Archives for : A Guest Perspective

Christmas in July?

Rev. Edwin Hollen, one of our favorite guest bloggers, returns with commentary on this month’s theme: Christmas in July? Whoever heard of such? How can that be?

It just won’t seem right without snow! It is interesting how we come to associate certain situations with different events. We had a surprise this last spring. It was time for tulips, lilies, and daffodils, because it was the celebration of Easter – new life. Instead we had snow!

That did not take away from the real meaning of what Easter reminds us of. Do we realize in our own region of the world, when we celebrate the event of God sending his son into the world as a gift to bring eternal life to us, that much of the world has never seen snow? Sand is more common to large portions of our world. I confess to you with the bleakness and bareness of December, a little snow adds a beauty all of its own.

These are associations that we humans get used to. There is no harm done with making associations unless we miss the reality of the occasion. It is quite true that the time of our celebration on the calendar would not coincide with the actual time of year the birth took place. The event that is recognized and celebrated is really so much more than any tradition or cultural customs that come to be carried out among us. Our celebration of the event is one we can and should enjoy the year round.

The established fact is that the “Ancient of Days” (God) planned to give mankind a gift—a gift needed by every past, present and future human. What we know and we learned from the Scriptures was “when the fullness of time had come” God sent us that gift! That gift had nothing to do with when or where as to the value. There are those who would certainly question why there, of all places?

What we know and have come to recognize, an event, a birth did happen that even secular history must acknowledge put this planet on a different course in a multitude of ways.

The great truth that lives on and on is that God gave mankind, at a particular time in history, at a particular place, through a young, virgin woman, a gift in the form of a child—divinely conceived and brought forth—who is to be celebrated, received and enjoyed for time now and eternity.

What about Christmas in July? Why not?

It is the celebration of the Christ Child being born to live among us, to give us his life, so we can receive from him the gift of eternal life. The gift would have the same value, a God gift, whatever time or season it would have happened, so let’s celebrate him continually. Yes, in July also.

I’m not waiting until a white Christmas!

 

In Honor of Flag Day

In honor of FLAG DAY, June 14: And to the Republic for Which It Stands . . . is an editorial condensed from a column written by my late husband, Duane Sheppard, for the St. Cloud Times. (Submitted by Sharon Sheppard)

We live in a democracy, right?  Wrong!  Well, kind of wrong.  We pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States “and to the republic for which it stands…”

The Latin root of the word republic means “a thing of the people.” The modern definition of this form of government indicates it is a system in which citizens have the right and responsibility to choose agents to act on their behalf.

On Sept. 18, 1787, the morning after the delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia had finished their now-famous document, The United States Constitution, a Mrs. Powell approached Benjamin Franklin and inquired, “Well, Doctor, what have we got? A republic or a monarchy?”

“A republic,” replied Franklin, “if you can keep it.”

The word democracy comes from the Greek and could be translated “people-government.”

Some have proposed that, with the advent of modern technology, our whole country could be online and vote directly on all issues decided by legislators.  This would be a “pure democracy,” and would avoid much of the political trickery, deception, bribery, vote trading, and smoke-filled room decisions that, some believe, now characterize much of our lawmaking.

Of course, it is unreasonable to expect that any person could digest all the information necessary to make intelligent decisions on all the issues at the local, state, and national levels.  And it is unthinkable that all citizens could, would, or should be directly involved in all decision making.

So our constitutional fathers drew a marked distinction between a republic and a democracy.  They stated repeatedly and emphatically that they had created a republic with an elected president and representative form of government.

This system was predicated on a Creator-given endowment of life, liberty, and the right to pursue our dreams.  With this heritage, “We, the people,” formed a union where the political power rests not with a king, president, Congress, Supreme Court, political party, military, clergy, the rich or the educated, but with the people.

So on Flag Day and at other special events in our country, we reiterate our allegiance “to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Happy Flag Day!

