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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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Behind the Scenes

behind the scenesYesterday afternoon I noticed a book on the shelves in the book area at a Goodwill store here in Orlando with a most intriguing title. I immediately recognized the author, Dr. R.C. Sproul, who is “an American theologian, author, and pastor. He is also the founder and chairman of Ligonier Ministries and can be heard daily on the Renewing Your Mind radio broadcast in the United States and internationally” (quote source here). The book is titled, The Invisible Hand: Do All Things Really Work for Good? (1996; republished in 2003). No doubt there have been times when most–if not all–of us have asked that question, and most likely asked it far more than once.

The inside front flap of the hardcover edition states the following:

Is it merely coincidence when events occur that cause . . .

Joy to fill our lives,

Evil to seemingly triumph,

Our efforts to succeed,

Sorrow to engulf us . . . ?

Too often in today’s age of secularism we fail to see God’s hand in both the rewards and the trials of our lives. Because He is invisible to us, we erroneously think that many events happen by coincidence; we don’t sense God’s active presence in the course of human affairs. With these blinders in place, we look at the world’s past, present, and future and speculate, “What if . . . ?”

But as R.C. Sproul convincingly writes in “The Invisible Hand,” “There is no ‘what if?’ in God.” He doesn’t roll dice! Nor does He have to wait to see which fork in the road we choose…. He knows the future precisely because He wills the future as He did the past. “He is a God whose providence is in the details”. . . . (Quote source: inside front flap.)

From my own experience over the past seven years, “What if . . . ?” has been a question I’ve asked on a number of occasions. While I believe in God’s providence in all things that happen on this earth, from a human perspective the question is still a haunting one. “What if . . . ?”  And we all tend to ask it especially when the hard times hit, and even more so when those hard times stick around for a very long period of time–far longer then we imagined with still no resolution to the situation. My version of the “What if . . . ?” question goes like this:

What if I had never taken that job and moved to Houston over seven years ago?

Well, most likely I would not have been unemployed all this time and now, for the past fifteen months, living in hotels to keep a roof over my head (a situation I have explained in a previous post). Regardless of how often any of us might revisit the “What if . . .?” question, the fact remains that “What if’s . . . ?” don’t actually exist. There is only “What is . . . .”

Dr. Sproul’s book goes into great detail on this very subject. There are twenty chapters in his 210-page book, and he tackles every question we could possible come up with regarding God’s providence in our lives and in our world. The good, the bad, and the ugly are all there–from “Providence as Provision” to “Train Wreck”; from “Everything Is Against Us?” to “To God Alone the Glory”; from “The Invisible Hand” to “The Visible Hand”; from “Providence and Government” to “Providence and the Problem of Evil”; from “Providence and Miracles” to “Counterfeit Miracles” and “Providence and Prayer.” And those are just a few of the chapter titles.

Regarding my own “What if . . .?” question stated above–when I first lost my job in Housotn in April 2009, I had every confidence that God would help me find a new job soon as I was my only means of financial support. My initial focus and all of the my time from the first day after I lost my job in Houston in April 2009 was devoted to one specific goal–to quickly find another job, and before I ran out of money, too. Seven years later I can look back and see now at how narrow my view of the world was back then.

From our human perspective, it is very hard to understand why God doesn’t move in our circumstances (especially the hard circumstances that come to all of us at one time or another) as quickly as we would like him to move, or that the way He sometimes provides for us isn’t the way we had planned. If you’ve been a regular reader of my blog, you know that my current housing situation is one I never expected to happen and has lasted for over 15 months now. If I thought finding another job was hard (and it never has materialized), finding affordable housing on a Social Security income is just about impossible to find without waiting on a waiting list for long period of times (and I’m still waiting). So what is one to do in the interim? And due to that fact, I have found myself living in hotels for the past 15 months as I have been unable to secure more permanent housing that I can afford through the various avenues available to me. At this point in time, I wish I could just twitch my nose like Samantha did in Bewitched (a TV sitcom from 1964 to 1972) and finally find an affordable and more permanent place to live.

This situation brings to mind the subject of spiritual warfare. Most of us live according to the physical world that surrounds us–what we can think, see, feel, touch, do, and get, etc. For those of us who consider ourselves to be Christian, too often we are unaware of the spiritual battles surrounding us because we don’t recognize them for what they are–battles. However, the Bible is very clear about this spiritual world and it’s reality and that we are living in the midst of it all of the time. And that world more real then even the physical world all around us. The classic passage on spiritual warfare was penned by the Apostle Paul to the Ephesian believers and is found in Ephesians 6:10-18. And it’s pretty clear that this battle is a serious undertaking:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

When one is feeling weary, it’s hard to pray about a situation that never seems to change. And it is in that weariness that a spiritual battle can rage on. Last night I started writing this blog post without realizing how frustrated I had let myself get over my current housing situation. An incident came up yesterday morning when I was paying for another week to stay at this hotel that made me realize how weary I am getting from having to live in hotels while not being able to secure more permanent and affordable housing (and living in hotels is far from cheap). I was told that starting with the new year the weekly rate price was increasing, and that I would need to start paying the increased rate starting in February. Since it is a business, I understood why they were increasing the rate, but I never wanted to be living in hotels in the first place. And it sent me back to thinking about how all of this got started in my life in the first place . . . back to when I lost that job in Houston in April 2009.

Before I go any further I want to mention something that impacted me when I read it the other day. I’ve been reading the book, Bonhoeffer Abridged: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy,” by Eric Metaxas, and in a chapter titled, “The Great Decision,” (Chapter 8), Bonhoeffer was really struggling with a decision he needed to make for several reasons during the rise of Hitler in Germany in the late 1930’s. The details surrounding his decision are too long to go into in this blog post, but through a series of events he was sent to America from his beloved Germany for a year by others who wanted him out of the heat of what was going on in Germany at that time (this was in 1939). However, as noted on page 127, “He had not been in New York twenty-four hours, but Bonhoeffer was already deeply out of sorts. His mind continued to churn about the situation back home [in Germany], wondering how long he should stay in America, and whether he ought to have come at all.”

Bonhoeffer stayed in New York only twenty-six days and returned to Berlin with a stop in England on the way back to see family and colleagues living there. Bonhoeffer kept a diary and right after he decided that he needed to return to Germany (he was determined to obey God and was sure he was doing so in deciding to return to Germany), he wrote the following in his diary on the evening of June 20, 1939 as he “ruminated about the decision, puzzled by the strange mystery of it all” (p. 130):

It is remarkable how I am never quite clear about the motives for any of my decisions. Is that a sign of confusion, of inner dishonesty, or is it a sign that we are guided without our knowing, or it is both? . . . Today the reading [from the Bible–specific verses not mentioned] speaks dreadfully harshly of God’s incorruptible judgment. He certainly sees how much personal feeling, how much anxiety there is in today’s decision, however brave it may seem. The reasons one gives for an action to others and to one’s self are certainly inadequate. One can give a reason for everything. In the last resort one acts from a level which remains hidden from us. So one can only ask God to judge us and to forgive us. . . . At the end of the day I can only ask God to give a merciful judgment on today and all its decisions. It is now in his hand. (Quote from Bonhoeffer Abridged: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy,” by Eric Metaxas, Chapter 8 “The Great Decision,” p. 130.)

And as “he set his face toward Berlin, somehow he was again at peace” (p. 130). He made a decision that he knew he had to make and he followed through on it, and as difficult as it was once he had followed through with it he knew he had made the right decision.

As I look at my own set of circumstances, the hotel situation is just the latest thing to happen to me that reverberates back to when I lost the job in Houston. For some time now I have felt the need to express what I believe was and is really going that has caused me to run into “closed doors” at every turn no matter how hard I have tried to find work and now affordable housing. However, I never knew how to express what I believed was and has been happening that has prevented me from moving forward. Often, we like to believe that we are in control of our circumstances, but that is not always the case–in fact, it rarely is the case.

I moved 1000 miles to Houston from Florida at the end of September 2008 to start that job that I lost a scant seven months later in April 2009. I met with a lawyer on May 1, 2009, to have her review a separation agreement I had received from the company on the day I was fired, but we did not discuss any of the issues that I knew (but had no solid proof to show her) were going on leading up to the day I was fired. I met with her as I was told by my former employer that it was not advisable to sign the separation agreement without having a lawyer review it. She reviewed it and we both signed off on it, and I turned it back in to my former employer. Three months later in July 2009 I found solid physical evidence linking what had happened to me when I worked there but I thought that since I had already signed the separation agreement, it was too late to do anything with what I had found. However, by November 2009 I decided to write a letter to the lawyer I met with on May 1, 2009, detailing in a four-page single spaced letter what happened to me during the time I worked there and including the solid physical evidence that I had found. I know she received that letter as I sent it by certified mail, return-receipt requested, and I received the signed receipt back in the mail. I did not hear back from her.

Due to circumstances that have occurred to me since mailing that letter to her, I have come to believe that there was a some type of lawsuit that was filed or a settlement that was reached through my lawyer at some point after she received my letter in November 2009 stating the clear, physical evidence I presented to her of what was being done to me at my former place of employment that was both unethical and illegal. For whatever reason on their part, I was not contacted by my lawyer, and I believe my former employer contacted some of my family members and they dealt with the lawyer, and it was mutually agreed upon to keep me out of it for reasons that will go unstated at this time. However, due to some conversations I had early on it was apparent that a family member was hoping to get power of attorney over me so that the money would be diverted away from me. However, it was not their lawsuit, and I am in no need of designating a “power of attorney” to handle any of my affairs, and the parties involved have been keeping me at a distance from knowing anything about the lawsuit/settlement ever since this started.

