Distractions

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Today is my last tutoring session with my ARW student and tomorrow night is the last for my ESL students for this year. I am so proud of these students. They are so determined to read and write and speak better English. They try so hard.

It’s not easy for my ARW student. He has some sort of learning disability. I’m not even sure what it is. I don’t think he’s dyslexic. He can read, and he can sometimes logically reason out the correct answer to a question. He just has no confidence, and he’s so easily distracted that it makes it hard for him to concentrate. And to ask him to remember what he just read to connect it what he’s reading now seems to be almost an impossibility. But he is getting better—slowly but surely.

CJ, on the other hand, learns so easily without even trying, but has little interest in doing any real studying. I know he can focus, especially when he’s doing karate. He’s learned complicated karate forms I couldn’t remember in a million years. His kinetic memory astounds me. His black belt test was seven hours long, and nothing distracted him that day.

School came easily for me too for the most part. With the exception of a couple of college classes, I never really had to study that much. I listened in class, and pretty much remembered what I’d heard. I read the material once or twice and I knew it. But I did always do my homework, and since my parents extremely limited TV time, I never really had much to distract me.

Kids today have TV, computer games, videos, cell phones—way too many things to distract them. They’re completely computer savvy by the time they enter school, but it seems many of them don’t ever learn simple grammar or spelling rules (and don’t get me started on the idiocy of Common Core math). Now I’m getting distracted from the point I’m trying to make.

Focus. We all need to do it, but it’s never easy. There are too many distractions in our world. As a favorite pastor I used to have would say, “We have to remember to keep the main most thing the main most thing.” Jesus should always be the main most thing we keep at the forefront of our minds.

Years ago, kids wore bracelets with “WWJD—what would Jesus do” to remind them to ask themselves that question in any questionable situation. That’s one part to the equation, but without a sound Biblical knowledge basis to back it up, it would be worthless. We would simply take some verse out of context to make it say what we wanted it to say.   2 Timothy 2:15 tells us to “study to show thyself approved unto God.” We need to study God’s Word to know His word and His will. Why do we find that so hard? At least, I know I do. I find it so much easier to plant myself in front of a TV or on spend an hour on Facebook. Lord, forgive me and help me to focus more on You, not just in this holiday season, but always.

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Dissention

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Our church is in a time of transition. We elected our pastor search committee Sunday night. I’m happy to report it was a very civilized and peaceful meeting. I’ve been a part of a church where such was definitely not the case. There, if one group said something was black, the other group would be certain to assert that it was definitely white. It was so crazy trying to get anything done there because most everyone in the church was related to one or the other group, and there were an almost equal number of members in each group.

I wonder what God thinks when there’s dissention in the church? Some things are worth fighting for. What might have happened if men like Martin Luther hadn’t been willing to buck the system and change the “church” completely? But does it really matter what color the drapes are or what kind of a bus you buy when you sell the old one that no longer gets much use because it’s not large enough? I know those are dumb examples, but they’re actually typical of the kind of junk that divides some churches.

The original church had the same kind of problems. This was the reason they elected the first deacons. They also fought about who had the best pastor. Some liked Paul, others Apollos. And even Paul wasn’t immune to it. He and Silas went their own way after dissention over John Mark separated him from Barnabas, who happened to be John Mark’s cousin. In this case, God used the division to multiply the ministry. He can always use everything, even bad things, for good in the long run. The question is, what happens to evangelism when most of the new membership of a church is simply proselytizing of disgruntled members of other churches?

Statistically, there are many churches in America that don’t baptize even one single convert in a year. That’s a sad commentary on the state of many of our churches. They have completely forsaken the Great Commission. If the Holy Spirit is busy at work in a church, it can’t help but be roiling the baptismal waters. Dissention is the enemy of the Holy Spirit. It takes our focus off of the job at hand. We’re called to make disciples, baptize in Jesus’ Name, teach, and worship. We don’t do it alone though. Jesus has promised to never leave or forsake us. He will be with us always, even until the end of the age. I believe that’s coming soon. What’s holding it back? Us.

The Bible tells us that the Father is long suffering, not willing that any should perish. As soon as that last disciple is converted, Jesus will return to set up His kingdom. Just as Jesus was from the time He was a young boy, we need to be about our Father’s business—the business of making disciples. We can’t afford to be distracted by dissention.

 

 

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chip4pictures 119Preparation

The last few weeks November and most of December are incredibly busy for most people. Preparations for Thanksgiving and Christmas take a lot of time and energy to prepare. Food and gifts must be bought, those gifts need to be assembled and/or wrapped, decorating the house inside and maybe outside too. It’s a LOT of work, especially for those who have small children. As we get older, some of us tend to think it’s a lot of unnecessary work, and we severely cut back. In some cases, we’re forced to do that cutting because of money or health issues.

