Tuesday, January 19, 2021

It's Just that Simple



Jerry and I have spent a good bit of time close to home these past weeks for various reasons related to the pandemic. Because of this we’ve again had time to listen to online teachings. An interesting point came up in a sermon from pastor David Yarborough this past week who referenced I John 4:18. He recited, “Perfect love will cast out fear.” But then he said, “But fear will cast out love.”

This past year has been a time of anxiety for us all with the pandemic, racial unrest, and political strife. It’s understandable. But we’re reminded there’s a better way than living in fear.

The word for love in that verse is the Greek agape, for which the shades of meaning according to Strong’s Concordance are brotherly love, charity, affection, good will, and benevolence.

So, if the converse of that verse is true, then those things could be displaced in us by allowing fear to grab hold. And maybe some of what we’ve seen in ourselves and in the world is the result of that.

Many times, we’ve heard or said in these past months, “I’m not going to live in fear.” But even that phrase has sometimes been tinged with anger and aimed at people with whom there is disagreement—not something that bespeaks good will or love at all. Love must be lived. It has to be the first thing in and the last thing out.

If we don’t want to live in fear, love will have to be our watchword. It’s just that simple. And if love is our banner, then it will look something like what we find in I Corinthians 13. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trust, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”

And if you cringed a little when you read those words again, join the crowd. I think we all can see where we fall short of what God desires in these verses. I would not use the word always in conjunction with any of these attributes in my life (especially patience) and am often in confession and repentance of the ways I fall short.

Since we’re here in the house so much, when I took down our Christmas decorations, I jumped a little ahead and put up a few Valentine’s Day wreathes here and there. When I see these hearts, I can ask, “Is my heart right with God?” I can’t change a lot of what’s out there in the world, but I can allow God to deal with what’s wrong in me.

Somewhere in my childhood, I learned this song that reads as a prayer. Written in the early twentieth century and derived from Psalm 139, the lyrics are:

 “Search me O God, and know my heart today; Try me, O Savior, know my thoughts, I pray. See if there be some wicked way in me; Cleanse me from ev’ry sin and set me free.”

Yes, it’s just that simple. We ask God to cleanse our hearts so that love will reign supreme. Let it be so.

 

 Still need a little Christmas? A Season for Everything available in print and ebook HERE . 

 


 

 

 

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Calling All Bridge Builders

I began writing this piece last fall but somehow never finished it. It didn’t seem the right time for it, and after the events of this past week, now I know why.

I’d been reading David McCullough’s masterful book about the building of the Brooklyn Bridge, The Great Bridge.

John Roebling, who designed the bridge was a genius and when McCullough goes into the description of how the bridge worked, the complexity of it makes my grey matter vibrate. Roebling died before he could execute his plans, so his son, Washington Roebling became the chief engineer and builder.

At the time, mid-nineteenth century, suspension bridges were considered suspect because so many of them had fallen.  But Roebling once put a two-level wooden bridge over the Niagara River which supported both a roadway and a railbed on the second level. Can you imagine rolling across the bridge in your horse and buggy and a locomotive comes steaming over the top of you. The whole thing shook with traffic.

Mark Twain once wrote of it, “You drive over to Suspension Bridge, and divide your misery between the chances of smashing down two hundred feet into the river below, and the chances of having a railway-train overhead smashing down onto you. Either possibility is discomforting taken by itself, but, mixed together, they amount in the aggregate to positive unhappiness.”

Yeah, what he said.

But the Niagara bridge stood until trains became so heavy the bridge could no longer support them.

The idea of connecting New York with Brooklyn over the East River with the longest single span ever was astonishing. Hardly anyone thought it could be done. But Roebling’s design was of such brilliance and intricacy, that it has now stood for 140 years and it’s said with proper maintenance, it could last indefinitely.  

Folks right now, I don’t know how we’re going to bridge the raging river of political strife, a rampant pandemic, and racial tension. It’s going to take some Roebling-esque bridge builders in this old world because this distance we’re looking at seems impossible to cross.

