Where Do We Go From Here?

Yesterday I logged into ChatGPT which is an artificial intelligence chatbot launched by OpenAI in November 2022. I spent close to an hour asking questions and receiving answers from it, and I published some of that conversation yesterday on my second blog in a blog post titled, The Brave New World of AI.” To say I was amazed by the experience is putting it mildly. It blew me out of the water (see item #2 at this link for what I mean), and I was thoroughly impressed by it.

The future is AI, and it is here, now…

It’s a very busy site and you can’t always get into it as the system is overloaded with people trying to get in and use it, but once I logged in, I was able to carry on a conversation (dialogue, if you prefer) for as long as I stayed logged in (at least for the hour I was logged in yesterday). If you’ve ever seen the movie, I, Robot (2004), starring Will Smith which is about highly intelligent robots filling public service positions throughout the world in the year 2035, it seems eerily connected to what artificial intelligence is becoming in our day today. Only the robot’s body is missing.

In an article published on June 17, 2020, in Christianity Today titled, How Artificial Super-Intelligence Is Today’s Tower of Babel,” the author, Joanna Ng, founder of an AI startup and a former IBMer who headed up research in IBM Canada and is an IBM Master Inventor, opens her article with the following information (the complete article is available at this link):

In May [2020], Microsoft unveiled a new supercomputer at a developer conference, claiming it’s the fifth most powerful machine in the world. Built in collaboration with OpenAI, the computer is designed to train single massive AI models in self-supervised learning, forgoing the need for human-labeled data sets. These AI models operate in distributed optimization, resulting in significant improvement in both speed and level of intelligence. This is a major step forward in mimicking the human brain, with the ultimate goal of attaining artificial super-intelligence (ASI), a fruitful outcome from Microsoft’s $1 billion investment in OpenAI in July 2019.

Is achieving ASI hubris? Can artificial intelligence created by humans be superior than human intelligence created by God, displaying man’s supremacy, glory, and independence in himself, apart from his Creator?

As a technologist in the field, I am intrigued by the cleverness in designs and algorithms of various AI disciplines advancing the world every day. However, I take issue with making super intelligence that out-performs humans the ultimate goal of AI. First, such an agenda not only faces immense technical limitations, but it also extremely underestimates the intricacy of God’s design in his creation of mankind. Second, such an agenda will incur an expensive opportunity cost to augmented intelligence, the agenda of which is human collaboration, not competition to supersede humans, as a more realistic and practical approach to benefit humanity.

Scientists define artificial intelligence as a machine’s ability to replicate higher-order human cognitive functions , such as learning, reasoning, problem solving, perception, and natural language processing. In a system like this, its engineering goal is to design machines and software capable of intelligent behavior. OpenAI’s daring goal is classified as artificial super-intelligence—a state in which machines become superior to humans across all domains of interests, exceeding human cognition. Some scientists envision ASI as a monolithic, super-intelligent machine called thesingleton,a single decision-making agency at the highest level of technological superiority, so powerful that no other entity could threaten its existence.

Past progress made this aspiration seem hopeful. In 2016, Google’s DeepMind AlphaGo beat South Korean Go champion Lee Se-dol. In 2011, IBM Watson won US quiz show Jeopardy!, demonstrating AI’s superior performance over humans in processing speed and data-volume. In 1996 and 1997, IBM Deep Blue defeated chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov, demonstrating the machine’s superiority in looking ahead at different possible paths to determine best moves. Do these breakthroughs mean ASI is within reach?

In Genesis 11:1–9, the people of the earth sought to build the Tower of Babel, a monolithic super-state in the land of Shinar. Today, scientists seek to build ASI, a monolithic decision-making agency as a super-intelligent singleton. Similarities between the two transcend time and space. Both are a quest for supremacy of mankind: one with a tower that reaches the heavens, the other with a singleton that is capable of dominating man. Both are quests for self-glory: making a name for themselves, seeking the glory in themselves instead of seeking the glory of God. Both are a quest for independence from God: People would rather trust the creations of their own hands than trust their Creator…. (Quote source and the complete article are available at this link.)

While there are certainly technical issues involved in AI, there are also a host of ethical issues that have risen to the surface, too. In an article published on March 1, 2021, titled 10 AI Ethics Questions We Need to Answer,” by Yulia Gavrilova, AI writer and Head of Content at Serokell, a software development company, she opens her article with the following statement, and she addresses 10 AI ethical questions that need to be considered:

Today, we rely on artificial intelligence for everything. It helps us choose TV shows and make business decisions. Artificial intelligence works well with large amounts of information, optimizes processes, detects fraud, and creates new drugs. But from an ethical standpoint, AI poses more questions than it answers.

What problems keep AI experts up at night? Let’s find out.

10 ethical AI issues (each issue is covered in detail in her article at this link):

    1. What happens if AI replaces humans in the workplace?
    2. Who’s responsible for AI’s mistakes?
    3. How to distribute new wealth?
    4. How will machines affect human interactions?
    5. How to prevent artificial intelligence errors?
    6. How to get rid of AI bias?
    7. What to do about the unintended consequences of AI?
    8. How to protect AI from hackers?
    9. How to control a system that is smarter than us?
    10. How to use artificial intelligence humanely?

She concludes her article with the following statement:

The ethics of AI today is more about the right questions than the right answers. We don’t know if artificial intelligence will ever equal or surpass human intelligence. But since it is developing rapidly and unpredictably, it would be extremely irresponsible not to think about measures that can facilitate this transition and reduce the risk of negative consequences.

If you want to learn more about AI ethics, be sure to check out our guide and follow us on Twitter. (Quote source here.)

In an article published on September 15, 2022, titled, Of God and Machines,” by Stephen Marche, author at The Atlantic, he opens his article with the following:

Miracles can be perplexing at first, and artificial intelligence is a very new miracle. “We’re creating God,” the former Google Chief Business Officer Mo Gawdat recently told an interviewer. “We’re summoning the demon,” Elon Musk said a few years ago, in a talk at MIT. In Silicon Valley, good and evil can look much alike, but on the matter of artificial intelligence, the distinction hardly matters. Either way, an encounter with the superhuman is at hand.

Early artificial intelligence was simple: Computers that played checkers or chess, or that could figure out how to shop for groceries. But over the past few years, machine learning—the practice of teaching computers to adapt without explicit instructions—has made staggering advances in the subfield of Natural Language Processing, once every year or so. Even so, the full brunt of the technology has not arrived yet. You might hear about chatbots whose speech is indistinguishable from humans, or about documentary makers re-creating the voice of Anthony Bourdain, or about robots that can compose op-eds. But you probably don’t use NLP in your everyday life.

Or rather: If you are using NLP in your everyday life, you might not always know. Unlike search or social media, whose arrivals the general public encountered and discussed and had opinions about, artificial intelligence remains esoteric—every bit as important and transformative as the other great tech disruptions, but more obscure, tucked largely out of view.

Science fiction, and our own imagination, add to the confusion. We just can’t help thinking of AI in terms of the technologies depicted in Ex Machina, Her, or Blade Runner—people-machines that remain pure fantasy. Then there’s the distortion of Silicon Valley hype, the general fake-it-’til-you-make-it atmosphere that gave the world “WeWork” and “Theranos”: People who want to sound cutting-edge end up calling any automated process “artificial intelligence.” And at the bottom of all of this bewilderment sits the mystery inherent to the technology itself, its direct thrust at the unfathomable. The most advanced NLP programs operate at a level that not even the engineers constructing them fully understand.

In an article published on May 1, 2022, titled Artificial Intelligence–Christian Concerns Over Life-Altering Technology,” by Elaine Mcdavid, author at Evangel Magazine, she writes:

Recently, more than 60 Evangelical leaders released a statement addressing artificial intelligence. The Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) spent nine  months working onArtificial Intelligence: An Evangelical Statement of Principles—a document designed to equip the church with an ethical framework for thinking about this emergent  technology.

“There are many heated debates in Washington, many of them important,” said Russell Moore, member of the Gospel Coalition Council. “But no issues keep me awake at night like those  surrounding technology and artificial intelligence. The implications artificial intelligence will have for our future are vast.” Moore added, “It is critical that the church be proactive in understanding AI. It’s also critical that the church insist AI be used in ways consistent with the truth that all people possess dignity and worth, created as they are in the image of God.” (Quote source here.)

The article goes on to explain what AI is; the two types of AI; how computers “learn”; positive examples of the use of AI; negative examples of the use of AI; moral concerns about AI; and it concludes with how Christians should approach and think about AI as follows:

Because AI will affect so many areas of life, Christians need to be prepared to maximize the benefits of such technology, take the lead on the question of machine morality, and help to limit and eliminate the possible dangers.

“As Christians, we need to be prepared with a framework to navigate the difficult ethical and moral issues surrounding AI use and development,” says Jason Thacker, who headed the AI Statement of Principles project for ERLC. “This framework doesn’t come from corporations or government, because they are not the ultimate authority on dignity issues, and the church doesn’t take its cues from culture. God has spoken to us in His Word, and as His followers, we are to seek to love Him and our neighbors above all things (Matthew 22:37-39).” (Quote source and complete article are available at this link.)

In an introduction to a book titled, Who Will Rule The Coming ‘Gods’?: The Looming Spiritual Crisis Of Artificial Intelligence (2021), by Wallace B. Henley, senior associate pastor at Houston’s Second Baptist Church, author, columnist for The Christian Post, adjunct professor at Belhaven University, aide in the Nixon White House, and congressional staffer, published on the book’s Amazon.com page states the following:

Will we let artificial intelligence eclipse the true God?

We have entered a new age in which we can go into the quietness of our rooms and slip into whatever identity we desire-virtually. Artificial intelligence is fast becoming a normal part of our lives.

