A Taste of Grace by Michael Powell
Come as a Child by Janice Alonso
Questions by James L. Snyder
Ex-ing Out Christmas by Kathleen Bracher
And a Little Child Shall Lead Them by April Athey Staples
Shepherds Rejoice! Lift Up Your Eyes by Isaac Watts
A Taste of Grace
by Michael Powell
If you have a sibling you understand sibling rivalry. The prime of my brotherly crimes occurred when I was about nine. The victim, my sister, was seven. My hobby was to pin her down on her back by placing my knees atop her shoulders and then, with a little more than a tap, bounce my fingers off her sternum.
Janna would always run to my dad afterwards with laments. I would always run behind her with alibis. Then one day, Dad walked into the room while the beating was occurring. I was caught red fingered! He sent me to his room and I began to mentally prepare for the punishment my behind would soon endure.
Dad talked with Janna for a long time before coming to visit with me. I knew that she was telling him everything I had ever done wrong to her, to her dolls, to her cat . . .
Dad entered the room with the regal composure of every good judge. He got down on one knee and asked, “Son, do you know that what you did was wrong?”
“Yes,” I said. Though I was just nine, I had learned to plead guilty in the court of Dad with hopes of less severe penalties.
“I have something for you,” Dad said with a smirk. His hands, which had been hidden behind his back, slowly came around his body. A thousand pictures of various instruments of torture raced through my mind. Even a million pictures wouldn’t have prepared me for what I saw him holding.
“Son, this is grace,” he said as he opened his hand exposing an Oreo cookie. All I could do in response was grimace. I had never heard of grace. Dad could tell this from my expression, so the great lecture began.
“There are three ways to deal with stupidity, and you’ve been stupid. The first way is justice. Justice means getting what you deserve. What you deserve is a good spanking. Mercy is another option. Mercy means simply ignoring the crime. I am not giving you mercy because we’re here having this talk. Finally there’s grace. Grace is getting a reward when you do something wrong—not because of what you did—but because you are loved in spite of it.” Then he repeated those golden words, “Son, this is grace.”
It was the best tasting Oreo cookie I’d ever had, without milk that is. I savored it. I embraced grace. The wild thing is that I never remember fighting with my sister again. There’s something powerful and transforming about grace.
More than a decade passed before I complimented my dad on such creative parenting skills. When I did, he laughed and said, “Don’t thank me, thank Janna. I assured her you would get a good spanking, and she sobbed. When I asked her, ‘What should I do to him then?’ she replied, ‘Give him an Oreo cookie.’”
Jesus was right, a child shall lead them, and “unless you become like a child you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Oreo® is a registered trademark of Kraft Foods Global, Inc.
© Michael Powell
Michael Powell is freelance writer and pastor in Nacogdoches, TX. He is happily married to Mandy and has two boys, Miles and Miller.
Come as a Child
by Janice Alonso
As a preschooler in Sunday school, I enjoyed looking at a picture of Jesus surrounded by children. Flowing across the bottom of the picture was the verse, “I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it” (Mark 10:15 NIV). This verse came to mind again last Sunday.
As a greeter at my church, I am usually on the main floor where mostly adults enter for the worship service. Once a month, I welcome people who respond with polite smiles, a “How are you today?” or a “Good morning.” They trudge up the steps and amble down the long walkway, occasionally nodding a head or raising a hand to a familiar face. Dressed in somber colors—mostly solids—and sensible shoes they enter the doorway to the house of God in an orderly, lackluster fashion.
Last Sunday, I was assigned the sidewalk area next to The Kids’ Zone, where I had the joy of watching the parents with little ones arrive. What a difference! Excited gales of laughter echoed down the breezeway before I greeted the smiling children. Kids shouted their greetings. Several extended arms toward me and pumped my hand like old fashioned, country parsons. When they saw a friend, they ran to each other and hugged. Two little girls clasped each other so tightly that they tumbled to the ground in a delighted jumble.
Some skipped and jumped. A pigtailed girl hopped on one foot and twirled with her arms spread out like a helicopter. Others danced, their little hips swaying and narrow shoulders jiving. A group of boys, probably first graders, pushed and shoved as they got to my door screaming, “Me first!” But most arrivals raced, the soles of their shoes pounding a loud beat on their way to learn more about God.
If the physical energy alone weren’t enough to place them in sharp contrast to the adults who dragged themselves in as if heading to a tax audit, the clothes these children sported added even more. The diminutive flock descended wearing brightly colored gingham dresses, cowboy boots, outrageous headgear, and loud accessories. Many also wore tee shirts that proudly identified them as Christians who’d attended a plethora of church functions.
It made me wonder why we adults aren’t more like those children. I don’t mean to suggest that we should stampede into worship service giving up all semblance of reverence or respect for the House of God. However, a little more enthusiasm might not be such a bad thing. I know my days of running up stairs or hopping on one foot are not what they used to be, but I can look around me and make a conscious effort to talk to people. I can arrive earlier or sit in a different section of the sanctuary. I can welcome visitors and reacquaint myself with old friends. I can don a big smile.
