Faith vs. Flesh: Genesis 1-24

You can find a one year Bible reading plan here.


The Bible’s beginning is epic. As Walk Through the Bible summarizes it, there is the Creation, the Fall, the Flood, and then the rise of the Nations. Throughout all this tumult God makes relationships with individuals, but the effort reveals two kinds of persons: those who walk by faith and follow God, and those who walk in the flesh and reject God. Sometimes the same person will follow one of these paths at one point in his  life only to switch to the other later. God, thankfully, continues to deal with men despite their failures. Genesis is the book of beginnings, and God, by grace, continues to give men the chance for a new start throughout the events of the book.

Adam and Eve failed to keep faith and instead believed Satan’s lies. They sought power, pleasure, and possessions rather than the promises of God. Cain rejected God but Abel offered his sacrifice in faith (see Hebrews 11). After Abel’s murder his brother Seth was born, and Seth’s descendants began to call on the Lord (Genesis 4:26). Cain’s descendants followed the way of the flesh. Enoch walked with God. Noah found favor with God and God used him to begin to deliver mankind from the curse put on the earth. Following the flood godless men began to try to make their own way to heaven at Babel, but God dispersed them into many nations.

Abraham is the pinnacle of faith in these first chapters, but even Abraham tried to have it both ways. His two sons were a living picture of this struggle. Ishmael was the child of the flesh. Isaac was the miracle child. Yet Abraham is remembered more for his faith than his failings.  As Genesis 15:6 records it, Abraham believed God’s promise, and for that reason alone God reckoned him as righteous. Abraham’s faith is proven when tested on Mt. Moriah at the intended sacrifice of Isaac. This section closes with the story of Abraham’s servant searching for a bride for Isaac. He, also, lived a life of faith, declaring when he found Rebekah that the Lord led him all the way (Genesis 24:27).

The struggle between faith and flesh lights up all these early stories in Genesis and sets the tone for much of the Bible. But note here, as you begin this year long study, that God deals with one person at a time. There is not yet a Godly nation, and barely a godly family, but all that will come in time.

About this blog

During 2021 I will post weekly writings covering the material you would read during each week as you proceed from Genesis to Revelation in one year. And so for this week I have covered Genesis 1-24. Next week I will write about Genesis 25-42. I hope you will continue along with me. You can find daily posts about these chapters archived here on the Bible in a Year blog. For your convenience here are the previous posts covering Genesis 1-24.

Genesis 1 – The days and seasons that frame creation

Genesis 5 – Noah lives up to his name

Genesis 9 – The promise keeping God

Genesis 15 – Faith is righteousness

Genesis 17 – Only what’s done through God will last

Genesis 19-21 – Actions have consequences

Genesis 22 – Put to the test by God

Christmas light


Blow away the snow
Let all the presents go
Christmas must be more than these
If Christmas we would know

Take down the candled trees
And brighter lights we’ll see
Christmas glows with inner light
The light that comes from Thee

You were Creation’s light
The word that gives us sight
They laid you in the manger’s hay
We met you Christmas night

But long before that day
We heard the prophets say
That you would come and suffer much
To take our sins away

We felt your human touch
The cry of death was hushed
You left behind the greatest gift
Though you, yourself, were crushed

Your death repaired the rift
Allowed our souls to lift
Your Christmas journey brought us peace
If we receive your gift

So look beneath the snow
and see beyond the trees
and spy the brighter light
and hear the prophets speak
We need Redeemer’s touch
We need a Savior’s lift
No others matter much
We need his Christmas gift

2014, by Robert Dellinger

Image by Andy Schultz on Flickr, CC by-nc-sa 2.0

Eternal truth from a heavenly perspective: I John – Revelation 22

You can find a one-year Bible reading plan here.

Revelation is an apocalypse, meaning an unveiling. The curtain is drawn back to show us eternal truths from a heavenly perspective. The unveiling is performed by Jesus, and it is about him. Revelation is also written in an apocalyptic style. This doesn’t mean it is only a story about the end of the world. Apocalyptic writing, like that in the book of Daniel, includes symbolism, dreams or visions, angelic interpreters, symbolic numbers, forecasts of the end times, and an expectation that this world will have to pass away to make room for a better future. So, from the beginning, we must remember that many of the images in Revelation are symbolic.

The book is also prophetic, proclaiming God’s word of truth about the present and the days to come. Finally, it is a letter written to be circulated among specific churches and then to the church at large. Any interpretation of the book must account for the fact that the letter had to mean something to the first century churches that first received it. Revelation is an apocalyptic prophecy written as a circular letter, and we modern readers need to keep all three of these characteristics in mind as we interpret the book (see Theology of the Book of Revelation by Richard Bauckham).

Rather than obsessing over a schedule of future events, I urge you to read the book and hear it as a dramatic performance. Focus on the big picture first before diving into the details. Some of those big picture items that you should notice include:

  1. The heavenly perspective of the book. We are moved through space to an out of this world vantage point in order to give us God’s view of the world.
  2. The eternal perspective of the book. We see present events from the vantage point of the end of time when God judges the world and creates a new heaven and earth.
  3. The divinity of Jesus Christ, who shares with God the qualities of being Alpha and Omega, first and last, beginning and end.
  4. The victory of believers who overcome the world, not by escaping from it, but by witnessing to Jesus Christ through their suffering and death.
  5. The true nature of the world system (exemplified by Rome and symbolized by Babylon) which must be rejected because it is opposed to what is righteous and just.

The imagery of Revelation may be its most important quality. It creates a cohesive world or universe that we can picture and remember. It contrasts and ridicules the propaganda image put forward by the world system and in its place creates a map and story that paves the way for beleaguered believers to overcome. Though most of us would have a hard time detailing the words of Revelation, many of us both within and without the faith community will have no trouble recalling the images of the book. God on the throne, the four horsemen, the scroll being opened, the judgments poured out, the dragon, the two witnesses, Jesus riding to victory on a white horse, and so on. I think of these images as an inoculation that has prepared every generation to withstand the false promises of the world system. This vaccine for the imagination was most important to the early church which faced widespread persecution, but it remains vital for the church facing violence around the world today. As always, the twin dangers are to assimilate with the world system or to withdraw from it, but Revelation reveals the overcomer’s way: remain engaged despite the danger and win the world through the martyr’s witness.

About this blog

During 2020 I have posted weekly writings covering the material you would read during each week as you proceed from Genesis to Revelation in one year. And so for this week I have covered I John – Revelation 22. For your convenience here are the previous posts covering this week’s reading, but all the posts for each day’s reading are archived here on the Bible in a Year blog.

This concludes another year of reading and blogging through the Bible. I will be taking a break from this project, but you may continue to return here whenever you wish to read the archived posts that will give you a summary of each week and each day’s reading. May God’s word dwell in you richly!

