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Blogs I Follow

The Presidents Club

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The Surest Defense Against Evil

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The Triumph of Grace

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Contemplating God’s Sovereignty

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How Should We Then Live?

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Not a Timid Christianity

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Finishing the Race

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Because the Time is Near

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Revelation Song (YouTube)

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Where The Wind Blows

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Doing Great Things

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Recognizing a False Prophet

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The Power of Forgiveness

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Created for Relationships

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The Only Way I Know

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Faith: The Misunderstood Doctrine

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Our True Home Address

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‘Tis the Season . . . for L-O-V-E

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The Paris Terrorist Attack and the Problem of Evil

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Cherry Picking 101

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Love Sweet Love

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So Goes The Culture

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Idols of the Heart

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Divisions Are Not Always Bad

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The Resurrection of Jesus Christ

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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:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

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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:

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

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

Motives Matter

I got to thinking this morning about what motivates us to do whatever it is we do at any given point in time. Specifically, I was thinking about ulterior motives. Collin Dictionary defines ulterior motives as follows: (Noun): if you say that someone has an ulterior motive for doing something, you believe that they have a hidden reason for doing it, as in “Sheila had an ulterior motive for trying to help Stan.” (Quote source here.) And at YourDictionary.com the following definition is stated: “An alternative or extrinsic reason for doing something, especially when concealed or when differing from the stated or apparent reason.” (Quote source here.)

We are all familiar with the concept of ulterior motives, and we have all been guilty of, or a victim of, our own or others’ ulterior motives. And sometimes it is very hard to tell when we are being manipulated by others who have ulterior motives. In an article published on PsychCentral.com titled, How to Spot Manipulation,” by Darlene Lancer, JD, MFT, author and licensed marriage and family therapist, and relationship and codependency expert, (the entire article is a 4-minute read available at this link), here are a few highlights from her article:

We all want to get our needs met, but manipulators use underhanded methods. Manipulation is a way to covertly influence someone with indirect, deceptive, or abusive tactics. Manipulation may seem benign or even friendly or flattering, as if the person has your highest concern in mind, but in reality it’s to achieve an ulterior motive. Other times, it’s veiled hostility, and when abusive methods are used, the objective is merely power. You may not realize that you’re being unconsciously intimidated.

If you grew up being manipulated, it’s harder to discern what’s going on because it feels familiar. You might have a gut feeling of discomfort or anger, but on the surface the manipulator may use words that are pleasant, ingratiating, reasonable, or that play on your guilt or sympathy, so you override your instincts and don’t know what to say. Codependents have trouble being direct and assertive and may use manipulation to get their way. They’re also easy prey for being manipulated by narcissists, borderline personalities, sociopaths, and other codependents, including addicts.

Favorite weapons of manipulators are: guilt, complaining, comparing, lying, denying (including excuses and rationalizations), feigning ignorance, or innocence (the “Who me?” defense), blame, bribery, undermining, mind games, assumptions, “foot-in-the-door,” reversals, emotional blackmail, evasiveness, forgetting, fake concern, sympathy, apologies, flattery, and gifts and favors. Manipulators often use guilt by saying directly or through implication, “After all I’ve done for you,” or chronically behaving needy and helpless. They may compare you negatively to someone else or rally imaginary allies to their cause, saying that, “Everyone” or “Even so and so thinks xyz” or “says xyz about you”….

Fake concern is sometimes used to undermine your decisions and confidence in the form of warnings or worry about you….

[The article ends with this statement] The first step is to know with whom you’re dealing. Manipulators know your triggers. Study their tactics and learn their favorite weapons. Build your self-esteem and self-respect. This is your best defense. Also, learn to be assertive and set boundaries. (Quote source and full article available at this link.)

Does any of that sound familiar? Here’s an article that might help. It is titled, How to Disarm a Manipulator,” published on Power of Positivity,” (the author’s name is not mentioned):

A key element to a happier life is being surrounded by a supportive and influential network of friends and acquaintances. Sometimes, though, we can mistake influencers with manipulators and it can be hard to tell the difference.

It’s rare to find those who will invest time and energy into something that doesn’t have the potential for some personal gain. Just like in business we calculate the ROI (return on investment) for our friendships, maybe not in such a black and white way, but it happens.

A manipulator knows how to get what they need with little effort from themselves but at great cost to others. They find ways to work around the system (or you) for their benefit, so even though your ROI is low, you still take the time to invest in the relationship.

Manipulators spend a lot of time and energy creating an environment where they can control the outcome, so their needs are constantly met by others. The biggest problem of a manipulative relationship is we often don’t even know it’s happening, and we allow it to continue.

HERE ARE 4 WAYS TO DISARM A MANIPULATOR:

RECOGNIZE THE PROBLEM

It should come as no surprise that you must recognize there is a problem before you can solve it. The first sign of a problem is leaving an encounter with someone not feeling quite right and questioning the outcome. If you have questions and doubts around something you promised or agreed to, it might be time to start questioning the motives behind the request.

Here are some characteristics of manipulators:

  • Their needs take precedence over everyone else’s.
  • They expect you always to be available on a moment’s notice.
  • They are often in a crisis that requires immediate action.

Another key indicator of a manipulative relationship is when other friends start to notice the imbalance of the give and take with someone else. Pay attention to the people around you and their opinions. It is often easier to see things from the outside looking in.

ASK QUESTIONS

Part of a manipulative relationship is the never-ending demands that are put upon us. They are usually phrased in such a way that we should feel privileged at the opportunity to help.

Because a manipulator thrives on control, it is helpful to take away some of that control by putting the focus back on them by asking questions. The right kind of questions can help make them aware of the one-sided value to the request and can signal that you are aware of their behavior. For example:

  • I see how this helps you. Can you help me understand how this benefits me?
  • Do I have a say in how this goes forward?
  • Does this seem like a reasonable request to you?
  • Does it seem fair to you that you are asking me to do…?

When you ask probing questions, you are shining a light on the true nature of their request. If there is any self-awareness, then they will usually see the situation for what it is and change the request or withdraw it altogether.

