Divided in Love

Since Valentine’s Day was just two days ago, I’ve been thinking about the topic of love. This morning I read a devotion in Our Daily Bread titled, Divided in Love, by Leslie Koh, a journalist from Singapore now working at Our Daily Bread Ministries, and this is what he wrote:

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.Ephesians 4:2

When public debate erupted over a controversial Singapore law, it divided believers with differing views. Some called others “narrow-minded” or accused them of compromising their faith.

Controversies can cause sharp divisions among God’s family, bringing much hurt and discouraging people. I’ve been made to feel small over personal convictions on how I apply the Bible’s teachings to my life. And I’m sure I’ve been equally guilty of criticizing others I disagree with.

I wonder if the problem lies not in what or even in how we express our views, but in the attitudes of our hearts when we do so. Are we just disagreeing with views or seeking to tear down the people behind them?

Yet there are times when we need to address false teaching or explain our stand. Ephesians 4:2-6 reminds us to do so with humility, gentleness, patience, and love. And, above all else, to make every effort “to keep the unity of the Spirit” (v. 3).

Some controversies will remain unresolved. God’s Word, however, reminds us that our goal should always be to build up people’s faith, not tear them down (v. 29). Are we putting others down to win an argument? Or are we allowing God to help us understand His truths in His time and His way, remembering that we share one faith in one Lord? (vv. 4-6). (Quote source here.)

Zeroing in on the key issue, Koh states, I wonder if the problem lies not in what or even in how we express our views, but in the attitudes of our hearts when we do so. Are we just disagreeing with views or seeking to tear down the people behind them?” It seems as if humility is a dying art in our society today.

In a blog post published on August 23, 2016, titled, Is narcissism becoming a virtue or whatever happened to humility?” by Brian Harris, Principal of Vose Seminary and Pastor at Large for the Carey Group, a church, school and community center planting movement based in Perth, Australia, he writes:

The answer appears to be yes. A study by Hoover (2007) researching 16,000 students between 1982 to 2006 found that the average score on the Narcissistic Personality Inventory increased 30% in that time. Given that this study is now aging, I suspect the rise would be even more dramatic if tested now. Jean Twenge and Keith Campbell have written a book,The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement,” …which clearly chronicles our increasing obsession with self. The same book also helpfully distinguishes between self esteem and narcissism, recognizing that a realistic and valued sense of self is important, but that it is at risk of being tipped over the line in our time.

What’s wrong with narcissism… Many things, but here are a few:

    • An inflated sense of self sees us magnifying trivia. Everything about me must be awesome – and if it isn’t that’s tragic. But if everything is awesome, how do we differentiate and nuance things. How do we cope with disappointment? How do we face our shadow side? And how do we celebrate the ordinary?
    • Narcissism blinds us to sin (and I mean sin in the biblical sense of being people who miss the mark of God’s goal for us). It stops us from seeing our need for forgiveness and redemption.
    • A world that is about me, myself and I quickly becomes too small.
    • The order is wrong. Jesus taught that if we are willing to lose our life, we will find it. Paradoxical though this is, it is true. When it is all about me, something inside of me dies.
    • I become a consumer of services to which I feel entitled (because I matter so much). I become fixated on my rights, and usually gloss over my responsibilities.
    • Self preoccupation blinds me to the needs of others.
    • It makes me indifferent to the stories of others–the only story I want told is my own.
    • I place my confidence in myself. I want my world to be about me. Worshiping Jesus and having him at the center quickly disappears from my agenda.

It is never enough to simply tut tut about a social trend. What can be done about it?…

Could it be that the rise of narcissism is a comment on a world that has become too small… a world that has lost a narrative that can inspire, and challenge and motivate… a world that can make me bigger by getting me to move beyond my own very limited parameters? Perhaps we need fresh reminders that while God assuredly loves me, a God sized love actually encompasses the whole world. There are many stories to be told, and even more waiting to be written. And my role does not have to be the lead character in each. Simply cheering on the sidelines, and celebrating a story that has nothing to do with me, can be a helpful start. (Quote source here.)

In an article published on August 14, 2016, titled, Humility–The Lost Virtue,” by Tony Agnesi, Hall of Fame broadcaster, author, speaker, and storyteller, he writes:

“Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less.”  –C.S. Lewis

What ever happened to humility?  Once valued in our culture, humility just isn’t practiced at all.  Instead, we have a self-centered, chest-thumping, braggadocios, pat yourself on the back generation with an exaggerated self-importance.

The NFL running back, who years ago would credit the linemen for their great blocking and opening the way for his touchdown runs, will thump his chest and tell you how great he is, the best running back ever!

The mid-level boss at work takes credit for every accomplishment in his department never complimenting his staff for work well done.

The musician who interrupts an awards presentation to tell the recipient that someone else is better than she is.

The gossip, who is constantly putting down friends in an effort to make herself look better.

Yes, it’s true, humility is the ugly duckling of virtues, lost in a quagmire of self-centered bravado. This foolish pride is hubris and humility is the anecdote for hubris.

Somehow, over time, we have come to believe that humility is a lack of self-confidence, that humble people are shy or timid.  Nothing could be further from the truth!

That’s why C.S. Lewis’ quote is so important.  Humility understands that giving credit to others for their achievements doesn’t diminish our accomplishments. We gain respect, by being humble.  By simply shifting the focus away from self to others we make a powerful statement of leadership.  Try it sometime, and you will see the power of humility.

So, what are some examples of modern day humility?  What are a few simple things we can do to be more humble?

    • Try opening a door for someone, or giving up your place in the checkout line to the woman with a fussy child.
    • Clean up the coffee spills in the lunch room at work even though you don’t drink coffee.
    • When being honored for an accomplishment, use the opportunity to thank the people that helped you get there.
    • Cook a meal for the woman down the street who recently lost her husband, or invite her to lunch.
    • Instead of donating money to the local soup kitchen, volunteer to wait on tables once a month.

I am sure you can think of many others.

As Christians, we don’t have to look very far for examples of humility.  Jesus himself was born in a stable, had few possessions, and no place to live.  He led a humble life, but changed the world.

If we realize that our goal on this earth is not how great we can become, but how much of a difference we can make in the lives of others, then we will begin to understand the virtue of humility.

Let’s practice humility! (Quote source here.)

In an article published on November 22, 2017, on PsychologyToday.com, titled, How Practicing Humility Can Help Your Love Life, by Kristen Fuller, M.D., she writes:

Humility is a simple human characteristic that is lacking in today’s society. We live in a world where it is “all about me”, from the upkeep of our physical appearances, our reputations on social media, self-gratifying behavior and the obsession with money and consumerism, it is so easy to lose touch with placing others before ourselves. With an astonishing rise in divorce rates and an increase in individuals choosing to be single, we as humans, must go back to the basics of kindness and humility.

It is not always about you

To be humble or practice humility means to value other people and their opinions without indulging in self- pride. Humility is the opposite of boastfulness, arrogance and vanity.  Oftentimes we are so concerned with winning the argument, making a point, being right and correcting other people that we forget to listen to others, and to allow the unimportant things to dissipate. Yes, there will always be that antagonizing individual in your life who always has to prove their point, but it is your choice to engage in their argumentative or opinionated behavior. You have the right to walk away from the conversation or to simply just agree with them in order to create peace. You always have the choice to practice humility even in the presence of chaos.

In a world filled with self-aggrandizing online dating profiles, it may be surprising to learn that humility is actually a direct expression of an individual who is truly confident and expresses a high self-esteem. How many of you have gone a first date where the other individual talked about themselves the entire time and did not ask you a single question? By leaving ‘you’ out of the date just a little bit, you allow yourself the freedom to discover whether this is someone you should be with. Or what about that one friend who is always telling you about his or her own problems but never takes the time to ask how you are doing? Or that family member who never stops talking about a past unresolved issue? We all love to “toot our own horns” however it is not attractive, in any way.

Staying humble to keep love alive

A humble person does not always have to prove their point, or be right or lead the conversation because they are truly comfortable with who they are.  Being vulnerable and showing humility to a romantic partner can allow for better communication and trust to develop in the relationship. Being aware of what you don’t know and asking questions allows for learning to take place within a relationship and humble individuals are more likely to admit their faults, apologize and practice forgiveness than an individual who is boastful or who is a narcissist. Many conflicts and arguments within relationships can be easily fixed however the majority of individuals are more concerned with proving a point and being right rather than listening to the needs of their partner and trying to understand the underlying catalyst that initiated the argument in the first place. The goal of a relationship is to grow with your partner, not fight against them or come out winning. Practicing humility requires the following attributes:

    • Active listening
    • Taking a different perspective
    • Empathy
    • Admitting wrong
    • Apologizing
    • Being confident in what you don’t know
    • Seeking forgiveness
    • Asking questions
    • Putting your relationship before your own personal needs
    • Serving others
    • Staying present
    • Practicing gratitude

In terms of dating and relationships, there is a lid that fits every pot however it is easier to find the lid for your pot if you’re not blowing off every lid with steam, hot air and arrogance. (Quote source here.)

As a last reflection for this blog post on the topic of love and humility, let’s consider what James 4:1-12 (MSG) states:

Where do you think all these appalling wars and quarrels come from? Do you think they just happen? Think again. They come about because you want your own way, and fight for it deep inside yourselves. You lust for what you don’t have and are willing to kill to get it. You want what isn’t yours and will risk violence to get your hands on it.

You wouldn’t think of just asking God for it, would you? And why not? Because you know you’d be asking for what you have no right to. You’re spoiled children, each wanting your own way.

You’re cheating on God. If all you want is your own way, flirting with the world every chance you get, you end up enemies of God and his way. And do you suppose God doesn’t care? The proverb has it that “he’s a fiercely jealous lover.” And what he gives in love is far better than anything else you’ll find. It’s common knowledge that “God goes against the willful proud; God gives grace to the willing humble.”

So let God work his will in you. Yell a loud no to the Devil and watch him scamper. Say a quiet yes to God and he’ll be there in no time. Quit dabbling in sin. Purify your inner life. Quit playing the field. Hit bottom, and cry your eyes out. The fun and games are over. Get serious, really serious. Get down on your knees before the Master; it’s the only way you’ll get on your feet.

Don’t bad-mouth each other, friends. It’s God’s Word, his Message, his Royal Rule, that takes a beating in that kind of talk. You’re supposed to be honoring the Message, not writing graffiti all over it. God is in charge of deciding human destiny. Who do you think you are to meddle in the destiny of others? (Quote source here.)

I’ll end this post with these words from 1 Corinthians 13:3-8 (MSG): If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

Love . . .

Never . . .

Dies . . . .

YouTube Video: “Get Together (Try to Love One Another Right Now)” (1967) by the Youngbloods:

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

Predictably Unpredictable

Back on February 25, 2017, I published a blog post titled, Divine Appointments,” and I quoted a section from a book titled, The Grave Robber (2014), written by Mark Batterson, lead pastor of National Community Church in Washington, DC. I picked up that book again this afternoon, and when I ran into that particular section quoted in the blog post above, I thought to myself, “This would great to include in a blog post.” That’s when I discovered that I had already written a blog post on that exact same section back in 2017 (you can read it at this link).

Déjà vu…

So, I continued looking through the book and I came upon two back-to-back sections titled, “Critical Realism” and “Eleven Dimensions,” in a chapter titled, “The Rule Breaker.” But before I quote those two sections, let me say that I have always been one to follow rules. I was called a STRAC trooper (STRAC is US Army slang for “a well organized, well turned-out soldier, pressed uniform, polished brass and shined boots. A proud, competent trooper who can be depended on for good performance in any circumstance”) by my Commanding Officer when I was stationed in the U.S. Army in South Korea back in the 1970’s, and I’ve been the quintessential “rule follower” for most of my life. I figured if I always followed the rules, I’d stay out of trouble and I’d have a relatively straight forward life, but as my life moved forward, I discovered that is not always the case. Life is unpredictable no matter how hard we might try to control it, and I discovered what Mark Batterson states below.

In the first section titled, “Critical Realism,” on pp. 129-130, Batterson writes:

According to the research of Rolf Smith [author ofThe 7 Levels of Change: Different Thinking for Different Results”], children asked 125 probing questions per day. Adults, on the other hand, ask only six probing questions per day. That means that somewhere between childhood and adulthood, we lose 119 questions per day! At some point, most of us stop asking questions and start making assumptions. That is the day our imagination dies. It’s also the day miracles stop happening. If you want to experience the miraculous, you need to quit making assumptions.

In the philosophy of science, there is a concept known as critical realism. It is the recognition that no matter how much we know, we don’t know everything there is to know. In the words of Russell Stannard, “We can never expect at any stage to be absolutely certain that our scientific theories are correct and will never need further amendment.” What if we borrowed the concept of critical realism from science and applied it to theology? I’m not suggesting that we question any of our orthodox doctrines as revealed in God’s Word. But 1 Corinthians 8:2 is a good theological starting point when it comes to the study of God: “Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know.”

We’re too quick to explain what we don’t really understand. And God is at the top of that list. You can know Him, but to think you know everything there is to know is the epitome of hubris. To know God is to enter the cloud of unknowing–the more you know, the more you know how much you don’t know.

Scripture says that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13) , so the words, “I can’t” should never leave our lips! But “I don’t know” should come out of our mouths which great regularity and humility. You aren’t omniscient. In fact, you aren’t even close! Your best thought on your best day falls at least 15.5 billion light-years short of how good and how great God really is. (Quote source: “The Grave Robber,” pp. 129-130.)

Batterson continues in the next section titled, “Eleven Dimensions,” on pp.130-132, with the following:

A hundred years ago, we thought we lived in a four-dimensional world. Then along came Albert Einstein and his theory of general relativity. He threw science a curveball by positing that the space-time continuum isn’t as linear as we once thought. Then string theorists extrapolated the existence of more dimensions than meet the eye–ten dimensions in the case of superstring theory theory or twenty-six dimensions according to the Bosonic string theory. In either case, this critical dimension is necessary to ensure the vanishing of the conformal anomaly of the world sheet. And if you have no idea what that means, I’ve made my point. If the universe is infinitely  more complex than can be imagined with the human mind, then how much more so the Creator Himself? His infinite complexity demands a degree of critical realism called humility.

