Between Christmas and New Year’s Day

Well, now what? Christmas is over, and New Year’s Day is still a few days away. You might be one of the lucky ones who has gone on a vacation during this time, or traveled to visit relatives or friends. But what about the rest of us now that the build up to Christmas is over for yet another year? Some of you who work may have the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day off, and others who work are already back working (and some folks might have even worked on Christmas Day).

I usually keep any Christmas decorations up until at least New Year’s Day, but this year I decided to move on quickly, and as soon as I woke up this morning (the day after Christmas) I took all of my Christmas decorations down (not that I had a lot out as where I am living right now is a very small space and there isn’t much room to put decorations out). However, I’m ready to move on to the New Year.

My stepmother (she died in 2011) told me years ago that she never kept the Christmas cards that she received after Christmas was over. I’ve been known to keep mine for years, but a few years back I got rid of them. Recently, I’ve kept them for a few months (however, I never looked at them again after I received them before Christmas arrived). This morning, the day after Christmas, I decided to take my stepmother’s advice and I threw away the cards I received this year (I did keep any photos I received in the cards). After all, as I mentioned above, I live in a very small space and you’d be amazed at just how much space even paper items can take up. And since I was in the mood to “move on” now that Christmas is over for another year, I went through a couple of suitcases I keep stuff in, too, and threw out a bunch of stuff I had in them. Might as well get rid of the clutter before the New Year starts, right?

In case you might be wondering what to do between Christmas and New Year’s Day, and you’re not one of the lucky ones who have taken off on some exotic vacation somewhere (come to think of it, I’ve never been on a exotic vacation anywhere at any time in any given year), I ran across an article published on December 27, 2017, titled, 5 Things You Should Get Rid of Between Christmas and New Year’s Day,” by Clint Davis, a contributor on SimpleMost.com. Here are his suggestions:

If there was ever a time to declutter, the week after Christmas is it. After the big holiday, chances are your house is even more packed with stuff than it has been all year—not to mention all those empty boxes, cards and decorations that are rapidly looking out of season.

If you have any free time in the week before New Year’s Day, spend some of it gathering up the stuff you don’t need anymore. You’ll thank yourself come springtime.

Here are a few items you can easily ditch after Christmas to free up some space for those lovely new things you’ve received. And the best part? Many of these old items can be donated for someone else to love! That’s what Christmas is all about.

1. Winter Coats

Check your coat closet and I guarantee you’ll find at least a couple winter coats that nobody in your family has worn in the past year. The typical rule for decluttering is to get rid of two items for every new one you get, so if everyone in the house got a brand new winter coat for Christmas, gather up all those unused ones and get rid of them.

But don’t just throw them out. Find an organization to which you can donate those coats, like One Warm Coat or Goodwill, and make sure they go to people who need them during these cold months.

2. Boots And Other Shoes

Another thing many people get for Christmas is new footwear. Sort through your closets and donate any old shoes you don’t wear anymore. Chances are, someone out there would love to have those 2013 boots!

3. Toys

If you have kids, they probably got a bunch of new toys for Christmas. That means it’s time to round up the ones they’ve outgrown or don’t play with anymore and donate them so that other kids can love them. Organizations like Toys for Tots and others specialize in toy donations.

4. Boxes

If you’re a pack rat like me, you may think you need to keep all the boxes of the gifts you got this Christmas—but you probably don’t. I still have the box for a computer monitor I got in 2015 somewhere in my basement! Be sure to pull out any important paperwork and spare parts (after you’ve made sure the item works, of course) and toss those boxes in the trash.

5. Opened Wine

If you broke out the wine at your holiday party (which you should have!), you might have some half-finished bottles sitting around. Depending on the type of wine, and whether or not you re-corked it and stuck it in the refrigerator, you’ll have anywhere from two to five days for it to not taste nasty. Not gonna drink it? Either dump it out, make some cola-infused sangria or freeze it in an ice-cube tray for later cooking use.

If you like decluttering, it really can be the most wonderful time of the year! (Quote source here.)

In another article with almost the same title as the article above and published on December 22, 2017, titled, 5 Things You Should Do Between Christmas and New Year’s,” by Zoe Romanowsky, Lifestyle and Video Editor at Aleteia.org, she writes:

For starters, don’t take down the tree! This is a week for keeping the spirit alive…

The countdown to Christmas is on and there’s much to be done before the big day arrives. But besides collapsing in a heap with a glass of spiked eggnog the day after, what’s on your agenda between Christmas and New Year’s? Here are 5 things you should consider making part of your week…

Develop a Boxing Day tradition

The day after Christmas calls for a little down time, but it can also be a bit more special than that. In countries like England, Canada, Australia, and Ghana, the day after Christmas is a holiday called Boxing Day. Despite its name, it has nothing to do with punching anyone for getting you a bad gift. There are a number of stories that explain the tradition—one harkens back to when wealthier members of English society gave “Christmas boxes” containing gifts and money to servants and trades people as a reward for their service. Another story comes from the post-Christmas practice of churches collecting money in boxes to give to the poor. Regardless, Boxing Day can be a celebratory day in itself—visiting with relatives or neighbors, making a special lunch, caroling around the piano, a movie or games night—whatever you want. Even if you don’t want to call it Boxing Day, make the day after Christmas its own festive day.

Make some New Year’s resolutions

This is the week to make resolutions for the new year. If you’re all bah-humbug about the whole idea of resolutions because they’ve never worked in the past, try something new this year … try picking just one thing you want to accomplish or work on in 2018, or choose a theme, quote, or Scripture passage to guide your goals. This recent Aleteia article suggests you approach resolutions using the “snowball principle.” Whatever you do, let a brand new year be an opportunity for a fresh start.

Write thank-you cards (or for that matter, send your Christmas cards out!)

This week is usually a little slower than most so it’s a great time to sit down and write some thank-you cards for those lovely gifts you received — and to help your kids do the same. Keep it easy by buying note cards, or making some simple ones. There’s nothing like a hand-written thank-you that acknowledges a gift and wishes the recipient a happy new year!

Plan something special for New Year’s Day

Most people plan something for New Year’s Eve, and consider New Year’s Day a time of recovery. But New Year’s Day deserves its own place at the table. In the Christian calendar it’s a special day for celebrating the Blessed Virgin Mary. So, it’s a perfect day for special foods, an outing, a visit or phone call to mom, or just time at home relaxing by the tree and enjoying the company of loved ones.

Keep celebrating!
This is not the week to take down the tree, remove the decorations, and get back to life as usual. No, Christmas lasts more than one day! Depending on the calendar you follow, Christmas goes at least to Epiphany, which is Friday, January 6 this year. Plus, you’ve heard of the 12 days of Christmas, right? Even if you have to go right back to work after Christmas, and the rest of the world is quickly getting back to business as usual, hold on to the Christmas spirit by planning special meals and treats, playing Christmas music in the car, and holding a few gifts to open during Christmas week. Keep celebrating! (Quote source here.

