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Blogs I Follow

The Presidents Club

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The Surest Defense Against Evil

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The Triumph of Grace

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Contemplating God’s Sovereignty

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How Should We Then Live?

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Not a Timid Christianity

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Finishing the Race

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Because the Time is Near

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Revelation Song (YouTube)

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Where The Wind Blows

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Doing Great Things

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Recognizing a False Prophet

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The Power of Forgiveness

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Created for Relationships

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The Only Way I Know

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Faith: The Misunderstood Doctrine

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Our True Home Address

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‘Tis the Season . . . for L-O-V-E

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The Paris Terrorist Attack and the Problem of Evil

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Cherry Picking 101

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Love Sweet Love

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So Goes The Culture

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Idols of the Heart

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Divisions Are Not Always Bad

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The Resurrection of Jesus Christ

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The Shoes We Wear

old shoes @ wrestleclub.com“Walk a mile in my shoes . . . .” How many times have we heard that expression or said it ourselves? “The earliest traces of that proverb date back to the Cherokee tribe of Native Americans, who said Don’t judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes” (quote source here). In other words, it’s developing the ability to show compassion and empathy for others, especially toward those less fortunate then ourselves. The Bible has much to say about having compassion and empathy for others and takes it a step further. Here’s just one example from Matthew 5:43-48 (MSG) which is part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount:

“You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.

“In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.”

I have a good friend that I dialogue with via email and sometimes we see things differently when it comes to different topics we discuss regarding the Church in America (e.g., those churches, organizations, and individuals who consider themselves to be Christian). No shock there as many great discussions come from friends who have different views from our own and it’s what the Bible calls “iron sharpening iron” (Prov. 27:17). Anyway, I tend to view some of the topics we discuss on a more “individual” basis whereas his responses come from a more “corporate” view of the church as a whole and not so much “individual” specific. Case in point came by way of my last blog post written three days ago titled, Another Year Bites the Dust.” He was quite complementary about the post and loved the story about the homeless man but had a different view of the church from mine because he’s a part of a church that feeds the homeless, ministers to people who have needs and reaches out to hurting people in the church and outside. He also mentioned that he was well aware that there are churches out there as I described in my blog post.

He’s right, of course, that there are a lot of churches doing a lot of good things in our society, and it would be a very bleak world without all that Christianity (real Christianity and not all the fake counterparts out there) has given to this world of ours. However, I got to thinking about our differing views as a whole because of my own experiences in being a part of several churches over my lifetime (and some of those churches were exactly as he described regarding the church he now attends) . . .

. . . And it all came down to the shoes we wear as individuals. Our views on life often have to do with our status in society and depending on our particular status, we are often treated accordingly by others. I like to call our status “the shoes we wear.”

My Christmas Presents 2012I mostly wear black flats–simple, attractive in a basic sort of way, uncomplicated, not particularly sexy, but they look nice and serve the purpose. It’s not that I don’t like stilettos–I do, and I wore them when I was younger but they aren’t comfortable for the long haul and if any woman out there tells you they are, she’s lying. And, I do like simple black “wedgies” (2 1/2″ heels, max) as the heels make them a bit classier than black flats. And, once in a while I’ll break out my new sexy, red heels with straps that I bought a month ago on sale with some Christmas money a friend gave me to boost my morale after almost four years of unemployment. At the moment, though, I have no place to wear them and it might look a bit peculiar if I wore them to Walmart when I shop for groceries. However, for the most part I don’t wear shoes to make a fashion statement. I wear them for comfort. And designers would go broke if most of their customers were like me.

Black FlatsBlack flats are functional, very comfortable, and don’t call attention to themselves. That’s me in a nutshell. Not that I don’t break out in song when I dance around my apartment in the red heels on occasion. (Where else can I wear them at the moment???) But mostly I’m a “behind the scenes” type of person. I don’t like to draw attention to myself, and you can depend on me to get any job done accurately, quickly, and without any fanfare or drama. You don’t even have to pat me on the back or throw me a bone; however, a paycheck would be nice (especially after almost four years of unemployment).

Our status in life, or, as I like to say, “the shoes we wear,” is usually how other people tend to perceive and judge us. And, while our outward status can change due to circumstances (e.g, unemployment, homelessness, divorce, health complications, financial ruin, etc.), who we are at our core stays the same. I wore black flats when I was working, and I still wear them now after almost four years of unemployment.

Getting back to the discussion I was having with my friend and our different views regarding the Church in America, I mentioned that we (he and I) wear different shoes (e.g., our status in life is very different from each other). The implication is that depending on the shoes we wear (our status) most folks in churches have a tendency to judge us accordingly. The “celebrity” types and those folks who are well known or who are influential and/or affluent usually get priority treatment. And if nothing else, people are careful not to “ruffle their feathers” due to their status. That is no surprise even though the Bible has a lot to say about showing favoritism, and none of it is good. Favoritism is a problem we all deal with and is widespread in churches, workplaces, and our society at large. And it separates the “haves” from the “have nots.” It also differentiates us in how we are treated overall. And, “favoritism and partiality are not from God . . . . As humans, we tend to form judgments based on selfish, personal criteria rather than seeing others as God sees them” (quote source here).

I grew up attending a church back in the 60’s when divorce was a rarity (and highly frowned upon). Unfortunately, my parents divorced back then when I was a just a kid. My mom was born and raised in that church and my parents were married there when she was 19 and my dad was 24. It’s the only church my mother ever knew in her lifetime. My mom was very active in the church as a “deaconness” and “circle leader” and in a variety of other roles as well as raising us three kids (me and my two brothers). But the divorce shattered her life in her mid-30s. Once she married, she never worked outside of the home (women rarely did back then) and suddenly, due to the divorce, she was thrust out into the world to find employment–mostly minimum wage jobs. She raised me and my younger brother on those wages, and my older brother went to live with my dad. However, this is not a post about her story per se.

When she was divorced, the only church that she had ever attended in her life told her she could no longer hold any of the positions she held in that church since she was now divorced. Mind you, nothing else changed about my mother except she was now divorced The_Scarlet_Letter_(1926_film)(and not by choice on her part). These folks knew my mother and knew her well and yet they refused to let her continue in the roles she had performed so well in and loved doing over the years. I also remember at the time that one of the girls I played with as a child (her parents were prominent church members) was no longer allowed to play with me since my mother was divorced. As I look back at that experience (I was only a kid at the time it happened) what they did to my mother was cruel–petty and cruel. And she had personally done nothing to cause it. It was modern day Scarlet Letter experience for her–only in her case it was divorce and not adultery that caused it. And for reasons I will never know, other then the fact that she had no other church experience, she stayed in that church until she died at 54 from complications caused by adult-onset diabetes which she acquired after the divorce. Mind you, the church atmosphere did change a few years later when new pastors came in and took over, but her status never changed.