The existential crisis of our age is how technology, specifically AI and robots, is eclipsing our reverence for the transcendence of God. In the rush to create human-helping AI, technologists are making machines that may eventually become our masters. Some people are already worshiping at the feet of the great god of AI, just as the ancient Philistines once bowed before statues of the idol Dagon.

In this compelling and groundbreaking book, best-selling author Wallace Henley shares about the impending moral and ethical choices we will soon need to make, as believers in Christ, to hold AI and its creators accountable to the true God. Otherwise our world will spin into peril. (Quote source here.)

So, where do we go from here? The world of AI is truly fascinating, amazing, even mind-blowing, and like everything else in the world, it can be used both for good and for evil. AI is clearly here to stay and advance even farther then we know today. So with that in mind, I’ll end this post with a statement regarding the increase of the use of technology made on GotQuestions.org that brings us back to God’s ultimate goal for humankind (quote source here): God’s goal for mankind isn’t to advance as far as we can or to know all we can discover, but rather…

That all . . .

Should come . . .

To repentance (2 Peter 3:9). . . .

YouTube Video: “AI, Man & God,” John Anderson’s interview with John Lennox, Emeritus Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford, author, Christian apologist, bioethicist and philosopher on August 4, 2022 (53 minutes):

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

No Dead Ends

Yesterday I walked out on the small balcony in my apartment on the 2nd floor of an apartment building, and I glanced down at all the dead foliage in the courtyard below that died recently from a “hard freeze” that came through this area right before Christmas when the temperature went down below freezing into the teens for two nights in a row. We rarely get temps that cold, but occasionally they do occur. I live about 80 miles from the Gulf of Mexico.

As I looked down at all the dead plants that only a month ago were beautiful and green, directly below my apartment was one green leaf popping up through all that dead foliage. I took the picture at the top of this post yesterday when I saw it.

Hope springs eternal! Let’s hear it for that leaf!

Talk about perseverance!

January can be a hard month to get through especially if one lives in an area where winter is filled with snow, cold temps, and winter storms. And, after all of the buzz that takes place between Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s holidays, it suddenly all comes to an end as the new year begins in the dead of winter. Add to it any complicated situations, relationship issues, maybe even job loss, and it can start to feel rather bleak and hopeless.

Yesterday morning I read a devotion titled No Dead Ends that is published in a bimonthly devotional booklet from The Upper Room.” The devotion starts with a scripture reading from Matthew 7:7-12 (NIV). These verses are some of the words of Jesus found in his Sermon on the Mount”:

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

In that short devotion written by a grandmother regarding a seemingly impossible situation her young grandson was facing at school, she was out taking a walk and pondering what to do when she came upon a “Dead End” street sign and a concrete wall. As she got closer to the wall, she noticed a metal door in the wall and she could hear traffic on the other side. She opened the door and found that it led to a sidewalk by a main street. What appeared to be a dead end at first turned out to have an opening where, on foot, she could reach anywhere in town. At that very moment she realized that God could make a way for her grandson even where there seemed to be no way.

As she mentions, we often encounter situations that appear to be dead ends, and we may slow our pace or turn around, fearful of what will happen when we reach that dead end. However, with God there are no dead ends. She states “when we have courage and keep walking, God will show us the way through our difficulty.” (Source: No Dead Ends” in “The Upper Room” devotion for January 16, 2023.)

That dead foliage all around the courtyard certainly resembles a “dead end” for all of those plants, yet one little leaf refused to give up, and it just so happened to be right outside my apartment on the ground below my balcony. When I saw that green leaf in the middle of all that dead foliage yesterday, I couldn’t help but smile. It reminded me of a story I read several years ago regarding a Pakistani woman who was accused of blasphemy after an argument with a group of women in her work setting in June 2009, and she was convicted of blasphemy by a Pakistani court back in 2010 and sentenced to death by hanging. The story is complicated, and she was moved from prison to prison. She was eventually freed from prison in 2018. I wrote about her story in a blog post published on November 1, 2018, titled, In Good Times, Bad Times, and All Times.” An article published in BCC News on February 28, 2020, titled Asia Bibi: I always believed I would be freed,” tells the rest of her story.

Most of us will never experience what Asia Bibi went through, but it is a very inspiring story about what often looks like a dead end or an impossible situation, God has a different plan. Asia Bibi persevered for 9 1/2 years in prison with a death sentence hanging over her head (literally), and she prayed and never gave up hope.

Her story reminds me of a parable that Jesus told in Luke 18:1-8 (NIV):

The Parable of the Persistent Widow

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

In an article titled, The Persistent Widow: How Prayer Changes Things,” by Peter Watts, pastor at The ROCK Church, and supervisor for Advocacy and Race Relations and coordinator for the African American Black Council of the Reformed Church in America, he writes:

The woman in this parable represents what it means to be a positive example of the persistence required of believers in prayer. Some of us may have experiences of the justice system analogous to the persistent widow. Recent events have shone an even brighter light on the disparities in experience of law enforcement and the justice system that flow along racialized lines. Thus, many do not trust in the justice system to provide the justice we seek. But, ultimately, this parable reminds us we must trust that God will bring about God’s justice on the earth. 

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pursue justice diligently as God’s ambassadors of mercy and peace. To the contrary! This parable is about those characteristics of resilience that develop when we decide never to give up, even in face of the insurmountable obstacles before us. Resilience is the strength of character to keep going even when we encounter challenges. It can be grown or developed, like a muscle. 

Resilience manifests itself individually and collectively. When we talk about being resilient and having the strength of character not to give up, being resilient can be done individually by encouraging yourself. You can find it within yourself to keep going, even when it seems that all odds are stacked against you. This is why Jesus tells the story “to show them that they should always pray and not give up.” Prayer cultivates perseverance. And, what is more, within you is the Spirit of God, who intercedes on your behalf. 

Resilience can also be experienced in the community. It’s the idea that those who are on your side and know your story can come to support you through prayer, words of encouragement, and by physically coming to your aid to help with your needs. 

The judge in the parable does not represent God. The judge is unjust and doesn’t care about what this widow needs. Jesus tells this parable to his disciples to help them understand that if this judge who is unjust finally listens to the woman’s request and grants her justice, how much more will a loving and just God answer the petitions of his own children who cry out for help. 

This widow’s persistence illustrates our need to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Prayer changes us more than it changes the people around us. It deepens our faith and trust in God and empowers us to wait with hope for God to act. It’s the reason why Jesus ends the parable to his disciples with the question of whether or not the Son of Man will find anyone faithful when he comes—which is to say, as Eugene Peterson put it, “will He find men and women who are still praying, who have not given up, who have not lost heart?”

This gospel passage thus challenges us not just to pray but to trust in God. Even when the justice that we seek does not come immediately, will we have enough faith to endure until change happens? (Quote source and the rest of his article are at this link.)

So if you’re feeling discouraged or starting to lose hope about something that you think will never change, or it looks like a dead end with no way out, look up and remember that God is God over impossible situations (and that includes your impossible situation). Jesus told his disciples to “always pray and not give up.” And he’s waiting . . .

To Hear . . .

From You . . .

RIGHT NOW . . . .

YouTube Video: “Pray About Everything” by Luke Bryan:

Photo #1 credit (it is mine)
Photo #2 credit here

Wrestling with God

Eleven days ago on January 1st, I published a blog post titled, All Things New (Again).” It was regarding starting off the new year with renewed vigor and leaving the past behind, and it is based on Isaiah 43:18-19:

Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I [God] am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.

What I have discovered is that the past (especially the bad stuff) is very tenacious, and it doesn’t want us to let go and move on. It wants us to wallow in it until it consumes us, and it’s clever in the ways it sneaks into our thoughts when we least expect it, especially in the middle of the night when we have no control over our thoughts while we are sleeping.

As I was reading a devotion this morning, it brought to my mind the account from Genesis 32:22-32 of Jacob wresting with God. As I was thinking about it, I wondered if it is okay for us as Christians to wrestle with God especially regarding matters that are sometimes overwhelming to us or that pop up in the middle of the night while we are sleeping.

I went looking for an answer on Google, and one of the links led to an answer given on GotQuestions.org to the question, What is the meaning of Jacob wrestling with God?” Here is the information they provide:

To best answer this question, it helps to know, among other things, that deep-seated family hostilities characterized Jacob’s life. He was a determined man; some would consider him to be ruthless. He was a con artist, a liar, and a manipulator. In fact, the name Jacob not only means “deceiver,” but more literally it means “grabber.”

To know Jacob’s story is to know his life was one of never-ending struggles. Though God promised Jacob that through him would come not only a great nation, but a whole company of nations, he was a man full of fears and anxieties. At a pivotal point in his life, Jacob was about to meet his brother, Esau, who had vowed to kill him. All Jacob’s struggles and fears were about to be realized. Sick of his father-in-law’s treatment, Jacob had fled Laban, only to encounter his embittered brother, Esau. Anxious for his very life, Jacob concocted a bribe and sent a caravan of gifts along with his women and children across the River Jabbok in hopes of pacifying his brother. Now physically exhausted, alone in the desert wilderness, facing sure death, he was divested of all his worldly possessions. In fact, he was powerless to control his fate. He collapsed into a deep sleep on the banks of the Jabbok River. With his father-in-law behind him and Esau before him, he was too spent to struggle any longer.

But only then did his real struggle begin. Fleeing his family history had been bad enough; wrestling with God Himself was a different matter altogether. That night an angelic stranger visited Jacob. They wrestled throughout the night until daybreak, at which point the stranger crippled Jacob with a blow to his hip that disabled him with a limp for the rest of his life. It was then that Jacob realized what had happened: “I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared” (Genesis 32:30). In the process, Jacob the deceiver received a new name, Israel, which likely means: “He struggles with God.” However, what is most important occurred at the conclusion of that struggle. We read that God “blessed him there” (Genesis 32:29).