A third article I found on the topic is titled, 5 Reasons Why The Week Between Christmas and New Year’s Eve is the Best Part of the Whole Year,” by Danielle Campoamor, an editor and columnist at Romper.com, published on December 28, 2015. She writes:

Say what you will about spring and its bright optimism and romance, or fall with its vibrant colors and pumpkin spice everything, but the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve is, by far, the best time of the year. Sure, summer has inviting warmth and long days, and winter has a [boat]load of holidays, but the last week of any year—when Christmas lights are still up and you’re still figuring out what to do on New Year’s Eve—is, without a doubt, the week of the year I look forward to the most.

Think about it: The stress of the holiday season is behind you. You are no longer mentally examining your “to-do” list and thinking about the gifts you have to wrap and the meals you have to prepare. You’re already used to the shorter days and the colder weather, so you’ve sufficiently equipped yourself with sweaters, scarves and warm (sometimes alcoholic) beverages. The parts of the year you would rather forget are dangerously close to being a distant memory, and the potential for a better year is just on the horizon.

And, believe it or not, it gets even better.

Here are just a few reasons why the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve is the best week of the year, so enjoy it, you guys! It will (at least seem) far too long before we experience these magical 7 days again.

Your House Is A Mess And It’s Totally Acceptable

There are small pieces of wrapping paper still on the floor and you keep stepping on those tiny plastic twist things that held toys to cardboard, but it’s OK because gift-induced disaster is allowed to linger. The dishes can wait and the vacuuming can be put off because, hey, you made it through the holidays and the memories are totally worth the mess, right? Right. Take a load off, friend. You deserve it.

You Can Slack Off At Work And Not Feel Bad

Let’s face it, everyone is on vacation anyway. There’s no reason to kill yourself at your job because, well, no one will notice either way! Why waste your A-game on a week when no one is paying attention? You don’t have to feel bad about not being at the top of your game or working as hard as you usually would, as “real work” doesn’t really begin until the new year anyway. So, if you think about it and you are working during this week of magic, consider it a paid holiday of sorts. No, you’re not spending your time on a beach, but you’re not necessarily “working” either.

You’re Possibly Still Spending Time With Friends And Family

Family and/or friend time doesn’t end when Christmas does. Maybe you traveled back home and are still around parents and siblings for a few more days. Or, maybe family members visited you for the holidays and they plan on spending a little more time with you before they leave. Either way, there’s an extra pair of hands to do dishes, cook meals, and run errands, on top of the happy family fun time and non-stop lame-but-amazing dad jokes.

Your Schedule is Wide Open

There’s really nothing concrete and immovable on the agenda between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, which means you are totally justified in sitting on your couch sans pants and watching everything Netflix has to offer, day after splendidly lazy day. You’ll have plenty of time to be busy next year, so enjoy this schedule-free time while you can, I say.

You Don’t Have to Cook

One word: leftovers. Your fridge is now filled with container after container of whatever delicious meal you (or your family) made for Christmas dinner, and there’s enough food in there to last you for a week. Not to mention cookies and pie and fudge? If the zombie apocalypse happened right this second, you’d be set. So enjoy this marvelous week of unapologetic laziness, you guys. We’ve all earned it (kinda, whatever). (Quote source here.)

And while I was looking for articles to include in this blog post, I ran across a 35-minute sermon given on December 27, 2015, titled, Christmas is Over Now What?” [click here for MP3 Audio download 48.8MB] given at Christ Street Fellowship, [the link is also available in their holidays message archives]. The sermon bulletin is available in PDF form at this link (802 KB). I listened to the 35-minute sermon and it is very good especially if you find yourself feeling a bit down right now or you don’t know what to do now that Christmas is over.

I hope you find these suggestions of what to do between Christmas and New Year’s Day entertaining, informative, and helpful, and the sermon at the end is excellent, too.

I’ll end this post with these words from an Irish blessingMay the road rise up to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face; the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again….

May God hold you . . .

In the palm . . .

Of His hand . . . .

YouTube Video: “Day After Christmas” by Matthew West:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

A True Love Story Never Ends

Christmas is definitely in the air and it is now only three days away. I was out and about with the crowds yesterday, and it was quite festive even if the traffic was massive especially around the malls. I lucked out twice by getting a fairly close parking spot, and I was happy to give it away to the next eager shopper when I left, too. Despite the crowds, everyone seems to be in a great mood. In fact, it spurred me on to think about a new blog post.

Journal cover pic

The idea for this post this morning actually came from two sources. The title of this post came from the cover of a journal full of blank pages ready to fill that I purchased three weeks ago, and the second spark came from a reading in a devotional book I just bought for 50% off a few days ago. Both are quite appropriate topics for Christmas and the coming New Year.

The devotional reading that I read this morning comes from a devotional book titled, Experience the Power of God’s Names: A Life-Giving Devotional” (2017), by Dr. Tony Evans, author, speaker, founder and senior pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship, and founder and president of The Urban Alternative. He has served as chaplain for the NFL‘s Dallas Cowboys, and he is currently the longest serving NBA chaplain serving the Dallas Mavericks for over 30 years (source here). His devotional book includes “many names of God revealing His characteristics and powerful promises to you as a believer. Each of these 85 devotions introduces you to one of God’s unique names and includes a key Scripture, practical application, and encouragement to help you in your everyday life” (quote source here).

The devotion I read this morning is found on pages 102-103 and it is focused on God’s name, Elohim Chasdi, which means “God of lovingkindness.” It opens with Nehemiah 9:17(b)–You are a God of forgiveness, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness; and You did not forsake them.” Here is that devotion:

I think everyone would agree that our world is in need of more love and more kindness, and while we should do our best to put others first and live for others, we also need to make God our focal point. That’s because He is Elohim Chasdi, God of lovingkindness, and if we are going to have any hope of changing our world, it’s going to be through the Lord.

The Bible tells us that God is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love. These aren’t just admirable attributes–they’re a recipe for how to live life in His image. And even if we do our utmost to live out these characteristics, we’re still going to slip up. People are still going to disappoint us. And we’re going to disappoint ourselves. But if we focus on His lovingkindness, we’ll be inspired to show more love and more kindness, which can be contagious in a very good way.

In a world of anger and retaliation and negativity, it can be challenging to see where God is and understand what He’s doing. But He is always operating in the midst of it all, filling us with the strength of His lovingkindness each day.

More love. More kindness. the Lord’s lovingkindness endures forever, and when we turn to Him in faith, we’ll be equipped to change our world. (Quote source, “Experience the Power of God’s Names, pp. 102-103.)

More love. More kindness. Yes, the world can use a lot more of both, and not just from others… but also from us. I ran across a short blog post titled, The Apologetic of Love,” by Preston Sprinkle, Ph.D., a New York Times bestselling author, speaker, professor, blogger at Grace/Truth 2.0, and previously Vice President for Eternity Bible College’s Boise extension. He opens his post with these words from Jesus found in John 17:21 (NLT)–“I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.” Here is what he wrote in his post published on The Dietrich Bonhoeffer Institute:

When I was in seminary, my professors taught me how to defend the faith. I learned how to navigate questions about the apparent contradictions in the Bible and how to respond to scientific and historical problems related to the Christian faith. I became skilled at proving Jesus’s resurrection and the superiority of the Christian worldview over other religious views. I studied the history of the Bible and could prove that it was true. I became an apologist—a defender of the Christian faith.

