Here are a few pictures of the Holy Land (taken by my daughter, Makari on a trip we took there a few years ago): 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.

And here’s a short video clip I took while visiting Bethlehem, showing the star on the ground which has been shown to believers since the days of St. Nicholas as the location of the stable where Jesus was born. A church was first built over this spot just a few dozen years after the real St. Nicholas visited there.

Click here to see inside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem


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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

 
For those of you who are new to “This Day’s Thought from The Ranch,” I’d like to introduce you to our annual 6-week series of messages leading up to Christmas! Starting today and continuing up to Christmas Day, I’ll be posting, as a series, a special Christmas novella my late wife and I have written about the life of the real St. Nicholas who lived in the 3rd and 4th centuries A.D.

This is not just a story, but a series of 40 inspirational messages meant to give you a boost in your faith in Christ–just in time for the holidays. We often get so busy and distracted that my hope is you can use these short messages to help you focus on the most important aspect of Christmas–the birth of our precious Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

I hope you’ll read along with me this new story for Christmas, based on the old story of St. Nicholas, a man whose faith in Christ inspired him to do all kinds of good, in spite of significant threats and opposition, which earned him his now-famous, international reputation as Jolly Old Saint Nick. It is his faith, however, and the practical way that he lived out his faith, that makes his story so compelling.

If you’ve never heard his story, I’m excited to introduce it to you. If you’ve already heard his story, I’m excited to introduce it to you this special telling of it, which, I believe, may just be the most human telling of the story of St. Nicholas you’ll have ever heard.

As a special treat, at the end of each Sunday post, I’m including a brief video and a few pictures of the places where the real St. Nicholas lived and ministered nearly 1700 years ago, from a trip I took to those places just 2 years ago. I hope these help bring this story to life for you, just like visiting the Holy Land can bring to life the stories about Christ Himself.

Please note that you can also LISTEN to this entire story in an audio version I’ve recorded. I’ve heard from several people that they enjoy listening to this story from start to finish as a special way to enjoy the holidays. If you’d like to listen, I’ll post the link to each Sunday’s post here at the beginning of the story so you can listen if you’d prefer!

Without further adieu, I present to you, the story of…

 

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

by Eric & Lana Elder

(Click here to listen to Part 1 or keep reading below!)

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 Day. Or if you’d like to use this book as a daily devotional, you can read one chapter a day for the next 37 days!

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

The photos below (taken by my daughter, Makari) feature the ancient Roman theater, the main street and the parliament building in Patara, Turkey, the birthplace of St. Nicholas.

patara-theater-mainstreet-parliament-by-makari-elder-april-2015

Click here to see a 2-minute video of the Patara Theater in Turkey.

patara-theater-click-to-play


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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- Amber Shellac


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

AMBER SHELLAC
The Conclusion of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to an excerpt from Psalm 119 here:
Psalm 119, read by Lana Elder, with Maurice Ravel’s “Bolero,” played by Marilyn Elder Byrnes

 

Some stories take time to tell. I don’t mean they’re long stories. I mean they’re stories that take a long time before you can tell them.

Today, I’d like to tell you one of those stories, a story that started five years ago this month. And through this story, I hope to encourage you to keep talking to God in prayer every day for the rest of your life. God loves hearing what’s on your heart, and He has so much He wants to say to you.

I’ve come to really love my conversations with God, every day, all through the day. I feel like I could have written this verse from Psalm 119 that says:

“How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Psalm 119:103).

Even His words that are as simple as “Amber Shellac.”

One of the reasons I’ve waited to tell this story is because it involves my wife Lana’s casket. It’s not something I could talk about right then, as there were too many other important things going on. But I’d like to share it now as a way to show how intimacy with God can be achieved over time.

As the final days of Lana’s life here on earth drew near, it became clear to us that apart from a miraculous intervention from God, Lana was about to experience what we all will experience at some point in our lives: the passing from this life to the next.

Lana and I talked about many things in those final days, some of which involved her wishes for her funeral, including her casket. She didn’t want anything elaborate–just a plain wooden box.

She remembered seeing Pope John Paul II’s funeral on TV about 10 years earlier, and could still see the image in her mind of the plain wooden casket in which he was carried through the streets.

His casket was made of simple wood in a trapezoidal shape. I found a picture of it online and showed it to Lana. She said: “That’s it. That’s exactly what I want.”



John Paul II’s Simple Casket

I called around locally to see if I could find one, but couldn’t. So I searched online and found a man in Provo, Utah, who makes simple wooden caskets just like Lana was wanting.

When I called to talk about our situation, he said he could get one to us within a few days if need be, adding that some people order them years ahead of time just to make it easier for others so there’s one less decision they have to make later. Lana thought that was a good idea–and if she didn’t have to use it for years, all the better!

With a resolve of strength that only God can give for a moment like that, I placed the order, not sure if we’d be using it within days or, if a miracle occurred, getting to save it away for years. Sadly, it was only a matter of days. Lana passed away on November 15, 2012, and her casket arrived the following day.

I had called a friend when I placed the order, a friend who refinishes furniture, to ask if, when the casket arrived, he could refinish it in a style that matched the pope’s casket, as it was shipping to us unfinished. He agreed. So when the casket arrived, he picked it up for me at the shipping office and took it back to his shop.


Unfinished Casket

Now under a deadline to get it ready in time for the funeral, my friend went to the hardware store to buy some stain and finish. But as he looked at all of the options, none of them seemed quite right. He considered all kinds of stains, from cherry to walnut to pine, but each one seemed off for some reason. He walked out of the hardware store with one of the options in his hand, but feeling it just wasn’t right. Then it came to him, as if out of the blue: “Amber Shellac!”

He had used it for projects in the past, and he KNEW that this was the answer to the riddle he couldn’t solve. Amber Shellac would be the perfect finish! He walked back into the store, found the shellac, and left again knowing he had found the solution. He coated the casket in several thin layers of Amber Shellac, and got it done just in time for the funeral.


Lana’s Casket with Amber Shellac

Lana’s casket was perfect. It was just what she wanted, and just what seemed perfectly fitting for her life: simple, pure, and beautiful. It became the centerpiece of those difficult hours as my family and I stood next to it during the visitation and funeral. From time to time during the visitation, as people came through to talk and pray and offer their condolences, I would reach out and stroke the soft, smooth wood of Lana’s casket. It was the closest I could get to caressing Lana herself.

I loved Lana’s casket, and I know Lana would have loved it, too. We both loved creating and refinishing furniture ourselves. I have built many things from scratch, including the crib that each of our children slept in as infants and a triple bunk bed each of them used at various times as they got older. Lana refinished everything from desks and tables and rocking chairs to all the wooden trim in nearly every room of our house.

How does this relate to my intimacy with God? That brings us to this week, five years later.

I’ve been trying to finish a special project this week, creating a prayer room in our house that Lana had envisioned in our then-unfinished attic. We began work on it before she got sick, with family and friends helping us to begin the conversion.

But when Lana got sick, we had to stop our work. When she passed away, I simply lost heart and could hardly bear to think about finishing the room she had envisioned. I would start, then have to stop again. Then start, then stop again.

This year, however, one of the goals I set for myself was to finish the work on the attic that we had started all those years ago. With the help again of some encouraging family and friends, I was able to make progress and see it take final shape before my eyes. I recently added what for me was the pièce de résistance, the pinnacle of this special space: a beautiful fireplace, something which I’ve always wanted in this home, but have never had.

As I lit the fireplace for the first time a few weeks ago, I praised God that this project which has been so many years in the making was nearly finished. All I needed now was to build a wooden frame and mantel over the fireplace to finish it off.

Loving woodworking and all the options that are available to me, I would normally relish thinking through what kind of wood I would choose and the finish that would go on it. But like a woman in labor, I was also at the point where I just wanted to deliver this baby! I said, “God, help me!” as much out of desperation as out of a true prayer that I believed He would answer.

But as soon as I said, “God, help me!” He did!

I remembered Lana’s casket, and the answer God had given my friend five years earlier as he was walking out of the hardware store feeling overwhelmed with options, none of which seemed quite right. And just as God’s answer came to my friend as if out of the blue, it came to me the same way, and I knew it was right! The perfect answer to my prayer for help: “Amber Shellac!”

Just last night, after days of designing and cutting and sanding the woodwork around the fireplace, I brushed on my first coat of several to come of Amber Shellac–a beautiful and perfect finishing touch to this project that began so many years ago. I am SO looking forward to sitting in this new space soon, with the fireplace going on a cold winter day and seeking God still more with all of my heart.


My Fireplace after the first coat of Amber Shellac

It’s taken many years–and many prayers–to get to this place. But none of those years and none of those prayers have been wasted, even when I felt like giving up so many times along the way. Those years and those prayers have, in fact, been building an intimacy between God and me that I’m not sure could have been built any other way.

As John Ortberg says in his latest book on the topic of intimacy (and which is subtitled Getting Real about Getting Close):

“Intimacy isn’t built on grand, elaborate gestures. It doesn’t have to be something deep or dramatic–an elaborate, romantic getaway, a dramatic self-disclosure, or sentimental words. Rather, it’s made up of a thousand, everyday moments of interaction” (p. 7).

The same applies to our intimacy with God. Sometimes we think we need to get away for a “special” time of prayer with God to really get close to Him. And there is value and purpose in doing that from time to time. But our intimacy with God isn’t built on just those “special” times. It’s built, rather, on a thousand, everyday moments of interaction with Him–like calling out for help with a woodworking decision and hearing the words: “Amber Shellac!”

I want to encourage you today, and every day, to take time in prayer with God. Take time to talk to Him. Take time to interact with Him, building your intimacy with Him, moment by precious  moment.

I want to encourage you to keep “showing up.” Keep walking forward. Keep getting up, again and again. For there’s great value in even those little things that you do to keep your faith on track. As my daughter, Karis, said this week in a talk she gave to a group of people at our church who are going through a difficult season in their lives:

“I was telling a friend recently how proud I was of him for staying steadfast when it would be easy to walk away, for declaring that God will always provide, even when situations aren’t easy. I want to start celebrating people for staying planted, for staying steadfast in the midst of storms. We usually celebrate people when they do these great things for the Lord but we don’t always celebrate when people stay, when they show up when it’d be easy to walk away, and I want to start doing that more often because I believe that staying is just as valuable. And I want to tell you that tonight, I’m so proud of you for staying. For coming and hearing this message, for choosing to stay in the house of God, and for placing yourself in a position to hear from Him.” (If you need some encouragement for a difficult season you’re going through in life, you can watch the rest of Karis’s 12-minute message at this link.)

Today, I want to tell you the same. I’m proud of you for reading this message. I’m proud of you for coming back to God again and again. I’m proud of you for sticking it out with Him, no matter what, and returning to Him over and over, even when it might have been easier to walk away.

I hope and pray that this study of the Book of Psalms has sparked your interest in going further with God–further than you’ve ever gone before–so that you can truly enjoy fuller, deeper and richer conversations with Him. May these words be true about your conversations with Him from now on and forevermore:

“How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Psalm 119:103).

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for speaking to us in little ways and little words, like “Amber Shellac,” words which may not mean much to others, but mean so much to us. Lord, thank You for wanting to have a conversation with us, as much as, and even more than, we sometimes want to have one with You. I pray today that You would spark in our hearts a love for You and Your Word that will carry us through every day ahead, for the rest of our lives.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Eric Elder

Here’s the link again if you’d like to listen to an excerpt from Psalm 119:
Psalm 119:9-16, read by Lana Elder, with Maurice Ravel’s “Bolero,” played by Marilyn Elder Byrnes


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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- Lifelong Prayers- Psalm 150


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

LIFELONG PRAYERS – PSALM 150
Lesson 30 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 150, read by Lana Elder, with George Frideric Handel’s “Gigue,” played by Bo Elder

 

Maybe you’ve heard about the wife who told her husband: “You haven’t told me you love me in years!”

To which her husband replied: “I told you I love you on our wedding day, and if that ever changes I’ll let you know.”

Some people approach their relationship with God the same way. Maybe they got saved one day many years ago, but they rarely, if ever, tell Him how much they love Him anymore.

Or maybe they’ve put off talking to God their entire lives, hoping to do all the living they can before coming to Him. They think “I’m going to live the way I want to live until the last moment, then I’ll put my faith in God.”

What they don’t realize is that waiting like this would be like waiting to fall in love until the last moment of life. They’d be missing out on so much “life” that they could have had all along the way.

Today, I’d like to encourage you to make a lifelong commitment to prayer with God. As long as you still have breath, I hope you’ll still be praising the Lord.

As the final line of Psalm 150–the final psalm in the book of Psalms–says:

“Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord” (Psalm 150:6).

As long as you have breath, praise the Lord.

Praise Him wherever you go. Praise Him for His acts of power. Praise Him for His surpassing greatness. Praise Him with instruments and dancing. Just say it, even now: Praise the Lord!