Proofs of salvation: I John

Supporting the missionaries: 2 John, 3 John

The Unveiling: Revelation 1-3

Heaven and Earth: Revelation 4-8

Witnesses on earth; war in heaven: Revelation 11-12

The Mark of the Beast: Revelation 13

Babylon is fallen – the Lord Almighty reigns: Revelation 19

The Kingdom of Heaven: Revelation 20-22

The Wisdom of Christmas

The Wisdom of Christmas

I was leaving the food court at the mall when I saw him. I had gulped down some Chinese and a soda in order to revive myself. The nephews and nieces were done, but I still had to find presents for my wife and mother. I glanced down at my watch, then looked up to pick out an opening in the crowd, and there he stood.

I could tell he wasn’t a local. His clothes were different – out of style in a way that was more than just old-fashioned. He had the weary look of a long-distance traveler, yet he carried himself in a noble way. In fact, he stood out among the swarming shoppers like an imposing lighthouse in a surging sea. I found myself drifting towards him like a boat seeking a safe harbor.


“Are you lost?” I asked him.
“No, I’m not lost,” he answered, “but I am searching.”
As he spoke he turned his head from side to side, the bottom of his long beard following a beat behind, as he scanned the stores and people below him.
“Are you looking for someone?”
“No, I’m alone, very much alone.”
“Then what are you trying to find?” I asked.
“I’ve come from far away,” he said, still searching.
“I can see that. Your clothes look like you’ve been through a desert. Could I help you find a place to stay?”
“No, I cannot stay. I cannot rest. I must keep looking until I find it.”
“But what … is … it?” I almost shouted.
He showed no irritation, but slowly and calmly bent down to me and whispered, “the wisdom of Christmas.”
Years have passed since I met the traveler, but whenever I remember our encounter I still hear the music in those words. I knew immediately, out of some deep place in my heart, the reality and the difficulty of his search. If he were only looking for the foolishness of Christmas! Then his search would be easy and his travel short. There were many examples of that undesirable prize all around us. But to find the wisdom of Christmas… Now I knew why he had traveled so far.
“I need to rest,” he said. “Sit with me.”
We found an empty bench and I heard him sigh as he eased himself onto it.
“Are you sure the wisdom of Christmas still exists?” I asked him.
“Yes, it exists. I’ve seen it. Like any great skill, once you’ve seen it in action you can’t forget it.”
“Like watching Michael Jordan play basketball,” I told him.
“Something like that, but wisdom is skill in living.”
“Then give me an example,” I said.
“As you wish. Picture a man or woman who gives generously, desiring nothing in return. Content with what they have. Not worried about how their gift will be received. Seeking only to please another. Generosity fills the wise heart of Christmas.”
“Like the couple in O’Henry’s The Gift of the Magi.”
“Exactly,” he replied. “Now think of the home where such a man or woman lives. It’s a simple home, but filled with love. These are not famous people, and no celebrities come through their doors, but their home is open and many people who need help and comfort find their way there, some poor and some not so poor.”
“Jesus came as a poor unknown,” I said to myself as much as anyone. Then I asked, “Is it wrong to celebrate at Christmas?”
“Celebrating can be very wise,” he said with a smile. “We celebrate what we want to keep alive. But what do these activities all around us seek to preserve? By their own words they show they only want to celebrate a Happy Holiday, not Christmas.”
“And they want to preserve their profits,” I added.
“Don’t be too cynical,” he cautioned. “Profit is not wrong or unwise, but it is a foolish man who only sees Christmas as a tool to gain his desires.”
I watched the crowds grow thicker and more frantic, and suddenly I felt very tired.
“It’s impossible,” I told him. “We’re too far gone. You’re not going to find your wisdom, are you?”
And then he laughed, and as he laughed the sound grew louder and echoed through the mall. I heard children in the laughter, and bells, and a rustling like branches, or wings.
“You give up too easily,” he said, still laughing.
“But look how far you’ve traveled, and you’re still looking. What hope do you have?”
“All hope, because I do not hope in man, but what goes beyond man.”
“Are you talking about magic?”
“Certainly not,” he scolded. “Magic is only an illusion. And I’m not talking about the spirit of man, either. There are moments when our natures rise up towards greatness, but even at our best we are finite, limited, and temporary. No, I’m talking about the reality that goes unseen by most men, the greatest truth and the deepest wisdom of Christmas. Can you see it?”
Before I could answer, I heard a little girl crying and saw her crawl up into the bearded man’s lap. He showed no surprise at her sudden appearance, but comforted her and asked what was wrong.
“I can’t find my mommy and daddy,” she cried.
“Well, don’t worry, my little one. We’ll find them. What’s your name?”
“Grace,” she told him.
“A beautiful name for a beautiful girl. Now, Grace, let’s find your mommy and daddy.”
And immediately he stood, holding Grace in his arms, and carefully raised her to his shoulder. There she perched on the lighthouse as he slowly turned like a beacon tracing the horizon.
“I see them!” she shouted, pointing to her parents as they returned her shouts and raced towards the dusty traveler and his tiny companion.
After many thanks and hugs the grateful parents left with Grace, and I was left alone with the stranger.
“I think I know the answer,” I told him.
“Good,” he replied.
“The greatest truth, the deepest wisdom of Christmas, is how God reached down into space and time to save us when we were lost and helpless.”
“Of course,” he smiled.
“And that’s why we celebrate, and why our hearts fill with generosity, and why we pay just as much attention to the poor and needy as we do to the high and mighty.”
He squeezed my shoulders and paused before speaking. “You’ve made me a happy man, my son. I can go home now.”
“But what about your search for wisdom?”
“I found it,” he answered as he turned and headed towards the exit. “It’s in you. From one wise man to another, have a Merry Christmas!”  by Robert Dellinger

Faith in Action: Titus – II Peter 3

You can find a one-year Bible reading plan here.

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith…

Hebrews 10:19-22

Hebrews portrays the supreme excellency of Jesus Christ in all his glory. But if you stop there, you have missed the most important lesson of the book. Do not file away the knowledge of Christ’s superiority as a random fact, but wield it as the power to fuel your faith. As the author of Hebrews said, let it give you full assurance of your faith so that you can confidently engage with God with a true heart.

In Chapter 2 the supremacy of Christ gives us power to overcome the temptation to drift away from our salvation. In Chapter 3 our confidence in Christ protects us from an unbelieving heart and the deceitfulness of sin. In Chapter 4 the great high priest gives us confidence to approach the throne of grace and enter God’s rest. In Chapter 6 Jesus is the anchor of our soul giving us strong encouragement to hold fast to our hope. In Hebrews 7 Jesus is the guarantor of a better covenant who will save to the uttermost those who draw near to him in faith. In Chapter 9 he is the high priest offering himself as the sacrifice, whose blood purifies our conscience from dead works to serve God. Hebrews 10 exhorts us to hold fast the confession of our hope with full confidence because of the blood of Jesus. Chapter 12 reminds us of Jesus’ example of endurance under suffering, so that we do not wither but remain strong in our faith when tested. Hebrews closes with a reminder that there is a heavenly Jerusalem where Jesus mediates a new covenant. With this in mind, we should be grateful and worship him with awe and reverence.

