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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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Mercy Came Running

“In a world that desperately needs mercy we all seem more interested in seeking vengeance and protecting our egos and interests.” That quote is taken from a July 2016 article titled, Show Mercy,” by Ken Byler, speaker, coach, facilitator, and owner of Higher Ground Consulting Group, LLC, during the heat of the presidential election cycle here in America. The opening paragraph in Byler’s article states:

Mercy seems in short supply these days. By mercy I’m referring to compassion shown to an offender or compassionate treatment of those in distress. It’s hard not to pass judgment and even harder to forgive another when we have been wronged. When the person deserving of our mercy is an opponent, the idea of meeting their needs before our own feels awkward and unnecessary. (Quote source here.)

While Byler’s advice is written to business leaders, anyone can heed his advice. Byler states:

Business leaders [and the rest of us, too] can show mercy in a variety of small ways.

  • Be more patient. Find ways to tolerate the person who has annoying habits or tends not to share your sense of urgency or attention to details.
  • Offer help. Notice the people who seem distracted or emotionally vulnerable. They may be hurting because of personal issues and need your assistance.
  • Be kind. Instead of looking for ways to get even when someone offends you, practice kindness and offer forgiveness.
  • Do something good. Don’t wait for an invitation to do the right thing. Actively seek ways to right a wrong or give another person a second chance.
  • Build bridges. Everyone deserves opportunities, regardless of their circumstance. Look for ways to foster relationships with those who don’t have as many friends or who have caused you pain in the past.

Mercy is not dependent on performance; it does not blame or judge. There is plenty of inequity in our world but too few leaders willing to show mercy. Perhaps this is because most of us share a worldview of scarcity instead of abundance. We protect and withhold, especially if we have been the victim of injustice.

We cannot offer mercy until we accept that we are all loved and created to love others. In its purest form mercy is simply love put into action to make a difference in the world. What will you do to show mercy? (Quote source here.)

Byler makes a good point when he states that due in part to the inequity in our world too few leaders (and the rest of us, too) are willing to show mercy–that we tend to protect and withhold it, especially if we have been the victim of injustice. And if we have been the victim of injustice, to show mercy often requires forgiveness:

Mercy and forgiveness are two terms that can be used interchangeably in some contexts. However, these two terms have distinctive individual meanings. Mercy refers to the kind or forgiving treatment of someone who could be treated harshly. Forgiveness refers to letting go of the anger and resentment against a person. This is the main difference between mercy and forgiveness. (Quote source here.)

One other difference that needs to be pointed out is the difference between grace, which we hear about a lot in the Christian community (and it is the most crucial element within the Christian faith), and mercy, which often takes a distant second to grace (perhaps unintentionally). Both are briefly defined in this statement:

Grace (in Christian belief): the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings. There was nothing we can do to earn this salvation ourselves. Mercy: compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm. (Quote source here.)

In an article titled, Don’t Be Reluctant To Show Mercy,” by Rick Warren, founder and senior pastor of Saddleback Church, author, and global influencer, he states the following:

“When people sin, you should forgive and comfort them, so they won’t give up in despair.” 2 Corinthians 2:7 (CEV)

We all need mercy, because we all stumble and fall and require help getting back on track. We need to offer mercy to each other and be willing to receive it from each other.

You can’t have fellowship without forgiveness because bitterness and resentment always destroy fellowship. Sometimes we hurt each other intentionally and sometimes unintentionally, but either way, it takes massive amounts of mercy and grace to create and maintain fellowship.

The Bible says, “You must make allowance for each other’s faults and forgive the person who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others” (Colossians 3:13 NLT).

The mercy God shows to us is the motivation for us to show mercy to others. Whenever you’re hurt by someone, you have a choice to make:

Will I use my energy and emotions for retaliation or for resolution?

You can’t do both.

Many people are reluctant to show mercy because they don’t understand the difference between trust and forgiveness. Forgiveness is letting go of the past. Trust has to do with future behavior.

Forgiveness must be immediate, whether or not a person asks for it. Trust must be rebuilt over time.

Trust requires a track record. If someone hurts you repeatedly, you are commanded by God to forgive them instantly, but you are not expected to trust them immediately, and you are not expected to continue allowing them to hurt you. They must prove they have changed over time.

The best place to restore trust is within the supportive context of a small group that offers both encouragement and accountability. (Quote source here.)

One of the most daunting parables that Jesus spoke was the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant found in Matthew 18:21-25. While it might be easy for us at first glance to nod our head in agreement with the outcome for the unforgiving servant, we need to take a look at our own lives to see where we might be doing exactly the same thing only in a different context. Here is the parable from Matthew 18:21-25:

The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.

“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

The servant who was shown great mercy by his master could not or chose not to show mercy to his fellow servant who owed him a debt far less than the debt he owed his master–a large debt his master had forgiven him. Due to his inability to extend mercy to his fellow servant, when his master found out what he had done, in anger his master delivered him to the jailers until he had paid off his entire debt. The servant’s lack of mercy and compassion on his fellow servant landed that servant in jail and the mercy he had been given was completely cancelled out.

We might be tempted to say we would never do such a thing but, in fact, in other ways, our attitude towards others is often the same. One of the most common ways we use to get our way or get back at someone for some perceived slight especially in our society is through passive/aggressive behavior. In today’s society (including church culture) we don’t view this behavior (or even admit to doing it) as sin or something our “Master” (God) would hold against us. When we use passive/aggressive behavior on someone we are doing what the original servant in the story did to his fellow servant–we are showing no mercy or compassion towards that person.

