Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Prayer

by Peter Marshall

We yearn, our Father, for the simple beauty of Christmas -- for all the old famliar melodies and words that remind us of that great miracle when He who had made all things was one night to come as a babe, to lie in the crook of a woman's arm.

Before such mystery we kneel, as we follow the shepherds and Wise Men to bring Thee the gift of our love -- a love we confess has not always been as warm or sincere or real as it should have been. But now, on this Christmas Day, that love would find its Beloved, and from Thee receive the grace to make it pure again, warm and real.

We bring Thee our gratitude for every token of Thy love, for all the ways Thou hast heaped blessings upon us during the years that have gone.

And we do pray, Lord Jesus, that as we celebrate Thy birthday, we may do it in a manner well pleasing to Thee. May all we do and say, every tribute of our hearts, bring honor to Thy name, that we, Thy people, may remember Thy birth and feel Thy presence among us even yet.

May the loving kindness of Christmas not only creep into our hearts, but there abide, so that not even the return to earthly cares and responsibilities, not all the festivities of our own devising may cause it to creep away weeping. May the joy and spirit of Christmas stay with us now and forever.

In the name of Jesus, who came to save His people from their sins, even in that lovely name we pray. Amen.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

What Some Jews Say About "Merry Christmas"

Ben Stein on the Christmas holidays . . .

"I am a Jew and every single one of my ancestors was Jewish, and it does not bother me even a little bit when people call those beautifully lit-up, bejeweled trees Christmas trees.

I don't feel threatened. I don't feel discriminated against. That's what they are — Christmas trees. It doesn't bother me a bit when people say 'Merry Christmas' to me. I don't think they're slighting me or getting ready to put me in a ghetto. In fact, I kind of like it. I shows that we're all brothers and sisters celebrating this happy time of year.

It doesn't bother me one bit that there's a manger scene on display at a key intersection at my beach house in Malibu.

 If people want a creche, fine. The menorah a few hundred yards away is fine, too. I do not like getting pushed around for being a Jew, and I don't think Christians like getting pushed around for being Christians. I think people who believe in God are sick and tired of getting pushed around, period. I have no idea where the concept came from that America is an explicitly atheist country. I can't find it in the Constitution and I don't like it being shoved down my throat. Or maybe I can put it another way. Where did the idea come from that we should worship Nick and Jessica and aren't allowed to worship God as we understand him? I guess that's a sign that I'm getting old, too. But there are a lot of us who are wondering where Nick and Jessica came from and where the America we used to know went to."

Burt Prelutsky, a Jewish columnist for a number of national publications, shares:
I never thought I’d live to see the day that Christmas would become a dirty word. . . . How is it, one well might ask, that in a Christian nation this is happening? . . . Speaking as a member of a minority group – and one of the smaller ones at that – I say it behooves those of us who don’t accept Jesus Christ as our savior to show some gratitude to those who do, and to start respecting the values and traditions of the overwhelming majority of our fellow citizens, just as we keep insisting that they respect ours. Merry Christmas, my friends!
Orthodox Jewish Rabbi Daniel Lapin said the following . . .
Secular fundamentalism has successfully injected into American culture the notion that the word “Christmas” is deeply offensive. . . . Anti-Christianism is unhealthy for all Americans; but I warn my brethren that it will prove particularly destructive for Jews. . . . Let us all go out of our way to wish our many wonderful Christian friends – a very merry Christmas. Just remember, America’s Bible belt is our safety belt.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

My Grandfather: 100 Years Old Today

I can’t help remembering the things that were most precious to me. - Macduff in Shakespeare's Macbeth

100 years ago today a great man was born.  He may not be great in the chronicles of history, but he was great to me.

The same year, Woodrow Wilson was President and declared Mother's Day an official national holiday.   Wrigley Field opened in Chicago under the name Weeghman Park.  Babe Ruth made his major league debut with the Red Sox.  Paramount Pictures formed.  The average automobile cost $550.  World War I began.  And on December 18, 1914, Marion Howard Hendrix was born to Howard and Nellie Hendrix of Columbus, Georgia.

Marion, one of six children, grew into young manhood during the days of the Great Depression.  He married Virginia "Jenny" Gullatt, his true love and sweetheart.  He worked for a mill in the Columbus area, bought a house next to his parents, and started a family. 

After several years, he believed the Lord wanted him to be a pastor.  He and my grandmother "sold the farm" and he became a student at Mercer College in Macon and later at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.  In 1952, upon graduation, they moved with their four children to Spartanburg, South Carolina.  Marion began to pastor a small church called Cedar Spring Baptist Church.  He would serve and shepherd that church for more than twenty-five years, until his retirement.  During the 1980's, he served as an interim pastor for more than ten churches in Spartanburg and Union counties.  Through the years, his children all married, and he and my grandmother enjoyed eight grandchildren.  He died in Spartanburg on October 7, 1997.

