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Finding the Joy Again

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  • Steve Hall
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ NOTES FROM THE VALLEY - December 8, 2000 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will
    Message 1 of 10 , Dec 6, 2000
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
      NOTES FROM THE VALLEY - December 8, 2000

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

      TOPIC: FINDING THE JOY AGAIN

      Thanksgiving is over and the Christmas shopping season is in full
      swing around here. Last night, Cathy and I picked out the last of
      our Christmas gifts and boxed up the stuff to be mailed to the
      Grandchildren. I'm so grateful I've got a wife who likes to finish
      up the shopping early. I'm grateful for two reasons. One, it means
      we don't get caught up in all the heavy crowds of frantic people
      doing their last minute shopping. And two, it gives me a chance to
      get my attention off of buying gifts and onto the gift that was given
      to me on the first Christmas; A chance to stop worrying about
      mounting debts and start rejoicing over the debt that was already
      paid for me by the one born on that first Christmas Day; A chance
      reminisce over my childhood memories of the Christmas season and
      rediscover the Christmas joy that was mine as a child.

      Do you ever feel like you're losing your joy for Christmas? I know I
      did once about four years ago. It was a week before Christmas and I
      was in a terrible funk. I think Cathy sensed I was troubled about
      something, so she began sharing with me how excited her young
      students were about Christmas and how they all were chattering about
      the Christmas story and "baby Jesus." It made me remember all the
      wonder I had experienced as a child at the telling of that story.
      Glued to the television set, hanging on every word, absorbing every
      scene as the story unfolded. Straining to look down the aisle of the
      church to get just a glimpse of the "baby Jesus" during the Christmas
      play. Asking my Dad questions about the things I didn't understand.
      Listening intently to his explanations and his retelling of the story
      on Christmas Eve as he put us to bed. Staring at the Nativity set on
      our mantle, the figurines almost coming to life as I relived the
      story in my mind. Reaching out to touch the Christ child as if it
      was really him. Each brightly wrapped present under our tree a
      reminder of the precious gifts the wise men brought to the baby.
      Except for the gold, I really didn't understand what those gifts
      were, but I knew they must be really special if kings would travel so
      far for so long to give them. And how very special the "baby Jesus"
      must be to have angels and kings worshiping him. And somehow,
      because he was a child and I was a child, we shared a common bond
      together and that meant I was special too. In the midst of reliving
      those precious, childhood memories, I rediscovered the joy of
      Christmas and was taught a valuable lesson too.

      Romans 12:2 says, "And do not be conformed to this world, but be
      transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is
      that good and acceptable and perfect will of God." As a child, I
      had unknowingly practiced that scripture. I never tired of hearing
      and watching presentations about my Savior's birth. In so doing, I
      had experienced the perfect will of God - joy, wonder and a sense of
      intimacy with my Lord. As an adult, although I sought the renewing
      power of scripture in many areas of my life, I'd stopped doing it for
      Christmas. I conformed to the world. Gifts were purchased,
      decorations put up, guests entertained, and bills paid - but the
      renewing of my mind, the joy and intimacy that came with it, had
      gotten lost in the process.

      So now, Cathy and I get the commercial activities out of the way
      early and give ourselves the chance to relish the things that blessed
      us as children. In response, God has given us some wonderful
      revelations about Christmas that have multiplied our joy many times
      over. One of those revelations came through a book by Max Lucado I
      found last year, called "Cosmic Christmas." In that book (based on
      the contents of Matthew, Luke, and Revelation) Max takes a fresh new
      look at the Christmas story through the fictional words and deeds of
      the angel Gabriel as he receives and carries out his orders from God
      for the "spiritual" battle which raged around the events leading up
      to the birth of Jesus. There were many scenes in that book that
      touched our hearts. But the one that touched us most deeply was a
      fictional confrontation between God and Satan as God is about to send
      His greatest gift to Earth.

      "The two stood facing each other. God robed in light, each
      thread glowing. Satan canopied in evil, the very fabric of his robe
      seeming to crawl. Satan rose slowly off his haunches. Like a wary
      wolf, he walked a wide circle toward the desk until he stood before
      the volume (the Book of Life) and read the word:
      Immanuel. "Immanuel?" He muttered to himself. "God with us?" The
      hooded head turned squarely toward the face of the Father. "No, Not
      even you would do that. Not even you would go so far. The plan is
      bizarre! You don't know how dark I've made the Earth. It's putrid.
      It's evil. It's . . ."

      "It's mine," proclaimed the King. "And I will reclaim what
      is mine."
      "Why?" Satan asked. "Why would you do this?"
      The Father's voice was deep and soft. "Because I love them."

      He loves us. Loves us so much that He would leave behind the beauty
      and light of heaven and descend into the darkness of an evil infested
      Earth. Loves us so much that He would give up the power that spun
      this universe into existence and controls everything within it to
      become a helpless child, totally dependent upon an earthly father and
      mother. Close your eyes and meditate upon the magnitude and purity
      of that love for a few moments. What He gave up for us. What He
      became for us. Is it any wonder that the angels, on a cold, dark
      night some 2,000 years ago proclaimed the "good news of great joy."
      God loves us. God with us. Emmanuel.

      I remain His servant and your brother in Christ,
      Sheltered under His wing and overwhelmed by His love,
      Steve Hall


      THE GIFTS OF THE MAGI
      (Contributed by Jan Ross - Author Unknown)

      Gold. I like the way the song puts it "Born a King on Bethlehem's
      plain, Gold I bring to crown him again." We often speak of the wise
      men as kings when actually they were philosophers and magicians. But
      the idea that Jesus is the King of kings is expressed in their
      arrival. The gold is a symbol of Jesus' Kingship. Of course Jesus
      had no need of a Gold crown to demonstrate to the world his kingship.
      Partially because his Kingdom was not of this world. He was not a
      Monarch like Caesar or Cleopatra who ruled for a short time over a
      limited territory. Jesus was there at creation and was King of the
      entire universe. And as the King of Kings he would wear a crown on
      earth - a crown of thorns. The first gift: gold, draws our attention
      to these truths.

      Frankincense. Frankincense was used in worship. It was made from the
      sap of the frankincense tree. In Old Testament Judaism it was used in
      a number of different ways to worship God. It was one of the
      ingredients in the holy anointing oil (Ex. 30:34). It was also burnt
      as part of the cereal-offering (Lv. 6:15) and placed on the show
      bread in the tabernacle(Lv. 24:7). This gift demonstrates Jesus'
      priestly roll. But it also suggests that Jesus will be more than any
      earthly priest. Like earthly priests he would go before God
      interceding on behalf of the faithful. He would also offer a
      sacrifice for the sins of the world. Some would also suggest that
      this gift reveals that Jesus himself is worthy of worship. The Gold
      shows that he is a King but the Frankincense reveals that he is God
      in the flesh. Not only will this child lead people to worship God.
      He himself will also be worshiped.

      Myrrh. This is the strangest and most shocking of all the gifts. Of
      course like Gold and Frankincense, Myrrh was a valuable commodity.
      But it was used mainly for anointing the dead. When the first gifts
      were presented to the child Messiah, I am sure Mary and Joseph nodded
      in approval and understanding. But when the last gift was presented
      they probably looked puzzled. Who would give embalming fluid to a
      King much less a child king. But the gift was prophetic just like
      the others. Jesus was the King of kings as the Gold suggested and he
      was the great high priest and God incarnate as the Frankincense
      proclaimed. But Jesus had also come to die. Jesus' death as the
      lamb of God slain for the sins of the world is the truth behind the
      gift of Myrrh. That was God's goal in sending Jesus: that by sending
      His Son to live a perfect sinless life He would have the only worthy
      sacrifice to pay for the sins of the world.

      Each of the gifts of the wise men reveal something about who Jesus is
      and what he came to do. The gold shows that Jesus came to rule the
      hearts of people as the King of kings.

      The Frankincense speaks of Jesus' role as our great high priest
      making offerings for the faithful and that Jesus came as God in the
      flesh - the object of our worship.

      And the Myrrh reminds us that Jesus came to die - for the sins of the
      world. He came to die for your sins and my sins.
      Shalom u'vracha! ("peace and blessings!")



      A STRANGER AT THE DOOR
      Contributed by Steve White - Author Unknown

      It was a snowy Christmas Eve. Inside the warm house, the Christmas
      tree was cheerfully ablaze with lights and surrounded by dozens of
      presents. The man's wife and children were dressed and ready to
      leave for church. "Come with us," they urged, for they loved him.

      "Not me," he snapped. "I don't believe all that religion garbage."

      For many years the man's wife had been trying to tell him about Jesus
      Christ and the salvation he offers. How God's Son had become a human
      being in order to show us the way to heaven. "Nonsense," the man
      always said.

      The family left for church and the man was all alone in his cozy
      country home. He glanced out the window at the cold snowy scene
      outside. He turned to warm himself by the fire. But as he turned,
      his eyes caught a movement in the snow outside. He looked. Cats!
      Three young cats walking slowly past his window. "The fools," he
      thought. "They'll freeze for sure!" The man put on his hat and coat
      and opened the door. A blast of wintery air sent a shiver through
      his body. "Come here, cats! Come inside where there's warmth and
      food. You'll die out there." But the cats ran away, frightened by
      the stranger at the door.

      He walked outside. "Come back! Don't be afraid, I want to save
      you." But the cats were gone. It was too late. "Well, I did
      everything I could for them," the man muttered to himself. "What
      more could I do? I'd have to become a cat myself in order to reach
      them and save them. If I became a cat, I could tell them and show
      them. They have to believe me then, unless they were fools."

      Just as he reached the door, the church bells rang in the distance.
      The man paused for a second and listened. And was suddenly struck by
      the enormity of the words he had just said. He went in by the fire,
      got down on his knees, and wept.

      And that is what the Christmas story is all about. The Creator of
      the universe loved us so much that he came to earth to show us how to
      be saved. He became a man Himself to reach us and save us. So He
      could tell us and show us how much He loved us and we would listen,
      unless we're . . . well you know.

      And if we listen to Him and follow Him, we will not perish, but
      instead will be given everlasting life. (John 3:16; Philippians 2:6-
      8).




      WHEN HOLIDAYS HURT
      (Contributed by Linda Layton - Author John Scott)

      For many, this season of the year is not "merry" at all. No, they are
      not the proverbial "bah-humbug" Scrooges. Instead they are in pain -
      the pain of grief. And their pain is fueled by every nostalgic memory
      they encounter: the empty chair, the special music, the special
      ornament on the tree. Our memories of holidays past when the parent,
      spouse, or child was still alive arouse an aching heart that no words
      can adequately describe. Here are some suggestions for coping during
      the holidays:

      1) Yes, it will be hard ... but you will make it through. Remember
      the countless others who face the incalculable pain but have
      survived. So will you. But, be easy on yourself. You don't have to
      have superhuman strength. Share your pain with others. Freely share
      your memories. By doing so, healing gradually comes. Memories, like a
      scar, become a permanent part of your identity and remind you of your
      loved one. Cherish the memories - hug them close for warmth.
      Remember the only way out of grief is through it.

