Finding True North

The other day, my son mentioned needing more parking spaces for trucks and trailers in our landscaping company area before the new season starts up. This conversation led to a brainstorming of sorts between my husband, son, and sons-in-law. How do we make more parking when the area is already full? This went on for a couple of days and then last night my husband came in and told me that one of the boys had a great idea. He explained it to me (complete with paper and pencil to draw it out) and it does seem like it may be the answer to our problem.

This is generally how we solve problems, is it not? We talk to others, we have meetings, we process, we brainstorm, and we hold “think tanks”. And, just as putting heads together for that parking area yielded a helpful solution, so, too, does this happen in other areas of life. When we start fleshing out a problem, answers often do come when we work together.

But is this how we Christians should be solving spiritual problems? Is this how we should go about helping Christians with their problems? Or changing churches? Or fixing ministries? Or living our lives?

While there can and must be some of that, I have been amazed with how much this has been done without scripture in modern day Christianity. Someone I know has received a degree in counseling and is at a local (and what many would consider “solid”) church practicing their profession. But, in conversations, this person makes it clear that scripture is non-essential in therapy sessions. Unnecessary and not even wholly believed. Instead, this idea of processing and hashing over problems, offering man-made solutions is chosen as the means to spiritual and emotional health. This is just one example of millions. The Bible has been mostly removed from the lives of Christians in favor of following after the philosophies of men.

Before I go on, let me say that this is not my normal post. You may think it is just like any other post but this is far more important than most and I’ve spent days praying and thinking about what I should write to you. The message of this post won’t be new but it will be surrounded by more proof of its importance.

Just as you cannot find true north without a compass, you cannot find truth without the Bible. Imagine you are walking through the woods with a compass and a map in your hand. While the map might be helpful, it is the compass that you can rely on. The compass (unless it is broken) will always point to true north. The map, on the other hand, could be outdated or misprinted or blurred. In other words, the compass is reliable and the map is not.

The same is true in the spiritual world. The Bible is our only source for truth that is reliable. Other things might be helpful but these things often become marred by sin and pride; they become outdated or changed along the way. But God never changes (James 1:17) and His Word is true and everlasting (Psalm 18:30; Isaiah 40:8).

And, so, when it comes to anything we do in life, we believers must use God’s Word as our compass. Whether it is walking through a trial with someone, dealing with our own abuse or emotional pain or someone else’s; whether it is working through church challenges personally or at the board level; and even when it is coming to problems we face at work as a believer; all things we face should be through the grid of the Bible. It is truly the only thing that will help us to find “true north” and if we ignore or sideline it and choose instead to follow man’s philosophies or chase after the latest religious trends, we will become hopelessly lost in the quagmire of false religion that is cultural Christianity.

Later on in this post, I will share an example of how this doesn’t look but, first, I’d like to share an example of how holding scripture as our standard and guide does look from a book I read recently.

A few weeks ago, God, in His Providence, led me to a book that impacted me profoundly. Sitting on a table in the outer lobby of a small Christian bookstore I just “happened upon”, a stack of books sat next to a sign that said $1. The publisher was looking to get rid of its copies so I grew a bit doubtful about purchasing the uninteresting-looking book. But I have always had a heart for Russia and Eastern Europe and so the dollar seemed like it might be worth the risk. I picked the book up and purchased it. And I am so glad I did!! Written in 1931 and called In the Flame of Russia’s Revolution with God and the Bible* (by N.I. Saloff-Astakhoff), this book contains the inspiring and encouraging testimony of a traveling evangelist and his team during the years of Russia’s Revolution (1917-1926).

Filled with amazing and astounding accounts of God’s awesome power, amazing grace, and abounding mercy, the book is a great reminder that God is the same today as He was in the Bible and that He cares for His own in such a marvelous and loving way. None of us will leave this earth unless God has ordained it. Trials and troubles must first go through Him before they can assail us. And, through them, He will give us the strength, grace, and peace we need and that He has promised.

The trials that the team faced in this book are beyond anything we could imagine or comprehend in our modern, western world. And, yet, God so faithfully gave His strength and joy and mercy and peace and much fruit as they lived out the calling that God had given them. The book abounds with examples of this.

But one of the things that most stood out to me was the team’s reliance upon the Word. They worked hard to get the Bible into the hands of the people with whom they shared the Gospel and relied on it for their own decisions and choices. At one point they began to question the role of women in their ministry. What is God’s will regarding the role of women? Instead of going to their favorite pastor or following after modern day philosophies, they spent several days going through God’s Word, from cover to cover, to see what He had to say about this important topic. And God, in His faithfulness, guided them into the truth, just as He promised He would.

I don’t think it is an accident that I read this book before I listened to a podcast called The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill. Telling the story of Mark Driscoll and his church, it was a mind-boggling, disturbing account of its rise and fall. Many of the details surrounding it that were unfamiliar to me (and, I’d imagine, to most people not directly involved.)

But the thing that most struck me was the disinterest in and the sidelining of scripture in the entire podcast series. The producers, the interviewers, the interviewees, and the objects of the interviews… none were all that interested in what God had to say about any of this. In fact, I am pretty sure they quoted movies more than they quoted scripture. The Bible, if used, was sapped of its authority by listing it alongside man-made philosophies such as mysticism and psychology. False teachers were held up as icons of the faith. The world and its ungodly influence on the life of a believer were not only minimized, they were glorified.

In the final episode, a therapist made a remark that really summed up the whole disturbing series. As she counseled those who had been abused at Mars Hill through the years, she said she wanted to “not pressure them to have a relationship with God but to focus on a healthy relationship with their body.”

Honestly, the entire thing was a morass of human philosophy couched in Christian language. It was such a fascinating and disturbing account on so many levels.

The thing is: During the “best years” of Driscoll and Mars Hill, cultural Christianity was affirming and promoting them. Driscoll, known as the swearing pastor, claimed to hold “biblical doctrine” but he did so in such an incredibly harsh, unloving way, he ended up souring many, many people to the truth of God’s Word. And, while all that was going on, he was inviting the world to come like a flood into his church, until it had overflowed their doors and spilled out on to a good portion of American Christianity.

