A View from the Other Side of the Story

count

When we hear of a fairy tale, kings and princesses and castles generally come to mind. Few of us dwell for too long on the dreadful villains who work their dastardly plans to ruin the happy ending. When we read a novel or watch a movie, we always imagine ourselves in the role of the hero or heroine. Few desire to be the villain of any story.

But, of course, there is always a villain or–in official literary terms–the antagonist. This is the character that is keeping the protagonist (the good guy) from his happy ending. And none of us want to be that, do we?

Who in their right mind dreams of being the Ugly Stepmother in Cinderella or the Evil Queen in Snow White? Who would long to be Fernand Mondego in The Count of Monte Cristo (if you haven’t read this classic, you should!), Cruella De Vil from 101 Dalmatians or Long John Silver in Treasure Island?

But even as we recognize that no one really desires to be any story’s antagonist, we are forced to recognize four things in regards to this–

First, actual villains are villains for a reason. They didn’t just wake up one day and decide to be mean and ugly. Instead most were disappointed in life. Perhaps they felt out of control. Or sad and lonely. Perhaps jealousy or bitterness has eaten away part of their soul. Whatever it was, a variety of experiences and their wrong responses to those experiences caused them to become a negative influence in the lives around them. We see it play out all the time don’t we? In homes, churches, and workplaces. Selfish, unhappy people who want to make the lives of others miserable. Honestly, we should feel sorry for them.

Second, sometimes–many times–antagonists help us to grow spiritually. I remember hearing a sermon about this once. Instead of always dwelling on the unkindness or evil doings of the antagonists (or villains, as the case may be for some of us) in our lives, perhaps we should turn our focus inward and start to consider how our own responses and reactions show our true character. We may not have a choice on how we are treated, but we most certainly do get to choose how we respond (Matthew 5:43-44).

Third–and perhaps the hardest of all–is that sometimes, just by simply desiring to obey God’s Word, we become the antagonist in the eyes of a world who wants to do their own thing. We are the worker that won’t budge on integrity. Or the church member that points out a beloved false teacher. We are the parent that won’t let a child listen to rock music. Or the photographer that won’t photograph a gay wedding. There are countless examples of this in our world today. Whenever we keep someone from getting their own way, we become someone’s “villain” in their life story. When men and women are proud and lovers of selves (2 Timothy 3:1-7) and when right is called wrong (Isaiah 5:20) things get pretty confused. Which leads me to my fourth point…

Fourth, while in a story  or movie we can easily determine who the villain is, in real life this isn’t always so easy. People are complicated. A few specifics? Well, first–they lie and exaggerate and gossip. And they love drama. So you put a few people together around a water cooler or at a church social and–wa-la!–innocent “villains” can be created in just a short conversation. Many people are also driven by their emotions and feelings and experiences. This leads them to view anyone who would pull them to God’s Word for absolute truth as an antagonist. People are selfish and they want what they want. This will often mean that anyone who gets in the way of their desires will be called their personal “villain”. Oh, they won’t label them that, but they will treat them as such–gossiping about them, giving them the cold shoulder, or arguing all the time with them–treating them like an enemy. Life is rarely as cut and dried as the books we read.

But, as complicated as life gets and as crazily unpredictable as people are, we do have our anchor for this world in the Word of God. Not only do we find absolute truth there but we also gain an understanding of God’s plans–and who the real villain of this world is. All others–whether they be demonic or human– are just his henchmen.

We must stay in the Word, my friends, submitting to and obeying it, so that we don’t get confused when someone treats us like we are the villain for standing up for Christ. It is there only that we find strength and guidance for a world turned upside down. The Holy Bible teaches us about God’s plan and Satan’s agenda to thwart it, so that we can wisely understand who are truly the antagonists. We must wisely choose to compare anyone labeled antagonist to what scripture teaches instead of relying on the gossip we hear.

The world grows darker and darker and many of us find ourselves wondering how long the Lord will tarry. How thankful we can be that He gave us His Word to comfort and guide us as we see the end drawing near.

 

The Candle in the Window (Part 1)

candleinthewindow

This Christmas season I have decided to do something a bit different here on the blog. I have written a five-part Christmas story and will share one part of it each Friday, starting today. The final part will be shared on Friday, December 23rd. I know this is way outside my usual style of writing, and, honestly, it is a bit outside of my comfort zone. But sometimes it is nice to mix things up a bit! I hope you enjoy it. So without further ado, I present to you Part 1 of The Candle in the Window

