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Stop, Look, and Listen
"Do you see that?" Joey's grandma pointed to a small yellow bird perched in a tree. "That's a goldfinch. They like to eat seeds from my coneflowers in summertime. Now, listen. Do you hear that bird singing, 'Teakettle, teakettle, teakettle, tea!'?"
Joey listened, closing his eyes to focus, then nodded.
"That's a Carolina wren. He and his mate built a nest in one of my empty flower pots." Grandma smiled as she listened too.
"I love coming to your house, Grandma. You have so many birds in your yard. We don't have any at our house."
"Oh, they're there," Grandma said, chuckling. "You just have to stop, look, and listen."
"That's what Mom and Dad tell me to do before crossing the street." Joey looked confused. "What does that have to do with birds?"
"There are birds pretty much everywhere," Grandma said. "Even in big cities. Most people just don't take the time to notice them. When you go home tomorrow, stop whatever else you're doing, look around your yard, and listen, just like you listened for that wren's song. I guarantee you'll discover a bird or two. Then you can look in that bird guide I gave you to learn more about them."
"How do you know so much about birds, Grandma?"
"I guess I've been watching and listening for a long time now," Grandma said. "You know, Joey, birdwatching often reminds me that God is everywhere too. It helps me stop and listen to what He's saying to me."
"I go to church to learn about God," Joey said skeptically.
"Yes, we do learn about God at church," Grandma agreed, "but God is with us everywhere, not just at church. He created birds and everything else, and His creation points to His goodness and glory. But many people never stop what they're doing long enough to pay attention. They never even know He's there." She looked at Joey. "God has also given us a book so we can learn more about Him."
"The Bible?" asked Joey.
"That's right. The Bible tells us who He is and how much He loves us. Reading it opens our eyes to God's presence and the eternal life He offers us through Jesus."
"Look, Grandma!" Joey pointed at the flower garden. "A hummingbird!"
"Good spotting!" Grandma beamed at him. "I didn't even see it!" -Suzanne Felton
David turned off his alarm clock and stretched. Sunday morning's message still bothered him. Pastor Hill had stressed every person's need to trust Jesus as their Savior, and David had almost decided to talk to the pastor or his dad about it. Maybe I should have, he thought, but
oh well, I'm almost sure I'm saved anyway. He shook the thoughts from his mind. Right now he had other things to think about--like baseball, for instance. David was shortstop for the Lions, and today they were playing the Bears for the city-wide championship.
Soon it was time for the game to begin, and both teams were eager to win. As the game progressed, it became obvious they were well matched. First the Lions were ahead, then the Bears, and then the Lions went ahead again. Unfortunately for David and his teammates, the Bears scored two runs in the bottom of the ninth inning and won the championship.
"That was a great game!" Dad said as they drove home. "You played very well."
"A great game?" David shook his head. "We lost!"
"You ended up as the second-place team in the whole city. You should feel good about that," said Dad.
"Yeah," his sister agreed. "Your team almost won!"
"Well, almost isn't enough!" David replied. "We still lost."
"I guess I can understand how you feel," Dad said, giving him a thoughtful look. "In fact, your game reminds me of the message we heard on Sunday."
"Really? How?" David asked, curious since he had been thinking about Pastor Hill's sermon that morning.
"I was thinking of King Agrippa's answer to the apostle Paul in the Bible story Pastor Hill read. When Paul told him Jesus died and rose again so we could be saved, King Agrippa replied, 'You almost persuade me to become a Christian.' And you're right, David. Almost isn't enough--not in winning baseball games or in getting saved."
David was startled. He was almost certain he was saved--but what if he wasn't? He'd thought about talking to someone about it on Sunday. Now he knew he shouldn't put it off any longer. Being almost sure he was a Christian wasn't enough.
"Uh, Dad? Can we talk when we get home?" he asked. "I have to make sure about something." -Lucinda J. Rollings
Gael carefully filled a pitcher with water, took it out to the backyard, and poured the water at the base of a tiny black spruce tree. Each day more dried-up needles fell to the ground. "It's not going to live, is it, Mom?" he asked.
"I don't know, Gael," Mom answered. "It doesn't look like it will."
"But I've been taking such good care of it!" Gael said.
"I know," Mom said. "But remember what Grandpa said when you asked him if you could transplant it? He told you he didn't think a black spruce would grow in our yard because those trees usually grow in extremely damp soil."
"But I've watered it every day!" Gael exclaimed.
"I know, but since it's so dry here, that might not be enough."
Gael and his mom stood looking at the scraggly tree. "You know, Gael, that black spruce seedling reminds me of myself."
"It does? How?"
"It's in the wrong environment, and I used to be in the wrong environment too," Mom explained. "I ignored my Bible, seldom went to church, and didn't take time to pray. I didn't spend much time with people who loved the Lord. As a result, I didn't grow spiritually. For a long time, I didn't even realize that."
"We can't always be with Christians though, can we?" asked Gael. "I mean, I have to spend a lot of time at school, and a lot of the kids there aren't saved."
"You're right--it's true that we all spend time in places where there are people who don't know Jesus," Mom agreed. "In fact, that's why we need to be in those places--so we can point others to His love and grace. But we can't do that effectively without being rooted in God's Word and connected to God's people. That's why praying, reading the Bible, and going to church are so important--spending time with God and other Christians reminds us that we belong to Jesus. Those things create the healthy, fertile environment we need to grow spiritually and tell others about Him."
"Okay. I'll try to remember that," said Gael. "If this tree dies, I'll get another kind that will grow here. It will remind me that I need the right environment too." -Linda M. Weddle
Jesus Loves Everyone, and You Should Too
"Hi, Mom!" exclaimed Rylee as she placed her backpack on the kitchen counter.
