An Invitation to the Thirsty


NOTE: On December 20, 2019, I published the blog post below with the title of “Ho! Everyone” as it is the opening line of Isaiah 55 NKJV. That chapter opens with these words: “Ho! Everyone who thirsts, Come to the waters; And you who have no money, Come buy and eat.” Hence, that is where I got the title for my blog post.

However, I have come to realize this morning (12-24-19) that in today’s English slang the term “Ho” can have an entirely different and very derogatory meaning then it did when the King James Version of the Bible was translated and published in 1611, or when it was updated to the New King James Version in 1982. Also, I’m 67 years old and white, and I don’t know every slang word that is out there in our culture today. So I want to apologize if the original title of this post was misinterpreted or offended anyone. I never meant for it to be taken any other way but as an invitation just like the New King James Version meant it to be taken. I have changed the title of the post and used Isaiah 55 NIV in it’s place. Here is that new version of that post (the old version has been deleted).

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Are you still looking for a last minute Christmas gift since Christmas is right around the corner? The merchandise may be flying off the shelves in stores at this point (along with the cash in our pocketbooks), but here’s a free gift available at anytime for everyone (well, at least those who are thirsty for it) from Isaiah 55 (NIV):

“Come, all you who are thirsty,
    come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
    and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
    and you will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me;
    listen, that you may live.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
    my faithful love promised to David.
See, I have made him a witness to the peoples,
    a ruler and commander of the peoples.
Surely you will summon nations you know not,
    and nations you do not know will come running to you,
because of the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel,
    for he has endowed you with splendor.”

Seek the Lord while he may be found;
    call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake their ways
    and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
    and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

“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.
As the rain and the snow
    come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
    without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
    so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
    It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
    and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
You will go out in joy
    and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
    will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
    will clap their hands.
Instead of the thornbush will grow the juniper,
    and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
This will be for the Lord’s renown,
    for an everlasting sign,
    that will endure forever.”

How great is that invitation? Pretty great! But who will accept it? In an article/sermon published on December 19, 2013 titled, Home for Christmas | A Sermon for Advent 3 | Isaiah 55,” by Steve Thomason, associate pastor at Easter Lutheran Church, artist, and teacher, he writes the following (an audio of his sermon is available at this link):

Let’s play the “fill in the blank” game. I’ll say a phrase and you say what comes next.

There’s no such thing as a free _______. (Answer: lunch.)
You can never go ________. (Answer: home.)
If something is too good to be true, it probably ______. (Answer: is.)

Isn’t that interesting how common those ideas are? It’s pretty safe to guess that a vast majority of people operate under those basic assumptions about how the world works.

The fact that we think that way makes today’s lesson really hard for us to grasp. Our text today flies in the face of this common logic. In Isaiah 55 God says there is a free lunch, that you can go home, and that this offer of reconciliation is for everybody.

I want to do two things to open up our imagination in order to get ourselves in the right frame of mind to hear this text. I have two visuals that I hope will help us.

The first one is this table. It is set for a family to have dinner. In this chair there is a father and a husband. Here sits a wife and a mother. In this chair is a daughter and sister. Then there is this chair. It is empty. Seven years ago there was a fight. The son betrayed the family. Dad became angry and the son left. Seven years they’ve been estranged.

There’s an empty chair.

I wonder, this Christmas–as we approach that time when families gather together–who is not at that table in your network of family and friends? Or, which table are you not at this year?

Hold that image in your mind.

Now I want to show you another image. I’ve been soaking in this text of Isaiah 55 all week. On Wednesday I woke up with a picture in my head and a wild idea of how to express it. So, I took out my iPad and drew this image. I have this cool app that records all the strokes as you draw the picture and then exports it as a movie. I brought the movie in to Jonathan and asked him if he could write some music for it. He had it done by 5pm (the picture and music is on the YouTube video below–do take the time to view it right now before reading the rest of the post–the visual is really cool along with the music and it is only a little over two minutes long):

So, I offer this collaborative piece of art as the second visual to set the stage for Isaiah 55. Let’s walk through this passage together.

This is where we left things last week. We were in Ezekiel and the nation was a pile of dry bones. They have been in exile for 70 years. It seems like the promises God made to Abraham all those years ago are a distant memory. This is a bleak and desolate picture. They are in exile, all seems lost. But then it happens.

Today we turn the corner.

We come to this section of the prophet Isaiah. Let’s take just a moment and find out who Isaiah is and how he fits into the big picture. The book of Isaiah is actually a combination of three books. Book I was written back here in Judah just before the Babylonians came and took everyone into exile. That is chapters 1-39. Book II was written during the exile just before they went home. that’s chapters 40-55. Book III was written after they were established back in Jerusalem.

Our text (Isaiah 55) is the climax of Book II and paints one of the greatest pictures of the Gospel in the whole Bible. It begins like this.

There is light on the horizon.

When we lived in Las Vegas we loved to go down to Southern California. Many times we would drive home at night. That is a long, dark drive from Los Angeles to Las Vegas on I-15. It is nothing but desert for hours.

I remember there was one place where the journey always changed. No matter how tired we were, when we came over the last mountain pass we would look down and the lights of Primm and Las Vegas would spread out before us.

We weren’t there yet, but we could see that it was actually going to happen. The dark part of the night was over and the light of dawn was on the horizon. Do you know that feeling you get down in your stomach when you hit that moment? There is something bubbling up that hadn’t been there before? That’s called Joy.

That is the feeling of Isaiah 55.

God is calling the people to come home and he invites them to a huge feast. He is the father at this table who is reaching out to that estranged son and saying, “It’s time to come home, dinner is ready.”

Let’s look at this feast that God offers. There are three things about this amazing feast.

The first thing is that this feast is free.

Look again at what God says in the first verses of Isaiah 55:

Everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.

There it is. A free lunch.

Contrast this to what Jeremiah wrote (see Lamentations 5) as the first exiles were dragged away to Babylon:

Our inheritance has been turned over to strangers,
our homes to aliens.
We have become orphans, fatherless;
our mothers are like widows.
We must pay for the water we drink;
the wood we get must be bought.

After two generations they had become used to being in exile. Paying for something basic like water was the new normal.

But now, God offers a free lunch.

The second thing about this meal is that it is not junk food.

God continues in Isaiah 55. It says:

Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.

I love how The Message translation puts it.

Why do you spend your money on junk food,
your hard-earned cash on cotton candy?

Here’s the interesting thing. The people weren’t necessarily suffering during their exile. They weren’t slaves like they were back in Egypt. Many of them had actually become quite wealthy and powerful in Babylon. A new empire took over after Babylon. This was the Persian empire. The Persians were actually kind to the people of Judah.

I think that describes us in many ways. Remember two weeks ago when I said that the church is in exile. We live in two kingdoms at the same time. We are in the Kingdom of God, and we live in the host culture of Anoka County [the county where his church is located but we can add in our own county].

Life isn’t bad here. In fact, life is pretty good. Compared to the rest of the world we have it made. Most of us have homes and food on our plates everyday, and our kids are getting a good education and are relatively safe. So, when we hear that there is another Kingdom that God wants us to come to, we’re like, “Naw, I’m fine right here.”

Do you know how it is when you fill up on junk food? Your belly is full, but you’re not really satisfied. When you drink soda, you don’t really get quenched. In the end you are actually poisoning yourself with artificial sweeteners, flavors, and fillers.

But, let’s be honest, when you are munching away at that bag of chips and chugging that lightning Dew and somebody says, “Hey, I’d like to give you a fresh, healthy meal of colorful greens, squash, and organic tofu, for free.” You’ll probably say, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

I think that’s why it is so hard for us here in the suburbs to really buy into the Kingdom that God invites us into every day. The feast is free, and its healthy. But we’re full and it’s probably too good to be true, right?