In an article in Psychology Today titled, 7 Reasons Why People Use Passive/Aggressive Behavior: Why passive aggression thrives in families, schools and offices,” by Signe Whitson, L.S.W., she states:

Frustrating. Confounding. Relationship-damaging. Effective. Passive aggressive behavior is all of these things…and more. It is a deliberate and masked way of expressing covert feelings of anger that occurs among both men and women, in all civilized cultures and at every socioeconomic level. Why is this dysfunctional behavior so widespread? This article details seven reasons why passive aggressive behavior thrives in families, schools, relationships, and the workplace.

1. Anger is Socially Unacceptable

Anger is a normal, natural human emotion. It is, in fact, one of the most basic of all human experiences. Yet from a very young age, many of us are bombarded with the message that anger is bad. During a period in our emotional development when we are highly susceptible to social pressure from parents, caregivers, and teachers, we learn that to be “good” we must squash honest self-expression and hide angry feelings.

2. Sugarcoated Hostility is Socially Acceptable

When people learn that they cannot express anger openly, honestly, and directly within relationships, the emotion doesn’t just go away. Rather, many of us learn to express it in alternative, covert, socially acceptable ways, often through passive aggressive behaviors.

3. Passive Aggression is Easier than Assertiveness

In this day and age of common core, standardized tests, and Race to the Top, social skills instruction is often edged out of a young person’s formal education. Yet study after study shows that specific instruction in such “soft” skills as assertiveness, emotion management, and relationship building are as essential to a young person’s development as any “hard core” math and reading skills.

Kids are not born knowing how to communicate their feelings in direct, emotionally honest ways; rather, assertiveness is a skill that needs to be taught and is best mastered though repetition. On the other hand, passive aggressive behaviors such as sulking, emotional withdrawal, and indirect communication are much more the mark of immature, untamed emotional expression.

4. Passive Aggression is Easily Rationalized

A young girl doesn’t feel like cleaning her room. When her parents insist, she pouts first, procrastinates second, and then shoves all of her earthly possessions under her bed. When her father becomes irritated by her behavior, she feigns indignation: “I don’t know why you’re so upset. I was going to do it as soon as I finished my homework.” When her mother shows exasperation at the alarming pile of dirty clothing peeking out from below her comforter, she plays the victim: “Nothing I do is ever good enough for you, Mom. You just want me to be perfect!” With both parents, the girl rationalizes her string of compliantly defiant behavior, casting herself in the role of victim and blaming her parents’ “unreasonable” demands and standards as the real problem.

5. Revenge is Sweet

Passive aggression involves a variety of behaviors designed to “get back” at another person without the other recognizing the underlying anger. Jason feels overworked and under-acknowledged in the office. He calls out sick on two consecutive days, thereby missing a key deadline that sabotages his department’s productivity and ultimately reflects poorly on his boss. The boss is overlooked for a promotion; Jason’s mission is accomplished.

As in this example, passive aggression is often a crime of omission; it is what Jason did not do that indirectly caused a major problem for the target of his unarticulated anger. Because it can be difficult to “catch in the act” and often impossible to discipline according to standard HR protocols, passive aggressive behavior often exists as the perfect office crime.

6. Passive Aggressive Behavior is Convenient

Not everyone who uses passive aggressive behavior is a passive aggressive person. For example, a husband who typically communicates directly and honestly with his wife may not have the wherewithal on a particular weekend day to say “no” to her request to fix a leaky faucet, so he promises to do it while making endless excuses to put off the task. The man is not passive aggressive across the board, but on this day when relaxing and avoiding a fight with his wife are his top priorities, he chooses passive aggression as a convenient behavior of choice.

7. Passive Aggression can be Powerful

By denying feelings of anger, withdrawing from direct communication, casting themselves in the role of victim, and sabotaging others’ success, passive aggressive persons create feelings in others of being on an emotional roller coaster. Through intentional inefficiency, procrastination, allowing problems to escalate, and exacting hidden revenge, the passive aggressive individual gets others to act out their hidden anger for them. This ability to control someone else’s emotional response makes the passive aggressive person feel powerful. He/she becomes the puppeteer—the master of someone else’s universe and the controller of their behavior.

In the short term, passive aggressive behaviors can be more convenient than confrontation and generally require less skill than assertiveness. They allow a person to exact revenge from behind the safety of plausible excuses and to sit on the sofa all weekend long rather than complete a list of undesirable chores. So, what’s not to love? Truth be told, while momentarily satisfying or briefly convenient, in the long run, passive aggressive behavior is even more destructive to interpersonal relationships than aggression. Over time, virtually all relationships with a person who is passive aggressive become confusing, destructive and dysfunctional. (Quote source here.)

Passive aggressive behavior is just one of the ways we use to “exact revenge” on our “fellow servants” to get what we want without showing any mercy whatsoever. And that is a very dangerous position to be in (as in showing no mercy to others in whatever way we choose to do it or whatever reason we give for doing it) as the original servant in the parable found out too late.

As the expression goes, we may be able to fool others but we cannot fool God (see Galatians 6:7-8). This is not said to try to keep anyone “in line,” but rather to remind us that there are consequences for our actions.

