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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

What I Want in 2015

Photo by: Teerapun

A new year always makes me want to take some time to think. I don’t usually exactly make resolutions, but I have goals. I try to make them realistic and not resolutions that will bog me down before I start.

This year, I want a new heart.

Read these verses from Ezekiel. God is speaking:
  • And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh (11:19)
  • Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel? (18:31)
  • A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. (36:26)

Notice these details from the above verses:
  1. New: heart and spirit
  2. Substitution: a heart of flesh instead of a heart of stone
  3. Prerequisite: getting rid of sin (18:31)

I want the kind of spirit that responds to God. I want a heart of flesh that is soft and teachable. I want to yield to biblical teaching. I want to be soft and take it. I want to be receptive and not rebellious. I want a sweet, willing attitude.

I don’t want a hardened heart—not any time. I want to have a soft heart even under stress, when grieving, and when people act like jerks. I want to have right reactions, completely submissive to the Holy Spirit in me. I don’t want to balk and rebel. I want to have a heart that says “yes, Lord.”

I want to live with sins confessed and forsaken. I want to catch those things that don’t please God, confess them, and get cleansing, so that I might be a clean vessel that God can use. (1 John 1:9; 2 Timothy 2:21)

I want a new heart for 2015.

Illustration by: cuteimage
How about you? Do you have a resolution or goal you’d like to share?

(An excellent article about setting realistic goals is this one by Jess Connell. You can access it here. My post about New Year's Resolutions is linked here.)


Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Top Books Read in 2014

Photo by: Serge Bertasius Photography

This year, I read a variety of books, as usual. Some were great, and others were . . . um, mediocre. I actually quit reading several because they weren't at all books I wanted to continue. I also found a few new gems.

Let me share my favorites with you, in no special order. All of them are reviewed in more detail under my tab “Book Reviews.” Look for 2014.


In the Land of Blue Burqas by Kate McCloud, for its love of God and the Afghan people. This book is the story of a NGO worker who made bridges to the people around her. It is wonderfully written. For me, it was great to better understand Muslim culture and how to communicate the gospel with people from this religious background.

Tom and Me by Billie Sloan, for her candid sharing about missions and love and family. I know the author personally. She shares her heart in this book about her husband and their medical/church ministry in Mexico.

The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Butterfield, for its unique insights into the LGBT community and beliefs. This is the personal testimony of a lesbian feminist professor who finds Christ. Wonderful story!

Biking Across America by Paul Stutzman is the second of Stutzman’s books about his adventures (after Hiking Through, about the Appalachian Trail). I liked both books, but the biking adventure was more interesting to me, especially the author’s interactions with the people he met along the way. Loved it!


The Quilt by T. Davis Bunn is a departure from his usual adventure writing. It’s a sensitively told story of an elderly lady’s last wish. I loved this for its warmth, family values, and appeal. Beautifully written!

Freefall by Kristen Heitzmann was a great story that includes amnesia, trust, crime, and love, set mostly in Hawaii. It was a fun, romantic (not sappy) read.

Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe is considered a classic for a reason. I loved the lessons Robinson learned along the way, the details of how he managed to survive and thrive on the island, and the spiritual applications throughout. It’s a great book for young people, especially boys.

I find it impossible to pick a standout favorite this year. I read other very good books. Make sure you check out my 2014 reviews, clicking on the tab.

Reading now: Under the Silk Hibiscus by Alice Wisler (historical fiction set in the U.S. Japanese camps during World War II) and Katie’s Kisses by Katie Davis with Beth Clark (non-fiction missionary testimony about Katie’s work with orphanages in Uganda). Both are terrific, and I can wholeheartedly recommend them. They’ll be reviewed when I’m done.

What were your favorite books of the year? Any standouts? Why did you like these books? (Feel free to share links to blog posts.)

Saturday, December 27, 2014

A Family Christmas

“Chestnuts roasting on an open fire” . . . wasn’t exactly the Christmas we had. We were burning pallet wood in our wood stove to heat the house, and we decorated, so that everything would be pretty and cozy and would feel like Christmas when our daughter's family arrived.

We first saw the new baby—our grandson—through the windows at the airport. Anxious to hold him and just look at him, we waited for them to clear customs control. What joy! Our daughter, her husband, and two little grandsons—one we’d never met. They all looked beautiful, through eyes of love.