     Helen’s uncooperative hands shook as she struck the match against its box. It took three tries before the match and the box finally connected. The warm flame wobbled as her hand stretched towards the simple red pillar candle that sat surrounded by a fake holly candle ring in the deep sill of the front window. As the match brought the wick of the candle to life, Helen’s heart was filled with an odd and comfortable nostalgia. She hobbled to her recliner and sat down with a deep sigh.
     Alone. Always alone. The loneliness was especially painful at Christmastime. It had been five years now. Thoughts of Roy, her husband of fifty-five years, brought a smile. They had been through so much together. Until a massive heart attack had ended his life one cold, blustery day in January. Oh, how Helen wished she had died first. Instead, she was left to roam this house and find something to do, day after day, month after month, year after lonely year. The past year had been especially lonely as her worsening arthritis limited her activities severely.
     Her friend, Marge, wasn’t lonely. Oh, how she envied her! Her children and grandchildren visited regularly, taking her to special restaurants and beautiful gardens and church concerts. Great-grandchildren danced and played around her feet, calling her “Granny”. Helen couldn’t help but compare it to her too-quiet life. Once in awhile, Marge invited her to a family outing. But this inevitably reminded Helen of all that she was missing and so she generally refused Marge’s offers.
     Unbidden, thoughts of Kenneth filled her mind. Her precious boy. What would her life have been like if Kenneth had come home from Canada? Would she have grandchildren and great-grandchildren? Or would his teen-aged rebellion have led him to completely sever ties with his parents forever?
     She would never know. That is probably what ate at her soul the most. She would never know.
     Kenneth would be close to 70 now if he were alive. Her heart would still fill with shame, even after all of these years, when she remembered the circumstances of her pregnancy. She remembered the dismay of being unwed and pregnant at 16, the love that she and Roy had shared even as teenagers, and the hurried wedding they were forced into at an all-too-young age. It had all worked out, although her father had never really forgiven her for bringing such dishonor to the family name.
     After they were married, Helen fully expected her home to be filled with happy children. She waited excitedly for the siblings that would join Kenneth. But as the years came and went, her hopes for a large family started to dwindle. When Kenneth was six years old, there was the excitement of a pregnancy, but hopes were dashed almost before they took root when she miscarried at twelve weeks. Helen never got pregnant again.
     From that time on, all of her mother’s love and energy were poured into the little boy that had resulted from an unwanted pregnancy. The happy little youngster had been so kind and thoughtful, always thinking of others. And smart! He was smart as a whip! Helen remembered proudly. But in the turmoil of the sixties, dear Kenny had taken up with some friends who were not a very good influence. He started growing his hair, using marijuana, and became an outspoken protester of the Vietnam War. As Helen struggled to communicate and discuss the issues with their son, Roy, on the other hand, was just furious. One crisp autumn day, he had finally told Kenny that if he was going to turn his back on his country, then he was turning his back on his family and was no longer welcome to stay in their home.
     Helen could still remember Kenny angrily packing his things and carrying them out to his beat-up VW van. As he shoved and stuffed it full of all of his earthly belongings, she had pleaded with him to stay. When he had brusquely told her to get out of his way, she had gone to find Roy, who was sitting in stone silence in his recliner, staring blankly at the evening news on the black and white TV. Roy, too, had ignored her pleas and within an hour, Kenneth had driven off towards the sun that was setting on the horizon.
     Helen had spent the next weeks in despair. Where was their boy? And how would she ever be able to forgive Roy for driving their son away? Even now, all these years later, Helen wondered if she had ever truly forgiven him. The pain, buried under other memories now, still plagued her sometimes. Somehow the couple had learned to live with their new normal. Each new day was just a tad bit easier than the one before and within a year of Kenny’s departure Helen and Roy had reached a truce of sorts. They were fine– as long as the subject of Kenneth wasn’t raised. During that time, Helen longed to hear something—anything— from her son, but nary a word came. Until that fateful day.
     Oh, how she hated that day.
     Eddy, Kenneth’s best friend during that tumultuous time, had knocked on their door about two years after the departure. Roy was at work at the time. As Eddy stood at the door, nervously pulling at his scruffy beard, Helen could see that he was visibly upset. She invited him in and offered him a cup of coffee. He said no thanks and without even sitting down, proceeded to tell her that Kenneth had been killed in a car accident a month ago. He and Eddy had moved to Canada to avoid the draft and one snowy evening, the boys were on their way back from the grocery store when they had hit a slick spot and slid off the road and into a tree. Eddy had escaped with just a few bruises but Kenneth had been killed on impact.
     Helen had stood there shocked. So this was how it was all to end? Her beloved son was gone from this earth for forever?
     Even now, all these years later, Helen’s eyes filled with tears. They started to trickle down her weathered face. She drew comfort from the red candle, one of Kenneth’s favorite boyhood traditions of Christmas. They would light a red candle in the window each holiday season to symbolize the light Jesus had brought to the world at Christmastime.
     Reminiscing always tired Helen and after an hour she pulled her old body up out of her chair, blew out the candle, and went to bed.

No Retreat

monument-140320_1280

The young man stood waiting with the other soldiers. He lifted his elbow to wipe the sweat that clung to his brow. He was scared but he was ready. He felt the weight of the gun hanging over his shoulder and trembled, realizing that he might not walk away from this battle alive. Around him, a few fellow soldiers were laughing nervously. Some, like him, were standing in silence, thinking about life and death, wondering what this day would hold.

Suddenly, it was time. The small band of soldiers was told to stand at attention by the great Commander and they prepared to fight hand-to-hand combat. The young man stood in the first row, proud to fight for this great man. When the call came to move, he marched forward with boldness and great courage.

A few moments later, the enemy army approached from over the horizon. The young man surveyed the company. It was massive–much larger than their small band– and looked to be well-equipped. An all-encompassing fear filled him as he continued to march forward.

Suddenly, he heard a great commotion behind him. He turned his head slightly and saw many of his comrades slinking away from the battle, disappearing into the dense forest that lay to the right of the marching soldiers.

What had been a small band to begin with now became almost pathetic in its size.

As the enemy army drew closer, the young man could see that it was comprised of strong, burly men with fire in their eyes. This caused more of his brigade to disappear until only the great Commander and a few courageous stragglers were left to fight the important battle.

It was at that moment, that the young man remembered something the other men must have forgotten–

The victory was theirs, already promised, without fail, by the great Commander.

And so he continued to march forward with confidence, even when his fellow soldiers disappeared one by one, in the face of such a formidable enemy.

My dad gave this analogy to my daughter a few weeks ago. She had felt discouraged about having to stand for what’s right in a certain situation. She had to stand totally alone, even though she was surrounded by other believers. Both her faith and mine were strengthened by this analogy.

You see, I think, so often, we are like Gideon–

Lord, the enemy coming towards me is too big! It’s far too terrifying and fearsome. I can’t do this, Lord, even with your help. Are you quite certain that You know what You are doing?

And God says–

The battle is mine. Victory belongs to me. (Proverbs 21:31) There is no salvation apart from me (Psalm 60:11-12). I have already delivered the enemy into your hand (Judges 7:9).

Ah, what a frightened and cowardly people we often are, we soldiers of the Lord, disappearing from the battle and sometimes even joining the enemy in our efforts to keep ourselves comfortable and far away from conflict–

We know that what our small group is discussing is not biblical.

But we stay silent.

Our team or workforce or classmates carouse and party.

And we join in, afraid to stand apart.

Our friends or family use bad language, or play ungodly music, or watch evil movies.

And we just go along with it, without a word.

These reactions make us useless for The Kingdom of God, rendering us completely ineffective in furthering the cause of Christ. We are, in a sense, standing in the woods, hiding from the battle.

But there is no peace of mind or joy when we cower in fear instead of bravely standing as a representative of our Great Commander.

Our courage isn’t based on our own bravado or some naive notion that we are invincible in our own glory. Instead, it is based on the claims of victory that are given to us in the Bible–God’s very own words assuring us that we are on the winning side. While we may lose some battles to the enemy, the victory will not only be God’s, but we cannot be harmed. We are, in essence, untouchable when we become a soldier for Christ. Oh, yes, the enemy can touch our physical bodies and make life pretty miserable here on earth for us. But only if it is allowed by our Great Commander. And the enemy cannot touch our souls, for they are saved forever from the chains and bonds of the enemy. He can never recapture our souls.

Where do you find yourself today? Are you on the battlefield, bravely fighting? Or have you slid into the forest, far away from the action? When I ponder these questions, a passage from I Peter 4 comes to mind–

Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; 13 but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. 14 If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.[d] On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people’s matters. 16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter.[e]

We are blessed if we suffer for the sake of Christ. May this embolden us to fight the battle. May this fact keep us from slinking into the woods and retreating.