      2) Don't withdraw. Sure, some of your friends or family won't
      understand your pain and will say unfeeling things or maybe even
      worse - will be silent. But, don't isolate yourself. Force yourself
      back out in the world. Give yourself permission to enjoy what you
      can about the holidays without feeling disloyal to the memory of your
      loved one. Go ahead and lavish your love on other friends and
      family. Or find others walking through the dark valley of the shadow
      and accompany them or their walk. Remember you are not crazy, it
      takes years to navigate through grief.

      3) Summon strength from your faith. Even when God seems distant or
      silent, can you claim the hope you have of resurrection and reunion?
      Our faith is our anchor in the dark, turbulent waves of emotional
      disarray as we deal with loss. Our God is our "very present help in
      time of trouble." Faith is the bird that sings in the darkest hours,
      sensing the dawn.

      ________________________________________________

      Kimberly Cook's Christmas website is open again and ready for your
      enjoyment and sharing with others. Kimberly says, "You won't find
      any reindeer or snowmen or Santas on my pages, but you will find the
      true meaning of Christmas, shared through the biblical account of the
      birth of Jesus, through music and through stories." The address:
      http://christlight.org/users/abg/christmas.html

      EnJOY!!!!

      ________________________________________________

      Copyright © 1998-2000 by Stephen J. Hall - Weekly 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. Most
      of "Notes" and "Humor" are a collection of items provided to me by
      subscribers and friends. Credit is given to both the contributor and
      to the true author, where known. 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, want to ask
      us a question or make a comment, please contact us at:

      sossteve@...
      ________________________________________________

      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 - how you built the cosmos and guaranteed everything in
      it. Your love has always been our lives foundation, your fidelity
      has been the roof over our world.
      (Psalm 89:1-3 The Message)
    • sossteve2001
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ NOTES FROM THE VALLEY December 1, 2002 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no
      Message 2 of 10 , Nov 30, 2002
        ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

        NOTES FROM THE VALLEY
        December 1, 2002

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

        ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

        Thanksgiving is over and the Christmas shopping season is in full
        swing around here. Last week, Cathy and I picked out the last of our
        Christmas gifts and all we have to do now is get the cards filled out
        and in the mail. I'm so grateful I've got a wife who likes to finish
        up the shopping early. I'm grateful for two reasons. One, it means
        we don't get caught up in all the heavy crowds of frantic people
        doing their Christmas shopping. And two, it gives us a chance to get
        our attention off of buying gifts and onto the gift that was given to
        us on the first Christmas; A chance to stop worrying about mounting
        debts and start rejoicing over the debt that was already paid for us
        by the one born on that first Christmas Day; A chance reminisce over
        our childhood memories of the Christmas season and rediscover the
        Christmas joy that was ours as children.

        Do you ever feel like you're losing your joy for Christmas? I know I
        did once about six years ago. It was a week before Christmas and I
        was in a terrible funk. I think Cathy sensed I was troubled about
        something, so she began sharing with me how excited her young
        students were about Christmas and how they all were chattering about
        the Christmas story and "baby Jesus." It made me remember all the
        wonder I had experienced as a child at the telling of that story.
        Glued to the television set, hanging on every word, absorbing every
        scene as the story unfolded. Straining to look down the aisle of the
        church to get just a glimpse of the "baby Jesus" during the Christmas
        play. Asking my Dad questions about the things I didn't understand.
        Listening intently to his explanations and his retelling of the story
        on Christmas Eve as he put us to bed. Staring at the Nativity set on
        our mantle, the figurines almost coming to life as I relived the
        story in my mind. Reaching out to touch the Christ child as if it
        was really him. Each brightly wrapped present under our tree a
        reminder of the precious gifts the wise men brought to the baby.

        Except for the gold, I really didn't understand what those gifts
        were, but I knew they must be really special if kings would travel so
        far for so long to give them. And how very special the "baby Jesus"
        must be to have angels and kings worshiping him. And somehow,
        because he was a child and I was a child, we shared a common bond
        together and that meant I was special too. In the midst of reliving
        those precious, childhood memories, I rediscovered the joy of
        Christmas and was taught a valuable lesson too.

        Romans 12:2 says, "And do not be conformed to this world, but be
        transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is
        that good and acceptable and perfect will of God." As a child, I
        had unknowingly practiced that scripture. I never tired of hearing
        and watching presentations about my Savior's birth. In so doing, I
        had experienced the perfect will of God - joy, wonder and a sense of
        intimacy with my Lord. As an adult, although I sought the renewing
        power of scripture in many areas of my life, I'd stopped doing it for
        Christmas. I conformed to the world. Gifts were purchased,
        decorations put up, guests entertained, and bills paid - but the
        renewing of my mind, the joy and intimacy that came with it, had
        gotten lost in the process.

        So now, Cathy and I get the commercial activities out of the way
        early and give ourselves the chance to relish the things that blessed
        us as children. In response, God has given us some wonderful
        revelations about Christmas that have multiplied our joy many times
        over. One of those revelations came through a book by Max Lucado I
        found three years ago, called "Cosmic Christmas." In that book
        (based on the contents of Matthew, Luke, and Revelation) Max takes a
        fresh new look at the Christmas story through the fictional words and
        deeds of the angel Gabriel as he receives and carries out his orders
        from God for the "spiritual" battle which raged around the events
        leading up to the birth of Jesus. There were many scenes in that
        book that touched our hearts. But the one that touched us most
        deeply was a fictional confrontation between God and Satan as God is
        about to send His greatest gift to Earth.

        "The two stood facing each other. God robed in light, each
        thread glowing. Satan canopied in evil, the very fabric of his robe
        seeming to crawl. Satan rose slowly off his haunches. Like a wary
        wolf, he walked a wide circle toward the desk until he stood before
        the volume (the Book of Life) and read the word:
        Immanuel. "Immanuel?" He muttered to himself. "God with us?" The
        hooded head turned squarely toward the face of the Father. "No, Not
        even you would do that. Not even you would go so far. The plan is
        bizarre! You don't know how dark I've made the Earth. It's putrid.
        It's evil. It's . . ."

        "It's mine," proclaimed the King. "And I will reclaim what
        is mine."

        "Why?" Satan asked. "Why would you do this?"

        The Father's voice was deep and soft. "Because I love them."

        He loves us.

        Loves us so much that He would leave behind the beauty and light of
        heaven and descend into the darkness of an evil infested Earth.

        Loves us so much that He would give up the power that spun this
        universe into existence and controls everything within it to become a
        helpless child, totally dependent upon an earthly father and mother.

        Close your eyes and meditate upon the magnitude and purity of that
        love for a few moments. What He gave up for us. What He became for
        us.

        Is it any wonder that the angels, on a cold, dark night some 2,000
        years ago proclaimed the "good news of great joy." God loves us.
        God with us. Emmanuel.

        I remain His servant and your brother in Christ,
        Sheltered under His wing and overwhelmed by His love,

        Steve



        WILL THE CHRIST CHILD COME?
        (Author - Gaye Willis)

        Halfway through December, we were doing the regular evening things
        when there was a knock at the door. We opened it to find a small
        package with a beautiful ceramic lamb inside. We looked at the
        calendar and realized that the 12 days of Christmas were beginning!!

        We waited excitedly for the next night's surprise and only then, with
        the gift of a matching shepherd, did we realized that the lamb was
        part of a nativity set.

        Each night we grew more excited to see what piece we would receive.
        Each was exquisitely beautiful. The kids kept trying to catch the
        givers as we slowly built the scene at the manager and began to focus
        on Christ's birth.

        On Christmas Eve, all the pieces were in place, but the baby Jesus.
        My 12 year-old son really wanted to catch our benefactors and began
        to devise all kinds of ways to trap them. He ate his dinner in the
        mini-van watching and waiting, but no one came.

        Finally we called him in to go through our family's Christmas Eve
        traditions. But before the kids went to bed we checked the front
        step - no Baby Jesus! We began to worry that my son had scared them
        off. My husband suggested that maybe they dropped the Jesus and
        there wouldn't be anything
        coming. Somehow, something was missing that Christmas Eve.

        There was a feeling that things weren't complete. The kids went to
        bed and I put out Christmas, but before I went to bed I again checked
        to see if the Jesus had come - no, the doorstep was empty.

        In our family the kids can open their stockings when they want to,
        but they have to wait to open any presents until Dad wakes up. So
        one by one they woke up very early and I also woke up to watch them.
        Even before they opened their stockings, each child checked to see if
        perhaps during the night the baby Jesus had come. Missing that piece
        of the set seemed to have an odd effect. At least it changed my
        focus. I knew there were presents under the tree for me and I was
        excited to watch the children
        open their gifts, but first on my mind was the feeling of waiting for
        the ceramic Christ Child.

        We had opened just about all of the presents when one of the children
        found one more for me buried deep beneath the limbs of the tree. He
        handed me a small package from my former visiting teaching
        companion. This sister was somewhat less active in the church. I
        had learned over time they didn't have much for Christmas, so that
        their focus was the children. It sounded like she didn't get many
        gifts to open, so I had always given her a small package - new dish
        towels, the next year's lesson manual-not much, but something for her
        to open. I was touched when at Church on the day before
        Christmas, she had given me this small package, saying it was just a
        token of her love and appreciation.

        As I took off the bow, I remembered my friendship with her and was
        filled with gratitude for knowing her and for her kindness and
        sacrifice in this year giving me a gift. But as the paper fell away,
        I began to tremble and cry. There in the small brown box was the
        baby Jesus. He had come!

        I realized on that Christmas Day that Christ will come into our lives
        in ways that we don't expect. The spirit of Christ comes into our
        hearts as we serve one another. We had waited and watched for him to
        come, expecting the dramatic "knock at the door and scurrying of
        feet" but he came in a small,
        simple package that represented service, friendship, gratitude, and
        love.

        This experience taught me that the beginning of the true spirit of
        Christmas comes as we open our hearts and actively focus on the
        Savior. But we will most likely find him in the small and simple
        acts of love, friendship and service that we give to each other.

        This Christmas I want to feel again the joy of knowing that Christ is
        in our home. I want to focus on loving and serving. More than that
        I want to open my heart to him all year that I may see him again.

        Don't forget the reason for the Season

        ________________________________________________

        Copyright © 1998 - 2002 by Stephen J. Hall - Weekly 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. Most
        of "Notes" and "Humor" are a collection of items provided by
        subscribers and friends. 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:
        sossteve@...
        ________________________________________________

        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)
      • sossteve2001
        ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ NOTES FROM THE VALLEY November 30, 2003 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil
        Message 3 of 10 , Nov 30, 2003
          ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

          NOTES FROM THE VALLEY

          November 30, 2003

          "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of

          death, I will fear no evil for you are with me." Psalm 23.

          ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

          Thanksgiving is over and the Christmas shopping season is definitely
          in full swing around here. We watched some of the "day after"
          Thanksgiving store openings on the local news on Friday. What an
          amazing sight. The long lines outside the stores, the doors opening
          at 6:00 am, the frenzied rush of the shoppers to be first in the
          door. Not unlike the feeding frenzy that occurs among sharks when
          there's blood in the water.