Church folks can be unbelievably cruel. If you’ve been in the church any length of time or know folks who have been, it seems that almost everybody has a similar story to tell. Cruelty leaves nobody unscathed. Does the church as a whole do great things for society as my friend said? Absolutely! And thank God the Church as a corporate body does that, but the church is made up of individuals, and many of those individuals look out for themselves and harshly judge and demean others. And as you know if you’ve read my previous blog posts, one of the biggest obstacles hindering the church today is wide spread gossip which is a huge problem everywhere. Gossip destroys people and reputations and sometimes I think there are folks who delight in spreading that kind of garbage–most of it embellished and untrue.

One of the things I said to my friend was this, “Do you wonder why I’m still a Christian after all the crap I’ve experienced (I mentioned some other stuff to him that I didn’t include in this post)?” I told him it was because my mother taught me about the real Jesus, the Biblical Jesus, and not a whole lot of the stuff we see and hear in many churches today. And I also told him that there were some good people who did help my mother–not very many, but a few–the “nobodies” in church who remain faithful without all the fanfare and promotion. And I said to him, “Thank God for the nobodies.”

Yes, thank God for the “nobodies” who take the time to walk in other’s shoes and lend a helping hand and actually know and show what compassion is without having to look it up in the dictionary. Many people today are far too concerned with themselves and impressed by the “status” of those they deem to be important. Even Jesus’ own disciples had that problem among themselves and Jesus addressed the issue in Luke 9:46-48, “An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest. Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a little child and had him stand beside him. Then he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the One who sent me. For he who is least among you all—he is the greatest.’” The Message Bible states it like this, “They started arguing over which of them would be most famous. When Jesus realized how much this mattered to them, he brought a child to his side. ‘Whoever accepts this child as if the child were me, accepts me,’ he said. ‘And whoever accepts me, accepts the One who sent me. You become great by accepting, not asserting. Your spirit, not your size, makes the difference.’”

Accepting, not asserting . . . “he who is the least among you all–he is the greatest.” It seems as if very few people in today’s church environments are interested in being in the least” category . . .

And therein lies the problem . . . .

YouTube Video: “Walk A Mile in My Shoes” sung by Elvis Presley:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit (author’s photo–my Christmas presents for 2012)
Photo #3 credit here
Photo #4 credit here

Another Year Bites The Dust

out-with-the-old @ relationshipsrok.comIt was raining outside this morning as I began writing this post, and in a few days it will be the first day of 2013. While this time of year isn’t usually part of our rainy season here in Florida, it reminds me of how rain washes away a lot of the dirt and grime and leaves a fresh smell in the air. Sort of like the passing of an old year with all of it’s trials, temptations, turmoil and maybe a few triumphs, and the entering in of a brand new one, like a clean slate . . . a fresh start. Hope springs eternal, and never does it spring more eternal then at the beginning of a brand new year–another 365 days to try to get it right, whatever “it” is. In my case, “it” has to do with long-term unemployment. In April it will be the end of my fourth year of unemployment. My fourth year . . . .  It’s beyond ridiculous at this point in time, and my hope is that it will end sooner then that (who knows???). It’s been a very long haul, folks.

However, 2012 was not without it’s highlights. I spent three days in Atlanta in May and visited a university where I had applied for a job, and I was able to say a brief “hello” to the woman who is the supervisor over that position (and I had applied for her position a year earlier, so I knew she had not been in it long). She seemed very nice but was headed off to a meeting when I arrived. I never heard back from anyone there and the position I applied for was reposted again a couple of months later. With twenty years of experience behind me in that field of work, it made me wonder just what they were looking for as apparently none of the candidates in that particular search in April/May cut the mustard, so to speak. But I enjoyed my brief time in Atlanta and was glad I took the time to drive there. It’s a beautiful city with lots of rolling hills and I wrote about my trip in a previous blog post (e.g., The Thrill of Big Cities).

Then in late August, just as Hurricane Isaac had it’s eye on the west side of Florida which is the side I live on right on the coast, I decided it was time for a trip back to Houston (I’ve lived through five hurricanes during my years in Florida and wasn’t really looking forward to a sixth one). So, I took off heading for Houston (a trip I had been planning for some time) on August 25th and spent a week and a half there. Hurricane Isaac ended up veering farther west and hit Louisiana and that part of the Gulf coast area pretty hard shortly after I arrived in Houston. I wrote several blog posts during my time there and if you’re interested you can find them in my late August and early September archives. While I loved the road trip even though it was very long (it took me 18 hours to get there and another 18 hours to drive back, and I drove straight through both times), I think I had romanticized Houston a little too much, but it is a cool city. Big, too. Bigger then I remembered it, but then when I lived there before everything I did–work, shopping, church, etc.–was within a five-mile radius of where I lived. And, of course, I had a job at that time, too. This time going back to Houston I did not have a job waiting for me, but that was my reason for going back–hoping to find one even if it was a temporary position while I was there as the unemployment rate was much lower in Houston than Florida. NOT . . . .

I don’t regret either trip and, in fact, consider them two of the highlights of 2012. Florida has offered me nothing in the way of work in the three years and three months I’ve been back here since returning from my ill-fated year in Houston at the end of September 2009. If I just had the money (it’s running out as you can well imagine after being unemployed for so very, very long), I’d just up and move away to a place with more employment opportunities. I’ve been living in Florida (in several different cities where I was employed) since June 1992 except for that year in Houston. However, these past three years and three months since returning from Houston have been dismal to say the least with no employment opportunities (except two short term jobs lasting only a few weeks in late 2009 and again in early 2010 and nothing since then) and no open doors of any kind, not even when I have applied for volunteer positions. So why do I stay? Well, I do love warm winters and palm trees, but the main reason is that I don’t have the money to leave and start over again somewhere else without a job or some type of income waiting for me when I get there . . .

. . . And with each passing year the futility of staying here becomes more and more apparent. Now I see why it’s such a big state for retirees to land in (besides the warm winters compared to up north). There are apparently very few jobs available considering the very large population that lives here so it helps if you’re lucky enough to be a part of the “retired” population. I never thought about it much in previous years as I was always employed. But apparently it’s not a great place for the unemployed to be–and I know that well after three plus years of looking for work. Not that I don’t love Florida–I do–but I can’t afford to be unemployed here for yet another year.

