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Ready to Celebrate

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  • Stephen J. Hall
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ NOTES FROM THE VALLEY January 6, 2008 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no
    Message 1 of 4 , Jan 4, 2008
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      January 6, 2008

      "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
      I will fear no evil for you are with me." Psalm 23.

      Ready to Celebrate

      This was definitely the quietest New Year's Eve I've spent ever. I
      was certainly ready to celebrate. I had the Christmas lights on, a
      bottle of Irish Cream with some crushed ice to pour it over (Cathy
      and I have finally decided to admit that we don't really like
      champagne), and one of those musical countdown shows on the
      television. All I needed to make my small party a success was
      Cathy. And miracle of miracles, Cathy didn't have to work on New
      Year's Eve this year. So, things were all primed for a small but
      warm and loving welcoming of the New Year. And then about 9:00 pm,
      Cathy just dozed off on me. After a wonderfully busy week of
      Christmas celebrations with children and grandchildren and then a
      four day sequence of ten hour night shifts at the foster childrens'
      group home, she just couldn't stay awake any longer.

      I have to say that when Cathy is sound asleep, she is the most
      angelic looking of all the women I have ever known. Curled up all
      happy and warm, a faintest hint of a smile on her face. So my New
      Year's plan was modified once again this year. Oh, I did wake her up
      just as the ball was ready to drop in Times Square. We hugged and
      kissed at the appointed time, toasted each other with a sip of Irish
      Cream, and then (God love her) back to sleep she went. I closed up
      the house, pushed our dog Nikki over (not easy with 60 pounds of
      reluctant lab) so I could get into bed, and then spent some special
      time like last year, laying next to her in the darkness just
      listening to her breathing settle into a slow rhythm has she slipped
      into a deep sleep. After all these years, I still find it difficult
      to fall asleep without her there. Without the lullaby of her
      breathing. So my real celebration was a prayer thanking God for this
      very special woman, thanking Him for the year we shared together and
      the new year that had just begun.

      The whole New Year's ritual put me in mind of another celebration I'd
      like to talk about this week. In the Book of Luke, Jesus tells some
      parables about three individuals: a shepherd, a housewife, and a
      father. And about three losses: a sheep, a coin and a son. And when
      the lost are found, three celebrations, three parties with everyone
      in the neighborhood invited. The lesson of those parables is amazing
      to me. You see, I was once lost. But through the grace of God and a
      caring soul He sent after me, Richard Hastings, I was found. And on
      that day, the very moment that I accepted Jesus as my Lord and
      Savior, everyone in heaven stopped what they were doing and had a
      party. They celebrated over me. Just as they celebrated over each
      of you. What an awesome thought. What a tremendous blessing when
      you're feeling down and alone. And there is more . . .

      In the book, "Just Like Jesus" Max Lucado writes, "Why do Jesus and
      his angels rejoice over one repenting sinner? Can they see something
      we can't? Do they know something we don't? Absolutely. They know
      what heaven holds. They've seen the table, and they've heard the
      music, and they can't wait to see your face when you arrive. Better
      still, they can't wait to see you. When you arrive and enter the
      party, something wonderful will happen. A final transformation will
      occur. You will be just like Jesus. Drink deeply from 1 John
      3:2; `We have not yet been shown what we will be in the future. But
      we know that when Christ comes again, we will be like him.' Of all
      the blessings of heaven, one of the greatest will be you! You will
      be God's magnum opus, his work of art. The angels will gasp. God's
      work will be completed. At last, you have a heart like his. You
      will love with a perfect love. You will worship with a radiant
      face. You'll hear each word God speaks. Your heart will be pure,
      your words will be jewels, your thoughts will be treasures. You will
      be just like Jesus."

      What a message of hope as we prepare for the new year ahead. Hidden
      in words God penned to us thousands of years ago; revealed in a
      instant by His Holy Spirit. The whispered promise to those who will
      listen, "No matter where you are or what you are struggling with
      today, because of Jesus there is a day coming that all of heaven is
      preparing to celebrate. The day we welcome you home."

      Celebrating being under His wing . . . overwhelmed by His love,


      John Powell, a professor at Loyola University in Chicago writes about
      a student in his Theology of Faith class named Tommy:

      "Some twelve years ago, I stood watching my university students file
      into the classroom for our first session in the Theology of Faith.
      That was the first day I first saw Tommy. My eyes and my mind both
      blinked. He was combing his long flaxen hair, which hung six inches
      below his shoulders. It was the first time I had ever seen a boy with
      hair that long. I guess it was just coming into fashion then. I know
      in my mind that it isn't what's on your head but what's in it that
      counts; but on that day I was unprepared and my emotions flipped. I
      immediately filed Tommy under "S" for strange . . . very strange.

      Tommy turned out to be the "atheist in residence" in my Theology of
      Faith course. He constantly objected to, smirked at, or whined about
      the possibility of an unconditionally loving Father-God. We lived
      with each other in relative peace for one semester, although I admit
      he was for me at times a serious pain in the back pew. When he came
      up at the end of the course to turn in his final exam, he asked in a
      slightly cynical tone: "Do you think I'll ever find God?"

      I decided instantly on a little shock therapy. "No!" I said very
      emphatically. "Oh," he responded, "I thought that was the product you
      were pushing." I let him get five steps from the classroom door and
      then called out: "Tommy! I don't think you'll ever find him, but I am
      absolutely certain that he will find you!" He shrugged a little and
      left my class and my life. I felt slightly disappointed at the
      thought that he had missed my clever line: "He will find you!" At
      least I thought it was clever.