There’s a third thing about this meal. It is for everybody.

God reminds them that he made a promise to David that his house would live forever.
God made a promise way back to Abraham, remember. He said the he would bless all nations through his family. Here God says, “You shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you.” Later he says, “Let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”

God’s dream for the world is just that. It is for the world. Second Peter 3:9 tells us that God’s will is that none should perish. God has called the church to be that blessing.

The people of Judah heard this invitation. They were invited to come back to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple and be a blessing. But that was just the beginning. The Messiah was coming. Four hundred years later a baby would be born. God would become flesh and Jesus would open up God’s feast to everyone.

Here’s my question to you today. Who is in the empty chair? Is there someone you need to invite home this Christmas? Is there someone who needs to eat the food and drink the water of God’s love and forgiveness?

Even deeper. God is calling you home. Are you eating spiritual junk food, or have you opened your heart to believe, there is a free lunch, I can go home, and, although it seems too good to be true, God does love me, and I can be forgiven and sit at God’s table today. Come, Seek the Lord. Come home for Christmas. (Quote source here.)

What better invitation is there to accept for Christmas (or anytime). So, I’ll end this post with this invitation…

Come home . . .

For . . .

Christmas . . . .

YouTube Video: “O Holy Night” sung by Il Divo:

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

A Different Kind of Christmas

Originally, I had an idea for this blog post to write about something very festive since Christmas is now only three weeks away. However, it just didn’t come together, and I almost decided it was just not meant to be a blog post writing day after all. And then I stumbled upon a Christmas song I didn’t expect to find. It is on the YouTube video at the bottom of this blog post titled, Different Kind of Christmas,” by Mark Schultz, a contemporary Christian music artist. In Mark’s case, the song was written about his father-in-law who had passed away, and he and his wife were experiencing their first Christmas without him.

At some point in time, we all lose a loved one–parent, grandparent, sibling, spouse, a child, other close relatives, a best friend, and anyone who took up a significant part of our heart while they were alive. This year, along with my two brothers and their families, we lost our last parent–our Dad, and Grandpa to my niece and nephews, in June when he died a month shy of his 96th birthday. We were fortunate to have him around for so long. Our mother passed away almost 37 years ago at the age of 54, and our stepmother passed away at 86 in 2011.

In an article titled, Surviving Your First Christmas After the Death of Your Last Parent,” by Kara Jane, a born and raised Texan who blames my sweet Dad for my heavy Texas accent,” and loves cake and writing on her blog (to include cake recipes), IScreamforButterCream.com,” she writes:

My last parent passed away this year. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the holidays coming up. Now, I will tell you that I am not one to wear and/or show all my emotions on my sleeve. I’m also not one to get all depressed about the fact my parents won’t be around when holidays or birthdays roll around… until now. What’s the difference? Well, losing that last parent.

Thirteen years ago, my mother died of an aneurysm. I was twenty-seven years old…now you can do the math to see how old I am now ;). I had just bought a house entirely on my own and she was just about as proud as a person could be. We talked every day.

Now, we didn’t get along 100% of the time, but who does really. My son was seven at the time and while it was very hard for me, it was particularly hard on him.

I have heard before that you never really get over a parent’s death. I agree with that, but only partly. As the years go by, the sting of it lessons. When she first died, I would remember first thing in the morning when I woke up. We used to talk on the phone while I was on my way home from work almost every day, so that was the time of day that was the hardest. I’d suck it up all day at work and then I would cry on my way home every day.

I did that for almost two weeks, and then some days came when I didn’t cry on my way home. And then I could go for a week and not cry. Time is the medicine. I don’t like clichés and the ‘time heals all wounds’ is one I particularly dislike. Although it is true, to a point, the truer statement would be that time lessons the sting of wounds. That’s what I have found.

I won’t say I think about my mom every day. I hear people say things like, “Not a day goes by that I don’t think of her.” In all honesty, that’s just not true for me. That doesn’t mean I didn’t love her. It just means I’ve healed… for the most part anyway. I also don’t think we need to feel guilty about NOT thinking about that person every day. Honestly, I don’t think that’s very healthy to dwell on every single day.

Fast forward to this year. In February, my Dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and was given two weeks to live. He lived one extra week, just to show them who was boss.

Now, having lost one parent already, I knew what I was up against… the difficulty with making daily decisions, the anger and agitation at just little things and the need to be alone yet everyone wanting to ‘be there’ for me. I seriously misjudged how much more difficult it would be to lose my last parent.

If you’ve gone through this, you’ll know what I mean. I had wonderful parents and a wonderful childhood. My parents were my rock… my safety net. Parents are the two people who will love you unconditionally. Yes, I know your child will love you and your spouse will love you, but I’m sorry, it’s just not the same. I know my husband loves me and we took our vows seriously, but his love for me, or mine for him, is not the same kind of unconditional love as a parent’s love.

Not having a parent living in this world with you is like walking a tightrope and there’s no net. Now, I don’t mean a safety net in terms of finances or housing. I mean a safety net as having those two people who will always have your back. Even though you have friends and other family members, it is a feeling of being completely alone. It’s final. I’m it now.

If you are feeling this now, I want you to know that you are not alone. I am right there with ya.

Christmas wreaths on Veterans’ graves 11-28-19

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the holidays and I know there are times it’s going to get to me. Now, I will tell you that I do not like to show vulnerability to people. Words and writing are fine, but I make a point not to cry in front of people if I can help it. There is nothing my husband, nor anyone else, can do for me to take that pain away and I don’t like looking vulnerable in front of people. Maybe I’m weird, but to each his own, right?

I was thinking the other day about how every holiday season, my husband and I have to coordinate events between both of our families and his kids’ mom. It dawned on me that I have no one to coordinate with this year. It sort of makes you feel like your side of the family has just been wiped off the face of the earth. I guess that’s exactly what happened.

So, knowing what was coming up, I sat down to come up with some strategies to help myself this holiday season. I’m a planner and I guess it makes me feel better to try to plan out a strategy for dealing with things.

I wanted to share these strategies with you in the hopes that if you are dealing with something similar, it may help you too… or at the very least, keep you from feeling like you’re alone in this.

1. Replace the sad memories with happy ones:

The death of my Dad is still pretty raw. I sat with him as he died and at times, that comes back to me. When it does, I immediately try to think of something else. That probably isn’t the healthiest way to deal with it, I know, but I also don’t want to torture myself. So, I’ve decided when those memories of sitting with him while he was passing show up, instead of thinking about something completely different, I’m going to make an effort to remember something fun and meaningful we did together.

Maybe the times he let us ride on the tractor with him, or when he taught me to swim or to ride a bike. I’m going to make a real effort to replace the memory of his death, with good and happy memories. I want you to try it too. Replace whatever that memory is that’s making you uncomfortable. Replace it with a happy time. I’m not saying that will take away the sadness. On the contrary, it may make you miss them more, but here’s the thing… you’ll be remembering them the way they’d want you to remember them.

2. Stop with the guilt:

No, I’m not talking about feeling guilty over things you did or things you didn’t do when that person was alive. That is something that cannot be changed and if you are doing that to yourself, stop it… you are just torturing yourself. No, what I mean is stop feeling guilty over how long you’ve been grieving. I don’t mention it that much to people because, well, people feel the need to insert their opinions about it, whether or not they have any idea what it feels like. I don’t want to hear from people, well it’s been 6 months, or it’s been almost a year, so…  They leave the end of the sentence hanging because they don’t want to say to you, it’s been enough time now.  What they don’t understand is that it isn’t like you’re sad all the time, or in a state of utter depression. The grief just kind of comes and goes.

