The Book and Testimony of Richard Wumberland

As part of our daily lessons, I teach my children church history. We often read about martyrs and theologians of the early church, but this past term, I decided a more modern perspective would be important as well.

So, as part of my daughter’s sixth grade study in church history, I have been reading the book: Tortured for Christ by Richard Wurmbrand. It is the story of the persecution that took place in Romania during the communist regime. Richard Wurmbrand was a pastor during the 1950’s-1960’s when Romanian Christians were being persecuted by the Communist party. He writes not only bits of his years of being tortured in prison, but also of those believers he heard about or knew personally.

As the book reaches the second half, Pastor Wurmbrand discusses the lies of atheists and communists and points to various testimonies of those who have taken a public stand against those lies. Pastor Wurmbrand also speaks passionately about the need for Christian brothers and sisters in free countries to support their fellow believers who are being persecuted.

I have told several people, that even though I have read multitude of books throughout my lifetime, there are a few that change a person forever. The books, Tortured for Christ has done just that for me.

One of my favorite parts of the book is on pages 44-49 when Pastor Wurmbrand states that:

“It was strictly forbidden to preach to other prisoners, as it is in captive nations today. It was understood that whoever was caught doing received a severe beating. A number of us decided to pay the price for the privilege of preaching, so we accepted their terms. It was a deal: we preached and they beat us. We were happy preaching; they were happy beating us–so everyone was happy” (Wurmbrand, 2013 p.44).

As I read on, Pastor Wurbrand tells that often a Christian man would be interrrupetd as he was telling the prisoners about Christ, He would be severely beaten and brought back. When the damaged preacher was returned to the cell, he would adjust himself and ask his listeners, “‘Now, brethern, where did I leave off when I was interrupted?’ He continued his gospel messgae!” (Wurmbrand, 2013, p.45).

I find that ongoing event most convicting as I ask myself… how am I being persecuted for my Savior? How am I being beaten and bruised for Him? What sacrifices must I make on His behalf? The answer is a line with an empty space above it.

Yet, as I look at my comfortable recliner, with my Bible and prayer journal beside it, I am reminded that the disciplines of every-day must be my sacrifice. To be diligent to pray…pray…pray, to be faithful to God’s Word, to raise my children to also love their Savior, to sacrificially love my husband, to live at every cost to myself, to silence my prideful tongue, to discern truth and lies, to walk in grace and tenderness to others…this is my sacrifice. And though I may not be tormented by other people for my faith, I can strive to hold fast to my faith in a world where everything is created to pull me from it.

My cross, is to live out faith in a world of comfort, which is no less a challenging place to live out my faith in Christ than rotting in the basement of dirty prison cell. I may venture to add, that perhaps, crucifying myself is a far more difficult task in a free, wealthy, comfortable world than it might be if I bore the literal stripes upon my back from another’s whip.

I will muse again at another lesson I have learned from the book about how petty believers in the free-world can be. Richard Wurmbrand explains that the persecuted church makes churches in the free world seem void and meaningless. In his discussion of that topic, Wurmbrand states that:

“The Bible verses are not well known in many countries, because Bibles are not permitted. Besides, the preacher had most likely been in prison for years without a Bible…They are like Job who said that he would believe in God even if He would slay him. They are like Jesus who called God “Father,’ even when He was seemingly forsaken on the cross” (Yurmbrand, 2013, p. 89).

As an American Christian, with stacks of Bible’s on my shelves, apps on my phone bursting with biblical podcasts, and stacks of books written by believers from today back to hundreds of years ago, one would think, I have been blessed with much more opportunity to follow Christ. Yet, I find myself feeling like a very small believer in the light of a man with no Bible, no church, no Christian books or podcasts, laying on the floor of his prison cell for His beloved Savior.

I have been given so much perspective about what is and isn’t important. Believers in persecuted countries do not have the luxury to disagree with fellow Christians about worship styles, Bible versions, or whether or not a woman should hold the office of a deacon. Every cause we consider important in our Christian churches today, is something that is more of a distraction to the cause of Christ than a help to the precious gospel. I see so many believers self-promoting.

Believers agree on Christ and His grace poured out on their souls to save them. They hunger for fellowship with other believers and will meet together faithfully at the cost of imprisonment or death. Believers in the persecuted church make every American Christian look like a fake.

And truth be told, if I did not rest completely in Christ’s atonement on my behalf, despite the world of ease and sin where I live, I would seriously question the status of my own soul’s security in Christ. It is not by my work…but His, or I would be tempted to run to a country where I could suffer the most on His behalf and honor Him by my suffering.