“No Retreat” must be our motto if we are to be effective soldiers of the Cross!

The Party on the Cruise Ship

911062_78062283rev

It was a beautiful summer evening. The stars were starting to twinkle and the moon was shining brightly. The huge cruise ship sailed through the smooth waters, while the passengers drank and gambled and danced. It was like a giant party.

Meanwhile, a small fishing vessel bobbed nearby. The crew looked with envy and longing at the wonderful time the passengers on the ship seemed to be having. They could hear the laughter and the clinking of wine glasses. They saw young people swaying their bodies to the loud music and couples holding cocktails while they stared out at the sea. It all looked like such a good time. And it was. For awhile.

But, suddenly, a thunderous sound ripped through the night! It was the terrible sound of metal hitting rock. The ship shook and rocked and heaved. Glassed tumbled out of hands and broke as they hit the floor. Some of the partiers went flying over the side of the ship and fell into the cold, unforgiving sea at the sudden movement.

The crew on the little fishing boat watched with horror. The ship had sailed unsuspectingly into a group of rocks that sat treacherously just below the surface of the water. Suddenly, the night noises went from glee and happiness to terror and anguish.

Another fishing boat had been watching. The crew on that ship had watched with concern as they saw the ship steer closer and closer to the rocks they knew were underneath the water. They had tried to radio a warning. They had sent up flares. But all was done in naught. No one on the ship was paying attention.

Except for–over there–was someone waving? Why yes! There was one couple up on the third deck who had seen their warning. They called out to the small vessel and upon understanding the danger that was ahead, chose to heed the warning to get off of the ship in order to save their lives. After trying to warn their fellow passengers and finding themselves completely ignored, the young couple had lowered a life boat and rowed over to the fishing boat and climbed aboard. From this safe place, they joined the small crew in their efforts to save the ship.

Life had changed dramatically in just a few minutes for all on the cruise ship.

So what is the purpose of this little story?

The world is the cruise ship. They are having a great time but heading for sure disaster. And most of them, just like the ship passengers, have no idea.

If we are Christians, we are not on that big ship, nor should we long to be, for we know where it’s headed. Why do so many of us bob around in little boats, dissatisfied with the incredible blessings of a life lived at peace with God, and looking at the ship with envy and longing?

Why aren’t more of us sending up flares and sounding a warning?

Sure, we would never be able to turn the whole ship around but we could help some jump to safety. But most of us are so worried about being like those on the ship — partying it up, having a good time, and keeping temporal things our priority — that we do not bother with the lost souls on the ship. Many of us do not even give their horrible destiny a passing thought.

Why don’t we care?

What boat are you sailing in today? Are you part of the world’s party on the cruise ship having a good time but heading for disaster? Are you on a small boat looking at the world with envy and perhaps even trying to have your own version of the world’s diversions on your own little vessel? Or are you on a boat that is trying desperately to sound a warning and save as many as possible?

Where are you?

 

Lindy’s Headaches

Tension-headacheREV

Lindy remembers the day of that first headache. The bright sun was shining through the bedroom curtains, gently waking her. Before she opened her eyes, she felt the pain. It coursed through her head like waves. What a beautiful day to have such a bad headache. She tried to get up to get some things done, but she was useless and by 11am she was lying on the sofa with an ice pack on her head.

Over the course of the next few weeks the headaches came several times each week. Each one a little worse and lasting a little longer than the last one.

Finally her husband, Tom, told her to go to the doctor.

Lindy dialed the number of her family physician, Dr. Slater. Dr. Slater was a female physician who took great personal interest in her patients. Over the course of the fifteen years that Lindy had been in her care, they had become friends.

Lindy secured an appointment for the following day and then went to lie back down with the ice pack that seemed to be her constant companion.

The next day, she arrived at Dr. Slater’s at her appointed time. The doctor welcomed her to the office and they had a few minutes of personal conversation. And then it was time to turn professional.

“So what can I help you with today, Lindy?”

“Well, I have been having these terrible debilitating headaches over the last few weeks. I don’t know what is causing them. They are different than any I have ever had.”

“How long is the last few weeks? Two? A month? Longer?” Dr. Slater was busily writing notes in Lindy’s chart.

“Probably around a month.”

“On a scale from one to ten, with one representing very mild pain and ten being the worst pain you have ever felt, how would you rate your pain?”

She continued to write as Lindy rated the pain and then offered a few sentences of further explanation.

She then asked Lindy about any recent changes to her diet or her routine.

After she had gotten all of the details she could, Dr. Slater put down her pen and rubbed her eyes. And then she began to speak.

“So from what you are describing, your headaches could be caused by a number of different things.  They could be adult onset migraines. I have seen this before and it is possible. They could also be caused by a reaction to some kind of food you are eating. It could also be an allergic reaction to a certain type of pollen or dust in the air,” she sighed before continuing, “of course, there are a few other options. It could be a deadly brain tumor or you could be in danger of having a blood vessel burst–an aneurysm– at any time. It could also be the sign of an upcoming stroke.”

Lindy’s eyes had grown big with fear, “So what is the next step?”

“Well…which diagnosis do you prefer?”

Lindy didn’t think she heard correctly, “What?”

“Which of these do you prefer? Which one do you like the most?”

Lindy laughed nervously, uncertain at why Dr. Slater was using humor at such an inappropriate time, but she decided to play along with her, “Well, it would be nice if it would be an allergic reaction to food or pollen. That would seem to be the easiest thing to treat.”

“Okay. Then let’s go with that. So over the course of the next few days, why don’t you record what you eat and…”

“But what if it’s a brain tumor?”

“Oh, it doesn’t matter. You just choose to believe that it’s an allergic reaction. What you believe to be true will be truth for you.”

“But what if it actually is a brain tumor?” Lindy asked again, puzzled by Dr. Slater’s reaction.

“Honey, it only matters what you believe to be true. Now let’s go with your diagnosis and get to the bottom of this.”

Needless to say, Lindy walked out of the doctor’s office with plans to see another doctor.

If doctors responded like this when we went to them we would say they are a terrible doctor.  We want to know the truth about our physical bodies. And we know that the truth exists about our condition, no matter what we choose to believe.

So can someone please tell me–if we won’t accept this nonsense for our physical diagnosis, why do we accept it for our spiritual diagnosis and our eternal destiny?

Have you heard this as often as I have? –“Oh, you can believe what you want. That is Truth for you.” This is the philosophy of truth that has pervaded the society.

But is truth subjective and personal? By its very nature, it cannot be. It cannot be twisted and turned and personalized, for then it becomes a lie.