My advice to you, and to myself, is to not feel guilty if you still have trouble with it at times. That’s not weird or abnormal and it doesn’t mean something is wrong with you. Oh, and while you’re at it, don’t feel guilty if you aren’t a crying mess. Sometimes people handle it differently. There’s nothing wrong with that. For me, it’s not the crying that affects me the most, it’s irritability. I try not to be so hard on myself about it.

3. Remember your parent (the way they truly were):

That sounds like a given, but hear me out. If you’re like me, when you think about your parent, it makes you sad that they aren’t here. This is sort of secondary to my first tip, but I’m going to make an effort to let myself remember them the way they truly were. People tend to elevate the dead to sainthood, so fight the urge to do that. All of us have our imperfections. I’m going to make an effort to remember my parents in all their imperfect glory… I actually find it quite humorous to think about all their eccentricities. Try it.

4. Find someone who has gone through it to talk to.

I don’t care how understanding and empathetic a person is, if they have not been through the same thing, they won’t fully understand. It helps to talk to someone who has. My husband is a very ‘feely’ type of a person. If I cry, he’ll cry, but even though he says he feels my pain… he does not fully feel it. His mother, however, does and I sometimes say a few things to her about it. She has lost both parents and although we do not have a ‘pity party’ discussing it, it’s just nice to know someone else who knows how it feels.

Lastly, I think we all kind of look for ways to lessen the pain or difficulty of a situation… I know I do. I try ways to get around it, by occupying my mind constantly and distracting myself. Here’s the thing, I’m going to have to get through it at some point. I’m going to have to stare it in the face and not flinch. It’s going to hurt and there’s not much that is going to sooth it. Some days I may feel like distraction and some days I may feel more like facing it. But for the holidays, I’m going to do my best not to put them to the back of my mind with distraction. They deserve to be remembered, especially during the holidays, even if it hurts.

If you’re reading this and are going through something similar, I hope this has helped you in some small way. If it has, please share with someone else you think might need it. And just know that you’re not alone. (Quote source here.)

As she stated in her last paragraph, what she wrote has helped me (thank you, Kara Jane) and I hope it has helped you, too, by sharing it with you as she requested if you’ve gone through a significant loss, too.

Now before you listen to the YouTube video below by Mark Schultz, you might want to have some Kleenex handy. I just thought I’d warn you ahead of time. I’ll end this post with a couple of quotes I found on LetYourLoveGrow.com.” The first quote is by Emily DickinsonUnable are the loved to die, for love is immortality; and the second quote is by Henry Wadsworth LongfellowHe spake well who said that…

Graves . . .

Are the footprints . . .

Of angels . . . .

YouTube Video: “Different Kind of Christmas” (2014) by Mark Schultz:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

A True Love Story Never Ends

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

Journal cover pic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll end this post with the words from 1 Corinthians 13:4-8aLove is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth . . .

It always protects, always trusts . . .

Always hopes, always perseveres . . .

Love never fails . . . .

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

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

Lessons from “A Christmas Carol”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Learning begins with listening.

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

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

2. Humility enhances vision.

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

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

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

3. Regret leads to renewal.

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

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

4. Bitterness will poison you.

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

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

5. There’s joy in starting over.

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

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

6. We must be present to win.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9. Redemption is about changed hearts.

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

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

10. It’s never too late to change.

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

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

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

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

But the second best time . . .

IS NOW . . . .

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

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

Serenity and Second Chances

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wear love . . .

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

Never be without it . . . .

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

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

The Season for Second Chances

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“To pick up the check,” Daniel explained.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Practical Tips for Giving the Gift of Forgiveness this Christmas:

Forgiveness

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

Check Our Hearts

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

Pray

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

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

Forgiving one another . . .

Just as God through Christ . . .

Has forgiven you . . . .

YouTube Video: “Forgiveness” by Matthew West:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Seven Weeks Until Christmas

With seven weeks to go until Christmas, the signs of Christmas are already everywhere here in America. Yesterday I stopped at a LifeWay Bookstore and they had several new books on their $5.00 sale table. One of them, to my great delight, was one of Max Lucado’s new books published this year (2018) titled simply, Jesus.” Regularly priced at $24.99, it has been on sale for 20% off since it was published until now (I assume for a limited time only it is $5.00–click here to see if that price is still good).

The book is not specifically about Christmas, but it is about Jesus. In the introduction to the book titled, “A Word from Max,” he states the following in the last few paragraphs which follow after a cute story about a his wife’s uncle and the uncle’s son-in-law who had misinterpreted their time on their drive home from a road trip to L.A. from Tulsa and back. The uncle only discovered his mistake when he pulled over to the side of the road and called home, and while talking with his wife he discovered, much to his relief, his mistake. Here’s the rest of the story:

They aren’t the first to make such a mistake. This journey toward home can bewilder the best of us. Truth be told, we’ve all lost track of time. We’ve lost our bearings. We’ve lost our perspective. At one time or another, we’ve all needed help. We need to be reminded where we are and  where we’re headed. For Ellis (the uncle) and Pat (the son-in-law), it was a voice from home.

For us, it’s the name of Jesus, sweetest name ever spoken.

I know, I know. The name Jesus has been derided and mocked, turned into a curse word and a scapegoat for everything from a hammered thumb to medieval Crusades. Peeling back all the layers from the name is no easy task. But it is worth the effort.

To see me is to see God, Jesus said. His voice, God’s voice. His tears, God’s tears. Want to know what matters to God? Find out what matters to Jesus. Want to know what in the world God is doing? Ponder the words of Jesus. Need to know where history is headed? He wrote the time line.

It could be that your experience with the name of Jesus has been less than positive. Did someone ram some frosty ideas about right and wrong down your throat and tell you they started with Jesus? Did a circle of high and mighty folks keep you out because you weren’t good enough? Or maybe no one needs to tell you anything. You’ve fumbled enough footballs in life to know that no one like Jesus would have a spot for someone like you.

Reconsider, won’t you?

What if he really is who he claims to be? The image of the invisible God. And what if he can do what he claimed to do? Lead wayward travelers like you and me on the right road. Maybe it’s time to pull over to the side of the road and make a call.” (Source: “Jesus,” pp. viii -ix.)

As a society and, in fact, the entire world, at this time of year (well, mostly after Thanksgiving) we celebrate Christmas around a jolly fellow named Santa Claus, also known as St. Nick, as well as those of us who celebrate Christmas as the birth of Jesus Christ. However, how did the two end up being celebrated at the same time?

At GotQuestions.org, they give us a brief description on the origin of Christmas:

Christmas is a popular December holiday celebrated by large numbers of people all around the world. Christmas (or “the Mass of Christ”) has long been known as the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, and the celebration first began to be observed in the early fourth century. However, some traditions associated with Christmas actually began as a part of pagan culture; these were “Christianized” and given new meaning by the church.

The exact date of Jesus’ birth is unknown, as the Bible does not give specifics as to the dates of either His birth or conception. But in the second century AD, a Roman Christian historian named Sextus Julius Africanus calculated Jesus’ birthdate to be December 25 (nine months after Jesus was conceived, according to Africanus). In spite of the assumptions made in Africanus’s line of thinking, the date of December 25 was widely accepted.

At the time of Christ, Roman culture already celebrated a holiday in December: Saturnalia honored the god Saturn and was celebrated from December 17 to about December 24. Later, the Romans began celebrating Sol Invictus or the “Unconquered Sun,” associated with the winter solstice and observed on December 25. When Rome eventually instituted Christianity as the state religion in the fourth century, the Roman church converted Saturnalia and Sol Invictus to a Christian holiday, the Feast of the Nativity, in order to commemorate Jesus’ birth, thus providing a spiritually positive alternative to a pagan celebration. The sinful customs and debauchery associated with Saturnalia were “cleaned up,” and some of the customs were absorbed into the celebration of Christmas. Christians have “redeemed” December 25 and have celebrated it as the birth of Christ ever since the fourth century.