If string theorists are right, then God is operating in at least eleven dimensions of space-time. and therein lies our greatest shortcoming: putting four-dimensional limits on the Almighty. In the words of Dr. Hugh Ross, “Orthodox Christians potentially underestimate God’s nature, powers, and capacities by at least a factor of a trillion in one time dimension.” Multiply a trillion by a minimum of seven additional space-time dimensions, and we begin to understand why Scripture states that God is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20)! We can’t even imagine one extra dimension!

Half of faith is learning what we don’t know. The other half is unlearning what we do know. And the second half is far more difficult then the first half. That’s why Jesus repeatedly said, “You have heard that is was said… but I tell you.” He was uninstalling Old Testament assumptions with New Testament revelations. Going the extra mile or turning the other cheek was more than behavior modification. Jesus was reverse engineering the old rules and installing new ones (Matthew 5:38-48).

In 1932, a German physicist named Werner Heisenberg won the Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on quantum mechanics. His discovery ranks as one of the greatest scientific revolutions in the twentieth century. For hundreds of years, determinism ruled the day. Physicists believed in the clockwork universe that was measurable and predictable. Heisenberg pulled the rug out from under the scientific community. Here is Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle in a nutshell: we cannot know the precise position and momentum of a quantum particle at the same time. Here’s why. Sometimes matter behaves like a particle–it appears to be in one place at one time. Sometimes matter behaves like a wave–it appears to be in several places at the same time, almost like a wave on a pond. It is the duality of nature. So the imprecise measurement of initial conditions precludes the precise prediction of future outcomes. Simply put: there will always be an element of uncertainty.

Here’s my translation: God is predictably unpredictable.

You never know exactly how or when or where God might show up and show off. But you can be sure of this: He will probably ask you to do something unprecedented, unorthodox, and unconventional. And if you have the courage to do something you haven’t done in thirty-eight years, you might just experience something you haven’t seen in a long, long time. (Quote source: “The Grave Robber,” pp. 130-132.)

In a blog post published on January 27, 2016, titled, Predictably Unpredictable,” by Dave Henning, Director at Crown of Compassion Ministries, a ministry to downsized workers, he writes:

“I have come to expect the unexpected because God is predictably unpredictable.” — Mark Batterson

Mark Batterson concludes Chapter 6 ofThe Circle Maker by reflecting on a favorite saying of his grandmother: “You can’t never always sometimes tell.” Translation: “Anything could happen.” The same is true when you circle a promise in prayer. Prayer adds an element of surprise to your life that is more fun than any other kind of surprise. Mark explains:

“When you draw a prayer circle, even if that circle is limited by your ignorance, you never know how or when or where God will answer it. One prayer leads to another, which leads to another, and where they will take you no one knows except the One who knows all.”

Pastor Batterson notes there is one caveat: you have to give up control if you want God to surprise you. Although you’ll lose a measure of predictability, this frees God to move in uncontrollable ways. Meanwhile, you live with holy anticipation, understanding that coincidences are providences and that any moment can turn into a holy moment. Mark observes it is at this point many of us become spiritually bogged down:

“It’s at this place where God wants to do something unprecedented that many of us get stuck spiritually. Instead of operating by faith, we switch back to our default setting of logic. Instead of embracing the new move of God, we fall back into the rut of our old routines.”

Mark’s solution? Don’t simply brainstorm, praystorm.

Today’s question: How difficult is it for you to give up “control” of your situation? (Quote source here.)

Lately–in fact, more times then I can count–I keep coming across a verse that speaks to the “control” issue many of us have when it comes to our sometimes very perplexing life circumstances. The verse is found in Psalm 46:10 (NASB):

Cease striving  and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.

In the past decade since I lost my job in April 2009, I spent the first several years searching for another job that never materialized, and I had to apply for Social Security at 62 to have any income again. At the time I applied for Social Security, I lost the apartment I had been living in for over four years when new owners purchased the house where my apartment was located, and they wanted to use my apartment for their own purposes. That has now lead into a five-plus year search for low income senior housing that has still produced nothing in the way of affordable housing.

I can attest to the fact that it isn’t easy to “cease striving” when perplexing circumstances keep going on and on after a decade of waiting for an answer to show up. Yet, what I have learned and experienced during this past decade is priceless even though what I thought would happen long before now (in fact, a decade ago) is that I would find another job and move on with my life.

God is predictably unpredictable, and He is also sovereign over everything that happens on this earth. What Mark Batterson describes above regarding our own understanding of God is right on when he states:

We’re too quick to explain what we don’t really understand. And God is at the top of that list. You can know Him, but to think you know everything there is to know is the epitome of hubris. To know God is to enter the cloud of unknowing–the more you know, the more you know how much you don’t know. (Quote source: “The Grave Robber,” pp. 129.)

This is where Psalm 46:10 is so important. Since we can’t ever totally understand what God is up to we are clearly told to cease striving (be still) and know that He is God, and that He will be exalted among the nations and in the earth. GotQuestions.org gives us an understanding of what this verse means:

This verse comes from a longer section of Scripture that proclaims the power and security of God. While the threat the psalmist faced is not mentioned specifically, it seems to relate to the pagan nations and a call for God to end the raging war. Here is the whole psalm:

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day. Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts. The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Come and see what the LORD has done, the desolations he has brought on the earth. He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth. He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire. He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.’ The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”

Notice that the majority of the psalm is written in the third person as the psalmist speaks about God. However, God’s voice comes through in verse 10, and the Lord speaks in the first person: “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

Be still. This is a call for those involved in the war to stop fighting, to be still. The word “still” is a translation of the Hebrew word “rapa,” meaning “to slacken, let down, or cease.” In some instances, the word carries the idea of “to drop, be weak, or faint.” It connotes two people fighting until someone separates them and makes them drop their weapons. It is only after the fighting has stopped that the warriors can acknowledge their trust in God. Christians often interpret the command to “be still” as “to be quiet in God’s presence.” While quietness is certainly helpful, the phrase means to stop frantic activity, to let down, and to be still. For God’s people being “still” would involve looking to the Lord for their help (cf. Exodus 14:13); for God’s enemies, being “still” would mean ceasing to fight a battle they cannot win.

Know that I am God. “Know” in this instance means “to properly ascertain by seeing” and “acknowledge, be aware.” How does acknowledging God impact our stillness? We know that He is omniscient (all-knowing), omnipresent (present everywhere), omnipotent (all-powerful), holy, sovereign, faithful, infinite, and good. Acknowledging God implies that we can trust Him and surrender to His plan because we understand who He is.

I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. It was tempting for the nation of Israel to align with foreign powers, and God reminds them that ultimately He is exalted! God wins, and He will bring peace. During Isaiah’s time, Judah looked for help from the Egyptians, even though God warned against it. Judah did not need Egyptian might; they needed reliance on the Lord: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength” (Isaiah 30:15).

When we are still and surrendered to God, we find peace even when the earth gives way, the mountains fall (verse 2), or the nations go into an uproar and kingdoms fall (verse 6). When life gets overwhelming and busyness takes precedence, remember Psalm 46:1, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” Run to Him, lay down your weapons and fall into His arms. Acknowledge that He is God and that He is exalted in the earth. Be still and know that He is God. (Quote source here.)

What better way to end this post then by quoting Psalm 46:10Cease striving and know that I am God…

I will be exalted among the nations . . .

I will be exalted . . .

In the earth . . . .

YouTube Video: “Be Still and Know” by Steven Curtis Chapman:

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Photo #2 credit here

A Day of Atonement

The Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur (“Day of Atonement”) starts on Tuesday, October 8, 2019, and ends at nightfall on Wednesday, October 9, 2019. It is considered to be the holiest day of the year on the Jewish calendar.

On my other blog, I recently published two blog posts leading up to this blog post on Yom Kippur. On September 27, 2019, I published a blog post on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year which took place from sundown on September 29th through nightfall on October 1st this year, titled, Time to Reboot.” On August 25, 2019, I published a blog titled, Elul and the High Holy Days,” which gives a brief description of the activities associated with the month of Elul leading up to the High Holy Days which start with Rosh Hashanah and end with Yom Kippur.

In an article titled, Yom Kippur,” published on History.com and written by the Editors at History.com (first published on October 27, 2009 and updated on August 21, 2018), the following information is provided:

Yom Kippur—the Day of Atonement—is considered the most important holiday in the Jewish faith. Falling in the month of Tishrei (September or October in the Gregorian calendar), it marks the culmination of the 10 Days of Awe, a period of introspection and repentance that follows Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. According to tradition, it is on Yom Kippur that God decides each person’s fate, so Jews are encouraged to make amends and ask forgiveness for sins committed during the past year. The holiday is observed with a 25-hour fast and a special religious service. Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah are known as Judaism’s “High Holy Days.”

History and Significance of Yom Kippur

According to tradition, the first Yom Kippur took place after the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt and arrival at Mount Sinai, where God gave Moses the Ten Commandments. Descending from the mountain, Moses caught his people worshipping a golden calf and shattered the sacred tablets in anger. Because the Israelites atoned for their idolatry, God forgave their sins and offered Moses a second set of tablets.

Jewish texts recount that during biblical times Yom Kippur was the only day on which the high priest could enter the inner sanctum of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. There, he would perform a series of rituals and sprinkle blood from sacrificed animals on the Ark of the Covenant, which contained the Ten Commandments. Through this complex ceremony he made atonement and asked for God’s forgiveness on behalf of all the people of Israel. The tradition is said to have continued until the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 A.D; it was then adapted into a service for rabbis and their congregations in individual synagogues.

According to tradition, God judges all creatures during the 10 Days of Awe between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, deciding whether they will live or die in the coming year. Jewish law teaches that God inscribes the names of the righteous in the “book of life” and condemns the wicked to death on Rosh Hashanah; people who fall between the two categories have until Yom Kippur to perform “teshuvah,” or repentance. As a result, observant Jews consider Yom Kippur and the days leading up to it a time for prayer, good deeds, reflecting on past mistakes and making amends with others.

Observing Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur is Judaism’s most sacred day of the year; it is sometimes referred to as the “Sabbath of Sabbaths.” For this reason, even Jews who do not observe other traditions refrain from work, which is forbidden during the holiday, and participate in religious services on Yom Kippur, causing synagogue attendance to soar. Some congregations rent out additional space to accommodate large numbers of worshippers.

The Torah commands all Jewish adults (apart from the sick, the elderly and women who have just given birth) to abstain from eating and drinking between sundown on the evening before Yom Kippur and nightfall the next day. The fast is believed to cleanse the body and spirit, not to serve as a punishment. Religious Jews heed additional restrictions on bathing, washing, using cosmetics, wearing leather shoes and sexual relations. These prohibitions are intended to prevent worshippers from focusing on material possessions and superficial comforts.

Because the High Holy Day prayer services include special liturgical texts, songs and customs, rabbis and their congregations read from a special prayer book known as the “machzor” during both Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah. Five distinct prayer services take place on Yom Kippur, the first on the eve of the holiday and the last before sunset on the following day. One of the most important prayers specific to Yom Kippur describes the atonement ritual performed by high priests during ancient times. The blowing of the shofar—a trumpet made from a ram’s horn—is an essential and emblematic part of both High Holy Days. On Yom Kippur, a single long blast is sounded at the end of the final service to mark the conclusion of the fast.

Traditions and Symbols of Yom Kippur

Pre-Yom Kippur feast: On the eve of Yom Kippur, families and friends gather for a bountiful feast that must be finished before sunset. The idea is to gather strength for 25 hours of fasting.

Breaking of the fast: After the final Yom Kippur service, many people return home for a festive meal. It traditionally consists of breakfast-like comfort foods such as blintzes, noodle pudding and baked goods.

Wearing white: It is customary for religious Jews to dress in white—a symbol of purity—on Yom Kippur. Some married men wear “kittels,” which are white burial shrouds, to signify repentance.

Charity: Some Jews make donations or volunteer their time in the days leading up to Yom Kippur. This is seen as a way to atone and seek God’s forgiveness. One ancient custom known as “kapparot” involves swinging a live chicken or bundle of coins over one’s head while reciting a prayer. The chicken or money is then given to the poor. (Quote source here.)

In an article published in 2014 titled, Forgiveness of Others and Ourselves: Yom Kippur Thoughts,” by Laurie Levy, a contributer on HuffPost.com, she writes:

On the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, a central prayer is the Al Chet or communal confession of sins committed against others. Rabbi Yonah Bookstein describes Yom Kippur as the time for reconciliation and forgiveness. He reminds us that the Hassidic Master Israel Ba’al Shem Tov said, “If we cannot forgive others, how can we expect God to forgive us?”

This holiday always poses an interesting question for me: Can I really forgive someone who has wronged me? Of course, I am not talking about overwhelmingly traumatic acts that are unforgivable — genocide; physical, emotional, or sexual abuse; and other crimes that harm innocent victims. Although there are amazing people who can forgive even these things, I am not one of them.

In a modern version of the Al Chet prayer, Rabbi Michael Lerner asks forgiveness for sins against humanity in general and against the world in which we live. Among those that involve personal interactions, he asks forgiveness for:

The sins of spreading negative stories about people we know;

And for the sins of being passive recipients of negativity or listening and allowing others to spread hurtful stories;

For the sins of not having compassion for one another;

And for not taking care of one another….

Rabbi Rachel Barenblat offers her list of more personal sins she has committed against others. I have to assume people have also wronged her in these ways:

By not embracing those who needed it, and not allowing myself to be embraced…

By poking at sources of hurt like a child worrying a sore tooth…

By hiding love, out of fear of rejection, instead of giving love freely…

By being not pliant and flexible, but obstinate, stark, and unbending;

By not being generous with my time, with my words or with my being;

By not being kind to everyone who crosses my wandering path.