Over the years I’ve found that my analytical arguments don’t carry as much power as they used to (or, perhaps, as much as I thought they did). People aren’t as compelled by intellectual reasons for Christianity. I’ve seen people shrug their shoulders after I’ve proven that the Bible doesn’t contradict itself. Logic has its place, and Christianity will always be a logical religion. But there’s something more powerful than logical apologetics. I call it the apologetic of love.

Everyone knows that Jesus was big on love. It’s one of his favorite subjects, and one can hardly be a follower of Jesus without pursuing love. But there’s a certain apologetic to love. Love is the greatest defense of Christianity. Jesus says that the world will believe that the Father has sent him if his followers are unified (“that they will all be one, just as you and I are one…” John 17:21). And love is the ultimate bond of unity.

Christians don’t have to agree on everything. We don’t have to love the same hobbies, or foods, or sports, or music bands. We don’t even have to like the same Christian authors or preachers or worship leaders. We don’t have to belong to the same local church and our denominations could look very different. Christianity is a religion of difference; beautified diversity. After all, “unity” doesn’t mean “uniformity.” We don’t need to become cookie-cutter Christians to be unified, since it’s our love that binds us as one. Love of Christ, love of neighbor, love of enemy, and an unconditionally committed love of one another. “This is his commandment,” John says, “that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another (1 John 3:23). And “he who does not love his brother…cannot love God (1 John 4:20).

All of our analytical apologetics and robust defenses of the faith will be vindicated by our love. (Quote source here.)

The importance of love can never be overstated. While we often hear the words of 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 (the most famous love chapter in the Bible) that starts off with “Love is patient, love is kind,” we don’t often hear the first four verses that precede them:

If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing. (1 Cor. 13:1-4, NLT)

Probably the most famous and most quoted verse in the Bible is John 3:16:

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son [Jesus Christ], that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

And in 1 John 4:19-21 we read:

We love because he [God] first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

Jesus took love one step further when he stated in Matthew 5:43-48:

You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect. 

Love in vital and necessary–it is not just an option. In an article titled What does the Bible Really Say About Love?” by Dr. David Lose, senior pastor at Mount Olivet Lutheran Church, and former president at The Lutheran Theological Seminary, he provides definitions of the three types of love found in the Bible:

Describing a biblical view of love turns out to be no simple matter. First off, the Bible was written in both Hebrew and Greek, and each of these languages has multiple words that we translate as “love.” (On this count, Hebrew wins out with about a dozen words expressing a range of emotions from sexual desire to intimate friendship, and from covenantal fidelity to acts of mercy and kindness.)

There are also understandings of love floating around among different authors. So what the author of the Song of Solomon says about love isn’t the same as what the author(s) of Genesis say, which isn’t the same as what John says, which isn’t the same as Paul … and so on. All of which means that not only is there no single view of love in the Bible but any larger scheme you propose by which to organize these various treatises on love will inevitably fall short.

Nevertheless it may still be a useful, if far from perfect, endeavor. To get at it, I’ll borrow the classic formula that distinguishes between three Greek words: eros, romantic, passionate love, from which we get our word “erotic”; phileo, the love of great friends and siblings, from which we get “Philadelphia,” the “city of brotherly love”; and agape, parental, self-sacrificing love that seeks only the welfare of the other. All three kinds of love are represented in the Bible, which means that all three are considered to be created and blessed by God.

Eros is the emotion we probably think of first when thinking of love, especially the love of Valentine’s Day and pop music. While the word itself is not present in the Greek New Testament, it depicts the passionate desire that unites lover and beloved praised in the Song of Solomon. Its presence in the Bible testifies not only that humans are moved by beauty and desire, but also that passion, romance, and sexual intimacy are an essential element of God’s good creation and the human experience.

Phileo, in contrast, is a more stable and constant emotion. Constancy not withstanding, however, phileo is also a powerful emotion that captures the love of great friends. Jesus weeps for Lazarus, whom he loved (phileo) (John 11:35), while Jonathan and David share a bond so strong that it induces Jonathan to forsake allegiance to his father in support of his beloved friend. Phileo is ultimately not about passion as much as it is about commitment, the love that binds one to another in enduring friendship.

Agape dominates the New Testament but is more rare in contemporary literature of the Greek-speaking world of the first century. Scholars agree that it best captures what we might call “Christian love.” Agape depicts the self-sacrificing love of a parent for a child and describes both God’s love for the world as shown in Christ and the love Christians should show each other and all people. As to the former, think of Tim Tebow’s – and, indeed, the world’s – favorite Bible verse: “For God so loved – agape – the world that he gave his only Son…” (John 3:16). As to the latter, think of Paul’s great hymn to love: “Love – agape – is patient and kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends” (1 Cor. 13:4-8a).

As nice and neat as these distinctions are, however, as soon as you make them you begin to watch them unravel. For many have wondered if Jonathan’s friendship with David was not tinged with a hint of eros even as it also embodies the self-sacrificing love of agape. And, truth be told, agape and phileo are often used interchangeably in the New Testament. Jesus, as it turns out, loves Lazarus in terms of both phileo (John 11:35) and agape (11:5). And while Paul at points depicts marriage as a remedy for the consuming, burning passions of sexual desire we associate with eros (1 Cor. 7:9), he – or at least his disciples – also expect husbands and wives to exhibit agape for each other by being subject to each other as Christ loved and sacrificed himself for the Church (Ephesians 5). What, then, are we to make of “love” in the Bible?

But maybe this somewhat blurry picture of love suits the complicated nature of the subject at hand. I mean, even Valentine’s Day itself has a peculiar and complex history. Originally named for a saint (or saints, depending on the tradition) that were martyred for their commitment to their faith, over the centuries Valentine’s Day came to epitomize the romantic ardor of lovers represented by the Roman god of desire, Cupid (the Romanized version of the Greek god Eros). And today one might be forgiven for thinking that V-Day is mainly about love for chocolate and lingerie.

Perhaps, then, the Bible’s convoluted treatment is fitting. After all, isn’t this mixture of emotions and motivations pretty representative of our experience? We love our partners and our children and our pets and friend and, if we’re lucky, our jobs and hobbies and much more, but not all in the same way. And even our love for a single person varies and changes, not just over the years, but over the span of moments, as passion can turn to tenderness, which can turn to a desire to protect and serve, and then turn back to desire, all between the beats of a simultaneously fickle and courageous heart. In light of this, maybe the best we can say is that love in the Bible, like love in our everyday lives, is important, complicated, and at times a bit squishy. That is, it is too powerful and mysterious to be fully defined or grasped by any of us.

So perhaps for now it’s enough to recognize that all the different kinds of love we have explored are part and parcel of our life in this world, that God created and blessed them for our nurture, and that behind and beyond all of our expressions of love is God’s love for each of us. That’s not everything we could say, of course, but I think that if we get that much straight we’ve probably gotten the heart of what the Bible has to say about love. (Quote source here.)

Obviously, love can be complicated when defining it; nevertheless, we as Christians are commanded to love brothers and sisters in Christ, family, friends, neighbors, strangers, enemies… in fact, everyone. And love is the perfect gift to give this Christmas and throughout the New Year, too.

I’ll end this post with the words from 1 Corinthians 13:4-8aLove is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, 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 . . . .