Still, if not physically, we should always be prepared for Christmas. It’s a time of celebration. We should all be ready to celebrate the King of Glory stepping out of heaven to dwell with us for such a short time in the scheme of eternity—only thirty three years—but what a difference those years made!

Think about it. For the first two thousand years or so of earth’s existence, most men had no concept at all of who God was. He was to be found in nature, and most civilizations had an oral tradition that was originally monotheistic, but it was so veiled in myths and superstition that the average person had little hope of distinguishing what was truth and what was man-made.  Then God called Abraham. What made him different? He was in a pagan land. His own household was full of idols. We don’t know why, but we do know God chose him, and he obeyed. He left his homeland and his idols, and followed where God led him. And God blessed his faithfulness. For the next almost two thousand years, man had the Old Testament covenant through Abraham. Thousands (or maybe millions) of lambs, bulls and doves were sacrificed to atone for the sins of the Jewish nation. What about the sins of the rest of the world? They were unatoned for. But then…Then everything changed. Jesus came, lived the perfect life we’re incapable of, and died to once and for all time pay the penalty for sin. No more lambs, bulls, or doves need be slaughtered. Jesus paid it all. Hallelujah!

He left the splendor of heaven, was born in a stable, placed in a cattle feeding trough, and his mom and earthly father were poverty stricken. When you really think about it, isn’t this entirely appropriate symbolically. He’s replacing all those cattle who’ve been slaughtered through the ages, In our spiritual poverty, we can’t do a thing about our sin problem, so He’s taking our place on that cross. The King of Kings became poor for our sake.

Think about this too. As a carpenter, Joseph should not have been poor. Why was he? Because he married Mary, a pregnant virgin. They would have been shunned. No one would have been allowed to trade with him. He could have walked away and retained his wealth. Following God’s plan can be costly for His servants.

So, what must we do to be ready?

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A Christmas Short Story

The Ornament

by Teresa Pollard

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Eight year old Debbie Parker peered at the butterfly ornament and chewed her thumbnail. It was hanging from a gold wire stand which sat under a glass dome on Grandma Watkins’ old upright piano next to the hall staircase. The ornament was glass too, but it was enameled with one blue and two dark pink flowers, and there was a large orange, black, white, and gold, Monarch Butterfly fluttering above the flowers. It didn’t look like any normal butterfly she’d ever seen though. The colors had an iridescent glow, more like angel or fairy wings than a real butterfly. It fascinated her, none the less. Every time she had come to see Grandma this Christmas, she’d stood right here on the stairway where she couldn’t be seen and stared down at the ornament on the oak piano below. Why wasn’t it on the Christmas tree in the living room with the rest of the Christmas ornaments? Why was it under a dome? It was so pretty. If it was her ornament, she’d hang it at the top of the tree where everyone would see it and tell her how beautiful it was.

The large green artificial Christmas tree in front of the picture window in the living room had lots of ornaments on it too. Bells, gold lace ribbon, balls of every color, bows, tinsel, sleighs, angels, stars, and tiny nativity sets adorned the tree. They were pretty too, even when the tree wasn’t lit up with hundreds of tiny white lights like it was now. But none of them held the fascination of the butterfly ornament. It wasn’t on the piano last year.

But then again, she was only eight. Maybe it had been here last year, and she didn’t remember. She didn’t remember a lot of things about last Christmas. She couldn’t. It hurt too much to remember. Mommy had been here last Christmas. She was sick, but she’d tried her best to make it a good Christmas for Debbie. She did remember that much. They’d gone to see The Nutcracker ballet, to feed the ducks down at the duck pond, and played laser tag at the mall.   Mommy had even gone out at four o’clock in the morning on Black Friday to find everything on Debbie’s list. She only knew that because she’d heard Grandma complain about it so many times since. This Christmas, mommy was with Jesus.   Aunt Sarah told her Jesus needed another angel.   That made Debbie so mad. Didn’t Jesus already have enough angels? She’d only had one mommy. And she wanted her back! Christmas was Jesus’ birthday. How old was He anyway?  Mommy used to say she would stop counting when she reached 29. Debbie wondered why? It didn’t matter. Mommy never got there. Debbie could count to a zillion. Was Jesus that old? Had He stopped counting? Was that why he needed another angel? To count his birthday candles for him?

“Debbie, time to go!” Her daddy called from the kitchen.

“Coming, Daddy!”  She raced down the steps and through the hall to meet him. From the corner of her eye, she saw the butterfly swing back and forth as her footsteps vibrated on the wooden floor. The light reflecting on the glass as it swung made it even prettier. It made her smile.

