The Dismal Life


Prodigal:  Howdy!

Me:  Your friend looks like the cheese fell off his cracker.

Prodigal: He is having a rough day, but maybe a story will help.


This is from the book The God Who Hung on the Cross by Dois Rosser Jr. and Ellen Vaughn

In the first six years the church grew to a fellowship of about two hundred people and then plateaued, with no new growth for the next seven years.  Pastors are supposed to attract new people, build new buildings, and report huge growth.  But it wasn’t happening.  Dick felt like a failure.

On the last day of 1968, Dick was on his way to visit a church member in the hospital when he heard a radio commentator speculate about what the New Year would bring: “Nineteen -sixty-nine looks more of the same,” he said.  “More of the same in Indo-China, more of the same in Europe, more of the same all over the world.”

Those words chilled Dick’s heart, and he nearly crashed yet another car.  “Oh, no!” he cried out to God.  “Anything but that!  If You give me another year like the last one, I’ll quit!”

That night Dick was busy preparing a New Year’s Eve communion service when God called a particular verse to his attention.  It was Jeremiah 33:3:  “Ask me and I will tell you some remarkable secrets about what is going to happen here”.

Those fresh words gave Dick a sense of hope.  He desperately wanted something new to happen in his church, something remarkable to break into his numbing routine.  A “remarkable secret,” he thought to himself.  Maybe it will be a call to a big church….or speaking opportunities in new venues…

What happened to Dick in 1969?

Dick’s wife, Ginny, had to be hospitalized repeatedly for crippling, undiagnosed illnesses.  At the time, the Woodwards had five young children:  two in diapers, and three toddlers.

Dick had never been particularly domestic.  Since Ginny had always managed the home front.  Dick had absolutely no idea how dirty diapers made the journey from the rank stew of the diaper pail to the drawer of the changing table, all fluffy, clean, and white. (Pampers had not yet been invented.)

Now Dick learned the intricacies of soaking, washing, drying, folding, safety pins, and rubber pants.  Ginny, doubled over in pain, could only watch and wonder from afar.  The women of the church pitched in with meals, and somehow, everyone survived.

After eleven months of domestic duties and church challenges, after trying harder and harder and getting behinder and behinder, Dick came to the end of his rope one Saturday night.

He was in the midst of a double diaper change.  The phone rang.  Dick held his daughter down with an elbow, cradled the phone to his shoulder, and continued wiping and pinning.

The person on the other end said she was in crisis, but as Dick listened, he realized she didn’t really want help.  She just wanted to talk.  And talk. Not only was Dick completely unprepared for his sermon the next morning, but his children were screaming, and this person-in spite of the howling in the Woodward home-seemed as if she would talk all night.

Right then, Dick hit the wall.

After managing to hang up, he finished the diaper change, crumpled to the floor of the nursery, and began sobbing uncontrollably.

“I thought this was going to be a “remarkable” new year,” he cried. “This is not what I had in mind!”  All his frustrations and fears came tumbling out in a rush.  He sobbed out his fears, his failures, his feelings of inadequacy in his ministry.

“God!” he cried out in desperation.  “I can’t!  I can’t!”

And there, in a heap on the dusty floor of that little nursery, Dick felt God speak.

I’ve been waiting thirteen years to hear you say that, he seemed to hear God say.  Now let’s see if you can learn this:  I can!

That diaper epiphany changed Dick’s life.  He realized it was okay to be inadequate.  Inadequate people, in fact, are the only people God has to work with:  “God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.


Isaiah 50:10

Who among you fears the LORD and obeys the voice of his servant?  Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God.


Jennifer Van Allen

Reward Obedience

Me:  Howdy Prodigal!

Prodigal:  I am helping with the children!

Me:  Well, I have something about children.


This is from Charles Swindoll Parenting from Surviving to Thriving


It’s about making progress through wise choices and avoiding the pain and sorrow that foolish choices bring.  We must teach our children the value of walking straight ahead with God.  We do that by working with them to set a goal, showing them how to work toward the goal using God-honoring means, and seeing that they reap the rewards of obedience.

You can also do this by being your children’s loudest cheer leader.  Applaud their independence, praise their initiative and lavish your admiration upon them when they choose to stand alone against peer pressure.  And when they fail, share a story of how you failed, how you suffered, learned and grew.