It is here that my heart is pointed to the center of the matter. It is all about Him. And with every sweet testimony I read from Pastor Wurmbrand’s book, I can see the worthiness of Christ. Yes, He is worthy of every sufferer’s pain and every martyr’s death. Jesus is so insurmountably precious, and dear to us who love Him, that we cannot help, but pick up our cross daily and follow Him. Whether that cross be a chain in prison, or the chain of comfort. Both seek to drive our hearts further from Him, but may they only serve as something we bear to honor Him better.

When I survey the wondrous cross
on which the Prince of glory died,
my richest gain I count but loss,
and pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast
save in the death of Christ, my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them through his blood.

See, from his head, his hands, his feet,
sorrow and love flow mingled down.
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
or thorns compose so rich a crown?

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
that were a present far too small.
Love so amazing, so divine,
demands my soul, my life, my all.  -Isaac Watts

Homeschooling Will Not Save Them

 

On our walk today, we chanced upon some other home-schooling friends and I had a most interesting, yet troubling conversation with one of the mothers.

As we chatted, I learned that my new friend moved into the area a few months ago. In that time, she and her husband had been looking for a church. She sweetly stated that they were not faithful at attending church, but were hoping to find a home church soon and become more faithful. I quickly encouraged her aspiration. And our conversation turned to the subject of modern health-care, then laws, then our deeply broken culture.

She commented how grateful she was to be able to home-school as health-care and culture around her crumbled. The more we talked, the more distance my heart grew from her, as I realized our purpose in life was not the same. Even though she was a believer, she did not rest in God’s sovereignty for her children’s future. She was hoping home-schooling would protect them from the evils within and without.

Growing up as a home-schooler, my new friend was not believing any new lie. It was the same old philosophy I heard from home-schoolers throughout my entire life. The flaw was in parents trusting in home-schooling (basically themselves), rather than trusting in God for the spiritual well-being of their children.

No, it is not new at all that parents rely on how their children are raised and educated to be the redeeming factor in their children’s lives. Even if it is not home-schooling, many parents enroll their children in public or Christian schools for terribly wrong reasons. When I was in Christian college, there were a lot of students there, who were forced to go their as a last resort of their parents to fix the souls of their children. Christian schools are no different today. And I would venture to say that home-schooling is equally at fault. It is the belief in something other than God, to “fix” a child.

I have had many interactions with other home-schoolers throughout my life.  And can personally attest, there are great majority of homeschool parents who home-school out of a heart of fear. In fact, my heart was once in such a place of fearful control. So I completely get the underlying fear of the secular world. Home-schooling can be seen as simply a way for parents to have complete control of their children’s lives. For some parents, that is not the purpose of home-schooling, but for others, that absolutely is. Much more could be said on that account, but a discussion on a person’s need to “control” is another subject for another time.

Homeschooling is a way parents can control input into their children’s lives. Homeschool is a way parents can limit their children’s exposure to the secular world. Homeschooling becomes a way parents can indoctrinate their children with their faith. Homeschooling becomes the way parents protect their children from sin and the influences of the world and help them be good Christians.

Is any of that wrong? We could quibble that those home-schooling parents certainly are well intentioned and not unloving in their pursuit for what is best for their children, but Scripture says that: “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'” John 14:6.

Christ is the ONLY source of hope for our children’s souls. That goal must be our first pursuit as parents. When I say our primary pursuit, it is most important that it is our personal pursuit. We must pray for our children as we strive to walk with God ourselves. Nothing is of more value for our children than our relationship with God. We must be faithful in studying and memorizing Scripture. We must seek out a church that is also faithful to God’s Word (not one that has a bunch of home-schoolers with the same life values as us). We must be faithful to Christ who sacrificed his precious blood for us: “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Hebrews 10:23-25.

The trouble lies, when parents put their trust in for their children’s future in home-education and do not prioritize the church (not just “like-minded” homeschoolers). My new friend, was so comforted to know her children were being home-schooled and not pressured to be in the system of the world. Yet, she forsook the biblical command of fellowshipping with other believers. I cannot reconcile that thinking with Scripture. My new friend, could not possibly attempt to lead her children to Christ, if she herself did not lean into Him herself. Other home-schoolers and home-school groups are not the church. They may be believers, but being under the biblical direction and ministry of Elders at a local church is biblical. Home-schooling (dare I say it) is not. Homeschooling is a method of education, not our faith.

