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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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All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name

Water and FireA couple of weeks ago I wrote a blog post titled, A Month of Happiness,” regarding the Jewish month of Adar. It is about the story of Esther from the Old Testament. The month of Adar was “the time when the Jews got relief from their enemies, and the month when their sorrow was turned into joy and their mourning into a day of celebration” (Esther 9:22). That celebration within the month of Adar is known as Purim. The basic story of Purim can be found at this link.

This weekend, including Monday, celebrates Purim (and Shushan Purim). It is celebrated on the 14th and 15th of Adar each year which translates to February 23-25, 2013, on our calendar this year (sundown to sundown). While the name of God is never mentioned in Book of Esther, God is all over every detail of the story. It is a story about how God rescued His people from annihilation at the hands of some truly evil people (and one person specifically, Haman). It is truly one of the “great escape” stories of the Old Testament and is cause for the greatest celebration in the Jewish calendar year to this day.

We live and breathe in a physical world of sights, sounds, sensations, and scientific facts; so much so, that we forget the reality of the spiritual realm. Indeed, many folks scoff at such a “reality.” If they can’t see it, touch it, or experience it, they doubt it’s existence and scoff at those who do believe. The powers of darkness have never had a better deal then this–to blind people to the reality of the spiritual realm. We laugh at the caricature of the devil in a red suit with a pitchfork, but fail to see the reality of his work in the temptations we succumb to and the trials we go through every single day of our lives. Ephesians 6:11-13 (NIV) makes it clear that the war going on in the spiritual realm in no laughing matter: “Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is 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. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”

We are in a war, folks. And it’s a war we can’t fight or win on our own. We are in a daily spiritual battle, whether we realize it or not (and if we don’t realize it, we have lost the battle already). Just coasting along on the wings of God’s love without an understanding of the spiritual war all around us will get us maimed and/or killed. Ephesians 6:10-18 (MSG) makes that clear. Let’s read it from The Message Bible:

“. . . God is strong, and he wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no afternoon athletic contest that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels.

“Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.”

Esther understood this. So did Mordecai. When one is up against the evil of a Haman (or any evil), only the power of God can break it. Human flesh cannot. When Mordecai learned of the plot by Haman to have all of the Jews annihilated on the 13th of Adar, he sought Esther’s help (read Esther 4 for the full account). Esther 4:15-16 states, “Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: ‘Go gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.’”

The outcome, of course, was that in the end the Jews were able to defend themselves successfully on the 13th of Adar and the destruction that Haman planned specifically for Mordecai fell on Haman instead (as well as his ten sons). Haman was hanged on the very gallows he had built for Mordecai. And due to the success of the Jews on the 13th day of Adar, the celebration of Purim was instituted on the 14th of Adar which is still celebrated to this very day.

SandcastleWeekend @ www.movetoassurance.comWe hear a lot about God’s love today, but hardly anything about spiritual warfare. We live our lives any way we want and expect God to keep us from all harm. Almost any kind of discipline in the Christian life (at least here in America) is sorely lacking as we live our lives much like the rest of the culture all around us with it’s many excesses and throw in a little “God talk” and maybe a cursory reading of a few verses in the Bible on Sunday morning to make us feel good (and impress others). But a relationship, a real relationship with Jesus? Does anybody really have that? And if so, how can anybody else even tell? Not by our actions most of the time.

When I was a child growing up in the church forty and fifty years ago, there were many hymns that we sang that we don’t hear much today. Those hymns spoke of powerpower in the blood, power in the name of Jesus . . . the power of God. After Jesus’ resurrection what did He tells the disciples in the Great Commission (Matt. 28:16-20)? He told them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

All authority–all power–in heaven and earth has been given to Jesus, and we don’t even take the time to get to know Him because we are too busy running our own lives and asking Him to bless what we do or what we want. We are too busy building our own little kingdoms right here on earth to bother with His kingdom.

Hello?

Esther and Mordecai and the rest of the Jewish people KNEW they couldn’t do anything on their own. They knew their very lives depended on the power of God to save them. They fasted for three days for His guidance. They took God very seriously. And they knew they were in a spiritual battle and that only God could save them from their fierce enemies.

Over the past several decades we have gone from a focus on Jesus to a focus on us and what we want (and please bless it, Jesus). We know more about the soap opera stars on TV, or our favorite sports stars and celebrities then we know about Jesus, and yet when we get in a jam we expect Him to show up and get us out of it.

We’ve lost our way and we need to get back . . . .

The celebration of Purim is one of God’s “great escape” stories of how He delivered His people from certain destruction at the hands of a very fierce enemy. It required the total submission of His people (Esther, Mordecai, and the rest of the Jewish people who fasted so that Esther would gain the wisdom she needed to speak the truth to the King and also to prepare the King’s heart for what she had to say). And a tragedy of monumental proportions was averted.

Wishy-washy “Christianity” will accomplish nothing. If we took God as seriously as we take everything else that is important to us in our lives (and most of that stuff is really detrimental to us–like the love of money and material possessions and all the other stuff that clogs up our lives), imagine what a better place this world would be. We’d actually stop being so selfish and self-consumed. We might actually even learn to love each other instead of talking about people behind their backs.

The celebration of Purim is a wake-up call for the rest of us. Do we want to see victory in our own lives and not for selfish reasons but so that the power of God can be displayed to this world of ours? The story of Esther is a powerful example down through the ages of what God can and will do when His people turn to Him instead of relying on themselves.

It’s Jesus’ name that should be lifted up, and not our own.

YouTube Video: “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name” sung by Chris Tomlin:

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The Presidents Club

Seal_Of_The_President_Of_The_United_States_Of_AmericaMonday, February 18, 2013, is Presidents Day in the United States. It is a federal holiday which originated as two holidays before 1971–it was primarily noted as George Washington’s birthday on February 22, and secondarily includes Abraham Lincoln’s birthday on February 12. The 90th Congress in 1968 created a uniform system of federal Monday holidays and they voted to shift three existing holidays–which included Washington’s birthday–to Mondays, and that law took effect in 1971 (quote source here).

Our first President, George Washington, born on February 22, 1732, served as President from 1789 to 1797. “On April 30, 1789, George Washington, standing on the balcony of Federal Hall on Wall Street in New York, took his oath of office as the first President of the United States” (quote source WhiteHouse.gov). Under his presidency, The Constitution of the United States was ratified and the Supreme Court met for the first time in 1790. Also, the Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments to the Constitution) was ratified on December 15 of that same year (quote source: Forward: America’s Presidents from Washington to Obama,” Whitman Publishing, 2013, p. 221). It was on September 18, 1793, in his second term, that “he laid the first foundation stone for the United States Capital building in what was to be called Federal City, in the District of Columbia, carved out of Maryland and Washington not far from his Mount Vernon estate” (quote source, Forward et al, p. 217). The city was renamed “Washington” in honor of George Washington in 1791 (source here).