Thank you for publicly pointing out my typosSince it is now several years later and no resolution has been found on their part (at least the resolution they have been hoping for which takes me completely out of the picture), I believe the original settlement has accrued to a very large sum of money. And the fact that no one will contact me continues to delay any action regarding it because they don’t want me involved, yet there would be no lawsuit if it wasn’t for what happened to me in the first place. The details are more complex than I have stated here but those details allude to how I have ended up living in hotels as this saga continues.

It’s amazing to me what greed will do to people. It can separate the best of friends; it can separate family members; it kills love; and it is incredibly selfish and self-serving. And public perception has been skewed to not favor (or even hear) my side of the story. From what I have experienced these past several years, it is shocking to see what greed will do to people. And all I’m asking is for some resolution and to be included.

Is that too much to ask for?

I’m asking . . . .

YouTube Video: “Games People Play” sung by Hank Williams, Jr.:

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

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Righting a Wrong for the New Year

With the start of a brand new year today, January 1, 2016, many people are busy making a list of New Year’s Resolutions in an attempt to, once again, turn over a new leaf or to right a wrong such as changing bad eating habits or starting an exercise program; or perhaps making an effort to restore ailing family relationships or friendships or whatever else might be ailing them. Gaby Hinsliff, a columnist at The Guardian and former political editor of the Observer, stated that her New Year’s resolution for 2016 is to stop being a lousy friend.” And I’m sure most of us can relate to that one.

While I stopped making New Year’s resolutions at least a decade or two ago, a brand new year always holds out hope for new beginnings as I’m sure it does for most everyone else, too. There’s something fresh and squeaky clean about a brand new year beginning again, and while it seems it doesn’t take much (or very long) to put a smudge on it, we hold out hope for a world tangled in chaos. Just review some of the top news stories of 2015 if you don’t believe it isn’t chaotic in our world today. ABCNews reported, The San Bernardino shooting [on December 2, 2015] marked at least the 57th mass shooting this year where three or more people were killed, according to an ABC News analysis.” (Quote source here.)

While we may shake our heads with each new tragedy that strikes with ever increasing frequency, most of us haven’t got a clue how to solve the problem of the escalating violence taking place all around us in our nation and around the world. Prayer is the most powerful weapon we have for those of us who believe in God, but I know that sometimes there are simply no words to adequately express what is going on all around us. When words escape me and I honestly don’t know how to pray about what is going on, I often pray the prayer Jesus taught his disciples to pray, also known as The Lord’s Prayer,” found in Matthew 6:9-13:

“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be Your name,
Your kingdom come,
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts (e.g., our trespasses),
as we also have forgiven our debtors
(e.g., those who have trespassed against us).

And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power
and the glory forever. Amen.”

We tend to stumble a lot over forgiving those who have trespassed against us, and perhaps this is one of the biggest causes of the human tragedies that happen in our world that are not caused by nature. And the ability to hate others we often don’t even know has been endemic in our world since the beginning of time. It is, indeed, the age old battle between good and evil. But the lines of evil have clearly been blurred over the past several decades. We’ve replaced the true meaning of evil with meaning something seemingly innocuous and self serving. “If it feels good, do it” became the “emerging values of the 1960’s and 70’s” (quote source here) and perpetuated to the following generations. When we look out only for ourselves without regard for others (especially those we don’t know), everyone eventually loses. A society cannot sustain itself for long if everyone is mostly concerned about what they can personally get out of life. If we take what we want from others without any regard for them, we shouldn’t be surprised if someone eventually comes along and takes it from us.

page-under-constructionUPDATE: I’m in the process of revising this post from this point to the end. Since it was originally published earlier today, I don’t plan to delete the post but I decided after rereading it that what I had written from this point to the end needed a lot of “tweaking” (and that’s putting it mildly) so it was just easier to delete it for now. I was actually bemoaning my plight since I lost my job in Houston almost seven years ago (in April), and while what I wrote was cathartic for me to get it off my chest, I do so hate pity-parties and I was having a major one when I wrote it. Listening to music and/or reading a good book usually gets me out of it (fortunately, I very rarely have pity-parties) so I spent the rest of the day reading a John Grisham novel, The King of Torts (2003), which is about a young lawyer in Washington D.C. who gets caught up in a “get rich quick scheme” that actually works through mass tort litigation.” However, greed certainly has it’s down side and this young lawyer gets the full brunt of it before the story ends. At least he gets to keep the old girlfriend.

Trust me when I say that reading that book was a much better deal then reading through what I had written on here before I decided I didn’t need to go so public with my own personal pity-party. What was name of that Leslie Gore song back in the 1960’s? It’s My Party and I’ll Cry if I Want To (click link for YouTube Video). Okay, so I did. Enough already . . . 🙂

So I’ll leave “Righting a Wrong” to those who need to right it (but haven’t so far). What I wrote earlier (and deleted) was actually “Writing a Wrong,” and I’ve written about it in previous posts. Ya’ll know my story by now… 😉

In the meantime while I figure out how to fill up this space (or maybe just leave it as it is), please enjoy the Rascal Flatts song, “My Wish,” linked below.

And Happy New Year!!!

Thanks!

YouTube Video: “My Wish” by Rascal Flatts:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Christmas and the Christian Faith

Nativity-Merry-ChristmasI ran across the following article this morning on a Public Domain website titled, Recognizing the Importance of Christmas and the Christian Faith by Steven Arnold King (source here). It is actually a speech given by the Honorable Steve King of Iowa in the House of Representatives on Tuesday, December 11, 2007.

It’s significance cannot be underestimated. Here is the text of that speech (quote source here):

RECOGNIZING THE IMPORTANCE OF CHRISTMAS AND THE CHRISTIAN FAITH

SPEECH OF
HON. STEVE KING
OF IOWA
IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
Tuesday, December 11, 2007

manger cross kingMr. KING of Iowa: Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by thanking the Ranking Member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, the gentlewoman from Florida, Ms. Ros-Lehtinen, for her support and help in getting this important measure to the House floor for a vote.

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to address the House today to discuss the importance and relevance of Christmas, the Christian holiday celebrating the birth of our savior Jesus Christ.

As this resolution notes, there are approximately 225 million Christians in the United States, making Christianity the religion of over three-fourths of the American population. Beyond that, there are approximately 2 billion Christians throughout the world, making Christianity the largest religion in the world and the religion of about one-third of the world population.

And yet, Mr. Speaker, in recent decades there have been some who have undertaken efforts to diminish the significance of this great religion, and these efforts are no more apparent than during this time of Christmas.

It is not hard to look out over this great country of ours and find those who, for one reason or another, have engaged in a highly-politicized and highly-publicized crusade to rid the public square of any reference to the religious underpinnings of the Christmas holiday. These are individuals who have subscribed to a radical interpretation of our Constitution’s free exercise and establishment clauses and have sought to impose their secular views and beliefs on the nation as a whole.

In many respects, it is this ongoing effort to bring about the secularization of Christmas–and all of our everyday lives for that matter–that motivated me to bring this resolution before the House today.

Regardless of how others may define it, Mr. Speaker, Christmas is a religious holiday. It is the day on which Christians–those who identify themselves as believers in the salvation from sin offered to them through the death and resurrection of their savior, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and who, out of gratitude for the gift of salvation, commit themselves to living their lives in accordance with the teachings of the Holy Bible–celebrate the birth of their savior. For Christians, the birth of Jesus is cause for great celebration. As the Son of God, Jesus was sent to earth, by our Heavenly Father, to become a human being, live a sinless life, be crucified on a cross for our sins, and rise from the dead three days later. The purpose of this, as you well know, Mr. Speaker, was to save sinners from eternal death–the price to be paid for their sin.

And so, Mr. Speaker, the birth of Christ, as celebrated by Christians on Christmas is a truly important and significant day because it is celebrated as a recognition of God’s redemption, mercy and Grace.

The importance of Christmas, however, does not end with the tenets of Christianity. Because Christmas is one of the most important holidays on the Christian calendar, I believe that its annual passage should serve as an opportunity for all Americans, Christian or not, religious or not, to recognize the important role played by Christianity in the formation of our nation and in the founding of our civilization.

It is no coincidence, Mr. Speaker, that courthouses throughout this country proudly display the Ten Commandments. It is no accident that, in this very chamber, it is the face of Moses, the human author of those divinely dictated commandments, that looks down upon you, keeping close watch on all that transpires in this chamber. Mr. Speaker the framework of our laws and the fabric of our society is heavily dependent upon the maxims of Christianity, and I believe that as we Christians begin our annual celebration of the birth of our savior, the one from whom Christianity derives its name, it is wholly appropriate for us, as a nation and as members of this House, to take the time to acknowledge the contributions that the Christian religion has made to our country and our way of life.

Mr. Speaker, I think we all can agree that virtually any American, whether Christian, atheist, agnostic, or otherwise, when confronted with the fact that he has in some way wronged his neighbor, will rightly respond in one universal way–knock on his door, confess to him, repent, and ask for forgiveness. The neighbor would then forgive them as Christ has taught us. True and simple as this may seem, it is important to ask why we as Americans naturally react in such a way. The answer of course is that in this “conditioned behavior” we see very clearly the positive effect that Christianity has had on the development of our country and culture.