Homeschooling families often find safety, security, and hope in their home-schooling. Honestly, nothing could be more dangerous in my mind. I was home-schooled. A lot of my friends were home-schooled too. The vast majority of them are no longer followers of Christ. In fact, we have seen the results of a few home-school Christian leaders such as Joshua Harris who were home-educated and then choose not to follow Christ.

I would be the first to shout out from the mountain tops that home-schooling does not a soul save!

I would rather my children attended the worst, most liberal, public school in the land and had a heart for God, than were educated at my wonderful, safe, God-centered dining room table, and neglected Christ. God is just as capable to save a soul of a child in public school as He can save a home-schooled child’s soul.

Ok, Time-Out: I love home-schooling. I love being a part of my children’s education. I love watching them learn. I love answering their questions about God, life, and why the sky is blue. I love seeing them develop and grow. I love the flexibility we have as we learn. I love being able to talk about our wonderful Creator, our precious Savior and great God as we walk through our subjects in school or pound a loaf of bread. I love guiding my children into acts of kindness and hospitality. It is truly a great gift and privilege that I have to be able to home-school.

But I do choose a church because there are a lot of home-school families in it. I choose a church because it is founded on the truth of God’s Word. I fellowship with others because they are believers, not because they home-school. I want my children to be around a variety of believers…not just home-schoolers. As believers, we all need each others differences. We will not grow, and think well if we only surround ourselves with people who are just like us. My world is not about home-schooling. It is about Christ.

The church is a biblical institution….home-schooling is not. The church is whom we are called to fellowship with. Some of the church will home-school their children like me, and others will not. We are called to live a life of self-sacrifice. That means even building relationships with people who are very different from us. It is the easy thing to limit our children’s exposure and control their input and friendships. And I will be the first to say, that I am the guardian of what and who comes in to the lives of my children. That is wise parenting. However, I choose to walk with my children and help them think through how to get along with children who are unsaved or raised differently than themselves. It is a good teaching tool. I do not send them to public school to let them deal with it on their own. The day they enter the world will come soon enough, but until then, I have the privilege of walking with them as they are exposed and learn about different thoughts and life philosophies.

For instance, our walk with my new home-school friend a few weeks ago, was an incredibly interesting conversation with my older girls who were present to hear it. We could talk about how too many home-schoolers do not value the church, want to submit to its leadership, are critical of any believer who has different values than their own, or control fellowship to only those who are the same. My children and I were able to have a meaningful and vibrant conversation as a result of talking with someone who home-schooled like us, but for very different reasons than us. We have had so many conversations about thing our unsaved neighbor children have said or done, friends in youth group, or even comments from family members that are on a different page.

My goal, is not to point my children to MY standards or beliefs, but always point them to Scripture for their source of truth. I say over and over….”what does Scripture say about this?” Sometimes, I Scripture has no straightforward answer, and I must leave the choice open. and say, it is a matter of personal conviction.

Like how we choose too or not too celebrate Halloween. I let them know that when they grow up, they will have to pray about it and decide for themselves how and what to do about such things that are not doctrinal issues. But preference and areas of personal conviction; someday, that may even include whether or not they will home-school their children.

We Don’t Drink Alcoholic Beverages. Why?

I was taught that all wine in biblical times was actually grape-juice. Knowing history of those times, it is funny to think that many Christians  believed and still believe that.

Many of the Christian cultures in the past have done their best to biblically address the use of alcohol, but it remains a struggle for many today as to what is or is not correct.

My husband and I have both talked extensively about the subject of alcohol drinking. It is not something we take lightly. We have wonderful, Christian friends and family who drink alcoholic beverages. We also have wonderful Christian friends and family who are adamantly apposed to drinking anything alcohol.

As a general rule, we have chosen not to drink alcoholic beverages. He have both tried these adult beverages, so we do not condemn drinking, but as an area of personal conviction for us, not for all Christians, we have chosen not to make drinking alcoholic beverages a part of our lives.