James carries on this doctrine of faith in action. He proclaims that faith without works is dead (James 2:17). Our faith, when tested, should produce steadfastness. We should make our requests to God without doubting. When tempted we should not give in to earthly desires, but instead have faith in the eternal rewards of righteous living and persevere. Our faith causes us to be doers and not just hearers of the word. By faith we deny ourselves and meet the needs of those around us.

James’ strong stand on the necessity of a working faith has caused some consternation through the years as Christians compare his words with Paul’s repeated claim, echoing Habakkuk, that the just shall live by faith. “Faith Alone!” has been a Protestant rallying cry after all. This apparent contrast between James and Paul is not so great as it seems, however. I picture James and Paul standing back to back, each defending faith against a different enemy. In Paul’s view, legalism (especially the Jewish form of legalism) threatened Christianity most of all. For James, it was perhaps spiritual license, the belief that a believer could live as they pleased, sometimes called antinomianism or easy believe-ism, that endangered faith. I believe both of these men would have agreed that is not faith or works that saves, but a faith that works.

When the telegraph cable flashed no message across to America, when they tried to telegraph again and again, but the only result following was dead earth, they felt persuaded that there was a fracture, and well they might; and when there is nothing produced in the life by the supposed grace which we have, and nothing is telegraphed to the world but “dead earth,” we may rest assured that the link of connection between the soul and Christ does not exist.

Charles Spurgeon

About this blog

During 2020 I plan to post weekly writings covering the material you would read during each week as you proceed from Genesis to Revelation in one year. And so for this week I have covered Titus – II Peter 3. Next week I will write about I John – Revelation 22. I hope you will continue along with me. You can find daily posts about these chapters archived here on the Bible in a Year blog. For your convenience here are the previous posts covering Titus – II Peter 3.

Leader Do’s and Don’ts: Titus 1

Firm to the end: Hebrews 1-6

A Better Way: Hebrews 7-10

Faith is the substance: Hebrews 11

Faith that Works: James 2

Living with suffering: I Peter

Truth vs. Heresies: 2 Peter 2

A Chocolate Christmas


A story by Robert Dellinger

Laura had three problems. Their names were Kevin, Tommy, and Jacob. She loved each of them, but sitting alone in her apartment the weekend after Thanksgiving she made a decision. She circled December 25 on the calendar and determined that by Christmas she would give her heart fully to one of the men and let the other two go.

Don’t be too quick to judge Laura. She was an uncommonly attractive young woman and she attracted an uncommon number of young men to her doorstep. These three remaining suitors were but a drop in the bucket of all those she had rejected. Give her credit as well for her wisdom in deciding to narrow the field even further. No one prompted her to do it: not her girlfriends, her parents, or even the enviable final three. Her own conscience, as tender as her looks, forced the decision on her. Conscience and a healthy dose of Christmas spirit.

For Christmas was gently falling down around her like an early December snow. She felt it coming in the chill of the evening as she walked with Kevin. She saw it blooming red in the holly berries ripening in the park they passed. She heard it in the carols at the mall and in the excited cries of children at store windows as she shopped with Tommy. She smelled it in the balsam scent of a corner lot where Jacob stopped to pick out a Christmas tree. She could almost taste Christmas.

But before the taste sweetened into reality, Laura remembered her dilemma and felt the weight of it smothering her Christmas spirit. The choice she faced discouraged her. It’s true that her looks and character had gotten her into this predicament, but a similar fact kept her from making an easy exit. The men in her life were just as exceptional as Laura.

Should that surprise you? Isn’t it true that the fastest runners race together? That the most talented singers combine for the duet? That the most striking jewel requires the most elegant setting? So the three men racing for Laura’s love not only competed with each other, but also complemented Laura as a fine dessert completes a delicious meal. Each man brought unique strengths to the meal. Each was a rich mixture of qualities that blended together in a mélange that was heady and intoxicating. No, don’t judge Laura too quickly.

The foursome met in college. During school they had been best buddies, and their friendship had kept romance at arm’s length longer than anyone had predicted. Now, to no one’s surprise, they all worked in the same city. Their friendship survived, but the men avoided discussing Laura except on those occasions when their frustrations overflowed into a therapeutic outpouring of “Laura-isms.”

“You know what gets me the most,” said Kevin, “is when she asks me how I feel about something.”

“An open-ended question,” said Jacob.

“Oh yeah, that’s her psych training coming out,” added Tommy.

“Well, how it makes me feel,” Kevin continued, “is like strangling her. But then she looks at me with those big eyes, and I know it’s no gimmick with her. It’s the real thing. She really does care. So who could be mad at her?”

“I suppose you’ve been sidelined by her long talks with random people you meet?” Jacob asked.

“Sidelined? I’ve been put on lay away,” answered Tommy. “How does she know so many people?”

“And how do they find so much to talk about?” Kevin added.

“I used to think it was a woman thing,” said Jacob, “but now I know better. It’s just pure Laura.”

“Face it, guys,” said Tommy, “she’s an extremely popular lady. Which explains why the three of us are still chasing her. Okay, I’ve heard the latest fashion conversation, the ‘who’s getting married?’ conversation …”

“The relatives conversation,” Jacob continued, “the cooking conversation, the ‘last week’s sermon’ conversation …”

“The movie conversation,” added Kevin, “and the book conversation.”

“But don’t you just love to watch her when she gets excited about something?” asked Jacob.

“Or when she’s laughing,” said Tommy.

Kevin’s phone rang and he answered it. Tommy and Jacob could tell by his voice that Laura was on the other end.

“Right,” he said, “see you soon.” He hung up and said, “Look, guys, I’ve got to go.”

Kevin walked quickly from his car to Laura’s apartment. It was more than the cold night or his anticipation that spurred him on. His long stride spoke of an inner drive and purpose with every step. No one who saw him would be surprised to hear of his athletic background, or to learn that he’d advanced several positions since taking a job at the bank. He looked like a quarterback, though he’d never played football. “Too rough,” he’d say if you asked him. Basketball was his passion, and he played every week in one of the city leagues. He loved the challenge of the game and the spirit of the small group of guys on his team. Friends said that he was going to law school when he saved enough money.

Soon he was sitting on the sofa with Laura and listening to her as Andy Williams sang “Happy Holidays” in the background. He listened for half an hour as she told him all about her day and the problems she had faced. Finally the conversation wound down, and Kevin found an opening.

“You said you were going to let me know what you wanted for Christmas. Have you decided?”

“I have,” she answered.

“Well, what is it?”

“Nothing much. I really don’t need anything.”

For once Kevin couldn’t tell if she was being coy or sincere.

“OK, I’ll agree you don’t need anything, but I’m still going to get you a present. So tell me what you’d like.”


He thought about it a minute. “For Christmas? That doesn’t sound like a Christmas gift.”

“That’s what I want.”