There are few places in the United States–if any–that you can visit where the laws “do not steal” and “do not murder” do not apply. Likewise, there are few households in this great country in which moral character is developed in young children without the invocation of the ninth and tenth amendments regarding lying and coveting that which belongs to others.

Mr. Speaker, we as Americans live in a moral society and in a country that is governed by moral laws. While many of these laws obviously cannot be found in any explicit sense within the pages of the Holy Bible, when we survey the content of that book–the document that outlines how it is the Christians are to live their lives here on earth–we do find much in the way of foundational principles that has come to guide not just the development of our laws, but also the foundation of our nation.

It was from the Bible and the example of Jesus that Pilgrims first established government on this continent, from which the Founders outlined the political thought that shaped our nation, and by which Congress first intended to educate our children. Furthermore, as the scholar David Barton and others have tirelessly pointed out, it was from the Bible that early American leaders derived concepts like private ownership, the free-enterprise system, an industrious work ethic, and workfare rather than welfare. As a result, the life and teachings of Jesus Christ have permeated every aspect of life in America. He has shaped our culture and transformed every great leader to rise from our population. As a testament to this, each of our American Presidents has acknowledged God’s hand on this Christian nation that is the United States. If there never had been a Jesus Christ, there would never have been an America.

In an address to the nation President Truman once said that, “In love, which is the very essence of the message of the Prince of Peace, the world would find a solution for all its ills. I do not believe there is one problem in this country or in the world today which could not be settled if approached through the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount. The poets’ dream, the lesson of priest and patriarch and the prophets’ vision of a new heaven and a new earth, all are summed up in the message delivered in the Judean hills beside the Sea of Galilee. Would that the world would accept that message in this time of its greatest need!”

Luke 2v13-14He went on to say that, “This is a solemn hour. In the stillness of the Eve of the Nativity when the hopes of mankind hang on the peace that was offered to the world nineteen centuries ago, it is but natural, while we survey our destiny, that we give thought also to our past–to some of the things which have gone into the making of our Nation.”

In 1940, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt said of Christmas, “it is well for all humanity to remind itself that while this is in its name a Christian celebration, it is participated in reverently and happily by hundreds of millions of people who are members of other religions, or belong actively to no church at all. The reason is not far to seek. It is because the spirit of unselfish service personified by the life and the teachings of Christ makes appeal to the inner conscience and hope of every man and every woman in every part of the earth.”

President Eisenhower called the nation to reflect during his remarks at the lighting of the Nation’s Christmas Tree on December 15, 1957 when he said, “In a few days we shall all celebrate the birth of His Holiness on earth. We shall recreate in our minds, once more, the ancient coming of that Spirit who remains alive for millions in our time. We shall acknowledge the Kingdom of a Child in a world of men.”

He went on to say, “That Child–we should remember–grew into manhood Himself, preached and moved men in many walks of life, and died in agony. But His death–so the Christian faith tells us–was not the end. For Him, and for millions of men and women ever since, it marked a time of triumph–when the spirit of life triumphed over death. So–if this Christmas season in a time of war is to have real meaning to us, it must celebrate more than the birth of a Baby.”

During his Radio Address to the Nation on Christmas Eve, 1983 President Reagan pointed out that “It’s been said that all the kings who ever reigned, that all the parliaments that ever sat have not done as much to advance the cause of peace on Earth and good will to men as the man from Galilee, Jesus of Nazareth.” [YouTube Video of speech is available here. Length of video: 5:10]

As the words of these great men–these revered and honored presidents of the United States of America have clearly demonstrated, it is not a stretch to say that the precepts and principles of Jesus have so completely permeated the culture of this nation that even an American atheist would be hard pressed to separate his worldview from the impact of the first Christmas.

Though we are not all Christians, Mr. Speaker, we are all Americans. By virtue of that simple fact, I will again reiterate my belief that it is not only appropriate but, more importantly, is necessary during this special time of year to remember not only the birth of Jesus Christ, the savior of the world, but also to recognize the important impact that the Christian faith has had on the foundation and development of our society, our nation, and our civilization. (Quote source here.)

Joy to the world, the Lord is come. . .

Let Earth receive. . .

Her King. . .

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

In case you’re interested, here’s the YouTube Video of President Reagan’s Radio Address to the Nation on Christmas Eve 1983 referenced in the speech above:

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

Beyond the Manger

Beyond-the-MangerI would like to believe that most of us living in America know the real story behind Christmas. Unfortunately, I’m not so sure that is true anymore. Today, many kids are being raised to believe in Santa then they are ever (if ever) taught about Jesus. Of course, that speaks to the issue of what their parents believe, and possibly how they were raised, too. Other than a surface glance at a religious/formal version of Jesus who appears to be anything but human except as a sweet little baby in a manger, they might wonder what Jesus could possibly have to do with them and the way they live their own lives today. And it’s a sad state of affairs that we learn to believe mostly in ourselves and to keep Jesus at a distance if we acknowledge Him at all.

Unless we are shopping in a specifically Christian store, we rarely find anything beyond Santa and all of his enticing presents glistening in store windows and aisles in the malls of America. And it’s been this way for a very long time, too. So long, in fact, that the younger generations among us often have no idea who Jesus really is and they don’t pay much attention, either. Their technology can do more for them then they think any Jesus might be able to do for them. And the version of Jesus they may get (if they get any version of Him at all) is rather weak and placid, which is absolutely nothing like the real Jesus that previous generations laid down their very lives to serve.

Jim Elliot quoteIn fact, the Bible tells the story of many, many people who gave up own their lives to serve Him (the twelve disciples as well as the Apostle Paul are classic examples, see also the people listed in Hebrews 11), and there have been many more down through the ages, too. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German theologian and pastor during the time of Hitler’s reign, comes to mind from the 20th Century (he lost his life at the age of 39 in 1945 right before the end of World War II). And it was Jim Elliot, missionary to the Auca Indians in Ecuador, who was murdered by them in 1956 at the age of 29. It was Jim Elliot who said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose” (quote source here). His wife, Elizabeth Elliot, later spent two years as a missionary (along with her infant daughter) to the tribe members who killed her husband, returning to the United States after many years in South America. She died recently on June 15, 2015 at the age of 88.

If we don’t believe there is actual power and forgiveness in the name of Jesus, we will never understand what He is all about and why He came in the first place. There is more power in the name of Jesus then in all the technological wonders available in our world today. But do we really believe that? We often only believe in what we can actually see and experience (or manipulate) until something comes along that rocks us to our very core and we have nowhere else to run.

But back to the topic at hand . . . Christmas. Another Christmas is rolling around, and commercialism reigns supreme once again during this season. However, there is One who transcends it all, and this is the story of His birth and early childhood (from Luke 2):

The Birth of Jesus

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

The Shepherds and the Angels

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest,
    and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Jesus Presented in the Temple

On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived.

When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”

Simeon's Moment by Ron DiCianni 2011 - www.tapestryproductions.com

“Simeon’s Moment” by Ron DiCianni

Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all people,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.”

The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.

The Boy Jesus at the Temple

Every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the Feast, according to the custom. After the Feast was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”

“Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he was saying to them.

Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.

Jesus Christ has always existed, even before this earth was created, and this is clearly stated in John 1:1-5, 14:

In the beginning was the Word [Jesus Christ], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. . . .

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Jesus-in-the-Old-TestamentIn an article titled, The Portrait of Christ,” by Adrian Rogers (1931-2005), Dr. Rogers clearly shows how Jesus Christ is pictured in the Old Testament and how He is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophesy:

[Jesus stated] “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” (Matthew 5:17-18)

We now have available, instantaneously, the wisdom of the ages. Or do we? We have the ability to read or hear or view the opinion or beliefs of anyone who thinks they are an intellect.

Now intellect is a wonderful thing.

• You can understand biology, but if you don’t know the Giver of life, you’re still uneducated.
• You can comprehend geology, but if you don’t know the Rock of Ages, you don’t really know anything of importance.
• You can know all about botany, but if you haven’t met the Lily of the Valley, your knowledge is useless.

You can know all the facts of history, but if you reject the central figure of history, your time has been wasted.

• The wise man who doesn’t know God is ignorant.
• The strong man who doesn’t know God is weak.
• The rich man who doesn’t know God is poor.

Only the Lord can fulfill all our needs and answer all our questions. Jesus came to fulfill all things.

The Lord said He had come to fulfill the prophets. The historical figure of Christ is the secret to understanding the Bible. Everywhere you look in Scripture, you see the writer pointing toward Christ.

In Luke 24:27, after His resurrection, Jesus appeared to two forlorn followers and began teaching them the secret to Scripture. “And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.” The Old Testament points toward Jesus Christ. Every story and every event leads directly to the Savior.

In John 5:39, the Lord Jesus told His followers to “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of Me.” Of course, the New Testament had not yet been written, so Jesus is telling His disciples to explore the Old Testament writings, because they all point toward Him.

As you read through God’s Word, see how it points you to Jesus.