Here is why:

  1. It isn’t necessary. There are things in life that are essential for the body to thrive. A person can live in good health without drinking those drinks. Wine may have its health benefits, but it isn’t necessary. Socially, it is isn’t needed. People are very understanding toward those who chose not to drink. I even venture to say that there is more social grace toward people who don’t drink alcoholic beverages than those who do not eat gluten.
  2. It isn’t kind. My husband and I have family members whose lives have been destroyed by alcoholism. Whether loss by drunk driving, suicide, or family brokenness…when something has had such a destructive power in the lives of others that we love, it is in a way, making light of their trouble to partake of it casually. We also have close friends who come to our home regularly have been or still are going through AA. I feel it is not supportive of their journey for me to have alcohol in our home for their sake.
  3. It is dangerous. Alcoholic beverages can be addictive. Some people require them to make it through the day. Alcohol can be a coping mechanism, which is never right for to replace God with a drink. Alcoholism has been the root of so many deaths by causing illness, cancer, auto accidents, rage, and abuse.
  4. It could cause my loved ones to stumble. There are people in our lives who watch us. If those people, such as my children, and friends see that we drink, they may think that…”If they can, so can I.” That may not be true. I do not want my example to guide anyone into a place of temptation.

Now, my reasons are for my husband and I in our home. And one might notice, not one of those reasons is Bible verse based. I am not preaching or pointing out passages of Scripture to prove my decision. This is an area of conviction in our lives as we strive to best love others. We believe it is not a sin to drink wine or alcohol (Permitting one does not get drunk), but for us, it is not a way we feel best loves others. So we chose not to drink.

A Lesson from Christmas Carol Kauffman

I was about twelve when I read Mrs. Kauffman’s semi-biographical novel, Hidden Rainbow for the first time. My heart was moved by the story of young Anna and her sweet husband John, as they became believers and as they grew from the works based religion into a life filled with grace by faith.  I watched John and Anna endure painful persecution when they left the  Catholic church. Once John and Anna trusted Christ for their salvation.

The Kauffman’s Anabaptist history comes through beautifully in the Hidden Rainbow. Her understanding of grace by faith alone, pours out onto each page as she outlines the struggles of Anna and John Olesh in their attempt to separate from the Catholic faith in former Yugoslavia.

It is not strange that one book can have a deep impact on the soul of a person, but that is what Hidden Rainbow became to me. I have read Hidden Rainbow multiple times since then, but have found that it is a story that has enveloped my life in so many ways.

From the book Hidden Rainbow, my heart learned to beat fast, yearning for the salvation of those in countries closed to the light of Christ. Even today, I beg the Lord to set free captive hearts in such countries where the preaching of the gospel is not allowed.

Seeing the vigilance of a mother under persecution for her faith, I also pray for the strength of believers living in countries where they are not free to read Scripture and worship God. And for the hearts of the precious children of persecuted believers, seeing the forceful pull of government and worshipers of false gods, who sometimes even separate children from Christian parents.

Hidden Rainbow also gave me a perspective of how straight and narrow the path of grace alone is. The path of grace is unmeldable with any other course. No one can purchase a soul with money. No freedom from sin is found in baptism. No prayer, no birthright, no act of another can secure our souls in Christ.

In our American culture, the melding of grace and works is exceedingly prominent among many people who hold dearly to a prayer they said as a child or a life full of religious habits-including Bible reading, prayer, and church. Faithfulness to God does not save our souls.

People are constantly attempting to attach grace to works. It is a futile attempt as grace and works cannot be forced together in any method. The early church of Galatia attempted to blend works and faith and received a pointed letter from Paul.

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—” Gal 1:6

The only true gospel is dependence on God alone for the redemption of one’s soul and the journey of its sanctification. The false gospel is nothing more than a dependence on one’s self. Trust in grace alone cannot be combined and remain grace alone.

As I journey with Anna and John in their tear filled journey of persecution by the Catholic church, I see their dependency on God strengthened. I see the divide deepened as Anna and John are refused work and John must flee to America to help support his family.

As I see in this book the devotion and commitment of marriage spans oceans. There were no cell-phones or messenger apps to aid John and Anna in their connection. They did not even have a photograph to send with each other. They were committed to each other in a doubtless, unquestioning, and supportive way that few modern marriages understand.

Left with the children in Yogoalavia, Anna stands before a judge for refusing to baptize her infants. Anna is persecuted by her village as they refuse to let her purchase food out of fear of being associated with her. Anna and John’s family beg them to repent and turn back to Catholicism, grieving that  John and Anna no longer submit to the Catholic church and will be doomed to hell.

The gospel is not a uniting truth, but a dividing truth. As Anna struggles to keep her family together, the rift between her, and her extended family becomes deeper, until she is separated from her home by an ocean.

Hidden rainbow is certsinly a book that has stuck to my ribs throughout the years as I my life has encountered some of the challenges John and Anna faced. It gives the heart courage to face what has already been faced and persevered by others.