A Simple Haircut Leads to an Inspiring Reminder

Guest Perspective – A Simple Haircut Leads to an Inspiring Reminder . . . By Duane Sheppard

Our guest blogger this week is my late husband, who was a columnist for the St. Cloud Times for 8 years –  This is a Memorial Day column he wrote a dozen years ago  . . . Sharon Sheppard

The most inspiring haircut I’ve ever had was by an elderly barber with a thick foreign accent in a one-chair shop on London Road in Duluth.

It was a busy day three decades ago, before appointments were required for hair care.

By the time my turn finally came, I had overheard some fascinating conversations between this barber and each of his customers.  After telling him how I wanted my hair cut, I asked where he was from.

“Russia,” he replied, rolling the r.

I was curious about this mysterious land behind the Iron Curtain, never having had the chance to talk personally with a Russian before.

“Tell me,” I asked, “what was it like when you lived in Russia?”

The barber launched into the eloquent description of his Jewish village and the wonderful, peace-loving people who lived there.

Then, like an unexpected crack of thunder, a loud, sneering voice called out, “Isaac, if Russia is such a good place. Why don’t you just go back there?”

Without hesitation he explained that the czar’s secret police were abusive, and with the political unrest, chaos, and oppression, it was no longer safe for him to live there.

He went on to describe his escape.  He told about sailing past the Statue of Liberty and kissing the ground when he got off the boat.

The shop reverberated with his next words: “Then I jumped to my feet and said, ‘I’m free!  I’m free!  I’m a free man!”

He paused, and with a raspy whisper that everyone heard, “And I still get goose bumps up and down my back everytime I think of that day!

He went on to tell wat it was like in America to become a citizen and be able to earn a living, raise a family, and help his sons through college.

One became a doctor, another a lawyer, and another died on the beach at Normandy.

While I was teaching in Minsk, White Russia, a while back, my translator, a mother of two young children, indicated that she and her husband were each working three jobs just to try to make ends meet in that troubled economy just after the fall of communism.

“But,” she said with a glow on her face, “now we are free!”

In stark contrast, I sitting with my young grandchildren in Hester Park last Fourth of July, waiting for the fireworks to begin.

The municipal band had just finished playing “Stars and stripes Forever” when a young man walked past, a little unsteady on his feet.  He was dressed in black, his limbs were covered with tattoos, and several parts of his body were pierced.

“America sucks!” he called out to no one in particular.

Granted, there a lot of things about America that need fixing.  But what this young man doesn’t realize is that thousands of men and women have died to protect his right to express that sentiment or any other strongly-felt notion he pleases—publicly and vehemently.

During the 1960s, some draft dodgers and other disenchanted people were saying, “Nothing is worth dying for.”

But I would suggest that if we come to the place where nothing is worthy dying for, then perhaps there is nothing worth living for.

It’s easy to take freedom for granted if it has never cost us anything.

As we approach Memorial Day, let’s thank God and thank a veteran for the everyday freedoms most of us take for granted.

 

A Returning Guest Reflects on Easter

Returning guest blogger, Rev. Edwin Hollen, reflects on Easter . . .  Easter has been called, and rightfully so, “the great getting up morning.”

The history of mankind from Adam onward has footprints all leading to the grave that brought hope to all mankind.  The observance of this happening brings out multitudes in response to life again after the tomb—those who do not darken a house of worship any other week of the year.  Jesus Christ makes the footprints out of the tomb in response to His words, “After three days I will live again.”

The following is not original with me, but it bears printing:

The question was asked, “What is the difference between raised from the dead and resurrection?”  Someone having died and brought back to life does so with the same physical structure and limited life, subject to all the ills passed onto our race.  Comparing this to experiencing what Christ talks about called resurrection to newness of life, when we receive Christ into our life, we inherit eternal God in our spirit.  When Christ was resurrected all who will be raised will receive God eternal in our body.  “This mortal will take on immortality.”

