The Beauty Shines Through

Though the winters in our area can feature wide-ranging temperatures and nary a flake until the spring, the snow has seemed particularly scarce this year. So when we happened to have a decent snowfall over the weekend, I was drawn to the window to watch the white fluff dance in the air. Enough snow had already fallen to leave significant amounts on the ground, which also meant that there was a sizeable accumulation on those areas that would have to be shoveled away, especially since we were having company later that day. I was admiring the pretty snow-covered evergreens that were in my view and at the same time praying for our family to arrive safely, remaining aware of the possible hazard the roads had become. As all of these thoughts swirled in my head like the flurries outside, a question suddenly popped into my mind: “How could something that can cause heartache be so incredibly beautiful?” When there is snow, accidents can be numerous, in the mountains within hours of us, avalanches occur, and people literally get lost in blowing snow and are overcome with hypothermia due to frigid temperatures. Yet, there is no denying that there is something picturesque and lovely about fresh falling snow. The beauty of this winter wonder shines through.
An hour or so later, there was quite another scene to view. Our local television stations were carrying the memorial service of a fallen hero, a deputy who had lost his life in the line of duty protecting others in an investigation that had turned into a detrimental attack. Though other officers were injured, the swift action of this deputy saved lives, including that of a civilian. At thirty-four years of age, he left behind a wife and two young children, his parents, brothers and sisters, other family and friends, and his fellow officers. As I continued watching the emotional testimonies of representatives of local law enforcement, his family and the pastor along with the ceremonial protocol, my mind formed a new question, “Where is the beauty in this, Lord?” The Lord allowed a swift answer: this deputy was a believer, and the beauty was the testimony and legacy he had left for his wife, his children and all who had the blessing of attending and viewing his memorial. Wonderful, personal stories were shared about his fun and quirky personality, his determination, devotion, and commitment to his chosen profession, and his thriving, vibrant and constant love for and trust in his God. We joined thousands of people who lined his procession route in the bitter weather holding signs and waving flags to affirm his heroism and honor his bravery. Though certainly there was, is, and will be heartache for those whom he loved and who loved him, Jesus is using his loss to reach out and touch others with the truth of the Gospel. The beauty of a life well lived shines through.
My present Bible reading is nearing the end of the Gospel of Matthew. It is always hard for me to read the end of each of the Gospels. They show the ugly side of man and the heartache that accompanied the arrest, trial, contemptible treatment, and crucifixion of Jesus. My heart wants to cry out, “Where is the beauty, Lord?” But, his response is swift and sure: “My child, you are the beauty that has come from the heartache I endured on the cross. For it is in my death and resurrection that you have eternal life. You will be with me forever, you and all who trust in me for salvation.” His scars will always be there to remind us of the anguish he endured for us, but the beauty of his selfless act of love and grace will forever shine through!
“On that day the Lord their God will save them as the flock of his people; for like the jewels of a crown they shall shine on his land. For how great is his goodness, and how great his beauty,” (Zechariah 9:16-17, ESV).
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: We want to thank Deputy Micah Flick and his family for the incredible service he provided to our community. He is a hero whom we will continue to hold in our hearts. We are praying for his family and for those with whom he served.