There’s nothing like having family for Christmas! Nothing in the world! The whole house becomes happy.

There’s also nothing like babies for Christmas. Their sweet little faces and total dependence remind us of the Christ Child, Who became a Baby in order to identify with us. The mystery of the incarnation becomes even more poignant when I look into the face of my newest grandbaby and imagine what Mary must have felt, knowing that the innocent countenance was her Messiah.

We’ve traveled already—two little ones in tow—and seen and photographed and oohed and aahed. We are drinking in each moment, making pictures of these precious people in our hearts for later, when things get back to normal and our house becomes way too quiet again.

Life is good.

There’s nothing more precious than family and being together at Christmas. We are so fortunate. (We’ve spent some Christmases alone, just the two of us. Being overseas from our children, it’s not easy to be together and all the more special when it happens.)

Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift,
Jesus Christ, our Savior.
(2 Corinthians 9:15)

And, we thank God for our children, their mates, and their sweet children.

Trusting you, too, rejoiced in the Lord this Christmas. May God bless you!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Do You See?

 Do you see a virgin, close to bearing Child?
Her Baby is God!
In the stable, Mary gives birth.
No midwife attends.
Joseph is there—her fiancĂ©,
The godly man who guarded her in purity for this hour.

Do you see the Baby?
The Perfect One is born, just like every baby,
But not like any before or since.
God made flesh,
Dwelling with us.
Emmanuel in a manger.

Do you see the light so terrible
The shepherds tremble?
An angel proclaims the Savior:
The Shepherd of souls
Announced to shepherds of sheep.

Do you see many angels together, praising God?
“Glory to God in the highest.”
Curious shepherds leave their flock
To worship The Good Shepherd, their Messiah.

Do you see the shepherds kneeling,
Worshiping newborn Baby,
And afterwards, striding through Bethlehem announcing
The Savior in swaddling clothes,
Telling about angels and the Messiah?
They had seen Him!

Do you see the Star?
There shall come a Star out of Jacob,
And a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel. (Numbers 24:17)
The wise men traveled many miles
To see the King of the Jews.

Do you see angry King Herod
Striving to compose himself as he worries
About the King of kings he doesn’t know?
Can you see him call his priests and scribes
To find out where the Christ Child was born?

Do you see the joy on wise men’s faces
As they view the Star again?
It moves and hovers
Over the house where the Savior lives.

Do you see the wise men worshipping the Holy Child
With treasures: gold, perfume, and myrrh?

Do you see how God protected His Child
Until He died for sins
On the cross?

Do you see how much God loves you?
The incarnation is for you.
Jesus is for you.
The Savior is for you.
Salvation is for you.

And the Word was made flesh,
And dwelt among us,
(And we beheld his glory,
The glory as of the only begotten of the Father,)
Full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

To open their eyes . . .
That they may receive forgiveness of sins,
And inheritance among them which are sanctified
By faith that is in (Jesus). (from Acts 26:18b)

Do you see?
For unto you is born this day
in the city of David a Savior,
which is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:11)

Have you really seen Jesus?
Have you put your faith in Him?

(The Christmas story is told in Matthew 2:1-12 and in Luke 1:26-2:21. Photo illustrations are from

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Christmas Is for You

When Mary had her baby, the most special Baby of all time, she wrapped Him in soft, clean cloth she’d brought with her for the purpose. In those days, newborns were cleaned up, rubbed with salt, and then bound with their arms at their sides. Mary did for her Son what other mothers did for theirs.

Mary put her baby Son in a manger. She gave birth in a stable, since there wasn’t any room in the inn. (Much has been made of this story, and rightly so. We don’t know why the innkeeper didn’t make room in the inn for a very pregnant woman, possibly already in labor—or how many rooms were in the inn. Did the innkeeper know she needed privacy and thus choose the only private place for them? Were the rooms in the inn big, communal spaces? Did he truly have compassion—or did he turn them out? We’ll never know, but the fact is that the King of kings and Lord of lords was born in a stable.) Jesus made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men (Philippians 2:7). What’s more servant-like than being born in a stable? This wasn’t an accident! It was God’s choice for His Son.

The scene switches to the countryside, where there’s a group of shepherds watching their flock. It’s night, and something amazing happens: the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them.