• Christ is the Seed of woman and in Genesis 3:15 we are told He will one day crush Satan.
• In Exodus we find the story of the Passover Lamb, and Christ is the sacrificial Lamb given for us.
• In Leviticus we read of the high priests making sacrifices for the people, and Christ has become our High Priest, making the perfect sacrifice to atone for our sins.
• In Deuteronomy Moses prophesied of a prophet who would come that would be greater than Himself. Jesus is that Great Prophet.
• In the book of Joshua, Joshua met the Captain of the Lord’s host. That man is Jesus Christ.
• In Judges, the leaders were judges who delivered God’s people, each of them typifying the Lord Jesus.
• Boaz, the kinsman who redeemed Ruth‘s inheritance, is a picture of Christ.
• David, the anointed one, pictures Jesus and Jesus is described as being the Son of David.
• In 2 Samuel when the king is being enthroned, the entire scene is descriptive of the Lord Jesus.
• The books of Kings speak of the glory of God filling the temple and the Chronicles describe the glorious coming king, both referring to Jesus, the King of Kings.
Ezra depicts Jesus as the Lord of our fathers.
Esther offers a picture of Christ interceding for His people.
Job says clearly that the Redeemer is coming!

• Christ appears time after time in the Psalms, including when David describes Him as “the Shepherd.”
Isaiah details His glorious birth.
Jeremiah reveals that He will be acquainted with sorrows.
Joel describes Him as the Hope of His people.
Amos tells us that Jesus is the judge of all nations.
Obadiah warns of the coming eternal kingdom.
Jonah offers a picture of Jesus being dead for three days, then coming back to life to preach repentance.
Zephaniah says that He will be the king over Israel.
Zachariah is the prophet who speaks of Jesus riding on a colt.
Malachi is the one who calls Him the Son of Righteousness.

Can you see it? The entire Old Testament points toward Jesus as Savior, and if you miss that, you’ve missed the entire point of the Scriptures. Jesus is the Messiah and the fulfillment of prophecy.

four-gospelsThe New Testament opens up with the birth of Jesus Christ in the four Gospel accounts that also include details of his life, ministry, miracles, death, and resurrection. GotQuestions.org gives us the reason why there are four specific Gospel accounts:

While the entire Bible is inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16), He used human authors with different backgrounds and personalities to accomplish His purposes through their writing. Each of the gospel authors had a distinct purpose behind his gospel and in carrying out those purposes, each emphasized different aspects of the person and ministry of Jesus Christ.

Matthew was writing to a Hebrew audience, and one of his purposes was to show from Jesus’ genealogy and fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies that He was the long-expected Messiah, and thus should be believed in. Matthew’s emphasis is that Jesus is the promised King, the “Son of David,” who would forever sit upon the throne of Israel (Matthew 9:27; 21:9).

Mark, a cousin of Barnabas (Colossians 4:10), was an eyewitness to the events in the life of Christ as well as being a friend of the apostle Peter. Mark wrote for a Gentile audience, as is brought out by his not including things important to Jewish readers (genealogies, Christ’s controversies with Jewish leaders of His day, frequent references to the Old Testament, etc.). Mark emphasizes Christ as the suffering Servant, the One who came not to be served, but to serve and give His life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).

Luke, the “beloved physician” (Colossians 4:14 KJV), evangelist, and companion of the apostle Paul, wrote both the gospel of Luke and the Acts of the apostles. Luke is the only Gentile author of the New Testament. He has long been accepted as a diligent master historian by those who have used his writings in genealogical and historical studies. As a historian, he states that it is his intent to write down an orderly account of the life of Christ based on the reports of those who were eyewitnesses (Luke 1:1-4). Because he specifically wrote for the benefit of Theophilus, apparently a Gentile of some stature, his gospel was composed with a Gentile audience in mind, and his intent is to show that a Christian’s faith is based upon historically reliable and verifiable events. Luke often refers to Christ as the “Son of Man,” emphasizing His humanity, and he shares many details that are not found in the other gospel accounts.

The gospel of John, written by John the apostle, is distinct from the other three Gospels and contains much theological content in regard to the person of Christ and the meaning of faith. Matthew, Mark, and Luke are referred to as the “Synoptic Gospels” because of their similar styles and content and because they give a synopsis of the life of Christ. The gospel of John begins not with Jesus’ birth or earthly ministry but with the activity and characteristics of the Son of God before He became man (John 1:14). The gospel of John emphasizes the deity of Christ, as is seen in his use of such phrases as “the Word was God” (John 1:1), “the Savior of the World” (John 4:42), the “Son of God” (used repeatedly), and “Lord and…God” (John 20:28). In John’s gospel, Jesus also affirms His deity with several “I Am” statements; most notable among them is John 8:58, in which He states that “…before Abraham was, I Am” (compare to Exodus 3:13-14). But John also emphasizes the fact of Jesus’ humanity, desiring to show the error of a religious sect of his day, the Gnostics, who did not believe in Christ’s humanity. John’s gospel spells out his overall purpose for writing: “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31).

Thus, in having four distinct and yet equally accurate accounts of Christ, different aspects of His person and ministry are revealed. Each account becomes like a different-colored thread in a tapestry woven together to form a more complete picture of this One who is beyond description. And while we will never fully understand everything about Jesus Christ (John 20:30), through the four Gospels we can know enough of Him to appreciate who He is and what He has done for us so that we may have life through faith in Him. (Quote source and entire article at this link.)

And in the last book of the Bible, the Revelation of Jesus Christ, Jesus is presented as the “Alpha and Omega, First and the Last” (Rev. 1: 8-13), “Son of Man” (Rev. 1:13), “Son of God” (Rev. 2:18), “Faithful and True Witness” (Rev 3:14), “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” (Rev. 17:14), “the Beginning and the End” (Rev. 22:13), and “the Bright and Morning Star” (Rev. 22:16). And He will soon rule the nations (Rev. 22:16-21; also see this link at GotQuestions.org).

Jesus Christ is far more that a sweet little baby sleeping in a manger . . . .

He’s Alpha and Omega . . .

He’s the Beginning and the End . . . .

He is the great “I AM” . . . .

The blind will see.
The deaf will hear.
The dead will live again.
The lame will leap.
The dumb will speak
The praises of The Lamb.
(from “Mary Did You Know”)

YouTube Video: “Mary Did You Know?” sung by Kenny Rogers and Wynonna Judd:

Photo #1 credit here
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 here 
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Photo #5 credit here

Celebrating Advent

Advent-Candles-with-Messages

The season of Advent started this past Sunday on November 29, 2015, and will end on Christmas Eve, December 24, 2015. The following article titled, Celebrating Advent,” published on Christianity.about.com, describes Advent:

Advent is a period of spiritual preparation in which many Christians make themselves ready for the coming, or birth of the Lord, Jesus Christ. Celebrating Advent typically involves a season of prayer, fasting and repentance, followed by anticipation, hope and joy.

Many Christians celebrate Advent not only by thanking God for Christ’s first coming to Earth as a baby, but also for his presence among us today through the Holy Spiritand in preparation and anticipation of his final coming at the end of time.

The word “advent” comes from the Latin “adventus” meaning “arrival” or “coming,” particularly of something having great importance.

For denominations that celebrate Advent, it marks the beginning of the church year.

In Western Christianity, Advent begins on the fourth Sunday prior to Christmas Day, or the Sunday which falls closest to November 30, and lasts through Christmas Eve, or December 24. When Christmas Eve falls on a Sunday, it is the last, or fourth Sunday of Advent. (Quote source here.)

Advent Dates for 2015

November 29First Sunday of Advent
December 6Second Sunday of Advent
December 13Third Sunday of Advent
December 20Fourth Sunday of Advent

GotQuestions.org also provides the following information on Advent::

Churches that observe Advent usually decorate their sanctuaries in the liturgical color of Advent, purple (or in some cases royal blue). Some churches change the color to rose on the third or fourth Sunday of Advent to signify a greater emphasis on the joy of the season.

One of the most common Advent traditions involves the use of evergreen wreaths, branches, and trees. On the first Sunday of Advent, churches and homes are decorated with green to symbolize the eternal life that Jesus brings. An Advent wreath—an evergreen circle with four colored candles surrounding a white one in the middle—is placed in a prominent spot. The candles are then lighted one at a time, on successive Sundays. The first candle is the candle of “hope” or “expectation.” The three remaining candles on the perimeter are given various meanings depending on the church. On Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, the center white candle is lighted; this is the “Christ Candle,” a reminder that Jesus, the Light of the Word, has come.

Advent calendars, used to count down the days till Christmas, are popular in many homes. An Advent calendar contains a number of covered “windows” that are opened, one a day, until Christmas Day. Each open window reveals a picture related to the season or a poem or a Bible verse or a treat of some kind. Many parents find that an Advent calendar is a good way to teach their children the true meaning of Christmas—although there are secular versions of the calendars, too.

Should Christians observe Advent? This is a matter of personal conviction. Here is the biblical principle: “One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord” (Romans 14:5–6).

There is certainly nothing wrong with commemorating Jesus’ birth and anticipating His return—such commemoration and anticipation should be an everyday part of our lives. Are Christians required to observe Advent? No. Does observing Advent make one a better Christian or more acceptable to God? No. Can celebrating Advent be a good reminder of what the season is truly all about? Yes, and therein lies its greatest value. (Quote source here.)

advent-candles1The symbol most prominent in the celebration of Advent is the wreath with candles placed on it which are lit, one at a time, on the four Sundays in Advent, and the fifth candle, which is lit on Christmas Eve. The Advent wreath and candles are described as follows on Christianity.about.com:

The Advent wreath is a circular garland of evergreen branches representing eternity. On that wreath, five candles are typically arranged. During the season of Advent one candle on the wreath is lit each Sunday as a part of the Advent services. Each candle represents an aspect of the spiritual preparation for the coming of the Lord, Jesus Christ.

Set on the branches of the wreath are four candles: three purple candles and one pink candle.

