Thursday, December 31


Hope…sometimes stuck in our finite brains as wishful thinking, as a “pie in the sky” kind of thing, but…

…hope is not wishful thinking!

What some others say about hope…

*Love floods us with hope. ~Jareb Teague
*Hope is grief’s best music. ~Author Unknown
*Hope is the physician of each misery. ~Irish Proverb
*Once you choose hope, anything’s possible. ~Christopher Reeve
*Hope is putting faith to work when doubting would be easier. ~Author Unknown
*You’ve gotta have hope. Without hope life is meaningless. Without hope life is meaning less and less. ~Author Unknown
*Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all. ~Dale Carnegie
*When you say a situation or a person is hopeless, you’re slamming the door in the face of God. ~Charles L. Allen

So, if hope is not wishful thinking, what is it? It is active participation in trust!

Scripture says, “And patience develops strength of character in us and helps us trust God more each time we use it until finally our hope and faith are strong and steady.” (Rom. 5:4 TLB)

How does the dictionary define the word ‘hope’?

Whether as a noun or a verb, it describes ‘hope’ as the feeling or desire accompanied by expectation of or belief in fulfillment, as that which is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best, a person or thing in which expectations are centered, to expect with confidence, to believe, trust, or rely, or to cherish a desire with anticipation.

How does the New Testament define ‘hope’? Two words are used…

*The first word is a noun, ‘elpis,’ which means expectation whether of good or of ill, rarely in a bad sense, fear; in a good sense: expectation of good, hope; and in the Christian sense, joyful and confident expectation of eternal salvation. It is always translated (in the KJ) as ‘hope.’

*The other NT word is a verb, ‘elpizo,’ which comes from ‘elpis,’ meaning to expect, confide, or trust. Many times in the KJ, it is translated as ‘trust.’

Of all the usages of the word ‘hope’ in scripture, most are expressed by Paul. He sprinkled his letters and speeches with phrases of hope, such as:

* “the hope of salvation” (1 Thess. 5:8)
* “in hope of eternal life” (Titus 1:2)
* “the hope of your calling” (Eph 4:4)
* “the hope of righteousness” (Gal. 5:5)
* “the hope which is laid up for you in heaven” (Col. 1:5)
* “the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13)

“The God of hope” (Rom. 15:13) has authored our hope. And Jesus, as Paul said, is the one “on whom we have set our hope” (2 Cor. 1:10), “Christ in you the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27).

Many are suffering great challenges right now, extreme health issues, deep financial troubles, devastating grief or loss, and the list goes on.

During dark times of adversity, hope keeps us spiritually alive. It brightens our paths and heightens our awareness of the Lord’s presence.

Have you misplaced your hope, placing it in your finances, job, family, possessions, or spouse? Or have you lost it altogether?

We cannot live without hope. Solomon said, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when the desire comes, it is a tree of life.” (Prov. 13:12 NKJV)

We need to fortify the hope that God has placed within us. David tells us to “Be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart, all you who hope in the Lord.” (Ps. 31:24 NKJV) Paul also encourages us, “Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Rom. 5:5 NKJV)

In the last few weeks, I have bumped into numerous people who are writing on hope. I think God must be up to something. Maybe we all need to be filled with hope for whatever is to come.

No matter what may transpire in my life throughout 2010, I will say as David said to the Lord, “But I will hope continually, and will praise You yet more and more,” (Ps. 71:14 NKJV) and pray as he did, “Uphold me according to Your word, that I may live; and do not let me be ashamed of my hope.” (Ps. 119:116 NKJV)

Will you be filled with hope in the New Year?

Father, I ask that You will touch the lives of those reading this and that You will bring renewed hope to reside in their hearts, giving them trust and strength to cling to You whatever may cross their paths in the New Year. Fill their lives with health, peace, protection, prosperity, success, comfort, joy, love, and their hearts’ desires. In Jesus’ name I ask this…amen! So be it!


Monday, December 28

The True Story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

I thought you might enjoy this story about the origination of the song Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. The story is true but I do not know who wrote it.

A man named Robert L. May, depressed and brokenhearted, stared out his drafty apartment window into the chilling December night. His 4-year-old daughter, Barbara, sat on his lap quietly sobbing. Bob’s wife, Evelyn, was dying of cancer. Little Barbara couldn’t understand why her mommy could never come home.

Barbara looked up into her dad’s eyes and asked, “Why isn’t Mommy just like everybody else’s Mommy?”

Bob’s jaw tightened and his eyes welled with tears. Her question brought waves of grief but also of anger. It had been the story of Bob’s life; everything was always different for him.

Being small when he was a kid, Bob was often bullied by other boys. He was too little at the time to compete in sports. He was often called names he didn’t want to remember. He never seemed to fit in. He did complete college, married a loving wife, and was grateful to get his job as a copywriter at Montgomery Ward during the Great Depression. Then, he was blessed with his little girl.

But it was all short-lived. Evelyn’s bout with cancer stripped them of all their savings and now Bob and his daughter were forced to live in a two-room apartment in the Chicago slums. Evelyn died just days before Christmas in 1938.

Bob struggled to give hope to his child, for whom he couldn’t even afford to buy a Christmas gift. But if he couldn’t buy a gift, he was determined to make one - a storybook!

Bob created an animal character in his own mind and told the animal’s story to little Barbara to give her comfort and hope. Again and again, Bob told the story, embellishing it more with each telling. Who was the character? What was the story all about?

The story Bob May created was his own autobiography in fable form. The character he created was a misfit outcast like he was. The name of the character? A little reindeer named Rudolph, with a big shiny nose.

Bob finished the book just in time to give it to his little girl on Christmas Day. But the story doesn’t end there. The general manager of Montgomery Ward caught wind of the little storybook and offered Bob May a nominal fee to purchase the rights to print the book. Ward’s went on to print Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and distribute it to children visiting Santa Claus in their stores.