YouTube Video: “Put A Little Love in Your Heart” by Al Green and Annie Lennox:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit–pic taken by me
Photo #3 credit here
Photo #4 credit here

Lessons from “A Christmas Carol”

“A Christmas Carol” (1999)–Ebenezer Scrooge & the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come

Most of us have seen a movie version or read the book by Charles Dickens (1812-1870) titled, A Christmas Carol,” published in 1843, that was probably the most popular piece of fiction that Charles Dickens ever wrote, and he wrote a lot including his famous book titled, The Tale of Two Cities,” published in 1859 (source here). Here is a very brief plot summary of “A Christmas Carol” by garykmcd:

Ebenezer Scrooge is a greedy businessman who thinks only of making money. For him, Christmas is, in his own words, a humbug. It has been seven years since his friend and partner, Jacob Marley, died and on Christmas Eve. Marley’s ghost tells him he is to be visited during the night by three spirits. The Ghost of Christmas Past revisits some of the main events in Scrooge’s life to date, including his unhappy childhood, his happy apprenticeship to Mr. Fezziwig who cared for his employees, and the end of his engagement to a pretty young woman due to his growing love of money. The Ghost of Christmas Present shows him how joyously is nephew Fred and his clerk, Bob Cratchit, celebrate Christmas with those they love. The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come shows him what he will leave behind after he is gone. Scrooge awakens on Christmas morning, a new man intent on doing good and celebrating the season with all of those around him. (Quote source here.)

In an article published on December 21, 2013, titled, Ebenezer Scrooge: a story of inner transformation,” by Paul Thompson, blogger at YourLifeForce.com, he states:

The Christmas classic by Dickins is a life-affirming story of the ability of each person to grow and transform their own life and the world around them, from the inside out, not the outside inRead it. It is actually a very short book, won’t take long and it packs a hefty punch. I think the story of Scrooge is inspiring about the fact that it is possible to transform one’s life and the lives of others. Second, while Dickens wrote the book to also highlight appalling conditions in Victorian times, it continues to be relevant to the point in history we are now in, with gross social and economic injustices still scarring our world. But importantly, we can all play some kind of part – small or big – to try and make this better, or at least not make it worse.

At the heart of “A Christmas Carol” is a person’s awakening – intense and deeply personal – that unmistakably changes his life and irrevocably alters the lives of others for the better.  By the end of the tale, Ebenezer evolves from a life of enjoying cruelty to offering generosity; from experiencing inner pain to reveling in healing and joy, and a transformation from appalling selfishness to selflessness.

Ebenezer’s example demonstrates something about the ‘revolutionary’ nature of ‘Love’ and its quiet, but fierce power to bring out what is really best and most true about us. His story is a reminder that the way to a better sense of self that lasts a lifetime starts from inside, from attitude, from the mind, from awareness of what is going on around you and how you choose to react to circumstances, since life and its happy times and not so happy times will always happen. (Quote source here.)

Scrooge was, obviously, a miser totally consumed with the making of money. In answer to the question which is the title of this brief article, What is the moral of the A Christmas Carol?” at Study.com:

The moral of “A Christmas Carol” is that the pursuit of money will not make a person happy. Scrooge devotes his life to amassing wealth, but in doing so misses out on the joys of family and friendship. The three spirits remind him of happier times, show him how others are enjoying the relationships he has shunned, and predict his sad end. He realizes that his money is best used making others happy and that his happiness will come from other people, not from the pursuit of money. (Quote source here.)

However, there is a bigger picture to “A Christmas Carol” that includes us. In an article published on December 23, 2015, titled, 10 Surprising Lessons from ‘A Christmas Carol,” by Bob Welch, speaker, author, award-winning columnist at The Register-Guard, Oregon’s second-largest newspaper, and adjunct professor of journalism at the University of Oregon, he states the following observations:

Isn’t the transformation of Ebenezer Scrooge really what God seeks in us all?

Scrooge is now a dictionary-recognized word in the English language, and the phrase “Bah, humbug” is as much a part of Christmas as carols and killer mall traffic. But, frankly, come holiday, Ebenezer Scrooge gets a bad rap.

We hold his character up as the epitome of selfishness, but that’s to overlook how “A Christmas Carol” ends. To see Scrooge as a loser is to see Rocky Balboa as a loser, too, instead of hanging around to see how his fight with Apollo Creed turned out.

Rocky, of course, wins. And so, too, does Scrooge, defeating a lifetime of selfishness, a culture of class snobbery, and the materialistic demons that shackle him as they did his former business partner Jacob Marley. When Scrooge awakens on Christmas morning, he is nothing less than a new man, flinging open the windows of new possibilities and given to an entirely new outlook on life.

And isn’t that what God seeks in us all?

With that framework, here are 10 lessons we can learn from Charles Dickens’ Christmas favorite:

1. Learning begins with listening.

Initially, Scrooge wants nothing to do with the three spirits who endeavor to show him the errors of his ways. But once he realizes they have his best interest at heart, he willingly lets them lead. “Spirit,” he tells the Ghost of Christmas Present, “conduct me where you will.”

When we listen, we learn. When we learn, we have the potential to grow and change in ways that will not only help us, but also those around us. Says Proverbs 18:13, “To answer before listening — that is folly and shame.”

2. Humility enhances vision.

Scrooge has a change of heart after the 3rd ghost’s visit (from Disney’s “A Christmas Carol,” 2009).

It always galls me when some athlete or otherwise famous person is caught in some sort of transgression and, at the press conference, says, “That’s not who I am.” Wrong. That may not be “all” of who you are, but at least for now, it’s part of who you are. And you’ll never get well until you admit that.

Scrooge does this. He feels sorrow at past memories. He feels remorse for having treated people badly. In short, he humbles himself. And when we see ourselves for who we are, we are able to allow God to help make us more.

3. Regret leads to renewal.

This is related to our previous lesson, but points out an important part of the process: letting that humility morph into regret, but not letting it shackle us to regret. Humility and regret are always means to a greater, God-breathed end. Regret is the rocket booster on a space shuttle that allows the craft to soar to new heights, then detaches from it and falls helplessly into the Atlantic Ocean.

“Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation,” says 2 Corinthians 7:10. But because of God’s grace, it doesn’t us fix us in our sin. Instead, it empowers us to shoot for the stars. How cool is it that Scrooge cries out to the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, “I am not the man I once was!”

4. Bitterness will poison you.

Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, is a wise man. It is Fred who points out that “the consequences of (Scrooge’s) taking a dislike to us, and not merry with us, is, I think, that he loses some pleasant moments . . . he loses pleasant companions.”

In other words, in rebuffing Fred’s invitation to join in the Christmas merriment, it’s Scrooge who loses. It’s been said that bitterness is like swallowing poison and expecting the other person to die. Wrong. The victim of bitterness is ourselves.

5. There’s joy in starting over.

Scrooge gets a bad rap. Too much attention is paid to his mean-spiritedness and not enough to the all-new Ebenezer. We see the sullen, bitter, biting Scrooge, but not the laughing, giving, joyful Scrooge. On Christmas morning, however, he reminds us that starting over washes us in newness.

“I’m quite a baby,” he says. “Never mind, I don’t care. I’d rather be a baby.” People get in ruts and forget that they needn’t stay there. Scrooge’s turn-around reminds me there’s hope for us all, if we’re willing to begin anew.