Given the association Christmas had with the ancient pagan calendar, the question then becomes, “Since Christmas shares a date with a pagan holiday, is it acceptable for Christians to celebrate it?” It is important to note that Christmas, Saturnalia, and Sol Invictus were all distinct holidays; they were never identical to each other. Also, although some elements of Christmas celebrations (e.g., bells, candles, holly, and yule decorations) are mentioned in the history of pagan worship, the use of such items in one’s home in no way indicates a return to paganism. Christians simply celebrate Christmas to remember the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Celebrating Christmas is a matter of conscience (see Romans 14:5). (Quote source here.)

I found the following information in an article published on December 12, 2011, titled, Who is Santa, and What Does He Have to Do With Christmas?” by Angie Mosteller, online teacher at California Baptist University, and founder of Celebrating Holidays. She states:

The name Santa Claus is the English form of the Dutch name for St. Nicholas, “Sinterklaas.” Though the modern Santa Claus is associated with a world of fantasy, the historical St. Nicholas was a godly man known for his charity and generosity.

According to the best estimates, Nicholas, was born around AD 280 in Patara, in Asia Minor. He later became bishop of Myra in modern-day Turkey. Nicholas, it seems, died about 343 on or near December 6.

Nicholas was born in the 3rd century to wealthy Christian parents in Patara (a harbor city in modern day Turkey). It is probable that Nicholas and his parents could trace their spiritual heritage to the Apostle Paul, who stopped in Patara on his third missionary journey 200 years earlier.

It is said that Nicholas’ parents were devout believers who had long prayed for a child. When Nicholas was finally born, they devoted him to God. As an only child, he was raised with great affection and special attention. However, when Nicholas was still a young boy (likely a teenager), a plague struck his city, and both of his parents died. Though a loss like this might turn some away from God, it seems to have drawn Nicholas closer to him. The loss of his parents also seems to have made the boy’s heart tender to the suffering of others.

Nicholas was left with a large inheritance and decided that he would use it to honor God. He developed such a good reputation in his region that he was chosen as Archbishop of Myra (a harbor city just south and east of Patara) when he was in his early 20s, an indication that he must have demonstrated wisdom and maturity beyond his years. During his service as Archbishop, a violent persecution of Christians began. Nicholas was almost certainly imprisoned during this time and was likely tortured for his faith….

There are a wealth of stories about Nicholas’ life–many of them emphasize his kindness and  generosity. After his death on December 6, a tradition of gift giving was begun in his honor.

St. Nicholas Day is still observed on December 6 in many countries, but in others, America included, the practices associated with the day were combined with Christmas. It seemed natural to many Christians that a holiday celebrating giving would merge with the birth of Christ, the greatest gift ever given to the world. However, the merger happened to the dismay of many Christian leaders who thought that St. Nicholas started to draw too much attention away from Christ. In Germany, parents were encouraged to teach their children that the Christ Child was the gift-giver. The name Kriss Kringle is the English form of the German name for “Christ Child.” Ironically, in America the name Kriss Kringle came to be used synonymously with St. Nicholas, St. Nick, Santa Claus and even the English name Father Christmas….

In Middle Age art, St. Nicholas was typically depicted as a tall, thin, bearded cleric. So how did he evolve into the Santa that we know today in America? Santa’s white beard and red suit are actually quite similar to the bishop’s vestments worn by the Dutch Sinterklaas. But the “chubby and plump” appearance of America’s Santa Claus is generally traced to the 19th century poem “’Twas The Night Before Christmasan attempt to create a more friendly image of Santa and assure children that they had (in the words of the poem) “nothing to dread.”

Though the modern Santa Claus has devolved into a secularized figure surrounded by fantasy, his image can serve to help us remember the real St. Nicholas, a man who devoted his life to serving God and inspiring others to do the same. The purpose of all saints (all Christians) is to bring glory to God, not to detract from him.

At Christmas, we celebrate that God himself came in bodily form, in real flesh and blood, to earth. However, after he ascended to heaven and his physical presence was no longer on earth, Jesus entrusted believers to be his “body” (1 Corinthians 12:27). By all accounts, St. Nicholas lived a life that helped others to see the reality of Christ. How can we follow his example and help others to see Christ in us (in real flesh and blood) this Christmas? (Source and entire article is available at this link.)

Personally, I just love all of the Christmas decorations that come out at this time of year. As a kid I grew up with all the Santa Claus stories and Christmas songs (both secular and religious), but we also knew it was the celebration of Jesus Christ’s birth, and that the Santa Claus stuff was just a tradition. It was (and still is) a very festive time of year, and I loved Christmas as a kid. I still do.

I was not aware of background on St. Nicholas until I read that article mentioned above, and I found it interesting how closely the two (St. Nick and Jesus) are actually related in past history. Today Christmas is very much secularized by our culture, but for Christians the true meaning is still celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ.

In a lengthy and informative article published on December 17, 2015, titled, Jesus vs. Santa: Who Really Rules the Season: The Bible vs. Wall Street,” by Cynthia Gibson, contributor to Our Weekly.com,” here are a few excerpts from her article:

According to the Bible, Jesus is the reason for the season, but according to Wall Street, Santa Claus is the economic engine that keeps the season going full throttle from Black Friday until Christmas Eve. When it comes to influencing hearts, minds and wallets during the Christmas season, who really rules—Jesus or Santa?….

For Christians, Jesus is real. On the other hand, although he is based on the very real Saint Nicholas, it is widely accepted that the modern-day Santa Claus is a mythic compilation.

So why does Santa Claus, arguably, have just as much—if not more—influence as Jesus during the Christmas season?

“Santa Claus is a less controversial symbol for people to receive, accept and promote. Jesus is totally controversial in his message, method and even in his death, burial and resurrection—everything about Jesus Christ is controversial,” says Najuma Smith-Pollard, program director for the Cecil Murray Center for Community Engagement at USC. Dr. Smith-Pollard is also senior pastor at Word of Encouragement Community Church in Los Angeles.

“Our nation has historically claimed a Christian foundation, (but) the problem is Jesus doesn’t sell toys. When it comes to influence, if you’re talking about selling toys, Santa has more influence,” said Smith-Pollard.

One-in-five adults say they are the parent or guardian of a child in their household who currently believes in Santa Claus, according to the Pew Research Center Survey (2013) on Christmas observations. The survey reports that 69 percent of those parents say they plan to pretend that Santa visits their house on Christmas.

Christian parents admit that Santa Claus has a stronger presence than Jesus during the Christmas season. “Whether it’s television, commercials, billboards, as parents with small kids, when they go to school, the question is, “Is Santa Claus real?’ They’re encouraged to take a position on Santa Claus,” said Neema Cyrus-Franklin, online engagement coordinator at Presbytery of the Pacific (the Los Angeles regional office for the Presbyterian church) and a mother of two children, ages 9 and 4….

According to a 2013 Pew Research survey on Christmas beliefs and practices, a majority of Americans—Christian or not—observe Christmas.

The survey revealed that while nine in 10 Americans take part in the holiday that theologically commemorates the birth of Jesus, only about half actually see it as a religious celebration.

The study also showed a nation where Christmas continues to be incredibly popular, but also that the day is increasingly a non-religious cultural event, especially among younger generations. Pew found that religious and non-religious Americans largely celebrate the holiday the same. Although those who believe in Christmas as a religious holiday and those who believe in the virgin birth are much more likely to go to church services for Christmas, both cultural and religious observers were just as likely to gather with family, exchange gifts and take part in the tradition of Santa Claus visiting their homes at night….