So what’s the solution? Repentance. In the words to the chorus of the song, Mercy Came Running,” sung by Phillips, Craig & Dean (YouTube video below), “Mercy came running like a prisoner set free. Past all my failures to the point of my need. When the sin that I carried was all I could see . . .

And when I could not reach mercy . . .

Mercy came running . . .

To me . . . .

YouTube Video: “Mercy Came Running” by Phillips, Craig & Dean:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Pick Up The Pieces

When I was a kid several decades ago, we used to play a game called “Jacks.” I loved that game, but I haven’t played it in many years. It’s played with a small rubber ball and a set of ten jacks. And it’s not as easy as it looks, either. I found the instructions on how to play “Jacks” on GrandParents.com:

How To Play Jacks

Bounce the ball, pick up the jacks. Sound easy? It’s not.

By Zachary Collinger

Requires:
At least 2 people, but more people make for more fun
A small rubber ball
A set of jacks (most sets contain ten jacks)

Game Play:
To decide who goes first, use a method of “flipping”; place the jacks in cupped hands, flip them to the back of the hands, then back to cupped hands. The player who holds the most jacks goes first. That player scatters the jacks into the playing area with a throw from one hand. A game is divided into rounds of ascending numbers, which are based on the number of jacks each player must pick up per throw. The first round, “Onesies,” means that the player throws the ball in the air and picks up one jack then grabs the ball after it bounces once. The player must pick up all jacks this way without missing the jack or letting the ball bounce more than once. If that happens, it becomes the other player’s turn and the first player is back to the beginning of Onesies. If all the jacks are picked up successfully, the player moves on to Twosies (pick up 2 jacks per throw), then Threesies, and so on.

Objective:
The winning player is the one to pick up the largest number of jacks at once to get to the highest round.

What Doesn’t Kill You…
In some Southern African countries, there is a variation of this fun childhood game, called Death Jacks. Instead of playing with nubby metallic jacks, the pieces are sharp spikes that seriously injure the participants. The winner is not the person who reaches the highest level — rather it is he who lasts the longest before forfeiting. This game has been known to carry with it unusually high stakes; it is often used to determine the next tribe leader. (Quote source here.)

I have to be honest in that after I read that description, I had never heard of the version of Jacks called “Death Jacks.” That is a much more serious game and not for the faint of heart, either. The objective, as stated above, is that “the winner is not the person who reaches the highest level—rather it is he who lasts the longest before forfeiting.” And also as stated, it was often used to determine the next tribal leader.

The apostle Paul describes a similar situation when running a race in I Corinthians 9:24-30:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

Christianity over the long haul is not for the faint of heart, but neither are we alone in this race. Along with Paul’s words above, the writer of Hebrews 12:1-3 also starts off by describing it as a race:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses [see Hebrews 11], let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

With all that we have available in America today, I’m not sure we often recognize those things that “hinder” us. We too often and too easily give in to them and don’t even think about the fact that they might be a hindrance to us. If we want it, we get it (if we can afford it). And what, exactly, does it mean to “run with perseverance”? We run after a lot of stuff, but most of the stuff we run after is stuff we want in this material world of ours and has no lasting or eternal value. The verse actually states, “and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus . . .”

In our very material world today what exactly does it mean to “fix our eyes on Jesus”? Do we fix our eyes on Jesus hoping he’ll give us a great career and a big fat salary and a lot of perks? Do we fix our eyes on Jesus hoping he’ll give us name recognition among our peers and accolades for our accomplishments? Do we fix our eyes on Jesus hoping to have a nice retirement with plenty of cash to get by on in our golden years? Do we fix our eyes on Jesus for what we want instead of what he wants for us? If the race has already been “marked out for us” why do we insist on getting what we want without any thought for what Jesus wants? Why do we ask him to bless our endeavors instead of asking him to show us what he would have us do with our lives? I’m not saying it is wrong to ask Jesus to bless us in the things that we do, but what do we do in return? Just ask for more? Do we ever consider what he wants for us?

Our Christianity in America tends to be too “us” centered. We might persevere if it will mean more money in our pocket, a bigger home, and fancier car, even a modicum of fame, but would we consider persevering when there is nothing personally in it for us as far as fame, fortune, and “the good life”?

James speaks to the subject of perseverance in James 1:2-18:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business.

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.

We all face trials in this life. While nobody likes experiencing trials, it’s the testing of our faith in the midst of these trials that produces perseverance. And that perseverance has nothing to do with the material world, but instead it makes one mature and complete. This life is not about who dies with the most toys, the biggest bank account, with name recognition or accolades. It’s about being faithful to the end and “fixing our eyes on Jesus.”

With that in mind, I think it is important that we address the subject of materialism since it has such a hold on most of us living in America (whether we have a little or a lot). GotQuestions.org addresses the subject of materialism:

Materialism is defined as “the preoccupation with material things rather than intellectual or spiritual things.” If a Christian is preoccupied with material things, it is definitely wrong. That is not to say we cannot have material things, but the obsession with acquiring and caring for “stuff” is a dangerous thing for the Christian, for two reasons.

First, any preoccupation, obsession or fascination with anything other than God is sinful and is displeasing to God. We are to “love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5), which is, according to Jesus, the first and greatest commandment (Matthew 22:37-38). Therefore, God is the only thing we can (and should) occupy ourselves with habitually. He alone is worthy of our complete attention, love and service. To offer these things to anything, or anyone else is idolatry.