Also, once again and after so long, I’ve been disheartened by folks who call themselves Christians who, 99% of the time, give me the typical response in Christian America today of “I’m praying for you” and walking away. While prayer is certainly important, so is a helping hand. A hug wouldn’t hurt every now and then either–it’s called compassion. Everyone I know including several Christians in high level positions in higher education (my field of work) are well aware of my unemployment situation and have been for a long time now. And I rarely hear from any of them. So, what exactly is the difference between being a Christian and being anybody else out there in society who doesn’t claim Christianity as a guiding force in their lives? Quite frankly, I rarely see any difference.

I’m not quite sure I understand what defines Christian community in America today. Of all the places a person who finds themselves in a situation where the help of others is needed, one would think the Christian church in America would be the place to go. No wonder we’re in trouble here in America as the church is no longer “salt and light” (Matt. 5:13-16) in our society today. We look and act just like the rest of the culture. Acts 2:42-47 states in five short verses what the fellowship of believers ought to look and act like and it hasn’t changed in 2000 years. I can honestly say in all the years I’ve attended different churches here in America I have never seen this in action, at least not like it’s stated in these several verses:

“They [believers in Jesus Christ] devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

Does that sound like any church you know where people are actually selling their possessions and goods and giving to anyone who has a need? I’m not talking about missions programs or community work or even hospital visitations–all of which are good and excellent things to pursue. I’m talking about needs, real actual needs of people sitting right next to us in church–and, no, not just the needs of those who know each other but the needs of people who seem inconsequential to everybody else–you know, the folks who show up for a short while and then leave because nobody showed them that they really cared or mattered in any tangible way beyond coffee and donuts before (or after) church.

In July 2011 I met a homeless man named Perry who happened to show up at a job networking class I was attending at the time (see my blog post titled, Don’t Write Off Anyone,” for the story). My heart really went out to him as we talked after the meeting about the circumstances that lead to his homelessness. I asked him to come back the next week, and during that week, I went around looking for resources in the community that could help him. One of the items I was given from a local ministry to the homeless was a list of food pantries at local churches in the area, and as I looked over the list, some of the churches stated that their food pantry was available “for members only” (meaning only for members of that particular church). I was stunned when I read that. Since when did Christianity become an exclusive club “for members only” in time of need? Anyway, I put together a care package of sorts in a backpack (some food that didn’t need refrigeration, a few utensils and a flashlight with batteries, and the list of food pantries and other resources I found in the area) to give to him the next time I saw him, but he never returned to the meeting and I never saw him again.

I realize that only a few of the churches on that list actually specified “for members only” but I was stunned that even one would make that requirement in order to receive food from their food pantry. What about “the least of these”? (Matthew 25:31-46). Christianity should never be an exclusive club for members only. John 3:16 clearly states, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son [Jesus Christ], that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Whoever . . . not “members only.”

We live in really hard times and have for the past several years. Regardless of the fact that the media tells us the unemployment rate is lower now, I am, along with millions of others, still 100% unemployed. The figures reported by main stream media don’t include the millions of people who have run out of unemployment benefits and are still long-term unemployed going back to 2008 and 2009 when the worst of it hit–see this article dated December 14, 2012, on Older and Out of Work in The Huffington Post. If anyone in our society should care about what has happened to millions of people in our country, those who call themselves Christians should care and do something tangible if they can. And many do (like the woman in the church I attended in Houston who gave me $20 one Sunday shortly after I lost my job as well as several job leads which, unfortunately, didn’t pan out), but not nearly enough people do anything at all when they can. Giving any encouragement is better than giving none. And that is our calling–to help others if and when we can.

So, what will this brand new year hold as it begins to unfold next week? Probably not a whole lot more then the same stuff from previous years unless we consciously make an effort to change how we treat others including the strangers and the hurting in our midst.

Are you looking for a place to start? How about this . . . a lot less looking out for #1 and a lot more compassion? Putting ourselves in others’ shoes is a good place to start. After all, we could find ourselves in their shoes someday in the not-to-distant future. And wouldn’t we want people to show us a little compassion in our time of need?

“There but for the grace of God, go I”
~John Bradford

YouTube Video: “Same Old Lang Syne” by Dan Fogelberg:

Photo credit here

No Greater Love

305398_429242660480779_383150247_nMost folks are familiar I Corinthians 13 as it is considered to be the greatest chapter on love found in the entire Bible. However, the verses we most often quote are verses 4-7 and you’ll no doubt recognize them right away–“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy. It does not boast. It is not proud. It is not rude. It is not self-seeking . . .” etc. They are spoken many times in marriage ceremonies. However, we have a tendency to skip over the first three verses which state (I Corinthians 13:1-3 MSG):

“If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.

“If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing.

“If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.”

Think about those words for a moment. If we say, believe, or do anything–ANYTHING–without doing it from a heart of love, it means nothing. Nothing! And we are bankrupt. Bankrupt! Without love, what we say means nothing, what we believe (or say we believe) means nothing, what we do means nothing.

Those are serious words. They give me pause for thought. It gives a whole new meaning and weight to the words that follow in those most familiar verses that we quote so often . . .

“Love is patient” (So just how patience are we? Do we get impatient waiting in a fast food line because the line isn’t moving fast enough?)

“Love is kind” (How often do we show kindness to those we don’t know or know well–for example, the homeless, the hurting, or even the clerk who was rude to us or someone we’ve heard some gossip about?)

“It does not envy” (Who or what are we jealous of, and who or what do we envy and why?)

“It does not boast, it is not proud” (How often do we seek acknowledgement from others or boast about something we have accomplished, hoping to look good in the eyes of others in order to elevate ourselves?)

“It is not rude” (How do we respond to someone who is rude to us? Are we rude back? What’s your first reaction to someone who cuts you off in traffic?)

“It is not self-seeking” (How did we feel when someone else got that promotion we thought we deserved? And how did we treat them afterward? When we think about money or material possessions, is it primarily to serve ourselves or to also help others?)

“It is not easily angered” (Are we quick to react in anger when something doesn’t go our way? Are we easily offended? Are we quick to judge?)

“It keeps no record of wrongs” (This is a very tough one. Do we have a tendency to constantly nurse grudges against those who have offended us, whether they are aware of it or not?)

“Love does not delight in evil” (Evil takes many forms. Do we take delight–in secret or with others–when someone–especially those we aren’t fond of or are jealous of–falls or fails in some way, privately or publicly? Do we gossip about others behind their backs? That is delighting in evil.)

“Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (Do we protect others and not just family and friends but those who are helpless–widows, orphans, the homeless, the less fortunate among us? Or do we just protect ourselves and look the other way? What about trust, hope, and persevering during hard times instead of complaining?)

Love is action and not just words we say to each other without doing anything that proves it out. If we “talk it” but don’t “walk it” it means nothing. Read those first three verses above again and let them sink in . . . really sink in.

