Sunday, October 28, 2018

Reconciling with Myself and Embracing a New Life

2 Corinthians 5:17-19

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.

Anyone who has read one of my Cornerstone blog posts knows that I am highly efficient at beating myself up. It’s so easy to dwell on and be consumed by a sinful past. But that’s not how God views us. When we seek His forgiveness, accept the sacrifice that Jesus Christ made for us, and embrace the new life that we have in Him, we are a new creation. He tells us that “the old has gone, the new has come!” 

When I read 2 Corinthians 5: 17-19, I am reminded that I am a completely new woman, not just a reformed or rehabilitated one. I am re-created as a child of God. These verses tell us that, in accepting His sacrifice and in believing in Him, we have not merely turned over a new leaf. We have begun a new life under the dominion of our Heavenly Father and with the support of His enduring and transformative love. 

Unfortunately, this newness is something I often forget. As I read these verses, I am reminded that God has given us the ministry of reconciliation, and He has committed to us the “message of reconciliation.” For some of us, that message of reconciliation not only involves our relationships with Him and others, but it also applies to our relationship with ourselves. After all, if God is not counting our sin against us, why should we?

The tendency to beat ourselves up is one that will wear us down and become a barrier to our peace and our service to Him, as we think that no one like us is worthy to be His servant. But in 2 Corinthians 5:20, we find that, when He changes us, He also uses us. As we reconcile with Him and with ourselves, we gain the new privilege of encouraging others to do the same. This new reconciled me is now God’s ambassador, an authorized representative, and a messenger from Him to others. With love and compassion, I can encourage others to join me in being blessed by a relationship with Him. My reconciled me becomes a catalyst for others to commit to walking in faith. As God’s ambassador, I also have the responsibility to continue to strengthen my walk with Him by growing in my knowledge of His Word and in my faith in Him and His promises. 

What a privilege you have been given, Lori! Stop beating yourself up! Let your past go and move forward in your new life, in which you are committed to growing in your knowledge and faith, and to being an ambassador for your Heavenly Father!  

Dear Heavenly Father, I praise You and worship You and am so grateful that You have re-created me as Your child. I am new in You, and just as You love and have forgiven me, I need to do the same for myself. Dwelling in the past and focusing on a woman who doesn’t exist anymore just disheartens me, turns my focus away from where it should be … on You, and prevents me from making a difference for others. I am grateful, dear Lord, for Your grace and mercy, and I will embrace the new life You have given me through the sacrifice of Your son, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

God Is Not Finished With You!

Sometimes I forget that God isn’t finished with me. I forget He will not be finished with me until He calls me home. I get stuck in today and forget there is still tomorrow’s journey that has yet to be walked. It is not that I think there is no more work to be done, in fact, it is quite the opposite. Too often I feel stuck in the failures of today, as if, God is done and there is no more work He will do. He will just leave me in this present state that I am in.

I forget that no matter my current season of life, no matter how difficult or impossible it may seem, He just isn’t finished with me. He still has much work to do in my heart and life. He still has many ways in which He can and will use me. My reminder of this today comes from Psalms 57.

Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by. I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me. He will send from heaven and save me; he will put to shame him who tramples on me. Selah God will send out his steadfast love and his faithfulness! My soul is in the midst of lions I lie down amid fiery beasts—the children of man, whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth! They set a net for my steps; my soul was bowed down. They dug a pit in my way, but they have fallen into it themselves. Selah My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast! I will sing and make melody! Awake, my glory!  Awake, O harp and lyre! I will awake the dawn! I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to you among the nations. For your steadfast love is great to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth!

This was written by David while he was fleeing from Saul. It was a difficult time for David, he felt that his soul was in the midst of lions. His enemy was all around him, ready to trample him. Can you imagine? I am sure we have all been in similar places both physically and spiritually. But David doesn’t get stuck in that particular day. He doesn’t say, “well, this must be my end!” No, He remains steadfast. He sings praises to the Lord! He remembers that God is still on the throne working out His purposes in David’s life. He exalts His God for what He will do. David doesn’t focus on today, He focuses on God.