In George Washington’s famous Farewell Address,” published in The Independent Chronicle on September 26, 1796, he announced his withdrawal from politics after 45 years of service. In his Farewell Address,” he “extolled the benefits of the federal government (it’s unity is ‘a main pillar in the edifice of real independence . . . of tranquility at home, peace abroad; of safety; of prosperity; of that very liberty which we so highly prize’); he warned against the party system; he stressed the importance of religion and morality; he stressed ‘stable public credit’ and warned against an accumulation of debt; and he warned against permanent foreign alliances and an over-powerful military establishment” (quote source here).

Presidents George Washington and Abraham Lincoln“George Washington finished his second term as the first President of the United States in 1797. Weary of the political infighting surrounding the presidency, he longed for the peace of retirement to his beloved Mount Vernon. Unfortunately, his solitude lasted less than three years as he died on December 14, 1799 at age 67 (quote source here). The nation went into mourning.

Abraham Lincoln, born on February 12, 1809,  served as our 16th President from 1861 to 1865. Many excellent books and biographies have been written on Abraham Lincoln (here’s a list of several of them on Amazon.com) who is considered to be one of our greatest presidents. During his presidency the country was split and marked by the Civil War and the issue of slavery. As president-elect in November 1860, his “stance against slavery was intolerable to the South, and in December 1860 the state of South Carolina seceded from the Union, followed by six others, and these states soon formed the Confederate States of America (quote source: Forward: America’s Presidents from Washington to Obama,” Whitman Publishing, 2013, p. 273).

“By the time of his inauguration in March 1861, the Civil War began barely a month later. Contrary to expectations, Lincoln proved to be a shrewd military strategist and a savvy leader during what became the costliest conflict ever fought on American soil. His Emancipation Proclamation, issued in 1863, freed all slaves in the rebellious states and paved the way for slavery’s eventual abolition, while his Gettysburg Address later that year stands as one of the most famous and influential pieces of oratory in American history” (quote source here).

Abraham Lincoln was reelected to a second term in 1865, and on April 9, 1865, General Robert E. Lee (Confederate) surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant (Union) thus ending the Civil War–“but not before more than a million men had been killed or injured, making it the nation’s bloodiest conflict” (quote source, Forward et al, p. 281). It was less than a week later, on April 14, 1865, that Abraham Lincoln was assassinated at Ford’s Theatre in Washington D.C. by John Wilkes Booth, a famous stage actor who was sympathetic to the Confederacy. Lincoln died in the early morning hours on April 15th (source, Forward et al, p. 281).

2009-01-07-ap-five-presidentsPresidents’ Day not only commemorates George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, but all of the past presidents of the United States. Currently, there are four past presidents still living and active (Jimmy Carter, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush) and, of course, our current president, Barack Obama.

The other day when I was at the public library, I ran across a wonderful book by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy titled, The Presidents Club: Inside the World’s Most Exclusive Fraternity,” published by Simon and Schuster, 2012. It starts with President Truman and ends with President Obama and is about the relationships between presidents and ex-presidents. As one reviewer, “Doyle,” at Amazon.com states, “When one is about fed up with politics and elections, this read is reassuring–that the U.S. system works: the transition of presidents is reasonably smooth, conversations with predecessors does occur, and the service of former presidents has great value.” Another reviewer, “Grandma Sue,” wrote: “My book club loved this pick and learned so much about how things get done in government. The personal stories of how the ex-presidents became friends, assisted one another, and protected the office of the president despite party affiliation was fascinating and lead to so many topics to discuss as a group. Book clubs tend to be women but there is much interest among men whom I have told about this book.”

Before I go any further, I must admit that I am not a political animal. In fact, I have steered clear of politics, other than voting, my entire life. The bickering between the two parties grinds on my nerves, and I found it best to leave it with those folks who have been elected to hash out. Of course, I love my country and want the very best for it and for all of us who live in America, but I found that if I got too involved in what the media (on both the right and the left) puts out I would get so upset and in the long run, it just wasn’t worth it since both sides pander to their own agenda. And the truth gets lost in the shuffle.

And to tell you how very tired I was of it all, I almost didn’t vote this past November. I tore up the first mail-in ballot I received and then in a patriotic moment ordered a second mail-in ballot. I won’t say how I voted as that is a private matter but I was terribly conflicted and ended up voting with regard to two issues close to my heart. When the election was over I breathed a sigh of relief and told myself I wasn’t getting involved anymore with the hype the media puts out on a daily basis. The decision had been made and I was going back to my usual “non-political” and still unemployed self.

. . . And, I’ve stuck to it, too (although I wish the “unemployed” part in my description would end very, very soon). No more bickering on Facebook from “friends” on either side of the political spectrum; no more mudslinging in campaign ads; and no more opinions on who thinks who is best (or worst) for our country. And since I haven’t had TV for almost a year now (the new owners of my seasonal rental took out the satellite TV last April that was included in my rent under the old owners) my life has become a lot more serene without the blare of everyone’s opinions coming out of that box.

. . . And, I’ve found myself more open to “dissenting” opinions–at least willing to give them a second chance. I’ve always been willing to listen to them, but all the rhetoric and media stuff got in the way. And on a personal level, I’ve liked all of the presidents that have been a part of my adult life whether or not I voted for them. I can’t even begin to imagine what it’s like to wear their shoes, and what they do is way above my pay level (which happens to be zero at the moment).

ForwardSo with that being said, a month ago I ran across a wonderful book that I have already quoted in this blog post that was published in January 2013. It’s titled, Forward: America’s Presidents From Washington to Obama (An Illustrated History of Barack Obama’s First Term and Historic Reelection),” by Q. David Bowers and Dave Lifton and published by Whitman Publishing, 2013. The first 211 pages are devoted to the Presidency of Barack Obama and while I haven’t read all 211 pages yet, I have been inspired by what I’ve been reading. The heart of the man shines through. And the rest of the book is about the rest of the presidents and some of the first ladies, too. It’s beautifully written and illustrated with many, many photographs.

the-presidents-clubThen I stumbled upon the 2012 book, The Presidents Club: Inside the World’s Most Exclusive Fraternity,” just this past week at the public library, and to my own astonishment (because I rarely ever read anything regarding politics or politicians), I love what I’ve read so far and so much so that I just ordered a paperback copy of the book (available February 2013) to add to my book collection. While the book starts with the Truman presidency, I chose to start reading with the “Baby Boomer” presidents (Clinton and George W.) and the chapters on the two Bushes (father and son) to include the last chapter on Obama. Turns out that Bush (George W.) and Clinton were born only forty four days apart in 1946 (p. 457) and they are only six years older then me. However, they have accomplished far more in their lifetimes (and presidencies) than I could ever accomplish in five lifetimes (and especially since I’ve been unemployed for the past four years, too, just spinning my wheels trying to find employment). It is truly fascinating reading as well as heart-warming in many places.

Keep in mind that this book is not just about what our presidents since Truman have accomplished. It’s about their personal relationships and connections with each other, across political parties and differing viewpoints, that makes this book a real gem. It’s a side the public never gets to see. The Presidency of the United States is, indeed, “the world’s most exclusive fraternity.” It’s truly a shame in America today that we spend so much time trashing the current administration (whatever administration happens to be in charge at the time) that we’ve lost respect for what the Office of the President stands for as the Commander in Chief of the Free World. And he’s also human just like the rest of us.

