Dad and Charlie

Charlie is in the middle with his arm around Ken in the Cub Scout uniform

My husband Ken had a best friend growing up named Charlie. In a time when kids rode bicycles all over town, explored down by the creek, and played outside until the stars came out, Ken and Charlie did it all together. They were in the same Cub Scout Troop, attended the same elementary school, built model cars together. When Ken’s dad took him fishing and on overnight camping trips in the woods, Charlie came, too. Those trips became even more meaningful after Charlie’s dad died at a young age.

The best friends lost touch after they graduated from high school and went to different colleges. But when Ken attended his high school reunion this year—his first ever—there was Charlie, also attending his first reunion. It’s amazing how much these two men still have in common, and how they’ve bonded again as if the years had never passed. Then Charlie told us a story that touched my heart.

When he was fourteen, Charlie gave his life to Christ. His youth leader told him to think of a special person who didn’t know the Lord, and make a commitment to pray for him every single day. Charlie chose Ken’s dad.

Dad with our son Joshua

Dad was a kind, gentle man who worked as a master woodcarver for an upscale furniture company most of his life. His parents divorced when he was young, and being poor, he didn’t fit in or feel welcome among church-going people. He left school after the eighth grade and went to work to help support his mother and sister. Even after he married and had six children of his own—my husband being the youngest—Dad never did feel comfortable enough or “good” enough to attend church. He was a wonderful, loving father in every way, which is why his family, and “adopted” family members like Charlie, loved him so much. But he never said a word about faith in God.

It’s so hard to find a way to talk to our closest family members about our faith and our need for Christ. We get together every year at holidays like Christmas, and we want so badly to lead our loved ones to Jesus—and we just can’t seem to find a way or the words to do it. And so the years pass, and we always hope there will be a better time, an easier way to say what’s on our heart. And much too often, the end comes before we ever have a chance.

Charlie faithfully prayed for Dad every single day—all through his college years, all through the years that he and his wife were raising their family. He moved to a different city, and he and Ken weren’t in touch any more, but he continued to pray, wondering if his prayers had ever been answered.

Before he died at age 82, Dad went into the hospital for the last time. Charlie’s mother happened to work in the same hospital and, remembering him from their days as neighbors, went up to his room to see him. She asked how he was doing, and Dad said, “I’m at peace. I’ve given my life to Jesus, and I’m at peace.” Charlie’s prayers had been answered at last.

This Christmas season, Charlie’s story challenges me to do two things. First, to never, ever, stop praying for family members to give their lives to Christ, no matter how long it takes. I’m praying that I’ll find the right opportunity this Christmas, and the right words to say in a loving way. And second, I’m challenged to make a commitment, like Charlie did, to faithfully pray for someone who has touched my life, even if I may never know if or when those prayers are answered.

But I do know that we’ll see Dad in heaven, someday. And for that assurance, I say, “Thank you, Jesus.” And thank you Charlie.

A Boxful of Love

img_0361This year, our church was one of the drop-off points for “Operation Christmas Child,” which is run by the international relief organization, Samaritan’s Purse. Every year at this time, volunteers from all over the United States pack special shoe boxes with simple children’s gifts, which will then be used around the world as powerful evangelism tools with children and their families. Sometimes one of these shoe boxes, packed with love, is the first gift a child ever receives.

img_0362My job, along with my husband and our friends Paul and Jacki Kleinheksel, was to man the drop-off center for a few hours as people from our community brought in their filled boxes. We recorded the donations, wrapped rubber bands around the boxes to secure them, and packed them into shipping containers.

One kind gentleman from the community brought in 52 boxes. For the past year, every time he and his wife did their weekly grocery shopping, he faithfully purchased items to fill one box. By budgeting a small weekly amount, he filled enough shoe boxes to bless 52 children.

img_0363Another delivery was from a student representative at nearby Hope College. Her car was stuffed with 128 boxes that the college students had filled. “There are more boxes coming,” she said, “but this is all I could fit in my car.” It amazed me that busy college students, many of whom probably live on a tight budget, had donated their time and resources to help bring Christ’s love to needy children around the world.

