February 7, 2018

The Heavens Are Telling…LOOK UP!

On August 21, 2017, my hometown of Columbia, SC was abuzz with the Total Eclipse Event. The last one on record was 99 years ago, so this once-in-a-life-time event was a pretty big deal, not only in South Carolina, but also across the globe. Thousands of people poured into our city and around our state to see it firsthand. Around 8100 people filled the Riverbanks Zoo area alone, and thousands more were uptown, downtown and all around town.

At precisely 1:13 pm, the eclipse began. A tiny sliver of the moon greeted the radiant light of the sun. Soon, the moon and the sun would be completely face-to-face.

My husband and I had our licensed and approved viewing glasses ready. With beach chairs set up in the yard and the charcoal heating up for a late lunch, we were prepared to watch the eclipse unfold right before our eyes. Once the moon was directly in front of the sun it would darken the sun’s light for about three minutes.

From about 2:42 pm – 2:45 pm, it happened – The Total Eclipse Event. For approximately 180 seconds we watched in awe and utter amazement. This is what everyone had been waiting for, talking about and planning for. For months you couldn’t turn on the television or radio without hearing something about the Total Eclipse Event. Our city, churches, neighborhoods and businesses were more than prepared for the flood of people who showed up to see this miraculous moment in history.

Photo Courtesy of Larry Sossamon

Photo Courtesy of Larry Sossamon

And then, it was over.

What I took note of was the fact that everyone from near and far stood still. For a brief moment in history, it seemed the whole world was looking up, watching the glorious handiwork of God, our Creator and Savior, whether they wanted to acknowledge Him or not.

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world (Psalm 19:1-4a ESV).

Every single day and night proclaims the glory of our God. Throughout the ages, eyes have been drawn to the skies for sightings of intrigue and great wonder.

One of the most magnificent over the last 2000 years was the night the Messiah was born. Stargazers had been paying close attention to the stars for centuries. On that sacred, holy night, a spectacular star received their utmost attention.

At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
– Philippians 2:10-11

The Wise Men followed the brilliant star as ordered by King Herod. They traveled about two years before they came face to face with the Christ child. After bowing, worshiping and laying extravagant gifts at His feet, an angel warned them in a dream to return to their homeland by a different route so King Herod could not thwart God’s plan already in motion.

Then again, on the day Jesus was crucified, all eyes looked up and watched. At the sixth hour, the sky turned dark. At the ninth hour, when Jesus breathed His last breath, the earth shook, rocks were split, tombs were opened and dead people were raised to life. The temple veil guarding the Holy of Holies was ripped in two, and what Jesus was born to do was finished. The sin debt for all mankind was paid in full.

After the Resurrection of Christ, He appeared to the women at the tomb, the disciples, and thousands more over the course of 40 days. Then, once again, eyes were drawn back to the skies. After Jesus gave instructions of how to proceed without Him physically among them, promising to send the Holy Spirit and to return again one day, Christ ascended into heaven where He sits at the right hand of the Father interceding on behalf of all who believe.

Still, there’s another heavenly event in the making. It can’t be tracked to the exact day or hour which only the Father knows. But all through Scripture, seasons and signs of the times are spoken about so we’ll pay attention, remain alert, look up and live with great expectation and anticipation. When the trumpet sounds, the whole world will hear, and Jesus Christ will come back through the clouds. Every eye will not only look up this time, but every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2:10-11).

Until then, the prince of darkness, the enemy of the Light, will continue to move forward with great force seeking to cover up the Light, distracting our eyes from looking up. But believers, called to be salt and light in the world, must continue to pay attention to what the heavens are telling, proclaim the Good News with courage and confidence through the power of the Holy Spirit, and make disciples.

We are also called to abide in Christ while we wait expectantly for His return. Through prayer and meditating on His Word day and night, we grow in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior and mature in our faith. To proclaim Him, we must abide in Him.

And He [Jesus] said to me [John], “Do not seal up the words of this book, for the time is near. Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy. Behold, I am coming soon, I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.”
– Revelation 22:10-12A, 13 ESV

As awesome as all of these heavenly events have been, a guiding star… a darkened sky… an ascending Savior… the recent Total Eclipse, nothing will compare to what the return of Jesus Christ, the Light of the world will be like. The heavens are declaring the glory of God! So, look up people! Ready or not, He’s coming back!

Melanie Shull is a writer, blogger, and speaker. ‘Tis the season to find her under a blanket, sipping coffee, watching football, and decorating all things Christmas.

Life’s Greatest Gain

To Know Christ

The most coveted baseball card of all-time is a 1909 Honus Wagner. In 2013, a T206 Wagner card sold at auction for 2.1 million dollars1. Unbelievable! How can a single baseball card once included in a pack of cigarettes be more valuable than 16 average-size houses? This seems to defy all human logic, yet I believe it illustrates the way of the world. Trivial things often appraise for surpassing value, while things worthy of value are cheapened and devalued.

Everything in this world is loss (discarded cargo) compared to gaining Christ Jesus.

The Apostle Paul explains this truth in Philippians 3:7-11:
But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead (NASB).