“But I’ve never heard you say you liked chocolate that much.”

“I love chocolate. And that’s what I want you to get me.”

“Well it won’t be much of a surprise, will it?”

“That’s up to you.”

Laura thought he looked a bit hurt as he left that night. There was a little less drive and a lot more consternation in his step as he headed back home. Part of her felt sorry for him, but then she remembered her plan and her resolve returned.

Tommy came next on her list. He brought along a recording of an old Chipmunk Christmas song, and he talked just as much as Laura did. Tommy was the joker in the group. If there was a sad bone in his body he never let it show. Laura loved that best about him. No matter what the circumstance, he laughed about it. And it wasn’t an act. An indestructible confidence backed up his bravado. It was contagious, so whenever she needed cheering up she ran to Tommy.  She laughed inside when he started kidding her about some outrageous gifts he planned to get her.

“Actually, I know what I’d like for Christmas,” she told him.

“Really? What is it? A mini-barn for all your shoes?”

“I’m serious.”

He took a good look at her and realized she wasn’t kidding.

“Okay, Babe. Let’s hear it. I aim to please.”

“I want chocolate.”

“Chocolate? You never cease to amaze me, Laura. That’s hilarious. Chocolate. Do you want a chocolate reindeer? Do they even make such a thing? I can see you now, nibbling on his nose and going ‘Oh, no, what’s Rudolph going to do now!’”

“Laugh all you want, but chocolate’s what I want.”

“Like the heart-shaped thing? Is that what you want? Because I don’t think Santa’s little elves will start working on those for a couple of months yet.”

Tommy kept laughing, but Laura just smiled at him, a sweet but secret smile that sent a chill to Tommy’s funny bone.

“All right, I’m getting the feeling that there’s more to this chocolate wish than just a chocoholic’s craving. Maybe it’s a test of my originality. Am I right?”

“You’re too suspicious. Just get me some chocolate,” she answered.

“Well, it doesn’t matter. I’m up to it either way. If it’s chocolate you want, chocolate is what you’ll get. But start dieting now, because Christmas day you will be swimming in chocolate.”

Tommy headed out that evening singing in his best Chipmunk voice. She laughed at him in spite of herself.

Finally Jacob got his call. Laura stood on her doorstep and watched him as he came up the street towards her apartment. She identified him blocks away by the swinging of his arms as he walked, and by the way his head turned one way and then another. His pace quickened when he saw her and he jumped up the steps two at a time until he stood in front of her.

“I’ve got something for you,” he said.

“A surprise?”

“No, not really, it’s that book of Frost poetry you said you wanted to borrow.”

“Thank you. I’ll get it back to you soon.”

“No rush. Enjoy it as long as you like. I rewrote one of his poems for you on my way over here. Would you like to hear it?”

“Of course.”

He cleared his throat dramatically. “Stopping by Laura’s on a Snowy Evening.”

“Whose house this is, I think I know.

Her name is Laura Grace Barlow.

She will not mind me stopping here,

to watch her rosy cheeks aglow.”

“Pretty good,” said Laura.

“That’s not all,” said Jacob.

“Her neighbors all must think it queer

for such a one to stop right here.

He’s not the kind that she would take

this coldest evening of the year.”

“Oh, wouldn’t I?” she cooed.

“One more verse!” he insisted.

“Her face is lovely, dark, and deep,

and makes me smile before I sleep.

For her, my promises I’ll keep;

for her, my promises I’ll keep.”

“Thank you,” she said softly, and kissed him before opening the door to let him in.

“I’m afraid it’s not very original,” he said.

“I’ve never heard it before. Not that version.”

“Consider it an early Christmas present,” he replied, beaming.

“Jacob…” she started and then hesitated. Maybe the whole thing was a mistake. She felt very deceitful in light of his sweet poem.

“Is everything all right?” he asked.

“Everything’s fine.” She took a deep breath and smiled. “I was wondering if you would like a suggestion for my Christmas present.”

“Are you sure you wouldn’t rather be surprised?”

“I’m sure. I know how much thought you’ll put into it, and I want to do something to make it easier for you.” She winced as she said it.

“Sure,” he answered. “Sounds great. What would you like?”


“That’s an interesting request. I never realized you were a connoisseur.”

“I’m not. I just feel like chocolate for Christmas. Something different.”

“That’s different all right. But different is good.”

“You’re okay with it then?”

“Yeah, I like it. Gives a certain focus to my search. But I’m going to have to bone up on this. My tastes don’t go far beyond what you find on the grocery store shelf.”

“Mine, either.”

“Well, now that we’ve settled that, let’s listen to that CD of the Robert Shaw chorale you told me about.”

Jacob’s exit that night was a reverse of his arrival, with a bit of poetry, arm swinging, and then head bobbing as he wandered back down the street. Laura sighed with relief as he disappeared. Now it was done. Three very different men had each been given an equal assignment, a common task with a very uncommon goal: to help her distinguish them in her heart. She knew that each of them would approach the job passionately, despite all her pretended protests. She had no doubt they were already thinking about what to get her. She only wondered whether she would be able to choose between their gifts.

In Laura’s dreams the three men never learned of her scheme. Christmas arrived, they presented their gifts, and she made her choice privately. They moved on without ever knowing how she made her decision. Dreams, of course, bear little resemblance to reality. Less than a week went by before Laura’s three friends stumbled on the similarity in their shopping lists.

“Why would she tell each of us to get her chocolate?” Tommy asked.

“She just wanted to make it easier on us,” Jacob answered.

“Nobody likes chocolate that much,” said Kevin. “No, she’s up to something, and I don’t think it’s for our benefit.”

“You’re too cynical,” said Jacob.

“You’re too naive,” said Kevin.

“It reminds me of something,” Tommy said. “You know, those medieval quests where the king puts a challenge before all the men competing for the princess’ hand in marriage. Whoever can kill the dragon, or answer the riddle, will be given the princess and half the kingdom. Something like that.”

“Except times have changed and Laura is both princess and king,” Kevin mused.

“And in this case Laura answers the riddle by choosing between us,” Jacob added.

“And whoever finds the chocolate dragon wins!” Tommy shouted.

Kevin shook his head. “Don’t you realize what this means?”

“Of course I do,” said Tommy. “It means the endgame. At Christmas only one of us will be left standing.”

“And that doesn’t bother you?”

“I’m excited about it! Soon the waiting will be over. This long, slow torture will end, and maybe, just maybe, I’ll be the one with the answer to Laura’s riddle.”

“And if you’re not the one?” asked Jacob.

“If I’m not the one, or if you’re not the one, then we’re free to go out and find our happiness somewhere else.”

“I wish I had your confidence,” said Jacob.

“He’s just deluding himself,” said Kevin. “Celebrate as much as you like, Tommy. I’m glad you’re satisfied with second place, because I’m not. There’s work to do. And since I may not see either of you for a while, let me go ahead and wish you both a Merry Christmas.”

With that he winked and was gone.

“Do we let her know that we know?” Jacob asked.