Second, when we concern ourselves with the material world, we are easily drawn in by the “deceitfulness of wealth” (Mark 4:19), thinking that we will be happy or fulfilled or content if only we had more of whatever it is we are chasing. This is a lie from the father of lies, Satan. He wants us to be chasing after something he knows will never satisfy us so we will be kept from pursuing that which is the only thing that can satisfy—God Himself. Luke 16:13 tells us we “cannot serve both God and money.” We must seek to be content with what we have, and materialism is the exact opposite of that contentment. It causes us to strive for more and more and more, all the while telling us that this will be the answer to all our needs and dreams. The Bible tells us that a person’s “life is not in the abundance of the things which he possesses” (Luke 12:15) and that we are to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33).

If materialism was ever to satisfy anyone, it would have been Solomon, the richest king the world has ever known. He had absolutely everything and had more of it than anyone, and yet he found it was all worthless and futile. It did not produce happiness or the satisfaction our souls long for. He declared, “Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income” (Ecclesiastes 5:10). In the end, Solomon came to the conclusion that we are to “fear God, and keep His commandments. For this is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). (Quote source here.)

The writer of Hebrews, in his concluding exhortation in Chapter 13, states the following in verses 5:

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,

“Never will I leave you;
    never will I forsake you.”

And also what Paul stated to Timothy in I Timothy 6:10:

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

If we would only learn to keep our lives free from the love of money. . . .

In closing, the titled of this post, Pick Up The Pieces,” came from a jazz instrumental song that was popular back in 1974 played by the Average White Band (I’ve included the song below as the YouTube Video for this post). When I thought about the title, what came to mind was how I wished we would do more “picking up the pieces” of an authentic Christianity sans so much of the focus on materialism and prosperity, and put the emphasis back where it belongs . . .

On the One . . .

We claim . . .

To believe in . . . .

YouTube Video: “Pick Up The Pieces” (1974), a jazz instrumental by the Average White Band:

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

Tu B’Av 5777 (2017)

Following on the heels of the Jewish National Day of Mourning, Tisha B’Av, the 9th of Av on the Jewish calendar, is a festive celebration known at Tu B’Av (the 15th of Av), a Jewish mini-holiday. It can be compared to our Valentine’s Day” that we celebrate every year on February 14th as it is a celebration of love. This year Tu B’Av starts at sundown on August 6th and ends at sundown on August 7th. Chabad.org describes Tu B’Av as follows:

The 15th of Av is undoubtedly a most mysterious day. A search of the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) reveals no observances or customs for this date, except for the instruction that the “tachanun” (confession of sins) and similar portions should be omitted from the daily prayers (as is the case with all festive dates), and that one should increase one’s study of Torah, since the nights are beginning to grow longer, and “the night was created for study.” And the Talmud tells us that many years ago the “daughters of Jerusalem would go dance in the vineyards” on the 15th of Av, and “whoever did not have a wife would go there” to find himself a bride.

And the Talmud considers this the greatest festival of the year, with Yom Kippur (!) a close second!

Indeed, the 15th of Av cannot but be a mystery. As the “full moon” of the tragic month of Av, it is the festival of the future redemption, and thus a day whose essence, by definition, is unknowable to our unredeemed selves.

Yet also the unknowable is also ours to seek and explore. (Quote source here.)

Aish.com gives us further information on the meaning of Tu B’Av:

The Mishnah tells us that: “No days were as festive for Israel as the 15th of Av and Yom Kippur.” (Tractate Ta’anit) What is Tu B’Av, the 15th of the Hebrew month of Av? In which way is it equivalent to Yom Kippur?

Our Sages explain: Yom Kippur symbolizes God’s forgiving Israel for the sin of the Golden Calf in the desert, for it was on that day that He finally accepted Moses’ plea for forgiveness of the nation, and on that same day Moses came down from the mountain with the new set of tablets.

Just as Yom Kippur symbolizes the atonement for the sin of the Golden Calf, Tu B’Av signifies the atonement for the sin of the Spies, where ten spies came bearing such negative reports which reduced the entire nation to panic. As a result of that sin, it was decreed by God that the nation would remain in the desert for 40 years, and that no person 20 or older would be allowed to enter Israel. On each Tisha B’Av of those 40 years, those who had reached the age of 60 that year died – 15,000 each Tisha B’Av.

This plague finally ended on Tu B’Av.

Six positive events occurred on Tu B’Av:

Event #1 – As noted above, the plague that had accompanied the Jews in the desert for 40 years ended. That last year, the last 15,000 people got ready to die. God, in His mercy, decided not to have that last group die, considering all the troubles they had gone through. Now, when the ninth of Av approached, all the members of the group got ready to die, but nothing happened. They then decided that they might have been wrong about the date, so they waited another day, and another…

Finally on the 15th of Av, when the full moon appeared, they realized definitely that the ninth of Av had come and gone, and that they were still alive. Then it was clear to them that God’s decree was over, and that He had finally forgiven the people for the sin of the Spies.

This is what was meant by our Sages when they said: “No days were as festive for Israel as the 15th of Av and Yom Kippur,” for there is no greater joy than having one’s sins forgiven – on Yom Kippur for the sin of the Golden Calf and on Tu B’Av for the sin of the spies. In the Book of Judges, Tu B’Av is referred to as a holiday (Judges 21:19).

