This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- St. Nicholas: The Believer, Part 4 of 7

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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 the book my wife and I wrote about the real St. Nicholas who lived in the 3rd and 4th centuries A.D. It’s a new book for Christmas based on the old story of St. Nicholas.

You can read Part 4 below, or listen to Part 4 at this link, or order the paperback, eBook or audiobook from Amazon at this link. (If you missed them, you can follow these links to read Part 1Part 2, and Part 3.)

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 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 fish–and 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 captain–almost 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 hundreds–even thousands–of 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 world–widows and widowers and those who had families in name but not in their actual relationships–who 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, 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- Retreat Announcement, and St. Nicholas: The Believer, Part 3 of 7

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Dear friends, we’re just 10 days away from hosting our “2016 Guided Prayer Retreat“! We’ve designed this 3-day event to help make your prayer life as effective as possible. We’ll be broadcasting the retreat online for free for anyone who wants to watch. Just visit the link live.theranch.org to see the daily schedule and to participate with us during the retreat using the online chat feature. From this link, you can also request reminders to be sent to your phone or email when each session starts so you won’t miss a thing. Visit live.theranch.org to request your reminders now!


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

ST. NICHOLAS: THE BELIEVER
Part 3 of 7

by Eric & Lana Elder

 
Today, I’m posting Part 3 of the book my wife and I wrote about the real St. Nicholas who lived in the 3rd and 4th centuries A.D. It’s a new book for Christmas based on the old story of St. Nicholas.

You can read Part 3 below, or listen to Part 3 at this link, or order the paperback, eBook or audiobook from Amazon at this link. (If you missed them, you can follow these links to read Part 1 and Part 2.)

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 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, 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 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 the entire book my wife and I wrote about the real St. Nicholas who lived in the 3rd and 4th centuries A.D. It’s a new book for Christmas based on the old story of St. Nicholas.

You can read Part 2 below, or listen to Part 2 at this link, or order the paperback, eBook or audiobook from Amazon at this link. (If you missed it, you can read Part 1 at this link.)

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 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, 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 1 of 7


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

ST. NICHOLAS: THE BELIEVER
Part 1 of 7

by Eric & Lana Elder

 
Starting today and continuing for the next 6 weeks, I’ll be posting, as a series, the entire book my wife and I wrote about the real St. Nicholas who lived in the 3rd and 4th centuries A.D. It’s a new book for Christmas based on the old story of St. Nicholas.

You can read Part 1 below, or listen to Part 1 at this link, or order the paperback, eBook or audiobook from Amazon at this link.

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

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

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, 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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Every November, we invite our readers to help offset the costs of this ministry. There’s no obligation, just the joy of helping us reach more people for Christ! Click here to make an online donation of any size, or send your donation to: The Ranch Fellowship, 25615 E 3000 North Rd, Chenoa, IL 61726. Thank you!


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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- Lana’s Hope


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

LANA’S HOPE

by Lana Elder
The Ranch

 
Note from Eric: I reread this message that my wife, Lana, had written about 4 years ago the month before she passed away. Her message was significant then, and it is just as significant now, if not more so, as she expressed her desires for those of us still living if the cancer she was battling ever took her life. If you need hope today, even in the midst of whatever you may be going through, I hope you’ll read this message. Lana also included a link to a video message I had given back then called “Eric’s Hope.” Both messages still speak volumes to me. I pray they speak volumes to you as well.

Lana’s Hope

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the title of my blog, “I’m Believin’!”

I picked that title because I had so many people praying for me and I would always agree in prayer with them and end by saying “I’m believin’!” I really do believe God can do anything, absolutely anything.

I have believed in God for as long as I can remember, but it wasn’t until after college that I decided to really get to know Him better. I joined a Bible study and found a great church to join. And through it all I have come to know Jesus as the savior of my sins, my healer, my friend, my everything! My relationship with Him has grown over the years so much so that I trust He is helping me to help me make the best decisions each day.

So being in a situation like this, where death could happen at any time, I have no worries for myself if that happens. I’ve spent so much time with Jesus already that it’ll be like going home to see my friend.

I love to take walks in the country and many times I’ll listen to some worship songs or contemporary Christian music or podcasts. During these times, I’m often overwhelmed with how much God loves me. I’ve been memorizing Scripture and listening to great worship songs for over 25 years.  The words to these songs and so many scriptures are embedded deep in my heart. So when cancer came, I didn’t question God’s love for me. I already knew He loved me to pieces, just like I know He loves you to pieces.

But lately I’ve been wondering what people will think if I were to die from this cancer. I wonder if people would lose their faith in God or lose their faith in His ability to heal people miraculously. I would be so sad and disappointed if anyone lost their faith, or part of their faith, if I’m not healed.

I pray often for my children and others reading this that their faith would not be shaken if I were to die, but that they would know that God is in control and is always looking out for what’s best in each person’s life. I am quite confident that He who began a good work in me will carry it on until completion.

My faith isn’t dependent on whether I’m healed or not. My faith is dependent upon the fact that Jesus died for my sins so I could spend eternity with Him in heaven and I know God loves me and will work all things for good in the end.

I’m sure the early disciples, who were martyred for their faith, prayed that God would deliver them. And many times, God did deliver them. But other times God had a plan to use their suffering and death to bring about the salvation of many people. God really does have a will for each of our lives that is unique and purposeful.

I have great hope that God can heal me, but my hope is in Him completely no matter what. I know I can’t go wrong by putting my hope in Him. As Psalm 25:3 says:

“No one whose hope is in You
    
     will ever be put to shame…”

Having said all of that, I’m still praying that God would heal me completely, and I’d love for you to continue praying for my healing, too. My appointment yesterday showed my blood levels were too low to receive any chemo. So I will be having a blood transfusion tomorrow (Saturday) afternoon at 3:00 pm. Please pray that my platelets will also come up. Right now they are at 30,000 but they need to at least double or triple before they can continue with any treatments. And lastly and most importantly (at least for my body) please pray for my bones because they seem to be giving me the most pain. Some new pain medications have helped but the pain is still there. BTW, I’m starting to get feeling in my left thumb and left foot again, since switching to this new chemo. Praise God and thanks for your prayers! They are a little numb but I can tell they are on the way to recovery.

Before I close, I wanted to share a link with you to a new video Eric recently did for a film project called Nouvelle Vie (New Life) to give hope to families facing cancer. This video was filmed a few months ago when Eric was in Dallas, but we just found out you can watch it online. I was surprised when I saw the title they gave it. It’s called “Eric’s Hope.” I had no idea what they were going to call it when I first started writing this note to you and titled it “Lana’s Hope.” It’s like God had it all planned out, to share a message of hope with you today from both of us! Here’s the link to the video (just to warn you, you may want to get a Kleenex first!)

Click here to watch “Eric’s Hope”

Eric's Hope - Video

As you can tell from the video, my life has been so blessed to be married to Eric. It’s like being married to Jesus (I’m not kidding!) He’s the rock in our family and he’s been a super caretaker these last few months. He’s kind, tender-hearted, and just a great godly man.

There’s so much I have to be thankful for in life, from my great husband and my wonderful kids, to the friends and family like you all that have been so gracious in your care for me and in your prayers.

I love you all!
Lana

P.S. from Eric: Starting next week, I’ll begin sharing with you the book Lana and I finished writing just prior to her passing from this life to the next. It’s called St. Nicholas: The Believer, and I believe it will help you get the most out of the upcoming holiday season, reminding you to keep putting your hope in the One who gives us unending HOPE.


Make A Donation!

Every November, we invite our readers to help offset the costs of this ministry. There’s no obligation, just the joy of helping us reach more people for Christ! Click here to make an online donation of any size, or send your donation to: The Ranch Fellowship, 25615 E 3000 North Rd, Chenoa, IL 61726. Thank you!


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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- In The Kayak


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

IN THE KAYAK

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

(You can listen to the audio of this message at this link)

Last week I shared with you about God being our Savior. I want to talk again about God being our Savior, and specifically, just how close God is to each one of us–how close He is to you.

The God Who Saves, by Kirk Billiter

Here’s a picture that Kirk Billiter painted for this talk that says, in Hebrew, “The God who Saves.” Kirk has printed out some cards with this picture on it, and if you look on the back, there’s a verse I want to focus on again this week. It says:

“Surely the arm of the Lord is not to short to save, nor His ear to dull to hear” (Isaiah 59:1).

I want to talk about how very near God’s arm is to each one of us.

I’ll start with a story. I was preaching this last Sunday at a church in Streator, and I was talking about God being with us. I felt the night before that I was supposed to not just tell people that God will be with them, but to let them know that God IS with them, right there, in that moment–just like He is with you now. I want to let you know that God is here, too, with us, in this moment. Jesus said, “Wherever two or three are gathered in My name, I will be there” (Matthew 18:20). And certainly there are more than two or three here, gathered in His name. That would mean that He is here.

So I was going to preach this message and before I preached, I went to the church early by about half an hour, and I thought, “I’m just going to look at some of the scriptures again that I’m going to talk about–just sit in my car and look. But I don’t want to pull up to the church, because then people will stop and they’ll start talking to me, and I really want to have a few moments just with God.”

So I went about a block away from the church. I was driving down the street looking for a little spot where I could park. I didn’t want to park in someone’s front yard–it’s a little creepy on Sunday morning to have somebody out there parking. So I went by and saw this open field on the right. I passed it and went to the end of the dead end street and had to turn around, so I decided to park near the open field, which was across the street from a house.

I sat there looking through some of the scriptures. I was looking through the book of Mark in the Bible and all the times when God was with people–there in the book of Mark–and what happened in those moments. As I was sitting there in my car, another car came towards me. It started slowing down, and I was thinking, “Oh, gosh, they live here. They’re going to pull in and say ‘What are you doing in my front yard?”

This couple pulled right up to my window and rolled down their window. I rolled down mine.

The man said, “I can’t believe you’re parked here in a little red Mini Cooper.  My brother, who lives in this house, owned a little red Mini Cooper exactly like that. He sold it a couple of years ago, though. So as I pulled up here, I just couldn’t believe it. Why was that little red Mini Cooper parked in front of his house, which he had sold previously.”

Streator is not a big town, and I had lived in there for about ten years, and knew that it was highly unlikely that there was another little red Mini Cooper anywhere in Streator. He went on to say, “In fact, my brother had removed the white racing stripes, which most Mini Coopers have, you know. He had removed them, just like yours has them removed.” He added, “How strange is that, that you would be parked here?!?”

I said, “Well, I was just getting ready to preach a sermon at the church nearby, and I just looked for a spot to park.”

He said, “This is just amazing. I’m going to have to tell my brother about this,” and he drove on.

I sat there in my car, looking at all the times when God was with someone in the Bible. Sometimes He was with someone in a boat. There would be a storm going on and Jesus was right there in the boat with them. He was walking on the water, then He gets in the boat, calming the storm and calming their hearts.

I thought, “Well, that doesn’t happen to me today. Jesus doesn’t jump in my boat.” Well, even I don’t jump in a boat! It’s been a few years since I’ve been in a boat! But I’m in a car–a lot–every day. And Jesus jumped into my Mini Cooper with me that morning! In fact, it wasn’t my Mini Cooper. It was my daughter’s. She was out of town for the week, and I was just borrowing it since it was at my house. I hardly ever get to drive this car. I happened to drive it that day. I happened to park there, half an hour before my sermon. I happened to park in front of the very house. And this couple–God had to direct them out of from wherever they came from to come down this street at that very moment and point out to me that this house is where a little red Mini Cooper ought to be! And that made me feel that I was right where I ought to be.

I was able to get up and share a message that morning that “God is With Us” with total conviction–total confidence–that God really is “with us.”

Mini Cooper on the morning I preached

What does that look like in your actual life? What does that mean when He shows up in your car with you?

I used to wonder. I would have these experiences, and I would think, “Wow, God! That’s You!” I would feel like the two disciples walking down the road to Emmaus, and Jesus was walking right with them, and they don’t recognize Him. Later, He breaks bread with them and all of a sudden they recognize Him, and He’s gone. Then they realize, “That was Jesus! He was right here!”

I used to wonder, “What do I do with experiences like that? Am I supposed to go talk to the guy who owns the house or something?” And I’ve come to the conclusion, over years and years of having this happen, that a lot of times God just wants to say, “I’m with you, Eric. I’m right there with you. I’m not asking you to do anything. I just want you to know that I am with you.”

About a month ago, I had another unusual experience when I was fully awake. I was thinking about being in the river of life–this great river that God takes us on. I was having this conversation with God, and I was picturing myself in this river, when God said, “Are you sure you want to take this? Do you want to go ahead and take this river?”

I said, “Yeah, I do.”

He said, “Jesus is over there on the shore, standing next to a kayak. You can go over to Him, and you can go on this river.”

I said, “That sounds awesome. Can He pull me over there with a rope or something?”

God said, “You can swim, Eric. You can swim.” (Just a little reminder that sometimes we need Him to pull us and other times He says, “You can do this.”)

I thought, “All right. I can swim.” So I swam over to the shore, and I got up to Jesus. I looked down and there were two seats in the kayak. I thought, “Do I sit in the front or do I sit in the back, if I’m going to go on the river with Jesus?” I’ll share what I had written that day, as I was was writing it down as it was happening.

God said, “There’s actually only one seat. He’s in you, and you’re in Him, like He’s in Me, and I’m in Him. Then I saw those two seats swirling, round and round and round–the front was in the back and the back was in the front–and all of a sudden there was just one seat.

God said, “One seat. One person. Two beings.”

I asked, “Who’s in control?”

God said, “You’re both in control. You move your arm, He’ll move His. If you let Him, He’ll move His arm and it will move yours. You’re both in complete control at all times. You both will move as one to the extent that You’re going in the same direction. You’ll both have to yield to the other if you want to go in different directions. But He’ll be as glad to go in the direction you choose as you’ll be glad to go in the direction He chooses. It’s a joint effort; truly a partnership.”

I put my hand on this steering stick in front of me (kayaks don’t normally have one, but this one did), and His hand, contained within my hand, went to it simultaneously. Then He put His hand back at His side, and mine naturally followed it.

And so began the journey.

I just love that, the fact that the arm of the Lord is not too short to save. In fact, the arm of the Lord is about as long as… your arm. If you have accepted Jesus Christ, if you have invited the Holy Spirit to come inside you, then He’s in you. I don’t know how you picture it, but I used to picture the Holy Spirit within me as a light inside my heart or something–the Holy Spirit in me.

But no, He’s a being, and He inhabits your body. Your arm is His arm. Your feet are His feet. Your words can be His words to the extent that you let them be. Your eyes can be His eyes. Your ears can hear with His ears. Your heart can feel what He can feel.

The arm of the Lord is about this long on me (as long as my outstretched arm). I don’t know how long it is on you–about the length of your arm, I’m guessing. And you can go any direction you want–you have free will. You can take your feet and go wherever you want, and Jesus will go right along with you. Sometimes He may cry as He goes. Sometimes He may plead with you, “Please, let’s not go there.” Sometimes He’ll rejoice with you and say, “Yes! This is where I want to be!”

Sometimes you’ll be worshipping God and raising your arms and He’ll say, “Yes! This is what I want you to do with your arms!”

Some days He’ll say, “Hey, I’d like to go over here. Do you want to come with me?”

And you can say, “Yes,” or you can say, “No.” But if you say, “Yes,” you are in for an incredible experience.

Maybe the next day He’ll say, “Where do you want to go?”

And you’ll say, “I would really love to do this.”

And He’ll say, “That sounds awesome! Let’s go do that.”

Does this give you a different perspective of Jesus being with you? Of God being with you?

I just want to encourage you, remind you, that God IS with you.

I mentioned last week, if you want an exercise, you can look through the book of Mark in the Bible, like I did a week ago. I just went through scripture after scripture. It’s sixteen chapters, the shortest of the four gospels–Matthew, Mark, Luke and John–the stories about Jesus. And I started circling every time that God was with someone, that Jesus was with someone, and what happened when He was with them.

It was incredible. People were healed. People were saved. People were forgiven. People’s lives were changed.

I shared last week with you how my life was changed, and I’ll close with this. Last week, I wasn’t quite sure if I was going to mention this book I had written, Fifty Shades of Grace. It talks about my journey–I had been involved in sexual activity with men as well as with women when I was younger, and God said, “Eric, that’s going to kill you if you do that. I don’t want you to die.”

When I heard God say that, it quickened my heart, and I said, “God, I don’t want to die, either. I don’t know how to change. I don’t know what I can do.”