By 1946, Ward’s had printed and distributed more than six million copies of Rudolph. That same year, a major publisher wanted to purchase the rights from Ward’s to print an updated version of the book. In an unprecedented gesture of kindness, the CEO of Ward’s returned all rights back to Bob May. The book became a best seller.

Many toy and marketing deals followed and Bob May, now remarried with a growing family, became wealthy from the story he created to comfort his grieving daughter.

But the story doesn’t end there either. Bob’s brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, wrote a song adaptation to Rudolph. Though the song was turned down by such popular vocalists as Bing Crosby and Dinah Shore, it was recorded by the singing cowboy, Gene Autry.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was released in 1949 and became a phenomenal success, selling more records than any other Christmas song, with the exception of White Christmas.

The gift of love that Bob May created for his daughter so long ago kept on returning to bless him again and again. And he learned the lesson, just like his dear friend Rudolph, that being different isn’t so bad. In fact, being different can be a blessing!


Sunday, December 27

Pearl Girls: Encountering Grit, Experiencing Grace

A pearl…one of God’s wonders. Those of superb quality are valued highly as gemstones.

Each pearl begins as a tiny grit or grain of sand or some other foreign substance that the shelled mollusk cannot expel. This tiny irritant becomes lodged in the soft tissue folds of its inner tissue of the mollusk’s body and the mollusk does not have sufficient strength to expel it.

The mollusk overlays the irritant with a protective reaction, secreting a substance called nacre which covers the grit. After time works its miracle, a pearl of beauty is formed.

God makes pearls out of the irritants of our lives. The Pearl Girls: Encountering Grit, Experiencing Grace book, a compilation of short stories and essays by several authors, including many well-known names, and edited by Margaret McSweeney, is a testament to God’s pearl-making abilities in the lives of all the contributors.

I loved these stories. Each one needs to be savored on its own for its rich content to be absorbed. Each woman’s story of overcoming a trial is a testament of how she turned her grit into a pearl of a testimony with God’s help and all to His glory. Some share the comfort they’ve received as they await their pearls.

Each story will fill you with hope and encourage you to know that the Lord can work in your life, no matter what the grit of your circumstance.

A note from Margaret McSweeney:

Inspired by the many women who opened their lives and shared their stories in Pearl Girls: Encountering Grit, Experiencing Grace, we have created sister site, Post-a-Pearl. A place to continue the connection and encouragement the book began. I hope you will take the opportunity to connect through the Post-a-Pearl site. Please post your own Pearl story and reach out to share your own story with others. Collaborating is an important purpose of Pearl Girls. We connect to make a difference in the world.

Please know that 100% of the book’s royalties go toward building wells in Uganda for school children and to fund a safe house in Chicago for women and children who are fleeing from domestic abuse. The two charities are:

WINGS (women in need growing stronger): The proceeds will help fund a Safe House in the Chicago suburbs. It costs $50 a night to provide safe shelter for a woman and her children. During this economy, WINGS is receiving even more phone calls for a safe place to stay. Already, the Pearl Girls have provided 60 nights with the advance royalties.

Hands of Hope: The proceeds will help build wells in Uganda for school children. Can you imagine a child at school without a water fountain in the hallway where he or she can grab a quick sip of water in between classes on a hot day? These children have to drink from puddles and other water sources which carry diseases and parasites. It costs $12,000 to build a well in Uganda. Already, the Pearl Girls have provided funds to build ¼ of a well.

Hope this has whetted your spiritual appetite enough to purchase this book, for yourself or someone else and to benefit these two charities.


Wednesday, December 23

Who Will Take the Son?

I present to you today a story that you may have read. It has been passed around, however, the author is unknown. I love this story. I hope you will, too.

A wealthy man and his son loved to collect rare works of art. They had everything in their collection from Picasso to Raphael. They would often sit together and admire their great works of art.

When the Vietnam conflict broke out, the son went to war. He was very courageous and died in battle while rescuing another soldier. The father was notified and grieved deeply for his only son.

About a month later, just before Christmas, there was a knock at the door. A young man stood at the door with a large package in his hands.

The young man said, “Sir, you don’t know me, but I am the soldier for whom your son gave his life. He saved many lives that day, and he was carrying me to safety when a bullet struck him in the heart and he died instantly. He often talked about you and your love for art.”

The young man held out the package. “I know this isn’t much. I’m not really a great artist, but I think your son would have wanted you to have this.”

The father opened the package. It was a portrait of his son, painted by the young man. He stared in awe at the way the soldier had captured the personality of his son in the painting.

The father was so drawn to the eyes that his own eyes welled up with tears. He thanked the young man and offered to pay him for the picture.

“Oh, no sir, I could never repay what your son did for me. It is a gift.”

The father hung the portrait over his mantle. Every time visitors came to his home, he took them to see the portrait of his son before he showed them any of the other great works he had collected.

The man died a few months later. There was to be a great auction of his paintings. Many influential people gathered, excited over seeing the great paintings and having an opportunity to purchase one for their collection.

On the platform sat the painting of the son. The auctioneer pounded his gavel. “We will start the bidding with this picture of the son. Who will bid for this picture?”

There was silence.

Then, a voice in the back of the room shouted, “We want to see the famous paintings. Skip this one!”

But the auctioneer persisted. “Will somebody bid for this painting? Who will start the bidding? $100? $200?”

Another voice angrily said, “We didn’t come to see this painting. We came to see the Van Goghs, the Rembrandts. Get on with the real bids!”

But still the auctioneer continued. “The son! The son! Who will take the son?”

Finally, a voice came from the very back of the room. It was the longtime gardener of the man and his son. “I’ll give $10 for the painting.” Being a poor man, it was all he could afford.

“We have $10. Who will bid $20?”

“Give it to him for $10. Let’s see the masters,” yelled another from the audience.

The crowd was becoming angry. They didn’t want the picture of the son. They wanted the more worthy investments for their collections.

The auctioneer pounded the gavel. “Going once, twice, SOLD for $10!”

A man sitting on the second row shouted, “Now let’s get on with the collection!”

The auctioneer laid down his gavel. “I’m sorry. The auction is over.”