When I read about how the friendship with George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton started and how it has developed into a very unique and endearing friendship, and the same thing happened between Clinton and George W., it made me realize that even though politically these folks are polar opposites, what they have accomplished together in genuine friendship far surpasses all of the political stuff. And in the final chapter before the conclusion, when Barack Obama was elected President, “the ‘club’ swooped in to pat him on the back, teach him the secret handshake–and let him in on it’s oldest secret, ‘You know, they were all incredibly gracious,’ Obama said, after hearing from the brethren a few days after his election. ‘I think all of them recognized that there’s a certain loneliness to the job. You’ll get advice and you’ll get counsel. Ultimately, you’re the person who’s going to be making decisions. You can already feel that fact'” (p. 505).

Well, I haven’t begun to do justice to the book, but I do highly recommend it as it has been an eye-opening read for me regarding the friendships of folks many of us would think of as political enemies. An endorsement on the back of the book by Tom Brokaw states, “Michael Duffy and Nancy Gibbs have taken us inside one of the most powerful and unusual families in American life–the brotherhood of former presidents of the United States. Political junkies, historians, psychologists, and Main Street citizens will find the tales of friendship, envy, conspiracy, competition, and common cause irresistible.” And he’s right! The book is irresistible!

Presidents Day is right around the corner. While it may not get as much fanfare as Christmas or Valentine’s Day, the men who hold this office are deserving of the honor we can give them on this day–they hold or have held the most powerful office on earth, the Presidency of the United States of America. Regardless of our political affiliations and whether or not “our man” is in office, the President of the United States of America deserves our utmost respect and sincere appreciation–past Presidents included.

I’ll end this post with the words of Abraham Lincoln in the last sentence of the Gettysburg Address:

“. . . that this nation under God
shall have a new birth of freedom,
and that government of the people,
by the people, for the people
shall not perish from the earth.”

 May God greatly bless you,
President Barack Obama,
and all of your predecessors, too.

And may God Bless America

YouTubeVideo: “US National Anthem” by the Academy Choirs (2006):

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here
Photo #3 credit here
Photo #4 credit here
Photo #5 credit here

Be My Valentine

Be My ValentineThree days ago I wrote a blog post titled, A Month of Happiness,” (click here for post) which is about a month-long celebration during the Jewish month of Adar that takes place every year around this time of the year, and this year Valentine’s Day falls within the first three days of this celebration. So, I’ve decided to be extra happy on Valentine’s Day!

I thought I’d start out with a few fun facts about Valentine’s Day that I found at OddityJournal.com. For instance, did you know . . .

1. More than 50 million roses are exchanged worldwide on Valentine’s Day each year.

2. 73% of the flowers purchased on Valentine’s Day are purchased by men; while only 27% are purchased by women.

3. Valentine’s Day is named after Saint Valentine. Saint Valentine is known as the patron saint of lovers. But few people know that he was also the patron saint of greetings, travelers, young people, and even epilepsy, plague and bee keepers.

4. The letter ‘X’ first symbolized a kiss in medieval times. It is believed that people who could not write their names, signed with an ‘X’. The ‘X’ was then kissed to show their emotions.

5. 15% of US women send flowers to themselves on Valentine’s Day.

6. Survey shows that most women prefer a good dinner over any other gift.

7. Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of telephone, patented his invention on the Valentine’s Day. So, Valentine’s Day gave us the telephone. Penicillin was also introduced on Valentine’s Day.

8. In the Middle Ages, young men and women drew the names from a bowl to see who would be their Valentine. They would wear this name pinned on their sleeve for one week. This was done so that it became easy for others to know their true feelings. This is where the expression “wear your heart on your sleeve” got its start.

9. Red roses are the most popular gifts on Valentine’s Day. Red has traditionally been the color of love and symbolizes strong emotions. Thus, red roses are thought to be the perfect object to show off the adornment on the special day.

10. If you’re a teacher, then we have good news for you on Valentine’s Day. According to a study, teachers receive the most number of Valentine cards. Each year, children between the ages of 6 and 10 give about 650 million cards to their teachers.

11. In Germany, young girls would plant onions in a pot on Valentine’s Day, and place the name of a boy next to each onion. They believed that they would marry the boy whose name was nearest to the first onion to grow.

12. During the 1700’s, girls in England would eat a hardboiled egg, along with the shell, on Valentine’s Day eve. Doing so, they hoped that they would dream about their future husband that night.

13. Verona, the Italian city where Shakespeare’s fictional lovers “Romeo and Juliet” lived, receives about 1,000 letters every year sent to Juliet on Valentine’s Day.

14. Contrary to the popular opinion, more than 50% of women don’t find Valentine’s Day romantic at all. Even worse, more than 75% don’t like being proposed to on Valentine’s Day. So, you might want to think twice if you’re planning to do so.

15. Recent surveys revealed that on average, men spend about $158 on Valentine’s Day. This is twice as much as compared to the $75 spent by women. (List source here).

After reading through that list I can say that I’ve never bought flowers for myself on Valentine’s Day (#5), but I have at other times of the year. And, maybe I’d better start planting onions (#11) or eating hardboiled eggs with the shells left on (#12, ugh . . .). At least I’m not in the 50% of women who don’t like Valentine’s Day or the 75% of women who don’t like being proposed to on Valentine’s Day (#14); however, since Valentine’s Day for this year is now here I’d hate to wait a whole year to be proposed to since it is fairly apparent it’s not going to happen this year. Well, my birthday is coming up in May . . . .

. . . And I’ve just about given up on ever finding a job after almost four years, so maybe finding a husband would be easier??? Well, of course, one of my own and not somebody else’s; but then that hasn’t been so easy, either, come to think of it (not that I’ve ever wanted somebody else’s husband).

Okay, enough with the humor. But wait . . . this is “a month of happiness,” so let the humor continue!!! Here’s some more fun facts I found at CandyUSA.com:

1. More than 36 million heart-shaped boxes of chocolate will be sold for Valentine’s Day. A survey conducted by the Chocolate Manufacturers Association revealed that 50 percent of women will likely give a gift of chocolate to a guy for Valentine’s Day.

2.Valentine’s Day is the fourth biggest holiday of the year for confectionery purchases (after Halloween, Easter and Christmas).

3. American men say they’d rather receive chocolate than flowers on Valentine’s Day, especially those over the age of 50. Sixty-eight percent of men age 50 or older say they’d prefer receiving chocolate over flowers from their sweetheart on Valentine’s Day, while just 22% said they’d rather have the flowers.

4. A natural aphrodisiac? As an elixir for love, chocolate has been believed throughout history to bring smiles to the broken-hearted and to prompt amorous feelings in both men and women. It is believed that Madame Du Barry served it to all her suitors; Casanova consumed chocolate instead of champagne to induce romance; and Montezuma, the king of the ancient Aztecs, believed chocolate would make him virile. In the 1800’s physicians commonly advised their lovelorn patients to eat chocolate to calm their pining.

