The school paper listed students “most likely to succeed.”

There it was . . . the list they’d all been waiting to see was printed on the front page of the Liberty High News. Each year the graduating class put together a list of students “most likely to succeed.” The list this year contained six names.

Jordan Wallace — Salesman
Gracie Hawkins — Writer
Autumn Brooks — Singer
Damian Rodgers — Computer Programmer
Derek Johnson — Preacher
Miranda Bradford — First Woman President

I can’t believe it! Derek thought, scanning the article as he left the school building. Guess I’ll have to wait and see about that. He glanced up and saw a white Subaru across the street. “Hey, Jordan, wait up,” he yelled as he ran to Jordan’s car.

“Salesman of the year,” Derek laughed, “Give me your best sales pitch.”

“Well, Preacher, I’ll tell ya . . .” Jordan began with mock seriousness. Then, laughing, he said, “Get in, I’ll give you a lift home.”

As they turned the first corner Derek said, “I can see how you got on the list but I’m really having a hard time believing I made it.”

“Why?” asked Jordan. “Everyone likes you . . . well, almost everyone,” he teased. “And you are going to be a preacher, aren’t you? I mean, you are a Christian.”

“A Christian, yes. A preacher . . . ? Well, that depends on God. That’s a special calling,” Derek replied. “You know this success list should make us think. I wonder what success means to some people, anyway? Gracie is a great writer of short stories, essays, and such. I suppose success for her will be when she publishes her first book.”

Yeah, and for Autumn,” Jordan said, “it will probably be her first hit record.”

“And what about Miranda for president? She’s great at school politics, but . . . oh well, at least we can always say ‘We knew her when . . .’” laughed Derek. “And you! You can sell anything to anyone. Don’t try to sell the Eiffel Tower, though. That’s already been done!”

“Nah, I’ll sell the Statue of Liberty back to France,” Jordan joked. “I’ll let Damian set up the sale. He’s got a brain like a computer.”

“Yeah, he’s smart all right but he told me that when school’s over he doesn’t want to do anything. His parents have a college fund for him, but he said he doesn’t want to go to college. When we were voting, he asked me what I thought success was. Has he ever talked to you about it?” Derek inquired.

“As a matter of fact, he talked to me last night,” Jordan answered. “It seems, now that he is graduating, his folks are getting a divorce. I guess they’ve been planning it, but wanted Damian to finish high school first so he wouldn’t have to study and worry at the same time.

“He knew last night that his name was on the success list and just laughed about it. He said his dad is considered a great success—he has a new house, new car, ‘loving family’—but look at him!”

Jordan continued, “I know it’s hard on Damian but he can’t drop out of life because of his dad. So I told him he should look for someone else to use as a success model. Guess who he chose.”

“The president?” Derek asked.

“No,” Jordan replied, “he chose you! Evidently when he talked to you a couple of days ago you gave him your formula for success. After our conversation, Damian left. He said he had some important business to ‘compute.’ It was like he finally decided to do something about what you had said. What did you tell him, anyway?”

“It was just something Coach Shaw told me once. He was speaking of sports and business, but my answers had to do with something else,” Derek replied. “He had four steps to success.

“First: know what you want. I want, more than anything else, to be a Christian.

“Second: know why you want it. When all is said and done, I want to make my final home in Heaven.

“Third: know what it will do for you. God promised that if I obey His Word I will have ‘good success.’ Through example and experience, I know this is true. Look at my parents. Look at the happiness they have. That’s success!

“Fourth: know what you can do to get it. Like I just said, obey. Salvation and obedience are a winning team. One won’t work without the other.

“This formula may work for writers, singers, and even salesmen,” Derek continued, “but, seriously, if you want good success, God has to be first.”

 

I knew I would have to forgive.

“Well, I said I was sorry!” my little brother George repeated, looking at me fearfully, and then glancing back at the broken pieces of glass on the floor. My doll—my beautiful Korean doll—was smashed.

“Sorry doesn’t fix my doll!” I cried, a huge lump forming in my throat as I knelt down and picked up a couple of the pieces. “Go on, get out of my room! And never come back in here again!”

When George was gone, I sat down on the floor and picked up a piece of the doll. I could feel my eyes fill with tears. The doll was ruined. No way could it ever be put back together; there were little pieces all over the floor.

Mom came in and asked, “What was that all about, Hazel? George just came through the kitchen looking as though he had lost his last friend.” She stopped as she spotted the wreckage on the floor. “Oh, Hazel! Not your beautiful doll from Grandpa! How on earth did that happen?”

My anguish boiled over into furious words. “George—he did it! He came in here with that stupid ball of his, wanting me to go out and play with him. He tossed it to me before I even figured out what he wanted, and of course I didn’t have time to catch it. It smashed into my bookcase and the doll fell off. And now look, Mom. It’s ruined! And it’s all his fault! I’ll never forgive him!”

Mom put an arm around my shoulders. “Hazel, Dear, I know you feel badly about this. I do too, but I really don’t think George meant to break it.”

I hardly even heard her. “He’s not supposed to come into my room without knocking. And then to throw a ball at me too! I’ll never forgive him!” I repeated.

But even as I said it, I knew I was wrong. And I knew Jesus wasn’t pleased with my attitude.

Dinnertime that night was not much fun. George was quiet and I couldn’t look at him. I didn’t feel much like eating and I guess George didn’t either. He didn’t even eat one bread roll, and usually I have to fight him for the last one.

Later, as I was helping Mom put the dishes in the dishwasher, she said something that didn’t seem to have anything to do with my problem—until afterward, when I got to my room. She said, “Hazel, have you worked on that project for your Sunday school class yet?”

Maybe I should explain about my Sunday school class. My teacher likes us to figure out ways our lessons apply to our lives, so each week we have a project or assignment to bring back to class the next Sunday. This week our project was to write down one time during the week when we were faced with a situation giving us a chance to “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.”

Well, like I said, I went up to my room after finishing in the kitchen. When I walked in and saw the broken pieces of my doll lying on the shelf, suddenly the words “grow in grace” came to my mind.

I sat down on the side of my bed and thought about it. I knew Jesus had said we should forgive others when they did something bad against us or something that hurt us. I hadn’t really had many chances to do that. Maybe this was one opportunity, but it wasn’t going to be easy. My doll couldn’t be fixed, I’d never have another one like it. Still, I knew I would have to forgive if I were going to grow as a Christian the way God wanted me to.

I closed my eyes. “Jesus,” I prayed, “help me forgive George. Help me to grow in Your grace and learn to be the kind of Christian You want me to be.”

I opened my eyes and thought about it some more. I don’t believe George meant to break my doll. He just wanted to play, and he forgot about knocking. I really do love my little brother, even if he is a pest at times. And I could see he really was sorry about it at dinner tonight.

Just then a light knock sounded on my door. “Yeah . . . come in,” I said, looking up.

It was George. “Hazel . . .” he said hesitantly, “Here.” He came over to my bed and laid in my lap a silver dollar—the silver dollar Uncle Jim had given him a few months ago, and which had been his priceless possession ever since.

“George! What’s this for?” I questioned him.

“I’m sorry I broke your doll. I didn’t mean to. Maybe you can buy another one with this dollar.”

“Oh, George.” A lump came up in my throat again, but this time it wasn’t caused by anger. “George, you don’t have to give me your dollar. I know you didn’t mean to break my doll. I forgive you.”

The light came back into his brown eyes, and a grin chased across his freckled little face. “Do you mean it, Hazel?” He grabbed my hand. “Goody! Then will you come play ball with me now?”

When I stood up to go outside with him, I felt as though I had grown several inches. No, I really wasn’t any taller, but I had grown in the grace and knowledge we learned about in Sunday school. I could feel it!

 

The canned food drive had given Jodi a chance to tell Vicki about answered prayers.

“Whew, what a day!” Jodi flopped down on the family room floor and closed her eyes.

“Did you get many cans for the canned food drive?” Mrs. James asked as she looked at her daughter with concern. “You look pretty tired.”

Jodi opened her eyes. “Yeah, I’m tired—but it was a great day!” We did collect a lot of cans, and people gave us other foods, too, like boxes of cereal and bags of rice.” Jodi got up slowly and walked to the kitchen sink to wash her hands. As she was drying them she turned to her mother who was busily making a potato salad. “Mom, you know that new girl, Vicki, who just moved in on the next block? Well, she was my partner this afternoon. We had a chance to talk while we were walking from house to house.

“She doesn’t think there is a God. She thinks that our lives are run by chance, and even if there is a God, He’s not interested in us as individuals. So there’s really no use to pray! At least, that’s what she said when we started talking.” Jodi stopped and grinned at her mother. “I think she may have changed her mind though. I’m glad you’ve told us kids about prayers that you know God has answered. It’s helped me understand how He has taken care of our family since Dad died. I had a lot to tell her.

“While we were collecting cans, Vicki started telling me what she thought of God. She said Jesus was just a good teacher and that He was human like the rest of us. I guess her father doesn’t believe there is a God. She says he’s an atheist, and she goes along with what he says. At first I just let her talk. When the truck was full enough, the driver had to take the cans to school. The other kids went along to unload while Vicki and I stayed to sort and stack the rest. We had some time to talk before the truck came back.

“Pretty soon I guess she realized I wasn’t saying much, so she asked, ‘What’s the matter? Don’t you have any opinion about things like this?’ I said, ‘Sure, but I didn’t want to interrupt you. I’d like to tell you what Jesus has done for our family.’ She kind of sputtered and I thought she was going to get mad. But she just said, ‘Okay, I guess I’ve been talking a lot. It’s your turn. What has Jesus done for your family?’

“So I started by telling her about the time our family moved from California to Oregon when we were still little kids. Dad went on to his new job and we had to stay behind for a while until the house was sold. I told her how you cried after Dad left, and said you didn’t know how we’d ever make it, because Dad’s salary was only going to be half what he had been making. Then I told her how God gave you those Scriptures.”

Mrs. James repeated the words God had given her. “‘My God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus,’ and He ‘is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us.’”

“Vicki started to laugh when I said that, Mom. Then I told her how Dad’s new company promoted him twice in three months, and how our house was sold by that time. When I told her that his beginning salary had been almost doubled, she didn’t know what to say. Finally she said, ‘Well, that’s just coincidence. I thought you said your father was dead. How do you fit that into God’s taking care of your family?’

“I didn’t really know how to answer her, so I said, ‘I don’t understand why my father died, but I do understand how God has taken care of our family since he’s been gone.’ I told her about the time the taxes were due and the car needed a new transmission, and we didn’t have the money. Then, after we’d prayed, someone put exactly that much money into the tithe box with our name on it, and a little note that said, ‘Jesus loves you and we do too.’ Vicki couldn’t believe anybody would give away all that money and not tell anyone they did it.

“Just then, the truck returned, and we had to work really hard to get the rest of the cans back to school on time. But we talked again while we walked home. That’s when I told her about your praying for a plant to hang on the front porch. She started to giggle, and said, ‘You really think God would hear that kind of prayer?’ So I told her how the kids in our choir at church, not knowing about your prayer, had put their money together and bought a big plant and left it on our front porch when we weren’t home. We were coming up to the house right then, so I pointed to the hanging basket on the front porch, and said, ‘That’s the plant.’

“You should have seen her eyes! At first she just stood there and looked. But before she started for home she said, ‘Jodi, you’re the first person I’ve met who could show me an answer to prayer. I’d like to talk to you again sometime.’ Mom, I’m so glad I could tell her that God is really alive and that He takes care of us all the time.”

 

Do you ever think about the many things you have learned from other people? Someone taught you to tie your own shoes by showing you how. Maybe you watched your older brother ride his bike and decided you could ride one too. Did your dad teach you how to put together a model car or build a campfire? Did Mom show you how to play piano or bake cookies? We’ve all learned a lot of things from others.

We can learn spiritual lessons too, by looking at some of the people in the Bible. Sometimes we learn a lesson by seeing how a person succeeded and then deciding to do things just the way he did. Other times we might see where a person made a mistake or did something wrong. Then we would learn our lesson by purposing not to do as he did!

This past quarter we have studied twelve people in the Bible. How much have you learned about them? How well have you learned the lessons taught by their examples? Take this quarter quiz and find out!

 

 

Kylie proved that true wisdom is available today.

“I don’t think I can face another day of it!” Kylie said, her voice almost breaking. “He knows just how to ask the questions I can’t answer. And when I do answer, he shoots my statements full of holes. Sometimes I wish I had never signed up for this class in Bible literature!”

Layla sighed sympathetically. “I know it’s been a rough go for you, Kylie. Mr. Joelsted has the reputation of being a difficult teacher, but I’ve always heard that he really knows his stuff.”

“Oh, he knows the Bible all right. That’s what makes it so difficult! When he questions me on what I believe and why, he wants to know just which Scriptures back up my beliefs. And if I don’t have them right on the tip of my tongue, he’s got a Scripture that seems to say something different. I’ve prayed that God would help me say the right thing, but lots of times I feel like I just don’t know how to answer him.”

Layla looked out over the bleachers where the girls were sitting, eating their lunches. “Why do you think he’s picking on you, Kylie? Does he ask the other kids in your class the same kinds of questions?”

Kylie brushed the crumbs from her lap and stuffed her napkin into her lunch sack before answering. Finally she responded, “Layla, I really don’t think he’s trying to pick on me. He doesn’t do it in a mean way . . . more like he’s just curious. I think he asks me questions because he honestly wants to know how I will respond. And when he gives a Scripture that seems to present an opposing thought, I think he really wants to know how I explain that.” She sighed. “I guess the problem is really me. I wish I knew more. I wish I had the answers so I could explain what I believe.”

Layla swallowed her last bite of cookie. “Well, one good thing, there are only a few weeks of school left. Just hang in there, Kylie.”

“Oh, I suppose I will . . .”

The next couple of weeks went by, and Kylie faced each session of her Bible literature class with apprehension. She prayed every morning that God would give her the right words, and sometimes she thought that the strength He gave was the only reason she was able to keep on going to the class.

On the last day before finals, Kylie found out that her prayers really had been answered.

Mr. Joelsted began his lecture that morning by summarizing the chapters they had studied in 1 Kings about Solomon and his wisdom. In concluding his remarks, he commented that Solomon had asked God for wisdom and had obviously received it. Then he asked, “Do any of you believe that God still could and would give wisdom to those who ask for it as Solomon did?”

For a moment there was silence in the classroom. Then Kylie raised her hand. “Yes, I do believe that He would, Mr. Joelsted.”

“Will you please explain this to the class, Kylie?” Mr. Joelsted asked. “Do you know anyone who has had their IQ increased because they prayed about it?”

“God may not come down and put the solution to every algebra equation in my mind, or give me a complete understanding of my biology textbook. But when I pray, He does help me and guide me in making decisions and choices. He shows me what I should say and do. I believe true wisdom is learning to lean on God.”

Mr. Joelsted looked at her thoughtfully. “That’s an interesting point, Kylie.” He paused for a moment and then added, “Would you mind staying after class for a few minutes? I’d like to discuss this with you a little further.”

When the bell rang, Kylie sat quietly at her desk as her classmates gathered up their books and went out into the hall. Then she walked up to Mr. Joelsted’s desk, her heart thumping. What was he going to say?

He seemed intent on the papers at his desk, shifting them from one side to another. Finally he looked up and smiled slightly. “Kylie, I just wanted to tell you that I have really enjoyed having you in my class. Your comment today regarding how God helps by showing you what you should do and say was very enlightening. I know that I have thrown some pretty difficult questions your way this year. You have done very well in answering them—so well, in fact, that I have wondered where you got your insight. Now I think I understand.”

Kylie looked seriously at her teacher. “Thank you, Mr. Joelsted. Your questions have made me think, and pray for wisdom as to how to answer them. I do believe that God has helped me.”

“I believe that too,” said Mr. Joelsted quietly. “Never let go of the faith you have, Kylie. It is something very special.”

 

 

Jochebed knew she could trust the Lord with her baby.

Jochebed sat in her small home, straining to hear the sounds of Miriam’s returning steps. Her troubled thoughts went to the frightening things that had been happening to their people.

Pharaoh had decreed that all their baby boys must be killed when born, but the midwives who assisted in the births had found ways to keep them alive. Defeated in this, he had ordered that all their infant boys be thrown into the river.

Many of Jochebed’s neighbors and friends had lost their baby boys in this way. There was scarcely a family in the land that had not been affected by this cruel law.

Jochebed’s eyes filled with tears as she thought of the events of the morning. For three months she had hidden her own baby, defying the king’s command. Her husband, Amram, had helped her and so had Miriam, their daughter. But now the baby was too old to be kept quiet in the small home, and the last few weeks had been spent in agony, fearing that he would soon be discovered.

A few days earlier she had thought of a plan. She would hide the baby in a new place—in the reeds at the edge of the river. Pharaoh had said the babies should be thrown into the river, so who would think of hiding one there? She had made a small reed boat, just large enough to hold the carefully wrapped baby. After coating the little boat with pitch, she had let it dry, and then tested it for leaks. At last she was satisfied that it would float.

Very early this morning she had gently laid her precious baby in it, and carefully put on the cover, checking to be sure he could breathe. “Come, Miriam,” she had said softly, “we must get to the river before anyone can see what we are doing.”

Hurriedly the two had walked to the river’s edge. Jochebed had waded into the reeds, picking a spot where they were especially thick. She placed the small boat where it would not tip over. “Lord God,” she said, “this child is now in Your keeping. I trust You to do what is best for him. He is Yours.” Struggling to hold back the tears, she returned to where Miriam stood. Miriam’s eyes were filled with tears. Jochebed thought: What will happen to him if we go away and leave him? She said quietly to Miriam, “Stay here, my child, to see what may happen.”

Now Jochebed was at home, waiting. Waiting for what? She had committed the child to the keeping of her God. But what would God do in these circumstances? She wasn’t really sure. She only knew that God had helped in times past. He had heard her prayer, she knew. Now she would see what He would do for her and for her baby.

Suddenly Jochebed was aware of the sound of running feet. The door of the home was thrown open. “Mother!” Miriam’s voice was urgent. “Mother, come quickly!”

“What is the matter? Is the baby all right?”

“Oh, yes, Mother. Come! I will tell you as we go.”

Quickly, Jochebed followed her daughter. As they hurried past the other small homes Miriam spoke softly. “I watched from the edge of the river. I was going to throw a rock if a crocodile came. But, Mother . . .” Here the girl stopped, her eyes opened wide with wonder. “Mother, Pharaoh’s daughter came down to the river to bathe. She saw the basket and sent one of her maidens to find out what was in it. When they opened it up, the baby was crying. She must have felt sorry for him because she took him out of the basket. He stopped crying when she held him close, and then he started to smile. She seemed to love him right away.

“Then I heard her say, ‘Poor baby, he’s one of the Hebrew children. If I had a way to feed him, I could keep him for my own.’ When I heard that, I ran up and asked her if she wanted me to go and get a nurse from among the Hebrew women. That’s when I ran home for you. I didn’t tell her that he was your baby.”

By now they were at the path that led to the river’s edge. Jochebed looked ahead and saw the princess with her maidens gathered around her, holding the precious baby. Slowly, trembling inside, Jochebed approached and knelt before the ruler’s daughter.

The princess looked at Jochebed carefully, then down at the baby in her arms. “This child is one of the children of your people, but now he is mine. I will call him Moses, because I took him from the river. Take him and care for him as if he were your own; I will pay you. My father’s guards will be told that he is my son. When it is time, I will call for him, and he will come and live with me in the palace of my father.”

Silently, Jochebed stood up and reached for her baby, and in a few moments she turned toward her home. Carefully cradling the infant in her arms, she spoke to him softly. “Moses. She called you Moses. I will call you that too, because it means ‘drawn out.’ My Son, the Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob has caused you to be taken from the river. He has given you back to me for a little while. As long as you are with me, I will teach you about the one true God. Who knows but perhaps from Pharaoh’s own house you may someday help free our people from slavery.”

Then Jochebed praised the Lord. The Lord had answered her prayer!

 

 

Events proved that the Spirit of God also rested upon Elisha.

My heart is sorely troubled—somehow I sense this is no ordinary day. And I know well the reason for the distress that rests upon me.

It was clear by the words of Elijah the Prophet this morning that he was taking his leave of us. It must be the Lord has revealed to him that his time of departure will be soon.

I feel I must pen my misgivings as we sit here gazing over the plain and the Jordan River stretched out before us. I, along with a number of others from among the sons of the prophets here at Jericho, have come to watch. As Elijah and his helper move toward the river, I wonder: Will this indeed be the last time we look upon our teacher?

What will become of our people when Elijah is taken from us? Surely his communication with Jehovah has been seen times without number. His faith is not doubted. His leadership among the prophets of Israel has remained unchallenged for many years.

It is impossible for me to imagine how Elisha, the one who has walked with him for some six years as his helper, can ever take his place. Elisha is such a quiet man. Though it is apparent that he is the one Elijah has chosen as his successor, seldom do we hear him utter a word. Even this morning I myself questioned him, “Knowest thou that the Lord will take away thy master from thy head to day?” His only reply was a brief, “I know it; hold ye your peace.”

I cannot erase from my mind the troubled look on his face as he spoke those words. There was no happiness, no anticipation at the thought of taking on a position of such importance. He spoke with none of the authority and vigor which so mark the speech of Elijah. Can he, in truth, be the one chosen of the Lord to lead the people of Israel?

* * * * *

Two days have passed since I penned the first words of this document. As I look over my earlier thoughts noted here, I cannot help but marvel at the change in my feelings regarding Elisha. But not without reason! I must detail here the events which took place. For I was not wrong in feeling that was no ordinary day.

Indeed my heart was heavy as Elijah and Elisha approached the Jordan River. I admit to feeling a bit puzzled as they headed directly for the riverbank, rather than going south toward the usual crossing. As they stood on the shore, Elijah twisted his cloak together and smote the waters flowing before them. It is difficult for me to explain, but before our eyes, the waters were divided hither and thither at the place where Elijah struck them. We, the sons of the prophets, rose to our feet as one man. We were witnessing a miracle! Elijah and Elisha proceeded to walk steadily across to the other side—obviously on solid, dry ground for they did not appear to gather up their robes or choose their path cautiously.

A thrill coursed through my veins. With my own eyes, I had seen the hand of God move! Immediately I could sense that those around me felt the same awe, for there was a murmur among the other sons of the prophets standing close by.

Our eyes were fastened on the two figures. They paused briefly after crossing and conversed for a moment, then resumed walking. But they had not progressed more than a few hundred yards when there was a sudden flash of light directly above them. Again, words fail me as I attempt to describe what we saw. It appeared as a moving flame, larger than the two men. It swept between them, and in an instant, one figure was gone. I knew at once it was Elijah. We would never look on his face again in this life! A sense of sadness settled over me. But some compelling force kept my attention on the lone figure remaining. What emotion was the man Elisha experiencing now?

He bent and picked up a garment from the ground. Then, without hesitation, he turned back toward the river. Even from this great distance I could see he moved with determination. As he approached the river, he twisted together the garment just as Elijah had done such a short time earlier.

I felt a great tension suddenly grip me. Was he going to smite the water as Elijah had done? Would the waters part as they had for Elijah? Somehow, the fate of our people seemed to hover in the balance. Had the Lord God of Elijah allowed His Spirit to rest upon the man Elisha?

In a brief moment I had my answer. Elisha smote the waters—and again they separated and formed a path! We all rushed to meet him as he triumphantly strode across.

My doubts were laid to rest—but if any had remained, they would have been quieted when we again spoke with Elisha. What a transformation has taken place in this once quiet, humble servant of Elijah! His voice now rings with authority. He has a confidence and assurance that is obviously given of God. Indeed, I felt the Spirit of the Lord Jehovah more powerfully in him than I have ever felt before in another man, even Elijah! He is the chosen one to teach the Children of Israel. I have no further doubts.

 

 

All Anthony could think about was how scary that whale must have been.

First it had been the porpoises, swimming in formation and eating raw fish out of their trainer’s hand. Then the seals, balancing on a teeter-totter. Now it was time for the feature attraction of Ocean World Sea Park—Naboo, the killer whale.

The whale really didn’t do much—if you think “much” is more than jumping completely out of the water and drenching everybody around with the tons of water he splashed.

“Wow,” Anthony cried out. “Just think, Jonah was swallowed by a whale like that one.”

Suddenly it was quiet all around him. Leilani snickered a little. Aaron pointed at Anthony and sneered, “Jonah? I’m sure!” Several others laughed. Finally, their seventh-grade teacher, Mr. Simmons, spoke up. “Now, Anthony,” he said, “even religious people realize that the story of Jonah in the Bible is only an ancient myth. Did you see the big, sharp teeth in the whale’s mouth? No human being could get past them, much less live inside the animal for three days.”

The next day, Saturday, broke sunny and clear. It was just perfect for the plans Anthony’s Sunday school class had made—visiting the children at the big housing project and inviting them to Sunday school. These visitations had been planned weeks ago, and he had been asked to be a leader of one of the groups. He had agreed, and all the arrangements had been made.

But Anthony didn’t go. “Only a myth . . . only a myth. . .” kept running over and over in his mind.

Instead, he headed down to the waterfront. He wandered around the fishing boats and sailboats, though he had nothing particular in mind to do.

“Hey, Anthony, whachya’ doing here?” A voice broke through his brooding thoughts.

Looking up, Anthony saw Aaron, a boy from his class, leaning over the side of a rather old and rough-looking sailboat.

“Nothing,” Anthony replied. “What are you doing?”

“I’m going sailing in my boat.”

“Hey, can I go along?” asked Anthony.

“Well, you know, it takes a lot of money to keep up a boat like this,” Aaron said as he looked down at his worn-out little craft. “But for a dollar, you can go!”

Anthony dug through his pockets and brought out a crumpled bill. A few minutes later the boys sailed into the bay. The thoughts of bringing boys and girls to Sunday school were now far from Anthony’s mind.

Neither boy noticed that the sun had disappeared behind the now rapidly gathering clouds. It wasn’t until a heavy wind came up and whitecaps started to appear that they realized a storm was upon them.

“Where’d this storm come from?” Aaron shouted. “You must have brought me bad luck!”

Just like Jonah, Anthony thought. JONAH!

Aaron grabbed the mast as a heavy gust pushed the boat over on its side. Anthony grabbed frantically, too—and missed.

Those teeth! Those big, sharp teeth! They flashed through Anthony’s mind as a wave hit him and pushed him under the water. All he could imagine was a huge fish with sharp teeth coming after him.

“Those teeth! Those big, sharp teeth!” Anthony struggled to cry out. With an effort he opened his eyes, but in a hospital bed, not in the water of the bay. His mother was beside him crying but his father leaned over him and said, “He’s conscious. Thank God!”

“Those teeth!” Anthony cried again.

“Calm down, Son. You’ll be okay,” his father assured him. “What teeth are you talking about?”

“The big, sharp teeth in the whale that swallowed Jonah,” Anthony replied.

His father looked puzzled, but replied, “Why, Son, there probably were no teeth. The Bible says that God prepared a special fish to swallow Jonah. That was no ordinary whale.”

Anthony thought of his ill-fated boat trip and the visit to the housing project where he should have been instead. God had spared Jonah, and now God had spared him. Doubt God’s Word? Never again! And next time, God’s work would come first.

 

 

The class looked for good examples.

Well, here we are, thought Summer. I wonder how many of the other kids came up with examples?

Last Sunday Erik Mason, their eighth-grade Sunday school teacher, had thrown out a challenge to everyone in the class. Their lesson subject was the Apostle Paul, and they were each to think of an example of someone who was faithful in service to Christ, and be prepared to support their selection with specific details. Summer had thought off and on all week about who her choice would be.

Monday night she had helped prepare and serve refreshments for the youth get-together. Later in the week she had twice helped in the home of a new family in the church whose little girl was very ill. Between these things and the regular schedule of services and practices, she really had no time until yesterday to get her thoughts together and make a decision.

When she told Mrs. Adolphsen, a kind elderly lady, about the person she had finally chosen, Mrs. Adolphsen helped Summer with a few of the details.

“ . . . so Paul wrote to Timothy and told him, ‘I have kept the faith,’” Teacher Erik was saying. “There were other people who kept the faith before Paul’s time and there have been many since. Now, how many of you came up with an example of a person faithful in Christ’s service? Four? That’s a good start. Let’s hear the descriptions and then see if we can guess who each person is.”

“I’ll go first,” said Ryan. “I chose a man who loved to pray. He was very faithful in doing so. In fact he was so faithful that he was punished for praying to God instead of the king. He . . .”

“Oh, I know, Daniel! It’s Daniel!” cried Summer.

“Good for you, Summer,” said Teacher Erik. “How about you take the next turn?”

“This is a lady who none of us knows, but we’ve heard a lot about her. She was a preacher many years ago. At first she didn’t have a church building to meet in, just a blacksmith shop. Some rowdy people were always giving her a bad time. While the meetings were going on, the windows were broken with rocks, and eggs were thrown in. Also vegetables! She was even cut on her forehead when someone tossed a glass bottle through a window. Most people would have quit and said, ‘Forget preaching to people like that!’ But she was faithful and soon the church grew. The church she started now has branch churches in many different cities and in other countries. Some special words that might help you to know who she is are: ‘Jesus, The Light of the World.’”

Josie raised her hand and spoke at the same time. “That’s the lady who started our own Apostolic Faith Church, Florence Crawford!”

“Good,” said Teacher Erik. “Okay, Josie, do you have an example? No? Well, who’s next? Go ahead, Gunner.”

“My dad and I were talking about this man last week. He isn’t a person from the Bible but he had a lot to do with it. If he hadn’t been faithful in his work of translating the Bible we might be reading a different version today. There is a famous verse from the Bible that changed this man’s life, ‘The just shall live by faith.’”

“Martin Luther!” Paige said.

“Right! You’re next,” said Teacher Erik.

“Well, at first, when I thought about Paul’s being faithful even through persecution, I tried to think of someone who was having persecution now. When I couldn’t, I figured we don’t suffer persecution like he did. So, how do we prove we’re faithful? Well, I have a good one! I hope you’ll agree with me. This is a person you all know. A person who is always there when you need someone. You can always count on her to pray for you. If you need to get something done she’ll help you or even do it all for you. She’s a friend to everyone, young and old. She has a small job that most people would say ‘No thanks’ to, but you couldn’t get her to give it up. She takes care of old Mrs. Adolphsen on Saturday mornings—that means no weekend trips. And she does it with love! Mrs. Adolphsen told me she’s never met a more faithful young person.”

By now the whole class knew that she was talking about Summer.

While Summer blushed, Teacher Erik said, “It looks like we’re about out of class time but you did a great job coming up with examples of faithful people. Let’s remember all the examples we’ve talked about—and especially the last one because that’s where we are today. In our country this may not be a time of persecution such as those in other times have known. Still, if we are faithful in our work for Jesus we can say with Paul, ‘I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.’”

 

 

Dylan found the strength to stand for Jesus.

“Hey, Dylan . . . how do you like it?”

Deep in thought, Dylan hardly had been aware of Aiden and Toby’s arrival. Now he answered Aiden with a grin. “Man, it’s great! You guys outdid yourselves. If I don’t win the election, it won’t be your fault.”

Toby laughed, “Well, we only made the banner. You came up with the slogan, ‘Choose you this day . . .’ And, by the way, you don’t have much time left to campaign. Just between us, I understand Tyson Barnett thinks the party he’s throwing will draw away some of your main support. You know they say, ‘Fight fire with fire.’ Why don’t you loosen up and let your friends know that you like a good time as well as the next guy. It might take more than a slogan, some posters, and a banner to win.”

“He’s right,” Aiden picked up the suggestion. “Some of us have an idea but wondered if you would go along with it. The Noise Boys—the group that will make Edison High famous—are willing to play for a block party if we will take care of the details, mainly the refreshments.”

“Yeah,” Toby interrupted, “we’ve even made our own slogan, ‘Rock the Block!’ And those guys can do it if anyone can.”

Dylan turned away from their eager expressions, not wanting to answer them.

Aiden persisted, “Come on, Dylan. Mix a little fun with your religion! What do you say? It’s really up to you because it would be a campaign party. We could have it at Lane Bradley’s while his parents are on vacation. Your parents would never know, if that’s what’s bothering you.”

Dylan looked at his watch. “Hey, I’m going to miss my ride home if I don’t get going. I’ve got to run. About the party, I’ll think it over. Don’t get the idea that I can’t have fun.”

That evening Dylan found it impossible to concentrate on his algebra homework. Right after dinner Colin Jensen had called to remind him that Thursday night was the get-together for high school students at church. It was also basketball practice at school and he didn’t intend to miss that. After all, he was hoping for some votes from those kids. Now he felt a little uneasy about his answer to Colin, he hadn’t really wanted Colin to know he wasn’t coming and why, so he had just said, “Oh, thanks for reminding me, Colin.”

There had been a time when he wouldn’t have missed any of the youth activities at church. But this was one of those changes in his life since he began to make new friends. Maybe my life is too restricted, he thought. To broaden out a bit wouldn’t hurt anything. “You have to fit in, if you’re going to win,” he told himself, and grinned. Here I am, even thinking in slogans. What would Toby and Aiden say if they knew that the election slogan came to his mind after hearing a sermon on Joshua and his challenge to the Children of Israel, “Choose you this day whom ye will serve . . .” Dylan shifted uneasily in his chair and finally got up. I might as well go to bed for all the studying I’m doing.

Election day dawned and Dylan awoke to the same troubled thoughts that had kept him awake long after the loud party had come to an end last night—this morning, actually. Even Tyson Barnett, his chief opponent had come, “to check out the opposition,” he had said. He had known Tyson a little from primary school days, and had even brought him to Sunday school once. So Dylan had felt a little embarrassed last night when Tyson had said, “You surprise me. I thought you were a Christian. When I heard what kind of a party was planned, I had to see it for myself.”

Dylan felt a little sick inside when he remembered his laughing answer, “Hey man, do you think I’m dead just because I go to church once in a while?”

He dressed with a little extra care, remembering the assembly, and hoped he could get out the door without having to discuss coming in late with his parents.

At the assembly, it was announced that he won the election. The excitement and the taste of victory were good. So why did he feel miserable? He tried to push the feeling into the background, and might have succeeded had it not been for a man named Peter.

In their study of the Apostle Peter the following Sunday, it was brought out in the class discussion that there are many ways to deny Christ besides saying, as Peter did: “I do not know the man.” The class concluded that our actions, our words, our pastimes, and our associations all tell the world our stand regarding Jesus Christ.

Dylan hardly knew what went on in church that morning, or what the sermon was about. The one thing he did know for sure was that over and over in his mind he was saying, “O Lord, forgive me; I’m so sorry.” And at the prayer service God did forgive him and made him a brand new person.

“And you know, Dad and Mom, there’s something else,” Dylan said at the dinner table later that day. “All those friends that I wanted so much to impress and be like are going to hear something new from me. I’m going to tell them that their new class president has another slogan, ‘I’ve become new, and so may you.’ When they ask what I mean, I’ll tell them. I’ll really tell them!”

 

 

The evidence was there to convince Piper.

“It really happened, Piper. It’s not just some made-up story.”

Piper didn’t respond to Ian’s statement. Her head was spinning from the discussion they’d been having on their way to school. Ian is really a neat guy, she thought to herself. If only he weren’t so into being a Christian. It’s all right to go to church once in a while, but talking about Jesus and the Bible during the week seems so unnecessary.

“Well, Ian, I’ll see you later. Thanks for walking with me.”

Noontime came and Piper and her best friend, Sophia, took their lunches to the front lawn of the school since it was a nice spring day. As they looked across the lawn they saw Ian eating his lunch with some of his friends.

“Why do you think Ian is so caught up in his religion? You know, Sophia, I just wish there were some way that I could prove to him that Jesus was just a man and not God like he thinks. I believe He might have been a great teacher, but why does Ian think He is God? He even believes that Jesus came back from the dead!”

“I don’t know too much about that, but you have to admit something really happened to Ian. You remember as well as I do what he was like before he became a Christian.”

Piper nodded slowly. “You’re right. I was shocked to see the change in him. He nearly ended up in jail—and now, even my mom says he’s one of the nicest young men she knows. But does that prove that Jesus is God?”

“I’ve got an idea, Piper. Why don’t you ask Mr. Martinez? If anyone knows about history, he does. He’d know if it’s all just some tall tale or not.”

History was her last-period class, so Piper was able to take a few minutes after school to talk to Mr. Martinez. She hoped he could give her the proof she needed to tell Ian not to waste any more of his time on religion.

“Mr. Martinez, I have a question I’d like to ask you. It may sound weird, but . . . did Jesus really exist?”

Her teacher looked up from the papers he was going over. “Oh, yes, Piper. We have abundant proof of His having lived at the beginning of the first century. I’ve done quite a bit of study on that era of time.”

“Was He really God, or just a man like you?”

“Well, He said He was God, and He did do many miracles during His short life, but . . .”

“What about the Resurrection? Did that really happen?”

“In looking into the historical records relating to that incident, I’d have to say that there is no conclusive evidence that it did not happen. Actually there is every reason to believe that it happened just as His disciples said. It was the duty of the Roman soldiers to make sure Jesus was dead. After He had been wrapped in grave clothes and buried in a tomb He miraculously disappeared, even though there were Roman soldiers guarding the entrance. He was seen by over five hundred people after that. Those who persecuted His disciples were never able to produce the body or prove that the Resurrection didn’t happen.”

Piper’s expression changed considerably as Mr. Martinez continued.

“It really does seem unlikely that a group of unschooled fishermen and common people, dejected and discouraged after Jesus’ death, would suddenly become the triumphant and confident men they were unless they had actually witnessed the miracle of the Resurrection. No persecution could keep them from publishing the Gospel, and thousands were converted under their ministry. And even today it continues.”

After thinking for a moment Piper responded, “So then He really is God and my friend Ian is right. Since you know all this, you must be a Christian too, Mr. Martinez.”

“Ah . . . well, that is . . . I . . .”

“Mr. Martinez,” she began in a surprised voice, “you have all the proof you need that Jesus is who He said He was, and that means the Bible is true, and that there is a Heaven and a Hell, and that . . .”

Appearing to be very nervous, Mr. Martinez stood up and began stuffing some papers into his briefcase. “I’ve got to be going now, Piper. Perhaps you could talk to someone else about this.”

Following him out the door, Piper continued, “If I knew for a fact all that you do, I think I’d be out telling it to others like Ian does. Ian told me the Bible says that Jesus is coming soon. Don’t you think that must be true also since we know the Resurrection really happened? You and I need to be ready to meet Jesus—right, Mr. Martinez? Mr. Martinez . . .”

 

 

Jesse would never forget the day he met the mysterious man who baptized people in the Jordan River.

Jesse sat up straight, wide-awake in the early morning light. Was it his imagination, or had he really heard someone call for help? It was easy for a person to get lost out here in the wilderness, even though the road to Jerusalem was nearby. He and his brothers had lain down here to rest for the night. He listened intently. There it was again—an urgent voice that seemed to be coming from the river a few hundred feet away.

He quickly fastened his cloak about him and set off toward the river, leaving his three sleeping brothers behind. Arriving at the bank of the Jordan, he stared in amazement. A man was by the river shallows seemingly preaching to the group of people gathering before him. Even as Jesse watched, more people arrived. The man’s voice echoed in the morning air, and he seemed very intent on his message. The people didn’t appear to mind the chilly morning breeze. What was he saying? He was speaking of repentance, and of someone who would be coming. What was this all about? Jesse moved closer and began to listen carefully.

The man’s words stirred Jesse, and it seemed others in the crowd felt the same way. For when the man spoke of baptism, and moved into the waters of the river, they formed a line and began joining him in the water. What a strange sight, thought Jesse, as he watched in wonder. The man was now lowering the people one by one into the water. As he brought them up they joyfully praised God and sang hymns.

Others in the crowd questioned the man. “What shall we do?” Jesse moved closer, drawn by the power in the man’s words. “Repent! Repent of all your sins and be baptized!” he was pleading with them. “The Lord is at hand! Make His paths straight!”

Then Jesse remembered. This must be John the Baptist! He had heard a lot about him for he was quite famous in Jerusalem and the cities all around. It was said that he ate locusts and wild honey; that he was a mysterious man and had lived in the desert country much of his thirty-some years. Then, out of the wilderness he came with an amazing message: “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. Repent and be baptized. Make yourselves ready for His coming.”

Suddenly, the crowd shifted and Jesse was aware of John’s eyes looking directly at him. Jesse backed away confused—he hadn’t meant to get quite so close. But John held out his hand. “Don’t be afraid, my young friend. Prepare yourself now for the Lord’s coming! I was sent from God to tell you this.”

A half hour later he arrived back at the camp where his brothers were now cooking breakfast over a fire. “Where have you been?” they asked him. “Have you been down to the river? Gehadzi went over that way to look for you and saw the great crowd gathered around that preacher, John. Were you there? Yes, your cloak is wet . . .”

Jesse had met the forerunner of Christ, the messenger who came to teach the people of the coming Messiah. His mission was to introduce Jesus Christ to the world, and he did it with such obedience, courage, and zeal that he drew vast multitudes to the Lord. What a thrill Jesse now had in his heart.

We have this same mission today. The Lord lives in our hearts! Do we have the courage and zeal to introduce Him to the lost all around us? Let’s ask the Lord to help us as we prepare the way for His second coming!

 

 

Leo found that carelessness could have big consequences.

“LEO!” The concerned note in his father’s voice caught Leo’s attention and he stuck his head around the corner of the doorway into the family room. “Yeah . . . did you want me, Dad?”

“Leo, Great-grandfather’s Bible isn’t here on the shelf. Mom says she hasn’t moved it or seen it around the house. Did you take it down for some reason?”

Leo gulped. “Uh . . . yes, I did, Dad. Remember last week we finished our unit on Civil War history in Social Studies? Well, I took the Bible because I wanted to show the kids Abraham Lincoln’s signature in it. They didn’t believe me when I said we had a Bible in our family that he had autographed.”

Leo’s father frowned slightly. “I wish you had asked me before you took the Bible. You know how highly we value it. Where is it now? You did bring it home, didn’t you?”

Leo shrugged. “I guess I did. It’s probably in my backpack.”

“Probably!” his dad exclaimed. “I certainly hope you know where it is, Leo. Go find your backpack right now. That Bible is too precious a possession to treat so lightly.”

Leo sauntered into the hallway and located his backpack beneath his jacket. Unfastening the buckles, he dug through it . . . math book, health book, some papers, but no Bible. Oh, oh! Dad was going to be upset. He lingered in the hallway, trying to remember if he really had put the Bible into his backpack last week after class. Or could the Bible be in his desk at school? Did Mr. Brookings keep it? He just couldn’t remember for sure.

“Well?” his father’s stern voice came from the family room once more. “Did you find your backpack, Leo? Is the Bible there?”

Leo groaned inwardly. He really didn’t want to make his dad feel bad, but he couldn’t remember where the Bible was. I should have been more careful with it, he thought. I guess I’d forgotten how important things like that are to Dad.

His dad came into the hall. One look at Leo’s troubled face gave him the answer. “You didn’t find it,” he said flatly.

“Dad, I’m sure it’s at school. It’s got to be. I guess I just forgot and thought I put it into my backpack. It’s probably in my desk, or maybe Mr. Brookings has it. Anyway, I’m sure I can find it tomorrow.”

His father looked troubled. “Leo, how could you have been so careless? That Bible was to have been yours someday, yet you valued it so little that you can’t even remember what you did with it. It has been a special treasure in our family for years, handed down from father to son. It contained marginal notes made by your great-grandpa when he was pastor of the little church in Minneapolis. It had names and dates recorded in it of when each family member was saved. Its presence in our home has been a visual and spiritual reminder of the Christian heritage we have. And you took it to school without even asking, and then you lost it.”

Leo couldn’t look at his father. Instead he stared down at his tennis shoes and mumbled, “Sorry, Dad. I’ll really look for it tomorrow.”

At school the next day, he looked through his desk. He talked to his teacher. He even tried asking at the office. But he didn’t find the Bible.

Leo didn’t put very much value on the Bible that was a family treasure. In the text for this lesson, we read a story about a young man named Esau who also did not value something of importance. Esau sold his birthright to his younger brother. The birthright was a special blessing usually given by the father to his oldest son. Selling the birthright was a poor choice. Esau lived to be sorry for the decision he made that day.

What kind of choices are you making? Are you putting the right values on the things which are going to count for eternity?

 

Isaac had to decide what he would give God.

As Isaac knelt down by the lamb nuzzling his leg, he pulled a blade of grass and playfully tickled her nose. Suddenly she gave a little sneeze and Isaac chuckled softly.

Long ago, when he first began helping to herd the sheep, Isaac’s father Abraham had taught him that it was best not to become too fond of one particular sheep. Isaac had been careful to follow the instruction. He knew he could not keep any lamb as a pet forever. But this little one’s mother had died the night the lamb was born. In spite of himself, Isaac had become very attached to it, and it followed him wherever he went.

Isaac stooped down and picked up the lamb. Far across the field he could see his father leading the donkey from the stable. Isaac’s heart beat a little faster as he realized the donkey was loaded in preparation for a journey. He remembered some of the journeys he had taken with his father. They had always been special times of fellowship and of worshiping God. Quickly, he put down the lamb and walked toward the stable, the lamb frisking along behind him.

“Father, I see you are taking a journey,” Isaac said. He watched his father tie the last knots on the bundles.

“Yes, I must go,” Abraham answered—a little sadly, Isaac thought. “God has instructed me to go up to the mountain to offer a sacrifice to Him there. You will be going with me.”

Before long they were on their way down the dusty trail. As they walked along, Isaac remarked, “I’ve noticed the lambs in the fields as we’ve gone along. None are as nice as my special lamb. I suppose God would be very pleased if I would offer her as a sacrifice. But Father, I can hardly bear the thought. Do you think I am wrong to feel this way?”

Abraham was silent. Isaac was not sure what his father’s silence meant, and it troubled him. He wanted to reach out to his father, but he didn’t know what to say.

“Father, I would give the lamb if God required that of me. It’s just that it hurts so much to think of it. But I would do it. I know you would . . .”

Abraham stopped. He turned slowly to Isaac. Then he reached out and gently put his hand on Isaac’s shoulder. Their eyes met. Isaac could feel the deep love that flowed from his father to him. It made him glow inside. But then he noticed the tears. Crystal clear, they rolled down Abraham’s tanned cheeks and into his long, white beard.

“It would be a small sacrifice, Father,” Isaac said softly. “You have given many lambs to God.”

“It would be a great sacrifice, Isaac, because it is very precious to you. God sees that and is pleased, I know. When you give something to God in your heart, to Him it is as though you had given it already.”

Abraham said to the servants with them. “You stay here. Isaac and I will go and worship and come again to you.” Abraham took the wood off the donkey and placed it on Isaac’s back. Then he took the little pot with the fire in it and his knife. Together, he and Isaac went on.

After walking in silence for some time, Isaac spoke, “Father, I see we have the wood and the fire. But where is the sacrifice?”

“My son, God will provide Himself a lamb for a sacrifice,” Abraham answered.

Isaac wondered at the things his father said. But he was sure his father knew the very heart of God. They trudged on up the mountain.

At last his father stopped and said, “This is the place God has chosen for the sacrifice.” Immediately Abraham went to work building the altar. When the wood was in order, he turned to his son. Isaac saw the look of anguish on his father’s face.

Suddenly Isaac realized the truth. He was to be the sacrifice! He was going to die! His heart nearly stopped. How could his beloved father consider doing such a thing? Then he looked at Abraham and saw the agony in his eyes. This was no rash decision of his father’s. It was something God must have commanded him to do. Though Isaac was strong enough to rise and flee, he would not.

As his father lifted the knife over him, Isaac shut his eyes and thought, I am taking my last breath. Then the voice came, “Abraham, Abraham, do your son no harm.” At God’s word, Abraham stopped. He turned and there in a thicket was a ram caught by his horns. This was the sacrifice God provided.

Later, as they walked down the mountain together, Isaac felt a deep peace. He knew when his father gave him up to God, it was the hardest thing he had ever done. Surely God must be pleased with his father’s obedience. Isaac was glad that he had willingly submitted to his father.

Thankful that his life had been spared, Isaac thought, I will offer my very own lamb to God.

 

She wanted to be just like Teva Michaels, the star who seemed to have everything.

June 19

Dear Diary,

Well, hello! I just got you this afternoon for my birthday. It’s going to be fun writing down all my secret thoughts. First, I guess I should introduce myself. I’m just an ordinary girl, and about the biggest thing in my life right now is that I’m finally on summer break! My first project is going to be saving enough money out of my allowance to buy the newest album on iTunes by Teva Michaels. She is so cool! She plays Zoe on the new TV show “Misadventures at Music High.” I’m thinking about getting my hair cut like hers . . . if Mom will let me. Well, it’s been a long day, I’ll write some more in you tomorrow.

August 15

Dear Diary,

This vacation has been a downer so far, and I’ve only got three weeks left till school starts. I wish, oh how I wish, I could be travelling around the world, seeing things, going places. Well, at least to California.

If I could go to Hollywood I’d really like to see Teva Michaels. My collection of posters and magazine articles about her is great, but I imagine she’s really a lot more beautiful in person. She’s going to be touring with the rest of the cast in the spring. She’s awesome! I wish I could be just like her. She’s got everything—looks, a cute boyfriend, money, a great car, an awesome house, and the best possible job in the world. My life is so boring!

September 17

Dear Diary,

Well, school is going along okay . . . except that all the girls who are “somebody” have the coolest new clothes. My clothes are ugly compared to them. I’m really irritated with Mom. She hardly let me spend anything on new stuff—and she told me I had to use my allowance if I wanted anything extra. Why can’t she see that I’ll never make it big looking like this? I’ll bet Teva Michaels never had to put up with such a dumb, boring life. Well, I’ll show my mom one of these days . . . when I become rich and famous.

December 4

Dear Diary,

I can’t wait for Christmas. I’ve told Mom and Dad exactly what stuff I want this year. No more of this little kid stuff for me. I’m ready for serious things! If I’m going to make it like Teva Michaels, I’ve got to start looking the part—at least something like an adult, even though Mom and Dad seem to think I’m still just a baby.

February 4

Dear Diary,

Guess what????!!! Dad told us this morning that he has to go to Los Angeles in March on business. Since spring break is the same week, we are all going. And my girlfriend read on Facebook that Teva Michaels and the rest of the cast are going to be performing in L.A. in March! I’ve just got to convince Mom and Dad to let me go to the concert. I’ll tell them how all the songs have positive messages about things like staying away from drugs and alcohol. That should win over any parent’s heart. I sure hope they’ll think it’s a good idea!

March 7

Dear Diary,

I can’t believe it. Here we are, all set to go to L.A. next week and I read the headlines this morning that Teva Michaels was found dead from an overdose. I can’t understand it. I thought she had everything. But the news reports say she’d been so depressed lately. She was rude and obnoxious to her castmates and fought with the director of the show until she was fired. She also had a bunch of fights with her boyfriend. And a couple of weeks ago she got arrested for drunk driving. All of this was kept quiet in the news. I am so confused and disappointed. I thought she was the coolest person ever.

March 9

Dear Diary,

I talked to my brother Jayce tonight. He and Aria are driving through to Westville, and will stay overnight with us. He said some things that really helped me. He told me he knew just how I felt and that he, too, had once looked up to a celebrity who ended up committing suicide.

Then he reminded me about what happened to Dad four years ago. Jayce said it really helped him sort out his priorities. I guess I forgot, or maybe I was too young to really understand then. Dad had been so sick we all thought he might die. Well, Jayce said that one night it was as though the Lord himself came right down and talked to him. He realized that nothing of this life really had any value except those things that are built for eternity. What really matters is our relationship with Jesus and serving Him.

I’m so glad we had that talk. I feel a lot better. I guess I’ve been forgetting the things I learned in Sunday school. I have a feeling that looking up to people like Teva Michaels might not be the best. I shouldn’t be setting my heart on the things of this world and modeling my life after people who don’t care a thing about God or the way He wants us to live.

There’s church tomorrow and I’m going to take it more seriously than I have been. I’m going to start by praying right now!

Good night.

 

Caden learned that things did work out when he asked God for guidance.

“Don’t touch a thing until you visit the sink, young man. What is that on your hands anyway?”

Caden sighed. “Grease. My chain broke again, and I can’t fix it this time. I wish I could get a new bike.”

Mrs. Gilbert backed away from the doorway to let her somewhat dejected son through.

“Well, your father and I told you that you’re old enough to start earning some of your own spending money. You could start saving toward a bike.” She paused, and then went on, “By the way, how did your ‘Most Admired Person’ speech go today in English class?”

“Oh, pretty good. But I don’t think my new teacher, Miss Hansen, liked it very well. She said my delivery was fine but the subject matter was a little unrealistic.”

“She doesn’t believe in the Abraham of Bible history?”

“No, I don’t mean that. I mean the part where I talked about the traits he had that I wanted to apply to my own life. I guess she doesn’t think obedience in following God is worth much. She asked me after class if God had really ever led me to do anything specific, but the only thing I could think of was when I got saved two years ago. Maybe she doesn’t like Christians.”

Caden’s mother offered him some chocolate chip cookies as she said, “Well, I know it was a little hard for you to make that speech, but I believe the Lord will bless you for being a witness at school. We’ll just have to pray that Miss Hansen will learn to know and trust God like we do.”

The next day was Saturday, and Caden decided he’d head over to the park since he couldn’t go bike riding. As he walked, his thoughts went back to the events of the day before. I don’t care, he thought to himself, I still want to be like Abraham. I know God will lead me through life if I obey Him, even if Miss Hansen does think I’m crazy. I wish God would lead me to a job so I could earn enough money for a bike. Then I could tell Miss Hansen that God did it.

Climbing onto a low limb of a tree at the edge of the park, Caden scrambled up to a high vantage point. As he was looking over the area, the sun’s reflection on a small glass building in the backyard of the nearby community center caught his eye. He squinted as he looked at the building and wondered what it was. After climbing down the tree, he headed across the street to investigate. With the sun’s reflection now gone, he could see that it was a greenhouse. As he stood there, a voice called to him.

“Young man, do you have a moment?” An older woman with a pleasant face stood in the doorway of the community center.

“Yeah, I guess so,” Caden answered hesitantly.

The woman pointed to a gate that led to the backyard. She said, “I saw you looking at our community greenhouse. Would you like to see it? Maybe if you’ve got a little time you could help with a few things in it.”

Caden instantly liked the woman’s cheery tone of voice and was interested in seeing what grew in the greenhouse.

“Sure, I’d be glad to!”

Caden entered the yard. As they went into the greenhouse, he was surprised by the beauty of the hundreds of plants, many of which were in bloom.

“What do you do with all these plants?”

“Oh, once a year we plant most of them in different places around the neighborhood. Then we sell what is left to some of the florists in the area. It helps to offset the expenses.

The two of them walked between the rows, talking about the various plants and finding out a little about each other. “My husband and family are gone,” said the woman. “My granddaughter was living with me and going to college, but she graduated and recently started teaching. She used to help me with some of the harder tasks like watering the hanging plants, but she has an apartment now and is too busy.”

Back at the door the woman paused and looked at Caden. “How would you like to work with me for an hour or so each weekday? We have a job opening and would be able to pay you . . . or do you already have a job of some sort?”

“No, but if it’s all right with my parents, I’d love to work with you! I’ve been wishing I could find a way to earn some money for a bike.”

“Well, good. I’ve been praying that the Lord would lead a nice young man like you to help. You know, I’ll have to tell my granddaughter about this. She isn’t a Christian yet and doesn’t want to believe that praying does any good. Come to think of it, you may know her. She’s the new English teacher at the junior high school. Have you heard of a Miss Hansen?”

Caden smiled, “Yes, I’ve heard of her. As a matter of fact, she’s my teacher.”

As Caden turned toward home to tell his folks all about this, he looked up into the sky. “Thank You, Lord,” he whispered.

 

Imagine for a moment that you are deep in the jungle, far away from civilization as you know it. Seated around you in the flickering firelight is a group of natives—people who have no understanding or knowledge of your way of life. But they are fascinated with every detail concerning it.

“Tell us, Teacher!” they say again and again. “Explain to us. Teach us about your way of life. Help us to understand.” But how can you explain an electric light to one who has never seen a light bulb? How can you describe a car to one whose only way of travel has been a crude cart pulled by a water buffalo?

You find the solution in a parable. You compare the unknown light bulb to the wooden torches they hold in their hands. You liken a car to a cart which moves without any animal to pull it. And little by little, they form a picture in their minds. They begin to understand.

Jesus chose to teach by parables—a comparison between earthly things which men knew of and spiritual things with which they were not so familiar—so the people who heard Him and wanted to know the truth would understand. Our lessons this quarter have covered some of the illustrations He gave.

 

The officials chose to discredit the messenger rather than heed the warning.

“Amelia, here’s an article you might be able to use in your Social Studies class. Didn’t you say it had to be related to nuclear energy?”

Amelia looked up from the computer and nodded. “Yes, what did you find, Dad?”

“Well, the headline reads, ‘Rayburn Claims Warning Given of Potential Nuclear Disaster.’ I didn’t read the whole article, but apparently the physicist Rayburn says that some weeks before the nuclear explosion at that plant in Maryland last week, he had warned the officials in charge, of the potential danger.”

Amelia looked interested. “That seems hard to believe. If they had been warned, surely they could have done something so the explosion wouldn’t have happened.”

Her dad nodded in agreement. “You would certainly think so. Anyway, here’s the article. Why don’t you skim through it and see if it would do.”

Amelia took the laptop from her dad and scrolled further down the article. She read:

“Noted physicist, Dr. Daniel Rayburn, revealed at a press conference Wednesday in Washington, D.C., that he had discussed with top-level officials the potential danger of an explosion at the Maryland Nuclear Power Center. The discussion reportedly took place some weeks prior to the violent blast last week at the center which left eighteen dead and fifty-four injured.

“‘The possible danger was first brought to my attention by a group of engineers who had been consulted regarding a considered expansion of the plant,’ Dr. Rayburn announced to a group of reporters gathered in his hotel lobby. ‘They informed me that two representatives of their group had spoken with top officials regarding what they saw as a hazard. Both of these representatives were severely reprimanded and their findings ignored.

“‘The engineers appealed to me to go before the officials at the project, and once again attempt to present their findings. Upon examining their report, I concluded there was indeed grave danger and agreed to do what I could.

“‘However, my efforts proved less than fruitful. Not only was the presentation rejected, but the officials made an attempt to discredit me. They contacted Dr. Geoffrey Gorton, presiding officer of the President’s Council on Nuclear Energy, and demanded that I be removed from my position on the council. An investigation is still being held regarding their accusations.’”

Amelia looked up from the laptop. “Dad, this is absolutely incredible! I can’t believe that intelligent men would actually ignore the warnings of an expert. Why, because of his position on the Council on Nuclear Energy, Dr. Rayburn had a right to go in there and inform them of the danger. He actually had a responsibility to do so!”

Her dad nodded soberly. “I agree with you, Amelia. Possibly they rejected his warning because they felt the engineering error he pointed out was in some way their fault.”

Amelia printed the article. “Well, for sure I’m going to take this article to class tomorrow. I’d like to hear what Mr. Williams has to say about it. We always spend a little time discussing the articles brought to class, and this one is just unbelievable.”

Amelia’s dad regarded his daughter thoughtfully. “You know, I was thinking while you read that article how much this incident is like a parable that I read in the Bible just last night. Do you remember the story about the wicked husbandmen? They rejected the servants of the master who came to receive the fruit of the vineyard. When the man who owned the vineyard sent his own son, they actually killed him!”

“Yes, I remember that story,” Amelia said.

“That Bible parable illustrates the fact that God sent His own Son, Jesus Christ, to this world. Jesus brought a way for the people to find peace and forgiveness for their sins. But was He accepted?”

“No,” Amelia answered quietly. “He was rejected too. And they even killed Him.” She paused, then continued, “I guess it never made the headlines when Jesus was rejected. This nuclear disaster is awful—eighteen people dead and fifty-four injured—but the effects of the rejection of Christ were a lot more lasting.”

In the quietness of the living room, Amelia’s dad nodded his agreement. “You’re right, Amelia. You’re right.”

 

Gawain and Merek had raced before, but this time their competition centered on a critical question.

A covey of quail scurried to higher ground as the quiet of the afternoon was shattered by the two princes racing on foot over the meadow, yelling and shouting like children as they went. The winter sun chased them into the woods where their shouts ceased as the brothers slowed and each caught his breath.

“I beat you!”

“Yes,” gasped Gawain. “Yes, somehow you did, Merek. But next time it’ll be different, you wait and see!”

Giving his brother a good-natured thump on the back, Gawain headed back toward the castle and his brother followed. Halfway, they mounted their horses, which had been tethered at the side of the meadow, and their conversation turned to the coming evening.

“What do you think Father wants to talk to us about?”

“Merek, I feel that he knows he is not long for this world. As sick as he’s been the last three months, maybe . . . well, maybe he wants to make sure you’re ready.”

Merek stopped and looked at his brother, “You mean ready to be king, Gawain?”

“Of course, there are only the two of us, and you’re a few minutes older than I. That’s another race I didn’t win!” The two princes laughed and continued the short ride to the castle which was home to them.

After dinner that night their father called them to his private chambers in the west tower.

“Well, my sons, no doubt your young minds have been very busy today trying to determine what it is I wanted to talk to you about.” He paused and coughed deeply before continuing. “You’re not unaware that I have been very sick, so sick in fact that I feel it necessary to set a few things in order so that my nobles will know how to proceed in the event of my death.

“I had assumed that you, Merek, as the first born, would receive the crown rather than your brother, even though you’re but a few moments older than he. It was, however, brought to my attention recently that in the by-laws of the kingdom a different process may be followed in the case of twins. After making this a matter of great thought and prayer, I have elected to proceed according to this alternative course.”

The two young men looked briefly at each other and then back at their father.

“As king of this vast realm, one must bear tremendous responsibilities and much wisdom is needed. Therefore, in order to discover which of you is better fitted for the throne, I am going to ask a single searching question and then give you ten days to arrive at an answer. Your answers will be given in the council chambers before the five justices who must decide who will reign. The question, my sons, is this: What would be the guiding principle which would direct your ruling of the kingdom? Consider this question carefully.”

In the days that followed, Merek determined to talk to the people of the kingdom about what he could best do in order to please them and be an effective ruler. On this, he concluded, he would base his response to the question.

Meanwhile, Gawain kept to his room, spending a great deal of time consulting God in meditation and prayer.

The tenth day finally arrived and the princes’ written answers were delivered to the justices and the king who were waiting in the council chambers. Sending word that their decision would be delivered to the people of the realm on the following day at high noon, they began their deliberation. The chief justice stood and read aloud the two responses to the question.

“Prince Merek’s response: ‘The guiding principle which would direct me in the ruling of this kingdom would be that I must try to please the people. I have determined that as ruler, I would have no right to live for myself, but rather for the good and betterment of the people over whom I would reign.’”

“Prince Gawain’s response: ‘The guiding principle which would direct me in the ruling of this kingdom would be that I am accountable to God for the privileges and responsibilities He has seen fit to give me. As a ruler, I would purpose to conduct all the affairs of the kingdom in a manner that would please Him and bring honor to His Name.’”

The next day, when the appointed time was come, an expectant hush came over the crowd gathered in the castle courtyard. The king, accompanied by his two sons who had not yet been told the decision, greeted his subjects. He spoke solemnly. “I know you have been awaiting the decision about to be announced. I hereby proclaim that it is the decision of the justices that Prince Gawain shall ascend the throne before his brother. His answer reveals that he understands that to both rich and poor, small and great, are given short life spans in which we are to labor carefully and obediently before our Creator, before the One we shall all someday give an account for the blessings given us.”

Merek managed a smile and then spoke in his brother’s ear, “Well, little brother, you were right. You won the next race.” He bowed to his brother, and then they gave each other a hug and stepped forward to greet the people waiting to hail their future king.

 

Alex was tired, but his concern led him to continue the search.

Alex was tired. He stood and stretched, his eyes gazing out across the rough hills surrounding him. The evening sun was just disappearing behind a rim of rock to the west, and there was a bitter bite to the wind that snatched at his cloak. It was time for them to head back to the sheepfold.

His eyes roamed over his flock. “Pasha,” he called to his sheep dog, “it is time now.” He looked around him once again, and all of a sudden a flash of alarm went through him! Where was Ariel?

“Ariel?” he called. “Come on Ariel, it’s time to go home now.” He waited a moment for the little lamb to show herself, but the restless swish of the wind and the movement of the sheep nearby were the only sounds that greeted his ears.

Could she be hiding? The thought flashed through his mind. She loved to play games . . . it would be just like her. Alex carefully surveyed the scrubby bushes nearby for a hint of her whereabouts, but there was no sign. He walked a few paces to the edge of the clearing where the sheep had been grazing and looked behind the outcropping of rock standing sentinel there.

But there was no sign of Ariel.

When did I see her last? Troubled thoughts raced through Alex’s mind. I remember noticing her running over by that patch of flowers just a bit ago, her sturdy little legs catching the gleam of the late afternoon sun.

“Pasha!” He turned quickly to his sheep dog. “You take the sheep back. I’ve got to find Ariel!” Pausing only long enough to see that the dog understood and was following his directions, he turned and started for the rocky slopes which surrounded the mountain meadow.

“Ariel!” he called every few steps. “Where are you, Ariel?” Darkness was settling fast, and he had to hold down the anxiety that was rising in him. If it got dark . . . well, he couldn’t think about that.