Today would be his 100th birthday.

We called our grandparents "Mom-ee and Pa-Pa."  Because he had been wild and spirited as a little boy, he earned the nickname "Monk," short for monkey.  For the rest of his life, his wife and siblings referred to him simply as "Monk." 

He enjoyed watching the Atlanta Braves and working in his garden.  I remember rocking in silence with him on his back porch.   I remember how he used to clear his throat.  I can still smell his aftershave and the smell of his closet.  I remember watching him cry one day when he heard the news that a friend had died.  I recall him shouting and whooping for joy when we learned that my family was not going to have to move away.  I remember him telling jokes and smiling. I remember Christmas nights at their home with a crackling fire.  And I remember drifting off to sleep on summer nights in his house as he and my grandmother listened to the clock radio.

Last night at our church I taught an overview of the book of Deuteronomy.  The fifth book of the Old Testament is a book of remembrance.  Moses, preparing to die, does not want the people to forget the things of the Lord.  Most of the book of Deuteronomy consists of Moses recounting to them the law of God, the promises of God, and the warnings of God.  Moses calls them to remember. 

It is a good thing to remember.  It helps us to not get puffed up.  To evaluate our lives.  To not get swept away with popular thought and opinion. 

When my grandmother moved out of their house at the early part of the 21st century, I collected several hundred of Pa-Pa's old sermons.  Through the years I stored them in the attic or in filing  cabinets.  Recently, however, I enjoyed mulling through many of his notes.  With great attention to detail, he probably kept every sermon he ever preached.  At the bottom he wrote the date and place.  Some of the sermons which he preached multiple times have dates and places spanning many years.

When I think of Pa-Pa, I remember several things . . .

Pa-Pa was a very good and noble man.   He embraced goodness.  He embodied goodness.  He extended goodness to others.  The Bible says that we are to think about things that are good and noble (Philippians 4:8).  Today our world has a lot of things that are not intrinsically good.  We still need men and women that are good.

Pa-Pa loved his family.  He and Mom-ee loved each other very much.  They were sweethearts for their entire 59 years of marriage.  They acted like two young kids in love until their last days together.  Riding with them to Florida one year, I remember that my grandfather kept speeding.  Every time my grandmother reprimanded him, he replied, Honey, I get to driving and thinking about you.  I keep thinking about you and get excited and it just makes me drive faster and faster!

Many times I heard him sing the song, Let Me Call You Sweetheart.  He would then sing it again, changing the words.  Don't let me call you sweetheart, I don't love you anymore, since your dear old Daddy kicked me out the door, when he caught us spooning by the outside well.  So tell your dear old Daddy, he can go to [dramatic pause] bed!

Mom-ee and Pa-Pa were involved in the lives of their grandchildren.  We lived in Greenville, about 45 minutes from them.  I recall numerous events that my grandparents attended - swim meets, plays, musicals, and church events.  One of my favorite old pictures is one taken at my senior choral concert in high school.  I sang the solo Forever and Ever Amen.  When the crowd applauded, someone snapped a shot of my parents and grandparents smiling and clapping. 

Every year, Pa-Pa preached Mother's Day sermons.  In many of them, I read of his love for his own mother.  In 1970 he wrote one called "A White Flower," drawing from the tradition on Mother's Day of wearing a red rose if your mother is alive and a white rose if your mother is deceased.  In it he shared about losing his own mother.

For 54 Mother's Days I have been privileged to wear red flowers.  Today is my fist Mother's Day to wear a white flower.  Mama died last July 15, 1969.  And I wear it to honor the memory of Mama.  I thank God for Mama.  Mama believed that Jesus is the only Savior from sin.  Mama believed that Christians ought to serve the Lord in His church.  Mama believed in Heaven.  In her last days her mind began to fail, but she would always remember Papa and wish she could go to Heaven.  I want to keep faith with her faith.

Like it was yesterday, I vividly recall listening to my grandfather's mealtime prayers.  Anytime I spent the night with them, I heard him pray at the end of his prayer around the dining room table, And God bless Dag and Marian and Rhett, bless Jane and Leland, Mark, Cary, and Ryan, bless Bob and Anne and Rob and Meredith, and God bless David and Cindy, Laurie and Tyler.  Amen.  They prayed for us by name daily without exception.

Pa-Pa loved his country.  He proudly hung an American flag at his house.  Many of his sermons refer to his pride of our country, his belief that America was founded on Christian principles by Christians, and his belief in America's goodness and greatness. 

Pa-Pa believed in the Bible and the lordship of Jesus Christ.   He believed in, preached, and sang about the old, old story.  He believed there was no other name by which people can be saved from their sins except the name of Jesus Christ.  He believed there was only one way to heaven.  He believed that the Bible was God's Word, and that we should seek to understand and obey its teachings.

My grandparents read the Bible every day.  They believed its message.  They sought to put it into practice in their lives. 