[The article ends with the following]: Despite the proliferation of Santa Claus during the Christmas season, for the 78 percent of Americans who consider themselves religious [from the 2013 survey], Santa does not wield more influence than Jesus. However, believers and non-believers alike concede that Santa Claus is a powerful marketing tool that comes with the season. As America becomes a nation of multiple religions, traditions and customs like Santa Claus, the observance of Christmas becomes a part of America’s melting pot, said researchers.

Pollard-Smith is philosophical about the future of Jesus and Santa Claus. “Those who believe that Jesus is still the reason for the season, that won’t change. The long-term impact may be that it’s no longer just about the influence of Jesus versus Santa. It’s the influence of Jesus, Santa, Mohammed, Buddha and so forth. Because of the increasing diversity of religions and observances in our nation, a change in the face of Christmas is inevitable.” (Quote source and entire article here.)

As Cynthia Gibson noted in her article, our society continues to become more diverse in it’s beliefs and customs; however, for Christians, the meaning of Christmas is still and will continue to be very obvious…

Jesus . . . 

Is the reason . . . 

For the season . . . .

YouTube Video: “Joy to the World” by Whitney Houston:

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Christmas is Coming

Christmas is literally right around the corner, and no doubt many a last minute shopper is scurrying about purchasing last minute presents. I consider myself fortunate to not be one of them this year. 🙂 However, since the final hours before Christmas are quickly approaching, I thought I would share some Christmas cheer before Christmas morning arrives.

One of the oldest and most common Christmas poems titled “’Twas the Night Before Christmas was written back in 1822 by Clement C. Moore (1779-1863), and it tells the story of Santa’s arrival on Christmas Eve at a typical American household. The original poem is available at this link. A year ago I posted a parody of “’Twas the Night Before Christmas in a blog post titled, A Bit of Christmas Cheer,” and I thought I’d repost that version along with a Christian version of the poem following after it. Here is the version from last year’s blog post:

’Twas The Night Before Christmas
Legal Version

Whereas, on or about the night prior to Christmas, there did occur at a certain improved piece of real property (hereinafter “the House”) a general lack of stirring by all creatures therein, including, but not limited to, a mouse.

A variety of foot apparel, e.g. stocking, socks, etc., had been affixed by and around the chimney in said House in the hope and/or belief that St. Nick a/k/a/ St. Nicholas a/k/a/ Santa Claus (hereinafter “Claus”) would arrive at sometime thereafter.

The minor residents, i.e. the children, of the aforementioned House, were located in their individual beds and were engaged in nocturnal hallucinations, i.e. dreams, wherein vision of confectionery treats, including, but not limited to, candies, nuts and/or sugar plums, did dance, cavort and otherwise appear in said dreams.

Whereupon the party of the first part (sometimes hereinafter referred to as “I”), being the joint-owner in fee simple of the House with the party of the second part (hereinafter “Mamma”), and said Mamma had retired for a sustained period of sleep.

At such time, the parties were clad in various forms of headgear, e.g. kerchief and cap. Suddenly, and without prior notice or warning, there did occur upon the unimproved real property adjacent and appurtenant to said House, i.e. the lawn, a certain disruption of unknown nature, cause and/or circumstance.

The party of the first part did immediately rush to a window in the House to investigate the cause of such disturbance. At that time, the party of the first part did observe, with some degree of wonder and/or disbelief, a miniature sleigh (hereinafter the “Vehicle”) being pulled and/or drawn very rapidly through the air by approximately eight (8) reindeer.

The driver of the Vehicle appeared to be and in fact was, the previously referenced Claus. Said Claus was providing specific direction, instruction and guidance to the approximately eight (8) reindeer and specifically identified the animal co-conspirators by name: Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donder and Blitzen (hereinafter the “Deer”). Upon information and belief, it is further asserted that an additional co-conspirator named Rudolph may have been involved.

The party of the first part witnessed Claus, the Vehicle and the Deer intentionally and willfully trespass upon the roofs of several residences located adjacent to and in the vicinity of the House, and noted that the Vehicle was heavily laden with packages, toys and other items of unknown origin or nature.’

Suddenly, without prior invitation or permission, either express or implied, the Vehicle arrived at the House, and Claus entered said House via the chimney. Said Claus was clad in a red fur suit, which was partially covered with residue from the chimney, and he carried a large sack containing a portion of the aforementioned packages, toys, and other unknown items.

He was smoking what appeared to be tobacco in a small pipe in blatant violation of local ordinances and health regulations. Claus did not speak, but immediately began to fill the stocking of the minor children, which hung adjacent to the chimney, with toys and other small gifts. (Said items did not, however, constitute “gifts” to said minor pursuant to the applicable provisions of the U.S. Tax Code.)

Upon completion of such task, Claus touched the side of his nose and flew, rose and/or ascended up the chimney of the House to the roof where the Vehicle and Deer waited and/or served as “lookouts.” Claus immediately departed for an unknown destination. However, prior to the departure of the Vehicle, Deer and Claus from said House, the party of the first part did hear Claus state and/or exclaim:

“Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!”

Or words to that effect. (Quote source here.)

Now that you’ve had a bit of laughter, I also found a version of the poem written from a Christian perspective (quote source here):

’Twas The Night Before Christmas
Christian Version

‘Twas the first night of Christmas a long time ago,
The hillside was peaceful, the moon was aglow.
The world couldn’t know from what happened before,
That men would remember this night evermore.

The sheep on the hillside—their days journey over,
Were dreaming sweet dreams of a field full of clover.
The shepherds were watchful while guarding their flock,
The earth was their pillow, the stars were their clock.

Then all of a sudden, they jumped at the sight
Of the sky all a blaze with a heavenly light.
They huddled in fear, then they started to rise
As the lightening-like flash tore open the skies.

The heavens were split by the silvery ray,
The dark disappeared and the night became day.
And lo, at the end of the rainbow of light
Appeared then an angel to banish their fright.

The angel brought news of a birth in a manger
And bade them to hasten to welcome the stranger.
For Mary had just given birth to a boy
Whose coming would bring so much comfort and joy.

A choir of angels looked down from the sky
And heavenly voices were heard from on high:
Peace be on earth and good will to all men.
The Savior has come on this night, Amen.

The heavenly angels then faded from sight,
The sky once again turned from day to night.
The shepherds all quietly rose from the ground,
And hurried to go where the child would be found.

As they reached Bethlehem and the inn was in sight
From the barn came a trickle of half-hidden light.
It led like a path to a soft little bed
And shone very tenderly on a child’s head.

The child in the manger was sleeping so sound,
His eyes were still closed, as the shepherds stood round.
From that instant of grace on that night long ago
Thousands of years would be warmed by the glow.

Guided by light from a bright shining star
Came a pilgrimage led of three kings from afar.
They were dressed in the finest of satins and lace,
Their complexions were that of an Orient race.

The three wealthy kings were wise men and proud,
But they went to the Christ child and solemnly bowed.
They came bearing treasures of incense and gold
To that sweet little child, still not very old.

The star in the sky twinkled down from above,
The world was awakened to kindness and love.
The past was forgotten, the future was bright,
And the spirit of Christmas was born on that night.
(Quote source here.)

And with that being said (or rather, written), may the world be awakened to kindness and love with the past forgotten and the future bright, and . . .

Merry Christmas to all . . .

And to all . . .

A Good Night! ! ! !

YouTube Video: “Carol of the Bells” by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra:

Photo #1 credit here
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The Reason Behind The Season

In the past three weeks I’ve written blog posts on Advent including The Three Relationships of Peace and  Gratitude and Wonder; and on the background of the song The Twelve Days of Christmas; and on Celebrating Hanukkah,” so it seems appropriate that I finish up this series of Yuletide blog posts with the actual reason behind the season–the birth of Jesus Christ–which Christians worldwide will celebrate on December 25th. The following account of the birth of Jesus Christ is taken from Luke 2:1-40 (ESV):

The Birth of Jesus Christ

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

The Shepherds and the Angels

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.  And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest,
    and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

Jesus Presented at the Temple

And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
    according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation
     that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,

    and for glory to your people Israel.”