In the center of the wreath sits a white candle. As a whole, these candles represent the coming of the light of Christ into the world.

On the first Sunday of Advent, the first purple candle is lit. This candle is typically called the “Prophecy Candle” in remembrance of the prophets, primarily Isaiah, who foretold the birth of Christ. This candle represents hope or expectation in anticipation of the coming Messiah.

Each week on Sunday, an additional candle is lit. On the second Sunday of Advent, the second purple candle is lit. This candle typically represents love. Some traditions call this the “Bethlehem Candle,” symbolizing Christ’s manger.

On the third Sunday of Advent the pink, or rose-colored candle is lit. This pink candle is customarily called the “Shepherds Candle” and it represents joy.

The fourth and last purple candle, oftentimes called the “Angels Candle,” represents peace and is lit on the fourth Sunday of Advent.

On Christmas Eve, the white center candle is traditionally lit. This candle is called the “Christ Candle” and represents the life of Christ that has come into the world.

The color white represents purity. Christ is the sinless, spotless, pure Savior. Also, those who receive Christ as Savior are washed of their sins and made whiter than snow.

Celebrating with an Advent wreath during the weeks prior to Christmas is a great way for Christian families to keep Christ at the center of Christmas, and for parents to teach their children the true meaning of Christmas. Another Advent tradition that can be very meaningful and fun for children is to celebrate with the Jesse Tree. (Quote source here.)

god-with-us1In an article titled, What is Advent? The Meaning Behind the Christmas Message,” by Justin Holcomb, he gives us the history of Advent and how it is celebrated today:

The word “Advent” is derived from the Latin word adventus, meaning “coming,” which is a translation of the Greek word parousia. Scholars believe that during the 4th and 5th centuries in Spain and Gaul, Advent was a season of preparation for the baptism of new Christians at the January feast of Epiphany, the celebration of God’s incarnation represented by the visit of the Magi to the baby Jesus (Matthew 2:1), his baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist (John 1:29), and his first miracle at Cana (John 2:1). During this season of preparation, Christians would spend 40 days in penance, prayer, and fasting to prepare for this celebration; originally, there was little connection between Advent and Christmas.

By the 6th century, however, Roman Christians had tied Advent to the coming of Christ. But the “coming” they had in mind was not Christ’s first coming in the manger in Bethlehem, but his second coming in the clouds as the judge of the world. It was not until the Middle Ages that the Advent season was explicitly linked to Christ’s first coming at Christmas.

Today, the Advent season lasts for four Sundays leading up to Christmas. At that time, the new Christian year begins with the twelve-day celebration of Christmastide, which lasts from Christmas Eve until Epiphany on January 6. (Advent begins on the Sunday that falls between November 27th and December 3rd each year.) 

Advent symbolizes the present situation of the church in these “last days” (Acts 2:17, Hebrews 1:2), as God’s people wait for the return of Christ in glory to consummate his eternal kingdom. The church is in a similar situation to Israel at the end of the Old Testament: in exile, waiting and hoping in prayerful expectation for the coming of the Messiah. Israel looked back to God’s past gracious actions on their behalf in leading them out of Egypt in the Exodus, and on this basis they called for God once again to act for them. In the same way, the church, during Advent, looks back upon Christ’s coming in celebration while at the same time looking forward in eager anticipation to the coming of Christ’s kingdom when he returns for his people. In this light, the Advent hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” perfectly represents the church’s cry during the Advent season:

O come, O come, Emmanuel,

And ransom captive Israel,

That mourns in lonely exile here

Until the Son of God appears.

Rejoice! Rejoice!

Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

While Israel would have sung the song in expectation of Christ’s first coming, the church now sings the song in commemoration of that first coming and in expectation of the second coming in the future. (Quote source here.)

Four related articles written by Justin Holcomb can be found by clicking on the following titles:

Advent I: Waiting for Christ’s Return
Advent II: The Messiah is Coming
Advent III: Rejoice! God Is With Us
Advent IV: God Keeps His Promises

Advent-Calendar-TitleOne more item associated with Advent is the Advent Calendar. The history behind the Advent Calendar is given to us compliments of GotQuestions.org:

The word “Adventhas a Latin origin meaning ‘the coming,’ or more accurately, ‘coming toward.’ For Christian believers, Christmas is one of the greatest events in the yearly cycle, being the celebration of the greatest gift ever given by God to mankind. That gift was Jesus, the Son of God Himself, born into this world in human form and coming to live among us to show us the true nature of God, experience human joy and sorrow along with us, and finally, going of His own will to die a horrible, agonizing death. In this way the price was paid for all human sin that had cut us off from our Holy God and Heavenly Father, resulting in our complete and total reconciliation with Him.

Centuries ago, the importance of this event caused many Christians to feel that it was inadequate merely to mark off only one day on the yearly calendar for celebrating this incredible gift from God. Believers had (and still do have) such a sense of awe and overwhelming gratitude and wonder at what happened that first Christmas that they felt the need for a period of preparation immediately beforehand. They could then not only take time themselves to meditate on it, but also teach their children the tremendous significance of Christmas.

At first, the days preceding Christmas were marked off from December 1 with chalk on believers’ doors. Then in Germany in the late 19th century the mother of a child named Gerhard Lang made her son an Advent Calendar comprised of 24 tiny sweets stuck onto cardboard. Lang never forgot the excitement he felt when he was given his Advent calendar at the beginning of each December, and how it reminded him every day that the greatest celebration of the whole year was approaching ever nearer. As an adult he went into partnership with his friend Reichhold and opened a printing office. In 1908, they produced what is thought to be the first-ever printed Advent Calendar with a small colored picture for each day in Advent. Later on, at the beginning of the 20th century, they hit on the idea of making the pictures into little shuttered windows for the children to open day by day in order to heighten their sense of expectation.

The idea of the Advent Calendar caught on with other printing firms as the demand swiftly increased, and many versions were produced, some of which would have printed on them Bible verses appropriate to the Advent period. By now the Advent Calendar had gained international popularity, and children all over the world were clamoring for them as December approached. Unfortunately, the custom came to an end with the beginning of the First World War when cardboard was strictly rationed and only allowed to be used for purposes necessary to the war effort. However, in 1946, when rationing began to ease following the end of the Second World War, a printer named Richard Sellmer once again introduced the colorful little Advent Calendar, and again it was an immediate success.

Sadly, with the wane of Christianity in Western nations, the Advent Calendar, although still enormously popular with all children, has lost its true meaning. Many, many children and their parents have no idea of the history of the little calendar or its true purpose, which is to prepare us for the celebration of the advent of the Christ-child. Even if they do know, most would not care. Also, the makers of today’s Advent calendars are anxious only to sell their product, and the majority of these neither know nor care about the meaning and purpose of Advent. Their calendars depict Santa Claus and his reindeer, snowmen, holly, mistletoe, and all the secular trappings of Christmas behind the little windows, often along with a piece of chocolate. Fortunately, however, Christian printers are still with us to manufacture calendars for children from Christian families that unfold the story of the nativity with each window that is opened. We, as Christian believers, pray that one day the whole world will be aware of the incredible wonder of the true meaning of Advent and Christmas. (Quote source here.)

I hope this background information on the celebration of Advent provides additional meaning for us as we celebrate this Christmas season. In the hustle and bustle of all the activities, let us take time to pause and reflect on the true meaning of Christmas. . . .

O come . . .

O come . . .

Emmanuel . . . .

YouTube Video: “O Come, Emmanuel [Christmas Version]” (Piano/Cello duet) by ThePianoGuys [Original version can be viewed at this link–the music is identical in both videos]:

Photo #1 credit here
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Can One Person Change the World?

change-the-world-logoTwo of my favorite fiction writers, Danielle Steel and John Grisham, have written on the subject of homelessness. Danielle Steel wrote, A Gift of Hope: Helping the Homeless,” published in 2012, which is a non-fiction book about her eleven years of working with the homeless on the streets of San Francisco. A brief introduction to her book states:

For eleven years, Danielle Steel took to the streets with a small team to help the homeless of San Francisco. She worked anonymously, visiting the “cribs” of the city’s most vulnerable citizens under cover of darkness, distributing food, clothing, bedding, tools, and toiletries. She sought no publicity for her efforts and remained anonymous throughout. Now she is speaking to bring attention to their plight.

In this unflinchingly honest and deeply moving memoir, the famously private author speaks out publicly for the first time about her work among the most desperate members of our society. She offers achingly acute portraits of the people she met along the way—and issues a heartfelt call for more effective action to aid this vast, deprived population. Determined to supply the homeless with the basic necessities to keep them alive, she ends up giving them something far more powerful: a voice. (Quote source here.)

John Grisham wrote a novel, The Street Lawyer,” published in 1998, where his main character, a lawyer named Michael Brock, is thrown into the world of the homeless that includes clear descriptions of what that world looks like and it should make anyone with a conscience cringe. A brief introduction to his book states:

Michael was in a hurry. He was scrambling up the ladder at Drake & Sweeney, a giant D.C. law firm with eight hundred lawyers. The money was good and getting better; a partnership was three years away. He was a rising star with no time to waste, no time to stop, no time to toss a few coins into the cups of panhandlers. No time for a conscience.

But a violent encounter with a homeless man stopped him cold. Michael survived; his assailant did not. Who was this man? Michael did some digging, and learned that he was a mentally ill veteran who’d been in and out of shelters for many years. Then Michael dug a little deeper, and found a dirty secret, and the secret involved Drake & Sweeney. (Quote source here.)