In Western culture and even in our churches, we celebrate wealth, power, strength, confidence, prestige, and victory. We despise and fear weakness, failure, and doubt. Though we know that a measure of vulnerability, fear, discouragement, and depression come with normal lives, we tend to view these as signs of failure or even a lack of faith. However, we also know that in real life, naïve optimism and the glowing accolades of glamour and success are a recipe for discontent and despair. Sooner or later, the cold, hard realism of life catches up with most of us. The story of Jacob pulls us back to reality.

Frederick Buechner (1926-2022), one the most read authors by Christian audiences, characterizes Jacob’s divine encounter at the Jabbok River as the “magnificent defeat of the human soul at the hands of God.” It’s in Jacob’s story we can easily recognize our own elements of struggle: fears, darkness, loneliness, vulnerabilities, empty feelings of powerlessness, exhaustion, and relentless pain.

Even the apostle Paul experienced similar discouragements and fears: “We were harassed at every turn—conflicts on the outside, fears within” (2 Corinthians 7:5). But, in truth, God does not want to leave us with our trials, our fears, our battles in life. What we come to learn in our conflicts of life is that God proffers us a corresponding divine gift. It is through Him that we can receive the power of conversion and transformation, the gift of not only surrender, but freedom, and the gifts of endurance, faith, and courage.

In the end, Jacob does what we all must do. He confronts his failures, his weaknesses, his sins, all the things that are hurting him . . . and faces God. Jacob wrestled with God all night. It was an exhausting struggle that left him crippled. It was only after he came to grips with God and ceased his struggling, realizing that he could not go on without Him, that he received God’s blessing (Genesis 32:29).

What we learn from this remarkable incident in the life of Jacob is that our lives are never meant to be easy. This is especially true when we take it upon ourselves to wrestle with God and His will for our lives. We also learn that as Christians, despite our trials and tribulations, our strivings in this life are never devoid of God’s presence, and His blessing inevitably follows the struggle, which can sometimes be messy and chaotic. Real growth experiences always involve struggle and pain.

Jacob’s wrestling with God at the Jabbok that dark night reminds us of this truth: though we may fight God and His will for us, in truth, God is so very good. As believers in Christ, we may well struggle with Him through the loneliness of night, but by daybreak His blessing will come. (Quote source here.)

Unfortunately, it is so true what the author wrote above regarding our Western culture and our churches in how we so often “celebrate wealth, power, strength, confidence, prestige, and victory.” And we despise and fear weakness, failure, and doubt” along with “discouragement and depression,” and we tend to view them as “signs of failure and even a lack of faith.” However, reading the story of Jacob really does pull us back to reality.

Also, I find that when this kind of struggle spoken of in the last paragraph above pops up in my own life, it tends to happen in the middle of the night. And, it is often true when it happens that by daybreak the specific anxiety or struggle has passed. It does not necessarily mean that the struggle in the middle of the night has a clear answer yet, but that the anxiety over the struggle has passed.

In an article published on BusyBlessedWomen.com titled,  Wrestling with God,” by Admin (AnnMarie),” she writes:

What Does it Mean to Wrestle with God?

Have you ever thought that questioning God was wrong? The truth is that it actually takes faith to come to God for wisdom and guidance when you do not understand something. It is better to come to Him with a humble heart asking for discernment and guidance instead of losing heart or turning away from Him in anger, disappointment, or discouragement.

I love this picture of Jacob and God wrestling.  It’s as if God is saying that He knows our fears and anguish and will come to us and help us work through them.  It may take a while, but He’s ok with it, as long as we come to Him (not turn to worldly influences) to wrestle through our personal struggles.

Meaning of Jacob Wrestling with God

I also love this reminder that God doesn’t force us to give in to his will.  Verse 25 says “When the Man saw that he could not overpower him”…

Of course, God could have pinned Jacob instantly. But that wasn’t God’s reason for wrestling with him in the first place!

God didn’t pin Jacob down and make him cry “uncle”.  He didn’t force his will on Jacob.  The wrestling had to do with Jacob’s struggle of obeying God’s command to move back home. God let Jacob wrestle all night long. God patiently wrestled WITH Jacob until he was ready to fully surrender to God.

No more deception. No more scheming. From now on it had to be God’s way, not “Jacob’s way.”

God lets us make move after move as we work through our uncertainties, dilemmas, and trials.

Jacob’s Hip

To remind Jacob that His will is sovereign, God finally dislocates his hip to end the match. Ouch!

God was preparing Jacob to return to Canaan, the promised land, and Jacob needed to understand that God was in control. At that point, Jacob realizes he is wrestling with God and that he needs God’s blessing in his life to go forward and reunite with his brother. Jacob finally fully surrenders and trusts in God.

Jacob’s limp lasted his entire life. What a reminder that he needed to surrender and trust in God every day! (Quote source here. The above quote is only a small part of the entire article so be sure to read it in it’s entirety at this link.)

In an article published on September 13, 2021, titled, Wrestling with God: Is It Wrong?” by Benita Weens, MA, MDiv, LMHC at Seattle Christian Counseling, she writes:

Depending on your understanding of who God is, you might initially think that the answer to this question is “No.” God is a lofty, powerful being you shouldn’t trifle with. So, the idea of wrestling with him seems flippant, arrogant, and even disrespectful. It seems too much like playing with or disobeying God.

However, one of the ways God describes himself is “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6).

Another passage reminds us that “The high and lofty one who lives in eternity, the Holy One, says this: ‘I live in the high and holy place with those whose spirits are contrite and humble. I restore the crushed spirit of the humble and revive the courage of those with repentant hearts.’” (Isaiah 57:15).

God dwells with those who are humble and repentant, and if we are his children, that means us. In many other places, we are reminded that God is willing to meet us in our weakness, that he knows us through and through. All this is in the Old Testament! The God of the Old Testament is the same as the God and Father of Jesus in the New Testament.

To help us understand God better, and what wrestling with God is all about, we can look at a few examples of people wrestling with God throughout the Bible, such as Abraham, Moses, Daniel, Jacob, Hannah, Paul, the unnamed Canaanite woman, the unnamed Samaritan woman, and Jesus with his Father in the garden of Gethsemane. [Specific stories available at this link.]

This wrestling took several forms. Sometimes wrestling with God is about going back repeatedly in prayer over something that is confusing us that he has said or that is happening in our lives.

Sometimes, the wrestling looks a bit like negotiating with God, and at other times it looks like reminding God of his promises while asking him to act. At other times wrestling with God is about struggling to come to terms with God’s will for our lives and seeking strength to go with God’s plan. (Quote source here. The above quote is only a small part of the entire article so be sure to read it in it’s entirety at this link.)

And in one last article published on February 11, 2019, titled, A Prayer for When You’re Wrestling with God,” by Debbie McDaniel, contributing writer on iBelieve.com, she writes:

Some days get hard. The pressures of life can start to feel like a struggle. Maybe we’ve been waiting on an answer to the prayers we’ve been praying. Yet God’s timing seems off. We start to wonder if He’s even listening, or if He really cares about all that concerns us. We may feel stuck in difficult situations. We just don’t know what else to do.

If you’re wrestling today, in your thoughts, in your heart, and peace seems far away, press in close to Him my friends. He is near to all those who are crushed in Spirit. He gently reminds you He is faithfully leading, even in the most difficult of times. He will carry you through all that He’s purposed in His heart for your journey in this life. Often our greatest battles are more about what is unseen than what is seen. We may not fully understand why everything has happened the way it has this side of heaven. But we can be assured that God is a light-bringer, a hope-giver, and He will use this trial for great good, both in our lives, and in those around us.

And who knows, but that you were called to this season, for such a time as this…. (Quote source here. Click here to read her prayer and the rest of her article.)

I’ll end this post with the words mentioned at the end of the article above found in Esther 4:14…Yet who knows whether you have come….

For such . . .

A time . . .

As this . . . .

YouTube Video: “God, Turn It Around” by Jon Reddick (ft. Matt Maher):

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Act Justly, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly

We are now four days into the new year of 2023. Have you made any New Year’s resolutions yet? You know the kind of resolutions–lose “X” number of pounds, diet, exercise, etc., and mostly the type of resolutions that “bite the dust” before the end of January.

This morning I read a verse in today’s “Devotion for Today” in one of the daily email devotions I receive, and I realized as I read this verse that it gives us three very good resolutions to consider for this new year. And you don’t have to lose weight, diet, give up chocolate, or exercise to consider them. The verse is found in Micah 6:8 (NIV):

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God.

There they are–three very good resolutions to consider: (1) Act justly, (2) love mercy, (3) walk humbly. So what does each of these mean?

In answer to the question of the meaning of Micah 6:8, GotQuestions.org give us the following answer:

One of the most popular verses among both Jews and Christians promoting social justice is Micah 6:8. It reads, “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Many desire to know more about what this inspiring verse teaches on the issues of justice, mercy, and humility.

Micah 6 involves an imaginary conversation between the Lord and Israel. In verses 1-5 the Lord introduces His case against the disobedient people of Israel. Verses 6-7 record Israel’s response as a series of questions beginning with, “With what shall I come to the Lord?” (Micah 6:6).

Israel’s focus is on their external religious rites, and their questions show a progression from lesser to greater. First, they ask if God would be satisfied with burnt offerings of year-old calves (Micah 6:6b), offerings required in the Law of Moses. Second, they ask if they should bring “thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil” (Micah 6:7a). This is the rhetoric of hyperbole; such an offering could only be made by someone extremely wealthy or by the larger community of God’s people. Third, they ask whether they should offer their firstborn sons as a sacrifice for God. Would that be enough to cover their sin? Would God be pleased with them then?