After my experience in The Kids’ Zone, I have to admit that my energy level was so high by the time I entered the worship service that I was wearing an ear-to-ear grin! Entering the Kingdom of God like a child may be as simple as re-igniting a joyful spirit.
© Janice Alonso
Janice Alonso is a freelance writer from Alpharetta, Georgia.
by James L. Snyder
The door to my office exploded as hundreds—at least it seemed like that many to me—of children surrounded my desk. My defenses were down, and the merry mob held me captive. Wisely, I decided to surrender and throw myself on the mercy of the gang.
Simultaneously, and in hi-fi stereophonic sound, the children assaulted me with questions.
“Pastor, whatcha doin’?”
“Pastor, is that your computer?”
“Who’s that in the picture?”
“Pastor, are you working?”
“Pastor, why? . . . why? . . . why?”
As soon as I dealt with one question, three more emerged, and it seemed as though the supply was endless. When the little crowd ran out of questions, they began all over again—several times.
To hear, let alone answer, each question would have required a Moses-proportioned miracle like the parting of the Red Sea. I chuckled to myself when I realized they didn’t need me, or even want me to answer all their questions, as strange as it seemed. The little pack really wanted to know if I had an ear for them. And I did—two, as a matter of fact.
One of the tragedies of life is the fact that as people grow older they seem to lose their sense of inquiry. Answers replace questions.
I remember what my good friend and spiritual mentor, Frank, used to say: “Beware of the person who has more answers than questions. Life must truly be a bore to them. I know they’re a bore to me.”
I think good old Frank knew what he was talking about. No person is poorer than the man who has ceased approaching life with a question. Or even worse, the man who has an answer for everything.
© James L. Snyder
The Reverend James L. Snyder is an award winning author whose writings have appeared in more than eighty periodicals, including Guideposts. Snyder’s first book, In Pursuit of God: The Life of A. W. Tozer, won the 1992 Reader’s Choice Award from Christianity Today. Through over thirty-five years of ministry, he and his wife Martha have been involved in three church-planting projects prior to their current ministry at the Family of God Fellowship in Ocala, Florida. They have three children and nine grandchildren. You may visit his website at http://www.jamessnyderministries.com and read his religion column at Out To Pastor.
Ex-ing Out Christmas
by Kathleen Bracher
Shopping, eating candy, baking cookies, keeping secrets, buying gifts, and sharing with family make up the whirl of the holiday season. Santa Claus roams every street corner and mall, where elves and angels are celebrated and billboards proclaim, “Merry X-mas!”
I saw that greeting on a store’s sign after a crowd of frantic mothers plowed over me to grab the last of the bargain toys. It taunted me. “Merry X-mas?”
If we ex out the first part of the word “Christmas,” the holiday dies. Without Christ, no Christmas exists. Without Him, why have any gifts? Why decorate? Why proclaim joy to the world, peace on earth, and goodwill to men? The greatest gift is ignored. Heaven’s royalty is snubbed. The Prince of Peace, the Joy-Giver, and the Good God has been removed.
“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called, Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6 KJV).
Two thousand years ago God’s gift to mankind was laid in a hay-filled manger, sent by the Father to pay the penalty for our sins. Knowing this, I can ex out stress and overspending. I can ex out eating one more cookie. I can ex out the activities that clutter up the holiday calendar. But I can’t ex out Christ. As I decorate my tree, wrap my gifts, and try to figure out where Santa fits into the spiritual picture, my heart will sing in wonder, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come!”
This year, when I deliver cookies to my neighbors, leave a toy store, and greet friends at church, I will reaffirm the simple truth in the midst of chaos—that the Infinite One, the All-Wise, the Almighty God transformed Himself into an infant so that we might have eternal life. I will declare all this as I wish them a warm, “Merry Christmas!”
© Kathleen Bracher
Kathleen Bracher is an Indiana freelance writer who lived in Wiesbaden, Germany, for four years, and is a contributor to Chicken Soup for the Child’s Soul.
(Editor’s note: Although not common knowledge in our time, “Xmas” has long been used as an abbreviated form of Christmas. The “X” represents the Greek letter “chi,” used as a symbol for the word “Christ.” Many secularists, however, seem to have adopted this spelling in order to remove Jesus from the celebration of Christmas.)
During the season of Thanksgiving, most families gather together and take time to recall what they are thankful for—good things that have happened in the past year, material blessings, people in their lives, and so on. Usually, they remember only the big things.
This holiday, try thinking like a little child: “I thank God for the floor and the flowers and my fingers and French toast.” Take nothing for granted. Then each day throughout the whole year, remember to give God the thanks and praise He deserves—for the little things as well as the big.
And a Little Child Shall Lead Them
by April Athey Staples
“. . . Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:3-4 (NAS)
During my quiet time recently, I told Abba** I wanted to see myself and my relationship with Him through His eyes. In the past, I had been too quick to dishonor and abandon the serious part of myself if somebody was critical of me or of my relationship with Jesus.
