December 10, 2017

A Holy Night to Remember by Sharon Espeseth

This memoir piece comes from my year at Covenant Bible Institute in Prince Albert, SK decades ago and was first published in the Voices Column of the Edmonton Journal in 1998. In 2002, it was published in Chicken Soup for the Canadian Soul and subsequently published in the French version of the book. My story has been "borrowed" by several online sites and was thus translated into other languages.

On InScribe Writers' Online this story is posted, for the first time, by myself. As young people at Bible school, my friends and I learned we could share the gospel and ward off homesickness by offering our joyful Christmas music to others. The story begins . . .

As Canadians and northerners, we share many memories of cold winters. At Christmas time, I often reflect upon one particular evening of a prairie winter in the early 1960s. Though the frost was cruel that night, the reminiscence is warm.

We were college students, most of us living away from home for the first time. Hanging a few strips of tinsel in our rooms didn't relieve the feeling of homesickness that had overtaken our dorm. What could we do to bring on the Christmas spirit, stave off our longings for home and brighten someone else's life?

One of my friends suggested going caroling. That was it! Every student at our small college was rousted out for the occasion. No auditions. No voice lessons. No excuses. Warmth of spirit was the only requirement. And our enthusiasm served as an electric soul-warmer for those who seemed lacking in spirit of their own.

We divided into groups so our music would resound over much of our college town. The group I joined had nothing resembling four-part harmony, but we could collectively make a joyful noise. Bounding boisterously and carrying a tune in our hearts, we made our first call. "Deck the Halls," we tra-la-laed.

Soon we discovered that carolling brings a variety of responses. When you carol for people you know, you can be sure of open doors and open hearts; when you carol for strangers, you can't be so sure of the reception you will get. Some folks remained in the safety and coziness of their homes, watching and listening passively through living-room windows. Others cautiously propped the door open enough to hear us, but not enough to let in the cold or their unknown guests. Some flung their doors wide open and sang along; some, I believe, watch in silent reverie.




One of the stops on our journey was a three-story apartment building. With no intercoms or security cameras to deter us in those days, we walked right in. Starting our performance in the basement, we sang mostly to closed doors. After a couple songs, we headed for the main floor. Two doors swung open. One doorway framed a young couple, obviously expecting a child. In another doorway, two preschoolers clung to their parents' legs. Surprise?Wonder?Curiosity? Who are these strange bundled-up people? And why are they doing this?” the children's faces seemed to ask.

We sang "Away in a Manger" for the young ones. We continued with "O Little Town of Bethlehem" for our seemingly appreciative gathering. Mounting the stairs to the third floor, we burst into "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear," a song that suited the night.



One door on the top floor slowly creaked open. A stately gentleman, grey-haired and thin, held onto his doorknob. He became our audience of one. As we murmured about what to sing next, the elderly fellow asked, "Would you come into our apartment and sing for my wife? She's bed-ridden. I know she'd love to hear you. My wife used to be an opera singer," he added proudly, "and she's always loved music."

All eight of us stepped timidly into the couple's tiny, crowded bachelor suite. Books, records, china, antique furniture and mementos whispered stories to us. I reminded myself not to stare for fear of invading their privacy. This was their home, their sanctuary, a hallowed place where the old-timer watched over his fragile partner. Her silver, bed-mussed head made only a small dint in her pillow.

Without a word, he adjusted his wife's headrest so she could see and hear us better. Then he gave us a nod to sing. Our voices rose and warbled through "Hark the Herald Angels Sing." Had our vocal chords been given extra grace and beauty for this occasion? Perhaps they had, for we sang rather well for such a motley and impromptu crew.

Our motley, impromptu crew


A smile flickered on the lady's gaunt, wrinkled, yet beautiful face. Her eyes sparkled softly. Tears rolled down her cheeks. Her husband requested, "Joy to the World" and "Silent Night," two of her favourites. As we finished our renditions, her eyes closed. Now the man shed his tears. Quietly we turned to leave, closing the door on the housebound couple.

The winter moon and stars shone down on us. It had become a silent night, a holy night for we had been in the presence of love that was gentle and mild. All was calm; all was bright as we headed back to our residence. We had found, and maybe even given, the Christmas spirit.


It had become a silent night, a holy night . . .