God showed me that Jesus came to die for my sins and sent His Holy Spirit to help me do whatever God wanted me to do. I put my faith in Christ that day, turned my life around, and I’ve never gone back. It’s been thirty years, and I’ve never gone back–never gone back–not for lack of temptations or all kinds of opportunities, but because God said, “I don’t want you to die.”

And when you sin, it will have consequences, and ultimately you will die.

So I wrote all this in a book about a year ago. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to share about it last week because the high school team was leading worship, and I thought, “I’m not sure if I should share this. I understand high schoolers know about this, too–I get it–but there’s also a lot of stuff in here and I wasn’t sure if I should share it.

But God nudged me to share it and I did. Afterwards I went up to the high school worship team to tell them they did a great job. One of the girls said, “I can’t believe you wrote that book! I read that book and it was awesome!” She gave it to her friend, who was also on the worship team, and her friend said, “That is the best book! It was incredible!”

I had written it under a pen name so they had no idea who I was! So here, I was embarrassed, thinking, “I don’t want these kids to be exposed to this,” and I almost shortchanged an opportunity for God to speak. I don’t want to shortchange God on those opportunities.

God is with us–He is with you. He will nudge you in the right direction. And when He does, follow him. His arm, surely, is not too short to save.

Let’s pray.

Thank You, Lord, for coming–for being with us. Lord, I pray that You would help us to realize that You are with us, even now, even in this moment. Lord, for whoever might be listening to this, or reading this, I pray that they would know that You are with them–whether they’re in a little red Mini Cooper, or in a boat, or walking along a road. Let them know that You are with them–and let them know what a difference it makes to be in Your presence. In Jesus’ name, Amen.


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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- Jesus Has Saved Me From…


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

JESUS HAS SAVED ME FROM…

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

I gave a message to a group this week that I wanted to share with you. Jesus has saved me from many things, but in this message I share the biggest thing Jesus has saved me from, which may surprise you. I also want to encourage you to invite Jesus to save you from whatever you may need saving from today. You can listen to the message at the link below, or read the transcript of the message below the link. (It’ll be worth your time! Please listen or read!)

Click here to listen to “Jesus Has Saved Me From…”

I was thinking as we were just singing that song about “God is with us,” how much of a difference it makes when God is “with us.” And I know God is so pleased that you’re here tonight. I know that it’s sometimes hard to get here, and hard to make time in your schedule to do this. But I also know, having been in Care Groups many times myself, just how valuable this is. For me to come here on Thursday nights, for the various things that I was going through, this was life to me, and I so much looked forward to coming here and digging into whatever God had to tell me. So I know God is really pleased that you’re here tonight, too. I hope there’s an anticipation and an excitement about what you’re going to hear from God tonight, in this time, in the worship time, and in your small group afterwards, that God really is with us.

Just as an exercise for next week, if you want an idea of what to read in your Bible, I’ve been reading this week in the book of Mark–it’s the shortest of the four gospels: Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John, with the stories about Jesus, only sixteen chapters–and I’ve been reading through and looking at all the times when it says that Jesus was “with” someone. Whenever Jesus was with someone, things happened: people were healed, they were forgiven, and their lives were changed. It was amazing. And I’ve been circling those and going through–it’s only taken me two or three days to get through the whole book of Mark–and circling all those times when Jesus was “with” someone.

That’s the same thing that God does for us. He wants to be “with us.” He is with us, and He’s glad to be with us. So if you want a little exercise for this coming week, look through the book of Mark, and maybe take a look at those times when Jesus was “with” someone. I’m going to talk about that a little more next week.

But tonight, I want to talk about Jesus being our Savior.

Dave asked me to speak on this chapter from Mike Baker’s book, I Am Revealed, and we’ve been going through the names of God, and this week it’s on the name of God being “Savior.” There’s a verse in here I love and it says:

“Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save…” (Isaiah 59:1).

It’s almost ludicrous. Of course it’s not. His arm can reach anywhere! And of course, if He’s “with us,” then it’s absolutely not too short.

So I want to talk a little tonight about how God can save us from so many things. Whatever you’re going through right now, God’s arm is not too short to save.

There’s a question that Mike asks at the end of this chapter that I pondered on for a little while, and I’ll ask it to you, too. He says:

“Finish the following sentence with something specific, rather than just the word sin: ‘Jesus has saved me from…’ Personalize this statement according to your own experience. And in what ways has this saving made a difference in your life.”

So he wants us to finish this sentence, “Jesus has save me from…,” and list some specific things. I don’t know what comes to your mind. A bunch of things come to my mind. Before I mention that, let me preface it with this:

I got a text from a friend yesterday who was driving through the town where I live, which is called Chenoa, and she had stopped for gas, and she was trying to send me a text to make a joke about how much she loves the town of Chenoa, because it means she’s almost home. But her AutoCorrect changed it to “I love you so much, and don’t you know it!”

She quickly called me and said, “Just ignore any text that you get from me. That was AutoCorrect!”

I’m glad she called because I might have really wondered, “Wow! What exactly is going on here?”

But that’s not the worst AutoCorrect. The worst one that I’ve ever made was that I was writing to a friend who was praying with me about another friend who was sick and dying in the hospital. They thought he could have died any day. My friend texted me and said, “I’m praying that he recovers.”

I wrote back, and I meant to say, “I hope he does, and soon.” But it came out, “I hope he dies, and soon.”

I didn’t catch it until later in the afternoon when I texted my friend back to give her an update. My friend said, “I just thought, Eric, you must know this illness better than I do, and you know that it’s going to be better for him that it goes quickly.”

“No, no! I hope he does, not dies. I hope he recovers!” It was a terrible, terrible AutoCorrect.

After I told that story to a cousin of mine, he sent me this coaster that says:

“AutoCorrect can be your worst enema.”

AutoCorrect can be your worst enema.

But he said that mine takes the cake, though, praying that my friend would die, and quickly!

As I looked at that coaster, thinking of tonight, AutoCorrect is not my worst enema, or my worst enemy. There’s actually a worse enemy for me. Do you want to know who my worst enemy is? Maybe you can guess. It’s myself. And when I answered this question, “Jesus has saved me from…,” my answer was one word: myself.

Jesus has saved me from myself.

Because I was living my life the way that I wanted to live it. I was doing whatever I wanted to do. And I had no idea that what I was doing could have killed me. No idea. No clue, whatsoever.

Until I was in a Bible study in Houston, and some guys were talking about some Bible passages that said, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 3:23). The Bible said that everyone had sinned, and everyone deserves death for their sins. I thought that was a little strong. I wasn’t sure I had really done anything like that. I’d been a good Christian kid my whole life. I hadn’t really done anything that I would probably die from, or because of.

And a guy said, “Why don’t you ask God what He thinks about how good you’ve been?”

I said, “That’s fair.” So I went home and I asked God, “God, is there something I’ve done for which I could actually die?” And within two weeks, God answered my question. And He pointed me to a passage in the book of Romans that listed a whole number of sins, many of which I had done, including sexual activity both with men and with women. And at the end of that chapter, it said that those who do such things will die. And I was cut to the heart.

This dates me, but the word AIDS was not even a word when I first entered the kind of activity in which I was involved. It was about three months later that the Center for Disease Control finally identified that this was happening to men, and they were dying from it, and they gave it a term. But I had already been involved in that lifestyle. If anyone had that disease at that time, it was a certain death sentence.

I had never been checked, never been tested. I had no idea. I was just having fun.

And I read that passage, and I thought about everything that God did, all that He created me for and how He wired my body, and I was using it in ways that were not glorifying to Him, not honoring to the people whom I was with.

I thought it was loving and kind. I thought it was great. But God opened my eyes and said, “Eric, you could die from this. And I don’t want you to die. That’s why I sent Jesus, to die on the cross for your sins, so you wouldn’t have to, and you could live with me forever.”

That was the first time I ever realized that I needed a Savior. Because up until that point, I was doing just fine all by myself–at least I thought I was. But that day I realized, “Oh, my God. I need someone to save me from this, and I cannot save myself.” Jesus was the only person I could think of who could save me.

I put my faith in Him. He healed me–changed me. I was on a path going this way. He picked me up and put me on a path going the other way. In His grace and mercy, He gave me a wife. He gave me not just one child, or two children, or three, or four, or five, but six children. I was on a path headed to death, and Jesus put me on a path of life abundant.

And I look at my life today, thirty years later. I’ve gone into full-time ministry. I share encouraging messages with people, every day, in 160 countries around the world. I’ve homeschooled my kids, with my wife. We’ve homeschooled all six of them through high school. I’ve got two more to go. Four of them have graduated.

I would never have chosen homeschooling my children if I had stayed on the path I was on. I wouldn’t have had a wife and children. I wouldn’t have a ministry. Everything that I do today, I look at that and think that everything was changed because of that one decision, thirty years ago.

It’s the same for each of us. There are so many decisions we make that change the trajectories of our lives. If you make a little course correction here, or a big course correction there, thirty years from now you’re going to be in a whole different place.

What has Jesus saved you from?

I know for me, Jesus saved me from myself–my own worst enema. And He continues to save me from things, as I keep asking Him, saying, “God, help me.”

I happened to write this story down. I had never told it in such detail before, until last year, and I published it in a book called, Fifty Shades of Grace, (under a pen name, Nicholas Deere… you can read an extended preview here). It goes into a fair amount of detail of what God did for me, how He changed me, how He changed my thoughts, my feelings, my actions, how He gave me a wife and what that has meant to me, and how God’s mercy continues and continues.

I happened to be in Israel earlier this year. I was at the city of Capernaum, which is the city where Jesus healed two blind men, which was the passage that I read in the scripture as I was struggling with what I had done and what to do with what God had revealed to me.

These two blind men came to Jesus in the city of Capernaum, and they said “Have mercy on us.” They wanted to see. And Jesus asked a question. He said, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” (Matthew 9:28). And I felt like Jesus was asking me the same question, thirty years ago. “Do you believe I can heal you from this, too, and change you?”

And I said, if anyone can do it, Jesus can. And I put my hand up in the air. I was just walking down the road in Houston, Texas, reading my Bible, reading that passage, and Jesus changed me. The next day was entirely different.

I was in Capernaum, taking my kids and some other people on a tour, and when I walked up to Capernaum, I realized that was the city where these two blind men were healed. I happened to have my book in my backpack, which I had just finished writing. I took it out and I took this picture there. I thought, those words (in that passage) were written 2,000 years ago, and they’re still touching me today! The words in this Bible–2,000 year-old-words–and they are still changing us. Read it! Enjoy it! It’s God’s love letters to you!

Eric Elder at Capernaum

I had a chance to share my testimony with these 35 people, back in Capernaum, in that city where the blind men were healed. In that city, where, after I read about it, I was healed, 7,000 miles away in Houston, Texas, and 2,000 years later.

Sharing my testimony with our group in Capernaum.

Many of you are Christians in here tonight. I want to encourage you–refresh your memory. “Jesus has saved me from…,” and fill in the blank. You can take great heart from that.

Some of you may not have ever put your faith in Christ, and I want to give you a chance, right now, in this moment, to do that. It’s amazingly simple. At the same time, it can be amazingly hard, because it involves out hearts. But the words are easy. And thankfully the Holy Spirit can AutoCorrect anything we say that’s not quite right. He’ll fix it!

But I would love to pray with you. If you would like Jesus to save you–save you from your sins, save you for a better life here on earth, and save you for an eternity with God in heaven–you can pray with me, and say, “Jesus, I’m sorry for what I’ve done. I want to change. I need Your help. I need a Savior.” And then invite His Holy Spirit to come in and help you do that–to renew you and refresh you.

If you’d like to do that, you can sit right where you are, and pray with me, silently in your head if you want. Let’s pray–to the God who is “with us,” whose arm is not too short to save.

Lord, thank You so much for saving me from myself. Lord, for those in here who need a Savior tonight, I pray they would repeat these words after me in their own hearts. Dear Jesus, I’m so sorry for what I’ve done. I need Your help. I need a Savior, and You’re the only one who can do it. I invite Your Holy Spirit into my life to change me, renew me, refresh me, restore me, give me hope, give me healing, and give me Your heart. Lord, I believe that You died for my sins, so I could have a new life here on earth, and the promise of a certain life with You in heaven, forever and ever. I thank You for that, and I accept that gift of eternal life. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.


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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- Making Things Right


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

MAKING THINGS RIGHT

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

Jeffrey and Misti making a brand new start

Jeffrey and Misti, making a brand new start

I spoke last weekend at the wedding of a couple who, in their own words, said they wanted to get married in order to “make things right.” If you’d like one of the best tips for how to “make things right” in your own life, I hope you’ll read this message. Whether you’re single, married, or just want to know what’s next for your life, I believe this message contains something for you. Here are the words I spoke to them, and about them, on their wedding day…

You know, it’s a miracle what you two are experiencing today, and what we’re witnessing today.

When I met with Jeffrey and Misti recently to talk about their wedding today, they told me that when they first met each other, they were just friends. Neither of them was sure that they wanted to be in a relationship.

In fact, they were both looking for reasons why it wouldn’t work. Each of them had been seriously hurt by previous relationships, and neither of them was sure if they wanted to enter into another one.

But over time, they truly fell in love. And now they can both say wholeheartedly, “I’m so glad that we did.”

Misti said: “This is the the best relationship I’ve ever had. I feel more comfortable with him than anyone.”

To which Jeffrey added: “Definitely!”

I asked them why they wanted to get married now, after all this time. They’ve already been together for several years, and they’ve had two beautiful children along the way. “Why now?” I asked them.

Misti said: “We’re ready for it. We want to write our story together. We want to make ourselves a whole family, to close that circle, and to grow in our relationship together.”

Jeffrey said: “We want to make things right.  We want to get rid of the things in the past and move forward for the future, to better our family, to set a good example for our kids, and to be a good role model for others.”

And then, Misti added, like a kid in a candy store: “I wish it were already here!”

They are so excited to get married! And that makes me so excited for them! They really do want, and are truly getting, a fresh start today–right now, right here–in the presence of all of you who love them and who have so graciously come to support them in this decision.

Although they made their decision to make things right many months ago, today is the culmination of that decision. That one decision has put into motion all that you see today. And the impact of that decision won’t stop here. This is just the beginning. Their decision, as stated in their own words, “to make things right,” will have an impact not only on them, but on many others, for GENERATIONS to come.

As Misti said: “It’s CRAZY how it has turned out for us, from where we started to where we are now.”

And the key to their decision, as Jeffrey and Misti would be the first to tell you, was that they have invited and allowed God to speak into their decision-making process.

There’s a verse in the Bible that describes how this works. When you ask God for help in making your decisions, here’s what the Bible says God can do for you, as recorded in the book of Isaiah chapter 30, verse 21. It says:

“Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it” (Isaiah 30:21).

Let me read that again:

“Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it” (Isaiah 30:21).

The key to making good decisions, to making things right, is to ask God–then to listen His answer, whether it comes in a voice that is still and small, or whether it comes in a voice that is loud and booming. Either way, God will speak in answer to your prayers, and if you’re listening, you’ll hear a voice in your ears from behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”

Jeffrey and Misti, you have asked for God’s wisdom. You have invited Him to speak into your lives. And you have walked forward in the wisdom that He has given you. Today’s wedding is one more evidence of that truth being lived out in your lives.

My encouragement to you, from this day forward, is to continue doing what you’re already doing. Keep loving God with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength, and keep asking Him to speak into your lives. Keep listening for His voice. And keep doing whatever He speaks to you, whenever He speaks to you, saying: “This is the way; walk in it.”

If you do that, your marriage, your life, and the impact you will have on everyone around you will exceed even your own wildest imaginations.

P.S.  Jeffrey and Misti also made the wise decision to listen to the godly counsel of others who had walked this way before, and who helped them grow in their faith and understanding of which way they should go. If you’d like more tips for how to have the best possible marriage you can have, I’ve posted my book, “15 Tips for a Stronger Marriage,” online for free at this link, or you can order the paperback from our online bookstore at this link

15 Tips For A Stronger Marriage, by Eric Elder


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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- Making Old Things New


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

MAKING OLD THINGS NEW
by Eric Elder
The Ranch

If you need encouragement that God can take those parts of you which were, perhaps, once good and beautiful and useful, but have, over the years, lost their shine, lost their luster, or lost their apparent usefulness, I hope you’ll read this message which I shared at the funeral of a dear friend who passed away last week….