SAY “NO” AND STAND FIRM

You can only control your actions. That is important because you will not be able to change the behavior of a manipulator, but you can stop being their victim. That happens when you start saying “no.”

We are manipulated because we allow it and refusing to be manipulated is the first step in breaking the cycle. Manipulators are good at what they do, so pay attention to their response. They are likely to say or do things that pull at the heart strings. We should stand firm in our “no,” knowing that we are taking the first step towards freeing ourselves from their influence.

USE TIME TO YOUR ADVANTAGE

Manipulators are good at what they do and will have all sorts of responses to our objections. They also know their best opportunity to get us on board with their scheme is to get us to agree immediately. Instead of committing to the request, we can try using time to our advantage.

“Let me get back to you.”

That one statement puts the power of the situation back in our court. It gives us the ability to really assess the situation and allows us to find a reasonable and respectful way to decline if that is what we want to do.

We stay in a relationship for all sorts of reasons, but we should only stay in it if it is serving us. And one of the ways our relationships serve us is by us serving them. So while someone important might need more attention and help from us because of a major life change, over time the relationship honors the needs of everyone.

Needless to say, a manipulator doesn’t buy into this philosophy. Remember it is okay to create boundaries and say “no” for our well-being. After all, we are better prepared to help others when we put ourselves first. (Quote source here.)

We’ve all been on the giving end and the receiving end of ulterior motives, and it’s not fun being on the receiving end. As far as our own responsibility goes as to being the person with ulterior motives, when it comes to the topic of motives, ulterior or otherwise, the following article comes from a Biblical perspective on motives and answers the question, What does the Bible say about motives?” at GotQuestions.org. Here is their answer:

The Bible has a lot to say about our motives. A motive is the underlying reason for any action. Proverbs 16:2 says, “All a person’s ways seem pure to them, but motives are weighed by the LORD.” Because the human heart is very deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9), we can easily fool ourselves about our own motives. We can pretend that we are choosing certain actions for God or the benefit of others, when in reality we have selfish reasons. God is not fooled by our selfishness and is “a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).

Human beings can operate from a variety of motivations, often negative. Pride, anger, revenge, a sense of entitlement, or the desire for approval can all be catalysts for our actions. Any motivation that originates in our sinful flesh is not pleasing to God (Romans 8:8). God even evaluates the condition of our hearts when we give offerings to Him (2 Corinthians 9:7). Selfish motives can hinder our prayers. James 4:3 says, “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” Because our hearts are so deceitful, we should constantly evaluate our own motives and be willing to be honest with ourselves about why we are choosing a certain action.

We can even preach and minister from impure motives (Philippians 1:17), but God is not impressed (Proverbs 21:27). Jesus spoke to this issue in Matthew 6:1 when He said, “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” Those involved in ministry must stay alert to this tendency toward selfishness, because ministry begun for pure reasons can quickly devolve into selfish ambition if we do not guard our hearts (Proverbs 4:23).

So what is the right motivation? First Thessalonians 2:4 says, “Our purpose is to please God, not people. He alone examines the motives of our hearts” (NLT). God is interested in our motives even more than our actions. First Corinthians 4:5 says that, when Jesus comes again, “he will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.” God wants us to know that He sees what no one else sees. He knows why we do what we do and desires to reward those whose hearts are right toward Him. We can keep our motives pure by continually surrendering every part of our hearts to the control of the Holy Spirit.

Here are some specific questions to help us evaluate our own motives:

1. If no one ever knows what I am doing (giving, serving, sacrificing), would I still do it?
2. If there was no visible payoff for doing this, would I still do it?
3. Would I joyfully take a lesser position if God asked me to?
4. Am I doing this for the praise of others or how it makes me feel?
5. If I had to suffer for continuing what God has called me to do, would I continue?
6. If others misunderstand or criticize my actions, will I stop?
7. If those whom I am serving never show gratitude or repay me in any way, will I still do it?
8. Do I judge my success or failure based upon my faithfulness to what God has asked me to do, or how I compare with others?

Personal satisfactions, such as taking a vacation or winning a competition, are not wrong in themselves. Motivation becomes an issue when we are not honest with ourselves about why we are doing things. When we give the outward appearance of obeying God but our hearts are hard, God knows. We are deceiving ourselves and others, too. The only way we can operate from pure motives is when we “walk in the Spirit” (Galatians 5:1625). When we allow Him to control every part of us, then our desire is to please Him and not ourselves. Our flesh constantly clamors to exalt itself, and only when we walk in the Spirit will we not gratify those desires of our flesh. (Quote source here.)

The above information gives us plenty to think about regarding our own motivations as well as the motivations of others. Proverbs 21 is full of advise regarding our motives (the MSG version titles that chapter, “God Examines Our Motives). I’ll end this post with the words from Proverbs 21:2 (NIV)–A person may think their own ways are right…

But the Lord . . .

Weighs . . .

The heart . . . .

YouTube Video:  “Come Alive (Dry Bones)”– Lauren Daigle:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Technology and Our Relationship with God

Here’s a topic to consider–our relationship with technology and God. But first, let’s take a look at “the good, the bad, and the ugly” sides of technology (at least briefly for the purposes of this post). In an article titled, Technology: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” published on March 10, 2017, by Elyse Freeman, Content Specialist at PennaPowers.com, she states:

There are pros and cons to everything in life, but one of the most talked about is technology. Most likely because technology is constantly evolving, and in doing so it consumes us more and more. Every new advancement intrigues us just a little bit more, which can be seen as good or bad depending on the way you look at it.

No matter what your feelings are regarding technology, it’s easy to agree that it would be hard to live without if it suddenly disappeared. We rely on technology so much now-a-days for communication, work, education, dating, staying in touch, shopping and much more. So what does that say about us? It isn’t completely a bad thing, but it isn’t necessarily a good thing either. So here’s the good, bad and the ugly of technology and what it says about us.