His example after the tomb was a body of flesh and bone flowing with life within, not limited as previously.  “We shall be like Him and so shall we ever be with Him.”  That is life, hope of the resurrection.  He first, and all believers later.

 

Trading Winter for Spring

Trading winter for spring . . . by guest blogger, Rev. Paul Anderson…Having spent the first 20 years or so of my life in North Central Minnesota, I had the opportunity of observing the many wonders of nature.  As a boy I had a special fascination with the changing of the seasons.  At the conclusion of the last day of school, off would come the shoes and shirts for the summer, with all its wonderful pleasures— swimming, fishing, climbing trees, to name a few.

Then, sadly, summer would end, and it was back to school.  Fall, with its leaves changing to brilliant colors, ripening pumpkins, and birds gathering in preparation for their southward migration, gave way to the nippy air of winter.

My children and grandchildren will no doubt accuse me of exaggerating, but I declare this to be true:  I remember the thermometer registering 54 degrees below zero.  And that was before this stuff about wind chill factors.  I remember the accumulation of snow reaching 36 inches in depth, and the ice on the lake being two and a half feet thick.  One year a succession of blizzards hit the month of April when school buses could not run and school had to close for weeks.  In my youthful mind I did not see how anything could survive the harshness of WINTER.

But eventually the days of early spring arrived and the sun began slowly to accomplish the seeming impossible.  Almost beyond belief LIFE began to appear in ABUNDANCE!  Blossoms burst forth everywhere.  Song birds returned, and the miracle of new life triumphed over the severity of winter.

Those of us who have lived for a while have learned that our lives have their seasons.  Along with summer’s bliss there are times when life is like winter.  We experience many deaths and losses (some small and some big).  Life can be so severe and death so final.

The disciples felt that way following the crucifixion of Jesus and a sealed tomb.  But on that first Easter morning, hopelessness and despair gave way to joy and hope!  The Risen Christ tells us “Because I live, you too shall live!”  And the life He offers is Abundant Life!

In our winter seasons we need to remember what Jesus said:  “With men things seem impossible, but with God, all things are possible.”  (Matt. 19:26)  If you are going through one of those prolonged winter seasons of life, hold on.  Spring is just around the corner!23

Legal Wrangling

LEGAL WRANGLING    By freelance writer Joyce Ellis . . . I’ve always loved legal wrangling. Growing up, watching TV shows such as Perry Mason, I quickly learned legal-battle terminology.  District attorney Hamilton Burger frequently rose to his feet and objected to questions on the basis that they were “incompetent, irrelevant, and immaterial.”

Unlike many people, I’ve jumped at my two opportunities for jury duty and, as foreperson, I’ve read the verdict for my fellow jurors. The tension of a courtroom battle and the struggle for justice have equipped me for spiritual battles.

It seemed a little thing at the time, and I was only a child. But I took something that didn’t belong to me, knowing it was wrong. The details aren’t important. I’ve come to this type of battle with other sins as well. At first I tried to rationalize it. But having already committed my life to Jesus, I became angry at myself for giving in to temptation. With God’s prompting, I confessed my sin and claimed His promise that He is “faithful and just to forgive us our sins” (1 John 1:9 nlt).

I believe that’s when the legal wrangling in the heavenly realms intensified. Over and over, my thoughts returned to what I did. How could I, a believer—even a child-believer—well-taught in the Scriptures, do such a thing? Circumstances prevented restitution, but I asked God repeatedly to forgive me and erase the painful memory.

Amazingly, the guilt haunted me into adulthood and resurfaced often as I tried to follow the Lord’s calling on my life. The Enemy, like a prosecuting attorney, accused me of being “incompetent” to serve God. The battle raged on.

Then one day, a courtroom phrase came to mind. Sometimes, when an attorney questions a witness and receives an answer, the attorney will come at the same question from another angle, trying to trip up the witness. At that point, the opposing counsel typically jumps up and says, “I object, Your Honor. Asked and answered.”