A Redeemed Introvert

happy ethnic woman in apron standing at entrance of own cafe

I get everything about the need for personal space, the desire to re-charge, re-group, the distaste for large frivolous gatherings, and the hunger for more than small talk. I desire and understand those things.

Introversion has really become a popular phrase lately. I have had so many people tell me over the past few years how their introversion prevents them from enjoying social experiences.

There is so much information concerning introverts. Introversion is no new thing, but somehow, it seems that it must be something that everyone understands.

Most people I know claim to be introverts. I always thought I was an introvert. I like my personal space. I do not like parties and large groups of people. I feel out-of-place in the world, but comfortable at home.

As the knowledge of introversion has exploded this past decade, it seems that more and more, I find people are finding their identity in their introversion rather than in their redeemed person.

Why do introverts feel the need to tell anyone they are introverts? For one thing, it helps alleviate any feelings of social awkwardness if everyone knows where one is coming from. But it is also a matter of identity.

What does the Bible say about introverts? Nothing actually. Many people we read about in Scripture were probably introverts. Moses comes to mind, as does King David, but the point is that it is simply irrelevant. In Scripture, people are all described by Whom they find their identity in…whether they seek to do God’s will or not is crucial to where they have put their trust.

I want to beg believers to please set their introversion aside and simply seek to obey God.

God commands us to fellowship with other believers. Hebrews 10:24-25 pleads with believers, “let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” This neglect to fellowship seems as though it is more acceptable if one is an introvert and not an extrovert. Scripture does not command only extroverts to fellowship, but all believers to gather and unite together faithfully. This “meeting together” is not just once a week but the result of a burning desire to walk with God. Acts 2:42 describes believers as devoting themselves to fellowship. “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” May I be devoted so to Christ that I must surround myself constantly with those who also share that desire!

God commands believers to embrace hospitality. Hospitality is not just a gift, it is a command. It is recognized in Scripture that this may be difficult for some more than others, “above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling” I Peter 4:8-9. The home is meant to be our tool to show love to others, not to be a safe-haven from others. I go into much deeper detail on the value of hospitality in articles like: “Ministering Through the Senses in the Home.” But it is truly vital that we evaluate the use of our home and love others more than our own self-comfort. Some are more gifted at hospitality than others, that is ok. All that is asked is that we show love to others by offering up our homes to be used by God with joy.

God commands us to Share the Gospel. As my walk with the Lord draws closer, I will say with joy, that He becomes pre-eminent in my heart in a way that cannot be contained. I want others to know Him and believe in Him. I truly believe that gospel sharing is simply an outpouring of our passionate love for Christ. It should be as natural as breathing air to speak of Him. I think people struggle sharing the gospel, not because of introversion, but from a simple lack of joy in their God. If our identity is in other things, like or roles in life, or character traits like introversion, then that is what we will share with others instead of Christ. Philemon 1:6 “and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ.”

God commands us to pray. When Jesus found himself alone, even then He was not alone… How often introverts use the reason that Jesus went away from the crowd and they need time away from people to do the same. When Jesus went off alone, it wasn’t because He was going to sit on the sofa and binge watch “Bridal Wars,” or spend a weekend hiking and reading books by a fire. In fact, Jesus never went off to be alone. He went off to be WITH…with His father. Being alone and resting is not ungodly, but it is not a reason to separate oneself from God and the things of God. Yes, rest is biblical as well, but rest is found in Christ, not in ourselves or in nature, or in time away from home. Rest for our souls is found in Christ. Our dear Savior welcomes us so gently into His presence, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” Mt. 11:28-30.

Joy and worship are biblical. This is where art, nature, music, family and time alone come into play. Our joy in our God can pour out of our taking time to be in awe of what He has done and giving Him praise for creation and the beautiful things we see around us. This is not the place for self-indulgence… or is it? I must smile at the thought that if my indulgence is Christ, then yes, there is much room for worship in what I see and do. I can set up my easel for an afternoon and paint flowers with a heart of joyful worship to my Creator. As I discussed in an Tidings of a Leaping Heart, joy and worship in my Savior can, and should be a part of all I do and there is much room for what that entails. I Chronicles 16: 8-36 is too long to include, but most certainly worth reading and worshipping through as David repeats praises to our God. “Sing to the Lord, all the earth! Tell of his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples! For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and he is to be feared above all gods” 23-25.