I’d venture to say that few of us have been unaffected in some way by this church you may have never even heard of.

And, as I reflected on this series which cared so very little about God’s opinion on things, my mind goes to two books that echoed the same message, albeit through a different storyline. Books by those who would call themselves “missionaries”, who went to foreign countries and put their focus wholly on meeting only the temporal needs of the poor, while ignoring the eternal need of the people. Claiming to follow Jesus in taking care of the poor, somehow they missed the whole point of why Jesus came.

As we think of these examples (and countless others), we have to remember that Satan is fully aware that either discarding the truth (removing the Bible) or warping the truth (twisting the scriptures) will lead many to hell and render the true believer ineffective.

God has given us His Word as a guide and a help and, as believers, we need this desperately. We cannot find “true north” without it.

And, yet, still today, many who call themselves Christians rarely pick it up between Sundays. Or they are satisfied with one verse and a paragraph about that verse written by a sinful human (while devotionals can be of great encouragement to us, we must view them as dessert and never as our main food.)

Oh, dear reader, if you say you love God, then it’s important to study His Word. It is truly our only reliable guide and sure protection in this crazy, mixed-up, chaotic world we find ourselves in. It’s a true gift and treasure and if you will take the time and do the work to actually really study it, you will be greatly rewarded.

Don’t wander around lost in the dark forest of today’s cultural (and false) Christianity but move towards the Light by picking up your Bible today!

*This book is hard to find online. If you would like a copy but can’t find one, I will be happy to send one to you for simply the cost of shipping. Feel free to reply to this email or message me on Facebook with your address if you’d like a copy.

How Does the Holy Spirit Work Today?

Throughout the month of December, my brother, Pastor Dean Good*, preached a short sermon series on the sign gifts. Are they still in operation today? And, according to scripture, why or why not?

That little phrase “according to scripture” is our key, right? What does scripture teach us about how the Holy Spirit works today?

This is a powerful sermon series that walks step by step through scripture to help us understand this rather confusing topic. Is God really telling people to follow their hearts, even if it leads to sin? Is He telling people to follow their dreams? Is He giving impressions and dreams and goose bumps and fuzzy, warm feelings that signify His approval or His will?

Another important part of this topic is the speaking of tongues and other sign gifts. What does the Bible teach us about these specifically? Are these gifts still for today? And are they manifested in the same way today as they were in the Bible?

I can honestly think of no more important topic than this one. Most of us don’t even realize that we’ve slid into the mystical morass that is cultural Christianity. We’ve absorbed these unbiblical ideas and don’t even realize it. This phenomenon was not the norm for Christianity for thousands of years and is therefore fairly recent, as Pastor Dean will show in his sermon that explains the history of how we ended up here.

I hope that this series blesses someone out there who has been struggling to figure out this confusing topic. I know it helped my husband and me so much! It was so very clarifying. We knew what we believed but we didn’t really have a good grasp on why we believed it. And this series gave that grasp to both of us. We can’t recommend it highly enough!

And one final encouragement: I know that history may be unappealing to many of you. But I encourage you not to skip the history sermon as it gives vital insight to the conclusions reached by Pastor Dean and it also gives much confirmation to what we learn in scripture regarding this topic.

You can find all of the sermons at this link (scroll to the bottom to find the first sermon). This link is for audio only–

How Does the Holy Spirit Work Today?

If you prefer video, you will find them at these links (they are listed in order)–

Does the Spirit Continue to Give the Gifts of Tongues? (message begins at 32 min. mark)

The History of the Modern Pentecostal and Charismatic Movement (message begins at 9 min. mark)

Are the Sign and Revelatory Gifts for Today? (message begins at 28 min. mark)

The Leading of God (message begins at 36 min. mark)

BONUS: Pastor Dean shared his notes with his congregation for his sermon regarding the history of the Pentecostal movement and gave me permission to share them with you. You can find those here: History of the Pentecostal Movement

*Pastor Dean Good is pastor of Grace Church of North Olmsted, outside of Cleveland, Ohio, where he has been preaching since 2004. Being my brother and also one of my best friends for my whole life, I wholly trust Dean. He is wholly committed to preaching the Word of God without compromise and to living out his faith both privately and publicly. Of course, not perfectly, but very consistently. My family and I have been much blessed by “Uncle Dean’s” preaching of the Word.

Goodbye, 2022…Hello, 2023!

Dear Readers,

Good morning! It’s New Year’s Eve of 2022. If you are like me, you can hardly believe how fast the year has passed.

My Christmas week was nothing like I expected or planned. Life has a way of doing that. Our family has had illness change our holiday plans for the last three out of four years. We are actually getting a bit used to it…! But, through it all, I am reminded that God is working out all things for His glory and our good. And there is always an abundance of things to be thankful for. We are all so blessed in Christ.

Because I had a bit of extra time that I wasn’t planning on, I had the opportunity to read a book and listen to a podcast. They couldn’t be more unrelated or different in their goals, scope, and purpose. But they both led me to an important—even crucial— conclusion that I hope to write about more next week.

But I wrote a bit of a synopsis on Facebook a few days ago and thought I’d share what I wrote with those of you who aren’t on social media—

I have spent the past week reading a book about persevering and witnessing for Christ through circumstances none of us can possibly even imagine. The Bible was their only guide as they navigated impossible situations, war, and deadly illnesses.

And I’ve spent some time today listening to the failure of a mega church whose focus turned from the perfect Word of God to a fallible man. This particular story could be repeated over and over with just a change in names and details in this celebrity-driven culture we find ourselves in.

The two stories are as different as night and day and yet…they both make one thing clear: For a true believer, it’s all about the Bible. We stand or fall spiritually based on our view of and immersion in the Bible.

It is God’s only source of protection, guidance, comfort, and strength. If we read and study it with submission and obedience in our hearts to God, He will make our paths straight. And if we don’t read it at all or if we think we can choose what we want to obey, then we will inevitably end up misguided or deceived.

And so this is why I want to invite you for one last time in 2022 to join me in reading and studying the Bible in 2023.