But the highlight of my evening was a young family with three small children, who delivered five boxes, one from each of them. The children beamed with excitement as they told us how they had gone shopping with their mom and picked out the items for their box all by themselves, choosing things they knew a child their age would enjoy. What a beautiful way for these parents to teach their children the joy of giving to others, especially at a time of year when children might be thinking only of themselves.

img_0364One of our jobs was to pray with the people who dropped off their boxes, asking God to bless the children who would receive them. I had tears in my eyes as the young mom and dad and their three little ones bowed their heads and prayed with us for “their” children, whose lives may be forever changed. And then, when I thought the moment couldn’t possibly get any sweeter, the littlest boy looked up at us and said, “Know what? I gave my life to Jesus this week!” The angels in heaven were surely having a party!

It truly is more blessed to give than to receive. On the night before He was crucified, Jesus took off his robe and knelt down to wash His disciples’ feet. He told them, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” He wants us to serve each other. He finished by saying, “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”

img_0365Jesus was right. I was richly blessed that night!

Is there a special way you and your family will share the love of Christ this Christmas season? I would love to hear your ideas!

If you would like to help Samaritan’s Purse deliver Christmas boxes all over the world, click here to donate. Or visit them at www.samaritanspurse.org

Waves of Mercy

Have you ever prayed about a decision but when you followed through on where God was leading, everything went wrong? You probably asked, “Did I really hear from God? How could He allow this to happen?”waves-of-mercy-cover-1

immigrantsMy newest novel, “Waves of Mercy,” (which releases on October 4) tells the true story of the Dutch immigrants who settled the town of Holland, Michigan in 1846. These faithful Christian men and women, who suffered religious persecution in the Netherlands, prayed about what to do and felt God leading them to America, where religious freedom was guaranteed. So they left beautiful, centuries-old cities to move to the virgin wilderness of Michigan and live in crude log cabins. The first summer, malaria struck the community killing many settlers. A year later, a ship called the Phoenix, carrying 225 passengers, including 175 Dutch immigrants, caught fire and sank in Lake Michigan, five miles from their destination. 180 men, women and children died. As the bewildered immigrants buried their loved ones, they must have asked, “Did we really hear from God? How could He allow these tragedies to happen?”

gods-and-kingsI battled similar questions when writing my first novel, “Gods and Kings.” I had an opportunity to go to Israel on an archeological dig to research my book, and it seemed like an answer from God. To earn money for my trip, I babysat for three small children. My husband encouraged me to go and volunteered to take over while I was away. But a few days before I was supposed to leave, our three children came down with the chicken pox. Then we discovered that my husband had never had them, and he became extremely ill. I called the tour organizers to try to cancel or at least postpone my trip only to learn that it wasn’t refundable, nor could I re-book my flight. I would lose all of the money I had worked so hard to save. In spite of his illness, my husband still encouraged me to go—while someone from church called to say, “I think it’s clear that God wants you to stay home and be a wife and mother, not a writer.” Had I really heard from God about being a writer? Why had my family become sick at the worst possible time? I wrestled with God for answers.

It’s in these times of wrestling that we often find ourselves drawing closer to God. I think of Jacob who returned to the Promised Land with his family at God’s command. Yet before he reached home, he learned that his brother, who had once threatened to kill him, was coming with a large army of men. Jacob wrestled with God all night long, and was changed from Jacob the “deceiver,” to Israel, which means “he struggles with God.”

As I wrestled with God about my trip to Israel, the reading for my morning devotions happened to be Psalm 48: “Walk about Jerusalem, go around her, count her towers, consider well her ramparts, view her citadels, that you may tell of them to the next generation.” I trusted God to take care of my family, and walked into my calling as a writer. The novel I researched, “Gods and Kings,” has since been translated into nine languages.fullsizerender

And what happened to the Dutch settlers in my novel “Waves of Mercy?” I won’t reveal any “spoilers” in case you’d like to read the book, but if you visit the town of Holland, Michigan today, you’ll find that the immigrants’ faith remains strong and vibrant. The town, with a population of 33,000, has more than 71 churches, including Pillar Church, built by the first settlers in 1856.pillar-church

1co15-58“Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58).