Yes, God has made us each different, and with different natures, desires, skills, and spiritual gifts. Introversion can be such an easy, and understandable excuse for staying in our comfort zone and not doing what is right. Instead of identifying ourselves as introverts, it is much better to simply find our identity in Christ as a sinner saved by grace. As we learn to love Christ more, we will find obeying His commands becomes a joy, not a duty, because our hearts are full of love for Him and love for all those who love Him as dearly as we do!

The Art of Hearing People

photo of old woman sitting while talking with another woman

Hearing people is truly an art. It is so easy to let words go in out ears with no intent to ponder what we are hearing. A busy mom is often at fault for this as she is interrupted and distracted by little ones during conversation.

So, how can one hear? Really hear someone else?

It begins by loving that person. We naturally tune in to those whom we love. If I have a heart for my children, my husband, my mother, my neighbor, the lady at the store, I am far more apt to desire to hear what it is they have to share with me. But love is often not enough. I love my husband, but how easy it is to get caught up in my own ponder the going on in my own brain while being present and not really hearing what he is telling me.

Love must be played out in prayer. Yes, prayer is essential in truly listening to others. By praying for someone, I am making them a part of my spirit. By incorporating that person into who I am through prayer, I naturally build a concern and attachment to what I hear from him or her. I seek not just a connection with that person as a human being, but as a spirit when I am faithfully taking that person to the Lord in prayer. I also find myself much more interested in the going on’s of a person’s life if there are matters about that person I have been bringing to the Lord. It is wonderful to hear how the Lord is working in a person I personally have been seeking Him about.

Preparing for conversation. I will be the first to state that sometimes conversations pop up unexpectedly without a moment to prepare. However, if I have time, I love to ponder upcoming conversations. I will think of things I want to know, advice I need, or questions I have for that person in advance. If I am already wanting to know things, I am far more apt to be in tune with the discussion.

Observe while listening. This is incredible crucial. How many times I have been in conversation and what the person was telling me did not match up with how that person apperared or I could tell more needed to be said through facial expressions and voice influctions. Sometimes, people do not need to be heard for what they say as much as for who they truly are. How often yawns can tell me my friend is tired and clue me in to leave. A

Read through words to the heart. Words are often used by people to mask insecurities, loneliness, or lack of confidence. A person who tends to ramble and reluctant to end the conversation is most certainly struggling with loneliness. A person who tends to talk about him or herself and brag about their recent exploits is one who is insecure and desirous of affirmation. A person who talks in assertive language and tends to be uncomfortable with silence is one who lacks confidence.

Think about conversations later. This comes naturally for me. I often ponder conversations in retrospect. In my younger, more insecure days, this was not always a good thing and I used it to feed my already insecure mindset. But as the years have past, I find pondering past conversations useful in listening to what was said. I often like to follow up with a text to something we talked about. I am also able to add specific notes to my prayer journal which leads to even more improved hearing in future conversations.

Make friends of good listeners. I have some friends who are amazing listeners. They are gifted in completely tuning me in while we talk. I have learned from them how to hear others better, because they have heard me. How I have been heard by my dear friends has helped me know how to better hear people.

Sharing the Glory of Easter with the Neighborhood Children

I have a dear friend who has held a neighborhood Easter egg hunt in her yard for years. She was the first person I called when the idea struck my mind that we should do that this year.

My friend is entering the zone of elderly now, but her life is still truly a testimony of God’s grace. She spent a good hour with me on the phone, telling me how she went about hosting the egg hunt every year. She has shared the gospel with hundreds of children as they have passed through her yard searching for plastic filled eggs. Some years over a hundred-showed up!

My first Easter egg hunt is very much a trial version. I hope to build up to the extravagant event my friend prepared, but we are not there yet. I am curious how it will go this year. And what things I will need to alter to make it better next year.

My friend impressed upon me the value of praying in advance. She spent time praying for the people who would come, conversations, relationships, and things like the weather.

Then she would trust the Lord that the right people would be there…parents and children. She did not wonder if she would have enough eggs or stress about who might come or not be able to come. She simply rested in God’s sovereignty in the whole matter.

Her preparations began for the coming year, the day after Easter. She snatched up eggs, toys, decorations and games on sale.

She ordered bulk egg toys and shopped dollar stores for egg fillers.

But Easter eggs weren’t her only activity. She planned a craft table with things for children to do.

She prepared a short time to tell the story of Easter and share the gospel. She used the wordless book, Resurrection eggs, had young people from church come tell the story, or read a book.