The notion of forgiveness is pretty complicated. In two weeks, I will be celebrating the 40th anniversary of my Chavurah (Hebrew for “friends” or “comrades”). This group of six families came together in the fall of 1974, having no more in common than being 12 adults with 12 kids who happened to live near one another and were disillusioned with formal religion. Later we added three more kids and eventually joined a synagogue en mass. But my favorite memories stem from our early attempts to figure out our own brand of Judaism. And one of our most interesting moments happened when we tackled the issue of forgiveness.

Well, maybe we didn’t exactly tackle it. In fact, with most of us just having crossed into the mature age of 30-something, we had a five-minute talk that devolved into a resounding “Let’s not go there.”

I guess forgiving others is not something that happens until you reach a certain age, if ever. Our Chavurah now has 63 official members. Many of the 25 grandchildren live out of town. Only two of our parents remain, basically making us the older generation. So much has changed. And yet, as our group celebrates 40 years of friendship, I wonder if we are finally old enough to talk about that difficult concept of forgiveness.

I know plenty of folks my age and beyond who are still nursing hurt feelings and something close to hatred for former friends. I have had friends declare they will never forgive people for what they considered deep betrayals.

One thought I have about this is rather obvious. It’s the old “you always hurt the one you love” thing. So I get how it is hardest to forgive a BFF for saying or doing something hurtful. It’s shocking to discover the “B” and the second “F” weren’t really true. So the closer the relationship, the greater the pain, and the lesser the chance of forgiveness.

But lately, I have come to believe the power to forgive is always mine. Exercising that power makes me stronger, not weaker. It definitely makes me happier. Why on Earth would I want to hold on to the pain of hating someone for something that happened 30 years ago? Like Elsa from “Frozen,” my mantra is “Let it go.”

There’s a lot of power in forgiveness. Letting go of the hurt has opened me to the possibility of rebuilt relationships in some cases. In other cases, it showed someone who had bullied me that I was not going to carry that baggage with me, so their words or deeds didn’t have much weight.

Over many years as a preschool director, working with countless parents and teachers, I learned another truth about forgiveness. Much of the time, it turns out the hurtful behavior really had little to do with the target of the behavior. When co-workers or parents or teachers were attacked in various permutations, it was typically a projection of unhappiness elsewhere in that person’s life. It’s hard to look at it through that lens in the heat of the moment, but considering the possibility can help soften the blow. It can give the recipient the power to choose if not forgiveness, then at least not anger and hurt.

So back to the question of whether I can forgive someone who has hurt me: My answer is a resounding “yes.” In fact, it goes beyond “Can I do it?” to “I must do it to lead a happy and meaningful life.” The harder task is to forgive myself for the wrongs I have done to others. (Quote source here.)

And in a touching story in an article published in 2011 titled, Yom Kippur and the Gift of Forgiveness,” by Annette Powers, also a contributor on Huffpost.com, she writes:

Yom Kippur has meant different things to me throughout my life, but while in the process of getting a divorce, the acts of atonement and forgiveness have taken on new significance.

Like most Jewish kids, Yom Kippur was the one holiday I dreaded. Growing up, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar promised nothing but endless hours spent in a gloomy sanctuary. All the adults, cranky and with bad breath from fasting, stood around muttering droning prayers in a language I didn’t understand.

After my Bat Mitzvah, I felt obligated to fast also, and then Yom Kippur took on a new kind of pain. By mid-afternoon, I was dizzy with hunger and the thought of four more hours in synagogue seemed unbearable. I understood that the point of the holiday was to atone, but thoughts of repentance were overshadowed by thoughts of the bagels and blintzes I would devour at the end of the service .

My feelings about Yom Kippur took a turn for the better when I spent a semester in Israel during my senior year of high school. I was amazed at how the whole country shut down in observance. Even the majority of Israelis, who are secular and didn’t plan to set foot in a synagogue, elected not to drive. The silence in the streets was magical and as I walked through Jerusalem’s stone streets from synagogue to synagogue, I heard the ancient Yom Kippur liturgy with new ears. This experience gave me a newfound appreciation for the solemness of Yom Kippur, yet the luxury of youthful innocence still kept me from really feeling the need to atone or forgive.

As the years went by, age and experience taught me that having a designated time to think about my relationship with God, myself and others is a unique and special thing. It is no longer a burden, but a gift. I am especially grateful for the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which are known as the Ten Days of Repentance (Aseret Y’mai Teshuvah.) During this time, we are encouraged to make amends to those we may have hurt in the past and to grant forgiveness to those who ask for it.

As an adult, I have often used these ten days to speak to friends and family and work through old grudges and new grievences, but last year, after discovering the painful truth about my husband’s infidelity and his desire to get divorced, I was too overwhelmed with pain and grief to even consider amends and forgiveness.

Today, it’s a different story. I have had time to heal, reflect and grow and need these ten days now more than ever. Even without being asked, I am anxious to forgive — to cast off my bitterness and start anew, to relieve myself of the burden of anger that tugs at me like a heavy anchor and to free him of the guilt that I heap upon him in both subtle and overt ways day after day. But, the question remains…. Can I actually do it? Making amends is one thing, but being able to forgive is another.

I have a friend who has inspired me with her own incredible act of forgiveness. As a teen, her father was killed in a ruthless hate crime by a group of strangers. Over many years, she found the ability to forgive them from afar. “It was a long road and I will never forget what they did, but I had to let go of all the anger — it was destroying my life,” she said. “Unfortunately, the rest of my family hasn’t been able to forgive and I see how it eats them up inside.”

I too have seen how resentments and anger can devour people over time. I too have seen how forgiveness can liberate. If this friend had the strength to forgive her father’s murderers, surely I could forgive my ex for far lesser crimes!

I want to forgive him. It’s partly a selfish act… I want to let go of the anger so I can move forward with my life. And I need him to forgive me too. While I don’t blame myself for his unwillingness to work on our marriage or his deceitfulness, I recognize that I am responsible for some of what went wrong in our relationship. I recognize some of my shortcomings and can make amends for those. I am sure there are yet others that I can’t see or admit to and for those I can only apologize in the abstract.

And so, yesterday, I sent my ex a note of amends and forgiveness.

I asked him to forgive me for a list of transgressions, from being too critical of him during our marriage to sending him thousands of angry text messages since our separation. I also apologized for “the things I do not know or do not remember that I did — willingly or unwillingly.”

And then came my turn to forgive. It took so much strength to write this: “I know you haven’t asked outright, but I want to tell you that I forgive you. I forgive you and I forgive her. May we all be blessed in the coming year.”

I can’t guarantee that all my resentments will disappear today, tomorrow or in a month, or that I will always be on my best behavior, but this note is my promise to try harder and that is a good start to a sweet new year. (Quote source here.)

During Yom Kippur, maybe now is a good time to think about laying aside that heavy weight of unforgiveness that we’ve been carrying around for a very long time. After all, as the following YouTube song below states:

Forgiveness . . .

We all need . . .

Forgiveness . . . .

YouTube Video: “Forgiveness” by TobyMac featuring Lecrae:

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

On Being Humble

As virtues go, humility is pretty unpopular,” states Patty Onderko in her article, Do These 6 Things to Be More Humble,” published in the December 2015 issue of Success.com. She continues with the following:

Being paid the ‘humble’ compliment can be worse than when a woman gives her romantic partner the “you’re a nice guy” letdown. But many positive psychologists feel that humility is due for an image makeover.

Part of the reason humility has been so overlooked as valuable and honorable is practicality. After all, it’s hard to measure how humble a person is. If researchers ask someone to assess her own humility and the self-rating is five out of five stars, how humble can she really be? This paradox of humility is why you probably haven’t heard of it as a ‘regular’—up there with gratitude, optimism and compassion—in the science of happiness. It’s difficult to quantify and study.”

Humility also has another public relations challenge: It’s not exciting. We might appreciate the trait in others—we don’t feel threatened by unassuming people—but in ourselves? Eh. We’d rather be confident and bold. We’ll take that spotlight, thank you very much. Humility doesn’t have the Oprah-worthy, leather-bound gratitude journals, nor does it feature optimism’s sunny, iconic smiley face, nor the heartwarming imagery of compassion.

But humility could effect just as powerful a positive change in your life as the other pillars of well-being. Higher levels of humility have been associated with a higher sense of life purpose, better (self-reported) health, increased workplace harmony, longer-lasting marriages and greater generosity—all of which contribute to stronger communities. And that’s sort of the point of humility: It’s for the good of all, not just oneself (another reason it’s been a tough sell). “Humility is a very pro-social quality,” says Joshua Hook, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology at the University of North Texas. (Quote source and full article available here.)

So what is humility? Paul summed it up in Philippians 2:3-4: Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” It shows up in our actions and our attitudes towards others. It is, as Paul states, valuing others above ourselves. And that’s not easy to do in our materialistic, money-driven, and “Me” oriented society.

In an article published on February 3, 2018, titled, Ten Characteristics of a Humble Person, by Craig Finnestad, pastor of The Water’s Edge United Methodist Church, he lists those ten characteristics as follows:

  • A humble person is teachable. Humility believes it can always learn from the education and experiences of others. A humble person is a growing person who is quick to read, invite feedback, and ask good question.
  • A humble person is at peace with themselves and others. Humility embraces contentment and simplicity. It doesn’t need to have the nicest or be the best. Humility puts relationships before the need to be right. Humility enjoys balance and harmony.
  • A humble person is grateful. Humility isn’t entitled. Humility believes it doesn’t deserve a darn thing and is thankful for the many blessings received in life.
  • A humble person is slow to offend and quick to forgive. Humility is keenly mindful of the grace it has received and is quick to extend that grace to others.
  • A humble person asks for help. Humility helps us know who we are and who we are not. Humility allows us to live authentically. Humility sees assistance and support as an opportunity to develop and not as a sign of weakness.
  • A humble person treats everybody with respect. Humility teaches us to believe that we are not much better or worse than anybody else, all people have great value, and all people deserve to be treated as such.
  • A humble person is patient and doesn’t easily get frustrated with the imperfection of others. Humility knows that mistakes and inadequacies are part of life. Humility is tolerant of self and others when deficiencies appear and failures happen.
  • A humble person recognizes their own limitations. Humility doesn’t have a negative view of self. Humility has an accurate view of self. Humility leads us to the powerful and beautiful place of living out our strengths and passions in life.
  • A humble person celebrates the accomplishments of others. Humility sees others as co-pilgrims and collaborators and not competitors. Humility genuinely rejoices when others prosper and triumph.
  • A humble person is open to a deep relationship with God. Humility knows God is the creator of the world and people are the created. Pride elevates self over God. Pride leads us to worship the idols of control–sex, money, and power. Humility leads us to Jesus. (Quote source here.)

I came across a short story titled, True Touching Story to Humble Ourselves,” which is actually a thread started by #Deepthireddy (no author name attributed to it). Here is that story:

I was parked in front of the mall wiping off my car. I had just come from the car wash and was waiting for my husband to get out of work.

Coming my way from across the parking lot was what society would consider a bum. From the looks of him, he had no car, no home, no clean clothes, and no money.

There are times when you feel generous but there are other times that you just don’t want to be bothered. This was one of those “don’t want to be bothered times.”

“I hope he doesn’t ask me for any money,” I thought. He didn’t. He came and sat on the curb in front of the bus stop but he didn’t look like he could have enough money to even ride the bus.

After a few minutes he spoke. “That’s a very pretty car,” he said. I said, “thanks,” and continued wiping off my car. He sat there quietly as I worked. The expected plea for money never came.

As the silence between us widened something inside said, “ask him if he needs any help.” I was sure that he would say “yes” but I held true to the inner voice.

“Do you need any help?” I asked. He answered in three simple but profound words that I shall never forget. I expected nothing but an outstretched grimy hand. He spoke the three words that shook me.

“Don’t we all?” he said.

I was feeling high and mighty, successful and important, above a bum in the street, until those three words hit me like a twelve gauge shotgun.

Don’t we all?

I needed help. Maybe not for bus fare or a place to sleep, but I needed help. I reached in my wallet and gave him not only enough for bus fare, but enough to get a warm meal and shelter for the day.

We often look for wisdom in great men and women. We expect it from those of higher learning and accomplishments. No matter how much you have, no matter how much you have accomplished, you need help, too.

No matter how little you have, no matter how loaded down you are with problems, even without money or a place to sleep, you can give help. Even if it’s just a compliment, you can give that. Maybe that man was just a homeless stranger wandering the streets.

Maybe he was more than that…. (Quote source here.)

There is a difference between genuine humility and it’s counterparts, false humility and pride. In an article published on November 15, 2013, titled Five Ways to Tell if Humility is Real or Fake,” by David J. Bobb, author and president of the Bill of Rights Institute, he writes:

You know the type. In meetings with the boss, your co-worker is deferential and winsome, but back in the office he’s full of bluster and condescension for all around him. In public, he wears humility like it’s a comfortable hat; in private, he’s all about his own self-interest.

Whether in business or politics, on the athletic field or in the classroom, there are lots of people who feign humility but in fact care only about their own agendas.

How can we tell if humility is genuine or fake? Here are five ways:

1. Real humility leads a person to be curious about and concerned for others, not fixated on how others can lead to one’s own enrichment. Humility is putting others first in thought, word, and deed.  It resists the temptation to self-aggrandize.

It’s easy to feign interest in another person if there’s something in it for you, like a job promotion or increased recognition. A person with humility is in it for the long-term common good, not short-term self-interest. Examples include helping  colleagues because of who they are, not because of their position, or writing a great letter of reference for a young person.

As a young man, George Washington had an enormous ego and insatiable appetite for renown. Once he recognized that he had to be ambitious for goals beyond his own advancement, he was better able to check his ego and resist the allure of power for its own sake.

2. Humility is about true service, not self-congratulation. Fawning, fake humility is ingratiating, not giving. It pretends to be generous, but in reality it’s self-centered. Take the humblebrag. When asked to identify a personal weakness, a humblebraggart might say, “I’m always working too hard for everyone else.”

Humility is often erroneously portrayed as poor self-esteem, but in fact it’s the arrogant who have a distorted sense of self. Arrogant people have an exaggerated view of their own contributions, and limit the good they might do by clamoring for credit.