“But what about the other paintings?” questioned the man.

“I am sorry. When I was called to conduct this auction, I was told of a secret stipulation in the will. I was not allowed to reveal the stipulation until this time. Only the painting of the son would be auctioned. Whoever bought that painting would inherit the entire estate, including the paintings. Therefore, the man who takes the son gets it all!”

God gave His son 2,000 years ago to die on the cross. Much like the auctioneer, His message today is: “The son, the son, who will take the son?”

Because, you see, whoever takes the Son gets it all.

God sent His Son to be born in human form. This Christmas, will you offer your heart as His manger? Will you take the Son…and receive it all?

“For God loved the world so much that He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16 NLT)


Sunday, December 20

The Night Jesus Was Born

Come along with me and I’ll be your guide for a walk through one night two thousand years ago, a very special night that changed the world…forever.

As you walk along, consider all the things you see, hear, smell, and touch.

First, what do you see?

*As you walk along the trail into Bethlehem, look out over the beautiful fertile hills. Here you’ll see Bethlehem nestled as a quiet little village.

*As darkness begins to swallow up the day, look around quickly. In the surrounding fields, shepherds pasture their flocks. Walk down the dusty streets to enter the little town. You will notice people rushing to find a place to stay; they’ve been summoned here to register for taxation.

*Glance up. The glorious heavens stretch out like a drape of black velvet, poked with holes for the stars to sparkle through like bazillions of twinkling lights, choreographed as a dance of angels with flashlights.

*One divinely-appointed star blazes unusually bright; its brilliance illuminates a lowly stable. Follow the star’s beam to the stable.

As you near the stable, stop to listen!

What do you hear?

*Heavenly songs of praise ascend above the fields, filling the night’s atmosphere with angelic voices.

Now, slowly approach the stable and stand in the entrance. What sounds emanate from within?

*The gentle lowing of the cattle. The bleating of the sheep. The braying of the donkeys.

*Suddenly, the cries of a newborn resonant above all the other sounds.

Step in a ways.

*Listen to the crunch of the straw beneath your feet. Hear the night-time creatures scurry away at your coming. Become aware of the owl hooting his warning of your presence.

Now stop!

What do you smell?

It’s a stable. You know there are odors here! You breathe in the smell of, well, you know.

Okay. What other fragrance is there?

*The aroma of freshly tossed hay.

Step further still into the stable.

*There’s one gentle, sweet smell…that of a newborn baby. The animals gather around to sniff at this strange little wonder now occupying their trough.

A young woman named Mary has just given birth to the Saviour of the world. Swaddling Him lovingly, she placed Him in the trough, and there, the miracle of the manger has taken place.

Join the animals. Lean over the manger.

*Breathe in that precious earthly yet divine scent of an infant.

So, what do you touch?

*Your knees gently lower and rest upon the hay beside the manger.

*You reach out to touch the little, pink fingers protruding from the depths of the manger.

And now…

What do you feel?

As you’ve walked the path to Bethlehem, seen the sights, listened to the sounds, smelled the aromas, and touched the treasures of this night, did it all take your breath away? What do you now feel?

Is your heart now so full that you think it will explode? Look around to make a memory of all you have experienced. Allow them to reside in your heart’s manger. Don’t ever let these images escape your grasp.

May your Christmas be filled with precious memories and a special touch of the Lord’s presence.


Saturday, December 19

Coming Home for Christmas

by Virelle Kidder

My mother had remarkable zeal for Christmas. Weeks in advance, she would come home from teaching school and bake late into the night. I helped clean the house and decorate the tree while my older brother Roger wired the house with Christmas lights, transforming our humble red house into a place of magical beauty. Following the church candlelight service, a crowd of happy people crunched through the snow to our house for cocoa and cookies.

We were, like many, quite alone in the years after my father left. Our Christmas open house was my mother's supreme effort to make us feel complete. It almost worked.

Despite years in church and Sunday school, God was more a distant relative I wished I knew. I grew up with a gnawing sense of incompleteness, and longed to find meaning and purpose in life. Strangely, it was shortly before Christmas years later that it found me.

My husband Steve was fully absorbed with his new job at Johns Hopkins University, and I was home with a two year old. We wanted friends, but were both hesitant when Steve's officemate his wife invited us to attend their church. We had nothing in common with "religious types," but Steve said, "Let's be nice and go just once."

Sitting in church that Sunday, my temples pounded. Hymns and Scripture verses long ago ignored called to me from my childhood. Could others tell I didn't belong here? Oddly, I felt jealous of their peace. They looked happy.

First thing Monday morning I began tearing through the unpacked boxes in our basement. At last, I found my mildewed Bible from fifth grade. I resolved to read it cover to cover. I opened to Genesis, chapter 1. Same old story; I've heard this a hundred times, and quickly slammed it shut.

No one told me God could hear my thoughts. A soft Voice whispered, Why not read as if it were true? I opened my Bible again. Suddenly I was listening to the most interesting person I had ever heard. By afternoon I was still reading in my pajamas. I couldn't stop.

I read for weeks until one day, a picture popped in my mind of a beautiful old house with wide porches, brightly lit at night. Music, laughter and lively conversation carried onto the porch where I stood in the dark, peeking in. I saw a feast and a fire on the hearth, much like the Christmas open houses from my childhood, with one important difference. There was a Father here whose face mirrored love and warmth at His children's presence. This was God's family, and I desperately wanted to be inside. But how?

A voice taunted, Why would God want you? You don't fit in this crowd! It was true. I considered giving up. Instead, I marched upstairs to our bedroom, knelt down and prayed out loud, "Lord, help me find the way! Please don't let me go!"

Verses I'd read made sense. Jesus said, "I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6)

Our friends explained that God already knew I was a hopeless mess and loved me anyway. Opening the door to Heaven was a gift that cost God everything. It was on the cross Jesus died to pay for my sins. He rose again to prove forever that He is the Truth. Weeping at such love, I knelt and gave Christ my life. I found that, with or without a happy family, no one is ever complete without Jesus.