When she got to the kitchen, Daddy was standing in the doorway with his baseball cap in his left hand and her back pack on his shoulder. He was ready to go. Grandma had that effect on people. She sat stooped over at the kitchen table peeling a humongous pile of potatoes. She liked to cook. You could tell. She always cooked enough to feed an army instead of just one person.   She also liked to eat. She was a large woman with wispy gray hair. She wore wire rim glasses too, but she was far from the image of Mrs. Santa Claus. Big people were supposed to be jolly.   Grandma Watkins wasn’t. She seldom smiled. She was a good cook though. She often sent home food for Debbie and her daddy. If the smell coming from her backpack was a clue, today was no exception. She smelled fried chicken. And probably apple pie. There had been a whole one on the counter earlier. Now there were only a few slices. Even Grandma didn’t eat that much! But she knew daddy wasn’t a very good cook, and she worried they didn’t get enough to eat.   Because of all of mommy’s doctor bills, they didn’t eat out much anymore. That was okay.   Debbie was learning to cook for him. She made good spaghetti. Daddy loved her spaghetti, even if the sauce did come from a can.

“Tell your grandmother goodbye and give her a big hug,” Daddy commanded, giving her a gentle push toward the older woman.

“Bye, Grandma,” she whispered, her reluctant gesture all but ignored. “We’ll be back Friday.   Daddy has to work overtime at his spare job at the sock factory this weekend, so he wants me to spend the weekend with you. He can have supper with us Friday night though. Is that okay with you?”

She hoped it wasn’t, and she could stay at her friend Katie’s house, but it wasn’t to be.   Grandma nodded without looking up from her potato pile. “I’ll pick you up from school right after the bell rings. Be sure to remind your daddy to write you a note Friday morning. And I’m bringing some cookies for your class Christmas party that morning too. Is there any particular design you’d like on them?”

Debbie tugged at the arm of her hand-me-down knit Christmas sweater as she thought.    “Could you make a butterfly like the one on the piano? I think you have a couple of butterfly cookie cutters under the cabinet next to the refrigerator. I saw them when I helped you make cookies for the soldiers at the VA hospital. ”

“A butterfly isn’t very Christmassy, Pudding,” her dad chuckled. He patted her blond curls.   “How about bells or wreaths?  Or better yet, snowmen. Boys always like snowmen. ”

“No, I want butterflies,” Debbie insisted, not quite stomping her black patent leather shoe.   Daddy would be upset if she did that. But she did cross her skinny arms and pout a bit–Just enough to make him grin and rub her head again. He was the best daddy in the world.

Grandma Watkins sighed. At last she nodded. “Then butterflies it will be. But I’ll warn you, I’m no artist. I can’t make them nearly as good as the one on the piano.”

“I’m sure they’ll be fine, Mom Watkins,” Hank Parker, Debbie’s dad, assured her. “I appreciate all you do for Debbie. And she appreciates it too.” He set his jaw and gave her the look that said she’d better appreciate it. “Can you thank your grandmother, Debbie?”

She nodded.  “Thanks, Grandma. You can come to the party too. It starts at twelve o’clock right after lunch. You can come to lunch first, too, if you want to. We go to the lunch room at eleven twenty. ”

Grandma Watkins dropped her knife and took Debbie’s hand. She gave it a gentle squeeze.   “Thank you for asking, Debbie, but I can’t. I have a doctor’s appointment Friday morning for my blood pressure medicine. I’ll drop off the cookies to your teacher before I go.”

Debbie breathed a sigh of relief. She didn’t want her grandmother to come to the party anyway. She didn’t want to go herself. If Jesus was so mean, he would take her mommy, why should she celebrate his birthday?

Debbie got through the party. She almost forgot to be unhappy for a while. Besides Grandma’s butterfly cookies, which the girls thought were quite beautiful and the boys said tasted great, there were candy canes, ice cream bars, brownies, and all kinds of other treats.   Debbie hadn’t eaten much this last year. Her daddy had fussed a lot about that. But today she did eat, and it was good. Especially the butterfly cookies. As they bit into them, Katie had giggled and whispered to her that she was going to love her Christmas book. They played games and sang silly Christmas songs too. When it was almost time to go home, they traded gifts. The class had drawn names for a gift exchange. All they were allowed to give each other was books, but Debbie loved to read, so that was okay with her. Katie had drawn her name. Her book was bigger than most of the others, and it was wrapped in iridescent tissue with a large pink bow. The wrapping paper was so beautiful she almost didn’t want to unwrap it. She wanted to thank Katie for the gift, but when she went to find her, her teacher, Mrs. Williams said she’d had to leave the party early for a dentist’s appointment. When Debbie at last opened the wrapping, the book inside had a large Monarch butterfly on the front. It looked an awful lot like Grandma’s butterfly.   She’d check it out when she got back to Grandma’s. The bell rang, so she rushed to shove the book into her back pack and get to the door. She hoped Grandma had gotten out of her doctor’s appointment on time. It was so awful to have to stand in the car rider’s line for almost an hour waiting because your ride was at the back of the line.