And, honestly, it doesn’t matter what plan you use. The 𝐺𝑟𝑜𝑤𝑖𝑛𝑔4𝐿𝑖𝑓𝑒 plan was created for anyone who wants an easy, doable plan that fits into any lifestyle. But there are many good plans out there. What matters is that, if you call yourself a Christian, you dedicate yourself to consistent, organized study of the Word.

I am a living testimony of the difference this can make. I gave little time to Bible study for years and years and I lived a rather lackluster Christian life. It wasn’t until I finally made time to study the Word that things really started to make sense and I began to understand not only what I believe but WHY I believe it. And, let me tell you, that fills you with incredible awe for our amazing God and a heart that desires to share His love and grace with the world!

I can think of no more important thing for me to do with the platform God has given me than to encourage others to dig into the treasure of God’s Word and discover this same thing for themselves.

The temporal things of this life will end. But the Word of God endures forever.

(You can find more information about the 2023 Bible Reading Challenge at this here.)

As we head into 2023, I cannot think of anything more important than studying the Word of God in these confusing days. As the church removes its focus from the Bible more and more and, instead, turns its focus to the philosophies of man, may we be a people who are committed to and focused on the infallible, inspired, and inerrant Word of God, in its entirety.

And I also want to thank you for reading this blog. Sometimes I still find myself surprised that this is where God has led me. My only hope and desire for this blog is to encourage you to keep your eyes on Christ and His Word as we navigate the minefields of apostasy, heresy, worldliness, and wickedness that we find ourselves living among in these last days.

God loves us and He will keep us. The days may grow darker and our path more rocky, but, through it all, Jesus will never forsake us. His promises are true.

Wishing you a Happy New Year!

Love in Christ,


The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.

Isaiah 40:8

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

Hebrews 4:12

The law of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure,
making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure,
enlightening the eyes;

Psalm 19:7-8

Helen’s Christmas Dream (Part 5)

Well, as usual, December has flown by in a flurry of activity and it is the Friday before Christmas. Today I present the end of this year’s story. The story was a bit different than my normal. I truly hope you enjoyed it but, more than that, I hope it encouraged you to be content, wherever God has you. Merry Christmas!

     Christmas Eve dawned sunny and mild. Helen looked out her back window and was delighted to see two deer standing serenely by the pond in the garden. She turned from the window giving herself a little pep talk as she started to get dressed. She just had to get through the next two days.
     Her mind wandered to what she would be missing at home tonight. The family would gather around the big fireplace, enjoying hot chocolate and her mama’s special sugar cookies. Her father would read the Christmas story from Luke 2 and then they would play the special game Mama always created just for Christmas Eve. She thought of the evergreen tree that would be sitting in the corner, waiting for the strings of popcorn and cranberries and paper ornaments they would make. And of the warmth and joy that would infuse each moment.
     Oh, it was so hard to be here instead of there. She truly wanted to be content wherever she was and God was growing her in this area but it seemed extra challenging on this day.
     Not that it was so bad here. The servants had decorated the house with mounds and mounds of evergreens and holly. In Aunt Ida’s favorite room, which was the comfortable sitting room where Helen had first met her, was the tallest tree she had ever seen. Bedecked with gold and silver baubles and a great star at the top, it was beautiful to behold. Underneath the tree were many gifts wrapped in gold and silver paper.
     Yes, thought Helen, this would just be a different type of Christmas.
     She sat down on the chair by the fire and pulled her Bible from the sidetable. She had begun to get up a half hour earlier than usual and to spend this time in the Word. She was finding that this dedicated time of prayer and Bible study was changing her. She knew that she needed to be given biblical perspective this morning especially and wasn’t about to skip it.
     After thirty minutes had passed, Helen, while still a bit melancholy, was smiling and ready to go downstairs.
     “Helen! Good morning! Happy Christmas Eve!” Aunt Ida said these things a bit more effusively than usual. Helen knew she loved Christmas and assumed her extra enthusiasm was a result of this love.
     After a delectable and special Christmas Eve breakfast, Helen and Aunt Ida went into the sitting room. Helen had noticed an ever-so-slight change in Aunt Ida over the past week. They had even talked about the real meaning of Christmas a few days ago.
    On this Christmas Eve morning, Aunt Ida began her normal, incessant social gossip but about fifteen minutes in abruptly stopped. After a few moments, she looked at Helen.
     “Oh, my dear, it doesn’t matter, does it? It just doesn’t even matter,” she sighed and then, smiling, her enthusiasm returned, “Well, shall we play a game?”
     Aunt Ida’s favorite game was Twenty Questions. As they played, Helen noticed that her aunt seemed a bit on edge. She seemed to be waiting for something. About four or five turns into the game, they heard a carriage drive up.
     “Well, now who could that be?” Aunt Ida said with a merry twinkle in her eye.
     Helen ran to the window and was stunned and thrilled to see her family pouring out of the large carriage.
     “What? How?…” she stuttered.
     “Oh, my dear, you seemed so sad these recent weeks. You have been such a blessing to me and to all of us here, that I just wanted to do something special for you for Christmas. And this was my idea! Do you like it?” She beamed.
     “Like it? Oh, I love it!” Helen rushed over to give her a hug.
     “Oh, good! I am so glad. Now go greet them!”
     Helen didn’t have to be told twice. She rushed out of the room to her family who was just entering the house.

     Christmas morning found the family boisterously chatting together in the sitting room. Grandfather and Grandmother had joined them after breakfast and there was much catching up to do. Aunt Ida, who was used to a quiet Christmas each year, was enjoying the noise and chaos immensely.
     After a bit, Aunt Ida said it was time to open presents. She had thoughtfully chosen a special gift for each person there.
     Helen realized that she may have judged her aunt too harshly. There seemed to be more to her than she had at first thought. But perhaps Aunt Ida was changing a bit, too.
     This was confirmed when Jenkins announced Christmas Dinner. As Helen’s father escorted Aunt Ida to dinner, Helen overheard her say this to him, “Oh, John, you have raised a wonderful daughter. Helen has been a tremendous blessing to me. She’s been so patient with this old woman. And she’s showing me that maybe there is more to Christianity than just going to church on Sundays. I always thought you were a little overboard on the religious stuff, you know,” she laughed and patted his arm, “but now I see I may have been mistaken.”
     In that one moment, God showed Helen one of the reasons He had brought her to the mansion in the city. She was thankful for this time with her family and the overwhelming kindness of her Aunt Ida in bringing them here. But hearing her aunt say what she did was the best moment of her Christmas and gave her strength to continue on in her new life after the holidays.
     And when it was time to say goodbye to her family after a wonderful time together, she was okay. She knew that she was where she belonged for right now and that God had brought her here for a reason. She would serve Him here with her whole and contented heart.

