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Blogs I Follow

The Presidents Club

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The Surest Defense Against Evil

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The Triumph of Grace

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Contemplating God’s Sovereignty

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How Should We Then Live?

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Not a Timid Christianity

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Finishing the Race

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Because the Time is Near

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Revelation Song (YouTube)

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Where The Wind Blows

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Doing Great Things

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Recognizing a False Prophet

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The Power of Forgiveness

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Created for Relationships

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The Only Way I Know

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Faith: The Misunderstood Doctrine

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Our True Home Address

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‘Tis the Season . . . for L-O-V-E

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The Paris Terrorist Attack and the Problem of Evil

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Cherry Picking 101

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Love Sweet Love

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So Goes The Culture

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Idols of the Heart

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Divisions Are Not Always Bad

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The Resurrection of Jesus Christ

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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

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The Season for Second Chances

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“To pick up the check,” Daniel explained.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Practical Tips for Giving the Gift of Forgiveness this Christmas:

Forgiveness

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

Check Our Hearts

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

Pray

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

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

Forgiving one another . . .

Just as God through Christ . . .

Has forgiven you . . . .

YouTube Video: “Forgiveness” by Matthew West:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

The Best News Ever

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will never walk in darkness . . .

But will have . . .

The light of life . . . .

YouTube Video: “Best News Ever” by MercyMe:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Finding Our Gratitude This Thanksgiving

Somewhere in the past eight plus years that I’ve been regularly blogging, I started to include far more quotes from other authors and reduced my own thoughts on a topic. I’ve been known to quote entire articles available from other authors, and I always give credit and links to those authors and articles. I could just make a note in my blog posts to the titles and authors of those articles, but if you’re like me and you read a lot on online (whether in blog posts or on other websites or social media), when an author links to other articles online most of the time we (the readers) skip over those links and never or rarely end up going back to check them out.

When I run across articles online by other authors that I think are very much worth noting, I’ll post those articles on my blog post–not because I’m trying to plagiarize them, but because I want to share them with my readers. And, I know from my own propensity to not take the time to click on links in other blog posts (or websites) unless my curiosity is mightily piqued, I’ll just skip over the link and not take the time to “go there.” Hence, that is my reason for including large portions of blog posts and articles written by others in my blog posts.

With that being said, today is Thanksgiving Day here in America, and I just ran across the following article published two days ago on November 20, 2018, in The Washington Post titled, Find Your Gratitude This Thanksgiving. Here’s How,” by Kristin Clark Taylor, author, freelance editor and journalist, motivational speaker and lecturer, and a former White House communications strategist. She is also the founder and facilitator of the popular Great Falls Writers Group. In her article she writes:

Thanksgiving is the day that gives gratitude a good name.

Golden turkeys will be admired, platters will be passed. And when it comes your turn at the dining room table to sit up and announce the one thing you’re most grateful for, try not to say the same thing as last year. It might be easy to do a repeat, but that’s kind of cheating.

I get it, gratitude might not be at the forefront for you right now.

Most of us are either preparing food today, preparing to travel — or both. We might be steeling ourselves for high-running family emotions. (Family and politics, anyone?) Tensions are taut just about everywhere, and as family members file through that front door, what often blows in with them is the angst that comes from having lots of folks under one roof who don’t always see eye-to-eye. Somebody’s going to say or do something that upsets someone else.

Gratitude gets crowded out.

But here’s the thing: When things go haywire, that’s when we need gratitude more than ever. My relationship with it has evolved over the years, and today it actually defines my life. I carry it around with me as a constant companion. Many times — particularly during my darkest moments — it carries me.

I need it to survive.

That’s how gratitude is. You have to develop a relationship with it, perhaps even a dependence on it, in your own daily life in a way that is deeply personal and only yours (imagine a fingerprint) — but you have to be able to share it, too, (imagine an outstretched hand).

It’s a two-step process, really: You generate gratitude from within — and in my case, from above — then push it back out into the world.

Simple? Yes. Easy? No. It requires energy, discipline and perseverance. Practiced regularly and constantly, grateful living can become an attitude rather than an action, an instinct rather than an exercise. But it requires a sustained connection. It cannot just be a fling. It cannot just be dragged out and dusted off on Turkey Day.

Thankfulness is much more than a warm-and-fuzzy feeling. It’s a purposeful process that requires a push every now and then to remain vibrant; a gentle shove, from time to time, to maintain its momentum. Left alone and untended, it can get lazy and leave.

When the sun sets on this Thanksgiving Day, try not to allow your sense of gratitude and appreciation to set with it. When you wake up Friday morning, search for new ways to remain committed.

Search for gratitude in new places. Find it in the hidden corners and unexplored pockets of your daily life that you’ve never noticed before. It’s there, I promise — and the darkened corners are often the best places to search. (It’s said that the light of hope shines brightest in the dark.)

Today, I offer up a little platter of tips and techniques that might help. I practice them daily, constantly. They keep me centered.

Some of them might sound a little silly, but I see this as a good thing because although the pursuit of gratitude is serious business indeed, the process itself should be simple and joyful. Smiles should be involved. Laughter should be invoked.

10-Toe Gratitude: Throughout each and every day, I check in with my body, just to whisper a thank-you, to my heart that beats, my lungs that breathe, my fingers that type. During evening yoga (downward dog is the perfect place) I say thank you to each of my 10 toes. Toes work hard and are grossly underappreciated. I love my toes and am grateful to have them.

Similarly, when I’m writing (which is often because it’s what I do for a living), I often pause to touch my wrist, find my pulse, and send a jolt of purposeful gratitude to the blood that flows through my veins. To embrace the very miracles that are constantly unfolding within us is right and necessary. I like to call it vital acknowledgment.

Double-Barreled Gratitude: Some people keep a daily gratitude journal that describes all the things we’re thankful to have (i.e., health, family, fresh cilantro). It’s easy and automatic to express gratitude for all that has been given to us, but what about the flip side?

I’m as grateful for the absence of a toothache as I am for the presence of fresh ginger root in my refrigerator; as grateful for the absence of a desire to drink as I am for the presence of my daughter’s quiet smile. Absence itself has a powerful presence.

If you keep a gratitude journal, try expanding it for a day or two and take the double-barreled route. Create a list that’s made up of two columns, one labeled “Presence,” the other “Absence.” Train your brain to assign value to the absences in your life, too. It will expand your perspective in unimaginable ways.

Kitchen Floor Gratitude: Many years ago, I tripped in my kitchen and twisted my ankle badly. At precisely the same moment my brain perceived the pain, a deep and sudden rush of gratitude rushed in.

As I lay sprawled on my kitchen floor, a miraculous dichotomy unfolded: In the midst of our pain, gratitude can find a home. Translated: My ankle hurts like hell but thank God it isn’t broken.

Brown-is-Beautiful Gratitude: From a very early age, my mother taught me to seek the sacred within the ordinary. I remember sitting in the backyard with my mother one summer afternoon just after a rainstorm, when a brilliant rainbow appeared.