With the vaccine coming, I hope at least we have some light as far as the virus goes, but there’s still a way to go until we see its effect. We know several people fighting for their lives right now and I pray the national situation doesn’t worsen before it gets better.  

I imagine the breach that most needs bridging today is the one between us and God. All this spanning distance begins with our individual relationships with our Creator. In the body of Christ, if we discuss political matters, there is schism even among those who formerly agreed, and it’s going to take faith, hope, and love to overcome. Every message I listened to this past Sunday had to do with putting God above politics or anything else. But it’s hard to do. We all have opinions, and we all think we’re right. There’s only one way and that’s to lift our eyes to Jesus. A good check on whether we’re putting Jesus first might be to notice where our focus is on social media.

Washington Roebling faced many controversies and adversaries as he built the bridge, only one of which is those in New York weren’t so sure they wanted a bridge to Brooklyn. I’m not sure how many today are interested in spanning our gulf either. It took thirteen years for Roebling to complete the structure and he would suffer from the little understood decompression sickness for the rest of his life because of how much time he spent working in the caissons as they descended into the riverbed. The role of a bridge builder can come with a cost.

The three words God gave me two years ago to prepare me for 2020 were “Dwell in hope” from Psalm 16:9. They came in a dream and I realized when the pandemic started that they were for this time. I’m continuing to dwell in hope that God will make a way where there seems to be no way--that no matter what we face, God has a way across, and that if we submit to him, he can use us to do the impossible. In fact, there may be someone reading right now whom God would call to be a bridge builder.  It may be a role you never considered but for which God has been preparing you your whole life. And if you’re wondering if you have the power to do it. You don’t. But remember Paul’s words, “I can do all this through Him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13).

I thank you for the honor that you would spend a few minutes of your time here each week. You are a blessing to me and despite the circumstances, may 2021 be filled with unexpected blessings for each of you.


 

 Still need a little Christmas? A Season for Everything available in print and ebook HERE . 

 


 

 

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

21 Verses for 2021

As many of you do, I try to read the Bible through in a year. Year before last, for some reason I fell behind in my readings which pushed me into the new year finishing. Then I lagged even further in 2020. Determined to try and finish in the calendar year, I’ve spent hours every day this past week finishing up my readings. It was a great way to end the year and help reset for 2021. I have another day or two and then I’m ready to start again. 

As my first post of the year, I thought I’d share a few verses that have been meaningful to me. As you can tell, my readings have primarily been in Old Testament history and prophecy as well as the Psalms and so the verses are limited to those books. Trust me when I say that I have no agenda in posting these. I’m simply sharing verses from my readings which were meaningful to me and thought they would be for you.  I’ve whittled a longer list down to twenty-one (which was really hard by the way) to encourage us all as we face what could be some of the toughest weeks of our lives ahead due to the pandemic and other reasons. I know many close to us who are suffering, and I imagine our situation is not too different than yours. I’m praying that as we enter this new year, we will do so with our eyes on the Lord and trusting in Him alone. Many blessings, friends. 


1. I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy; your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days. Joel 2:28-29 

2. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8 

3. Look at the nations and watch and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told. Habakkuk 1:3 

4. Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord. Repeat them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy. Habakkuk 3:2 (This is a prayer I’ve prayed daily for years). 


5. Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, through the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. Habakkuk 3:17-19 

6. The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing. Zephaniah 3:17 

7. Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord Almighty. Zechariah 4:6 

8. Return to your fortress, you prisoners of hope; even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you. Zechariah 9:12 


9. He has made everything beautiful in His time. Ecclesiastes 3:11 

10. The Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore. Psalm 121:8 

11. . . . and in His Word I put my hope. Psalm 139:5 (This verse is referenced in a verse of “Amazing Grace,"-- “His word my hope secures . . ." 