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All Because…

When I was two years old I spent a fair amount of time in the vicinity of a television, particularly because there was only one room in which we could congregate. Due to the fairly unremarkable shows back in those days, I would spend my time playing with my toys with the black and white screen as my background. There were, however, two exceptions: commercials that featured catchy jingles and The Mickey Mouse Club. As young as I was, I learned the theme song quickly and happily sang my own version – “M-I-C-‘CAKEY’- Y-M-O-U-S-E.” I believe I became the resident entertainer, at least during that particular moment in my life.
As so many families in the sixties, we continued our fascination with Disney watching Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color. They were truly family-oriented shows with good messages that made us laugh and cry as we enjoyed them together. There was something magical and compelling about being whisked away to other times and places and joining in on exciting adventures without stepping out of your home. Somewhere in the midst of these years, I learned about Disneyland. At one point there was a coloring contest in which the grand prize was an all-expense paid vacation to the California park. Traveling distance was not in my parents’ wheelhouse, and so I really wanted to win that trip. But, my coloring skills not being as appealing as my childhood vocal ability, I did not get to go to Disneyland, but…
As fate would have it, we wound up living in Florida where we visited the Disney Magic Kingdom and the Disney MGM Studios Parks many times. (I also eventually got to go to my beloved Disneyland in California!) Attending a Disney Theme Park is truly a celebration! One place that we missed out on, however, was Epcot Center, Walt Disney’s “Experimental Prototype Community of the Future.” Walt’s original vision was to actually create a futuristic city, and the park’s initial offerings were tailored to the interests of adults.
We just had the blessing of visiting Epcot at the beginning of December 2017. With time and technology, many things have changed and displays and experimental presentations have been turned into rides and video games. Still, it was very educational and entertaining and well worth our trip and the cost. As I looked around and considered the imagination, creativity, and skill it has taken to design and build such a place of amusement, this one thought entered my mind, “All because a man could draw a mouse.” Everything in the Disney Parks has its origins in the work of an animator. Though Walt Disney himself had many more creative ideas and ventures, I wondered if he realized the direction his empire would take and all the technology that would come into being to make his dream a reality. Were his reasons for all that he accomplished selfless, or largely driven by the benefits for him and his progeny?
Motive aside, Disney’s ingenuity falls far short of a supremely creative being: our Creator God. One can find passages all throughout his Word that speak about his creativity. In fact, the very beginning, the very end and even the middle of the Bible relate the wonders of his works. In the book of Genesis we see how he created the world out of nothing, forming the water, the sky, and the land, night and day, light and darkness, and populating the world with creatures in each element. Psalm 104 is replete with descriptions of all that God did in creation and his ongoing work. Revelation contains a great summary of God’s creative power, stating, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created,” (Revelation 5:11, ESV).
At this time of year we focus on the birth of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, and how God sent him into the world to bring atonement for the sin of mankind. It was completely selfless for God to give his perfect Son as a sacrifice for us. While a man can imagine the direction of his future, God knew the future from before time began. It was “all because God could…” that he did the only thing that would save us. Everything he has given us and has done for us has its origins in who he is: a good, loving gracious and merciful God. Creative, yes, but genuinely altruistic as he watches over us, his most prized creation.

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In the Clouds

Cloud technology allows users to access computer stored information on a hi-tech device from anywhere in the world. Though I know I’ve used it from time to time, I also know that I really do not understand much about it, nor could I explain it to an inquiring soul. There is no visible evidence of what is happening as it is working, but the speed of data transfer is instantaneous and the results can be seen on screens of all sizes and types when the information is accessed. For me, it is aptly named, as the concept is just as far above my head as the clouds are in the sky. Kudos to the creators at Apple for this twenty-first century wonder.
Returning home from the studio late one evening, I happened to look up to view a cloud pattern that I have not often seen. Set against the light of the moon, these altocumulus clouds reminded me of another wonder. One day Jesus is going to return in the clouds, and not only that, those who have trusted in Him as Savior and Lord will rise to meet Him up in those clouds! This transfer will be instantaneous, but unlike Cloud technology, there will be a visible manifestation of the experience – we will see the magnificence of Jesus as we look into His beautiful face. The Apostle Paul explained it this way in his first book to the Thessalonians: “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words,” 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 (ESV).
I do not often have significant dreams, but back in the early nineties I had an incredible dream that I will likely never forget. I dreamt about the rapture, and I remember looking at clouds in the sky and effortlessly being lifted upwards knowing that I was going to meet Jesus.  Though I woke up before encountering the Lord, in the midst I felt perfect peace, all-encompassing love, and I realized that I had absolute knowledge of everything there is to know. For days I could think back on the dream and re-experience the accompanying exhilaration. The real event will be spectacular as all believers head toward the clouds to meet Jesus and live with him forever.
As awesome as technology has become, nothing will ever touch the power, imagination, and creativity of our God. Though I may access information that is mysteriously hanging around in a cloud, I look forward with great anticipation to a real trip to the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. It is an amazing thought that the God of the universe who is as far above me as the clouds are in the sky has made a way for this meeting. All praise to The Creator for this eternal wonder!