Good:

Without a doubt, technology is definitely good for us in numerous ways. The use of computers and smartphones allows us to communicate with anyone, anywhere in the world, in seconds. Not to mention the fact that we don’t have to use paper maps anymore. You can type an address right into your phone and directions of how to get there immediately pop up right at your fingertips. If you don’t have time to run to the bank or the post office to pay a bill, no problem. Online banking allows you to pay bills, transfer money and even deposit checks now. Technology even provides education for people with the ability to complete college via online courses. The ability to find out family history and research ancestors is also a great resource technology allows us to use.

Using technology to teach others and spread positivity through acts such as, blogging, sharing quotes, motivational videos and more is also a great way to use technology. Pinterest and Facebook both provide inspiring and educational videos and photos for a number of things. A couple of the most popular and favorite ones are cooking and exercising videos and photos. However, you can find just about anything from home improvement projects, DIY projects, event planning, ‘how to’, fashion and much more online.

Bad:

According to CNN, Americans devote 10 hours a day to screen time. The more that technology evolves, the more addicted and reliant we become. While technology can be healthy and useful, we need to remember to use it in moderation. When is becomes valued as a necessity is when it becomes a problem. In today’s world, we hate to be bored. However, if you have a phone or a computer, you don’t have to worry about that, and that’s the problem. Any time we feel bored, what’s the first thing we do? Pull out our phone or computer and find something online to pass time. Instead of sitting in silence with our own thoughts or talking to someone next to us, we find more comfort in our devices. The things that draw us to our screen are anything from games, to social media, apps and even emails. There is always something new to see or learn online, whether that be a photo, video, article or something else, we don’t have to worry about missing out with our constant access to technology.

Ugly:

Although there are multiple ways that technology is good for us, there is also an ugly side to it. The truth is that not everyone who uses technology, uses it for the rights reasons. For example, instead of using the internet to learn, people use it to view or research inappropriate content. The fact that you can find anything on the internet, can be a good and a bad thing. When it comes to the bad things, people need to remember that just because it is available doesn’t mean you need to look at it or read about it. In addition to viewing inappropriate content, technology can also be used to threaten or bully others. With everyone using social media, it makes it almost impossible not to find someone online and reach out to them. While this can be a great way to stay in touch, not everyone uses it for that reason, causing the Internet to be a scary place for those who have been victims of bullying.

Technology has played a big role in our lives, and as it continues to evolve, it will only become more popular. So, it is your responsibility to stay up-to-date with technology and use it only for good. Technology is not the problem, how we use it is. The way we choose to use it and how often determines if it’s good or bad, and helpful or harmful. (Quote source here.)

Now that we’ve taken a brief look at the good/bad/ugly sides of technology, Dr. David Murray, Professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, and pastor of Grand Rapids Free Reformed Church, and author, has written a series of articles on the subject of technology and our relationship with God. The following it taken from a summary on the series of articles published in 2018 (with links to each article included below) by Dr. Murray in an article titled, appropriately, Technology and Our Relationship with God.” In this article Dr. Murray states the following:

How do we thrive in Digital Babylon? That’s a question I’ve been asking for a long time and which I’ve begun to answer over a number of posts (click on each title to go to that post):

In that last post I proposed that the ultimate answer to digital technology is digital theology. I argued that:

If we want a deep, lasting, and spiritual solution, we need to learn and teach deep, lasting, and spiritual truths. Digital theology is the answer to digital technology; the oldest truths are the best rebuttal to the newest challenges. More Trinity is more effective than more technology.

However, we need more than more theology. We can have all the theology in the world without a relationship with God. The end is not deeper theology but a deeper relationship with God. The deeper and healthier our relationship with God, the more that satisfying friendship and communion will replace technology in our lives and also regulate it so that our use of it is more balanced and beneficial.

I’ve written elsewhere about 18 Obstacles to Personal Devotions in a Digital Ageand also given 20 Tips for Personal Devotions in a Digital Age. But if you want just five tips that will give you the greatest return on investment it would be these:

1. Meet with God first and alone. Turn off your phone and avoid the computer before personal devotions. It’s absolutely vital that you meet with God before anyone else in the day. Keep your mind free of digital distractions.

2. Use a physical Bible. See Should I use a Phone for Personal Devotions for my argument against using digital devices for personal devotions. I would apply the same logic to using a paper Bible in Church too.

3. Use free moments to pray. Instead of reaching for your phone when at a traffic stop, in the bathroom, or in line, why not use these brief moments to pray.

4. Take a weekly digital Sabbath. Sunday is the ideal day to come apart from all the din and drama of the Internet and social media and set your mind and heart on things above. It will surprise you how little you miss, how little you are missed, and how much you will gain.

5. Memorize Scripture. Think how much Scripture you could memorize in a year if you even just halved the number of times you checked your email and social media.

Whatever ways help to deepen your relationship with God will also help to wean you off technology and help you use it in ways that glorify him.

Here’s a solemn message (YouTube video) that gets to the heart of this. (Quote source here.)

Since we are still in the first month of the new year, now is perhaps a good time to consider changing a few of our online habits, and even if you’re reading this at some other time during the year, any time is a good time to reconsider our propensity to be “joined at the hip” to our technology that, quite possibly, is interfering with our own personal relationship with God.

For those who might have struggles trying to disconnect more often from technology in their relationship with God, the following article from 2011 (a bit dated now but with some very good insights) might help. It is titled, Praying to God? There’s an App For That,” by Ashleigh Rainko, giving us a Millennial’s perspective at TNGG (The Next Great Generation):

Wait, you mean I have to physically attend Mass on Sunday?

We’re all looking for ways to cut on time, and lucky for us, the technological revolution is still going strong; more devices, mobile applications, e-books and the like are available to us in an expedient and ever-improving way that has simply never existed, especially in the Church.

From apps like iPieta to iRosary, conveniences such as these help us, a tech-savvy and efficiency-seeking generation, to remain faithful. Priests see congregates bring their iPhones into the confessional, for goodness sake–and not to check email!

Father Kevin Schroeder, 29-year-old associate pastor at St. Joseph Parish in Cottleville, Missouri, explains, “It’s not like, oh, this [phone] is here to amuse me, or I’m bored. It’s actually becoming a tool for people to pray.”

Jack McCarthy, a 23-year-old business consultant, remarks, “I tend to check verses, prayers and readings more often than I otherwise would [without an app].”