And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.

The Return to Nazareth

And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.

The story of the birth of Jesus Christ is a story that is universally known. In answer to the question, What is the true meaning of Christmas?GotQuestions.org gives us a very concise answer:

The true meaning of Christmas is loveJohn 3:16-17 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” The true meaning of Christmas is the celebration of this incredible act of love.

The real Christmas story is the story of God’s becoming a human being in the Person of Jesus Christ. Why did God do such a thing? Because He loves us! Why was Christmas necessary? Because we needed a Savior! Why does God love us so much? Because He is love itself (1 John 4:8). Why do we celebrate Christmas each year? Out of gratitude for what God did for us, we remember His birth by giving each other gifts, worshiping Him, and being especially conscious of the poor and less fortunate.

The true meaning of Christmas is love. God loved His own and provided a way—the only Way—for us to spend eternity with Him. He gave His only Son to take our punishment for our sins. He paid the price in full, and we are free from condemnation when we accept that free gift of love. “But God demonstrated His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). (Quote source here.)

Granted, this is the Christian story of Christmas–it’s about the birth of Jesus Christ. However, in recent years at least from a media perspective there has been a downplaying of the Christian story of Christmas. Some have called it “The War on Christmas.” One year ago on December 19, 2016 an article was published in The New York Times that tackled the issue. It is titled, How the War on Christmas Controversy Got Started,” by Liam Stack, who covers breaking news and social and political issues for the New York Times express desk. He is also an Arabic speaker, and he worked for seven years as a Middle East correspondent covering authoritarianism and revolution in the Arab world. Stack writes:

It’s that time of year again, folks. It’s time for the War on Christmas.

What is that, you may ask? The short answer: a sometimes histrionic yuletide debate over whether the United States is a country that respects Christianity.

For the longer answer, keep reading.

The idea of a “War on Christmas” has turned things like holiday greetings and decorations into potentially divisive political statements. People who believe Christmas is under attack point to inclusive phrases like “Happy Holidays” as (liberal) insults to Christianity.

For over a decade, these debates have taken place mainly on conservative talk radio and cable programs. But this year they also burst onto a much grander stage: the presidential election.

At a rally in Wisconsin last week, Donald J. Trump stood in front of a line of Christmas trees and repeated a campaign-trail staple.

“When I started 18 months ago, I told my first crowd in Wisconsin that we are going to come back here some day and we are going to say ‘Merry Christmas’ again,” he said. “Merry Christmas. So, Merry Christmas everyone. Happy New Year, but Merry Christmas.”

Christmas is a federal holiday celebrated widely by the country’s Christian majority. So where did the idea that it is threatened come from?

What is the “War on Christmas”?

The most organized attack on Christmas came from the Puritans, who banned celebrations of the holiday in the 17th century because it did not accord with their interpretation of the Bible.

Fast forward 400 years, and the idea of a plot against Christmas gained wide publicity when Fox News promoted a 2005 book by a radio host, John Gibson, that alleged liberal antagonism toward the holiday, according to Dan Cassino, a professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University.

Mr. Gibson said in an interview that he was “amazed” by the uproar his book caused.

He said it primarily focused on an issue that rarely happens anymore: educators and local officials banning nonreligious symbols like Santa Claus or Christmas trees out of a mistaken belief that displaying them violated the Constitution.

Mr. Gibson said the book had taken on a life of its own over the years — and that it had never dwelled on the political implications of “Happy Holidays.”

He attributed the firestorm to two things: The book’s take-no-prisoners title (“The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought”) and the Fox News host Bill O’Reilly.

“It wasn’t really me. I think it was more Bill, to tell you the truth,” he said. “When Bill made it an issue, it went mega”. . . .

Mr. O’Reilly returned to the War on Christmas this year [December 2016–see article at this link], but his tone has been triumphant.

“That culture war issue ignited and we won,” he said last Tuesday, later adding, “Donald Trump is on the case.”

Is this a real thing?

There is no evidence of an organized attack on Christmas in the United States.

The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, the executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said the annual uproar is based on “stories that only sometimes even contain a grain of truth and often are completely false.” He has spent years pushing back against it.

“This politicizing of the whole issue is mind-boggling to me,” Mr. Lynn said, “and it has been for well over a decade.”

He added, “They see this as some kind of a politically correct effort, but I see it as reasonable to not use Christmas references as just an accommodation of the reality of America”. . . .

What does the “war” look like in practice?

Many conservative groups have rallied to defend Christmas, lobbying for decorations in public schools or town halls. One group, the American Family Association based in Tupelo, Miss., publishes a “Naughty and Nice” list every year to castigate companies it believes are “censoring ‘Christmas.’ ”

“There are secular forces in our country that hate Christmas because the word itself is a reminder of Jesus Christ,” the group said on its website. “They want to eradicate anything that reminds Americans of Christianity”. . . .

“Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays”?

The greeting “Happy Holidays” has been in use as a Christmas greeting for more than 100 years. But it has grown in popularity in recent decades as people have tried to be inclusive and sensitive to those of other faiths and the nonreligious.

The controversy appears to have shifted opinion about the proper greeting. Mr. Cassino wrote in the Harvard Business Review this month that the number of people who said they preferred to hear “Happy Holidays” has decreased sharply in the last 10 years, from 41 percent to 25 percent. “Merry Christmas” remained popular. Indeed, President Obama, a Christian, has frequently uttered the phrase.

It should be noted that Jews, Muslims and others who do not celebrate Christmas often say they are not offended by a hearty “Merry Christmas.”

So perhaps there is hope for peace on earth, or at least cable television. (Quote source here.)

A more lengthy article with lots of links for those interested in the 2017 version of “The War on Christmas” is available on Bloomberg View, published on December 13, 2017, and titled, To the Christmas Barricades, Candy Canes in Hand–The state of the War on Christmas: The movies are too sweet, but Silicon Valley is too judgmental,” by Stephen L. Carter, a Bloomberg View columnist and a professor of law at Yale University. Carter states in the second paragraph of his article (full article available at this link):

Is there a “war on Christmas”? Surely it’s a matter of perspective. A story last year in the New York Times [and yes, he is referencing the article posted above] discussed the history of the idea, but got it only partly right. The piece skipped from the banning of Christmas celebrations by 17th-century Puritans to the 2005 publication of talk-show host John Gibson’s polemic, “The War on Christmas.” That’s a lot of history omitted, and it’s history that matters. But I’ve tacked that subject in this space before; for now, I’ll simply recommend that those who want to learn the holiday’s true and somewhat surprising history should readThe Battle for Christmas,” by the excellent Stephen Nissenbaum. (Quote source and entire article is available at this link.)

GotQuestions.org gives us some advice on how Christians can respond to this “War on Christmas”:

Many people perceive a modern-day “war on Christmas” being waged in the public square. Those who believe in the reality of a war on Christmas see a concerted effort to eliminate the word “Christmas” from public discourse. Stories confirming a war on Christmas seem to be coming more frequently: a grade-school choir sings “We Wish You a Happy Holiday” instead of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” for their “Winter Concert.” A library invites “holiday displays” from the community provided the displays have no religious connotation—the stable may have animals in it, but no people. And major shopping chains forbid their employees from wishing anyone a “Merry Christmas.” It is possible to do all one’s Christmas shopping and never see or hear the word “Christmas” in the stores.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with saying “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings.” But if someone says “Happy Holidays” for the sole purpose of not saying “Merry Christmas,” then we are right to question what’s going on. Is there truly be a cultural “war on Christmas?” “Why is the word “Christmas” censored?” we wonder as we wander through the malls. Why do some public schools celebrate everything from Kwanzaa to Labafana the Christmas witch, and ban the Nativity, all in the name of “inclusion” and “tolerance”?