Being a connoisseur of fine chocolate (well, mostly M&M’s), I can’t attest to the amorous feelings brought on by chocolate (well, maybe indirectly, after all, I’m not married or involved with anyone), but I can say that eating chocolate is about as close to, well . . . oh, never mind . . . I don’t want to get myself into trouble in a blog post. Suffice it to say I do love chocolate and I believe it is one of the absolutely necessary food groups needed to sustain life . . . okay, maybe not life but happiness. And this is “a month of happiness.” So, pass the chocolate, please . . . .

Author's picture of Christmas daisiesI can see I’ve gotten sidetracked. Obviously flowers are a safer subject for me to stick with for Valentine’s Day. Rated PG, I think . . . . And I do love flowers. Daisies are my favorite and I’ve purchased daisies for myself (especially colorful “designer” daisies–see photo) on numerous occasions like this past Christmas. And I do love roses, too; however, I’ve never purchased roses for myself and I refuse to as I want to save that experience for a suitor if one ever shows up (I’ve been waiting a very long time and I’m getting old, you know). They even have roses in designer colors, too, although, red roses are very beautiful. In fact, a bouquet of red roses with baby’s breath is quite beautiful, and very fragrant, too.

But back to Valentine’s Day. While I enjoy all the romantic stuff associated with Valentine’s Day, it’s been a very, very, very, very (did I say very?) long time since I’ve had any reciprocated romantic feelings. In other words, I haven’t been looking for love for a very long time (a couple of my past blog posts have addressed that issue so no point in going into it in this one). And besides, I’ve been looking for a job for almost four years now!!! Being unemployed doesn’t exactly attract suitors, not that that is my main reason for needing a job. No, my main reason for needing a job is that I need an income . . . and a life again!!! Being unemployed is not fun, and I didn’t ask for it, either!!!

Dear ValentineWhile I’m waiting for a job to show up–and at this point it will take a miracle after all of this time–I wouldn’t mind if maybe–and maybe it’s just in a dream but I’ll throw it out there anyway–if a suitor should happen to show up (although I’ve had enough experience to know that I don’t want just anybody who happens to be male), it would be fun to find out if there really is such a thing as romantic and passionate love as I’d like to experience it before my sojourn on this earth is over. And maybe he would like to experience it, too.

With that being said, I’ve considered myself lucky all these years to have been single for so long as I have a lifetime of experiences that would not have happened has I been married. I remember when I left my job in Florida for the job in Houston that one of my work colleagues, a married woman with grown children (well, I think her youngest was still in high school at the time) told me she thought I was so lucky as there was nothing tying me down to keep me from taking a new opportunity 1000 miles away. She was right, of course, but I believe that for those of us who love God and want to serve Jesus Christ that He opens and closes the doors we go through in our lives and that includes the times He has us “on hold” waiting for the right circumstances to come together in order to move us on.

I don’t recall at any other time in my life being put “on hold” for as long as this period of unemployment has lasted (it will be four years in April). However, if you’ve read any of my previous posts you know that it has been this whole “Houston” experience (well, it started there) that brought me out of the spiritual lethargy I didn’t even realize I was in at the time. Spiritual maturity doesn’t happen overnight or in a vacuum, and it rarely happens by attending church once a week and disregarding how we are living our lives and ignoring the Bible and what is has to say to us for rest of the week. And there’s no doubt I still have a long way to go, but had this whole “unemployment” experience not happened to me, I would have continued to walk in my spiritual stagnation that easily hides behind church or “Christian” activities. No, it’s about developing a personal relationship with Jesus Christ that is active and vital and not just buried in “activities” or all the hype in a lot of “Christianity” in America today.

While over the years I have longed for the love of a man, I have never been without the love of Jesus Christ, who has so amazingly guided me all of these years, even through these last four years that have been some of the toughest years of my life. Sometimes He forces us to be still (Psalm 46:10) so that we can really learn of Him and what this life is really all about, and the activities of normal living can blind us to the fact that our life in Jesus Christ is about far more then what we see with our eyes and experience in the physical world. Eph. 6:10-18 makes that very plain:

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is 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. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.”

We get so busy in our lives that we forget the truth of what is really going on. And that has been what these past four years have been about for me–understanding the truth. It’s too easy, especially for folks who have been Christian for many, many years, to just coast along and stagnate without even realizing it. Eph. 5:14-17 states, Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’ Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.”

This Valentine’s Day, whether we have someone to share it with or not, don’t forget the greatest love we’ve ever been given that surpasses any human love on this earth–the love of Jesus Christ. Spend some time with Him.

He’s always available . . . .

YouTube Video: “Anyone At All” sung by Carole King from the movie, “You’ve Got Mail” (1998):

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit (my own pic of Christmas daisies)
Photo #3 credit here

A Month of Happiness

"My Cup Runneth Over"Artist: Yitzchok Moully

“My Cup Runneth Over”
Artist: Yitzchok Moully

Wouldn’t we all love to have one whole month of happiness? I know I sure could use one right about now after searching for a job for almost four years. On the Jewish calendar, the month of Adar is just such a month. The month of AdarAdar 1, 5773 to Adar 29, 5773–correlates to the same time frame this year on our calendar as February 11, 2013 to March 11, 2013. For more information on the Jewish calendar click here.

All days on the Jewish calendar start and end at sundownAnd as I am looking out my window right at this moment it is now sundown on February 11, 2013 . . . so let a month of happiness” begin!!!

Okay, I can hear you asking, “What is a month of happiness?” I’m glad you asked! The month of Adar was “the time when the Jews got relief from their enemies, and the month when their sorrow was turned into joy and their mourning into a day of celebration” (Esther 9:22). The story of Esther is one of my favorite stories from the Old Testament.

There are five main characters in the Book of Esther: Xerxes (the Hebrew rendering of the name is Ahashuerus), who was the King of the Persian Empire; Vashti, the Queen, who at the opening of the Book of Esther was deposed when she refused to come before the King on the final day of a lavish party he threw “eager to flaunt her beauty to his guests.” When she refused, the King was “filled with anger” and “he deposed Queen Vashti, forever removing her from his presence” (quote source here). Esther (her Hebrew name was “Hadassah), a young Jewish orphan who had an older cousin named Mordecai who raised her as his own daughter and she was described as being “lovely in form and features” (Esther 2:7). Mordecai, a Jew and Esther’s older cousin who “became a minor official in the Persian government of Susa” (quote course here); and Haman (an Agagite in the royal line of the Amalekite people which God commanded Saul to exterminate; however, he didn’t), who was the King’s highest official and described as “a wicked man. He hated the Jews and he especially hated Mordecai, who had refused to bow down to him” (quote source here). And he plotted to have all the Jews killed.

Now that you know the cast of characters, here a brief account of the story (you can read the entire account in the Bible/Old Testament in Esther 1-10). For those who are unfamiliar with the true story of Esther, the story unfolds from the time Queen Vashti was deposed and a search for a new queen began. The time frame for the events start when Esther was chosen from that search and taken to the King’s palace in 362 BC through the celebration of Purim in 356 BC, and were recorded in 355 BC which instituted the celebration of Purim for all future generations (source here). An excellent synopsis of the story has been written by Mary Fairchild at Christianity.about.com and is quoted below (source here):

To find his new queen, Xerxes hosted a royal beauty pageant and Esther was chosen for the throne. Her cousin Mordecai became a minor official in the Persian government of Susa.