In order for apps and such progressive technology to truly affect one’s faithful lifestyle, a symbiotic relationship must exist between the Church, the individual and technology. If the congregates are embracing this resource to have a closer and more active relationship with God, isn’t it the Church’s responsibility to encourage it and make it a part of the practice?

“I have a paper version [of the Bible], but never read it,” says McCarthy. “I almost always use my phone – even in church, which has a partnership with the YouVersion app. The verses from the sermon automatically load when you type in a code, as well as summaries, discussion questions, and more.”

Yes, apps and such technology have the potential of keeping us faithful–and saving a few trees in the process–but more so, possibly enable us to re-connect with our faith.  With 26 percent of Millennials reporting to be unaffiliated with a religion, what if these apps affected that number?

Louise Lloyd Owen, a 23-year-old PR professional, responds, “I’ve downloaded [religious apps] to look at them but never officially used [them].”

Similarly, Alison Denton, a 24-year-old magazine sales planner replies, “Nope, I haven’t used a religious app, but I have used the dream interpreter app on my iPad…that counts, right?!”

Perhaps these apps, albeit progressive, are missing that luster, but could in time be appealing and inspiring enough to be an avenue to a religious tradition.

What’s surprising, however, is our use (or lack thereof) of Bible apps.

From a quick poll, I found that most of my religious friends–apart from McCarthy–prefer reading the Bible in its paper edition, though hanging their heads and admittedly labeling themselves “old school.”

While the Bible app is certainly convenient, portable and useful, most report they prefer to use it only when in small group sessions or in a pinch; like most of us, reading a news article on our phones is fine, but the larger screen–be it an iPad or laptop–is much more conducive and easier to read.

And that’s not to mention the fact that it’s extremely hard to focus when you’re reading a serious text on a handheld device.

“It’s very cool to be able to access a Bible via the internet on your phone, but I would get way too distracted,” said Audrey Oh, a 24-year-old law professional. “Reading my Bible is a way to disconnect from the daily buzz, focus on God and grow spiritually; it would be difficult to achieve that as I see my phone blow up from texts, tweets, emails, et cetera.”

Beyond the (non)-usability perspective, one must factor in the deep-rooted spiritual connection with the text itself.

“The Bible is also a sacred text,” Oh continues. “There’s something special and authentic about holding it in your hands.”

Apps and e-Bibles allow us greater access to our faith in a portable fashion; however, the trouble is that people often think that these tools replace religion, rites, sacraments and attending Mass or church services at all.

But that’s likely consequential of our Millennial ideals: redefinition, instantaneous, complete transparency, innovation, technology.

How will this affect the future? Time will certainly tell, but it would have been pretty interesting to have seen and tracked the Reformation via Twitter, Facebook and apps. Just imagine what is possible for the next revolution in the Church with this endless supply of technological support and communication. (Quote source here.)

As we all know, it’s easy in our fast paced techie world to push God off into a corner whether intentionally or unintentionally. There are just way too many things distracting us today that divert our attention, so it takes a concerted effort to pause and reflect (it helps to turn off the smartphone while doing this or at least put it in airplane mode for a while). However, it is well worth the time. Some excellent suggestions on how to take a break from technology can be found in this June 2017 article titled, Want to Take a Break from Technology? Here Are Easy Ways to Unplug and Why It Is Necessary,” by Benjamin Renfo at JustPorter.org. Click here to go to that article.

I’ll end this blog post with the greatest invitation that Jesus gave to us found in Matthew 11:28-30 that requires no app or technology (but can be read on both): 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: “God of Wonders” by Third Day:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

God Knows All About Us

So, how is your New Year going so far now that we are almost half way through January? Mine has been fairly quiet. Even my muse seems to be taking a rest from the surge of blog posts I published on both of my blogs in December. It’s been rather relaxing, and nothing feels overly pressing at the moment. And, since I made no New Year’s resolutions for this year, the pressure is off to keep them going… 🙂

Ten days ago I found a small, nicely bound copy in red faux leather of The Psalms and Proverbs in a version of the Bible I was unfamiliar with–The Passion Translation, 2017, by Dr. Brian Simmons, Bible teacher, linguist, minister, and former missionary; and published by Broadstreet Publishing Group, LLC. It was a brand new copy priced at $10.00 (originally $25.00) at Half Price Books, and I just love finding a great bargain price on books.

If you are interested in finding out more about The Passion Translation, here is a link to the following article titled, Revealing the Heart of God in ‘The Passion Translation,'” by Beth Patch, Senior Spiritual Life Internet producer/editor at CBN.comAnother article titled, “The Passion ‘Translation’ Debate: Brian Simmons Responds,” by Andrew Wilson, Teaching Pastor at King’s Church in London, for those familiar with the debate regarding The Passion Translation, is available at this link. There is also version information located at BibleGateway.com at this link.

The Psalms has always been my “go to” book in the Bible whenever I’m feeling–well–any particular emotion whether I’m happy or sad or confused or elated or joyful or doubtful or (fill in the blank). The introduction in another book I found in December (for half price!) at LifeWay Christian Bookstore titled, 100 Days in The Psalms,” by B&H Publishing Group editorial staff, states the following regarding the Book of Psalms:

The placement of the psalms at the center of the Bible is most certainly no happy accident of bookmaking physics. This collection of worship songs, desperate prayers, angry tirades, and hope-filled declarations–in many ways they represent the natural output that should flow from all the story and teaching that exist on either side of it in Scripture.

The psalms document the believer’s struggle. They celebrate the believer’s triumph. They dig deeply into the believer’s heart. And in the end, they praise the believer’s God. They cover just about all the bases of the believer’s life.

So while you’ve most likely had at least some experience and exposure to everything you’re about to read from this intensely personal, poetic book of Scripture, prepare to visit themes that will strike you with a right-this-morning flavor of relevance.

For whether you choose to read them one a day, or a couple a week, or at whatever speed you choose to take it, you’ll be keeping the Word in the center of each moment.

Since the psalms are what you’re reading, you’ll know God will probably be getting even more central with you than that. (Quote source: “100 Days in The Psalms,” Introduction, page 1.)