One reason put forward by those seeking to avoid the word “Christmas” is that it offends non-Christians. But, according to a recent Gallup poll, only 3 percent of adults in America say it bothers them when a store makes specific reference to Christmas. This fact gives the “war on Christmas” a more sinister twist. The exclusion of Christmas is less about sensitivity and more about censorship. Expunging all mention of Christmas from society is not really a way to “adapt” to a more diverse culture but a way to engineer a more secular culture.

Many times, the arguments against Christmas programs and displays are couched in political terms, but the bias against Christmas goes much deeper than that. The war on Christmas is primarily a spiritual battle, not a political one.

How should Christians respond to the war on Christmas and the ubiquitous use of “Happy Holidays” to the exclusion of “Merry Christmas”? Here are some suggestions:

1) Celebrate Christmas! War on Christmas or not, let the joy of the season show in your life. Teach your family the significance of Jesus’ birth and make the Christmas traditions meaningful in your home.

2) Wish others a Merry Christmas. When confronted with a “Happy Holidays,” get specific and wish the greeter a “Merry Christmas!” You may be surprised at how many respond in kind. Even if you are met with resistance, don’t let it dampen your cheer. In Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” Ebenezer Scrooge wages a personal war on Christmas, and his nephew feels the brunt of his uncle’s attacks year after year, but it doesn’t stop him from wishing his humbug of an uncle a Merry Christmas and inviting Scrooge to Christmas dinner.

3) Speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). The Christmas season is a wonderful opportunity to share Christ’s love and the gospel message. He is the reason for the season!

4) Pray for those in positions of power (1 Timothy 2:1–3). Pray for wisdom. Pray for revival so that Christmas, instead of being “offensive,” would be honored by all. May we each be a peaceful warrior in the cultural war on Christmas. (Quote source here.)

“May we each be a peaceful warrior in the cultural war on Christmas.” And that is very wise advice during this Christmas season . . . .

Glory to God in the highest . . .

And on earth peace . . .

Goodwill toward men . . . . (Luke 2:14, NKJV)

YouTube Video: “O Holy Night/Ave Maria” featuring Lexi Walker – The Piano Guys:

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Celebrating Hanukkah

Today starting at sundown marks the beginning of the first day of the eight days of Hanukkah (Chanukah)–December 12-20, 2017. Hanukkah is one of the more recognizable celebrations of Jewish tradition and is not religious in nature. Rather, Hanukkah celebrates a nation’s heroes and the miracle they experienced. It recognizes the efforts of a group of freedom fighters known as the Maccabees. Here is a brief history of Hanukkah from Chabad.org:

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

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

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

To commemorate and publicize these miracles, we light the Chanukah menorah (also known as “chanukiah”) on each of the eight nights of Chanukah. This year, we start lighting the menorah on Tuesday night after nightfall, December 12, 2017 (quote source here).

So who, exactly, is this small, vastly outnumbered band of Jews who waged a battle against the mighty Greek armies and drove them out of the land? They are the freedom fighters known as the Maccabees. The following information on the Maccabees is provided from an article titled, The Maccabees: The Jewish Freedom Fighters,” on Chabad.org:

The Maccabees were a band of Jewish freedom fighters who freed Judea from the Syrian-Greek occupiers during the Second Temple period. The word Maccabee is an acronym for the Hebrew words that mean “Who is like You among all powers, G-d.” Led by Judah the Maccabee and his four brothers, they trounced the Greek interlopers and restored the Holy Temple in Jerusalem to the service of G-d. Their victory is celebrated during the holiday of Chanukah.

The Background

More than 2,000 years ago there was a period of time when the Land of Israel was part of the Syrian-Greek Empire, ruled by the dynasty of the Seleucids. In 174 BCE (3586), Antiochus IV ruled the region. He was called Epiphanes, meaning “the gods’ beloved,” but people called him Epimanes (“madman”), a title more suited to the character of this harsh and cruel king.

Wanting to unify his kingdom through common religion and culture, Antiochus tried to root out the individualism of the Jews by suppressing the practice of all Jewish law. He also meddled in the affairs of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, installing idol-worshipping High Priests who paid him handsome tributes.

At that time, Antiochus was also engaged in a successful war against Egypt. But messengers from Rome arrived and commanded him to stop the war, and he had to yield. Meanwhile, in Jerusalem, a rumor spread that a serious accident had befallen Antiochus. Thinking that he was dead, the people rebelled against Menelaus, the corrupt High Priest, who then fled together with his friends.

Antiochus returned from Egypt enraged by Roman interference with his ambitions. When he heard what had taken place in Jerusalem, he ordered his army to fall upon the Jews. Thousands of Jews were killed. Antiochus then enacted a series of harsh decrees: Jewish worship was forbidden, and the scrolls of the Law were confiscated and burned. Sabbath rest, circumcision and the dietary laws were prohibited under penalty of death. Many brave Jews refused, preferring death.

One day, the henchmen of Antiochus arrived in the village of Modiin where Mattityahu, a respected and elderly priest, lived. The Syrian officer built an altar in the marketplace of the village and demanded that Mattityahu offer sacrifices to the Greek gods. Mattityahu replied, “I, my sons and my brothers are determined to remain loyal to the covenant that our G-d made with our ancestors!”

Thereupon, a Hellenized Jew approached the altar to offer a sacrifice. Mattityahu grabbed his sword and killed him, and his sons and friends fell upon the Syrian officers and men. They killed many of them and chased the rest away. They then destroyed the altar.

Mattityahu knew that Antiochus would be enraged when he heard what had happened, and would certainly send troops to punish him and his followers. And so, Mattityahu and his sons and friends fled to the hills of Judea.

Judah the Maccabee Strikes Back

All loyal and courageous Jews joined them. They formed legions, and from time to time they left their hiding places to fall upon enemy detachments and outposts, and to destroy the pagan altars that were built by order of Antiochus.

Before his death, Mattityahu called his sons together and urged them to continue to fight in defense of G-d’s Torah. He asked them to follow the counsel of their brother Shimon the Wise, and their leader in warfare was to be their brother Judah the Strong, or Judah the Maccabee.

The Maccabees won battle after battle, including one in which they fended off an army of more than 40,000 men.

Then the Maccabees returned to Jerusalem to liberate it. They entered the Temple and cleared it of the idols placed there by the Syrian vandals. Judah and his followers built a new altar, which he dedicated on the twenty-fifth of the month of Kislev, in the year 139 BCE (3622).

Since the golden Menorah had been stolen by the Syrians, the Maccabees now made one of cheaper metal. When they wanted to light it, they found only a small cruse of pure olive oil bearing the seal of the High Priest Yochanan. It was sufficient to create light for only one day. By a miracle of G-d, it continued to burn for eight days, until new oil was available. That miracle proved that G-d had again taken His people under His protection. In memory of this, our sages appointed these eight days as a holiday of annual thanksgiving and lighting candles.

The Maccabees Rule Judea

The Maccabees and their descendants took the throne of Judea for themselves. This was a problem because they were priests, descendants of Aaron. Their job was to serve in the Holy Temple and guide the people in spiritual matters. It was the place of the descendants of King David, from the tribe of Judah, who were supposed to sit on the royal throne. Indeed, it did not take long until the monarchy of Judea was dragged down into a series of unending power grabs and bloody intrigue, with king after king trying to imitate the very same Greeks their ancestors had ousted from the land.

Yet, for all their shortcomings, the Maccabees leave us with an empowering message that resonates in all times and all places: Never cower in the face of tyranny. Do your part, trust in G-d, and success is sure to come. (Quote source here.)