Add to these two books a third book that I found on a bargain book shelf titled, Walk in Their Shoes: Can One Person Change the World?” (2013), written by Jim Ziolkowski, founder of buildOn, a nonprofit organization he started to break the cycle of poverty, illiteracy, and low expectations through service and education, and James S. Hirsch, a bestselling author who has written on race, sports, and the human drama behind topics ranging from the military to medicine. The inside front cover of the book states:

The story of real change can start with one person.

Twenty-one years ago, Jim Ziolzowski gave up a fast-track career in corporate finance to dedicate his life to buildOn, an organization that turns inner-city teens into community leaders at home and abroad. He set out to show not that he could change the world, but how each one of us can–through the power of service to others.

Today, buildOn students have contributed more than 1.2 million hours of service, from Detroit and the South Bronx to Haiti, Mali, and Nepal, while building more than five hundred fifty schools worldwide. Together, they are breaking the cycle of poverty, illiteracy, and low expectations in their own lives and transforming their communities.

An international chronicle of faith and the boundless potential of the human spirit, Walk in Their Shoes tells the story of Jim’s movement and the thousands of young people who have decided to step forward, step up, and make a difference. (Quote from inside front cover.)

0212_homeless-bostonHomelessness . . . it’s a topic most of us want to ignore, yet it is an ever growing problem across our nation and the world. In an article titled, Do You Ignore Homeless People?”, written by Alyssa Figueroa and published on AlterNet on January 29, 2013, our own perceptions and the inability of people to identify with the homeless are the primary reasons behind why most of us ignore the homeless. In a statement in the article by Paul Boden, “who was once homeless for several years, and is now the organizing director for the Western Regional Advocacy Project, which works to expose and eliminate the root causes of poverty and homelessness” (quote source here), he states:

We have demonized homeless people so much over the last 30 years that passersby don’t think they can ever end up on the street because they’re not crazy, they’re not drug addicted, they’re not alcoholics and they’re not stupid. (Quote source here.)

The article is both eye-opening and shocking. Boden also stated in the article:

An overwhelming majority of people that walk past panhandlers ignore them or say something rude or look at them like they’re scum. And then you get a couple people that feel empathy to it and give. And then you get other people that, at the very least, look them in the eye and say, ‘Sorry dude, I can’t do it today.

The article also states that one of the obvious reasons people react differently to panhandlers is their varying perceptions of homeless people:

“People have these attitudes — that they’re lazy, that they deserve what they get, they haven’t worked hard, they’re just looking for a handout. … and people with these attitudes lack compassion,” said Paul Toro, a psychology professor at Wayne State University who studies the public’s perception of poverty and homelessness.

In his research, Toro found that compared to other countries, people who live in countries like the United States and the United Kingdom that have more capitalistic economies and offer fewer social services, are more likely to believe personal failings are the primary cause of homelessness and feel less compassion for homeless people. Meanwhile, these countries have higher rates of homelessness than, for example, Germany, where there is a guaranteed minimum income, more generous unemployment benefits and more rigorous tenants’ rights.

Still, Toro said, the majority of people in the United States have compassion for the homeless.

“There is no compassion fatigue like there was in the media for awhile,” he said. “The media has compassion fatigue starting in the ’90s, and then their interest in homelessness gets kind of leveled off, but the public hasn’t.”

Toro also found in his research that most people — about 60 percent — state they are even willing to pay more taxes to help homeless people. (Quote source here.)

Still, most people pass by the homeless and look the other way when they encounter them. Ambiguity is part of it–from people who don’t believe they could ever end up like that (e.g., homeless) to those who are all-too-aware that it could happen to them and they just want to ignore the issue. Regarding the latter, the article stated, “nearly 40 percent of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, and thus can be homeless in a matter of months if laid off.”

In an article titled, What Will It Take to End Homelessness,” by Urban Institute, the opening paragraph states:

Homelessness in America is a “revolving-door” crisis. Many people exit homelessness quickly, but many more individuals become homeless every day. During a given year’s, four or five times as many people experience homelessness as are homeless on any particular day. On any given day, at least 800,000 people are homeless in the United States, including about 200,000 children in homeless families. Calculations from different sources show that at least 2.3 million people experienced homelessness at some time during an average year. Because more families with children than unpartnered people enter and leave homelessness during a year, families represent a relatively large share of the annual population. As a result, during a typical year, between 900,000 and 1.4 million children are homeless with their families. (Quote source here.)

I used to be your neighborAccording to Urban Street Angels, a volunteer-driven, non-profit organization that provides care to the homeless community in San Diego, the number of homeless people in the United States by age breaks down as follows: Under 18: 23.5%; 18-24: 10.1%, and 25+: 66.4% (Source: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 2014 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress (October 2014). Of that number, 17% of the total homeless population are military veterans (source here). The Disabled Veterans National Foundation states that “The vast majority of homeless veterans (96%) are single males from poor, disadvantaged communities. Homeless veterans have served in World War II, Korean War, Cold War, Vietnam War, Grenada, Panama, Lebanon, Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan), Operation Iraqi Freedom, and the military’s anti-drug cultivation efforts in South America” (quote source here.)

As if this news is not shocking enough, enter into it the growing criminalization of the homeless that is happening in various cities around America. In a July 18, 2014 article published in Al Jazeera America titled, The Growing Criminalization of the Homeless,” the author, , states the following:

As the number of homeless people in America’s major cities has increased, so have ordinances criminalizing homelessness and pushing homeless families and individuals into the criminal justice system. Criminalization has become a tactic with which politicians have reconfigured cities to serve wealthier citizens and tourists, at the considerable expense of the poor. These politicians are rarely challenged, and developers, businesses and city officials have partnered with police and private security forces to “cleanse” urban spaces by any means necessary.

A new report from the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty found the number of cities imposing penalties for camping, begging, sleeping, sitting or eating in public has risen sharply in the last two years. There are now laws against feeding the homeless in over 50 cities. Ordinances prohibiting sleeping in cars — specifically targeted at the destitute — have more than doubled nationwide since 2011. In Denver the City Council passed a controversial “urban camping ban” in 2012 to clear space for the continued development of its downtown into a “millennial playground,” complete with nightclubs, restaurants and a miniature-golf course. Honolulu’s mayor told The New York Times he had renewed a crackdown on the homeless because tourists “want to see their paradise … [not] homeless people sleeping.” And Phoenix announced the creation of “a new organization focused on downtown’s revitalization,” while at the same time launching an initiative to arrest street people with misdemeanor warrants.

This crackdown is happening without equally forceful measures to develop the nation’s supply of affordable housing, which has fallen by 12.8 percent since 2001 because of fewer subsidies for federal housing. The U.N. Human Rights Committee even condemned the trend as “cruel, inhuman, [and] degrading” in a recent report on the United States.

What’s behind these cruel laws? USA Today suggested that the trend toward criminalization was a result of “compassion fatigue,” a gradual receding of empathy for the poor. But there’s a more practical reason for it: As recession- and austerity-battered cities look for ways to revive their economies, they’re offering huge tax incentives for companies to build entertainment complexes, hotels and retail chains in their downtown districts in the hopes that the relocation will spur a renaissance. Statutes criminalizing homelessness have been outfitted specifically to clear out these areas. The New Yorker called this process “Manhattanization,” defined as “turning a city into a playground for the wealthiest inhabitants, even as [the city] forgets about the poorest.”

Cities haven’t quite forgotten about the poorest, though — they’re simply dealing with them in an entirely different way (see article for add’l information). (Quote source and article at this link.)

An interesting item found further down in the article was this rather telling fact:

Utah began giving away apartments to homeless individuals after realizing how much money could be saved. Policymakers realized that, on average, it costs about $16,670 a year to jail a person and $11,000 a year to set him or her up with an apartment and social work. Since a program called Housing First was launched in 2006, homelessness in Utah has decreased 78 percent, despite a recession-fueled plunge in median income. The state estimates that all Utahans will be housed by next year. (Quote source here.)

Imagine if the other 49 states in America would only follow their example. . . .

The least of theseAs a Christian, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention what the Bible and Jesus have to say about caring for the poor among us. GotQuestions.org makes the following statement about what our commitment to the poor should be:

There is no doubt that poverty’s reach is both widespread and devastating today. God’s people cannot be indifferent toward those in need, because His expectations for us in regard to taking care of His poor are woven throughout the entirety of Scripture. For example, look at the Lord’s words about the goodness of King Josiah in Jeremiah 22:16: “He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me, declares the LORD?” And Moses instructed his people how to treat the poor and needy: “Give generously to [them] and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to” (Deuteronomy 15:10). This sentiment is perfectly captured in Proverbs 14:31: “Whoever is kind to the needy honors God.”

Conversely, there is another part to this verse: “He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker.” Proverbs is, in fact, filled with Scripture clearly showing that God loves the poor and is offended when His children neglect them (Proverbs 11:4; 17:5; 19:17; 22:2, 9, 16, 22–23; 28:8; 29:7; 31:8–9). The consequences for ignoring the plight of the poor are also made clear in Proverbs: “If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered” (Proverbs 21:13). And note the strong language in Proverbs 28:27: “He who closes his eyes to [the poor] receives many curses.” Among the many sins of Sodom described in Genesis 19, her people were “arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy” (Ezekiel 16:49).