Verse 8 follows with God’s answer, rooted in the Law of Moses: “He has told you, O man, what is good.” In other words, Israel should already have known the answer to their questions. God then says that He did not need or desire their religious rites, sacrifices, or oblations. Instead, the Lord sought Israel’s justice, mercy, and humility.

The answer to Israel’s sin problem was not more numerous or more painful sacrifices. The answer was something much deeper than any religious observance: they needed a change of heart. Without the heart, Israel’s conformity to the Law was nothing more than hypocrisy. Other prophets tried to communicate a similar message (Isaiah 1:14Hosea 6:6Amos 5:21). Unfortunately, God’s people were slow to heed the message (Matthew 12:7).

“Act justly” would have been understood by Micah’s audience as living with a sense of right and wrong. In particular, the judicial courts had a responsibility to provide equity and protect the innocent. Injustice was a problem in Israel at that time (Micah 2:1-23:1-36:11).

“Love mercy” contains the Hebrew word “hesed” which means “loyal love” or “loving-kindness.” Along with justice, Israel was to provide mercy. Both justice and mercy are foundational to God’s character (Psalm 89:14). God expected His people to show love to their fellow man and to be loyal in their love toward Him, just as He had been loyal to them (Micah 2:8-93:10-116:12).

“Walk humbly” is a description of the heart’s attitude toward God. God’s people depend on Him rather than their own abilities (Micah 2:3). Instead of taking pride in what we bring to God, we humbly recognize that no amount of personal sacrifice can replace a heart committed to justice and love. Israel’s rhetorical questions had a three-part progression, and verse 8 contains a similar progression. The response of a godly heart is outward (do justice), inward (love mercy), and upward (walk humbly).

The message of Micah is still pertinent today. Religious rites, no matter how extravagant, can never compensate for a lack of love (1 Corinthians 13:3). External compliance to rules is not as valuable in God’s eyes as a humble heart that simply does what is right. God’s people today will continue to desire justice, mercy, and humility before the Lord. (Quote source here.)

Let’s take a closer look at each of these three requirements.

Act Justly

In an article published titled, Act Justly, Love Mercy, and Walk Humbly: What Does It Mean?” by Suzanne Benner,  author of two books and contributor on TheLife.com, she writes:

These familiar words help to explain what acting justly means:

    • Impartial. As disciples of Jesus, acting justly means making fair decisions in our business and personal lives. James instructs us not to show favoritism to beautiful, “important,” or rich people (James 2:1-13). Do I show more courtesy to a well-dressed business woman than I do to a homeless man or a person in drag? God stamped his image on every human being and I acknowledge that truth when I treat all people with dignity.
    • Accurate. Truthful living means I refuse to exaggerate to make myself look better than my actions prove I really am. I deceive only myself when I try to rationalize my decisions or behavior.
    • Lawful. God establishes governing authorities (Romans 13:1-7). He commands me to obey both the rules of the land and of the road, and to respect everyone in authority, regardless of whether or not I agree with him or her politically.
    • Righteous. The Bible provides our moral standard; it defines right and wrong. The words and actions of a person of integrity align with God’s truth. He or she does what is right even when no one is watching—even when it takes more time or costs more money.

Acting justly requires action, not mere talk. Speaking about injustice—abortion, human trafficking, displaced people—may make me appear caring, but words do nothing to ease the pain of those suffering. Biblical justice is never divorced from acts of love and mercy. (Quote source and complete article available at this link.)

Love Mercy

In an article titled, What Does it Look Like to ‘Do Justice, Love Mercy and Walk Humbly Today?” by Britt Mooney, contributor on CrossWalk.com, he writes:

“Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13).

We deserved judgment. Condemnation. Every human being has sinned, separated from God (Romans 3:23). We were rebels against the Creator’s authority and awaited His wrath (Eph 2:3).

But God. Those two words are among the most comforting in the scriptures. 

Despite what we deserved, completely justified, God chose to send His Son to provide a way—to BE the way—of reconciliation to the Father (John 14:6). Through Christ, we are born again as children of the Father and citizens of the eternal Kingdom of God (John 3:3-16).

All of this happened because of God’s love. His mercy.

We who have been such recipients of overwhelming mercy, now love mercy (Luke 6:36). In experiencing that undeserved mercy, we don’t seek judgment. Jesus came not to condemn the world but that it would be saved (John 3:17). As His Body, our heart in the Spirit is the same.

Condemnation and destruction will come for those who don’t respond, but we seek to show God’s mercy out of His love in our hearts.

Without our understanding of our desperate need of Him in all things (humility) and the saving power of mercy, we cannot hope to participate in the justice of God. (Quote source and complete article available at this link.)

Walk Humbly

In an article titled, How to Apply Micah 6:8 to Your Life,” by David Kool and Andrew Ryskamp, contributors on Faithward.org, they write:

To “walk humbly with God” is the basis for loving mercy and doing justice. Because of what God has done, we fully invest in healing the world around us through mercy and justice. Cultivating our walk with God provides the power and passion for us to fully engage—it grounds everything else we do.

The “walk” metaphor is used often in Scripture to describe the overall direction one’s life is heading. In Deuteronomy, there are a number of references to walking in the way of the Lord, several psalms refer to a walk being blameless, and 1 John encourages us to walk in the light. This poetic picture envisions a comfortable relationship of presence with God and a life that fits into that path. 

The adverb “humbly” moves us away from arrogance and the egocentric need to always be better than others, to the simple acceptance of the gifts that God has placed within us. The hymnTrust and Obey might come to mind: “When we walk with the Lord in the light of his Word, what a glory he sheds on our way! While we do his good will, he abides with us still, and with all who will trust and obey.” (Quote source and complete article available at this link.)

Being humble is at the core of Micah 6:8. In an article titled, 4 Ways to be Humble as Christians,” by the ORBC Family at Oak Ridge Baptist Church, they write:

Humility can be difficult for us to master as Christians. In James 4:10, the Bible tells us to “humble ourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor.” But how do we humble ourselves, and stay humble as Christians? Let’s dive deeper into this topic.

How do we stay humble as Christians?

There are multiple ways to keep humility in our lives, and some of them involve leaning on others and God for help. Some of it is a mindset change, like being grateful for what God gives you or keeping your pride in check. Finally, we recommend offering yourself grace as you learn to be humble the way God calls us to be. [See article at this link for complete description of each of the four points listed below.]

    1. Be Grateful For What God Gives You
    2. Accept Corrections Gracefully From Others
    3. Be Considerate Towards Others
    4. Follow Jesus’ Teachings

Walking with humility is essential to the Christian life. We encourage you to spend time in the Word so you can learn how to have humility in your life. (Quote source here.)

So, let us consider how we can be all that God would have us to be and to do in 2023 and beyond….

Act justly . . .

Love mercy . . .

And walk humbly . . . .

YouTube Video: “Act Justly, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly” by Pat Barrett:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

All Things New (Again)

Here we are again–starting another brand new year. One of the first verses that came to my mind when I woke up this morning to start off this brand new year of 2023 is found in Isaiah 43:18-19:

Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I [God] am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.

What I’ve discovered over the past dozen years is that it is often very hard to stop dwelling on and remembering the “formers things,” especially those things that dramatically changed my life from that point on. And it’s often hard to recognize that God is doing new things in our lives in spite of those things we find hard to forget.

As I started writing this blog post, I discovered that I had already written a blog post titled, All Things New,” back on March 9, 2019. Back then I was still living in a hotel room, and my father was still alive, but he died three months later on June 22, 2019. There have been a couple of significant changes since I wrote that blog post (Dad’s death being one of them), but another big change was that my hotel room living days finally ended six years to the day from when they first started back in the fall of 2014. I found an apartment to rent in October 2020, but it was not in an income-based senior apartment complex that I had spent six years looking for and that I never found. Instead, it is in an all-ages apartment complex where I am currently living.

As I read through that blog post that I published back in March 2019, I could feel just how hard it is to “forget the former things” when they have had such an enormous impact on my life. It took me a year to adjust to my new living environment in an apartment complex in a very different area of the city from living in very small hotel room in a very different neighborhood for several years. Also, I moved into an empty apartment with nothing more then what I had with me in the hotel room since I lost all my furniture back in 2009 after I lost my job back then. It took me the first six months living in my apartment to get the furniture that I needed to furnish it.

A lot has happened since 2009, and most of the main points I wrote about in that blog post I published back in March 2019. Rereading that post today on the very first day of a brand new year almost four years later has left me with mixed feelings. I wish it was easier to “forget the former things.”

In a weekly devotion published on Hebrews12Endurance.com titled, Forget the Former Things (author’s name is not mentioned), the author states the following:

Isaiah 43 talks about the Redeemer of Israel. Though Israel had been disobedient and had served idols, God wanted them to know He was their Redeemer. They were thrice His. First, because He created them, then because He had formed them and given them a shape, and thirdly because He had reclaimed them from where they had been exiled.

“Forget the former things,” God said, “don’t dwell on the past. I’m going to do something new.” Isaiah 43:18-19. For the people of that time, God was letting them know that His power was not limited to things He had done in the past. Rather, He would do new and wonderful things in the future.

My friend, that message is applicable to us today. Many times we live as though God has already extended the fulness of His power and is not capable of doing the impossible in our lives. We act as though He can’t still work miracles. But God is a God of the impossible. He’s not limited by what He has done in the past or by our imagination.

Forget the former things. Behold, He’s doing a new thing, can you not see it? Ask Him to open your eyes so you can experience His power.

Prayer: Father, forgive me for thinking You are limited to the miracles of the past. Open my eyes to the wonderful things You’re doing even now. I know You’re doing new things and making paths in places where it seemed impossible. Thank You for what You’ve done in the past and what You will do in the future. In Jesus’s name, I pray, Amen. (Quote source here.)