Virelle Kidder is a conference speaker and the author of six books and numerous articles whose passion is sharing the love of God with women around the world. For her latest books, please visit her at and


A three strand pearl necklace will be given away on New Year's Day. All you need to do to have a chance of winning is leave a comment here. Come back on New Year's Day to see if you won!

12 Pearls of Christmas Series and contest sponsored by Pearl Girls®. For more information, please visit


Friday, December 18

God With Us

by Deb Kalmbach

I used to be the queen of over-commitment, and December brought out the worst in this malady. It was as if I were poised at an imaginary starting line, and when I flipped the calendar page, I was off and running--the December dash!

You could hardly see any white space on my daily planner it was so jammed with events. Kids' Christmas programs, church programs, and endless lists of things-to-do obscured my calendar and my vision to see what really mattered. Each day when we hung another ornament on our Advent tree, I felt my chest tighten, and my breathing get shallower. Only single-digit shopping days left...Panic mode was about to set in.

Of course I was singing in the Christmas choir. I love music, and the heavenly Christmas anthems we sang. The neighborhood cookie exchange was an annual tradition. Forget about the old standards, chocolate chip or peanut butter cookies. Let's talk about jam-filled tea cookies, chocolate-dipped peanut butter balls, or iced sugar cookies with colored sprinkles. My kitchen looked like a Martha Stewart test kitchen gone awry.

My head spins just thinking about it. I usually felt so frustrated and exhausted by Christmas Day, I barely enjoyed the celebration. I repeated this drill for many Christmas seasons, before I finally decided to step back and think about why I was trying to accomplish the impossible. I learned to take a deep breath and accept the fact that I can't do it all-and I'm much better off if I don't try.

That's probably why I'm writing this. The tendency to revert to this frenzied pace by mid-December is still a challenge. I need to be reminded of the quiet simplicity of this season, so I can hear the age-old message once again.

"Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel." Isaiah 7:14

Immanuel! Our God is with us. If we can stop long enough to listen-we will hear the invitation that beckons us to come, to wait, to get ready for our coming King.

No doubt, December will be as busy as ever with gifts to purchase, trees to decorate and carols to sing. But this Advent season, I pray that in the midst of everything contending for our time and attention, our hearts will be moved and our senses sharpened to rejoice in God's greatest gift.


Deb Kalmbach is the co-author of Because I Said Forever: Embracing Hope in a Not-So-Perfect Marriage and the author of a book for children, Corey's Dad Drinks Too Much. Deb and her husband, Randy, make their home in a tiny town in Eastern Washington. Visit Deb at her website or blog.


A three strand pearl necklace will be given away on New Year's Day. All you need to do to have a chance of winning is leave a comment here. Come back on New Year's Day to see if you won!

12 Pearls of Christmas Series and contest sponsored by Pearl Girls®. For more information, please visit


Thursday, December 17

How to Cope With Christmas

How to Cope with Christmas
by Stacie Ruth Stoelting

Last night, I dreamed that God resurrected my beautiful adopted aunt, Mary Jo Hoffman. But morning renewed my mourning for her: Christmas trees, snow globes, and music greeted my grieving heart. Relate?

In previous years, my maternal grandpa (a.k.a. "Papa Ray") died near Thanksgiving and my adopted "Grandpa Morley" died near Christmas. Now, people cannot compare grief. But I believe we all know that the holidays challenge the grieving.

Christmas arrives like a pretty package full of grief triggers: Empty chairs, missing faces, and silent voices seem to haunt the holidays. Here are "12 Ways of Christmas" for the Grief-Stricken that have worked for me:

12 Ways of Christmas for the Grieving

1. Don't put excessive expectations on yourself. Don't expect the holidays to be the same.

2. Rest. Cut down the Christmas clutter and just get away from the typical, if possible.

3. Rearrange furniture to reduce "absence" reminders.

4. Avoid sugar highs and lows because they naturally induce emotional lows. Also steer clear of over-eating and under-sleeping. Eat well-balanced diets. Some mood enhancing natural foods include yogurt, kefir, green tea, omega-3 rich foods (i.e. salmon, cod liver oil, etc.), and lower sugar dark chocolate. One excellent resource for healthier lifestyles is First Place 4 Health, founded by the knowledgeable and kind Carole Lewis:

5. Admit grief. Trying to move forward while denying the reality of grief causes one to fall face forward. Does your face smile while your heart weeps? Give yourself permission to cry. Jesus wept. Weeping releases excessive tension. Address depression. Don't deny it. Pretending the nonexistence of depression only promotes its growth. (I include a list of counseling centers on my page for hurting hearts:

6. Forgive and receive forgiveness through Jesus. Release everything to the Lord -including any so-called regrets about your departed loved one. In Loved by Rebecca St. James (FaithWords, 2009), the point of God's abiding love encourages us: "He [Jesus] is ready to...stand in the gap between you and the pain, and to be your constant companion in the dark hours. He loves you."

7. Reach out to the more burdened and hang around kids this Christmas. It may not feel easy. It may even feel impossible. Ask Jesus to love thru you and get your eyes off problems and on to Him and others.

8. Understand the concept of new normalcy. The onset of new traditions and expectations may seem daunting, but God gave you your previous normal. Ask Him to give grace/hope in the face of the new normal. Let Him lead you to a place where you can relax and let Him beam His light on you.

9. Take a "hands off and hands folded" approach to the holidays. Reduce activity and increase connectivity through prayer and Christian companionship. If you're isolated, feel free to join my weekly online prayer group ( And stay in touch with your local church.

10. Face and treat chronic health issues. If you feel sick, everything feels worse. (One excellent resource for those with chronic health conditions is Rest Ministries.)

11. Reclaim your Heavenly purpose on earth. Ask Jesus to grant supernaturally His grace, hope, love, peace, and comfort this holiday season. Then don't fight His help. Be open to His opening of doors to cope and hope this holiday season. Just receive Jesus. Ask Jesus to give you a Heavenly perspective on earth. God holds good things for you! He grants you great purpose for your life hereafter...and here, too. Embrace His grace and seek His face. He's there. I know. In the face of grief, I'm with Him right now.