Just because someone believes something doesn’t make it true. What if Lindy’s bad headaches were caused by a stage 4 cancerous brain tumor but she had played along with Dr. Slater and said she genuinely believed the headaches were caused by an allergic reaction?  Would that change the facts?

Of course not.

The world will try to tell us that God’s Word is not truth and that we can determine truth for ourselves–that we can choose whatever we want to believe and we will all end up in Heaven together.

Of course, we can see why it is so very appealing to believe this. Lindy would much rather have her headaches be caused by an allergic reaction than a deadly brain tumor. Of course, we would prefer to believe in a world where no one goes to hell or a faith that doesn’t require us to be separate from the world or to deny ourselves. But if we choose to believe that, does that make it TRUE?

Of course not.

But don’t take my word for it. All of nature cries out against this relative view of truth–

Two plus two is always four, even if we choose to believe it is five.

Brain scans show brain tumors, even if we choose to believe it will be clear.

Winter is cold in the North, even if we choose to believe it will be warm.

Lions eat gazelles, even if we choose to believe that they eat grass.

You see, we don’t get to choose what truth is. What we believe just doesn’t really matter.

So how do we know what is truth? How do we know if we are believing in the right thing and not in a lie?

The only thing I stand on is God’s Word. It alone contains Truth. It has stood the test of time through storms and fire. There we can find solid ground and refuge in a world that is tilting wildly in relativism and craziness.

What we believe is irrelevant to what is true. Just like Lindy could not choose a diagnosis, so we cannot choose what to believe about our eternal destinies.

And, let’s face it, believing in the truth is a matter of eternal life or eternal damnation.

 

*This story was based on an illustration I heard from John MacArthur in his excellent series entitled “Principles of Discernment”. You can listen to part one here.

 

 

Wednesday Wisdom: The Gold and Ivory Tablecloth

 

This is one of my favorite stories. You may ask, “did this really happen?” as it seems so impossible.  I have always thought that it is a true story but cannot verify that for sure. However, no matter if it is or isn’t,  I have heard many miraculous true stories and I do know that anything is possible with God.

At Christmas time men and women everywhere gather in their churches to wonder anew at the greatest miracle the world has ever known. But the story I like best to recall was not a miracle — not exactly.

It happened to a pastor who was very young. His church was very old. Once, long ago, it had flourished. Famous men had preached from its pulpit, prayed before its altar. Rich and poor alike had worshipped there and built it beautifully. Now the good days had passed from the section of town where it stood. But the pastor and his young wife believed in their run-down church. They felt that with paint, hammer, and faith they could get it in shape. Together they went to work.

But late in December a severe storm whipped through the river valley, and the worst blow fell on the little church — a huge chunk of rain-soaked plaster fell out of the inside wall just behind the altar. Sorrowfully the pastor and his wife swept away the mess, but they couldn’t hide the ragged hole.

The pastor looked at it and had to remind himself quickly, “Thy will be done!” But his wife wept, “Christmas is only two days away!”

That afternoon the dispirited couple attended the auction held for the benefit of a youth group. The auctioneer opened a box and shook out of its folds a handsome gold and ivory lace tablecloth. It was a magnificent item, nearly 15 feet long. but it, too, dated from a long vanished era. Who, today, had any use for such a thing? There were a few halfhearted bids. Then the pastor was seized with what he thought was a great idea.

He bid it in for $6.50.

He carried the cloth back to the church and tacked it up on the wall behind the altar. It completely hid the hole! And the extraordinary beauty of its shimmering handwork cast a fine, holiday glow over the chancel. It was a great triumph. Happily he went back to preparing his Christmas sermon.

Just before noon on the day of Christmas Eve, as the pastor was opening the church, he noticed a woman standing in the cold at the bus stop. “The bus won’t be here for 40 minutes!” he called, and invited her into the church to get warm.

She told him that she had come from the city that morning to be interviewed for a job as governess to the children of one of the wealthy families in town but she had been turned down. A war refugee, her English was imperfect.

The woman sat down in a pew and chafed her hands and rested. After a while she dropped her head and prayed. She looked up as the pastor began to adjust the great gold and ivory cloth across the hole. She rose suddenly and walked up the steps of the chancel. She looked at the tablecloth. The pastor smiled and started to tell her about the storm damage, but she didn’t seem to listen. She took up a fold of the cloth and rubbed it between her fingers.

“It is mine!” she said. “It is my banquet cloth!” She lifted up a corner and showed the surprised pastor that there were initials monogrammed on it. “My husband had the cloth made especially for me in Brussels! There could not be another like it.”

For the next few minutes the woman and the pastor talked excitedly together. She explained that she was Viennese; that she and her husband had opposed the Nazis and decided to leave the country. They were advised to go separately. Her husband put her on a train for Switzerland. They planned that he would join her as soon as he could arrange to ship their household goods across the border. She never saw him again. Later she heard that he had died in a concentration camp.

“I have always felt that it was my fault — to leave without him,” she said. “Perhaps these years of wandering have been my punishment!” The pastor tried to comfort her and urged her to take the cloth with her. She refused. Then she went away.

As the church began to fill on Christmas Eve, it was clear that the cloth was going to be a great success. It had been skillfully designed to look its best by candlelight.

After the service, the pastor stood at the doorway. Many people told him that the church looked beautiful. One gentle-faced middle-aged man — he was the local clock-and-watch repairman — looked rather puzzled.

“It is strange,” he said in his soft accent. “Many years ago my wife – God rest her — and I owned such a cloth. In our home in Vienna, my wife put it on the table” — and here he smiled — “only when the bishop came to dinner.”

The pastor suddenly became very excited. He told the jeweler about the woman who had been in church earlier that day. The startled jeweler clutched the pastor’s arm. “Can it be? Does she live?”

Together the two got in touch with the family who had interviewed her. Then, in the pastor’s car they started for the city. And as Christmas Day was born, this man and his wife, who had been separated through so many saddened Yule tides, were reunited.

To all who hear this story, the joyful purpose of the storm that had knocked a hole in the wall of the church was now quite clear. Of course, people said it was a miracle, but I think you will agree it was the season for it!

Wednesday Wisdom: Mrs. Hildebrandt’s Christmas

For the Christmas Season, I am going to dedicate Wednesday Wisdom to sharing some beautiful short stories. The first story I would like to share is from Joe Wheeler’s Christmas in My Heart, Volume 19. It is called “Mrs. Hildebrandt’s Christmas.”  It was written by Robert Smith many years ago.