Now that I’ve gotten the above out of the way as an introduction, this afternoon I picked up my red faux leather covered copy of The Psalms and Proverbs and opened it to where the page marker ribbon was located, which was at the beginning of Psalm 139. This particular psalm is where the title of this blog post came from. It is a psalm attributed to King David and it is subtitled, in The Passion Translation version, “You Know All About Me.”

Now perhaps you are someone who is thinking, “But I don’t want God to know all about me.” Or maybe you don’t even believe in God at all, or maybe you’re like me, and you’ve been walking this road called life as a believer for a very long time, and that is why the psalms have become your “go to” place like they have become mine when I honestly don’t know where else to turn, or when I just need an encouraging word, or to be reminded that God doesn’t miss anyone or anything that is going on in this world of ours. So today I opened this new translation and read Psalm 139, and here is what it has to say to me and to you, too:

Lord, you know everything there is to know about me.

You perceive every movement of my heart and soul,
    and you understand my every thought before it even enters my mind.

You are so intimately aware of me, Lord.
    You read my heart like an open book
    and you know all the words I’m about to speak
    before I even start a sentence!
    You know every step I will take before my journey even begins.

You’ve gone into my future to prepare the way,
    and in kindness you follow behind me
    to spare me from the harm of my past.
    With your hand of love upon my life,
    you impart a blessing to me.

This is just too wonderful, deep, and incomprehensible!
    Your understanding of me brings me wonder and strength.

Where could I go from your Spirit?
    Where could I run and hide from your face?

If I go up to heaven, you’re there!
    If I go down to the realm of the dead, you’re there too!

If I fly with wings into the shining dawn, you’re there!
    If I fly into the radiant sunset, you’re there waiting!

Wherever I go, your hand will guide me;
    your strength will empower me.

It’s impossible to disappear from you
    or to ask the darkness to hide me,
    for your presence is everywhere, bringing light into my night.

There is no such thing as darkness with you.
    The night, to you, is as bright as the day;
    there’s no difference between the two.

You formed my innermost being, shaping my delicate inside
    and my intricate outside,
    and wove them all together in my mother’s womb.

I thank you, God, for making me so mysteriously complex!
    Everything you do is marvelously breathtaking.
    It simply amazes me to think about it!
    How thoroughly you know me, Lord!

You even formed every bone in my body
    when you created me in the secret place,
    carefully, skillfully shaping me[f] from nothing to something.

You saw who you created me to be before I became me!
    Before I’d ever seen the light of day,
    the number of days you planned for me
    were already recorded in your book.

Every single moment you are thinking of me!
    How precious and wonderful to consider
    that you cherish me constantly in your every thought!
    O God, your desires toward me are more
    than the grains of sand on every shore!
    When I awake each morning, you’re still with me.

O God, come and slay these bloodthirsty, murderous men!
    For I cry out, “Depart from me, you wicked ones!”

See how they blaspheme your sacred name
    and lift up themselves against you, but all in vain!

Lord, can’t you see how I despise those who despise you?
    For I grieve when I see them rise up against you.

I have nothing but complete hatred and disgust for them.
    Your enemies shall be my enemies!

God, I invite your searching gaze into my heart.
    Examine me through and through;
    find out everything that may be hidden within me.
    Put me to the test and sift through all my anxious cares.

See if there is any path of pain I’m walking on,
    and lead me back to your glorious, everlasting ways—
    the path that brings me back to you. (Source: Psalm 139, TPT.)

One of the differences I see between the times of King David in the Old Testament and how we are to live as believers since Jesus arrived in the New Testament and taught us to love our enemies is just that–loving our enemies instead of hating them. So when I run into any verses from the Old Testament like verses 19-22 in Psalm 139 above referencing hating our enemies (the text of those four verses is in gray type above), I always remember that Jesus came and changed that when he told us to love our enemies in Matthew 5:43-48 and Luke 6:27-36, and to remember to “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31). The words of Jesus in the Matthew portion states:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”Matthew 5:43:48, NIV

In an imperfect world in which we live, I find the words in Psalm 139 typed above in blue type to be of great comfort. I have no idea what it’s like to not believe since I have believed in God and Jesus Christ since I was a young girl. Lots of people have believed as kids especially here in America where there is a church located on almost every street corner, and yet many have walked away from it as adults or tucked it away in their back pockets somewhere as they lived their lives on their own terms. And it’s not that I didn’t have my moments when I was younger or falter on many occasions or that my knees don’t still grow weak or knock at times from all that is going on in our culture, and especially during what has occurred in my own life in the past decade, but I have never lost my faith in the God of Psalm 139 and the rest of the Bible.

Mockers are always out there (even among the Christian crowd); however, they have always been out there, too. Folks who don’t understand or don’t want to understand can ridicule relentlessly, but where do they turn when the bottom falls out of their own lives? I sometimes ponder that question when I find myself in the midst of those who don’t believe or mock what they can’t possibly understand because of their own lack of faith. Of course, there is a lot of stuff going on in our society today, too, and there is no way to comprehend it all.

So my “go to” book is the Psalms; and maybe it’s yours, too. There you will find every human emotion possible splashed across it’s pages. You can let your hair down reading the psalms and not have to worry about “doing the right thing” according to whoever is the latest person to frown in your direction because you don’t measure up to whatever standard they are measuring you by. Church can be a hard place to go sometimes, but God never is, and you’ll find Him in the psalms.

So, if you’re still contemplating making a late New Year’s resolution, maybe you can add getting to know the God of the Psalms. I can think of no better place to run to in good times and in bad.

I’ll end this post with the opening verses from Psalm 121 (verses 1 and 2), NIV: I lift up my eyes to the mountains; where does my help come from?

My help comes from the Lord . . .

The Maker . . .

Of heaven and earth . . . .

YouTube Video: “Psalm 139–Far Too Wonderful” by Shane and Shane:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Happy New Year 2019

“And now we welcome the new year, full of things that have never been”Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926), a  BohemianAustrian poet and novelist.