The wait wasn’t too bad, but when she picked Debbie up, Grandma Watkins was even madder than usual. She’d stopped by the grocery store on her way to the school, and “some dummy” had banged into her grocery cart just as she was checking out, causing her to break the dozen eggs she’d just bought to replace all the eggs she’d used for cookies. Now she had egg ick all down her pant leg. As mommy used to say, “She was not a happy camper!”

As soon as she unlocked the door, Debbie raced ahead of her to the hiding place on the stairs.   Before dropping her book bag onto the landing, she pulled out the new butterfly book.   She was right. The butterfly on the cover was identical to the butterfly on the ornament. And it sat on two dark pink flowers and one blue one just like on the ornament. How was it possible? She was so engrossed in the comparison; she didn’t hear Grandma enter the foyer.

“Debbie, what are you doing? What have you got there? May I see it?”

Startled, she tried to hide the book behind her, but instead, it sailed through the rail, hit the piano on its corner, and flipped over, knocking the glass dome to the floor as it crashed flat and the dome shattered into hundreds of tiny pieces. The ornament didn’t fall all the way to the floor, only to the lid of the keyboard, but it was enough. The ornament was also broken into several large pieces.

“Oh, Grandma, I’m so sorry!” Debbie wailed. “I didn’t mean to break your lovely butterfly.   Honest I didn’t. Please forgive me.” Huge tears ran down her cheek. “I have about thirty dollars in my piggy bank at home. You can have it all. I’m so sorry. Please don’t tell Daddy. He’ll be so mad at me. ”

Grandma wasn’t angry! Tears fell down her cheeks, but not for the ornament. The tears were for Debbie. “Hush, child. It was an accident. I know you didn’t mean to do it. I’ve got eyes.   Besides, it wasn’t my ornament. It was yours. I meant to tell you all about it this weekend.   Now, stay put right there on the staircase while I get something to clean up all this mess. The last thing we need right now is a trip to the emergency room to get glass out of your feet or hands.”

After Grandma had gotten the broom and vacuum cleaner to clean up all tiny pieces of glass from the dome while Debbie sat as still as a statue on the step, she picked up the piece with the butterfly.  “Look, Debbie. The butterfly isn’t broken. The picture is still all in one piece. ”

Debbie sniffed and wiped more tears from her cheeks. “Yeah, but what difference does it make?  The rest of the ornament is toast. ”

Grandma Watkins pursed her lips together and her brows knit together almost making a single line. But she still didn’t look mad. She took a deep breath, and then nodded to Debbie. “Can you run up to my sewing room, please, and bring me the big brown craft box from under the desk?  And there’s some fine gold glitter on the second shelf of the bookcase. Bring that too. I have an idea how we can mend this.”

Debbie shrugged and ran up the stairs. The items were easy to find. When she came back down, Grandma was standing with her back to her at the dining room table. Walking over beside her, she set the craft box onto the side chair. Grandma had fitted all the pieces of the ornament back together like a 3D puzzle. Only one piece was missing, and that lay on the table beside her.

“Now, Debbie, I need your help here. We need to do a bit of surgery. But I warn you. This is going to be a delicate operation. If we’re not extra careful, we could make things worse instead of better. ”

She was so serious, and yet so funny, Debbie saluted like she was in the army.

Grandma’s brows rose, but she nodded. She got it. She laughed. “Okay, Private. First, can you pour some of the glue into this bowl, and add some glitter to it? A little more. That’s good.  Now, stir it up with a craft stick. Perfect.  Next, suck as much of it as you can up into this medicine dropper. Right. Now, hand it to me. Thank you, Private. You did a great job.” Turning the ball as she went, she worked the glitter glue along every crack with the medicine dropper.   Then she glazed the entire ball except for the piece with the butterfly with a thin layer of plain glue and sprinkled glitter on it too. When she had all but the last piece done, she placed it into a cup that fit it almost perfectly, and worked the final piece into the puzzle, and repeated the former processes. “Now, Private, please run get my hair dryer from my bathroom. We want to get this glue dry as quickly as possible before the glass has time to fall apart again. Having such a big piece on one side is going to help since it gives us a place to cradle it while it dries, but I don’t want to take any chances.”

Again Debbie saluted and ran to do as bidden. When she returned, she gazed at the repaired ornament. “Ooh, Grandma! It looks beautiful! I think it’s even prettier than it was before! The way you made the gold glitter into veins looks like you did it on purpose. ”

“You may be right. But please remember, it’s extremely fragile right now, so you can’t touch it. Don’t even breathe on it hard until it’s completely dry, or it might fall apart”

“I won’t. I promise.”