It is a great reminder that there are many lonely, heartbroken people who could use some encouragement during the holidays. We can not only bless them by reaching out but also be blessed. There is such tremendous joy when we give of ourselves to others. And, oh, what an important lesson this is to teach our children! I hope you enjoy this story–

            It’s been 30 years since I last saw her, but in memory she’s still there every holiday season. I especially feel her presence when I receive my first Christmas card.
            I was twelve years old, and Christmas was only two days away. This season’s first blanket of white magnified the excitement.
            I dressed hurriedly, for the snow was waiting. What would I do first – build a snowman, slide down the hill, or just throw the flakes in the air and watch them flutter down?
            Our station wagon pulled into the driveway, and Mom called me over to help with the groceries. When we finished carrying in the bags, she said, “Bob, here are Mrs. Hildebrandt’s groceries.”
            No other instructions were necessary. As far back as I could remember, my mom shopped for Mrs. Hildebrandt’s food and I delivered it. Our ninety-five-year-old neighbor, who lived alone, was crippled from arthritis and could take only a few steps with her cane.
            Even though she was old, crippled, and didn’t play baseball, I liked Mrs. Hildebrandt. I enjoyed talking with her; more accurately, I enjoyed listening to her. She told wonderful stories of her life – about a steepled church in the woods, horse and buggy rides on Sunday afternoons, and her family farm without running water or electricity.
            She always gave me a dime for bringing her groceries. It got so that I would refuse only halfheartedly, knowing she would insist. Five minutes later, I’d be across the street in Beyer’s candy store.
            As I headed over with the bags, I decided this time would be different, though. I wouldn’t accept any money. This would be my Christmas present to her.
            Impatiently, I rang Mrs. Hildebrand’s doorbell. Almost inaudible at first were the slow, weary shuffles of her feet and the slower thump of her cane. The chain on the door rattled and the door creaked open. Two shiny eyes peered from the crack.
            “Hello, Mrs. Hildebrandt,” I said. “It’s me, Bob. I have your groceries. “
            “Oh, yes, come in, come in, “she said cheerfully. “Put that bag on the table.” I did so more hurriedly than usual, because I could almost hear the snow calling me back outside,.
            As we talked, I began to realize how lonely she was. Her husband had died more than 20 years before, she had no children, and her only living relative with a nephew in Philadelphia who never visited. Nobody ever called on her at Christmas. There would be no tree, no presents, no stocking.
            She offered me a cup of tea, which she did every time I brought the groceries. Well, maybe the snow could wait.
            We sat and talked about what Christmas was like when she was a child. We traveled far away and long ago, and an hour passed before I knew it.
            “Well, Bob, you must be wanting to play outside in the snow, ” she said as she reached for her purse.
            “No, Mrs. Hildebrandt, I can’t take your money this time. You can use it for more important things,” I resisted.
            She looked at me and smiled. “What more important thing could I use this money for, if not to give it to a friend at Christmas?” she asked, and then placed a whole quarter in my hand.
            I tried to give it back, but she would have none of it.
            I hurried out the door and ran over to Beyer’s candy store with my fortune. I had no idea what to buy–comic books, chocolate, soda, ice cream. Then I spotted something–a Christmas card with an old country church in the woods on the cover. It was just like the one she’d described.
            I handed Mr. Beyer my quarter for the card and borrowed a pen to sign my name.
            “For your girlfriend?” he asked. I started to say “no,” but quickly changed my mind. “Well, yeah, I guess so.”
            As I walked back across the street with my gift, I was so proud of myself I felt like I had just hit a home run to win the World Series. No, I felt better than that!
            I rang Mrs. Hildebrandt’s doorbell. The almost inaudible sounds of shuffling again reached my ears. The chain rattled and the door creaked open. Two shiny eyes peered from within.
            “Hello, Mrs. Hildebrandt, ” I said as I handed her the card. “Merry Christmas.”
            Her hand trembled as she slowly opened the envelope, studied the card, and began to cry. “Thank you very much, ” she said almost in a whisper. “Merry Christmas.”     
           
 
            On a cold and windy afternoon a few weeks later, the ambulance arrived next door. My mom said they found her in bed; she had died peacefully in her sleep. Her night table light was still on, illuminating a solitary Christmas card. 

 

The Rainbow Flower

Lucy drew in her breath with awe. In the midst of the forest, she saw before her the most gorgeous flower she had ever seen.  Its beauty made her temporarily forget that she had failed her history test because she had forgotten to study, that her mom and dad had said “no” to her slumber party, and that her brother had broken her bike. Her baby sister, as if to get in on Lucy’s bad day, had screamed for over an hour due to a painful ear infection. In fact, baby May was still screaming when Lucy had headed off for a walk in the woods.

It was autumn and Lucy wasn’t expecting to see any flowers. All around her were the colors of autumn. Dead leaves carpeted the forest floor in shades of brown. Looking up, Lucy saw tree branches stretching their long arms toward the sky. Even the sky was a steely gray, as if to warn that winter was on its way. Dismal described the day perfectly– that is until Lucy found the flower.

As Lucy walked on the wooded path, she wondered why her life was so terribly awful. She forgot that she was blessed beyond measure and had instead chosen to focus on her misfortunes. Her thoughts were deepening her sadness, when she just happened to look down. She saw a hint of bright blue peeking out from the dead leaves to her left. Lucy bent down to gently move the leaves aside and found a plant with vivid green leaves and a dazzling, multi-colored flower. Each petal was a different color of the rainbow and a heavenly fragrance filled the air. The flower looked very real, but Lucy grew suspicious and lifted her head to study the landscape around her.  Was someone playing a trick on her?  She didn’t hear or see anyone. Almost as if she expected the flower to disappear before her eyes, she quickly glanced back at it. It was still there in all of its glory, filling the air with a heavenly aroma.

Should she pick it? Or should she leave it there to languish in the icy air? As she tried to decide, the flower petals winked and shimmered, beckoning Lucy to take it with her.  Lucy impulsively reached down. The stalk yielded easily under the pressure of her hand and she soon held the thick, emerald stem of the precious rainbow flower in her hands. She excitedly ran back the path through the woods to show the flower to her mom. She never dreamed of what she would find upon her return home.

As she breathlessly reached her house, she realized that the beds and lawn were perfectly manicured. There wasn’t a stray branch nor weed to be found.  Lucy couldn’t figure out how her dad had done all of that in such a short amount of time. But she soon forgot about it as she went around the back of the house to find her mom.

What she found there made her stop short. There sat her lime green bike in perfect condition. But how could that be? Dad had said she would need a new bike and yet here was her bike before her, looking brand new.  “How strange,” Lucy thought and then glanced at the flower in her hand, “naaa, that couldn’t be,” she said to herself.