In a devotion titled, Don’t Dwell on the Past,” by J. M. Farro, devotional author and staff member at JFH.com, she writes about a personal experience regarding the home she grew up in that had been in the family for 50 years, but it was now being sold, and how the memories of all those years brought “waves of sorrow” over her that affected her both physically and emotionally. She mentions how God gave her confirmation that dwelling on the past would only do her harm physically and emotionally. She ended her devotion with the following:

God commands His people in the Scriptures, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.” (Isaiah 43:18 NIV) Why is the Lord against us dwelling on the past? Because doing so can cause us to get stuck where we are. When our focus is on the past, it’s too easy for us to feel sorry for ourselves. Or to focus on our regrets. Or to think that our best days are behind us. Worst of all, dwelling on our past can make us feel unthankful for all of the blessings in our lives, especially the blessings we have in the present.

In the next verse of this passage of Scripture, God goes on to say, “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:19 NIV) If we put these two verses together, we see that the Lord wants us to resist dwelling on the past so that we can “perceive” the “new thing” He wants to do in our lives. He knows that if we are unreceptive to the brand-new things He’s about to do, then we might delay or prevent them from coming to pass. Don’t miss the excitement that is in the Lord’s voice within these verses. He knows that what He has in store for us is far better than anything we could imagine. The Living Bible translation bears this out when it says, “But forget all that–it is nothing compared to what I’m going to do!” (v. 18)

What is it in your past that you have been dwelling on? On behalf of the Lord, I urge you today–“Forget about what’s happened; don’t keep going over old history. Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand new. It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it? There it is!” (Isaiah 43:18-19 MSG)

Prayer: Lord, I don’t want to miss out on any of the wonderful plans You have for my life. Teach me how to resist dwelling on the past in ways that will cause me to get stuck. Show me how to constantly move forward into the better things You have for me up ahead. Guard me from self-pity, feelings of regret, and unthankfulness, and help me to maintain an attitude of gratitude at all times. Thank You that as I keep my eyes of faith open, I will be able to perceive the new things You have in store for me! (Quote source here.)

Part of the reason it has been hard for me to “forget the past” is because some of it is still linked to the present. While we can’t see the “bigger picture” that God sees, sometimes he gives us glimpses into it to help us with those things we don’t understand. After all, Isaiah 55:8-9 states:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,
    declares the Lord.
As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.

In the second devotion above, J. M. Farro mentions that she kept dwelling on the past, even though it was causing her pain. And when she sought the Lord for wisdom, he gave her “clear confirmation in the matter, allowing her to suffer the natural consequences of her actions, so that she would be much more careful in the future about dwelling on the past in ways that could do her harm” (quote source here). As I read what she wrote, it really struck a chord with me regarding my dwelling on my past over the past dozen years.

Now that a brand new year is beginning to unfold starting with today, it is my desire to finally let go of the past, and to stop dwelling on it. It harms no one but me to dwell on it,  and I only have responsibility over my own thoughts and actions, and not the actions of others.

Perhaps there is someone in my reading audience who is going through the same thing–not being able to totally let go of something in your past and move forward. If so, I hope this post has offered some encouragement for you (as it has to me, too) to finally let go of whatever it might be that you can’t seen to let go of, and to pray as J.M. Farro prayed–to keep our eyes of faith open, so we will be able to perceive the new things God has in store for us!

I’ll end this post with the words from Paul found in Philippians 3:13-14Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

So, Forget the Past . . .

And Keep On . . .

Pressing On!!!

YouTube Video: “All Things New” by Big Daddy Weave:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Let There Be Peace

Merry Christmas! The YouTube video above is titled, “Glory (Let There Be Peace),” sung by Matt Maher. The chorus to the song is below:

We’re singing glory, gloryLet there be peace, let there be peaceWe’re singing glory, gloryLet there be peace,
Let it start in me

The key to the chorus is found in the last line–“Let it start with me.”

In an article published on May 1, 2017, titled, What Peace Is Not,” by J. Koon, contributor on YMI.today, she writes:

When we think of the word “peace”, we often imagine serene scenes of nature. We think of quiet country roads below blue skies dotted with fluffy white clouds, vast green fields stretching beyond the horizon, and calm seas with seagulls and egrets flying overhead. We think of resting our tired bodies on a soft, comfortable bed and dozing off to unruffled, sweet dreams.

However, we know that life on this earth is not a placid existence. We live in a tumultuous world with plenty of problems on both the macro and micro scale. We face stormy seas and relentless monsoon rains in our bustling cities; we’re constantly stuck in traffic jams or in the unforgiving rat race. We face sickness, financial issues, emotional problems, injustice, and wars.

Against this backdrop, it is difficult to imagine having peace and hope. Who can we trust to grant us peace?

Isaiah 9:6 says: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

God knows that we live in a troubled world. He gave us the Prince of Peace—His Son, Jesus. Jesus Himself says: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)

The peace Jesus grants us is not just a subjective feeling of wellness or the absence of trials; it is the confidence that we are right with God because of His sacrifice on the cross for us.

Even as we face momentary troubles in life, we can rest assured because of the hope we have—that everything will be made perfect in time.

Many years have passed since I have come to know Jesus, and He has consistently been a faithful companion and constant comfort through the ups and downs of life. Heartbreak, failures and disappointments may come my way but I am confident that only God can provide, that He cares, and that everything will eventually work out for good according to His will.

If you are facing storms in your life today, may I encourage you to surrender your problems to Christ and experience His amazing peace? (Quote source here.)

Jesus gives us the best gift of all–“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27). And he doesn’t just give it to us at Christmas but throughout the entire year.

In an article published on December 21, 2021, titled, Christmas Every Day,” by Pete Briscoe, preaching coach and former senior pastor at Bent Tree Bible Fellowship for over 30 years, he writes:

“I hate the giving of the hand unless the whole man accompanies it.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson

This Christmas, remember that the true value of a gift depends on how you measure it. Sure, a gift with a large price tag might seem more valuable, but only by the world’s standards. As usual, God looks at it differently:

As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” (Luke 21:1-4)

If you’re feeling like you have nothing left to give right now, that verse is worth pondering. She gave more; she gave out of her poverty; she put in all she had to live on. Think about this a little bit—it puts a whole new twist on Christmas when we consider this passage in light of who we are in Christ and who Christ is in us.

Mary carried Jesus for nine months in order to deliver Him to the world. We carry Jesus for the rest of our lives in order to deliver Him to the world. As living sacrifices, we take Him to mankind so that Christ might literally touch people through our hands, feet, and voices. When we allow Christ to live through us in this way, we are sharing our very life, everything we have, more than anything that can be bought.

Have you ever realized it? Have you ever thought about this? God basically asks us to do the same thing He asked Mary to do. He came to Mary, someone who had nothing to give, and He basically said, make your body a living sacrifice to me. Entrust yourself to me. Now He looks at us and says exactly the same thing.

“Lord, one more time, I willingly and joyfully lay myself at Your feet to be used as the packaging and wrapping of Your gift of Jesus to the world every day, all year long. In the midst of all the holiday noise, give me ears to hear the gentle voice of Your Spirit nudging me toward tangible acts of love. Amen.” (Quote source here.)

Whether we are celebrating Christmas with family, or we are celebrating Christmas alone (for any number of reasons why that may be the case), let us remember that in God’s eyes, no one is insignificant… ever.

In an article published on February 11, 2021, titled, Significance in Insignificance,” by Trevin Wax, vice president of research and resource development at the North American Mission Board and a visiting professor at Cedarville University, he write:

Micah [see Micah 5:2-4] prophesied that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem to rule on behalf of God Himself. And in choosing Bethlehem as the birthplace of the future King, God shows how He delights in bestowing significance upon the insignificant.

1. Greatness will come from the place of humility.

Bethlehem was a minor town. Yes, King David was born there, but like David himself, there was no initial pomp to impress you. When God told Samuel to anoint the next king, He sent him to Jesse’s house, and when Samuel saw Jesse’s strongest son, God said:

Do not look at his appearance or his stature because I have rejected him. Humans do not see what the Lord sees, for humans see what is visible, but the Lord sees the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7)

Jesse hadn’t even thought to bring in the youngest—David, the shepherd boy. Surely if God is the Captain choosing the best for His team, He’s not going for David, the boy writing songs and playing his harp, who spends all his time with the sheep!

But God’s plan was for the great king to arise from a place of great humility. God knows that when He brings greatness out of humility, He gets all the praise. Someone humble—that’s who God can work with. God lifts up the humble in order to magnify His grace, mercy, and freedom. That’s why a thousand years later, the Apostle Paul would write:

God has chosen what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen what is weak in the world to shame the strong. God has chosen what is insignificant and despised in the world—what is viewed as nothing—to bring to nothing what is viewed as something, so that no one may boast in his presence. (1 Cor. 1:27-29)

God is not impressed by our achievements, by our gifts, talents, or boastings. The world has enough people who boast of their accomplishments. God raises up people who will boast only in Him.

2. Authority will come from the place of vulnerability. 

Another important aspect of Micah’s prophecy: this Ruler with worldwide authority will come from a place of utter vulnerability. Even though Bethlehem was under threat of siege, Micah foresaw how ultimate authority would one day rise out of this town through Jesus.

Authority and vulnerability. Centuries later, a pregnant teen gave birth in a smelly stable in Bethlehem, and we see in that scene of humility and vulnerability the truth: the King of the world is the swaddled Baby crying quietly in the manger.

The world’s vision of authority emphasizes strength and power. Don’t you dare show weakness! Never concede. Never back down! The world looks for status in the luxurious life, not the meager manger.

But God turns upside down all expectations. The Son of God became an infant. The One through whom and in whom and for whom the whole world was made and holds together submitted to the helplessness of infancy to demonstrate that His ways surpass the ways of the world.