“I know you won’t, Sweetheart.” She gave Debbie a peck on the cheek and winked at her.   Grandma had never winked at Debbie before in her life. Maybe she had something in her eye.   “Can you stay here and keep an eye on it for me while I go upstairs and change.” She chuckled.   Debbie was certain she’d never heard her do that before. “I’ve still got the egg ick on my pants leg, and I’ve got to get them off and cleaned before they’re completely ruined. And if I don’t get a shower real quick myself, I may go nuts. Oh, well. Some days you’ve got to break a few eggs, so they say. I didn’t know it was supposed to be so literal.”

Debbie had no idea what she was talking about, but she was glad Grandma was in a better mood, though she wasn’t at all sure why.

She giggled. “Sure, Grandma. I’ll holler if it starts to come apart, but I don’t think it will.   You did a real good job of mending it. Will you tell me about the ornament when you come back?”

“Yes, I will. I’ll be glad to. Be right back.” As she went upstairs, Debbie could have sworn she was singing a Christmas carol. What was wrong with her?

When she came back, Grandma had not only showered and changed, but had put on some lipstick too. Debbie didn’t think she’d ever seen her wear lipstick. And she wore a smile. It made her look so pretty. Even if she was old.

But Debbie was confused when she asked, “May I see your book?” She thought they were going to talk about the ornament. She handed her the gift from Katie.

Grandma ran her fingers over the cover. Then she held the book to her breast and gazed upward for a moment. “Thank You, Lord.” Then she turned her gaze toward Debbie.   “Sweetheart, did you happen to notice who the author of this book was?”

She shook her head. “No. I didn’t get a chance to read it at all yet. All I saw was the butterfly.   It looked just like your ornament, so it made me curious.”

Grandma turned the book around so Debbie could see the cover. “It should. The same person painted both of them. Your mommy. See, her name is right here on the front.”

Debbie read, “Kara Watkins. What? That was mama’s name before she married my daddy. I never knew my mommy wrote a book. And I didn’t know she could paint either. You and Daddy never said anything about it.”

She breathed a contented sigh. “I’m not sure your daddy ever knew about the book, Honey.  He was working so hard at two jobs, besides taking care of you and your mom. Between her job, taking care of you, and trying to finish her college degree, Kara hadn’t painted in years, although she did it all the time when she was your age. She loved butterflies. When she took ballet when she was a little older than you are now, she once played the Princess of the Butterflies for her ballet recital, and after that she drew them constantly for months. And she wrote lots of butterfly stories to go with the pictures. That’s what you’re holding now. Katie’s mom works for a publisher. She had the book made especially for you from your mom’s stories and illustrations.   And your mom made the ornament last year. It was one of the last things she did before she got too sick to do much of anything. She wanted you to have something to remember her by. But I didn’t know Katie’s mom had the book ready for the book exchange.  ”

Tears streamed down Debbie’s face. “But I broke Mommy’s ornament. She would be so mad at me. ”

“No, she wouldn’t, Honey. I promise. She would know it was an accident just like I do. ”   Grandma pulled Debbie into her arms. “We were both broken, just like the ornament, Sweetheart, but if we will let Him, Jesus can mend us and make us even better than ever—just

like you said the ornament looks better now than it did before. ”

She sniffed.  “But, Grandma, Jesus is so mean. He took my mommy just cause he wanted another angel. He already had lots of angels. He didn’t need my mommy too. ”

Grandma hugged her again, even tighter this time, and they rocked back and forth so hard, Debbie was dizzy. “Oh, Honey, who told you that?”

“Aunt Sarah.” She whispered.   “At mom’s funeral.”

Grandma wiped her own eye. Her voice took on a harsh tone for a moment again, but this time Debbie was certain she wasn’t mad at her. “Well, Sarah was wrong. Sometimes people say stupid things because they think it will make us feel better. But it doesn’t. It’s just plain dumb.   Jesus loves you. And He loved your mommy too. Your mommy isn’t an angel. She’s a person.   And she’s still a person. She’s a person who now lives in heaven.”

“But I want her here. I need a mommy. And so does daddy. He’s so lonely. Sometimes I hear him cry at night after he thinks I’m asleep.”

“I know you do, Sweetheart. And I do hope your daddy finds someone wonderful to be a mommy to you and a wife to him. You both deserve it. But your mommy couldn’t be that anymore. Cancer made her body break down just like that dome. It was smashed so badly it couldn’t be mended anymore. Did you ever see a caterpillar? Did you know a caterpillar is a butterfly? It just doesn’t know it because it hasn’t changed yet. Our bodies are kind of like that caterpillar body. When we die, if we know Jesus, it’s not really dying. It’s simply our body changing into our forever body like the caterpillar changes into the butterfly.  That’s why your mommy wanted you to have the ornament and the book. She wanted you know Jesus, and to love Him. She wanted you to become everything Jesus meant you to be. She was so sorry she couldn’t be here to watch you grow up. That was her worst pain of dying. Leaving you behind.   But her greatest hope is that you’ll become like a butterfly and join her one day in heaven. ”

“Are you like a butterfly, Grandma?  Will you be in heaven too?”