Psalm 150 is an exuberant psalm, filled with praises to God from the first word to the last. Listen to the joy that is expressed in this psalm:

“Praise the Lord. Praise God in His sanctuary; praise Him in His mighty heavens.
Praise Him for His acts of power; praise Him for His surpassing greatness.
Praise Him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise Him with the harp and lyre,
praise Him with tambourine and dancing, praise Him with the strings and flute,
praise Him with the clash of cymbals, praise Him with resounding cymbals.
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord.”
Psalm 150:1-6

The beauty of making a commitment to lifelong prayer with God is that your conversations with Him will never end–not even when you take your last breath here on earth.

My wife was interviewed just a few weeks before her imminent passing into heaven.  The interviewer said: “Lana, you don’t seem fearful of death. Why is that?”

Lana said: “I’m actually not fearful of death, and the only thing I can attribute it to is just having followed God for so long, waking up and talking to Him each day, throughout the day, He’s helped me through many things. And since I am talking to Him all day long, death will be just like meeting Him and talking to Him all day long.”

Lana’s conversations with God didn’t end when she took her last breath, and they have continued ever since–now face-to-face.

What a glorious thing to have a lifelong conversation with God here on earth that lasts into eternity.

I have some friends who, after years of knowing them, I still feel like I’m only now really getting to know them. I suppose that’s one of the reasons God promises to give us an eternity with Him–it will simply take that long for us to even come close to knowing Him the way we’d want to know Him.

After 30 years of following God with all of my heart, soul and mind, I’m still discovering new things about Him nearly every day–when reading His Word, when interacting with His people, when experiencing a nuance about His grace or forgiveness or love that I’ve never experienced before. I’m continually surprised that there’s still more to learn, more to know, and more to understand about Him and this amazing life He’s given us.

As I close today, I’d like to remind you of one of my favorite “breathy” prayers, a prayer that is little more than a breath. I mentioned this back in Lesson 15, half-way through this study, and it’s worth mentioning again as we talk about about “letting everything that has breath praise the Lord.”

The prayer is simply this: “Halal Yah!”

It’s Hebrew for “Praise Yahweh,” or “Praise the Lord.” I call it a “breathy” prayer because there are no hard consonants in the phrase. When you say it out loud, you’re just using your breath to say a prayer of praise to God. “Halal Yah!” There are no harsh sounds, no guttural stops in the middle, just a gentle glide of your tongue to the front of your mouth to form the “l” sounds. Otherwise, it’s just pure breath.

If you have breath today, try praying this simple breathy prayer yourself: “Halal Yah!”

Say it a few times, over and over. Breathe in deeply of the breath of this life that God has given you today, then breathe out a prayer of praise by saying: “Halal Yah!”

Let this prayer serve as an exclamation point at the end of everything else you have to say to Him, just as the last words of Psalm 150 serve as an exclamation point at the end of everything else that’s been said in the book of Psalms:

“Let everything that has breath praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!”

Take a deep breath, then say it with me: “Halal Yah! Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!”

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for letting us come to You today and every day with praises on our lips to You. Thank You for the breath You’ve given us today, whether it’s easy to take those breaths or, for some, perhaps a little harder today than on other days. Yet every day we have breath is a day more that we can still praise You. So we praise You today while we still have breath. Hallal Yah! And Lord, when that finally day comes when we take our last breath here on earth, let us step into eternity with You with praises on our lips, then let us breathe deeply of that Your heavenly air so we can keep on praising You forever. Thank You, Lord, for inviting us into a conversation that will never end.  Halal Yah! Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord! In Jesus’ name, Amen.

P.S. Next week, we’ll conclude this series with a special look at one of the most intimate (and longest) passages in the whole Bible, Psalm 119. Don’t miss it!

Eric Elder

Here’s a link to listen to today’s psalm again:
Psalm 150, read by Lana Elder, with George Frideric Handel’s “Gigue,” played by Bo Elder

And here’s a link to our reading plan for the book of psalms:
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms


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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- Guiding Prayers- Psalm 143

(Sorry for the delay in this week’s message. But as you’ll read in the three stories below, I pray that it comes to you at just the right place and at just the right time. Eric)


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

GUIDING PRAYERS – PSALM 143
Lesson 29 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 143, read by Lana Elder, with C.P.E. Bach’s “Solfeggietto,” played by Eric Elder

 

If you need guidance in your life, wondering which way you should go, let me encourage you to pray a prayer that David prayed in Psalm 143:

“Show me the way I should go,
for to You I lift up my soul….
Teach me to do Your will, for You are my God;
may Your good Spirit lead me on level ground” (vv. 8b, 10).

I was asking God to do this very thing a few weeks ago–to show me the way I should go. (I seem to be asking God to do this nearly every day! But for today, I want to tell you three ways God answered my prayers recently.)

I was on a trip out west with my youngest daughter, as we were visiting my middle daughter for a few days in California. There were several things we planned to do on our trip, but there were a few things we really dreamed we could do, but they seemed nearly impossible.

As a backdrop for Story #1, my youngest daughter is a huge fan of America’s Got Talent. She’s been watching the show all season, and when she found out we were going to be in LA the same week as the filming of the final episode of the show, she wondered if she might be able to see the show and some of the performers she had been watching all year.

I checked into the idea, but the show was already sold out. A few days into our trip, however, I was praying that God would do something special for her–and He did! Even though we couldn’t see the finals of the show, we decided to go down to Hollywood the day afterward to see some of the sites.

We parked at a friend’s house near downtown Hollywood and started walking towards the area we wanted to see. About five minutes into our 15-minute walk to our destination, my daughter noticed a group of guys walking towards us on the other side of the street. She looked at me and said, “Dad, that’s Light Balance, the dance group I’ve been watching on TV!”

I looked closer at the guys across the street and saw they were all wearing matching T-shirts with the letters “LB” printed on them. And just as we were looking at them, they looked as us! There was no one else on either side of the street, and no cars coming in either direction. It was just us and them!

I told my daughter to wave and say “Hi” since they were already looking at us, and she did. They all stopped and waved back!

We crossed the street, said hello in person, and were able to tell them how much we liked watching their performances all season. We asked if we could take a picture with them, which they were very happy to do.

One of them took a picture of us all, we said goodbye, and went on our way–my heart rejoicing! Not because I got to meet Light Balance, although I was very happy to meet them! My heart was rejoicing because God had answered my prayer to do something special for my daughter. It was one of the highlights of our trip, and it felt like God had specifically guided us to that very spot at that very point in time.


“Light Balance” with my daughter and me

You might think this story is just coincidental, and I might, too, except for story #2.

My middle daughter, who lives in LA, really loves a famous singer–and she has for most of her life. One of her hopes has been to meet him someday, to truly hang out and be genuine friends. During our time with her, I had been praying that God would fulfill some of the special desires that she’s had on her heart as an encouragement to her that she’s at the right place at the right time.

She often attends a mid-week service at a church in LA, so we all went together for the night. The church was meeting that week in a hotel ballroom in Beverly Hills because their normal venue was being used for something else that night.

Just before the service started, the singer she has loved for so long happened to walk in and sit down less than 30 feet away from us!

I told her that God had truly put her in the right place at the right time, and that He would continue to do so as she just kept staying close to Him. Who knew, I said, what God might bring about?

Two weeks later, she happened to be at an event for the church, and not only was this singer there, too, but they had a chance to chat and even share a laugh together about something they both thought was hysterical! It was a brief encounter, but I pray it is the first of many such encounters that will continue to fulfill one of the desires that has been on her heart for many, many years.


Mid-week service in Beverly Hills

You might consider this a chance encounter, too, but the evidence in my mind that it was God who was leading our steps just kept mounting with story #3.

I had a desire on my heart that week in LA, too. I wanted to visit a particular place I had never visited before: a beach about an hour away from where my daughter lived. I didn’t think we’d have time to go there, so I didn’t mention it. I just asked God that if there were a way, that He would make it possible.

As the days passed, although it looked like it probably wouldn’t work out, I just kept it close to my heart, trusting Him with whatever happened.

And then it happened! I had planned to see another friend who lived there in LA, but his schedule was tight as he was headed out for the weekend. He said he could get together, but it would really help him out if I could give him a ride afterward to a boat dock where he was going to be taking an express boat to his next destination. I looked on the map to see where he needed me to take him, and it was 2 miles from the very place I had been wanting to visit!

I hadn’t mentioned it to him. I hadn’t mentioned it to my daughters. I had only mentioned it to God in my prayers–a prayer that I thought would be nearly impossible to answer!

I was able to visit my friend, drop him off at the dock, then spend a few precious hours in the spot I only dreamed might possible just a few days earlier! God had done it again, guiding and directing to the right place at the right time.


A walk on the beach

Individually, any of these stories might seem random or coincidental. But collectively, the fact that each story represented each of the different desires on our hearts and different answers to our prayers–any one of which seemed fairly unlikely and nearly impossible–these stories encouraged me that God really does answer our prayers for guidance and direction. He really can put us in the right place at the right time to fulfill His will as well as our desires.

Maybe you feel dismayed today that God hasn’t been answering YOUR prayers. If so, you’re not alone. Even David felt this way as he began his prayers for guidance to God:

“O Lord, hear my prayer, listen to my cry for mercy;
in Your faithfulness and righteousness come to my relief…
my spirit grows faint within me; my heart within me is dismayed…
I spread out my hands to You; my soul thirsts for You like a parched land.
Answer me quickly, O Lord; my spirit fails.
Do not hide Your face from me or I will be like those who go down to the pit.
Let the morning bring me word of Your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in You”  (vv. 1, 4, 6-8a).

If that’s you, today, let me encourage you to keep praying the rest of David’s prayer, too, for God’s guidance and direction in your life.

“Show me the way I should go,
for to You I lift up my soul….
Teach me to do Your will, for You are my God;
may Your good Spirit lead me on level ground” (vv. 8, 10).

Just as God answered David’s prayers 3,000 years ago, and just as God answered my prayers a few weeks ago, I trust and pray that God will answer your prayers– even today.

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for letting us come to You with our prayers for guidance and direction. Thank You for making a way where the way seems nearly impossible. Thank You for Your love, Your faithfulness, and Your encouragement to us to keep praying for guidance and direction, knowing that You care about even the smallest details of our lives. Show us the way to go. Lead us by Your Holy Spirit. Guide us into Your perfect will for our lives, today and forevermore. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Eric Elder

Here’s a link to listen to today’s psalm again:
Psalm 143, read by Lana Elder, with C.P.E. Bach’s “Solfeggietto,” played by Eric Elder

And here’s a link to our reading plan for the book of psalms for 2017:
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms


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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- Searching Prayers- Psalm 139


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

SEARCHING PRAYERS – PSALM 139
Lesson 28 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 139, read by Lana Elder, with Felix Mendelssohn’s “Venetian Boat Song,” played by Eric Elder

 

One of the most intimate moments I’ve ever had in a conversation with God came while reading today’s psalm, Psalm 139.

I was on a ski trip with my family in northern Illinois. I had just quit my secular job to go into full-time ministry. I had quit my job by faith, knowing that God had called me to do it, but not because I had anything particular lined up ahead of time to do next. I only knew that God wanted me to seek Him, day by day, and to stay as close as possible to Him.

I had no special resources tucked away for this time without a job: only about 10 days’ worth of salary in the bank and three kids at home. Because we had planned this trip months in advance with another family and had already paid for it, we decided to go, but I was extra nervous about the idea of skiing as I had also given up my health insurance when I quit. If any of us had any kind of accident on the slopes, we would be completely on our own.

When it came time to ski, I sent my family with the other family to the hills, but I stayed back at the rental house to pray. Although I felt as close to God as I had ever been, my level of anxiety about the future was equally high.

As I began to pray, God showed me my next step–and it petrified me. He wanted me to take the 10 days’ worth of salary in the bank and invest it in a trip to Israel, a country I had never visited before, and a country I had never even considered visiting before. I felt stretched in my faith beyond anything I had ever known before, and I thought I would break. “This couldn’t really be what God is saying, is it?” I thought.

I laid down on the couch to take a break from praying when God spoke to my heart in a way that I can only describe as very personal. He knew my anxiety level was at an all-time high, and He wanted to reassure me that yes, He was with me in this, too. He said, very quietly, “Open your Bible, Eric, and read the third line down.”

“Open it to where?” I thought.

“Just open it,” He said, “and look at the third line down.”

“Are you serious, God? This is not a game! This is not Bible roulette!”

But not knowing what else to do, I did what I felt He was saying. I opened my Bible, still lying down on the couch, and looked at the passage on the page. It began with these words:

“O Lord, You have searched me and You know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise; You perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down; You are familiar with all my ways” (vv. 1-3).

There I was, lying down on the couch, and as I read the third line down, two words leapt out as if they were emblazoned with fire, supported by all the other words I had just read:

“You discern my going out and my LYING DOWN; You are familiar with all my ways.”

It wasn’t just “like” God was speaking to me, God WAS speaking to me! If you’ve ever had a moment where you know that you know that God is real, that He is right there with you, and that He has something very, very important to say to you, this was that kind of moment.

Immediately I was flooded with peace. With comfort. With full trust, knowing that as long as I stayed close to God, He would lead me and walk me through anything He ever called me to do.