12. Remember: Trials don't indicate a reduction in God's love for you. He loves you and promises to make things right in the end. Spend time focusing on His unchanging love for you. "For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:38-39, ESV)

Holidays include lots of grief for relationships/loved ones that left, forsook, or died. But let's focus on the essence of Christmas: the present of Jesus' presence in our lives! Wow, may a relationship with Jesus be our miracle and encouragement this Christmas! "Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!" (2 Cor. 9:15)

Could you think of anything greater than receiving God for Christmas?

While my dream didn't come true today, I know it will: Mary Jo will be resurrected and we will be reunited. This year, focus on a different angle of Christmas: Let Christmas remind you of Jesus' birth to banish death.


After Stacie Ruth met Jesus, her life blossomed with true joy and purpose! Life's blows hurt her, but Jesus heals and strengthens her. Now an author, actress, and recording artist, she laughs at the irony and praises God, who uses unlikely herself. To find out more about her ministry visit


A three strand pearl necklace will be given away on New Year's Day. All you need to do to have a chance of winning is leave a comment here. Come back on New Year's Day to see if you won!

12 Pearls of Christmas Series and contest sponsored by Pearl Girls®. For more information, please visit


Sunday, December 13

Nowhere to Live

I grieve when I fail the Lord, when my obedience lacks its first response.

But then I remember it was for failures that Christ graced a rough-hewn manger. It was for failures that He breathed His last earthly breath as He hung in disgrace for the failings of the world.

It was to a failure, one who penned the precious psalms that touch our hearts in time of need and, yet, as a man after God’s own heart, sinned and ripped apart his fellowship with the Lord, then repented and repaired it.

It was to a failure, one who had denied Christ three times, that the command of “feed My sheep” was given.

It was to a failure that Jesus gave His first greeting in the Garden of Gethsemane on that initial Easter morn.

It was to a failure who had been the foremost despiser of believers yet became one of the greatest servants of the Gospel, the Lord blessing his ministry and his writings for all time.

I think, no, I know, my greatest failure is to not give the Christ-child a place to live in my heart, in my circumstances, in all my life.

He came…

As Mary lovingly swaddled the future Sacrifice of the world, she placed Him in a trough, and there, the miracle of the manger took place: the empty manger, the vessel cradling the tiny body of mankind’s salvation, became full - full of love, full of expectation, full of holiness, and full of humanity.

With only the joyous display of heavenly praises from angels, He came, confined by the boundaries of time and limitations of a physical body.

…for failures, He came. For me, He came. For you, He came.

But where does He go to be born and live today? In the hearts of believers.

“How silently, how silently the wondrous Gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.”
(Third verse of “O Little Town of Bethlehem”)

Have you offered the manger of your heart to cradle the birth of the Babe of salvation? Or are you as the innkeeper, turning away the Saviour of the world, telling Him that you have no room for Him, that your “inn” is full? Do you then miss the miracle of the manger?

God still seeks His mangers…hearts willing to hold Him.


Saturday, December 12

12 Pearls of Christmas: Gifts of Purpose

I'm so happy to be a part of the blog tour 12 Pearls of Christmas, as part of the tour for the Pearl Girls anthology, which is filled with real life stories from some amazing women who have unexpectedly encountered grit and experienced grace through the difficult times.

One hundred percent of the book's royalties go toward building wells in Uganda for school children and to fund a safe house in Chicago for women and children who are fleeing from domestic abuse.

12 Pearls of Christmas: Gifts of Purpose

Too Precious to Wear
by Sarah Sundin

One Christmas when my mother was a girl, she received a string of pearls from her father. Since her parents were divorced-an unusual situation in the 1950s-she treasured the pearls as a sign of her father's love. When he passed away her senior year in high school, the pearls took on even greater significance.

When I was growing up, my mother talked often about the pearls, but my sister and I never saw them. Mom kept them safe in their silk-lined velvet box tucked in her jewelry box. For dressy occasions, she wore other nice jewelry, but never the pearls.

The pearls were too precious to wear.

What if the strand broke and even a single pearl was lost? What if the clasp broke and she lost them forever? She couldn't risk it. Better to keep them cocooned in silky security.

When my mother offered to let me wear her pearls on my wedding day, I was deeply touched. This was more than "something old" or "something borrowed," but a sign that she trusted me and loved me.

A few days before the wedding, my mother pulled the box from seclusion. My sister and I watched with curiosity and awe.

The pearls had turned a deep grayish-yellow, they were flaking, and some had fallen apart.

They were fake.

For over thirty years, my mother nurtured a piece of costume jewelry. All that time she could have worn them and enjoyed them without worry. Her father gave them to her for a purpose-to wear them and feel lovely and ladylike and special. He didn't mean for her to hide them away.

On our wedding day, my husband gave me a strand of real pearls. They symbolize my husband's sacrificial love for me-they were expensive for a graduate student with half-Scottish blood.

I vowed never to tuck them away but to wear them often. Yes, I'm careful. I inspect the cord and knots and clasp, and I plan to have them restrung when necessary. But I wear them and enjoy them. That's why my husband gave them to me.

Our heavenly Father gives us gifts too-brilliant and costly. We should cherish them, but we should use them. Whether our individual gifts involve serving, teaching, encouragement, evangelism, or even money-they have a purpose. The Lord wants us to use our gifts to bless others and to spread the message of His love.

While pearls make women look lovely, using our God-given gifts for His kingdom makes us even lovelier. And just as pearls grow more lustrous with frequent wear, our gifts from God grow in beauty and strength the more we use them.

This Christmas I plan to wear my string of pearls, a sign of my husband's love-and to display my pearls from heaven, a sign of my Father's love.

Have a lustrous Christmas!


Sarah Sundin lives in northern California with her husband and three children. She works on-call as a hospital pharmacist. Her first novel, A Distant Melody, historical fiction set during World War II, will be published by Revell in March 2010. Please visit her at or her blog or find her on Facebook.