3. Security will come through the strength of God.

Micah foretold the coming of Messiah from Bethlehem and also pointed toward the future reign of Jesus when He comes again.

He will stand and shepherd them in the strength of the Lord, in the majestic name of the Lord his God. They will live securely, for then his greatness will extend to the ends of the earth. (Micah 5:4)

This Ruler who rises from humble circumstances, from the place of vulnerability, will return to shepherd “in the strength of the Lord.”

It’s easy in our day for leaders with authority to rule in their own strength. You may feel insecure about your status, wondering if you have what it takes. You try to compensate for that insecurity in other ways. When you’re not secure about your own name, you drop the names of others. When you’re not secure in your own status, you promote yourself and list your accomplishments. When you’re in a place of leadership, you minimize your vulnerability by blaming others for failure or by abusing the privilege you’ve been given.

Yet those of us who follow Christ must remember our security comes from God’s strength alone. Our well-being comes from knowing an all-powerful, all-good God who orchestrates all things for His glory.

So, today, if you feel “less than, inferior, that you can never measure up,” look not to yourself but to the greatness of Christ. If you feel vulnerable, small, or insignificant, remember that Jesus arose from a place of obscurity. If you feel weak, unsure, and unknown, draw your strength from God. God specializes in lavishing grace upon unworthy people. He delights in doing great things through the one the world would pick last. (Quote source and complete article available at this link.)

I’ll end this post with the words from Isaiah 9:6: For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor…

Mighty God . . .

Everlasting Father . . .

Prince of Peace . . . .

YouTube Video: “A Family Christmas” by The Piano Guys (47 minutes of beautiful Christmas music):

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

A Hallelujah Christmas

The YouTube video above is “A Hallelujah Christmas” sung by Cloverton.

“A Hallelujah Christmas”
(Cloverton lyrics;
originally by Leonard Cohen)

I’ve heard about this baby boy
Who’s come to earth to bring us joy
And I just want to sing this song to you
It goes like this, the fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
With every breath I’m singing Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

A couple came to Bethlehem
Expecting child, they searched the inn
To find a place for You were coming soon
There was no room for them to stay
So in a manger filled with hay
God’s only Son was born, oh Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

The shepherds left their flocks by night
To see this baby wrapped in light
A host of angels led them all to You
It was just as the angels said
You’ll find Him in a manger bed
Immanuel and Savior, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

A star shown bright up in the east
To Bethlehem, the Wise Men three
Came many miles and journeyed long for You
And to the place at which You were
Their frankincense and gold and myrrh
They gave to You and cried out Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

I know You came to rescue me
This baby boy would grow to be
A man and one day die for me and you
My sins would drive the nails in You
That rugged cross was my cross, too
Still every breath You drew was Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah
(Lyrics: AZLyrics.com)

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YouTube video below: “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” played by The Piano Guys:

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Over a thousand people came together to break a record
and bring this moving Christmas hymn below to life.
The Piano Guys, Peter Hollens, David Archuleta,
and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir
get together to sing
“Angels We Have Heard On High”

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YouTube video below: “Little Drummer Boy” sung by for KING & COUNTRY:

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Photo credit here

A Thankful Heart

I started off this month publishing a blog post titled, A Month of Gratitude,” on November 1, 2022, and considering that the day we celebrate the national holiday of Thanksgiving is now only a few days away, let’s take a look at some thoughts on the topic of gratitude and thanksgiving.

In an article published on October 13, 2021, titled, The Importance of Gratitude on Your Well-Being (author’s name not mentioned), the article states:

We hear it all the time: the importance of being thankful, or showing gratitude. For some people, these words elicit an eye roll or a blank stare (at best). Sure, we know that gratitude is important in an abstract sort of way—but it can be hard to take seriously when our primary mode of interaction with the concept is the #ThankfulThursday hashtag on social media.

In many ways, as a society, we’ve lost touch with the true meaning of gratitude. And that’s understandable—gratitude requires reflection and stillness, two things that can be difficult in our busy, overstimulated everyday lives. As a result, we’re also missing out on the benefits of gratitude, which may be greater than many people realize. As it turns out, the effects of gratitude can be important for our overall well-being for several reasons: 

    • Improved mental health. If you’re struggling with anxiety or depression, gratitude might be the last thing on your mind. However, as it turns out, gratitude could be a key component of helping with your mental health. One study showed that participants who wrote gratitude letters regularly displayed significantly better mental health than those who didn’t. In fact, brain scans suggested that gratitude might even have the power to rewire our brains for the better.
    • Improved physical health. Better sleep and immunity? Yes please! Fortunately, neither require a visit to the doctor’s office or a new prescription. Gratitude has been shown to help with both, and may even be linked to reduced pain and improved cardiovascular health as well.
    • Stronger social bonds. It’s no secret that people like to feel appreciated. Gratitude kept to yourself can have tremendous benefits. But expressing your gratitude makes it real to you and benefits the recipient. It is also tied to your physical and mental well-being. And importantly, expressing your gratitude often build connections and improve your relationships. 
    • Resilience. Gratitude has the effect of helping us to refocus on positive emotions. It guides us to take an optimistic, solution-oriented approach to the challenges that we encounter in life. Both of which are hugely important to building resilience. Resilience, in turn, improves our overall quality of life by enabling us to bounce back from the hardships we face. 

If the idea of beginning a gratitude practice feels overwhelming or cheesy, keep in mind that it doesn’t have to be difficult. You can start small by setting aside time each day to think or write about three things that you’re grateful for, or writing a gratitude letter once a week. If you’re comfortable expressing your gratitude, set a goal for yourself to tell someone that you appreciate them every day. After all—you’ve got nothing to lose, and so much to gain! (Quote source here.)

Next, is an article title, Six Habits of Highly Grateful People,” published on November 20, 2013, by Jeremy Adam Smith, who edits the online magazine, Greater Good. He states:

I’m terrible at gratitude.

How bad am I? I’m so bad at gratitude that most days, I don’t notice the sunlight on the leaves of the Berkeley oaks as I ride my bike down the street. I forget to be thankful for the guy who hand-brews that delicious cup of coffee I drink mid-way through every weekday morning. I don’t even know the dude’s name!

I usually take for granted that I have legs to walk on, eyes to see with, arms I can use to hug my son. I forget my son! Well, I don’t actually forget about him, at least as a physical presence; I generally remember to pick him up from school and feed him dinner. But as I face the quotidian slings and arrows of parenthood, I forget all the time how much he’s changed my life for the better.

Gratitude (and its sibling, appreciation) is the mental tool we use to remind ourselves of the good stuff. It’s a lens that helps us to see the things that don’t make it onto our lists of problems to be solved. It’s a spotlight that we shine on the people who give us the good things in life. It’s a bright red paintbrush we apply to otherwise-invisible blessings, like clean streets or health or enough food to eat.

Gratitude doesn’t make problems and threats disappear. We can lose jobs, we can be attacked on the street, we can get sick. I’ve experienced all of those things. I remember those harrowing times at unexpected moments: My heart beats faster, my throat constricts. My body wants to hit something or run away, one or the other. But there’s nothing to hit, nowhere to run. The threats are indeed real, but at that moment, they exist only in memory or imagination. I am the threat; it is me who is wearing myself out with worry.

That’s when I need to turn on the gratitude. If I do that enough, suggests the psychological research, gratitude might just become a habit. What will that mean for me? It means, says the research, that I increase my chances of psychologically surviving hard times, that I stand a chance to be happier in the good times. I’m not ignoring the threats; I’m appreciating the resources and people that might help me face those threats…. (Quote source here; and his “six habitscan be read in his article at this link.)

In my blog post published on November 1, 2022, titled, A Month of Gratitude,” I decided that very day to start my morning prayer (while still in bed) with “Thank you, God,” and listing all the things I thank Him for doing in my life, and I focus on Him first and foremost, and not on anything else that might be going on in my life. I’ve been doing that every morning right up through this morning, and I plan to continue doing it long after November has ended. I haven’t been keeping a journal, but I have noticed the difference in some very positive ways which I may publish at a later date.

GotQuestions.org reminds us why giving thanks to God is so important:

The Bible is filled with commands to give thanks to God (Psalm 106:1107:1118:11 Chronicles 16:341 Thessalonians 5:18). Most verses go on to list reasons why we should thank Him, such as “His love endures forever” (Psalm 136:3), “He is good” (Psalm 118:29), and “His mercy is everlasting” (Psalm 100:5). Thanksgiving and praise always go together. We cannot adequately praise and worship God without also being thankful.

Feeling and expressing appreciation is good for us. Like any wise father, God wants us to learn to be thankful for all the gifts He has given us (James 1:17). It is in our best interest to be reminded that everything we have is a gift from Him. Without gratitude, we become arrogant and self-centered. We begin to believe that we have achieved everything on our own. Thankfulness keeps our hearts in right relationship to the Giver of all good gifts.

Giving thanks also reminds us of how much we do have. Human beings are prone to covetousness. We tend to focus on what we don’t have. By giving thanks continually we are reminded of how much we do have. When we focus on blessings rather than wants, we are happier. When we start thanking God for the things we usually take for granted, our perspective changes. We realize that we could not even exist without the merciful blessings of God.

First Thessalonians 5:18 says, “In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” We are to be thankful not only for the things we like, but for the circumstances we don’t like. When we purpose to thank God for everything that He allows to come into our lives, we keep bitterness at bay. We cannot be both thankful and bitter at the same time. We do not thank Him for evil, but that He is sustaining us through it (James 1:12). We don’t thank Him for harm He did not cause, but we thank Him when He gives us the strength to endure it (2 Corinthians 12:9). We thank Him for His promise that “all things will work together for the good, to those who love God and are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

We can have thankful hearts toward God even when we do not feel thankful for the circumstance. We can grieve and still be thankful. We can hurt and still be thankful. We can be angry at sin and still be thankful toward God. That is what the Bible calls a “sacrifice of praise” (Hebrews 13:15). Giving thanks to God keeps our hearts in right relationship with Him and saves us from a host of harmful emotions and attitudes that will rob us of the peace God wants us to experience (Philippians 4:6–7). (Quote source here.)