Thin Air

IMG_7634My husband and I just returned home from a week’s vacation in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, and what a wonderful time we had! First of all, we were surrounded by God’s beautiful creation everywhere we looked—magnificent mountains, rushing streams, abundant wildlife. It was so easy to praise God every waking moment and remember His awesome majesty and power.

IMG_7683Second, I got to do one of my favorite activities every day—hiking in the woods. The scenery was refreshingly different from the familiar forests and beaches here in Michigan where I walk every day. There were mountains everywhere I looked!

IMG_7660But best of all, we were able to spend time with one of our sons, our daughter, our son-in-law, and our grandbaby on this vacation. We shared a family cabin together and were able to relax and talk and eat and hike every day.

I had been hard at work on my newest book before this vacation, and I admit I was feeling a little stuck. My brain felt like it was filled with molasses, and the words and ideas just weren’t coming. I needed a break and a change of scene. Maybe some new inspiration. Thankfully, I got all of those things—and something more.

IMG_7781On our first day of hiking, I found myself huffing and puffing after about five minutes of walking. I thought I was in pretty good shape—what was wrong with me? The answer, of course, was “thin air.” Our cabin was located at an elevation of 8,000 feet and we hiked even higher than that every day. Someone explained to me that oxygen is 45% less dense at that altitude, which explains why I was gasping! Things that were easy to do back home became a lot harder in such thin air.

IMG_7652As I thought about that fact, I realized why my writing hadn’t been going so well. Scripture sometimes compares the Holy Spirit to air or wind. Jesus promised His disciples that they would receive power from on high when the Spirit came, and indeed, they were transformed when the rushing wind from heaven blew on the Day of Pentecost and they were filled with the Holy Spirit. We all need the Holy Spirit’s power to accomplish the work God gives us to do. But I sometimes forget that, and I try to write on “thin air,” relying on my own experience and knowledge instead of on the Spirit’s inspiration. No wonder I huff and puff!

IMG_7728My prayer, as I return to my desk and my work-in-progress this week is summed up in one of my favorite choruses: “Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me . . .”

How’s the air where you’re serving our Creator?

A Clear View

FullSizeRender The azalea bush outside my living room window is putting on a glorious show this spring. I can see it from my favorite living room chair where I sit for my quiet time every morning. But I can also see how dusty and rain-streaked my windows are after the long winter months. So last Saturday, when the temperature climbed to nearly 70 degrees, I got out the buckets and rags and window cleaner to tackle the job. The window glass is divided into dozens of tiny panes that have to be individually washed, making the task . . . well . . . a pain!

You know that great feeling you get when you tackle a hard job and can immediately see the results? That’s how I felt when I finally stood back to proudly view my finished windows. It seemed as though there was no glass in the window frames at all!

FullSizeRender(1)Then I got up on Sunday morning.

Those windows face east, and as the brilliant sunlight streamed into the room it revealed every streak and smudge and swirl mark I had made. The mess hadn’t been visible until the light shone directly on it.

It was an appropriate lesson for me. I can delude myself into thinking I’m a pretty good Christian on the outside, all cleaned up and looking good—until Christ shines His light and reveals my spots and streaks. That’s exactly what happened when I spoke without thinking last week and my words came out in a way that hurt a dear friend. Words are my livelihood and I had used them carelessly. “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless” (James 1:26). Just like a dirt-streaked window.window

I’m not as squeaky-clean as I think I am. Unless I allow the Light of the World to change me, I’ll remain as flawed as my windows, as filthy as my pile of cleaning rags. I’ve asked my friend for forgiveness. And I’m praying that from now on the Holy Spirit will help me to “be quick to listen, slow to speak” (James 1:19).

The Enduring Feast

Passover-TableThe Feast of Passover begins this Friday at sundown. My Jewish friends, who call it Pesach, are busy cleaning their houses in preparation, careful not to leave a single crumb of leaven. They even vacuum their sofa cushions, something I probably should do more often.

The table will be beautifully set with all the traditional items in place. Family and friends will gather for this annual dinner that typically lasts several hours. They will remember how the Israelites were once slaves in Egypt. They’ll relive the ten plagues and the nation’s miraculous deliverance from slavery. They’ll sing joyful songs to celebrate God’s faithfulness.