In addition to this noteworthy event, five other events occurred on Tu B’Av:

Events #2 and 3 – Following the case of the daughters of Zelophehad (see Numbers 36), daughters who inherited from their father when there were no sons were forbidden to marry someone from a different tribe, so that land would not pass from one tribe to another. Generations later, after the story of the “Concubine of Giv’ah” (see Judges 19-21), the Children of Israel swore not to allow their daughters to marry anyone from the tribe of Benjamin. This posed a threat of annihilation to the tribe of Benjamin.

Each of these prohibitions were lifted on Tu B’Av. The people realized that if they kept to their prohibition, one of the 12 tribes might totally disappear. As to the oath that had been sworn, they pointed out that it only affected the generation that had taken the oath, and not subsequent generations. The same was applied to the prohibition of heiresses marrying outside their own tribe: this rule was applied only to the generation that had conquered and divided up the land under Joshua, but not future generations. This was the first expression of the merging of all the tribes, and was a cause for rejoicing. In the Book of Judges it is referred to as “a festival to the Lord.”

Over the generations, this day was described in Tractate Ta’anit as a day devoted to betrothals, so that new Jewish families would emerge.

Event #4 – After Jeroboam split off the kingdom of Israel with its ten tribes from the kingdom of Judea, he posted guards along all the roads leading to Jerusalem, to prevent his people from going up to the Holy City for the pilgrimage festivals, for he feared that such pilgrimages might undermine his authority. As a “substitute,” he set up places of worship which were purely idolatrous, in Dan and Beth-el. Thus the division between the two kingdoms became a fait accompli and lasted for generations.

The last king of the kingdom of Israel, Hosea ben Elah, wished to heal the breach, and removed all the guards from the roads leading to Jerusalem, thus allowing his people to make the pilgrimage again. This act took place on Tu B’Av.

Event #5 – At the beginning of the Second Temple period, the Land of Israel lay almost totally waste, and the wood needed to burn the sacrifices and for the eternal flame that had to burn on the altar was almost impossible to obtain. Each year a number of brave people volunteered to bring the wood needed from afar – a trip which was dangerous in the extreme.

Now, not just every wood could be brought. Wood which was wormy was not permitted. And dampness and cold are ideal conditions for the breeding of worms in wood. As a result, all the wood that would be needed until the following summer had to be collected before the cold set in. The last day that wood was brought in for storage over the winter months was Tu B’Av, and it was a festive occasion each year when the quota needed was filled by that day.

Event #6 – Long after the event, the Romans finally permitted the bodies of those who had been killed in the defense of Betar (in the Bar Kochba revolt) to be buried. This was a double miracle, in that, first, the Romans finally gave permission for the burial, and, second, in spite of the long period of time that had elapsed, the bodies had not decomposed. The permission was granted on Tu B’Av.

In gratitude for this double miracle, the fourth and last blessing of the Grace After Meals was added, which thanks God as “He Who is good and does good.” “He is good” – in that the bodies had not decomposed, “and does good” – in that permission was given for the burial.

To this day, we celebrate Tu B’Av as a minor festival. We do not say Tachanun on that day, nor are eulogies rendered. By the same token, if a couple are getting married on that day (and, as we will see below, it is the custom for the bride and groom to fast on their wedding day), neither fasts.

Beginning with Tu B’Av, we start preparing ourselves spiritually for the month of Elul, the prologue to the coming Days of Awe [the ten days starting with Rosh Hashanah and ending with Yom Kippur]. The days begin to get shorter, the nights get longer. The weather, too, helps us to take spiritual stock: the hectic days of the harvest are over for the farmer, and the pace has slowed down considerably. Even on a physical level, the heat of the summer makes it hard to sit down and think things out, and now that the days and nights are cooler, it is easier to examine one’s actions.

In earlier times, it was the custom already from Tu B’Av to use as one’s greeting “May your inscription and seal be for good” (ketiva vahatima tova), the same blessing that we today use on Rosh Hashana. Those who work out the gematria values of different expressions found that phrase adds up to 928 – and so does the words for “15th of Av.” (Quote source here.)

In a 2016 article titled, 8 Quirkiest Facts About Tu B’Av–the Jewish Valentine’s Day You Never Heard of,” by Josefin Dolsten, she states the following:

Tu B’Av is the quirky Jewish older brother of Valentine’s Day.

Here’s what you need to know about this ancient day of love:

This romantic holiday used to be the Second Temple period version of a singles mixer. Jewish women would go dancing in the vineyards, according to the Talmud, and unmarried men would go to the fields to pick out a wife.

  1. The women would wear white dresses that they had borrowed, so that no one would be embarrassed if she didn’t own the proper garments.
  2. Women would also go dancing on Yom Kippur, and the Talmud ranks the two holidays as the happiest days for the Jewish people for this reason.
  3. On Tu B’Av day women and men from the different tribes of Israel could ignore earlier prohibitions against intermarriage, according to the Talmud.
  4. The holiday’s Hebrew name simply translates to the date: the 15th of the month of Av. “Tu” is short for the Hebrew letters Tet (which represents “nine” in Hebrew numerals) and Vav (which represents “six”), adding up to the number 15.
  5. The day is celebrated in Israel, much like Valentine’s Day in the United States, with flowers, romantic dinner dates and evening soirées. It is considered to be a good date for a wedding.
  6. From the end of the Second Temple era until the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, it was only commemorated by the omission of “Tachanun,” a penitential prayer included in the weekday morning and afternoon services. It’s not clear why the holiday was revived by Israelis.
  7. Lovers taking an evening stroll outside can enjoy nature’s mood lighting, since the holiday falls on an evening with a full moon. (Quote source here.)

