Reaching out

The comic strip Pearls Before Swine, by Stephen Pastis, once featured Rat saying to his friend the goat, “I have not gone to church in a long time.”  The goat responds, “Oh, yeah? Why is that?” and Rat replies, “I’m perfect, now.”

It is seldom a search for personal perfection that brings people into church. In a healthy Christian church we are made aware of just how impossible it is for anyone to achieve perfection in this world and we are drawn ever closer to the source of all perfection, Jesus Christ. So, why is it that many people stay away from church because of an awareness of their own imperfections? How many times have you heard a person say something like, “Oh, I couldn’t go to church. The roof would cave in.”  These people are expressing, in a facetious way, their own fears of being found unwelcome or unacceptable to the church body. Or even to God.

After stumbling in their faith walk, even long-time church-goers can withdraw from the fellowship because of shame and the fear of rejection, at the very time when they most need the support of the church family.

I once visited a small rural church with “Welcome, Fellow Sinner” posted prominently over the entry.  I learned there had been some controversy when the sign was first hung, but the congregation had gone on to embrace the philosophy it represented.

Although church discipline has fallen out of favor in today’s permissive climate, we need to remember that repentance comes before forgiveness. Guiding our fallen brother or sister to recognize the need to turn back onto the narrow path is one of the helping hands we are expected to give.

Church fellowships are designed by God to support and nurture believers as we stumble along on our walk of faith and obedience. Walking a rocky path is easier with others by your side holding your hands in the slippery places.

It is good to remember when reaching out to support someone in danger of slipping…or who has already fallen…that the path ahead contains many perils and this same person could be the one to help you just around the next turning.

Romans 3:23 (NIV) 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

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God’s gift of humor

I was recently introduced to the Christian satirical website The Babylon Bee. This site skewers our human foibles in categories of News, Christian Living, Celebs, Politics, Church, Lifestyle, Sports, and Entertainment.  After being pointed to the site by my son, I spent hours on New Years Day reading through the archives and laughing out loud. The writers on this site have the gift of cutting through all our pretensions, those of Christians and non-believers, alike.

laughing at pc

Having spent a quarter century as a pastor’s wife, I laughed loudest at the spoofs about church life. I found myself thanking God for the talents of these writers to show us our foolishness in such an entertaining way. I confess that I laughed louder at those articles which were not pointed at my own opinions or practices, but even when I did feel their sting, I could see the humor and it made me pause and reflect.  That’s what the best humor, especially satire, does; it allows us to look at ourselves without defensiveness or resentment. We recognize ourselves and see how ridiculous we can be. It reminds us of all the things we share as flawed humans.

Much that we read and view is mean-spirited. Many comedians encourage their audiences to laugh at the “other”, not at themselves, and use their wit to wound, rather than heal.

How refreshing to find a place where everyone is mocked equally, in a spirit of love.

A cheerful heart is good medicine… Proverbs 17:22


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Words to Live By

In 2018, this weekly blog will enter its tenth year. The past decade has seen changes, upheavals, turmoil, and tragedies, as well as celebrations and blessings too numerous to count, both personally and worldwide. However, there has been one constant. Our eternal Creator God has not changed and my faith in His Word has grown stronger through it all.

This excerpt from a year-end post in 2009 still rings true in my life:

With Christmas over, we can begin to look forward to God’s gift of a brand-new year and many of us write lists of resolutions we hope will give us a fresh start.

This year, there was a book of quotations under my Christmas tree. One of the pithy phrases, in a chapter called “Words to Live By”, stood out as though printed in bold type. Thgift bookis string of ten two-letter words stood out from the rest:

 If it is to be, it is up to me.

As a Christian, I believe it is all up to God, yet I know He uses individuals to bring about His will and that when we are not attuned to His leading, or are unwilling to respond, we deny ourselves blessings. God’s will most definitely will be done, regardless of any human intervention, but He wants us to share in His perfect plan in order to experience every joy He has for us.

In that light, I see the above quotation as a reminder to be available, willing, and sensitive to God’s leading.

Has God given you a dream for His Kingdom? Perhaps He has inspired you to grow in some new direction of service in His name. God often speaks to His children in this way. If some idle notion comes into your head which would advance the Kingdom, it just may be God’s way of presenting you with an opportunity to share the joy. With this in mind, I am going to try to respond, when God uses my own observations, insights, and hopes to invite me into the work of the Kingdom, by reminding myself that if it (the dream) is to be (a reality), it is up to me (to respond to God’s leading).

(In 2018) I encourage you to pray as if everything depends upon God and work as if everything depends upon you.

This could be a very exciting year.

Wishing you a blessed New Year!

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Is Christmas Disappearing?

I live in avanish household of word-lovers. Conversations are thick with puns and creative word play, so it wasn’t too surprising when I announced to my son the other day that I was planning to dematerialize Christmas this year, his predictably melodramatic response was, “No, Mom, no! You can’t make Christmas disappear!”