Soon after, Mordecai uncovered a plot to assassinate the king. He told Esther about the conspiracy, and she reported it to Xerxes, giving credit to Mordecai. The plot was thwarted and Mordecai’s act of kindness was preserved in the chronicles of the king.

At this same time, the king’s highest official was a wicked man named Haman. He hated the Jews and he especially hated Mordecai, who had refused to bow down to him.

So, Haman devised a scheme to have every Jew in Persia killed. The king bought into the plot and agreed to annihilate the Jewish people on a specific day. Meanwhile, Mordecai learned of the plan and shared it with Esther, challenging her with these famous words:

“Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:13-14).

Esther urged all of the Jews to fast and pray for deliverance. Then risking her own life, brave young Esther approached the king with a plan of her own.

She invited Xerxes and Haman to a banquet where eventually she revealed her Jewish heritage to the king, as well as Haman’s diabolical plot to have her and her people killed. In a rage, the king ordered Haman to be hung on the gallows–the very same gallows Haman had built for Mordecai. (Some translations read “impaled on a pole” rather than “hung on the gallows.” In ancient Persia the precursor to Roman crucifixion was done by impaling the body and hanging it on a wooden pole or stake.)

Mordecai was promoted to Haman’s high position and Jews were granted protection throughout the land. As the people celebrated God’s tremendous deliverance, the joyous festival of Purim was instituted.

Haman’s plan to have all the Jews anniliated was decreed by Persian law and set to take place on the 13th of Adar. This decree could not be revoked even by the King; however, since Mordecai was promoted to Haman’s high position, the King told Queen Esther and Mordecai, “Now write another decree in the king’s name in behalf of the Jews as seems best to you, and seal it with the king’s signet ring—for no document written in the king’s name and sealed with his ring can be revoked” (Esther 8:8). This new edict “granted the Jews in every city the right to assemble and protect themselves; to destroy, kill and annihilate any armed force of any nationality or province that might attack them and their women and children; and to plunder the property of their enemies” on the 13th of Adar (Esther 8:11).

The rest of the story is quite exciting, and is taken directly from Esther 9:1-22:

“On the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar, the edict commanded by the king was to be carried out. On this day the enemies of the Jews had hoped to overpower them, but now the tables were turned and the Jews got the upper hand over those who hated them. The Jews assembled in their cities in all the provinces of King Xerxes to attack those seeking their destruction. No one could stand against them, because the people of all the other nationalities were afraid of them. And all the nobles of the provinces, the satraps, the governors and the king’s administrators helped the Jews, because fear of Mordecai had seized them. Mordecai was prominent in the palace; his reputation spread throughout the provinces, and he became more and more powerful.

“The Jews struck down all their enemies with the sword, killing and destroying them, and they did what they pleased to those who hated them. In the citadel of Susa, the Jews killed and destroyed five hundred men. They also killed Parshandatha, Dalphon, Aspatha, Poratha, Adalia, Aridatha, Parmashta, Arisai, Aridai and Vaizatha, the ten sons of Haman son of Hammedatha, the enemy of the Jews. But they did not lay their hands on the plunder.

“The number of those slain in the citadel of Susa was reported to the king that same day. The king said to Queen Esther, ‘The Jews have killed and destroyed five hundred men and the ten sons of Haman in the citadel of Susa. What have they done in the rest of the king’s provinces? Now what is your petition? It will be given you. What is your request? It will also be granted.’

“‘If it pleases the king,’ Esther answered, ‘give the Jews in Susa permission to carry out this day’s edict tomorrow also, and let Haman’s ten sons be hanged on gallows.’

“So the king commanded that this be done. An edict was issued in Susa, and they hanged the ten sons of Haman. The Jews in Susa came together on the fourteenth day of the month of Adar, and they put to death in Susa three hundred men, but they did not lay their hands on the plunder.

“Meanwhile, the remainder of the Jews who were in the king’s provinces also assembled to protect themselves and get relief from their enemies. They killed seventy-five thousand of them but did not lay their hands on the plunder. This happened on the thirteenth day of the month of Adar, and on the fourteenth they rested and made it a day of feasting and joy.

“The Jews in Susa, however, had assembled on the thirteenth and fourteenth, and then on the fifteenth they rested and made it a day of feasting and joy.

“That is why rural Jews—those living in villages—observe the fourteenth of the month of Adar as a day of joy and feasting, a day for giving presents to each other.

“Mordecai recorded these events, and he sent letters to all the Jews throughout the provinces of King Xerxes, near and far, to have them celebrate annually the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the month of Adar as the time when the Jews got relief from their enemies, and as the month when their sorrow was turned into joy and their mourning into a day of celebration. He wrote them to observe the days as days of feasting and joy and giving presents of food to one another and gifts to the poor.”

joy to the worldIsn’t that outcome exciting to read? The fierce enemy of the Jews, Haman, along with his ten sons, actually received the punishment Haman meant for Mordecai to receive, and the edict he issued to annihilate all of the rest of the Jews backfired in the Jews’ favor. And to this very day the Jewish people celebrate this victory every year.

This celebration is known as Purim and is celebrated in the Jewish community world-wide on the 14th day of Adar every year. “In certain cities in Israel, Purim is observed on the 15th of Adar and is known as Shushan Purim (quote source here). So if the celebration of Purim is primarily one day in the month of Adar, why do they celebrate all month long? An article at Chabad.org titled, A Month of Happiness by Naftali Silberberg gives us that information:

. . . Perhaps a comprehension of the unique nature of Purim will allow us to understand why its joy extends throughout the entire month of Adar.

Haman successfully pinpointed the moment when the Jews were at their lowest point.  After nearly a millennium of freedom, independence, and constant reliance on miracles, they were now banished from their land, helpless and seemingly at the mercy of the laws of nature. This was a completely new experience for the Jewish nation . . . .

“The timing has never been better,” Haman thought. “Surely the Chosen People have lost their exalted status. Now is the perfect moment to implement the Final Solution.”

Haman, however, was not yet satisfied. He needed one more sign indicating the Jews’ vulnerability. The lottery would have the final say. And indeed, the lottery provided the exact sign he anxiously awaited. The lottery designated Adar to be the month when his nefarious plan would be put into motion. The Talmud tells us that Haman was overjoyed by this favorable omen. “My lottery fell on the month when Moses died,” he exclaimed. The demise of Moses, the “head” of the Jewish nation, was surely a metaphor for the demise of the entire nation!

Haman successfully pinpointed the moment when the Jews were at their lowest point – historically as well as calendar-wise – to implement his plan… But his plan still did not succeed.

Why?

The history of our nation is very much compared to the human lifespan. Through the course of a lifetime every person undergoes drastic changes; fluctuation being the most consistent feature of life. The helpless newborn has virtually nothing in common with the independent, talented personality which will emerge years down the line. Adulthood, too, has ups and downs, happy days and depressing days, fulfilling days and seemingly wasted days. There is, however, one constant: the very identity and essence of the person. John Doe remains John Doe from the day he is born until the day he dies.