Counted” is an accounting term. Having examined the general ledger of his life, and calculated the profits and losses columns, Paul learned that what he once thought gain, as a Pharisee2, was now loss compared to knowing Christ. The term “loss” is akin to cargo being tossed overboard. In Acts 27 Paul was sent to Rome. While sailing toward the island of Crete, a violent storm arose. To lighten the weight of the ship they began tossing cargo overboard.

All things are “rubbish,” (worthless dung) compared to Christ. Paul contrasts the value of Christ with the value of the world and concludes, “I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.

To have everything and not have Christ is to have nothing, but to have Christ and nothing else is to have everything.

Nothing compares to knowing Christ. This truth surpasses human comprehension. Why would the Creator of the universe willingly take on human flesh and die the death of a cross? Paul’s heart is full as he considers what God in Christ has done for him [and us] in providing forgiveness of sin, salvation, and eternal life. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with

By grace, through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9), we have been co-crucified, co-buried, co-resurrected, co-ascended, and co-seated with Christ in glory.

The verb “to know” includes intellectual knowledge and personal experience. Paul’s knowledge of Christ and experience with Christ was so radical and real that he had difficulty putting it into words.

Paul does something beautiful in Philippians 3. Words seem inadequate to convey his heart, but in my opinion, he composed some of the most beautiful sentences ever written. To paraphrase, he says, “Don’t take my word for it; experience for yourself that the Lord is good and that nothing compares to knowing Him!”

Paul had come to know Christ and the power of His resurrection.

Power” refers to ability. Paul had come to experience God’s ability in his life.

God is the Creator of the universe. He spoke into nothing and created everything.4 He formed man in His image from the dust of the earth and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.5 He established a nation for His own possession.6 He delivered Israel from captivity. He parted the waters of the Red Sea and Jordan River.7 He delivered three Hebrew children from the fiery furnace.8 He saved a young man from the mouths of hungry lions.9 He took a shepherd boy and established a throne on which His Son will rule and reign forever.10

In the fullness of time, God came in the flesh.11 He raised the dead.12 He healed the sick.13 He was crucified,14 buried,15 and resurrected.16 He ascended back into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father.17 He sent the Holy Spirit to comfort, guide, and convict people of sin.18 He established the Church so people of all nations might come to know Him and worship Him. And one day, He is coming again.19 He will judge the living and the dead.20 He will receive worship from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation.21 He will establish a new heaven and a new earth.22

Paul prayed for believers at Ephesus to experience God’s power in their life:

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.23

Paul knew the power of God because he knew the risen Christ.

He had access to the unlimited, all-conquering power of God because of the Spirit of Christ who dwelled in him. The resurrection illustrates God’s power over death, Hell, and the grave. It affirms with God all things are possible, and with boldness, believers can sing: “He breaks the power of canceled sin / He sets the prisoner free / His blood can make the foulest clean / His blood availed for me.” 24

Paul had come to know Christ and the fellowship of His sufferings.

Suffering is not uncommon. Christ suffered. We will suffer.

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.25

Isaiah spoke of the Suffering Servant.26 Jesus endured suffering with great joy because He knew the Father’s redemptive work was being accomplished.27 Never does God obligate Himself to explain what He’s doing or why He’s doing it, so there’s a mystery to suffering. There will be times when we won’t understand or be able to connect the dots, but we can still trust that God is using all things to accomplish His purpose and plan in our life. Charles Spurgeon said, “God is too good to be unkind and He is too wise to be mistaken. And when we cannot trace His hand, we must trust His heart.

God is sovereign. He allows and ordains suffering. Nevertheless, nothing happens in our life that’s not first filtered through His hands of love. Suffering is part of God’s purifying and refining process. It’s a necessary component of our sanctification. Like an ice sculptor chipping away at the shapeless form of ice to present an image of stunning beauty, so it is for a sinner saved by grace. Our sovereign Sculptor is always chipping away at our lives, so the stunning image of His Son might emerge within us.

Suffering sanctifies. It reminds us of the cross and how nothing we could ever face in this life compares to what Jesus endured on our behalf.

Paul had come to know Christ and the likeness of His death.

Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.28

Obedience sums up the Christian life. Christ was obedient to the Father, even unto death. He agonized in prayer at Gethsemane, yet resolved to do the will of the Father.29 How does our obedience compare to the obedience of Christ? Are we willing to obey the Father even unto death?

Throughout the history of the church, Christians have been martyred for their faith. Stephen was stoned to death outside the gates of Jerusalem.30 Ignatius was mauled to pieces by wild beasts in an arena filled with cheering people. Polycarp prayed aloud until the flames consumed him.

Paul says, “I am crucified with Christ,31 meaning we die daily to self so we can live obediently to the Savior. No one can serve two masters. Paul lived for Christ because he died to self every day. He understood life was not about him, but Christ in him.

Can we really know Christ?

In Philippians 3:9 we’re told we know Him through faith. We’re made righteous not on the basis of doing good deeds or trying harder, but on the basis of faith. Faith believes and trusts not in the flesh, but in the finished work of Jesus Christ. Faith is also personal. We must acknowledge our own personal need for Christ and call upon His name for salvation.