      Later I heard that Tommy had graduated and I was duly grateful. Then
      a sad report , I heard that Tommy had terminal cancer. Before I
      could search him out, he came to see me. When he walked into my
      office, his body was very badly wasted, and the long hair had all
      fallen out as a result of chemotherapy. But his eyes were bright and
      his voice was firm, for the first time, I believe. "Tommy, I've
      thought about you so often. I hear you are sick !" I blurted out.

      "Oh, yes, very sick. I have cancer in both lungs. It's a matter of

      "Can you talk about it, Tom?"

      "Sure, what would you like to know?"

      "What's it like to be only twenty-four and dying?"

      "We'll, it could be worse."

      "Like what?"

      "Well, like being fifty and having no values or ideals. Like being
      fifty and thinking that booze, seducing women, and making money are
      the real 'biggies' in life."

      I began to look through my mental file cabinet under "S" where I had
      filed Tommy as strange. (It seems as though everybody I try to reject
      by classification God sends back into my life to educate me.)

      "But what I really came to see you about," Tom said, " is something
      you said to me on the last day of class. (He remembered!) I asked
      you if you thought I would ever find God, and you said, 'No!' which
      surprised me. Then you said, 'But he will find you.' I thought about
      that a lot, even though my search for God was hardly intense at that
      time. But when the doctors removed a lump from my groin and told me
      that it was malignant, then I got serious about locating God. And
      when the malignancy spread into my vital organs, I really began
      banging bloody fists against the bronze doors of heaven. But God did
      not come out. In fact, nothing happened. Did you ever try anything
      for a long time with great effort and with no success? You get
      psychologically glutted, fed up with trying. And then you quit.
      Well, one day I woke up, and instead of throwing a few more futile
      appeals over that high brick wall to a God who may be or may not be
      there, I just quit. I decided that I didn't really care . . . about
      God, about an afterlife, or anything like that. I decided to spend
      what time I had left doing something more profitable. I thought about
      you and your class and I remembered something else you had said: 'The
      essential sadness is to go through life without loving. But it would
      be almost equally sad to go through life and leave this world without
      ever telling those you loved that you had loved them. So I began
      with the hardest one: my Dad. He was reading the newspaper when I
      approached him."

      "Dad . . . "

      "Yes, what?" he asked without lowering the newspaper.

      "Dad, I would like to talk with you."

      "Well, talk."

      "I mean . . . It's really important."

      The newspaper came down three slow inches. "What is it?"

      "Dad, I love you. I just wanted you to know that."

      Tom smiled at me and said with obvious satisfaction, as though he
      felt a warm and secret joy flowing inside of him: "The newspaper
      fluttered to the floor. Then my father did two things I could never
      remember him ever doing before. He cried and he hugged me. And we
      talked all night, even though he had to go to work the next morning.
      It felt so good to be close to my father, to see his tears, to feel
      his hug, to hear him say that he loved me."

      "It was easier with my mother and little brother. They cried with me,
      too, and we hugged each other, and started saying real nice things to
      each other. We shared the things we had been keeping secret for so
      many years. I was only sorry about one thing: that I had waited so
      long. Here I was just beginning to open up to all the people I had
      actually been close to.

      Then, one day I turned around and God was there. He didn't come to me
      when I pleaded with him. I guess I was like an animal trainer holding
      out a hoop, 'C'mon, jump through. 'C'mon, I'll give you three
      days . . . three weeks.' Apparently God does things in his own way
      and at his own hour. But the important thing is that he was there.
      He found me. You were right. He found me even after I stopped looking
      for him"

      "Tommy," I practically gasped, "I think you are saying something very
      important and much more universal than you realize. To me, at least,
      you are saying that the surest way to find God is not to make him a
      private possession, a problem solver, or an instant consolation in
      time of need, but rather by opening to love. You know, the Apostle
      John said that. He said, "God is love, and anyone who lives in love
      is living with God, and God is living in him."

      "Tom, could I ask you a favor? You know, when I had you in class you
      were a real pain. But (laughingly) you can make it all up to me now.
      Would you come into my present Theology of Faith course and tell them
      what you have just told me? If I told them the same thing it wouldn't
      be half as effective as if you were to tell them."

      "Oooh . . . I was ready for you, but I don't know if I'm ready for
      your class."

      "Tom, think about it. If and when you are ready, give me a call."

      In a few days Tommy called, said he was ready for the class, that he
      wanted to do that for God and for me. So we scheduled a date.
      However, he never made it. He had another appointment, far more
      important than the one with me and my class. Of course, his life was
      not really ended by his death, only changed. He made the great step
      from faith into vision. He found a life far more beautiful than the
      eye of man has ever seen or the ear of man has ever heard or the mind
      of man has ever imagined. Before he died, we talked one last
      time. "I'm not going to make it to your class," he said.

      "I know, Tom."

      "Will you tell them for me? Will you... tell the whole world for me?"

      "I will, Tom. I'll tell them. I'll do my best."

      So, to all of you who have been kind enough to hear this simple
      statement about love, thank you for listening. And to you, Tommy,
      somewhere in the sunlit, verdant hills of heaven: "I told them,
      Tommy . . . as best I could."


      Copyright © 1998 - 2008 by Stephen J. Hall - Letters of
      encouragement to Christians written by Stephen J. Hall unless
      otherwise indicated. Notes from the Valley and Humor from the Valley
      are meant to brighten your day and encourage you along the way. If
      you are blessed by them, please feel free to make copies and pass
      them along to others. If you have something you'd like to contribute
      to a future edition, would like to ask a question or make a comment,
      please contact us at: steveh.rbis@...

      Your love, God, is my song, and I'll sing it! I'm forever telling
      everyone how faithful you are. I'll never quit telling the story of
      your love . . . (Psalm 89:1-2 The Message)
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