ST. NICHOLAS DAY

Jesus told him, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” [Matthew 19:21 (NLT)]

Sr. Nicholas

Although it is difficult to know fact from fiction, we do know that St. Nicholas was born around 270 AD in Patara, a city in Lycia, in Asia Minor. The son of wealthy and devout parents, it was his uncle, the Bishop of Patara, who took charge of his spiritual life. Nicholas became the Bishop of Myra, quite likely attended the council of Nicaea, spent seven years imprisoned under Diocletian Persecution, and died on December 6, around 343 AD. While we don’t know much about the man, he must have had a great impact on the early Christian church because, by 450 AD, churches in Asia Minor and Greece were being named in his honor and, by the mid-6th century, the Emperor Justinian dedicated a church to him in Constantinople.

When Nicholas’ parents died, legend has it that he began to distribute the money and property he had inherited to those who begged him for help. Taking seriously Jesus’s command to sell his possessions and give to the poor, he selflessly gave away his entire wealth. It’s said that wherever he saw suffering or need, he gave in secret and expected nothing in return. The best known story of this revered saint is that he secretly provided money for the dowries of three girls whose father was so poor that he was going to sell them into slavery. Nicholas secretly provided each girl with a bag of gold (some say by putting it in their stockings that were drying by the fire). This legend evolved through the centuries into the custom of gift giving on the eve of his saint’s day.

Today is St. Nicholas Day. Last night, in his memory, children throughout Europe put out shoes, boots, or stocking to be filled with small gifts, fruit, nuts, candies and cookies brought by the Saint. These little gifts are meant to be shared with others and not hoarded for oneself. Perhaps we should pare down our Christmas lists so that our gifts can fit into a shoe or stocking. Let us also remember that those gifts are to be shared.

From what we know of the beloved saint, he loved God more than anything. I wonder what he would think of the way his name, faith and generosity have turned into such crass commercialism. While he is the patron saint of children, seamen, brides, the hungry, and scholars he is not the patron saint of credit card companies, malls, shoppers, catalogues or Amazon! Nicholas certainly wouldn’t approve of the way Santa Claus has eclipsed the Christ child in the hearts of many.

As we move into this holiday season, perhaps we should emulate St. Nicholas, the original Santa Claus. His life wasn’t about how many presents were stacked under a tree; it was about dedicating his life to serving God and helping those in need. It is Jesus, not Santa, who is the reason for the season!

Give generously to the poor, not grudgingly, for the Lord your God will bless you in everything you do. There will always be some in the land who are poor. That is why I am commanding you to share freely with the poor and with other Israelites in need. [Deuteronomy 15:10-11 (NLT)]

Blessed are those who are generous, because they feed the poor. [Proverbs 22:9 (NLT)]

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MARIA’S SON

blue flag iris - blue-eyed grass - pansyLook carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. [Ephesians 5:15-17 (ESV)]

So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. [Psalm 90:12 (ESV)]

Maria, an elderly woman, used to come to our Tuesday Bible study but stopped when she could no longer drive. Last Christmas, her son gave her a beautiful gift: the promise to drive her to Bible study every week. This was no small gift; she lived nearly an hour from her son and a half hour away from church. By the time you add the son’s driving time to and from his house to hers, to and from her house to the church, the hour of class, and the time it took to get his mother (and her walker) in and out of the car four times, this gift was nearly a five hour obligation every week. Maria’s health eventually failed and, today, we learned that she went home to Jesus.

I didn’t know Maria or her son but I do know about time. I spent enough hours shuttling my daughter to and from dance classes to know that a mere hour between drop off and pick up is not enough time to accomplish anything in the way of running errands. By the time you get to Costco or Target you have to turn around and come back. Time is a precious commodity and, once spent, can never be recovered. Maria’s son spent his hours as would Jesus—in loving service. Can we say the same thing?

We have plenty of labor saving devices: food processors, instant pots, microwaves, automatic sprinklers, power drills, washers, dryers, dishwashers, pressure cookers, power mowers, computers, and even a virtual assistant in Alexa. In theory, with all these modern conveniences, we should have plenty of time. Yet, when I speak with others, a common complaint is a lack of time. What do we do with all the time we save?

Rather than a shortage of time, perhaps the problem is in our priorities. Since God gave us the Sabbath, I don’t think He has a problem with rest and recreation. Nevertheless, He didn’t put us here just to have a good time. He’s trusted us with the gift of time; could it be that He’s also testing us to see what kind of stewards we are of that gift?

Forbidden to reap their harvest right up to the edge of their fields and or strip their vineyards bare, the Israelites were to deliberately leave produce for the poor. The way we use our time is a little like harvesting it. Rather than leaving wheat and grapes in the field, perhaps we should deliberately leave some time in our lives for the needs of our families and our brothers and sisters in Christ.

What would Jesus do with our spare minutes? How can they be gleaned for God’s purposes? How can we use our time to magnify God and further His kingdom? Where can we spend it to improve the lives of others? The answer may be as easy as taking someone to Bible study.