Paul concludes in Philippians 3:11 by reminding us of the promise of the resurrection – our blessed hope.32 Because Christ was raised from the dead, we too shall be raised. Physical death is not the end. At life’s final breath, faith becomes sight in the full presence of the Lord.33 Life’s troubles are but momentary afflictions. 34 Therefore, we should fix our eyes not on the temporal things of this world, but on the eternal things of God. Paul lived with an eternal perspective, which is why he could say with confidence that knowing Christ Jesus is life’s greatest gain. Nothing compares. Indeed, to live is Christ and to die is gain.35

Is Christ your greatest gain?


Pastor Brett Marlowe is presently serving as Senior Pastor at Green Hill Baptist Church in West Columbia, South Carolina. His passion is making disciples and his hobbies include playing the guitar, reading, golfing, college football (Go Cocks!), hunting and fishing.



1 http://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/9140901/t206-honus-wagner-baseballcard-sets-21m-auction-mark; 2 Philippians 3:4-6; 3 Ephesians 2:4-5 (NASB); 4 Genesis 1:1-31; 5 Genesis 1:26-27; 2:7; 6 Genesis 12:1-3; 7 Exodus 12-14; Joshua 3-4; 8 Daniel 3:19-30; 9 Daniel 6:16-28; 10 1 Samuel 16:11; Isaiah 9:7; 11 Galatians 4:4; 12 John 11:1-46; Luke 7:11-17; 13 Luke 4:38-41; 8:40-56; Matthew 8:1-13; 9:1-8; John 9:1-34; 14 Matthew 27:33-54; Mark 15:22-41; Luke 23:33-49; John 19:16-30; 15 Matthew 27:57-66; Mark 15:42-47; Luke 23:50-56; John 19:31-42; 16 Matthew 28:1-10; Mark 16:1-13; Luke 24:1-12; John 20:1-18; 17 Acts 1:9-11; Hebrews 10:11-13; 18 John 16:5-15; Acts 2:1-4; 19 Luke 21:25-28; Acts 1:11; Revelation 19:11-16; 20 Matthew 25:31-46; 1 Peter 4:5; 21 Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15; Revelation 5:1-14; 7:9; 22 Revelation 21-22; 23 Ephesians 1:18-23 (NASB); 24 O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing, Charles Wesley (1739); 25 1 Peter 4:12-13 (NASB); 26 Isaiah 52:13-53:12; 27 Hebrews 12:1-2; 28 Philippians 2:8 (NASB); 29 Matthew 26:36-46; 30 Acts 7:58-60; 31 Galatians 2:20; 32 1 Corinthians 15:1-58; 33 2 Corinthians 5:8; 34 Romans 8:18; 2 Corinthians 4:17; 35 Philippians 1:21

In All Things

Each morning before the sun rises, WIS News 10 Anchor Mary King is up and ready to bring the latest news to television viewers across the Midlands of South Carolina.

While she reports on anything from new jobs coming to the area to the impact of devastating floods to the brave fight of a cancer patient, Mary’s focus is always the same — to be a voice for those who do not have one.

God sharpened that focus during Mary’s first reporting job in Hagerstown, Maryland. She felt God call her to that specific television station, but being hundreds of miles away from home, family and friends left her feeling miserable. “I called my mom every morning crying as I drove to work,” Mary recalls. “I began to pray earnestly to ask God to reveal to me if I had missed something in His plan.”

Finding her Voice…for Others

As she prayed, the Lord continually led Mary to the same verse, Proverbs 31:8-9. In the New Living Translation it says,

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless and see that they get justice.”

Not long after that, while on a story, Mary met the family of 9-year-old Christopher Lewis. Christopher, who was dying from cancer, could not walk or talk when Mary went to cover his birthday party for the news. During the party, Christopher’s family played a video of him speaking to his church’s Vacation Bible School (VBS) the year before. In the video, he talked about his treatments and hospital visits, and how God is good all the time. The video ended with Christopher leading the group in the song, “God is Good, All the Time.” The moment moved Mary to tears. As she left his house, God brought to mind Proverbs 31:8-9 once again.

“I knew Christopher could no longer speak for himself, but I could be his voice. God used Christopher’s incredible life to reveal the mission He had put on mine,” remembers Mary.

The reminder of that mission is never far away. Mary keeps a plaque on her desk with the same phrase Christopher shared at VBS. The fact that God is good all the time helps Mary when she must cover difficult or disturbing stories. She also relies on prayer because sometimes telling other peoples’ stories can be painful.

“To be honest, there are some times that, as much as I try, I can’t contain my emotions on air. I know that isn’t necessarily what’s expected of a newscaster, but before I am an anchor, I am a human. My heart grieves, and often I think about how God’s heart must be breaking, too. I know, especially in the difficult stories, there are family members and loved ones’ lives that have changed forever,” Mary explains.