After we admired it for a few minutes, she picked up a brown rock and placed it gently into my little hands. “This plain old brown rock is every bit as spectacular as that beautiful rainbow,” she said softly. “Be equally thankful for both.” Tip: Next time you see a stunning sunset, also remember to reach down and embrace the beauty of the brown rock. Be as thankful for the ordinary as you are for the spectacular.

As you sit down to dinner this Thanksgiving, don’t forget that exploring and expressing your own gratitude can be a constant pursuit, not a one-day affair. Not just today, but every day. So seek it. Find it. Pass it along.

We need it now more than ever. (Quote source here.)

First Thessalonians 5:16-18 states, Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Being a part of the human race, we know that it’s not often easy to “rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances.” The tragedies of life are constantly broadcast on the news on any given day, not to mention the things that we personally experience in our own lives. Rejoice? Pray without ceasing? Give thanks in all circumstances? It’s not easy, and sometimes it seems impossible.

It helps if we understand the concept of “praying without ceasing.” In a blog post titled, Pray Without Ceasing,” on AllAboutPrayer.org (a specific author is not mentioned), the post states the following:

How to pray without ceasing — a heart attitude

  • How does one pray continually? We cannot always be on our knees. With the daily demands on our busy lives, we are fortunate to kneel in prayer even a few minutes each day. However, the context of this passage gives us a clue. This passage focuses on heart attitude. “Rejoice always” is an attitude of joyfulness. Giving thanks in everything also requires a mental attitude of thankfulness. How do we rejoice and give thanks? Through prayer! Therefore, effective prayer is a proper heart attitude: a mental outlook of joyful thanksgiving. It expresses itself throughout the day with silent prayers of vital communication with the LORD.
  • Maintaining a healthy relationship requires communication. Always be “on line” with God so when the Spirit moves you to pray, you can instantly agree with Him. The Holy Spirit prays for us with inexpressible groans (Romans 8:26). When in agreement with the Spirit, we are praying continuously. The heart attitude of praying without ceasing means an ever-open heart to the Lord’s leading.
  • If we are praying without ceasing–even while driving, changing the baby, washing dishes, or running a lawn mower–we can be open to the leading of the Spirit when He urges us to pray for something or someone. At that time, we can agree with God and make a mental note to add that concern to our later prayer time.
  • Praying without ceasing doesn’t take the place of time alone in prayer with God. However, it is a joyful experience to unite with the LORD who lays burdens on our hearts. We can’t always stop and kneel, but our heart attitude can still be “praying without ceasing.” (Quote source here.)

I have found that the more I give back to God my personal expectations in any given situation or set of circumstances, and leave the outcome for God to decide and not for me to try to coerce God into doing for me, there is a “peace that surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7) that comes from that total relinquishment of me trying to control the outcome when I pray (you know, like begging God to do something to change that we don’t like), especially in trying situations that never seem to end.

So, on this Thanksgiving Day 2018, as Kristin Clark Taylor reminds us to do in her article above, let us be in a constant pursuit of gratitude (regardless of our circumstances), not just today, but every day . . .

So seek it . . .

Find it . . .

And pass it along . . . .

YouTube Video: “It’s Gonna Be Okay” by The Piano Guys:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

With One Week To Go Until Thanksgiving

A few days ago on my other blog, Reflections on the Journey,” I published a blog post titled, Journey Into Thankfulness.” One of the topics mentioned in it was an article titled, Embrace the Family ‘Black Sheep’ This Holiday,” by Kristen Fuller, M.D. I thought it was an important topic given that just about every family has a “black sheep” who feels left out at the holidays.

However, being a family’s “black sheep” is only one reason someone might end up being alone during the holidays. In fact, many people find themselves alone during the holiday season for a variety of reasons. In a 2016 article titled, An Open Letter to Everyone Spending the Holidays Alone,” by Lane Moore, comedian, actor, musician, creator of the hit comedy show, Tinder Live, and author of How To Be Alone,” she writes:

Right off the bat, I want you to know that I totally get it. Right now the entire world is talking about nothing but the freaking holidays. Commercials, movies, special TV episodes, reruns of special TV episodes, social media, advertisements. All of it. And not just that, every single one of those outlets is talking about family over the holidays because “everyone” has a family on the holidays! The holidays are a time to spend with your family! And since everyone has a perfect family they spend regular time with, everyone loves the holidays! And if you don’t love the holidays, you must be a cold-hearted psychopath!!!

This is likely all you’ve been hearing lately, and that’s a shame. Because whether you lost your loved ones because they passed on, or because they were abusive, or because they abandoned you, or because you left them when you felt unsafe, or because they didn’t accept you, you are a special breed who, right now, feels like you do not fit into the expectations of the holiday season. And it’s the loneliest feeling in the world….

You’re not alone during the holidays because you deserve to be—everyone deserves a great family who loves them and makes them feel safe. The fact that you never had that or don’t have it anymore is not the result of your being unlovable or because something is wrong with you. I know it sounds like, “Duh, I know that,” but seriously, around this time of year it’s so easy to subconsciously think otherwise. I don’t know why you didn’t get what most of your friends have, but I know you deserve every bit as much love and normalcy as everyone else. Never doubt this…. (Quote source and complete article here.)

Here’s an article from 2016 titled, Why I Love Being Alone for the Holidays,” by Dena Landon, a single mom who knits, dances and blogs at femmefeminism.com. She writes:

My pattern of spending the holidays alone started during college. I went to school in Boston, but my entire family was back in Seattle. It was too expensive to fly home for both Thanksgiving and Christmas, so I’d usually stay on campus during Thanksgiving. The first year I accepted a friend’s invitation to go home with her to New Jersey. It was awkward. I tagged along to her high school friends’ houses, attended church with her family and sat at the table making small talk with people I’d never met before and wouldn’t meet again. Everyone was nice, but when a group of girls are laughing about that time at Homecoming when so-and-so’s dress ripped it’s hard not to feel like a third wheel.

The next year I was invited to share Thanksgiving with a group from the seminary up the street from my college. I sat down at the table next to the only single guy, who started our conversation by talking about how a pastor needs a wife to receive a calling to a church and wow, was I single? That was worse than awkward.

By my third Thanksgiving, I had had enough. When the girl who lived two doors down in the dorm asked what I was doing, I lied and said, “Oh, I have plans.” I don’t think I imagined the look of slight relief that crossed her face when she said, “Great!”

When you tell someone you don’t have any plans for the holidays, particularly within the context of the Christian college I attended, they often feel obligated to invite you along. But that Thanksgiving spent alone in the dorms was the best holiday I had during college. I went tramping through the woods behind campus, my boots crunching on the ice-tipped leaves. I made tea and curled up with good books on my bed, reading for fun for a change. I got hot cider in a coffee shop on Newbury Street and people-watched to my heart’s content.

