Category Archives: Blog

Christmas Eve Prayers

Human behavior flows from three main sources: desire, emotion, and knowledge. ~Plato

A letter was written and posted in early December. Presents were purchased and shipped to the grandparents’ house so Santa wouldn’t be trapped in a confessional on the long drive there. Everywhere were the smells and sights of Christmas. Everything was set. Everyone was happy.

And then came Christmas Eve.

The bullet-pointed wish list was tossed aside for some new thing. The previously longed for toy was replaced by a new desire. What was just right before was now just wrong.

Have you been there?

As a parent, it is frustrating.

As Lord of All, it is expected.

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought.And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” Luke 18: 1-8 NIV

Jesus tells us to keep on praying and never give up. Let God know this isn’t a Christmas Eve wish but truly desired.

Have you been praying for years? Are you consistent in your request? Have you fasted and wept? Are you wearing the judge out with your asking?

Over the years I have discovered that my husband doesn’t really mean that he is interested in something unless he talks about it at least four times. In his agonizing over something, he shows me his heart, his true desire.

That’s what God is listening for
 – your heart.

As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard the crowd going by, he asked what was happening. They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” . . . He called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

. . . When he came near, Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” 

“Lord, I want to see,” he replied.

Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God. Luke 18: 35-43 NIV

Look Up

One must always be aware, to notice even though the cost of noticing is to become responsible. ~Thylias Moss

We drive through the Great Smoky Mountains when my brother-in-law tells the kids to look around them. They have phones in hand.

I sit at my desk day after day, teaching and writing. My mouth drops open when I realize we are halfway through the year and summer is well past its beginning.

Grandma buys baby toys for the seven-year-old. The expiration date on the medicine is five years past. And the little girl I taught yesterday is getting married in a month.

Life passes so quickly, without our noticing.

Would you believe it was the same thousands of years ago?

26 “Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man. 27 People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all.

28 “It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. 29 But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all. Luke 17 NIV

That was Jesus talking. Notice there isn’t anything wrong with what the people were doing: enjoying the good things of life, attending weddings and parties, planning for the future, conducting business.

The problem was that they didn’t look up. They didn’t see what was happening right in front of them. They were texting and walked into a pole. They were chatting and missed the road sign. They were watching tv while dinner burned the house down.

What is God trying to tell you? Is he warning you of danger like he did through Noah? Has he sent angels to rescue you like he did for Lot’s family?

Are you looking up?


Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.” Luke 17:20-21 NIV

Hidden Messages

I started out with nothing and still have most of it left. ~Anonymous

I like clever dialogue. Hiding messages in witticisms is the best way to know who’s really listening.

Chris Pratt, star of Jurassic World, recently received the Generation Award from MTV. His speech included nine pieces of advice for life to the younger generation. He tells his young listeners to believe in God, to pray, to be kind, that they have a soul. He mixes in a few humorous ideas to keep their attention.

In the middle of the speech, he gives advice on how to give medicine to a dog: hide it wrapped in hamburger. That’s exactly what Chris Pratt did.

In Luke 16, Jesus tells some stories to the Pharisees. One of them is about a rich man who dies and goes to Hell.

The rich man looks into Heaven and sees a beggar he once knew standing beside Father Abraham. The rich man then becomes a beggar himself and asks if Lazarus, the former beggar, can go to the rich man’s brothers and warn them to change their ways.

Abraham answers that even if someone raises from the dead, his brothers will not believe.

And not too long later, Jesus raises from the dead and many of his brothers- mainly the Pharisees – don’t believe it. But some do.

Jesus was clever in telling the truth. He was able to tell stories that gave hope to those who needed it and confused those who would have been offended.

Think about those in your life who don’t believe. How can you hide the medicine they need in some hamburger?


I have told the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation; behold, I have not restrained my lips, as you know, O Lord. I have not hidden your deliverance within my heart; I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation; I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness from the great congregation. Psalm 40:9-10 ESV

Deaf or Just Hard-of-Hearing

None so deaf as those that will not hear. None so blind as those that will not see.
~Matthew Henry

I just spent a few days with some family members who are on the other side of the green field. You have to make sure they are looking at you when you speak . . . loudly. Otherwise, you won’t be heard.