          Cathy and I have decided not to be a part of that buying frenzy this
          year. Instead, we're going to divert the bulk of our holiday spending
          into contributions to some local and national charities. We'll use
          the old decorations instead of buying new, forego the usual big
          holiday party at the house, and limit the number of presents we give
          to our children, each other and friends.

          I don't know how our children and friends will respond to our
          decision, but I'm so grateful we've chosen this approach to Christmas
          this year. I'm grateful for several reasons. One, it means we don't
          have to get caught up in all the heavy crowds of frantic people doing
          their Christmas shopping. I hate crowds. I find shopping a bore. Put
          the two together and you'll drive me absolutely crazy. So missing
          that's a real major blessing for me. Two, it means our gifts this
          year will truly make a difference in someone's celebration of the
          real meaning of Christmas. Three, it gives us a chance to get our
          attention off of shopping for gifts and to focus on the gift that was
          given to us on the first Christmas day. And finally, it gives us more
          time to reminisce about our childhood memories of the Christmas
          season and rediscover the Christmas joy that was ours as children.
          We're planning a one day trip to Disneyland as part of that
          reminiscing.

          Do you ever feel like you're losing your joy for Christmas? I know I
          did some years ago. It was a week before Christmas and I was in a
          terrible funk. Cathy sensed I was troubled about something, so she
          began sharing with me how excited her young students were about
          Christmas and how they were all chattering about the Christmas story
          and "baby Jesus." It made me remember all the wonder I had
          experienced as a child at the telling of that story. Glued to the
          television set, hanging on every word, absorbing every scene as the
          story unfolded. Straining to look down the aisle of the church to get
          just a glimpse of the "baby Jesus" during the Christmas play. Asking
          my Dad questions about the things I didn't understand. Listening
          intently to his explanations and his retelling of the story on
          Christmas Eve as he put us to bed. Staring at the Nativity set on our
          mantle, the figurines almost coming to life as I relived the story in
          my mind. Reaching out to touch the Christ child as if it was really
          him. Each brightly wrapped present under our tree a reminder of the
          precious gifts the wise men brought to the baby. Except for the gold,
          I really didn't understand what those gifts were, but I knew they
          must be really special if kings would travel so far for so long to
          give them. And how very special the "baby Jesus" must be to have
          angels and kings worshiping him. And somehow, because he was a child
          and I was a child, we shared a common bond together and that meant I
          was special too. In the midst of reliving those precious, childhood
          memories, I rediscovered the joy of Christmas and was taught a
          valuable lesson too.


          Romans 12:2 says, "And do not be conformed to this world, but be
          transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is
          that good and acceptable and perfect will of God." As a child, I had
          unknowingly practiced that scripture. I never tired of hearing and
          watching presentations about my Savior's birth. In so doing, I had
          experienced the perfect will of God - joy, wonder and a sense of
          intimacy with my Lord. As an adult, although I sought the renewing
          power of scripture in many areas of my life, I'd stopped doing it for
          Christmas. I conformed to the world. Gifts were purchased,
          decorations put up, guests entertained, and bills paid - but the
          renewing of my mind, the joy and intimacy that came with it, had
          gotten lost in the process.

          Each year since that rediscovery, Cathy and I have tried to plan more
          time for enjoying the things that blessed us as children. In
          response, God has given us some wonderful revelations about Christmas
          that have multiplied our joy many times over. One of those
          revelations came through a book by Max Lucado I found four years ago,
          called "Cosmic Christmas." In that book (based on the contents of
          Matthew, Luke, and Revelation) Max takes a fresh new look at the
          Christmas story through the fictional words and deeds of the angel
          Gabriel as he receives and carries out his orders from God for
          the "spiritual" battle which raged around the events leading up to
          the birth of Jesus. There were many scenes in that book that touched
          our hearts. But the one that touched us most deeply was a fictional
          confrontation between God and Satan as God is about to send His
          greatest gift to Earth.


          "The two stood facing each other. God robed in light, each thread
          glowing. Satan canopied in evil, the very fabric of his robe seeming
          to crawl. Satan rose slowly off his haunches. Like a wary wolf, he
          walked a wide circle toward the desk until he stood before the volume
          (the Book of Life) and read the word: Immanuel. "Immanuel?" He
          muttered to himself. "God with us?" The hooded head turned squarely
          toward the face of the Father. "No, Not even you would do that. Not
          even you would go so far. The plan is bizarre! You don't know how
          dark I've made the Earth. It's putrid. It's evil. It's . . ."

          "It's mine," proclaimed the King. "And I will reclaim what is mine."

          "Why?" Satan asked. "Why would you do this?"

          The Father's voice was deep and soft. "Because I love them."


          He loves us. Loves us so much that He would leave behind the beauty
          and light of heaven and descend into the darkness of an evil infested
          Earth. Loves us so much that He would give up the power that spun
          this universe into existence and controls everything within it to
          become a helpless child, totally dependent upon an earthly father and
          mother.

          Close your eyes and meditate upon the magnitude and purity of that
          love for a few moments. What He gave up for us. What He became for
          us. Is it any wonder that the angels, on a cold, dark night some
          2,000 years ago proclaimed the "good news of great joy." God loves
          us. God with us. Emmanuel.

          I remain His grateful child,

          Sheltered under His wing and overwhelmed by His love,

          Steve


          WILL THE CHRIST CHILD COME ?

          (Author - Gaye Willis)

          Halfway through December, we were doing the regular evening things
          when there was a knock at the door. We opened it to find a small
          package with a beautiful ceramic lamb inside. We looked at the
          calendar and realized that the 12 days of Christmas were beginning!!

          We waited excitedly for the next night's surprise and only then, with
          the gift of a matching shepherd, did we realized that the lamb was
          part of a nativity set.

          Each night we grew more excited to see what piece we would receive.
          Each was exquisitely beautiful. The kids kept trying to catch the
          givers as we slowly built the scene at the manager and began to focus
          on Christ's birth.

          On Christmas Eve, all the pieces were in place, but the baby Jesus.
          My 12 year-old son really wanted to catch our benefactors and began
          to devise all kinds of ways to trap them. He ate his dinner in the
          mini-van watching and waiting, but no one came.

          Finally we called him in to go through our family's Christmas Eve
          traditions. But before the kids went to bed we checked the front
          step - no Baby Jesus! We began to worry that my son had scared them
          off. My husband suggested that maybe they dropped the Jesus and there
          wouldn't be anything coming. Somehow, something was missing that
          Christmas Eve. There was a feeling that things weren't complete. The
          kids went to bed and I put out Christmas, but before I went to bed I
          again checked to see if the Jesus had come - no, the doorstep was
          empty.

          In our family the kids can open their stockings when they want to,
          but they have to wait to open any presents until Dad wakes up. So one
          by one they woke up very early and I also woke up to watch them.

          Even before they opened their stockings, each child checked to see if
          perhaps during the night the baby Jesus had come. Missing that piece
          of the set seemed to have an odd effect. At least it changed my
          focus. I knew there were presents under the tree for me and I was
          excited to watch the children open their gifts, but first on my mind
          was the feeling of waiting for the ceramic Christ Child.

          We had opened just about all of the presents when one of the children
          found one more for me buried deep beneath the limbs of the tree. He
          handed me a small package from my former visiting teaching companion.
          This sister was somewhat less active in the church. I had learned
          over time they didn't have much for Christmas, so that their focus
          was the children. It sounded like she didn't get many gifts to open,
          so I had always given her a small package - new dish towels, the next
          year's lesson manual-not much, but something for her to open. I was
          touched when at Church on the day before Christmas, she had given me
          this small package, saying it was just a token of her love and
          appreciation.

          As I took off the bow, I remembered my friendship with her and was
          filled with gratitude for knowing her and for her kindness and
          sacrifice in this year giving me a gift. But as the paper fell away,
          I began to tremble and cry. There in the small brown box was the baby
          Jesus. He had come!

          I realized on that Christmas Day that Christ will come into our lives
          in ways that we don't expect. The spirit of Christ comes into our
          hearts as we serve one another. We had waited and watched for him to
          come, expecting the dramatic "knock at the door and scurrying of
          feet" but he came in a small, simple package that represented
          service, friendship, gratitude, and love.

          This experience taught me that the beginning of the true spirit of
          Christmas comes as we open our hearts and actively focus on the
          Savior. But we will most likely find him in the small and simple acts
          of love, friendship and service that we give to each other.

          This Christmas I want to feel again the joy of knowing that Christ is
          in our home. I want to focus on loving and serving. More than that I
          want to open my heart to him all year that I may see him again.

          Don't forget the reason for the Season

          ______________________________________________________________________
          ________

          Copyright © 1998 - 2003 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. Most of "Notes" and "Humor"
          are a collection of items provided by subscribers and friends. Credit
          is given to both the contributor and to the true author, where known.
          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: sossteve@...


          ______________________________________________________________________
          ________

          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 89:1-3 The Message)
        • sossteve2001
          ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ NOTES FROM THE VALLEY December 5, 2004 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no
          Message 4 of 10 , Dec 5, 2004
            ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

            NOTES FROM THE VALLEY
            December 5, 2004

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

            ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

            Thanksgiving is over and the Christmas shopping season is definitely
            in full swing around here. We watched some of the "day after"
            Thanksgiving store openings on the local news on Friday. What an
            amazing sight. The long lines outside the mall, the doors opening at
            6:00 am, the frenzied rush of the shoppers to be first in the door.
            Not unlike the feeding frenzy that occurs among sharks when there's
            blood in the water.

            Cathy and I are managing to stay out of that buying frenzy again this
            year. Like we've been doing over the past few years, some of our
            holiday spending has been diverted into local charities, we'll use
            many of the old decorations instead of buying lots of new ones, and
            finished shopping early by limiting the number of presents we give to
            our children, each other and friends.

            I'm so grateful we're continuing this less frantic approach to
            Christmas again this year. I'm grateful for several reasons. One,
            it means we don't have to get caught up in all the heavy crowds of
            frustrated people doing their Christmas shopping. I hate crowds. I
            find shopping a bore. Put the two together and they drive me
            absolutely crazy. So missing that's a real major blessing for me.
            Two, it means our gifts this year will truly make a difference in
            someone's celebration of the true meaning of Christmas. Three, it
            gives us a chance to get our attention off of shopping for gifts and
            to focus on the gift that was given to us on the first Christmas
            day. And finally, it gives us more time to reminisce about our
            childhood memories of the Christmas season and rediscover the
            Christmas joy that was ours as children. If all goes as planned, we
            should have a couple of our grandchildren with us for Christmas Day
            this year, which should definitely rekindle some of our own childhood
            memories.

            Do you ever feel like you're losing your joy for Christmas? I know I
            did some years ago. It was a week before Christmas and I was in a
            terrible funk. Cathy sensed I was troubled about something, so she
            began sharing with me how excited her young students were about
            Christmas and how they were all chattering about the Christmas story
            and "baby Jesus." It made me remember all the wonder I had
            experienced as a child at the telling of that story. Glued to the
            television set, hanging on every word, absorbing every scene as the
            story unfolded. Straining to look down the aisle of the church to
            get just a glimpse of the "baby Jesus" during the Christmas play.
            Asking my Dad questions about the things I didn't understand.
            Listening intently to his explanations and his retelling of the story
            on Christmas Eve as he put us to bed. Staring at the Nativity set on
            our mantle, the figurines almost coming to life as I relived the
            story in my mind. Reaching out to touch the Christ child as if it
            was really him. Each brightly wrapped present under our tree a
            reminder of the precious gifts the wise men brought to the baby.
            Except for the gold, I really didn't understand what those gifts
            were, but I knew they must be really special if kings would travel so
            far for so long to give them. And how very special the "baby Jesus"
            must be to have angels and kings worshiping him. And somehow,
            because he was a child and I was a child, we shared a common bond
            together and that meant I was special too. In the midst of reliving
            those precious, childhood memories, I rediscovered the joy of
            Christmas and was taught a valuable lesson too.

