Saturday, December 12, 2015

Finding Christmas: Not Forgotten

The holiday season, extending from late November until just after the new year, is a happy time that usually includes spending extra time with loved ones on more than one occasion. I cherish the opportunities to see family and friends more often than usual during these weeks. 

This is a sweet season, but not for everyone. 

Some among us are separated from loved ones, either by death or circumstances, and will spend at least part of the time grieving the separation that keeps them apart. It's easy for people to feel alone and forgotten. For those people, being remembered by someone can make a major difference.

It's one of the reasons taking children to nursing homes to sing carols, visiting shut ins, and spending time with those who grieve are all so important. It makes an impact that can last far longer than we know. It reminds them that they are not forgotten, but it is also a reminder to us that, when our time comes, we will not be forgotten, either.

Feeling forgotten is not the same as being forgotten.

Isaiah wrote about this very issue. Zion thought God had forgotten her. The nation felt abandoned and rejected. God, through Isaiah, reminded His people that He  could never forget them. Why not? 

The Hands of God are a constant reminder of those He loves.

God has inscribed us on the palms of His hands and we are constantly before Him. Those nail-scarred hands ever proclaim the price He paid for our redemption and ever serve as a reminder of the ones He bought with His blood. 

God cannot forget us because we are always before Him, literally and figuratively in the palms of His sacrificing, loving hands.

No matter how we feel this season, our reality, our truth is that we are not forgotten. We are not alone. God remembers us every time He sees His hands.

Inscribed on His palms.

If we are to be the hands of Christ this season, those who are inscribed on the hands of God must also be ever on our thoughts as well. 

This season, make a conscious effort to spend time with those who are alone, send notes to those who have lost loved ones, visit those who are shut-ins (whether at home or in a nursing facility). Remind them that they are not alone. 

We are not forgotten. We are not alone.

We are inscribed on the hand of God, constantly in His thoughts, always in His love. He is with us. 

It's our job to demonstrate that presence, that love to a dark and perishing world. One of the best ways to "find Christmas" this holiday season is to act like Christ. 

Be the hands of Jesus and take His light to those who need it most.

In case you missed any of the past week's posts, here are the links: Finding Christmas: Truth, Tradition, and Choice,  Finding Christmas: The Joy of RelationshipFinding Christmas: The Word of GodFinding Christmas: The Importance of Surrender,  Finding Christmas: Separating Truth and FictionFinding Christmas: Ongoing Surrender, and Finding Christmas: Hidden Paths.

The most read post of the last week: Finding Christmas: When Life is Less than Perfect
 #Advent #keepChristinChristmas #MerryChristmas #JesusChrist #disciple #HisHands #notalone

Friday, December 11, 2015

Finding Christmas: Hidden Paths

Today's topic is one that is seldom discussed, but is the part of discipleship that makes it exciting and fresh. Ever new. It's the topic of hidden (or unknown) paths.

When I was a youth, it seemed to me that the "exciting" part of discipleship was missing in the church. Where were the miracles? Where was the life of the apostles in modern-day believers? 

I was told those miracles were just "to get the church up and running". That seemed a ridiculous way for a god to do business. How much god-ness could there be if there was only enough of the good stuff for one century? 

It tooks years, and considerable wandering from my faith, before I found that the God of the first century is also the God of this century. His power is in no way diminished. He has saved miracles for me. For our generation.

Isaiah speaks of one of these delights of discipleship in Isaiah 42:16 nasb. 

"And I will lead the blind by a way they do not know,
In paths they do not know I will guide them. 
I will make darkness into light before them
And rugged places into plains.
These are the things I will do,
And I will not leave them undone."

Disciples are supposed  to follow God into places we don't know and trust Him to lead us and help us. It's where the best fruit is hidden. 

Unknown paths are where the most fun happens.

It sounds frightening to be led about like a blind man, but this business of being led on an unknown path is not like that at all. By hidden or unknown, I mean a path I'm not expecting. 

For example, buying a farm and cattle when I'd never even touched a cow. I spent a quarter of a century raising cattle and I did it because God leveled the plains and shed light in my darkness. He helped me. 

When a cow reached up to grab some leaves off a tree and got her neck stuck in the vee of the tree, I didn't know what to do. I asked God and He helped me. We got her head free and she lived to raise more calves. 

 Leaving medicine to write and make pottery was another of those paths I did not know.