     None of us are where we are by accident. The Lord has guided our steps and wherever we are right now is where we are supposed to be and a place where we can plant seeds of the Gospel and encourage fellow believers. May we serve God wholeheartedly, with contentment, and all for His glory.

You will find the rest of this story and all of the Growing4Life Christmas stories at this link.

It’s Just a Day

As a young family, we would open presents on Christmas morning and then scurry off to both sides of the family. After a few years, this became so burdensome and both my mom and my mother-in-law offered to move their gathering to a different day. “It’s just a day.” Our hearts were tremendously blessed by the flexibility of our parents and I determined to do the same when my time came.

Well, my time has come. Christmas will be a different affair for us this year. For the first time we won’t all be together during the holidays. And for the first time we won’t have our Christmas celebration on Christmas Day. And while I will especially miss our daughter and her family, I totally understand their decision to stay home every other year. And, in fact, I am glad they have made that choice for their own little family. Thankfully, the examples of our parents showed me that it can’t be about me but it must be about what is best for others.

But I’ve been thinking a bit about how big of a deal we make “family” this time of year. Christmas is no longer about Jesus to most people. It’s about love and good will. It’s about romance (thank you, Hallmark). And it’s about family. And while most of us have plenty of good will and have simply given up on the romance, we do still have this longing for the perfect family.

But what if you don’t have a family? Or yours is broken? Or super stressful? Or ill? Or part of yours is missing or gone on to heaven?

Most of us have something that messes up our ideal dream of family at Christmastime. We live in a fallen, sinful world and life just isn’t ideal. Perhaps we have expectations that we shouldn’t have. Perhaps we are focusing on the wrong thing.

I don’t know where you find yourself today. I am guessing many of you are living with unbearable hurt due to a tragic loss this Christmas. Some of you will probably do a lot of pretending, giving the impression that your marriage and your family are okay when they just aren’t. Some of you will face uncomfortable moments of conversation with angry or abrasive relatives that carry chips on their shoulders. And others of you will be alone, for many different reasons.

But it’s just a day. It’s one day out of the rest of year. Yes, it’s precious to get together with family. Family is a true gift from God. But it’s not the most important gift from God. Not even close.

God sent His Son into the world. He began humanity as a tiny baby laid in a manger. But that perfect baby grew up to be the perfect Man, a Savior who would die for you and for me so that we could be reconciled with God and have eternal life. An additional blessing included with God’s precious gift to us is also to provide us hope and joy and peace in this life.

But instead of finding our hope and joy and peace in Christ we often turn to other things. And one of those things that is most tempting to turn to for most of us is our families. But family will always disappoint. Because it’s made up of a bunch of sinners who won’t live forever.

So, whatever our circumstances may be regarding our families, may we remember to face our challenges with Christ as the center, instead of our feelings. May we take one step at a time and faithfully serve Christ in each and every moment. In the hard conversations; in the feelings of loneliness, grief, and loss; in the midst of those old familiar feelings that come boiling to the surface whenever a certain person draws near; and in the midst of the changes that inevitably come as the years pass.

Christ will not disappoint. He alone will not disappoint. If we abide in Him, He will abide in us. Apart from Him we can do nothing (John 15:1-5).

So may we keep our eyes focused on Christ this Christmas and all through the year. Because, after all, Christmas is just a day.

Helen’s Christmas Dream (Part 4)