As I read the rest of the psalm, I saw that God knew me better than I could ever know myself, that there was nothing hidden from Him, and that there was no where I could go where He would not come with me.

Over the following days and weeks, I followed God’s leading day by day, going to Israel, seeing Him work and walk with me in ways He had never done before, beginning the ministry that I am still doing today, 22 years later (but that’s a story that would take a whole ‘nother book).

I share this story with you before sharing the rest of Psalm 139 with you because I want you to know that God is with you just as much as He is with me. He knows your heart as well as He knows mine.

Although God highlighted two words for me that day in a way that made them leap off the page and into my heart, the experience served to underscore the truth of EVERY WORD in Psalm 139. EVERY WORD in the psalm is true, and EVERY WORD in it applies equally to you as it does to me.

With that in mind, if you’re anxious about today, if you’re unsure about what God is calling you to do next, or if you’re needing some encouragement that God is really with you–and will be with you no matter where you are or what you do–read the following words from Psalm 139 and let them sink deep into your Spirit. Invite God to search your heart and know your anxious thoughts, trusting that He can and will lead you in THE WAY everlasting, if you will stay as close to Him as possible:

“O Lord, You have searched me and You know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise; You perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down; You are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue You know it completely, O Lord.
You hem me in behind and before; You have laid Your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.

Where can I go from Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, You are there; if I make my bed in the depths, You are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there Your hand will guide me, Your right hand will hold me fast.

If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,’
even the darkness will not be dark to You; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to You.
For You created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from You when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,
Your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be.
How precious to me are Your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!
Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand. When I awake, I am still with You.

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
(Psalm 139:1-18, 23-24)

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for knowing us so deeply, so intimately. Thank You that there is nowhere on earth, or off the earth, that we could go and NOT have you with us. Lord, You know us better than anyone else knows us, better even than we know ourselves. Search us, O God, and know our hearts; test us and know our anxious thoughts. Reveal to us anything that we would ever need to know, anything that is not right and needs to be corrected, and lead us in the way everlasting, the way that leads to an abundant life in every possible area of our lives.  In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

Eric Elder

Here’s a link to listen to today’s psalm again:
Psalm 139, read by Lana Elder, with Felix Mendelssohn’s “Venetian Boat Song,” played by Eric Elder

And here’s a link to our reading plan for the book of psalms for 2017:
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms


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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- Quieting Prayers- Psalm 131


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

QUIETING PRAYERS – PSALM 131
Lesson 27 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 131, read by Lana Elder, with Frederic Chopin’s “Prelude in A,” played by Josiah Elder

Susanna Wesley had 19 children, two of whom went on to found the Methodist church. How did she ever find a place to spend quiet time with God?

Easy! She sat in a chair and threw her apron over her head! Her children knew not to disturb her during her prayer time.

My  late wife Lana and I had six children. Lana was so encouraged when she heard that story about Susanna Wesley that she decided she could make a quiet place in our home to meet with God, too (she didn’t have an apron). She cleaned out a 2-1/2 by 2-1/2 square foot space in our closet and laid some blankets on the floor to make it soft. She added a box of tissues, some worship music, and a bag of Nestle Caramel Treasures.

Whenever she needed some quiet time, she would go into her prayer closet, close the door, and put on her music. She read her Bible, sang, prayed, laughed, cried and even danced in that little space. She found it quieted her soul and gave her strength to go on with the day. If you’d like to hear a message she recorded on why she created this special space and how it helped her in her walk with God, click here: My Prayer Closet.

Today’s Psalm contains a similar theme. In Psalm 131, David says that he “stilled and quieted his soul.” Listen to his words in this, one of the shortest psalms in the Bible:

“My heart is not proud, O Lord,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
But I have stilled and quieted my soul;
like a weaned child with its mother,
like a weaned child is my soul within me.
O Israel, put your hope in the Lord
both now and forevermore” (Psalm 131:1-3).

Although this is a short psalm, it packs a lot of wisdom into those three short verses about quieting your soul.

David begins by saying, “my heart is not proud” and “my eyes are not haughty.” It’s amazing how pride can cause our souls to become stressed or distressed.

When we worry about how we’ll look in the eyes of others, we can quickly lose our peace. Our minds become preoccupied with how to avoid being thought of as “less than” or “a failure” or “dumb.” We spend money we don’t have or eat more than we should to either impress others or make ourselves feel better. We often end up on losing more than we gain, digging ourselves into even deeper difficulties.

If we can take a cue from David instead, we would pray that our hearts would not be proud and our eyes would not be haughty. With nothing to lose in terms of trying to impress others, we can save ourselves from a great deal of grief. By embracing who we are, and not who we aren’t, we can find peace and contentment that can’t be found in any other way.

David goes on to say, “I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.” This may sound anathema in today’s culture, but sometimes we need to lay down our striving for “great things,” in order to gain something even greater: our peace. With so much to do and so much to accomplish, we sometimes miss the joy of doing those things along the way. I’m all for trying to make the most out of life, but that also means stopping from time to time and asking God what His agenda is for you each day.

I’ve sometimes been stunned, when praying through my list of things to do, that God will highlight only one of them for me to work on for that particular day. “Just do this one thing,” God seems to be saying, “and you can have the rest of the day to do whatever else you want.” I’ve found it incredibly freeing, both mentally and physically, to let God set my agenda for the day.

Then David says those words I love the most in this psalm: “But I have stilled and quieted my soul;
like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me.”

One of the most peaceful things I’ve ever witnessed in my life is my wife nursing our children. She would often nurse them for months and even years until they no longer felt the need to nurse. They knew they could come to their mother any time for the peace and comfort of being held in her arms, even after they had been weaned. That calm and peaceful feeling they had while resting in their mother’s arms was available to them long after the nursing was over. There is, perhaps, no picture in my mind that is more peaceful.

How can we have that kind of peace with God? By saying “quieting” prayers. By coming to Him not only when we have a great need, but even at those times when we simply want to rest in His arms, to let Him hold onto us, to let Him pull us in close. Even as I write this, I’m encouraging myself to just let God hold onto me, calming me with His peace. I encourage you to do the same, just like David encouraged his fellow Israelites to do with God in the last words of this psalm:

“O Israel, put your hope in the Lord both now and forevermore.”

Where are you putting your hope today? If you’re putting it in yourself, and your ambitions, and your appearance or accomplishments or achievements, you’ll find your peace will be elusive and can falter as quickly as any of those things can falter. But if you’ll put your hope in the Lord, both now and forevermore, you can find peace, no matter what else happens to you in life.

Like Susanna Wesley, who found peace in the midst of a houseful of children by simply putting her apron over her head, you and I can find peace by coming to God anytime in prayer.

Ask God to quiet your soul today. Ask Him to give you His peace. Keep putting your hope in Him, both now and forevermore.

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for David’s example of quieting his soul in the midst of his building, ruling, and defending a great nation. Lord, thank You for the examples of people like Susanna Wesley and my wife Lana who were able to carve out spaces and places to find peace in the midst of their own busy lives. Help each one of us to do the same, starting today. Quiet our souls and help us find peace even now as we pray. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Eric Elder

Again, here’s the link to Lana’s message: My Prayer Closet.

And here’s a link to her reading of today’s psalm, set to music this week by our son, Josiah:
Psalm 131, read by Lana Elder, with Frederic Chopin’s “Prelude in A,” played by Josiah Elder

You can follow along with our reading plan for the remainder of the book of psalms here:
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms


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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- Building Prayers- Psalm 127


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

BUILDING PRAYERS – PSALM 127
Lesson 26 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 127, read by Lana Elder, with Kirnberger’s “Lullaby,” played by Kaleo Elder

I am a futurist. By that, I mean I spend a good deal of time thinking about the future. In fact, I was employed by a Fortune 10 corporation for about 10 years with the specific purpose of advising them on the future of various computer technologies and how those technologies would impact their corporation.

I worked with researchers at Apple and IBM, MIT and NASA. I read papers, went to conferences, and subscribed to dozens of magazines and mailing lists devoted to the study of the future. In many ways, I am now living in the world that I foresaw 30 years ago when I first began doing this type of research.

The funny thing about the future, though, is that we can only predict so much. We’re not omniscient–or all knowing–like God is. Without Him, our predictions about the future are only best guesses based on what we can see and the trends that are taking shape.

If we’re going to have any success at predicting the future–and making the most of those predictions–we need God to guide us. There’s nothing sadder, as others have wisely said, than to spend your whole life climbing the ladder of success only to find, once you reach the top, that your ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.

King Solomon put it like this in Psalm 127:

“Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain. In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat…” (Psalm 127:1-2a).

How can we know if our ladder is up against the right wall? How can we know if the Lord is in our building projects, or if we’re just spinning our wheels needlessly? As Stephen Covey says:

“If the ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step we take just gets us to the wrong place faster.”

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to get to the wrong place faster! I don’t want to get to the top of the ladder only to realize my ladder is up against the wrong wall! I want every step I take to to move me forward, not backward.

But how can I know if the things I’m doing are really what God wants me to do?

That’s where “building” prayers come in: prayers to God to show me if the house I’m working on is the house God wants me to work on–or if it’s time to move on.

By staying in touch with the Father on a regular and consistent basis, He can guide our steps. He can show us if we’re headed down the right path, and He can turn us around if we find we’re on the wrong one.

I’ve worked on many houses over my lifetime–literal houses–cleaning, restoring, remodeling, and renovating them. None of them for pay. All of them for love. I’ve worked on houses for my own family, for my extended family, and for others to enjoy. Each and every time, I have to ask God, “Is this a project You really want me to take on?” Because it’s way too much work to spin my wheels endlessly.

And I can say that each time, I have reached various points where I have seriously questioned if God has really asked me to work on it or not. Each and every time, I’ve reached points where I’ve had to return to God, again and again, asking for His guidance, His wisdom, and His strength, because it takes way too much time, effort, and resources if He’s not in it.

I’d like to say I’ve never wasted one minute, never wasted one penny, never wasted one ounce of strength. I’d like to say those things, but I can’t. I’ve had to regroup and backtrack too many times for that to be the case.

But what I can say is this: there’s not one minute I’ve spent in prayer that hasn’t been well-invested. There’s not one penny for God’s thoughts that hasn’t made a return. There’s not one ounce of effort on my knees before God that hasn’t given me strength. Even though I’ve made mistakes along the way, and even though I’ve begun to climb some ladders God hasn’t wanted me to climb, He has always helped to redirect me to the ladders He has wanted me to climb.

Sometimes God redirects me in ways that are subtle and gentle, other times in ways that are abrupt and painful. But always, He redirects me in ways that keep moving me forward in the right direction for my life–His direction.

There are times when I’ve been tempted to think that I’ve just wasted months of energy–mental, physical, and spiritual energy. But at those times, God has reminded me of this:

Time spent seeking My will with all your heart, soul, mind and strength is never wasted. It’s always invested, and it will pay huge rewards for years to come.

What about you? What kinds of “houses” are you building where you need God’s guidance?  Are you building your job? Your career? Your house? Your health? Are you building a relationship? A friendship? A mentorship? A family? Are there some ladders you’re climbing where it would be helpful to know if they’re up against the right walls or not?

If so, let me encourage you to pray. Pray some “building” prayers of your own. Ask God for His wisdom, His strength, and His resources to either keep you moving forward or to show if it’s time to start climbing another ladder.

One of the most beautiful promises God offers in this psalm comes at the end of the verses I quoted from King Solomon earlier. Here are those verses again, this time with God’s promise included at the end of them:

“Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain. In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat— for He grants sleep to those He loves” (Psalm 127:1-2).

There have been a few times, even this week, where I have been working on a project and God has simply said, “Now’s the time to rest.” I’ve protested: “But I’ve got so much more to do!” And God has said, “Sometimes the best next thing you can do is to get some rest.” And I’ve literally gone back to to bed for a while.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be building anything in vain. I don’t want to rise early and stay up late in vain. I want every moment to count. And sometimes that means getting some rest so you’ll be fresh to start “building” again.

God has reminded me this past week again that if I’ll keep bringing my projects to Him in prayer– keep putting my efforts into His hands–He’ll make the most of every one. He’ll guide me when I need guidance. He’ll redirect my steps when I need redirecting. And He will give me rest when I need rest, too.

Keep coming to God in prayer. Keep asking Him for His direction. And keep trusting that the time you spend seeking God’s will is never wasted. It’s always invested, and it will pay huge rewards for years to come.

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for promising to never leave us alone. Thank You for walking with us every step of the way. We pray that You would guide us today as we move forward with the projects that are on on our hearts. Show us which ones are on Your heart, too, and help us to work on them, with You, together. Father, we look forward to the future, knowing that we won’t be alone there, either, knowing that You will be with us always, even to the end of the age. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Eric Elder

You can to listen to today’s psalm again at this link:
Psalm 127, read by Lana Elder, with Kirnberger’s “Lullaby,” played by Kaleo Elder

And you can see our 2017 reading plan for the book of psalms at this link:
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms


Watch Here! | Listen Here! | Ask for Prayer | Contact Us | Visit Our Website | Subscribe | Facebook | Twitter | Tumblr | Bookstore


This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- Peaceful Prayers- Psalm 122


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

PEACEFUL PRAYERS – PSALM 122
Lesson 25 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 122, read by Lana Elder, with Mozart’s “Minuet in F,” played by Eric Elder

 

We have six more weeks in the book of Psalms, where we’re learning about prayer and how to make our prayer lives more effective. As we pull into this final stretch, I think today is a good time to talk about recognizing God’s answers to our prayers when they come.