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Losing to Win

Do you sometimes feel like a big loser? This is not meant to be an offensive question, as I’m not referring to a horrible lack of self-esteem, nor is this making any reference to a once popular prime time television show where the big losers in the competition really were the big winners in life. I’m actually talking about the propensity to lose things on a regular basis. From keys, to eyeglasses, to wallets, to that favorite sweater that goes so well with the distressed jeans, I would make an educated guess that there are many who could reluctantly raise their hands (minus the watch that used to adorn the wrist) and say that, yes, I confess, I am a big loser!

And friends, I am a card-carrying member of the club, that is if I can find the card. It is such a frustrating tendency! I continually lose my reading glasses, my cell phone, my make-up case, and my car in almost any parking lot. There are definitely some standouts on the list too. Recently within a couple weeks, I happened to lose a box and two large individual number birthday candles for our very special family celebration, my car fob, a black satchel, two pairing knives, a pack of straw brushes that I was so excited to purchase while on a business trip, and two pieces of raw chicken that I had taken out of the fridge to make for dinner. Now, if you’re like me, if and when a lost item is found, it is like a major discovery of buried treasure. Happily, the fob was found in my terrycloth swim cover-up more than a week after it went missing. The knives actually turned up in the kitchen in places where I would have never put them (company helping to make meals). The brushes appeared in a suitcase that I had used on my trip, and I obviously had never removed them to begin with. I discovered the black satchel the other day in a spare bedroom closet more than a month after it disappeared, in another state! I literally rejoiced upon each of these finds. The mystery still remains, however, as to where the candles and the chicken pieces went. In regard to the chicken, I can only hope that somehow it was cooked and eaten by who knows who, it is in the proverbial black hole where I imagine all lost things wind up, or it is adequately buried somewhere like the aforementioned treasure.
Now, if the Apostle Paul were to be a part of this conversation, no doubt he would he would think back to his discussion of loss in the Bible. He rather encouraged being a loser for the sake of Christ. In Philippians chapter three, after reviewing many of his own admirable qualities that made him notable in the eyes of the Jewish people, he said the following, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith – that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead,” (Philippians 4:7-11, ESV). Paul was willing to give it all up to take hold of that which is so much more important, the righteousness that only comes from a relationship with God through Christ Jesus by faith. It is the only way to truly know, love, worship, serve, represent, and share Jesus Christ our Lord. Nothing in the entire world compares to that heavenly treasure! So, I have just thought of a great way to turn my penchant for losing “mere things” into a positive experience. Rather than becoming frustrated, if I use such a loss as a reminder of Paul’s exemplary words, my loss would actually become a win as I turn my focus on what I have gained by knowing Christ.
So, just a little bit ago in the middle of writing this newsletter, my husband came up to me and said, “Were you looking for these?” My sunglasses were in his hand, and he had found them on the floor of his car. I’m sure that the next time I ventured out on a sunny day I would have been frantically searching for them. My loss was averted, but it was still an opportunity to think about the gain I have in Christ.  Thank you, Lord. And thanks, Hon for sparing me the search! Now, by any chance, have you seen a package of chicken?