“You know what? I am. But I sure haven’t been acting like it much lately, have I? Even before your mommy got sick, I was already broken. I started to break when your granddaddy died, but your mommy’s sickness turned me into a bitter old lady. Two losses so close together can do that to us if we don’t cling to Jesus. But that’s going to change. My wandering in the wilderness days are over!”

Debbie didn’t quite get the last part, but she knew one thing. She wanted to cling to Jesus too.   “Can you help me turn into a butterfly too? I want to spend forever with mommy and Jesus.”

“You bet I can. It will be my honor.”

After explaining the ABC’s of salvation and leading Debbie in prayer, both of them were in tears as they clung together and stared at the ornament.

Grandma jumped up. “You know what? Let’s put this ornament on the Christmas tree where it belongs. We’ll put it right at the top where everybody can see it. Butterflies are symbols of the Resurrection, and what would Christmas be without the Resurrection? You do know what the Resurrection is, don’t you, Debbie? It’s when Jesus came out of the grave on the third day, and walked around in his forever body in front of everybody for forty days before going back to heaven to wait for us all to join Him. I’m so glad you wanted me to make butterfly cookies for your class.   Now, when you go back to school in January, you can tell all your friends about what they meant. This is going to be the best Christmas ever. ”

Debbie clapped her hands and giggled. “But the Resurrection is at Easter, Grandma.   Christmas is Jesus’ birthday. Mommy used to bake a birthday cake for Jesus at Christmas. But she forgot to make one last year.”

“I know. She didn’t forget, but by then, she didn’t have the energy to bake. She asked me to, but I guess I was like you. I was so mad at Him, I wouldn’t even bake Him a birthday cake.   Why don’t we go bake one now?  I’ll bet your daddy would love a slice of birthday cake for dessert tonight.

The End

The ABC’s of Salvation

A—Admit to God you’re a sinner; that you’ve said, done and thought things

not pleasing to God. (Romans 3:23, 6:23, 1 John 1:9)

B—Believe that Jesus is God’s Son; that He came to live a perfect life and die

to pay the penalty for your sin.  (John 3:16)

C—Confess Him as your Savior and the Lord of your life.  (Romans 10:9-10)

 

 

 

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Plans

KTKards17

I told a friend the other day that I so miss the Virginia fall. Living in the mountains, the fall was a riot of spectacular color that lasted for several weeks. Here, at least where I live, fall consisted of a few days of dull color while the leaves turned to brown and fell off the trees. There were a few individual trees that bucked the trend and had a splash of color, but even they didn’t last long.

I just can’t get used to Georgia weather. It’s like there are no seasons. It’s just hot, hot, hot, and then ick. Right now we’re in the ick. There’s no beautiful white blanket of snow to make the weather bearable. It’s just kind of damp and miserable. I’ve got to say though, that my daughter Kristina loves the weather here. She says she had enough of the Virginia snow to last her a lifetime when she was a kid. Funny, how we all react to the same things differently. I guess that’s why God made us all different, and made all different kinds of weather (and just about everything else in different varieties too.) It’s something for everyone—good gifts from our loving God. Even though I’m not there to see them, those Virginia autumns will always be a part of me, and I praise Him for them.

And even though I can’t get used to the weather, I’m so thankful for my home in Georgia. The people here are amazing. I have so many friends who have blessed me beyond anything I could have imagined when I left Virginia in 2009. God is good. He took this broken Virginia girl and put her back together again in a new place.

It’s hard to believe it’s been ten years since my life went bananas. My baby’s birthday is this month. I still miss her. That will never change, but I do take comfort in knowing she’s in a better place with no more pain or suffering. But I also know she didn’t want to go. She had a young son she didn’t want to leave. If there was any way I could have taken her place at that time, I would have gladly done so. Then I felt like I had nothing left to live for. I was wrong. What’s new? God still had a plan for  my life, and I’m here as long as He wants me here.

Jeremiah 29:11 says, “I know the plans I have for you…” Aren’t you glad He does? We sure can’t begin to know. If we did, we’d probably truly go nuts. We can only take it one day at a time, And we might as well forget worrying about it. We can’t change a thing by worrying. We can only make things worse. Worry causes illness, and illness will destroy us. One day at a time is all we’re given, and it’s all we need.

God bless you.

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Blasphemy

I AM THE WAY (John 14:6)

I AM THE TRUTH (John 14:6)

I AM THE LIFE (John 14:6)

I AM THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD (John 8:12)

I AM THE GOOD SHEPHERD (John 10:11)

I AM THE DOOR (John 10:9)

I AM THE RESURRECTION (John 11:25)

I AM THE TRUE VINE (John 15:1)

     Critics will claim Jesus never claimed to be God. Baloney! These I Am statements were a declaration that all the Jews of His day understood completely to be a claim to be Yahweh God. If He had not been, they would have been right to call Him a blasphemer and put Him to death. As C. S. Lewis so rightly claimed, Jesus never left open the option that He was a great teacher and a good man. We have to believe He was “a liar, a lunatic, or Lord.”