Garden of Gethsemane
Garden of Gethsemane

Jesus celebrated the Feast of Passover with His disciples on the night He was betrayed. He broke the traditional unleavened bread and lifted the ritual cup of wine saying, “This is my body, broken for you…This is my blood, shed for you…do this in remembrance of me.” His closing prayer is recorded for us in John 17: “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.” Then Jesus walked with His disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane.

pyramidI marvel at how the Passover Feast has endured. It began with Moses on that long-ago night in Egypt and is celebrated some 3,400 years later. God’s people have also endured, just as He promised: “Only if the (sun, moon and stars) vanish from my sight,” declares the Lord, “will the descendants of Israel ever cease to be a nation before me” (Jeremiah 31:36).

Destroyed Roman city of Scythopolis

Pharaoh and his pagan gods are gone, leaving only ruined temples and tombs. The Romans, who crucified Jesus and built impressive cites, are gone too. None of Israel’s neighbors worship Baal or Dagon or Molech as their ancestors did. Yet the Jewish people and their faith in the God of Abraham survive, nearly unchanged. And so does our Christian faith, some 2,000 years after Jesus died for our sins on Passover.

FootWashingEach year before celebrating the feast, I love to reread the story of Christ’s final Passover meal and the lessons He taught us that night (John 13-17). He began by washing His disciples’ feet, saying, “I have set you an example…no servant is greater than his master.” He commanded us to love one another saying, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” He told us that His Father’s house had many mansions and that He was going to prepare a place for us. He promised to send the Holy Spirit to empower us. And He gave us the beautiful picture of the vine and the branches, encouraging us to bear much fruit for His Father’s glory. He ended by praying for us: “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me…”

communion-tableCommunion is our celebration feast when we remember Christ’s sacrifice. We begin by searching our souls for every speck of sin. We go to the Lord’s table to partake of His body and blood in the bread and wine. We leave the covenant meal cleansed, free from slavery to sin, empowered to bear fruit as He commanded. And we leave with a sense of peace, knowing that the Pharaohs and rulers of this world won’t last, but God’s kingdom will endure for all time. “Take heart!” Jesus told us on that long-ago Passover night. “I have overcome the world.”

Spring Thaw

The robins are back! I’m not sure where these red-bellied birds go for the winter, but I saw one for the first time this morning. A sure sign of spring.

american-robin-by-di-qiu-cc

IMG_1786 So I decided to look for other signs as I took my morning walk. Some trees now have buds. Green shoots are poking up from the cold ground along with a few brave crocuses. The ugly patches of dirty snow are nearly all melted away. And ice no longer covers the nearby lake. These early signs of renewed life mean that warmer weather and summer gardens can’t be far away.

IMG_1774My search for new life outdoors made me want to look for signs of it inside, too—not in my house but in my soul. Winter settles over the northern hemisphere each year because the earth gradually tilts away from the sun. Spring returns once the earth tilts back again. That means spiritual winter must come when I become so busy and distracted that I subtly move away from God, the Source of life. Springtime reminds me to thaw any ice that has covered my heart and draw close to Him again. Jesus warned that in the last days, “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12). And He warned Christians in Revelation that “You have forsaken your first love . . . you are neither cold nor hot.”

IMG_1779It’s time to melt the snows of complacency and look for signs of spiritual life, the same way I searched for it outdoors this morning. Am I becoming more Christ-like every day? Do others see signs of change in me? The Bible says we’re supposed to continue growing throughout our spiritual journey until we “become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13).

IMG_1784The best way I know to measure growth is to look for fruit in my life, using the familiar list in Galatians 5:22 as my guide: Am I becoming more loving—or becoming a permanent grouch? Am I increasingly joyful, no matter the circumstances—or do I keep reciting the same litany of complaints and excuses? Does the peace of God fill me—or do I continue to worry and fret? What about kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness? If these still aren’t part of my everyday personality, shouldn’t they at least be peeking through the surface by now as signs of Christ’s life in me? And how about self-control? They say the best test for this is when someone cuts you off in traffic. Or when family members frustrate you—again.