            Romans 12:2 says, "And do not be conformed to this world, but be
            transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is
            that good and acceptable and perfect will of God." As a child, I
            had unknowingly practiced that scripture. I never tired of hearing
            and watching presentations about my Savior's birth. In so doing, I
            had experienced the perfect will of God - joy, wonder and a sense of
            intimacy with my Lord. As an adult, although I sought the renewing
            power of scripture in many areas of my life, I'd stopped doing it for
            Christmas. I conformed to the world. Gifts were purchased,
            decorations put up, guests entertained, and bills paid - but the
            renewing of my mind, the joy and intimacy that came with it, had
            gotten lost in the process.

            Each year since that rediscovery, Cathy and I have tried to plan more
            time for enjoying the things that blessed us as children. In
            response, God has given us some wonderful revelations about Christmas
            that have multiplied our joy many times over. One of those
            revelations came through a book by Max Lucado I found four years ago,
            called "Cosmic Christmas." In that book (based on the contents of
            Matthew, Luke, and Revelation) Max takes a fresh new look at the
            Christmas story through the fictional words and deeds of the angel
            Gabriel as he receives and carries out his orders from God for
            the "spiritual" battle which raged around the events leading up to
            the birth of Jesus. There were many scenes in that book that touched
            our hearts. But the one that touched us most deeply was a fictional
            confrontation between God and Satan as God is about to send His
            greatest gift to Earth.

            "The two stood facing each other. God robed in light, each
            thread glowing. Satan canopied in evil, the very fabric of his robe
            seeming to crawl. Satan rose slowly off his haunches. Like a wary
            wolf, he walked a wide circle toward the desk until he stood before
            the volume (the Book of Life) and read the word:
            Immanuel. "Immanuel?" He muttered to himself. "God with us?" The
            hooded head turned squarely toward the face of the Father. "No, Not
            even you would do that. Not even you would go so far. The plan is
            bizarre! You don't know how dark I've made the Earth. It's putrid.
            It's evil. It's . . ."

            "It's mine," proclaimed the King. "And I will reclaim what
            is mine."

            "Why?" Satan asked. "Why would you do this?"

            The Father's voice was deep and soft. "Because I love them."

            He loves us. Loves us so much that He would leave behind the beauty
            and light of heaven and descend into the darkness of an evil infested
            Earth. Loves us so much that He would give up the power that spun
            this universe into existence and controls everything within it to
            become a helpless child, totally dependent upon an earthly father and
            mother.

            Close your eyes and meditate upon the magnitude and purity of that
            love for a few moments. What He gave up for us. What He became for
            us. Is it any wonder that the angels, on a cold, dark night some
            2,000 years ago proclaimed the "good news of great joy." God loves
            us. God with us. Emmanuel.

            I remain His grateful child,
            Sheltered under His wing and overwhelmed by His love,

            Steve



            Will the Christ Child Come?
            (Author - Gaye Willis)

            Halfway through December, we were doing the regular evening things
            when there was a knock at the door. We opened it to find a small
            package with a beautiful ceramic lamb inside. We looked at the
            calendar and realized that the 12 days of Christmas were beginning!!

            We waited excitedly for the next night's surprise and only then, with
            the gift of a matching shepherd, did we realized that the lamb was
            part of a nativity set.

            Each night we grew more excited to see what piece we would receive.
            Each was exquisitely beautiful. The kids kept trying to catch the
            givers as we slowly built the scene at the manager and began to focus
            on Christ's birth.

            On Christmas Eve, all the pieces were in place, but the baby Jesus.
            My 12 year-old son really wanted to catch our benefactors and began
            to devise all kinds of ways to trap them. He ate his dinner in the
            mini-van watching and waiting, but no one came.

            Finally we called him in to go through our family's Christmas Eve
            traditions. But before the kids went to bed we checked the front
            step - no Baby Jesus! We began to worry that my son had scared them
            off. My husband suggested that maybe they dropped the Jesus and
            there wouldn't be anything coming. Somehow, something was missing
            that Christmas Eve. There was a feeling that things weren't
            complete. The kids went to bed and I put out Christmas, but before I
            went to bed I again checked to see if the Jesus had come - no, the
            doorstep was empty.

            In our family the kids can open their stockings when they want to,
            but they have to wait to open any presents until Dad wakes up. So
            one by one they woke up very early and I also woke up to watch them.
            Even before they opened their stockings, each child checked to see if
            perhaps during the night the baby Jesus had come. Missing that piece
            of the set seemed to have an odd effect. At least it changed my
            focus. I knew there were presents under the tree for me and I was
            excited to watch the children open their gifts, but first on my mind
            was the feeling of waiting for the ceramic Christ Child.

            We had opened just about all of the presents when one of the children
            found one more for me buried deep beneath the limbs of the tree. He
            handed me a small package from my former visiting teaching
            companion. This sister was somewhat less active in the church. I
            had learned over time they didn't have much for Christmas, so that
            their focus was the children. It sounded like she didn't get many
            gifts to open, so I had always given her a small package - new dish
            towels, the next year's lesson manual-not much, but something for her
            to open. I was touched when at Church on the day before Christmas,
            she had given me this small package, saying it was just a token of
            her love and appreciation.

            As I took off the bow, I remembered my friendship with her and was
            filled with gratitude for knowing her and for her kindness and
            sacrifice in this year giving me a gift. But as the paper fell away,
            I began to tremble and cry. There in the small brown box was the
            baby Jesus. He had come!

            I realized on that Christmas Day that Christ will come into our lives
            in ways that we don't expect. The spirit of Christ comes into our
            hearts as we serve one another. We had waited and watched for him to
            come, expecting the dramatic "knock at the door and scurrying of
            feet" but he came in a small, simple package that represented
            service, friendship, gratitude, and love.

            This experience taught me that the beginning of the true spirit of
            Christmas comes as we open our hearts and actively focus on the
            Savior. But we will most likely find him in the small and simple
            acts of love, friendship and service that we give to each other.

            This Christmas I want to feel again the joy of knowing that Christ is
            in our home. I want to focus on loving and serving. More than that
            I want to open my heart to him all year that I may see him again.

            Don't forget the reason for the Season

            ______________________________________________________________________
            ______________________

            Copyright © 1998 - 2004 by Stephen J. Hall - 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 or would like
            to ask us a question or make a comment, please contact us at:
            sossteve@...
            ______________________________________________________________________
            ______________________

            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)
          • Stephen J. Hall
            ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ NOTES FROM THE VALLEY December 4, 2005 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no
            Message 5 of 10 , Dec 6, 2005
              ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
              NOTES FROM THE VALLEY
              December 4, 2005

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

              ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

              Thanksgiving is over and the Christmas shopping season is definitely
              in full swing around here. We watched some of the "day after"
              Thanksgiving store openings on the local news on Friday. What an
              amazing sight. The long lines outside the mall, the doors opening at
              5:00 am, the frenzied rush of the shoppers to be first in the door.
              Interviews with the fallen and injured headlined the news hour and
              shots of a store front window shattered by the press of people were
              included in the coverage. I couldn't help but be amazed at the
              contrast between the message of the season, "Peace on Earth", and the
              visions confronting us on our television set.

              I can't begin to tell you how much I appreciate Cathy shopping early
              each year and keeping us out of the feeding frenzy that is post
              Thanksgiving day shopping. I'm grateful for several reasons. One,
              it means we don't have to get caught up in all the heavy crowds of
              frustrated people doing their Christmas shopping. I hate crowds. I
              find shopping a bore. Put the two together and they drive me
              absolutely crazy. So missing that's a real major blessing for me.
              Two, we've got some time now to get involved with charitable projects
              locally like Samaritan's Purse and Angel Tree, which always makes our
              Christmas celebrations more meaningful. Three, we can also attend
              some of the programs at our local churches that focus more on the
              first Christmas day and the what that day means to each of us
              personally. And finally, it gives Cathy and I more time to reminisce
              about our childhood memories of the Christmas season and rediscover
              the Christmas joy that was ours as children. I think we'll also be
              creating some wonderful new memories with three of our children and
              their families joining us for Christmas this year. Kayla and Austin,
              who will be bringing their parents to visit Gramma and Grampa, should
              make this a truly joyous and memorable year. Grampa did some spying
              into Gramma's not so secret hiding places and I can truthfully report
              that Santa is going to spoil these little ones completely on
              Christmas Day!!!!

              Do you ever feel like you're losing your joy for Christmas? I know I
              did some years ago. It was a week before Christmas and I was in a
              terrible funk. Cathy sensed I was troubled about something, so she
              began sharing with me how excited her young students were about
              Christmas and how they were all chattering about the Christmas story
              and "baby Jesus." It made me remember all the wonder I had
              experienced as a child at the telling of that story. Glued to the
              television set, hanging on every word, absorbing every scene as the
              story unfolded. Straining to look down the aisle of the church to
              get just a glimpse of the "baby Jesus" during the Christmas play.
              Asking my Dad questions about the things I didn't understand.
              Listening intently to his explanations and his retelling of the story
              on Christmas Eve as he put us to bed. Staring at the Nativity set on
              our mantle, the figurines almost coming to life as I relived the
              story in my mind. Reaching out to touch the Christ child as if it
              was really him. Each brightly wrapped present under our tree a
              reminder of the precious gifts the wise men brought to the baby.
              Except for the gold, I really didn't understand what those gifts
              were, but I knew they must be really special if kings would travel so
              far for so long to give them. And how very special the "baby Jesus"
              must be to have angels and kings worshiping him. And somehow,
              because he was a child and I was a child, we shared a common bond
              together and that meant I was special too. In the midst of reliving
              those precious, childhood memories, I rediscovered the joy of
              Christmas and was taught a valuable lesson too.

              Romans 12:2 says, "And do not be conformed to this world, but be
              transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is
              that good and acceptable and perfect will of God." As a child, I
              had unknowingly practiced that scripture. I never tired of hearing
              and watching presentations about my Savior's birth. In so doing, I
              had experienced the perfect will of God - joy, wonder and a sense of
              intimacy with my Lord. As an adult, although I sought the renewing
              power of scripture in many areas of my life, I'd stopped doing it for
              Christmas. I conformed to the world. Gifts were purchased,
              decorations put up, guests entertained, and bills paid - but the
              renewing of my mind, the joy and intimacy that came with it, had
              gotten lost in the process.