As I listened, I realized, filling and hiding eggs was a very small part of my dear friend’s Easter egg hunt preparations. The bulk of her time was in prayer over the event and the people.

I was truly impacted by my dear friend’s testimony and humble heart as she described to me what she did. Her voice is quiet and gentle. I have met few people who are as much of an introvert as she is. Yet, her love for people and their broken souls moves her to reach beyond her comfort and into the lives of others!

Oh, that my heart may be so loving of others that I am daily moved out of love for them to share Christ!

Experiencing Birthing Pains with Joy

black textile

I know I labored for hours, writhing in the pain of each contraction leading up the he birth of my first child. But despite the deathly pain, I only remember one thing most about that day. The moment I saw my sweet little girl’s round head and the immense joy that filled my soul as I gathered her in my arms for the first time. Every ounce of discomfort was completely worth it.

I rarely read the news anymore, but for the sake of a quick knowledge, I took a quick glance today. As one could imagine, I left my reading of current events with a heavy heart. The pain in this earth is incredible. Wars, famines, unrest, oppressions, death, disease, destruction, hatred, violence, storms, earthquakes are a few of them endless and increasing troubles I see in the news.

Then I reflected on conversations with friends this past week. Every one I know has major pains in their lives. People are hurting, struggling, and in distress everywhere I look.

Is this how things have always been? Or is it getting worse? I think everyone on earth would agree that they have never seen the world in the incredible turmoil we have now. My heart is weary of all the disturbing news. I feel as though the earth is crumbling apart beneath my feet.

Then Romans 8, like a plumb bob, slides down right before my quaking heart, bringing my faltering heart back in sink with truth.

“For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” Romans 8:18-25

I do remember contractions. Ouch! A wave of pain surges through the body, then I breathe a moment, as I prepare for the next pains. The pains surge closer and closer together, almost overlapping in intensity as the birth of my precious little one closes in.

Several thousand years ago, a birth was taking place in a small Bethlehem stable. Mary, in the throws of pain of labor, held the promise of the child in her mind. Struggling for that moment when the King would be born!

Just as a woman giving birth, the whole earth is in labor. Waves of pain are pulsing closer and closer together, hardly giving mankind a moment to catch his breath as the time of the King’s return approaches. Creation groans. Humans, who are without hope, lapse into fear and despair.

A smile spreads across my soul. That means ONE thing! My King is coming! My heart bursts with joy as I consider the joy set before me. The earth is preparing for the birth of a Kingdom! Yes, I know much more pain is ahead, but I also see the other end of this mess we call earth. I see glory, fulfillment, and a King sitting upon His throne, ruling the world in perfect harmony.

I suddenly see that I am living in one giant advent season…my heart ought to be in a constant state of rejoicing and hope of my coming King. The despair flees my soul as the brightness of hope soars in.

As I share my joyful ponderings with my husband, he gently reminds me of our Savior who walked through pain, His face set on the joy of our redemption.

“Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Romans 12:2

Pain must come before the joy of holding a new life. I can set that joy set before my heart and, see this troubled world through the eyes of expectant hope.

“Is this what you are asking yourselves, what I meant by saying, ‘A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me’? Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. John 16: 20-22

As I wait, watching the world writhe with pain, my heart is free to ache for those without hope, but it is not free to be troubled. My heart is free to long for an end to this troube, but not free to despair. My heart, is free to persevere in its calling, but not free to seek safety and flee earthly troubles. I am secure in the hope set before me and I can endure, with God’s ongoing grace, all that will take place in my time, with hope, joy, and wonder. My King is coming!

JOY TO THE WORLD

Joy to the world! The Lord is come.
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room;
And heav’n and nature sing,
And heav’n and nature sing.
And heav’n and heav’n and nature sing.

Joy to the world, the Savior reigns
Let men their songs employ.
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy
Repeat the sounding joy

No more let sin and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness.
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders of His love.

-Watts

Tidings of a Leaping Heart

I plugged the three, hundredth string of twinkling lights into the middle of the Christmas tree. Tears filled my eyes and rolled down my cheeks. My heart was full! Listening to songs of Christmas worship and pondering the magnificent and grace filled birth of my precious Savior! He has come! Suddenly the three-hundred twinkling lights I had spun on the tree didn’t seem like enough! How could I ever put enough lights on the tree to express my heartfelt joy of the Savior’s incarnation?