        







December 09, 2017

When The Spirit Spoke - Shirley S. Tye



Many times the Holy Spirit has spoken to me over the years.  The words, feelings, and dreams have come unexpectedly.  But always, I have known with confidence that the messages are true and that I should heed them because they are from God.  Just recently, I began recording these messages into a little journal.  Sometimes I think I don’t hear often from God.  I feel a little disappointed – and yes, a little jealous - when others talk about when and what God has spoken to them.  I wonder, “Why doesn’t He speak to me like that?”  Ah, but now I have a record of when and what the Holy Spirit has spoken to me.  It encourages me. Through these messages, the Lord has revealed that indeed He is with me; He cares about me; He protects me; He guides me; He comforts me.  



The Lord has comforted me through dreams when I have grieved over the loss of family members. He has warned me of dangers as He did in 1975.  The front tire on the driver’s side of my car looked perfectly fine but the words which I clearly heard cautioned me to drive carefully because that tire was going to blow. And sure enough, it did.  Thankfully it happened on a city street where I had slowed down considerably rather than on the highway. Another, time as I was feeling frustrated and had no clear sense of direction, I screamed at God; “What do You want me to do?”  In His quiet and calm voice He answered; “You are doing what I want you to do.”  That’s all I needed to know; and so I was content.  And yet another time, when feeling afraid the Lord said; “Do not fear.”  Immediately, the fear left and a peace came over me. 



It is wonderful to hear the Lord’s loving, soft voice; strong, gentle, filled with love. It is awesome!  One time, while in prayer in a little camp church, as my eyes were closed I caught the sweet fragrance of the Holy Spirit when He passed by me.  It was the most wonderful aroma I have ever experienced.  I could not find words to describe it. 


The Lord is amazing!  And He is with me! 

December 06, 2017

My Christmas Forest, Revealed by Glynis M Belec

I've recently had a story published in a Christmas anthology, Christmas with Hot Apple Cider (That's Life Communications; NJ Lindquist,editor).
My story, "The Christmas Forest," is a true account of something that happened a few years ago now. In a nutshell, my husband suggested we replace our real tree and substitute the 'alternate' kind. I was all over him with disapproval, until the forest happened.
I shared in "The Christmas Forest" story, how my real tree was eventually replaced with a myriad of miniatures. Small, Eco-friendly (fake) trees soon filled my home. I had boxes of memories that needed to be hung so tree after tree appeared in my living room. Before long each tree was designated a name, a purpose and a lesson emerged from each.
 And as the trees emerged with meaning, I soon began to see, realize and understand what the Lord was teaching me through it all. The first step was to slow down and breathe in the true meaning of Christmas. God did not really care about a decorated tree. He cared more about the condition of my heart. I knew my next step was to prioritize. To think upon the Blessed birth of the King of kings. I did it and started with the Nativity.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. James 1:17

In my story, I shared the lessons learned from eight trees. Here is a little overview of my trees and lessons learned:

1. The White Tree represents the purity of Christ, the sinless One, the One who creates in us a pure heart.
2. The Teal Tree represents good health and good friends, beautiful gifts from God.
3. The Heart Tree reminds me to be grateful
4. The Learning Tree reminds me about the responsibility I have in teaching others about why Christ came to earth.
5. The Treasure Tree makes me think of the treasure of family and how much I love spending this Holy holiday with them year after year.
6. The Imperfect Tree is a big reminder to me about how Christ was born unto this world to save imperfect people like me.
7. The Leftover Tree reminds me that God picks up our broken pieces and makes us whole again.
8.  The New Tree makes me ponder our new life in Christ. God sent His Son, and that makes me want to sing, “Joy to the world, the Lord has come!”

I like to have the 'New Tree' close to the Nativity scene so that when I glance from the baby in the manger to the tree, I’m reminded of how Christmas is an antecedent to Easter. So much God continues to teach me, year after year.
As I read my story now and as I gaze upon the Christmas external, it causes me to think about my Christmas internal. Joy to the world the Lord has come!
It turns out that the branches of my little forest of trees might not be the real McCoy, but what God teaches me through it all is as real as real could be. My heart is filled with gratitude. Nothing fake about that!
And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call

his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins. Matthew 1:21


 Glynis lives, loves, laughs and does an awful lot of reading, writing, publishing and praying in her home office.
        How thrilled Glynis is to be part of CHRISTMAS WITH HOT APPLE CIDER - an anthology filled with a wonderful assortment of Christmas short stories, memories, drama and poetry.
                     www.glynismbelec.com
  

December 04, 2017

How Deep the Father's Love by Susan Barclay

This month we were asked to ponder the following question: When has Christ revealed something about Himself to you at Christmas? 