“Are you kidding?” Tommy yelled as he followed Kevin out the door.


Tommy’s first stop was Laura’s apartment.

“Hello, Mr. Chipmunk, what brings you to my corner of the woods?” Laura asked as she let him in.

“I’m on a quest.”

“For acorns?” she teased.

“No, something much more important than that.”

“You’re not kidding, are you? What’s so important?”

“You’re hurting my pride,” Tommy said. “I’m serious about a lot of things. Like you, for instance.”

“It’s nice to hear you say that. Is that why you came over here?”

“Not just that. Talk to me about chocolate.”

Laura paused to think. “If you’re fishing for Christmas gift ideas, you’re heading up the wrong creek.”

“But if I don’t use the right bait, how can I hope to land the gift you want?”

“If I give you the fish, how can you call that sport?”

“Then maybe I should give you a chocolate fish,” he protested.

“Not if I have to clean it,” she answered.

“Do I have to scale a mountain to find your gift?”

“I don’t think the trail to my gift goes so high.”

“High in price, you mean?” he quizzed her.

“You’re fishing again,” she told him.

“And you’re putting up a good fight.”

“I may have taken your bait,” she said, “but you’re not landing this fish.”

“Not today, you mean.”

That got her attention. “What do you mean, “Not today”?”

“Ah, now who’s fishing? Sorry to cut bait, Laura, but I’ve got to run. Like you said, no point fishing up the wrong creek. Talk to you later!”

Before she could reel him back he was gone, leaving her thoughts in tangles. What was he up to?

Jacob decided that he needed more facts before he could unravel his Christmas conundrum, so he made a few phone calls and then headed to “The Chocolate Collection.” Raoul Muret ran the downtown store, which sold imported chocolates as well as its own confections. The title after Muret’s name said chocolatier, and Jacob thought that sounded expert enough to start him on his search for the perfect present.

“You say you need to become a connoisseur of chocolate quickly,” Muret said, summing up Jacob’s story.

“That’s right. Tell me what I need to know to pick the best chocolate gift on earth.”

“And how many years did you say you have to learn all this?” Before Jacob could answer, Muret held up his hand and said, “Just kidding. This is for Christmas, yes? So our time is short indeed. Let me begin with the raw ingredients, and proceed from there to the finished product. The finest chocolates require the finest ingredients. That means no substitutes, nothing artificial. We begin with the cocoa beans.”

“Which are the best?” Jacob asked.

“The Venezuelan. Cocoa beans only grow in the tropics, and like the tropics the best beans are full of passionate flavor. The beans are fermented…”


“Yes. Many of the most flavorful foods require fermentation – such as cheese, wine, and chocolate. Even love, at its best, is not fresh, but full of experiences, some sweet and some sour.”

Muret paused to look at Jacob, but saw only a blank expression.

“Well, then. The beans are fermented, sun-dried, roasted, and ground. Then they are melted and stirred, and this is the crucial part where many so-called chocolatiers fail their craft. The stirring, or conching, must be continued for days; otherwise the chocolate will be gritty instead of smooth.”

“Is that all?” Jacob asked.

“No, that is certainly not all. The best chocolate does not come quickly. You must wait on it patiently. Even the cooling of the cooked chocolate must happen properly so that it keeps its smooth surface.”

“All right, Mr. Muret. Let’s say I’m offered a chocolate. How can I pick a great one?”

“Start with its appearance. The chocolate should shine. Smell the chocolate. The aroma should be powerful. Then, when you bite into it, there should be a sharp snap to the surface. The texture of the melting chocolate against the roof of the mouth should be smooth, and the taste should linger long in the mouth like a…like…”

“Like a kiss.”

“Exactly!” Muret shouted. “My boy, now you are learning something about chocolate.”

“Thank you.”

“Jacob, before you go, tell me why this chocolate gift is so important.”

“Because I want to show the woman I love how much I care for her.”

“Listen to me,” Muret insisted. “Chocolate, for all its romance and allure, is no substitute for love. You cannot create great chocolate with artificial ingredients, and you will not prove your love unless the gift comes from the heart. Now, take what you have learned here today and use it to give your gift that extra something, that something special. But the gift itself, that must come from you.”

While Jacob gleaned the wisdom of Mr. Muret, Kevin sought the expert advice of his basketball teammates. He pumped them for ideas as they downed burgers and fries after a Saturday afternoon game.

“I don’t get it. Why are you coming to us for help?” asked Donnie.

“Yeah, Kevin, you should be talking to some of Laura’s friends instead,” said Stuart, the team’s center.

“Look, I know what I’m doing,” Kevin assured them. “First of all, I trust you guys. I trust your opinions, and I trust you to keep everything we talk about strictly between us. I’m not sure I could say the same for Laura’s friends.”

“Smart thinking,” said Lamar, the point guard.

“You guys have got some experience I lack,” Kevin continued. “Stu, you’ve been married a couple of years now, and Andrew, how long has it been for you, five years?”

“That’s right,” said Andrew, the other forward besides Kevin. “Five wonderful years.”

“See, you two are not only married, you’re happily married. Help me out here. What’s the secret to winning the woman of your dreams?”

The two men looked at each other and shrugged.

“I don’t know, man,” said Andrew. “Once you make the commitment it just flows, like when you decide to go for that lay-up and flat-out beat the other guy to the board.”

“Or like when you shoot that three pointer and you know it’s going to fall as soon as it leaves your hand. Real love is like that,” Stuart added.

“So you’re saying I need to choose Laura’s gift like I play basketball. Go with the flow, be quick, beat the other guy to the board? I don’t think that’s going to work, guys.”

“Hey, they’re just telling you to do what comes natural,” Lamar suggested.

“Not specific enough,” Kevin countered. “Let’s brainstorm a minute. Do you think I should go for size and overwhelm her with a huge volume? Or should I go for the highest quality and just buy what I can afford?”

Kevin looked around and saw blank stares.

“Come on, guys, don’t crash on me now. Do I need to pump some more caffeine into you? Talk to me.”

“Okay, it’s not about amount, and it’s not about price,” said Lamar.

“All right. Tell me more,” said Kevin.

“It’s about connecting to her emotion, hitting her in the gut if you know what I mean, and creating a memory that sticks with her long after the gift is gone.”

“That’s good. Can I use that, too?” Donnie asked, as the whole team gave Lamar high-fives.

“How about this,” Andrew said. “Connect to her emotion and make her picture how wonderful a future the two of you will have together.”

“Swoosh!” Donnie shouted.

“Three points!” Stuart echoed.

“Make her picture it. Thanks, guys. Now that I can take to the bank.”


The weeks leading up to Christmas were quieter than usual for Laura. The men who usually occupied so much of her time were busy, so she took advantage of their absence to spend some time with her mother, Ann. They talked about a million things, but Laura’s mother noticed the absence of any mention of the three boyfriends.

“You seem very excited today,” she told her daughter.

“Because I’m talking so much? I’m just making up for lost time.”