Here are a few action steps to think about to start living out this life of love if we are really serious about it:

~~When someone tells us about a need they have, instead of just saying, “I’m praying for you,” and walking away, see if there is something we can actually do to help them is some tangible way, and then do it. It could be as simple as giving them a hug or inviting them to lunch, or giving them a $20 bill if they just lost their job (that happened to me after I lost my job and I can’t tell you how much it meant to me–not so much because of the money but because I knew it was a real sacrifice for the person who gave it to me and it was her way of showing me how much she cared about the situation I was in). Show genuine concern for the person and what they are going through.

~~Start putting ourselves in the other person’s shoes. For example, if a clerk is rude to you, don’t automatically be rude back or grumble under your breath. Instead, say something kind. After all, you have no idea what that clerk has gone through that caused him or her to be rude. His bank might have just foreclosed on his house or her husband might have just lost his job or asked for a divorce. Don’t just react to the rudeness, but act with kindness.

~~Work is usually a hotbed area where little love or kindness is shown. Many folks are constantly “looking out for #1,” and gossiping behind other’s backs. Stay away from the gossip. Do the best job you can for your employer, even when someone else gets the promotion you expected to get or the boss is nasty to the bone. And congratulate that person who got the promotion over you (and do it with sincerity). God is still in control, even in the worst of situations. You never know what is going on “behind the scenes.” And God may have spared you from something worse that you can’t see or understand. Or He has something better in store for you down the road.

~~Don’t always be self-seeking. Think about others and how you can help them. Be “other” focused. And don’t gossip.

Well, you get the idea . . . . Love, real love, is always focused on others and not just on ourselves. By doing that one thing (focusing on others) the rest of the list will start to take care of itself. We will be more patient, and we will be more kind; we won’t envy, and we won’t boast about how great we are by seeking the attention and accolades of others. We won’t always be “looking out for #1” (which is pride in it’s ugliest form). We’ll stop being rude and self-seeking; our anger will start to dissipate and be replaced with “a peace that passes all understanding” (Phil. 4:7) towards others and ourselves; We won’t delight in evil anymore (like gossip) but genuinely care about those we don’t know or understand (and without judging them, too).

If we want this world to be a kinder place, we can’t wait for others to do it. It starts with us. The next time you’re tempted to react negatively to a negative situation, which could be in the next few minutes, stop before you react and think about what is really going on. It’s not easy as we’ve been so used to reacting to situations instantly (and sometimes with great regret later on–we’ve all been there). Instead, count to ten internally (and say a quick prayer for God’s help). If someone just cut you off in traffic, instead of flipping them the finger or swearing at them in your car, say a quick prayer of thanks that you didn’t get in a bad accident, and pray for them, too.

Christmas is just three days away. The very best gift we can give anyone (family, friends, or complete strangers) is genuine love. And it starts with us (and no, we don’t wait for them to love us first–we could be waiting forever if that is the case). In fact, genuine, authentic love started with Jesus Christ. He is our example. He laid down his very life for us on the cross at Calvary. How can we not extend that same love to others if we truly follow Him? After all, in John 15:12-14 Jesus said, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.”

And here’s the gift I want to leave with you this Christmas from the Apostle Paul in Phil. 4:8-9 (MSG): “Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.”

And let’s start living life as if everything is a miracle . . . .

YouTube Video: “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher,” sung by Rod Stewart on his 2009 CD, “Soulbook.”

Photo credit here

A Child Is Born

Manger and cross @ www.fishermansnet.comThe
Christmas
Story

from
Luke 2
(NIV1984)

The Birth of Jesus

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

The Shepherds and the Angels

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest,
    and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Jesus Presented in the Temple

21 On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived.

22 When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”),24 and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”

25 Simeon's Moment by Ron DiCianni 2011 - www.tapestryproductions.comNow there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel,and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you now dismiss your servant in peace.
30 For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31 which you have prepared in the sight of all people,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.”

33 The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against,35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

36 There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38 Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

39 When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. 40 And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.

The Boy Jesus at the Temple

41 Every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. 42 When he was twelve years old, they went up to the Feast, according to the custom. 43 After the Feast was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. 44 Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him.46 After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”

49 “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” 50 But they did not understand what he was saying to them.

51 Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart.52 And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.

YouTube Video: “Mary Did You Know?” sung by Kenny Rogers and Wynonna Judd:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here (“Simeon’s Moment” by Ron DiCianni, 2011)

Change Ahead

change-ahead-crossword-iconI’m back . . . . Three days ago I wrote a very brief post wishing everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year 2013 and said I was going to take a breather from blog writing. Well, it lasted three whole days!!! Actually, it lasted eight days as my last blog post with a topic, Lighting Our Path,” was published on December 11, 2012. I guess eight days was long enough! My fingers were typing in my sleep so I got the hint.

Christmas is only a few days away now, and yet another new year is about to enter the picture. I don’t know about you, but the years are going by way too fast. They always did, but lately they give “zoom” new meaning. And every new year brings another opportunity for change.

You've_Got_MailThere is a scene in one of my favorite movies, “You’ve Got Mail (1998) with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in the starring roles as Joe Fox and Kathleen Kelly, where Kathleen’s “Shop Around the Corner,” a children’s bookstore on the upper west side of Manhattan, is closing after 42 years (it was originally opened by her mother and Kathleen inherited it when her mother died) because the mega-bookstore, “Fox Books,” opened up around the corner from her shop. Shortly after the Christmas holiday Kathleen made the decision to close the store due to dwindling business caused by the opening of Fox Books, and in an email to a man she met online in an “over-thirty” chat room earlier in the fall (who turns out to be Joe but at this point in time she don’t know his real identity) she wrote the following: “People are always telling me that change is a good thing, but what they are really saying is that something that they didn’t want to happen at all has happened.”

When I look back at all the changes I’ve gone through in my life (sometimes I feel like that proverbial cat with nine lives), my favorite changes were those I was able to choose (e.g., joining the U.S. Army, going to college, going to grad school, moving to Florida, etc.), and the worst were those that were forced on me (e.g., like being fired from my job in April 2009 that has lead to this rather lengthy time of unemployment). For the most part, I’ve always been a fan of change as I get restless if I do the same thing for too long (except, of course, writing, but then there are a million things out there to write about so it never gets boring). But even “bad” change can be “good” in the end as was the case in Joseph’s life in Genesis when his brothers, years earlier, did some truly horrible stuff to him, and then, years later, they had to come to him for help and were terrified (you can read the entire story here). Joseph stated to his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20). What was originally a horrible change for Joseph turned out for good later on not only for him but for his entire family.