I have been told since I was a little girl that Christmas is not about the gifts under the tree or the food on the table. Christmas is not about the lights or the stockings. From stories like The Grinch by dear old Dr. Seuss to Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol, the heart of Christmas is displayed as more dear than all the decorations, gifts, food, and traditions we enroll in our Christmas festivities.

But what is the heart of Christmas? Secular stories might leave that answer to the reader’s imagination. Generosity, benevolence, joy, and peace are often spoken of by both secular and Christian’s during the Christmas season. But is any one of those what fires our souls during the Christmas season?

My heart overflowing, as it meditates on the holy, righteous, merciful God, and Him who lowered Himself to my pitiful human level for the sake of my redemption. The fullness of time had come, what the earth groaned for had arrived. Healing of what was broken was about to begin.

The Christmas spirit is a leaping spirit; much like that of baby John. Luke 1:41 “And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.”

My soul is a leaping soul as it ponders my Savior and His coming to earth. I resonate with John as my soul literally boils with joy! This is Whom my soul knows and loves! He came! What preciousness there is in setting aside a month of the year to worship my Savior as I ponder His incarnation!

God’s own beloved Son, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” Phil. 2:6-7. This is not something to be taken for granted, pushed aside or downplayed! I am so grateful our culture takes the month of December to focus on that incredible, divine outpouring of God’s grace to us.

I added another string of lights to the tree….

How often I had allowed myself to feel guilty about our family’s extravagant celebration of Christmas…gifts, decorations, food…. But now, I feel no remorse. My leaping spirit is free. The celebration takes place in my heart, and if my extravagance in the celebration within finds its joy in lights, food, and gifts that serve as reminders and ongoing outpourings of my inadequate celebration of Christ’s birth. No one ought bear no remorse for that.

It is very freeing to simply worship in all things. I can do that with a tree loaded with a thousand lights, or with nothing but a small candle and some holly on my dining room table. I can worship Christ through the giving of gifts, expressing love toward others by giving extravagantly, or simplifying my gifts to home-made keepsakes.

Simplifying the Christmas season does not necessarily focus one’s attention on Christ any more than extravagance does. One either finds complete joy in Christ or she does not, regardless of if it is Christmas or not.

It is in my heart where worship takes place. And through that heart I can choose to keep Christmas in a simple manner or in a brilliant way. I can take joy in a simple string of lights on a tabletop tree, or in a ten foot tree decked with bulbs and lights.

What my heart has come to understand, is that there is no right or wrong in how a one celebrates Christmas. The point is that the joy of my Savior thrives within my heart all year, every year.

Ebenezer Scrooge proclaims at the realization that Christmas is not an event but a spirit of the heart: “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.” Charles Dickens

So may my heart leap at every thought of Christ’s incarnation, at Christmas, every day, and all year long! And may I not shut out the joy I have in my Savior.

“How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!” Mary’s Magnificat: Luke 1:47

For more reflections about our Savior’s birth check out a past post: For the Keeping of Christmas.

I Will Lift My Eyes to the Mountains

This fall, I had the joy of traveling to see a dear friend in Colorado. As we ventured deep into the Rocky Mountains, my gaze was continually looking up in awe of the vast, rigid peeks around me.

Psalm 121:1 kept coming to my mind. As I thought of how the mountains around me had the power to force my eyes upward. Mountains make us look up!

As I looked up, my heart was drawn to the power and sustenance of the God Who created those mountains. And further in that thought, my heart rejoiced in the God of grace Who spared the human race as He drowned those mountains in a great flood.

Psalm 121, suddenly was rich in its message to my soul. It was as if the mountains themselves were calling to my soul in a windy, deep chorus, “Look up Oh, soul and remember Who has created you! remember Who has redeemed you! He is YOUR God!”

How could I not let my heart rest in the rich thoughts of My Great God of whom the mountains continually draw up my eyes?

I can resonate with David as he too was in awe of the Creator and keeper of His soul as he found his eyes beholding powerful, majestic mountains.

The God Who made these mountains is MY God! He made me, redeemed me, and eternally keeps my soul, without even a wink of sleep! There isn’t even a small thing that this Creator/Redeemer has not done and is continuing to do on my behalf!

I will lift my eyes to the mountains! From where shall my help come? My help comes from the LORD, Who made heaven and earth. He will not allow your foot to slip; He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel Will neither slumber nor sleep. The LORD is your keeper; The LORD is your shade on your right hand. The sun will not smite you by day, Nor the moon by night. The LORD will protect you from all evil; He will keep your soul. The LORD will guard your going out and your coming in From this time forth and forever. Psalm. 121:1-8