IMG_1777It will soon be time to clean out my flowerbeds, prune the dead branches, and cultivate my vegetable garden and plant new seeds. This year, it’s my prayer that these springtime chores will remind me to remove the dead weeds from my heart and cultivate spiritual fruit in my soul.

IMG_1790Which one of these Fruits of the Spirit do you most want to cultivate this spring?

Spiritual NICU

It is a pleasure to welcome my friend, Christine Bierma, as my guest on this week’s post. Christine is a talented young writer who posted this touching story on her blog, atrustworthysaying.com. We both know Baby Lucy’s parents and continue in prayer for this precious little one who was born at only 28 weeks.

Lucys-feetRecently I’ve spent many days inside the halls of the Rush University NICU while a little girl, who has captured my heart, fights to grow strong in a world she wasn’t meant to be in yet. She is being required to do things her little body isn’t ready for and to excel at tasks she isn’t at all qualified to accomplish.

It’s unfair.

It’s hard to watch.

It’s miraculous.

Each day she amazes her parents and her doctors as she clears hurdles and learns to be more and more independent. How much her tiny body needs to grow before she can leave the NICU is overwhelming if you look at it as a checklist. Each day has ups and downs and sometimes, it feels safer to just live hour to hour, your heart could break with concern otherwise.

Each time this little miracle clears a developmental hurdle all of her monitors are green and the alarms attached to her are silent for awhile then a nurse or doctor comes in to change or tweak something. Inevitably they take something away from her that has allowed her to rest comfortably or adjust something that will require her to adapt and change. As soon as they do, her monitors start vacillating from green to yellow to red and back again. The alarms in her tiny hospital room beep loudly signally that she is dangerously close to needing help. This constant push by the medical staff is maddening to her young mom who wishes with all of her being to see her little one safe and content and happy. It breaks her parents hearts to see their new baby girl fight and struggle, gasping for air or fighting to keep infections at bay.

Lucy-and-Danielle“Why?” her mom cried to me, “Why do they keep doing that to her? Why can’t they just leave her alone for awhile? I can’t watch, it feels like torture!”

As an outsider, an observer, I can clearly see that the doctors are simply doing what is required of them. I also can see that mom and dad are clearly doing their job. I can see that everyone has the same goal: to get this baby girl to graduate from the NICU. And yet, everyone has a different role to play. The medical staff has to push and push so that development will continue, even if it means pain, discomfort, risk and failure. The old adage two steps forward, one step back is very much a way of life. Our baby girl needs them to push her in order for her to grow strong and some day be independent.

However, in the midst of this pushing to develop, “kangaroo care” is so vitally important. Kangaroo care is “a method of caring for premature babies which involves holding a baby skin to skin with a parent for as many hours as is allowed.” This close hold will help regulate the baby’s temperature, heart rate, breathing and allow her to bond with her mother or father. She needs this love, this cuddling, and closeness. She needs to feel the warmth of her mother, to hear her father’s voice or rest in the rhythm of her mother’s heartbeat. There is no needle poking or prodding or pushing for a developmental milestone. There is only love and oneness and warmth and acceptance.

She needs both her doctors and nurses pushing and her mom and dad’s love in order for her to grow to the very best of her ability.

Watching her makes me think about myself, listening to her mom makes me think about God and how he cares for me in my spiritual growth. As I examine both her physical growth and my spiritual growth I have come to realize that God has me in a sort of “spiritual incubator.”

lucy-incubatorGrowth is never easy. It looks easy I guess, but there is a lot of effort involved, and sometimes pain. My own boy grew 6 inches in the year between freshman and sophomore year. He had tremendous pain in his legs and has stretch marks on his skin as permanent scars to remind him of that year. What kind of spiritual stretch mark scars do I have?

I sometimes feel like the alarms of my spiritual incubator are deafening as they continue to ring. There are times in my life that I have felt very close to needing to be “intubated” and I wonder out loud why God continues to push me and allow so much stress, conflict or turmoil in my life. Why is everything so hard? Why doesn’t He love me?