12. How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity. Psalm 133:1 



13. Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life. Psalm 138:7 

14. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. Psalm 139:16 

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


16.Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Psalm 150:6 

17. If calamity comes upon us, whether the sword of judgment, or plague or famine we will stand in your presence before this temple that bears your Name and will cry out to you in our distress, and you will hear us and save us. 2 Chronicles 20:9 


18. For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you. 2 Chronicles 20:12 

19. Know therefore that the Lord our God is God, he is the faithful God keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments. Deuteronomy 7:9 

20. He is the Rock, his works are perfect and all his ways are just. Deuteronomy 32:4 

21. The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms. Deuteronomy 33:27



Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Old Christmas and putting baby Jesus back in the box

I heard a pastor say this week that in hard times, we need to return to what we know. As we get ready to flip the calendar page this difficult year, more than ever I'm clinging to Christmas and all Jesus's coming into the world means. For that reason, I'm bringing back this post one more time. Dear friends, praying no matter what challenges we encounter, that your new year will be full of the "wonders of His love."

Up and down my street, wreathes, and bows are disappearing from doors and mailboxes, and former brightly lit trees are stripped of their twinkles and headed for the recycling center.

Not me.  

Being of strong English-Scotch-Irish descent, I’m hanging on to Christmas. My ancestors used to celebrate Christmas on January 6, the date we observe as Epiphany when the wise men found the baby Jesus in the manger.  

When Christmas day arrives, I’m just beginning to celebrate. I can’t bear to put all the baby Jesus figures back in the box until at least January 6.  




Just the other day, I overheard someone in a store say, “I’m so glad it’s over.”  

It’s not over.  

It’s just beginning.  

This morning I read these words from The Message in Romans 8: “With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah… Those who enter into Christ’s being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud. A new power is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death… In his Son, Jesus, he personally took on the human condition, entered the disordered mess of struggling humanity in order to set it right once and for all.”

That little manger baby is here to put it all straight. What all the king’s horses and all the king’s men could never put back together, an infant comes to restore.  

In my life. And your life.  


Thank you, Jesus.

After Scrooge’s life altering encounters with the three ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, Charles Dickens writes, “It was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well..”

May it be said of us that we keep Christmas well, that we allow Jesus to enter the garbage heap of our lives with his beauty and power and restoration.  

And so, old Christmas or new, no matter which day we put the clay baby Jesus back in the box, let's allow the eternal One to reign in our hearts.


 

 My new novella available in print and ebook HERE . 

 


Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Beautiful Star

This week, the nights are the longest and darkest of the year in what has seemed the longest and darkest year in our lives. But even as the Psalmist prayed “Give me a sign of your goodness. . .” (Psalm 86:17) It seems He has.


In a beautiful example of the heavens declaring the glory of God, last evening Jupiter and Saturn aligned in what astronomers call a “conjunction” to form what appeared to be a giant star.  Though the planets were closest to each other last night, if you missed it, the celestial event can still be seen every day this week in the southwestern sky about 45 minutes after sunset in your location.

According to NASA, “It’s been nearly 400 years since the planets passed this close to each other in the sky, and nearly 800 years since the alignment of Saturn and Jupiter occurred at night . . .”

And to cite Forbes, “A ‘great conjunction’ in the year 7 BC is often thought to be the inspiration for the tale of the “Christmas Star” or “Star of Bethlehem.” This would have been the alignment of three planets, Saturn, Jupiter, and Venus.

On my mind in recent days, is a song I first learned about when I inherited one of my grandfather’s music books, Inspired Melodies. Written in 1938 by Fisher Boyce, a dairy farmer, the lyrics of “Beautiful Star of Bethlehem,” talk about how the Bethlehem Star shines on us through the shadows, how it guides us as it did the wise men, and how the star was a metaphor of the light that is Jesus. To contradict Forbes, the “Star of Bethlehem” was no tale. It was real.

And so is Jesus.