              Each year since that rediscovery, Cathy and I have tried to plan more
              time for enjoying the things that blessed us as children. In
              response, God has given us some wonderful revelations about Christmas
              that have multiplied our joy many times over. One of those
              revelations came through a book by Max Lucado I found four years ago,
              called "Cosmic Christmas." In that book (based on the contents of
              Matthew, Luke, and Revelation) Max takes a fresh new look at the
              Christmas story through the fictional words and deeds of the angel
              Gabriel as he receives and carries out his orders from God for
              the "spiritual" battle which raged around the events leading up to
              the birth of Jesus. There were many scenes in that book that touched
              our hearts. But the one that touched us most deeply was a fictional
              confrontation between God and Satan as God is about to send His
              greatest gift to Earth.

              "The two stood facing each other. God robed in light, each
              thread glowing. Satan canopied in evil, the very fabric of his robe
              seeming to crawl. Satan rose slowly off his haunches. Like a wary
              wolf, he walked a wide circle toward the desk until he stood before
              the volume (the Book of Life) and read the word:
              Immanuel. "Immanuel?" He muttered to himself. "God with us?" The
              hooded head turned squarely toward the face of the Father. "No, Not
              even you would do that. Not even you would go so far. The plan is
              bizarre! You don't know how dark I've made the Earth. It's putrid.
              It's evil. It's . . ."

              "It's mine," proclaimed the King. "And I will reclaim what
              is mine."

              "Why?" Satan asked. "Why would you do this?"

              The Father's voice was deep and soft. "Because I love them."

              He loves us. Loves us so much that He would leave behind the beauty
              and light of heaven and descend into the darkness of an evil infested
              Earth. Loves us so much that He would give up the power that spun
              this universe into existence and controls everything within it to
              become a helpless child, totally dependent upon an earthly father and
              mother.

              Close your eyes and meditate upon the magnitude and purity of that
              love for a few moments. What He gave up for us. What He became for
              us. Is it any wonder that the angels, on a cold, dark night some
              2,000 years ago proclaimed the "good news of great joy." God loves
              us. God with us. Emmanuel.

              I remain His joyfully amazed child,
              Sheltered under His wing and overwhelmed by His love,

              Steve



              WILL THE CHRIST CHILD COME?
              (Author - Gaye Willis)

              Halfway through December, we were doing the regular evening things
              when there was a knock at the door. We opened it to find a small
              package with a beautiful ceramic lamb inside. We looked at the
              calendar and realized that the 12 days of Christmas were beginning!!

              We waited excitedly for the next night's surprise and only then, with
              the gift of a matching shepherd, did we realized that the lamb was
              part of a nativity set.

              Each night we grew more excited to see what piece we would receive.
              Each was exquisitely beautiful. The kids kept trying to catch the
              givers as we slowly built the scene at the manager and began to focus
              on Christ's birth.

              On Christmas Eve, all the pieces were in place, but the baby Jesus.
              My 12 year-old son really wanted to catch our benefactors and began
              to devise all kinds of ways to trap them. He ate his dinner in the
              mini-van watching and waiting, but no one came.

              Finally we called him in to go through our family's Christmas Eve
              traditions. But before the kids went to bed we checked the front
              step - no Baby Jesus! We began to worry that my son had scared them
              off. My husband suggested that maybe they dropped the Jesus and
              there wouldn't be anything coming.

              Somehow, something was missing that Christmas Eve. There was a
              feeling that things weren't complete. The kids went to bed and I put
              out Christmas, but before I went to bed I again checked to see if the
              Jesus had come - no, the doorstep was empty.

              In our family the kids can open their stockings when they want to,
              but they have to wait to open any presents until Dad wakes up. So
              one by one they woke up very early and I also woke up to watch them.
              Even before they opened their stockings, each child checked to see if
              perhaps during the night the baby Jesus had come. Missing that piece
              of the set seemed to have an odd effect. At least it changed my
              focus. I knew there were presents under the tree for me and I was
              excited to watch the children open their gifts, but first on my mind
              was the feeling of waiting for the ceramic Christ Child.

              We had opened just about all of the presents when one of the children
              found one more for me buried deep beneath the limbs of the tree. He
              handed me a small package from my former visiting teaching
              companion. This sister was somewhat less active in the church. I
              had learned over time they didn't have much for Christmas, so that
              their focus was the children. It sounded like she didn't get many
              gifts to open, so I had always given her a small package - new dish
              towels, the next year's lesson manual-not much, but something for her
              to open. I was touched when at Church on the day before Christmas,
              she had given me this small package, saying it was just a token of
              her love and appreciation.

              As I took off the bow, I remembered my friendship with her and was
              filled with gratitude for knowing her and for her kindness and
              sacrifice in this year giving me a gift. But as the paper fell away,
              I began to tremble and cry. There in the small brown box was the
              baby Jesus. He had come!

              I realized on that Christmas Day that Christ will come into our lives
              in ways that we don't expect. The spirit of Christ comes into our
              hearts as we serve one another. We had waited and watched for him to
              come, expecting the dramatic "knock at the door and scurrying of
              feet" but he came in a small, simple package that represented
              service, friendship, gratitude, and love.

              This experience taught me that the beginning of the true spirit of
              Christmas comes as we open our hearts and actively focus on the
              Savior. But we will most likely find him in the small and simple
              acts of love, friendship and service that we give to each other.

              This Christmas I want to feel again the joy of knowing that Christ is
              in our home. I want to focus on loving and serving. More than that
              I want to open my heart to him all year that I may see him again.

              Don't forget the reason for the Season
              ______________________________________________________________________
              _____________________

              Copyright © 1998 - 2005 by Stephen J. Hall - 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 or would like
              to ask us 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 89:1-3 The Message)
            • Stephen J. Hall
              ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ NOTES FROM THE VALLEY December 3, 2006 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil
              Message 6 of 10 , Nov 30, 2006
                ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

                NOTES FROM THE VALLEY

                December 3, 2006

                "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

                I will fear no evil for you are with me." Psalm 23.

                ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

                Thanksgiving is over and the Christmas shopping season is definitely
                in full swing around here. We watched some of the "day after"
                Thanksgiving store openings on the local news on Friday. What an
                amazing sight. The long lines outside the malls, the doors opening
                at 5:00 am, the frenzied rush of the shoppers to be first in the
                door. Not unlike the feeding frenzy that occurs among sharks when
                there's blood in the water.

                Cathy and I are managing to stay out of that buying frenzy again
                this year. We did drive down into Fresno for a few mid-day purchases
                (mainly stocking stuffers for the children), but pretty much kept it
                to just a relaxing outing on our rare day off together. Again this
                year, some of our holiday spending will be diverted into local
                charities. We'll use many of the old decorations instead of buying
                lots of new ones and we finished shopping early by limiting the
                number of presents we give. Our new tradition that started last year
                is to "stuff" a family stocking for each of our children and their
                spouses and buy one significant gift for each of the grandchildren.
                Our spending isn't any less, but it's directed into more meaningful
                choices.

                I'm so grateful we're continuing this less frantic approach to
                Christmas again this year. I'm grateful for several reasons. One, it
                means we don't have to get caught up in all the heavy crowds of
                frustrated people doing their Christmas shopping. Two, it means our
                gifts this year will truly make a difference in someone's
                celebration of the true meaning of Christmas. Three, it gives us a
                chance to get our attention off of shopping for gifts and to focus
                on the gift that was given to us on the first Christmas day. And
                finally, it gives us more time to reminisce about our childhood
                memories of the Christmas season and rediscover the Christmas joy
                that was ours as children. If all goes as planned, we should have
                three of our children and four of our grandchildren home with us for
                Christmas Day this year, which should definitely be a joy filled
                experience.

                Do you ever feel like you're losing your joy for Christmas? I know I
                did some years ago. It was a week before Christmas, it was just me
                and Cathy for the holidays because our children where scattered all
                over the country and couldn't make it home. I was in a terrible
                funk. Cathy sensed I was having trouble getting into the spirit of
                the season, so she began sharing with me how excited her young
                students were about Christmas and how they were all chattering about
                the Christmas story and "baby Jesus." It made me remember all the
                wonder I had experienced as a child at the telling of that story.
                Glued to the television set, hanging on every word, absorbing every
                scene as the story unfolded. Straining to look down the aisle of the
                church to get just a glimpse of the "baby Jesus" during the
                Christmas play. Asking my Dad questions about the things I didn't
                understand. Listening intently to his explanations. Staring at the
                Nativity set on our mantle, the figurines almost coming to life as I
                relived the story in my mind. Reaching out to touch the Christ child
                as if it was really him. Each brightly wrapped present under our
                tree a reminder of the precious gifts the wise men brought to the
                baby. Except for the gold, I really didn't understand what those
                gifts were, but I knew they must be really special if kings would
                travel so far for so long to give them. And how very special
                the "baby Jesus" must be to have angels and kings worshiping him.
                And somehow, because he was a child and I was a child, we shared a
                common bond together and that meant I was special too. In the midst
                of reliving those precious, childhood memories, I rediscovered the
                joy of Christmas and was taught a valuable lesson too.


                Romans 12:2 says, "And do not be conformed to this world, but be
                transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is
                that good and acceptable and perfect will of God." As a child, I had
                unknowingly practiced that scripture. I never tired of hearing and
                watching presentations about my Savior's birth. In so doing, I had
                experienced the perfect will of God - joy, wonder and a sense of
                intimacy with my Lord. As an adult, although I sought the renewing
                power of scripture in many areas of my life, I'd stopped doing it
                for Christmas. I conformed to the world. Gifts were purchased,
                decorations put up, guests entertained, and bills paid - but the
                renewing of my mind, the joy and intimacy that came with it, had
                gotten lost in the process.

                Each year since that rediscovery, Cathy and I have tried to plan
                more time for enjoying the things that blessed us as children. In
                response, God has given us some wonderful revelations about
                Christmas that have multiplied our joy many times over. One of those
                revelations came through a book by Max Lucado I found five years
                ago, called "Cosmic Christmas." In that book (based on the contents
                of Matthew, Luke, and Revelation) Max takes a fresh new look at the
                Christmas story through the fictional words and deeds of the angel
                Gabriel as he receives and carries out his orders from God for
                the "spiritual" battle which raged around the events leading up to
                the birth of Jesus. There were many scenes in that book that touched
                our hearts. But the one that touched us most deeply was a fictional
                confrontation between God and Satan as God is about to send His
                greatest gift to Earth.


                "The two stood facing each other. God robed in light, each thread
                glowing. Satan canopied in evil, the very fabric of his robe seeming
                to crawl. Satan rose slowly off his haunches. Like a wary wolf, he
                walked a wide circle toward the desk until he stood before the
                volume (the Book of Life) and read the word: Immanuel. "Immanuel?"
                He muttered to himself. "God with us?" The hooded head turned
                squarely toward the face of the Father. "No, Not even you would do
                that. Not even you would go so far. The plan is bizarre! You don't
                know how dark I've made the Earth. It's putrid. It's evil.
                It's . . ."

                "It's mine," proclaimed the King. "And I will reclaim what is mine."

                "Why?" Satan asked. "Why would you do this?"

                The Father's voice was deep and soft. "Because I love them."

                He loves us. Loves us so much that He would leave behind the beauty
                and light of heaven and descend into the darkness of an evil
                infested Earth. Loves us so much that He would give up the power
                that spun this universe into existence and controls everything
                within it to become a helpless child, totally dependent upon an
                earthly father and mother.