I didn't know how to make pottery or sell pottery, but God helped me. I wasn't a great success (by the world's standards) at being a potter, but I kept food on my table, a roof over our heads, and I was accepted into juried shows because of my designs.

During that time, I reared my son. He learned to care for livestock, take responsibility, help others, live frugally, be a good steward. Many of the good things I see in him now were deeply planted during that time. I cared for Sam, my neighbor, who had brain surgery and a difficult recovery. I cared for my mother, who faced loss of sight and moving from the town in which she'd lived for more than a half-century. None of those things would have been done as well (or at all) if I had not followed the path I did not know.

God made rugged places into plains and I traversed them because He helped me find my way.

Writing fiction has been the same kind of adventure. I was definitely the blind being led in a way I did not know when I began. But God. God has made darkness into light and rugged places into plains. The best part is this journey is only just beginning. Who knows where this will lead? Only God.

At sixty years old, I'm still having adventures with God on a daily basis. When I'm ninety, I expect He will still be leading me through paths I do not know. He will still be making darkness into light and rugged places into plains. 

Why can I be sure of that? Because I am not content to walk only paths I know. Where's the fun in that? Where's the God-adventure in that?

There's one key element in this unknown path journey. Surrender. (You might want to read these two blog posts again: Importance of Surrender and Ongoing Surrender to prepare for the next step.)

This Christmas, do something incredibly daring. Surrender to His ways. Ask God to lead you in a way you do not know. 

He may not call you to raise cattle or care for the sick or write a book, but He will lead and it will be worth it. 

The most fun and the sweetest times are waiting on the path He has chosen. They can be yours.

If you follow.

In case you missed any of the past week's posts, here are the links: Finding Christmas: Making Choices that CountFinding Christmas: Truth, Tradition, and Choice,  Finding Christmas: The Joy of RelationshipFinding Christmas: The Word of GodFinding Christmas: The Importance of Surrender,  Finding Christmas: Separating Truth and Fiction, and Finding Christmas: Ongoing Surrender.

The most read post of the last week: Finding Christmas: When Life is Less than Perfect
 #Advent #keepChristinChristmas #MerryChristmas #JesusChrist #disciple #surrender #hiddenpaths #follow

photo courtesy of

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Finding Christmas: Ongoing Surrender

It would be much easier if surrender to the will of God was a one-time, done-and-it's-over event, but it's not. Surrender to the will of God, for me at least, is an every day, multiple-times-a-day, fluid event. I must repeatedly place myself in His capable hands and try hard to leave myself there.

Surrender to the will of God is a choice I am constantly making.

When I said, "I'm going home to write," I assumed I would be through by Christmas and practicing medicine again by the first of the year. I thought I would be writing something completely different. Not fiction. I've written non-fiction for nearly twenty years. Why change now? 

Surrender to the will of God, that's why.

There's been a problem with this particular will of God. I didn't have the skill to do it. 

After years of successfully practicing medicine, it's been hard to be the "new kid on the block", to be the novice, the one who needs to learn. It's been exhausting. I've read a mountain of books on writing technique. I've taken online courses. I've attended conferences and meetings. I've studied point of view until I was sick to death of it. I've written chapters and asked for critiques. I've made changes to the manuscripts based on the critiques over and over again.

Surrendering to the will of God once was not enough. Every morning for the last year, I have risen before dawn and surrendered to the will of God again.

I must surrender to this journey of fiction every morning, because this path is hard and I fantasize that it is easier on a different path. Some days, I surrender to this journey with every paragraph. Every sentence. Every word. 

After two months of writing fiction, working twelve and fourteen hours a day, I was desperate. "It would be much easier to go back to medicine, Lord."I explained all the reasons I should return to my profession, not the least of which was more money. Certain success.  I wouldn't be the new kid any more. 

I needed a Word, something I could hang on to through the hard days of uncertainty and tight budgets. I found it in an unexpected place. On January 4, 2015, just hours before I submitted my novel to an agent for the first time (which went far better than it should have and gave me a much-needed dose of encouragement) I found this verse and it spoke straight to my heart.

"For I am the Lord your God, who upholds your right hand, who says to you, 'Do not fear, I will help you." Isaiah 41:14 nasb

Those words are posted on my refrigerator and I've read them every day. 

God promised help and He has given it. 

I now have a supportive group of fellow writers to whom I am accountable. We report word counts daily and pray for each other as we struggle to put stories on the page. He's given me a mentor who believes in me and a teaching editor who is helping transform my rough beginnings into something wonderful. God has given me encouragement and early indicators of success. He's given me more kind words than I would have expected, and probably more than I deserve.