One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want. [Proverbs 11:24 (ESV)]

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. [Romans 12:2 (ESV)]

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OTHER DEMONS

No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. [Romans 8:37-39 (NLT)]
Halloween ghost

Yesterday, I wrote of the emotional vampires that can plague us but there are other demons even harder to spot than those two-legged ones. Invisible, they go by the names of guilt, anger, doubt, resentment, shame, regret, fear, and worry. They haunt us with “if only,” “what if,” “should have,” and “could have” and leave us discontented, sullen, resentful, fearful or worried. They are the hobgoblins that whisper lies and half-truths in our ears: we’re unlovable, contemptible, unforgiven, helpless, inadequate, or worthless. Like vampires, these monsters also can suck the life out of us. Friends of the enemy, they keep us from living boldly, stepping out in faith, and leading the fulfilling and joyful life Jesus promised.

It’s time to declare war on these monsters; they have no place in our lives. In the old movies, evil was repelled by the crucifix—a mere religious symbol. In real life, however, it is the power of Jesus that defeats the enemy! Through His power, we can banish those demons that steal our joy and suck the life from us. We can face our secrets, shed our shame, forgive others (and ourselves), know we are loved, release our anxiety and fear, trust God and choose His truth. The voice we hear can be that of the Holy Spirit rather than the unsettling voice of the enemy. With the power of the cross, we will be able to step out of the haunted house of our lives not in fear, but in faith—not in darkness, but in light.

Heavenly Father, help us look into the dark corners of our lives and, through your power, banish the demons that keep us from the abundant life you promised.

The scariest monsters are the ones that lurk within our souls. [Edgar Allen Poe]

The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life. [John 10:10 (NLT)]

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you. [Philippians 4:8-9 (NLT)]

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FILL ME UP

Jesus replied, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. [John 6:35 (NLT)]

moon at dawnSince he had a business meeting in Switzerland later in the week, my son went to London over the weekend to see his daughter who is in college there. Nearly every photo texted back to us showed my grand eating. Admittedly, she is a starving college student, living on a tight budget, who has grown tired of eating peanut butter, hummus with veggies, Raman noodles, and pasta in her apartment, so she took advantage of having access to her father and his credit card. With Dad paying the bill, she could again eat steak and lamb chops, indulge in gelato, and stock her pantry with fruit, meat, and cheese from Borough Market. As much as this starving coed needed food, what she really needed was a visit from home. Hugs from her father probably offered more nourishment than any amount of food. His visit did more than replenish her cupboards; it recharged her emotional batteries.

Sometimes, we have a hunger that won’t be satisfied by a trip to Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, or Olive Garden; no amount of food can satisfy spiritual hunger. Rather than having our father visit, take us out to dinner, and fill our grocery bags, we need time with our Heavenly Father so He can fill our hearts and souls.

Last week, early in the morning, my husband asked if I had time for a walk at the beach. “No way!” was my first thought. Having spent several days in preparation for presenting a Bible study that evening, I was way behind in my writing, the bed linens needed changing, the laundry basket was full, and there were enough crumbs on the floor that you literally could eat off it! But, knowing how overwhelmed and spiritually empty I felt, I agreed. Being early risers, we arrived shortly before dawn and the full harvest moon in the west watched over us as the sun rose in the east. Feeling like I had yesterday, today, and tomorrow in the palm of my hand, I was reminded that God really does. In awe, as the moon’s light shimmered on the water while the sky grew pink with the sunrise, I walked in the beauty of God’s creation and felt His peace descend on me. Filled with His grace, I was renewed, refreshed, and restored. Remembering a lovely praise song, I silently sang: “Fill me up, God. Fill me up, God…” As the aroma of bacon wafted from a beach-side restaurant, my stomach reminded me that I hadn’t yet eaten breakfast. Nevertheless, that quiet time with my Heavenly Father sated my spiritual hunger and filled me up in a way that bacon, eggs, and toast never could.

God gave us a weekly Sabbath to rest, relax, restore, and replenish. The Hebrew word sabbat, which we know as Sabbath, comes from the verb sabat which means to stop or cease. The observance of the Sabbath every week was central to the Israelite’s life (and should be to ours) but, sometimes, in our fast-paced world, one day a week is not pause enough. There are times, like that Thursday morning, when we need what Terry Hershey calls a “Sabbath Moment” — a temporary cease-fire from the assault of busyness that so often bombards our lives. It’s a brief turning away from the day’s hustle and bustle to spend time with our Heavenly Father. The Sabbath moment does for us what her father’s visit did for my grand: it feeds and restores us. It fills us up!

More of your spirit is what we need,
More of your annointing,
More of your glory, fill me.
Fill me up God (fill me up God),
Fill me up God (fill me up God),
Fill me (that’s what I really want). [Will Reagan]

Let them praise the Lord for his great love and for the wonderful things he has done for them. For he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things. [Psalm 107:8-9 (NLT)]

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MAKE A DIFFERENCE

And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” [Mark 9:35 (ESV)]

chicory - bee“Dream small. Don’t bother like you’ve gotta do it all. Just let Jesus use you where you are, one day at a time,” sang Josh Wilson. Reminding me that a tiny rock made Goliath fall and five loaves and two fish fed them all, he sang that it is simple moments that change the world. I thought of his song when I received an email from a local charity including the sentence, “We may not be able to change the world, but we can change the world for some people.”