A Life-Changing Tragedy

One example stands out. On June 17, 2015, countless lives, families, a community and an entire state were changed forever when a man shot and killed nine members of the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, during a Wednesday night Bible study. Thirty-six hours after the attack, Mary, along with journalists from across the country, reported near the church.

“My heart was heavy,” Mary says. “There were so many media outside the church and yet everything was so still. I just couldn’t understand or process the kind of hate it would take to do such an evil attack.” While Mary wrestled with why, she also thought about how the victims’ family members had already extended forgiveness to the man who killed their loved ones.

During the morning news coverage, police asked the media to move their equipment to a different location near the church. Once set up in a new spot, Mary did another live report, but this time the backdrop seemed perfectly ordained by God. Back in the studio, the anchor commented on the remarkable sight appearing behind Mary. After the segment ended, she turned around to fully take in what the anchor was describing. What she saw is something she will never forget — the bright sun coming up over the horizon, shining its light on Emanuel AME Church and a wooden cross that stood just outside the building.

Light in the Darkness

In that moment, Mary said she experienced John 1:5, which says, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” “It was the physical representation of the spiritual witness the people of that church were bringing to the world,” Mary remembers.

The sunrise outside Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston just days after a shooting killed the Emmanuel Nine.

The sunrise outside Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston just days after a shooting killed the Emmanuel Nine.

“It was as if God was shouting through the sunrise, ‘I know there’s so much darkness and pain. My heart is breaking too, but I’m still here. Love will win.’”

Mary knows it doesn’t always take a tragedy for truth to be made known. While she often covers difficult stories, she also has the privilege of telling incredible stories about people who do amazing things for others. Many times, the people behind these stories give hope and build better futures, but few know of the good they do. Mary uses the stories to be their voice and demonstrate how love wins through people making a difference in the lives of others.

“How amazing that no matter what field of work we’re in, God has given us all the directive to love Him with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-39). I’m encouraged that whatever the role He calls us to, our mission is the same,” says Mary.

The mission, whether anchor or not, is for every believer to deliver the most important news of all — the story of Jesus and how His light overcomes the darkness. For Mary, that script is written on her heart. It’s the story she can’t help but tell.

Kelly Coakley, a former news anchor, is a proud preacher’s wife and mother. She loves interviewing people and telling stories about lives changed by the Gospel.

Ms. 601: A Divine Assignment

“Lord, help me be Your hands and feet today,”

…I prayed, driving to work that morning. Since each day brings different experiences, I wondered what this day would hold.

I arrived on my unit, obtained my assignment and started my rounds. After the night shift nurse gave her report, she warned me about our patient in 601. She said, “She is a handful and good luck.” I stepped into the room, introduced myself and explained I would be her nurse for that day. Approaching her bed, I noted how frail she looked. She was thin and pale with contracted arms, hands and legs, which limited her mobility. Her mind, though, was as sharp as a tack.

Immediately she began questioning me. I guessed that the anger in her voice came from frustration over her pain and limitations. I set up her breakfast tray. Her contracted hand could barely hold a utensil, and she had a special cup to drink from. I cut up a banana into her Rice Krispies and poured her milk into her cup. She asked if I could cut up a candy bar and place it in a cup so she could maneuver it with her finger to her mouth.

Most days I was assigned Ms. 601, but I didn’t mind. Every day was the same routine: breakfast, bedpan, bath, lunch, therapy, afternoon snack, usually the candy bar cut up and placed in a cup, supper, and then I would go home. She, of course, had to stay.

Pain was an overwhelming issue for her. Pain Management for her was a delicate matter, a balance of safety vs. her comfort level. Movement, at times, was excruciating. Rolling over in the bed, getting in a wheelchair, even the weight of the bed sheet was sometimes too much for her. Many days she would cry and tell me how frustrated she was. I tried to encourage her by talking or listening. Occasionally, I even sang to her. We prayed together, and sometimes I even got her to laugh.

Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.
– 1 Peter 4:10 NIV

At the end of her stay, she was transferred to an outside facility. I said my goodbyes and told her she would be in my thoughts and prayers. Soon after, I learned she had passed away.

Looking back, I’ve wondered many times as to why Ms. 601 was placed in my care. I hope I made the load of her hospital stay a little lighter. She had so much to bear with her progressive illness, pain and limited movement. She taught me so much about true courage and resilience. She was afraid of her future filled with tremendous pain and loneliness. No family ever visited or called to check on her that I remember. I believe we were all she had.

This Divine Assignment reminds me of what Saint Teresa of Avila said, “Christ has no body on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion for the world is to look out; yours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good; and yours are the hands with which He is to bless us now.” •LR•

Selena Lollar has been a registered nurse for 32 years. She enjoys spending time with her husband, Robert, and daughters, Lauren and Lindsay. Her hobbies include singing, gardening, making jewelry, cooking, and reading.