Since then I’ve spent many Thanksgivings and Christmases by myself, enjoying the quiet and solitude of my own home. I don’t wish to appear ungrateful to the people who opened their homes to me in the past. Offering a place at your table to someone who might otherwise have nowhere to go is a kind thing to do, and I realize that it creates more work in terms of cooking and cleaning. But the emotional labor is exhausting: chatting with 15 people you’ve never met before, trying to remember names and faces, and worrying because you brought lotion as a hostess gift and then found out she’s allergic to fragrance. And getting caught in the middle of the fight about your friend changing her major, or the sometimes complicated family dynamics that abound in even healthy families, isn’t relaxing.

When I tell people that I sometimes prefer being alone at the holidays, they give me a strange look. They say that it’s a time for family and friends, and ask if I get lonely. But I don’t have much family left: My mother died when she was 58, and because she was an only child that side of my family is gone, and I’m estranged from my father. I do have a family by choice, but there have been years when they traveled to visit their birth families and just weren’t around. And there have also been years when I’ve politely declined and chosen to be alone.

With the rush and bustle of daily life, it’s a luxury to have an entire day or two all to myself. No deadlines, no one asking me to get them water after I just sat down on the couch, no social demands. My time is truly my own in a way that it rarely is the rest of the year. Because I know it will pick back up the moment the holiday ends, I bask in that freedom and that brief time of answering to no one. I’ve found that, if loneliness does start to nip at me, it’s always right before I have to rejoin the real world, and it doesn’t have time to deepen.

I’ll be alone on Thanksgiving again this year, holed up in a cabin on Washington state’s San Juan Islands. I’m looking forward to the break after a fall spent finishing grad school, working on a novel and helping my son, who will spend the week with his father, start kindergarten. I’m an introvert, and I rest and recharge best when there’s no one else around. While I’ll miss my son, I’m pretty sure that the only other thing I’ll miss will be the turkey. (Quote source here.)

Those first two articles were written by women much younger then me (most likely Millennials); however, I found a third article, also written in 2016 on SixtyandMe.com,” titled, How to Celebrate When You Are Alone for the Holidays,” by Elizabeth Dunkel, writer and novelist who has lived in Merida, Yucatan, Mexico for 25 years. She is also the Creative Director of Camp Liza; and, she is definitely in my age range and loving it. She writes:

I hope you noticed that I didn’t title this article, “How to Survive the Holidays, Alone.”

No! This is about making sure to celebrate the holidays if you are alone.

A Moment of Realization

It all started like this. Last September I was strolling down the aisles of Costco and came upon the Christmas decorations. This is one of my pet peeves, Christmas in September… grrr!

Suddenly I was knocked over by a wave of nostalgia — by memories of all my family Christmases, the magical ones I enjoyed as a child, and later, the magical ones I created for my children.

Then, dare I say it, a tinge of dread crept in. Oh no! Who me, dread? This is a new one for me. I don’t do dread.

I live alone at the moment. I had a big family life, with husband, parents, children and extended family. I have always loved the holidays — the cooking, baking, decorating, shopping, and wrapping that went along with each one of them. Whether it was Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, Easter, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, or Labor Day, I was Miss Cornball with the lights or bunting and appropriate food at the ready.

But times change of course and my children have grown and flown. I felt a bit iffy — for a moment. Right then and there, in Costco, I made a promise to myself, “I don’t want to ‘get through’ the holidays. I need to find a new way to celebrate them.”

Don’t Let the Holidays Creep Up on You: Plan for Them

Just as I used to plan for holidays in the past — all those lists I used to make! — I realized it is just as important, if not more important, to make a plan for being alone, and not just let the holiday ambush me. I deserve a plan for one.

Now that I no longer “have” to do certain activities or bake certain things, I’m free! In the past, I had my rituals, my kids expected certain foods, etc. Now I’m free to invent new moments, discover new ways to mark a day that can be difficult for so many of us.

Survival Isn’t Good Enough: I Deserve to Celebrate

So I asked myself: Liza, what do you really want to do on… fill in the blank: Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day?

Then I remembered how last January at the Sunday symphony matinee, I spied a couple I hadn’t seen in ages, “So, what did you guys do for Christmas?” I asked.

“We decided to escape from all the craziness, the parties, the food, the booze,” Grant said with glee. Clifford continued, “We went to the beach and got away from it all. It was marvelous. We drank champagne and stared at the ocean.”

The words from the Christmas carol, “Silent Night” came to me: “All is calm, all is bright.” Sounded perfect to me!

You Can Say “No” at the Holidays, Too

I can say “no” now! What a concept!

What I will say no to: Parties that I really don’t want to go to. Socializing with people I don’t feel like seeing. No to: “But Liza, maybe it would be ‘good’ for you to get out.” No to eating too much (because it’s there) and drinking too much (because it’s there). No to inviting someone over simply because I feel sorry for them or because I think it will be cheerier if someone is at my house. If it’s someone I really want to see, great. Otherwise, no thank you.

And most important, I will say no to: Wishing I had planned something. Because I will plan. For me.

Plan for Yourself, Just as You Would for Others

I adore Christmas Eve. The day is palpable with love, desire, wishes, expectations. Just because I’m alone, that won’t change. So I will participate in the collective consciousness by doing the kitchen prep work for my Christmas Day meal.

I love to cook, not “even for one,” but rather, “especially for one.” So whilst everyone in the world is wrapping and cooking I will be too. I’ll do the kitchen prep and then reward myself with a steaming cup of tea, one of my favorite Dark Chocolate Crackles, a recipe I share every year, and a Really Good Book. That’s my idea of heaven.

In the evening, I will sip from a bottle of Very Good Wine and write a gratitude letter for the year past and a wish list for the year to come. For my Christmas Eve supper, I will sup happily on Julia Child’s French onion soup complete with all the gooey cheese and toast floating on top. How sumptuous is that? And how clever are those French for making something so sensually delicious from water and onions?!

I liked the beach idea. It feels fresh and cleansing to me. So whilst the world is sleeping late after the revelries of Christmas Eve, I will wake up early, drive to the beach and go for a long walk. I will enjoy a thermos of hot, creamy cafe au lait and delicate sandwiches of smoked salmon on pumpernickel with honey mustard as I breathe deep the fresh salt air and give thanks for all the goodness in my life.

When I get home, I’ll open a bottle of bubbly and then have a feast. No bowl of cereal for this singleton. I’ve decided to make my Christmas classic but in mini style. A mini beef wellington is so manageable with a small beef tenderloin and the Boxing Day leftovers will be wonderful. Even though he’s a scoundrel, I adore Gordon Ramsey’s recipe. Doesn’t it look easy? Guess what, it is!

Treat Yourself Like the Most Cherished Guest in the World

You deserve to treat yourself like a queen on any holiday. Because if you don’t, who will? If you don’t honor the day, the day won’t honor you. No need to feel left out. Light the fireplace, cue up a good movie on Netflix, open a bottle of something special and cozy down. Gemutlichkeit, Hygge, it’s all about comfort.

My New Year’s Eve Readathon

I have never been a fan of New Year’s Eve, the false gaiety or sudden moroseness that can come upon everyone who’s trying to be of good cheer. Celebrating something so arbitrary is not my style, so I use the occasion to suit my way.