It’s encouraging to know that even “bad” change can work for our good, because God never changes (Malachi 3:6, Hebrews 13:8, James 1:17), and as the Apostle Paul stated in Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” And if we truly love Him and have been called according to His purpose, that includes all the ugly stuff that has happened to us as well as the good.

When I look back over these past four years (actually, five years as the beginning of this “adventure” in my life started on December 7, 2007, when I learned that my division at my former place of employment in Florida was being dismantled which lead me to apply for the position in Houston in May 2008), I see some dramatic changes that have taken place in my life–for the good–despite the fact that I am still unemployed at this point in time. If you’ve read any of my previous posts, I’ve mentioned many of those changes.

Romans 12:2 states, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Now that’s a change that is good for us, but it’s hard to follow especially in our American culture with every imaginable excess available 24/7. We get bogged down in the mire and hardly even notice it. Little compromises eventually turn into detrimental changes especially if we let the Bible and it’s wisdom take a back seat in our lives as well as our personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

By the time I landed in Houston to start that ill-fated job in September 2008 I was about as bogged down in my spiritual life as I had ever been (and I’m not talking about “church attendance,” either). Regular Bible study was sporadic at best and I never even thought that much about the whole issue of spiritual warfare in the believer’s life. The cares of this world had taken over, but I also noticed that the cares of this world had also taken over most of the other folks I knew, too. And we were all Christians. We had left our first love (Rev. 2:4) and allowed the cares of this world (worry, materialism, greed, gossip, envy, jealousy, judging others, anger, bitterness, etc.–that list is long) to take over, and we wanted the things in this world along with the attitudes of this world more then we wanted Him. Oh, we’d never admit that or perhaps really believe it but our actions and attitudes and lifestyles spoke volumes. And so when I landed in Houston, I did an about-face and started taking Bible study and my relationship with Jesus Christ very seriously on a daily basis. And I could feel the fresh wind of the Spirit begin to permeate my life again during one of the hardest work experiences in my life. When I lost that job seven months later, I knew He was right there to guide me not only during those difficult seven months but when the bottom dropped out when I was fired. And He’s been guiding me and changing me ever since. My world has opened up in ways I never could have imagined had I not decided to get out of the spiritual lethargy I found myself in by taking that first step to give Him quality time every morning before I did anything else (and yes, that meant I had to get up an hour or so earlier then normal and give Him that totally undivided time from the rest of my day).

In short, I’ve been cleaning up my act from all the mire that bogged me down in the first place. Didn’t say I am perfect at it and it certainly doesn’t happen overnight, but I’ve been changed from the inside out over these past four plus years. The words of the Apostle Paul in Phil. 3:12-14 (MSG) state, “I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.”

And neither am I . . . .

How about you?

YouTube Video: “Back in the High Life Again” (1986) by Steve Winwood:

Photo credit here

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year 2013!!!

christmas_bannerMerry Christmas
&
Happy New Year 2013!!!

I’ve decided to take a break from blogging for a while (not sure how long). I’ve been doing this pretty much non-stop since I resurrected my blog on July 8, 2011, and I’ve written 180 blog posts so far. I think I deserve a break, don’t you? Now, I can’t say I won’t write one if I am so inspired, but for right now, I’m taking a vacation from blogging and I’d like to find a “paying” job for a change. You know, money . . . I’ve forgotten what it is to have an income and my bank account is telling me I need to remember soon. If you have any suggestions, please feel free to leave a comment in the comment box below.

In the meantime, please enjoy this song from one of my favorite singers, Steve Winwood.

UPDATE 12-19-12: Well, that didn’t last long, did it? My fingers were bored silly and they let me know it! Anyway, I just wrote a new blog post titled, Change Ahead,” and you can read it by going to this link. And, since this post above was such a short one and one of my favorite Steve Winwood songs was attached to it, I decided to include that same song at the end of my new post so you can continue to enjoy it!

YouTube Video: “Back in the High Life Again” (1986) by Steve Winwood:

Photo credit here

Lighting Our Path

light my path @ juneberryphoto.comScripture memory was a very big deal when I was a kid. I grew up in a non-denominational church that mostly (but not always) hired Baptist ministers. Baptists are BIG on Scripture memory and to this very day those verses I memorized when I was a kid have stuck with me. The one that keeps coming to mind this morning is found in both the longest chapter and the longest Psalm (with 176 verses) in the Bible–Psalm 119. The verse is verse 105:

Your word is a lamp to my feet
and a light for my path.

The “word,” of course, is the Bible. While the author of this particular psalm is unknown, I usually picture David, who ruled as King over Israel 3000 years ago, as the author. There are many authors linked to the book of Psalms which includes 150 individual Psalms that “were written by many different people across a period of a thousand years in Israel’s history” (quote source here). David is noted as the author of a major portion of them (73) when the author is, in fact, known.

Many Christians in the world today including myself believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16-17“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,  so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work”) and that it is completely accurate–(e.g., infallable)–from Genesis 1:1“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”–to Revelation 22:21“The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.” In fact, Hebrews 4:12 states, “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” However, even though these verses clearly state both the accuracy and the inspiration and of the Bible, not everyone who call themselves Christian believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God and that it is accurate. And I wonder where they find “truth” if they consider themselves to be Christian yet do not believe in the accuracy and inspiration of the very source of Christianity which is found in the Bible.

I stumbled upon a survey last night that was conducted in 2001 by The Barna Group titled, Religious Beliefs Vary Widely By Denomination.” The results were, to say the least, revealing. As stated in the survey, “Nationally, in terms of religious classification, about four out of every ten U.S. adults are born again Christians and 8% are evangelicals (which is a subset of the “born again” segment). In terms of denominational affiliation, one-quarter of Americans are Catholic and a majority (three out of every five) are aligned with a Protestant church.” I found it surprising that only 8% (9% in a later survey conducted in 2007) of 4-in-10 U.S. adults who considered themselves to be “born again” also considered themselves to be “evangelical.” So what’s the difference between “born again” (a broader classification) and “evangelical” (only a very small segment of the “born again” population)? I’m glad you asked as I wondered, too. And here’s the answer according to The Barna Group definition found at www.religioustolerance.org:

Non-Evangelical Born again Christians: These are individuals who:

  1. Say they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ.
  2. That commitment is still important to them now.
  3. They have confessed their sins and accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior.
  4. They believe that, because of their confession and acceptance, they will spend eternity in Heaven.
  5. However, they don’t meet one of the Evangelical criteria listed below.

Evangelicals are individuals who meet the born again criteria (above) and seven additional beliefs as well:

  1. They consider their faith as very important.
  2. They have a responsibility to evangelize others.
  3. Satan exists as a living entity.
  4. Salvation is attained through God’s grace [through Jesus Christ], not human effort or good works.
  5. Jesus Christ led a sinless life while on earth.
  6. The Bible is accurate throughout.
  7. God is omniscient [all-knowing], omnipotent [all powerful] and omnibeneficient [all benevolent], the creator of the universe who is still ruling it today.