Here in what might seem “the valley of the shadow of death” for so many we know this year, Jesus is still shining and guiding.

After my mother died one October years ago, I struggled as Christmas approached. I wrote a song which I’ve sung through the years and it seems especially appropriate in 2020. The chorus is:

“Every shining Christmas, yes every blessed Christmas,

I’ll take my place with those who sing His praise.

And through tears of joy or tears of sorrow,

The bright star of Bethlehem I’ll follow,

And worship Him with all my heart once more.” ©BeverlyVarnado

So, as we gaze at the star this week, let’s allow it to remind us of Jesus. Let’s worship and praise Him, the creator of this planetary spectacle and let’s allow him to shine through us.

And despite the circumstances, may each of you have a blessed Christmas!

"The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned" (Isaiah 9:17).

"We saw His star in the east and have come to worship him" (Matthew 2:2).

Enjoy Emmy Lou Harris singing “Beautiful Star of Bethlehem” HERE.

 My new novella available in print and ebook HERE . 

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

A Tribute to Terry Kay


Only last December, I sat on the stage with the Athens Symphony Chorus and marveled again at Terry Kay’s narration of his wondrous children’s story, To Whom the Angel Spoke, set to music, and performed by the Athens Symphony. His marvelous voice filled the hall, and his story was ever a crowd pleaser. And though the Athens Symphony and Chorus produced an amazing online concert this year after in person performances were canceled, I was still getting ready to shed a big alligator tear because I miss my friends I sing with in shows. Now Terry’s death has really turned on the waterworks because no one and I mean NO ONE will ever be able to match his performance or his presence.

There are many who knew Terry Kay far better than I did, but no matter where you thought you fell in the hierarchy of his friends, he made all his acquaintances feel as if we were in his inner circle.

Our lives also intersected in other ways besides the symphony—most of them related to writing. We occasionally met for coffee through the years to discuss writing and I was amazed at how generous he was with his time. I was one of many he made this allowance for, because an array of authors cued up to meet with him. Inducted into the Georgia Writer’s Hall of Fame, writers sought his wisdom and counsel. Because of his willingness to be available, I sometimes forgot how widely known and admired he was. I heard him speak at the Decatur Book Festival one year. When I left the building, the line for Terry’s book signing stretched around the vast hall.

And speaking of the Georgia Writer’s Hall of Fame, what a joy it was to attend inductions at the invitation of my friend, Jane Kilgo, whose husband Jim (also a lifelong inspiration) was one of the inductees. What an incredible privilege and seeing Terry there was always a delight.

I will remember several things about Terry.

An idiosyncrasy comes to mind. He once told me he could only write in a room if there was a typewriter in it. Don’t you love it? I’m thinking of dragging my dad’s old college typewriter out of the attic if it will help me write like Terry.

 I will remember his unparalleled sense of humor. I once took a screenwriting class that Terry taught and his anecdotes were as entertaining as his instruction was informative.

He was known for saying, “The strength of the sentence is in the verb.” As I’m noticing the passive voice I’ve used several times in this piece, I still have a way to go with that one.  

Another piece of advice I’ve probably quoted a hundred times when I’ve been teaching, “You don’t write to tell a story. You write to discover a story.”  If you read any of Terry’s books, and I hope that you do, you will find he discovered gems.

But most of all, I will remember him for something he lived rather than something he said.  Or maybe he did say it, but through one of his characters. I’ve been reading Terry’s books in reverse order, because I only read his first book this summer. In The Year the Lights Came On, a novel of how electricity came to rural Georgia, his character Colin says, “But I know what Wesley would say: ‘The problem with walking backward is that you see only where you’ve been.’”

Terry didn’t walk backward. He walked forward. And his gaze was ever on the next book, the next project. At any point after his first novel, he could have put away his pen, and rested on his laurels. But he didn’t. He kept working. Because of that, three of his books have been made into Hallmark Hall of Fame movies including the well-known, To Dance with the White Dog, and many have garnered awards with his most recent work published this year, The Forever Wish of Middy Sweet. Terry was 82.  