This year, I’ll stay on home New Year’s Eve. I plan to light candles and sup on creamy scrambled eggs dolloped with caviar and sour cream as I watch the New Year roll around the world on CNN. The next day, I’ll have a few friends over for a big pot of comfort food, chili con carne with all the fixin’s.

Friends, all I ask is this: This holiday season, take good care of you. Wishing you peace and love, and wherever you are, whomever you are with: celebrate yourself! (Quote source here.)

I hope these articles have given you some inspiration if you are spending the holidays alone this year. Alone certainly doesn’t need to mean lonely. So start thinking about your options now, even if you just stay home and read a really good book while sipping your favorite concoction! Make the holidays what you want them to be . . .

With . . .

Or without . . .

Company . . . .

YouTube Video: “Thanksgiving” (Piano Solo), 1982, by George Winston:

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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In Good Times, Bad Times, and All Times

I heard some news yesterday (October 31, 2018) that, depending on which side you’re on, was either very good news or very bad news. For me and many other Christians around the world, it was, indeed, some very good news. In fact, it was a miracle given the circumstances regarding the case. After spending 9 1/2 years in a Pakistani prison–most of that time since 2010 spent in solitary confinement on death row on a charge of blasphemy, a Pakistani woman named Asia Bibi, also known as Aasiya Noreen–age 58, wife and mother of five, was set free from prison by a three-judge-panel on the Pakistani Supreme Court. The appeal process was first started in 2014 (see under Appeals section), and the final appeal was made on October 8, 2018 (see under Supreme Court acquittal section). It was after this last and final appeal that the three judges decided the final outcome of her case yesterday (10-31-18), and they set her free.

Here is a synopsis of Asia Bibi’s situation as stated in an article published yesterday titled, Pakistani Supreme Court Clears Catholic Woman of Blasphemy Charges,” by Scott Slayton, lead pastor at Chelsea Village Baptist Church, blogger at One Degree or Another on Patheos.com, and contributor on ChristianHeadlines.com:

[Asia] Bibi faced the death penalty for a 2009 incident in which Bibi, a Catholic, was accused of blaspheming the prophet Muhammad. Bibi worked as a berry harvester and was asked to retrieve water from a well. CNN reported that her Muslim co-workers refused to drink from the bucket because she is a Christian and her touching the bucket made it unclean. This led to an argument in which she allegedly blasphemed Muhammad and someone reported her to a Muslim cleric (Quote source and article at this link).

Since the ruling yesterday, many articles worldwide have been published regarding her case including Asia Bibi: Pakistan’s Supreme Court ‘historic’ ruling,” b

In other quarters, the news has caused an uproar. According to an article published yesterday titled, Pakistani Christian Asia Bibi has death penalty conviction overturned,” by 

Pakistan’s Supreme Court has acquitted a Christian woman who has been on death row for almost eight years on blasphemy charges.

Asia Bibi, a mother of five from Punjab province, was convicted of blasphemy in 2010 and sentenced to hang after she was accused of defiling the name of the Prophet Mohammed during an argument the year before with Muslim colleagues.

The workers had refused to drink from a bucket of water Asia Bibi had touched because she was not Muslim. At the time, Asia Bibi said the case was a matter of women who didn’t like her “taking revenge.”
She won her appeal against the conviction and subsequent death sentence on Wednesday.
Islamist movement Tehreek-e Labbaik (TLP) had previously vowed to take to the streets if Asia Bibi was released, and protests broke out in Islamabad and Lahore soon after the ruling was announced.

Within hours, the protests were large enough that government officials in the cities were urging people to stay inside and avoid adding to the chaos. Demonstrators blocked a motorway in Lahore and a road linking Islamabad and Rawalpindi has been closed off. Angry workers from the TLP have also staged sit-ins and chanted slogans against Pakistan officials and judges.

In response, police officials invoked Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code, which prevents the gathering of more than four people. (Quote source and article at this link.)

Most of the years Asia Bibi spent in prison were spent in solitary confinement since a death sentence was given to her in 2010. Story after story has been printed over these years regarding her plight including one story published on October 31, 2014, titled Asia Bibi losing hope on death row: family,” and another story published two years later on December 22, 2016, titled, Asia Bibi: Christmas in a prison cell.”

I first became aware of Asia Bibi’s story back in 2010. There are many, many Christians around the world going through persecution but for some reason I could never get her particular story off of my mind. Drastic forms of persecution such as she has encountered are not uncommon around the globe, even though here in America we don’t see that kind of overt persecution taking place; yet covert persecution is not uncommon here–it is just very well disguised. It can take the form of homelessness, job loss, chronic unemployment and financial difficulties; unexplained health or mental health issues and opioid addiction, accidental deaths, workplace bullying and bullying kids in schools, and any number of other ways made to look like “normal” occurrences taking place. After all, we cannot overtly kill people we disagree with in America as it’s against the law, but those who are so inclined do have their ways of dealing with people they disagree with by destroying their lives in covert ways.

In an August 22, 2016, article published in ChristianityToday.com titled, Are American Christians Really ‘Persecuted’? by K. A. Ellis, a Ph.D. candidate who writes and speaks on Human Rights, Religious Freedom and the Persecuted Church, she states:

Anti-Christian hostility is on the minds of many American Christians these days. Each new legal challenge to religious liberty at the state and federal levels raises the issue afresh. It seems that today, Christians must think through their cultural position more carefully than at any other point in US history.

Still, given the terrible persecution of Christians overseas, I wonder whether it’s accurate to say that American Christians are “under persecution.” When I discuss the rise in anti-Christian hostility in the States, I avoid the “p word,” and I don’t make comparisons to other parts of the world.

But listen to a Middle Eastern underground house church leader: “Persecution is easier to understand when it’s physical: torture, death, imprisonment….American persecution is like an advanced stage of cancer; it eats away at you, yet you cannot feel it. This is the worst kind of persecution.”

A Syrian remaining in the region to assist Christians and Muslims cautions, “It wasn’t only ISIS who laid waste to the church; our cultural compromises with the government and our divisions against each other brewed for a long time. We are Damascus, the seat of Christianity; what happened to us can happen to you. Be careful.”

When persecuted Christian leaders overseas warn about how seriously US Christians are marginalized, it’s time to listen.

Of course, persecution in countries like India and China looks different than it does in Vietnam or Nigeria; the methods of oppressors and survivors vary dramatically. Often, other religious minorities suffer as well. In some regions, the disdain is cultural; elsewhere, hostility manifests itself in legislation. (Quote source here.)