Perhaps more important, God has taken my fear. 

I've seen His hand of provision, of orchestration so many times over the last year that all I can do is stand in awe of His kindness and the amazing grace with which He fills my days.

Even with a heart full of awe and gratitude, I still have to surrender every day. 

I still have to sit down at the computer and write. I still have to research terrorists and criminals, try to think like a villain, write events in a coherent and engaging manner, edit, correct, and edit some more. Novels don't magically flow out of my fingers. This is hard work. 

This struggle of ongoing surrender shouldn't surprise us, but it often does. Jesus had the same problem. He surrendered to the will of His Father when He wrapped Himself in flesh and nestled in the feed trough beside His unlikely parents. He surrendered to the will of His Father when He allowed His cousin, John, to baptize Him. He was still surrendering to His Father when, hours before His crucifixion, He prayed and wrestled in the Garden of Gethsemane. 

"Not My will, but Thine be done."

Surrendering to God once, in one area, is not enough. He wants us to surrender every area of our lives to His will, His leading, His loving plan. 

Over the next couple of weeks, we will have the opportunity to surrender our worldly view of Christmas to God's Holy view. Once will not be enough. Daily surrender of our bent toward "tradition". Daily surrender of our longing for worldly glitter. Daily surrender of our desire for "easy" faith. 

If we are willing to trade fiction for truth, temporary glitter for the eternal treasures of God, and worldly traditions for worship of a Sacrificing, Surrendering Savior, our Christmas will be transformed into more than we could have imagined. It will be worth it.

Today, let's offer our gift of surrender to God and prepare to offer that gift over and over again until the day when He calls us home.

The most read post of the last week: Finding Christmas: When Life is Less than Perfect
 #Advent #keepChristinChristmas #MerryChristmas #JesusChrist #disciple #surrender #truthorfiction

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Finding Christmas: Separating Truth and Fiction

It saddens me that I need to say this, but someone must.

Santa Claus is not a part of the Holy Trinity and he is not watching us or our children.

Jesus is absolute truth. Santa is fiction, just as Cat in the Hat and Barney the purple dinosaur are fiction. Please don't misunderstand me. I'm not against Santa Claus. I'm simply for Jesus. 

I'm an avid supporter of fiction. I relish the way truth can be taught with stories, but blending truth and fiction serves only to create confusion.

Yes. I read Santa stories to my son when he was small, but I made it clear that Santa was fiction. I explained it as a game adults and children play. A sometimes confusing game. 

I know most parents don't tell their children this, but I told Ryan it was easier for people to embrace Santa than to embrace Jesus for one simple reason. The mythical Santa gives presents and temporary happiness. Jesus gives us Himself and expects us to obey Him. He brings joy that lasts. 

It's easier to accept presents from Santa than to give ourselves to Christ, even if Santa is not real.

It's no wonder the world is confused about Christmas. We, the Christians who should know better, have played the Santa game with such enthusiasm that we've convinced the world Christmas is as much about Santa as it is about Jesus. 

The world has happily accepted Santa. I wonder, though, if we'd spent as much time and money celebrating Jesus as we have Santa, would the world understand Jesus a little better? Would they be drawn to Him?

It is El Roi, The God Who Sees, who is watching, and the Son of God, Jesus, who is the greatest gift-giver, for He gave Himself.

Mary recognized the watchfulness of God. He had seen her poverty, her low status as a woman in a male-dominated world, her seeming insignificance. He had taken note of her and He entrusted her with the gift of His Son.

"For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave..." (Luke 1:48 nasb)

He knows us, too. He has taken note of us, our status, our insignificance and, incredibly, He has entrusted us with the gift of His Son, too.  

It is our job as disciples to communicate that truth of Jesus with clarity to a world that has basked in its confusion.

God wrapped Himself in flesh, squeezed all His God-ness into the form of a baby, and came to live with us, walk with us, laugh with us, weep with us. Before He left, He died for us and rose again. He sent His Spirit to stay with us and help us through this mixed-up, confusing world. 

We have great news, and it's much better than a fat man in a red suit with a bag of toys. We have news that can change the world. It would change the world, if we would only tell it.

This Christmas, let's get our stories straight. Accept fiction as fiction and celebrate the Truth as never before. Celebrate the Savior who can not only save us from our sins but redeem a world that is filled with darkness and hate. 