Eric Elder holding a quilt made by Marge Albrecht

Eric Elder holding a quilt made by Marge Albrecht

I’ve known Marge for almost 25 years, having first met her when we moved to Gridley in 1992. I think that’s a pretty long time to get to know someone. But looking around this room, I realize that I’m still the newcomer to this party. Many of you have known her many more years than I have.

There are a lot of things each of us could share about her. I know I could share about the time when she invited my wife, Lana, to her ladies’ Bible study, which is where Marge prayed for our family as we were going through several trials of our own. I could share about when Marge took up a collection among the women in her Bible study and gave it to us when I didn’t have a job.  I could share about Marge’s laughter and her positive spirit, even in the face of some of the hardest tragedies anyone can face in life: losing a spouse, losing your children, losing your health. I could go on and on about Marge, and I know each of you could, too, with your own stories.

But I’d like to focus today on one thing that Marge had a knack for doing–something which made her so much like the Savior she followed with all her heart: she had a knack for making old things new again. Specifically, she took scraps of old material and turned them into stunningly beautiful quilts.

Lana loved looking at the beautiful quilts that Marge, together with her friend Duane, made so often. Lana loved the patterns and the colors and the unique stitching on each one. Lana loved them so much that I asked Marge one day if she would make a special one for Lana–just a small one, because that’s all I could afford–but one that would be as beautiful as all of the rest. So Marge made one, and I gave it to Lana on a special occasion. We framed it and hung it on the wall in our living room where it has been for the last fifteen years.

Marge had a way of seeing beauty in things that other people would have thrown away or cast aside long ago: an old tie, a pretty blouse that had lost too many buttons, or some scraps of leftover cloth from a set of curtains. She would hold on to those scraps, still seeing the beauty in them even though they may have seemed to others to have been outdated or worn out or entirely worthless.

Then she would take them and make them into something new. Something beautiful. Something worth far more than the individual pieces.

Close up of a quilt made by Marge Albrecht

A close up of one of Marge’s quilts.

Her friend Duane would piece together the quilt, and Marge would add some stitching–hand sewn, personalized, and with a unique pattern for each and every seam that connected one piece to another. What was once an eclectic collection of tattered and leftover scraps would become a piece of art that far surpassed the beauty of the individual pieces, whether a tie or a blouse or a curtain, even compared to their original best.

It’s a fitting analogy of what Jesus can do with our lives. He takes those things that are in us, those parts of us which were, perhaps, once good and beautiful and useful, but have, over the years, lost their shine, lost their luster, or lost their apparent usefulness.  And, in His skillful hands, He redeems them. He restores them. He breathes new life into them–a new usefulness, a new worth, a new value of which far surpasses the original.

The cloth and the thread and the beads which make up this small piece of quilt can’t have been worth more than a few dollars to most people, if anything. But with the love and the care and the finest attention to even the smallest detail, those pieces were worth enough to me that I was willing to pay $100 for what Marge and Duane were able to do with them. (And I would have bought an even bigger one at the time if I could have afforded it!)

Jesus does the same. With love and care and the finest attention to even the smallest detail, He takes those pieces of our lives and makes them into something that is priceless. The good news is that Jesus is willing to do this for any of us, at any time.

But the amazing thing is this: Jesus doesn’t force Himself onto anyone. He is a gentleman. He doesn’t go where He’s not invited. He doesn’t take something from us to make it new without our willingness to give it up. He doesn’t barge through the doors of our lives. Instead, He invites, He woos, He draws each one of us to come to Him. He gives us permission to ask Him for what we need, to seek Him out, and to knock at His door so we can come in and eat with Him.

And then, like a true gentleman, Jesus makes good on His promises. He promises that if we ask, He will provide. If we seek, we will find. If we knock, He will open the door for us and invite us in to eat with Him, to walk with Him in His garden, and to talk with Him for as long as we’d like. And once we knock, and He opens that door, He never shuts it again. He leaves it open for us to come in and spend time with Him anytime, day or night, throughout our lives.

Marge is one of those people who asked, who sought, who knocked on Jesus’ door, and for whom Jesus opened that door, with a smile on His face and His arms outstretched to welcome her in. And once that door was opened, it was never shut again. Marge took Jesus up on His offer in full. She went back and forth to Jesus’ house on a regular basis, not just once a week or twice a week, not just once a day or twice a day, but sometimes every hour or two–sometimes every minute or two. Over the years, that path between where Marge lived and where Jesus lived was well worn, and I’m sure, to both of them, it seemed like hardly any distance at all.

I believe that it was out of her relationship with Christ, and because she had such an intimate fellowship with Him on such a regular basis, that this is how she was able to come to see the good in any situation, the good in any person, the good in the world around her, even when there were so many things that could have possibly brought her down.

Even a few weeks ago when I talked with her, she expressed to me that she was facing one of the hardest battles of her life. She said she had to wonder if what she was going through was real or not, because she couldn’t believe this was happening to her. Her health was failing her like never before, and the nights, she said, were especially hard. But she told me she was making it through because she just kept holding on tight to Jesus. She just kept holding on tight to the promises that she KNEW to be true. And she told the devil, on many occasions, to get lost! The nights were long, she said, but then daylight would come, and she would be able to see clearly again that Jesus was still right there with her, walking her through every step of the way.

And she kept holding tight to Jesus, right to the end. When she took her last breath here on earth, she took her next breath in heaven, and I am sure–I am positive–that nothing in this life could have fully prepared her for that first breath of heavenly air.

Knowing Marge, if she were here in person, she would be the first to say, “Oh, you can’t imagine what it’s like here! Come, please come! Don’t let anything stop you! Not the pain of your past, not the problems of your present, not the fear of your future. Whatever it takes, do whatever you can do to come! You’ve got to try this! You’ve got to be here! You won’t want to miss it!”

And, knowing Marge–and the well-worn path between her place and the place where Jesus lived–she had experienced bits and pieces of heaven right here on earth many, many times. I am sure she prayed these words from the Lord’s prayer more times than any of us could count: “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” That’s an invitation for God to send a little bit of heaven down here to us on earth. That’s where she found her comfort. That’s where she found her strength. That’s where she found her redemption.

Marge had written some words on a piece of paper that she kept in her Bible, words from one of the Psalms, plus some words of a simple poem. Above those words, she had written a title: “My Daily Prayer.” From Psalm 19:14, she wrote:

“Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).

And as for the poem below it, she wrote:

“Lord, grant me grace throughout this day
To walk the straight and narrow way.
To do whatever in Thy sight
Is good and perfect, just and right.”

Marge lived by words like these–and not just these, but on every word that came from the mouth of God. They gave life to her. And they can give life to you.

If Marge were here, I am confident she would say, “Come! Please come! Please don’t miss out on what Jesus has to offer you, both there on earth and here in heaven with Him forever. Ask Him for what you need. Seek Him and you will find. Knock on His door, and He will open it wide–with a smile on His face and His arms outstretched to welcome you in–always, at all times, and forever.

“Bring to Him every piece of your life, not just the good bits and the shiny bits, but the broken bits, the worn-out bits, the seemingly useless bits. Let Him redeem and restore each of those bits, too, so they can become even more glorious than they ever were, or ever could have been, even when they seemed to be at their best.” Then Marge would say:

“Jesus really can make all things new. If you could see me now, you would know that it’s true!”

And for those who have already put your faith in Christ, I am sure Marge would say to you: “It’s all real! It’s all true! Never doubt. Never give up. Never stop coming to Him with all that you need–and you, too, will receive what you need from His hand. You, too, will find. You, too, will be invited in, again and again, with a smile on His face and His arms outstretched to welcome you in–always, at all times, and forever.”

I could end my message right there, because there’s enough in what I’ve said so far that would be truly good and useful. But I wouldn’t want you to leave today and not know why I believe Marge would say each of those things.

I believe it, not just because the Bible tells me so–although it certainly does and its words are trustworthy. I believe it because, like many people throughout the ages–some of whom wrote their stories down and recorded them in our Bibles–I, too, have seen through that thin veil between heaven and earth from time to time myself. One of those times was just a few years ago. It involved Kirk, Marge’s dear son and one of my dear friends, who went to heaven before she did.

I had a glimpse of heaven that day, a day when Marge needed some help. She had a new freezer coming, and she needed help to unload the frozen food from her old freezer into some coolers so it wouldn’t spoil while she waited for the new freezer to arrive and be installed. I had a number of things already on my schedule that day, with three kids at home who needed care and work for my ministry that I needed to get done. When people call me for help, I ask God if this is something He wants me to do. I want to be helpful when I can be, but I also know I have a limited amount of time in every day. But if God says, “Yes,” He wants me to do something, I try to do it if I can.

On this occasion, when I asked God what I should do, it was Kirk who answered me! He said, “Eric, could you help my mom out today? I wish I could be there to do it myself, but I can’t. If you could be my hands and my feet and could help my mom, it would mean so much.”

Hearing from Kirk that way, I couldn’t say no. I called Marge and said, “Yes, I can do that.”

I went over to her house and helped her unload her food into some coolers. It wasn’t hard work, I told her. It just wasn’t on my schedule for that day. But I told her what I felt Kirk had said to me. She teared up and replied, “Thank God! That’s an answer to my prayers.” She was sincerely thankful for my help, but she was also sincerely thankful for a message from her son in heaven, who, after all these years, still loved her and still cared for her like no time had passed at all.

Marge is right there now with Kirk, as He, too, loved Jesus and had made a well-worn path to the place where He lived many times. And like Kirk expressed his love to his mom that day from heaven, I am 100% certain that Marge still loves and cares for each one of you. She would want me to tell how very much she loves and cares for you how much she has thought of you and prayed for you over the years, and how very much she longs for you to be with her one day in the place where she is now. Fully redeemed. Fully restored. Fully made new again, in every possible way.

Always know she loves you very much, even now, just as Christ loves you–with no hint of guilt, no threat of condemnation, not a shred of shame for what you’ve done. She sees the you that God created you to be–a beautiful quilt in the making–because she sees you with the eyes of Christ.

She loves you always, no matter what. She always has. She always will, at all times, and forever.

Just like Jesus.


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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- Lana’s Kiss


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

LANA’S KISS

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

 

I’d like to tell you about something that happened to me with my wife Lana last Monday.

For those of you who have followed my story through my writings here or in my book Fifty Shades of Grace (under the pen name Nicholas Deere), you’ll know that Lana and I shared a truly intimate relationship–a relationship that has lasted, I feel, even since she has passed “through the veil” as they say between heaven and earth. That’s been almost four years now this November.

A few weeks ago, I was prompted to ask her, as unusual as it may sound, if she would release me for a new relationship at some point if God would have that in mind for me. I wasn’t quite sure what I meant by that, actually, as I felt she had already released me for such a relationship while she was still here with me, just a few weeks before she died. But I felt this was something I should do now at this point in time.

It wasn’t quite as simple as I thought, though, both for what it might mean to her or to me. But after wrestling with the idea for a bit, I went ahead asked. Nothing particular happened, and I didn’t really know what I expected would happen, so I just let my question be what it was. I also knew that I couldn’t just expect her to say, “Okay, sure, you’re released!” I didn’t think it would be quite that simple. In a way, it was a very big “ask.”

That was a few weeks ago. Then on Monday morning of this week, just before I woke up–and while I was still in that in-between state where I was not quite awake, but not quite asleep either–Lana showed up! She was about a foot away from me, and we were both standing there in my bedroom. (I was actually lying down on my bed, but I saw her through my own eyes as if we were both standing.) She was still about a foot away from me when she leaned forward, ever-so-slightly, and gave me a kiss on the lips. Her lips were still wet, like she had just licked them. Our kiss lasted for only a second or two, but it was delightful.

And while our kiss was sweet in and of itself, the extra-amazing part of it for me was that when we kissed, Lana was still about a foot away from me! It was as if we had both closed our eyes and leaned towards each other to kiss, but there was something like a glass wall between us that kept us about a foot apart. We shouldn’t have been able to kiss, but somehow we did! And when I opened my eyes again after our kiss, she was still about a foot away from me.

I was especially surprised by how far away she was because I felt her lips on mine–and they were clearly wet! That couldn’t have happened if there was a glass wall between us. I would have never felt her lips on mine. I was so amazed by it that I asked her, “How did you do that? Can we do that again?!?”

She leaned towards me again–and again, we kissed! And again, it was just for about a second or two, but I felt her wet lips on mine, even though we were still a foot apart! I felt them!

And then I woke up fully.

I thought about that kiss for a time, wondering if it was real or not, and then went on with my day. Later in the day, however, I suddenly remembered that dream. I wondered, “Was that Lana’s release? Was that the release I had asked her about a few weeks ago?”

And in that moment, I realized that if she really was just a foot away from me–which seemed like such a huge distance for giving each other a kiss–that was actually incredibly close! It was as if she had finally made her decision and had come to me from wherever she was in heaven! And to come within a foot of me and lean in and give me a kiss–twice–and with her lips wet to the point that I could actually feel them…Wow! That was really close!

I decided right then to ask her: “Lana, was that you releasing me?”

She knew that I wasn’t sure why I had even asked her for a release, and she knew that I didn’t know who, if anyone, God might have in mind for me for the future. But she also knew that I felt prompted to ask the question, and she was glad to respond.

She said, “Eric, I don’t know who might be in your future. That depends on you and whoever that person may be. What I do know is that I’m no longer there to give you the pleasure I wish I could. I can–through heaven’s veil–but I want more for you there than what I can give you from here.”

As she spoke, I realized that it was not glass between us, but the veil of heaven, which must have been so utterly thin at that moment that I could even feel her wet lips on mine. I also remembered, in that moment, that when Adam was in the Garden of Eden, he had access to God in heaven, yes. But God saw that Adam also needed–wanted, longed for–more. Adam wanted someone who was right there with him. And God provided that “more,” a true peer, one who could walk intimately with Adam while he lived his life here on earth.

Lana said, “I want more for you, too, Eric, right there–with you–in the garden. I want that for you very much. And as much as I have loved you, and still love you, I want to release you, now, so you can experience and enjoy even more love, right there, right where you are. I love you, Eric. And I give you my full release to enjoy the blessings of MORE. I give it to you gladly, freely, willingly–and with deep, deep pleasure.”

In bed that night, with Lana’s words still on my mind and with a smile on my face, I fell asleep. When I woke up on Tuesday morning, it was a new day. A whole new day.

I know this story may sound unusual to some people. It’s unusual to me. But for those who have loved someone deeply, and with whom they have shared an intimate relationship here on earth and the mutual bond of a relationship with Christ, those we love are never really far from us–even though we may be separated by death.

There’s a veil between heaven and earth, but sometimes it is so thin that people throughout the ages, as recorded in the Bible, have been able to see through it and enjoy an ongoing fellowship with those who have gone ahead–our relationship with Jesus in heaven being preeminent of all.

Put your hope and faith in Him again today. He’s closer than you might think.


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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- Praying Loving Prayers (Part 2)


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

PRAYING LOVING PRAYERS (PART 2)

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

Last week I shared with you how I’ve been convicted about praying loving prayers: prayers that I can stand behind AND which express my love for others in a way that they can hear it. It’s already really changed the way I pray in just a few weeks. I feel like my prayers have been more loving, more kind, and by that definition alone, more effective than ever before.

In one conversation, a friend asked me to pray for a relationship that she was hoping would work out. She said, “I’ve asked some people to pray for me about it, but I don’t want them to just pray that whatever happens will happen! I want them to pray that the relationship would work out! That’s what’s really on my heart.”

When I heard her say what was really on her heart, I knew that was a prayer I could stand behind AND which would express my love for her in a way that she could hear it. I asked if I could pray for her, got up off my chair and knelt down on my knees–and prayed that her relationship would work out!

In another conversation, a friend was telling me about her upcoming cancer treatments. Although there were many things she brought up that I could have prayed for–from healing of the cancer to the treatments and the fatigue that they produce–at one point she said, “What I really want, though, is to be able to enjoy food again! I’ve only had 3 meals in the last 6 months that I’ve actually enjoyed eating.” When I heard her say those words, “What I really want…” I knew that was a prayer I could stand behind AND which would express my love for her in a way that she could hear it. I asked if I could pray for her, took hold of her hand and knelt down on one knee, praying that she would  be able to enjoy food again! (I’ve also been praying for her healing and the treatments and the fatigue, but I saved those for my personal prayers at home. What she seemed to really need in that moment when we were together was to enjoy eating food again.)