With too little time for thinking, I decided to peruse some posts from a blog I no longer maintain, and came across one from December 2014 that so neatly fit in with yesterday's church sermon, I had to share it with you, dear readers:



At Christmas we remember and celebrate God's love and his incredible gift to us. [side note: I think it's no coincidence that on many of my Christmas cards and on my kitchen chalkboard, I'm sharing 2 Corinthians 9:15 - "Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!"] 

Whether or not Jesus was actually born on December 25, this is the day that has been set aside to recall his coming. 


God is love (1 John 4:8 and 16). We know this because, even when we were yet sinners, he had a plan for our salvation. This plan required that Jesus come and live among us. But it would not be all babe-in-a-manger, lovey-dovey and sweet. It would be doubt, fear, anger, rejection, the cross. Jesus demonstrated John 15:13 - Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 

Christ-followers love God. We love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19) and gave us the example. We show him our love when we give him our lives and allow him to take control. We show him our love when we praise him with our whole heart and when we obey him. 

Christ-followers love each other. We are bound together as brothers and sisters in the Lord. Anyone who says he loves God, but hates his brother does not have the love of God in him (I John 2:9-11). Love is the standard by which we must judge ourselves. Some people are more difficult to love. If we examine our own hearts, we should wonder that God could find us lovable. How much more should we love those he has placed in our lives?

Christ-followers love those who are outside the faith. We see them as God does. Everyone who has ever existed, exists, or will exist is someone created by God. In his image. Loved by him. If he loves them, who are we to withhold love, or worse, to throw stones? It is love, after all, that everyone craves. And it is love that has the power to draw people to God.  

Consider today how well you love. Is there anything you need to change? Lean on Christ; he will help you and be your strength.

One thing is clear. As Christmas points to Easter, God reveals his great love for us - that he would take the form of a man, dwell among us and relate with us in every way, is truly amazing.

May God bless you this Christmas season with reminders of his love. "How many fathers gave up their sons for me?"



____________
Please visit Susan Barclay at her website, www.susan-barclay.blogspot.com 

December 03, 2017

Christmas Carol Countdown by Steph Beth Nickel



While the following songs may not all be carols (not technically at least), they are Christmas songs that point to Jesus. (All of these songs can be found on YouTube.)

In no particular order ...

10. Chris Tomlin's "Adore"

9. Mark Lowry's "Mary, Did You Know?"

8. Paul Baloche's "Newborn King"

7. Scotty Wilbanks and Jason Weeks's "Do Not Be Afraid"

6. David Hamilton, George Frederick Handel, and Aaron Shust's "Unto Us"

5. Lauren Daigle, Paul Mabury, and Paul Duncan's "Light of the World"

4. Mark Schultz, Bernie Helms, and Stephanie Lewis's "When Love Was Born"

3. Johnny Mathis's "What Child is This?"

2. David Meece's "One Small Child"

And this is definitely one of my favourites ...

1. Andrew Peterson's "Labor of Love": https://youtu.be/y5gW9FUqp90

What is your favourite Christmas song?

December 01, 2017

Discovering Christ in Christmas by Sandi Somers

Our InScriber Bruce Atcheson wrote, “I remember how amazed I was when I was making cards and my teacher told me how to spell Christmas. Until I was eight years old, I had no idea that the first five letters spelled the title of the King of Kings.”

Our theme question this month asks: When has Christ revealed something about Himself to you at Christmas?

Christ of "The Messiah"


It was a magical dusk in early December when neighbours dropped by our house on the way to Calgary to hear The Messiah. I was only a child, but this, my first exposure to the performance, piqued my interest, and I determined someday to attend The Messiah.

As a young adult, I attended two live performance of The Messiah. I had recently experienced a renewal of my faith, and the message became so meaningful to me. The majesty of the music covered the grand sweep of Christ's purpose: beginning with God's promises as spoken by the prophets, His Nativity, Passion, Resurrection and Ascension. It ended with Christ's glorification in heaven.

 As I write this blog, I’m listening to the beautiful music. I have attended the live performance several times since, and listen to each Christmas season, including on CBC Radio on Christmas morning.

But the story of its composition also has deep meaning for me.

* * *

The year was 1741. George Frederic Handel was deeply in debt and in poor health, having been prone to strokes and rheumatism, and nearly blind from cataracts. At fifty-six, he was nearly a forgotten composer, his music no longer played by the great orchestras of Europe.

He was deeply depressed and troubled, with little hope for his future and his music, and was ready to retire in disgrace.

But then he received a commission to compose a piece of music for a benefit concert for prisoners and hospital patients. A friend had an idea for a new oratorio, based on the Old and New Testament stories of Christ’s redemption.