In an article published on September 13, 2016, titled Are Christians Persecuted in America? by Gregory C. Cochran, Ph.D., a pastor, author, college professor and Director of the Bachelor of Applied Theology program at California Baptist University, he begins his article by acknowledging K. A. Ellis’s article (see above) and he goes on to state:

Ellis points out that Christians around the world—including those in hotspots like Syria and the Middle East—believe that Christians are being persecuted in the United States. The sub-title of her article is, “If our overseas brothers and sisters say we are, then we probably are.” The sub-title itself offers a compelling argument. Christians in the Middle East operate on the assumption that all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (see 2 Tim. 3:12). The response of these overseas Christians demonstrates the New Testament reality that the body of Christ identifies with the suffering of other Christians (Heb. 13:1-3). On this point, Ellis concludes,

“When persecuted Christian leaders overseas warn about how seriously U.S. Christians are marginalized, it’s time to listen.”

Ellis further points out the undeniable reality that persecution looks radically different in Nigeria, Vietnam, and China. Certainly, the degree of suffering in the US is less intense when compared to these Christians in other areas. But that fact alone is no proof of the absence of persecution in the US.

Christ taught his followers from the beginning that persecution would include mere insults:

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:10, ESV)

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account” (Matthew 5:10-11, ESV).

Finally, Ellis argues soberly about how quickly societies can flip from tolerant to intolerant. It would be naïve to think that persecution can’t happen “in America.” Of course it can. It has. Baptists and others were persecuted in the early days of American history.  And Christians today are in the crosshairs of many cultural leaders.

Further, as I point out in my book, persecution does happen now in America, but it simply does not get reported as such (for predictable reasons). Churches are burned. Christians are shot and killed. House churches are targeted. And Christians are losing jobs… all in America. Yes, Christians in America are really being persecuted.

So, Christians ought to hear the sober conclusion Ellis reached:

“This is not a cause for despair. We may never experience what the global church faces, but it teaches us that the culture cannot despise us more than we can love its people… Our true goal is perseverance and faithfulness in showing forth the kingdom of God.” (Quote source here.)

Cochran also posted an article yesterday (10-31-18) on Asia Bibi titled, Asia Bibi and Why She Matters.” In his article he sums up the main points of what happened to her and her family from the time she ended up in prison in June 2009. At the end is a telling and ongoing story that goes beyond her release from prison yesterday in the last two paragraphs of his article:

Today, three Muslim judges–chief justice Mian Saqib Nisar and justices Khosa and Mazhar Alam Khan Miankhel—have risked their own lives for the cause of truth and justice. In their decision, they quoted Muslim sources demonstrating that, yes, blasphemy is awful, but so, too, is falsely accusing others of it and sentencing them to death. Knowing they have righted the wrong of sentencing Asia to death, these courageous Muslim judges have now put themselves at risk of the same.

The Red Mosque in Paris, the Islamist TLP in Pakistan, and Muslims throughout the region have little interest in justice. They demand blood. They are angry. But James taught us long before Muhammad was born that the anger of man does not bring about the righteousness of God. May the Lord strengthen all people of good will to protect Asia, her family, and these courageous Muslim judges and against the bloodthirsty mobs. (Quote source here.)

After nine and a half years in prison, Asia Bibi is finally free, but there is still a world-at-large she and her family must navigate. Jesus said to his disciples (and he says to us who believe in him today), “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (see John 16:25-33; this is verse 33).

In this world those who follow after Jesus Christ will have tribulation. Jesus said so and that’s a given, not an option. The story of Asia Bibi sunk into my soul years ago, and over the years I have prayed with ongoing passion for her release from prison as have thousands of others who were aware of her story. Her prison was a physical prison cell isolated from others. Here in America, at least at this point in time, our prisons look a lot different, and often we do not recognize them for what they are until something comes along that turns our world upside down.

Asia Bibi ended up in prison cell for all those years because a coworker lied about her, and a lot of others wanted to keep her down and in prison for the sole reason that she was a Christian in a predominantly Muslim country. In America the type of persecution that happened to her is done here through workplace bullying by coworkers that often leads to losing one’s job and leading to chronic unemployment, a ruined reputation, financial difficulties, housing issues, and homelessness. And that’s just one side of the persecution taking place right here in America on a regular basis.

As Cochran stated above, “persecution does happen now in America, but it simply does not get reported as such (for predictable reasons). Churches are burned. Christians are shot and killed. House churches are targeted. And Christians are losing jobs… all in America. Yes, Christians in America are really being persecuted.”

This is a sobering blog post but it needs to be sobering. I’ll end this post with the words from Jesus stated above–In the world you will have tribulation….

But take heart . . .

I have overcome . . .

The world . . . .

YouTube Video: “Revelation Song” by Phillips, Craig & Dean:

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Being Intentional

Being intentional means doing something “with intention or on purpose” (see definition at this link). It can be something good, or bad, or anywhere in between, and it is done on purpose and with awareness that we are doing it. Romans 8:28 is the classic “intentional” verse for Christians. It’s about God’s intentions towards those of us who are believers in Jesus Christ. That verse states:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Ephesians 5:1-20 gives us our response in being intentional followers of Jesus Christ. While what is written it’s not popular in today’s world (it never has been), Here are those verses:

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them.

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. This is why it is said:

“Wake up, sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

This is intentional living as a Christian. It’s not a tightrope walk or a list of rules to be followed, but a way of life that blooms from a relationship with God. It stems from a willing heart and mind, and the key is found in verse 10–“find out what pleases the Lord.” While we are certainly not perfect at it all of the time, it is the direction we should be heading in. And it’s not done out a sense of legalism or following rules. It is done because God calls us to live that way.

An article titled What is Intentional Living?” on Family Life Resources, a network of 40 Christian Radio Stations, states:

Intentional living is a lot like a GPS system found in many cars. It shows you the path to where you want to go. A GPS requires putting in the right destination, where you are headed. It also has a beginning point. A GPS knows where you are starting your journey. And once you enter a destination, it calculates a route, a path for you to follow. In the same way, Intentional Living points you toward the path in God’s Word. Psalm 119:105 says, “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” (NIV)

The key to “intentional living” is found in Ephesians 5:10, “Figure out what will please Christ, and then do it” (The Message). It’s a roadmap for life. When put into practice each and every day, living intentionally changes your life.

You can experience the best God has for you when you live intentionally. Intentionality happens when you combine information, insight and action.

  • Information: gathering the facts you need to know about the situation. It’s your thinking.
  • Insight: looking at the situation in a new, heartfelt way. This insight often comes from Scripture; it also represents how we relate at an emotional level with other people and with God. It’s how you feel.
  • Action: doing something with the information and insight you’ve gathered. Without action, nothing happens. It’s what you do.
  • A balance of intentional Thinking, Feeling and Doing will result in an extraordinary life filled with peace, passion and progress.

Even though we have a path to follow, it’s easy to get so turned around in this world that we don’t know where we’re going. Always remember that God does the saving through His Son Jesus on the cross. The Bible says we are saved by grace through faith. (Ephesians 2:8 NIV)

So, there’s nothing we can do to earn salvation. But we do show our faith by how we live our lives. We decide how we’re going to think and what we’re going to do when we wake up every day. By taking responsibility for our own thoughts, emotions and actions, the journey of intentional living has begun.