“No, it’s more than that. You seem nervous. You’re not worried about anything, are you?”

“No, Mom. Everything’s fine.”

“You haven’t broken up with one of the boys, have you? You haven’t said a word about them all day.”

“They’ve been busy.”
“Too busy for you? Now you’ve really got my curiosity up.”

“What do you mean?” Laura asked.

“Well, can you think of a time when those three weren’t practically knocking down your door? I don’t know if one of them has even been out-of-town without you since you moved back here. And when have you failed to tell me, first thing, something about Kevin’s work, or Jacob’s writing, or Tommy’s jokes?”

Laura sat speechless, and Ann let the silence linger.

“You’re very observant. You know that, don’t you,” said Laura.

“And you’re stalling,” said her mother. “Come on, Laura, what’s up?”

Laura’s chin sank to her chest. “I’ve decided to choose one of them and tell the other two goodbye.”

“Oh, dear,” Ann said as she came over to comfort her daughter. “And when are you going to make this decision?”

“By Christmas,” Laura answered, tears beginning to roll down her cheeks.

“And you’re scared, aren’t you?” her mother said.

Laura nodded.

“Scared you’ll make the wrong choice,” her mother continued. “I’d say you couldn’t go wrong with any of them, but I know that’s not the kind of advice you want. Do they know about this?”

Laura shook her head. “I haven’t told them.”

Ann sat back down and thought about her daughter’s predicament. “I wish I had an answer for you, but if it was easy you’d have already made your choice. I can tell you about a hard decision of mine, if that would help.”

“Yes,” said Laura, “tell me.”

“Well, it was another Christmas, while I was still in college. I was planning to work during the holidays to make some extra money. I had to make a choice between two jobs. I wanted both of them, but of course I had to pick just one.”

“Why were you so excited about a part-time job?” Laura asked.

“Well, these were not your usual part-time jobs. One was stage managing the community theatre’s production of A Christmas Carol. The other was an office job for a local delivery company. And I know what you’re thinking. Doesn’t sound like a hard choice. But the delivery company paid twice as much as the theatre, and a boy I liked an awful lot happened to be working there as well.”

“So what did you decide?”

“I picked the stage manager job.”


“The delivery job was all about me – more money, time with my boyfriend – but the other job meant a chance to give to others, and I knew that would be more rewarding in the long run.”

“Sounds like you made the right choice, Mom.”

“Yes, I’ve never doubted that.”

“But how does that help me?” Laura asked.

“I don’t know. Maybe it doesn’t. I don’t know anyone else who’s ever faced a choice like yours. But I do know one thing,” her mother continued. “You’re going to make the right choice. I have no doubt about that, either.”

Everyone talked about the Christmas spirit that December. “It’s the early snow,” some said, while others credited the brisk economy. Most people didn’t try to explain it. They saw the smiles on faces and accepted it as fact. They heard how much farther the sound of the Salvation Army bell seemed to carry. Their own feet carried them more quickly on their errands. Their appetites quickened with every Christmas cookie they ate. But it wasn’t snow, smiles, or cookies that powered the Christmas spirit. It was the energy of three young men scurrying through the town’s shops and streets.

Soon Christmas week arrived. Laura carefully scheduled her time so that none of her meetings overlapped. Kevin came first on the schedule. He took her to a re-creation of an Old English Christmas feast, with real figgy pudding, roast pig, and servers singing Christmas carols in traditional costumes. Then they took a horse and carriage ride through the park before returning to Laura’s apartment. She felt like an eight year old on Christmas morning as she waited to open Kevin’s present, but the box he brought out surprised her. It was flat and square, about two feet on each side, and it looked like an ordinary chocolate candy box. She hesitated when Kevin set it in front of her.

“Well, aren’t you going to open it?” he asked.

“I’m just savoring the moment,” she told him.

“That’s fine. Take your time, but you know I’m just as excited as you are.”

“All right, here goes,” she said, and she carefully pulled away the wrapping paper. A bright white box lay inside. She slowly lifted the lid and smelled the strong scent of chocolate rising up to meet her face. She peered inside and saw…

“It’s you and me!” she shouted.

“Yes,” Kevin answered, have you ever seen a sweeter picture?”

A chocolate relief of Kevin and Laura covered the surface of the giant confection. Swirls of milk and dark chocolate intermixed and spiraled in and out through the couple, who were cheek to cheek and looking out at their real counterparts with wide smiles and arms clasped around each other.

“It’s the picture from my birthday party!”

“That’s right,” said Kevin.

“But how in the world did you get it on the chocolate?” Laura asked.

“I didn’t do it. I had someone enlarge the picture and make a bas-relief carving of it. Then they made a plastic mold of the carving, and the chocolate was poured into the mold to create the final masterpiece.”
“It’s beautiful.”

“And it’s made to be eaten.”

“I couldn’t eat it. I want to keep it forever.”

“Look underneath,” Kevin prompted her.

She carefully lifted the corner of the chocolate square, which sat on a cardboard backing, and saw another identical chocolate portrait in the bottom of the box.

“One to eat, and one to keep,” said Kevin. “Now why don’t you try a piece.”

She broke off a corner and tasted it. The strong flavor filled her mouth.

“It’s so smooth and sweet,” she said.

“Like anyone you know?” Kevin asked her.

“And there’s a hint of coffee, too. You know how I love coffee,” she told him.

“Laura, do you see how close we are in the picture? That’s how close I want us to be. You see the two types of chocolate swirling through the picture? That represents you and me, and I want the two of us to be mingled together like that. And when you take a piece of this chocolate, and eat it, and it becomes part of you…I want to be part of you like that.”

He took her hand and she thought, “I’m glad I’m not made of chocolate, or I’d be melting.”


Tommy took her ice skating and then to his parent’s home. His brothers were there with their wives and children, and the family continued their tradition of decorating the house together. They hung evergreens, put up stockings over the fireplace, sprayed flock pictures of stars and snowflakes on the windows, and set out nativity scenes on every available shelf or table. Tommy’s father played Santa Claus in full costume. As Laura watched him delight the children she saw where Tommy had gotten his jolly nature, and it made her wonder what their own children might be like.

“Who wants to go see the Christmas lights?” Tommy’s mother asked. It was another tradition of theirs to drive around town to see the brightest displays.

“Mom, you all go ahead,” Tommy said. “Laura and I are going to stay here. I’ve got something to give her.”

“All right, we’ll be back in a little while.”

After they left Tommy made Laura cover her eyes while he brought out her present.

“You can open them now,” he told her.

She looked up to see a huge box covered in striped paper that reminded her of candy canes. Dark brown ribbons covered the box. They looked like…

“Chocolate?” she asked.

“Yep. Have some. You’ve got to get through them to open the box.”

She broke off a piece and tasted it. “Peppermint,” she exclaimed.

“Keep going,” Tommy said.