I’ve been very public about my own hearing issues. Perhaps I’m not so far away from that side of the field myself.

Jesus encountered some hard-of-hearing people, too.

In Luke 14:35, Jesus says, “Whoever has ears to hear, let him hear.”

Then in 15:1, we find out who has the ears to hear.

“Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathered around to hear him.”

By now Jesus has a large following. His name is out there. He’s twittered, posted, and chatted for years and his platform is huge. 5,000 men show up for his luncheon. Women and children flock to meet him and call him blessed.

So why is it that the ones listening aren’t the leaders of the community? Why don’t they have ears to hear?

Because Jesus says some hard things.

He says that everyone is invited into the kingdom. Every sheep is brought safely into the fold. Every brother is loved, every sinner forgiven, every child wanted.

He treats everyone the same.

She sits alone at the church potluck, surrounded by groups of laughing people who have more in common with each other than with her.

He stands alone at the conference, his body contorted with spasms but his mind free and frisky.

She sits, eyes lowered, with her ratty-tattered children waiting for your hand-out.

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Luke 15:1-2 NIV

Are you listening to Jesus or are you muttering about the welfare check, the useless riff-raff, the immigrant?

Jesus tells his listeners three stories of lost things being found.

‘But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’” Luke 15:32 NIV

Can you hear him? Do you have ears to hear?


Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. Matthew 7:24 NIV

No More Excuses

He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else. ~Benjamin Franklin

He made excuses as long as I knew him. A Vietnam Vet, he battled demons all his adult life. Alcohol abuse, domestic violence, shame, grief,  and sorrow became his best friends. He knew there was something better, but better was harder and he just didn’t have any fight left.

He read the Bible, knew the right answers, but couldn’t bring himself to believe that they were the answers for him. He was beyond salvation.

Do you know someone like my friend?

“But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’ Luke 14:18 NIV

They give their life to business. They need to work. There are bills to pay, appearances to keep up. The kids need braces, dance classes, college. The car needs maintaining, the house repainting, and the face uplifting. They never see the kids’ teeth, enjoy the car ride, or rest in the house.

The claims of business usurp the claims of God on their life.

“Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’ Luke 14:19 NIV

They need the latest technology, the best clothes, the flashiest trips. They’re always on the run, waving their hellos and goodbyes at the same time. Their life is lived in Instagram pixels and Snap Chat comebacks.

They are consumed by the novelty of their new possessions, and God gets crowded out.

“Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’ Luke 14:20 NIV

They meet for family dinners every week, only vacation with relatives, and cousin camp is a summer must. Their friends’ list has two surnames. Their contacts list reads like a lineage from western European royalty. And their street culminates in a family cul-de-sac.

Their earthly family takes precedence and God the Father becomes another ancestor hanging on the wall.

“Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’” Luke 14:23-24 NIV

My friend was invited to the feast, but in the end he thought the grace period had run out. He never accepted, never tasted, never enjoyed.

Don’t make excuses.

It’s time to accept.


“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” John 14:1-4 NIV

The Fig Tree

Everyone grows, but not everyone matures. ~Kemi Sogunle

Soon after we moved to North Carolina, I bought fruit trees. We were the owners of a small section of an old farm, and I was anxious to remind it of its purpose.

I planted several apple and pear trees, a peach, a plum, and a fig tree. The fig tree died.

My husband didn’t like weed eating around all of these trees. In a moment of Jesus- imitation, I think the preacher cursed the fig tree.

In Luke 13, the people are trying to establish their safety in God’s kingdom based on their ancestry. Jesus offers them little hope. He tells the story of a fig tree.

Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’

“‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’” LK 13:6-9

The fig tree teaches us that we get a second chance, but nothing which only takes will survive, and there will be a limit to the second chances.

Is your trunk any stronger for the passing years? Do you open your Bible on Sundays but leave it resting on your bedside table every other day?

Maybe Spirit has been blowing spring zephyrs through your branches, but you’ve refused to bend in the breeze. Have you ignored the prodding to talk to the homeless man, invite your neighbor to dinner, or visit the nursing home?