In yet another conversation, I was talking with a friend on the phone who lives several states away. He told me about a difficult situation a family was going through who lived down the street from him. He wondered if he should stop by and try to talk to them, and he asked if I could “keep him in prayer” about it. I said I would and decided to ask him if I could pray for him right then while we were still on the phone. He said, “Yes,” so I prayed a simple prayer: “God, help ____ know if he should stop by and talk to his neighbor or not. In Jesus’ name, Amen.” It didn’t take long. It didn’t take a lot of words. But I was able to pray with my friend, right then and there–right at his point of need–giving him the benefit of the prayer and the awareness that I cared, both at the same time.

It sounds like I must be praying for people constantly, and in some ways, I am. But in other ways, I’m usually just going about my day. When a need arises, I pray. It’s as simple as that.

Last weekend, while I was grilling hamburgers in my backyard, a friend texted to tell me that her doctor had just called her with some bad news: her biopsy results came back and she had tested positive for breast cancer. I got down on my knees, right there in front of my barbecue grill, and prayed that God would heal her completely, through surgery or supernaturally, and that the cancer would never, ever come back. If anyone saw me, they might have thought I was praying and making sacrifices on the altar of my barbecue grill. I wasn’t! I was simply driven to my knees to plead with the God of the universe–the God who created my friend, and who loved her and cared about her even more than I did–to work a miracle in her life. I texted her back to let her know I had prayed and what I had been praying.

As you pray, pray prayers that you can stand behind AND which express your love for others in a way that they can hear it. I’m still learning how to do this myself, but I’m seeing the fruit of it already. I’d appreciate your prayers for me as I do.

Join Eric Elder & Greg Potzer for a Guided Prayer Retreat, Dec. 7-9, 2016, at The Cove

P.S. If you’d like to learn more about prayer, and how you can have a more effective prayer life, I’d love for you to join Greg Potzer and me for a “Guided Prayer Retreat” in December. The deadline for signing up is October 15th, so let us know soon if you’re interested in joining us in person at The Cove in North Carolina. (You’ll also be able to join us for the event live online, but we’d love to meet you in person if you can come!) Click here for more details or to register to join us in person!


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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- Praying Loving Prayers


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

PRAYING LOVING PRAYERS

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

 

Can I share with you something from my heart that I’ve learned about prayer in the last two weeks?

Two weeks ago, I was talking to a dear friend who’s going through a painful divorce. At the end of our conversation, I said something that I thought was incredibly loving and kind. I said that, even after all that she had shared with me about her divorce, I was still praying that if there was any way possible, even at this late hour, that God would bring about a reconciliation.

She said, “Eric, if you have even one speck of love for me, you will never, ever, ever pray that prayer for me again.”

I was totally caught off guard by her reaction. While I meant well with my prayer, and I have seen God pull off miracles at the 11th hour in similar situations, what I didn’t realize was how my prayer sounded to her ears. She felt betrayed. Hurt. And the pain on her face was excruciating.

What to me was an expression of a last sliver of hope for her situation was to her like a 10-ton weight that I had just dropped on top of her. In one fell swoop, I had negated her thousands of hours of praying about the situation, her decades of wrestling through and trying to do everything she could possibly do to avoid what she now felt God was leading her to do. I had invalidated the very real and very difficult decision she had finally come to, a decision that she felt went against everything she had ever believed in, and was going to cost her immeasurably in terms of her family, her friends and her standing in the Christian community.

The pain I caused her in that moment was as real and as strong as any of the other pain she had experienced over the years.

I went home and cried. And I’ve been crying on and off every day for the past two weeks–not just about how I hurt her with my prayers, but how I’ve hurt others in similar ways by similar prayers over the years. While my prayer was a true statement of my belief in a God who can do anything, absolutely anything, it wasn’t kind. It wasn’t loving. And it caused real pain.

While I believe it’s right and good and God-pleasing to have strong, deeply held beliefs, I don’t believe it’s right and good and God-pleasing to express those beliefs–in prayer or otherwise–in a way that crushes others, whether intentionally or unintentionally. It’s not kind. It’s not loving. And it causes real pain.

We cannot sacrifice others on the altar of our beliefs–especially when there’s a better way.

I’m not wanting to discourage you from praying for others. I’m wanting to encourage you to be sensitive to how others might receive your words, even those words that you believe are right and true and good.

Even Jesus held back at times from sharing the full weight of what He could have said because He knew His words would have crushed those who heard them. When He was heading to His imminent death, Jesus told His disciples, “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear” (John 16:12).

It wasn’t that Jesus didn’t want to tell them everything. It’s just that He knew that if He told them in that moment, His words would have crushed them.

If there’s one thing I could share with you today, it would be this: Don’t sacrifice others on the altar of your belief. Instead, come alongside them in prayer. Pray prayers that you can stand behind AND which express your love for them in a way that they can hear it.

How can we do this? It can be as simple as asking, “What do you want me to pray for you?”  Then listen to their response and pray the best possible prayer you can pray that honors their request.

Jesus did the same. He didn’t presume. On several occasions, He simply asked, “What do you want me to do for you?” (see Mark 10:36 and 10:51).

So I asked my friend whom I had hurt so deeply, “What do you want me to pray for you?”

She said, “Pray that I would be able to truly love my husband through all of this. I want to be able to do that no matter what happens with our marriage.”  Now that was a prayer I could stand behind. That was a prayer I could pray with my whole heart AND which would express my love for her in a way that she could truly hear it.

Don’t sacrifice others on the altar of your belief. Come alongside them in prayer. Pray prayers that you CAN stand behind AND which express your love for them in a way that they can truly hear it. As the apostle Paul said, “…if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:2b).

Join Eric Elder & Greg Potzer for a Guided Prayer Retreat, Dec. 7-9, 2016, at The Cove

P.S. If you’d like to learn more about prayer, and how you can have a more effective prayer life, I’d love for you to join Greg Potzer and me for a “Guided Prayer Retreat” in December. We only have 12 spots left, so let us know soon if you’re interested in joining us in person at The Cove in North Carolina. (You’ll also be able to join us for the event live online, but we’d love to meet you in person if you can come!) Click here for more details or to register to join us in person!


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


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

Tender Mercy Makers

by Jeff Strite

Romans 12:1-12:8

I once read the true story of a preacher was organizing an evangelistic outreach using small acts of kindness to demonstrate Christ’s love. He phoned several neighborhood grocery stores and Laundromats for permission to do specific services.  On one call, the employee who answered the phone hesitated, then said, “I’ll need to ask the manager, but first, let me make sure I understand: You want to clean up the parking lot, retrieve shopping carts hold umbrellas for customers, and you don’t want anything in return.”
“Yes, that’s right,” the preacher replied.
After a few moments the employee returned to the phone.
“I’m sorry,” he said, “we can’t let you do that because if we let you do it, we’d have to let everyone else do it, too!”
(Ann Jeffries, Kansas City, KS Christian Reader, “Lite Fare.”)

Now, isn’t that odd?  Here’s a church that was willing to show God’s love to a grocery store, and the store won’t let them do it because they’re afraid they’ll have to let other groups do the same thing.

Now why did that store respond like that?  Because NO ONE does stuff like that!  This church was obviously out for something… an ulterior motive. And the grocery store was right. The church did have an ulterior motive – they wanted to reach their world for Christ and the tool they were using was something called “showing mercy.”

Paul writes: “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is… showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.” Romans 12:6 & 8

The first question that came to my mind was: what exactly IS mercy?According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, Mercy is:  2 a : a blessing that is an act of divine favor or compassion (that’s what God does)  3 : compassionate treatment of those in distress (that’s what people do).

Basically, mercy is the act of getting your hands dirty helping others. Mercy is where a person visits the shut-ins, feeds the hungry, clothes the naked. This goes beyond “giving money” to these people. It’s where a person who shows mercy by DOING the act of helping. And they do this act without expecting to be paid to do it.

Now-why should we be merciful?   Well, we should be merciful, because we serve a God who is a “merciful God.”

“Therefore know that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and MERCY for a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commandments;   Deuteronomy 7:9 NKJV

David wrote:

• For the LORD is good; His MERCY is everlasting, and His truth endures to all generations. Psalm 100:5
• Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His MERCY endures forever. Psalm 118:29
• AND in the most famous psalm where David tells us “The Lord is my shepherd”, he ends the psalm with these words: “Surely goodness and MERCY shall follow me all the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the LORD Forever.” Psalm 23:6

We serve a merciful God. But the verses I quoted only give us a small indication of what His mercy is like. In Ephesians 2:4-7 we hear these powerful words:  “because of his great love for us, God, WHO IS RICH IN MERCY, made us alive with Christ EVEN WHEN WE WERE DEAD in transgressions — it is by grace you have been saved.  And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

When God saved us He showed us His immense and immeasurable mercy.  And we become like God – we grow up to be like Him – when we learn to show His kind of mercy to others.

There’s an example of God’s kind of mercy in Mark 1:40-42. There we’re told that a leper came to Jesus, and knelt before Him and said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.”  Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.”

One preacher commented on this story by saying “The amazing part of this healing is how Jesus did it – Jesus TOUCHED him!”  You didn’t touch lepers. They were unclean! If you touched them, you became unclean and no one wanted that! But Jesus TOUCHED this man.

Philip Yancey tells the story of Dr. Paul Brand who devoted his life to treating leprosy patients in India. In the course of one examination Brand laid his hand on the patient’s shoulder and informed him through a translator of the treatment that lay ahead.  To Dr. Brand’s surprise the man began to shake with muffled sobs.   Brand turned to the translator “Have I said something wrong?”  She questioned the patient and then replied: “No, doctor. He says he is crying because you put your hand around his shoulder. Until you came here no one had touched him for many years.”
(Brian Mavis; sermoncentral)

You see, that is the reality that lies at the very heart of what it means to show mercy.  Mercy is the intentional touching of people who suffer.  It’s the intentional “getting close” to folks who aren’t ordinarily “touched”

A man was visiting a home for the retarded. For an hour he talked with a young woman named Mary whose body was covered with tumors. He put his arm around her and said, “you really are a beautiful person.”  “Thank you,” she replied. “No one has ever gotten close enough to notice.”

Mercy is getting close to people who hurt… and touching their needs.  This is the kind of mindset that drives those with the gift of mercy.  It’s like 2nd nature to them… they do it instinctively.

These are the kinds of people who instinctively do what Jesus describes in Matthew 25: 35-40 “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’  “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’  “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Now, if you’ll notice Jesus is NOT talking to the folks with the “gift of mercy”.  He’s talking to everybody.  He expects EVERYBODY to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and visit the sick and imprisoned.  Because He is a God of mercy, He expects His people to be a people of mercy.  He expects ALL of us to find ways to become hands-on when it comes to helping others – to find ways to get our hands dirty. To touch the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned.  Because it’s often ONLY when we TOUCH those who are hurting that we become motivated to help them.

Back in the 1990’s I read the story of a famous Pop Star who had visited a refugee camp in Bangladesh. It was basically a Photo-op to paint him as a compassionate artist.  He said “That 1st morning I must have washed my hands a dozen times. I didn’t want to touch anything, least of all THESE people. Everyone in those camps was covered with sores and scabs.  I was bending down to one little child, mainly for the photographer’s benefit, and trying hard not to get too close. Just then someone accidentally stepped on the child’s fingers and he screamed. As a reflex, I grabbed him… forgetting his dirt and his sores. I remember that warm little body clinging to me — and the crying instantly stopping. In that moment I knew I had much to learn about practical Christian loving.”
(Pop Star Cliff Richard in Reader’s Digest Feb 1990 p. 199)

He touched the child… and it changed his view of that little boy.  And he learned – at that moment – what it is to show MERCY.

Now… what are some practical ways that you can show mercy to people around you?
1. I’ve always been impressed with the folks that help with Habitat for Humanity. They give of their time to build and refurbish houses for those who can’t afford a home, and the home they create is not just a place to live. It’s a NICE place for those in need.
2. Then there are the folks who volunteer at the local Emmaus Center. They provide food, shelter and job training for people who have no place else to go. They are worthy of our praise.
3. Then there are the folks who work for our Food Pantry. Just last week a volunteer came back from a distribution center with 1200 pounds of food. That which we couldn’t use, we sent over to the Emmaus center to help feed the needy there. Every month we help out 50 to 60 needy families in our area.
4. Here in church, Doug Brown has found been doing the ministry of “TOUCH” letters. These are letters that are placed on the back table with post-it notes attached that tell who the letter goes to – people who are shut-in or sick or have other needs. The church is encouraged to write notes of encouragement to these people.  I just visited a lady this week who had received one of these “touch” letters and she told me how pleased she was to know how much people cared for her. In addition, she’d received a number of other cards and notes from people here.

Back at the first church I served I remember visiting a certain woman in the nursing home. It was very disconcerting to visit with her though. She’d suffered a stroke and the entire left side of face and body sagged and was immobile. And, when I visited with her she always cried. If I shared a sad piece of information she cried and if I shared something exciting from the church she cried. It made me uncomfortable sometimes.  One day I came in to visit with her and found her sitting at a small desk with paper and a pen writing something. I asked her what she was writing and she replied that she was writing notes of encouragement back to the members of her church.  Can you imagine that? She refused to allow her stroke and life in a nursing home to quash her desire to minister to the people she cared for at church.

Everyone can show mercy others..,all it takes is deciding to get our hands dirty.  But certain people have the GIFT of mercy.  How would you know if you have this “gift”? Well, someone put together observations they thought would apply to those with the gift of mercy.
• Deeply loyal to friends.
• In fact, they seem to have a need for deep friendships.
• Empathize with hurting people.
• The decisions they make are based on benefits to those in need.
• Deeply sensitive to loved ones.
• Tend to attract people in distress. They’re like a magnet for them.
• Desire to remove hurts from those in need.
• They tend to measure acceptance by the closeness of an individual.
• And oddly, they seem attracted to prophets – prophets are almost polar opposites in their gift.

Weaknesses
• They will tend to take up offenses for friends
A little explanation is necessary here. Jesus teaches us that if someone offends us we need to go and find a way to address that. And, if the offender is a Christian they need to come to us and make it right. Once that is done, the conflict is over. HOWEVER, if I am your friend and I take up your “offense”, I become angry or upset at the person who offended you. But if that person makes it right with you, and I don’t find out about it – I’m still offended for you even though you no longer are. That’s the danger of “taking up offenses” for someone else.
• Can become possessive
• May tolerate evil to avoid hurt or danger
• Can fail to be firm
• Tends to lean on emotions rather than reason in making decision
• They can defraud others
• They can react badly to God’s purposes in others’ lives
• May fail to show deference to those in authority
• Tend to cut off insensitive people.

The gift of mercy is a powerful gift. It reflects that we understand the Mercy God has shown to us.

Years ago Bill Hybels made a comment about that thought:   “I would never want to reach out someday with a soft, uncallused hand – a hand never dirtied by serving – and shake the nail-pierced hand of Jesus.”

Now, why would Hybels make that connection? Why would he link the condition of our hands… with the condition of Christ’s hand?  Because it was in that “nail-pierced hand of Jesus” that we obtained OUR Mercy

Mercy is showing love to people that aren’t all that lovely and desirable.
Mercy is showing love to people who are hard to love.
Mercy is showing love to folks who aren’t attractive/popular/fun to be around

But that’s kind of how we must have looked to God when He saved us. You and I must not have looked all that lovely and desirable God when God touched us.

Colossians 1:21 says that at one time you and I “…were alienated from God and were enemies in (our) minds because of (our) evil behavior.”

Ephesians 2:1-2 says we “… were dead in (our) transgressions and sins, in which (we) used to live when (we) followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.”

And that “(we) were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.” Ephesians 2:12

We were not all that pretty and desirable to God.  We were enemies and dead in our sins.  But Romans 5:10 comforts us by saying “… if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!”

It’s by the nail scarred hands of Jesus that we have received MERCY.

Jesus came down out of heaven. Do you understand the significance of that? He came down to our world and faced the struggles and pains and temptations that you and I encounter every day. He didn’t have to do that! And when He came down, He touched us when we weren’t touchable. And when He touched us He saved us and changed us.

How do we KNOW when we’ve mastered this concept of showing mercy?

We know we’ve mastered it when it doesn’t matter if we get the credit for what we do. Just as long as God gets the credit.