A three strand pearl necklace will be given away on New Year's Day. All you need to do to have a chance of winning is leave a comment here. Come back on New Year's Day to see if you won!

12 Pearls of Christmas Series and contest sponsored by Pearl Girls®. For more information, please visit


Friday, December 11

Coming Home – Why the Prodigal Son Was Welcomed Back

Today’s post is a guest post contributed by Rachel King, who writes on the topic of Christian Universities. Rachel welcomes your comments at her email address:

One of my favorite parables from the Bible was that of the prodigal son. While it is true that it was unfair to the one who remained behind, the story of how the rebel who left home came back to be welcomed with open arms by his parents. His father, who brought out the fatted calf to celebrate his return, touched a chord in my heart because it made me realize that no matter how ungrateful or selfish we are, our parents never stop considering us their children. They never stop loving us or caring for us, and this is the very essence of parenthood.

If mere mortals could be so loving and forgiving, imagine how much more merciful God is! He who created us in his form and gave us his flesh and blood so we could live is always willing to take us back into the fold, if only we repent and come home.

So when you’ve lived a life of sin and are tempted to change, don’t let people convince you that it’s too late to do so, that you’ve lost all chances of redemption and that you’re better off confining yourself to the life you know. Instead, make a decision to walk away from it all and never look back.

It’s may seem a difficult task to come back when you’ve gone astray, but all you need to do is:

Really want to change: When you know in your heart that you want to go back to the fold, that you want to live your life as a good Christian, you know it’s time to return home. If you’re scared to return because of the taunts you may face or the challenges that life will throw at you, pray and ask for strength to deal with these setbacks.

Believe that you can do it: You need to hold fast to the belief that you can do what you set your mind to. You need to prove that you are willing to go the extra mile in order to wipe out your past and start afresh on a clean slate. And most of all, you need to hold fast to your belief that you can do it and never waver from your decision.

Seek help from those who believe in you: If the going is tough, ask for help from those who love and support you. Make them proud of you for the change you seek to undergo, and prove to them that their faith in you is justified.

Remember, it’s not the length of time he was away or the nature of his sin that determined how the prodigal son was welcomed back; rather, it was the very fact that he came home again that took precedence over and wiped out everything else.


Thursday, December 10

Terror by Night and Blind Sight blog tour

I am privileged to be a part of the blog tour for James Pence’s two books: Terror by Night (co-authored by Terry Caffey) and Blind Sight. If you would like to participate in the drawing for the gift basket, which includes…

Angel- James Pence
Blind Sight- James Pence
Terror By Night- James Pence
Quality 8.5 X 11 in printing of the scorched page
DVD of Chalk Art Illustrations from James Pence

…be sure to leave a comment at the end of the interview.

About Terror by Night:

(Greenville, TX) – A father denied his daughter dating privileges with a certain young man. Typical teenage behavior might have included pouting, a bad attitude or perhaps even a yelling match. Never in a million years would Terry Caffey have suspected it would involve murder.

Yet, in the early morning hours of March 8, 2008, Terry’s whole world turned upside down. His wife and two sons where brutally murdered and burned in the house they lived and Terry was shot twelve times…by his daughter and her friends.

Terry Caffey and James Pence reconstruct this tragic yet strangely beautiful true story of God’s sovereignty, forgiveness and grace in Terror by Night. As if the story of Caffey’s family wasn’t enough, readers will be captivated by the way God ordained the meeting between the Blind Sight author and Caffey with a burnt page from Blind Sight found at the crime scene.

Terror by Night
Publisher: Tyndale
Hardcover: 288 pgs
ISBN-10: 1414334761
ISBN-13: 9781414334769
Retail: $22.99

About Blind Sight:

No one plans for bad things to happen. No one plans on losing their family. No one knows how to move on after horror strikes. No one. Not even Thomas Kent. After receiving a strange phone call from a long-ago friend requesting Kent to pick up a package at the airport, Kent begins a spine tingling, suspense filled journey in which he hopes to reunite the package (his friend’s children) with their mother, Justine, a traitor in the Fellowship for World Renewal Cult. Twists and turns in this page turning drama make Blind Sight not only a journey of extreme action and thrills, but one of discovering the sovereign plan of God.

James H. Pence is a full-time professional writer and editor living near Dallas, Texas. James is a multi-talented writer who has been published in both fiction and nonfiction. His publishers include Tyndale House, Kregel, and Osborne/McGraw-Hill. James holds a master’s degree in Biblical Studies with an emphasis in creative writing and journalism from Dallas Theological Seminary. He also holds a bachelor’s degree in theology from Dallas Bible College.

James is also a vocalist and gospel chalk artist, and he regularly uses his talents to share the gospel in prisons. James is the author of Blind Sight, a gripping novel about mind-control cults and coauthor (along with Terry Caffey) of the new book: Terror by Night: The True Story of the Brutal Texas Murder that Destroyed a Family, Restored One Man’s Faith, and Shocked a Nation.

Blind Sight
Paperback: 364 pages
ISBN-10: 1601454384
ISBN-13: 978-1601454386
Retail: $17.95

An Interview with James Pence:

1. You’ve dabbled in a little bit of everything career-wise. Give us a brief summary of your journey so far.

I have definitely had a colorful background as you’ve already mentioned. I guess the one unifying thread that has run through everything I do is the service of God. I knew when I was 14 years old that God had called me into the ministry, and I’ve never wavered from that. And even though that ministry now includes such things as teaching karate to homeschoolers, I consider that as much a part of my calling as anything else.

Since finishing Bible College back in 1978 I have been a youth pastor, a camp director, a pastor, a prison evangelist, a gospel chalk artist, a speaker, a singer, a Web designer, a writer, a karate teacher, an art teacher, and a writing teacher. Amazingly, I’m still active in most of those things. I’m not pastoring anymore, and I’ve long since left directing summer camps behind me, but everything else I still do.