Sometimes we’re praying for something intensely, expecting the answer to come in a certain way. But when the answer does come, we sometimes don’t recognize it, because it comes in a way we hadn’t expected.

Today’s lesson highlights this point, as the topic is praying for peace. “Peace” is a funny thing. I’ve seen people who are in the midst of chaos, with pandemonium all around them, yet who are experiencing true peace. But I’ve also seen people who are in the midst of extreme calm, with utter stillness all around them, yet who are experiencing true turmoil.

When we pray for peace, we sometimes miss God’s answer when it comes, because God makes His peace available to us in ways we don’t always grasp.

First, I want to look at the importance of praying for peace in our circumstances and how God can truly answers those prayers. But second, I want to look at the importance of praying for peace regardless of our circumstances and how God can truly answer those prayers, too.

In Psalm 122, David encourages people to pray for the peace of Jerusalem. For a man who had lived most of his life fighting battles against his enemies, I’m sure his prayers for peace were heartfelt. In Psalm 122, David says:

“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: ‘May those who love you be secure.
May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels.’
For the sake of my brothers and friends, I will say, ‘Peace be within you.’” (vv. 6-8).

What I love about David’s prayer for peace is that God answered those prayers! After years of fighting war after war after war, David did experience peace in Jerusalem. As it says in the book of 2 Samuel:

“…the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him” (2 Samuel 7:1b).

And the peace that David prayed for and experienced lasted into the next generation, as his son, Solomon, later said this after he had become king:

“But now the Lord my God has given me rest on every side, and there is no adversary or disaster” (1 Kings 5:4).

Praise God that He answers our prayers for peace in very physical and tangible ways!

I’d also like to point out, however, that God answers our prayers for peace in ways we sometimes miss because we’re expecting that peace to come in another form.

One night, my family was invited by a Jewish man to take part in his family’s Seder Meal, the traditional Passover Meal which is celebrated by Jewish people every year.

At the end of the meal, the man who had invited us asked if we had any questions. Since so many of the traditions he talked about referred to the long-awaited Messiah, I asked him what he thought of Jesus–and why he didn’t think Jesus is that long-awaited Messiah.

He answered, “When the Messiah comes, he will bring peace. As I look around, I don’t see peace. So clearly Jesus can’t be the Messiah we’re looking for.”

While I appreciated his answer, I couldn’t help thinking that he had missed the fact that was so apparent to me: Jesus did bring peace! But the kind of peace this man was expecting wasn’t the kind of peace that Jesus brought.

Here’s how Jesus described the peace He has offered to each one of us:

“Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid … I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 14:27, 16:33).

The peace Jesus describes is the same peace I experienced when I first put my faith in Him–and which I’ve continued to experience still, over 30 years later. Had I not experienced this miraculous peace of Christ in my heart, I might still be waiting for another Messiah, too–one who could give me peace as the world gives peace.

But because I’ve experienced the peace of Christ, I am fully convinced He is the Messiah–because no one else could give me the kind of peace that He has given to me.

The Apostle Paul describes this inner peace–and how to get it–like this:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

This peace has carried me through sickness and job loss, anger and fear. It has carried me through tornadoes and hurricanes, mishaps and miscarriages. It has carried me through grief and despair, sorrow and sadness.

Praise God that He answers our prayers for peace in ways that transcend understanding, no matter what is going on in the world around us!

If you need peace today, let me encourage you to pray for it. Put your faith in Christ for everything in your life, from the forgiveness of your sins to the circumstances that you’re facing today. Pray for God to bring peace into your heart. Pray for God to bring peace to the world around you. And like David, pray for the peace of Jerusalem, even today.

Know that God can and will answer each and every prayer you pray. Then don’t miss His answer when it does come–as it may come in a way you never expected!

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for offering us Your peace–a peace that passes understanding–and for making it available to each and every one of us. Help us to know and to experience Your peace in our hearts. Help us to know and experience Your peace in the world around us. And help us to see Your peace come upon the city of Jerusalem, the city where Jesus the Messiah lived and died and rose again from the dead. We pray all of this in His precious name, Amen.

Eric Elder

You can to listen to today’s psalm again at this link:
Psalm 122, read by Lana Elder, with Mozart’s “Minuet in F,” played by Eric Elder

And here’s our 2017 reading plan for the book of psalms at this link:
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms


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


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

(Eric will return with his sermons next week)

Anger

by Joseph Rodgers

 

Two men are talking about anger one night. One said, “I’ll show you the difference. At 1 am, he goes to the phone and dials a number. He asked, “Is Jones there?” The man says “No!” The men continue until the same guy says, “Now I’ll show you frustration.” At 2 am, he goes to the phone and dials the same number. The man picks up, “What?” The guy asks, “Is Jones there?” Frustrated, he says “NO!” Then at 3 am, the guy says now I’ll show you rage. He returns to the phone and dials the number a 3rd time and says, “Hey I’m Jones. Have I gotten any calls tonight?

People do the craziest things when they lose their tempers. Have you ever seen a toddler throw a temper tantrum? They scream and yell and hurl their bodies to the ground with their stubby little arms and legs flailing in all directions.

How about a teenager who loses his cool? In high school I watched as a friend got so mad he put his fist through a wall destroying his chance at a scholarship.

Have you ever seen a young mother of preschoolers lose her cool? It’s not a pretty sight when pots and pans are slammed, toys are thrown, and the kids are being screamed at for doing things that little children do.

Or how about the man driving to work who gets cut off and in a fit of rage slams his fist, shouts a few expletives, and then attempts to hunt down the culprit with every intent to give them a piece of his mind – if not more.

I was tested this weekend when my family went to the mall shopping. While Meg was trying on clothes, I was attempting to corral the kids. Now mind you it wasn’t their fault. It was after bedtime and they were just being kids, yet I was about to lose my mind – especially when they tipped over a rack of clothes. Listen, I understood irritation and frustration, and had it not been for the accountability of 25 women shopping, I might have experienced rage.

Anger – we all struggle to manage it and keep it under control, and yet, we all feel as if it is a right and privilege to express it as we wish without consequence. But it has become an infectious disease that is everywhere – in our homes, our cars, on freeways, at sporting events, at work, and even at church. It’s so bad that some social commentators have said we live in the “Age of Rage.”

What is it? Anger is a legitimate emotion often expressed illegitimately. Instead of serving as a warning light that something isn’t right (like warning lights on car dash) it usually becomes an action resulting in sin because we seek to bring harm to another.

Of the 7 deadly sins, anger is the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor the last toothsome morsel of the pain you’re given and the pain you’re giving back – in many ways it’s a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is what you’re wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you.

How can I know if I have an anger problem? When you get angry do you hurt yourself? Do you hurt others? Do you damage property?

Did you know the Bible speaks of the perils of anger 262 times in 256 verses. It says anger is an emotion we must learn how to control or else it’ll control us.

If you become angry, do not let your anger lead you into sin, and do not stay angry all day. Do not give the devil a chance. Eph. 4:26 (GNB)

Angry as an emotion isn’t sin, but it can lead to sin if it is not controlled.

Anger unresolved gives the devil access to your life.

It’s not – how can I be good and mad, but how can I be good when mad?

Our example of course is Jesus. On more than one occasion He got angry, yet He never allowed His anger to become sin. (read Mk. 11:12-18)

Jesus had every right to be angry, but he didn’t take it personally and He never allowed it to control Him. Yes there was injustice and a reason to retaliate, but Jesus never took matters in His own hands – instead of fuming He forgave.

The ROOT of Anger

Anger is a secondary emotion requiring an emotional trigger – we aren’t born angry something has to happen to ignite it. Anger a choice we make and a habit we break.

ANXIETY (Fear)

When people are anxious about something it tends to put them on edge. They allow worry and fear to overtake them and send them over the side into anger.

Anxiety reveals what we think and understand about God. He promises to supply all our needs according to His riches in glory (Ph. 4:19) and to never leave us or forsake us (Hb. 13:5). Thus we have nothing to fret over.

Be anxious for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. The peace of God which passes all understanding will guard your hearts and mind in Christ Jesus. Ph. 4:6-8

Anxiety should not trigger anger – it should trigger trust.

NUISANCE (Frustration)

This is when things don’t go as planned. We get flustered and frustrated – flustrated – instead of adjusting we explode. It doesn’t matter if it is a work issue, a spouse issue, or a kid issue – frustration gets the best of us and we feel compelled to yell.

Pastor who traded his bike with a frustrated boy with a lawnmower. The pastor caught up with the boy few days later dissatisfied because the lawnmower wouldn’t crank. The boy told the pastor that he had to cuss at it. The pastor said, I’m a pastor – I don’t cuss, besides I haven’t said a cuss words in years. The boy responded, “Pull on that handle a few times and it will come back to you.”

Of all of the triggers, this one might be the most pervasive.

Insert: Psychiatrists call this problem LFT – Low Frustration Tolerance. It claims that most people are walking time bombs just waiting to explode because they’ve allowed circumstances, situations, and people to crowd out their ability to tolerate frustration. Thus they’re living on the edge just waiting to erupt.

GRIEF (Pain)

This is when people experience pain. It doesn’t matter if it’s physical, emotional, or social, we’d rather be angry at someone/thing than be in pain. (Grief Process)

EMBARRASSMENT (Humiliation)

No one enjoys being made fun of or being laughed at. No one enjoys being made a fool or the butt of a joke. No matter how much we laugh at the silly things we might do, we don’t enjoy having other people laugh at our expense. Thus, while we might be laughing on the outside, we’re seething on the inside.

RESENTMENT (Animosity)

Resentment is pent up animosity we have towards others because of something they said or did against us that resulted in loss. The trigger is simple – someone harms me and I’ll get them back. It invokes the idea, “Do unto other before they do unto you.”

No matter the trigger we all must recognize that we own our anger whether we like it or not. No matter how much we rationalize it, it’s real and it’s ours.

The REALITY of ANGER

FRUITLESS

Bridle your anger, trash your wrath, and cool your pipes – it only makes things worse. Ps. 37:8 (MSG)

In other words, losing your cool seldom makes things better – it’s fruitless.

Whatever is begun in anger ends in shame! Ben Franklin

Everyone must be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. Human anger does not achieve God’s righteous purpose. Jm. 1:19-20

Unless a person learns to manage their anger correctly they only suffer loss as a result of losing their cool. Why? Because most people only know how to handle their hostility through inappropriate channels.

The TOXIC WASTE Approach

Toxic waste people bury anger deep w/in presenting A-OK outward appearance. Problem is that over the years it begins to leak out and contaminate.

The VOLCANO Approach

Volcano people talk and rumble for years but finally get to the point where they say, “I’m not going to take this anymore,” and they EXPLODE.

The SNOCONE Approach

Snocone people go silent and put on the Big Chill. They put you on ice.

The MICROWAVE Approach

Microwave people confront the situation that bothers them with an instantaneous response. You hear: beep, beep, beep and BAM!!!

In Forrest Gump, there is a scene where Jenny returns to her home after her abusive father has died. The farm is dilapidated and abandoned, but as she reflects on the abuse she endured as a child, she’s overcome with rage and begins to violently throw rocks at the house only to fall to the ground in exhaustion. As the scene closes Forrest says, “Sometimes there just aren’t enough rocks.”

Mishandled anger is futile and we have to learn to manage it or it’ll manage us.

FOOLISH

A patient man has great insight, but a quick tempered man displays folly. Pr. 14:29

A quick tempered man does foolish things. Pr. 14:17

Annually in the U.S. 14 men are killed by vending machines. After not receiving a drink or due change, these men shook the machines until they tipped over and crushed them to death. Each man became the victim of his own anger.

Anger defines a fool as it demonstrates who is really in control of me.

FORBIDDEN

But now you must get rid of all these things: anger, rage, malice and filthy language from your lips. Col. 3:8 (see Eph. 4:31)

Don’t nurse it, rehearse it, or disburse it – but curse it – get rid of it.

Rid yourselves (apotithemi) to put to the side; to change one’s clothes.

Just as a person takes off his dirty clothes at the end of the day, so is a Christian to discard the filthy rags of their old life once they’ve placed their faith in Christ.

Thumos wrath; sudden outburst of combative anger.

People who fly into rage seldom make a safe landing. Will Rogers

Three things occur when you fly off the handle:

• You say and do foolish things you will regret later

• You do things that cause problems for others

You do things that have a hefty penalty

Orge an angry indignant temperament or mood

Paul is talking about people with a negative and sour disposition – people who look like they’ve been weaned on pickle juice or like they’ve got a lemon IV.

Bumper Sticker – I have an attitude and I know how to use it.

We are to GET RID of them. Anger is to be abandoned by believers. Why? Because when anger is taken personally and acted upon it becomes sin. Why? Because when you’re angry you’re no longer under God’s control but under the control of the flesh – and that is sin.