In his sermon "Overcoming Inconviences," which he first preached on July 10, 1955, he wrote the following:

The desire for convenience had had its effects in the religious life of the multitudes.  To many people today, religion is a matter of convenience, not conviction.  We see on every hand persons looking for the church that pleases them, with little or no consideration for the question of whether the church is remaining true to the Word of God.  We are beset with legions who want to hear a gospel that salves the conscience in preference to the gospel that convicts of sin and saves the soul. 

We can be assured that this kind of religion never had had the blessing of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Jesus has never called anyone to follow him down the path of convenience.  Jesus adds his blessings when we exercise faith and follow him in praise, worship, and service. 

Pa-Pa had a simple faith and trusted God.  Many times through the years I heard one of my grandparents, usually Mom-ee, share about how they had to learn to walk by faith and trust God for the needs in their lives.  I remember my uncle David once saying that Pa-Pa reminded him somewhat of Abraham receiving a call from God and leaving everything.  With three children, they sold their house and began their walk of faith.  As a couple in ministry who never made lots of money, they learned through the years to trust God for their needs.

Once Pa-Pa was taking a group of boys to R.A. summer camp.  He did not have extra money to take with him for their snacks.  That day, while going to the bank, he found three one dollar bills on the ground in the parking lot.  Holding to his integrity, he went inside to report the lost money.  They did not know its origin, and they told him to keep the money.  He saw that as God's way of providing for he and the boys to have snacks at camp.

Once my grandmother had a relative die and some of her family met to discuss the inheritance.  The family began squabbling over the money.  My grandfather looked at his wife and said, We are leaving.  We are not arguing over money.  We will trust God to take care of us.

After serving Cedar Spring Church for five years, the church bought Pa-Pa a brand new 1957 Ford.  The following picture shows him proud as a peacock with that car.

During most of the twenty-seven years he pastored Cedar Spring, he and Mom-ee never owned a house.  They lived in the church's parsonage.  When they celebrated their 25th anniversary at the church, as a surprise, the church presented my grandparents with the deed to the house.  When the house was later moved to Longbow Drive in Spartanburg, a picture hung in their home of a church leader presenting the deed to Mom-ee and Pa-Pa. 

One of my vivid memories with my grandfather is sitting next to him at an Easter Passion Play.  I remember the tears he shed at the scene of Christ on the cross.  To my young mind, I knew that Jesus Christ was real to him.

Pa-Pa believed in heaven.  He sang hymns about heaven.  I remember sitting on the balcony of a condo at Daytona Beach with him one Sunday afternoon.  He told me that the pastor preached about heaven that morning.  "It made me want to go," he said.  The day he died, Jenny told him, "Monk, you have talked about heaven so many times.  Now you go, and I am coming soon."

When my grandfather retired in 1979, the editor of The Baptist Courier, the state paper for South Carolina Baptists, wrote an editorial about him.  In it John Roberts shared, "Marion H. Hendrix has been one of the outstanding Baptist pastors of South Carolina in the 20th century.  He has done this without calling special attention to himself and with a minimum of fanfare and honor.  Like Andrew, he could be called the stable apostle of the rank and file."

The day his mother died in 1969, while waiting in the lobby of the hospital, my grandfather wrote the following poem . . .

God's love so rich has come my way,
Bright as the sunshine of this day;
Tho' sorrow o'er my heart has drawn
A veil of grief not lightly borne.

For Mama waits in room of white
For that first gleam of glory bright
That shines when gates of pearl swing wide
Inviting saints to come inside . . .

To live with Him who gave His life
That we amidst this earthly strife
Might have a hope and strength secure
With grace sufficient to endure.

When sorrow brings its heaviness,
Just so our Lord with joy does bless
Our hearts with peace, our minds with rest,
In knowing that His will is best.

So Come, Lord Jesus, take her home,
And may we hear the Heavenly song
When Papa greets his Nellie dear,
"I've waited long to meet you here!"

My grandfather wrote, "I want to keep faith with her faith.  I believe it will honor her."

Well, Pa-Pa.  We want to keep faith with your faith.  I believe it will honor you.

We love you.  We still remember.  And we will see you and Mom-ee again one day.

Christmas Blessings to You This Week from Us!

Quote of the Day

If people valued food, song, and home more than gold, the world would be a merrier place.  - Thorin Oakenshield, The Hobbit

Refusing the Scrooge Spirit

Every holiday season, I enjoy and appreciate the thoughts of Pastor Jack Hayford as they relate to celebrating Thanksgiving and Christmas.  He has written and preached much over the years about sanctifying, redeeming, and celebrating the holidays.

Here is a portion of one of his many articles available on his website about Christmas.  This particular one is called "Refusing the Scrooge Spirit."