My encouragement for us today is to take refuge in the One who knows His purposes for us. Rest in the knowledge that He loves us and will be faithful to fulfill His purposes in us. My dear friends, we can be “confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Phil 1:6) So lean into Him, and even if you do not understand today trust the heart of the One who saved you and continues to perfect you until the day He calls you home.

Prayer: Oh Father, help us to take refuge in the shadow of your wings until our trouble passes. May we cry out to you trusting in your purposes for our lives. Help us to remember that, regardless of age or stage of life,  You are not finished with us. You still have work for us to do for Your kingdom. Give us a steadfast heart, a heart that sings because we are resting in You and whatever You might have for us.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Where’s Your Smile? Removing the Anxiety from Our Work Day

Philippians 4:4-7
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all.
The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

 Looking back on my career, which has now lasted almost 35 years, I see so many different roles and so many accomplishments, all of which have one thing in common: anxiety. Why is it that work demands so much of us? As Director of Communications/College Relations at Elizabethtown College, I often got just one hour of sleep a night and sometimes worked weeks of 120 hours in order to meet all of the goals which I was assigned. As a single mother doing my best to partner with my ex-husband to raise our child, as my son’s primary financial provider, and as a mom who didn’t want to miss a moment of loving on her precious child, I often felt consumed by anxiety and stress.

With my son now grown and on his own, and with my new role at a new college, my life has a much different feel. But my work day still felt filled with anxiety. I was torn between my desire to serve our Lord with the talents that he had given me and my desire to please my employer by being perfect in my service. Every day, I felt increasingly controlled by my To Do list and frequently chose to give up sleep to do what I thought would please those whom I served. Gradually the anxiety mushroomed in my heart until I was crying myself to sleep at night and feeling like I had once again found myself trapped in a position that would consume me.

Then, as he so often does, Pastor Tim Ackley offered a perspective during a sermon that caused me to explore my heart. During the insights which he offered to our Cornerstone family, Pastor Tim suggested that, as a counselor, he would often encourage those whom he was advising to consider what in their hearts was really driving their fear or anxiety. As I pondered what was really driving my anxiety, the simple answer that I arrived at was “work!” But when I prayed about it and spent time in God’s Word considering the question, the real answer was not so simple. The fact is that my anxiety was precipitated by the fact that my heart has sinfully defined myself by what I do and not by what God has done for me. In my mind, I was good only if I could successfully accomplish everything on my To Do list and hear the accolades of the people whom I serve. OOPS! In His Word, our Heavenly Father emphasizes that is not the case. 

While this realization has not diminished my workload, it has altered the way I view it. I still strive hard to do my very best with every assignment and try to squeeze in as much as I can. I still work many weekends and some evenings, but I work with my wonderful supervisor to prioritize what needs to be done. I do request a comp day now and then to compensate me for a portion of the personal time which I have given up.

Every morning, I set the tone for my day by spending time in His Word and Praising and Praying to Him. This time with the Lord has been an important tool in the transformation of my heart and is changing my thoughts to be more like His. During my worship walk, I always listen to one of my favorite tunes, See the Glory by Steven Curtis Chapman, which reminds me that I am not defined by my work and that I should “wake up and see the glory!” While that is no longer a driver in my hard work, I do know that God calls me to do my best as I read his guidance in Colossians.

Colossians 3:22-25
Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong, and there is not favoritism.

Then at the conclusion of my worship walk, when I am down on my knees, I always ask for
God’s discernment and His peace as I enter my day. I also ask for Him to help me follow His commands and approach my day not with an attitude, but with gratitude. I even put a sign on my office door that asks “Where’s your smile?” which reminds me to approach my colleagues and my work with joy and not with anxiety.

Actually, during my workday, there is much to rejoice in. He has given me a job working for a wonderful College and with wonderful colleagues. As I choose my focus, to remember the blessings that I have been given and not to focus on the length of my To Do list, I approach my day with a much different perspective. I am no longer defined by my work, and I continue to serve my employer and my church with dedication and the very best of my abilities. And, on this day on which I got up at 3 a.m. so that I could finish the church newsletter, do the first draft of this blog post, and not give up my time in His Word, my worship walk, or my morning prayer time before I had to head off to work, I do it with a smile on my face because I remember that I am defined by an awesome God who loves me and who sacrificed His Son, Jesus Christ, so that a sinner like me could forever worship Him in Heaven.