And since Thanksgiving is right around the corner, GotQuestions.org reminds us of what our focus as Christians should be on Thanksgiving:

The original thanksgiving celebration was held by the Pilgrim settlers in Massachusetts during their second winter in America in December, 1621. The first winter had killed 44 of the original 102 colonists. At one point their daily food ration was down to five kernels of corn apiece, but then an unexpected trading vessel arrived, swapping them beaver pelts for grain, providing for their severe need. The next summer’s crop brought hope, and Governor William Bradford decreed that December 13, 1621, be set aside as a day of feasting and prayer to show the gratitude of the colonists that they were still alive.

These Pilgrims, seeking religious freedom and opportunity in America, gave thanks to God for His provision for them in helping them find 20 acres of cleared land, for the fact that there were no hostile Native Americans in that area, for their newfound religious freedom, and for God’s provision of an interpreter to the Native Americans in Squanto. Along with the feasting and games involving the colonists and more than 80 Native Americans (who added to the feast by bringing wild turkeys and venison), prayers, sermons, and songs of praise were important in the celebration. Three days were spent in feasting and prayer.

From that time forward, Thanksgiving has been celebrated as a day to give thanks to God for His gracious and sufficient provision. President Abraham Lincoln officially set aside the last Thursday of November, in 1863, “as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father.” In 1941, Congress ruled that after 1941, the fourth Thursday of November be observed as Thanksgiving Day and be a legal holiday.

Scripturally, we find things related to the issue of thanksgiving nearly from cover to cover. Individuals offered up sacrifices out of gratitude in the book of Genesis. The Israelites sang a song of thanksgiving as they were delivered from Pharaoh’s army after the crossing of the Red Sea (Exodus 15). Later, the Mosaic Law set aside three times each year when the Israelites were to gather together. All three of these times [Unleavened Bread (also called the Feast of the Passover) (Exodus 12:15-20), Harvest or Pentecost (Leviticus 23:15-21), and the Feast of Ingathering or Tabernacles (Leviticus 23:33-36)] involved remembering God’s provision and grace. Harvest and Tabernacles took place specifically in relation to God’s provision in the harvest of various fruit trees and crops. The book of Psalms is packed full of songs of thanksgiving, both for God’s grace to the Israelite people as a whole through His mighty deeds, as well as for His individual graces to each of us.

In the New Testament, there are repeated admonitions to give thanks to God. Thanksgiving is to always be a part of our prayers. Some of the most remembered passages on the giving of thanks are the following:

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6).

“Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men” (1 Timothy 2:1).

Of all of God’s gifts, the greatest one He has given is the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ. On the cross of Calvary, Jesus paid our sin debt, so a holy and just Judge could forgive us our sins and give us eternal life as a free gift. This gift is available to those who will call on Christ to save them from their sin in simple but sincere faith (John 3:16Romans 3:19-26Romans 6:23Romans 10:13Ephesians 2:8-10). For this gift of His Son, the gift which meets our greatest need, the Apostle Paul says, “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15).

We, like the Pilgrims, have a choice. In life there will always be those things that we can complain about (the Pilgrims had lost many loved ones), but there will also be much to be thankful for. As our society becomes increasingly secular, the actual “giving of thanks to God” during our annual Thanksgiving holiday is being overlooked, leaving only the feasting. May God grant that He may find us grateful every day for all of His gifts, spiritual and material. God is good, and every good gift comes from Him (James 1:17). For those who know Christ, God also works everything together for good, even events we would not necessarily consider good (Romans 8:28-30). May He find us to be His grateful children. (Quote source here.)

I’ll end the post with the words from Psalm 136:1 (NKJV)–Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good…

For His mercy . . .

Endures . . .

Forever . . . .

YouTube Video: “You Are Good” by Israel and New Breed:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Resilience

On a recent Sunday morning, the senior pastor at the church I attend mentioned a new book he has been reading titled, Resilient (2022), by John Eldredge, a New York Times bestselling author, counselor, and President of Wild at Heart,” which is “a ministry devoted to helping people discover the heart of God and recover their own hearts in God’s love” (quote source inside back cover flap for Resilient”). 

Two days ago I was shopping in a Hobby Lobby store, and among the Christian books being sold (at up to 50% discount) near the front checkout counter area, I noticed a copy of Resilient and I decided to buy it. I have previously read books by John Eldredge and his wife, Stasi, who is also an author, and my interest was piqued by the very positive comments regarding this latest book by John Eldredge as stated by the senior pastor.

preview of Chapters 1 & 2 (in PDF–52 pages) is available online at “Wild at Heart at this link. Amazon.com provides the following information on Resilient:

The human soul has a built-in yearning for joy and beauty and all good things. But that craving for life has taken a real beating in the last few years. Join New York Times bestselling author John Eldredge as he gives you the tools you need to follow Jesus’ path of supernatural resilience so you can reclaim your joy, strengthen your heart, and thrive through the storm.

Between false promises of ease and comfort on one side and the sheer trauma of global disease and disasters on the other, people today are facing a shortage of peace, happiness, and strength. In “Resilient,” Eldredge reveals a path toward genuine recovery and resilience through Jesus himself.

Drawing on wisdom from Scripture and Christian tradition, and illustrated throughout with powerful, true stories of grit and survival, “Resilient” will help you:

    • Recover from the trauma of the COVID-19 pandemic
    • Tap into the river of life that God promises his people
    • Learn to be patient with yourself–genuine recovery from spiritual and emotional trauma takes time and intentionality
    • Create a plan to foster resilience in your day-to-day life
    • Discover deep wells of freedom and strength through Christ who lives within us

Thriving requires a resilient soul. This book will help you find the resilience you long for when the world has gone mad–and discover in Jesus himself the strength that prevails. (Quote source here.)

I’m looking forward to reading the entire book over the next several days, and to pique your interest in this book, as I mentioned above, the first two chapters in the book are available to read online at this link.

So let’s take a closer look at what it means to be resilient. EveryDayHealth.com defines resilience as follows:

Resilience is the ability to withstand adversity and bounce back from difficult life events. Being resilient does not mean a person doesn’t experience stress, emotional upheaval, and suffering. Resilience involves the ability to work through emotional pain and suffering.

Resilience is important because it’s needed to process and overcome hardship. Those lacking resilience get easily overwhelmed, and may turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms. Resilient people tap into their strengths and support systems to overcome challenges and work through problems. (Quote source here.)

From a biblical perspective, what does the Bible have to say about the subject of resilience? GotQuestions.org provides the following information:

Resilience is the quality of being able to adapt to stressful life changes and “bouncing back” from hardship. Resilience is a response to tragedy, crisis, or other life-altering changes that allows us to move on despite the loss. Showing resilience does not mean that a person is unaffected or uncaring about the life change. Resilience is the human heart’s ability to suffer greatly and grow from it. We see examples of national resilience, such as the United States showed after the events of September 11, 2001. We observe personal resilience every day in people who suffer handicaps, deaths of loved ones, and other losses. When people refuse to give up on themselves and the world, even after misfortune, they are being resilient.

Resilience is the biblical norm for Christians. The Bible contains many admonitions to press on (Philippians 3:13–15), overcome hardship and temptation (Romans 12:21), and persevere in the face of trials (James 1:12). It also gives us numerous examples of people who suffered greatly but continued to follow God’s plan for their lives. Proverbs 24:16 could be seen as the theme verse for the resilient:

Though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again,
but the wicked stumble when calamity strikes.

Paul showed great resilience after his life-altering encounter with Jesus (Acts 9). When he was transformed from religious Pharisee to radical Christian, many were not happy with his message. He was beaten, stoned, criticized, jailed, and nearly killed many times (2 Corinthians 11:24–27). One incident especially shows Paul’s exceptional resilience. In Lystra in Asia Minor, he was stoned, dragged out of town, and left for dead, but, when his enemies left, Paul simply got up and went back into the city (Acts 14:19–20). His missionary endeavors continued unabated. Godly resilience enables us to be undeterred from our mission, regardless of the opposition.

In the Old Testament, Job demonstrated great resilience, and God honored him for it. After losing everything, Job was in great agony of soul and body, yet he refused to curse the Lord or give up: “In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing” (Job 1:22). Later, when the suffering intensified, Job’s wife counseled him to “curse God and die!” (Job 2:9), but Job would not even consider such a thing. Despite his suffering, Job knew that God was in control, and that knowledge helped him maintain resilience instead of giving in to defeat. His faith resulted in resiliency.

The believer in Jesus Christ is upheld by God’s power and so is naturally resilient. “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8–9). Christians keep bouncing back. The key to resiliency is faith in the Lord:

The Lord makes firm the steps
of the one who delights in him;
though he may stumble, he will not fall,
for the Lord upholds him with his hand (Psalm 37:23–24).

One enemy of resilience is the incorrect assumption that we know how things will end. When a situation seems out of control or does not appear to be headed in the right direction, we tend to write “The End” over the story. We think we know the final result, so, instead of exercising resilience, we give up or take matters into our own hands. Proverbs 3:5–6 is a good passage to cling to whenever we can see only disaster ahead:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and lean not to your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he shall direct your paths.

Choosing to trust in the Lord rather than rely on what we understand is the best way to stay resilient. (Quote source here.)