"Over the years, I've encountered an amazing number of people who have decided not to celebrate Christmas. They've been taught it was designed after a pagan holiday. Or they say that nobody knows when Jesus was born, so it's hypocritical to celebrate on December 25th. It is true, of course, that we don't exactly what day Jesus was born. But the fact is, we don't know it wasn't December 25th! At issue isn't which day, but that there ought to be some day. And Christmas on December 25th is the day that has been celebrated for a long time.

Many people were raised in a "good Christian home" where they were told, "We don't celebrate Christmas because it's commercial, and it compromises the truth of the gospel and who Jesus really is." And built into them is a deep resentment toward anything that has to do with church and God and Christ and the Bible. Sadly, they pass that along to their kids.

In other cases, it's not that people don't like Christmas, but the season carries with it certain demands that may cause them to heave a sigh and think, "Celebrating the season is going to be a lot of work." If we have a family and kids, there's the decoration of the house and the tree, plus shopping for and wrapping presents. There's extra cooking that goes on, invitations to the homes of friends, and special events at the church."

To enjoy the entire article, read here.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Christmas Moments Press Release

Just in time for the holidays, best-selling author Yvonne Lehman has gathered memories from 34 Christian authors into an unforgettable faith-focused book. Christmas Moments: 50 Inspirational Stories of the True Meaning of Christmas is her second non-fiction book. 

The stories range from serious to funny, sad to joyful, entertaining to insightful — each pointing to the reason for the Christmas season: celebration of Jesus’ birth. Contributors include award-winning and best-selling authors. 

Authors include Gary L. Breezeel, Janice S. Garey, Gigi Graham, Lydia E. Harris, Yvonne Lehman, Dr. Julie Hale Maschhoff, Edie Melson, Deborah Raney, and Dr. Rhett H. Wilson, Sr. 

Instead of personal compensation, authors requested that all royalties from the sale of Christmas Moments be donated to Samaritan’s Purse, a nondenominational Christian organization providing spiritual and physical aid to hurting people around the world. 

The book is the second in a series titled Divine Moments published by Grace Publishing of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma.  

Click here to order Christmas Moments.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Dads and the Holidays

The last two months of the year offer two fantastic holy days to celebrate - Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Let's plan special ways to influence our families spiritually during the upcoming season.

The Old Schoolhouse magazine published one of my articles this month in the November-December digital edition of their magazine.  Discover specific ways to lead your family . . .

7 Ways for Dads to Teach Spiritual Lessons During the Holidays

Saturday, December 13, 2014


After Christmas two years ago, I decided that during December of 2013 I would read Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol to my family.  Somehow at age 41 I had never actually read the story, though I have enjoyed numerous television and movie takes at the classic Christmas story.  My favorite is still the 1980's George C. Scott Ebenezer Scrooge.
Dickens' written tale is, perhaps surprisingly, a blatant Christian story.  It is a story of a conversion to a Christian worldview (though not as blatant as an evangelical gospel tract).  Of course, our modern Hollywood and Disney takes on the conversion of Ebenezer leave out the Christian details, but it is obvious nonetheless in the book!  Here Jacob Marley's lamentation of having a selfish heart when he lived as a human . . .

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Heart of Father Christmas

Jack Hayford shares good words about the spirit of Santa Clause . . .

"The expression 'Father Christmas' is commonly used in Commonwealth Nations of the British empire. That’s how they refer to Santa Claus. Santa Claus goes by many different names in different parts of the world, and he’s often is a point of contention for some people.

As sincere as they may be, there are believers who take an antagonistic attitude toward celebrating Christmas, especially toward Santa Claus. Often times, we’re negatively orientated to things because we’ve never been faced with a living counterpart. The only counterpart we know is a dead thing of the past. If you are a person who grew up believing in Santa Claus but never having any understanding about Father God, then your transformation as a believer may have included accepting the view that says you shouldn’t celebrate Christmas, or that the idea of Santa Claus is evil. There are people who make great issue over the fact that Santa’s name has the same letters as Satan’s and that he wears a red suit, though we don’t have any evidence that Satan wears a red suit.

There are some things that have to do with celebrating Christmas and with Santa Claus that really are soured by carnality in the world, but there’s another side to that. If you were told you shouldn’t celebrate Christmas because it’s an extension of an ancient, pagan holiday, consider this: It’s also an ancient Christian take-over of a pagan holiday. Many of the things we associate with Christmas, like the Yule log and the tree, have to do with things Christians did to sanctify the holiday with a living counterpart. They took the best of what was and reinterpreted it with life."

Read the entire article by Pastor Jack here.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Singing Scripture

The children singing John 1:1-7 at our annual Christmas Catechesis program.
And yes, that is my beautiful wife directing.

Waiting for Christmas

If you or your church receive HomeLife magazine, check out my article in the December edition.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Quit Procrastinating - Sit in the Chair

The following is a good reminder from Edie Melson about the need to stop procrastinating and - just do it! . . .

I love writing. And I love talking about writing.