There are times that I long for God to pull me close and give me some “kangaroo care” and he does. I love the times when God feels so close I can hear him. The times when the words of the Bible speak directly to my heart and I rest in his close embrace. Unfortunately, it seems I can’t stay there…there is more growing to do.

This spiritual incubator is a hard place to be…it doesn’t feel safe all the time even if it is exactly the only environment that I can survive in. You see, as children of God, we are not designed to survive or excel in this sinful world. We need God’s constant touch, his constant oversight, his prodding and poking so that we can grow. We need his kangaroo care so we can survive. Let to ourselves we would not survive, we need Him. His goal for us is not to stay in this world, this time, this place…his goal is that we will graduate to someday be with him, in eternity.

This world is not our home, it’s the NICU…a period of time spent in a place that will one day be ancient history, a piece of our story. I don’t completely understand how it all works, God’s ways are mysterious to me on a lot of things. One thing I am certain of however, is that God loves me unconditionally and more than I could ever understand; just like my little fighter is loved more than she knows or understands. Her parents would give their life to save hers in a heartbeat if they could. They would trade places with her and take on all of her struggles to save her from one day of pain.

God loves us like that. In John 3:16 the Bible says, “For God so loved the world that he gave is one and only son, Jesus, to die for us, to take our place. That whoever believes in him should not perish but would have eternal life.”

Jesus did give his life to save mine. One day he will take me home to be with him just like one day our rock star baby will go home to be with her family.

Until then…we grow.

To follow the story of the little fighter, Lucy, I have grown to love so much you can visit her CaringBridge site.

Written by Christine Bierma atrustworthysaying.com

King Hezekiah’s Seal

Gods and KingsIt’s been in the news but you may have missed it during the busy Christmas season. Archaeologists digging near Jerusalem’s Temple Mount have found a stamped clay seal that once belonged to the biblical King Hezekiah. As my readers know, I “wrote the book” on King Hezekiah—three books, in fact, and two more on his son King Manasseh. I used stories from the Old Testament along with my own research to create the five-book “Chronicles of the King” series about King Hezekiah’s life.667144301000100640360no

The Ophel in Jerusalem near where the seal was discovered
The Ophel in Jerusalem near where the seal was discovered

The clay seal that the archaeologists found was stamped with his name: Hezekiah son of Ahaz. It had once been used to seal a papyrus scroll, a document that was probably signed by Hezekiah himself. Archaeologists discovered it in a section of ancient Jerusalem where the king’s palace once stood.

Hezekiah's Broad Wall
Hezekiah’s Broad Wall

I love King Hezekiah! This descendant of King David and ancestor of Jesus Christ ruled from about 715 to 686 BC. And what a life he lived! A contemporary of the prophets Isaiah and Micah, he lived through the exile of Israel’s ten northern tribes by the brutal Assyrians. In fact, so many refugees fled to Jerusalem that Hezekiah enlarged the city and built a new wall around it for protection. A portion can still be seen in Jerusalem’s Old City. Hezekiah also dug a tunnel beneath the city to safeguard his water supply from the Assyrians, bringing water from the Gihon Spring to the newly built Pool of Siloam. He was in such a hurry to finish that his workmen began tunneling from both ends and met in the middle, an engineering marvel. It still carries water (and tourists) beneath Jerusalem.

Hezekiah's Tunnel
Hezekiah’s Tunnel

But what I love most about King Hezekiah, and what inspired me to write all those books about him, was his faith—his imperfect, often wavering, but true-to-the-end faith. I was intrigued by the fact that his wicked father, King Ahaz, sacrificed his sons to the pagan god Moloch, yet Hezekiah launched a religious revival in the first month of his reign, purifying the temple that his father had desecrated. He invited everyone to return to God and celebrate Passover, which hadn’t been kept in decades. Hezekiah’s faith grew as he faced trials. When the Assyrians first attacked, he asked Isaiah to pray for him. When they returned a second time, he went up to the Temple and bowed before God himself, asking Him to save Jerusalem so that all the kingdoms on earth would know that He alone is God.

