Tuesday, March 2, 2021

6 Reasons to Hold Fast


I clicked on a friend’s social media page and couldn’t believe what an article she’d shared said from a reliable source.  I read that in the last few months, a report was released confirming the gross misconduct of a well-known and much respected Christian leader. Even though he had recently passed, his own ministry had to step forward and investigate only to find the many accusations were indeed true. That article turned out to be just one in a host of others saying the same thing.

It felt as if I’d been punched in the stomach. I suppose I speak for numerous others when I say this revelation of a dual life has hurt me to the core. His work as a Christian apologist was often referenced and much quoted.

What in the world are we to do with this?

Maybe the best response would be to renew our own commitment to hold fast to the end. Paul said in 2 Timothy 4:7, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” That should be our goal, as well.

A Bible Study teacher I’ve learned much from has said because she made sinful choices early on in her life, she walks around with a target on her back. It’s a weak spot and she knows she is vulnerable to the enemy’s attacks in that area again. More so than others who do not have that history. That resonates with me. Oswald Chambers wrote, “Unguarded strength is double weakness.” I have my own weak places from early in my life as well and walk in the fear of God. Finishing well is something I often think about.

Here are six reasons to hold fast to the end.

1. Our legacy will be about the best thing we did rather than the last thing we did. When a revelation of impropriety comes out, it often obliterates a lifetime of words and work as what people hold in memory will often be the fall.

2. Our lives will bear character and integrity. This goes hand in hand with the first reason. Duplicity erodes integrity. Though words spoken may be true, moral failures make others question the things said. And character always matters. How are we to teach our children that if we do not model it?

3. Duplicity causes others to stumble. Unbelievers will look at a life’s mixed message and wonder what’s true, what can be counted on, and ask why they should consider Christianity. And when leaders fail to live out their words, it gives license for others to follow.

4. Loved ones won’t have to clean up after a train wreck. I’ve heard talk about sin before, as if the person speaking thought what they did didn’t affect anyone else, but sin has a way of going out in ripples to the edge of the earth. There’s hardly a way to contain it. The Bible says, “What you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.” If there’s a skeleton in the closet, it’s almost always going to come out. And loved ones will pay a price.

5. There is a reward for holding fast.  The verse that follows Timothy 4:7 is “And now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” It’s important to remember that finishing well will be rewarded.

6. That God will be honored. He bought us with the precious blood of His Son, Jesus, and deserves all our praise and glory. Holding fast to Him to the end gives tribute where tribute is due.

None of us can do this in our own strength. Every day, we need to pray and call on the Lord to give us the power to spend our days with integrity. “We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.” This includes living a life that will bring honor to Him both now and after we’re gone.

Friends, here's to holding on to the Lord. 


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Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Would You Attach the Name?



I have a love/hate relationship with social media. On the one hand, it enables me to renew friendships with those I’ve lost contact with. It helps me to stay in touch with folks I don’t see on a regular basis. I can share my writing with those who might not read it otherwise.

But on the other hand, my exception to it is the same as I’ve always had about letters to the editor. It has seemed to me that folks sometimes write in those letters things about others they have not first said to them in person or would not say to them in a room alone with them. The same is true for social media. It gives a microphone to what would never be exchanged in person in civil conversation.

I’m not talking about messages posted that may be misinterpreted from the way we meant them. I’ve had my share of those over the years. Try as we might, sometimes we miss it, and something slips by. Regret always follows. What I’m talking about here are comments posted to be snarky, to pile on, or just to be plain crude or even mean.

These statements confuse those who do not yet know the Lord. For if we as believers post a prayer one day and come back with a cruel meme the next, what does that say to someone just beginning to explore Christianity? We need to be consistent with our witness.

And I can hear this response coming, “I just speak the truth in love.” A well known Bible teacher says that whenever she hears someone say that, she braces herself, because she knows often that something spoken “not in love” is coming.  Those words from the Bible can be a seeming cover for saying whatever we want and don’t have anything to do with love at all.