Sitting around with other writers, discussing all things literary is one of my favorite things. It’s one of the reasons I love attending writing conferences. But there are people we know who like talking about writing so much that’s all they do. They join writers groups, critique groups, even take classes.

The one thing they don’t do is write.

Read the entire Quit Procrastinating Article here.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

How Much Do We Pray?

How much do you pray?

I urge at least thirty minutes a day in your quiet time - including Bible reading and prayer.  For the person in full-time Christian ministry, I suggest a minimum of an hour a day (two is better), and this should be for private devotions and quiet time without using any of this time for sermon preparation.  Martin Luther spent two hours a day in prayer.  John Wesley spent two hours a day in prayer.  According to a recent poll taken on both sides of the Atlantic, the average church leader (pastor, priest, evangelist, teacher) today spends four minutes a day in prayer.  And you wonder why the church is powerless?  Where are the Luthers today?  Where are the Wesleys? . . .  There will be no praying in heaven.  I would lovingly plead with you: spend much time in prayer now.  Get to know God and His ways by spending time with Him.

- R. T. Kendall

Friday, November 14, 2014

Thanksgiving - The Forgotten Holiday

Candy Arrington shares some great ideas for how to remember the Thanksgiving holiday during the month of November . . .

"Sandwiched somewhere between Halloween and Christmas is a Thursday holiday that is slowly becoming more miniscule in the minds of millions of Americans Thanksgiving. If you search hard, you might find one small section of Thanksgiving cards, autumn decorations, and a turkey platter amid the aisles and miles of Halloween costumes, Christmas decorations, and toys.

For some, Thanksgiving is a day to get a list together prior to a day of marathon Christmas shopping. Somehow our perception of Thanksgiving Day has gone askew. We've forgotten the reason for celebration that first Thanksgiving. Gratitude for survival!

Historically we think of Thanksgiving as a time of feasting for the Pilgrims and Indians. In the fall of 1621, the Pilgrims had been in America less than a year. During those months, over half their original population died from disease or starvation. The Pilgrims hosted the first feast not to try out their latest recipes, but to celebrate life with their Indian friends and give thanks to God for His provision in difficult circumstances."

Read the entire article by Candy Arrington here.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A Challenge to Pray for America

I am setting this post to run at the top of the blog through most of November.

"Troublesome times are here, filling men's hearts with fear, freedoms we all hold dear, now is at stake."  So go the words of the old gospel song "Jesus is Coming Soon."

Recent days in the grand old U. S. of A. have brought fear to our hearts. 

Islamic Extremists

The threat of militant Islamic fundamentalists in the ISIS regime should trouble us.  They are a people who want to annihilate other peoples and cultures.  The city of London is on the alert as they believe members of ISIS are planted there to do harm.  The FBI has warned that policemen and family members of our country's military could be possible targets to ISIS assassinations. 

President Obama made it clear in his speech about his ISIS "strategy" that this is not about Islam and that no religion wants to kill people.  When people make such statements, they are either speaking out of ignorance or out of another agenda.  And I doubt the President is ignorant of such matters.  Even David Letterman recognized that the strategy was one of kicking the ball down the field to the next Chief. 

Yes, there are many good Muslims who would never murder another person.  However, radical Islamic fundamentalists are driven to murder others in the name of their Islamic religion.  In case you don't know or haven't been around since September 11, 2001, the concept of jihad is a religious war.  If they die while killing the "infidels," then they believe their god takes them straight to heaven. 

Todd Starnes wrote recently, "Last night on 60 Minutes President Obama reminded the nation that we are not at war with the Islamic State.  Not that it matters all that much – because they are at war with us."   That is simply a fact.

After a recent beheading in Oklahoma, Starnes of FOX News wrote, "In recent days it’s become clear that radical jihadists live in these United States. . . .  The authorities are calling what happened in Moore, Oklahoma a case of workplace violence.  Workplace violence, indeed. Just like the Fort Hood massacre.  The Obama Administration can call it whatever they want — but I’m afraid we’re about to see a lot more of it."

The ISIS threat could potentially have disastrous results.

Now Ebola is front and center in the news.  Again, here is a problem with catastrophic potential.

How should a godly person respond?  What does a man or woman who fears the Lord and trusts Him do in such times?  How should I, an ordinary husband and father, react to threats such as ISIS and Ebola?

A Person Like You or Me

A man named Elijah, one who feared the Lord, lived in troublesome times.  He had no confidence in the political leaders of his nation, a godless couple named Ahab and Jezebel.  The king and queen led the nation into all sorts of idolatry, eventually persecuting and killing many of the prophets of the one true God.  That God, Jehovah, spoke to this man Elijah, a Tishbite.

God told Elijah that as punishment for the sins of the nation, He was sending a drought.  It would not rain until God allowed it.  Elijah announced this punishment to king Ahab.  Then, God hid his prophet for three and a half years (1 Kings 17) during the drought.  Killing Elijah would not have stopped the drought, but godless people sometimes like to attack God's messengers.  (Houston, you can demand pastors to turn in their sermons, but you can't change their God nor what He has said, nor their constitutional rights.)