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Dream Away

In the schedule that we presently keep, traveling from event to event and visiting almost every corner of the US to see family and friends, much planning and forethought takes place to insure we are booked in various venues and have somewhere to stay. My husband relishes plans that are made months in advance; me, not so much. I prefer flexibility, and I like to think that if something comes up four months from now I will have the ability to choose to participate, or not. This is especially relevant when one is bouncing back and forth like a ping-pong ball between the west and the east. It makes a great argument for having a trailer and frequenting Wal-Mart parking lots with no reservation needed, thus keeping things adaptable.
One who is very comfortable living in the present and not predisposed to sticking a toe into the ocean of the future is also unlikely to dream about what that future could hold. There is always so much taking place and so much to think about just to get through today! God has addressed this topic in various ways in his Word. On the one hand, He encourages us to ask for our daily bread (Matthew 6:11) and to not worry about tomorrow as, “Sufficient for the day is its own trouble,” (Matthew 6:34c, ESV). But, he has also warned in Proverbs, “Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest. How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man,” (Proverbs 6:6-11, ESV). And He says in Proverbs 29:18, “Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint,” (Proverbs 29:18, ESV). Another Bible version states it like this: “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” So, planning, and dreaming, and projecting vision are important parts of God’s desire for His people.
I had an opportunity to really consider the idea of dreams and vision when I attended church in Kernersville, NC about two months ago. Pastor Josh Stahl of Turning Point Church, Kernersville, shared five steps that are invaluable to those who desire to live a life of vision:
  1. Ask God for it: Spend time in prayer asking the Lord for guidance and direction in regard to your future and what plan and purpose He has for you.
  2. Write it down: The book of Habakkuk encourages, “Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it,” (Habakkuk 2:2). This step is an affirmation that you will aim toward your vision and that it is a reachable goal.
  3. Speak it out: Speaking out a vision is further confirmation of the possibility that you will realize your dream. It is placing trust in God and having faith that what He has spoken to you is reality. God had Ezekiel the prophet speak to dry old bones and prophesy life and breath into them, which led to an army of living beings standing before him.
  4. Embrace it: Eleanor Roosevelt is credited for this statement, “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” Accept what the Lord has spoken to you as an integral part of your tomorrows.
  5. Push toward it: After his conversion, the apostle Paul was constantly striving toward excellence and fulfillment of the goals that the Lord had laid out for His life. He never wavered in his belief and conviction that God would use him to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, and our faith is borne out of the struggles and determination of Paul and the rest of the Lord’s first disciples.
I just saw a painted barn board sign that read:
Good things are going to happen   DREAM BIG   LET THE JOURNEY BEGIN   the best is yet to come
Let your dreams take you into the future that God envisions for you. Be courageous, be confident, and dream away!

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“Surprise”

I have such fond memories of my high school career. I became very involved in the music department, particularly in choir. As a result, I also participated in high school musicals way back before it became a real pop culture phenomenon. This led to a bit of involvement in the school’s drama program as well.

When I was a junior, some of my friends directed a student-led production of Alice in Wonderland. Having had some significant parts in the musicals, my best friend and I were recruited to play the most critical parts, Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Ok, so there were several more important roles, but we were in, and we pledged to put our amazing theatrical talents into these two quarreling characters. If you are not familiar with the story, the writer of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There, Lewis Carroll, included these subjects of a well-known nursery rhyme in the storyline of the second book. Both books were then transformed into the classic children’s stage play.
The battle that we had on stage must have affected my ability to remember most of the experience. But, two things about the play stand out in my mind. First, my best friend wound up being very sick (uh-huh) for the performances. As a result, our ridiculously talented pianist, a male, played Tweedledee to my Tweedledum.  He did a fine job, and the only thing that stands out more in my mind than that switcheroo was what happened to our most integral prop.
If you recall the story or the nursery rhyme, these brothers have a scuffle over a rattle. Tweedledum accuses Tweedledee of spoiling his nice, new rattle, which in the twenty-first century means, “brother broke it.” In the manner of a western-themed duel, they agree to a battle over it. Well, before the curtain was opened, the rattle was strategically placed on the floor in front of us. Actors in their places, count down to curtain opening, anticipation, adrenalin rushing, and the curtain finally parted. Tweedledum’s famous line, “You spoiled my nice, new rattle,” is the impetus for the fight. But, when this Tweedledum looked down at the busted object, it wasn’t there. Surprise!!! In the excitement of the moment, neither my counterpart nor I noticed that the rattle had been whisked off the stage by the opening curtain. It was at this point that my theatrical prowess kicked in. In that split second, I acted shocked, because I was, but with great conviction I said, “You stole it; you stole my nice, new rattle!” Moment saved! The five seconds of ad lib screamed “Oscar!” Oh, what could have been?
Now, take a leap with me back even further to first century Jerusalem. Eleven very discouraged, extremely frightened men were hiding out after their leader was tried, convicted, and executed via crucifixion a day following the Passover celebration. His followers were in mourning, and a rich disciple with an unused tomb asked for His body. He and a leader in the Jewish ruling group prepared His body for burial. He was laid in the rich man’s grave.
Early on the first day of the week, some of His women followers came to the tomb to anoint His body with fragrant spices. There is mention of an earthquake in the Book of Matthew’s account. Three of the Gospels report the presence of angels. The Book of John focuses on Mary Magdalene’s visit to the tomb. One thing is common to all these historical documentations: “Surprise!!!” Jesus was not there – he was whisked up from the place where His body had been. The wrappings that had surrounded Him were left behind, but contrary to the story concocted by the cantankerous, confused and corrupt chief priests and Pharisees, no one stole the body. God the Father resurrected Jesus His Son! It happened just as Jesus had previously told His disciples that it would. And because of this, Peter says in his first letter, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice,”
(1 Peter 1:3-6a, ESV).
Mankind saved! This one unparalleled act screams, “Yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen!”