3. In admitting an error or acknowledging that one is wrong, the humble person not only apologizes but also changes course. A person pretending to be humble might say a halfhearted “sorry,” but stubbornly continues down the same path.

Throughout his career, Abraham Lincoln was willing to learn from his mistakes. Like George Washington, Lincoln was a man of immense ambition, but as he made humility his habit, he was able to see with greater moral clarity.

Whether in political or military decisions, Lincoln was willing to own up to his errors.

“I now wish to make personal acknowledgment that you were right, and I was wrong,” Lincoln wrote Union Army General Ulysses S. Grant on July 4, 1863. Referring to the General’s decision-making, and ultimate success at the critical Battle of Vicksburg, Lincoln admitted that his own strategic advice had been incorrect. He thanked General Grant for “the almost inestimable service” he gave the nation in making the right decision.

4. Real humility builds up; false humility tears down. The same person who is quick to claim credit for a project done well is often first to blame others whenever there is a problem. When the results aren’t good, Jim Collins writes, a humble leader “looks in the mirror, not out the window.”

5. The more responsibility or power one has, the more humility they need. Often those who have displayed false humility in an upward climb reveal their arrogance when they’ve reached the top. We can be confident that George Washington’s humility was real because when he was at the peak of power he relinquished it—twice—first as general in returning to civilian life and then again as president in leaving office after two terms.

It’s hard to read what is in another person’s heart, but false humility has a way of revealing itself. First Lady, before the term existed, Abigail Adams gave her son advice that rings true even today, “If you begin to think yourself better than others, you will then become less worthy, and lose those qualities which now make you valuable.” (Quote source here.)

I also came across the following chart titled, Distinguishing True Humility from It’s Two Extremes: False Humility and Pride,” on a website titled, Child of Grace.” The chart below was created by Don Schwager, and it is also available at this link:

This chart was created by Don Schwager.

In closing, a 3-Part article titled, How to Be Humble,” on WikiHow, states the following:

“It’s hard to be humble,” says an old country song, “when you’re perfect in every way.” Of course, few people actually think they’re perfect in every way. But it can still be pretty hard to be humble, especially if you live in a society that encourages competition and individuality. Yet even in such a culture, humility remains an important virtue. Learning to be humble is of paramount importance in most spiritual traditions, and humility can help you develop more fully and enjoy richer relationships with others, as well as create opportunities and earn you respect.

Part 1: Accept your limitations (see article for descriptions under each of the following points)

  1. Admit you are not the best at everything–or anything.
  2. Recognize your own faults.
  3. Be grateful for what you have.
  4. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.
  5. Admit your mistakes.
  6. Avoid bragging.
  7. Be considerate in conversations.
  8. Don’t take all the credit.

Part 2: Appreciating Others (see article for descriptions under each of the following points)

  1. Appreciate the talents and qualities of others.
  2. Stop comparing yourself to others.
  3. Don’t be afraid to defer to others’ judgments.
  4. Seek guidance from written texts.
  5. Remain teachable.
  6. Help others.
  7. Go last.
  8. Compliment others.
  9. Apologize.
  10. Listen more than you talk.

Part 3: Rediscovering a Sense of Wonder (see article for descriptions under each of the following points)

  1. Rejuvenate your sense of wonder.
  2. Practice gentleness.
  3. Spend more time in nature.
  4. Do yoga.
  5. Spend time around children.

Warnings:

  • Don’t confuse being humble with being sycophantic (being overly-praiseful of someone for your own profit). This is a common misconception, but the two attitudes are completely different.
  • To be humble isn’t the same as being humble, and often people who pretend to be humble do it in order to seek out praise. Other people will recognize this, and even if you fool some, you won’t derive the same benefits as you would through actually developing humility.
  • While humility is a good thing, don’t take it too far, thus becoming a doormat. Remember, everything in moderation. Humility is not a weak trait, it is actually a very strong one in the same way kindness is strong. Standing up for yourself with humility is entirely possible and just takes some practice. Be prepared to need to practice this, and don’t be discouraged if you don’t get the balance right initially. (Quote source here.)

I’ll end this post with the words from Paul in Ephesians 4:32: Be kind to one another, tenderhearted…

Forgiving one another . . .

As God in Christ . . .

Forgave you . . . .

YouTube Video: “Humble and Kind” by Tim McGraw:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here
Photo #3 credit here (chart)
Photo #4 credit here

All Things New

Lately I’ve been longing for something new, and not just anything new but a change in my circumstances. Once again in the past couple of days when I inquired about how long the wait might be to secure a low income apartment in a senior apartment complex I was told “up to two years.” After all this time (five years now) of searching for an apartment in low income senior apartment complexes, I want to hear a different answer–a “yes” instead of a “wait” or a “no.”

I came across the following two verses in Isaiah 43:18-19 this afternoon as I was contemplating doing another online housing search:

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

The opening verse took me back to ten years ago in April when I lost my job in Houston, and after a massive years-long job search I never found another one. And almost five years ago, I lost my last apartment when the house where it was located was sold and the new owners wanted to use my apartment for their own purposes. Since then, I’ve been living in hotel rooms as my only source for housing due to my low income on Social Security (I started received it in mid-2014 when I turned 62) while conducing my low income senior housing search. I never dreamed after losing my last apartment in March 2014 that a housing search would take years and end up like my years-long job search which produced zilch. It’s almost as if a brick wall has been built in front of me as I haven’t been able to move forward in any direction (jobs, housing) no matter how hard I try.

“Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old.”

These past ten years have been some of the toughest ten years of my entire life. It’s very hard to forget the circumstances around what happened to me back then that caused me to lose a job that I only had for seven months, but has lead–for reasons still unknown to me to this day–to long term unemployment as I never found another job in my field again. I moved a thousand miles for that job, never dreaming it was going to end a scant seven months later, and I lost a whole lot more then that job when I lost that job, too.

It’s been hard to not be able to get any type of closure on what happened back then and why it has essentially left me unemployed for the past decade–a full ten years before normal retirement age. The financial loss alone over these past ten years has been staggering, but even more than that, it affected my lifestyle and it touched every area of my life.

The major corporation that owned the institute (a college) where I was employed ten years ago (they owned over 100 for-profit colleges and universities nationwide) filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy on July 2, 2018 (source here), after several years involving some major lawsuits (click here for just one example from a 2015 lawsuit resulting in a $95.5 million dollar settlement), huge financial losses, and several rounds of layoffs over a five-year period of time starting in 2012 (click here for an example of layoffs in 2016).

Due to the circumstances surrounding that job loss, three months after I was fired I found some physical evidence on my laptop of what had been going on behind my back while I worked there, and I sent that evidence along with a four-page letter to my lawyer who I saw a few days after I was fired in order to have her review the separation agreement I had received. The evidence I found and sent to her six months later was rock solid, yet I never heard back from her. I did receive a certified notice from the Post Office that my letter had been received in her office. From my one meeting with her for an hour regarding my separation agreement six months earlier, she didn’t strike me as the kind of person who would not at least acknowledge receipt of my letter especially in light of the information I provided in that letter.

If I had found another job shortly after losing that job I would have considered that experience to be a “bump in the road” and I would have moved on. I’d still have my career and still be earning a salary, and I would have continued to contribute into my Social Security account and a small retirement account I started in my 40’s. Unfortunately, I didn’t find another job, and the lack of a steady paycheck from the day I was fired was crushing. I stopped counting the number of jobs I applied for when it reach 500 two years later (but I didn’t stop applying for jobs). I was single and self-supporting, and nobody was going to pay my bills but me, but I couldn’t find a job.

So it’s been hard to forget the past, especially looking out of a hotel room window now for over four and a half years that I never dreamed I would be looking out of ten years after I lost that job. Sometimes the things God wants us to forget are really huge and still ongoing and impacting our lives.

However, during this time my faith has grown exponentially in ways I never expected. God has seen me through some incredibly tough stuff I never thought I would encounter and in some cases, survive, on more than one occasion. He has made me strong in areas that were my weakest, but it’s been a long and sometimes arduous journey over time, and it certainly didn’t happen overnight. And it’s still ongoing.

My story doesn’t look like a typical Christian “success” story of the kind we so often like to hear in America–re: the “rags to riches” stories that happened because we (1) faithfully tithed or (2) “fill in the blank” with the happy kind of stuff we hear in those rags to riches stories. Living in a hotel room for over four and half years on a Social Security income and receiving financial help from my 95-year-old father to pay for it doesn’t look or sound very “successful” to probably most Christians or anyone else living in America today. We tend to have a somewhat warped view of what “success” is supposed to look like as Christians in America. It resembles our culture’s view of success and not God’s view of success.

“Behold, I [God] am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”

During these past ten years, God has been showing me many things I was too busy to notice during all those years I worked. I have learned the incredible value of fasting, and I don’t say that to sound “spiritual.” I’m not the type to put on pretenses or play “religious” games. And I’ve learned just how incredibly important even a few words from the Bible can be at just the right time to guide and direct. And when I haven’t known what to pray, the Psalms became my prayer book. I look back over all the stuff I’ve gone through; all the places I’ve traveled by car; and how the little money I had to live on was stretched in ways that sometimes seemed impossible to believe; God has come through for me each and every time in the most amazing ways that only I would recognize. During this time I went through three years and two months between when my last unemployment check arrived ($275/wk) in May 2011 and my first Social Security check began ($1000/mo) in July 2014 with no income at all, and God guided me through it. In fact, there are no words to describe all I have learned about trusting God over these past ten years.

I’ve also learned much about what is going on in our society that I didn’t really notice when I was working. Outside of Christian circles I’ve been sometimes shocked at how belief in God (as in the God of the Bible) is often seen as a joke by some (not a small number) especially in the younger generations. Since I never married and I didn’t have children, I wasn’t aware of how fast things were changing in our culture especially in the generations starting with the children of Baby Boomers (my generation). Also, when I was working my friends were mostly Christians, and the Christian community can very insulating when it comes to noticing what is really going on in our society outside of Christian circles (or in some cases inside of them, too).

Also, over these ten years I’ve acquired many new interests and renewed some older interests, like writing. In fact, I started this blog as a way to record my experience with long term unemployment back in 2010, and it has broaden considerably from that subject over these years. I now have almost 600 blog posts on this blog, and I started a second blog in April 2018 that has almost 50 blog posts on it to date.

I cannot begin to put a dollar value on what I’ve learned and experienced and seen God do first hand in providing for me and guiding me through these past ten years. While I’ve had some considerable material and financial losses from losing that job ten years ago and never finding another job, I have gained a whole new world that has opened up to me through my writings, and my travels, and my experiences that the “brick wall” that I’ve constantly run up against in my job search and housing search can’t stop. And no job or any amount of money can replace all that I have learned.

Also, I’ve learned to let go of the anger I had for so long after losing that job when–no matter how many jobs I applied for or how many interviews I sailed through at the beginning of my job search–I never found another job. I was sure back then God was going to lead me to the right job as He knew I was single and self-supporting, but He had something different in mind as stated in Isaiah 55:8-9.

And, I’ve learned a lot about what is going on in America today that I didn’t know was going on, and much of it has come from when I started traveling by car to different cities starting in 2012 to look for work, and also when this “hotel saga” got it’s start in late September 2014. I had no idea how many people are forced to live in hotels as their only housing option (which has been my only housing option, too, since it started in 2014). It is an entirely different world living in hotels with all kinds of people coming and going. It is also living in very close quarters in a very small space with complete strangers living only a few feet away in any direction from your own room. It’s been a real learning experience, and I don’t see people my age living in hotels, so it’s not a social outlet. By it’s very nature it is a transient way to live.

So, I guess you could say that the “new thing” God has been doing in my life over this past decade has been to broaden my world and to get me to really see what is going on out there in it. I had no clue about most of it when I was still working.

“I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”

Now we come to the part that I’m still waiting to find out about. I’m not sure what it will look like when it finally arrives as I’ve learned over these past ten years that God is always full of surprises. Ten years ago I thought it would be a new job. Five years ago I thought it would be a new apartment to live in after losing my old apartment to the new owners. And neither of those things happened.

While I am still waiting to find a more permanent and affordable place to live that isn’t just another hotel room, who knows but that God might have something totally different in mind that I haven’t even thought about, or maybe that I have only thought about in passing. He can break down a brick wall with no effort at all, but it has to be in His timing.

Over this past decade I have learned to take each day as it comes. It’s all any of us get anyway. God knows us thoroughly, inside and out, and far better then we know ourselves. He knows how I’ve grown a bit weary of living in a hotel room, but then He reminds me that there are probably a bunch of other folks living here who wish they could move on, too. So I am grateful to have a roof over my head, even if it is still a hotel room, and I will continue to wait and see what that “new thing” is that He will bring into my life.

I’ll end this post with the same two verses I began it with–Isaiah 43:18-19: Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I [God] am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way…

In the wilderness . . .

And rivers . . .

In the desert . . . .

YouTube Video: “(God Makes) All Things New” by Steven Curtis Chapman:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Cultural Christianity

I read a Tweet on Twitter the other day that mentioned a new book coming out on March 5, 2019, titled, The Unsaved Christian: Reaching Cultural Christianity with the Gospel,” by Dean Inserra, founding and lead pastor of CITYCHURCH in Tallahassee, Florida. Information on the book including the Table of Contents and the first few pages of the book (Preface, and a few pages of Chapter 1 titled, “Help Them Get Lost: The Case for Reaching Cultural Christians”) is available on Amazon at this link (click on the book icon on the Amazon page to examine parts of the book).