After three and a half years, the Lord and Elijah had a huge confrontation with the priests of Baal, priests under the domination of Queen Jezebel.  God showed up in a big way, confirming that he is God and Baal is false.

Then, God revealed to Elijah that it was about to rain.  Before rain came, Elijah began interceding - praying to God to send the rain.  Some people remark that the position he took in 1 Kings 18:42 was one of a Jewish woman in labor.  Elijah knew God was going to send rain, but the prophet assumed the position of a praying intercessor.  He became an agent through which God could birth a miracle and bring rain.

After seven times of prayer, Elijah's servant saw a small raincloud coming.  Soon, heavy rain poured.

Years later, the apostle James comments on this account: The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. 18 And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit (James 5:16-18).

James reminds us of a few potent truths . . .

1.  Elijah's prayer life included the potential to stop rain and produce rain for 3 1/2 years as he partnered with God.

2.  Elijah was a man just like us - not any more or less.

3.  The prayers today of godly people full of faith, the Holy Spirit, and the fear of the Lord can accomplish much.

Wow.  The prayers of one man affected the course of the entire nation.

Again and again in Scripture, God worked through the prayers of one man or woman to bring real change.

Might God use the prayers of one righteous person today to affect the course of our nation?  Might God use the prayers of one family, church, or small group to alter our future?

Fasting and Prayer

In years past, some Presidents and political leaders understood that we are truly one nation under God.  During times of deep national crisis, leaders called our nation to a day or season of fasting and prayer.  They understood that some problems faced by the country were too grand for human ingenuity to solve.  They needed God.  They needed His help.

John Adams, second President of the United States, understood this truth.  When faced with the threat of a national crisis from a foreign power, he called for a day of fasting and prayer for May 9, 1798 . . .

As the safety and prosperity of nations ultimately and essentially depend on the protection and blessing of Almighty God; and the national acknowledgment of this truth is not only an indispensable duty which the people owe to Him, but a duty whose natural influence is favorable to the promotion of that morality and piety, without which social happiness cannot exist . . . .

See a long list here of days of fasting and prayer issued by our government leaders in times past.  You can also read the proclamations at the same site.

According to the Bible, when peoples and countries face deep crises, they should fast and pray.  They should turn aside from what they normally do, stop eating for a designated time, and cry out to God.  Fasting is one spiritual discipline through which we humble ourselves before Him and ask for His help.

Personally, I have little confidence in our current government leaders in the White House to handle our problems efficiently.  However, the Bible says that God hears the remnant.  He hears the few that still fear, love, and serve Him.  God promised Abraham that if He found ten righteous people in the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, he would spare them from judgment.  Why?  Because God hears His remnant.  He acts on behalf of His remnant. 

The prayers of one man brought the rain after three and a half years of drought.  And he was a man just like you and me.

I challenge you, fellow Christians, to begin fasting and praying for America.  Begin setting aside some meals and spending that time in God's presence, praying to Him, on your knees, with an open Bible, pouring your heart out to God.

These battles cannot be fought with politics, military, or medical doctors alone.  We need God's help. We need God's help again.

Because, as the second President of the United States understood, "the safety and prosperity of nations ultimately and essentially depend on the protection and blessing of Almighty God."

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Trust God and Do the Next Thing

Years ago I learned the maxim from Elisabeth Elliot's broadcasts and writings that Christians need to learn to "trust God and do the next thing." 

Many times in  life when we don't know what to do, are overcome with fear or anxiety, or seem overwhelmed with life's demands, we can find security in God by trusting Him immediately and then doing the very next thing at hand.

The following poem, author unknown, conveys the essence of that message . . .

From an old English parsonage, down by the sea There came in the twilight a message to me; Its quaint Saxon legend, deeply engraven, Hath, as it seems to me, teaching from Heaven. And on through the hours the quiet words ring Like a low inspiration--"DO THE NEXT THING."
Many a question, many of fear, Many a doubt, hath its quieting here. Moment by moment, let down from Heaven, Time, opportunity, guidance, are given. Fear not tomorrows, Child of the King, Trust them with Jesus, "DO THE NEXT THING."
Do it immediately; do it with prayer; Do it reliantly, casting all care; Do it with reverence, tracing His Hand Who placed it before thee with earnest command. Stayed on Omnipotence, safe 'neath His wing, Leave all resultings, "DO THE NEXT THING."
Looking to Jesus, ever serener, (Working or suffering) be thy demeanor, In His dear presence, the rest of His calm, The light of His countenance be thy psalm, Strong in His faithfulness, praise and sing, Then, as He beckons thee, "DO THE NEXT THING."
-author unknown

Friday, November 7, 2014

Fantastic Family Friday: The Bear Necessities

Sometimes God's provisions are just enough.