Tomorrow is “Make a Difference Day,” an annual national community service event that has been held every fourth Saturday in October since 1992. The single purpose of this day is to improve the lives of others. In a way, it’s a nationwide day of dreaming small and changing the world for someone!

Volunteers from across the nation will participate. Teens in Plymouth, Michigan, will rake leaves and do outdoor work for seniors and the disabled while volunteer gardeners in Budd Lake, New Jersey, will be winterizing the community garden. Trees will be planted in Vancouver, Washington, volunteers in Fort Collins, Colorado, will be going door to door, swapping out incandescent light bulbs with free LED ones and, in Cincinnati, people will assemble and bag the ingredients for 150,000 meals. These are small dreams; none of them will change the world, but they will change some people’s lives.

Dranafile Bojaxhiu was dreaming small when the widow extended an open invitation to the city’s poor to dine with her family. She told her daughter Agnes, “Never eat a single mouthful unless you are sharing it with others,” When asked who their dinner guests were, she replied, “Some of them are our relations, but all of them are our people.” Dranafile wasn’t dreaming big but she was making a difference.

Dranafile’s daughter Agnes became a nun and moved to India. Better known as Mother Teresa, Agnes had no big dreams when she ventured into Calcutta’s slums; her goal was simply to aid “the unwanted, the unloved, the uncared for.” Starting small with an open-air school and a home for the dying destitute, she founded the Missionaries of Charity (a community of twelve) and then established a leper colony, an orphanage, a nursing home, a family clinic and a string of mobile health clinics. By the time of her death in 1997, there were more than 4,000 Missionaries of Charity and thousands of lay volunteers. Her small dream has grown to over 600 foundations in 123 countries. Sometimes, small dreams can become big ones. Sadly, there is still poverty in India; Mother Teresa did not change the world but, like her mother, she changed some people’s lives.

Lord, show us how to change the world, one life at a time. Through loving acts of service, may we make a difference, not just tomorrow, but every day.

I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples. [Mother Teresa]

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. [Matthew 5:16 (ESV)]

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GOD NUDGES

blanket fower - tulip - golden cannaAnd after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper. [1 Kings 19: 12 (NLT)]

God’s nudges—we all get them and, all too often, we ignore them.

Last week, one of my pastors felt an uncanny impulse to call an old friend who lives across the country. As far as she knew, all was well with her friend and, as often happens with that sort of thing, she got busy and forgot about making the call. Today, she was reminded of her failure when she received a call telling her that her friend had died suddenly over the weekend. As she shared her regret, she reminded us all to respond to God’s gentle nudges. As Elijah learned, sometimes God’s voice is in a whisper!

When asked how to know whether we’re getting a nudge from God or simply have an idea, the pastor suggested we look to the source; if it comes from our heart, it’s probably from God and if it comes from our head, it’s probably us. Nevertheless, our own feelings and desires certainly can influence our perception of the idea and, for some people, “God laid it on my heart,” is just a euphemism for, “This is something I want to do.” A friend’s ex-daughter-in-law claimed that God “laid it on her heart” to leave her husband and children for another man—proof that our hearts can be as deceitful as our thoughts. We must be cautious of attributing our feelings to God. Not every good idea is a mystical message from the Lord; sometimes it’s just an idea!

Discerning the voice of God is not always an easy task. When something is weighing heavy on our heart, perhaps we ought to weigh the message against God’s word. Every one of God’s nudges will match up with His word and none will be something Scripture forbids! Of course, the better we know His word, the easier it is to recognize His voice. Checking Scripture, however, doesn’t mean randomly opening the Bible, picking the first verse we see, and saying that is God’s specific word for us; that’s little different than using a Magic 8-Ball for decisions.

Not everyone will get the same nudge and what God lays on my heart may not be what He lays on yours. His nudge is for us alone and rarely does anyone need to know the reason for our actions. Moreover, we should never say God told us to do something merely to add credibility to what we’re doing. Finally, just because someone says God laid it on his or her heart doesn’t mean He actually did! Just as we, on occasion, can mistake our own desire for one of God’s nudges, so can others. If someone tells us that God laid it on their heart that we should join choir or donate to their cause, we must be wary of getting pressured into something that isn’t God’s plan for us. If God really wants us to do something, most likely, He’ll be the one to tell us!

If God is nudging me about something of major consequence, I pray, study His word, and do research. For the most part, however, those little God-nudges are pretty easy to identify and don’t ask much of us: cross the room to speak with someone, make a call, offer to pray with them, give a hug, ask what you can do, or invite him to church. When in doubt, as long as it’s not contrary to Scripture, I’d rather risk looking foolish than miss a God-given opportunity. Most important, when we get a God-nudge, we should respond (and the sooner the better). We certainly wouldn’t want to miss our last chance to chat with a dear friend.

Your own ears will hear him. Right behind you a voice will say, “This is the way you should go,” whether to the right or to the left. [Isaiah 30:21 (NLT)]

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. [John 10:27 (NLT)]

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