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Oceans of Love

There is no debate that the Pacific Ocean is massive and impressive. It is the largest body of water on earth expanding more than sixty-two million square miles, and its deepest point is almost eleven thousand meters. It was named by Ferdinand Magellan, who in an attempt to circumnavigate the world, crossed through rough waters off of Cape Horn at the southern-most tip of South America, and then found the waters into which he next crossed to be peaceful, hence the name, “pacifico.”

I had the pleasure of visiting family in California during the holidays. I am by no means a scholar in geography, but it doesn’t call for genius to know that if one travels due west in the US that for travel to continue without interruption one must be in an amphibious vehicle or halt travel and switch to a plane or some type of water craft. Still, in the area where we were staying, I was amazed to see the body of blue on the left of the navigation screen, and because we don’t see the ocean from my bother’s home, it was an interesting discovery to realize just how close I was to the Pacific. Days later in San Diego, my son’s family and I took a walk along a cliff that hugged the ocean’s shore. It was overwhelming to look out over that great expanse of seemingly never-ending water with its mesmerizing, powerful waves crashing on the sand, and then to talk to its Creator to thank Him for such an amazing and awe-inspiring world He has given to us.
Something occurred to me in that moment: God’s love is even bigger, greater and more powerful than that ocean! And, just like my ignorance at the ocean’s close proximity, we can be unaware of the closeness of God and the genuine and generous love that He has for us. How much easier and better our lives would be if we were continually aware that our Father, Creator, Savior, and Friend was surrounding us with His unfathomable love. Paul says, “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family- in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith – that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God,” (Ephesians 3:14-19, ESV).

I don’t know about you, but I can be very prone to focusing on tangible circumstances and surroundings, forgetting in the midst of my struggles that the Father’s loving arms are there to embrace me. God’s desire is that we would be aware of His presence every moment and allow His love rather than problems to overwhelm us. Though life will often cause us to encounter rough waters, we can swiftly cross into God’s “Ocean of love,” a certain place of peace. Just like Magellan, we will be able to say, “Ah, pacifico!