Thank you, Heavenly Father, for reminding me that who I am is not defined by what I do,
but instead is defined by what you did. I am grateful for your love and the joy you bring to my heart. And, I know when the anxiety begins to build that I need to turn to you for guidance and hope, and to partner graciously with those whom you have designated as my earthly employers to make appropriate judgments about how most effectively to dedicate my time. Amen.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

So That What Cannot Be Shaken May Remain

We ignore even pleasure, but pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.
C.S. Lewis, “The Problem of Pain”

I am a terrible gardener. If one should walk upon my property, they might find the remnants of intentional landscaping, carefully maintained and designed by a loving homeowner prior. Her name was Mildred, and while the interior of her home left much to be desired as far as updates and renovations are concerned, she carefully curated sweet, simple landscaping. Easy to maintain for her, I imagine but fulfilling in bursts of color and sweetness. A rose bush, tulips, a few daffodils, hydrangeas, primrose, many others which unfortunately my untrained eye is incapable of recognizing beyond, “green” and “pretty”. I imagine her, wide-brimmed hat to head, probably tiny in stature, but posture slightly curved, gloves to hands, clad with a spade, knees to the ground, with slow and deliberate movements, lovingly treating her weed-free, and life-giving garden.

Three years into receiving Mildred’s lovingly kept garden, the flowers remain for the most part. Perhaps not quite as lush and vibrant. The rose bush, one hydrangea, azaleas, (albeit overgrown
and in dire need of a good trim) and the tulips have come and gone for this year. More than that, unfortunately blindingly so, weeds. Weeds everywhere. Particularly the prickly ones. I’ve procrastinated pulling them for the entire Spring season because they hurt, and they are in abundance. Overwhelming. Heavy in that some of the stalks are, embarrassingly so, nearly the circumference of my wrist. My garden is overrun by abundant, painful, prickly weeds which, quite frankly, I cannot stand to allow in existence another moment. Which is precisely why, after I do everything else that I need to/want to/can come up with to do today, I will start to conquer them all.

This morning as I pulled up into my driveway; silent car ride, rather the change from the bantered, cheerful resonance of children’s voices just moments before, I placed the car in park in deep thought. Death, dementia, enemy lies, heavy words and emotions looming and spindling dangerous little webs around the fibers of my mind, my attention was immediately called upon by the ankle, waist, and shoulder-high weeds, prickly and overwhelming; domineering, even that is my new garden. “Another day another failure, and honestly, I’m just too tired to deal with one more thing, I think.” (It’s only going to get worse, and more burdensome as time goes on.)

I step out of the truck, toes of my sneakers hanging a second from floor to macadam, when among the cancer that is those thistles, I see a flash of red, then purple, then pink and still yet white buds on the hydrangea.

“Faith makes a fool of what makes sense
But grace found my heart where logic ends
When justice called for all my debts
The Friend of sinners came instead
Your ways are higher
Your thoughts are wilder
Love came like madness
Poured out in blood-washed romance
It makes no sense but this is grace
And I know You're with me in this place”

- Hillsong UNITED, “Here Now”

Droplets of dew and rain glistening in the morning light, still obscured so slightly by rainclouds of the night before, a rose. A velvety red rose, bright and proud among the overwhelming invasion of weeds. I look down to find tiny purple flowers, then budding primrose, bright as the sun, once bloomed. I couldn’t believe that any of it could still manage to survive my neglect. Immediately I reach out to remove the weeds surrounding that rose, but those slivers of pain reminded me- Overrun.

What is it about the threat of pain, that ceases our growth? Its mere existence is an alarm, a warning, “something is up here. Watch that.” Even once we are willing to reach into it- the persistence of the pain, the threat of more still, it’s all consuming and overwhelming until the existence of the prickly weed overwhelms all that is good, and true, and beautiful. (Not all that we feel or fear or see is actually true.)