Of course, we both knew I was merely beginning my annual oration about limiting gift lists and concentrating on the non-material aspects of the holiday in an attempt to downplay the gifts and focus on The Gift.

What we celebrate at Christmas is God’s gift of His Son to die for our sins. If you are a Christian, you may respond, “Well that goes without saying”….and, unfortunately, it does go without saying in many homes, and not only the homes of those who are actively antagonistic or dismissive of Christianity. Many Christians have also allowed the commercialism and sentimentality of the season to push the true meaning of Christmas to the side.

It might make us more appreciative of what Christmas means in the world today if we were to imagine what it would be like if I actually could “dematerialize” the historical event and we were able to see a world without the influence of Christianity.   It is an historical reality that Christianity has impacted the world for good. From the fields of higher education and medicine, to law, government, and science, much that we have today we owe to Christians and their beliefs. We can observe countries where the Christian influence has been historically limited to get some idea of what the whole world might be like, if Christ had never been born.holy family

This realization, alone, should be enough to make more of us take a few moments to really celebrate Christ’s birth.

Give gifts, have parties, bake cookies, and decorate to your heart’s content, but please take just a few moments to remember why we celebrate and Who it’s all about.

[Orig. Post 

As many of you know, I write Christian fiction as J.B. Hawker. If you would like to receive updates when I have a new book, or a promotion, you can sign-up for my monthly email newsletter by clicking on the gift box (below). Your Thank You gift is a collection of my Christmas short stories and recipes, Cozy Christmas Sweets:subscribe

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Advent: a Time of Coming and Becoming

In most Christian churches, the four weeks leading up to Christmas are observed as the season of Advent, a time of preparation for the celebration of Christ’s birth. Believers use these weeks to review the events leading up to Christ’s coming and to center our thoughts on Him. However, from the hysterical scavenger hunt that is Black Friday, through the glut of second-rate Santa-themed entertainment, the marketplace and sentimental traditions make it increasingly difficult to put Christ in the center of our thoughts and activities, and walking on eggshells to avoid offending non-believers only makes it worse.
      The renowned theologian, Oswald Chambers, had a way of cutting through distractions and coming straight to the point with his messages to Christians.  In the daily devotional adapted from his book “My Utmost for His Highest”, the reading for November 27 gives us the remedy for observing a meaningful Christmas in our times. If we want the spiritual power to avoid being caught up in the hype of the hectic “Happy Holidays” mentality, the answer is to become consecrated.

holy family

We must never allow anything to interfere with the consecration of our spiritual power. Consecration (being dedicated to God’s service) is our part; sanctification (being set apart from sin and being made holy) is God’s part. We must make a deliberate determination to be interested only in what God is interested. The way to make that determination, when faced with a perplexing problem, is to ask yourself, “Is this the kind of thing in which Jesus Christ is interested, or is it something in which the spirit that is diametrically opposed to Jesus is interested?”

As we make our plans and write our “to do” lists this year, if we apply this test to our own Christmas activities,  it may become clear just where we need to expend our energies and which things are better forgotten.

Wishing each one who reads this a Consecrated Christmas of peace and joy.

[Orig. Posted on 

As many of you know, I write Christian fiction as J.B. Hawker. If you would like to receive updates when I have a new book, or a promotion, you can sign-up for my monthly email newsletter by clicking on the gift box (below). Your Thank You gift is a collection of my Christmas short stories and recipes, Cozy Christmas Sweets:subscribe

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The Struggle to Save Christmas



It’s that time of year, again, when many of us gird our loins to do battle with the dark forces of carefully secular “Happy Holiday” greetings and decorated “holiday” trees. We are preparing for the struggle to hold up the banner for the real meaning of Christmas over the commercial and cultural extravaganza that is our modern-day Holiday Season.

Never fear, I haven’t switched sides or lost my faith, I’ve simply realized that I worship Christ, not Christmas.

Christmas, as a holy day, was established by the church for believers to celebrate together the birth of Christ, God with us, our Savior and our Lord.  If non-believers wish to celebrate with us, that’s fine, even if they are only celebrating the celebration. A pagan celebration of Winter Solstice, a Santa Claus parade, or the clamor for shoppers to buy and spend, does not take anything away from my God or my faith. Even if it could be made the law of the land tomorrow that only religious references to the Christmas celebration were allowed, not one person could be forced to acknowledge the deity of Christ in his or her life.

Sadly, we often hear about someone vandalizing a church because he is angry at God.  While such actions undoubtedly fail to please God, they do Him no harm. God does not reside in the material fabric of any church building. Such vandals are missing their target. The same can be said of us when we do battle with non-believers over the secular aspects of the Christmas celebration. While we are urged to do spiritual battle to defend our faith, our actions toward others…even our perceived enemies…are meant to be clothed in love. So, as  much as I personally abhor the materialization and even the sexualization of Christmas celebrations, I will try to remember this is a time of peace and goodwill.

I will respond cheerfully to “Happy Holiday” greetings and Santa’s Ho, ho, ho!, while in my heart and my home we will be remembering how God came as a man to reconcile sinners to Himself.