The same is true with our nation. We have ups and downs, both spiritually and materially, but our very identity, the fact that we are G-d’s chosen nation, is never affected.

It can actually be argued that, in a certain sense, our perpetual relationship with G-d is more evident when we are exiled and downtrodden due to our sins, and G-d still interferes on our behalf, as was demonstrated by the Purim miracle. This phenomenon demonstrates the durability of our relationship; the ability of our essential identity to survive no matter our external state.

All other holidays celebrate the “highs” of our nation. And therefore their joy is limited, because highs don’t last. Purim celebrates a time when we were at a low point in our history – but our relationship with G-d remained intact. Its joy is therefore greater than the joy of any other holiday, because it demonstrates the essential nature of our relationship with G-d — and that is a constant.

The month of Adar, the month which Haman understood to be the most inauspicious month for the Jews, is the happiest month of the year—the month when we bear in mind that “inauspicious” has absolutely no bearing on our relationship with G-d (article and quote source here).

The nation and people of Israel are God’s chosen people, but through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross at Calvary the apostle Paul states that those of us who are Gentile (non-Jewish) and believe in Him, “though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root” (Roman 11:17).

The story of Esther is an amazing story of how God intervenes for His people in their time of need. And just like He intervened in a miraculous way back then and throughout so many accounts in the Old and New Testaments, He intervenes in the lives of His people today. As I read through this entire account the excitement I felt, not only for the Jewish people, but for all of us who have been “grafted in” exploded with an excitement I haven’t felt in quite a long time.

I don’t know about you, but I intend to celebrate the entire month of Adar along with the Jewish people. Suddenly, it makes looking for a job after almost four years seem like small potatoes compared to what God is capable of doing, and yet He knows the needs of each one of us in our particular circumstances and no need is too small for Him to take care of if we put our faith in Him and not in ourselves or our circumstances.

“A month of happiness” has just begun. Let’s start anticipating that miracle God wants to bring into our circumstances . . . .

So what are you waiting for?

YouTube Video: The following song is usually sung at Christmas but I think you will agree that it is a wonderful rendition for this particular blog post–“Joy to the World” sung by Whitney Houston in the movie, “The Preacher’s Wife” (1996):

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Unintended Consequences

0531unintended_consequencesOne of the things I love to do every time I visit a bookstore is to browse through the titles that the authors (and, most of the time, the publishers) give to their books. The other day when I was looking over a number of books on the sale shelves just outside the front door, my eye caught the title of a novel–“Unintended Consequences.”

Unintended consequences . . . we’ve all been there, haven’t we? We’ve all done things that brought about consequences we never intended but, nonetheless, happened–whether for good or bad. Most recently in my own life the biggest “unintended consequence” I’ve had to deal with occurred after I accepted the director position in Houston and moved there (at my own expense–something I said I would never do until they offered me a salary I didn’t expect which far surpassed my salary at the time by almost $15,000/yr. and which convinced me to go ahead and pay the cost of moving my possessions to Houston since my new boss told me they wouldn’t cover the cost of relocation). Also, I had twenty years of experience doing what they had hired me to do and never in my wildest imagination did it ever cross my mind that I would end up being fired a scant seven months later after twenty years of successful work in the field with stellar references to boot.

However, reality isn’t always what it appears to be. And I walked into a situation that I didn’t expect. I just didn’t know it until I got there, and then it was too late to turn back. So I did the best I could because I always do my best no matter what the situation, but in this case my best wasn’t good enough because what was going on had very little to do with me. And there was no way I could win, and I knew it within the first three months. Well, at least I lasted seven months before the ax fell.

Of course the fallout from being fired–the “unintended consequence”–has been almost four years of unemployment. I jokingly told a friend in an email the other day that I felt those folks who fired me had put a curse on my work life as I can’t for the life of me figure out why I haven’t been hired for at least one of the 500 jobs I’ve applied for in my field of work over the past four years. And, I’ve never had a hard time finding a job until now and I don’t think it has anything to do with my age or the economy at this point in time. So much for my only experience at working at a for-profit.”

My previous years of experience in higher education/student services before that job in Houston had all been in nonprofit colleges and universities. And, while I loved the environment I worked in in Houston as it was a very creative atmosphere, and there were some folks who worked there that I loved working with, the overall culture was not exactly what I expected–it was a little too much on the “cold” side. In my years of working in higher education, I heard that working in a “for-profit” environment had it’s challenges, but since I worked in student services I didn’t see how that would really affect the nature of the work I did which was primarily working with students after they had been accepted into a degree program to meet their educational and support needs. And, unfortunately, my experience in Houston was so short-lived that even after almost four years now since they fired me I shake my head in wonder at what it was all about in the first place. It certainly wasn’t that I was not qualified for the job. It was definitely something else . . . but I never figured out exactly what it was. Unfortunately, it’s usually the hidden agendas of others that blindside us.

While most folks might see this whole “adventure” of mine as an unfortunate set of circumstances that turned out badly, I don’t see it as such. In God’s economy, there is no such thing as “unintended consequences.” It’s not that we aren’t human and don’t make mistakes, but for those of us who truly believe in God, as King David stated in Psalm 139:16, “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” And God knows about all of the “unintended consequences” that come into our lives before they ever happen.

Nothing about our lives comes as a surprise to God. Nothing. He knows everything about us and our lives before we were ever born. Let’s look at the first 18 verses in Psalm 139 to see just how well God knows each and every one of us:

O Lord, you have searched me and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
You perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
You are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
You know it completely, O Lord.

You hem me in—behind and before;
You have laid your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
Too lofty for me to attain.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
If I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
If I settle on the far side of the sea,
 Even there your hand will guide me,
Your right hand will hold me fast.

If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
Even the darkness will not be dark to you;
The night will shine like the day,
For darkness is as light to you.

For you created my inmost being;
You knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
When I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,
Your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me
Were written in your book
Before one of them came to be.

How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
Were I to count them,
They would outnumber the grains of sand.
When I awake, I am still with you.

another-door-opensThink about what those verses are really saying–God knows our thoughts before we even think them; He knows what we are going to say before a word is even on our lips. There is no situation He is not aware of before it happens. And there is no place that we can hide from Him. That might bring fear to some folks, but for those of us who truly love God and want to serve Him with a whole heart, the comfort of that knowledge about God–that He knows everything about us before it ever happens–brings enormous peace in the midst of the most difficult of circumstances. And the cry of our heart is the same as it was for David as he stated in Psalm 139:23-24:

“Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
And lead me in the way everlasting.”

Regardless of the circumstances we find ourselves in–even those circumstances with “unintended consequences” that sometimes seem to go on forever–nothing that happens to us comes as a surprise to God, and as the apostle Paul (who spent more than a few years in prison at different times where he wrote several of his New Testament letters and was ultimately beheaded) wrote in Romans 8:28-39: “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. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

“What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:

‘For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

These words are meant to give us great encouragement in the midst of very difficult circumstances that we don’t understand from our own very limited human perspective. However, the ultimate purpose is stated in vv. 29-30, For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”

God can open any door, but He does it in His timing and not ours. When we find ourselves in circumstances that we don’t understand and that don’t seem to end, we need to remember Who is in control, and we need to . . .