As Jesus said: “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven”

One church youth group understood this and taught their youth minister a powerful lesson.  David Stone (a preacher from Louisville, KY) related how he used to have a special outing for his youth when he was a youth minister. He’d read about Jesus washing His disciples’ feet and then send them out in groups, for a period of 2 hours, with instructions to minister to the people of Louisville, as they think Christ would have.  One group went out and bought ice cream cones and took them to a retirement community where several of their congregation lived and delivered the dripping cones to their door.  Another group went to a self service gas station and pumped gas for the patrons.  Each group returned and then shared what they had done and there was a spirit of joy and excitement as they realized they had done something for others and for God.  One group, however, arrived about 15 minutes late. When asked what they had done, they replied that they had gone to their arch rivals, the Baptist Church (they competed heavily in church basketball and other activities). They asked what they could do, and so they were allowed to sort the children’s library – which took all of 45 minutes.  Then they asked what else they would be allowed to do.   “Well,” replied the Baptist preacher, “we do have a shut-in that needs her yard raked. She’s needed done for some time now, but we haven’t been able to get anybody over to her home.”   So the youth went, raked her yard, shared in a prayer circle at her request and then she said these words: “I am so glad I belong to the Baptist Church, it’s so nice to know that they care so much for me that you kids would come out and help me.”  At that, Stone exclaimed: “Well, you did tell them you were from 1st Christian, didn’t you.”  “No,” they replied, it never occurred to us. We were just so excited about serving God that we forgot all about that.”

And here is how people who have the 7 gifts listed in Romans 12 might react to a person being in the hospital:

1. The Prophet: “What is God trying to tell you through this illness? Is there some sin you have not confessed yet?”
2. The Server: “Here’s a little gift. I brought your mail in, watered your plants and washed your dishes?”
3. Teacher: “I did some research on your illness and I believe I can explain what’s happening.”
4. Encourager: “You were so wise to go see the Doctor when you did. Can you imagine much worse it would have been if you had waited?”
5. Giver: “Do you have any insurance?”
6. Organizer: “You just relax. I’ve assigned your job to 4 others at the office.”
7. Mercy giver: “Do you need another pillow or blanket? More water? Would you like me to put you on the prayer list?”


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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- Sharing From My Heart


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

SHARING FROM MY HEART

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

Eric Elder's "Water From My Well"

Dear Friends,

Today I’m releasing the most surprising book I’ve ever written. It’s simply a living journal of my walk with Christ, written as it was happening. It’s not a book I was planning to write. In fact, I’m working on three other books right now that are really on my heart to share with people. But this book isn’t any one of them!

This book is literally my daily walk with Christ. In it, I share my heart. I share my goals. I share my questions for God and the answers He is giving me. I share my struggles as I’m going through them, not in hindsight, when everything is neat and tidy and finally makes perfect sense to me.

The surprising thing is that I didn’t even know I was writing a book until two or three weeks ago! I was simply writing from my heart every week or so since the beginning of the year and sharing those writings publicly with you. What’s especially surprising is that somehow, this very personal and intimate method of sharing has touched a chord within many of you in a way that seems to be deeper and more heart-stirring than anything I’ve ever written before.

Your responses to these messages–especially the past few weeks–have made me think that you might like to read these messages again and even share them with your family and friends. I would love for you to do that! I’ve just been re-reading all of my messages from the beginning of the year, and each one speaks to me, even now, in a new and fresh way.

So I’ve put them all together in a book: twenty inspiring messages from my own personal well. You might remember some of them: whether it’s how I went about setting my goals at the beginning of the year and had to recalibrate them part-way through; or how God reminded me to keep my feet forward and my knees bent when I came across the boulders in the river of my life; or how I fell in love–and faced the loneliness that followed when things didn’t go as I had hoped and dreamed.

Through it all, I have found God’s presence in a new and deeper way–a new and fresher experience–culminating in my desire to go even deeper with Him than ever before. I didn’t know how to do it, though. But then I found out! (Hint: it involved a super-scary jump from a very high cliff into a rushing river below, with my tether attached firmly to Jesus. And to my surprise, the same moment I jumped, Jesus jumped too, smiling at me all the way down!)

For those of you who are looking for a sermon in this message today, here it is: sometimes people need to hear about the real you and your real walk with Christ, not necessarily the one that is neat and clean and has been tidied up over the years. They want to know how you live your life on a daily basis. Share it with them! Let them know your joys, your trials, your struggles. Let them know your doubts, your fears. In this way, your faith becomes real to them, and they want to jump in and follow along.

Do you know someone in your life right now who could use a boost in their faith in Christ? Do you know someone who would love, love, love to see what it’s like to follow the Living God and discover the joy and peace that He can bring through everything that comes their way? Do you know someone who could use a touch, deep in their heart, to activate them, liberate them, set them free–not just free from sin, but free to do that which is deepest on their heart, that which is at the core of their being, that which is possibly a barely-tapped but ever-present longing of their heart? (Maybe that someone is you?)

If so, maybe you could get a copy of this book for them and for yourself. Maybe you could be the one who could tip the scales in their lives toward something that they would have never considered on their own. Maybe you can be the bearer of the best news ever, bringing them the words of Life–the good news that Christ wants to walk with them every step of the way of this life and in the life to come.

Please know that I’m not offering these books to make money. I have already shared each of these twenty messages with you over the past eight months freely and without cost. You or anyone else in the world can read them any time by scrolling back through the Sunday Sermons on our website (just look for the ones written by Eric Elder starting in January, 2016).  But I also know that some people really want to hold a book in their hands. Some people really want to download an ebook to take along with them through their days, a book that is easy to read, easy to digest, and contains easy-to-implement ideas to help them grow deeper in their relationship with Christ.

As I said before, maybe that person is you! If so, I hope you’ll get a copy of this book for yourself, too! Let’s go deeper with God together! You can get it from Amazon in either paperback of Kindle editions or in paperback directly from our ministry for a donation of any size. I’ve included the links below.

P.S. if you’ve already read and been touched by the messages in this series, I would be happy to send you a free paperback copy of the book if you’ll just post a 1-2 sentence review on Amazon describing how you’ve been touched by the messages. Just mention in your review that you’ve read the messages online and have been touched by them. Your comments and reviews on Amazon could be the very thing that helps someone else decide to get a copy of the book, thereby touching his or her life as yours has been touched! Thanks so much!)

Here are the links:

Click here to get the paperback from Amazon
Click here to get the Kindle ebook from Amazon
Click here to get the paperback for a donation of any size to our ministry
Click here to write a 1-2 sentence review on Amazon (and get a free paperback in return… just send me an email at eric@theranch.org with a link to your review on Amazon, along with your mailing address anywhere in the world, and I’ll send you a copy! Here’s a link to the messages I’ve shared this year to refresh your memory… just look for all the messages written by Eric Elder in the past 8 months as they’re all in the book!)

"Water From My Well" by Eric Elder - Front Cover


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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- Going Deeper

Special Note from Eric: Today’s message marks the last in this series that I started at the beginning of the year. If you’ve been enjoying these messages, you’ll be glad to know I’m just putting the finishing touches on a book I’ve created containing all twenty messages which I’m calling, “Water From My Well: Finding God in the Midst of Life, Love and Loneliness.” I hope to have it available later this week so you can reread these messages anytime or share them with friends! I’ll let you know as soon as it’s ready. (My daughter Makari has just finished painting a picture for the cover; I thought you’d like to see a preview!)

"Water From My Well" by Eric Elder - Front Cover


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

GOING DEEPER

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

 

Since the beginning of the year, I’ve shared nineteen messages with you on a variety of topics, from goal-setting and goal-keeping to keeping your feet forward and your knees bent so you don’t get sideswiped by the boulders in your life. Today I’d like to share one more message with you in this series, a message I believe will help each of us go deeper in our walks with God than we’ve ever gone before.

Before I started this series, I was telling a friend that there were some aspects of my walk with God where I felt like I had hit bedrock. I feel like I had dug as deep as I could, and there was no further I could go. If I tried digging any further, my shovel would just clank against the rock,  over and over again.

I wasn’t frustrated by this feeling, however. In fact, I was quite comfortable to rest right where I was!

But my friend told me about a character in a movie who was running through a desert when all of a sudden the ground beneath him started to give way. A huge hole opened up, revealing a rushing river below. As the ground gave way, the character jumped into the newly opened hole and into the rushing river underground, taking took him further and deeper than he had ever gone before.

My friend saw me as that character in the movie and couldn’t help but believe that there was a rushing river beneath my feet as well that God wanted me to jump into.

I was intrigued by the idea, but I didn’t know what to do about it. The ground beneath me was seemingly impenetrable. What else could I do?

But one of the things I’ve also been trying to do this year is trying to grow in my own personal relationship with God. For the past few months especially, I’ve been trying to deliberately focus on what my unique relationship with Him looks like, not superimposing onto it what other people’s relationships with Him look like.

Knowing that this was on my heart, and combining it with the vision of the idea of the ground giving way  beneath my feet, my friend encouraged me to do something I had never done before. It sounded almost heretical, at least to someone like me who loves the Bible and has read it many, many times. My friend asked me to consider setting aside the Bible for a period of time in order to focus very intentionally on my own personal relationship with Him.

I thought the idea was too risky. Unnecessary. It didn’t feel safe, and I didn’t want to do it.

But while I was in Israel earlier this year, walking down a road where Jesus likely walked, I read these words in my Bible, words spoken by Jesus Himself to the religious leaders of His day–leaders who had studied the Scriptures for years, inside and out. Jesus said:

“You have your heads in your Bibles constantly because you think you’ll find eternal life there. But you miss the forest for the trees. These Scriptures are all about Me! And here I am, standing right before you, and you aren’t willing to receive from Me the life you say you want” (John 5:39-40, MSG).

I was struck to the heart and challenged anew. What would it look like if I were to fast for a period of time from relying on other people’s relationships with God as a substitute for my own, even if those others included people like David and Moses and Paul. What would–and does–my unique relationship with God look like?

I decided to give it a try for a time, praying and asking God to build my relationship with Him even stronger than before. And just last week, I finally broke through!

During our worship service at church, our pastor was talking about prayer. Everything he said was speaking directly to my heart. It was if God Himself were prefacing every sentence with my name.: “Eric, …” “Eric, …” “Eric, …”  I jotted down notes as fast as I could, knowing that God was using these words to speak to me directly, encouraging me to take the next step towards going deeper with Him.

When the message was done, we sang a song to God in response to all we had just heard. As I sang, I felt like I could practically see the ground beneath my feet starting to give way! I could see a hole opening up right there in the concrete floor! And as the ground was giving way and the floor was falling out, I could see it clearly: that rushing river that I couldn’t see before!

When the song ended, the shaking stopped, and the concrete floor was perfectly solid once more–hard as rock. But I had seen the river, and I very much wanted to jump through that hole and into the river, letting it take me further and deeper than I had ever gone before.

The next few days, I was captivated by that image of the river beneath me. I felt like I could almost slip down through the ground at any moment and into the water below. But then I’d stop myself. I wondered, Do I really want to do this? I was tethered, in a good way I felt, to all of these other people’s relationships with God–and I wanted to stay tethered to them. What would happen if I were to really unhook and explore what my relationship with God was like on my own?

On Wednesday, I found my answer!

I was listening to a speaker at a men’s breakfast at our church, when suddenly the speaker shouted: “STAY TETHERED TO JESUS!” I knew that instant exactly what God wanted me to do! All I had to do was to release my tether from relying on the experiences of others, and tether myself to Jesus Himself, which is the very thing I would love to do as well!  I love the Bible; it’s my favorite book in the world. But I don’t want to miss the forest for the trees. I don’t want to be holding onto the words about Jesus so tightly that I miss taking hold of Jesus Himself!

Yes, Lord! I thought. That’s what I want!

I took the other end of my tether, and I hooked firmly to Jesus. I looked into the hole below me that had now opened up again, and I knew I could make the jump whenever I was ready. And I was ready, knowing that Jesus was holding tightly to the other end of my rope.

I jumped!

What I hadn’t expected was that at the very same moment that I jumped, Jesus jumped, too! AHHHHH!!! Now I was in a total freefall, with no ground beneath me and no rope above me. I looked over at Jesus, shocked that He had just jumped over the edge at the same time that I did! He just looked at me and smiled as we continued to hurtle down toward the river below.

That wasn’t what I had expected. It was better! I was doing this with Jesus. Praise God!

Over the past few days, I’ve been heading down that river with Jesus, going further and deeper than I’ve ever gone before. But that’s not the end of the story.

Yesterday morning, I woke up thinking about this new journey. And while I love the idea of having Jesus with me, I kept saying over and over, “I don’t want to go alone.” (He’s a good friend; He knew what I meant.)

Then I looked up above us, and in the same way I had seen Jesus and me jumping over the edge of the hole and into the river, I now saw one or two dozen more people at the edge, parachuting over it! They were coming along with us!

They were coming with us, but I felt like God was saying that they weren’t ready yet to get in the river with us. They wanted to watch as we went along. But one by one, God was saying, when they saw the joy that it brought us to be in the river, they would join us in the river, too. And not just one or two dozen, but hundreds and thousands–and eventually hundreds of thousands!

I wouldn’t be alone! We’d all be rushing down the river together, going further and deeper than we’d ever gone before.

How about you? Want to come along? I’d love to have you join me!

Just make sure to “STAY TETHERED TO JESUS!” (And don’t be surprised if He jumps when you do!)

I’m convinced this isn’t the end of this story. The best is yet to come!


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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- Recalibrating My Goals


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

RECALIBRATING MY GOALS

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

 

Question: If you’re stranded on a desert island, what 3 things would you most want to have? Answer: Michael Phelps, a saddle, and a gold medal on a stick!

I’ve been watching the Olympics the past two weeks, and I’m inspired. I’m inspired to see what people can do when they put their minds to it, with Michael Phelps being example #1. He had a dream, he went for it, and he worked hard to attain it.

I’ve also been reviewing my own goals for this year–goals which I set back in January–and I’m inspired to pick up the pace to see what I can still accomplish by the end of the year. Unfortunately, I’ve fallen behind on some of my goals. I’ve stopped working actively on others.  And I’ve found that the targets that I was aiming for at first on one or two of my goals have moved.

But with the fall fast approaching, and the end of the year coming into view, I’m inspired to recalibrate my goals and keep pressing forward.

If you read my goal-setting message at the beginning of the year, you might remember that one of my goals was to write a complete script and score (dialogue and music) for a new musical based on a book my wife and I wrote a few years back about the real-life Saint Nicholas who lived back in the 3rd and 4th centuries A.D.

I’m pleased to tell you I’ve finished writing 1/3 of the script and 1/3 of the score! But I still have 2/3’s to go–and only 1/3 of the year left to get there! So this week I had a decision to make. I could either get discouraged that I’ve fallen behind and give up on the project altogether, or I could pick up the pace, press on, and keep moving forward toward my goal. As I looked at that goal again this week, remembering why I set it, how I thought I could accomplish it, and the progress I’ve made so far, I’m ready to dive back into writing again.

st-nick-script-and-score-one-third-done

I had another goal this year to lose some weight. By the middle of the year I had lost 1/2 of the weight I had hoped to lose for the year, and I was right on target. But over the past 6 weeks, I’ve taken a break from tracking and losing weight, only to find I’ve gained some of it back. So this week I had another decision to make. I could either get discouraged that I’ve not only stopped making progress toward that goal, but have actually started going backward, or I could pick up the pace, press on, and keep moving forward toward my goal. And as I looked at that goal again this week, remembering why I set it, how I thought I could accomplish it, and the progress I’ve made so far, I’m ready to dive back into tracking and losing more weight, too.

It wasn’t easy to decide to jump back into these goals, but I had a small victory this week that gave me some encouragement.

I was mowing a large patch of grass behind our house with a push mower–not an electric push mower, but a “reel”-type hand push mower like my grandpa used to use. The grass had gotten taller, so pushing through the grass wasn’t easy. I kept having to stop to clear out grass and sticks that kept the reel from spinning (and honestly I was thankful for the break each time so I could stop and catch my breath and wipe the sweat from my face). I didn’t think I could finish the whole patch, and I was tempted several times to give up and go inside.

But as I was pushing the mower, I started thinking about all of my goals for the year–why I had set them, what I hoped to accomplish by doing them, and what might happen if I actually achieved them–and I was inspired to keep going with them all… and with mowing, too! Even though I was ready to give up after 20 minutes, then 30 minutes, then 40 minutes, I kept pushing on until, at 45 minutes, I was done! (And yes, this is the same patch of grass where I was pulling weeds a few weeks back and had to give myself continual pep talks to finish that project, too!)