                Close your eyes and meditate upon the magnitude and purity of that
                love for a few moments. What He gave up for us. What He became for
                us. Is it any wonder that the angels, on a cold, dark night some
                2,000 years ago proclaimed the "good news of great joy." God loves
                us. God with us. Emmanuel.

                I remain His grateful child,

                Sheltered under His wing and overwhelmed by His love,

                Steve



                Will the Christ Child Come?

                (Author - Gaye Willis)

                Halfway through December, we were doing the regular evening things
                when there was a knock at the door. We opened it to find a small
                package with a beautiful ceramic lamb inside. We looked at the
                calendar and realized that the 12 days of Christmas were beginning!!

                We waited excitedly for the next night's surprise and only then,
                with the gift of a matching shepherd, did we realized that the lamb
                was part of a nativity set.

                Each night we grew more excited to see what piece we would receive.
                Each was exquisitely beautiful. The kids kept trying to catch the
                givers as we slowly built the scene at the manager and began to
                focus on Christ's birth.

                On Christmas Eve, all the pieces were in place, but the baby Jesus.
                My 12 year-old son really wanted to catch our benefactors and began
                to devise all kinds of ways to trap them. He ate his dinner in the
                mini-van watching and waiting, but no one came.

                Finally we called him in to go through our family's Christmas Eve
                traditions. But before the kids went to bed we checked the front
                step - no Baby Jesus! We began to worry that my son had scared them
                off. My husband suggested that maybe they dropped the Jesus and
                there wouldn't be anything
                coming.

                Somehow, something was missing that Christmas Eve. There was a
                feeling that things weren't complete. The kids went to bed and I put
                out Christmas, but before I went to bed I again checked to see if
                the Jesus had come - no, the doorstep was empty.

                In our family the kids can open their stockings when they want to,
                but they have to wait to open any presents until Dad wakes up. So
                one by one they woke up very early and I also woke up to watch them.
                Even before they opened their stockings, each child checked to see
                if perhaps during the night the baby Jesus had come. Missing that
                piece of the set seemed to have an odd effect. At least it changed
                my focus. I knew there were presents under the tree for me and I was
                excited to watch the children open their gifts, but first on my mind
                was the feeling of waiting for the ceramic Christ Child.

                We had opened just about all of the presents when one of the
                children found one more for me buried deep beneath the limbs of the
                tree. He handed me a small package from my former visiting teaching
                companion. This sister was somewhat less active in the church. I had
                learned over time they didn't have much for Christmas, so that their
                focus was the children. It sounded like she didn't get many gifts to
                open, so I had always given her a small package - new dish towels,
                the next year's lesson manual-not much, but something for her to
                open. I was touched when at Church on the day before
                Christmas, she had given me this small package, saying it was just a
                token of her love and appreciation.

                As I took off the bow, I remembered my friendship with her and was
                filled with gratitude for knowing her and for her kindness and
                sacrifice in this year giving me a gift. But as the paper fell away,
                I began to tremble and cry. There in the small brown box was the
                baby Jesus. He had come!

                I realized on that Christmas Day that Christ will come into our
                lives in ways that we don't expect. The spirit of Christ comes into
                our hearts as we serve one another. We had waited and watched for
                him to come, expecting the dramatic "knock at the door and scurrying
                of feet" but he came in a small,
                simple package that represented service, friendship, gratitude, and
                love.

                This experience taught me that the beginning of the true spirit of
                Christmas comes as we open our hearts and actively focus on the
                Savior. But we will most likely find him in the small and simple
                acts of love, friendship and service that we give to each other.

                This Christmas I want to feel again the joy of knowing that Christ
                is in our home. I want to focus on loving and serving. More than
                that I want to open my heart to him all year that I may see him
                again.

                Don't forget the reason for the Season



                _____________________________________________________________________
                ___________________


                Copyright © 1998 - 2006 by Stephen J. Hall - 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 or would like
                to ask us 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)
              • Stephen J. Hall
                ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ NOTES FROM THE VALLEY December 2, 2007 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no
                Message 7 of 10 , Dec 6, 2007
                  ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

                  NOTES FROM THE VALLEY
                  December 2, 2007

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

                  ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

                  Finding the Joy Again

                  Thanksgiving is over and the Christmas shopping season is definitely
                  in full swing around here. We watched some of the "Black
                  Friday"store openings on the local news on Friday. What an amazing
                  sight. The long lines outside the mall, some people actually camping
                  out on the sidewalks. Then the doors opening (at 4:00 am in some
                  places this year) and the frenzied rush of the shoppers to be first
                  in the door. Not unlike the feeding frenzy that occurs among sharks
                  when there's blood in the water.

                  Cathy and I are managing to stay out of that buying frenzy again this
                  year. We did drive down into Fresno for a few purchases (mainly
                  stocking stuffers for the children), but did most of the major stuff
                  on the internet. Cathy says it's just like Christmas Day at the
                  house now. Every day or so, the UPS guy shows up with another
                  package for her to open. She's like a kid this time of year and
                  finds joy in most everything. Like we've been doing over the past
                  several years, some of our holiday spending will be diverted into
                  several local charities and a few national charities like World
                  Vision, Operation Christmas Child (shoe boxes through our church),
                  and Angel Tree through Prison Fellowship.

                  I really love this less frantic approach to Christmas. It means we
                  don't have to get caught up in all the heavy crowds of frustrated
                  people doing their Christmas shopping. It's an added blessing
                  because we know some of our gifts this will truly make a difference
                  in someone's celebration of Christmas. It gives us a chance to focus
                  more on the gift that was given to us on the first Christmas Day.
                  And finally, it gives us more time to reminisce about our childhood
                  memories of the Christmas season and rediscover the Christmas joy
                  that was ours as children. If all goes as planned, we should have
                  three of our children and four of our grandchildren home with us for
                  Christmas Day this year, which should definitely be a joy filled
                  experience.

                  Do you ever feel like you're losing your joy for Christmas? I know I
                  did some years ago. It was a week before Christmas, it was just me
                  and Cathy for the holidays because our children where scattered all
                  over the country and couldn't make it home. I was in a terrible
                  funk. Cathy sensed I was having trouble getting into the spirit of
                  the season, so she began sharing with me how excited her young
                  students were about Christmas and how they were all chattering about
                  the Christmas story and "baby Jesus." It made me remember all the
                  wonder I had experienced as a child at the telling of that story.
                  Glued to the television set, hanging on every word, absorbing every
                  scene as the story unfolded. Straining to look down the aisle of the
                  church to get just a glimpse of the "baby Jesus" during the Christmas
                  play. Asking my Dad questions about the things I didn't understand.
                  Listening intently to his explanations. Staring at the Nativity set
                  on our mantle, the figurines almost coming to life as I relived the
                  story in my mind. Reaching out to touch the Christ child as if it
                  was really him. Each brightly wrapped present under our tree a
                  reminder of the precious gifts the wise men brought to the baby.
                  Except for the gold, I really didn't understand what those gifts
                  were, but I knew they must be really special if kings would travel so
                  far for so long to give them. And how very special the "baby Jesus"
                  must be to have angels and kings worshiping him. And somehow,
                  because he was a child and I was a child, we shared a common bond
                  together and that meant I was special too. In the midst of reliving
                  those precious, childhood memories, I rediscovered the joy of
                  Christmas and was taught a valuable lesson too.

                  Romans 12:2 says, "And do not be conformed to this world, but be
                  transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is
                  that good and acceptable and perfect will of God." As a child, I
                  had unknowingly practiced that scripture. I never tired of hearing
                  and watching presentations about my Savior's birth. In so doing, I
                  had experienced the perfect will of God - joy, wonder and a sense of
                  intimacy with my Lord. As an adult, although I sought the renewing
                  power of scripture in many areas of my life, I'd stopped doing it for
                  Christmas. I conformed to the world. Gifts were purchased,
                  decorations put up, guests entertained, and bills paid - but the
                  renewing of my mind, the joy and intimacy that came with it, had
                  gotten lost in the process.

                  Each year since that rediscovery, Cathy and I have tried to plan more
                  time for enjoying the things that blessed us as children. In
                  response, God has given us some wonderful revelations about Christmas
                  that have multiplied our joy many times over. One of those
                  revelations came through a book by Max Lucado I found six years ago,
                  called "Cosmic Christmas." In that book (based on the contents of
                  Matthew, Luke, and Revelation) Max takes a fresh new look at the
                  Christmas story through the fictional words and deeds of the angel
                  Gabriel as he receives and carries out his orders from God for
                  the "spiritual" battle which raged around the events leading up to
                  the birth of Jesus. There were many scenes in that book that touched
                  our hearts. But the one that touched us most deeply was a fictional
                  confrontation between God and Satan as God is about to send His
                  greatest gift to Earth.

                  "The two stood facing each other. God robed in light, each
                  thread glowing. Satan canopied in evil, the very fabric of his robe
                  seeming to crawl. Satan rose slowly off his haunches. Like a wary
                  wolf, he walked a wide circle toward the desk until he stood before
                  the volume (the Book of Life) and read the word:
                  Immanuel. "Immanuel?" He muttered to himself. "God with us?" The
                  hooded head turned squarely toward the face of the Father. "No, Not
                  even you would do that. Not even you would go so far. The plan is
                  bizarre! You don't know how dark I've made the Earth. It's putrid.
                  It's evil. It's . . ."

                  "It's mine," proclaimed the King. "And I will reclaim what is mine."
                  "Why?" Satan asked. "Why would you do this?"
                  The Father's voice was deep and soft. "Because I love them."

                  He loves us. Loves us so much that He would leave behind the beauty
                  and light of heaven and descend into the darkness of an evil infested
                  Earth. Loves us so much that He would give up the power that spun
                  this universe into existence and controls everything within it to
                  become a helpless child, totally dependent upon an earthly father and
                  mother.

                  Close your eyes and meditate upon the magnitude and purity of that
                  love for a few moments. What He gave up for us. What He became for
                  us. Is it any wonder that the angels, on a cold, dark night some
                  2,000 years ago proclaimed the "good news of great joy." God loves
                  us. God with us. Emmanuel.

                  I remain His grateful child,
                  Sheltered under His wing and overwhelmed by His love,

                  Steve


                  WILL THE CHRIST CHILD COME ?
                  (Author - Gaye Willis)

                  Halfway through December, we were doing the regular evening things
                  when there was a knock at the door. We opened it to find a small
                  package with a beautiful ceramic lamb inside. We looked at the
                  calendar and realized that the 12 days of Christmas were beginning!!

                  We waited excitedly for the next night's surprise and only then, with
                  the gift of a matching shepherd, did we realized that the lamb was
                  part of a nativity set.

                  Each night we grew more excited to see what piece we would receive.
                  Each was exquisitely beautiful. The kids kept trying to catch the
                  givers as we slowly built the scene at the manager and began to focus
                  on Christ's birth.

                  On Christmas Eve, all the pieces were in place, but the baby Jesus.
                  My 12 year-old son really wanted to catch our benefactors and began
                  to devise all kinds of ways to trap them. He ate his dinner in the
                  mini-van watching and waiting, but no one came.