Alex picked his way down into a shallow ravine, then up the other side, carefully checking by each rock and bush. Perhaps she had just wandered a little out of hearing distance. She was too little to have gone very far. Could she have gotten caught in a thicket somehow? The bushes were thick and awkward to step around and Ariel was so much smaller than he. But surely he would hear her cries for help if this were the case.

On and on Alex went, climbing steadily upward now as the cloak of night settled about him. His breath came in deep gulps, the coldness of the mountain air tearing at his lungs. Once he slipped on a loose stone, and even his shepherd’s crook didn’t save him from landing awkwardly on one knee. But, oblivious to the pain, he climbed on.

At last he reached the crest of the outcropping. Before him, cutting across to the north like a giant wound, ran a deep ravine. Alex moved cautiously along the edge, looking anxiously into the darkness below.

Suddenly . . . what was that noise? Could that be Ariel? Above the whistle of the wind the sound came again. Alex knelt at the edge of the ravine.

There she was! A pale blur seemingly caught in a thicket on a ledge about twenty feet below him. She was still now. Don’t move, Ariel, Alex begged silently. He didn’t dare call out to her, for he might startle her. The sheer drop was so near, so near to the little lamb! Death was waiting on those rocks below.

Moving with utmost speed, Alex untied the rope he kept around his waist. Looping one end around a gnarled tree, he tested it to make sure it would hold. Then he threw the other end over the edge and quickly began to lower himself toward the still form caught below him. The rough rope tore at his hands but Alex did not feel the pain. He had to reach Ariel in time!

In moments he felt the ledge beneath his feet. Turning from the rock face in front of him, he spoke quietly. “Ariel, I’ve come to take you home. There is nothing to be afraid of now, my little one.”

Then, ever so tenderly, the tired shepherd gently freed his little lost lamb and gathered her into his arms.

 

Stories of three young men who finally turned from their sin and rebellion.

Are the stories we read in the Bible only about things that happened long ago? No, they’re not! The very same kinds of things happen in our day. I’m going to tell you three stories that are a lot like the one we read in the Bible text for this lesson.

* * * * *

There was a knock at the door of the ramshackle garage that Peter called “home.” He climbed off his little cot and made his way to the door.

It was his dad.

“How did you find me?” Peter asked. He had known that his father would invite him to come back to church if he located him, so he had been hiding away.

The drugs had seemed so much fun at first. He had “LSD” tattooed on his shoulder to show that he really was a “man.” It wasn’t until his friends turned on him and he felt his very life was in danger that he realized just how far in the wrong direction he had gone.

This teenager had been brought up to attend church and Sunday school. But now, when he looked in a mirror, he saw a skinny face with a scraggly red beard, long hair, and a safety pin stuck through his ear so everybody would know how tough he was. The mirror didn’t show the aching despair in his heart, though.

Was he ready to return home with his father? “Take me to the county drug clinic. Maybe they can help me,” was his answer. But even that didn’t help Peter.

He had reached the end of his own resources, and just a short time later Peter did what he had always known he should do. He knelt and asked the Lord to save him.

* * * * *

Cliff knew exactly what he wanted to be—a rock star. His goal was to be famous, with lots of friends and more money than he could ever spend. So, he left the church and home. He put everything he had into his new career. He spent hours practicing chords on his guitar, and made up his own rock songs.

It was strange, then, that he should end up playing in a greasy bar and shooting his veins full of drugs to keep going. Little by little, the money he was earning just seemed to disappear through his fingers.

After a while, even the people he thought were his buddies, the members of his rock band, told him to get lost. They didn’t want him around anymore.

He found himself on the road with a suitcase, a guitar, a drug habit (which he didn’t even have the money to support), and memories! Memories of where he could turn when there was no other way to go. He headed back home to Dad and Mom—and to the God of his childhood!

* * * * *

Ron’s mother tried to keep him from going out that evening. So he knocked her down and stepped over her as he headed out the door. The world out there looked so much more exciting than going to church and Sunday school all the time.

It was great for a while. He ended up thousands of miles away from home, with a good job and friends who thought he was wonderful. There were parties, liquor, and always the drugs.

How was it, then, that he ended up finding himself down and out, pushing drugs to school kids to keep up his own habit? Moving around didn’t help, he just couldn’t get that “fresh start” he wanted—not until one night, in Oakland, California, when he looked up into the starry sky and asked Jesus if He would please do something for him.

* * * * *

Made-up stories? No, they are all true. Something I got out of a book or the newspapers? No, these are all people I know personally, and I could tell you about more.

These are happy stories. Why? Because Peter, Cliff, and Ron each finally realized the mistakes they had made and returned to the God they had turned their backs on, over and over again.

On the streets of major cities across our nation, you can find hundreds of runaway children who have no good direction in life. In the city of San Francisco, California, alone, on a Saturday night you can find about four hundred runaway boys, ages twelve to eighteen, within a three or four block area of Polk Street. That’s not just what I say, these are police statistics. When I was told this, I thought to myself, twelve-year-olds! No way! Then one evening, while I was in that city, I saw them, and I knew the statistics were right. I also know that Jesus offers hope for each of those young people, for you, for anyone who will turn to Him.

Jesus didn’t tell the parable of the Prodigal Son just for the few people listening to Him that day, centuries ago in Jerusalem. He knew that in our day, too, the devil would still be telling boys and girls, “You don’t know what you are missing! Forget about church and Sunday school. Go out and see what the real world is all about. Have some fun!”

If you could talk to Peter, Cliff, or Ron, they would tell you that was the same lie they fell for. It could have cost them their lives.

 

When Jeshuah refused the invitation, it was offered to another.

Dear Brother,

I write in haste to you this day about a matter of great urgency to yourself and those of your region with whom you have dealings.

It has been brought to my attention that a certain nobleman, Lord Jehuel, will soon be in your area. He is apparently well known in royal circles. Furthermore, it has recently been made known to me that he is held in great regard by the ruler himself. Ah, that I had known this important fact sooner! But I must not get ahead of myself in relating this story to you.

I should begin by letting you know how I came to have knowledge of this man. About two months past, this Lord Jehuel came into our area and took up residence at a large dwelling some twelve furlongs from my home. Not having heard of this man before he arrived, I naturally was not overly hasty to make his acquaintance. With my important position, I wanted to investigate and be sure he was an acceptable associate for those of my household.

With this intent, I wrote to several of my acquaintances in the area he was reported to be from, inquiring as to his character and various aspects of his background. I had not yet received a reply to these inquiries when one day, quite unexpectedly, a messenger came from Lord Jehuel inviting me to a great banquet to be held at his dwelling that very evening.

Being unsure of his qualifications for immediate acceptance into our society, I made an excuse. I informed the messenger that I had bought a piece of land and needed to go and inspect the property that evening. Of course, my excuse was poor. Who would be so foolish as to purchase a parcel of land without first inspecting it? But it was the only thing that came to my mind at the moment. Actually, I considered it of little import. The messenger accepted the excuse without comment and left my presence.

My brother, that was a foolhardy mistake. And I write you now in the earnest hope that you will not make the same error.

The following day when I went into the city to attend to some business, the marketplace was buzzing with news of the great event that had taken place the evening before. I first became aware that something unusual had happened when I stopped by the shop of Jacob, the shoe-maker, to order a pair of sandals. His shop was full—and at that early hour of the morning! The people gathered around Jacob were congratulating him warmly on his “good fortune.” I had no idea what was going on, so I finally drew one man aside and inquired of him. He explained that Jacob had been invited to a great banquet the night before at the home of Lord Jehuel.

Of course, that caught my attention immediately since I, too, had been invited to the same banquet. But Jacob? I confess to feeling a bit surprised that he had been included. After all, a shoemaker does not usually move in our company. I later found that Jacob seemingly had received a last-minute invitation. They say that Lord Jehuel’s messenger was out in the streets just moments before the banquet was to begin. Upon meeting Jacob, who was on his way to his home, the messenger insisted that Jacob come with him to the dinner.

Now for the climax to my story. Apparently the dinner itself was a lavish affair, the like of which has never been seen before in these parts. The food was superb and the surroundings unequalled. But, even more astonishing, after the dinner Lord Jehuel arose and began to speak. He explained that his mission was one ordered by the king—that he had been sent into cities to assist the people through gifts of money and materials. The purpose of his banquet was to get acquainted quickly with the local townsfolk and distribute the portion entitled to that area. He would then be moving on to another location in the kingdom.

The banquet that evening was the only occasion at which the distributions were made. It is my understanding that everyone present received gifts and funds—all completely unexpected. And, my brother, I missed this rare opportunity! How I have regretted my impulsive excuse! What it has cost me!

I write to you now in the hope that you will not make the same mistake I have made, for I know that our character and behavior are very much alike. If Lord Jehuel should, indeed, make an appearance in your locality, do not turn aside any invitation from him. I pray you, for your own good, learn from my mistake.

My most sincere greetings to you and all your household.

Your loving brother, Jeshuah

 

Jackson was overconfident that he would win the contest.

Wyatt hummed quietly to himself as he concentrated on centering the mass of clay on the wheel. Once it was centered, he began to press his fingers into the spinning gray clay, very carefully widening the base and bringing up the sides. As he was developing the contours of the vase, another student walked up behind him and bumped his elbow. The sudden movement destroyed the shape completely.

“Sorry about that!” Wyatt heard someone say, with a none-too-convincing tone. He turned to see who was speaking.

“That’s all right, don’t worry about it,” Wyatt said as he removed the crumpled clay from the wheel. “I’ve had it happen a lot of times before when I was the only one to blame.”

Jackson pulled up a chair. “You think you know something about pottery, do you?”

“My aunt owns a pottery shop in southern California where I lived until I moved here a couple of weeks ago. I spent a lot of time there helping out and also learning what I could, though I’m sure no expert. By the way, my name’s Wyatt McFarland.”

Jackson stood up and said, “Well, I’m Jackson Bennett, and all you need to know about me is that I’m the last word on pottery around here. I’ve won the City High School Art Contest three years in a row.”

“Wow! That’s really something! I’d like to see some of your work.”

As he sauntered off, Jackson called back, “Oh, you’ll be seeing it, I’m sure. It’s the only stuff worth looking at around this place.”

When he was gone, Wyatt shook his head in amazement. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone like that before, he thought to himself. Talk about conceit!

That night Wyatt related the incident to his father. “Jackson sounds like a very unhappy boy to me, Son. You’re aware that pride is at the root of nearly every sin and it’s something that God hates. Do your best to befriend Jackson. He just needs to feel the love of God.”

“I’ll try, Dad,” Wyatt said with a wry grin.

In the weeks that followed, Wyatt did his best to be a friend to Jackson, but to no avail. Although they didn’t have any classes together, they both ended up spending a lot of time after school in the pottery department. When Jackson saw some of Wyatt’s pottery work, it didn’t take him long to figure out that Wyatt could offer him some pretty stiff competition. One afternoon he walked in and came directly over to Wyatt.

“You planning on entering the contest next week?” Jackson asked.

“Well, yes, I am. In fact, I hope to enter this piece that I’m working on if I can get it done in time. Last night I mixed up my matte glaze powders,” said Wyatt, as he held up a bag of carefully measured and mixed powders. In doing so, he noticed the time on his watch. “Wow! Look at the time. I’d better clean up and get out of here!” With a brief wave to Jackson, he gathered up his materials and put them together on his shelf at the other side of the room.

Jackson watched Wyatt leave. Then he glanced around to be sure no one was watching and moved over to Wyatt’s shelf. Removing the bag of mixed powders, he went to the supply cabinet and selected a blue-gray crystal powder. This stuff ought to fix up Wyatt’s glaze just fine, Jackson laughed to himself. I don’t plan on being upstaged this year after winning the last three years, he thought as he returned the doctored-up glaze mix to Wyatt’s area.

Contest night! The air was charged with excitement as the contestants awaited the judges’ ruling in the various classes. While others were viewing the entries, Jackson made it known that he wasn’t going to waste his time doing the same. Finally the judges announced that their decisions had been made. Jackson could hardly wait for the pottery winners to be announced. He rehearsed again in his mind what he would say when he accepted his first place prize.

“Jackson Bennett,” Jackson jumped to his feet at the sound of his name, “second place.”

Stunned, Jackson sank into his seat, embarrassed. Who could have beaten me? he wondered to himself.

“First place, for a finely executed piece with an extraordinarily beautiful crystal glaze—Wyatt McFarland.”

Crystal glaze? Wyatt said he was doing a matte glaze . . . oh, no! The realization that he had un-wittingly helped Wyatt win struck Jackson full force. He slowly rose to leave. Hearing his name called, he turned and to his surprise saw Wyatt beckoning for him from the platform.

“I have to insist that this first place prize be shared by Jackson Bennett. His contributions to my glaze mixture show his tremendous capabilities in the field of pottery.”

Later, Jackson found that he had been observed adding something to Wyatt’s glaze, and the student who noticed it had mentioned it to Wyatt. But Wyatt never considered that Jackson would have sabotaged his project and it wasn’t until he saw the finished product that he realized his glaze really had been tampered with.

Jackson was amazed that Wyatt was not mad. Instead he still wanted to be his friend. This guy’s got something I don’t have, he finally conceded to himself. He really is very good at pottery, even if he doesn’t go around making a big deal about it. Maybe I should get to know him a little better.

 

When his dad offered to help, Colton decided not to give up on his strawberry patch.

Colton threw down his hoe in disgust. What was the use? These strawberry plants were overrun with weeds. You had to get down on your hands and knees and dig around to find a single strawberry . . . and those you did find were so shriveled they were hardly worth the effort.

So much for his great thoughts about earning some extra money this summer by selling his super crop of strawberries! Colton flopped down on the grass beside his garden patch and stared gloomily up into the sky. That warm sun felt so good—these strawberries should just be soaking it up and thriving. Instead they looked like they had given up and died a month ago.

The seed catalog that got this whole project started was a real joke, he thought bitterly. They made it sound so easy. And the strawberries they showed were huge and looked so delicious he could almost taste them just by looking at the picture!

Besides this drastic crop failure, he was out the thirty-five dollars he’d spent on seed, fertilizer, and a couple of garden tools. This was his project and he had to pay for the whole thing. Dad had made that clear from the beginning. I could have bought a new video game, he thought disgustedly. Or I could have bought that Lego set I’ve been watching on eBay—and still had a couple of dollars left!

I guess I’ll just dig these plants up, he thought. It’s a cinch I’m not going to be able to sell a single berry off of them. The plants are just cluttering up the backyard the way they are now. Mom might as well have a few more feet of space to plant her lettuce and beans.

Colton got to his feet, brushed the grass off the seat of his pants, and picked up the hoe. Just as he was starting to dig up the first plant his dad came around the corner of the house. “Working on the strawberry plants, Son?”

“Nah,” Colton said, his disgust with the whole project edging his voice. “Just look at this mess! I’m just going to dig them up and get rid of them. They aren’t doing any good, and Mom might as well have the space for her things.”

A somewhat amused but sympathetic look crossed his father’s face. “They don’t look too healthy, do they?” he commented as he looked down at the plants in front of them.

“No, they don’t.” Colton replied. “I don’t know why I ever started this in the first place. Anyway, I’ve wasted too much time and money on them.”

“Oh, now wait a minute, Son,” his dad restrained him. “I’ve been watching your plants, too. I think perhaps we can salvage them. Remember, I did mention to you once or twice that the weeds around them were getting pretty high and that strawberries do need regular watering when the rainfall is as light as it has been this summer.”

“Yeah,” Colton looked a little sheepish. “I didn’t really see what harm the weeds would do, and I have watered them . . . off and on.”

“Let’s try something. I’ll give you a hand at clearing out the weeds from around these plants if, in turn, you’ll give me your word that you’ll keep the weeds out from now on. Also, you will have to remember to water the plants more often, and on a regular basis.”

Colton looked doubtful. “Aw, Dad. Do you really think they’re worth it? I think they must have been bad plants to begin with. Look at those scrawny little berries. They aren’t anything like the big beautiful ones in that picture in the seed catalog!”

“You’re right about that,” his dad chuckled. “But with a little work I believe we can still make your investment pay off. How about giving it a try?”

“Well, okay,” Colton finally said, still a bit reluctant. “I’ll give them one more chance. But if these plants aren’t producing some edible strawberries in short order, I’m giving up on them once and for all.”

Does this story remind you of the one we studied in our Bible text this week? Jesus told a parable about a man who was dissatisfied because his fig tree wasn’t producing fruit. He was ready to chop it down until the dresser of his vineyard asked for one more year to cultivate and fertilize it.

Jesus wasn’t just teaching a lesson about sticking to our gardening attempts. He wanted the people listening to see the importance of bearing spiritual fruit; in other words, acting and looking and living like a true Christian. We might compare the dresser of the vineyard to Jesus Christ. If He sees that one is not doing everything he should as a Christian, He wants to work with that one and help him produce the kind of “fruit” that a Christian should be producing.

Think about it: are you showing the kind of spiritual development God is looking for in your life?

 

Some jokes in the cafeteria started Oscar wondering when the Lord would return.

Laughter echoed through the cafeteria where a group of boys sat eating their lunch. One of them motioned for silence as he spoke mockingly, “Then there was the night Adrian Wilson’s dad was driving his car home and saw a bunch of bright lights in the sky. It scared him so much, he pulled over and started praying. He thought the Lord was coming—but he forgot that it was the Fourth of July!” This brought even further laughter from the group.

Oscar Lambert got to his feet and slipped quietly to the door. One of his buddies spied him and shouted, “Hey Lambert, what’s the matter? Did we scare you?”

Oscar shook his head. “Look . . . I just don’t think it’s anything to joke about, that’s all.”

Someone in the group groaned. “Oh, come on, sit down and finish your lunch. We’ll change the subject.” The rest of the boys quieted down with whispers of, “What’s bothering him anyway?”

Oscar shrugged his shoulders and went out the door into the crowded hallway. He felt sick inside. He couldn’t figure out why that one joke had upset him so much. I guess deep down inside I do believe that Jesus is coming back someday. And if He does, where will I be? he asked himself. If only he could get away to think about all this for a while. But he had three more classes that afternoon.

Two days went by, and Oscar found his thoughts going again and again to the scene in the lunch-room and the possibility that the Lord really would be coming . . . and maybe soon. Crunching through the snow on his way home from school that afternoon, he had a thought, Maybe I’ll call Grandma and Grandpa. They seem pretty close to God, and might have some answers.

Oscar’s grandparents were delighted when he called and offered to shovel the snow from their walk. “And why don’t you stay for supper, Oscar,” his grandma invited. “I’m fixing my special mac-n-cheese!”

Gathered around the kitchen table that night, the three of them visited and enjoyed mouth-watering macaroni and cheese. The meal was topped off with homemade apple crisp. Oscar hesitated for a moment, then cleared his throat. “Grandpa, when do you think the Lord is coming back? I mean . . . it’s supposed to be soon, isn’t it?”

His grandparents quickly glanced at each other, then his grandfather replied slowly. “Well, Oscar, just when that trumpet will sound, I don’t know. Even the angels themselves don’t know. God does though, you can be sure of that. And He has given us some clues as to when it will be.”

“Really?” Oscar was interested. “What kind of clues?”

Grandpa had reached for his Bible and was leafing through the pages of the Book of Matthew. “Oscar, Jesus told us that His return will be when we aren’t expecting it. Listen to this. In Matthew 24:44, it says, ‘Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.’”

“That’s strange.” Oscar was puzzled. “How does He expect people to be ready when they don’t know when He’s coming?”

Grandpa thought a moment. “I guess that’s how God knows His own. The people who are living for Him, and watching for Him—they are the ones who really love Him. They will be ready no matter when He comes! And the ones who don’t truly care about Him will not prepare for His coming, even though He has given them plenty of warnings. Jesus warns us in Mark 13:33, ‘Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is.’”

Then Grandma spoke up. “Oscar, there’s a lot of prophecy in the Bible. Things have been coming to pass just as Jesus said they would in the last days. So it’s bound to be soon.” Her voice grew soft. “You know, your grandpa and I have been praying for you for a long time.”

As they talked about the end times and how the wrath of God would be poured out on those left on the earth, Oscar thought, Why am I kidding myself? The real question is not, When will the Lord return? but, Will I be ready when He does?

He finally choked out the words he had been wanting to say all evening, “Grandpa . . . I want to be ready. Will you pray with me?”

 

Grandfather’s gift and loving explanation helped Dakotah to overcome his grief.

For a few moments, he had almost forgotten.

In the excitement of the family gathering—the hugs, the greetings, the noise, and then the opening of presents—Dakotah had shrugged aside the grief that had pressed down on him for the past three months. But when he had opened the beautiful wooden puzzle Gramps had made for him, there had been an instinctive reaction to show it to Dad—a feeling so strong he had held it up and half turned around from his spot on the floor before he remembered. Dad wasn’t here this Christmas. And he wasn’t ever going to spend another Christmas with Dakotah.

A lump came up in his throat. Hurriedly he picked up his gifts and ran from the room. A concerned look crossed his mother’s face and she shifted some boxes from her lap and started to follow him. But Dakotah’s grandfather stopped her. “Let the boy go, Cindie, he needs a few minutes to himself. We knew this Christmas was going to be hard for him—for both of you. I’ll go up and have a talk with him in a while.”

Up in his room, Dakotah set his presents down on the bed and stood looking at them unseeingly. He couldn’t have stayed there in the living room for another minute . . . it brought back too many memories of other Christmases. He decided to stay in his room till everyone left. Picking up the puzzle his grandfather had made for him, he thought longingly about last Christmas. His thoughts were interrupted by a light tap on the door. His grandfather opened the door a crack, and asked, “Mind if I come in?”

“No, of course not.” Dakotah responded with a weak smile. He gestured with the puzzle box which was still in his hand. “This sure is a neat puzzle, Gramps. I can tell you spent a lot of time making it. Each piece is just perfect.”

“Thank you, Dakotah. I enjoyed making it for you. And there was a special reason behind it. You’ve had some hard things to go through during the past few months.” He sat down on the edge of the bed and gently pulled Dakotah down beside him. “I’ve been thinking of how the different things we go through in life are a little like the pieces of a puzzle. We can’t see much of anything in one piece, but when it’s all put together, the picture is complete.”

Dakotah looked perplexed. “Yeah, well I don’t . . .” His voice trailed off.

“The death of your father is a hard thing for you to understand and accept, Dakotah. But it is a part of God’s plan for your life. It’s a dark piece of the puzzle, yes, but God has a place for the dark pieces as well as the light. And can a picture really be complete without any shadows or deeper tones?”

He paused for a moment, and then continued. “I had a reason for giving you this puzzle at Christmas, rather than for your birthday two weeks ago. God had a plan for the birth of His Son too. There were some dark pieces in that plan also. His Son had a manger for a bed, and straw for a pillow. Mary traveled many miles from her home in Nazareth, and her baby was born in a strange city. The king of the country wanted the child killed.”

Dakotah looked a little disbelieving. “Oh, come on, Gramps. Those things couldn’t have been part of a plan. They just happened that way! Why, Jesus wasn’t supposed to be born in Bethlehem. He was born there because Mary and Joseph had to go there to pay their taxes. Otherwise He would have been born someplace else.”

“Oh, no, Dakotah,” his grandfather said soberly. “The fact that Jesus was to be born in Bethlehem was prophesied hundreds of years before it ever happened. Many of the details concerning the birth of Christ were. God worked out every detail, including the king’s decree which caused Mary and Joseph to have to travel to Bethlehem at that particular time, so that everything fit into His divine plan for the redemption of man.” He stopped for a moment and then smiled gently at his grandson. “God’s plan for your life is perfect too, Dakotah.”

Dakotah sat in silence for a moment. He thought he understood what his grandfather was trying to tell him. If God’s plan for His own Son included some dark places, then maybe he should try harder to accept the difficult things that came his way.

Slowly he stood up. “Maybe we should go back downstairs now, Gramps, and join the rest of the family. I think I smell something good cooking!”

 

The letter telling of Grandfather’s visit brought mixed emotions.

“Not again,” Lucas groaned. “Dad, Grandpa just left here three weeks ago. Now he’s coming for Christmas? He’ll spoil everything!”

Lucas’s father sighed deeply, folding the letter he had just received. “I’m sorry, Son. I know it’s hard for you when he gives orders all the time. He acts as if he were still in the Army. The rest of the family won’t put up with it—that’s why he keeps coming back here.” He sighed again. “When your grandma was alive it was so much easier.”

“Dad, why is Grandpa so hard to get along with? He’s such a great person some of the time. But he gets mad so easily, and he’s so bossy that most of the time it’s hard to be around him.”

“Lucas, when I was a young boy there was a short time when my dad was a kind, helpful person. That was when our whole family went to church. During that time I realized my need of salvation and became a Christian. I was ten years old—two years younger than you are right now. But soon afterward, Dad was promoted and transferred to another base. We moved away from that church, and Dad seemed to lose interest in the things of God. He became bitter and angry at life, and resented anyone who tried to talk to him about God. Your grandma and I used to pray together for him. Even though she is dead now, I continue to pray that he’ll come back to God.”

“I’d think you’d get tired, Dad. How long have you been praying for Grandpa?”

“Over twenty-five years, Lucas. I’ll admit that sometimes I get discouraged. But Jesus said to keep on praying even when we don’t see the result right away. I know God wants Grandpa to be saved. One of these days Grandpa will want to be saved too. Anyway, the letter says he’ll be here in ten days.”

As the days passed, everyone was busy preparing for the Christmas season. Lucas couldn’t decide whether to be excited about Christmas or upset because Grandpa would be with them. In family devotions, the evening before Grandpa was to arrive, Dad prayed for him as usual. Lucas thought about how often Dad had prayed that prayer, and wondered again how he could keep praying the same thing for so many years. Grandpa would never change.

The next morning at the airport, as they walked down to the baggage claim, Lucas thought of how Grandpa would greet them. He’d shake hands with Dad, let Mom give him a hug, then he’d look at Lucas and say, “Well, Boy, haven’t changed much, have you? Still don’t know how to stand up straight. You’ll never be a good soldier if you don’t stand up straight.” Just the thought of Grandpa’s scowl made him stand up a little straighter.

Lucas watched expectantly to catch sight of his grandfather. It was not hard to spot him. Standing tall and erect as if he were still a soldier, he stood out in the crowd. “There he is, Dad!” Lucas pointed excitedly.

When Grandpa spotted them, his stern expression softened to one of glad recognition. He soon reached them, set down his bags, and hugged both Mom and Dad. Then he gently laid a hand on Lucas’s shoulder. “Sure am looking forward to Christmas, Boy. Thanks for letting me come.”

Lucas, prepared for a stern remark, could not think of what to say. He stammered, “We’re glad to have you, Grandpa.” Then, embarrassed, he picked up one of the bags and started toward the car.

Seated in the backseat with Grandpa, Lucas pretended to be interested in the passing traffic. But he was really listening to the conversation between his parents and his grandfather. What’s happened to him? Lucas thought. He’s almost as nice as Dad. We’re nearly home, and he hasn’t scolded me or found fault with anybody yet. Maybe this Christmas won’t be so bad after all.

That evening after dinner, Dad asked Lucas to bring him the Bible for family devotions. Uh-oh, Lucas thought, I wonder what will happen now. Grandpa always makes some excuse to leave before Bible reading. But to his amazement, Grandpa just scooted his chair back from the table, settled into a more comfortable position, and prepared to listen. Lucas looked from his father to his grandfather, hardly knowing what to think. Dad looked at Grandpa and smiled. “I think you had better tell Lucas what you told me a little while ago, Dad.”

Leaning forward in his chair, Grandpa spoke in a gentle voice. “Lucas, I know that your father has prayed every day for years for me to become a Christian. I want you to know that those prayers have been answered. I finally realized the reason I’d been so unhappy all these years. It was because I had left God out of my life. It was hard for me to give my life to God, Lucas, but I’m sure that He used the prayers of your grandmother and your father to help me pray. He’s forgiven me—I’m not the same grandfather I was before.”

Lucas’s eyes grew large, and he had to blink to keep from crying. So that was why Grandpa was so different. What a Christmas present! He could hardly believe that it had finally happened.

Dad opened the Bible. “One verse,” he said, “helped me keep praying even when it seemed as though there was no hope and no reason to keep on praying. In Luke 18:1, Jesus said, ‘Men ought always to pray, and not to faint.’ I figured if that was the Lord’s advice, it was good advice. And it worked!”

 

Her friend was the one who needed salvation, yet Avery felt the need to examine her own heart.

Avery groaned inwardly. She had asked Zoey to spend the night with her, and now Dad was getting out his Bible for family worship. What will Zoey think? She’ll probably think we’re really strange, Avery answered her own thoughts. I don’t think her family reads and prays together.

“Come on, Avery. Let’s go to your room and listen to that new song on your iPod,” Zoey said, not noticing the family gathering in the living room.

“Uh, Zoey . . . I think it’s time for our family devotions. Would you like to join us?” Avery asked, hoping Zoey wouldn’t notice her red face.

Zoey looked a little blank, but she shrugged and sat down beside Avery on the couch. “What do I have to do?” she whispered.

“Nothing, just listen while my dad reads the Bible. It won’t take too long,” Avery whispered back, hoping that that was the truth.

“Tonight we’re going to hear a story Jesus told while He was on earth. It’s found in the eighth chapter of Luke.” Avery’s dad settled himself into the recliner. Looking down at the open Bible on his knees, he began to read. “A sower went out to sow his seed: and as he sowed, some fell by the way side; . . .”

Oh, the parable of the sower, Avery thought. As she listened to the story of the seeds and the different types of ground they fell upon, she wondered if Zoey understood any of it. Avery knew that Zoey didn’t come from a Christian home. Zoey maybe doesn’t know that the different kinds of ground are supposed to be like people who hear the Word of God, Avery thought with a flicker of amusement. She is probably wondering why this story about farming is in the Bible!

“That’s an interesting story,” Zoey commented politely in the brief pause that followed the conclusion of the parable.

“It’s more than just a story, Zoey,” Mr. Holland said with a smile. “It is called a parable. It’s a type of illustration Jesus used to help people understand what He was trying to teach them. In this case, the seed is compared to the Word of God, the Bible. The different kinds of ground represent the different kinds of people who hear the Word of God. Some accept it, others reject it, some go along with it only for a while, and others let that ‘seed’ go deep into their hearts and begin to grow.”

“I’ve never heard this part of the Bible before,” Zoey said thoughtfully. “But it seems pretty important.”

Avery shifted against the cushions restlessly. She hoped her dad wouldn’t say too much more. She didn’t want Zoey to feel uncomfortable or be embarrassed.

But Zoey didn’t look embarrassed. She looked interested as Avery’s dad replied, “It is important, Zoey. We have to hear and understand, or Satan may trick us into thinking other things are more important.”

“How does a person know which type of soil he is?” Zoey asked, looking from Avery to her dad. When Avery didn’t answer, her dad spoke again.

“A person can choose which soil he will be. When we hear God’s Word, we must decide if we will believe it and act upon it. If we don’t, the devil will steal it away, and we will lose that opportunity to become a Christian.”

There was a moment of silence in the living room. Avery stole a look at her friend. Zoey seemed a little troubled, and now she stared at the floor in front of her. “That sounds pretty serious,” she said.

“It is serious, Zoey. Have you ever heard that Christ died on the Cross to save you from your sins?” Avery’s dad asked.

“No . . . I used to go to Sunday school sometimes, but I never heard that,” Zoey replied, looking up.

Avery had heard about it all her life, it seemed. In fact she had been saved when she was a little girl. But that seemed so long ago.

Suddenly Avery forgot all about her dad and Zoey sitting there beside her as a thought flashed into her mind. Was that seed still growing in her heart?

She had supposed it was.

She had always assumed she was still saved. But was she really? Could she be like the stony ground that the seed fell on and grew only for a little while? Had she let her own interests and things she was involved in “choke” the seed that had once been growing in her heart?

Her attention came back to her friend as she heard Zoey ask. “How do people get Christ to come into their heart?”

As Avery’s dad simply explained how to be saved, Avery sat silently next to her friend. Zoey needs this, she thought to herself. She needs to be saved. But maybe I need to think about myself. Am I bringing forth the good fruit that Dad read about? A lump rose in her throat.

“Thank you, Mr. Holland,” she heard Zoey saying softly. “I really appreciate your taking the time to explain this to me. I’m sure going to do some thinking about what you’ve said.”

I’m going to be doing some thinking about this too, Avery determined. I want to be certain my heart is like the good ground so I can hear and do the Word of God.

 

A tragic accident finally led Calvin to pray.

The first thing Calvin remembered was hearing voices. But they seemed far away.

Then there were lights. Faint at first, but gradually growing brighter. And Mom . . . there was Mom, leaning over him. She seemed hazy somehow. And why did she look so troubled?

Where was he?

What had happened?

Suddenly he remembered it all. He had talked his brother, Andrew, into taking their raft out on the river, even though he knew Mom and Dad would never have given permission for them to go out alone. The day had been just too beautiful to waste, and when his parents had to be gone somewhere for the afternoon it had seemed like the perfect chance. He had told Andrew that Dad had said it was okay—and at first everything had been just great.

He remembered the fear that had shot through him when he first felt the strength of the current. Dad had always handled the raft before, and it had looked so easy! But in moments the strong pull of the water had them out in the middle of the river. Calvin remembered struggling to keep the raft steady. Then the motorboat had sped by, causing a flurry of white spray, and the raft tipped. Andrew had hollered out . . .

Andrew! Where was Andrew?

Calvin struggled up through the haziness that seemed to surround him. “Andrew,” he managed to say weakly. “Where’s Andrew?”

His mother leaned over him. “Calvin! You’re awake! Can you hear me, Calvin?”

“Andrew.” he managed to get out once more. “Where’s Andrew? Is he okay?”

His mother glanced over her shoulder helplessly. Then she stroked the hair back from his fore-head. “Shhhh, Calvin. Don’t talk. Just rest now.”

Mom, tell me. His mind struggled to say the words he needed to get out. I have to know about Andrew. Before his eyes flashed the picture of his towheaded eight-year-old brother. Is Andrew okay?

Troubled thoughts churned through his mind. I lied to Andrew. I told him Mom and Dad said we could go. He’s got to be all right!

But Andrew wasn’t all right. They had found him, limp and unconscious, about half a mile from where the raft had tipped. He was alive, but just barely. And for the next week his life hung in the balance.

Calvin’s own condition was not good, and for a few days the doctors felt it best that he not be told about Andrew. When his parents finally did break the news, he turned his face to the wall. My brother! The anguish of what he had done swept over him. My little brother . . . and I’m to blame!

Calvin couldn’t eat that night. He couldn’t sleep either. Even if Andrew does get well, he’ll never forgive me, Calvin thought. Now he’s missed the pizza party with his Sunday school class that he had been looking forward to. He’s missed all this time at school, and he hates to get behind on his schoolwork. He didn’t even get to celebrate his own birthday on Friday; he was so sick he probably didn’t know or care. Who knows when he’ll ever get up and around . . . or if? Oh, why did I ever do it?

As the days went by, Calvin’s despair didn’t lessen, even though Andrew finally began to make steady improvement. It’s all my fault—I’m to blame, he thought continually. Misery wrapped around him. Andrew probably will never even want to talk to me again. And he used to like me so much!

Then, one Saturday morning, the nurse came into his room with a big smile. “Calvin, there’s a young man down the hall who is asking to see his big brother. How about hopping into this wheelchair and I’ll take you down there for a little visit?”

Calvin’s heart was beating hard . . . but he went. Could Andrew really want to see him after what he had done?

Andrew did! There was no anger against his brother. Their visit was short, but as Calvin settled back into his own hospital bed, an overwhelming feeling of relief swept over him. Andrew had forgiven him! Did that mean . . . could it possibly mean that God would forgive him too?

The tears that he had held bottled up inside for all these long days and nights began to spill over. And Calvin did something he hadn’t been able to do since he came to in the hospital—he prayed and asked God for forgiveness. “Not just for lying and taking the raft out and letting Andrew get hurt,” he prayed, “I want You to forgive me for all the things I’ve done wrong. I know I should have been saved a long time ago. But if You’ll forgive me now I promise, with Your help, to live the way You want me to for the rest of my life.”

Calvin found forgiveness that day. What a surge of love he felt in his heart as peace and relief came over him! I feel like a different person, he thought in amazement. No wonder everyone always says it is so good to be saved! God has forgiven me and everything is going to be all right now.

 

Vincent didn’t want to say goodbye to his grandfather, and he didn’t have to.

Vincent walked quietly into the room where his grandfather lay. Sliding a chair near the bed, he reached to take the gnarled, outstretched hand. “Gramps . . .” he said softly, then hesitated, not knowing what to say next.

Grandpa turned his head toward Vincent. “Hi, Fella.” Grandpa’s familiar smile accompanied his greeting, though his voice was weak. “I wanted to talk to you . . .”

. . . one last time. Vincent added the words in his mind though he didn’t say them aloud. A huge lump seemed to catch in his throat as he looked down at the fragile form in the bed. Grandpa looked so terribly thin now. He must have lost quite a bit of weight even since the last time Vincent had been there.

A wave of memories flooded over him . . . sitting by the campfire listening to Grandpa telling stories of his childhood; hiking through the wet grass to the lake for an early morning fishing trip; Grandpa’s face when he told Vincent he had been healed of cancer when the doctor said he couldn’t live more than a few months; listening to Grandpa as he gave his testimony in church . . .

Grandpa just couldn’t die. The good times they had shared couldn’t be over. Abruptly, Vincent turned his face away and looked fixedly out the window, trying to hold back the tears that were coming into his eyes.

The old man lying on the bed seemed to sense the turmoil that was going on in Vincent’s mind. “Vincent,” his gentle voice broke into the boy’s thoughts. “We’re not going to say goodbye. This isn’t the end.”

Vincent looked again at his grandfather, a question in his eyes. Didn’t Grandpa know he was dying? Hadn’t anyone told him yet?

“Remember the adventure story we read together a few months ago, Vincent?” was the surprising question Grandpa asked next. “You could hardly wait to find out what would happen in the next chapter.”

Vincent looked even more puzzled. Was Grandpa’s mind wandering? But he listened as the old man went on.

“God has written many chapters in my life during the eighty-three years I’ve been around. But the last chapter isn’t written yet!” A reminiscent note crept into his voice. “There was a chapter on mercy—God saved me! A chapter on guidance—God directed me to move our family clear across the country to Oregon so we could worship with a people that taught the whole Word of God. He has protected me, been my comfort . . . I remember how His arms were around us when we lost your Uncle David in the war.

“These last few weeks I think He has helped me work out a chapter on courage. But there is still a chapter left, Vincent. Jesus told His disciples, ‘I go to prepare a place for you.’ Before long, I’m going to see that place! I believe the most exciting chapter of all is about to be written.”

Suddenly the whole thing started to make sense in Vincent’s mind. The struggle that had been going on inside him for the past two weeks—ever since he had finally realized that Grandpa was not going to get better—began to resolve. God hadn’t forsaken them. He had heard all the prayers Vincent had prayed for Grandpa. And His plan really was being worked out.

“God has met all of my needs through these years since I turned my life over to Him. And now—eternal life, Vincent! That’s what I’m looking forward to. I’m going to be in Heaven soon, and I’ll wait for you there.”

Vincent squeezed the hand he still held tightly. “Okay, Grandpa,” he said softly. “We won’t say goodbye then, just . . . see you later.”

 

I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw that baskets of food were left over.

I don’t think my mother will ever forget the lunch that she packed for me a few weeks ago—two fresh little brook trout, and five of those crunchy brown loaves made of barley. My favorites! Afterward when I told her all that had happened that day, she just laughed and said I must have been out there in the sun too long. Then the neighbors came over and started talking about the great miracle and she began to listen! Let me tell you about it.

When we heard that Jesus was in a desert area outside of our town, a few of us kids decided to go and hear Him. I’d heard Jesus once before, and I really liked Him. He tells a lot of neat stories and there’s usually a big crowd following Him.

I didn’t know when I would be home so my mother packed a lunch for me. My friends and I set off early that morning. Even so, the roads were already filled with people from around the countryside. They were all going to hear Jesus speak. It was hard to push past the crowd, but we did, and soon we were way ahead of most of them. That’s how we happened to get places to sit right behind Jesus and His disciples! When Jesus saw us spreading out our cloaks and sitting down, He smiled and seemed really glad to see us.

Though there was a huge crowd gathered by the time Jesus began to speak, everyone was quiet. Even the little children sat still and listened. Then something happened! A crippled man from our town hobbled over to where Jesus stood, and the next thing I saw was this man laughing and running! Just like that. Then more sick people came, and mothers with their babies. Jesus just stood there with His arms outstretched to them, touching and healing them.

I can tell you, the crowd was surely excited. They were praising God and singing songs. Some people were laughing, others were crying. Jesus seemed to know just what everyone needed. My friends and I just sat and watched it all. Nobody wanted to leave—it was too exciting!

It wasn’t until the sun was beginning to set that I even thought about my lunch, and then I realized I was really hungry. Hours and hours had gone by and I had forgotten all about it. Just as I looked around for some spot where I could slip away and eat, the little boy behind me told his mother that he was hungry. I heard her tell him she hadn’t brought any food, and he started to cry.

I saw some of Jesus’ disciples talking together. By leaning forward, I could hear what they were saying. “The people are hungry. Should we tell the Master?” One of them went over to Jesus and said, “It’s past meal time and there is nothing here for the people to eat. Send them away now so they can go to the village to buy food.”

That’s when I jumped up, the dusty brown knapsack containing the loaves and fishes in my hand. I tugged on one of the disciple’s sleeves. “Here’s some food. Maybe you can use this.” He looked at me for a moment, surprise on his face. Then suddenly he smiled. “Maybe,” he said softly.

Slipping away from the others he went over to where Jesus was standing. They talked quietly for a moment and then I saw Jesus bow his head over the knapsack. He reached inside.

It was then we saw the miracle with our own eyes. The next thing I knew, the disciples were taking pieces of the bread and fishes and handing them out to all those around Jesus. In a few moments we were sitting down munching on my mother’s home-baked barley bread. A big basket of my little trout was passed around next. Now, how can you explain something like that? The food just kept coming and I kept eating until I was stuffed, and so did everyone around me. There were even twelve baskets filled with the leftovers.

Jesus knew just what we needed—and He gave it to us through a miracle! Everyone in our town has been talking about it for days. One thing is sure. If Jesus cares enough to give food to that many people, I know He will take care of me.

 

Griffin couldn’t be in two places at once.

“Hey man, you’re really good at that thing!”

Griffin scarcely dared look up from his guitar. He recognized that voice. It was Malcolm, head of the most feared gang on the west side of town. He was the kind of guy you’d better like if you had anything to do with him at all, because if you didn’t he would beat you up.

“Thanks,” he finally muttered, and looked up only to see the hulking form heading away down the hall.

Griffin shook his head in amazement. Can you beat that! Malcolm Young noticing my guitar playing! Griffin had been using every spare moment to practice the accompaniment for his sister Lilly’s song. They had to have it ready for the youth service coming up in just two days. But who would have thought Malcolm would notice the chords he was quietly strumming as he leaned against his locker?

The next day, during lunch hour in the cafeteria, Griffin had another surprise. Crossing the whole room, with everybody watching her, came Jessie.

Yes, the Jessie. Malcolm’s girl. She walked right up to the table where Griffin sat.

“Malcolm thinks you’re one of the best guitar players he’s ever heard,” she said. “He wants you to be lead guitar in his rock band. Practice is at eight tomorrow night at his house. Don’t be late! Malcolm has fits if anybody’s late.”

With that, she whirled around and left.

Everybody around Griffin looked as shocked as Griffin felt. “Wow, can we touch you, Griffin?” someone teased. “That’s something, Griffin,” another added. “Lead guitar in Malcolm Young’s band! I heard they’ve got a contract with one of the big labels. Maybe you’ll be rich!”

“But I’m not going to play in Malcolm’s rock band!” Griffin blurted out. “I don’t want to have anything to do with that kind of music or his group at all!”

“Well, you’d better be careful about shouting that kind of stuff around, Griffin,” warned one of the boys. “Not wanting to join Malcolm’s band would be an insult to him. Why, he’d beat you to a pulp! Now that he’s noticed you, you’re probably stuck whether you like it or not. You’ll be in real trouble if you don’t show for that practice.”

That evening at the dinner table, Griffin’s sister noticed that he wasn’t saying much. “Boy, you’re quiet tonight, Griffin. Thinking about playing guitar at meeting tomorrow?”

“I’m expected to play my guitar in two places tomorrow night,” Griffin replied, “at church, and for a professional rock band.”

“Rock band?” his mother exclaimed. “What are you talking about, Griffin?”

“Don’t worry, Mom, I have no intention of playing in it. I’ll be at church. But I may get beat up for it!”

“Maybe you’d better explain, Griffin, before your mother has a heart attack,” his father interjected.

While the rest of his family sat in silence, Griffin described what had happened at school. When he had finished, his dad nodded slowly. “Well, you’re facing quite a challenge, Son. But I think Proverbs 16:7 might help you.” He reached behind him and picked up a Bible. “Here, read it.”

“‘When a man’s ways please the Lord,’” Griffin read, “‘he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him.’”

Those words helped Griffin, but he was still nervous when he walked into the school two days later. He hadn’t “showed” for the practice last night at Malcolm’s, and for sure he wasn’t going to seek the guy out. But he figured Malcolm would get to him before the day was out. And he did.

Heading down the hall to get his jacket just after his last class, Griffin spotted Malcolm lounging against his locker. He gulped a little prayer as he headed toward the big figure. The crowd seemed to step back some as he approached. He didn’t know what to say, but he didn’t need to worry. Malcolm talked first.

“I understand you don’t want to play in my band, kid.”

“No, I don’t.” Griffin looked him squarely in the eye. “I’m a Christian and I’m pretty involved in music with my church. I don’t have time or interest in taking on anything else right now.”

A gasp went over the crowd that had gathered. Would Malcolm Young flatten Griffin on the spot?

But Malcolm just smiled a conceited smile. “Well, I certainly can’t use anybody in my band who doesn’t want to be in it.” And with that, he strolled off.

Griffin felt a sigh of relief come up clear from his toes.

Thank you, Lord! he breathed. You sure helped me through that one!

 

Owen learned that prayer is the key.

(Continued from last week.)

Owen awoke to the muffled sound of his older brother’s talking to someone. Their room was still veiled in the early morning darkness, but he could just make out his brother’s form kneeling beside the bed across the room.

“Cyrus,” Owen interrupted, “What are you doing up so early?”

Without moving from his knees, Cyrus answered slowly, “I was just praying that the Lord would help you face the Southside Crew this morning. I’m really concerned.”

“Well, I’m not worried about that anymore. I know the Lord will take care of it.”

As Owen walked out into the living room and opened the curtains, thoughts began to trouble him in spite of the bold statement to his brother only moments before. I know the Lord can see me through like He did David facing the giant. I’m just wondering how He’s going to do it. I threw away all my weapons after I left the gang when the Lord saved me. Besides, Jesus said to turn the other cheek, not strike back.

Hoping to find the answer he needed, Owen opened the big family Bible which was on the coffee table. An illustration depicting the Children of Israel circling Jericho caught his eye and he stopped to think about their situation at that time. He realized that all the mighty men of Israel could do nothing as long as the walls of the city towered firmly between them and the enemy. Turning to the Scripture reference given, he read the story of how the walls miraculously fell down when Joshua and the people did as God had commanded them.

“Well, Lord, how do You want me to go about this battle?”

Owen got down on his knees beside the couch and began to seek the Lord’s guidance. And he didn’t stop praying until he had an answer. When he looked up, he realized his parents and his brother were praying with him.

“Your mother wants me to go with you to school today, Owen, but I told her that would only put off for a time what we know you must face,” his father said.

Owen sighed deeply. “I know I brought this on myself by ever getting involved with the gang. But I also know that the Lord is walking to school with me today. He even showed me while I was praying, what weapon to take.”

“Owen, no!” gasped his mother.

“Don’t worry, Mom. He told me to take my Bible with me. I’m not sure why, but I’m going to obey just like the Israelites did when they won the victory at Jericho.”

The sun was shining and Owen smiled as he headed down the street to school. He walked one, two, then three blocks without spotting the Southside Crew. His eyes quickly scanned the shadowed alleys as he passed them one after another. Four blocks and still no sign of the gang. Only two blocks left, thought Owen. I wonder if they’ll show?

“Slow down!” growled a voice abruptly.

Owen stopped, recognizing the voice of Maddox, the Southside Crew’s leader. Clutching his Bible and breathing a quick prayer, he looked up to face the gang as they stepped out in front of him and stood with their arms crossed.

“Ya haven’t got your Southside Crew jacket on . . . did ya forget?” Maddox was a big guy and no one messed with him or the two knives he always carried, one of which he was fingering as he spoke.

Owen’s throat was dry, but his heart was still full of the confidence God had given him as he spoke.

“No, Maddox, I didn’t forget—I’m not a member of Southside Crew anymore. The Lord saved me and, like I told you guys when I left, He delivered me from the life you are still living.”

“Well, how would you like to be delivered from the life you’re livin’ right now?” snarled Maddox as he pulled his other knife from its sheath.

Owen opened his Bible to a Scripture his brother had found in Hebrews that morning. “‘The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.’ Maddox, the worst you can do is kill me, but that would just put me into the presence of Jesus. And don’t think that worries me, my soul is safe and you can’t touch it. Do what you want to my body. But remember, this Word of God I have in my hand is the best weapon man has, and as I just read, the Lord himself is my helper.”

Several tense moments passed as Owen faced the gang, still holding the open Bible only inches from Maddox’s outstretched knives. Maddox loomed over Owen who still stood firm.

“The Lord loves you, Maddox.”

There was a long silence. Then, with a slight change of expression, Maddox abruptly turned and headed the other direction, sliding the knives into their sheaths. Within seconds, the rest of the gang wheeled and followed him. As Owen watched them disappear, a feeling of relief swept over him. He knew the battle was over and the victory was won!

Owen needed courage, because the gang he used to run with would be there waiting.

Tossing another stone into the pond, Owen wondered how he could possibly face going to school the next day. School itself was no problem, but he knew the six-block walk to get there was going to be more than he could handle by himself.

“Hey Kid, what’s the problem?”

Owen jumped with surprise. “Cyrus, where’d you come from?”

“Oh, I just happened to spot you on the way home from my trumpet lesson. What are you doing here alone in the park?”

Owen stared out over the pond and sighed as he picked up a small stone. He looked at his older brother, “I guess I’m trying to find the right stone to slay a giant with.”

“Oh, right . . . there are a lot of them around today. Be sure you find plenty of stones.”

“Come on, Cyrus, I’m serious.”

“I guess you really are. Well, let’s go home and you can tell me about it on the way, okay?”

The low autumn sun glinted off the glass windows of the skyscrapers as the two brothers headed out of the park’s little patch of green into the often cold and unfriendly big city where they lived. At least they could look forward to the warm, comforting atmosphere of their home in a large apartment building in the middle of the city. Home hadn’t always been comfortable. No one had seemed to be able to get along and life had been one continual argument. But their parents had started attending church, and in time, both were saved. Then what had been a very unhappy home suddenly became something altogether different. Not long afterward, Owen and Cyrus were saved also. Truly, their home was now a happy one, but Owen was discovering that the world outside was just as evil as ever, if not worse.

As they rode the elevator up to their apartment, both brothers were looking a bit glum after discussing Owen’s problem.

“I know I can’t run from the situation, Cyrus, but I have to admit I’m afraid.”

“I don’t blame you. I’d go with you like I said, but I understand why you think you’ve got to go alone. You’d better talk to Dad when he gets home and then really pray about it tonight.”

After dinner that evening, Owen joined his father in the living room. “Dad, you remember that street gang I was in before I got saved?”

“Do you really think I’d ever be able to forget it, Owen? Remember, I was the one who found you lying in a pool of blood with a knife wound in your stomach.”

“I guess I had pretty well put those months with the gang out of my mind . . . until recently.”

“What do you mean, ‘until recently’? Are you having problems with the gang?”

Owen looked out the living room window at the lights of the city. “The gang has a saying, ‘It ain’t easy to get into the Southside Crew and it’s impossible to get out.’ I kind of hoped I’d be the exception to the rule. Since the Lord saved me, none of them have said much to me at all, which is a miracle. But today was different.”

Owen’s father was now very concerned as his son continued.

“They’re all planning to meet me on the way to school tomorrow. If I don’t show up in my Southside Crew jacket and plan to go with them to meet the 33rd Street Gang tomorrow night . . . well, there’s going to be trouble.”

“I had a feeling, Owen, you’d be facing something like this eventually. I know that even if the whole city police force were to go with you it still wouldn’t solve the problem in the long run. Those gangs are ruthless. We can’t move and you can’t just quit going to school so I think we’ve only one place to look for help.”

Without another word the two of them slipped down on their knees and presented the problem to their heavenly Father. They both felt that God was near as they prayed. Afterward, Owen’s dad read the Bible story of David and Goliath. Owen had told him he felt a little like David having to face the monstrous giant. “David was courageous,” his dad commented, “not because he trusted in his own strength, but because he had learned to trust in the strength of God.”

By the time Owen went to bed that night, he still felt like David, but now he felt like David the Courageous, with the God of Israel on his side! He knew deep within himself that he could walk those six blocks with a confidence in his Savior instead of a fear of what man might do to him.

(To be continued next week.)

His parents’ decision-making process had Derek concerned.

Jordan took hold of the boards nailed up the side of the tree and climbed quickly up to the secluded tree house. Tossing his backpack into a corner, he grinned at his friend Derek, who was sitting against a short wall, staring out into the brown and gold branches surrounding them. Reaching into his jacket pocket for an apple left from his lunch, Jordan nudged Derek with his foot.

“Hi . . . you beat me today. Did you get out of class early or something?”

Jordan took hold of the boards nailed up the side of the tree and climbed quickly up to the secluded tree house. Tossing his backpack into a corner, he grinned at his friend Derek, who was sitting against a short wall, staring out into the brown and gold branches surrounding them. Reaching into his jacket pocket for an apple left from his lunch, Jordan nudged Derek with his foot.

“Hi . . . you beat me today. Did you get out of class early or something?”

“Yeah.” Derek’s reply was brief, and he didn’t look at Jordan.

Jordan took a second, longer look at his friend. “Hey, is something the matter? You look kind of upset.”

For a moment there was only silence, then Derek sighed and said, “No . . . well, I hope not . . .”

“C’mon, Derek,” Jordan said as he flopped down beside him. “Tell me what’s bothering you. I know something is.”

After a minute, Derek admitted, “Yeah . . . well, it’s my folks. They have some problems and they don’t know what to do. Last night they were consulting Dad’s horoscope—as though that should make their decision. Then they decided to have this guy over who is really into astrology. They think he might be able to come up with some answers for them.”

“Do they really think astrology is going to help them?”

“I don’t know. That’s just the problem! Mom always listens to her daily horoscope on her phone, but I thought it was just kind of a joke. I can’t believe she really thinks it’s true.”

Jordan frowned. “I remember reading somewhere in the Bible about astrologers and magicians. God wasn’t pleased with people who trusted in them instead of Him.”

Derek nodded in agreement. “Yeah, that’s what got me concerned. Have you read the Sunday school lesson for this week? It’s about how God gave Daniel and his three friends wisdom that was ten times greater than the wisdom of all the magicians and astrologers in the kingdom.”

“Yeah, that’s right. Hey, have you tried talking to your parents about this? Maybe they don’t know how God feels about astrology and stuff like that.”

“Naw, you know they don’t go to church. Although, I don’t think they would intentionally try to displease God.”

“Why not tell them about your Sunday school lesson? Try to get them to see the difference between God’s wisdom and man’s wisdom,” Jordan suggested. “Whatever their problems are, I know that God could work them out. And if you ask God for wisdom in talking to them, He’ll give it. Isn’t that the key verse this Sunday—‘If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally’?”

Derek nodded thoughtfully. “I think I’ll talk to them tonight.”

The next day when Jordan arrived at the tree house, he again found Derek already there. A closer look told him the answer to the question he had planned to ask. After an awkward moment that seemed to last forever, Jordan finally managed to mumble, “Didn’t work, huh?” Derek’s only reply was a slow shake of his head as he stared somewhere past Jordan. “Hey man, I’m sorry,” Jordan finally squeezed out. Derek didn’t seem to hear him. Slowly Jordan backed down the ladder, wishing he could think of some right words to say. None came.

The next morning Jordan was just opening his locker when he was startled by a brisk slap on his back. Turning quickly he looked into Derek’s broadly grinning face. “Guess what?” Derek exclaimed. “This morning Mom came to my room and apologized for yelling at me the other night. She said she started thinking about the things I said and it made her feel really bad; especially when I didn’t argue or answer her back like I used to before I was saved. Jordan, she wants to go to church with me this Sunday! Isn’t that great? You know, I asked the Lord for wisdom to say the right things. Would you believe it, He even helped me to know when not to say anything!”

“Yep,” Jordan smiled as he nodded. “I believe it.”

I thought I could direct my own life, until our fun day of fishing spun out of control.

It started out as such an ordinary day. Zayn, Vadim, and I had been looking forward for weeks to a day of trolling for salmon, and our spirits were high as we launched the Suzy Q. The sun was shining and just a slight breeze tugged at our clothes as we rounded the spit and headed for the open sea.

The morning brought only moderate success, so about noon we decided to pull in our lines and eat lunch. We dug into the ice chest for turkey sandwiches and helped ourselves to some coffee warming on our portable stove.

“Hey, let’s go out farther to try our luck,” Vadim suggested. Zayn and I scanned the horizon. I noticed that the waves were beginning to roll a little more heavily and the wind was picking up. But there was nothing that could cause any problems for experienced fishermen like us.

As we worked our way farther out into the Pacific, Zayn and Vadim’s conversation took a familiar turn—to a wavelength I just couldn’t identify with. Vadim was telling how God had helped him make a certain decision, and how much he depended on the Lord’s guidance. I gave an exasperated sigh and pointedly turned my back on them, but they didn’t seem to notice, so I tuned them out.

I had long since decided that I didn’t need God telling me what to do. How could He know what I wanted to do with my life? I could handle things without any direction or help from Him—I was sure of it.

A fierce gust of wind slapped at my jacket, and suddenly my thoughts came back to what was going on around me. I was jolted by the realization that the slight breeze which had been blowing as we started out was quickly becoming a full storm. It hit Zayn and Vadim about the same time, and their conversation ceased abruptly as we hurriedly started pulling in our lines. In just moments, waves had begun to crest and to crash around us. All thoughts of fishing departed, and we concentrated on heading for shore.

A bone-jarring wave accompanied by an ominous tearing sound set me rushing to the stern of our boat. To my horror, I saw that the gas tank was breaking loose. If it did, it would shut off the fuel supply to our engines—and engine failure meant sure disaster in these raging waters. I shouted for the others, but they were busy at the bow of the boat, and the roar of the wind made it impossible for them to hear me.

Then disaster struck! One of the engines stopped!

I was completely paralyzed with fear. My mind seemed to go blank, and I stared unmoving at the silent engine. I simply did not know what to do.

Suddenly the question came to my mind: Could I decide how to get out of this one on my own, or was I ready to ask God for help?

The boat jerked about and gas from the loosened tank splashed onto my arms. A sense of helplessness surged through my being.

“O God, help me!” I cried, not caring if the whole world heard me. In that instant of time, I realized I really needed Someone to guide me. Things were beyond my control.

I thought that we’d had it. But suddenly, just as if a Voice was speaking to me, I knew what I had to do. I turned off the stove—the spilled gasoline could turn our boat into a flaming bombshell in seconds. I tied down the gas tank. Then I moved to help Zayn and Vadim try to maneuver our boat toward shore with the one remaining engine.

We couldn’t do it. We had lost our steering power and were helpless. But then it seemed a guiding Hand took over at the helm. A large wave bore down on us. Instead of smashing us to pieces, it tucked around us, swung the bow into the waves, and then seemed to give us a boost toward the shore.

We made it to safety that day. And I learned a lesson I have never forgotten—I need God to be in control of my life and to be my Guide.

Kelsie’s mother was sick, and nothing seemed to help.

“Teacher Jennifer,” Kelsie asked, “is it really true, all that stuff about healing?”

Her Sunday school teacher looked up, puzzled. “Why, Kelsie, of course it’s true!”

“Well, I mean, I guess it was true in the old days, like the stories we studied today about Jesus’ healing the little girl and the lady and all those others. But you just said Jesus still heals today.”

“That’s right, He does, Kelsie. Jesus never changes.”

Kelsie still looked unconvinced. “Where in the Bible does it say that Jesus can heal us today? I want to read it.”

“All right, Kelsie, we can do that. Turn in your Bible to the fifth chapter of James.” She glanced around at the other girls in the class, who had been listening to their conversation. “Why don’t all of you open to that chapter. Let’s look at the fourteenth verse. Kelsie, read it aloud, please.”

Kelsie began, “‘Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.’”

When she paused, her teacher said, “Go ahead and read the next verse too.”

“‘And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.’

“But wasn’t that just for those days?” Kelsie asked as she looked up from her Bible. “How do you know God still heals?”

Jennifer closed her Bible and smiled at Kelsie. “I know from personal experience, Kelsie. Just a little over a year ago, our little Brianna was so sick. She had run a high fever for a couple of days, and we were really desperate. That night we called the ministers and asked them to come over and pray for her. Within ten minutes of their prayers, her temperature was down two degrees, and in just an hour it was back to normal. She went to sleep and slept all night, and the next day she felt fine—just a little weak. God still works today!”

As she finished speaking, the bell rang, calling them to sing. But after Sunday school, as Jennifer was straightening up her room, she saw Kelsie lingering nearby, a worried expression on her face. Going over to her, she put an arm gently around Kelsie’s shoulders. “You’re worried about something, Kelsie. Anything I can do to help?”

Kelsie looked down. “Well . . . I don’t know. It’s about my mom. You know she’s been sick. Last night I overheard the doctor and my dad talking, and they said she just isn’t responding to the medicine they are giving her. Nothing seems to help.”

Jennifer drew Kelsie to a chair and sat down beside her. “You know, I wondered during class if your questions regarding healing didn’t have something to do with your mother’s illness, but I didn’t want to ask in front of the other girls.” She paused, and then continued. “Kelsie, you’re saved, aren’t you?”

“Sure. I got saved last year at youth camp. God’s really helped me since then.”

“You believe God’s Word, don’t you? Do you believe that your mom can be healed?”

“But, Teacher, my mom’s not saved! She’s prayed a couple of times, but . . . well, she says it’s different for her.”

“Kelsie, the Bible doesn’t tell us that Jesus healed only those who had already believed on Him. God can heal your mother too. I’ll tell you what, you talk to your mom and see if she’d mind if our pastor came out to pray for her this afternoon. In the meantime, I’ll put in a prayer request this morning and the whole church will be praying. And Kelsie, you just believe that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. If He could create life, He can heal the diseases that trouble our bodies.”

The next Sunday, Jennifer opened her class session by looking at Kelsie. “Kelsie, you asked a lot of questions last week about whether God could heal people today. Will you tell the class what happened this week?”

“I sure will!” she beamed. “Some of you probably know that my mom has been sick. I found out last week that the doctors felt she didn’t have long to live. Last Sunday she was really bad, and that was why I asked so many questions about healing. I wondered if God really could help when the doctors hadn’t been able to do anything.

“Well, last Sunday after class I talked to Teacher Jennifer, and she told me that the pastor would come out and pray for my mom, and she would put in a prayer request. That afternoon he and another minister and Teacher Jennifer came to our home. They prayed for Mom.

“That night she slept for the first time in a long while. The next day she felt stronger than she had for weeks and even wanted to get out of bed. My dad called the doctors, and they asked her to come in. This week they gave her a lot of tests, and they said she looks fine. They can’t find anything wrong with her except that she is a little weak. God healed her!”

After class, Kelsie had one more bit of good news to pass on to her teacher. “The best news is that Mom said she and Dad might come to church. She’s been praying some. She says she knows it was God who did this for her.”

Jennifer hugged her student. “That is just great, Kelsie! We’ll keep praying for your folks. I believe God is going to work another miracle!”


Lydia was distressed by Grace’s troubles at home and wanted to help.

Lydia and Grace walked slowly up the pathway in the early autumn sunlight. As best friends, both valued these morning walks to school as their time to visit with each other.

“Things are just awful at my house,” Grace spoke sadly. “Mom and Dad had another fight last night—they fight almost every night. I have to plug my ears to get to sleep. I can’t stand to hear the terrible things they say to each other!” She stopped as her eyes filled with tears.

Lydia nodded sympathetically. Her own home was so happy and full of love it was hard for her to imagine what her friend was going through.

“What will happen if they get a divorce, Lydia?” asked Grace, her face tense and white. “It really scares me. What will happen to us?”

“Don’t worry, Grace. God will take care of you. He will help you no matter what,” Lydia tried to encourage her friend. Inside she was praying, Dear Lord, what can I say to make her feel better? She is so frightened for her family. What can I do to help her?

All during her classes that day, Lydia’s thoughts went back to Grace and the problems she was facing. Lydia knew that her friend loved and obeyed God. Ever since Grace had gotten saved at a youth meeting a little over a year ago, she had been so excited—telling people about Jesus and inviting them to church. Seeing her in need like this made Lydia want to comfort and help her.

That evening, as Lydia was curled up on her bed reading her Bible, she suddenly realized that only God could give Grace the comfort she needed through this hard time. She came across the verse in Isaiah where God said, “I, even I, am he that comforteth you.” That gave her an idea!