The challenge inspired and revived Handel. Locking himself in his study , he feverishly wrote, sometimes even refusing food.


At one time, a servant came in to see the weeping Handel who explained, “I did think I did see all heaven before me, and the great God Himself.” He had just completed writing the “Hallelujah Chorus.”

Twenty-four days and 260 pages of manuscript later, The Messiah was finished. At the end of his manuscript, Handel wrote the letters "SDG"—Soli Deo Gloria—“To God alone the glory".


It became a huge success. When performed in London, King George II was so moved that he stood for the “Hallelujah Chorus.” And thus began a tradition we still follow today.

It has been the nearly 300 years since The Messiah’s first performance. Handel’s biographer, Sir Newman Flower, stated, “Considering the immensity of the work, and the short time involved, it will remain, perhaps forever, the greatest feat in the whole history of music composition.”

Handel continued to conduct this piece until his death in 1759, eighteen years after he composed it. He was buried with honour at Westminster Abbey.


The man who once felt life had no more to offer him had birthed a piece that has brought many—including me—closer to an understanding of God’s great plan of salvation through Christ

November 29, 2017

What Christians Tend To Get Wrong About Depression by Bob Jones


Depression is personal to me.

That statement introduced one of my most popular blog posts – “What Christians Tend To Get Wrong About Depression.”

The February 2014 post arose out of a prayer asking God to infuse my writing with content that mattered. “I need your insight and wisdom to clearly deliver hope, and especially to Christians struggling with depression.”

My cousin died by suicide. Her marriage had failed. Rejected. Despairing. She prayed with no avail from the mental torture. She succumbed to a silent, suffering in solitary until her pain ended at her own hand.

Christians tend to experience the greatest challenge dealing with mental illness because we believe people of faith can do anything with God’s help.

In pastoral counselling I encounter many who believe that a one and done kind of prayer offered in faith should deliver believers from all their afflictions. When deliverance doesn’t happen, self-condemnation piles on to already troubled souls.

Job, Elijah, Jeremiah and David are four well know Bible characters who described their lives using terms associated with depression.

These are not “poetic” descriptions of a spiritual condition. These are the desperate declarations of people at the end of their rope. Instead of a one-and-done antidote, the Bible starkly shows the dread that accompanies the ill.

I felt compelled to go out on a limb as a pastor and declare the following about God’s perspective on depression:

Spirit-filled Christians can experience depression.
Many giants of the faith faced prolonged depression.
Depression is not oppression.
Depression is not a choice.
Depression is not a character defect.
Depression is not a spiritual disorder.
Depression is not an emotional dysfunction.

Depression is the only physical illness with spiritual symptoms.

There is hope for Christians facing depression just like those facing cancer or brokenness.

If you or a loved one suffers from depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or any other mental illness, it’s NOT your fault. You need help – and asking for help is a sign of strength.

Bob is a recovering perfectionist, who collects Coca-Cola memorabilia and drinks Iced Tea. His office walls are adorned with his sons’ framed football jerseys, and his library shelves, with soul food. He writes to inspire people to be real, grow an authentic faith in Jesus, enjoy healthy relationships and discover their life purpose.

Follow his writing at Pointes Of View.

November 28, 2017

Furthering the Gospel - Bruce Atchison

What a boon modern technology is to us writers. When it works, we have powerful tools to reach out with the gospel while remaining at home.

Some folks say that social media such as Facebook and Twitter are just a waste of time and we ought only to do face-to-face evangelism. The problem is that our local circle of friends and acquaintences is limited. On social networks and blogs, we can reach out to the world from our homes.

In cases like mine where I can't drive because of my poor sight, technology helps me reach out in spite of being stranded at home.

The Apostle Paul had a similar situation when he was in prison. Some Christians might have assumed that Paul's ministry was over but here's his answer to them. Philippians 1:12 (KJV) says, "But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel;"

While we might fret about our limitations, we can still work around them. In my case, I blog and use an old Bible CD-ROM to help me write my blogs. I don't know who might read what I've written but I pray that God will bless the work of my hands. And since I've been proclaiming what the Word of God says, I've received many likes regarding my posts.

While we all have limitations, God can use those like he used Paul's frequent imprisonments to let him write much of the New Testament. May he work through your writing to further the gospel.