God created pain, knowing both that it WOULD happen, and that it would happen with regularity. After the fall, the protection never ceased but it was also conditionally removed. Women will have painful childbirth, you will make choices and the consequences will have painful results, “I have overcome it all, child, but you’re still going to have to walk.” The results on the other side are always far greater than any pain I might endure over the process of growth, but why then does it still hurt?

So we can acknowledge that it has a purpose. We can acknowledge that the pursuit of the other side, is worth the perseverance necessary to endure it. But still. But STILL. Why? And if we can acknowledge it, why can’t we be FREE of the effects of it?

Defiantly, I reach into the green, pulling at the root, birthing fresh, damp soil as I remove each stalk and cast it behind me.

“So that what cannot be shaken may remain.” Hebrews 12:27
God allows us pain to alert us to a wrong, perhaps not what is wrong, but to let us know that there is something there which must be shaken, which must be plucked at the root, and away, out of us, BEHIND us.

Pain, in essence, is the courtesy of a loving God, removing the weeds of our life, prickly, soft and supple, but a hindrance and nuisance regardless, to come what may make room for the birth and growth of that which will remain.

I’m sitting here, thinking of a way to wrap this up. I do not yet have an answer for the rest of it. I’m still wrestling. I don’t know why it still hurts. I want to say that it is part of the grand mystery that is Creation and a relationship with a loving Father, but from where I sit, to put it bluntly, that’s just an irritating thing to say to someone who is suffering. What I do know is that where there is pain there is purpose; where there is purpose there is growth; and where there is growth, there is grace sufficient for the whole lot of it. Where do acceptance and peace come in from there? We can answer the grand mystery of pain, but answers provide not emotional peace and understanding and ultimately, willingly relenting to Him.

In the end, I suppose that that is a question not to be answered this side of Heaven.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

A Place of Remembrance: Inspirations from Nehemiah

This is a blog post that I have had a great deal of difficulty approaching. A few weeks ago, I had agreed to write for the blog. I offered to write it not because I was compelled to share anything of great value or importance and not because I had a burning sense that the Spirit wanted to use me in order to relay some lofty revelation that I could no longer contain.  It was more out of a sense of obedience. You see, I’ve had this increasing sense (if not full-blown conviction) that I have become guilty of shirking my responsibility to the blog and it was time for me to step up and produce. Therefore, I have determined, to allow this act of obedience to be redeemed by turning it from an apathetic gesture of obligation into a sacrificial act of worship. One that seeks to give full glory to God even in the face of struggle, even when I don’t feel like it.
    So this morning I set myself up on my back patio that rests along my garden wall and began to pray. Those prayers began to turn and wander into a place of remembrance. One, that recalls a place and time that I would not consider to be a place that holds any particular degree of fondness for me, but of one that reminds me of the Lord’s faithfulness and his redemptive plan even when I can’t see beyond the rubble. That is where my praises begin.

    Beauty from ashes is what comes to mind as I sit here taking in the lush greenery of the garden scape; remembering a time when it was nothing more than a heap of limestone rocks piled one on top of another; an issue of real shame and contention for me. A wall that was constructed under our limited supervision, because we were in the midst of across country move, while our soon to be neighbors stood by scoffing at our seemingly indiscriminate purchase. In reality, we had been given no other choice but to trust the builder, despite our better instincts. We were locked into the deal with no way out, and the house on the hill with all it’s evident problems made for great entertainment in an otherwise quiet neighborhood. I was ashamed and lost my self-confidence on the very day of our arrival.

     But, then I was reminded of a different Builder, one who is not subject to human weakness, one who is no respecter of persons, One who is not mocked. The very One, who commissioned Nehemiah amidst all his enemies, to rebuild the wall surrounding Jerusalem with a trowel in one hand and a sword in the other. Now my circumstances dictated that I take up a garden trowel in one hand and the sword of the Spirit of the word of God in the other, in order to detract from the enemies who engaged me, from both outside of my confines and within. I would like to say, that this was the end of the struggle for me and mine but it wasn’t. There have been many challenges posed for us, in our life on the sunny side of the street that hasn’t always been so sunny. But there is a testimony of God’s faithfulness, right there in my backyard that reminds me at the end of each winter thaw of how He strengthened my hands when I thought my hands were too weak; when I thought the task would never be completed. So, I am reminded that even if I am kept silent, these stones will cry out (Luke 19:40) - Great is thy Faithfulness- to Him be the Glory for Ever and Ever!