As Lucy entered the house, she listened for baby May’s screams but all she heard was delighted baby laughter. As baby May and her little brother sat on the floor playing, Lucy noticed that her little brother was scrubbed clean, with nary a hair out of place and baby May was clothed in a little blue dress with white pinafore. As if to complement the two perfect children, the house was spotless. Lucy had never seen it so clean before.

As Lucy continued her search for her mom, her eye caught a piece of paper lying on the desk in the corner. Dismayed, she realized it was her history test which she thought was still safely tucked away in her backpack. But her astonishment increased considerably as she saw a giant A+ written across the top, along with a note from her teacher expounding on Lucy’s wonderful academic prowess. Now Lucy’s puzzlement turned into consternation. What in the world was going on? Did it have something to do with this strange flower she held?

Just as she was starting to panic, her mom came down the stairs. But was this the mom she knew? She wore a yellow sundress and high heels, an unusually big smile, and held a full basket of clean, fresh-smelling laundry in her arms. Her tone was cheery and bright as she asked Lucy if she wanted some freshly-baked cookies and a glass of milk. She then proceeded to tell Lucy that when she was done with her snack they could plan her slumber party. Her mom, in honeyed tones, went on to explain that she would cook a homemade dinner and make homemade ice cream for all of Lucy’s guests. She and dad may even take them all roller-skating.

Lucy stared at her mother. She wasn’t sure she liked this new mom that looked and sounded like something out of a 1950’s sitcom. But what to do?  She decided it couldn’t hurt to eat a snack and she pondered this weird turn of events as she munched on perfectly sized cookies containing just the right amount of chocolate chips.

Why had her world turned to perfection upon picking the rainbow flower? And now that it was so perfect, why wasn’t she happy? She wasn’t sure, but she knew it just didn’t feel right. She liked her little brother better when he was a normal boy, all grimy and pesty, even if it did mean a bent bike. And she didn’t want an F on her history test, but an A+ that she didn’t deserve somehow seemed worse. And the slumber party – well, that was another question, wasn’t it?  She knew that the reason she couldn’t have the slumber party was because her parents’ couldn’t afford it. Why had her parents changed their minds? Her thoughts turned guiltily over in her mind as she remembered her angry reaction when her parents had originally told her that she couldn’t have her party. Why had she made them feel so badly over something about which they were already heartbroken? She sighed. She wanted her old mom back in her t-shirt and jeans, even if she did occasionally get grumpy. Somehow this perfect mom didn’t seem like she would be a good person in which Lucy could confide her problems. And suddenly, Lucy realized that she preferred her old life to this new life of perfection. She sighed as she stared down at the rainbow flower. Now what?

Unexpectedly, a loud wail filled the air. The bed shook as Lucy lifted her head in fright. What in the world was that? And where was she? And then Lucy remembered: she had cried herself to sleep and the sound she was hearing was the blessed sound of baby May’s discomfort. Did this mean she had dreamed the whole thing? Lucy jumped out of bed and bounded down the stairs. She took in the dirty dishes in the sink, her mom’s disheveled appearance as she tried to comfort baby May, and her brother’s muddy shoes sitting by the door.  The telling history test had been removed from her backpack, but it now showed the F she knew she deserved.

Lucy breathed a huge sigh of relief. In one short afternoon, she realized the costly price she would have to pay to give up normal for perfect. And she realized it would never be worth it. Lucy learned a good lesson that afternoon. And to this day there hangs a rainbow flower painting  in Lucy’s bedroom to remind her of the blessing of normal.

My Heart, Christ’s Home

Below is an old story that has brought delight and conviction to others for many years.  When I read it the first time, my heart was smitten.  I realized how much of my life I was withholding from the Lord.  We truly are to surrender all.  I believe this little story is a good reminder for all of us.

My Heart, Christ’s Home

by Robert Boyd Munger

One evening I invited Jesus Christ into my heart. What an entrance He made! It was not a spectacular, emotional thing, but very real. It was at the very center of my life. He came into the darkness of my heart and turned on the light. He built a fire in the cold hearth and banished the chill. He started music where there had been stillness, and He filled the emptiness with His own loving, wonderful fellowship. I have never regretted opening the door to Christ and I never will – not into eternity!

This, of course, is the first step in making the heart Christ’s home. He has said, “Behold I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” (Revelation 3:20). If you are interested in making your life an abode of the living God, let me encourage you to invite Christ into your heart and He will surely come.

After Christ entered my heart and in the joy of this new relationship I said to Him, “Lord, I want this heart of mine to be Yours. I want to have You settle down here and be perfectly at home. Everything I have belongs to You. Let me show You around and introduce you to the various features of the home that you may be more comfortable and that we may have fuller fellowship together.” He was very glad to come, of course, and happier still to be given a place in the heart.

The Library

The first room was the study – the library. Let us call it the study of the mind. Now in my home this room of the mind is a very small room with very thick walls. But it is an important room. In a sense, it is the control room of the house. He entered with me and looked around at the books in the bookcase, the magazines upon the table, the pictures on the walls. As I followed His gaze I became uncomfortable. Strangely enough, I had not felt badly about this before, but now that He was there looking at these things I was embarrassed. There were some books were there that His eyes were too pure to behold. There was a lot of trash and literature on the table that a Christian had no business reading, and as for the pictures on the walls – the imaginations and thoughts of the mind –  these were shameful.

I turned to Him and said, “Master, I know that this room needs a radical alteration. Will You help me make it what it ought to be? – to bring every thought into captivity to you?”

“Surely!” He said. “Gladly will I help you. First of all, take all the things that you are reading and looking at which are not helpful, pure, good and true, and throw them out! Now put on the empty shelves the books of the Bible. Fill the library with Scriptures and meditate on them day and night. As for the pictures on the walls, you will have difficulty controlling these images, but here is an aid”  He gave me a full-size portrait of Himself. “Hang this centrally,” He said, “on the wall of the mind.” I did, and I have discovered through the years that when my thoughts are centered upon Christ Himself, His purity and power cause impure thoughts to back away. So He has helped me to bring my thoughts into captivity.

May I suggest to you if you have difficulty with this little room of the mind, that you bring Christ in there. Pack it full with the Word of God, meditate upon it and keep before it the immediate presence of the Lord Jesus.

The Dining Room

From the study we went into the dining room, the room of appetites and desires. Now this was a very large room. I spent a good deal of time in the dining room and much effort in satisfying my wants.  I said to Him, “This is a favorite room. I am quite sure You will be pleased with what we serve.”