6. We must be present to win.

On Christmas morn, one of the first things Scrooge does after realizing he’s been given a second chance at life is to fling open his window. He moves from self to the world at large. He notices life around him instead of only himself. To notice is to see. To see is to feel. To feel is to build connections with those around us. And to build connections is to bring love to the world.

When Scrooge asks a young lad to deliver a turkey to the family of the employee he has treated so shabbily, Bob Cratchit, it reminds us of this: the former taker is now a giver, which begins with noticing the needs of others.

7. Seeking forgiveness is a strength, not a weakness.

Actions often say we’re sorry more than words. For example, on Christmas morning, the born-again Scrooge makes a financial pledge to one of the two solicitors for the poor whom Ebenezer all but threw out of his office the previous day. The amount of money is so much that the solicitor says, “My dear Mr. Scrooge, are you serious?”

Scrooge was saying, in essence: “I am sorry for being so stingy my entire life.” That wasn’t easy. But it affirmed that Scrooge’s turnaround is real stuff.

8. We need to live with the end in mind.

“Oh, tell me I may sponge away the writing on that stone,” says Scrooge when the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come shows him the headstone with Ebenezer’s name on it.

The catalyst for Scrooge finally realizing he’s wasted his life on money and power is seeing that there’s an end to that life — and it’s a rather depressing end. To live with the end in mind is to be inspired to change now.

9. Redemption is about changed hearts.

We Christians try so hard to change people’s minds, but what needs changing isn’t views on presidential candidates or social issues. What needs changing is people’s hearts — ours and others.

What’s fascinating about Scrooge’s journey to renewal is that when he arrived at Christmas morning his circumstances were utterly unchanged. What had changed was his heart. Says Matthew 6:21, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

10. It’s never too late to change.

Nobody would have bet a pound on Scrooge turning his life around. But that’s the power of God’s grace: nobody is beyond the reach of His love for us. “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you,” says Matthew 7:7.

But if He is there, the final question becomes: Will we make ourselves available to Him? “It’s too late for me,” some may lament. Wrong. As someone once said, the best time to plant a tree was 50 years ago, but the second best time is now. It’s a lesson that Ebenezer Scrooge teaches us well every Christmas. (Quote source here.)

I’ve written two previous posts in the past eleven days on the subject of forgiveness and second chances: The Season for Second Chances” (published on December 6, 2018), and Serenity and Second Chances (published on December 12, 2018). And the story of Ebenezer Scrooge is definitely about second chances. Much like Scrooge, while we cannot change the past, we can change the future–and it’s up to us to do so. We all have regrets, but the choices we make right now can make all the difference in the world. So remember the words of Bob Welch in his article above when it comes to making amends and moving forward . . .

The best time to plant a tree was 50 years ago . . .

But the second best time . . .

IS NOW . . . .

YouTube Video: “God Bless Us Everyone (A Christmas Carol 2009)” by Andrea Bocelli:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here (short Disney video)

Serenity and Second Chances

There’s a line near the end of the movie,Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,” where Gordon Gekko (played by Michael Douglas) says to his daughter, “Human beings… you gotta give ‘em a break. We’re all mixed bags.” He was in need of forgiveness from her, big time, and she gave it to him.

Six days ago I published two blog posts on the subject of forgiveness. The first post is titled, The Season for Second Chances,” published on this blog, and the second post titled, A Journey to Forgiveness,” is published on my Reflections on the Journey blog. I happen to believe that forgiveness and serenity, along with second chances, are very much intertwined.

Serenity is defined as “the state of being calm, peaceful, and untroubled” (quote source here), and it is often very hard to find in the fast-paced world in which we live in today. Most likely, it has always been hard to find.

Most of us are familiar with the Serenity Prayer.” It is the common name for a prayer written by the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971) (source here). The best known form of it is the first part of the prayer (available at this link):

God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change,

Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

The complete, unabridged, original version of this prayer is as follows (available at this link):

God, give us grace to accept with serenity 
the things that cannot be changed, 
Courage to change the things 
which should be changed, 
and the Wisdom to distinguish 
the one from the other.

Living one day at a time, 
Enjoying one moment at a time, 
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace, 
Taking, as Jesus did, 
This sinful world as it is, 
Not as I would have it, 
Trusting that You will make all things right, 
If I surrender to Your will, 
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life, 
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.

Amen.

One of our main shortcomings that disrupt forgiveness and serenity in our lives stem from our relationships with other people, situations, and circumstances that we encounter in life that we have little or no power to control or change. It’s not that we don’t try to change them (like quitting a job we can’t stand or filing for divorce or having an affair or “fill in the blank”), but all too often we try to manipulate and coerce our way (either overtly or covertly) to get what we want. However, this life it is not just about us and what we want (contrary to the message often given to us by our surrounding culture).

In the short term we might and often do find some success at our manipulation of circumstances or people, but at what ultimate cost? Nobody knows the future, and all we really have is today. However, there is always a bigger picture going own beyond our own set of circumstances, and that picture is clearly stated in Ephesians 6:10-18. The J.B. Phillips New Testament modern English translation states those verses as follows:

In conclusion be strong—not in yourselves but in the Lord, in the power of his boundless resource. Put on God’s complete armor so that you can successfully resist all the devil’s methods of attack. For our fight is not against any physical enemy: it is against organizations and powers that are spiritual. We are up against the unseen power that controls this dark world, and spiritual agents from the very headquarters of evil. Therefore you must wear the whole armor of God that you may be able to resist evil in its day of power, and that even when you have fought to a standstill you may still stand your ground. Take your stand then with truth as your belt, righteousness your breastplate, the Gospel of peace firmly on your feet, salvation as your helmet and in your hand the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. Above all be sure you take faith as your shield, for it can quench every burning missile the enemy hurls at you. Pray at all times with every kind of spiritual prayer, keeping alert and persistent as you pray for all Christ’s men and women.

It’s hard not to focus on a particular person or persons we think might be the cause of our problem or circumstances, whether at work with coworkers, or in our families or among our friends, and even from complete strangers. Because we live in a physical world we often react accordingly, but the reality is that there is a spiritual world going on behind the scenes all around us, influencing both them and us.

In an article titled, When Life Is Hard: 9 Reminders that God Fights for Us,” by Debbie McDaniel, writer, pastor’s wife, dramatist, and blogger, she states:

Whether we recognize it or not, this truth daily confronts us, we face an enemy here in this life. It’s more than what we can see before us. It’s more than another person who we think has wronged us. It’s more than our own struggles and weaknesses we deal with, or the negative self-talk we sometimes battle….

Remember, your battle today may be more about what is unseen than what you see before you. (Quote source and complete article here).

This brings me back to the subject of forgiveness and, ultimately, serenity. In an article titled, What did Jesus teach about forgiveness,” by Fr. Michael Van Sloun, pastor of St. Bartholomew Catholic Church, and a former school principal, high school instructor and athletic coach, he states:

Jesus often spoke about forgiveness, forgave those who sinned against others, forgave those who sinned against him, and asked the Church to continue his healing ministry. Jesus taught, “If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you” (Matt. 6:14). Peter asked Jesus how often it is necessary to forgive, and Jesus replied, “Seventy-seven times” (Matt. 18:22), a number to be taken symbolically, not literally, for the never-ending way that we ought to forgive.