In the quoted verse in the picture from Colossians 3:17, the Apostle Paul wrote that every detail of our lives should be done in the name of Jesus. There’s a reason for that. Our flimsy words don't have much power, but if we write aware and inspired by the power and Name of Jesus, much can happen. That means in all our words—every text, every email, every social media post, every spoken word, every telephone call, we should be able to attach “in the precious name of Jesus.” I don’t know about you, but that makes me squirm. It makes me feel as if I need to take another long, hard look at what I write or speak before I release it into the world. And that applies to our actions, or “whatever.” Paul reminds us we should also offer thanks “every step of the way.” Another challenge.

I’m aware that God’s calling manifests itself differently in each of us. Some have more of a prophetic edge and God uses them to especially be salt and light. Because we know in this old world, we need both salt and light. But even so, what we say absolutely must be cloaked in love and said in His Name.

2020 was a stressful year to beat stressful years. And 2021 has started much the same way. We have all often been moved to the edge of our seats. But somehow, someway, we must put Jesus above all of this. So, I’m issuing a challenge. Let’s take a long hard look at our media feeds. If there’s something we can’t attach “In the precious name of Jesus,” Let’s delete it. Before we write that text or email, let’s give it the “Is this in Jesus name?" test. Let’s fill up the world with hope and encouragement, not in a Pollyanna-stick-your-head-in-the-sand kind of way but in a Jesus’s-love kind of way. In every detail, let’s strive to be able to attach that blessed Name. Again, our snarky words don’t often change anything, but His powerful Name absolutely can.

For listening:

Here are two songs I love about the Name of Jesus. Click on titles to listen.

“There’s Something about that Name” (the old school Gather version. And please scroll down and read the comment that begins with “I am from a country behind high wall…”

What a Beautiful Name (one of my favorites from Hillsong)

 


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Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Reality Check

I’m amazed at the varied experiences of reality over the past year.

One business thrives and another is on the verge of closing, depending on the goods or service offered.

There are those who personally know few who have been seriously ill from the virus, but I spoke with a woman this week who lost eight close friends in a ten-day period. So hard.

Some go about their daily routines in much the same with only a few caveats and others because of underlying health conditions have been isolated, their lives feeling as if they are in a permanent holding pattern.

One has the virus and hardly has any symptoms, and in the same house, someone else winds up in the ICU.

And we won’t even talk about the disparities in the political, and other realms.

But here's a reality check—a reality that is higher than any of this, and it is one we all have opportunity to share.

It has to do with who Jesus said He is.

Here are Jesus’s I am statements in John:

“I am the bread of life “(John 6:35).

“I am the light of the world” (John 8:12).

“I am the door of the sheep” (John 10:9).

“I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11, 14).

“I am the Resurrection and the Life” (John 11:25).

“I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).

“I am the Vine” (John 15:1).

Jesus is our spiritual provider, our source of illumination in this dark world, the only portal to real life, the one who cares for our souls, the risen from the dead Savior who opens the path of powerful truth that leads to eternity, and the wellspring of continuing nourishment.

As I read in one commentary, “Jesus has His own reality. He is who and what He says he is, regardless of what we or anyone else might think or say of Him.”

Another writer said, “He is everywhere, everything, and “every-when.” Don’t you love that?

When you feel as if you’re the only one experiencing life the way you do, when it doesn’t match up with anyone else’s experience, and the enemy says you’re all alone—give your heart, soul, mind, and spirit to Jesus and allow Him to be your everywhere, your everything, and your “every-when.”

Since Ash Wednesday is tomorrow, I pray for each of you in this season an experience of HIS presence greater than anything you may have experienced before. Blessings.

Still looking for a little Valentine's sweetness?



 

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Treasure in the Darkness

It's been a while since I ran this post, but it came to mind again this week. It seemed appropriate both for Valentine's Day and  the circumstances we may find ourselves in these times. 

I’ve been crawling around in one of the attics this week. We have three. Thankfully, one of them is empty.

For those of you who have spotless attics swept clean with boxes carefully labeled, you’ll want to skip this post. It’s not for you.

But if open cardboard boxes, overflowing TJMaxx bags, and loose debris tumble overhead in your home, you’ll understand.