I’ll copy down all the Scriptures I can find on comfort from the Lord. Then when Grace is afraid or upset, she can read them and be comforted by His words.

Jumping up from her bed she dug through her desk for a piece of paper and a pencil. She set to work and soon had a page full of Scriptures.

The next morning Lydia was all prepared. “Grace, even though I’m your good friend, I don’t think there’s much I can say to make you feel any better about what’s happening between your parents.” She smiled and handed her the sheet of Scriptures. “Here is something that will help, though. Look at this!”

Grace took the paper Lydia held out and looked at it curiously. She read aloud the first line. “‘I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you’ (John 14:18). That’s from the Bible . . . oh, they all are!” she said, glancing down the rest of the page. She studied the list in silence for a moment, and then looked back at her friend. “I know that everything God says is true, Lydia. I guess I’ve forgotten about His promises since I’ve been so upset—and right when I needed them most!”

That very afternoon, during her English class, something said in reference to the short story they were reading brought the thought of her parents’ angry voices to Grace’s mind. She felt the familiar feeling of dread begin to creep into her heart. Then she remembered the list Lydia had given her. Reaching into her notebook, she brought out the verses and read, “Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.” As she thought about the verse, the fear gradually subsided. O Jesus, she thought, thank You for being so close and comforting me. Help me to remember that You will always take care of me.

Do you have fears and worries like Grace had? Do you have problems that seem way too big for you to handle? Trust God! Ask Him to help you, and take comfort in His strong, sheltering arms. If you belong to the Lord, you have the promise that you will be comforted in all the hard places of life.

 

God’s protection of his grandfather made a real impression on Robbie.

“Dad, tell me again about the time Grandpa’s boat sank,” Robbie begged.

“Robbie,” his dad laughed, “you must have heard that story a hundred times! But I don’t blame you for liking it. It really is exciting the way the Lord protected your grandpa. I was just five years old when it happened, but I still remember when he came in the next day and told us all about it.

“Your grandpa had been sick, when a businessman in town asked to hire him to take him across the Straits of Juan de Fuca to Port Townsend, Washington. Grandpa had an old fishing boat with a small engine, but it was seaworthy.

“On the trip over, the businessman poked a little fun at Grandpa. ‘Mr. Green, you say you’re a Christian. So how come you’re sick? If religion is so good, why aren’t you living on easy street without a care in the world, and certainly not sick and coughing like you are? Isn’t your God taking care of you?’

“Your grandpa simply answered him, ‘God does take care of me.’

“The businessman just snorted and the subject was dropped. Later, as that day wore on, Grandpa’s simple statement was proven true.”

Robbie interrupted. “Get to the part where the boat was sinking, Dad.”

“Hold on, I’m about there,” his dad chuckled. “The businessman took care of his concerns and they started back home, toward the San Juan Islands. About four or five miles out, the engine started coughing and sputtering. Grandpa went below to work on the motor, leaving the other man to pilot the boat. Maybe the man didn’t know what he was doing, because somehow they ran into something—perhaps a partially sunken log. It broke a hole in the boat’s hull and in moments they were taking on water and beginning to sink.”

“I remember that part, Dad! They got life preservers and climbed up on top of the pilot house,” Robbie interjected.

“Well, sort of . . . behind it, actually. They were sinking fast and soon a big wave crashed across the top and almost washed them off. The man with your grandpa was terribly afraid and he screamed out, ‘There’s no hope! The tide is going out and the wind is blowing us out to sea.’

“Your Grandpa had hope though! He had a promise of God’s protection. As the waves crashed over him, a verse from the Bible came to him: ‘When thou passest through the waters . . . they shall not overflow thee.’

“Just think what that promise meant to Grandpa! There he was with absolutely no help—it was nighttime; there were no ships around; and he had no radio to let anyone know he was in trouble. Grandpa didn’t even know how to swim! No one knew of their predicament—except Jesus! He knew . . . and He helped.

“The next few waves tore the boat apart. Grandpa and the man were clinging to a section of the front deck and Grandpa began to help the man tie himself to the deck rail with some rope. As Grandpa was praising the Lord, ‘Glory to God, I have Jesus,’ the man was crying out ‘I’m not ready to die!’

“Not ready to die—what a terrible thing! At the moment of death, there was no peace. In his last few moments of life, his cry was, ‘If I ever get out of here, Lord, I’ll live differently.’ But Grandpa said he felt as happy as though he were home, because he had the promise that the Lord would protect him and take him safely to shore.

“And the Lord did! Grandpa was in the water, lashed to a bit of the boat and paddling with a board, for six hours. Then, after he had crawled up onto the beach, he had to try to find help. He had seen a light afar off, but he was so worn out that whenever he tried to stand up, his legs cramped and he fell. Finally, he found two sticks and used them for canes. Somehow he managed to stumble the three miles to a little cabin where he was given dry clothes, food, and a warm bed. God had brought him to safety!”

Robbie let out a sigh of relief. As often as he had heard the story, he was always glad when he could picture Grandpa safe in the little cabin, getting warm. His dad went on.

“There’s a lesson in this for you, Robbie. God will protect you, too! You might never be shipwrecked, but someday you may face a situation just as serious. God did not promise that if we are Christians we’d never have a problem, but He did promise to make a way through our problems—a way of escape!

“Sometimes you might be tempted to wonder, Why didn’t God keep it from ever happening at all? I can’t answer that. We must not try to outguess God. We only trust Him; He knows the end from the beginning. He knows what difficulties face us, and He promises a way through.

“The important thing to remember Robbie, is that ‘all things work together for good to them that love God.’ He will protect you and take care of you if you keep on loving Him.”

 

 

Mark 4:35-41; 5:1-20

When death was reaching out for me, I was not alone.

Fear exploded deep inside me as I watched the wind whip the water into foamy waves around my small raft. It pitched and rolled, and I clung desperately to the side, fighting simply to stay on. This can’t be happening to me! I thought wildly. But the awful truth was staring me in the face—in another moment, I could be stepping into eternity and I wasn’t ready to meet God!

A few hours earlier, I had set out to go duck hunting on the Upper Klamath Lake. Thoughts of the disaster that would face me just a short while later couldn’t have been farther from my mind. The lake had been calm and the sky a patchy blue, with only small clouds hanging on the tips of the surrounding mountains. The air had been brisk and my luck was good—I had shot a couple of ducks just a few minutes after nearing the lake.

Pushing my way through the reeds and brush that surrounded the lake, I discovered that the ducks had gone down out in the water. Determined not to lose my prize, I found some old logs floating in the shallows and tied them together. Climbing on board my makeshift raft, I grabbed a stick and poled my way out onto the lake, toward where my ducks had gone down.

Intent on reaching the ducks, I hadn’t noticed that the weather had undergone a dramatic change. As I pushed and paddled my precarious float farther and farther out onto the lake, one of those freak autumn storms had come up. In a matter of moments the wind whirled the lake into madness and I knew I was in trouble. I was being carried away from the shore, and my frantic efforts to change my direction made no difference at all. I knew I could die at any moment.

As I clung to those old logs, sudden regrets swept over me, and I remembered the little church in Klamath Falls where I had attended services. I had always sat in the last pews with my friends, sometimes even making fun. The testimonies had bothered me so I had tried to shut them out. I hadn’t listened with much interest to the sermons, nor had I taken advantage of the altar calls and prayer times. I had firmly resisted any tug of conviction. But now, as I looked up into that storm-shrouded sky, I began to pray.

My raft was breaking apart and the water washing over me was bitterly cold. I knew I could never swim the distance to shore. “O God,” I cried out, “if You will spare my life, I’ll serve You.” I meant that prayer from the bottom of my heart—and the Lord knew I meant it. In an instant, a miracle happened! The direction of the wind changed! It started blowing from the east across the water, something very unusual in that area.

God was giving me another chance! I began to paddle furiously, and finally, just as the raft broke apart beneath me, I struggled into shallow water. Stumbling onto the shore, I fell face down on the bank and lay there exhausted, but thanking God.

My promise to God wasn’t forgotten. Just a few days later, on a Sunday morning, I made my way to church, and there I gave my heart to God. He had some surprises in store for me that day! The devil had convinced me I would be miserable being a Christian, but as I prayed, God flooded my heart with peace. In a moment of time I felt all the unhappiness and the weight of bitterness leave, and joy I can’t describe filled my soul.

There is so little peace in this world today, but there is peace in my heart. The God who controls the wind and the waves has control of my life, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

 

Brandon’s first reaction was happy anticipation, but something didn’t feel right.

“Mom!” Brandon yelled as he bolted into the house, “You’ll never guess what happened today at school!”

“Calm down, Brandon. What is it?”

“I got invited to go camping with CJ McNallie and his family!”

Brandon’s mother looked puzzled. “Who is CJ McNallie? You’ve never mentioned him before.”

“Oh, he’s new at school but already he’s one of the most popular guys and hangs out with the other popular kids. If I go camping with him I have a good chance of finally being in that group.”

“I don’t know, Brandon. That doesn’t sound like a very good reason to go camping. Do you know much about this CJ?”

“Well, no, not really. But he’s a cool guy. Please, Mom, I just have to go.”

Brandon’s mom still looked doubtful. “Well, let’s wait and see what your father says.”

Brandon waited impatiently for his dad to come home that evening. When he heard the door open, he rushed into the kitchen and began his appeal.

“Dad, I’ve been invited to go on a camping trip with a guy from school. His name is CJ McNallie. It would really be a lot of fun, and I want to go. Can I, please?”

“Slow down, Brandon. Who is this CJ? Have you talked to his parents? I’ll have to know a little more about this before I can make a decision.”

After discussing the matter at some length during dinner, Brandon’s dad finally called CJ’s parents and arranged a meeting with them to talk over the proposed plans. An hour later, the two of them drove to the McNallie home, and the decision was made. As they returned home, Brandon’s dad told him, “I think it will be all right if you plan to go. The McNallies seem like nice people and it would probably be fun for you.”

Brandon was really excited. He hardly slept that night, and the next few days were filled with planning.

At school Brandon found that he was being accepted into the group of popular kids. This is what he had wanted, but as the big day approached, he felt uneasy. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but the excitement he’d had was gone. In its place was a nagging feeling that he shouldn’t go.

I just don’t understand this, Brandon thought as he lay in bed one night. I want to go, I want to be friends with CJ, but something doesn’t feel right. Maybe I’ll feel differently tomorrow.

The next day Brandon felt no different. In fact, that nagging feeling that he shouldn’t go was even stronger.

That evening Brandon’s mom received a phone call. Afterward she came into the living room where Brandon and his dad were reading. “That was quite a surprise.”

They both looked up. “Who was it, Mom?”

“The call was from my sister, Lori. She and her family are coming to visit us next weekend. They haven’t been here in years. I wonder why they decided to come now, it isn’t even summer vacation.”

“Mom, that’s the weekend I’m supposed to go camping!”

“I know Brandon. I’m sorry, but we’re going to have to ask you to cancel your trip. You haven’t seen your cousins in a long time. I know how much this trip means to you, but . . .”

“That’s okay, Mom. Maybe I’m really not supposed to go.”

“What do you mean, Brandon?”

“Well, ever since you said I could go camping with CJ, I have had a funny feeling about it, like I shouldn’t go. I just now realized that it was God speaking to me—for some reason He doesn’t want me to go. Now that Aunt Lori and Uncle Greg are coming on exactly the same weekend, I know for sure I’m not supposed to go. If God is saying no, even though I don’t know why, I guess I’d better listen.”

Brandon’s dad smiled. “I’m proud of you, Son, for coming to that decision. God sometimes uses a still small Voice inside us, as well as circumstances, to speak to us. He’ll bless us if we listen to Him.”

A week after the planned camping trip, as the family sat together at the dinner table, Brandon’s mom noticed that he was hardly eating. “What’s wrong, Brandon? Is something bothering you?”

“Well, sort of. I found out why God didn’t want me to go camping last weekend. CJ and the guy who took my place got caught drinking and smoking pot up there.”

“What about that group you wanted to be a part of? Are they all involved in things like this?”

“I really don’t know, Mom. But I’m going to go slower about getting mixed up with them. I have a feeling this may be God’s way of letting me know I shouldn’t be part of a group like that. And I want to listen if it’s God talking to me!”

John 8:1-11; Titus 3:3-7

In my position as judge, I had never heard such an unusual case.

I stared in amazement at the nicely dressed, well-groomed man in front of me. A murderer? Armed robber? Man of the underworld? I could hardly believe it. This man before me had just presented the most unusual case I’d heard in all my thirty years as circuit court judge. The string of crimes he confessed to took my breath away.

What a story he told! At the close of his testimony, with tear-filled eyes, I looked down at my podium and then spoke briefly to him. “You are dismissed from this courtroom. Be here tomorrow morning at 10 o’clock for sentencing.”

I couldn’t wait for the stenographer’s copy to reach me; I immediately began going over the testimony in my mind. This young fellow’s early home life had been good. His dad was an engineer on the railroad and earned good money. His mother was a Christian. She read from the Bible each morning and prayed with her boys. So why had this man, Bruce, gone so far astray, I wondered. With such a seemingly stable upbringing and loving family he shouldn’t have had such an incredible story to tell.

By his own admission, he hadn’t come under his father’s rule. At fifteen, he dropped out of school and ran away from home—straight to the oil fields of Oklahoma. There he got a job his first day in town. He started gambling and, because of that, soon saw he would need a lot more money than his salary provided. So when he noticed his boss’s long-barreled pistol lying under the counter he decided to steal it, and use it to get more money.

For the next ten years he wore a mask and carried two big guns. He stole automobiles, held up people, and robbed businesses. And then came the fateful day. In one of the holdups, he accidentally shot and killed a man. Oh, the remorse Bruce had carried through these years. The man’s haunting cry rang in his ears, “Why did you have to kill me?”

There was a knock on my door and the court reporter brought in the copy of the admission plea. Glancing through part of the transcript, I noticed where Bruce told about being picked up by the United States marshals.

“I slipped out of the handcuffs and escaped. It was just God’s mercy that I didn’t get killed. The officers’ bullets flew all around me. I looked up to the sky and said, ‘God have mercy—don’t let them kill me!’ I knew too well where I would go.”

I tried to imagine this fine-appearing man wrestling his way out of handcuffs, then escaping with bullets flying around him. The effort failed. It seemed impossible to believe. How could it be the same man who had stood before me this morning?

Looking back at the document, I skimmed the part where he had almost been caught another time. For fifteen days he had been hiding in the swamps of Arkansas. With a Winchester rifle strapped to his back, he had caught snatches of sleep up in a treetop. A posse of about twenty-five men were instructed to take him dead or alive. They came within thirty yards of him, but again he escaped by the “mercy of God.”

Then one night, when he decided it was time to move on, the Lord spoke to his heart and told him to go out West. I continued reading, “It was God’s great love and mercy that brought me to a street corner in Portland, Oregon, where I chanced to hear a group of Christian people telling what God had done for them. They spoke of having peace and happiness—something I knew nothing about. If they had asked me about misery, heartache, and remorse, I could have told them about that from A to Z.

“They invited me to church, and I knelt one night before a holy God and told Him, ‘Lord, if You will save me I’ll go to work and be the man I should be. I’ll confess out that old life, let them do to me what they want to do.’ Oh, the change! There on my knees the Lord saved me. I now had peace and happiness. Misery moved out. I walked the streets for days saying, ‘Oh, it’s wonderful! It’s wonderful!’

“And now I stand before you, Judge, to confess all. I am saved. I am going over my old life. I have already begun to pay back stolen money—thousands of dollars. Now do to me what you will.”

I realized tears were dropping onto the paper as I finished reading. If only all cases ended like this! Justice demands a penalty—years behind the jail bars—but I will recommend mercy.

From the beginning of time, the breaking of God’s laws required a penalty. Society also demands payment for lawbreaking—a jail term, a fine to be paid or worked out. Such sins as Bruce’s cry out for justice, for a punishment. But as Jesus Christ can extend mercy to a sinner, and freely forgive and forget all sins, so Bruce was freely pardoned and forgiven. He was a free man and never had to spend even one day behind bars. You may read Bruce Archer’s own testimony in Tract No. 64, “Pardoned!”

Matthew 7:24-29; 1 Corinthians 3:9-15

Though both brothers heard their father’s advice, one failed to heed it.

Long ago there lived a rich man with two sons—Jonathan and Joseph. One day, calling them to him, he said, “My sons, you are now old enough to leave here and build homes of your own. I possess a beautiful piece of land by the sea—I give it now to you. Build your homes, start your families, live and be prosperous. Remember to honor God as I have taught you and He will bless your lives. But take heed to these words: See that you build upon the great rock that overlooks the cove. There your homes will be safe from floods and storms. Go now, and may the God of Abraham be with you.”

The two brothers stood on the beautiful strip of beach just beneath the rock and looked out at the great sea before them. The younger son, Joseph, cast his eyes upon the smooth glistening sands. As the waves gently lapped upon the shore he thought for a moment, then turned to his brother. “I will go no farther with you, Jonathan, for I choose to build here on these golden sands.”

“Brother,” gently replied the elder, “do you not remember our father’s words? We are to build on the great rock.” He pointed to the grassy cliff high above them.

“I will build where I choose,” responded Joseph.

“But the sands are unstable. You must have a foundation that will stand!” pleaded Jonathan. “Come with me and we will build together.”

“You will not rule me!” Joseph walked away in anger. Jonathan slowly turned to the trail and headed alone for the great rock.

Time passed and the houses were built. Joseph erected a mighty mansion on the beach. It had in-door pools, great halls, and marble floors. Jonathan constructed a fine house with a barn and stables high upon the rock.

Joseph held great feasts and parties, and often entertained his friends, but Jonathan was known for his good deeds in helping the poor and building a place of worship for the villagers. The two saw very little of each other.

Years went by, and then one afternoon, Jonathan looked out of his window to see dark clouds gathering on the horizon, clouds such as he had never seen before. He peered anxiously down at Joseph’s mansion below.

Meanwhile, Joseph also was glancing at the black rolling clouds. As they came nearer, a strange thought passed through his mind. It was as if he heard his father’s words of so long ago: “Take heed! See that you build upon the great rock! There your homes will be safe from floods and storms.”

But I will be safe here in the cove, he thought to himself as he tried to push the concern from his mind.

The storm hit in the middle of the night, and a huge wave crashing against the window awoke Joseph. He listened in terror as the pillars in the halls groaned and shifted, and the savage winds screamed outside. His heart beating wildly, he raced to the door to escape the doomed mansion. Yet even as he ran, the floors started sinking for there was no foundation under them. The sea which he had once thought so calm and beautiful was pouring in from all sides. Forcing his way through the back door, he was seized by a mighty wave and tossed into the churning waters. He caught a glimpse of the great rock with Jonathan’s house safely anchored high above the floods. With an earsplitting crash his own house crumbled and fell. He tried to cry out, but was choked as the waters closed over his head.

Joseph awoke to the sounds of the sea which seemed to come from far away. Jonathan was seated next to him as he lay on the bed. “Thank the Lord for saving you from the storm, Joseph! We thought you had drowned, but we all gathered around you and prayed. The Lord has answered our prayers and you are with us.”

“Brother,” whispered Joseph weakly, “how foolish I have been. I should have listened. I heard the warning, but I didn’t obey. Now I have lost my home and everything that I own . . . I have nothing.”

“But God has spared your life, Joseph. All is not lost. We will build you a house here on the rock where you belong.”

Jonathan’s gentle words brought hope to Joseph’s heart. Yes, he thought, this time I shall build on the rock.

Like the wise man who built upon the rock, we need to build upon our Rock—Christ Jesus. We can rest safely and securely in Him. And though the storms of sin and the floods of trouble may beat down upon us, with Jesus as our Foundation we shall stand firm.

Matthew 7:13-14; Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Psalm 1:1-6

The boys didn’t get to the party in time, because they didn’t take the right road.

Everybody seems to be having a great time, Mrs. Wood thought. But hadn’t she invited nine kids to the party? She was sure she had. She got out her list and checked it again. Sure enough, she had invited nine and all of them had said they would be here. But two boys were missing!

“Gabe, do you know where Jude and Isaiah are? I have them on my list but they aren’t here. Don’t they live near you?”

“Yes, Mrs. Wood. Jonah and I started out with them to the party. But then they got a crazy idea to try to get here another way—they thought they knew a shortcut. We told them it was a dumb thing to do because it was almost time for the party to start. But they figured they could beat us by cutting through a field and going down Shorey Road.”

“I wonder if they got lost? It’s too bad that they are missing out on all the fun. I have places set for them at the table and there are special favors for all of you.”

“Well, I kept telling them that Shorey Road wouldn’t get them to your house. It starts out going the right direction, but it turns after a couple of blocks and finally winds up at an old dump. They just laughed at Jonah and me, but I guess they’ll find out the hard way if they keep on that road and end up missing the party.”

Did you know that some people are going to miss Heaven? Not because they planned to miss it, but because they didn’t choose the right road—the narrow road that leads to Heaven. Maybe, like the kids in our story, they think they can get there an easier way or by taking shortcuts. But the Bible clearly states that there is only one way to Heaven. That is through repentance of all our sins and having faith in Jesus Christ as the Savior of our souls. That is what is meant by being born again.

Our Bible text tells us that “strait [or confining] is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life . . .” Do you think that a person trying to enter through the gate could squeeze in with even one little sin? No way! They would eventually have to give up and go to the broad way where there’s lots of room for all types of sin.

We cannot enter Heaven if we hold on to any of our sins. Many religious people today believe that we constantly sin, that a person cannot live without sin. That doesn’t sound like the narrow way Jesus was teaching about, does it? Jesus came to save us from our sins.

Why do you think God made the way to Heaven narrow? Did He want us to miss out on some good times? No, it was because He could see this was the best way for us to live. In the beginning He created us to be pure and holy. He knew that sin would bring sorrow and pain.

It’s not hard to walk in the narrow way if you are willing to come to Jesus on His terms. That means you must, first of all, confess that you are a sinner and be truly sorry for your sins. Then, when you ask Jesus’ forgiveness and truly believe that He saves you from your sins, you will feel a peace and knowledge in your heart that you have been born again. That starts you on the narrow way which leads to life everlasting. And God is able to keep you from straying onto some other way that would cause you to miss Heaven.

Check to see which road you are on—God’s Spirit will be faithful to enlighten you. The responsibility, then, rests on you. Which way are you going?

Matthew 7:12; Luke 6:31; Numbers 12:1-13

Josh retaliated with kindness.

Strolling down the hall, Riley saw Josh reaching into his locker with a load of books. A grin spread over his face as he approached Josh and abruptly leaned against him.

“Do you know Eileen?” he asked in a loud voice. “Get it? I lean!” Josh staggered and then fell onto the hall floor surrounded by his scattered books. A shout of laughter rang out from Riley and a number of other kids who saw the incident. Josh scrambled to his feet, stuffed his books into the locker, and walked off with just a wry grin.

Later in the day, Riley saw another chance to tease Josh. He walked next to him down the hall, quietly talking until they came near Mrs. Aselton, who was notorious for giving out lots of detention slips. Then in a louder than normal voice Riley said, “Thanks, Josh, but you know we aren’t supposed to chew gum in school.” Mrs. Aselton heard him, as Riley had hoped she would, and stopped Josh. Riley dashed into the doorway of his next class.

He was constantly thinking up mischief to try to irritate Josh, determined to get him mad. He thought he had succeeded the time he “accidentally” bumped into Josh just as Josh picked up his loaded lunch tray. The tray landed on the floor and laughter erupted in the cafeteria. Josh turned red, picked up the mess and, after throwing it away, stood in line for his lunch for the second time.

Riley’s problem was that Josh would not get mad, no matter what Riley did to him. Somehow, his failure to get a rise out of Josh made Riley more determined than ever. He wanted to see Josh get mad just like other kids did. Why did Josh act so happy and pleasant all the time?

Riley kept telling himself that Josh was just not all there or he would get mad. But somehow that explanation didn’t really satisfy him. There was something different about Josh, all right. But he wasn’t stupid. Josh was a good student. He just didn’t react like the other kids around school.

One day Riley decided to try a new scheme. For sure this one would make Josh mad! Climbing a tree near the school, he settled himself on a limb with several well-filled water balloons. Josh always came by this way when he headed for the bus after school.

But things didn’t work out as planned. While trying to steady the balloons and hold on to the tree branch at the same time, Riley lost his balance. Seconds later, he was lying on the ground, crying out in pain. Josh was one of the first to reach him. He saw that Riley’s leg was bent at an unnatural angle, so he ran to the school for help.

The next day at school, Josh heard that Riley’s leg was badly broken and he would have to be in traction for several weeks. He headed for the hospital right after school. As Josh entered the room, Riley looked up and scowled. “What are you doing here? I suppose you’re going to say it serves me right. Well, I don’t want to hear it. Just get out!”

Josh just stood there. “I’m sorry, Riley. I wasn’t going to say anything like that. I just wondered how you were doing today. I brought you a Rubix cube and assignments from school. But I know you’re not feeling much like talking, so I’ll leave. Bye! Hope you’re feeling better soon!” With that, he left. And Riley was left alone, more miserable than ever.

After school the next day, Josh dropped by again. Riley didn’t say much this time, but at least he didn’t sound off at Josh. After that, Josh came almost every day, bringing school work, sunflower seeds, beef jerky, and even a couple of books from the library.

Riley tried to act like he didn’t care whether Josh came or not, but the fact was he did care. He was lonely. Josh was the only one from school who visited him. He was always smiling and cheerful. Before long, Riley found himself smiling in response, but deep inside, Riley was still frustrated. Finally, he couldn’t stand it any longer: he had to find out what made Josh tick. When Josh showed up the next afternoon, Riley started in with no preliminaries.

“Why don’t you get mad, Josh? Why don’t you hate me after all the things I did to you? Why are you always so nice?”

Josh looked surprised at this abrupt greeting. Tossing his jacket on the foot of the bed, he straddled the chair beside Riley without replying. At last he said, “Well, I guess it’s because I’d like you to be my friend.”

“But why, Josh? Why are you the way you are?”

Josh looked soberly at Riley. “I’m a Christian, Riley. Jesus took all the mad out of me when He saved me a couple of years ago. And He has told us we should live by the Golden Rule. I try to do that.”

“You mean to treat others the way you want them to treat you?” Riley thought for a moment. “That must be it, then. I know I’ve been mean to you, but you always treated me nice no matter what I did. I’m sorry for the way I’ve acted.”

Josh smiled. “It’s okay, Riley. I’m glad we’ve got everything worked out between us.” It works, he thought! It really works! Even if it takes some time. When you treat others the way you want to be treated, eventually they’ll come around!

 

Matthew 7:7-11; 9:27-30; 1 John 5:14-15

The ad seemed too good to be true.

“Hey, Dad!” Toby King looked up from the computer with a look of disbelief after seeing an ad for a free bike. “Listen to this! ‘Man’s bicycle free to eligible person, 438 Juniper Lane.’ That’s all it says. Boy! I sure would like to have a bike.”

Mr. King carefully guided his wheelchair into the living room, smiling at his son’s exuberance. “I would like you to have a bike too, Son. Wish I could buy one for you.”

Toby hardly heard his father’s reply. He was thinking, I wonder what the catch is. It’s probably just an old bike they want to get rid of. Even so, it would sure be neat to have a bike when I start junior high this fall. Looking at the address in the ad again, he said to his father, “I think I’ll go over there—it’s not too far to walk. Someone may already have gotten it, but at least I’ll have satisfied my curiosity.”

With a motion of his hand, Toby’s father gave his permission, and Toby dashed out the door. He started briskly in the direction of Juniper Lane. As he got closer to the address he began to slow down. I don’t know why I came, he thought. I’m sure the bike isn’t any good. And if it is, someone else probably already has it. Even if it’s still there they might not give it to me. After all, I’m just a kid.

Toby approached a group of people standing on the sidewalk talking. His heart sank when he saw that they were standing in front of the house where the bike was supposed to be. Someone else must have gotten the bike already, he thought. There’s no use going further. Just as he was turning to go back home one young man called to him.

“Hey, Kid. Are you coming to ask about the bike?” Toby nodded slightly, not trusting himself to speak. “Well, maybe you can get some results from that guy. He won’t give the bike to me because I have a job and could pay for one. He won’t give it to that guy over there because he already has a bike. His is old, but it works. That kid doesn’t qualify because his folks could afford to buy him one. Gavin here thought he had him talked into it. But then the guy asked if he really thought he’d give the bike to him. All Gavin said was, ‘Seeing is believing,’ and he comes back with, ‘That’s not the answer I’m looking for. I’m afraid you don’t qualify.’” The young man paused shaking his head, “Why don’t you give it a try?”

At that moment Toby felt like running away, but he thought, I’ve come this far, I might as well give it a try. Slowly he walked up to the front door and rang the doorbell. A man about his father’s age answered the door. “Can I help you, Son?” he asked pleasantly.

Toby swallowed hard. “I’ve come to ask about the bike you advertised.”

“How old are you?”

“Twelve, Sir. I start junior high this fall.”

Toby thought the man suddenly looked sad.

But the look disappeared as he asked, “Do you have a bike already?”

“No, Sir.”

“Why don’t you have one?”

It was Toby’s turn to look sad. “My dad’s too sick to work. He hasn’t been able to work for three years. Mom works, and I do yard work, but there’s not enough money to buy a bike.”

The man looked at him for a moment. “What’s your name, Son?”

“Toby King.”

“Well, Toby, would you believe me if I said I would give you that bike?”

Toby smiled broadly. “Yes, Sir! If you say so.”

The man opened the door and came out to the porch. “My name is Tim Larsen, Toby. Come with me. I’ll show you the bike.” Together they walked to the garage and entered the side door. There was the bike, an awesome BMX bike! Mr. Larson stood for a moment as if lost in thought. Then he said, “Toby, this was my son’s bike. He rode it only a few times. Then he became very sick, and a year ago he died. My wife and I decided we would give the bike to a boy about Tommy’s age. But that boy had to be someone who couldn’t afford to buy a bike for himself. He also had to be a boy who would believe I really would give the bike to him. Toby, you now have a new bike. Take it, and God bless you.”

Even in his excitement Toby remembered to say, “Thanks a whole lot, Mr. Larsen. I really appreciate it!” Then he hopped on the bike, and waving to the astonished group on the sidewalk, rode rapidly toward home. Hooray! he thought. I can’t wait to show Mom and Dad!

Carefully parking the bike near the front window, Toby raced into the living room where his father still sat in his wheelchair, now looking admiringly at the new bike. “Isn’t it a beauty, Dad? And it really was free!” Quickly Toby told his father what had happened. “One thing I don’t understand, though, Dad. Why was it so important for me to believe he would give it to me?”

Mr. King replied thoughtfully. “Perhaps he wanted you to know how important faith is, Toby. In this case you believed Mr. Larsen’s word. But if you apply that same rule to your spiritual life, you’ll remember to have faith in what God says. When you ask Him for something, and truly believe that He will give it, you will receive an answer.”

Toby listened to his dad intently, then nodded his head. “I’m not sure that was what Mr. Larsen had in mind, but it’s a sure thing I’ll think about that when I ride my new bike!”

Matthew 7:1-5, 15-23; Romans 2:1-3

That afternoon, Jaiwon learned that jumping to conclusions could lead to big mistakes.

Jaiwon spun the wheels of his miniature model racer as he thought about how many days he had spent getting it ready for this race. The hardest part had been getting the weight right. There were no motors in the racers, they just coasted down a long sloping track. The heavier the car, the faster it went. But if a car was too heavy it would be disqualified. Jaiwon had carefully weighed his car and trimmed the lead weight until his racer was just at the maximum—eight ounces.

Carter came up behind Jaiwon and stared over his shoulder. “Wow, Jaiwon,” he said with grudging admiration, “that’s a great looking car. I don’t think the wheels on my racer will . . .”

The boys were interrupted by another voice. “Yeah, your car is pretty nice, Jaiwon, but it will never beat mine!” Jaiwon looked up to see Elias standing nearby with a sneer on his face.

Jaiwon just smiled at Elias. “Yours might win,” he replied. “You’ll get your chance.”

Just then, one of the men who was putting up the race track called to the boys, “Hey, could you guys give us a hand for a minute?” Jaiwon went over and steadied the support that the man had indicated.

“Thanks for helping,” the man said when the track was in place. Jaiwon went over and picked up his car. Now he had to hurry. It was almost time for the race to start and he still hadn’t had his car cleared by the judges. He hurried over to the table. A minute later, one of the judges was placing his racer on the scale.

“Let’s see here. You know that the racers cannot weigh over eight ounces.”

The scale dial spun—six, seven, eight, eight and one-quarter ounces!

“I’m sorry,” the judge said with a frown, “I’m afraid I’ll have to disqualify your car. It is over the weight limit.” He turned the racer over. “Here’s your problem, Son. You don’t need this second lead weight on the bottom of your car.”

“But I didn’t . . . ,” Jaiwon blurted out. “How . . . ? How . . . ?”

Suddenly he knew the answer. Someone had fastened that extra weight onto his racer while he had been helping with the race track!

Elias. It had to be Elias. Jaiwon remembered his sneering look as he said, “Yours will never beat mine!” He had tried to make sure it wouldn’t.

In a daze, Jaiwon watched the race go on without his car. Two at a time they sped down the track. At last only two cars were left—Carter’s and Elias’s!

A brief timeout was called to steady the race track. No one but Jaiwon seemed to notice Carter slip over by Elias’s car and quickly bend an axle ever so slightly, but one of the judges spotted his action.

“I knew my car could beat anybody’s except Jaiwon’s and Elias’s,” Carter admitted brokenly to the group which quickly gathered around him. “I really wanted to win. Jaiwon’s car was easy—I just pushed the extra weight onto it and he wasn’t even in the race.”

Jaiwon heard no more. He had been so sure that Elias had done it, but Carter was the guilty one!

Elias was storming. “Why you little punk!” he shouted at Carter. “What do you mean by wrecking my car?”

Jaiwon wasn’t happy about what had happened either, but his attitude was different. “Why didn’t you tell me it meant so much to you, Carter? Maybe we could have built a racer together.”

His quiet remark made Elias turn to him in amazement. “You’re not mad? He ruined your chances for the race too!”

“No, I’m not mad, Elias. Sure, I’m disappointed. But there will be other races. And by the way, I owe you an apology. All through the race I kept thinking it was probably you who put the weight on my racer.”

Elias looked even more astonished. “Can’t say I blame you. I did sound off at you before the race.” He turned back to Carter and shrugged his shoulders, for the moment speechless.

A few minutes later an announcement came over the loudspeaker—the race would be re-scheduled for the next day. He would have a chance to race his car after all. Jaiwon smiled to himself. Oh well, this afternoon hadn’t been a total loss. He had learned an important lesson about judging others.

Matthew 6:25-34; 2 Kings 4:1-7

After a year of many trials, Amelia had learned an important fact.

Amelia waved goodbye from the living room window as her dad got into the truck to go to work. It had been over a year since she had last seen her father leave for work—a hard year with times of uncertainty and tears. Not just tears of sorrow, though, but also tears of joy.

Her mind went back to the last day of school a year ago. Amelia and her three brothers had raced home, eager to begin preparations for their family’s annual two-week vacation. She had bolted through the doorway and stopped short, surprised to see her dad there. “How come you’re home so early, Dad? You aren’t sick, are you?”

Her father looked up. “No, I’m not sick, Honey. But I do have some news to tell you and your brothers.” He paused for a moment, and then went on. “Due to cutbacks at work, I’ve been laid off. So our vacation is going to have to be postponed. We just can’t afford one now.”

“Oh, no, Daddy!” Amelia and her brothers had wailed. “We’ve been looking forward to this for so long!”

“I’m sorry. I know you’re disappointed, but your mother and I feel that God has His hand in this. He knows all our needs and He’ll provide for us. We just have to keep trusting and serving Him. The Bible says that He even takes care of the birds, so we can be sure that He’ll keep His hand over us.”

Amelia had run to her room with tears of disappointment in her eyes. If God loved them, how could He let their vacation be ruined?

She hadn’t understood at the time, but that summer had proved to be one she would never forget. There was no money for the usual summer activities like swimming at the city pool or playing soccer at the YMCA, but soon Amelia realized that those things didn’t matter that much anyway. Her mom and dad were happy even without a lot of money. Mom had to sell her car to help pay expenses, and there were very few dinners out, but it had been great having Dad around.

God had remained the center of their lives. There was never any bitterness about the way things were going. They had family worship every day, and her father never failed to thank God for His bountiful blessings, even when times were the hardest.

Amelia soon realized that God rewarded her parents’ faith. Time after time God pulled the family through hard places. Once, when they were short of cash for food, Amelia’s youngest brother found a twenty-dollar bill at the park. Another time, money was sent to them from an unknown source. But the incident that really stood out in Amelia’s memory was when God got them to church and back with no gasoline in the car!

The gas gauge had read empty. It was time to leave for church, but Amelia had a question. “Dad, how are we going to get to church? The car doesn’t have any gas.”

“We’re going to trust the Lord,” had been her father’s reply. “I don’t have any money for gas and I know the gauge says empty, but it is His will for us to be in the service this morning. He can take us the twenty miles to church and back again.”

Amelia got silently into the car. Would it even start? It did . . . and the trip began. Every few minutes Amelia peeked over her father’s shoulder. That gas needle was solidly on empty, but the car moved on without a sputter.

They made it to church. When it was time to leave, Amelia asked, “Shouldn’t we see if someone could take us home, Dad? We’ll never get back. We’re sure to get stuck halfway!”

Her dad just smiled and said, “God will get us home, Amelia.”

Sure enough, God did. As they turned into their driveway, the car engine sputtered and died. It was then that the tears came to Amelia’s eyes. God worked a miracle today, she thought. He does care about us!

Yes, it had been a year Amelia would never forget. Their family had faced many trials, but God had taken them through every one. Today Dad was starting his new job, and just as he had said, God had provided all their needs.

Matthew 6:19-21; Luke 12:13-21

Ellie was excited that she had finally saved enough money for a new bike, but events that followed made her reconsider.

“One hundred forty-eight, forty-nine, and fifty!” Triumphantly, Ellie laid the last dollar bill on the stack in front of her. “I’ve finally got enough, Dad!”

Her dad smiled. “You’ve worked hard to save for that bike, Ellie. Tomorrow, right after school, I’ll pick you up and we’ll head over to the bike shop.”

During the next few weeks, Ellie spent every spare minute on her new cruiser bike. All those months of saving her allowance, taking every babysitting job that came her way, and doing odd jobs for the neighbors had finally paid off. She had her bike and she loved it!

But just two months to the day after she bought the bike all her delight came to an end.

The bike disappeared.

During the night, someone had cut through the chain that fastened the bike to the porch rail, and when Ellie came out in the morning, the bike was gone. She could hardly believe it! They notified the police, and then Ellie and her dad spent the afternoon driving up and down the streets looking for it—but to no avail.

“We’ll drive around some more on Monday, Hon,” Ellie’s dad finally told her. “Maybe whoever has it will have had their fun by then and will leave it somewhere.”

At first it seemed as though their search on Monday was going to be fruitless too. But then, driving south of the area they had covered on Saturday, Ellie spotted something.

“Could that be . . . yeah, I think it is, Dad!” Ellie pointed to the backyard of an old brick building. Her dad headed the pickup into the lot. A minute later Ellie stood looking down at her once shiny cruiser bike, now lying in a ruined heap of twisted fenders, bent handlebars, and flattened tires. Even the seat was slashed.

Anguish welled up inside her. Who in the world would have wrecked her beautiful bike like this? And after all she had gone through to get it!

A short time later, Ellie’s dad carried the mangled bike down to his basement workshop. “It really is a shame, Ellie,” he said as he began working on the twisted frame. “You worked long and hard to save up enough for your bike.”

“Yeah, and after only two months, this happens!” Ellie agreed, frustration edging her voice. She turned away abruptly to hide the tears that threatened to spill over.

Upstairs, Ellie noticed the family computer on the desk, still open to the article about Mr. Jones’ death. Years before, Ellie’s dad had worked for this man who left behind a fortune in art treasures and other investments. She remembered her dad’s words at the breakfast table this morning.

“Gerald Jones worked hard for the things of this life—fine homes, the best automobiles, fabulous art collections. More than once I heard his friends tell him to slow down, that he couldn’t take it with him. Now he’s gone, and all his treasures are left behind. I wonder how important those things seem out in eternity?”

Mom and Dad had gone on to talk about priorities—how important it is, even when young, to take time for church and the things of God. Then we can be sure our most valuable treasures will be in Heaven.

Slumped on the couch, Ellie listened to the muffled sounds coming from the workshop below. Could her cruiser bike ever again look like the treasure it had been when she bought it? Her eyes strayed back to the computer and the article. Treasure . . . had a bicycle meant that much to her?

Ellie sat there for a long time, deep in thought. At last she went slowly back down to the basement.

“Dad, I’ve been thinking about Mr. Jones, and my bike, and my priorities, and treasures in Heaven . . .”

Her dad looked up with a slight smile. “That’s a lot to think about, Honey.”

“I still feel bad about my cruiser bike, Dad,” Ellie smiled back. “But after all, I can’t take it with me!”

Matthew 6:5-8, 16-18; 17:14-21

His parents had prayed for his healing since his birth, but now he felt the need to earnestly seek the Lord on his own.

Not too many years ago, on the island of Newfoundland, a young man and woman eagerly awaited the birth of their third child. The day came at last, and a baby boy was added to the family. However, rejoicing at the gift of a healthy child was not to be heard in that home. The baby had been born with a painful, disfiguring skin disease. But, oh, how they loved him.

The parents hoped their son would get better in time. Instead, he grew worse. Nothing they did for him brought any improvement in his condition.

His eyes, his hands, and his feet would bleed. As his parents looked at his red and broken skin, they hurt for him, knowing they were helpless to aid him. The doctors said he would have to live with the disease for the rest of his life.

The time came for him to enter school, and as can well be imagined, it was a very difficult experience. The pain and discomfort he was in made the school day hard for him, and for his teacher also. His classmates shied away from him.

In the midst of all this trouble, there was one ray of hope—his mother was a Christian. She loved God and believed He would heal her afflicted son. Many joined with her in prayer for the boy, knowing that God was his only hope, but no healing came.

The father, though not a Christian, was so disturbed by his son’s terrible condition that one night he prayed, “God, if You will heal him, I will give You my life.” A short time later, during the Easter season, the father was wonderfully saved. His son, however, still suffered from the disease.

Not long after, the boy grew even worse. At a time like this, many people either give up hope for the answer they want, or they turn their backs on God, blaming Him for their problem. But those who read their Bibles will find that for every true need we have, God has provided a way for that need to be met.

One Sunday morning in May, the father called his son to breakfast. But this morning was different. When the son came in, he told his dad, “I don’t want any breakfast. I’m going to fast and pray for Jesus to heal me.”

The son had been thinking, Everyone has been praying for my healing, but I still have this disease. Perhaps it is part of God’s plan for my life. If so, then it is something I must bear cheerfully as a Christian. But first I will try something. I will fast and pray, asking God to either help me accept this or to heal me, if it be His will.

When a Christian has a need, he may choose to fast, which means he decides not to eat so that he might give himself more fully to prayer. In doing this he shows that he is very serious and determined to see God’s will done in answer to his request. In our times, little is said about fasting, and yet we read in the Bible that it was encouraged by Christ himself. In giving us guidelines concerning fasting, Jesus said, “When ye fast,” not, “If ye fast.” He obviously expected Christians to follow His example and use fasting as a means of prevailing in prayer.

We do not fast just so we can tell those around us that we are doing so. It is something private, just between an individual and God. The Bible tells us that when we fast and pray with the right spirit before God, we can expect Him to reward us openly.

What happened to this young boy from Newfoundland? Just two days after he fasted and prayed, he was completely healed! How thankful he was for Jesus’ wonderful example of prayer and fasting. And you can be sure he is praising God today that he is now able to live a normal life without the pain and suffering he once knew.

Matthew 6:1-4; 2 Corinthians 8:1-15

Should he practice with Charlie or go skiing this weekend?

Harrison dribbled the ball. Thump, thump, thump. The noise resounded through the empty gym. A couple more steps and he was on the free-throw line. Then, the shot. He made it!

He turned to pass the ball to Charlie. His aim was careful, but the ball sailed on past Charlie’s outstretched hand.

Harrison dribbled the ball. Thump, thump, thump. The noise resounded through the empty gym. A couple more steps and he was on the free-throw line. Then, the shot. He made it!

He turned to pass the ball to Charlie. His aim was careful, but the ball sailed on past Charlie’s outstretched hand.

“You’ve got to move your chair faster, Charlie. You need to almost overshoot the path of the ball. Then you won’t lose your balance when you reach for it. Let’s try that pass again.”

Harrison retrieved the ball from midcourt and passed it again. Undaunted by the encumbrance of his wheelchair, Charlie thrust it forward with great energy this time. Too much! The ball bounced off his chest before his hands were up to catch it.

Charlie laughed with Harrison. They had good times together, these two—Harrison bounding around with all the pent-up energy of a healthy fourteen-year-old and Charlie eager to soar beyond the bounds of his wheelchair.

Charlie had been only seven years old when a car accident left him paralyzed from the waist down. The frustration he had known in these past seven years had been somewhat forgotten in the joy of dribbling and shooting baskets. These last six months had been great.

This past fall he had left the school for handicapped children and entered his neighborhood junior high school. Mainstreaming had been a challenge. No more special treatment. The kids were straightforward. A few were thoughtless or cruel, but most of them were really nice. Harrison was one of the nice ones.

Harrison was student body president, and well liked around the school. He was a Christian. Charlie knew that just from his actions. Harrison had taken a real interest in Charlie from the very beginning of the year, and his friendship had really smoothed the way for Charlie.

They both loved basketball, and today they were working hard on perfecting Charlie’s ability to catch passes. It was an important practice session for them. Charlie had only one more week until he was going to enter the Special Olympics. So at each workout he was really pushing himself.

That night after Harrison got home he received a text from Parker asking him to call right away.

Harrison set the basketball down on the kitchen counter and dialed Parker’s number. “What’s up, Parker?” he asked when he heard his friend’s voice.

“Harrison, you won’t believe our good luck. My uncle rented us guys a cabin up on Mount Hood. We can go up there Friday afternoon and ski all weekend. Tell your mom my uncle’s coming too, so he’ll watch out for us. Harrison, you can come, can’t you?”

“Well, I think so,” Harrison hedged. But a sick feeling was sweeping over him. “Parker, I’ll call you back later and let you know for sure.”

Harrison set his phone down and buried his head in his hands. What was he going to do? No problem with his folks’ letting him go—they’d love for him to have the chance, and they trusted Parker’s uncle, one of the church youth leaders.

So what was the problem? The problem was that Harrison had already made a commitment to Charlie to practice, practice, practice this Saturday. It was the last chance before the Special Olympics. How could he tell Charlie he was going away?

His mother came into the kitchen and noticed Harrison’s troubled look. “What’s the matter?” she asked, concerned. Sighing, he explained the situation.

“Harrison,” his mother began, “would it really matter that much to Charlie? I’m sure he would understand.”

“Yeah, that’s just it! I know he would. In fact, if I tell him about it he will insist I go!”

“Then what’s the problem?”

“Mom, I made a promise. Charlie doesn’t have anyone to practice with him except me, and this is awfully important to him. I just don’t know what to do . . .” His voice trailed away.

The hum of the refrigerator motor was the only sound in the kitchen.

What do you think Harrison should do? Make up your own ending for this story.

Matthew 5:17-20; Romans 8:3-4; Galatians 3:19-29

This was the first time Joshah had been faced with bringing the offering for his own sins.

God told Moses how He wanted His people to live, and Moses recorded God’s commandments. These laws taught the Children of Israel what God demanded of man. Even though a person could not please God on his own, God had provided a way by which a person could worship Him acceptably. A sacrifice of animals, combined with faith, could atone for sin. This sacrifice pointed ahead to the time when Jesus would die as the perfect Sacrifice and make atonement for the sins of all mankind. Let’s look back over three thousand years into history and see how someone such as Joshah would have made atonement for his sin.

Joshah nervously shifted the strap on his basket from one hand to the other as he walked along the dusty path. Inside the basket, two pigeons cooed and flapped their wings in agitation. He was almost to the Temple. In his mind he rehearsed the ritual words he would say. I have sinned against the commandments of the Most High God. Wilt thou, as the anointed one of His priesthood, make a sin offering in my name that my fault may be purged?

Joshah swallowed, the taste of dust burning in his throat. Though he had seen many others stop at the Temple, he had never been there before. Only a fortnight ago he had come of age, and was now considered a man among his people. As a child, his sins had been atoned for by his parents. Now, the full weight of his misdeeds and the responsibility to make atonement rested upon him.

Hesitating for a moment at the edge of the narrow courtyard which bounded the Temple, he thought once again of the decision, which required this trip to the priest. Three days ago, he had been driving his father’s flock of sheep toward their grazing place. On the way, he had noticed that the ox which belonged to their neighbor, Gehaziel, was straying. Gehaziel was an unjust man, and from his youth Joshah had never thought kindly of him. He knew full well that the Law required him to return the ox to its master, yet he had driven his flock on without pausing.

What a weight of guilt had immediately descended upon him! He had sinned! And he could no longer look to his parents to make atonement for him. The guilt was his, and his alone.

For the first time in all his thirteen years, Joshah had felt unclean, sinful.

That night, Joshah had been unable to eat. Even the hot bread, fresh from the stone oven, did nothing to tempt his appetite.

Later that night, as he had lain on his mat, he had found he could think of nothing but the sin he had committed. He had tossed and turned so restlessly that at last his elder brother Jamlech had told him to either lie still or go out and sleep under the trees. Knowing that any further sign of his turmoil would draw the attention of his parents or brothers, he had forced himself to remain motionless, but sleep had not come.

The next two days had been miserable. Consumed with the thought of his own unrighteousness, Joshah had found it impossible to concentrate on anything else. Finally he could bear the burden no longer. Last night he had sought out his father just after the evening meal.

“Father, I have sinned,” he had confessed in a low voice, unable to raise his eyes to his father’s face. At his father’s gentle questioning, the whole story had come out.

“You know, my son, that as you are now of age it is your responsibility to go before the priest and ask him to make atonement for your sin.” At Joshah’s silent nod he continued. “Attend well to my words, Son. The Lord God has made provision for forgiveness of sins, but you must obey the commandments concerning sacrifice that your offering may be acceptable in His sight.” With sorrow on his face, Amaziah had carefully explained each of the steps that Joshah must take. When he finished, he had placed an arm about his young son’s shoulders.

“I can see, my son, that tomorrow you will go to Gershon, the priest, with a proper spirit of grief for your sin. May God go with you and show respect unto your sacrifice.”

Now the moment had come. Before his courage could fail, Joshah moved quickly forward through the courtyard and stood at the entrance to the Temple. “Is my lord the priest within?” he called.

Almost immediately, Gershon himself stood before him. “I have sinned,” Joshah began. The words he had so carefully learned from his father came from his lips, and then the confession of his misdeed. Joshah’s heart reached out for forgiveness and relief from this burden of guilt. “Will my lord the priest accept these two pigeons and make a sacrifice unto the Lord God in my name?”

The priest took the two pigeons from the basket that Joshah held out, and examined them carefully to be sure they were without blemish. “Yes, God will accept these birds as your offering,” Gershon said at last. “Place your hands upon the heads of these birds, and as you do, let the burden of your guilt be placed upon them.”

As Joshah placed his hands upon the heads of the birds, a strange feeling of ease came into his heart. He had done what he could—he had brought his offering to the priest in faith. Now Gershon would fulfill his obligation before the Lord, and in the sacrificing of the pigeons Joshah would find atonement for his sin.

Matthew 5:14-16; Daniel 6:1-28

The responsibility of living a Christian life on the job weighed heavily on Elijah.

There were no two ways about it, Elijah was very nervous when he thought about starting his new job at the grocery store on Saturday.

It wasn’t the work—he was sure he could handle that. It wasn’t the people he would be working with. Elijah liked people and usually didn’t find it difficult to get acquainted. The problem came when he thought about having to bow his head and thank the Lord for his lunch in front of all those guys he would be working with.

Elijah sat on the side of his bed and argued with himself. Why should I be fretting about a thing like that? Maybe they won’t even notice, and they probably wouldn’t say anything if they did. Or would they?

He sighed. This kind of thinking wasn’t helping a bit. Maybe he should try praying about it! He knelt beside his bed and began to talk to God.

“Lord, You know all the things I’ve been thinking the last few minutes. It’s probably a crazy thing to trouble You about, but I just can’t get it out of my mind.” He paused for a moment, and then said, “I’m so thankful for the day You saved me. I want to show others that it’s great to be a Christian. But it’s hard when people make fun of me, and I’m afraid they might tomorrow. Won’t You please help me do the right thing?”

On Saturday, the morning seemed to pass by quickly as Elijah adjusted to the routine of his new job. A few minutes before their lunch break, Colin, one of the other boys, passed Elijah with a hand truck stacked with boxes of apples. “Soon as I unload these over at the produce counter, I’m heading for the break room. Did you bring a lunch?” At Elijah’s nod he said, “I’ll meet you there, then.”

Elijah’s heart beat a little faster. Here it comes! “Thank you, and have a nice day,” he said automatically to the woman whose groceries he had just finished loading. He nodded to Jack, the guy who would fill in as box boy while he took his break, and went to get his lunch.

A few minutes later he slid into the place Colin had saved for him at the employees’ lunch table in the back room. Slowly he opened his lunch sack. He took out his sandwich and set it down on the paper napkin in front of him. He took out an apple and placed it next to the sandwich. He took out a bag of chips and opened it. Then, he bowed his head and prayed.

It probably wasn’t the best or most eloquent prayer he had ever prayed, and Elijah would be the first to confess it wasn’t very fervent, but he was determined to start out right.

Even before he raised his head he could sense the silence around him and feel eyes on him. But when he looked up, Colin and the two guys across the table looked quickly away and fidgeted with their lunch sacks. Then two of them started talking at once and in a moment the strain passed. The lunch break went by quickly—and Elijah went back to work with a feeling of inner satisfaction. He had made it over the first hurdle.

A few weeks later, Colin was walking out of the grocery store with Elijah at quitting time. “Boy, it’s really been a day, hasn’t it? Sometimes it is hard to keep your cool when people sound off or yell at you to hurry up with their groceries.” He hesitated for a moment, then continued. “I notice that you take all this hassle right in stride, Elijah. I’ve never once seen you get mad.”

Elijah looked at Colin. “I’m a Christian, Colin, and the Lord helps me . . .”

He didn’t get any further. “I thought so!” Colin exclaimed. “I figured that out the first day you prayed over your lunch! And watching you these past few weeks made me sure of it.”

Elijah glowed inside. He might never be a great missionary to India or Peru, but there were people all around him who needed to know they could have a happy life in Jesus. Suddenly a bit of Scripture came to his mind: “Ye are the light of the world.” It was his responsibility to let people know that he belonged to Jesus—and he had done it!

Matthew 5:6-9, 38-48; 18:23-35

When Hunter broke the game, Beckham’s response amazed everyone on the bus.

“Hey, look what Beckham has with him today!” a taunting voice rang through the school bus. “I wish I had a new Nintendo 3DS.”

Beckham barely had time to turn and see who was speaking before a hand reached over his shoulder and snatched the game from him. “Here, Micah, catch!” The game shot through the air toward the back of the bus.

“What are you doing?” The words were hardly out of Beckham’s mouth when the bus gave a lurch. Micah missed the catch, and the game crashed against a seat frame and slid down the aisle.

A sick look crossed Beckham’s face. His brand new 3DS! There was silence in the bus as he slowly got up from his seat and retrieved the shattered case and broken pieces. Hunter Gibson, the guy who had thrown the game, slumped into the seat across the aisle and looked warily at Beckham as he worked his way back to his seat.

“Sorry about that,” Hunter finally said offhandedly. Then added, “But you shouldn’t have had something like that on the school bus anyway.” Every eye was on the two boys, waiting for the fight to start.

But it didn’t. Beckham stuffed the pieces inside his backpack, then he looked across the aisle at Hunter. “It’s okay. I know you didn’t mean for it to get broken.”

A flicker of disbelief crossed Hunter’s face. For a moment it seemed he might say something more, but then the school bus pulled up in front of Lincoln Junior High and everyone began the scramble to get out.

Several weeks went by and Beckham had almost forgotten the incident on the bus. Besides, he had a new airsoft gun, so he was spending a lot of time target practicing.

Someone had told him about a big field on East 47th Street. It seemed like a good place to practice because there was a thick hedge at one end that should stop any stray pellets. He set up a couple of tin cans he had brought along with him and loaded his gun.

His first couple of shots missed. He thought that maybe he needed to steady his gun a little better, so he flopped down on his stomach and used a large rock for a support. Now he would have to fire upward to hit the target, but at least the gun was steady. He took aim and fired. Missed again. He tried once more. This time the can fell.

Beckham jumped to his feet and walked over to put his target back in place. Just then an angry figure stormed around the side of the hedge.

“Hey, young man! Come here!”

Beckham looked around. Was the man talking to him? “Do you mean me, Sir?”

“Yes, I mean you! Are you the one who is firing a gun out here? You just shot through my kitchen window!”

“Oh, no!” said Beckham, horrified. He set his gun down beside the target and looked helplessly at the man. “I didn’t know there was a house close by. Anyway, I thought the hedge would stop the pellets.”

“Well, it didn’t,” the man said angrily. “I suggest the next time you check a little better before you start shooting. And now, who is going to pay for my window?”

“I will,” Beckham said. “I’m really sorry it happened. How much do you think it will cost?”

“A window that size will cost over one hundred dollars.”

Beckham knew he would have to ask his parents for the money. “I’ll have to go home to get the money. May I leave my name and address with you and come back in an hour or so? I’ll leave my airsoft gun.”

“I suppose so,” the man replied with a disgruntled air. “Come on over to the house and write it down for me.”

Beckham picked up his airsoft gun and went with the man. At the house, he waited on the porch until paper and pen were brought out to him. Then he jotted down his name and address and handed it to the man. He was turning to leave when the man said, “Say, just a minute! Beckham Tinney . . . You go to Lincoln Junior High, don’t you?” At Beckham’s nod, the man went on. “So does my son, Hunter. Hunter Gibson. I think you know him.”

The scene on the bus flashed through Beckham’s mind.

“Let me guess what you’re thinking.” The man was smiling now. “You’re remembering a day on the bus before school closed when my son broke your Nintendo game.”

Beckham looked at him in amazement. “You mean Hunter told you about that?”

“Not right away, but when he did, he told me how surprised he was that you didn’t get mad at him. As a matter of fact, he still can’t quite figure it out.” He paused for a moment. “You know, Hunter was really impressed that you didn’t demand that he pay for the game he broke. That was kind of you. So why don’t we just forget about this window business. I’ll pick up a piece of glass somewhere and Hunter will help me put it in.”

Hunter’s father dropped the matter of the broken window because he appreciated the fact that Beckham hadn’t demanded payment from his son for the Nintendo 3DS. Our Bible text for this lesson gives an opposite example—a servant who had been forgiven a debt, but then demanded payment from someone who owed him money. What happened to that servant? Unless we extend mercy, should we expect to receive it?

Matthew 5:1-5; 8:5-10; Isaiah 29:19; 57:15

Knowing who had really built the project, Lincoln was faced with a challenging question.

Damian and Lincoln bent over the table, straining to see the fine wires, chips, and numerous other parts littering the bench in front of them.

“Lincoln, we need to put a jumper here, and then we’ll . . .” Damian’s voice was muffled as he bent over to look more closely.

“But Damian, I thought you said that other modification should do it,” Lincoln moaned.

“Nope, we need to get another part. Got some money on you?” Damian asked.

“Yeah. Let’s go,” Lincoln answered.

They grabbed their bikes and headed for the computer shop. On the worktable, they left a nearly completed, built-from-scratch computer—Damian’s “brain child.” He had persuaded Lincoln to try out his idea and enter it in the Science Fair.

Damian and Lincoln came from two very different economic backgrounds. While Lincoln had everything he needed or wanted, Damian struggled to help his family make ends meet. He had a morning paper route and spent a couple of hours after school working at the computer shop. He had learned a lot there and was eager to apply some of his knowledge. So when Lincoln had idly commented one day that it would be fun to try to build a computer, he’d been excited about helping with a project he could never have afforded to begin on his own.

The boys had been back from the computer shop just a short while when Damian said, “There, that should do it. With this wire in place the connection should . . .” The computer hummed to life. Both boys let out a whoop of delight. “It works!”

The next several days were spent in working out the bugs and programming. Friday afternoon Lincoln got his dad to take it to the school in the van and help set it up, just a couple of hours before the judging was to begin. They plugged it in . . . but when Lincoln pressed the switch, nothing happened!

Lincoln’s hands felt clammy. His stomach churned. He squinted at this connection and that. Tapped here and there. Stared in at the mass of wires. What should he do? The only thing he could do was get Damian—but Damian didn’t get off work until 6:00. And the fair started at 7:00!

Lincoln’s dad stood by with a perplexed expression on his face. At last he spoke. “Lincoln . . . you built this computer. Surely you can fix it!”

There was a moment of silence. Then Lincoln looked at his dad. “I didn’t really build it, Dad. Damian did. I bought the parts and did whatever little I could, but Damian told me what to do.” He stopped, and then added softly, “It’s really not my computer. Damian is the brains behind it. His name should be on this entry application.”

“Do you think Damian could spot the problem?” his dad inquired.

“Oh yeah, probably wouldn’t take him a minute.” Lincoln stood looking down at the application form lying beside the computer on the table. Slowly he took a pen from his pocket and made a change on a single line. “Entrant’s name: Damian Lopez,” the first line now read.

His dad smiled and put his hand on Lincoln’s shoulder. “I’m proud of you, Son. Now I think you and I had better head over to the computer shop and see if we can bring Damian over here to have a look at this.”

A little while later, Lincoln watched Damian’s nimble fingers expertly fix the loose connection. What a great guy, he thought. He’s spent so many hours working on this entry, and he doesn’t expect any credit for it. He has considered it my project all along. But the whole project is really his! I’m glad I realized it in time.

6:55: The computer was humming away like a breeze.

9:15: The judges were announcing, “First place goes to Damian Lopez for his computer.”

9:17: Damian stood on the platform with the judges, the surprise of hearing his name announced still clearly written on his face. “I want to thank you for selecting this entry,” his first words were, “but the project really belongs to Lincoln Brooks. He . . .”

The crowd’s thunderous applause drowned out the rest.

God’s service came first for Ella.

Ella’s sober face reflected her concentration as she sat on the edge of her bed and gazed unseeingly across the room. Really, the decision had already been made. But now she had to figure out how to explain it to Harmony and Mr. Quan.

Suddenly her thoughts were jarred by the ringing phone. A bubbling voice greeted her. “Hi, Ella, it’s me, Harmony. What have you decided about Mr. Quan’s Illustrative Art class? Are you going to join me in the chase for the elusive butterfly of fame and fortune?”

Ella took a deep breath. “Harmony, I’ve been praying about this whole thing, and I’ve decided not to get involved. It conflicts with too many other more important things.”

“What do you mean? Mr. Quan said we’d be meeting only on Tuesday evenings plus after school a couple of times a week. I know we have church on Tuesday nights but this would only be for a couple of months.”

“Well, I don’t want to miss church. But even the time after school . . . I feel this is time I should be giving to God in service. I made some consecrations to God after He saved me. One of those consecrations was that I would always put Him first. I’ve started taking voice lessons, and I really need to practice every day. Also, I have been doing some art work for the junior Sunday school lessons. If I’m going to keep up with those things, as well as my homework, I just don’t have time to take on anything else right now.”

Harmony was silent for a minute. Then she responded softly, “Okay, Ella, I see what you mean. And I really respect you for making that decision, but as for me . . . well, I can’t carry a tune in a bucket. I don’t have any great talents to use in the Lord’s work. Nobody would miss me if I weren’t there on Tuesday nights.”

“Harmony, I can’t agree with you. You’ve got some great talents you could use for the Lord! Your way with words is fantastic.”

“Words?” questioned Harmony, somewhat taken aback. “Anyone can talk. How can that be a talent to use for God? I’m not going to be a preacher!”

“Harmony, you’ve been captain of the debating team for two years now, and you get straight A’s in English Comp. What about writing for the church newsletter, or joining the group that makes visitations on Sunday afternoons? The Sunday school teachers are always looking for help with clever sayings for bulletin boards, ideas for programs, and things like that. Just being in church and doing your best to encourage and pray for others is a talent, isn’t it?” Ella paused for breath.

“I guess so,” Harmony responded after a moment. “But, Ella, I’ve always felt that if you couldn’t sing or play an instrument you just didn’t have any talent the Lord could use.”

“No, that isn’t so, Harmony.” Ella thought for a moment, then chuckled as she continued. “This is kind of a weird illustration, but I think it’s sort of like a carpenter’s tool box. The hammer doesn’t say, ‘Just because I don’t slide out of a case and measure things, I can’t be used.’ The pliers don’t say, ‘I can’t pound a nail or tighten a screw, so I can’t do anything.’ All the tools are different, but they all have a job to do. They all are needed.”

Harmony laughed. “Well, I see your point there, Ella. But I’m still not sure how the Lord can use any skills or talents I may have.”