Click on book pic above to go to Amazon.com order page

The topic is certainly an interesting and relevant one in America today. The Amazon page provides the following information (as well as much more) regarding the book which includes 15 chapters (chapter titles are listed), a Conclusion, and Appendix. The first three chapters are titled: Chapter 1: “Help Them Get Lost: The Case for Reaching Cultural Christians”; Chapter 2: “Religion without Salvation: Characteristics of Cultural Christianity”; and Chapter 3: “Civic Religion: Generic Faith That Demands and Asks Nothing of Its Followers.” The Appendix includes a listing of the types of Cultural Christianity the author includes in his book with definitions of each category in a grid as follows:

Country Club Christian (see Chapter 7)
Christmas and Easter Christian (see Chapter 8)
God and Country Christian (see Chapter 10)
Liberal Social Justice Christian (see Chapter 10)
Moralistic Therapeutic Deist/Good Guy Next Door (see Chapter 11)
Generational Catholic (see Chapter 12)
Mainline Protestant (see Chapter 13)
Bible Belt Christian (see Chapter 14)

As of the publishing of this blog post the book isn’t out yet (but it will be in a few days on March 5, 2019), so I’ve listed the information above for anyone who might be interested in this topic or in reading the book.

In defining the term Cultural Christian,” Wikipedia states:

Cultural Christians are deistspantheistsagnosticsatheists, anantitheists who adhere to Christian values and appreciate Christian culture. This kind of identification may be due to various factors, such as family background, personal experiences, and the social and cultural environment in which they grew up. Contrasting terms are “biblical Christian”, “committed Christian”, or “believing Christian”.

Outspoken English atheist Richard Dawkins has described himself in several interviews as a “cultural Christian” and a “cultural Anglican”. In his book,The God Delusion,” he calls Jesus Christ praiseworthy for his ethics. (Quote source here.)

In an August 13, 2018 article published on Public Discourse titled, Apatheism is More Damaging to Christianity Than Atheism and Antitheism,” by Paul Rowan Brian, freelance journalist who writes on culture, religion and politics, and Ben Sixsmith, a writer living in Poland; here are a few excerpts from their article:

Today… the greatest threat to Christianity is found not in the arguments of the atheist but in the assumptions of the apathetic. The danger is not a hostile reception of belief in God but an incurious indifference to the idea.

Although humanity’s concept of God or the gods has changed and progressed throughout history, as recounted in Robert Wright’s book,”The Evolution of God,” human beings have always cared whether or not there is a divine power ruling over them and wanted to know the attributes and nature of that divinity. Today, increasingly, that is not the case. With roots in the practical atheism and deism of the Enlightenment, “apatheism” is embodied in French philosopher Denis Diderot’s famous remark that “it is very important not to mistake hemlock for parsley, but to believe or not believe in God is not important at all.”

Church attendance in America has been on a steep decline for the past decade, with especially eyebrow-raising numbers among the young. A full 33 percent of twenty-one-to-twenty-nine-year-olds report that they are non-religious, and lower numbers of Catholics attended weekly Mass between 2014 to 2017 (average 39 percent) than between 2005 to 2008 (average 45 percent). Only an estimated 25 percent of American Catholics between 21 and 29 years old attend weekly Mass. Europe is even more secular, with a majority of sixteen to twenty-nine-year-olds reporting no religious beliefs. As the Public Religion Research Institute notes, there has been a growing “rise of the unaffiliated” in America. Many people don’t specifically disbelieve in the supernatural or God: they just don’t care and don’t want to talk or think about it. In the United States, apatheism is especially prevalent among the young, where “overall, religiously unaffiliated Americans are significantly younger than religiously affiliated Americans.”…

We have all met the apathetic. Their response to the question of God’s existence is a shrug, a sigh, or a grin. There are two main kinds of apatheists: apathetic agnostics and apathetic atheists. Apathetic agnostics believe it is not worth debating whether or not God exists; perhaps because human beings cannot know the answer and perhaps because if God exists, He does not care whether one believes in Him. What’s true is what you make true, as represented metaphorically by “ideas” like the devil or God, according to them….

Apathetic atheists believe it is quite obvious that God does not exist, but that there is no point debating it, either because they believe that the argument has already been won or because their “live and let live” philosophy entails a mild tolerance of belief in God…. Many apatheists have no more respect for arguments for the existence of God than do Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, or Daniel Dennett; they are simply more polite. (Quote source here.)

That quote might seem to be a bit off topic but it gives us a broader perspective of where we as Christians find ourselves in the mix of our culture. With that understanding of the broader culture, we better can address the question, What is Cultural Christianity?” GotQuestions.org gives us the following answer:

Cultural Christianity is religion that superficially identifies itself as “Christianity” but does not truly adhere to the faith. A “cultural Christian” is a nominal believerhe wears the label “Christian,” but the label has more to do with his family background and upbringing than any personal conviction that Jesus is Lord. Cultural Christianity is more social than spiritual. A cultural Christian identifies with certain aspects of Christianity, such as the good works of Jesus, but rejects the spiritual aspects required to be a biblically defined Christian. Some people consider themselves “Christians” because of family background, personal experience, country of residence, or social environment. Others identify as “Christian” as a way of declaring a religious affiliation, as opposed to being “Muslim” or “Buddhist.” Famed scientist and atheist Richard Dawkins refers to himself as a “cultural Christian” because he admires some of the ceremonial and philanthropic aspects of Christianity. Dawkins is not born again; he simply sees “Christianity” as a label to use.

In free nations, the gospel is often presented as a costless addition to one’s life: just add churchgoing to your hobbies, add charitable giving to your list of good deeds, or add the cross to the trophies on your mantle. In this way, many people go through the motions of “accepting Jesus” with no accompanying surrender to His lordship. These people, who do not “abide in Christ,” are cultural Christians. They are branches that hang around the True Vine but have no true attachment (see John 15:1–8).

There was no such thing as cultural Christianity in the days of the early church. In fact, to be a Christian was to more than likely be marked as a target of persecution. The very term “Christian” was coined in the city of Antioch as a way to identify the first followers of Christ (Acts 11:26). The first disciples were so much like Jesus that they were called “little Christs” by their detractors. Unfortunately, the term has lost meaning over the years and come to represent an ideology or a social class rather than a lifestyle of obedience to God.

Cultural Christianity is not true Christianity. A true Christian is one who has received Jesus Christ as personal Lord and Savior (John 1:12). Christ’s death and resurrection has been appropriated to that person as his or her substitute for sin (Romans 10:8–102 Corinthians 5:21). The Holy Spirit indwells that person (Romans 8:9). “Receiving” Christ is far more than a mental acknowledgment of truth. Satan acknowledges the identity of the Son of God (Mark 5:7). The faith that saves us also changes us (see James 2:26). Jesus said that anyone who wishes to become His disciple must “deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23). While we cannot earn salvation by sacrifice or good works, a lifestyle transformation and desire to please the Lord are direct results of being “born again” (John 3:3).

The following are some identifying marks of cultural Christianity:

Denying the inspiration of Scripture or parts of Scripture (2 Timothy 3:162 Peter 1:21).

Ignoring or downplaying true repentance as the first step toward knowing God (Matthew 4:17Acts 2:38).

Focusing on Jesus’ love and acceptance to the exclusion of His teaching on hell, obedience, and self-sacrifice (Matthew 4:1723:33Mark 9:43Luke 12:5).

Tolerating or even celebrating ongoing sin while claiming to know God (Romans 1:321 Corinthians 5:1–21 John 3:9–10).

Redefining scriptural truths to accommodate culture (Numbers 23:19Malachi 3:6).

Understanding Jesus to be primarily a social reformer, rather than God in the flesh who is the sacrifice for our sin (Matthew 10:34Mark 14:7).

Claiming God’s promises while ignoring the requirements included with them (Psalm 50:16Jeremiah 18:10).

Denying or minimizing Jesus’ claim that He is the only way to God (John 3:15–1814:6).

Performing enough religious activity to gain a sense of well-being without a true devotion to Jesus (Galatians 5:16–17Romans 8:9).

Talking much about “God” in a general sense, but very little about Jesus Christ as Lord (John 13:1314:6).

Seeing protection and blessing as goals to be achieved, rather than byproducts of a love relationship with God (Mark 12:30Deuteronomy 11:13–17).

Choosing a church based upon any or all of the above (Revelation 3:15–17).

Jesus’ warning in Matthew 7:21–23 should be a wake-up call to cultural Christianity: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (Quote source here.)

In an article published on November 14, 2018 titled, The Challenge of Being a Christian,” by Matt Nelson, chiropractor, author, apologist, and Assistant Director of the Word on Fire Institute, and speaker and writer for FaceToFace Ministries, here are a few excerpts from his article:

One of the greatest obstacles to becoming a committed Christian is that Christianity is challenging. The task of living a fully God-centered life is no walk in the park, as the lives of the greatest and most fully converted Christians who have ever lived—the saints—will attest. Indeed, Christianity lived to the fullest involves struggle. But is the struggle worth it?

Often the skeptic will see the struggle and be deterred. What he may not see—perhaps a result of self-inflicted spiritual blindness—is the outflow of joy that permeates every saint’s struggle; and if he does see it he will not want it—not because he does not want joy but rather because he does not want joy enough to give up his old ways. But, of course, even the most hardened skeptic cannot be considered a total write-off. Indeed some skeptics are eventually compelled to change their mind. This is the hopeful realization that drives evangelization.

The rejection of God today, however, is often not caused primarily by philosophical argument. Usually it is a result of indifferentism towards religion—a result of what Bishop Robert Barron has called the “Meh” culture. The question is: Is this popular religious indifference warranted? Are Christians who toil for the cause of Christ wasting their precious time? (Read the rest of his article for the answer at this link.)

In an article published on September 23, 2017 titled, The Dying Away of Cultural Christianity,” by Brett McCracken, author and senior editor for The Gospel Coalition; he also writes regularly for Christianity Today and on his website, BrettMcCracken.com; here is an excerpt from his article:

The “God” of Cultural Christianity

For most of US history, to be American was to be “Christian.” National identity was conflated with religious identity in a way that produced a distorted form of Christianity, mostly about family values, Golden Rule moralism, and good citizenship. The God of this “Christianity” was first and foremost a nice guy who rewarded moral living by sanctifying the American dream: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (i.e., a substantial 401(k), a three-car garage, and as many Instagram followers as possible). This form of Christianity—prominent in twenty-first-century America—has been aptly labeled “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism,” a faith defined by a distant, “cosmic ATM” God who only cares that we are nice to one another and feel good about ourselves.

This faux God—stripped of theological and historical specificity and closer to Santa Claus than Yahweh—began to flourish amidst the gradual “death of God” narrative advanced by philosophical, literary, artistic, and scientific elites from the Enlightenment to postmodernity. In this context, mainstream Christianity became less about truly believing in God and supernatural events like the incarnation and resurrection; it became more about the rites and rituals of Christianity-flavored morality: a convenient, comfortable, quaint system of personal and societal uplift. Thankfully, and predictably, this sort of toothless, “nice,” good-citizen Christianity is on the decline.

Why? As Terry Eagleton observes, it’s because Christianity is fundamentally disruptive rather than conciliatory to polite society and powers-that-be:

The form of life Jesus offers his followers is not one of social integration but a scandal to the priestly and political establishment. It is a question of being homeless, propertyless, peripatetic, celibate, socially marginal, disdainful of kinsfolk, averse to material possessions, a friend of outcasts and pariahs, a thorn in the side of the Establishment and a scourge of the rich and powerful.

What we are seeing in American Christianity is a healthy pruning away of the mutant and neutered forms of it that are easily abandoned when they become culturally inconvenient or unfashionable. As Russell Moore observes, “A Christianity that reflects its culture, whether that culture is Smith College or NASCAR, only lasts as long as it is useful to its host. That’s because it’s, at root, idolatry, and people turn from their idols when they stop sending rain.”

What It Means to Follow Christ

Rather than being a cause for alarm, the dying-away of cultural Christianity should be seen as an opportunity. It used to be too easy to be a Christian in America; so easy that one could adopt the label simply by being born in this “Christian nation” and going to church once or twice a year (if that), in between relentless attempts to swindle the stock market, accumulate beach properties, and build an empire of wealth and acclaim.

To be sure, and especially in contrast to much of the rest of the world, it’s still easy to be a Christian in America. But it is becoming less easy and certainly less normal. And that’s a good thing. Christianity, founded on belief in the supernatural resurrection of a first-century Jewish carpenter, has been and always will be abnormal. Again, Russell Moore:

The Book of Acts, like the Gospels before it, shows us that Christianity thrives when it is, as Kierkegaard put it, a sign of contradiction. Only a strange gospel can differentiate itself from the worlds we construct. But the strange, freakish, foolish old gospel is what God uses to save people and to resurrect churches (1 Cor. 1:20–22).

Following Christ is not one’s golden ticket to a white-picket-fence American dream. It’s an invitation to die, to pick up a cross. Christians are those who give themselves away in love and sacrifice to advance a kingdom that is not of this world (John 18:36).

As C. S. Lewis writes: “I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.” (Quote source with footnotes for author quotes above at this link.)

I’ll end this post with the words of Jesus found in Matthew 11:28-30: Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls . . .

For my yoke is easy . . .

And my burden . . .

Is light . . . .

YouTube Video: “Come to Me” by Jenn Johnson | The Loft Sessions:

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

 

The Persistence of Memory

One of Salvador Dali’s most famous paintings is titled, The Persistence of Memory.” It was completed in August 1931 when Dali was 27; and at the time he was “penniless and outcast from the community which had inspired much of his art.” He and his wife, Gala, “settled in a small fishing settlement, Port Lligat, buying a single-room fishing shack,” and it was there that he painted “The Persistence of Memory.” (Quote source here.) Here’s a brief background on the painting:

“The Persistence of Memory” by Salvador Dali, Museum of Modern Art, New York City

However we interpret this small 9 ½ X 13 inch (24.1 x 33cm) work, its influence on the wider art world cannot be in doubt.

First shown in Paris at Galerie Pierre Colle in 1931, the painting was also exhibited at the first Surrealist exhibition in the United States, at the Wadsworth Athenaeum, Hartford, Connecticut, in 1931, then, in 1934, by Julien Levy in New York.

Dalí and his wife Gala accompanied the painting over to New York in 1934, travelling third class with the financial assistance of Pablo Picasso.

By this point Dalí had been formally expelled from the Surrealists, partly due to his political opinions, but also thanks to his enthusiasm for American popular culture, something… his fellow European Surrealists disdained.