While I personally dislike using labels (however, they do provide clarification), I fall within the 8%-9% who call themselves “evangelical” because I firmly believe all of the statements above. And I do believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, accurate and infallible. If I didn’t there would be no anchor or faith to hold me especially during the very hard times that come to all of us. Indeed, God’s Word (the Bible) is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path (Psalm 119:105) and “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). And, it has sustained me through these very trying and difficult past four years.

Getting back to the Barna survey conducted in 2001, of the 6000 randomly-selected adults surveyed only 41% believed that the Bible is totally accurate. Within that 41%, the stats within denominations were as follows: Pentecostal/Foursquare, 81%; Assembly of God, 77%; Christian non-denominational, 70%; Baptist (any), 66%; Adventist, 64%; Church of Christ, 57%; Presbyterian (any), 40%; Methodist (any), 38%, Lutheran (any), 34%; Mormon/Latter Day Saints, 29%; Catholics, 26%, and Episcopal, 22%. Also, the survey found that four out of five among those who attend a charismatic or Pentecostal church believe that the Bible is totally accurate in all that it teaches whereas only one out of five Episcopalians believe it is accurate.

The origin of the word, “Christian,” is found in three places in the Bible: Acts 11:26; Acts 26:28; and I Peter 4:16. The disciples of Jesus Christ were called Christians first at Antioch (Acts 11:26). To be a Christian, therefore, means being a disciple (a follower) of Jesus Christ and adhering to all that He taught about how to live, act, and believe in the Bible. And, Hebrews 13:8 clearly states, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” which means His teachings are every bit as relevant today as they were when He walked on this earth. It is the very foundation of Christianity–true, authentic, life-giving Christianity. So if only41% of those surveyed believe that the Bible is accurate, what do the rest of those who consider themselves to be “born again” Christians believe, and where are they getting their understanding of what it means to be Christian? The very name implies being a follower of Jesus Christ, and the Bible is our source for how to live this life in Him.

A car cannot run without gas, and a Christian cannot live this life the way God intended without filling up regularly on the Word of God. Living on fumes from Sunday to Sunday and rarely ever opening the Bible doesn’t cut it. I know, as I went for years not reading it on a regular basis (we all have a million excuses for not reading it so you don’t need to hear any of mine). But here’s the truth–it IS living and it IS active and you won’t know it unless you read it on a regular basis with an open heart and mind and praying for God to open your eyes. If you start doing that, it will change your whole life from the inside out.

Consider what Hebrews 4:12-16 has to say in The Message Bible, “God means what he says. What he says goes. His powerful Word is sharp as a surgeon’s scalpel, cutting through everything, whether doubt or defense, laying us open to listen and obey. Nothing and no one is impervious to God’s Word. We can’t get away from it—no matter what.

“Now that we know what we have—Jesus, this great High Priest with ready access to God—let’s not let it slip through our fingers. We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. So let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help.”

The Word of God really is a lamp for our feet and a light for our path. Without it, we are living in darkness whether we recognize it or not . . .

Let us therefore
~~COME BOLDLY~~
to the throne of grace,
that we may obtain mercy
and find grace
to help
in time of need.
~Heb. 4:16 NKJV

YouTube Video: “Thy Word” (1986) sung by Amy Grant:

Photo credit here

Lighting the Darkness

menorah @ www.chabad.orgToday marks the first day of the eight days of Hanukkah (Chanukah)–December 8-16, 2012–which begins at sundown. Hanukkah is “one of the more recognizable celebrations of Jewish tradition and is not religious in nature. Rather, Hanukkah celebrates a nation’s heroes and the miracle they experienced!” It “recognizes the efforts of a group of freedom fighters known as the Maccabees” (quote source here). Here’s a brief history of Hanukkah from Chabad.org titled Lighting the Darkness:

Lighting the Darkness

Some 2100 years ago the Land of Israel came under the rule of the Syrian-Greek emperor Antiochus, who issued a series of decrees designed to force his Hellenistic ideology and rituals upon the Jewish people. He outlawed the study of Torah [the first five books of the Old Testament] and the observance of its commands, and defiled the Holy Temple in Jerusalem with Greek idols.

A small, vastly outnumbered band of Jews waged battle against the mighty Greek armies, and drove them out of the land. When they reclaimed the Holy Temple, on the 25th of Kislev, they wished to light the Temple’s menorah (candelabrum), only to discover that the Greeks had contaminated virtually all of the oil. All that remained was one cruse of pure oil, enough to last one night–and it would take eight days to procure new, pure oil.

Miraculously, the one-day supply of oil lasted eight days and nights, and the holiday of Chanukah [Hanukkah] was established.

To commemorate and publicize these miracles, we light the Chanukah menorah (also known as chanukiah) on each of the eight nights of Chanukah. This year, we start lighting the menorah on Saturday night after nightfall, December 8, 2012 (article source here). [For the complete background and story, click here.]

While Hanukkah celebrates the victory and provision of God 2100 years ago in the land of Israel, a quote from the article–“A small, vastly outnumbered band of Jews waged battle against the mighty Greek armies, and drove them out of the land”–reads like front page news today, doesn’t it? The tiny nation of Israel, reestablished in 1948still has mighty enemies. Just read the latest article published today in the Jewish newspaper, The Haaretz, if you have any doubts.

There are many stories in the Old and New Testaments regarding the miraculous provision of God when resources were few or almost gone. The story of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17:7-16) in the Old Testament immediately comes to mind as well as Jesus feeding the 4000 and the 5000 in the New Testament. Yet we live in an age today of self-reliance–looking to our own resources to keep us going instead of relying on God to supply our every need. The obsession to find a way to make more money and have more possessions–for whatever reason–along with an ever-present and ever-growing element of dissatisfaction with what we currently have–has spread a vast darkness throughout our land. We say we depend on God, but we really don’t. We depend on ourselves and ask God to bless our own efforts to succeed and prosper. And . . . we have it backwards.

The Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 4:19, “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” God will . . . supply . . . every need of ours! Not our “greed” but our “need.” If you read Paul’s letters and the account of his life after his Damascus Road experience with Jesus Christ that totally changed the course of his life, you’ll read about miracle after miracle of God’s provision for him to do exactly what God called him to do for God’s glory and not his own. And, he totally trusted in God and not in himself. It’s not that God didn’t use everything from his past (all of his educational and religious training, etc.) before he met Jesus Christ–He did–but He turned those talents around to serve God and the impact of Paul’s ministry (Christ-centered, not self-centered) has been felt throughout the entire world down through the centuries.