Saddle Up and Soar

How Horses Serve Special Needs

Corky Dyer has always had a passion for horses. Early in their marriage, the Dyers had a heart to serve people with disabilities. They began by volunteering with Special Olympics, first in the Greenville, SC area, then in Lexington, SC. It was no surprise to God that they would later have a son with his own physical challenges. Lew had a disease which causes the body to deteriorate prematurely. The Dyer’s older child, Jennifer, would often lead her little brother around on her pony. The family was thrilled at the joy Lew displayed and how riding seemed to strengthen him mentally as well as physically. His disease progressed, eventually leaving him unable to walk or to care for himself. Even so, the family began to envision how others might benefit from horseback riding, just as Lew had.

Where it all began...Lew horseback riding with Jennifer leading and Corky alongside.

Where it all began…Lew horseback riding with Jennifer leading and Corky alongside.

In 1998, the Dyers’ dream became Dream Riders, a therapeutic riding program in Lexington, SC.

When asked, “How does your faith come alive in this program?” Corky, the ‘mother’ of Dream Riders responded, “God is with us in everything, every step we take, choosing every horse, He’s in this place. He lives here.” She also said, “With all the strange things that happened along the way, it was evident that God was bringing this about. We had a donation come in which directly matched the feed store bill. It’s [been] amazing the way horses and people come into the Dream Riders’ mission. [For example,] Jennifer and I were doing an online search for a horse for the program. I was in one room on the computer and Jennifer was in a different room with the laptop. We both said at the same time, ‘I think I found one.’ As we went to look [at each other’s finds], we discovered we were looking at the same horse. Only God can work like that.”

Dream Riders’ official mission statement says they exist “to provide an opportunity for people with special needs to benefit from equine assisted activities in a safe environment.” The real desire of Dream Riders is to be the hands and feet of Jesus as they serve their clients in His love. Many who come to Dream Riders can’t walk or care for themselves unaided. Some can’t even speak. But, while riding on a horse, they are free.

Volunteers are vital for Dream Riders to accomplish their mission. Their hands give aid when needed. They reach out in safety, give congratulatory pats and even hugs. These hands tend to the students, the horses, the farm, the staff, and the community. Some are experienced with horse care and give of their time and talents in the arena and around the barn. Other volunteers are parents or family members of students involved. They assist at the mounting block or help with keeping the visitors’ area clean. Others are people from the community who’ve heard about Dream Riders and want to be part of this amazing work. The volunteers go through a training program to equip them with the knowledge and skills needed for the tasks they will perform.

The true freedom, though, comes from the horses. Their feet become their riders’ wings. Corky related a story about a young woman with Multiple Sclerosis. Her disease had advanced to the point where she needed assistance to get from the car to a specially designed mounting block. Every step and movement was a struggle and took great effort on her part. Corky asked her, “Why do you do this? What makes this so important for you to go through all this work?” “Because for one hour a week I don’t have to think about anything other than competing in the games you set up,” she said. While she’s on the horse, she’s free to move, to do, and just be.

Dream Riders reminds us how we all need the strength and freedom Christ offers. Isaiah 40:31 (ESV) says, “But they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” Just as those with special needs must trust the horse and their guide for a brief time of physical freedom and sweet joy, we must trust our Guide to lead us into spiritual freedom and everlasting joy.

Cindy Payne is a wife, mother, and grandmother. She’s the owner and care provider for numerous horses, dogs, and cats in Gilbert, SC. She blogs about God, horses, and life at paynefulponderings.wordpress.com.

Dream Riders – Serving God, Helping People, Using Horses. To learn more about how you can be a part of the Dream Riders mission, visit their website at DreamRider.org.

One Small Box

I have always liked small things. As a child I collected miniature pencil erasers in animal shapes. Sheets of little stickers were a treasure, and tiny baby dolls were the best. I always sought out the runt of a litter of puppies and swiftly fell in love. As I’ve matured, my affinity for small items has continued. Each summer, I love to spend time combing Folly Beach, South Carolina for seashells and sharks’ teeth, and the smaller, the better.

I can’t really explain my attraction for small objects but it’s definitely part of who I am. Knowing this about myself helps me make sense of my fondness of one small box. No, I’m not talking about the box of delicious chocolates or the one that holds a fashionable pair of shoes. This one small box is red, green and white, adorned with the words Samaritan’s Purse and Operation Christmas Child.

Shoebox distribution in Thailand. Photo credit: Samaritan's Purse

Shoebox distribution in Thailand.  
Photo credit: Samaritan’s Purse

These small boxes begin to appear around late fall each year in churches around SC and the country. Families and individuals are asked to help fill one or more boxes to be sent to children who are in need across the globe. Volunteers place the small boxes into the hands of children who are in need either because of war, natural disasters, or poverty. These children need someone, anyone, to reach out to them in love. Proverbs 14:3 (NIV) says, “Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.” The organization Samaritan’s Purse provides all of us with an incredible opportunity to live these words through Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes.

146 million kids have received shoe boxes in more than 100 countries since 1993.

It’s really no surprise that as soon as I learned about the shoe boxes some ten years ago, I was enthralled with the idea. What really captivates me about the small boxes is their simple, but powerful purpose: to honor and serve God by delivering love and hope in the precious name of Jesus Christ.