Three weeks ago, our family decided to venture onto the Blue Ridge Parkway.  A beautiful October Saturday, we looked forward to exploring sights in the mountains.  Leisurely driving and stopping along the Parkway, we enjoyed the breathtaking views.

We parked at mile marker 417 and hiked into the woods until we came to Skinny Dip Falls.  Before it became known publicly, SDF would have been an excellent place for skinny-dipping.  Nestled deep into the woods, the spot is one of the most gorgeous and picturesque swimming holes I have ever experienced.  It looks like something straight out of Fantasy Island.

Returning to our van, we continued our journey of gorgeous mountain sights.  The best views of the day came as the sun set over the mountains.  We and a lot of other motorists stopped to take pictures of the sun setting over the peaks.

Stopping at the Pisgah Inn, we checked out the bookstore filled with mountain-culture paraphernalia.  Other travelers packed the place, waiting for the two-hour wait at the restaurant.  Knowing that church duties would come on Sunday morning, my wife and I told each other that we needed to hit the road and get home.  

Leaving the Inn about 7:30, we headed down the dark road towards the Asheville exit.  At night the Blue Ridge Parkway is very dark - very dark.  For most of the ride, you only have your vehicle's headlights as any source of light.

About ten miles south of the Pisgah Inn, I suddenly noticed a young black bear to the left of the minivan.  The bear was quickly trying to cross the road directly in front of us.  It was one of those moments when your mind processes things very quickly.  I slammed on brakes, and I think all five of us in the car saw what was about to happen and screamed simultaneously.

My wife and I have sensed described the animal as somewhere between a bear cub and an adult bear.  It was as long as the front of our van.  Maybe it was a teenage bear!  

Within one second of our spotting him, he and the van collided.  We heard and felt the impact.  SMACK!  The bear slid across the pavement for at least 10 yards.  Then, immediately he jumped up and hurried into the woods out of our view.

Accelorating, I put as much distance between us and the scene of the accident as possible.  I did not want to meet mama or papa bear.  Seriously.  We drove several miles until we came to an overview.  Stopping to survey the damage, we discovered much damage to the vehicle's front.  But thankfully it kept running. 

I quietly prayed, "Lord, please get us off of this Parkway and into Asheville."  At that point, I did not care if we had to spend the night at a hotel.  I could call a deacon and say, "You are in charge of church tomorrow."  I just wanted us to be safe and away from any more wild animals.  Earlier that day I had thought, I sure would like to see a bear somewhere today.  But I was thinking more from a long distance.

Thankfully, we made it into Asheville in another 10-15 minutes.  I don't know that I have ever been that happy to see a Ryan's buffet restaurant in my entire life.  After a good supper, we prayed in the van and then drove almost two hours to our house.

Bear-hair stuck to van
Several days later, the insurance company told me the damage would cost $500 in a deductible.  For several days I thought, Oh, I don't want to have to pay $500.  That is a lot of money to put out for that.  I asked the Lord to provide for us and help me to cover the $500.

The next week I did something I have never done in 25+ years of driving.  I backed into a sitting vehicle as I left our carport.  My mind was on avoiding hitting my son, who was outside.  What I failed to notice was the other vehicle parked directly behind me.  Suddenly the minivan collided with the other.  I got out to survey the damage.  The back bumper of the minivan was a mess.  I had put a small dent into my other vehicle, an old one that has had many better years.

So now on the blue minivan I would be looking at not $500 but $1000 in deductibles in order to get the family van fixed.  After talking with the adjustor, I decided that I would not have the old vehicle fixed but would use that insurance money to help pay the deductibles for the other.

When I received the check to repair the old vehicle, I chuckled.  The insurance check was for $1004.90.  It was just enough to cover both of the deductibles on the family minivan.

Someone told me once that God allows happy accidents in our lives.  These are situations that look bad at first but later turn out for good.

Looking back over our incident on the Blue Ridge Parkway, I see reasons to rejoice.  We enjoyed a great day viewing the autumn colors.  We got to see a bear up close.  My family was protected from what could have been a very dangerous and precarious situation.  Our van was still able to operate after the accident.  We made it off of the Parkway, found supper, and made it safely home.  And through a "happy accident," the necessary funds came to cover the payment needed to repair the van.

God provides for the bear necessities.


Our Bat-Family

The Wilsons enjoyed dressing up like heroes and villains from the Batman legacy.  Months ago we agreed to try and theme together for the first time, and Batman was an easy pick.  We had fun turning some heads out on the town with our Bat-costumes.

The Villains

Out on the Town

The Joker, Bagirl, Catwoman, The Riddler, and Batman


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

When It Isn't Fun

Al Ganksy shares a great word about the need for discipline in any work, job, or vocation.  There are plenty of times when it simply isn't fun and we have to dig in our heels and work. . . .