And when Easter comes…that greatest celebration in the Christian calendar and the fulfillment of the Christmas promise…I may color eggs and smile fondly on the Easter Bunny without rancor, because neither life, nor death, nor materialistic cultural celebrations can separate me from the love of God and my faith in His Son.

[Orig. Posted on 

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Christmas in Focus

Santa Carrying Shopping BagsPlaying Santa for friends and family every year can become quite a chore. Daily life has to go on, as well, and we can begin to feel frazzled and pulled in many directions. Although I, like many women, take pride in being a multi-tasker, the whirlwind of holiday planning, shopping, wrapping, baking, decorating, and attending special events sometimes leaves me feeling like one of those Christmas pageant camels… one with a broken back from carrying one too many straws.

When stress begins to blur my Christmas spirit, it helps if I get out of bed a few minutes early, stay up a few minutes late, or steal some quiet time somewhere, in order to sharpen my life’s focus.

If you have ever taken a photo of a large group, then you know how difficult it can be to keep each person in focus. But, if you are taking a photo of one special person in the group, the task becomes easy…you put that one particular face in the center and adjust the lens until only that one is sharp an clear.

Life is like that. If every task has equal importance, then no single job gets our best efforts. Taking on one job at a time, as if the project at hand were the only item on your To Do list, makes life more manageable.

So, if you begin to feel stressed this Christmas, take a few moments to breathe deeply, center your thoughts on the One whose birth we celebrate, let Him help you set your priorities, and you may get through this season with all the PEACE and JOY you hope for.

[Orig. post 

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Good for Nothing

The cartoons I watched as a little girl sometimes illustrated the struggle with temptation by using a tiny angel or devil sitting on the character’s shoulder urging him on to goodness or mischief.

As I’ve matured in my faith, I have discovered the presence of some kin of that fictional imp in my own life.  It hovers around my inner ear and, whenever I do something generous, kind, or compassionate, it whispers, “Ooh, that was so nice!”

In my younger days, I failed to recognize the source of these whispers. I actually believed them and even added a little pat on the back of self-congratulation.

Now, I realize that I will have attained a greater level of spiritual maturity, and come that much nearer to being truly nice, when I am finally able to do the kind, generous, or compassionate act without thinking about it, and without the self-praise of that cheerleading ego-imp. In the meantime, I try to respond to those insidious thoughts by comparing my…often grudging… acts of generosity to the true kindness, compassion, and grace shown to me every day.

To be a Christian is to  strive to be like Christ in one’s attitudes and relationships. When I am able to be good for nothing…without looking for praise or reward…I will have come one step closer to that goal.

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Give thanks? Really?

Even though we are being rushed from Halloween straight to Christmas every year, we still cannot overlook the fact that next Thursday is Thanksgiving. We have the supermarket ads to remind us, if nothing else.  But this holiday is not meant to be about eating and football.  Although established by political action and not a strictly religious holiday, Thanksgiving originated with an outpouring of thankfulness to God on the part of the Pilgrim Fathers in recognition of their survival in the new land.

Each year the Holiday Season begins with the pagan/superstition festival of Halloween, pauses briefly on the day of counting one’s blessings, and then diverges into separate paths. For Christians, giving thanks to God for the blessings of the year initiates the Advent season when we prepare our hearts for consideration of the miracle of God’s gift of salvation through His Son, whose birth we celebrate at Christmas. For many in our secular society, the family-football-and-food fest of Thanksgiving, followed immediately by the shopping frenzy of Black Friday, is the kick-off to a month of consumerism and sentimentality.

The days following Christmas Day bring us all back together as we face the New Year with resolutions, hopes, and fears for the future. How one celebrates these holidays is a clear demonstration of one’s world view.

If you count your blessings or your lucky stars or feel a sort of general thankfulness that your life is good; if Christmas means nothing more than love of family and friends and sharing gifts and traditions, you may not know the great blessing of being able to face each New year without fear, confident that the loving God who created the universe is in control.

If you thank God for the ups and downs, blessings and struggles of the past year and know that Christmas is both an historical miracle and the promise of eternal salvation, then you have Happy Holidays, indeed.

Have a happy Thanksgiving…a happy time giving thanks to the One who gives us everything. Thank God.

[original version posted November 2010]

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Honoring those who serve and have served

Veterans Day, November 11, is the day we in the United States honor the men and women who serve, or have served,  in the military in the defense of our country. Whether in peacetime or war, these individuals take a vow to serve and to sacrifice. All Americans owe them a profound debt and it is fitting to honor them on this day.

veterans day

Recent events bring to mind those serving in another field of conflict; soldiers striving in the spiritual battle in the service of God’s kingdom. A little church in rural Texas, on the front line in this battle, recently took severe casualties in the name of Christ.

It is fitting for all Christians to take a few moments when honoring US service people, to remember those who’ve served, and are serving, in the spiritual battle between the forces of good and evil.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:12 (NAS)

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