While I prayed, I pictured a little girl (maybe 5 or 6 years old) holding forth a sword with her left hand and raising up a banner with her right hand that was fluttering behind her as she walked. She was marching fearlessly forward in “battle” along a grassy path. Towering behind her a few paces were Jesus and a tightly formed host of heavily armed and gloriously shining angels.
I cried when I saw her. She was so very serious and thoroughly trusting. I thought about the trusting and serious part of me that I had abandoned years ago, because it caused me too much pain. Seeing myself through God’s eyes again was wonderful, and it freed me to be who He created me to be.
May we all become like children and see ourselves and those around us through the eyes of God.
© April Athey Staples
April Athey Staples accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior in 1973 during her freshman year at Florida State University, where she earned a degree in Communications and Writing. Besides getting to know Jesus, she spent the next 18 years pursuing a career in journalism, public relations and marketing. In 1991 she met and married Kyle Staples, her “best friend for life.” They sought Jesus together until April went home to Jesus in 2007.
*Isaiah 11:6 (NKJV) **Hebrew term of affection for “Father,” like “Daddy.” (See Romans 8:15 to find out why those who belong to Jesus can call God “Abba.”)
Shepherds Rejoice! Lift Up Your Eyes
by Isaac Watts
“Shepherds, rejoice! lift up your eyes
And send your fears away;
News from the region of the skies:
Salvation’s born today!
Jesus, the God whom angels fear,
Comes down to dwell with you;
Today he makes his entrance here,
But not as monarchs do.
“No gold, nor purple swaddling bands,
Nor royal shining things;
A manger for his cradle stands,
And holds the King of kings.
Go, shepherds, where the Infant lies,
And see his humble throne;
With tears of joy in all your eyes,
Go, shepherds, kiss the Son.”
Thus Gabriel sang, and straight around
The heavenly armies throng;
They tune their harps to lofty sound
And thus conclude the song:
“Glory to God that reigns above,
Let peace surround the earth;
Mortals shall know their Maker’s love
At their Redeemer’s birth.”
Lord! and shall angels have their songs
And men no tunes to raise?
O may we lose these useless tongues
When they forget to praise!
Glory to God that reigns above,
That pitied us forlorn!
We join to sing our Maker’s love,
For there’s a Saviour born.
Isaac Watts was an English poet and theologian who lived from 1674 to 1748. He wrote more than 700 hymns, including the Christmas standard “Joy to the World.”
Roaming the Path
Here are some resources you might enjoy as you continue down the path of childlike wonder and faith:
Growing in childlike faith requires obedience and complete trust in God. In Jan Coleman’s book Unshakeable the reader meets real people who have had to make the tough decision to obey God, no matter what their circumstances. This honest, encouraging, and lightly humorous book will encourage readers to persevere even in the most difficult times as they seek to honor God in their lives.
Today’s media forces children to grow up too soon. That coupled with the culture’s lies about Jesus and Christianity and the general encouragement toward promiscuity is robbing today’s children and teens of their childlike wonder and faith. Everyone who cares about the next generation, everyone who cares about his or her own childlike walk with the Lord, should read Eva Marie and Jessica Everson’s book Sex, Lies, and the Media: What Your Kids Know and Aren’t Telling You. It will open your eyes.
The classic story, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, by Barbara Robinson is a great book for families to read aloud in preparation for Christmas. Even if you have no children, you will enjoy reading this story about how a fatherless family of ragamuffins reminds a whole church of the true meaning of Christmas.
You’ve probably seen at least one of the movies, but have you read the book? Reading aloud A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens is a wonderful way to bring the family together. Or read it yourself. It’s been a great read for more that 150 years. You can find it illustrated, in hardback or paperback, and in several different editions. If you prefer not to read it yourself, try listening to it on CD from the Focus on the Family Radio Theatre.
Point of Grace’s CD A Christmas Story is a fun collection with a variety of classic, familiar, and original songs to help you enjoy the Christmas season.
Steve Green brings some of the beautiful hymns of the Church to life with his usual vocal and artistic excellence in Hymns: A Portrait of Christ. This collection is sure to inspire you to keep Jesus Christ as the center of your life and your holiday celebrations.
If your preference is instrumental music, you will enjoy The Living Room Sessions: Christmas performed by Chris Rice. This beautiful collection of Christmas music will bring peace and rest to your home in the midst of busy holiday preparations. It also makes wonderful background music for holiday get-togethers.
About the Photo
This photo is a poignant reminder of the valuable and precious relationships that exist between generations. Just as the children in the photo have benefited from the father’s wisdom and the father from the children’s innocent wonder, so we, too, can learn from both the young and the old in our families. As Christians, we also learn from the family of believers—through the wisdom of Scripture, the lives of biblical heroes, the writings of those who came before us, and the fellowship with other believers. Let us glean godly wisdom as we celebrate Jesus together.
Modified photo used by permission of Morguefile.
Editor: Jeanne Gowen Dennis
Associate Editor: Sheila Seifert
Assistant Editor: Christine St. Jacques
© Heritage of Truth, LLC
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