The world is a mess. The time is ripe for an Antichrist to rise on the scene. One can easily imagine a charismatic leader taking control of things and promising the people he can solve all their woes. This would be especially easy if all the Christians who would oppose his plans were raptured off the scene. Can’t you just imagine his I AM statements? Actually, they’d probably echo those Jesus made.  But in this case, they will be blasphemy!

Pastor Derek Spain has been preaching a sermon series called The Church is a Mess. It’s on 1 Corinthians. The church at Corinth was a mess, but it was nothing compared to today. I saw on Facebook this week that the pope was urging his people not to try to have a personal relationship with Jesus because it was “dangerous.” I don’t know if that’s true or not. If it is, God forgive him. That’s blasphemy too. Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No man comes to the Father, but by Me.” (John 14:6) According to the article, the pope said the church was the only way to come to God.

We are the church. We are His body. In Matthew 28:18-20, He gave us the Great Commission, to go to all the world and preach the gospel, the good news that He, God’s one and only Son, had come into the world that if anyone believed in Him, they would have eternal life with God. And not only that, they could have an abundant life now in this world. They would no longer have to be chained to their burdens of sin and despair, but could have a life of peace, joy, love and purpose. The question for us is if we truly believe He is Lord, why don’t we live like it? Why do we seem to yearn for those old bonds? Doesn’t that make us just like those scoffers who stood by the cross hurling insults? Screaming Blasphemer!?  God forgive us!

It’s been said that blasphemy is the only unforgiveable sin, but I don’t think they’re talking about simply insulting Jesus by wanting something we shouldn’t, although that’s bad enough. They’re talking about rejecting Him completely. Never accepting that He died for us and paid the penalty for our sin—that’s the ultimate blasphemy! That’s the one for which there is no forgiveness. Please don’t let anyone you know make it!  Tell them about Jesus and His love before it’s too late.

 

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Halloween

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Tonight is Halloween. I have a Facebook friend who’s been ranting for a month, basically that any Christian who celebrates Halloween is headed straight to hell.

On the other hand, I have some other friends who act like it’s the greatest day of the year. They love Halloween. So, which is it? How should Christians react to Halloween?

Like most other modern “holidays”, Halloween wasn’t celebrated in Bible times, so we don’t really have much way of knowing. My only Biblical clue comes from how Jesus always interacted with children. He loved them. When the disciples tried to send them away, Jesus rebuked the disciples. “Of such is the kingdom of God.” I simply can’t imagine Jesus ever sending a child away empty handed. As His followers, shouldn’t we show His love to every child who comes to our door?

Many churches and other Christian organizations nowadays seem to agree with this principle. They’ve developed Trunk or Treat celebrations to provide a safe atmosphere for children on this night. I applaud their actions.

What about my first friend’s point? There’s no denying Halloween is a pagan holiday. It comes from All Hallows Eve, the night before “All Saints Day”, and supposedly the spirits of the dead are free to walk around that night. Yuck!  Why would we want to celebrate that? I don’t celebrate evil, but I do celebrate the joy of children’s imaginations.

We have to remember that Christmas and Easter were also originally pagan holidays. Does that mean we shouldn’t celebrate those either? Wouldn’t that be essentially giving the day over to the enemy? Love always triumphs over hate in the end. When we show love to others, we draw them to Christ. That’s the job He gave us, and we can do it 365 days a year—even on Halloween.

God bless.

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Idols

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“You shall have no other gods before Me.” What? Wait! You mean there are any other gods? Well, yeah, there are lots of little “g” “gods,” but there’s only one capital “G” God. And His name is not Allah, (or Jehovah for that matter. Jehovah is a 14th century corruption of the name Yahweh. A scribe added a jot. Guess this is why the Bible warns against adding jots and tittles. Look what happens!) Yahweh means “I AM that I AM.” This is the name that Moses was told to give the people when they asked His name. Jesus made His own I AM statements on many occasions. It’s why He was so often accused of blasphemy. The people of His day knew exactly what He was claiming.

Still, anything we put in God’s rightful place becomes a little “g” god to us, an idol. We may shake our heads and wonder how in the world the Israelites could make themselves a golden calf  such a short time after seeing God’s awesome power at the Red Sea. Yet, many Christians, who have the Holy Spirit to guide us every day of our lives don’t have time or energy to go to church for more than an hour or so, if that. They spend their Sundays at the altar of a football stadium, a golf course, a shopping mall, or whatever else determines their day.   But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Did anyone vow to quit watching football if anyone on your team knelt for the National Anthem? Have you kept that vow? If not, maybe football is your idol. On the other hand, the National Anthem and patriotism are not substitutes for godliness. These can be idols too, especially if they’re keeping us from reaching across the aisle to tell someone Jesus loves them and we love them too.