Gifts from OCC are delivered by bike in Uganda. Photo credit: Samaritan's Purse

Gifts from OCC are delivered by bike in Uganda.  
Photo credit: Samaritan’s Purse

Each year, my passion for these small boxes spills over into several shopping trips: one with my three daughters, another with my Girls in Action group from church, and another with my class of first graders. (Yes, even in my professional life I love the little ones.) I’m fortunate to teach in a private school where prayer and Bible study are part of the school’s fiber. In a small attempt to help my students develop a servant’s heart, each year my class celebrates Christmas in November as we collect monetary donations and venture into our very rural town to shop at the dollar store.

Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
– Hebrews 13:15 ESV

While searching for small items such as balls, crayons and notepads, the students squeal with delight as they choose objects for a small box of their own. After we return to our classroom, I watch with an overflowing spirit as the students carefully pack the boxes, write notes, and draw pictures for the unknown recipients. It’s always delightful to watch as six and seven year olds find pure joy in helping others. I stand in awe knowing that the mighty God I love will take this simple act of gathering the small and use it in more ways than I will ever know or understand.

Elephants in Zimbabwe deliver cartons of shoebox gifts. Photo credit: Samaritan's Purse

Elephants in Zimbabwe deliver cartons of shoebox gifts.  
Photo credit: Samaritan’s Purse

But far more than trinkets, each child who receives a small box also receives the love of Jesus and may very well hear His name for the first time.

Through follow-up lessons in The Greatest Journey Program, Samaritan’s Purse provides an option for the recipient children to learn what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. This saving knowledge is the true gift of the shoe boxes. How incredible is it to know that not a single act of service done in the name of Jesus Christ, for His honor and glory, is ever too small, even when found in one small box.

Susan Mikell, a resident and first grade teacher in the Low Country of South Carolina, is a wife and mother of three daughters. She thanks God for the lessons of loving and serving others she learned by watching her parents.

Operation Christmas Child is on a mission to provide local partners around the world with shoe boxes filled with small toys, hygiene items, and school supplies as a means of reaching out to children in their own communities with the good news of Jesus Christ. Learn more and find specific shopping tips online at SamaritansPurse.org/OCC.

{Not So} Wonder Woman

Finding the Real Super Power

How many of you remember Wonder Woman? I don’t mean the Superhero of 2017, I mean the original Wonder Woman. She was strong, invincible, beautiful, and she could fly. What makes her my favorite, though, is how she could get into that teeny-tiny Wonder Woman outfit long before the invention of Spanx. Now that’s a super power.

Friends, full confession here: I am a full-time Spanx wearer.

It all began when I approached my fifties. I noticed an extra bulge around my waist. Many people refer to it as a muffin top, but mine was not a muffin-top at all. It was a full-blown cupcake with icing. One of my dearest friends informed me I could get a pair of Spanx from a local department store. So, one Saturday afternoon, I headed out on a mission. As I arrived at the store, I went straight to lingerie and asked the salesclerk where the Spanx were located. She politely pointed to the far corner. I quickly made my way over to that life-changing-miracle-working corner, only to discover little boxes about the size of a deck of cards. I thought, I must have taken a wrong turn and have landed in the greeting card section! But, after examining the small print on the small box, it said, “Spanx.” I first grabbed a pair in my size, small, but then grabbed an extra-large thinking it would probably fit much better.

I immediately went home to put on the miracle – the miracle that promised a sleeker, smoother, thinner silhouette. As I pulled the Spanx out of the box, I began to pray because it was going to take a miracle to slide that small rubber-band-looking-contraption over my hips. I stretched, gyrated, pulled and tugged until finally, I had the Spanx over my ankles.

I continued struggling for what felt like an hour and still only had the giant rubber band up to my kneecaps. Then, I heard the back door open announcing my daughter was home. She yelled, “What’s for dinner?”

“I haven’t decided,” I barked, “but could you look and see if we have any Crisco in the pantry?”

“No,” she yelled back, “but we have olive oil.”

“Bring it up here,” I responded, “and if there’s any left over, I’ll make a Greek Salad.”

My daughter ran upstairs with the olive oil. As soon as she saw the twisted configuration I was in, her belly laugh caused her to drop the oil smack on the floor. (Did you know that olive oil is difficult to get out of carpet?) It soothed my legs, and there was enough left over for a Greek Salad.

Have you ever considered yourself a Wonder Woman or Superman?

There was a time when I thought I could be a wonder woman of sorts. I didn’t think I could leap over tall buildings or fly, but my mind conjured up some unrealistic expectations which could be paralleled to leaping or flying. My “attempts to fly” resulted from the burden my childhood family placed on my shoulders alone, and my mind raced with thoughts like these:

For things to be done right, I have to do them myself.

I always have to do it all. I can control this.

I don’t need anyone. (The biggest lying leap of them all.)

Have any of these ever been your thoughts? Now do you understand my Wonder Woman mentality? Perhaps you, too, have attempted to leap tall problems alone, only to land knee deep in olive oil.

Friends, we have not been called to be Wonder Woman or a Super Hero. The Bible clearly teaches that without Christ we can do nothing.

With Christ, we can do all things in His strength (Philippians 4:13). That’s what I call real super power.