“Look, Harmony. The Lord is going to give you a job that matches up with the talents He has already given you. He’s not going to call you to be a vocal soloist if He didn’t give you any singing ability. He’ll never ask you to be a cello player if your fingers are too short. But He does have something you can do with the talents He has given you—I’m sure of that!”

“How can I find out what that job is, though, Ella? I’d be willing if I knew.”

“First, Harmony, you’ve got to start by talking to the Lord and letting Him know you are serious about wanting to do something in His service. He’ll see and know when you really make that consecration with your whole heart. Then, be sure you are always in your place in church. If an occasion comes up when volunteers are asked to do something you could help with, be there and do your best. Let it be known that you are willing and available. Don’t worry, God will open the doors for you if your whole purpose is to do your part in His work!”

Ella could hear the joy in Harmony’s voice as she answered. “You’ve really given me something to think about. Thanks a lot for your advice, Ella!”

Our world seems insignificant compared with God’s greatness.

Take some time out, and lie down on your bed, or on a nice grassy slope. Close your eyes and imagine that you and I are stepping into our own private spacecraft. With your spacesuit on, climb into the copilot’s seat. Study the computerized panel in front of you. Don’t worry! Almost everything is preset for us.

Countdown. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, and we’re off! Look back quickly. In just a moment you’ll no longer be able to see even the launching pad.

Three minutes aloft. Our city is hazy and faint. The coastline shows up clearly and there’s the Atlantic Ocean, how blue it looks!

Five minutes. No cities can be seen now. “But what’s that faint blue line on the horizon?” you ask. Could it be the Pacific Ocean? We can see the whole United States stretched out “from sea to shining sea.”

Just wait! Only a couple more minutes and you’ll see all of North and South America. Yes, even now we’re looking at Canada and Mexico.

Look quickly, because soon the whole earth will be only the size of a basketball, then a softball, and then . . .

“Which star is Earth?” you ask. You lost it. Well, it doesn’t really matter now. They’re all hazy. Sort of like the Milky Way.

Don’t feel lonely though. We’re not all alone. God is here. No, you can’t see Him with your eyes, but look around.

Remember the Scripture where the Psalmist said: “When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him?” (Psalm 8:3-4).

Look at all these stars around us. Never ending. Galaxy after galaxy. Yet, God sees you. He knows your every thought. He saw you even before you were born, while you waited in that warm darkness until the moment of your birth.

God cares for you, even to the point that He knows exactly how many hairs are on your head. He sees and knows everything about you—your wishes, desires, thoughts, plans. He knows what is behind your actions.

And not only you. He knows intimately every person on the entire earth, and everyone that ever lived. God is everywhere. He can see everything. There is no place man can hide from God.

Well, it’s time we turn this spaceship toward home. Copilot, which way? You don’t know? Was it in that general direction? I don’t like the idea of spending the rest of my life floating around in outer space.

That’s right! The computer. It will know. It’s already heading us toward home.

That reminds me. Inside each of us is something that’s trying to head us toward our eternal home. The only problem is, most people try to ignore that signal. They know they should turn to Jesus, serve Him, and follow His commands, but they listen to too many other signals.

God has the power, though, to take man from the earth to a heavenly home, and power to help him live a victorious life until then. As a matter of fact, the power of our little computer here doesn’t compare to a fraction of God’s power. He has power to save from sin, to heal, to restore life. Infinite power! He created all the stars in the universe, our Earth with its hills, mountains, rivers, oceans, trees, animals, right down to the tiniest flowers or blades of grass, and even the atom! Best of all, He created you!

Yes, I know your mother gave birth to you, but think, where did the first man, Adam, come from? That’s right, he was created by God.

What’s that? You say our planet has come into view? Yes! There it is. It’s only the size of a softball, now a basketball, and now . . .

Though Kai had withdrawn from his family, they continued to pray for him.

“I don’t want to and I don’t have to!” shouted Kai as he slammed the door and headed off for school.

His parents looked at each other and shook their heads in a helpless manner. Without a word they walked into the living room where their two younger children waited.

“What’s wrong with Kai, Mom?” asked Mila with a concerned look on her face. “He’s really changed.”

“Yes, I’m afraid he has, Dear. There was a time when he enjoyed family devotions each morning. Now . . .”

“Now we’re going to pray for him, aren’t we?” interrupted their father. “As soon as we read something from the Bible.”

After family worship, the other children left for school and the house quieted down. Gazing out the window, Mr. Teitzel sighed and said, “Honey, I think he’s at that stage when children question whether their parents’ religion is really what they want. He knows that this house is a house of prayer. God has blessed each of us, including him, for that reason. We’ll just have to keep praying that the Lord will open his eyes soon. He seems to be getting bitter.”

During the next few weeks, Kai drew back from his family more and more. He tried to get out of going to Sunday school, and refused to participate when he did go. The Teitzel household continued to pray for him. Their morning devotions brought them closer yet as they shared a common desire for God to undertake in this situation. On the rare occasions when Kai joined his family, he would sit back with his arms folded and pretend not to listen—even when his younger brother and sister would earnestly pray each day for their unspoken “special need.”

One sunny day Mrs. Teitzel sat on the porch reading the mail. As she read a letter from her sister something struck her. “Why,” she said to herself, “this may be the answer!”

That evening, she showed the letter to her husband. When he finished reading it, a smile crossed his face and then a serious look. After making two phone calls he turned to his wife and said, “Tell Kai we’re going on a little trip Saturday.”

After driving for several hours, Mr. Teitzel turned off the expressway and headed down a country lane that crossed a barren landscape. They had not told Kai where they were going so his curiosity was aroused. As they drove up to a massive gate, his father spoke to a uniformed guard. Then they headed toward a dreary-looking group of buildings and through another gate in a high wall. Finally, Kai leaned over the front seat and with an agitated voice asked his father, “What are we doing here? This is the State Prison!”

“We brought you here so you can visit your cousin. Jack committed a felony last year and is now doing time. We’ve kept it quiet until now for several reasons.”

Kai was skeptical and hardly spoke a word as they were led through many doors and gates. He cringed as each one slammed behind them, locking them in.

Through the thick glass in the visitation room, Kai and Jack engaged in light conversation for a while. Then Jack suddenly grew serious.

“Kai, I’m allowed only a short visit so listen closely. I’ve heard what’s been happening to you, so I asked my mother to arrange for you to come and visit me. I know where you’re headed because I was right there myself about seven years ago. I thought I had a better way . . . I wanted to be free. You know what I mean? My parents raised me just like yours are raising you. The Bible says that parents should teach their children the Word of God and pray with them and for them. But it’s up to the kids to listen. If only I had listened, if only I had appreciated the privileges I had in that home, I wouldn’t be in this place today. The Lord did have mercy on me and three months ago, right in my cell, I told Him I was sorry. He saved me! My soul is free, but I can’t leave this place for at least five long years. I hope my message is clear. I’ve got to go now. I’ll be praying for you.”

Kai didn’t move a muscle for several minutes after Jack was led away. When he turned to face his parents his eyes were filled with tears. The look on his face made his parents hope that very soon the whole family would once again be worshiping the Lord together.


Would Leila honor her commitment?

“To the beach? Oh, I’d love to go! I haven’t been to the beach for ages.” Leila’s face lit up with eager anticipation. “Who’s going?”

Sydney turned to Fisher, “Is it just you and Autumn besides your dad, or is your mom going too?”

Fisher kicked a pebble and sent it spinning as he replied, “No, Mom already had her Saturday planned. But Dad says it’s okay if four or five others go. He just said we kids will have to fix the lunch. He promises to treat on the way home.”

“Can we ask Shyla and Kyle Witham to go?” Leila looked questioningly at her friends. “They’re those new kids in Sunday school, and it would help them get acquainted.”

The three friends walked along, rapidly filling in the details of the planned outing—who else might go, and who would bring what for lunch.

They paused at Leila’s house and called out greetings to her mother who was working in the flower beds. She smiled back at the happy trio. “What are you all so excited about? I could hear you coming a block away!”

“Oh, Mom . . . Fisher’s dad is going to take some of us kids to the beach Saturday. Isn’t that awesome? We’re making all the plans.” Leila’s eyes danced. “Sydney, I’ll text you sometime tonight with that cookie recipe. See ya!” She waved goodbye and walked into the house with her mother.

A little furrow creased Mrs. Wallace’s brow. “Leila, aren’t you forgetting something? Isn’t Saturday the first workday your Sunday school class planned?”

“Oh, Mom,” wailed Leila. “I completely forgot! Of course it is. But the beach trip will be so much fun . . . and I really want to go! What shall I do?”

“That is really something you’re going to have to decide for yourself.”

Leila sighed. “Well, it isn’t as though there won’t be other workdays, but I don’t know when I’ll get another chance to go to the beach. Anyway, Mom, we are going to ask a couple of new kids to go. Giving them a chance to get acquainted with some of the Sunday school kids is a good idea, don’t you think?”

Still Leila wasn’t quite satisfied. Upstairs in her room after dinner, she struggled to make up her mind. She considered one reason after another why she should go, but each time, into her mind would come the decision the class had already made. The kids themselves had suggested how they could help some of the older people in the church with their housecleaning and yard work. The class had been discussing Christian service and how important it was to put the needs of others before themselves. How excited they had been when someone suggested the class workdays, something they could do together. No . . . she couldn’t back out on the very first workday! I’d better call Sydney, she thought, and went downstairs to get her phone.

“Hello, Sydney.” Without any preliminaries Leila came right to the point. “You know this afternoon when we were making plans for the beach trip, I forgot something.”

“What?” Sydney questioned.

“Saturday is the first workday for our Sunday school class. Remember, I told you we wanted to help some older people who can’t get around very well? We’re all going over to the Pierson’s in the morning and the Judd’s in the afternoon to help them with the house and yard work.”

“Oh, but Leila,” cried Sydney, “you can’t miss this beach trip! Hey . . . I’ve got a good idea. Why don’t you ask your brother to take your place this time since you’ve helped him with his homework and cleaning his room a lot of times? Then you could go.”

“I thought of that too, but when we were making plans for the class workdays our teacher told us it would be a good lesson in commitment. Remember when we had the lesson on that? She warned us that three or four workdays would take a lot of planning and work. It would also cut into time we might want for other things. But the whole class agreed we would do it.

After a little pause, Leila continued. “Mom left the decision up to me, and I’ve thought a lot about it; I just can’t go to the beach this time. Anyway, I’ll still give you the cookie recipe. Okay?”

Sydney sighed. “Well, okay. And I really do understand, but it won’t be as much fun if you don’t go.”

Later, just before going to bed, Leila opened her Bible to Sunday’s lesson, 2 Samuel 24. As she read the concluding verses and turned to the text in Romans 12:1 and 2, a little smile curved her lips. Her mind went to the decision she had made that evening and she felt so good. Like King David in the lesson, she too had given God something that was a personal sacrifice. Sometimes it is harder to give up our time or things we want to do than to give our money.

Leila knew down deep in her heart that she was going to follow through on the class workdays—each one. She would be there! It was with a feeling of satisfaction and contentment that Leila drifted off to sleep.

Dominic rode away angrily when his dad vetoed the fishing trip.

“Well, Dominic, should I tell my dad that you’ll be coming?”

“Boy, I sure want to go, but my parents probably won’t let me since you’re going on Sunday.”

“What’s the difference? Sunday’s just another day, isn’t it?”

“Not to my parents, Jack. I’ll ask them and call you. Maybe if I’m lucky they’ll let me go.”

When Dominic arrived at home, his father was mowing the front lawn.

“Dad, I want to ask a favor.”

“Sure, Son, ask away!”

“Would you let me go fishing with Jack and his dad?

“Well, I suppose so. When are they going?”

“About six o’clock tomorrow morning.”

His dad took his gloves off and leaned against the bumper of their car. Looking at Dominic he said, “On Sunday? I think you’d be disappointed in me, Son, if I let you go on the Lord’s Day. Wouldn’t you?”

Upset at receiving the expected answer, Dominic grabbed his bike and sped down the street. Faster and faster he raced, passing another bicyclist. As he came to a bend in the street he hit a patch of sand. Losing control, he went down hard. Another rider stopped beside him.

“Dominic! You all right?”

“I guess I am, except I scraped my arm. Where’d you come from, Austin? I didn’t see you.”

“I’ve been following you for a couple of blocks. You were riding like a madman! And you were almost hit by a car! What’s the matter with you anyway?”

“Oh, I’m just fed up with my dad and mom!”

“You’re kidding! With your parents?”

“Yeah. It’s just rules, rules, rules. What do you know about my parents, anyway?”

“I know them from church. Here, let me help you straighten your handlebars.”

As they worked on the bike, Dominic told Austin the situation and how sometimes he wished his parents weren’t Christians.

Austin looked at Dominic with an expression so pained that it startled him.

“What’s wrong, Austin?” Dominic asked.

“I want to show you something that I don’t usually let any of my friends see. My house is the blue one over there. Let’s go and take care of your arm.”

As they neared the house Dominic noticed the yard was overgrown and littered. The front door was wide open and a pile of clothes lay just inside. Dominic couldn’t believe his eyes as they entered the living room. The house was a mess, a child was crying somewhere, and the stale smell of cigarette smoke was everywhere. A haggard looking woman shuffled into the room, mumbled something, and left.

“That’s my mom,” said Austin as he led Dominic to the bathroom where they washed and bandaged his arm. Then they made their way down the hall to Austin’s room. Picking up his Bible from the nightstand, he looked Dominic straight in the eye. “I brought you here, even though it hurts me. I wanted you to see just how much you really have. You met my mother, but I hope you don’t meet my dad. We kids try to be in bed when he gets home. He drinks a lot. You know, I’ve been going to Sunday school at your church for about a year now. Five months ago I prayed and the Lord saved me. Your parents prayed with me and they have been right there to encourage me all along the way. I’ve always wondered why you never were praying with them. Now I guess I see why . . . but I don’t understand.”

Dominic was sitting quietly now, with his head down.

“But Dominic, I do understand why they keep Sunday holy as the Lord’s Day. When the Lord came into my heart I felt there was hope after all. Sunday will always be a special day to me. It was on that day that Jesus rose from the grave after dying on the Cross for my sin, and for yours too, Dominic. I want to honor Him by giving that day especially to Him. I think your parents feel the same way . . . and I’d give anything if my home was like yours. At least you know your parents care for you.”

The bad news started Brycen wondering if his life was worth living.

“What? Levi Peterson? Are you sure?”

Brycen stared unbelievingly at his friend, Jackson, who had just come skateboarding furiously to his house.

“I couldn’t believe it either, but my grandmother lives right next door to his family and she saw the ambulance and everything.”

“But he was so popular, even class president . . . he seemed to have it all together.”

After discussing the news for a time, Jackson took off again on his skateboard, and Brycen walked slowly into the house. His father stopped him on his way through the living room.

“Hey, why so glum? Lose your best friend?”

“No, I hardly knew him.”

“What are you talking about?”

“A real popular kid at school committed suicide today. It’s hard to understand.”

Brycen’s father started to reply, but the phone rang. He answered it and started talking about construction business with somebody. Brycen sighed and headed up to his room. He picked up his pen and the journal where he wrote his thoughts:

“Yesterday I’d have given anything to have been Levi Peterson. Today he killed himself. If he didn’t have anything to live for, what about me? Sometimes I wonder if it’s worth going on. My dad doesn’t have time for me. My stepmother never has liked me. I haven’t seen my mom in three years. I’m not popular. My grades aren’t that great. I never have any money, and don’t even have a skateboard. What’s the use?”

He paused and choked back a sob that came from deep down inside before writing again:

“Samuel told me just yesterday that God is real and that He loves everyone. Who is he kidding? If God loves me, why is my life so worthless? I think Mr. McNeil was probably right. When he showed us that big evolution chart, he laughed and said something about how crazy it was to think that man just appeared on the earth like it says in the Bible. When I’m gone that’ll be the end of another meaningless life.”

Brycen threw his pen at the wall in frustration. The next morning he arrived at school late. Then he discovered he’d forgotten his history paper and his lunch. As he sat on the lawn outside the cafeteria, Samuel came by.

“What are you doing out here, Brycen?”

“What’s it to you? I forgot my lunch and I’m just having a bad day.”

Samuel offered to loan Brycen some money for lunch. So the two went in and stood in line at the hot lunch counter.

“Hey, something’s really bothering you, Brycen. Is it the suicide?”

“Well, that is what started it. But it’s more than that. All last night I was thinking about doing the same thing.”

“Don’t even talk like that, Brycen! Trust me, that’s the most stupid move you could make!”

“Look, I’m just a nobody going nowhere fast. Why suffer?”

“Because Somebody has a plan for your life, that’s why.”

“Spare me the preaching, Okay? Do you really, I mean really, believe that stuff?”

“You know I do, and you know I have good reason to.”

The two sat down at a table by themselves as Samuel continued.

“My life was headed downhill fast before Jesus saved me. You remember the trouble I was in. Now look at me. Do you think I did this myself? Don’t kid yourself, there’s no way! Let me tell you what the minister said in the meeting last night after we all heard about Levi. He was at the house after it happened. He read the note. It said, ‘I have everything I want, but I have nothing.’ He preached about how the Christian can have nothing in this world and still be rich because of what God has done for him.”

“God has done nothin’ for me, Samuel! Nothing!”

“You haven’t given Him a chance! You think you’re a piece of junk. But God created you in His image, Brycen. That means a lot! He wants you and me to be happy here, and then be with Him forever. You can say what you want, but I know that’s real! I have a purpose for living now. I am happy, I mean a special kind of happy. God said He would come and live in my heart and He has! I’m not making this all up. But you have to get saved to experience it. Why don’t you just give it a try, Brycen?”

Brycen paused a long time before answering. “Well I . . . I guess I’ve got nothing to lose. And if it’s as real as you say, then I guess I’d be a fool for not trying.”

Samuel grinned and said, “Do it! You’ll be amazed just like I was! You’ll find out how important to God you really are!”

Doctrines and guidelines will help us reach Heaven!

WHACK! Dianna hit the softball straight over second base. The ball bounced and rolled in the outfield as the team shouted, “Run, Dianna! You can make it to third base! Run!” Dianna sped away from home plate in the direction of first base. But halfway there she turned. Straight toward second base she charged. Her teammates gasped. What was Dianna doing? Quickly she touched second base, sped on to third, then raced toward home plate. The other team shouted, “Throw the ball to first base.” As the first baseman caught the ball, the gym teacher yelled, “OUT!”

Dianna’s angry teammates gathered around her. “Why did you skip first base?” they demanded. Dianna looked at them defensively. “I wanted to make a home run. I couldn’t do it if I went all the way to first base, so I skipped it. I think that’s a silly rule, anyway. I’m going to tell the gym teacher so.”

Should Dianna’s home run have counted even though she broke the rules? Of course not.

We learn rules in every part of our lives. There are rules for games, like touching first base in baseball; for crossing streets, like looking in both directions before you step off the curb; for writing, like putting a period at the end of a sentence; for driving, like stopping at a red light.

A Christian has rules too. Some of these are called doctrines. These are the things God says we must do, no matter what. In order to go to Heaven, we must repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. After we are saved we must continue to love and serve Him. He also tells us that there are more wonderful experiences for us to receive. Holiness, or sanctification, is a second work that God will do in our hearts. He says that we must follow Him every day, asking Him for help to grow spiritually. Jesus also told us in the Bible that He wants us to have the special gift of the Holy Spirit—that the Holy Spirit can fill our hearts and give us power to serve Him better.

Some doctrines are not rules but, rather, tell us about God and about the things that the Bible says will happen in the future. We have learned some of these things in Sunday school, such as our belief that there is a Heaven.

Christians have other kinds of rules besides doctrines. These might be called guidelines. They are the policies that church leaders make to try to help Christians walk more closely to Jesus and be an example to others. Sometimes we forget that these rules are meant for our good. We may say, “Why do I have to do this? Where does it say I can’t do that? I don’t find any rules like that in the Bible.”

The guidelines may not be spelled out word-for-word in the Bible, but they are based on Scripture. Our ministers are given the authority by God to make these rules.

For instance, the Bible says that a Christian should not only be careful of what he does to the inside of his body, but also of how he looks on the outside. We should look and act like a person who loves and serves God. We are told to dress modestly and act in a meek, well-behaved way. Men should have shorter hair and not try to look like women. Women should have longer hair and not try to look like men.

It is true that the Bible does not give a specific style of clothes or say how long is long (hair length) or how short is short (dress length). In order to help people understand what the Bible says about these things, the leaders make rules so that everyone in the church will know what is expected of him. These rules are the guidelines of the church and are established so there will be unity among those who worship together.

Businesses have rules for their employees. The Army, Navy, and Marines have rules for those who are in their service. We, as Christians, have an even more important service to give. The Lord has said that as we serve Him we should obey or have respect for those who rule over us in the church. When God puts us into a certain church to worship, it is because He knows that church will help us to learn more about Him and teach us how to serve Him better. If we are going to be a part of that church, we need to obey the guidelines and not find fault with the leaders.

It is our privilege and responsibility to pray for our leaders that they will have wisdom to know what the guidelines of the church should be. Then we can ask God to help us understand and obey the way we should.

* * * * *

Dianna’s run couldn’t be counted because she didn’t obey the rules in the softball game. How much more important it is for us to obey the rules that are designed to help us reach Heaven!

The pain inside was almost too much to bear, but then I realized Jesus was alive!

The ache inside feels as if it will never go away, a pain as raw as an open wound. Jesus—the One who delivered me from the demons. Jesus—the One who taught us such wonderful things, Jesus—the One who healed the sick and blessed the children, Jesus is gone. Dead!

Oh, the agony of these last few days! He was praying in the Garden when a group of men and officers came and took Him away. I was not there, but some who witnessed His trial before Caiaphas the High Priest and Pilate, said it was nothing but a mockery. How can anyone be tried for being good? What had my blessed Jesus ever done to deserve such treatment? Eventually they did find two false witnesses. And the chief priests persuaded Pilate to let Jesus be crucified. Even the people cried out that He should be put to death, and the murderer Barabbas released.

Crucified! I can still hear the ringing of the hammer as the Centurion pounded those spikes into His hands and feet. Those precious hands with the gentlest touch! I can still feel the darkness which covered the city. We heard Him cry out to His Father, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” We saw Him die. Oh, how can it be? Our very own Jesus, dead!

We watched as Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus put Him into the grave. We women hurried out to buy the necessary spices. We wanted at least to anoint His poor body and we couldn’t do this on the Sabbath. So this morning we arose while it was still dark, and hurried here to the tomb just as the first streaks of dawn were in the sky. On our way we asked each other how we were going to move the huge stone that closed the tomb. To our surprise we found the stone had already been moved—it was resting beside the entrance. The tomb was empty! Who could have done this?

I ran quickly to tell Peter and John. They also came and saw that the stone had been moved and the tomb was empty.

Everyone has gone now, but I cannot leave this place. I weep to think of the last hours. Now even His precious body is gone! Someone has stolen our Lord so we cannot even anoint Him. My tears feel as though they could flow forever.

As I weep, I stoop down and look once again into the sepulcher. What is this? Inside are two glorious beings bathed in a white glow. One is sitting at the head and the other at the feet, where His body had been. In the most compassionate tones they ask me, “Woman, why weepest thou?”

Though my heart is pounding in fear, I reply, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him.”

They say no more, so I turn again to stand outside the tomb. And then I see a man. He must be the gardener. He says to me, “Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou?”

Maybe this is the man who moved the body. So I tell him, “Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.”

He does not answer my question. Instead, he says to me, “Mary.”

Ah, can it be? No one else says my name that way: ”Mary.” A thrill shoots through me. It is my Lord. He is alive! My tears turn to joy that I cannot contain. I fall at His feet and say, “Master.”

As I reach out to touch Him, He says, “Touch me not . . . but go to my brethren.”

My feet cannot seem to run quickly enough. Oh, the pure joy—He is risen! He is risen! The glory of it!

As the days go by, I relive again and again that moment when He spoke my name. I shall never forget it. To think that He let me be the first to see Him. My thanksgiving will never end.

Now I understand that He had to die to atone for my sins. Then He arose to gain the victory over death. Because His Blood has covered my sins, I shall live eternally. Even though someday my body will die, I will rise again with a glorified body just as Jesus did.

In those dark hours of Calvary, we did not understand that this was all part of God’s plan to save us. We loved Jesus when we had walked and talked with Him. He had changed us. But now as we look back, we see the magnitude of the plan. And we appreciate how much Jesus suffered, for He took the sins of every generation on Himself that day.

Each day as I awake, in my heart I hear again, “Mary.” And my soul anticipates the day when I shall again see Him, and hear Him say my name.

Their lunch table conversation helped Weston understand the purpose of ordinance services.

Damarco loaded three slices of pizza, a chocolate milkshake, and a huge cinnamon roll onto his tray. Then he made his way over to where his friends were seated in the school lunchroom.

Lexi, Hadley, and Weston paused in their discussion as Damarco bowed his head over his lunch.

“You’re just in time, Damarco,” said Hadley. “We were talking about ordinance services that different churches have—you know, when everybody takes the Lord’s Supper, and then they do Foot Washing.”

“Not everybody,” said Lexi as she took a bite of her sandwich. “The Lord’s Supper is only for those who are saved.”

Hadley was surprised. “Really? I thought it was for everyone.”

“Nope, Lexi’s right, Hadley.” Damarco stopped eating for a moment and continued, “It’s special. You have to know for sure that you’ve been born again. It says so in the Bible.”

Weston had been listening to the others and looked up. “I don’t know exactly what you’re talking about. What is an ordinance service anyway? Is it what my church calls ‘taking communion’?”

“Communion, or taking of the bread and juice that represent the Body and Blood of Jesus, is part of the ordinance service,” said Lexi. “When our minister passes around the tray of broken bread and grape juice, he repeats some words that Jesus said during the Last Supper with His disciples, ‘. . . this do in remembrance of me.’ After that same supper, Jesus washed His disciples’ feet and told them that this was an example they should follow. So at our ordinance services we do both.”

Weston looked interested. “How often do you do this?”

“We do it every few months,” said Damarco.

“Do you?” said Hadley with surprise. “Our church has communion every Sunday.”

“The Bible doesn’t tell us how often we should do it,“ Damarco replied. “But like the verse says that Lexi just quoted, when we do it, we must remember we are doing it in memory of Jesus. It is a very special time, and we must not let it become commonplace to the point that it loses its meaning for us.”

“The important thing is that Jesus wants us to do both of these things,” Lexi added. “He knows that we get a special blessing from obeying Him. It’s great! All of God’s people gather to remember how He suffered and died to save us, and the example He set for us.”

“Well, thanks for the input,” said Weston as he wadded up his lunch sack. “It’s time to get to class. This has really been an interesting discussion. I’d like to talk some more about it sometime.”

Damarco smiled. “I think the discussion has been good for all of us. Now the Lord’s Supper and Foot Washing will mean even more to us.”

A few weeks later as Damarco took the Lord’s Supper, he thought back to what they had talked about that day at lunch. He tried to imagine how it was in the Upper Room during the Last Supper. He thought about Jesus holding out the bread and the cup—His Body broken and His Blood shed—knowing that He was giving up His life for sinful men. He thought about how Christ showed such love and humility as He washed His disciples’ feet. Then he remembered how Jesus rose from the dead in victory and that He would be coming back soon! It made Damarco feel good inside. He felt really close to the Lord at that moment.

* * * * *

How about you? Do you understand the meaning of the Lord’s Supper? Do you think of it as something very special and sacred? Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:16 that the cup of blessing is the communion of the Blood of Christ, and the bread which we break is the communion of the Body of Christ. Communion means fellowship or friendship. When you take the Lord’s Supper you are having a special time of friendship with Jesus. Those who have not been born again are not included. Only those who love Jesus and know Him as their Lord and Savior have the right to this time with Him.

Let’s look forward to the times when we take the Lord’s Supper and are blessed by Jesus!

Christian wondered about keeping the vow he had made.

“Your mother is very, very sick. If the Lord doesn’t undertake soon, I am afraid she won’t be with us long.”

Christian’s eyes filled with tears again as his father’s words echoed in his mind. Looking out his bedroom window into the dark sky, he wondered why this illness had to happen to his mother. As he thought about her, he remembered a little saying she often used. “Whatever the need you have today, God will take heed if you’ll only pray.”

Kneeling beside his bed, Christian prayed. “O God, You know how I hurt inside. I know You can heal my mother . . . Lord, if You’ll heal her I promise that I . . . I won’t eat lunch for a year!” He continued praying, and after a time a calmness came into his heart and he went to sleep.

During the next few days his mother grew only worse. But Christian kept on praying, and often repeated his promise to God.

One morning he awoke to the sound of crying coming from his parents’ room. Fear gripped his heart as he ran down the hall and through the open door. “Mom! Dad! What’s wrong?”

“Nothing is wrong, Christian, nothing at all,” his father responded with a beaming face. “Your mother and I were just rejoicing about something wonderful. You tell him, Dear.”

“The Lord touched me early this morning, and I know He has healed me completely!”

Christian marveled at his mother’s strong, clear voice and the bright expression on her face. And she was sitting up in a chair—something she hadn’t done for weeks.

“Oh, Mother, I’ve been praying for a miracle and God has answered,” cried Christian as he ran over to her.

The joy of the miracle was all Christian could think of that morning. But as he sat down in the cafeteria at lunchtime, another thought suddenly entered his mind. I can’t eat this! God has healed Mom and I made a promise to Him! As he sat there watching the others eat he wondered if he could really keep his promise.

When Christian arrived at home, he was delighted to find his mom up and even working in the kitchen.

“Hi, Mom!”

“Christian, I can’t tell you how good it is to be up and around again! Here, let me clean out your thermos. Say, it feels like it’s still full!”

Christian sat down and explained to his mother about his promise.

“Well, Son, that’s quite a vow you’ve made on my behalf. I’m sure the Lord will honor you for keeping it.”

The next few days weren’t too bad for Christian during the lunch hour since he could usually concentrate on how wonderful it was that his mother was alive. After a while, however, he began to question whether continuing to go without lunch was that necessary.

“Dad, how important are vows?”

Laying down the paper and motioning for Christian to get the Bible, his father gave him a serious look.

“That’s a good question, Son. Your mother told me about your vow and I had a hunch you’d be wanting to know a little more about it soon. In Ecclesiastes we read: ‘When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed. Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay.’ Christian, you may not have had to promise exactly what you did. But since you did, as a Christian you are bound to perform it. The Lord knows you did it out of love for your mother, and I believe you can count on Him to help you to keep it.”

Christian sat silently for a few moments, thinking. At last he said, “Thanks, Dad. You know, I think I’ve learned an important lesson about vows. If we decide on our own to make a promise to God, we should make sure it’s something that we are really willing and able to do.”

Christian’s lunchless year did finally come to an end. As he headed out the door with a lunch sack in hand, he turned and smiled at his parents.

“Oh, yeah! I almost forgot to tell you . . . I made a vow to God this morning!”

His startled parents both spoke at once, “You did what?”

“I told the Lord I would serve Him with all my heart for the rest of my life. I figured that if He could help me keep a vow like the last one, then He could surely help me keep this one!”

As they watched Christian head down the sidewalk, his dad smiled and said, “A lot of wisdom in that fourteen-year-old son of ours . . . a whole lot of wisdom.”

Mom and Webster help Drew see how important it is to check out that slang.

Drew opened the screen door and stepped into the coolness of the house. Whew! It felt so good inside. A game of tennis on a warm day was great, but now all he wanted was something cold to drink.

He set his racquet down in the hall and went into the kitchen, wiping his forehead. His mother was standing at the sink. “Hi Mom,” he said, as he headed for the refrigerator. “Is there still some coke in here?”

His mother smiled, “You certainly look like you could use a cold drink all right. Sit down and I’ll get you something,” she said as she reached into the refrigerator. “I hope an RC will do. That was what was on sale at the store today.”

“Mom, a coke’s a coke. RC is just another name for it, and I don’t care what it’s called, as long as it’s cold!”

His mother grinned at him and said, “That must be why, when I sent you to the store for some Kleenex, you brought home that generic tissue—same thing, just another name, right?”

“Yeah . . . and when I get ‘Scotch tape’ it isn’t always real Scotch tape. Sometimes it’s another brand name.”

Their conversation was interrupted by a knocking at the door. Drew went to see who was there, and soon was back in the kitchen with his friend Jarrod.

“Hi, Mrs. Bradley,” Jarrod greeted her.

“Hello, Jarrod,” she answered. “Would you like a coke?”

“Gee, Mrs. Bradley, that sounds great!” he responded. “It’s frightfully hot today!”

Drew caught his mother’s eye, but she made no comment as she reached into the refrigerator for another can of RC and handed it to Jarrod. “Here you are, Jarrod. This should help.”

A few minutes later, after Jarrod had left, carrying a music CD he had come to borrow, Drew wandered back into the kitchen.

“I saw you look at me when Jarrod said ‘gee,’ Mom. He probably doesn’t know we shouldn’t use that word.”

“I’m sure he doesn’t, Drew. A lot of people who would never think of using God’s name in vain just don’t realize that words like ‘gee’ and ‘gosh’ are actually substitute forms of the names ‘Jesus’ and ‘God.’ As a matter of fact, I was thinking as you boys left the kitchen how that ties in with the conversation we were having earlier—about RC’s being another name for coke, and Kleenex another name for tissue. That kind of word substitution is okay. But we should know the basic meanings behind slang expressions. Otherwise we might use words that stand for something God wants us to respect and honor.”

Drew got a curious expression on his face. “I wonder if gee and gosh are in the dictionary . . . what does it say about them?” He left the kitchen again, and returned carrying a Webster’s Dictionary. “Let’s see . . . gecko, geddes. Yeah, here it is! Gee: a ‘contraction of Jesus.’ Sure enough, Mom!”

“Why don’t you look up the word gosh, Drew, as long as you have the dictionary?” his mother suggested.

“It’s here too,” Drew said a minute later. “It says almost the same thing: ‘an exclamation of surprise: a euphemism for God.’”

“For an opposite example,” his mother said, “there are a couple of other words that I hear used a lot—darn and heck. These words aren’t short forms of God’s name. They are short forms of swear words—damn and Hell. I know people who wouldn’t think of saying damn or Hell, but they say darn and heck right along.”

Drew did some more thumbing through the dictionary. “Right again, Mom. Webster agrees with you.” He shut the dictionary with a thud. “Well, that’s interesting . . . but now I’d better get upstairs and clean up before dinner.” Passing the sink, he set his empty pop can on the drain board. “Here’s my empty coke can, Mom . . . or should I say RC?” he added with a wink.

“Doesn’t matter,” she responded chuckling. “Remember, same thing, just another name!”

The rest of the class knew God expected them to respect His house.

The paper airplane shot through the air, then nose-dived, narrowly missing the side of Miss Mason’s face. She hesitated briefly in her reading aloud of the Answer story, and several of the students gave Graham, who had made the airplane, disapproving looks. Then Miss Mason resumed reading.

“Josias could hear the golden bells tinkling from the other side of the giant curtain. He knew that Zophara, the high priest, was still alive.”

The class sat spellbound, except for Graham who never could manage to keep still for very long.

“Behind the curtain was the Holy of Holies. Even though he was a priest, Josias couldn’t go in there. In fact, the high priest was the only person ever allowed into the room. And he could go in only once a year—on the Day of Atonement. He was in there now, sprinkling blood from the sin offering. Josias listened intently for the bells. Was Zophara still moving around? If he defied God by disobeying the clear instructions God had given, he would be struck dead!”

“Wow,” Graham said as he propped his feet up on the chair in front of him. “That must have been scary, to worry about God’s killing you off if you don’t follow the rules in church. I’m sure glad it isn’t like that now.”

“What do you think has changed since then, Graham?”

“Oh, lots of things,” explained Graham. “Under the Law before Jesus came there were a whole lot of dos and don’ts. Jesus changed all that.”

“You’re partly right, Graham,” Miss Mason said. “Through the Law of Moses, God revealed special instructions to the Jewish people that would allow them to know Him better than any other nation. It was a great privilege for them to have the Law, and not something to treat casually. God wanted them to be an example for others, so He required that they follow the Law strictly. Why, back under the Law if you didn’t do what your father and mother told you, you could be put to death.”

“You’re kidding!” came a response from the other side of the room.

None of the class liked that idea very well. The teacher went on. “But Jesus is very concerned about how people act in God’s house. The only time the Bible tells us of Jesus’ doing anything violent was when people weren’t treating the Temple as they should. He went into the Temple and saw people buying and selling animals for sacrifices and exchanging money. What do you suppose He did?

“Told them to leave?” Brianna questioned.

“More than that,” replied Miss Mason. “He turned over their tables and chased them out.”

“I didn’t think Jesus would do anything like that,” Miranda broke in.

“He didn’t do anything like that for any other reason,” Miss Mason explained. “That shows how important Jesus thought it was to respect God’s house.”

Graham wasn’t going to quiet down easily. “But that was in a big, fancy Temple,” he said. “All we have is a little, tiny church.”

“God doesn’t care how fancy a church we may have,” Miss Mason explained. She opened her briefcase and pulled out a picture of Solomon’s Temple. “This was the fanciest and most expensive Temple ever built. All of the stones were cut to shape before they were brought to the building site. When the men finished putting these stones together, they covered them with gold. It took Solomon’s men seven years to build the Temple. Still, when it was finished, he told God he knew that it wasn’t good enough for Him, but asked God to please answer the prayers they prayed there. God doesn’t really care how plain or fancy our church may be. But He does care how we act in it.”

Graham wasn’t through yet. “But this is just a Sunday school room, not upstairs where we hold services. We should be able to do anything we want here.”

“It’s all part of God’s house,” the teacher responded quietly.

“Yeah,” answered Graham, “but Jesus is up in Heaven. He isn’t around checking up on us.”

The rest of the class knew better than that and they set Graham straight. “Jesus said that if just two or three people were gathered together in His name, He would be there with them,” Josie said, and the others agreed.

Graham was silent.

“So . . .” said Josie, “you’d better shape up, Graham!”

Tino tried to tell Justin why he couldn’t use the Bible as a prop.

Justin frowned as he tried to adjust the Bunsen burner underneath the beaker of chemicals in the chemistry lab. “Tino, the burner just isn’t high enough. We’ll never get these chemicals hot enough. Let me use one of your books to prop it up and get it closer to the beaker. That one is just about the right size.” Justin grabbed for Tino’s Bible which was sitting on top of his stack of textbooks.

Tino’s eyes widened in astonishment. He grabbed the Bible out of Justin’s grasp just as he was about to place it under the burner. “You can’t use the Bible for that!” As he pulled his arm back his elbow hit the beaker. CRASH! Hot glass and chemicals splattered everywhere!

“Look what you’ve done,” Justin lashed out. “Boy are we going to get it now!”

“I’m sorry. It was an accident. But you can’t use the Bible as a prop.”

“I don’t see why not. What difference does it make?”

“Shhh, I’ll tell you later. Here comes Mr. Budgett.”

That afternoon Justin boarded the bus and scanned the seats for Tino. Spotting Tino three rows from the back, he plopped down in the seat Tino had saved for him.

“Now will you tell me what all that was about in Chemistry this morning? I just wanted to use one of your books to prop up the burner and the next thing I knew you had knocked the entire experiment on the floor. Now we’ve got extra cleanup duty every night after school for a week.”

“Hey, I’m really sorry, Justin, but that was the Bible! Don’t you realize that you don’t use God’s Holy Word that way?”

“The Bible is just a book, so what’s all the fuss?” Justin replied.

“The Bible isn’t ‘just a book,’ it’s the most important Book in the world! It’s not like any other,” said Tino.

“Well, what makes it so special?” Justin questioned.

“The many writers of the Bible were directed to write it by God himself. The Bible says that ‘All scripture is given by inspiration of God.’ That’s how God has given us the instructions for living the way He wants us to in this world, and how to get ready for Heaven.”

Justin looked doubtful. “My dad says that parts of the Bible contradict other parts. So how can you believe it?”

“Justin, have you ever read the Bible for yourself?”

“Well, no.”

“You should, and it would change your opinion. In fact the Bible is perfect. The four Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—give four different views of the life of Christ. Each point of view complements the other and gives an accurate picture of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.”

Justin shook his head. “I don’t think I could believe the Bible the way you do. My dad says it’s just Jewish history.”

“Do you believe in the Christmas story—the birth of Jesus in the stable?”

“Of course. It’s just all that other stuff I don’t believe.”

Tino picked up his chemistry book. “Justin, when you read the chapters that Mr. Budgett assigns, do you go through each chapter and say, ‘I am going to believe what it says on this page but not the next’?”

“That’s silly. You know I don’t.”

“Then how can anyone just pick out parts of the Bible to believe? You have to believe all of it or you may as well believe none of it.”

“Okay, you have a point, but I have one more question for you. If the Bible is the great Book you say it is, how come I hear about so many different versions of it?”

Tino replied, “That’s man’s doing, not God’s. God says if any man takes away part of the Bible, God will take his name out of the Book of Life.” Justin sat with a thoughtful expression.

At the boys’ bus stop, they got off and silently walked toward their homes. When they reached Justin’s driveway, Tino stopped and looked at him. “Justin, why don’t you come to Sunday school with me next Sunday? We’ll give you a Bible. Then when you read it, you’ll see that it’s not just any book.”

 

My conversation with Vincent showed me I needed to thank my mom and dad.

“It’s no use asking Scarlett to go. Her mother wouldn’t let her!”

The whole group started to laugh.

“Her mother won’t let her do anything,” one of them sneered.

“Well, maybe I don’t want to go,” I shot back at them. I turned my back and walked away, but I was crying as I went. I was still upset when my friend, Vincent, found me beside my hall locker.

“Hey, why the tears, Scarlett?” he asked. “Been peeling onions in cooking class?”

I grinned in spite of myself. Vincent always knew how to make me smile. I explained to him how the girls in my third-period class were skipping school the next day to see a movie at the theater downtown, and they were making fun of my mother because I wouldn’t go.

“Big deal,” Vincent said. That was his favorite expression.

“It sounds like those girls have a problem. What are parents for anyway?” Vincent went on. “Just to cook your meals and wash your clothes and wake you up for school in the morning?”

“Well, no,” I said. “More than that. They’re supposed to look out for us and give us a place to live.”

“What else?” Vincent had a little grin on his face. “Do they teach you anything?”

“I guess they teach us right from wrong,” I answered.

“That’s right, as far as it goes, but there’s so much more than that.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Does your mother even know about this skipping school to go to a movie?”

“No, of course not. I just don’t want to go because I know it’s not right.”

“That’s what I’m getting at,” Vincent went on. “How many of those mothers do you think actually know their daughters are planning to skip school tomorrow?”

“Probably none of them,” I answered.

“Exactly,” Vincent said. “You see, no mother or father, aunt or uncle, grandmother or grandfather can be looking over your shoulder all the time, telling you what to do and what not to do. Parents have to do more than just teach their children right from wrong. They have to bring them up so they’ll decide for themselves not to do wrong. Maybe those other girls’ mothers didn’t do that.”

When I got home, I went into the house and threw my books on the couch. Mom came in, and seeing her reminded me of the conversation I’d had with Vincent. Some of it must have shown on my face because she gave me a second look and then asked, “How was your day, Scarlett?”

“Well . . .” I hesitated.

“Well, what?” my mother asked.

“Vincent gave me something to think about today. I’ve got a lot to thank you for, Mom.”

“Thank me for?” She looked puzzled, but by now she was smiling a little. “Why? Because I’m a good cook? Or because I gave you a new sweater for your birthday? Or maybe because I pray for you every day?”

I hadn’t realized Dad was standing in the doorway listening to what we were saying. “You’ve used up your guesses,” he said as he wedged his way into our conversation. “I suspect those are all a little part of it. Young lady, what brought all this on?”

Then the whole story came out. I ended by saying, “So that’s why I’m thanking both of you—because you loved me enough to teach me to do what I know is right, even when you aren’t around.”

“Well, that’s part of the job God gave us when He gave us you. Besides, we want you to live to be a hundred years old,” he said with a chuckle.

“What?” I questioned.

“The Bible says in Ephesians, ‘Honour thy father and mother; which is the first commandment with promise; that it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth.’”

Mom spoke up again, “The Bible has instructions, together with promises, for both parents and children. If we keep His commandments we can’t go wrong.”

Suddenly, I realized how fortunate I really was, and I began to feel sorry for those girls who were going to skip school.

Grandpa Olson told the children a story with a special meaning.

The big house was bustling with excitement. Every window glowed with light, and the people who were entering laughed and talked happily. Tonight Grandpa and Grandma Olson were celebrating their fiftieth wedding anniversary!

The whole neighborhood was taking part. It seemed as though everyone had done something to help, and now they were all coming to celebrate.

Grandpa and Grandma Olson had lived in that house for most of their married life, and everyone nearby knew and loved them. Grandpa had won the hearts of the children because he always had an interesting story to tell. Two generations of neighborhood children, besides his own children and grandchildren, had grown up listening to his stories and riddles.

It was only natural then, after the celebration ceremony was over, that the children should begin to say, “Grandpa Olson, tell us a story.” “No, give us a riddle.” “A story.” “A riddle.” Finally, the grown-ups, too, began looking interested. So Grandpa spoke from his seat of honor and said, “If you will all be very quiet so I don’t have to talk too loudly, I will tell you a special story in honor of our special day.”

Even the smallest child grew quiet as Grandpa continued. “When our Lord Jesus was here on earth, He used to tell the people stories quite often. The stories He told are called parables, and they each had a special meaning. This is a story like that. Listen very closely now, and see if you can tell me what it means.

“One day, a wise gardener took two seeds and planted them close together in the ground. The corn he planted first, so that it might have a head start and gain strength. The bean he planted second because it was designed to twine around a support.

“As the new corn sprang into the sunlight it reached for the sky and began to develop a strong stalk. Soon the bean sprouted from the soil and grew beautiful green leaves. The two had been planted far enough apart that they did not crowd each other, yet they were close enough that the bean could reach out and gently wrap her tendrils around the cornstalk. The bean rejoiced in the strength of the straight, tall stalk, and found ample shelter for her delicate vine among its leaves.

“Neither of them realized how much the one depended upon the other, yet in growing together their roots had become so completely entwined that if one had been uprooted the other would have been seriously damaged also. That was how the wise gardener had planned it. He knew that the corn would provide support, and the bean would put strength into the soil which the corn would absorb. Neither of them chose carrots or parsley to confide in, for they whispered their secrets to each other when the breeze was passing by. The bean did not give the grapes a second glance, and the corn had no interest in the apple tree by the fence.

“While both of them were pleasant to all of the other plants in the garden, they realized that the companion chosen for them by the wise gardener was the best that they could have.

“Contentedly they grew side by side, both giving what they could and both taking what they needed until, with the coming of harvest, they grew old together. So their fruit was gathered and the frost came. Their dry leaves rustled out the plea, ‘Let us both be lifted from the earth and laid to rest,’ and it was so.”

There was silence in the room as Grandpa Olson finished speaking. The grown-ups smiled at each other and nodded knowingly. Then Avery, one of the granddaughters, offered the first comment.

“I think I know what your story was about, Grandpa. It was about you and Grandma!”

Grandpa Olson pretended to look puzzled. “Why Avery, what do you mean? I’m sure I told a story about a cornstalk and a beanstalk. Didn’t I, children?” With a twinkle in his eye, he looked at the other children gathered around him.

“Oh, Grandpa!” Avery giggled.

“It was about a cornstalk, and that was you, Grandpa Olson!” said Derek, one of the neighborhood children. “And the beanstalk was Grandma Olson.”

“Well, is he right?” the old storyteller asked.

“Yes!” chorused all the children.

“And what does the story mean?” he continued. “It means that God knew what He was doing when he put you and Grandma together,” said Bella. “God is like the wise gardener.”

“Yeah. He knew you would help each other, just like the cornstalk and beanstalk did,” added Kevin.

Grandpa Olson smiled gently at the little group. “You listened very well, my children. I pray that this lesson will be learned well, and when it is your turn to enter into marriage you will let God choose the best person for you. Then someday you will be able to tell your children ‘The Parable for a Golden Wedding Anniversary.’”

Even Daniel’s enemies agreed that he led an exemplary life.

I have reached my conclusion. We can find no fault with Daniel.

On this scroll I will record the attempts which Mishalazzer, second of the presidents under Darius the Mede, and I have made to find some fault in Daniel. Since I was appointed to this elevated position some months past, we have spared nothing in our efforts to find some error concerning His administration of the kingdom. My concern has been great that Daniel may be appointed above me, yet we have found no error.

A watch was made near the gate of his house. Though we carefully investigated each person who entered there, we found that he took no counsel of any man save those men whom the King regarded with honor.

One man highly skilled in monetary matters was secretly hired to examine the accounts over which Daniel had control. It is well-known there are many ways one in authority can arrange figures to provide an extra source of income for his own household. But the expert could find no place where this was done. On the contrary, all of the monetary affairs were handled with such skill and precision as to bring much financial gain to the kingdom.

An attempt was made to involve Daniel in a land survey of the kingdom. All the princes were aware that this survey could be of no practical value, but it was to be a lavish affair which would bring great honor to those invited. Daniel rejected the offer, stating firmly that he felt such a survey would be non-productive and an unwarranted waste of time. In addition, he reported the complete details of the trip to King Darius in such a clear fashion that an end was put to the whole plan.

Some among the princes were persuaded to go before the king with reports that Daniel was speaking ill of the king and was seeking to take his authority. It was immediately apparent that the king had much confidence in Daniel, for he rejected the report without giving it any consideration. He did, in fact, sharply rebuke the princes who brought the report, saying that in the years he had known Daniel he had always found him to be totally loyal, obedient, and respectful in all ways.

In a final attempt, one of the chief aides in the palace sought to gain Daniel’s confidence by conferring with him often and asking his advice about many matters. He sought to find an opening to discuss Daniel’s feelings toward King Darius, hoping he could trap him into saying something which would incriminate him. It is a well-known fact that Daniel was taken from his homeland as a captive, and it was our belief that he must be hiding some grudge or inner hatred because of this circumstance of his youth.

The occasion did at last present itself. Daniel was questioned as to whether he felt strict obedience and honor should be accorded our king and why. His reply, when reported to us, led us to the conclusion I have stated—that we can find no fault with Daniel. These were his words:

“Be it known to you, my friend, that I feel no ill will in my heart toward King Darius. He, and all those in command or position of authority in our kingdom or any other, have received their position through divine allowance. Disrespect or lack of honor to them would thus be disrespect or lack of honor to my God. He has granted them authority, and so I give them obedience and respect.”

We will make no further attempt to discredit Daniel concerning the affairs of this kingdom. The only way now open to us is to seek to bring charges against him in connection with the God he serves. Upon this course of action Mishalazzer, myself, and some number of the princes of this realm are resolved.

* * * * *

If you open your Bible and read all of chapter six in the Book of Daniel, you will find the details of the plot against Daniel and what happened to the men who tried so hard to discredit him. Daniel stood true to his king and to his God. Will we follow his example?

Ivan got himself into trouble, and it wasn’t much fun facing up to it.

Ivan sat in the office gripping his chair, waiting for Mr. Marquez, the principal, to return. The second hand of the large clock on the wall clicked ahead methodically. Almost one o’clock. Ivan sighed unhappily and stared at the scuffed toes of his tennis shoes. How had he gotten himself into this mess anyway? It just didn’t seem fair. Harrison had started it all, and where was he? Down at the gym like everybody else in the P.E. class. Ivan had been the one who got caught.

Ivan and Harrison had never really been friends. In fact, ever since the beginning of middle school the reverse had been true. It seemed they were always in a position of being against each other. They were the two best basketball players in their P.E. class, so were always competing on opposite teams. They had been rivals in the school spelling bee the year before. And for the past three years they had been in most of the same classes contending for the best grades, the most friends, and the teachers’ attention. Now this!

Ivan thought back to how it had started. The day before, after the bell rang for lunch, all the students were talking and laughing as they went into the cafeteria. Ivan and Harrison had both been in the line to get a hamburger. Though they hadn’t said anything to each other, Ivan had caught Harrison looking at him with a sort of speculative gleam in his eye.

The duty teacher, Mr. Paulsen, was late arriving so there was more noise and roughhousing in the cafeteria than usual. Just as Ivan was about to sit down, Harrison had pulled Ivan’s chair back. Ivan dropped to the floor with a thud! The cafeteria erupted with laughter as Ivan sat there, red faced, with his hamburger upside down on the floor beside him and chocolate milkshake splattered all over his jeans. He didn’t need to turn around to know who had done it. Harrison! He clenched his teeth. Slowly getting to his feet, he looked around. Harrison had disappeared into the crowd, and Mr. Paulsen was arriving on the scene, wanting to know what was going on. Ivan seethed inside, but there was nothing he could do at the moment. He spent the rest of the day thinking of ways he could get back at Harrison.

Today, Ivan had implemented his plan. He made sure he was in homeroom early, and hid around the corner. As Harrison started for his seat, Ivan stuck out his foot and Harrison went sprawling! His books went in all directions, but this time there was no laughter. In the doorway stood Mr. Taylor, the homeroom teacher, glaring at Ivan.

So, here Ivan sat, waiting for the principal—the first time since he had started school.

The door opened a little wider and Mr. Marquez came in. As he sat down at his desk he looked over at Ivan.

“Well, Ivan, what’s the problem between you and Harrison?” Ivan’s sullen look and lack of response prompted him to continue. “I’m willing to listen when you’re ready to talk.”

Ivan kicked at an imaginary speck on the floor and stirred uneasily in his seat. Mr. Marquez was waiting for some answer from him, but . . . what to say?

“It doesn’t seem like you have anything to say, Ivan,” Mr. Marquez began, “but I do. From what Mr. Taylor tells me you tried to excuse your actions by blaming Harrison. But there is no excuse for deliberate actions that may result in injury to someone. Of course, we aren’t excusing Harrison either.

“Because this is your first offense, we are not sending a report to your parents or taking other disciplinary actions. But we are going to ask that you apologize to Harrison. Will you do that, Ivan?”

Ivan nodded his head, relieved that his parents wouldn’t find out what he had done. And he was really glad inside that his anger hadn’t caused Harrison to break an arm or receive some other serious injury.

* * * * *

If Ivan had been a Christian, how might he have handled this situation with Harrison? How would you handle a similar situation?

Silas had made a commitment and now he faced a decision.

Silas was so excited! This was his very first job. He was starting an after-school paper route. It would mean he’d have to do all his homework after dinner, and there wouldn’t be any time left to spend with the guys after school was out. But it was worth it! Now he would have money to save up for the blue mountain bike he had seen in the window of the bicycle shop.

He attacked his route with determination. He met the delivery truck every day and had his papers delivered in record time. It wasn’t long before he’d established quite a reputation as a reliable paper carrier. The neighbors praised him for his promptness and courtesy, and he was proud of doing such a good job.

Silas didn’t realize, however, that it would take such a long time to save up enough money for the bicycle, especially when he dipped into his savings now and then for other things. After a few months the newness of his job wore off and it just wasn’t as much fun. Summer was almost here, and everyone else seemed to have lots of time to do other things besides work. As he rode past the park every day he would see his friends out playing. I sure do wish I could be playing instead of doing this paper route, Silas thought to himself.

A few weeks later, as Silas rode by the park he heard someone call, “Hey, Silas!” He stopped and turned to see who called. It was his friend, Carson.

“Why don’t you come join us? We need a good pitcher. You can finish that later.” Silas hesitated. He knew he had a responsibility and that his route should come first, but the baseball game would be fun. It had been ages since he’d had time for a good game of ball.

“Come on Silas, we need you.”

“I’ll be right there,” he called back. He thought to himself that a few minutes wouldn’t hurt anything. After propping his bike up beside a tree, he ran toward the group of boys.

An hour later Silas noticed that the sun was setting, and he was late. He quickly got on his bike and rode off to finish his route.

When he finally got home his mother was at the door to meet him. “Silas, can you explain why I got phone calls from some of your customers asking where their papers were?”

Silas looked down at the floor, “I was late, but I did deliver them.”

“Why were you late?” his mom asked.

“Well, I stopped to play baseball with the guys and forgot about the time.”

“Let me ask you something. How do you feel when the supplier brings your newspapers late?”

“I get frustrated.”

“And what do you expect when you go to collect from your customers?”

“Well, I expect them to pay me.”

“Are you happy when they don’t?”

“No, I guess not.”

“Silas, you may think it’s really not such a big deal that you were late delivering your papers just this once. But if we fail to do our job the very best we can, we are not pleasing God. Sit down, I want to show you something.” His mom got the family Bible off the bookshelf and opened to Ephesians 6:5. “Read here, Silas.”

“Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ.” Silas looked at his mom. “You mean that I’m a servant?”

“In a way you are. In fact you have quite a few masters to serve. When you took this job, you made a commitment to your route manager as well as to all your customers to deliver their papers faithfully.”

“But, I’m getting tired of doing my route. I don’t get to have any fun.”

“Your route hasn’t changed, Silas. Only your attitude has changed. If we do our job as unto the Lord, as the Bible says, He’ll bless us for it.”

Silas looked down at his shoes and thought about his mom’s words for a minute. Then he said, “You mean, pretend like I’m doing it for Jesus?”

“Yes,” his mother answered, “and thank Him for it. After all, you were anxious to get a job so you could earn money, and the Lord provided this. Now it’s your responsibility to do your best.”

The next day after his papers arrived, Silas breathed a prayer. “Dear Lord, please help me to do this for You. Thank You for trusting me with the job even though I didn’t do my best yesterday. Please be with me today. Amen.”

The rest of the day was great. The route seemed easier and even the dogs seemed friendlier. And it was just a month later, at a dinner given by the newspaper for the carriers and their parents, that Silas was honored with the Outstanding Carrier of the Month award!

Andrew Jefferson learned three important secrets about withstanding the enemy.

Andrew Jefferson stared intently into the early morning shadows at the edge of the clearing a few hundred yards from the garrison. Was that a movement over there? No, just a bush swaying slightly in the breeze which had sprung up since dawn.

He pulled his coat closer about him and rubbed his hand wearily over his rough chin. It seemed days since he’d had any sleep. Oh, he had spent a few hours tossing on the narrow cot in his quarters behind the storehouse. Captain Rogers had handed over the command of the garrison to him six days ago, and had left to take up responsibilities at Fort Mason, one hundred and fifty miles to the west. Ever since then, the weight of the duties that were now his had been pressing on him. This early morning watch was not his job, but he was using this time to think.

Behind him stood the garrison which was now under his control. Sixty-two men, a few women and children. Outside the fort was the clearing. And beyond that—enemy territory.

Almost mechanically his eyes swept over the clearing once more. Things had been quiet at the post for several weeks. There had been no sign of the enemy since Corporal Dixon had narrowly missed being seen by a scouting party over a fort-night ago. But a constant state of watchfulness was essential.

His mind jumped back to the morning when Captain Rogers had left. As they had done so often before, they had taken breakfast together in Captain Rogers’ quarters. His duffel bags were packed and stood beside the door. The room was stripped bare, even the blankets from the bed had been rolled and placed by the bags. It was then that the enormous duty Andrew Jefferson was taking on had really hit home. One lonely little garrison, just a handful of people, and around them the wilderness. Some of the impact of that realization must have shown on his face, for Captain Rogers had offered him some advice.

“There are three keys to resisting an enemy attack, Jefferson. First of all, you must be alert. Make sure your sentries are always watchful. Never let up for a moment. Don’t think that just because you haven’t seen the enemy for a while that he isn’t there. He is only waiting to catch you unprepared.

“Second, make sure of your defenses. Check them continually to see that they are strong, that nothing is out of repair or weakened in any way.

“And last, Jefferson, fight with every weapon available. Put forth your best effort to hold off the attack.

“Remember, it may mean the difference between life and death!”

He could do it. He would do it! A fresh surge of confidence and determination swept over him as he watched the morning sun climb above the foothills to the east. He thought of Captain Rogers’ final words before he rode out of the garrison, “God keep you, my son.”

With God’s help, the little garrison would stand.

* * * * *

Andrew Jefferson faced a challenge—to withstand the enemy and protect the little garrison under his command.

Did you know that you, as a Christian, face a challenge just as exciting and a whole lot more important? The enemy you face is Satan. The effort you make to resist him will mean life or death for you—spiritual life or spiritual death.

The three keys that Captain Rogers outlined for Andrew Jefferson can also be applied to our fight against Satan.

First, be alert. Satan has a lot of tricks. If one doesn’t work, he’ll try another. He may leave you alone for a while, but don’t quit being on the look-out. He will be waiting to catch you unprepared.

Second, have some strong defenses. What are they? Read your Bible. Ask God to give you strength. When Satan does come to tempt you, use what you have learned in the Bible and the strength you have gained through prayer to stand against him and do what you know is right.

Third, fight back with every weapon you have. If Satan puts a wrong thought in your mind, try putting a Bible verse in its place. Sing a church song. Talk to a Christian friend. Concentrate on the things God would have you think about. Pray!

Our key verse tells us that if we resist the devil, he will flee from us. Stand fast! With God’s help, you can win the victory.

Madeline needed the support of a Christian friend.

“No, Madeline! Don’t leave! Please don’t leave!” Jacob cried out. From his seat, he tried to reach out to her, but he felt paralyzed. He could see Madeline walking right out of the church doors, but he couldn’t do a thing about it. There was a sea of faces around him, but they showed no interest in the fact that they were about to lose Madeline. Not one of them spoke a word. Didn’t anyone care?

Suddenly, Jacob felt someone shaking him. A voice said, “Jacob. Wake up, Jacob. You’re dreaming.” The scene in the church faded, and Jacob opened his eyes. His father was leaning over him with a worried expression on his face. “You must have been having a bad dream, Son.”

Jacob rubbed his eyes as the memory of the dream swept over him. “Oh, Dad, it was awful,” he said as he sat up. “I dreamed that Madeline, a girl in my Sunday school class, didn’t want to be a Christian anymore. No one else seemed to care. So I was trying to stop her from leaving. She wouldn’t listen to me. Dad, I was too late!”

His dad sat down on the edge of the bed. “I wonder what made you dream a thing like that,” he said. “Is something going on with Madeline? Has anything different happened in her life recently?”

“Yeah,” Jacob responded slowly, as his thoughts cleared. “A few weeks ago, Annika, one of her school friends, came to Sunday school with her. She seemed to enjoy herself, but . . .”

“What’s the problem? It sounds like Madeline is being a good missionary,” said Jacob’s dad. “You should be very pleased.”

“You might think so, especially since Annika comes every Sunday now. Yet, ever since that first Sunday, Madeline has changed. She and Annika sit and whisper all during class time, and they make silly remarks about the lessons,” replied Jacob. “Madeline used to be interested in learning God’s Word. When she became a Christian about four months ago, her parents gave her permission to stay for the Sunday morning church services. She said she wanted to know everything she could so she could tell others about Jesus.”

Jacob’s dad nodded. “That’s great, but I’m not sure I see the connection between Madeline’s actions and your dream.”

“Well, she told Annika about Jesus, and brought her to Sunday school, but now Madeline seems interested only in what Annika has to say. Dad, instead of winning a friend for Jesus, her friend seems to be pulling her away from Jesus. The other kids in the class like Madeline, but since Annika started coming, most of them just ignore Madeline. Something about this makes me afraid for her. I don’t want her to stop coming to Sunday school. I would like Annika to know that Jesus really loves her too, but so far, I don’t think she has listened to any of the lessons. Is there something I can do about it, Dad?”

“Yes, there is something you can do to help,” Jacob’s dad answered. “You said that Madeline has only been a Christian for about four months. We who have known Jesus longer and have felt the love and care He gives every day, must help those who are just beginning their Christian lives.

“Your concern for both Madeline and Annika is good. This is a good time for you to step out and practice what you have been taught. If you become the Christian friend that Madeline needs, the other students in your class may follow your example. God’s Word tells us to bear ‘one another’s burdens.’ It seems to me that Madeline has a burden, and she needs some help. Rather than just watching her and Annika whisper and make silly remarks, why don’t you sit by them in class? It’s possible that Madeline’s actions are her way of asking for help in winning Annika to Jesus. At least they are still coming to Sunday school. That must mean they want the fellowship. Make it a point to talk to them before and after class. If everyone ignores them or makes them feel unwelcome, Madeline just might stop attending Sunday school.”

There was silence as Jacob thought about his dad’s words. Then he said slowly, “Well, this talk has helped me to see one thing—I want to do whatever I can to help Madeline, and I need to do it now. I am going to try to be the Christian friend that she needs. This may be what Annika needs too. Dad, pray that God will give me the right words to say to help strengthen Madeline’s faith in Him. I sure don’t want this awful dream to come true!”

Victor learned what it means to be a good neighbour.

The rain was coming down in sheets as Victor and his family drove home from church. His dad had trouble seeing through the blurred windshield, so they wound their way slowly up the dark mountainside.

Victor’s thoughts drifted to the sermon they had heard that night. The topic was loving your neighbor as yourself, and the minister had used Jesus’ example of the Good Samaritan. The words of Jesus echoed in Victor’s mind, “Go, and do thou likewise.”

Just then, Victor’s sister screamed. He looked up and saw the headlights of a car that was careening wildly toward them. Their father quickly swerved to avoid hitting the oncoming vehicle and then struggled to get back on the curving road. The tires skidded uselessly on the rain-slick pavement and the van slid sideways toward the embankment. The last thing Victor remembered was his parents’ praying as they all went over the edge into the darkness.

Victor opened his eyes on an amazing sight. He saw thousands of people standing before a Throne, and upon the Throne sat a Person too marvelous to describe. As Victor watched, he noticed the people were being separated one by one into two groups.