The REMEDY of Anger

Commit to CONTROL Anger

A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control. Pr. 29:11

Better a patient man than a warrior, a man who controls his temper than one who takes a city. Pr. 16:32

Sometimes it takes more strength and courage to control our emotions than it does to capture a fortified city.

ADMIT your tendency to take anger personally

CONFESS your need for accountability

TARGET the situation and not the person.

Consider the CONSEQUENCES

Will expressing my anger resolve the issue or make matters worse?

Anger Fosters Disagreement and Disunity

An angry man stirs up dissension, a hot tempered man commits many sins. Pr. 29:22

Anger Leaves You Vulnerable to Attack

If you can’t control your anger, you are as helpless as a city without walls, open to attack. Pr. 25:28 (GNB)

Anger Invites Trouble

If you churn milk, you get butter. If you hit someone’s nose, it bleeds. If you stir up anger, you get into trouble. Pr. 30:33 (GNB)

Whenever you lose your temper – YOU LOSE! So consider the consequences.

Correctly COMMUNICATE Anger

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. Pr. 15:1

What we say in the heat of the moment can either extinguish or ignite a situation. Our words can be either a bucket of water or a can of gas.

Think Before You Speak (Measure your words carefully)

He who guards his lips guards his life, but the man who speaks rashly will come to ruin. Pr. 13:3

Never Speak Out In Anger

A hot tempered man stirs up dissension but a patient man calms a quarrel. Pr. 15:18

CHOOSE Quality Company

Do not make friends with a hot tempered man, do not associate with one easily angered or you may learn his ways and get yourself ensnared. Pr. 22:24

Let angry people endure the backlash of their own anger; if you try to make it better, you’ll only make it worse. Pr. 19:19 (MSG)

If you hang with angry people you’ll become an angry person. It is contagious.

Bad company corrupts good morals. 1 Cr. 15:33

Don’t hang out with people who don’t want to hang out with God and with goodness.

Anger is indeed a troublesome emotion. It is an equal opportunity destroyer. It doesn’t distinguish between gender or race or issue – it only invites us to lose control of our faculties to indulge in the perceived gratification of a lost temper. Yet in the end, it leaves us separated from our friends, colleagues, and family, holding the hatchet of guilt that has been buried in someone else’s back. Truthfully, the time has come for us to learn how to be good when mad – and it begins at the cross where Jesus gave His life for us.


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


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

(Eric will return with his sermons in two weeks)

Faith

by Tony Grant

1 What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh?

2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.

3 For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.”

4 Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due.

5 But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness.

Harrington University has other names: the University of San Moritz, the University of Palmer’s Green, and the University of Devonshire. At Harrington, the campus is small; the class schedule is convenient (In fact, there are no classes at all), and a Ph.D. will only take you 27 days and a few thousand dollars to earn. No transcript from a previous institution is necessary. Instead, you get full credit for what Harrington calls “life experience.”

Harrington University is (or was, until it was shut down in 2003 by the authorities) a “diploma mill.” It was an online “university” selling bogus bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees. Rather than classrooms and a campus, Harrington University was the residence of an American living in Romania with mail drops in the United Kingdom, printing services in Jerusalem, and banking options in Cyprus. By 2002, some 70,000 Harrington-Palmer’s Green-Devonshire degrees had been “granted” to online applicants, earning the operator more than $100 million.

Using e-mail spam, online advertising and even print advertising in major US magazines, diploma mills like Harrington are a growing phenomenon in our wired world. As jobs become more scarce and competition for them more fierce, many people are turning to quick, albeit illegitimate, ways to pad their rèsumès without the cost or hassle of actually going to class.

A May 2004 study by the U.S. General Accounting Office found 28 senior federal executives who claimed degrees from diploma mills, and 463 federal employees with bogus college degrees were hired or advanced in their jobs. Sham scholars with fake degrees have held jobs as sex-abuse counselors, college vice presidents, child psychologists, athletic coaches, engineers and even physicians. Counterfeit colleges and universities make it easier to pull off the rèsumè charade because they provide fake diplomas and transcripts that often seem legitimate.

With all this academic fakery going on, it is becoming harder for legitimate institutions to maintain their reputations, and it is also more dangerous for people in need of professional services.

Take the case of Marion Kolitwenzew, who found out her daughter was diabetic and took her to a specialist for treatment. He seemed like the real deal, with a wall full of diplomas and an office stocked with medical supplies. When Marion followed the “doctor’s” advice and took her daughter off insulin, the daughter quickly became violently ill and died. Later, the “doctor” was sentenced to 15 months in prison for manslaughter and practicing medicine without a license. His wall was adorned with counterfeit credentials.

How do so many people get away with this stuff? The answer is simple: No one seems to check them out, No one calls the references, No one asks for the paperwork. Thus, it can be fairly easy to fake who you are.

The church is not proof against this kind of fraud. A few years ago, right here in York, we had a minister in one of our local churches who did much the same. He had been in his denomination for several years and claimed to have a couple of degrees. No one actually investigated his resume until he became involved in some bitter strife in his church, and someone became angry enough to check up on him, and found that his degrees were fake.

By the way, I do not post diplomas on office walls, but if you want to go down to Erskine Theological Seminary and check on my degrees you are welcome to do so. But in church, the real problem is not fake diplomas, it is fake faith.

In Romans 4, Paul is using Abraham the Patriarch as a primary case in a study of God’s dealing with people. Abraham was a hard-driving businessman and a devoted man of God. If anyone had a rèsumè of solid credentials to “boast” about, says the Apostle Paul, it was Abraham. But it was not his righteous rèsumè that made Abraham a prime candidate for the job of Patriarch of the faith. “If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about — but not before God,” says Paul in verse 2.

In other words, even Abraham’s best work could not match the standard of holiness set by God. No human rèsumè is impressive enough. Earlier in Romans, Paul puts it more clearly: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23). Instead, it was faith itself that was Abraham’s one and only true rèsumè builder. “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness” (4:3).

Thus, we Christians are famous for saying that all our attempts to approach God by doing stuff are bogus. That whole way of thinking, which is called “works righteousness,” is counterfeit. The only way to come to God is by faith, by real faith, Abrahamic faith.

Which leads us to the next question then: What is real faith? What is Abrahamic faith? Strangely enough in over 30 years in the ministry, I have never been asked that question. I have often said to people you must be saved by faith. But no one has ever responded by asking, What is faith? But it seems to me a very apt question.

Tillich and Faith

Philosopher and Theologian Paul Tillich wrestled with this question. Tillich said, “There is hardly a word in the religious language, both theological and popular, which is subject to more misunderstandings, distortions, and questionable definitions than the word ‘faith’.” [Tillich, Dynamics of Faith, Introductory Remarks].

Tillich offers us a definition: Faith is “the state of being ultimately concerned” [Paul Tillich, Dynamics of Faith (New York: Harper & Row, 1957), 1]. If we have faith in something, we are dead serious about it. We are not only concerned about it. We are concerned to the nth degree .

Now, we all met people who claimed to have faith in Jesus, but whom we suspected did not. How can I make a statement like that? What grounds do we have for such suspicions? Because they are not much concerned about Jesus. Ask them if they believe in Jesus, and they will say that they do, but what are they really serious about?

The Masters takes place in Augusta, so let me use golf for an example. If you are always thinking about golf, if every scrap of your time is devoted to playing or watching golf, if you mortgage your house to buy that new set of titanium golf clubs, then golf is your ultimate concern, not Jesus. Your faith is in golf, not Jesus.

Most Americans who claim to believe in Jesus attend church only occasionally, give to the church only occasionally, pray seldom if ever. Do they actually believe in Jesus? If we accept Tillich’s definition of faith as that which we are “ultimately concerned” about, then we suspect that they do not, that they are not really serious about Jesus.

That is a question for us today: How serious are we about Jesus? Or to put the question another way, What is our ultimate concern? To what do we give our highest priority? What are our most cherished goals? That is where we put our faith.

Faith is an attitude that involves our entire personality. Tillich says, “It happens in the center of the personal life and includes all its elements” [Dynamics, 4]. Our faith is expressed by our whole being. Our faith determines, to a large extent, what we are. Thus, when faith is misplaced, our lifestyle becomes confused and disoriented. If we believe the wrong things, trust the wrong things, we will be screwed-up people. That explains much of what is wrong with the world today. Most people have faith, most people are ultimately concerned, about the wrong things. For example, they are ultimately concerned about a nation, or, they are ultimately concerned about my job or my way of living. But countries rise and fall–witness the rise of China right now. And Jobs come and go–where have all the textile jobs gone? And lifestyles change every few years. So those things are nothing to be much worried about. Ultimately, we are concerned about only God.

The problem people have always had from the very beginning of recorded history is that we become “ultimately concerned” about something other than God. Whenever we elevate something other than God to a level of ultimate concern, we commit idolatry. We put something in God’s place. We have faith in something that is not worth our faith.

This was what happened to Israel during the Exodus in what we might call the Golden Calf Episode. They had received the Law at Mount Sinai. They had all expressed their willingness to obey the Law. They had ratified a covenant with God. Then, when Moses was away for awhile on the mountain, they forgot about Moses, forgot about the law and the covenant, forgot about God and began to worship instead a Canaanite idol. They put their faith in something that was not worth their faith. They elevated a golden image to the level of God and made it their ultimate concern. Thus they broke their covenant with God and brought down God’s wrath upon them.

The question is what is faith? Faith is a way of answering life’s really important questions. Why am I here? What is the meaning of life? Everyone asks these questions. I have sometimes been stunned when a person that I did not think had a serious bone in their body begin asking serious questions; What happens when I die? How do I know God’s will for my life? That is an humbling experience because you realize that all of us are pretty much alike in that all of us are trying to make sense of the world around us. But the only way the world makes sense is through faith in God.

And notice what this faith is. It is not only a faith that God exists. We always mean far more than that when we speak of faith in God, we mean that God accepts us and loves us. That is what Jesus taught and proved. Through Jesus, we are made “righteous” before God, to use the Apostle Paul’s terminology. Nothing we do makes us righteous, but by faith in Jesus, by making Jesus our ultimate concern, we are accepted as citizens of the kingdom of God.

The question was, What is faith? My faith is not about me at all. Faith is not about what I have done or not done. Faith moves me out of the picture and focuses on Christ. That sounds so easy, yet it is probably the hardest thing in the world for any human being to do. Even as we say Christ is our ultimate concern, we resort to little stratagems to make ourselves the center of attention.

A few weeks ago, I was over in Easley and my wife and her mother were shopping, so I was given the task of taking my father-in-law’s car to the carwash. I took the car to the Easley Deluxe Carwash, paid my money, and was standing there watching them wash the car. I noticed a little old man nearby and I started up a conversation just out of boredom. After we had exchanged a few words, he launched into a loud monologue about how he loved Jesus. He said that he had started a church and he had raised all this money, and he had talked to so many people and driven so many miles. The little man expounded on how they got contractors for the church, and they ran out of money and he told the people that they had to give more and so on. He had led so many people to Christ and he had done this and done that.

This speech went on and on, and I was a little embarrassed because we were standing in a car wash with other people all around, and this little man just got louder. Finally, I blurted out, “My car is done; I have to go,” and bolted out the door.

But as I reflected on this later, I could not help but observe that though the man said he loved Jesus, the speech was not about Jesus at all. It was about him. You know he never even asked my name. He never asked anything about me. He was too focused on himself.

Under the disguise of loving Jesus, he was talking about himself. It was pathetic really. Here was a little man trying to gain some esteem from a stranger in a car wash by bragging about what he had done for Jesus. But that little man was not so different from the rest of us. Even when we talk about Jesus, we are always trying to somehow slide the focus back on me. That is the great human error, the great idolatry. Most people really have faith only in themselves. The Apostle Paul says we must break that idol, and put our faith in Jesus. That is the only real faith. Any other faith is just a counterfeit diploma.

Amen.


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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- Daily Prayers- Psalm 118


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

DAILY PRAYERS – PSALM 118
Lesson 24 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 118, read by Lana Elder, with Jacques Offenbach’s “Barcorelle,” played by Eric Elder

 

There are many famous quotes in the Bible, especially in the book of Psalms. But there’s one quote in Psalm 118 that helps keep me going each day. The quote is this:

“This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (v. 24).

I’ve talked several times in these messages about special prayers you can say to God when you’re facing special problems. But today I’d like to focus on the value of daily prayers, thanking God for each day you’re alive.

Thanking God for each day is not only important when things are going good, but also when things are going bad.

I’ve mentioned in one of my earlier messages that a few months before my wife died, a film team asked if I would be willing to record a short message to offer hope to others facing terminal illness. I didn’t think I could do it, as I was still trying to find my own reason for hope in the face of the most significant loss in my life.

But I agreed to do the interview, and at one point during the filming, God filled me with incredible hope for myself, too. I was finally able to say that even if the unthinkable happened to my wife, I knew God would still have a reason for me to live.

“My role,” I said, “is to find that reason, fulfill that reason, and walk in that reason.”