In the future, when you put on your cape and attempt to fly, or when your mind leaps into control mode, or when you try to accomplish things alone, remember it’s not your job. Pick up your Bible and call out to Jesus. Then, you will soar.

Now, I need to breathe. “Somebody help! I’m stuck!”


Cherie Nettles is a Christian comedienne, author and speaker. She is a mother of two and lives in West Columbia, S.C. with her husband, Mike.
Blog: CherieNettles.net

Grave Walk

Who among us has not been worn down to the nubs by the mundane routines of life? Another dish, another diaper, another day, another dollar. And so it goes as each 24-hour wave of life washes over us with alarming regularity. We may find ourselves asking: Does today really matter? Will the tasks I accomplish have any long lasting significance?

Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.
– Ephesians 5:15-16 NIV

I considered these questions as I stood in the 18th century silence of the Bush River Quaker Cemetery. Just off Dennis Dairy Road in Newberry, South Carolina, this cemetery was the former site of the Friends’ Meeting House and remains the final resting place of hundreds of early American Quakers. Its hallowed ground is dotted with leaning grave markers, eroded and bleached by the elements, and hemmed in by lofty pines. Oaks and hickories stand stiffly guarding this quiet landscape, and somewhere, in an unmarked grave beneath my feet lays Sarah Wood Haworth Ruble, my sixth great grandmother.

Sarah lived quite a life. Born in 1720, in colonial Hopewell, Virginia, she married James F. Haworth, and together they had seven children. James died when he was just 38 years old, leaving her with six remaining children under the age of 12, 227 acres to manage, and the constant threat of attack by the surrounding Native Americans. Eventually, Sarah married Peter Ruble, and was apparently disowned by her Quaker Meeting in the bargain. Ultimately, the couple and their children relocated to Newberry where Sarah died in 1769.

Bush River Cemetary in Newberry County dates back to the 1760s and is still standing today.

Bush River Cemetary in Newberry County dates back to the 1760s and is still standing today.

As I toured the grounds, ankle-deep in last fall’s brown leaves, I was struck by the significance of retracing the 248-year-old footsteps of a woman whose DNA is tightly wound into my own, and who could have never imagined my presence here — a woman whose existence makes mine possible. Although her genetic contribution has been watered down by generations of Shackletons and Hansons, I can’t help but wonder if I resemble her any way. Perhaps she bears the blame for my problematic pores, or maybe I inherited my rebellious streak from her. (I read in the minutes of a Quaker Meeting that the Haworths received discipline for “consorting with Baptists” and dancing!)

Continuing to wander the field of mossy memorials, I reflected further: What if her birth had been earlier or later or elsewhere? What if she had not married James, but rather one of his brothers, Stephanus or Absolom? What if she had not reared a son, also named James, who would continue the family line through his own children? Finally, I came to this dizzying conclusion: Had any of the ordinary days of Sarah’s life been different, I might never have been.

Could it be possible there are no ordinary days, only crucial ones right under our very noses, unfolding the decrees of providence, the results of which we can’t even imagine? If so, then today, this day is crucial. As Dr. Clyde Kilby, an American Tolkein/Lewis scholar, put it, “I shall not fall into the falsehood that this day, or any day, is merely another ambiguous and plodding twenty-four hours, but rather a unique event, filled, if I so wish, with worthy potentialities.”

Scripture bears out this idea that all of our days are crucial to the grand design and filled with “worthy potentialities”, at the very least because of their Author: For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them (Psalm 139:13-14, 16 ESV). These days of our lives, given to us graciously by God, come pre-inscribed with meaningful employment for his creatures:

What we consider ordinary or mundane may very well be God’s prescribed “good works” for this crucial day.

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in Him.
– Ephesians 2:10

It’s a sobering thought to me that Great Grandmother Sarah was exactly my age when she lived the final page of the days written for her. As I consider the brief nature of life, I mourn all of the days that have slipped through my fingers, unrecognized as gloriously ordinary, crucial, good works-opportunities. Too often I’ve complained about the weather, which didn’t suit, circumstances I thought beneath me, and service, which I believed, smothered my true potential.

No more.

Today, whatever my hands find to do, I will do with all my might (Ecclesiastes 9:10); I will redeem the time in these evil days (Ephesians 5:16); and above all, every endeavor, whether large or small, will be for God’s glory (I Corinthians 10:31). By God’s grace, may I never again fail to see his wondrous, world changing plan at work in and through every day.

Pam Anderson is a Navy wife, home-school mom, writer, and musician. Although a Wisconsin native, she currently makes her home in Blythewood, SC, where she aspires to learn the art and graces of all things southern.

Our Past Can Propel God’s Purpose

Have you ever been sitting on the floor crying and praying, “God, why is this happening to me? Where are you?” Nineteen years ago I woke up one morning with the stark realization I was a single mom of a beautiful three-month-old daughter, $200,000 in debt and only making $10,000 a year. My life was not playing out anything like the story I’d written in the ninth grade about where I saw myself in 10 years. I was in a desperate place. I had hit the bottom, and I wasn’t sure God was going to help me.