Proverbs 4:25-27

Let your eyes look directly ahead, and let your gaze be fixed straight in front of you.  Watch the path of your feet and all your ways will be established.  Do not turn to the right nor to the left; turn your feet from evil.


Jennifer Van Allen

Her Prayer


Prodigal:  I am spending time with your family!

Me:  Yeah she is sweeter than baby’s breath.

Prodigal:  I agree!


This is from the book Great Women of the Christian Faith by Edith Deen

This is written by Mary Slessor who was a Scottish factory girl who served as a missionary in Calabar for 38 years.


My life is one long daily, hourly, record of answered prayer.  For physical health, for mental overstrain, for guidance given marvellously, for errors and dangers averted, for enmity to the Gospel subdued, for food provided at the exact hour needed, for everything that goes to make up life and my poor service, I can testify with a full and often wonder-stricken awe that I believe God answers prayer.

I can give no other testimony.  I am sitting alone here on a log among a company of natives.  My children, whose very lives are a testimony that God answers prayer, are working around me.   Natives are crowding past on the bush road to attend palavers, and I am at perfect peace, far from my countrymen and conditions, because I know God answers prayer.  Food is scarce just now.  We live from hand to mouth.  We have not more than will be our breakfast today, but I know we shall be fed, for God answers prayer.


Proverbs 13:7

One pretends to be rich, yet has nothing; another pretends to be poor, yet has great wealth.


Jennifer Van Allen

Which View

Me:  How is your day going?

Prodigal:  It’s hotter than the inside of an all-day tent revival.

Me:  Well try to stay in the shade while I share with you today.


This is from C.S. Lewis Mere Christianity

I mentioned only the Materialist view and the Religious view.  But to be complete I ought to mention the In-between view called Life-Force philosophy, or Creative Evolution, or Emergent Evolution.  The wittiest expositions of it come in the works of Bernard Shaw, but the most profound ones in those of Bergson.  People who hold this view say that the small variations by which life on this planet “evolved”from the lowest forms to Man were not due to chance but to the “striving” or “purposiveness” of a Life-Force.  When people say this we must ask them whether by Life-Force them mean something with a mind or not.  If they do, then “a mind bringing life into existence and leading it to perfection”is really a God, and their view is thus identical with the Religious.  If they do not, then what is the sense in saying that something without a mind “strives” or has “purpose”?  This seems to me fatal to their view.  One reason why many people find Creative Evolution so attractive is that it gives one much of the emotional comfort of  believing in God and one of the less pleasant consequences.  When you are feeling fit and the sun is shining and you do not want to believe that the whole universe is a mere mechanical dance of atoms, it is nice to be able to think of this great mysterious Force rolling on through the centuries and carrying you on its crest.  If, on the other hand, you want to do something rather shabby, the Life-Force, being a blind force, with no moral and no mind, will never interfere with you like that troublesome God we learned about when we were children.  The Life-Force is a sort of tame God.  You can switch it on when you want,but it will not bother you.  All the thrills of religion and none of the cost.  Is the Life-Force the greatest achievement of wishful thinking the world has yet seen?


The trouble with that average view is that when you need healing, when you need help from evil in this world.  When you are afraid your tame life-force is not going to help you.  It is only Jesus that is going to help.


Psalm 100:3

Know that the Lord, he is God!  It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.


Jennifer Van Allen

Great Ease


Me:  Howdy Prodigal!

Prodigal:  I just finished praying.

Me:  I was going to talk about praying.


This is from the book Reaching for the Invisible God by Philip Yancey


His tradition had taught him, though, that you do not approach the Other as you would approach your own kind.  The ritual helped him move from a spirit of urgency and immediacy-the demands of the prison ministry–to a place of calm whose rhythms were the rhythms of eternity.


Where can we go to escape?  Do we go to Aruba? Do we go to Jamaica?  Do we go to Fiji?  The best place to go is to find a place where you can meet God.  This place is just for you and God.  The best thing about it, is that it can be anywhere.  It can be a chair, a rug, an office.  It can be in your car, in the bathroom or on your porch.  It can be in the morning or at night.  We can’t avoid urgency and stress in this world at times but God does offer us a break.


Jude 1:24-25

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen


Jennifer Van Allen

Even If It’s Dark


Prodigal:  Howdy!