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The Big Reveal

A few months ago we were delighted to hear from our youngest daughter and her husband that they are expecting their first child next March. As is the trend with today’s parents-to-be, they opted to find out their baby’s gender before birth. Katie had an ultrasound and a blood test done. Though the news was concealed inside an envelope, it was a little too simple to just open it up to know whom they will be welcoming into their family. So, the envelope with the precious information was passed off to a couple with remote acreage. They prepared an elaborate contraption that when hit would explode, shooting the appropriate colored chalk in the air (blue for boy, pink for girl) revealing the gender of the little one Katie is carrying. On the last Saturday of October, we had a celebration brunch with some family and friends and then headed out as a caravan to the said property for the Big Reveal.
Chase is licensed and experienced using a rifle, but it took him a couple times to correctly hit the target, which was about one hundred fifty feet away from him and all of us who were cheering him on. Waiting with great anticipation, many of us held cell phones to catch the “big reveal,” making it a bit hard to pay attention to all the details. When the rifle shot finally made contact with the disclosing mechanism, a small puff of grayish smoke appeared above the target site, leaving most of us a bit confused. Some noticed, however, that a pile of pink chalk had spilled out on the ground, causing them to shout, “It’s a girl!” Daddy-to-be wanted to get it right, however, so the property owner fixed the target, and a few minutes later we watched as a huge pink cloud appeared above the site, causing us all to clap and shout for the news that a baby girl would be born.
Of course, God needed no advanced procedures or technology to foretell the birth of His Son. The first pronouncement came hundreds of years before Jesus’ birth, as Isaiah states, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given;” (Isaiah 9:6, ESV). The surrounding passage speaks of a great light shining and exceeding joy for the nation of Israel. Closer to the event, God sent the angel, Gabriel, to Mary to reveal that she was carrying His Son. No ultrasound was needed; no blood test was taken; no shot was fired at a faulty device. The almighty God sent His reliable messenger to the chosen mother to let her know that she would have the promised One, and to inform her, “and you shall call His name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:31b-33, ESV). Though their conversation was quiet and private, God’s news exploded into the world. There was excitement and celebration when Mary visited her cousin, Elizabeth, and the baby boy she was carrying “leaped for joy.” And Mary glorified the Lord in her celebration of the baby who would be born to her for all mankind.
Jesus’ birth happened just as Mary was told. God employed angels once again to make the grand announcement. It was to shepherds in the field that the angel of the Lord appeared. Though the sight caused the shepherds to be afraid, there was no error or doubt regarding the message. “The angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!’” (Luke 2:10b-14, ESV). The shepherds responded by visiting Jesus and then proclaiming what they had been told by the angel. When they left, they too gave praise and glory to God for the baby boy who was born to be the Savior of the world.
I didn’t mention before that even with the most sophisticated testing to date, gender predictions can be wrong. But God’s accuracy rate is always 100%. Jesus was in fact born, lived a sinless life on earth for thirty-three years, and then died on a cruel tree to make atonement for the sin-stained world. We can rejoice continually because He was resurrected from the dead, and He lives forever to rule and reign. So let the angels sing and the blue chalk fly! ‘Tis the season to remember and celebrate the Big Reveal: “It’s a Boy!” And, He has been born for you.

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The Pumpkin; A Sign of the Season

Among the many characteristics of the fall season is the appearance of the venerable pumpkin. Not only are they abundantly on display in grocery stores and roadside stands, products featuring this fruit are plentiful as well. The flavor of pumpkin is no longer savored in pies and cakes alone, but it can be found in coffees, teas, and creamers, pancakes, donuts, puddings, candies, cereals, and even tortilla chips!

On September first, wanting to make my favorite fall cookie, I checked in some local shops for canned pumpkin. Neither the cans nor any fresh-picked pumpkins were to be found. By October first they were everywhere! One could say that pumpkins are truly a sign of the season.
Over the last few years I have fallen in love with pumpkin English muffins. As soon as they appear on the market shelves I start buying them, sometimes two or three packages at a time. During the past month spent with my daughter and her family, I have easily purchased five to six dozen, pleasing the palette of my four-year-old granddaughter as well as my own. As usual, I will plan to buy several packs to freeze to insure we have them for the holidays, because these small baked wonders, along with the other pumpkin products presently occupying store shelves, will disappear just as suddenly as they appeared a few weeks ago. I have to take advantage of the opportunity to buy them while it exists.
Many believers perceive that in the world today, we are going through an unusual season. There are conflicts all around the globe, strange weather patterns and natural disasters, and political and personal unrest in various locales. As we look in God’s Word we may truly wonder if these are the signs and the “labor pains” that Jesus spoke of, indicative of the end times (see Matthew 24). There is certainly some merit to these thoughts, though the Bible is clear that only God the Father knows the day and hour that these events will occur. But, He also left us this word through Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:2-4 (ESV): “For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, ‘There is peace and security,’ then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief.”
The important point of the matter is this: whether the Lord’s return is tomorrow or a thousand years from now, these present-day struggles have opened up a wonderful opportunity to share the good news about Jesus with others. As people search for answers in the midst of these difficult times, we are compelled to share the love, compassion, peace, and saving grace that the Lord provides to each one who comes to Him. In 2 Timothy 4:2-5 (ESV), the apostle Paul writes these words: “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His Kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”
There are many around us who are longing for answers to address tough situations. Jesus bids us to share the good news with them. The season is now and it may soon be gone; take advantage of the opportunity while it exists!
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Exceeding Expectations