Their response? They were sore afraid. This glory of the Lord is that same glory that Moses saw. It made his face shine so that he needed a veil. The glory of the Lord was in the pillar of fire by night. The glory of the Lord is light, because God is Light. (Exodus 13:21-22; 34:33-35; 1 John 1:5)

The typical shepherd wasn’t exactly a wimp. Remember David? He killed a lion and a bear. He was so accurate and strong with his slingshot that the stone sunk into Goliath’s forehead. These were guys who protected their sheep from wild animals and robbers and all harm. They slept outside and braved the elements. The Bible says these shepherds were very afraid. (1 Samuel 17:34-37; 49-50)

The angel says, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

The shepherds were listening now. Can you imagine getting news from heaven that would cause joy for all people?

The angel continues, For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

I have a feeling the shepherds understood this message. They were Jewish. They were waiting for the Messiah. They knew He was to be born in Bethlehem. (Micah 5:2) They understood that He would save them (Isaiah 19:20). The name Christ meant Messiah. They got it!

But, there was more: the angel was giving them directions, so they could go and see their Messiah! Can you imagine? They were the strangest directions they’d every heard! And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

The Messiah, newly born, would be wrapped in swaddling clothes! In a manger! The King, their Messiah, in a manger! (They were used to stables and mangers.)

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

What a scene!

What a message: I bring you good tidings of great joy. Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

Good tidings of great joy . . . to you.

A Savior born this day . . . unto you.

The message of Christmas is for you. Just as the angel announced it to shepherds that night, the Word of God is announced to you, today. The Prince of Peace, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, Wonderful, Counselor was born—for you. (from Isaiah 9:6)

For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved (John 3:17).

Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace, good will toward men.

(If not otherwise noted, all quoted material is from the Christmas story in Luke 2:7-14. Photo illustrations are from

Sunday, December 14, 2014

John the Baptist, the Six-Month-Old Christmas Baby

Elisabeth’s baby was a boy, as Gabriel had predicted, and her neighbours and her cousins heard how the Lord had shewed great mercy upon her; and they rejoiced with her. And it came to pass, that on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child; and they called him Zacharias, after the name of his father. And his mother answered and said, Not so; but he shall be called John. And they said unto her, There is none of thy kindred that is called by this name. And they made signs to his father, how he would have him called. And he asked for a writing table, and wrote, saying, His name is John. And they marvelled all. And his mouth was opened immediately, and his tongue loosed, and he spake, and praised God.

The people were puzzled wondering what kind of a child this would be.

His father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Ghost, and prophesied, saying, Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited and redeemed his people, And hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David; As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began: That we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us; To perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant; The oath which he sware to our father Abraham, That he would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear, In holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life. Zacharias gave praise to God and said that the Messiah was on His way, the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant.

Then, he spoke to his baby son: And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways; To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins, Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us, To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.

Compare Zacharias’ words with these passages:

  • Isaiah 40:3  Isaiah prophesied about John 700 years before his birth. The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
  • Matthew 17:11-13  This is a reference to a prophecy found in Malachi 4:5-6 where John is referred to metaphorically as “Elias”: And Jesus answered and said unto them, Elias truly shall first come, and restore all things. But I say unto you, That Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of them. Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist.
  • Mark 1:2-4  As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.
  • John 1:7-8, 15, 22-23, 29-32  The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. . . . Then said they unto him, Who art thou? that we may give an answer to them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself? He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias. . . . The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man which is preferred before me: for he was before me. And I knew him not: but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water. And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him.
  • John 5:32-35  Jesus said of John, There is another that beareth witness of me; and I know that the witness which he witnesseth of me is true. Ye sent unto John, and he bare witness unto the truth. But I receive not testimony from man: but these things I say, that ye might be saved. He was a burning and a shining light: and ye were willing for a season to rejoice in his light.

So, John grew up and presented Christ to the world. He fulfilled his purpose. It’s interesting that the Bible uses almost the same words to describe John’s growing up as it uses for Jesus. They are both in Luke’s gospel. And the child (John) grew, and waxed strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his shewing unto Israel (Luke 1:80). Compare with Luke 2:52 about Jesus: And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.

John’s message was simple:

Behold the Lamb of God,
which taketh away the sin of the world.

It’s the message of Christmas.

(Quotes from Luke 1:57-80, unless otherwise noted. Photos are from If you missed the first part of the story of John the Baptist’s birth, just scroll down.)