Yes, another brand new year has just begun, and I can think of no better way to start it off then with a blog post I published on October 23, 2018, on my other blog, Reflections,” titled, May the Road Rise Up to Meet You.” Here is what I wrote:

I ran across this Irish blessing (see below) and YouTube video (click hereit’s a very cool video 4:35 minutes long and nice piano music starts at 2:01) this morning, and I thought I would post both here on my “journey” blog. Here’s a little background information on the blessing:

This traditional Irish blessing is an ancient Celtic prayer. Celtic literature is famed for using images of nature and everyday life to speak of how God interacts with with His people.

“May the Road Rise Up to Meet You”
 is about God’s blessing for your journey–may your walk be an easy one–with no huge mountains to climb or obstacles to overcome. It alludes to three images from nature – the windsun and rain – as pictures of God’s care and provision. The “wind” can be likened to the Spirit of God, who came as a “mighty wind” at
 Pentecost. The sun’s warmth in the prayer reminds us of the tender mercies of God, “by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven” (Luke 1:78, NIV), whilst the soft falling rain speaks of God’s provision and sustenance. Finally, we are reminded that we are held safe in God’s loving hands as we travel on our journey through life. (Quote source here.)

Here is that Irish blessing:

May the Road
Rise Up to Meet You

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back. 
May the sun shine warm upon your face; 
The rains fall soft upon your fields 
And until we meet again, 
May God hold you
In the palm of His hand.

(Quote source here.)

There are four Irish blessings on the website where I found this copy of the Irish blessing above. Here is some additional information on Irish blessings taken from that website titled Lords-prayer-words.com:

One of the main characteristics of Celtic Christianity (approximately from the fourth to the seventh century A.D.) is that of a strong connection between the spiritual (what is godly and heavenly) and the earthly (nature and living). In Ireland, St Patrick established monasteries that were hubs of community life, were both monks and married people lived and worked together. The “cities” (as St. Patrick liked to call them) also often produced beautiful art and craft. The prayer life of the early Celts reflects these aspects of life together and closeness to nature, and is some of the most inspirational church liturgy in existence.

In recent times, Celtic spirituality has witnessed something of a revival in the modern day church. There are now thriving celtic communities (such as the Northumberland Communityand hymns such as “Be Thou My Vision” and other, more modern songs based on celtic writing have become popular in contemporary worship. (Quote source here.)

Lords-prayer-words.com includes an extensive resource of traditional and contemporary Christian prayers. As noted on the website:

Central to this site is ‘The Lord’s Prayer,’ as this is where Jesus, the great master and Lord of all, teaches us how to pray. Here you can discover many versions and translations of this famous prayer, as well as commentaries and interpretations on the ‘Our Father’ by several classic biblical scholars and theologians. The site is also packed with other free resources on prayer – with videos to meditate on and several hundred prayers on topics such as healingstrengthprayers for children and for various times and occasions. (Quote source here.)

And, of course, what New Year’s Eve celebration would be complete without singing the song “Auld Lang Syne” (see YouTube Video below) to welcome in the New Year at midnight. In an article published on December 29, 2017 titled, The Real Reason People Sing ‘Auld Lang Syne’ on New Year’s Eve,” by Olivia B. Waxman, staff reporter at Time.com and Time Magazine, she writes:

When the clock strikes midnight at the end of December 31, the first thing many New Year’s Eve revelers are likely to hear — if the noisemakers haven’t ruined their hearing yet — is the song “Auld Lang Syne.”

It’s not clear who exactly composed the music for the Scottish folk song, which has a long history of being sung to mark the end of something — or even how best to interpret the meaning of the song’s Scots language title, which is often attributed to the poet Robert Burns and could be literally translated as “Old Long Since.” (The Scottish government goes with the popular “for old times’ sake.”) What is clear is that Canadian bandleader Guy Lombardo helped make it a New Year’s Eve tradition in the United States.

Long before Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve became an end-of-year entertainment tradition, there was the New Year’s Eve concert hosted by Lombardo, “the last great dance-band leader,” as TIME once called him.

“His New Year‘s Eve concerts in New York City, which began in 1929, became an institution,” the magazine noted in his 1977 obituary. “First on radio, then TV, Lombardo‘s rendition of “Auld Lang Syne” marked the nation’s rite of passage from the old year to the new.” (Quote source here.)

And here is a link to an entertaining article published on December 31, 2018, titled, Long Before Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve,’ Guy Lombardo was the King of New Year’s Eve,” by Joel Keller at Decider.com. In the opening to his article, Keller writes:

Dick Clark had an extraordinarily long run ringing in the New Year on “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve.” From 1972 until his death in 2012, he hosted the ball drop in Times Square—first on NBC for two years, then on ABC—only missing one year in 2005, right after he had a stroke. Forty years is a long time, but do you know who had an even longer run? Guy Lombardo.

Lombardo and his Royal Canadians big band hosted New Year’s Eve festivities for 48 years, first on radio, then on television. Think about that time span: When he started at the Roosevelt Hotel in 1929, radio was just in its infancy; by the time he led the band for the last time, in 1976 (he died in November of 1977), CBS was broadcasting the festivities across the country in living color.

The show pretty much never changed. Lots of elegant people dining and dancing, with Lombardo leading the Royal Canadians to play classic waltzes and other danceable songs. At midnight, he led the band in “Auld Lang Syne.” (Quote source here.)

And history was made that New Year’s Eve in 1929 when Lombardo and his big band first played “Auld Lang Syne.” “The song begins by posing a rhetorical question: Is it right that old times be forgotten? The answer is generally interpreted as a call to remember long-standing friendships.” (Quote source here.)

While the words to the song are often a blur as in mumbling along as we sing because we aren’t sure of them, Wikipedia provides the actual English version of the words as follows (the words in bold type are from the YouTube Video at the end of this post):

Auld Lang Syne

Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and days of old lang syne?

CHORUS:

For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

And surely you’ll buy your pint cup!
and surely I’ll buy mine!
And we’ll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

CHORUS

We two have run about the slopes,
and picked the daisies fine;
But we’ve wandered many a weary foot,
since auld lang syne.

CHORUS

We two have paddled in the stream,
from morning sun till dine;
But seas between us broad have roared
since auld lang syne.