While it was a struggle for me to finally get to that point, trying to imagine living life without her, I truly believed those words were true. And here I am, five years later, having found that reason again, fulfilling that reason, and walking in that reason. God has continued to call me to purposeful living, day after day after day.

I know there’s a reason that I’m here. And I know there’s a reason you’re here, too. This really is “the day the Lord has made.” I am so thankful for today, and I am continuing to rejoice and be glad in it.

What about you? What kind of day are you facing today? What is God speaking to you, calling you to do and think and be? I know it can be hard some days to believe that God has a calling on your life, but God really does want you to know your purpose for living even more than you want to know it. And He really does wants you to live THIS day to the fullest, too.

Let me encourage you to say a fresh prayer to God again today, committing THIS day to live for Him and saying, “This is the day the Lord has made; I will rejoice and be glad in it.” Then say it again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next, and the next, so that you can keep making the most of every day the Lord your God gives to you.

If you need some help in your heart to do this, here are a few cues from the writer of Psalm 118 for how he was able to do it, even when life had him on the ropes at times.

He remembered God’s love endures forever:

“Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever.
Let Israel say: ‘His love endures forever.’
Let the house of Aaron say: ‘His love endures forever.’
Let those who fear the Lord say: ‘His love endures forever'” (vv. 1-4). 

He remembered how God had set him free:

“In my anguish I cried to the Lord, and He answered by setting me free.
The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (vv. 5-6).

He remembered that God is God and not anyone else:

“The Lord is with me; He is my helper. I will look in triumph on my enemies.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes.
All the nations surrounded me, but in the name of the Lord I cut them off.
They surrounded me on every side, but in the name of the Lord I cut them off.
They swarmed around me like bees, but they died out as quickly as burning thorns; in the name of the Lord I cut them off.
I was pushed back and about to fall, but the Lord helped me” (vv. 7-13).

He remembered who gave Him his voice to sing and to praise:

“The Lord is my strength and my song; He has become my salvation.
Shouts of joy and victory resound in the tents of the righteous: ‘The Lord’s right hand has done mighty things!
The Lord’s right hand is lifted high; the Lord’s right hand has done mighty things!’
I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the Lord has done.
The Lord has chastened me severely, but He has not given me over to death” (vv. 14-18).

He remembered the Lord with thankfulness:

“Open for me the gates of righteousness; I will enter and give thanks to the Lord.
This is the gate of the Lord through which the righteous may enter.
I will give You thanks, for You answered me; You have become my salvation” (vv. 19-21).

He remembered the Lord for doing miracles:

The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone;
the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes” (vv. 22-23).

And he remembered that THIS is the day the Lord has made:

“This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (v. 24).

If you need to get your mojo back, do what this psalmist did, and do it daily.  Remember that God’s love endures forever. Remember that He has set you free. Remember that He is God and not anyone else. Remember that He is the one who gave you your voice to sing and to praise.

Remember the Lord with thankfulness. Remember the Lord for His miracles. And remember that THIS is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for giving us another day of life. Thank You for giving us a purpose and meaning for today and hope for our future. Thank You for Your eagerness to reveal that purpose and meaning and hope to each one of us. Help us to walk out the calling that You have in mind for us, living each day to the fullest and fulfilling every single thing You want us to fulfill. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

P.S. Last week I shared with you a brief, 8-minute interview I filmed at our church how God set me free from living a life I knew He didn’t want me to live. If you’re looking for freedom, or know someone who is, I’d like to also recommend a film that you can watch this week for one day only in theaters across the country called The Heart of Man. The film was produced by my friend and Hollywood producer, Brian Bird, who also produced Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ. I was able to watch The Heart of Man and found it to be full of hope for anyone who is struggling with anything in their life to which they might be addicted. The film also contains godly wisdom from real-life people whom God has set free and have gone on to impact the world for good. The Heart of Man is showing in theaters for one day only, this Thursday, September 14th. Click here to learn more.

Eric Elder

You can watch my own brief, 8-minute testimony that I shared with you last week at this link:
Eric’s interview at Eastview

You can to listen to today’s psalm at this link:
Psalm 118, read by Lana Elder, with Jacques Offenbach’s “Barcorelle,” played by Eric Elder

And you can see our weekly reading plan for the book of psalms at this link:
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms


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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- Fearless Prayers- Psalm 112

Special note from Eric: Before sharing today’s message with you, I wanted to let you know that I’ve just finished writing a new book called Loving God & Loving Gays: What’s A Christian To Do? I think you’ll find this book to be a thoughtful look at a delicate subject, borne out of my own personal experience and my ministry to hundreds of others in this area for the past 30 years. This book also includes a study guide for every chapter, which you can use for personal reflection or to study the book together with a small group. I’d be glad to send you the paperback edition for a donation of any size to our ministry at this link ($15 is suggested to help us cover the cost of printing and shipping the book anywhere in the world), or you can get the paperback or Kindle editions directly from Amazon at this link. To learn more, you can watch a brief, 8-minute interview at this link, which was recorded live last weekend during a special service at Eastview Christian Church. Even if you’re not interested in the book, I hope you’ll watch my brief interview to give you a boost in your faith no matter what you might be facing today.

Eric Elder and Mike Baker - Interview at Eastview

Eric Elder and Mike Baker – Interview at Eastview


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

FEARLESS PRAYERS – PSALM 112
Lesson 23 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 112, read by Lana Elder, with Daquin’s “Nöel,” played by Eric Elder

Last weekend, I shared my testimony with the largest live audience I’ve ever shared with before. Needless to say, I was more than a little bit nervous.

But I took comfort from two things that I’d like to share with you today: 1) that a healthy fear of God is more important than an unhealthy fear of people and 2) that fearless prayers lead to incredible blessings.

You’ll find these same principles at work in Psalm 112, which begins with these words:

“Praise the Lord. Blessed is the man who fears the Lord,
who finds great delight in His commands.
His children will be mighty in the land;
the generation of the upright will be blessed” (vv. 1-2).

A healthy fear of God leads to all kinds of blessings. Why? Because following God and His ways inevitably leads to an abundant life, both here on earth and in heaven forever. God doesn’t give us His wisdom–His commands–to hold us back from the fullest life possible, but to bless us with the fullest life possible.

Listen to the blessings that Psalm 112 says will follow when we fear God and take delight in His commands:

“Wealth and riches are in his house,
and his righteousness endures forever.

Even in darkness light dawns for the upright,
for the gracious and compassionate and righteous man.

Good will come to him who is generous and lends freely,
who conducts his affairs with justice.

Surely he will never be shaken;
a righteous man will be remembered forever.

He will have no fear of bad news;
his heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord.

His heart is secure, he will have no fear;
in the end he will look in triumph on his foes.

He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor,
his righteousness endures forever;
his horn will be lifted high in honor” (vv 3-9).

And listen to what happens when we don’t take delight in God’s ways:

“The wicked man will see and be vexed,
he will gnash his teeth and waste away;
the longings of the wicked will come to nothing” (v. 10).

Does this mean that only good will come to those who follow God, and only bad will come to those who don’t? Of course not. A simple look at anyone who has committed their life wholeheartedly to their Father in heaven shows that sometimes bad things happen to the best of people, Jesus being the prime example. But listen to what Jesus has to say about a healthy fear of God:

“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:28-31).

When I told a friend a few months ago that I was asked to share my testimony in front of this live audience, my friend said, “Aren’t you afraid?” I said that I was, but that I loved talking about Jesus more than anything else, for it is in Him that I’ve found my hope–and I couldn’t wait to share that hope with others.

I said, “If telling people about the most closely held secret of my life means that I can also tell people about how Jesus has worked in my life, then it’s worth it. It’s not that I’m not afraid. I am. I’m just compelled to push through my fears to share what Jesus has done for me.”

The truth is, there’s coming a day when everyone’s secrets will be made known. Everyone’s sins will be revealed. My hope is that by revealing now how Jesus has helped me to deal with my secrets, others will put their faith in Him so they can deal with theirs.

As Jesus said in the same passage I referenced above:

“So do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs…. Whoever acknowledges Me before men, I will also acknowledge him before My Father in heaven. But whoever disowns Me before men, I will disown him before My Father in heaven” (vv. 26-27, 32-33).

Just listening to Jesus’ words reminds me that the words I speak, and the words I don’t speak, are massively important and eternally significant. We can be afraid of those who can kill our bodies, or we can be afraid of the One who can send both body and soul to hell.

As the days got closer for me to share my testimony last week, my fear factor kept increasing. But I took great comfort in the two truths I shared with you at the beginning of this message: 1) that a healthy fear of God is more important than an unhealthy fear of people and 2) that fearless prayers lead to incredible blessings, both for us and for all those around us.

Are there some fearless prayers you need to say today?

And if so, will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for reminding us that we can come to You with our fears, and that as we pray boldly, You can reduce our fears immeasurably, knowing that You will bless those who walk in Your ways. Father, help us to be bold in our witness to You. Help us to share with others the hope we have found in You. Help us to pray fearless prayers, knowing that You will answer those prayers with incredible blessings, both for us and for all those around us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Eric Elder

P.S. You can watch my brief, 8-minute testimony at this link:
Interview at Eastview

You can to listen to today’s psalm at this link:
Psalm 112, read by Lana Elder, with Daquin’s “Nöel,” played by Eric Elder

And you can see our weekly reading plan for the book of psalms at this link:
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms


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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- Avenging Prayers- Psalm 109

Special note from Eric: I’ll be sharing a brief (5-minute) version of my testimony today during a special hour-long message at our church. I’d love for you to watch the whole service live online at 9 am, 11 am, or 5 pm (Central Daylight Time) at this link: live.eastview.church


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

AVENGING PRAYERS – PSALM 109
Lesson 22 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 109, read by Lana Elder, with Handel’s “Sarabande,” played by Eric Elder

Is it ever okay to ask God to bring vengeance on someone who is acting maliciously toward us? If David’s prayers are any indication of what we can or can’t ask of God, then the answer is “Yes.”

It’s not an easy answer, though, as God’s viewpoint on our troubles is not always the same as our own. We can sometimes be wrong in our assessment of others, and we can sometimes minimize our own guilt while magnifying the guilt of others.

Still, there are times when the malice of others is so evil, so awful, and so clear, that it is altogether fitting and proper to ask God to intervene on our behalf, to spare us from further harm, and to bring about justice on those who are acting contemptuously.

Listen to David’s prayer in Psalm 109, and see what you think. David begins by explaining the problem as he sees it:

“O God, whom I praise, do not remain silent,
for wicked and deceitful men have opened their mouths against me;
they have spoken against me with lying tongues.
With words of hatred they surround me; they attack me without cause.
In return for my friendship they accuse me, but I am a man of prayer.
They repay me evil for good, and hatred for my friendship” (vv. 1-4).

So far, so good. The harder part for me to read is what David says next, when he begins to ask God about very specific ways he wants God to intervene! Listen to David’s boldness:

“Appoint an evil man to oppose him; let an accuser stand at his right hand.
When he is tried, let him be found guilty, and may his prayers condemn him.
May his days be few; may another take his place of leadership.
May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow.
May his children be wandering beggars; may they be driven from their ruined homes.
May a creditor seize all he has; may strangers plunder the fruits of his labor.
May no one extend kindness to him or take pity on his fatherless children.
May his descendants be cut off, their names blotted out from the next generation.
May the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the Lord; may the sin of his mother never be blotted out.
May their sins always remain before the Lord, that he may cut off the memory of them from the earth.
For he never thought of doing a kindness, but hounded to death the poor and the needy and the brokenhearted.
He loved to pronounce a curse- may it come on him; he found no pleasure in blessing- may it be far from him.
He wore cursing as his garment; it entered into his body like water, into his bones like oil.
May it be like a cloak wrapped about him, like a belt tied forever around him.
May this be the Lord’s payment to my accusers, to those who speak evil of me” (vv. 5-20).

Those are some pretty strong words! But there have been occasions in my life where I have felt like saying some strong words like that to God in prayer, too. And if we’re going to be honest in our conversations with God, part of being honest means saying things that might not sound as holy or as pious as we think we should sound.

And the truth is, calling on God to bring a stop to wickedness IS holy and pious. Jesus didn’t hold back from calling a spade a spade when He said things like, “You snakes! You brood of vipers!” or “You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are” (Matthew 23:33 and 23:15).

There are times when we might need to call a spade a spade, too, asking God to intervene to bring an end to wickedness.

I like calling prayers like these “avenging prayers” because asking God to bring about vengeance is different than taking revenge on someone ourselves. God is the ultimate judge, and calling on Him for justice is calling on Him to do one of the things He is fully qualified and fully capable of doing.

Noah Webster, in his 1828 dictionary, said this about the difference between the words avenge and revenge: “To avenge and revenge, radically, are synonymous. But modern usage inclines to make a valuable distinction in the use of these words, restricting avenge to the taking of just punishment, and revenge to the infliction of pain or evil, maliciously, in an illegal manner.”

Calling on God to take action to do what is right and just is very different than asking someone to do something underhanded and equally evil or malicious in return for what they’ve done to us.