And, the best is yet to come in the five essential areas of life: Faith, Family, Health, Finances and Work. When you apply the teaching in Ephesians 5:10 to each area, you will embark on the intentional life in Christ that you desire. (Quote source here.)

In another article titled, Is ‘Intentional’ the Christian Woman’s New Perfectionism?” by Brenda Rodgers, wife, mom, and blogger at BrendaRodgers.com, she makes a very valid point that being intentional is not about perfectionism. In her article she states:

In some ways my new habits of intentional living were helpful. I discovered areas of my life where I had been flippant and lazy. I realized that a dessert every day is probably not the healthiest choice and that my words to my husband often do come across as disrespectful.

However, there was another part of me that began to revert back to a pattern of behavior that I thought I had buried – a pattern of perfectionism. In my efforts to be intentional with my life, I started trying to control every aspect of it. I thought that the more intentional I was, the more smoothly my life would run.

Intentional living became a mask for perfectionism….

Living intentionally has nothing to do with being perfect and everything to do with knowing who qualifies us. Colossians 1:12-13 says, “May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.” Our behavior or works never qualifies us. Only God qualifies us. When we know who qualifies us, then we are willingly and freely intentional in other areas of our lives without the bondage of perfectionism.

Since God qualifies us, we no longer have to focus on intentionality in all areas of our life, but just in our relationship with Jesus. This is made clear in Proverbs 9:10. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” To fear the Lord means to honor Him, to put Him first, to revere Him above all else. When we fear the Lord, we gain wisdom into how to be intentional in our lives. As Psalm 90:12 states, wisdom comes from numbering our days. Numbering our days is being intentional in our relationship with Jesus because it acknowledges His sovereignty. The wisdom we gain from our intentional relationship with Him shows us how to be intentional in other areas of our lives. Proverbs 3:5-6Proverbs 16:3, and Psalm 143:8 also explain that being intentional with God produces wisdom for being intentional in all areas of life.

If you’re like me and have been busy trying to be “intentional” in your life, ask yourself if it is a mask for perfectionism. Anything we do in Jesus’ name should bring us joy – not burden. I, however, experienced anything but joy. Instead, I felt anxious to produce the perfect system that in turn would produce the perfect results.

Today make a commitment to only be intentional in your relationship with Jesus. Allow intentionality in other areas of your life to be from the overflow of your relationship with Him. (Quote source and entire article here.)

In a blog post titled, On Being Intentional,” by Pastor Steve (no other identification is given but I assume the author is a pastor), he writes:

Too many things in our lives just happen – we don’t plan for them, we don’t anticipate them, we don’t even want some of them, they just happen. Even things that are part of our regular routine have a degree of ambiguity about them. We know that we have to show up at work at a certain time but then what? We don’t know – we just react to whatever crosses our path.

And that’s often how we live life – unintentionally. Life just happens and we react to it. Sure there will always be a degree of uncertainty in life. You can’t plan for every event, especially when you depend on other people. But what about the areas of life where you have a choice? What about the areas under your control? Things like – oh, let’s say encouraging someone, or showing kindness, or helping someone.

Here’s my suggestion – as Christians let’s begin to live life intentionally. I think this is the point of scripture that is often missed. When the Bible tells us to be something or to do something the idea is that we have to intentionally plan to be/do that thing. The “one another” passages of the Bible come to mind:

Serve one anotherGalatians 5:13
Be kind and compassionate to one anotherEphesians 4:32
Comfort one another1 Thessalonians 4:18
Love one anotherJohn 13:34
Pray for one anotherJames 5:16
Care for one another1 Corinthians 12:25
Build up one another1 Thessalonians 5:11
Forgive one anotherEphesians 4:32

These passages, and others, take for granted that we are being intentional in the way we live. It’s difficult to do any of these things without some forethought and planning on our part. I think that God wants us to live intentional Christian lives.

How would your life change if you became more intentional? If you planned to encourage someone today instead of waiting until the opportunity presented itself? If you planned to serve someone even if they haven’t expressed a need? If you planned to love someone even if you don’t see any specific reason other than that God put them in front of you today? More importantly how would the lives of other people be affected if you became more intentional?

God is a God of the intentional. He plans and He acts according to His plan. As His people we also need to be intentional. We need to plan how we will express His love to others in concrete, specific, intentional ways. (Quote source here.)

“God is a God of the intentional”…. I’ll end this post with the words from 1 Corinthians 5:17Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. . . .

The old has passed away . . .

Behold . . .

The new has come. . . .

YouTube Video: “Intentional” by Travis Greene:

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Running the Race

The author of the Book of Hebrews in the New Testament opens Chapter 12 with the following verses (vv-1-4, NLT):

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith [see Hebrews 11], let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. After all, you have not yet given your lives in your struggle against sin.

Opposition comes not only from our own propensity for “the sin that so easily trips us up,” but also from others trying to keep us down, and it is an active and ongoing part of our lives. The author of Hebrews states that as Christians we should “run with endurance the race God has set before us.” And the only way to do this is to “keep our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.”

Dictionary.com defines opposition as follows:

  1. the action of opposing, resisting, or combating.
  2. antagonism or hostility.
  3. a person or group of people opposing, criticizing, or protesting something, someone, or another group.
  4. the major political party opposed to the party in power and seeking to replace it.
  5. the act of placing opposite, or the state or position of being placed opposite.
  6. the act of opposing, or the state of being opposed by way of comparison or contrast.

On this subject of opposition, the other day I ran across a book first published in 2006 with a title that piqued my interest–The Confident Woman–at Half Price Books. It was also at a bargain price ($3.00 for a hardcover edition in excellent shape) so I couldn’t resist, and it is by a very well known Christian woman author, teacher, and speaker who’s name you’ll recognize as soon as I mention it. One of the themes in this book is how to deal with opposition.

In her book, The Confident Woman,” Joyce Meyer, author, Bible teacher and speaker, and President of Joyce Meyer Ministries, wrote the following in Chapter 15 titled, “Winners Never Quit” under the subtitle of “Opposition Will Always Be There” on pp. 211-212 (first edition 2006):

In the beginning of my ministry, God gave me a dream. In the dream, I was driving down a highway and I noticed cars pulling off. Some were parking and others were turning around to go back where they came from I assumed there must be trouble up ahead but could not see what it was. As I boldly continued to drive forward I saw a bridge with water from the river below starting to flow across it. I realized that the people in the cars were afraid they might get hurt or get somewhere and not be able to get back. My dram ended with me sitting in my car looking first at the water-covered bridge, back where I had been, and to the side of the road, trying to decide if I should park, retreat or keep moving forward. Then I woke up.

God used that dram to show me that there will always be opposition when pressing toward a goal. There will always be opportunity to park and go no farther or turn around and give up. It was up to me to decide each time if I would give up or go on. That dream has helped me many times to press on when difficulties came and I was tempted to quit. I have decided that even though I don’t always get the result that I hope for, I will never quit! Determination will get you a lot farther than talent. So if you feel you lack in talent, take heart. All you need to win in life is more determination than anyone else you know. (Quote source, “The Confident Woman,” pp, 211-212)

Opposition comes to everyone at some point in life and maybe from lots of people and places throughout life. However, we as Christians are in good company as there isn’t one instance from Genesis to Revelation where those who follow after God and Jesus Christ get to just “coast along” in life (also reminiscent of John Bunyan‘s allegorical book, Pilgrim’s Progress,” first published in 1678).