Today I present Part 4 of this year’s Christmas story–

     Four weeks had passed since that first day in the mansion and Helen was beginning to learn that dreams rarely remain golden and that “grass is rarely greener on the other side of the fence”. While she did enjoy having her own room and not having to do housework, she desperately missed her big, noisy family and the cozy farmhouse.
     Here in the mansion life was simply…boring. She quickly learned that Aunt Ida, while always very kind, remained rather distant when any discussion of importance came up. There was no talk of anything that mattered. It was all parties and events and social gossip. Coming from a family that would discuss anything and everything with passion, Helen found this change the most difficult of all.
     She especially missed the family Bible time that her father led each Sunday evening. It was always a wonderful time of discussion and learning every week. She kept up with her Bible reading on her own but it wasn’t quite the same without the challenging discussions each week.
     Truthfully, she had been surprised to find out that mansions and glittering parties didn’t make one happy. And while mounds of laundry and hours in the kitchen had been frustrating, this boring life with little to do was far worse.
     This particular morning, a month or so before Christmas, found Helen rather glum. And the cold winter rain wasn’t helping her mood. Other than an hour or so working with Aunt Ida on meaningless correspondence, she had little to do. There would be another fancy dinner party that night but Helen wished she could just stay home instead of having to make idle talk with people she didn’t know.
     She climbed out of bed and considered ringing for Annie but even the idea of being waited upon had lost its luster. She found that she much preferred to just get herself dressed and ready for the day.
     An hour later she sat at the breakfast table with Aunt Ida eating bacon, eggs, and toast while listening to her discuss her schedule and her friends and her world. It was all so monotonous.
     The dreary morning passed slowly and, as usual, she was left to herself after lunchtime. One afternoon, a few weeks before, she had put on her coat and decided to check out the grounds. She had wandered through the gardens, which had very little to offer in December, and then had made her way to the stables. There she felt at home more than any other place. She had visited the stable most everyone day since then, developing a friendship with Mr. Walker and his favorite horse, Winnie.
     Deciding to go visit with Mr. Walker, she stopped by the kitchen, where friendly Mrs. Bundle was happy to give her a few carrots for Winnie. Helen always looked forward to her visits with Mr. Walker, for he alone on the mansion grounds was a fellow believer in Jesus Christ. He was effusive and enthusiastic as he talked of his salvation from sin and the wonderful faithfulness of God. Helen was drawn to him in the midst of the spiritually dead household.
     This particular day, Mr. Walker asked Helen if she had a few minutes to go with him to his cottage to meet his wife. He had a feeling they’d be “kindred spirits” as he put it.
     “Oh, I’d love to,” Helen’s eyes sparkled at the suggestion. She longed for a Christian woman in whom to confide. She had been so very lonely.
     They walked the trim path to the little white cottage the Stableman called home. They were met at the door by a pleasantly plump woman who wore a big smile.
“So this is Helen? It is so nice to finally meet you!”
     Helen smiled timidly as she stepped through the doorway. But inside the cottage was a warmth that reminded her of her own home. Mrs. Walker reminded her so much of her own dear mother and the two soon developed a friendship that was to be of great encouragement to Helen during her stay at the mansion.
     A week later, while Helen visited with her, she confided to Mrs. Walker her discontent in her new life. She told her how she had been so wrong in thinking that happiness was based on wealth and luxury and how she so longed to go back home.
     Mrs. Walker just listened as Helen poured her heart out to her. And then she gave her some profound counsel that Helen never forgot for the rest of her life.
     She said, “you know God has taught me a thing or two throughout my life. And one of the most important things I’ve learned is that you can’t look for joy—true joy—in your circumstances. Whatever they may be.”
     Helen listened closely.
     “I surely learned this the hard way,” she continued with just a bit of moisture gathering at her eyes, “you see, our dear Billy used to be quite the challenge. I’d complain about him loudly and often to whoever would listen. As a three year old he was already defiant and troublesome. He got into scrapes almost every day. Herbert and I just didn’t even know what to do. We just prayed and did what we thought was best. But I was always complaining in my heart about this troublesome boy. Why couldn’t he be like his sister? What did I do to deserve such a boy? Oh, my heart and my focus was more on my own troubles even more than on the dear boy that God had given as a gift to Herbert and me,” she heaved a heavy sigh.
     “And then one day, Lucy ran into the house screaming. Here Billy had walked out onto the pond, thinking it was frozen solid when it wasn’t. By the time we got to him, it was too late,” She stopped her story for a moment to blow her nose in her handkerchief.
     “Oh no, I am so sorry…” Helen murmured.
     Mrs. Walker held up her hand, “Oh, my dear, it is awful and, as you can see, I still get choked up when I think of my dear beloved Billy. Because I did love him so much. I often lost sight of that fact in the midst of my frustration. I didn’t realize just how much I loved him until he was no longer with us. But through that time, the Lord grew me up quite a bit. You see, I sadly realized that I wasn’t happy when Billy was alive and I wasn’t happy when Billy wasn’t alive. Oh, I was a fickle lass back then, never happy, always something not right. But as time went on and the shock of Billy’s leaving us started to fade, the Lord really began a work in my heart and taught me to be grateful for what I have. He taught me that my joy should be based on Him rather than on my situation. And you know what I realized most of all? That much of this complaining spirit I had was born out of one thing: My focus was always on me. Oh, woe is me. Poor little me. God taught me that I needed to get my eyes off of myself and on to Him,” She said emphatically and then she smiled sadly at Helen before saying, “I just wish we didn’t have to lose our son for me to learn this.”
     Helen thought about what Mrs. Walker had said for the rest of the day. Later on, after the dinner party was over and she sat cozily in her chair by the fire, she pondered further, considering the ramifications of the older woman’s wisdom in light of her new and rather unsatisfactory life at the mansion.
     She realized that she was just like the young Mrs. Walker. She hadn’t been happy at the farm and now she wasn’t happy here. And she wisely began to understand that she was the problem. She reflected on Mrs. Walker’s confession of thinking only of herself and she realized that this was again describing her perfectly. Every bit of discontent was because of her focus on self. Her happiness. Her desires. Her comfort. Her convenience. Her free time. Her room. And on and on it went. Helen grew more disgusted with herself. It was like Mrs. Walker’s words had ripped the blinders from her eyes and she was seeing herself as she really was for the first time ever.
     And, oh, how agonizing it was to finally see. She didn’t like to think of herself as selfish and self-absorbed. But, if she was going to be honest with herself, she had to admit that this was true.
     So how to change? What to do?
     She started to think about what God’s purpose might be in bringing her here, for He had obviously directed her path to live with Aunt Ida in her big mansion—at least for now. Perhaps it was to encourage and support her aunt. Even to share the Gospel with her? She thought of Annie and Alice and Mrs. Bundle. So friendly but so lost. They didn’t know that Jesus had died to pay for their sins and that they could live for eternity if they would put their faith and trust in Christ. Was she here at this time to share this Good News with them?
     As she sat there quietly by the fire, she realized all the many ways that she could be a blessing to the household in which she found herself.
     When she attended the next dinner party she viewed it as an opportunity instead of a dreaded activity. She tried to be more intentionally kind and interested in what others were saying, planting seeds for the Gospel as God gave her opportunities.
     And each evening she would take a moment to write in her journal something for which she was specifically thankful to God for on that day. She soon found that His grace and mercy on each day was enough. When she took her eyes off of herself and put them on God, she was filled with a joy that wasn’t based on her circumstances.
     She practiced this through the next few weeks. Soon Christmas approached. And, while this new perspective on life did give her a sense of purpose and made the days fly by faster, it didn’t take away the awful sadness that enveloped her just a little more each day. She was missing her family terribly and the closer Christmas came, the sadder she grew. The only thing she wanted was to be with her family for the holidays.
     Aunt Ida was kind enough but it just wasn’t the same. She kept telling herself that it was just a day. She would survive. But many evenings after the lights were turned off and the fire was low, her pillow would grow wet with tears.

You can find the previous parts of this story and all of the other stories I’ve written for Christmas here.

Looking for the Blooms

Last week I visited Longwood Gardens, near Philadelphia, PA. They put up a lovely display for the holidays in their enormous greenhouse and then they also do an outdoor light display that provides a delightful winter walk in the evening. I hadn’t been there at Christmastime for several years and I was looking forward to meandering through the poinsettias, orchids, and other gorgeous flowers. I like the lights, too, but there is something about a greenhouse that just really captivates me. Especially one as large and well-maintained as Longwood’s.