I’m dead, he thought, and this is the Judgment!

A hand touched him on the shoulder and Victor spun around to see the shining figure of an angel with a loving face.

“Victor, thirteen years of age,” the angel began, “and how have you spent your short life?”

Victor stood speechless.

The angel continued, “Your time has come to stand before the Throne. Can you answer that you have loved the Lord with all your heart, mind, body, soul, and strength?”

Victor knew that he had prayed and was really saved long before the accident happened so he relaxed a little and answered, “Yes.”

The angel bent a little closer and looked straight into Victor’s eyes. His voice was serious as he asked one more question. “And have you loved your neighbor as yourself?”

Questions began to rise in Victor’s mind as they had when he heard the sermon that night. He began to think about his family and his friends at church and at school. He knew he had treated them like he wanted to be treated.

“I think I have.”

The angel looked at Victor for a long moment, then said, “What about the Sunday school boy that walks to the night meetings and always sits over to the side of the room? He looks so lonely, and never speaks up in class. Nobody talks to him except some of the adults. Is he your neighbor, Victor?”

Victor looked startled. “Well, I guess he is, in a way.”

“How about the boy that lives in the old house on the corner whose father is disabled?” the angel continued. “Remember him? He’s the one that always gets left out because he doesn’t have a bicycle like the other kids. Just last week, Andy said not to include him because he couldn’t keep up with the rest of you. How did you respond, Victor? Is he your neighbor?”

Victor nodded soberly. “Yes.”

“What about the elderly lady who lives across the street? She needs someone to talk to her to fill the lonely hours, but no one has the time. You’ve noticed on sunny days how she stands by her gate and watches everyone who walks by. Is she your neighbor, Victor?”

Again Victor nodded. “Yes, she is. And you don’t have to go on. I realize now I have neglected those that Jesus wanted me to love. Oh, how I wish I had thought to reach out to them before.”

When he heard his name called, Victor turned to face the Throne.

“Victor! Victor! Can you hear us?” His parents’ voices seemed to come from a long distance away. Feeling as if he were struggling through a mist, Victor slowly opened his eyes.

“Dad! Mom! What happened? Where am I? Am I alive?”

His dad’s face came into focus. “Yes, thank God you’re alive. It’s a miracle. Two trees stopped us from plunging down into the canyon. You must have hit your head because you’ve been unconscious for a little while.”

Then I really wasn’t at the Judgment, Victor thought. It must have been a dream. But I am glad I had it! I’ve learned an important lesson. I now know what it means to love my neighbor as myself.

Mia was glad Jesus helped her to share the Gospel.

Buzz! Buzz! The final sound of the bell rang through the school corridors. Doors flew open and there was a mad scramble as kids hurried to be first in the cafeteria line.

Mia walked slowly, keeping close to the wall and trying to stay out of the crush. This was the first day of school—a new school at that—and she was scared! She finally got into the cafeteria and found an empty place at one of the tables. She opened her sack lunch, unwrapped her sandwich, and bowed her head. When she looked up, she found several pairs of eyes staring at her. One of the girls asked, “What are you doing? Has your lunch got a bug on it or something?”

“I was just praying,” Mia replied nervously.

“Praying? What are you praying for?” she wanted to know.

“I was thanking God for my lunch,” Mia answered.

That started a string of questions that Mia tried to answer while she ate her sandwich. The girls, especially one named Kim, wanted to know everything about praying. This had never happened to her before and Mia found it difficult to answer them. Kim wanted to know why she prayed, how she prayed, what she prayed for, and why she should thank God for anything. Did He answer her prayers?

Mia told Kim and the other girls that she prayed because she knew God heard her and that He did answer her prayers.

“Give us an example,” Kim said.

“Well, for one thing, He saved me,” Mia replied, hoping that would end the conversation. Instead it just opened up a whole new set of questions from Kim. “Saved? Saved from what?” Kim wanted to know.

“Saved means that God took sin out of my life. We can’t get to Heaven without being saved,” Mia replied.

“Sin? You’re only my age, how did you sin?” Kim questioned.

Well, I used to lie to my folks and disobey them, and I was mean to my little sister. When I told God I was sorry for those things He forgave me and saved me.”

“Can anyone be saved?” Kim asked Mia as they left the cafeteria.

“Yes, anyone can be saved. All you have to do is tell God you’re sorry. Then He comes in and the devil goes out.” The other girls had drifted off, but Kim seemed to be really interested and continued with questions until it was time for classes again.

That night, at the dinner table, Mia told her family about the new school and about all of Kim’s questions. “Boy, was I scared,” she finished.

“Well, I’m glad you told her,” Grandpa said. “You know, when God saved you he gave you a job to do. He wants everyone who loves Him to work for Him. Do you remember that it tells us in the Bible that God gave the Apostles a commandment to go and preach the Gospel?”

“Sure, I remember, but that was for the Apostles. Besides, I don’t want to preach,” Mia laughed.

“Well,” Grandpa continued, “you did preach when you told your friend about Jesus. That’s all a preacher does. Everyone who is a Christian has a job to do, and that is to tell others about Jesus. How else will they ever know? You did the right thing today, Mia. Kim sounds as if she is interested. Why not ask her to come to Sunday school?”

“OK, I’ll ask her tomorrow.”

Two days later, Mia came rushing home, clearly upset. “Grandpa, you’ll never guess what happened! You remember that girl Kim I was telling you about? Well yesterday after school she was crossing the street near her home and a car hit her. The driver didn’t see her till too late.” The color drained from Mia’s face as she hesitated, and then continued, “She died last night in the hospital. Her mom called and told our teacher, and our teacher told us.”

Grandpa put his arm around Mia’s shoulder. “Oh, Honey, I’m so sorry,” he said quietly. “Aren’t you glad that you told her about praying? You never know. She might have prayed and asked God to save her. Not everyone you tell the Good News to will die so suddenly, but it is good to know that you told her.”

“Grandpa, when I asked her yesterday if she could come to Sunday school she said she’d try. She was really friendly. I was scared when she asked me all those questions, but I’m glad God helped me to answer them.”

* * * * *

This is a true story. Kim really did die on the second day of her fourth-grade year. But someone had cared enough to tell her about Jesus. Have you told someone lately what God has done for you?

Tobias wanted to go his own way.

Tobias fumbled restlessly with his backpack. It was hard to sit still while Mr. Kilpatrick finished his talk.

“. . . and we must all stick together. Your parents have given me the responsibility for this hike, and it’s very important that each of you stay with the group and follow my directions,” Mr. Kilpatrick went on.

Tobias sighed. He had stayed up late last night studying the map, so he already knew this trail well. In fact, he thought, I’m sure I wouldn’t have a bit of trouble getting to the falls by myself. This business about always sticking together sort of bothered him. He was sure he didn’t need to hear it, although some of the younger kids probably did.

Suddenly he realized that all of the kids were hustling to get their gear on and some were already on their way down the trail. Tobias scrambled to his feet. Boy, that’s what I get for daydreaming, he chided himself. Now I’m stuck at the back of the pack.

Tobias soon forgot his annoyance. A gray squirrel scurried by, causing a ripple of laughter among the happy group, as the early morning sun filtered through the trees. Every breath of the clean, pine-scented air made him glad he had been included.

Then, just to the right of the trail, something caught his eye. Could this be a bear track? What other animal would leave a print that big? He put his pack down, and bent over to examine it more closely. Yes, he was sure it was a bear track. And there was another one!

Wow . . . this was a real discovery! I’m going to look around here and see if I can find some more, he thought to himself. I can catch up with the others. They’ll never miss me.

He poked around in the brush for quite awhile. Then, suddenly, he realized the rest of the group had been out of sight for a long time. Since he hadn’t found more tracks, he decided he’d better hurry and join the others. Then an idea came into his head. He would take a shortcut across the valley and catch up with the group on the other side! In just a few minutes he was out of sight of the trail, but he was sure he could find his way, so on he went.

Absorbed in his thoughts, Tobias never saw the half-buried tree root that caused his fall. One moment he was peering ahead intently, trying to get his bearings, and the next thing he knew he was sprawling on the ground.

“Oh, no!” he groaned, grabbing his ankle. “Oh, it hurts!” He rubbed it gently for a few moments, then cautiously got to his feet and tried to put his weight on it. A wave of pain shot through him, and he sank back to the ground. “I’ll never be able to walk on it,” he moaned. “It must be broken.” He looked around him, then managed to crawl a few feet to a heavy stick. “Maybe I can use this for a crutch.”

The next couple of hours blurred into one long agony. Each step was torture. It didn’t help Tobias, that Mr. Kilpatrick’s words kept re-echoing in his mind, “. . . we must all stick together . . . all stick together . . .” If only he had paid attention. All that advice this morning had been meant for him, but he had ignored it. Surely the group had missed him by now, and they were probably all worried.

“O God, please help me get back to them,” he whispered. Then, just when Tobias felt so exhausted he could hardly take another step, he heard a shout. “Tobias, Tobias, can you hear us? Tobias, where are you?”

It was Mr. Kilpatrick.

With a groan of relief, Tobias sank to the ground. “I’m here. Right over here,” he cried, and in a few moments the group gathered around him.

“Tobias, what happened?” Mr. Kilpatrick’s voice was filled with concern. “Are you all right? How did you get separated from the group?”

Supporting Tobias, the group slowly made its way through the woods. At last they came to the spot on the trail where Tobias had seen the bear track, and the group had found his pack. By that time, Mr. Kilpatrick had the whole story. As the group assembled on the trail, he looked at them and said sadly, “Well, kids, I’m really sorry that our trip has to end this way, but we’re going to have to go home now. I know it is disappointing to all of you. We’ve spent several hours back-tracking and looking for Tobias, so we wouldn’t be able to make it to the falls before late afternoon even if we did go on. Tobias is in need of attention, so we’ll just have to head back in.”

“Sorry, guys,” Tobias said, feeling miserable as he glanced around at the concerned faces. “Just because I decided I could go my own way, I ruined the fun for all of you.”

* * * * *

Tobias learned a hard lesson that day. When one person decides to do whatever he wants and go his own way, without regard for how it will affect others, it causes problems. As Christians, we must stand together if we want to ensure good success in our work for God. The Bible calls this “unity.” Never forget that unity among Christian believers is vital!

Charlotte and Emmet received a reminder of the best Christmas ever.

My Dear Children,

As you read this letter on Christmas Day, it will be the first time we have been apart at this special season. I will be having Christmas dinner with the family of one of my business associates, Mr. Michaels. They are fine people, and I understand we will be having turkey and dressing just like Mom always fixes at home for Christmas dinner. Still, I’m really going to miss each one of you. I wish this special assignment with my company didn’t mean having to be away from home. I’m thinking back today of the many wonderful Christmases of years past and of God’s love for all of us.

Charlotte, you were our first baby, and I remember the Christmas when you were nine months old. You wrinkled up your nose and stared at that funny old gentleman dressed in red with the furry white beard. He sure didn’t look like your daddy or anyone else you knew and loved, but he had a jolly laugh—and you finally gave a tentative giggle back. When he gave you a cookie as you sat on his knee, you were completely won over.

Then, a couple of Christmases later, your baby brother, Emmett, sat under the Christmas tree with you. Emmett, how we laughed as you tried to pull all the bows and ribbons off the packages. Of course Charlotte was more intent on peeking inside; by then she knew the real prize lay beyond the brightly colored wrapping. How eager she was to find out what was in each box!

Then Charlotte, when you were five, I thought my heart would burst with pride. On Christmas night you played the part of Mary in the Sunday school Christmas program. We thought you might get stage fright when you saw all those people sitting out in the auditorium, because it was a full house. But you didn’t even look in their direction, just marched right up there like a veteran performer. You looked so sweet in the scene where the angel spoke to you to tell you that you’d be the mother of God’s Son—Jesus.

The next Christmas, Emmett, you were a shepherd boy. I’ll never forget how serious you looked in your brown robe and little orange hood tied around your face. You had a stuffed white lamb to carry, but you ended up dragging him across the platform by one ear. You stole the hearts of the audience when you stepped out to the mic and sang, “I wish I could have been a shepherd, watching my flocks by night . . .”

Yet, all the memories of those Christmases fade by comparison to the joy that flooded your mother’s and my hearts the Christmas when you both knelt and gave your hearts to Jesus. I remember the tears that flowed down your cheeks, Charlotte, as you prayed at the altar after the Christmas message. I was there, and so was your mother, to pray with you. We saw the flood of joy cross your face as you reached out to Jesus and He came into your heart.

Emmett, when Charlotte told you how happy she was and how Jesus wanted to come into your heart too, you were so open, so receptive. You knelt by your bed and felt that instantaneous change as God saved you too. Your mom and I will never forget the joy we felt when we realized that both of you had given your hearts to God. Christmas was so meaningful that year—God’s gift of love seemed especially real and precious to each of us.

Now, I don’t want you to be sad because I’m not with you this Christmas. The same God who put the wonder in all our great Christmases together in the past is with you this year too. And He’s also with me. Even though half a world separates your daddy from you at this special holiday season, God’s love goes around the whole wide world, and that brings us together in Him.

Stop to think, Emmett and Charlotte, God loves His Son, just like I love you. Yet on that first Christmas, He sent His Son to be born as a little baby here on earth. I don’t like being away from you, and I’m sure God up in Heaven didn’t like to be separated from His only Son either. He did it because He loves you and me so much.

Treasure His love within your hearts, my children. Keep Him with you always. Like the Christmas presents you unwrap today—the glittering paper is only tossed away; it’s what is on the inside that counts. God’s love counts for eternity—forever and ever and ever.

Someday that love within your hearts will respond to the heavenly call and our family will all be together with Him.

Until we meet again,

Your loving dad

Ezekiel 33:1-11; Jeremiah 3:15

It pays to heed the warning signs.

Signs . . . who needs them? I sure don’t! Who can pay attention to signs while driving a car? I’m pretty sure I’m headed in the right direction. I can find the way without the signs, or for that matter, without a maps app. I always lose my data connection once I get a few miles outside of the city anyways. Hey, this road is really getting mountainous! I don’t remember hearing there were mountains in this direction. Maybe I should turn on this road here . . . or perhaps that one . . . or there’s another one a little way ahead . . .

Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Who would start off on a strange road and completely ignore the directions? The signs were placed at the instruction of the highway engineers, the men who laid out the road. Each sign was placed for a purpose—to point out the safest and quickest way to get to a destination.

On our spiritual road to Heaven, God has given us ministers to point us in the right direction. God chose our ministers and appointed them to the positions they fill. Just as the road signs point us in the right direction, it is the ministers’ responsibility to point us toward Heaven.

Wonder how many miles I’ve come? It can’t be too much farther. I’ve been traveling along here for quite a while. Here comes a mileage sign . . . but I never pay any attention to them anyway. I’ll just guess at how much farther I have to go.

Have you ever noticed that the closer you get to your destination, the more frequently you see signs along the highway giving the remaining distance? One of the vital responsibilities of the ministry is to warn us that we are very near to the return of Christ to this earth. It would be foolish to ignore these warnings and think we can guess when Christ will come back. What if our guess were wrong?

A speed sign—now there is one I really shouldn’t have looked at! It said I should slow down to 30 M.P.H. on this curve. Ridiculous! It’ll be a lot more exciting to take it at 50!

Speed signs along the highway are posted for our protection. It might be possible to negotiate the curves at a higher speed than the one posted, but it wouldn’t be as safe. Our ministers also give us advice as to the safest way to proceed. If we try to do things our own way we might end up “missing the curve.”

Wow—look at those skid marks! Someone must have missed the warning sign. There have been a lot of warning signs along this road: Soft Shoulder, Ice, Sharp Curve Ahead. One after another! But I’m a good driver. I don’t need to worry about them. They must think nobody knows how to drive a car. Actually, I don’t see anything so very dangerous about this road. A little expertise in handling a car is really all you need.

Sometimes people think the ministers warn us unnecessarily, telling us over and over that something might be spiritually harmful. Yet the Bible tells us that our ministers “watch for our souls.” Their warnings are for our good. They have a responsibility before God to give those warnings because God has appointed them to their position. Just as we may see the same warning signs on a highway more than once, our ministers may tell us some things more than once. We need to be reminded! Or perhaps someone has just come onto the “road” and needs to be made aware of the dangers.

Gas Ahead. Let’s see, what does the gauge show? Well, the needle is on empty, but I know this car. It can run a long time on empty. I’m sure there must be at least a quarter of a tank left. Plenty to get me there.

Our ministers are well aware that all of us need to take on spiritual “fuel” in order to make our heavenly goal. Just as a “Gas Ahead” sign reminds us to check our fuel indicator, we need to follow the encouragement of our ministers, and take on the spiritual fuel we need.

Another sign coming up. This one says STOP! Well, I’m already running late, so I’m going to have to ignore this sign. No time to slow down . . .

Do you think he made it?

Matthew 4:18-22; 11:28-30; 16:24-27

All of Nasir’s troubles seemed to revolve around one thing.

Nasir slammed the door of the garage behind him. The angry words he had just shouted at his brother were ringing in his ears. He kicked at the garden hose lying beside his tool bench. What could go wrong next?

It had been a terrible day. He had been at odds with everyone ever since he got up this morning. First of all, his kid brother Kingston had left the house early, wearing the shirt Nasir had planned to wear. When he had complained bitterly to Mom, she hadn’t done a thing about it.

Then at school, he had tried to get Emmett, a guy from his first-period class, to give him answers for the math test he’d missed last week. Nasir knew that wasn’t right, but when Emmett refused, they’d had a big argument. I don’t see why he couldn’t have given me some help, Nasir thought angrily. That test was pretty important, and what difference would it make to Emmett, anyway?

Things had gone from bad to worse. In P.E., the coach had told him he was fouling too much. When Nasir tried to tell him that it was the other guy, the coach had accused him of mouthing off.

To top it all, when he came home, Kingston had confessed he’d ripped the sleeve of Nasir’s shirt. That was the last straw. Nasir had exploded! Then he had stormed out to the garage. Maybe he’d just stay out here by himself and work on his car until dinnertime.

What’s wrong with me? he thought to himself. I just can’t seem to get along with anybody. He stared gloomily down at the transmission he had taken out of his car last Saturday. This thing wasn’t working right either. It was about as messed up as everything else seemed to be. Nasir picked up the wrench lying beside the transmission case. The top was almost ready to come free—just two more bolts to go. He loosened them carefully and worked it off.

Would you look at that! The first gear in the transmission was broken, and several of the teeth were missing. He frowned and turned the gear a bit. Obviously, it was never going to work this way. He wiped his hands on a rag as the door into the garage opened and his dad came in.

“Hi, Son, how’s it going?” he inquired. “Have you found the trouble with that transmission yet?”

“Yeah, I’m afraid so,” Nasir replied with a discouraged sigh. “And I don’t think I can fix it.”

“Here, let me take a look. It’s been awhile since I’ve taken a transmission apart, but maybe between the two of us we can figure it out.” Taking off his jacket, he came over to where Nasir was standing by the workbench. Together they inspected the part.

“Well, it looks like your main gear is broken,” he said after a moment. “If it can be fixed, all the rest of them will work too.”

Later that night, Nasir lay in bed thinking over the problems of the day. Suddenly a picture of that transmission flashed back into his mind. His dad’s words echoed in his thoughts, “If this gear can be fixed, all the rest of them will work too.”

Could it be that all of these problems he’d been having with everyone around him were his fault? Almost against his will, his mind began to draw a parallel. He was out of step with everyone around him, just like that first gear had not been meshing with the gears around it. The transmission gear couldn’t help itself, and it seemed Nasir couldn’t help himself either. But he knew Who could.

Suddenly, he wanted that help. He buried his head in his arms and prayed, “Jesus, please help me. Nothing seems to be going right, and I know it’s because I need You.” All the pent-up frustrations and troubles of the past months seemed to pour out of him. If his heart was right with Jesus, these other problems would be straightened out too!

Nasir’s prayer was heard that night, and his life was totally turned around. The way he’d been treating his younger brother, the pressures he’d put on some of his friends, his antagonistic attitude toward those in authority—all this changed! Nasir felt differently about these people, and his new attitude showed it.

Nasir determined that Jesus was going to be first in his life, and that he would always try to treat people the way he would if Jesus were standing right beside him.

Jesus made a dramatic difference in Nasir’s life. He can in yours too!

Revelation 21:1-27; 22:1-5

The sight of the New Jerusalem as it descended from Heaven was more than Logan could ever have imagined.

Even as the words, “Worthy is the Lamb,” rang out once more, a great roar came to Logan’s ears. It thundered again and again through the reaches of space with tremendous intensity. Into Logan’s consciousness came a verse learned long ago, “Heaven and earth shall pass away.” It was happening! The sin-polluted earth, all that was in it, and the heavens around it vanished like smoke.

Then, from the Figure on the Throne—the Figure wrapped in all the majesty of the Godhead— came the words, “Behold, I make all things new.”

All earthly concept of time faded from reality as a scene of unequalled splendor unfurled in front of Logan’s eyes. From before the Throne emerged the Holy City, coming down from God out of Heaven. It was even as John the Beloved had described it in the Book of Revelation. It grew and expanded, encompassing a vast area. And it was a marvel of purity and perfection! The City was filled with the glory of God, and was surrounded by massive walls of crystal-clear jasper. No blemish or imperfection marred its heavenly quality. No shadow was there, no touch of darkness lingered, for the glorious light of the Lamb completely illuminated every corner of it. The gates of pearl, the foundation of precious jewels—the City gleamed and shone with such a dazzling beauty that Logan’s wondering eyes could scarcely comprehend its magnificence.

Descending, this beautiful City was united with a new earth, an earth untainted by the touch of Satan or any of his followers. It seemed to Logan that as the new earth took shape before his eyes, even the remembrance of the old earth drifted away from his memory as a wisp of vapor. “All things new”—surely he was experiencing this himself!

Again the Voice from the Throne of Heaven rang out in majesty. “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely.”

The water of life—eternal, abundant life with Jesus Christ himself, the Lamb upon the Throne! Logan’s heart once again seemed to well up with joy. As he watched, he saw the river, clear as glass, springing out of the Throne of the Lamb. On each side of it were trees, whose drooping branches were laden with blossoms and many kinds of glorious fruit.

Logan’s wondering eyes could scarcely comprehend what he was seeing, yet it all seemed so perfect, so natural. Purity! Purity! was the word that rang through his mind again and again. There was no shadow of dust, no hint of decay on fruit or flower. The grass, edging the crystal depths of the stream, looked freshly washed by summer rain, and every blade was the brightest green. And all was bathed in the golden glow of the light emanating from the One on the Throne.

In awe and wonderment, Logan turned again to the Throne. A compelling urgency drew him nearer, until at last he knelt before the Lamb of God, the One who had died for him. The greatest joy that he had known on earth was but the faintest shadow of the joy he felt here in the presence of his Redeemer. No sadness, no pain, no disappointments, no misplaced hopes, no unfulfilled longings, no unfinished plans, no night, no storms, no trouble—only light and love and peace and joy forever and ever.

Words poured forth from his full heart. “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen, Amen!”

Revelation 5:1-14; John 1:29

Only One was worthy to open the scroll with the seven seals.

For a moment, there was an awesome silence. The final Judgment was over—those whose names were not written in the Book of Life had been cast into the lake of fire.

The vast throng, gathered in adoration around the Great White Throne, burst into a chorus of such unity, such harmony as was never heard on earth. Logan’s heart welled up with unspeakable joy as he heard the words which seemed to be the theme of Heaven—”Worthy is the Lamb!”

As the chorus of voices rose, swelled, and filled the vast reaches of Heaven itself, Logan thought, Was it moments ago or an eternity past when I first heard those glorious words ringing out?

It had happened just following the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. The awe and wonderment of having Jesus himself serve him was still wrapping him in a glow. When Logan had joined the others in gathering around the Throne there in the middle of Heaven, a hush had fallen over them, almost a somber silence, as if any movement or sound would be an intrusion on a moment of sacred importance. Then, echoing through the portals of Glory, had rung the words of the angel, “Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof?”

Suddenly a flood of glory had filled the place, and the whole area about the Throne was ablaze with golden light. Moving in its radiance were beings with harps in their hands, and vials. While Logan had watched, they fell on their faces before the Throne. And as He, before whom all Heaven bowed in adoration, stood with uplifted face, those beautiful words had rung out:

“Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood . . .”

As those voices had died away, the voices of an angel choir had burst forth into triumphant praise. “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing.” Angelic forms, dressed in garments of flowing white, had circled the glorious Being on the Throne.

Just as he had at that earlier occasion, Logan once again felt himself sinking to his knees, his head bowed in worship. Instantly, the words he heard became imprinted on his heart in a way he had never felt them before, their eternal truth became a part of him. This was Jesus, the very God of earth and Heaven. The radiance and glory that surrounded Him was far beyond the splendor of the sun at noon, and yet this was the One who had come to earth in the form of a man. Not as a king, but just as an innocent baby, known on earth as the son of a carpenter. This was the One who had been nailed to a Cross—Oh! the anguish of it!—for Logan’s sin. This was the One who had given His own life, so that today Logan could be in Heaven.

What could he say? How could he ever begin to express the gratitude, the adoration that was in his heart? All at once, he knew with perfect clarity that all of those joined with him around the Throne at that moment were experiencing this same burning need to pour out their hearts before the One who stood in divine radiance before them.

My Lord and my God! his heart cried out. What love has done for me! An eternity of thanksgiving and praise could never repay it. Then he heard his own voice joining with the vast multitude around him, “Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.” From a full heart, those words gushed forth like water upon the parched ground, and Logan knew their meaning in a way he had never known them before.

“Worthy is the Lamb!”

Matthew 24:29-31; Revelation 19:11-21

From the battlefield, Seth looked up and saw something in the sky.

Seth’s battalion landed at the Port of Haifa. Never had he seen such a mind-boggling array of troops and equipment.

The great plain of Jezreel stretched ahead—east from the Mediterranean to the Jordan. A fragment of knowledge from a geography class came into Seth’s mind. The name of this place, Armageddon, was taken from a Hebrew word meaning “Mount Megiddo.” This place had been used as a battlefield down through the centuries.

And now Seth, with millions of others, stood on this very plain. The great 200-million-soldier army from the East was moving in while the Antichrist’s army tried to stand firm. The battle line extended south throughout Israel with the front line at Armageddon. Terrible fighting was going on in Jerusalem.

Seth had heard that a frightful battle was ensuing south of the Dead Sea as well, and so many had been killed that blood was standing several feet deep in some areas.

Seth wished he were dead. He heard that the war had expanded beyond the Middle East now. Nuclear weapons were being used around the world. Whole cities were being wiped out. The eastern force had already killed a third of the earth’s population. Entire islands and mountains were being blown off the map.

Paralyzing fear gripped Seth and his buddies. Totally demoralized, Seth turned to one of them, “What are we going to do? Will it be days, or just hours, before all life on this planet will be gone?”

Up above the clouds, Jesus Christ was preparing to return to earth with the armies of Heaven—dressed in white robes, riding on white horses. Seth did not realize it, but at that very moment, Logan, his mother and father, and a host of others were preparing for the return.

The sky rolled back. A blazing light flooded the whole earth. Astounded, Seth fell to his knees, dropping his rifle . . . the Son of God was descending! Behind Him, a cloud of believers followed. The whole sky was filled with ranks of white horses ridden by the saints of God. The awesome sight was too much for Seth. Throwing his arms over his eyes, he fell to the ground, trembling with fear.

Then, some fifty-five miles from where Seth crouched in abject terror, Jesus’ feet touched down on the Mount of Olives—the very place He had left earth from nearly two thousand years ago! The mountain split in two with a deafening sound, the earth trembled as it never had before. In seconds, a giant crevice opened up running east toward the Jordan River and west to the Mediterranean Sea (Zechariah 14:4).

One-third of the Jewish people looked up and saw “the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” They recognized Jesus as their Messiah and in that moment they were believers. They ran into that great crack, remembering the prophets who foretold it as a place of refuge from the terrible destruction that God would pour out upon the godless armies of the world.

The terror that Seth felt could not be described as he and those around him were thrown to the ground by the mighty trembling and heaving of the earth. He thought he would surely die at that very moment, but he didn’t. No, the Antichrist was already rallying the forces to rise, to fight on, against Jesus Christ himself. However, the forces of the Antichrist were doomed.

Soon, the dreadful battle was over, and the remnant of the armies of the Antichrist “were slain with the sword of him that sat upon the horse, which sword proceeded out of his mouth.” Jesus Christ had saved mankind from extinction. In vanquishing the forces of the Antichrist, His Kingdom was established on this earth for a thousand years of peace.

 

Seth woke up to an empty house. What had happened in the night?

A few weeks later, the sun was shining on the tree outside his window when Seth woke up. He sat up slowly, rubbing his eyes. A glance at the clock told him that it was past time for Sunday school. Good, he thought to himself. I can’t believe Mom or Dad didn’t wake me up. I really let them know last night that I didn’t want Logan preaching at me anymore. He frowned as he thought of how Logan had been talking to him again about needing to be ready for the Lord’s coming. Seth had yelled, “For Pete’s sake, leave me alone, will you? Dad, get Logan off my back. I’ve heard enough!” He had stormed out of the room, calling back over his shoulder, “And don’t try to get me to go to Sunday school tomorrow either!”

Now, in the quiet of the morning, he thought, Maybe I did lose my cool. Logan only did what he thought was for my good. After all, I do want to be a Christian someday. I’m just not ready yet.

Seth crawled out of his bed in the room he shared with Logan. I’ll sure be glad when I can leave home and have a room of my own, he thought, reaching for his jeans. Glancing over, he noticed Logan’s unmade bed. Funny, he thought to himself, Logan always makes his bed.

Deliberately not making his own bed, Seth walked down the hall toward the kitchen. As he passed the bathroom he noticed his mother’s robe in a heap on the floor. Her hairbrush and mirror were beside it.

Wow, thought Seth. They must have really left in a hurry. Funny, I didn’t hear anything.

Seth continued through the house.  As he entered the living room, he paused, puzzled. There at Dad’s desk, was his open Bible. His shirt and suit pants were draped oddly on the chair, partly hidden by the robe Dad always wore until he was through with breakfast. His slippers were on the floor, looking as though his feet had been suddenly lifted out of them.

With a growing uneasiness, Seth stared at the spot, trying not to comprehend what he was finally realizing. Then a paralyzing terror gripped him. Could it be possible? Dad had said the Lord could come at any time. But people had been talking about it for hundreds of years. It couldn’t really have happened now—or could it? A wave of nausea swept over him.

Seth shook as he pulled his phone out of his pocket and dialed the church number. Surely there’d be someone there! Anxiously he waited as the phone rang but it went to voicemail. He called again—voicemail! He dropped his phone. With a wail he couldn’t control, Seth ran to turn on the television, only to hear, “. . . the mysterious, instantaneous disappearance of thousands of people this morning . . .” Seth heard no more.

It was really so. At some moment, probably while Mom was fixing her hair before starting breakfast, and Dad had sat down as usual to review his Sunday school lesson, it had happened. Logan was probably still asleep—no need to call him yet—and had they intended to call Seth? He would never know, because at that certain moment a heavenly trumpet had sounded. Only those who were listening for it had heard and answered the call. He, Seth, had been too stubborn, and had refused once too often. His family had gone to be with Jesus. Dressed in robes of righteousness they would right now be taking part in the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. Now he knew why Logan had kept saying, “Seth, you’ve got to be ready at any time.” Now it was too late.

  • Matthew 16:1-3; 24:3-28, 32-34; 2 Timothy 3:1-5

Distressing headlines point to the Lord’s soon return.

A light tremor was the only warning the boys had. The next moment Logan and Seth staggered against the counter in the sporting goods store. The floor shook beneath their feet as though they were on a roller coaster.

Large pieces of glass flew in every direction as the plate-glass window beside them shattered. A low rumble was punctuated by screams of fright.

“Let’s get out of here!” Seth shoved Logan in the direction of the wildly swinging door. The boys plunged toward the entrance, joined in seconds by terrified people pushing their way onto the street.

They could hear the crash of sporting equipment falling from the display shelves behind them as they reached the sidewalk. Then, as suddenly as it began, the earthquake stopped.

For a brief moment, an awful stillness seemed to hang in the air, almost as if the universe were holding its breath. Then confusion took over as those standing on the sidewalk struggled to grasp what had happened. What would happen next?

“You okay, Seth?” Logan grabbed his older brother’s arm. Seth’s face was white, but he tried hard to appear calm. “I’m fine, Logan, but it’s a lucky thing we weren’t standing any closer to that window! That glass really flew!”

Logan took a deep breath and looked around him, almost in a daze. Then he said, “We’d better get home and check out what happened there.”

The next morning, after damage around the house was cleaned up and things restored to order, Logan grabbed his iPad and checked the news. The headlines blazed: “Earthquake Brings Widespread Damage.”

“Wow, look at this, Dad!” said Seth after a moment. “It registered 7.1 on the Richter scale. That’s really something!”

“All I can say is I hope this was my first and last experience of this type!” his dad commented. “Yesterday’s events were about enough for an old man like me.”

“Aw, Dad,” said Seth with a disgusted look at his father. “I thought it was pretty exciting, myself.”

The family sat together at the table in silence, listening as Seth continued reading the headlines.

“‘U.S. Launches Airstrikes against ISIS in Libya,’” he read on the next page. “‘Iran Nuclear Deal Brings Fears of New Arms Race.’” He tapped on another news site, “‘Deadly Ebola Virus on the Move in Africa.’ ‘India Drought: 330 Million People Affected,’” he sighed. “‘Paris Terrorist Attack: 128 Dead.’”

“Not much in the way of good news, is there?” said Logan, as he spread another piece of toast with strawberry jam. “Sounds like all that is going on is war, trouble, and disaster. And today, even our own city is making national news.” He gulped down a couple of bites, and then looked up again. “Was it like this when you were a kid, Dad?”

His dad looked thoughtful. “I really don’t believe it was,” he answered slowly. “We had our own share of troubles, but it does seem as though things are getting worse.” He paused for a moment. “Of course, the Bible tells us that this is the way it is going to be just before the Lord comes back.”

Seth gave a groan. “Oh, Dad, you’re always preaching.” He shoved his chair away from the table and left the room.

Logan caught the troubled look exchanged between his parents. “Don’t worry, Seth’s still upset—maybe this earthquake has gotten through to him about his need to get saved. I’ll try to talk to him later when he cools off a little.”

Prophecy about the Messiah was fulfilled in Jesus.

Logan Thompson looked out over the chapel. It was filling up. He supposed he should feel nervous, but he didn’t. This was a special Bible contest to introduce the new fall Sunday school material. Even though it was Saturday afternoon, a lot of parents and most of the kids had come to see what was so special about this quarter.

The crowd grew quiet as the youth leader, Tyler Johnston, got to his feet. After welcoming the audience, Tyler announced, “This coming quarter we’re going to be studying prophecy—things that the Bible says will happen but haven’t taken place yet. We thought it would be good to find out why we believe these things really will happen. In this contest, Jesus Christ is the main subject. We have three teams: Selena Robertson, Troy Daley, and Logan Thompson are the captains. They may confer with their teams regarding responses, and anyone on the team may give the answer. The winning team goes out for pizza next Saturday for lunch!”

Turning to the team leaders sitting behind him, Tyler said, “Who knows how many Old Testament prophecies about Christ actually were fulfilled in Jesus and are recorded in the New Testament?” Selena’s hand shot up, but she answered hesitantly.

“Maybe around fifty?”

Tyler smiled, but he shook his head no. “Anyone else have an idea?”

There was silence, then Logan raised his hand slowly. When Tyler nodded to him, he said, “I don’t know a definite number, but there are hundreds of verses that mention things which were supposed to happen to the Messiah, and they did happen to Jesus.”

“That’s true, Logan. Occasionally, just a part of a verse said something about the coming Messiah. Can anyone tell me why it’s important to know that those prophecies about Jesus Christ really were fulfilled?”

Someone from Troy’s team spoke out, “Because we need to know that the Bible is true.”

“That’s right. Anyone want to add something to that?”

Again Logan raised his hand slowly. “Knowing that these things are true helps me to know I can trust what I read in the Bible. What God says will happen, really does happen.”

“Good point, Logan,” Tyler replied. “These verses are the foundation upon which we build our faith.”

Looking down at his list of questions, Tyler went on. “What’s the very first verse in the Bible that gives a prophecy about the Messiah?”

Nearly everyone raised his hand on that one. It was Selena’s team’s turn, and someone answered, “Genesis 3:15: ‘And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.’”

“Good! Who knows the last verse in the Old Testament that was fulfilled in Jesus’ life?”

There was a flurry of pages turning as the team members looked for the verse. Then, almost together, Logan’s and Troy’s hands shot up. “Okay, it’s Logan’s turn.”

“Zechariah 13:6: ‘And one shall say unto him, What are these wounds in thine hands? Then he shall answer, Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends.’”

“Very good, Logan. Now, Troy’s team, what is the New Testament’s fulfillment of the verse in Genesis?”

The team members looked at each other in dismay. “We don’t know!” they said finally.

“Does anyone know?” asked Tyler.

Logan looked around. There were no hands, so he raised his again.

“Okay, Logan, what do you think?”

“Jesus bruised Satan’s head by dying for us and giving us power over sin, and Satan bruised Jesus’ heel by causing the people to kill Him.”

“Excellent!” Tyler responded. “Logan, that gave your team a point. Now we’re back to Selena’s team. Can you give the fulfillment of the prophecy in Zechariah?”

After a few moments of quiet discussion, the answer was given. “The Zechariah verse was fulfilled when Jesus was crucified and the nails were put into His hands.”

The contest went on, with different prophecies from the Old Testament being matched to their fulfillment in the New Testament. Logan’s team was soon far ahead of the others, and at the conclusion of the contest, it was obvious they were the winners.

Tyler concluded, “We’ve covered a lot of the prophecies of things that happened to Jesus when He lived on earth the first time. In closing let’s consider the Scripture where Malachi talks about what will happen after Jesus comes back to earth. During the Millennium He’ll be King of the whole earth and everyone will obey Him.”

There was recognition and applause for the winning team, then Tyler continued, “The things we’ve talked about today are important because we realize that what the Bible says really is the truth. That’s why we can look forward with certainty to things that will happen in the future. We’ve learned that when God says something will take place, it really will happen!”


 

As you walk with Christ you will find that you are on the most exciting adventure of your life. During this quarter we have learned that the Christian’s walk begins when he repents and is forgiven of all his sin. At that time he will feel an amazing sense of inner peace, even though the world around him has not changed at all. In preparing himself for the rest of the journey, the Christian finds that there are wonderful gifts which Jesus has promised His children. One of those gifts includes the power that comes into the life of a Christian when he is filled with the Holy Spirit. This amazing power enables the Christian to work for Christ, to be a help to those in need, and to tell others that Jesus loves them.

How well do you remember what you’ve studied during this past quarter? Check yourself by doing the quarter review activities.

There is one race in which everyone can be a winner!

Searing pain wracked through every muscle. Evan ignored it. He could see the tape stretched across the finish line just a few hundred yards ahead.

Every fiber of his body strained forward. Sweat drenched him. Dimly he sensed someone closing in on him. But how could anyone? He’d been well ahead through the whole race.

Numbly each foot pounded ahead of the other. He willed his body to more speed. If he could just tap that final reserve of energy. But it didn’t seem to be there today.

The other runner was closing in fast. Determination welled up inside Evan. He just wasn’t going to give in now. He would not let another person get ahead of him.

He willed himself to push harder. A flush of adrenaline surged through him just as the other runner drew closer. Side by side they ran now. Only thirty yards to go.

Defeat just couldn’t be his! Evan had worked toward this moment of victory all year long. He had trained in the sweltering heat and in the icy slush. He’d put in miles and miles every day. This marathon had been his goal since last summer.

As he gave his last ounce of strength, the other runner broke the tape just ahead of him. The last moment made the difference. The taste of defeat was bitter in Evan’s mouth as hands lifted the winner and carried him over the heads of the cheering crowd. Evan collapsed on the grass to the side. His breath, coming in tearing gasps, wrenched from him. But even as he wiped his face and raked the hair from his forehead, a question was forming in his mind. Who was that runner—the winner of the marathon? He spotted the guy in a big group over by the time clock.

Evan wedged his way into the group, and touched the other runner’s shoulder. In spite of the disappointment that was still heavy on him, he stuck out his hand. “Hi, I’m Evan Jacobs, and I just want to tell you that was a great race.”

His hand was grasped readily. “Say, you’re the guy that came in just about a second behind me, aren’t you? I’m Jake Nelson. Let me tell you, I had to give it everything to get a step ahead of you! You were out in front nearly the whole race.”

As the crowd milled around them, Evan and Jake stood for a few minutes discussing their training and some other races they had run. “It is really disappointing to put everything you have into a race and then not win,” Jake said. “I’ve had that happen often enough too.”

Evan grimaced in agreement, “It’s just too bad there isn’t some kind of race in which everyone who really did his best could win, isn’t it?

*****

The Bible tells us that every real Christian is in a spiritual race. But it is different from races we run here on this earth. In this race, everybody that finishes is a winner!

Evan had trained hard to be a winner in the marathon he ran. And it is going to take some effort to “win” in the spiritual race too. You won’t be running long miles to get in shape for this, but you will have to spend time reading your Bible, praying, staying close to God, and trying every day to live in a way that is pleasing to Him.

We read in God’s word that we must “lay aside every weight” in order to run the race that is set before us. That means we must be willing to give up things that would slow us down spiritually. Are you ready to do that so you can win the race?

The key to winning is endurance. Whatever might come our way, be it bad or good, we do not let that deter us from pressing on. The end is what counts in any race, but everyone who crosses the finish line into Heaven is a winner.

 

Judah’s project helped him think about the pieces of a Christian’s armor.

Judah angled the blade of his knife and carefully etched a pattern around the base of the small, foil-covered shield on the table in front of him. There! That little shield added the perfect touch to the suit of armor which now transformed his action figure into a Knight of the Round Table.

When his Social Studies teacher, Mr. Barnett, had made this assignment as a part of their study of Medieval England, he had thought it sounded kind of dumb. But the project had actually proved to be fun. Those knights really had to wear a lot of equipment to be prepared for battle—he’d found that out as he researched each piece and tried to construct it out of cardboard and foil. He picked up the tiny sword and hooked the handle over the figure’s hand, adjusting the position of the arm so the sword stood out aggressively.

“Say, that turned out pretty good.” his dad’s pleased voice broke into his thoughts. “You’ve really got a fine looking suit of armor there.” Judah handed the figure to his dad for closer inspection.

“Yeah, this turned out to be kind of a fun project after all. Better than writing a paper, anyway. Making all these little pieces of armor almost makes me wish I could have been a knight back in those days. It must have been exciting.” Judah’s dad grinned. “I’m sure it had its moments. But, Judah you do have a chance to put on armor even today, you know. God has commanded us as Christians to do that.”

“C’mon, Dad,” Judah chuckled. “Don’t tell me you have armor in your closet, hanging next to your suit!”

“Well, not exactly. But we do have a daily battle against Satan and sin, and we are told to put on the whole armor of God, so that we will be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. How important is each piece of this armor you made, Judah?”

“No knight would have wanted to go into battle missing even one piece.”

“I’m sure you’re right. And in our Christian warfare, having the full armor on is just as important. Why don’t you read Ephesians 6, verses 10 through 18, Judah? You might find it interesting to compare the pieces of armor mentioned there to the ones you’ve just made.”

Judah was intrigued. Later that night he picked up the Bible on his night stand. Where had Dad said that part about armor was found? Somewhere in Ephesians . . . ah, here it is.

Let’s see, the first piece of armor mentioned is in verse 14, “having your loins girt about with truth.” Well, it’s sure that a knight wouldn’t go out without having his body protected. What about truth? If he went without God’s truth in his heart, where would he be? Obviously, he couldn’t even start to be a Christian.

Next came the “breastplate of righteousness.” Judah picked up the figure and examined the breastplate he had made. This covers the chest, he thought. It goes right over the heart, the most vital part of the body. So, righteousness must be a protection against Satan’s getting into our hearts. That’s sure important!

Judah picked up his Bible again. “Feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace.” It would have been pretty hard for the knight to run out to battle on bare feet! He probably would have just decided to stay home. I guess we, as Christians, should be prepared to share God’s peace with everyone.

Next came the shield. Certainly no knight would have gone out without that protection. With it he could fight off whatever the enemy shot at him. The Bible, in comparing the shield with faith, tells us we need it “above all.” Without it he wouldn’t be able to fight off anything Satan might send his way. Could he, without faith, work for God? No, that shield was very important.

“The helmet of salvation.” A knight would never have gone into battle with his head uncovered. Just think how necessary salvation is if it’s compared to the helmet!

How about the sword—surely the Bible mentions that weapon? Yes, there it is, in verse 17. “The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” So the Word of God is what he should use to fight the enemy.

Judah closed his Bible. He was glad his dad had suggested that he read these verses. He had read this passage of Scripture in Ephesians before, but he’d never really thought about what each piece of armor meant or how important it was. Now that he compared them with the armor he had made, he had a little better picture of how vital each piece is.

This has been quite an object lesson, he thought. I learned, by making these little pieces of armor from foil, that they were necessary to the knights of old, and at the same time, I think I have a better idea of how important the Christian armor is.

Would you like to be another George?

Let me tell you about my friend, George.

George’s boyhood days were spent in a little coal-mining town. He used much of his time roaming the great outdoors, but his Christian mother and grandparents taught him about God. Every morning and night the Bible was opened in their home, and they would all get down on their knees and pray. George learned that he should pray for God to save him.

One day George’s family told him that they were going on a 300-mile trip to Portland, Oregon. They were heading for an Apostolic Faith camp meeting. How excited George was! When they arrived at the campground, the thing that he noticed particularly was how happy everyone was. He wanted what they had! He prayed that God would save him too, and God answered that prayer.

He sought the Lord and was sanctified and then baptized with the Holy Ghost and fire. At the church, he noticed that someone was needed to help pick up the hymn books after the church services. Not a very fancy job, but he did it.

George had been taught that he must read his Bible and pray every day. Both were needed to help him grow as a Christian. His mother gave him a Bible and some Bible-story books, and every evening he would read some chapters or pages in each.

God kept George true to Him, even though he had no Christian friends at school. Sometimes his classmates teased him. One of the teachers made fun of him, letting everyone know that she thought it was foolish to be a Christian, but Jesus was a true Friend to George. He didn’t let it upset him.

George learned to play a musical instrument. Not just enough to barely get by, but to play very well. That meant giving up some fun things in order to practice. Of course, you know what happened—he was asked to play in the church orchestra. His voice developed into one of those “way down deep” bass voices. Soon he was singing in the choir and then in a male quartet.

He did things to help others too. That’s how I learned to know George—he gave me music lessons. He found out that doing things for others and helping in God’s work made him feel good inside. And he helped others—kids like me—to understand that too.

Now, don’t think that bigger jobs came fast and easy for George. They didn’t. But after years of playing in the orchestra, he was finally asked to direct it. That was quite an honor, but it also meant more work, more responsibility, and less free time for himself. But George did it!

Not only that, he also took time to pray and study the Bible until everyone knew he was a person they could go to with their questions. Even people he didn’t know very well figured that out. One time, when he was in the army, a soldier came to his tent after everybody else was asleep. He woke George up and said he couldn’t sleep; he was feeling guilty and sad because of his sins. That worried soldier knew George was a Christian, and he wanted to be one too. George prayed with him, and the soldier was saved.

George became a preacher. Soon after that, he was in a terrible accident and was almost burned to death! Some people would have quit, but George kept on going, even with terrible scars on his neck and hands. Later he moved to another city to help in the church there.

Did he become a pastor then? No, he never did. God had something else for him to do. He sent him to be a missionary in Africa. He lived among the African people, teaching them the Gospel. That meant living without the comforts and conveniences of home—things like running water, refrigerators, or electric lights. But many people are saved in Africa today because of the faithful dedication of my friend, George.

One day, flying in an airplane over the continent of Africa that he loved so much, George had a heart attack. George gave all he had—his life. The African people buried him in their country. He was as special to them as he was to us at home.

Would you like to be another George?

What is stopping you?

The true stories of two men who responded to God.

“Me? A Christian? Hah!” Walt shook his fist. “Don’t talk to me about God. I’m an atheist, and proud of it!” With that, he walked away, cursing. No one would talk to him about God—he made sure of that!

He was his own boss and no one dared tell him what he should do. Sometimes he worked and sometimes he didn’t. When he needed some money, he worked in a sawmill. His job was to trim lumber at the finish saw. He liked working with the loud machinery and rough men, and he was as rough as any of them.

One day as he worked he planned what he was going to do that evening with a paycheck in hand—the first one in weeks. He was going to “have some fun at the tavern.” He thought that was the way to have a good time—the way to be happy. But that day, as he was working at his machine, a Voice spoke to him. The Voice said, “The only true happiness is in the Lord.” Walt turned to see who would dare say such a thing to him. To his amazement, there was no one there! The other men were all around the building, working at other saws and machines. The saws were screaming so loudly that he could have heard no one unless they had yelled right into his ear. Then Walt realized that he had heard the Voice of God. He turned off his saw and walked to where one of his friends was working. “Bill,” he shouted, “I’ve just had a visit from the Lord.” His friend looked at him, amazed that Walt would say anything about God.

After work that night, Walt went home instead of going out to get drunk. When he told his parents about his visit from God, his mother thought he had lost his mind. But his father said, “Something must have happened—it’s payday, and Walt’s sober.” Something had happened!

The next Sunday Walt went to church. He hadn’t cried since he was a young boy, but that day tears ran down his cheeks as he heard people say that Jesus loves everyone—even people who are mean and make trouble for others. He was sorry for his sins, and asked God to forgive him. God did forgive him and changed his life. He didn’t want to drink and fight anymore. He began to work at a steady job. He even gave back things that he had taken from others.

Walt remained a Christian the rest of his life. He spent a lot of time telling people what God had done for him. He was very thankful that God’s call was for everyone—even someone who didn’t believe that God was real.

* * * * *

What a noisy place! The parts rolled off the production line at a terrific rate. Chick was the foreman, and he saw to it that the line kept moving. The more they produced, the more he was paid. His helpers were not always as fast as he wanted them to be, and when things slowed down he yelled, and cursed, and threw things around. His co-workers were afraid of him or mad at him most of the time. All except a young man named Ben. No matter how much Chick yelled at him, no matter what he did, Ben was always the same. If he didn’t smile, at least he was quiet, and he didn’t yell back like the others. What was there about Ben that was different?

Chick had grown up learning to fight. He had injured one man’s face so badly that he was scarred for life. Chick couldn’t understand anyone who wouldn’t fight back. He’d been told that Christians were like that, but he’d never before met anyone who really could stick to it. He began to watch Ben closely. One day he stopped work. Turning to the young man, he said, “What church do you belong to, anyway?”

Ben was plainly surprised, but he said, “I don’t belong to any church. I’m just a Christian.” Chick didn’t know what to think of an answer like that. For days after that he asked many questions. He discovered that Ben knew many people who, just as he had done, had given their hearts to Christ Jesus. They were able to live without sin in their lives through the power that Jesus gave them.

Soon after that, Chick went to church with Ben. He learned that Jesus had died on the Cross so that all sinners could be saved. That included Chick! Then he knew that the reason people didn’t “join” that church was because the only way you could get to be a part of it was to be born again as the Bible says. The very first time he was in church he prayed and asked God to forgive him. He was completely changed. After that he never lost his temper or used bad language. He even went to the man whose face he had scarred and asked forgiveness. For the rest of his life, wherever he went, he told people how Jesus had changed him.

A youth group discusses the importance of spreading the Good News.

“Look at it this way,” Pastor Chris said, holding up an inflated, plastic globe. “If the only thing Christians were supposed to do on this earth is worship, why would God keep us here? Couldn’t we worship Him better if we were with Him now in Heaven? Maybe so, but worship is not the only reason we are here.”

He looked at the young people sitting in a circle around him. “According to Jesus, worship is not the only purpose we have here on earth. We are to reach out to others with the Good News that Jesus lives, and that all who believe on Him will be saved. At the end of Jesus’ ministry on earth, He gave a very important commission to His disciples: ‘Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature.’ That Great Commission still applies to Christians today.”

There was a moment of silence. Then Ava spoke up, “Pastor Chris, we all know that verse, but are you sure it applies to me? There’s no way I can go into all the world at this point in my life. I’d better concentrate on finishing eighth grade first!”

Ryder swallowed a bite of donut, and then chimed in, “I’ve only got enough money to get me about twenty miles from here . . . one way! That’s not far enough to make much of an impact on ‘all the world.’ I guess I’ll have to stay uninvolved, at least until I get a boost in my allowance!”

Pastor Chris chuckled. “Sorry, Ryder, that excuse won’t do. The New Testament just doesn’t support the idea of a Christian who doesn’t want to be involved in outreach.” He looked around at the group once more. “My goal for each one of you is that you will be actively involved in the lives of unbelievers—not in the sense of being influenced by them, but by having a positive impact on their lives. Here’s my challenge for you this week. I want all of you to come back next Wednesday evening with at least three ideas for outreach. They should be ideas that can be put into action by young people of your age.”

The following Wednesday, the young people settled into their places once again. “This wasn’t exactly an easy assignment,” Ava said, “I really had to think hard to come up with anything.”

Simon offered his input. “There are lots of things older people can do to spread the Gospel. But we don’t have cars or money. I’m like Ava. It was hard work thinking of things kids could do.”

“You’re right. Not having cars or money does limit you in some ways. But you do have enthusiasm!” Pastor Chris responded. “Lots of energy and time too. Let’s hear what you came up with. Why don’t we start at this side of the room, and each of you tell one idea that you thought of. Sheila, could you jot down notes? We don’t want to forget anything.”

An hour later, everyone’s ideas had been discussed, and Sheila had quite a list written down on her tablet. Here are a few of the suggestions they came up with:

• Write out your testimony for a creative writing assignment at school.

• Put on a Bible drama. Advertise it on social media, and invite people in your community to attend. Some of your group could design flyers or posters advertising the event.

• Offer to tutor younger students who are having a hard time keeping up in school, and let that student know you are praying for him or her.

• Enlist your family in a “money for Bibles” campaign. Have everyone promise to put one quarter in a jar for every chapter they read in the Bible. See how long it takes you to earn enough to send a Bible to some foreign country.

• Set up a “free coffee drive-through” in front of your church for commuters. Distribute portions of Scripture along with the coffee.

• Organize a trip for your youth group or Sunday school class to a neighborhood nursing home. Sing church songs, distribute large-print portions of Scripture, and visit with the residents. (Some of the more artistic members of your group might like to hand-letter and decorate the verses.)

• Ask your Sunday school teacher or group leader if your youth group may compose its own personal handwritten letter welcoming visitors. Make sure that someone gets the name and address of each newcomer, and sends them the welcoming letter, inviting them to return.

*****

It’s easy to think that because you’re young, there isn’t much you can do about spreading the Gospel into all the world. Yet, the list above shows there are many things young people can do. What would you come up with if your teacher or youth pastor challenged you for more ideas?

Chloe’s dad gave her a visual illustration to help her understand.

Chloe sighed and looked puzzled as she glanced up from the Sunday school lesson she was studying. “I don’t get it. . . .” she mused aloud. Her father looked up from his newspaper. “What’s the matter, Chloe? Having a problem with your homework?”

“No, I’m not doing homework right now, Dad. I finished that math assignment a little while ago, and now I’m working on my Sunday school lesson for next Sunday,” Chloe replied.

“And what is it about your Sunday school lesson that brings such a big sigh? Can I help?”

“Well, I really don’t quite understand this, Dad. Our lesson this week is on the baptism of the Holy Ghost. It says here that when we are saved and sanctified, we need the baptism. You know I got saved three months ago. I learned about sanctification and how I needed to have my heart cleansed and the root of sin taken out of my heart. I could see that was something that would really help me, so I prayed and the Lord sanctified me. It feels so good! I really don’t see why I need anything more.” She stopped as her brother Jasper hurried into the room.

“Dad, can I borrow your laptop? I’m working on a project for school, and I started it on the computer in the study, but now I need to finish it with a couple of my friends. We’re meeting at Joe’s Donuts to finish it tonight.”

“Sure,” his dad said, “but be very careful with it. I think it’s in the bottom desk drawer in the study, Jasper. Check there.”

Jasper dashed from the room, and returned a minute later with the laptop in his hand. “I found it,” he said happily. “Thanks a lot, Dad. I’ll be back by 8:30 tonight.” Jasper grabbed his jacket from the chair and headed out of the room.

After Jasper left, Dad turned to Chloe. “I think your brother provided us with an object lesson concerning your question about the Sunday school lesson, Chloe.”

“What do you mean, Dad?”

Smiling at her puzzled look, he continued. “You might say, Chloe, that we are a little like a computer. Did Jasper say anything was wrong with our computer in the study?”

“No,” Chloe replied. “He said he needed the laptop instead in order to finish his project at Joe’s Donuts.”

“Exactly,” said her father. “Our computer is in perfect working order, but you can only use it for projects at home, where it can be plugged in. You might compare that to the Christian who is saved and sanctified.

“If you wanted to do your work in more than one place, you need a laptop that runs on a battery. Since it has a power source within itself, you can move to different locations and it will still work.”

Chloe looked thoughtful. “I think I see what you are getting at, Dad. Do you mean the baptism of the Holy Ghost is kind of like a battery?”

“That’s right, Chloe. Jesus said in John 14:17 that the Holy Spirit is with us when we are saved, but would be in us when we are baptized with the Holy Spirit—which we also called the Holy Ghost.

“When He is with us He walks beside us and helps us from the outside—like a computer that is plugged into the wall outlet. But when He is in us, that means He actually stays in our hearts, like a laptop that has its own battery. Then the help comes from the inside—it is a part of us.”

  • “I thought of something else, Dad. Our lesson says we receive the Holy Spirit and He helps us witness. A computer can’t go very far when it’s plugged in to the wall. But a laptop can be used anywhere!” She looked down at her lesson again. “I can see that there is still something I need. I’m glad we’re studying this lesson this week!”

Cole learns why it is necessary to have the nature of sin removed.

Ahhhh, another beautiful day, thought Cole, glancing out the window as he laced up his boots. And today is extra special—Dad’s day off. He promised to take me down to the lake to learn how to fly-fish!

“Good morning, Dad,” smiled Cole as he entered the kitchen.

“Good morning, Cole. It looks as if you are all ready for a day down at the lake. I’ve got our fishing gear together, and Mom has breakfast on the table. Dig in.”

Shortly after a hurried breakfast, Cole and his dad were on their way down the path toward the lake. As they hiked, Cole couldn’t help thinking how glad he was his family had moved out here. Then his dad interrupted his thoughts when he asked, “Well, Cole, how has your new life as a Christian been this week?”

“Dad, it has been just great! Everything seems so different. The sun seems brighter, the grass seems greener, and my friends seem to be easier to get along with. I’ve been wondering ever since I was saved last Sunday if it will always stay like this. But Dad, I have a question.”

“What’s that, son?”

“It’s about sanctification. I’ve heard the word at church, but I guess I don’t really know what it is or why it’s important. If a person is saved, why does he need to be sanctified? That’s what I don’t understand. I feel so much better now that I‘m saved, I just don’t see why I need to be sanctified.”

“That’s a normal feeling, Cole,” replied his dad. “But I think if you can understand the importance of sanctification in a Christian’s life, you will feel your need for this experience. Do you remember that oak tree you and I cut down here in the woods last fall?”

“Sure. There’s the stump right over there,” Cole answered, pointing toward a clearing off the path. “Remember how the sunlight streamed through the forest after the tree was down?” Cole’s dad asked.

“I sure do! What a change around here. The birds had to find a new place to build their nests. The squirrels had to get their acorns somewhere else. And we cut a lot of wood for our wood stove. But what does that have to do with sanctification?”

“When you got saved last Sunday it was like cutting down that tree. There was a big change. The light of God’s love flooded your life. Everything has been brighter for you since then. Those sins that were in your life were removed. But Cole, there is more. Look closely at this stump. What do you see?”

“The tree is starting to grow again. There are little green shoots on the stump,” answered Cole.

“Well, Cole, that growth started because we didn’t remove the roots. This stump is still alive. We were born with the nature of sin in our lives, because Adam, the first man, sinned. We have a natural tendency to sin and do the things that are displeasing to God.

“When we are saved, like you were Sunday, God forgives all the sins we have committed in the past. Then He gives us power not to sin again, but the nature of sin is still there.

“Do you remember, Cole, how we dug up that old stump at our other house in the city?”

“Yeah, it was sure a lot of work to get all those roots out.”

“Well, we did that so the stump wouldn’t start to grow again. God doesn’t want that root of sin to start growing in a Christian’s life, either. It is His plan for us to be sanctified after we are saved. We read in Hebrews 13:12, ‘Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate.’ In other words, Jesus died on the Cross not only that we might be saved, but also that we might be sanctified.

“Cole, Jesus even prayed for you. In John, chapter 17, He prayed for those who were already saved. After we are sanctified, the temptation to sin won’t come from within our hearts, because the nature of sin has been removed, just like the stump. Do you see how important being sanctified is, Cole?”

“I sure do, Dad. I want Jesus to sanctify me, and I’m going to pray that He will.”

Old things pass away and all things become new.

I used to know a girl who had black hair, but she thought blond was better, so she bleached it. The trouble was, as her hair kept on growing, most of it was blond but the roots were black. She could make some people think she was a blond, but not for long, because she really wasn’t.

Sometimes people do try to change things they don’t like about themselves. Do you know anyone who has stopped smoking? Maybe they realized that it was a harmful, dirty habit and quit. Maybe they went to a class to learn how to stop. Once, my brother saw a picture of what a smoker’s lungs looked like, and that was enough for him! He never touched another cigarette.

Now, suppose sinners made a list of everything they were doing that was sinful: smoking, drinking, lying, cheating, stealing, swearing, and anything else they could name. Then suppose that they could stop doing all of them. Right away. Without any help.

They might tell themselves that now they are all right—as good as any Christian, and they might fool some people for a while. They changed the outside. But just as my friend who bleached her hair, they haven’t changed anything on the inside.

The devil still has control of their hearts. Even though on the surface their lives might be different, the evil desires and thoughts are still on the inside. And just like my friend’s black hair, they will show up again.

A change on the inside? What does that mean?

We call it salvation. It is an act of God’s grace by which we receive forgiveness for our sins. Sometimes we call it receiving a new heart. We read in 1 Samuel 10:9 that God gave a young man, named Saul, “another heart.”

Today doctors can actually take out a person’s heart and exchange it for the healthy heart of someone who died in an accident. But the Bible was talking about something more than the pump in your chest which circulates blood through your veins.

When God changes the heart, the person is completely different. The Bible tells us that old things pass away and all things become new. The sinful things in your life will be gone.

One man tells that when he was a little boy, he would say bad things about people he didn’t like. When his mother would find out, she would make him go to that person and say he was sorry. He would do it, because he had to. But all the punishment in the world couldn’t make him like the person he hated, even if he wanted to. He could say over and over again, “I like that person, I like that person,” but he still hated him.

But God took that hate out, and put love there instead. That was a real change, and change is what salvation is all about.

Is salvation hard to get? Is it expensive? No! The Bible tells us it is the gift of God. God has given the gift of salvation to men who had barely a cent to their names—people living on the streets. He has given salvation to children who had nothing but a few pennies in a piggybank. He has also given salvation to moral people. God doesn’t look at what a man has or doesn’t have. He looks at the heart.

How do we get salvation? We ask. We confess our sins to God, and promise to turn away from sin. When He sees that we are truly sorry and determined never to have any part with evil again, He will change us—take away the old heart full of sin and give us a new one full of righteousness.

In 1 John 1:9 we read, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Try it. It really works.

Our eternal destination is determined by the way we choose to go.

The past two weeks on a tropical island had been a great vacation—but now it was over. On board ship, Patrick decided to do some exploring, beginning with the cabin that would be his home for the next ten days. He stretched out on the bunk for a moment . . . not too bad! He unpacked some of his things into the small wardrobe, stuffed his suitcase under the bunk, then headed for the deck.

The motion of the ship was gentle, and the throb of the engines provided a low accompaniment to the bustle of activity on the ship as passengers settled in. The weather was perfect—just a little breeze, enough to keep the heat of the sun from being uncomfortable. The island had disappeared, but a few fluffy white clouds skittered across the horizon.

After lunch in the ship’s dining room, Patrick wandered out on the deck once more. As he gazed out over the ocean, he suddenly had the strangest feeling that something was wrong. He thought his sense of direction was good, but it seemed they were heading south instead of north. Of course, in the middle of the sea the sense of direction is often confused, but . . . the afternoon sun was on the starboard bow. Oh, no, surely it was impossible. The captain would know which way they were going. All those navigational instruments, the charts, the maps—they couldn’t be wrong. The only way he could be going the wrong direction was if he were on the wrong ship. And that couldn’t have happened. Or could it?

That terrible thought paralyzed Patrick for an instant. Then he left the deck at a run, heading for his stateroom. Where was that ticket? Yanking his suitcase from under the bunk, he hurriedly opened it. There it was! In the back pocket. He pulled it out—looked at the name. Moments later he was running to the captain’s cabin with ticket in hand. And just what he feared was true. He was on a ship heading south instead of north! Why, oh why, hadn’t he checked the ship’s name before he boarded? Why had he relied on the steward who had allowed him to board the wrong ship?