In the opening of Chapter 15, Joyce starts with the following story regarding the beginning of her ministry in the St. Louis area:

Quitting is not an option for the confident woman. She must decide what she wants or needs to do and make her mind up that she will finish her source. You will experience some opposition no matter what you attempt to do in life. The Apostle Paul said that when doors of opportunity opened to him, opposition often came with it (1 Corinthians 16:9). Confidence believes that it can handle whatever comes its way; it doesn’t fear what has not happened yet.

I still remember the first Sunday morning I ministered at a church we started in the inner city of St. Louis. Our goal was to help the hurting people in that area and give them hope. I stood in the pulpit that day and announced loudly, “I’m here to stay. I knew others who had tried to do similar works and, after a period of time, gave up. I made up my mind when I started that I would finish.

We have endured opposition. Local churches got upset because a new church was coming into the area. They were afraid that we would take their congregations. There comment was, “We don’t need a big ministry coming in here and taking our people.” Attitudes such as that are fear-based and foolish.

One of our staff members was injured in a drive-by shooting, but we still didn’t leave and neither did he.

Occasionally, members of the congregation had windows broken in their cars during the church service, but they did not leave. A couple of times cars were even stolen, but we still stayed.

The pastor was caught in an affair with another employee and we became more determined than ever. We said, “Even if we have to start all over, we are not going to leave.” Fear said, “the people in the congregation will leave when they here this.” I said, “If anyone leaves, God will send two more to replace them.” I addressed the congregation and openly shared the truth with them. I told them we would get someone good to pastor the church, that Satan wanted to use the situation to divide the church, but we weren’t going to let that happen. People really appreciated the honesty and no one left. The church has grown and is one thousand members strong at this time [circa 2006].

When you attempt to do something and fear rears its ugly head, you must remember that the wold goal of fear is to stop you. Fear wants you to run, to withdraw and to hide. God wants you to finish what you began.

The Apostle Paul was given a job to do and he was determined to do it even through he knew that it meant imprisonment and suffering. he kept his eyes on the finish line, not on what he knew he would go through. he said he wasn’t moved by the opposition, but that his goal was to finish his course with joy. Paul not only wanted to finish what he started, he wanted to enjoy the journey. Enjoyment is not possible if we are afraid all the time. Fear brings present torment concerning future situations that may not happen anyway. Paul knew that whatever did happen, God would be faithful to strengthen him so that he might patiently endure it.

If we stare at our giants too much, the fear of them will overtake us. Keep your eyes on the prize, not the pain. In the Bible, Paul explains how they were pressed on every side and troubled and oppressed in every way. They could see no way out but they refused to give up. he explains in 2 Corinthians 4:9 how they were persecuted but not deserted or left by God to stand alone. Paul said, “We are struck down to the ground, but never struck out and destroyed.” I can feel my heart being stirred with courage even as I listen to Paul. he made his mind up that no matter what happened he was going to finish his course. Paul explained that they did not get discouraged (utterly spiritless, exhausted, and wearied out through fear) because they looked not at the things they could see but to the things they could not see (2 Corinthians 4:8, 9, 16, 18),

If we stare at our problems too much, think and talk about them too much, they are likely to defeat us. Glance at your problems but stare at Jesus. We don’t deny the existence of problems, we don’t ignore them, but we do not permit them to rule us. Any problem you have is subject to change. All things are possible with God!

When David came up against the giant Goliath, he did not stand for hours looking at the giant wondering how to win the battle. The Bible says that he ran quickly to the battle line, all the time talking about the greatness of God and declaring his victory ahead of time. David did not run away from his giant; he courageously ran toward him.

Robert Schuller [American televangelist, pastor, motivational speaker, and author–he died in 2015 after this book was published] said, “If you listen to your fears, you will die never knowing what a great person you might have been.”

If David had run from Goliath he would never have been King of Israel. He was anointed by God to be king twenty years before he wore the crown. During those years he faced his giants and proved that he had the tenacity to endure difficulty without quitting.

Did David feel any fear as he approached Goliath? I think he did. In David’s writings he never claimed to be free from the feelings of fear. As a matter of fact he talked about being afraid:

What time I am afraid, I will have confidence in and put my trust and reliance in You.

By [the help of] God I will praise His word; on God I lean, rely, and confidently put my trust; I will not fear. What can man, who is flesh, do to me? (Psalm 56:3-4, AMPC)

David was clearly saying that even though he felt fear, he chose to be confident!

Paul said that we are each running a race and that we should run it to win. Winning requires preparation, training, sacrifice and a willing to press past our opposition. It often required failing many times but continuing, always keeping going, despite any opposition we many encounter along the way. (Quote course, “The Confident Woman,” pp. 203-206).

In an article titled, Run the Race to Finish,” published on August 11, 2017 on DesiringGod.org by Jennifer Brogdon, guest contributor and a former collegiate distance runner, she states:

Runners not only properly nourish their body and recover well, but they also work hard to build endurance. They endure long runs. They do speed workouts. They lift weights. They stretch. They push through pain. They have sore muscles and tired lungs.

Likewise, as Christians, we work hard to strengthen our faith to endure the race of faith. We must seek him daily in his word and in prayer. We must seek fellowship among other believers and let our fellow church members encourage us in the faith. We must welcome rebuke and embrace trials. Personal discipline is essential if we are to keep our eyes focused on Jesus.

Every ounce counts in a foot race. The lighter the endurance runner, the swifter the runner. The same is true in the Christian life. Many things slow us down and eventually stall us in the race of faith. In my case, chasing self-centered joy and personal accolades. Sin clings closely. It’s hard to get off, and it’s heavy. We lay aside every weight and clingy sin. The farther we are from sin, the closer we are to Jesus.

When we sin, we take our eyes off Jesus and put them on ourselves. We choose to do our will instead of his. But we can’t make it to the finish line without looking to Jesus—the author and finisher of our faith. When we set our eyes firmly on him, we will not grow weary in the fight against sin and in the race to persevere in faith. We remember the crown waiting for us in glory and continue running. (Quote source and complete article available at this link.)

I’ll end this post with a quote from Bill Crowder from his 2010 devotion titled, Running the Race,” in Our Daily Bread

The Christian’s race . . .

Is not a sprint . . .

But a marathon . . . .

YouTube Video: “Standing Up for Something” by Andra Day (feat. Common):

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The Last Word

The title of this blog post actually comes from Isaiah 55:10-11 which states the following:

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 [God’s] 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.

I read an interesting article published yesterday (October 13, 2018) in the New York Times titled, It’s Getting Harder to Talk About God: The decline in our spiritual vocabulary has many real world consequences,” by Jonathan Merritt, award-winning writer on religion, culture, and politics; contributing writer for The Atlantic, and contributing editor for The Week.