The irony remains that, in coming to America with his most famous painting, Dalí became the moment’s most famous artist…. “The image of the famous soft watches had been widely diffused–and caricatured–to the point where it had acquired a cult status by the time it was acquired by the Museum of Modern Art in New York [in 1934].” (Quote source, Robert Radford, lecturer, writer and exhibition curator who taught Art History for many years at Winchester School of Art, University of Southampton.)

An anonymous donor passed “The Persistence of Memory” on to MoMA [in 1934], where it remains to this day. “It was there that Dalí gave a lecture in which he reportedly said that the public could rest content with their difficulty in understanding the work, since the artist himself did not know what it meant either.” (Quote source: Robert Radford.)

Though, of course, one meaning is plain: the painting’s success meant that Dalí’s stardom was assured, and the painting’s place, as the acme of Surrealism, was, unlike the painting’s time pieces, equally concrete. (Quote source here.)

For all of the analysis taking place over the years regarding Dali’s most famous painting, I find it amusing that the artist, himself, admitted that he did not know what it meant. Yet, the persistence of memory in our own lives can and does have both negative and positive effects on our lives.

In an article published in 2011 titled, Do We Remember Bad Times Better Than Good?” by Colleen Cancio, contributor on HowStuffWorks.com, she writes:

Ask people where they were when the Twin Towers fell on September 11, 2001, and it’s a good bet that they’ll remember without hesitating. They may even recall specific details about the day, such as exactly what they were doing just before they saw the news reports of the terror attacks. This remarkable ability to conjure up even the smallest details surrounding a tragic or traumatic event is directly related to the intensity of the event itself. In other words, the more emotionally disturbing the experience is to us, the more likely we are to commit it to memory [source: Science Daily]. This is because memory and emotion are inextricably linked in the human brain.

But while people seem to easily remember tragic events and the seemingly insignificant details associated with them, many would be hard-pressed to recall the minutia of their happy times. For example, mothers often have trouble summoning the specifics of their children’s birth, but are amazingly accurate in recounting the duration and intensity of the labor process. It begs the question, “Do we remember the bad times better than the good?”….

In modern society, very bad memories can be psychologically debilitating. For example, war veterans sometimes experience flashbacks of being in combat zones when they return to civilian life, which can be extremely distressing.

“Strong memories often have an emotional impact that can be more pervasive, even causing physical symptoms, especially when it comes to traumatic events,” explains Tanya Clausen, clinical social worker in Washington, D.C. “Unfortunately, some people re-experience the memories of traumatizing events for years after the fact. It’s common to experience a biological response when these memories play out, including heart palpitations and shortness of breath.”

The good news is that people can also benefit from reliving positive experiences, such as remembering the overall sense of well-being that comes from being deeply happy. This is because good memories can cause the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with feelings of pleasure [source: Lang]. Clausen suggests that happy memories can also positively affect our mental health and can be used therapeutically to reduce the symptoms associated with bad memories….

Some people seem to have an uncanny ability to downplay negative experiences in their lives and magnify the positive ones. We all have that friend who, when life offers lemons, manages to make lemonade. Are these individuals also remembering the good times more than the bad? If so, is this skill a matter of mind over memory? Or is it that some people are hard-wired with a more pessimistic perspective? According to Clausen, the ability to minimize the negative impact of memories takes a learned and conscious effort. (Quote source here.)

In an article published in 2016 titled, Why Are Bad Memories Good? Here’s How You Can Get Something Positive Out of Painful Recollections,” by Marissa Higgins, a writer based in Washington, DC, she writes:

Let’s be real: I know no one likes to dwell on the bad, painful parts of our lives. But can bad memories actually be good? Generally speaking, the hard parts are the aspects of our lives we try to bury deep and “move on” from; however, a lot of research shows that there’s much to be gained from digging deep and understanding our bad memories. Here’s how you can get something positive about some of your more painful recollections, according to science.

Basically, our brains (and bodies) process information in a way that hinges on our survival: if we have a negative experience, or an experience that, for example, brings us a great amount of fear, our body begins to teach itself to be wary of the same event happening again. While this is useful if you’re, say, hunting in the wilderness and need to be super in-tune with nature, “Hunger Games”style, it is not so useful if a memory you’re repressing is preventing you from experiencing an otherwise enjoyable part of your everyday life.

But still—if you could just get rid of the bad memory, you would, right? That is, of course, way easier said than done. While it may feel easier to just repress hard things or try to push them out of our minds, reflecting back on, processing, and learning from bad memories is how we develop and grow as people.

It’s important, too, to draw a clear line between reflecting back on painful memories in an attempt to process and learn from them, and experiencing reoccurring memories which negatively impact your life….

At this point the Higgins states five ways of working through a bad memory which are available at this link. I will mentioned three of the five ways below:

(1) You Gain Understanding: Sometimes our bad memories stem from places that we don’t fully understand. Either we don’t entirely remember what happened, or we understand the logistics, but not the why behind it. Having unanswered questions, or have information that feels unsatisfactory, can feel incredibly frustrating, especially when something negatively impacted your life or the life of someone you care about. When bad memories take control over our minds and hearts, it can make you feel helpless and vulnerable. That’s why it’s important to get to the root of your hard memories and therein, the root of the issue. Sometimes, though it can be really tough, the only way out is through.

(2) You Learn Some Important Lessons: That’s right: Confronting hard memories may help you learn some pretty important life lessons. I know it sounds cliche, but we’re all basically shaped by our past experiences, including the negative ones. Whether your bad memories are rooted in decisions you actively made, or things that happened to you over which you may not have had much control, it’s important to work through them and process them fully. This allows you to have a distance from the situation and learn from it; either in terms of how you’ll handle a situation differently in the future, or by seeing the strength you have through surviving a traumatic event you were a victim of. No matter the scenario, there is always room to recognize growth anlearn from an experience.

(3) You Can Confront People From Your Past: Sometimes we come to the realization that we simply can’t make sense of our bad memories on our own—that there’s some missing information we simply aren’t privy to—and in order to feel a piece of mind, we reach out to others. Now, it’s important to remember that just because you want to talk about something doesn’t mean other people are ready (or will ever be ready) to, so there’s a point in which you need to work on finding closure in any way you can, even if it isn’t the ideal circumstance. However, if you can get in touch with someone and they’re OK talking to you about what’s been on your mind, it can be really beneficial to hear someone else’s perspective and their version of what happened. This may reinforce what you thought and help you feel valid in your feelings, or may lighten the burden of what you perceived was on your shoulders.

So, there you have it! Working through bad or traumatic memories isn’t going to be easy, but overall, it’s definitely going to be worth it. We all only have one life, and it’s important to understand what goes in our lives as fully and richly as possible, so we can better understand ourselves and our decisions, hopefully leading us to more health and happiness in the long-run. (Quote source here.)

In a devotion published in 2017 titled, Overcoming Bad Memories,” posted by Glenda Rhodeman, she writes:

“Do not…ponder the things of the past.”Isaiah 43:18 NAS

To overcome bad memories you must: (1) Reframe them. Looking back, Joseph said, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20 NAS). (2) Reject them. The next time a bad memory resurfaces, refuse to entertain it. “Do not…ponder the things of the past.” (3) Refocus your thoughts. “Forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead” (Philippians 3:13 NKJV). You say, “I can’t help remembering.” If you can recall your troubles, you can recall your blessings. The most effective way to overcome bad memories–is to replace them with good ones! And here’s some good news: Every promise God gives you contains the power to fulfill it. So meditate on these words and personalize them: “Fear not…do not feel humiliated, for you will not be disgraced; but you will forget the shame of your youth” (Isaiah 54:4 NAS).

“The former things shall not be remembered or come into mind… be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create” (Isaiah 65:17-18 AMP). Notice the word “create.” God can create beauty out of ashes and order out of chaos–but it doesn’t happen overnight. You’ll do a lot of growing and forgiving along the way.  In some cases you’ll forgive others; in other cases you’ll forgive yourself. You say, “But all those promises are from the Old Testament!” Yes, but the Bible says, “He carries out and fulfills all of [His] promises, no matter how many… there are” (2 Corinthians 1:20 TLB). So bring your bad memories to God and let Him heal them.

This message taken from: Daily Devotional–The Word For You Today (Quote source here.)

All of us have some bad memories caused by ourselves or by others or a combination of the two as in the case of divorce, but it is what we do with the bad memories that is most important. As the devotion above states at the end–“Bring your bad memories to God and let Him heal them.” After all, God stated in Isaiah 43:18-19: Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?

I am making a way in the wilderness . . .

And streams . . .

In the wasteland . . . .

YouTube Video: “All Things New” by Hillsong Worship:

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Backstage: God Behind the Scenes

In the world of theater, there is a front-stage where the performance takes place and the audience sees and experiences what is going on, and there is a backstage that is hidden from the audience. Merriam-Webster defines backstage as follows:

1of, relating to, or occurring in the area behind the stage and especially in the dressing rooms

2of or relating to the private lives of theater people; (adverb) in private, secretly

3of or relating to the inner working or operation (as of an organization) (Quote source here.)

This hidden world known as the backstage actually goes on in our everyday lives, too, and not just in a theater production. In a devotional book titled, Experience the Power of God’s Names (2017), by Dr. Tony Evans, pastor, speaker, author, widely syndicated radio and television broadcaster, and founder of “The Urban Alternative,” he states the following on page 85:

When you attend a concert or a theater production, you don’t usually get to see what’s going on behind the scenes. You don’t see the backstage crew or all the rehearsals leading up to the show or the countless hours of preparation that have gone into the event.

It’s kind of like that with God’s work in our lives. We tend to live in the moment, noticing only what’s currently happening, failing to notice God working behind the scenes. We miss all the effort and planning He’s put in, and we are unable to see Him intervening and redirecting on our behalf. Because of this, we lack understanding of all that God has rescued us from and the countless ways He has redeemed us. Still, He continues to work wonders in our lives.

God formed each of us for a purpose, and the best way to live out that purpose is to take refuge in His presence. He promises that none who take refuge in Him will be lost, and He will always redeem us day after day despite our lack of awareness and acknowledgment. He is Jehovah Goelekh, the Lord our Redeemer, our ever-present help in times of trouble. In His redeeming strength, He works daily wonders in our lives and hearts. (Quote source: “Experience the Power of God’s Names,” page 85.)

In a devotion published in Our Daily Bread titled, Behind the Scenes,” by David C. McCasland, author at Our Daily Bread from 1995-2018, he writes:

While learning to use a new computer, I was troubled by a faint clicking sound that indicated it was working even though nothing was happening on the screen. The manufacturer’s representative on the help hotline said, “No problem. The computer is probably running an application you can’t see and is working in the background.”

As I thought about the phrase “working in the background,” I began to realize how visually oriented I am in my relationship with God. If I can’t see something, I assume it’s not happening. But that’s not the way God operates.

I see a striking example of God’s “behind the scenes” work in the conversion of Saul. While Christians were suffering under his ruthless persecution (Acts 8:1-3), God was preparing to transform him into a dynamic representative of Christ (9:15).

Is there a situation in your life today where you cannot see God working? It may be that your circumstances are resisting every attempt at change. Perhaps someone you love is obstinately refusing to respond to God. Even though it may appear that nothing is happening, God is at work—behind the scenes, in the background, accomplishing His purpose.

In the drama of life, God is the director behind the scenes. (Quote source here.)

In an article titled, God’s Unseen But Unstoppable Work on Our Behalf,” by Ray Noah, Lead Pastor, Portland Christian Center, and Founder/CEO of Petros Network, he writes:

You may not see what God is up to, but he is up to good. He is fulfilling his purposes for his own glory, and he is working out the details of your life for your good. Don’t let circumstances tell you otherwise. You may be tempted to flee in fear and God’s enemies may be fighting mad—at you. But at the same time, God will be repurposing even the most unlikely sources, the Rahabs in your world, as instruments of faith.

Going Deep//Focus: Joshua 2:7-11

So the king’s men went looking for the spies along the road leading to the shallow crossings of the Jordan River. And as soon as the king’s men had left, the gate of Jericho was shut. Before the spies went to sleep that night, Rahab went up on the roof to talk with them. “I know the Lord has given you this land,” she told them. “We are all afraid of you. Everyone in the land is living in terror. For we have heard how the Lord made a dry path for you through the Red Sea when you left Egypt. And we know what you did to Sihon and Og, the two Amorite kings east of the Jordan River, whose people you completely destroyed. No wonder our hearts have melted in fear! No one has the courage to fight after hearing such things. For the Lord your God is the supreme God of the heavens above and the earth below.

God is always at work, even when we cannot see it. God is always fulfilling his glorious purposes, which includes perfecting everything that concerns you and me.

The Lord will perfect that which concerns me. (Psalm 138:8)

At times, God is working in visible, dramatic, undeniable ways. We will see an example of that very thing a few chapters later when the walls of the city of Jericho miraculously fall. Those kinds of stories are strategically placed throughout scripture to build our confidence in God. But between those faith stories, which are long stretches of times, God’s work is not so visible. He is not inactive, mind you; his work is just invisible. You see, most of the time God is behind the scenes, working in unseen ways, as is the case here in Joshua 2. The Israelite spies that Joshua sent out to size up Jericho have made their way into the city, but word has gotten out and now the authorities are looking for them. Their lives are at risk. They don’t see that God is at work—yet. For all they know, they’re toast!

Then Rehab rescues the day. Yes, Rahab—an idol worshiping, street walking, “lady of the night.” At great risk to her own life, and that of her family, she hides the spies and tricks the authorities, making it possible for the two deep cover Israelites to make it out alive. What the two spies didn’t know at the time was that God was working on their behalf by working on a prostitute, whom he would use in such a significant act of faith that her bravery would land her in God’s Great Hall of Faith. (Hebrews 11:30-31)

As she spoke with the spies, this lady of questionable character was laying down some unquestionable theology: the work of God on Israel’s behalf was striking fear in the hearts of Israel’s enemies. The mighty acts of deliverance forty years prior in Egypt and over the decades of Israel’s wandering out in the desert had been sending shock waves into the unseen realm, and the principalities and powers that opposed God, and everything of God, were quaking in their boots. God had been at work all along on Israel’s behalf, and they didn’t even know it.