The New Testament is equally clear as to how we are to take care of the poor. One verse that nicely summarizes our expected charity is found in the first Epistle of John: “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with action and in truth” (1 John 3:17–18). Equally important is Matthew 25:31–46. Now, this judgment precedes Christ’s millennial reign and is often referred to as the “judgment of nations,” in which those assembled before Christ will be divided into two groups—the sheep on His right side and the goats on His left. Those on the left will be sent to the “eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (v. 41), whereas those on the right will receive their eternal inheritance (v.34). Noteworthy, however, is the language Christ uses in addressing these separated groups. The sheep are basically commended for taking care of the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, and the vulnerable. The goats, on the other hand, are chastised for their lack of concern and action toward them. When the righteous ask Him when they did these things, Christ responds by saying, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”

Now, we are not to misconstrue this as meaning the good works of the sheep factored into their gaining salvation; rather, these good works were the “fruit” or evidence of their having been saved by grace (Ephesians 2:8–10), further evidencing that a commitment to Christ will indeed be accompanied by undeniable evidence of a transformed life. Remember, we were created to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do, and the “good works” Christ speaks of in Matthew 25 included taking care of the poor and suffering.

Now, with all of these scriptural truths in mind, we are to obey them and act on them, because “faith without works is dead” (James 2:26). As James stated, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (James 1:22). Similarly, John said, “The man who says, ‘I know Him,’ but does not do what He commands is a liar and the truth is not in him. . . . Whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did” (1 John 2:4, 6). And the words of Christ Himself: “If you love me, you will obey what I command” (John 14:15).

Jesus commanded us to love one another (John 13:34–35). And what better way to demonstrate the love and kindness and compassion of Jesus Christ than by reaching out to theleast of theseamong us? (Quote source here.)

So let’s go back to the question at hand . . . Can One Person Change the World?

The answer is YES . . .

With compassion and kindness . . .

One person at a time . . . .

YouTube Video: “Give Me Your Eyes” by Brandon Heath:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here
Photo #3 credit here
Photo #4 credit here

Doing Great Things

Make a differenceWhat comes to mind when I ask what you would do if you could do one really great thing in life and there were no obstacles in your way to achieving it? I’ve heard beauty pageant contestants on TV answer that question with things like, “bring about world peace” but let’s get down to things that are more tangible. After all, we all can’t be President of the United States or come up with a cure for global warming, although some folks have gotten rich propagating the latter which I think to them might have been more important then finding a cure for global warming (which is about as tangible as bringing about world peace).

The issue, of course, is in how we define “great things.” In the several decades that I have been alive our society has changed in astounding ways, especially with the advent of technology. We can now live in a totally surreal world if we choose to do so; however, that world can warp our view of humanity and real life. Take the onslaught of porn, for example. Or the proliferation of violent images and movies where killing others is oftentimes viewed as a sport. Or the fact that technology had made spying on others way too easy for just about anyone who wants to do it. And trust is at an all time low now, too. Also, our world here in America has changed significantly since 9/11 when we learned a very hard fact that terrorism lives in the very midst of our culture and it’s not just on the other side of the world, but then it never was just on the other side of the world, either. That was an illusion we believed until 9/11 took it away. Now we just bury our heads in activities to try to ignore the whole issue.

With that in mind, now let me ask that same question again. What would you do if you could do one really great thing in life and there were no obstacles in your way to achieving it? Getting rid of terrorism, and porn, and violence, and spying would be good, but that’s not tangible. We really can’t change others. We can only change ourselves.

And even changing ourselves isn’t easy . . . .

The other evening I was in a Burger King eating an order of fries and playing around with my smartphone which I had only purchase a few weeks earlier (it is my first smartphone). There were not a lot of folks in the restaurant at the time I was there, and I got lost in what I was doing on my smartphone until a fellow walked up to me and started talking to me. I could tell from his appearance that he was homeless, and while I don’t recall what he actually said to me that caught my attention, he had a nice smile and seemed like a friendly sort of fellow. He was wearing all black and I told him he was wearing my favorite color as I wear mostly black myself–I’m under the illusion that it makes me look smaller as in the “not so fat” category. Of course, a diet would help but that’s a non-topic for a blog post I will never end up writing.

Back to the homeless fellow, in the course of our conversation he mentioned his dog who was outside of the building. I asked if I could see his dog and he said “sure.” So I went outside with him and he took me over to a cart (like a grocery cart) that was loaded full of the only possessions he had left in the world and behind the cart was his dog. The dog was very sweet. As I looked at his cart I realized how fortunate I was to at least have a spare bedroom to go to in a friend’s home. I’ve had a very hard time finding a place to live since losing my apartment at the end of March when new owners bought the house where it was located and raised my rent higher then I could afford to pay as a long-term unemployed person with no income.

His name is Tim, and I don’t recall his dog’s name. One of the things he asked me before we went outside to see his dog was if he could give me a hug. I said sure so we hugged each other. I can imagine he doesn’t get hugs very often, but then neither do I. He was a good hugger, too. When we were outside with his dog I asked him if he was hungry as I would buy him something to eat, so we went back inside and went to the counter. I told him to get whatever he wanted. He ordered a chicken sandwich, and I said he could get more if he wanted to. He said he’d like some onion rings but he seems a bit shy to ask for them. I said that was fine and asked him if he wanted a drink. He said no as he had something to drink already. I paid for the meal and since he walked with a cane, I picked up the meal and walked to a table where he wanted to sit. He continued talking for a while longer and he asked for another hug (he was standing by the table where I placed his food). So we hugged again. I handed him some money so he would have enough to buy some food for the next day and I asked him if his dog was hungry. He said no as he had some dry dog food for him.

He continued talking and I finally mentioned to him that I was afraid his meal was going to get cold if he didn’t eat it soon, but I understood why he kept talking. I imagine his life is quite lonely. I understand that loneliness, too, after spending five plus years unemployed. But at least I’m not homeless like he is. So I listened to him a while longer and then insisted that he eat the meal before it got cold. He asked for one final hug which we gave each other and then I left. As I was leaving I asked one of the employees if he came there often and she said yes. So I plan to turn again to see if I run into him and can buy him another meal.

Acts of kindnessDoing great things . . . it’s not in the “big” things that we think it is. It’s in the small, everyday things that we don’t often see or recognize. It’s in the way that we genuinely help others, especially those who cannot help themselves, like the homeless.

All we have to do is look around. We can talk about making a difference or we can actually make a difference. Opportunities are waiting if we don’t just pass them by or ignore them when they show up. We can’t help everyone who needs help, but we can help some, and in helping even one, we help change the world for the better for them and for us, one person at a time, even if only for a few moments. “Now” is all any of us have anyway.

It reminds of me a song I hear a lot on a local Christian radio station (Z88.3 FM) titled, The Words I Would Say sung by Sidewalk Prophets (see YouTube Video below). Here are the words to that song:

“The Words I Would Say”

It’s Three in the morning
and I’m still awake
so I picked up a pen and a page.
And I started writing
just what I’d say
if we were face to face

I’d tell you just what you mean to me
Tell you these simple truths

Be strong in the Lord and
never give up hope.
You’re gonna do great things
I already know
God’s got his hand on you so
don’t live life in fear
forgive and forget
but don’t forget why you’re here
Take your time and pray
These are the words I would say

Last time we spoke
you said you were hurting
and I felt your pain in my heart
I want you to know
that I keep on praying
Love will find you where you are

I know ’cause I’ve already been there
So just hear these simple truths

Be strong in the Lord and
never give up hope.
You’re gonna do great things
I already know
God’s got his hand on you so
don’t live life in fear
forgive and forget
but don’t forget why you’re here
Take your time and pray
These are the words I would say

From one simple life to another
I will say
Come find peace in the Father

Be strong in the Lord and
never give up hope.
You’re gonna do great things
I already know
God’s got his hand on you so
don’t live life in fear
forgive and forget
but don’t forget why you’re here

Take your time and pray
Thank God for each day
His love will find a way
These are the words I would say.

~Lyrics compliments of AZLyrics.com~

So if you’re looking for something great to do, just look around. It may even come to you, like Tim, the homeless guy. You never know where an opportunity might come from or who you can help. And remember that God’s got his hand on you and we’re here to help each other, so be open and . . . 

Don’t live life in fear . . .

Forgive and forget . . .

But don’t forget why you’re here . . . .

YouTube Video: “The Words I Would Say” by Sidewalk Prophets:

Photo #1 credit here
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Enough Is Enough

It has been almost a year since I received my last unemployment check, and I have had no income since that time. And, I still don’t have any employment prospects that I can see on the horizon, even though I have never stopped applying for jobs or talking with people. It appears that most employers aren’t interested in people who have been unemployed long-term. And there are millions just like me living in the shadows of this once great nation. The United States of America is one of the most prosperous nations ever to be established on this earth, yet millions of Americans are unemployed or underemployed and struggling financially in a world spiraling out of control from economic catastrophes that have hit in recent years.

So, when did we stop caring about and helping each other when times got tough? When did we start turning a blind eye to others less fortunate then ourselves? When did we start looking the other way as we drove by the homeless, the unemployed, and the destitute in this country holding their signs on the street corner or sleeping under a cardboard box or in a tent city? When did we start judging them as if we had any idea what it was really like to walk in their shoes? When did we become so callous that we figured what happened to them could never happen to us or that they did something to deserve it? When did we become so arrogant?