Jesus liked to use parables to illustrate various aspects of forgiveness. During his conversation with Peter, Jesus told the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matt. 18:23-35). Luke’s gospel has a series of five forgiveness parables: the barren fig tree (Luke 13:6-9); the bent over woman (Luke 13:10-13); the lost sheep (Luke 15:4-7); the lost coin (Luke 15:8-10); and the greatest forgiveness parable of all, the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32).

Jesus was extremely kind and merciful in the way that he forgave those who sinned against others. Jesus told the paralytic, “Child, your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:5); when a sinful woman bathed Jesus’ feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair, Jesus said, “Your sins are forgiven” (Luke 7:48); when a woman caught in adultery was brought before him, he said, “I do not condemn you” (John 8:11); and as Jesus hung on the cross he told the repentant criminal, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).

Even more compelling is the way that Jesus forgave those who sinned against him directly. For Jesus, forgiveness was not automatic; it was intentional, a conscious choice. After the Roman soldiers had scourged and nailed him, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34). After the resurrection Jesus had every right to be furious. Peter had denied him. The others had deserted him. When he entered the Upper Room, they deserved a severe reprimand, but instead, with divine compassion Jesus said not once but three times, “Peace be with you” (John 20:19, 21, 26).

Jesus asked his disciples to continue his forgiveness ministry. Jesus told Peter, “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matt. 16:19); and after the resurrection Jesus breathed on the disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them” (John 20:22, 23). (Quote source here.)

The important of extending forgiveness to others (as in all others) cannot be underestimated. In fact, it is crucial, and without it, nothing else matters. In an article titled, Apologies, Forgiveness, and Serenity, a Day of Atonement,” by Samantha Smithstein, Psy.D., a licensed clinical and forensic psychologist, she states:

When friends, family, and community members take the time to reflect upon how they might have hurt each other, sincerely ask for forgiveness, and find it in their hearts to forgive themselves and others, they find themselves experiencing a deep and real serenity. (Quote source here.)

It is in extending forgiveness that leads to “a deep and real serenity.” And since Christmas is right around the corner, this is a gift that is truly priceless, and it has the ability to change everyone and everything it touches. and give everyone involved a second chance.

I’ll end this post with the words from Colossians 3:12-14 from The Message BibleSo, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on . . . .

Wear love . . .

It’s your basic, all-purpose garment . . .

Never be without it . . . .

YouTube Video: “Forgiveness” by TobyMac [ft. Lacrae]:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

The Season for Second Chances

Tis the season of gift giving, and most folks are busy buying presents to give to others for Christmas, and often whether they can afford to do so or not. In an article titled, The Gift of Giving,” by Christie Hoos, wife, mother, writer and blogger, she states:

At a time of year when giving can sometimes feel more like an obligation and a burden than the privilege it really is, how can we become the cheerful givers God intended us to be? The first step is to look for opportunities to give more and to give better. Feeling follows action, not the other way around….

Gift giving is much more than an obligation. It is an opportunity to love somebody else. Since we all have our own love languages, to really show love to another person takes a lot more effort than simply grabbing the first thing you see at the store that fits into your budget. (Quote source here.)

This morning I read a chapter in Max Lucado‘s book, Second Chances: More Stories of Grace,” regarding a gift that fits into everyone’s budget as it doesn’t cost any money to give, but at the same time it costs us our pride, ego, resentment, and our propensity to seek revenge to give it. It’s a short story but the message is quite clear. The chapter is titled, “The Father in the Face of the Enemy,” and it’s in Chapter 30 in the book:

Daniel is big. He used to make his living by lifting weights and teaching others to do the same. His scrapbook is colorful with ribbons and photos of him in his prime, striking the muscle-man pose and flexing the bulging arms.

The only thing bigger than Daniel’s biceps is his heart. Let me tell you about a time his heart became tender. Daniel was living in the southern city of Porto Alegre. He worked at a gym and dreamed of owning his own. The bank agreed to finance the purchase if he could find someone to cosign the note. His brother agreed.

They filled out all the applications and awaited the approval. Everything went smoothly, and Daniel soon received a call from the bank telling him he could come and pick up the check. As soon as he got off work, he went to the bank.

When the loan officer saw Daniel, he looked surprised and asked Daniel why he had come.

“To pick up the check,” Daniel explained.

“That’s funny,” responded the banker. “Your brother was in here earlier. He picked up the money and used it to retire the mortgage on his house.”

Daniel was incensed. He never dreamed his own brother would trick him like that. He stormed over to his brother’s house and pounded on the door. The brother answered the door with his daughter in his arms. He knew Daniel wouldn’t hit him if he was holding a child.

He was right. Daniel didn’t hit him. But he promised his brother that if he ever saw him again he would break his neck.

Daniel went home, his big heart bruised and ravaged by the trickery of his brother. He had no other choice but to go back to the gym and work to pay off the debt.

A few months later, Daniel met a young American missionary named Allen Dutton. Allen befriended Daniel and taught him about Jesus Christ. Daniel and his wife soon became Christians and devoted disciples.

But though Daniel had been forgiven so much, he still found it impossible to forgive his brother. The wound was deep. The pot of revenge still simmered. He didn’t see his brother for two years. Daniel couldn’t bring himself to look into the face of the one who had betrayed him. And his brother liked his own face too much to let Daniel see it.

But an encounter was inevitable. Both knew they would eventually run into each other. And neither knew what would happen then.

The encounter occurred one day on a busy avenue. Let Daniel tell you in his own words what happened:

I saw him, but he didn’t see me. I felt my fists clench and my face get hot. My initial impulse was to grab him around the throat and choke the life out of him.

But as I looked into his face, my anger began to melt. For as I saw him, I saw the image of my father. I saw my father’s eyes. I saw my father’s look. I saw my father’s expression. And as I saw my father in his face, my enemy once again became my brother.

Daniel walked toward him. The brother stopped, turned, and started to run, but he was too slow. Daniel reached out and grabbed his shoulder. The brother winced, expecting the worst. But rather than have his throat squeezed by Daniel’s hands, he found himself hugged by Daniel’s big arms. And the two brothers stood in the middle of the river of people and wept.

Daniel’s words are worth repeating: “When I saw the image of my father in his face, my enemy became my brother.”

Seeing the father’s image in the face of the enemy. Try that. The next time you see or think of the one who broke your heart, look twice. As you look at his face, look also for His face–the face of the One who forgave you. Look into the eyes of the King who wept when you pleaded for mercy. Look into the face of the Father who gave you grace when no one else gave you a chance. Find the face of the God who forgives in the face of your enemy. And then, because God has forgiven you more than you’ll ever be called on to forgive in another, set your enemy–and yourself–free.

And allow the hole in your heart to heal. (Quote source, “Second Chances,” Chapter 30, pp. 183-186)

The gift we can give is the gift of forgiveness. In an article titled, The Many Benefits of the Gift of Forgiveness,” by Patti Armstrong, an award winning author, blogger, and former managing editor at Ascension Press, she writes:

Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.

When someone hurts us, the words “…as we forgive those who trespass against us…” stick in our throats. But according to science, we hurt ourselves even more if we don’t forgive them. It’s not that it’s easy, just necessary to follow God’s command, and for our good health.