That was it—my answer for Satan, our “accuser” (Rev. 12:10).

I determined to listen no longer to Satan’s accusations.

The Bible says we all sin. We all have things in our past—maybe in our present, too—that the Enemy delights in using to accuse us and make us feel—even believe—we are “incompetent, irrelevant, and immaterial.”

But “we have an advocate [a defense attorney] with the Father,” the Apostle John reminds us, “Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 2:1–2 niv, brackets added). And I have accepted His payment for all my sins.

So Satan can accuse me all he wants in the courts of heaven, but Jesus actively advocates on my behalf and gives me the authority to say, “I object! Asked and answered.”

_____

© 2017 Joyce K. Ellis

This blog is adapted from an article by Joyce K. Ellis, which originally appeared in Indeed magazine. Ellis is the author of more than a dozen books, including The 500 Hats of a Modern-Day Woman and Write with Excellence. She speaks for women’s events across the country and often speaks and serves with missions teams in Guatemala. Contact her at her website: www.joycekellis.com. Her books are available on her website and on www.amazon.com.

 

 

The Gift of Change

We are delighted to welcome back Rev. Edwin Hollen, a return guest blogger

The Gift of Change

“I will” is a great resolve when focused on a needed positive change. It is always interesting to hear the comments of some as we come near to the close of a year. Has it been the disappointment of a wrong choice in the year just lived? Or is it the hope that finally the new year will be the year of fulfilled dreams?

One thing is a lesson we all learn soon or should learn. We become the sum total of our resolves, choices made daily as well as yearly. The combining of our decisions determine our road of life and also the closing. The easiest part is to make a statement as to what we are going to do. The follow-through is probably where most fail. Endurance and focus is critical in fruition.

When I was young, I knew of a man given to heavy drinking (today he would be referred to as an alcoholic). He met his drinking buddies one day with a new decision: “I quit drinking!”

Their response: “For how long?”

“For life!” he responded. Their laughter provoked an immediate response. “I’ve done it before, I can do it again” he declared.

“For life”?

Remember follow-through is where the fulfillment of our resolve happens. One said, “Words are cheap—to make it happen is costly.” The story of the prodigal in Scripture is a great resolution story. Nowhere are we given a hint as to the time of year it was, nor does it matter. He has lived out a decision. He has now come to a daily regret and with remorse, awakening one morning, he makes a momentous decision. Hesitating, no longer suffering over the mistakes of the past, the resolve is made:

“I will arise and go,” and go he did.

The one innate gift the Creator has given us is the ability to change our thinking (harder for some than others). To resolve, to decide, to make choices is a cherished gift to a human life. God does not respond to just certain dates (like the New Year) to allow change or to a select people. “Whosoever will may Come.”

I am not in any way a promoter of those easy-on bumper stickers. Perhaps I would be one to oppose even their production, however I saw one so eye-catching and true—life-altering:

On the road of life, God allows U-turns

It is not a New Year’s thing. It is an “any day” thing with you and God. Though it is easier in younger years, change is possible in any season of life. Every life is filled with decisions. Could we find one who has made them all correctly or wisely?

Some twenty-five years ago, my wife, Phyllis, and I had just returned from ministry in the Netherlands. We visited the advanced-training center of Teen Challenge in Rehrersburg, Pennsylvania, where our youngest son, Paul, was on staff working with those whose resolves had brought them to a condition of despair. His job was to travel fulltime into schools, churches, and gatherings where those in the program of restoring could relate their stories. Their group was named U-Turn.

As I spoke that morning in a chapel service and looked out over the sea of faces making new resolves, it was the apex of the summer. It left a lingering truth in my spirit. Oh, the gift of change!

Perhaps some reading this have lived this past year or even a lifetime of regret over wrong resolves and choices. Live there no longer, in that state of disappointment and despair. U-turn yourself and turn around. Resolve with determination to “arise and go to my Father.” Relive the prodigal story! Jesus said, “Come!”