As I walked through the different areas, I often stood back in awe. Sometimes I moved closer so that I could see the detail of a flower. I am really no fun to go to a greenhouse with because I am constantly stopping to look at an unusual bloom or to take a photo.

Eventually we got to my least favorite part of the house…the “desert” house. There we found the succulents and cacti. While succulents are rather nice, I really dislike cacti. They are spiky and uncomfortable if you accidentally rub up against them. Some of them look downright dangerous. And there is such a lack of color. Everything is a dusty or tannish green. Very few are bright and vibrant.

But then I saw a group of short cacti planted along the walkway. On top of a few of the bulbs was a bright pinkly-purple color. I leaned closer to see what was causing the color and I realized that this cactus was getting ready to bloom. It was a lovely sight, knowing that this prickly cactus was getting ready to bring forth lovely blooms.

Many of us (probably all of us) have our own “desert” room in life. The prickly people, the sticky or even dangerous situation, the boring, ho-hum job. All of the stuff we don’t like about our lives and would even be tempted to complain about if we didn’t know complaining was a sin! (Oh, alright, yes, the stuff we complain about… we just have to keep working on that one, right??)

But in the midst of that desert room, we can often find unexpected blooms. They often come from the most surprising places and bless our souls immensely.

I am reminded of a quote by Richard Sibbes that I came across yesterday: The depths of our misery can never fall below the depths of God’s mercy.

Those blooms are like God’s mercy, and they are especially wonderful when we need to spend more time in that desert room than we’d prefer.

But sometimes we forget to look for the blooms. I could have easily walked by the cacti at my feet without noticing that slight flush of pink. The blooms don’t always hit us at eye level but can sit close to the ground or sit behind another plant. Oftentimes, the mercy may be just a small thing that, when we reflect back, we recognize that God’s hand was working to encourage and comfort us.

As is the case for so much of the Christian life, seeing the blooms really starts with getting our eyes off of ourselves and on to our God. It’s the purposeful removing of my focus from my own misery and affliction and intentionally trusting God to work out His Sovereign plan. Only then can we see the blooms that God sends on our pathway through the desert room. Of course, most times this is easier said than done, is it not?

Shall we try to look for a bloom or two in our desert rooms today? There may be one right where we least expected it.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort.

2 Corinthians 1:3

Helen’s Christmas Dream (Part 3)

Today I offer part 3 of this year’s Christmas story. It’s a bit different than stories from previous years but I do hope some of you are enjoying Helen’s adventure. You can find Part 1 here and Part 2 here, if you missed them.

     Helen stepped off the train with trepidation to the platform teeming with people. Holding her valise, she managed to step through the crowd and move into the station where she searched for the “large window on the far right” where she had been told to wait. Helen watched the crowds of people move to and fro in the busy station as she waited nervously in this less bustling area. It wasn’t long before she heard her name called.
     “Miss Andrews?” A bald, kindly man who appeared to be middle-aged stepped towards her and, after Helen had given a gentle nod of her head, he continued, “I am Mr. Walker, Mrs. Hart’s Groomsman and Gardener. Welcome to Cleveland.”
     “Nice to meet you,” she smiled.
     “Follow me this way, Miss.”
     Helen followed the man through the cold November drizzle to a grand horse and carriage. He opened the door and she stepped inside, “wait here while I go get your trunk. I’ll be but a moment,” and with that, he was gone.
     Helen, both exhausted and excited, leaned over to look out the window. This was her first visit to the city and she didn’t want to miss anything. Within a few minutes she heard a big clunk outside as her trunk was put on the carriage.
     Mr. Walker opened the door, “are you all set to go, Miss?”
     Helen nodded with a smile and soon they were on their way. She slid over to the window to watch the city streets pass by. Large and small storefronts, as well as apartment buildings filled her view. After several blocks, she began to see the row homes that sat at the edge of the city. But within a few blocks these homes gave way to larger and larger homes. Soon they turned on to a tree-lined avenue where stately mansions stood far back from the street.
     A beautiful red brick mansion, with a grand cupola on the left and a beautiful round turret on the right caught her eye. She was delighted when the carriage turned into the long, winding driveway in front of it.
     Soon Mr. Walker was guiding her to the front door of the home that stood tall and upright in the large, sprawling yard.
     A serious, dignified man met them at the door, “Thank you, Mr. Walker. Come and follow me, Miss.”
     For the first time since she had arrived, Helen began to wonder if she had made the right decision. The inside of this enormous home was lovely but it felt rather cold and impersonal. Nothing like her friendly farmhouse back home. Would she get used to it?
     Following the man back the main hallway, he led her to a sitting room, where an older woman sat with a cup of tea. The gold curtains that hung beside each of the two tall windows echoed the color of the fire roaring in the large white fireplace, giving the room a cozy and warm ambience.
     “Aaahh! You’ve arrived!” The woman exclaimed with delight. She left her chair and came to greet her with a kiss on each cheek, “It is just marvelous to have you here!”
     Helen observed her Aunt Ida with curiosity. She wore an old-fashioned green day gown with little sprigs of flowers on it. Around her shoulders was a cream-colored lace shawl. Her lined face was pleasant and open. Helen breathed a sigh of relief.
     “Come, come, and sit down. I am sure you are worn out from your journey,” she led Helen to a large wing-backed chair that stood across from her own seat not far from the fire.
     “Now, let’s get you a cup of strong hot tea. What do you like in your tea, my dear?” She asked as she started to pour her a cup from the tray on the table that sat nearby. She added a bit of sugar and milk before Helen even had time to answer.
     Handing it to her with a smile, she went to the wall and pulled a rope. A slender older woman answered her call.
      “Oh, Mrs. Jenkins, would you be so kind to get our young guest something to eat? I am sure she is just famished after traveling.” Helen realized suddenly that she was quite hungry and appreciated her aunt’s thoughtfulness.
     Mrs. Jenkins smiled and said that she would be right back.
     “Now, dear, please tell me all about yourself! Your Grandmother believes you are just perfect for what I need. Of course, she is excited for you to be here because now she will get to see you more often! In fact, we already scheduled a dinner for Saturday,” Aunt Ida seemed to just burst forth with energy and enthusiasm.
     Helen smiled timidly, unsure if she was supposed to say anything now or just let her keep talking. Soon she found out that Aunt Ida would keep talking. Aside from a few specific questions she was asked, she mostly listened for the next hour as Aunt Ida shared about her life here in town and what she would expect Helen to do with her and for her.
     She also told her about how the household ran and that only recently she had pared her staff down to six servants since her needs were so minimal. She told her that Jenkins, the butler and Mrs. Jenkins, the housekeeper had met and married while working for her and Harry and had continued on with them through the years, becoming like family. Annie, the only lady’s maid, would help Helen with any needs she had. Alice, the house maid helped Mrs. Jenkins, and Mr. Walker took care of the stable and the grounds. Mrs. Bundle rounded out the staff as the much-loved cook.
     “You will meet them all by and by. Overall, I am quite blessed by the staff I have here,” Aunt Ida concluded her lengthy explanation regarding the servants.
     While her job description didn’t appear difficult, the enormous change this move would bring to her life suddenly felt a bit overwhelming to Helen. Aunt Ida must have noticed because, upon completion of the tea and delicious scones that Mrs. Jenkins had brought, she looked upon Helen with kindly eyes and said, “Well, that’s enough for now. Let’s get you to your room so that you can rest a bit before dinner,” and with that, she rang the bell again and soon Helen was following Mrs. Jenkins up the grand staircase to her new bedroom.
     She had dreamed of the day of having her own room and now her dream was coming true. Following staid Mrs. Jenkins through the hallway they finally entered a grand room. On the walls were the small blue flowers of Helen’s daydream. Long, lovely windows looked out on the gardens at the back of the house and were surrounded by thick, blue velvet drapes. The four poster bed was both high and inviting.
     “I’ll leave you now, Miss. Please don’t hesitate to ring the bell if you need anything,” she pointed to the rope hanging near the bed and then continued, “dinner is at six. Mrs. Hart does keep the tradition of dressing for dinner. If you need any help getting dressed, just let me know and I’ll send Annie up,” and with that, Mrs. Jenkins smiled politely and left.
     Helen looked down at her traveling clothes wryly. Well, they certainly wouldn’t do for dinner but she wasn’t sure she had anything that would do for dinner. She sat down on the bed and looked around the large room. A fire crackled pleasantly in the fireplace directly in front of the bed and two cozy chairs sat nearby. Between them stood a small table. Over to her right were the three tall windows and along the wall to her left stood a large wardrobe and a dresser complete with the lovely creamy white pitcher and bowl of her dream.
     Helen sighed with pure bliss. She was living what she had dreamed and so far it was grand!