Christ has come and He is love. It's the best truth of all. Let's tell the world, especially at Christmas.

The most read post of the last week: Finding Christmas: When Life is Less than Perfect
 #Advent #keepChristinChristmas #MerryChristmas #JesusChrist #disciple #Santa #truthorfiction

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Finding Christmas: The Importance of Surrender

It was one of those silent arguments I couldn't win. You've probably had those, too. God wanted a certain thing done a certain way with a certain attitude. I didn't think it was possible. Had I believed it could be done, and with a good outcome, I'd have tried at the start. I didn't just doubt Him. I didn't believe Him at all. I expected a catastrophic outcome when I tried and failed.

Trust Me, God would say.

But God, I would say.

The preacher began to speak about the issue from the pulpit. Conviction came at me from every angle. Inescapable conviction.

Finally, I surrendered. "Okay. I'll do it Your way, but don't blame me when things don't work out." I didn't say those words aloud to God, but my heart felt them. 

When I finally obeyed, it quickly became obvious that God was right, and had been all along. 

What still surprises me is how God blessed my reluctant obedience. 

Looking back, I can see that, even more than obedience, He wanted my absolute surrender to His will. 

Even when it didn't make sense to me. Even when I didn't understand.

God's ways are inscrutable. (Isaiah 40:28) The word used there indicates that, no matter how carefully nor how long we search, we can never understand nor completely know His ways. Just when I think I have God figured out, I find  there is more to know. That is never more true than in the times when I arrogantly think I have a better way. I don't.

Absolute surrender is a struggle for me. 

When the outcome is clear and the action makes sense, those surrenders, of course, are easily done. I'm talking about the surrenders that no one understands. The "leave medicine and write a novel" kind of surrender. The "forgive your worst enemy" kind of surrender. The "turn the other cheek when you're being humiliated in public" kind of surrender.

The teenager, Mary, soon to suffer humiliation and scorn for a sin she didn't commit, understood surrender in a way I only wish I did. (Luke 1:30-38)

Mary had ear-nailed-to-the-wall, no turning back, total surrender from the first.

The angel Gabriel told her, "God has taken note of you, and He is pleased. He sent me to tell you that you are about to have a baby and He will be the Messiah you've been expecting." (Leanna paraphrase) Mary knew she was a virgin, but she didn't argue the impossibility of a pregnancy. She simply asked, "How?" 

"Nothing is impossible with God, so He will father the baby." (LP) 

I read those words and wonder how Mary responded as she did. She simply said, "Okay. Whatever God wants is fine with me. I'll do it." She didn't argue. She didn't say, "I'll lose my good reputation over this." or "That is a bad idea because I'm going to be stoned to death." She simply surrendered to the will of God and left Him in charge of her consequences.

Surrendering when the world does things a different way is not easy. It's also not optional. 

Christmas is one of those issues where the world has a very commercial way. The world's celebration is full of tinsel and garland and spending and bright packages. It's a months-long gear up for a few moments of unwrapping followed by an all-too-often sense of emptiness.

What if the body of Christ stopped surrendering to the world and surrendered to God instead? 

What if we admitted that Christmas has nothing to do with all this glitter? 

What if we surrendered to the truth that Christmas is about surrender?

Mary surrendered to the will of God. Jesus the Son of God surrendered to the will of His Father and wrapped Himself in flesh. Jesus the man surrendered to the will of God and took the long and painful journey from the manger to the cross. 

Christmas is about one surrender after another that, ultimately, bought redemption for sinful man. It's time we acknowledged it.

Christmas has nothing at all to do with Grinches (although it's a cute story) or trees (except the one to which Jesus was nailed). It is not about Santa Claus, no matter how many touching stories we tell to make it seem so. 

Christmas is about Jesus, and the theme of Christmas is surrender. 

To experience Christmas in the deepest way possible, we must celebrate through surrender. Search for the will of God in our lives and obey it. Whatever He asks. Nothing held back. 

The gift God most wants us to give this Christmas is the gift of ourselves, given to Him. Our will poured out before Him. It is the gift of surrender we must give our Lord, and it's the best gift of all.