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make your paths straight”
~Prov. 3:5-6

YouTube Video: “Remember” by Harry Nilsson, Original Score from the movie, “You’ve Got Mail” (1998):

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

How Sweet It Is

LoveI woke up this morning with a song playing in my head–How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You),” a “U.S. Billboard Top 10 ‘Pop’ Single” (coming in at #5) sung by James Taylor in 1975 (YouTube video below). Hmmm . . . well, Valentine’s Day is only a week away, but as far as I know there’s no one out there pining for me. Guess I’ll have to buy chocolates for myself again this year. Not to worry, though, since I’m trying to stay away from sugar and artificial sweeteners at the same time so I doubt I’ll buy any this year. Who needs chocolate, right?

Right???

Years ago (1993) there was a youth movement in Christian circles titled True Love Waits.” Of course, it promoted sexual abstinence for teenagers and college students until marriage, but in my own life the phrase has an entirely different meaning. I’ve been waiting all my life for “true love” to finally show up. It ranks at #1 on my “Waiting” list, with “finding employment” coming in as a close second after almost four years of looking for that very elusive job.

I know I’ve mentioned it before in a past blog post or two, but I’ve never intentionally gone looking for love in my entire life. Well, I mean romantic love. It’s not that I didn’t want to experience it, but mostly what I found was lust, not love. And I wasn’t looking for lust either, not that the pull isn’t there. But lust is momentary and, well, pretty much selfish. And, it’s momentarily satisfied but, like greed, is insatiable, and is never happy with what it has and always wants more. So I stopped looking for love when all I found was lust. I decided to wait until love came to me.

I suppose there is nothing worse than unrequited love.” Maybe “unrequited attraction” is a better description. And maybe it’s the same in your case, too, if you think about it and have ever experienced it. We call it “love” but love–real love–comes with sacrifice. A longing for someone doesn’t necessarily require any kind of sacrifice other then a broken heart on our end when it is not returned or reciprocated. I have experienced that kind of love (well, longing). Sometimes it was someone I noticed and took an interest in but for whatever reason they weren’t interested in me (it usually ended up that they were already attached to someone else or just weren’t interested which is always a little bit devastating). And sometimes it started with someone who was interested in me but by the time I finally “got it” the interest on their part had waned and they had moved on. After all, there are plenty of other fish in the sea, right?

There’s a story in Genesis 29:16-30 about a man named Laban who had two daughters; Leah, the older daughter, and Rachel, the younger. Leah was described as having “weak eyes” but Rachel was described as being “beautiful in form and appearance.” Jacob (one of Isaac’s sons) was in love with Rachel and told Laban that he would work for him for seven years in order to have Rachel as his wife, and Laban agreed. However, at the end of seven years Laban actually gave Leah to Jacob instead of Rachel (see Genesis 29:21-22). Because Leah was hidden behind a veil, Jacob didn’t realize he had married her instead of Rachel. When Jacob realized what had happened, he went to Laban to find out why and Laban replied, “It is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one. Finish this daughter’s bridal week; then we will give you the younger one also, in return for another seven years of work” (Genesis 29:26-27). And as the story goes, “And Jacob did so. He finished the week with Leah, and then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel to be his wife. . . .  Jacob lay with Rachel also, and he loved Rachel more than Leah. And he worked for Laban another seven years” (Genesis 29:28, 30).

So Jacob ended up with both sisters as his wives; however, he loved Rachel more than Leah. Imagine how that must have made Leah feel. It’s not like she had much choice in the situation. Let’s read about it in a devotion I read this morning in Our Daily Bread:

Second Best?

Genesis 29:16-30

Leah must have laid awake all night thinking of the moment when her new husband would awaken. She knew that it was not her face he expected to see, but Rachel’s. Jacob had been a victim of deception, and when he realized that a “bait and switch” had occurred, he quickly made a new deal with Laban to claim the woman he had been promised (Gen. 29:25-27).

Love in the sandHave you ever felt insignificant or second-best? Leah felt that way. It’s seen in the names she chose for her first three sons (vv.31-35). Reuben means “See, a Son”; Simeon means “Heard”; and Levi means “Attached.” Their names were all plays on words that indicated the lack of love she felt from Jacob. With each son’s birth, she desperately hoped she would move up in Jacob’s affections and earn his love. But slowly Leah’s attitude changed, and she named her fourth son Judah,which means “Praise” (v.35). Though she felt unloved by her husband, perhaps she now realized she was greatly loved by God.

We can never “earn” God’s love, because it’s not dependent on what we do. In truth, the Bible tells us that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). In God’s eyes, we are worth the best that heaven could offer—the gift of His precious Son. ~Cindy Hess Kasper

Love sent the Savior to die in my stead.
Why should He love me so?
Meekly to Calvary’s cross He was led.
Why should He love me so? ~Harkness

Nothing speaks more clearly of God’s love than the cross.

The divorce rate in America attests to the fact that human love is fickle. “Various studies on US rate of divorce show significant differences when a comparison is made in 1st, 2nd and 3rd marriage breakups in America. The marriage breakup rate in America for first marriage is 41% to 50%; the rate after second marriage is from 60% to 67% and the rate in America for 3rd marriage are from 73% to 74% (quote source here). While we are familiar with the divorce rate being around 50% now in America, I was shocked when I read the  divorce rate for second and third marriages. Overall, it only gets worse.

Rarely do we ever find a love like the description of love given in I Corinthians 13:4-8“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, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails . . . .”

I’ve failed that test many times in the past and I’m sure you have, too. It’s not easy being human, and our own desires get in the way all the time. I know of only One Person who has never failed that test–Jesus Christ“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it” (John 1:1-5) . . . and “The Word became flesh [in the person of Jesus Christ] and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

In John 3, Nicodemus, a Pharisee and member of the Jewish ruling class, came to Jesus at night stating, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.” In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again” (v. 2-3).

It is within this dialogue with Nicodemus in John 3 that Jesus states how a person can be born again–“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God” (John 3:16-21). Jesus Christ is the One and Only Son of God.

John 3v16Real love comes with sacrifice, and Jesus Christ made the ultimate sacrifice on the cross at Calvary for you and for me. It is not a fickle, human love that comes and goes with our feelings, but the ultimate sacrifice made for the redemption of humankind, and the only sacrifice there is that’s available to us. It was and is a sacrifice made out of a love that we as humans cannot fully comprehend this side of Heaven, and it’s available to anyone who truly seeks Him, as stated in John 3:16-18 above and again, here–“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”

If you’re like me on this upcoming Valentine’s Day, you may not get chocolates or flowers or other expressions of love from anyone, but the love that is offered through Jesus Christ is a far greater love than any love found on this earth of ours, and not just on Valentine’s Day, either, but forever. And while Jesus Christ paid the ultimate price to give it to us, for us it is a free gift from God if we only believe in Him and in the sacrifice He made for us.

How can you resist a love like that?

In a word, don’t . . . .