It would be a book in and of itself if I were to try to go into the details of all of those different things and how I got started doing each of them. Suffice it to say that I’ve always believed that the talents that we have are stewardships. Thus I’ve always felt that if I have a talent in an area I have a responsibility to develop and use it for God’s glory. And that’s why do so many different things. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

2. There was a tight deadline for Terror by Night. Tell us a little bit about how you interviewed Terry Caffey and the timeline you had to submit your book.

There was definitely a tight deadline for Terror by Night. I had a total of 12 weeks in which to write it and that included doing all the interviewing with Terry. I’m very happy to say that I was able to meet that challenge, but there were times when I wondered if I could get it all done.

Terry and I got together every Wednesday for several hours and I would interview him. Our first few interviews were just for getting the layout of the book planned. I had to get an idea of the different aspects of the story that needed to be pulled together, sort of like a plot outline. And then I actually had a plan the storyline based on my discussions with Terry.

It was sort of a cumulative thing, because as we talked each week more questions would come up and I would make notes on those and we would discuss them in subsequent weeks.

I recorded all of the interviews with a digital voice recorder and then transferred them all to my computer. After that I edited the interviews down into soundbites of two to three minutes all according to topics. Then I put them all on my iPod and would listen to them at every spare moment. My goal was to be familiar enough with Terry’s voice so that the book would sound natural and that it would sound like Terry was doing the speaking or writing.

3. Because of the intensity of this book, how did you deal with the emotional side of writing? Did it ever become more than you or Terry could deal with at one sitting?

This was a very difficult story to write and it was very stressful for both of us, but in different ways. As we went through the interview process Terry began to struggle with depression and had some rough moments. Once or twice we had changed the topic of our discussion because it was just getting to be too hard on him.

For me the stress came from the deadline more than the storyline. The fastest I’d written a book before was 20 weeks, and writing this one in 12 weeks was like running a marathon. Near the end I was exhausted, but still had to get that word count out every day. There were times when I would just become overwhelmed with the size of the task. But there was nothing to do but keep moving forward.

So we were both very happy when this project was complete.

4. You enjoy some great ministry opportunities outside of your writing. Share how God is using your other gifts to reach others for Christ.

As I mentioned earlier, in addition to being a writer I am a gospel chalk artist and a vocalist. I’ve been doing that for over 30 years now and really enjoy being able to use art and music to bring a message to people. For about the last 15 years I’ve been going into prisons with my art and music and sharing the gospel with inmates. That’s been a huge blessing to me. In fact, I often say that after a prison service I've been far more blessed than the inmates. And recently God has begun to open up more doors both in prison and out. Over a six-week period, I'll be drawing in Florida, Iowa, and Alabama.

One of the great things about chalk art is that even if the people who see a drawing don't remember everything I say, they will remember the picture and the scripture that the picture represented. I've had people write me who saw my pictures 20 years ago and came to Christ through them, and now they are serving Christ in churches and other ministries. That's one of the great joys of this ministry.

5. With the re-release of Blind Sight, it's almost like two books releasing at once. What message do you hope readers will take away from reading both books?

I was so excited when Tyndale decided to release Blind Sight a second time. It's rare that a novel gets a second chance at life. And it's especially satisfying that both books were released simultaneously. And even though one is a novel and the other a nonfiction book, the message that people can take away from the books is really the same. God is sovereign.

So often we are confused when difficult circumstances come into our lives and we wonder why God would allow that. Sometimes we even get angry with him and demand an explanation like Terry did. But the message of both Blind Sight and Terror by Night is that while God doesn’t explain himself to us, we can trust in his goodness and sovereign grace. We know that he is working all things together for our good and we can trust him in that. Blind Sight communicates that message by way of a novel; Terror by Night communicates the same message by way of a true story.


Sunday, December 6

His Name is Tree!

He stands in the corner, nude. He’s tall, green, wide - and artificial. He’s come to be known as Tree.

Until several years ago, I never fully understood why he was so special to me. After all, he’s just an artificial object; yet, his beauty represents something much deeper to me.

Each year after Thanksgiving, we bring Tree up from his long respite in the basement, and we place him in his designated place of honor in our family room. He always seems embarrassed until we dress him.

We hang a multitude of ornaments on his branches. Some sparkle, some are old-fashioned, some are wooden, and some I have made or our kids have made. Tucked in close to his trunk and barely visible are small dolls and bears, resting securely upon his limbs.

A red plaid piece of fabric loosely drapes around Tree’s feet. Interlaced with snowflakes, bows, and white lace angels, tiny white lights give Tree his warm glow. Baby’s breath peeks out from among the branches, filling in the gaps. Encircling Tree is a beautiful plaid ribbon for his garland, and his crowning glory is one special angel: that’s Harold, you know.

Tree appears stationed merely as a backdrop for the ornaments he displays. He is content to hold them up, to give them the safety of resting on his branches. A peaceful composure envelops him, making him oblivious to the blowing snow and chilling winds outside his comfy surroundings.

When the ornament box is empty and Tree is laden to capacity, he seems to heave a sigh of relief, as if now attired and complete for the season. All decked out in his finery, he stands proud, overwhelming not only his corner but also the whole room.

And so, Tree is beautified and glorious, abiding in the present, his back to the past, and his face to the hope of a better new year.

Sometimes at night, I turn off all the lights in the room except Tree’s lights and those on the mantle. I sit and stare at Tree’s beauty. A feeling comes over me that is quite difficult to describe. What comes to mind is the line spoken by the Bishop to his wife in The Bishop’s Wife (my favorite Christmas movie, next to It’s A Wonderful Life). He says, “I have the most inexplicable feeling of happiness.”

As I sit in the warmth of his radiance, I imagine Tree to be, as Isaiah says, that Branch of the Lord, which “shall be beautiful and glorious.” I see Jesus standing in the corner, tall and majestic, filling the room with His presence. And, if Tree were real, he would fill the room with a marvelous fragrance, as the costly frankincense and myrrh brought at Jesus’ birth.