CHORUS

And there’s a hand my trusty friend!
That
 gives a hand to thine!

And we’ll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.
(Quote source from video below–
words in bold type in video–and here.)

“Auld Lang Syne”–for friendship and old times’ sake. And who couldn’t use a cup of kindness to toast in another new year to friendships old and new and yet to be made in this new year.

I’ll end this post with a few words from “Auld Lang Syne” to bring in this brand new year of 2019…

Let’s take a cup . . .

Of kindness yet . . .

For auld lang syne . . . .

YouTube Video: “Auld Lang Syne” by Home Free:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Between Christmas and New Year’s Day

Well, now what? Christmas is over, and New Year’s Day is still a few days away. You might be one of the lucky ones who has gone on a vacation during this time, or traveled to visit relatives or friends. But what about the rest of us now that the build up to Christmas is over for yet another year? Some of you who work may have the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day off, and others who work are already back working (and some folks might have even worked on Christmas Day).

I usually keep any Christmas decorations up until at least New Year’s Day, but this year I decided to move on quickly, and as soon as I woke up this morning (the day after Christmas) I took all of my Christmas decorations down (not that I had a lot out as where I am living right now is a very small space and there isn’t much room to put decorations out). However, I’m ready to move on to the New Year.

My stepmother (she died in 2011) told me years ago that she never kept the Christmas cards that she received after Christmas was over. I’ve been known to keep mine for years, but a few years back I got rid of them. Recently, I’ve kept them for a few months (however, I never looked at them again after I received them before Christmas arrived). This morning, the day after Christmas, I decided to take my stepmother’s advice and I threw away the cards I received this year (I did keep any photos I received in the cards). After all, as I mentioned above, I live in a very small space and you’d be amazed at just how much space even paper items can take up. And since I was in the mood to “move on” now that Christmas is over for another year, I went through a couple of suitcases I keep stuff in, too, and threw out a bunch of stuff I had in them. Might as well get rid of the clutter before the New Year starts, right?

In case you might be wondering what to do between Christmas and New Year’s Day, and you’re not one of the lucky ones who have taken off on some exotic vacation somewhere (come to think of it, I’ve never been on a exotic vacation anywhere at any time in any given year), I ran across an article published on December 27, 2017, titled, 5 Things You Should Get Rid of Between Christmas and New Year’s Day,” by Clint Davis, a contributor on SimpleMost.com. Here are his suggestions:

If there was ever a time to declutter, the week after Christmas is it. After the big holiday, chances are your house is even more packed with stuff than it has been all year—not to mention all those empty boxes, cards and decorations that are rapidly looking out of season.

If you have any free time in the week before New Year’s Day, spend some of it gathering up the stuff you don’t need anymore. You’ll thank yourself come springtime.

Here are a few items you can easily ditch after Christmas to free up some space for those lovely new things you’ve received. And the best part? Many of these old items can be donated for someone else to love! That’s what Christmas is all about.

1. Winter Coats

Check your coat closet and I guarantee you’ll find at least a couple winter coats that nobody in your family has worn in the past year. The typical rule for decluttering is to get rid of two items for every new one you get, so if everyone in the house got a brand new winter coat for Christmas, gather up all those unused ones and get rid of them.

But don’t just throw them out. Find an organization to which you can donate those coats, like One Warm Coat or Goodwill, and make sure they go to people who need them during these cold months.

2. Boots And Other Shoes

Another thing many people get for Christmas is new footwear. Sort through your closets and donate any old shoes you don’t wear anymore. Chances are, someone out there would love to have those 2013 boots!

3. Toys

If you have kids, they probably got a bunch of new toys for Christmas. That means it’s time to round up the ones they’ve outgrown or don’t play with anymore and donate them so that other kids can love them. Organizations like Toys for Tots and others specialize in toy donations.

4. Boxes

If you’re a pack rat like me, you may think you need to keep all the boxes of the gifts you got this Christmas—but you probably don’t. I still have the box for a computer monitor I got in 2015 somewhere in my basement! Be sure to pull out any important paperwork and spare parts (after you’ve made sure the item works, of course) and toss those boxes in the trash.

5. Opened Wine

If you broke out the wine at your holiday party (which you should have!), you might have some half-finished bottles sitting around. Depending on the type of wine, and whether or not you re-corked it and stuck it in the refrigerator, you’ll have anywhere from two to five days for it to not taste nasty. Not gonna drink it? Either dump it out, make some cola-infused sangria or freeze it in an ice-cube tray for later cooking use.

If you like decluttering, it really can be the most wonderful time of the year! (Quote source here.)

In another article with almost the same title as the article above and published on December 22, 2017, titled, 5 Things You Should Do Between Christmas and New Year’s,” by Zoe Romanowsky, Lifestyle and Video Editor at Aleteia.org, she writes:

For starters, don’t take down the tree! This is a week for keeping the spirit alive…

The countdown to Christmas is on and there’s much to be done before the big day arrives. But besides collapsing in a heap with a glass of spiked eggnog the day after, what’s on your agenda between Christmas and New Year’s? Here are 5 things you should consider making part of your week…

Develop a Boxing Day tradition

The day after Christmas calls for a little down time, but it can also be a bit more special than that. In countries like England, Canada, Australia, and Ghana, the day after Christmas is a holiday called Boxing Day. Despite its name, it has nothing to do with punching anyone for getting you a bad gift. There are a number of stories that explain the tradition—one harkens back to when wealthier members of English society gave “Christmas boxes” containing gifts and money to servants and trades people as a reward for their service. Another story comes from the post-Christmas practice of churches collecting money in boxes to give to the poor. Regardless, Boxing Day can be a celebratory day in itself—visiting with relatives or neighbors, making a special lunch, caroling around the piano, a movie or games night—whatever you want. Even if you don’t want to call it Boxing Day, make the day after Christmas its own festive day.

Make some New Year’s resolutions

This is the week to make resolutions for the new year. If you’re all bah-humbug about the whole idea of resolutions because they’ve never worked in the past, try something new this year … try picking just one thing you want to accomplish or work on in 2018, or choose a theme, quote, or Scripture passage to guide your goals. This recent Aleteia article suggests you approach resolutions using the “snowball principle.” Whatever you do, let a brand new year be an opportunity for a fresh start.