* * * * *

Obviously, this story isn’t true. The possibility of getting on a wrong ship under these circumstances would be slight. But let’s do some considering.

Patrick is in a predicament. But he has made the first step toward a solution—he has realized he is in trouble. If he had never become aware of the fact that he was heading in the wrong direction, in time he would have arrived at a totally different destination from where he thought he was heading. What a disaster!

Let’s compare Patrick’s situation to our spiritual lives. The sea in our story could represent the sea of life. The wrong ship, going to the wrong place, is sin, and its eventual destination is an eternal Hell. We want to get to Heaven, but the ship of sin is not going to get us there. It is going the opposite way!

The ship of sin might feel pretty comfortable. It might not have even occurred to you that there is anything wrong with traveling on it. The Bible tells us, “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (Proverbs 14:12).

The best thing, of course, would be to start out on the right ship in the first place. But the Bible says we all have sinned. Each of us started on the ship of sin.

But God provided a way out of this dilemma. We can get off the ship of sin and onto the right ship, called salvation, and head in the right direction. However, we have to buy the right ticket. The only way we can get on the ship of salvation is with a ticket marked “repentance.” To repent means to be honestly sorry for the sins in our lives. Along with that comes a willingness, and a determination to turn away from all those things that we know are wrong, and never do them again.

Have you used that ticket marked repentance, and boarded the ship of salvation? Or are you still headed in the wrong direction?

 

God was helping Macy see the condition of her heart.

Macy tossed restlessly on her bed, pulling the covers up under her chin and shoving her pillow into a different position. Sleep seemed a million miles away. I’m not going to think any more about it, she told herself determinedly. I am going to go to sleep and forget the whole thing.

But sleep still wouldn’t come.

Against her will, the whole scene replayed itself in her memory. She’d gone to church with Paige, her friend who lived next door. It wasn’t the first time she’d been to church but this time when the preacher gave his sermon, it really got through to her. At the end it seemed his eyes had fastened right on her. And his question, though spoken softly, seemed to be shouted directly at her: “Are you going to see Heaven?”

She had tried to brave it out. As a matter of fact, she had probably fooled Paige entirely with her casual dismissal of the whole meeting as they left the church afterwards. When Paige had asked her if she enjoyed it, she had just said, “Oh, it was okay. The singing was really nice.” She had let it go at that. But deep down in her heart she had not been able to toss it off that easily.

Tonight, when she crawled into bed, the thoughts she had been suppressing all afternoon crowded into her mind. “Are you going to see Heaven?” the preacher’s words echoed through her thoughts. I am not all that bad, she thought, I haven’t killed anyone or stolen anything. I try to be good. But, am I going to see Heaven? Deep inside she knew she wasn’t right with God, and that meant she wasn’t going to see Heaven.

All afternoon, she’d felt miserable, not a bit like laughing or having fun. She was so mixed up. What was wrong with her anyway? Why should just a few words from that preacher this morning make her feel so upset?

It was a long night, and when morning finally came, Macy felt as if her eyes had hardly been shut. She sat up in bed and sighed. That heavy, disturbed feeling was still with her. What could she do? She had to talk to someone about it.

Macy hardly knew where she found the courage, but desperation gave her boldness. Late that afternoon, she found herself sitting in the study of Paige’s pastor. Once she started to explain her feelings, it was just like a dam broke, and all the anguish and troubled feelings she had been having rushed to the surface.

“When you asked if we would see Heaven, I just felt sick,” Macy told him. “And I couldn’t sleep all night. I don’t understand what is happening to me, but I had to talk to someone.”

“Macy, what you are feeling is called conviction. Conviction means being convinced of one’s sins. God’s Spirit is letting you know that you have sins in your life, and no sin will be in Heaven. It may not feel good to hear that, but conviction is actually a good thing because it can lead you to repentance—feeling sorry for what you have done wrong, asking for God’s forgiveness, and turning your back on those wrong things. That is the only way to get sin out of your life and be ready for Heaven.

“Do you mean this bad feeling is because I have done something wrong and I need to ask God for forgiveness?”

“Yes,” the preacher nodded. “God doesn’t want you to be lost forever. Sometimes the only way He can make people realize that what they are doing is wrong is to allow them to feel bad. This is your opportunity, Macy. Don’t let it slide by. God is calling you right now.”

Macy sat in silence for a long moment. Then she said quietly, “I believe God is calling me. Will you pray with me?”

 

Mr. Harvey helped Braxton understand that his behavior could change.

Braxton closed his Biology textbook with a thud and tossed it beside his notebook on the bed. At least his assignment was done, even if he wasn’t any closer to resolving the problem he had discussed with Mr. Harvey this afternoon. Their conversation echoed through his mind once more: “You have inherited this tendency to do wrong, but not directly from your natural father.”

What did Mr. Harvey mean? He had said something about a solution. But it was clear after reading this chapter in his Biology book that he couldn’t change the physical traits he’d inherited from his parents. Mr. Harvey had said that because of Adam’s sin, everyone was born with a sinful heart. Then, could that be changed?

Braxton’s eyes fell on the stolen pen that triggered the questions in his mind. Again that feeling of helplessness washed over him. He would be so glad if he could get rid of whatever it was that made him want to steal!

A few minutes after three o’clock the next afternoon, Mr. Harvey pulled a chair over to Braxton’s desk and sat down. “Now . . . where were we, Braxton?”

Braxton fiddled with a pencil for a moment, then answered, “Well, we talked about whether I could have inherited a desire to steal. You told me that because of Adam’s sin, everyone was born with sin in his heart. You said there was a solution, but I don’t see how there can be. I can’t change the color of my eyes, or the size of my ears. So how can I change what’s in my heart?”

“You can’t, Braxton,” Mr. Harvey replied quietly.

Braxton glanced up at him quickly. “But you said here was a solution!”

“You can’t change your heart, but God can. He provided a remedy for sin. I mentioned Adam to you. Through one man sin came into the world, and through one Man, sin can be taken away.”

“What do you mean?” Braxton questioned with a troubled frown.

Mr. Harvey pulled a Testament from his pocket. “It says here in 1 Corinthians 15:22, ‘For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.’ The Bible teaches that the penalty for sin is death. So each one of us is deserving of death.

“But God sent His own Son, Jesus, to this earth in the form of a human being. Since He was God’s Son, He was born without sin. Jesus was the only One who could take the penalty for another’s sin, because His own heart was free of any wrong. He died on a Cross one day, paying sin’s penalty for you and for me, Braxton. In John 3:16 we read, ‘For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.’”

Braxton still looked puzzled. “You mean just believing in God will take the sin out of my heart?”

“You have to be sorry for the wrongs you’ve done, Braxton. You have to be willing to turn your back on them and make them right.” Braxton looked down at the floor. He thought about the pen . . . and all the other things he had taken in the past months. How glad he would be if he could be free of whatever it was that made him want to steal.

Mr. Harvey went on, “You must give the rest of your life over to Jesus. When you ask Him to forgive you, He will take the sin out of your heart. Then you’ll want to go back and straighten out all the things you’ve done wrong.”

Braxton sat quietly for a few minutes. Then he looked back at his teacher. “It’s a little hard for me to understand just why God would send His Son, Jesus, for me. I mean, I’m just a kid with a dad in jail and a bunch of problems. Why should He send His Son to get me out of this mess?”

Mr. Harvey answered without hesitation. “Because He loves you, Braxton. He wants you to have your sins forgiven and to have real peace inside.”

  • At last Braxton nodded, “I think I’m starting to understand, Mr. Harvey. Thanks a lot for taking the time to talk to me.” Getting to his feet, he gathered up his books and slung his jacket over his shoulder. “You’ve really given me something to think about, Mr. Harvey. I won’t forget what you’ve said. I think you know that I am sorry for the things I’ve done wrong, or I wouldn’t have talked with you about them. Now I know I need to talk to Someone else.”

Troubled thoughts churned through Braxton’s mind.

Braxton sighed and slumped a little further into his seat at the back of the Biology classroom. Usually this was one of his favorite classes but today he stared unseeingly at his teacher, Mr. Harvey, who was also a close friend of the family. Besides making the subject interesting, Mr. Harvey seemed to care about the kids, even outside of the Biology classroom. But today, Braxton just couldn’t keep his mind on what was happening.

He felt sick. Troubled thoughts churned and tumbled in his head. Why had he done it? He hadn’t needed that gel pen any more than all the other things he had taken over the past few months. But he had seen it there on the counter. No one was looking, and in a flash that pen was in his pocket.

Of course it wasn’t right—something down inside told him that. And then he hadn’t known what to do with the pen once he had it at home, so he had just left it in his jacket pocket. And that’s what had triggered the blowup this morning.

When Mom found the pen, she knew immediately that he would not have had money to buy it.

The memory of her angry face was still imprinted on his mind. The furious words she had hurled at him as he rushed out of the house, still haunted him: “Do you want to end up serving time too? You’re just like your father!”

Suddenly, from the front of the classroom, Mr. Harvey’s words jolted him back to attention. Like an echo of his thoughts, the teacher was asking his class, “In what ways are you like your dad? What characteristics have you inherited from him?”

Hands shot up around the room. “I’ve got my dad’s cleft chin,” one said. “They tell me I’m built just like my father,” someone else offered. “I like to fish just like my dad does!” volunteered another, amidst a burst of laughter.

“Class time is almost over,” said Mr. Harvey with a grin, “but there’s still time to make an assignment! I want you to read the next chapter in your book, which deals with the subject of genetics. Then make a list of five characteristics you feel you may have inherited from your parents.”

Three o’clock. The bell sounded, and his classmates grabbed their books and headed for the door. Braxton sat for a moment, sighed again, and then reached slowly for his books. He wasn’t anxious to go home and face Mom. And now he had a new thought troubling him. Could he have really inherited a desire to steal?

“Braxton,” Mr. Harvey’s voice interrupted his thoughts. He glanced up to find his teacher standing beside his desk. “You seemed a little out of it today. Did you have a question about our discussion or the assignment?” Braxton hesitated uncertainly, glancing down at his books. “Well-l-l, not exactly . . .” his voice trailed off.

Mr. Harvey waited and then continued, “Is there some other problem—anything I can help you with?”

Suddenly the desire to unload on someone overwhelmed Braxton. “Mr. Harvey,” he said with a tremor in his voice, “you know my dad is in jail for stealing. Could I have inherited the desire to steal?”

Mr. Harvey hesitated, then put his hand on Braxton’s shoulder. “Braxton, you’ve asked a hard question. How about my giving you a lift home, and we’ll talk it over?”

Driving down Fir Street, Mr. Harvey opened the conversation. “Braxton, I think I can help you with your question, but I may not tell you what you expect. To give you an honest answer, I have to put it in the framework of the Bible.

“We read in God’s Word that every person is born with an inclination to do wrong. Adam, the first man, was created by God in God’s own likeness—perfect. But Adam disobeyed. And when he did, sin entered into man. A curse was pronounced upon all generations to follow. Every person who comes into the world is born with sin in his heart.

“That means you, Braxton. And me too. So, yes, you have inherited this tendency to do wrong, but not directly from your natural father.”

Mr. Harvey swung his car into Braxton’s driveway. Braxton sat for a moment, thinking about what he had just heard. If everyone was born with sin in his heart, was there any hope for him? What could be done? At last he reached for the door handle, and said slowly, “Thanks, Mr. Harvey. I’d like to talk it over with you some more, but Mom told me to come straight home tonight.”

“I understand, Braxton. But let’s get together again tomorrow after class. God has a solution to this problem!”

(To be continued in the following lesson.)

God assured Mrs. Albertson that He would take care of her.

“Mama, tell me again what it was like when Daddy was here with us.” Six-year old Selah laid her hand on her mother’s arm. Mrs. Albertson hung up the dish towel and they both went into the front room where Liam and Cooper were doing homework.

“What part do you want to hear, Selah?”

“Tell me about a night like tonight, when dinner was over, but I wasn’t in bed yet.”

Looking out the window at the summer evening, Mrs. Albertson said quietly, “You were small, not quite two years old. That was your special time with Daddy. He would take you for a walk or play with you while the boys and I did the chores. When the dishes were done, he’d bring you to me and then he’d help the boys with their homework while I put you to bed.”

Did Cooper have homework?” Selah asked, looking at her ten-year-old brother.

“Yes, Cooper was in the first grade and he was learning to read, just like you are now. Daddy was so proud of him because he learned very quickly.”

“How old was Liam then, Mama?”

Mrs. Albertson thought for a minute. “He was ten years old, just like Cooper is now. He had lots of homework Daddy could help with—especially math.” She smiled at Liam as he looked up from his work.

“I still remember the day Dad’s boss came and told us about the plane crash,” Liam said. “I remember how white you got, and how you cried. But then you said, ‘Thank You, God, for making me ready for this.’ Tell Selah and Cooper why you said that, Mom. I think they should know.”

Taking Selah’s hand in hers, Mrs. Albertson was quiet for a few moments. Then she began: “When Daddy and I were first married we asked God to give us a happy home. We promised to serve Him with all of our hearts and to teach our children to love Him too. When each one of you was born we asked God to help you grow up to live for Him. We had no idea what was going to happen in the future, but we prayed together and asked God to care for us each day, and to help us live for Him.

“The day before Daddy was to come home from his business trip, I talked to Jesus about some extra money we needed to pay certain bills. All of a sudden, in my heart I could hear the words, ‘I’ll take care of you, Martha.’ That was all—but I knew God had said it. I could hardly wait for Daddy to come home so I could tell him. I thought the words meant that the money problem would be solved. But the next day was the day Daddy died in the plane crash. Then I knew that God had told me He’d take care of us when Daddy was gone.”

“Why didn’t God take care of Daddy?” Selah asked.

“He did,” her mother replied softly. “He had a plan for Daddy, and Daddy had submitted his life to God’s will. He knew that whatever happened to him was God’s best.

“And the Lord has taken care of us too. We have everything we need, even though we don’t always get all we want. I’m sure each of you can think of a special time when Jesus was right there to help.”

“Well,” Liam spoke up, “I know that math isn’t getting any easier, but when a difficult problem puzzles me, I just ask Jesus to help me understand—and He does.”

“Mama, sometimes when you tuck me in bed and turn out the light, I lie there alone in the dark and it seems so scary,” said Selah. “Then I say the part of the ‘Now I lay me’ again, where it says, ‘Guard me safely through the night, and keep me till the morning light,’ and Jesus helps me to go to sleep.”

“I sure haven’t forgotten the time on the river,” Cooper added, “when the boat tipped and I fell overboard—and I didn’t know how to swim! Just when I thought I wouldn’t make it, there was that log for me to grab.”

Mrs. Albertson looked at her children with a smile, even though tears were in her eyes. “I’m so glad Daddy and I asked the Lord to take care of us. It’s so much easier to trust God in hard times if you’ve already given Him your heart and asked Him to take care of the future.”

* * * * *

Mrs. Albertson and her children had learned a valuable lesson—how important it is for us to place our entire selves at God’s disposal. The Apostle Paul said to present our bodies “a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God” (Romans 12:1). If we do, we can be assured He will direct our future.


 


Jamar needed to consider how he spent his time.

Jamar threw open the bedroom door and tossed his backpack on the bed. Hurriedly he pulled it open. Out came his social studies textbook. His math book. A binder. Ah! Here it is! He grabbed the video game Keith had loaned him, and took out the disc, dropping the open case on the bed.

A minute later his mother put her head around the door of his room. “Hi, Jamar. I thought I heard you come in.”

Jamar glanced up at his mom while rummaging through a bin for his controller, and gave her a brief smile. “Yeah, I just got here.”

“What are you so frantically looking for?” She asked. Then she noticed the open game case on the bed. A little frown creased her brow. “Jamar, be sure you leave enough time to get your homework done before supper. You know we are supposed to go over to Grandma’s this evening, so you won’t have time to do it afterward.”

“Sure, Mom . . .” Jamar’s voice trailed off as he turned on the game console and inserted the disc. His mother watched him for a moment, then sighed a little, and walked slowly back to the kitchen.

“Jamar!” her voice rang up the stairs an hour or so later. “Your dad is home and it’s about time to wash up for dinner.” Jamar looked up, startled, and frowned at the clock on his bookshelf. It couldn’t be five o’clock already! It seemed like he’d just been playing a few minutes. Oh, boy, he hadn’t even started his math assignment, and besides that, he had a Social Studies test tomorrow to study for. Well, he’d better head downstairs now for dinner. Maybe he could eat fast and get some homework done before time to go to Grandma’s.

“I think I’d better pass on seconds tonight,” his dad said a little later as the three of them finished their dinner. “Grandma is sure to have some sort of dessert prepared for us.” He looked at his watch. “Besides, we’re going to have to get on the move. I need to stop and pick up a part for the car before the shop closes at 6:00.”

Jamar gulped. There went his homework time! His mom glanced at him. “Did you get your homework done, Jamar?”

He glanced down at the empty plate in front of him. “Uh, not exactly, Mom . . . ”

She looked at him sternly. “Jamar! Did you even start it? Or did you just spend that whole hour before dinner playing video games?”

Jamar hung his head. “I didn’t mean to, Mom. I couldn’t believe it when you called me for dinner. The time just went by so fast!”

“How much homework do you have to do, Jamar?” his father asked.

“Just a chapter of math, and a Social Studies quiz to study for.”

His father sighed. “I’m afraid we’ll just have to leave you home tonight to study. It’s important that I get that car part, so we must leave right away. And your Grandmother is expecting us by 6:30.”

Jamar’s face reflected his disappointment. “Ah, Dad, couldn’t I do it when I get home?”

“No, Son. You’d better stay home and get it done.”

Late that evening Jamar’s parents arrived home, and his dad came up to his room. “Sorry you couldn’t go with us,” he said. “Your grandma really missed you. Now before you hop into bed, I’d like to talk to you for a few minutes.”

He sat down on the edge of Jamar’s bed and reached for the Bible. “There’s a couple of verses here I’d like you to read.” He pointed to Ephesians 5:15 and 16.

Jamar took the Bible and looked where his dad was pointing. “See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” “What does ‘redeeming the time’ mean to you, Jamar?” his dad questioned.

“Well . . .” Jamar stumbled for words. “Doesn’t it mean not frittering away our time but making each minute count?”

“Yes, that’s it,” his dad agreed. “To redeem something is to get possession by paying for it. So to redeem time, we must pay a price. To do this may mean considering the way we spend our time.”

Jamar looked a little guilty. “I guess you mean not spending so much time playing video games when there are more important things to do.”

His father smiled. “You catch on quickly, Jamar. I was thinking of video games, but not only that. There are many ways that people can waste time. It’s necessary that we carefully consider our activities, and how much time we spend doing them. I’m not saying that you should never enjoy a moment’s recreation, but I do want you to remember that each moment of working for God or using your talents for Him, or studying His Word is a preparation for eternity. That’s pretty important! So weigh how much time you spend on each of these against the amount of time you spend doing things with no eternal gain.”

He patted his son on the shoulder. “Now, if you’ve got your homework done, Grandma sent a big piece of chocolate cake to her favorite grandson.

When Thelma saw a need, she did something about it.

When you look at Thelma’s stooped shoulders, the head that shakes a little, the lines and worn hands, you probably don’t realize that she is a great example. But she is.

You might get a hint of it if you stopped long enough to take that hand, with its papery soft skin, into your own. The warmth of her grip might surprise you.

You would surely suspect it if you took time to look deep into her eyes. There is a glow in them that you can’t miss—a glow reflected in her smile.

Thelma is happy. She is blessed by God. She is an example.

Don’t tell me that Thelma is just another one of the elderly, the best of her life over, simply waiting out her last few years. I know better.

Thelma has the joy of living in her heart. Though if you looked at her home, you might ask, “Why?” for it is nothing pretentious—just a simple little two-story house where she lives with her sister. A little run-down here and there. If you looked at her dress you might ask, “Why?” for her clothes are certainly not the latest in fashion.

If you looked for her family, you might again ask, “Why?” for she never married and has only her sister.

Thelma would be the last to tell you her secret. For that matter, I don’t suppose she’s ever given it a thought. She would just say, “God has been good to me.” But I think I can tell you why Thelma has such a peace and happiness about her, why I say she is an example.

Thelma has learned that there is a great blessing for those who willingly give to God and to God’s children. When Thelma knows about a need, she doesn’t just shake her head and say, “My, there certainly is a need.” She does something.

It may not be much: five or ten dollars tucked into an envelope and pressed into a hand. A card to missionaries far from home, enclosing a “little something” for a need there. A quarter tucked into the hand of a five-year-old. A monthly donation to the missionary project.

I’ve seen her slip into a rest room and take off her stockings to give to a woman off the street whose legs were bare and cold. I’ve seen her laboriously trimming old greeting cards and religious pictures to be sent to India.

She spends of her own limited funds for Bibles to be sent to foreign lands. She provides food for a needy young woman whose husband left her and their young children. She gives a little something toward the entertaining of the seafaring men who visit the church. Thelma does something when she sees a need!

I’d like to follow her example. It’s easy for me to think, I’ve got to be careful and save when I can. I don’t have very much myself, and it seems like I need so many things. I have to think twice before I spend or give money to others. I know it’s a worthy cause, I can see there is a need, but . . .

If you could really get to know Thelma, you would find that she has learned the truth recorded in 2 Corinthians 9:6, “He which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully.” “Bountifully?” you ask. I already said her home, her clothes, and her life are simple. Certainly not luxurious. But Thelma glows with an inner light. She has found a blessing greater than any treasure money could buy.

We read: “God loveth a cheerful giver.”

I know God loves Thelma.

Thelma was one of the sisters in our Portland church until she was called home to be with Jesus after this story was written. Maybe you know someone like her. Look around you! Remember, you can follow her example.

Today and every day, we should honor those who take care of us.

How much do you think a good mother is worth? If your mother worked for wages, how much would you have to pay her? Of course, these are silly questions! You could never put a price on the worth of someone’s love, but consider this. Once someone did actually calculate the cost of hiring someone to do a mother’s work. And guess what—you couldn’t afford to have a mother! God’s Word tells us that the price of a virtuous woman is far above rubies.

Many mothers clean the house thoroughly once a week, and straighten up things every day. They shop for groceries, plan menus for the family, and prepare meals. They bake, pack lunches, and change the sheets on the beds. They do the washing, ironing, folding, mending, and purchase the clothing. They drive their children to places they want to go, to music lessons, and school activities. They also help with homework, and care for someone in the family who is ill.

If you hired someone to do their jobs you’d need a butcher, a baker, a teacher, a nurse, a maid, and a chauffeur. But you still wouldn’t have a mother’s love. You can’t buy that.

Most children get so used to having a mother around that they don’t think much about her. They just expect her to do all these things because she is MOM and it is her JOB!

Remember, your mother is really just a person like you. She started as a little girl, and learned as she grew. Now, as your mother, she has a very important responsibility within the framework of the family. Yet she probably learned about what makes a good mother, and how she could prepare herself to be one, while she was growing up.

Perhaps there isn’t a mother in your home. Or maybe your mom works and isn’t able to be home and do all of those things for her family. The way each home operates and who does what, is different from others. But the parents or those in charge of the home have a great responsibility.

Did you ever stop to think that you have a responsibility in your family too? Being a parent is an important assignment from God. But your place is also important. God gives many instructions to children in His Word. He expects them to obey their parents, to honor their elders, and to respect authority. They are promised the blessing of God if they do. And having God’s blessing on our lives is important if we want to be happy.

When you try to do your best as a part of the family circle, you are learning in the same way most mothers learned. You are preparing to accept the additional responsibilities that may be yours someday. You’re not a parent now, but someday you might be! If you have learned to fulfill your part in the family as you grow up, it will help you to assume the new responsibilities of adulthood.

Compare your family to a car. The engine won’t run without a battery. The car won’t move without wheels. It can’t be turned or directed without some sort of steering system. All cars are not alike, just as all families are not alike. But in both cases, each part needs to be in place and functioning for the car to run smoothly.

So it is with the family. When each of the members does his part, the home is a happier place for all who live there.

Leah and Nariko each write about a developing relationship.

Dear Diary,

May 2 — The most exciting thing happened today! I met Nariko Kim! I still can’t believe my luck. Fumi, his sister, is in my algebra class. She’s been out for a week with the flu. Mr. Adams asked me to drop by with her assignments, since I live the closest to her of anyone in the class. Just as I was leaving her place, in walked Nariko. He’s even dreamier close up than from a distance.

May 2 — Met a cute girl today! Pretty good looking for one of my sister’s friends! Fumi says her name is Leah. I’ll have to see about getting better acquainted with this one!

May 5 — Am I ever walking on air tonight! Today, on my way home from school, I heard a horn honk—it was Nariko! He asked if I wanted a ride. Of course, I said yes! I wasn’t at all nervous talking to him, even if he is senior class president at Oak Ridge High. When we got to the house, we sat out in his car and talked. Time just flew. I couldn’t believe it when I saw it was four o’clock. I really had to rush to get my homework done before Bible study.

May 5 — Spotted Fumi’s little friend Leah over on Lambert Drive today when I was coming home from school. Gave her a lift home. For a junior she’s a pretty sharp girl! I was really impressed. Quite easy to talk to, and we seem to have a lot in common.

May 11 — Fumi invited me over today after school. I haven’t known her all that well, but we get along great. Nariko came in while I was there! We talked about a lot of different things. I did notice that he got a funny look when I mentioned going to Bible class on Thursday night. He asked, “Every Thursday night?” in a kind of disbelieving voice. I wonder if he goes to church?

May 11 — I talked Fumi into inviting Leah over today, and then I “just happened” to come in about that time! While we were talking, she mentioned Bible class. Sounds like she goes all the time. I wonder what church it is? Maybe that’s what makes her seem like such a nice girl.

May 14 — Today I invited Fumi and Nariko to Youth Fellowship Night. Fumi would have come, but she had already promised to babysit for Mrs. Kirkman down the street. Nariko’s excuse sounded so fake; he mumbled about some homework and a practice, and then said he had a cold too. It was so obvious he didn’t want to come. I’m getting a strong feeling he isn’t much interested in anything to do with church. But maybe I can make him change his mind.

May 14 — Leah called up today and invited Fumi and me to a youth get-together at her church. Fumi couldn’t go. I would have liked to, but I guess I was chicken. I’ve only been in a church a couple of times. My parents don’t go. I wouldn’t even know how to act or what to do. I guess my excuses sounded kind of lame, but I hope Leah didn’t notice.

May 21 — What a fabulous time I’ve had! The Kim’s invited me to go on a picnic with them, and did we ever have a blast! Their folks treated me so nice. We roasted hot dogs, took a long bike ride, and ate again on the way home.

May 21 — We took Leah with us on a picnic today. I can’t get over how different she is than most girls I know. Even Mom and Dad commented on what a sweet girl she seems to be. I wonder what it is that makes her that way?

May 22 — Oh, dear, how can I feel so mixed up today when I felt so great yesterday? In Sunday school class this morning, our teacher discussed the dangers of establishing close relationships with people who are not Christians. We read, “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” I couldn’t help but think about Nariko. I’ve been trying to put it out of my mind, but I know he is not a Christian. I’ve tried to convince myself that I could help him become one, but today I had to face up to it—I just can’t count on its working out that way. I’m afraid I just can’t let this relationship with Nariko develop any further.

May 22 — Spent the day over at Milo’s doing homework and watching TV. We talked some about the band concert coming up next week. I wonder if Leah will go with me.

May 25 — Nariko asked me to go to a band concert in the park tomorrow. I knew it would be hard to refuse but I said, “No, I can’t Nariko. I’m a Christian and we are on different paths.” The Lord helped me. It was very hard, but I knew I was doing the right thing. We had a good talk after that, but I suppose that is the last I will hear from him.

May 25 — I called Leah this morning and asked her if she could go to the concert tomorrow. She told me she couldn’t—that she’s a Christian! I really have to respect her for taking a stand like that. There must be something to this business of being a Christian. I wonder what she’d think if I asked to go to church with her next Sunday?

Terrence’s vacation resulted in peace of mind.

Terrence leaned his head back, shut his eyes, and tried to relax. The plane had been in the air only a few minutes, but already he was missing the friends and family he had just said good-bye to. It had been a wonderful vacation, and now he was headed home.

Everyone at home would be expecting him to be as wild and crazy as he had ever been, but they were in for a surprise. And his mom and dad—they would be thrilled! This vacation at his grandparent’s had really been different—Terrence had given his heart and life to Jesus.

At the beginning of his vacation he certainly hadn’t anticipated this change in his life. He had just been glad for the spring break from school. He was going to have fun with the cousins he hadn’t seen for a couple of years. But their church’s four-day youth retreat had been a turning point for him as well as for several other young people.

Terrence opened his eyes and ran his hand over the cover of the new Bible that he held on his lap. It was a gift from all his new friends who had prayed with him when he became a Christian. He opened it and began to leaf through the pages. So many pages, so many words. Where do I start? thought Terrence . He stopped turning pages when he saw the name Isaiah. That was the Book of the Bible his grandma had mentioned when they had read the Bible together this morning. He scanned through a few verses and stopped when he came to the words, “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee.” Perfect peace—wow! Was such a thing possible? It must be if it’s written in the Bible, thought Terrence.

As he continued to read, Terrence noticed that the man sitting next to him kept glancing at the Bible. Terrence first thought was that the man might like to hear about what Jesus had done for him. But then he thought he had better be careful, because he didn’t want anyone to think he was a religious fanatic.

Wait a minute! What was that his grandpa had said to him just before he got on the plane? “Terrence, Jesus has given you something very precious. Don’t let the devil rob you of it. He will try to make you doubt what Jesus has given you. He will tell you that you are going to have a hard time as a Christian, and that other people won’t like you. But just remember, the devil is a liar. He only wants to see you in Hell. If you will pray and read God’s Word, Jesus will always be there to help you.” His grandma had then handed him a piece of paper. On it were written several Scripture references. Terrence decided to look up some of the verses now.

The first verse was in Philippians. He looked at the index to see where to find that Book. When he found it, he looked for chapter 4, verses 8 and 9. He read the verses, and again he found a reference to peace—the God of peace. It seemed that this peace which was promised was conditional on his thoughts being turned to the things of God. Verse eight said to think on things that are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of a good report—things that are right.

As he thought about these verses, Terrence saw that the man in the next seat was still glancing at his open Bible. He decided that this was a good chance to give his testimony to someone. The devil was just trying to stop him. Well, Grandpa said that the devil is a liar, thought Terrence, so I will just say what I’ve heard other Christians say, “Get thee behind me, Satan!” The devil’s not going to get a hold on my mind, thought Terrence. I’m going to bring honor to God whenever I have the chance.

He turned to the man and said, “You seem to be interested in my new Bible. Would you like to hear how I got it? Well, I met a wonderful new Friend who changed my heart and mind . . .”

 

 

Jesus set the example.

It was very still, with just the first faint glimmers of light showing in the sky. The soldiers stood talking quietly, glad that the long night was almost over. Suddenly the ground beneath them began to tremble. Was it an earthquake? The stone in front of the cave they were guarding shook loose. An angel came and rolled the stone back and sat on it. The soldiers were terrified, and fell to the ground as though they were dead. Jesus had risen!

This happened on the first Easter morning, but what happened before that? Do you know?

The Bible says, “When the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son” (Galatians 4:4). That means that when the time was right for Jesus to come to this earth, God sent Him. We don’t know just what was said when Jesus left Heaven, but He knew who He was and why He came to earth.

Perhaps God the Father turned to Jesus and said, “It is time now, My Son. According to Our plan, this is when You must leave Heaven and go to live on earth. You will start out as a baby and grow up like any other human being. You will not be the son of a prince. You will not be the son of a rich man. Your parents will be poor. You will be poor all Your life. Some of the people on earth will love You, and listen to Your words. But some will reject You, and then, at the right time, in the chosen place, You will die as a human. When You die, You will take all the sins of the world onto Yourself, and suffer more than any person who will ever live on earth.” Jesus answered, “Yes, Father, I will obey You.” Then God the Son came to earth to live as a human being.

When that tiny Person was born, the angels sang and said there would be peace on earth. When that little Boy grew up He helped people, and loved them, and told them about God. He even told them He was the Son of God—because He was.

Some people believed Him, but others became angry and said He would have to die because He said He was the Son of God.

One night Jesus, the Son of God, went to a garden where He loved to go. But this night He was very sad. He knew the time had come. This was when He would have to take all the sins of everybody on Himself. The burden got heavier and heavier. What agony He went through as He prayed there alone. The Bible tells us that He sweat as it were great drops of blood. He prayed to God, “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42).

Soon the chief priests and officers of the Jews came and took Jesus to the governor, whose name was Pilate. He said that Jesus would have to die.

The same day, Jesus was taken outside the city and nailed to a wooden cross. All this time the weight of everyone’s sins was on Him. Finally He cried, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Jesus had the power to come down from the Cross. He didn’t have to endure that. He could have revealed Himself as God at the crucial moment, and His enemies would have fled in terror. He had known all along that this day would come, but He did not run away. He submitted Himself to the divine plan. He never complained or said, “I won’t die on the Cross.”

After Jesus died, some friends put His body into a tomb. The enemies of Jesus asked for soldiers to guard the tomb. They wanted to make sure no one came to steal His body. But on the third day, Jesus came back to life. The angel rolled the stone away and declared, “He is risen!”

* * * * *

Jesus obeyed, even when it was extremely difficult. If He had decided that He wouldn’t die for us after all, there would be no Easter morning. There would be no salvation from sin. We would have no hope of eternal life.

God had a plan for the earthly life of His Son, Jesus. He has a plan for our lives too.

Jesus found out what His Father wanted Him to do, and He did it. So should we!

Letting his eyes wander in the wrong direction brought disaster.

Down . . . down . . . down . . . The bow of our raft nosed deeper into the foaming water. A moment’s lapse on my part had brought Tucker and me to the brink of disaster. Why had I allowed my attention to wander even for a second? The sight of a rare golden eagle gliding down the canyon had held me spellbound. I had never seen one in the wild before. His wing span was incredible, and I could hardly tear my eyes away. Unfortunately, my concentration had been diverted just at the crucial moment when the river plunged into the narrowing gorge. What a drastic mistake!

Now the current raged around us with the roar of an angry lion. The sound in my ears heightened to a terrific intensity. The raft’s slamming into the trough of a wave caused a wall of spray to cascade over us.

The next few seconds seemed to last forever. I struggled to keep the bow heading into the waves, fighting for control. But the onward thrust of water rushed us unrelentingly toward certain disaster. The moment I saw that cresting wave loom ahead of us, I wondered why I had ever started out on this rafting trip. I knew just what the rafting manual said—a wave of this type should be hit head-on with strong forward speed. Well, I had the strong forward speed all right, but my raft hadn’t read the manual and it headed into the wave broadside. Try as I would, I could not persuade it to do otherwise!

We flipped! I had the fleeting impression of Tucker, arms and legs askew, sailing into the turbulent water. His hoarse shout was the last thing I heard as I clutched madly for the oars and went under.

I guess we only spent a few minutes in the water. When I came up, I spotted Tucker grabbing at the raft, trying to guide it over to the bank. I grabbed an oar as it sailed past me, and I found the gear bag. Tucker and I were cold and wet by the time we finally pulled our raft in, righted it, and located all our loose gear.

I knew I’d have to answer to Tucker. Sure enough, as soon as things started to settle down a little, the question came. “What on earth got into you, Danny?” he sputtered as he wrung the water out of his cowboy hat. “When I saw that white water ahead of us, I glanced back and there you were, staring up at the sky like a moonstruck idiot. What in the world were you looking at?”

“An eagle,” I admitted sheepishly. “I saw a golden eagle glide over the edge of the canyon and for a second I forgot to keep my eyes on those waves.”

“Well, some of you guys have to learn the hard way,” said Tucker with a wry look. He fished in his duffle bag for a dry sweatshirt. “But why did I have to pick an amateur like you for a partner?”

* * * * *

Danny learned a lesson that day. He should have kept his eyes on the river! When his attention was diverted by the eagle for a few seconds, his ride through the rapids almost became a disaster.

We can learn a lesson from this too. We might compare our lives as Christians with a ride on white water. If we pay attention, the river of life can be navigated successfully. But we have to keep our eyes on the course. If we shift our eyes for a second, we could have a disaster.

Our Bible text for this week tells how Peter let his attention wander from the Lord as he walked on the water toward Him. Just a moment’s glance down at the waves and he found himself sinking. His attention was diverted by the things around him.

In Psalm 119:37 we read, “Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity.” That means we shouldn’t look at things which might draw us away from God. We can be sure the devil will try to distract us. He will attempt to show us things which—like the eagle in our story—may not be bad or sinful in themselves, but if they take our attention away from God, they could be the very things which would spell disaster for our Christian experience. If we really want to be all-out for God, we must be willing to ignore those things which might sidetrack our concentration from a successful Christian life.

You’ll see some “rapids” and “white water” in life, but you can make it through!

 

What we listen to can affect us in many ways.

Everywhere I go my ears tune in to something. At the busy shopping center, so many people are passing by. Kids are shouting. People laughing. Babies crying. Two friends have their heads together, but I hear their words . . . “Well, the one on sale at Nordstrom’s is really pretty.” Some things I hear make me happy—a father’s telling his child, “You’re a good boy!” Other things make me sad—a couple exchanging unpleasant words.

My school is such a crowded place from the minute the first bell rings in the morning. Students shout greetings as they hurry from class to class, bumping one another in the halls. I hear swear words from some, apologies from others. Everywhere I go I hear good language and bad. But I can tune out what I don’t want to hear.

I don’t always remember everything I hear. Sometimes Mom or Dad tells me to do something and I forget all about it. Or someone tells me a joke and I can remember all of it except the punch line. Even in class my teacher likes us to take notes so we can review what he says. I think what we hear is very important. Sometimes I pray, “Help me, God, to hear and remember the things that You would have me keep in my mind and heart.”

Sometimes people say things that aren’t true. In class the other day, Bentlee told me that Weston stole the clothes he is wearing. I’ve been told unkind things about my friends before. I’m glad I don’t have to believe everything I hear.

Walking home from school, I can hear someone’s loud stereo. That rock music really pounds into my head. And what are the words to that music? When I listen to them, I don’t like them. They are trying to make a lot of things sound good that I know God doesn’t like—drugs and alcohol and immoral behavior. The things we hear can pollute our minds to the point we can hardly think any clean thought. But the words from good songs will linger in our minds too. And as we learn them, the meaning gets into our hearts.

There is so much I hear all week at school and around town that I don’t like, but there is a place I can go to hear good things—my church. Sometimes, though, I only listen with my ears so I really don’t understand what I’m hearing. I need God to help me really listen so that I will remember it. Then, when I need help with the problems that come into my life, the answer will be in my heart, ready to use.

Every time I go to church I hear more about how to live as a Christian. Some of the things I hear make me squirm in my seat because the words get to me—like the Easter theme we’ve been studying this month. For me to hear that Jesus died on the Cross because He loved me so much makes me feel that I should be doing more for Him. I guess that feeling in my heart is the way Jesus lets me know what He wants me to do. I realize I need to read my Bible and pray more often. That helps me stay strong as a Christian, and to be more aware of the kinds of things I should and shouldn’t listen to.

I read in the Bible that if I hear the words of God and do them, I am like a wise man who built his house on a rock. When the storms came and the winds blew, his house didn’t fall, because it was built on a solid foundation. If I listen and do what God tells me, I have a strong foundation for my spiritual building. If I don’t listen and obey, I am like the foolish man. He built his house on the sand and when the storm came, his house fell.

“Lord, help my ears to always be open to your words so I can be my very best for You.”


TEXT: Exodus 17:8-14; 1 Samuel 30:18-25; Matthew 10:41-42

Eric discovered he had an important job to do for the Lord.

Church was over, and Mr. and Mrs. King were ready to leave. “Where’s Eric?” asked Mrs. King. She went back into the sanctuary to look for him. Eric was sitting in the back row looking glum. “What’s wrong, Eric? Aren’t you feeling well?”

“No, it’s not that, Mom.”

“Well, what’s the matter then?”

“Oh, I’m just feeling kind of down,” he replied. His mother looked concerned. “Want to talk about it?” Eric scuffed his foot across the carpet. “Well, it just seems like I’m not important to anyone.”

“What do you mean? You know you’re one of the most important people on earth to Dad and me!”

“Oh, I know, Mom. I mean here at church. Everyone has something to do except me. You’re in the choir and Dad is an usher, even Jane is in the junior orchestra. All I do is pick up hymn books after children’s meeting.”

“That’s important, Eric. Someone has to do it.” Eric got up with a sigh. “You just don’t understand, Mom.”

The next Sunday, Eric brought his best friend to Sunday school. Eric had asked Jaron several times and he had finally said yes. After the singing was finished the children were all surprised to see the pastor walk up to the front.

“I would like to tell you about a very special person here today,” the pastor began. All the children looked around, wondering who the special person might be. “In our midst is a young man who invited several children to Sunday school. Eric King, will you please come forward?”

Eric was amazed. Could the pastor possibly be talking about him? He went to the front and stood by the pastor.

“Eric, by any chance did you bring someone with you today?”

“Yes, sir, my friend Jaron came with me.”

“Do you know how many of your friends you have brought with you to Sunday school in the past year?”

“I guess I’ve never counted.”

“We checked the other day. You have brought fifteen visitors, and many of them now come regularly. Do you realize that what you have been doing is very important? You are one of the reasons why this church and Sunday school are growing. I can’t get your friends to come to Sunday school. I don’t know them. But you do. That’s why only you can bring them.

“Our lesson today is about using our hands for Jesus. In fact, our key verse says, ‘Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might’ (Ecclesiastes 9:10). This means more than just the physical use of our hands. It means whatever we do for God. What you are doing is a good example of working for Jesus, so you see, even though most people will never know it, your efforts are just as important in this church as my work, Eric. God sees what you have been doing for Him.” Eric beamed as he shook the pastor’s hand. Never again would he feel useless to God!

* * * * *

Everyone who loves the Lord is important in God’s work. Even if we don’t sing, play an instrument, or preach, we can still invite people to church and we can pray. In Exodus we find the story of the battle between the Children of Israel and the Amalekites. Moses stood on a hill watching the battle, with the rod of God in his hand. As long as he held up his hand the Israelites won, but if he let it down the Amalekites would prevail. After a time his arms grew weary and he could no longer hold up his hands. Aaron and Hur had gone up the hill with Moses and they fixed a place for him to sit down. They stood on either side of him and held up his hands all day, and the Amalekites were defeated. In this battle the support of Aaron and Hur was needed for victory. If God’s church is to be victorious today it needs the support of people like Eric who may seem unimportant, but who are busy doing what they can for the Lord.

Keeshana and Jordyn found ways to carry the Gospel to others without going to a foreign country.

Keeshana looked at her friend Jordyn who was sitting cross-legged on the bedroom floor. “I don’t know, Jordyn. I really meant it when I said that I want my feet to take me wherever God wants me to go. But I just don’t see how we can possibly be missionaries right here in our own little town. I meant I wanted to go to a foreign land to work for God.”

A slide program on the missionary work in Peru had been the evening feature at the girls’ church, and the memory of those eager faces had made a deep impression on both of them. Now they sat in Keeshana’s bedroom, discussing what they had seen and heard.

“Keeshana, you don’t have to go to Peru. You don’t have to go far away at all. Your feet can take you all over our town. There are all kinds of things we can do for the Lord here.” Keeshana still looked dubious. “But Jesus said in the Bible that we should go into all the world and spread the Gospel. Our town couldn’t be what He meant.”

“Why not? Someone has to tell the people here about Jesus. Look at Mrs. Wilson across the street. She never goes to church. I wonder if she knows anything about God at all. And then there’s Mr. Talbot, our Social Studies teacher. He said right out that he had big question marks about the effectiveness of a religious experience. Doesn’t it say somewhere in the Book of James that our faith will show through our works? We should do our best to spread the Good News wherever we are!”

The following week at school, Keeshana dashed up to Jordyn as she opened her locker to get her lunch. “Save me a place in the cafeteria. I’ve got something to tell you!” A few minutes later, between bites of a Nutella sandwich, Keeshana bubbled out her news. “You were absolutely right, Jordyn. Our feet don’t have to take us to faraway places before we can work for God. I decided to watch for opportunities right close to home, and I have two to tell you about.

“The very next day after we talked, I decided to walk over and see Ariel Johnson—you know her, she came to Sunday school once or twice. But I haven’t seen her there in a couple of months. We just chatted for a while and she seemed really glad to see me. After a bit I casually mentioned that we had missed her at Sunday school, and you know what I found out? Her mom got a part-time job on the weekends, so Ariel has to watch her little sister on Sunday mornings. She had walked to church the times she came, but it’s too far for her sister. I told her if that was the problem we’d be glad to give them a ride. We drive, and it’s right on our way. So she is coming next Sunday!”

Jordyn smiled. “Can this be the Keeshana who thought she was going to have to go to India or China? Ariel is only a few blocks away, so you didn’t have to travel far at all, did you?”

Keeshana grinned back. “That’s not all, either. Brother Erik called last night after dinner and invited me to go with a group of young people to the Wygate Nursing Home on 42nd Street. We’re going to sing to the folks there next Sunday afternoon. He asked me to see you at school and ask if you’d like to go too. I guess he called your house, but no one answered.”

Jordyn’s eyes lit up. “Oh, I’d really like to. I’ve never gone before.”

“I did once, and it was really cool. The people there enjoy the singing and visiting with us.”

Jordyn swallowed her last bite of cookie and put her napkin on the tray. “What time do we go? Who’s taking us?”

Keeshana chuckled. “Here’s a chance for us to use our feet. We leave from the church at two and we walk. It’s only sixteen blocks from there to the home.”

“But that’s so far! Why don’t they get someone to drive a van?”

“Oh, Jordyn, the walk will do us good! C’mon . . . you were preaching to me about using our feet for the Lord.”

“I’ll go,” Jordyn said as she stood up. “But right now I think our feet had better carry us to our typing class, or Mrs. Bertram will be marking us tardy!”

 

 

Mateo learned that the tongue can’t be controlled without a change of heart.

Paul Williams, the owner of the bike shop, glanced up as the bell at the door signaled someone was entering. “Hi, Mateo,” he said to the young man who strode in. “Hi, Paul,” was the reply. “Is my bike ready?”

“No, I had to order the part, and it won’t be in until Monday afternoon. Should have it ready for you by Tuesday morning, though.”

Mateo’s eyes flashed in anger. “What do you mean, it’s not ready! I have to have it for the race this Saturday!”

Paul looked dismayed. “Oh, Mateo, I’m really sorry. You should have told me you had a race coming up. I could have put a rush on the part.”

Mateo swore angrily. “It’s all your fault, and now I’m not going to be able to win that race. Give me my bike. You can bet I’ll never bring it into this lousy shop again!” Dragging the bike, he stormed out.

Late that afternoon, Paul locked the door to the shop and headed across the park. He sighed as he started down the trail that was a shortcut to his home a few blocks away. That incident with Mateo really troubled him. Mateo had grown up in the neighborhood, and Paul had always liked him. But Mateo did have a temper and a real problem with his tongue whenever he got mad. Paul wondered if there was any chance of smoothing the matter over or if Mateo really would avoid dropping in at the shop now.

Even as these thoughts were going through his mind, Paul noticed a familiar figure on the path ahead of him. Mateo! Jogging to catch up, he put a hand on Mateo’s shoulder and said, “Mateo, I’m really sorry about this business with the bike. It sure is too bad you had to miss the race. Tell you what . . . I’ll call around tomorrow and see if I can’t locate that part somewhere else.”

Mateo looked sheepish. “Oh, that’s okay, Paul. I’m sorry I blew up at you this morning. I was disappointed. I’m surprised you’d even speak to me after the things I said. When I get mad, things just come out that I never meant to say.”

“Well,” said Paul, “lots of other people have had that problem too. The tongue has caused trouble for man since the beginning of time. The Bible talks about it. It even devotes a whole chapter in the Book of James to the problem of the tongue, comparing it to a big blaze that is kindled by a small spark.”

“I didn’t know that,” Mateo said. “I can see how the tongue could be like a fire out of control, but what can I do about it?”

Paul replied, “You need a change of heart. In the Bible it says, ‘Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.’”

“What does that mean?” Mateo asked.

“Well, Mateo, think about it. What can you take out of a full cupboard?”

Mateo looked puzzled. “Whatever is in it, I guess.”

“Right,” said Paul. “You can’t take out what is not there. What you keep in the cupboard is what comes out of the cupboard. And what you keep in your heart is what will come out of your heart. Nothing gets changed unless you decide you want it changed.

“Now look at this park. It’s a beautiful place, with velvety lawns and tall, majestic trees. It didn’t just happen. The people who planted it had a plan. They cleared out rubbish, then planted, weeded, and took care of it. Now we enjoy its beauty.

“Your heart is like this park. You have to plant good things for good to come out. You can’t do it on your own. Now if your heart is filled with wrong thoughts, like weeds, they will choke out all the good thoughts you try to grow. So first you have to pull up the ‘weeds.’ But there are so many, you can’t do it alone. You need God’s help.

“When you ask Him to come into your heart, He forgives you and plants seeds of love and peace. Then when you talk, good things will come out. Just like the cupboard I talked about earlier, you can’t take out anything that wasn’t put in.” This made Mateo think.

A few days later, while jogging in the park, Mateo nearly ran headfirst into Paul. Mateo lost his footing and stumbled. Normally, a string of curses would have been heard a block away. But something had happened to Mateo! He had taken Paul’s advice, and a change of heart had taken place.

“Wow! I guess I’m a bit clumsy today.” Mateo said, brushing the dirt from his knees. “How are you anyway, Paul?”

Paul looked at him in surprise. “That’s not the response we’d usually hear from you after landing in the dirt, Mateo.”

Mateo grinned. “Paul, I have something to tell you. The old ‘cupboard’ has been cleaned out since I last saw you.”

Paul beamed. “That’s great, Mateo! You couldn’t have told me any better news!”

 

The clock looked fine on the outside, but Gavin knew something was wrong on the inside.

The Frisbee zoomed across the living room, just a bit too high to hit the back of the chair Gavin was aiming at. Crash! Onto the mantel it went, and something fell to the floor. Gavin dashed across the room to see what had fallen.

“Oh, no! Now I’m really in trouble,” he said as he looked down on the floor. The Frisbee had hit his mother’s favorite clock. He picked it up, shook it. The case seemed to be all right. But…“Uh, oh.” There was a noise inside. “I hope it still works.” He placed the clock back on the mantel and checked the time: 10:34. He grabbed up his Frisbee and stuck it in the hall closet, and then went to his room. Half an hour later, he came back into the living room and looked anxiously at the clock. The hands hadn’t moved a bit. He felt sick. Mom really liked that clock. He’d better take it to the repair shop on the corner. Stuffing the clock into a sack, he hopped onto his bike and pedaled as fast as he could to the repairman.

“Do you think you can help me?” Gavin asked, placing the sack on the counter. “I accidentally hit Mom’s favorite clock with my Frisbee and now the hands aren’t moving. Will you please fix them so that they will tell time again?”

The repairman laughed as he said, “The hands will be all right, Gavin. Nothing wrong with them. But if you want me to fix the clock, I will have to repair the inside.”

Have you ever tried to be good and do the right thing but you just acted badly anyway? Perhaps you hit someone even though you really didn’t want to. Maybe you called someone a bad name and wondered afterward, Why did I say that? Maybe your mom told you not to do something but you did it anyway. Trying to do good without God’s help is like trying to make the hands on the clock work without the insides working right.

The repairman had to fix the inside of the clock to make the hands work again. God has to change your heart so that you can do good. The Bible says all have sinned and God is the only One who can take sin out of your heart. You can try and try to act good but you will fail unless you allow God to fix what is wrong inside. He takes the sin out and gives you a new heart.

There is only one way to get a new heart. You tell Jesus how sorry you are for all the wrong things you have done and said. He will know when you really mean it, and He will come in and make you feel happy and clean inside. You won’t have to wonder if He came in. You will know, because you will be able to feel His presence. Not only that, you will be able to see the difference in yourself. Those around you will see the change too.

Then you will find it easy to do good. It won’t be hard to talk right and treat your friends well. You will be obedient to your Mom. When your heart is full of good things, it will show in your everyday life.

When you give Jesus your whole life, He comes into your heart. You are telling Him, “Here is my life, I’m giving it all to You. Do what You want with it.”

In the story, Gavin realized that he hadn’t said exactly what he meant. Of course the hands on the clock couldn’t move right if the insides had not been repaired.

As he went back home with the clock, he was glad he had taken it to the repairman so it could be fixed. He felt so much better now! Even if it had cost him most of his savings, he could hear the clock ticking and see the hands moving again.

The repairman at the corner shop knew all about the clock and just how to fix it. God knows all about you. He knows just what you need in your life. He knows you better than you know yourself, because He made you.

Give your heart and life to Jesus. He will give you a new heart and direct your life according to His will.

 

Sebastian’s conversation with Uncle Martin helped him realize the joy in working for the Lord.

“Sebastian, can you stay awhile and help me put the chairs away?” asked Uncle Martin. This had been the youth group’s activity night, and he was responsible for cleaning up the church, and making sure that everything was ready for the services the next day.

“Well, I wouldn’t mind helping out, but Troy wants me to be ready to go home in five minutes,” Sebastian stated, “. . . and I have quite a bit of homework waiting for me.”

“This won’t take too long,” Uncle Martin assured him. “I can take you home when we get done here. Your brother won’t mind.”

Soon Sebastian and Uncle Martin were folding chairs and straightening up the church basement. It really didn’t take long, and Sebastian was glad he had stayed to help his uncle.

“This is better than hurrying home to do homework,” he commented with a grin as he pulled out the box of song books. “I really wasn’t too anxious to drag out my math book anyway.”

Uncle Martin grinned. “Well the math will be waiting for you, I’m sure. Some things we have to do. But working for the Lord is an opportunity, not a chore.” He came over to give Sebastian a hand with the box. “Looking at that box of song books, my mind goes back many, many years to when I was a boy—a lot younger than you are. I always loved the Lord, and hoped that someday I could do something for Him. Well, one day the opportunity came. I was at an old-fashioned camp meeting and was asked—you guessed it—to pick up the songs books!

“It was really hot that summer, and there was sawdust on the floor of the big tent, and plain old dirt under the sawdust. You can imagine that with so many people and services, along with the hot weather, things were bound to get dusty. So, each afternoon, hoses were brought in and the sawdust was sprinkled down. You’re probably wondering what all this has to do with song books. Stop and think a bit—they had to be taken out of the way so that they wouldn’t get wet! And that’s how I got my start working for the Lord. Now you’re helping by doing your part for the Lord.

Hmmmm . . . Sebastian thought a moment. That’s right. Uncle Martin is the one who asked me to do the work, but this is the Lord’s house—I’m doing it for Him. “Uncle Martin, I guess doing work like this is really for the Lord, isn’t is?” Sebastian asked. “Someone has to do it—keep the church clean.”

“Yes, I think there’s more to working for the Lord than just what we see at church. The preacher preaches, singers sing, the organ and piano players do their part—but they’re not just doing it because people come to church and want to hear something. They are doing it for the Lord,” Uncle Martin told him. “Sure, if I sing a song, I want it to sound pleasing, but the main point is that I’m doing something for the Lord because I want to.”

“No one is here to watch us work, and we don’t need anyone to watch us because God knows we are doing it. That makes me feel good!” Sebastian said, smiling. The two of them put on their jackets and went to turn out the lights and make sure everything was locked up. “I guess I’d better go home and do homework! If only that was as exciting as working for the Lord.”

“When I was in school, I didn’t especially like homework either,” Uncle Martin told him. “But I’ve found that whatever I do, if I do it as if it is for the Lord, it isn’t half as hard. Even doing homework! Even picking up song books.”

“I guess I’d better remember that.” Sebastian grinned at his uncle and continued, “With that attitude, I know many things that will be easier to do. It’s really great to know I am doing things for the Lord.”

It seemed a strange request from the Lord, but Ananias obeyed.

It was dark in the small room. Ananias moved uneasily on his narrow bed. What had awakened him? Then he heard it again; his name was being called. He listened closely, raising himself up on his elbows. There it was again! Suddenly, Ananias understood. “I am here, Lord,” he answered.

The reply made Ananias sit up straighter in disbelief. “Ananias, I want you to get up and go over to the street called Straight. There’s a man over there at the house of Judas. His name is Saul; he is from the city of Tarsus. He’s blind, and he has seen a vision of a man called Ananias coming to pray for him so that he can see again. He is praying.”

At first, Ananias was afraid. “But Lord,” he said, “I know of this Saul. He is a wicked man. He is coming to Damascus to put those who serve You, in jail. He has permission to put everyone in jail who believes in Jesus.”

“I know that, Ananias, but I have called him and chosen him to be My helper and servant. I will show him how many hard things he will have to suffer for Me. Go on your way, Ananias.”

Wondering about this unusual request, Ananias got ready and left his house. Through the streets of Damascus he went, turning this way and that until he came to the very narrow street called Straight. As he walked, he thought about what he had heard. To think that God had changed Saul of Tarsus! For weeks the Christians of Damascus had heard about how Saul was taking people from their houses in different cities and putting them in jail—even causing them to be killed. Just the other night, they had heard he was coming to Damascus with letters giving him the power to arrest people here too.

Then, about three days ago, they had heard a strange story. When Saul was getting close to the city, he had fallen to the ground—and a light brighter than the brightest sunlight had shown around him and the people traveling with him. A Voice had spoken to him. When Saul could stand up again, he was blind and had to be led by the hand.

Ananias shook his head as he walked. So that story really was true. Hadn’t the Lord said to him that Saul was blind? Could it really be that Saul was now a Christian? As he reached the house of Judas, Ananias knocked softly. The door opened immediately, almost as though he were expected. Then, as he was let into the house, he asked where to find the man called Saul.

Entering quietly into the room, Ananias saw the man who was well known throughout Israel. Ananias could tell he was blind. Even so, as he looked more closely, Ananias could see a look of peace on Saul’s face.

In his mind, Ananias could hear the Voice of the Lord saying, “I have chosen him . . . he must suffer for Me.” A great love for this man filled his heart. “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus has sent me. He is making you well.”

As he laid his hands on Saul’s head, the air was suddenly charged. Saul turned to him and in a wondering voice said, “I can see again!” Ananias’ arms dropped around Saul’s shoulders. Together they prayed and thanked God for the wonderful things He had done for Saul.

Later, as Ananias left the house where Saul was staying, he thought of how he had made excuses to the Lord about going to pray for Saul. “Thank you, Lord,” he said, “for being so patient and for helping me to obey You. I am so glad You let me help Saul. He used to be the Christians’ worst enemy, and now he is our friend and brother.”

You may never have thought about Ananias as a hero of the Bible. Maybe you don’t even remember hearing about him before, but we can learn an important lesson through his example. He was willing, and he was obedient. He did what God told him, even though it seemed like a strange—even dangerous—request. We may not always understand the things God asks us to do for Him, but if we are willing and obedient, God will use us.


In making a pot from clay, Greyson learned the value of perseverance.

Greyson pounded the clay in frustration, turning it back into a shapeless mass. Every day this week he had tried to make a pot—had tried and failed.

Now it was the last day before the end of the grading period. Why couldn’t he get the pot to take shape? His hands seemed all thumbs.

All quarter he’d been busy painting the beautiful ceramics his teacher had turned out from the molds. He was proud of that work and had given several of them as gifts already.

But to create something with his own hands . . . why couldn’t he do it?

He started again. Slowly, carefully, and as evenly as he could, he rolled out some coils that would form the sides of his pot. The bottom was smooth. It looked good. Gradually he began attaching the first coil, pressing it gently to the base and working it on up the sides.

“How are you doing, Greyson?” the teacher’s voice broke into his absorption. “It’s almost time to start cleaning up.” Greyson glanced at the clock in amazement. How had it happened? It was almost time for the bell, and he still didn’t have his project completed. “Oh, no,” he groaned. He was so discouraged, for he really had worked hard. Now his grade would drop, and he was hoping for an “A.”

Noting his look of despair, the teacher came over to his work area. Encouraging and helping, he showed Greyson where to pinch, to pull, to smooth. Then it was finished. The symmetry of it amazed him. It seemed so effortless with the teacher’s help!

Together they put the pot on the counter to dry. As Greyson thanked the teacher for his help and cleaned up, he thought of how easily the pot had been completed. Why, just a short time ago he had been in utter despair, with no hope of getting it finished.

He missed his ride on the school bus, but he didn’t mind, he was so happy and relieved. As he started walking home, he marveled again at the change in his emotions: Fifteen minutes ago he’d been totally downhearted, and now he felt as free as a bird.

Why, that is just like what Jesus does for the person who is discouraged! Just one touch from His hand, and the scene is totally changed, Greyson thought. When we are in trouble and despair, then God reaches down to help.

He thought of the Scriptures he’d been studying this week for his Sunday school lesson. Certainly the woman he’d been reading about had been full of despair and discouragement. She had been sick for twelve long years. That was almost his whole lifetime! What if he’d been sick since the day he was born? He couldn’t imagine it! She had gone to all the doctors around her town. She had spent all her money to see if they could make her well. Had she gotten better? No. Not at all. She had gotten worse!

Talk about discouragement! She knew what that felt like! But she hadn’t let it keep her from doing something. She got up and followed after Jesus. She had pushed and shoved and squeezed her way through the crowd.

If only she could get close enough to just touch His clothes, she had thought, then she would be well. Her energy was almost gone. The crowd jostled her. She reached out her hand, but Jesus had moved on. She tried again, but someone moved right in front of her. Afraid that she’d never reach Him, she pushed forward with great determination, and she touched the hem of His garment! That very moment, she knew she was made perfectly whole!

Greyson’s dad had a big word for that kind of “stick-to-it-iveness.” It was perseverance. That’s what this woman had shown in coming to Jesus. Despite her aches and pains and despair, she had persisted until she received what she’d come for.

Greyson guessed that his dad would be proud of him. He had persevered also; he’d kept working on that pot until the teacher had seen his diligence and determination and had reached out a helping hand to him this afternoon.

Greyson decided that next Sunday, he would tell his Sunday school teacher what he’d learned about perseverance this week: we will receive what we need from God when we persevere in seeking Him.

TEXT: Acts 6:1-15; 7:54-60

Gia’s experience in the classroom helped her learn how to respond to persecution.

“Mrs. Lee, Gia dumped all my papers on the floor!” Carson called out in mock despair. The class suddenly became still. Gia could feel her face turning bright red as everyone turned to see what was happening.

Gia was new at school, and it hadn’t been easy to make friends. Sometimes the other kids hesitated to include her in their activities because they could tell she was different. She was a Christian. Gia had just tried to keep up with the rest of the class and slip by unnoticed . . . but now this!

Typing had been an uncomfortable class for Gia from the first day. Mrs. Lee had treated her coolly and had never tried to make her feel welcome. Now, Mrs. Lee was asking if she had, in fact, knocked the papers deliberately on the floor.

“Why, no, Mrs. Lee!” the shocked girl replied quietly. “Pick them up anyway!” the teacher demanded.

Gia stood frozen for a moment, then she stooped down and began to scoop the papers into a pile while everyone silently watched. Inside she felt wronged and wanted to protest, but she was afraid if she opened her mouth she wouldn’t be able to hold back her tears (which was probably just what Carson wanted).

Carson was the class show-off, and Mrs. Lee should have known he was pulling a prank! But she had taken his side and allowed Gia to be humiliated in front of the entire class. It was hard to take.

Arriving home, Gia unloaded on her mother. “I was so embarrassed, Mom!”

“Well,” her mom said, “it wasn’t very fair, Honey, but maybe the Lord has a lesson for you to learn from this situation.” Gia looked at her mother in amazement as she continued. “People won’t agree every time with the way you believe or act. There will always be some who will be rude and try to make you look guilty and focus attention on you, just like today.”

“What makes people that way?” asked Gia. “Why can’t people just let me be good if I want to, and they can be bad if that’s what they want?”

“Gia, usually if you don’t bother people they won’t give you any trouble. But, sometimes a Christian’s life condemns people for the way they are living. Instead of taking care of the problems in their own lives, they strike out at the one who’s doing the right thing. They try to make him look bad so they don’t feel so guilty about themselves.”

Through the days that followed, Gia thought often about her mother’s words. Then the next Sunday the Sunday school lesson was about Stephen and how he was persecuted. Stephen had preached to some people whose hearts were hard. They didn’t appreciate it when he told them that they were turning their backs on God and His Word and not living right, that they were only pretending to be religious. Instead of repenting, they decided Stephen must be done away with.

Stephen was arrested and brought before a council. The people, elders, and scribes had been stirred up by Stephen’s accusers, and false witnesses were brought to tell lies about him.

The council could see, by the heavenly glow on Stephen’s face, that he was innocent. They asked if the accusations against him were true. Stephen used that opportunity to launch into yet another powerful sermon. He didn’t hesitate to tell the people how bad they were. They became so angry they gnashed on him with their teeth! Stephen looked up and saw Jesus standing on the right hand of God. When he told the crowd what he was seeing, they deliberately closed their ears to his voice. Enraged, they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. As the heavy stones struck him, Stephen knelt and asked God not to hold this sinful act against the people. Then he died.

By the end of the Sunday school class time, Gia didn’t feel like her problem was nearly as serious as she had thought before. Maybe Mrs. Lee has some bitterness in her heart that has caused her to persecute me, thought Gia. It was still painful to think of the way she had been embarrassed in front of the other kids, but if Stephen could ask forgiveness for the people taking his life, surely she could forgive someone for causing an ugly scene! So, asking God to help her to forgive, Gia felt His love come into her heart for the ones who had wronged her.