Paul “lit the darkness” by relying on Jesus Christ totally under every circumstance in his life (and remember that some of his letters were written from the confines of a prison cell). No circumstance Paul found himself in (good or bad) was out of God’s will for his life, and God used everything that happened to him for His purposes to glorify Jesus Christ and spread the gospel, and not to glorify Paul in any manner. Material prosperity and money were never issues with Paul, and his words are sorely needed by us today–“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him [Jesus Christ] who gives me strength” (Phil. 4:11-13).

I love the idea of “lighting the darkness” that is the central message of Hanukkah (and the gospel of Jesus Christ). Isn’t that what we as Christians are called to do? Jesus stated in his Sermon on the Mount“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:14-16).

In order to be light in the darkness, we need to recognize that we are in a spiritual battle 24/7 . . . and it never stops. Unfortunately, we don’t hear much about spiritual warfare from pulpits today, which is a big reason a vast darkness has fallen across our nation. I have addressed this topic in a previous blog post titled, Regaining Our Balance (click here for post). Our daily struggles are “not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:12). We forget we are in a battle all the time and it’s not with the person who just cut us off in traffic, or the spouse who was mean this morning, or the boss who fired us. No . . . we are at war with the spiritual forces of evil, unseen to the naked eye, but more real than the flesh on our bones, and they use anything they can to distract us from pressing “on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:14).

Do we want to be “light in the darkness”? It starts by understanding that we are in a spiritual war. I’d like to make a suggestion that I intend to follow also for the next eight days of Hanukkah. Liberty University Online Ministries has an excellent study on The Armor of God (click here to get started) and I plan to spend the next eight days reading and studying it. How about you? Let’s start putting the Word of God into practice and allowing it to become a part of our lives 24/7. Is that a deal?

And let’s start “lighting the darkness” in the world around us . . . .

Happy Hanukkah!

I’ve posted two YouTube Videos to this particular blog post–one to celebrate Hanukkah, and the other to celebrate God as the source of our strength and our help:

YouTube Video #1 (specifically for Hanukkah): “Chanukah, Oh Chanukah” directed by Aron Sandler:


YouTube Video #2: “Total Praise” sung by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir:

Photo credit here

Unlikely Encouragement

You Are A MasterpieceOkay folks, our word for today is (drum roll, please) “encouragement.” And who doesn’t like encouragement???!!! To encourage according to Dictionary.com means:

~to inspire with courage, spirit, or confidence
~to stimulate by assistance, approval, etc.
~to promote, advance or foster

Synonyms include: embolden, hearten, reassure, urge; support, aid, help. Antonyms include: discourage, dishearten (source: Dictionary.com).

Personally, I’ve had enough of the antonyms!!! Three years and eight months of unemployment with no solid job offer is about as much discouragement as I can take. I’m sure you have your own list that causes you discouragement, too. It’s part of the human condition. And nobody escapes discouragement.

For those of us who are Christian, the Bible is the greatest source (next to prayer) for encouragement. Most of us immediately turn to the Psalms as our first choice to find encouragement. We seek the solace found in the enormous “ups” and “downs” of life found in the words of King David and others. Who among us can’t relate to these words:

Why are you downcast, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
For I will yet praise him,
My Savior and my God.
~Psalm 42:5-6, 11; 43:5

The Message Bible states it like this: “Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul? Why are you crying the blues? Fix my eyes on God—soon I’ll be praising again. He puts a smile on my face. He’s my God.” Indeed, our hope is in God through Jesus Christ and Him alone, not in our circumstances. When we take our eyes off of Him and only look to our own resources and our own circumstances (which can be daunting, no doubt about it), we head down into the murky waters just like Peter did until he remembered to cry out to Jesus to help him (see Matt. 14:22-33 for the story).

If you are in need of encouragement today (and who isn’t), here is the devotion I read this morning, December 6, 2012, from Our Daily Bread titled, Unlikely Encouragement.”

Unlikely Encouragement 

Psalm 19:7-11

Are you looking for encouragement? Do you need a little boost today amid all the bad news coming your way? The psalmist David can lift your spirit in an unexpected way through some words we often think of as negative.

When we read Psalm 19, we discover a short listing of ways that the Lord’s clearly defined “law,” or standards for living, can bring positive results. This is unlikely encouragement, for some see God’s standards as restrictive and as robbing us of happiness.

Here are some words the psalmist used for God’s standards: “law of the Lord” (v. 7), “testimony” (v. 7), “statutes” (v. 8), “commandments” (v. 8), “fear of the Lord” (v. 9), and “judgments” (v. 9). These words have an ominous sound that causes many people to want to avoid or reject them.

But notice what these things bring to the believing, obedient heart: conversion of the soul, wisdom, rejoicing of the heart, purity of life, enlightenment of the eyes, endurance, truth, and righteousness (vv. 7-9). That’s great encouragement! No wonder David said about God’s law that He’s given to us, “More to be desired are they than gold . . . sweeter also than honey” (v. 10). ~Dave Branon

Lord, we love You and Your Word. We delight in
reading it, learning about You, and following what
You teach us. Thank You for all the blessings that come
from our relationship with You. Amen.

*Obedience to God’s Word is the Christian’s greatest freedom.*

While discouragement comes to all of us and sometimes it seems as if it’s taken up permanent residence when the source of our discouragement is unrelenting (such as almost four years of looking for work), we need to remember while seeking encouragement from the greatest source there is–God through Jesus Christ–that we need to check our lives and how we are living, acting, and thinking on a daily basis to make sure we have not given our adversary a foothold in our lives. As I Peter 5:8-11 states, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.”

With that in mind, I’ll end this post with the words from Psalm 19 for you to consider:

Psalm 19

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge.
There is no speech or language
where their voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.

In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun,
which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion,
like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
It rises at one end of the heavens
and makes its circuit to the other;
nothing is hidden from its heat.

The law of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul.
The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy,
making wise the simple.
The precepts of the Lord are right,
giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are radiant,
giving light to the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is pure,
enduring forever.
The ordinances of the Lord are sure
and altogether righteous.
They are more precious than gold,
than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey,
than honey from the comb.
By them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.

 Who can discern his errors?
Forgive my hidden faults.
Keep your servant also from willful sins;
may they not rule over me.
Then will I be blameless,
innocent of great transgression.

May the words of my mouth
and the meditation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight,
O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

So be encouraged, my friends
God is still on His Throne
And everything is under His control!

Yes . . . EVERYTHING!