In an article published today on The Independent,” titled Hanukkah 2017: What is the meaning behind this Jewish festival and why is it sometimes called Chanukah? by Dina Rickman, head of social and trending content at The Independent,” she states:

They say every major Jewish holiday can be summed up by the following quote: “They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat.”

In the case of Hanukkah, the story is that of the Maccabees, a guerrilla army of Jewish rebels based in Israel who revolted against the Seleucid Greek King Antiochus who had–as the saying goes–tried to kill us.

The exact historical truth of the religious version of events is disputed, but we do know that King Antiochus and the Maccabees existed. What is less established is whether the miracle described in the Hanukkah story really happened.

Jewish people are taught that the oppressed Maccabees somehow defeated Antiochus’ mighty troops and reclaimed the Temple in Jerusalem. To celebrate, they attempted a ritual lighting of a seven-pronged Menorah candle–but they only had enough oil to last one day. Miraculously, the oil lasted a full eight days, giving Jews enough time to procure new oil. This is why Hanukkah is known as the festival of lights.

Around 2,000 years on, Jewish people celebrate Hanukkah by lighting their Menorah every night for eight days–with the crucial difference being that modern Menorahs–also known as Hanukkiahs–have eight prongs with a large prong, known as a shamash, in the middle. The shamash is used to light one extra candle each night for the eight days. Observing in public is a key part of celebrating the festival. Jewish people are encouraged to place the Menorah in the front window of their home, and some organisations have organised public Menorah lightings.

Now for the most important part, the food. The story of Hanukkah is about oil, so it’s traditional to eat fried goods such as potato latke pancakes or doughnuts.

Because the festival normally falls in December (although there are no guarantees with the Jewish lunisolar calendar), Hanukkah is often known as Jewish Christmas. While gift giving doesn’t have any religious significance on Hanukkah, a tradition has developed to give presents during the festival – normally one for every night–possibly because of where it falls in the calendar.

In 2017 the celebration begins on December 12 and ends on December 20.

Here are five facts you may not know about the festival:

1. Hanukkah is the only Jewish holiday not mentioned in the Hebrew Bible

Unlike other major Jewish holidays, Hanukkah is not mentioned in the Hebrew Bible.

2. Hanukkah means eating doughnuts

To commemorate the miracle of the burning lamp, Jews customarily eat foods fried in oil and this means doughnuts.

3. Chocolate coins

Chocolate coins or gelt (Yiddish for money) wrapped in gold and silver are exchanged at Hanukkah.

4. Spinning the Dreidel

Gelt is also used in a game played with a spinning top called a dreidel at Hanukkah.

Players sit in a circle and put a chocolate coin in the middle. Each person takes a turn at spinning the cube-shaped dreidel, which has a Hebrew letter on each side.

5. Exchanging gifts

Traditionally Jews only exchanged gifts on Purim, a Jewish holiday commemorating the time when the Jewish people living in Persia were saved from extermination by a young woman called Esther.

However, when Christmas became more prominent in the late 19th century and the Christian holiday’s consumerism grew, the Jewish custom shifted in imitation of Christmas.

To find out more [on each of the five items listed above], click here (Article/quote source here.)

In another take on Hanukkah, a December 12, 2012 guest commentary published in Forbes titled, Hanukkah’s ‘Don’t Tread On Me’ Message Is Universal In Its Appeal,” by Eric Rosenberg, journalist and former national correspondent for Hearst Newspapers, former senior vice president at Ogilvy Washington, and currently principal at EMR Content + Communications Inc., as well as adjunct faculty at Johns Hopkins University, Rosenberg provides an interesting perspective on Hanukkah:

The Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, which is celebrated this week, is compelling for Jews and non-Jews alike because of its clarion call to religious liberty. Anyone remotely versed in American political thought will recognize the spirit of the Hanukkah story, with its “don’t tread on me” quest to worship as one chooses without fear of retribution, in the language of the U.S. Constitution.

Jews and gentiles alike have been persecuted for their religious beliefs. No single demographic has the market cornered on religious persecution. But to Jews, who for nearly two millennia lacked that freedom, they feel a special connection between the Hanukkah story and America’s guarantees of religious freedom.

For Jews, a straight line can be drawn from the Hanukkah experience of the second century BC to the eloquent expressions of religious freedom of the Founding Fathers, many of whom as learned Christian gentlemen of their era were versed in Hebrew and the Jewish canon.

It is an undeniable truth, James Madison wrote, that “that religion or the duty which we owe to our Creator and the Manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence.”

No citizen, wrote John Adams, “shall be hurt, molested, or restrained, in his person, liberty, or estate, for worshiping God in the manner most agreeable to the dictates of his own conscience; or for his religious profession or sentiments; provided he doth not disturb the public peace, or obstruct others in their religious worship.”

George Washington, as the newly installed first U.S. president, wrote the Touro Synagogue in Newport, RI, assuring congregants that the new nation would be unlike Europe with its widespread religious intolerance and state religion.

“May the children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while everyone shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid,” he wrote.

That’s not to say the founders had the Hanukkah story in mind when they created the United States. Of course they didn’t. Rather, like the Passover story, the Hanukkah story has a universality that any good revolutionary would find instructive.

In the second century BC the ancient Jews were overrun by the Assyrians, a Greek proxy in the ancient Middle East. As part of the Assyrian conquest, the Temple in Jerusalem, the centerpiece of Jewish worship, was turned into a Greek temple where Jews were further humiliated and forced to eat pig meat and worship Greek idols.

A group of Jews called the Maccabees led an underdog revolt, defeated the Assyrians, and cleared out the Temple of the offensive materials. When the time came to rededicate the Temple for Jewish worship, only one day’s worth of ritual lamp oil was available. The oil, however, burned bright for eight days, enough time to have additional ritual oil made. Thus the second miracle of Hanukkah, the first being that the ancient Jews defeated the numerically and military superior Assyrians, who had the backing of powerful allies.

The Hanukkah story is all the more a paean to religious liberty for the details left off the sanitized version taught to children for generations. For example, the Maccabees were not religious liberals. Modern scholarship has likened them to an ancient Taliban-like band of zealots who had no time for religious tolerance themselves unless it hewed to their own brand of old-time religion.

What’s more, the Maccabees, being pragmatic in search of allies to blunt Greek influence in their country and ensure their power base, sent out diplomatic feelers to an up-and-coming power, the emerging leviathan of the Roman state.

The Maccabee delegation dispatched to Rome met with the top leaders in an attempt to secure their support. “It was natural to solicit the sympathy and support of the great new power in the west,” the scholar Cecil Roth wrote in his “History of the Jews in Italy.”

But it was a fateful decision for the Maccabees with dreadful consequences for religious freedom. As ironies go, it was huge. The people who fought for religious freedom were inviting into their midst the very opposite.

Over time, as the Maccabee reign descended into civil war, Roman legions marched on Jerusalem in support of their clients and they never left. In the year 70 AD, after years of revolt from the locals, the Romans destroyed the Temple the Greeks had temporarily occupied, decimated the population, enslaved what was left, and thoroughly obliterated the Jewish world’s epicenter, thus robbing the Jews of the guarantee of religious freedom–until the founding of the United States.

The lesson of Hanukkah and what came after is a poignant one. And it is probably best summed up in a quote sometimes attributed to another Founding Father, Thomas Jefferson. “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.” (Quote source here.)

With that in mind, as we celebrate Hanukkah, let us remember the key message of the Maccabees as freedom fighters as stated at the end of the second article of this post, which is to . . .

Never cower in the face of tyranny . . .

Do your part and trust in God . . .

And success is sure to come . . . .

YouTube Video: “Candlelight – Hanukkah” by The Maccabeats:

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