He seated Himself at the table with me and asked, “What is on the menu for dinner?”  “Well,” I said, “my favorite dishes: money, academic degrees, and stocks, with newspaper articles of fame and fortune as side dishes.” These were the things I liked – worldly fare. I suppose there was nothing radically wrong in any particular item, but it was not the food that should satisfy the life of a real Christian.

When the food was placed before Him, He said nothing about it. However, I observed that He did not eat it, and I said to Him, somewhat disturbed, “Master, don’t You care for this food? What is the trouble?”

He answered, “I have meat to eat that you do not know of. My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me.” He looked at me again and said, “If you want food that really satisfies you, seek the will of the Father, not your own pleasures, not your own desires, and not your own satisfaction. Seek to please Me and that food will satisfy you.”

And there at the table He gave me a taste of doing God’s will. What a flavor! There is no food like it in all the world. It alone satisfies. Everything else is dissatisfying in the end.

Now if Christ is in your heart, and I trust He is, what kind of food are you serving Him and what kind of food are you eating yourself? Are you living for the lust of the flesh and the pride of life – selfishly? Or are you choosing God’s will for your meat and drink?

The Living Room

We walked next into the living room. This room was rather intimate and comfortable. I liked it. It had a fireplace, overstuffed chairs, a sofa, and a quiet atmosphere. He also seemed pleased with it. He said, “This is indeed a delightful room. Let us come here often. It is secluded and quiet, and we can fellowship together.”

Well, naturally as a young Christian I was thrilled. I couldn’t think of anything I would rather do than have a few minutes with Christ in intimate companionship. He promised, “I will be here early every morning. Meet me here, and we will start the day together.” So morning after morning, I would come downstairs to the living room and He would take a book of the Bible from the bookcase. He would open it and then we would read together. He would tell me of its riches and unfold to me its truths. He would make my heart warm as He revealed His love and His grace He had toward me. These were wonderful hours together. In fact, we called the living room the “withdrawing room.” It was a period when we had our quiet time together.

But, little by little, under the pressure of many responsibilities, this time began to be shortened. Why, I’m don’t know, but I thought I was just too busy to spend time with Christ. This was not intentional, you understand; it just happened that way. Finally, not only was the time shortened, but I began to miss a day now and then. It was examination time at the university. Then it was some other urgent emergency. I would miss it two days in a row and often more.

I remember one morning when I was in a hurry, rushing downstairs, eager to be on my way.  As I passed the living room,  the door was open. Looking in, I saw a fire in the fireplace and Jesus was sitting there. Suddenly in dismay I thought to myself, “He was my guest. I invited Him into my heart! He has come as Lord of my home. And yet here I am neglecting Him.”

I turned and went in. With downcast glance, I said, “Blessed Master, forgive me. Have You been here all these mornings?” “Yes,” He said, “I told you I would be here every morning to meet with you.” Then I was even more ashamed. He had been faithful in spite of my faithfulness. I asked His forgiveness and He readily forgave me as He does when we are truly repentant.

“The trouble with you is this: you have been thinking of the quiet time, of the Bible study and prayer time, as a factor in your own spiritual progress, but you have forgotten that this hour means something to me also. Remember, I love you. I have redeemed you at great cost. I value your fellowship. Now,” He said, “do not neglect this hour if only for my sake. Whatever else may be your desire, remember I want your fellowship!”

You know, the truth that Christ desires my companionship, that He loves me, wants me to be with Him, wants to be with me and waits for me, has done more to transform my quiet time with God than any other single fact. Don’t let Christ wait alone in the living room of your heart, but every day find some time when, with your Bible and in prayer, you may be together with Him.

The Workroom

Before long, He asked, “Do you have a workroom in your home?” Down in the basement of the home of my heart I had a workbench and some equipment, but I was not doing much with it. Once in a while I would play around with a few little gadgets, but I wasn’t producing anything substantial or worthwhile.

I led Him down there.  He looked over the workbench and what little talents and skills I had. He said, “This is quite well furnished. What are you producing with your life for the Kingdom of God?” He looked at one or two little toys that I had thrown together on the bench and held one up to me. “Are these little toys all that you are doing for others in your Christian life?”

“Well,” I said, “Lord, that is the best I can do. I know it isn’t much, and I really want to do more, but after all, I have no skill or strength to do more.” “Would you like to do better?” He asked.

“Certainly,” I replied. “All right. Let me have your hands. Now relax in me and let my Spirit work through you. I know that you are unskilled, clumsy and awkward, but the Holy Spirit is the Master-Worker, and if He controls your hands and your heart, He will work through you.” And so, stepping around behind me and putting His great, strong hands over mine, controlling the tools with His skilled fingers He began to work through me.

There’s much more that I must still learn and I am very far from satisfied with the product that is being turned out, but I do know that whatever has been produced for God has been through His strong hand and through the power of His Spirit in me.

Do not become discouraged because you cannot do much for God. Your ability is not the fundamental condition. It is He who is controlling your fingers and upon whom you are relying. Give your talents and gifts to God and He will do things with them that will surprise you..

The Rec Room

I remember the time He asked me about the playroom. I was hoping He would not ask about that. There were certain associations and friendships, activities and amusements that I wanted to keep for myself. I did not think Christ would enjoy them or approve of them, so I evaded the question.

But there came an evening when I was on my way out with some of my friends, and as I was about to cross the threshold, He stopped me with a glance and asked, “Are you going out?” I replied, “Yes.” “Good,” He said, “I would like to go with you.”

“Oh,” I answered rather awkwardly. “I don’t think, Lord Jesus, that You would really want to go with us. Let’s go out tomorrow night. Tomorrow night we will go to prayer meeting, but tonight I have another appointment.”

He said. “That’s alright. Only I thought that when I came into your home, we were going to do everything together, to be close companions. I just want you to know that I am willing to go with you.” “Well,” I said, “we will go someplace together tomorrow night.”

That evening I spent some miserable hours. I felt wretched. What kind of a friend was I to Jesus when I was deliberately leaving Him out of my associations, doing things and going places that I knew very well He would not enjoy? When I returned that evening, there was a light in His room, and I went up to talk it over with Him. I said, “Lord, I have learned my lesson. I can’t have a good time without You. From now on we will do everything together.”

Then we went down into the playroom of the house and He transformed it. He brought into life real joy, real happiness, real satisfaction, new friends, new excitement, new joys. Laughter and music have been ringing through the house ever since.

The Hall Closet

There is just one more matter that I might share with you. One day I found Him waiting for me at the door. An arresting look was in His eye. As I entered, He said to me, “There is a peculiar odor in the house. There is something dead around here. It’s upstairs. I think it is in the hall closet.” As soon as He said this, I knew what He was talking about. Yes, there was a small closet up there on the landing, just a few feet square, and in that closet, behind lock and key, I had one or two little personal things that I did not want anyone to know about and certainly I did not want Christ to see them. I knew they were dead and rotting things left over from the old life. And yet I loved them, and I wanted them so for myself that I was afraid to admit they were there.