I read a short devotion yesterday by Dr. Charles Swindoll titled “Enough Is Enough” and here is what he had to say:

Enough Is Enough

I Timothy 6:17-19

If there were one great message I could deliver to those who struggle with not having an abundance of this world’s goods, it would be this simple yet profound premise for happiness. Great wealth is not related to money! It is an attitude of satisfaction coupled with inner peace, plus a day-by-day, moment-by-moment walk with God [emphasis mine]. Sounds so right, so good, doesn’t it? In our world of more, more, more . . . push, push, push . . . grab, grab, grab, this counsel is long overdue. In a word, the secret is contentment.

Contentment is something we must learn. It isn’t a trait we’re born with. But the question is how?

First, it really helps us to quit striving for more if we read the eternal dimension into today’s situation. We entered life empty-handed; we leave it the same way.

Second, it also helps us model contentment if we’ll boil life down to its essentials and try to simplify our lifestyle: something to eat, something to wear, and a roof over our heads [emphasis mine]. Everything beyond that we’d do well to consider as extra.

It’s foolish to trust in riches for security and they bring no lasting satisfaction.
It is God alone who supplies us “with all things to enjoy”
which leads to contentment.

I Timothy 6:17-19 (NIV 1984): “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Commend them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.”

Source: Day by Day by Dr. Charles Swindoll,
Word Publishing, Thomas Nelson, 2000, p. 124

For the past several decades we have turned the spotlight on ourselves—how we could acquire “the good life”—not sparing any expense including broken families, failed relationships, corrupt business practices, or whatever would put more money in our own pockets. We fell in love with money and all it can buy (possessions, power, people). Greed replaced God in our lives. For many, many decades God has blessed this nation like none other and what have we done with those blessings? We’ve asked for more.  More . . . never satisfied with what we have but always seeking after more. We run after other gods—money, status, power–you name it and we’ve run after it. We threw God out of our schools, our universities, out of the public square, out of our government, but worst of all, out of our own lives and our own hearts.

And our nation is reeling from the consequences of our own actions, our own selfish attitudes, our own seeking after the insatiable “more” that is never satisfied. Doesn’t matter where we fall on the socio-economic scale–the super rich want more, and the desperately poor need more. And we’ve totally forgotten how to take our eyes off of ourselves and help others. Oh, we may give money to charities (for a tax deduction, of course), or our old clothes and other old possessions we no longer need to Goodwill or Salvation Army or other charities–but what about our hearts and our attitudes towards the less fortunate? Now I’m not saying it’s wrong to do those things (I’ve done them myself), and, indeed, we help a lot of those less fortunate when we give, but mostly, we keep our hearts and our valued possessions to ourselves. If you think I’m being too harsh in my assessment, would you ever think to buy some brand new furniture or other new possessions and give them to someone in need or open your homes to those less fortunate? Most likely, no . . . we give them the stuff we’ve used up and no longer want and let the homeless find a homeless shelter. As James 1:26-27 states: “Anyone who sets himself up as ‘religious’ by talking a good game is self-deceived. This kind of religion is hot air and only hot air. Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world” (MSG) [emphasis mine].

When will we, as a nation, wake up to what is truly going on here? Corruption is in our businesses and in our government, and that’s because it is in our hearts. We want more for ourselves at the expense of others. We’d be wise to study how the Roman Empire came to a rather abrupt end after existing for several hundred years. Here are a few of the reasons (source of this information is located here):

  1. Antagonism between the Senate and the Emperor
  2. Decline in morals
  3. Political corruption
  4. Fast expansion of the Empire (rapid growth in foreigners, some who hated the Romans)
  5. Constant wars and heavy military spending
  6. Barbarians gaining knowledge of Roman military tactics
  7. Failing economy
  8. Unemployment of the working classes
  9. The unemployed became bored which led to civil unrest and rioting in the streets
  10. Decline in ethics and values
  11. Slave labor
  12. Natural disasters
  13. Barbarian invasion (Rome had fierce foreign enemies)

Any of these reasons sound familiar? Will history repeat itself in the not-too-distant future here in America?

The answer to that question is up to us. And the question is this–are we willing to take our eyes off of ourselves; take the greed out of our own hearts, and truly care about this nation and each other once again? Are we willing to turn back to God or continue on as if He doesn’t matter or isn’t involved?

The choice is ours, and I’m not convinced that it isn’t too late already to turn things around; however, is it worth fighting for? I think so. Do you?

You decide . . . .

Photo credit here

Don’t Write Off Anyone

A couple of months ago I was sitting in a job networking meeting I attend every week with several other people who, like me, are unemployed and looking for work. There were twelve, maybe thirteen of us total. On this particular day, a homeless man named Perry entered the room just as we were getting started and took the only available seat which was next to me. He carried his backpack with him which appeared to be almost empty. I thought to myself that it took an incredible amount of courage for him to come to our meeting knowing that the comfort level of most people towards the homeless in any situation is, well, not exactly welcoming.

Since there were a number of new people at this meeting, the facilitator asked us to go around the table and share a little information about ourselves and what type of work we were seeking. When it was time for Perry to speak, he stated in a soft voice that he was homeless and living under a tree in the woods. I don’t think there was any of us in that room that didn’t feel horrible at his plight. The facilitator mentioned that he should meet with a woman afterwards who worked there who could help him find some community resources. Perry hardly moved from his slightly slumped position in his chair and said nothing else for the duration of the meeting. I leaned over and gave him the woman’s name and encouraged him to meet with her. At the end of the meeting Perry was one of the first to leave the room, and I left a few minutes later but didn’t see him in the main lobby area. I was afraid he had left without seeking any assistance.

As I left the building I noticed an old, somewhat rusty bicycle leaning against a tree by the sidewalk. I was engaged in a conversation with a woman who had attended the meeting and as we got to the sidewalk, we parted company. I looked over again at the bicycle and this time Perry was standing by it. I asked him if he was able to meet with the woman who could help him find some help and he said, yes, but she was currently meeting with someone so he had to wait.

We ended up talking for about 15-20 minutes. He told me how he ended up homeless and that at one time he had been married, raising a family, had a decent job, and he and his wife and kids were very involved in a church for over nine years in the local community. He had developed a muscle disease that prevented him at times from doing some of the physical work at his job, but it was minor and in the beginning was not a problem for his employer. However, the muscle disease caused him to have jerking motions periodically which didn’t keep him from his work but bothered his employer and some of his coworkers. The employer eventually let him go and he was unable to find work. Eventually he lost his home and his wife left him. His son was attending a local community college. He said he’d been living out in the woods for the past year.

He didn’t appear to be angry, and he was very soft spoken and considerate. As we talked he asked me about my situation and I told him I was also unemployed and that my unemployment benefits ran out at the end of May and that I no longer had any income. I asked him if he had any money and he said no. I knew I had a $20 bill in my purse, so I put my stuff on the ground and got the $20 out and gave it to him. He absolutely did not want to take it as he knew I was unemployed with no income. I told him, “Look, Perry, right now I have a more than you do. I want you to take it.” Again he insisted that I keep it and I said no. He pulled out an incredibly dilapidated billfold with absolutely nothing in it and put the $20 inside. I asked him if I could pray for him (and if you knew me, you’d know that I absolutely hate praying in public where others can hear), and he said yes. It was a short prayer, and I put my arm around his shoulders as asked God to come to his aid in his current situation. As I ended the prayer, we both looked at each other and our eyes filled up with tears, and we hugged each other. Right then the woman he was waiting to meet with became available to see him. Before he left I encouraged him to come back to the meeting next week.

As I was leaving to go back to my seasonal rental, I wondered when the last time was when someone had shown him kindness or engaged him in conversation. I never saw him again after that day as he never returned to attend another meeting. I did find out that the woman he met with was able to help him apply for food stamps, find a place to shower, and a temporary place to stay if he wanted it.

“Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand” (Phil. 2:4 MSG). When I met Perry on that day, for a short while I was able to take my eyes off of my own unemployment situation and for a very short time step into the shoes of someone much worse off than me. It humbled me in a way I won’t soon forget. A couple of years ago I read an outstanding book titled, “Same Kind Of Different As Me” by Ron Hall and Denver Moore. It’s a true story about a homeless man, an international art dealer, and the unlikely woman who bound them together. Reading that book forever changed how I viewed the homeless. And meeting and talking with Perry did, too.

The title for this post, “Don’t Write Off Anyone,” extends to others besides the homeless. For example, it could be much closer to home–like a coworker you can’t stand, or the gossip you believed about someone without really knowing them so you just wrote them off. It could be a family member or a friend you’ve been angry with for years so you refuse to have anything more to do with them. Maybe it’s a clerk who was totally rude to you but you don’t know the story behind her rudeness (maybe her husband just left her). We all have a tendency to write off people for any number of reasons, most of them faulty if we look beneath the surface.

As a Christian, I am incredibly grateful that God didn’t write me off. There are no words adequate enough to express my gratitude that Jesus Christ went to the cross on my behalf. God could have written off you and me and all of humanity, but He didn’t. The cross stands as the greatest invitation to this world; and, in fact, it’s an invitation that’s open to anyone willing to believe. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). As I have mentioned previously, if you want to know more, read the Gospel of John.

If the God of this universe didn’t write us off, how can we write off others? The answer, if we are Christian, is that we can’t.

“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil 2:3-4).

The inspiration for this blog post came from a chapter title by the same name in Max Lucado’s book, “Outlive Your Life” (Thomas Nelson, 2010).

YouTube Video:  “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted?” by Jimmy Ruffin (1966)

Photo credit here

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