                  Finally we called him in to go through our family's Christmas Eve
                  traditions. But before the kids went to bed we checked the front
                  step - no Baby Jesus! We began to worry that my son had scared them
                  off. My husband suggested that maybe they dropped the Jesus and
                  there wouldn't be anything coming.

                  Somehow, something was missing that Christmas Eve. There was a
                  feeling that things weren't complete. The kids went to bed and I put
                  out Christmas, but before I went to bed I again checked to see if the
                  Jesus had come - no, the doorstep was empty.

                  In our family the kids can open their stockings when they want to,
                  but they have to wait to open any presents until Dad wakes up. So
                  one by one they woke up very early and I also woke up to watch them.
                  Even before they opened their stockings, each child checked to see if
                  perhaps during the night the baby Jesus had come. Missing that piece
                  of the set seemed to have an odd effect. At least it changed my
                  focus. I knew there were presents under the tree for me and I was
                  excited to watch the children open their gifts, but first on my mind
                  was the feeling of waiting for the ceramic Christ Child.

                  We had opened just about all of the presents when one of the children
                  found one more for me buried deep beneath the limbs of the tree. He
                  handed me a small package from my former visiting teaching
                  companion. This sister was somewhat less active in the church. I
                  had learned over time they didn't have much for Christmas, so that
                  their focus was the children. It sounded like she didn't get many
                  gifts to open, so I had always given her a small package - new dish
                  towels, the next year's lesson manual-not much, but something for her
                  to open. I was touched when at Church on the day before Christmas,
                  she had given me this small package, saying it was just a token of
                  her love and appreciation.

                  As I took off the bow, I remembered my friendship with her and was
                  filled with gratitude for knowing her and for her kindness and
                  sacrifice in this year giving me a gift. But as the paper fell away,
                  I began to tremble and cry. There in the small brown box was the
                  baby Jesus. He had come!

                  I realized on that Christmas Day that Christ will come into our lives
                  in ways that we don't expect. The spirit of Christ comes into our
                  hearts as we serve one another. We had waited and watched for him to
                  come, expecting the dramatic "knock at the door and scurrying of
                  feet" but he came in a small, simple package that represented
                  service, friendship, gratitude, and love.

                  This experience taught me that the beginning of the true spirit of
                  Christmas comes as we open our hearts and actively focus on the
                  Savior. But we will most likely find him in the small and simple
                  acts of love, friendship and service that we give to each other.

                  This Christmas I want to feel again the joy of knowing that Christ is
                  in our home. I want to focus on loving and serving. More than that
                  I want to open my heart to him all year that I may see him again.

                  Don't forget the reason for the Season

                  ______________________________________________________________________
                  ____
                  Copyright © 1998 - 2007 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 , want to ask us 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 89:1-3 The Message)
                • Stephen J. Hall
                  ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ NOTES FROM THE VALLEY December 7, 2008 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no
                  Message 8 of 10 , Dec 8, 2008
                    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

                    NOTES FROM THE VALLEY
                    December 7, 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.

                    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

                    FINDING THE JOY AGAIN

                    Thanksgiving is over and the Christmas shopping season is definitely
                    in full swing around here. We watched some of the "Black
                    Friday"store openings on the local news. What an amazing sight. The
                    long lines outside the mall, some people actually camping out on the
                    sidewalks. Then the doors opening (at 4:00 am in some places this
                    year) and the frenzied rush of the shoppers to be first in the door.
                    Not unlike the feeding frenzy that occurs among sharks when there's
                    blood in the water. Now we've learned through the news media that a
                    Walmart employee in Long Island, New York was crushed to death in the
                    terrible rush of shoppers on that morning.

                    Cathy and I are managing to stay out of that buying frenzy again this
                    year. We did drive down into Fresno for a few purchases last Friday,
                    but did most of the major stuff in October and November, just so we
                    wouldn't have to be in that mad crush now. .Again this year, some of
                    our holiday spending will be diverted into several local charities,
                    and a few national charities like Gospel for Asia's Project Hope,
                    Operation Christmas Child (shoe boxes through our church), and Angel
                    Tree through Prison Fellowship.

                    I really love this less frantic approach to Christmas. It means we
                    don't have to get caught up in all the heavy crowds of frustrated
                    people doing their Christmas shopping. It's an added blessing
                    because we know some of our gifts this year will truly make a
                    difference in someone's celebration of the true meaning of
                    Christmas. It gives us a chance to focus more on the gift that was
                    given to us on the first Christmas day. And finally, it gives us
                    more time to reminisce about our childhood memories of the Christmas
                    season and rediscover the Christmas joy that was ours as children.
                    Unfortunately, only Michael, Valerie, Kayla and Torrey will be able
                    to make it to our house for Christmas this year. Chris will be
                    moving to Las Vegas to be with his sister and look for employment
                    there because the job opportunities in this area are nonexistent.
                    Jenny and Andrew can't come because money's so tight. We'll be
                    making a run out there to help Chris move and deliver the Christmas
                    presents in person this coming weekend, so we'll be doing a portion
                    of Christmas early with Austin and Adison on the 12th. Not an ideal
                    situation, but any time with those two is worth the effort.

                    Do you ever feel like you're losing your joy for Christmas? I know I
                    did some years ago. It was a week before Christmas, it was just me
                    and Cathy for the holidays because our children where scattered all
                    over the country and couldn't make it home. I was in a terrible
                    funk. Cathy sensed I was having trouble getting into the spirit of
                    the season, so she began sharing with me how excited her young
                    students were about Christmas and how they were all chattering about
                    the Christmas story and "baby Jesus." It made me remember all the
                    wonder I had experienced as a child at the telling of that story.
                    Glued to the television set, hanging on every word, absorbing every
                    scene as the story unfolded. Straining to look down the aisle of the
                    church to get just a glimpse of the "baby Jesus" during the Christmas
                    play. Asking my Dad questions about the things I didn't understand.
                    Listening intently to his explanations. Staring at the Nativity set
                    on our mantle, the figurines almost coming to life as I relived the
                    story in my mind. Reaching out to touch the Christ child as if it
                    was really him. Each brightly wrapped present under our tree a
                    reminder of the precious gifts the wise men brought to the baby.
                    Except for the gold, I really didn't understand what those gifts
                    were, but I knew they must be really special if kings would travel so
                    far for so long to give them. And how very special the "baby Jesus"
                    must be to have angels and kings worshiping him. And somehow,
                    because he was a child and I was a child, we shared a common bond
                    together and that meant I was special too. In the midst of reliving
                    those precious, childhood memories, I rediscovered the joy of
                    Christmas and was taught a valuable lesson too.

                    Romans 12:2 says, "And do not be conformed to this world, but be
                    transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is
                    that good and acceptable and perfect will of God." As a child, I
                    had unknowingly practiced that scripture. I never tired of hearing
                    and watching presentations about my Savior's birth. In so doing, I
                    had experienced the perfect will of God - joy, wonder and a sense of
                    intimacy with my Lord. As an adult, although I sought the renewing
                    power of scripture in many areas of my life, I'd stopped doing it for
                    Christmas. I conformed to the world. Gifts were purchased,
                    decorations put up, guests entertained, and bills paid - but the
                    renewing of my mind, the joy and intimacy that came with it, had
                    gotten lost in the process.

                    Each year since that rediscovery, Cathy and I have tried to plan more
                    time for enjoying the things that blessed us as children. In
                    response, God has given us some wonderful revelations about Christmas
                    that have multiplied our joy many times over. One of those
                    revelations came through a book by Max Lucado I found seven years
                    ago, called "Cosmic Christmas." In that book (based on the contents
                    of Matthew, Luke, and Revelation) Max takes a fresh new look at the
                    Christmas story through the fictional words and deeds of the angel
                    Gabriel as he receives and carries out his orders from God for
                    the "spiritual" battle which raged around the events leading up to
                    the birth of Jesus. There were many scenes in that book that touched
                    our hearts. But the one that touched us most deeply was a fictional
                    confrontation between God and Satan as God is about to send His
                    greatest gift to Earth.

                    "The two stood facing each other. God robed in light, each
                    thread glowing. Satan canopied in evil, the very fabric of his robe
                    seeming to crawl. Satan rose slowly off his haunches. Like a wary
                    wolf, he walked a wide circle toward the desk until he stood before
                    the volume (the Book of Life) and read the word:
                    Immanuel. "Immanuel?" He muttered to himself. "God with us?" The
                    hooded head turned squarely toward the face of the Father. "No, Not
                    even you would do that. Not even you would go so far. The plan is
                    bizarre! You don't know how dark I've made the Earth. It's putrid.
                    It's evil. It's . . ."

                    "It's mine," proclaimed the King. "And I will reclaim what is mine."

                    "Why?" Satan asked. "Why would you do this?"

                    The Father's voice was deep and soft. "Because I love them."

                    He loves us. Loves us so much that He would leave behind the beauty
                    and light of heaven and descend into the darkness of an evil infested
                    Earth. Loves us so much that He would give up the power that spun
                    this universe into existence and controls everything within it to
                    become a helpless child, totally dependent upon an earthly father and
                    mother.

                    Close your eyes and meditate upon the magnitude and purity of that
                    love for a few moments. What He gave up for us. What He became for
                    us. Is it any wonder that the angels, on a cold, dark night some
                    2,000 years ago proclaimed the "good news of great joy." God loves
                    us. God with us. Emmanuel.

                    I remain His grateful child,
                    Sheltered under His wing and overwhelmed by His love,

                    Steve



                    WILL THE CHRIST CHILD COME ?
                    (Author - Gaye Willis)

                    Halfway through December, we were doing the regular evening things
                    when there was a knock at the door. We opened it to find a small
                    package with a beautiful ceramic lamb inside. We looked at the
                    calendar and realized that the 12 days of Christmas were beginning!!

                    We waited excitedly for the next night's surprise and only then, with
                    the gift of a matching shepherd, did we realized that the lamb was
                    part of a nativity set.

                    Each night we grew more excited to see what piece we would receive.
                    Each was exquisitely beautiful. The kids kept trying to catch the
                    givers as we slowly built the scene at the manager and began to focus
                    on Christ's birth.

                    On Christmas Eve, all the pieces were in place, but the baby Jesus.
                    My 12 year-old son really wanted to catch our benefactors and began
                    to devise all kinds of ways to trap them. He ate his dinner in the
                    mini-van watching and waiting, but no one came.
                    Finally we called him in to go through our family's Christmas Eve
                    traditions. But before the kids went to bed we checked the front
                    step - no Baby Jesus! We began to worry that my son had scared them
                    off. My husband suggested that maybe they dropped the Jesus and
                    there wouldn't be anything
                    coming.

                    Somehow, something was missing that Christmas Eve. There was a
                    feeling that things weren't complete. The kids went to bed and I put
                    out Christmas, but before I went to bed I again checked to see if the
                    Jesus had come - no, the doorstep was empty.

                    In our family the kids can open their stockings when they want to,
                    but they have to wait to open any presents until Dad wakes up. So
                    one by one they woke up very early and I also woke up to watch them.
                    Even before they opened their stockings, each child checked to see if
                    perhaps during the night the baby Jesus had come. Missing that piece
                    of the set seemed to have an odd effect. At least it changed my
                    focus. I knew there were presents under the tree for me and I was
                    excited to watch the children open their gifts, but first on my mind
                    was the feeling of waiting for the ceramic Christ Child.