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Essential Elements of a Tranformative Baptism

As our Cornerstone family looks forward to the Believers’ Baptism, it brings to mind my own Baptism in 2014.

While I had been hearing the Lord calling me to be baptized for many years, I am ashamed to admit that I had prioritized so many things of this earth above the Lord’s will. When my husband chose to leave me in 2014, I no longer worried that I would make my non-Christian husband uncomfortable by being baptized, and I finally decided to be obedient to my Heavenly Father’s call. It wasn’t an easy decision, as I was working two jobs at the time to make the money I needed to pay my son’s college tuition. I chose the date that followed the magazine deadline for my freelance editing job, figuring that by then I would have the time to meaningfully participate in the experience.

After committing to the date, I learned that my divorce hearing had been scheduled for the morning following my baptism. I was heartbroken and concerned that it would be perceived by my church family and my Heavenly Father that I was just getting baptized to medicate from this painful situation. When I approached the pastors who were facilitating our baptism preparation class about my concerns, they strongly encouraged me to proceed. In his email, Pastor Tim VanSumeren wrote, “About your hesitation of doing it now versus waiting until next year, both Pastor Matthew and I feel that now is really the best time. This is life, and we all go through things. We are trying to teach our people to live ‘life on life’ and what better way to foster that than to have you share the news about what you’re facing. People will be glad to pray for you and support you during these difficult times.”

Pastor Tim’s wisdom was dead-on. So were Pastor Matthew Millen’s reflections that he offered during his April 8, 2018, sermon when he noted that after our baptism we will “walk in the newness of life in Christ” and that we would be “free and no longer defined by our old life.”

In Acts, Peter also spoke not only about the newness that a baptized individual would feel but also about the source of that transformative feeling. In addition, he pointed to the necessary step that one must take prior to one’s baptism when he used the word “repent” in the following verses.

Acts 2: 38 – 42
Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And, you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirt. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

The verses also highlight that in response to our baptism, that baptized Christians will “devote” themselves to the teaching of the Lord.

During my experience, I found three essential elements of a truly transformative baptism.

Element One: Reflection on God’s Impact on Your Life
As I participated in the educational session prior to the baptism, I learned that I would have to offer my testimony prior to being baptized. Testimony? Oh no! More work on my plate during a chaotic time of my life. Having witnessed baptisms at other churches that didn’t feature remarks from the participants, I was somewhat surprised by the requirement. But in reality, this testimony is the first essential element of a transformative baptism. As you consider your faith—how you first came to your belief in Jesus Christ and how your life has been changed since trusting in Him—you gain a true appreciation of the impact Jesus has had on your life.

Element Two: An Expectation of and Commitment to a Changed Life
If founded in God’s Word, your reflections will also cause you to deeply consider those aspects of your life that are not obedient to His commands. A commitment to repent of your sinful behavior—not only that behavior that you recognize in that moment but also the sinful behavior that God reveals to you in various ways throughout your life—is key to realizing the true blessings of baptism. With your commitment to opening your heart and your mind to God’s will for your life, you will allow God to make the special occasion of your baptism to be a moment of transformation in your life. You will hear the Holy Spirit speaking to you and be willing to follow His guidance.

I always found it quite poetic that my certificate of baptism reflected my name as “Lori Hixon” when my name had not yet been changed by the New Jersey divorce court. I credit the Lord with changing my name that day, just as He did for Abraham and Sarah when He established an everlasting covenant with them, and believe in my heart that He did the same for me that day.

Element Three: Preparation for the Attacks of the Devil
One of the aspects of that day that gave me a little pause was when Pastor Tim Ackley cautioned us to be prepared for the attacks of the devil. “Really?” I thought to myself, “How many more attacks do I really have to experience beyond what I am already going through?”