One final note on Tu B’Av comes from an article titled, Celebrating Romantic Love: Tu B’Av carries an important message for modern relationship,” by Susan Silverman on MyJewishLearning.com:

The walls of Jerusalem historically been a source of inspiration for romance and love. Thousands of years before anyone heard of Saint Valentine or Sadie Hawkins, the Jewish people created a Jerusalem-centered love festival for couples. This custom is quite in keeping with the sensuous poetry of the Song of Songs, canonized in the Hebrew Scriptures.

In the glow of a full summer moon, young women, robed in white, would dance in the fields outside the walls of Jerusalem. The men would follow in hopes of finding a bride. This ancient Jewish love festival is called Tu B’Av because it was celebrated on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Av (the Hebrew letters for “Tu” equal the number 15). Coming one week after Tisha B’Av, the saddest day of the Jewish year, Tu B’Av is celebrated outside of the walls of the city, away from the Temple Mount, the site of destruction [a brief historynoted above in another articleis stated at this link]. . . .

Tu B’Av, like Yom Kippur, is about introspection and new beginnings concerning our relationships and personal values. How courting was done is indicative of this view. The young girls borrowed white dresses so that the young men could not choose among them according to materialistic concerns. The Talmud teaches that women set the rules; the women admonish their suitors to pick not according to beauty, but by the good name of the women’s families and by their fear of God. Today we live in a world that is status and fashion conscious, a world of beauty pageants and beauty ideals set by television and movies, and some synagogues are even described as “meat markets” where one goes to look over the unmarried merchandise.

Tu B’Av tells us to look beneath the surface when looking for (or at) a life partner, just as Yom Kippur forces us to look deep into ourselves before God grants us life anew. Like Yom Kippur, Tu B’Av is a time for reflection and introspection. But instead of being an individual process, it is a mutual, shared experience between two people.

Tu B’Av is a great day for weddings, commitment ceremonies, renewal of vows, or proposing. It is a day for enhancing current relationships or defining anew what you are looking for in a partner. It is a day for romance, explored through singing, dancing, giving flowers, and studying. (Quote source here.)

As stated on Chabad.org, Tu B’Av is “a day of love and rebirth.” And as stated above, it is a day for enhancing current relationships or defining anew what we are looking for in a partner (for those of us who are looking). It is a day for singing, dancing, and giving flowers. And it is a day for love . . . .

Faith, hope and love . . .

And the greatest of these . . .

Is love . . . .

YouTube Video: “Testify to Love” by Avalon:

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

Tisha B’Av 5777 (2017)

Today, August 1, 2017, is Tisha B’Av (the 9th of Av) on the Jewish calendar. It started at sundown yesterday and ends at nightfall this evening. I first wrote about it in 2012, and subsequently reposted that blog post in 2013, 2014, and 2015; and I’ve decided to repost it again today (see below). It is customary to read from the books of Lamentations and Job in the Old Testament on this day known as an official day of mourning and fasting due to a series of catastrophes that occurred on this same day over a period of centuries including the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem.

Here are a few verses from Lamentations to get us started (Lamentations 3:22-26, NIV):

Because of the Lord’s great love
we are not consumed,

for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”

The Lord is good to those
whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him;
it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.

Below is my original blog post from 2012 (Tisha B’Av and 9/11):

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Tisha B’Av and 9/11

Posted on July 29, 2012 by Sara’s Musings

tisha-bav-the-jewish-911-yeshuatyisrael-comToday is Tisha B’Av, the 9th day of the month of Av on the Jewish calendar. It started at sundown yesterday and ends at nightfall tonight (which is the typical start and end of each day on the Jewish calendar). However, this particular day has powerful significance for the Jewish people and it is known as a day of mourning due to a series of severe catastrophes that occurred on this same day over a period of centuries.

Being a Gentile (non-Jewish), I haven’t given much thought to the Jewish calendar over the years in relation to our own calendar. However, in June, I stumbled upon some interesting facts regarding the Jewish calendar and came upon information about Tisha B’Av and the three weeks prior to that day–a time frame observed by religious Jews as a time of fasting, mourning and repentance that starts on the 17th day of Tammuz and leads up to the official day of mourning, the 9th of AvTisha B’Av.

So what exactly happened on Tisha B’Av? The following information is taken from Chabad.org:

The 9th of Av, Tisha b’Av, commemorates a list of catastrophes so severe it’s clearly a day specially cursed by G‑d.

Picture this: The year is 1313 BCE. The Israelites are in the desert, recently having experienced the miraculous Exodus, and are now poised to enter the Promised Land. But first they dispatch a reconnaissance mission to assist in formulating a prudent battle strategy. The spies return on the eighth day of Av and report that the land is unconquerable. That night, the 9th of Av, the people cry. They insist that they’d rather go back to Egypt than be slaughtered by the Canaanites. G‑d is highly displeased by this public demonstration of distrust in His power, and consequently that generation of Israelites never enters the Holy Land. Only their children have that privilege, after wandering in the desert for another 38 years.