In an article published on February 5, 2021, titled, Resilient Faith,” by Sharon Hazel, who blogs at limitless-horizon,” she writes:

In our Western society faith, so often, is an easy choice. We have the freedom to go to church, to read our Bibles, and to talk about our faith without fear of recrimination. But what happens if our comfortable world is shaken in some way? What happens when our choices are restricted or reduced? Will our faith remain steadfast?

Faith is not just about what we know, but in trusting in what we don’t know. Unless we acknowledge that tension, we will never stand firm when second choices threaten to unsettle us.Jeff Lucas, in his book, “Singing in Babylon

Resilient faith is based on the knowledge and experience of a steadfast, true and unchanging God. When we live out our lives depending, not on the strength of our faith but on His faithfulness.

Three Ways to Build Resilient Faith

1. Acceptance of God’s Sovereignty

Resilient faith flourishes not because of the circumstances that we are in, but despite the circumstances. The acceptance which changes the “if God blesses, I will worship Him” to “though I do not understand, yet will I worship.”

Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.Habakkuk 3:17-18

This is a beautifully poetic passage from Habakkuk. And reflects one of the greatest declarations of faith in Scripture. The decision to worship God for who He is, our Lord and Savior and to accept His Sovereignty. When we are willing to submit our will to the Lord and trust in Him through our trials we can find peace of mind in daily life. A strength that develops through focusing, on the eternal rather than the temporal, and trusting in the love of the Lord.

2. Choose our attitude

We build spiritual resilience when we cultivate gratitude. When we are thankful for what we have, rather than focusing on what we have left behind or on what we feel we are missing.

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus1 Thessalonians 5:18

We are resilient when we choose to live in the presentWhen we are willing to adapt and learn from the situation we are in, even when it is not to our choosing. Last year brought challenges with the restrictions that were placed on corporate worship. We then had a choice in how we responded. Were we willing to actively find other ways to connect and worship together. Or would we cling to what we had before, and miss out on a new experience in the present.

3. Walk humbly with God

We accept God’s Sovereignty and give thanks in all circumstances when we maintain the integrity of our faith. To walk humbly with God, reflects our dependence on Him and prayer is the key. Engaging constantly in conversation with God, for “pray continually” comes before “give thanks in all circumstances.” We bring our prayers and petitions to God, we talk with Him and listen for His direction and guidance and receive the strength that we need. God’s grace is sufficient and as we are inspired by His grace we are not intimidated by our circumstances!

Habakkuk completes his prayer, his declaration of faith with the confidence, that with the Lord we can rise above our circumstances:

The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights.Habakkuk 3:19

Resilient Faith demonstrated in the Bible

Scripture is full of examples of those who demonstrated resilient faith in their lives, such as Joseph, Moses, Daniel, Peter, Paul, and John…. Those who through immense trials and difficulties showed that we can, not only survive but, thrive where we are planted. For we are all, to a certain extent, “exiles” on earth when our citizenship is in heaven.

In his book,Singing in Babylon–Finding purpose in Life’s Second Choices,” Jeff Lucas [author, speaker, and senior executive pastor at Timberline Church] explores and develops the theme of second choice lives.

Life is never perfect. As Christians we need to move on from the myth that following Jesus will always give us what we want, our first choice. And that second choices are those situations, very real and painful, that we find ourselves in which we never would have chosen.

Even in chaos, God has a plan and purpose. He works with the found and seeks the lost.Jeff Lucas

The book focuses on Daniel and his friends and their lifelong exile in Babylon. The author skillfully interweaves their experiences with relevant application for our lives today. The godly principles that Daniel and his friends displayed while living out their lives in exile, brings a challenging message. When all apparent choices had been forcibly taken from them, they resolved to live their lives in worship to God, even when in a strange land.

We too can build resilience into our faith, when we trust in God through the unfamiliar and unknown. And we may find, just like Daniel, that the place of suffering can be a place of refinement and growth, where we develop a resilient faith. (Quote source here.)

I’ll end this post with the words of Paul found in Romans 8:38-39For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God…

That is in . . .

Christ Jesus . . .

Our Lord . . . .

YouTube Video: “Stand in Faith” by Danny Gokey:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

A Month of Gratitude

I read a short devotion for October 21st in a daily devotional published by The Upper Room that got me to thinking about the subject of being thankful in all circumstances as the Apostle Paul encourages us to do in I Thessalonians 5:16-18. While the entire devotion isn’t available to read online, you can listen to it at this link.

The devotion titled, Overcoming Despair,” by Amy Graham describes a situation where one year in particular, 2016, was filled with several life-changing events for both her and her husband, the most painful being that they both lost their fathers that year, and they were grief-stricken. Her husband is a pastor who served in leadership roles and he continued to work, but she wrote that she felt alone, angry, and stuck in her grief, and she found it hard to go to God in prayer during this time. As she states in her devotion:

One day, I decided I had to do something to break myself out of this pattern. I sat quietly and simply said, “Thank you, God.” The next day, I thanked God again. With each new day, my time with God grew longer, as did my list of thanks and praise. Each time I expressed gratitude to God, I felt like light was breaking through the darkness that surrounded me. As my spirit of thanksgiving grew, God’s light overcame my despair. (Quote source: The Upper Room, September-October 2022, p. 62; listen to the complete devotion at this link.)

Reading her devotion reminded me of how often I don’t start off my morning prayer (I pray silently before I get out of bed in the morning) with thanking God for all he is doing (after all, he runs the entire universe) instead of going right into any requests or other stuff that is on my mind. While I am not going through a season of grief and despair as the author above wrote, I do sometimes wonder what I’m supposed to be doing at this stage in my life, especially in light of the past dozen plus years that took me in a totally different direction then I ever thought I’d be going in. My feelings are more along the line of perplexity and trying to figure out just what exactly these past dozen years have been all about especially in light of trying to move forward from this point on. Moving forward to what exactly?

After reading that devotion ten days ago, I decided to start my morning prayer (while still in bed) with “Thank you, God,” and focus on Him and not just on my own perplexity about this time in my life. My motto for the past dozen years has been to just take each day as it comes as any future I had hoped for was blown out of the water several year ago. So it’s been sort of like “Lord, here I am… now what?” on a daily basis.

Back in the fall of 2008 when I was working at that job that I lost in April 2009, I started keeping a daily journal of my devotional time that I had first thing in the morning before I went to work each day, and I kept it up after I lost that job in April 2009 and during the following two or three years while I was looking for full time work.

One day I came home to discover a bunch of pages had been ripped out of my journal while I was gone for a few hours from my small furnished apartment in the upstairs of an old house that was mostly vacant except for one other small apartment that was occupied beneath mine. After that discovery, I stopped writing in my journal since it was obvious what I wrote was no longer private, and my apartment was obviously not as secure as I thought it was (but that’s another story altogether).

When I read that devotion mentioned above a few days ago, I thought about starting another journal and writing down any reflections I might have from my morning devotional time. I thought if I had some of my observations from my devotional time written down on paper that it might give me some clarity and direction I should be pursuing at this time. However, I recalled what happened the last time I tried keeping a journal, and I decided not to put anything down on paper again.

What I have come to learn since 2009 is that in our tech-savvy world there really is very little privacy anymore, even in the confines of wherever we are living (whether in a private home or apartment or any other type of housing). Our technology has eyes and ears we never had to worry about in the past, and not only that, it can locate us (as in our exact location) anywhere we are via our smartphones and other techie devices.

I’ve also learned a lot about our world over the past dozen years that I had no clue about, and some of what I have learned can take one’s breath away. I used to think it was the stuff of science fiction, but advances in technology have made it far more science and far less fiction (see article published in 2021 titled, Databit x Databit, We’re Building Our Own Electronic Concentration Camp,” and a second article published in 2014 titled,Life in the Electronic Concentration Camp: The Many Ways That You Are Being Tracked and Controlled,” by John W. Whitehead, Constitutional attorney, and Founder and President of The Rutherford Institute).

As a Christian, I believe there is absolutely nothing going on in this world, and that includes anywhere in this world with it vast array of technological wonders, and it’s lack of privacy, that God is not fully aware of. In fact, Hebrews 4:12-13 states:

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

I will state that I’m not against technology. In fact, I love it! If I had only been younger when PC’s first came out and when the internet first arrived on the scene for public consumption in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, I would have much rather earned a college degree in Information Technology or Computer Science. That’s how much I love technology. But like everything else, it can be used for both good and for evil (and I described some of the evil above).

So, as I think and pray about what I’m supposed to be doing with my life going forward, I would love for some aspect of technology to be a part of it, but I have no clue what that looks like other then I’ve been publishing blog posts on this blog since I first started it back in 2010, and I now have over 800 blog posts published on my two blogs (over 700 posts on this blog and over 100 posts on my second blog). And I do thank God for my love and fascination with all things techie, but I’m also behind in keeping up with it since I haven’t been part of the workforce since 2009.

So, back to the devotion I really related to above when I read it several days ago. While the author was trying to “overcome despair,” I’m trying to “overcome perplexity,” as I feel like I’m spinning my wheels, and I don’t know why it has to keep going on and on without any resolution. So like her, I’ve decided I need to break out of this pattern and to sit quietly and thank God daily, and what better timing for me to do this then during the month of Thanksgiving (November) which started today–a month of gratitude.

So, if you are perhaps in need of overcoming some type of anxiety that you’ve prayed about for a long time but still with no resolution, why not join me in a month of saying “Thank you, God” at the start of every morning with praise and gratitude, and leave the rest with him regarding the situation you are seeking some kind of resolution for. After all, He knows us better then we know ourselves (see Psalm 139).

I’ll end this post with the last two verses in Psalm 139 (vv. 23-24): Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me…

And lead me . . .

In the way . . .

Everlasting . . . .

YouTube Video: “Heart of the Father” by Ryan Ellis:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here