How’d so much stuff get up there?

Try home schooling for eight years. So far, I’ve counted five bins of schoolbooks. There’s probably more, because I’m only a third of the way through this attic. Add to that the kid’s art projects I couldn’t let go. It’s just always been easier to poke stuff I didn’t know what to do with in the attic and deal with it later. Later has arrived. Can you say procrastinate?

Through the years, it was a no brainer to carry odds and ends to Goodwill--clothing and linens to a ministry for the homeless, but what about that box of costumes my kids wore a thousand days, so tattered no one else would want them? I can still see my son in the cowboy chaps and my daughter in the yellow tutu.

I know, I know. Our memories are not tied up in our things. But, right now, this Mama with the starkly empty nest can’t take some of this to the dump.

Still, after many hours yesterday, I almost filled up the recycle bin, added to our load for the landfill, and crated several boxes to carry off to various places.

I have much work ahead squinting and poking around in the darkness, while trying to avoid roofing nails overhead (sad to report no overhead insulation in this old house).

Some of the blasts from the past brought me to tears.

A message from a long ago Valentines Day, a project from Sunday School—

“I will give you the treasures of darkness
And hidden wealth of secret places,
So that you may know that it is I,
The Lord, the God of Israel, who calls you by your name”(Isaiah 45:3 NASB).

Way up there in the darkness, in the midst of a hard project, God called to me through treasured messages of grace and love from  kids long grown into young adulthood.

Makes me think of another dark time just after I’d had breast cancer surgery when I battled fear one night until the early hours of morning. The thought, “You’re going to die,” hounded me. Then, just before dawn, God’s love and peace overwhelmed me—a treasure in the darkness.

“I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us” (Romans 8:38-39).

From my own experience, I know cancer and dark attics can’t get between God’s love and us either.

Praying His treasures for you in your own dark times, friends.

 

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

When This Pandemic is Over

In an homage to a piece that Rick Bragg wrote this month in Southern Living, I thought I’d also take a stab at writing about what I’m going to do when this pandemic is over. I realize there’s probably not going to be a particular day when the edict goes forth that we can resume normal life. It will likely be a gradual thing. But when the time is right, God willing, here is what I dream of doing:

Hug my family for as long as I want. Then we’ll gather around our dining room table. We haven’t sat together at that table in over a year. We’ll give thanks that all of us made it through even though several had the virus. We will eat after each other and talk in each other’s faces just because we can. It’s going to take us hours and no one is going to be in a hurry, because we’re going to remember all the times we had to eat six feet apart, sometimes in the freezing cold just to be in each other’s company. The next weekend, we’ll do the same thing at a crowded restaurant, because oh, how we’ve missed eating at one of our favorite places, Mama’s Boy, during this pandemic.

We’ll have a big deal at church. I don’t know what we’ll call it. My husband is technically retired status, but not really, because he has hardly missed a Sunday preaching in thirty-five years. He’s been at a picture postcard church in a rural area for over ten years, and they still have Homecomings. It’s going to be something like that. We’re going to pack people in the church until the overflow hall overflows. Well praise God and  greet, hug, and love on each other to make up for all the times we couldn’t. 

We’ll take time to remember those we lost, for whom the funerals were abbreviated, and we weren’t allowed to comfort others as we normally do. Then we’ll sing a little extra and more loudly. We’ll have dinner on the grounds and eat until all the fried chicken is gone and our friend Randy’s delicious cakes are reduced to crumbs. We’ll take a long time to clean up because we won’t want to go home. And then maybe we’ll do it all again the next Sunday.

We’ll visit our friends in the nursing and retirement homes. Jerry regularly preached in one and I often did music but that all screeched to a halt last year. Well, when the doors swing open, we’ll be there to hug our friends and tell them how much we missed them.

Then maybe we’ll have a party at our house for anyone who wants to come. Because we won’t care about the cat fur on the sofa, the paint that needs touching up, or the unending list of yard work. Because after a year of having no guests in our house, we’re just desperate to share this space again. I may just open up my front door and put a big sign out front that says, “Open house. Come on in.”