Fresh off this victory, I went back inside, took a shower, and pulled out all of my goals again for the year. Yes, I had fallen behind on some of them. Yes, I had gone backwards on others. And yes, I was going to have to take aim in a different direction to hit the rest. But I knew–like every Olympian who has competed in Brazil these past two weeks–that if I kept on track and kept putting in the hard work it takes to achieve my goals, then I would certainly achieve more than I could ever achieve otherwise.

And somewhere along the way, I just might win a gold.


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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- Excavating My Heart


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

EXCAVATING MY HEART

by Eric Elder

When people ask me how I’m doing, I know they genuinely want to know–and I genuinely want to tell them. And overall, I’m doing good, really good. But I’m also not immune to something that I Imagine many of you have experienced too. Every once in a while, and especially in the last few months, I’ve found myself bumping into that thing called “loneliness.”

It’s not that I don’t have friends or family. It’s not that I don’t enjoy a deep and personal relationship with God. It’s just that sometimes, in the midst of walking out my life, I feel like I’m walking all alone.

I bumped into it again last week when a friend called with some heartbreaking news. As I tried to digest the words–and the possibility of facing yet another major loss–I realized I had not just bumped into loneliness; I was about to become engulfed in it.

I was walking through the grocery store when it happened, while picking out food for the week with my daughter. Suddenly I felt like I couldn’t take one more step. I could have taken one more step. I just felt like I couldn’t. I mentally scanned through my list of friends I could call or text so at least someone would know what was happening in case I melted down into a puddle right there in the frozen food section of Walmart.

But then my daughter came back with another item on our list, so I just kept walking. I kept checking things off my list. And for the next half hour, I battled my inner thoughts and emotions, trying to just focus on the next item on my list, and the next, until I finally made it to the checkout lane. I knew that this feeling would pass, if I could just keep taking one step at a time, as it has passed before. But I was so thankful when later that night I got home and was able to crash into my bed, letting sleep take over and do its work of restoring my heart and soul.

The next day I talked to a friend and shared what had happened to me. She, too, had bumped into that kind of loneliness and sometimes had been engulfed in it altogether as well. What she learned in that place, however, and what she shared with me so touched my heart that I wanted to share it with you. She said, “That loneliness is God’s excavation of the ground, of a place in someone’s heart, of a place that God is going to fill. But He’s purposely not filling it yet. He’s purposely leaving a space. And every time that feeling comes, He’s taking a scoop–sometimes a bulldozer-sized scoop–but He’s taking a scoop and making room in your heart.”

She continued, “And God wouldn’t do this if He wasn’t intending to fill it. When God’s trying to take us deeper with Him, when He makes a space, He will fill it. He’s intentionally not filling it because He’s making the right place. And I think, based on the goodness of who He is–the utter goodness of who He is–there is no other answer. I don’t think those are wasted moments. I think those are very real and very important moments.”

It makes me cry just to think about it–cry with thankfulness for a good, good God who wastes nothing in our lives if we’ll give it to Him.

Rather than feeling like life is trying to rip something out of me, I can now see clearly that God Himself is the One who is at work. God is doing a work in my heart, taking bigger and bigger scoops in order to increase the capacity for whatever it is that He wants to pour into those newly opened spaces.

I’m thankful for a new vision of what’s going on inside. I’m thankful for family and friends to whom I can reach out when I need someone else on the other end of the line. I’m thankful for a God who I KNOW is for me–and who I KNOW is for you–a God who really does want to work out all things for our good.

The next time I feel that loneliness come upon me, I have something new to try. I’m hopeful that I’m going to be able to truly say, “Father, thank You for taking another scoop. Thank You for digging deeper and deeper in my heart in order to take me deeper with You. Thank You for excavating my heart, for making space for more, and for increasing my capacity to love You and to love others in a way that goes beyond anything I’ve ever experienced before. Thank You for always being FOR me and for holding those spaces open in my heart until the exact moment when You decide to fill them. Help me not to try to fill them with anything other than what You’re creating them for, because I want more than anything to be filled with all that You have for me. I trust You, and I trust Your goodness in this situation as well as in all things. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

And the next time someone asks me how I’m doing, I can genuinely say once again, “Overall, I’m doing good, really good,” because I know that God’s got this, too.

P.S. St. Augustine once said, “God is always trying to give good things to us, but our hands are too full to receive them.” If you feel like your hands are too full to receive all that God has for you, I’d invite you to take three days away with Greg Potzer and myself in early December as we’re planning a three-day prayer retreat in the mountains of North Carolina. We’ll be hosting the event both online and in person, so whether you’re able to join us there or from wherever you are, we hope you’ll block out three days to take part in this “guided prayer retreat.” Our plan is to give you ideas for how to make your prayer life more effective, as well as give you time to put what you’re learning into practice. We’re not charging anything for the retreat, but we have booked some rooms and meals at The Cove, a beautiful conference center in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and there will be a cost for the meals and lodging. The dates are December 7, 8 and 9, starting in the evening on the 7th and finishing up by noon on the 9th. If you’d like to join us in person, please let us know as soon as possible as we’ve reserved only 24 spots at the conference center where we’re holding the event, and we want to make sure we have a spot for you! Here’s a link to more details about the retreat, including an early-bird special on the lodging and meals that ends tomorrow, August 15! Click here to learn more.

Guided Prayer Retreat


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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- Drawing Water From Your Well


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

DRAWING WATER FROM YOUR WELL

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

 As a writer, I’m often pouring out to others that which has been poured into me. I’ll hear something that intrigues me, I’ll put it into practice in my own life, and then I’ll share what I’ve learned so others can enjoy it, too. I used to think of this as if I were being handed a cup of cool water, taking a good, long drink, and, if I liked it, passing that cup along so others could try it for themselves.

But I’ve come to realize it’s not as simple as just passing the cup along. It’s more like having the water poured over me and letting it filter through the soil of my life into my own personal well. When I later draw out that water and give it to others, it has been filtered and flavored in a way that is uniquely mine. The water may come from the same Source, but it now has a unique flavor, a flavor that is unique to my own personal well.

I told a friend I wanted to send her something I had written, which was based on something she had shared with me. I said, “Of course, you’ve already heard this before, because you’re the one who shared it with me!”

To which she replied, “Oh, no, I’d love to read it. I’m looking forward to seeing what the water filtered through your well tastes like.”

I thought her statement was precious and profound, something which I’ve pondered and savored ever since. On my wall at home, I have a small wall hanging that a young man gave me after visiting his church in the Philippines and sharing a personal message with him from my heart. He was so touched by what I said that he went out and bought this wall hanging to let me know how much my words had encouraged him. It says:

“You are special. God sends each person into this world with a special message to deliver, with a special song to sing, with a special act of love to bestow. No one else can speak your message, or sing your song, or offer your act of love. God has entrusted these only to you.”

You Are Special

The young man who gave it to me had written on the back, “Thank you for enlightening me, for leading me into the right path, and for letting God use you.”

As I look back on what I shared with him in my message that day–now almost twenty years later–I realize just how unique that message really was. It had been drawn from the well of my own personal encounters with God, and God had used it to touch him in a very personal way.

When you take the time to give out to others that which has come from your own personal encounters with God, you’re giving people water that is uniquely from your well–a well which God has spent so much time developing.

That’s one of the reasons why I love reading the Bible so much. I’m able to draw water from the wells of people like David and Abraham, Esther and Ruth, and especially Jesus. Each of them had a unique walk with God. Each of them received water from the same Source. Each of their stories and encounters with God have been filtered through their own unique soil. In turn, each of their stories adds to the richness and flavor of my own relationship with God.

You have your own unique well, too. God has poured water into you from His deep, deep well and filtered it through the soil of your life. Like Evian water that has been filtered through the soil in a small town in the French Alps and is now shipped all over the world, the water in your well is costly and precious. Why not draw it out and share it with others?  No one else can speak your message, or sing your song, or offer your act of love. God has entrusted these only to you.


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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- Holding Nothing Back


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

HOLDING NOTHING BACK

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

I have a secret to share with you today. Like many of my messages, this one is very personal. But I hope that giving you a peek inside my heart will be helpful. With that preface in mind, here’s what I’d like to share.

About a year ago, I fell in love. It was quite unplanned and quite unexpected. I was talking with a dear friend from long ago and far away when all of a sudden, I was smitten. I don’t know how it happened, but suddenly I was captivated, and I couldn’t let it go.

I didn’t tell anyone about it for two months, and I didn’t tell her about it for three. I just kept it all close to my heart, talking to God, asking Him what He wanted me to do, and asking myself what I would want, if I could really choose to do what I wanted.

After three months of praying on my own, I felt like I should tell her. I sent her a note and asked if we could talk. She said, “Yes,” she’d be glad to, so we picked a day to get together.

The night before we met, I asked God what He wanted me to tell her, and I felt like He said, “Let her know your heart, your fears, your prayers, your requests. She will be able to help you straighten them out.” I would have loved to do that, but it seemed like that would be way too much to share, way too early, and way too risky.

But it also felt like this was what God really wanted me to do. I asked Him, “Is there any scripture to confirm this?”

I opened my Bible and began to read a conversation between Samuel and Eli, as recorded in the book of First Samuel, chapter 3. Samuel was hesitant to tell Eli something that God had spoken to his heart, but Eli told Samuel to tell him everything, word for word, holding nothing back. The next words seemed to jump off the page:

“So Samuel told him, word for word. He held back nothing” (1 Samuel 3:18, MSG).

Again, God spoke to my heart: “Hold back nothing, Eric. Hold back nothing. It’s important for her to hear it and you to say it. Hold back nothing.”

The next day we met and, over a cup of hot chocolate, I shared with her everything that was on my heart, all that I had been praying about during the previous three months, holding nothing back.

In the months that followed, we talked and prayed, exchanged emails and texts. We never dated, never kissed, never held hands. In fact, I didn’t even know if she had any feelings for me at all beyond our mutual friendship. All I knew was that God wanted me to share all that was on my heart, holding nothing back.

Six months later, I had finally finished sharing all that I could think of that was on my heart. I felt like I was a campfire that had been stoked with firewood continually until there was no more wood to throw on the fire. I had shared everything; there was nothing left to say; I had held nothing back. All I could do now was pray.

Not long after this, I was on tour in Israel and found myself standing on the Temple Mount, that hilltop in Jerusalem where Abraham once stood as he laid his son, Isaac, on the altar before God. I felt like God wanted me to do the same with this relationship. I had poured out my heart and said all I could say. Now He wanted me to lay it down before Him. So I did.

Months passed, and I heard no response. Then, during my three-day personal prayer retreat last week, I got a call. My friend had had time to process all that I had shared, and she was ready to respond.

As much as she felt honored by our friendship and appreciated all I had said, she felt that she wasn’t the one I was really looking for–that she was a placeholder for the one who was to come. She was glad to be that placeholder–to prepare my heart for that person in the future–but she couldn’t see herself as being that person.

I was disappointed, of course, but I somehow agreed with her! Completely! I knew that what she was saying was absolutely right. She really had helped me to straighten out all of my thoughts and feelings, fears and prayers. I was so glad I shared with her all that I had shared. While I could have been tempted to see her response as a rejection (and if it was, it was the kindest rejection I had ever felt), God spoke to my heart to say that it wasn’t a rejection, but that it was an acceptance–an acceptance of God’s will, His perfect will, His BEST will, for both of our lives. God’s will is always goodwill, even when it doesn’t come in the form we might have expected.

As the ancient writer Epictetus said: “I am content with what happens, for I know that whatever God chooses is better than what I choose.”

I also could have been tempted to think that I had just wasted months of energy–mental, physical, and spiritual energy. But God stopped me in mid-thought saying, “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.”

It made me think of another quote, written by an unknown author, that says, “Nothing lies beyond the reach of prayer except that which lies beyond the will of God.”

I believe that with all of my heart. I am thankful that I sought God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength. I am thankful that I shared with my friend all that I shared, holding nothing back. And I am thankful for the answer which has come.

While I was hesitant to share this with you as it is so personal and so fresh, I know that the fruit often tastes sweetest when it’s fresh off the tree. May we all enjoy it together.

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You that we can come to you anytime in prayer, seeking Your perfect will with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. Thank You that our time in prayer is never wasted, but always invested, and that it will pay rewards for years to come. Thank You for friends who let us share with them freely, and thank you for their gracious responses. And Lord, thank You for the reminder that Your will for our lives is always goodwill. In Jesus’ name, Amen.


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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- Pulling Weeds


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

PULLING WEEDS

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

Pulling Weeds

Pulling the final patch of weeds between two trees:
before, almost done, and finished. New grass is coming soon!

I woke up early on Tuesday morning to do something I really didn’t want to do: pull weeds. I don’t mind pulling weeds, but this was the last patch of what had become a week-long project of pulling weeds, and I was wearing out.

At first it was kind of fun. I had put on some headphones, gotten down on my knees, and even took time to pray while I was down there. But after a week of pulling weeds I was wearing out, and I didn’t know how much longer it was going to take. I knew what I had to do though, and that was to just keep pulling weeds.

I decided not to worry about how long it would take, but to just keep going forward with the task at hand: pulling weeds. I got down on my knees again and began to pull. Surprisingly, after an hour of pulling, I was done! And not with just that patch, but since it was the last patch, I was done with the entire project that I had been working on for a week!  The end had been right around the corner. I just didn’t know it. All I knew was that I just had to keep pulling weeds.

Yesterday morning, I woke up with another task at hand: recording a new song on the piano that I’ve been wanting to record for several months now. Unlike pulling weeds, this was a project I really wanted to do. But when I woke up yesterday morning, I felt like I was facing the same final patch of weeds again, and I had no idea when I would ever be able to finish the recording.

All I knew was that I just had to keep going and take the next right step that was in front of me. Amazingly, within an hour I had made huge strides in the recording process and, by the end of the day, I had finished editing all of the individual sound clips in order to turn them into one seamless and beautiful  song. (I still have a few more “next steps” to take until the song is finished completely, so I can’t share it with you yet. But here’s a picture of the final note in the bottom right corner of what has to be the longest and most complicated song I’ve ever recorded.)

Final Note

The final note (marked by an arrow).

One last story. I’ve been working through an unresolved situation with a friend for the past ten and a half months. While I believed there would be a resolution at some point, I felt like I had done everything that I could do on my end, and I had no idea when that resolution might come.

This week I decided to take a personal prayer retreat for three days. While I’m planning to do a prayer retreat with others at the end of the year, I thought it would be a good time to set aside the same amount of time on my own and enjoy my own personal time with God.  Most of my kids were away at a music festival, so I had time to think and pray and play the piano. On my knees that first morning, I laid out the various things I was praying about in my life.

The first night of my prayer retreat, my friend called. And during our two-hour conversation, things were resolved. I told my friend that I had just started a three-day prayer retreat that morning. I said, “If only for this conversation, I am so glad I set aside this time to pray.” And I still had two days of “retreating” to go.

I want to encourage you today that whatever seemingly insurmountable mountain of a task may lay before you, whether it’s pulling weeds or recording a song or reaching a resolution with a friend, keep focused on the task at hand. Do what God has called you to do. Take the steps He has called you to take. And trust the outcome into His gracious and loving hands.

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for giving us work to do here on earth, whether it’s pulling weeds, recording songs, or building friendships with others. Lord, I ask that You would help us stay focused on the tasks before us, not getting overwhelmed by all the things that need to be done, but moving ahead with the next right thing we know to do. Lord, help us to accomplish all that You’ve put on our hearts to do–for Your sake, for our sake, and for the sake of all those who will be touched by our efforts. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

P.S. I’m 99% sure we will go forward with the retreat in early December, both in-person and online. I am working out the final details now and will let you know soon so you can start making plans. Based on my own personal retreat this week, I would like to encourage you, invite you, and welcome you, to join me and see what God can do, not just after three days, but even after day one!


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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- Dropping To My Knees, Part 2


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

DROPPING TO MY KNEES, PART 2

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

Spontaneous prayer backstage last Sunday .
Spontaneous prayer backstage last Sunday.

Last week I wrote to you about how I’ve been doing a lot of praying on my knees lately, something that I’ve done from time to time over the years, but not as often as these past few months. After I wrote that message and sent it out, an interesting thing happened.

I was at church later that night for our Sunday evening service. I was on the worship team at our church for the day and had already played the keyboard for the morning service. We have an identical evening service, so I thought I knew the routine just fine. Our worship team was waiting backstage in the green room for our cue to go out and take our places when our senior pastor, who was preaching on stage, decided to have a special time of prayer with the congregation before we came out to lead worship. With all of the recent violence in the world, he felt we needed to pray in a special way. He didn’t say anything other than to pray along with him.