Are your figs tough and pithy, unfit to eat? Has bitterness replaced your joy, hatred your love?

Take heart. There is hope. The gardener in Jesus’s story believes the fig tree can flourish with a little tender attention.

And Jesus believes it’s not too late for you.


See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. 1 John 3:1-3 NIV

The Unforgivable Sin

Though our feelings come and go, God’s love for us does not. ~C.S. Lewis

I sat across from a middle-aged woman, a mother of seven beautiful children. A woman who knew the pain of unrequited love. She spoke of her mother.

“She told me many days, ‘I never should have had you. I should have had an abortion.'”

It haunts me, this thought that a child should know her mother would rather kill her than keep her.

Have you lost love?

Your heart leaps in your throat every time the phone rings, but the prodigal child refuses to call. There are no cards on Mother’s Day, no surprise visits pulling into the drive. Instead, there is silence that steals into quiet moments like gun shot and cannon fire.

Your eyes fill as you walk past your former-best friend’s house. You stand in line together waiting for the bus to take the children to school. You glance toward her, seeking acknowledgement, but the shoulder is turned. You shiver in the August heat.

We enter the world with soft hearts, beating the melody of love, harmonizing with the strains of joy and peace.

But at some point the aria fades into strains of discord. The lively tune becomes dark and foreboding. Dissonance plays on every instrument of your life, killing your love, mocking your peace and joy.

This is what Jesus knows.

The pain of betrayal, of neglect, of downright hatred by those you yearn to hold close . . . well, it’s unforgivable.

At least it feels that way.

But Jesus tells us there is only one unforgivable sin- denying that the Holy Spirit is from God. Confronting good and calling it evil.

And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. Luke 12:10 ESV

It isn’t the prodigal saying you aren’t his mother. It isn’t the friend saying you never were friends. It isn’t even the mother saying she wishes you were dead.

Jesus knows those pains; he feels the heartache and distress.

And he forgives.

But the one who says Jesus has no power to forgive- he will not be forgiven.

Will you forgive? Won’t you sing the sweet refrain that God is Love?


My beloved friends, let us continue to love each other since love comes from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and experiences a relationship with God. The person who refuses to love doesn’t know the first thing about God, because God is love—so you can’t know him if you don’t love. This is how God showed his love for us: God sent his only Son into the world so we might live through him. This is the kind of love we are talking about—not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God. 1 John 4:7-10 MSG

How to Pray

This should be the motto of every follower of Jesus Christ. No matter how dark and hopeless a situation might seem, never stop praying. ~Billy Graham

“I asked them to translate the Lord’s Prayer into Chinese. I thought it might be helpful for me if I could pray a little in their language.”

“Why? It’s hard enough to pray in English.”

I was talking to an old friend, one I am sure has been praying for at least 50 years. I understood her question -praying in Chinese will be difficult to learn and it isn’t necessary -but her statement left me stunned.

Praying in English is hard.

For a nearly life-long Christian? How can this be?

In Luke 11, Jesus’s disciples ask him to teach them to pray. It was normal for a rabbi to teach their followers to pray. The disciples even comment that John the Baptist taught his disciples to pray.

Jesus gives them a simple way to approach the Father. Direct. Unassuming. Grateful. Full of forgiveness.

 He said to them, “When you pray, say:
“‘Father,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins,
    for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
And lead us not into temptation.” 

It must have left the disciples stunned. No flowery speeches? No self-effacing condemnation?

Jesus follows his sample prayer with a lesson, a little story.

You need something badly from your neighbor, so you ask. It’s not a cup of sugar on a Saturday afternoon, but some money in the middle of the night. You’re humiliated to have to ask, but you ask anyway. The neighbor loans you the money.

Jesus wants to know why you’ll ask your neighbor, but not your Father? He encourages us to ask.

“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” 

But we have all asked God for something and he hasn’t given it. We’ve stood at the door knocking for years. Our knees are giving out, our back is weary, and our knuckles are bloodied.

Jesus asks, how many of you would give something horrid to  your child? Would you hand him a snake or a scorpion? Of course not. And neither will God.

 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

Good gifts?! Really?