His greatest inspiration to me was his ability to keep pressing ahead, despite aging or any other challenge, his eyes ever sparking with anticipation and hope. To use a cliché (sorry Terry), he died with his boots on.

I’m reminded of a verse from Philippians 3. “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

A man of faith, Terry has reached the goal and is probably right now gathering a group of angelic heralds in heaven and teaching them how to sharpen the prose in their announcements.

Terry left us a lifetime of work to read and reread and he has taught so many writers. His influence will be exponential.  

Thank you, Terry, for everything. We remember you with gratitude and much love.

More at TerryKay.com

 My new novella available in print and ebook HERE .

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

The cure for a "dark winter"

Several times in the last few weeks I’ve seen the same words repeated in the news, that we’re heading into a “dark winter” because of the pandemic.

Not exactly what you’d call inspirational.

Those words weigh heavy, especially when we already know so many suffering and grieving because of the pandemic as well as other reasons.

But we’re not the first ones to be faced with looming darkness.

In first century Bethlehem they’d been in what might have seemed a spiritual dark winter for quite some time.

It had been over 400 years since the prophets had spoken. Israel had long waited the promised Messiah. And maybe more than a few were beginning to wonder about those earlier prophecies. But in ways that no one could understand at the time, God was setting the stage for Jesus.

As the Apostle Paul said, “. . . when the set time had fully come . . . “, God showed up. Light began to spark and the darkness split, first with the announcement to Zechariah and Elizabeth about their son, John the Baptist, who would point the way to Jesus. Then God dispatched an angel who appeared to Mary to announce she would give birth to the Messiah. On the night of His birth, Jesus shattered the darkness with His appearance and His coming was proclaimed to shepherds by angels who shone with the glory of the Lord. And let’s not forget it was a luminous star that guided the wise men to Bethlehem.

Dark winter, take that.

Some may be wondering today with our potential dark winter if God is still at work.

Yes, yes, and yes.

Jesus’ words are these: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

We have a duty to act responsibly for others and ourselves, and to that end, there may be sacrifices we have to make. I hope we are willing to make wise choices. But no matter what happens, there is a light that can never be extinguished, and His name is Jesus.

During this Advent season, let us not focus on the darkness, but let us focus on the light. Jesus will see us through, and no darkness can ever overcome Him.


My new novella, A Season for Everything, has just released. The ebook is available HERE and the 
print version is currently available HERE. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

A ham, a lamb, and when everything seems haywire

In this edited repost, I'm bringing a blast from the past, but it seems appropriate for Christmas in a pandemic. We won't be doing a church Christmas play this year and oh, how I miss it. 
However, I am hosting a Book Bash at the Friends of Anaiah Press site on Facebook. I'd love to have you join me today, December 1, from 4 to 9. I'll have giveaways and you may also enter for the grandprize, a $50 gift card and 4 free books. See you there. 
The last of the turkey leftovers have been put in the freezer and we've pulled the Christmas decorations from the closet. 
The Christmas Season is upon us.
Actually, I've been thinking about my Christmas plans since July. How's that for long term planning? 
To that end, I’m helping to direct the children’s Christmas play at church this year.


We have our challenges.

The shepherds have a disposition to shoot down the aisle early preempting Mary’s “Away in the Manger” solo. One lamb would rather be with his mom than a bunch of diminutive sheepherders, so he tries to slip the clutch of his handler. And it seems that in the spirit of the classic children’s story by Barbara Robinson, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, we may find ourselves with a ham on the altar the evening of the performance. (If somehow you missed The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, find a copy and read it to any kids you can round up. It will definitely unlock the child in you, too.)

But, despite the crowd control issues, there are poignant moments when these precious kids who grip my heart have me dissolving into tears almost making me forget who I’m supposed to cue on stage.

All this has made me reflect on the original cast. I can see many opportunities for things to have gone haywire then, too.