The First Temple was also destroyed on the 9th of Av (423 BCE). Five centuries later (in 69 CE), as the Romans drew closer to the Second Temple, ready to torch it, the Jews were shocked to realize that their Second Temple was destroyed the same day as the first.

When the Jews rebelled against Roman rule, they believed that their leader, Simon bar Kochba, would fulfill their messianic longings. But their hopes were cruelly dashed in 133 CE as the Jewish rebels were brutally butchered in the final battle at Betar. The date of the massacre? Of course—the 9th of Av!

One year after their conquest of Betar, the Romans plowed over the Temple Mount, our nation’s holiest site.

The Jews were expelled from England in 1290 CE on, you guessed it, Tisha b’Av. In 1492, the Golden Age of Spain came to a close when Queen Isabella and her husband Ferdinand ordered that the Jews be banished from the land. The edict of expulsion was signed on March 31, 1492, and the Jews were given exactly four months to put their affairs in order and leave the country. The Hebrew date on which no Jew was allowed any longer to remain in the land where he had enjoyed welcome and prosperity? Oh, by now you know it—the 9th of Av.

Ready for just one more? World War II and the Holocaust, historians conclude, was actually the long drawn-out conclusion of World War I that began in 1914. And yes, amazingly enough, Germany declared war on Russia, effectively catapulting the First World War into motion, on the 9th of Av, Tisha b’Av.

What do you make of all this? Jews see this as another confirmation of the deeply held conviction that history isn’t haphazard; events – even terrible ones – are part of a Divine plan and have spiritual meaning. The message of time is that everything has a rational purpose, even though we don’t understand it.

I was stunned after I read that list and realized that every single horrific event listed above that occurred over several centuries happened on the exact same day–the 9th of Av,Tisha B’Av. I found a “reader” (a small collection of articles) on “Tisha B’Av and the Three Weeks” at Aish.com and downloaded it last night and read it this morning. As I was reading through the incredibly moving stories, the similarities that the Jewish people feel regarding the catastrophes that have happened to them on Tisha B’Av are not dissimilar to how Americans feel about what happened to us on 9/11Tisha B’Av is primarily about mourning the loss of the Temple (twice), where God’s presence dwelt among the Jewish people in the Old Testament. It was the pulling away of God from His people and His presence in their lives. Normally, during Tisha B’Av the Book of Lamentations is read as well as other readings which “reflect the sadness of the tragedies and often relate the tragedies to rebellion of the people. However some of the Kinot [readings] reflect the hope of redemption” (Source link no longer available at website).

The following two quotes are from two articles in the reader which you can download at this site: Tisha B’Av Reader. The first quote is from an article titled, “The Heart-Rending Cry” by Keren Gottleib, pp. 4-7:

“I understood that this [the mourning mentioned in her article] was exactly how we are supposed to mourn the Temple on Tisha B’Av. We are supposed to cry over the loss of the unity and peace throughout the entire world. We are supposed to lament the disappearance of the Divine Presence and holiness from our lives in Israel. We are supposed to be pained by the destruction of our spiritual center, which served to unify the entire Jewish nation.

“We’re supposed to feel as if something very precious has been taken away from us forever. We are meant to cry, to be shocked and angry, to break down. We are supposed to  mourn over the destruction of the Temple, to cry over a magnificent era that has been uprooted from the face of the earth. The incredible closeness that we had with God–that feeling that He is truly within us–has evaporated and disappeared into thin air” (p. 7).

As I read that article I was struck by that last sentence, “The incredible closeness that we had with God–that feeling that He is truly within us–has evaporated and disappeared into thin air.” After America’s own catastrophe, 9/11, we pulled together (and filled the churches) and were united once again as a nation unlike anything we had experienced in recent decades since the war in Vietnam that divided our nation; however, it didn’t take long for most Americans to get back to living their own individual lives again although every time we go through security to board an airplane it should serve to remind us of the horror of that terrorist attack instead of as an inconvenience that takes too long to navigate. And, after the initial shock of 9/11 dimmed, we put God back on the shelf, too, except maybe on Sunday morning.

The second quote is from an article titled, “On the Same Team,” by Dov Moshe Lipman, pp.7-9:

“Perhaps each time God puts us through another round of suffering, His proclamation of ‘Again,’ He is waiting for us to stop identifying ourselves as an individual Jew coming from his separate background and upbringing. ‘I’m modern Orthodox.’ ‘I’m Reform.’ ‘I’m a Hasid.’ ‘I’m secular.’ ‘I’m Conservative.’ ‘I’m yeshivishe.’

“Those characterizations polarize the nation and make it impossible for us to function together as one team. As individual groups, we cannot accomplish what we can accomplish as one team. We are held back by that same baseless hatred which creeps in when we are not one unit.

“Perhaps God is waiting for all of us to proclaim in unison, ‘I am a Jew.’ Plain and simple.

“Even more importantly, perhaps God is waiting for us to stop seeing others as ‘He’s modern Orthodox.’ ‘He’s Reform.’ ‘He’s a Hasid.’ ‘He’s Secular.’ ‘He’s Conservative.’ ‘He’s Yeshivishe.’

“Perhaps the answer to our suffering and long exile is reaching the point where we see other Jews as members of the same team and family. Jews and nothing else.” (pp. 8-9).