No matter our occupations, there are days, weeks, even months when we don’t want to do the work. With a “regular job” we are motivated by the thought of suddenly being unemployed or by the fear of other people’s opinions. That’s the problem for most writers—especially those without a contract standing behind them cracking the whip—no one knows if we don’t show up at the keyboard, and let’s face it: writers are creative folk who can conjure up an excuse or rationalization without a second thought.

William Faulkner gets credit for saying, “I only write when inspiration strikes.
Fortunately it strikes at nine every morning.” The Great Gatsby author has a point. There are many other similar quotes that drive home the idea that writers write even when they don’t want to.

Inertia is the problem. When we’re at rest we prefer to stay at rest. Hence the oft spoken line, “Honey, since you’re up, would you mind to bring me a soda?” An object at rest (in this case, the writer) changes its resting state when acted upon by an outside force. For working writers (meaning those who write to eat) income plays a key role. The fear of missing a deadline is highly motivational, but most writers I know still work from a desire to produce material to be read. This is true for journalists to the writers of epic fantasy.

Read the entire article, "When Writing Isn't Fun," here.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

All Saints Day

Today, November 1, is the church's traditional observance of All Saints Day.  Often lost in our evangelical community, this day has a rich heritage of remembering saints who have gone before us.

Charles Colson shared some great words about All Saints Day in his commentary Honoring the Witnesses.

Friday, October 31, 2014

October 31st

My family will always have good memories related to festivities on October 31.  As a child, our community always held a fall festival on Halloween night.  My gang of friends would hit the pavement after the games and go door-to-door through the neighborhood trick-or-treating.  Yes, that was way back in the day when it was safe to send your kids loose without an adult.  My own children talk all year long about what costume they will choose that year on the 31st of October.  They have donned an assortment of outfits, including Snoopy, Boba Fett, Dorothy, cowboys and cowgirl, Batgirl, scarecrow, and a host of others. 

This year, for the first time, we decided to pick a theme together.  We chose to dress up as characters from the Batman legacy.  Stay tuned, Bat-friends, at the same Bat-site, for pictures.

This week, we have already had our family devotion about shining Christ's light in our lives and not becoming imitators of darkness.  When we carve our pumpkins today we will talk some about what Christ does to change a life from the inside out.  I will remind my children of the spiritual significance of this day as tied to Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation.  And, this weekend we will talk a little as a family about the theme of All Saints Day and the value of remembering Christians in the great cloud of witnesses.

Strong opinions abound in the Christian community about what to do with Halloween.  The following are related articles I have appreciated through the years . . .

Is Halloween a Witch's Brew? by Harold Myra

Bump in the Night by Charles Colson

Four Reasons You Should Go Trick-or-Treating Tonight by Ed Stetzer

An Open Letter About Halloween by Jim Daly

Shine a Light, Avoid the Sinister

Two years ago Jim Daly, President of Focus on the Family, offered the following open letter about the practice of Halloween in our culture.  It is worth sharing . . .

Peanuts creator Charles Schulz made a habit of dispensing advice through the mouths of cartoon characters, especially the blanket-carrying Linus van Pelt.
Like any offering of counsel, some of it is to be heeded and some of it is not.
“There are three things you must never discuss with people,” the comic strip’s philosopher/theologian once said, “religion, politics and the Great Pumpkin.”

Redeeming Halloween

As long as I have been a pastor, I have appreciated Pastor Jack Hayford's perspective on the holidays and his approach to Halloween.  For a subject that draws many varied opinions from Christians, Hayford offers a biblical, balanced approach . .  .


"The Church is to be the incarnation of Jesus in the world (Ephesians 1:22-23). The church is to be Redemptive, Light and Life. We have biblical grounds for a redemptive mission, and a biblical call as disciples. There are hosts of Christians who don’t know that Hallowe’en was originally a holy occasion, not the horrendous event it’s become.

How are we, who were formerly in the dark, to now walk in the light?

We are to demonstrate the fruits of the Spirit (v. 9). The traits of the fruit of the Spirit always have a beauty and a dignity to them, and they never have a feisty, in-your-face spit-back attitude. The way you walk as children of light is to avoid the anger that goes on in the name of supposed righteousness so many times in the Body of Christ. And it deserves regularly to be confronted. It come many times out of being wounded, and when we’re wounded, we’re tempted to strike back. We are to discern what is “acceptable to the Lord” (v. 10).

Let something about the light in you make clear how meaningless the dark is (v. 11). To expose the fruitlessness of darkness isn’t to recite a litany of dead deeds (v. 12). So many times you’ll find people “exposing the darkness” by talking about all the things that are corrupt and rotten in the world. This is not to discount that they may be, but the fact is, we’re already pretty aware of that, and the Bible says you don’t need to build a rebuttal against the darkness. People in the dark know things are coming unglued. What we need to do is shine as light."

Read the entire article Redeeming Halloween by Pastor Jack here.