                    We had opened just about all of the presents when one of the children
                    found one more for me buried deep beneath the limbs of the tree. He
                    handed me a small package from my former visiting teaching
                    companion. This sister was somewhat less active in the church. I
                    had learned over time they didn't have much for Christmas, so that
                    their focus was the children. It sounded like she didn't get many
                    gifts to open, so I had always given her a small package - new dish
                    towels, the next year's lesson manual-not much, but something for her
                    to open. I was touched when at Church on the day before
                    Christmas, she had given me this small package, saying it was just a
                    token of her love and appreciation.

                    As I took off the bow, I remembered my friendship with her and was
                    filled with gratitude for knowing her and for her kindness and
                    sacrifice in this year giving me a gift. But as the paper fell away,
                    I began to tremble and cry. There in the small brown box was the
                    baby Jesus. He had come!

                    I realized on that Christmas Day that Christ will come into our lives
                    in ways that we don't expect. The spirit of Christ comes into our
                    hearts as we serve one another. We had waited and watched for him to
                    come, expecting the dramatic "knock at the door and scurrying of
                    feet" but he came in a small,
                    simple package that represented service, friendship, gratitude, and
                    love.

                    This experience taught me that the beginning of the true spirit of
                    Christmas comes as we open our hearts and actively focus on the
                    Savior. But we will most likely find him in the small and simple
                    acts of love, friendship and service that we give to each other.

                    This Christmas I want to feel again the joy of knowing that Christ is
                    in our home. I want to focus on loving and serving. More than that
                    I want to open my heart to him all year that I may see him again.

                    Don't forget the reason for the Season

                    _______________________________________________________

                    Copyright © 1998 - 2008 by Stephen J. Hall - 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 or would like
                    to ask us 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 89:1-3 The Message)
                  • sossteve2005
                    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ NOTES FROM THE VALLEY December 6, 2009 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no
                    Message 9 of 10 , Dec 4, 2009
                      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
                      NOTES FROM THE VALLEY
                      December 6, 2009

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

                      FINDING THE JOY AGAIN

                      Thanksgiving is over and the Christmas shopping season is definitely in full swing around here. We always watch the "Black Friday"store openings on the local news in amazement. People camping out for days just to save a few dollars on some "doorbuster" special. . This year the internet even got into the act with us receiving invitations to logon to this site or that for a "doorbuster" special at 4:00 am!!! I wonder what the three wisemen would think of our modern day commercialization of the gifts they brought to the Christ child that first Christmas season?

                      Cathy and I are managing to stay out of that buying frenzy again this year. We did drive down into Fresno for a few purchases last Wednesday, but did most of the major stuff in October and November. Little odds and ends for the grandbabies and that's about it now. The Christmas cards are about wrapped up, the decorations on the inside of the house are about done, and we've just about reached that point were the only big obstacle left is planning for the Christmas dinner (who will attend and what do we need to buy in preparation). Cathy's even started watching some of those old favorite movies one of the local stations is featuring each evening. No academy award nominees, but good old tear jerkers with a Christmas message and a happy ending. That's how we like `em. Again this year, some of our holiday spending will be diverted into several local charities (Fresno Rescue Mission, Helping Hands, and a few national charities like Gospel for Asia's Project Hope, Operation Christmas Child (shoe boxes through our church), and a few others. It's such a joy to imagine some child somewhere in the world who will be blessed on Christmas morning with a gift, a loving message, and a meal because of the charities we help support. It gives Christmas morning an extra special warmth for us and I highly recommend the practice to each of you. .

                      We have come to really love this less frantic approach to Christmas. It means we don't have to get caught up in all the heavy crowds of frustrated people doing their Christmas shopping. It's an added blessing because we know some of our gifts will truly make a difference in someone's celebration of the true meaning of Christmas. It gives us a chance to focus more on the gift that was given to us on the first Christmas day. And finally, it gives us more time to reminisce about our childhood memories of the Christmas season and rediscover the Christmas joy that was ours as children.

                      Do you ever feel like you're losing your joy for Christmas? I know I did some years ago. It was a week before Christmas, it was just me and Cathy for the holidays because our children where scattered all over the country and couldn't make it home. I was in a terrible funk. Cathy sensed I was having trouble getting into the spirit of the season, so she began sharing with me how excited her young students were about Christmas and how they were all chattering about the Christmas story and "baby Jesus." It made me remember all the wonder I had experienced as a child at the telling of that story. Glued to the television set, hanging on every word, absorbing every scene as the story unfolded. Straining to look down the aisle of the church to get just a glimpse of the "baby Jesus" during the Christmas play. Asking my Dad questions about the things I didn't understand. Listening intently to his explanations. Staring at the Nativity set on our mantle, the figurines almost coming to life as I relived the story in my mind. Reaching out to touch the Christ child as if it was really him. Each brightly wrapped present under our tree a reminder of the precious gifts the wise men brought to the baby. Except for the gold, I really didn't understand what those gifts were, but I knew they must be really special if kings would travel so far for so long to give them. And how very special the "baby Jesus" must be to have angels and kings worshiping him. And somehow, because he was a child and I was a child, we shared a common bond together and that meant I was special too. In the midst of reliving those precious, childhood memories, I rediscovered the joy of Christmas and was taught a valuable lesson too.

                      Romans 12:2 says, "And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God." As a child, I had unknowingly practiced that scripture. I never tired of hearing and watching presentations about my Savior's birth. In so doing, I had experienced the perfect will of God - joy, wonder and a sense of intimacy with my Lord. As an adult, although I sought the renewing power of scripture in many areas of my life, I'd stopped doing it for Christmas. I conformed to the world. Gifts were purchased, decorations put up, guests entertained, and bills paid - but the renewing of my mind, the joy and intimacy that came with it, had gotten lost in the process.

                      Each year since that rediscovery, Cathy and I have tried to plan more time for enjoying the things that blessed us as children. In response, God has given us some wonderful revelations about Christmas that have multiplied our joy many times over. One of those revelations came through a book by Max Lucado I found eight years ago, called "Cosmic Christmas." In that book (based on the contents of Matthew, Luke, and Revelation) Max takes a fresh new look at the Christmas story through the fictional words and deeds of the angel Gabriel as he receives and carries out his orders from God for the "spiritual" battle which raged around the events leading up to the birth of Jesus. There were many scenes in that book that touched our hearts. But the one that touched us most deeply was a fictional confrontation between God and Satan as God is about to send His greatest gift to Earth.

                      "The two stood facing each other. God robed in light, each thread glowing. Satan canopied in evil, the very fabric of his robe seeming to crawl. Satan rose slowly off his haunches. Like a wary wolf, he walked a wide circle toward the desk until he stood before the volume (the Book of Life) and read the word: Immanuel. "Immanuel?" He muttered to himself. "God with us?" The hooded head turned squarely toward the face of the Father. "No, Not even you would do that. Not even you would go so far. The plan is bizarre! You don't know how dark I've made the Earth. It's putrid. It's evil. It's . . ."

                      "It's mine," proclaimed the King. "And I will reclaim what is mine."

                      "Why?" Satan asked. "Why would you do this?"

                      The Father's voice was deep and soft. "Because I love them."

                      He loves us. Loves us so much that He would leave behind the beauty and light of heaven and descend into the darkness of an evil infested Earth. Loves us so much that He would give up the power that spun this universe into existence and controls everything within it to become a helpless child, totally dependent upon an earthly father and mother. Close your eyes and meditate upon the magnitude and purity of that love for a few moments. What He gave up for us. What He became for us. Is it any wonder that the angels, on a cold, dark night some 2,000 years ago proclaimed the "good news of great joy." God loves us. God with us. Emmanuel.

                      I remain His grateful child,
                      Sheltered under His wing and overwhelmed by His love,

                      Steve



                      WILL THE CHRIST CHILD COME ?
                      (Author - Gaye Willis)

                      Halfway through December, we were doing the regular evening things when there was a knock at the door. We opened it to find a small package with a beautiful ceramic lamb inside. We looked at the calendar and realized that the 12 days of Christmas were beginning!! We waited excitedly for the next night's surprise and only then, with the gift of a matching shepherd, did we realized that the lamb was part of a nativity set. Each night we grew more excited to see what piece we would receive. Each was exquisitely beautiful. The kids kept trying to catch the givers as we slowly built the scene at the manager and began to focus on Christ's birth.

                      On Christmas Eve, all the pieces were in place, but the baby Jesus. My 12 year-old son really wanted to catch our benefactors and began to devise all kinds of ways to trap them. He ate his dinner in the mini-van watching and waiting, but no one came. Finally we called him in to go through our family's Christmas Eve traditions. But before the kids went to bed we checked the front step - no Baby Jesus! We began to worry that my son had scared them off. My husband suggested that maybe they dropped the Jesus and there wouldn't be anything coming.

                      Somehow, something was missing that Christmas Eve. There was a feeling that things weren't complete. The kids went to bed and I put out Christmas, but before I went to bed I again checked to see if the Jesus had come - no, the doorstep was empty.

                      In our family the kids can open their stockings when they want to, but they have to wait to open any presents until Dad wakes up. So one by one they woke up very early and I also woke up to watch them. Even before they opened their stockings, each child checked to see if perhaps during the night the baby Jesus had come. Missing that piece of the set seemed to have an odd effect. At least it changed my focus. I knew there were presents under the tree for me and I was excited to watch the children open their gifts, but first on my mind was the feeling of waiting for the ceramic Christ Child.

                      We had opened just about all of the presents when one of the children found one more for me buried deep beneath the limbs of the tree. He handed me a small package from my former visiting teaching companion. This sister was somewhat less active in the church. I had learned over time they didn't have much for Christmas, so that their focus was the children. It sounded like she didn't get many gifts to open, so I had always given her a small package - new dish towels, the next year's lesson manual-not much, but something for her to open. I was touched when at Church on the day before Christmas, she had given me this small package, saying it was just a token of her love and appreciation. As I took off the bow, I remembered my friendship with her and was filled with gratitude for knowing her and for her kindness and sacrifice in this year giving me a gift. But as the paper fell away, I began to tremble and cry. There in the small brown box was the baby Jesus. He had come!

                      I realized on that Christmas Day that Christ will come into our lives in ways that we don't expect. The spirit of Christ comes into our hearts as we serve one another. We had waited and watched for him to come, expecting the dramatic "knock at the door and scurrying of feet" but he came in a small, simple package that represented service, friendship, gratitude, and love.

                      This experience taught me that the beginning of the true spirit of Christmas comes as we open our hearts and actively focus on the Savior. But we will most likely find him in the small and simple acts of love, friendship and service that we give to each other.

                      This Christmas I want to feel again the joy of knowing that Christ is in our home. I want to focus on loving and serving. More than that I want to open my heart to him all year that I may see him again.

                      Don't forget the reason for the Season

                      ________________________________________________________________________________________
                      Copyright © 1998 - 2009 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 , want to ask us 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 89:1-3 The Message)
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