We’ll go to a UGA football, basketball, or baseball game and sit really close to others and share a big tub of popcorn. Maybe even with a stranger. We’ll not be concerned at all that someone is hollering "Go Dawgs!" right in our ears because oh, how we have missed seeing those Dawgs in person.

I’m going to TJ Maxx. And not in some senior hour. I’ll let you know how long I stay.

I really hope to sing with symphony chorus again, too. I’ve missed it so much.

I'll travel. When my daughter was little and we had been out and about, we'd pull in the driveway coming home and she'd say, "NO, I want to go somewhere." She was all about seeing something new. Well, I want to stand in the driveway and shout, "I want to go somewhere." I'm ready. 

When this pandemic is over, I’m going to once more fall on my knees and thank God for those who are right this minute putting there lives at risk for people they don’t even know. Doctors, nurses, EMT’s, firefighters, police, who are day after day staring down this enemy virus. Our hospitals here are still very full. I’ll again give thanks for the researchers and scientists who worked to develop a vaccine that has given hope in what has seemed an unending nightmare. I’m going to thank God for teachers who stood in the classrooms and taught online and tried to educate our children through one of the most challenging times in our nation’s history. I’ll praise God for essential workers who worked to provide food for our families, and delivery drivers who brought it to us. And all the other workers I don’t even know about who have kept things moving along.

When this pandemic is over, it won’t all be about what we’ll do but also sharing the ways we’ve been changed by this time. I don’t want to wait until then to learn what I need to learn. The apostle Paul who knew a good bit about hard times wrote in an oft quoted verse in Romans, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Even during so much difficulty, if we love Him, God wants to use these things for our good. It can be a bit challenging to wrap our minds around, but still, it’s the absolute truth. So, Lord, help us to be open for that.

So, make your own list, but remember, until this pandemic is over, let’s  keep putting others first, loving on our neighbors, remembering those who are alone or grieving, and giving where we see a need. Let’s remember to say thanks to anyone who does something for us. And let’s keep up our hope and our prayers that this pandemic will be over. Soon.



 

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Through the Window of Heaven


Just before Christmas, a beloved neighbor couple became ill from corona virus. Their situation worsened and I found myself praying morning, noon, and night. It seemed the only other help I could offer was to leave food by their back door. I wanted to see them, but I couldn’t so I had the strongest desire to stand by a window in my house and gaze at their mailbox, the only thing in my view that belonged to them. I can’t explain why, except I’d witnessed my neighbors open that mailbox so many times through the years. Somehow, it made me feel close to them.

A verse from I Peter 3:12 came to mind, “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer.” I remembered that if I have such a desire to have my eyes on my neighbors, how much more did God desire that and actually did it.

A few days ago, I found this quote from John Newton (author of Amazing Grace), “If the Lord be with us, we have no cause of fear. His eye is upon us. His ear open to our prayer—His grace sufficient, His promise unchangeable.”

If we have been saved by that “amazing grace” Newton wrote about, we have the assurance that God’s eye is upon us. And that no matter what we face He is with us.

While reading Matthew Henry’s commentary on one of my daily Bible readings in Genesis 15, I came to this, “In this chapter we perceive in Abram faith struggling against, and triumphing over, unbelief. Wonder not, believers, if you meet with seasons of darkness and distress. But it is not the will of God that you should be cast down; fear not; for all that he was to Abram he will be to you.”

There are going to be times of struggle, times when we wonder if God is with us. This is certainly one of those times for many. But we have a Book full of examples of how God’s faithfulness has been proved. “All that he was to Abram he will be to you.” We can’t allow our feelings to overrule the truth In God’s word.

Sadly, one of my neighbors passed, but we have the assurance he is in the arms of the Lord. The other having been through two medical facilities is now back home and slowly returning to health, although with a grieving heart.  But she knows Jesus, has a strong and steady faith, and realizes the eyes of the Lord are upon her.

I know many of you have been or are going through a similar time in your own lives. No matter what distress you face, if you belong to Jesus, even now through the window of heaven, God is gazing upon you. Take much comfort.

 

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

 

 

 

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. 

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