Write thank-you cards (or for that matter, send your Christmas cards out!)

This week is usually a little slower than most so it’s a great time to sit down and write some thank-you cards for those lovely gifts you received — and to help your kids do the same. Keep it easy by buying note cards, or making some simple ones. There’s nothing like a hand-written thank-you that acknowledges a gift and wishes the recipient a happy new year!

Plan something special for New Year’s Day

Most people plan something for New Year’s Eve, and consider New Year’s Day a time of recovery. But New Year’s Day deserves its own place at the table. In the Christian calendar it’s a special day for celebrating the Blessed Virgin Mary. So, it’s a perfect day for special foods, an outing, a visit or phone call to mom, or just time at home relaxing by the tree and enjoying the company of loved ones.

Keep celebrating!
This is not the week to take down the tree, remove the decorations, and get back to life as usual. No, Christmas lasts more than one day! Depending on the calendar you follow, Christmas goes at least to Epiphany, which is Friday, January 6 this year. Plus, you’ve heard of the 12 days of Christmas, right? Even if you have to go right back to work after Christmas, and the rest of the world is quickly getting back to business as usual, hold on to the Christmas spirit by planning special meals and treats, playing Christmas music in the car, and holding a few gifts to open during Christmas week. Keep celebrating! (Quote source here.

A third article I found on the topic is titled, 5 Reasons Why The Week Between Christmas and New Year’s Eve is the Best Part of the Whole Year,” by Danielle Campoamor, an editor and columnist at Romper.com, published on December 28, 2015. She writes:

Say what you will about spring and its bright optimism and romance, or fall with its vibrant colors and pumpkin spice everything, but the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve is, by far, the best time of the year. Sure, summer has inviting warmth and long days, and winter has a [boat]load of holidays, but the last week of any year—when Christmas lights are still up and you’re still figuring out what to do on New Year’s Eve—is, without a doubt, the week of the year I look forward to the most.

Think about it: The stress of the holiday season is behind you. You are no longer mentally examining your “to-do” list and thinking about the gifts you have to wrap and the meals you have to prepare. You’re already used to the shorter days and the colder weather, so you’ve sufficiently equipped yourself with sweaters, scarves and warm (sometimes alcoholic) beverages. The parts of the year you would rather forget are dangerously close to being a distant memory, and the potential for a better year is just on the horizon.

And, believe it or not, it gets even better.

Here are just a few reasons why the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve is the best week of the year, so enjoy it, you guys! It will (at least seem) far too long before we experience these magical 7 days again.

Your House Is A Mess And It’s Totally Acceptable

There are small pieces of wrapping paper still on the floor and you keep stepping on those tiny plastic twist things that held toys to cardboard, but it’s OK because gift-induced disaster is allowed to linger. The dishes can wait and the vacuuming can be put off because, hey, you made it through the holidays and the memories are totally worth the mess, right? Right. Take a load off, friend. You deserve it.

You Can Slack Off At Work And Not Feel Bad

Let’s face it, everyone is on vacation anyway. There’s no reason to kill yourself at your job because, well, no one will notice either way! Why waste your A-game on a week when no one is paying attention? You don’t have to feel bad about not being at the top of your game or working as hard as you usually would, as “real work” doesn’t really begin until the new year anyway. So, if you think about it and you are working during this week of magic, consider it a paid holiday of sorts. No, you’re not spending your time on a beach, but you’re not necessarily “working” either.

You’re Possibly Still Spending Time With Friends And Family

Family and/or friend time doesn’t end when Christmas does. Maybe you traveled back home and are still around parents and siblings for a few more days. Or, maybe family members visited you for the holidays and they plan on spending a little more time with you before they leave. Either way, there’s an extra pair of hands to do dishes, cook meals, and run errands, on top of the happy family fun time and non-stop lame-but-amazing dad jokes.

Your Schedule is Wide Open

There’s really nothing concrete and immovable on the agenda between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, which means you are totally justified in sitting on your couch sans pants and watching everything Netflix has to offer, day after splendidly lazy day. You’ll have plenty of time to be busy next year, so enjoy this schedule-free time while you can, I say.

You Don’t Have to Cook

One word: leftovers. Your fridge is now filled with container after container of whatever delicious meal you (or your family) made for Christmas dinner, and there’s enough food in there to last you for a week. Not to mention cookies and pie and fudge? If the zombie apocalypse happened right this second, you’d be set. So enjoy this marvelous week of unapologetic laziness, you guys. We’ve all earned it (kinda, whatever). (Quote source here.)

And while I was looking for articles to include in this blog post, I ran across a 35-minute sermon given on December 27, 2015, titled, Christmas is Over Now What?” [click here for MP3 Audio download 48.8MB] given at Christ Street Fellowship, [the link is also available in their holidays message archives]. The sermon bulletin is available in PDF form at this link (802 KB). I listened to the 35-minute sermon and it is very good especially if you find yourself feeling a bit down right now or you don’t know what to do now that Christmas is over.

I hope you find these suggestions of what to do between Christmas and New Year’s Day entertaining, informative, and helpful, and the sermon at the end is excellent, too.

I’ll end this post with these words from an Irish blessingMay the road rise up to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face; the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again….

May God hold you . . .

In the palm . . .

Of His hand . . . .

YouTube Video: “Day After Christmas” by Matthew West:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

A True Love Story Never Ends

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

Journal cover pic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It always protects, always trusts . . .

Always hopes, always perseveres . . .

Love never fails . . . .

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

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

Lessons from “A Christmas Carol”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Learning begins with listening.

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

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

2. Humility enhances vision.

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

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

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

3. Regret leads to renewal.

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

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

4. Bitterness will poison you.

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

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

5. There’s joy in starting over.

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

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

6. We must be present to win.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9. Redemption is about changed hearts.

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

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

10. It’s never too late to change.

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

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

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

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

But the second best time . . .

IS NOW . . . .

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

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

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