Cancer sure feels like a scorpion. A prodigal child feels like a snake. The loss of a child, a job, a home, a marriage -it all feels like evil served on a platter.

This is where praying gets hard.

Do you trust Jesus? Do you believe that he and his Father have your best interest at heart?

Jesus says a strong man can protect his house until someone stronger comes along. You can’t handle the cancer alone. You can’t force the prodigal to come home. So many things you can’t replace.

But it isn’t up to you to do any of those things. God will take care of it all. He only asks that you . . . pray.


The Lord reigns forever;
    he has established his throne for judgment.
He rules the world in righteousness
    and judges the peoples with equity.
The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed,
    a stronghold in times of trouble.
Those who know your name trust in you,
    for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you. Psalm 9:7-10 NIV

Do What?

What you must do is love your neighbor as yourself. There is no one who knows your many faults better than you! But you love yourself notwithstanding. And so you must love your neighbor, no matter how many faults you see in him. ~Martin Buber

“What’s wrong, Traci? Are you sick?” One of my favorite ESL students was concerned because my voice was gravelly.

“No, I just have a frog in my throat.”

“What? You have a frog in your mouth?” Her eyes popped wide open.

She’s a very good English student, but sometimes knowing and understanding are two different things.

In Luke 10, we meet a man who knew, but obviously didn’t understand. He asked Jesus how to inherit eternal life, and Jesus returned with, ‘What do you think?’

The guy gave a great answer:

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Luke 10:27 NIV

Jesus told him that he hit the bullseye.

But there was a frog in his throat that he just couldn’t swallow.

Who is my neighbor?

He didn’t understand what he had so correctly quoted. He had heard it all his life, even thought that he had it right based on his confidence to answer Jesus so quickly, but he didn’t understand.

Love God and Love Others.

What about you? Do you understand?

Are you willing to loan your car to some people, but not to everyone? (This is not a driving record issue.)

Are you comfortable inviting people to worship with you but refusing to worship with them?

Are you able to forgive a stranger but not your former best friend?

Do you see the homeless man, the CEO, the single mom, the childless couple, the refugee, the different skin tone, the drug addict, and the preacher with the same eyes?

Jesus never gives an answer to the man. Instead he tells a story of overcoming fear and hatred to have mercy on another child of God. Then he says:

“Go and do likewise.” Luke 10:37 NIV

It’s time for us to do likewise as well.


 Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord. Leviticus 19:18 NIV

The B-I-B-L-E

The book to read is not the one which thinks for you, but the one which makes you think. No book in the world equals the Bible for that. ~Harper Lee

I watched Fragments of Truth recently, a documentary about how the validity and historicity of the Bible is checked. Though it was very academic and demanded full-attention, it was an interesting, thoughtful movie.

I don’t know how many Bibles I have in my house. I have more than twenty available on my phone. I can view it in different translations, listen to it, even watch parts of it acted out in full cinematic wonder.

Because I live in America.

Chinese Christians, however, are now banned from purchasing the Bible.

The Bible was available in China through Christian bookstores and online retailers until a month ago. Then suddenly, it disappeared.

The Chinese government sent out a ‘white paper’ explaining that the Bible is being reinterpreted over the next five years to display a more acceptable socialist mindset.

I’m not sure what’s more socialist than Jesus and his apostles. They said take care of each other. Feed the orphans and widows. Visit those in prison.

But they also said, Jesus is Lord . . . King . . . Prince of Peace.

And that’s scary to those who want to be in power.

Because China has set its leaders up as God. The leaders decide what is right and wrong. The leaders decide who gets taken care of and who gets thrown out with the bath water.

But don’t take our American privilege for granted.

Though California’s lawmakers deny that if passed a new bill would prohibit the sale of the Bible, there seems to be quite a bit of gray area. They are concerned that people with identity issues might be told that acting on some of their desires would be wrong.

It might be easier for California to follow China’s lead and “reinterpret” the parts they don’t like.

That’s why knowing the Bible  THE WORD OF GOD is so important.

Are you taking it for granted? Would you be able to identify changes or reinterpretations?


For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. Romans 15:4 ESV