Anything can be an idol, even good things, even great things. I had to learn this lesson the hard way. For almost forty years, I had a great marriage (or at least I thought I did), but I had made my husband and marriage an idol. Idols have to fall. We must ask ourselves, what would be the hardest thing in the world for me to give up? Could I do it? If not, it’s probably an idol.

If we follow Jesus long enough and are truly seeking to follow Him, sooner or later the tests will come. “Do you love me more than these?” No, God doesn’t tempt anybody. But He does test us. He does it to see if we’re ready to step up to the next level of service. Just like when we were in school and each year we had final exams to show we were ready to go to the next grade, God does the same thing for us. It’s not that He doesn’t already know we’re ready. He wants us to know it too. Just as God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, He will test us to see if we will give up the things we love most too. Sometimes He’ll take them from us like He did with Job, and sometimes, like He did with Isaac, He’ll give them back.

Fortunately, our God is a God of Redemption. He made a Way of escape from our idolatry. His Name is Jesus. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sin, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” The Israelites had to make a bronze snake and hang it on a pole, and look to it in order to live. We live by looking to Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith.

God bless you.

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Ephemeral Hope

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I think, at least for some of us, hope is an ephemeral quality to hold on to. It’s been that way since the beginning. The Israelites had seen mighty works of God, yet their hope dissipated almost as fast as the manna God sent every day. It’s understandable. They were tired and weary. They walked the wilderness for forty years. We’d have been tired too. Would we also have been hopeless? I hope not. We have one advantage they didn’t—the Holy Spirit living in us.

I saw a drink cup from Zaxby’s the other day. The cup said “Half empty? Half full? Problem solved. Fill it up!” I laughed as I remembered some things. My ex always said I was a pessimist. He was an extreme optimist. He said I always saw the glass as half empty, but I disagreed. I said I was a realist. I knew it was half full, but it was also half empty. It just needed a refill. It also reminds me of something my dad used to always say. “It doesn’t cost a dime more to run your car on full than it does to run it on empty. Actually, it costs less because empty is terrible on the tank.” I know some people who like to play what to me is a dangerous game. They see just how close to empty they can get their car before they fill it up.

It’s even more dangerous though on a spiritual level. Why do we tend to think we can get along without prayer, Bible study, or church attendance without suffering serious consequences from running on an empty tank? Jesus said He came to give us an abundant life. Abundant means overflowing—full to the tip top and pouring out onto all we come in contact with—not half empty or half full. We can’t have that unless we’re daily coming back for the manna Jesus offers us. Hope is ephemeral. It’s found one day at a time at the feet of Jesus.

God bless you.

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Choice

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This past weekend has been one of extreme highs and lows. Saturday was my grandson’s first yudanja. Congratulations to my little deputy black belt. He did so great! Then Sunday morning, I got the news that our pastor at Hebron is leaving. God bless you, Pastor Kevin Miller as you continue to faithfully follow God’s call on your life. Monday morning I woke up to the news of the Las Vegas shootings. My daughter’s business partner, Yvonne Sliger is vacationing in Vegas. Fortunately, only moments later, I saw a Facebook post from her telling everyone she was safe.

So many people ask the question, “Why does God allow such evil as what happened in Vegas?” They wonder if such a god can possibly be good. My question is more, “Why wouldn’t He? What kind of a god holds people under His thumb and forces them to do only his will?” If we were puppets, would that truly be good? What kind of life would this be?

Our God loves us enough to give us freedom of choice. He gives the same choice to all His creatures. Even angels had a choice, the only difference being, as far as we know, no salvation or second chance. When my children were small, I made them do as I told them to, but as they grew up, I gave them more and more freedom. They didn’t always make the right choices, but I knew it was the only way they would truly learn. It was the only way they would ever become responsible adults. God knows the same is true of all of us.

God made a way of salvation. He knew from the beginning that not everyone would choose it. When Adam and Eve sinned, they allowed Satan the keys to this world. He was the prince of the powers of the air—the ruler of this world. But when Jesus rose from the grave, He took back the reins. He made a way for those who follow Him to live. Jesus is Lord—but He’s a gracious One. He won’t demand our obedience. He wants us to obey out of love, not out of fear.

Yes, evil still happens. It will until Jesus comes back to set up His millennial kingdom. Then, the Bible says He will rule with an iron fist. Evil will no longer have final sway. In the meantime, Christians are to be His hands and feet. We are to show love and grace to all. Most of those  who would come to Him first see Him through us. He was right there in Vegas for any who would call out to Him. He wept over the violence, and His angels took His children home to heaven where there are no more tears or death

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