Olympic fever has been running high at my daughter’s home in North Carolina. Though my granddaughters are only four, two and newborn, we have been sitting down together as a family to watch events in swimming, diving, archery, and gymnastics. (The video of the pool has been an amazing pacifier!) We have used live streaming as the means to catch the action, thus the commercials are often longer than the video coverage, but we have still enjoyed viewing the competition and cheering for the athletes.
As have many Olympic fans, I have taken to the Internet to garner facts about present competitors and prior champions. I happened on a site called How Stuff Works. They had an article highlighting the stories of “Five Amazing Olympic Athletes.” Though Michael Phelps did not make their list, four solo athletes and one two-man team did. The piece included participants from games that took place over a one hundred year plus span. I was already acquainted with Jesse Owens, a black athlete competing at the games in hostile 1936 Berlin. Hitler’s hatred and pride did not squelch Jesse’s athletic prowess and determination as he took four gold medals and set some amazing records in running and jumping events.
An athlete named George Eyser received six gold medals in one day as a gymnast, competing with a wooden leg! This was forty-four years before the Paralympics came into being in 1948. Two female athletes made the list: Larisa Latynina for her skill displayed as a gymnast in three Olympics. She collected eighteen medals, nine of them gold. Apparently she also won a slue of medals in World and European championships, some while she was pregnant! A female athlete named Babe Didrikson Zaharias was so talented she qualified in five sports, but due to the rules for women athletes in 1932, she was only allowed to compete in three. Consequently, she took home the gold in the javelin throw and the eighty-meter hurdles and a silver in the high jump. The list of sports in which she excelled covers a wide range of events including volleyball, tennis, swimming, diving, cycling and golf. Then there is the duo of Thomas Bimis and Nikolaos Siranidis who competed in Athens, Greece on the Greek Diving Team. Though not expected to medal at all, when someone from the crowd crashed through to climb up to the diving board and splashed belly first into the pool, with other competitors flustered by the incident, this pair did not lose their cool, and they took the gold in front of an ecstatic home crowd.
One thing that may be said of all these athletes is that they exceeded expectations. For whatever reason, whether it was the era in which they performed, the odds they faced, or the circumstances surrounding their event, each competed far beyond what was anticipated. They have sealed their place in the records of Olympic history as the epitome of what it means to be a champion. They trained, they fought hard, they stayed focused, they gave their all. They stand as examples of the way to compete and win.
The Bible uses language that evokes images of competition regarding the faith walk of a believer in Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul said of himself, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith,” (2 Timothy 4:7, ESV). He encourages us in 1 Corinthians 9:24 saying, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.” He also said, “Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own [attaining to the resurrection from the dead]. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus,” (Philippians 3:13-14, ESV). We receive further encouragement from the writer of Hebrews who said in chapter twelve, verses one and two, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God,” (Hebrews 12:1-2, ESV).
Clearly, we are in a competition, not to win a place in heaven, but to be the best we can be for the glory of God and for the sake of His kingdom. We train, we fight hard, we stay focused, and we give our all. The Lord Himself is our example as 1 Corinthians 2:9, ESV states, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love Him.” He always exceeds our expectations, and for those who desire to be good and faithful servants, it is important that we strive for excellence to champion the cause of Christ. May we be counted as amazing in the race to which the Lord has called us!
“Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen,” (Ephesians 3:20-21, ESV).
A ministry note: I am so happy to report that those who have been in the studio with us working on the recordings for CDs three and four, have far exceeded our expectations and have given their all to create an excellent product. We have been especially in awe of the children and young people that have joined us. We can’t wait for the day that we will be sharing the results of their efforts with all of you. Way to go Godstruck Team!
References:
All Olympic facts were taken from the site How Stuff Works Entertainment
Olympic Rings picture courtesy of Public Domain Pictures
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