YouTube Video: “The Lord Will Make A Way Somehow” sung by Cissy Houston:

Photo credit here

Forgiveness Revisited

Reconciliation @ holyapostlespinlico.orgDictionary.com defines “forgive” as follows:
~to grant pardon for or remission of (an offense, debt, etc.); absolve.
~to give up all claim on account of; remit (a debt, obligation, etc.).
~to grant pardon to (a person).
~to cease to feel resentment against: to forgive one’s enemies.
~to cancel an indebtedness or liability of: to forgive the interest owed on a loan.

I’ve addressed this topic of “forgiveness” in previous blog posts but I must confess that it comes back to haunt me on a regular basis. The kicker for me in the above list is item #4 “to cease to feel resentment against; to forgive one’s enemies.” It took me the better part of two years after I was fired to stop being angry at my former boss–and a big part of why it had taken so long was because I was still unemployed after two years from when he fired me. However, by that time I thought I had honestly dealt with the issue and I had truly forgiven him (although I never saw him again after the day he fired me).

Of course, as you know if you’ve been reading my posts, I’m still unemployed and it’s now been three years and eight months since he fired me. Fortunately, he doesn’t cross my mind very often anymore but when he does . . . well, let’s just say the issue of forgiveness has not yet totally resolved itself. I heard (not that I wanted to) that he had been promoted at some point in this past year to vice president status. And I’m still unemployed. And I wasn’t allowed to present my side of the story before I was abruptly fired. And I was a director at the time. And I moved 1000 miles for that job . . . . I think I’ll stop the list at this point (it is longer), but you get the idea. Oh, one more item–I spent the past twenty years in that profession with stellar recommendations and references and in the scant seven months that I worked at that organization he effectively ended my career. I can’t find a job of any kind after three years and eight months of trying and applying. I’ve been stuck on hold and no matter what I do to try to move forward, it’s not working.

There is absolutely nothing easy about forgiveness, especially when the devastation left by the betrayal or unfortunate circumstance is embedded in our lives. In my case it’s long-term unemployment, but for others it could be any number of other things (e.g., divorce, a business deal gone bad, treachery at the hands of someone we trusted, infidelity, etc.). As a Christian, forgiveness is essential and it’s at the very core of what we believe and why Jesus went to the cross. And Jesus tells us to “forgive those who trespass against us” (Matt. 6:9-13) and to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:43-48). But how do we “make it stick?” 

Most of us are familiar with “The Lord’s Prayer,” where Jesus instructs the disciples in how to pray (Matt 6:9-13):

“Our Father who is in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts [trespasses],
As we also have forgiven our debtors [those who trespass against us].

 And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.
Amen.”

I started including that prayer as a part of my prayer time two years ago, and it is so enormously helpful when I don’t know what or how to pray about a long-term situation such as my unemployment dilemma or other situations including the turmoil in our world today. However, while we are all most likely familiar with that prayer, the two verses following this prayer (vv.14-15) state: “For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” Those two verses in the Message Bible state, “In prayer there is a connection between what God does and what you do. You can’t get forgiveness from God, for instance, without also forgiving others. If you refuse to do your part, you cut yourself off from God’s part.”

As I read that, I realized that I don’t want to be cut off from God in any way, and yet I struggle with the whole issue of forgiveness when it comes to my former boss because it has devastated my work life for so very, very long now. It would have been so much easier to forgive him if I had found another job and moved on with my life instead of being stuck “on hold” with all of the ramifications that come with long-term unemployment.

And, as yet another calendar year of my unemployment trial is quickly approaching (of which the fifth year will begin in April 2013 if God does not intervene in my situation before then), this past week my former boss crossed my mind and I realized that, once again, I have not yet resolved this issue of forgiveness regarding him. My resentment is right there on the surface, and as many times as I’ve gotten to the point of forgiveness and thought it was resolved, with each passing year I can tell it keeps rearing it’s ugly head when I honestly thought the issue had been dealt with. And I’m tired of riding this seesaw.

Three weeks ago I wrote a post about Corrie ten Boom, a Holocaust survivor from the Nazi concentration camps in WWII. She survived the experience but her father and sister died in the camps, and her brother died of spinal tuberculosis contracted during his time in the camps a year or two after his release. Her autobiography, The Hiding Place,” details her and her family’s life leading up through the experience at the hands of the Nazis and concluding in 1946 (she was in the camps for eleven months in 1944). I found a copy of the book and the reading of it has been daunting, to say the least. Near the end of the book after her release from the camps (her sister, Betsie, died there), she wrote a very moving illustration about forgiveness and just how difficult it could be and how she was able to resolve it. At this point in time she was traveling and speaking in various places about her own and Betsie’s experience in the concentration camps. The following is a direct quote from the book on pp. 230-231 of the edition I’ve been reading:

“I continued to speak, partly because of the home in Bloemendaal ran on contribution, partly because the hunger for Betsie’s story seemed to increase with time. I traveled all over Holland, to other parts of Europe to the United States.

“But the place where the hunger was greatest was Germany. Germany was a land in ruins, cities of ashes and rubble, but more terrifying still, minds and hearts of ashes. Just to cross the border was to feel the great weight that hung over the land.

“It was at a church service in Munich that I saw him, the former S.S. man who stood guard at the shower room door in the processing center at Ravensbruck [a concentration camp]. He was the first of our actual jailers that I had seen since that time. And suddenly it was all there–the roomful of mocking men, the heaps of clothing, Betsie’s pain-blanched face.

“He came up to me as the church was emptying, beaming and bowing. ‘How grateful I am for your message, Fraulein.’ He said. ‘To think that, as you say, He [Jesus] has washed my sins away!’

“His hand was thrust out to shake mine. and I, who had preached so often to the people in Bloemendaal the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side.

“Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him.

“I tried to smile, I struggled to raise my hand. I could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again, I breathed a silent prayer. ‘Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me Your forgiveness.’

“As I took his hand, the most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder, along my arm and through my hand, a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me.

“And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on His [Jesus]. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.”

As I read those words this evening, I realized that this is what I needed to do regarding my former boss, even though the likelihood that I will ever see him again is extremely remote (and I doubt very much that he has given me much thought after he fired me so long ago). Yet the issue isn’t about whether or not I ever see him again but the fact that if I am sincere in my quest to forgive him (whether or not he cares or even knows) it is Jesus who will give me the love I need to forgive him. And so, tonight, I’ve asked Jesus to give me the love I need to truly, once-and-for-all, forgive him.

I do not want to carry this burden even one more day . . . .

If we confess our sins,
He is faithful and just
And will forgive us our sins
And purify us from
All unrighteousness.
~I John 1:9

YouTube Video: “Faithful God” composed and sung by Shannon Wexelberg (from her “Faithful God” CD, 2007):

Photo credit here

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