November 26, 2017

Confessions and Secrets - Marnie Pohlmann

I am not a morning person. My mind is usually not working well until after 9am or coffee, whichever comes first. Most mornings I do not take time for more than a rushed shower and an on-the-run breakfast bar as I head to work. No morning devotions or hour in the prayer closet for me. I do know the value of taking morning time with God and have experienced times like that, but at this point in life, mornings do not work for my health or schedule. I must find time throughout the day to connect with God on an intimate basis.

Perhaps I have not intentionally prefaced my writing with prayer because I have never considered the words I write to be "God's words" in the way some writers are sure God gave them not only the gift of writing but the specific ideas and words ending up on the page. God planted this desire to write in my heart, yes, but I still choose what, when and how to write, don’t I? I need to write, so I do. Yes, God has blessed me with a talent and creativity to express events, feelings, or ideas through the careful placement of letters onto the screen or stamping ink onto paper. I thank Him for His gift and I know He can work through me even when I am not aware.

Yet I do not specifically stop to pray about my writing.
Or maybe I do! Not a specific prayer as in
"Dear God, I am about to write this specific project, so I ask you to give me the ideas and the words. May you be glorified, and may others be blessed." 
No, I don't take time to do even that short, specific prayer.

I also do not always write words meant to show God to others. Sometimes I am just writing to describe, or to complain, or to move a story along. Certainly, not everything I write mentions God. However, all my writing does glorify God if only by my using the talent He gave to me, or by doing my best, or by learning more about writing through each project.

There are times when God does make me stop to pray for specific situations or people.
A Facebook post by a struggling friend.
Holding a stillborn boy as his dad and mom question, "why?"
Sharing a long vehicle trip on scary roads.
Reflecting on a memory that intrudes on my sleep.
God brings people to mind in unique ways - dragonflies, hummingbirds, painting supplies. And I know God also brings me to mind for others to pray for me. I collect frogs and am often told that when someone sees a frog they think of me. I ask them to not just think of me, but to pray for me.

Currently, my prayer life does not consist of a specific time and place, or even time to update a prayer journal with praises, requests, or answers to prayer.
My prayer life is more like an ongoing conversation with God.
"Lord, look at that crazy driver. Maybe you should teach him a lesson - or calm my unreasonable rage and relieve my anxiety about being on the road with him. Oh, look, there is a beautifully shaped cloud, moving across the sky like a horse pulling a chariot, and now looking like a dolphin pod leaping to say hello. Your artistry is wondrous!
... Alright, now I've made it safely to work. How about a parking space? Way out here? I'm grumbling, but okay, I suppose the extra steps will do me good, and I guess someone else needs that more convenient spot today - or every day.
... Now, as I turn on my computer to see what work tasks are the priority today, remind me of my password. Right, "UntoHim^2d8" and yes, may I do today's work for You, Lord, and care about the people I encounter in the office.
... Home now, safe but so exhausted. Give me the energy
to do what needs to be done this evening.
... Turning on the computer to pay some bills. "Gift2U+" may we handle our finances as you would have us do, knowing you supply so we can keep open hands for others.
... I have just a few minutes to get some ideas down for this month's blog on prayer. Ha-ha, yes "Pr@ypen10" and here I go."

Don't worry, those are not my real passwords, and I will change all my passwords (again) anyway after posting this. But you get the idea, right? Little reminders throughout the day to give my daily tasks to God.

I also have my version of the Armour of God posted at both my work and home computers. And on my writing computer, I have a file called "Read B4 Write" that includes my Armour of God prayer and others I have paraphrased or written. I will be including in that file some of the Scripture and quotes shared on other posts this month, to give me further encouragement. I don't always open this file before opening the project I intend to work on, but it is there for when I feel those fiery darts burning my words, and me, to ashes.

Often, as I prepare to share my writing, I do pause to ask God to help me see the words from His view. Are they true? Are they helpful? Do they fit this venue, this audience? Are they my best at this time? If needed, I edit once again, or shelve the piece to reconsider sharing the words.

My confessions.
I do not always think to pray.
I do not always pray in the way we think of prayer
or how Jesus teaches us to pray.
Yet I have faith the Spirit who lives in me will pray
on my behalf for the things I don't even understand need prayer.

My secrets.
Planting small reminders throughout my day
to direct my thoughts and actions toward God.
Recognizing the prompts of the Spirit to pause
and lift others to God.
Choosing to look for the creative beauty of the
Creator of beauty.
           Checking with God before sharing written words.

I believe, no matter how you pray,
no matter how I pray,
God is listening,
God is acting,
God is with us.

*photos courtesy of pixabay.com

Pray for Marnie and with Marnie
as she finds God's voice
in her writing and life.