Like David, when I’ve come to the place where I’ve had to call on God to bring an end to something evil or wicked that is happening around me, I’ve taken careful stock of the situation and the people involved first, then I’ve asked God to bring about justice on His terms. And, at times, I have seen Him act surprisingly swiftly in response.

In one situation, a man was repeatedly abusing those around him, including me. The man refused to respond to civil requests to cease and desist, and refused to back down from his destructive tirades. When I finally got the courage to call on God to bring and end to his swath of destruction, two days later the man resigned from his position and left town. It was as if God had answered my prayer in a way that David wanted God to answer his, when David said: “May his days be few; may another take his place of leadership.”

God is gracious. God is loving. God is kind. Yet, He does not leave the guilty unpunished. As the Bible says:

“The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet He does not leave the guilty unpunished” (Exodus 34:6b-7a).

I sat in a courtroom one day when a friend of mine was on trial. I was there to testify to his good traits, but I was also there to admit that he had made some really bad decisions that were very harmful to others. While I wanted the judge to be lenient in some ways, I also didn’t want the judge to ignore the harmful things that had been done.

In reading the verdict, the judge commended my friend for the good he had done, and the judge offered the court’s help to turn my friend’s life around. Yet the judge also said, wisely: “The people in this room who have come to support you think you’re a good person, and frankly, I believe you’re a good person, too, but one who’s made some bad decisions. And this court and our society and those you have wronged are not going to tolerate the commission of crimes. There may have been issues in your life that contributed to those decisions, but there are always going to be issues. This verdict is to get your attention, to require you to make restitution for the wrongs you’ve done, and to help you to turn your life around.”

I felt the judge’s sentence was extremely fair, well-reasoned, and compassionate, yet he did not leave the guilty unpunished.

I am thankful that God, being the best judge, is willing to step in and intervene in situations where it would be dangerous and potentially even more destructive for us to try to take matters into our own hands. That’s when avenging prayers come in, calling on God to bring about justice. As the Apostle Paul says in the book of Romans:

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:17-19).

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You that You are a good Father and a good judge. Lord, for those who have wronged us, help us to call on You for help in bringing about justice and bringing about a change in their hearts. Help us to step out of harm’s way and let You step in to take up our cause. We pray that You would bring an end to the wickedness of those who are acting maliciously against us, and that You would cause Your light to drive out any remaining darkness. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Eric Elder

P.S. Here’s a link to listen to today’s psalm again:
Psalm 109, read by Lana Elder, with Handel’s “Sarabande,” played by Eric Elder

And here’s a link to our weekly reading plan for the book of psalms this year:
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms


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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- Praising Prayers- Psalm 103


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

PRAISING PRAYERS – PSALM 103
Lesson 21 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 103, read by Lana Elder, with Beethoven’s “Für Elise,” played by Lucas Elder

We’re looking through the psalms to find ways to make our prayer lives more effective. One of the most powerful ways is to include “praise” in our prayers, to include some words of acknowledgement that God is worthy of our praise. Doing so has benefits for us and for God.

If you’ve ever been in a conversation with someone that has not included any kind of praise and has not included any thoughts or words of thankfulness or gratefulness on any level, you know how hard such conversations can be.

But a spoonful of sugar really does help the medicine go down, as Mary Poppins sings. More than that, your words of praise will help to recapture the best of your relationship with God, a relationship built on trust that He is worthy of your praise, and that you are the apple of His eye–no matter what your circumstances may be.

Psalm 103 gives us an example of a prayer filled with praise, a prayer that opens and closes with the words, “Praise the Lord, O my soul.” This psalm of David begins like this:

“Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise His holy name.
Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits–
who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s” (Psalm 103:1-5).

One thing I especially love about this psalm is that David’s words of praise seem to be truly flowing from the depths of his being. His words aren’t simply in the category of saying something just to “fake it till you make it.” His words are true words of praise, words of faith. “Faith it till you make it” might be more like it, as David truly puts his trust in God’s goodness and God’s benefits.

“Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise His holy name,” David says.  Then he begins to list God’s benefits specifically:

– who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases,
– who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion,
– who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s

David had seen God do each of these things. He had seen God forgive his sins. He had seen God heal his diseases. He had seen God redeem his life from the pit, crown him with love and compassion, and satisfy his desires with good things. David remembered what God had done in the past, and trusted God to do so again in the future.

If you’ve noticed my prayers at the end of these messages, you’ll see that I often start with the words “Father, thank You…” and then go on to list some of the things for which I am truly grateful to God. I have journals filled with these types of prayers. Not because my days are always so rosy and cheery, but because I’ve made a commitment to myself to try to begin my prayers with words of thanks to God, no matter what else might be going on in my life.

Sometimes I have to push aside the things that are pressing down on me so I can find some words of praise. I know they’re within me. I just have to bring them out. So I’ll start by writing the words, “Father, thank You…” and think of something that has happened in the past 24 or 48 hours for which I am truly thankful.

This morning, my prayer would go something like this: “Father, thank you for my daughter coming home for this weekend. Thank You for my family gathering together and eating and laughing and crying and watching movies. Thank You for the sunny days when we could be outside and for the rainy ones when everything was watered well.”

If this was all you were to read in my journal, you would think I had a most blissful weekend. All in all, it was quite pleasant. But if you read further, you’d find that there were multiple concerns that were on my heart: accidents and injuries, bills that need to be paid, and relationships that need to be ironed out.

If your life is like mine, it’s usually a mixed bag of things which are praiseworthy and things which are difficult. By praising God on the front end, however, and praising God again at the end of the conversation, I find it brings balance to my prayers, encouragement to my soul, and blessings to both God’s heart and my own.

If you need some ideas to prime the pump of praise in your prayer life, read through Psalm 103. See if you can say any of the words of that psalm with true praise from the depths of your being. Then let your faith begin to flow, putting your trust in God once again for everything in your life.

I’m going to do this myself today as well. If you’d like, you can pray though the rest of Psalm 103 with me here, as I look through the words of David and turn each line that resonates with my heart into a prayer of praise to God. As I often start in my journal, I’ll just start with the words, “Father, thank You…” then I’ll begin to list those things from this psalm which I can truly say with words of praise from my heart.

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You…
– that You are compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in love.
– that You will not always accuse, nor will You hold Your anger against us forever.
– that You don’t treat us as our sins deserve.
– that as far as the east is from the west, so far have You removed our sins from us.
– that You have compassion on us, as a father has compassion on his children.
– that even though our days are like grass and quickly forgotten, Your love is everlasting.

Thank You for being so worthy of our praise. We praise You Lord, from the depths of our souls. We praise Your holy name. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Eric Elder

P.S. If you haven’t listened to today’s psalm yet, you can listen to it here:
Psalm 103, read by Lana Elder, with Beethoven’s “Für Elise,” played by Lucas Elder

You can also follow along with our weekly reading plan for the book of psalms here:
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms


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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- Singing Prayers- Psalm 96


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

SINGING PRAYERS – PSALM 96
Lesson 20 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 96, read by Lana Elder, with Johann Pachelbel’s “Fughetta,” played by Eric Elder

Sometimes you have to sing your prayers. Music gives your prayers an added dimension, an added lift.

As Hans Christian Andersen said: “Where words fail, music speaks.”

When we combine our words with music, it takes our words to a whole new level.

Psalm 96 begins with these words:

“Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth” (v. 1).

Then it goes on to list a number of things about which we can sing to Him:

“Sing to the Lord, praise His name; proclaim His salvation day after day.
Declare His glory among the nations, His marvelous deeds among all peoples.
For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; He is to be feared above all gods.
For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the Lord made the heavens.
Splendor and majesty are before Him; strength and glory are in His sanctuary.
Ascribe to the Lord, O families of nations, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name; bring an offering and come into His courts.
Worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness; tremble before Him, all the earth.
Say among the nations, ‘The Lord reigns'” (vv. 2-10a).

The psalms were originally songs, as the word psalm means “song.”

Even more specifically, the word psalm comes from the Greek word “psallein,” which means “to pluck,” or to play a stringed instrument, such as a harp.

When we sing songs to God today accompanied by the piano or guitar, we’re actually doing what people have done for thousands of years: putting words to music to give them an added dimension, an added lift.

How can singing lift your prayer life? How can music make your prayer life more effective?

For starters, it can make your prayers more memorable. I have a friend who had trouble remembering anything. But she said that when she was a child, if someone put an idea to music, she remembered it for life.

There’s something about a melody that makes ideas more memorable.

Here in the U.S., when I was a kid, I learned the entire preamble to our constitution because School House Rock set those words to music. Most kids in the U.S. in my generation can sing it by memory still to this day: “We the people, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice and ensure domestic tranquility…”

We also learned about English in the same way, singing songs like “Conjunction Junction”: “Conjunction junction, what’s your function? Hooking up words and phrases and clauses.”

Advertisers, of course, use music to make their products more memorable, and again, here in the U.S., most people in my generation can fill in the blanks in a song like this:

“Oh, I wish I were an _________ __________ _________,
That is what I truly want to be.
For if I were an _________ __________ _________,
Everyone would be in love with me!”

(For those not from the U.S. or not from my generation, the answer is “Oscar Meyer Wiener,” a famous brand of hot dogs here.)

But more than just making words more memorable, by putting our words to music, we can make our words more precise, more specific. By adding rhythm and rhyme to our melodies, we can take deep spiritual truths and turn them into “sound bites” which can speak volumes into people’s hearts.

John Newton was a former slave trader who renounced his ways when he put his faith in Christ. When he wrote out his testimony, he did so by combining rhythm and rhyme and setting his words to music. By doing this, people all over the world now know his “testimony in a nutshell,” which begins like this:

“Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind but now I see.”

When you take time to turn your prayers into songs, you can make your prayers more precise, more specific, and more memorable, too.

Has God put a song in your heart? Is there a way you combine that song with a prayer that’s on your heart and sing it out to Him?

My encouragement to you today is to try singing out your prayers to God. Try putting a melody to the thoughts that are within you. Try adding some rhythm and rhyme to make them more precise, specific and memorable.

Try singing a new song to God, as the first line of Psalm 96 encourages us to do:

“Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth”

If you need some ideas for topics, you could use some of the topics that are listed in the rest of the psalm. Sing about His salvation, His glory, or His marvelous deeds. Sing about His creation, the heavens, or His glory and strength. Sing about His splendor, or about what it means to you that “The Lord reigns.”

Maybe you play an instrument, maybe you don’t. Maybe you have a melody that is uniquely your own, or maybe you can borrow a melody from somewhere else. But if you want to take your prayer life farther and deeper–and help others go farther and deeper in their prayer lives, too–consider “singing a new song to the Lord.”

When you do, you’ll find that the words you speak to God will be more precise, specific and memorable, maybe even being repeated and sung by others to help take their prayer lives farther and deeper as well.

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for giving us music and rhythm and rhyme. Thank You for putting songs in our hearts that others have written to take our own prayer lives deeper and farther than we could on our own. Help us to bring out new songs from our hearts as well, so that we can give expression to our thoughts in a way that  goes beyond the words themselves. When our words fail or seem to fall short, help us to put them to music to give them an added dimension, a lift. Speak to us, as we consider new ways to speak to You. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Eric Elder

P.S. One of the reasons I’ve been setting the psalms to classical music this year is to give them an added dimension, an added lift, too. If you haven’t listened to today’s psalm, you can listen to it at the link below. I’ve simply combined the reading of Psalm 96 with a classical piece by Johann Pachelbel in the background. I love the result!
Psalm 96, read by Lana Elder, with Johann Pachelbel’s “Fughetta,” played by Eric Elder

And here’s the link to our reading plan for the book of psalms:
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms


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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- Protective Prayers- Psalm 91


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

PROTECTIVE PRAYERS – PSALM 91
Lesson 19 of Psalms: Lessons in Prayer

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

You can listen to today’s psalm here:
Psalm 91, read by Lana Elder, with Claude Debussy’s “Clair de Lune,” played by Bo Elder

If you or someone you love needs God’s protection today, I hope you’ll read this message.

One of the most frequent types of prayers I pray are prayers for God’s protection–for myself and for those I love. While Jesus tells us not to worry, one of the reasons He has to do so is because there’s so much to worry about!

My dad had a card he kept on the window sill by the kitchen sink in our home growing up. It said, “Worrying must work. 90% of the things I worry about never happen.”

I’m sure that card was a reminder to him, as it often was to me, that many of the things we worry about are not worth worrying about, as they will simply never happen. As the French philosopher Michel de Montaigne said over 400 years ago: “My life has been filled with terrible misfortune; most of which never happened.”

The truth is, however, that there are still plenty of things that can and do happen to us and to those we love. What do we do about those? God gives us His answer in Psalm 91, a prayer that is filled with words of trust in God’s protection, no matter what might come against us.

Listen to the psalmist’s opening words, as he puts his complete trust in God:

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’
Surely He will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you will find refuge;
His faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.

You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday.
A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.”
(Psalm 91:1-7)

I love the imagery of this psalm, which pictures God as a refuge and a fortress, a safe place in the midst of trouble.