She pulled away the ribbon and paper and opened the box. Once again a familiar aroma surrounded her. Several inches of cocoa powder filled the bottom of the box, and another box made of pure chocolate lay nestled in the center of the cocoa.

“Don’t throw away that powder,” Tommy told her. “That’s some of the best European cocoa.”

The inner box was an enormous chocolate cube. Each side of the box was as big as one of Kevin’s chocolate squares.

“Don’t stop now,” Tommy urged.

Laura touched the box gingerly. The top moved, and she took it off and looked inside. More powder, and more chocolate boxes. Some were small and some were larger. There must have been twenty or more, and each one was unique.

“One box for every Christmas of your life,” Tommy said.

Laura jumped up and hugged him. “I feel like a little girl in the candy store,” she said.

“A very fancy candy store,” he added.

She picked up one of the tiny boxes. This time the top did not come off.

“Go ahead, try it,” said Tommy.

She felt the sharp crack of the box’s chocolate shell as she bit into it, but inside another flavor spilled into her mouth.

“Lemon! Is every one different?” she asked, her mouth still half-full of chocolate.

“They are, but you don’t have to eat every one today.”

“Thank you,” she said with relief.

“I told you to start dieting. Now, are you going to finish opening your present?”

“I thought I had finished.”

“You haven’t opened all the boxes.” He picked up another small chocolate box, larger than the last, and handed it to her. She took off its tiny chocolate lid and found another surprise inside.

“A chocolate cat,” she giggled. “It’s Whiskers!”

She quickly opened several other boxes and found that each one held a chocolate reminder of something that she and Tommy had shared.

“Laura, I’m a lot like this present, you know.”

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“You think you know me, but open me up and inside there’s another box, and inside that another box, and every one holds a card that says ‘Tommy loves Laura.’ ”

“I love you, too. But now you’re making me cry.”

“There’s more to me than laughs. Does that surprise you?”

“Maybe. You’re full of surprises tonight, aren’t you?”

“Just like you’re going to be full of chocolate.”


“Hi, this is Jacob. Be sure to be home at six tonight. See you soon.”

That was the entire message on Laura’s answering machine. Jacob said nothing about where they were going, so when the doorbell rang that evening, she ran to the door expectantly. When she opened it, Jacob wasn’t there. All she saw outside her door was a package wrapped in plain brown paper, and a card with her name on it.

She brought the package inside and began to open it, putting the card aside for the moment. Inside the paper she found a plain box with “Jacob” written on top. She opened the box and found … nothing.

“What does it mean?” she wondered. Was the box from Jacob, or for him? And why was it empty? Had something been forgotten? She remembered the card and tore it open looking for answers. All she found a brief note which said:

Do not be afraid to follow the trail of chocolate. Love, Jacob.

Before she could ponder the message, the doorbell rang. This time someone greeted her, a kind-looking older man in suit and tie, but a stranger nonetheless, holding a small present.

“Laura Barlow?” he asked.

“Yes,” she answered.

“This is for you. Please open it.”

She did so as she stood in her doorway. Lifting the lid on the box, she pulled out a small chocolate angel.

“That figure of an angel is a gift for you, a real angel. Now, will you come with me?” the well-dressed gentleman asked.

“Did Jacob send you?”

“Did you read his note?” the man asked.


“Then you know Jacob sent me. Aren’t you coming? We don’t want to keep him waiting.”

She grabbed her coat and followed, excited and a little fearful at the same time. Outside they climbed into a panel truck and headed off through the ornamented streets of the city. She learned that her chauffeur, William Brown, operated a delivery service in town.

“So you see, I’m an angel myself,” he told Laura.

“What do you mean?”

“An angel is a messenger, delivering words from God to men. And I’m not only a delivery man, but a preacher as well, so I’m an angel two times over.” With that William laughed out loud, a belly shaking laugh that shook the truck.

“And you’re delivering me to Jacob,” Laura added.

“That’s the ticket, young lady. An angel delivering an angel.” He laughed some more.

“And Jacob put you up to this?”

“Of course he did. He told me to tell you how much he looks forward to seeing you, how heavenly you are, and that you should go ahead and eat the chocolate because it might be a while before you get a real meal.”

Laura was hungry, so she took his advice. The chocolate angel delivered a warm, rich message as it slowly melted in her mouth.

“Here we are,” William announced. He pulled over, hopped out of the truck, and ran to open Laura’s door. As she got out she looked around and saw nothing but an empty sidewalk and a bus stop sign.

“There’s no one here,” she protested.

“There will be. Now you have a Merry Christmas.” With that William hopped back in his truck, waved, and drove quickly out of sight. Before Laura could turn back around, someone tapped her on the shoulder.

“Miss Barlow?”

She whirled around to face a tall bearded man in a gray overcoat that nearly reached to the sidewalk. He held a package identical to the one Mr. Brown had given her, and as she stood there dumbly he offered it to her.

“Please open the package, Miss Barlow.”

She quickly obeyed, and this time found a small chocolate figure of a wise man.

“Who are you?” Laura asked.

“I’m Dr. Phillip Pryor, one of the professors at the college. According to Jacob, you make him feel like the wisest man in the world whenever he’s with you. Now, will you come with me?”

“Yes, but how are we going?” she asked, seeing no cars on the street.

“We’re going by bus, of course.” And no sooner had he said it than the bus pulled up.

“Right on schedule. Shall we go, Laura?”

Dr. Pryor paid her fare and they settled into their seats, side by side behind the driver.

“Do you mind if I eat?” Laura asked. “I’m kind of nervous and that tends to make me hungry.”

“Go right ahead.”

“Would you like some?”

“That would be wonderful.”

They agreed they had never eaten a better chocolate wise man.

“Tell me, Laura, what do you think it takes to make a really good decision?”

“Well, I’d say you need the right facts to make the best decision.”

“Fair enough, but assuming one has the right facts, then what?”

“A way to combine those facts and come to the right conclusion.”

“Exactly,” the professor exclaimed. “You’re talking about wisdom, which is simply skill in handling facts. Just as a craftsman uses skill in handling tools, a wise person understands how to handle knowledge. Some people are given an extra measure of wisdom at birth, but most of us must learn it by study and experience. How about you, Laura? Have you studied your subjects extensively?”

Laura felt that he was referring to Jacob and the other two men.

“Yes, extensively,” she replied.

“And you have lengthy experience with them?”

“Yes, lengthy.”

“Well then, you have the necessary wisdom to make this decision, don’t you?”

“I do,” she answered, as much to herself as to the professor.

“Then my work is done. Merry Christmas, Laura. It’s been a pleasure to meet you. This is your stop, I believe.”

The bus pulled up to the curb, and Laura said goodbye before climbing out. As she stepped onto the curb she found a man with a dog waiting for her. The dog was a border collie without a leash. The man wore a wool sweater, and as she expected he held a familiar package.

“Hello, Miss Barlow,” he greeted her.

“Hello, Mr. …”

“Bethel, David Bethel. And this is Shalom. Say hello, Shalom.”

The dog barked, but remained firmly in place.