God’s Word tells us there is a special reward for anyone who suffers persecution for His sake, and He promises to be close in a special way during those times. We can see how this was especially true in Stephen’s life. His example helped Gia through an unhappy experience. It will help you, too, when similar things happen in your life.

To Reuben, Grandmother’s story was an inspiration.

Looking back, I can remember running, running, running, as fast as my legs could carry me over the rock-strewn fields. Then bursting into the peaceful dwelling of my ancient grandmother and throwing myself into her arms.

Her gentle hands brushed the hair back from my forehead. “And what is it that brings little Reuben to my side with the speed of an arrow?”

“I have finished taking the water to the men in the fields, and mother said I may come to you for a story.”

“It is a story you want, then?” She smiled at me gently, and then added knowingly, “A certain story, perhaps?”

“Yes,” I nodded vigorously. “I want to hear about the time the meal and the oil didn’t run

out.” I could scarcely wait for her to begin the tale, for though I knew it by heart, I never tired of hearing how God had worked a miracle for her.

“Times were very hard,” she began, putting an arm around me and pulling me close to her side. “There had been no rain in all of our land for many, many months. The ground was hard and dry, and all the beautiful green plants and trees were dried up and withered.

“The streams and brooks which supplied our land with water had dried up. Water was as precious as gold, and so was food. Day by day, I watched our little bit of food grow smaller. Your father was a small lad, just about your size, Reuben. How my heart ached as I watched him grow thinner and thinner. I gave him a portion of my food, but still it was not enough and he grew very weak.

“At last the day came when I looked into the meal barrel and my pot of oil and saw that there was only enough for one small cake. That was the last food in the house, and I knew that after we ate that, we would die.

“How my heart ached as I went out that morning to gather a few sticks for the fire. Had God forsaken us? My trust was in Him, but I could see no help for us.

“But, Reuben, you must remember that our God makes no mistakes. Our faith was being tried, but in His great love, He had a plan to take care of us. As I gathered sticks, a man came walking along the dusty road. He called to me, asking for a drink.

“Water was as scarce as food, but as I looked at that tired, dusty man, I saw that he also had a need. I turned toward the house, and as I did so, he asked me to bring him a morsel of bread also.

“If it had only been myself to consider, I would not have hesitated. But, I told the man our sad condition: that there was only enough meal and oil in the house to make one more cake, and then my son and I would die.

“Then the man told me something amazing. He said to make him a cake first, and afterward to make one for my son and myself. He told me that the barrel of meal and my pot of oil would continue to have a supply, if I would obey.

“Some way, the Lord above dropped faith into my heart. I believed Him! How thankful I am for that. The words of the man, the prophet Elijah, were true. I made him a cake, and brought it out to him. How hard my heart was beating as I went back toward our home to look once more into my meal barrel and my pot of oil.

“Truly, a miracle had happened! There was still some remaining! And so it was that the Lord sustained my life and that of your father and the prophet of God through all the days that followed, until, at last, the rains came again to our land.”

A long breath escaped me as she finished her story and gazed dreamily off into space. I can remember looking up into her lined face; and though just a little boy, I thought: God, please help me to have faith like my grandmother’s.

Today, a grown man with sons of my own, that is still my prayer.

Faith knew God was asking her to trust Him with every aspect of her life.

Faith sat down on the edge of her bed and reached for the Bible. It was already past 10:00 and she had to get up early the next day, but she couldn’t go to bed without spending some time reading her Bible and praying. She loved her special time of talking to God before going to sleep at night. Somehow it gave her such a peaceful feeling, and a knowledge that God would be close to her all through the night.

But for some reason, that peaceful feeling didn’t come tonight. Instead, Faith felt troubled—a little heavy inside. She tried to ignore it. I’m just tired, she thought. I had a big day today, with tests in two classes and a lesson right after school. But the feeling didn’t go away.

Her Bible opened to Joshua 14. She had her marker there because that was the text for next Sunday’s lesson. Her eyes fell on Joshua 14:8, “. . . but I wholly followed the Lord my God.” It was just like the words jumped out at her. “I wholly followed . . .”

She knew what was troubling her. It was no use trying to pretend that she didn’t. I feel God is asking me to really give Him my whole life, she admitted to herself at last. I know this has been weighing on my heart for several weeks, ever since Brother Gary preached about entire consecration.

Up until that night she had been just going along, happy in her Christian life and sure everything was the way it should be between her and God. She had been asked to sing in the young people’s choir, and that was fun. She always studied her Sunday school lesson, and entered into the discussions in her Sunday school class. She even helped out once a month or so in the church nursery.

But after Brother Gary’s sermon, she realized that God wanted something more from her. What she was doing was fine, but He wanted a wholehearted commitment—a purpose in her heart that she would let God make all the important decisions for her, that He would be her Guide and she would follow wherever He led.

Can I really let God decide everything for me? she wondered. Not just which classes to take next year when she started high school, but even the friends she chose, what she did with her spare time, and things like that. And looking ahead into the future—the guys she would date, the job she would train for, where she would live, who she would marry, . . .

What if God wanted me to do something that would keep me poor all my life, she thought. Or maybe He would tell me to go to some strange country, far away from all my family and friends. What if He decided I shouldn’t get married?

The words of the Bible verse she had just read went through her mind again, and she looked back and read the whole story of Caleb. She saw how God’s punishment had fallen on a whole generation of Israelites, because they had feared to go in and possess the land God had promised them—all except for Caleb and Joshua. Then she turned again to Joshua 14 and read how Caleb told Joshua that he had wholly followed the Lord and how Moses had promised him that the land he had walked on would be his and his children’s forever.

I know God’s blessings are real, and they are sure to follow those who wholeheartedly commit their lives to Him. Can I say yes, or will I be like those thousands of Israelites who turned their backs on God? Faith pondered.

As she knelt to pray, the tears flowed down her cheeks. “I give every part of my life to You, to use as You see fit, Lord,” Faith said earnestly. And into her heart came a sweet peace and an assurance that she had done the right thing.

God’s answer to Gideon’s prayer gave confidence that He would deliver them from the Midianites.

I knew the moment I touched the fleece that the victory was already ours. For the fleece was dry, even though the ground around it was drenched with early morning dew. A surge of excitement gripped me. My fingers tingled. The very air around me seemed charged!

Freedom! We were a people meant to be free. The years of fear, of cringing before our enemies, were about to end. If only our armies which had gathered here from Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali could see that fact. Enough of this servitude. We would be free to erect altars to the Lord, free to hope, free to plan, free to be Israel once again.

My confidence was totally in the Lord, so when He spoke to me again I felt I was ready for anything He had to say. “The people that are with thee are too many for me.” Too many? At last count we numbered thirty-two thousand, while the Midianites, in the valley to the north, were like grasshoppers in the summer. Even as that thought flickered through my mind, I remembered, God wouldn’t fail us.

His next command was totally unexpected, but I took it to the people anyway. I told them, “Whoever is afraid, let him return.” Then I stood by and watched while twenty-two thousand—over two thirds of them—took up their weapons and left the camp. For a few moments, as I watched them file slowly by me, the old fear gripped me. The former caution tightened briefly around the thoughts in my mind. So many were leaving! How could I possibly go out and fight the Midianites with such a small number? In my zeal, was I being foolhardy and about to lead my men into certain destruction?

Memory of the dry fleece in my hands reactivated the assurance God had given me. God had come to our aid many years ago, when we had been in bondage to Egypt. He had split the Red Sea to give us deliverance, and He would deliver us again if we obeyed Him.

It seemed God was determined to try my trust in Him even further. “The people are yet too many!” He instructed me to take them down to the brook that ran near the camp. I could tell that the men were wondering what was going to happen, but they all obeyed my command. The afternoon sun was high, and our throats were full of dust by the time we arrived at the banks of the stream. Normally, I would have joined the other men as they quenched their thirst with a drink of the cold water, but God had another set of instructions for me.

I had to make note of how each man drank when he came to the water’s edge. Three hundred lapped water from their hands. I set those men apart from the rest, as the Lord had told me. Then the Lord said to me, “By the three hundred men that lapped will I save you, and deliver the Midianites into thine hand: and let all the other people go every man unto his place.”

By using only three hundred, no one could ever doubt that God was working for Israel. Through this handful of men, He would demonstrate His miraculous power. History would prove that when God is with His people, signs and wonders will be the outcome.

The Midianites were on their way to defeat! Once again, the true God would prevail in the land of Israel.

With God’s help, we can face any battle.

Try to imagine for a minute, a whole army going to war on foot—without guns, swords, or shields, or anything to protect themselves. It doesn’t sound like a good idea, does it? Surely no commander-in-chief would consider such a course of action. It would mean defeat. But this happened in Bible days—and not only that, those soldiers WON the battle! How could such a thing have happened? The army had a special “weapon” on their side—God was with them! And that made all the difference.

Do you know that sometimes when it feels and looks as though everything is going against us, it might really be the opposite? If God is on our side, things could be working for us instead.

In the Book of Judges, we read about a woman named Deborah. God had appointed her to be a judge of the Children of Israel. The people loved and trusted her, and they came from near and far to ask her advice. They knew that God was with her and that He helped her in making decisions.

One day God commanded her to send the Israelites to war against the Canaanites. Deborah called Barak and made him the general of the army. There was a problem, though, and it was a BIG one. The Israelites didn’t have horses or chariots. They didn’t even have weapons or ammunition. How could they fight a battle? They knew that the Canaanite army had 900 chariots of iron. It didn’t look as though the Israelites would have a chance.

Deborah knew that with God on their side they had nothing to fear. She was sure if God told them to go out and fight this battle, He would be there to help them win it. She knew God could do the impossible.

Barak was willing to go to battle to bring the Israelites out of bondage, but he could not depend wholly on his army to win. He knew if they were to succeed, God would have to go with them. He believed that only God could win this battle for them. He also wanted Deborah to go with them as God’s representative. Barak told her that if she would go into the battle with them, they would go, but if she wouldn’t go, they wouldn’t either. So Deborah went.

That day, the Lord gave them a great victory. The Canaanites were completely destroyed, and peace came to the land once again. Deborah had known without a doubt that God would be with them and give them the victory, and He did!

We might compare our Christian lives to fighting a battle. We may have to face some difficult situations when the enemy of our soul comes at us with “heavy artillery.” He wants to win this battle, and he’ll use whatever tactics he can come up with. It may be a serious illness or severe pain. Perhaps those we think of as friends turn against us, talk about us, or ignore us. Maybe a long-awaited trip, a special plan for the summer, or a goal set in school falls through. Or, you are crushed by grief over the loss of one you loved.

The devil knows just where to make his attack, but he can’t compete with our ammunition—the power of prayer! If God is in control of our lives, He’ll be right there to help us in any battle. If we let Him fight our big battles as well as the smaller ones, the victory will ultimately be ours, even though it might not look like it at the time. He has promised to be with us—we can trust Him. Just like our key verse says, when our trust is in Him, we don’t have to be afraid.

Jesus wants to direct your life. If you ask Him to come into your heart, He will come in and take control. Sometimes it may seem that we are all alone when trouble comes, but we can have confidence in God that He will lead us in the right way. We don’t have to fear, because we know that “If God be for us, who can be against us?”

One of the greatest responsibilities of a Christian is to be a reflection of Christ.

See that new kid over there?” Bryson pointed toward the side of the school building. “Someone told me he is a Christian. I’m going to keep my distance from him. I can’t stand Christians!”

“Why?” Chase asked, surprised. “He’s really nice. He moved in just up the block from me and I talked to him once. I don’t know what you mean.”

“Just wait,” Bryson laughed. “You’ll see. Hey, do you remember Gavin?”

Chase thought for a moment, “Yeah, I think so, but that was so long ago.”

“Well, I remember him real well! He was a Christian and all he did was preach and pick. I couldn’t do anything right according to him. I didn’t like to be with him at all, and I certainly don’t want to be around any others.”

The bell rang, signaling the end of their lunch break. Chase returned to class with questions tumbling through his mind about Christians and the new boy, Lane. They had talked for quite a while the other day and Lane hadn’t “preached” or “picked” once. Maybe he wasn’t a Christian or maybe—Oh, I’m so mixed up now, he thought, I don’t know if I want to be his friend or not.

At last school was over and everyone started home. To his surprise, Chase noticed Bryson and Lane talking to each other in front of the school. He went to join them, thinking all the time, Please don’t preach, Lane. When he reached them, Bryson turned slightly and rolled his eyes as if to say, “Watch out!”

“Hi, Chase, what are your plans for the afternoon?” Lane asked. “I just invited Bryson over to my house to shoot hoops. Could you come too?”

“Well . . . sure, I guess so,” Chase said.

“Great! Mom’s baking today so I’m sure we’ll have something good to eat too.”

When they reached Lane’s house, Bryson and Chase waited under the hoop in the driveway while Lane went inside to get his basketball. While they were alone Chase asked Bryson why he came to Lane’s house when he didn’t like Christians. “I just wanted to prove to you that I’m right,” was Bryson’s reply.

Just then Lane returned. “Mom baked two kinds of cookies and a chocolate cake,” he said as he shot the first basket. “We can have cookies and milk when we get tired.”

For the next hour the thump of a basketball mingled with snatches of conversation out on the driveway. Stopping for a breather, they discovered mutual interests in sports and cars. Bryson thought it was great that Lane liked to go backpacking, because Bryson and his dad had gone last summer and had a great time. After another session in front of the hoop, they were all tired and ready for a snack. Lane said, “Come on! Let’s go in and get some of those cookies!”

“I’d rather have the chocolate cake,” said Bryson as he knelt to retie his shoe.

“Sorry about that, but Mom said no, not this time,” answered Lane.

“Once you’ve taken it there’s not much she can do! So why not have some?” Bryson said. “Chocolate cake sounds just too good to miss, and no one will know who took it.”

“I would know, and I can’t do that to my mom,” Lane said quietly. “I’m a Christian.”

“Someone told me you were, but you haven’t preached at us so I thought maybe they were wrong. You’re a nice guy,” Bryson replied.

Lane laughed. “Christians don’t preach all the time! We just have to make sure we live and do right. I don’t want to do anything to make you think bad of Jesus.”

Bryson said, “You haven’t made me think bad of anybody. In fact, when I said to take the cake, you talked about you not making your mom feel bad. You didn’t say I was wrong at all. You’re okay. Maybe Christians are all right.”

Chase smiled to himself and felt sure they would all be friends after all.

  1. As our story brings out, witnessing is much more than just words. It is also action. When we read of John the Baptist, most of us can visualize a man in strange clothes, preaching to many people in the country. He was called of God to tell others about Jesus. We are called to point others to Christ by the life we live. God’s Word should be a living part of our lives and attitudes. If you are a Christian, remember, your friends will judge your Lord by you.

Zach figured out the answer to his question.

Zach maneuvered his new remote-control car around the living room—under the Christmas tree, over to the window, between the pile of boxes.

“I wish it were always Christmas!” he said. “These are the neatest presents! The food is yummy. The Christmas tree smells terrific. Why can’t Christmas last forever?”

His sister, Ava, looked up from the new book she was reading. “Then it wouldn’t be special,” she answered. “And besides, nothing is forever—well, nothing except Jesus. Jesus is for always. He’s always been alive and He always will be.”

“How could Jesus have always been? After all, we celebrate His birthday on Christmas, so how could He have always been alive?” Zach asked with a puzzled look.

“Oh, go ask Mom. She can answer your questions. They’re too hard for me!”

Zach steered his car into the kitchen. “Mom,” he said, “how could Jesus have always been alive? Ava said He always has been, but I don’t understand. I thought He was born in Bethlehem at Christmastime.”

His mother put a stack of plates into the cupboard, then turned to Zach. “Do you remember the verses Dad read this morning? They said, ‘In the beginning was the word . . . All things were made by him.’ ‘The Word’ means Jesus. He helped create the world, the animals, the trees, and the people.”

Zach considered that. “Well then, why did He have to be born?”

Mom answered, “Jesus was born to be a boy like you. That way He could know just what you like to do. He knows all about your frustrations. He understands what it feels like to scrape a knee while playing. He knows what it is like to hit a thumb with a hammer.

“But when Jesus grew to be a man,” Mom continued, “He experienced adult things. He knows how Dad feels when he is pressured on the job. He knows how I feel when dinner burns. Jesus even knows what it’s like to die. That’s why He was born—so He could understand us, and He died so we could be saved from our sins.”

Zach’s car screeched around the corner and out of the kitchen. Then he reversed it back into the kitchen. “If Jesus died, then how can He hear us if we pray now?”

“Jesus rose from the dead on Easter. Remember, He visited with His friends, then He went to Heaven,” Mom answered.

“So, Jesus is in Heaven now, right?” asked Zach.

“Right.”

“And He’s going to be alive forever?”

“That’s right.”

Zach steered his car into the living room, this time following it. He looked at the Christmas tree. He looked at his presents. He looked at the snow outside.

He thought about forever . . .

Last summer he had been enjoying his visit to Grandpa and Grandma’s farm so much. He remembered wishing he could stay there forever. He could slide on haystacks and help Grandpa with his garden. But on second thought, he might have missed his parents.

Last spring he zoomed his bike through the park and down a hill. He had wished he could ride his bike and feel the wind blowing on his face forever—but he might have gotten hungry sometime, or even kind of tired.

During vacation he had wished they could stay at the beach forever. The sun and the sand and the waves were so awesome! But then he would have missed lots of good times with his friends at home.

Zach knew he was really glad some things didn’t last forever—like school, cleaning his room, weeding the garden, and going to the dentist.

Zach decided maybe it was better that Christmas didn’t last forever either. He wouldn’t really want to do just one thing all the time. Why, he probably wouldn’t even want to run his remote-control car forever!

But Zach was glad for one thing—that Jesus is forever. It would be awful to pray and then find out that Jesus wasn’t alive anymore, that He wasn’t around to listen to our prayers and answer them. He was glad Jesus always had been and always will be.

Their dinner-table conversation brought out how Joseph was an example of obedience.

Christmas was almost here . . . only a few more weeks! Sofia, Diego, and Isabella were excited. The talk at the dinner table for nights had centered around Christmas—the things they were making at school, the gifts they were preparing, and the Christmas program at church.

Tonight was no exception! Six-year-old Isabella was to be an angel in the heavenly choir. “I get to wear a light blue robe and ‘cause I’m the littlest, I get to stand right in the front,” she told them, her eyes sparkling.

“You’ll be the prettiest little angel there,” Sofia told her sister. “And guess what! I’m going to be an angel too! I’m going to be the one who appears to Mary and Joseph.”

Diego looked up from his plate with a puzzled expression. “You meant the angel who appeared to Mary, right? The angel didn’t appear to Joseph until they had to leave Bethlehem, and my teacher said we weren’t doing that part this year.”

“No, Diego, I’m supposed to appear to Joseph right after Mary,” Sofia replied. “I picked up my script last Sunday after class, and I read through it just this morning. I know that’s how it went.”

“Dad, I’ve been selected to be Joseph in the play,” Diego said. “I haven’t read through my whole part yet, but I don’t remember an angel’s coming to Joseph after talking to Mary. Did the angel come then? Wasn’t it really later?”

His dad smiled. “Well, Son, why don’t we look in God’s Word to settle this question.”

Diego’s dad opened the Bible to Matthew 1, and started reading at verse 19, “Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily. But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus.”

“Well, I guess that answers my question,” Diego said. “I didn’t remember that part at all. But I don’t get it. Why did an angel have to come? Didn’t Joseph already know that God had promised to send His Son to the world?”

“Remember, Diego,” replied Father, “that promise had been given hundreds of years before, and most people had probably just stopped thinking of its happening in their time. But when the angel appeared to him, Joseph realized that the promise was being fulfilled. What a thrill that must have been to him! He did what he was told to do by the angel, and took Mary as his wife. Because of his obedience, he had the wonderful privilege of rearing God’s own Son. God always does what He promises, but for us to receive God’s promises, what do we have to do?”

Diego thought for a minute. “I guess just do what we’re told.”

“Diego, last fall when I promised that you could go hunting with me, there was something you had to do to earn that trip. Do you remember what it was?”

“Yeah, I had to get all A’s and B’s in my school work. I did, and I got to go!”

“So, when you did what you were told, I did what I promised. God wants us to be obedient too. If we are, He will fulfill His promises to us. There is a verse you learned last month, as a key verse, that goes right along with this. Do you remember? ‘Blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it.’ That verse has a special meaning for each of us. Can you tell me what you think it means, Isabella?”

“Does it mean, Daddy, that if we always do what God wants us to, He’ll answer our prayers?” asked Isabella.

“That’s right,” her father replied. “God knew that we wouldn’t be really happy unless we obeyed Him. He gave us His Word, with examples of people who were obedient. Joseph and Mary were two of those examples. We see how God helped them, because He knew they would do what they were told even when they didn’t understand. But everything worked out perfectly when they let God have His way. It can be the same in our lives!

“Does that answer your question, Diego?” asked his father, as he closed the Bible.

“Yes, and it’s a good thing I asked. Now I’ll be able to really act like Joseph in the play!”

There was no solution except through the power of God.

For the past few months, she had known something was wrong with her. It had started with a heavy, tired feeling all the time. Then pain. The day finally came when she had to report in to a doctor for a regular physical checkup. The results of his tests brought the words that would seem to shatter her life.

“You have cancer and there is no hope,” the doctor told the young girl. Imagine what a shock this was to a girl who thought she had a long life ahead of her! There were things she wanted to do, places she wanted to go. Now she was facing the fact that she was not going to be able to do any of them. She was dying!

She loved God and wanted to serve Him. He was the only One to go to for help. As she knelt by her bed, she cried out to the Lord from the bottom of her heart, “Please help me, dear God! I don’t want to die. If You will heal my body I promise to serve You the rest of my life!” Yet she knew in her heart that if it were God’s will for her to die she would accept His will.

As far as the doctors were concerned, there was nothing more that could be done for her, but she knew the Bible stated that “. . . with God nothing shall be impossible.” She knew this meant that God could do anything.

The devil tried to bring doubts. As the pain grew worse, he would bring the thought to her: You are going to die. But the Lord would speak to her heart, saying, “Have faith. Keep holding on! Keep believing.” That is just what she did. She kept holding on, fighting against the fear that would grip her heart. One day, her confidence in God was rewarded.

He healed her completely! No trace of cancer was found in her body. She was going to live! This really happened!

God has been performing miracles—doing things man thought impossible—from the beginning of time. Our lesson is another example of God’s ability to do the impossible. Zacharias was a priest in the Temple of the Lord. No doubt while he was doing his duties, his mind often went back to when he was a young man with a heart that ached for a child—his very own son or daughter to hold in his arms. But now he was an old man and his loving wife, Elisabeth, an old woman. What a good woman the Lord had given him. She had stood faithfully by his side and truly loved the Lord.

One day a miracle happened. As Zacharias performed his duties, suddenly . . . “There appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense.” Zacharias was afraid! Who was he? What did he want? he wondered. The angel told Zacharias not to be afraid; the Lord had heard his prayer, and his wife Elisabeth was going to have a son. He also said this son would turn many of the Children of Israel to the Lord their God.

“How do I know this is going to happen?” questioned Zacharias. “A son at our age?” The angel answered him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God. You shall not be able to speak until the day your son is born because you didn’t believe my words.”

Imagine what it would be like not to be able to talk. Well, this is exactly what happened to Zacharias. Soon the miracle became known. Elisabeth was expecting a child! How could this be? God had performed a miracle! That which was impossible with man, God made possible.

When the time came for the baby to be born, Elisabeth had a son. The people asked what they would name the baby. Because Zacharias still could not speak, he wrote, “His name is John.” The Bible tells us that after doing this, Zacharias was immediately able to speak, and he praised God.

Wasn’t that a wonderful miracle! Zacharias and Elisabeth had wanted a child for so long but thought it was not possible for them to have one. But God had heard their prayers and gave them a child. This son, John, was the man we know as John the Baptist.

God wants us to believe Him completely. We must not forget that He has all power and that nothing is impossible when we trust in Him.

Have you ever noticed how little children like to build things? Give them a pile of blocks and before long they are stacking them one on top of another—making an airport, a house, a zoo, or whatever their imagination settles on.

By the time those little ones grow up to be your age, they are far more skillful when they build. Do you like to make models? Set up an elaborate space station out of Lego blocks? Build an ice fort when it snows? Your construction projects are a lot more intricate than the pile of blocks a toddler puts together.

Did you know that God has planned a building project for every Christian? This is a building project that will take a great deal of effort, but the results will be worth it! You won’t be using blocks or bricks. Your building materials are the subjects we have been studying this quarter, and your project is to build your Christian character.

How well can you remember what we’ve been learning? Let’s review our lessons for the past quarter.

LESSON ACTIVITY

In everything that comes our way, there is always a reason to thank God.

Mmm-mmm-m!! A steaming platter of turkey, bowls of potatoes, gravy, vegetables, cranberry sauce, fruit salad, baskets of hot rolls, and pumpkin pie with lots of whipped cream. What does all that make you think of? Thanksgiving dinner!

Those of us in the United States think of the Pilgrims, the Indians, and the historic feast they shared so many years ago in celebration of God’s goodness. The Pilgrims set a good example by showing their appreciation to God, and we still honor that occasion. But the spirit of “thanksgiving” to God goes back a lot farther than that!

If you start reading in your Bible at 1 Chronicles 16:7, you will find that King David encouraged the Children of Israel to give thanks to God. David’s heart was filled to overflowing with gratitude to Him. God used David to tell the people how they could give Him thanks. The Children of Israel needed that advice, and we need it too!

How does a person go about saying “thanks” to God? By praying and simply saying, “Thank You” just as you would to anyone else. And it doesn’t have to be just when you’re on your knees either. (You might forget if you wait until then!) Suppose you had a near accident. Right then would be the time to breathe a prayer of thanks to God for His protection.

King David told the people they should always be thankful for what they had and for what was happening in their lives. That sounds easy doesn’t it? It is easy to be thankful when everything’s going well. But what about when a problem comes up or you’re sick?

One of our Sunday school teachers tells of a time when she became sick and she wasn’t feeling the least bit thankful. She began to pray that the Lord would make her feel better, but nothing happened. After a while, the thought came to her that she usually felt great, because God had blessed her with good health. Other things came to her mind—things God had done for her. Her sickness made her realize she had been taking a lot of things for granted. Immediately, she started thanking God for all the things she had forgotten to thank Him for earlier—and He healed her!

Have you ever done someone a favor and received no thanks? You weren’t in a hurry to do that person any more favors, were you? Do you think God feels the same way? No one would want to think he was guilty of always asking God for things but never saying thanks. It’s an easy habit to fall into. Being thankful and expressing it is something you have to work at.

If you have asked God to guide your life, He is constantly working things out for you. Sometimes He does things you’re not even aware of. For example, there may have been times when God protected you and you didn’t even know you were in danger. God deserves a lot of thanks! As you remember to thank God for the things you know He has done and anything you may not know about, He will continue to pour out blessing after blessing on your life. He will do more than you would think to ask for.

King David also encouraged the Children of Israel to share their experiences with others. God had taken them through some exciting times, and done many wonderful things. They had a lot to be thankful for, didn’t they? So do you, and when you tell a friend how God has helped you in a special way, don’t be surprised when he feels like thanking God with you. God will be able to see that through your sharing, you really do appreciate what He does for you!

When you stand up in church and give your testimony, that is a very special way of saying, “Thank You.” God hears it, and He will bless you and help you to overcome the trials you may face. Others will be blessed by your testimony too! It might help to remind them of how many things God has done for them too.

God blessed people who gave thanks back in King David’s time. He blessed the Pilgrims, and today, He’s still blessing people who take the time to say, “Thanks.”

LESSON ACTIVITY

Without love, all of the other Christian attributes are nothing.

Dear Son,

Tonight as we spoke together, you asked, “Father, what do I need? What’s important?” They were questions not lightly asked.

I have seen you grow spiritually. In many ways we have grown closer in the past weeks than ever before. A real bond was established between us that night when you repented and placed your life into the hands of your Maker.

Of course, I loved you long before then. You were special even before you were born. How well I remember the glow on your mother’s face when they placed you in her arms for the first time. As I looked down on you, a tiny bundle of humanity, what potential was there! Even then, I looked ahead to this day, my son, and saw you standing on the brink of adulthood.

You have taken many steps since then. Oh yes, I saw the first physical steps. How your eyes sparkled when you first tottered into Daddy’s open arms! But far more important have been the spiritual steps forward, the developing of those attributes which have helped you grow strong as a Christian.

Humility was one of the first. Without humility you could never have been saved because repentance only comes when you see how undeserving you are of forgiveness.

Forgiveness itself was another step. Just as you looked to Calvary for forgiveness, you had to learn to offer that same release to others. That has been difficult on occasions, hasn’t it? Remember the time you spent on your knees when your classmates began teasing you about Sunday school? You took it! How happy I was as I saw you come through that trial.

Learning unquestioning obedience was another move forward. Your mother started working on that when you were about six months old. But the desire to have your own way was not easily overcome. When you were finally saved, you wanted to obey.

We talked about faith and some of the items on your “faith shelf,” like when your grandmother, at the point of death, was healed through prayer. The time when you prayed, and your dog Rocky came home after having been gone for two weeks. The night your cousin Danny was saved. You learned from experience that faith is essential.

Through some of the hard places along the road you’ve found courage to stand when your friends didn’t understand you, when you haven’t understood what to do yourself. Through virtue you have kept yourself unspotted from the world.

We agreed knowledge was important, the right kind of knowledge! Not straight A’s on your report card, necessarily, but wisdom from Above—spiritual discernment.

Self-control, was hard for you to master. To exercise moderation in all things is not easy. There were months when you struggled with mood swings. A period of time when it seemed hard not to talk more than you should. That inward struggle you had over balancing school activities and church responsibilities. These were not easy, but through them temperance emerged.

Hand-in-hand with temperance came patience. To keep on keeping on plays an important part in the development of Christian character.

Godliness, we agreed, is a continuing step that rejects anything that detracts from your spiritual testimony. You strengthened that testimony when you refused to cheat on the history exam last week, though the answers were circulated around the class. You strengthened it when you kept your promise to mow Mrs. Kilpatrick’s lawn though your friends went off to shoot hoops.

That thought led us on to consider brotherly kindness. It takes in a multitude of actions, large and small. From little common courtesies to the more obvious good deeds. It was showing brotherly kindness the day you and two friends chopped and hauled wood for Ron Barnett when he hurt his leg and couldn’t do it himself. Then one day I saw you pick up Mrs. Olson’s paper from the grass and take it to her door so it wouldn’t get wet; that was showing brotherly kindness too.

So we talked of many things. But now I must answer your questions: “Father, what do I need? What’s most important?”

The answers are simple. Turn in your Bible to 1 Corinthians 13. Read it carefully. Many great virtues and gifts are mentioned there. But look especially at the last verse of that chapter: “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.”

Charity, Son. Love. Oh, it is simple when you see that love encompasses them all. Without love, all these virtues and gifts are nothing. But with love, they add up to everything. A full and blessed life, and an eternal home in Heaven!

Son, I speak to you of a love that many years ago led to a Cross! I love you more than you can ever know or comprehend.

I say with Paul of old, “Follow after charity.” Seek it, strive for it with all your heart.

Someday, My child, with your hand in Mine, we will walk together through the portals of Glory.

Your Loving Heavenly Father

LESSON ACTIVITY

Miles and Sadie received an unexpected reward when they showed brotherly kindness.

“You kids get away from this house!” a gruff voice called out. Sadie and Miles gave a startled glance at the man in the yard they were standing by, and quickly ran to the other side of the street.

“Wow, Mr. Johnson seems to get grouchier every day!” Miles muttered. “First he wouldn’t let Ian play with us; now he won’t even let us near their house. I wonder why he hates us so much?”

“I don’t know, but I sure feel sorry for Ian! He can’t come to Sunday school anymore either.”

“That’s too bad,” replied Miles, “and it doesn’t look like Mr. Johnson is going to change his mind.”

The next day at school, Miles talked to Ian during recess. “Why won’t your dad let us come to your house?”

“When I told Dad about Sunday school, and that I had gotten saved, he just laughed at me. But when I told him he was a sinner too, and needed to be saved, he got really mad and said I wasn’t to go anywhere near you or any other Christians anymore.”

“I’ll pray that something will change his mind, Ian. At least we’ll see each other at school.”

The next Saturday evening Sadie and Miles were riding their bikes past Ian’s house. Sadie suddenly stopped. “Miles,” she whispered, “look over there at the side of the Johnson’s house! It looks like someone is trying to get in through that basement window. We’d better call the police! I think Ian and his dad are out of town.”

“Why should we help Mr. Johnson? He won’t let Ian come to Sunday school anymore, so why should we do anything for him?”

“Miles,” Sadie scolded, “the Bible says that we are to love our enemies. Besides, Ian is a Christian. The Bible tells us that if we show kindness to our brothers and sisters in Christ, then other people will know we love Jesus. It certainly wouldn’t be kind to let Ian’s house be broken into if we can do anything to stop it.”

“Okay, I’ll stand watch while you go call the police!”

Within a few minutes, the police arrived—in time to catch the burglar. Sadie and Miles were questioned before they went home.

On Monday, Miles and Sadie were walking past the Johnson’s on their way home from school when they heard someone call, “Hey, you kids!”

“Oh, no, it’s Mr. Johnson,” Sadie grimaced. “We’d better get going!”

“No, wait, I want to talk to you,” Mr. Johnson called to them again. They stopped, amazed. Mr. Johnson approached them. “The police told me how you called them when you saw someone trying to get into the house and, well . . . I’m grateful. Most kids wouldn’t have bothered to do anything about it, especially after the way I’ve treated you. Why did you do it?”

Sadie spoke up. “Well, Mr. Johnson, the Bible says that we’re supposed to love our neighbors, and besides, Ian is a Christian now. That means we are in the same family—God’s family. Brothers and sisters help each other. We sure would like to see him come to Sunday school with us again.”

“You two have made me feel ashamed of myself. I want to apologize. I should be proud that my boy has friends like you.”

“Does that mean you’ll let Ian come to Sunday school with us?”

Mr. Johnson smiled, “I’ll do better than that. I’ll bring him myself!”

Sadie was thrilled! “Mr. Johnson, that’s great news! Everyone will be so glad to see Ian again, and they’ll be especially happy to welcome you.”

In the Bible there is a story of God’s prophet, Elisha. As he passed through the city of Shunem, one day, a woman saw him and invited him to eat a meal at her home. After that day, whenever Elisha passed through Shunem, he was invited to eat at her home. One day, the woman asked her husband to build a room on the rooftop of their house. The room would be for Elisha to rest in during his visits. Her husband liked the idea, so he built the room. The next time Elisha visited the city, he was surprised and pleased to see a room built just for him! He wanted to repay their kindness, so he told his servant, Gehazi, to say to the woman, “You have been very kind. What can I do for you?” But the couple wanted nothing in return. The woman said they were happy to live just as they were.

Then, Elisha asked his servant what should be done for the woman. Gehazi told him that the couple had no child. Elisha called the woman to him. As she stood in the doorway of his room, Elisha promised her that she would have a son, and within a year a baby boy was born to the woman and her husband.

The woman and her husband gave to Elisha, never expecting to be repaid, but they received a wonderful reward.

In these stories, Sadie and Miles, and the woman of Shunem did what God’s Word tells us to do—show brotherly kindness. They gave without expecting a reward, and God blessed them in a great way.

LESSON ACTIVITY

Circumstances surrounding his friend’s good fortune taught Leo what it really means to be rich.

“I am going to be rich!” said Aaron triumphantly to his friend who was riding on the front of his bike.

“What are you talkin’ about? When? Maybe when you’re fifty, huh?” responded Leo over his shoulder.

Wheeling his bike into Leo’s driveway, Aaron stopped to let his passenger hop off. “Nope, not when I’m old. Soon, real soon. I’m gonna get the nicest bike you ever saw, and I’m gonna get my own phone, and a…”

“Are you dreaming?” Leo interrupted. “Where are you going to get that kind of money?”

“My Dad’s uncle died and left him a huge pile of money. He owned half the town where he lived. I’m tellin’ ya, we’re going to be on easy street!”

By this time Leo’s eyes were wide with amazement. As they walked into the house, Leo spoke slowly, “If I didn’t know you so well I’d think you were just pulling my leg. Are you still going to be my best friend, I mean after you’re rich and all?”

“Sure,” Aaron smiled, “I might even buy you a bike!”

Leo brightened up somewhat at that statement and the two busied themselves with a Lego kit while talking animatedly about Aaron’s good fortune. Later on, after Aaron had left, Leo sat down in the living room where his parents were both reading.

“Dad, do you think we’ll ever be rich?” His father laid down his paper and responded quizzically, “What’s on your mind, Leo?”

“Well, do you or Mom have any rich old relatives? Because my friend Aaron is gonna be swimming in money from his rich uncle pretty soon, and it just doesn’t seem fair.”

“Oh, that’s right. I just read the other day that old Andrew Thomas down in Lincoln died. He would be Aaron’s great uncle. Why, he was known as Mr. Franklin County since he owned the better part of that area.”

“Yeah, and I guess he left it all to Aaron’s dad,” said Leo glumly.

With a serious look, Leo’s father put his hand on Leo’s shoulder. “Son, I know it’s easy to desire the situation that your friend has found himself in. But tell me, do we have something better than all the money in the world here in this house or not?”

“You mean God? I guess so. But sometimes I think you could have a lot of money and still be just as happy as we are.”

His mother asked, “Do you really think so, Son?”

“I don’t know why not. I mean as long as you’re happy, you’re happy, right?” With that he left the room to answer the phone in the kitchen. Soon he ran excitedly back to the living room.

“Mom, Dad, may I go to Lincoln with Aaron? His dad said it would be all right. We’d leave Friday afternoon and be home the next night.”

Late Friday afternoon, in Lincoln, a kind-looking elderly lady answered the biggest door in the biggest house Leo ever remembered seeing. Aaron whispered that she was the maid who had been there for over forty years. She showed them their rooms, and after Aaron’s parents had left to take care of some business, the two boys went down into the huge dining room to eat dinner. The maid, Miss Brown, noticed Leo’s awestruck look.

“Quite a place, isn’t it, young man?”

“Yah! I’d give anything to live in a place like this!”

“Not if you knew what I know, you wouldn’t,” Miss Brown responded with a mysterious look. Leo wondered what she meant, but wasn’t sure if he should ask. Later when Miss Brown brought them some spice cake in the recreation room, he decided to find out more.

“Mr. Thomas must have been a very happy man, huh, Miss Brown?”

She sat down on the couch near them and spoke in a very quiet voice. “Boys, a lot of people wished they could have been Andrew Thomas. But I worked for him for forty-three years, and I never once wished that.”

Aaron and Leo looked on with amazement as she continued.

“Mr. Thomas had what most people only spend their lives dreaming about having. But he didn’t have the only thing in life worth possessing—the satisfaction of knowing that the Lord Jesus Christ is in your heart. Oh, he could put on a show in front of everybody all right, but I’m probably one of the very few who ever knew the truth. That man longed after the satisfaction of riches, but found only riches without satisfaction. I have longed after God, and He has blessed me beyond measure. I was the only one there when Mr. Thomas died. You know what he said right before he died? He said, ‘I would gladly crawl on my hands and knees around this whole world and give everything I own to have the peace that you have.’ Then he was gone. I may not have much in this world, but I have joy in my heart. Even though I have to leave this house now, I know that I have a mansion waiting for me in Heaven that will make this one seem like just so many sticks and stones.”

Leo wasn’t sure what Aaron was thinking, but as Miss Brown walked out of the room he knew he would never forget the rich lady who lived in the poor man’s house.

LESSON ACTIVITY

Hayden found out what it takes to acquire patience.

“Practice, practice! All I ever do is practice!” said Hayden, slamming down the lid of the piano. “I’m getting sick and tired of practicing!”

“Now, Hayden, it’s not always fun, but you need to have patience. Your recital is coming up in three weeks, and that isn’t very long to learn your piece. Mrs. Lewis said to set the timer for one hour, and you’ve been practicing only half that time!”

“Mom, I just can’t sit here anymore. Jordan wants me to go over to his house.”

“Go ahead, Hayden,” said his mother reluctantly. “But you know what Mrs. Lewis will say at your lesson on Friday. She can always tell if you haven’t practiced enough.”

“I know,” said Hayden, “but this is only Tuesday. I’ll make up for it tomorrow after school. I promise!” However, the next day when he came home he told his mother that Ryder had asked him to go over to his house for dinner. “I’ll practice as soon as I get home,” he promised.

That night Hayden draped himself over the piano bench and set the timer for one hour. Methodically playing “Waltz of the Butterflies” over and over . . . he made the same mistakes time after time. He looked at the timer. Time was going so slowly. I just can’t sit here any longer! He thought. I just don’t feel like practicing anymore. So he got up.

Day after day the same scene was repeated. There was always some reason not to practice. Then, before he knew it, it was the day of the recital.

Hayden swallowed nervously when it was his turn. Sitting down at the piano, he wished that miraculously the piece would sound right, but he made the same mistakes he always made at home. Boy, was he embarrassed! Now everyone will know I didn’t practice enough, he thought as he got up from the piano.

Next it was Lucy’s turn. She played the same piece he had just played—she didn’t make one mistake! That’s not fair, thought Hayden. We started taking lessons at the same time. Why is she so good?

That night as Hayden and his parents were driving home the air was heavy with silence. Finally Hayden blurted out, “I don’t get it! Lucy started taking lessons the same week I did. I made the same old mistakes I always make and she didn’t make any. It’s just not fair!”

His parents exchanged knowing looks, but did not reply. Hayden slumped back in his seat, despondent for the rest of the way home.

Once inside the house, Hayden headed straight for his room.

“Hayden,” his mother called to him, “Will you come into the living room and sit down for a minute?”

He trudged slowly into the room.

“Hayden,” said his mother gently, “What happened today was an important learning experience. I want you to look back on the last few weeks, and think about your practicing. Do you remember all the times you had something else to do? You know that you didn’t practice for an hour every day. And you didn’t have your mind on your music when you were practicing. Did you ever wonder why I let you get away with it? I decided you would learn more if I let you do it your way this time.”

“Oh, Mom, I get so tired of practicing! It gets so boring and all I can think about is getting done. I just don’t have the patience,” said Hayden. “Anyway, I’ll never be as good as Lucy, so I might as well not even try.”

This time his father spoke up from the other side of the room. “Do you know why Lucy played the same piece you played, without any mistakes? Because she had patience and stuck with her practicing. I’m sure she has had times when she didn’t feel like practicing, but she must have done it anyway. There must have been times when there were things she would rather have done, but she stuck with it. She proved that today. Now she can feel that all of her practicing and patience paid off because she played her piece so well.”

“Hayden,” his mother put in, “did you know there are different types of patience? Sometimes we have to do things we don’t want to do, like practicing every day for an hour. Patience can mean working hard without complaining. Sometimes that’s difficult to do!

“Then there’s another aspect of patience. After you have practiced or worked hard without complaining, and you see little results, that’s where enduring or waiting comes in. If you keep practicing, someday you will be very glad you did. You will get better and it will become easier to play. But that won’t be next week or even next month. It will be in the future.”

Hayden’s dad nodded in agreement. “We read in the Bible, ‘But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.’ All through our lives we will face things that will demand hard work. We must try not to complain. Patience doesn’t come naturally to any of us, but if we work at it and ask the Lord to help us, He will give us patience.”

Hayden sat silently for a few moments. Then he smiled at his parents. “I guess I’d better not stop practicing now. I want to be a good piano player someday. I’m going to ask the Lord to help me have patience.”

LESSON ACTIVITY

Levi and Parker learned a lesson in temperance.

Stomp! Stomp! Stomp! “You stop talking, Ruby!” shouted Mrs. Bradley. The class grew quiet as Ruby blushed and quickly turned around in her chair.

Levi and Parker glanced at each other and tried not to laugh. Levi wondered if Parker was thinking the same thing he was thinking. The last few days they had decided that Mrs. Bradley was certainly not their favorite teacher. She had an awful temper.

On the way home from school, Levi looked at Parker and rolled his eyes. “Listen, Parker, don’t ever make me laugh when Mrs. Bradley is mad. She’d probably throw me out into the hall.”

“I guess there’s really nothing funny about it,” Parker replied. “But she gets mad so often that it’s almost a joke. She can stomp her foot louder than anyone I’ve heard.”

“She’s had a lot of practice!” Levi said, grinning.

The boys neared Levi’s house where his mom was outside getting a bag of groceries from the car. “Come on over and shoot some baskets after dinner,” Levi said to Parker. “And remember, we’d better practice not laughing!”

“Okay, see you later!” Parker replied.

“What was that about?” Levi’s mom asked. “Not laughing? You mean you two are finally getting serious?”

“Oh, we’re afraid we’ll get into trouble for laughing when Mrs. Bradley gets mad,” Levi explained. “She always stomps her foot and yells at whoever is talking, and she pounds her fist on the desk at least fifty times a day to get the class to listen to her. It almost makes us laugh!”

“WOW!” said his mom, as Levi finished the story. “It’s too bad your teacher gets so upset she can’t control herself. Now grab the bag of groceries for me will you, please?”

An hour later the thump-swish-thump of a basketball alternated with the shouts of the two boys.

“C’mon, slow poke! Get the ball! Get the ball! You haven’t made one basket and I’ve made lots!” Levi hollered at Parker.

Parker stopped mid-court and whirled on his friend. “If I played like you . . .” Parker’s temper flared.

“You’ll never play like me, you’re not good enough,” interrupted Levi.

“If I played like you, I’d win! . . . You know very well you’ve been breaking all the rules. All that shoving and putting your hand in my face! No ref would let you get away with it!” Parker shouted. He jumped in front of Levi and wrenched the ball away. Then he headed for the other end of the garage with the stolen ball.

“Just give me the ball and get out of here if you’re going to play like that!” Levi screamed. He darted after the ball, snatched it away from Parker and gave it a heave over his shoulder.

CRA-A-S-S-H-H! Shatter, tinkle! “Oh, no!” groaned Levi. “Mom’s jars of peaches are ruined!”

Hearing the terrible commotion, Levi’s mom ran to the garage. The angry shouts she’d been hearing still rang in her ears as she surveyed the scene.

“Well, ‘Mrs. Bradley!’” she remarked with a wry look at the two boys. “What are you doing in my garage?”

The boys glanced about, startled. Mrs. Bradley? They looked at each other. Slowly, the light dawned. Their tempers had flared just like Mrs. Bradley’s.

“Okay, Mom, I see what you mean,” Levi said sheepishly. He looked at Parker. “I’m sorry. My mouth got me into trouble again.”

* * * * * * * * *

Controlling our tongue is an important part of temperance. We read in James 1:26, “If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain.”

God wants us to show self-restraint. Don’t go overboard in anything—eating, drinking, working, playing—at home, school, or on the job. Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, gives us good advice: “Let your moderation be known unto all men” (Philippians 4:5).

LESSON ACTIVITY

 

Diego knew that his essay on the search for knowledge would be different from all the others.

“I’m going to hand back the essays you wrote last week to begin our unit on ‘What Spells Success?’” Mrs. Adams stood up from her desk with a stack of papers in her hand. “As you remember, we were to consider the men who have made significant contributions in any intellectual field, and then answer the question ‘Where should I begin my search for knowledge?’”

Diego took a deep breath and stared fixedly at the pile of books on the desk in front of him. This grade was so important! He really needed an “A” in this class to stay on the honor roll. He had known his paper would be different from anyone else’s in the class, but even though he really wanted an “A” there was only one answer that he could write.

“Some of these papers took a very unusual approach,” Mrs. Adams commented as she neared his seat. Diego groaned inwardly. She had to be talking about his. For sure it was unusual! If only she hadn’t given him a bad grade because of it.

As his paper was placed on his desk, he reached for it reluctantly and turned to the back page where he knew the grade would be. His heart gave a lurch as he saw Mrs. Adams’ red notations. He read her comment quickly, then turned back to the beginning of his theme to look through the whole paper.

“Books? Philosophies? Experience?” He read through the words he had worked on so hard last week. “Many famous men have found what they think is knowledge by searching in these areas. In a sense, my search has combined all three of these.

My search started with a Book—the Bible. It is the best-known Book ever written. I almost learned to read out of it. My parents told its stories to me from the time I was little. But though the characters and the events related there were vividly pictured in my mind, they were little more than fairy tales.

From the time I was old enough to think about it, my philosophy of a good way to live centered around the teachings of Jesus Christ. I accepted His principles of right and wrong and tried to live by them, though I was not always successful in this. Sometimes I found myself doing things I knew were not right, and I felt bad about that.

But at last there came a point in my life where I had an experience which opened my eyes to true knowledge. I admitted that I was not succeeding in my own strength at being the kind of person I wanted to be. Asking forgiveness for the wrongs I had done, I asked God to take control of my life. He made an instantaneous change. In place of the questions, the searching, and the struggle I had felt inside, I now felt peace and assurance.

The words of the Bible became a reality. What had been merely philosophic principles became a natural way of living. The experience of salvation, or new birth, gave me a whole new approach to life. I no longer did things which went against what I knew was right. At last I had strength to live the way I wanted to.

And so, my personal search for knowledge revolves around the words written in Proverbs 2:3-5, ‘Yea, if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding; If thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures; Then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God.’”

Once again Diego read the words Mrs. Adams had written across the bottom of his paper, and a pent-up sigh of relief escaped his lips.

“Grade: A. Good job, Diego. Stick to your beliefs!”

LESSON ACTIVITY

Wyatt didn’t know how to respond when someone offered him drugs at school.

Wyatt stared at the ceiling, a troubled frown on his face. Crossing his arms behind his head, he didn’t even notice when his older brother Max stopped in the doorway to his room.

“Things must be looking heavy, Kid. What’s the matter, did Mom put your bike on blocks again?”

Glancing up, Wyatt sighed, “Nah . . . I just have a lot on my mind.”

Max’s teasing grin disappeared. He glanced closer at Wyatt; then stepped inside the room and shut the door. “Want to talk about it?”

“Yeah . . . I guess you’d probably understand.” He swung his sneakered feet over the side of the bed and sat up, propping his chin in his hand. “It’s something that happened at school today.”

Max hitched up a chair and straddled it. “O.K., go on,” he encouraged.

“A bunch of us guys were out goofing around behind the school during lunch. We were talking about the party that’s being planned for the championship football game. Gabe—you know him; that’s the big guy who lives across the street—said it’s going to be the most awesome party ever. Then . . .” Wyatt hesitated. “Then he pulled a joint out of his pocket.”

For a moment there was silence in the room. “Hmmm,” said Max, thoughtfully. “Well, I’m glad you told me! Let’s talk about this a little more.”

“I’ve seen the kids smoking them at school lots of times, but I never had anyone offer me one before. I really didn’t know what to say! I didn’t want the guys to laugh at me. Besides, I’ve heard it really doesn’t hurt you . . .” Wyatt’s voice trailed off.

“Well, that’s not true!” Max stated emphatically. “More and more scientists are finding out that marijuana does have a harmful effect on the body such as a decline in memory and thinking ability.” He pulled his chair a bit closer to Wyatt. “I remember one time a health teacher of mine told us boys, ‘Anything that is not natural is not right.’ It’s a sure thing that the effects marijuana produces in your system are not natural.”

“Well, I knew it wasn’t right,” Wyatt confessed. He paused for a moment, then added, “But it takes a lot of courage to take a stand when the pressure is on, I know that. I just didn’t know how to say no. After all, there isn’t any place in the Bible that says we can’t smoke marijuana, is there?”

Max reached over and picked up Wyatt’s Testament from the nightstand. “Not exactly,” he said as he flipped through the pages. “But there’s a verse in here that makes it pretty clear about . . . yes, here it is. In 1 Corinthians 3:16 and 17, it says, ‘Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.’ I think smoking marijuana would come under the classification of ‘defiling,’ don’t you? Like I said, it has been proved damaging to our bodies.”

Wyatt looked up. “Well, that would go for smoking cigarettes then too, wouldn’t it? There’s even a warning printed on every package of cigarettes. It lets us know that cigarette-smoking is dangerous to your health.”

“Sure thing! Can you think of anything else that might be considered defiling?”

“How about drinking?” Wyatt replied. “That sure can ruin your insides!”

Max nodded. “You’re right. Anything that is unnatural or harmful to our bodies is displeasing to God. This may be the first time you’ve been approached to try something that could harm you physically, but for sure it won’t be the last! You might be tempted to say yes because of pressure from your friends, but don’t give in, Wyatt. It takes real courage to take a stand for what you know is right. And if you do take your stand, you will be a stronger Christian because of it.”

After thinking quietly for a moment, Wyatt jumped to his feet and gave Max a poke in the arm. “Thanks, Buddy! I think I’m O.K. now.” Noticing Max’s quizzical look, he added with a grin, “And just to set the record straight . . . No, I didn’t take the joint! I was saved by the bell! Now I think I know how to take care of this situation the next time it comes up.”

LESSON ACTIVITY

 

Dad’s story helped Dakota understand what faith is.

Dakota read the key verse for his Sunday school lesson the third time, and shook his head. This verse was really difficult to understand. He glanced up at his father who was sitting in an armchair across the room. “Dad, what is faith?” Dakota’s father put down his newspaper and looked up as Dakota continued, “My key verse is, ‘Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.’ It doesn’t make sense to me.”

“Well, Dakota, faith is believing in something so much that you don’t have any doubts about it. For example, when you were younger and would break one of your toys, you always brought it to me and said, ‘Fix it, Dad!’ You had faith that I could fix anything!”

“Sure, Dad, and you always did it!”

Dad chuckled, “Well . . . not every time, Dakota. But faith in God always works. It’s very important to our Christian lives that we have faith in the power of God. Paul, in writing to the Ephesians, said, ‘For by grace are ye saved through faith.’ So without faith we cannot be saved.

“The story is told of a stunt performer who attracted large crowds as he walked a tightrope stretched over the brink of Niagara Falls. The audience cheered him enthusiastically as he did remarkable feats on the taut wire.

“One day he called to the spectators, ‘Do you believe I am able to walk across this tightrope pushing a wheelbarrow?’ The crowd roared, ‘Yes, we believe you can!’ ‘Do you believe I could push the wheelbarrow across the falls with a man in it?’ he continued. ‘Yes,’ rang out the cry again. ‘Then,’ he asked, ‘who is willing to get into the wheelbarrow?’ Suddenly a breathless hush fell over those standing on the bank—not one person in that ‘believing’ crowd volunteered. Their faith went only so far. They believed the man could do the feat, but they couldn’t believe to the extent they would climb into that wheelbarrow.

“You see, Dakota, faith in God is more than a mere mental assent to the fact of His existence. It is putting your life into God’s hands and letting Him take control. It is asking God to guide you over the tightropes of life. Faith is getting into the wheelbarrow.”

“Oh, that really makes it important! So how do we get faith, Dad?”

“Faith comes by learning more about what God has done. Let me tell you a story from the Bible, Dakota. One day while Jesus was in a town called Capernaum, many people came to the house where He was staying. They crowded in until there was no room left. As Jesus was preaching to them, four men carrying a man sick with the palsy approached the house. They couldn’t get near Jesus because of the crowd, so they climbed onto the roof. After removing the roof tiles, the men tied ropes to the sick man’s bed and lowered him into the room where Jesus was. When Jesus saw the faith of the men, He said to the sick one, ‘Son, thy sins be forgiven thee.’

“In the crowd there were some hypocritical teachers of the Law. They thought this was blasphemy, because only God can forgive sins.

“Jesus knew what they were thinking. He challenged them by asking which would be easier: to forgive sins or to heal the man? Do you know what He did, Dakota? To show the people that He had the power to forgive sins, He told the sick man to arise, take his bed, and go to his house. Immediately the man got up! The people were amazed and glorified God.

“The men who brought their friend demonstrated their faith in the healing power of Jesus. Their faith was rewarded. When Jesus healed the sick man, more faith was put into the hearts of those who saw and heard. When we see or experience God’s power, it instills more faith in us. Faith, then, comes directly from God.”

Dakota smiled, “Thanks, Dad, you can explain anything too!”

LESSON ACTIVITY

The accident taught Stella and Chase the importance of listening to their parents.

Stella looked out the window with only one thought on her mind. Those logs. They were just a bunch of old snags, tossed up on the beach. Twisted roots poked up in all directions. The logs looked like a perfect jungle gym. Why had Mom told her that she couldn’t climb on them?

Ever since Stella, her younger brother Chase, and their parents had arrived at the little resort by the lake, Stella had been eyeing that huge stack of wood. But they had hardly been settled in the cabin where they would be staying when her mom had told her she was not to climb there.

She turned away from the window. What could be so wrong in climbing on a bunch of old logs? She’d hang on tight and be careful. A thought flickered through her mind, and she mulled it over. Then she told her folks she was going for a walk.

“Chase, I’ve got an idea!” she whispered in his ear. “C’mon outside and I’ll tell you!”

A short time later the two of them ran along the sand until they came to the pile of logs. Climbing them was just as much fun as she thought it would be. In just a few minutes Stella gave Chase a final boost, and the two of them stood teetering high atop the logs. It was so quiet and peaceful, and what a view! Why, Mother should just try coming up here herself and see how easy it is, and how much fun. What could possibly be wrong with climbing up here?

Stella sat there enjoying her “victory” of reaching the top, and half wishing someone could see her now. “Well,” she said at last, “I suppose we’d better start down before someone misses us.”

Then it happened! Stella slipped, and a moment later she was lying in the middle of all those old snags, with blood spurting out of a nasty gash on her leg. She began to cry. “Chase, go get Mom and Dad,” she sobbed. It wasn’t long until her parents were slowly carrying her back to the cabin. The wound was too deep for them to bandage properly, so out to the car and down to the mountain lodge for some first aid they went. “It’ll be a long time before that will heal up,” the attendant in the first-aid office warned, “and it will probably leave a scar. In the meantime, you’re going to have to stay off your leg for several days to give it time to heal.”

The next morning after breakfast, Stella’s dad turned to Ephesians 6:1 in his Bible, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right,” he read. “What does it mean to obey? Well, you might not always get to do things just the way you want to. But it’s important to follow the instructions of those in authority. Lots of times it is hard to do what you are told, isn’t it?” her dad asked. Stella looked down and gave a short nod.

“That’s not unusual,” her dad told her. “It’s part of human nature. From the day in the Garden of Eden when Eve disobeyed God, that has been true. Something inside rises up and wants to have its own way, but God can take that out of a person’s heart.

“Look at some examples in the Bible where people obeyed and were blessed. Remember Naaman? When he obeyed and dipped in the muddy Jordan River seven times, he was healed. Abraham was blessed to be the father of a nation. He purposed to obey God even if it meant his son’s life. Moses obeyed and, through him, God worked many miracles.

“In the New Testament, do you remember the man who was healed of the evil spirits that possessed him? Afterward he wanted to follow Jesus wherever He went. However, Jesus told him to stay at home and tell his friends the great things the Lord had done for him, and he obeyed!

“You see, it’s not just children who must learn to obey. Even as adults it is necessary. We obey God by following all the instructions He gives us in the Bible, and by doing anything He reveals to us or leads us to do. We obey our ministers and follow the guidelines of our church because God has provided the ministry to watch for our souls. We also obey and follow the rules of our country.

“As your dad, I need to help you learn to be obedient. Each day when I wake up I ask God to guide me through the day and show me what things He wants me to do. I pray for you too, Stella and Chase, that God will guide you. I want to be a faithful father to you, and to lead and instruct you in the right way. It is God’s plan that children obey their parents and their parents obey God. Think of the obedience God required of His own Son—Jesus let Himself to be nailed to the Cross to die.

Tears trickled down Stella’s face. “Mom and Dad, forgive me,” she said. Then, as she bowed her head and poured her heart out to God, God’s peace and forgiveness flooded her heart and her tears turned to rejoicing. She knew that from now on God would help her obey her parents.

LESSON ACTIVITY

With God’s help, he was able to feel true forgiveness.

Imagine yourself with a ball and chain attached to your leg, your back sore and aching from thirty lashes of a whip, and knowing you will be spending year after year in a cold, dark dungeon. Such terrible punishment, and you hadn’t even committed the crime!

Could you forgive the person responsible for getting you into that place?

A sixteen-year-old boy heard the words, “Twenty-five years at hard labor.” He had arrived in Tacoma, Washington, just as a murder had been committed. He had been accused and convicted even though someone else had done the crime.

For the next eighteen years he was treated as a criminal. One time, because he talked in line, he was placed in a dungeon twenty feet underground, his hands tied to the prison door. The third day as he was hanging there, chained by the wrists, he cried out in desperation to God. God heard him! That very night he was moved from the dungeon to work in the prison hospital. He worked there for the next three years, and then he was discharged. But by that time his mind and body were nearly wrecked and he had no home or friends.

When he was released he was given a ticket to Portland, Oregon. After four days of searching for work with no food or place to sleep, despair overtook him. What could he do? Where could he turn? There seemed to be no answer. He started for the Burnside Bridge to throw himself into the river. Just as he was climbing over the railing the bridge keeper saw him, and pulling him down, said, “You can’t do that!” As the ex-convict stumbled across the bridge, he looked up and saw the sign “JESUS, the Light of the World” above the Apostolic Faith Mission. Something made him turn in there, and he found himself in a church meeting. By the time he sat through the service, he wanted to pray! But he was too weak from lack of food to make it to the altar. Someone helped him and there he cried out to God for forgiveness. Peace flooded his troubled heart.

In the months that followed he went to the meetings at the mission and often told what God had done for him. One night while he was telling his story, a man in the audience got up and ran down the stairs and out of the building. Later someone told the ex-convict, “That man knows something about you!” Investigating, he later located the man in the county hospital in San Francisco, California, dying of tuberculosis.

After getting acquainted, one night the sick man asked the ex-convict to read the story of the Prodigal Son to him. Then he asked an unusual question, “Can you forgive me for the wrong I have done you?”

Startled, the ex-convict replied, “You have done me no wrong!”

The next words he heard seemed almost unbelievable. “Yes, I have. I am the man who committed the crime you were sent to prison for!”

The thoughts of the ex-convict flew back to those long years in prison—the steel bands around his leg, the dank walls, the handcuffs, the hard work day after day. His life had been ruined! How could he ever truly forgive? He couldn’t answer the man.

Leaving the sick man, he went into a little room alone and locked the door. Kneeling down on the concrete floor, he prayed. For nearly three hours he forgot everything else as he pled with God to give him a real spirit of forgiveness.

At last a Voice said, “Forgive him for My sake.”

He went back and took the dying man in his arms. “I forgive you,” he said, “but you will have to ask God’s forgiveness too.” The man prayed, and God had mercy and saved him. Three days later he died in the arms of the man who had suffered for his crime.

* * * * * * * * *

There is a story in the Bible which gives another example of forgiveness—that of Joseph, a young man sold into slavery by his own brothers. How would you react to that? Joseph was able to look beyond the wrong done him and forgive his brothers.

Without a doubt, though, the greatest example we have of forgiveness was when Jesus spoke from the Cross, saying, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” He showed us in His death the true meaning of forgiveness. He tells us in Matthew 6:14, “If ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.”

A snub, an insult, a malicious rumor, an unprovoked assault . . . you will probably experience one of these at some point in your life. How will you respond? It is not easy to forgive someone who has done something against you. But your own forgiveness by God depends on it!

LESSON ACTIVITY

How far would Tylonn’s confidence in his own abilities take him?

Tylonn Wood had one fault. He thought he was a little better than anyone else. His skill in sports made him a natural leader, but he was always bragging about what he could do. Tylonn knew from Sunday school that the Bible says in James 4:6, “God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.” But he always did so well it was hard for him not to feel like he was a little better than the rest.

One day some of his friends got together and talked this over. “Tylonn thinks he’s so good,” said Brayden. “I think it’s time we taught him a few things. What do you say?”

“Yeah!” they all shouted.

“He needs a good dunk in the river,” cried TJ.

“Aw, c’mon you guys, get serious,” Brayden interrupted. “I’ve got a better idea! Why don’t we try to beat him in the Big Mac football contest? I’m going to start working every night on my punting. TJ, you’ve got a good arm—you can pass a mile. Why don’t we all do some extra practicing. Wesley, you get busy on your place kicks. I’m sure you could win. Last time you kicked only three yards less than he did. That will show him he isn’t so great. What do you think?”

“Sounds good to me,” said TJ. The others agreed.

During the days that followed the boys spent as much time as they could, practicing on their own events. Finally the day of the Big Mac contest arrived. All the boys were excited. They knew that each winner got a Big Mac trophy, plus a free hamburger and milkshake.

Early that morning, Tylonn called Brayden and told him he would stop by about 9:00. “The contest starts at 10:00,” he said, “and we don’t want to be late!”

“Okay, I’ll see you at 9:00.” After Tylonn hung up the phone, he ran to his room and started to look for his cleats and his kicking tee.

These contests are going to be easy, he thought. I don’t think I even need to bother warming up. His mind traveled over the events that were to take place that day. He imagined himself passing and kicking the ball farther than everyone else. He visualized himself on the winner’s platform. How proud he was going to be!

He slid down the bannister and ran through the kitchen. Grabbing a banana, he called to his mom, “Don’t need a lunch today. I’ll probably have two or three hamburgers after the contest. See ye later.” As the boys got to the park they split up to enter their names for the different events. Soon they were all back together again. “Did you sign up yet, Tylonn?” asked Brayden.