The psalmist imagines himself coming to God as a fledgling bird would come to his father, taking refuge under his father’s wings. The psalmist says things like these: “He will cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you will find refuge,” “Surely He will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence,” and “You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day.”

There is great protection when we put our trust in God. Even though “A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand,” this psalm continues by saying, “but it will not come near you.”

I would never be able to count the number of times I have prayed a prayer of protection over myself and those I love. Every time I turn on the car and back out of the driveway, I pause to pray out loud that God would be with us, that He would protect us, and that we would be able to bless His name as we go about our day, and that He would bless us as we do. Every time my kids are out late, or someone I know is sick or hurting, or one of my friends is going to be home alone, I pray God’s hand of protection over them.

I don’t take these prayers for granted, and I don’t say them superstitiously, as if somehow by uttering the words versus not uttering the words they are going to act like a magic charm to protect those I love. I say these prayers because I truly believe that prayer works, that when we put our trust in God, we are putting our trust in the One who can truly protect us and dispatch His angels to guard us in all our ways.

The psalmist says as much as he continues:

“You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked.
If you make the Most High your dwelling- even the Lord, who is my refuge-
then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent.
For He will command His angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways;

they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
You will tread upon the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent.
‘Because he loves me,’ says the Lord, ‘I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges My name.
He will call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him.
With long life will I satisfy him and show him My salvation.'”

(Psalm 91:8-16)

I don’t know about you, but as I read these words, a great peace washes over me. A great comfort and calm comes into my heart. A great trust rises within me. I can breathe a little easier, knowing that God’s got this. He’s got it all under control. Even when life seems out of control, I can rest in the fact that God is bigger than anything else that can come against me. Nothing can touch me or those I love unless there is some greater purpose He has in mind.

A friend of mine describes God’s protection like the guardrails along the far edges of the road on each side to keep us (our lives) from careening off the edge. While there are plenty of obstacles, pitfalls, breakdowns, tickets for speeding, flat tires–multiple things that can and will happen on our journey–ultimately the providential protection of God will indeed keep us on the road He has designed for us.

If you’re needing God’s protection today, don’t worry. As Jesus said, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34). Instead, put your trust in God. Put your trust in Him for everything in your life, as well as the lives of those you love.

Pray that God’s hand of protection would be with you as you face the terrors of the night or the arrows that fly by day. Trust that He will command His angels to guard you in all your ways. Know that when you call upon Him, He will answer you. Though a thousand may fall at your side, or ten thousand at your right hand, it will not come near you.

God is worthy of your trust. Keep praying, and keep putting your full faith and trust in Him.

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for being a refuge and a fortress, a God in whom we can trust. Thank You for walking with us through the craziness of life, promising that when we put our trust in You, You will protect us when we do. Father, help us to keep trusting in You, even when we face terrors at night or arrows during the day, knowing that You are our shield and our rampart, a strong wall that protects everyone who take shelter within. Lord, help us not to worry about tomorrow. Help us not to fear what we face today. Instead, help us to pray, and to keep putting our trust in You, all along the way. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Eric Elder

P.S. If you haven’t listened to today’s psalm, I hope that you will, as I believe the words and the music can bring you a peace that will go beyond any message I could ever give:
Psalm 91, read by Lana Elder, with Claude Debussy’s “Clair de Lune,” played by Bo Elder

And here’s the link to our reading plan for the book of psalms:
2017 Reading Plan for Psalms


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


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

(Eric will continue with his series next Sunday)

The Discipline of Prayer

by Kerry Bauman

This morning I want to address the discipline of prayer. I doubt very much if I have to convince many of you of God’s eagerness to grant our requests when they are in keeping with His will (See 1 John 5:14-15). On the other hand, it probably won’t hurt as we all know that there are times when we wonder if God is listening when we pray. So here’s an encouraging story to add fuel to your prayer life. We are told in Ephesians 6:4 that parents are to bring their children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. This is clearly God’s prescription for parenting throughout the ages. George McCluskey took this verse seriously. As soon as he and his wife started a family, he decided to invest one hour a day in prayer, because he wanted to raise his girls to follow Christ. After a time, he expanded his prayers to include his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Every day between 11AM and noon, he prayed for the next three generations. As the years went by, his two daughters committed their lives to Christ and married men who went into vocational ministry. The two couples produced four girls and one boy. Each of the girls eventually married a pastor, and the boy became one! The first two children born to this generation, were boys. Upon graduation from graduation from high school, the two (cousins) chose the same college and became roommates. During their sophomore year, one boy decided to go into the ministry. The other didn’t. He undoubtedly felt some pressure to continue the family legacy, but chose instead to pursue his interest in psychology. He stayed in school, earned his doctorate and eventually wrote books for parents that became bestsellers. He started a radio program heard on more than a thousand stations each day. The man’s name, of course, is James Dobson. Oh, the power of prayer to influence the destiny of our lives!

There is great power in prayer. Few will deny it. But have you ever considered the purpose of prayer? Is it all about getting what we want when we want it? Is God kind of like the genie in Aladdin’s lamp that was compelled to grant him three wishes? I would like to propose to you this morning that the purpose of prayer is not so much about us getting what we desire as it is about God being glorified. Give me just a few moments to state my case. First of all I know this because the purpose of everything we do in life is to glorify God according to 1 Corinthians 10:31. As a matter of fact, the prophet Isaiah tells us that we were created for God’s glory (See Isaiah 43:7). Further, when we look at the four verses that precede the text we’re studying this morning we see further proof. Here Christ cautions us against using prayer to glorify ourselves. In Matthew 6:5 He says, “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth; they have received their reward in full.” Obviously Jesus is not prohibiting public prayer. He, Himself, prayed in public often (See Matthew 14:19 for an example). Rather, Jesus is opposed to the kind of public prayer that draws attention to the one who is praying. It is far better to pray in private than to pray in public for the purpose of seeking the praise of men.

He goes on to point out another form of malpractice when it comes to prayer in Matthew 6:7. “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them…” One might ask, “How does repetitious prayer rob God of glory? Isn’t the widow in Luke 18 commended for persevering in her request for justice before an unrighteous judge?” Yes, this is true, however, here in Matthew 6, Jesus addresses the person who prays believing that God will be manipulated into answering based on the length of his prayers. This was a commonly held belief among pagans (See 1 Kings 18:26-29). Our Lord is opposed to this kind of prayer because it provides an opportunity for the individual to say to his friends, “If you knew how to pray like I do, you’d get answers too.” God is not interested in sharing His glory with another (See Isaiah 42:8) and His glory is fully on display as we draw near to Him in prayer and watch as He responds.

This brings us to the model prayer that Jesus gave to His disciples and to all believers throughout human history. Though it can and often is prayed verbatim, or word for word, more likely Christ gave it to us as an example of how we should approach God in prayer. This morning I’m going to attempt to convince you that in giving us this prayer, Jesus was once again doing what He always did…seeking to glorify His Father, this time through the prayers of His saints.

Prayer glorifies God by reminding us of our special relationship with Him (See Matthew 6:9). He is “our Father in heaven.” This is significant for at least two reasons. Permit me to take them in the opposite order in which they come in the text.

God is found in heaven. While He is God of heaven and earth (See Deuteronomy 4:39), Jesus refers to the Father as being found in heaven. The prophet Isaiah reminds us that the earth is but His footstool (See Isaiah 66:1). The Jews of that day tended to think of God. He was viewed as the “Holy Other,” who existence extends far beyond the universe as we know it. He is so unlike us that if we were to see Him for but a moment we would die (See Exodus 33:20). The thought that anyone could have a personal relationship with Him was almost impossible to imagine. This is the God of Heaven! Application: Perhaps we’ve lost a little bit of this today. We sometimes treat God as if He were a big wonderful teddy bear that we can hug when we need some encouragement. We might do well to recapture some of the majesty and grandeur of God that the Jews seem to appreciate so much.

God is our Father. The word is “Abba” and the closest word we have for it in English is “daddy.” It was used only on rare occasions by Jews in the 1st century. They preferred titles like “Sovereign Lord,” “King of the Universe,” and “Self-Existent One” when speaking of God. For Jesus to have used it in reference to the way that His disciples can approach God must have been shocking to them. He was in effect was saying that His followers are children of God. They share a special relationship with God that not all people were privileged to share (See John 1:11-12). Jesus wanted His disciples to understand that because of this special relationship, they had the same access to the Father that He had! Illustration: I’m a pretty nice guy when it comes to the children in our neighborhood. They like me. They laugh at my jokes and think I’m cool, but they all call me Mr. Bauman or Mr. Kerry. Only my children get to call me “Dad.” And while the other kids on the street have access to me when I’m outside or invite them into my home, my children have access to me 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. After all, I am their father. The same is every bit as true with our Heavenly Father.

Prayer glorifies God by reminding us of our unique calling in Him. International Bible Teacher Os Guinness defines calling as “the truth that God calls us to Himself so decisively that everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have is invested with special devotion, dynamism and direction as a response to His summons and service.” In short, what he’s saying is that our calling, our very purpose for existence is to glorify God with everything we are or ever hope to be. Jesus breaks this down for us in the first three requests of His model prayer.

“Hallowed be Thy name…” The word “hallow” means to ‘make or consider something holy.’ In this case, it is the name of God which represents who He is and what He stands for. When we pray this we are asking the Lord to work in us in such a way that others will catch a glimpse of the holiness of God by watching those who lay claim to Him as our Father. So in a very real sense, to pray “hallowed be Thy name” is to pray “make me holy so that everyone will know you’re holy.”

“Thy kingdom come…” The kingdom of God has already come (See Matthew 12:28), but is not yet in its completed form (See Matthew 16:28). When we pray for God’s kingdom to come we are making two requests: (1) That His kingdom will be expanded as God draws men, women and children to Himself; and (2) That Christ will return and right the wrongs and establish a new heaven and new earth. In fact, the last book of the Bible concludes with the prayer, “Come, Lord Jesus” (See Revelation 22:20).

“Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” God reigns in heaven absolutely. Everyone does his will there! This is not the case, however, on earth where people frequently live in disobedience to His will. So we join with our Lord in praying, “not my will, but thy will be done.” Application: Be careful when you praying that you don’t confuse God’s will and your own. We all possess the amazing capacity to rationalize anything so that it appears to us to be God’s will. In effect, we pray something like, “Not Thy will, but my will be done.” I’m reminded of an overweight man who decided it was time to shed some pounds. He informed his coworkers that he was going on a diet and would no longer be bringing donuts to the office. He knew it would be hard to resist stopping at the bakery on the way to work, but he committed himself to remaining strong and resisting temptation. His coworkers were surprised one morning to see him arrive at the office with a big box of donuts. When they reminded him of his diet, he just smiled. “These are very special donuts,” he explained. “When I left for the office this morning, I knew I was going to drive by the bakery, and I wondered if maybe the Lord might want me to have some donuts today. I wasn’t sure, so I prayed, ‘Lord, if you want me to stop and buy some donuts, let there be an open parking place directly in front of the bakery.’ As you know, parking places in front of that bakery are hard to get!” “So the parking place was there?” one of his coworkers asked. “It was a miracle,” the man replied. “After just the eighth time around the block, there it was!”

Prayer glorifies God by reminding us of our absolute dependence upon Him.

“Give us this day our daily bread…” In Jesus’ day laborers were paid each day for their work. It was frequently so low that it was almost impossible to save any. A day’s wage paid for a day’s amount of food. This request, then, became very important as they literally had to trust God for the next meal. Times are a little different for us, yet the point is still the same. In asking God for our daily bread we are acknowledging that He is the source of every material blessing, whether food, clothing or shelter. This is the reason why we give thanks when we sit down to eat! God has demonstrated His grace by answering our prayer.

“Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors…” Sin is pictured in this prayer as a debt. This verse goes hand in hand with verses 14 and 15. If we are unwilling to forgive the debt (sin) of others as it has affected our lives, then we cannot expect to experience forgiveness from God. For the Christian, this is absolutely unacceptable position to be in.

“Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the Evil One…” Just as we depend upon God for our physical and relational needs, so we depend upon Him for our moral and spiritual victories. Application: The temptation here may very well related to the bitterness that we can harbor when we fail to forgive those who are our debtors. This can give the enemy an upper hand and begin a chain of events that will ultimately lead to great pain and misfortune.

Consider a little boy named Julian who fell down while chasing butterflies in a field of tall grass. Soon afterward, the boy’s left eye started hurting, so he was taken to a doctor. The doctor couldn’t find the source of the irritation, so he just gave the boy some ointment and sent him home. Eventually Julian’s eye problem went away. About a year later, though, the boy started complaining of cloudy vision. His parents took him to an eye specialist, who was stunned by what he discovered. Apparently when Julian had fallen a year earlier, a tiny grass seed had implanted itself in his cornea. Slowly the seed had grown and had actually sprouted two little leaves in Julian’s eye. The seed had to be removed immediately in order to save the boy’s vision. So it is with the sin of unforgiveness. It may seem to be a small thing at first, but left untreated, it can yield devastating results in our lives.

“What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear! What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer. O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear, All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.” Let’s conclude by praying together the Lord’s Prayer.


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