Hezekiah's Tunnel and Gihon Spring
Hezekiah’s Tunnel and Gihon Spring

Hezekiah’s newly-discovered seal depicts a winged sun. Several news stories questioned his use of a non-Jewish symbol. But knowing what I do of his life, I think it’s a perfect symbol. Hezekiah became seriously ill and Isaiah told him to get his house in order because he was going to die. But Hezekiah prayed and God graciously granted him fifteen more years to live. As a sign that Hezekiah would indeed get well, God “gave wings” to the sun and caused it to briefly retreat backwards.

A few years later, the Assyrians surrounded Jerusalem and demanded Hezekiah’s surrender. Isaiah convinced him to trust God, promising that He would save the city. During the night, the Angel of Death killed 185,000 enemy troops and “the next morning—there were all the dead bodies!” God’s salvation from the Assyrians appeared as the sun was rising—just as centuries later our salvation through Hezekiah’s descendant Jesus Christ would come at dawn on Easter morning.

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Jerusalem

For a world that believes scripture is made up of fables and fairy tales, that its stories and people are fabricated and embellished, Hezekiah’s newly discovered seal offers proof to those who doubt, that God’s word is Truth.

For more information, try one of these links from December 4, 2015: colsoncenter@colsoncenter.org
http://www.timesofisrael.com/seal-bearing-name-of-judean-king-found-in-jerusalem/

Christmas Traditions

WP_000687For many years now, my book deadline has been January 15. That means I’m always racing to finish my novel during the holidays. With three children and a musician-husband whose busiest season is also Christmas, I decided several years ago to stop trying to produce a perfect “Hallmark” holiday. I sat everyone down and asked which traditions were most important to them, and together we came up with a Christmas celebration that is perfect for our family.

My husband’s family is mostly Dutch (except for his father, who barged into town and added the Austin name). To celebrate his heritage we set a pair of wooden shoes near our front door for St. Nicholas Day. Our kids never believed in Santa Claus since we wanted them to celebrate Christmas as Jesus’s birthday, but they loved those wooden shoes—and the fact that their father marched in them in Holland’s Tulip Time Parade when he was young.

WP_000686We also bake traditional Dutch Jan Hagel cookies and serve them with egg nog as we decorate our Christmas tree. The background music for this event is a CD that our church choir in Winnipeg, Canada recorded when my husband was their music director. Our tree isn’t magazine-worthy but we decorate it with love and with ornaments the kids made in school, as well as decorations from all the places we’ve lived and traveled.

WP_000685On Christmas Eve we hang the stockings that my sister Bonnie pieced and quilted for us years ago. She’s in heaven now, but we remember her with love when we see her beautiful handiwork. Our dinner on Christmas Day reflects my German background. Five days ahead of time, I begin marinating a beef roast in vinegar, onions and mixed pickling spices to make Sauerbraten. I also bake ginger snaps, which get crumbled up to thicken the traditional gravy. Served with spätzle and cooked red cabbage, this has become our favorite Christmas meal. Dessert is cake with candles for Jesus’s birthday.

WP_000682When our children were very small, I purchased an inexpensive nativity scene that they could handle without breaking. Every year they divvy up the shepherds and wise men and other figures and set each piece in place as my husband reads the Christmas story from the Bible. Now that our kids are grown and married, their spouses join in the tradition. I could buy a fancier nativity set but none of us wants to part with that old, well-worn one.

WP_000683Our traditions have continued to transform as our family has grown and added new members. We now celebrate Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, by lighting menorah candles and placing them in our window. I love eating warm potato latkes like the ones my great-grandmother used to make with sour cream and applesauce. Jesus also celebrated this traditional Jewish holiday (see John 10:22-23), a reminder of God’s provision and the rededication of His temple. For me, it’s a reminder that Jesus came at Christmas to bring light into a very dark world.

Jesus wants me to let my light shine too, but I can’t do that if I’m stressed out from trying to achieve Christmas perfection. The celebration of Christ’s birth should be a time to relax with my family and friends and enjoy God’s gracious gift of His Son. It’s in those moments with my loved ones close, that I feel the holy wonder of Christmas once again—Emmanuel, God with us!Creche Holy Family

Does your family have special Christmas traditions and foods?