As I read those words, it became crystal clear that we as Christians in America do the same thing. We put each other in categories–‘Baptist.’ ‘Charismatic.’ ‘Methodist.’ ‘Pentecostal.’ ‘Anglican.’ And the list goes on and on. . . . Yet we all claim to serve the same God through Jesus Christ. We fight among ourselves in a sort of “our church is better than yours” self-righteousness instead of working together, united in Jesus Christ. No wonder our nation is falling apart. We have forgotten what true repentance is and what it requires of us, and we’ve forgotten that if Jesus Christ is truly our Savior and Lord, that we are all on the same team.

Another anniversary of the horrific catastrophe of 9/11 will soon be here. Will we continue to be “one nation divided or “one nation united under God”? Do we want to see God’s blessing on our nation again, or will we continue on a path that brings only division and strife, and ultimately, destruction?

The choice is ours, and we need to start making it now . . . (Reposted from 2012 blog post titled, Tisha B’Av and 9/11)

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Some additional information on Tisha B’Av in the United States is taken from TimeandDate.com:

Many Jewish Americans observe Tisha B’Av, which is the ninth day of the month of Av in the Jewish calendar. It is a day of mourning to remember various events such as the destruction of the First Temple and Second Temple in Jerusalem. When Tisha B’Av falls on Shabbat (Saturday), it is deferred to Sunday, 10th of Av.

Many Jewish people in the United States observe various restrictions during Tisha B’Av. These restrictions may include:

  • Fasting.
  • Avoiding washing, bathing, shaving or wearing cosmetics.
  • Not wearing leather shoes.
  • Avoiding certain types of work.
  • Abstaining from sexual activities.

Many traditional mourning practices are observed, such as refraining from smiling and laughing. Those who observe Tisha B’Av are allowed to study only certain portions of the Torah and Talmud on Tisha B’Av. The book of Lamentations is read and mourning prayers are recited in the synagogue. The ark (cabinet where the Torah is kept) is draped in black.

Some universities or learning centers give those who observe Tisha B’Av the chance to sit exams at other dates, on the proviso that certain requirements are met. Some Jewish centers offer a program for observing Tisha B’Av. People who are sick are exempted from fasting on the day.

Tisha B’Av is not a federal public holiday in the United States. However, some Jewish organizations may be closed or have restricted opening hours.

Tisha B’Av, also known as the Jewish Fast of Av, is a period of fasting, lamentation and prayer to remember the destruction of the First and Second Temples of Jerusalem. The Jewish people still continued the fast day even after they rebuilt the First Temple after the Babylonians destroyed it in 586 BCE. The Romans destroyed the Second Temple by burning it in 70 CE and this marked the start of a long exile period for Jewish people. These are two of five sad events or calamities that occurred on the ninth day of the month of Av. The other three [mentioned above in the previous blog post from 2012] were when:

  • Ten of the 12 scouts sent by Moses to Canaan gave negative reports of the area, leading to the Israelites’ despair.
  • The Romans captured the fortress city of Beitar, the last stronghold of the leaders of the Bar Kochba revolt, and thousands of Jewish people, including Bar Kokhba (or Kochba), were massacred in 135 CE.
  • The city of Jerusalem was destroyed in 136 CE.

Tisha B’Av is a sad day that observes other major disasters and tragedies that Jewish people experienced throughout history, including the expulsion of the Jewish people from England in 1290 and from Spain in 1492, as well as the mass deportation of Jewish people from the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II.

Tisha B’Av begins at sunset on the previous day and lasts for more than 24 hours. It is the culmination of a three-week period of mourning. Weddings and other parties are generally not permitted and people refrain from cutting their hair during this period. It is customary to refrain from activities such as eating meat or drinking wine (except on the Shabbat) from the first to the ninth day of Av. (Quote source here.)

In Jerusalem today (August 1, 2017) the following article titled, More Than One Thousand Jews Visit Temple Mount on Tisha B’Av, Setting New Record,” by Nir Hasson, in Haaretz News states:

At least 1,046 Jews visited the Temple Mount on Tuesday, according to Jewish activists, setting a new record for most Jewish visitors in one day. Many more are expected to visit later in the afternoon.

Activists have been organizing a campaign in recent days aimed at encouraging Jews to visit the site on Tisha B’Av, following the recent tensions at the flashpoint holy site over the last two weeks. The fast day commemorates the anniversary of the destruction of the First and Second Temple, as well as several other disasters in Jewish history. The previous record in Jewish visitors to the site was during the most recent Jerusalem Day, marking the city’s reunification, when some 900 Jewish visitors entered the Temple Mount. (Quote source here.)

Another article in The Times of Israel” noted that a record number of over 1,300 Jews have visited the Temple Mount today (quote source here). Some additional information also published today in an article titled The Mystery of Why Jews Fast on Tisha B’Av,” by Elon Gilad, he states the following at the end of his article:

“The State of Israel marks Tisha B’Av eve by closing businesses. Programming on television and radio turns somber. But in contrast to Yom Kippur, most Israeli Jews do not observe the fast.” (Quote source here.)

In Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 we read:

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

And Tisha B’Av marks . . .

A time to weep . . .

And a time to mourn . . .

YouTube Video: Music is not played during the observance of Tisha B’Av; therefore, I have not included a YouTube video on this post.

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

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