Merritt opens his article with the following statement:

More than 70 percent of Americans identify as Christian, but you wouldn’t know it from listening to them. An overwhelming majority of people say that they don’t feel comfortable speaking about faith, most of the time.

During the Great Depression, the playwright Thornton Wilder remarked, “The revival in religion will be a rhetorical problem—new persuasive words for defaced or degraded ones.” Wilder knew that during times of rapid social change, God-talk is often difficult to muster.

We may have traded 1930s-level poverty and hunger for a resurgence in racism, sexism and environmental cataclysm, but our problems are no less serious—or spiritually disorienting. While many of our most visible leaders claim to be religious, their moral frameworks seem unrecognizable to masses of other believers. How do we speak about God in times like these when God is hard to spot? (Quote source here.)

I have noticed a difference especially in the past decade which has also been, as Merritt notes above, a time of rapid social change. Stray too far from traditional Christian settings (mainly church and church type activities or hanging out with other Christians) and it’s as if we are entering foreign territory right here in America. It’s not that we don’t see Christian stuff everywhere in America (after all, it is a billion-dollar business), but we’ve become too absorbed in the culture and there isn’t a lot of difference between our actions and the actions of most of the rest of society.

Merritt goes on to state:

As a student of American Christianity and the son of a prominent megachurch pastor, I’ve been sensing for some time that sacred speech and spiritual conversation are in decline. But this was only a hunch I had formed in response to anecdotal evidence and personal experience. I lacked the quantitative data needed to say for sure.

So last year, I enlisted the Barna Group, a social research firm focused on religion and public life, to conduct a survey of 1,000 American adults. This study revealed that most Americans—more than three-quarters, actually—do not often have spiritual or religious conversations.

More than one-fifth of respondents admit they have not had a spiritual conversation at all in the past year. Six in 10 say they had a spiritual conversation only on rare occasions—either “once or twice” (29 percent) or “several times” (29 percent) in the past year. A paltry 7 percent of Americans say they talk about spiritual matters regularly.

But here’s the real shocker: Practicing Christians who attend church regularly aren’t faring much better. A mere 13 percent had a spiritual conversation around once a week.

For those who practice Christianity, such trends are confounding. It is a religion that has always produced progeny through the combination of spiritual speech and good deeds. Nearly every New Testament author speaks about the power of spiritual speech, and Jesus’ final command to his disciples was to go into the world and spread his teachings. You cannot be a Christian in a vacuum.

And yet even someone like me who has spent his entire life using God-talk knows how hard it has become. Five years ago, I moved from the Bible Belt to New York City and ran headfirst into an unexpected language barrier. Sure, I could still speak English as well as I always had. But I could no longer “speak God.” (Quote source here.)

When I look at the results of the Barna Group survey stated above, I’m not actually surprised by the finding that a large percentage of Christians don’t actively engage in “spiritual conversations” in general. I don’t mind a dialogue, but I’m not looking to get into arguments which can occur even among Christians. And in our society people do have a right to live however they want to live as long as they aren’t breaking any laws or harming other people, and our Constitution gives them that right. It’s a part of what our democracy is all about, and it is what sets America apart from much of the rest of the world.

One this issue of spiritual speech, I had an interesting encounter this past week when I saw an ad on Craigslist for a senior apartment complex advertising one-bedroom apartments. I decided to go take a look, and as I drove through an area that is heavily traveled I was stopped at a red light and what looked like a homeless guy with very long hair walked up to the window on the passenger’s side of my car. I rolled down that window to briefly talk with him, but he wasn’t seeking money. Instead, he asked me if I was a Christian and I said yes. At that point he unleashed a soliloquy of sorts about how America was going to hell because of its acceptance of homosexuality and he asked me if I was familiar with the story of Sodom and Gomorrah in the Bible. I said yes. As I listened to his speech he reminded me of what an angry Old Testament prophet might have sounded like (he sort of looked like one, too), and he was absolutely not interested in engaging in a dialogue. His eyes actually flashed with anger as he talked (but he wasn’t aggressive at all–just very passionate about what he was talking about).

Fortunately, the light turned green and his soliloquy came to an end. He was apparently a “one issue prophet” of sorts as his only message was about homosexuality and the city government (specifically a previous mayor who was female and a lesbian) here in this city. Apparently, he was not aware that she was no longer mayor, but I don’t think that would have mattered to him. He was speaking “hell, fire, and brimstone” regarding homosexuality.

As I pulled away from my brief exchange with him, I found myself feeling a bit guilty but I didn’t know why. Some folks might write him off as some crazy guy spouting nonsense. I felt more verbally badgered by him then I felt guilty. He talked as if he expected me to resolve the issue and “save America from it’s doom and gloom,” yet he would not allow me to contribute to the conversation.

I tend to be the type of person who is open to conversation with anyone who is also open to conversation, and it can be about anything and not just “religious” stuff. In fact, it is rarely about religious stuff unless the person I am conversing with brings it up first. One would be hard pressed, living in America, to not encounter elements of Christianity everywhere in our society. I’m not sure how much influence that “one issue prophet” might have on others, but, and I say this for the benefit of everyone living in America, he has a right to do and say what he wants to do and say as long as he isn’t breaking any laws. That he might not help the conversation of being “Christian” in America, he may or may not have a negative effect on those he speaks with towards Christianity in general.

Merritt is right in noting that our society is rapidly changing. And he’s also right when he says it’s getting hard to talk about God at all especially in settings outside of the church or other Christian settings. And while his emphasis is on the issue of “speech,” it is also about “actions.” While most people probably don’t hear us speak or express our opinions on issues going on in our society, but they do pay attention to our actions when we are around them or out in public. And our actions sometimes betray what we say we believe.

On this issue, Merritt states:

That toothy televangelist keeps using spiritual language to call for donations to buy a second jet. The politician keeps using spiritual language to push unjust legislation. The street preacher keeps using spiritual language to peddle the fear of a fiery hell. They can dominate the conversation because we’ve stopped speaking God. In our effort to avoid contributing to the problem, we can actually worsen it. (Quote source here.)

First and foremost, the way that we as Christians should live in a rapidly changing culture is to make sure that love is a part of our actions that we send out to every person we encounter. We can’t change the toothy televangelist who wants a second jet, or the politician who is trying to push through unjust legislation, or the street preacher (like that one-issue prophet I ran into at the red light) peddling the fear of a fiery hell, but we can change how we respond to a culture that is rapidly changing.

Merritt makes a very valid point when it comes to speech, but we also need to consider our actions. Nonverbal communication often speaks louder than any words we can say. However, as for our speech, Colossians 4:6 has the final answer, and I’ll end this post with this verse: Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt . . .

That you may know . . .

How you ought to answer . . .

Each one . . . .

YouTube Video: “The Message is Love” by Arthur Baker & The Backbeat Disciples (ft. Rev. Al Green):

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