Me:  Nice to meet your friends!  There even shorter than you!

Prodigal:  Yep, they have to stand up straight to look a rattler in the eye!

Me:  Well, at least I am taller than that! (Yes, Aaron, I am taller than that)

Prodigal:  Do you have a story.

Me:  Yes, I do.

He was a strong man facing an enemy beyond his strength.  His young wife had become gravely ill, then suddenly passed away, leaving the big man alone with a wide-eyed, flaxen-haired girl, not quite five years old.

The service in the village chapel was simple, and heave with grief.  After the burial at the small cemetery, the man’s neighbors gathered around him. “Please, bring your little girl and stay with us for several days,” someone said.  “You shouldn’t go back home just yet.”

Broken-hearted through he was, the man answered, “Thank you, friends, for the kind offer.  But we need to go back home–where she was.  My baby and I must face this.”

So they returned, the big man and his little girl, to what now seemed an empty, lifeless house.  The man brought his daughter’s little bed into his room, so they could face the first dark night together.

As the minutes slipped by that night, the young girl was having a dreadful time trying to sleep…and so was her father.  What could pierce a man’s heart deeper than a child sobbing for a mother who would never come back?

Long into the night the little one continued to weep.  The big man reached down into her bed and tried to comfort her has best he could.  After a while, the little girl managed to stop crying–but only out of sorrow for her father.  Thinking his daughter was asleep, the father looked up and said brokenly, “I trust You, Father, but…it’s as dark as midnight!”

Hearing her dad’s prayer, the little girl began to cry again.

“I thought you were asleep, baby,” he said.

“Papa, I did try.  I was sorry for you.  I did try.  But-I couldn’t go to sleep.  Papa, did you ever know it could be so dark?  Why Papa? I can’t even see you, it’s so dark.”  Then, through her tears, the little girl whispered, “But you love me even if it’s dark–don’t you, Papa?

For an answer, the big man reached across with his massive hands, lifted his little girl out of her bed, brought her over onto his chest, and held her, until at last she fell asleep.

When she was finally quiet, he began to pray.  He took his little daughter’s cry to him and passed it up to God.

“Father, it’s dark as midnight.  I can’t see You at all.  But You love me, even when it’s dark and I can’t see, don’t You?”

From the blackest of hours, the Lord touched him with a new strength, enabling him to carry on.  He knew that God went on loving him, even in the dark.

Ron Mehl


John 3:17

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.


Jennifer Van Allen

The God Who Hung on the Cross


Me: What is wrong Prodigal?

Prodigal:  I feel lower than a gopher hole.

Me:  Maybe I can share a story that will cheer you up!


This is from the book  The God Who Hung On the Cross by Dois Rosser Jr. and Ellen Vaughn


In September 1999, a pastor we’ll call Tuy Seng traveled to Khampong Tom Province in the north of Cambodia.  Pastor Seng had wanted to bring the Gospel to the remote villages there for years, but they had been under the control of an isolated pocket of Khmer Rouge radicals until early 1999.

Now, as far as anyone knew, he was the first person to speak of Jesus in that isolated area.  Most villagers cast their lot with Buddhism or ancestor worship.  Christianity was unheard of.

But when Seng arrived at one small, rural village, the people welcomed him eagerly.  They could not hear enough about the Gospel.  Most made decisions to commit their lives to Christ.  Smiling, Pastor Seng asked the people why it seemed as if they had been waiting for him to come.

An old woman shuffled to the front of the group, bowed, and grasped Pastor Seng’s hands.  “We have been waiting,” she said.  “We have been waiting for you for twenty years.” And then she told them this story.

After the Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia, they made their way through the countryside, destroying just about anything created with purpose and design-bridges, highways, hospitals, human beings.  It took a while, but after they had dealt with Phnom Penh and other city centers, they focused on the villages.

So it was that the soldiers came to this hamlet in 1979.  Their technique was the same as it has been for countless communities, but for the people who lived there the terror was new.  The communists emerged from the jungle and strode from hut to hut, ordering the villagers out.  Those who resisted were killed at once; many died in front of their homes.

The rest were marched to a clearing behind the village.  Their own farm tools were thrust into their hands.

“Now dig!” the soldiers shouted.