Reluctantly, I went up with Him, and as we mounted the stairs the odor became stronger and stronger. He pointed at the door. “It’s in there! Some dead thing!” I was angry. That’s the only way I can put it. I had given Him access to the library, the dining room, the living room, the workroom, the playroom, and now He was asking me about a little two-by-four closet. I said to myself, “This is too much. I am not going to give Him the key.”

“Well,” He said, reading my thoughts, “if you think I’m going to stay up here on the second floor with this odor, you are mistaken. I will take my bed out on the back porch. I’m certainly not going to put up with that.” Then I saw Him start down the stairs.

When you have come to know and love Christ, the worst thing that can happen is to sense His fellowship retreating from you. I had to surrender. “I’ll give You the key,” I said sadly, “but You’ll have to open the closet and clean it out. I haven’t the strength to do it.” “I know,” He said. “I know you haven’t. Just give me the key. Just authorize me to take care of that closet and I will.” So with trembling fingers I passed the key to Him. He took it from my hand, walked over to the door, opened it, entered it, took out all the putrefying stuff that was rotting there, and threw it away. Then He cleaned the closet and painted it, fixed it up, doing it all in a moment’s time. Oh, what victory and release to have that dead thing out of my life!

Transferring the Title

Then a thought came to me. I said to myself, “I have been trying to keep this heart of mine clear for Christ. I start on one room and no sooner have I cleaned that then another room is dirty. I begin on the second room and the first room becomes dusty again. I am so tired and weary trying to maintain a clean heart and an obedient life. I am just not up to it!”

So I ventured a question: “Lord, is there any chance that You would take over the responsibility of the whole house and operate it for me and with me just as You did that closet? Would You take the responsibility to keep my heart what it ought to be and my life where it ought to be?”

I could see His face light up as He replied, “Certainly, that is what I came to do. You cannot be a victorious Christian in your own strength. That is impossible. Let me do it through you and for you. That is the way. But,” He added slowly, “I am not owner of this house. I am just a guest. I have no authority to proceed, since the property is not mine.” I saw it in a minute and dropping to my knees, I said, “Lord, You have been a guest and I have been the host. From now on I am going to be the servant. You are going to be the owner and Master and Lord.”

Running as fast as I could to the strongbox, I took out the title deed to the house describing its assets and liabilities, location and situation and condition. I eagerly signed it over to belong to Him alone for time and eternity. “Here,” I said. “Here it is, all that I am and have forever. Now You run the house. I’ll just remain with You as a servant and friend.”

He took my life that day and I can give you my word, there is no better way to live the Christian life. He knows how to keep it in shape and deep peace settles down on the soul. May Christ settle down and be at home in your heart as Lord of all!

Your House is on Fire!

It was early morning,  as I stepped out into the crisp fall air.  My nose wrinkled as the smell of burning leaves assailed it.   Assuming that the neighbor was burning leaves, I glanced towards their house.  But instead of burning leaves, I saw a burning house!  Could it be?  Yes!  The house was definitely on fire.  What to do?  “Call the fire company!” I shrieked to someone standing nearby, as I ran towards the burning house.

“Mr. Brown!  Mr. Brown!  Your house is on fire!”  I screamed.  The front door was unlocked, so I pushed my way through.  The fire seemed to be at the very back of the house, so we were safe for now.

I found Mr. Brown lying on the couch, fast asleep.

“Mr. Brown!  Your house is on fire!”

Mr. Brown raised his head and stared at me.  “Okay.  Thanks for telling me, ” he said, as he put his head back down on the maroon-colored pillow.

I stood for a few seconds in amazed disbelief and then tried again.

“Mr. Brown, do you understand what I am saying?  Your house!  It’s on fire!” I shouted.

Mr. Brown, looking half-annoyed this time, said, “Yes! I heard you the first time!  I believe you.  There is no need to tell me again.”  and closed his eyes again.

Thinking he may be half-asleep and not quite with it, I decided to make one last ditch effort at warning him.

“Mr. Brown!  If you don’t get out of here, you may lose your life!  We need to get out now!”

This time Mr. Brown sat up and looked me in the eye.  “Look, I hear what you are saying.  Will you just leave me alone?  Please?  I will get out after awhile.   I only smell a bit of smoke. You go on ahead.”

I stared at him.  Was he losing his mind?  I didn’t know what else to do, so I turned and left him laying there on his sofa in his burning house.   As I stumbled through the rocky soil to my house, I couldn’t believe what had just happened.  Could it be that this man, who seemed to be pretty intelligent, was just laying there as his house burned down around him?  The morning had grown quite foggy and smoky and I couldn’t see…where was I going?  I stumbled and fell.  I hit my head…

And then, suddenly, I found myself in my bed.  It was a dream.  And, yet, something about it was very real.

If Mr. Brown believed that his house was on fire, like he said he did, why didn’t he get up? Why didn’t he do something about it?  Why did he just continue to lay there on that old sofa like it was any old morning?

If Mr. Brown truly believed, he would get off of that sofa and out of the house.  His mouth spoke the words that he believed what I was saying, but his actions showed that he really didn’t believe.

As the details of that dream continued twisting and turning in my head, I thought of all of the people who say that they believe in Jesus.  They say they are Christians.  And yet that belief hasn’t yielded any change at all in their lives.  They still continue in their worldly habits.  Most of their time is consumed with selfish pursuits.  They do not thirst for Truth.  They may or may not go to church.   There is no evidence of spiritual growth and a deepening understanding of God and His Word.

While I knew it wasn’t my place to judge their eternal destinies, I knew that I had to change my thinking from this day forth.  I couldn’t believe someone was saved just because they said they believed in Jesus.  If their life didn’t match the words, I had to consider that they might not be saved.   This was not about judging their outward behavior.  This was about loving them enough to care about their eternal destiny.

You see, true belief requires action, whether we are referring to a burning house or our eternal destiny.

May we all be more careful about placing that “saved” stamp on those who say with their mouths they believe but have no fruits to go along with that statement.  And may we continue, as always, in growing in our knowledge of God and His Word and in examining our own hearts and minds for sin.

I John 2: 3-5  Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. 4 He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 5 But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him.

Matthew 7: 17-19  Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Therefore by their fruits you will know them.

James 2: 17-24  Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. 18 But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my  works. 19 You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! 20 But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?  21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? 22 Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? 23 And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God. 24 You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.