Recent studies reveal that unconditional forgiveness leads to higher levels of well-being and less health problems. The studies also show that people who believe God has forgiven them throughout their life, find it easier to forgive others. Yet, forgiveness is anything but easy.

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with malice. be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:31-32).

The struggle with forgiveness is common, according to Linda Rose Igrisano, author ofStrength for Your Journey.” Throughout the past 36 years working as a singer/evangelist and retreat master, and serving in a healing apostolate, she often works helps people to forgive.

“Forgiveness is hard, yet it is commanded to follow Jesus,” Ingrisano said. “Otherwise, we hurt and destroy ourselves and each other by our hatefulness, and refusal to forgive, and I am sure that we also hurt our Lord.” She acknowledged that often we are innocent victims but still, we have the power to respond to God’s command to forgive although it may take perseverance and an act of the will.

“I often say to people: ‘I know it wasn’t right what that person did to you, but that’s between them and God,’” she said. “Keep repeating those words out of love and obedience to God and God will, in His time, fill you with that grace to forgive.” (Quote source here.)

In an article titled, When Forgiveness Seems Impossible,” by Ross Rhoads, D.D. (1932-2017), co-founder of Southern Evangelical Seminary, chaplain for the Billy Graham Association, vice chairman on the Board of Directors of Samaritan’s Purse and World Medical Mission, and former pastor at Calvary Church, he writes:

Why is forgiveness so difficult? It is difficult because it is so contrary to human nature. In societies and cultures not affected by the Judeo-Christian ethic, forgiveness is not a virtue, but a weakness. Offenses demand punishment and revenge becomes the only appropriate response. Or if forgiveness is offered, it appears to relieve and excuse the offender of responsibility. What if forgiveness is the willing offer of the person offended, but the offender refuses to acknowledge the wrong?

Throughout Scripture, forgiveness is expressed in various ways. In the Old Testament, forgiveness means “to take away, to atone by sacrifice and substitution.” In the New Testament, it is “to cancel a debt,” but it does not overlook the offender’s act or obligation. The debt is satisfied by the one to whom it was owed, or by someone else. This is the message of the grace of God: He cancels the debt of sin by the payment, or atonement, made by the Lord Jesus Christ.

Repentance and remission are inseparable in forgiveness. These are the means by which God can forgive: by the confession of sinful debt to God and acceptance of the Savior as the substitute sin-bearer. When God forgives, He also releases the offending sinner from the consequences of His wrath and eternal punishment. The forgiven are reconciled with God through Jesus Christ, and peace and joy prevail forever.

Jesus’ model is the secret to interpersonal forgiveness. The Scripture teaches, forgive one another even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you (Ephesians 4:32). The “even as” states the formula. Just as God forgives, we are to forgive. Confession admits the offense and states the truth. It does not ignore the wrong, or deny the reality. It thus releases forgiveness to the offender and restores fellowship. If God’s conditions are met, He is bound by His Word to forgive. But God’s forgiveness is effective only when there is the admission of sin. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9, NKJV).

Likewise, in human relationships, forgiveness demands an apology, and that is the obligation of the one who caused the offense. However, apologies can be inadequate.

“Whatever it was that you think I did, I’m sorry.” This claims perception is the problem. “I’m sorry that you took it the wrong way.” This is reverse blame, a denial of responsibility. “I didn’t know you were so hurt.” A plea of ignorance doesn’t settle the wrong. Full restoration of the relationship and complete forgiveness are accomplished only when there is admission of wrongdoing, genuine regret over the offense and an apology that admits the gravity of the injury.

But what if the one who has offended us does not apologize? Are we free to withhold forgiveness? No. Many times withholding forgiveness is a form of subtle control, power and passive punishment in an attempt to get even. God forgives, but people view getting even and settling the score as an easier solution. Are there some offenses and hurts that can never be forgiven? Scripture teaches that we are to offer forgiveness as God does–freely. Whatever forgiveness we offer to others has been first given to us without limit.

Finally, what if we grant forgiveness to the offender, but the memory and pain of the offense remains? Is forgiveness incomplete? The truth is only God is perfect and remembers our sin no more (Jeremiah 31:34). But we must earnestly and prayerfully forgive, in spite of the painful memories. (Quote source here.)

In the last article on forgiveness titled, How to Give the Gift of Forgiveness,” by Alisa Nicaud at FlourishingToday.com, she opens her article with three verses on forgiveness, and ends it with some practical advice on how to genuinely forgive someone who has harmed us in some way:

Then Peter came and said to Him, Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times? Jesus said to him, I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. Matthew 18:21-22 NLT

Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. –Colossians 3:13 NLT

[Regarding those who have offended us, she states]:

We never know what people are going through. God will help us to see them the way He sees them if we ask. The truth is, I have been forgiven. Knowing how much I have been forgiven helps me to forgive others more freely. I’ve learned this about relationships: We have to create space for other people’s faults. We need to draw mercy from the same well that we receive mercy from… Christ.

Practical Tips for Giving the Gift of Forgiveness this Christmas:

Forgiveness

Who can you give the gift of forgiveness to? Is there someone who has hurt you that you need to forgive? Make a conscience choice to forgive them and ask God to bless them. Buy them a small gift that will express that you have brought closure to the issue and you no longer hold a grudge against them.

Check Our Hearts

We are given the opportunity daily to be offended by someone. Each day we can check our hearts and ask God if there is anyone that we need to forgive. (Psalm 139:23-24)

Pray

We need to pray for those who offend us. Ask God to bless them every time we think of them or see them. We can’t change people, but God can. Your prayers are powerful. (James 5:16) (Quote source here.)

So this Christmas may we let forgiveness rule in our hearts and lives. And let us also remember the words of Ephesians 4:32 which states: Be kind to each other, tenderhearted . . .

Forgiving one another . . .

Just as God through Christ . . .

Has forgiven you . . . .

YouTube Video: “Forgiveness” by Matthew West:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

The Best News Ever

Today is the first Sunday of the Advent season leading up to the celebration of Christmas. The following is a brief description of Advent in an article titled, Advent Wreath & Candles: Understanding the Meaning, History & Tradition,” by Laurie Richie, author of The Advent Storybook and a registered nurse:

Advent is a time of expectation and hope. “Advent” means “arrival” or “coming,” and it prompts us to pause each day in December and remember why Jesus came at Christmas. Traditions vary by country, but common ways of commemorating Jesus’ birth are through Advent calendars, wreaths, and candles. Ideally, any Advent tradition should involve families in a fun activity each day of December, helping them remember why we celebrate Christmas….

Advent candles shine brightly in the midst of darkness, reminding us that Jesus came as Light into our dark world. The candles are often set in a circular Advent wreath. In Scandinavia, Lutheran churches light a candle each day of December; by Christmas, they have twenty-four candles burning. Another Advent candle option is a single candle with twenty-four marks on the side–the candle is lit each day and allowed to melt down to the next day’s mark.

The most common Advent candle tradition, however, involves four candles. A new candle is lit on each of the four Sundays before Christmas. Each candle represents something different, although traditions vary. Often, the first, second, and fourth candles are purple; the third candle is rose-colored. Sometimes all the candles are red; in other traditions, all four candles are blue or white. Occasionally, a fifth white candle is placed in the middle and is lit on Christmas Day to celebrate Jesus’ birth.