Instead of saying, “Be it unto me even as you have said,” Mary could have told God she wasn’t going to the prom carrying an infant. After learning of Mary’s pregnancy, Joseph could’ve simply defriended her. After recovering from their angelic appearance shock, the shepherds might have sought greener pastures--in the opposite direction of Bethlehem. And the Wise Men? They could’ve thought it wiser to keep their distance from a baby who had Herod in such an uproar.

But God was the original long-term planner.

Somehow, from the beginning, God knew this motley bunch of characters would play their part in the unfolding of a story that split history.

He knew we’d need to see that ordinary people could play an extraordinary part in God’s plan of redemption for the world.

And He knew a baby would change everything.

There’s a culminating moment in our pageant when we understand that every line and action in the play points to the baby Jesus. All eyes are on the infant King. That’s when I almost lose it.

God chose to become Jesus, a vulnerable, tiny person in the care of a teenager and a carpenter, and included farmhands, astronomers, and livestock in the celebration of His historical entrance. You gotta love a story like that.

When life seems to be going off the rails, it’s a comfort to know the God, who became one of us, sees, knows, and is always working even through the difficult circumstances to accomplish His purpose.

So, the night of our pageant, if a ham shows up, it’ll be okay. Because we’re going to be looking for Jesus, God with us, and there’s nothing like a child to show us the way.

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).


My new novella, A Season for Everything, has just released. The ebook is available HERE and the print version is currently available HERE. 


Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Simply This

Jerry often says the hardest sermons to write are around holidays. It can seem everything that could be said has already been said.

I’m inclined to agree as I’ve gone through several options for today’s post.

All of them have been shelved in favor of a future date because what I really want to say is not clever or anything you haven’t heard before.

It’s simply this— first, stay as safe as possible, and second, be thankful.

I’ve been reading again about the 1918-1919 Spanish flu pandemic because it helps me realize that these are not as some have said, “unprecedented times.” At least as far as the pandemic is concerned. In fact, when I read historical accounts, much of what we are going through today, our grand parents and great- grandparents faced. They also encountered political and civil unrest in addition to the pandemic. In fact, WWI and the pandemic overlapped so it had to seem as if the world was in chaos.

By October of 1918, 200,000 had died since March when the flu first surfaced. But on Armistice Day in November, many took their masks off in celebration. By January after family holiday gatherings, the nation was ravaged by the virus and would go on to see more than 675,000 Americans die from the disease before it diminished in the summer of 1919.

So, what I’m saying here is, let’s not do that again. Simple measures will go a long way in keeping us from repeating history. Let’s do what we need to do for our health care workers, for our elderly, for those with underlying issues.

Next, let’s be thankful. And I’m not talking about throwing a blanket of “Thank you God for everything” kind of prayer out there, but despite all that swirls around us, let’s take the time to count our blessings.

One by one.

In the words of a great old hymn, when you do that, “. . . it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.” When we shift our attention from what’s going off the rails to all that God is doing and has done, we gain a new perspective.

Especially on my heart is so many in my sphere are grieving the loss of someone dear and facing the holidays for the first time without someone they love. This has been an unimaginably hard year for those who are grieving because of isolation. Let’s remember them in our prayers and maybe with a phone call or text.

2020 has seemed as a song lyric I heard recently, “the longest year in history.” But if we could speak to our ancestors, I’m sure they would offer us hope to persevere. They did and we can, too.

I’ll say it again. Be safe. Be thankful.

Let me encourage you with these verses, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

Dear friends, may you have a happy and blessed Thanksgiving and may His unshakable peace be yours despite these challenging times.



My new novella, A Season for Everything, has just released. The ebook is available HERE and the print version is currently available HERE. 


Tuesday, November 17, 2020

On doing something big

For many years, I took part in ministry weekends in which a team of us would go into churches and share our testimonies. We saw God do many wonderful things in the dozens of these I was blessed to participate in.