What is interesting here is how the different actors respond. The enemies of God are fighting mad. The men of God are fleeing in fear. The woman of the night is responding in faith. And over it all, God is at work, fulfilling his purposes and perfecting everything that concerns his people—redeeming a prostitute, rescuing the spies, and redirecting the bounty hunters.

That is true for you too. You may not see what God is up to, but he is up to good. He is fulfilling his purposes for his own glory, and he is working out the details of your life for your good. Don’t let circumstances tell you otherwise. You may be tempted to flee in fear and God’s enemies may be fighting mad—at you. But at the same time, God will be repurposing even the most unlikely sources, the Rahabs in your world, as instruments of faith.

What you see isn’t all that is going on. Never forget that. And learn to trust God’s unseen but unstoppable work on your behalf.

Going Deeper With God: You may be facing forces today that are out to cause you harm. Take courage: God is also aligning a Rahab or two to work on your behalf. Take a moment to thank God for the good he is bringing about, even if you don’t see it yet. (Quote source here.)

As the story of Rahab shows us, we can never really know what God is doing and who He is using “behind the scenes” in our own lives and circumstances until God’s timing is right and He decides to brings them out into the open.

There is always a “bigger story” going on behind the scenes in our lives. In the story of Rahab, it doesn’t end with her hiding of those two spies, and the destruction of Jericho that only she and her family survived. She ended up marrying one of those two spies, Salmon, and she gave birth to Boaz, who is found in the story of the Book of Ruth in the Old Testament, and Rahab shows up again in the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1:5.

In a list of 30 Life Principles found in Dr. Charles Stanley’sLife’s Principles Bible,” Life Principle #14 is “God acts on the behalf of those who wait for him.” And waiting is a part of God’s working behind the scenes of our lives. Dr. Stanley states the following regarding Life Principle #14:

In this hurry-up world, waiting for anything can cause us to lose our temper and our good sense—more frequently than we care to admit! No one enjoys waiting in line. We don’t like waiting at stoplights. We don’t like waiting for dinner. We don’t even like waiting for good things, like for fish to bite. We want what we want right now.

Yet the Word of God insists that we learn some of life’s greatest lessons while we wait. Waiting rooms can be hard classrooms, but God promises vast rewards to those who wait for Him. God plans to use the long pauses in our lives for our blessing . . . if we let Him.

Why does God so often ask us to wait? Let’s consider five major rewards of waiting.

1. We discover God’s will.

“The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him” (Lam. 3:25). God does not allow delays in giving us the desire of our heart to lead us along. Rather, we know that even as we wait, He is working all things together for our good and His glory (Rom. 8:28). Yet, as we eagerly anticipate His provision, we must keep our eyes on Him—listening for His voice and direction. In that way, we learn to do His will and our relationship with Him grows deeper.

2. We receive supernatural energy and strength.

God invites us to claim His promise in Isaiah 40:29–31: “He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power. Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly, yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.”

Just as God deepens our relationship with Him through times of waiting, He also increases our energy, faith, endurance, and strength. We grow in the likeness of Christ and all of His attributes—including in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22, 23). Surely, waiting on Him is never wasted time!

3. We win battles.

“Wait for the Lord, and He will save you” (Prov. 20:22). How wonderful to see the Lord rescue us and bless us with His favor. When we do things our way, in our own hurried time, we end up defeated. But when we wait on God and obey His commands, He ensures our victory and keeps us from foolish and precipitous acts.

4. We see the fulfillment of our faith.

“Those who hopefully wait for Me will not be put to shame” (Is. 49:23). In the end, we’ll never feel embarrassed for waiting on God; it’s always the smart thing to do. Although others may encourage us to forge ahead instead of waiting on the Lord, we must remember that He is the only One who can truly help us and that He will never let us down. And when we trust Him and obey, surely we will see the fulfillment of every hope we’ve entrusted to Him.

5. We see God working on our behalf.

Isaiah spoke of the God “who acts on behalf of the one who waits for Him” (Is. 64:4). What a wonderful promise! While we actively wait, He actively works. Think of this: every single day, we have the greatest Mediator working on our behalf. Even when things seem to go wrong, He is making sure that everything works according to His purpose.

Although waiting can be one of the more difficult things in the Christian life, it is not wasted time. God gives us instructions through periods of actively waiting. He may change our circumstances while we wait. He keeps us in step with Himself and prepares us for His answers. He uses the time to sift our motives and strengthen our faith. And when we choose to wait, God rewards us with blessings both large and unexpected.

Think of waiting on God as something like planting a garden. You put a seed under the soil and water it. And then you wait.

And wait.

And wait.

After the sun and rain nourish the earth, the seeds begin to grow; and one day, finally, you begin to see evidence of what you’ve planted. Now, suppose you had grown impatient and dug up your seeds because nothing seemed to be happening? You would have ruined your garden.

Remember, some fruit takes a long time to mature—and the One who wants to bring it forth in our lives knows exactly how long we need to wait. Therefore, trust Him and be patient, because He is producing the most wonderful and precious fruit that you could ever hope for or imagine. (Quote source: Adapted from The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible ©2009, at this link.)

I’ll end this post with the words from a short article titled, God is at Work,” by Kevin B. Bullard, author and one-half of the duo behind Marriage Works! Inc, (his wife, Cetelia, is the other half).

Esther is a book of the Bible that never mentions God’s name. But, don’t think believe for a minute that he was uninvolved.  He was hard at work behind the scenes.

By the time the book ends, we’re left with a trail of twists & turns, deceptions, betrayals, surprises, hesitations, and ultimately, God’s will being done.

Talking about God may be off-limits in your house, making him seem uninvolved. Or perhaps your spouse is cool to the idea of you attending or giving offerings to “that church.” Maybe you’ve been praying to God for your spouse’s decision to follow Christ, yet it appears that all the forces of darkness are making life tougher because of your request. Maybe you’ve been crying out to God, and it seems like he’s far away from you and your marriage.

There’s hope in Jesus’s words,My Father is always working, and so am I.”

Take courage. God is at work. (Quote source here.)

So, if you’re still waiting and wondering, don’t give up . . . ever (as in Luke 18:1as behind the scenes . . .

God is still working . . .

Making the impossible . . .

Possible . . . .

YouTube Video: “The God of the Impossible” by Lincoln Brewster:

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Bold Love

Back in 1997 when I was still living and working in Miami, Florida, I bought a book titled, Bold Love,” by Dr. Dan B. Allender and Dr. Tremper Longman III. Dr. Allender is a prominent Christian therapist, author, professor, and speaker focusing on sexual abuse and trauma recovery, as well as marriage and family, and Christian Sabbath; and he is also one of the founders and former President of The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology (quote source here). Dr. Longman is an Old Testament scholar, theologian, professor and author of several books, including 2009 ECPA Christian Book Award winner Dictionary of the Old Testament: Wisdom, Poetry & Writings (quote source here).

Originally published in 1992, Bold Love,” is a book about genuine love, and what it means. A brief description of the book on Amazon.com states the following:

We’ve come to view love as being “nice,” yet the kind of love modeled by Jesus Christ has nothing to do with manners or unconditional acceptance. Rather, it is disruptive, courageous, and socially unacceptable.

In “Bold Love,” Dr. Dan Allender and Dr. Tremper Longman III draw out the aggressive, unrelenting, passionate power of genuine love. Far from helping you “get along” with others, “Bold Love” introduces the outlandish possibility of making a significant, life-changing impact on family, friends, coworkers–even your enemies.

Learn more about forgiveness, maturity, and seeing others through Jesus’ eyes. (Quote source here.)

In one review of the book on Amazon.com written and published on January 29, 2019, Hillary Farris, Ph.D. states the following:

It’s about time I reviewed this book; I’ve depended upon it ever since it was first published in 1992. I’m on my third or fourth copy because I’ve given away each in turn, over the years. I just recommended it again today. My problem in trying to review it is to single out why I keep buying it to re-read and how it could help you and people you know that you care about even though they have caused harm to you in the past. You may say – “Wait I’m not sure I still care about such people – I’ve shut them out of my life – it’s how I survive.” I would still offer this book to you to take up and read and ponder what it offers – especially if on occasion you must interact with those who have hurt you in the past. If you are already relying on your identity in Christ and the freedom you have found, then this book could empower you to seek that same reconciliation and restorative grace for others in your life who need it too. It may be that you are like me – I was to be a kind of New Testament “Abraham” for my family – stepping out in unfamiliar territory and pursuing them for Christ with God’s leading and the godly wisdom is this book. It happened – a miracle of bold love. (Quote source here.)

Back in 1997 when I purchased that book, I ended up giving it to a friend I had briefly gotten to know who took ill suddenly and found himself in the hospital. He was a young Hispanic guy in his early 30’s, and he was really scared as he was afraid he had AIDS. He struggled with his lifestyle and for the most part the church I met him at was not overly responsive to him due to that fact. I don’t remember all of the details now as it’s been almost 22 years ago, but when I went to visit him in the hospital, I discovered that hardly anyone had been there to visit him, and I was the only one from church congregation who came to see him at the time I was there.

I didn’t know him well enough to know if he liked to read, but I had purchased “Bold Love” recently and I really liked the book. I decided to give it to him as I thought it might help him get his mind off of his health situation if only for a little while, but I was distressed to find out that hardly anyone was visiting him once I got there. I ended up sitting with him for as long as I could before hospital staff needed to do something and I had to leave. We talked for a while and I ached for him in his intense loneliness (and he was very sick) and in his circumstances regarding his AIDS diagnosis.

I remember hearing someone make a comment about him at church who stated that it was his “lifestyle choice” that landed him in the hospital, and it was said rather coldly. Sometimes I am stunned by how unfeeling we can be to each other in church settings, and I felt that way when I heard this woman who said that about him. When I went back again to visit him, he had been released from hospital but because I wasn’t family they would not tell me where he ended up. I never did find out what happened to him.

I was haunted by the thought of where was the outpouring of genuine Christian love for this guy when he so desperately needed it? His view of the church at that point was very dim, and unfortunately, understandably so. It is a side to the church that I have never fully understood, but then the church is made up of all kinds of people from all walks of life. However, it is that very fact that should draw those like this young Hispanic guy into a fellowship of genuine love and acceptance especially at his very acute time of need. Instead, he was met with scorn. He struggled, but who took the time to understand? He might even have been dying at that time (I don’t know), and who cared?

I can’t help but believe that if Jesus was walking on this earth today, He would have been in that hospital room. If we as the church are Jesus’ representatives to the world today, why don’t we care more about others outside of our Christian circles? I realize that is a general statement as each individual is different in how they respond to various situations that come up in life, but where is our compassion? Where is our love? It’s not supposed to be hidden inside church walls. It’s meant to be expressed with the world-at-large, even a young Hispanic guy dying from AIDS in a hospital room.

Let’s take that closer to home–where is our compassion in our everyday world–what about the people we encounter shopping in Walmart or Aldi or even Goodwill? How about at McDonald’s or Burger King or Wendy’s? And how about every place we go? And where is our compassion when someone is trying to take our job away from us (that’s been a tough one for me personally)? And how do we handle the abuse by others who just don’t care (too often it comes from within the church but there is plenty of it in the world, too)?

I don’t say that to make anyone feel guilty or angry. We all tend to be way too judgmental about others we don’t know (and that goes beyond Christians, too, to the general population). Is a young guy dying of AIDS important to Jesus? Of course he is. So why do we look the other way or make statements about his lifestyle choice as being a reason to shun him when he is sick and dying? God have mercy on us for even thinking that is okay.

We need a whole lot more bold love in this world. Not “nice” love; not “getting along” love, not “fake” love. We need real love, bold love, and there’s not very much of it out there anymore. Nobody is perfect, but we should at least try more then we do.

Getting back to the book, “Bold Love,” I found a website with some notes on the book that shows in brief statements from pages in the book what it is about. Here are those notes taken from LeadWithYourLife.com. The page numbers from the paperback edition of the book are listed after each note:

Book Summary:

We’ve come to view love as being “nice,” yet the kind of love modeled by Jesus Christ has nothing to do with manners or unconditional acceptance. Rather, it is disruptive, courageous, and socially unacceptable.

In Bold Love, Dr. Dan Allender and Dr. Tremper Longman III draw out the aggressive, unrelenting, passionate power of genuine love. Far from helping you “get along” with others, Bold Love introduces the outlandish possibility of making a significant, life-changing impact on family, friends, coworkers—even your enemies.