  • The first candle symbolizes hope and is called the “Prophet’s Candle.” The prophets of the Old Testament, especially Isaiah, waited in hope for the Messiah’s arrival.
  • The second candle represents faith and is called “Bethlehem’s Candle.” Micah had foretold that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, which is also the birthplace of King David.
  • The third candle symbolizes joy and is called the “Shepherd’s Candle.” To the shepherd’s great joy, the angels announced that Jesus came for humble, unimportant people like them, too. In liturgy, the color rose signifies joy.
  • The fourth candle represents peace and is called the “Angel’s Candle.” The angels announced that Jesus came to bring peace–He came to bring people close to God and to each other again.
  • The (optional) fifth candle represents light and purity and is called “Christ’s candle.” It is placed in the middle and is lit on Christmas Day. (Quote source here.)

In another article published in 2017 titled, First Sunday of Advent: He is Coming!” by Michael Simone, S.J., Assistant Professor of Old Testament at Boston College School of Theology and Ministry, he describes this first Sunday of Advent as follows:

Jesus is on a rescue mission. That is the major theme of Mark’s entire Gospel, which we will be reading on most Sundays in the new liturgical year that begins on this First Sunday of Advent. The end of the age was near, and God sent the Son to save Israel from the coming calamity. Mark has none of Matthew’s ruminative, “what-does-it-all-mean” discourses. Instead, Mark packs his narrative with action. Blind beggars, sick children, grieving parents and demon-haunted madmen take center stage. As Jesus delivered each one, he progressively revealed himself to be the savior of anyone who believed in his power.

This message suited Mark’s times. He wrote around the year A.D. 70, in a period of chaos in the Roman world. Assassins had killed the emperor Nero two years before. Three feckless emperors followed in quick succession. Subject peoples everywhere rose up against Rome. Each insurrection failed. In Judea, the Roman general Vespasian fought the Jews ferociously before hurrying back to Rome to be acclaimed emperor. He left his son, Titus, to clean up the last of the resistance. On Aug. 30, A.D. 70, Titus broke through the walls of Jerusalem, sacked the city and destroyed the temple, which has never been rebuilt. (The arch of Titus in Rome commemorates this destruction. The Jewish people felt the loss so keenly that until the late 20th century, rabbinic law forbade any Jew from walking through the arch under penalty of permanent excommunication.)

Christians living in these times felt an acute need for rescue. They knew Jesus had come and they believed God was at work to save them, but they did not know what form their rescue would take. To this community, Mark relays Jesus’ message: “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.” Throughout his Gospel, Mark shows how hard it was for people to recognize Jesus’ true nature, even when they witnessed the great deeds he performed. Jesus ordered his disciples to remain vigilant for his second coming, lest they too miss his presence. Forty-odd years later, Mark passed this command on to his community, who must have felt, as the world they knew crumbled around them, that they were living in the time Christ foretold.

The church teaches that, although Mark’s historical expectations may have proved incorrect, the message he provides for our salvation is forever true. In today’s Gospel passage, that message is clear: “Watch! May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping!” We wait, like Mark’s community, for the coming of the Son of Man. We know to be alert for Christ at the end of our natural lives. As we begin another Advent, it is also important to remember that Christ appears suddenly in our life every day. Like the characters of Mark’s Gospel, we can easily miss his arrival. If Mark were writing today, he would perhaps use other symbols for that spirit of distraction. “Be watchful! Be alert! May he not find you obsessing over trivia, lusting after images on the internet, preoccupied with your phone or indulging in hate, fear or greed.” May we use these weeks before Christmas to put away our distractions and put our faith in Christ anew. (Quote source here.)

“Jesus is on a rescue mission.” And He is, of course! We have so many distractions in our society today that it is too easy to miss what Jesus is doing. We are way too easily distracted by (everything), or obsessed over (trivia), or lusting after (what we want but don’t have), or preoccupied with (smartphones, money, and lots of other things), and indulging in things like hate, fear or greed, and often all at the same time. And just where is Jesus going to fit in with all of that? In fact, does He fit in at all?

Creighton University’s Online Ministry has provided a few guidelines for us to consider during this first week of Advent:

As we begin Advent we light one candle in the midst of all the darkness in our lives and in the world.  It symbolizes our longing, our desire, our hope.  Three “advents” or “comings” shape our desire.  We want to be renewed in a sense that Jesus came to save us from our sin and death. We want to experience his coming to us now, in our everyday lives, to help us live our lives with meaning and purpose. And we want to prepare for his coming to meet us at the end of our lives on this earth.

So, we begin with our longing, our desire and our hope.

When we wake up, each day this week, we could light that candle, just by taking a few moments to focus. We could pause for a minute at the side of our bed, or while putting on our slippers or our robe, and light an inner candle.  Who among us doesn’t have time to pause for a moment?  We could each find our own way to pray something like this:

“Lord, the light I choose to let into my life today is based on my trust in you.  It is a weak flame, but I so much desire that it dispel a bit more darkness today.  Today, I just want to taste the longing I have for you as I go to the meeting this morning, carry out the responsibilities of my work, face the frustration of some difficult relationships.  Let this candle be my reminder today of my hope in your coming.”

Each morning this week, that momentary prayer might get more specific, as it prepares us for the day we will face.  And as we head to work, walk to a meeting, rush through lunch, take care of errands, meet with people, pick up the phone to return some calls, answer e-mail, return home to prepare a meal, listen to the ups and downs of our loved ones’ day, we can take brief moments to relate our desire for the three comings of the Lord to our life.

If our family has an Advent wreath, or even if it doesn’t, we could pray together before our evening meal.  As we light the first candle on the wreath, or as we simply pause to pray together our normal grace.  Then, as we begin to eat, we can invite each other, including the children, to say something about what it means today to light this first candle. 

Perhaps we could ask a different question each night, or ask about examples from the day.  How am I getting in touch with the longing within me?  How did I prepare today?  What does it mean to prepare to celebrate his coming 2,000 years ago?  How can we prepare to experience his coming into our lives this year?  What does it mean for us now, with our world involved in so much conflict? How are we being invited to trust more deeply?  How much more do we long for his coming to us, in the midst of the darkness in our world?  In what ways can we renew our lives so we might be prepared to greet him when he comes again?  Our evening meal could be transformed this week, if we could shape some kind of conversation together that lights a candle of anticipation in our lives.  Don’t worry if everyone isn’t “good at” this kind of conversation at first.  We can model it, based on our momentary pauses throughout each day, in which we are discovering deeper and deeper desires, in the midst of our everyday lives.

And every night this week, we can pause briefly, perhaps as we sit for a minute at the edge of the bed.  We can be aware of how that one, small candle’s worth of desire brought light into this day.  And we can give thanks.  Going to bed each night this week with some gratitude is part of the preparation for growing anticipation and desire.

Come, Lord Jesus!  Come and visit your people. We await your coming.  Come, O Lord. (Quote source here.)

As we celebrate this Advent season, let us remember what Jesus said in John 8:12“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me . . .

Will never walk in darkness . . .

But will have . . .

The light of life . . . .

YouTube Video: “Best News Ever” by MercyMe:

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