I had just stood up to get ready to go on stage, along with the rest of the worship team, as we were watching him on the monitor in our room. Without giving any other direction, our pastor simply knelt down on the stage and began to pray. When he dropped down to his knees, I remembered my message from earlier that morning which I had titled “Dropping To My Knees.” I thought, “I should probably get down on my knees right now.” But I also thought, “But they’re about to send us out on stage; I’d better be ready.” Yet without another moment’s hesitation, I was compelled, once again, to drop down to my knees. I did,and began praying backstage.

Within seconds of my going down, I noticed our whole worship team had done the same. There was no question; no hesitation. It was the only response that seemed right. I was floored, quite literally. We all prayed like that for several minutes, and when we were done, we simply stood up and walked onstage to lead worship. It didn’t interrupt the flow one bit. In fact, I’m sure it helped the flow tremendously.

Why am I so resistant sometimes to just drop down on my knees when it seems to be the most natural thing in the world after I’ve done it? Later that night, I saw that the production assistant who was giving us our cues backstage had snapped a picture of our prayer time and posted it on Facebook, thankful for a church and a worship team who were willing to get down on their knees and pray. I normally wouldn’t post a picture like this, as it seems odd to do so. But like the production assistant, I too was just so thankful. I felt there was no better response that I could make to our pastor’s call to pray than to join him by praying on my knees.

Last night, I had another experience down on my knees. I was playing a game with my kids out in the backyard when the ball we were playing with bounced out into a field of soybeans that had grown to about two-feet high. We could see the direction the ball went, but we couldn’t find it when we walked out into the field. I said to my son, “If we could just lay down on the ground and look under the leaves at the base of the beans, I think we could see it. But,” I added, “I really don’t want to lay down on the ground.” A moment later, guess where I was! Laid out flat on the ground!

Not seeing anything, I got back up onto my knees. And there, a few rows over, nestled at the base of the plants, and hidden from view by the leaves above, was the ball. I was instantly transfixed, thinking, “Some things are simply seen better when we’re down on our knees.”

As it is with finding lost balls, so it is with prayer: some things are simply seen better when we’re down on our knees.

 

Will you pray with me? (I also have two Post Scripts below, one with a retreat update, and one with a new song I’ve just recorded that I’d love for you to listen to!)

Father, thank You for letting us get down on our knees at any time (in our hearts at least, even if it’s not possible physically) and come to You in prayer. Thank You that You hear our prayers and answer them, sometimes showing us things that we never would have seen had we not been on our knees. Thank You for others who model this kind of prayer for us, whether it’s our pastor, our friends, or even Your Son, Jesus in the garden. Thank You for helping us to see on our knees what we might never see any other way. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

P.S. Retreat Update! I also asked last week if any of you would want to join us for a guided prayer retreat in December, whether in person or online, saying that if 20 people would respond by today to tell me that they were “strongly interested” in coming to such an event in-person, then I would strongly consider booking it! As of this morning, I’ve had 21! So I’m strongly considering booking it.

I’ve also had over 50 people respond to say that they would like to join us for the retreat online, writing from places like Kenya, England, Turkey, Nigeria, India, Ireland, Uganda, Jersey (an island in the English Channel), Zambia, Canada, South Africa and Seychelles (an island off the northern tip of Madagascar). Praise God! Some days I have to remind myself just what a blessing it is to live at a time like this when we can interact with people around the world instantaneously! Thanks for your responses as they really help us to know how to proceed.

P.P.S. New song! I’ve also just  recorded a beautiful song on the piano this weekend for a friend’s wedding in Scotland in a few months. The song is so beautiful, rich and moving that I wanted to share it with you, too. You can listen to it for free on The Ranch website at the link below. It’s called “Fairytale,” written by Ludovico Einaudi. Enjoy! Click here to listen.


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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- Dropping To My Knees


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

DROPPING TO MY KNEES

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

I normally write a message on the weekends to try to encourage you in your faith, but today I need your input. This fall, I’m hoping to start a new series of messages on the topic of prayer and how you can have a more effective prayer life.

I’ve been working on this series for more than five years, but for various reasons I have not yet felt it was ready to share with you. But the past few months, I have found myself dropping to my knees more often than ever, and I feel the time is right to share these messages with you now.

Recently, when I hear about something that’s happening, or someone shares with me what’s going on in his or her life, it often seems like the only appropriate response is to literally get down on my knees and start praying. As a side note, I’m not normally prone to just drop down to my knees. I’ll pray, yes, and I have prayed on my knees before, but what’s new lately is that I feel compelled that there’s nothing better I could do than to physically get down on my knees and pray–whether that means getting out of a chair, turning around, and kneeling down, and putting my head and my hands down on the chair I was sitting on, or putting my head face-down in my pillow in the middle with my knees tucked up under me on my bed, or sometimes even dropping down to my knees as I’m going about my day, wherever I happen to be. In one way, I feel awkward doing this. But in another way, I feel this is often the only thing that seems right to do in the moment. It reminds me of how Abraham Lincoln must have felt when he said:

“I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go.”

There are so many things in life that require prayer, and no other response seems to compare. All of which leads me to the question that I’m needing your input on today.

In conjunction with this new series on prayer that I’m hoping to start sharing with you this fall, I wonder if you would like to join me, in person or online, for a “guided prayer retreat”–a time when we could come together and pray–but not just alone in silence. I would like to take 3 days to share with you some of the ways that I’ve found helpful to pray, and I would invite some of my friends who I know to be strong men and women of prayer to share with you ways that they’ve found helpful to pray. Then we’d spend some time in prayer and worship and meals and fellowship interspersed throughout those three days. I think it could be a powerful time, a healing time, a learning time, a prayerful time.

I’ve been praying about a retreat like this for quite a while, and I think it would be awesome. But now I need to ask if this is something you would be interested in joining me for. And if so, would you want to join me in person or online?

For an in-person retreat, I am thinking of hosting it at the Billy Graham retreat center in Asheville, North Carolina called “The Cove,” on December 7, 8 and 9, 2016 (we’d start on Wednesday night, meet all day Thursday, and wrap up on Friday morning). The cost to use the center would be $269 per person, which would include 2 nights of lodging in a double room (a single room would cost more), 5 meals, and full use of the center and their meeting space. (I wouldn’t charge anything extra for the retreat itself. Your cost would only be for lodging, meals, and use of the center.) I am considering an end-of-week event because it is more economical for you than for a weekend. Plus I know that many of you are involved in ministries at your own churches and this would allow you to attend the retreat during the week and still serve at your local church on the weekend.

Before I book the event, however, I would need to know if there are 20 people who would be interested and eager to attend an in-person retreat like this on those dates. If so, I can book it right away to reserve the spot. I wouldn’t need you to commit or register now, but I would need to know if you’re strongly interest. If so, please reply to this note or write to me directly at eric@theranch.org BY NEXT SUNDAY, JULY 17th. If I hear from at least 20 of you who are strongly interested, I will strongly consider booking it right away!

I am also considering hosting the retreat online, perhaps live-streaming the actual event over the Internet, or doing it solely over the Internet if we don’t do an in-person event. It takes a different kind of planning and setup to record and stream an event like this, but I’m willing to do it if there is significant interest in doing so. If you would be interested in joining us for an online retreat rather than in person, please let me know that too by responding to this note or by writing me directly at eric@theranch.org.

I’ve just been on my knees right now again, praying for you, that God would speak to your hearts if this is something He wants you do to–and thereby letting me know if it’s something He wants me to do! I would be glad to do it, and am looking forward to doing it, but I would love to hear from you if you’re interested in doing it, too.

I’ll include two links at the bottom of this message where you can learn more about The Cove in Asheville. Click the first link to watch a short video about the retreat center and the second link visit their website.

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You that we can come to You in prayer anytime, day or night, whether on our knees, on our chairs, on our beds, or walking throughout this magnificent world You’ve created for us. I pray that You would speak to our hearts today about how our prayer lives can be more effective and how we can have richer conversations with You. Speak to our hearts in a way that only You can do, guiding us in the best next steps we can take to grow in our faith, to grow in our devotion to You, and to touch the lives of others through prayer. We ask this all in the strong name of Jesus. Amen.

 

Christmastime at The Cove
Christmastime at The Cove

Here are the links to more information about The Cove:


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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- Telling Your Story


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

TELLING YOUR STORY

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

 

Last year, for the first time in my life, I decided to sit down and write out my full story–the story of how I came to put my faith in Christ and what’s changed in my life since I took that momentous step.

I wrote the story under a pen name because, even though I had told it many times, I had never shared the details in such a personal way. I wasn’t sure if I would publish it at all, and I didn’t want anyone to know I had written it in case I decided against publishing it when I was done.

But by the time I got to the ending, I knew that this was a story that had to be told, with all its ugly bits and happy bits and funny bits intact. I offered the book to several publishers, many of whom were initially interested, but none of whom would eventually publish it, saying it was too secular for the Christian market, and too Christian for the secular market.

So I published it myself. Within the first day, it went to #10 on Amazon’s best seller list in the category where stories like mine are posted! Hallelujah! (I would still love for a publisher to pick up the book and take it to places I could never take it on my own, but in the mean time, I’ll just keep sharing it with as many people as I can!)

After I began sharing my story in this way, other people said they were touched by it and asked if I could help them tell their stories about how God had worked in their lives. I said I’d be glad to help.

So this year, I’ve prayed about and committed to helping five other people tell their stories, two of whom have just finished their first drafts. And what incredible stories they are! It’s amazing to see what comes out when people are given the freedom to tell their stories, holding nothing back, and to see how interesting, unique, and genuinely intriguing each story is. As a friend told me when I was writing my story:

“Everyone has a million dollar book inside of them. They just have to tell their own story–but they have to be brutally honest when they tell it.”  

I’m looking forward to sharing my friends’ stories with you when they’re finished. One is by a professional model who came to Christ to help her deal with the ugliness she still felt inside. Another is by a woman whose husband went through a horrendous health crisis, sending my friend back to the foot of the cross daily. While the details of each story are different, the theme is the same: God has walked with them through it all.

Such stories are endless. As the apostle John said after writing down his story:

“Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written” (John 21:25).

Maybe you’ve considered writing down your story. Maybe you’ve already started. Maybe you’ve wanted to tell your story, but you’re afraid of what others might think about you when you do. But as author and pastor Rick Warren says:

“Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.” 

Can I encourage you today to tell your story? Write it down, pass it around, and let others see what Christ has done in your life!

I, for one, am fascinated by stories of faith to see how God has worked in other people’s lives. In fact, that’s why I love reading the Bible so much. It’s filled with stories of real people, who have lived real lives, and who have interacted with the real and living God.

I’m thankful that others have taken the time to write down their stories so I can learn from them. If you’ve been encouraged by hearing what God has done for others, think how others would be encouraged to hear what God has done for you.

What’s your story? Maybe it’s time to tell it.

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for walking with us through the stories of our lives. Help us to be willing and eager and ready to tell our stories with others who desperately need to hear the words of hope that we can give them, hope that You will be there for them every step of the way as they live out their own stories. Use our words to touch people in a way that no one else could ever touch them. And as we share, may Your name be magnified, glorified, and honored all along the way. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Fifty Shades of Grace AudioBook

P.S. You can now listen to my story in audio! You can also still get a copy of the paperback from our ministry for a donation of any size, or order the paperback or Kindle editions directly from Amazon at the links below. (Please note that my book is for mature readers only, as it describes, in a tasteful yet emotional way, the story of how I went into homosexuality and came out of it through the love of Christ and the love of my friends, one of whom eventually became my wife. It’s called, appropriately, Fifty Shades of Grace, and is written under my pen name, Nicholas Deere.)


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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- Being Who I Am


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

BEING WHO I AM

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

 

 

I was having dinner with a friend when the conversation became awkward. We were talking about a subject we hadn’t talked discussed in a long time, and we didn’t know where each other stood.

I could tell I was holding back from saying what I wanted to say, and my friend could tell the same. To ease the tension, my friend said, “Eric, how about this: why don’t you just be who you are, and I’ll be who I am. Then we’ll take it from there.”

Whoosh! In an instant, all of the tension left my body.

Rather than worrying about how my words might be perceived, I felt I had the permission to just “be who I am”–in this case to speak freely–thereby advancing our conversation by leaps and bounds.

A few days later I was flying out west to meet with some people I had never met before. I was nervous about the meeting, and I was afraid I might feel “very small” in the presence of people who were rightly considered by many to be “very big.”

As I was praying about the meeting, asking God to use our meeting to bear fruit for His kingdom in whatever way He wanted, I began worrying about what I should or shouldn’t bring up during our meeting. In answer to my question, I felt like God said: “Be yourself, Eric. Be who you are. And I’ll be who I AM!”

Whoosh! In an instant, all of the tension left my body.

Rather than worrying about how my words might be perceived, I felt I had the permission to just “be who I am”–in this case to relax and enjoy the time of meeting new people–knowing that God would be who He IS: the great “I AM.”

Over the next few days, as I met with person after person during the meeting, I was able to truly be myself and enjoy the moments as they came. I laid down any agenda I might have had and often just thought, “What would I do if I were to just be who I am?” When I saw one of the “very big” people walking towards me carrying a stack of chairs to the meeting room, rather than thinking of what I should say or how I should say it, I thought, “What would I do if I were to just be who I am?” I answered, “I’d offer to help carry the chairs!” I offered, he accepted, so I began making trips back and forth with him carrying chairs.

It was so simple! I knew I could trust that if God had something more for me to say or do, He would prompt me to do or say it. But in the absence of His prompting otherwise, it was easy to know what to do next: just be who I was! And in so doing, not only was I blessed, but so were those around me, even if it was in the most simple ways.

This isn’t to say that “being who I am” isn’t without risk. There’s always some risk in letting down our walls–and some walls are good and right for the protection of ourselves and of others. Even my friend warned me during our dinner conversation that dropping walls doesn’t always end well. Life is messy. People are messy. But what a blessing to be able to share what was truly on my heart that night. And as my friend said later, “I know you, Eric, and I had to trust that no matter where our conversation went, something good would come of it.”

I’m still experimenting. I’m still exploring. But I’m enjoying the process, asking not only what God wants me to do, or what Jesus would do–which are both terrific questions–but also “What would Eric do?” What would I do, given the way God has created me, gifted me, and wired me? Then doing it, just being who I am, letting others be who they are, and letting God be who He is: the great “I AM.”


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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- Going For What’s In Your Heart


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

GOING FOR WHAT’S IN YOUR HEART

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

I’ve been challenged recently to go for what’s in my heart. By that I mean searching for that which is deepest in my heart and going for it. I only have so many heartbeats in life, and I want to make each one count.

A few months ago, I was praying about several things I was considering doing, but for various reasons I wasn’t sure if I should do them or if I could do them or how things might turn out if I did do them. I’m a thinker by nature, and I usually pray about, think about, and analyze every decision, weighing the pros and cons fairly thoroughly before coming to a conclusion. While this trait is helpful at times–and has spared me from some disastrous results–it has also lead to some serious “analysis paralysis,” whereby I’ve been unable to come to any conclusions at all.

So a few months ago, while writing in my journal, I listed out the various decisions I was trying to make. As I asked God about each of these decisions, I felt like He asked me: “What’s in your heart, Eric?”

The question was like a jolt to my system.

Really? I thought. What’s in my heart?

The answers came instantly, and I wrote down each one:

– I’d like to…
– I’d like to…
– I’d like to…
– I’d like to…
– I’d like to…

As I looked at each answer, I thought, Yeah, I guess I really could do each one of those things. Some of them were risky, expensive, and not likely to pan out for various reasons, but none of them were sinful or unbiblical. In fact, some of them were very honoring to God and to others. When I found out what was deepest in my heart for each decision, the answers were clear–much clearer than I realized before–and I was surprised at how quickly those answers came.

After a little more time in prayer, I decided to go for what was in my heart in each of the situations and see where they led.

In one case, I wanted to take my family on what has been a many-year tradition of snow skiing for a day, and there was a particular day that stuck out in my mind when we should go. It would be the very last possible day of skiing, however, as we hadn’t been able to go until that time. The ten-day weather forecast looked terrible though… hot, actually! I couldn’t imagine there would be any snow left. But that date and the details seemed so clear to me that I felt we should go ahead and plan the trip. Even up until the day before our scheduled trip, the weather reports still looked like it would be impossible for us to ski the next day! While my head said, “No,” my heart said, “Yes.” We went, there was plenty of snow, and the day turned out to be amazingly beautiful! We had never had such a unique day of “spring skiing” like that before.