"Hi, Rylee. How was your first day of Bible camp?" Mom asked as she cut carrots and put them in the stew she was making.
"It was great! We swam in the lake, went down the small waterslide, and ziplined. After that, we had Bible class."
"That sounds like fun!" said Mom. "What did you learn about in Bible class?"
"Well," said Rylee, "one of the counselors taught us about a man in the Bible named Zacchaeus, and how Jesus wanted to go to his house to eat even though Zacchaeus had done many bad things. He also talked about how Jesus loves everyone, and that's why we should love others, even our enemies." Rylee frowned. "I don't really understand what that has to do with Zacchaeus though. Anyway, we learned a new Bible verse--Mark 12:31. It goes like this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"
"That verse you learned tells us how to love others like God does," Mom explained. "It doesn't say, 'Love your best friend' or 'Only love your family.' The Bible says to love everyone--even our enemies--because Jesus loves each one of us the way He loved Zacchaeus. You see, Zacchaeus was a tax collector who collected money from the citizens for the government. Nobody liked him because in Jesus' day, tax collectors took as much money as they wanted for themselves most of the time. He was a thief in the eyes of the people."
"But Jesus forgave him?" asked Rylee.
Mom nodded. "Even though Zacchaeus was a sinner, Jesus loved him, and He even wanted to eat lunch at Zacchaeus' house! And even though we've sinned, Jesus loves us and wants to have a relationship with us too. That's why He tells us to show love and compassion to all our neighbors--because He loved us when we were sinners like Zacchaeus."
"Wow! I never thought of it that way," Rylee said as she started helping Mom with the celery. "Jesus wanting to eat with Zacchaeus shows how much He loves all of us." She grinned. "Speaking of eating, that stew smells good!" -Evelyn Cardriche
The Silent Singer
Feeling her shoes pinch her feet, Shavonda looked out at the auditorium. She'd never felt more relieved to finish singing a song. She'd also never felt angrier.
It was Children's Day at church, which meant that all the children had been specially involved in the service. Shavonda's friend Brynlee had invited her to sing a duet for the occasion.
"I'm not sure," Shavonda had told her.
"Please!" Brynlee begged. "We can do it together!"
Brynlee's enthusiasm won Shavonda over, and she agreed. After a few hours of practicing, both girls felt prepared.
When it came time to perform at the church service, though, Brynlee's stage fright left her silent. Shavonda was startled, but she kept singing, all the way to the end. What had begun as a duet ended as a solo.
The congregation clapped, and the girls took their seats with other kids who'd already performed. But for Shavonda, it wasn't over.
After the service ended, Shavonda stormed outside. On the way to the parking lot, her grandmother stopped her.
"You did a wonderful job today, Shavonda," Granny declared. Then she noticed Shavonda's expression. "What's wrong, honey?" she asked.
"I didn't even want to sing that song until Brynlee talked me into it--then she didn't even sing! She left me up there looking silly. She knows I don't like singing in front of a crowd!" Shavonda fumed.
"You didn't look silly--you made a joyful noise to the Lord. But I understand why you're upset. Sometimes people let us down, Shavonda. I think Brynlee probably disappointed herself too."
Shavonda looked confused. "You think so?" she asked. Granny nodded. "I know how much Brynlee likes singing. She probably feels bad," Shavonda said.
Granny smiled. "You sang about God's love today, honey. We have that love in our hearts because of what Jesus has done for us. We can show it by being compassionate--and by forgiving others when they let us down."
Shavonda noticed Brynlee walking toward her. She still felt embarrassed about the performance, but she also cared about her friend.
"Brynlee!" Shavonda called, ready to comfort her friend with a hug.
-Allison Wilson Lee
Chocolate Without Sugar
"Ada totally ignored me at our class party," Ellie told her friend Kayla. "What a snob!"
"Yeah," said Kayla. "Lots of times she doesn't speak to me either--unless she wants help with math or something. She's so two-faced! But who needs Miss Stuck-Up anyway?" Kayla glanced at the clock. "Oh, it's getting late. I better go."
After Kayla left, Ellie went to the kitchen. "Are you making brownies?" she asked her mom.
"Yes, I am," Mom answered as she measured sugar.
"Yum!" Ellie picked up a spoon that still held a bit of chocolate and stuck it in her mouth before Mom could stop her. "Oh, yuck!" Ellie groaned and made a face. "This tastes awful! Mom, what's wrong with this chocolate?"
"There's nothing wrong with it, but it's unsweetened chocolate. It doesn't have sugar in it," Mom explained. "I was going to warn you, but it was too late." Thoughtfully, she added, "I couldn't help overhearing your conversation with Kayla. It was something like that chocolate."
"What do you mean?" Ellie asked in surprise.
"Well, chocolate without sugar is bitter, isn't it? Things we say can be bitter too--and it seems to me the things the two of you said were just that. Bitter--with no sweetness at all."
"But all we said is that Ada is stuck-up, and she is! We're not mean to her. We're always helping her with homework and stuff."
"That may be, but your words don't match your actions, and we can't show others love through one but not the other. Both our words and our actions need to be filled with kindness and compassion to show others the love of Jesus. Ada may not be perfect, but neither are you. Yet Jesus shows you love through both His words and His actions. The Bible speaks of His love for us, and He showed it to us by dying for our sins so we could be saved."
Ellie sighed. "But Ada didn't even hear us."
"I'm glad of that, but the Bible says our words should 'benefit those who listen.' I heard what you said, and I didn't find any of it beneficial. Chocolate needs to be sweetened to taste good, and our actions and words need to be sweetened too--sweetened with love." -Irene C. Strobel
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