As you might guess, we became close after working together for so long. This week I was thinking about prayer and what I learned from one of the beloved women on the team.

It may have been the first time I ever saw her that she stood up in a group session and introduced herself, “Hi, I’m Mr. Willard Taylor.” We laughed hard. Since her name was traditionally a man’s name churches often mixed up the titles on the correspondence they sent her. Willard’s wit was unparalleled and so was her wisdom. We leaned in close whenever she shared.

But often, it was the thing she spoke at the very end of her talk that grabbed us. She said it every time she shared, but it never lost its effect on me. She mentioned a prayer list she used and then declared, “I’m going to pray for this church every day as long as I live.”

Many times, there was an audible gasp.

You see, that’s a commitment. One that many of us would be reluctant to take on especially for people we didn’t even know.

California Redwood
California Redwood

Willard was not reluctant to take on something BIG in prayer. Something that might cost her. But she also knew her prayers would make a difference, and that God would help her follow through on her declaration. There was no other human looking over her shoulder to check that she did what she said. But because I knew Willard’s faithful character, I know she did it out of love. And maybe Willard’s contribution to the kingdom didn’t make front page headlines, but I’m sure if there’s a Heavenly Chronicle, her devotion to the Lord was in bold font there. I don't know if she ever learned here how her prayers might have been used, but I imagine that on her arrival in heaven she was brought up to speed. And God only knows how big and how vast that influence was.

When Willard passed, I thought about the dozens of churches representing thousands of people for whom she prayed and knew her prayers would be missed.

As I’m remembering my beloved friend Willard, and God is bringing all this to mind. I’m wondering what big thing he might ask of us. And maybe you’re wondering that, too. Perhaps something that no one else sees but will make an enduring difference.

Paul wrote in Ephesians 3:20, “Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us.” Who knows what God might want to do through any of us who would fully surrender to His purpose?

So, here’s to Mr. Willard Taylor and all she taught me about laughing, and loving, and doing something big in prayer. In this season of Thanksgiving, I’m grateful for the privilege I had to know her.



My new novella, A Season for Everything, has just released. The ebook is available HERE and the print version is currently available HERE. 


 

 

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

What never changes and digging a well

Some of you may have seen a post I made on social media this week about my dedication in A Season for Everything. The novella is dedicated to a former pastor and his wife, Doris and Grady Wigley, who have meant more to Jerry and me than we can possibly say.

Many years ago, on Grady’s last Sunday at the church I attended at the time, the last words he spoke in his sermon were from Hebrews. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). 

We had all struggled to let these precious folks go, but they sensed a clear calling from God to move on. So, we did let go, but I posted those words on my refrigerator where they stayed for many years. 

Change can be so hard, and many of us who were just learning our way in the faith had leaned heavily on Grady and Doris. In retrospect, if there was a positive in their departure, it's that we had to learn to rely more directly on Jesus. As our dear friends' inspiration continued to be foundational for me and Jerry, those next few years became a launching pad for a lifetime in ministry. But there was nothing easy about the journey.

In recent months, I have been concerned about how so many were listening to this voice or that voice when what we really need to be doing is listening for His voice. At times, we can rely too much on someone else’s interpretation of what God says rather than putting ourselves in a position to hear from Him through our own study of His word and through prayer. Sometimes, God will move us increasingly toward digging our own well rather than drinking from someone else’s. Not that we are not accountable, for we certainly are. Not that we don’t always need to be sitting under someone else’s teaching, for we absolutely need to be doing that. We don't want to be a loose cannon. But often, I sense we want a shortcut around the time it would take to earnestly seek the Lord.

In our personal relationships, we value time spent with each other. It is no different with God. A five-minute devotion and a glance over our prayer list won’t do it. Especially in this time and the times to come.

2020 has been a year where change has come at us like a freight train. But for those of us who are moored to the anchor of Jesus Christ, we are convinced He never changes, and His words are more important than anyone else’s words. We may not know what lies still before us, but I believe if we are going to stay the course, we need to lock in on Him. He is the only One who remains the same in these turbulent times.