"And Mary said, 'Behold, the bondslave of the Lord, be it done to me according to your word.'" Luke 1:38 nasb

The most read post of the last week: Finding Christmas: When Life is Less than Perfect
 #Advent #keepChristinChristmas #MerryChristmas #JesusChrist #disciple #Surrender 
photo courtesy of

Monday, December 7, 2015

Finding Christmas: The Word of God

Several people were gathered around my car, pondering the problem of a second flat tire in less than a week. We were a few feet away from the horses' feed trough and they thought our attention was misdirected. Toby, my cranky thirtyish-year-old horse would not be delayed. He stepped into the trough and began to stomp in an attempt to get my attention. He wanted supper without delay. 

The lush grass of summer is gone and winter grass is in short supply. As I examined the pasture's grass, a verse I'd read earlier in the day came to mind. 

"The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever." (Isaiah 40:8 nasb)

I've been in Isaiah 40 for several days. This morning, I read those verses again and noticed something I'd missed yesterday. The preceding two verses both describe people as grass. It's a truth we don't often consider, but worth remembering.

We are as frail as grass that withers with the frost or wilts in summer heat, and dies. 

We were not made to last forever. 

There's not one person on earth now, nor has there ever been, who can "stand forever". There is no one whose words can last, either.

The Word of God is a different matter. Isaiah tells us it "stands forever". It never fails. It never goes out of date. It's never in error. 

The Word of God is truth that stays true.

There's a trend in Christian circles that is disturbing to me. We have become a people of "God-books" instead of a people of "God's Book". This should not be. Why read about God when we can read words directly from God? Why be a purpose-driven church when we can be a Spirit-led, redeemed by the Blood of the Lamb church? Why pray the prayer of Jabez when we can pray the prayer of Jesus Christ?

I'm not saying that Christian non-fiction doesn't have a place. After all, I write books, too. There is no book, however, that should replace the Bible. It is alive and sharper than a two-edged sword. It is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. 

When we need wisdom, we need look no further than the Word of God. When we need direction, comfort, inspiration, or encouragement, the Word of God has an ample supply. 

If we feel disconnected from God, if we are wondering where God is in the midst of the hustle and bustle of this season, let's take time to anchor ourselves in Words that never fail. Words that come straight from God Himself. 

Schedules are busy and time is in short supply. There's only so much that can be squeezed into 24 hours. I hate to say this, but not even touching Christmas movies are a good substitute for the Word of God. 

As we celebrate the birth of our Savior this month, let's be sure to read what God has to say about this great gift He has given. From Genesis to Revelation, the truth of Christ permeates every page. 

Pasture grass withers. People fail. Despite the frailty of this world, the Word of God stands forever. 

The most read post of the last week: Finding Christmas: When Life is Less than Perfect
 #Advent #keepChristinChristmas #MerryChristmas #JesusChrist #disciple #WordofGod

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Finding Christmas: The Joy of Relationship

I spent several years working full-time as a potter. Of all the pieces I made, one of my favorites was a shepherd holding a lamb. The simple mold captured a look of tenderness on the shepherd's face as he gazed at his little lamb in his arms. That small figure always come to mind when I think of our relationship with Jesus, our Good Shepherd. 

Isaiah wrote that the Lord would come with might and bring His reward with Him. 

"Like a shepherd He will tend his flock. In His arm He will gather the lambs, and carry them in His bosom; He will gently lead the nursing ewes." (Isaiah 40:11 nasb)

He was speaking of Jesus and His relationship with His followers. We are the sheep of His pastures and He tenderly cares for us as a shepherd cares for his flock.

Isaiah described the "reward" of God in clear terms the people of Israel could easily understand. They knew about sheep and shepherds. They understood the relationship between them, so they could also understand the "reward" Isaiah described. 

The relationship IS the reward God offers His people.

If we hope to find a true celebration of Christmas, we must start as sheep in need of a shepherd, and begin with the most basic of relationships. Sheep and shepherd.

Having a Good Shepherd is the best possible life for a sheep. 

Read the relationship Isaiah described again. He will tend His flock. Gather His little lambs into His bosom. Gently lead. Tenderly care. Isaiah wasn't describing an antagonistic relationship. He wasn't describing something hard or unpleasant. 

Isaiah was describing a relationship that leads the sheep into the best pastures. The clearest water. The safest shelter.

There's only one requirement for this kind of relationship, and it's not optional. 

Sheep follow.

This Christmas season, begin by embracing the relationship God offers, the reward He brings. Allow Him to gather you, tend you, lead you, love you. In return, follow Him. You'll soon find that it's the sweetest relationship of all.
#shepherdandsheep #GoodShepherd #Advent #keepChristinChristmas #MerryChristmas #JesusChrist #disciple

photo courtesy of