As I was crying out to God, I heard him say […], “I’ve got you. I’ve never left you. Let’s start over and do this together.”

I had been a Christian since the age of 10 and had grown up in a Southern Baptist church. Although I attended church every time the doors were open, I didn’t always live the part. I loved God, but I also loved doing things my way. I chose to make life decisions – big and small – strictly based on my feelings and not according to God’s instructions in His Book. In that moment sitting on the floor, every wrong choice I had made finally caught up with me.

As I was crying out to God, I heard Him say as clear as day, “I’ve got you. I never left you. Let’s start over and do this together.” It was then I realized God had given me an awesome Book He had written, and in it were life instructions with examples from other people’s stories – all designed for me to know Him well and to learn how to live the joyful, peaceful life He promised.

I thought I knew the Bible like the back of my hand. I had memorized verses, listened to sermons preached, but somehow I had missed how to apply it to everyday life. I never got past the point of salvation. I needed to learn about this thing called life, and this time I needed to learn from the ultimate Teacher. I basically started over, renewing my mind to live the way God intended for me to live every single day.

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2 NIV)

Over the years I had developed many bad habits that needed to be replaced with good, godly habits. There were many things I had accepted as truth such as, “This is just the way I am,” but soon learned that was false. If you’d asked me if I had a negative attitude I would have said without blinking, “No way.” But I did. It was subtle, but it was there. I soon discovered that a Christ-like attitude is the key to everything.

Today, I’m living a more happy, authentic life with God. I’m debt free, running a successful business and ministry, empowering others to do the same through speaking engagements and my books. It hasn’t been an easy road, but it sure has been worth the price of the ticket.

We all have a past, and we each have something we wish we‘d done differently. Whether our regret is just one page of our story or takes up an entire chapter, it’s comforting to know God’s mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:23). There is hope.

God never left me even though I wasn’t living the life He wanted me to live. He met me on the floor that morning, picked me up and transformed me into the person I am today. Maybe you’ve hit the bottom like I did or perhaps you’re simply not living a godly life in every area. Whatever your situation, wherever you are, God is there. He forgives us, loves us and will meet us where we are to begin anew with Him. Never regret the past – it always serves a purpose. Learn from it, and allow God to use it to propel you into an exceptional future.

I will never leave you nor forsake you (Hebrews 13:5 NKJV).


Debbi King is a personal finance expert, motivational speaker, and author of two award-winning books –The ABC’s of Personal Finance and 26 Weeks to Wealth and Financial Freedom. She is also the Founder and President of Lovell Ministry started in 2012 in honor and memory of her grandmother.

Katie Eats: Snack Well and Avoid the ‘Tude

Unhealthy snacks are a constant temptation.

You walk by a vending machine. A candy bar catches your eye and your mouth begins to water…

You’re at a party intentionally enjoying just one small plate, but before you know if, one turns into two or even three…

The kids are always begging for snacks, so why not have one yourself too?

Snacking can easily make our calorie intake too high, so being disciplined with snacking is one key to living a healthy lifestyle and maintaining a healthy weight. I always carry snacks with me. Eating healthy foods throughout the day keeps my family and me from getting “hangry.” That’s our family’s term for an unsatisfied hunger resulting in an angry attitude.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear but one of power, love, and sound judgment.
– 2 Timothy 1:7 CSB

For quick snacks we eat lots of nuts and raisins. We love walnuts, almonds, pistachios and peanuts. For years I only bought raw nuts. However, I’ve started buying lightly salted almonds and peanuts since my kids like them better with a little added salt.
Protein bars make a great on-the-go snack. Larabars and RxBars are some of our favorites. These protein packed snacks come in many flavors and contain pure ingredients without added sugar and salt. My kids are very fond of the peanut butter cookie and cashew cookie Larabars as well as the peanut butter and blueberry RxBars.
When packing snacks, it’s essential to carry those that don’t require refrigeration. Baby carrots can be carried in a purse or backpack without becoming squished or too soft throughout the day. We eat lots of hummus with our carrots. I suggest purchasing hummus in individual packs to take along with you as you go about your busy day.

Having healthy snacks at our fingertips allows us to eat well when the craving hits, and before we get irritable. We are much more pleasant to be around when we don’t feel the need to rush to the nearest convenience store or vending machine to buy junk food. Having healthy options readily available allows us to eat food that nourishes our bodies, unlike candy, chips, and soda.

Snacking well can help us better reflect the heart and attitude of Christ, but we can’t do it in our own strength. In 2 Timothy 1:7 CSB, Paul tells us, For God has not given us a spirit of fear but one of power, love and sound judgment. The ESV translation uses the term self-control. Many of us turn to food for comfort when we feel life is spiraling out of control, but God has already given believers His power and sensible judgment for controlling our selfish cravings, including our eating habits. He’s ready and willing to help us choose wisely if we’ll just ask Him.

Happy snacking!

Katie Bryan is a food blogger, wife and mother of two sweet girls. She also teaches classes on nutrition and faith. Get healthy recipes on her blog: KatieEats.com