Like the wisdom from the other Cornerstone pastors, Pastor Ackley’s wisdom was also dead-on. I realized it when I walked into the New Jersey courtroom the next morning. I was prepared though as I was wearing the armor of God. I wore the belt of truth, knowing that this was God’s will for my life and that He would heal my heart and offer me a love that would never fail. I responded to His love by allowing Him to cover my heart with the breastplate of His righteousness, which resulted also in me trotting into and out of that courtroom with my feet wearing His peace, my head the helmet of salvation, and the shield of faith.

Since I knew that this pain was not caused by my husband but by the devil, I responded to my husband’s text after the hearing with kindness. And, I prayed for my heart to forgive completely and for my husband to feel the happiness that our relationship had robbed him of.

With my baptism, God changed my heart forever. No longer am I unaware of my tendency toward pride and sin. I pray always and have faith that the good work that He began in me He will carry on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus! [Note: My eyes are welling up with tears of gratitude as I type this.]

If you are considering being baptized, I pray that you will experience the same blessings that I continue to experience!

Friday, June 8, 2018

The Greatest Story Ever Told

“It’s story time!” My sing-song teacher voice called out amidst the playful atmosphere of the preschool classroom. Toys were shelved and play dough was squished back into little yellow tubs. Sitting on the carpet with book in hand, I faced quite the motley crew. Ranging from disheveled and squirmy to backs straight sitting criss-cross applesauce, this gang had officially lost their toddler pudginess and were about to spring into full-fledged childhood.

I was nervous. Capturing a preschooler’s attention is easy, sustaining that attention is difficult. The story I had in my hand was one I thought they may have heard many times before. The illustrations were simple and the size of the book itself was small. Thinking that I may have an attention deficit hyperactivity fallout on my hands, I commenced with a disclaimer: “Now, I know you may have heard this story before, but it’s really important we have our listening ears on. After story time we have a super-special egg hunt planned!”

You see, it was the week after Easter and the story was about Jesus suffering, dying, and rising again. These boys and girls were coming from Christian homes and good churches and by the time a child reaches four or five years old they’ve heard this story at bedtime and Sunday school enough to have it memorized. At least, that’s what I thought.

One little girl piped up, “I’ve never heard this story before!” Still wary, I thought she meant this particular rendition of the Bible account. I flipped to the first page. There was a cartoon drawing of a middle-aged man, bearded with long brown hair in a robe, surrounded by twelve other men like him. I began, “This is a real-life story. It actually happened a long time ago. It’s about this man right here and his friends.” At this point, the boy who always gets too close to the book so that everyone else says, “I can’t see!” He says, “Nope. I’ve definitely never heard this story before.”

There was a stirring in my soul at that moment. It was the Holy Spirit moving. Fidgeting was stilled, eyes looked expectantly at me, peace and hopefulness washed over the room. I settled into it. Lingering on page after page, I told them the simple story. “Jesus was a kid like you. He grew up and had a job. He hung out with his friends. He loved to tell stories.” And so it went with the enraptured kids on the rug.

I reached the tough part. “Even though Jesus didn’t do anything wrong, people hated him. They beat him up. They took his clothes. They pushed thorns on his head so that he was bleeding.” The distress in the room was palpable. One boy audibly sucked in his breath, then let it go with a drawn-out incredulous whisper, “Noooooo!” After gently explaining the cross, I reached the page with the empty cave and two shining angels. “Where’s Jesus?” Now the kids were on their knees straining to see what had happened in the picture. A boy shouts, “Those yellow guys took him!” Another child tries for the correct answer: “He’s behind those rocks.” At last, one quiet boy knew the truth and had the courage to speak up - “He’s not there because He rose from the dead.”

I think back on this memory with tears in my eyes. I had assumed they’d know the story. I had assumed it would be a boring rerun for them. How wrong I was and what an important reminder for me. The story of Jesus doesn’t ever need me to be apologetic for overuse. It doesn’t need me to jazz it up for the current distractible generation. For those the Spirit calls, the pure and simple truth must and will be enough. The gospel of Christ is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes. If over the years you have come to approach telling God’s story with overtones of hesitation, defensiveness, or cynicism, may the Lord take you back to a preschool classroom and a childlike faith. May your spirit be renewed to tell the story like it’s the first time someone’s hearing it.

And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them. Mark 10:13-16