Let It Roll. Just Let it Roll.

The conversation was years ago now. But I can still remember it. Immature behavior of the past continued to bring censure and judgement from another Christian who just refused to see past the past. It was a source of great frustration. I could feel their pain. Perhaps you can, too. Many of us have said or done stupid and wrong things and have had Christian siblings who have walked away from us because of it. They have never forgiven us or gave us room to grow in the Lord. Even if it was five or twelve or thirty years ago.

I never fail to be amazed at the lack of grace and forgiveness we show one another in the church when it comes to personal offense and hurt. We have much tolerance for all kinds of sin but when it comes to this there is zero tolerance. Personal offense has become the ultimate sin.

We can see how this wreaks havoc on a church and in families. So-and-so doesn’t want to be on a committee with this person or serve in a ministry with that person. Or they pretend to like someone, all the while gossiping about them or harboring ill-will in their heart towards them.

Now, of course, we need to admit that we aren’t going to feel kinship with everyone. Our personalities are all different and we will naturally be drawn to certain people and not to others. Ideally, this should be no cause for strife. But, of course, we don’t live in an ideal world, do we?

I thought of all of this as I was reading Philemon yesterday. The letter never used the words “forgiveness” or “second chance” but that is the theme of the book. Paul is writing a letter from Rome to his Christian brother, Philemon, regarding a slave by the name of Onesimus that had stolen from him and ran away to Rome. Through God’s Providence, Onesimus had become saved through Paul’s ministry there and was a new creation. Paul was writing to Philemon asking him to forgive Onesimus and give him a second chance.

I wonder if Paul had his own experience in mind when he wrote. He, who had been one of the worst persecutor of believers, had become a new creation in Christ and, understandably, the disciples viewed him skeptically and held him at arm’s length. It was Barnabas who gave him opportunity to share his testimony. The rest were afraid. There are only a few verses in Acts 9 that talk about this but I can’t help but wonder if proving that he was not the same man as before to his fellow Christians was no simple process and I wonder if this may have been cause for much discouragement and heartache.

And so when Paul is writing to Philemon, asking him to give Onesimus a second chance, Paul knows exactly how Onesimus feels. He understand his desire to make things right now that he had been transformed by Jesus Christ. And so he pleaded with Philemon to give him that opportunity.

I think this is a message we all need to hear. As believers, we should be people known for forgiveness and second chances. Not just for those who have been transformed by Christ through salvation but also for those who are being transformed by Christ through sanctification.

Because the encouraging truth is this: If we are believers, we are not the same person today as we were last year. Or the year before that. Or two years before that. We are growing and changing and maturing in the faith. It is so critical we remember this as we reflect on our own hurts and offenses from others. They, too, if they are saved, are growing and changing and maturing. We need to offer love and forgiveness and grace.

But what if we struggle with someone that hasn’t changed and doesn’t seem to be in the process of change? What then?

That’s a great question. And one that can be answered so clearly from this verse in Matthew–

But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matthew 6:15)

Our call is to forgive and offer grace to all people (regardless of their desire or lack thereof of that forgiveness and grace), just as God forgave us and offers us SO MUCH grace.

Our forgiveness and grace isn’t based on that person deserving it. It’s based on the undeserved forgiveness and grace we have received from God.