Click to watch a clip from our day of "spring skiing."

Click to watch a clip from our day of “spring skiing.”

In another decision, I wanted to send a gift and a blessing to someone who I felt had wronged me in the past. I didn’t know how this person might take it, and I didn’t want to bring up old wounds. Yet he was embarking on a new season in his life, and I wanted to offer my genuine blessing–and honest forgiveness–as he headed into the future. While my head said, “No,” my heart said, “Yes.” I sent the gift as a blessing, along with a letter explaining why I had sent it.  He received it gladly and sent me a note of appreciation. While it may not have resolved everything related to our past hurts, it was a good start, and it was good for my heart–and hopefully his.

I’m still working on and waiting to see how some of the other decisions will come out. But I can say that I’ve felt good about the decisions I’ve made. Even with the very real risks and costs involved, I feel like I’ve chosen a path which makes for a richer, more abundant life, no matter what.

As I thought about each of these decisions, I thought about some other decisions I’ve made in the past year when I went with what was in my heart, in spite of where my fears might have taken me.

I wanted to take my two youngest kids to Israel this past Easter, but was warned by the tour agency that the trip would be more expensive and the sites would be packed during Holy Week. As time went on, I still felt I should do it, but I was concerned that the issues raised by the tour agency were very real and very valid. The company even cancelled the trip at one point because of these things, so I looked into going on my own. While I found some good rates at various hotels and sites, I was still worried about the crowds.

A few days before I needed to make a final decision, I decided to call the tour agency again to see if they had reconsidered. Not only had they reconsidered, but they now had 35 people signed up to go and the trip turned out to be less expensive than any other trip! They just hadn’t gotten back to me to let me know. So I signed up. The company wrote back to ask if I would be willing to be the spiritual leader for the group, doing the daily devotionals at each of the historic sites and baptizing those who wanted to be baptized in the Jordan River, both of which I was already planning to do with my own kids. I said, “Yes,” we went, and my kids and I–and the group of 35–were all abundantly blessed. Instead of clamoring crowds, we found ourselves first in line at many of the sites for a variety of reasons. While the travel agency was right to bring up their concerns, I was glad I kept going for that which was in my heart.

Our group in Israel for Easter.

Our group in Israel for Easter.

One last story:

I met with a group a few months ago who, for the past several years, has sent our ministry some gracious donations each month. This group stepped up a few years ago to help out when things were extremely tight for our ministry, even though our type of ministry was outside the scope of activities they would normally help to fund. I appreciated their help at the time, as it was a compassionate response to a genuine need. With their help and the help of others who have stepped in, our funding has since gotten much stronger. As this group was recently re-evaluating their annual giving, they let me know that since we were in a better position ourselves, they were going to cut back their support in the months ahead, and phase it out completely within a year. I told them I was very thankful for all the help they had given us, and we set up a meeting to talk about the details of their plan for my own budgeting purposes.

Before the meeting, however, I felt like God asked again, “What’s in your heart, Eric?” I was honest with God and said, “I’m very thankful for all the support they’ve given us to date, Father. It’s really helped to get us through a time when things were very tight. But,” I added, “if I were to be fully honest, I would hope that after all this time of partnering together, they would double what they’re sending us each month to help us go further than ever before, rather than scaling back and eventually phasing out their support–even if they could just send us $1 a month, if only for the sake of feeling like they were ‘cheering us on’ in our ministry.”

When I met with the group to discuss the phase-out details, they asked at the end of our conversation how I felt about everything. “For the record,” I said, “my ‘official’ answer is that I’m very thankful for all the help you’ve given us. It’s really made a difference for our ministry over the past several years, and for that I’m truly thankful.”

“And what’s your ‘unofficial’ answer?” one of them asked. “That’s the one we really want to hear.”

“‘Unofficially,'” I said, “my answer is still that I’m very thankful for all you’ve done so far. But after all this time of partnering together, what I would really love is if you could double your monthly giving and keep supporting us for as long as you can.”

They thanked me for my candor and said they would meet and talk and pray some more about it all. A few weeks later, I got a call from the group. Rather than cutting back their monthly donations and phasing them out, they had decided to continue helping with their monthly support–although not at the quite the same level–but at a higher level than their phase-out plan. And furthermore, they had no plans to phase out our support at all, but rather would now consider us one of their ongoing, regularly supported ministries. In a follow-up letter they gave me with all of the details, I was struck by one phrase in particular that said, “We are here to cheer you on…” I had never mentioned that phrase to them at all! But that’s what I was wanting most. It felt like God Himself had given me the answer to that which was deepest on my heart.

Once again, I had taken a risk–in this case of appearing ungrateful and hurting the feelings of people who had become dear friends over the years. But once again, I’m so glad I went for what was in my heart. And in so doing, not only have I been blessed, but thousands of others will benefit from this group’s ongoing generosity. Thank You, Lord, for giving me the courage to go for that which is deepest in my heart!


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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- Keeping Your Feet Forward And Your Knees Bent


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

KEEPING YOUR FEET FORWARD AND YOUR KNEES BENT

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

White-water rafting in northern California with my son, Lucas, (middle-left) and my friend, Al Lowry (bottom-left). I'm on the top-left next to the guide. (June, 2005)

White-water rafting in northern California with my son, Lucas, (middle-left) and my friend, Al Lowry (bottom-left). I’m on the top-left next to the guide. (June, 2005)

A friend recently asked me, “How do you feel when you come across a boulder that’s in your way?”

How do I feel? I didn’t understand the question.

Maybe my friend meant to say, “What do you do when you come across a boulder that’s in your way?” Because I know the answer to that one. I usually try to talk to the boulder (if the boulder is in the form of a person) or to God (if the boulder is related to finances or health or a person to whom I can’t talk for some reason). I try to explain why I need to keep going the way I’m going, asking them to help me keep going or to move out of the way so I can get through.

But my friend said, “No, that’s not what I’m asking. I’m asking, ‘How do you feel when you come across a boulder?'”

Again, I didn’t understand the question. “Can I just go around the boulder?” I asked.

“Sure, you can go around it if you want to,” my friend said. “But that’s not what I’m asking. I’m asking, ‘How you feel when you come across one that’s in your way?'”

How do I feel? “Well,” I said, “I usually feel frustrated. Angry. Hurt. Of course, that’s how I feel. Isn’t that obvious? Isn’t that the way everyone feels?”

My friend didn’t answer, but simply said, “I think there’s something God wants to say to you. That’s why I’m asking.”

So over the next few days, I began to pray about the question: “How do I feel when I come across a boulder that’s in my way?” The answer seemed so obvious that I didn’t understand why it would even matter.

But while praying one day, I suddenly remembered something from many years ago–when I was just a kid. I was white-water rafting with my family on a river in Colorado. The guide who rented us the raft and was helping us to navigate the river gave us a helpful tip:

“If you fall out of the raft, float on your back with your feet forward and your knees bent. That way, if you run into a boulder underwater, you’ll hit it with your feet first and be able to step up over it or push off and go around it. But if your feet aren’t forward, you’re likely to run into it with your back or your side or your head and you could get hurt pretty badly. And if your knees aren’t bent, you won’t be able to step up over it or push off and go around it. So be sure to keep your feet forward and your knees bent.”

I’ve rafted and floated on many rivers since then, from the mountains of Nepal to creeks here in Illinois, and I’ve always remembered that guide’s advice. It’s kept me from getting hurt several times.

So when I was praying about the boulder question, I suddenly remembered the guide’s advice. And I suddenly realized that God did have something He wanted to say to me.

There have been times in my life when I’ve come across boulders that were in my way. Boulders that seemed to pop up out of nowhere. Boulders that threatened to derail me from the direction I was wanting to go. And my reaction has almost always been the same. I get frustrated. Angry. Hurt.

I’ve tried talking to the boulders and talking to God. But when the boulders haven’t moved, I’ve just gotten more frustrated. More angry. More hurt. Even when the boulders have moved, I’ve often felt the sting of pain from running into the boulders long after I’ve moved on farther down the river.

My friend’s question now made sense to me. What if, I thought, instead of getting sideswiped by the boulders that I come across in life, I change my posture, knowing that there are probably going to be more boulders ahead, and keep my feet forward and my knees bent so I can step up and over them or push off and go around them? It might not change the fact that I’ll still run across some boulders–and it might still take some effort to get around them. But I might not get so frustrated when I come across them. I might not get so angry. I might not get so hurt.

I began to think through some of the boulders I had run across in the past and how this advice could have helped me during those times: when I asked a boss for a favor, and he said no; when I asked a girl if she wanted to date, and she said no; when I asked God to change a situation, and He said no. In each situation, I remember getting frustrated. Angry. Hurt. I took their answers personally when oftentimes it wasn’t personal at all, at least not at its core. In each situation, the others were just doing what they felt was right in the situation, but somehow it got personal from there.

As I thought about each of those situations from my past, I wondered, What if I had kept my feet forward and my knees bent? How would I have reacted differently? The biggest and most obvious difference was that I wouldn’t have gotten nearly as frustrated, nearly as angry or nearly as hurt. I wouldn’t have taken it all so personally. Instead, I could have stepped up and over the boulders, or pushed off and gone around them, rather than getting sideswiped, hit in the back, or knocked around on the head.

I also thought about some of the boulders I’m facing now–those barriers that seem to be in my way and could potentially give me some real knocks, too, if I’m not prepared for them. I can easily see how I don’t have to take it so personally if the boulders don’t move. I can see it better from the boulders’ perspectives. A boulder, after all, isn’t necessarily at fault for being plopped down in the middle of the river. It’s just sitting there innocently, perhaps, but happens to be in my way!

And while I know very well that my guide’s advice can’t prevent me from ever experiencing frustration or anger or hurt, it does give me a way to minimize or eliminate much of the frustration or anger or hurt. The big difference is posture. Preparedness. And not letting every obstacle seem so dang personal.

I finally saw the value in my friend’s question. As boulders are popping up now, I’m trying harder to remember the advice of my Guide:

“Keep your feet forward and your knees bent.” 

I can already see that I’m getting less frustrated, less angry, and less hurt when I do run across boulders that are in my way. And, to my amazement, with my feet forward and my knees bent, it’s sometimes as easy as stepping up and over them or pushing off and going around. Praise God!


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This Day’s Thought From The Ranch- Coming Into “My Sanctuary”


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

COMING INTO “MY SANCTUARY”

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

My Sanctuary Piano Music - First Page

 

I’d like to encourage you this week to find a place where you can spend some quiet time with God. Not necessarily just a quiet place, but a place where you can really sense God’s presence, where you can talk with Him and He can talk with you, where you can go to get away from the craziness of the world and enjoy spending some time with the God who created you, who loves you, and who cares about the things going on in your life even more than you care about them.

Whether it’s a physical sanctuary in a church, or a prayer closet in your home, or a hammock swaying in the breeze between two trees, I pray that You’ll be able to find your own kind of sanctuary this week, a place of refuge, a place where you can truly enjoy being in the presence of God.

I remember walking into a church sanctuary one day in the middle of the week. I was all by myself, and I thought I’d just sit down and play the piano. As I was sitting there calmly by myself, suddenly I realized I wasn’t alone anymore. God Himself was right there with me. That church sanctuary was instantly transformed into a literal “sanctuary,” a holy place where the presence of God had come to rest.

Coming into God’s presence like that was such a wonderful feeling that I started to write a song about it, called “My Sanctuary.” It went, in part, like this:

“All I want
All I need
Is to be with You
And to know You’re near.

“All I want
All I need
Is to talk with You
And to know You’ll hear.

“And I know
There’s a place
I can go to feel Your presence
Oh, Lord, bring me there
Bring me home.”

I continued to write and sing a new song to the Lord that day, a song that was welling up within my soul and came out as an expression of thankfulness to Him for showing up to be with me there in that place.

Earlier this year I had a chance to walk through the streets of Jerusalem and go down inside the tunnels along the western wall of the Temple Mount area. Inside these tunnels, there’s a place you pass that is the closest you can get today to the “holy of holies” of what was once the Temple in the days of King Solomon years and years ago. That was the place where God said His presence would dwell. It’s a fairly holy spot still today, and the presence of God still seems to simply exude out of it, and people still come from all over the world to stand and pray at that spot near the wall. It’s a holy spot, for sure, knowing that you’re standing in a place that has been so revered and so hallowed by so many over such a long span of years.

Yet I’ve experienced similar “holy places” in various spots around the world–not because anything particular happened on those spots at some point in history, but because I felt God’s presence there in powerful ways that can only be described as holy moments.

Holy spots like these abound. And if a holy spot is defined by a place where God’s presence dwells, then such a spot could be anywhere at any time, all around the world.

A few years ago a woman stayed at our house for a few months to help us repair and restore it. She had  come from overseas to help us as we worked on it, and she said she felt God’s presence there in a particular way as she stayed. On the day she left, we were walking around the house looking at various aspects of it when she came to a plaque in the front entrance of the house. On it was a picture of a house with the words: “Home is where the (HEART) is,” (There was a picture of a heart where the word “HEART” would have appeared.)

Our guest took out a pencil and wrote on the heart just one word in very small, but distinctly capital letters: LORD. The plaque now read what she had experienced there: “Home is where the LORD is.” I’ve often been reminded of that truth as I look at that plaque, that home is not just where the heart is, but home is anywhere the LORD is. And since there’s nowhere in the world that the LORD isn’t, then we can come into His presence and get that sense of “home” anywhere in the world. We just need to be willing to take the time seek Him, invite Him in, and then acknowledge His presence when He is there.

There’s a joy that comes from being in God’s presence. There’s a sense of safety, of comfort, of protection that comes from spending time with Him. A “sanctuary” is just such a place. It’s a safe haven, an oasis, a shelter, a retreat, a hideaway, a port in the storm. But more than those things, a sanctuary is a place where the presence of God dwells.

That’s why I want to encourage you this week to find a place where you can spend some quiet time with Him–a place where you can really experience the presence of God. A place where you can talk with Him and He can talk with you. A place where you can get away from the craziness of the world and enjoy spending some time with the God who created you, who loves you, and who cares about the things going on in your life even more than you care about them.

My prayer is that you’ll be able to find such a place. And when you do, I pray you’ll feel right at home.

Will you pray with me?

Father, thank You for being a shelter in the storm, a place of refuge, a strong tower in our times of trouble. Lord, we come to You this week, looking for Your presence and eagerly desiring to spend some time with You. Help us to find that place, wherever it may be, so that we can spend some time with You, soaking up all You have to convey to us, and letting us share with You all that’s on our hearts, too. Bring us into that place, Lord, and help us to come into it over and over and over again in the days ahead. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

P.S. If you’d like, you can listen to the piano version of my song “My Sanctuary” for free day and night on The Ranch website (along with nine other songs on my album “Soothe My Soul”). Just click this link to listen and enjoy (it’s the second track on this playlist):
Click here to listen to “My Sanctuary”

P.P.S. I’ve also just finished a transcribing a second piano book this week which contains for the first time the sheet music for this song and four other original songs from my album, “Soothe My Soul.” I’m excited to be able to offer this to those who love to play the piano, whether for times of communion, offering, or for your own personal quiet time. If you’d like a copy, just follow the links below to learn how to get one in either paperback or in ebook formats for Kindle or iBook readers.
Paperback: Click here for the Paperback version
Kindle: Click here for the Kindle version
iBooks: Click here for the iBooks version

Soothe My Soul Cover With Sample Page


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


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

TRUSTING GOD, MOMENT BY MOMENT

by Eric Elder
The Ranch

Moment By Moment - First Page

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moment By Moment - Cover

 


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


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

Grace/ Can You Hear The Music Of Faith?

by J. Jeffrey Smead

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beloved in Christ…It is Grace!!

We are called to be a people of Grace.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now, imagine that you want to learn to dance.

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

You take the book home and get to work.

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

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

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

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

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

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

You continue to read, …then dance,

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

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

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

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

You never thought about music.

You remembered the book, you learned the rules.

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

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

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

She extends her hand and the music begins.

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

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

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

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

“Let God have you, let God love you.”

Allow the Grace of God to permeate your very being.

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

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

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

Amen and Amen!


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


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

What’s So Great About Gratefulness?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Such as?” I said.

“Such as being assigned here together.”

I bit my lip, “Oh yes, Lord Jesus!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(END OF QUOTE)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Phil 4:6-7 (NLT)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Corrie writes…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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