The thought also comes to mind of the tree that had been fashioned into a trough and used as a manger in which Jesus “lay down His sweet head.” Then, my mind fast forwards to the trees in the garden of Gethsemane that overheard the longings of His suffering heart, and to the tree on the hill that bore His body of sacrifice.

The baby’s breath symbolizes the creative Word of God, restoring me with His breath of life, filling in all my gaps. I imagine the dolls and bears representing those who nestle up to the Lord, tucking themselves in close under His branches of protection.

I visualize the ornaments as all the souls of the Lord, the jewels of His royal fashioning. He placed each of us lovingly in the just the right spot, allowing us to hang as resplendent fruit from His limbs, embellishing the body of Christ. His sigh of completion comes only when each of His ornaments is in its rightful place.

Symbolizing Christ as the Light of the world, the lights illuminate all the objects of love hanging from the branches.

The ribbon garland depicts the Holy Spirit encompassing the body of Christ, the church, holding it all together.

The sprinkling of angels reminds me that He gives His angels watch over me, to keep me in all my ways. Harold sits on top of everything, always looking toward the New Year. No matter what has happened in the year drawing its last breath, he seems to point to the peace of a better future.

I sit there, in the dark, and bask in the warmth and love our Tree gives me, whether presents sit at his feet or not. I smile in acknowledgement of his beauty and he seems to smile back at me, as if to say, “It’s okay. Next year will be better. I will live in your heart, for I am evergreen.”

It also reminds me of the scripture, “I am the One who answers your prayers and cares for you. I am like a tree that is always green; all your fruit comes from Me.” (Hos. 14:8 NLT) And that speaks to me of eternal life.

This year, I wish each of you a Tree of remembrance, to remind you of the manger that held the Babe of Salvation and the cross that displayed the Body of Redemption.

May your feet be firmly planted in the present, your back be to the contrary circumstances of the year now closing, while you face the hope of a better new year ahead. And may the New Year be filled with peace, joy, comfort, success, and the desires of your hearts.


Saturday, December 5

Eyewitness blog tour

It is my pleasure to bring you Frank Ball’s blog tour for his book Eyewitness: The Life of Christ Told in One Story by Frank Ball (WinePress Publishing). If you would like to be in the drawing for the book, please leave a comment at the end of this post.

About the book…

Eyewitness reaches people who seldom go to church or read their Bibles. It compiles the information from the Gospels and hundreds of other Bible verses into one chronological story laid out like a story without reference or verse. The result is a seamless combination of the four gospel books that will appeal to customers across the board, even those who would not normally purchase a Bible.

About the author…

Frank Ball was the Pastor of Biblical Research and Writing at Anchor Church in Keller, Texas, for three years. After thirty years of research and teaching the life of Christ, he began a twelve-year project to analyze every gospel story about Christ and put the events into chronological order.

Ball says that this project wasn’t his idea at all. He just had an unexplainable desire to do this chronology, and along the way he realized that God had a plan.

The interview…

1. The gospel stories have existed for some two thousand years. Why put them chronologically together now?

Nine out of ten Americans own a Bible, but the people who most need to hear the message don’t often read the book. They believe Scripture is outdated and too difficult to understand. Would they read the story of Christ if it were presented as a single story that is easy to understand? Most of them say they would, so Eyewitness answers that need.

2. Why do the Gospels appear to have conflicting stories?

At a crime scene, eyewitnesses always have different testimonies about what happened. Because each gospel writer had his own point of view and spoke to a different audience, the information is actually complementary, not conflicting. The apparent conflicts disappear when we use each viewpoint to compile a complete and compelling story.

3. How was writing and recording events different two thousand years ago?

We now use a computer keyboard to rapidly type and edit text that prints on our laser printers. In the first century, writers had only their parchment scrolls in which every word was hand written, one character at a time. Cut-and-paste editing and simple rearrangement of details into chronological order didn’t exist. Writers naturally put down information as it came to mind, giving us a flow of thought that isn’t always in date sequence.

4. What is the significance of John’s gospel being the last one written?

If John were to introduce his book to us today, he might say, “Let me tell you the rest of the story.” There wasn’t much need to repeat what had already been written, so he gives us clarification of events that were already being told and retold, as well as eyewitness reports that are found nowhere else. Unlike the other writers, who were not always chronological, John unfolds most of his story in date sequence in relation to the Jewish feasts. This gives us a chronological guide for putting all the biblical information in order.

5. In what way do you think the readers of Eyewitness will have a clearer understanding of the nature of God?

Jesus said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” If we can see what Jesus is doing and hear what he is saying, we become eyewitness of God’s nature. Because the words in Eyewitness are more like what we would read in a novel, readers are able to visualize themselves as present at the gospel events. It’s the next best thing to actually being there, walking with the other disciples.

6. How many different Bible translations were necessary to complete this project?

Hundreds of scholars have invested countless hours in the production of good translations. In the development of an easy-to-read wording for Eyewitness, translators’ handbooks and more than fifteen popular translations, as well as the Greek and Hebrew texts, were considered.

7. Is the Bible flawed in presenting the life of Christ in four separate books?

No, not at all. Each author’s report has its own perspective and meets a different audience need. Matthew points to the fulfillment of ancient prophecies to prove Jesus was the Son of God. Mark, the shortest of the Gospels, is the quickest to read. Luke, being a physician, gives many important details. And John adds clarity, chronology, and new information. Eyewitness was written for those who don’t read the Bible and for people who are helped by seeing how the story unfolded, chronologically.

8. Why do you think Eyewitness appeals to people who seldom attend church?

Even professed atheists and agnostics have questions about the meaning of life and what happens after we die. Eyewitness isn’t a book of difficult-to-understand rules that threatens punishment if we don’t do everything exactly right. The life of Christ is presented in a way so people can easily understand the value of loving our enemies and helping people in need.

9. Where can we find out more or purchase a copy of Eyewitness?

Please feel free to visit my web site at

If you would like to have Frank speak to your group, church, or writers conference, click here.