Book Notes:

God’s consuming preoccupation is to destroy evil through the power of sheer goodness made known through His perfectly righteous love. (11)

We are to be armed for battle with a higher purpose than present enjoyment, a determined confidence that God is good no matter what happens, and the passion of a love bold enough to take on the real enemy. (11)

We must discover God’s power to care about others when our heart is breaking; we must find God’s love to reach out to lost people even though our pain continues. We must learn to live well in a community of people who are sometimes wonderful, too often unspeakably evil, and usually somewhere in between. (12)

I do not believe forgiveness involves forgetting the past and ignoring the damage of past or present harm. (16)

Bold love is courageously setting aside our personal agenda to move humbly into the world of others with their well-being in view, willing to risk further pain in our souls, in order to be an aroma of life to some and an aroma of death to others. (19)

Love is not possible, at least for long, without the healing work of forgiveness. (28)

Forgiving love is the inconceivable, unexplainable pursuit of the offender by the offended for the sake of restored relationship with God, self, and others. (29)

I will not live with purpose and joy unless I love; I will not be able to love unless I forgive; and I will not forgive unless my hatred is continually melted by the searing truth and grace of the gospel. True biblical forgiveness is a glorious gift for both the offender and the offended. (30)

Love is unquestionably the highest calling a person can pursue. (30)

It is wonderfully simple and grand—all of life’s requirements summarized by the admonition to love God and your neighbor. (31)

Love is a sacrifice for the undeserving that opens the door to restoration of relationship with the Father, with others, and with ourselves. (32)

Love is the measure by which my life will be assessed. (32)

Most people presume the desire to love is a natural human sentiment, but love is actually the exception, the extraordinary, and the life-altering surprise. (34)

The essence of Christianity is God’s tenacious loyalty to redeem His people from the just penalty for sin. (37)

Given the reality of sin, love and forgiveness are inextricably bound together. (42)

The extent to which someone truly loves will be positively correlated to the degree the person is stunned and silenced by the wonder that his huge debt has been canceled. Perhaps another way to say it is that gratitude for forgiveness is the foundation for other-centered love. (43)

Self-protection is the self-centered commitment to act without courage, compassion, boldness, and tenderness for the sake of the other. (58)

It is not life’s or God’s seeming unfairness that is so difficult to bear (though it is painful), it is the unbearable fact that in light of the radical injustice, God calls us to love, to turn the cheek, to offer our coats, and to carry the burden of our abusers one more mile. (61)

If one brings to bear the reality of what our sin deserves—separation from life and love—Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross becomes the mystical intersection of two powerful, turbulent rivers—wrath and mercy. (81)

The premise of this chapter is that forgiveness becomes more necessary to the degree the damage of living in a fallen world is faced. (88)

The war against us is disguised behind the humdrum monotony and imperceptible abuses of daily living, so that a call to arms is ignored as silly adventuring or the paranoid delusions of negativism. (92)

In any case, destructive lust involves the heart of a thief whose passion is to be satisfied, not the heart of a lover whose desire is to give. (104)

But the Cross, like a brilliant conundrum, was, in fact, the height of glory. What appeared to be the death of God, the shaming of the prized only begotten Son of the Most High, and the dissolution of the Trinity was actually the most glorious interplay of justice and mercy, worked out in perfect harmony by all members of the Godhead. (121)

Our weapons are prayer, faith, and bold love. (130)

Faith, then, is an assertion of trust, even when our circumstances point in a direction that seems to call into question God’s goodness. (132)

If I do not anticipate the regularity and tragedy of sin, I unavoidably come to believe this world is my home. (140)

I am prepared for battle when my desire to love is simply stronger (even by a molecule) than my desire to snuff out the flame of mercy that God has graciously intruded into my heart. (156)

To forgive another means to cancel the debt of what is owed in order to provide a door of opportunity for repentance and restoration of the broken relationship. (160)

Biblical forgiveness is never unconditional and one-sided. It is not letting others go off scot-free, “forgiven,” and enabled to do harm again without any consequences. Instead, forgiveness is an invitation to reconciliation, not the blind, cheap granting of it. (162)

Forgiveness involves a heart that cancels the debt but does not lend new money until repentance occurs. (162)

The offender must repent if true intimacy and reconciliation are ever to take place. (163)

Hope for heaven (that is, for beauty restored) is deeply embedded in all human relationships. (171)

We cancel the debt in order to invite the offender to return from the pigpen and join us at the banquet table. (181)

Bold love is the tenacious, irrepressible energy to do good in order to surprise and conquer evil. (185)

The choice to pursue and embrace goodness toward others must be motivated by a passion to overcome evil and destroy it from its roots. (204)

In many cases, bold love will unnerve, offend, hurt, disturb, and compel the one who is loved to deal with the internal disease that is robbing him and others of joy. (208)

In essence—bold love is a unique blend of invitation and warning—a pull toward life and push away from death. (211)

The magnificence of bold love is that in its brokenness, surprise, and simplicity, it is a human gift that could come only from heaven. Bold love provokes disruption that leads to solace, repentance that leads to rest; but far more, it invites both giver and receiver to stare into the eyes of mystery, the wonder of the meaning of the Cross. (309) (Quote source here.)

“Our weapons are prayer, faith, and bold love” (page 130). First Corinthians 13 opens with these three verses: If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.”

So let’s gain something . . .

Let’s gain . . .

Bold love . . . .

YouTube Video: “Others” by Israel Houghton:

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Encountering Truth

I found a book the other day in the “book” area of a Dollar Tree store titled, Encountering Truth: Meeting God in Everyday Life (2015), by Pope Francis, head of the Catholic Church and sovereign of the Vatican City State. As I looked over the Table of Contents (8 pages long composed of 186 chaptershomilies–with each homily one to two pages long), it looked quite intriguing, and for the price of a dollar, I couldn’t resist buying it. As a note, I am not Catholic. I was raised in a nondenominational church that primarily hired Baptist ministers.

Encountering Truth is actually a collection of highlights from brief homilies given by Pope Francis at seven in the morning in the little Vatican chapel of Saint Martha “in front of an audience that is always different: gardeners, office workers, nuns and priests, as well as a growing group of journalists” (quote source: inside front cover of the hardback edition of the book). This particular set of homilies is taken from March 2013 through May 2014.

Homily #86 in the book was given on September 3, 2013, and is titled, “Jesus doesn’t need armies; his power is humility.” It states the following (Scripture notes for this homily are I Thessalonians 5:1-6, 9-11; Luke 4:31-37):

The Christian identity is “an identity of light, not of darkness.” Saint Paul addresses these words to the first disciples of Jesus: “Brothers, you are not in darkness, you are all sons of the light.” This light “was not welcomed by the world.” But Jesus came to save use from sin; “his light saves us from the darkness.” On the other hand, “one may think that it is possible” to have the light “with all sort of scientific things and things of humanity.”

“One may understand everything, have knowledge about everything and this light on things. But the light of Jesus is something else. It is not a light of ignorance, no! It is a light of wisdom and understanding, but it is something other than the light of the world. The light that the world offers us is an artificial light, which may be bright–that of Jesus is brighter–bright like fireworks, like a camera flash. But the light of Jesus is a meek light, it is a tranquil light, it is a light of peace, it is like the light of Christmas Eve: without conceit.”

It is a light that “offers itself and gives peace.” The light of Jesus “doesn’t put on a show; it is a light that comes into the heart.” Nonetheless, “it is true that the devil often comes disguised as an angel of light. He likes to imitate Jesus and makes himself look good; he speaks softly to us, as he spoke to Jesus after he fasted in the desert.” This is why we have to ask the Lord “for the wisdom of discernment in order to know when it is Jesus who is giving the light and when it is the devil, disguised as an angel of light.”

“How many believe they are living in the light and are in the darkness, but they don’t realize it. What is it like, the light that Jesus offers to us? We can know the light of Jesus, because it is a humble light. It is not a light that imposes itself; it is humble. It is a meek light, with the strength of meekness. It is a light that speaks to the heart, and it is also a light the offers you the Cross. If in our light on the inside we are meek, we hear the voice of Jesus in our hearts and look at the Cross without fear: that is the light of Jesus.”

But if, instead, a light comes that “makes you prideful,” a light that “leads you to look down your nose at others,” to despise others, “to arrogance, that is not the light of Jesus; it is the light of the devil, disguised as Jesus, as an angel of light.” And the way to distinguish the true light from the false is this: “Wherever Jesus is there is humility, meekness, love, and the Cross. We will never find a Jesus who is not humble, meek, without love, and without the Cross.” So we have to follow after him, “without fear,” follow his light because the light of Jesus “is beautiful and does so much good.” In today’s Gospel (Luke 4:31-37), Jesus drives out the devil, and the people are seized with fear at a word that can drive out the unclean spirits.

“Jesus doesn’t need an army to drive out demons, he doesn’t need arrogance, he doesn’t need power, pride. ‘What word can this be that commands the unclean spirits with authority and power and they go?’ This is a humble word, meek, with so much love; it is a word that accompanies us in the moments of the Cross. Let’s ask the Lord to give us today the grace of his light and to teach use to distinguish when the light is from him and when it is an artificial light, made by the enemy, to deceive us.” (Quote source, “Encountering Truth,” pp. 164-165).

In Homily #96 given on September 16, 2013, titled, “Love for the people and humility, necessary virtues for leaders,” the following is stated (Scripture notes for this homily are I Timothy 2:1-8; Luke 7:1-10):

The Gospel of the centurion who asks with humility and trust for the healing of his servant and the letter of Saint Paul to Timothy with the call to pray for rulers offer the occasion for a “reflection on how authorities provide service.” The one who governs “must love his people,” because “a governor who does not love cannot govern; at the most he can discipline, bring a bit of order, but not govern.” This reminds us of David, “how he loved his people,” so much that after the sin of conducting the census he tells the Lord to punish not the people but him. So “the two virtues of a governor” are love for the people and humility.

“One cannot govern without love for the people and without humility! And every man, every woman who must take possession of a government post, must ask himself these two questions: Do I love my people, to serve them better? Am I humble, and do I listen to all the others, the different opinions, to choose the best way? If he does not ask himself these questions, his government will not be good. The governor, man or woman, who loves his people is a humble man or woman.”

One the other hand, Saint Paul urges us to lift up prayers “for kings and for all in authority, so that we may lead a calm and tranquil life.” Politics cannot be ignored. “None of us can say: ‘But I don’t have anything to do with this, they’re in charge.’ No, no, I am responsible for their governance, and I must do the best I can so that they govern well, and I must do the best I can by participating in politics as I am able. Politics–as the social doctrine of the Church says–is one of the highest forms of charity, because it is serving the common good. I cannot wash my hands; we all have to give something!”

There is a habit of saying only bad things about politicians and chattering about “things that are not going well. And you listen to the television report and they hammer away, hammer away; you read the newspaper and they hammer away . . . Always the bad, always against! The governor may be a sinner, as David was, but I must collaborate by contributing my opinion, with my words, and even with my correction,” because all of us “must participate in the common good”! And if “many times we have heard ‘a good Catholic should not get mixed up in politics,’ this is not true, this is not a good path.”

“A good Catholic gets mixed up in politics, offering the best of himself, so that the governor can govern. But what is the best thing that we can offer to governors? Prayer! This is what Paul says: ‘Pray for all men and for the king and for all those who are in power.’ ‘But, Father, he’s a bad person, he should go to hell.’ ‘Pray for him, pray for her, that he may govern well, that he may love his people, that he may serve his people, that he may be humble!’ A Christian who does not pray for the leaders is not a good Christian! ‘But Father, how can I pray for this one? This guy’s no good.’ ‘Pray that he may convert!’ But pray. And it’s not me saying this, Saint Paul says it, the Word of God.”

So, “let’s give the best of ourselves–ideas, suggestions–the best, but above all the best is prayer. Let’s pray for our leaders, that they may govern us well, that they may lead our country, our nation forward and also the world, that there may be peace and the common good.” (Quote source, “Encountering Truth,” pp. 182-183).

I must admit after reading this second homily above that it is not very often that I remember to pray for those who  govern over us at all levels in our society, from the local police to the President of the United States. I have always personally hated to enter the arena of politics as it is so divisive especially during election years. In fact, when I do remember to pray for those who govern over us, most of the time all I know to pray is “Your will be done” as I get too frustrated trying to get specific beyond that phrase. It’s not that I think the opposing sides are necessarily bad people but rather that it just seems that both sides kick in their heals to thwart what the other side is trying to do. For example, I could barely watch on TV the Kavanaugh hearing (for Supreme Court Justice) this past September because of the blistering attacks that came from both sides. It rankled my nerves to watch and listen to the vitriol coming out of both sides, and this is often what our political elections have become, too.

However, that homily reminded me that I need to “get over it” and pray regardless of my personal feelings about politics. I’ve never been one to bury my head in the sand in tough situations except when it comes to politics. But it is my responsibility to pray for those who govern over us if I consider myself to be Christian.

The last homily that I’ll share from the book is shorter. It is Homily #3 which was given on March 27, 2013, and goes along with the second homily above when we have a tendency to bad mouth others. In fact, it is titled, “Those who bad-mouth others are like Judas.” How’s that for a convicting title? The Scripture notes for this homily are found in Isaiah 50-4-9a and Matthew 26:14-25:

The betrayal of Jesus is compared with gossip, with speaking ill of others. This is the reflection on the Gospel that presents the betrayal of Judas for thirty denarii. One of the Twelve, one of Jesus’ friends, one of those closest to him speaks with the leaders of the priests, negotiating the price of the betrayal. “Jesus is like a piece of merchandise: he is sold.”

“This happens so many times in the marketplace of history as well . . . in the marketplace of our lives when we choose the thirty denarii and leave Jesus aside, we look at the Lord we have sold. And sometimes with our brothers, with our friends, with each other, we do almost the same thing.”

This happens “when we gossip about each other.” This is selling, and “the person about whom we are gossiping is a piece of merchandise, he become merchandise. And how easy it is for us to do this! It is the same thing that Judas did. I don’t know why, but there is a dark enjoyment in gossiping.” Sometimes we begin with good comments, but then suddenly we come to gossip and begin to “bad-mouth the other.” But “every time we gossip, every time we ‘bad-mouth’ the other we are doing the same thing that Judas did.” This, then, is the invitation: “Never speak ill of other persons.” When he betrayed Jesus, Judas “had his heart closed, he had no understanding, no love, no friendship.” So when we gossip we too have no love, no friendship, everything become merchandise: “We sell our friends, our relatives.”

“Let’s ask for forgiveness because when we do this to a friend, we do it to Jesus, because Jesus is in this friend. And let’s ask for the grace not to ‘bad-mouth’ anyone, not to gossip about anyone.” 

And if we realize that someone has shortcomings, let’s not get justice with our tongues, but let’s pray to the Lord for him, saying “Lord, help him!” (Quote source, “Encountering Truth,” page 3).

We might add to that last prayer, “Lord, help us, too!” As I read those words above–“When he betrayed Jesus, Judas ‘had his heart closed, he had no understanding, no love, no friendship.’ So when we gossip we too have no love, no friendship, everything become merchandise: ‘We sell our friends, our relatives'”those words send a chill down my spine. 

It is said that conviction is good for the soul, but it is only good if we have ears to hear and do something about it instead of excusing it off. It is a prideful heart that doesn’t listen when encountering truth. And who among us wants to be like Judas (and we all are like him from time to time).

I’ll end this post with the words of Paul from Ephesians 4:31-32Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted . . .

Forgiving one another . . .

As God in Christ . . .

Has forgiven you . . . .

YouTube Video: “Forgiveness” by TobyMac ft. Lecrae:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here