“Merry Christmas, Mr. Bethel, and Shalom. Is the package for me?”

“It sure is. Go ahead and open it, but let’s walk as you do.”

“We’re walking?”

“Yes, it’s a lovely evening for a stroll, and you haven’t got far to go now.”

Laura unwrapped the box as they walked and retrieved another chocolate figurine, this time a shepherd.

“Mr. Bethel, I don’t suppose you’re a shepherd, are you?”

“That’s right, and Shalom is my sheep dog. I see you’ve figured out Jacob’s system.”

“Where did Jacob find you?”

“Oh, he’s good with a telephone, and very persuasive. Besides, who could turn down an adventure like this? It’ll be a story to tell, won’t it? Let’s turn here.”

They were making their way to the very heart of town as they wound through a maze of streets. Laura recognized the buildings they passed, but she could not figure their final destination.

“How’s the chocolate?” Mr. Bethel asked.

“Wonderful. Reminds me of something I’d eat hiking in the mountains.”

“Now you’re making me homesick for the high pastures in summer,” he said.

“Do you have something you’re supposed to tell me?” Laura asked.

“Yes, ma’am. Jacob wanted you to know that he will always be there to guide you through whatever life throws your way, and that you’ll never be lost for long, as long as you’re with him. Let’s turn this way.”

They rounded a corner and Laura saw the city park across the street. A life-size nativity stood on a hill in the park, and one figure in modern clothes stood beside the manger.

“Jacob!” she shouted, and the figure waved back. “Goodbye, Mr. Bethel. Thank you.”

“Goodbye, miss. Merry Christmas.”

Laura was already running across the street. She didn’t stop until she reached Jacob.

“Right on time,” he told her as she ran up. He hugged her and said, “I see my helpers did their job.”

“Yes, they did a great job. But what’s this all about? Do I get my present now?”

“You already did,” he answered.

“You mean the chocolate figures?”

“No, the very first box.”

“But it was empty,” she protested.

“That’s right,” he agreed. “Come over here, Laura.”

She followed him to the manger.

“I brought you to this nativity for a reason,” he began. “When Jesus decided to come to earth, he gave up everything. He completely emptied himself. That’s how he ended up as a baby in a manger. That’s why I gave you an empty box. Laura, I’m pledging to empty myself for you.”

“You’re giving yourself,” she whispered, trying to hold back tears.

“Yes, I am. It’s not exactly what you asked for. What do you think? Did I make a wise decision?”

“A very wise decision,” she answered. “And I’ve made a decision, too.”

Jacob took a deep breath. “All right, what is it?”

“Jacob, I choose you.”

“Yes!” he shouted.

“Jacob, do you know what this means?”

“Yes, I do!” Suddenly he dropped to his knees and pulled out a final present. “Open it,” he told her.

She quickly ripped off the paper and opened the box to reveal one more gift, a chocolate ring.

“Will you marry me, Laura?”

“Yes, Jacob, yes.”

He stood up and embraced her, and they kissed while wise men and shepherds and angels bore witness, their love as timeless as the baby in the manger and as fresh as the newest snow.

“You knew, didn’t you?” Laura asked.

“About you asking each of us for chocolate? Yes, we all knew.”

“And you knew why?”

“We had a pretty good idea.”

“I bet you think you’re pretty smart, don’t you?” she scolded.

“No, just pretty fortunate, and very happy. And Laura?”


“Don’t try to eat that ring. There’s a real diamond inside.”

What color would you choose for Christmas? Would it be silver and gold, the green of mistletoe and holly, or the red of Santa’s coat? Maybe you’d choose the white of snow and angels. But ask Laura and Jacob what color they choose, and the answer will always be chocolate brown. Yes, theirs will always be a chocolate Christmas.

A Chocolate Christmas, by Robert Dellinger

© 2004 by Robert Dellinger

Image by Qi You on Flickr, CC by-nc-sa 2.0

Image by stefans_box on Flickr, CC by-nc-sa 2.0

Image by Dick Thomas Johnson on Flickr, CC by 2.0

Image by wiremoons on Flickr, CC by 2.0

Image by Dimplemonkey on Flickr, CC by 2.0

Pressing toward the prize: Ephesians 4 – II Timothy 4

Photo by Samantha Garrote on

You can find a one-year Bible reading plan here.

Do you want to live a Christian life successfully? Then the books we read this week – Ephesians, Phillipians, Colossians, and I and II Timothy – will meet your need. They are full of practical teaching and exhortation. Applying these lessons will allow you to follow Paul’s example.

…forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Phillipians 3:13-14

Successful Christian living requires focus – not on the things we valued in the past but on the reward we will receive in the future. It also requires force, a straining and pressing onward that is active and continuing.

For the purposes of summing up these chapters, I am putting them in the following categories: relationships, last days, church officials and worship, false teachings, and godly living.

Relationships. Both Ephesians and Colossians teach the importance of husbands loving their wives with Christ-like sacrifice, and of wives submitting to the Christ-like leadership of their husbands. Children should honor their parents throughout their whole lives in order to prosper, and fathers must be careful to discipline in ways that do not provoke anger.

Last days. Thessalonians and II Timothy forecast the nature of the end times, when selfish godlessness will abound. A lawless man will lead a time of rebellion before Jesus returns as a thief in the night to gather his chosen people to himself. Therefore we should remain sober, watchful, and clothed in armor in order to win spiritual battles as we wait for that day.

Church officials and leaders. The qualifications of overseers and deacons in I Timothy are well known, but the nature of apostolic work described by Paul in I Thessalonians is more remarkable. “Boldness to declare the gospel…not to please man, but to please God…nor with a pretext for greed…nor for glory from people…we were gentle…sharing our own selves.”

False teachings. Deviation from sound doctrine is the hallmark of false teaching. Of course this implies that we need to know our doctrine in order to recognize what is false. Traditions as opposed to scripture can be used to lead people astray. Legalism must be avoided. Anything that does not come from Christ should be rejected.

Godly living. Love, faith, prayer, and discipleship. Handle the word of God rightly. Handle money with a light grip. Pursue righteousness and flee immoral living. Avoid quarreling. In all things give thanks. Imitate Jesus. Be willing to suffer as he did. Keep him supreme over all things.

About this blog

During 2020 I plan to post weekly writings covering the material you would read during each week as you proceed from Genesis to Revelation in one year. And so for this week I have covered Ephesians 4 – II Timothy 4. Next week I will write about Titus – II Peter 3. I hope you will continue along with me. You can find daily posts about these chapters archived here on the Bible in a Year blog. For your convenience here are the previous posts covering Ephesians 4 – II Timothy 4.

Prepared, protected, powerful: Ephesians 6

Working out salvation: Philippians

Clothed in Christ: Colossians 3

Joyfulness is God’s will for you: I Thessalonians

The Time of Lawlessness: 2 Thessalonians

Women and the church: I Timothy 2

Discipleship – what believers must do: 2 Timothy 2