The villagers hacked the red-clay soil, trembling with the dark realization that they were digging their own mass grave.  Some lost their nerve and tried to run.  They were shot and dragged to the edge of the still shallow pit.

Hours passed as the people sweated and wept and dug-until finally the hole was deep enough.  The people laid down their spades and shovels.  The soldiers shouted for them to turn and face the pit.

They braced themselves, waiting for the killing blows, knowing that the soldiers would bludgeon them to death rather than shoot them-why waste precious bullets on ordinary peasants?

The heavy, humid air lay still as the villagers began to cry out-the wail before death, when the heart’s longing to live becomes a desperate plea for help.  Some screamed to Buddha, to ancestors, or to demon spirits.  A few cried for their mothers.

Then one woman began to cry, intuitively, to one of her earliest memories-the faint echo of a story told her by her mother about the God who hung on the cross.  She called out to that God.  Surely the One who had suffered Himself might have compassion on those about to die.  Time stopped.  The humid jungle air lay still.

Suddenly the screams around her became one great wail, as the entire village called out as one, crying for their lives to the God who hung on the cross.

There was only silence.

They sobbed into the darkness of the pit before them.

Silence.  A flicker of hope.

And then the people turned, one by one by one.

The jungle was empty.  The soldiers were gone.

And ever since that astounding day in 1979, the people of that village had been waiting-waiting for someone to come and tell them more-more about the God who hug on the cross.


John 3:31-33

He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way.  He who comes from heaven is above all.  He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true.


Jennifer Van Allen

Soft Touch


Me:  It looks cold out!

Prodigal:  It’s so cold the politicians have their hand in their own pockets.

Me:  Haha, that is cold indeed.  I am going to share about giving


This is a story from Dr James Dobson

My Dad, an evangelist, was the original soft touch.  I remember him once going off to speak in a tiny church and coming home ten days later.  Eventually my mother asked about the offering.  I can still see my father’s face as he smiled and looked at the floor.

“You gave the money away again, didn’t you?”  she asked.

“Myrt,” he said, “the pastor there is going through a hard time.  His kids are needy.  I felt I should give the entire fifty dollars to them.”

My good mother looked at my father for a few moments and then smiled.  “You know, if God told you to do it, it’s okay with me.”

A few days later, we ran completely out of money, so my father gathered us for a time of prayer.  He said, “Lord, you told us that if we would honor you in our good times, that you would take care of us when things are difficult.  We need a little help at this time.”  The next day we received an unexpected check for $1,200.00.  That’s the way it happened–not once, but many times.  No matter what you give, you’ll find you can never outgive God.


See if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.

Malachi 3:10


Jennifer Van Allen

Speaking Ill

Me:  Who is that Prodigal?

Prodigal:  Someone I know.  He is tighter than a wet boot.

Me:  Well, even so he can be a good friend!


This is from the book  God’s Little Devotional Book for Women


Carlos Romulo, the former president of the Philippines, won an oratorical contest in the Manila high school he attended as a young man.  His father was puzzled, how ever, when he saw his son ignore the congratulations of one of the other contestants.  As they left the auditorium he asked, “Why didn’t you shake hands with Julio?”

Carols said, “I have no use for Julio.  He was speaking ill of me before the contest.”  The father put his arm around his son and said, “Your grandfather used to tell me that the taller the bamboo grows, the lower it bends.  Remember that always, my boy.  The taller the bamboo grows, the lower it bends.”


Today is a day to bend lower.


A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels.


Proverbs 1:5


Jennifer Van Allen

Seven Qualities

Me:  Are you ready for your interview?

Prodigal:  I hope so, any advice?

Me:  You need to keep your saddle oiled and your gun greased.

Prodigal:  Thanks, and just some encouragement please!


This is from the book Spiritual Leadership by J. Oswald Sanders


Montgomery outlined seven qualities necessary for a military leader, each appropriate to spiritual warfare:  the leader must 1. avoid getting swamped in detail; 2. not be petty; 3. not be pompous; 4. know how to select people to fit the task; 5. trust others to do a job without the leader’s meddling; 6. be capable of clear decisions; 7. inspire confidence.


You are overwhelmed with your task today and are begging for God’s direction.  You cannot focus because of the stress.  Here is your answer.  Remember God can bring clarity at anytime and you did right by calling out to him.


1 John 4:19

We love because he first loved us.


Jennifer Van Allen