I’ve noticed in my own life that my forgiveness and grace for others has become easier (not easy) as I am growing in my understanding of just how much I need God’s forgiveness and grace.

As a young believer I truly had no concept of the depth of my own sin. I thought I was a pretty good person and my pride in my “goodness” made me a person who was easily offended. But study of the Word and examination of self through the years started opening my eyes. And, while I still have such a long way to go, I am thankful to God for His work in my life. If you are a growing believer, I know you can say the same thing.

I think this topic of forgiveness and grace for one another is such an important one. While the culture (including the Christian culture) calls for effusive grace when it comes to SIN the call in regards to personal disagreements, hurts, and offenses is to offer NO grace. This is completely opposite of what is written for us in scripture.

There, we find that we are not to tolerate sin but rather confront it gently with the idea of restoration. (Galatians 6:1) AND that we are to offer forgiveness and grace for personal wrongs (Philemon).

A long time ago now, I started intentionally thinking three little words when I would be personally offended: “Let it roll”. Just let it roll.

This little phrase has served me well through the years. When I was tempted to hold a grudge or say something unwise in response, I’d think of this little phrase. When I was mulling over hurtful words or a bit of gossip said about me, I would first evaluate the truthfulness of what was said and take action if necessary and then I would think of this little phrase: Let it roll. This phrase continues to help me even to this day.

Just as rain rolls right off of a duck’s back so should those personal offenses and hurtful words roll right off of our backs. Now, of course, there are times when we need to have hard conversations due to patterns of behavior. Times when those little words aren’t adequate.

But, in my personal experience, they often are adequate. They often do remind me to let things go rather than to hold on to them and stew about them and make the offense bigger in my mind.

Whether it is with family or friends or co-workers and anyone else God puts in our paths, may we be known as people of forgiveness and grace, rather than people of grudges and bitterness.

Helen’s Christmas Dream (Part 2)

Below you will find Part Two of this year’s Christmas story. If you missed Part One, you can find it here. Happy reading!

     A week later found Helen outside hanging up laundry in the late autumn sunshine. It was a breezy, brisk day and the wet clothing combined with the cold air was making her fingers freeze. She looked up as she heard the wagon. Papa had gone to town for supplies and he usually brought a small treat back for each of the children. Even though Helen considered herself to mature to enjoy penny candy, she was secretly glad that Papa still brought her some.
     “Whoah,” Papa pulled the wagon up next to the house and jumped down. In his hand he held two letters. This was not unusual as both Papa and Mama had family back east in Cleveland.
     Mama was wiping her hands on a towel as she came out to greet Papa with a smile.
     “Two letters today,” John handed them to her. Helen knew that Mama loved the letters she got from Grandma and her sisters. It was a bit hard on her to live so far from her family.
     Helen continued hanging up the laundry until the last piece was hung on the line and then she went inside to find mama reading her letters at the kitchen table.
     “Anything interesting?” Helen asked.
     “Well, actually, yes…” Mama looked at her with speculative, twinkly eyes.
     “Well…what?” Helen laughed.
     “I’d like to talk to your father before I tell you what’s in this specific letter,” she held up a piece of paper with large, scrawling handwriting and then pointing to the second letter laying on the table, “but Grandma sends her love,” she added with a smile.
     A bit annoyed, Helen wandered off into the living room where her younger siblings were playing quietly. She busied herself with her knitting basket as she pondered the author and message of the mysterious letter.
     Several hours later the younger children were in bed and the older children sat at the table doing their homework. Helen’s parents found her in the living room reading. Her mama held the letter in her hand. Helen looked up expectantly. Now what could be in that letter?
     “We’d like to talk to you for a moment,” said Mama as she sat down on the sofa. A smiling Papa sat down next to her.
     “This letter is from my Aunt Ida. She was talking to Grandma and telling her that her companion recently got married and that she is in need of a new one. Grandma suggested you,” she paused a moment to let it sink in.
     Helen sat there, dumbfounded. Wealthy Aunt Ida was requesting her as a companion? “What would I do?”
     Her father answered, “According to her letter you would help her with correspondence and entertaining, as well as simply keep her company.”
     “That’s it?” Helen asked, surprised.
     “That’s it,” Mama laughed and then continued, “What a different life it would be for you compared to your life here on the farm. But your father and I feel like you should do this. It’s a wonderful opportunity. Aunt Ida is such a dear and she’s all alone now that Uncle Harry passed away a few years ago.”
     Thoughts swirled through Helen’s mind. She had never met Aunt Ida but she did remember Mama talking about her “rich relatives”. Aunt Ida had met and married Uncle Harry when he was an up and coming businessman. He had done very well for himself and, many years ago, the couple had moved to a big, rambling mansion in the best part of Cleveland. Aunt Ida had stayed living there despite the fact that she was all alone now.
     While Helen had spent many hours dreaming of living in a mansion, she never thought it would actually happen. The excitement began to grow within her as she thought of what lay before her.
     “Yes! I’ll do it!” she said suddenly and eagerly.
     “Wonderful,” her mama said it a bit hesitantly as the ramifications of her oldest daughter moving away settled in on her heart. As with most mamas, she wanted what was best for her beloved child but that would sometimes mean hurt to her own heart. While she did rely on Helen for help around the house and with the younger children, she knew that her other older children could fill that hole. No, what she would really miss was Helen herself. As she had grown older, the mother and daughter had developed a burgeoning friendship and she would sorely miss her. But Mama knew she had to encourage her daughter to grab hold of this exciting opportunity so she shooed the unhappy thoughts away and pasted a large smile on her face as she added, “you will love my Aunt Ida. She is a delightful lady. ”
     Papa lovingly squeezed Mama’s hand. He knew how hard this was for her but he also agreed that it was important for Helen to take advantage of this unexpected and amazing opportunity.
     Mama and Helen both wrote letters to Aunt Ida in response to her letter and the next few weeks were a flurry of activity as they prepared Helen for her big adventure.
     Three weeks later, she stood by the train station with her family. The youngest children were especially sad that “their Helen” was leaving them and the good-bye was difficult. There were many hugs and kisses and not a few tears as she climbed on to the train that would take her east to her new life.

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