So, let’s grab our Bibles, get on our knees, and start digging. Who knows the wonderful lifegiving words the One who never changes may reveal to us?


My new novella, A Season for Everything, has just released. The ebook is available HERE and the print version is currently available HERE. 




Tuesday, November 3, 2020

What you have to do today because it's "little short of a miracle"

I decided to bring back this post I wrote in November of 2016. I find it humorous that I thought the campaigns were contentious then. Compared to this year's campaigns, they pale in comparison. I had just finished reading both 1776 and John Adams by David McCullough and his insights were fresh on my mind. I thought it might be important to remind ourselves of these writings in this election year. 
I am not a political blogger, so I try to stay in my lane when I’m writing this blog. However, today is Election Day in a year when the campaign process has been loud, long, and bitter.

I am not going to tell you who to vote for, but I am going to tell you to vote.

After reading David McCullough's John Adams a few months ago, I was so moved that I pressed on and read his book, 1776. 



 
Above pictures from Colonial Williamsburg and Faneuil Hall in Boston taken during our 7,000 mile cross country adventure, Dream Summer. Read more HERE. 

In the book, he quotes Loyalist Benjamin Thompson as saying that George Washington’s army was “the most wretchedly clothed, and as dirty a set of mortals as ever disgraced the name of a soldier.” McCullough wrote that Thompson’s description was “largely the truth.” British commanders called them “peasantry” and “rabble in arms.”

There were no uniforms unless left over from the French and Indian war, and many of their clothes were in tatters from wear. McCullough says, yes, they were dirty and  “when not drilling, spent their days digging trenches, hauling rock, and throwing up great mounds of earth for defense” with “little chance . . . or the means ever to bathe . . .”

As I read, I wondered again how that ragged bunch ever won the revolution. It seemed impossible.

That summer of 1776, when the British armada finally arrived off Staten Island, it numbered “nearly four hundred ships large and small, seventy three warships including eight ships of the line, each mounting 50 guns or more . . . the largest expeditionary force . . . ever sent forth from Britain or any nation.” Three of the “five warships alone far exceeded all the American guns . . . on shore.” In fact, the troops on board those ships numbered around 32,000, greater than the “population of New York or even Philadelphia . . . with a population of about 30,000 . . . the largest city in America.”

Yet, when the delegates in Philadelphia had voted to “dissolve the connection” with Great Britain on July 2, there was nowhere to go but forward. They had committed treason.

John Adams wrote, “We are in the very midst of a revolution, the most complete unexpected and remarkable of any in the history of nations.”

Indeed.

In his last chapter, McCullough writes, “The year 1776 . . . was for those who carried the fight for independence forward a year of all too few victories, of sustained suffering, disease,  hunger, desertion, cowardice, disillusionment, defeat, terrible discouragement, and fear, as they would never forget, but also of phenomenal courage and bedrock devotion to country, and that, too, they would never forget.”

Perhaps, that bedrock devotion is why when I look at my family genealogy, a number of my ancestors from that time were named after Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. Parents wanted everyone to know whose side they were on, lest anyone question their loyalty to country.

McCullough concludes, “. . . for those who had been with Washington and who knew what a close call it was at the beginning―the outcome seemed little short of a miracle.”

Yes, our existence as a country is truly a miracle. So, despite whatever struggle we’ve had in this election process, we cannot dismiss the freedom we have to vote. Many of our ancestors fought and died so that we might have this privilege.

And as a wayside pulpit near me declared, despite who is elected president, God is still on the throne.

“Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord . . . “ Psalm 13:12.

The book cover for A Season for Everything released this past week. Hoping this book brings a little bit of Christmas to you when it releases November 6. If you haven't read the other books in the series they are HERE. 

The preorder page for A Season for Everything has just gone live. It is HERE. 

 

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