“Yeah, I’m gonna try for all three.”

“Good luck!” said Brayden, as he winked at the others. Just then they heard the whistle. “Time for the place-kicking event to begin!” the voice blared over the loudspeaker. “Tylonn Wood will kick first.” There sure are a lot of guys here today, Tylonn thought to himself, as he moved out to the thirty-yard line to place the ball carefully on the kicking tee. But that doesn’t bother me, I’m sure I won’t have any trouble winning.

Tylonn had not counted on what happened next.

As he was approaching the ball to make his first place-kick attempt he missed seeing a narrow but deep hole in the turf. His foot caught, twisting his ankle, and down he went. Pain shot through his ankle. “Oh, my ankle!” cried Tylonn. “I think I sprained my ankle. Maybe I broke it.” Quickly, some of the officials came and carried him to a bench on the sidelines where they examined his ankle. “Someone call his folks,” said one of the men. “I’ll stay here with Tylonn. Tell the next contestant to go ahead and kick.”

Tylonn was sick. His ankle hurt terribly, and was starting to swell already. Now he wasn’t going to be able to compete at all! Why did this have to happen now?

Before long, Tylonn’s folks came and got him. Later that day, Brayden, TJ, and Wesley stopped by Tylonn’s house to see how he was. “How’s your ankle? Did you break it?” asked TJ.

“No,” said Tylonn, “it’s just a bad sprain. How were the contests?”

“Well,” Brayden began, “TJ got first place in the passing event and Wesley won in the place-kicking.”

“You’re kidding!” said Tylonn. “How far did you kick?”

“Forty-two yards,” said Wesley, “eight more than anyone else. Isn’t that even more than you’ve ever done, Tylonn?”

“Boy, I’ll say,” said Tylonn. “Well, how about you Brayden? Did you win the punting contest?”

“No, but I came in second.”

“Wow, that’s really good, you guys. Know what? Since I’ve been lying here today, I’ve been doing some thinking. I believe God let this happen to teach me a lesson. Maybe I’m not as good as I’d like to think. God has been showing me that He hasn’t been very happy with all the pride I’ve had.”

“You know something Tylonn, we were going to teach you a lesson today. We’ve been practicing the last few Saturdays so we could beat you. Maybe God wasn’t happy with our attitude either! I think this has taught us all a lesson,” said Brayden.

“Well, I’m going to ask the Lord to help me be better from now on,” said Tylonn. “You guys let me know if my head starts getting too big for my hat.”

“Okay Tylonn, we sure will. Maybe we can all help each other.”

“Thanks,” said Tylonn. “I’m sure glad you guys came over.”

The view from an airplane flying thousands of feet up in the sky can be breathtaking. God’s earth is a magnificent creation. On clear days, as you fly over tall mountain ranges, the snow seems to sparkle. Perhaps you will see miniature farms with patchwork layouts that appear to go on and on. Their colors are brilliant. As the plane gets closer to its destination, other things become distinguishable, yet they still look to be so small: miniature houses, and pocket-sized cars driving along little treelined streets. There are even tiny people going here and there.

From our point of view, these people are far away, insignificant, and easily forgotten, but . . . no one is insignificant in God’s eyes. He has a plan for every single one of those people, just as He has a plan for you.

This quarter we have been studying about God’s plan for our lives. From the beginning of our Christian walk, until Jesus comes again, God wants to fill our lives with His love. As we pray, grow in His grace, and witness to others, He wants us to remember we are important to Him.

The firemen realized people were counting on them to be ready.

Clang! Clang! Clang! the fire bell rang! It was 1:42 a.m.! Jeff rubbed his eyes as he rolled from his bunk in the firehouse. He knew that every minute counted when that alarm sounded. The firemen began their race with the clock. But . . . something was wrong.

“Where are my boots?” yelled one of the men.

“Your boots? Where are my boots? I’m sure they were at the foot of my bed. Now they’re gone.”

Time was flying. Someone’s life might be in danger right now, but these firemen were still looking for their boots!

Suddenly someone shouted, “Hey, you guys, your boots are down here in the garage by the rigs. Now let’s get going.”

The men slid down the fire pole and grabbed their boots.

“Oh, no,” shouted one of the drivers. “The pump truck’s hoses are all over the garage. Didn’t anyone check the trucks since our last run? What are we going to do?”

“Someone call the other station and ask for help,” Jeff yelled.

“I already did and it’s no use. They’re out on another call. This is an emergency—people are counting on us for help and we aren’t ready!”

Aren’t you glad this is just a make-believe situation? This wouldn’t really happen, because firemen always make sure they are ready for any emergency. They have to be prepared at all times—day and night. It’s too late to get ready after the call comes.

Being ready on time is very important. In the Bible we can read a parable that Jesus told about being ready when He comes again.

He said there were ten virgins who wanted to meet the bridegroom. They had known there was going to be a wedding, so all of them had started to make preparations. They all had lamps that were burning, but there was one big difference among them. Five had made sure that not only were their lamps burning, but they also had extra oil in their vessels. They wanted to make sure their lamps never stopped burning. The other five had neglected to provide enough oil, and soon their lamps had gone out.

After a time, the call came, “Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him.” The five virgins who had an extra measure of oil were ready and went in to the marriage. But Jesus’ story had a sad ending for the other five virgins. The Bible says that while they went to buy more oil for their lamps, “the door was shut.” When they returned and asked to be let in, the Lord said, “I know you not.”

There is a warning here for everyone. The ten virgins represent people who have given their hearts to Jesus. The division comes when a person is not careful in his Christian walk. The oil, which the foolish virgins did not value, represents the Spirit of God. It is so necessary to the Christian’s walk with Christ. It is the possession of this oil which made the wise virgins ready. When Jesus comes it will be “like a thief in the night.” It will happen as quickly as lightning flashes from the east to the west. There will be no time then to get ready.

If you have given your heart to Jesus, you have received from Him a most valuable possession—salvation. As with anything of value, you must guard it carefully. Do all you can to follow Jesus. Your prayers keep you in touch with God. Through prayer you can be filled with holiness and the wonderful Spirit of the Holy Ghost. This communion with God will keep your faith alive. A love of the truth will remain in your heart, and there will be excitement inside of you as you watch for Jesus’ soon return.

As the fireman must always be prepared, so must the Christian be ready. Through Jesus’ parable we learned that only the five virgins who were prepared—had extra oil in their vessels—went in to the marriage. Just so, only those who have valued their salvation and have made all the necessary preparations, will be ready for the coming of Jesus. Those who are not ready when Jesus comes again will be left behind. That could be any day now! Are you prepared?

The three Hebrew boys proved they could trust God even in scary situations.

About 2,500 years ago a king named Nebuchadnezzar lived in a place called Babylon. He was a very proud king, and we are told that he was quick to make decisions. His decisions were not always wise, but once he had said he was going to do something, he went ahead and did it whether it was wise or not.

One day Nebuchadnezzar decided to build a golden image. It was like a statue, but it was really an idol. The image was very tall (about as tall as a nine-story building) and very narrow (about nine feet wide). Nebuchadnezzar put it in a place where it could be seen for miles around. He called for a special group of musicians to play. He told the people that when they heard the music start, they had to bow down and worship the image.

Three of the rulers in Babylon—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—were Jews and knew that there was only one real God. They knew that Nebuchadnezzar’s man-made image couldn’t do anything for anyone. They also knew that if they obeyed the king and worshiped that image they would be displeasing God. So they would not bow down.

The day the image was dedicated, the king had an announcer tell the people that they should bow down as soon as they heard the music. If they didn’t bow down, they would be thrown into a burning fiery furnace.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego listened as the musicians started playing. They saw all of the people fall down and worship the golden statue. But they did not bow down, not even a little bit.

It might have been very easy for them to pretend to bow, and then to say, “We didn’t really worship the statue. We know that the Lord is the only true and living God. We simply don’t want to cause any trouble.” But they just stood there, not bowing at all.

Right away a group of men went to the king. “King Nebuchadnezzar,” they said, “there are three men in this government who aren’t obeying your orders. They heard the music play and they didn’t bow down to your statue.”

Nebuchadnezzar became very angry. “Bring those men here right away,” he stormed. When Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came before him he questioned them carefully. “Didn’t you bow down to my image? If you’ll obey my orders the next time you hear the music play, I won’t punish you. But if you continue to disobey me, you’ll be thrown into a burning fiery furnace!”

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego didn’t even ask for time to think it over. “We won’t worship your god or your golden image. If you throw us into the burning furnace, our God can bring us out unhurt. But even if He doesn’t choose to rescue us, we will not worship your golden image.” And they didn’t!

Sometimes when we read stories about things that happened a long time ago we wonder what they have to do with us. If this were a fairy tale about three men who disobeyed a king, it wouldn’t matter to us at all. But we know that everything we read in the Bible is true and has a special meaning. We can learn from it if we will.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did what they knew was right, even though all those around them were doing something different. That was not easy, but they did it. They were thrown into the furnace, but they were not alone, because God had sent His Son to be with them. God honored them for doing what was right.

You may be asked to do things that you know are not right. Friends may pressure you to skip school, tell a lie, or cheat on a test. You may be tempted to take drugs or to listen to music which has words that honor the devil. It may seem that everyone around you is doing those things! But it’s important to say no to temptations, just as it was for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to resist the pressure to worship the golden image. God is the same as He was in Bible times. If we trust Him, as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did, He will help us just as He helped them.

Colton’s conversation with Hunter helped them both learn something important about friendships.

Colton was fed up. He had been babysitting his younger brother while his mother went shopping, and the past two hours had really dragged by. All he could think about was riding his bike. Now that his mom was back, he could finally leave. He dashed to the phone. “Hi, Hunter! What are you doing? Let’s go ride our bikes!”

“Ride bikes?” asked Hunter. “It’s so hot! I’m going swimming.”

“But Hunter, it’s no fun to go riding alone!”

“I know, but all I’ve thought about for the last hour is going to the park for a swim,” said Hunter.

“Well, all I could think about for the past two hours was riding on the new bike trail!”

“Sorry, but I want to practice my diving. Besides, you know how hot it is going to get today,” said Hunter as he started to hang up.

“Okay,” muttered Colton, as he put down the receiver.

“I guess I’ll have to ride my bike alone,” he said to himself. “That sure won’t be as much fun. I really wish Hunter would come with me.”

Colton didn’t know it, but at that moment Hunter was having second thoughts. He was sitting on the floor by the phone when his mother came in.

“Why are you inside on such a nice day? Why don’t you go outside and do something with Colton?” she asked.

“All Colton ever wants to do is ride his bike. And anyway, I want to go swimming right now.”

“Well, Hunter,” said his mother, “if you want to stay good friends with Colton, you can’t always have your own way. You have to take turns. You can’t do only what you want to do or no one will want to be your friend.”

Hunter considered that for a moment, then slowly got to his feet. “Yeah, I guess you’re right, Mom, I shouldn’t have been so stubborn about having my own way. Colton is my friend and I want to keep it that way!” He headed for the door, “I guess I’ll go tell Colton that I’ll go riding with Him.”

Hunter jumped on his bike and started down the street toward Colton’s house. To his surprise, riding toward him was Colton. “Hi, I want to talk to you!” they both called out at the same time.

“I guess we both must have the same thing on our minds. I wanted to tell you that I’m sorry I was so stubborn,” said Colton. “It wouldn’t have been much fun to go bike riding by myself.”

“I’m sorry too,” said Hunter. “It wouldn’t have been much fun to go swimming alone either. Why don’t we ride on the bike trails now. Then, when it gets too hot for riding, we can go to the park and swim. What do you say?”

“Sounds good to me,” said Colton. “Let’s go!”

They rode off together. They had both learned that there is more to a friendship than just having a friend. It is being a friend too!

There is a story in the Bible about two good friends. Their names were Jonathan and David. Jonathan’s father, Saul, was the King of Israel. Jonathan grew up with wealth and power all around him. David was just a shepherd boy who lived a very simple life. Their backgrounds were so different you might wonder how they ever became friends. One day Saul called for David to come and play the harp for him. Through this, Jonathan and David became very good friends. The Bible says that the soul of Jonathan was “knit” with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved David as his own soul. He gave David his robe, his sword, and his bow. He loved David and would have done anything for him. David loved Jonathan too.

Many times their friendship was tested, but they always stayed friends. Even when trouble came and David’s life was threatened, they stuck together, like good friends do, and helped each other.

If you have a good friend, you talk to him every chance you get. You let him know that you like him a lot, and want him to stay your friend. The more you talk to someone, the better you get to know him. What happens if you stop talking to him and never call him? If you wait too long he might think you don’t like him anymore.

The best way to keep our friends is to treat them the way we would want them to treat us. We show our love and caring for them by being considerate and thoughtful of their wishes. We want them to be happy, and for things to go well for them.

It isn’t hard to treat people this way if we have Jesus in our hearts. When He comes in, He helps us to love everyone. And when you love someone, it isn’t hard to treat him well. That is what you want to do!

Jesus wants you to have friends. He wants you to be a friend. With Him as your best Friend, you can be the right kind of friend to others.

Atticus had to decide whether his new acquaintances would help him or hurt him spiritually.

Want to go fishing with us tomorrow morning, Atticus?” Jackson asked as they started down the stairs. “A bunch of us guys are going to meet out at the creek on the old Anderson place. Why don’t you bring your pole and join us?”

Atticus was a bit surprised. He really didn’t know Jackson and the guys he ran around with that well. “I’m not sure,” he said. “I had something else planned, but I’ll see if I can make it.”

Atticus had given his heart to the Lord last year after attending Sunday school for a few months with his neighbor, Austin. Atticus thought to himself, I told Austin I’d go to the Bible study with him in the morning, but this is a chance for me to get in with some popular kids at school. Besides, if I go fishing, I’ll only miss this one Bible class. Hmmm, I think I’ll give Austin a call.

After hurrying into his house a little later, Atticus went straight to the phone. “Hi, Austin!” he began. “I don’t think I can make it to the Bible study in the morning . . . Oh, it’s just that I have the chance to meet some new people . . . You could come with us.”

“No thanks, Atticus,” Austin told him. “I’ve already planned to go to the Bible study.” When Atticus hung up the phone, he thought, I know it’s important to learn more about the Lord every chance I get. But isn’t it important for me to make some new friends too? Still he felt just a little uneasy about his decision.

The next morning, Atticus made it to the creek before the others. Soon Jackson and his friends joined him to try their luck at fishing. For a short time, things were peaceful as the boys cast their lines into the creek and watched for a nibble. But a few minutes of quiet sitting on the bank was enough. T.J. Phillips slipped up behind Jackson and grabbed his pole. Jackson snatched it back and in the scuffle that followed, T.J. almost landed in the creek.

“Hey, Jackson!” T.J. shouted. “Just for that, I dare you to get one of the chickens from that farm over there and bring it here! Betcha can’t do it!”

“Yeah! You’re just chicken if you don’t!” one of the other boys shouted.

Atticus didn’t want Jackson to do it. He shook his head no at Jackson.

The boys noticed. “Chickennnnnnnnnn!” they all cried.

“Let’s get out of here, Jackson,” Atticus said. But Jackson ignored him.

“Oh, I’ll show them I’m no chicken!” Jackson said, stomping across the bridge.

Now Atticus knew he shouldn’t be there. What would happen when the farmer found out a chicken was gone? I’m getting out of here, he thought to himself.

The other boys never noticed Atticus leave. Everyone was busy watching Jackson.

Atticus ran home as fast as he could, and headed straight for the phone. He had to catch Austin before it was too late.

“Hello, Austin! You’ve not gone to the Bible study yet?” Atticus asked, breathlessly.

“Atticus, is that you?” Austin was puzzled. “No, we were just about ready to go out the door, though. Can you come?”

“Yeah, I guess I can make it after all,” replied Atticus.

Later, as they were riding home from Bible study, Atticus told Austin about what had happened that morning.

“. . . so, going with Jackson and his friends wasn’t as much fun as I thought it would be. I realized that if I’m going to be what God wants me to be, I’ll need the right kind of friends. Today it was obvious that Jackson’s kind aren’t the ones for me.”

“You made a good decision, Atticus. By coming to the Bible study, you can get acquainted with the kind of people who will help you instead of drag you down.”

Maya’s problem with her friend helped her realize how good it is to have a Friend she can always count on.

Maya stomped into the house, a stormy look on her face. “It’s just not fair!” she cried as the door slammed behind her.

Maya’s mother came into the room with a look of concern on her face. “What happened, Maya?”

“I don’t ever want to see Kylie again!” Maya said, throwing her books onto the couch and taking off her jacket.

Her mother tried to calm her. “Maya! You shouldn’t say things like that! You don’t really mean it. Now tell me what happened to make you so upset.”

Maya paced the length of the living room and stormed, “Kylie and I have been best friends all year. Last week we got a new girl in our class. Ever since then, Kylie has done everything with her. She hasn’t even talked to me. And today when I asked her to come over she just said she was going to Sienna’s house. Sienna was standing right there but they both turned away and left. It was obvious they never thought about including me. Mom, it’s just not fair!”

Maya wiped a hand across her eyes impatiently as her mother said, “Sit down, Honey. I want to show you something.” She reached for her Bible and sat down on the couch. After a moment Maya joined her. Her mother went on, “I know that what you are going through is very hard to understand. But did you know that you have a Friend who loves you and is a better Friend than Kylie ever could be?”

“You mean Jesus?” said Maya, looking at the Bible.

“That’s right. Jesus is a Friend who will never leave you. One of the Proverbs says, ‘There is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.’ That Friend is Jesus Christ. Do you know how much Jesus loves you?”

“Well, I guess a lot.”

“Here. Look up John 15:13 and read it to me.”

Maya took the Bible from her mother. She hesitated a moment and then flipped through the pages until she found the Scripture. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Maya looked thoughtfully at her mother. “Jesus laid down His life for me, didn’t He? I don’t know of any other friend who’d do that. He must really love me.”

“That’s right, Maya. There is no greater love than Jesus’ love for you. He truly cares about your problems and the things that matter to you. Sometimes it might seem as though you’re just one among many, so how could Jesus really know your needs and your thoughts and care about them? But He does! The Bible tells us that He even knows the number of hairs on your head!”

Maya grinned. “I’ll bet Kylie couldn’t even make a guess as to how many hairs I have.”

Her mother smiled in return. “No, I’m sure she couldn’t. And you and Kylie have been friends for a long time and know a lot about each other. Now, Maya, what is one of the things you enjoy about your friends?”

“I like talking things over with them.”

Maya’s mother smiled as she said, “Read the last part of the fifteenth verse.”

“‘I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.’” Maya paused and thought about that for a moment. “This sounds kind of like Jesus has told us everything—just like a friend would.”

“That’s just what it means. And Jesus also helps us with our problems like a friend would,” her mom added.

Maya was really interested now. “Do you think Jesus could solve my problem with Kylie?”

“If you have Jesus in your heart and pray, He will answer your prayer. It might not be in the way you expect, but He will answer! He cares about your unhappiness over Kylie and He has a way to work this out.”

Maya stretched and got slowly to her feet. “I really am thankful I have a friend like Jesus. I want to be sure that I am His friend and stick by His side. Thanks, Mom.”

The Mendozas’ trip to the lake could be compared to our journey to Heaven.

“Come on, it’s time to go!” The Mendoza family piled into their van, buckled into their seat belts, and pulled out of the driveway. Anticipation was obvious on every face as they started down the street. They were just beginning an all-day drive to the lake for a week of camping.

Mr. Mendoza had been to the gas station the day before and had the van checked, and the gas tank filled. The family was feeling great after a good night’s sleep. The few clouds they had worried about the night before had disappeared, and the morning sun was warm. Everything was starting out right.

The first few hours of driving seemed to fly by. There was excited chatter and, for a while, the whole family sang together. When their voices gave out they played the alphabet game. It didn’t seem long at all before it was time to stop at a roadside park to have lunch.

After a couple more stops, Mr. Mendoza pulled into a station for more gas and checked the GPS to see how far it was to their exit. By now they were all getting tired of traveling.

A few miles farther on, clouds began to gather and then it started to rain. The atmosphere in the car began to change too. Someone called out from the back seat, “Are we almost there?” Soon another voice asked, “Isn’t there a faster way to get to this lake?” Dad told them that this long ride was necessary in order to have a good time later.

They made one more stop to gas up, and to gulp down a dinner of burgers, cokes, and French fries. “How much farther to the lake, Dad?” the kids asked again, as they left the restaurant. Dad’s response, “Only a few more miles down the road,” was greeted with cheers. The family climbed back into the van with renewed spirits. Looking way ahead, the kids began trying to catch the first glimpse of each mileage sign, counting down the last few miles. It was getting to be fun again! Then they saw the gates of the campsite just ahead. As they drove through those gates they all shouted, “Hooray!” At last, they were there! The trip was over. Everything they had been looking forward to all day was finally before them, and the length of the trip quickly faded from their minds.

* * * * * *

If you have asked Jesus to come into your heart and have become a Christian, you are traveling too. You are on your way to Heaven! And once you get there you will not have just a week to enjoy yourself; you’ll be there forever!

In the first few days on the road to Heaven, you may think nothing could spoil the wonderful new feeling you have down in your heart. But remember, the devil would love to ruin your journey, and he has all kinds of tricks. He’ll try to delay or discourage you along the way, but as long as you keep your eyes on God, you will be safe.

When Jesus comes in, He gets you started. But it’s up to you to maintain enough “fuel” in your “tank” to keep you going. What is your fuel? Prayer! You need to start each day with a full tank. If you let the devil trick you into thinking you don’t have enough time to read the Bible and pray in the morning, you’ll find out that you run dry before the day is hardly started. Your travels will go even smoother if you refuel several times a day.

How do you know which way to go? Pull out your GPS, the Bible, each morning and God will show you the way to take. At times as you travel through your day, you will come up against things that you’re not sure about. The Bible will always give you direction.

You may ask, “Am I the only one on this road?” Sometimes it seems that way. When you choose to follow Jesus, you take a different road. Some of your friends will say that you are on the wrong road, but that’s just another sly trick of the devil. Your friends may think they are taking shortcuts or an easier way, but there’s only one way to Heaven. Jesus is the way. If they are on a different road, they are the ones who are lost. If you keep a steady course, they will be able to see by your life that they need the guidance you have. If you let them turn you aside, they will still be lost and you will be too!

Where can you meet others who are on the same road? In church! God’s Word teaches us that we can help each other along the way. When we go to church, we hear about other people’s experiences and learn from them. You can pick up helpful hints from someone who has gone through what you are going through now. When you share what God has done for you, someone else may be encouraged to keep traveling. You will pick up more fuel and direction from being in church, and you’ll be ready for the road again.

On your heavenly trip there will be some areas that are more exciting than others. There will also be all kinds of weather and road conditions, but every day is a good day for traveling with Jesus.

Winning the Most Friendly Girl award was great, but Gracie had her heart set on winning something else.

“Hey, Gracie!” shouted Harper, poking her head through the doorway of the school office. “Did you hear the news? You were just chosen Most Friendly Girl!”

Gracie hung up the phone after completing a call for the school secretary, and glanced at her friend in amazement, “You must be kidding!”

“No, it’s true. You know, Gracie, you really have changed. I’m so glad you’re my friend. Well, I’ve got to run. I have to stop by my locker before class. Talk to you later, okay?”

Quickly, Gracie finished her few remaining chores in the school office. She thought about how good God had been to her. Wow! To be chosen Most Friendly Girl was really a turnaround from where she used to be. Not so long ago, she would not even have been thought of, much less chosen, for such an honor. She knew it was only because God had changed her. A few months ago she had knelt and prayed and asked God to take the sin out of her heart and to save her. What a difference that prayer had made in her life! The sullen, suspicious person she had been, disappeared in a moment of time. Gracie hardly had been able to believe the difference in herself!

She thought for a moment about the Sunday school lesson they studied the day she had been saved, . . . about the girl who had been taken captive. The girl had waited on the wife of Naaman who was captain of the host of the king of Syria. Naaman had a disease called leprosy. The girl said to Naaman’s wife, “Would God my lord were with the prophet that is in Samaria! for he would recover him of his leprosy.”

Gracie had known from hearing the story that this girl really loved God. As Gracie had heard how Naaman went to the muddy Jordan River and was cleansed of his leprosy, she had felt in her heart that she wanted to do just as this girl had done and lead others to Jesus. That very day she had knelt and prayed. God had come into her heart, and had made such a dramatic change.

As she closed the office door and hurried to class, Gracie’s thoughts went back to the news Harper had given her. She couldn’t help but feel happy about being chosen. She knew it was because the Lord had given her a special happiness in her heart.

How unhappy she had been before! She had always become angry so easily and yelled at her friends; she just couldn’t seem to help it. When the kids had realized she couldn’t be teased, they started leaving her out of their activities.

Gracie knew the change that God had made in her heart was real, for the whole picture had changed at school. Now she had so many friends—Christian friends too. When God made that transformation, Gracie found she wanted to tell her friends at school about it. They had quickly seen the difference in her. When they asked questions, that was the perfect opportunity to tell them what God had done for her.

Sliding into her seat in the classroom, Gracie caught Harper’s eye and a warm little glow spread over her. Harper was the very first one Gracie had been able to lead to the Lord.

Gracie had known Harper ever since she moved into the neighborhood when they were in the fifth grade, but they had never gotten along very well. Harper had always been a tease, and time after time her teasing had made Gracie so mad! But one day, after Gracie got saved, Harper happened to overhear an incident in the hallway. Another student was teasing Gracie about giving a wrong answer in class that day. Instead of flying off the handle, as she always would have done in times past, Gracie had just chuckled and said, “Oh, well, I can’t be brilliant every day.” At the time, she had noticed Harper staring at her. She didn’t think much about it until Harper came up to her after school and asked about it. Harper had been so impressed with the difference in Gracie that she had come to church the first time Gracie had invited her. Just a few weeks later Harper had given her heart to the Lord too.

Winning the Most Friendly Girl award is great, thought Gracie as she opened her book, but winning my friends for Jesus is even more exciting!

Though Quinn and Isabella were different in many ways, they were both needed in the Body of Christ.

What a perfect day for a hike, Quinn thought as she woke up and saw sunlight streaming through her curtains. Today was the Sunday school outing to Harrison Falls and she could hardly wait to get started.

A few hours later, Quinn found herself at the trail’s beginning with thirty-four other kids, all anxious to begin the hike.

“Each of you find a buddy!” shouted Luke, the youth leader. “Let’s get going to the falls. As we go, you and your buddy talk about ways you are alike and ways you are different. We’ll discuss what you come up with later.” His voice faded as he turned toward the trail.

Quinn and Isabella chose each other for the hike. “My eyes are blue and yours are green, but we both have light brown hair,” said Isabella, looking her friend over. “Your hair is shorter than mine,” said Quinn, “and straighter too!”

“You play the flute, and I play the clarinet,” said Isabella.

“But you could say we both play wind instruments,” added Quinn. “And we go to the same church. We are even in the same Sunday school class!”

“Oh, we could go on and on. I’m sure we have more differences than things in common,” said Isabella. Quinn nodded, as they continued along the trail.

Twenty minutes later, they reached their destination and joined the group gathering around Luke, waiting for the last stragglers. They all were talking about the falls and how hot and tired they were.

“Everyone find a seat on a rock or on the ground and let’s see what you found out,” Luke said, raising his voice to be heard above the roar of the waterfall.

Two boys started by saying they shared the same hobby of collecting insects, and they had the same kind of bicycle. Their first names were even the same. But they looked very different.

“Did you discover that you both have two arms, two legs, and one head?” asked Luke.

Everyone laughed. “Yes,” one of the boys answered, “but we tried to get beyond the basics!”

“What I mean,” Luke said with a smile, as he took a Testament from his pocket, “is that each of you has a body that has many parts. It says in 1 Corinthians 12:14: ‘For the body is not one member, but many.’ The ‘body’ in this Scripture refers to the Body of Christ or a group of Christians. It takes a body of Christians to make a church. Our worldwide church has many preachers, teachers, ushers, and Sunday school bus drivers. The Body of Christ needs many parts to operate, just as our physical body needs different parts in order to function.

“In verse 18 it says, ‘But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him.’ How would our church operate if it had only preachers?” Luke asked.

“There wouldn’t be anyone to do all the other jobs,” Quinn replied.

“That’s right! For this reason,” Luke continued, “God has a place for each of us in the Body of Christ. We can all fill the job of being faithful Sunday school students. Can you name some others?”

“We can play our instruments for the Lord,” said Mimi, who plays the violin.

Luke nodded. “If God has given you the talent to play an instrument, be faithful to practice, at home and at church.”

“We can encourage a friend who’s feeling down,” Isabella pointed out.

“Sure!” said Luke. “The members of the Body of Christ care for one another, just as you care for your own body. If you had hurt your foot badly as you were hiking today, you wouldn’t ignore it, would you? You would stop, sit down, and rub it. Your hands would help the hurting foot.

“Verse 21 says, ‘. . . the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee.’ The eye and the hand need each other. We, too, need the help and instruction of one another.

“There are as many parts of the Body of Christ as there are young Christians here. Each one has special God-given talents. God is the Head of the Body of Christ and He will help us to encourage others. Giving our talents to the Lord now brings the blessing of God throughout our lives.”

Luke closed his Testament and said, “Your part in the Body of Christ may be known only to you and God. We can be sure God knows what our talents are, and will expect us to use them. Let’s ask Him to help us develop them to serve Him better.”

Looking at his watch, Luke stood up. “What’s next on the schedule?” His voice was lost among the happy shouts, “Lunch, lunch! Let’s go eat!”

Walking slowly along the riverbank, the potter scrutinizes the ground beneath his feet. His attention is caught by a smooth, reddish streak in the mud just to his left. Could this be the type of clay he is looking for?

Bending over, he thrusts his shovel deep into the rust-coloured earth. After removing a shovelful he rubs some of the clay between his fingers. Years of experience help him recognize that this smooth, shiny clay is, indeed, the right quality. It will hold together. It can be worked. Carefully he separates a sizable chunk of clay from the muddy ground and puts it into the gunny sack over his shoulder and returns to his workshop.

God is like the potter in this story. He wants to make a vessel He can use. His vessel will be a human life dedicated to Him. Like the potter, He must first find His material. The potter searched for usable clay and found it surrounded by the mud of the riverbank. God looks for people who are willing to submit their lives to Him. When He takes them out of the “mud”—the troubles, guilt, and sin in their lives—we call this “salvation.” It brings about a complete change. The Bible tells us, “Old things are passed away; behold, all things become new.”

The potter spreads the clay out in the sun to dry. When it has hardened, he gathers the lumps together and pulverizes them. Next comes the vital cleaning process. Sifting the clay through screens of various sizes, the potter painstakingly removes the dirt, twigs, and other foreign particles until the powdered clay is perfectly clean.

After we have received salvation, there comes a second step. We call this “sanctification,” or cleansing. It is an entirely different experience from salvation. Just as the potter cleaned the clay, taking away the impurities, God cleanses our hearts when we experience sanctification. At salvation we are forgiven for all the wrong things we have done, but when we are sanctified God cleans out all the feelings that ever made us want to do wrong.

When the cleansing process is complete, moisture is added to the clay, making it workable. The potter kneads the mass, removing all pockets of air. Then the time has come to shape the lump of clay into a usable vessel. The potter knows exactly what he wants to create. Placing the clay on the wheel, he pushes it to the centre, for only when it is positioned exactly can he begin to work.

The wheel starts to revolve, and the potter’s skilled hands begin moulding and shaping. A little pressure here, a gentle lifting there, and the clay is fully pliable and nonresistant, accepting the guidance of the potter. At last, the vessel is complete.

After we have been sanctified, we want more than ever to be something for God. We want God, like the potter, to “shape” us into something He can use. For this, we need the baptism of the Holy Ghost. Sometimes we call this experience, “power for service.”

The first step in receiving the baptism is to make sure we are “centred.” Just as the clay had to be positioned exactly in the middle of the potter’s wheel, so we must be right in the centre of God’s will, eager and ready to do whatever He says. We must be as the clay, pliable and willing to accept His direction. Then, when we pray with all our hearts, God will send His power into our lives, making us able to work effectively for Him.

After a period of drying, the glaze is applied and the kiln, or oven, is heated. In this heat, the clay vessel hardens and becomes able to withstand rough handling. The process is complete! The vessel can be used.

Even though we have received salvation, sanctification, and the baptism of the Holy Ghost, trials will still come into our lives. We might compare this to the “heat” in our story of the potter. And when we come out of the test or trial, we will find we have been strengthened by it, just as the vessel of clay was.

God wants to use you. He has a plan for you. Have you let Him become the “potter” in your life? If not, do so today!

God’s call to serve Him may come in a variety of ways.

What happens when your phone rings? Do you just sit there and wait for it to stop ringing?

We answer the phone because we are curious about who is calling, and what the person wants. How do you feel when you answer, but are too late? They’ve hung up! Do you wonder what they wanted and think, Who called me?

Did you know that Someone is calling you? Not on the phone, but with a “still, small voice.” That call is from God, and it is one call you surely don’t want to miss.

God uses many different ways to call people. His call may come to a person as he sits in a church service, in a phrase from a song, or part of a testimony. The words just seem to come alive, and all of a sudden the one listening realizes that this message is for him! It is God using the song or testimony to speak to his heart.

God wants everyone to be saved, and He deals with us in whatever way He can to get us to listen. He sends conviction, that uneasy feeling inside that lets us know we aren’t doing what pleases Him. When God sends conviction it is His way of calling us to Him.

Sometimes God speaks in a voice that people can hear. The Bible tells us about a boy who heard God call him by name. The boy’s mother, a woman named Hannah, had prayed and asked God if He would give her a son. She promised God that if He would answer her prayer she would give the child back to Him when he was old enough to leave her. God heard her prayer and gave her a son. She named him Samuel.

When Samuel got older, Hannah didn’t forget her promise. She kept it by taking Samuel to the Temple and letting him live there so he could help the priest, Eli. The Bible tells us that Samuel grew and loved God. Whenever Eli asked Samuel to help, he was willing to work. When Eli called him he came running.

One night after Samuel and Eli had gone to sleep, Samuel heard someone calling his name. He ran to Eli and said, “Here I am.” Eli told him, “I didn’t call you. Go back to bed.” Samuel went back to bed, but after a while he again thought he heard Eli calling him. He got up and ran to him and said, “Here I am, you did call me.” Once more Eli told him, “I didn’t call you. Go back to bed.” Samuel went back to bed, but by now, he was wondering what was happening. He knew that twice he had heard someone calling his name. If it wasn’t Eli, who was it?

As he was lying in bed again, he heard his name called a third time. He jumped out of bed and ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; I heard you calling my name.” This time Eli knew that someone really was calling Samuel, and he knew it was God. He told Samuel to go lie down, and if he heard his name called again, he should answer, “Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth.”

Samuel went to his bed again. The call came just as it had before. Samuel answered as Eli had told him to, and the Lord gave him a message.

Have you answered God’s call for your life? Have you been saved from your sins? Have you been sanctified? Do you have the baptism of the Holy Ghost? If you have received these experiences from the Lord you have made a start toward answering His call. Many people live their whole life hearing God’s call, but are not willing to answer. They put if off and say, “I’ll do it some day, but not now.” The best time to answer God’s call is when you are young.

After we are saved, God calls us to a closer walk with Him. When we have Him in our hearts, we will be listening to Him when He speaks. God doesn’t always speak to us out loud as He did to Samuel, but He can speak to our hearts when we read our Bible and when we pray.

If we are living for God and in close communication with him, He will call us to serve Him. When Samuel answered the Lord on that night so long ago, God gave him a job to do. God has something for each one of us to do for Him too.

God calls people to do different things. He leads some to consecrate to be preachers, or missionaries, or Sunday school teachers. But those aren’t the only jobs He needs workers for. He may call you to be an altar worker, or one who visits the sick and shut-ins. The yard around the church needs tending. A bulletin board in the Sunday school may need to be decorated. Do you sing? Play an instrument? There are many jobs to be done for the Lord.

Answer God’s call, first to salvation and the deeper experiences of sanctification and the baptism of the Holy Ghost, and then to a close walk and service to Him. If you do, you will enjoy the blessings He has in store for you throughout your life, and eternal life with Him hereafter.

True episodes in the lives of men and women reveal God’s power.

It works! Prayer really works!

People in our day are always wanting to look at the end result of things. What is the bottom line? What will the outcome be? Following are several examples of answered prayer.

One day an insurance man came to a farmer, trying to sell him a policy to insure his wheat crop. When the farmer’s wife heard about it, she said, “Insure against an act of God? How can they do that? Let me pray.” No insurance was purchased. Then a hailstorm came. You could hear it coming for miles, and everything in its path was beaten down. The farmer’s wife began to pray. The hailstorm came right up to the fence on their property line, and stopped!

On September 2, 1981, a man walking on a sidewalk in Brooklyn, New York, was struck by an out-of-control truck. Conscious but paralyzed, he was rushed to the hospital. The head neurologist examined him and conferred with four other specialists. The injured man was told that they must operate. “No operation,” he told his daughter, “just call the ministers at the church and have them pray.” Prayer was made, and God answered! Just three mornings later he suddenly felt a tingling in his body. When the doctor made his rounds, the injured man told him he was going to get up. He got out of his bed and walked the length of the hall saying “Thank You, Jesus!” with each step.

An armed robber and deserter from the U.S. Navy was saved, but he faced many serious restitutions. After much prayer, he went to the Naval authorities and confessed that he had jumped ship in New York City. “I was saved in the Apostolic Faith Church and I am going over my old life,” he told them. “You can do to me what you want to do.” A few days later he received a letter saying, “According to the laws of the United States you are a wartime deserter, but because of the new life you are living now, we don’t feel like punishing you for your desertion.”

A young man was taking a boat across Puget Sound from the San Juan Islands to Port Townsend. The boat struck a sunken log. The collision caused a hole in the boat which immediately began to fill with water and sink. “When that first wave went over us, it was cold,” the man said later. “But under that wave, Jesus was there with me.” He cried out to God, and the Lord gave him a promise from Isaiah 43:2, “When thou passest through the waters . . . they shall not overflow thee.” Miraculously, God spared his life. After six hours in the water, he finally struggled to shore on Whidbey Island, worn and exhausted, but alive! Again God had answered prayer.

A high school girl who hadn’t felt any need of the Lord in her life was facing death. Her throat was so badly swollen it seemed there was only one breath between her and eternity, and it was an effort for her to get that breath. Her mother stood in a church service and told the assembled congregation, “Pray for Edna, she is dying, and she is not ready to meet the Lord.” God intervened, healed the young girl, and about a month later saved her soul.

One night the Lord showed a young man on his way to a dance that he should go to church instead. Looking up into the sky, he prayed, “If You want me to go to church tonight, let that star fall.” He raised his hand and pointed out a bright star, and as he brought his hand down, that star fell! “I knew at that moment,” he said, “that God was real and He had heard my prayer.” Just a short time later he turned his heart over to God.

A young man in jail for drunkenness heard a minister tell him something which he couldn’t get away from. “You don’t have to be in church to pray. If you get honest with the Lord, He will hear you.” One night, in a cheap hotel on Market Street in San Francisco, he remembered those words. He got out of bed and prayed. “I felt I was going to die,” he recalls. “I wanted to know if there was a God and if He would hear me.” In the twinkling of an eye, the power of God came down into that hotel room. “I didn’t know what it meant to be born again, but the Spirit of the Lord spoke to my heart, ‘Your disease-wracked body is clean; your sins are forgiven. Go forth and do right.’” What a miracle in answer to prayer!

These wonderful miracles are true stories, and the results of prayer. God has reunited homes torn apart by divorce, provided work in times when jobs were hard to find, put food on the table when a family didn’t know where their next meal would come from, led families to a church where the whole Word of God was taught, and worked in mighty ways for those who looked to Him. But the most miraculous result of prayer is when a person is saved from sin—changed by divine power into a completely new creature.

Do you want to see results like this in your life? Do you want to be saved? God will listen to your prayer. And He will answer when you come to Him with your whole heart!

Adriana gained a new perspective on the Lord’s Prayer.

Adriana scraped the last crumbs of strawberry shortcake off her plate and glanced reflectively at her father. Would this be the right time to ask him for those new shoes she wanted? After that super dinner, now was probably as good a time as any.

Her words tumbled out. “Dad, may I have some new Converse sneakers? They’re the best shoes made. My old ones really look crummy, and Converse shoes last forever. I really need them. Please, Dad?”

Her dad looked up from his dessert, but before he could answer, Adriana’s mom spoke from the kitchen, “Adriana, would you please come here for a minute?”

Adriana picked up her plate and joined her mother. “Did you want some help with the dishes, Mom?”

“No, I just wanted to talk to you. Let’s sit down here at the table.

“When I heard you ask your dad for new shoes just now, it reminded me of the Lord’s Prayer.” Noticing Adriana’s puzzled frown, she continued, “That may seem strange, but bear with me and I think you’ll understand.

“When I was young I learned the Lord’s Prayer by heart. That is, I learned the words. It took me a bit longer to learn just what Jesus really was trying to teach us.”

“I learned it too, when I first started going to Sunday school,” Adriana said. “It means we can ask God for anything we need.”

“You’re right about that, Adriana. The Lord does want us to go to Him when we have needs. He said He would provide them. He will answer all our prayers, though sometimes His answer might be no. But how many words in the Lord’s Prayer ask for material needs?” Adriana’s mother inquired.

“Let’s see . . .” Adriana thought for a few minutes then said, “‘Give us this day our daily bread.’ There are seven.”

“That’s right. Seven out of how many?”

“Just a minute, Mom. I’ll have to get my Bible and count.” She dashed from the kitchen and returned a minute later. There was silence as she turned to Matthew 6 and counted the words. Then she said, “Seven out of sixty-five, Mom.”

“Now let’s look at what the other words say, Adriana. The first word, ‘Our,’ is very important. That means He has to be yours by personal experience. Second, it shows unity with others who can also call Him Father. What do you think ‘Hallowed be thy name’ means?”

Adriana thought for a moment. “Well, I guess that we should honor Him and keep His name holy.”

“That’s it exactly! Now, ‘Thy kingdom come.’ What kind of heart must we have to really mean that?”

“One that’s right with God. Otherwise we wouldn’t want Him to come, would we? That goes for the next part too, ‘Thy will be done,’” Adriana replied. “We already did ‘Give us this day.’ Next comes, ‘Forgive us our debts.’ That means we should confess when we’ve done wrong.”

“I’ll take the next one,” her mom said. “‘Lead us not into temptation.’ That means we can look to our heavenly Father to be our Guide.”

“‘For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen,’” they said in unison.

“You see, Adriana,” her mother said, closing the Bible, “only a small part of the Lord’s Prayer was asking for material needs. The other words show worship, thankfulness, and praise.

“Now let’s get back to your question for your dad. After all, that’s what got us started on this conversation. In fact, let’s look back over the past few months. How often do you sit down and talk to your dad? What do you talk about?”

“Oh, lots of things, Mom! Yesterday I told him about the neat new swimming suit I saw on sale. The night before, I was telling Dad about how much I wanted to go to the beach for our vacation this year. And we talked about my getting a longboard for my birthday, and . . .” Adriana’s voice trailed off into silence and a thoughtful look crossed her face. “Mom, it sounds like whenever I talk to Dad, I’m asking for something. Was that what you were trying to say?”

“That’s it, Adriana.”

Adriana was silent for a moment. Then she gave her mother a slow grin. “Well, I still want my Converse shoes. But I see why you made me count how many words in the Lord’s Prayer were asking for something. I know my conversation with my heavenly Father should be a lot more than just asking. I guess my talks with Dad should be too!”

Her mom smiled as she stood up from the table. “Yes, Adriana, the Lord gave us an important lesson in how to pray when He gave us the Lord’s Prayer as an example. But if we study it carefully, we can learn many things about our daily life too!”

Just imagine how famous you would be if you could explain to the world how to cure the common cold. You’d probably be a millionaire in no time.

This past quarter we’ve been studying God’s explanation of His simple cure for sin—His plan of salvation, as written in the Bible. This cure is worth much more than millions of dollars. It will bring eternal life to those who accept it!

How well do you remember what you’ve studied the past twelve Sundays? Check yourself by doing the quarter review activities.

Oscar waited nervously during the awards assembly.

Oscar shifted in his seat, and then turned to peer at the clock in the back of the auditorium. It was 9:27 a.m. The assembly would be starting in three minutes. Mr. Moore was walking to the platform now.

Oscar was very excited. Awards were to be given in this assembly. For weeks he had worked hard on his science project. Only last week his teacher had said it was the best work she had seen in years, and told him he had been selected in the top ten. Oscar liked to explore new ways of doing things, and his science teacher had encouraged him to try some of his ideas.

The science projects had been on exhibit in the gym all day yesterday, but today those with an entry had to give a demonstration at the assembly. Oscar was a little nervous about speaking in front of everyone, but so were all the other kids who had a project to explain.

The excitement was obvious. When Oscar demonstrated his project, everyone was amazed at his clever invention. Then it was time to receive the awards! Oscar listened impatiently as the principal repeated the rules of the contest.

First of all, in order to qualify for a prize, the project had to be complete. No trouble there, Oscar thought. Second, because the contest was intended to encourage good scholarship, all other class work had to be kept current. Oscar swallowed nervously. He’d forgotten about that rule! He had been so busy putting the finishing touches on his project, he had neglected his last science paper. It had been due yesterday. All students with an entry in the competition had been excused from classes this week, and he had completely forgotten about the paper.

Perhaps they wouldn’t notice. Maybe the teacher hadn’t had time to check his book. Oscar was always on time to class, and knew the answers to all of the questions in class. Surely they wouldn’t disqualify him for one little paper.

Anxiously, Oscar listened as the principal read the names of the prize winners.

Honorable mention—Jack Thompson and Kristi Wilson

Third Prize—Henry Shaw

Second Prize—Tyler Hutchins

First Prize—Ryan Johnston

As the applause rang out, Oscar’s heart sank. He blinked hard to keep back the tears. It just wasn’t fair. Ryan’s project was good, but his was so much better.

The students were gathering around the winners, congratulating them. Oscar just stood numb, not seeing or hearing, until he realized his teacher was standing there, looking at him sadly.

“Oscar,” she said, “You don’t know how sorry I am. Yours was by far the best exhibit in this contest. You could have won the first prize and gone on to the state competition. I waited until the very last minute, hoping you would bring me your paper so I could list your name as the first-prize winner. We discussed the rules in class. Remember?”

All Oscar could do was to nod miserably. There was not a thing he could say. His name was not called because he had not followed the rules.

Not following the rules can be very dangerous. Someday, God will reward all who have obeyed His rules. What a great time of celebration that will be for those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life! But think of the disappointed ones who did not follow the rules! They will have to appear later at the Great White Throne Judgment with God as the Judge. Records are being kept. Everything people have said and done that they have not repented of is written down. The books will be opened and those people will be judged. The Book of Life will be there too, so they can see that their names are not written in it.

All kinds of wonderful things are being made ready for the people whose names are written in the Book of Life. But for those who have not chosen to follow Him, there will be no reward. They will be separated from God!

The way to have our names written in the Book of Life is to follow God’s rules. Jesus said we need to be “born again” in order to get into God’s Kingdom. We must believe on Jesus Christ, repent of all our sins and ask Him to forgive us, and put our trust in Him. That is how we are saved from our sins, and from the punishment that sin brings.

No one’s name gets into the Book of Life by accident. No one’s name is removed by mistake. It is our choice. If we will choose eternal life, God has promised that He will teach us how to live so that our names will stay in His book. Then we will be able to enjoy the blessings He is preparing for us right now. Is your name in the Book of Life?

Mason’s choice might lead to excitement, fun, and fame, but it would not last.

“Hey, congratulations, Mason! Looks like you’ve got it made; city team coming up, then state. Before you know it, you’ll be a pro, a national celebrity!” Robbie laughed and gave his friend a good-natured shove.

“Wait a minute, I’m not even on the city team yet!” Mason protested laughingly.

“Oh, you’re as good as on,” Robbie responded. “You’re a sure thing for the power forward spot—you could paper your room with your award certificates!

“You’ll be on the list when the announcements are made for the city team Saturday night, we all know it. See ya then,” Robbie called over his shoulder as he left his friend.

Grabbing his basketball, Mason left the gym. As he headed home a little later, his mind went to the upcoming event Robbie had mentioned. Once again, as he had done so many times in the past weeks, he considered the direction his life was taking. For a number of years he had been sure of where he was headed: high school sports, college sports, and then, hopefully, the pros. Now he wasn’t so sure, but by Saturday night he had to be prepared to accept or reject the possible offer that would establish his future direction.

He couldn’t deny the excitement he felt as he thought of what an acceptance would mean. More competitions and playoffs, travel, new friends, but also many hours away from home. That meant away from church and church-related activities too.

Mason thought back to a year ago when he had first become a Christian. What changes God had made in his life and how happy he had been! His parents weren’t Christians, but they had been relieved he was no longer into drugs. Even before he was saved he had kept drinking, smoking, and drug use to a minimum because of sports, but they had been getting more of a hold on him than he liked to admit. Then all that was gone in a moment of time. What surprised him was that he really loved going to church. He looked forward to the young people’s fellowship times and started to practice with the youth choir.

That first church camp meeting had been great. In fact, he couldn’t remember ever having as good a summer as that first one as a Christian. When he had gone back to school for his senior year he faced a lot of decisions. He wanted to take a definite stand as a Christian and keep God first in his life. One Scripture used as a text in a youth meeting was, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”

The young minister had said, “This means that if we are true Christians, the things we do, the company we keep, our conversation, and even our dress will honor God. There will be choices to make; the lines will have to be drawn. God delivers us from sin, but the devil is always there to lure us back, usually by something that he convinces us is not really sin. He will say, ‘You don’t need to be that strict . . . it’s really okay . . . everybody’s doing it . . .’ But if it won’t lead you into a closer walk with God, if it won’t strengthen you spiritually, it may lead you away from God. Beware!”

The first part of his senior year, Mason’s friends were amazed at the changes in him, especially that he hadn’t turned out for basketball. But they learned to accept the new Mason. Now and then he would watch the team practice and sometimes the coach would even invite Mason to join in some of the drills. Looking back now, he could see that had been the beginning. Before he knew it, he had become more and more involved.

Midseason, one of the best players on the team sprained his foot, and Mason was urged to fill in for him. He remembered how he felt the first time he had to miss choir practice because of the game. Eventually, he was missing church more and more. In fact, sometimes two and three weeks would go by, and he wouldn’t make church or Sunday school at all. Even his parents wondered about it.

As Mason walked on, his thoughts became more of a silent prayer. “God, I don’t want to let go of what You’ve given me. I’m already afraid sports have taken too much of my time, and have crowded out more important things. I don’t want anything in this world to come ahead of my love for You. Help me, Lord, to make the decision now that will be the right one . . .”

Mason’s pace quickened as he neared home. It seemed like a load had lifted from his shoulders. The unrest and indecision were gone. He’d have some explanations to make to the coach, but there would be others to receive the sought-for positions and the acclaim. Down in his heart, Mason was convinced he had chosen something better—the approval of God.

Grandma always had good advice.

Genevieve pressed her nose against the car window. Her thoughts were not on the trees and houses she saw while traveling, but on Grandma’s house where she was going to spend this Saturday afternoon.

Before long, Genevieve was sitting by her grandmother, watching her crochet. “Grandma,” Genevieve began, “there’s something that’s been bothering me.”

“Yes?” asked her grandmother quietly.

“Well, this new girl at school, Bella, will not speak to me. I say ‘Hi’ to her, but she just looks away. At lunch yesterday, she wanted to sit at my table, and I thought about not making room for her, but I knew that would not be nice.”

“That’s for sure,” said Grandma. “Being a Christian, you don’t want to miss a chance like this for something good to happen.”

“What good can come from someone’s acting mean to me?” said Genevieve with a frown.

“I’m sure if you just keep on being nice to Bella, one of these days you two will be the best of friends. Every morning before you go to school, just say a prayer that you will be able to do the right thing to win Bella.” Genevieve nodded her head. “I guess I just have to be patient.”

Grandma got out her Bible. “You know, Genevieve,” she said, “God probably brought this little incident into your life to help you to grow spiritually.

“I have an idea,” Grandma said, looking up. “Every time you think about Bella, pretend that the two of you are already good friends. It might sound like a game, but God calls that faith. We are showing God that we believe something even though we haven’t seen it happen yet. All of this reminds me of some verses in the Bible.

“Why don’t you look up Galatians 5:22 and 23 while I go into the kitchen,” Grandma went on. “I smell something good in there. I’ll be right back with some warm cookies and milk.”

Genevieve found the verses in the Bible and began reading to herself, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.”

“Grandma, what does this mean?” Genevieve pointed to the words, “there is no law,” when her grandma came back into the room.

“That means there are laws against bad things such as lying, stealing, and being hateful or selfish, but God has no laws forbidding us from any of these good things. He wants us to be loving, joyful, gentle, and all of these things. You already mentioned that you will be patient and wait for Bella to become your friend. And we talked about what faith means.”

“This is exciting, Grandma!” Genevieve exclaimed. “I never understood this till now.”

“This verse also says, the fruit of the Spirit, not fruits,” Grandmother pointed out as she offered Genevieve the warm cookies. “It’s like all of these good qualities are parts of one thing, just like your body is one but has many parts. We must let God’s Spirit control our lives. When we please Him, He makes this good fruit to grow in our lives.”

Genevieve smiled. “I’m really glad I’m a Christian! Right now I feel that if I just talk to God about this problem, and any others that come, I know I’ll be happy and make others happy too.”

“With that attitude, Genevieve, you will make God happy also,” Grandma told her.

As the day passed, Genevieve did lots of thinking about Bella. In her mind, Bella was already her friend.

Monday morning found Genevieve walking through the school door. As she hurried down the hall, she started thinking about the good things her grandmother had told her. She also remembered the prayer she had prayed that morning, “God, somehow help me to treat Bella like she is special. You gave me something special to share with others.”

During some spare time that morning, Genevieve quickly penciled a note that said, “Have a nice day! Your friend, Genevieve.” She folded it and held it in her hand. Something inside her said, You can do it!

As the students left for lunch, Genevieve waited until Bella left the room, and then she put the note inside Bella’s desk.

After lunch, Genevieve was back in the classroom waiting to see what would happen. She nervously watched for Bella to find her note. Bella finally reached down and began to open it slowly. The smiley face Genevieve had drawn caught her eye, and she read the note. She looked across the room to Genevieve, and they shyly exchanged smiles.

When class was over, Bella and Genevieve met in the hall. They both said, “Hi.” Bella looked down at her books and said, “You’re about the only friendly person I’ve met here.” Inside, Bella was wondering what made Genevieve different.

“I know it must be hard coming to a new school,” Genevieve said as they began walking down the hall. “Let’s eat lunch together tomorrow, okay?”

“Sure!” answered Bella. She had the feeling that Genevieve was a person worth knowing.

As the girls became better acquainted, the good things in Genevieve’s life began to shine through to Bella. Finally, one day, she asked Genevieve what made her different from the other kids at school.

“I’m a Christian!” smiled Genevieve.

“You’re sure a happy one!” Bella commented.

“Is there any other kind?” Genevieve asked.

They both laughed.

Genevieve knew that God had led her to someone who was searching for the same happiness. She felt that something exciting was going to happen, just as Grandma had said.

Achim was bursting with excitement as he sent his letter.

Greetings, Friend Eleazar:

My wife Rhoda and I extend salutations to you and your household. Since you were last here in Jericho, much has taken place which I feel will be of interest to you.

I am sending, by the hand of my messenger who brings you this letter, the 180 shekels which you so generously lent me last year at tax time. As you know, I had no hope of being able to repay you at so early a date, but remarkable circumstances have taken place which make it possible for me to fulfill my obligation to you now.

Surely you remember the chief tax collector here in Jericho, Zacchaeus. Of course you would! He was the cause of my having to borrow these 180 shekels. He plays an important part in the story I am about to tell you.

In the ninth hour of the second day of this past week, as I was preparing to close up my shop, I noticed a great throng of people moving along the main street about five hundred paces from my doorway. I was curious to see what was attracting so much attention, so I hastily secured the door and moved to join the crowd.

The first thing I heard, as I neared the throng, was excited talk about a miracle that had just taken place. They were saying that Jesus, the Man we have heard so much about in past weeks, had just healed a blind beggar who had been sitting outside the gates to the city. Even as I listened, trying to hear more of the story, I realized that Jesus himself was in the middle of the crowd. I followed along for a way, trying to get in closer to Him, but the press was great.

All of a sudden, Jesus stopped and looked up into a nearby sycamore tree. For a moment a kind of hush fell over the multitude, and I clearly heard His words, “Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at thy house.”

Imagine my amazement when the tax collector himself came down from that sycamore tree, and rushed to Jesus’ side. What could he have been doing up there? And how had Jesus known he was there, or even known his name?

Then I heard Zacchaeus say, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.” I thought my ears were deceiving me. Of all the tax gatherers in the area of Jericho, Zacchaeus had to be the most underhanded, greedy one among them. But Jesus responded in a gentle tone, “This day is salvation come to this house.”

As they moved off together, I caught a glimpse of Zacchaeus’ face. He looked like a different person! There was a kind of glow about him, a peace that had never been there before.

I went home and told Rhoda all about what I had seen. We talked about it several times in the days that followed. What could have caused Zacchaeus to make a statement like that? Did he really intend to pay back all that he had wrongfully gained over the years? I could scarcely believe that.

Then, three days ago, Zacchaeus appeared in the doorway of my shop. Though the thought of what I had witnessed a few days earlier was still in my mind, I couldn’t control the feeling of distrust that came over me. Back came the memory of that day last year when he had appeared and handed me that outrageous tax bill. What did he want now?

I greeted him civilly, though I’m sure my apprehension was obvious. But from his first words, it was apparent that this man was changed. “Friend Achim, I have come to pay back the money which I wrongfully took from you. My tax assessment last year was much too large, as, of course, you realized. But I have received salvation from the Lord. I ask your forgiveness, and I wish to restore that wrongful amount to you fourfold.” He placed a pouch in my hand and walked out. To my amazement, when I opened it I found it did contain exactly four times the amount he had overtaxed me!

In the last three days I’ve heard report after report of others who have had the same experience with Zacchaeus. I can tell you, the whole town is talking about it. What miraculous power this Man, Jesus, must have to make such a change in a person’s life! Of all people, Zacchaeus! For my own self, it is sure I will never be able to doubt that Jesus really is who He says. Only God’s Son could have done this! Well, that is the explanation of how it is I am able to return your loan so quickly. I hope this letter finds you and your household well. On your next trip to Jericho, we must talk further of this Man, Jesus.

Your friend,

Achim


CONSIDER THIS: If Zacchaeus had not paid back the money he had wrongfully taken, would the people in Jericho ever have believed his claim to salvation? Making right the things a person has done wrong is called restitution. It is one of the first outward evidences of a heart that has been reconciled to God. When a person seeks forgiveness for his sins, God often brings before him the lies he has told, the things he has stolen, and the times he has cheated. God will forgive the person who promises to straighten out all these things, and will help him make them right.

Just like the caterpillar, we can be transformed.

Picture in your mind a field on a warm, sunny spring day. Notice the green grass waving in the breeze. Everything seems so fresh and new. The birds are singing as they feed their newly hatched young. And there, flitting among the flowers, is one of God’s most beautiful and delicate creatures, the Monarch butterfly. With perfectly formed orange and black wings, it effortlessly glides to each waiting flower. Surely this delicate creature deserves its title of Monarch.

But where did such unique beauty begin? Each butterfly started its life as a satiny, insignificant caterpillar. Through one of God’s many miracles in nature, that caterpillar formed a chrysalis, or cocoon, about itself and went through a major transformation. One day it emerged from the cocoon as a totally new creature—the Monarch butterfly. No longer bound to earth, it was free to soar through the air.

Man, too, can become a totally new creature. We can’t grow beautiful wings like the caterpillar, but we can be set free through Jesus Christ.

In the Bible, we read of a Pharisee by the name of Nicodemus. One night he came to talk with Jesus in secret. At that time, he thought that Jesus was only a teacher of God’s Word. But he acknowledged Jesus’ power by saying that no man could do the miracles Jesus did, unless God was with him. Jesus told him that no man could see the Kingdom of God unless he was born again. That confused Nicodemus, and he asked Jesus how a person could be born twice. Could he become a baby again? Jesus explained that a man could be born again in his heart, not in body. He said, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”

Those words are still true today. In order for us to make Heaven our home we must be born again; we must have our heart cleansed and changed by Jesus.

God, through the chrysalis, made a way for the caterpillar to become a butterfly. He has also made a way for us to be changed through Jesus Christ and His Blood. In Romans 10:9 it says, “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” When we are saved, our hearts become brand-new. Instead of wanting to do bad things and disobeying God, we will want to please Him. We become “a new creature.” Romans 8:1 says: “There is therefore now no condemnation [guilt] to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.”

When we become new creatures in Christ, we are freed from the heavy load of guilt that we carried as sinners. In fact, with that load gone, some have said they felt as though they could fly. Like the caterpillar when it becomes a butterfly and is set free, so we are set free from the bonds of sin and become new creatures in Christ Jesus.

There was only one way for Aiden to be rid of his guilt.

Madison sat on the floor. Her collection of dolls with their dishes and furniture were close by, all set up for a party.

Suddenly, the door flew open. “Go get ‘em, Rags!” said her brother as he charged into the room with his dog. The dolls fell from their chairs as Aiden gleefully swept through the room with a stick. Rags added to the chaos when he took the largest baby doll in his mouth and shook it furiously.

By the time Mother came in answer to Madison’s screams, the party was a complete disaster. The dolls were scattered everywhere among broken dishes and furniture. Rags’ victim was missing an arm, and one leg was hanging limp.

“The worst part,” said Mom when telling Madison’s father about it that night, “was that Aiden wasn’t even sorry. He laughed when he saw how badly Madison felt . . . he said dolls were dumb, and that Madison didn’t need all those silly dishes anyway.”

When Aiden arrived at school the next day, he started bragging to a couple of his friends about the tricks he had taught Rags. They laughed with him, but when Aiden opened his locker, the laughter stopped. Someone had trashed everything in the locker. Books were torn, pictures were crushed, his mirror was shattered, and written on the locker door in red spray paint was the message, “Guess who?”

“Uh oh,” whispered Tyson, “I’m out of here.”

“Me too,” said Max.

As the boys hurried to their classrooms, Aiden yelled after them, “Hey, where are you going? Help me figure out who did this!” He was so angry that he slammed the locker door and headed straight for the office. “They’ll never get away with this,” he muttered to himself. “When I find out who did this . . .”

Aiden was still angry when he arrived home that afternoon. But as he stomped up the stairs to his room, he noticed something lying on one of the steps. It was a small arm from one of Madison’s dolls! He stopped to pick it up, and his thoughts went back to the day before. He could still see Madison’s frightened face, and hear her pleas, “Make him stop, Aiden. Make Rags stop!” Suddenly he felt very sorry for what he had done. Madison had been in her own room, not bothering anyone. She didn’t deserve to be treated like that.

Aiden walked to his room feeling sad. What’s the matter with me? he thought. He slumped to the floor beside his bed, disgusted with himself. As he did so, he found he was looking directly at the Bible he had carelessly thrown on his chair the Sunday before. He hesitantly reached for it. He hadn’t read his Bible in a long time. Dad and Mom were always saying it had the answers to important questions. Not knowing where to look, Aiden turned to a verse his dad had shown him recently, Isaiah 55:7, “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts . . .”

He remembered how mad he had been when his dad showed him this verse. He had thought, I am not that bad. Now he sat looking at the Bible, not even seeing the words. Instead, his mind went back to the trouble he had gotten into during the past few months: throwing an egg at Mrs. Casper’s window; taking Mr. Hutchins’ wrench without asking, and blaming it on his friend; teaching Rags to knock down little kids, and then laughing when they cried.

That is what he had done yesterday to Madison: laughed when she had cried. Aiden felt awful. I wish I had never done those things, he thought. What could he do to make up for his wrongdoing? He could get a paper route and pay for the ruined toys; he could mow the lawn and empty the trash to help Mom; he could even be nice to Madison so that she would trust him again. But how could he get rid of the guilt for having been so mean? How could he get rid of this awful feeling inside?

He looked back down at the Bible and finished reading, “and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God for he will abundantly pardon.” He remembered now that his dad had said God would forgive those who were genuinely sorry for the wrong things they had done.

As he thought about how rotten he had been toward others, tears came to Aiden’s eyes. Then he prayed, “God, I’m so sorry for the way I’ve been acting. I don’t want to be like that anymore. Please come into my heart and make a change, so I can live for You from now on.”

As he finished praying, he felt as if his whole inside was being washed clean. He felt like a brand new person! Instead of being mad at everyone, he felt as though he could love everyone. He said, “Oh, thank You, God, for loving me and forgiving me.”

God loves you too.

Jesus rose victorious after three days.

There was still a sleepy hush in the early morning as Mary Magdalene walked to the garden where Jesus’ body had been placed in a tomb. Her heart was so heavy that it ached. It seemed to push a huge lump into her throat, and it brought tears to her eyes. Mary was troubled by all that had happened the past few days. She just couldn’t make any sense out of it.

Mary remembered that Jesus had always been so loving, gentle, and kind. She had been surprised that a man could live only for others as Jesus had done. He did not spend any time working to make a name for Himself or to make Himself comfortable on this earth. He had a special place in His h