YouTube Video: “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)” sung by James Taylor (1975):

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here
Photo #3 credit here

Against All Odds

against-all-oddsDo you believe in miracles? Many folks say they do but when something miraculous actually happens many times they call it merely a “coincidence.” Dictionary.com defines “coincidence” as “a striking occurrence of two or more events at one time apparently by mere chance.” Mere chance . . . .

There’s a story in Mark 9:14-27 that I want to call to your attention regarding the healing by Jesus of a young boy possessed by an evil spirit:

“When they [Jesus, Peter, James and John] came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him.

 “‘What are you arguing with them about?’ he asked.

“A man in the crowd answered, ‘Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.’

“‘O unbelieving generation,’ Jesus replied, ‘how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.’

 “So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.

“Jesus asked the boy’s father, ‘How long has he been like this?’

“’From childhood,’ he answered. ‘It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.’

“‘If you can?’ said Jesus. ‘Everything is possible for him who believes.’

“Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, ‘I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!’

“When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the evil spirit. ‘You deaf and mute spirit,’ he said, ‘I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.’

“The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, ‘He’s dead.’ But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.”

If you had been in the crowd that day and witnessed what happened, what would your reaction have been to the miracle that you just witnessed?

There are two striking remarks by Jesus in this account: “O unbelieving generation” and “Everything is possible for him who believes.” Herein lies the difference between believing in mere “coincidence” (by an unbelieving generation) and believing in miracles (as believers in Jesus Christ). With God there are no “coincidences.” None . . . .

As I look back over these past four plus years from the time I landed in Houston to start that ill-fated job that I lost almost seven months later that has brought about almost four years of unemployment at this point in time (and I’m still looking) I see miracle after miracle of God’s provision in my life. Many folks might just say it’s “coincidence” that all of these things happened. However, I have never believed in “coincidence.” No, I believe in God and that He is ultimately in control of everything that happens to us.

It was in the providence of God that I lost my job at the very same time that extended unemployment benefits were being approved (up to 99 weeks) for the long-term unemployed when the worst hit in 2008-2009 (a very rare occurrence during the decades that unemployment compensation has been available—the normal maximum is 26 weeks/6 months). And, I did not know about “extended benefits” until my first 26 weeks of benefits were about to expire. Add to that the fact that if I had not returned to Florida when my lease was up on my apartment in Houston at the end of September 2009 (and I really wanted to stay in Houston but couldn’t afford to financially on the $275/wk unemployment benefits I received from Florida) I would not have been able to collect the “extended benefits” due to the fact that the unemployment rate in Texas wasn’t high enough to receive extended benefits through Florida, but the Florida unemployment rate (one of the highest in the nation at that time) was high right on through the entire 99 weeks that I was able to collect unemployment benefits which ended at the end of May 2011.

Also, I would not have been able to come back to Florida at the end of September 2009 had I not been offered the spare bedroom in the home of a good friend at the time. I had been looking for a room to rent in a home in Houston at the time of her offer, and that is when I decided to return to Florida. Of course, I lost most of my possessions (all of my furniture, over 1000 books, and other items) as I couldn’t afford to move them back to Florida. However, her offer and my subsequent return to Florida allowed me to receive the extended unemployment benefits.

tumblr_m4msyiX72n1rwf6i5o1_400Three months after arriving back in Florida I found a cute little completely furnished “seasonal rental” at a rental rate I could afford on the unemployment compensation I was receiving as my friend’s unemployed niece moved in a couple of months after I arrived and it made for cramped quarters for the three of us. And, I found the seasonal rental by calling an ad in the Yellow Pages for a real estate company who just happened to have a furnished apartment available at the time that they usually rented out as a “seasonal rental” during the winter months. I’ve now been living in it for just over three years while still seeking employment, and I couldn’t have found a more ideal living situation especially not knowing at the beginning when I rented it that I would still be living in it right up through today.

In May 2011, when I finally ran out of the 99 weeks of unemployment benefits, I still had just enough savings to keep me going for a few more months, and near the end of those few months when I still couldn’t find employment I had reached the “magic” age of 59 ½ and was able to access my small retirement account without paying an additional 10% penalty required for anyone taking money out of a retirement account before the age of 59 ½. And that retirement account is what has kept me financially afloat right up through today.

From a medical standpoint, I’ve been very fortunately to be in good health all of my life. I was able to keep Cobra health insurance for the first 15 months after I was fired at a significantly reduced rate due to being fired (the reduced rate was not available for anyone quitting a job but only to those who were “involuntarily terminated”). Fortunately, I only had to seek medical help once during that time for a minor infection. Once my Cobra insurance ran out at the end of July 2010 I’ve had no medical insurance since then. In October 2010 I did have to seek help for a situation that required an MRI in order to find out what was going on and since I had no medical insurance it was hard to find a doctor who would see me without a large upfront payment except for one doctor (in a very upscale office and location) who charged me a very minimal amount to be seen. He also helped me find a place where I could get an MRI for only $300 (an astoundingly low price for an MRI). The situation was such that over the next two or three months I healed normally and completely without any additional medical care. I was enormously grateful that God lead me to find that doctor.

And from a spiritual standpoint, if you’ve been reading my blog posts, you know that I went from a very lethargic spiritual life (that I didn’t even realize was lethargic) when I landed in Houston to experiencing a living, breathing, vital relationship with Jesus Christ that penetrates every area of my life, and that my whole life, and especially my view of the world, has opened up in ways I never could have imagined. Not only that, I’ve been on an adventure that I wouldn’t replace for the highest paying job in the world. And just in the past year I was able to make trips to Atlanta and Houston that I never dreamed I could have afforded as an unemployed person on a very tight budget.

Now, you may say that all of these things that have happened to me are just “coincidence,” but that’s like looking at a full color photograph and only seeing it in black and white, or experiencing a 3-D world in only two dimensions. If you want to believe that everything that happens in the realm of “miracles” is only “coincidence,” you can continue to live on that flat plain. However, I’ll take the mountains and the valleys of real life any day of the week because I do believe in miracles. And they happen all the time . . . .

Jesus was frustrated by an “unbelieving generation” and that’s obvious when he stated, “O unbelieving generation. How long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?” (Mark 9:19). And He says the same to us today.

Jesus told the father of the boy possessed by an evil spirit that “Everything is possible for him who believes” and “immediately the boy’s father explained, ‘I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!’” (Mark 9:23-24). And we need to respond in like manner. We can either choose to see life as a series of “coincidences” or as a life filled with miracles. So I go back to the question I posed when I started this blog post . . . .

Do you believe in miracles?

I do, and even though it’s been almost four years of waiting for that miracle to show up that will finally bring an end to this very long time of unemployment, I have seen and experienced firsthand God’s miracle provision for me all along my path.

Do I get frustrated waiting for that miracle to show up? Yes, I do, absolutely . . . but all I can think of is that it must be one heck of a great miracle up ahead after waiting all this time for it.

Coincidence? Are you kidding me?

No, I believe in miracles!!!

Do you?

YouTube Video: “I Guess The Lord Must Be In New York City,” sung by Sinead O’Conner:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

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